Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Paper Darts

In online magazine, Website on April 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

-Reviewed by Roy Marmelstein

Paper Darts is a strange but ambitious beast. Based in Minneapolis, it’s a beautifully-illustrated but sometimes difficult to browse website that sets out to showcase exciting art, poetry, music and prose.

Now, the problem with this sort of thing is that the qualities of the different arts aren’t really the same. What makes a piece of visual art fantastic isn’t the same as what makes a song or a poem great. As competent and as passionate as curators and editors can be (and the editors of Paper Darts sure seem passionate), it’s unrealistic to expect them to be as knowledgeable about every form of artistic endeavour.

So, is Paper Darts a jack of all trades and master of none? Far from it. The art showcased is hugely impressive. Much of the prose is very well written. The poetry is rather hit and miss. The music isn’t very good at all…

Let’s discuss these in a bit more detail:

*Art* – Paper Darts knows its art. All the works showcased were fresh and of extremely high calibre with Ruben Island’s eery creations being a personal highlight. It’s also the easiest area to browse on the website, with the editors simply presenting us with a profile and a gallery for every featured artist. Definitely worth bookmarking and checking for updates.

*Music* – The music part is by far the weakest aspect of Paper Darts. The section instantly attacks you with a frustrating and badly-designed Flash carousel. It’s slow and difficult to browse and the actual music is mediocre
at best. I much preferred the art, prose and poetry sections…

*Prose* – The fiction part of Paper Darts features 24 short stories, their excellent selection feels a bit like a treasure trove. The ones I read were all fantastic. Standouts were Elizabeth Sowden’s “Final Notice” that perfectly captured youthful poverty (reminiscent of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger), OneThirtyFive’s short polaroid stories were pretty entertaining and “The Living Water” By Sara Aase, like the best short stories, was deliciously mysterious and left the reader wanting more. In comparison, the non-fiction area of the site seemed a little less exciting with well-written but rather dull contributions (with the notable exception of an intriguing flash non-fiction competition Paper Darts ran on Facebook).

*Poetry* – In a bit of a crude generalisation, students and teenagers who first dabble in poetry like to be a bit emo, attempt to shock the reader with sex-related imagery, experiment with unusual forms  and try to make a political point. It’s completely natural to start with bad but personal poetry and many will grow out of that initial phase to write really great poems. My issue with much of the poetry on Paper Darts is that it’s still in that embryonic teenage phase.

For example, this section from “On Their Eighteenth Birthday” by Sergio A. Ortiz

“–First she thought she was a Tapir,
then a pole.  I stuffed a butt plug in her mouth,
but she asked for a loincloth.
She fell in love with my skin, wanted to peel
it, peel me–Our lady of the Broken Condoms,
Latina Americana gringa wanna be
with the sagging implants. ”

or “Fly Over Poem” by Matt Rasmussen

“Your jet contrails stream
across my face of sky

like a money shot
in slow motion.”

Now, I’m not a prude and there’s nothing wrong with sexual imagery when it’s used for good effect. In fact, one of the better poems in Paper Darts‘ selection is Show Me Your Breasts by Niels Hav, a beautifully odd and rhythmic longing for a Russian woman and Russian culture.

There’s definitely some wheat in Paper Darts‘ poetry selection, but unfortunately there is quite a lot of chaff too.

Considering Paper Darts is completely free and online, there’s no reason not to check it out and it’s a great way to spend time on the internet. The art and fiction sections are particularly well done and you may find some good poetry in there too. As mentioned, the editors are a passionate bunch and I’m certain Paper Darts will continue to improve with future updates…

[Ed: Due to time constraints this is a review of the website’s blogzine rather than the print issues produced by Paper Darts but in the advent of it being shortlisted for a Saboteur Award we will judge issue #3 as the most recent issue at the time of review].

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Incite ‘April: the Coolest Month’ @ First Out Basement Bar

In Performance Poetry on April 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night

Wow. Incite is definitely my natural habitat. If you too are a queer wannabe-radical who loves his performance poetry then this will be all the fun. First Out, if you’ve not heard of it, was London’s first Gay and Lesbian Cafe (and embraces the entire LGTBUA spectrum) and has been voted Best Gay Cafe Bar 2008-2010. It’s lovely and queer and subversive and that’s just the venue.

And the event matched the venue. It was so out-and-out political, filled with like-minded people and lovingly welcoming. This, my friends, is counter-culture. This is activism. For me it felt very much like coming home. That’s not to say that if you’re not a queer radical then you won’t feel welcome, you will.

It was also unique in being the only poetry night I’ve attended to start on time and finish early, which was bemusing and caused me to miss two poets. The short length of the night meaning I felt things were over just as they’d really begun. But what there was, I liked. Maybe I didn’t love it all, but it all fit.

The Hosts

Were lovely. Warm, unpretentious, and inviting, they made a point of talking to each poet from the open mic afterwards to ensure they felt welcome. They could have been more enthused and energetic, which would have helped keep the crowd focused more on the poets than their own conversations, but for the most part the crowd’s ears and eyes were glued to the poets.

  •  One of said hosts, James, had a particularly interesting offering to the poetical proceedings with his interactive ‘Royal Wedding Extravaganza’, which he proceeded to dedicate to Quentin Tarantino and was called ‘Kill Will’. Imagine the plot of Kill Bill with the cast of the royal wedding: it’s surprising, but it works. So so beautifully did it work. From the cries of ‘Go Kate! Go Kate’ he prompted from the audience, to the yellow jumpsuit he bravely stripped down to, all the way to the hilariously inappropriate and sometimes quite astute blend of violence, filth and satire that spilled from his mouth.My initial reaction was that it was unsubtle, but effective and superbly entertaining (if not to everyone’s taste), but on reflection he wove different layers of parody together with skill, successfully satirising the monarchy, Tarantino, the circus that is public spectacle, gender stereotype and the idea of the fairytale. It was a joyous cabaret romp of pomp, Tarantino, conspiracy, royalty and circumstance and (aside from a few Diana references that were a bit close to the bone) it was surprisingly charming. And just the right time and place too.

The Features

I have to confess, I arrived late and thus missed two of the four features entirely.

