Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

‘Whitehall Jackals’ by Chris McCabe and Jeremy Reed

In All of the Above, Collaboration, Conversation, Play of Voices on July 23, 2013 at 9:34 am

-Reviewed by Billy Mills


Whitehall Jackals is a collaborative poem sequence written by Chris McCabe, a Liverpool-born, London-based poet whose work is new to me, and long-standing British avant garde poetry landmark  Jeremy Reed. The work is a kind of psychogeographic plunge into London in alternating voices, a tangled weave of intersecting, parallel and divergent lines through and across the actual and imagined city, a pattern woven in the shadow of Blair’s war on Iraq and the City’s war on probity and community as the poets swap perceptions and realities with something approaching what might once have been called gay abandon.

Reed’s introduction lists a number of antecedents: Black Mountain, the New York School, the British Revival poets Barry MacSweeney, Tom Raworth, Iain Sinclair and J.H. Prynne; though I have to say I just don’t get Prynne’s presence here at all. The poems themselves reference more, among whom Blake and David Jones and T.S. Eliot are the most visibly present. The result, allowing for the differences in style between the two men, is a recognisably late 20th/early 21st century ‘experimental’ idiom in which the relatively high proportion of stressed syllables in the average line creates an insistent, almost relentless verse dynamic with sentences that are rich in nouns. Adjectives are piled one upon another in hieratic visionary utterances laced with verbs that serve to move us from one gesture to the next.

White static runs to the reaches of ceramics & wires
as the river chants its outtakes.


The tattooed boozed-up brawler on Hog Lane,
knuckles slashed to ketchup dollops,
fighting at knife-point in rain’s
persistent steamy shattering


There are strong echoes of Sinclair’s 1970s poetry, specifically the two key books Ludd Heat and Suicide Bridge and of Blake’s prophetic books, but not the lyric voice of the Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience, with consequences that I will return to later.

In many respects, I found it useful to think of this book in terms of the visual arts. Reed is a self-confessed plein air poet, writing a public life in public places, his words saturated in the here and now of their genesis, but also in his inner visionary not here, not now, as if Blake had painted after Monet.

Sea-green Starbucks cardboard wrapper
as hot finger stops on a paper cup
sipped on a street chair facing Heron Tower’s
47 storeys – clear reflective glass
like a hologrammed vertical coffin –

McCabe is something more of a studio-based collage artist, carefully integrating bits of found language from text-bearing street furniture, product labelling and the like into his poems.

THE RIVER HOUSE, flagged by a lamp-post’s tag –
Do not dig within two metres of this mast.
Every view of Chelsea is a vista of weathercocks.

The jackals of the title are equally Blair and his WMD advisors and the Tory politicians who connived with their wealthy patrons in the yuppification of the city (the last quote above, for example, is from a poem called ‘The Chelsea of Wilde and Thatcher’ and there are other sections on the Docklands development). However it would be misleading to suggest that the focus is narrowly capital P political; there is a good deal of observation of the everyday life of the city and its residents and the geography they inhabit, as well as ruminations on its myth and history. As Reed says in one of his poems when writing about some wild poppies, ‘Like everything I see, they’re poetry’.

The inclusion of this less overtly political matter into the book provides much welcome light and shade and it is a pity that this range of content is not reflected in the formal aspects of the writing. The intensity of the versification works well for the most part, and as texts bounce back and forth between Reed and McCabe you can see them feeding off each other’s energies. However, it can become a little relentless, and this reader at least would have welcomed some more varied verbal music. In the absence of this more lyrical element, the reader can begin to feel that they on the receiving end of a magnificent but somewhat overwhelming harangue.

I also felt that the righteous anger directed at potentially criminal government actions and rampant consumer capitalism was somewhat undermined by the celebrations of the equally illegal illicit drugs trade and of the hardly uncommercial Rolling Stones, David Bowie and the likes. The conflation of drugs, rock and roll and rebellion seems somehow a little too easy, and more than a little dated.

These criticisms aside, Whitehall Jackals is a very interesting and worthwhile read. You can sense that the poets enjoyed doing the work and learned a good deal from each other in the process. Despite the reservations I have expressed in this review, their enthusiasm is infectious and you can’t help but be carried along by it. Anyone interested in the poetry of London will find it an important addition to the genre.

