feature content and interviews by Kathy Halliday (Founding Editor)
Black & BLUE is a space for drama, poetry, prose & other. It was founded in late 2011 to be a fresh counterpoint to the conventional literary scene. It wants to blur the boundaries between genres and question what ‘literary’ writing means. It puts out paper-form publications, and will be releasing a new publication CITY, on the 11th of November. This feature includes interviews with co-founder Dane Weatherman and poet James Cramphorn, whose work appears in FIRE.
Creative writing is an adaptable form, and how we interpret text and the meaning of creativity is changing. We utilize writing and reading as a means of accessing the world around us through an alternative medium, understanding politics, art and literature among other things, in ways we’ve never considered before. Through the act of writing and reading, we take on different perspectives in order to understand our own point of view. And at the forefront of this fresh-thinking movement are Black & BLUE, a remarkable publication that provides a new space in which to explore the power of language;
‘[…] IN ONE MOMENT, LANGUAGE DID NOT EXIST, AND IN ANOTHER MOMENT IT WAS ALL THERE, A VAST UNFURLING SYSTEM […] WE ALL CAME TO A KIND OF WORDLESS, TELEPATHIC CONSENSUS WITH EACH OTHER – THAT WE WERE GOING TO GO SOMEWHERE TOGETHER AND LANGUAGE WAS GOING TO TAKE US THERE.’ – taken from ONE.
These beautiful publications compile all things eclectic and evocative, prompting the reader to really invest in the lists, poems and snippets of drama in each issue. There is something really admirable about what is being achieved here, and the way in which writing in the conventional sense is being subverted, or perhaps recreated into something new and exciting.
We contacted Black & BLUE’s co-founder Dane Weatherman, to find out more about their captivating publications, and what the future holds…
CF: Black & BLUE is an intriguing title for a publication, which I feel we could speculate over for some time. What does the title Black & BLUE represent, and how did you arrive at the concept?
Dane: Yeah, in fact that might be one of the strangest things about us: our name! And to tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure exactly where it came from. I think we initially came up with lots of names – as you do – and we were almost always unhappy with each one: either it felt pretentious, or elitist, or affected. But Black & BLUE didn’t feel like that. It felt both colloquial and abstract. I am a huge Bob Dylan fan, and he uses that expression on more than one occasion. He uses it in the sense of being down-and-out, but also liberated which seemed to fit with how we, as young and unqualified but passionate people felt, in the UK, after the 2010 election.
But I also feel we arrived at the name in a weirder and more providential way: We, (Alex Marsh, who co-founded the project, and myself) went to a talk entitled Black and Blue by the writer Colm Tóibín. Neither of us really liked him, and I still haven’t bothered to read anything by him, but something about the non-contingency of the term ‘black’ with the term ‘blue’ did very much appeal to me; the uneasy juxtaposition. Alex was also doing his degree in Art History, and one of the professors, Carol Maver, much to our subsequent amazement, was working on a book which she would entitle ‘Black and Blue’, so there was obviously something going on in Manchester unconsciously making people think about black and blue.
Now I rarely speculate on our name, but I like it more and more, and I’m surprised by how much it informs our whole project. ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ are really not contingent on each other in terms of colour theory. Blue has a fascinating history artistically, which links it with the east particularly, Afghanistan: Lapiz Lazuli etc., but also the most kind of genuine western consciousness, i.e., the blues, i.e, feeling out of sorts, endlessly displaced, as though you were on an ocean. A blue ocean. Sadness is blue, isn’t it? Postmodernity is blue, too. I bet these colour iPhones will sell a disproportionate amount of blue ones. I think people are sad and tired. I wonder whether Apple have done market research into this, and are expecting higher sales of blue? It would be interesting to find out.
Black on the other hand is very different. You dress in black, don’t you? It’s more of an abstract stance you take against the world. Velazquez was deeply involved with blackness. And so was Goya therefore, and Picasso too, and Picabia. Black is more mad, and all those Spanish painters were mad. I think they used black as a way of writing over their paintings, like a kind of beautiful Arabic calligraphy: writing that is also a beautiful image. Arabic calligraphy, which bears directly into Spanish culture, haunts it from within, is like a black discursive image. Black is a kind of colour beyond a colour, a kind of truth-saying, a reckoning, a homecoming, but also a kind of writing. I think the word ‘black’ etymologically means a kind of blazing ink. Malevich’s Black Square might be my all time favourite painting: a radical modernist blackness, like an alternative sun. I am a synaesthetic, so I think in colour, but I can’t think in black. But yeah, black and blue are very interesting terms, and I think the phrase black and blue certainly has legs.
CF: What is the Black & BLUE Manifesto, and how true has the publication stayed to the original details the manifesto outlined?