  • Apologies to Ashleigh Yin Campbell, of whom Incite said: ‘Hailing from North London, Ashleigh wowed the crowd earlier this year at Incite and returns with a new extended set. An artist as well as a poet, Ashleigh brings us her philosophical take on life.’
  • And to Ciara Doyle apologies also, Incite said: ‘Ciara is from Dublin in Ireland, and has been enjoying living the lesbian life in London for the last year and a half. She works in education, and has been writing on and off most of her life. She attempted her first novel at the age of nine, and for her pains got into much trouble from the teacher for wasting a copy book – the fear has stayed with her ever since.’
  • Jordan Savage I did manage to catch, if I only saw one of her poems ‘Parly’ on the police kettles in Parliament Square following the Tuition Fees and EMA Protest. It was a poem that felt important, and coming from someone who had suffered in that protest it was poignant, touching and valiant. She used her language like a jacket, like armour pulled on around her, the way she dealt with the clash of actuality and public perception. On her wordpress you can see her other poems, many similarly political and similarly well phrased.  Her performance I felt could have done more to make her poems flow, to make them more accessible.
  • Steven Pottle gave a poem entitled ‘Raise a Glass’ an homage to Incite and the people that make it. It was a great poem for that crowd, touching on a variety of issues, a variety of things that sometimes separate, but in this venue bring us together. It was a little ‘listy’ and for what was a rallying call and toast could have been more enthused.

The Open Mic

  • Francis was first in the Open Mic, the first ‘Night Ache’ was filled with appropriately frustrating language and ‘Defences’ a nice subversion of fairytale and romantic narrative.
  • Next was Susan, who gave us two poems. One about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, an acrostic poem with equal parts pain and hope in honest and simple measures. The second was called ‘Tube’ and was a political piece on all (bankers, police, government) being equalised when crammed onto the underground carriage. A nice extended metaphor, but her performance didn’t always reflect her excellent content.
  • This was only Hel Gurney’s second performance and I can’t wait to see how this poet develops. The first, ‘Nec Femina Dice Nec Puer’, had a language all its own, mixing wild ancient classical references with mundane modern London, it played with both time, place and gender. The second, ‘Impressions’ was political but not so overtly, emotive language and common ground building community between chance meetings. It was perhaps the most traditional of the poetry on display with more defined verse structure and filled with literary references, which is quite refreshing on the London poetry scene.
  • Sudden Guest Reviewer (Dana Bubulj): James Webster was the final poet, performing his ‘What Are You Thinking’ which mixed pop culture with sincere affection with a professionalism that belied its newness to the mic.


New Linear Perspectives (Subversion Edition, April 2011)

In Magazine on April 30, 2011 at 10:38 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

New Linear Perspectives (NLP) is a Scotland-based literary arts and culture journal, edited by Andrew F. Giles and Claudia Massie. The site clearly intends to be comprehensive in its coverage of different aspects of culture, with a growing archive that already features art and film reviews, photography, as well as a variety of new writing that ranges from poetry to travel writing, short stories to mini-essays. April’s Subversion edition draws from the diversity of the journal, bringing together a review of Chengdu-based artists by Allan Harkness, two parts of an ongoing graphic tale by Chris Pritchett, and two short stories by Andrew McCallum Crawford.

Harkness’s piece on the artists at Blue House Studios is a follow-up to his earlier post at NLP, which is a compilation of the artists’ interview responses in which they explain the motivations that lie behind their creations. In this edition of NLP, Harkness proceeds to place the individual Chengdu artists in the wider context of a ‘Chinese painting faced with the end of modernity, with rampant technological rationalism and with the further prospect of postmodern epistemologies (phenomenology, deconstruction and multi-perspectivalism) rather than simply the issue of construction of an artworld infrastructure and market (currently so dominant in Beijing and Shanghai)’. While this is an interesting discussion, I suspect it may not necessarily appeal to readers who do not themselves already possess an interest in contemporary Chinese art. That said, the samples of artwork featured by NLP can be appreciated in their own right, especially the two works from Zhou Chunya’s Green Dog series, which are disturbing in the way they are simultaneously familiar (because they are dogs) and alienating (because they are so vividly green).

Described as ‘approach[ing] architecture from a dark-tinted viewpoint and evok[ing] a brand new, exciting netherworld for this discipline’, Pritchett’s The Keystone is an unconventional tale about Sisyphus, an architect who wants to tear down the Pumphuset in Uppsala, Sweden, and erect a new monument in its place. All for the city’s benefit, of course. In this edition of NLP, Part III lays out Sisyphus’s rationale for his grand project, while Part IV hints at further mysteries to come in connection with secrets the Chancellor is hiding and the gravestone that Sisyphus kneels at as he says, ‘I miss you. I miss you so much.’ The black-and-white artwork of the series is moderately stylised and its attention to detail stunning. One minor complaint I have is that the dialogue occasionally sounds forced, and a number of spelling errors have crept into the text too.

NLP calls Crawford’s two stories ‘short, sharp snapshots of relationships and macabre goings-on that are at once menacing and human’. This is accurate, although I would qualify the description by noting the stories pull it off with different degrees of success. In ‘Mac & Wills’, the central question initially appears to be whether the titular characters are a couple or not. Yet by the end of the story, the unnamed narrator confesses, ‘We never did work out if he and Mac were a couple. Nobody cared. Not really.’ Those last two statements are instructive, since there seems to me a danger of them not becoming fully developed characters, being described in reductive terms like ‘He hated lots of things’ (Mac) or ‘He was usually pissed, in a Brideshead Revisited sort of way’ (Wills). This makes it somewhat difficult to truly care about what goes down in the Astoria that makes Wills punch Mac with a sound ‘like a large cabbage hitting a wet floor’.