Rising #58 and Poetry Weekly #1

In Magazine, online magazine on July 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm

-Reviewed by Jennifer Edgecombe


Poetry Weekly and Rising are two A5 poetry magazines. They look very similar with respect to form and content, but soon begin to differ. Cult magazine Rising is on issue 58 having been first published in 1993 whereas Poetry Weekly launched its first issue in April 2013. Poetry Weekly is, as its name suggests, published weekly while Rising is handed out at gigs by Tim Wells on a looser timetable. Poetry Weekly retails for £1 an issue whereas Rising is free. There is a very sparse website available for Poetry Weekly – white, stark – it mimics the manifesto, style and theme of the magazine., whereas Rising has no web presence. These magazines are exciting, they’re mysterious, they’re niche, (or ‘Nish’ as it is written on the cover of Rising) but it makes me wonder, who on earth reads them?

This question is particularly relevant for Poetry Weekly, whose introductory page written by Paul McMenemy preaches that new poets need to ‘increase their readership’, and that the poets themselves need to read as much poetry as possible in order to learn how to write new poetry and be publishable. Defining cost as the red light in the way of this traffic, Poetry Weekly‘s manifesto is just that; to produce a cheap and accessible magazine in order for these seemingly new or previously unpublished poets to get printed and digested by others.

Poetry Weekly contains work from 8 emerging poets. They appear to be relatively unknown as the names are not as familiar as those in Rising and the magazine doesn’t contain biographies. The subsequent issues bulk up the poet count, contain a variety of themes and perhaps a variety of quality too. From issue 1, I would particularly like to read more poems from Stephen Waclawski and see how his work develops. In his poem ‘The Way Home’, he demonstrates a particular adeptness at twisting images on their heads, see for instance the way the nodding muzzle takes the place of the nodding below:

‘The muzzles of three dogs nod past the camera,
each body curved into its own slipstream.’

And similarly again:

‘A breeze draws in a forbidden smoke. He inhales
one breath the length of that last hundred metres.’

His language in ‘News at Ten’ is also engaging and fun to read. This is the first verse which is great to read aloud:

‘No muffled suits to slip in
and soften with blusher and foundation.
Tattered cheek smoothed back,
hair rearranged to lessen scalp’s burst balloon.
Still expect a flinch but camera’s unmoving,
not even a tremor to hide blink
or twitch from the mouldered face.’

Rising contains poetry from some better-known poets, Helen Mort, Phill Jupitus and Sabotage Reviews’ own Claire Trévien to name a few. The issue is cheeky, tongue in cheek, stating that Rising is ‘tough on poetry / tough on the causes of poetry’ and feature poems on ridiculous dates, reasons for dumping people and ‘Bonkers’ politics. The poems have a purpose and a stride, but that’s not to say that Poetry Weekly lacks in energy with its bold type and in your face agenda, one of the first words you see on the front page is the title of a poem called ‘Argument’; the design reflects the editorial decision to publish poetry cheaply and yet still in great quantity.

What I like about both issues is this fierce spirit to keep poetry alive. But the question remains. Just who are the readers? Outside of London, which gigs is Rising circulated at and in which bookshops will you find Poetry Weekly? Well the answers are, ‘it’s hard to say’ and probably not many. But people with niche interests, seek out the niche. As long as items and ideas like Poetry Weekly and Rising exist there will be pocket hives of poets, both new and established, waiting to submit and eager to contribute without the price tag. Does this all sound a bit ‘Free Love’? Well purchase the first issue of Poetry Weekly and a great visual poem will tell you that it’s ‘Not Free’ and it’s ‘Not Love’. But my slight preference would be to (somehow) get hold of more copies of Rising. For me, the work is overall slightly better. In particular, Rowena Knight’s poem, on which I will end this review, really stands out. In the first half of ‘The Customer Is Always Right’, the reader is cleverly seduced by what is made to appear as a welcoming coffee shop, the ‘cocoon of burgundy walls’ and armchairs draw you in as you carry ‘a castle of paper shopping bags’. You are treated like royalty, even your spillage is the barista’s fault. Whilst the poem-character happily sips their coffee, the reader is exposed to how the manager’s relentlessness to create the harmonious vision of the coffee shop is at the barista’s expense, her health, her low pay, her hard work:

‘He chucked the last five. Remember
the regular’s names, their preferences for foam.
Ask about their holidays.

She blows her nose. Shivers.
Wishes for a heater.
All the staff are ill; the sick pay’s a joke.
She gives herself an extra two minutes.
Prays the manager won’t notice.’

