Reviews of the Ephemeral

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Anon #7

In Magazine on June 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

-Reviewed by Chloe Stopa-Hunt

Anon Magazine, reviewed by Chloe Stopa-Hunt

Around the halfway mark of Anon Seven is a short prose piece by Claire Askew, reflecting on the experience of reading poems ‘blind’ as a competition judge. Askew feelingly depicts the anxieties of the process – what if you recognise a friend’s style, or give all the prizes to the same person? – but the article is perhaps most interesting in its capacity as an implicit commentary on the magazine as a whole. The editors of Anon, like the judges of competitions, review their poetry submissions with no knowledge of the author: indeed, they proudly announce in the issue’s introduction that they have recently graduated to an automated anonymising system. The egalitarian benefits of such a review process do not need to be rehearsed at any length. Clearly, less-established or less-confident poets are probable beneficiaries: they need not be afraid to submit, and they are assured of unbiased consideration when they do. Askew moved me to wonder, however, whether there might also be disadvantages to the process. Anon Seven is an effervescent production, its poems spanning the world: from Dave Coates’ transfigured, strangely threatening ‘Leith’ (on the magazine’s doorstep, since Anon is produced in Edinburgh), to the detailed, tender surveillance of Lake Illiamna, Alaska, which Scott Edward Anderson undertakes in ‘Midnight Sun’. Its strengths lie in variety, and particularly in the sheer invention and craft of certain poems – sometimes, even, of especially successful lines, such as the opening of Richard Moorhead’s ‘I Shot A Bird’, which breaks upon the reader with a brash insistence that ‘Everyone should try some killing’.

I think, however, that Askew’s description of the free-wheeling, decontextualised world of anonymous reading is reflected in the magazine’s relatively light editorial touch. Each poem has been chosen on its own merits, but the results of such open-minded sifting do not always sit well side by side. Caroline Crew’s ‘Lambing Season’ is a good poem, fully deserving of publication (above all, its image of the farmer reshuffling his bereaved animals is compelling: ‘Giving orphans the dead’s fleeces / to fool a mother’s nostrils / with some scent of the living’), but its rural British aesthetic has little to say to the very different work of Emily Van Duyne, which follows. Van Duyne’s writing is both powerfully observational – a setter’s puppies are ‘strung like fat blunt / Christmas bulbs from fat blunt chocolate nipples’ – and animated by taut undercurrents of threat and yearning; it emerges, however, from a completely different poetic tradition to Crew’s.

If some marriages among the selection of poems are unsuccessful, others work better. William Gault Bonar’s ‘Sensing You’ concludes with the speaker ‘jammed on the motorway / listening to radio blether, trying / to pin down your smell, your taste’. Here, isolation and desperation are confined within relatively pared-down and prosaic lines, arranged in three brief quatrains: the narrator’s sense-exercise, that pinning down, feels obsessive but tightly controlled. In the poem that follows, Russel Swensen’s ‘Moonlight’, a much looser line structure, with no stanza breaks, holds sway. The poem is one attenuated sentence; gaps and pauses have infiltrated the lines, rather than regulating them. This verbal slipperiness comes to mirror the moon’s overdetermined, yet indefinite role in the poem, as interlocutor, muse, villain, lost one: the narrator says, ‘I would not confuse you Moon / is it true what they did to you’, but in fact the poem creates a managed confusion in which the same symbol can signify, from moment to moment, anything the speaker finds noteworthy or wishes to talk about. The poem really needs to be read in full, but an extract can hint at its cunningly oscillatory tones, moving between fractious colloquialism and slightly camp, slightly twitchy epic:

‘Moon I’m serious a sparrow
with folded wings & trembling:
Moon that falls through stories
like a rock through yarn Moon
that always escapes the enemy camp
on a stolen horse
that streaks its cheeks with blood
Moon that festers like the youngest son
in an ancient house

[…]

I could try to love you Moon that
is all talk tell me my favorite
story before I tell you yours you can
afford to be generous’

Anon Seven, reviewed for Sabotage by Chloe Stopa-HuntThis anxious, iterative intensity can be profitably read against the quiet desperation of William Gault Bonar’s narrator, because Swensen too is ‘pinning down’, albeit through a wholly different language register. In some instances, then, the contextless reading process has by no means stopped the creators of Anon Seven from assembling a selection of poems which, by their proximity, enrich the reading experience of each. There are even some recurrent ideas across the collection more widely: Marion McCready’s ‘Eyewitnesses’ and Juliet Wilson’s ‘Strangers’ are more than sixty pages apart, but they both counterpoise a deliberate playfulness with deadly serious intimations of disaster, even of concealed atrocities. Wilson’s poem sets up the cliché of two people’s eyes locking ‘across the room’ and sparking ‘electricity’, only to demolish it in the latter half of her tiny poem:

‘a sudden memory
of us hiding in an orange grove

as soldiers approached’

McCready’s tranquil winter scene is punctuated by italicised couplets, almost offhand – and there are only three of them, six lines of twenty-two – but all the more chilling thereby. ‘In another life / they ate my house with fire‘, the unnamed voice declares, and then: ‘They came while we were eating, / they came in twos and threes‘. Chloe Morrish’s poem, which accompanies a description of her experiences as a participant in the Clydebuilt apprenticeship scheme, also uses a playful revisionism to re-cast a scenario that might otherwise be too familiar to jaded readers. Written whilst on the scheme, and inspired by a painting of the Danaids, ‘Myth: (The Danaids’ Reply)’ stands as an example of successful workshopping, as well as a tough-minded and funny poem in its own right – reminiscent, I thought, of some of the pieces in Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife.

