Having recently launched the audiobook of Michelle Penn’s Paper Crusade, we thought we should share the launch videos from the print launch last year. The print version is in our current 10th Anniversary Sale – use the code ARA10JUN to get 50% off until 30th June.
Also, as it is 400 years since the publication of the first folio (folio400), on 21st June (Midsummer! Solstice! actual anniversary of publication of Paper Crusade!), we are revisiting Paper Crusade in company with With Paper for Feet, by Jennifer A McGowan, another poetry collection that takes Mr S’s work and gives them a shake. Odd that both our Shakespeare collection have Paper in the title, it wasn’t deliberate.
Join us at Keats House to hear readings by the authors from both books and take part in a sonnet workshop, if that’s your thing. (There will be cake and you can just come for the readings and celebrate midsummer with us if you want) free tickets
We launched three audiobooks last night, and over the next couple of days we are going to share some of the recordings. To celebrate we have a 20% off special offer voucher for these three audiobooks if you buy them via our audio and eBook store, this isn’t valid for any other site. Just use the code AudioLaunch before the end of May!
We’ve had 2 launches for Paper Crusade this week, first on line, on Wednesday, then at Keats House yesterday.
We’ve recorded everything, and will be sharing as we get it edited and captioned.
Here poet Michelle Penn and editor Cherry Potts talk about the inspirations themes, characters, processes and decisions that went into the making of the book.
Thanks to Keats House for making us so welcome!
you can buy the book in print from our webshop (we are temporarily out of office stock – thank you lovely people who bought so many copies – but will have more by the end of next week, or can get them sent direct from the warehouse)
Tuesday 21st June 2022 10:30(ish) an experimental (ie we don’t know if it will work) live zoom to our Facebook pageEnchanted Island Books. Michelle will talk about which six books she would save if she was shipwrecked on her island. We will record as well, just in case.
Wednesday 22nd June 2022 19:00 online launch with readings, Q&A, chat and optional audience participation involving Shakespearean insults and Haiku, get tickets
Friday 24th June 2022 18:45 for 19:00 in person Launch at Keats House Library 10 Keats Grove NW3 2RR There will be readings, discussion and cake (very bad for you, anyone whose been to a launch before, you know, everyone else you’ve been warned.) get tickets
It’s Shakespeare’s birthday! To celebrate we spoke to poet Michelle Penn about her upcoming collection, Paper Crusade and how it felt to rewrite the Bard.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous ambitions and goals, but rewriting Shakespeare was never one of them. Ever.
Yet there I was, at Sadler’s Wells in 2014, brimming over with ideas after seeing The Tempest Replica, a contemporary dance piece choreographed by Crystal Pite. I was inspired by the movements, the psychology, the white masks and costumes, the folded paper boats. The production stirred something in me that I had to express in words. Which sent me back to the original source, The Tempest — and the problem of rewriting Shakespeare.
I knew I wanted to make something that was different from both the dance piece and the original play — and it had to feel relevant to the twenty-first century. Of course, there’s plenty in The Tempest that continues to be relevant (themes of power, forgiveness, language, love, etc.), but it seemed to me that a refugee magician coming to an island, colonising it, altering its environment and terrorising those around him suggested more of a tragic approach than a comedic one.
I decided to concentrate only on a handful of characters and to add The Sea: a character contemptuous of humans and both participant and commentator. And I deliberately left most of the characters unnamed in order to really separate them from Shakespeare’s characters. I didn’t want to think about Prospero but about The Father, a man desperate for revenge, a man who has suffered losses and can’t control his anger, a man who wants to feel powerful and respected, even feared. Similarly, I wanted to create more of an interior life for The Daughter, so she couldn’t be the sweet, obedient Miranda. And I wanted C’s struggles and rebellion to be full of not just resentment but pain. The characters in Paper Crusade needed independent ‘lives’, apart from Shakespeare.
Easier said than done. While I found myself quickly and deeply inside the world of my characters, I was sometimes needled by doubt. What was I doing? Who on earth was I to rewrite Shakespeare? The idea seemed hilarious, arrogant, a recipe for failure. Shakespeare didn’t need my help or my reimagining.
But sometimes, there’s comfort in a crowd, and when I had a stab of despair, I reminded myself of others who have reimagined The Tempest: Peter Greenway’s film, Prospero’s Books or Derek Jarman’s The Tempest or Julie Taymore’s, in which Helen Mirren plays Prospera. Numerous ballets and dance pieces have been made on The Tempest, including one choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev. And of course, other writers have used Shakespeare’s play as source material: Aimé Césaire rewrote it to focus on its colonial themes. Auden riffed on it in his long poem, ‘The Sea and the Mirror’, which he considered his ars poetica. Browning wrote about Caliban, Shelley about Ariel.
Of course, there were still moments when I could almost imagine Shakespeare laughing at me from the grave. But the Bard himself was a great borrower and reinterpreter of earlier stories, so I assumed he’d understand — and maybe even appreciate the effort. After all, the play is a springboard, not a mirror, not something to imitate.
