Reviews of the Ephemeral

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Adelle Stripe – cigarettes in bed

In Pamphlets on August 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Adelle Stripe’s Cigarettes in Bed is not her first venture with Blackheath Books, they have already published her first collection Some Things are Better Left Unsaid (2008). Blackheath Books is a young independant press that aims to publish ‘literary outsiders, mavericks’, in short, anyone going against the conventional current. Stripe, as one of the founders of the Brutalist poetry movement, a group that calls for ‘levels of raw honesty’ untouched by the mainstream, certainly fits their bill.

Their beautiful stamp on the back of the envelope

Blackheath Books are proud of having started their small press at a time when printed matter was being abandoned, and it is easy to see how they’ve survived: aesthetically, the pamphlet is beautiful. The cover is simply made out of cardboard with two holes on the front giving us a glimpse of a red interior (patterned with Blackeath Books’ logo) like two cigarette burns.

Stripe’s style is a mixture of plain everyday register mixed with bizarre, surprising and often exciting images, such as her description in ‘Sacred Heart’ of Montmartre’s Sacré Coeur as ‘(an old taj mahal dripping wax on pigalle)’.  She delights in relating tales of decay: of deadbeat towns (‘Babylon’) where the pub is a place for ‘blotting the tears with lager and dope’; of opened envelopes where the glitter of sentimental poems are now ‘reduced to dust’; of trash that is both moving and beautiful:

‘the fading confetti sticks

to the wet stone walls

like fallen apple blossom’

Yet in other poems, such as her opening work ‘After Dusk’, the simplicity is a disappointment rather than a strength.  When Stripe writes of being a ‘rack of old lamb / dressed up as mutton’ it is as if she is laughing at the reader for expecting more from her language.

The collection travels to Iceland (‘Shanty’), France (‘Sacred Heart’), London (‘After Dusk’) and various parts of Yorkshire she returns to with new eyes (‘Relics’, ‘Slight Return’). Stripe also features a sequence of haikus set in her hometown (‘Mytholmroyd Haikus’). The theme of belonging and finding comfort is unsurprisingly a recurring one, expressed in one of the haikus for instance:

‘this is my cradle;

asleep in your warm chest hair

your heart beat  lullaby’

It is also present in ‘Quietism’, where the comfort Stripe derives from hearing her lover type echoes the sing song quality of the poem, with its idiosyncratic and unforced rhymes and rhythms:

‘silence envelopes

These once busy streets

Footsteps are cushioned

In the ginnel of dust

Where the pink reflected halogen glow

Is the tone of my cheeks

Just half an hour ago’

‘Wharfedale’ and ‘Devil’s Gateway’ are perhaps the best poems of the collection, both dealing with a rummaging of the past. In the first, Stripe observes the changes to her Nan’s house since she’s left for a nursing home and her father’s use of the garden as a ‘chainsaw boutique’. It’s moving in the same way that looking at old photographs is moving: Stripe superimposes her memories on the present in a way that reminds the reader of the ephemerality of things, of the ease with which ‘the wet grass turns silver’.

‘Devil’s Gateway’ is a different kettle detailing the narrator rustling through ancient correspondence that belonged to a certain Adam and Eve. The idea that she is breaking and entering into their privacy, both physically and emotionally is wonderfully conveyed:

‘I open the latch,

Bury my hands

Inside the envelopes’

Unlike ‘Whaferdale’, however, Stripe trumps the expected sentimentalism with casual revelations.

Whilst the title of Adelle Stripe’s collection ‘Cigarettes in bed’ doesn’t own any of the poems, what it stands for: moments of slightly unhealthy, slightly dirty, slightly euphoric, slightly indulgent reflections, is not a bad summary for her pamphlet. It’s a collection of  ‘slightly’: hovering between banality and exception.

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>kill author # 8

In online magazine on August 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm

– Reviewed by Jared Randall

Grown tired of your summer reading list? Need a break after that last 600-page novel? Having trouble keeping your comatose left eye in line with your hay-fevered right? (Maybe that last one is just me…?)

