Cornerhouse, 18th October
Day 5 of the Manchester Literarature Festival opens with talks and readings from the editors and writers from two independent literary success stories: Bewilderbliss and Corridor8.
Whilst their content is markedly different, their mission statement is sharply in harmony: to push the boundaries of literary and artistic output, providing a mouthpiece for up-and-coming (and occasionally more established) local talent within the North. The event itself is in the relatively new, oak-beamed annexe of The Cornerhouse cinema. It is only a 55-seater venue for today but in no time at all, the seats have all been filled and a crowd of perspiring bodies is beginning to huddle together at the back of the room, testament to the popularity of these two publications, especially considering that this is a week-day, lunchtime talk.
Bewilderbliss kick off proceedings with a talk given by the two outgoing editors, John and Matt, who, in turn, inherited the publication from a previous team formed from the pool of creative talent at both the writing school at MMU and the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University. It is this process of a literary magazine that is regularly “bequeathed” to new blood that perhaps keeps it so fresh, and looking at the editions of the magazine that are on sale, one can clearly see a sense of progression and evolution, the physical product, over time, moving more towards an aesthetically pleasing publication. It becomes apparent that this is a deliberate motivation for the editors, shifting towards a magazine which the consumer would feel “proud to have on their bookshelf.” In fact, after the hand-over, the new editors’ first task was to reduce the 250-copy print-run to a run just over 100, thus allowing them to improve the overall aesthetic quality.
As pointed out, the magazine is enthusiastically committed to the lively literary sphere in Manchester but it also becomes clear that it is also interested in the dark, edgy underbelly of society and of the creative arts, an element conveyed by the readings themselves: a bleakly atmospheric tale of a child’s funeral, the mother-narrator barely able to conceal her seething anger and guilt; poetry dealing with the inevitable, wrenching collapse of a too-intense relationship (as the poet himself says, “Another poem to slit your wrists to); and, in a particularly vivid contribution, a surreal modern fairytale of a mysterious sweet-stall marketer who captures the townsfolk in her thrall through the bizarre, addictive and magical properties of the sweetmeats she sells.
Next up is Corridor8 who, despite being slightly more mainstream due to its Arts Council funding, still continue to be innovative and daring. The floor is held, chiefly, by leonine-haired editor Roger McKinley with occasional corrective blurts from his publisher and partner in the magazine, Michael Butterworth. McKinley’s opening gambit is an apology for his poor public speaking, yet he proves to be a charming, anecdotal orator.
Corridor8 (taking its name from the fact that Butterworth’s previous 1960’s publication, Corridor, ended its limited run on issue 7) is very much committed to crossing the boundary between literature and conceptual art. McKinley’s first foray into this arena was his project, Jackson Pollock: The Musical, published by Butterworth and marking the start of their current working relationship.
The primary focus of the magazine (the first edition of which being an impressive large-scale collage of breathtaking photography and literary articles concerning the “supercity corridor” between Liverpool and Hull) is to encourage and develop art and literature in the North of England. Their next edition, which is out next Monday and significantly more “pocket-sized”, will deal with issues outside of the “urban” landscape, focusing more on the rural “borderlands”, the residences where isolation and “break-downs” can occur. To highlight this, Ian McGuire, lecturer in creative writing at the Centre for New Writing, performs a reading from a new short story due to be published in the aforementioned second issue of Corridor8.
The editors freely admit that including fiction, rather than literary non-fiction, is new territory for them but that this constant exploration of different possibilities is the driving force behind the magazine. This story is a triumph, satirically detailing the plight of a blocked writer who is commissioned to isolate himself in a rural cave in order to write a think-piece about the nature of place and existence. More than once the audience are reduced to tears of laughter through McGuire’s subtle wit and deadpan delivery, and we are tantalisingly left wanting more.
In the current climate of radical cuts to arts funding and the ever-looming governmental spending review, it is essential that publications like Bewilderbliss and Corridor8 keep on fighting, keep on creating, keep on thriving, providing new ways to entertain and engage their audiences and today’s event highlights just how important the independent publishing sector is to the development and sustenance of culture in our society.
by Matt Colbeck
Matt Colbeck is currently studying for his PhD in English Literature at the University of Sheffield. He can be frequently seen performing in his band CreepJoint around the Midlands: www.myspace.com/creepjointmusic