Overall, rewriting Shakespeare turned out to be great fun. I loved being inside the island world and with the characters, seeing them in my mind, hearing them speak and watching where they took the story. I didn’t know how Paper Crusade would end until I reached the final pages, and that process was exciting. The characters led me to expand my poetry and try things I’d never tried before. And although I’m a fan of several of Shakespeare’s plays, I now have a special bond with The Tempest.
Listen to Michelle Penn reading ‘The Sea, Offended’ from Paper Crusade:
Paper Crusade will be published on 21 June 2022. You can pre-order a copy from our webshop now. Details of online and in-person launch events (in-person at Keats House in London) are coming soon.
A flash of inspiration in the winter dark… the 5th Solstice Shorts Festival, Noon, took place at noon, on 21st December 2018 in 5 towns across England Wales and Scotland. Cherry Potts (and briefly, Jane Aldous) talk about the idea, the organisation and the stories poems and songs that sparked up the day.
And throughout August, to celebrate our Eighth anniversary, if you add the code ARACHNEVERSARY at the checkout you’ll get a discount – or you can bulk buy the series with a bigger saving – check the special offers tag.
Claire: I was very taken by your poem ‘The Sinking of Mrs Margaret Brown’ in Arachne Press’s ‘Time & Tide’ anthology. Can you tell me what inspired you to write about the Titanic? Is history something that particularly interests you? And how did you decide on the tone of the poem?
Michelle: I spent most of my childhood in Denver (Colorado), where Margaret Brown had been a 19th century socialite, philanthropist and early feminist – although she was most famous for surviving the Titanic disaster. ’The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ character appeared in one particular advert and somehow embodied the image of the tough pioneer woman. (By the way, the Denver I knew – and even Margaret Brown knew – was a proper city. Not exactly the untamed frontier!) From a young age, I was interested in her character and how her ‘unsinkability’ had eclipsed the rest of her life – right down to her name. Although history in general is always a draw for me, it was was the creation of the mythical ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’ that wouldn’t let me go. By the time I put myself in the mindset of ‘Margaret Brown,’ the tone of the poem seemed to follow naturally: the voice and thoughts of a woman who is aware of the trappings of wealth – yet refuses to simply be taken to safety and leave the less fortunate to their fates.
Claire: As a veteran of three Solstice Shorts festivals, have you been able to attend any of the performances of your work, and what, if anything, do simultaneous performances bring to an audience or writer?
Michelle: I’ve attended each of the past three festivals and have both read my own work and seen it performed by actors. I find it fascinating to be part of an audience (live or video) when different actors interpret my poems: it’s a glimpse into how someone who doesn’t know you ‘hears’ your lines and ‘sees’ your images. I suppose it’s akin to hearing a piece of music played by several bands or orchestras – each version has its own flavour and becomes its own unique experience.
Claire: What function do you consider poetry to have in society today, and how do you see it developing (or not) in the future?
Michelle: For me, poetry seems more than ever to ask Why. It doesn’t necessarily offer answers but provides different lenses for examining the question. Whether it’s printed on the page or performed in front of an audience, poetry makes us think about language, meaning, irony, ambiguity. It opens our minds to others’ experiences, emotions and ideas – how they might consider the Why.
I think more hybrid/collaborative/cross-genre projects will keep poetry developing in new ways. I’m looking forward to seeing how poets continue to use emerging technologies to add new dimensions to poetry.
Claire: E-book or hard copy – which do you prefer, and why?
Michelle: Definitely hard copy. I love reading paper books, love the physical act of turning pages, folding them, holding a book in my hands. I also love seeing my books on shelves. I can’t imagine the emptiness I’d feel if my entire library were on a single device. Convenient, yes, but not the same, at all.
Claire: In this current lock-down, what have you been reading?
Michelle: The Divine Comedy. I’ve dipped in and out over the years but haven’t journeyed all the way from Hell to Heaven. I’m currently still in Purgatory but hope to enter Paradiso soon.
Claire: What qualities do you look for in a poem?
Michelle: I’m attracted to poems that show a real love of language, that try to push it further without getting too flowery or overwrought. I like experimentation and risk-taking, both with words and with the appearance of a poem on the page. I appreciate a bit of mystery at the heart of a poem, as well as ambiguity. For me, a successful poem is one that draws me in (especially on a visceral level) on the first reading but only reveals its secrets slowly. I like a poem that sticks with me and keeps me coming back for more.
Claire: How have you developed as a creative writer since you first started? Did you find your voice early, or are you still exploring?
Michelle: While I’ve been writing for many years, I wasn’t one of those people who found a single voice early on. I’m not sure I have a single voice now. I tend to experiment with lots of voices and an ‘I’ that may or may not be related to me in an autobiographical sense. I’m also interested in stretching those different voices in terms of tone, register, language, syntax… you name it. I hope I never stop creating new voices and developing.
