Saturday, February 16, 2019

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Andrew Moorhouse on Fine Poetry Press

Fine Poetry Press: The American author John Updike once said “A book is beautiful in its relation to the human hand, to the human eye, to the human brain, and to the human spirit.” and I am trying to live up to that by publishing letterpress printed, cloth and leather bound, illustrated editions of poetry by well established poets.

Andrew Moorhouse: I live in the North West of England and for much of my life I had a rather mundane, uninspiring and unsatisfying day job. I’ve always held an almost reverential attitude towards the printed word and the book as a format and, at a time in my life when I needed to find a new direction, I decided to start my publishing hobby.”

1 – When did Fine Poetry Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

My first book In Memory of Water was published in 2013. My goals remain largely the same - to present the work of excellent poets and artists in beautifully printed and bound limited editions, to give myself a more interesting life and to not lose too much money at what is essentially a hobby. I’ve learnt to be more careful when selecting the artists to work with and the medium in which they will present their work. One salutary lesson was learnt when the cost of digitally printing images with letterpress printed text proved extremely expensive.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?

As I approached my 50th birthday my kidneys had failed and I needed a transplant. After I had the successful transplant, and largely because my 'day job’ (implementing payroll systems) left me unfulfilled I decided that I wanted to do something worthwhile. I was a keen reader and a book collector. Some of my collection was of Fine Press and limited editions. I also collected the work of a well established and respected UK poet who had been commissioned to write 6 poems on the theme of water. The poems were carved onto rocks along the Pennines where I live. The poems had been published in a rather flimsy and cheaply produced pamphlet and I thought the project deserved something better. I asked the poet if I may do a fine press publication of them and, despite me having no experience in publishing, he said that I could ‘give it a go’. It proved successful.     

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

I see my responsibility as publishing books which present excellent poems by excellent poets in attractive, cherishable books. 

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

I wouldn’t like to say that no one else is doing it but I’m not sure anyone is doing it in the same way as me. Poets give me work, I commission an artist to provide complementary images to illustrate the poems, I ask a letterpress printer to set the text and images as attractively as possible and I commission a high quality binder to bind the books in high quality cloths and leathers. I know that there are individuals who are letterpress printers and who can bind their own editions but I don’t have those skills or experience so I do see myself as the publisher rather than a producer.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

I started from scratch having no experience - my initial approach was to contact a dealer I know about taking some of my first publication. I had subsequently found other dealers including one specialist bookstore. I use social media a lot with direct, but polite, marketing of my books. I go to a lot of poetry readings and try to talk to as many people who might be enthusiastic about the authors work to try to get them interested. I attend Fine Press book fairs. I advertise in the Fine Press magazine ‘Parenthesis’. I am trying to improve my website.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

All of the poets I work with are very well established and experienced authors. I can not add anything as an editor apart from ensuring that their words are presented in a format they want them to be.

7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

For the books I’ve settled on a print run of 75 Standard, 26 Deluxe and 5 Presentation editions. For the broadsides I usually do 50 copies. For distribution I either sell to a dealer of do it all myself through direct email contact with previous customers. 

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

I don’t work with others editors apart from the poet themselves. I work with artists, a letterpress printer and a binding company.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

I am strictly amateur in my writing - I’ve learnt a lot from the poets I’ve worked with but perhaps the most important lesson has been that I’m probably unable to reach the levels necessary for publication of my own efforts.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

I have no strong feelings on this only that I would not contemplate trying to present my own efforts in my own publication.

11 – How do you see Fine Poetry Press evolving?

I’m very happy with the quality of the books and broadsides that I produce. The quality and renown of the artists that I work is, and I feel will continue to, improve. I’m currently working with 3 members of the Royal Academy of Arts a situation I did not envisage when I started this hobby. I would like to produce more broadsides as I am fond of them. I have recently approached a poet to write some poems on a particular subject matter. Previously the poems I have published have always been written before the book is conceived. I hope that this will become a more regular feature.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

My proudest achievement so far has been in publishing the work of Michael Longley. A man whose work I was largely unaware of before I read a book about him. I regard Michael as a hugely impressive man and to be in his company and to publish his work is a great honour for me.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

Collecting the work of John Updike and Raymond Carver meant that I was exposed to the books of publisher William B Ewert. Ewert was a New Hampshire man who combined his work as a librarian with his publishing hobby. His books gave me the idea. Lord John Press in California reinforced the idea as too did Enitharmon here in the UK.

14 – How does Fine Poetry Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Fine Poetry Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

Until recently I have continued in my full time employment. This employment had me working long hours with a lot of time away from home away from my family. My opportunities to engage. I’ve recently joined a group called the Northern Fiction Alliance, a group of publishers based here in the North West of England. I’m hoping that my future involvement in that group will increase my Press’ profile. As I’ve now taken semi-retirement from the day job I hope to attend more print, book and Wayzgoose fairs to spread news of my efforts and to make more contacts. I primarily hope to increase my marketing know-how.    

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

I have yet to hold any readings to support my publications. I know that these are important as on the few occasions when I’ve been in the audience of one of my author’s events and they mention my publications then I do get sales. Later this year I have arranged an event but the poet did not want to structure the event as a sales opportunity for me rather he will read from a more mainstream publication which will include some of the work I have previously published. He will mention my publications and I hope that will draw people to the sales table I will have at the event.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

I have a website which I have built myself. It is rather unwieldy and clumsy in its format and needs a redesign which I think I’m going to have to get help with. I use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to promote my books to my ‘friends’ and followers. Most of my correspondence is via e-mail.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

If the submission came from a well established poet of renown the I would consider the publication. If the poet is not of acknowledged high renown then I would not be keen unless the poems had a particular appeal to me and provided opportunities to work with a particular artist.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

To date I’ve published 10 books. My latest three have been;

Paul Muldoon’s I Gave the Pope A Rhino - 12 song lyrics accompanied by 12 commissioned oil paintings by the artist Paul Wright. The artist produced very strong images in response to the playfulness of the Muldoon’s text.

Simon Armitage’s Exit the Known World - 6 poems accompanied by 6 commissioned wood engravings from Hilary Paynter. A beautiful book if I say so myself. Excellent poems, excellent images, beautifully printed and my favourite binding, a combination of two greens, so far.

Carol Ann Duffy’s Eight World’s Wives - 8 poems accompanied by 8 commissioned wood engravings from Hilary Paynter. The opportunity to work with the UK’s current Poet Laureate was too good to miss. These re-presentations of some of her best known work has produced another beautiful edition. 

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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