Ed. We have just found out that Poetry Weekly has now ceased to publish after ten issues, but the adventure is not yet over, go here for more details…

Rattle Tales #2

In anthology, Short Stories on July 22, 2013 at 10:15 am

-Reviewed by Linda Legters

Rattle Tales

Stories that appear on printed pages often begin as quiet, interior monologues. To varying degrees, we writers wrestle with real and imaginary audiences as we work to bring these stories – these monologues – to fruition, but the process is largely private and probably silent. Even if we share our work along the way, rarely do we develop our craft in front of live audiences as have the writers who appear in the Rattle Tales collections. The Rattle Tales group founders, Erinna Mettler, Amanda Welby-Everand, Alice Cuninghame and Edward Rowe, transfer the raw energy of live storytelling to the printed page in order to reach a wider audience, but, as their website explains, “We think that story-telling should be about the listener as much as the story-teller, and that most of all it should be about having fun.”

And so, these collections begin as an interactive short story event. Colourful football rattles are given to the audience to show appreciation in lieu of applause. Writers read, people listen, rattles are shaken, and discussions ensue. What courage the writers need for such immediate feedback! To my knowledge, no other vehicle quite like it exists here in the U.S. It should. The published stories retain the fresh aura of performance, not because they are unpolished, but because they are so present, so here. Each vibrant tale feels as though it were being spun for our ears. This sense of immediacy makes these tales unusually compelling.

Among the twenty-seven selections are to be found a praying mantis that is both prey and predator, a hangover disguised as a bear, a candy addiction, the lovelorn and the newly loved. Reality comfortably resides with the surreal. The writers, all skilled, kind, and honest, bravely tackle the sometimes funny and sometimes harrowing aspects of our psyches and lives.

On the funny end, Ryan Miller’s begins his ‘Waking Up a Bear’ with ‘As I stretch I feel an overwhelming craving for salmon.’ The fellow has no recollection beyond having had a heavy-duty party night, but ‘…a nice cage, much bigger than my apartment … And hey! A pool!’ And Jade Weighell’s ‘Blue’ takes a still different look at overdoing things in the form of an addiction to blue – and only blue – Smarties.

At the opposite end, Alice Cuninghame’s ‘Tunnels’ maintains a singular sense of interior monologue – the stream of consciousness of a homeless hoarder – but it is also conversational, making the narrator our intimate. ‘Eyemaker’, by Rebecca Parfitt, is a rich, almost Poe-like tale about an oculist’s last appointment. ‘That night he dreamt of a ravine: a land covered in eyes, blue, green, yellow. They poured waterfalls down into bowl shaped pools.’ As a result, he decides to sacrifice his own sight to create the perfect eye for his last customer.

These, along with Joseph Joyce’s ‘Ganglion’, are as troubling as Joyce’s and Weighell’s stories are funny. Here, the hunt for a praying mantis turns grisly: ‘there bubbled a lust and hatred, the essence of the hunt’, writes Joyce. At what point, he seems to be asking, are we one with our victims? By extension, at what point are we one with the homeless, the bear, the addict, or the oculist?

Writing students are told to ignore audience to avoid that audience drowning out the sound of one’s own voice. Surely these stories arrived on the stage highly evolved, but still open to interpretation and revision. I envy that crowd.

Review: Jawdance 26/06/2013

In Performance Poetry on July 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

-Reviewed by Lettie McKie– 


So, who runs Jawdance then?

It’s run by Apples and Snakes, the only organisation dedicated full time to performance poetry in the UK, who are veterans of the spoken word poetry event. Running nights up and down the country they give many poets each year a much needed platform for performance at a huge variety of venues.

And how does Jawdance fit in?

Jawdance is their most regular and popular London night at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. It’s a free monthly open mic night where featured slots are often given to emerging poets alongside more established acts. On the last Wednesday of the month this event is chilled out and welcoming, a perfect place to perform your poems for the first time.

And who hosted it?

Effortlessly charming poet GREEdS was this month’s host, and he built an instant rapport with the audience . His reactions to performances were outspoken, but kind, which helped to create a playful atmosphere and put performers at their ease.

He sounds cool. Who else was performing?

The line- up of this particular event was disappointing. When running a regular event it is inevitable that sometimes the performances will fall flat and unfortunately, on this occasion (perhaps because the audience was a bit thin on the ground) the usual buzz was missing.

And what was the open mic night?

The open mic sections of the night were entertaining, with some promising talent and other downright bizarre performances. Regular performer Lucy Carrington was completely in her own world, but looked like she was having a marvelous time. Sophie Cameron is an accomplished poet, but her graphic language and overtly sexual imagery teeters on the edge between acceptably subversive and just plain tasteless. D’links stood out as one of the best performers of the night, her haunting, image rich poetry is ethereal in her smooth southern American accent and she pulls off lines such as “both killer and maker of dreams” that could so easily have bombed in the hands of a less soulful performer. She brought a friend up to sing along to her poetry, although his voice was good it was distracting from her deeply felt and thought provoking verse. The last poet of the evening, Torrey, was also very good, bringing the subdued audience to life with an hilarious poem about growing old (and having sex) disgracefully.

