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The history of Reality Street

Reality Street  Book of Sonnets

The Reality Street Book of Sonnets

Reality Street Press moved from London to Hastings in 2004. Previously known as Reality Street Editions, it was formed in 1993, as an amalgamation of two independent poetry presses: Ken Edwards’ Reality Studios, which had been operating in London since 1978 (starting with Reality Studios magazine, which ran between 1978-88), and Wendy Mulford’s Street Editions, founded in Cambridge in 1972.

The two presses recognised a common interest in publishing the poetry of what Ken has termed the “parallel tradition”: its various formations in the UK being the British Poetry Revival (Eric Mottram’s term), the Cambridge Diaspora, and what has sometimes been called “linguistically innovative” poetry – all overlapping categories. There was also a common interest in post-New American Poetry, Language Writing and related North American fields, as well as adventurous poetry in other English-speaking regions and from other languages and cultures.

In recent years, Reality Street has also been interested in experimental prose, both narrative and non-narrative.

Wendy decided to retire from small press publishing in 1998, since when Reality Street has been run by Ken Edwards – with help from Elaine Edwards.

Ken Edwards

Ken Edwards

Publisher Ken Edwards told HOT

Reality Street is committed to producing well designed and printed trade paperback editions at affordable prices. We’re only a small, part-time operation, publishing no more than five titles a year at present – but this means that we can lavish care on the production of each book.

Narrative and non-narrative

The press’s most recent development has been the Narrative series – which includes both narrative and non-narrative imaginative prose writing. Hot reporter Joe Fearn asked Ken Edwards how this differs from prose poetry or “poets’ prose”?

Well, there are some arbitrary distinctions to be made here, as so often in life; but, for example, David Miller’s Spiritual Letters (I-II) is in our poetry list, despite being prose, whereas the same author’s The Dorothy and Benno Stories is part of the Narrative Series.

The Narrative series grew out of the conviction that there is a body of experimental, extended prose writing which (in the UK at least) has few outlets because it doesn’t fit restricted marketing categories.

On the Reality Street website, Edwards expands his explanation of the concepts explored by featured writers:

Experimental writing that brings into question the whole basis of narrative is as old as prose fiction itself – think of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, for example, with its recursive and metafictional routines. Nobody needs reminding that Joyce and Gertrude Stein blew apart the conventions of narrative fiction almost a century ago. Beckett’s trilogy progressively deconstructed narration and fictionality and their absurdities, ending on the last page of The Unnamable with the celebrated paradox “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

The Surrealists were fascinated with the illogic/hyper-logic of dream narratives. One of their heroes, Raymond Roussel, pioneered the use of arbitrary constraints to generate fantastical content. His methods survive in the work of the Oulipo writers, such as Jacques Roubaud and Georges Perec.

Kafka, Bruno Schulz and Borges extended the subject matter fiction could address, dealing in the metaphysical dimensions beyond our domestic lives. Camus introduced existentialism. Robbe-Grillet and other nouveau roman authors applied a hyper-realistic treatment to domestic banalities which exposed their essential strangeness.

In the USA in the 1950s, William Burroughs exploited Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique to construct novels of extreme fantasy and satire that followed no known models. Less explosively but no less radically, the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, Gilbert Sorrentino, Fielding Dawson and others have formed a counterpoint to the normative work of such as Bellow, Updike or Joyce Carol Oates.

British official literary culture is predominantly conservative. But we can point to the cut-up narratives of poets Roy Fisher and Tom Raworth, the work of Stefan Themerson and Gaberbocchus Press, the 1960s novels of Ann Quin, B S Johnson and Alan Burns (whose Babel is entirely collage), the experimental fiction of Christine Brooke-Rose, the fantasy fiction of Angela Carter and the 1980s works of Rosalind Belben. The speculative fiction writers of the New Worlds group brought SF imagery into their work, and for a period J G Ballard also experimented with radical form (eg The Atrocity Exhibition).

Closer to the present day, the Language poets in the USA in the 1970s explicitly questioned narration, fictionality and characterisation, and the extended prose works of writers such as Lyn Hejinian or Ron Silliman were sometimes labelled “non-narrative”. In contrast and reaction to these, writers associated with the “New Narrative” movement, such as Robert Glück, Bruce Boone, Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian, have experimented with narrative techniques and explicit sexual content. Others such as Ron Sukenick and Fanny Howe have widened the boundaries of fiction in their own individual ways. And back in the UK, Iain Sinclair moved from innovative poetry to fiction and imaginative non-fiction.

The Reality Street Narrative series, Edwards told HOT

is proud to follow these traditions, and to play its small part in extending them.

Tapestry, Philip Terry

Tapestry, Philip Terry

An example of this extension of the above traditions can be found in Reality Street’s latest publication, a book by Philip Terry, called TAPESTRY (2013). This book has Hastings connections as it’s based on images from the Bayeux Tapestry and reinvents the Norman
InvasioArchern. Taking as its starting point marginal images in the Bayeux Tapestry, which have been left largely unexplained by historians, Terry retells the story of the Norman Conquest from the point of view of the tapestry’s English female embroiderers. Combining magic realism and Oulipian techniques, (resulting in a constructed Medieval language) this is a tour de force of narrative and language.

WARNING: Should hot readers want to attend the poetry reading advertised on the Reality Street website:

Dwelling, Richard Makin

Dwelling, Richard Makin

30 March 2013 – Reality Street writer Richard Makin reads with Iain Sinclair at the Genius Loci bookshop,40 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea TN38 0EJ, 7.30pm

Please note that Richard Makin told HOT yesterday,  it has been postponed.

Posted 11:45 Friday, Mar 15, 2013 In: Literature

Also in: Literature

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