At a time when many small poetry presses are going on indefinite hiatus or closing down altogether, it’s heartening to welcome a relative newcomer to the field. Sídhe Press published its first book in February of this year – Our Own Coordinates, an anthology of poems about dementia that is profound, tender, unflinching and courageous. This has been followed by Sarah Connor’s fine collection The Crow Gods and a second anthology, Glisk and Glimmer, on the theme of Light. Annick Yerem, the Editor-in-Chief of Sídhe Press, is a gifted poet in her own right, whose work has been widely published both online and in print. Annick’s chapbook, St Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, was published in 2022 by Hedgehog Press. I was delighted when she agreed to an interview with me.
– Annick, you were born in Japan to German/Scottish parents, have deep ties to Scotland and currently reside in Berlin. How has your multi-cultural background informed your relationship to poetry?
Annick: I grew up with haikus and Scottish/ English nursery rhymes, later with German poetry. It was not so much the multi-cultural background, but the accessibility of literature, especially poetry. I was encouraged to read in both languages, even when I was too young or not fluent enough to understand and I was also encouraged to write, this was something to aspire to for both of my parents. My dad was a teacher of English, German and Ethics, my mum studied German and French and worked as a teacher and editor.
– Writing about yourself in the third person, you describe your goal as being ‘to uplift and support other writers and artists as much as she possibly can and to have fun while she´s at it.’ You are valued as a warm, generous, inclusive and supportive member of the online poetry community. To what extent do you, in turn, benefit from being part of a creative community (or communities)?
Annick: First of all, thank you for this more than generous description! Without exaggeration, being part of this poetry community means the world to me. As a chronically ill person, I am quite isolated where I live, so getting to be a part of something so wonderful and so life-affirming still feels incredible. I was very lucky in that one of the first people I “ran into” on Twitter was Ankh Spice, who showed me the ropes in such a gracious and kind way that not only made my start easy, but opened many doors for me. Am trying to pay this forward now and it´s always an honour when a friendship develops out of working together. Ankh was and still is my role model in all of this. Not only is he an exceptional poet, but he is one of the kindest people I know.
– I agree: Ankh’s beautiful poetry and his generosity of spirit have touched many of us in the writing community. On your blog site, where you regularly feature the work of fellow poets, you write of ‘saving the world, one poem at a time’. Would you like to expand on the importance of poetry, both to you personally and in a wider social context?
Annick: To me personally, poetry is and always has been a lifeline. When someone else can express something you are desperately trying to find words for, it´s a fantastic feeling.
A few weeks ago I added fragments to a pamphlet another poet had written, it became like a call and response. This was one of the few times I wrote anything political, although I grew up in a very political household. I am always worried to sound as if I´m preaching and to simply not be able to be precise enough with what I´m trying to say. So I am in awe of poets (and other writers) that are brave enough to write the uncomfortable truths, to find words for what is going on in their lives and in the world. I believe it can make a difference to write about social and political issues, as well as the personal ones, as they are so intertwined. Readers respond to poetry in a different way, I feel it touches them and speaks to them, even if they are not “poetry people”.
– You are a poet, writer, teacher and now also an editor. Tell us about Sídhe Press; how it came into being, its ethos and editorial vision.
Annick: I had thought about a press for a little while and during a slow art project with Sarah Connor, where we sent poems back and forth in letters, Sarah mentioned that she was thinking about putting a book together. So I just went with my gut and asked her if she would trust me with it even though I had no idea what I was doing. This was last June. And then everything came together, I found a name, found the picture for the logo thanks to an old friend, Aida, and then found Jane Cornwell, who agreed to work with me and design and format the books. Due to timelines I ended up doing the anthology on dementia first and found my wonderful co-editor and now friend, Mo Schoenfeld, to work with me on it. I have been incredibly lucky to work with Jane, Sarah, Mo, Larissa Reid, and with so many wonderful contributors. For the next anthology, I will be working with Mo and Sarah again, and also with Sue Finch, Róisín Ní Neachtain and Giovanna MacKenna. Have veered from the course a little to re-publish an amazing book by Nikki Dudley, now called Just One More Before I Go.
