English and Drama blog

6 posts from October 2015

30 October 2015

The Name's Bond, James Bond

James Bond: the suave epitome of effortless cool or a rampaging misogynist dinosaur? With Spectre, the latest film in the Bond franchise, doing excellent business at the cinema debates about whether James Bond is still relevant in the modern world are of little more than academic concern when so many people flock to see the movies. There is, however, something of a split between the character of Bond as portrayed in Ian Fleming's original novels and short stories and the character as portrayed on screen. Even within the films themselves there are marked differences between Bond as played by, for example, Sean Connery (suave, cool, dangerous), Roger Moore (charming, tongue-in-cheek, the master of the raised eyebrow) and Daniel Craig (hard-edged and with hidden depths). Different Bonds for different generations perhaps but what all of the films tend to have in common is a love of excess: the fast cars, the gadgets, the glamorous women and the almost cartoonish villains with their sinister henchmen - the latter often sporting a signature trademark such as a steel-rimmed bowler hat, a mouthful of metal teeth or, most menacingly of all, a fluffy white cat. The books however, even the overtly sensational ones such as Dr No (1958), also have something else.

Cat 01
A white Persian cat of the type often seen purring menacingly on the lap of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of the global criminal organisation SPECTRE.

While the films have arguably become ever more spectacular, with each pre-credits sequence attempting to outdo the one before for drama, the original series of novels and short stories if anything tended to go the other way, becoming more introspective as age and ill health caught up with Bond's creator. The last two Bond novels published during Fleming's lifetime, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963) and You Only Live Twice (1964), while still featuring the occasional dazzling set piece, are both haunted by loss, introspection, doubt and death. In the former novel Bond loses his wife, Tracy, in a hail of bullets while the latter, much of which is set in a Japanese Garden of Death (there are no fancy missile silos beneath hollowed-out volcanoes in the book) concludes with the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, M, writing Bond's obituary. The sense of weariness and fatalism is even more prevalent in Fleming's posthumously published collection of short stories Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966) and, in particular, in the story 'The Living Daylights' itself, the manuscript of which is held in the British Library.

Part of Ian Fleming's manuscript for 'The Living Daylights'. The first few pages consist of annotated typed sheets, while the remainder is written entirely by hand.

Short stories are often regarded as the poor relations to novels. This is a shame because, while novels may allow for more character development and plot exposition, short stories have the advantage of being able to focus upon a single incident. What they lose in variety they gain in intensity. 'The Living Daylights', which was originally titled 'Trigger Finger', tells of Bond being sent to Cold-War era Berlin. A British agent is due to make his way across the scrubby no-man's land between East and West Berlin, but a KGB sniper is known to be lying in wait and it is Bond's job to shoot the sniper before the sniper can assassinate the agent. The story finds Bond in melancholy mood. The alcohol is only there to steady the nerves and keep doubt at bay; the rifle with which he means to assassinate the KGB sniper is a brutally functional means to an end rather than a gadget-filled marvel designed by Q; the setting is a shadowy wasteland in a divided city and Bond's companion in the story is not an attractive woman but rather the melancholy Captain Sender, someone who, as Bond reflects, probably joined the Secret Service in the mistaken belief that there he would find 'life, drama, romance, the things he had never had'. While there are still flashes of the old Bond, the character's fascination with a beautiful Russian cellist he sees on the East-side of the city's divide, for example, and his subsequent rather sexist observation that someone should develop a way for female cellists to play their instruments 'side-saddle' so they don't have to straddle them with legs akimbo the tone of the story is otherwise relentlessly bleak. Bond even hopes that the somewhat messy end to his mission might lead to his 'Double O' status being revoked - thus freeing him from a job that revolves around carrying out state-sanctioned murder. So much for the supposedly glamorous life of a secret agent.

