Offa's Press Picnic
I have known Offa's Press and its poets for many years - almost as long as I've been attending Blakenhall Writers. I remember the first Offa's Press event I attended - City Voices, when it was held in the City Bar in Wolverhampton, c.2012 - Jane Seabourne was reading, and I remember being struck by what a gentle and calm aura she had as she read (I still remember the poem Demeter Makes Jam). This was quite divorced from the stereotypical image of poets I'd had previously, as being wild-haired and jewellery-laden, gesticulating through a dramatic monologue!
As I became more involved in Blakenhall Writers, and as I attended more events such as City Voices, I got to know more Offa's Press poets and their work (two such people - Kuli Kohli and Ros Woolner - are pictured below). I was secretly surprised to learn that this array of people from all kinds of backgrounds and life experiences were actually very good-humoured, down-to-earth people, who would welcome you regardless of who you were, whether you were a writer or not, and where you were in your career (writing or otherwise).
This is one of the reasons I am delighted to be an Offa's Press poet. The poets are like a family - a group of like-minded people who you can chat with on a social level. As this is the first year of my 'official' inclusion in the group, I was invited along to the summer Offa's Press meet-up. There are two a year - one in winter and one in summer - and those who are able to get together do so, for an afternoon of not talking 'shop' - just socialising, relaxing, and having a catch-up.
I like this idea for a few reasons. Firstly, I am fortunate enough to have been part of a writing 'community' for many years, and I have friends and contacts I can use as sounding boards or ask for honest feedback. They're supportive of my work and successes, we attend literature events together, and sometimes we even socialise of our own accord. If you didn't have this, I think writing could be an isolated hobby, and it would be very difficult to make connections - and connections worth having, at that. Offa's Press fosters a community among its poets, meaning that nobody they publish has to navigate the sometimes overwhelming literary business alone.
Secondly, it can be difficult to attend every event that the writers you'd like to see are reading at, and it can be even more difficult to catch up socially with those you consider friends. Offa's Press poets, while all midlands-based, hail from Bridgnorth to Birmingham; from the Staffordshire Moorlands to the depths of the Black Country. These events are a dedicated opportunity to have a natter, maintain those relationships, friendships, and regional connections, and to hear fresh work you might otherwise have missed. As partners and families are also invited, it's also a great way to include your nearest and dearest in something you're passionate about, and to meet key people in your community.
Thirdly, one thing Offa's Press seems particularly keen on is supporting and promoting its poets. I suppose it makes business sense to 'check in' with them periodically, to find out what they're up to, what has progressed in their careers, and therefore how best to work together to promote their work (and themselves). From a poet's point of view, I imagine it's helpful to keep close to your publisher, and their plans, so you can identify opportunities for promotion, publication, and support.
So on Sunday, 23rd June, we gathered in the shadow of Llanymynech Rocks, near Pant, Shropshire, where Offa's Press is headquartered. The weather was slightly overcast, but we sat amongst the plentiful selection of wildflowers and associated droning insects, eating our picnics. Offa's Press had provided drinks for the attendees, so we were well refreshed. Once we'd chatted and finished eating, we shared poems about summer. Most people read poems by other people, such as Adlestrop by Edward Thomas, and Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson. John Woodall read a hilarious new poem imagining the phone call from Hollywood about adapting his poetry collection, This Is Just to Say.
I deliberated a lot about what to share, but chose Heatwave by Pauline Stainer. I had read it in one of my favourite poetry books, the Radio 4 Poetry Please The Seasons book, and I love the brutality of it; the language is so simple, but the images are strange and violent, just like the searing heat of summer can be.
It was August
when we saw the man
with an iguana on his shoulder
walk up from the wharf.
No mirage -
the huge lizard
in outlandish light
the lions at Colchester zoo
were fed lumps of ice
flavoured with blood.
It was also a special birthday for one of our group - Ros Woolner - and we had cake, sang Happy Birthday, and celebrated amongst the wildflowers.
I've never had a collection or body of work published by any other publisher, so I don't know whether this approach is commonplace or unusual. I suppose for larger publishers with many, many writers on their books - not all living ones! - it would be quite difficult to gather everyone together in a suitable location. As I mentioned above, I think that these events are very helpful for writers and publishers, and I had such an enjoyable day. I'd like to think that it is standard practice, but if not, it's definitely something indie (independent) publishers ought to consider.
I'd love to hear your experiences of how your publisher has supported you in the comments.