Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Astronaut #1

In Magazine on March 27, 2013 at 2:37 pm

-Reviewed by Alana Tomlin


Astronaut brings a brief assortment of poetry and short prose from, the title implies, ‘outer space’. What this actually means is that it is writing brought together in a clean, refreshing way – young writers, and new ideas. As always, being a first issue, it faces the challenge of being noticed and, even harder, to be bought and read. In response to this the magazine’s overt association with ‘outer space’ perhaps indicates that the editor, Charlotte Henson, realises that a new magazine’s primary duty is to explore ‘alien’ literary territory, and to be proud to publish what is discovered there. The alien here is by no means experimental or avant-garde; it is a space sometimes hinting at the surreal, just beyond the boundaries of what can still be interpreted as mainstream or traditional writing, and ‘alien’ writers who have not yet been published in dozens of literary magazines. Although it stands for eclecticism, a mild current of similarity runs between the works. However, this current is a vivid one, alternating between work which packs a well-needed literary punch and more unsatisfying content.

Featured poet Helen Mort’s piece ‘Outtakes’, about capturing simple details in film, is by far the strongest in the magazine. It is also a useful lens through which to appraise the magazine’s other output. The poem opens with delicate, emotive force, ‘You taught me longing is a matter / of suggestion’. This line summarizes Mort’s poem, which lingers on various mundane shots, such as a favourite ‘view of other people’s windows,/glowing on a terraced street at night’, elevating these moments while keeping them movingly honest.

Looking at some of the titles in the rest of the poetry-heavy issue (‘Dare’, ‘Benevolence’, ‘Jealous of your fighting skills’…), you’d be forgiven for thinking other offerings would be jarringly angst-ridden. Instead, the works undercut this stereotype by portraying openly the complications of human relationships with the world, others and themselves in a linguistically intriguing way. Take Betty Doyle’s poem ‘Scott’ for instance, in which she portrays an argument between a couple where they ‘plead under that porch light’ and refer to ‘laddered loveheart tights’. The soft consonance in these Doyle lines makes the couple’s breakdown touching, and memorable.

A few of the pieces echo ancient myth and traditional literary figures. This is in keeping with the final page of the magazine, ‘Starting Points’, which gives a thoughtful writing prompt to research local myth and folklore. I enjoyed the magazine’s forthright acknowledgement that many of its readers would also be (potential) writers. One such work is O. Goldstein’s prose piece ‘On The Eve Of St. Agnes’ in which he makes reference to Keats in a whimsical, romantic vein, immediately after sex: ‘He remembers Keats. They glide like phantoms into the wide hall. Like phantoms they glide.’ This is a sharp contrast to the rest of the piece’s dramatic, repetitive syntax and is all the more striking for it.

Another work utilizing myth, and a favourite poem in this issue, is ‘Archipelago’ by John Clegg. ‘Archipelago’ is the most narrative poem in the magazine and it deals with classical reference beautifully, by being aware of both the dangers and power of such recycled references:

‘The odd tide deposits
more of the same.
Our gods speak in stone,
these were the birth screams.’

The first two lines of this stanza focus on the inconsequential quality of nature, which ideologically and linguistically juxtaposes the fierce, godly and immortal message in the final two lines. The explicit, poetic sincerity of the last two lines about classical gods is dampened therefore by the first half. This is one of the many examples in the magazine of writers not taking themselves wholly seriously, with enjoyable results.

Astronaut is an economical magazine with a slight edge. Its layout is pleasing, as are its two pieces of jagged artwork by Sophie Gainsley and minimalist cover. The Astronaut blog revitalises its simple black and white print feel: it showcases some carefully chosen creative work, in between images of gnarling mole-like creatures and witty posts from the editor Charlotte Henson.

In the interview with Mort, Henson asks: ‘Do you think it is important young writers ought to have their own platform rather than one integrated with, older, perhaps more experienced writers?’. I think the magazine answers its own question by a second or third reading. There is promise in many of the pieces, despite some trying too hard to be subversive. What can’t be denied is a feeling of excitement about the future of the writers involved, there is no reason why Astronaut can’t grow in strength and exist as an eclectic platform especially for new, enthusiastic writers with an edge. The personal, outspoken and questioning feel of many of the pieces was actually a commendable change from perhaps more controlled and ‘mature’ poetry.


‘Lune’ by Sarah Hymas

In Pamphlets, Saboteur Awards on March 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

-Reviewed by Billy Mills

Lune: a leash for a hawk; fits of lunacy; a crescent formed by the overlapping of two circles; a crescent moon; a river whose tidal estuary is at Plover Scar, Lancashire; a poem in five sections by Sarah Hymans printed as a neat concertina or gatefold pamphlet, subject of this review.

The poem begins

Early mapmakers kept their backs to the sea

and then turns its face seawards, in a bay, estuarine, crescent-shaped perhaps, a margin. And as befits a poem set in this liminal territory, much of what it has to communicate is uncertain. The effect of sun on water is captured in a series of sharp images, but these are punctured thus:

none of which you notice
for being sky-blinded

A woman, nameless, engages with the narrator, their subject love and its ambiguities. A man crosses their line of vision

He might
have been from the Environment Agency
for all we knew. Or the power station.

The sea absorbs some of the land’s offerings, refuses others, keeps itself to itself, acts as a limit, a leash.

