Wednesday 8 April 2020

On Guillemot Press

Jack Clemo and Guillemot Press

A few years ago there was a welcome revival of interest in the visionary Cornish poet Jack Clemo (pronounced 'clemmo') following the publication of the fine biography Clay Phoenix by Luke Thompson and a Selected Poems from Enitharmon Editions, with an introduction by Rowan Williams.

‘[Clemo] has rendered an industrial landscape more completely and more successfully than any English poet except possibly Auden’  said the New Statesman, and he bears comparison with Auden on several counts. Not simply in a shared love of dilapidated industrial topography but in a shared if eccentric Christianity and an essentially humane view of the world.

The landscape in Clemo's case was that of the china clay industry, a chalk-white lunar terrain of vast excavations, towering pyramidal slag heaps, luminous turquoise lakes and surreal combinations of colour and contour. He lived with his mother in a tiny cottage adjacent to the workshops and offices of the Goonvean & Rostowrack China Clay Company. This was, disgracefully, demolished a few years ago, despite local protests. 

Luke Thompson also runs Guillemot Press an 'Independent Publisher of Pamphlets and Beautiful Books', and among his first publications was the first appearance in print of The Clay Dump, a short story by Clemo written in 1950. It's very short and utterly piercing - Lucy Gribble, a forty-year-old school caretaker, lives a lonely and unfulfilled life and is subject to the constant scrutiny of her neighbours when, to make a little money, she decides to take in lodgers. Blinking back the tears, I was reminded of Flaubert's Un cœur simple.

© Guillemot Press

Clemo, as the publisher's note delicately puts it, 'inherited a disease from his father' and became profoundly deaf and blind before he was forty. His personal circumstances were often utterly wretched, but he found love and consolation quite late in life. His poetry is deeply felt, wholly owned and often magnificent.

The Clay Dump was published in a beautiful limited edition of 225 and, at £5, was a bargain. It has long sold out, as have all the early Guillemots, although you may be able to find copies online. Among the other early highlights were Amy McCauley's stunning debut OEDIPA and like fragile clay Sarah Cave's enchanting Moomin-themed collection with spectacular illustrations by C F Sherratt.

OEDIPA by Amy McCauley

like fragile clay  by Sarah Cave

Guillemot got everything right from the outset. All their books are all highly covetable, both in form and content. Have a root around their website - there are many treasures to be had and I'd single out three volumes of poetry from the current list:

and what if we were all allowed to disappear by Tania Hershman

Like the Dewfall by John F. Deane

Notes for the Next by Robert Lax

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