Some of this downbeat realism from the later Bond novels and short stories definitely makes its way into Daniel Craig's portrayal, making him arguably the closest fit to Ian Fleming's original conception of the character. Bond films always go big on spectacle but, as Fleming knew well, the action carries more weight and intensity when the leading character has, behind the surface glamour, doubts and flaws that are all too recognisably human.

Part of the manuscript of 'The Living Daylights' can currently be seen on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.


26 October 2015

Artist Portraits: John Berger's latest book launch at the British Library

by Tom Overton, editor of Portraits: John Berger on Artists by John Berger, 2015


On the 18th September, John Berger and Ali Smith came to the British Library to launch a book I’ve been editing, Portraits: John Berger on Artists.


Image courtesy of Verso Books

Ali Smith gave a short speech explaining why she loved Berger’s work; it was wonderful, and can be read in the New Statesman here. As you’ll understand from reading it, I was very glad that I’d been on stage already, and my stint explaining the origins of the book didn’t have to follow that.


Between 2010 and 2013 I had the pleasure and the privilege of cataloguing the archive John Berger donated to the British Library while I was writing my PhD. This turned into an exhibition at Somerset House, connecting the archive to works of art, and a conference and free school celebrating the anniversary of to of his most famous works, Ways of Seeing and G. Then, while I was a Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute, Verso to ask me to put together a collection of Berger’s writing about art.


The original proposal turned into two books, the second of which, Landscapes, will be published next year. In some ways the discipline of focusing on Berger’s writing on art was a relief – the scope of his achievement in writing alone is enormous, and books like A Seventh Man, on migrants in Europe, seem particularly timely today. These achievements are also ongoing; among other things there’s this piece addressed to Rosa Luxemburg in the New Statesman.


I had to go away and think about what I loved about Berger’s writing on art, and what I thought was important about it. I haven’t got time to do justice to that, so instead, I’ll try and lay out three of the considerations I had in mind. The first was the sheer scope of material in two, historical senses: Berger trained as a painter here in London in the 1940s, and has been writing about art ever since. But he’s written about everything, from all periods, from the very earliest to the most contemporary. That was one of the reasons I was so pleased that Ali Smith agreed to come, because I think – particularly in a book like How to Be Both she and Berger share this wonderfully free, freeing approach to history, existing in what Berger calls ‘the company of the past.’


The second consideration is that, like Smith, Berger has little sense of being constrained by literary form. It seems appropriate that we’re launching this book on the anniversary of the death of another radical writer and painter, William Hazlitt, because Berger is rightly known as one of the great innovators in the essay. But he’s also much more than that. In The Success and Failure of Picasso, Berger quotes Picasso writing to his dealer in 1923, to explain the vast formal variety of his work. He says ‘whenever I have had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I felt it ought to be said.’ This seems to me to be true of Berger’s work too: he’s responded to the experience of looking at art through fiction, drama, poetry, films, collaborations with Nella Bielski, Mike Dibb and Simon McBurney and things which don’t fit into any category at all. There’s a kind of elegy in the book for the sculptor Juan Muñoz, for example, structured as a sequence of letters to the dead Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.


The third consideration also seems to be a unique aspect to Berger’s work. Like Monet with his cathedrals, Berger submits himself to the discipline of returning to the same stimulus, over and over again, and bringing a new insight out of it each time, about the work, and he world around us. The archetypal example of this is the way he went to see Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece either side of the revolutionary hopes and failures of 1968. It’s also in writing about Henry Moore and Francis Bacon in a very different way in the 1950s, the 1980s, and the 21st century, each time with a scrupulous honesty and complete commitment.


So a straightforward essay collection wouldn’t have worked. The structure I settled on was a timeline, arranged around the dates of birth of the artists John had written about, from the Chauvet Cave painters and Fayum portraitists to many of the artists who are in the audience today – Michael Broughton, Yvonne Barlow, Rostia Kunovsky, Peter Kennard. Within the chapters there’s space for these sequences of responses to emerge where they do.


