The North Recommends: Carcanet Press
Founded 1969 by Mexican-born Michael Schmidt, Carcanet Press has been publishing outstanding poetry in English and translation from around the globe for over half a century. Their live backlist of 1000 titles includes literature from over 37 languages and 50 nations. Celebrated authors include Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, Octavio Paz, Jose Saramago, Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz (Turkey, Mexico, Portugal, Russia and Poland respectively).
Carcanet has long championed the voices of women and international poets. Among their biggest achievements is the discovery and promotion of poets who have gone on to become major literary figures, recently including Sinéad Morrissey, Kei Miller, Vahni Capildeo, Tara Bergin, Sujata Bhatt, and from abroad the poems of Bill Manhire, Chinua Achebe and Lorna Goodison, who last year was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Through their New Poetries series they continue to spotlight emerging talent, the last instalment, New Poetries VII, included Mary Jean Chan, Isabel Galleymore, Mina Gorji and Helen Charman. New Poetries VIII is forthcoming in 2021. They also publish one of the UK’s most important poetry journals, PN Review, which appears bi-monthly.
Based in Manchester since the 70s, Carcanet has rich connections to the North, including all three Universities in Manchester. As part of their fiftieth anniversary celebrations, the John Rylands Library—where their vast archives are held—curated an exhibition showcasing the history: annotated poems, letters, artwork and more recent online correspondence. Sadly, the exhibition’s opening was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some information about the show, including comments from archivist and curator Jessica Smith, are available to read on their website here. A recent podcast has also appeared: episode one of The Rylands Brief, which discusses Carcanet’s history, is available to listen to here. They also marked the anniversary with publication of Fifty Fifty: Carcanet’s Jubilee in Letters, edited by Robyn Marsack.
Beyond Manchester, Carcanet continues to strengthen its international ties. This year brings publication of the first ever anthology of Ethiopian Amharic poetry in English, Songs We Learn from Trees, edited by Alemu Tebeje and Chris Beckett. The press is currently celebrating the launch of this remarkable anthology, which gathers work from contemporary and historical Ethiopian poets, online: you can join the #songfromtrees virtual launch tour on their YouTube channel or keep up to date via their website, for new videos from contributors every day between 8th – 13th June 2020. The anthology’s editors also recently appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, discussing and reading from the book. Listen to that here. In the past year they have also published poetry from Singapore, Ireland, Trinidad, France, India, Spain, America, Colombia and Jamaica. This summer we’ll see the Centenary Selected Poems of the first Scots Makar, the celebrated poet Edwin Morgan, in commemoration of his innovative and influential contribution to Scottish and international poetry.
Over its fifty year history, Carcanet has stayed relevant by continuing to innovate—all their new titles are also available as ebooks in various formats, and last year they began producing audiobook versions. So far these include Jenny Lewis’s feminist reimagining of the foundational myth, Gilgamesh Retold, and celebrated Irish poet Martina Evan’s highly-accoladed dramatic monologues, Now We Can Talk Openly About Men. The audiobooks are narrated by the poets themselves, so listeners can experience the work in the poet’s own voice. More recently, as we have all learnt to move online, Carcanet has begun hosting virtual book launches. Readings in these events include visuals of the text so that audience members can read along, replacing the intimacy of a real-life poetry reading with a new intimacy with the text and the poet’s voice. You can read a write-up of Rory Waterman’s launch for his new collection, Sweet Nothings, at the Nottingham City of Literature website here. Their next event is on June 16th, when they’ll be launching Northern Irish poet Adam Crothers’ second collection, The Culture of My Stuff. The event will be hosted by fellow Carcanet poet and novelist, Caoilinn Hughes. You can register for the event here.
Carcanet continues to go from strength to strength. Their recent accolades include two debut authors on the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Prize shortlist, Isabel Galleymore and Laura Scott, and two collections in the running for this year’s Forward Prize from David Morley and Caroline Bird.
We can’t wait to see what the next fifty years will bring.