Full House Lit Mag

Chatting avant-garde and pay for craft with Babel's Richard and Chloe

February 05, 2021 Full House Lit Mag Season 1 Episode 5
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join us to chat to the two halves of Babel Tower Notice Board's Richard and Chloe as we discuss avant-garde writing and the issue of writers being paid for their craft. 

Jack  0:10  

Welcome to part B of Episode Three of the Full House podcast.


Leia  0:14  

Yeah, we've just come from speaking to Jowell and Molly. And now we'll be speaking about the avant garde, we'll be speaking about the issue of poets being paid for their craft. And with some really fantastic guests. They started their journey at a similar time when we started Full House. So we feel like we've sort of almost grown together with them. And they're really unique platform, what they do is really interesting. And, you know, when you head over there, you're seeing something that you don't see every day, which we're always excited about. So our next guests are Richard and Chloe from Babel Tower Notice Board.


Richard and Chloe  0:51  

Alright. Hi. 


Jack  0:54  

So, first of all, we'd like your origin story of sort, the origins of Babel.


Richard  1:00  

Sure so I am Richard Capener, and I, I founded the journal. So with having sort of left school at 16 and studied sound engineering, my sort of initial passion was music,


Jack  1:13  

Okay. 


Richard  1:13  

And I kind of got into literature, music, oddly enough. So I didn't have much of an education. Shall we say. So I think music was the way I got into a lot of countercultural books, because there's  certainly different points in music, where literature has had a really, really big impact. If we think of all of those late 50s and 60s, bands like the Velvet Underground, and Patti Smith, who were reading a lot of poetry. So that was my way into it. Yeah. And then I started doing more performance art type stuff, I was interested in experimental stuff from there. And then I started using language, and then the language got bigger. And then the art stuff got smaller. And I ended up just focusing on language. And that was my way into writing. To sort of cut a long story short, I ended up at uni, to study English Lit and creative writing, and always wanted to start a journal. And then when I graduated from that course, I sort of moved city to do a post grad that never happened. And you know, I had to make a living, I had to, I had to pay rent and all that, all that sort of post student stuff. And so ultimately, about 10 years have passed. And I had heard a reading on zoom by the podcast is by Serge Neptune, but the reading is called Neptune's glitter house for wayward poets. And I heard Matt Hague read out his cut ups of IMDb plot synopsis of Golden Girls, Naked Lunch, and I was drunk at the time, and I just really, really wanted to give these sort of poems a space, especially coming from a more experimental background. I feel it wasn't until very recently that there's been a sort of an audience for experimental writing in Britain. And so I made him a drunken promise that I'll start a journal. So I did. Four or so months later, the journal was a success, and it was getting busy. So I invited Chloe on board. So I sort of set Chloe up there.


Chloe  3:22  

My origin story in relation to Babel is that Rich saw me do a different kind of online, as is the nature of current days an online reading when I was doing a lot of work with the crested tit collective. And he he reached out and asked if I would submit some work to be able to he started following each other. And then I think we kind of faux bullied each other on Twitter for a little while. So we were kind of we're kind of Twitter pals. And he one day said that he was wrecking his head of all the admin, he had to do at Babel. So I made the fatal error of volunteering my time and energy  and we get onreally well. So So I've just kind of hitched myself onto the wagon that is Babel from here on out, I suppose.


Leia  4:10  

So tell us a bit about how you guys work together on what that working relationship sort of looks like? How do you guys communicate?


Richard  4:19  

Indeed, what is the communication like? I think because we've got similar temperaments. We can relate to each other in in a certain way, especially when, at times it can be quite an intense working relationship. I think, especially now we started doing we started organizing these readings and, and so on. So I don't really have an answer. Personally, I don't know if Chloe does, I think I think carefully is how we relate to each other.


Chloe  4:49  

I would go further than that. I think you're doing us a disservice there. I think we lucked out in finding each other in that we we do have really similar interests in and outside of poetry. And we're also just I think we have really similar value systems as well. So in terms of working professionally, we're probably not the best at setting a boundary between when we're just hanging out and being pals and when we're actually doing some work, but ultimately, when we are just chatting and goofing around and being silly, like we always kind of fall back on talking about art and poetry anyway. So it's the to sort of blur into each other in a really nice way where, where one doesn't really feel like it's doing a disservice to the other, you know, I think, yeah, I think the nature of babel and of us working with babel is always going to be we were kind of challenging what conceptions of professionalism even really look like. 


Richard  5:47  

Yeah, and within within those notions of professionalism, what even quote on quote good poetry looks like and what it means to have a criteria of good is especially important to to experimental writing. We know everything Chloe just said is way more elegant, and I could think of that, so I fully agree before that.


Jack  6:07  

So you were speaking about the nature of Babel earlier. Um, could you describe Babel Tower Notice Board in three words, so I know Babel Tower Notice Board itself, it's four words.


Richard  6:16  

I think the the sort of energy we tried to put out through the journal is anarchic and joyous and dissenting would be the words I'd pick.


