Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Polarity Magazine #1 ‘Death vs. Taxes’

In Magazine on June 29, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Polarity is a rare audacity in the midst of budget cuts: a beautifully produced glossy-papered magazine. At a time when magazines tend to keep themselves to the less pricey realm of internet, this is a bold move funded by editor George Ttouli and his parents. The magazine aims to fill a gap in the market by promoting new surrealist works in themed issues organized around two falsely polarized concepts, hence the name.

This first issue, ‘Death vs Taxes’ comes with a bonus supplement ‘A System of Taxation Upon the Internal Mind’ – a playful booklet giving tax codes for different types of thoughts and leaving the ‘punishment’ box blank for your own suggestions. These thoughts include Batailling: Thinking of the physiognomy of officials (prelates, magistrates, admirals); Squelching: Thinking about eating fruit; and  Bunnyboiling: Thinking about whether the bath water will be too  hot for your partner. It is beautifully illustrated by the multi-talented Peter Blegvad.

At nearly one hundred pages including prose, poetry, art and interviews, Polarity Magazine is a substantial work, so I will content myself with pointing out what were, to me, its highlights, and leave you to discover the rest by purchasing a copy here.

In the poet’s camp, I was particularly taken with Kirsten Irving’s ‘Death 500’ that ran in parallel the killing of human targets and steampunk self-dismemberment. Irving’s precise, skeletal descriptions and her deliberately detached tone only make the subject matter more grisly:

‘Objectives merge after a while.

It’s just a DNA signature

And a satnav dot each time,

A clean strike

And automode for the cleanup’

Martin Green is a hoarder poet, a non-amphibious little mermaid who takes junk and makes it unusual. When Green read at the launch of the magazine (reviewed here) he showed us the cut credit cards he collects. In this issue he provides both poetry and the  artwork to accompany it: reconstructed baseball caps that mimic faces. Particularly striking is the image on p. 46 of the skeleton of a cap, with the stitching preserved but the rest of the fabric hollowed out.

One of his poems, called ‘Found’, which he read at the launch, is a list of these objects. There is something solitary and melancholic about these half broken finds that half-attempt to go beyond their original form. The poem ends with a reference to the accompanying cap:

‘Baseball cap folded in on its self,

Sleeping like a grey cygnet’

Neither quite prose or poem, Siavash Pournouri’s deadpan contributions were also delightful, in particular his study of the etymology and definition of death. I particularly liked his word-play surrounding the appropriate use of punctuation. Where do you stand on the issue? Should death be followed by a period or a double comma?

Over to the flash fiction camp, there is the Shawn of the Dead-esque ‘On Corpses’ by Mike Bradley. Just long enough to beffudle and intrigue, it is a humorous and bizarre concoction that allies the lingering of ghosts with haunting insomnia.

Polarity also features an illustrated dossier on John Yeadon including an interview with Neeral Bhatt, his further thoughts and suggested further reading. I wasn’t previously familiar with Yeadon and his food-inspired art work so this was an intriguing introduction. Yeadon covers diverse subject matter including truth, a nation’s sense of identity through food, globalization, and his work process. He scored brownie points from me for mentioning Bakhtin’s notion of Carnival (a non-hierarchical second-world).

This is of course just the tip of the junkyard heap, and I mean that as a compliment. Art Editor Neeral Bhatt has selected some beautifully creepy art such as Hazel Atashroo’s cocoon-like ‘Man Assimilated’, or her childishly painful ‘Heroine (Pulls Herself Together)’. The staircases of Freud’s Vienna and London homes have been captured by Sharon Kivland. There is also a thought-provoking report on the Byam Shaw occupation. Amongst the writers, Polarity has attracted some big or up-and-coming names including Carol Watts, Frank Key, Peter Davidson and Simon Barraclough, but also some more obscure scribblers (for now).

Whether this is the start of a renewed interest in the surreal remains to be seen, but for now Polarity is a magazine that rewards those that explore it.


