Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Bloodaxe and the helping hand

The day after National Poetry Day I spoke at the 30th birthday celebrations of Bloodaxe Books. Bloodaxe is, for me, absolutely classic example of the difference one or two stubborn, gifted, passionate and dedicated people can make in the arts. Neil Astley – the editorial vision of Bloodaxe since 1978 – and Simon Thirsk – who could be stereotyped as the marketing or business man but is also as passionate about poetry as Neil - have changed the face of contemporary poetry. They’ve published literally dozens of great writers. They’ve challenged many orthodoxies in the poetry worlds of both ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ or ‘experimental’ publishing and poetries. They’ve been criticised for cheapening poetry by putting together anthologies like Staying Alive that have sold tens of thousands of copies – anthologies full of ‘real poems for unreal times’. They have transformed the marketing and promotion of poetry. They continue to be at the forefront of publishing of international poetry in translation, and broke new ground early on with their impressive lists of women, black and Asian poets when that was unusual. (It was fitting that the event last week also marked the publication of the Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets.) You’d have to be Neil to enjoy everyone of them, but that’s life.

And I'm glad to say they’ve done it all with consistent Arts Council and before that Northern Arts support. That’s allowed them to take chances, and to keep things in print that otherwise would have disappeared. Looking through my bookshelves the night before the event, to see what the oldest Bloodaxe book I had was (10 North Eastern Poets, 1980, available second-hand for anything between £4.46 and £103 according to Amazon!) I came across a poem by the great Czech poet Miroslav Holub that had a new relevance for me, it becoming some kind of - possibly ambiguous? - description of Arts Council activity…

A Helping Hand

We gave a helping hand to grass –
and it turned into corn.
We gave a helping hand to fire –
and it turned into a rocket.
we give a helping hand
to people,
to some people…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

english assignment question - what is the irony in the first four lines?