Reviews of the Ephemeral

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FRiGG # 29 – Summer 2010

In online magazine on September 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm

– Reviewed by Ian Chung –

The first thing one notices about FRiGG is the work of EnoaraF, the graphic artist who has contributed to FRiGG since its inaugural issue. It also just happens to be the very thing whose quality remains most consistent across Issue 29 of this quarterly magazine. His grid-based design for this issue’s Table of Contents is a departure from the more atmospheric images of recent past issues, and to be honest, has the effect of rendering the text less easy on the eye than I suspect most readers would probably prefer. Fortunately, the remaining images that accompany the contributors’ pieces are much more complementary in nature, forming artistic virtual covers that have to be clicked on to access their contents.

However beautiful the graphics though, FRiGG is still, in its own words, ‘a magazine of fiction and poetry’, and it is in the area of fiction that I find Issue 29 to be somewhat lacking in evenness. I had very mixed feelings as I was going through the fiction section, and ended up having to re-read some of the pieces because I just could not decide whether or not I liked them. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that FRiGG includes a small section containing the writer’s comments, either at the end of a piece, or in the case of multiple submissions from the same writer, on a separate webpage. This effectively allows the reader to judge the writer’s stated intentions against the published work, occasionally to the detriment of the latter.

Take Jessica Hollander’s ‘Staring Contests’ as an example. The story deliberately fragments its narrative flow, intercutting scenes from Julia’s domestic life and from when she babysits her boss’s daughter. The daughter is always playing with two Barbie dolls, which one senses by the end of the short story are clearly symbolic of something, but it ultimately falls to Hollander’s own comments to indicate that they are part of the story’s larger political agenda: questioning Laura Mulvey’s theory of the ‘Male Gaze’. The story winds up feeling like something produced for a workshop exercise. Perfectly serviceable, but it never quite grabs you by the throat either. The same might be said of Daphne Buter’s ‘Hell Dogs’, the almost self-consciously postmodernist story that opens Issue 29.

On the other hand, Thomas Cooper’s ‘Storm Drain Bob’ and Billy Middleton’s ‘Trolls’ are both quiet stories that build to a disturbing finish. The sense of menace in Cooper’s story pivots about a one-line paragraph: ‘One day Storm Drain Bob asks, “Hey, kid, ever seen a pussy?”’ The threat he represents at the end is made all the more chilling by the gap between what the boy thinks of him and what the reader can infer from his behaviour throughout the story. Middleton’s piece, at more than 6000 words, is the longest in this issue, but it gives him space to flesh out the fraught father-son relationship between Peter and Ralph, into which their young neighbour (and the horn on his head) intrudes like a thorn. The story’s ending is then surprising and disquieting in equal measure.

In the poetry section, prose poetry nestles comfortably alongside more conventional-looking stanzas, with the majority of poets having submitted extracts from sequences. Laurel Blossom’s selections from her current project The Longitude Problem, a companion to her earlier Degrees of Latitude, provide snapshots of a woman’s life, revealing just enough to make you want to read the poems within the context of a full collection. Donora Hillard’s series of poems, in her own words, ‘is about desire’, written when she moved in with her fiancé. Poems like ‘Champ’ (‘Give me a composition theorist / who wants to drip habanero-laced / honey across my torso’) or ‘The Night Before the Wedding’ (‘You fondled / God a little’) do not shy away from the sensuality of relationships.

Yet it is Tim Tomlinson, whose contributions happen to be the only ones not linked as part of some larger sequence, who delivers the standout poem of Issue 29. ‘Fuck the Troops’ is a blistering indictment of (to borrow Tomlinson’s words) ‘hypocrites [who] use the troops as an excuse to advance hideous, hateful agendas that are actually harmful to the troops and other living things’. His is a decidedly disenchanted, but ultimately, honest perspective:

what do I give a shit about the troops? Or

the heroes, or the first goddamn responders?

Fuck them all. Or put it another way: care

for them as much

as Washington does, and here I’m not talking

about the generals.

Let’s care for them as much as

the Secretary

of Defense cares, or as much as both houses

of congress care, as much as the Teabaggers

care about them or me and my goddamn nails,

now boarding.

On the whole, I would say there is more to like than not about FRiGG Issue 29. While not all of the pieces might appeal to everyone (like how I still cannot bring myself to enjoy Daphne Buter’s postmodern ‘Hell Dogs’), the fiction will appeal to those who like their writing slightly dark and offbeat, while the variety of poetic modes showcased also means there should be something for everyone in that section, while EnoaraF’s intriguing graphics certainly give this online magazine a slight edge compared to others that offer up just plain words on a screen.


Moon Milk Review: Issue 7 Vs. Issue 8

In online magazine on September 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

– Reviewed by Tori Truslow

Reviewing an issue of a publication means considering it as a whole (what sort of shape do its parts make? Is the sum of its voices harmonious, interestingly dissonant or an unlistenable mess?). But a magazine is a serial creature, evolving from one issue to the next. So, working on the theory that reviewing two issues back-to-back might illuminate an editor’s aesthetic and scope better than holding the magnifying glass up to one issue, I give you:

Moon Milk Review #7 VS. Moon Milk Review #8

Moon Milk Review is interested in “magical realist, surrealist, metarealist and realist works with an offbeat spin”. The layout changes little from issue to issue: a clean white screen with bold black headings slicing each issue into sections (Gallery, Fiction, Poetry, Interview, and so on).