Several poets have contributed fresh-feeling nature poems, such as Jayne Fenton Keane’s ‘Garden Speech’, in which ‘A tincture of rain / revives eggish bodies – soil pocketed / frogs begin their slow uncoupling with earth’. The verbal music of these lines feels, itself, almost clogged with soil: the hard sounds of ‘g’ and ‘k’ combine with unexpected line breaks (‘soil pocketed / frogs’ would naturally be unsplit, and on the same line) to suggest at an aural level the awkwardness of a frog detaching itself from wet earth. Shivani Sivagurunathan offers a vision more inflected by sublimity in ‘Natural History’, a poem in which times of natural disaster – when ‘the sky / collapses and the equator / trembles like unfurled string’ – are preceded by heightened moments, when ‘certain tree trunks / look more serious, more silver’. This attention to the numinous is also apparent in John Glenday’s ‘Imagine you are driving’, the last poem in the issue. Taken from the poet’s new collection, Grain, this piece follows a short interview with Glenday (an interview worth reading, in particular for the poet’s comic insights into his writing process and the wider literary world of events and reviews), and is – unsurprisingly – one of the most honed and impressive pieces in the magazine. It displays an interpretive sympathy with nature which swiftly deepens into something more definitely reflective, and more poignant. The last few lines showcase the effectiveness of controlled negation in the hands of a gifted poet, and conclude Anon Seven on a high note of poetic craft:

‘So you drive on, hopeful of a time

when the ocean will rise up before you like dusk
and you will make landfall at last–
some ancient, long-forgotten mooring, perhaps,
which both of you, of course, will recognise;

though as I said before, there is no one beside you
and neither of you has anywhere to go.’

‘For the Administration (after Rimbaud)’ by Sean Bonney

In Pamphlets on June 21, 2011 at 8:42 pm

-Reviewed by Juliet Wilson

This is a beautifully produced 9 page chapbook on a fine textured creamy paper, hand-sewn and with pages ready to cut (I’ve never needed to cut the pages of a book before, and it gives a lovely rough edge to the page and an added sense of anticipation to the reading). The high quality production gives a suitably vintage feel to the poetry inside, which is one long poem after Rimbaud.

Now, I am a great believer that poetry chapbooks should be able to stand alone and be accessible without depending on knowledge of another piece of work. I’m impatient of texts that demand that you have already read and preferably memorised specific works by other writers. That, combined with the fact that when I did a quick internet search for Rimbaud I found nothing that matched with this book, means I read it cold and judged it for itself, rather than with any reference to the original Rimbaud.

For the Administration is a complex poem about the world, language and political intrigue. It is often brilliant, using wonderful imagery such as ‘we circles of cancelled stars’ and ‘the centre of our orbit is some kind of cynical massacre’. It is obvious in parts that however faithful to the original Rimbaud, this piece has been adapted to the modern world – not least through the mention of ‘George Osborne, god of love’.

It is a thought-provoking read, using different poetic techniques to good effect to hold the reader’s attention and give different perspectives on the themes. It isn’t always entirely clear what is going on, but in this poem, that serves to intrigue rather than alienate the reader. It never feels as though it is being obscure for the sake of it, as some poetry does. It also does stand alone, I found myself wanting to read the original Rimbaud, but the fact that I didn’t have access to that, didn’t lessen the power of this chapbook. The world view that reveals itself feels pretty grim but that fits with a lot of what is around us at the moment and we need poetry that engages with the downside of life.

If you are interested in poetry that challenges your world view then this poem is well worth reading, several times over.

100th Post at Sabotage Reviews and an iPhone app.

In Conversation on June 19, 2011 at 10:10 am

Quite a few benchmarks and new departures have been hit recently: our one year anniversary, the inaugural Saboteur Awards, and now our one hundredth post. The most viewed post features a video of Katie Makkai, the least viewed is this very post.

To celebrate this one hundredth post, why not download our free iphone app here?

It was kindly created by Roy Marmelstein. Please take the time to rate and review it and, of course, do hit us with feedback. What should the app have that it doesn’t yet? What would you find useful?

‘Previous Vertigos’ by Nina Karacosta, ‘Betwixt’ by Jennifer K. Dick (Corrupt Press)

In Pamphlets on June 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm

-Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey

Innovation in poetry is resisted more in the West than it is in the States, so Dylan Harris is taking a leap in publishing these two poets.

