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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

With its name adapted from King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, the slogan of this poetry magazine had a lot to live up to!

The fact that it grew from ever-so-humble beginnings in 1986 (a 28 page, stapled booklet culled from the work of a small band of unemployed poets) to a 112 page illustrated paperback book with contributions from all over the world in just eight editions is its own testament to the quality of the contributors and the dedication of the publisher.

For background information on this series of previously unpublished poetry, click here.

* Ken's work is included

** includes both Joules' and Ken's work.

front cover by Sarah Richardson X-Calibre Vol 8, 1991, 112pp    **
Contributors represent countries as diverse as Canada, Holland, Italy, Sweden, and the USA. The work of one poet is published posthumously.
Although this is the last in the series, there is no cadence here, far from it - the crescendo of quality is still building! This volume attracted further contributions from as far afield as Kathmandu but, sadly, Ken's increasing journalistic involvement left little time for publishing poetry...
Contributors include newcomers such as Alan Barrett, Chris Bendon, John Bosley, Zoe Brooks, Alanna Buckley, Kent Clair Chamberlain, Anthony Cooney, John Duffy, Gerald England, David Grubb, Drummond Henderson, Mark Hewitt, Raymond Humphreys, T Kretz, Matthew Lee, P McCormack, Neil Madden, Jim Maddocks, Charles Malone, Novello Maynard, David Merchant, David Mitchell, Ian Mortimer, Jon Munn, Scott Pack, Mario Petrucci, Janet Reedman, Douglas Rice, Sarah Richardson, Shaun Robert, David Russell, James Siple, Steve Sneyd, Louise Tannen, and Brian Walker.

front cover by Jew'l X-Calibre Vol 7, 1990, 104pp    **
First volume to dispense with staples (wire stitching) and is perfect bound - with a printed spine.
Joules "choreographed" the selected poems into the order in which they appear. The authors' notes reveal the continuing Amsterdam linkage, plus the first contributor from the USA.
Ken coins the slogan The Pun is Mightier than the Words!
Contributors include newcomers such as Mason Abbot, John Cato Carter, William Corner-Clark, Hils Campbell, Brian Daldorph, A Lee Firth, John Gonzalez, Neil Henderson, Ed Jewasinski, Thomas Land, Mark Leibrick, John London, Rupert Mallin, Kevin McGrath, Elizabeth Potter, Dee Rimbaud, Robert Roberts, Jeremy Robinson, D S Russell, Ivor Treby, and Kevin Troop.

front cover by MAC X-Calibre Vol 6, Samhain 1989, 76pp    **
This volume is the last to carry the centrefold (subsequent volumes do not have stapled centres but they do carry similar, broadminded material).
This volume contains the first of a two-part serialisation. The authors' notes reveal two overseas contributors - both, coincidentally, from Amsterdam. The advert for FAIM reveals that Ken had been elected as its Secretary and organiser.
Contributors include newcomers such as Andy Botterill, John Glander, Pat Hothersall, Robert Hothersall, M A B Jones, Ann Keith, Corrine Moss, Michael Newman, Colin Nixon, Douglas Rice, Paul Senbrook, David Wilkins, and illustrators Andy Partridge and Sarah Hughes.

front cover by Jew'l X-Calibre Vol 5, 1989, 74pp    **
The group's increasing decentralisation is reflected in the new title, which no longer refers to the Exe valley.
Notes on authors now include their home town, and reveals that about a third hail from outside X-Calibre's native county of Devonshire.
X-Calibre launches a limerick competition. Includes a page written by the organisers of the Dayspace project.
Contributors include newcomers such as Colin Dean, E A Lambdon, Geoff Stevens, Irene Twite, John Dubarry, John Light, R Bruckner, U G Khan, and illustrator David Simpson.