A nice mix then, so how were  the feature acts?

The first featured act of the night was an energetic duo called Ready Meal and Scratch Card (of the band: Anal Beard). They married quick quips, idiosyncratic storytelling and multiple characters in a set that had the potential to be very entertaining. However, their odd choice to ‘sing’ most of their poems in monotone, out-of-tune voices was dissatisfying. It would have been more interesting to put their poems to music or at least a recognisable tune, but instead their voices carried very little tangible rhythm and were grating to listen to.

The second feature, Paloma Heindorff was much more compelling; her impassioned set combined softly spoken delivery with story poems about love and other stuff drawn from everyday life, simple and unaffected. But I feel Paloma could improve by working on building more of a rapport with her audience and on developing more variety of pace.

But there’s more to Jawdance than just live poetry, right?

One of the best elements of Jawdance is their film screening slots. Apples and Snakes have recently been working with artists on a project called Wordsmiths and co-creating poetry videos. Jess Green’s film was a highlight of the evening. It shows her performing a poem that tells the story of a complicated friendship in a charming, raw and energetic style. She can’t keep still on the mic but her earnest and heartfelt verse is very charming.

So how was the last feature?

The last feature of the night was Chicago born Dominique Chestand. Although she is obviously a natural performer, with great comic timing her work itself was slightly disappointing. While she was much very entertaining when chatting with the audience before and in-between her pieces, the poems themselves were a bit hit and miss. She took a ukulele on stage, but only used it sparingly to create a beat, which seemed unnecessary. Although elements of her set were very interesting, for example a poem made up almost completely of noises rather than words that was reminiscent of beat box, some of the poetry was lacklustre in comparison to her bouncy personality. Although she has a great onstage presence this act was let down by some directionless content.

A mixed night then, but what’s your general opinion of Jawdance?

Jawdance is one of the best open mic nights around, professionally run and highly accessible. Although this night was not particularly successful it is credit to Apples and Snakes that they take risks with who they book, you never quite know what you’re going to get…

If you like the sound of the night then the next Jawdance  is coming up on Wednesday 24 July.

‘Lever Arch’ by Mark Burnhope and ‘Leading Edge Control Technology’ by Rupert M Loydell

In Pamphlets on July 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm

-Reviewed by Lettie McKie– 

Reading poetry is often like doing a crossword, when you first read its clues you may have absolutely no idea what to think and it can be tempting to throw the book down and check your facebook instead. However, with the right combination of leisure time and strong caffeine you can slowly let the right answer percolate through your mind until it bobs up in front of you grinning, as if it’s been there all along.  In his book Who is Ozymandias? and other Puzzles in Poetry  (2011) John Fuller expostulates on this theme and puts together a convincing argument that at once makes reading poetry far harder than you ever thought and immeasurably easier. Harder because you realise that your immediate reaction to a poem is likely to be way off the mark and easier because although unlike a crossword there are no right answers, the poem will also give sufficient clues to at least significantly narrow down your options for a correct interpretation.


In the case of two new pamphlets Lever Arch by Mark Burnhope and Leading Edge Control Technology by Rupert M Loydell this approach is essential for accessing their contrasting experimental techniques. Burnhope opens Lever Arch quoting leading 20th Century American poet Larry Eigner;

‘I thought myself that immediacy and force have to take precedence over clarity in poem…so the poem does become a thought process’

This premise positively informs the readers’ understanding of the poems that follow, which are largely non-narrative streams of consciousness. Freed from a need for clarity Burnhope’s poems hop fleetingly from image to image like a photo album and are often very charming in their impenetrability.

By consciously quoting Eigner, Burnhope is making us aware of a coherent choice he has made to prioritise image and feeling above narrative or meaning in any traditional sense. In some poems he even addresses this directly as is the case in ‘Swan Law’ which ends ‘ do you understand what you are reading’. Largely, this self-consciousness is not a problem and the poems encourage the reader to focus in on the small details of their imagery for full effect. ‘Thank you sea view’ is more structured than many of the other pieces within this collection but imagery that is complex, idiosyncratic and constantly amorphous is still its core focus. The poems are also characterised by uneven gaps in the formatting and the truncation of words at the end of a line to the beginning of the next. This technique deliberately breaks up the flow, and although it is clearly meant to further disturb the sense of narrative it is used too frequently and quickly becomes irritating. Although Burnhope is unconcerned with leading his readers’ to any logical conclusion he passionately creates poems whose linguistic experiments enable them to glean a sense of his own concerns and capture his vivid imagery for themselves.


