Photo: Kate Andrews (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
It’s a warm day in London. The sun is bright and I leave the office thinking about a lunch in the private garden and whether I should sit in the shade or maybe the sun. It’s only these simple choices which bother me today, not the big ones; today the big ones don’t matter. Because I feel good, I walk past the usual hovel where I buy my lunch and keep going down Marylebone High Street to a shop that sells quiche and salad for far too high a price but who get away with it because they say all the ingredients are natural – rather than those other synthetic quiches and salads you get which are made of plastics and polyester. Unfortunately (but not really because I had planned it all along) this means I have to walk past the Oxfam Bookshop, which is the best Oxfam I’ve found so far for second-hand books. I go in and browse, intending to buy nothing.
Then there it is: an unread copy of Cake and Ale by Somerset Maugham, one of the old 60s orange Penguin series. I snatch it like it was some old lady’s purse and run my finger over the binding (perfect) and check the corners (straight and razor sharp) and I hold it to my chest, cradling it, knowing it only costs £2.50 and that it’s all mine. I approach the counter, sure that the large lady behind it will tell me it’s reserved or to be burnt or something, and I’m checking the exits and wondering whether Oxfam spend any of their donations on CCTV. The large lady – wooden earrings, terrible floral dress – smiles and holds her hand out for the book and I peel it from my chest to give to her, the other already digging for my wallet. She opens the book to check the price and there inside is a Gift Aid sticker and barcode. I don’t resent this. Then, in what feels like slow motion, she picks up the scanner and proceeds to bend the front cover down the middle.
And I scream. I scream out in Oxfam.
In the sea of self-publishing, e-books, and enough self help books to bring even Socrates back from the brink, it’s always refreshing to find authors and presses that are finding new, innovative means of publishing. Especially in the poetry world, where wading through the endless stacks of chapbooks and small press poetry collections can seem like an unending task.
Sidekick Books is a London-based press that announced its presence in 2009 with a book of computer game poems by poets Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone. The press hasn’t looked back since, focusing on collaborations between poets and illustrators that are not only highly original, but also quite clever.
They have kicked off a new series based on UK government-issued pamphlets from the 1970s with the highly satirical Confronting the Danger of Art by poet Ian McLachlan and artist Phil Cooper. This little pamphlet kicks off with an epigram from Plato’s Republic, which famously sought to exile the poets from the ideal government, which should be run using reason and logic instead of the emotional and artistic mind of the poet. This sets the tone for the verse in this collection, which relies on the juxtaposition between McLachlan’s highly ridiculous, exaggerated verse and Cooper’s simple, yet evocative drawings on each page.
The magazine, and this blog in particular, has reached a degree of visibility that is resulting in publishers and other companies starting to get in touch about all the latest stuff they’re up to. In the interests of transparency we will always tell you when a blog post is a result of this happening, and will only pass on things we think are genuinely interesting. I think this is good for all involved. So, with that in mind…
Someone working for Sony got in touch to tell us about the FutureScapes project. It’s part of a collaboration that they’ve been running for six months or so with the non-profit Forum for the Future, the idea being to bring together a bunch of people and imagine what the world might be like in 2025.
Some of the people involved are writers. They commissioned five authors — Michael Marshall Smith, Lesley Lokko, Kate Harrison, Marcus Sedgwick and Markus Albers — to write short stories set 13 years in the future, and it is the quality of these stores (which you can download for free here) which made me want to put up this post. They’re very good.
We’re heading back to the contemporary art gallery in Milton Keynes on the evening of Thursday, March 15th to host our third spoken word Scratch Night.
The first night we hosted at the gallery was about a year ago, and mainly featured writers from London, while the second — co-hosted with the Monkey Kettle crew — was all about the local scene. This time we’re going for a bit of both.
Reviewing new literary magazines should become a habit for this blog. There’s something incredibly contagious about a new editor’s enthusiasm, and the confidence in the stories and poems they present to the world just screams ‘Read this! We created an entire magazine just for these words!’
You Stumble Into A Room Full Of Poets is a slight magazine at 20 pages, but it’s a beautiful one, with an elegant cover and pages hand bound with thread. The magazine is based in London and according to the editor’s note it ‘brings forth collective writings from the four corners of the metropolis’. For this first issue, the collective writings comprise eight poems surrounding a single short story. The pieces are universal; it’s not a London magazine in the sense of being about London, but rather a glance into the mind of the city.