Then give >kill author a try. I guarantee it won’t bore you (unless you happen to be my brother-in-law). Currently up at http://killauthor.com, the eighth issue of the literary journal for the mostly alive is “…made for summer reading. […] our own equivalent of the holiday getaway doorstop.”

Now you’re probably wondering, what is > kill author? (Hereafter, >ka.) Simply put, it’s an online journal that takes its name from one of many well-known Roland Barthes quotes—“The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.”—and the anonymous editor(s) dedicate(s) each issue to a particular dead author (Issue One to old Roland himself, Issue Eight to Vladimir Nabokov who, incidentally, died the same year that I was born, in 1977).

In actual working out, the “death of the author” has become for >ka “the death of the editor”—the “editors” have intentionally kept themselves anonymous. He/she/it/they explain that this anonymity forces writers to read and think about what constitutes authentic >ka content without the distraction of guessing the tastes and reputation of a particular editor.

The question of editor as author, however, is a task for another day. What you really want is a rundown of the most interesting bits of electronic literary bravura that Issue Eight of >ka has to offer. In that case, read on!

“Flight: SFO to LAX,” by Andrew Roe.

Nutshell: Touchable hair, the kind of hair to turn anyone into a five-year-old kid again. The kind of hair a Steinbeck uses to lure a Lenny to his inevitable end…

Quote: “The challenge: to remember the woman, the hair, the possibilities you felt. But you know you won’t. It doesn’t work that way, and it’s not like this hasn’t happened before.”

Verdict: What an excellent way to open an issue!

“Dogs and cats are ugly,” by Cameron Pierce

Nutshell: Raw physicality engendered by mere words. Will make you think twice before nibbling on your lover’s ear…

Quote: “[…] and we’ll go down to the doughnut shop/ and we’ll get married in the doughnut shop/ and please remember I am just a skeleton and some canned food and so are you.”

Verdict: Not for your grandmother! (Nor mine, for that matter.)

“The Labyrinth,” by Cezarija Abartis

Nutshell: Yes, THAT labyrinth, but this time the Minotaur is something less fierce, more pitiable, what we see in the mirror (or maybe that’s just me…)

Quote: “…he moaned and said, ‘Mud.’ She was sure he said it. Her deepest prayers had been answered. This redeemed everything—all the pain, the hope, the curses. This would make her life normal, give her a normal future, give him a normal life.”

Verdict: Perhaps not everyone will find the final turn convincing.

“Four Turns,” by Daniel Carter

Nutshell: Four prose “stanzas,” the last sentence of each leading into the first sentence of the next—thus, “Four Turns”…

Quote: “O, the cowl o’er my head, the rough black sack, the bag over the moon, I jumped off the castle, the moat, the monster, the golden man down there[…]”

Verdict: Don’t be fooled by this one: it gets more interesting each time you read it.

“Attention,” by Daniel Romo

Nutshell: A FAUX News corrective? Yeah, maybe, or maybe more than…

Quote: “The patriotic fibers bleed into your fingertips causing everything you touch to be left with imprints of stars and stripes. The paper towel dispenser in the bathroom at Walmart. The salt and pepper shakers at the Mexican restaurant. Your lover’s breasts.”

Verdict: Accessible, meaningful, sharp-edged, a prose poem as prose poems should be. If you can’t stand this, well, leave left and right behind, ascend to the airy top of the political divide, and cozy up to an honest voice.

“The Anatomy of the Novel, or Steve,” by David Laskowski

Nutshell: If you’ve been paying any attention at all you’ve probably realized that there is an ongoing discussion/debate about the supposed “death of the novel.” Mr. Laskowski enters his own rather humorous take…

Quote: “What is interesting is that the novel’s suit against Steve comes at a time when many question the role of the novel in everyday life, a state that wishes to succeed, according to Dr. Myers Default, author of It’s You, Not Me, because of ‘the federal government’s intrusion into its knickers.’”