Still, I walked the sea wall
wanting to get further away but
the sea made that as good as impossible.

And so the narrator waits by the shore for those things it may give up:

This isn’t Hollywood.
We can only guess what’ll happen next.

Lune may be a small pamphlet, but the poem it contains is capacious, baggy even, containing multitudes. Hymas used this ‘intertidal’ space to reflect not only on our relationship with the ocean, but also questions of ecology (there is the power station, mercury in the water, radiation), love, mortality and the limits of human understanding. Her technique and her focus on people in the world reminds me of that excellent poet of the liminal, Chris Torrance and of the poets whose work is collected in Harriet Tarlo’s anthology The Ground Aslant.

Lune is a rich addition to this contemporary pastoral tradition: part narrative, part evocation of land- and sea-scape, part metaphysical meditation on what the world is and what it is to be in that world. The title in the first instance derives from the river, but the other definitions of lune that I referred to in the opening paragraph of this review all seemed to me to come to bear on the poem as I read it. The sea is a leash, limiting the walker’s range of movement, the pull of the moon is what creates that intertidal space, the bay’s crescent is formed by sea and land intersecting, and these are all things the poem brings to our mental vision.

The poem is driven by a need to see, in every sense of the word. And it recognises, or Hymas recognises, the difficulty of this project. The stanza that begins with the lines about Hollywood quoted above opens with the observation that

And still some of us can’t see
even when we’ve dived under the surface.

and this borderland between immersion and understanding is another of the poem’s key liminalities. Inasmuch as this meditation reaches a conclusion, it is in the careful conjunction of the verbs wait and search in the closing lines. Those who would search for the sea do so by waiting; those who wait by the sea are searching for an understanding of what it means.

One risk that can be associated with this kind of open, inclusive versification is that it may become a little too loose. For instance, these lines that occur just after the man appears

We didn’t shout after him, to warn him
of the dangers,
of currents,  radioactivity, or channels.

might benefit from a little pruning, some greater concentration.  However, on the whole Hymas avoids this pitfall. The music of her verse is in the detail, telling patterns  of vowels and consonants in lines like

Wish upon a brittle star,
rag worm, lug worm, clam.

or the weave of sibilants through this aural evocation of a seaside funfair:

Some say
they can hear the shale whisper gas gas
but it’s more likely to be girls screaming
on the Big One,
letting their skirts fly, necklaces spin.

The folded card pamphlet is my favourite form of poetic ephemera. At its best it serves as a calling card, an introduction to a poet whose greater acquaintance you might like to make. Lune is as good a card as is likely to drop through your letterbox this spring. Pick it up and read it; you won’t regret it.

‘The Son of a Shoemaker’ by Linda Black

In Pamphlets on March 18, 2013 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by 
Billy Mills

 Layout 1

Of all the formal devices embraced by late 19th and early 20th century French poetic innovators, the prose poem is the one that still divides readerly opinion most. While vers libre has been slowly accepted by most readers of contemporary poetry, there remains a substantial body of opinion that equates poetry with verse, however free, and for this audience the whole idea of prose poetry is an oxymoron. Perhaps this is why Robert Vas Dias, in the blurb for Linda Black’s prose-poem sequence The Son of a Shoemaker, describes it as ‘still, comparatively, an experimental form’.

This raises an interesting question; what makes a prose poem a poem? The simple answer is, I think, the disruption of our expectations; prose poems simply fail to deliver the kind of linearity that we generally expect of conventional prose texts. On one level, these thwarted expectations will revolve around narrative, plot and characterisation. But the best prose poems will take it further and play with the syntagmatic and paradigmatic structures of the sentences that constitute them.

Black has already published two full-length prose poem collections with Shearsman, so the form is not new to her. The sequence that makes up this book works on both levels of disruption. Collaged from Constance Buel Burnett’s somewhat colourful biography of Hans Christian Andersen, The Son of a Shoemaker is a book deriving from a fictional account of maker of fictions. In a further metabiographical layer, Danny Kaye, who played Andersen in an entirely fictional biopic, shares the dedication with Andersen and ‘my wonderful Uncle Cyril’; it is clear that Black does not intend any kind of fact-based narrative. The dedication might lead you to expect an autobiographical strand to the book. This expectation is not so much dashed as simply ignored. And while titles like ‘She had grown used to watching his mouth’ threaten anecdote, that threat is happily averted.

The disruption of linguistic linearity inheres, to some degree at least, in the collaging technique employed, a technique that produces effects reminiscent of Burroughs/Gysin cut-ups. On the whole, Black’s effects are paradigmatic; her syntax flows smoothly enough but takes us to unexpected places. The result can be playfully deft:

Great raw-bone hands cut with magic. Fragile lace.
Paper-thin thighs. Mannerisms misfit and dilapidated.


Siboni tapped Hans’ thin chest making the room ring. It
was his big bone structure. (He needed no make-up to
play the part of a troll.)

Or mildly surreal:

A piece of glass no bigger than a tile inserted itself in a
Morsel of sky.

and again:

When the water gates were closed Hans could catch his hands.
When the gates reopened the flood piled against his

There is always the danger that this kind of disjunction can become a bit bathetic, the destination a touch predictable even:

In the middle of a pirouette he made a list.

However, for the most part these poems are interestingly constructed and thoughtful in the disposition of their language. Ordinary words are placed in unordinary arrangements that made me think about them anew as I read, and this is no small thing.

