Frances Presley

Picture of Author Frances Presley
Author photo, 2009, by Gavin Selerie.

Shearsman Titles

Buy from this Author Button

About the author

Frances Presley was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1952, of English and Dutch-Indonesian parents, and grew up in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Somerset. Her father’s relations were miners and farmers, although he became a teacher. She had freedom to roam in the countryside, although agribusiness was already changing the landscape. At Grantham Girls’ Grammar school she resisted attempts to change her speech and suppress Northern pronunciation. 
      Her defining moment in poetry came in 1969 when she first read Ezra Pound’s Lustra, and the ‘Dos and Don’t of Imagism’. Her poetic and political interests developed as an undergraduate in the 1970s at the University of East Anglia studying American literature and history. She met poet and artist Peterjon Skelt, who introduced her to Lee Harwood’s poetry, as well as sharing an enthusiasm for the New York poets. She went to Franklin and Marshall College and her first collection of poems, The Sex of Art (1988) begins in America, with a response to political and cultural tensions. She researched ‘new American poetry’, and was influenced by West Coast poets, including Gary Snyder. Her MA thesis at Sussex University compared Ezra Pound and Guillaume Apollinaire and their response to the visual arts. She studied Surrealist poetry and the visual arts at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland. Returning to UEA, her MPhil was a critique of contemporary French poet Yves Bonnefoy and of ‘logocentrism’ in French poetry.
     In 1980 she moved to London to work as a librarian, and later specialized in research and information for community development and anti-racism projects. She also worked for the Poetry Library. She was involved in the Sub Voicive readings in their various incarnations, and it was there that she met her partner Gavin Selerie. She was co-ordinator of the Islington Poetry Workshop with Bruce Barnes. In the late 80s she was part of the small press North and South, with Peterjon and Yasmin Skelt and David Annwn, which published poets such as Lee Harwood, Eric Mottram, Elaine Randell and Geraldine Monk.
    In the 90s she started The Other Press, and published her second book Hula Hoop. In 1995 she embarked on a major collaboration and performance with the artist Irma Irsara, based around the fashion industry and women’s clothing, and part of this project is available as Automatic cross stitch (Other Press, 2000). Ian Robinson, of Oasis Books, published her third collection, Linocut, in 1997. She collaborated on an innovative simultaneous email text and performance with the poet Elizabeth James – Neither the One nor the Other (Form Books 1999). Although based in London, she also spends time in Somerset, and  Somerset letters (Oasis, 2002) consists of prose ‘letters’ and poems combined with drawings by Ian Robinson. SL began as an exchange of letters and poems with Elaine Randell exploring rural landscape and fractured rural communities. Another poet whose poetry and correspondence became part of that sequence was Harriet Tarlo, and The Other Press would publish her first book, Brancepeth Beck.
     She joined the editorial board of How2, the feminist experimental poetry magazine edited by Kathleen Fraser. The sequence Paravane originated with discussions on How2 post 9/11, and then focused on the IRA bombsites in London. It was published in New and selected poems, 1996-2003, from Salt Publishing. Myne: new and selected poems and prose, 1976-2005 (Shearsman, 2006) takes its title sequence from the old name for Minehead in Somerset. Lines of Sight (Shearsman 2009) includes an approach to the strange geometry of Neolithic stone sites on Exmoor, and was part of a multi-media collaboration with Tilla Brading, published as Stone settings (Odyssey, 2010). 
     An Alphabet for Alina (Five Seasons, 2012), is a collaboration with artist Peterjon Skelt, which exploits the lexical and visual possibilities of a girl’s alphabet. Her latest book is Halse for hazel (Shearsman, 2014), for which she won an Arts Council award. ‘Halse’ is Exmoor dialect for hazel, as transcribed by local historian Hazel Eardley-Wilmot, a convergence of names which initiates a new poetic syntax of marginal trees and tongues.    
     She has written about her poetic practice and that of others, especially British women poets. She has co-translated the work of two Norwegian poets, Hanne Bramness and Lars Amund Vaage.