SELECTED VERSE: INTERVIEW WITH POETRY ANTHOLOGY FOUNDERS- EDWARD AND ELINOR, [SMITHS] MAGAZINE 03/08/18
An interview with [smiths] magazine promoting our open call for our upcoming second volume.
Dora Hemming talks 'bravery, cabbage, fish cakes and a sound rejection of nostalgia' with founding editors of poetry anthology Away With Words Selected Verse, Edward and Elinor
‘You’ll hear people say ‘Poetry is Dead.’ You’ll hear people say ‘Millennials don’t have direction’ or ‘Youth culture is all spectacle, no substance,’ you’ll hear people bemoan the younger generation as ‘out of touch,’ ‘self-obsessed,’ ‘sensitive snowflakes,’ who are ‘cut off from the real world,’ too busy with their ‘social media,’ their ‘avocado toast,’ their ‘kneejerk Corbynism’ and their ‘athlesisure fashions,’ to really care about, confront, or change, the true realities of the world around them. This anthology proves those poisonous statements, and all like them, violently, dizzyingly wrong. In this collection you’ll see student writers demonstrating deft understandings of the complications of gender, representation, politics, family, class, identity, wealth, art and community that we all face. These young people, in their diversity and multiplicity, are taking on the issues that matter without didacticism: sensitive to feeling and instinct, and at the same time unafraid of the visceral reality of lived experience.’
– Rebecca Tamás, 2018
What made you want to set up a new poetry anthology, is there space in the market?
Our desire to create Away With Words Selected Verse was birthed out of our respective experiences in the arts and publishing, a love for poetry and the creative spirit of Goldsmiths and those around us. Our collection attempts to compile and celebrate a small percentage of these voices, irrespective of the ‘marketplace’. If we were more market-oriented, we might not offer our contributors monetary prizes for their contributions. We’re a self-funded publication and this money quite literally comes out of our pockets, but it’s an important gesture which underscores the value of artistic products and our appreciation of excellence.
Do you think your last publication succeeded in reflecting South East London?
No, because we didn’t set out to ‘reflect’ South East London in the last publication. Even our initial working title of ‘Selected South London Verse’ was not done out of a motivation to showcase or highlight a South London-centric selection of authors. We both just happen to live here, study here, get pissed here and make most of our friends here. So although the first volume was primarily put together with work from (pseudo-)South Londoners, that was only the case because the majority of authors and writers we knew were from that area.
In our second volume, however, we have very much fled our nest, crossed the pond, bucked the trend, etc. and expanded the open call pretty much nation wide. We’ve been distributing our posters (tentatively) to universities around the country through post, and internationally via instagram and other phantom social media. We think the primary focus of our first volume was to piece together an interesting and original selection of responses to our first theme; liberation. In this, we hope we succeeded.
Talk to me about your last event. It must be different hearing the poems spoken to an audience compared to on the page…
The launch event for the first volume was a terrific night, it definitely exceeded both of our expectations. Out of the Brew arts café in New Cross hosted it, which has a capacity of 40 people or so, as well as a tight, white box-room underneath it where we held the readings. A selection of our successful contributors, as well as our mystery-guest, Faber poet, Lord and Saviour; Jack Underwood, were invited to read pieces from the publication and their own private annals. There ended up being over 100-odd people trying to get in! People were taking shifts at coming down to catch some of the readings, and then running up for air and a quick cocktail because it was so packed downstairs! We also sold copies of the first volume upstairs, which didn’t actually arrive until literally an hour before the event started. This motivated Edward, one half of AWW, to scribble down and read out a quick new piece berating the inadequacies of the British postal service.
It truly was a bloody delight to meet the people we’d been corresponding with, and especially those who we didn’t know already and had discovered through a random online submission. For our next launch event (mid to late-October) we plan to book a bigger venue, as well as invite down some more special guest readers to speak, some of which we have already been in talks with…
For this volume you have decided on the theme ‘legacy’, whereas the last publication asked contributors to respond to a theme of ‘liberation’. What is your reasoning behind being insistent on submissions relating, albeit loosely, to a specific theme?
