Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

‘The Long Woman’ by Charlotte Gann

In Pamphlets on August 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm

-Reviewed by Claire Trevien

Pighog specializes in beautiful, luxurious and unique pamphlets and Charlotte Gann’s The Long Woman, with its charcoal tempest of a cover, is no exception. Gann’s poems match the cover: they are elliptical tales, at the centre of which is a mystery yet to be unravelled. From the opening Poe-esque ‘Love Poem’ to the troubling closing poem ‘Pocket’, these are poems of adulterers and murderers, violent loves dissected with the concentrated detachment of a ‘Molecular Biologist’.

In Gann’s hands the mundane can become the stuff of nightmares, take library books in the poem ‘These Days’:

‘That night I dream I’ve thousands overdue:

white laminated tickets blinking

 

from my shelves like quiet eyes opening

suddenly in sequence’

 

In this world, the past is a gun slipped into someone else’s anorak. I am reminded of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok’s phantoms: the work in the unconscious of the traumatic secret of another. As with those phantoms, one wants to confront the ghost and unravel the secrets these poems hold, but this proves to be an arduous task, as with the unyielding ‘Her Publisher’. If Gann is sometimes in danger of being too obtuse, in ‘These Days’ the sense of mystery is a lure rather than a hindrance.

 

Love is a recurring theme in the collection, but it is seldom a happy one. In ‘Love Poem’, a bluebeard-like protagonist oozes menace in a domestic scene:

 

‘Stabs his nib deep in the inkwell. His new

young wife starts, cheeks paling, eyes watering.

 

Pauses at her stitch, but does not speak.

He taught her about interrupting.’

 

While in the poem ‘Lotus’, the narrator pauses to ask of her talented lover: ‘How many other women wander / listlessly round our town / your invisible hands all over them?’ Yet, the protagonist is not always a victim, in ‘On the Tide’, Gann embraces the point of view of an adulterer. Here, the sea and its coastline are anthropomorphized, while the protagonist disassociates herself from her own body. The ending may seem twee out of context:

 

‘I do not leave footprints in the sand;

The sand leaves footprints in me.’

 

Yet it typifies what the poem is about: not just a poem about adultery (‘I do not label this / “adultery”’) but about the impact of external factors on oneself, reducing that ‘self’ to a shell, vulnerable to the stomp of a child.

 

This is a collection best read by fireside, though even on this warm summer’s day, it manages to bring a chill to the air.

 

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Sage and Time’s First Birthday @ The Charterhouse Bar 27/07/11

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on August 23, 2011 at 12:11 am

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

I haven’t exactly been reticent on my love of Sage and Time. It’s a fantastic night run by Anna Le and the consistently jaw-dropping Dirty Hands collective.

And it was a charming celebration. Poets were welcomed individually, always with a smile and often with a hug, reminding me what makes S&T such a nurturing environment. Included in the ticket price was a glass of wine and a slice of cake, so we could all toast S&T’s first year in style, and the evening featured a smorgasboard of poetic talent with 29 poets performing in total. It was an extravaganza of poetry; a night filled with verse, love and the supportive atmosphere that makes Sage and Time so special.

The Host

  • Kat Francois was, um, wow. She brought this brazen energy and engaging off-the-cuff comedy to the evening. Some of her quips could’ve been horrendous if done by someone with less charisma, but, boy, does she make it work.
  • And her poem where she asserted ‘I’m a poetry whore’ was an insightful take on performing, with great rhythm to her sing-song delivery. She summed up how the microphone is a portal into you, but also a shield between you and the audience; how performing makes you the centre of attention, but also so nakedly vulnerable. In her capable voice, simply repetitions became repeated gasps leading up to the final ‘just so I can breath.’ Like many poets, she dedicated her poem to Anna Le. ‘Cos Anna’s lovely.

Odes to Sage and Time

A goodly number of poets performed pieces inspired by S&T itself. With excellent result.

  • Will Stopha: A former host of S&T, his beautiful phrasing was a loving and clever look back, referencing so many of the poets who helped make S&T the success it is. He’s giving up hosting duties for now and it was a touching goodbye.
  • Anna Le: Anna’s poem ‘Beautiful People’ again referenced a lot of the S&T regulars, and it summed itself up sumptuously. Anna, like the people she referenced, made ‘verbs do things verbs don’t usually do’. I was tempted to just ask her for a copy of the poem and post that instead of this review.
  • Richard Marsh: His repeated rhyme on Anna Le’s name was an amazing embrace of a poem for Anna, the S&T poets and poetry itself. Joy.

