Poetry has always been something of a tradition in Otley – the town has a lively and flourishing performance, written and spoken word community – and it also gave rise to a new publishing press, OWF Press, which grew out of Otley Word Feast, a literary festival which ran in the town 2012 and 2014.
Since its establishment in 2014, OWF Press has published two anthologies – Spokes, a collection of poems about the joy of cycling released cannily to coincide with the Tour de France arriving in Yorkshire and last year’s The Garden, a celebration of gardens and gardening which touched on profound themes such as love, desire, death and loss.
The press has also published collections and pamphlets by individual poets and its latest publication is another anthology – this time about Otley itself. Surprise View features poems about the town and its surroundings, gathered through an open invitation. “We had a huge response,” says Jane Kite, co-founder and joint managing editor of OWF Press. “And the quality of the submissions was very high. This theme was a bit of a risk because the subject matter and the audience is narrower than for our previous anthologies – but we are very pleased with the collection; it feels quite celebratory. What is particularly pleasing is that, although obviously the poems were selected on the basis of their quality, when we put them all together it was nice to see that quite a lot of different parts and aspects of the town are represented.”
Some very specific local landmarks get name-checked in a number of the poems – such as ‘the Historic Market Town’ sign (with a humorous take on what that really means), ‘Tittybottle park’, ‘the Knotties Stone’ (a cup and ring stone on the Chevin) and Weegman’s butchers – yet most of the poems still attain a kind of universality. Sue Stanwell’s Moving to Otley, for example, is about finding a sense of belonging – eventually. ‘I hated the North, too cold and too grey,/It wasn’t a place I intended to stay/The gas central heating man came yesterday/he said, “Ee you’ve a cracking view”…’ the poem ends with the line ‘and I like it here – really I do’, while Bill Fitzsimons hints at a more troubled side to the town in Under the Veil – ‘what dark secrets are scratching/at cellar doors, what demons/wait to be released?’. Colin Speakman’s Under Chevin Side, the title poem Surprise View by Kevin Collier and Pam Scobie’s A Walk in Otley Churchyard all explore the town’s rich history and the unstoppable passage of time. The river also makes an appearance in Boltini’s humorous call to arms Come the Revolution – ‘time to be drastic/be iconoclastic/the river is for all of us/not just the powerful that think they are gorgeous’ and Mandy Sutter’s beautifully lyrical and magical Wharfe Swimming – ‘You come here every day from work, better/you say, than a pint. It’s true you’re plump/in the bright brown water, as if a day on land/had dried you’.
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Most of the poems convey a warmth and affection for Otley and the beautiful landscape that surrounds it – and it is obviously an inspirational place. “I think it is partly that it has got a great community feeling,” says Kite. “It is a place where whatever you are interested in you can find other people who are too – and it’s got lots of pubs for people to meet in.” There are also a number of established writing groups and particularly poetry groups which was another reason for putting the collection together. “There is a lot of written poetry here but there’s a big oral and performance element too,” says Kite. “So the book is also a kind of recognition of a continuing tradition.” This is nicely expressed in Kite’s own poem Otley Poets which closes the collection, concluding ‘in Otley, though you may not know it/you’re never more than a few feet from a poet.’
Surprise View, Poems About Otley, £8.50. www.owfpress.com The book will be launched at Korks Wine Bar, Otley on March 6, 2-6pm with readings and an open mic competition.