Finally, ‘Yin Eyes’ presents a writer living in a dilapidated basement flat with no heating, drinking weak tea made from reused tea bags and water ‘free of live bacteria’ (a small comic moment in an otherwise bleak story). This story is effective because rather than trying to compress whole lives into a single pivotal moment like ‘Mac & Wills’ does, what we get is a comparatively narrow slice in time, which opens up into a wider picture of the anonymous writer’s life. While he does not get up to much apart from making tea, listening to his next-door neighbour cry, and clearing away a dead cat, incidental details dropped in (‘The bags were a gift from the previous tenant’, ‘She sounded inconsolable, as she did every night’) hint at the possibility of human connection amidst (or in spite of) the seeming mundanity of his life. Even the closing line offers a gracefully understated moment of hope: ‘He felt himself smiling, although he was trying hard not to climb into hopes of a thaw.’

‘I Sing of Bricks’ by Angela Topping & ‘Erec & Enide’ by Amy De’ath

In Pamphlets on April 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm

 -Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey

These two poets inhabit entirely different worlds, not just because they come from different generations, but in their approach to poetry, Topping’s being more traditional and De’Ath’s experimental. The overall word that comes to mind when considering Topping’s chapbook is ‘clarity’. She focuses on objects that have a symbolic value for her and personal experiences, such as ordinary day-to-day moments with loved ones; the loss of a long-time poet friend, Matt Simpson, and also of her parents. The collection opens with two quotations, one by Simpson: ‘the disorder of gulls in a pleasure of words/the glint of the mullet, the pigness of pigs’. This sets up an expectation. In her opening ode, ‘I Sing of Bricks’, she describes ‘Warm cakes of baked clay/exact corners/strictly rectangular/correct and/all the same/yet each one/slightly different.’  So far, ‘the pigness of pigs.’  But in spite of the assertion in one poem that ‘there is no order’, for this reader at least, there is not enough ‘disorder’ here. Thankfully, there is the pleasure in ‘Bricks’ of ‘your masculine charms’ and ‘little loaves/you make up the smallest/pig house’, which redeem the poem for me.

However, not many of the poems allow the reader to ‘let your eyes gaze out of focus’ (‘Snakewatching’). In ‘Kitchen Ghosts’, the suggestion of a presence is beautifully conveyed with the seemingly last lovely lines: ‘Each morning, I hope for/lemon drizzle cake, two/pieces missing,/two empty cups.’ But turn the page and you discover three more lines, which spoil that last image: ‘Fool. They’re both long gone./Ghosts in the kitchen?/If hope could only make it so.’ When clarity becomes over-explanation, there is nothing left for the reader to imagine.

To my mind, the pleasure when reading poetry is in discovery. The poems here are for the most part straightforward, so it’s a delight to find a striking image, such as with ‘The Cook’s Tale’: ‘I select each vegetable and fruit/by the intimacy of touch, weight in the hand’ or with Three Ways of Snowdrops:

‘Their folded hands commit

Small white prayers

In the night’s confessional.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, they say

Nun-like heads bowed,

In the blankness of winter gardens.’

Similarly, ‘Gardening at Sylvia’s’ has some magical images: ‘The lilies are white cups of wine…Yellow crocuses burn in the grass/like eyes. Around the white beehives/the air hums with secrets…Pale moons of honesty/need harvesting for seed, but the heart’s/ gone out of it.’ Her nature poems, in fact, are where Topping’s imagery becomes alive; in ‘Heron’, her apples are ‘wormy windfalls, bruised and tart.’

Andrew Duncan once wrote that in defining why a poem is attractive, ‘we realise that there is an overall feel that emerges from the decisions about phrase and line juncture, that it is like the camera-pen (camera-stylo) which Alexandre Astruc posited as personal style in film.’ In the case of a collection or chapbook, these perhaps unconscious choices frame an overall consciousness and give a poet’s work its individual quality.

The danger of straightforward poetry is that it loses its power to occupy the mind. It arouses very few associations because it is straightforward. In some of these poems, however,  the reader also senses a grief that goes beyond the mourning of a friend. One poem, ‘Johari Whispers,’ hints at secrets: ‘a whisper here would be too loud’. It also stands out as being one of two poems with the layout of a double poem – or one across two columns – so there is an invitation to read it both down the page and across, suggestions of double entendre. The second poem in this form, ‘Each Blade Singly’ also mentions ‘secret life’ and ‘order’: ‘there is no order’. So while Topping’s poems generally offer a plain glass view of the world, these latter poems have a welcome ‘strangeness’ to them.

If ‘clarity’ defines Topping’s work in general, ‘strangeness’ defines De’Ath’s’s debut chapbook.  Her opening series of ‘Poetry for Boys’ opens with an oxymoron:

‘That the Joy will soon come and make you suffer!’ The first poem is an unexpected play on words, conveying atmosphere rather than sense:

‘Lay low in the words of the wood

very subtle, not immune,

lay down in the snow and incline…

…the screwing over, resin delight

delightful residual meaning, still night.’

Exciting syntax pulses through these poems, sustaining our interest and attention. Of course, attention is a voluntary thing; in my opinion, we are interested if the poet seems interested. Here, embedded in the chaos is a bizarre sense, which claims its space.  There is a strong consciousness of the poet’s engagement with this work, as well as wit and a lightness of touch:

The house is full of dehumidifiers. Behind the house

a warm damp world enlarges itself, puffs

leaves and shelled birdsong along in it, and a baby crying

and deeds of courage.

Just as you are beginning to feel that this is a logic that can be followed, De’Ath throws in dadaist-type oddities – to keep us on our toes:

‘If the sea is the swan road you can

Appropriate the lake-lady just by laughing.’

Of course, the natural human tendency is to seek a narrative seam; to hunt for the sense and latch on – and thankfully in these poems there is a central concept holding them together. The title, Erec & Enide, comes from Chrétien De Troyes’ twelfth century Arthurian romance, and many of the poems are love poems – although even tenderness is disguised with ironic anti-romanticism. One such poem – one of the most accessible – is ‘David’:

‘                                                    A

Man obscure and B sharp. Sympathy

Forever for living in a wheelchair, the man

Who on reaching critical mass is shot

Out of a Mossberg 12ga. and into my

Mouth. David leaves my mouth/

Sedated but soon he rocks down

To the Costcutter to buy beans.

David, reign in your keynote speech

At the Costcutter. David made of

Oak. David diamond.

