Music was my first introduction into literature. The song lyric. Leonard Cohen came first; the album The Songs of Leonard Cohen I thought it was just me and him, him talking and me listening. Of course now I know that every other bed-sit in Hull was filled with Len’s dulcet tones murmuring into the shell-likes of other would be writers. The gatefold and inner sleeves were my books back then. Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones and Tom Waits were others I would spend many an intimate evening with. I remember listening to a live album by Ralph McTell and he introduced one of his songs by talking about Sylvia Plath. I went and bought Ariel the next day. This was the first poetry book I bought. Leonard Cohen’s music is a perfect example of why I probably do what I do. Thirty odd years on and I’m still getting something – very often something completely new – out of those same songs. It comes down to literature that lasts. That’s what I am trying to achieve with Wrecking Ball Press. Ezra Pound said “Literature is news that stays news.” Good music and good books. I still listen as much as I read.
I used to run a café in Hull. We would put on live jazz and poetry readings. The Students started bringing me their poems. I was only a café owner at this time and had never edited or considered editing anybody’s work. It was bad poetry. I told them this and when they asked me why I could only say “it wasn’t for me” – but I couldn’t explain why.
Wrecking Ball Press was born in the back room of the Café because of this.
I wanted to produce a poetry magazine that I thought at that time didn’t exist. My friend Owen Benwell, who was working for me as a part-time cook, had recently finished Art college and had started getting interested in Graphic Design. We decided we knew enough between us to start our own poetry magazine. So he bashed away at the computer in the store-room and I carried on cooking lasagnes and reading manuscripts that I had previously put out feelers for. It didn’t take long. Suddenly every man and his dog was a writer, it seemed. But the same problems kept cropping up time and time again. The writing I was being sent just wasn’t hitting the mark. It seems like it will always be a sore point. What is good writing? What is bad writing? It’s subjective of course, but as an editor you have to decide there and then if it’s right for you and your readers. I feel that bad writing just reinforces its own right to anonymity and therefore obscurity. End of story.
Of course cafés and pubs are the perfect backdrops for writers. Drink loosens tongues and words spill. The café was becoming a melting pot of artists and writers all bigging up their own work, trying to shout over the sound of the band. I didn’t mind this. Apart from the preacher and the ear bullied victim, everyone else seemed to be too busy listening to the music.
I don’t do it much myself and hardly any of my friends do. Talk about literature. There is a reason why I have become friends with some writers and not others over the years. I prefer to talk about the things that feed literature rather than literature itself. WORDS. I like them still alive. Jammed in the middle of buckled sentences or spat out before the brain gets time to register the chaos. I look for these qualities in the work I publish. “How would you like your steak cooked, medium, rare or a la Anglais?” (well done with all the life and soul taken from it). I believe this is what happens to much literature. It gets overcooked till it tastes of nothing. I’m not looking for rhyme or metre or how many syllables there are in a line. I’m looking for the words to move on the page. I want to be distracted from the formula. I want the words to do what all good words should do and that’s LIVE.
Shane Rhodes, editor