Black is also a visual artist and the texts are accompanied by a number of her highly competent pen-and-ink drawings. When a writer decides to marry text and visuals, the question I always find myself asking is ‘do the visuals expand on the text or merely illustrate it?’ Black’s drawings are illustrative, taking their titles from phrases in the text facing them and representing those phrases in what is, for me at least, an overly-literal manner which detracts from the more elusive effects of the poems themselves. Nevertheless, this is an interesting and rewarding set of poems from a poet whose work was new to me. I’ll be looking to read more of that work and suggest you do, too.

The Son of a Shoemaker will be launched at the Poetry Café on 20th March accompanied by an exhibition of Linda Black’s artwork.




Review: London Dreamtime: The Snow City 24/11/12

In Performance Poetry on March 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

2012-11-24 22.01.17

How do we make myths accessible to a new audience? Update Olympus to the modern melodrama or perhaps the opposite: tying the modern to the epic? Vanessa Woolf, the storyteller of London Dreamtime links myths to the city’s own geography, combining it with Nigel of Bermondsey‘s urban history turned ballads, making a rather enchanting evening in various locales appropriate to the event’s theme. ‘Snow City’, themed around the world of the dead, had us meet decked out with scarves and hurricane lamps near St Paul’s Cathedral and wander via small streets to churchyards, the river and the remains of London Wall itself on a crisp evening that complemented the mood well.

Vanessa has a great conversational tone with enough detail to lend colour to the familiar stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. The dialogue sounded natural, with some nice voice acting giving (Hades in particular) character. The conversation between Orpheus and the close-but-no-(Eury)dice had the right amount of familiarity coupled with unease to make for a heartbreaking scene, with Orpheus’ doubt so very understandable:
“You played that song when we met”
“I’ve just made it up…”
“Of course! It’s so easy to forget down here.”

The stories were well structured too, with foreshadowing working well with the familiarity of the tales. My favourite example of this was Apollo telling the grieving Orpheus to “stop looking back” and live the life ahead of him, a neat way to tie the myth to its themes.  While doing plot recaps after our party’s relocation did keep the thread going, and infrequent questions (such as names of Cerberus etc) helped bring us in and presumably helped Woolf gauge the knowledge of her audience, I personally could have done without the more panto-esque participation, but that said, it was kept to a minimum.

The interest in Hades is what ties these stories together, more so than any wider theme of voyages to the Underworld, of which there are a plethora of stories in most world mythologies. Without pulling punches, Woolf portrays him as a brooding, lonely figure who “knows what it means to be alone”, able to fashion works of great beauty to mirror the world above but without its life. Where rubies and sapphires are sustenance, he is almost sympathetic in Orpheus’ tale, allowing him to take Eurydice, despite mourning the loss of “the one thing [he] care[s] about, [his] precious shades”. That said, it is good to note that she pulls no punches in describing his motivation and behaviour in the abduction of Persephone: the somewhat chilling “I could get her” (rather than her more powerful mother), combined with the visceral image of him pouring the power of death into her – leaving her oozing a black cocktail as it reacted with her life – was appropriately menacing. This menace continues throughout the story as tension builds: we all know its end- she will eat the pomegranate seeds and Hermes (in this telling, Quicksilver, which did not need to be as lampshaded) will not reach her in time. It Cuts between Quicksilver’s frantic rush from Olympus to unfamiliar paths in the Underworld (that echoed the path Orpheus took in the earlier story) and Persephone being placated with creations of precious materials (from a clockwork bird to a pomegranate tree that blossoms emerald fruit, with juicy rubies). The self-satisfied “too late, sorry”, had such evil glee that the eventual compromise lacked some lustre, for the loss of tension.

And just how does London come into all this?

The walk itself was a nice backdrop to the Greek stories and yet more so to Nigel’s music, for whom the location was crucial. London served as inspiration to flights of fancy, putting ourselves in the shoes of Orpheus; for as he went down then so did we, but in our case down to the side of the Thames (who was at high tide, which probably saved us from death by wet marble). The search for Hades’ castle on the Hill with the pointed top that did not move became St Paul’s between buildings.  Olympus was the subtle heights of Bastion Highwalk over the remains of London Wall, and Hades’ silver mirror was an artificial body of water surrounded by office blocks.

Walks were punctuated with various information about the surroundings and the evening did not seem too fragmented for its changing locations. Nigel’s music played into these, taking in the rich history of the city and its past inhabitants, telling us of Victorian toshers with their legends of Queen Rat, Winchester Geese at Crossbones Graveyard and a ghost of Fleet Street.

It was interesting to hear of the Winchester Geese and their unconsecrated graves (a condition of allowing them to practice), and of ‘Crossbones’ Cemetery itself. The song, a plea to those like TFL who wish to redevelop the land (“progress has an ugly face”) on behalf of the “sleepers” “just like you” who “shouldn’t be disturbed”, was earnest, if perhaps using some unpleasant rhetoric (such as, essentially, someone will not-respect *your* grave also, should you do so).

The biggest issue I had with the night was the balance Nigel struck between his folk songs and the tales behind them – as interesting folktales with their own merit (which he clearly appreciated and managed to infect us with his enthusiasm for), the introductions worked. That said, in the songs which covered much the same ground of the story, it would perhaps be better to leave the lyrics to tell the story and perhaps give additional information after, rather than before. This was most keenly felt in the ballad of Sarah Whitehead, who haunts the Bank of England looking for her lost brother.

