Belleville Park Pages
We met the guys who publish affordable poetry.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Jørn Tomter
Who are you and where are you from?
We are James Bird and Will Cox. Will is originally from Portland, Oregon USA but has lived between Paris and London for the last two years. James is from Wolverhampton, UK and moved to London in 2009 for university.
How long have you lived in Hackney?
James: I’ve lived around East London for the last 6 years, except for a 6 month stint in Paris where I stumbled across Will. I moved to Homerton in the Autumn - the house I share backs onto Chatsworth Road. There’s a fox that spends a lot of time in our garden who has Chatsworth Road blood in him.
Will: I moved back to London from Paris in February and lived in James’ basement for a couple of months before getting a box room on Homerton Terrace.
What is Belleville Park Pages?
The Belleville Park Pages is a publication printing contemporary writers from around the world. It is a piece of paper that we print words onto every two weeks. After the paper is printed, we fold and press it so that new literature can fit in your back pocket, and then send it out to people’s doormats. In the past two years we’ve published 289 writers from 30 different countries. You can pick one up for £2 and read it on your way home. We want to blur the hierarchical line between publisher, writer and reader. We want to merge print and digital publishing - the Page is similar to the size of a smartphone, it comes out frequently and is relevant to people reading and writing in the now. Tangible, fresh and accessible.
How and when did it all begin?
We met at a poetry reading in a bar in Paris in May 2013, where we were both living at the time. Will was low on cash and had bought cheap beers at a grocery store to cut costs. The beers were in his backpack and he was sitting next to James who didn’t have a beer. Will introduced himself and asked James if he wanted one of the backpack beers. After the reading James asked Will if he wanted a beer in return. We started talking about literature and writing and things we felt were difficult for young writers. Most young writers, including ourselves, found it difficult to buy journals and magazines because of price. The price of a pint is a universal currency, and buying things above that threshold always requires second thought. We wanted to print emerging writers in a format that would cost less than a pint. We had our first meeting the morning after, and 10 days later we released Page 1.
Have you always been into poetry?
James: I had a dope English teacher at school who nurtured what was already a big interest of mine. I then studied English Literature at Uni and probably started to read and write poetry more frequently there. Its (generally) shorter form and (generally) more creative/innovative use of words appealed/appeals to me.
Will: In American public schools, there is a very low focus on poetry. I studied Business Management at Uni, and started to read during that time instead of studying for Management Strategy tests.
Do you write?
We both write and have had some things published, but our main focus at the moment is the Pages and printing other writers’ work.
What have you learned so far?
We learn new things every day that we work on the Pages.
People still like to share things in person just like online. We wanted to create a product that you’d be willing to pass along to your friend once you were done. By making something that is low-price and high-quality, we think it makes print literature ‘sharable’. We call this idea Tangible Hyperlinks.
We often discuss how attention spans are getting shorter. We are living in an accelerated present punctuated with flashes and bangs of information. The world of publishing needs to match how people are living. We’ve become used to the freshest information - Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr all update every millisecond, but a book can take a year to be released and a literary magazine can take six months to come out. Which isn’t a criticism, because things of beauty, which so many literary magazines and books are, take time to create. But, we’re trying match the speed of digital printing with the Pages. One of our Pages, read cover to cover, will take you about 15 minutes. We work with something we’ve called a ‘Spines Cracked Ratio.’ We want all of our readers to read cover to cover, to crack the spine, of the Pages. The point of this project is to get writers read and so we hope to provide something that is quick and fits within the modern attention span.
What is the biggest challenge starting a business like Belleville Park Pages?
Feeding ourselves. As the project has grown, we’ve still had to hold down restaurant jobs to eat and pay rent. It’s a balancing act to find a time for both.
Where do you see Belleville Park Pages in the future?
In the short-term, we want to publish our first book. This will be a long form collection featuring writers who have been involved with the Pages. We’d like it to contain nice portraits of the writers in their ‘natural habitat’, pieces of their work and interviews/recipes/information about anything that they do in their spare time.
We also, tentatively, would like it to become a once-weekly publication. Equivalent to a Sunday paper. A round up of the world’s creative writing that week.
We would like to get involved in education, specifically how to make literature (and other subjects) more relevant and exciting to young people.
What or who inspires you?
Will: In literature, I’m currently inspired by Ben Lerner. Outside of literature, I’m currently inspired by Kendrick Lamar.
James: People who do things.
Where can people buy your products?
The Pages are sold in independent bookshops across the world, including the Pages of Hackney store on Lower Clapton Road. Shakespeare and Company in Paris were the first to take us, and since then the Pages can be found in places like Foyles (London), City Lights (San Francisco) and Mellow Pages (New York).
We’re also stocked in a couple of cafes, like Little Orchard in Clerkenwell, which is something we’d like to expand on. The size of the publication and price really complements the purchase of a coffee.
Where is your office?
When we were living in Paris, we worked out of our box-like boiling-hot attic flats. In London, we’ve been working in the living room at James’ house which he shares with 7 other people. It’s a bit of a circus, but lots of fun. At the end of March we took up a desk space at Hatch, next to Homerton Station. It’s a really great cafe/bar/barbers/shop/event space that we sit in and do work. A bit like an office.
What is your favourite food on Chatsworth Road and why?
Our favorite lunch is the £7.50 Jerk Chicken, Rice and Peas, Sauteed Veg and Grilled Plantain from People’s Choice Chicken. It’s delicious and the guys in there are amazing. A coffee and a sarnie from 46b Espresso Hut is always great too.