 

The experimental poet recognises the reader’s mind as a dynamic that interacts with the work to create meaning. The poem is offered as a live experience in itself. As we are constantly absorbing, changing our perceptions, each time we read these poems, we encounter new meanings, new experiences.

 

Previous Vertigos by Nina Karacosta opens with ‘Solitaire’, one of the more accessible poems in the chapbook. This poem focuses on the use of drugs to escape, as ‘the days run one next to the other’. The images are vivid and poignant: ‘the cat slow walks around the yard’; ‘there are postcards on my wall that chit-chat/endlessly. Their blue green water in the night/becomes purple’; ‘Day and night/I draw maps and color them.’ But ‘all this adds up to nothing.’ The sense of despair, of hiatus, is movingly evoked.

 

‘Nostos’ is the Greek word for ‘Homecoming’ and is the title of the second poem. Here the text is fragmented across the page, in snapshot images:

my face          a kid

wet stamp        map     train in the countryside    sleep           the eyes of hawk

his face            glasses             well-shined shoes

 

It’s an encounter that leaves its mark on the speaker:

‘behind his face            1922    and the sea East where he comes from

Black Sea

they haven’t kept his home     they haven’t kept his home’.

 

The poem begins and ends with a three-line stanza, while a text portrait of a memory makes up the bulk of the poem in the middle ‘stanza’. While the poem looks messy on the page, the white spaces between phrases suggest fleeting glimpses, barely taken in. What freezes indelibly in the speaker’s memory is highlighted in italics:

all my remaining life             he said’

 

Karacosta is fond of lists. In The Story of Everything’: I am aluminium cans, plastic bottles/I am rainforest and sunshine/ I am drain cleaners/I am white vinegar. In ‘Under’ there are more lists:

‘Living up lazy and horses slack, slippery underwear: boom

broken bits and trunks, underwater shoes.

Finnegan clashes, late night ancestors

Truck,     dragon,     priest,     devils,     dervishes,     dimes’

 

While lists can be evocative, sometimes they are too self-conscious or random. This isn’t always successful, and through all the ‘delirium undreamed’ the reader hunts for something tangible to attach to. In this case, it eludes me. However, ‘Circe’s Domain’ has striking images:

‘you sit one-eyed over my roof

teeth of the wild, sword in right hand

far-away a young hope holds an umbrella.’

 

There are beautiful lines here: ‘memory was numb and liquid.’

 

‘Mom and Me’ is a gentle poem that evokes a childhood memory:

I remember the blue bathing suit

and the tips of her fingers

circling sun lotion on my back

 

– but in case that is too easily clear or appealing, Karacosta slyly blurs and darkens the image: ‘diesel engines/made of feathers and snails/spittle drowning worlds/like a whining of a mandolin/or a veiled woman swimming away’. Perhaps the excess of images drowns out the poem somewhat, but nevertheless, there is a moment of magic in this poem.

 

A simply written poem that also relates to a loved one, is ‘M’, in which Karacosta brings a memory vividly to life by using the present tense:

‘I’m on the bus and I’m fifteen and

it is today that

I’m wild inside.

The bus bores me. It goes slow

and reveals a dusty city

the sun, Hilton hotel –

it keeps moving and moving

in an immobile way’

 

The innocence of first love is conveyed in the line: ‘You know I did write the letter M in every notebook I had.’ A few brief lines capture the unfolding of heartbreak, the memory ten years later.

 

‘Can’t Talk About It’ is a tightly written poem that leaves an impact. The layout on the page suggests a compartmentalised approach to cope with pain – both physical and psychic. The speaker is detached from the experience: ‘She uses the surgical knife/hand steady/cuts what she calls/dead skin/and roams around the edges/revealing/the raw flesh.’ Instead of explaining how and why she burned ‘three fingers’, she doodles:

 

‘The skin is a fruit

lily and river

 

I am

a corridor of rain’

 

Karacosta’s imagery is often exotic, with orchids and hummingbirds, peyote and spices, but these are counterbalanced with altogether more biological terms: photosphere, embroid, analgetic membranes, mitochondria, fluid flesh. Here is a poet who aims to subvert our expectations at every turn. The result is a kind of schizophrenia that is intriguing.

 

 

In ‘Suds’, the speaker berates herself – or an addressed ‘you’– for not ‘extending’:

‘You are/a/ follower/of the/experimental/standing in/the/middle//of /your crowd–/

for you there is no extreme, no extravagant

no ecstatic.’

 

If this is what Karacosta is striving for, she achieves it in more than a few poems here.

 

Jennifer K. Dick’s collection Betwixt is altogether more assured and cohesive, both visually – with the exception of the first poem, these are all prose poems, the length of a single paragraph – and thematically. The collection is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and his wife, Eurydice. Orpheus uses his musical gifts on the lyre to persuade the gods to allow him to travel to the Underworld to rescue his wife. He is given permission, as long as he doesn’t look back at her until they reach the Upper world. But just at the entrance of Hades, he cannot resist glancing to see her face, and she disappears: ‘Where you looked back, locked and over a shoulder, is as inconsequentially permanent as Eve with her apple’ is Dick’s evocative response to that fatal moment.

