Interview with Jane Commane

WG: Question #1
Wordgathering is always looking for the opportunity to be able to let its readers know about publishers who are especially open to the work of writers with disabilities. Since the majority of our readers are in the United States, they may not be aware of Nine Arches Press. Can you tell us a bit about Nine Arches and the kind of work that it does?

JC: Nine Arches Press was set up in 2008 in the West Midlands, UK, partly in reaction to a sense that there was a lot of good poetry out there, and not all of it was finding its way into publication. Beginning with our magazine, Under the Radar, we soon branched out into pamphlets and then into book-length poetry collections. Since then, we've published almost seventy publications, including anthologies, and twenty issues of the magazine. We also hold events, run workshops, and much more. Part of our ethos has also been to work closely with the poets on our list, so mentoring and writer development is important to us also.

WG: Question #2
Iím aware of the work of Markie Burnhope, of course, because we have reviewed Species and our June issue gave some space to the wonderful poetry anthology Stairs and Whispers. Can you tell us about the work of some of the other writers youíve whose work you think we should be aware of?

JC: I have to declare an interest here that I have at some stage published work by many of these poets, and that I am of course enormously proud of every single poet in Stairs and Whispers; Iím duty bound to urge your readers to seek each one of them out and read their brilliant and important work!

Disclaimers aside: Iím very fortunate to have been working with Daniel Sluman for more than seven years now – and (though I am a bit biased!) I think he writes some of the most groundbreaking and powerful poetry Iíve come across. I came across Dan performing at the Ledbury Poetry Festival open mic some years ago when he was a creative writing student and was bowled over by the fierce and precise kind of poems he was performing. It has been great to watch his progress since then, and to have published his two poetry collections Absence has a weight of its own and the terrible in that time.

Staying on a Nine Arches theme, I am also delighted to have worked with Khairani Barokka this year – Okkaís poems draw a sharp focus on big issues like climate change, environmental destruction and violence; her writing is tenderly observed, urgent and often sensual and joyous. Readers should check out her beautiful book-length poem Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis, 2016) as well as her debut poems Rope, which Nine Arches have just published.

I also love the work of Angela Readman - her short stories as well as her poems are things of wonder; like messages in bottles washed up on a northern shore, theyíre full of magic and brilliantly strange imaginings.

A disclaimer – I am fortunate to know the next two poets well as Jerwood Compton Poetry fellows, though knew both them and their poetry beforehand, and would again urge your readers to seek them out: Raymond Antrobus's poems (and performances – he has many good poetry films online) are beautiful, precisely-made and vivid. Raymondís Outspoken Press pamphlet To Sweeten Bitter is definitely an essential read. Jackie Haganís poetry confronts issues of class, disability and austerity in ways that are unflinching, often brutally funny, always savvy. She has a pamphlet from Flapjack Press, and you should check out her films also.

Readers should also definitely check out Rachael Boast, Abi Palmer, Holly McGill, Giles Turnbull, Joanne Limburg, Nuala Watt, Grant Tarbard... and there are many, many more great poets than I can reasonably mention here really, but I am very proud of how the editors of Stairs and Whispers brought together such an incredible cohort of writers. I hope the anthology will bring many new discoveries for readers in the United States, and beyond.

WG: Question #3
That is a great list, and I fully agree that these are poets who work readers really need to check out. Iím sure there are writers who would like to submit their poetry manuscripts to Nine Arches press for possible publication, in addition to telling us what kinds of poetry Nine Arches might be interested in, can you also let us know what you might not be interested in. What things would you urge them to avoid when submitting work to you?

JC: I am keen to see well-crafted contemporary collections that have an original voice and an adventurous, precise approach. I especially like poetry that stays in the memory long after reading – if I am still thinking about a poem a few days later, turning it over and pondering its moving parts and what makes it tick, itís usually a really good sign! I enjoy work which dares to take risks, even if itís not quite perfect just yet, and poetry that seeks to make me see or experience things afresh, that plays with forms and shapes or makes that brave and brilliant leap with language that I simply havenít seen any other writer do.

Iím keen to specifically encourage D/deaf and disabled poets, as well as women, poets of colour and LGBTQ poets to submit their work. Stairs and Whispers has definitely helped to broaden the diversity of the submissions we receive, but itís important to keep on encouraging and actively soliciting manuscripts from writers who havenít traditionally been well-represented by poetry publishing, and to keep our doors wide open and inclusive to new and emerging poets.

Iím generally less interested in work that is technically good but is a bit more predictable in its approaches, doesnít take many risks or lacks that distinctive and original driving force. I am not really interested in publishing poetry that is purely anecdote, or reminiscences, unless these poems have something different and radical to offer in the way they handle and rework such topics. I do not tend to take on very traditional or classically-styled poetry, as our focus as a publisher has always been on contemporary work, though thatís not to say I donít welcome poetry written in form or work that is formally adventurous, as I like to see the boundaries of what is poetic form being pushed and experimented with.

Due of my specialism or specific interests as an editor, I donít tend to publish poetry books that are perhaps more avant-garde or performance-based in their nature – I like elements of both and have great respect for their forms but know my limitations and am aware I am not the right editor for these kinds of collections or manuscripts. Editing requires sensitivity and a real connection with the poems, as youíll be spending plenty of time with them – so itís important for me to feel weíre well matched and that I can confidently offer the poet the best advice possible on their work.

WG: Question#4:
Can you tell us about some of the upcoming books that Nine Arches will be publishing and also let us know what the submissions procedure is for writers who might want to submit their work?

JC: We will be unveiling our 2018 list in full later in December, so at this point the list is mostly under wraps – however, we are delighted to have already shared the news about a first collection by the very talented Deborah Alma, which we will be publishing in May next year, and is called Dirty Laundry. Deborah will be known to some poets here in the UK as the 'Emergency Poet' - she tours the country in her ambulance, dispensing poems on prescription to people at festivals and events, but also in libraries, schools, pubs. And Deborah is also the editor of The Emergency Poet: An Anti-Stress Poetry Anthology. You can find out a bit more about her work here at https://emergencypoet.com/.

We will also be publishing another debut by Josephine Corcoran called What Are You After? which will be out in June - Josephine is a terrific poet, and also a tireless supporter of the work of other poets, through her excellent And Other Poems blog, which I'd strongly urge readers to also check out at https://andotherpoems.com/

Before all of this, we will also have the next edition of our Primers poetry book, with Poetry School. The Primers scheme, and the resulting book, aims to showcase the talent of three very new poets, and mysel and this year's selecting editor, Hannah Lowe, are just about to make our final decisions. Though I can't yet tell you who the final three poets will be, you can read poems from the ten shortlisted poets at https://poetryschool.com/primers-2/

For writers interested in submitting, we advise sending 20 poems as a sample from your longer manuscript, in the first instance. We use Submittable, but writers can't access that, they are also welcome to drop me a line at my email address and send the manuscript by post or email (so long as I know to expect it – just in case it goes astray!) We operate two reading windows a year, in April and November, usually, so though we're just about to close this current one, a new one is open in the springtime. I do advise that writers send to the magazine (under the Radar) where possible first, partly because it's a good way to gauge our interest before committing a whole manuscript to the process – but of course, that is in no way compulsory, and a yes or no from the magazine does not preclude any other decision on your work. We do also prefer that we consider you manuscript exclusively, i.e. that it isn't out for consideration elsewhere at the same time, and that poets submitting can show some form of track record of previous publication (online, journals, magazines, pamphlets). The full guidelines can be found on our website, and most of all, we welcome the chance to read your poems, so please do consider sending us something!