Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for the ‘anthology’ Category

‘Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës’ (ed. A. J. Ashworth)

In anthology, Poetry, Short Stories on September 17, 2013 at 10:30 am

-Reviewed by Rebecca Burns-

A.J.Ashworth, the editor of Red Room – a collection of short stories (and a poem) ‘all inspired by the Brontës, their lives, their work’ – writes in her introduction to the collection that ‘[t]he Brontës fascinate us’. There is no doubt this is the case, despite the passage of over a hundred and fifty years since the death of Charlotte, the last Brontë sister. Such continued adoration was recently evidenced by a story in the Telegraph, concerning the sale of a Charlotte Brontë letter, written to an admirer of Jane Eyre, which fetched around £24,000. It was with interest, then, and a shared love of some Brontë texts, that I approached Red Room, a collection of stories ‘written by some of the best short story writers in Britain today’.

Red Room Bronte

A percentage of the sales of the anthology will raise funds for The Brontë Birthplace Trust in Thornton. Trustees and readers will not be disappointed by their efforts. This is a marvellous little book; the stories themselves only take up about 120 pages, but they are brilliant evocations of the Brontë novels, poems, or scenes from their lives. The book contains a useful list of biographies at the end and – cleverly included by the editor – a collection of notes recording the inspiration behind the stories, helping the reader understand how each writer came to construct their story, and the Brontë novel/poem/experience that they took as their springboard.

A couple of the writers in the collection I was familiar with – Man Booker-shortlisted Alison Moore and Saboteur-nominated Tania Hershman. Moore’s story, ‘Stonecrop’ takes its inspiration from a line in Wuthering Heights, and portrays a timid, dominated young girl who turns out to be not so innocent or naïve after all. Hershman’s story, ‘A Shower of Curates’, takes the first lines of all the Brontë novels to create a mid-Victorian remembrance; that is, a kind of diary entry written by a nameless male. A fun exercise for the reader would be to go back to the Brontë novels and see where Hershman used the first lines and how they inspired her.

David Constantine’s ‘Ashton and Elaine’ is a hauntingly brilliant piece of writing, one of the best stories I have read this year. His intention had been to provide ‘a sort of utopian answering back against [the] cruelty’. He is achingly effective in depicting a damaged, broken child in Ashton, who had been hurt by people unknown to the extent that he ‘shook as though under the skin he was packed with raddling ice’. Mute though not uncommunicative, Ashton is sent to a children’s home, standing on the moors in a ‘scoop of frozen stillness’, in order to recover. Surrounded by snow and ice, he does not see desolation or isolation in the moors; instead, the snowfall opens up chinks in his silent defence – ‘nothing very concrete or easily describable, more like a shift of light over a surface of ice, snow or water.’ The rugged landscape of the moors emblemised the passionate relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights; in ‘Ashton and Elaine’, Constantine teases out the nurturing, less violent benefits of the moors. Ashton’s slowly developing relationship with Elaine and her family is handled tenderly, never mawkishly, even during the very moving scene when Ashton finally speaks. This is a lovely story, containing passages that I returned to and read again because of their understated beauty.

Equally powerful is Sarah Dobbs’ ‘Behind all the Closed Doors’, which ‘was written as an attempt to understand the grief that goes with losing a parent at such a young age.’ Dobbs doesn’t specify which – if any – Brontë novel or poem she singles out for inspiration, but the impact of her story loses none of its resonance for that. Through gradual hints and suggestions, we learn that young Henry’s mother has died. Random adults care for him, an uncle who ‘looks a bit like Dad. If Dad’s features had been smudged away like the numbers on the board’. Henry’s life has disintegrated. He goes to sleep dressed in his school uniform. In a powerful reflection of the family’s now-shattered life, he cuts his mother’s favourite book – presumably Wuthering Heights – to pieces. Although riddled with grief, the story has comic passages (said uncle, mashing eggs in the kitchen smells of ‘poo and pepper’), and captures the probing, inquisitive nature of a child’s bereavement.

Felicity Skelton’s imagining of an amorous meeting between Charlotte Brontë and Napoleon is also well written (‘The Curate’s Wife – A Fantasy’); Simon Armitage’s poem, ‘Emily B’ is disarmingly subtle yet powerful with its portrait of the Brontë sister. A gorgeous opening: ‘Too much rain/in the blood. Too much/cloud in the lungs.’

If I were a Trustee of The Brontë Birthplace Trust, I would be proud to have Red Room as a means of raising funds. This is a fantastic collection of stories, a real treat for all Brontë-lovers and for those who simply love a good read.


We Don’t Stop Here (ed. by Ivy Alvarez)

In anthology on September 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by Holly Jazz Kotzé


Reading a poetry pamphlet based on Mulholland Drive is a bit like having a dream about a dream that someone else once had that told you about it in another dream you once had before.

