Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

‘XZ #1 Noir: Singing the Necessaries’

In online magazine, Website on June 30, 2013 at 3:25 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

XZ is a new online fiction project from Annexe, whose aim is ‘to dissect various genres of writing, film and drama by reconstructing them from the ground up’. This first issue looks at the genre of noir, featuring a six-part collaboration between Eley Williams, John Boursnell, Akiho Schilz, Komal Verma, Jack Swain, and Ben Gwalchmai. According to editor Nick Murray, the writers were given ‘only the bare essentials needed to keep the story cohesive’. While it is possible to extrapolate which elements or details were specified for the writers, I think it might have been useful if these had also been made available to readers of XZ.

Singing the Necessaries, XZ 1

Of the six writers, Williams, Schilz and Verma are the ones whose sections most closely tread the path laid out by the noir genre. Williams has the responsibility of laying the groundwork for the story, and does so admirably with an opening paragraph written in the second person, where the reader merges perspectives with the protagonist in a series of instructions for a routine concerning a bottle of whiskey and a glass. So by the end of this section, we have our detective, Sam Grayle, our mysterious woman, Eve Butler, and a murder to solve. Schilz’s section then gives us our detective’s confrontation with his narrative nemesis, Eric Strathray, which winds up with Sam trapped in a fishing boat in the next section, written by Verma.

These three segments of perfectly serviceable noir are complemented by slightly more experimental takes on the genre. Boursnell’s section bridges Williams’s and Schilz’s, as our detective travels from his office to a club licensed to a certain Strathray. What is striking about it is the filmic quality of the writing. Laid out like a free verse poem, this section is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of a series of actions. One can almost imagine how the camera would pan and zoom in a film version of Boursnell’s section, and the effect is to inject a sense of constant movement into the narrative. Swain’s section then forms a sort of coda to the main narrative that ended in Verma’s portion, taking the form of an ‘Extract of debrief of Acting Agent in Charge Michael Banner’. It helps to clarify how and why our detective was double-crossed, which Gwalchmai’s concluding segment also does in the form of a poem, containing moments of humour (‘a Grayle of Butlers’), self-reference (‘You should have warned me / reader’), and enjoyable wordplay (‘you should have warmed me / to the killing by flagging / the flogging that follows’).

On the whole, XZ #1 comes across as an interesting dissection of the noir genre, a sort of variation on the game of exquisite corpse. I am keen to see what this method will produce when it is brought to bear on other genres (the next issue will explore Gothic horror). Having said that, I personally found myself feeling ever so slightly cheated by the end of the story, due to its brevity. Certainly, as Murray notes in his afterword, the characters in Singing The Necessaries ‘have been given lives and motives, both written and implied’. Yet there is perhaps too much that has been left oblique, or at the very least, a lengthier story would have helped to create more reader investment in these promising characters.

Clinic III (ed. Rachael Allen, Sam Buchan-Watts, Andrew Parkes, and Sean Roy Parker)

In anthology on June 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

-Reviewed by Faye Lipson

clinic III

Born out of the London-based multidisciplinary arts platform from which it derives its name, Clinic III bears a certain weight of expectation. Its predecessor anthologies have both been warmly received, with a previous Sabotage review praising Clinic II for containing ‘poetry ripe for the stage as much as it is for the coffee table’. This new anthology does not fall short.

Clinic III is as zippy, slick and well-oiled as a vespa, and it prowls smartly across a modern poetry landscape, revving and purring by turns.

The book’s dramatic changes of pace begin with its extraordinary cover, for the poetry therein is sandwiched between a disorientating abstract collage on the front cover, and a gory comic about a cartoon hammer on the back. I often take high production values in a book to be a signpost for similarly high editorial values. In the case of Clinic III, my belief is corroborated.

There is a pleasing absence of the more stultifying prosy work we sometimes see elsewhere, as this vehicle carries little extra baggage. Much of the work is light and crisp, with a flair for musicality and deft use of internal rhyme. Perhaps because of the interdisciplinary nature of Clinic, which seeks collaboration between music and poetry, many of the 35 poets possess a well-developed poetic ear. These poems read beautifully.

Eileen Pun (fabulous name) was a judicious choice of opening poet for this book. Her ‘Studio Apartment: Sunday’ is witty and well-observed, appropriating the honeyed tones of a Foxtons advertorial to explore the ‘bijou palace’ of the pokey London studio to which so many are consigned. Artfully blending urbane humour and ennui, Pun sets the tone for the rest of the anthology.

Another standout poet is Henry King, whose three poems whisper in dialogue with each other across the pages. ‘For Ava’, with its beautiful lyric qualities, draws out the biblical qualities of the Ava (derivative of Eve), positing the name’s newborn recipient as an Edenic emblem of hope and newness. Just across the page, ‘The Third Adam’ speaks of a fall from grace into urban desolation.

The excellent Helen Mort provides a note of melancholy with a beautifully understated poem about mournful-eyed whippets. It is also good to see Clinic editors Rachael Allen, Sam Buchan-Watts and Sean Roy Parker investing in the success of the book by each doing their own skilful poetic turns.

All this is to say nothing of the startling and absorbing artwork with which the poems are interspersed. It is my complete inadequacy as an art critic, rather than any deficiency in the art itself, which prevents me commenting further on this aspect of the book.

