Spotlight IV: Penned in the Margins


The London Magazine has long been a champion of emerging writers and independent publishers, stretching back to the 1950s and 60s, when young writers like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes found a home in the pages of the then newly re-launched volumes of the magazine.

We want this tradition to continue, and given the renaissance of new independent publishers, we started a spotlight feature on our website to promote the best of innovative contemporary writing across the UK and beyond. The aim of this is to celebrate the (often thankless) hard work of the individuals that publish this work, and to encourage readers to buy their books where possible.

So far in this intermittent series we have looked at Rough Trade Books, Dostoyevsky Wannabe and Influx Press.  Next up? The brilliant Penned in the Margins.

Who are they?

Penned in the Margins are a publisher and production company based in London, who in their own words ‘create publications and performances for people who are not afraid to take risks’.

From small beginnings as a reading series in a converted railway arch in south London, Penned in the Margins has grown over the last decade into a respected, award-winning literary arts company producing new work live, in print and online. In this way they have grown organically to encompass a lot more than your average publisher, and much like Influx Press, have in this way developed an unwavering community of followers, as well as a great deal of good will.

Currently under the stewardship of poet and director Tom Chivers, in the last ten years Penned in the Margins have produced books and productions that have been shortlisted for (and won) a staggering number of awards, and they have helped developed unique talents such as Inua Ellams, Joe Dunthorne, Scroobius Pip, Hannah Silva and Melissa Lee-Houghton by providing opportunities and backing at the crucial early stages of their writing careers.

What are they publishing, and why are they different?

As previously mentioned, Penned in the Margins operates as a cross-arts touring theatre company as well as a publisher, with their current production being Antosh Wojcik’s “How to Keep Time: A Drum Solo for Dementia”.

With regard to the books, Penned in the Margins poetry, fiction and non-fiction (with some great work on landscape and writing about place in particular), but it is poetry that they publish most, and for which they are most celebrated.

When I think of the collections that I have read from Penned in the Margins, every one has been unique, has brought me an unfamiliar perspective, and has jolted my consciousness in a way that only good poetry can. Penned in the Margins publish poets that feel not only vital, but also profoundly personal in their connection to the reader.

Best picks?

While Penned in the Margins publish many different forms of literature (and we heartily recommend exploring these on their website), they publish truly remarkable poetry, and so that is probably the best starting point. Some recommended recent collections are: 

The Perserverance by Raymond Antrobus, described as “a book of loss, contested language and praise, where elegies for the poet’s father sit alongside meditations on the d/Deaf experience.” An absolute must-read collection, for which Antrobus recently won the Ted Hughes Award, as well as the Rathbone Folio Prize, which saw the prize won by a poet for the first time. 

WITCH by Rebecca Tamás, another brilliant and unique collection which explores the revolutionary potential of women’s voices through witch trials, paganism, sexuality, mysticism, and nature.

Swims by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, a wonderful debut collection set mainly in Devon that moves between the personal and the political through the motif of swimming. 

Also, anything by the brilliant Luke Wright

What’s up next?

We are very excited to read After The Formalities, what Penned in the Margins are calling the ‘breakthrough’ collection of the poet and educator Anthony Anaxagorou, who is also the founder of the also highly recommended Out-Spoken Press. Anthony will be a familiar face to many who have been going to spoken word / poetry events in London over the last ten years, and anyone who has seen him perform or read his work will be very excited to read this book. We are anyway. Released September 2nd, we predict big things. 

Aside from that, they have just published John McCullough’s second poetry collection Reckless Paper Birds, and on June 1st they published Alison Winch’s first collection Darling It’s Me, which has been described to us as a ‘candid comic confronting of the ecstatic joys and gruelling realities of motherhood and marriage.’ 

Looking slightly further ahead, we are looking forward to Chris McCabe’s The East Edge, which focuses on Tower Hamlets, and is the third in their ‘Magnificent Series of Cemeteries’, a series of creative non-fiction books exploring London’s cemeteries in search of a dead poet. 

To buy some of this vital literature go to:

Words by Robert Greer.

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