My favourite song of the night was perhaps the first, as it worked on its own merit as well as to complement the story/history, without being subsumed by it. It told of Queen Rat, who would appear in the guise of a beautiful woman with heterochromic eyes and take to bed one of the drinking Toshers, who were essentially sewer mudlarks. Their evening would be pleasant, leave love bites and he would forever be blessed in his work, with rats pushing coins his way. The song was quiet, suiting the delicate banjolele, as he sung of a femme fatale from the point-of-view of an outside observer to the tosher (“will you breathe for her tonight?”). The power-balance is clearly in the Queen’s favour: the tosher is enthralled, and “it’s too late”: a step away from the original myth giving the song its own voice.

Evening as a whole

As an evening, I’d recommend it. Given the varied themes and locales, it’s an exciting evening that is a much-needed resurgence of the Oral tradition.

‘The God of Love is Stained’ by Tiffany Anne Tondut

In online chapbook, Pamphlets on March 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by Strat Mastoris

God Of Love

‘The writing of some
is like a vast bridge
that carries you
the many things
that claw and tear.’

That’s Charles Bukowski, from the collection Love is a dog from hell. I was led to re-read some of his poems by ‘sex is a bitch from heaven’, the penultimate poem in this collection by Tiffany Anne Tondut. For me, those few lines sum up a lot of the reasons to read, or write (or indeed to review).

Tondut also references Bukowski in ‘floodlights’, the second poem in the collection, where she locates him in the second line:

‘but then I read an almost made up poem
by charles bukowski …’

Two Bukowski-inspired poems out of a collection of only eleven; pretty much bracketing the work so that we can’t miss the influence. Tondut emulates the poet’s style too, writing almost exclusively in lower-case, and she uses slashes and apostrophes to miss out letters.

Bukowski has a fairly bleak view of the human condition, but he seems basically at ease with himself and fairly tongue-in-cheek about his travails. In ‘Love is a dog from hell’ he remembers past lovers by the condoms he wore with them:

‘my box of rubbers is getting
I take them out
for greater sensitivity
I take them out
and put three of them on

the walls of my bedroom are blue

Linda where did you go?
Katherine where did you go?

(and Nina went to England)’

Tondut uses an almost identical structure in ‘sex is a bitch from heaven’, but in contrast to Bukowski, the characters in Tondut’s poems are all quite damaged women, and their experience of life, and sex, is intense and gut-wrenchingly honest. The narrator of this one has a number of men on the go. We learn this from the contents of her bedside waste bin, which:

‘is blooming
w / durex (extra safe)
numbing sensitivity
i pull two of them out

the walls of my bedroom are venus white

alex is gun smoke
ollie is pale swan
(but henry stayed in brighton)’

The narrator is obsessed by colour. Alex’s semen is the light grey colour of gun smoke, Ollie’s almost white, while she tells us later that her own eyes are ‘hunter green’, the colour of the wellington boots.

Her bedroom may be white, but there’s a darkness at the centre of this woman:

death cars
& duende excite me ‘

Duende – emotional darkness in the psyche – what Lorca, talking about music, called ‘black sounds’- that’s what drives her.  And she has a new problem, too – those ‘durex (extra safe) supposedly numbing sensitivity’turn out to be ‘(extra safe) supposedly’, as further down in the poem –

‘there’s no ticking inside me
just a bomb
i sense something swimming up
inside a canal’

These lines too are adapted from Bukowski’s poem –

‘there is a ticking behind me
but no clock
I feel something crawling along
the left side of my nose’

Tondut does the same thing in ‘floodlights’, taking another Bukowski poem and incorporating a lot of the imagery and tropes into her own work. It’s not pastiche, nor really homage, so why is she doing it so obviously?

In ‘w’althamstow heights’ she uses apostrophes in place of missing letters, giving the reader a sense of the narrator’s pronunciation, and thus where she fits into the British class structure. She has been killed in the last line of the poem, (‘a’ thought, ‘e cannot kill me. bu’ ‘e did.’) so there is a second possibility – this may be a buried corpse or a ghost speaking to us, with difficult diction. A lot of Tondut’s imagery offers multiple possible readings, of which more later.

The collection is named after the poem ‘the god of love is stained’, and this piece brings low self-worth right into the foreground. It’s a monologue, preceded by a short scene-setting: ‘zelda (early 30s) is a writer living in london. she’s joined a support group for vulnerable women. in her introductory speech, she attempts to explain her reasons for attending.’  Zelda launches into a rambling tale of failed relationships:

‘and every time I found love it wasn’t right / just hurt hurt hurt / beat beat beat / and of course I believed that’s what I deserved …’

but she’s been emailed a photograph of a William Morris stained glass window of  ‘the God of Love’. The window is stained and cracked, and she thinks that it’s symbolic of how her god of love is stained. Then she notices that the window has a girl standing next to the god:

‘but he’s never going to return her gaze, is he?  no matter how long she stares. but she still exists, and that’s when it hit me, how like her i am. always looking for the god of love, never once looking for me.’

