A Triptych from The Pottery Press

April 26, 2018

Past Present by Maureen Duffy  9780993017124.jpg  9780993017131

The Pottery Press is celebrating its first three pamphlets, with the publication of the third: Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker on 23rd April 2018. The Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town London hosted a packed celebration for us on the day of the launch, with a lot of Prosecco, book-signing and partying, and all three writers reading from their books for a very enthusiastic audience.

[A little background: The Pottery Press is a micro-press set up by Potters’ Yard Arts (artist+writer partnership Liz Mathews and Frances Bingham based in Tufnell Park, North London) to publish limited edition artists’ books and text/image collaborations.  I’m the artist half of The Pottery Press, which we set up in 1999 – last century – with our first publication MOTHERTONGUE in 1999, an artists’ book with a narrative poem by my partner Frances, and images by me. Fifteen years later, the second Pottery Press book was Paper Wings, an edition of my artist’s book with Maureen Duffy, setting to paper her inspiring 55-love-poem cycle Songs for Sappho. Both of these books are in the British Library’s artist’s books collection and the National Poetry Library – and we still have a few copies of each available to buy from The Pottery Press.]

For our first pamphlet, Past Present, we’re very proud that Maureen Duffy again entrusted an extraordinary text to us – in fact two: Piers Plowless and Sir Orfeo. Maureen read first for us in the celebration, followed (hard task) by Frances with The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney – and then we were very happy that Jeremy Hooker allowed us to lure him from his Welsh rock for a rare London appearance, to read from the third pamphlet, Under the Quarry Woods, which we’ve just published. I’ve been lucky to work with the words of all three of our writers – and more inspiring words for a lettering artist to set would be hard to find. These pamphlets continue our tradition of making fusions of word and image – and beautiful books.

So, to begin with Maureen: she hardly needs any introduction from me, having published some 34 works of fiction, at least 9 collections of poetry, non-fiction including acclaimed biographies of Henry Purcell, Aphra Behn and Britain itself, and 16 plays for stage, screen and radio, most recently Hilde & Virginia at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre earlier this year. As though this were not enough, she’s also a tireless activist and pioneering campaigner for writers’ rights, President of Honour of the British Copyright Council and the ALCS, Vice President of the Royal Society of Literature, and what’s more, an inspiring collaborator and encourager of the work of others. She writes across the literary spectrum, and in the words of a recent TLS article:

‘Maureen Duffy has inspired many other writers and proved that the English novel… can be fantastical, experimental and political. Perhaps it is her poetry, though, that most fully captures her range, as she presses on like a medieval troubadour across barriers of genre, gender, space and time.’ (Maggie Gee in the TLS)

Past Present by Maureen Duffy

In Past Present the coupling of two long poems makes a weird and powerful statement about England on the edge; a land with an imagined mythic past, a millennial present and perhaps apocalyptic future. The second poem of the coupling is a catchy, robust new translation of the medieval lay Sir Orfeo, which Maureen performed last summer at Hampstead’s Burgh House, accompanied by Music for Sir Orfeo composed and performed by acclaimed jazz pianist Dorian Ford and award-winning world music singer Vimala Rowe.

For this celebration Maureen read from the poem that opens Past PresentPiers Plowless – which embodies this fantastical/political troubadour strain; it’s her contemporary riff on the medieval poem by William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, a powerful critique of an affluent society that sacrifices its most vulnerable citizens for the financial gain of the few – a dark vision of Austerity Britain never more relevant than right now.

…I see them stream as in Blake’s darkest dream over London Bridge…

Piers Plowless has recently been included in the British Library’s influential online series Discovering Literature, in an article by Lawrence Warner, who describes it as a ‘modern reincarnation’ of Langland’s poem, but ‘not a translation… Even better, it is a poet’s invocation of the poem across time and space’.  We in the audience held on to our hats!

9780993017124.jpgOur second pamphlet is a playtext: The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham, script for a new play, produced at Arcola Theatre London in November 2017:

In the blue hour of Paris twilight one trailblazing artist paints a remarkable picture of her life, her liaisons and her passionate self-belief: Natalie Barney.

Frances also writes across the literary spectrum, and has published fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, including her acclaimed critical edition which rediscovers the poetry of Valentine Ackland. She had a daunting task, not only in following Maureen, but also because she was reading to an audience that included Amanda Boxer, the actor who commissioned the play and starred in the world premiere production last November. Amanda inhabited the part completely and unforgettably, as so many of us witnessed, but for our celebration on Shakespeare’s birthday we had to put up with the writer’s reading…

They say it takes two to tango, but in my case it’s sometimes three.  Or more.

Natalie Barney was an unstoppable force in modernism and the early gay rights movement. Her lovers were the most beautiful women of the era; her friends were the most celebrated artists of twentieth century culture. She was condemned by some as a wrecker of lives and fascist sympathiser, celebrated by others as a dynamic patron of the arts and supporter of writers, especially women, in her legendary Parisian salon. The Blue Hour is an impressionistic portrait of this phenomenon and the multiple stories of her life; an imagining of her inner voice.

9780993017131Our third reader was Jeremy Hooker, poet and critic, teacher and broadcaster, whose collection of prose poems Under the Quarry Woods was published on 23rd April, the third in our triptych of pamphlets. This is his 17th collection of poetry, published alongside 18 volumes of prose in the form of journals, essays and influential critical studies of writers from Dorothy Wordsworth to David Jones, as well as editions of writers including Richard Jefferies, Alun Lewis, Edward Thomas, Wilfred Owen and Frances Bellarby. For the last fifty-odd years he’s been writing about poetry, nature and place, and Under the Quarry Woods continues this life’s thought and work. These prose poems are quarried from journals written at his home in South Wales, on the outskirts of Treharris, a former pit village in that once-important mining area:

‘The difference, here, is that my sense of belonging has lifted off, like mist blowing away from the hills.  And what is laid bare is the history, the world-transforming movements that changed the landscape, and the way of life they created in the communities, in neighbourhoods that are now ghosts of themselves, with people that are made to feel useless, people who are lost.’

Alive with observations, impressions, memory and dream, the poems cumulatively form a meditation on a place and its people, revealing an industrially-scarred landscape with a deep history, its harshness illuminated by glimpses of natural beauty and possibilities of regeneration for the land and its fractured communities.

All three of our writers read and performed their work with real engagement, giving an inspiring and moving experience for the audience.  Although very different in style and voice, they share in common qualities of beautiful lyricism and true humanity – and one audience member said to me afterwards that she had been enthralled in turn by each reader – and found the evening inspiring and hope-restoring in these difficult times.

Pottery Press logo

The look and feel of a book is important to us both. Each pamphlet has an individual design, with covers and accompanying images by me. As a lettering artist, I aim for a fitting vessel for the very special words: a design that’s appropriate for each individual text, and instead of illustrations, I include accompanying images where appropriate, giving the words space and a context that allows them to speak for themselves. Sometimes these are settings of the words (as in Under the Quarry Woods), sometimes they’re colour studies that evoke the atmosphere of the text (as in Past Present) or black and white title pages or drawings that visually punctuate the pages. Each book is designed, edited and typeset independently, and printed in a small edition with full ISBN apparatus so that it can be ordered through any bookshop. The books can also be purchased directly from us at Potters’ Yard – contact details here.

Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker

ISBN:978-0-9930171-3-1 £5

 

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham

ISBN:978-0-9930171-2-4  £4

 

Past Present: Piers Plowless & Sir Orfeo by Maureen Duffy

ISBN:978-0-9930171-1-7  £5

 

 

 

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