Other poems are sunk further in obscurity – sometimes too much so: ‘I believe a readable face as crickets/swallow gleaming buildings full of/living banking hearts,/ I believe the grand ineloquence of/summer’s glue talking to you as if/pink axes in our reach,/and you, a click-clack landscape now/your thundering hero-organs chime a way into my laundry tub.’ (Sonnet). Where the risk for Topping is to be too overtly explanatory, De’Ath’s is to be too obfuscated. (Also, De’Ath’s line breaks are often risky, many lines ending with conjunctions or prepositions, contributing to the sense of instability.) Such poems appear to give over instead to the pleasure of soundscape, as with ‘Lisa Jarnot’s Rabbit’:

‘How to glide on promise

hunted hunted honed the sky

alone lacking ground a sky

alone on the border of a shadow

of a cloud betrothed and hunted

down.’

De’Ath plays music all the way through the side-stepping of logic. Yet in the apparent randomness of many images, repetitions and loops emulate the patterns of activity in the brain.  This is De’Ath’s strength. Her poems are attuned to the body, to language, and most of all, to multiplicity.  Ultimately, she knows what she’s doing:

‘Stranger, it’s a hunger I’m looking for.’ (Part 4 of Five Exits – Imagination.)

Simultaneity is the key to suggestivity, which permeates this collection. This, as well as De’Ath’s qualities of pitch and timbre, the oscillatory swellings up or vanishings to nothing – these give her surreal montages a subjective yet stylized sense of contemporary reality: ‘everyone endeared to the lyrics and here for proof’. Now her challenge is ‘how to glide on promise’.

These poems reflect our ‘folded times’ and introduce an exciting new voice.

‘No, Robot, No!’ by Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving

In Pamphlets on April 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm

-Reviewed by Claire Trevien– 

Roy Marvin and Eve Bishop, the authors of No, Robot, No! are in fact, as you probably know, Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving, the maverick power-couple behind Fuselit, Sidekick Books and other delicious projects. Jon Stone writes here that the reason for the pseudonyms was that Irving didn’t feel ready for a debut pamphlet, but whatever the reasons, this adds an extra layer of playfulness to an already lively collection. We learn for instance that Roy Marvin is ‘a community service bot who writes poetry during his oil changes […] He can’t wait to see his first real squirrel’.

The pamphlet is made up of some poems previously crafted by Irving and Stone along with some new collaborative work using various imaginative methods such as the domino (‘Players write alternative stanzas, making the first line match up phonetically with the second line of the previous stanza.’) or variations on the pleiadic verse (‘a form devised by Vera Rich’).

‘Birds’ and ‘Screwball’s Winter Bonanza’, which use the domino technique, have a satisfyingly rich sound landscape. Having the lines phonetically echo one another feels less obtrusive yet more pervasive than rhyme, to the degree that one has to forcibly jerk back from the trance-effect of the sounds in order to scavenge for meaning. This is easier to do with ‘Screwball’s Winter Bonanza’, an ad aimed at robots, ‘[w]ith deals on all the latest tics and habits’. The poem is a competent satire at its best (‘a tangled toy’s ennui’, ‘taste for mangled wisdom’) plain odd at its worst, ‘witch’s fervour’ is more sound-driven than sense-driven.

‘Birds’ is less easy to deconstruct but its atmosphere is more effective, more haunting than the entertaining-but-slight ‘Screwball’s Winter Bonanza’:

‘Her timbre is

soft in your memory circuits, just like fur.

One swoon for every skirl that hushed the birds;

that’s how they made her. This is how’re you’re made.’

Attempting to grasp the whole meaning of this poem is a satisfying endeavour, but is not necessary to an ‘enjoyment’ of the piece. The poem throws at you waves of pain, of disgust and frustration whether you’re looking for them ‘behind the skirting’ or not, demonstrating how echoes, when slotted together properly, can be powerful tools indeed.

There are also, as mentioned, previously written and published poems in this pamphlet including for instance Kirsten Irving’s ‘Sweet Death 500’ which I picked out as a highlight during its earlier appearance in Polarity. I described it then as running in ‘parallel the killing of human targets and steampunk self-dismemberment’. Irving’s description of her alter-ego Eve Bishop (unless it is Stone’s alter-ego of course) appears to reference this poem:

‘Eve Bishop is an ex-assassabot who collects boxes. At the time of writing she has 50,936 boxes.’

‘Sweet Death 500’ has lost none of its punch in being transferred to a different selection of work though the formatting does it less favours. This is the biggest criticism of the pamphlet:  the titles’ fonts make them barely-readable whilst the longer poems are unnecessarily cramped.

Other poems include the introspective ‘My Android Hairdresser’ and ‘Check-Up’, the sensory list-poem ‘Automota Soup’, or yet, again  ‘Catullus 2’, a re-working that Catullus’ caustic humour would have approved of:

‘Robot-sparrow, my moon-queen’s pet and play-thing,

whom she loves to fill up with bolts and filings.’

More than just a poem about a woman’s robot play-thing, the poem works as a comment on its own existence: is it simply a mechanical updating of a poem, or a creative enterprise in its own right? Like a good translation the updating grabs the essence of the original, you can imagine Catullus throwing an ‘exeunt knickers’ in for good measure.

The range of poems found in No, Robot, No! is satisfyingly varied going from light imaginative poems, to equally imaginative poems that hurdle bolts at you. This is collaborative writing at its best: fruitful, fresh, with both Stone and Irving’s writing benefiting from the alliance.

Forest Publications are a part of Edinburgh’s The Forest, which includes an alternative art gallery, a performance space featuring nightly live music events and a vegetarian café. It is one of the hippiest venues I have ever been to, it’s run by volunteers, you get to sit on the floor to listen to the free events if you want to, and it works by a donation process. It was an integral part of my experience of the Edinburgh Festival, the non-commercial, exciting and open-access side. Unfortunately, due to its landlords becoming bankrupt, The Forest needs to buy its premises. It has raised £20,000 so far and hopes to raise £50,000 by 1st June. So if this pamphlet interests you at all, think about donating directly to the Save the Forest fund here.We need places like The Forest, places that support the young, that aren’t driven by corporate greed, that have a real personality and history (unlike our clone-like high streets) so please think about donating a little.

