Park Life

Will Cox and James Bird

Guest Contributors

The Belleville Park Pages started as a drunken conversation outside a Spoken Word Poetry night in Paris. Half the conversation was American, the other half British. We enthusiastically disagreed on most things. Pale introductory questions such as “Who’s your favourite author?” and “What did you study at University?” quickly accelerated to “What the fuck is wrong with contemporary writing?”.

We both agreed that there is absolutely nothing wrong with contemporary writing, there is lots of really, really cool stuff being produced. But where is it? Humans are writing more than ever, from misspelled Facebook statuses to spellchecked blog posts; there are a lot of words leaking out of our fingers but the Internet eats most of them up before anyone is able to put any salt on them. Kidney beans in haystacks and all that. Tangibility is lacking. Most literary magazines come out every 6 months and cost over 10 euros. Accessibility is lacking. The opportunity to hold a piece of writing in your hands and look at it with your eyes isn’t as easy as it should be. Let’s touch some words right up.

It was late May and a fresh batch of transient writers were settling in for a summer in Paris.  When we weren’t playing a Royal Rumble of soft-core sexual fantasies and drinking until the first Metro, there was actually some good writing being turned out. Writers were performing in innovative styles, writing in experimental forms. It was new. It was exciting.

More conversations followed the standard “Your poem is good. No your poem is good.”, high-fives all round. Beers followed and feelings were shared. Phrases like “It’d be great to read all this good work we’re hearing”,“Why is no one our age getting published?”, “Why can’t we afford to buy any new books?” , “You have nice hair” were peppering the chat. We wanted to do something.

A dirt-cheap publication was settled on. One that was just words. One that was cheaper than drinking. One with names that readers have never heard of.

We spent two weeks in attic rooms and basement flats, working 12-hour days; collecting pieces, debating designs, finding suppliers. There are a ridiculous number of options if you’re in the market for a medium-weight cream-coloured paper. And when your French is reminiscent of DelBoy conducting an Economics lecture, it’s reasonably difficult to find a fair price on large quantity printing. We stumbled across a name (after a particularly intoxicated night at a local park): the Belleville Park Pages.  It sounded nice. We went with it.

The Belleville Park Pages drop every two weeks. They cost 2 euros. They fit into your frayed back pocket. Each issue is hand-folded, hand-stamped and hand-packed by us and other artists in the community who want to read new shit. We wanted to make a publication that we would want to be published in and that we would buy with the little money that was left after renting and sinning.

“A dirt-cheap publication was settled on. One that was just words. One that was cheaper than drinking. One with names that readers have never heard of.”

On June 14th 2013, we released our first Page. We printed 250 copies. The authors were mainly people we knew living in Paris or back home. They all worked day jobs or were students and they all wrote stimulating words. Words that should be read and ruminated over and respected.

We began selling issues at Spoken Word Poetry nights and other literary events around the city. Sales went vite (Mange tout, DelBoy, Mange tout) and we sold most of our stock in the first two weeks, mainly through backpack hustling and online mail-orders.

At the close of our second week, a few people started to read us. The owners of the Abbey Bookshop and then Shakespeare and Company, both in Paris, agreed to stock the publication. We arts and crafted some display boxes and smashed out some distribution.  The sales at both provided a little bit of money to create the next issue, but most importantly gave us some credibility. The publication was being bought, and the writers were being read. A supportive post through Shakespeare’s social media followed the good news, which we celebrated by buying a previously prohibited ice cream. This resulted in both more sales and, more importantly, writing submissions from all over the world.

The media attention culminated in the Pages making the short swim across the big blue wobbly thing to England. Foyles in London took us on and we started to spread further, and faster. We were two kids publishing writing from an attic flat and stuff was happening. Stuff is happening.

By the end of August (Parisiens all migrate south during this month) we had some pretty cool figures. We’d printed 75 authors from 16 countries and 6 continents (penguins submit nothing) and the Pages are now being sold in 14 stores around the world. We’ve received over 500 submissions. We’re going broke, sleeping in the same sofa bed to share rent (cute/really gross) while sharing the apartment with a family of reasonably polite mice.  After agreeing to take no money out of the business until we can give something back to the authors, we are both feeling a bit peckish.

It’s 2:00am. Two days before we have to leave our flat. We receive a phone call telling us that the apartment we were expecting to semi-squat-in has just fallen through. Fucking shit merde. 12-hour workdays spent publishing turn to 12-hour work days spent trying to find a free bed.

So here we sit, 8 days later, smoking away our decreasing appetites. We’re earning our beds by working and living at the truly hospitable Shakespeare and Company. We will soon be leaving Paris for New York and London, not together, while trying to keep our child alive. Ideas are being debated.

In the short term, it’s more authors, more countries, more documenting what is being written now. We’re going to publish our first solo-author short-story as a cheeky present in Issue 10. Everyone likes presents. We’re going to do more video-poetry hybrids. A cookbook. An ice cream. We’re hungry.

In the long-run, we splash out ideas for turning this project into a real, unique publishing business. Current readers find 700 pages suffocating. 140 characters begin to choke most. Let’s integrate digital media with the printed word.  Let’s keep the printed word tangible. Let’s read other people like us from all over the world. Let’s change stuff.

But it’s late. There’s a cute German girl in bed with a French dog. We have work to do in the morning.  The gluttonous rats working the Seine squeak at skulking kids. How do we find a printer in London that we trust with babysitting? How do we stock the shops in Paris if we’re not here? What’s for breakfast? We decide to work it all out in the morning.

The Belleville Park Pages is a bi-monthly publication produced in Paris, printing the work of contemporary writers. Submit your poems, short stories and essays to [email protected] Copies can be bought online at www.bellevilleparkpages.com