Tonight, I have the pleasure of taking part in a fabulous event (details here, please come!) as part of Not the Oxford Literary Festival looking at the role of the the movement and manifesto in contemporary culture. It’s something I come back to again and again and have written about here at length.
One of the movements I will be looking at tonight is Brutalism (the literary, not the architectural, version), and in conjunction with this event, it was an honour to talk to my favourite poet and one of the founding members of the movement, Adelle Stripe, about Brutalism and where she sees its place 10 years after it burst onto the scene as the first (and possibly to date only) digital ism. And enjoy this wonderful reading.
Before we start, please look her up on her website (and follow links to all her books – Dark Corners of the Land is the best poetry book I have read from the current decade)
– Brutalism came about at the start of an incredible period of change for the internet. Do you think that changed your direction or the direction of literature in general in ways you didn’t see coming?
AS: It’s hard to say if our actual ‘writing’ changed anything, only time will prove that – but I do think it encouraged a few writers out there. It felt like a liberating time, what was once confined to the printed page could be put online and shared within seconds. We used blogspot and myspace to make it happen. We have witnessed the digital equivalent of Gutenberg in our lifetimes, which is quite a thrill. The digital revolution has changed all of our lives – for better or worse. There are often times when I cringe at some of the stuff I wrote back then, I would never put that sort of thing online now…I’m far too cautious…
– Do we still need Brutalism? Do we still have it, and if so who are its heirs?
AS: No, we defiinitely don’t need Brutalism. It was a moment in time, the right thing to do in the summer of 2006. We were inspired by Sniffin’ Glue’s ‘here’s three chords, now go form a band’, wrote a pile of thrill-seeking poems in response, and put them out there. We ruffled some of feathers, and that was about it.
-How much of what you set out to achieve did you manage?
AS: The plan was to piss in the filing cabinets of the publishing industry and set them on fire. That didn’t quite happen. But, by becoming artists as producers we retained the power over our own work, and dictated the terms of distribution. I edited the chapbook and learned how to use Quark. Lisa Cradduck did a set of cross-hatched drawings for the poems, and Ben, Tony and myself cooked up a short manifesto. Once everything was in place we sold it online. It was a learning process for all of us, but I’m glad we did it. It was our punk rock version of Lyrical Ballads.
I think, over time, we all did quite well out of it. Ben wrote his novel based on Richey Edwards the year after, which was published by Picador and Tony put out Down and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City on Harper Perennial in the following years. It’s been a much slower journey for me, although I’ve written 3 chapbook collections and I’m working on a novel at the moment.
– Why do you think it’s so hard to get people to get passionately involved in artistic movements?
AS: Semantics? I don’t know. Sometimes language is too complex. People need a hook, and often visual hooks work better than words. I have a copy of Blast in my office, and it’s still a total thrill to pick it up off the shelf. The Vorticists were around at the right time, and connected artists, writers, poets and thinkers – it was published 30 days before WWI broke out. There was great tragedy there – Gaudier-Brzeska etc. But also the style of Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Epstein, West and Wadsworth made that book pack a punch. Looking at Blast now, I can’t believe it was published in 1914 – even today it looks (and reads) like something from the future.
– What are the walls that need tearing down in literature today?
AS: I think the main wall is that working-class writers don’t have the right opportunities to publish their work. It is completely dominated by Oxbridge and UEA. This has resulted in anaesthetised prose and suffocating poetry with no radical pulse. The smaller publishers are taking the risks. Publishing is ruled by editors and agents who are part of the ‘informal’ Oxbridge network, and this, in turn, locks out opportunity for anyone else. This includes BAME writers. There is a big struggle to be heard and taken seriously.