As confessionals go, that’s pretty intense, and it’s difficult to know whether these characters are articulating the poet’s own feelings or whether she’s constructed them, like a novelist, to show us some of society’s losers. I find myself wondering if the Bukowski references are meant to give the collection some cultural prestige that the author fears it might otherwise lack.

And yet she has no need to worry – these poems have a vigour and a power that is uncommon. Her subjects are only too believable – I’ve spent a long time thinking about the narrator of ‘sex is a bitch from heaven’, looking at different layers of meaning, and the same goes for other examples in this collection.

Her use of vocabulary is subtle and multi-layered – remember the ‘durex (extra safe) supposedly numbing sensitivity’.  In ‘wanted’ she puts us into the mind of a woman who fights boredom by fantasising:

‘on dead days
like this I wish
i was dillinger’s
moll draped in
a fox fur stole’

See how she uses crime-related vocabulary – ‘dead’ days, a fur ‘stole’. Other words would suffice, but these choices keep us focussed on gangsters.  Very sexual imagery, too, the words working on several levels:

‘working a stick
of red against
my lips ‘

and later –

‘my long
legs matchin the
swing of his gun’

These poems are unsettling, grammatically and emotionally, but they have a power and a rawness that makes them hard to forget. The rhythm of the lines made me read some of them out loud, pounding out the words.

The God of Love is Stained is not easy to read but it’s powerful and hard to forget. Tondut gives us a lot of Bukowski’s ‘things that claw and tear’, but it’s her own vision, and her own voice, with her own remarkable use of language. Try it.

Review: Glasshouse by Kate Tempest 28/02/13

In Interactive Literature, Performance Poetry on March 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm

– reviewed by Karl Niklas


Glasshouse, written by Kate Tempest, is a piece of forum theatre produced by Cardboard Citizens. It is currently touring hostels and various other venues and their next public showcase is at Rich Mix this coming Saturday 16th of March.

The worlds of performance poetry and forum theatre seldom meet, which is, to me at the very least, a little surprising. Both styles and art forms look to ask the questions that one often dares not ask, empowering both the audience and a performer with truths in the most unique of ways, and both certainly seek to challenge.

Those unfamiliar with Forum should know that once the main action of the play has finished, the designated ‘Joker’ or facilitator encourages the audience to make comments on the action, find moments where the action could be altered by characters making a different choice, and then bringing that audience member out to replace the actor and improvise the scene in this different direction.

This permission to voice truthful concerns plays neatly into the company’s choice to employ a performance poet as a playwright. Kate Tempest, the current ‘what’s hot’ in acceptable urban street culture, perhaps best known for her viral poem ‘My Shakespeare’, has penned a script that neatly combines and reconciles these art forms. Her style and voice come through most clearly during the impromptu monologues, though it must be said that on occasions her authorial voice cuts in too clearly, leaving the audience well aware that they are quite literally hearing someone else’s words in the characters’ mouths. The pointed ‘two fingers rap gesture’ even made a mild appearance.

The poems on their own paint a picture of nights unwanted, disorientated figures struggling the streets with nowhere to turn. Her style is classic performance poetry, dropped word endings, half rhymes and off beat rhythms, very much in the style of the New York scene, but bringing her English twists and idioms to the fold.

These aside, the actors handle Tempest’s script with aplomb, shifting roles with ease, making a whirlwind of the characters (please excuse) tempestuous lives. The play runs at a breakneck pace, perhaps a little conscious of the time limit needed for the full forum experience, and the need to fit in the three viewpoints that ultimately inform the scene that descends our heroine into homelessness.

Though the styles are neatly combined on the whole, whether the story itself is open enough for Forum is a different matter entirely. While there are obvious and fairly succinct moments that should be altered to make Jess’ life better, Tempest’s plot line is so neatly wrapped up that it feels like there is little room to move for those willing participants that come up from the audience.

This said, it is indeed an interesting experience to have the audience so involved in affecting the action. Ultimately the show works towards providing those audience members from the hostel with an experience that may have elements that reflect their own story, and the chance to help inform the characters will reinforce the knowledge of the real world services that work with the homeless.

Cardboard Citizens have created a wonderful show, filled with engrossing, chameleonic performances, most notably the fragile mother portrayed with a sublime and subtle frailty by Jo Allitt. In spite of the brilliant and charismatic Joker Terry O’Leary making her facilitating presence well known, the play itself falls short of the mark as a life changing piece of forum, but succeeds as a tightly knit drama that is performed with skill. It just never felt like we as the audience could change enough to make a real difference.

a picture of nights unwanted, disorientated figures struggling the streets

Review: Penning Perfumes – Oxford 21/02/13

In Pamphlets, Performance Poetry on March 12, 2013 at 9:00 am

– reviewed by Paul Fitchett


I had heard Good Things and exciting rumours about Penning Perfumes – the poetry and perfume mash up organised by Sabotage’s own Claire Trévien and perfume aficionado Odette Toilette – so it’s fair to say that I was looking forward to the event. 

And, with one “cheesy” exception (more of which later), I was not disappointed.

The Oxford leg of Penning Perfumes was in the Albion Beatnik bookshop, a suitably literary venue for an event that was to make poets and writers of all the attendees, because almost from the start it became clear that this wasn’t just an ordinary spoken word event.  No, in fact the event turned out to be akin to a workshop, as perfume samples were passed around the audience and people were encouraged to describe the smells.

