1) Where did the idea for Black Herald Press originate and what is the significance of the name?
To begin with, we had the idea to self-publish two of our own works, to be for once in full control of our own editing and production. But then while in this process and through speaking with friends who have their own publishing houses here in Paris, we decided to push the project further by publishing our own literary magazine and also future individual works of originality that we feel attracted to; hence the birth of Black Herald Press.
The title of the press is significant only in that it is taken from Los Heraldos Negros / Black Heralds, the first collection by the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, an important figure and influence. Beyond that, the word ‘Herald’ suggests a birth and/or declaration of something new and formidable that is close to announcement. Also we wanted a name that very few people would forget, and this seemed perfect.
2) The emphasis of Black Herald, your own poetry and the writing of your Black Herald co-editor, the poet, writer and translator Blandine Longre, tends to focus on, for want of a better less-reductive term, “visionary” poetry (your website bears a masthead by William Blake which is a hint). It’s a tradition that’s been largely buried in Britain but embraced in Europe, do you see Black Herald as being part of this lineage? And, if so, who would you see as being influences?
The title came first then, by chance, the Blake image, but we knew at once that when put side by side they possessed a powerful and symbiotic connection. I am not sure a ‘tradition’ of anything you could call visionary poetry has ever really existed in England, though of course there were and still are poets (outside of any movement or school) who could be described as possessing the faculties of a visionary power. At The Black Herald, the only ‘lineage’ we really want to pursue and be a part of is poetry that pushes the boundaries of what language can and cannot do – not necessarily ‘experimental’ poetry, because as James Byrne rightly pointed out in his editorial for the latest issue of The Wolf, ‘there is always an experiment to be negotiated’ when writing a poem. We value and are excited by linguistically adventurous writing, but we wouldn’t say that there were any particular ‘group’ of writers we look towards, whether the ‘German Expressionists’ or the best of ‘The Beats’, John Donne or Georg Trakl, we are always drawn towards language and poets who both explore and by-pass the traditions into which they were born and from which they have evolved. All ‘isms’ after all have been born of the first proto-language, the pre-historical tongue-root that needs to be ink-watered and allowed to grow in a natural, primordial and syntactical way. And we hope and believe that any writer we deem fit to publish will have been part of this biological process.
3) Over forty years ago, A. Alvarez wrote in The New Poetry of the curse of English poetry being gentility, looking at the most prominent recent collections it’s a blight that seems as sadly prevalent as ever. There’s a sense that poetry is still languishing in pastoral odes and navel-gazing whilst fiction, film and music have all embraced the modern, the fantastical even the terrible possibilities of the 20th and 21st centuries. You’ve spoken previously of your opposition to conservatism in poetry, is this something to be pursued with the Black Herald?
It is something we will pursue. In his introduction to The New Poetry anthology that you mention Alvarez also remarked that ‘Englishman didn’t believe in the inner life, and preferred not to mention it.’ This still holds true, and I have long since attacked what I have deemed the ‘island-bound verbiage’ of a large proportion of British poets writing today, poetry produced in the workshop, which, like a factory in an imaginative state of desuetude, churns out clone after clone of competent, yet unoriginal and mediocre poets, those who veer no further than their own filial and fractious narratives, or those who (despite Mayakovsky nearly a hundred years ago declaring that ‘nature’ poetry was dead) still want to be ‘closer to nature’. The editors of some of the ‘leading’ poetry magazines who deem it fit to handpick their poets are badly at fault of course, but this lack of diversity has given birth, in a creative sense, to an infertile poetical womb. Alvarez mentioned also the ‘isolated spirit’ of the ‘little Englander’, which has existed and still exists today because English critics, in failing to sift through this ‘diversity’ have constructed for themselves (not for the reader) the scaffold of unstable hierarchies, and thus too many important poets have been relegated to the ‘underground’ or to the imaginative attic. Academics and journalists who manipulate (through incompetence, blindness and laziness) false reputations, while delighting in their own cleverness when disparaging (how they see it) the literary also-rans. So at the Black Herald we are keen to extend even our own reading and literary tastes, while being fully aware (something we both vehemently believe) that a ‘personal taste’ is NOT a critical opinion, something critics or editors in England fail all too frequently to acknowledge.
4) How important is the bi-lingual nature of Black Herald Press (French and English) and what strengths do you feel it brings?
The bi-lingual element (with one editor English, the other speaking both French and English) will be reflected in the contents of some of the books we want to publish and also in the magazine; we will seek to portray in equal measure the semantic accretions in both languages so as to shift the borders which can at their worst limit and paralyze imagination and vision. Through translation of course and by simple linguistic juxtaposition and re-echoing of texts (even of languages we cannot and might never understand nor speak), the mind regains its first awareness of language before nations and cultures hypnotized us into creating unconscious divisions and ingrained labels which pre-empt our comprehension before a reading has even taken place. In his seminal book, The Truth of Poetry, Michael Hamburger signaled something of a warning to the insularity of the English poetry world when he wrote: ‘one must draw one’s exemplars from as wide a range as possible’; a simple truth and one in which the both of us fully believe, with an urge to free up language again, to loosen the promethean chains of all particular dialects that bind us to the rock of any one continent.
5) What are you seeking in terms of the Black Herald Magazine?
The magazine’s aim will be to publish world writers, not necessarily linked in any way by ‘theme’, ‘style’, ‘genre’ or ‘movements’, etc. – so as to explore the notion of literary rupture in different ways mainly through poems, essays and short fictions, and thus create a constellation of various mindscapes, languages, nationalities, textual patterns… not necessarily isolating one from the other ; writing that we deem can withstand the test of time and resist popularization – the dangers of instant literature for instant consumption –, writing born of no school nor workshop and which can testify, among others, of the vitality of radical writers, who depart from the conventions of their time and from what normality-blinded pseudo critics expect. The magazine will be printed in France and sold on the Internet (and in a few bookshops in Paris). The first issue should be released in December.
Black Herald Press and the forthcoming Black Herald Magazine are edited by the poets Paul Stubbs and Blandine Longre.
First posted: Tuesday, September 21st, 2010.