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Christmas Card Aggie Weston's Editions 2001

STUART MILLS
 
“Born 1940: Clwyd (formerly Flintshire), North Wales. Educated: Birmingham Public Libraries, Handsworth Grammar School, and Birmingham College of Art (painting). Earliest contact with poetry in the excellent branch libraries of that otherwise dour city. Edith Sitwell seemed interesting at the time, as did Gerard Manley Hopkins. Books always held a fascination, somehow more potent than pigment. Eliot led to the French poets, and an early mentor five years my senior introduced me to American writing by way of magazines which he somehow miraculously acquired at a time when hardly anyone knew of their existence: Kulchur, Big Table, Evergreen Review, Paris Review. First venture into publishing in 1958, a joint escapade with three others, one of whom had decided to unload a small legacy in what he felt was an appropriate manner. The Birmingham Bulletin ran for three issues and somehow managed to feature William Burroughs in the first issue. Naked Lunch had not yet been published in Britain or America.
 
“1963, moved to Nottingham, ostensibly to teach. Opened instead The Trent Bookshop and recklessly filled it with Art and Literature and any small-press publication that could be found. Made first contacts with Andrew Crozier’s Ferry Press, Gael Turnbull of Migrant, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press, and The Jargon Society. Founded Tarasque Press, later to be joined by Simon Cutts as co-editor.
 
“Tarasque ran until 1972, when the bookshop was forced to close, but this was probably no more than coincidence. It had done what it set out to do and run its course. Simon Cutts moved to London and started his own Coracle Press. I looked for a new format in Aggie Weston’s Editions, one which would be able to cope with visual material, expecially photography. It was to run to 21 issues. In the early seventies I moved to Belper, Derbyshire, where I continue to live. I left the University of Derby, where I had been lecturing in the Department of Art and Design, in the spring of 1991 in order to maintain my sanity and do whatever takes my fancy if it’s a nice day and the sun’s out.
 
“More than thirty-odd years between them, Tarasque Press and Aggie Weston’s Editions published work by John Blakemore, Thomas A. Clark, Andrew Crozier, Simon Cutts, John Davies, Roy Fisher, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Spike Hawkins, Hugh Creighton Hill, Robert Lax, Thomas Meyer, Gael Turnbull, and Jonathan Williams.
 
“Aggie Weston’s Editions is less active now but when the need arises, when something has to be done, it is cranked up.
 
“The Atrium Gallery, a magnificent space discovered in an award-winning conversion of a listed railway-engine-repair building—now a Business Centre in Derby—is the latest project. I try to keep it filled with changing exhibitions of plugless and entrail-free contemporary art, at the same time steering clear of ‘Autumn Scenes in the Mist.’
 
“And even later: POETSPOEMS, a series of pamphlets in which poets pick 8 favorite poems, à la the BBC’s legendary “Desert Island Discs.” So far: Thomas A. Clark, Gael Turnbull, Simon Cutts, Alan Halsey, Edwin Morgan, Roy Fisher, Geraldine Monk, and Robert Creeley...”
 
 
Now, here comes JW (Lord Stodge of Dent, Lord Nose, J. Jeeter Swampwater, Lord Crud-Vigil, et al.) to tell us more ... I met “The Belper Belter" (aka “Lord Burner of the Questing Vole”) in 1966 at the Nottingham Poetry Festival, of which he was one of the organizers. I remember drinking beer with him in a Yates’s Wine Lodge, where a trio of ancient female cellists were performing dangerously on the balcony. Some of the rest of the company included Ronald Johnson, Ray Gosling, and Dom Sylvester Houédard, OSB. I remember rather less clearly being the compere at an evening reading. Pete Brown was good; Spike Hawkins was very funny; Adrian Mitchell and Christopher Logue were very intense; and Michael Horovitz simply would not shut up.
 
Stuart Mills is a natty and dapper figure with a particularly sharp eye and ear for poets worth reading and beer worth drinking. It was he who introduced us to Mrs. Ford’s marvellously traditional old pub, The Barley Mow, in the village of Kirk Ireton in Derbyshire. She kept the place until her death at 89. It is good to be able to report that the atmosphere is being maintained by the current  licensee, Mary Short, who stocks a broad range of real ales, and who is a very welcoming person.
 
So, one thinks of the man as quietly attentive, witty indeed, and thoroughly devoted to words. I wish he would write more poetry and prose. He is very deft. As witness:
 
 
The Yacht is in the estuary
 
 
 
the sea is silent
 
 
What he does write with consistent skill is letters. He writes a lot of them and they are among the best around. There’s finesse in every line. A recent paragraph:
 
“I’ve resisted the temptation to phone. One of the few remaining pleasures in this gadget-plagued Cosmos is the aroma of a sub post office. Foxed knitting patterns, smoked bacon, Kunzies Fancy Cakes, etc. The tasty lick of a stamp, a cheerful word with the endangered post person—who, onc feels, will deliver the package by hand if all else fails ... And then the aimless stroll into Belper for a pound of Jerry Howarth’s award-winning Black Pudding (he beats the Frogs on their own ground—and ask Scutts about his ham), on to the Grapes for a pint of Marstons Pedigree (‘It Stings Your Legs’ written over the urinal). Yes, there’s still a great deal going for plugless communication.”
 
Maybe I should tell the story of how I came to call Stuart “The Burner.” It was one of those dark autumn Sunday afternoons back in the 1970s when the whisky flowed like Perrier; and, in fact, it was Bonfire Night. Mr. S. Mills and Mr S. Cutts had been visiting our cottage, Corn Close, for the weekend. The cottage whispered to me: “Get those pissed buggers out of here now or they’ll never leave.” Around 6 pm they decided the drive back to Derbyshire was still just about possible. We said our farewells, the lads headed up Dentdale in Stuart’s Citroen Dyane, and I staggered immediately off to bed.
 
About two hours later the phone rang. A police constable in the town of Ingleton asked if I was Mr. Williams and told me that two of my friends were at the Station and needed transport. Stuart then got on the phone and explained what had happened. First, they’d gone about a mile up the lane, missed the sharp turn at Dillicar Farm, and smashed a head light. They then negotiated the rest of Dentdale safely and, once on the Hawes/Ingleton road, ignored my suggestion that they turn left for Settle at the Ribbleshead Viaduct. There are lots of limestone caves in that area and the road towards Ingleton is full of dips and bumps. Forgetting that he was driving a Citroen and not a Rolls, Stuart roared along under Ingleborough Hill until he jarred the muffler loose. The car stopped dead. The occupants, having no flashlight, got out, went around to the back, and lit a match to see what was going on. What was going on was that the petrol tank was leaking and the flame of the match followed the line of petrol right to the car and set it on fire. It burned to a cinder in no time flat. Two lines of neat, white ash indicated where their walking sticks had once been.
 
Sobered and chastened, the poets awaited our arrival to save them from curious questions by the police about such perilous matters as Inebriation. It was a painful effort to get out of a wonderful bed, dress, and drive the Beetle to Ingleton, but, what else to do? Back at Corn Close and slumping over the last drams of Glenfiddich for the day, the poets began speculating. Mr. Mills recounted a tale about losing a vehicle in a flood along a Welsh river—and now we had Fire.
 
How will Earth and Air conspire to devour his next two cars?
 
Jonathan Williams
(unpublished)

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