If I have one small criticism of this book, it would be that a tiny portion of the poetry it features is almost completely impenetrable, even with repeated readings. Megan Levad’s work, particularly ‘Young Digerati’, perhaps best encapsulates this difficulty. The use of disconnected phrases and mysterious left and right alignment seem to allude to work created by arcane rules.

The poem pelts you with discombobulating phrases from opposite sides of the page: ‘told our families “Once a year/ up next: The Way We Live Now/ double vanity!’ I am sure there is method in the madness, but it’s not discernible to me.

Let there be no mistake about this: I am very much for poetry which rewards the patience of the reader by a slow and gracious peeling back of its folds of imagery. Indeed, I believe the best poetry can continue to spark new readings, understandings and lateral connections in the mind of the reader many years after she has first encountered it.

However it feels like Levad’s work was constructed using particular rules or writing exercises which I was not privy to. There is much to commend about experimenting in this way. Nonetheless, when publishing such poems in an anthology, the reader mustn’t be forgotten. A general framework of literary appreciation is not always adequate for understanding works produced by more obscure sets of rules or exercises. I think that in a number of cases, a line or two of preamble about the creation of the poem would have enhanced my experience as a reader. Having said this, the vast majority of the book would be very accessible to a patient and committed reader, and a joy to have on one’s bookshelf.

Overall, Clinic III is as appetising to the poetry fan as fresh brains are to a killer zombie – a fact not missed by Clinic poet Jonny Reid, whose ‘Twenty Zombies’ sums up my feelings toward the book exactly: ‘I am zombie 20, and oh my god you look delicious’.

‘flick invicta’ by Sarah Crewe

In Pamphlets on June 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by Charles Whalley

flick invicta is a reminder that all poems are lists of words to be interpreted. Few of Sarah Crewe’s poems contain complete sentences; most toy with some connective syntax; some are almost entirely nouns. The poems are often formatted with large spaces within the lines, justified with both margins, accentuating the syntactic gaps. The first poem, ‘flick/wavertree’, runs:

wavertree

The formatting creates two columns, encouraging the eye to move up and down as well as left to right. Likewise, the isolated words and phrases encourage interlocking connections in multiple directions, like the lines drawn through the letters of a wordsearch puzzle or like (to borrow from Wolfgang Iser) the constellations drawn by connecting stars. We have, for instance in ‘flick/wavertree’, the string of association of “aspen…girl botanic…stonecrop…wolfberry…creeping ivy”. In this sequence “girl botanic” links with “witchhunt” and then “stone[…] circles”. The “wolf” also connects with “pack” and perhaps “stalks” (as what I imagine packs of wolves to do), whilst “stalks” taken as a noun rather than verb connects back with the plants. As well as the sound patterns (most plainly in “graffiti…HIV”), these are exercises in (pack) semantics, as each word’s connotations reaches for another. It requires a reading that is reticular rather than linear; the poems develop like dot-to-dots or Spirographs.

*

Many of the poems reference places in Liverpool, such as Wavertree and Newsham Park, or, in the case of ‘Mil-Mi ‘85’, a film set in, and specifically about, the city. These locales as a setting for a poem circumscribe the disconnected phrases of the poems into atmosphere, as in ‘flick/newsham park’:

‘dips her feet in mallow     fork tailed birds swoop     grade II rooftops     circumflex
pyramids on stilts     flick smirks     jack in mind     phantom boy     penchant for angles’

Fixed geographically, the nouns eschew associating syntax; their common thread is their shared cinematic invocation of place.

Liverpool also serves as one side of a binary opposition, expressed in ‘iris on the wing’ as “north west/south east”, with Liverpool as the “not london” of ‘elephant’. This sense of speech from a position (geographically or not) of otherness or cultural alterity recurs throughout the pamphlet. In ‘Mil-Mi ’85’ the speaker remarks: “the actor’s accent slips……….mine never does”. The word “accent” implies a deviation from a ‘norm’, and one must “slip” from an “accent” to prove that it is indeed an “accent” and not one’s only way of speaking. To have an accent that “never” slips is either to be one entirely committed to performance, or to be one whose ‘real’ self has been relegated as such.

*

‘flick/blue heaven’ includes the line:

‘flag on the brow side’

I am completely at a loss to articulate why I like it so much.

*

The isolated nouns of flick invicta lead the reader to think about how the process of fashion (as manufactured obsolescence) imbues objects with an embedded, complex datedness: to be impoverished is to be condemned to the past. The neglected landscape of flick/invicta – the “creeping ivy/lock-up”, “doc leaves, “wasteland/sidelines, “wasteland nursery/flaky social club”–mirrors the “80s remnant” interest in old clothes: “dog tooth coats”; “art deco[…]flapper chic”; “1950’s polkadot”. But these clothes are not just haphazard gallimaufries of fashion’s merry jetsam fashion; these are sophisticated performances of the present’s versions of the past: it is flapper chic, where fashion reasserts its ownership over what it left behind. Considering the disenfranchised position of the past and its symbols, there is something troublesome about this appropriation or glorification of disempowerment, as Crew suggests in ‘elle d’en’:

‘O     you look so pretty in
housewife chic     you wear it well
recession in petticoat’

There is the fear, in the word “housewife”, that the social and political realities of the past may be resurrected within the fashions, that retro is a hidden conservatism.

