Three Poetry Collections from Valley Press
Reward for Winter: Di Slaney
The Learned Goose: Jo Brandon
Wild Gods: Malene Engelund
I had initially assumed this recent selection of three poetry collections from Valley Press to be indicative of their ‘house-style’ – a thematic focus on the landscape and related elemental wildness – but a quick inspection of their website
reveals the absolute eclecticism of their output. Prolific publishers, Valley Press have a strong line of poetry as well as fiction, non-fiction and memoir on their list. So, in addition to their ‘distinctive, no-two-the-same’ book covers, what is it that shapes this small press into a coherent publishing brand? I suspect the answer is revealed in this representative selection, though not in anything so obvious as their themes, as I’d first imagined.
Earthy, mythic, mundane – each of these collections explores a deeply mined connection to the land, local lore, history, memory and culture. Di Slaney’s Reward for Winter, with its traces of life on a Nottinghamshire small holding, its lexicon of loam and straw giving voice to the landscape with its human and other inhabitants, its impeccably researched local history. Jo Brandon’s The Learned Goose with tales of Tabu, tales without magic and tales of rebirth recounting both the magical and the mundane. Malene Engelund’s The Wild Gods drawing on the vocabulary and landscape of the mythical Norse sagas.
‘With the slip of a vowel, my legend was lost’ Bildr’s Lament, Di Slaney
your tongue could read the air like mine,
I wished my eyes could talk.’ The Fall, Jo Brandon
‘Listen. And you’ll hear their necks
unlocking, their bones shift and turn.’ Owls, Malene Engelund
Each of these expertly crafted poetry collections draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources including historical or archival research, classic works of visual art, legend, mythology, and landscape. Each of the poets is, coincidentally, a Creative Writing MA graduate, although Valley Press publish just as many non-graduate writers, as far as I can see. So while thematically these poetry collections share a number of rich connections, they can each be distinguished by the quality and individuality of their poetic voice and their specific concerns.
Slaney’s Reward for Winter is a collection of poems documenting her move from city life to smallholder, focused on the everyday observations and experiences she encounters in her new rural livelihood. With a keen poet’s eye and the novelty of newness she is able to engage both critically and creatively with the realities of life on the small holding, presenting a series of pithy and touching details which many readers may not otherwise encounter. Structured in three parts, How to Knit a Sheep engages with the emotional and physical impact of committing to this new way of life, Washing Eggs gives voice to a laying hen in a series of three half-dozen ‘boxes’, and Bildr’s Thorp draws on detailed archival research of the surrounding landscape and community while Bildr’s Lament invokes the mythological by making lexical connections with the Norse god Baldr.
Brandon blends archival research with homely tales, each poem a mini narrative with richly visual and multi-sensorial detail. ‘Its hooves clattered like a sack of pans / thrown down the stairs’; ‘I have seen my innards flow like unwatered wine, / seen them part from me and suck in life’; ‘you hung like a bauble on a tree, a faded Robin maybe / whose claws should fold easily over the branches, rigid as tradition, / but has slipped upside down’. Exploring a range of themes and voices, this first collection establishes a strong and sensuous writing style.
Engelund draws us into the darkness and depth of a Norse winter with her chill northern mythologies, sparse imagery and fragile evocation of loss. The concerns of these poems may be animal or human and Engelund’s playful and poignant experimentation with form and language in poems such as Air Song and (untitled) give voice to the voiceless in a variety of ways. November 31st creates a space in time for ‘the ones […] that we loved, but never had’. Fiercely feminine in its strong and tender beauty, this short collection rewards repeated reading.
So I realise that it’s not the subject that unites these three books from Valley Press, but the style: deeply rich and enriching language and imagery, the creation of a flawless poetic voice, the subtle evocation of lives lived in the everyday magic of this world and its others. These three collections are fine poetic works, sensitively crafted and distilled which speak to various experiences of life and the wildnesses of landscape and lore. These are works that, I imagine, highlight the unifying ethos of Valley Press in publishing works of elegant literary distinction across a variety of forms and genres.
About the Publisher:
is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, publishing poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing. Valley Press is built on one very important belief: great literature, and great publishing, is for everyone and anyone.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press. Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016. @willowwriting