Rachel Simkover chats to John Holton of Berlin’s Broken Dimanche Press…
John Holton, a writer from Ireland, and Line Madsen Simenstad, a journalist from Norway, started Broken Dimanche Press when they moved to Berlin in 2008. It all began with the book project, You Are Here, to try and familiarize themselves with the city and it’s young writers…
Why don’t you talk a bit first about some past projects?
After You Are Here we found a lot of people, we were still small then, we didn’t exist so to speak, and I launched a project with the poet Ann Cotten who is very well known and has published with Suhrkamp. I thought about it being a translation from German, like a “best of” but then we teamed her up with the visual artist Kerstin Cmelka, and they collaborated.
We went to Ireland on a residency where they re-enacted a Mayakovsky movie, and Ann had dialogue with Mayakovsky’s poetry. That was an experiment to make a book from the ground up collectively because we didn’t have a standard at that stage. Then we got funding for my first novel, The Readymades, because I finally finished that and that became another collaborative project. I worked with Darko Dragičević, a Serbian, and we did exhibitions in a few different cities.
How do you make your selections?
It has been very haphazard and nice. We are interested in the idea of the avant-garde because it’s so antiquated at this stage but in an ironic way needed more than ever because the commercial side of the industry is getting really caught up with book prizes and airport bookshops, and the exciting stuff is online or in small communities. We are interested in things that are pushing at something. It comes through personal contact and the reality of how we can get money for it or how it will sell. We are interested in translation, a European selection.
Why specifically a “European” selection?
What I mean by “European” is a metaphor for a thing that doesn’t exist first of all, somehow the legacy of modernisms, the legacy of trans-European movements that became global, but basically books that work across boundaries that are in Europe (linguistic and national).
If you look at our books they all deal with the issue of translation. People are willing to digest what we publish, but not publish similar works themselves. It is a front to the EU who is trying to unite people in some way; it is a front to Europe’s legacies of ideology or colonialism, internationalism. It is a nondescript utopian fantasy.
What are your thoughts on Berlin’s literary environment?
I think it’s good. I think what is exciting is that there are so many people from different countries and that they are working here and send their work back home to get published. So that’s interesting. I think the German literary scene is fantastic. I have worked with Ann Cotten and other poets in the scene, and it is really strong and different than the Anglo-Saxon world. Obviously it comes from a different tradition. I think the fact that Suhrkamp moved here just about two years ago is interesting.
Berlin is becoming the center of Germany’s literary scene and increasingly Europe’s center because it’s such a crossroads of visual art. With the press and the people I’ve met we get to do things like the reading series at St.George’s, which is very considered because people are curated on Skype from abroad, so not just choosing from the people who just happen to be in Berlin. That’s the feeling I get coming from Dublin and then Oslo, it’s like making do with what’s at hand. If you are avant-garde or experimental it is a really small circle anyway and you take what you get, so you need all the friends you can get. I’ve worked with some really great writers in Berlin.
How did you choose the name Broken Dimanche?
We knew that we would be working in this area of artist publications because it is so open and so international as well, and I was always inspired by people like Sternberg Press or Metronome Press, so we knew that we wanted to be international and we knew that we would work with artists, and the everyday was a big interest to us.
One of the art publications that I always loved was Yves Klein’s newspaper, Dimanche, which he published just for one day and distributed on newsstands just like a normal newspaper would. We just happened to be living on Sontagstrasse in Friedrichshain so that was nice. It is also nice to have two different languages because we were always supposed to be European, so to confuse the Anglo French a bit and the Germans as well. The meaning is very layered.
What other presses inspire you?
I like his business model because it involves smut and erotica. Then later on, more recently based on them is Metronome press, which interestingly was set up by two visual artist curators. They put out four books by artists who wrote books, a beautiful series, beautifully designed. And then like I said, Sternberg press, who are also based in Berlin, are a big inspiration for their working methods because they publish anything from an artist’s book to a novel to beautiful catalogues; it’s a really interesting model.
Another big inspiration would be individual art projects and how artists work; you get funding or you get cooperation with the space and then set the terms of the project, the timeline, organize a public event, a launch, with a visual aspect so people can engage with the book so it is not just a book on a bookshelf. Going back to Klein, the newspaper is an inspiration, we have been trying to do this Kakophonie, a wide scale dissemination, and we print thousands of postcards with two poems on them, and we try to spread that casually in different cities of Europe.
What’s in the future?
Well this year started out so busy, we made a handmade catalogue for a small exhibition so I would like to continue that more. Hopefully we will have a series of handmade artist catalogues. Now we are celebrating the Pharmacy of Words, which has been another big project that Ida, Ida joined us last year, organized, so we are having basically a visual art exhibition here. We have a Spanish/English sister book publication called Mountainislandglacier, and that’s a beautiful anthology, and it is very much a continuation of You Are Here.
We will be launching a very special book by Brian Larosche from Oslo, Mallarme’s poem in 3-D. Then we have some ideas for the Kakofonie; we’ve been launching a special edition with a collage by Derek Beaulieu, the Canadian concrete poet and Ubuweb editor, with a special Broken Dimanche beer. It is a really busy year! And then we have another collection of short fiction coming out in June that’s really experimental, really tight, and really considered by Shane Anderson. That will be the only book we do this year in our main series.
Sadly our most ambitious plans for this year are boring and administrative, to try and become financially viable. I’ve realised that we have a lot of really beautiful books and a lot of people know us, but we need to transform that to more money for more projects.