Verdict: Read and then mark off the rest of your summer to-do list. It’s done! What else could there be?

“Italo Calvino People,” by Elaine Chiew

Nutshell: I knew I was going to like this one from the title. Can anything with Calvino in the title be less than interesting? A speculative glimpse at a future world, it also contains a reference to “Godot-like plays”…

Quote: “They were Italo Calvino babies, so called not because they were the embodiment of magical realism, but because they were an experiment—in the spirit of Italo Calvino experimentation—riddled with hopeful optimism camouflaging a deep misanthropic belief that humans were flawed and needed to be perfected.  And because they could read Italo Calvino at five.”

Verdict: I’m pretty sure I’m biased for this one, so go ahead: read and let me have it!

“You Enjoy Myself,” by Frank Hinton

Nutshell: You wake up and find yourself all too close to the body of an apparently middle-aged single Asian (Korean?) man named Yem who eats only frozen dinners and has somehow managed to convince people he should be an elementary school teacher. Yes, and it gets better…

Quote: “He never stops at 4 minutes in to mix the potatoes or stir the gravy. He’s grown used to eating the potatoes cold in the middle.”

Verdict: To be honest, this is a sadder story than I’ve portrayed it. Not for the queasy reader, but—poor Yem!—many readers will find this a guilty pleasure.

“This Is What I Do,” by Jennifer Spiegel

Nutshell: First-person fiction with a (dated?) World Trade Center reference…

Quote: “I felt like Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, not like myself one lousy bit.”

Verdict: This is the whole package. It’s an excellent piece of fiction in a journal that features excellent fiction.

“There Was Nothing We Could Do,” by Lauren Becker

Nutshell: Behind the scenes of tattoo parlor romance…

Quote: “We bit and smacked and punched and sliced and scraped and burned night but it still kept coming and we kept leaving and coming back. Nobody else gave and took as deliberately as we. We were gracious in keeping track.”

Verdict: Definitely on the bondage side of summer love stories, but with a deep truth to tell…

“The Final Neural Firings of The Eternal Starlet (Takes 1-3)” and “I Will Make an Exquisite Corpse,” by Matt Mullins

Nutshell: The same words lineated three different ways—always an interesting exercise!—and Mr. Mullin’s stab at the surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” exercise…

Quote: No quote… [What, the titles aren’t enough?!]

Verdict: A great reminder that, yes, lineation matters in poetry. Not to be missed!

“The Charge That Struck Us,” by Melissa Lee-Houghton

Nutshell: A fiction story in which I sensed some Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology influence…

Quote: “Dean did not wish his wife were dead in real life, but every time she so much as sneezed he had the overwhelming urge to smack her on the back of the head with a spade[…]”

Verdict: This refreshing piece steps back from the typical first-person/close third-person narrative. Worth a look!

“The Sadder of Two Places,” by Mitch James

Nutshell: An old lady remembers sexuality after hearing the neighbor girl and her boyfriend late one night…

Quote: “They both figured that her closet and dresser drawers were filled with light, lacey things, with bright colors, things made seamlessly by an artist on a sewing machine. […] They were right.”

Verdict: This is one intense story, however you cut it.

“Featherbedding,” by Rae Bryant

Nutshell: Who needs food when they have love? Short and sweetly erotic without going over the top…

Quote: “He digs a trench for her, forms a mote around her body, rips mattress and blanket and sheets and feather pillows to better pad the nest. He says: we can wait out the winter here in feathers and mattress springs.”

Verdict: You may or may not find you like this one, but it’s too short to pass up…

“The Pueblo Is In My Name,” Raymond Farr

Nutshell: What a rant! What an all-out-perfect-for-your-end-of-summer rant!

Quote: “Back then it was 1977/ and the tree I speak of/ was a grapefruit tree and/ the silence of just before/ dawn was a squirrel or/ white tail deer paralyzed/ in yr head lights[…]”

Verdict: Read it out loud!

