‘Waterloo Press : a supremely elegant unstuffiness – a seagull perched on a Porsche.’
– Sonja Ctrvtecka
Corpses and Clarinets?
A no-longer small press run by poets finds itself topping 120 titles, mostly
in print. So where did it all go right, with a third of our funding coming from
translations with international sponsors?
Recently a letter addressed to Corpses and Clarinets was re-directed from
Waterloo Street, where the press was founded with such an imaginative flair for
branding. C&C’s not been used since 1995, but you still find someone using
an ancient listing. Founded by like-minded writers belonging to the QueenSpark
Co-operative, the Corpses and Clarinets pamphlet edited by Simon Jenner and
David Kendall, and sponsored by Sonja Ctvrtecka, embraced poetry, memoirs, and
short stories. Some of this resurfaced in the periodical Eratica, but Sonja
decided a poetry press with a periodical arm was what was needed. She noted a
particularly famous London-based one and reckoned we might do better. And she
sponsored the press from 1998-2001.
The resulting Eratica was spectacular, with colour plates adorning its 256
pages, and we’re still working on the follow-up! But Waterloo slowly launched,
with Simon’s design of detachable cover and flaps, and an image below a
spot-colour wrap. Working with designer Tristan Green, Waterloo’s decisive look
established itself by 2000.
Andrew Duncan – the major modernist poet and critic – whose volume like
Sonja’s came out that year, kept a watching brief on modernist volumes and is
still an advisor. Anyone familiar with Andrew’s writings in Shearsman (poetry,
or the seven and counting critical volumes and surveys) knows this means the
Andromeda galaxy has dropped in for dinner.
Some Day You’ll Meet your Waterloo
Sonja recovering from illness asked mutual friend Judy Anderson to preside,
with her unerring knack of attracting finance. Indeed it was Judy who came up
with the name Eratica. At a book fair Judy plucked Simon’s sleeve and pointed
to a man browsing in an anorak. ‘He’ll be important’ she said. He turned out to
be Head of Literature at the Arts Council. A successful relationship with the
Arts Council began. First with John Hampson, then Suzy Joinson, Kieran Phelan,
and John Prebble before the traditional relationship between arts officers and
organisations disappeared in post-2010 cuts. At one ACE meeting with John
Hampson, Andrew wrote a heading: ‘Some Day you’ll Meet your Waterloo’ and took
minutes which became our blueprint.
Soon after Sonja’s final gift, the financing and launching of Waterloo titles
at the Clerkenwell Festival through the help of poet Alf Wiltshire meant we had
our first ten titles and Eratica. In February 2002 ex-Senior Reader at Sussex,
the poet and designer David Pollard joined as co-editor and weeks after Alan
Morrison (later founder of Glatisant and Caparison, left online journals/publisher),
who later worked as designer too. David augmented Andrew’s modernist infusion,
whereas Alan and Alf represented a more traditionally left rationalism, and more
‘raw’ style respectively. Simon straddled all camps, from modernist experiences
at Cambridge (where he met Andrew) to instincts for whatever worked.
Simon determined that Waterloo wasn’t the ‘this doesn’t quite fit’ press. If
excellent work doesn’t ‘fit’ the press is dead. Work excellent of its kind –
Cambridge modernist or Brighton naïf – it doesn’t matter. Everyone agreed: it’s
our ethos to this day. The core team was expanded at another Arts Council
meeting with Kieran Phelan where John O’Donoghue arrived and later introduced
poet, performer and soon-to-be SF novelist Naomi Foyle. John – whose confidence
and chutzpah would have WP going global – further courted the Arts Council,
dragging Simon along (who to this day finds himself writing the applications!)
John’s brokering meetings with Kieran meant that in December 2004 our first
large-scale funding for a tranche of Waterloo Samplers – 14 in all – was
launched. Moving to France in 2005, Judy kept a watching brief. She noted
John’s birthday and hers – September 3rd – seemed destined to pull in Arts
Council interest. ‘You for once are three days too early’ she told Simon,
delighted that John could energize things from now on.
