"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
Small publishers? Yawn. How we tire of hearing about their heroism, their hard work.
Well, damn right. They are heroic and they are hard working and we should thank the small gods of poetry for them. It’s never been a harder or more exciting time to publish poetry. The presses that thrive are the ones for whom publishing is a vocation, a real calling to spread the word – and almost by definition, the ones who have a fondness for a particular kind of poetry. Some favour translations like Arc, or spoken word poetry like Burning Eye, or poetry from Somewhere Near Reading – like Two Rivers.
Today’s big yellow blob goes to someone who has been running a successful small press for ten years – a prolific, dedicated house which specialises in work with a radical bent and a social conscience. Some of you won’t know Andy Croft‘s name. He isn’t one to find at poetry parties eating vol-au-vents but a publisher and activist, who often stays in Middlesborough getting on with it. As head honcho at Smokestack, Andy publishes a prolific and uncompromisingly left-wing catalogue of poets writing on social justice, poverty, politics and the human condition. With his own strong tastes and large editorial hand on the tiller, he has published over 70 books in his ten years of print.
These titles present a range of great new poets who otherwise would not have been published in the UK – poets like Paul Summers and Martin Espada. Andy’s list is full of ‘radically good poetry’ both by poets who think of themselves as radical, and those who step into that arena only once in a while – angry or funny or thoughtful poetry.
There are others just as dedicated – the publishers mentioned above, plus (and these are just the ones that spring to mind) Brian Lewis at Longbarrow, Jane Commane of Nine Arches, Sheila Wakefield and Kevin Cadwallender at Red Squirrel, Tom Chivers at Penned in the Margins, Nii Parkes at Flipped Eye, John Davies at Pighog and Andy Ching of Donut Press, Ann and Peter Sansom at Smith Doorstop, Jeremy Poynting at Peepal Tree Press, Peter and Amanda Carpenter at Worple. And others, of course of course. Each has a strong vision, a clear idea of what their books do and how they look. They don’t do it for the money so they must do it for love.
But today a special round of applause and recognition for Andy Croft and the unique offerings of Smokestack. Poetry does make things happen, and where things happen poetry often gives a truer account than newspapers. Andy publishes that account, to keep us angry and politicised in a time which requires us to be. His books are well made, and cheap, and full of riches.
How to thank him? Well. Smokestack’s site is here and I would especially recommend Steve Ely’s Oswald’s Book of Hours, recently shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, or Paul Summers’ collected poems Union. Just saying.