This autumn has sen a lot of launches for Cinnamon Press and a couple of weeks ago saw our most ambitious launch program to date. Monday was Swansea for the launch of A True Prize by John Goodby. It’s a collection packed with prize-winning poems; substantial, honed pieces with perfect lineation, bursting with wit and mischief one moment, vulnerability and poignancy the next. Noah’s Yard was packed for the first jazz set played by The Gentlemen, a talented young quartet of keyboards, guitar, drum and saxophone. Then upstairs to the retro-decorated comfortable rooms where the poetry was performed to a capacity crowd before the second jazz set.
Tuesday was Cardiff at the Wales Millennium Centre. It’s an amazing building and it was lovely to have Sam Adams reading from his poetry sequence in Kaleidoscope, made more special by the fact that Sam’s son designed the WMC. He was joined by Lee Duggan also launching Kaleidoscope, and John Goodby reading from A True Prize. The other positive aspect of this building is the support of Literature Wales to run the events. I’m always impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of their staff. But it was a thin audience and I’m convinced that in large measure this is because the venue managers don’t value small press events. When we first used this venue it was free and a technician was provided. Now it costs a substantial fee and the Literature Wales staff have to lug trolley loads of sound equipment onto the mezzanine and erect it themselves. Small events are no longer scheduled on dark nights when the venue is quiet so that poets have to make themselves heard over the noise of the cafes beneath. I’d like to continue working with Literature Wales, who have been nothing but supportive, but in the interests finding writers a more conducive reading space it’s going to be back to the drawing board to find a new Cardiff venue.
Wednesday was again in Cardiff, this time at Waterstones. Kate North was launching The C Word with six of the students represented in the anthology reading extracts from their work. It’s a great book, full of energy and flair, by emerging writers not afraid to take risks and push at the boundaries of the forms they are working in. Waterstones was packed and the forty copies they’d ordered for the evening sold out in minutes, with lots of follow up orders after the launch. Kate hosted brilliantly and more than deserved the fantastic success of the book after all her hard work editing it.
Then to London and a chance to drop in on old friends for an afternoon before heading off to Bermondsey (suddenly gentrified, which was a slightly strange prospect) Woolfson and Tay is a gorgeous bookshop. Like Pages of Hackney, another independent book shop that we love to support, it is well stocked with innovative literature, including lots of lesser known and international authors, as well as fabulous range of non-fiction and poetry. While waiting for the Sue Rose, the evening’s poet, to arrive, I found an interesting collection of linked stories, Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto, and a short book by Ursula K Le Guin that included a novella, poetry and a wonderfully outspoken essay on commercialism in publishing.
Sue Rose’s reading of From the Dark Room was perfect. The full audience in the shop’s lovely gallery space was moved to laughter and tears by lucid, crafted language and emotional depth. It’s a debut collection, but reads like the work of someone with several books behind them – visceral authentic work from someone who doesn’t waste a word.
I managed to navigate back to Bermondsey station and from there to Canada Water before coming to a halt. Sadly, someone had been killed on the track and my hope of getting to Forest Hill to spend the night with poet, Steve Griffiths, and his wife Wendy, was quickly disappearing. I left the train at Canada Water, a new edition to Rotherhithe since I lived there twenty years ago, and headed back to the friends I’d visited earlier that day, tired, but grateful for friends.
The last launch of the week, for Steve Griffiths’ sixth collection, Surfacing, was in the beautiful Guild of Craft Workers building in Bloomsbury. Good wine, food provided by Steve’s lovely friend, Jan, a packed audience of people who engaged with the work and an excellent performance from Steve made it great evening. After an Italian meal complete with conversation about theology, literature and technology, we headed back to Forest Hill, this time without incident.
Steve drove me to the station early the next morning and I headed off to Birmingham for the book fair organised as part of Birmingham Festival by Sara Beadle and Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press. It was an excellent day. Cottia joined me from our Hereford base to staff the stall and it was a good opportunity to network with other small presses with a West Midlands connection. I gave a talk about life writing based on my prose poetry collection Stale Bread & Miracles, the last third of which is set in Birmingham. There was a program of interesting talks and a performance space where poets read throughout the day. Gail Ashton did a great job representing Cinnamon Press and also kindly staffed the stall with her husband, Geoff, so that me and Cottia could slip out for lunch at the aptly named Yum, next door to the Custard Factory.
The highlights of the day included meeting Meredith Andrea from Flarestack (we will be publishing a collaborative collection by Meredith and Fiona Owen in 2013); Gail’s superb performance – funny, engaging and always with that extra edge, and an excellent reading from Jane Weir of Templar Press. Several people offered me manuscripts, despite the fact that we are not currently taking submissions. For the most part the books on offer simply weren’t Cinnamon Press material, but I did have an exciting conversation with a Somali writer who had two projects I’m looking forward to learning more about and hopefully working on.
It was an exhausting, but exhilarating week. I’m not sure six events in six days was quite sane or repeatable. I couldn’t have managed it without a wonderful group of authors and other friends who carried books to events, organised refreshments and gave me hospitality. Life on a shoestring running Cinnamon is possible only because of the generous collaboration of everyone involved in the press In my last years as a parish priest I was assaulted three times. By the time I left in i was regularly visiting four medical consultants in various fields trying to resolve the problems caused by the assaults, including a spinal injury. Cinnamon Press grew out of my need to fill time with something intellectually challenging and creative. It has enabled me to ‘work’ (if not to make money) within the constraints of the injuries. I spend most of my time immersed in words in a quirky house in a small village in a small country. But sometimes the birth of books demands a celebration and this was a week of multiple births. By the end of the week my neck was threatening to seize, but thanks to lots of help, it held up long enough to see me home ready for a hot bath and a couple nights in my own bed.