Awards and Ferries
Over the next few years poets as diverse as Beryl Fenton (1926-2009) and Norman
Buller (b.1927) sat alongside established names like Jeremy Reed, and young poets
who first made their reputation at Waterloo, like Helen Oswald and John McCullough.
Naomi Foyle’s first full volume The Night Pavilion was a Poetry Book Society
Recommendation in Autumn 2008. Later, David Swann’s volume The
Privilege of Rain was a 2010 Ted Hughes Award finalist.
More titles emerged but we needed more funding and in 2009 our second
larger-scaled Arts Council grant catapulted us into applying for funds outside
too. Naomi had contacts with several. Via Emily Jeremiah The Finnish Institute,
the wonderfully munificent SUR Programme from the Argentinean Embassy, later
English PEN and others began funding books and travel programmes.
Launches as far-flung as Plymouth (Norman Jope) and the Poetry Club there were
counterpoised by Naomi’s innovative SUR programme launch, with the first four
Argentinean women poets. Notable is our largest volume, still only a Selected,
of Alejandra Pizarnik, easily our most famous. Emily Jeremiah too generously
helped access Finnish funds for two Finnish poets and was generous with her
time and much else.
After 2011 the press again had to narrow its programme to new SUR and other
translation titles. Not that we minded, since we aim to ensure one third of our
volumes are translations. Notable was Steve Komarnyckyi, whose translation of
Ihor Pavlyuk’s A Flight Over the Black Sea was a PEN Award Winner in March
2014. It had a preface by 2012 Nobel Literature Laureate Mo Yan. Waterloo
personnel were getting invited everywhere. In the same week that Simon was
giving readings and a talk on Waterloo at StAnza Festival in March 2014, Naomi
was being awarded a prize in the Ukraine and meeting Ihor and his wife,
political theorist Lyudmyla Pavlyuk.
Working with Global Majority Poets
ACE funding became more elusive, though finally successful after two years
discussion (templates and personnel kept changing), and nearly three years of
bidding. The latest funds were obtained in March 2018 and we’re now in the
midst of relaunching our website, and managing LIT UP, our new mentoring
and publishing programme for poets of colour. It was something that had been
bothering Simon and Naomi: the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in mainstream
poetry. In 2011 we’d published – through Naomi’s contact with Spread the Word’s
ground-breaking ‘Ten’ programme – the award-winning British-Trinidadian poet
Fawzia Muradali Kane, and launched her at the country’s London Embassy. In 2013
we’d worked with locally-based editors and writers Monika-Akila Richards and
Sindi Gordon, publishing their anthology Ink On My Lips, a collection of poetry
and prose from the Write Meet Read collective of women of colour. We’d also
published a pamphlet by the Indian writer Prakash Kona, with a collection by
Iraqi poet (and translator of Ulysses) Salah Niazi in the pipeline. We were keen
and pro-active – but we needed to do more.
In late 2015 Naomi arranged a meeting with Simon and Monika-Akila. The
three agreed on a way forward, conceiving the LIT UP programme, with a website
redesign to match. Simon is particularly proud of the moment after giving a
talk at Brighton-based Creative Future in January 2017, when a writer came
across and asked if he’d thought of publishing any poets of colour. ‘We’re writing
the application.’ That poet, and one he mentored from a Creative Future/New
Writing South bursary, are two of the nine Global Majority poets published in
the LIT UP scheme.
A Galaxy of Activity
LIT UP is just one of many dynamic new directions for the press. Poet, director
and actor Carole Bremson has been instrumental in brokering a drama arm,
since 2012. Our first three novels started pumping from the press in 2022, including
The Children of Grad by Maria Miniailo, translated by Michael Pursglove and Natalia
Pnuishkova, the second of our three Ukrainian titles in translation. While Naomi
Foyle stepped down in 2023 to focus on her own work, others step in. Andrew Duncan
has made another proposal with Jeremy Reed’s work, and as ever gives of his time
unstintingly. Student volunteers help run events and social media, Giselle Parnall
setting up our LinkedIn page and arranging a Waterloo Press Reading in Cambridge
in May 2023. Sonja and Judy watch benignly over all. It’s an expansive family, whose
DNA grows ever-diverse and has excellence spiralling down it.
~ Simon Jenner. Updated Oct 2023.