Odette gives us the background

Odette was on hosting duties first and set out the background to the night – samples of perfume had been sent out to various poets to create works based on that scent.  She explained that the poets had been given a pretty much free range on how to develop their poems, and that came through in the different forms that the poems on the night took.

The format for the night was first half, poems based on perfumes, second half, scents based on poetry and then a haiku competition to win a bottle of perfume.  Interactivity and feedback were also to be key with question and answer sessions with the poets after their performances.

First Half – Poetry from Perfume

Claire introduced the poets in the first half with some humorous introductions and good patter.

  • The first poet of the night was James Webster, with a poem called “Flatpack Lover” based on the perfume Reverie au Jardin by Andy Tauer. It was a tale of creating a wooden man with the “still pulsing root of a sandal wood tree” and eventually a sentient army that led itself to emancipation.  He made full use of the depths of the perfume, mint and wood and flowers, resulting in a poem with a good mix of humour, politics and philosophy and excellent delivery. James’ poem was also the only one of the evening (by someone present) not to use the perfume as a leaping off point for reminiscence and so as the night went on his piece became all the more unique.
  • Next up was Valerie Laws. Her perfume was Smell of Weather Turning and is by Gorilla perfumes, who  supply Lush. The scents in the perfume to her suggested the colours green, white and violet (which were the colours of the suffragette movement) and memories of her childhood and grandmother. This inspired her poem: “Scent for a Suffragette”.
  • It had a structure to it that accented synesthesia throughout with repeated accent on the three colours and was a good example of the nature of this evening with smells translated to word.

After the first two poets with their “classic” pieces, we had the three new poems created especially for the Oxford event and it was revealed that they had all been secretly sent the same perfume (Hasu no Hana by Grosssmith).

  • First up, Lucy Ayrton with an untitled piece about memories of childhood, her mother and feelings of ‘having to be a grown up’.  A very sweet poem, well delivered and with lovely phrasing “slicked lipstick” and her mother’s make up not being “war paint” but rather “watercolour”.
  • Next, Dan Holloway who added another stimulus to the night by passing around photos of a street in Gdansk lit by cabinets full of amber.  I particularly liked Dan’s performance here:  rhythmic and subdued, he excellently reflected the themes of the piece – time, our connection to the past and repetition.  I would like to read through this piece as it sounded like it had a lot of depth to it.
  • The final poet in this half was Eloise Stonborough who had also been inspired to think of her mother by this perfume….but in a very different light to Lucy’s piece.  Eloise’s “All things nice” was an exploration of gender and how we know ourselves (in a more formal poetic style than the previous poets). There were parts of the poem that were almost post-apocalyptic in their imagery and this sense of loss was maximised in the final line which shall stick in my mind for a while – how the inside of her mouth is “still as pink as the girl my mother mourns”.

Odette then asked the three poets what they thought of each others pieces, and  I thought this was a bit awkward for the poets as they didn’t really seem very comfortable trying to read into each others’ pieces.  However, they all seemed more comfortable when talking about their own pieces and it was good to get an insight into their thought processes, the development of the poems and how they’d used the perfume.

  • The final fragrance of the first half was one created by perfumer Kate Williams in collaboration with Lindsey Holland, and her poem based on the scent was well read by Claire Trévien.  It was with some trepidation that I took a sniff of this perfume after Odette said that it wasn’t for sale….for a reason!  Actually, it wasn’t that bad, I thought it was sweet and sherbety.  Lindsay’s poem “Plantation” was a verbal recreation of a fairground on the frozen river where “wine and cider make petals on the ice”.  As it turns out, the perfume was apparently created to smell like the indolence of pre-raphaelite women surrounded by sweets but never happy.

Second Half – Perfume from Poetry

  • After the break we were told we’d get some very unusual fragrances and the first one certainly split opinions – I thought it was quite pleasant, with a smell something like new shoes or an unused sponge but others visibly recoiled from it.  The perfume was created based on a poem by John Clegg, called “Mermaids”.  I enjoyed this poem and the way it explored the crossover between taste and smell with mermaids “singing to each other in pheremones”.
  • Valerie was called to the stage again to introduce a perfume based on her “Remembering Love”, which had some lovely images of summer rain and the earth drinking its full, but I was distracted by smelling the scent and trying to figure it out – at times on this night there was a bit of sensory overload. 
  • The perfume: imagine vicks rub mixed with rosemary.  Valerie told us that the scent was designed to invoke memories of love, but it mainly invoked memories of having a blocked nose for me, but I suppose perfumery isn’t an exact science. 
  • The penultimate fragrance, created in response to a poem by Claire Trévien by Shropshire based perfumer called Chris Bartlett.  Claire admitted to trying to manipulate the outcome by giving him a poem that mentioned her favourite smell -leather.   The poem itself, “Listening to Charles Ives” was a self-described breakup poem, which I thought was great.  With a nod to pathetic fallacy, the poem talked of a crowd gathering and storming and delicately dealt with a relationship that was going nowhere that had ‘the promise of a tomorrow’.
  • And now it was the time we’d all been waiting for – John the Perfumer was to create some kind of scent live tonight based on a poem by Lucy Ayrton, which he’d been sent in advance.
  • But first, the aforementioned “cheesy moment”.  John split us in two groups, gave us both the same scent (but with a different description) and instructed us to rate how pleasant it smelt. It was like someone had eaten a whole parmesan and vomited it back up.  Bleuch.  Sadly, this smell lingered throughout the rest of the night and I had to forage for discarded scent sticks from earlier in the night to rescue my poor nose.
  • He then passed round a much more pleasant scent and there was much discussion among the audience about what it was – nutella or caramel.  It turned out to be prunes.
  • After this perfuming interlude we were back to the poetry with Lucy Ayrton performing “Bonfire Juice” – a lovely rendering of a happy summer that has been discussed before on Sabotage.
  • John Stephens, the Perfumer, discussed his choice of scent based on the smell and I must admit being slightly disappointed. We had been told that John would create something live onstage for the poem, but he just chose an extract that he felt matched it.  Admittedly, the choice mate (used as a tea itself in South America) was excellent – the woodiness really evoked the images in Lucy’s poem and he also passed around a “phonolic odour” that really did smell like the lapsang souchong mentioned in Bonfire Juice.  I combined the two smells to make something I thought was very pleasant!

