The Emma Press: 5th Birthday party

Despite the intermittent flurries of snow peppering the city, poets flocked to 1000 trades café in the very heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery quarter to honor a momentous birthday occasion for one of the best-known and admired names in Birmingham, The Emma Press. The independent publisher celebrated its fifth birthday by holding a relaxed poetry reading on the upstairs floor of the warm city-center pub, and whatsmore, friends and guests alike were surprised and delighted with a rather excellent surprise musical interlude between the two sections of incredible poetry performances!


The room was dressed up with balloons and quirky paper decorations and each table was laiden with French fancy cakes and tissue paper posy center pieces. These quaint and pretty flourishes were really a testament to Emma’s thorough attention to detail that serves her so well in the success of her publications. The yellow paper goody-bags were such a thoughtful addition, with specially made notebooks, bookmarks and Emma Press pens along with a hand written thankyou note. It’s things like this that really sets The Emma Press apart, that it is an indie press means the team can afford the effort to methodically tweak little touches here and there to make whatever they arrange just right, enjoyable and just bloody well lovely. 


Their most recent release, The Emma Press Anthology Of Love seems to have just the same air of something that had been as exquisitely and lovingly put together. The anthology contains 56 poets, all of whom had a dedicated biography section in the back of the book, and many pages were illustrated by Emma herself. With any EP book you know you are buying something that has been passionately and painstakingly put together and I think it is this intimate friendly and warm feeling that comes from an indie press that draws so many in. 


The event kicked off with some beautiful readings, most notably Rachael Piercey, member of The Emma Press team, whose poem about the platonic love between friends was a beautiful acknowledgement of the wonderful bond between the women and their relationship that blossomed out of a year 7 squabble over a spelling mistake. Again, we are reminded of how human this Press is, which makes it even more impressive at how much it has achieved within its lifespan.


A performance that particularly stood out to me was Zosia Kuczyńska’s, whose book Piaseki was published with The Emma Press in June of 2017. One poem focused on the medium of story telling in women’s culture and the ways in which stories grow and intertwine like vines, a theme that she very rightly stated felt suitable in this celebratory air of a woman dominated press. Her book itself tells the story of her babcia, her maternal grandmother, coming to England after being taken from her home in Eastern Poland to Arkhangelsk, Siberia. You can purchase her book here

The transcendant Cynthia miller took to the stage and opened with a poem that also seemed to suit the air of bravery, ambition and above all risk that the EP party seemed to be celebrating along with the birthday itself. The poem contrasts the image of “comfort zones” with an alarming one of “oxygen masks falling from a ceiling” and a tanoy announcing “it’s not selfish to put yourself first”. We are pulled along on a journey over “borders” and finding “The One.” The poem reminds us of the balance between “now and future” and “being torn between sensible and spontaneous” and how it is so often a battle of discovery to discern whether one is in fact the best choice to make or not. Then Cynthia flips the meanings on its head by reading the poems through again in a columnal style so that the words fall in different ways. “I am trying to do it all but it’s not selfish.” Suddenly this reading suggests that we need not make a choice between ourselves and others. I felt it had a real current of encouragement, assuring the audience that you can be a contradiction, you can do it all and it not make you narcissist. “Leaning in is a smart move” gave me an image of someone leaning into the wind of an accelerating vehicle to get more aerodynamic form to go faster. I personally took such confidence and inspiration from this reading which seemed to say to me that you shouldn’t feel guilty for leaning into your acceleration and focus on what benefits you. The slight shift in perspective with each column reflects the many paths in life that we can chose to go down and how the outcome can change slightly with each life choice.  

Richard O’Brien performed a truly heartwarming piece that left every face in the room smiling. Images of domestic bliss, sleeping on the opposite side of the bed in the absence of a partner, and soft pyjama kisses remind us of the gentle and beautiful nature with which poetry can celebrate love. Again I am reminded of the nature of The Emma Press, this is a publisher built on the back of love and passion for poetry as well as for people. The very down to earth, funny and again human nature of the press shone through in the interlude, the very magic of the evening, Emma’s and Richard’s musical extravaganza! Choosing to ditch the conventional speech making, Emma rewrote five songs to make up a mini musical to tell us all about the history of the Emma press. I don’t think an article will ever truly capture the magic that she did in her altered renditions of the little mermaid, American Pie and an original piece about the benevolent team at the jewellery Q, so you’ll have to believe me when I say it was amazing. Everyone was clapping, laughing, swaying, whooping and hollering along really enjoying themselves. Emma actually has a very wonderful voice, helped by the gentle narration of her partner in crime, Richard.


The event drew to a close with further poetry readings, sadly too many to mention in my short article, but nonetheless wonderful. The wide range of talent reflecting the diversity of voices represented by this impressive indie press. Congratulations and happy birthday to The Emma press team, may there be many more books, parties and musical outbursts.


jessica lena