Llais Newydd: A New Welsh Poetry Press

llais newydd

Llais Newydd is not your average poetry press. The name means ‘new voice’ in English, and it was set up by Dee Dickens and Joe Thomas to provide a platform for marginalised voices. Each of them knows from personal experience what it feels like to be outside of the norm, and they are both poets themselves. I interviewed Dee to find out more about how this new poetry press came about…

 

Dee Dickens

Dee Dickens

What made you decide to start a new poetry press?

I have so many friends who are brilliant poets and yet they were either really struggling to get themselves published or they didn’t have the confidence to approach publishers in the first place. It can be really daunting to think of yourself as unpublishable, poetry being such a personal form, and I wanted to make that better.

I did think about starting a poet’s mentoring service, but I decided that I could mentor poets and also publish them. I had just helped put together the Roath Writers anthology To The Sofa and Back Again, and I had really enjoyed the whole process, so I spoke to my friend Joe Thomas. We had a discussion about what kind of business we wanted to be, what our aims were and who we wanted to approach first, then off we went!

I love the fact that the press aims to create a publishing space specifically for marginalised writers. What does that mean in practice?

This was the most important thing to us at Llais Newydd. The poetry scene is full of writers from marginalised groups writing some amazing, insightful poetry. We wanted our writers to feel part of a family that cares, so what it means in practice is that we put our writers first. We don’t have deadlines that might stress them out, we work with them to see what we can do when. It is all very laid back. We firmly believe that happy writers produce better work.

We are also publishing work on what it means to be marginalised, but we do not ask writers to ‘prove’ how marginalised they are. It comes from a conversation when we get to know them. We also want that conversation to spread out to our readers and promote understanding of what it is like to be outside of the norm.

Are you open for submissions?

No. And I can’t see that we ever will be in the traditional sense. At the moment, Joe and I are doing everything, as we are just starting out, and we already have a pretty full roster of writers.  The way we do things at Llais Newydd is by approaching writers who we like and want to hear more from. They will not always have a collection ready but that is ok, we are here to help them with that, to mentor them through putting a collection together and editing their poems. At poetry events, there are likely to be excited messages between myself and Joe saying how much we like one of the poets and should be looking to have them on our roster.

This does not mean that we are not going to look at work that is sent to us. Since we got the website up and running, poets have been sending us their work to look at. We reply to tell them we will have a look when we have got through a bit more of the work we already have. What we are trying to keep away from is that frantic SUBMISSIONS ARE OPEN type of competition once a year. If you reduce poetry and poets to winners and losers, it does nobody any good.

proof copies of the first two books

Proof copies of the first two books published by Llais Newydd

What books have you published so far?

So far we have published two titles. Cake, Liberty and Other Inexplicable Phenomena by Joe Thomas is a wonderful look at autism and asexuality. It is sweet, funny and in places really very cutting. I am personally really proud of Joe for writing it and being brave enough to put it out there. For Llais Newydd, it was a statement of intent. We mean what we say about marginalised voices, we are not here to play around.

Those Days, These Days by Hannah Edge is a wonderful look at life growing up as a queer woman before and after Section 28. It is full of bittersweet poems that are also defiant and funny in places. There is much about football and autism too. Hannah went to university with my husband and we bonded over a love of cats and the author Robin Hobb. She is anything but predictable and we had a lot of fun putting this collection together.

We are also working on our next two titles, She Ate Her Brain from Josefine Stargardt and Fruit Salad and Rocket Ships by Alice Gretton. Then we have the next two collections in the process of being written.

How did you get into poetry in the first place?

I was a very lonely and strange child, but I always liked words that moved me. Part of my autism as a kid was to see the rhythm and colour in words and they kept me company. Like I say, lonely and strange. I spent some time as a songwriter but having a family and some truly awful relationships put paid to that too. I only really knew a couple of poems and though I still love Walking by The Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and Shadow Bride by Tolkien, poetry was old, white, dead men to me.

About a year before I started university, someone sent me What Women Deserve by Sonya Renee and that was it. I was hooked. I started devouring spoken word poetry through Button Poetry and Brave New Voices.  I still did not know I could actually write the stuff until I met Lucy Windridge and Christina Thatcher who both taught me poetry at Cardiff Metropolitan University. They encouraged me to find my voice and referred to me as a poet long before I had the confidence to claim the title for myself. This is what I am trying to pay forward with Llais Newydd. I want writers who would otherwise not be heard to know that they are poets. And I want those poets to write poetry that changes the world.

Visit the Llais Newydd website here.

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