Issue #24 La Petite Zine

In online magazine on June 25, 2010 at 10:49 am

I have just encountered issue #24 of La Petite Zine, an online literary magazine that has been running for over a decade. This longitude is quickly apparent when you enter the unusually user-friendly website. I mean by this that, as a reader, you have the opportunity to pick an individual author from the table of content at whim and then peruse through the magazine by clicking ‘next’ if you so desire. This seems terribly obvious and un-extraordinary but having waded through other online magazines that dump an issue unto a single, very long page, with no summary of content, this ease is really refreshing.

The content is eclectic in style and subject matter, with petite prose and poetry rustling together. It could be summarized on the whole as being playful. In terms of subject, David Schumate’s funambules towards poetry with his sketches on Mariachis or race-coding at school, Jennifer Gravley explores the notion of living in a vegetable whilst Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s ‘Close out Sale’ links her unsatisfying wardrobe to the crisis of growing up:

‘These are the days your shoes dissolve in the rain,
the days your boss asks if that’s a hole in your pants
and you don’t even have to look down to confirm.
These are the days you pin a poem to the page
just to see it stare back at you, gasping for air.’

Stylistically, Doug Draime’s ‘I Saw You’ is the only image poem, a neat musing  on perception and missed opportunities. The experimenting in this issue is overall more sound-related. Sheera Talpaz carves echo chambers with homophones or manipulates stutters:

‘If you don’t know what to do, hand a scalpel
to a child. Slur to your why-wife.’

A similar approach to sound is taken by Denise Duhamel in ‘Third Wave Haiku’ :

‘I lingered in my lingerie
Recycled negligee
Awaiting laughter/slaughter’

Playfulness too in this issue comes from trying to make the familiar strange: David Trinidad for instance summarizes an imaginary first season of the Patty Duke show, exposing the plots that have become so habitual in sitcoms. Megin Jimenez takes other familiar territory in ‘Copy Writer’ and contorts it:

‘I meant to follow-up on the proposal to follow through on following one’s heart, but had to wrap up the project under wraps, an untitled document. ‘

Jason Koo’s ‘Sent Dad a Golf Trunk Organizer’ takes another monotonous activity, to-do lists, and manages to raise its level:

‘ I am listing things in the past now, though this list is broken
all over my notebook—Get a list trunk organizer—
so leafing through it is like finding little pieces of myself

crumbled off from where a tire had smashed through
and left me printed zigzagged cracking on the ground.
I don’t know where I am. And in the eyes of my friends,
a flicker of difference, as if they long for the days

when they didn’t have to talk to such well-pressed debris’

Issue #24 of La Petite Zine is a bijou of an online magazine, easy to read in content as well as form. It’s neither pretentious nor dense, it won’t have you reaching for a dictionary, but it would be demeaning to call it simply popular or visceral, it is not quite one or the other: it is an entertainer brandishing a letter-opener.

Coup de cœur of the week : a sample of Beth Gylys villanelles

In online magazine on June 24, 2010 at 11:23 pm

This is my coup de cœur of the evening, stumbled upon by chance in a case of poet/magazine/press internet hopping and I would like to share it with you.

It seems somewhat unnecessary to introduce Beth Gylis: she has two award-winning poetry collections under her belt and has been published in numerous prestigious journals including the Paris Review, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, Antioch Review, and Columbia Review.

It is indeed superfluous to stress that Beth Gylys is an ‘established’ poet, yet at the same time it makes the collection of villanelles published at the Boston Review all the more refreshing. On paper this combination: villanelles + ‘established’ poet might be assumed to equal a snooze fest on the merits of newts in the springtime but actually, the result are, well, young. She compensates for the occasionally forced rhymes imposed by the form with some twirls of relaxed American idiom. Those of you that hold the word accessible at bay with a pinched expression on your face would do well to look away now.

From bothersome preachers on public transport to basic sexual needs, the villanelles are by turn humorous and moving. ‘Preference’, to take one example, takes the decidedly unfashionable idea that S&M is not for everyone by contrasting it to the ‘gentle, easy way you move’. The result could be preachy but, well, we soon know how she feels about preachers after reading ‘My Savior in the Form of a Bus’. Sanctimonious she is not.

Yes, sometimes the villanelles feel like a skinny man inside a fat suit. ‘The Spectator’ flounders a little aimlessly once the basic premise has been established. It is saved, however, by the idea of empathy, brought out of the hat in a final flourish.

