Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Clouds Over The Lune Valley: Songs and Stories From Our Valley

In anthology, Short Stories on May 29, 2011 at 11:30 am

-Reviewed by Richard T. Watson

You may not be familiar with the Lune Valley, but I think you should be. I’ve not been myself, but reading Cloudscapes Over the Lune: Songs and Stories from our Valley has been enough to take me there in my mind at least.

The Lune Valley, or the Vale of Lune as it’s sometimes more poetically known, is the valley surrounding the Lune river in north England. The river works its way through Cumbria and Lancashire, and there’s something very English about the place names it passes. As well as flowing through Lancaster, the River Lune also passes near Kirkby Lonsdale, Nether Burrow, Bolton-le-Sands, Bowderdale and Beck Foot.

One of JF Sebastian's photos of the Lune River and Valley

The land the river runs through is known as Lonsdale, Lunesdale and the Lune Gorge, collectively the Lune Valley – it’s this place that Cloudscapes Over the Lune is concerned with. The book is a collection of poems and short stories based in and inspired by the same countryside that inspired Turner and Wordsworth. But while Wordsworth’s poetry aspires to higher ideals and universal themes, the poems and stories of Cloudscapes Over the Lune are firmly rooted in their immediate location; they are very much stories from ‘our’ valley, told by writers immersed in their home patch.

This valley is the sort of place where you could rent a holiday cottage, a bit like these. Most of the stories in Cloudscapes Over the Lune avoid the tourist image of the valley (though I suspect I’ve fallen into that trap in this review), instead focusing on the lives of those who grew up in the valley. Clare Weze Easterby’s ‘The Visitor’ is an exception to that, dealing as it does with just such a holiday cottage. It’s a story that serves to puncture some of the possible tourist myths about the Lune Valley, though taking the collection as a whole means the reader shouldn’t lose sight of the Romantic magic of the place (note the capital R). But Melissa Bailey’s twin stories, ‘Zosia’ and ‘Dodge’, provide perspectives from the Valley’s newer, more transient residents, an immigrant and a vagrant – which seems to bring the Lune Valley in line with multi-cultural Britain of the 21st Century.

Working through the collection gathered by Easterby and her collaborators, the reader can build up a vision of this picturesque part of northern England. For example, Easterby’s own short story ‘Grandmother’s Footsteps’ features some children taking the scenic route across the region’s hills, waterfalls and dales. She also uses a guidebook for futuristic (alien?) visitors to explain things about the Lune Valley that may not be obvious (or that are too obvious, such as the pavements not being self-cleaning ones): ‘three counties meet within the Lune Valley. You will therefore encounter a dialect containing Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbrian influence’. Mary Sylvia Winter’s poem, ‘Cloud over Roeburndale’ captures this place where the moorland can be caught ‘between hiss of wind and clatter of beck’, under the ‘shadow-rippled acreage’ of the clouds. This place is bleak, wide open, and a natural force lurks powerfully all around.

There’s something else lurking in Easterby’s ‘A Short Time Ago on Newby Moor’, a short story in which a new leisure-retail emporium opens on Newby Moor and seems too good to be true. The place has an artificiality at odds with its surroundings, but the story has a constant threat of the sinister, which feels like it could break through at any moment. Disappointingly, it never does – rather than a short story this feels more like a teaser for a longer work, or else simply some writing that never quite lived up to its promise.

This lack of conclusion, a failure to quite satisfy or to make an impression, occurs frequently in Cloudscapes Over the Lune. The collection is full of pleasing snippets of Lune Valley life, but read individually very few of them stand up to much scrutiny and are largely forgettable. They must be taken together, and can stack up to create a vivid impression of the landscape.

When I said Cloudscapes Over the Lune was immersed in its home patch, I meant it. This feels tremendously local; like a group of friends sitting around a coffee table, swapping stories about the windswept hillsides they can see through their kitchen window. Of the book’s £2.75 (inc. VAT) price, £1 goes to the Rainbow Trust, and £1 goes to the Make A Wish Foundation, both charities working with terminally ill children, so it’s a worthwhile buy.

Image thanks to JF Sebastian.

‘Shad Thames, Broken Wharf’ by Chris McCabe

In Play of Voices on May 21, 2011 at 9:51 am

-Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey

Shad Thames, Broken Wharf is a commissioned play, or script for a short film, written by Chris McCabe. Each book is presented in a box, with a genuine relic salvaged from the river. Nice touch.