Assorted Poets

  • Mr G’s poem on the Olympics, on Jesse Owen ‘the Running Man’ was flowing, strong, and used the Olympics as an effective metaphor for political unrest.
  • The Wizard of Skill’s my radio was typical of his style. Loudly and confidently performed, lots of repetition, and I’m sure there’s a point hidden there somewhere.
  • James Webster’s ‘That’s Why the Lady is a Cunt’ was delivered with passion and earnestness, but his delivery was stilted and would’ve been better if he’d learnt the poem.
  • Kai Kamikaze’s ‘Heroin Diaries’ was very evocative of his time ‘living on bastard street’, but I feel there could’ve been more to it.
  • Did I mention that I love Donall Dempsey and Janice Windle? Because I do. They’re fast building a reputation as the first couple ofLondonpoetry. And their combined set really showed off their interplaying verse and personalities. From Donall’s ‘Kiss Kiss and Cuddles Man’ (as all the good superheroes are taken) to Janice’s joyously near-explicit poem on the sex you shouldn’t have above the age of 40, they are riotously lovable.
  • Vanessa’s emotive ‘lunchtime playground romance’ was a thought-provoking poem on childhood serenity and bullying; it had a great flow and fiery delivery.
  • Richard Marsh’s second poem (see above) made one thing clear: he likes fools. It was an empowering and charmingly clever rallying call for the fools of this world. ‘Rejoice, you mucky-faced adventurers’ indeed.
  • JazzMan John is part of the S&T fixtures. His ‘July Poem’ was spat out with driving momentum, an ode to anyone in need of an ode. Frankly I was disappointed that we didn’t all run out and commit immediate acts of civil disobedience.
  • Jethro’s piece about an audition from the POV of a pretentious director deftly combined a plethora of meaningless theatrical jargon, but didn’t quite come alive for me.
  • Peter Hayhoe was one of many to spank, sorry, thank Anna Le for putting S&T together. ‘Pinch’ was a poem for fighting for your place and finding it. It did make me want to ‘grab [my] pen and paper and go to war’.
  • Mark Thompson’s ‘Dance for Dancing’s Sake’ was at once both beautifully awkward and at one with its own rhythm. He hosts Bang Said the Gun, by the way.
  • Katy Bonna’s ‘Organs’ was a highlight, on the idea of two peoples’ hearts and minds sneaking off together. Its irregular beat beats in compliment to the theme, backed up by some choice words.
  • Lionheart was odd. Some truly original imagery was coupled with hyperbolic bitterness and it seemed his poem could be summed up as ‘other guys don’t respect you, but I respect you, so why aren’t you sleeping with me?’ Also see: Nice Guy TM.
  • Anna Le claimed not to be very good with words. She lied. She performed “I am Many Rivers’, the first poem I ever heard her perform and the reason I came to Sage & Time in the first place. I loved it then and I love it now. Her language, her delivery, it’s delectable, personal and personable. You can feel the rivers of culture and history that she speaks of flowing through her voice.
  • Lisa Handy managed to fake an orgasm onstage and have it not be embarrassing. Her poem was sexual and explicit, without being sleazy, her words were loaded, dripping with tension, and felt like she was caressing you with poetry (and I don’t think I know her well enough to be comfortable with that).
  • While Amy Acre was performing, a bottle of champagne spontaneously erupted. I’m not even exaggerating, that happened. Her first poem where she affirmed ‘this, poetry, this is mine’ was a poem ingrained in the bone, a shout of joy for having a voice. I’m surprised all the champagne didn’t pop.
  • Will Stopha was armed only with his own beat-boxing and a ‘key-chordian’ and performed some layered poetry/music/audience interaction hybrid, recording the audience and playing them back as his own chorus. Amazing rhythm, wording and content; he made me believe London is indeed a city that’s ‘got more ideas than pigeons’. Top drawer.

In the end

I wish I could fit all the poets into this review. Sadly, I can’t, so what you’ve read is a brief summary of the highlights of S&T’s first birthday. It was a magically inclusive night. While I can’t say all of the poets wowed me, most of them did.

And that’s all I really hope for. Plus a little bit more.

Mythic Delirium #24

In Magazine, online magazine on August 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm

 -Reviewed by Tori Truslow

Not infrequently, I come across people who are perplexed by the idea of poetry having genres. I suspect some of these people are those who believe that ‘genre’ and ‘literary’ are mutually exclusive. Mythic Delirium, a biannual subscription-based magazine of fantasy, SF and horror poetry, cheerfully puts paid to that yawnsome debate. Its 24th issue contains some damn fine – finely crafted, finely balanced, finely nuanced – poetry; it also, in good speculative tradition, feels like an adventure from the get-go. Editor Mike Allen, in his introduction, lays out a trajectory for the issue: ‘we’ll begin with planets and aliens, shift into the stuff of myth, zip out into alternative futures and curve through alternate histories before finally descending into mediations on the very nature of stories.’ Although there are plenty of places to pause and reflect on the nature of stories and poems earlier on, too.

One thing that becomes apparent quite quickly is that this is a publication for those who like a strong dose of story in their poetry. Hurrah, I say. Burying a story under precarious piles of images can work very well – and there are a few examples here of poems where the what’s-going-on needs to be teased out, like Nima Kian’s lovely, lingering ‘A Semblance’ (‘people sit/at the edge of their prayers below/black clouds that cannot rain’) – but style doesn’t have to negate narrative. The second poem in the issue, ‘The Wine of Mercury’ by Joshua Gage, has just the right balance of both. The poem begins with a technical history of human attempts to terraform Mercury, the language dry and technical:

‘But the deadly crust is rich in helium-3,

enough to fuel a fleet of torch ships.

The soil also abounds in iron, titanium

and magnesium ores.’