 

In ‘They waited at the treeline for their dog’s return’ she writes: ‘what resembles this assemblage of bricks, language, luggage?’ This is a poem about loss: ‘Old lady’s socks full of holes leak gold. They say 746,235 francs were never recovered. But who decided those bills should be invalidated. Bodies of paper, human form.’ Her voice is assured, moving back and forth between the contemporary world and that of myth: ‘A trail through the forest automatically pilots us back to Gretel: ‘here little, here, little….

 

The poems link tenuously, for example through a single word: ‘Talking of glass, this one’s broken’ moves us to the next poem, which begins: ‘I see it in the glass doors…’ Glass is one of the motifs.

 

Dick’s titles are long and intriguing. ‘Morse is a code that she would hear if only it weren’t whispering to her’ is the title of a poem that deals with radiowaves and underwater cables: ‘smoke signalling through fog the message just as blurred in this cerebral city…’ The senses of both sight (‘trompe l’oeil’) and sound fail the speaker in this sequence, where a lack of punctuation creates a feeling of panic, confusion.

 

While there is music in her work, there is also a carnal crudeness that spikes the language, subverting the generally cerebral atmosphere: ‘Puzzle me a motherfucker…’; ‘Orpheus simulate an orifice is as opening onto…pointed as a penis taking to light…Molasses freezing in snow, the stickiness after she licks you.’ And in another poem: ‘Age. Desire. The end of the. Flaccid.’ Often there is a strong sense of a male voice in these poems.

 

A striking aspect of these poems is tone. In ‘Drive now. Backup. Forward. This is the glancing’ the voice is sardonic: ‘Yes, darlin’, this is a boxed set of mixed metaphors, a mashed up carafe of red and white sloshed together, just label it rosé.’ Tone is also intriguingly gendered: ‘Hand me a feather, a petal, lace the path with pomegranate crimson as her knees in winter snowdust charcoal textured as the calcium in her bones.’ And then:

‘Documenta. Direct. Dungarees. Put these on. Or those. Wear whatever you like, doesn’t matter, we are sitting in the dark…’ A sense of two voices, one female, one male: ‘Fumbling in her, he.’

 

Dick’s humour is dry, and her anti-romantic style uses ironic juxtapositioning to create a deliberate bathos: in another poem, a letter to Eurydice: ‘I am collapsed into, you that I am pleated to bleating no, and yes, and wherefore art thou, me mine is thine. This ain’t no Romeo rodeo…’; ‘my bleeding lyre’s gouging a songbird, singing the pure contralto lofty as runny bathwater gone cold.’

 

Linguistic playfulness sneaks in at oblique angles: ‘she’d, shed, shepherd shy on the slyball hit a homer, backdrop, backstop, fourth and twofers copping a feel, a field. Score! Down one. Thicker than peppered skin drying on salt flats…’

 

But these digressions into sound play and subtle linguistic puns sometimes cause the reader to stray from the theme, which appears from time to time like a brief dart of sunshine through clouds. Then we return to the seeking out: ‘a low thudding Atlantic ting, ting ting of non-functional, dysfunctional sonar radio calling out, here, Eurydice, here Odysseus, here Orphic melomaniac.’ The patterns and repetitions evoke humanity’s endless search…what is it that we seek? At any rate, we appear to be in perpetual motion, either looking ahead, or looking back.

 

In ‘Pause. Rush hour. Stop telegram. Back up’, Dick again plays with syntax, breaking all the rules: ‘She rapidly breathlessly she. The man with the cross breaches the. Halt. Halter. A game of fog and crowds.’ Dialogue is overheard from random people: ‘My lover pays me five times more an hour than you can ever afford, honey.’ And just when it all appears random and fractured, the link reappears, to fix each poem to the chain: ‘this is the tunnel he took, Eurydice, just follow the tracks in the dark, steady, steadying.’

 

These poems reward several readings, evoking each time a different aspect of the multi-layered complexities of our worlds, both old and new.

 

*

About Corrupt Press:

 

Harris, a poet himself, created Corrupt Press because he felt there was a demand for a publisher outside of Ireland/UK/USA that would cater for Anglophone writers living in Europe. It’s the only Paris-based Anglophone press that  Harris knows of. He is primarily publishing European authors, but it’s not restricted and depends completely on submissions. This is the website: http://corruptpress.net/

 

Saboteur Awards – The Results

In Saboteur Awards on June 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Saboteur Awards

The Saboteur Awards are a new award celebrating literary magazines. Over the last few weeks, a team of volunteer judges have been poring over the shortlist, posting to each other copies of the print magazines, getting angry at the mail and dealing with technical hitches. Whilst the top three became clear early in the discussion process, judges were impressed with many of the other shortlisted magazines. Positives could be found even in the magazines that were described as ‘not being my cup of tea’ (can you tell that the majority of judges were British?) In light of this, we would be happy to provide any of the magazines shortlisted with feedback, should they be interested in the particulars (get in touch at editor@sabotagereviews.com).