In contrast Rupert M Loydell’s imagery in ‘Leading Edge Control Technology’ is unapologetically impossible to picture let alone understand. The first section of the pamphlet is given over to ten poems that cheekily tackle the problem of impenetrability head on by taking as subject matter other far more mundane and specialised vocabulary, largely stolen from (as the blurb on the back reveals) ‘Instruction manuals, technical handbooks and newspeak’. This is a very interesting idea but the problem is that because the poems are then so entirely inaccessible the temptation is to read them in light of this explanation with no attempt to further unpick the imagery within them. It is rather like looking at a piece of contemporary art and getting no further than the explanation on the wall, the premise is interesting for five minutes but one is left wondering whether if you had only tried harder new levels of meaning would have eventually presented themselves.

The second half of this pamphlet is given over to pieces that are more understandable, if less compelling or original. Loydell continues, however, to experiment broadly testing the boundaries of what imagery is ‘acceptable’ for use in a poem, his style is consistently broad and surprising. Like Burnhope, his overwhelming preoccupation in the latter half of this collection is imagery and immediacy over narrative structure. Yet he also brings less self-conscious subversive humour, there are moments when it is very clear he’s poking fun at his own analytical use of language. An example of this is in ‘Prayer Rug Exorcism’ where the juxtaposition of themes and images is both comically broad and cleverly cohesive. The same impenetrability pervades but it is again placed there deliberately, both to amuse and broaden the readers’ perspective on the imagery they engage with.

Like Lyra’s alethiometer in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, this poetry is best read from the corners of your mind: struggle too much for meaning and it will continue to allude capture. Let your mind float through the layers and you will suddenly find enlightenment, albeit incomplete and subjective, creeping up on you unseen.

‘Stations’ (ed. Cherry Potts)

In anthology on July 10, 2013 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by Rebecca Burns-

The backcover blurb for Stations states that that the anthology contains “[A] story for every station on the Overground line in East and South London […]”. There are twenty-four in all and the first point to be made about this collection is to note an absence – of a route map. For readers not living in London or familiar with the Overground Line, a visual aid as to how these stations (and stories) link together would have been very useful and might have provided a sense of cohesiveness to the collection as a whole.

Similarly, the inclusion of a brief biography of each author would have been welcome. I like to read more about the authors contained in an anthology, particularly if I’m struck by a certain story. It’s a personal preference, but one usually met in other anthologies.

Stations Arachne Press

The stories themselves vary in quality though are of similar length – around seven pages, some shorter, some longer; possibly the perfect length for a journey between stations. Carol Hardman’s ‘Bloody Marys and a bowl of Pho’ (Hoxton) is a modern-day, urban take on the vampire narratives so current at the moment. It is well-written and funny. ‘Platform Zero’ (Haggerston) by Michael Trimmer also offers a quirky version of another, familiar theme – that of the parallel universe. ‘The Beetle’ by Ellie Stewart (Wapping) is also well-paced and moving in its portrayal of a broken relationship. Peter Morgan’s ‘Mr Forest Hill Station’ (Forest Hill) also stands out due to its tender depiction of the bond between strangers, meeting occasionally in the big city.

A common theme the stories share is the sense of locale; all stories give a real sense of London’s enclaves, those small areas threaded together by transport links. In some stories the topography is described in minute detail: ‘ ‘Left out of the station entrance,’ she had said, ‘not far until a sort-of-small-road-kind-of-more-like-an-alley which you need to go down all the way, then through the gap-between-the-shops to cross the big street, then to the right for a bit until you get to a shop with a kind-of-old-fashioned-green-sign and some little writing in the window […].’ (‘Three Things to Do in Surrey Quays’, Adrian Gantlope). It is enlightening to the non-London resident to think of London in such small terms, as described above.

Many stories also focus upon the fragility and fleetingness of relationships. For example, Rob Walton describes an odd kind of love affair in ‘Yellow Tulips’ (New Cross Gate), between the narrator, and John and Alex. The affair itself seems unsatisfactory and temporary, based on hurried meetings. Walton is effective at capturing the instability of the relationship: ‘It is possible to live in a city, a town, a village, an area of a city for a short time and make new friends, close friends, have altogether deeper relationships. Without the shared past or common references you can dive into the here and now, establish a new sort of relationship, one you haven’t tried before. Do all the things you didn’t do in the other places you lived. Then move on and become a new you, or be one of the other yous [sic] in another new place.’