Chloe  6:26  

Bastard. I was gonna say dissenting. Okay. Okay, I'm gonna say funny, chaotic. Funny, chaotic, and interrogative. I've said this to Richard before, the thing that really drew me to Babel and made me want to work with him was as well as being an online journal, he does a really lovely newsletter, which now goes out monthly. And there was a sense of when you were reading his newsletters, it felt like you were kind of in on something fun, but not that it was like a coterie or it was exclusive. It felt like you were in on something fun that everybody was invited, and that poetry didn't have to be really serious and academic. So yeah,  I think fun I think fun is a fair word.


Richard  7:11  

Yeah, I, I'm down with all that. And like, I think the the mission that was sort of baked into Babel at the beginning, which people can find on the about section of the website is this idea of, I mean, fun. But I think the way it's spoken about on the about section is play and pleasure. And having these trying to hold these as quite radical terms as ways which bring into question dominant structures, because I think the two things that power is most nervous about is humor, and sexuality. And I think if you sort of project those things out into the world, it can be a serious threat to power. And that was something that I wanted ingrained into the journal and was eventually turned into the newsletter. And I think that's, that's sort of my angle of what Chloe is relating to, I think.


Leia  8:02  

And of course, it's not just the journal and the site, but you guys also do some really cool events, obviously, online for now, but you do some cool events. And tell us a bit about those. And, you know, maybe some plans for the future.


Richard  8:14  

Sure. So when I was, so I grew up in Gloucester, which isn't exactly like cultural capital of the UK. So I had an interest in experimental and avant garde writing. And when I was trying to just learn about this stuff, bearing in mind, in England, in my opinion, you've been quite poor at documenting our own experimental writing history, which is there, we just haven't documented it very well. So a lot of the stuff I found growing up was in America and Canada, and they were all doing podcasts. They were all doing interview series, or series is whatever the plural is, and they were doing readings, and they were archiving it all. As a kid in the West Country I could find this and be inspired by it. And so ever since Babel started, it was really, really important for me to not only put on events, but archive them and archive them well and try and contextualize what we're doing as well. So that's sort of the impulse that the events came from. The first event we put on was called the first annual Babel Tower Christmas service which is on YouTube and SoundCloud, if you go to the media section of the site, it's on there but we had the readers Khaled Hakim, Barney Ashton-Bullock and Vik Shirley, and me and Chloe read out a Christmas inspired piece or pieces as well. And then we did a was it last Sunday Chloe, we did the event.


Chloe  9:43  

It was definitely this month.


Richard  9:45  

It was this month sometime. So we had Cat Chong and Amanda Earl and Matt Haigh read that event. So we're planning to do an event a quarter. So the next event should be April, I'm not going to tell you who's reading at that. But they are all confirmed. And it's, it's fairly exciting. It's very, very cool. But in between these events, we're planning to start podcasts. So an interview series where we can hopefully interview the who's who have English language experimental writing, because that is what was had such a big impact on me when I was young.


Jack  10:23  

So the obviously Babel is sort of concerned with the avant garde. So could you? So could you explain exactly what that means to you? Well, to both of you.


Chloe  10:33  

To me, the the avant garde comprises arts, which is counter dominant culture. But the important thing is that it's not engaging in difference just for the sake of being different, or unique, or what whatever that means. But rather, the intention should be to express or interrogate alternative ideas. And that can be in practice or in performance.


Richard  10:59  

I agree with all of that. I guess my preference is to always take a more historical view, just because I'm a really firm believer in context. Context is meaning they're, they're synonyms, as far as I'm concerned. And I think that's what history gives us. But so i i start at the avant garde being a term that was used in the early 20th century by a variety of creative types, who wanted to do two things, they wanted to respond to the modern world, bearing in mind, we had huge technological advances happening at that time. And they also wanted to critique the bourgeois the ruling class. And that was always a very, very specific political motive of the avant garde. That's not to say that the avant garde was necessarily on the left. In fact, the avant garde, if we're going to try and create a moral basis for it is, is amoral, there were writers and artists who aggressively on the left, and there were writers, and artists who are aggressively on the right. Now this is this is where it gets interesting for me, that term shifts throughout the 20th century, you get a lot of traditions spanning from that initial moment, which didn't necessarily fit that criteria I just set up. And so if we were to look at the 20th century and the early 21st century, and try and create a broad definition of what the avant garde might be, I think it's this and this is really close to what Chloe said. But ultimately, I think it's a creative act that breaks dominant narratives by using the material that the dominant narratives provide. So the dadaist group in the early 20th century, one of the things they felt, especially Hugo ball was the first world war was a war to do with words, people sat there, and they pronounced that we are now at war, and therefore we were at war. So what the dadaists did was take that and as an act of protest, they made nonsense poetry. And this was essentially an anti war gesture, that they were somehow breaking apart. The mechanism by which war came about if we fast forward and look at a poet that I know is very, very important to both me and Chloe. Frank O'Hara, however, you need to read Frank O'Hara through the writings of the academic Bruce Boone, who was the first PhD to look at Frank O'Hara sexuality, but the argument is, or Boone's argument is that when the straight community looks at Frank's poetry, they see gossip poetry. And when the late 50s gay community look at Frank's poetry, they see a very, very tightly woven set of linguistic codes that indicate sexual oppression. And this is a very, very avant garde act, taking the codes of the time hiding them from the dominant narrative, and then being able to express your identity through them. So there's two examples of what that might look like. That would be why would say the avant garde is for more sort of historical perspective.