The cast: Echo, a middle-aged woman from the locality, Blaise, a Northerner, the Landlord, a Londoner with ‘the knowledge’ and the Chorus, representing ‘The Restructure.’  Immediately there are resonances of Greek mythology (Echo was the name of a nymph who fell in love with Narcissus), Beckett, Joyce, Shakespeare, even Orwell’s 1984 (The Restructure). The language is poetic, sardonic, dark, comic: ‘Consider the Gherkin: a suppository for the arse they made of things.’

The Prologue opens with the Landlord locating the setting: ‘somewhere between a warehouse & a backstreet, between the Thames & the City.’ Then he goes on to describe how he became a Landlord, defining his role as something ‘between a bookmaker & a doorman, an undertaker & a prophet, a pharmacist & a cab driver…’ He continues, philosophically, so that in the end, the Landlord’s role encompasses every occupation from an historian to a Griffin, minute-taker, anarchist, semaphorist and poet. And more. This is a play full of lists.

The ‘white strobe from the tower’, which reflects across the river, across each glass he pours, symbolizes the ‘forever-time position of making the moment happen on canned-repeat – each time new, each time the same…’ Here is where I am reminded of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, where the conversation endlessly repeats, where nothing happens, where there is always a sense of anticipation. The language is wonderfully poetic and rhythmic, with unexpected images: ‘the tides percolating sea-saliva, clawing the bladderwrack beach ….binbags hunched as done-in men….’. There are also striking and incongruous juxtapositions of location: ‘…somewhere between Deadman’s Dock & a shop called Joy.’ McCabe makes effective use of rhythm, assonance, alliteration, lists and repetition to ensure his audience’s rapt attention.

The opening dramatic monologue, which locates the story ‘somewhere between the dead fish & fresh bread, the bunker & the turret, between the commerce and the cormorant, the greed & the grebe….somewhere between tonight’s first shout & what she said at Shad Thames’ – sets up an expectation – of poetic language, of a conflict, and creates a suspense: what did she say? The lack of a full stop in the final sentence leaves everything open-ended.

In the opening scene, the two characters, Echo and Blaise, appear to be talking to themselves. At any rate, their comments seem unconnected to each other. We start to get a sense of the contemporary: ‘the pulse of the pyramid’; ‘this husk of a remote control, battery-side up, in the sand’.  Echo describes the excavations and rebuilding: ‘They dug the bunker with tractors, diggers, cranes – it was like watching a nest of insects.’

She is bemused by all the activity, not able to concentrate on it ‘ – never knowing when he’d be back’

It is in fragmented suggestions like this that we get glimpses of her personal life.

Blaise lists items he finds in the river. Echo (whose dialogue is always rich with imagery) describes a book she found when the tide went out: ‘Have you ever seen a book thrown back by the river? It was open face-down like a drowned bird. I thought there might be a clue there. I picked it up – it was called Ulysses’

Blaise tells Echo (now they are beginning to have the semblance of a conversation together) about a friend of his, a bin-man, whose mate had a problem with ulcers. He found a copy of Ulysses in the bin, and read it because he thought it might help: ‘you know, being called ‘Ulcers’.

Echo talks in generalities. She mentions seeing seven species of birds. Blaise likes specifics: ‘what kind of birds?’ She lists them: ‘sparrows, starlings, tits, gulls, pigeons, blackbirds, crows’.

The conversation, and the journey she describes, goes round in circles, ‘or cyles’, as they buy round after round. The wisdoms they sprout are very Beckettian: ‘Never trust a man with a square watch’;  ‘It’s men with small wrists who dig deepest in their pockets.’