“Cat’s Ice” and other poems, by R L Swihart

Nutshell: This is poetry in what you might call the “grand tradition”…

Quote: “Now a smithy is on one knee hammering chaos into cosmos[…]”

Verdict: Let’s face it, poetry isn’t on everyone’s menu, but you’ll like this if you let yourself.

“We Were Listening For The Shattering,” by Ryder Collins

Nutshell: In a matter of a few sentences you’ll feel you’re in Stephen King’s The Stand

Quote: “Mama said, They’re not called package stores in every state.”

Verdict: Gives you that apocalyptic feel in such a short space that it’s worth a look.

Jared Randall’s debut book of poetry, Apocryphal Road Code, is due out from Salt Publishing in December 2010. He writes the occasional blog at http://wanderingstiff.com/mainstem.

blue-eyed boy bait – Spilt Milk Mag #1

In anthology, Magazine on August 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm

-Reviewed by Caroline Crew

blue-eyed boy bait is actually the first issue of Spilt Milk Mag, an identity crisis explained by the editor, Sam Peczek, by way of a copyright issue with a ‘brothel in Sweden with the same name’ that didn’t appreciate the free advertising. Although this is a print issue, Spilt Milk is currently a digital magazine, but may venture back into book form. It is a beautiful form too. The little touches of illustration are one of the few things that actually make this lit mag stand out, and definitely the only feature that makes it stand out in a good way.

The kindest thing I could say about this collection of ‘short form’ writing is that it is youthful. By youthful, I mean juvenile. While I normally enjoy reading the author biographies in literary magazines (with a bittersweet nosiness at all these wonderful people doing things that I am not), I was careful to comb them to make sure of the contributors’ ages. Surely, this must be a journal for teen writing, I thought, but no. There are an awful lot of clichéd themes: cheesy sex scenes in the thankfully brief ‘Fresh’ by Alexandra Glacet, strippers and abortion featuring in some truly dire depictions of the human condition. The impression of adolescence is further enforced by the pretentiousness that runs throughout. Particularly cringe-worthy was Naomi Headland’s ‘The Acid Test’ mixing Latin, French and the Greek mythic figure Icarus in a poem which could be subtitled ‘Look how smart I am!’.

Formally, the magazine seems a little confused. There are some longer pieces which conform to more traditional narrative ideas of short fiction such as Rez Dillon’s ‘Second Wave Theory’, and these are more successful. The shorter prose pieces are far from the honed precision of flash fiction, instead becoming indulgent and directionless paragraphs of purple prose. At times this can produce some interesting images: I particularly liked the bizarre description of swallowing a butterfly named Phillip in A.J. Patrick Liszkiewicz’s ‘Butterflies’.  These pieces left me unsatisfied, as if I’d been offered a few grains of rice instead of a bowl of risotto.

Perhaps blue-eyed boy bait / Spilt Milk Mag will deliver more on a digital stage, where short attention spans and dubious quality is more at home. However, if it wants to succeed in print, I would strongly suggest upping the quality of submissions and maybe getting a few other eyes involved. A nice looking magazine, but if you want a great compilation of short form writing, spend your pennies on Shot Glass Journal instead.

Shot Glass Journal #1

In online magazine on August 8, 2010 at 9:10 am

Sometimes you’re not in the mood for a three-course meal, sometimes you just want a shot of something invigorating, if so, Shot Glass Journal might just hit the spot. Shot Glass Journal is a new online literary magazine specializing in short poetry (16 lines or less). Edited by Mary-Jane Grandinetti, the idea for the journal came from the many short poetry workshops she has led.

I often think of first issues as similar to TV show pilots: not always indicative of the quality of the following episodes but at their best emitting a promising flavour. Shot Glass Journal is no different with a mixture of hard-hitting and more disappointing poems.

