In Conversation with Jack Little (The Ofi Press)

Dylan Brennan recently met up with Jack Little of The Ofi Press in Café La Habana*, Mexico City and this is what he had to say…


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…on coming to Mexico…

Well, I graduated in 2009, in politics and I went back to live with my mum and dad like a lot of people do. I was looking for an opportunity to see the world and, at least, to have a job because I found it very hard to find employment at that time. In November some friends from Mexico invited me to come over. Straight after university I arrived aged 22 and I’ve been here for six years ever since. It wasn’t really with the idea of anything specific for work or poetry, it was to look for new opportunities and to have a new adventure. As well as my work in poetry, I have ended up working as a textbook editor, a primary school teacher, academic translator and cricket coach and player with the national cricket association.


…on The Ofi Press…

Well, it’s an online magazine mostly focusing on poetry and poetry reviews but we also publish stories and interviews with cultural figures from Mexico and around the world. The first issue went online in January 2010. The initial idea came from a creative writing course that I did at the UNAM in English where we had to put a blog together as one of the assignments. I really enjoyed doing that but I thought I would really like put out a literary magazine together in my own style, in the way I wanted to present it, to make something that’s my own project. So that idea of starting a website to present international writing became something that I dedicated myself to and it’s been going for about four years now with new editions coming out every two months.

When I first arrived in Mexico I felt quite isolated as I was really just finding my feet and didn’t have a steady job. Sitting down in front of the computer, contacting poets, carrying out interviews with writers from all over the world, at a personal level, was a great way to connect with the world and lay down some roots. In the beginning I really wanted to do something a lot like what they’re doing at Mexico City Lit, focusing on young Mexican authors but at the time I didn’t speak Spanish and found it very difficult to contact Spanish speaking poets. So, what’s happened is that The Ofi Press has turned into very much an international magazine. I like to think of it as being very eclectic, having very young authors and established authors from all over the world. We’ve got a translator, Don Cellini, who’s an American translator who has translated a lot of Mexican and Latin American poets and he always translates at least one poet for each edition. In recent editions we’ve got Hanzel Lacayo, who’s from Nicaragua. We also have Agnes Marton, a fabulous Hungarian poet who is in charge of our reviews section. I would find it hard to define what The Ofi Press is but overall I would say that it’s an open-minded, electic and undoubtedly warm initiative based on the ideas of collaboration and connection.

Over the past few years I’ve published a lot of British and Irish writers but also West African writers and some young Mexicans. I met Dzekashu MacViban from Cameroon online who runs Bakwa magazine. This led to The Ofi Press publishing a special bilingual edition of West African poets translated into Spanish and he published an edition with young Mexican writers translated into English and French. From this came many many submissions from Africa for our subsequent submissions now almost every edition has 2 or 3 writers from that region. This really gives me a lot of pleasure!


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…on the many Irish poets published in The Ofi Press…

About two years ago I was invited to read at a poetry festival in Linares organised by Irish-Candian poet Colin Carberry and I met Jack Harte there and Kieran Furey whose books are absolutely amazing. Kieran’s writing just absolutely blew me away and since then I’ve had some work published in Irish magazines including in The Moth and The Barehands Poetry Anthology. Jack and I have stayed in contact and he’s always promoting The Ofi Press and I do my best to promote his work with what I can over here. It just seems that, since then, a lot of Irish poets have become interested and a lot of great work arrives in my inbox from over there. Also, the editors at The Poetry Bus have been very helpful in spreading the word about our site!


…on the origin of the name Ofi…

I couldn’t tell you, it’s a secret. It’s not really a secret. I looked for 3 letter acronyms online and Ofi sounded great. Actually I’m getting a lot of submissions from the island of Crete because there’s a football team called OFI over there! I don’t know if it comes up in a search engine when folks are searching for that football team but I’m getting a lot of submissions from Greece at the moment which is a suprising link, but fantastic.