Thieves Jargon #205

In Magazine on April 22, 2011 at 6:53 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

 Thieves Jargon is a monthly online literary journal that has been running for nearly seven years now, producing more than 200 issues in that time. An in-house press has also been set up, which publishes work by writers who have been featured in Thieves Jargon. Their editorial manifesto lists an eclectic range of influences, including among others, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Roald Dahl, Dahiell Hammett, and Stephen King. In the case of Issue #205, it seems that a good deal of the featured work is in the vein of the first two writers’ (for lack of a better phrase) transgressive mode, which understandably may put some potential readers off.

This would be unfortunate, however, as there are some strong pieces in this issue. One such is Adam Moorad’s ‘Saint Luc’, an effective example of how a writer can set his readers up to expect a story’s given scenario to play out in a certain way, only to entirely subvert that midway through. Moorad’s story opens with a couple in a hotel, expecting a baby (‘”I feel more pregnant than before,” Trudi said.’), and also apparently waiting for a wedding dress to be delivered (‘”I’m from bridal shop,” he said. “Prince et Princesse. You called about a dress?”’). I will not elaborate on what they actually receive because that would be a big spoiler, but I will say the revelation has the effect of completely changing how one perceives the characters and their situation, with the matter-of-fact narration now becoming rather chilling:

‘I read the French Do Not Disturb sign and looped it around the doorknob. Then I             closed the door and set the bucket down on the dresser.


“I guess there’s no turning back now,” she said, and she took a sip of cola.

We squirreled around for a while, and I waited.’

Kristine Ong Muslim’s flash fiction, ‘Quarter of a Body’, is also a highly effective example of the form. Its content would seem to put it squarely in the body horror genre (‘This time, that missing part, the fourth one shunned since birth, would have grown limbs by now.’), but in the space of just over 100 words, the flash evolves into an incisive comment on society and its inability to welcome what falls outside its own norms: ‘A creature this unstructured is built to last. It will look for the other three-fourths, the one accepted by society, the one which had a mother and a father just like the ones before it. Soon, it will learn to identify its prey. Soon, it will want a name.’

The poetry featured in Issue #205 also deals with themes that readers new to Thieves Jargon may not appreciate encountering. Gary Shipley is a first-time contributor to the literary journal, whose poem ‘Gunning on Empty’ is stunning in the way it combines imagery that is startlingly violent and yet productive of a macabre humour. Consider these lines from the poem:

‘Our depression was never sold in stores.

The idea was always an antiseptic gadget.
I went to see the tourists get gored:

It’s a meticulous way of being human.’

It is hard to deny that the idea of watching tourists being gored as a demonstration of one’s humanity is profoundly disturbing, but the violence of the sentiment is already somewhat undercut by a deadpan line like ‘Our depression was never sold in stores’. Depending on how you look at it, that line is either very funny or very sad. Possibly both. Regardless, it is part of a series of strong images that make the poem memorable reading.

On the other hand, veteran contributor Carl Miller Daniels’s poems embody a frank, in-your-face homoerotic sensibility that has been described in an interview linked from his biographical note as ‘pornographic willy-nillyness’. This is pretty accurate, since Daniels cannot seem to get away from phrases like ‘the sexy naked big-dicked college boy’ in the poem ‘that’s his summer diet’, hammering it home four times as if afraid the reader would miss it the first. The effect is unsubtle to the point of being not so much shocking as boring. What is frustrating is that Daniels’s poems do contain the potential to say something beyond the obvious, i.e. men masturbate. For example, although ‘nesting’ begins typically with ‘two cute big-dicked young men’, the next line is ‘climb into bed together’. When further on ‘one guy pretends to remain asleep / while the other guy is busily / jerking off beside him’, that earlier ‘together’ certainly seems to beg the question, why this pretence? Something more is being hinted at here, but as it never gets developed further, the poem literally subsides into an opaque, post-coital ‘silence’.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing gay erotic poems. In the manifesto though, the editors quote Beckett: Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness. Judged by this standard, it is hard to argue for Daniels’s work as being necessary, since it tends to read more like the stuff of pornographic wish-fulfilment. So if you want my personal advice in this case? Skip these poems and read something by Thom Gunn or Mark Doty instead, who write more satisfying (and sexier) gay-themed poetry. The rest of Thieves Jargon Issue #205, however, is definitely still worth having a look at. The writing is likely to polarise readers, but I would say that is an achievement to be proud of in any case.

eFiction Magazine #12

In Magazine on April 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

-Reviewed by Kurage Kobayashi

eFiction Magazine is a monthly publication that can be read online at efictionmag.com. The magazine, however, is eclipsed by the surprisingly active and friendly site maintained by eFiction authors where the emphasis is on helping fellow writers to grow in craft and style. These contributors describe themselves as:

“…a group of writers, editors, and otherwise fiction-loving people who work together to learn everything that is interesting about stories and use that knowledge to put together a monthly magazine.”

The site is clean and easy to explore. On it are discussions on self publishing, book marketing, and a forum called The Coffee Shop where one is encouraged to “grab a cup of coffee and hang out for a bit”, figuratively, of course. It strikes me as a safe environment in which the creative learning process can be made less intimidating and experimentation is welcome, comparable to a virtual cooking class.

eFiction Magazine #12, March 2011, reviewed by Kurage Kobayashi for Sabotage

Of the seven pieces in the March issue the majority are flash fiction which is, by definition, often spare and unfinished. Considering the warm workshop atmosphere of eFiction’s online forums these stories could be further peer reviewed, edited and expanded upon in the future.

Jordan Hart in ‘Withdrawl’ presents us with a short and swift retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale as viewed through the lens of a blackout alcoholic. The piece is clever if self aware. It reads as a set up for a long and involved joke, something Roald Dahl would delight in spinning out and prolonging until the reader is left anxious for relief. Hart, however, sucker punch-lines us almost immediately, leaving us unsatisfied and feeling a bit cheated, much like his story’s pitiable protagonist.

