Friday, July 14, 2017

Adrian Manning: A poetic microcosm

Adrian Manning is an English poet and micro-publisher. He has had a number of chapbooks published, including Wretched Songs For Out of Tune Musicians, Down At The Laundromat, Bring Down The Sun (with Henry Denander), These Days, Days Like This (with John Dorsey) and 13 Poems from the Edge of Extinction. His poems have been published around the world and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the founder of Concrete Meat Press, a micro-press that publishes poetry broadsides and chapbooks.
He lives in Leicester, England.

DH: How and when did you start writing poetry? I am curious about the contemporary poetry scene in England. I regard most English poetry as conservative. Is there a strong ‘alternative’ poetry/literary culture there?

AM: I started writing when I was a teenager, about 17 or 18. I had a notebook in which I used to record my thoughts about my confused worldview at the time. It was sort of like a diary but the thoughts took on a poetic prose form. I became more serious about writing poems when I was studying for my degree and I borrowed a housemate’s electric typer. I have a collection of strange and probably not particularly good poems, but it was a start. I continued until my first poem was published in 1997 in a small magazine called Mudvein in the USA. Coincidentally, the poem was called "The First Poem" and that was really the start of what I would consider my serious writing. In those early days I submitted to magazines, this was before I had access to the internet, in the USA and New Zealand, purely because I was reading poets from outside the UK and corresponding with some poets from outside the UK as a fan. I bought the first two issues of Mudvein because one of them had a poem by Charles Bukowski in it. When I received it, I thought I'd give it a shot myself. Getting that acceptance was one of the major points in my writing career and always will be. The poem was published and Bukowski was in the same issue. I thought that was it! What more did I want? Of course, I continued writing and the goals got bigger.

I have always been interested mostly in American poetry ‒ certainly I was at that time. British poetry was not on my radar. As I have widened my reading over the years I can appreciate more British poetry but I'm still of the opinion that most writing that interests me is from outside of the UK. I don't really know about alternative poetry scenes in Britain. I have never been part of one. I know only a few English poets, amazingly. A lot of British poetry is conservative. There are some magazines around that are striking more of an alternative note, but I don't seem to have got involved with them ‒ so far!

There are poetry readings in England but I have limited experience of them. The first reading I ever went to was Allen Ginsberg in Wales! There are festivals, open-mic nights and so on as you would expect, but I notice that my fellow poets in the USA are more involved in group poetry readings of like-minded poets and visiting other cities. This is not something that I am aware of here. I have done a limited number of readings – my first was in London at a magazine launch. I then had a large gap between readings. My next was an event I organised called Beat and Beyond featuring Jim Burns, editor and poet Michael Curran from London and myself. We also showed films of various poets from outside the UK reading their poetry. This was held at a local venue – The Musician in Leicester, which I love and I have read there since. I'm still limited in the number of live readings I have done but I am hoping to do more soon. As for selling poetry at events– my experience is that you can sell a small number of books. That's just my experience – other poets may have different stories to tell. There is a small scene gathering just outside of Leicester in a town called Corby and I'm hoping to get involved in that sometime soon.

You have cited elsewhere poets such as William Wantling and Charles Bukowski as being influences. You have also spoken of your poetry as being ‘Meat Poetry’. What is that?

I had no real interest in poetry until I read Bukowski back in the 1980s. He wrote about the reality of his life and it was appealing to me. I started buying more Bukowski and completely fell for the man, the myth and the legend, whether it was ugly or beautiful. Reading Bukowski led me to other poets. I corresponded with A.D. Winans from that point on and Jim Burns, a British poet that I rate very highly, and they helped me to learn more about the poetry of the 1960s and 70s, including William Wantling. I started to investigate and collect works by these poets. Some of these are called Meat Poets and to me it meant that they wrote about the gritty and real issues of life without unnecessary flowery and overcomplicated language. I liked that and I hoped that my poems would be similar. I certainly started that way and still feel some of my poems reflect this. However, I am aware as time has passed different elements, including a more surrealistic style, have developed as well.

You are also a publisher, and run Concrete Meat Press. When and why did you decide to start up your own press?

I started Concrete Meat Press in 2004. I had a small collection of poems under the title Down At The Laundromat which I wanted to publish and give to some friends. So, I printed them myself on my computer and hand-painted washing machines on the covers in watercolours and sent them out under the Concrete Meat Press name. I only published ten numbered copies and then it was gone. I didn't really intend to publish much more until I did a joint broadside with David Barker and a chapbook called Too Much Me by David also. Since then I have published a few broadsides, some chapbooks of varying sizes and the Concrete Meat Sheet both in print and online.

Concrete Meat Press publishes chapbooks , micro-books and broadsides, with very small print runs. This is in the small press tradition. How receptive are English poets to such formats? In South Africa, poets generally want to be published in perfect-bound books. 

I publish in very small runs for a few reasons. Personally, I always like having one of a limited number of an item ‒it's the collector in me. Secondly, I'm not a businessman and selling poetry seems very difficult so I don't want to make hundreds and be left with them! I like to give away a lot of what I publish, so the less I have the quicker it goes! I've described Concrete Meat as a micro-press; smaller than the small press. Again, I mostly publish folks from outside the UK for the reasons explained before.  The English poets I have published have been happy with the small runs. I still get so much pleasure looking at a small chapbook from the 60s onwards as opposed to perfect-bound books. It does seem now that most poets are publishing their early works, even their first collection, in perfect-bound paperback form. I haven't had a collection of my own published in paperback yet! I take chapbooks seriously but others may not. I'm happy to swim against the tide on that one. 

