Dr Victoria Stobo writes:
Exciting news for poetry lovers: an exhibition of archive material relating to the poetry publisher Carcanet will be held in the Rylands Gallery of the John Rylands Library, from Monday 30th September 2019 until the end of March 2020. The exhibition forms part of the AHRC-funded research project, Survival of the Weakest. Dr. Lise Jaillant’s research on Carcanet Press explores how small poetry publishers survive in the global marketplace, and the exhibition explores three themes emerging from this research: Carcanet’s relationship with Arts Council England; its place within the broader UK poetry publishing landscape; and its role in publishing the work of female poets.
Carcanet celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Michael Schmidt, managing director of Carcanet, studied at Harvard and Oxford in the late 1960s. While still at Oxford, he became editor of the student magazine Carcanet, which he turned into a small press. Publishing poetry booklets with the help of Peter Jones, the press moved to Manchester in 1972. With funding and support from the Arts Council, Carcanet became a leading poetry publisher, specialising in modern and classic poetry in English and in translation, fiction, literary criticism, and correspondence through the Lives and Letters imprint.
Carcanet has received Arts Council funding since its early days, and this long relationship has been central to Carcanet’s long-term planning and strategy. Carcanet has also worked to establish and maintain good working relationships with other poetry publishers in the UK, notably Bloodaxe Books and Peepal Tree Press. Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978, and publishes award-winning poetry with an edge. Peepal Tree Press was founded by Jeremy Poynting in 1986 and publishes the best in Caribbean & Black British Writing.
The exhibition will also explore the work of female poets published by Carcanet: we have featured Elizabeth Jennings and Sujata Bhatt. Elizabeth Jennings (1926–2001) was associated with the Movement, a group of English poets active in the 1950s, including Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn and Kinsley Amis. Jennings was a prolific writer, producing thirty collections of poetry during her lifetime while editing selections and anthologies, and writing criticism. Her Collected Poems received the W. H. Smith award in 1986 and she was awarded a CBE in 1992.
Carcanet also looked outside Europe to find talented poets. Born in Ahmedabad, India, in 1956, Sujata Bhatt grew up in Pune (India) and the United States. After receiving her MFA from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, she moved to Germany where she worked as a freelance writer. Following her acclaimed first collection Brunizem (1988), for which she won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia) and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award, she has published eight further collections with Carcanet – most recently Poppies in Translation (2015).
You can join us at the John Rylands Library for a Curator’s Corner event during the exhibition: Lise Jaillant and Victoria Stobo will give a short talk about the materials on display and their links to the history of the press. Details for the Curator’s Corner events will be confirmed in September: dates and times will be available on the project website and the Rylands events pages.