It´s been a very steep learning curve and of course I make mistakes, sometimes mortifying ones like writing poets´ names wrong, which happened a few times in the last anthology. The whole process teaches me a lot and it´s also something I can do although I´m sick, bit by bit and with a lot of help. I want Sídhe Press to be a safe space and a press that poets can trust. Am aiming to be transparent about mistakes and own up to them, and to be transparent about the process.
For example, I am well aware that it can be seen as problematic to publish with KDP and not work with a local printer, etc. For me, being based in Berlin, it´s the only feasible way to get the books out there, it is also financially the only way to do it. I am completely self-funded, so almost all of the money I earn with one book goes into the next one. That´s why there is no way I can send contributor copies, although I would love to. Am still waiting for a certain billionaire who has single-handedly ruined Twitter for all of us to come to his senses and not only gift it to the poets, but to also throw a chunk of cash to small presses. A woman can dream…
– To date Sídhe Press has published three books, most recently the anthology Glisk and Glimmer, which is as shimmering as its title suggests. Sídhe Press is also republishing Nikki Dudley’s pamphlet Just One More Before I Go (originally published by Beir Bua Press, which is now sadly defunct). How have you found the process of bringing these publications into the world?
Annick: My other answers have been very long, so this one is very short: I have found it (and still do) gratifying, elating and humbling. And joyful!
– That’s lovely to hear! Your own poetry is characterised by careful attention to what is happening around you; your ability to absorb subtle sensory energies and transform them into luminous phrases and images; and by your deep empathy with the natural world and how it relates to our human condition. Please share one or two of your poems with us and describe their significance to you.
Annick: The first poem is ‘Shelves’ from St Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus. It´s a poem I never read out loud because I wouldn´t know how to, but it´s one of my favourite ones in my book, because it says so much about my father. It was inspired by a poem by Vicki Feaver and before publishing it, I sent it to her. To get her blessing and encouragement was wonderful. My father always wrote me postcards and letters, he cut and pasted pictures and typed vispo on his old typewriter. One of the things I miss most about him are these letters and cards.
Shelves After Vicki Feaver You are not here, nor in your bare room. [Shelves are forever, inedible chocolates, forgotten pens, two calendars, months behind] Not in Berlin, wandering around museums with F., eating cake, telling him what makes the world go round [sagenhaft is a story is a memory is a sigh] Latvia, Cambridge, Uzbekistan [where is a Silk Road when you need one], Japan, Freiberg, Ludwigsburg, St. Charles, Ulm. You are not [going to see your mum, your dad, your long-dead sister, the girl bear] Burning down all the houses you have ever lived in, all the bridges that could lead to us. You are not writing to me nor cutting out silly pictures to me laugh [shooting possums into space], always in black felt pen, almost illegible [signed D.P. So undercover] You are [
here], you are [ not].
The second one is a new and unpublished one called ‘Das Meer Sein’ (to be the sea). It is after a song by Johannes Meißner and describes a moment last year in Denmark I love to remember. I found his album after I finished Glisk and Glimmer and the album is called Glühen und Glimmen (Glowing and Glimmering). Like so much about my writing and the press, it felt like serendipity.
Das Meer Sein after Johannes Meißner/ Mark Reinke all this shimmering before me seagulls circling starfish drawing spells on tender sand my face feels like light like prayer I weave my breath, then sing to the water: hold me hold me
– Thank you, Annick, for sharing these two beautiful poems with us. To conclude, are there any current or future projects that you would like to tell us about?
Annick: I am trying (and failing spectacularly at it at the moment) to write a new book and am starting work on the new anthology. Submissions will open again in November. There is also a very different project where the timeline is not clear yet, but I am sure it will happen. I´m trying to set up a small online (weekend) festival. And of course, there are the launches for Glisk and Glimmer and for Just One More Before I Go!
Many thanks, Annick, for taking the time to answer my questions.
Annick Yerem’s personal website, which includes links to her publications: https://annickyerem.eu
Annick Yerem’s blog: https://missyerem.wordpress.com
Sídhe Press: https://sidhe-press.eu
YouTube channel for Sidhe Press book launches: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuLB9DSeA5xkFwm7AxfgPSg