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The Publishing House Championing Contemporary Poetry

We speak with Greta Bellamacina and Robert Montgomery, founders of New River Press, a pioneering platform for modern verse in Britain

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New River Press books
Courtesy of New River Press

Looking at the story of how they met, it seems almost obvious that Greta Bellamacina and Robert Montgomery would find themselves living and working together, running a modern publishing house from the heart of London: a young poet is working on an anthology of contemporary love poems for Faber when she calls up a renowned text artist and asks for a favour. The next thing they know, they’re shacked up, with a baby and a poetry press of their own. Nobody can say the pair’s chance meeting hasn’t been expedient.

“She asked me to submit a poem for the book, so I invited her around to my studio…” Montgomery begins. Bellamacina, a filmmaker and sometime model who has appeared in campaigns for Burberry and Tom Ford, immediately picks up the story. “It wasn’t like you might expect. We started talking, drinking wine, and suddenly we decided it was a great idea to start writing poetry together.”

Now they’re running New River Press, a publishing house fuelled by restlessness and a frustration with the state of contemporary poetry in Britain. Bringing together young, emerging poets with older and more established figures who may currently lack a platform for their work, Bellamacina and Montgomery wanted to do something to disrupt poetry today. Theirs is an outlook that encompasses both London’s literary history with a more modern edge. “The New River was the first fresh spring water supply built to bring water in London,” explains Bellamacina. ‘There’s something quite refreshing about that. It’s quite a good symbol for what we’re doing.”

“I loved the idea of a Mom and Pop shop, like what Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf did in Bloomsbury with the Hogarth Press,” says Montgomery, from their studio in Fitzrovia, a building with a literary pedigree of its own – Wyndham Lewis took part in its famed Omega Workshops, and published Blast from it in the 1910s. “What we’re trying to do is to make a space for a kind of read-silent-on-the-page poetry in contemporary culture, the way that Kate Tempest and George the Poet have done recently with spoken word poetry.”

That words-on-the-page emphasis may have to do with Montgomery himself, whose site-specific art you may be familiar with: large-scale sentences rendered in light or pasted on an ad billboard, meditating on modern life and melancholy around Shoreditch or at Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile Bellamacina, 26, has a background in performing poetry, having read her work at the usual stalwarts like Hay-on-Wye as well as Shoreditch indie boutique Celestine Eleven and the Chateau Marmont. The couple brings together these two different disciplines in their own collaborative poetry, which has been growing steadily since that first wine-fulled evening at Montgomery’s studio. Their collection Points for Time in the Sky is one of the first books that New River Press published.

“I’ve been so lucky to find someone who cares just as much as me about poetry and giving it a place,” says Bellamacina. “And we can talk for hours and hours and bore everyone to pieces, I think we usually do. Rob’s usually the last person at a party, at six in the morning, ranting about poetry and writing on the wall. I think most people get tired of it! But I will always be forever listening.”

Here the pair select three of New River Press' newest publications for your reading pleasure.

Heathcote Williams, The Last Dodo and Dreams of Flying
“We realised that some of our own heroes didn’t have publishers,” says Montgomery of Williams, who at 76 has a long and storied role in London’s cultural life. Williams was instrumental in the 1977 establishment of Frestonia, Notting Hill’s utopian squat, and wrote Whale Nation in 1988, an influential epic poem railing against whaling. “Heathcote has quite an openly political voice and maybe more traditional publishers are afraid of that today.” His new book touches on evolution, British ecology and the extinction of the dodo.

Rosalind Jana, Branch and Vein
In between her studies in English literature at Oxford, Jana has written for fashion magazines and moonlights as a model. Branch and Vein is her first collection, and contains beautiful, exploratory poetry that moves through bluebell woods and abandoned seaside hotels to Prime Minister’s Questions in the Houses of Parliament. At just 20, Jana represents Generation Y’s emerging poets, a social media-savvy cohort of new, young voices that New River Press will aim to publish more of.

Robert Montgomery and Greta Bellamacina, Points for Time in the Sky
Written around the time of Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, Points for Time in the Sky is, according to Montgomery, an attempt at exploring what British poetry might sound like. Coupling Bellamacina, who grew up in Camden, with Montgomery’s Scottish voice results in a series of captivating poems that take in all of the country’s neglected corners, from an M&S food hall to the M40 and London’s Overground line. “We treat these contemporary icons with a kind of surrealism,” says Montgomery. “But what we want is to write about what it feels to live here in Britain now.”

For more information, see The New River Press.

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