The magazines that most impressed us were those that had a unity of purpose, in other words a strong, cohesive editorial vision. Their design matched and enhanced their content. We feel that our top three deserve recognition for the contributions they’ve made to the literary world. They are exciting, innovative, fresh, and stretched the boundaries of what we thought literary magazines could achieve.

1st Place: Polarity

Judges were impressed by Polarity’s ambition and praised the range of formal innovations within its pages. They commended its strong editorial and aesthetic vision and deemed the magazine as ‘not just displaying art, but being a piece of art itself, without the form taking away from the content’. The theme of ‘Tax vs Death’ was deemed broad enough to allow inspired approaches, whilst still being a cohesive and echoing thread. The integration of the visual with the textual was seen as a particular success. Finally, as one judge said: ‘Who would have thought that surrealism could feel so…welcoming? […]  I could pay no higher compliment to the magazine than to say it has fostered in me a newfound appreciation for surrealism in art/literature.’

2nd Place: >kill author

Judges were all agreed that this was an outstanding magazine that successfully made use of the internet. Whilst conceptual and experimental, the content was still deemed accessible. Judges admired the integration of poetry with prose (and resulting cross pollinations). The slick, minimalist website received high praise; one judge said it was ‘like Jil Sander in website form’. As one judge said: ‘It was one of those things that made me glad that I’m alive now – in the times of the internet, anonymity and internationalist art. It really grasps the spirit of our time for me.’

3rd Place: La Petite Zine

La Petite Zine was deemed a touchstone for experimental poetry in bite-size forms. The content was found to be of high quality with one judge commenting on the ‘brilliant variety of truly potent poems’. The website was admired for being minimalist, clean, functional, yet iconic. In particular, judges appreciated the taglines that led into each poem. La Petite Zine, again, has clearly embraced the internet as a medium, and its multi-platform presence was praised.

Highly Commended for its use of web-integration: Moon Milk Review

A running interest during discussions was whether the magazines fully made use of their chosen medium’s potential. In particular we paid attention to online magazines that attempted to go beyond what a print magazine could achieve. For instance, judges appreciated the integration of recordings/video in Stone Telling (as well as in Goblin Fruit) as an example of added value and accessibility.

However, the magazine that most impressed us in terms of web integration was Moon Milk Review. The magazine was praised for its abundant use of links, giving the impression that it was a fruitful launching pad. As one judge said:

‘that’s what beautiful (and dangerous) about the web – everything links up together and there’s a vast sea of information out there. Most other zines we’ve looked at feel much more insular by comparison, […]linking to other places is something you can’t do in print and as such is very much an advantage of the online form. Moon Milk Review gives us an article you can dig around if you like, or can skim over if you don’t like it.’

The use of YouTube was also appreciated, whilst the Prosetry section was praised for taking advantage of the online platform and reinventing communication between the visual and the textual.

The judges were Anna Bogdanova, Ian Chung, Caroline Crew, Claire Trévien and Richard T. Watson

Armchair/Shotgun: Issue 2

In Magazine on June 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-

For the uninitiated, Armchair/Shotgun is a biannual compendium of contemporary fiction, poetry, visual art and authorial insight. It is published by a team of active writers operating out of New York, and the journal prides itself in having no regard for the credibility or background of its contributors.

Armchair / Shotgun Issue 2's front cover

As its submissions page claims, “Good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school dropout…and it does not care what you have written before. Good writing knows only story.”

Indeed it is difficult to ignore the importance this journal places upon the purity of ‘story’, such is its ability to distract, grip and absorb you. Many of the pieces illustrate grassroots story-telling at its very best – with three contributors making their début bow – and there is a freshness and a spice to this collection that brings to mind the originality of the Beat generation.

All the while, however, there is a certain darkness that underpins the thematic basis of this edition of Armchair/Shotgun. Martyrdom, paternal jealousy, entrapment, escapism, conflict, redneck family strife: these are just some of the themes at work here.

Convinced he is leaving his troubles behind, adolescent Wes Spires sets off on a petulant escape through the southern states in Jason Culpepper’s ‘Hammer Lane’, a short story on which the edition closes. Derelict small-town streets, nosy sheriffs and oppressive heat form the backdrop to an uncomfortable journey that has no end. Wes dodges his way from one stolen car to the next as he presses forward, weaving between one interstate and the next. But for what end-game neither the protagonist nor reader ever know.

Building on the theme of insecurity through unenviable existence, Martin Shackleford invites us to feel pity for his protagonist, John Peters, in ‘The Kill Sign’. John is a desperate character whose miserable sex life is compounded by his dog’s rampant ‘seeing-tos’ of a poodle belonging to a stripper in the nextdoor trailer. A stripper whom, predictably, John tries – and fails – to get into bed with. As John exclaims to his testosterone-fuelled pet,

“You can’t keep doing this,” I tell him. “It’s no way to behave,” I say. “You know,” I finally let out, “you’re fucking my operation up something fierce.”