Image courtesy of Verso Books

Re-imagining all this writing in this way reminded me of the moment at the beginning of Ways of Seeing, the book and series with Mike Dibb and others which you can still see on YouTube. Berger walks up to what looks like Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, gets out a Stanley knife, chops out Venus’s head, and announces ‘an allegorical painting becomes a portrait of a girl’. I hope Berger can forgive me for the similar violence I’ve sometimes used in taking pieces of response out of their original context and putting them in this book; but he gave me the idea.


You can read it like this, in segments when you see something in a gallery, or on a screen – with Berger’s piece on Rosa Luxemburg and birds in mind, I want to call that bird-like. Or you can be very proper and read it from cover to cover. When I did that in making the book, a lot of unexpected connections emerged – even within the pieces themselves, Berger is always pointing out simultaneities. What it isn’t is what he has called ‘a relay-race of individual geniuses’; it’s an art history which is about collaboration, rather than competition, and this quality of what I called the company of the past.


Portraits is dedicated to Gareth Evans, who has long been a really vital advocate of Berger’s work, and the work of many other important, committed artists – I exhort you to follow everything he does very closely. But it’s also dedicated to Berger’s wife Beverly, who passed away in 2013, and who gave the archive at the British Library its shape, and its great richness of content. So as I’ve explained, this book, like many others, couldn’t have happened without her. I hope you enjoy it.


23 October 2015

The British Library acquires the D’Oyly Carte archive

by Helen Melody, Lead Curator, Contemporary Creative and Literary Archives.


The British Library is happy to announce that it has acquired the archive of the D’Oyly Carte Theatre Company. The company, founded by Richard D’Oyly Carte, was a professional light opera company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy operas from 1875 until 1982.


The D’Oyly Carte archive is remarkable in its extent, its continuity and the range of material it contains. It provides unparalleled insight into an opera company which was unusual in its repertoire, international reach, its focused social identity and ownership over more than a century by a single family. As an archive of an important theatre company which toured the UK and British Empire extensively, it is British in the sense of the audiences it reached, and its subject matter, which relates to stage works offering a unique view on aspects of British society and culture from the late Victorian period. Its acquisition builds on the Library’s strong existing Gilbert and Sullivan holdings including the Gilbert papers that were acquired in 1956, and the autograph scores of Patience and Gondoliers (acquired in 1966) and Ruddigore (in 2000). It also adds to an already rich collection of theatrical archives at the British Library which includes the archives of Laurence Olivier and Alec Guinness and the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection.


Leaves from the autograph score of Iolanthe, by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Dated November 1882. D'Oyly Carte Archive. Copyright @ British Library Board & D'Oyly Carte.

The archive of the D’Oyly Carte Theatre Company comprises a complete record of the activities of one of the most famous, distinctive and longstanding theatrical companies in the UK. The D’Oyly Carte Company is the effective birthplace of one of the UK’s most commercially successful creative endeavours – the musical. The archive is also inextricably bound up with the wider enterprise of the Savoy Theatre and Hotel, itself a fascinating demonstration of late Victorian ingenuity. It has been carefully maintained by the organisation which created it and covers the Company’s activities over the entire twentieth century, as well as more limited material from its early days in the nineteenth. Indeed the company maintained exclusive control of copyright of the operas up to 1960 and the archive documents the way in which W.S. Gilbert’s directions for each production were strictly adhered to.


The rich documentation and range of material of the archive is probably unparalleled in theatrical archives. This includes extensive correspondence with agents and artistes, relating to auditions, casting, personnel, theatres and tours (around the UK and throughout the English-speaking world); programmes, press cuttings, band parts, libretti, prompt books, papers and photographs of the D’Oyly Carte family, contracts, stage managers’ reports, illustrative materials including sketches for costumes and props, cigarette cards, extensive photographs of artistes, productions and special occasions, posters, recordings on various media including discs, reel-to-reel tape, and sound and video cassette and optical disc. Sir Arthur Sullivan’s autograph score of ‘Iolanthe’ is the most valuable individual component of the archive, and until its acquisition it was the only remaining major autograph Sullivan opera score in private ownership.