The most surprising villanelle of this sampler is perhaps Gylys’ parody of Dylan Thomas ‘Do Not Dive Head-First’. Just when you think you’ve pegged Gylys as a harmlessly entertaining poet, she kicks you in the shin and steals your wallet:

‘Though mud is fine between the toes, the blood
Is best inside the body. I beg you keep
Your head. Don’t dive into that puddle of mud.’

Katie Makkai – Pretty

In Performance Poetry on June 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

The awesome Tori Truslow, who has a walking in Bangkok blog shared this link with me on facebook. I feel as if performance poetry has been lacking from this blog so I thought I’d share it.

If you haven’t seen it already, it is a performance by slam poet Katie Makkai on the tyranny of the word ‘pretty’ and the scars she bears as a result: ‘I have not seen my own face in ten years’.

The text is by no means perfect but it is a very moving testimonial with a kick-ass ending. It helps too that Makkai is one hell of a performer.

Feeling competitive?

In Opportunities on June 18, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I have ordered all sorts of delicious pamphlets and poetry collections that I’ll get my hands on next week including the last two Anon, some Oystercatcher press and some Pighog press. In the meantime, for the more competitive-minded among you, here is a quick list of competitions with relatively urgent deadlines:

1) A John Lennon Poetry competition with Carol Ann Duffy as head judge. This competition requires a poem inspired by Lennon’s life and is split into three categories: Performance poetry (to be composed and performed in Liverpool by its writer), Paper poetry (to be submitted by email). There is also a school poetry competition.  The details are above, with the deadlines in September.

2) Poetry Competition in association with the Sentinel Literature Festival. The deadline is 20 August 2010 and, sadly, submissions are by post only. There are quite substantial monetary rewards and also the opportunity to read at the Festival at stake. First Prize: £250.00; Second Prize: £130.00; Third Prize: £70.00

3) I have a tendency to be poetry-centric, so to diffuse this, Look! Earlyworks Press is running a flash fiction competition, the closing date is soon: 30 June 2010 so get going! Entries must be under 100 words including titles.

4) The Keats-Shelley award also has a deadline on 30 June. You can enter either with an essay on Keats, Shelley and their circle, or by submitting a poem. Full details on the website.

5) As we’re on June 30th deadlines, the ridiculously adorable Leaf Press are running a ‘Write about Writing’ competition and are looking for submissions tackling one of these themes: where you write; fitting writing into a busy schedule; writing resources; editing; publishing successes and failures.

If all else fails, try submitting to The Rejected Quarterly, or buying it. It’s not a competition but it sure as hell is original:

Knowing how good traditional literary magazines are at their job, TRQ allows them to do the first level of weeding for us. Whatever they want, we don’t want. That’s why we require our writers to submit at least five rejection slips from other publications along with each manuscript. No other literary journal maintains such strict standards.’

John Lennon Poetry Competition

Tidbits of News

In Opportunities on June 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Apologies for the lack of a proper crit of anything for the last few days. I’ve been ill and I’m still recovering. I rather feel as if I have hooves instead of fingers when typing. Expect service to resume once fingers become human again.

In the meantime, here are some things to keep you busy:

1) Kill Author, an online magazine I personally didn’t know about but am discovering with glee, has a new issue out. I was made aware of it thanks to Fawn Neun (of Battered Suitcase fame). Below is their inspiring manifesto:

What we’re looking for: a manifesto

Writing that burns with a desire to step out of the everyday and into its mirror image, and from there allows the reader to see something different and go someplace else.

Writing that knows how to leave the reader shocked and reeling, not necessarily just via the events the author is describing—anyone can take the easy way out and labor over gruesome violence or explicit sex—but through the extraordinary power of their well chosen words.

There are too many writers aping the style of other writers, especially online. And far too many authors still want to be Charles Bukowski. We love Bukowski, but his work’s been done. He did it and it probably can’t be bettered, so why try to repeat it? We want writing where the author dares to explore the outer reaches of their own voice, and then has an urge to see where it takes them.

We’re excited by writing that experiments with form and language. That doesn’t mean we’re looking for all-out surrealism, though; we still value work that knows how to tell a story and can take the reader from A to C via B. But it should make that journey in extraordinary ways.”