As Blaise goes out for a ‘piss’, the voice of The Restructure is heard, introducing a more surreal note:

‘When the weather changes THE

RESTRUCTURE replaces the crunch of notes with shreds of gulls,

conceals phonebooks of evacuees under fresh snow

so the contacts are mulched under boot-treads –‘

Although The Restructure gives a description of sorts, it is atmosphere rather than logic, which is conveyed:

‘…THE RESTRUCTURE uses a spirit level

of grey tube to level out the overspill of marshes,

shunts under the river to make North and South a tabula rasa,

a straight run of twenty-five minutes without delays

(time enough to think but not act on how much you owe)’

(For me, a ‘spirit level’ will always bring Heaney to mind, and so, another echo…)

In the layers between these fragmented observations of the Landlord, the Restructure and the disjoined dialogue between Echo and Blaise, we begin to get a sense of cohesiveness: the objects unearthed from the riverbed symbolizing the history of Shad Thames, the evolution of its story.  Echoes and repetitions continue the cycles and circles, symbolizing life: eggs, birds, snowflakes. Myth and legend surface in random fragments uttered: ‘Did I ever say that if the stone birds fly from the Liver Building the whole city crumbles back to earth?’

The conversation follows no specific topic, abruptly changing constantly, yet loops occur. The dialogue – such as it is – is broken by silences, which appear to be comfortable ones, or someone – this time, Echo – going for ‘a piss.’

The voice of The Restructure is heard again, with more riddles, surreal images and bizarre rules for a strange world:

‘THE RESTRUCTURE….positions fortune cookies

along the cobbles of wharves so subliminal messages

gum the soles of shoes; creates brutalist altars in converted

churches so new Gods can be seen from many perspectives,

ensures all citizens are buried with a coxcomb, a chicken and a

bell.’

Oh, McCabe is having fun! This is a text that also continues to subvert expectations. Magic occurs: ‘transforming fish to dancing coins’.  Sometimes, spells are more like curses (as with the witches in Shakespeare’s MacBeth):  ‘….THE RESTRUCTURE mixes mercury

with syphilis to ensure mental collapse follows erectile dysfunction’.

There is gambling, with ‘the splenetic lighthouses of fruit machines’. Sometimes there’s the sense of a reversal of time to a Dickensian world: ‘THE RESTRUCTURE has already placed penny bets on fortunes in the smouldering quays of Galley, Dice and Smart’. And let’s not forget the ghosts in the churchyard of St Mary’s: it was like a canteen, a canteen for ghosts’. McCabe spins us, not only through time warps, but also through the literary worlds of the great classicists – back to Beckett again:

Blaise: ‘It’s a parallax!

Echo: ‘It’s a trick of perspective!’

Blaise: ‘It’s a dupe for terrorists!’

Echo: ‘It’s a maze for drunkenness!’

And Shad Thames, Broken Wharf, is, indeed, all these things. Amidst the piss, the alcohol, the river, flows the drunken drivel of two characters reflecting on transient moments in their lives, the history of this corner of the world. I even detect a hint of Paul Muldoon in Blaise’s sound epiphany of: ‘Black dock of Salthouse, black dock of Blitz; black dock of Brunswick, black dock of silt; black dock of brandy…. ‘etc. And The Restructure adds and deletes contacts – like Facebook or other social sites… this is an impressionist, fragmentary take on the dregs left behind by civilization, past and present, in all its mess and glory. Rather ambitious for a slim play. McCabe pulls it off though. Loved this.

Camden Hammer & Tongue 09/05/11 @ The Green Note Café

In Performance Poetry on May 19, 2011 at 12:40 am

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night
I’ve reviewed H&T a couple of times before, so let’s get straight to the good stuff. On the 9th of May the audience were treated to one of the most consistently superior nights of poetry I’ve been to. There were 10 poets in the slam and (barring one exception) they all brought their a-games; the judges’ scoring was also consistent throughout (if in one case consistently mean); and the features Niall O’Sullivan and Mark Gwynne Jones were both very entertaining. The only problem I had was that while the poetry and performances were consistently good they lacked brilliance; there was no stand-out poet who really set my mind aflame, but still a very good offering.

The Hosts
Sam Berkson and Michelle Madsen hosted with their usual verve, charm and humour, especially during the slam their professionalism and rapport with the audience shone as they rambled onwards to cover the judges’ delays in getting their scores up. Hosts don’t always get the credit they deserve, but if I were a judge scoring them they’d get a perfect 10. Michelle summed the evening up: “If you’ve never been to a slam before then you’re in for a treat. If you’ve been to a slam before then you’re in for a treat.”

Features

  • Mark Gwynne Jones was a wonderfully entertaining and superbly professional performer. The highlight, for me, were his impressions of the poetic archetypes you can find at open mic’s. The depressing poet who asks ‘why do we start each day with mourning’; the hip-hop artist’s “I wave my arms in front of your face, to distract from the fact I’ve got nothing to say”; he lampooned poets and himself brilliantly and I heartily recommend him.

