As the Selected Poems at the V&A Reading Rooms series was drawing to a close, I was delighted to have the opportunity to focus on the work of Penned in the Margins, a London based publisher of experimental poetry.
What I like about the press is that it presents a challenge to contemporary poetry; it celebrates unfamiliar poetic forms, subjects and images. On their website, books of sonnet sequences dedicated to Street Fighter II characters and plays about the London Docklands sit side by side comfortably. It’s the Brian Eno of the poetry publishing world, if you will (and I will).
These lovingly produced books have been a staple on my writing desk for months now. With the introduction of two new excellent books (an anthology of experimental poetry called Adventures in Form & Roddy Lumsden’s new collection The Bells of Hope) I was particularly excited to showcase the authors and editors of the press at Selected Poems.
And, as you can tell from the photo above, it became one of the busiest and most popular nights we’ve had at the V&A Reading Rooms.
The first poet on the night was Siddhartha Bose, whose theatrical performances I had seen a lot of over the last year, and they’ve always had my interest. His debut book, Kalagora, explores different metropolises and showing how their fruits – drink, drugs and sex – play on the psyche and the way we perceive reality. It dips and delves between elation and degradation.
It was a joy to have Sid read selections of the book for us, which has been adapted for the stage on many occasions. He also read a new poem from a sequence he is writing, which I strong-armed him to record for us. You can listen to it below.
Next up before the break was Ross Sutherland, who I had seen a few times at Homework – the night he puts on with Joe Dunthorne at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. What I like about Ross is that he’s a poet who continually changes and adapts his writing and the performance of his work. Like Sid, Ross has recently made a show out of his work Comedian Dies in the Middle of a Joke which toured Edinburgh.
What he read for us that evening was a mixture of new and old work from his new collection Emergency Window. His work is incredibly humorous one moment, but then filled with very delicate observation, all told with a frankness and direct nature as if you’re with Ross in the pub round the corner not at the wine bar of the Reading Rooms. An excellent reader, one who I had wanted to read at Selected Poems for a while.
After a break of wine and, frankly, admiring the Penned in the Margins book display, we started the second half with Emily Critchley. I first saw her read alongside Iain Sinclair at the London Word Festival and immediately thought it was some of the strangest and bewitching work I have ever heard. It had been in the back of my mind until I reached the point where I kept reading all I could get my hands on. So getting the opportunity to hear her read was a coup de bonheur.
Her work is hugely diverse, as was the collection of new work she read on the night. The pieces that she read were at turns fragmentary (much like her new work in the most recent copy of The White Review) and then like a stream of consciousness, enveloping everything she immediately experiences (much like the piece you can listen to below). On the page, her poems are dynamic and nuanced: continually evolving and engaging the reader. On the ear, their drama and humor becomes more apparent. It was great to hear more of her work – whenever she is reading next, I am there.
The final reader of the night was the aforementioned Roddy Lumsden, an already firm star in the poetry firmament. His new book is made entirely of ‘Kernel’ poems (a form Roddy invented), poems where truth and metaphor orbit each other over three lines. They’re short, yes, but the diarist nature of them and the imagery Roddy explores in these poems gives them a fascinating depth. The brevity just spurs you to read on – one of the reasons why I bloody love short poems.
Roddy read from the new book and some other poems he had recently written, and it was great to have him there on the night. Hearing him read from The Bells of Hope emphasized to me why I enjoy the output of Penned in the Margins as much as I do. It gives the opportunity and, more importantly, the space for poets to be experimental and to try new and exciting ideas that, perhaps, other publishers might be too cautious to try.
But, importantly, it doesn’t skimp on quality, and the night was proof of that. If you were unlucky enough to not make it in to the packed out Reading Rooms, I implore you to listen to the audio below and explore the books this important London publisher is putting out in our bookstores.