Shot Glass Journal features several excellent poems that make over-used poetry genres seem fresh. There is Austin Alexis’ ‘Merce Cunningham Event’ who manages the feat of avoiding the usual dance clichés (if I read one more mention of ‘pirouettes’ and ‘jetés’…) and to capture what I’ve always found to be a particularly difficult experience to relate. Likewise Hank Kalet’s poem ‘Jazz’ manages an original take on the well-worn genre of love poetry:

‘Love is the lasting
resonating note
the high E picked and
held and
bent higher and
higher still’

On the other hand,  Steadman Kondor’s ‘For she is Paris’ fails to dwell further than the postcard picture of Paris:

‘She might toss you a Niçoise salad or seduce you with pâté de foie gras.’

Several poems in Shot Glass Journal delight in exploring the darker side of human nature. Gil Fagiani in ‘Dopefiend Hustle # 132: Playing The Christers’ reminds us that poetry doesn’t always have to be about the good guys with this amusing tale of exploited credulity.  Ruth Holzer‘s ‘Elderly Couple On Park Bench, N.Y.C’ (based on a Diane Arbus photograph) recreates the spiteful interior monologue of a clashing elderly couple. Meanwhile Rachel Green plays with death in ‘The Musician at the End of the Cemetery’, a deliciously macabre sensory experience:

‘she tunes the dead:
cadaver skin stretched taut
in chromatic scales of putrefaction’

Shot Glass Journal features an abundant array of forms including a triolet, a sonnet, a rondolet and some tankas, but my favourite of these form-players is Sir John Lambremont’s ‘Locked Lavatory’. Lambremont’s doesn’t adhere to a strict form but he masters rhymes (both internal and external) dexterously and unleashes them to accentuate the distress of being locked in a lavatory.

Shot Glass Journal is easy to circulate through but would benefit, in my opinion, from having a different table of content format than an alphabetical list that privileges the authors closer to the top of the list (or those well-known). A different format would be more democratic.

Overall, this is a journal that shows potential and is worth keeping an eye on as it develops in the coming years.

Iota #87

In Magazine on August 6, 2010 at 3:19 pm

-Reviewed by Liam Jones-

Iota is a British poetry magazine at the forefront of discovering and showcasing new and established writers. Its reputation is second to none and for a while now I have seen it as arguably one of the best literary quarterlies in Britain.

Iota #87

It has recently changed editorial team, with the new team based at the University of Gloucestershire. The editor for the three poetry issues a year is Nigel McLoughlin, and the editor for the one fiction edition a year is poet and writer Jane Weir. It has also changed format to a larger size, with full colour cover, and at least 96 pages per issue.

Iota features more than enough poetry to get you through a rainy day, review of contemporary poetry collections, interviews with poets and other writers, and articles entitled ‘Issue’ which highlights the main talking points of the British poetry scene.

Seventy five pages of poetry is plenty for such a cheap magazine, yet all of the poems are full of qualities. The diversity in subject matter and form varies greatly from traditional stanza forms to more radical, experimental forms. For example David Dusncombe’s Insects takes a standard five stanza tercet format whereas Rebecca Perry’s Other Clouds employs free verse with a playful use of spacing.

I’ll say a quick note on a poem that stuck out from this array of talent. It is called Mersey Dancers by Arthur Haswell. The reason it rings out to me is that, being from Merseyside myself I know the city well. His portrait of Liverpool is excellent when he describes

‘…this stretch of river

full of sailing ships coming in on the tide, sailors

jigging on deck at the sight of steeples, inns…’

It creates an image for me of a long-lost Liverpool when it was a thriving port, and has poignant twangs full of nostalgia.

The review section features different poetry collections including Alice Oswald’s A Sleepwalk on the Severn and Hugo Williams’ West End Final, each providing insight or uncovering a new author.

The section named Issue is an essay that hopes to inform the reader of things that are occurring on the contemporary poetry scene. For instance, in this edition of Issue Paul Maddern, who is completing his PhD at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Belfast, talks of the vital importance of poetry pamphlets. He believes that the reason pamphlets are such a crucial point of poetry is that they retain ‘the philosophy, function and often the flamboyance of the amuse-bouche, while at the same time being affordable, direct and honourable.’ Thus, what we get with the poetry pamphlet is a cheaper way of getting our fix of poetry.