I always like to check out the ‘About’ sections on website, sometimes they’re barely a line long, sometimes they make you excited. This About falls in the latter category. It makes you want to submit, it wants to make you be worthy of their manifesto, and even better, it makes you want to read what they’ve put together. Not bad.

2) I doubt it’s a thought that’s been keeping you up at night, but if you want to know the influence of servants on Emily Dickinson’s poetry, check out this interview.

3) And for something completely different, I urge you to read Betty’s blog ‘The 52 Seductions’ on a married couple’s attempts to rekindle passion by seducing each other once a week. It’s not as smutty as it sounds. Betty is an intelligent and funny woman who knows how to write irresistible entries. What I particularly appreciate is that she doesn’t shy away from the more icky and embarrassing aspects of sex and, without wanting to sound like an X-factor contestant, it’s quite a journey.

Various Pieces of News #June

In All of the Above on June 5, 2010 at 7:43 am

1) The Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition for 2010 is now open. The website also features a very useful workshop by Jane Holland on learning to remove from pedestals first drafts – I think we can all learn from that!

2) TODAY! Little Episodes is hosting an ‘afternoon of live music and literature, smack-dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Brick Lane’ with book donations running throughout the afternoon and readings leading into the evening.

3) The New Danse Macabre is out, the issue is called ‘Stardust’ and focuses on the magic of cinema with, as usual, an esoteric mix of fiction and poetry. Check it out, it’s free and online!

4)  ‘Polarity Magazine launches its first issue ‘Death vs Taxes’ on Thursday 24 June at the Writer’s Room, University of Warwick. The London launch will take place on Sunday 27th June at the Slaughtered Lamb pub (starts at 18.00)

5) If you happen to be in Paris end of June, don’t miss Shakespeare & Co’s Literary Festival 18-20 June 2010. The theme this year is Storytelling & Politics and the writers invited incude Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, Will Self, Carole Seymour-Jones, Raja Shehadeh, Erica Wagner, Jeanette Winterson, Gao Xingjian and many more.

6) Again, if you’re in Paris, don’t miss the next Franco-British Spoken Word evenings (every Monday at Culture Rapide). The themes for June : 7 June – Revolution; 14 June – Time travel… voyager dans le temps; 28 June – Skin… la peau.

7) This isn’t news, but get yourself to Fuselit now if you haven’t already, and nab yourself one of their special offers – beautifully handmade, eccentric and with awesome content to boot, these limited editions aren’t going to be around for ever. Besides, did I mention they’re insanely cheap for what they are? Well, they are.

8 ) Cinnamon Press is five years old and is celebrating with special offers on Envoi and I Spy Pinhole Magazine as well as a special price for Adnan Mahmutovic’s novella Thinner than a Hair (£6) – for that price you also get a copy of his short story collection [Refuge]e for free. If you want to win a place on their writing course in Wales this autumn, send a short story of under 2,000 words/five poems/five microfictions by 31 July. Full details are here. Keep an eye out too on their reading tour at the end of June in London.

9) In Paris yet still (it’s where I’m based, forgive me) The Ivy Writers Paris are hosting a Franco-British reading on 15 June with poets Rachel Blau Duplessi and J-P Auxémery at Next (17 rue Tiquetonne) at 19h30.

10) Gists and Piths have some great recommendations of things to check out this month. It is also a wonderful blog combining reviews, articles and contemporary poetry, well worth checking out.

11) The Silkworms Ink blog has been going for a few weeks and it is worth a read. On top of this, Silkworm Ink also has online pamphlets and t-shirts for sale.

12) Last Paris one, I promise, the 33rd Festival of Franco-British Poetry takes place 13-20 June, with Catalan poetry at the forefront this year.

Think something is glaringly missing? Let me know in the comments.

Mark Halliday – No Panic Here

In Pamphlets on June 3, 2010 at 9:20 pm

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien

Mark Halliday’s pamphlet ‘No panic here’ is one of those deceptively simple works. Halliday lures the reader in with his ‘ultra-talk’ – which I’d define, judging by this pamphlet, as colloquial poems that often function as dramatic-monologues. They are ‘theatrical’ in a large sense: the wings have been drawn back, you can see the plaster peeling, wires are hanging in a disordered fashion, but these only enhance the performance of the lone actor. These frailties, the less than perfect structure, make the poems all the more gut-wrenching.

