Christmas Pamphlets from Candlestick Press

Our poetry group in Trowbridge has been getting together for just over a year now and I’m really happy to meet up regularly with such a  lovely bunch of people!  We meet on the first Saturday of each month (2-4pm) in Trowbridge at Drawing Projects UK, right by Trowbridge train station, to read and discuss each other’s poems in progress, organise poetry readings by visiting poets, and hold open mic events.  You can email me josephinecorcoran13@gmail.com if you’d like to join our group or contact me on Twitter @JosephineCorc or via my Facebook page.

As well as being a Poetry Society Stanza, we’re also a Candlestick Press Collective which means that Candlestick Press send us parcels of their pamphlets to read, discuss and write about.  We’ve recently been sent a range of new Christmas-themed pamphlets and here are some thoughts from members of our group,  Sharon Adams, Anita Bell, Peter O’Grady, John Powell and Shauna Robertson.

You can find fun, delight and thoughtfulness in each of these booklets. The variety in the series means there is a perfect stocking-filler or card-substitute for everyone – including Mr Scrooge. (Peter O’Grady)

“Two very different short stories with a Christmas feel are the main focus in two of the booklets,” writes Peter O’Grady.

“The Holly and the Ivy, by Sean O’Brien, is a spooky-strange tale of an unhappy child, a step-mother and carol singers – an interesting take on the miserable effects of self-centredness on a whole household and what can be done about it.”

Anita Bell found The Holly and the Ivy “Mysterious.  I was left her with a sense of unease – with poisonous ivy.  The eerie carol singers – I like the twist of the traditional”.

We are not tucking into a feast of cloying cheerfulness, thank goodness.

John Powell writes “Candlestick Press have a plethora of Christmas pamphlets on offer this year.  They provide a welcome range of responses to a wide variety of  Christmas / New Year / winter experiences; we are not tucking into a feast of cloying cheerfulness, thank goodness. This diversity is perhaps most evident in the differences between the two short stories on offer. Sean O’Brien’s take on the Xmas ghost story is set in the most dysfunctional of modern families; Eunice Day’s tale of useless old-age trumping youth and disaster a more traditionally heartwarming tale from the past.”

Shauna Robertson has been inspired to research both writer and illustrator after reading Gift of the Old  One by Eunice Day:

I absolutely love the artwork that illustrates Gift of the Old One, by Eunice Day. It’s by Kathy Morgan, who I hadn’t previously come across so I looked her up.

At this time of year I’m usually to be found grumbling about the omnipresence of Christmas music, Christmas adverts, Christmas shop displays and, let’s face it, Christmas itself. But for some reason I’m feeling oddly festive this year so I’ve been diving into Candlestick Press’ ‘Christmas Collection’ series of poetry pamphlets.

My favourite so far is the short story Gift of the Old One by Eunice Day.

I absolutely love the artwork that illustrates this story. It’s by Kathy Morgan, who I hadn’t previously come across so I looked her up. She’s based in south-west Wales and paints in oils, using what she calls a naïve style. It’s a style I’m really drawn to. It reminds of me of much of the folk art and outsider art that I love (though I’ve never been sure how I feel about that term, ‘outsider art’). I think the illustrations also remind me of some of the story books I cherished as a child – the ones where the artwork seemed to have a sort of magical quality and it stayed with me, becoming ‘one’ with the story in my imagination.

Here, the style of artwork is a perfect fit, since the story in question – about an elderly couple and their cherished goat herd – reads very much like a folk tale. The tale itself is sweet and quite charming. While short and told in simple, pared-down language, it still manages to encompasses multiple themes including ancient wisdom and modern progress, age and youth, love and commitment, and humans and nature. The perfect seasonal tale, in other words.

While I was googling the illustrator I was also curious to see if I could find out a bit more about the author. Which I did and I didn’t. Sort of. Here’s the thing: the book’s back cover says that author Eunice ‘Pixie’ Day was a goat herdswoman who bred champion Saanan goats on her homestead in Maine, USA. According to the website www.snopes.com, Day’s story started circulating online around 2000. But then it claims that there was an earlier version in which ‘the old one’ isn’t a goat, but a horse!”

I have no idea what the truth of the matter is and to be honest I don’t much mind either way. On the contrary, the discovery of the ambiguity has made me like the book even more. After all, any real folk tale worth its salt has various disputed origins and versions – and it’s all the richer for it. I’m kind of glad this version features goats though. Kathy Morgan’s goat illustrations really are very lovely!

Note from Josephine: “Candlestick Press have said that Pixie Day’s story was plagiarised by someone and published on the internet.  Eunice ‘Pixie’ Day is the rightful creator of this story.”

