Carcanet’s 50th birthday celebrations really are the gift that keep on giving. Following a veritable grand tour of readings, gatherings and symposia both home and away, including November’s mammoth Jubilee Weekend, featuring events at the Whitworth Art Gallery and both Chetham’s and John Rylands Libraries, there was the special launch earlier this year at Christie’s Bistrot – itself a library, at least in a former life – of the 250th edition of Carcanet’s very own bi-monthly literary journal, PN Review, committed to publishing poetry from around the world (originally as Poetry Nation) since 1973.
Now the Manchester-based poetry press – set up in 1969 on an Oxfordshire farm and with its headquarters here in the Rainy City since 1975 – is the subject of an exhibition, called, yes, Carcanet. Usually behind the scenes at The John Rylands Library on Deansgate, the small but ambitious independent publishing house’s archival materials are being brought, blinking, out into the limelight, to be shown in the magnificent Gothic church-like surrounds for the next six months.
Can’t make it to the show in person? Check out the special anniversary book, Fifty Fifty: Carcanet’s Jubilee in Letters
Part of the establishment of the University of Manchester, The John Rylands Library is home to the vast Carcanet Press Archive and Carcanet founder Michael Schmidt is a co-director of its Modern Literary Archives Project. We had a sneak preview at November’s “Collection Encounter” alongside the Annual Rylands Reading, which showcased the work of Forward Prize-winner Kei Miller, Guardian Book of the Year writer Matthew Welton and former Belfast Poet Laureate and this year’s Poets & Players Competition judge Sinéad Morrissey – more on the P&P Competition event when we get news of its rescheduled date.
Featuring items specially selected by Carcanet’s editorial and managing director Michael and Carcanet’s archivist, Jess Smith, the exhibition, which runs until the middle of September, is a veritable treasure trove of interesting artefacts and documents, telling the unique story of Carcanet and the many poets – both new and established talent, from Simon Armitage to Zaffar Kunial – that the team has published and nurtured, through items including annotated poem typescripts, letters and art work.
This full exhibition reveals Carcanet’s rich history, including the impact of the destruction of its home in the Manchester Corn Exchange by the IRA bomb of June 1996. Featured in the exhibition is a damaged typescript rescued from Carcanet’s office at the time plus rare footage filmed inside the Corn Exchange in the weeks after the bombing. The display invites you “to discover how poetry can provide strength and solace at important moments in our lives, as well as the power of art and creativity to endure destruction and loss” – something we could all use a little of right now.
When The John Rylands Library reopens, the building is open daily – Monday and Sunday: 12pm to 5pm; Tuesday to Saturday: 10am to 5pm. Can’t make it to the show in person? Check out the special anniversary book, Fifty Fifty: Carcanet’s Jubilee in Letters, edited by Robyn Marsack, with each of Carcanet’s years since 1969 marked by an exchange of letters between an author and the editor.