T. S. Eliot Prize News

Perspectives and Connections: On Publishing Poetry



Jane Commane, Nine Arches Press


photo © Lee Townsend

2020 has been a strange and challenging year for so many of us. Here at Nine Arches, we’ve been adapting to working from home as we continued to publish our books and magazines, and got used to Zoom catch-ups with our colleagues and with our poets, whilst learning quite a lot of new digital skills, all within a very short space of time. It’s been quite a dizzying juggling act at times. Most of all, we have greatly missed the offline live events, festivals and travel that would normally punctuate our poetry calendar.

As we take stock of a year of change and upheaval, we’re looking ahead to 2021 and to an important milestone for us. The new year will bring our 100th publication, which we’ll be marking by publishing T S Eliot Prize shortlisted poet Jacqueline Saphra’s One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets. The book is a poetic journal in a sequence of sonnets, charting the experience of one hundred days of the first lockdown. There will only be 100 copies of the book available, and it will be produced as a limited-edition hardback sold in aid of the Trussell Trust.

In many ways, One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets is also a little nod to our origins as a pamphlet publisher. It feels fitting to be both honouring our roots as a publisher in this way, and to be publishing something which so uniquely looks to the current moment and reflects our lives now.

In the last twelve years, Nine Arches Press has gradually grown from a small pamphlet publisher, based in my spare room and tended to between other jobs, to a flourishing publishing house with a real sense of community at its heart. For me as editor, one of the most satisfying elements is that you start to have the long-view perspective over the life’s work of the poets you work with, which is a real privilege. You have the pleasure of being party to the creative processes of poets, and get to see their work’s evolution. You come to understand better what it is that drives each poet; to know their obsessions and themes that inform their writing, and watch them test their wings as writers, set themselves new boundaries.

So often the role I have as an editor is a bridge between the reader and poet – and it’s one that involves a kind of openness, and sense of inquiry. You have to be prepared to ask questions, to listen and understand the mechanisms at work, as well as to hold in your mind the structure and potential shape of a whole, finished book and imagine a reader’s journey through it. I love this process, and the sense it gives me of where a poet is coming from – and where they might be going to next.

I’m a poet as well as an editor, and I think that it also matters to see poetry as a lifelong endeavour, an artform that is a part of who we are – and for publishers to also be there for the long term to support, encourage and open space for writers to create the work they need to. It seems essential to me that writers have the room that enables them to be daring, take risks and try new things – or simply find new ways to continue and explore, to unfold and examine persistent things that are at the heart of why they write.

The perspective the last twelve years has brought is that publishing doesn’t just begin and end with printing a book. It involves a real investment of time and care in poems and in poets themselves. It involves building a space for writers and audiences and readers to occupy which values the experience of poetry as a fundamentally powerful moment, the moment in which a connection through words and language lives inside us. Our support through Arts Council England has been vital in enabling us to continue to work to develop and support writers directly, whether established or emerging – and it’s also been vital in helping us to adapt through the current challenges of the pandemic.

This year, much of the space our books and our poetry has occupied has been a digital one and though it may seem a long way from making poetry pamphlets on your kitchen table, I think there’s much more in common in approach than might first be apparent. Both, after all, bring poetry into the heart of the home, and both – whether hi-tech or lo-fi – create that vital moment of connection we all crave, and which poetry is especially good at forging.


Pavilion Poetry


Deryn Rees-Jones



2021 will mark the seventh anniversary of Pavilion Poetry. Our list is small – we usually only publish three books each spring – but it has been a huge pleasure to see our poets’ careers develop and to win national and international recognition within a relatively short space of time.

Some of the poets we publish are at the start of their poetry writing lives, others already had a strong reputation. So far we have published writers from the UK and the US; and from France/ Lebanon, and Holland in translation. Between them now they have won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Saltire Poetry Prize, the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendation, and the Translation Choice; and they have been also previously been shortlisted for, among others, the T.S. Eliot Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award.

Pavilion is an imprint of Liverpool University Press, and each year we work with student interns from the Department of English at the University of Liverpool to bring the books into the world; seeing books through from start to finish, with those students, and my colleagues at the press, is a huge privilege.

As editor I have wanted to offer the poets a secure space to develop their work. The poets we have published so far each has a distinctive voice, but all share a desire to take a risk with form and ideas. I am not much interested in a lyric poetry than leans easily into anecdote; for me what is most exciting about a book of poems is the way it can hold and transform rich and complex experience, however, difficult or challenging.

I have long been an admirer of Bhanu Kapil’s writing. To have the opportunity to develop a UK readership for her work, and to have the very real thrill of seeing How to Wash a Heart evolve prior to publication, has been a joy.

Pavilion’s new titles for 2021 include a first collection by Alice Hiller, a bird in winter, and two second collections from Alice Miller, What Fire, and Sarah Westcott’s Bloom.  For more information see https://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/series/series-12328/

Poetry Powerhouses


Andrew McMillan


I’m writing this from Manchester; currently in Tier 3 of the lockdown hierarchy designed to combat the global coronavirus pandemic.(And yes, since I started writing this, things have moved on further, and a we’re in a second national lockdown).  As we gathered last January at the Southbank Centre to hear the annual T.S Eliot Prize Readings, that wasn’t an opening couple of sentences I ever anticipated having to write. Those yearly readings are something I’ve always loved; attending first as a fan, watching Seamus Heaney or Sharon Olds or Daljit Nagra or Claudia Rankine do what they do best, and then more recently as a tutor, bringing down some students from Manchester on the Mega Bus, and now, whatever the world and the Eliot event might look like in January, I’ll be attending as a judge, alongside Mona Arshi and our Chair, Lavinia Greenlaw.

Out of the multitude of things the last year has taught us, one of them is the raw deal that The North of England gets, in relation to the capital. On a rough calculation, I’d say that 13.2% of the UK population live in London. Yet think of how many of our most prestigious literary events, how many of our prizes, base themselves there every year. We know that in all kinds of diversity, and regional diversity is no different, success and visibility beget success and visibility. Seeing great poets of colour on prize lists and winning prizes, Roger Robinson at last year’s Eliot for example, inspires new generations of young poets to step forward, to have their voices heard, to shift what we think of as the ‘centre ground’, to re-write what are often erroneously called ‘the margins’.

What if London was no longer the centre?  What if the Man Booker was awarded in Sheffield? What if the Forwards or the Eliots were given out in Grimsby, or Scarborough? What aspiring writers might then be able to attend, might see the literary life as something local and attainable, and then what new voices would we hear?

Often when I write things like this, I get replies telling me that my dad’s a poet (in case I hadn’t realised), he hosts the Eliots! I was born into the ‘business’! Well then, if so, it’s incumbent on me to keep saying these things for the kids from Barnsley, and Burnley, and Bury, and Berwick and the Black Country, who weren’t.

So come on Londoners, come up for those ‘national’ events; if you book your trains in advance you can probably get them for under £100. Don’t worry if you don’t have a friend to stay with, there’s that last train about 9:40pm, so just leave at half time, or dash off straight after, not being able to talk to anyone.

How about this, every time someone wins a literary prize we invoke the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest;  the winner’s home town or city gets to host the event next year. I had tried to institute that rule myself, but every prize I ever won closed down immediately after. I think it’s because I drank too much free wine.