This changes, as the planet is colonised and it is discovered that grapevines ‘thrive’. The register becomes lush, full of echoes of Earth’s myths and literatures. Wine is made; one is tellingly described as ‘earthy’ in flavour. In the poem’s vision of space exploration, some things don’t change – we still love a good wine, and we still invent wonderfully precious ways to describe its flavours – but leaving our home planet shifts the way we see, feel, and taste, and this shift is marked in the way the poem describes pleasure. The narrator lists Mercury’s wines, their growing conditions and their flavours, including those of the ‘Boccaccio Estate’, whose

‘…signature is “Decameron,”

a Primitivo grown from old world vines

from southern Italy, rich with the hint

of a naked kiss after a year-long stint

in space against a background of tart cherry.’

I can’t help but read this as a story about science-fictional poetry itself, moving from hard science-language to a headier mix of the technical and the mythic, synthesising space-images with ‘earthy’ ones and carrying old human passions across new frontiers.

Elsewhere in the issue the storytelling waxes whimsical, poems offering flights of fancy with dark, toothy things lurking in their corners. ‘Behind the Greasepaint Door’ by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff is a rhymeless ballad about a questing mime that faces something terrible in the land ‘Where Carneys End’. ‘The Last Dragon Slayer’ by Elissa Malcohn mixes prose-poetry and verse, and from its first lines clearly does not intend to play nicely with the dragon-slaying hero trope: ‘She is the wet dream of every budding knight, the centerpiece of every quest. Her scaly head on a pike makes the ultimate maiden magnet.’ In all these poems the central figure is changed irrevocably by journeying beyond what they’re used to; the reader, too, has their preconceptions of certain archetypes neatly twisted around.

Theodora Goss’s ‘Binnorie’ is short and sharp, and similarly upends a popular balladic motif: the bone harp, made of a murdered woman’s remains. ‘What is it about being made into a harp […] That presents such an appropriate allegory/For being a woman, and therefore an instrument/Of fathers, husbands, or sons?’ it asks. It then goes on to ask whether the harp is actually a metaphor for being a poet. Woman-writer and woman-as-muse clichés are bypassed entirely, and poetry is cast as a father, a husband, a son. The poem is formed in its entirety of two sentences, both questions, which don’t have quick answers; for me, this is the poem that lingered the longest after reading.

Other highlights were ‘Counterfactual Photos’ by Ian Watson, an intriguing alternate-reality concept played out over deceptively straightforward and regular three-line stanzas, and ‘Wisdom’ by Sonya Taaffe, a beautiful musing on Jewish folklore migrating to the big city; both are worth reading a couple of times over. Between those poems that danced and sparked and asked difficult questions, there were a few that simply lay flat for me, made all the more noticeable by the ones that did catch fire. The ones that didn’t stick in the memory, for me, had a certain sense of closedness, a feeling that they had told me what to think rather than leaving me with questions. But I wouldn’t say there was a bad poem among the 20 selected here.

Laying the merits of individual poems aside for a moment, the journey promised at the beginning is well-plotted; Allen is an excellent helmsman, steering his passengers between delight and darkness. To labour the metaphor, the black-and-white illustrations provide pleasing views along the way. And the culmination of the journey, the promised ‘meditations on the very nature of stories’ in the final three poems, is triumphant. ‘The true poem’ by Serena Fusek is light and fleet and pure magic, and perfectly complemented by its woodcut-ish illustrations. Here’s a taster:

‘The true poem

may seem slight

but the must of

wild mushrooms

and leaf mold

worm through the lines.’

Following it are two library-themed pieces. ‘Torn Out’ by Ann K. Schwader is another mix of prose and poetry, descriptive paragraphs followed by short snatches of stanzas, a form that suits its subject matter – something, we suspect vampiric, stalking prey in a closed library – very well; it’s what’s not said here that makes it so deliciously creepy. And then Shira Lipkin’s ‘The Library, After’ comes along, magical and wry, a prose poem about an abandoned library where the books ‘told each other to each other’. You could read this as whimsy, you could read it as a bit of thumb-biting in the direction of rigid genre classifications – “New genres formed and split and reformed, tangents spilling out like capillaries. Freed of the responsibility to be useful and to fit human desires and expectations, Story explored itself in Mandelbrot swirls” – whichever way you look at it, it’s clever, funny and affirming. Literary fashions come and go – as we learn, ‘The science-noir-unicorn genre was shortlived’ – but story keeps on going. The image of stories continuing to twist and transmute after we’ve stopped looking at them is a perfect note to end on.

Clinic II

In anthology on August 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan

In Clinic’s own words, this – their second anthology – is a “physical embodiment” of their raison d’être – an artistic collaboration of art, music and poetry.

On the face of it, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a collection that deals purely with poetry, but art is granted equal importance here. Music, meanwhile, may not be evident at the surface, but at the level of performance this collection very much deals with the ‘live’ dimension of artistic expression.

And if it’s a quirky, obscure – even trippy – manifestation of the arts you’re after, then you can do a lot worse than getting lost in their latest offering. Leafing between the charmingly obscure etchings, paintings and squiggles and the absorbing pages of verse, it’s as if Dr Seuss’s illustrators have teamed up with the pretenders to the poetic crown.

This eclectic miscellany of visual and verbal art has something for everyone. But unfortunately the concept of ‘everyone’ is not something that this anthology can acquaint because a rather stingy 500-edition print-run has been imposed.

Still, that kind of adds to the charm of being able to curl up with a copy if you’re lucky enough to come across one.