  D'Oyly Carte5

Costume design working notebook from the 1970s, with production photograph and fabric samples. (Samples relate to a production of The Gondoliers). D'Oyly Carte Archive. Copyright @ British Library Board & D'Oyly Carte.


The Library was enabled to acquire the archive by the generous support of the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and the Friends of the British Library. This includes funding to catalogue and preserve the archive, which is expected to be fully accessible by spring 2017.


The cataloguer will make the considerable research potential of this archive easily accessible to researchers, as well as any individuals interested in the history of theatre. The archive will provide insight not only into the performance history of the works staged by the company, but also of the performers themselves. This material will appeal to a wide range of researchers – from amateur musicians to professional musicologists, and from social historians to theatrical producers and genealogists. We are very excited to have acquired it and feel that it is a wonderful addition to our collections.

21 October 2015

Animal Tales by S.F. Said, author of Varjak Paw

S.F. Said opened the exhibition Animal Tales at the British Library: http://www.bl.uk/events/animal-tales.

Earlier this year, I was incredibly honoured to open the British Library's wonderful exhibition of Animal Tales.  I was even more honoured to see my book Varjak Paw as one of the exhibits.  It was particularly thrilling for me because many of the books in the exhibition had a profound influence on me as I was growing up, and then later, as an adult working on my own writing.  Books such as Watership Down and The Jungle Books are among the most formative and important that I have ever read.


Book cover of Varjak Paw by S.F. Said (Random House 2010), illustration copyright: Dave McKean, text copyright: S.F. Said.


But then, I think animal tales have had a profound influence upon most of us.  The earliest known human art is all about animals.  They dominate the human imagination from the moment that paintings appear in the caves of Chauvet and Lascaux and Altamira.  Animals are also visible in the oldest surviving sculptures, such as the 40,000 year old Lion Man who mesmerised crowds at the recent exhibition of Ice Age art at the British Museum.  That exhibition showed just how deeply animals were embedded in the early human imagination - both as subjects of what appear to be closely observed nature studies, and as the focus a seemingly more magical kind of thinking, in which animals shade into the human, and the divine.


The British Library's Animal Tales exhibition has shown us that animals are just as deeply embedded in human storytelling traditions as in visual arts.  They are ubiquitous in ancient mythologies, and remain present in so many traditional fairytales and folk tales from around the world. 


© The British Library Board

One of the earliest illustrated printed editions of Ovid, La Métamorphose d'Ovide figurée from 1583, on display in Animal Tales at the British Library.


And at the very moment that animals began to disappear from most people's daily lives, in the 19th Century, there was an extraordinary explosion of animal literature which continues to the present day.  Why is this?  Why have animals not disappeared from our imaginations, but if anything, become a larger presence there than ever?


Perhaps because, as Claude Levi-Strauss once observed, "animals are not chosen because they are good to eat, but because they are good to think".   


I love this idea that animals are good to think.  John Berger, in essay his 'Why Look At Animals?', takes it even further: "It is not unreasonable to suppose that the first metaphor was animal." 


For animals give us so many ways to think about the world, and our experience of being in it.  There is no one single form of the Animal Tale.  There are many kinds, and they use animals in many different ways. 


© The British Library Board

An illustration from the  1877 edition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, on display in Animal Tales at the British Library.


Black Beauty is widely seen as beginning the modern preoccupation with animal welfare, by crediting animals with subjectivity, agency, sentience - encapsulated in that marvellous author credit, "Translated from the original equine by Anna Sewell."  But this is a tradition that runs from the anthropomorphic tales of Beatrix Potter to the rigorously observed nature writing of Henry Williamson's Tarka The Otter; from the magical talking animals of CS Lewis's Narnia books to the political allegory of Orwell's Animal Farm or Art Speigelman's Maus


Animal writing and art are such broad and diverse traditions; every writer and artist brings something new, something of their own to it.


