Jeremy Reed On The Importance Of Indie Presses

September 20, 2018

Jeremy Reed On The Importance Of Indie Presses

Jeremy Reed - Selected Poems from Penguin Books, but with dozens of poetry books, collections of criticism, and prose works out from smaller indie presses - is one of the great sui generis poetic visionaries of our time. Eyewear is honoured to publish Dr Reed. Here is his brief apologia for indie publishing, which he offered to us the other day:

Most individually designed writing, nearly always by tourists from the future ahead of their time, and by its angular originality themed to subvert mainstream careerists, starts underground, and often stays there a lifetime without ever compromising on its unique edge. And of course, poetry in particular is nurtured and maintained by small independent publishers whose generosity and commitment nearly always overrides any conceivable financial gain.

We can say that most mainstream writing dies with its author as social media product, unlike the liberated underground who continue to filter through and to inspire successive generations inheriting a subculture gene. Think Blake, Baudelaire, Lautreamont, Rimbaud, none of them ever conceded to the idea of popularity as an integrant to their flagrantly intransigent firepower.

Small presses, like Todd Swift's heroic carrying of Eyewear oppose homogenised mediocrity. Peter Owen, my publisher for decades used to say, 'individual writers need individual publishers,' and his list included Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Anais Nin, Anna Kavan, Yukio Mishima, Salvador Dali just as a start. His contemporary in deregulated independent publishing was John Calder, the first British publisher of William Burroughs, whose Naked Lunch started out with the tiny Olympia Press in Paris, who also fearlessly published Jean Genet in English translation, and Nabokov's Lolita.

Calder rehabilitated Samuel Beckett in the early sixties after every mainstream British publisher had turned down his fiction as unreadable. In the sixties a triumvirate of British poetry publishers, Cape Goliard, Trigram Press and Fulcrum Press, altered the course of British poetry for ever by importing the influence of the Black Mountain and New York School of Poets into a new experimental form of British writing through the likes of Lee Harwood, Tom Raworth and JH Prynne.

All of these poets required the empathetic support of individual publishers and not conglomerate gatekeepers. Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books and Todd Swift's Eyewear have heroically fought to architect a publishing incentive that gives voice to the radical individual and not the largely visionless contents of sanitised literary publishing.

In the same way as punk and indie radically destabilised MOR pop, so small presses do the same for poetry. Support them like gold in your veins. - Jeremy Reed, London, September 2018

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