Dane: Not very true at all, in particular terms. Although our original manifesto was very much based on our raw and naive political feeling to what was going on in the UK and Europe, with the onset of austerity. The manifesto had two phases: at first it was too raw, and in its second instance it felt bloated. So we decided not to have one in the end. Although we were always inspired when people wrote to us to say how much they loved it and we had lots of artistic responses to it, which we exhibited in Manchester in November 2012. Although we still believe in the manifesto’s basic point, which is that stuff like tweets, emails, facebook statuses, graffiti, are just as powerful as sonnets.
CF: We’d like to hear more about the team behind Black & BLUE, and how you work together on the publication.
Dane: At the moment Beckie Stewart is the general editor, and Edwin Dorley is doing design and the website etc. I oversee the general direction of the project. We’re spread out between Manchester and London, so we often work from a distance, but we make sure we meet as much as we can. But we’ve always had lots and lots of people just pitch in. Lots of my friends have been involved in some way. It’s been great fun to work with people who you also love. And I think it’s the only way to work because then the work and the love collapse into one another and each becomes less painful.
CF: Contemporary and eclectic in style, the pieces selected for each issue are paramount to the success of this forward-thinking publication. Can you talk us through the process of elimination you undertake to find the right poetry, prose, drama & other?
Dane: I have to say there’s no real process of elimination; we just make space for the right sort of work. We create the format, and the right work just kind of blooms into it. We don’t really have any strict submission guidelines or formatting rules, because, although that would make it easier for us administratively, it would be a way of homogenising the writing, and the whole thing would become more about us that it is about the work. In that sense, I don’t feel like the selection process is very demanding, because it’s always just very instinctive. My dad is a florist; he just works on a flower stall in London. I don’t think he’s ever read a book in his life, but he knows how to arrange an exceptional bouquet of flowers and I always watched him doing that growing up, and I think the composition of the issue is my strength, and I began to feel it was exactly like arranging a bouquet, so it’s like an inherited thing. Anthology means bouquet as well, because ‘anthos’ is the greek for flower. So you do end up becoming your parents, haha, or at least I have! How boring, and unrevolutionary! But the point is, is that I want the composition to be as invisible as possible, so it becomes about the work.
CF: What do you look for in a submission? Are there any specific themes or styles you find you are more drawn to, or do you focus entirely on the quality of the writing?
Dane: Nothing. If we knew exactly what we were looking for, we’d be able to write the thing ourselves, because we all write too. We want something radically different to ourselves, and then just defer to the quality of work that comes from outside. It’s important that we always champion a really varied and heterogeneous collection of writing in a multitude of forms, tones, genres voices, and then just watch how they interact with each other in each publication.
But if I had to answer your question properly, I would say that the writing I am personally most interested in championing is a kind of mad, visionary utopian writing. I feel so happy that we have published certain young writers like Benedict Hudson and Niall O’Donoghue. I think Benedict will be a truly astounding playwright in the future, and I also think that Beckie Stewart, our editor, writes in a more beautiful and original way than just about anyone else. Her work really has the ability to leave you breathless, stunned, and unexpectedly altered.
CF: The issues themselves are beautifully presented, striking and aesthetically pleasing, evidencing the care that has gone into ensuring a high quality publication. How important is the design of Black & BLUE? Do you feel Black & BLUE would have had the same impact had you opted for a plain cover, or to host the publication entirely online?
Dane: We knew right from the offset that we didn’t want the publication online because we felt that the internet is still an exclusive space; i.e., it automatically excludes elderly people, and the very poor. It excludes mad people and homeless people, and just the kind of wanderers and freethinkers who don’t feel they have to be complicit with the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet offers an amazing chance to be utopian in a completely new way, Berners-Lee-style, and we do use the internet to connect with audiences, but it’s only one theatre. There are others. And we really like reading poems to people who fancy listening just on the streets. And that’s mainly how the first issue was distributed.
In terms of design, we are lucky that Edwin’s such a good designer; he’s got a fantastic sense of how to make design passive but also laden with motif. To give you an example of how intelligent, simple, and invisible his design is, I recently gave him a press release to put on the homepage of our site, in which I had used ‘&’ all the time instead of ‘and’. I didn’t give him any instructions. He made these ‘&s’ in a bolder, blacker way so they stand out, and then when you hover over the press-release, those black &s go blue, so in a simple and almost invisible gesture, he’s speaking to the entire ethos of the project which is ‘Black & Blue’. I think the design of the second issue is great, and the third will be even better.
CF: With so little funding available, or perhaps with so little known about what funding is actually available for literary projects, was it a daunting prospect starting out in print? Were there many obstacles to overcome?