For my part - I have to admit, I didn't set out to write an animal story as such when I wrote Varjak Paw.  The story began when I got a kitten.  He was very young when we first got him, and had never been outside in his whole life. I will never forget the first time he went outside. He went out into the garden, and at the bottom of the garden was a high stone wall, a hundred times bigger than he was. But before anyone could stop him, this tiny kitten ran straight up the face of the wall, until he was sitting on the very top, looking out at the whole world, for the first time ever.


Page from Varjak Paw by S.F Said, illustration copyright: Dave McKean, text copyright: S.F. Said.


His adventures seemed so dramatic, and so resonant to me.  Who among us hasn't at some point in their lives felt like someone very small, facing a very big world for the first time, all alone?  That, for me, is what Varjak Paw is really about, more than cats, as such.  And yet - the cattier I made it, the more powerful it seemed as metaphor.  The more specifically feline my story became - the more universally human it seemed, too.


The same was true with the illustration of Varjak Paw.  Again, I remember wanting my cats to look like real cats, not cute fluffy cartoon cats.  And Dave McKean had drawn the cattiest cats I'd ever seen in his comic Cages, and that was why I thought he would be perfect for Varjak Paw - as well as the fact that he's my favourite artist!  But again: the cattier Dave made the cats, the more universal they became.  To the point where Varjak Paw has now travelled the world, been read by hundreds of thousands of people, and became part of an extraordinary exhibition at the British Library.


I can't explain or unpick all that.  I can't tell you why animal stories are still so popular, so powerful, so compelling.  I can't even tell you why my new book, Phoenix, has a Phoenix in it - or why the next book, that I'm writing right now – TYGER – is all about a tiger! 


What I can tell you is that this animal stuff goes very deep.  It touches something powerful and profound for children and adults alike; and it has been an enormous honour to see my work as part of this tradition, and this exhibition.

                                                                                                                                             S.F. Said

16 October 2015

International Translation Day 2015 at the British Library

By Deborah Dawkin, who is a translator and currently working on a collaborative AHRC PhD project with UCL and the British Library focussing on the archive of Ibsen translator Michael Meyer.

On the 4th October the British Library hosted International Translation Day 2015. Marking St Jerome’s day, the Patron Saint of Translators, ITD is a day when translators, authors, publishers, booksellers, critics come together to share ideas, take stock of some of the challenges in the industry, and importantly celebrate its successes. In her opening speech Rose Fenton, Director of Free Word, aptly described this symposium, now in its sixth year, as the “gathering of the translation clan”.


The “translation clan” gather over morning coffee in the British Library conference centre.


If translators do indeed belong to some sort of “clan”, then we, the general public, are nonetheless touched by their work in countless invisible ways: not only in the form of literary translation, but in the international news reports splashed across our television screens and front pages, the ingredients lists or instructions on foreign products, and the subtitles for the latest TV Scandinavian crime series. Translation and translators, it seems, quietly intersect with our reality every day. It was this intersection, and with it the exciting potential of engagement between translators and the public ­– through more interactive publishing, readers’ groups, blogs and literary festivals, as well as outreach work in schools and communities - which emerged as a recurring theme of this year’s International Translation Day.


The empowerment of readers in a fast-changing media landscape was the subject of the opening panel. Entitled “The Rise of the Reader” the discussion was chaired by Alex Clark and panellists included Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, Anna Jean Hughes, Founder and Editorial Director of The Pigeonhole; and Will Rycroft Community Manager at Vintage. We no longer inhabit a world in which publishers are alone in choosing which books to publish, and in which newspaper critics have the last say on quality. As Rycroft pointed out the fact that people are using a single app on which to play, talk and read – even reading on their phones – opens up possibilities for engaging new readers. Hughes described how The Pigeonhole publishes books in serial form online, including authors and readers in conversation, and hopes translators too might join that conversation. Hughes’s ultimate aim is to “enhance books through conversation across the globe” and suggested that we might experiment with the crowd sourcing of literary translations to speed up the process of bringing translated literature to the public.


