The group’s manifesto came about because the boys ‘thought we needed to say something about why we were different.’ Reading it, I had been intensely reminded of manifestos like that of the dadaists. We think of ambitious literary manifestos as something of the past. Manifestos belong to the modernists, tensely balanced between a sense of world weariness and a belief that they could change that world.
‘How can one get rid of everything that smack of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada.’ (Hugo Ball's 1916 dadaist manifesto)
The early 20th century was the time of great utopias and dystopias, wasn’t it? In our post-modern, post-colonial, post-utopian society we’ve only managed to hang onto the world weariness. We all see through the system, but we’re stuck with it and that’s that.
Then again, maybe that cynicism is premature. Dane tells me any echo of the modernists was unintentional but adds that it may have been subconscious. ‘In these heightened political times, it does almost feel like 1913 or 1929 or 1935,’ he remarks. ‘We’re at some kind of fault line. You can actually feel fascism re-chrystalising in various places in the world. In the Blairite, utopian past you couldn’t have written a manifesto like that.’
Image (cc) Black and blue/ courtesy of facebook
One of the manifesto's aims is to open up the question of what literary writing is, questioning the way that we use everyday language and positing text such as lists as literature. ‘This is a space for any kind of writing – like billboards and public notices,’ Dane explains. ‘On the fringe of the heavy duty urban world there are these lovely nuanced expressions. Something that should have a use, like a public notice board, is coloured by a sense of dignity or humanity.’ Issue one of ‘Black and blue’, released in September, plays with these ideas. Next to more conventional literary forms, it contains tweets from British poet Michael Rosen. ‘They work so well – language is restricted because of the nature of a tweet and that takes you to an interesting place,’ Dane explains.
The group are in Edinburgh as part of a tour the UK ‘in the spirit of a medieval troupe’ and have timed it to be here for the city’s celebrated festival fringe. ‘Edinburgh’s amazing, there’s a real sense of the carnivalesque about the festival,’ Dane tells me enthusiastically. ‘There’s the whole of life in Edinburgh. We’ve been wandering about Edinburgh reading various poems to people on the streets.’ Dane’s face is bright with enthusiasm. ‘We’ve just been going up to people – it’s been a wonderful rich experience. We’ve also been giving issues of the magazine to homeless people.’
He explains that this is part of the general direction of the magazine. ‘Both Alex Marsh (co-founder along with Dane – ed) and I are of a socialist mindset and we want that to inform everything. Not the writing, but the way we get it out there.’ The next step is working on getting the publication into prisons.
However, this is only the beginning. ‘The ultimate aim is actually to be more extreme,’ Dane tells me. ‘Either to have the magazine as all female writers or all homeless people or all prisoners writing. We want to do that in a serious way though, it’s not just lip service. We’re just treading the water at the moment, to see where that’s going.’
He admits with a grin that the idea of the collective being made up of female writers does seem strange, seeing as the group was founded by two guys but adds, ‘I believe that women are better than men basically as a general rule. And even better writers. I couldn’t describe why.’
We'll be taking Black and blue's idea of tweets as poetry in the next couple of weeks and running with it. Know any poems which fit into a tweet? Fancy creating some yourself? Tweet your ideas to @slender_means or send coffee_girl a message via cafebabel.com. We look forward to hearing from you!