I love print publications – you can't beat receiving and holding the work in your hands and taking it off the shelf. I have been published online and have published other poets online. The appeal of this is that it's more immediate and obviously has the potential to be much wider-reaching in its audience. But I still prefer print.

Do you find your role as poet and publisher compatible or do they sometimes conflict?

They are fairly compatible in that I enjoy reading new poems and publishing them ‒ it's pretty special to get poems from great poets that are not generally available. I also find seeing the poems an inspiration at times. Obviously, I also pursue my own writing too. I only publish what I like. I keep writing in my own way regardless of what I have published or plan to publish. I'm pretty slow at publishing, I have to admit, which is why I only do small runs of small books. I'm probably not the best role model as a publisher! That is another reason why I call Concrete Meat Press a micro-press. This is also why I end up giving a lot of publications away! I reiterate ‒ I'm a lousy businessman! My main focus is writing and getting my own poems into the world, so that takes priority overall.

You have published poems about the 1960s Cleveland poet d.a.levy, and also published poets who were associated with him – D.R. Wagner, Kent Taylor and Tom Kryss. Has levy – in his dual role as poet and publisher – had an influence on you?

Yes. There have been some very important poet influences on me. Bukowski and Burns I've mentioned. d.a. levy is another. I admire his stance ‒ write and publish poetry and give it away! I know he sold publications ‒ he had to eat ‒ but so much was handed out and sent in the mail to people. I admire the works he and his associates published ‒ how they look, feel ‒ the guts they had inside them. Kryss, rjs, Taylor and Wagner were so important in that regard.  I love his productivity (even though I cannot match it) When I started thinking of authors to publish in my Solid Flesh For Food series I wanted to have all these poets included. Kent Taylor is one of my favourite poets and everyone should read his poems, Wagner and Kryss are legends too. I contacted rjs but he doesn't write anymore and said he would rather give his slot to a newer poet. This whole Cleveland group has influenced me on so many ways.

You have published and/or are associated with poets who are also accomplished artists, such as D.R. Wagner, Tom Kryss and Henry Denander. And you are also an artist. Are you particularly attracted to the work of poets who are also artists – as was levy and others – including Bukowski.

I've always loved the artwork of Bukowski and really liked the idea of putting art into poetry books as Black Sparrow did with his first editions. When I published David Barker's Too Much Me I did 26 lettered copies with an original watercolour painting tipped in. levy's art is always interesting ‒ his methods, materials and variety are really fascinating. I like the silkscreen printed covers and Kryss was very involved in this. My link with Henry Denander came when Bill Roberts of Bottle of Smoke Press published my first book, Wretched Songs for Out of Tune Musicians, and he suggested Henry do the cover. I loved his idea, became good friends with him and began to collect his poetry and publications. He is an all-round great fellow. I've been honoured to publish a split chap with him, my photos adorned the cover, and he supplied the cover painting for my split chapbook with John Dorsey, These Days, Days Like This.

I am keen on adding something more to my chapbooks, so if I can I like to add some art. I painted the cover of Repeating The Mantra (Bottle of Smoke Press), the aforementioned first Concrete Meat Press book, provided the cover photo for my chapbook All This I See Before Me, All This I Cannot Resist (Alternating Current Press), have hand-painted covers to the reissue of These Hands of Mine (Concrete Meat Press) and I did hand-crayoned abstracts in each of the first 50 copies of These Days … so yes, I guess I have been very influenced by the poet/painters that I have come across! I like word and images mixed together at times. Levy, Kenneth Patchen, William Blake and others have done this well. I've been very fortunate to have the extremely talented Janne Karlsson illustrate several of my poems and my chapbook Wide Asleep, Fast Awake, which I am very proud of. It's something that works for me in the right conditions.

What is your opinion of the industries that have grown up around some of the US beat writers,  such as Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg? There also seems to be an industry around Bukowski.

I like the fact that the interest around them ensures that we keep seeing new publications of their work or writing about them. What does make me sad is that the prices of the older books are so high that average collectors cannot afford them! For example, the Bukowski books with paintings!! These writers/poets became very well known and I admire and read them all so I guess where popularity leads to money there is always going to be those who seek to capitalise on it. I get saddened when I read of people other than the writers themselves making vast amounts of money out of their reputation and work. I'm not a capitalist, so anything like that does sadden me.

What projects do you have on the go?

I've recently published two short chapbooks   Dreams from Under a Rock through my press and 13 Poems from the Edge of Extinction, published by the wonderful John Burroughs at Crisis Chronicles Press. I have some poems coming up in publications and I am looking at a poetry reading coming up later in the year. I am also hoping to jump on stage with the incredible Mountaintop Junkshop ‒ I read a poem of mine in one of their songs ‒ soon.

I have been working on a joint chapbook with an American poet that I hope will be out before the year-end and I have some collections of poems that I would like to get out sometime. I am turning 50 late this year, so I would like to get a selected poems volume from the last 20 years together to mark the occasion ‒I may even go for a paperback publication! 

I will be completing publication of further Solid Flesh For Food chapbooks ‒ Neeli Cherkovski, Linda King, Catfish McDaris, Jake St John and the guitarist from an America alternative rock band who I can't name just yet ‒ if it comes together! There will be one more slot as I'll end on number 10 and that's undecided as yet.

I also contribute to a local Leicester culture magazine called Great Central ‒ I have a couple of interviews ‒ one with a local band and one with a legend, and some reviews I'm working on and whatever comes up with that ‒ so there's plenty going on!