One of the seminars I found of particular interest explored the growing interest in Translators in Residence. Translators in Residence schemes are comparatively new, but proving an extremely worthwhile initiative in engaging the public in translation. We heard from several translators who were involved in workshops in schools. Sam Holmes explained how sometimes the most productive work a translator in residence can do, is that which runs counter to what students might usually encounter in the classroom. Instead of focussing on the rigid expectations of an exam syllabus, children are encouraged to see their own potential as translators and to work creatively with language. Projects run by Lucy Greaves, during her residence at the Free Word Centre included a Translation and Creative Writing workshop in a refugee centre. Her workshops culminated in the event 'Signs', a showcase of the work of pupils from Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children as part of Islington Word Festival. Translator in Residence schemes are not only a wonderful way in which to generate interest in translated literature and foreign language learning but can be empowering for the communities which they reach out to.


There were countless other subjects that inspired animated discussion during the day. The eight seminars on offer covered a wide range of issues. Subjects included the running of translation workshops in libraries, bookshops and schools offering the public an insight into the art of translation; how book sellers and publishers might involve translators in the promotion of books at literary festivals and events; self-publishing by foreign authors and translators in collaboration; the new opportunities and challenges for the translation industry created by developments in the digitised games, video and AV; and the strategies used by translators to give cultural and historical background where needed, without overloading the text.


An interesting and amusing experiment opened a seminar entitled “Translation-Speak: Literary difference or bad English?” The audience and panellists were given anonymous passages from various published novels and asked to guess which had been written in English originally and which were translations. It proved an almost impossible exercise, with most passages splitting the vote. What was revealed was that there were often stylistic oddities in those texts originally written in English, that might have been regarded as awkward and therefore faults in a translation, and that the translated texts often read very (perhaps too) smoothly. This led to a discussion about whether translators and their editors are daring enough in their use of language, or often confined to producing texts that are an attractive and “easy read”, even where the original might be more stylistically demanding.


Translationspeak panel

The panel for the “Translation Speak” seminar: Chair Nicky Harman (translator), and panellists Meike Ziervogel (publisher, Peierene Press),  Shaun Whiteside (translator) and Laura Barber (Editorial Director, Granta).


The final panel of the day “From Page to Stage” included readings by actors from Sasha Dugdale’s translations of Belarusian playwright Pavel Pryazhko’s work.  In the discussion Dugdale and Chris Campbell, Literary Manager at the Royal Court, explored the journey made by a play as it passes through the hands of the translator, writer, dramaturg, director and finally the actors themselves.


The day was rounded off with the Found in Translation Award Ceremony, which was awarded this year to Ursula Philips for her translation of the novel Choucas by the Polish author Zofia Nalkowska.


International Translation Day 2015 is organised by Free Word, English PEN, and the British Library in partnership with The British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT), The Emerging Translators Network (ETN), Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), The Translators Association (TA), Wales Literature Exchange (WLE), Words Without Borders and the Writers Centre Norwich. ITD is supported by Bloomberg, The Booker Prize Foundation, the European Commission, the Arts Council England, Foundation Jan Michalski and ALCS.


08 October 2015

Shining a light on poetry pamphlets for National Poetry Day

by Debbie Cox, Lead Curator of Contemporary British Publications at the British Library.