*

*

The character “flick”, who appears throughout the pamphlet, is essentially performative, with a verb as a name since she must do to be. Often through her, flick/invicta explores the external signs of femininity, of the ‘masquerade’ (in Mary Ann Doane’s term) of “red dress     peroxide”(Mil-Mi ’85), and how, as with elsewhere, one can become empowered from a disempowered position, how one can live earnestly through signs that have been degraded as fake.

The final, overarching binary opposition running through the poems, after South West/North East or Present/Past, is gender, in terms made clear by the reference in ‘flick/newsham park’ to a nursery rhyme: “two for joy[…]/[…]three for a girl”. The nursery rhyme implies a greater value of men not only in that they are worth an additional magpie, but with the logic implied in the patterning of the first rhyme: ‘girl’ is to ‘boy’ as ‘sorrow’ is to ‘joy’. The same poem also names the three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, who emblemise one form that empowerment and subversion can take as well as the risks of attempting it: “flick thinks of     maria ekaterina nadezhda”(‘flick/newsham park’). (Sarah Crewe was one of the editors of Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, the tremendous anthology which deservedly won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Anthology this year.) A similar model of female power is found in Cheetara, the “cunt cat hybrid” who “asphyxiate[s] prey”(‘hail cheetara (forever becoming)’), but mostly in “flick”, who is always the centre of her poems, always moving through the settings, and who often only has a verb following her name (e.g., “flick smirks”, “flick invokes”). Flick is the source of agency whenever she appears, as the one who ends the poem ‘flick/peacock’ with “let’s walk”, refusing the passivity normally assigned to the female. She is the only confident agent at home within the depthless, illogical atmospheres.

*

Sarah Crewe’s poems are deliberately resistant. flick/invicta raises the question: does a poetry which comes from outside, or which challenges, dominant ideology also need to come outside of normal syntax, to exceed normal registers? Does poetry need to challenge our modes of interpretation before it challenges anything else? Some of the poems in the pamphlet become so obfuscated as to resemble catalogues of private obsessions, and seem like the “secret code” mentioned in ‘bridge’. Others are, in context, remarkably conventional. But the best are hair-raising and subversive, breaking language up to “bring the vowels back” and “prise consonants/apart”.

Dr Fulminare interviews Jon Stone

In anthology, Conversation on June 26, 2013 at 9:44 am

Dr Fulminare, excommunicated alchemist and editor-in-chief of poetry anthology publisher Sidekick Books, turns investigator and interviews one of his own editors, Jon Stone, about the latest Sidekick offering, Coin Opera 2: Fulminare’s Revenge, and what it means for poetry.

Me, the eminent, pre-eminent and always extraordinarily busy Dr Fulminare, performing an interview? Just because the editor in question happens to have performed the mere monkey-work of actually drawing this particular collection of poems together? I would not normally stoop to such trivialities, but Mr Stone appears to have developed ideas of his own about what Coin Opera 2, the sequel to Sidekick’s first ever book (2009’s Coin Opera) signifies, and I am somewhat alarmed by his newfound independence of thought. So conduct an interview I must, at the very least in order to assess the extent of his deviation. I will test his evidence judiciously, then retire to report on my findings.

fulminare

Dr Fulminare: Mr Stone! Sit down, or stand up if you’d prefer. Or sit down. You understand that you must answer fully and truthfully and in a timely fashion?

Jon Stone: Yes, I do.

DRF: Very well then. We shall begin. You do realise, don’t you, that Coin Opera 2, like all the books produced by Sidekick, is a feat of dangerous experimentation that might well rend asunder the minds of every person on this planet?

JS: I do realise that, but it’s also very possible a sign of an emergent genre within poetry, and I’m excited because poetry doesn’t have many identifiable genres. When a label is attached to a type of poetry, it often has a faintly judgemental air: confessional, mainstream, light verse. But if sci-fi poetry can be recognised as a legitimate genre, why not game poetry?

DRF: Interesting, interesting. You actually believe humanity is ready for such a thing, do you?

JS: Well, some of the poems we’ve included in Coin Opera 2 were already published. More than in any previous Sidekick anthology, in fact. Ross Sutherland already brought out his full sequence of Streetfighter II sonnets through Penned in the Margins. And of those we commissioned, many have already found their way into the poets’ own publications. Two were even in The Salt Book of Younger Poets. I think that proves this isn’t just a sort of light-hearted frolic, that game poetry can fit comfortably within a poet’s main body of work, complementing the themes they’ve chosen to explore elsewhere.

Poets: Assemble!

Poets: Assemble!

DRF: You are quite the dreamy-eyed belligerante. Poets are accustomed to handling any subject matter. So what if one poem is about a game, the next a murder, the next an unfeasible bicycle?

JS: It’s not just about subject matter though. When it comes to games, I think what we see in Coin Opera 2 is that the mechanics and the spatial architecture can subtly inform the shape and the feel of the poem. At least four of the poets, independently of each other, opted to shape their pieces in a way that reflected something of the games they were writing about. There’s also the matter of play, which I keep going on about.

DRF: Play? Play! Ho hum. Go on.