front cover by Jew'l Exe-Calibre Vol 4, Autumn 1988, 50pp    **
This volume sees the first input by Joules (a milestone that marks a very romantic episode in the couple's lives).
Contains Exe-Calibre's first serialisation - part one (of two) of the epic "Song for the End of the World".
Carries an advert for FAIM, listing 22 member magazines. It also has an advert for 6 of Carmina's other publications.
Contributors include regulars such as A D Daddow, and Michael Eaglemere, as well as newcomers such as Derek Blackmore, Steve Chapman, Jules Blest, Liz Halliday, Mike Taylor (not a known relation!), and illustrator Alexander Macneish

front cover by Arthur and Chris Taylor Exe-Calibre Vol 3, Yule 1987, 50pp     *
The cover art is taken from a complete but as yet unpublished Tarot pack. This volume marked a watershed in terms of quality of production. For the first time illustrations accompany some poems. Notes on authors are also provided for the first time. Another innovation is the "centrefold", poetry with an erotic theme positioned in the middle of the book.
Contributors include newcomers such as Michael Eaglemere, David Garland, Hylas Fleech, Lynda Heard, Sylvia Kantaris, David Leach, Nicky Robertson, Sarah Shaw, Francis Spencer, David Wareham, Michael Waters, and illustrator Peter Gurney.

front cover by Mike Stentiford Exe-Calibre Vol 2, Beltain 1987, 32pp     *
This is the only volume whose cover art does not depict the eponymous sword motif. Incidentally, after the design had been accepted, the artist admitted that he had modelled the figure on Ken, who led the group's weekly meetings.
It is, perhaps, notable that almost two thirds of the poems in this volume are identified either by first names only or pseudonyms.
Contributors include Bettie Bothwell, Robina Dunscombe, A C Daddow, Anton Kerzinski, Shaun Madden, and Weird Beard.

front cover by Gary PowellExe-Calibre Vol 1, Samhain 1986, 28pp     *
The inspiration for the cover art came from the Arthurian legend of the Lady of the Lake (who took Excalibur to her bosom when the King was "dying"), and shows the Lady trying to hand it back to a new champion, but inadvertently sinking the boat instead!
The original name, Exe-Calibre, is a reference to the River Exe - the poetry group was based around Exmouth & Exeter.
Contributors include Nick Adams, Vicky Anderson, Bettie Bothwell, Michelle Burrows, A C Daddow, Shaun Madden, Rose Thomas, Jean Tregenza, Tremore, and G Turkletoab.

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Background to the X-Calibre Series

(ISSN 0269-5014)

Six booklets were initially produced by Carmina Publishing (sole proprietor - Ken Taylor) on a non profit-making basis, for an informal group of young, unwaged poets who became known collectively as "?Reason for Rhyme!"

This group was formed following a series of poetry workshops entitled "Wordsmiths" that Ken had been running in Exmouth at the Exmouth Enterprise project. The founder members soon secured funding for their poetic activities from a council of their peers who had gathered for the purpose of distributing grants under the aegis of East Devon Dayspace. The growing group regularly met and even performed at the Exeter & Devon Arts Centre.

The aims, aspirations, and talents (some of which are, perhaps, relatively slight) of this somewhat motley but undeniably poetic group of rhymesters are particularly represented in the earliest few volumes.

As each volume was superseded by the next, the group offloaded residual stocks of the previous volume to various "bargain book" companies and private buyers. Carmina even bought up a small number itself (at the same going rate). All proceeds were ploughed back to help sustain the group.

When, after several years, the group dispersed and disbanded, Carmina took up its option to continue publishing the series. Although only two more volumes were produced, under this new market-driven discipline X-Calibre assumed a level of professional printing and editorship that was previously unattainable. For instance, the last volume, number Eight (published in 1991), boasted more pages than the first three volumes combined.

Although volumes Seven and Eight are still being sold at their cover price (Carmina, through its successor is still nominally active), the earlier volumes had been acquired with long-term investment in mind and, although they are in mint condition, are priced as second-hand books which, in view of their severely limited circulation and consequent rarity, are offered at prices which make some attempt to reflect their current value as collector's pieces.

These are so much more than simply poetry magazines! Independent of their intrinsic literary and artistic value, each volume is a piece of social history. For example, even apart from hearing the uncensored voice of the unwaged under the regime of Thatcher's Britain, the small press movement in general was flowering in the UK at that time. In fact, Carmina was elected to head the Federation for the Advancement of Independent Magazines - as evidenced by the notices (which also list the other members) in volumes Six and Seven.

Although there are some well-known names scattered throughout the pages of X-Calibre, by far the majority were almost unknown at that time. Since then, of course, some have pursued their vocation and have accrued both a reputation and a following. Many individuals have thanked Carmina Publishing for giving them a good start, and the editors - Ken and (from volume Seven) Joules Taylor - are justly proud of helping many talented but unknown writers to break into print. Back to top

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Text © Ken Taylor 1999 - 2013

Book illustrations © various artists

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