The Slam
As I said, a really consistent slam, starting off with the sacrificial poet:

  • Catherine Bragan: her ‘Fingered by a Terrorist’ was a great mix of teen embarrassment and political violence. The language lilts and swoops with its rhymes, the poem accomplishes the rare thing of being both personal and political.
  • Natasha: the first of the ‘slam proper’ told us she thinks you should write about what you love and what she loves is Spanish men. It was a very amusing poem, filled with playful puns and clever word juggling, the Spanish/Spanglish blending well into the English. Ultimately, though, it was a funny poem with muchos charm, but lacking any deeper meaning and I don’t feel it really used the ‘slam’ genre to its full potential. Not my cup of tea at all, but very well done, and it left the room feeling much hotter. 24.6.
  • Jason Why: his on-the-spot poems were previously reviewed at The Tea Box and I really feel he could do with cutting his introductions, which serve more to lose the room than draw them in. Still, his poem was well delivered, had great pace, and put a lot together from the prompts the audience gave him, even if his last line was a little baffling. His 19.7 seemed a little harsh.
  • Konstantine: The first poet to read from the page, his performance suffered from it; his eyes cast down on the page robbed him of one of a performer’s most powerful means on connecting. His poem’s language was rich and grew and flowered over itself, it had a dirty nostalgia that I loved, but the imagery flickered around a bit too much and lost me at times. 22.2.
  • Josh Miko: had engaging big eyes. His poetry was strong, rooted in history and fable, drawing new meaning from old stories and used the word ‘spectroscopic’ which gained him points in my book. I wasn’t, however, quite sure where one idea/poem began and the other ended and he seemed unsure whether he wanted to dwell on any one reference or merge them all. 22.4.
  • Darico: His French accent went down well with the crowd (as they always seem to) and his performance was wonderfully engaging and his poem of babbling words not equalling conversation was well expressed, if basic. The one phrase that stood out to me “Ears like arms that never embrace me” made me quiver inside. 23.7
  • Alan English: Wove together an interesting story of sweetly endearing everyday tragedy. His simple rhymes reflected the small-town simple romance and simple loss that really reached into my chest and plucked my heartstrings. Sadly he went 38 seconds overtime and lost 4 points ending on a 19.2.
  • Alfred Lord Telecom: Gave us ‘Torvald the Bi-Polar Bear’. He had slight microphone malfunction that I found unfortunate until it started working and I realised his entire poem was predicated on the idea a ‘Bi-Polar Bear’ was intrinsically funny. It successfully made light of several serious issues whilst simultaneously failing to address them or indeed anything interesting at all. I wish the mic had continued to fail. His 24.2 nearly made me cry tears of frustration.
  • David Lee Morgan: His poem from his ‘Medea Chained’ series was a poem of two halves, the first the risky gambit of singing at a slam, while his voice was strong, the basic lyrics lacked punch. The second part, an impassioned evocation from Medea for the return of her child was primal and powerful and a great performance. His 20.7 seemed extremely harsh.
  • Adam: Had my favourite poem of the night, a superb twisted love story with awesomely perverted internal monologue along the lines of “I bet she fucks like a gazelle on meth”. It was beautiful and twisted, but his quiet and subdued performance let him down. 21.6.
  • The Good Samaritan: Rounded off the evening with a surreal suffusion of images and a very polished performance. He threw themes and images together with gusto, painting a landscape of ideas, touching on humankind’s lost innocence and the violence inherent in political ideas. His surreal varied images sometimes seemed to lose the audience, though. 21.8.

A very good slam, won by Natasha (the first poet I know of to win a H&T slam with the starting spot), that just needed one brilliant poet to make the night.

The Pamphlet Project

In Conversation on May 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Where Sabotage interviews Marcella Morgan and Karen Dolan, founders of The Pamphlet Project, a Galway-based initiative bringing artists and poets together. To contact them, email  pamphletproject@gmail.com.

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?

