Stuart Mills

Publisher of the little magazines 'Tarasque' and 'Aggie Weston's' who took 'Blast' as his model

Thomas Stuart Mills, poet and small press publisher: born Mancott, Flintshire 21 April 1940; married 1963 Rosemary Deval (one son, one daughter); died Belper, Derbyshire 2 March 2006.

The word Tarasque can be found in certain French dictionaries. It denotes a fabulous beast, said to have once terrorised the Valley of the Rhône, and its representation which was customarily carried in procession through a number of Provençal towns. On the cover of the eponymous little magazine that Stuart Mills co-founded in 1966, the creature was no polite memorial, but took on a menacing, almost Aztec character, belching flame from its beak.

This was decidedly not a publication that was ready to endorse the current state of the republic of letters. It stood fierce and firm in acknowledging its obscurity. Tarasque 2 asserted from the start that "as very few people will be totally concerned with the magazine we have dispensed with an editorial". Its parting shot came on the last page: "It may depress readers to learn that the TLS is in its 65th year."

Mills had been born in North Wales in 1940. His father died when he was aged five, and he was brought up by an aunt in Birmingham, where he attended junior and secondary school. He met his wife, Rosemary, while training as a teacher. But he soon tired of the teaching profession. When the Tarasque Press was founded in 1964, he had taken the more congenial option of opening the Trent Bookshop in Nottingham with a fellow refugee from teaching, Martin Parnell.

In the course of its first year, Simon Cutts began to assist with the publishing agenda of Tarasque, and soon his characteristic voice as a poet began to alternate with that of Mills. Both were evidently in agreement about the type of poetry that they valued, and the poets that they preferred, both modern and contemporary. Tarasque 6 intimated: "A mistake most commonly made stems from the assumption that the small poem is of necessity less important than the near epic." The poets featured in the issue included J.M. Synge, T.E. Hulme, Georg Trakl and Ezra Pound, together with Hugh Creighton Hill, Jonathan Williams and Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Condemned for their arrogance in the metropolis, Mills and Cutts had no compunctions about attacking the metropolitan writers then in vogue. Quite a bit of space was taken up in pointing out the defects of the work of Anselm Hollo, and a bit more in countering his wounded response. But, though Mills explicitly regarded the tone of Wyndham Lewis's Blast as the one to be aimed for, Tarasque continued to reach out to the select group of contemporary writers with whom they could make common cause.

Their spring catalogue of 1969 records the publication of books of poems by Roy Fisher, Gael Turnbull and Hugh Creighton Hill. It also proudly recalls Ian Hamilton Finlay's Ocean Stripe 5, by all accounts one of his most significant poem booklets to date (published in 1967), with its inspired juxtaposition of avant-garde poetic texts by Kurt Schwitters and evocative photographs of fishing-boats.

Stuart Mills had made the journey to see Ian Hamilton Finlay at Stonypath in the Scottish Borders in August 1967, and returned in September with his wife Rosemary and what Finlay described as "their very large Weimar dog". This was the beginning of a friendship to which Mills remained faithful all his life, and one whose influence resounded in the future course of his own work. As champions of the "small poem", both Mills and Cutts used the press like Finlay's Wild Hawthorn Press to publish numerous poem cards, postcards and poem prints. A wry example of their close collaboration was Cutts's card with the neat ad hominem text: "All his life Mr S. Mills has been trying to say something exactly arbitrary about the sea."

My own connection with Tarasque also dates from this period, and I fill a small corner of the 1969 catalogue. I remember occasional visits to Stuart and Rosemary Mills at Apple Cottage - a house, as I recall it, with an orchard - and Rosemary's grave presence lends the scene an almost Pre-Raphaelite quality in retrospect.

Poem constructions based on fishing-boat names, designed specially by Ian Hamilton Finlay, were later installed in the garden. There was also, in those years, the companionship of that "very large" dog - a Weimaraner whose ancestors had been bred to hunt at the Saxon court, yet whose manners were as gentle as his coat was satin-smooth.