The magazine also offers interviews with poets and then a small selection of the poets’ work. It works well as you are introduced to the poet through the interview. You can get to know them a little better, then go on to read some of their poetry. In this issue the poets interviewed are Claire Crowther, who has two collections Stretch of Closures and The Clockwork Gift both out from Shearsman, and also Julie Boden, who has released three collections and two chapbooks as well as four CDs of solo and collaborative work.

This magazine is such value for money, full of great poetry from emerging poets that have something to say and say it excellently. It’s a definite recommendation if you’ve never dipped your toes in Iota.

The Flaneur – Rolls Royce issue

In Magazine, online magazine on August 6, 2010 at 9:51 am

The Flaneur is a zine that styles itself in the aesthetic of a quirky dandy newspaper ‘for the cultivated stroller of city streets’. It is available as a newspaper, iPhone app, or, the option I picked, a £1 downloadable PDF. The Flaneur mixes articles, poetry, fiction, and art in an attractive manner but sadly, it is the content that lets it down.

Article-wise, the zine kicks off with Sagy Zwim comparing rather unoriginally, and about a decade or so out of date, the Big Brother experience to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. This isn’t necessarily a bad comparison to attempt, but if you’re going to approach well-trodden ground it might be wise to get an angle or avoid surface generalizations.

Comparisons seem to be the order of the day since Jonathan Powell views Le Mans as ‘one of the few art performances that last 24 hours and takes place at 200 mph’. Full points on originality though the article loses its punch once it is disclosed that Powell really means that one car in particular at this year’s Le Mans, designed by Jeff Koons, is a work of art. Anyone expecting an interesting argument in favour of car racing as art will be sadly let down.

Then there is Johanna Lambert’s ‘A Crummy Cinematic Experience’, an article that favours an annoyingly colloquial style of writing to the detriment of clarity and punctuation. Take this for example:

‘It was my experience. Mine, mine, mine. As it’s a festival showing, you expect an introduction, ‘amazing film…director is supa dupa…wears hats… enjoy’, yadda, yadda, yadda. And as with the film I saw the night before someone equipped with a mic stood at the front of the cinema.’

First we must thank Lambert profusely for clarifying the meaning of the word ‘Introduction’. Then there is that sentence: ‘And as with the film I saw the night before someone equipped with a mic stood at the front of the cinema.’ Punctuation would have been appreciated, as would a reason for mentioning (yet not naming) a film in passing. What was Lambert trying to achieve here? Should she be applauded for having seen a film at all? Is it particularly remarkable to find a film featuring a man with a microphone standing at the front of a cinema? Is the film too embarrassing to be fully mentioned (was it Twilight? It was, wasn’t it?)

The poetry doesn’t fare much better, it is of the type one writes as an emotional fifteen year old who has not read much besides the lyrics of My Chemical Romance.

As examples, there is J.A BeAngelis’ emo ‘Embrace You’ where the narrator asks to ‘Burn myself into your soul’; or Sime Knezevic’s immature ‘The Black Swan’:

‘A turtle swims violently slow

Beneath the ripple she did spur’

It is in the artwork that you find the best poem, in the guise of Clare MacCracken’s unnamed piece. The holding-up-a-note might be a well-worn trope but the writing is funny and suprising enough to make it a forgivable fault.

From these excerpts, my impression is that The Flaneur’s writers must still be of a young age. This would make the facile choice of subjects and easy errors of immaturity understandable. After all, we’ve all made those mistakes and I don’t want my review to suggest that these writers will not improve with some time and effort. It is impossible to know their age or any other information however since the list of contributors has not been updated from the last issue.

The Rolls Royce edition of The Flaneur is the perfect zine if you have teenage acquaintances with the beginning of an interest in writing, art or culture. It will, however, prove unchallenging to a better-read audience. Still, at £1, it’s not going to break the bank.