Etymologies and Origins (1967)
Shakespeare calls holidays 'captain jewels in a carcanet'. A carcanet (pronounced KAR-ka-nett) is a 'jewelled necklace' with an etymological skeleton in its cupboard. Its ancestor is the Old French carcan, 'a slave's halter', more appropriate than a gorget as an emblem for a publishing house.
Carcanet was a literary magazine, founded in 1962. Michael Hind, a member of the original editorial board, recalls how the idea was to 'collect together and publish as a periodical poetry, short fiction, and "intelligent criticism of all the arts"; there were to be both student and senior members contributions.' The intention was to link Oxford and Cambridge. The first issue
, Michael Hind writes, appeared in 1962, with a plain white cover with a drawing of a gorget -- blue on white. There were thirty two pages of text -- all poetry and short fiction. No price was shown on the cover of this or the subsequent issue.
He adds, The editors, in Oxford and Cambridge were respectively Richard Emeny and John Halliday. I was a member of the Oxford editorial committee, along with two others. Senior members were Neville Coghill for Oxford and Kingsley Amis for Cambridge. The first issue was rather serious in tone, although a lighter touch came from a then tutor in English at Merton, Tony Nuttall, in the form of comic cartoon "elucidations" on the magazine title. No "big names" appeared in the first two issues, although C.A. Trypanis, beginning then to be more widely known, has an appealing short poem on Delos. Some contributors claimed much space: Michael Mansfield filled ten pages with poetry and prose in a lyric-ecstatic mode in the second edition.
The magazine Carcanet had fallen on hard times by October 1967 when Michael Schmidt, a newly arrived undergraduate at Wadham College, Oxford, took it over. Times got harder still. In 1969 as a swansong the magazine produced a few pamphlets: poetry by new writers from Britain, India and the United States, and a book of translations. The reviews were encouraging. In 1970-1971 Carcanet Press became Ltd. The swansong continues, the bird having upped sticks and left Matthew Arnold's (and Robert Graves's) South Hinksey, Oxford, for Thomas de Quincey's Manchester.
'Continue to build' is what independent literary houses must do. They build readership and backlist, but also authority and their own legitimacy. We make books available and, in an age of disposables, keep them available. As the balance of publishing shifts to front list, Carcanet, radical in disposition, keeps books in print for as long as possible. This kind of husbandry has more in common with forestry than with fast food.
Carcanet enjoys Arts Council support and can range more widely than commercial publishers dare to do. Its list includes, alongside new writers from all over the world, major authors from the twentieth and earlier centuries, figures about whom readers and writers need to know if they are to get a hold on the Modern and its aftermaths. Our commitments involve the mammoth Ford Madox Ford, Robert Graves and Hugh MacDiarmid projects.
We have forged strong Anglo-European and Anglo-Commonwealth links. Our focal interest is in literature in English -- all the Englishes now spoken and written. In 1999 the Press acquired Oxford University's fine poetry list. OxfordPoets now emanate from Manchester. Latterly we have forged close links with Glasgow, where Carcanet has an editorial office in the School of English and Scottish Literature and Language.
Since the age of the venerable Bede, translation has been crucial to the growth of our literature. Carcanet is naturally active here, producing award-winning translations of the classics and of new work from around the world.
Dedicated to discovery, appraisal and reappraisal, Carcanet is a unique survivor in the precarious world of literary imprints. Our editorial continuity has generated a list of deep coherence and innovation, not only among the authors rediscovered but also among the new authors we publish.
In an age teased by post-Modern relativism and post-millennial uncertainty, where literary value sometimes plays second fiddle to the demon profit and that other demon of ephemeral political imperatives, Carcanet takes its bearing from Modernism. It bases its activities on the best practice of the last century, during which great lists were forged -- some of which did not survive as independents into the changing twenty-first century. LOCATIONS
Carcanet was conceived at Pin Farm, South Hinksey, Oxford, in 1969 by Peter Jones, Gareth Reeves and Michael Schmidt, and Grevel Lindop was instrumental in suggesting the FyfieldBooks series. In 1971, when Michael Schmidt was appointed Gulbenkian Writing Fellow at the University of Manchester, it moved to 266 Councillor Lane, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, and in 1975 it came of age, taking a tiny suite of offices in the Corn Exchange, Manchester. It moved up in that building, improving suites, until July 1996 when an IRA bomb blew the Press first to temporary offices in Manchester House, Princess Street, and then across the river to Blackfriars Street, Salford, where it stayed in a kind of exile for six years, before moving back into the centre of Manchester. It now resides in Cross Street, between where Mrs Gaskell's husband's Unitarian Chapel used to stand, and the little graveyard of St Anne's Church where Thomas de Quincey's forebears are buried, and in whose font Thomas de Quincey was himself christened.
Carcanet became a Limited Company in Oxford in 1969. It had several shareholders and was always in need of capital. In 1983 Robert Gavron (now Lord Gavron) acquired 100% of the company and has remained its guarantor and, with Arts Council England, its supporter since that time. The Board of Directors includes The Lady Gavron (Chairman), Andrew Biswell, Cato Marks, Dr Robyn Marsack, Sue Roberts, Christine Steel (Finance Director), Andrew Stokes, Michael Schmidt FRSL (Editorial and Managing Director), Nicholas Spice and Mark Thwaite. Alison Boyle of Arts Council England often attends.