Leia  14:02  

A lot of people when they hear avant garde, they just think experimental, and that's it, but it goes a bit deeper than that, right?


Chloe  14:09  

I think the essence is just making things alternative for the sake of making the alternative is not doing anything of any work for anybody. And for me, I think when I when I first and I think this is a lot of people's experience of poetry when I first started studying poetry, or when you're first confronted with poetry, and I mean, confronted, when, when, when you're maybe in secondary school, often you're taught in a way that puts a lot of people off, and it's so self referential. And what really shifted for me when I started reading, Frank O'Hara was the first poet that I read, who made me want to be a poet. What fascinated me was how poetry could be so externally reaching and have such impact, and be able to change things and take on all these different guises and masquerade under all these different forms. And that was so fascinating him to me. And the reason it's fascinating because it's absolutely relevant to culture, you should be engaging with things and reading things that interact with and change the world around you. And for me reading, I don't know, I'm not gonna name names, not that any of them are alive. But But reading the poetry that that felt, formally, not very challenging, just felt like it was just academia eating its own tail.


Richard  15:25  

Yeah, I think I'd agree with that, in terms of there being a deeper meaning to the avant garde. I think one of the reasons why that's the case is to be honest, much like the rest of the arts, it moved away from a purely representational view of the arts, ie I'm going to write about having a walk in the Lake District like Wordsworth did, not, although the Romantic poets were radical for their time, but obviously, that's become the main staple of British lyric poetry. That representational view moved to what many academics writing about experimental literature have this sort of a process. So it's not necessarily I'm going to sit down and write this product, which is predefined, ie a 14 line lyric poem that expresses how I feel about the Lake District. But it's more about the process of writing itself. When you do that you're dealing with the very structures of what literature is. And that is a profoundly deep gesture.


Leia  16:25  

So is this world of avant garde? Is that hard to get into? And yourselves which Richard and Chloe how did you get into this world?


Chloe  16:33  

I would say yes or no. And I think I would be a bit more lenient about this than Richard would. Because Richard is very much history, history, history, history, context is very important. And it is, and I agree with him, but but I honestly didn't have any interest in writing until I discovered that it didn't matter that I didn't have I wasn't as well read, as everybody else I was studying alongside and I came to it for academia. So that's the angle I could define it from. I grew up in pretty working class background, and then went from being top of my class as I, as I think many people do feel at uni, and then you get to uni, and suddenly, everybody there is top of their class. And it's really stressful. And if you didn't grow up with a lot of money, you didn't read all of the stuff that that others in your class read. And that can make you feel really locked out. And it did for me for a very long time. And it wasn't until I was confronted with poets where it didn't feel like I have to have the weight of the entire historicity of poetry in my back pocket to be able to see why it meant something to me, and to see what it was doing, and make me excited about language. And you're  and the reality is, you're not going to get a bunch of 18 year olds engaging with avant garde poetry, for the first time already perfectly packaged with this amazing understanding of all of the poetry that's come before them. So So I do think it's accessible. And it should, it should be portrayed as more accessible. And I think anyone who is verging towards an interest in it, yeah, you should keep throwing lots of books at them. But I think there should be a kindness and an understanding that it takes time for people to find their footing. And I mean, it takes time to understand the world so.


Richard  18:19  

Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think what we're talking about here is a set of creative traditions, which is, by its nature, complex, and opaque and annoying and boring, intentionally boring and raucous and carnivalesque and rude and morally ambiguous. That is a very difficult set of criteria to get somebody engaged with like, it's not necessarily a strong selling point. And there's a lot to say about that. But in terms of the intuitive your question, one of the reasons why the avant garde does this is to undermine notions of a canon. And it's to undermine notions of critical criteria. And it's to undermine notions of what even is writing and what even is reading, and so to like, if the question is how does somebody be avant garde, that implies a very stable set of criteria they need to meet, whereas the avant garde is something that ruptures that criteria. And so it's less like, if you wanted to be a horror writer, you might say, well, I'm into fantasy, so I'm going to do vampires. I'm into, to real life,  true crime. So I'm going to do home invasion. I'm into this, that and the other. And that would be very, very helpful for somebody who wants to write horror with the avant garde, you just need to have your own sense of language. And let that be the thing that ruptures the dominant discourse around you. And by all means, yeah, I'm, I swear by, by history, ironically, for an avant gardist just because, you know, in the early 20th century, the avant garde rejected tradition and history, but I think at this current stage important to have an awareness of it because you're not alone. And also, it might give you some, some ideas which you can make your own.


Chloe  20:09  

If you use language, likelihood is you're interested in language. And if you're interested in language, then you know just just be just be open to just be open to fucking with that a little bit. And, and less correcting people's grammar and, and less things like how to be a good writer trending on Twitter, would be really helpful.


Jack  20:30  

Yeah, for sure.


