A conversation between Brian Lewis and Paul Evans

Songs to Make & Mend

Songs to Make & Mend (2008)

Paul Evans The first thing that strikes you when you pick up a Longbarrow pamphlet is the exquisite attention that has been paid to every detail of its production. Is the idea of ‘craft’ important in your work? Does this engage at all with the current interest in ‘craft-based’ practise that we see in contemporary art?

Brian Lewis ‘Craft’ is an expression of care. It’s a simple ethic that has guided the press from the outset: the most important element in each production is care. If you don’t care sufficiently about the thing that you are making, then the audience cannot be expected to care about it either. The growing interest in craft-based practices suggests that there is something missing from industrialised ‘culture’. A pamphlet is a physical object, and it is important to understand the physical interaction of each of the component parts before you put it all together; making pamphlets by hand is a slow process, but it’s much more rewarding for the producer and, hopefully, the audience.

PE I notice that in the pamphlet, ‘The Purging of Spence Broughton’ by Rob Hindle, you have used typographical effects to represent the two voices that we hear in the poem (this was brought vividly to life during the performance by Hindle and Ray Hearne at the Hill Top Chapel in Attercliffe, Sheffield). How does this form of innovation fit with the Longbarrow house style? Do you see any potential for conflict with your visual identity here or are you willing to sacrifice this for artistic innovation?

Spencetext1BL I’ve tried to avoid settling into a ‘house style’. Each of the pamphlets has its own visual identity; the challenge with each publication is to find (or develop) the form, typeface and material texture that the poems demand. The shape of the poem dictates the shape of the object. Matthew Clegg’s ‘Edgelands’ (2008) is a sequence of 56 ‘mongrel tanka’. I knew instinctively that each of these five-line poems needed to be set in its own space, while somehow maintaining the integrity of the whole. It was three months before I found a solution: a ‘matchbox edition’, in which the 56 poems are concertinaed into a specially designed box. The making of ‘The Purging of Spence Broughton’ was rather different. The two ‘voices’ of the poem are set in counterpoint, which shifted the pamphlet into landscape format. We also created a series of ‘fragments’ to be published with, but separated from, the main sequence; each of these is a different size, and each employs a different font. ‘Spence Broughton’ thus demanded an inventive response, allowing the individual character of each element to be made visible while gesturing towards the larger design. I’ve always felt that the poems should be met on their own terms, rather than subordinated to a standard font and format; the press develops by redefining itself pamphlet by pamphlet.

PE How do you select the poets that are represented by Longbarrow? Do you find them or do they find you? What is your editorial approach when working with a writer?

BL Many of the relationships within Longbarrow have matured over a number of years. Trust and understanding are the guiding principles; there has to be an understanding of what the writer and the editor are after, while retaining openness about the methods used to achieve these ends. The editorial approach varies from pamphlet to pamphlet, depending on the needs of the work. What keeps it fresh is that each of us will always find (or make) something unexpected in the process, by being pushed some way out of our ‘comfort zones’; creating a solution to a (textual or technical) problem, or making connections between seemingly disparate practices.

PE I am very interested in the performance aspects of Longbarrow. We have seen a number of terrific performances over the years, all marked by a boldness and willingness to embrace experimentation. This has included: musician/poet collaborations; sound-scapes based on recorded ambient noise, even the use of flip charts!  What plans do you have for the future? Am I right in thinking that a film is in the offing?

BL I’ve started preparatory work on a film to accompany Matthew Clegg’s forthcoming sequence, ‘Lost Between Stations’, and a few short documentaries and profiles will follow in 2011. There are plans for a showcase of collaborations between artists and Longbarrow poets, following the success of the ‘Line Break’ event at Site Studio in 2008, and our first full-length collections (The Footing – an anthology of poems about walking – and Matthew Clegg’s West North East) are due to appear soon.

First published in The Inky March 2010

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Brian Lewis is the editor and publisher of Longbarrow Press. Paul Evans is an artist and writer based in Sheffield: click here to access his website. 

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