My name’s Marcella Morgan and I’ve been living and writing in Galway for about three years. Karen Dolan has been enjoying Galway for the past number of years and has worked on a number of independent festivals. A few months ago myself and Karen set up The Pamphlet Project. The idea behind the project is that a poet and a visual artist collaborate to design a pamphlet – one A4 sheet – which will be distributed free in cafes and pubs around Galway. We launched of our first pamphlet in April and we’re planning to print a new design each month for a year, and see where it goes from there.

What was the inspiration behind the Pamphlet Project? How did your initial plans for it shift?

There were a lot of ideas behind the project, but they all centred on building and connecting communities. There is a strong creative community already here in Galway, and we wanted to add to it by giving new writers and designers a means of publishing and exhibiting their work.

We also wanted to help build connections between artists working in different mediums by giving visual artists and poets an opportunity to work together. I think that there is something special about the way people interact when they’re working on a creative project. It’s a wonderful way of bringing people together. Very often writers and artists work alone and we wanted to create a safe space where they could share ideas and have others respond to their work in a constructive way.

We’re also hoping that by distributing the pamphlet in cafes, pubs and public spaces we’ll help to reach an audience that mightn’t otherwise get involved in the arts community. We want to involve as many people in the project as we can, and we’ve been delighted with the response we’ve gotten form local businesses who have offered to sponsor us.

Was it a conscious decision to keep the Pamphlet Project local to Galway, or are there plans afoot to spread it to other cities?

What we’re doing now focuses on close collaboration between local artists, but we’d love to organise collaborations between people living in different cities, even countries. For example, a London poet might collaborate with a Dublin artist, or a Galwegian artist might collaborate with a Parisian poet.

From the pictures on your facebook page it seems that visuals play as big a part as the words in the pamphlets, one of the pamphlet appears to have another function as a mask for instance, how do the collaborations function?

We really wanted the collaborations to be about more than just printing a poem beside an image. We were hoping that the artist and poet would work closely together, and that the final design would take shape as they responded to each other. We’re delighted that this has happened with the first two designs. Both pairs sat down together and came up with a concept and the words and the artwork developed from there.

One of the things we talked about a lot was whether a genuine collaboration between an artist and a poet was possible. We wondered whether one medium would always take precedence, so that we would end up with illustrated poems and described images. But it seems so far that the poets and the artists have mutually inspired each other.

What kind of writers are you looking for for your pamphlets?

We’re looking for all kinds of writers and all kinds of visual artists, and we’re particularly looking for new ideas. The brief for the project is that the design evolves from a collaboration between a poet and a visual artist, and it’s printed on an A4 sheet. But we want the artists involved to take that brief as far as they can. We’ll do our best to make their ideas happen.

Any future projects?

We have loads of plans for future projects. We’re organising poetry busking events this summer which will see slam poetry and open mics brought to the streets, we’re planning an event during the Super8 Shots film festival here in Galway, we’re hoping to form more links with community groups and work with them to distribute their work, and we’re working towards an end of year exhibition and publication.

Two Oulipo Pamphlets by Hervé Le Tellier

In Pamphlets on May 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien

The following review is going to cover two pamphlets by Hervé Le Tellier published by the Oulipo society. Pre-supposing the readers of this review to be a) not fluent in French and b) not familiar with the Oulipo school outside, perhaps, of Queneau and Perec and possibly believing it to be a dead specy, I’m going to treat this as more of an introduction and taster of the type of writing created by this less well-known member of the Oulipo group. Le Tellier joined the Oulipo group in 1992 and the following pamphlets date from 1995 and 1997.

The first, and oldest of the two, is À bas Carmen! (No 77) and is a typical example of Oulipian playfulness and attachment to tricky restrictions. The pamphlet consists of 26 short texts, each containing the entire alphabet in order (with a few exceptions, each explained in the footnotes) whilst the title of these texts also progress alphabetically. For instance the first text is named ‘Apprentissage, grâce à Aragon’ (which consists simply of the alphabet) whilst the last text is titled ‘Zed vers A’ and, as the title suggests, reverses the exercise by starting with the letter Z (Zolg) and ending with the letter A (auriculaire).

As Le Tellier says in his preface, this technique is not a new one, he cites for instance a 1504 poem by Destrées, but also the more recent efforts of fellow Oulipian Queneau in Morale élémentaire where he uses the concept in a cyclical manner: ‘Attendre dans les ajoncs, attendre dans les bois, attendre dans les champs’ etc.