A total of 28 poets and 21 artists feature over the course of this 100-odd-page compendium of artistic celebration. Many of the contributors are grouped in the ‘emerging’ bracket – as the short bios at the end of the anthology suggest – and it is delightful to see space afforded for genuine upcoming talent while lining them up alongside more established players of the field.

Clinic’s four co-founding members provide strong contributions:

Rachael Allen (The Porpoise and An expected future event), Andrew Parkes (the previously-published Juror#10 and the beautiful yet sobering Cockermouth), Sam Buchan-Watts (Airport Poem and Landing) and Sean Roy Parker (with an intriguing photo-art piece) tow the party line of a vibrant, slightly-larger-than-pocket-size showcasing of modern art and poetry.

Much of the visual art is of an acquired taste. If modern art isn’t really your ‘thing’, I can only encourage you to give this a go. Few will deny their agreeable punctuation between each poet’s handful of contributions, providing timely pauses to consider their surreal – even downright odd – place within the work as a whole.

Some of the poems require a fair bit of attention and ‘tapping-in’ to the poet’s mind. A good few re-reads are required, which is no bad thing. Imagery is at times rather obscure and keeping track of it can provide a challenge, while the subject matter far-reaching from one poem to the next.

But to intellectualise this anthology would be to miss the point somewhat. The poems aren’t there to be carved up and examined at close-quarters. Yes, the poetics (in the academic sense) are of a decent to high standard, but Clinic II is trying to achieve something far simpler than that.

For example, I implore you to read some of these poems aloud – alone, or to friends. They are crying out to be performed – sung, even. It is poetry ripe for the stage as much as it is for the coffee table. It is no coincidence that the wonderful people at Clinic place so much emphasis on the ‘here-and-now’ element of creative expression. And this anthology is a heart-warming manifestation of that.

Curbside Quotidian #3

In Magazine, online magazine on August 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

There is a range of strong and enjoyable work to be found in Issue 3 of Curbside Quotidian, although the featured artwork in particular is quite diverse, and not all of it may appeal. Personally, I found the two strongest to be Inge Hoonte’s Simulated Travel and Eleanor Bennett’s Sleep Anywhere. The former is a very simple black surface, over which text marches from left to right and five dotted arrows run through the text from top to bottom. The visual impact verges on being clinically sparse, yet pay closer attention and details like how the dotted arrows cut through ‘i’s in the text will emerge, evoking the deeper organising principles underpinning the artwork. The crux of the piece then seems to be the last line of text, ‘get immobility bonus for not flying anywhere’, as Hoonte is interested in ‘how notions of privacy, identity, and behavioral routines shape the tension between reaching out and keeping one’s distance in interpersonal communication and physicality’.

Visually speaking, Bennett’s Sleep Anywhere is the complete opposite of Hoonte’s piece. The colours here are lush and vibrant, but what is most striking is that brilliant blue iris staring out of the top-right quadrant of the artwork. The other eye is not exactly obscured by leaf litter, but because it is still cast in shadow, what is a beautiful image is given a subtly disquieting feel, intentionally or otherwise, as if there were something off-kilter about it that yet cannot be pinned down with any certainty. This juxtaposition of moods finds an echo in one of the poems, Daniel Fitzsimmons’s ‘Underfoot’, which opens with the violently visceral (but sonically pitch-perfect in its alliteration) ‘A dead cardinal is crushed crimson’, yet closes with a measure of wistfulness:

‘and the swift-footed commuters

slowed for a moment to wonder

if the photos hanging on the walls

upstairs were black and white.’

The editors of Curbside Quotidian must also be commended for their lively sense of humour, which surely played a part in their choosing to publish a poem like Kevin Heaton’s ‘Castaway’. Poems concerning literary rejection may run the risk of sounding bitter, but Heaton’s poem deftly avoids this by approaching rejection from a subtly different perspective. Rather than writing a poem about rejection from the poet’s point of view, he goes a step further and imagines a poet rejecting a literary magazine’s request that he take out a subscription. Substitute a few nouns here and there, and the poem would read like any polite form rejection from an editor, which detractors might say is too gimmicky, but as a one-off, I find it quite ingenious. The shape of the poem on the screen also plays on this familiarity with rejection by editors, with indents drawing attention to phrases like ‘thoroughly / reviewed the work’ and ‘lacking / in laudable characteristics’.

It is in the fiction offerings though, that Issue 3 of Curbside Quotidian really shines. The element of humour is again displayed in a story like Yaki Margulies’s ‘Failed Expectations’, which imagines what would happen if God actually came back to Earth and started living a celebrity lifestyle, only to become fed up with humanity all over again. Zealots will probably take offense, but more level-headed believers should be able to appreciate the satire, especially given the rise of megachurches and their celebrity pastors. Also carrying on the religious theme is Christine Utz’s ‘Ingénue: A Girl in Three Parts’. The three-part structure of the story may be a nod to the concept of the divine Trinity, but its subject matter is strictly mortal. The love stories that unfold grow progressively weirder, and by the third section ‘3. The Herpetologist’, the narrator is in a relationship with what is clearly stated to be a lizard. Even leaving aside the metaphorical implications of shedding one’s skin (‘To ask him to claw me so my new skin could emerge, too.’), this narrative hangs together precisely because it is never self-conscious about its oddity, allowing the story to coast smoothly to its end.

