In conversation with Sarah Mnatzaganian

What drew you to submit to ATG?

I was very excited by the prospect of joining a fairly young independent publishing house which appeared to have real focus, energy and verve.  I also loved the distinctive visual identity of Against the Grain – the clarity and confidence of the graphics, the website and blog, and it helped that I had come across and enjoyed the work of Abegail Morley and Jessica Mookherjee.  The friendly wording and style of the ATG submission call encouraged me to respond with confidence and I also really appreciated the four week window.  The fact that all three Against the Grain editors are women helped me to feel safe to submit what, perhaps inevitably for a first pamphlet, was a very personal collection of work.

How long did it take to gather the poems and when did you realise a pamphlet format would be the best showcase for the work?

I’d been gathering poems and experimenting with different versions of this pamphlet for nearly four years.  One version called Araxi was structured around about six early poems which had been published in The North magazine and to my amazement, it was shortlisted for the Poetry Business Pamphlet competition in 2017.  I tried to learn from this experience: as later poems were accepted by literary magazines, I used their success as a guide to the subjects and styles of writing which seemed to work best for readers.  A later version of the pamphlet called ‘Bogle’ was named after a poem about Robin, my cello maker husband, finding a ‘bogle’ or knot in some cello wood. This version explored all the themes in ‘Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter’, starting with the Armenian poems and followed by others about childhood, my parents, the experience of our own children leaving home and about Robin. This version was highly commended in the 2019 Mslexia/PBS pamphlet competition, which was very tantalising.  When submitting to Against the Grain Press in June 2020, I decided to reserve the cello making poems for another book, and to call my submission ‘Philosophy Revision’ after a poem about helping our daughter revise for her A levels. I thought this title reflected the way life challenges you to reflect on and revisit your own philosophy at every stage: death, birth, growing up, leaving home.  ‘Philosophy Revision’ could also be a good title for an article about putting a pamphlet together!

Can you give an insight into the editing process?

My editor, Abegail Morley, sent feedback on the first six poems last September. This was a scary and stimulating moment, preparing to look at these poems afresh, sometimes after several years, through the eyes of someone so significant.  Abegail’s feedback left me with a lot to think about, as some of her suggestions were really surprising.  This helped me to stand right back from my work and to see that some of the poems are much ‘quieter’ in style than others, so much so that I realized that sometimes I write with an Armenian voice and sometimes with an English voice.  I understood that I must allow the quieter poems to stay that way, and to honour both sides of the person and the experiences which the poems reflect.  This understanding also helped me with choosing the colour of the book cover and endpapers – I decided on the green made from 50% blue and 50% yellow, to represent my dual heritage.  A poet friend suggested that I bring the Armenian poems to the forefront of the book, and to change the title to reflect this.  I then went through each poem with Abegail, tightening and refreshing the syntax at times, to make sure they were all fresh and ready for a reader.  Abegail was wonderfully supportive of this process, like any patient and experienced midwife.  She also encouraged me to let go of a few less relevant poems and to bring in some more recent work which I think has strengthened the book and supported its main themes. 

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Philosophy Revision

We take flashcards for a walk   
as if she’s not really revising,

as if all we wanted
was the comfort of trees at twilight,

as if success wasn’t
a passport to somewhere else.

Dusk deepens our eyes
and the distance to the ground is hard to judge.

I drain my mind to a dry riverbed
and wait for her monsoon to flood me

with what I will know for only as long
as she needs me to know it.

For only as long
as it takes to leave.

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Sarah’s pamphlet is available now for pre-order.

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Sarah will b e launching her pamphlet with Joanna Nissel on Sunday March 20th at 3pm

Eventbrite link for tickets: https://joanna_sarah.eventbrite.com 

Our 2022-2023 poets

Against the Grain Press poets

We are really delighted to welcome the following poets into the Against the Grain Press stable and look forward to working with them on their forthcoming pamphlets:

Jo Davis – Dry tomb

Luciana Francis – Travel Writing

Laura McKee – take care of your hooves darling

David Mohan – Wild Fire

Joolz Sparkes – Turn and Face the Strain

Emilie Jelinek – Exile and the Kingdom

Sarah Mnatzaganian and Joanna Nissel launch Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter and Guerrilla Brightenings – March 20th, 3pm on Zoom

20TH MARCH 2022 3PM UK TIME

We’re really looking forward to launching Joanna Nissel’Guerrilla Brightenings and Sarah Mnatzaganian‘s Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter in March. Joanna’s poems of domesticity, family, love, death and lockdown beautifully thread sadness and loss with brightness, warmth and compassion. Sarah leads the reader through the gentle landscape of her English childhood into the colourful world of her Armenian family in Jerusalem. Both books are available for pre-order and will be delivered in time the launch.

Eventbrite link for tickets: https://joanna_sarah.eventbrite.com 

Sarah_Joanna_Launch[9621]

We’re really thrilled that our guest readers are Benjamin Cusden and Cheryl Moskowitz. Benjamin’s pamphlet, Cut the Black Rabbit is described Katrina Naomi as “a tough but tender read, with Cusden being one who knows how to ‘camouflage your being with evening air’ and how to scrape by ‘with laughter and lager’.” Cheryl Moskowitz’s Maternal Impression is described by Lisa Kelly as “a call to arms – maternal arms – and all that implies in the Anthropocene. It has a beating heart that needs to be heard, felt, and heeded.”