Having both come into this project relatively clueless as to how to piece together a succinct collection of poetry, we both agreed that by implementing a loose theme we could ensure that whatever the outcome, the publication would offer some coherence as a body of work. As Rebecca Tamas expressed so deftly in her foreword to our collection, “If poetry has the potential to be liberatory, it is not because it convinces us of certain political arguments or tells us specific things to believe, but because its utterances enact and express liberation in themselves.” Politically, the word ‘liberation’ seems to have gone out of fashion (lest at least for some notable figures), so we thought that it would be an apt starting point for inviting authors to submit.
What do you look for in a poem?
Bravery, cabbage, fish cakes and a sound rejection of nostalgia. More than anything, we want Away With Words to be a poetry anthology that’s not only ambitious and forward-thinking, but also readable and enjoyable to anyone silly enough to pick it up.
We have absolutely no requirements for who can submit, and approach the editing process in a similarly inclusive way. The majority of our pieces tend to reject some sort of poetic tradition (rhythm, metre, subject, format), though not in a particularly conscious or brash way, but more naturally; through the author’s genuine inventiveness.
Can a shitty person write a good poem?
Without attempting to define ‘shitty’, in what could easily be a Partridge-esque few sentences, we think that this question boils down to that whole argument of whether we should separate the artist from their art. In our opinion, the two are intrinsically linked due to the presence of capital and the system of late capitalism in which art is produced. Through investing in, consuming, appreciating and sharing the art of a ‘shitty’ person, we put money in their pockets and indicate we’re still happy to support and encourage their continued, collective ‘shittiness’ (objectifying views). A shitty person has the freedom to do whatever they like but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to buy it. Thankfully, to our knowledge, we have not published any poems written by credibly ‘shitty people’. But we hope that in a sense, our readers will recognise within the stanzas of the poems we select a sound rebuttal of shitty people in everyday life.
Are male, big dick energy poets a problem in the arts?
Surprise, surprise, patriarchy and misogyny pervades all sectors of society, including the arts and as we all know, there is a great deal of privilege afforded to cisgendered white men. We’re not convinced that we are clued-up enough to comment on the wider systemic problem of big-dick energy in the arts in a brief capacity, but within our own publication we actively encourage submissions from people from all walks of life to ensure we aren’t just masturbating the fantasises of the big dick-ers. Whilst we haven’t implemented measures to promote diversity and inclusivity, this is something we are considering for the next edition. We’re hot on striking an equal male/female balance in our submissions and readings and luckily our successful contributors have been close-to 50/50. This considered, we assess our submissions on the basis of quality, so it’s difficult as a small-scale publication to implement inclusivity measures/a quota of LGBTQ+/POC voices when we don’t receive the same number of submissions as a larger publication such as Granta or the LRB. Nevertheless, it’s something we’d like to work towards as it’s close to our hearts.
Tell us a bit about your publisher, Toothgrinder
Toothgrinder Publishers was created by one half of Away With Words, Edward, and his brother William. The publishing house, founded in late 2017, specialises in poetic and photographic releases, and draws on both of brothers’ varying skills in writing, designing and promotion. Each publication is meticulously reviewed before publication to ensure, above all, that it has a genuine, meaningful idea to express.
If you had to recommend an anthology/poetic works to a poetry “first timer” what would it be?
Perhaps something like The Mersey Sound by Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. As a poetry ‘anthology’ it seems to work on all the right levels. Each poet, though primarily different in their choice of subject, has a readable, likeable approach to writing. There is a wonderful balance between levity and brevity throughout, where one feels inclined to succumb to that age-old cliché of crying and laughing at the same time.
Pam Ayers and Wendy Cope are also great for younger readers due to the accessibility of the language and the self-deprecating humour. Emily Berry’s Stranger, Baby (2013), Rebecca Tamás’ Savage (2017) and Jack Underwood’s Happiness (2015, all Faber), are also excellent choices which tread the lines of more experimental poetry. Goldsmiths-alumni-creations clinic and Stop Sharpening Your Knives certainly aren’t bad places to start either.
Submissions for Away With Words, Volume 2 close on August 31st 2018
To submit, or for any information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Away With Words Selected Verse is co-edited by Edward Green and Elinor Potts
Words, Dora Hemming- @dora.ac.uk