Three years ago, in October 2020, with a half-formed idea, a few lofty ideals, and some friends who liked to write, I built the bones of a website and launched Bel Esprit. There were no goals, there was no money, there was no experience or expectation, but what stood firm was the principle of the matter: Art was being made and it needed a place to go. “Art” was anything and everything being created: essays, poems, fiction, doodles, painting, music, photographs, ceramics, etc., and “the place” became the Bel Esprit literary newspaper.
As the months chugged along and the paper grew a small following, submissions were flowing in and potential was steadily exposing itself, I began reexamining some of those lofty ideals that hung taught through the center of it all. I changed my focus from “the art” and “the place” which were now consistent reliables, to what does Bel Esprit stand for and what exactly do we want to add to the noise?
Art is subjective. We all know this because it is parroted around as a regurgitated platitude in our culture, a culture that repeatedly objectifies art and constantly narrows the creative content placed in front of us. “The opposite of war is not peace, but creation.” We have all heard this, because we have all seen Rent, but what we have not done yet - as a society or as individuals - is actually give this idea the chance to prove itself right or wrong. Another commonly held belief: “Pay living artists while they are still living.” We all know this is something we should do, just like we all know buying electric cars and composting are things we should do, but paintings can be expensive and we all have limited wall space. And so life takes hold.
In the early twentieth century, before his misguided fascist ideas placed him stickily on the wrong side of history, Ezra Pound was bouncing around between Paris and New York, creating or infiltrating art communities and salons, inviting anyone who would stand still long enough to embark with him on his new scheme, Bel Esprit. And to Pound, living Bel Esprit was to work tirelessly to help writers of all kinds publish their work, because he believed that art “sets the mold” for humanity, and that “‘the perfect rhythm joined to the perfect word’ would energize the motor forces of emotion and will and illuminate the intelligence, and that the result would be more enlightened living.” And so Bel Esprit became the vehicle.
One hundred years after Ezra Pound, and three years after the birth of the paper, we reimagine Bel Esprit, drawing upon concepts from the past that we admire, and imagining new potential for what this project can be.
We don’t pretend that a single poem we publish or a photographer we showcase will “illuminate the intelligence” and result in a “more enlightened living.” In fact, we know this to be true. We know that any new sentence never before formulated only progresses this world forward, because the human experience is no more than a web of ideas colliding into our paths. We also know that a single editor, no matter how educated or qualified or able to hide behind a reputable brand, is just as human and subject to bias as the rest of us. From the very beginning, Bel Esprit has yet to turn away a submission (save anything with hate or discriminatory content). This practice must remain, because we look at art as a funnel, forever opening upward: the more that is produced, the broader our horizon…our collective horizon.
And thus, the production of art and literature begins as an investment from us all. One from the artist who gives much: materials, time, attention, thought. And one from the consumer: money, time, attention, thought. And the output returns to both. To the artist comes the means to continue their work, which appears both in the financial form (theoretically), and in the reinvigoration to continue, whether that be from public response or kickback, or the inescapable urge to create again. And to the consumer comes growth of self, broadening of mind. In this exchange, both artist and consumer have contributed equally, yes equally, to the universal expansion of thought and widening potential of the world.
And so at Bel Esprit we commit ourselves to these lofty, yet exciting, ideals that creation can bring about a more enlightened world. We invest in new ideas, new minds, and new styles. We publish writers who would have never otherwise shared their work. We put no stipulations on the pieces we publish because all ideas, whether we agree or not, are important to consider, for a voice silenced is a spiteful and powerful voice. We fuel excitement for experimentation, support individuality of thought, foster community, encourage debate and disagreement for that is how true growth is gained, and deliver a paper full of voices and ideas that you might never have encountered.
We’ve created less of a project and more of a revolution of our own. A Bel Esprit revolution that lets the masses squabble pettily between themselves in the background, while we stay committed to growth of mind and expansion of ideas. And as Bel Esprit celebrates its third year of existence, we don’t waver, we don’t pivot, we don’t mimic, we don’t narrow, we don’t sell out; we double down on our roots, and watch it grow.
And for that, we need artists, we need patrons, we need readers and consumers.
We need everybody.
By Emily Menges, Editor in Chief