JS: Well, games are all about playing, whether that means beating a high score, putting virtual bricks together to build something, testing your boundaries or following arbitrary rules. In gaming culture, play isn’t just how people interact with games, but also how they attempt to extend the life of games. Creative subcultures emerge around modifying and adding to the content. I think that sense of what it means to play, how valuable it is for our minds, bled out of the games we were looking at and got right into the DNA of the book. It’s there in the structure and the presentation as well as in the poems themselves, but the poems themselves are especially infected with it.

DRF: Mr Stone, your comments are an affront to indecency. I don’t think you even know what DNA is.

JS: But it’s not just that the poems are playful in the sense of joyous and light-fingered, you see. It’s more that they’re testing things. Even when the poets are using their natural voices, they’re extending beyond directly lived experience, projecting their humanity into other worlds with different rules. Or else they let the language and rhythm of games define the feel of the poems, the way the poems play out. They’re adventurous. I think it’s a common thread that’s emerged that suggests the possibility of a genre, something beyond just this book’s identity as an artefact. In fact, I think it could go beyond the book form itself and head out to meet other emerging genres, like interactive fiction and alt-lit.

DRF:  I do like the sound of this ‘testing’. I do indeed. A small consolation, considering the extent of your insolence. Did you envisage this when you began work on the project, and if so, when were you planning to reveal this corruption of your thinking to me, your employer?

JS: Can I just say: you don’t pay me anything. But to answer your question, no, when we started work on this, I was more responding to the fact I sort of have one foot – or ear, perhaps – in gaming culture and one in literary culture, and I didn’t think there was much conversation passing between the two. It felt a little like having parents who never spoke. I wanted to get them talking. Everything I’ve talked about here is more what’s occurred to me lately, reading through the poems as we’ve edited and typeset them and reconsidered what exactly we’ve got here.

DRF: Indeed. Well, then. Anything else you’d like to add before I retire to consider your case, and probably your punishment?

JS: It would be really nice if we could hit our Kickstarter target, so anyone who is remotely interested in this project, please consider pre-ordering the book by pledging some money on Kickstarter.

Review: Come Rhyme with Me 31/05/13

In Performance Poetry on June 25, 2013 at 9:30 am

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

come rhyme

Come Rhyme with Me: a tasty combo!

The literary world is full of wining combinations. Boarding school stories and wizardry, pride and prejudice, Shakespeare and the iambic pentameter; but one pairing that you would definitely not expect is spoken word poetry and Caribbean food. For the last three years, however, that is what poets Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger have been serving up regularly in London with resounding success (so much so that a year ago they opened up a sister show in Brighton).

Tickling their guests’ literal and metaphorical taste buds, they have developed a popular night of poetic entertainment where the acts are presented as courses in a meal. After open mic Appetizers three feature acts are carefully selected to represent starter, main course and dessert. When asked about the event Dean said:

‘It’s about bringing people together, good food and company. We’re so happy that we’ve established an entertaining event that we would want to come to ourselves. People come and then come back with all their friends, its celebratory and definitely not just for poets!’

Dean’s description proved accurate at this upbeat, intimate and friendly night. He and his co-host Deanna make another successful combination, having natural onstage chemistry, cracking jokes and putting the audience at their ease. It’s plain they are both very confident performers and their double act is a delight to watch in itself. They built a comfortable rapport with the audience despite the distraction of the steaming plates of grilled chicken and the added complications created by a very small stage isolated by a thick red curtain.

Catering for a variety of poetic palates …

The open mic ‘Poetry tapas’ was fast paced and welcoming with a variety of seasoned open mic performers and first timers. The Wizard of Skill, probably the most dedicated open mic’er in London, was particularly good. His poem ‘dear diary’ was an effervescent stream of consciousness, raising concerns about political issues he feels strongly about, weaving thoughts together with his own unique blend of imagery and wisecracks. Feisty Gemma Rogers played a hilarious song on her ukulele about trying, and failing, to remain on the wagon. She is a natural storyteller, immediately making a connection to the audience and her witty lyrics were very easy to relate to. First time open mic’er Amy showed great promise with a raw poem full of quick quips and good rhymes. She delivered a poem about getting into the London poetry scene, but to improve she could tap into a more wide reaching subject matter finding her own stories to tell. Another first time open mic performance by Nairobi was very funny, and she deserves bonus points for successfully rhyming ‘ overrated’ with ‘emaciated’, in a poem about being bored with conventional attitudes to female beauty.

Serving up some deliciously smooth spoken word …

After the break the courses continued with the three featured acts in a row. This format choice was particularly successful, as it completely kept the audience’s attention, which can sometimes be difficult when too many poets are included. By keeping the open mic to 6 places and then moving onto the feature acts, Dean and Deanna have created a night that runs smoothly and keeps people engaged.

Yrsa Daley-Ward was the starter with a carefully constructed, gentle and passionate set. The depth and breadth of her imagery was particularly interesting, she has a great ability to describe things in such detail that you can almost feel, taste and see them. Haunting lines stood out to be remembered and she used musical back drops to create an immersive and focused atmosphere during some of her pieces.