Of the flash fiction the most deft and entertaining is Z.J. Woods’s ‘A Breach of Warranty’. In a short span Woods introduces us to a world where children meet in secret to engage their parents’ HouseholdHelper Modular Automata in gladiatorial combat. There is a playfulness to Woods’s tone and word choice that makes up for the overwhelming crush of characters (four robots and three children). When the lighthearted romp takes a darker turn into the philosophy of electronic life and death the reader is drawn headfirst with the characters on the page.

Two pieces in this collection cross the line from flash fiction into short story territory, one of which is the true standout work of this edition. In ‘All of us and all of the moments of our lives’ by J. Eric Miller we are made privy to a private and fully formed world, the universe inside the protagonist’s head. We awake with our (regrettably anonymous) narrator to find both his bowels and brain in turmoil. While performing his morning rituals and complaining of his intestinal distress we are introduced through subtle and gentle clues to the time, place and persons involved in a complex relationship between two families with a shared son.

By keeping the arena of action entirely internal Miller expertly overlays a sense of hurtling progression and dread onto what is essentially a series of mundane events culminating in a severe mental breakdown. As such Miller’s work is the most whole and intriguing piece in the issue.

The longest piece, Aaron Wilson’s ‘The Return ofMelanplus Spretus, is a thematically ambitious and tightly plotted tale of man’s hubris and natural disaster.

Unfortunately the action built upon this steady foundation reads on the level of camp absurdism. Wilson concerns himself with a plague of locusts terrorizing a small Colorado farming community, consisting of stereotypical characters for whom it is difficult to feel sympathy. By far the most understandable character is the hoard of locusts itself.
With another round of editing Wilson could turn this into a fine and ominous tale, one that is half as long. He could use the reclaimed space to paint a less caricatured portrait of Colorado potato farmers so that there is a real sense of loss when disaster strikes.
If Wilson unintentionally descends into the realm of camp , the guest author, Jeff Baker, does so deliberately.

In his author spotlight interview Baker explains that ‘The Black Wind’ is an ode to Lovecraft. He then presents the tale of an academic’s descent into madness due to his obsession with a book, The Journal of Colonel William Fawcett: World Reknowned Explorer 1886and the bloodthirsty Amazonian deity described within. In classic Lovecraft fashion the story centers around the craven misbehavior of supposedly civilized men that is just as wildly over-inflated as the title of Fawcett’s journal.

Unfortunately Baker’s word choice is spotty, drifting between nineteenth century verbiage and twentieth century colloquialisms, and though there is plenty of book flinging action (books being smacked from hands, swept from tables) Baker never fully commits to the hysterics for which Lovecraft is so well known. If we are to have insane and ancient murderous urges, vile supernatural entities and vain academics, then give us also the absurd and delightful orgy of grotesque and baroque detail that can be found in, for example, corpses clawing their way through the basement walls of Herbert West – Reanimator.

In ‘Jazz Night’ Baker delivers a vignette that showcases his animator’s eye for action and visual flair. Baker uses the familiar trope of an ageing hitman out to prove his worth in order to showcase his flair for dramatic imagery and dynamic movement as well as his campy, pulp sensibility. Baker makes up for occasional missteps with clever noir labels for his futuristic world, people and places and the technologies employed by these characters. The action is visceral and logical and the characters are larger than life (the private police dress like Roman soldiers, the hitman is veined with cybernetic fibres). The world of New Venice is garish and dramatically lit, in the fashion of a comic book.

Baker’s work is fun, cemented in genre, and forgivably unoriginal. It is also representative of most of the pieces in the issue in that it feels unfinished. What is truly dismaying about eFictionis the number of typos littering this issue. But if overall the contents of eFiction’s March edition seem half-baked, they do so like a chocolate cake with a molten centre. After all, who hasn’t enjoyed licking the batter from the spoon? The joy of butter, raw egg and processed sugars is a delightful, if ultimately guilty, pleasure.

Poetry Jam @ The Tea Box 08/04/11

In Performance Poetry on April 14, 2011 at 11:45 pm

-Reviewed by Dana Bubulj and James Webster

The Venue
The Tea Box has a particular kind of energy: that of bergamot and old ladies. Based in Richmond, it’s atypical of the London poetry scene, with scones and tea lending a genteel and reserved air to proceedings. There was a good ratio of performers to audience and they were not afraid to show their appreciation and call for more verse.

The Night
The Tea Box has been hosting poetry for two years now and shows no signs of stopping. From the beginning it’s had the tagline ‘Where Innocence meets Experience’ and welcomed poets of all experience levels and what’s really encouraging is to see so many poets coming back event after event, their poetry stronger and their eyes just as bright and wide as the first time they read. The event is now hosted by a series of guest hosts, this month local poet and rapper (and a man I went to primary school with) Ed Parshotam.

The Host
And speaking of Ed, it was his first time hosting a poetry event, but he quickly settled into his role and into the room (the layout split the audience with the stage and was initially awkward). He also aided the flow of the night with several of his own poem-cum-raps.

  • His rap on a disgusting roommate (previously seen at Sage and Time) is a great use of rap to let loose some lyrical put-downs.
  • Innovations, a poem listing innovative inventions, flexed Ed’s impressive imagination. The audience were most amused. (I liked the bottle with attached bottle-opener.)