On the other hand, Danny Lalonde’s ‘\A Simple Function\’ deliberately fractures language, repeatedly defining (or appearing to define) specific words at scattered intervals. There is something almost schizophrenic in the way these definitions are mixed together with the parsing of grammatical functions, snatches of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, and the refrain ‘a space and then a line’. This effect is heightened by the story’s being narrated in the second person, a relatively uncommon choice, but which impels the reader to inhabit the story as it is being read. Finally, it is also worth pointing out that Nick Kowalczyk has an excellent non-fiction piece in Issue 3. ‘Dispatches From Home’ details through a mixture of anecdote and reportage Kowalczyk’s relationship to his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and is an excerpt from a longer work that I would very much like to see in its completion.

Now That I’m Ready To Tell You Everything

In Novella on August 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm

-Reviewed by Martin Macaulay-

I didn’t realise it at the time when I chose to review G. K. Wuori‘s Now That I’m Ready to Tell You Everything, but I really needed to read this book. It caught me off guard. A recent read had let me down; a real anticlimax having promised so much. My faith in indie lit had taken a bit of a skelp and unfairly, I approached this novella with a weariness through no fault of the author.

I should have shown more faith. As far as openings go, it’s up there amongst the most memorable:

“Serena didn’t know what to make of the toe she found lying in the street in front of the Able-Bodied Bookstore. While the bookstore, an ‘adult’ one of the genre, often attracted a kinky clientele, Serena felt sure that most of them both entered and left the store with all their toes intact.”

The toe is an unlikely subject to use as a focal point to lead us into others’ lives, their dependencies, weaknesses and desires, but it works surprisingly well. The toe is traced back to its owner, who turns out to be the landlord of her friend Mariel. It would be doing this book a disservice to simply retell and reduce this novella to its plot; it is so much more than this. We weave through interlinked stories at various points of time, shadows cross others’ paths and we see the interconnections between lives but it’s the effortless nonchalance of the writing that sucks you in. I warmed to Wuori’s book instantly. The humour and personality are so amiable and bloody funny that I reckon you’d be hard pushed not to love it.

The author eschews a direct style where words punch out staccato sentences. He uses commas like stitches, embroidering fragments into sentences or a patchwork paragraph. The rhythm never falters though, and the asides thrown to us offer more insight into personal histories. Just when you think there is no more to tell us, in the one sentence we are thrown another morsel. Normally this isn’t a technique that curries much favour with me, but it isn’t flowery or overly descriptive. It exudes confidence, control and utter craft. Dazzling.

Now That I'm Ready To Tell You Everything, by G. K. Wuori, reviewed for Sabotage by Martin Macaulay

It turns out that it was the amputee’s son who cut off her toe in exchange for a pregnancy termination she had planned. Sex and birth play heavily in Now That I’m Ready… but it’s never under a spotlight, or pulled from the narrative, it’s part of people and how they deal with living, however bizarre.

“’But Binky says he’s replicating the birth canal, the experience of it.’
‘In a culvert?’ Serena said. ‘He’s replicating a vagina in a ditch?’
‘It came to him last night. We’d just finished having a good screw and I said ‘Do you want me to see what’s in the tube?’ and he said, ‘Did you say in the tube?’ and I said, ‘I meant on the tube, the TV. Do you want to watch TV?’ and he just said, ‘Holy shit, something’s come to me Gladys.’ Then he stayed up most of the night jotting things down at the kitchen table, drawing pictures of oil pipelines, plumbing systems, and vaginas, lots of vulvas and vaginas with their functions drawn with colored pencils.”

Serena has taken work as a dancer. Her husband, Mitch Calloway had his job downgraded and they need the extra cash. She’s also pregnant. Sex is a spectrum in this book: commodity, giver and taker of life, fetishised, red-blooded and eager, straight-down-the-middle missionary, or a bond between close friends. As in life, it’s complicated (though the writing never is) and it means different things to many people. Angus, the dancing club manager, sees money in a pregnant dancer and Serena wants to talk this over with Mitch.

“Remember that one time, too, that I told you about, when I had the nosebleed?
Oh sure.
They loved it. They didn’t want me to stop. I had blood all over my tits, and then when I sneezed, I got blood all over them. They cheered. They threw money and poured beer on my feet.
Blood and sex, M. Calloway would say, a pretty obvious connection.
This is different, darling.
What’s different, Serena?
This baby inside of me. Can I take it out there, on the stage? Should I take it out there? In front of all those men?
It’s just your tummy, Serena. What do you think they’ll see?
What they always see, I suppose, Serena would say.”

Life is sacred and fragile, but depends on work to exist. People need other people for sex, love and friendship, but things tend to get tangled up in a big ball of a mess. This book doesn’t preach; it simply holds up a fractured mirror for us to look into and reflect upon ourselves and those around us. It’s a small town, anytown, but we inhabit it people, with our neuroses and quirks and predilections. We should be grateful to G. K. Wuori for drawing us in such a memorable way.

‘Verisimilitude’ by Suzanne Allen

In Pamphlets on August 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

-Reviewed by Claire Trevien

Verisimilitude is the debut pamphlet of Suzanne Allen, a regular on the Anglophone Parisian scene. Published by the equally Paris-based Corrupt Press, it is a modest-looking yet beautiful collection, with an evocative cover of a rundown interior.

