Joan and Kate Newmann’s Summer Palace Press

Poetry Ireland News March/April 2010

This December saw the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green open its doors to the founders, poets, and friends of Summer Palace Press, who gathered to celebrate its first ten years in Irish publishing. Introduced by Joseph Woods and Theo Dorgan, the event was organised in association with Poetry Ireland and Tupelo Press. It was a well-deserved recognition and appreciation for co-directors Joan and Kate Newman, who marked the occasion with the launch of an anthology, The Sketch, the Ship, and the Afternoon: Ten Years at the Summer Palace. Also launched on the evening were new books by Annie Deppe and Malachi O’Doherty, both from Summer Palace, and a fourth collection, Orpheus on the Red Line, by Ted Deppe, from Tupelo Press, USA. The poems selected for The Sketch, the Ship, and the Afternoon – the title from CP Cavafy’s poem ‘On Board Ship’, with a magnificent cover by Katherine Yates – are vignettes of each poet’s work. The poems deal with the real influences on human existence: love, death and nature, immersed in social/political, family/personal, real/surreal contexts. In many poems, themes converge: ‘Yesterday I found you in the ice, / frozen to death, yet still alive’ (‘Requiem’ by Lisa Steppe).

In others, the limits of language or its absence are explored, as in ‘Corncrake’ by Ruth Carr: ‘She sits on / in a shrinking world / that cannot hold the jarring of her note’; or in ‘The Way Women Were’ by Heather Newcombe: ‘Years ago, he said, / they used to talk. / That’s the second plate / she broke this year, / she’ll have no luck.’ The poems reflect key moments in the lives and experiences of writers, the majority of whom are women, from both sides of the Border.

To date, thirty-eight books have been published by Summer Palace Press, bringing the work of thirty-two poets/writers to national and international readership. For the majority, it was their first individual collection; six of the thirty-two poets have released a second collection in the past two years. The driving force for the work of the Press, Kate explained on the evening is ‘the love of poetry and faith in the poets’. This faith has been justified; three of the Summer Palace poets have been included among the twenty-four in The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets (Salmon Poetry) edited by Joan McBreen.

The Newmanns make an ideal mother and- daughter working duo. Their talents as editors and facilitators complement one another. Kate is a Cambridge Honours- English graduate with an MA Cantab from King’s College. She was an editor for the Institute of Irish Studies, in Queen’s University, Belfast, and is very experienced in the complexities of book production.

During her student years in Queen’s University, Joan was a member of Philip Hobsbaum’s Belfast Group, which included Seamus Heaney, James Simmons and Stewart Parker. The influence of Hobsbaum was acknowledged by Kate when she described him as ‘one who had the ability to appreciate and delight in the work of others’. The same could be said of the Newmanns themselves and their philosophy. Summer Palace Press takes its name from Joan’s and Kate’s home in Kilcar near Killybegs in South West Donegal.The location itself is part of the underlying stimulus for many pieces written during the workshops that have taken place there. The house overlooks Donegal Bay and the stretch of Atlantic down to Sligo, where, on a summer’s evening, Queen Maeve’s Cairn on Knocknarea is visible in the distance. To be part of a workshop with the Newmanns at the Summer Palace is always a memorable and magical experience. Writers from Ballycastle, Derry, Sligo and Donegal have attended workshops facilitated by prominent guest poets including Michael Longley, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paula Meehan, Macdara Woods, Theo Dorgan, Frank Ormsby, Leland Bardwell and Kerry Hardie. The atmosphere on these occasions is always positive and encouraging; the work dealt with in a reflective, incisive and insightful manner, sometimes interrupted by peals of laughter. The room, filled to capacity, somehow has space for the late arrival. Time takes on a new malleability on these afternoons, imaginative energy explodes and trajectories change:‘ Make something strong that will survive,’ Paula Meehan urged. These workshops helped new writers with that elusive task,‘finding your voice’. 

In the late 1990s few of them had the expectation of having a collection published. The work and expertise of Joan and Kate changed that through their workshops and readings. Having discovered and nurtured new talent, they continued with their endeavours.‘ There were a great number of people who were worthy of publishing, who had no hope of ever doing so with the publishing situation as it was in 1999. Rather than moan about the ageism and sexism of the poetry scene, we decided to pool our joint expertise,’ explains Joan. They founded Summer Palace Press in 1999 so that voices from the peripheries of this island could be heard. ‘Different climates and different bloods have different needs’, wrote Ezra Pound.The Summer Palace poets demonstrate variety and freshness; a self-forgetfulness and a stubborn hope for the future despite our contradictory times.‘The only whole lives are the broken lives’, a line from Stewart Parker’s ‘The Broken Lives’, sums it up. ‘We publish all kinds of poetry, if it meets a high enough standard,’ says Kate.‘The manuscripts submitted are carefully read and commented on and undergo a close editing process, involving the author, down to the third proof. The end product is a beautiful book, sewn and bound (not just glued), and we use the work of a living artist for the cover image.’ The books are printed by Nicholson & Bass Ltd, Belfast. Like most small publishers, the Press depends on grants from different bodies for its future. Funding for storage is never calculated into grants given and the price of postage is exceedingly high, especially to America and Australia. Yet, despite the obstacles, Summer Palace Press is confidently evolving. ‘We are on Amazon, and are in the process of completing a new website,’ says Joan. What gives them the greatest satisfaction? ‘We are proud of each of the thirty-eight books that we have published.’

Mary Turley-McGrath’s collection of poetry, New Grass under Snow,was published by Summer Palace Press (2003). She was the recipient of the inaugural Annie Deeny Memorial Prize (2005) and was awarded an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2008.

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