The Jam

  • Jack Kelly’s poetry had a rhythm that flowed well between his lines. They all had a surreal feel to them, playfully subverting common idiom, working best when he let the rhythm take us through his internal narrative, without trying to impose a background on the poem’s creation. Bag Full of Shrapnel was a highlight creating a man stumbling through life, his “bag full of shrapnel” at the “remains of the day” a quietly confident refrain.
  • Harriet Cramer’s tried to capture a memory with her poems. Of course she was drunk at the time (of the memory and of the writing) so her meaning’s a little muddied. When she was on form her poem Meeting Friends not Falling Baby was held together with strong rhyme and opened the parlance of her friends to the audience, but on occasion her repetition and sentimentalising of evenings out made her own words sound a little cliché.
  • June Mason’s “middle aged rap” wasn’t. A rap that is. That said, she posed a valid question as to why certain styles and themes were closed to her. I did like the idea that some themes, such as death, were more prescient for her as it was “not just faraway but nearer”.
  • Jason Why does improvised poems based on audience interaction. It’s an interesting act, but more suited to Music Hall than to a poetry Jam, particularly if the audience are not biting. His first improv was laudable, combining the words he was given into a comprehensible poem. His second required a volunteer (in name only) who was more bemused than excited.
  • Yvonne Mallett read two contrasting poems. One, a ponderous narrative entitled Working From Home was supposedly directed at the transport minister who wants more people to work at home, was amusing in a Flanders and Swann kind of a way, but I felt would have been more powerful if it’d addressed said minister more directly. The second, Rene’s in His Heaven and All is Well gave short but fitting thanks to the painter whose blue skies the day had emulated.
  • James Webster also juxtaposed two very different poems. The first was dedicated to Franita, a co-worker who had sadly passed away, and questioned what happens after death, beginning, “I have a dead girl’s number on my phone”. The second, Baggage, is more personal, discussing his past with an engaging openness. These poems, both new, were delivered with passion that will make them strong pieces once they have become more polished.
  • Anne Humphry introduced her work as ‘thoughts on times we live in’. Anne’s been coming to this event since it started and her poetry has gotten stronger as it’s become more contemporary. More Than Enough on the ubiquity of advertising; Against the Clock a poignant comment on the pressure time puts on you; Lists and Tasks demonstrating an aged vulnerability; A Force For Good had a simple beauty to it, while A Force For Evil was a poem of regret for beliefs that become more important than lives. Her poems are elegant, rich and full of feeling.

The Feature
Elizabeth Darcy Jones, the nation’s unofficial ‘tea poet’ is a perfect fit for The Tea Box. Tonight she was celebrating the birth of ‘poet-tea’ (say it quickly), unveiling the news that her book Distinguished Leaves: Poems for Tea Lovers will be out this September from Quiller Publishing.

She was glorious (she usually is). Her poems personified different kinds of teas into a colourful cast of alluring and seductive characters, each steeped in the personality of the tea they represent. From Pinhead Gunpowder, a tea that ‘speaks to sinners’ and inspires the drinker, to Golden Oolong, a dashing gentleman of a tea, inspiring a ‘second flush’ (a pun for tea enthusiasts there) in its ‘memory of a teenage crush’ and on to Earl Grey ‘a Nigel Havers of a tea’. Her poems point out what’s special and extraordinary about tea, whilst also reminding us of its everyday power to bring people together.

And her final poem, Fortune Favours the Tea certainly brought the audience together, a history of tea and a rousing anthem for all tea drinkers, complete with a chorus you can chant.

Ed finished an entertaining and varied evening with an improv based on objects held up by the audience. He showed a quick tongue and quick feet as some more esoteric items came into play (“I don’t know what obsidian is but I’ll say it anyway”), even referencing the police siren that threatened to drown him out to finish the poem.

Overview: A great night at The Tea Box. Not the most polished poetry event, but a very warm one, the poets and audience all seemed comfortable and it’s this kind of sharing and caring event that helps poets grow.

‘Planet-Shaped Horse’ by Luke Kennard

In Pamphlets on April 14, 2011 at 9:24 pm

-reviewed by Alex Campbell-

Client danger to self, others. Client already sees self as ‘author’. Having book out only exacerbates aberration. And for what? Does book even sell? Editor hangs up.” (Case Notes)

Last month I was fortunate enough to catch a reading from Luke Kennard at a writers’ soiree at Warwick university, where, amongst other things, he read a few poems from his new collection, Planet-Shaped Horse. From the first line I was hooked:  his comic timing is superb, and his deadpan delivery absolutely spot-on. His poems; wry, blackly humorous and revelling in the absurd, are a joy to listen to, and just as good to peruse alone, later.

The actual book opens with a quote and a map, but of the two the map is more interesting. It follows the conventions of map-making, but turns them on their head, with its strange, skewed perspective, a childlike, hand drawn aesthetic, and little embedded witticisms from the start: “Key: Minimise discomfort”. It’s exactly the right kind of map for the world we’re about to explore.

The poems too have a studied naivety, which is charming, warm and engaging (Special mention must be made of the owl singing “Ted Huuuuughes…” who re-appears as a drawing on the ends piece) and just a little bonkers. His imagery is whimsical, but winning, such as the description of a toothbrush that “leans forward / as if condescending to admire a child’s painting.” (The Environment) or minks as being “little apostrophes of teeth and cruelty” (Mink Farm). At the same time, he manages to create a strange world of porcelain horizons (Mink Farm), Hermitologists, scheduled arguments (Farfalle or The Argument) and other absurdities, but litters it with insights, ironies and a hint of sadness that seems to bring out a clearer way of seeing. The titular conceit – that the world is a planet-shaped horse, ‘it gallops faster the more you beat it / with the undersides of your feet’ (Eyes) – is introduced quite late in the book, but works as a sort of pinnacle of all the quirky metaphors splashed liberally throughout the text, as well as a statement about stasis and movement. What could seem like non-sequiturs, here actually have their own logic to them, and when you’re forced to look at things from this 45 degree angle they make more sense than some things do the right way up.

The fact that this collection is a poem-play cannot be forgotten. There is a strong narrative thread running through the collection, which gives it a depth of meaning and character that no single poem could have achieved on its own – though many of them could theoretically stand alone. The characters; Simon and Miranda the case-workers, the Hermit, the Hermitologist, and of course our protagonist, Client 1764, are all engaging and well realised. The format of a poem may require a certain sparseness of detail, but these characters never suffer for it. Kennard’s incisive observation and quick turn of phrase means that a little goes a very long way, and Simon, with “his courteous smile like a weak / line-break, the fashionable cut of his jaw-line.” (‘More Sad News From Your Stupid Planet’) Miranda, who “practically is an exclamation mark’ (ibid) and 1764 himself, with his ‘feet – little decommissioned tanks’ (two Hermits) and his farfalle bow-tie, are alive and vibrant as any.