I first encountered Allen’s poetry when she gave a performance of her long poem ‘Wail’ (anthologized in Not a Muse: the inner lives of women) a feminist retelling of Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ at Culture Rapide. While the poem does not feature in this pamphlet, the short opening poem ‘(un)loaded’ feels very much in the same vein, a call for inclusion:

‘There’s a (w)hole in my can(n)on

where a (wo)man should be.’

This poem perhaps best summarizes the pamphlet: a questioning of language and of status quo, through humour and heart. Verisimilitude is a collection of love, of loneliness, and the pursuit to palliate the latter through an exploration of language. In her quest, Allen is often a hunter of echoing sounds, take for instance this extract from the poem ‘Smokes and Mirrors’:

‘The way a foreign language pulls at lips and cheeks

the weigh a foreign language pulls at lips and cheeks

now awake, heads to foot of bed–saying knot words

now. Awake–heads to foot of bed–saying not words.

The bed saying awake–weigh of words and lips now a knot,

heads to foreign cheeks–pulls at foot language.’

The poem encapsulates Allen’s experiences as an expat: the distortion and frustration of living in a foreign tongue/town. As the title suggests, this is more than mirroring lines: smoke gets in your eyes and language ties itself in knots. At the same time, these quasi-refrains are reassuring, like a language-embrace: it is not just a similitude it is almost véritable.

Allen’s use of assonances elsewhere reflects this same interest in a language of verisimilitude, such as in ‘Candle’ (‘clean cell–/ a lead ladle, a / needle, ale–and’), ‘Elementary’ (‘tam tam / llama / mare / yarn me / a tame tale– / ale-tay’), ‘Sediment’ (‘demented i / tie time in / tinted mist’) and in the title poem itself: ‘Lie still.  Time / is mute lust.  Trust me.’ Though many of these experimental pieces might at time be in danger of being oblique, there is a warmth and urgency to these reverberations as if the semblance of truth can be found by following the ricochet of a word.

There is humour too, though infused with pathos, as is the case with ‘Instant Message’, the transcription of an IM conversation between the protagonist and a stranger:

‘Likes2parT says                s slash he             likes my

picture,                                sends

me         a colon                  and a lowercase x.           Hearts

flutter around

the yellow smiley face.

I spell out            thanks,                 followed by ellipses,

and a blushing smiley–colon/quotation marks/

greater than sign.’

The spelling out of punctuation marks and smileys is a particularly effective way of making strange this bodiless flirtation. The smileys are like masks held up when expected, yet it is the very predictability of the conversation and the ‘acting’ of the people involved that makes it poignant.

An interview with Alex MacDonald, curator of Selected Poems

In Conversation on August 5, 2011 at 7:17 pm

-Interviewed by Claire Trevien

Alex MacDonald is the organizer of Selected Poems, a monthly poetry night at the V&A where invited editors of magazines and anthologies showcase selected authors. He is also a poet in his own right with his work appearing in such things as Claire Askew‘s beautiful chapbook Starry Nights (work inspired by Allen Ginsberg).

Photo from selectedpoems.wordpress.com

Talk us through the origin of Selected Poems – did the venue or the idea come first, or was it an organic collaboration with the V&A? Is there something about the V&A space that works particularly well with poetry?

The idea definitely came first. I had always admired how the people who were passionate about poetry, who organised readings and workshops, would create books themselves. I really wanted to do a series celebrating these publications, the editors behind them and the writers in them.

I visited the V&A Reading Rooms to hear a talk by Jonathan Faires (head book-buyer for the V&A) and I was so impressed by the space. I met Jonathan afterwards and it turned out he was as passionate about the idea of indie books as I was. I set up a meeting with the V&A and proposed the reading series focused on indie poetry books.

The space is intimate enough for a poetry reading and I liked it because it was a different type of venue – one purposely built for browsing books and having a drink, nicely between bar and bookshop, the archetypal poetry hang outs.

In these evenings you put the spotlight on an independent publisher/anthology – in what state would you say the British poetry indie scene is in at the moment? 

Personally I would say that its very strong – I believe the focus will be more centred around the indie scene by next year as Arts Council cuts start to take effect on poetry publishers. A lot of anthologies and publications are coming out of new post grads, so there’s a very ready supply of new talent and ideas. There’s also a lot of good up-and-coming designers who are interested in making poetry books, too.

What are the greatest challenges of hosting a poetry night?

I would say my biggest challenge is keeping it interesting and keeping people interested. So far I have had a lot of good people reading, some wonderful editors and three great headliners who have given longer readings. It gives people a reason to come but making that quality continue is giving them a reason to keep coming back.

Who are your favourite contemporary authors? Do you think it’s necessary for poets to be performers as well as writers?

Two people I think I would constantly go back and see read are Sam Riviere and Emily Berry. They have carved out two very individual poetic styles, but their readings bring out aspects of their work that doesn’t resonate as well on the page. They’re both very witty writers, for example, but this really shows in their readings and works well with an audience in the room.

I wouldn’t say they have to be good performers, but they have to be able to read in a way that supports their style of work. The amount of times I have seen poets who write long detailed poems read piece after piece with no gap or any variation of tone in their voice – it destroys an audience and makes you very apprehensive about finding out more about them.

