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This poem is taken from PN Review 56, Volume 13 Number 6, July - August 1987.

The smaller presses publish perhaps eighty per cent of the books of poetry which appear every year but they are often dismissed as irrelevant to the literary world at large, at best possessed of one or two talents worth noting (or poaching), at worst pensioners of the Arts Council. Set against the massive continuities of the larger publishers, they are - as one London editor put it - 'simply ephemeral'.

Yet the larger houses suffer from editorial discontinuity: none has the editorial direction, the editorial personality, that it did in the time of, say, Day Lewis, or Monteith, or Stallworthy, while the notable smaller presses reflect the evolving taste and judgement of editors or editorial teams who engage closely with their authors and remain faithful to them. Publishing poetry is a vocation, not part of a career. Thus Anvil and Carcanet, Peterloo and Bloodaxe, Enitharmon and Poetry Wales Press, Ferry and Grosseteste, and on a smaller scale Mandeville and other imprints, while they are often provincial tiddlers beside the big fish, are at once more consistent and more adventurous, addressing not a market for each title but something like a devoted readership - because there are devoted readers for Anvil or Carcanet or Bloodaxe books, just as there are devoted readers for Agenda or London Magazine or PN Review.

For eighteen years Carcanet has developed such a readership; the poetry list has been under the control of one editor and reflects his judgement. During periods of recession, when poetry fell from the fatter lists, Carcanet continued to publish, taking on new and established writers and developing a coherent list not wedded to the present time or place.

As editor I have certain predilections. I take great pleasure in publishing Collected Poems (which can run to over six hundred pages); and poets' prose writings, neglected poets of the recent and more remote past whose work informs that of the contemporary writers I love. I am interested in translation, in new versions of the classics. I am impatient of the sixty-four-page book - those 'even workings' which make sense to costings departments and printers but not always to the shape of the poet's work. The Procrustean bed is generally a tight fit - unnecessarily so, I tend to think.

Carcanet has published eccentric books - eccentric in extent, formal choices, styles. Christopher Middleton, John Ash, Frank Kuppner and Alison Brackenbury are writers who refuse to be confined by generic or stylistic imperatives. The modest English lyric has a firm friend in Carcanet, but Carcanet's friendships range beyond it. Some characterize Carcanet as conservative for publishing Donald Davie, Iain Crichton Smith, Gillian Clarke, Robert Wells, Elizabeth Jennings, Charles Boyle and Clive Wilmer; others see it as excessively modernist for publishing John Ashbery, Edwin Morgan, Ian McMillan, HD and William Carlos Williams. Carcanet claims to be catholic rather than eclectic, as demonstrated by the anthology of brief poems which follows this note. The 'conservative' writers we publish advance and refine formal traditions, advance the art of poetry in ways analogous to the more obviously radical departures of our 'modernists' and 'post-modernists'. It is not a matter of either/or but both/and. Winters and Williams, Davie and Ashbery, Mew and HD ....

Carcanet as an imprint was founded in 1969, when it published seven pamphlets. From such modest beginnings it has grown by stops and starts into a substantial operation. It has taken counsel from its authors. Donald Davie's example and suggestions have been very important. So too have Michael Hamburger's. The most crucial and rejuvenating development was the introduction to the list, in 1973, of the work of C.H. Sisson. His poems changed my way of reading and led to the inclusion in the list of more work by HD, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Ford and other neglected English-language and foreign writers of the past and, as important, the work of a range of English poets which I had been unable to hear before I read Sisson. In oblique ways he led towards the work of Laura (Riding) Jackson, a crucial figure for us and one from whom not only I have much yet to learn.

Carcanet is a privileged imprint. It is subsidised by the Arts Council, and this relieves some of the pressures that constrain larger commercial lists. It is large enough to attract major writers, small enough to maintain a close relationship with its authors and with a readership which, in some instances, has been as continuous as the editorial line. Is it an anachronism - or is it, rather, a model of how poetry might be published in the next century? In a decade of hype and hard sell, a market for poetry is generated. This market discriminates between a small range of products. Such a market - often academically based - can be generated and maintained for a time. But what determines which of the ephemera will survive is readers. Individual, not statistical readers. Markets are made and maintained by an intensification of marketing and a refinement of the product in ways that will lend themselves to marketing. Eventually the product answers first the needs of marketing - like the moon and little Frieda in Hughes's poem - the thing perceived creating the perceiver. 'A good poet is a poet whose work sells.'

For the independent presses, the 'bottom line' is not necessarily profit. It is the well-edited and well-produced book, properly catalogued and available in the shops where people expect to find poetry; the book which has beggared an editor's ingenuity to design and publish, which has overdrawn the account and slipped into the world 'like a love-letter, full of sweet surprise'.

Fervent Osculation

It's an infused, vegetable way
of sensing our hollowness that makes us

agitate these water-colours
of rustic shrines and milestones
above the big red bureau.

The vases on board ship are filled with ashes

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