The Haiku Challenge

The audience was given one last perfume to smell and then 2 minutes to devise a haiku based on it.  Some of the haiku were excellent and came from such different places and with great stories.  While I couldn’t quite hear them all, I did hear the winning poem as…. it was by me!  Which was a nice surprise and definitely not a bribe.

Overall, it was a very interesting event, very different from your average poetry night.  I really did enjoy the interaction between the audience, poets and hosts.

‘Visa Wedding’ by Harry Giles

In Pamphlets on March 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

-Reviewed by Donald Gardner


What makes Harry Giles’s first pamphlet of poetry stand out is its concentration and humour. There are not many words wasted here and if this tautness gives the work a bit of a Spartan feel, the wit restores it to warmth. He is a poet of intent and each of these poems seems chosen for its strategic value in the collection, in the sense that he is trying out different things, in form, but also in language-play. Each of these poems has a different form. ‘Hidden Track’ is built of half lines with a blank central space that works as a caesura, while in ‘The Usual’ he uses back slashes to indicate line breaks and ends the poem mid-sentence: ‘… so my history doesn’t meet yours / so I turn to leave / so.’ With his theatrical training (East 15 acting school) and, I believe, a cluster of like-minded poets in St Andrews, he strikes me as having plenty of ‘background’ and his work has a technical maturity which maybe comes from having had plenty of focussed practice.

Giles presents himself as a performance poet, but it’s worth mentioning en passant that ‘performance poetry’ doesn’t always mean free and easy, whatever the ‘does-it-work-as-a-poem-on-the-page?’ crew aver. I particularly liked his super-solemn funny poem ‘Sermon’. It is almost a ready-made, with its sampling of predictable clichés about terrorism from a speech by David Cameron, but Giles’s interventions hijack the speech, so that he can claim it as his own, having turned banality into poem. To give an example of this technique:

‘… There are those
who use love to promote their goal. This is wrong.
There is much muddled thinking about this issue.
We should cut ourselves off from love. Let’s not
fool ourselves. If we sort out all these problems
there will still be love. …’

The effect is hilarious and one can imagine how well it would work, read dead-pan on the stage.

Although Giles is originally from the Orkney Islands, there is a big-city feel about this work. He stresses his outsider mind-set in ‘Visa Wedding # 2’:

‘… in Orkney I’m English;
in England I’m Scottish;
in Scotland, Orcadian –
this slippery, many-coloured tongue
snaps at identity…’.

This in-between state is confirmed by ‘Visa Wedding # 1’, which is the same poem as ‘Visa Wedding # 2 but written in a very personal version of Scottish. The duplication could be seen as a page-filler, but I felt it had a didactic function, that he was making a statement about language; it also struck me that the version in Giles’s piebald, ribald Scottish is a richer mix.

Underlying Giles’s humour there is plenty of passion, as in ‘Brave’, the mid-length Whitmanesque poem, written again in Scottish, with which he closes the book:

‘I sing o a Scotland whit cadna hink of a grander wey tae end a nite as
wi a poke of chips n curry sauce.
whit chacks the date o Bannockburn on Wikipaedia, …’ .

The poem has an epic free-verse line reminiscent of Whitman or Ginsberg, but the detail slows down the rant, turning it into a rich entertaining, thought-provoking mix.

Not all his poems make for a comfortable read however. Take ‘Piercings’, for instance:

‘… The lipring that turned
his pout sullen, hot. The jangle
of earrings I’d buried my face in
as he steel-tracked my heavy
shoulders. The scaffold. The sharp,
shocking stud in his busy tongue.

The poem with its taut five-line stanzas was maybe a bit too literally ‘in your face’ for me and I felt more comfortable with the two poems I described above, and also the other poems in Scots dialect. Giles seems to veer between an intellectual, formal severity and a desire to celebrate, a naughtiness that charms, as in ‘Vows’, where he devises a list of marriage vows that would obviate the need for divorce later on.

‘… I will love you for
as long as I do

I will obey you whenever
it accords with my wishes …’

It’s a cynical spoof on marriage vows but there’s a lightness of touch that lifts it off the page. I enjoyed Giles’s pamphlet, even if some of the work feels a bit as if he’s lashed himself to the mast of anarchism. Finally I noticed that there is also a love interest running through the poems, even where the text affects to be utterly disinterested: ‘I have failed to prove / the null hypothesis / that I do not love you.’ Or, ‘… Whatever: I will hold you, / no matter how bright or black you burn. …’  And how about this?: ‘…  this undesairvt wairmth / o inexplicable luve, …’ The lines are taken, rather out of context, from ‘Brave’. This is the poem that breaks the mould for me, that really says something in a way that is linguistically interesting, making me curious to see what Harry Giles will do next.