Leia  20:32  

So we've seen, you know, experimental art experimental music emerge a lot sooner than experimental writing, and why do you think it's taken us so long to get to this point where we're just beginning to publicly, you know, share space for experimental writing?


Richard  20:50  

Okay, so Brion Gysin the poet and painter famously said that writing is 50 years behind the rest of the arts. And bearing in mind, this is the gentleman that invented the cut up technique that Burroughs has perfected, among other among other things. So I think that's a really good place to start. So here's the thing, writing more or less, has been doing these things for a long time, not not at the same rate as the rest of the art. So obviously Duchamp took a urinal and signed it and put it in an art gallery in the early 20th century. It's not really until the 1950s found texts start appearing in literature. So this is Brion Gysin's thing about 50 years behind. But but that's not to say it hasn't been done, it has, it just hasn't been accepted very well within mainstream discourse. Whereas in popular music sampling has in in fine art, the avant garde has been mainstream for 100 years now. It's common for artists to take found objects and put them in an art gallery. You asked a very good question as to why in literature, I don't know I mean, I don't know is my answer. I mean, my my guess is that we're still quite beholden to notions of the author. We're still quite beholden to notions of sincerity. And we're still quite beholden to something that I'm very, very skeptical of. And that's entertainment. I don't really feel that I've ever been entertained as a as a person. I don't I don't know what it says about me. But it's not something that I especially connect with.


Chloe  22:32  

You've never been entertained as a poet.


Richard  22:35  

I don't think so. No,


Chloe  22:37  

I'm going to call bullshit on that my friend. We just had Amanda Earl, what do you mean you haven't been entertained?


Richard  22:44  

Yeah, I mean, Amanda. Okay. So for context, Amanda Earl read at our Babel reading, you can find online media section. And I think what Chloe is referring to is this absolutely glorious, loud raucus reading where this woman in her mid 50s sort of just pronounces her sexuality in so verbose and confrontational way, and it was glorious to watch. I don't know if, I mean, if I say not, entertainment is not an insult for me. I mean, it's, it is what it is. But I don't know if I feel like I'm in some sort of a trance, like a zombie out. And I don't feel that when I engage with art, and I don't want that either. When I heard Amanda read, I was enthralled. And I was liberated, and I was excited. And I was inspired, but entranced wasn't one of those things. And I think I'm gonna guess me and Chloe, you have a different definition of entertainment now.


Chloe  23:47  

Yeah, yeah, I suppose entertainment to me is, is having fun and bags of fun so Amanda Earl. At the same time might you know, my brain was entertained. And it was engaged. 


Richard  23:59  

Yeah. Yeah, different definitions. I think. I don't know. Like, I kind of feel like when I try to engage with mass culture, and I do like some mass culture, but when I try to engage with the majority of it, it's like being I'm just talking for myself. I'm not trying to persuade anyone. It's like, when I was a kid, and I used to eat loads of sweets, like, that's not fun, it just makes you feel crap. Right? But genuine fun, like, is is liberating. And it's radical. And it's visceral and sexual and, and just fucking inspiring, man. And that's what true fun is. And that's why I wanted to put sort of pleasure and play at the front. That's why I might I might differ from a definition of of entertainment as fun and still stick with entertainment as comatose. That's my angle anyway.


Chloe  24:55  

I think maybe the avant garde and experimental poetry would do better in, in wider culture if if there if there was an understanding that you could be fun and goofy with poetry, I think you can I don't think it always needs to be serious and super inspiring. But I think to answer your question from earlier, I think in really simple terms, when Rich says, you know, that potentially writing is always 50 years by and everything else. I mean, ultimately, its language is what we used to think with and communicate with each other. And it's really uncomfortable if you're not used to having that confronted and distorted and warped and fucked with it's really uncomfortable for people. And I think in its simplest terms, that's why it always speed it means maintains, you know, a sense of the underground, that that other art forms, maybe don't, we don't communicate throughpainting, you know?


Richard  25:48  

Yeah, I think that's a fantastic point, like language is how you construct identity. It's how we construct our communities. It's how we socialize with each other. And it's, you know, it's how we initiate each other into the wider world. Once you have somebody come along and break that apart, it's threatening, like, I grew up with a speech impediment. And it's, it's fascinating to me, why I was beat up as a kid because of it, and I think, I think that might be the reason because once the other is confronted with somebody who is breaking apart the very fabric of their foundation, ie breaking apart language, it's a threat.


Chloe  26:32  

Absolutely.


Richard  26:34  

I think that's why the avant garde might confront people in really uncomfortable ways. Because what is identity? And what is it to construct identity through language, its class, its religion, its gender, it's sexuality its autobiography, not to mention are all very creative beings. So people might say that, oh, I can't draw. I can't play an instrument. But goddamnit we all use language.


