I can’t believe it’s finally here! Almost three years after I started work on the manuscript for my third collection, Hi-Viz has finally taken physical form and landed in a big box on my doorstep! Yaffle Press, who are publishing the book, agreed to take it on in October 2019. As well as knowing Mark Connors and Gill Lambert (who are two thirds of the Yaffle board – Mike Farren is the other leading light) through the poetry grapevine and trusting them, I was really impressed with the production values of the full collections and pamphlets I’d read by the press. In particular, Gill’s book Tadaima made a big impression on me because it felt like a complete work, both in the content of the poems but also the artwork and design. And who wouldn’t want a book with a matt cover, recycled paper stock and French flaps?
Although I chose the poems which would end up in the book towards the end of 2018, it isn’t a time capsule by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve edited and reworked most of the poems several times over that time, most notably earlier this year when I started working with my editor at Yaffle, Mark Connors. I decided that I didn’t want the book to come out right in the middle of the pandemic because I’ve enjoyed taking my previous two collections out to poetry nights up and down the country. Having said that, the launch is going to be online, but hopefully it won’t be long before I can appear in front of people in physical form reading for the first time in almost two years!
Over the Spring, Mark worked methodically through the manuscript, sending me some excellent notes. In some cases, he suggested a minor tweak here or there, but in others he wasn’t afraid to say that a poem wasn’t working, exactly the sort of no frills guidance I felt I needed to get the book reader-ready. Mark was also great in terms of suggesting a different running order, right down to the poem he thought it should begin with. Having pulled out half a dozen or so poems which didn’t fit or perhaps weren’t pulling their weight, the collection’s natural arc came to me much more clearly.
Having completed work on the manuscript, Mark and I handed it over to Mike Farren to work his magic, typesetting and giving it a final proof-read. In terms of artwork, I knew I wanted a street scene which was largely black and white but perhaps which featured a little splash of high-viz somewhere in the frame. I remembered that fellow poet Kevin Reid posts some incredible street photography over on his Instagram feed, and Kevin very quickly came back with two or three suggestions which I loved. I didn’t want to be too obvious and use workmen for the main cover image, which was why I went with Kevin’s image of a teddy bear up a lamp-post in a street in Athens. Having said that I couldn’t resist using another of Kevin’s photos for one of the inside flaps. In both cases, Kevin’s done a brilliant job of adding splashes of colour to the bear and workmen.
Meanwhile, I approached three poets, whose work I really admire, to hopefully write nice things about the book. Claire Walker, Wendy Pratt and Peter Raynard all fall into that category, but they are also editors in their own right. All three came back with some lovely endorsements which Mike laid out on the back, together with a photo of my grinning fizzog that my lovely wife Natalie took one day on the seafront at Clevedon and an short bio for the inside front flap.
So what’s in the book? I began by looking at all of the poems I’d written since 2013, when I started writing again in earnest following a break of some 14 or so years. There were some pieces which I really liked from the 52 days but which didn’t seem to fit into Communing or We Are All Lucky and I enjoyed the process of reworking them using the experience I’ve accrued not just in my own creative practice but also having edited Clear Poetry. Some of the poems came from other attempts to follow the 52 prompts from Jo’s excellent book. Others stemmed from the months that I’d followed Simon Williams’ Poem a Day group on Facebook, whose members come up with prompts to get us through each April and September.
There are poems about chip shops, a neighbour who cleans the streets in Bristol city centre, football, love, children, grief, being a Brummie, rubbish “historic” market towns, Spanish holidays, British wrestling in the 80s…the list goes on. There’s no overarching theme as such, except perhaps being a bloke in his forties with a wife and children who grew up on the outskirts of Birmingham but who now lives on the Severn estuary near Bristol. In other words, if you enjoyed Communing and We Are All Lucky, I think you’ll like Hi-Viz. I can’t wait to get out and about (and online!) reading from it.
For more info on Hi-Viz and to order signed copies, please head to the book’s page on this site.