The Naturalistic parallel between Man and beast is an obvious one, but provides a subtle and timely humour: the world of trailer-trash tail-chasing that Shackleford creates so vividly through his characters’ struggle is hosed down by the frankly hilarious sympathy we have to concede for John’s hapless state of affairs.

Albeit through an unsettling bloodbath, the virtue of self-worth is explored in Kevin Brown’s ‘The Long Short Road’. It follows the plight of a young boxer who, after years of fighting repression at his father’s hands, encounters the wrath of his girlfriend’s jealous ex-lover. The graphic description as he crawls towards the lights of a village in the dusty, hot night after taking a deep stab wound to the gut points towards a gruesome ending. However, our victim stops – bent double and clutching his bleeding belly – to envisage himself back in the ring. But rather than confronting the man who thrust the blade into his body, it is his father upon whom he imagines exacting revenge, “Meeting his eyes, I raise my guard and move forward, and in the center of the ring, we come together as warriors.”

Four miniature collections of poems and prose poems are interspersed between the short stories – each section ‘signposted’ by quirky etchings of rural and urban charts that come as a pleasant surprise. However, there is little respite from the dark tone.

Alanna Bailey makes a total of five contributions in verse: she kicks off with a chilling ode to her grandmother in ‘Grandma’, tracking her demise from the physical (“Saw the road maps of / wrinkles deepen down your forearms”) to the mental (“you / couldn’t find your son’s name in your mouth”).

In my favourite of hers, ‘But We Didn’t Wear Black’, death is dealt with indirectly, focusing on the effect of someone’s passing away on people they never knew. The canons that appear between the second line of one stanza and the first line of the next are thrown up as deliberate obstacles, helping create an appropriate sense of awkward distraction and an unwillingness to move forward.

Readers will also enjoy two pieces of visual art: one, an excerpt from Sono Osato’s Silent Language, No. 6 and, two, a photo essay – Someplace – by Cory Schubert. And there isn’t a knife or a trailer camp in sight.

Schubert offers a collection of eight photographs of Los Angeles – one of which bleeds across the front cover of this issue – and they convey an unmistakable absence of human life. Osato’s excerpt explores the relationship between language and topography, and you have to inspect it at close quarters in order to fathom its components and their purpose. The interview that introduces it here offers a few clues, but I would be cautious not to be sucked in by her – at times, pretentious – wanderings as to what makes a viable piece of art.

A profile of Jesse Ball is also featured. One of the journal’s editors, Kevin Dugan, gives a laudatory and accessible account of the author’s life and work. The bias for choosing Ball to ‘endorse’ this edition is rather blatant. His pure fascination with originality and his eccentric means of extracting it (we are told he urges his students to partake in derizes, a type of aimless wandering that helps free the creative mind, while also conducting seminars in courtroom fashion in order to probe the genesis of ideas) are more than just a nod to the refreshing originality contained within this issue of Armchair/Shotgun.

Used Furniture Review

In Blogzines, online magazine on June 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Reviewed by Claire Trévien

Online magazines seem to go one of two ways: either they emulate the print copy by having a PDF, (or at least separate section dedicated to a singular issue); or, they resemble blogs by having a rolling format. The former are generally more digestible and focused, they have unity, if not a theme – a concentrate of creativity. The latter have their own merits, but their leviathan format makes them harder to review. You have to follow the magazines for a longer breadth of time, building a picture of its quality and style from each link emitted from its facebook or twitter page.

Used Furniture Review is a new online magazine of literature and follows the second of these formats. The website is on the whole functional with headers leading to different sections (Poetry, Fiction, …) and includes some interesting features (‘Talking with Furniture’, interviews, reviews, columns, …). Used Furniture Review is an unusual choice of name, one whose origin is not explained. It appears to me to be a poetic comment on the palimpsest nature of all writing. The banner playfully refers to its title by means of a retro wallpaper pattern lending the website a homely understated charm. Although Used Furniture Review features a wide variety of writing, this review will only concentrate on poetry in the interest of sparing you a titanic of a read.

One distinct advantage of the format chosen by Used Furniture Review is its ability to showcase authors. The lack of spatial constraints means that we are confronted, in the poetry section, to an average of two to five poems per poet. The sampler of five poems by Karol Nielsen for instance means that you get an immediate sense of her interests in banality conflicted with death. The poems have in common her clipped dispassionate voice as she classifies various people:

‘I wrote about a divorced woman,
a gun to her head in Penn Station;
and a pretty college student—raped,
shot, stuffed in the trunk of her car.’