Chloe  27:01  

Yeah, absolutely. I would add to that, as well, it's people are very attached to understanding things. And people aren't used to being confronted with in linguistic information and being like, I don't have a fucking clue what this what any of this means. And I think of times that non writerly friends or relatives have come to see me read something. And often the response I would get is, that was really nice, but I didn't have a clue what you were talking about. And in some cases, it's it's been a misunderstanding to the level of discomfort where it  you know, I guess it is an identity thing as well. Like, it's, it feels like, I guess to them, it feels like a reflection of oh, my God, I'm an idiot. I didn't know. You know, these people are so much smarter than me that they're, that they're saying all the things and I don't know what they're saying, in reality, I don't have a clue what I'm talking about either but I'm willing to engage with it. And I'm interested specifically in not making sense, or I'm challenging what it means to make sense. And, and often, people aren't just people just aren't comfortable with that people like to understand things and know what's going on.


Richard  28:08  

Yeah, the thing I really admire about Chloe's poetry is these pockets of meaning that appear throughout the text, and then they kind of evaporate. And it's like, if you can, if you can engage with that as a sensation, almost like music. It's, it's not unpleasant at all. It's in fact, very, it can be very calming. I think that's how I engage with some of Chloe's work. It's about whether or not the reader is willing to engage with language in a way other than I am being told something.


Chloe  28:41  

Yeah. 


Leia  28:42  

And so to round off this section, do you guys want to share some of your favorite works in the avant garde world?


Richard  28:49  

My guys tend to Charles Bernstein. And I could feel Chloe rolling her eyes.


Chloe  28:57  

Richard has a Charles Bernstein poem for every situation, every single situation.


Richard  29:03  

And I don't, I don't take shame. But the Yeah, so he's very important to me. Frank O'Hara was we spoke about uh, I don't know if he was the poet that got me writing poetry, but certainly he had a huge effect on the way I first read him as a teenager, as Chloe was saying for for herself earlier. Lisa Robertson, the Canadian poet, and essayist. And as of last year novelist is a wonderful, wonderful writer. I think, La Figues press which was a press founded in LA by Vanessa place and Teresa Carmody. They have heavily influenced Babel in terms of their ethos, Vanessa Place in particular, with her a 50,000 word, one sentence novel, dies a sentence. And another novel she wrote called La medusa. Which is a sort of a feminist rewrite of Joyce. I'm not, I'm not necessarily recommending her because the work she went on to do is extremely, extremely difficult. Bearing in mind she's a in her day job she's a criminal defense attorney for sex offenders and this sort of plays into her later work so I don't want anyone to go away look at that work and be upset by it and you will be if you if you go look at that work, but certainly that sort of moral ambiguity and challenging, uncomfortable discourse is not enjoyable but certainly interesting for me so they tend to be my guys.


Chloe  30:41  

We both have a very deep love for Lisa Robertson. And so Lisa Robertson is definitely up there. For me Frank O'Hara, obviously John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Hannah Weiner. I love Hannah Weiner, Bernadette Mayer, Gertrude Stein. And from from literally right now this this this time, currently, Sarah Dawson, EP Jenkins, Tanicia Pratt, Tese Uhomoibhi, and Cat Chong are all poets who are making work now that you can read now and you should be following their careers because they're all incredible.


Richard  31:18  

Yeah, Sarah Dawson is somebody Chloe turned me on to and she's just fucking great. She's absolutely awesome.


Chloe  31:26  

She's wonderful. We love her. 


Richard  31:27  

Yeah. She's amazing. In terms of like, just because I like this idea of citing living writers like Maggie Nelson is another one. Bluets is one of my oh my god. Yeah. Yeah. Bluets is one of my favorite books of all time. People should also read the argonauts.


Chloe  31:44  

Um, I think about all the time, who is known as poet that is super, super important to me is Donna Haraway. She's wonderful.


Jack  31:53  

Have either of you read ducks newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.


Richard  31:56  

I have not. 


Chloe  31:56  

no.


Jack  31:57  

It's actually just escaped my mind actually how exactly it's experimental. But basically, each. So it's sort of the novel sort of starts off with sort of fairly conventional, a couple of fairly conventional paragraphs. And then it's just one long paragraph where it's made up of sentences that start with the same thing. But off the top of my head. I can't remember what that thing is. It's like, I think it's the phrase the thing is, or something like that. I can't exactly remember. 


Chloe  32:22  

That sounds that sounds very familiar. Yeah. Sounds great.


Richard  32:26  

I want to read that. Yeah.


Jack  32:28  

Yeah. It's, it's published.  it's published by an independent press in Norwich called Galley Beggar Press. But yeah, they, they published some good stuff. But yeah.


Richard  32:39  

I don't think I've read any of their stuff. But I have heard of them. So I need to check them out.


Jack  32:43  

Yeah, they've got some great stuff. Yeah.


Leia  32:45  

And so now we're going to move on to our last sort of segment of Chloe and Richard. And we're going to be speaking about quite an important and relevant issue facing the literature community at the moment, which is should writers be paid for their craft? And we know Richard and Chloe quite publicly had some slightly differing views on this. So it'd be really interesting to have you talked this out with us now, because you both have sort of, you've got the same sort of intention, but you sort of approach it in slightly different ways?


Chloe  33:14  

Yes. Yes, definitely. I feel like this is coming off the back of, off the back of when I, when I tweeted that, something Richard said, really boiled my piss, and I posted it a ten tweet long thread about why he was wrong. And I don't think I've I don't think our views on it are actually that opposing, I think, but yeah, I think you're right to say that we're coming at it from different angles. I think we should underline this conversation by making the point that Richard is an anarchist, and I am a socialist.


