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Back to the beginning: Bloodaxe Books returns to Newcastle University


Thirty-five years ago a poetry lover set up his own publishing house from an admin office on the Newcastle University campus and went on to become one of the most important contemporary poetry publishers in the world.

From such humble beginnings, Bloodaxe Books gave a voice and in many cases a break, to leading writers including Simon Armitage, Helen Dunmore, Tony Harrison and Benjamin Zephaniah; major figures in world poetry such as Mahmoud Darwish, Miroslav Holub and Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer; and Newcastle University’s own W.N. (Bill) Herbert, Jackie Kay and Sean O’Brien.

Now, three and half decades later the University has acquired its archive and Bloodaxe Books is returning to the place where it all began.

“It has been thirty five years since Bloodaxe started so it seemed like the right time to start thinking about what to do with the archive,” says editor Neil Astley, the man behind Bloodaxe Books and a former Newcastle University student. “Newcastle University was the obvious place to look after the archive as it means it has come full circle.”

The first batch of the archive - 62 boxes of documents detailing the relationship between poet and editor and the editorial and publishing processes - is already in place in the University’s Robinson Library.  It will take archivists up to two years to catalogue it.

The collection is a ‘living archive’ which means the University will receive a new section of the archive each year, for as long as Bloodaxe continues to publish.

Professor Linda Anderson, Director of the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts (NCLA), was the driving force behind the acquisition. She said: “The Bloodaxe Books archive is a huge asset for the University.  It has consistently been one of the boldest, most important contemporary poetry houses in the world. 

“Neil Astley has brought to the fore many previously overlooked poets, including women poets, and broadened the range of the poetry that gets published and its audience.

“The archive really adds to the University’s growing collection of contemporary literature and will prove an inspiration for our students for many years to come.”

University librarian Wayne Connolly said: “This is a fantastic new addition to the University’s special collections. We already hold the collections of important local writers like Sid Chaplin and his son Michael, Barry MacSweeney and Jack Common and the Bloodaxe Books archive builds on our reputation as a centre of excellence for contemporary literature.”

Anna Woodford and Tara Bergin are poets and Newcastle University graduates.  They have been investigating the archive. “It is a real treasure trove,” said Anna. “There are so many areas of potential research in there and we’ve only scratched the surface of it. There are all kinds of things in there from campaigns to save Bloodaxe in the early days, to personal correspondence and first manuscripts from poets such as Simon Armitage and Sean O' Brien. It is absolutely fascinating.”

Tara said: “What comes across from our initial look into the archive is the range and diversity of material available here, from Tony Harrison’s controversial poem ‘V’ to translations of the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, which were written in Newcastle. It’s tremendously exciting to have all of these papers under one roof.”

To document their findings, Anna and Tara have collaborated with artist and film-maker Kate Sweeney to make a short poem-film, called Proof. The film includes extracts from new interviews with Neil Astley, Simon Armitage, Gillian Allnutt, John Hegley, Paul Batchelor and Anne Stevenson. It will be shown on Thursday, 6 June, at 7pm as part of the NCLA’s True North event. The event is free and everyone is welcome but tickets should be booked in advance.


Pictured: Professor Linda Anderson with the archive

published on: 3 June 2013