The mood is festive as Red Squirrel Press joins the Scottish Writers’ Centre for a commemoration of its ten-year anniversary: an exciting celebration of all that the independent publisher, led by editor Sheila Wakefield, has achieved since its foundation in 2006. Despite its prolific publication of over 130 titles in that time (with a production schedule already full for 2016), there is a genuine sense of warmth, mutual support and encouragement among the ‘Squirrels’, a refreshing sentiment echoed by the poets’ appreciation of Sheila’s unwavering assistance. Located in Northumberland, Red Squirrel Press is self-funded and especially keen on promoting local writers, a quality that was clearly in evidence – as four talented poets, Anne Connolly, Andy Jackson, Chris Powici and Elizabeth Rimmer, join the SWC for a series of readings from their latest collections, a fascinating mix which incorporates everything from Scottish landscapes to the art of creation.
Anne Connolly begins with her collection ‘A Ravel of Yarns’, a thought-provoking series of poems – ostensibly preoccupied with clothes and the way in which ‘patterns infinitely twine’, the collection explores connections and the threads of life, a descriptively charming array focusing on the interlinking of history and memory. There are poems that describe Irish history and the tradition of Monday wash-days; poems which concentrate upon nature, land and acquisition; even humorous ones in which Anne attempts to mimic a sheep with surprising conviction.
Next is Andy Jackson, whose quirky collection ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Cheating’ is self-described as ‘sweepings from the poetry workshop floor’ – an admittedly bizarre waltz through life’s eccentricities, his poems have a wide spectrum of interest ranging from a Shakespeare-inspired reimagining of Fortinbras and Mercutio’s lives to clever guides to deception, with a suitably offhand appendix which includes such unrelated items as Chanel No. 5 and Bruce Forsyth’s confidence. Another highlight is ‘Marriage Guidance’, based on a Cinderella folk tale, and an intriguing discussion about from where exactly are hurricanes’ names derived.
Chris Powici follows with excerpts from his collection ‘This Weight of Light’, whose exuberant delivery of his nature-focused poems continually absorbs the event’s attendees; another eclectic collection, his subtly evocative elegy, which focuses upon his night-fishing expeditions with his brother, contrasts with his visceral portrayal of the roar of eternally flapping geese in Montrose.
The night ends with Elizabeth Rimmer’s reading from her poetry collection ‘The Territory of Rain’, a title which eloquently captures her life in Stirling, in which life is increasingly dictated by a uniquely Scottish irritation: the rain. Her collection is hopeful, infused with the promise of spring and a comfortingly maternal approach to landscape; although her poems delve into more serious topics, such as her friend’s ‘farewell to arms’ and the sadness of a declining life, it remains a quiet celebration of life, an ethos encapsulated in all readings performed tonight, through their engagement with the curious, the natural and the meaningful.
The diverse nature of the poets – and their captivating assortment of poetry – is a testament to what Red Squirrel Press has accomplished in its tenure; smiles and congratulations abound as the packed audience begins to leave, after Sheila’s effusive and heartfelt message of thanks. Here’s to another ten years of exciting new poets!
Words by Rachel Walker