Peter Jay, Ambassador of Poetry

Article excerpt

You can count the number of consistently good publishers of contemporary poetry on the fingers of two hands. And here they are: Faber, Bloodaxe, Oxford University Press, Carcanet, Cape, Chatto, Enitharmon and Anvil.

Some of these names are not independent poetry publishers at all. Chatto and Cape, for example, are merely a couple of occupied desks and a logo within Random House. Faber, the smallest of the big publishers, also has a toe in fiction and film. Giant-sized OUP needs no introduction. All these imprints are able to share the resources of large publishing machines - design departments, publicists, rep forces.

The more difficult and financially risky work, therefore, is done by the genuine independents - Bloodaxe Books of Newcastle, Carcanet of Manchester, Enitharmon of London and, almost the oldest of them all, Anvil Press of Greenwich, which has just relaunched with a dozen new titles.

Anvil was founded in 1968 by Peter Jay while he was studying classics and English at Oxford. The first two titles were funded by a grant of $2,000 that Jay got from the Rockefeller Foundation for something nebulously described as "creative activities". Next year he got a modest disbursement from the Arts Council and that annual grant - which has remained at about [pounds]60,000 for ten years - has sustained the press ever since, enabling Jay to publish about 12 poetry books a year.

Anvil has always been committed to poetry in translation. When Jay started, there was very little poetry in translation available. Now there's almost certainly too much and, for the most part, the translations are not good enough. Translation helps to put English poetry into perspective; it demonstrates how foreign work feeds into and influences English-language verse. In short, as Jay puts it, it "opens things up". …