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 Tarasquethat 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 ofDomestic 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 forPoetspoems from BBC radio’s long-running series Desert Island Discs, albeit with fulsome acknowledgement.
— Patrick Eyres. The New Arcadians – Tarasque Press
Dienst, Rolf Gunter. Poems. 1965
Hawkins, Spike. Poems. 1965
Mills, Stuart. The Menagerie Goes for a Walk. 1965
Cutts, Simon. A Child’s Backend of the Year. 1966
Fisher, Roy. Ten Interiors. 1966
Cutts, Simon. Thirteen Preludes. 1967
Cutts, Simon. Claude Monet in his Water Garden. 1967
Cutts, Simon. A Package of Balloons. 1968
Cutts, Simon. Three Butterflies. 1968
Cutts, Simon. Landscape. 1968
Cutts, Simon. Rue Montorgueil decked out with Flags. 1968
Finlay, Ian Hamilton. Ocean Stripe 5. 1968
Fisher, Roy. Titles. 1968
Mills, Stuart. Last Poem Series I. 1968
Mills, Stuart.Calendar. 1968
Mills, Stuart. Window Days. 1968
Turnbull, Gael. Briefly. 1968
Cutts, Simon. The Blue Boat-train. 1969
Finlay, Ian Hamilton. Air Letters. 1969
Mills, Stuart. The Bridlepath is filled with Clouds. 1969
Cutts, Simon. Mr. G. White of Messrs. Green and White. 1970
Finlay, Ian Hamilton. 30 Signatures to Silver Catches. 1970
Mills, Stuart. Lines on Fields in Winter. 1971
Bann, Stephen. Field, after Francis Ponge. 1972
2. PRIVATE TUTOR
Private Tutor was the invention of Simon Cutts and ran from 1967 to 1970. Many of these one-sheet issues took the form of instructions and exercises, adopting the tone of the first issue which declared: “Assuming from the onset that the reader has little or no grounding in literature we will commence and continue in a very direct manner.” This was matched by the design of the masthead which featured a red L sign for Learner. The intention seems to have been to encourage poets to read more poetry and to read more critically. By issue four, the lessons on Hopkins and Logue etc…had been replaced by a sole photograph of some rocks; issue five was a poem by Edwin Morgan about “Making a Poem”; later numbers had texts by Stephan Bann, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Simon Cutts, and Stuart Mills. The issues were edited anonymously, from the Trent Book Shop.