I didn’t know then that Newcastle was a thriving centre for contemporary poetry. In those days the poet Jon Silkin used to sell his literary magazine Stand to people waiting in theatre queues. With his dishevelled hair, white beard and earnest manner, he looked every bit the impoverished poet, and sold hundreds of copies hand-to-hand by playing this part. In the course of helping me part with 50p for the latest issue, he learned that I was an ex-journalist with experience of newspaper production work. A week later I had a part-time job as production editor for the magazine. By the time I started studying English at Newcastle University, I was not only working on Stand but going to Friday night readings at Morden Tower, where I was introduced to a still wider range of contemporary poets, from agitprop, avant-garde and pop poets to lively new poets and highly respected literary elders, and attending weekly folksong nights at the Bridge Hotel, home of the High Level Ranters. I also came into contact with editors of other magazines and presses active in the North East at that time, each with its own distinctive editorial style and particular areas of literary interest. Bloodaxe’s eclectic, democratic style of publishing was inspired by Newcastle’s energetic, internationally-minded poetry culture.
“The first books I bought with my pocket money, aged 10, were translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.”
I left Newcastle for Northumberland in 1993, and Bloodaxe followed in 1997, priced out of its city centre offices by urban redevelopment. So Bloodaxe’s forty years have been split more or less evenly between city and hinterland, for fourteen of those years in the Tarset valley not far from where I live (and where Basil Bunting lived during the early 80s), and for the past five years in the nearby market town of Hexham. But we’ve kept strong links with Newcastle, and with Newcastle University in particular, which houses the Bloodaxe Archive and NCLA (Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts), for some year now the primary focus in the city for live poetry and literature events, including Newcastle Poetry Festival. As well as publishing many poets who live or have lived in the North East, from Basil Bunting to Anne Stevenson, I’ve celebrated all the poetry and songs written about the region, past and present, in the anthology Land of Three Rivers (2017).
MAY 2019 Kirsten Norrie MONK
[top image: Neil Astley on Hydra, 2016 (photo: Marzena Pogorzaly)]