…on the future of The Ofi Press…

I’ve thought about that in the past you know, the website that I use I pay 75 dollars a year for it but then if I stop paying I don’t know where all that poetry would go. Maybe it would just disappear into the ether. So now I’m thinking about how to archive it somewhere or printing it or at least saving it onto my computer so it’s not just on the website. It is a worry! When I first started I thought I’d love to make it a printed magazine but the money is always a massive issue. The only cost I have now is the cost of the website, but in the future I’d like to produce a printed anthology of the magaazine. I have some funding from some wealthy benefactors in Greece actually. A young guy sent me some poems of his that I replied to saying that I couldn’t use them but I gave him some ideas of how maybe he could think about tidying them up and that led to a friendship between me, him and his mum via email and me sharing ideas for writing with him and then they sent me some money. They sent me 1000 euros which I’ve got in my account now just waiting to be spent on a book I’d like to publish on the theme of connection. One of the main aims for starting the magazine was to have an excuse to pester people on the other side of the world. Without a magazine or something behind you, you’re just another annoying fan, but I can offer writers something now, I can offer them an interview or a review or publication of a poem. So this theme of connections is really important and it’s something I try to build in every edition. Linked to that as well, my mum’s a poet in England, Pippa Little she’s called. Growing up I never really enjoyed poetry and I was always playing football and hated being dragged along to poetry readings where she would read and so, coming over to Mexico, one of the reasons for starting it was in order to have this connection with my mum. I find out what books she’s reading, what poet’s she’s into and that’s not the primary objective any more but it’s a fun part of it, to call my mum on Skype and find out the poetry gossip, who’s saying what about who on Facebook etc.


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…on staying in Mexico…

My wife an I are planning on moving to Italy in a year’s time. The main reason is to be closer to my parents. I’ll keep the brand name, The Ofi Press but maybe move slightly away from Latin American poets a bit and focus on southern European poets. I am keen to learn Italian so expect more Italian poetry in translation over the next few years!


…on future projects…

I’ve got my first book of 20 poems which is going to come out through Eyewear Publishing in Autumn this year. I’ve also got a manuscript almost ready about the history of Mexican bullfighting, about 30 poems, 10 of which have been published, poems about bullfighting in Mexico. I’ve also got another manuscript which I’m working on, of visual poetry entitled México which has been described as “just a bunch of posters” by my friends. Yesterday I made one of these poems of Hernán Cortés riding a hovercraft and I’m super happy about it. Many of my mates don’t understand it but I’m happy with it and I think other people will find it fun. It’s exploring how surreal Mexico is, exploring political aspects, the violence. I think it’s gonna be a fun book which i hope will find a publisher soon.

I’d also like to do, in the future, an edition focusing on the work on transgender writers. I’ve published a few transgender poets in the past and hope very much to do a full edition of poetry, art work and interviews later this year.


…on the literary scene in Mexico City…

I don’t go to half the amount of readings that I want to or should as I live quite far out in Tlalpan. But when I can I try to go to readings especially when they involve poets visiting from outside of Mexico. I think part of that comes from my own insecurities, well, I think my Spanish is good, but I’ve tended not to go to many Spanish speaking readings, especially not for me to read because I feel very self conscious. The Ofi Press runs a monthly reading event at the American Legion, it’s run by me and Luis Cotto, a Puerto Rican poet and photographer and it’s always good fun. We have between 5 people, sometimes up to 30 or 40, young people, old people, foreigners and Mexicans. It’s always good fun, it’s always weird.

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…on contemporary Mexican literature…

Rocío Ceron, who is a poet working with spoken word and video and sound who was in London in April for the launch of the Enemigos/Enemies book which is put together by Rocío and SJ Fowler with an introduction from myself with collaborative work between poets from London and poets from Mexico City. Also Pedro Serrano is another poet that I like, who published Peatlands in English in the UK recently, a fantastic collection. Some of the young writers like Georgina Mexía-Amador has been translated into English as well as many other young Mexican writers who can be found in the Ofi archives. I would also recommend the bilingual anthology Centrifugal which brings together contemporary poets from Guadalajara and Dublin in a cross-cities collaborative project. I had a hand in some of the translations for that one.


* Photos of Café La Habana (immortalised by Bolaño as Café Quito in The Savage Detectives and frequented by Gabriel García Márquez, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara to name but a few) courtesy of Aptalops

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