A question has been gnawing at me for several months now. Can fiction, poetry, any creative writing, make a genuine difference in a social and political sense? How much of it, really, is just self-aggrandising ego? Can it, at the end of the day, enable positive change? And in the light of such recent political upheaval, what role can it play when compared to the purity of ‘action’?
I have spent the last eighteen months working on the creation of an anthology of poetry and prose (‘Acquired for Development By…’), and our own independent DIY publishing imprint (Influx Press). It has been a very steep learning curve.
With the book and the press now beginning to show some small flickers of success, what has been most gratifying is that I feel we have proved that, however much hard work it may be, creating something independently and maintaining creative control is possible, as long as the ideas are strong and relevant, and the quality of the work is high.
One of the driving ideas behind this press was for it to become a collaborative and independent publisher pushing interesting work that may have either marginal or limited commercial appeal.
Our first book germinated from an idea that I had – with my co-founder of Influx, Kit Caless – in the place where all good ideas start, the pub. A simple idea that it would be interesting to collect together an anthology of poetry and prose all centred on a very specific geographical location. As it happened, our specific location was Hackney. The idea swiftly bloomed and expanded from there: Hackney being such a varied and multi-faceted place, a stage where many of the dramas of modern Britain were playing themselves out.
The hot topics of urban gentrification, skyrocketing rents, hipsters, the looming and destructive Olympic games, squatting, the machinations of capitalist giants like Tesco, the constant re-development – all of this, and much more, was happening on our doorstep. We were a part of it, part of the ongoing narrative, perhaps even contributing to the very problems we identified and felt uncomfortable with.
The problem was that what I felt as being my narrative, the story of the things that I and many people like me had done and were doing, was being lost, unrecorded, allowed to be tarmaced over by the official story. As an aspiring writer, with a strong sense of the DIY collaborative spirit taken from my ongoing involvement with the UK punk scene, the answer seemed too obvious: put together a Hackney-specific collection offering stories and poetic responses to these issues.
Why not address these issues through the standard channels of journalism, writing articles, op-ed pieces? Firstly, the issues discussed were already being thrashed out in the traditional fashion. Secondly, there was a desire to create a lasting record of a moment in time, not merely ephemeral journalism that, although undoubtedly important, could be forgotten due to its very nature.
Why not, then stick to the purely underground world of zines and alternative press fairs, cheaply printed pamphlets and xeroxed political literature? The same problem was apparent. A lot of such literature, utterly invaluable for the historical record and keeping that counter-narrative alive, was either poorly distributed, rarely archived in any useful sense or simply forgotten about. The voices of those it allowed to speak were often lost in the ongoing march of history. I find this distressing in ways I find hard to articulate. People almost being written out of existence, only those allowed to go through the mainstream channels allowed to have their voices, their lives, remembered.
The stories we tell, read, create, are powerful ways of understanding our world. Fiction, at its most potent and influential, can alter the very language we use, changing our lexicon. Just think George Orwell, JG Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Moore, Doris Lessing… the list goes on. It almost seems trite to point out the lengths people living under the old Communist or Fascist regimes went to preserve banned texts, distributing their samizdat editions and often facing stiff penalties and incarceration for their efforts.
I often think did that really happen? Were governments, authorities, ever so afraid of mere fiction? Of poetry? They were, that did happen, people took those risks to disseminate banned and censored texts. It proves that there is power there, not easily definable.
The aim of Influx Press is to create an outlet for site-specific creative writing, tied in with and about contemporary issues. Not art for art sake, but something more, an attempt to engage with our own specific geographic and psychic spaces before the counter-narratives disappear, are forgotten. Before we’re handed back the sanitised versions of our own realities and have to ask the question:
Were things ever any different to this?
For more information please visit: http://influxpress.com
By Gary Budden (@gary_outofstep)