The best thing about Kennard is perhaps that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, so he’s not afraid to make himself the butt of his own humour. His quiet mockery of the pretensions of art is refreshing – “I Faked My Own Life (Felt, wire wool, craft / knives 65 acres land, 1997)” (Time Capsule), “Second-marker comments: You seem to think / you are being satirical, and your raised eyebrow / prevents you from achieving a higher grade here.” (The Environment) – but he is self aware enough to realise that he is mocking himself as well, and good humoured enough to laugh along with it. Though the joke is almost always on him, it never slips from wryly self deprecating into angst or whining. He is happy to suggest that there are “Too many poems addressed to much better artworks, / too many poems addressed to much better writers. / Oh, Borges, I take off my hat to you, / a hat filled with a million libraries, etc / Let’s at least agree that’s bullshit.” (Farfalle or The Argument), but still accepts that “the incandescent wierdoes who hate you / make up at least 10-20% of your audience, which is quite a market share.” (Mink Farm)

Kennard’s work is clever, fascinating and with an off the wall, tongue in cheek sort of humour that is a joy to read or listen to. Perhaps though, we should take one final warning, from this collection; that “Like most jokes, the joke is on the people who pretend to get it” (Sobranies)…

Hackney Hammer & Tongue (@The Victoria) 04/04/11

In Performance Poetry on April 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night
Another month and another Hammer & Tongue slam. The Victoria in Hackney is the newest place for H&T to ply their own particular poetic excellence, this being only the 3rd slam here. The venue does not at first look like a typical poetry venue, The Victoria having a certain ‘local pub for local people’ appearance, but appearances could not be more deceiving; you get into the back room and find a room decked out in fairy lights while resident DJ spins a selection of funky tunes.

The atmosphere was thusly incredibly welcoming, which is what’s great about Hammer & Tongue, they know slam poetry is a collaborative endeavour, one which the audience play as great a role as the poets. The judges are chosen at random and we’re encouraged to cheer or boo judge decisions based on our own opinions of the poetry. Poetry for the masses, oh yes.

The Host
‘Angry’ Sam Berkson (previously reviewed by Sabotage at the March Camden H&T Slam and at Sage and Time) is a generous host. Despite his ‘Angry’ moniker his attitude to the audience and the poets is nothing short of lovely. He remembers audience members who’ve attended before, he praises and encourages poets, he always has an astute or funny comment and he seems to really believe in the event, to believe in his poets, to believe in poetry. And speaking of poetry:

  • He opens with a series of ‘Hackney Poems’. As a Hackney local his poems are snapshots of loud, vibrant and sometimes violent life; a send-up to the streets in all their raucous abandon and grimy grit.
  • He followed these up with ‘Stop the Fucking War’, a poem full of fire and ire. He moves from poetically describing profoundly unpoetic events of a war abroad, to the ongoing war at home, a war of ideas, a war for our civil liberties. This battle cry to intellectual battles, to the war against war, certainly struck a chord or two.

The Slam
Format: 3½ minutes, any form, any subject, 5 scores out of ten (top and bottom knocked off), final score out of 30. The winner progresses to the Hackney final, and the winner of the Hackney final goes through to the UK Final in Brighton for the chance to be crowned UK Slam Champion.

This month was a surprisingly sparse slam, with only 5 performers , but I enjoyed each and every one of them.

  • Jenny Wright, the sacrificial poet (who volunteers to go first, so the competitors don’t have to), gave us some verse that was heavy with rhyme and layered with imagery of plants and human growth. It became a song of wasted youth that helped her find her voice, and what a voice it is. There’s a strength to her words and to her voice and to her poem in both form and content. 24.3.
  • Pierro: it was his first slam, and it was a poem with a succession of images of displacement, hope and struggle; lines like ‘I lived whole a life in the sky’ give it a wild and open feeling. His quiet and understated delivery had the whole room in a deathly hush as his words built us a picture of life as he saw it. 23.1.
  • Edward Unique: his ‘To My Darling I-Pod’ was much improved over his performance at Farrago, helped by his confident and warm introduction. The poem still lacks punch and punchlines, and could do with highlighting the ridiculosity of its conceit a bit more, but a vast improvement in delivery. 22.8.
  • Rob Orton: was one of the features at the first Hackney H&T, and his first one liner poem “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN … these are the names that we give to the toilets’ got a great laugh. His ‘Letter to Joe’ was short and vitriolic, and his ‘Life and Chips Twice Please’ was funny, but I felt relied too much on repetition of the same joke. 24.8.
  • James Webster: was dashingly handsome and devastatingly witty, but I can’t really comment on my own poetry for fear of bias. 24.1.
  • Patrick: his transcendental poem had a wonderful and wholesome message, and was refreshingly light on narrative. Some of the images I felt didn’t quite stand up. His score wasn’t announced, but I believe it was 22.5.

1st: Rob Orton.
2nd: James Webster.
3rd: Pierro.

Overview: A really high quality, if somewhat short, slam. I really enjoyed all the poets, especially Pierro who I would have picked as my winner, but he was unlucky to have gone first (no-one’s ever won a H&T slam going first) as I feel he would have gotten a score that more reflected the quality of his poem had he been on later. In the end it seems that Rob Orton’s off-beat delivery, vitriol and surreal humour clinched it.

The Features
Chris Parkinson
His confident manner, riotous carnival-esque delivery and excellent mutton-chops were very entertaining. He was heavy on irony; often layering it on so thick it was difficult to tell what, if anything, he meant genuinely. Indeed he even offered to sell his poetry pamphlet half-price to those who would go through and highlight his inconsistencies. Poems such as ‘Suburban Pastoral’ and ‘The Public Face of Meat’ were short, surreal, acerbic and sweeter than sherbet. His longer poems kept the surrealism, but repeated absurdist images in his longer poems seemed like they started to lose the audience.

The Dead Poets
The Dead Poets are an exciting verse experiment: Mark’s a poet and MC Mixi is, well, an MC and rapper. The two blend rap and poetry with considerable verbal dexterity; their arguments are funny and clever, showing (despite their disagreements) that poetry and rap both grow from the same roots. Together they make you laugh and think in equal measure, their joint efforts on rap and poetry and their storytelling exercise about a boy named Tarquill are definite highlights; separately they’re just as good, Mark’s sweet poem about liking a girl who reads, and Mixi’s rap about the prejudice faced being a rapper from ‘the sticks’ (‘look bud, I ain’t no actor, I’m just cruisin’ in my tractor!’) both hit home with panache.