Richard  33:48  

Yes.


Leia  33:51  

Do you want to, you know, go into a bit deeper about where you to have difference in opinions on this. And


Richard  33:58  

I think the main pressure point is around this idea of whether or not we can create social structures that can contain money. For me, money can't be used outside of a commodity exchange, right. And so if we're going to say, all writers should be paid, and that's the absolute standard, then it puts a, it turns writing into a commodity, which has a tremendous amount of baggage that comes with it. When we talk about commodity we also have to talk about a market. When we talk about a market we have to talk about accessibility. When we talk about accessibility, we have to talk about sales. These are all very problematic things if you're interested in experimental writing, because like what people are paying for a book that is entirely copied and pasted off shopping websites, right? So the thing that I'll double underline here, before I hand it over to Chloe is I'm very much talking from the perspective of an editor of an avant garde journal, which I set up intentionally to be free, for very specific reasons. If I was a publisher of, you know, actual hardcopy books, would I have a different opinion, maybe, like, I think there's room there to experiment with the idea of commodity, but I can only really talk from the point of view of an editor of a journal that I want to be free, you know, and I want it to be free, because I want the systems of value to be placed away from financial value, and on to community value on to it a reimagining of aesthetic value. And on to the value of, admittedly small scale social change. So that would be where I'm coming from.


Chloe  36:08  

You know, I absolutely agree with all of that, I really do. But, and here is the big but, for a start, I'm gonna say, I disagree with seeing poetry as commodity, I'm just gonna get out of the way and make that absolutely clear. But we also are not writing from within a vacuum. And ultimately, people are buying the books, the money is going somewhere, largely, unfortunately, it's going to Amazon and Waterstones, etc. And so yes, buy from small presses. And I do think you would have a different opinion on it, Rich, if if you weren't running a free journal, if you were selling physical copies of books. But that's even that is kind of neither here nor there for me, really, because the I'm not talking about value being ascribed to poems, to individual poems to the work itself. For me, it's more an understanding that artists need time to sit with their work. And what I think is unfair is, is that we live in this world where people have to decide between potentially being homeless, or having no food security, or no childcare, whatever it is that they need, or giving up poetry, giving up the thing that they really like to do. And what I really disagreed with you with was was the statement you made that poetry doesn't pay financially and poets should get used to it. And that I think, I think when anything is communally fixed like that, it makes it so difficult for ideas to flourish. And in actuality, I bet you, between all of us that exist in the world, we could come up with some really interesting ideas around poetry and finance. And that might not be you know, I'm not, I'm not speaking about poets, being so rich off of their collection of, you know, interesting sonnets that we've all got yachts and Aston Martins. But I do think that no one should be homeless. And I do think that people should be able to pay their rent. And I do think that people should be able to feed themselves and their kids. And maybe there are financial systems we can put in place between us as a community where it's not so much, you're being paid for the poetry, and therefore the poem is the commodity. But I do think we need to stop talking about poetry, like it is existing outside of the world where we do need to survive, and we need money to survive. Because that's just not how it is. I think if you and I said this to you before, as well, I, I think outside of this pandemic, because it's different. But I think if you put something on the Babel Twitter now and said, How many of you just do poetry full time, you will not get very much response. And if you do, it will be "None of us, dickheads!" Like, how, like it who's just sitting here just writing poetry? And I don't think that means, I don't think that's necessarily the answer either. But people need time to create and, you know, not to be, glib, but time is money and that people need to survive and we're not, we're not, as lovely as it sounds that we should just keep making art for art's sake and we shouldn't bring money into poetry because it just it can distort things and, you know, and, and change the positions of dissent and it can make people really exploited. Yeah, that's all well and good, but like, but people need to live. Yeah, so no, I don't I don't think all journals should be expected to pay for poems but I do think that we need to be having more interrogative conversations about money in the community.


Jack  39:51  

Yeah, you guys talking about being paid for poetry and I think,  I was gonna say it's a story as old as time. That like, you know that the classic story of, oh this person wants to be an artist, or like, or a poet or a writer or anything, then they have to take up some kind of job they don't like because just because it doesn't pay, which is obviously horrible, isn't it?


Leia  40:11  

Yeah, that's true. I mean, as far as I can remember people in, you know, the creative industry, it was always, oh, yeah, I can only start by doing it as a side hobby. Like it can never, you can never go into it being full time.


Jack  40:24  

A lot of industries, like, it's in music, there's a recent one, as a rapper, no, there was a producer, yeah, producers in hip hop, particularly, a lot of the time they get, they basically have to work for free to try and like sort of make get their way in. But if they ask for payment, then the like, people from the industry can just be like, okay, well, we'll find someone else that wants to do it for free. So there's no that they can't win, essentially.


Chloe  40:50  

That doesn't really work in our community. And, you know, it, actually, when I was tweeting about this, the other day the poet Liam Bates kind of hit the nail on the head. And he was like, you know, the problem is that there was so much supply and not enough demand for poetry. So, so if, you know, if you're gonna be the diva who's like, you can have my poem, but I want 50 quid for it. The likelihood is a, whoever it is, is probably not gonna be able to afford it and they'll probably just go well, I'll find somebody else who's like clambering to get their work published?