Claire: Any collections or pamphlets out, or forthcoming?
Michelle: My debut pamphlet – Self-portrait as a diviner, failing – was published in 2018 by Paper Swans Press. I have a few projects in the works, so I hope to add to the ‘forthcoming’ soon.
Claire: Paper? Rock? Scissors?
Michelle: Paper. I’m a writer, after all!
You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.
Michelle: You wear a lot of hats: teacher, reviewer, flash fiction writer, poet, film-poet creator… (feel free to add more). How do these various roles feed your creative work?
Emma: The best way to learn something is to teach someone else: it makes you realise where the gaps in your knowledge are and having to think about explaining a technique or aspect of craft in a way that makes sense to someone else gives you a deeper understanding. I always recommend that people read as widely as possible. Prose writers can learn about brevity and musicality from poets and poets can learn narrative techniques from prose. Reviewing also exposes you to books you wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to read. It’s easy to say ‘I only write x so I’ll only read x,’ but you’re closing yourself off to diverse experiences and new ideas that can stretch your own creativity.
Around ten years ago there was a trend for book trailers, a short film advertising a book. Most poetry publishing is done on a shoestring with little budget for marketing so I thought I’d give making a trailer or some film-poems a go. I’m not really a visual person – I once wrote a poem because I couldn’t be bothered to rummage through a rucksack to find a camera to take a photo – so the film-poems have been very low-tech and few and far between. I started blogging in 2007 and my blog has been regularly updated ever since. I like being busy.
My day job, the one that pays the bills, is copy writing. It’s a mix of disciplines, the brevity of poetry, the creativity of fiction and factual needs of non-fiction. The form I come back to is always poetry, but occasionally I’ll have an idea or a set of characters that won’t be strait-jacketed into a poem so I’m forced to write a story. I think poetry’s advantage is its musicality, that idea that a poem can communicate even if it’s not fully understood, and you can still pick up an image or a mood if you don’t fully follow what’s being said.
Michelle: What role does politics play in your writing?
Emma: That’s an interesting question, because I don’t see myself as a political poet. However, I do explore the effects of imbalances of power and wealth. Many of my poems bear witness to domestic and sexual violence and the situations of refugees who’ve not only fled traumatic experiences but are experiencing ongoing trauma while stuck waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.
Michelle: What’s the most surprising thing you learned or discovered while writing The Significance of a Dress?
Emma: That occasionally I can do humour; or at least a dry, wry look at a situation. The poems in ‘The Significance of a Dress’ aren’t all about the refugee situation. I had a moment of panic when Cherry Potts asked if I had some ‘happy’ poems. I didn’t think I wrote any (my excuse is that if I write miserable poems I can be happy but if I write happy poems, I might end up miserable). But I found How Rapunzel Ends about a jilted boyfriend who thought he could win his girlfriend back by setting up a piano in a busy city centre (he was a professional musician) and serenading passers-by and When Your Name’s not Smith about a bank teller who confidently tells a customer he knows how to spell her name until she comes to sign the form he’s completed, and it turns out he can’t.
Michelle: What’s your most interesting quirk as a writer?
Emma: This is a difficult one to answer, because writing to me is as natural as breathing and I tend not to think of breathing as quirky and you don’t tend to watch yourself writing. To different people, it might be different things such as my ability to sit and write in a crowded, noisy room, that I’m willing to try different types of writing or that I always read a piece aloud. Reading aloud enables you to hear things you miss when you read silently from a page, such that tongue-twisting second sentence or accidental rhyme in stanza three or that the rhythm changes when you get to stanza four.
Michelle: What’s the most challenging aspect of your writing practise?
Emma: I don’t really have a writing practice. If a poem or story needs to be written, it gets written. I used to tell stories and write them down as a child but was too scared to share them, so I tended to sneak off to a spare classroom during break times or keep a low profile during class so I could think through a story’s plot. This habit hass carried over into adulthood so I can write pretty much anywhere on any device, whether that’s a laptop, phone or paper notebook and can write in the morning before work, in lunch breaks, in a cafe or in my car because I’m good at being early and often find myself sitting in my parked car waiting for the right time or for somewhere to open. I think the trickiest thing is interruption: as a parent, you don’t get a solid block of time to write or plan, so you have to find ways of making the most of smaller chunks of time. Michelle: We’re living through difficult days. Do you have a go-to book that helps you through tough times?
Emma: I do still keep going back to Sylvia Plath’s poems. I know her death overshadows most people’s reading of her poetry but she had some excellent maternity poems and the sheer joy and exuberance of You’re always brings a smile.
Michelle: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Emma: I am taking part in NaProWriMo so trying to draft a poem a day for April. I’m also reviewing. Some of the readings and events around the launch of The Significance of a Dress were cancelled, so I’m making plans for replacement events for (hopefully) later in the year, when restrictions due to the coronavirus are lifted.
You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.