National Poetry Day gives us the opportunity to showcase the wonderful array of poetry pamphlets submitted recently for the Michael Marks Awards.  The Awards, in which the Library is a partner, were set up to celebrate the poetry pamphlet as a unique form of publication, having a fundamental importance in poetry.  The Poetry Award recognises an outstanding poetry pamphlet published in the UK in the previous year, and the Publishers Award singles out an outstanding UK publisher of poetry pamphlets.  Additionally for the first time this year, there is a prize for outstanding illustration of a poetry pamphlet.   For this year’s awards, a total of 115 pamphlets were entered. The publishers’ submissions detail their efforts to sustain and develop the pamphlet as an important element in the poetry landscape.   Pamphlets, defined for these Awards as publications of no more than 36 pages,  play a role in bringing the work of newer poets to an audience, as well as enabling more established poets to bring out a smaller collection, maybe around a single theme or in a particular style, between their major collections.



Image 1/5 showing the full range of pamphlets submitted for the 2015 Michael Marks Awards.

Although the publishers of poetry pamphlets are keen to bring the poetry to as wide an audience as possible, many undertake pamphlet publishing more as a labour of love than for commercial reasons.  Although this has its own challenges, it is also liberating in that it gives publishers freedom to put forward work they like, according to their own criteria and preferences. It also allows these publishers to follow their passions and work in a way that expresses their own interests. Some focus on the association between illustration and the written word, others are more concerned with the physicality of the finished object, as something good to hold onto and keep.   Because of this, the pamphlets submitted show great diversity, not only in poetic styles and themes, but also in their production.  In many cases the publishers work closely with the authors selecting the design, typeface and layout, whilst other publishers seek to create a recognisable series of pamphlets through a more unified design.  Many work in a close relationship with local printers, and locality shines through many of the pamphlets submitted, not only in their production but also in their voice, with regional accents including Brummie, Geordie and Highland English featuring in the poems.



Image 2/5 showing the full range of pamphlets submitted for the 2015 Michael Marks Awards

In very many cases the sale and promotion of the pamphlets also depends heavily both on locality and on relationships built up with their audience.  Very few bookshops take poetry pamphlets, partly because, without a spine, they are not suited to being displayed on shelves.  So they are sold at poetry readings, book fairs or poetry festivals or through other sympathetic outlets.    And although these are printed pamphlets, they are also promoted energetically through publishers’ websites, social media and blogging.  



Image 3/5 showing the full range of pamphlets submitted for the 2015 Michael Marks Awards.

For both the poets and the publishers, pamphlets offer a means to introduce poetry to new audiences, as many hope that affordable pricing will enable more people to buy these collections. And although these are contemporary poems, published in the UK, their scope is not limited either in place or time.  The collections include work by writers of different nationalities, as well as work inspired by travels or stays in many countries.  There are collections based on historical events alongside current concerns, and there are poems translated from languages other than English.



Image 4/5 showing the full range of pamphlets submitted for the 2015 Michael Marks Awards.

For the British Library the Michael Marks Awards provide a means of ensuring that the Library’s coverage of this important format is as complete as possible, for whilst many of these pamphlets will be sent to the Library by their publishers as the “legal deposit” copy, some pamphlets may not have reached us by this means.  In its role as the national published archive, the Library endeavors to collect and preserve the whole range of UK publishing, across all formats, and sees independent and alternative publishing, and self-published works, including pamphlets and zines, as vital elements of cultural expression alongside the output of commercial and academic publishers.



Image 5/5 showing the full range of pamphlets submitted for the 2015 Michael Marks Awards.

The pamphlets submitted for this year’s Awards will be added to the Library’s collections, alongside those submitted over the previous six years, forming an important addition to the Library’s coverage of poetry in the UK and beyond.  The Awards were started by the British Library with the Poetry Book Society, with the generous support of the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, in 2009. The Wordsworth Trust joined the British Library as lead partner in 2012, and the TLS joined as media sponsor. The shortlist for the Poetry and Publishers’ Awards will be announced by the end of October and the winners will be announced on Tuesday 24th November.  

There are events across the UK and specially commissioned poems on this year’s theme of light to mark National Poetry Day.


  National Poetry Day Logo