The North Recommends: Bloodaxe Books

Neil Astley founded Bloodaxe Books in 1978 to give a platform to emerging new poets, many from the North of England. Over four decades it has revolutionised poetry publishing: challenging the male Oxbridge domination of poetry in the 80s, and later taking contemporary poetry to a much broader readership. Renowned for quality and diversity, Bloodaxe has been a pioneering publisher of women poets and BAME writers.

Many poets first published by Bloodaxe Books have gone on to become some of the current major figures in British Poetry, including Imtiaz Dharker, Helen Dunmore, Jackie Kay and Sean O’Brien. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage was a probation officer from Huddersfield, working in Manchester, when he made his Bloodaxe debut with Zoom! In 1989.

Bloodaxe has championed the work of major figures from the North over many years, most notably Ken Smith, the first poet published by Bloodaxe (in 1978), culminating in a posthumous Collected Poems in 2018; Basil Bunting (an LP record of Briggflatts in 1980, his Complete Poems in 2000); Tony Harrison, with several titles including the controversial V. in 1985; David Constantine, first published by Bloodaxe in 1980; and Barry MacSweeney during the 90s.

And Bloodaxe took on other poets when their original publishers closed down or stopped publishing poetry, including Gillian Allnutt, Peter Bennet, William Martin, and Anne Stevenson, whose “swansong” collection, Completing the Circle, is out next year.

And so it has continued, with many poets from the North achieving a national or international readership through Bloodaxe, with later debuts including Suzanne Batty, Robyn Bolam, Amanda Dalton, Ian Duhig, Linda France, Maggie Hannan, Clare Pollard, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Ann Sansom and Clare Shaw.

This October’s releases include Katrina Porteous’s third Bloodaxe compilation, Edge, and a second collection, White Ink Stains, from Eleanor Brown drawing on her Reading Sheffield project. Other recent Bloodaxe titles have included collections by Amy Key and Jen Campbell, both originally from South Shields, and by Keith Hutson from Halifax, with Jenna Clake (Newcastle) to follow shortly.

Latterly Bloodaxe has also published books with audio CDs or with films on DVDs; has made hundreds of its poet videos available on YouTube and Vimeo; and has its own Bloodaxe Poetry App with shareable poems, videos and audio. Bloodaxe moved out of Newcastle to Northumberland in 1997, working from the Tarset valley until 2014 when the office was moved to its present base in Hexham.