The simple black/white contents page lets thumbnails from the more visual sections stand out: it’s eye-grabbing from the start, and hints at the eclectic flavours that hide behind the headings. The virtual gallery accompanying each issue is a great idea. Unfortunately, in Issue 7, which has an overarching Spain/World Cup theme, this seems like a bit of an opportunity wasted: the gallery, subtitled ‘The Spanish Masters’, features a painting apiece from Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Francisco de Goya, and El Greco, all gloriously unsettling in their own way, but with no linking commentary or anything to make me feel I’m getting something more than what a google image search for ‘Spanish Surrealists’ would produce. Why these paintings in particular? We may all have heard of these artists already, but even a little trivia would lend this part of the magazine more presence. Issue 8’s gallery is quite the opposite. It contains 16 works by acrylic artist Jim Fuess and an informative blurb, letting the viewer get a quick shot of immersion in Fuess’s world. The paintings are bright spreading/coiling/bleeding colour-forms, all with a look of movement or metamorphosis about them; sometimes treelike or abyssal, sometimes like butterfly wings or internal organs or almost-fish, suggestions of scales and roe. In ‘Evolution’, a spreading of black blot-shapes suggests creatures unfurling. Score one for Issue 8.

A real strength of the magazine, going hand-in-hand with its multimedia aesthetic, is its sense of fun, which is very much present in the first of Issue 7’s special features: an interview with Paul, the prophetic octopus who rose to notoriety during the 2010 World Cup. Gabriela Romeri is well-qualified for the task, having interviewed other octopuses in her time, but she meets her match in Paul: “I knew Paul would be formidable–enormous brain,  species billions of years old—but I wasn’t quite prepared for the equally evolved  arrogance.” He proves to be quite the curmudgeonly cephalopod, which makes for entertaining reading. Issue 7 has to get a point for this alone.

Following the interview are two videos: one a slideshow of Spain Vs. Netherlands highlights set to Shakira, the other a Flamenco performance by Sara Baras. Don’t be fooled by the lighthearted feel of the issue so far: MMR is unafraid to take sharp turns in tone, and this Flamenco piece is intense. Give it your full attention. Baras dances on a polished stage, by a campfire, in front of a full moon projected onto a screen, but the racing rhythm of her boot-heels and feminine-muscular movement make the sparse set look wild and cold, and turn the guitar to something warm and beating. These features are all a fantastic demonstration of a simple theme – the Spanish World Cup win – spiking off in very different directions, just unified enough that each diversion is surprising. The video feature in Issue 8 is Rachel Bloom’s milk-snortingly fabulous ‘Fuck Me Ray Bradbury’, an irreverent (read: filthy) anthem for fangirls the world over. Overall, in the multimedia camp, 8 gets points for bold stick-in-the-brain painting and comedy, but 7 wins for variety and cohesiveness.

In the ‘Fiction’ section, Issue 7 continues the Spanish theme with Luisa María García Velasco’s ‘The World Behind the Wallpaper’, presented both in the original Spanish and in translation by Ian Watson (who wrote the screen story for Spielberg’s A.I.). This is a succinct age-of-materialism fable with its metaphors swarming out from behind the descriptive sheen. I can’t speak for linguistic effects in the Spanish, but the translation’s crammed prose works to good effect in evoking a room made claustrophobic by slick-suited males and their gadgetry, and carries over neatly to the crawlingly vivid image of a living layer of cockroaches behind a hotel’s luxurious wallpaper. Issue 8’s fiction doesn’t really compare in quality to this. Ben Loory’s ‘On The Way Down: A Story For Ray Bradbury’ sets the somewhat grim absurdist tone for the section, and works the best out of the prose pieces on offer. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ by John Emerson appears to contain a story, but it’s hard to tell if it’s real or a hallucination or a metaphor, and hard to care when the first few paragraphs read like a regurgitated thesaurus and contain the description of light as ‘swirling’ and ‘iridescent’ twice in as many sentences. Another score for issue 7, then, not only because the fiction is that much better but because the parallels to original and translated texts do more to further MMR’s boundary-crossing ethos.

As well as having Fiction and Poetry sections, each issue is rounded off by ‘Prosetry’: a monthly contest to write a piece of microfiction based on a featured piece of art, and the winning entry from the previous month. Another lovely idea, encouraging work that sits in the spaces between literary forms, and between written and visual art. July’s winner in Issue 7 is ‘Gravitas. Gravity. Gravitas.’ by N. Stebbins, which uses its central figure, a man who is at once sumo wrestler, clown and balloon, to tread the sensitive line between lightness and heaviness (in both the literal and emotional senses). Issue 8 offers ‘Archaeology of the Present’ by Minal Hajratwala, which does a far better job of saying something with fluttering, evasive imagery than ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ did earlier in the same issue. It starts creepily enough: “My sisters and I lived among the skin-lamps of earth.  The They walked by on rattlesnakes, alligators, eels, cows, trade-beads of ivory and ebony — all words for the bones of the living” – and only gets more disconcerting from thereon in, complimenting the source picture, Dali’s ‘Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra’, wonderfully. I think Issue 8 just about wins, in this case.