Richard  41:24  

Yeah, I mean, this is this is the issue with, for me with this sense of, like, we need to discuss other alternative financial models. It's like this poetry isn't set up that way. And so I agree with the sentiment, but I I'm just not, I'm just not confident that we can have a rigorous economic structure in place. The other side of this is, we can still think of alternative social models, which aren't financial. So looking at what Nikki does with MumWrite? That's extraordinary. And this is an example of I'm just this is my opinion, not saying this is where she's coming from but but this is an example of, you know, in many cases, I'm sure full time mums who who want to be able to write and this is this is what we could consider a alternative model. The other point I wanted to raise was, because Babel is entirely sort of financed by me. I'm interested in this idea of what happens if we create like an oasis, within creativity, where money isn't even a factor. I mean, it is a factor, obviously, because I'm dealing with it. But just to have that have that sort of control, where I could just take that off the table, and have people enter that space, where they can just meet each other and their work. That is without wanting to sound idealistic, kind of weirdly pure.


Chloe  43:01  

And that's lovely. But you're not taking money off the table, you're not taking money out, you're taking money off the table with regards to Babel specifically, but not for the poets that submit to Babel.  I luckily have lots of time to write at the moment. And luckily, unlikely because I'm a massage therapist, and because of the pandemic, I've not been able to work since March, and I'm living off Universal Credit, which is 400 pounds a month, lads. and it's trash. Nobody can live on that. So it's for me, I think, and I think this is kind of the, you know, this, I think this is the sort of the point where where things go awry in Richard and I being able to agree whichever on this, because Richard's, an anarchist identifies as can you say that identifies as an anarchist? Is that an identity?


Richard  43:49  

I identify with the model that champions decentralized power structure.


Chloe  43:55  

Sure. But I think for you a large part of that is is you really like Babel being, you know, a voice that's solely for poetry in an otherwise really chaotic world. And so you don't talk about, you don't talk about politics on Bible. And it's not it's not something that you reference, when you engage with the public. And for me, the two things are really intrinsically linked. And we can't, we can't have this discussion around poets and pay without looking at, you know, the situation we're currently in operating in a trash capitalist economy and under a government that, frankly, doesn't give a shit. But that said, I am an optimistic socialist. I do think there are other I do think there are other models available. I do think there have been political and societal structures available. And I do think those can happen in the poetry world. And if if it's not going to happen in the world around us, then I think we should be thinking about ways we could do that for each other and maybe that's not the poet gets paid for work, they submit, but maybe that's more to do with. I don't know, maybe it looks more like a redistribution of wealth within our community. However, however, that can play out, maybe it looks more like it's exchanging poems for services. The poet Sasha Akhtar messaged me about this the other day, and she was she kind of floated this idea of poetry in exchange for services, like this idea that you could trade a sonnet for lasagne. Yeah, you know, and it sounds silly, but it like, it's, it's communism. Okay. I think I think I think all of the artists deserve. Like, there needs to be some sort of self organization between us. So that so that we're all just looking out for each other, and maybe not getting big pay packages. But but, you know, you see what I'm saying?


Richard  45:55  

My issue with this is that it's not a totalized economy, and all of this will always happen within a totalizing economy. And so we can't ever escape the fact that this is happening in a far wider network of financial exchange. And, and to exchange lasagne for a sonnet, which, you know, it's honestly, like, I'm down with, like, why the fuck is anybody exchanging? Like, if there's such a need to eat like, just give somebody a lasagne. Like, I don't, I don't understand why we need to create an exchange method for that, like.


Chloe  46:33  

Okay. But you know, that's, that's a silly example, I don't think it needs to be an exchange method, either. Let's just say we take poetry out of it entirely. And the only thing that remains is a community of poets. Let's say the poetry has nothing to do with it. Surely, there are ways we can arrange systems among ourselves, we can create infrastructure among ourselves as a community, so that people are looked after.


Richard  47:01  

Okay, now, now we're talking. So I used to do a lot of community work, right? So I used to go into schools at lunchtime, and teach kids how to read and I did that for free, right? If poets did that, like fucking a, like, if we could do that as a community I'm all for it, but then we're starting to get outside of our conversation around financial exchange, like if a community of poets could do that. And it was exactly that a community of poets, I would champion that, and I would champion that as a alternative social model. I don't understand why we need money to pass hands, when it already causes enough problems. What's what's a more radical gesture, reimagining how to use money in the world, or trying to create a world where money is no longer needed?


Chloe  47:57  

Sure, of course, and sure we can work towards that. But at this current time, everything costs money. There ain't no thing as a free lunch, babe. It's not happening. People do need to buy food, you need to pay bills, people need to keep a roof over the heads.


Richard  48:18  

Yeah, I'm not saying like its going to be an overnight thing. 


Chloe  48:22  

No, so money is a part of it. And I don't think we're gonna I don't think we're going to get to anything anarchic until we stop saying things like, well, listen, poetry doesn't pay. And that's just the way of it. Because I don't think that's true. I don't think it has to be true. 