Anita Bell really liked the two poems which Candlestick have chosen to bookend Eunice Day’s story, The Coolin by James Stephens and Gift by RS Thomas.

The six booklets in the Candlestick Press Christmas series have enough to stir up the spirit of the festive season in everyone. (Peter O’Grady)

“I would like to say which is my favourite pamphlet  but I keep changing my mind,” writes Peter O’Grady.

“Christmas Crackers, with its surprises and delights, lives up to its billing and is matched in its own way by the Christmas Garland selection of ten evergreen poems.  For me the big surprise was that the Fourteen Festive Sonnets maintains the standards set by the other two. Surprise because I hadn’t realised that sonnets come in so many interesting shapes and sizes.”

Sharon Adams was also impressed with Fourteen Festive Sonnets:

The first poem, Sonnet in the Snow,  by David Tait, got me hooked from the start

she writes.

 

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this exquisitely produced pamphlet of festive verse. The first poem, Sonnet in the Snow,  by David Tait, got me hooked from the start with its creative imagery – looping letters that curled precise for your eyes. The writing style is fresh and amusing.”

 

“I also liked Christmas Light, by May Sarton, which really captured the silence of the moment and Light the festive Candles, by Aileen Fisher.  Having celebrated Hanukkah on occasion, it was great to see this included in the selection box. The gradual pace evoked fond memories, as the candles are lit in turn.”

 

“Although I struggled to understand Sonnet 73 due to my own ignorance of Shakespeare, there is a good blend of modern and classical poems in the pamphlet. Altogether a lovely collection produced to a good quality. I’m already putting one aside as a gift for a friend who’s a short-story writer but who really enjoys poetry.  Thank you Candlestick Press!”

 

Anita Bell said of Fourteen Sonnets, ” I liked that this was dedicated to sonnets, and I liked the mix of traditional and modern.”

 

“Hope is one theme that runs through many of the Fourteen Festive Sonnets,” writes John Powell.

 

“Anne Stevenson wonders whether springs returning swallows may be in sight and Alison Meynell considers whether her violet may also be a harbinger of spring.  Joolz Denby’s escaped herd of mares are “crazy with the thin, cold air and hope”.  Judith Wright’s and Erik Didriksen’s protagonists in their different ways perceive love to be their salvation. But there is some dissent. David Tait’s attempt to communicate his love is washed away in the thaw and Claude McKay fears that winter’s impending departure will restore the dreaded green fields and balmy winds, thus returning his heart to a state of “impassioned woe”.

Anita Bell likes the way that Christmas Garland “brings nature and Christmas together – which seems integral to Christmas, celebrating winter.”

Meanwhile, John Powell writes “Christmas Garland is a gentler collection, more forgiving of the traditions and tropes of Christmas. Both Paula Meehan and Helen Mort offer affirmation in the face of death / separation. Elsewhere the Xmas tree is brought in from the garden, snow and ice transform the countryside and Wenceslas may be looking out of the window. And at the end you can escape from it all into a peaceful twilight walk up a nearby hill.”

 

Anita Bell liked “the variety of poems” in Christmas Crackers  and “the overall subversive tone.” 

John Powell finds that “In Christmas Crackers the dark side predominates. Panya Bonjoko’s Father Christmas (in her poem Santa circa 2092) scrabbles thorough the post-apocalyptic rubble searching for his old role, the father in Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch’s Mari Lwyd remains traumatised for life by the antics of the New Year’s Day mummers and Alison Brackenbury’s grandmother faces the choice of “Marge? Or jam?” when the harvest fails or factory overtime is revoked.  But Ian Duhig’s White Rose Centre may inspire opponents of the festive season (such as the protagonist in Gregory Woods’ Bah… Humbug) to transform Christmas into something that might work for them!”

Anita Bell thought in Christmas Stocking: Five Festive Poems for Children there was “a good mix of poems, some reminding me of the Please Miss Butler style, and then a few more lyrical ones, for the old romantic parents like me!”

John Powell thought that  “poems about Father Christmas, the pantomime, stockings, mistletoe and present buying” would have wide appeal.  “Familiarity with these Christmas staples and the beautiful illustrations will hopefully make this collection accessible to children and young people,” he writes.

I took Christmas Stocking: Five Festive Poems for Children into St Gregory’s School, Bath, to read with a  group of Year 7 (aged 11 and 12) students and I wrote about that here.

 

To summarise, a delicious selection of Christmas pamphlets from Candlestick Press, we thought, and we like the fact that they can be posted in time for Christmas (to send instead of a card, perhaps). All details over on their website.

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