Paul Lyalls, the meaty main, had a completely different style and take on poetry in general. He introduced his poetry with funny stories and told us that he is the only poet to have an official Latin motto: ‘seize the afternoon’! His comedic style was generally effective, but sometimes it detracted from the poetry itself because he talked so much during the set. His poetry is also quite conversational, so sometimes it was hard to distinguish between the pre-amble and the poem. One of his best poems was a pastiche of the Lord’s Prayer, changing the allusions from God to the fashion industry.

The dessert was Simon Mole who effortlessly delivered an impassioned and professional set. His poem about coping with the death of a close friend was particularly compelling. He also used music as a back drop to this work and combined it with an image rich, abstract poem which was sensitive and heartfelt. His poems are witty and charming, he takes overlooked details of everyday life, like making bread or cycling down the street and focuses in on them like a photographer.

And the overall flavour?

Come Rhyme with Me is a regular and popular night because it combines a relaxed, friendly atmosphere with great food, a dynamic hosting duo, slick format and high quality line up.

The next London show is this Friday June 28th with Mike Galsworthy, Kayo Chingonyi, Peter Hayho and Sarah Redington.

Marketing and Social Media Officer

In Opportunities on June 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

We are looking for someone to join our team and take charge of our marketing and social media. At the moment this is a duty shared out between the editors, but we’d  like to be able to spend more time focusing on the editing than the publicizing, hence the need for someone new!

The position is unpaid (none of us are paid, this isn’t a money-making venture), but it can be safely said that all editors have found Sabotage useful in acquiring paid work (this has also been the case for several reviewers). If you are passionate about indie literature, and want to gain more experience in marketing and social media, then this could be perfect for you.

The role would include:

  • publicizing new reviews on Facebook and twitter
  • selecting reviews and other relevant news to create a lively monthly newsletter
  • helping to build an online community around Sabotage

These are the basics, there is of course scope to expand this role as you see fit and really make it your own.

If you are interested in the post, please email Claire Trévien at editor@sabotagereviews.com giving examples of your previous experience and letting us know why you think this role would be the good fit for you. We look forward to hearing from you!

Needless to say, you can be based anywhere in the world for this. 

Applications close at midnight 30th June 2013.

Review: My Robot Heart by Molly Naylor

In Performance Poetry on June 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm

– reviewed by James Webster

robotheart_s

Written and perform by Molly Naylor, with musical backing from folk-duo The Middle Ones, this slice of musical storytelling was tightly written, warmly performed and full of thoughtful fun.

The story’s meta-narrative was cleverly constructed, presenting both an intricately interwoven fictional story of three interconnected characters, and giving us the true story behind the story, a kind of origin, the tale of heartbreak and robots that Naylor wrote this show to explain. We thus got some fascinating facts about Japanese experiments into creating a robot called ‘Kenji’ who could imitate the behaviour of love (an idea very similar to a fantastic manga and tv show called Absolute Boyfriend that I heartily recommend), coupled with Naylor’s own sense of emotional frustration at wanting more than a partner who “ticks as many boxes as possible”. It’s both an intriguing backdrop to the show and an overarching metaphor for her story and it works fabulously well.

Her performance style was warm and engaging, always quick with a joke and an amusing turn of phrase. She was especially good when crafting analogies that are equal parts absurdly funny, poetic and appropriate, or when capturing life’s little ridiculosities in relatable and inventive turns of phrase. Indeed, in each of her three characters’ stories there was something intensely recognisable; those little moments that are incredibly simple, but oh-so-powerful and very human, spine-tinglingly distilled by Naylor’s evocative storytelling. Whether it’s the emotional significance of what kind of wardrobe you own, the paralysing fear of public speaking, or the caustic politics of school popularity, each strand of the story gave intelligent and amusing insights into the stages and minutiae of life.

As well as these myriad little moments, the show also throws up some big and emotional movie-style moments. A manic late-night drive to nowhere and subsequent return, a sudden, unexpected public food fight, or late-night epiphanies, but these moments often confound expectations, never giving the characters what they think they want. As such, those big moments serve as a great contrast to the little ones, as the characters who search for big emotional breakthroughs find them in quietly heartbreaking moments of emotional stillness, while the character who simply wants to fit in finds himself in a charmingly warm and cinematic climax. All of which is supported by the great music of the Middles Ones, whose songs surge up warmly behind the narrative at some points, while stuttering into a fragile silence at others.

It’s not perfect, the music at times isn’t fully integrated into the performances, and it occasionally distracts from the story instead of supplementing it. The stories, too, could be more completely woven together, with the narrative sometimes becoming a tad disjointed (with one story coming to an especially early end, which was unfortunate given how lovably absorbing it was). Still, these minor quibbles don’t detract from the show’s warm and tear-teasing heart.

It seems at the heart of the story is the conflict between societal pressure and individual desire, between the way people think they’re supposed to act and what they actually want. Naylor is very astute in summoning the spirit of those insidious pressures that make her characters feel their desires are abnormal, dubbing the kind of social plan where you meet someone you don’t actively hate and settle down to marry them “the protocol”, while the wish to follow your own desires is oddly personified in the pleasantly polyamorous figures of Tilda Swinton (who knew?). This is all mixed together with a playful performance, some fun theatricality and nice internal references (repeated mentions of wardrobes and Take That creating effective recurring motifs).