‘Long Drawn and Other Random Bits’ by Bradley E Robinson

In anthology on March 2, 2013 at 6:18 pm

-Reviewed by Martin Macaulay-

Long, Drawn and Other Random Bits is a visually arresting collection of self-published short writing by its author and illustrator Bradley E. Robinson. A series of observational pieces, short stories, photos and drawings, it is in the author’s own words a “folio…for the adventures, perceptions, and randomness of a generation…intended to be nothing more than a window of a generation”. Credit to Robinson, the title could lower expectation levels into something resembling, graphically at least, that of a ‘zine but Long Drawn… has higher ambitions. It is a professionally produced collection and I couldn’t help but think Robinson had more than one definition of folio on his mind when he made this available as a free download. Not only does he know his way around desktop publishing but his illustrations are striking, a series of tattoos that (l)ink his words together.

Long Drawn and other random bits

And in his words, despite the undeniability of the ‘random bits’, there are recurring themes or motifs that help pull this folio together: the ebb and flow of friendships, bus journeys, new beginnings, lost endings and bourgeois attempts to limit freedom of choice. Robinson appears to be more at ease with the observational or creative non-fiction elements, but I was suitably impressed with ‘Apre Moi’, a coming-of-age tale that ticks all the requisite check-boxes (drugs, love, study, parents, mates) as well as the not-so-common issue of mental illness, but it does so with a hefty dose of charm, humour and honesty, such as when Onowa’s father ‘confronts’ him about his nightly escapades:

“Are you going through the window, when you go out at night?” he asked me without breaking his
stare from the television…

“Umm…” I replied gauging his cool tranquillity with such an issue.

“Just use the god damn front door next time.”

His other short story ‘The Farmer’ didn’t grab me in quite the same way. I felt it over-reached itself somewhat in its attempt to recreate a futuristic society whilst trying to provide weighty social commentary. But I won’t dwell. It could just be me that didn’t take to it. There’s plenty worth noting elsewhere in Long Drawn… such as ‘The Canadian Memoirs’, a road trip incorporating a series of character sketches. The writing is sharp and here the observational stuff is much less intrusive:

In one carry-on put all your urgent needs for the two-day trip that is about to follow. Sleeping aids are advised.

Robinson’s style is functional. Dipping occasionally into witty, he’s never smart-ass with it. This suits the semi-reportage tone blending in with the photos and Polaroids, more in keeping with a magazine and reinforcing his skater-ethic (which becomes evident in certain stories). There are a few errors strewn throughout the collection but these are not enough to detract from the overall quality of the publication. I’m sure it’s the case that some of this is down to what Bradley E Robinson sets out in his ‘Forward!’, that ‘this haphazard venture…will be lost in translation’ but I did find myself wishing that a bit more care had been taken when choosing certain words. Undoubtedly there are examples where this is intentional, but equally I found occasions where it seemed slightly careless, or if intentional, detracted from the flow of the sentence. This aside it is difficult to criticise something that has been so lovingly crafted and made available for free. Not all the stories were for me, but those that were I enjoyed and it’s clear that Robinson has a natural flair in his ability to navigate his way across the page as he does across the continent.

Saboteur Awards 2013

In All of the Above, anthology, Interactive Literature, Magazine, Novella, Object, online chapbook, online magazine, Pamphlets, Performance Poetry, Play of Voices, Saboteur Awards on March 1, 2013 at 9:35 am

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!

Nominations are now closed, you can view the shortlist and vote for the winners here. Buy your tickets here.

Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year.

In the past this was restricted to magazines, and it was held solely online.

This year, however, we’ve decided to do things a little differently.

First we’ve BLOWN UP [geddit?] the categories to include spoken word shows, anthologies, pamphlets, innovative publishers, your favourite literary one-off, … And secondly, we want you to vote for the winners!

This is going to happen in two parts:

  1. First you’ve got to nominate your favourites, which is where the contact form below comes in handy. Nominations close on 31st March at midnight (UK time).
  2. The very next day, we’ll be posting a shortlist here made up of the top 5 nominees and we’ll open up a round of voting. Voting will close on 1st May at midnight (UK time).

Then, this is the fun part, we are going to have a PARTY on 29th May at the Book Club, London, where we’ll announce the winners. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth. Ticket details will be here soon.

The small print: the works you vote for have to have been created between 30th April 2012 and now. If you’re voting for a publisher or a spoken word event then they have to have produced something during that time frame, ditto for the one-off literary project.

We’ll be showcasing the shortlisted works on Sabotage: if they haven’t been reviewed yet by us, we’ll make sure they are. Winners get to perform at our event, be interviewed for Sabotage (like these guys did), and feel warm and fuzzy inside.  If you’re looking for inspiration, why not plunge into our archives? Here are some reviews of anthologies, magazines, novellas, pamphlets, spoken word nights and poets, objects, … We strongly encourage you to vote for more than one category.

If anything’s unclear, read our FAQ and do ask!