The Roman, Horace, not only lived during a time of political turmoil (65-8 BCE), but found himself on the losing side against Octavian at the battle of Actium. With his family property confiscated he considered himself fortunate to be given a farm in the Sabine hills by Octavian Augustus’s cultural attaché, Maeccenas. The farm was a place where Horace and his friends did not feel pressure to perform for the rich and powerful and could have discussions on every topic from the trivial to the philosophical. For Horace the political gossip of the city and its constant demands seemed to squander his time, and he constantly dreamt of getting back to the villa, ‘this sweet place’. In the tradition of Epicurus, Horace valued leisure activities such as the freedom to ‘read the classics’, ‘drift/ and drink’, enjoy a ‘humble stew of beans… seasoned with kale and bacon’, eat by the fire with friends and enjoy conversations that were not about who has what, but, ‘whether money/ or morality makes men happy’ or, ‘what goodness really is’. Like Epicurus, Horace was in pursuit of tranquillity and simple pleasures were worth being grateful for. His prayers to Mercury, god of luck and merchants, were not for more, but only to be allowed, ‘to keep these blessings’.
Last week we had friends to stay. They hadn’t visited for several years and they lead a busy city life. They love the city, but we had several conversations about the different quality of relaxation in a place where there is no traffic noise and where rush hour is three cars. In ‘this sweet place’ of Tanygrisiau nestled beneath the Moelwyns we had time to drift, share food and converse and time to take a slow walk on a sunny day to Cwmorthin, the valley with the abandoned slate mining village. Less than a hundred years ago the people who lived there had little opportunity for leisure and yet, at least in the cabans, they carved out fragments of time for meaningful conversation.
That same pursuit of meaningful conversation, of making connections between people seems to me to be at the heart of much small press publishing. Small press authors want to be read not for fame and fortune (which is just as well), but to share something that they care passionately about. Like good food and conversation with friends, these books offer something of depth so that working on them makes ‘this sweet place’ all the sweeter.