~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 23rd 2012
On Wednesday evening Enitharmon Press, a small independent publisher, celebrated its 45th birthday at the Southbank Centre in London. It's rare for presses like Enitharmon to get a moment in the spotlight, and the draw for the audience, which filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall, was the poets who were reading—the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Helen Dunmore, Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. But the evening was a reminder that some of the most interesting work in publishing is done by small presses.
Last year, for instance, Enitharmon published "Clavics" by Geoffrey Hill—arguably Britain's foremost living poet—a collection of poems that used elaborate verse forms, making patterns with his rigorously varied line-lengths. As Hill explained to my colleague Emma Hogan, when she was researching an interview for The Economist online:
"The layout on the page is highly intricate...It really is designed for the old-fashioned hand-set typography. It so happened that the press was looking for a poet with an elaborate text and I was looking at the same time for a publisher who was willing and able to set an elaborate text, and by sheer chance we found each other."
But last year Enitharmon lost its regular Arts Council funding, a decision which Hill called "an utter disgrace". At a time when e-books are making reading practical but not very pretty—with their inflexible line-endings, clunky page-turns and limited typography—we need small presses to publish the best writing in books that are also beautiful objects. These books have three further advantages: they are well made, durable and often increase in value.
Simon Willis is apps editor of Intelligent Life