This wonderful show creates a patchwork map of lovely little life anecdotes; a collage made of myriad moments that are intensely recognisable, often hilarious, and utterly insightful. Naylor answers her own questions about love and fear in entertaining and super-lovely fashion, celebrating both fear and choice, and allowing for both love’s messiness and its erratic wonders.

Molly Naylor’s ‘My Robot Heart’ is in Oxford for one more performances tonight at the Burton Taylor Studio, before moving on to Bristol’s Tobacco Factory in July. It’s well worth seeing.

Saboteur Awards 2013: Performance

In Performance Poetry, Saboteur Awards on June 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

-in which James Webster sums up the categories he presented at the awards –

saboteur awards - performer

Best Performer

When it came down to the final day, Best Spoken Word Performer was the most closely contested of all the categories, with first place going back and forth several times and only three votes separating the winner and runner-up. That runner-up was Dan Cockrill, who deserves real credit for pushing the winner all the way to the wire, receiving many enthused comments from voters along the way. One such person said they voted for him “Because he is funny, engaging and full of bags of energy. And you never get bored of him however many times you see him!”

The other nominees also deserve a lot of kudos, Raymond Antrobus (who is one of the co-hosts of Chill Pill and whose pamphlet The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus was published this year) reportedly “has a way with words, is unique in delivery and is spinetingly inspirational.” While Emma Jones (regular at Bang! Said the Gun and virtuoso performer) has “A tongue so sharp they call it a mouth knife. FACT!!” and an “Uncanny ability to absorb a character and present a perspective rarely seen.” Fay Roberts (host of Hammer & Tongue Cambridge and founder of Allographic) was said by one voter to have “a range and depth that I envy. Her poems combine beautiful word-smithery, wisdom and wry humour and her highly original delivery is a delight.”

The winner, however, was Vanessa Kisuule. A phenomenal poet whose performances are often heartfelt, often funny, and always excellent, and have delighted audiences all over the UK.

Winner of a multitude of slams and a regular at festivals, she “combines warm humour with beautifully measured emotion and a sprinkling of bite, Vanessa Kisuule is simply one of the best performing poets around.” Another voter said “Vanessa’s poems actually steal me and take me on an adventure”, while another commented “Vanessa has a depth and maturity to her work I’ve never seen matched in spoken word”. The most prevalent commendation, however, was her uncanny knack of expressing the inexpressible, she has “the ability to articulate feelings previously considered ineffable; a skill as rare as it is wonderful” and “has the most relevant poetry to so many people, she finds the perfect words to express what so many people think but can’t vocalise because they don’t have her words. She is a total boss.”

Best One-Off

Another close category, with the intriguing events that were Penning Perfumes (exploring scents through poetry and vice-versa) and Poetry Parnassus (an almost unprecedented conglomeration of poets from around the globe) coming in joint second. Penning perfumes was called “innovative, bold, mixing genres and going outside poetry audiences to engage through use of the senses with a wider audience” while Poetry Parnassus was praised for being “a once in a life time gathering of poetry and poets and community and sharing and wisdom.”

Also in the running was Poetry Polaroid (mapping Edinburgh through poetry) that was “a beautiful concept that drew a lot of people into exploring the city and thinking about it in different ways”, while Binders Full of Women (beautifully hand-made binder celebrating poetry of writers who identify as female, trans, intersex or gender-neutral) that was “urgent, organised and awesome: a combination of creative publication and lively gatheration, with a side order of campaigning poetics”.

But the winner was the massive nationwide platform that was Shake the Dust. A mixture of performances, workshops and other events, it gave a platform to young people across the UK to explore poetry in a way that “visibly changed young lives, connecting the poetry and spoken word scenes around the globe with new rising stars. Total brilliance.”  In fact, several people commented on the power of the event that was “really changing young people’s lives through poetry”, that “provided so many opportunities for so many young people who were able to come together for a unique and special event on such a large open scale. it changed many lives” and that was “bringing together the disparate youth in art and spoken word; an undervalued gift”

Overall: “An amazing celebration of the voice of youth”

saboteur awards - one-off

Best Spoken Word Show

Some truly wonderful shows of different kinds were celebrated in this category, from the Wandering Word Stage that brings poets to new crowds at various festivals and provides “a marvellous sanctuary in the daytime and a hubbub of insanity at night”, to Dirty Great Love Story‘s fusion of verse and theatre, winning a Fringe First, touring to New York and according to one voter being “truly awesome inventive ninjas and made me cry”. And Emergency Poet (Deborah Alma) who provides rhymes in a crisis from a real ambulance: “The world’s first and only emergency poetry service, in a genuine 1960s ambulance, do you really need to ask why it should win?”

Runner up, Lucy Ayrton: Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry (a selection of feminist fairytales and dissection of the power of children’s stories) got a lot of love, one memorable remark saying she “not only harnesses the seductive power of fairytales to make powerfully incisive and beautifully made points about gender and society, but also she has lovely hair”

But the winner was Whistle by Martin Figura, a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, tale drawn from his own childhood that has toured throughout the UK and abroad. “It made me want to cry and I never want to cry except in the bank” said one fan, while others commented that this “Immensely personal tale of tragic upbringing yet hugely enjoyable” and that it “Invaded my dreams and will stay with me forever”. It’s a show that truly seems to have matched content to performance, with audiences saying: “Whistle is a bravura performance and a valuable text that makes no concessions to simple delivery but is delivered with great dramatic conviction.”