As a fan of the film and of David Lynch myself, I found that reading this pamphlet brought about a constant flow of triggered reminders, snap shots of memory of a film that I love and characters and scenes that I felt like I knew long ago. “The opening poem ‘Go Somewhere With Me’ by Collin Kelley gives us the beginning and the end all at once in the first lines with:

‘I’d follow you until I split into,
two smiles in my good girl purse,’

Later in the same poem the Club Silencio scene is recast to sum up perfectly the moment when everything changes while still bringing you back to the haunting atmosphere of that song:

‘so the night you take me clubbing
at 2am and the seizures come,
shocking me out of this reverie,
that you will never love me,
will leave me… llorando…’

And it’s nice that throughout this pamphlet there’s focus on characters outside of the main storyline such as the director and that scene where he comes back to find his wife in bed with someone else and his revenge is to pour paint into her jewellery box . The poems are playful and thankfully free of pretension. As a piece of fandom it’s spirited and brimming with detail, especially seen in Emilie Zoey Baker’s numbered ‘No Hay Banda. There Is No Band’, which charts our way from beginning to end of the film and had me smiling all the way through:

‘4. Black slides out of his mouth.

6. He swings into Mulholland Drive, his wife is
covered in ripples but the pool is as still as a skull.
Her jewellery turns strawberry milk pink.

10. Night winds blow the lovers and they
land in red velvet. Everything is a recording.

8. The audition.
There was so much breath in the room it
would relax an asthmatic.’

‘Lip Synching’ by Juliet Cook is playful in its form and rhythm and dances around the lip synching theme which is a nod to the ‘This Is The Girl’ singing audition scene in the film.  The lines change around in each stanza, until the reality has shifted to something else entirely.

‘This is the girl

with the shimmering blue box
so blue and cold and gloomy
with her sequins shimmied off
so blue and hot and doomy
with her shape-shifting mirage
another screen test another dream
desperate suckling of key-shaped pricks


so blue and hot and doomy
with her cream beginning to clot
with geriatric insects floating to the top
they clink her limbs sting her sickly sweet
girl-on-girl mirage   balloon the jitters
the cryptic jitterbug contest dream
in which her fingers spread   her blue nails shed
like dead sequins in a key-shaped can
in another indiscreet screen test
desperate suckling of the metal rim’
Karen Head takes a slightly different approach in her poem ‘Amnesia’. Instead of referring directly to the film she talks about the experience of watching the film in a cinema with older ladies tutting at the lesbian scenes. The image of watching this film at the cinema is itself a little play on the theme of people playing characters and she gets nicely meta as she refers to the actors themselves as she writes:

‘In the movies,
everything is illusion.
Watts and Haring play
Betty and Rita, are Diane and Camilla,
and in reality we can be
anyone we want –’

The theme of illusion and dreams is fervent throughout but I cannot stress enough how jam-packed this little pamphlet is with everything in between these dreams too. Every line is like a strobe that throws light on a scene you’d forgotten about, but that’s not to say that these poems don’t stand up on their own merit. It’s hard to tell what someone who has not seen the film would make of these poems, I’m quite sure a lot would just go over the head but like the film itself, you don’t necessarily have to understand what’s going on (indeed it took me about 4 viewings to understand the twist) to appreciate the imagery and humour and tension. The film aside, parts of the last poem ‘Untitled’ by Esther Johnson stand up alone:

‘Without the blinking light
Perhaps then things would be mundane
But which is more terrifying?

Roy Orbison for the end of a dream
Just one way your heart can break
How many is too many?’


Deep River Apartments, ed. by Ivy Alvarez

In anthology on September 16, 2013 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by John Canfield


Having already published chapbook anthologies tackling Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, The Private Press have now delved further back into David Lynch’s oeuvre to his 1986 noir thriller Blue Velvet (what’s the statute of limitations on spoiler warnings, by the way?). As Alvarez says in her introduction “It is not easy to leave a mystery alone”, which neatly explains why Lynch’s film has endured for so long, with its enigmatic mixture of black humour, Lynchian surrealism, strikingly grisly imagery and quotability. This also makes it a pretty ripe subject for poetry.

The eight poets involved have come at the film in a variety of ways. Shann Palmer’s opener ‘In five minutes’ uses only dialogue from the film, but with a brevity and subtle employment of rhyme that make for an arresting opening. J.L. Thompson and Dionisio Velasco both tackle the scene of Jeffrey as voyeur, hiding in Dorothy Vallens’s closet (within the titular Deep River Apartments). Thompson takes a straightforward descriptive approach, but Velasco writes from the first person and mirrors the film in making us complicit in the act: “Dark shadow/slats line my face. O/to get an eye full/of you, baby”, going on to subtly conjure up the erotic and illicit thrill from what is witnessed.