Dane: Yes, money is always a problem and we do really struggle. There is no money floating around anymore. None of us have well-paid jobs, but doing what we do is such a joy that we find ways to overcome obstacles. We’re also a bit stupid with money so far: one day in Edinburgh we sold a hundred copies in a day, which was incredible, and Alex and I just went to the pub and bought the most expensive burgundy and whiskey, and then sang socialist songs about figures from the Labour Party’s history, like Dennis Healey and Michael Foot. But we’re looking at different options and being much more sensible now than we were in those days!
CF: What does the future hold for Black & BLUE? Are there any exciting side projects or events in the pipeline?
Dane: Yes. There’s a very exciting project on the pipeline, if we can pull it off. We’ll be looking to fund it via kickstarter, but at the moment it’s a secret. Shh!
But immediately, we do have a smallish project we’re working on. We’re going to do a mass-leaflet drop in Manchester early in the morning of the 14th October. The leaflet will just be a simple message, which was based on a line from the Black & BLUE manifesto, and which the artist Robert Montgomery re-interpreted. It reads:
TO WAKE UP AND BE LIKE THE WEATHER TO BE NO LONGER THE BROKENHEARTED SERVANTS OF MAD KINGS
And so it’s just a message of hope and joy, conveyed through Robert’s spectacular language, and the language of the manifesto, for a Monday morning!
Dane: Help to spread the word. Email us to tell us what they think about what we do; meet us for drinks or coffee, or tea; buy the issue; donate money; collaborate with us on a project.
CF: And finally, what advice can you offer to our readers who may be considering starting a print publication themselves, or who are avid writers of contemporary fiction?
Dane: Be inclusive. Be radical. Don’t do it out of mean-spiritedness. Don’t do bureaucratic things. Don’t complain too much. Don’t believe silly scientific commonplaces like ‘animals can’t talk’. Do more than you think is reasonable. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t judge yourself against the work of peers or similar projects. It’s okay to make mistakes, and not use proper grammar in correspondences. Just wake up and be like the weather. Just be joyful and live the work. But don’t have sex with people you work with.
As far as new and experimental publications go, Black & BLUE really have set the bar, and are showing no signs of slowing down and relaxing into convention. They are a refreshing read, full of promise and intrigue for the future of language. Black & BLUE have created a space for new writers to fill, and we wanted to know more about Black & BLUE from the writer’s perspective. We contacted James Cramphorn, whose poem Adam, May 2010 appears in FIRE, with a few questions about his piece and about his feelings towards Black & BLUE as a publication:
CF: Can you tell us a bit about your piece?
James: Black & BLUE published my poem, called Adam, May 2010. For me, the poem is doing two things; firstly, it looks at past lovers, and how they affect current relationships, and how this living history informs the present. Secondly, though, it’s just me writing about photography, which I find a fascinating subject. I took GCSE photography, and love the chemicals and processes and machines involved to produce a photo, and the symbolism this can lead to.
CF: How do you rate Black & BLUE as a publication? Would you recommend them to fellow writers?
James: I think Black & BLUE is a wonderfully vibrant new magazine. There’s a real freshness inside the magazine, and this probably stems from two factors; the editor’s desire to put something different and individual out on the market, and a wonderful balance of established and new writers. I’m so glad to have been involved in it. Looking at their Facebook presence as well, they seem to be really catching on, and making a name for themselves as well, which is wonderful.
CF: How did you come across Black & BLUE? Were you familiar with the publication before submitting?
James: I came across Black & BLUE in my university’s library, where a fellow student had a copy of the first issue, and lent it to me. Having only read the first issue, I couldn’t be sure that it was suitable for my poetry, but I felt our styles fitted, and it was something I immediately wanted to be involved with.
CF: Were you offered feedback on your piece? If so, did you find the feedback constructive? James: Not so much offered feedback – I got a reply telling me that they had enjoyed my submission, and when to expect to know whether I’d been accepted or not. I think sometimes it’s enough to know someone enjoyed your work. If you’re confident enough to send your writing to be published, constructive criticism is great, but equally as good is knowing you made the right decision to press send.
CF: Would you consider submitting again to them in the future?
James: Certainly! They’ve recently been accepting submissions for issue three, and while I haven’t submitted to that, I enjoy what they print so much, and the variety of their pieces, that I want to be involved in their continued success.
Many thanks go to Dane Weatherman and James Cramphorn for providing us with such detailed responses to our interviews.
For more information on Black & BLUE, head on over to their main site which has recently been updated.
Each issue is available to purchase online: ONE at £5.00, FIRE at £3.50 and CITY is available to pre-order at just £3.50 (due for release November 11th) – for more information, click here.
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