It seems that Issue 7 works better overall, perhaps because its potentially mundane theme provides a solid grounding from which its contents can take flight. But it’s clear from these two issues that MMR is onto something special, mixing entertainment and unsettlement to make a thought-provoking whole, with the prosetry competition providing a thread running from issue to issue. The multimedia aspect is bold and inviting, the contents just the right size to keep a hold on our skittish and multi-tabbed attention-spans, and its consistent interest in crossing genre and media boundaries, in things interstitial, in juxtaposition and surprise, make it an exemplary online magazine.

Speed Dating Four Poetry Pamphlets: Stone, Quintavalle, Dunthorne, De Vries

In Pamphlets on September 2, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Speed Dating: four pamphlets from Indie presses

Today I am going to be speed dating four pamphlets from four different independent presses. I will be superficially picking at physiques, point out their best attribute and let you know which one is best value for money. I hope this glimpse into these pamphlets will tempt you into purchasing one (or more) of them and so support the future of British poetry (no pressure).

Value for Money

Jon Stone, SCARE-Crows (HappenStance, 2010) – 20 poems, £4

Rufo Quintavalle, Make Nothing Happen (Oystercatcher Press, 2009) – 21 poems, £4

Joe Dunthorne, Faber New Poets 5 (Faber and Faber, 2010) – 15 poems, £3.50

Ellen De Vries, Girl in the Air (Pighog 2007) – 16 poems, £6

Verdict: As far as price to poem ratio goes, Quintavalle is the clear winner with Stone breathing heavily down his neck. De Vries is the clear loser with each of her poems costing £0.375 compared to Quintavalle’s £0.19047619 poems.


Stone: The cover is in the usual sparse style of HappenStance, the few variations come in terms of cover colour and illustration. In this case, the cover is beige with the gangly drawing of a man dominated by an overlarge head. As with other HappenStance pamphlets, it’s easy on the eye and could fit into a moderately small clutch should you be so inclined. It’s like builder’s tea, predictable yet satisfying.

Quintavalle: This pamphlet also comes in the usual style favoured by Oystercatcher Press. The picture here is of a blowfish on patterned carpet. The paper is satisfyingly smooth compared to the rougher paper of Stone’s pamphlet, but I’m just nitpicking, at least Stone was allowed a biography. Of the four, it’s the least impressive looking, a bit like Monopoly money.

Joe Dunthorne: There’s something satisfying about the bold colours of the Faber New Poets series. It’s a good-looking pamphlet with its fireman red and willful simplicity. You’d like to get caught reading it on a tube. The cover is satisfyingly stiff, almost enough to make you forget the staples on the side.

De Vries: The most expensive of the four but also the only one with its own unique design aesthetic. The title is too pale for my liking and I’m not sure I like the drawing of the falling mouse but I admire the effort gone into fully illustrating the pamphlet – that’s got to make a poet feel good.

Verdict: Whilst I am most attracted to Dunthorne’s pamphlet I think De Vries is the clear winner here. Her pamphlet’s design both inside and out makes it a unique work of art. In comparison, the other pamphlets feel like factory products.

Standout Poem

Stone: There’s plenty to choose from with the chewingly shamanic ‘Jake Root’ and the cringingly amusing ‘Bullshit-Related Injuries in the A & E’. My favourite, however, is ‘Bedhair’, Stone’s reworking of Yosano Akiko’s tankas. They’re raw like a fresh graze, sexy, and smell strongly of booze.

Quintavalle: The standout for me is ‘Nowhere Special’ for managing to make the act of doing nothing so tense. The tightly packed words are like a coil waiting to take your eye out. It sums up to me perfectly the message of Quintavalle’s pamphlet and its deliberate contradiction of Auden’s utterance ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’.

Dunthorne: I am hesitant here between picking a poem that entertained me, and Dunthorne’s more serious material. There’s plenty of the former in this collection with ‘Future Dating’, ‘Sestina for My Friends’ and the grimly wonderful ‘The Actual Queen’. I think I’ll have to pick ‘Cave Dive’ however for its skilled personal exploration of time: ‘His slow mind thinks time / is just another surface’.

De Vries: Again, it is hard to choose just one, but I found her closing poem ‘Arabic’ particularly beautiful with its sensual, organic description of a ‘language / wet with seeds’.

Verdict: You can’t make me choose my favourite child, but if I could only pick two on a desert island they would probably be Stone and Dunthorne’s pamphlets. Why? Because their poems are surprisingly eatable and know how to make me laugh. That being said, each of these four debut pamphlets have an impressive voice worth hunting down.