Finally, the comment that perhaps most sums it up is this one: “The most heartening true story of human resilience told in stunning poems I’ve ever seen in such an intense, understated show.”

 saboteur awards - spoken word show

Best Regular Spoken Word Night

It was a running joke on the night that we would repeatedly refer to categories as having been ‘an incredibly close race’ or having gone ‘right down to the wire’. This was not one of those categories, the winner of Best Regular Spoken Word Night was clear and deserved.

That is not to say the other nominees didn’t put up a fight, Come Rhyme with Me (blend of food and poetry) earned plaudits because “the poetry is consistently amazing both from the headliners and the open-mic-ers. Plus it’s worth going simply for the food!” While Hammer & Tongue Oxford (founding branch of the national network of slam poetry events) was praised for its “friendly and funny organizers, great community, and excellent performers”. Inky Fingers (inventive and inviting Edinburgh based collective) “provides a welcoming and open space for new spoken word artists whilst also showcasing some top spoken word talent to inspire”.

The runner up, Jibba Jabba (multi-disciplinary and superbly supportive open mic in Newcastle) really looked like giving the winners a run for their money (read: rosette) for a while with their “great performers, great venue, great audience & words that sear into your chest & stay with you for days”.

But in the end there was only ever going to be one winner: Bang! Said the Gun, whose anarchically fun and involving events have consistently raised the bar for poetry events. As the voters said “BSTG show us all how it should be done – fun and eclectic and challenging and loud and quiet and generous. They’ve also mastered the fact that poetry nights should be engaging to look at as well as listen to!”.

It’s an event that voters pointed out isn’t just good, but is also always colossal fun: “Rock and roll poetry, why shouldn’t it win?!” Plus, it always gets the audience going: “Let’s shake, rattle and roll with poetry. Need I say more. Absoposifrigginlutely BANGTASTIC!!! The best show for miles.”

Finally, Bang! Is such a unique night because it opens poetry up to new audiences: “Weekly and sometimes on the telly too. Poetry’s best chance of a tv breakthrough.” and because it “makes poetry electric and sexy”.

saboteur awards - regular spoken word night

All very deserved winners and nominees, plus a fantastic night. Can’t wait for next year to do it all again!

Missing Slate #8 (Winter 2013)

In Magazine, online magazine on June 18, 2013 at 9:34 am

-Reviewed by J.S.Watts

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I had better begin by stating, for the record, that I am a traditionalist when it comes to reading. By this I mean that I am old fashioned/ don’t own a Kindle (or any other portable electronic reading device – I am conscious that other makes/ brands/ lifestyle choices are also available). I enjoy reading books and magazines that are made of paper because I find them easier to engage with, sniff, fondle and generally browse. I have, however, read, enjoyed and reviewed many online and pdf publications, so please don’t think I’m a total Philistine when it comes to e-reading.

There is a purpose to this admission of physical book fetishism (other than a plug for the Keep Reading Real campaign), honest. The Missing Slate is an online/downloadable literature and arts magazine. It’s very slick, colourful, and professionally put together and probably deserves a better review than I am going to give it, BUT.

But it is so slickly designed and full of data-hungry art-work that those of us attempting to read it on a desktop held together with chewing gum and sellotape have problems accessing it. It takes such a long time to download and then browse through (though browsing is not a good description of the slow, painful trawl through its pages) that you’ve really, really got to want to read it. Books, I tend to read chronologically, but I enjoy my magazines browsable and you’ll have gathered that my interface with TMS wasn’t an easy, browsing orientated one. The magazine is indeed available via Issuu  and that interface was certainly more accessible, although not without some frustrations of its own: browsing is still difficult and frequently results in multiple blank pages for sustained periods.

At one hundred and thirty-nine pages, The Missing Slate (or TMS as it sometimes calls itself) is a large and intellectually heavyweight magazine which has been put together by an international team in ten countries and three continents, although the magazine’s editorial hub is in Pakistan and this is reflected in some of the articles. The editorial states that the Winter 2013 issue is a “love letter to the power of literature” and that is no lie. There is poetry, short fiction, photographs and fabulous art-work. Each page is graphically designed rather than just put together. There were times, though, when I felt the graphics dominated rather than enhanced the written content; the spotlight interview with S.J. Fowler having further accessibility problems because of the white on black colour scheme.

The winter issue contains two special features: a photo essay on a new Oxford University Press Pakistan archive initiative in Karachi and the other, a forty page special on fourteen young, emerging British poets: Anna Selby, Caleb Klaces, Heather Phillipson, James Byrne, Jen Hadfield, Jon Stone, Kathryn Simmonds, Liz Berry, Lorraine Mariner, Luke Kennard, Melanie Challenger, Ryan Van Winkle, Toby Martinez de Las Rivas and S.J. Fowler (the magazine is hoping to do similar articles centred on other countries in the future).

The British poetry special begins with an introduction by Todd Swift in which he hails the current generation of young poets as the “finest group of British poets since the metaphysicals”. Whilst feeling that this may be a bit overstated, the article is well worth a read and the poetic content is certainly strong.

