Episode 96: Hem Press

The Small Machine Talks Episode 96

Hem Press with Richard Capener

Recorded on Thursday, November 24, 2022, release day for James Knight’s Cosmic Horror and Josh Allsop’s purge fluid

In this final episode in the small press series of 2022, I speak with Richard, the editor of Hem Press about its beginnings, influences, the work that HP is publishing and future titles. We also speak about its sound poetry imprint, Angry Starlings.

We discuss the Babel Tower Notice Board, the online journal Richard edited from 2020 until recently and Hem Press’s connection to it.

We discuss Richard’s long interest in sound poetry and the Angry Starlings imprint and its first release, Echolocation by Susie Campbell and Chris Kerr

We speak about an American press that influenced Hem Press, Ugly Duckling Presse. He also speaks of Les Figues Press [link inactive] as another influence of HP.

We talk about the role of the small press now and where Hem Press fits in that role.

We discuss the business of running a small press and Richard gives advice to those considering starting a press and journal. He provides a checklist of essential considerations and some of the costs associated for him.

I ask Richard about the question between his own work and the work of the press. He speaks about how the current catalogue fits with his aesthetic, including the latest titles Cosmic Horror by James Knight, purge fluid by Josh Allsop and Trouble by me!

I ask about forthcoming publications. Richard asks any independent booksellers who might like to sell HP books to get in touch.

Note of Praise

Josh Allsop’s Purge Fluid is visceral, luxuriously visual, and descriptive, unique in its diction, playful for the mouth and the brain. The book starts inside a whale. There are gods and saints in awkward and macabre situations. The work is full of kinetic and frenetic energy. I wanted to bounce off my chair and fly, reading this lively and exotic work.

James Knight’s Cosmic Horror begins with a visual poem, an explosion of equations and colour. The work is an engagement with language and reality as interpreted by hallucination, science juxtaposed with art. Warping happens, like Dali’s clock or a work by Max Ernst, words from the poems remixed as vispo, distorted. Like Allsop’s Purge Fluid, Knight’s Cosmic Horror offers us the visceral, grotesque, and macabre, an engagement with the body, particularly how sound acts as a myopic space, giving a claustrophobic sensation. It’s easy to imagine scenes from Alien, District 9 or other sci fi films as inspirations for these. Poetry is under glass, like an experiment on an operating table, who knows if it will survive or turn into some uncontrollable and grotesque monster.

I have already written about J.D. Howse’s Just Meat Not God, the first in the Hem Press catalogue last August, but I will add that the muscularity and vigor of language, engagement with art, life and death are something Hem Press titles have in common.

I can’t really praise my own work, Trouble, published by the press, but I can say that Richard was a methodical, patient, and sensitive editor and has made the work much better than it was in its manuscript form. Richard created a provocative and enticing cover and did an excellent job on lay out and design. Hem Press has supported and promoted Trouble before, during and after its publication.

In her book, The Three Steps to the Ladder of Writing, Hélène Cixous writes “Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid; in other words, to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death give us.” Hem Press is making space for work that risks, that pushes beyond well-mannered boundaries into extremes with courageous use of language, intersecting with the bloodiest most nightmarish and weird aspects of life. I think of Lorca’s sense of the Duende, making art in the presence of death. This presence is what drives innovation, intensity, and creativity energy, it’s what moves the writer to write, otherwise what is the point. I’m looking forward to seeing how Hem Press will navigate these possibilities with its future publications.

Thanks to Richard for being on the show, to Jennifer Pederson for the intro and outro, to Charles Earl for processing and to you for listening to and sharing the episodes each month.

Stay tuned for our final episode of 2022, another segment in our ongoing poetics series in December, the Poetics of Photography with Charles Earl, and a whole new thread I’ll announce in the December episode.