For many student writers, publishing might seem like a closed-off world. Luckily, Scotland is undergoing something of a small press renaissance, with a host of new publishers out looking for fresh talent. At the StAnza poetry festival earlier this semester, The Saint caught up with one of them – Duncan Lockerbie, editor of Aberdeenshire-based poetry press, Tapsalteerie.
Tapsalteerie specialises in ‘poetry pamphlets,’ rather than books. Where do you draw the line between them – is it just a question of size?
It’s not just about the size or the format or the binding. I always try and see pamphlets as having more of a unified theme than a full-length collection, and that’s what I generally say to poets that I’m working with. I’m not saying that the poems all have to be about the same thing, but there’s something that makes it more of a unified whole.
Like very small concept-albums?
That’s pretty much exactly what I mean. And I think the pamphlet is ideally suited to that. In terms of a full-length collection you have much more scope to the themes that you’re working with.
Would you say that’s true of what you’ve published?
We’ve had five publications out so far. The first one was called The Quait Chiel by Bill Thom, and that was a long narrative poem, all written in Doric. We illustrated it, and that ran to 32 pages, so that worked perfectly as a stand-alone publication. The poem’s about two old Doric guys who are in the pub one night. They walk home afterwards and the devil pops to take their souls, and they get engaged in a series of games and duels with him in order to win their freedom. I’m not going to reveal what happens at the end, obviously, but… [laughs]
If it’s all in Doric, how readable is it to your average non-Doric, non-Scot reader?
I’ve had a few people – namely my wife, who doesn’t read Doric at all – read it and enjoy it and understand it. Because of its plot, and how it’s written, it perhaps appeals to more of a non-poetry audience than our other pamphlets.
How did you start out in publishing?
I did a publishing studies postgraduate course at the University of Stirling some years ago, so I’ve had the idea for a while. After graduating I was looking for a job in the Scottish publishing industry, but it was about 2009, when the financial crash happened, and there were publishers going under. It wasn’t too easy to get a job, so I set up my own publishing services company, Lumphanan Press, as a way to keep my skills up, but I ended up making a full-time business out of it. After a couple of years I was fed up with just working on whatever came my way, and wanted to do something more interesting. I knew how publishing worked, I knew how to put a book together, how to get it printed, and a little bit about how to sell it, and I thought I was probably in a position to start my own wee press. That’s when Tapsalteerie, or the idea for Tapsalteerie, was born. It was quite a slow start – we crowdfunded it, and it took a while to get the funding together.
Are you looking for writers at the moment?
Yes, I am still open for submissions.
What should poets be sending you?
I find this the hardest question that anybody ever asks me, and it’s something I ask myself quite often. I haven’t really managed to define a clear answer yet, sadly, and I wish I could because it’d make my life much easier. The first thing is – and I don’t know if this even exists or not – but I’m really interested in publishing some avant-garde Scots poetry. Poetry in the Scots language that is weird, experimental, pushing the boundaries of the language. That’s something that I’m really eager to get involved with.
Looking for the next MacDiarmid?
I’m looking for something even wilder, if possible. We need a 21st century MacDiarmid. It’s very much one of my main beliefs that, in order for a language to thrive, it needs a thriving avant-garde.
Would you say there’s a risk that Scots writing can play up to a kind of collective nostalgia?
I’d fully agree with that. And I think, in particular, it’s something Doric writing suffers from. There’s still a strong tradition and community of people writing poetry in Doric across the North-East of Scotland. Each of the wee villages has people who write Scots and Doric poetry, but often the problem is that it’s all nostalgic or sort of lightly humorous verse – which I wouldn’t denigrate at all, I believe there’s a time and a place for it. People enjoy it and people are entitled to enjoy it. But when the vast majority of the Doric poetry that’s getting published is that, there’s maybe a slight problem. That’s one of the things I’m trying to move away from.
So, besides Doric post-modernism, what else are you looking for?
I’m keen to do a series of handmade, very small, possibly 12-16 page pamphlets in English or Scots, based on cultural responses to cities. We had a very successful short-run pamphlet called Glasgow Flourishes by Calum Roger, which is now completely sold out. It was just a one-off thing. It’s really about the culture of Glasgow and it would be good to do a wee series of pamphlets about, you know, Abderdeen, Dundee, St Andrews, each in a different style. But really what I’m looking for are things that are a bit different. I’m particularly interested in young poets who are just starting out, maybe working towards their first or second collection. If something jumps out at me that’s a bit interesting, that hasn’t been done before, that has some liveliness to it…
Is there anything you’re specifically not looking for?
Yeah. Comic verse. And just plain ‘nature’ poetry. People walking through fields admiring the clouds in a very standard ABAB rhyming form. That really makes me groan. I don’t just want to hear how pretty the clouds are that you’re looking at. Tell me something more.
Scottish Spleen, a new translation of Baudelaire into Scots, is available from Tapsalteerie now.