These samplers are like mini-collections within the webzine, allowing the writer to potentially acquire a readership. Most posts have comments suggesting that the magazine already has some faithful users, keen to join in the discussion – which is laudable. In another sense, however, the web format of the magazine is not exploited far enough, there is no direct link from the poem to Nielsen’s biography, one has to clunkily search for her in an entirely separate area if interested in her other work. It’s a wasted opportunity demonstrating that Used Furniture Review hasn’t fully grown into its own yet.

In terms of overarching style, the poems found on the website, as a whole, can be described as conversational, as is the case in Meg Pokrass’ ‘Grass Fed’:

‘I imagine you still feel bruised,
in that way that one can’t smile
all the way up, the cheeks want to,
but the chin rebels’

As with any style, some poets are more adept at it than others. Whereas someone like Mark Halliday can manage to sound casual whilst being deep, it is not a technique everyone can successfully emulate. There is music and purpose to Halliday, here the words seem casual because they are casual – they’re not pulling their weight, they’re just sitting there, hoping that if they wave violently enough no one will notice that they’re dead behind the eyes. If that sounds like a harsh verdict, it is one born out of frustration, because when Pokrass isn’t trying to be off-hand, it is apparent that she has a keen eye and the ability to conjure unusual visuals. Unfortunately, these are used so haphazardly that her talent doesn’t quite shine through.

Another theme that emerges, most apparent in Cassie Manne’s poetry, is a taste for shock value. There is of course her ‘Poem for a Pedophile [sic]’, a combination of pat rhymes, salacious images and a moralizing ending. In her poem ‘Catholic Upbringing’ she can’t resist, of course, linking religion to sex, but it’s perhaps more disappointing to encounter in the otherwise promising ‘Flood Season’ this particular line: ‘The house falls asleep to masturbating crickets’. Put together, these three poems feel immature and cheap. Yet, ‘Flood Season’, by far the strongest of her three poems, shows a real talent for story-telling and atmosphere-conjuring. In the poem, Manne shows herself capable of depicting delicious sensory explorations:

‘This is July.
Mosquitos attracted to the sweet smell of freckled arms. Calamine lotion
has not yet been invented. It will be the third day of rain;
bodies rush through towns like bloated floaters in the pool.
Couples linger under sheets and sweat.
It bakes their worn ankles and thundered thighs.’

A third theme I should like to briefly draw on is the appearance of tattoos in three of the poems:

‘Permanent tattoos of
“Our Father”’

(‘Catholic Upbringing’, Cassie Manne)

‘I bear these stories like a life sentence,
their grief indelible, like a prison tattoo.’

(‘Life Sentence’, Karol Nielsen)

‘And climb into the blinding light
Of a sky tattooed with lightning’

(‘Through the Pane’, Liz Masi)

Poetry Tattoos appear to be all the rage of late, so perhaps it is not so surprising to see that the love is reciprocated. These three poets appear relatively close after one another, so this can’t be a coincidence, surely? Are they set to become the new cliché? They certainly attempt to inflict some street cred into otherwise innocuous poems.

Liz Masi, whose use of the word tattoo is the most evocative, is one of the better poets to be found on the website. She uses refreshing specificity in ‘The Piano Bench’ for instance, and is capable of more disturbing tableaux too, as in her poem ‘Ribcage’:

‘I realized that my ribcage was a lead-heavy carcass
Hanging like a skeleton from my phony grin.’

But the faux-naïve voice she employs gets jarring after three poems – so that the showcase here is a disadvantage that lays bare her current limitations.

Whilst no poems on Used Furniture Review are appalling, none are outstanding either. There is no doubt, however, that its authors have the potential to develop; and that the magazine, still in its early stages, will attract a higher level of submissions in time. The hardest stage is done: they have a dedicated readership, a website that is fully integrated with other social media, the rest will surely follow.

Poetry Jam @ The Tea Box 13/05/11

In Performance Poetry on June 1, 2011 at 11:06 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

The Night

The Tea Box is a charming, genteel and tea-filled place during the day, but at night it dons a mask and cape and transforms into a vibrant local arts venue. With tea.

Last month I commented that while a great night, the Jam@TheBox lacked polish, not so this time. Polish was plentiful; the event gleamed so much you could see my face in it.

The Host

And the clearest reason I can see for this month’s smooth, polished, professional Jam was Anna Le’s superb hosting. Previously seen at Sage and Time, her hosting was (as always) slick and affable, quick to joke and quicker to banter with her audience, who were all too happy to engage with her warm and open hosting.

Oh, and her poetry:

  • Her 1st, ‘Case of Sera Sera’, dedicated to a friend Sarah, was powerful and filled with a knowing love for its inspiration that was beautiful, hurt, but finally in control of her stormy past. Anna’s delivery gets more focused as it progresses, reflecting the sentiment that ‘you can steer destiny.’
  • Her 2nd called ‘The Crown Forsaking Me’ deftly mixed her own feelings for her hair with a running newscast providing some political commentary. While she did forget the words, she did so quite endearingly.
  • ‘Vowel-Play’ and its sweet wordplay makes me happy. Dedicated and read to an audience volunteer. ‘I can’t help thinking of the last vowel in the alphabet’ she tells us; managing to say the words without having to use them.

