Reviews of the Ephemeral

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.’

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  1. […] what one reviewer, writing in the journal Sabotage, said about that issue of  […]

  2. Thanks so much for this. I sound much cooler than I am.

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