Richard  48:39  

Yeah, I think we're looking at different exit strategies, but because my my exit strategy is through the acceptance of the, you know, the wider economic discourse, not paying for a sonnet, whereas I think you want to be reimagine a world in which people would pay for a sonnet and that's your exit, exit strategy, but different strokes for different folks.


Chloe  49:02  

I don't have an exit strategy. I just think we should be open to people coming up with ideas for different exit strategies.


Richard  49:10  

Splendid.


Leia  49:11  

Okay, that sounds like a good place to take a pause on that conversation and move on to Chloe and Richard reading out some of their fantastic pieces.


Chloe  49:21  

So I thought I would read from my Twitter bot Sporesbot, which is an automated little Twitter bot, which has a bit of life of its own. And it basically tweets on the hour every hour, found text from botany journals, mixed up with various conjunctions. And I tried to code it as if it were a grammatically correct sentence, just that the just that the words being inserted into it often have no sense being where they are, but it's quite fun and it It's led to a lot of interesting works that I've that I've done. And I love that it's just something that's always ticking away on Twitter tweeting out eco nonsense. So I'm going to do something that I've not done before, which is just read it exactly as it is. And I thought it would be nice to read it as kind of a duration piece where I'm going to read each one that's been tweeted in the last 24 hours up until right now, which is nine o'clock on Friday, the 29th of January. So I'll dive in. (CHLOE READS FROM SPORESBOT)


Leia 55:31  

That was amazing.


Richard Speaker  55:35  

Good work  Proctor.


Chloe  55:37  

Thanks, Capener.


Richard  55:38  

What's the @ for that Chloe?


Chloe  55:41  

@sporesbot


Leia  55:43  

So if you aren't following and you want hourly updates, definitely go follow. And now Richard, let's hear your piece.


Richard  55:50  

So I'm going to read from a project called the archive, which actually happened between May 2012 and April 2013, where I took the Wikipedia article for archive, and I literally applied different archival strategies to the article. So the first section was just all of the grammatical subjects listed in the article. The second section was all of the active verbs listed in the article. What I'm going to read today is all of the about me sections in the user profiles that edited to the article. So this is a an excerpt from user profiles. (RICHARD READS WORK)



Leia  1:00:26  

Can I just say you both are fantastic readers as well.


Chloe  1:00:29  

Oh, thank you. I was just thinking when when Rich was reading, I feel like we both went in. We both went in playing it really straight.  Like, I really like reading spores in a way that's always conversational, where possible. And I really like a really like Rich hearing you read something that's almost like, super, it's almost like narrative prose. It's almost like a character study. It's yeah, it's just really fun. It hit different that time I heard it. It's great.


Richard  1:01:02  

Thank you. Yeah, like, one of the things that drew me to the archive project was, like, all of the different factors that constitute an archive. And this is whole world beneath it, that, that we don't really ever think about and, and all of these people have sort of different. In some cases, it didn't come across so much in that reading, but we have different political agendas, almost. And they have social backgrounds. And it was a really interesting way to sort of analyze how something we think is quite objective ie, a system of categorization. And, and see how that is very, very much subjective. So um, yeah, it's really, really fun to read so thank you.


Leia  1:01:51  

Brilliant. So that brings us to the end of section with you guys. Thank you so much. This is fantastic. We've loved every second.


Chloe  1:01:58  

Oh, it's been a joy for us. Thank you.


Richard  1:02:01  

Yeah, it's because obviously like Babel published that piece from Leia really early on and seeing you guys like start Full House and like hearing the last two episodes of the podcast, like it's really fucking wonderful man, and really wonderful to sort of see what you guys are doing in the community. I think it's, it's really valuable.


Jack  1:02:25  

Thank you. And now we're gonna round off with our news blast.


Leia  1:02:27  

Yes, so the Augment reviews issue one is now live, that's called Indulge. Untitled writing are now open for their third issue voices, which is very exciting. Overachiever magazine are now accepting submissions for their February issue. The mechanics Institute review have submissions open they're seeking prose, poetry and creative nonfiction. On Saturday third of April Nikki Dudley and Isabelle Kenyon will be having a flash fiction and poetry editing masterclass. Babel Tower Notice Board have some fantastic pieces out today. Submissions for the Lumiere review are now open, send them your work. Averse magazine are looking for a graphic designer and somebody to manage their Instagram. Salo press are now open to chapbook submissions, poetry, short fiction or other. Northern otter press are looking for submissions. Spoonfeed magazine are open for submissions. They are particularly interested in food essays at the moment. James Lilley is versification punk of the year 2020. And lastly, Far Side review are looking for some creative nonfiction. So that was our newsblast, thank you so much for listening to this week's podcast and we hope to see you in two weeks.



Babel Tower Notice Board origin story
How Richard and Chloe work together
Babel in 3 words
Events and future plans for Babel
What is the avant-garde?
Is the avant-garde hard to access?
Why has experimental writing taking so long?
Entertainment
Best avant-garde work
Should writers be paid for their craft?
Chloe's reading
Richard's reading
News blast