The difficulty in describing these kind of brief, random relationships, in short stories only a few pages long, is that the reader does not have long to inhabit the characters, to really get inside their skins and empathise with them as a friendship or love affairs shatter or flare into view. The writing has to be crisp, the author at the top of their game for a story so short and with such subject matter to resonate. Stories like ‘Yellow Tulips’ and ‘Mr Forest Hill Station’ achieve this, with their touching portrayal of how fragmented, passing moments can leave a lasting impression. In other stories where this is not achieved, the reader consumes them easily and moves on.

Perhaps this was the ambition of the editors: to meet the need of a busy commuter, seeking entertainment on their voyage in and out of the heart of the metropolis. To readers outside of London, some stories stand better than others, lingering past the journey’s end.

‘Lovers’ Lies’ (ed. Katy Darby and Cherry Potts)

In anthology on July 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

-Reviewed by Richard T. Watson

With a colourful, cheerful front cover, somewhat at odds with its ominous, dark-sounding title, Lovers’ Lies is a varied and multi-faceted anthology from Arachne Press. The lies – or stories – have all been contributed by members of the Liars’ League monthly events held in London (with franchises in Leeds, New York and Hong Kong), where the stories are read aloud by actors. Those appearing in Lovers’ Lies are united by the theme of love, and have been selected from five years of events.

Lovers' Lies Arachne Press

As you’d expect from asking a collection of writers to respond to such a wide-ranging theme, there’s a wealth of variety here. No two stories are quite the same, nor do they even seem to have much in common, except that someone feels love at some point. But the differences are actually an advantage, and as a result the anthology isn’t slavishly devoted to its theme; it has the freedom to take off on tangents and flights of fancy. Love is treated as a springboard rather than an anchor to hold the anthology in place.

The Lovers’ Lies are often short and snappy stories, quick to read but leaving a lasting, heartfelt impression. They deal perhaps with an obvious and common theme (”not another love story!” I hear you cry), but each story has a different take and few of them handle their theme in an obvious way.

Alright, so there’s some fairly standard boy-meets-girl stuff, for example Michael McLoughlin’s ‘The Sacred Duty of Mexican Mothers’ – which livens things up by having the boy almost more interested in seducing the girl’s mother, half an eye on persuading her to let him have a second date and more. That’s not to say that the sultry Mexican air doesn’t throb with some hormonal, teenage desire, but McLoughlin raises the bar with his boy who is ‘at least two steps ahead of any mother in Mexico’.

Alongside all that, though, there’s some thwarted desire – in ‘Takeaway’ by Alison Willis – some girl-meets-girl stories – like ‘Taking Flight’ by Catherine Sharpe and Jessica Lott’s ‘Dara’ – as well as doses of loneliness – in Mi L Holliday’s ‘Surf and Turf’ – and plenty of heartbreak – for example, in Clare Sandling’s ‘Under the Influence’ and ‘Monsieur Fromage’ by Rosalind Stopps. As the title may imply, that last one features a man selling cheeses, but it still manages to be a touching story of a marriage inevitably collapsing inwards despite the desperate desire to stay together.

In amongst the heartbreak, though, there’s some room for humour. Rosalind Stopps, with her other entry, supplies some of this in ‘How to Survive The Olympics With a Broken Heart’, providing its story through a series of tips specific to one particular break-up. It also captures some of the cynicism surrounding the London Olympics before they actually started and national euphoria kicked in. Meanwhile, there’s a certain dark humour in possibly the kinkiest story here, ‘By the Horns’, with its tragic Spanish matador role-play, courtesy of Darren Lee.

Lovers’ Lies, as a collection of love stories, doesn’t neglect the realm of high romance either. Co-editor Cherry Potts provides a story with overtones of Tennyson and epic loves played out across a lifetime in the surprisingly small and closed world of neighbouring farming estates. ‘Mirror’ takes place with the First World War in the distance, but able to act only as a sideshow to the real conflicts and dramas playing out in rural England and in the hearts of two men.

Not all of the types of love involved in Lovers’ Lies are passionate, romantic affairs, and it’s more true and balanced for that. So we’ve got the slow-burner love that’s more comfort than passion in ‘Mrs Murdoch and Mr Smith’ by Peter Higgins, or the decades-old love that overcomes impending death in Nathan Good’s ‘Games I’ve Played and the People I’ve Played Them With’. Then there’s the almost magic-realism of ‘Skin Deep’ (Michelle Shine, featuring a mermaid) or ‘This Isn’t Heat’ (Richard Smyth, featuring a Buddha statue playing Cupid in sweltering Manhattan), and the tolerance built up over years together in Rob Cox’s ‘Things’.