It’s a difficult constraint to manage, Le Tellier isn’t afraid to use a variety of techniques to sustain it. He uses for instance a one-sided phone conversation (‘CIA’) or translates a made-up language (Grand-Singe). The Grand-Singe, or Big Monkey, is a recurring character in Oulipean writing* and allows both a playful layering with a mock-translation and mock-commentary on said translation, as well as surprisingly and seemingly accidental, beauty. We are told in the commentary to the piece that the form employed by the Big Monkey is a bzee-bur (literally: cold-foot) an eight-line poem whose syllabic length is 5, 6, 5, 7, 5, 7, 5, 8 with, traditionally, an abababcb rhyme scheme (though the Big Monkey is excused here from following the rhyme scheme due to the alphabetical constraint). The ‘translation’ of the poem is made up of very simple language that sounds like sayings: ‘Rouge est le grand-singe et rouge le soleil, / un bon fusil est un fusil tordu.’ (Red is the big-monkey and red is the sky / a good gun is a crippled one’).

Seriousness isn’t an objective, but nevertheless, many of these poems have a weird beauty to them. The last three letters of the alphabet are to blame for the inevitable descent into silliness: the text ‘Oxbridge’ may start quite sanely with ‘Andrew Browser, conservative deputy, était fin golfeur’ (‘Andrew Browser, conservative deputy, was a fine golfer’) but it inevitably ends with the mouthful: ‘un volumineux Whig xanthoderme y zonait’ (‘a voluminous yellowing Whig was hanging out there’). However, sometimes the effect is less strange, as with ‘Numérique’ where the computer jargon carries the weight during an IT diagnosis:

‘Néanmoins, on prédit que rapidement surgira, triomphant, un vainqueur:

« Who ? Xerox ?

-Yeah…

-Zut !”’

(‘Nevertheless, it was predicted that there would rapidly be a winner: / “Who? Xerox?” / “Yeah…”/ “Shit!”)

The next pamphlet, Un sourire indéfinissable: Mona Lisa, dite la Joconde, sous 53 jours différents (No. 84) is more accessible depicting, as the title suggests, the Mona Lisa through 53 different points of view. It is a warm-up to his later work Joconde jusqu’a cent: 99 + 1 points de vue sur Mona Lisa where he doubles the output.  Reverence is not a part of this pamphlet: the Mona Lisa dies for a wee whilst posing for the painting and a pizza delivery man confirms an order for a ‘Mona Lisa Crusty Crunch pour trois’. The past intermingles with the present with no concern for sense, the Mona Lisa’s mother is re-imagined Jewish, or with a Corsican brother; Sherlock Holmes, a child at the Louvres, a pervert on the phone: these are just some of the cacophony of voices that comment on the painting or interact with a different version of the Mona Lisa. As with À bas Carmen! The technique of the one-sided conversation is used, whilst the Big Monkey is also present. Different styles and techniques are employed to sustain the exercise: Mona Lisa appears in a song, an octosyllabic couplet or as a wartime transmission from Radio-Londres: ‘“Mona Lisa n’a pas envie de rire”. Je répète : “Mona Lisa n’a pas envie de rire.”’ (‘”Mona Lisa doesn’t feel like laughing”. I repeat: “Mona Lisa doesn’t feel like laughing.”‘)  Diagnosis of the Mona Lisa by specialists outside of the realm of the art have the peculiarity of being insightful as well as amusing, such as this one by a Morpho-Psychologist :

‘Type apathique-nonchalant, nEnAS – non-Émotif non-Actif Secondaire – type Louis XVI, introvertie, dominée par les signes de Venus et de la Vierge’

(‘Type apathetic-nonchalant, nEnAS – non-Emotional non-Active Secondary – type Louis XVI, introverted, dominated by the signs of Venus and the Virgin Mary’)

Leonardo appears too, asking the Mona Lisa out for a drink or in a game of ‘spot the mistakes’ as if the pamphlet were an elaborate game of hide and seek, a hunt for that elusive smile. At the end of an email, Leonardo signs off to the Mona Lisa with this:

‘Je pense à ton 0(:-} indefinissable. A toi. Ton Leonard’

(‘I’m thinking of your indefinable 0(:-}. Of you. Your Leonard’)

Not quite a love-letter, this irreverent pamphlet is nevertheless as indefinably touching as the Mona Lisa’s smile itself.