Each writer is represented by one or two pieces and there is an eclectic mix of lyrical poems, experimental poetry, prose poetry and prose. There is almost bound to be something to please everyone. I was particularly taken with Anna Selby’s surreal and imageful “Dunwich Burning” and “The Water Catcher”, and “Homing” by Liz Berry. The two weather-drenched poems by Shetland based Jen Hadfield also lingered long after I had logged off and made me want to read more of her work. Other poems worked less well for me, but that is a question of taste rather than quality. Many of the pieces are taken, with the publishers’ permission, from existing collections. This is certainly a worthy gathering together of British poetic talent, though why some writers warrant two pieces while others, like the talented Luke Kennard, only merit one was not clear to me.

In addition to the special features, there are thoughtful articles on literature and censorship, a revisiting of The Great Gatsby in light of the new Baz Luhrmann film and a profile of Aysha Raja, apparently one of the key figures in Pakistani literature. The writing is eclectic, literary, intellectual and erudite and my head says there is much to admire in this visually impressive magazine, but my emotional engagement with it got lost in the download process and never really recovered. Also, it is a serious, heavy-duty read and perhaps my browsing propensities when it comes to magazines just weren’t a best fit for it.

So sorry, TMS, I wish I could write more enthusiastically about your colourful and word-packed pages, but I will say, to those of you out there with Kindles and/or super-fast broadband and who like to read high-brow, serious literary magazines rather than browse them, you could do worse than check this out.

‘The Groodoyals of Terre Rouge’ by Jude Cowan Montague

In Pamphlets on June 17, 2013 at 9:54 am

-Reviewed by Judi Sutherland

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Jude Cowan Montague is a musician, poet and artist, and as such found a lot of fertile territory on a trip to Mauritius. As well as inspiring a whole album of songs, the visit led to these poems and the striking prints that illustrate the book. The foreword explains that Montague and her Mauritian friend dreamed of a visit to this tropical African island while working in a Students’ Union in the East End of London. The visit they made seems to have lived up to Montague’s expectations of paradise. Her chapbook of poems and prints is a colourful travelogue – enough to make me want to visit too.

The Groodoyals of the title are the poet’s friend Kiran and her Mauritian family. Like about half of the Mauritian population, they are of Indian descent, and Montague’s lucky break was to spend time with them and their neighbours, and to present the island to us not just as a tourist but with insider knowledge. A helpful glossary at the back of the book reveals some of the Mauritian vocabulary that Montague draws on in the poems, there’s even an introduction in Creole by Kiran’s brother Jay Groodoyal.

The poems begin in a Port Louis café called Mystic Masala, where the poet is remembering how to draw after a long break. She watches the people walking on the waterfront and stopping for lunch.

‘I pick up new pencil in burnt umber,
another in cobalt,
bend over backwards to pick up clues,
escaped during the adventure of a crayon line.’

Once she has ‘got her eye in’, her observations in words allow us to visualise pictures of Mauritius. She revels in sharing festivals with the family:

‘Ash and I hand out freshly cooked sweets
to neighbours, Namaste, happy Diwali. 

Pour oil in the pots when dark pours down,
light the lamps for missing Sita,

Rama’s been fighting for fourteen years,
tonight he’ll bring her home.’

The local dogs are a pervasive presence, in ‘Morning Walk’, ‘five straggling mongrels’ join the poet, wandering off one by one. The colourful prints in the book also contain images of friendly and inquisitive dogs trotting through the landscape. The goddess Durga, riding a tiger, is also present in the prints, and is addressed in prayer in the poem ‘Pooja’ where the narrator prays: ‘Durga, bring me my love, / naked from the storm cloud, / rain in my mouth.’ She is also present in ‘Texting Durga’, a commentary on the mixture of tradition and technology in modern Mauritius.

Cowan shows us the natural world. In ‘Caterpillars (Baie de Tombeau)’ the caterpillar moving up a tree ‘hydraulic quick’ is a ‘moving bridge’. In Terre Rouge II, ‘We watch the fruit bats / flying overhead, eating jamballac /as they hang from the branches.’  Cowan’s style is straightforward and narrative, there’s no great attention to rhythm or sonics, but the material she has to draw on is innately beautiful and the visual images strong enough for us to share her experiences of Mauritian life.

There’s social commentary too. The poet takes a nostalgic trip with Jay Groodoyal to a family farm in ‘L’herbe Sauvage’. The papaya tree he remembers is still there, but the farm seems abandoned as rural life has been left behind for the towns and cities. The wild grass of the poem’s title is taking over, and Montague uses it as a symbol of regret and a double meaning:

‘When mother was with us
the crops weren’t like this,
her son stooped to pull
one savage from the soil.’

A reminder of the island’s former dependence on sugar cane is present in ‘Having no papers, being unemployed’ where a series of impressions from a museum is presented to us:

‘Certificate of discharge
Certificate of engagement
Ticket of old immigrant

Sugar prices start rising
Hama Suthoo
Sheik Nunoo
Yasmin Jaomuch
No. 363040’

This chapbook is, as a whole, entertaining and vivid. The simplicity of the poems’ language fits well with the naïve style of the artwork. The overall impression is of an affectionate tribute to Mauritius. Taken individually, none of these poems is world-beating, but holistically they comprise a beautiful memoir, full of sunshine.