We’re delighted to announce our shortlist

Our Poets
New books

Shortlist


Claire Collison, Chemo with Sharapova
Claire Cox, Sing in the Key of Sharpness
Jo Davis, Dry tomb
Lucy Dixcart, The World’s Quietest Room
Luciana Francis, Travel Writing
Nicola Heaney, Foundations
Kate Hendry, MX SIMP
Daniel Hinds, New Famous Phrases
Lucy Hurst, Pain Management
Emilie Jelinek, Exile and the Kingdom
Fawzia Muradali Kane, We Mourn the Death of King Sugar
Laura McKee, take care of your hooves darling
David Mohan, Wildfire
Kate Noakes, Bird in an Air Pump
Joolz Sparks, Turn and Face the Strain

We ‘re so delighted to announce this shortlist of fantastic work. Our six titles from 2022 and 2023 will be published here within the next week or so. Thank you all for trusting us with your work; it has been a privileged to read it.

Abegail, Karen and Jess

New in the shop from Sarah Mnatzaganian and Joanna Nissel

Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter and Guerrilla Brightenings

Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter by Sarah Mnatzaganian and Guerilla Brightenings by Joanna Nissel will be launched in the spring. Both books are now available for pre-order from our shop.

Sarah Mnatzaganian up in rural Wiltshire and in her late teens spent each summer with her father’s family in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. She studied English at Oxford University and Byzantine Art History at the Courtauld Institute. Sarah worked as an editor, teacher and freelance journalist before co-founding a cello business with her husband Robin Aitchison in Ely, where they brought up their two children. Her poems have been widely published in literary magazines including The North, Poetry Wales and The Rialto. She won first prize in the Spelt Poetry Competition in 2021

Joanna first discovered poetry through the gateway drug of prose poetry while at Bath Spa University. She has since been the runner up for the Poetry Business New Poets Prize, ‘Pick of the Month’ for Ink, Sweat and Tears, and won the Bangor Literary Journal 2020 Ekphrastic Competition. Joanna is completing a PhD in ‘Mentoring in the Contemporary UK Poetry Ecology’ at University of Southampton.

Cheryl Moskowitz at Poetry at home

A reading featuring eight poets who have published, or will be publishing, new collections between 2021 – 2022 from publishers, Seren Books, Broken Sleep, Verve, Bad Betty Press and Against the Grain Poetry Press

It’s a great line-up – Liam Bates, Kandace Siobhan Walker, Abeer Amir, Shruti Chauhan, Kim Moore, Hannah Hodgson, Bryony Littlefair and Cheryl Moskowitz will be reading from Maternal Impression.

CherylMoskowitzFrontCoverMATERNAL IMPRESSION BY CHERYL MOSKOWITZ

Moskowitz interrogates familial love with a wounding sharpness and compelling strangeness, unearthing uneasy truths. It is a call to maternal arms. 

Poet biography and sample poems.

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“Reading Maternal Impression is to have the feeling of walking on nails with bare feet, with the assurance of trust. I go tenderly where these fine poems take me, knowing they will advance my pleasure, my empowerment.” – Daljit Nagra 

Sarah Mnatzagarian wins Spelt Poetry Competition

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Congratulation to our 2022 poet, Sarah Mnatzagarian who wins the  Spelt Poetry Competition judged by Maggie Harris. We’re publishing Sarah’s pamphlet, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter, next spring. Until then, here’s the star poem. Congratulations also to Rachel Davies and and Diana Cant who came second and third.

Somerset soundtrack

Jack-jack-jackdaws yack-yack everywhere and here’s a car
and trailer squawking steel, stinking diesel. Ferns lick
into the lane and goose grass grapples up the hedge.
Just imagine your slipslap feet don’t sound menacing
to small creatures. Hear the soil drink last night’s rain,
breathe the fat green air until another car passes ~ hello
goodbye – with a sad-eared dog in the back. Cheecheechee
if you could learn these birdcalls, life would be sweeter.
Ten young ash have all died back. Where will the birds
sit tomorrow? A DPD van barrels past the festival gate.
It’s just a restival this year, no Glasto crowd, no music.
Turn right to Cockmill, nicking, slicking downhill
through dog-rosed, blackbirded, Stella-canned hedges.
Pylons cricklecrackle down the valley, make ears shrink
like baked snails as the buzz builds. Worthy Farm sign says
Don’t shoot in these fields – there are lovely cows and even
lovelier people wandering everywhere – Michael Eavis.
Lark, you’re in charge of the morning and oak trees
have possession of this lane. Come down to the dark ford
where midges pixillate the stream and roots have woven
a bank and there’s a call to prayer from the young oaks.
Maybe you can tell me the name of the singer? Listen,
it says all the right things to the mosquitos celebrating
over the water as I trudge my heart hard uphill home.

Graham Clifford – In Charge of the Gun

ATG poet Graham Clifford has his new collection out with The Black Light Engine Room with a virtual launch on July 1st. Launch details and tickets can be found below and a link to a fab review. Congrats Graham!

In Charge of the Gun

In Charge of the Gun Clifford’s latest collection includes such soon-to-be-classics as, Tuculescu?, The White Baboon, New Saint Crop and The Worst Poem Ever Written. Perfect as a gift or a veiled threat, this collection will not leave you wondering. ‘…think yawning baby shark.’ (p&p incl.)

£9.50

Launch Details

Read a review over at London Grip