Not just a collection of circus-tricks, these pamphlets by Le Tellier, more than a decade after their publication, show us how language can be stretched and toyed with surprising vivaciousness. Whilst these efforts carry an inevitable twinkle in the eye, the craftsmanship and labour that led to these texts is not to be dismissed unthinkingly, and could serve as the basis for new, equally surprising and inventive efforts.

*The comments refer to Le chant d’amour grand-singe. Un corpus lyrique méconnu, recueilli, traduit et commenté par Jacques Jouet, another Oulipean pamphlet, whilst a lexic has been compiled by  Francis Lacassin in Tarzan.

Tastes of Ink by Will Conway

In anthology, Short Stories on May 4, 2011 at 11:16 pm

-Reviewed by Will Langdale-

Although there are some hard swallows – and, really, when has this ever not been true of a short story collection? – Will Conway’s debut, published by Lazy Gramaphone, is pretty good.

And definitely pretty. The most immediately striking thing about it is the design, with a strong visual direction that leads you warmly through its pages, each story doodling a cell in an inky grid. It’s a good-looking idea, and it’s a well-considered backbone to a collection that is largely very palatable.

Will Conway's Tastes of Ink, reviewed for Sabotage by Will Langdale

However, Tastes of Ink seems unaware that its stylistic explorations are infinitely more entertaining than its thematic ones.

One of the collection’s more delectable flavours can be found in its playful comedy. Each of the stories has a scattering of linguistic aperitifs that raise a smile and usually go down smoothly. Mr Conway’s reinterpretation of the superspy trope in ‘For England’ is often witty and nimble. Another highlight is ‘Potty Mouth’, a snappy number that’s particularly punchy with its humour.

The comedy is refreshing because it’s told in an unexpected way – ‘Potty Mouth’ could easily be an extended stand-up joke, and ‘For England’s writing has a menacing bite than even the most “adult” of Bond movies lacks, popping the bubble of swaggering laddishness that protects the fantasy space of the genre, leaving a very awkward but funny vulnerability.

The collection’s failures tend to be in its more serious pieces. While opener, ‘News’, delivers a gutsy pull-back-and-reveal that gets the pace going, it inadvertently forces the book to play its hand too soon. Once you realise that Mr Conway is a little too fond of twists you can begin to predict, often correctly, how it all ends, and at points this is enough to put you in skim mode.

The final story in the collection, ‘Nonsense’, is a good illustration of both the successes and failures of Mr Conway’s more serious tales. Like several of its brethren the focus is on mortality – particularly similar are ‘Notable’ and ‘Play Dead’, as they’re both concerned with young men.

This time death is more figuratively explored, and it refreshes the story endlessly. Mr Conway switches to magical realism, and the zest it brings to a tired theme makes the story of a man being slowly muffled from the world far less indulgent, and far more rewarding, than earlier diatribes on the fragility of life.

Mr Conway is clearly a talented writer, but it feels like there’s a lack of experience at the heart of Tastes of Ink. The thematic predicaments of the stories tend to include a teenage treatment of death and suicide, and although it’s charmingly relayed, the writing is nakedly young. The tone of the collection feels underdeveloped; this is a writer whose wings are not yet fully stretched.

That said, Tastes of Ink is a breezy ride that will certainly brighten up a commute or two. It’s a snack of a collection, with a pleasant aftertaste, but should perhaps best be remembered as an appetiser for things to come.

Saboteur Awards – The Shortlist

In Saboteur Awards on May 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

Here, at last, is the long-awaited shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards, 2011. Here are the publications that caught our reviewers’ eyes out of the selection featured in the Sabotage. They reflect the eclectic tastes of our (voluntary) reviewers.

Apologies to last-minute requests from magazines to be reviewed, several reviewers had to back out at the last minute and it was just not possible to get reviews out in time. There’s always next year however, so don’t worry, your reviews will arrive eventually!

The Shortlist (in no particular order):

Horizon Review #5

Goblin Fruit (Winter 2011)

Kill Author #8

Envoi #157

Stone Telling #1

Frigg #29 (Summer 2010)

MoonMilk Review #7

Polarity Magazine #1

La Petite Zine #24

Pomegranate #11

Cake #2

Congratulations to all the magazines shortlisted!