The Open Mic

  • Elizabeth Darcy Jones (whose book ‘Distinguished Leaves: Poetry for Tea-Lovers’ is out in September) is perfect for this venue, like a person steeped in The Tea Box itself. Her poems are full of both life and tea, and in one case, bottoms. Her adorable poem ‘Beloved Bottom’ left us ‘bum-founded’ and sparked an ongoing discussion of bottoms throughout the evening.
  • Donall Dempsey, was full of charm, his poems are funny, smart and sometimes sadly beautiful. My favourite was ‘Homepage’ a precisely brilliant and bleak poem. The poem ‘If Mice were the Size of Kangaroos’, written with a class of children, was whimsically amusing (‘Just take the cheese, please!’).
  • Julie Mullen sexes up vegetables (which I believe is illegal inTexas). It’s certainly not my cup of tea, but I can’t fault her delivery, which makes the best of her poetry’s charms. But her ‘She said, she said’ melded two voices into one sensual whole rather effectively. Interestingly, a copy of her collection ‘Erotic Poetry for Vegans and Vegetarians’ rode on the campaign bus with David Cameron during the last general election.
  • James Webster the whiplash poet for the evening went from a bemused poem about the Royal Wedding’s coverage to the harrowing ‘Pain Poem’, which had the audience rapt. His flowing and passionate delivery spoke of the desperate search for pain both on the streets of London and at the edge of a razor.
  • Sh’mya’s ‘Hong Kong in a Jazz Breeze’ was a superb breathless and nostalgic look back at his time in Hong Kong. The language was lush and intense with a chaotic and increasingly frantic delivery. Though it had a slight ring of ‘what I did on my gap year’, it was frenetically entertaining.
  • Peter Hayhoe, a previous feature at Sage and Time, was described by Anna as a ‘poetic surgeon, he grabs your funnybone and plucks your heartstrings’. His poem/short story ‘100 Ways to Die’ asked if media fear-mongering and the advent of social media devalue human experience (‘humans have sex drives, not hard drives!’). His ‘Broken on the Pillar’ was harsh and violent, but beautiful. And his poem on Sainsbury’s check-out machines not approving of his hair, poetry and mum made you feel sorry for the machines’ lonely, thankless existence.
  • Janice Winddle A nice mixture of poems, from her own naughty youth, and the failure of words and their traitorous tendency to mean different things being overcome by touch, to a poem on the past of the Rome washing over her. Evocative and eloquent.
  • Amy Acre promised us she wouldn’t fuck with our heads (as she has a wont to do). Instead she touched us (not literally) with her ‘Erasing the Dictionary’, where she symbolises rewriting her own romantic past and outlook with going through the OED with a marker pen. In the end she proposes to ‘just lie back on the blank pages’, completing her longing for a relationship not defined by, well, definitions.
  • Kevin Reinhart had a shy indie-charm. His poems had magic, musical references and shyness and got more confident as he went on. His characters carry ‘shyness like a sick-note’.
  • The Brothers Grimm His ‘This Boy’ on a boxer (probably Mohammed Ali) ‘misconceived in the mighty melting pot of the mono-culture’ made his words into punches. The room craned their necks towards ‘Ganz Vorbei’ (Quite Finished) a quiet and forlorn poem, and ‘Art for Fuck’s Sake’ had the balls to begin ‘All black people look the same to me’ and then leaving a slightly too-long pause before ‘All white people look the same to me’ building up into a rousing poem on the unifying power and importance of art.
  • Anna Mae’s first two poems, about pro-anexoria and obesity seemed to convey the same message: look at the starving people in the third world and stop being so self-obsessed. It was well expressed, but a little preachy. She contrasted this with the lure of a past lover through the metaphor of a directionless bus route: suitably meandering while maintaining its poignancy.
  • Donald a moving poem on the 7/7 bombing, a clash natural and architectural beauty with a city’s industrial past, and a superbly sweet poem to a lost cat. But he didn’t seem to offer any new perspectives.
  • Anna Matiu‘s performance perfectly matched the tone of her poems. Her ‘Moving Experience’ sounded unsure of its own place, all intricate and pretty questioning. And ‘To Insomnia’ mixed its thoughts and phrases all up in a tired run to the sad and tired beauty of daylight.
  • Andrew Flower ‘Conversations with a Friend’ was nicely questioning, tongue slightly kissing cheek. ‘Fate not Heard’ did what many are afraid to do, and used hyperbole seriously, questioned the point of life without passion.

The Feature

Keith Jarrett was a great focal point to the night. So much so that he will soon be receiving an article here all of his own. To summarise, his poetry was flowing, intelligent, reflective, political and affecting. It was poetry of homes, of belief, of life. Joyous.

This month the Tea Box had a great deal of wonderful poetry, was well run and showed that you can squeeze a lot of poets into one night and still bring the awesome all night long.