Exciting Times

mo thunder, Sean Burn (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press)

mo thunder is a collection of visual poetry in which found words and phrases have been placed under pressure and re-configured. Playing with typography and a textured approach to design, this is a work which refracts a variety of different kinds of everyday language, foregrounding oral as well as visual effects in an exciting way.

Short listed for the Michael Marks Award for pamphlets this is a stunning work. And anyone interested in this award should contact the British Library for details; tickets for the presentation on June 13 can be acquired from the lead curator Tany (tanya.kirk@bl.uk). And with a prize of £5000 it could be a good night for someone - hopefully for Sean Burn and Kf&SP.

Pamphlets are one of the first places the reader can encounter new poets. Arguably the best way the public can discover very recent work, the pamphlet offers a concentrated burst of poetry for its audience. Whether it's a well-judged showcase of a new poet's range or the powerful concentrate of a themed sequence, the short book, the pamphlet or chapbook, is a compact universe, an art-form in itself.

It's often the poet's publication of choice, too: it may be as portable as a passport but it quickly crosses so many more borders - real borders but checkpoints of the imagination as well.

Pamphlet publishers help new authors emerge while giving established poets the thinking space for new ideas. They match text with sympathetic graphics, well-judged typography and visual panache. They invest in new writing and new ways of presenting poetry and promoting it to readers, helping to develop a wider audience for the form. And this pamphlet by Sean Burn and Knives Forks And Spoons Press is a typical example of all the good qualities needed in a pamphlet.

Leonard and Virginia Woolf knew the worth of such printing form when they published new poetry by TS Eliot and Robert Graves in the little books of the Hogarth Press. The only poetry book Edward Thomas published in his lifetime was a pamphlet, Six Poems
by ‘Edward Eastaway'.

WH Auden's first book, Poems
(1928) is another remarkable example. It was printed by his friend Stephen Spender on the kind of press used for printing prescriptions. As history has shown, its contents did turn out to be strong medicine in a small bottle.

All traditions are represented by the pamphlet : Philip Larkin, Bob Cobbing, Ted Hughes, J H Prynne, Carol Ann Duffy, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Penelope Shuttle, Tom Leonard, Kathleen Jamie, Simon Armitage, Daljit Nagra and Jen Hadfield have all used the very slim volume with aplomb. Across the decades the pamphlet has announced new poets and new poetry, and the tradition continues today.

And KF&SP takes this tradition and runs with it. That here is a press prepared to take chances unlike so many other presses and magazines today. Presses that are too concerned with posture and reputation - so much so that the finished product has no breadth, no guile and no identity. Like the American press Alec Newman's press goes with the gut as opposed to the brain and what he is doing is rocking the core of poetry publishing. That with the advances in technology, that it will be the poets and not the editors who will dictate what is being published. Like what YouTube has done for music the new small press variations are doing for poetry. For too long a handful of Oxbridge buffoons have dictated the pace in poetry, but not anymore. That a revolution is underway and Mr Newman is in the vanguard of this breathtaking advance, along with the likes of theredceilingpress, ifpthenq and others. That soon - very soon, everyone will be a publisher. Exciting times.

     © James McLaughlin 2011