Rebecca Gould’s ‘Speaking in Tongues’ makes a good stab at capturing the changeable nature of love and the way a relationship can be seen so differently from different angles. In a rich, concentrated little story she touches on the divides between East and West and between men and women, but her protagonist is doing more than learning about the new culture she finds herself in; she’s learning about the man she loves and about love itself. More than that, she’s learning about truth and lies and the gap between translation, which isn’t quite either.

The final, redemptive twist of Jason Jackson’s ‘A Time and Place Unknown’, the last, sci-fi, entry in Lovers’ Lies, leaves the anthology with a final note of optimism. It ends by letting us believe that love is a force for good and that it can overcome time, space and perhaps even death itself. Over the course of its 138 pages Lovers’ Lies shows both the darker side of love and the way it brings out the best in us. If that was the intention of the Arachne Press editors, then they’ve done a fine job.

‘Anytime Return’ by Tom Wingfield

In Novel, Object on July 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm

-Reviewed by Charlotte Barnes

It seems a fair assessment that with the ever-growing levels of multi-cultural inhabitants that are housed by the United Kingdom, conflict amongst UK cultures is, some would argue inevitably, also seeing an increase. Years of immigration and integration have effectively blurred the lines surrounding the question of what cultural groups, or more specifically, which members from cultural groups, can now be termed ‘British’. Rather than racism softening towards those who have resided in this country for an extremely long period of time, it seems that the EDL attitude, if I may be so bold as to employ that term, transcends these considerations and, rather than allowing acceptance of those who have been a resident of the United Kingdom for some time, all this seems to do is spark more confusion and frustration; two states that are made particularly apparent thanks to the increased media coverage that exposes them. It would appear that, like so many other issues, racism is fast becoming more dominant within our society simply because of the attention that is now being showered upon it.

Given how prominent these ideas and topics are within not just the media and such like, but also in our actual lives, it comes as no surprise that writers are turning to literature to address this downwards spiral of discrimination.

In T. A. Wingfield’s recent publication, Anytime Return, we are taken on a journey littered with racism and harsh realisations for many of the characters, that offers an intriguing representation of life in today’s society.

The plotline of the tale is reasonably simple: we travel alongside young Declan Skinner, who seems to be entirely dominated by the over-bearing opinions of his father, who identifies himself as a member of the English Defence League. The creatively constructed pages follow their journey to Leicester, where Declan fraternises with brother Jason, who fails to meet their father’s approval for a number of reasons.

During this time, when Declan is not only reunited with his brother but is also introduced to his brother‘s multi-cultural friendship group, Declan begins to reassess the foundations on which his ideas and principles are built. This twist of events allows a personal revelation to occur within the character of Declan, forcing him to alter his perceptions of things and ultimately paving the way for an empowering end to this tale.

Not only is the plot itself extremely though-provoking, but the presentation within this short piece is also outstanding. Somewhere between prose and poetry, each page exhibits Wingfield’s clever manipulation of structure to complement elements of the tale, with each page providing something visually new. The occasionally hard-to-follow structure is perfectly suited to the goings-on within the text and there is more than one occasion when the presentation of the literature seems to directly mimic that which is being described, which is fascinating from both a literary and artistic perspective.

Interestingly, the pages themselves are not the only unique element of presentation, with the whole text being physically produced in an alien manner. The book is introduced with the disclaimer: ‘The publisher recommends the reader only reads the ‘lower’ page, turning the book when they get to the end.’ This seemingly strange advice becomes perfectly logical upon realising that these pages are not to be read in the typical manner in which one would usually read a book; this is something that will become clearer upon obtaining a hard copy of the text, which, by the way, I fully recommend.

Anytime Return Tom Wingfield

Anytime Return may be a short read, but it certainly packs something of a punch on the unsuspecting reader. Wingfield has created a brutally honest presentation of elements of the United Kingdom, and the variety of people that now reside within the country, and, for anyone interested in the current state of conflict that exists between these cultures, this book would be a worthwhile purchase. Despite my initial reservations, many of which were tied to the unfamiliar presentation of the text, Anytime Return was actually a true pleasure to read and I would indeed recommend this book to others looking for literature that opens both the eyes and the mind.

Anytime Return is a short but hard-hitting read that is a startling but brilliant reflection on the attitude held by those who brand themselves as real Britons, towards those who now inhabit the United Kingdom alongside them.