The Cover of Mark Halliday’s ‘No Panic Here’ (Happenstance Press)

An example, ‘Sad News’, in which the title of the pamphlet appears, depicts a narrator attempting to handle the death of a friend’s wife. At the same time as he processes this information, the narrator desperately tries to keep a handle on how this reflects on the mortality of his own wife:

‘His wife just died. Died. Okay but that’s his
Wife. His wife. Not my wife. So that’s why it’s all right’

Even in such a short excerpt (the opening lines) it should be clear that this is a very performable poem, hence my portmanteau use of ‘theatrical’. The rest of the poem builds as the narrator grows increasingly distressed and captures the quick flits of the mind as it jumps through possibilities utterly convincingly.

If you have good eyesight you might be able to read ‘Sad News’

What makes the piece surprisingly moving though, is the protagonist’s utter selfishness. His immediate reaction to the news is not to think of his friend’s state, or rather, it is to think of his friend’s state but appropriate it and empathize to the extent that he is forced to grasp his material possessions to steady his emotions:

The Georgia Review — a coffee mug from Tennessee—
all this stuff I love. Which
would be insane if it all could utterly—’

These are the reactions you try to hide when big things happen, lumped together in the bag of other inappropriate behavior: hysterical laughter at a funeral, relief when none of your loved ones are hurt in a catastrophe and other unfortunate demonstrations of survival instincts. The use of the first person narrative here is particularly effective in preventing the poem from slipping into a preachy mode. Instead, what we have are flaws laid bare and basking in self-deprecation.

Indeed, dancing over the poem is Halliday’s special formula of gentle mocking. The title, ‘Sad News’, undermines the narrator’s self-pitying, the way the kitchen is put on a pedestal is cause for derision, but at the same time there is a sense that Halliday sympathizes with the puppet he’s created.

This mixture of satire and heart is replicated throughout the pamphlet with different dosages. The poem ‘Numerous Swans’, for instance, opts for a self-aware undercutting of a description of swans:

‘they are my thoughts if you hadn’t twigged to that already,’

Whilst in ‘Full-blown Maturity’ the protagonist declares:

‘Now I shall write a brave poem about turning 55’

In the poem, he self-edits as he goes, leaving in full view all of his failings and insecurities (‘Avoid references to fire, and to breasts’) so that the mixture in this case is funny, absurd, and as with some many of his poems, easy to relate to.

This ‘accessibility’  might keep this pamphlet from the accolades it deserves and this is a shame as this simplicity is Halliday’s greatest illusion. The considerable effort necessary to craft these poems is akin to a swan’s frantic paddling underwater: as an outsider, you can only observe the smooth glide.

This is Halliday’s debut pamphlet in the UK (despite having several collections under his belt in the US) and I rather hope it is not the last.

As I’ve mentioned, I picked this pamphlet up in the Happenstance Press’ Lucky Dip, but it is also on sale individually for a mere £4.

p.s For more on ultra-talk and Mark Halliday, check out this very interesting article by David Graham.

Happenstance’s Lucky Dip

In Pamphlets on June 1, 2010 at 9:28 am

I won’t be satisfied until the three columns of this new blog are full, and I fully intend to review the wonderful pamphlet ‘No Panic Here’ by Mark Halliday but, as I am in a rush, I will in the meantime advertise the means through which I acquired it.

Happenstance Press has had the brilliant idea to advertise a Lucky Dip section in its online shop. For £7 you get three random pamphlets, pamphlets you might not have otherwise picked (though at £4 each you’d be mad not to).

Lucky Dip

The pamphlets are almost pocket sized, with brightly coloured covers, and of course, staples. I doubt I would have encountered Mark Halliday’s pamphlet otherwise (I might have, but it would have taken longer) and I’m really glad I did, it’s been a while since I’ve had a coup de foudre with any collection. But more on that in a couple of days…

Why are you still here?