The New Arcadians - Tarasque Press

When the poet Stuart Mills (1940–2006) founded the Tarasque Press in 1964 and, with Martin Parnell, opened the Trent Bookshop and organised the Nottingham Poetry Festival (1965), he established the city as a regional centre of avant-garde publishing. Jonathan Williams, the poet noted for the publications of his Jargon Society imprint, agreed to act as the festival's compere. During 1965 Simon Cutts began to assist Mills with Tarasque's agenda and the two poets struck up the relationship that generated and co-edited Tarasque magazine. Indeed the Tarasque Press became an epitome of the small press whose range of publishing was spearheaded by the magazine and complemented by poem-cards, postcards and poem-prints.

The word 'Tarasque' had been chosen by Stuart Mills because it denotes a fabulous beast, said to have once terrorised the Valley of the Rhône. The motif of the creature menaced from the magazine's cover, breathing forth flame as if to visualise the fearsome tone of Tarasque that Mills had modelled on Wyndham Lewis's Blast (1914–1915). As a champion of the 'small poem', which was characterised by a 'post-concrete' lyrical brevity, the magazine offered a forum to the select group of writers approved by the two editors. Direct in its message and always professional in design, Tarasque had few parallels in the contemporary milieu of the little magazine. Indeed its polemic was antagonistic towards the cult of the ephemeral, the throwaway and the deliberately amateurish associated with avant-garde movements like Fluxus.

Mills and Cutts were both influenced by Ian Hamilton Finlay's Wild Hawthorn Press, which they regarded as a model of contemporary practice. Indeed the Tarasque Press was among the first to participate in the process of collaboration that Finlay initiated to realise his works. In 1966 Tarasque began to produce a number of Finlay's poem-prints and booklets. Once the painter, Ian Gardner, joined forces with the two poets his graphic sensibility enabled the Tarasque Press to develop the visual akin to the spirit of Wild Hawthorn. For Stuart Mills, the meeting with Finlay at Stonypath in southern Scotland during 1967 was the beginning of a lifelong and mutually inspirational friendship. This would culminate in 2004 with his publication of Domestic Pensées, which comprised a copious selection of the aphoristic gems that Finlay had recorded in a notebook between 1964 and 1972.

Co-edited by Mills and Cutts, eleven issues of Tarasque were published between 1965 and 1971 (nos. 1–11/12), and the achievement of the Tarasque Press was summarised by the retrospective exhibition, Metaphor and Motif, at the Midland Group Gallery in Nottingham during 1972. While Simon Cutts departed for art school in Birmingham and then to London where he set up the Coracle Press, Stuart Mills began teaching on the art and design foundation course at Derby University and would continue to do so throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Ian Gardner was already teaching printmaking at the Bradford School of Art where, through meeting Patrick Eyres, he would propose launching New Arcadians.

Coincidental with the bankruptcy of the Trent Bookshop in 1972, Stuart Mills launched Aggie Weston's and this occasional magazine ran to 21 issues between 1973 and 1984. Named after Aggie Weston, who had founded seamen's homes, the magazine was intended as a refuge to poets, painters and photographers. Issue 2, for example, was devoted to Mill's own photographs of Finlay's Stonypath garden, and thus must have a claim to be the earliest publication to feature images of the place. The series of Poetspoems (2000–2005) was characteristic of Mills's eclectic and enabling approach to small press publishing, as well as his twinkle-eyed wit. Each of these 21 small books was devoted to a selected poet who was invited to choose only eight poems for publication. He had cheerfully stolen the idea for Poetspoems from BBC radio's long-running series Desert Island Discs, albeit with fulsome acknowledgement.

by Patrick Eyres

Select Bibliography

  • Stephen Bann, 'Tarasque: An Introduction', Metaphor and Motif, exhibition catalogue (Nottingham: Midland Group Gallery, 1972); reproduced in Simon Cutts (ed.), Certain Trees: The Constructed Book, Poem and Object, 1964–2006 (St-Yrieix-la-Perche: Centre des Livres d'Artistes, 2006), pp. 132–138.
  • Simon Cutts, 'Metaphor and Motif', Platform Magazine (1972); reproduced in Cutts, Certain Trees, p. 139.
  • Stuart Mills, 'From Tarasque to Aggie Weston's', in Cambridge Poetry Festival Porgramme, (1973), and David Willatt's: New Paintings, exhibition catalogue (London, 1977); reproduced in Cutts, Certain Trees, p. 141.
  • John Bevis, 'Swings and Roundabouts', Cutts, Certain Trees, pp. 13–24.
  • Stephen Bann, 'Stuart Mills', The Independent (21 March 2006).
  • Simon Cutts, 'Tarasque, The Trent Bookshop / Coracle, workfortheeyetodo', in Simon Cutts, Some Forms of Availability: Critical Passages on the Book and Publication (New York: Granary Books / Derby: RGAP, 2007), pp. 15–55.

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