The achievement of the Tarasque Press was well summed up in the exhibition "Metaphor and Motif" that took place at the Midland Group Gallery, Nottingham, in 1972. Characteristically, Mills wondered aloud in his entry for the catalogue about the "very little exposure" that the Tarasque publications had received over the preceding years. But he expressed the hope that "if the catalogue is read widely enough then it should be clear that something surprisingly consistent has been going on in Nottingham for the past few years."

In effect, this catalogue has survived as a clear testimony to the defined aesthetic position that Mills and Cutts sustained over the previous eight years. But it also illustrates the expansion of their poetics from the printed page to the world of crafted objects. Mills's photographs of the inscriptions in the garden at Stonypath indicated this incipient development. A photograph of his own Arcadian poem-construction, entitled Glade, was published in Tarasque 11-12.

However the 1972 exhibition marked the end of Tarasque as a coherent artists' group. Cutts moved to Birmingham, and subsequently to London, where he continued his work as poet and publisher of the Coracle Press. The painter Ian Gardner, who was already collaborating with Tarasque by the time of the 1969 catalogue, created the Blue Tunnel Press, and later became one of the main participants in the New Arcadians group, whose pioneering studies of garden history have continued up to the present day.

It is probably true that all of these enterprises are today more greatly valued, perhaps indeed more well-known, in France and the United States than in Britain. Tarasque is certainly acknowledged to have been at the origin of this distinctive mode of publication, culturally rich yet direct in its message and always professional in design, that has few parallels in contemporary artistic production. Its legacy contrasts markedly with the cult of the ephemeral, the throwaway and the deliberately amateurish associated with avant-garde movements like Fluxus.

Mills himself taught on the foundation course at Derby University in the 1970s/ 1980s. But his work as a small press publisher continued. Aggie Weston's, the publication that ran to 21 editions over the period 1973 to 1984, was too irregular to be classed as a magazine, and was explained by Mills as offering "some sort of refuge". Its title was indirectly derived from Kurt Schwitters's notion of "A Small Home for Seamen", and more directly from the record of an "Aggie Weston" who had founded seamen's homes. Among those who accepted the hospitality of an issue were Robert Lax, Richard Long and Jonathan Williams. Mills's own photographs of Stonypath formed a memorable compilation.

From 1990 onwards, Mills held several exhibitions of the work of the poets and artists with whom he had been associated at the Atrium Gallery in Derby. But his most ambitious recent venture was the series of "Poetspoems" that he initiated in 2000, and that had reached the total of 21 small books by the end of 2005. This was an idea that he cheerfully stole, with full acknowledgement, from Desert Island Discs.

Poets were invited to choose eight poems (no more, no less), and the selected works were published with no further editing. It was a formula that created instant attention, and the response by poets such as Robert Creeley, Edwin Morgan and Iain Sinclair was both generous and timely.

Mills's own selection, placed in a sealed envelope to avoid second thoughts and appearing as No 10, combined Wyndham Lewis with Wallace Stevens, Spike Hawkins with Robert Garioch, J.M. Synge with Sir Thomas Wyatt, and ended with Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford) and Robert Creeley's "The Bird". Here, as in the other cases, the splendidly eclectic choice fully justified the exercise.

By far his most ambitious publication of another poet's work also dated from this recent period. In time for Christmas 2004, he brought out a copious selection of Ian Hamilton Finlay's Domestic Pensées, ranging from 1964 to 1972. Only his long and close connection with Finlay could have elicited this series of aphoristic gems, originally recorded in a notebook on a regular basis but not intended for publication. It is clear that Finlay's 80th birthday celebrations in Edinburgh in 2005 were a great joy to him, and Mills enthusiastically participated in the openings of the two fine exhibitions.

No doubt he was delighted with the evidence that, in this case at any rate, the world had (however belatedly) rendered poetic justice.

Stephen Bann

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?