Who are your main poetic influences?

I would say the three main poets that make me consider my own writing are T.S. Eliot (because he was my first poetry fascination), Paul Celan (because of his sparse and restrained language but rich subjects) and Frank O’Hara (for his intimacy and frivolity). Recently I’ve been reading a lot of David Harsent, Ian Hamilton and Jo Shapcott.

What is your favourite magazines?

Poetry Magazine from Chicago hands down – interesting poetry and essays, amazing letters and their online presence is excellent. For the UK I would say The White Review, The Rialto and Anon are at the top, as well as Poetry Review, but to be honest the most interesting magazines on the UK are all online – Night & Day & Five Dials are great as are the Clinic & Days of Roses blogs.

What question would you have liked me to ask you? Please answer it!

I was wondering whether you asked what my favourite poetry nights were. So to answer it – I would say the London Review of Bookshop’s poetry readings are stellar, always worth going to. Roddy Lumsden’s Broadcast nights at the Betsy Trotwood are worth going to. There is a new series that’s started in the Highgate Oxfam Books store, which I went to last month that had a great line-up, which I would thoroughly recommend.

The next three hosts for Selected Poems are Days of Roses (September), Silkworms Ink (October) & Like Starlings (November). To keep up to date, join the facebook page or follow the twitter account.

Brittle Star #27

In Magazine on August 4, 2011 at 11:05 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

For a literary magazine that has been around for more than 10 years, Brittle Stars online presence still feels curiously disorganised, despite the official website having been revamped in March 2010. A quick check with Google reveals that Issue 28 is already out and the magazine is reading for Issue 29, but on the magazine’s official website, clicking on a picture headed ‘Latest issue’ leads to a separate WordPress blog entry about Issue 27 (bizarrely, the actual URL ends in ‘/issue-24/’). Neither the blog nor the magazine’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been updated since January 2011. If this were my favourite literary magazine, I would regard the effort required for keeping up-to-date with what it was doing as bordering on excessively complicated.

That said, it would be a shame if potential readers/subscribers missed out on Brittle Star because of this. For as Issue 27 proves, there is commendable work to be found in this slim magazine. The official website notes that Brittle Star ‘has earned a reputation for providing a platform for writers at the beginning of their careers, many of whom have seen their work in print for the first time’. In this issue, one such writer is Nick Boyes, whose poem ‘To a Slug’ strikes a balance between applying a child-like imagination to nature’s creatures (‘The ant is a Victorian strongman’) and deploying a more adult awareness (‘the hiding spider / is a cold war secret agent’, ‘you slug, you are a fat friendless child / who doesn’t know why’).

This knowingness also manifests itself in poems like Terry Jones’s ‘Birdsong’ and Michael Bartholomew-Biggs’s ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Fructiculture’. In ‘Birdsong’, ‘Their call-and-repeat-and-warn tapestries’ are immediately reinterpreted in the next line as ‘Sung territories of threat and feathered lust’. The sonic echoes in word pairs ‘tapestries’/‘territories’ and ‘threat’/‘feathered’ (with ‘repeat’ creating a visual triple) subtly reinforce the transformation of meaning. Although the poem closes with the apparently hopeful ‘Somewhere Cuckoo muscles into light’, in opposition to the evocative phrasing of ‘a dark rain of birdsong’, one wonders if a more ambivalent reading is not called for. The previous line (‘Rook guards his crown of thorns’) contains a Biblical allusion to the Crucifixion, which in turn points back to the rook’s folkloric association with death. Furthermore, many cuckoo species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in other birds’ nests, so the element of deceit further undercuts the attempt to read the ending as hopeful.

With ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Fructiculture’, Bartholomew-Biggs relocates the fruit of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 5 to a literal garden. The language of cultivation admirably sustains the conceit with startling ease, allowing the poet to play with both levels of meaning throughout the poem. While the final injunction concerning ‘Self-control’ is to ‘Prune away / extravagant growth’, this is surely not an issue for this poem. While the poem is not divided into stanzas, each attribute is economically dealt with in what almost feel like three-line aphorisms. Personal favourites follow:

Low-bush Kindnesses

are easy to pick. They bruise

with careless handling.

Small unassuming

Blossoms mark true Goodness from

Self-righteous hybrids.

Brittle Star also features short articles and literary fiction, and in this issue, Brittle Star intern Saskia Katarina Hidas’s article on the Norwegian poet Gunvor Hofmo is particularly interesting, drawing attention to a European post-WW2 poet who has been compared to Paul Celan and Emily Dickinson. However, in comparison to the featured poetry, the fiction largely feels like it falls short. Luke Thompson’s ‘Quick small steps’ is too chatty without seeming to go anywhere in the end. As for Michael Ranes’s ‘Jani and the boy’, it should just manage to avoid giving offense despite its unsubtle treatment of racial themes, seeing as there is always the excuse that the entire story is ultimately mediated through a biracial narrator. Even if that revelation feels more gratuitous than illuminating.

Lee Smith and Claire Trevien interview JT Welsch (Salt Modern Voices Tour)

In Conversation on August 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Salt Modern Voices are a series of poetry and fiction pamphlets published by Salt Publishing. This Autumn, several of its authors will be touring the UK and reading in various venues. More info on this can be found on the website. In the lead up to the tour, SMV authors will be interviewing each other and posting the results on their personal websites. To kick this off, Lee Smith and Claire Trévien interview JT Welsch on form, masculinity, and his American heritage.

