Hannah Hodgson has been busy interviewing Mike Barlow, the editor and publisher of Wayleave Press. Mike will be appearing at the festival to be interviewed by one of our Festival Directors, Kim Moore on Sunday 18th June at 10.30. Mike and Kim will be talking about publishing and setting up a small press. The discussion will be followed by short readings from three Wayleave Press poets, Rebecca Bilkau, Paul Mills and Ron Scowcroft. You can book tickets for the event here.
HH: When and how did Wayleave Press begin?
MB: Wayleave Press started in 2012, with a self-published pamphlet collection by myself, ‘Nothing About to Happen’. I had a collection of poems I wanted to put together, but felt they were unlikely to get anywhere in a pamphlet competition (too imagistic, allusive and elusive). So I put them together and sent them out to friends and fellow poets. The poems were well received as was the quality of the production from the local printer, so I decided it would be feasible to do the same for other poets who wanted to have a pamphlet out there.
The first pamphlet I published for someone else was ‘Moon Garden’ by Ron Scowcroft in 2014. Since then I have published 17 pamphlets (including two of my own). These have been poets I know of or whose work I already knew, or had heard read or, on one occasion, had recommended to me by a third party.
Wayleave is primarily a pamphlet publisher. I do not have the funds or expertise for full books. Nor do I have the time or ambition. However, the exception was Elizabeth Burns’ posthumous collection ‘Lightkeepers’, which was done as a one-off.
HH: What is your role at Wayleave?
MB: I do everything, basically. Edit, layout, produce. From time to time I consult my partner about design matters (choice of endpapers for instance) and she’s very good at proof-reading, something you can’t do too much of.
The business emphasis is on poets themselves selling their own pamphlets, since that is the main and most effective way of getting pamphlets about. I run a website and do some basic marketing, but the poetry world is such that it’s poets themselves who are the best marketeers of their work.
I work in co-operation with the poet. Sometimes a collection can be complete in itself, edited and ordered so nothing else needs to be done. At other times I can be much more involved, selecting from a body of work, suggesting the order and editing individual poems. It all depends on what I’m presented with, what the poet requires of me and what the poems themselves suggest they need.
Although I’m open to preferences and suggestions for cover illustrations from the poets themselves, most covers have been from my own art works, something that poets seem to be happy with and which seems to have become a bit of a brand feature. The exception is two pamphlets from Elizaneth Burns which were illustrated by paintings by my partner, Jane Routh.
HH: What would you say has been the highlight of your poetry career?
MB: I suppose I’d have to say winning the National Poetry Competition in 2006. That certainly gave me a boost. But these things pass. Being shortlisted for the 2004 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize with my first collection ‘Living on the Difference’ and having a pamphlet ‘Amicable Numbers’ selected as a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice were pretty affirming.
However, there are lots of ways in which highlights pop up in the course of things. Sometimes (not always) you do a good reading and feel pleased, or you get a poem accepted by a particular good magazine. This sort of thing makes you feel your work is heard, appreciated and read.
And running Wayleave gives me many satisfying moments. I love getting involved in helping put a good collection of poems together well, and presenting them in a pleasing form. There’s a real buzz in picking up copies of a new pamphlet from the printers and getting them to the poet.
And then my partner Jane has just reminded me of a reading we heard at Stanza earlier this year, by Robert Crawford and Alice Oswald. The best reading I’ve ever heard and a wonderful combination of poets. We came away very excited, feeling an immense lift from it.
HH: What signifies a stand out poem to you?
MB: This is a difficult question to answer. For me it will depend on circumstances, where and how I come across the poem, my state of mind, how receptive I am to its particular music and ideas. I suppose the question comes from the competition culture of the poetry world, where a poem has to make an impact amongst hundreds of others.
I tend to respond more to bodies of work. For instance, I have a number of favourite poets whose work in general or particular collections stand out for me and who I return to frequently. Alice Oswald and Philip Gross are two examples.
But as for the particular question about stand-out qualities, I’d say I want a poem to have an air of self-confidence, a feeling that it’s arrived and says what it has to authentically. Imagery is important to me, and the flow of language, the music and rhythms of natural speech. What it says needs to be said in interesting and arresting ways with enough wordplay or play with form and allusion to make you want to read it again and continue to be able to mine it for enjoyment or meaning. There are many striking poems which are nonetheless ‘get-it-in-one’ poems which probably have a limited life in the reader’s mind. I favour poems with more dimension and depth offering a slower burn in their appreciation. Sorry, this sounds all very abstract.
HH: As a poet yourself what advice would you offer to young poets?
MB: I think I’d say read and listen continuously, write furiously but be ruthless in editing your work. Sometimes you can be very pleased with something you’ve written, but I’d say resist the temptation to consider it finished and send it out indiscriminately. The passing of time can do wonders for your critical faculties. And of course, we are all learning all the time; style and ‘voice’ is an evolving thing.
If, or when, you come across someone else’s writing that has, for you, that ‘wow’ factor, stick with it but don’t try and imitate, have confidence that your own ‘voice’ will take what it needs from the example of others.