‘Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

In Pamphlets on July 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm

-Reviewed by David Clarke


The exploration of myths and folk and fairy tales was a significant feature of feminist writing among a generation of authors who came to prominence in the 1980s, such as Angela Carter and Marina Warner. Lucy Ayrton’s pamphlet Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry is based on her Edinburgh Fringe show of the same name, which received a 5-star review here at Sabotage. The print version is introduced with a short essay by the poet which places her work in the feminist tradition of re-imagining fairy-tales. Many stories told to children, she points, out are ‘hymn[s] to [the] passivity’ of their heroines, whereas Ayrton emphasises the need to ‘tell our daughters what we want them to hear’.

What arguably makes Ayrton’s poems and stories very much of the moment, however, is an acknowledgement of the ambiguity of the relationship between young women and feminism in the 21st century: while some distance themselves from the term ‘feminist’ in a culture which is increasingly hostile to women, Ayrton herself in her introductory essay acknowledges the attraction of the fantasies of passivity peddled both by traditional tales and contemporary media. The tension between the pressure to achieve acceptance through adherence to conventional notions of femininity, on the one hand, and the need for self-assertion and identity on the other is captured very well by the poem ‘Let Me Be Lost’. This text juxtaposes the fairy-tale world of imagination, with its ‘breadcrumb trails’ and ‘gingerbread houses’, and a contemporary reality in which self-control becomes oppressive conformity, geared as it is towards the demands of the (male) other: ‘I’ve been very busy lately, / eating organic rice cakes / and trying not to be a disappointment.’ Here the realm of fairy-tales, despite often placing young women in the role of passive victim (Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel get a look in here), ironically provides an attractive alternative to a world of weight-watching and dressing for the male gaze. And yet the resolution of the dilemma remains in the balance. Although we hope that the speaker will not stop ‘believing in magic’, in others words in the power of the imagination to overcome social norms and forge new identities, the poem does not let us assume that this will be the outcome.

In the ‘The China Figures’, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep’, we find a heroine who, despite the hero’s suggestion that they escape their conventional lives as ornaments on display, ultimately opts for security out of fear of the unknown. Ayrton is careful not to indulge in over-explanation here, so it is left to the audience to wonder why the shepherdess would behave in this way. The irony is, of course, that even the apparent ‘escape’ offered by the chimney sweep is only on his terms, and the poem strongly implies that it is the shepherdess who will have to put up with the most hardship in order for him to achieve his dream. There is no didacticism here, however: Ayrton allows the openness of the fairy-tale form to let readers reach their own conclusions.

The short story ‘Lucy and the Dragon’ provides a much-more upbeat view of gender relations, offering the positive female role model Ayrton proposes in her introduction. In this story, Lucy (with whom the writer clearly identifies!) is a peasant girl who can make it rain torrentially if she doesn’t get what she wants; a watery cross between Günter Grass’ Oskar Matzerath in The Tin Drum and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, perhaps. Through sheer force of will she gets to marry the (rather pathetic) prince and rule the kingdom as a socialist utopia.

Other poems in the pamphlet are more conventional in their treatment of lost love (for instance, ‘Bonfire Juice’) or take the fairy-tale theme in entirely different directions. ‘Talking to Strangers’ does not apparently have much to say about gender: beginning quite playfully with an account of a little boy’s encounter with a monster at the gates to Battersea Park, it ends with a disturbing scenario worthy of Roald Dahl. Despite these diversions, Ayrton’s voice remains consistent and distinctive.

Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry is published by Stewed Rhubarb Press, one of a growing number of indie publishers, including Burning Eye Books, who want to find ways to make the work of performance poets accessible in print form. The press is only a year old, but already has an intriguing range of publications to its name. Ayrton’s pamphlet is produced with attention to detail (I particularly love the dragon’s footprint on the inside back cover), and even includes notation for some of the music used in the performance. The big question for a reviewer who, like many potential readers, was not able to see the show, is whether the print version works as a stand-alone entity. Ayrton has made efforts to transfer some of the ‘feel’ of the performance into the pamphlet, for example by including footnotes which might well have been asides or jokes in the original show. This helps to convey a sense of the poet’s on-stage persona, which I imagine was key to the overall effect. Yes, we miss the music (a stave on a page does not really have the same impact), but Ayrton’s verse, although clearly meant to be read aloud, stands up well on the page. Following the rhythms of speech without dissolving into prose, and employing irregular rhyme schemes which propel the narratives without overwhelming them, she delivers her tales both efficiently and with a real sense of delight. Despite the serious issues it tackles, this pamphlet made me smile.