J.T. Welsch grew up in a small farm town near St. Louis, Missouri, but lives and teaches in Manchester, UK, where he completed a PhD this past year. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbox Manifold, Stand, Boston Review and Manchester ReviewOrchids (Salt, 2010) is his first book of poetry. Another pamphlet, Orchestra & Chorus, will be published by Holdfire Press in September 2011.

 

One thing that I’ve noticed, or an impression that I get in any case, is that your poems are tight, tense, bundles of nerves – in the sense that they’re rather compact, with lots of enjambments & not much rhyme. How important is form to you?

I’m glad you think they’re tense and nervy, and that their compactness works on the level of sight and sound, through line-endings and rhyme (or lack thereof, which is a kind of rhyme). I’m quite narrative, but there’s also an impulse towards concretism. So meaning vs. material (both visual and aural) translates to voice vs. body, subject vs. object. Like all good binaries, they collapse into each other with the least scrutiny. For the poem, that means churning until the speech congeals into something as irrefutably thingy as the page, but still retains a sense of human self for the reader to meet. So, yes, a necessarily nervous, anxious self, there but for the grace of form.


The blurb says that Orchids ‘springs from the margins of contemporary masculinity’ which is a lovely phrase in itself (reflecting on the title nicely), I was wondering how you would define masculinity today – how does it differ from say, a decade ago?

 

Well, that’s where orchids come from, right? I look at masculinity, like any identity, for its ironic lack of definition. “Margins” really isn’t the right word, if it’s only understood in opposition to a relatively stable centre. In Sexuality Studies, there’s always a danger of pitting marginalised identities against a dominant norm. You can end up reinforcing that opposition, or else normalizing “queer”, when really, there’s nothing so queer and tenuous as the supposedly typical man. You’ve seen them, hiding in suits or in perverse athletic bodies, clustering together on the weekend. They’re absolutely terrified of being found out. That’s not to deny an imbalance of cultural power, but the strategy of these poems is to expose the general tenuousness, the fragile orchids. Rather than venerate or pin down queer masculinities like Cary Grant’s or James Dean’s, for example, I’m just looking for what it takes to get through the day, endlessly negotiating a combination of roles, all of which are marginal, and none of which you ever completely live up to.

Quite a few of the poems are ekphrastic – how intertwined are the visual and verbal arts would you say?

It’s probably a crutch, but I like to have something to work against. There’s only one translation in the book, but I do a lot of that too. Or I’m almost always playing against other texts or stories. Making a poem out of someone else’s painting feels the same, and as with translation, where I don’t really speak anything but English, it probably helps that I’ve never painted. I guess it’s vicarious. Does that sound glib? It’s the same thing about defining yourself in relation to someone else’s story. The Magritte, Caravaggio, and Monet in the book are doing very different things, but they’re all concerned with the artistic process, I think. As I say, I don’t know from experience, but the visual and verbal arts must be connected in terms of what it means to make something so impractical as “art”. In terms of the objectivity I was talking about, the visual arts have a more obvious thingyness to them. I’m probably latching onto that too.

 

Would you consider yourself a British or an American poet? Which feels more like literary home?  

 

Transatlanticism comes up a few times in the pamphlet, whether with the Pilgrims or my TS Eliot fetish. Never mind his epoch-making poetry – I’m so narcissistic, and much more interested in the fact that he’s from St. Louis and studied in Boston before moving to London, like me. There’s my bad joke that Cary Grant’s accent is like Eliot’s in reverse. But the point is the in-betweenness, or duplicity. I can change my spellings depending on where I’m submitting stuff, but it’s the tenuousness of identity again. Sorry, that’s dodging your practical question, and I’m being disingenuous, since there’s really so little exchange between contemporary British and American poetry. I grew up with the latter, of course, and the sense of experimentation and political engagement still excites me on a gut level. But I’m addicted to the lyricism and formal precision of British and Irish poetry as well. Yes, I’m being incredibly reductive.

 

Following on from that, who are your greatest influences?

 

I don’t know about influence, by my quickest route through the twentieth century goes from W.C. Williams and Eliot, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane and Stevens, through the confessionalists, especially Berryman and Lowell, up through James Merrill and Ashbery, C.K. Williams. Yikes, all American. And these are just poets. I’m at least as derivative of Joyce, Woolf, Beckett, Edward Albee, Nabokov, Paul Simon, Rodgers and Hammerstein.

 

How do the poems in Orchids benefit from being published in a pamphlet rather than in a full collection?

 

The obvious thing is the unity and discipline of shorter forms. A pamphlet is more likely to be read in one sitting. I like the way poems nudge or undermine each other in a confined space, and there’s a definite shape to this sequence, although that also threatens to undermine itself. The first poem is called ‘Orchids’, but as a pamphlet, they’re a tidier bouquet of them, I hope.


Can you provide one line from the collection that you think best identifies your style (if one line is impossible, then one stanza).

I feel no duty toward these dishes, even if
I’ll be the last to read them, or their splotches,
and quickly, till each re-surfaces,
more complete than I ever hope to be.

(from ‘Meditations on Washing Up’)

Orchids is available through Salt or Amazon.