Later, back in the same room, Elaine Borthwick’s ‘Bullet from a Gun’ focuses in on the grisly fate of the Yellow Man and his gravity defying post-mortem posture: “The miracle is I’m still standing, fuckers!” It’s brief, but succinctly conjures the bizarre horror of the scene as we hear the “disembodied voices” from the police radio in the dead man’s jacket.

The image that is perhaps most often associated with the film, is that of the ant covered ear Jeffrey finds in the grass, and it’s unsurprisingly referenced by a number of the poets. In her second contribution, J.L. Thompson again opts for a more straightforward, but strikingly descriptive approach in ‘A Decidedly Undomesticated Appendage’, as it crouches “crablike and belligerent…a turncoat clad in mold”. Sam Rasnake approaches and investigates the ear in A Fable, but with a keen sense of the subtext of the image as he shows us: “a single ear lost in a field,/unable to translate the ants/marching through”, observing that this ear is no longer able to hear the “screams/of desire from the dark/throttle of bodies”. It’s an evocative poem that impressively manages to encompass the themes of the film in an economical 14 lines, and as the chapbook’s closing poem, makes for a strong finale.

Jennie Cole’s ‘An Ear for Music’ also makes reference to the stray lobe, but uses it more as a springboard to explore fragments of image and dialogue from the film. This is the chapbook’s most stylistically fractured poem, elliptical and heavily tabulated and not overly concerned with a comprehensible narrative. In this sense you could argue it is the closest in tone to the film itself, throwing in seeming non sequiturs, refrains, things that almost make sense but don’t really, back stories never fully filled in. Appearing mid-way it provides a pleasing tonal and stylistic shift and it takes in a much broader view of the film as a whole.

Another poem that takes more of an overview is Angela Readman’s ‘After the Robins’, starting with the film’s conclusion: “We’ll end it there, with birdsong at a window,/opening bone envelopes that can only hold love” then widening out to an interrogation of Jeffrey and Sandy’s bizarre courtship throughout the film. The poem’s strength is in its ability to conjure up Lynch’s imagery of the “fences painted porcelain white” then to puncture that picture of suburban perfection with the darkness that lurks behind and beneath it: “Because all it could take is an oldie between stations,/to snip the neat seams of our street, hand me back/naked to a brunette asking ‘if I was a bad man, who wanted/to do bad things?’” Readman then returns to that concluding image, but using it, as Lynch does, to unsettle us: “But we’ll just end it there, with a robin at our window,/say nothing of beetles spilling blackly from its beak”.

The ear crops up once more in Kirsten Irving’s standout poem ‘Suave Ben’s Panic Box’, this time extrapolating on how it came to become detached: “Clean off/with Frank’s blade, the bound man/screaming like a she-cat”. Irving’s approach is to fill in the potential back story of Dean Stockwell’s enigmatic cameo as Suave Ben. Surprisingly, it’s the one poem in the book that really touches on the horror that is Frank Booth and the fear he provokes in those around him. Irving speculates how Ben might truly feel whenever Booth decides to visit: “You do not flinch. As gassed as he always is,/at the first sniff of fear or dissent,/Frank is a trapdoor spider”.

Irving’s confident language puts us, trembling, into Suave Ben’s position and gives us a glimpse into the inner life of those caught up in this psychotic whirlwind. In Frank’s absence: “Ben screams, snots and cries/into the soft lining” but, as survival dictates, upon his arrival: “the deathmask back on,/he obediently boots a dying man in the groin”.

Irving leaves us with the final queasy image of Ben “miming Orbison’s In Dreams/swaying with clownish sorrow/as Frank claps, listens like a child,/tears running freely down his face” highlighting the contradictions within them both. It’s a strange world, indeed, and just as Lynch does, Irving puts us right in the centre of it, horrified, but unable to look away.

For any poetry loving David Lynch fans – and I’m guessing that particular Venn crossover section is reasonably well populated – this is a smartly produced chapbook that pleasingly compliments the film, but also stands confidently on its own and gives us an opportunity to glide through this disconcerting world from a number of different perspectives. Can we have Eraserhead, Wild at Heart and Lost Highway now, please?

‘London Lies’ (ed. Cherry Potts & Katy Darby)

In anthology, Short Stories on September 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm

-Reviewed by Claudia Haberberg-

The Liars’ League is a monthly live literature night held in central London, where actors read stories that have been written for the event. I specify this for those who, like me, are not particularly hip to the live literature scene. London Lies is a collection of stories by nineteen authors who have been showcased in the event’s six-year lifespan, and pays homage to the city where it has made its home.

London Lies Arachne Press

There is a lot to be done with a theme of ‘London‘, even for those authors who do not live here. As someone who was born and brought up in London, and has lived there for the best part of 26 years, it would have been easy to take it somewhat personally if this collection had in any way failed to deliver. Luckily, this is one of the most enjoyable story collections I’ve had the pleasure of reading in several years.

It is clear that the Liars’ League is a select group. Each piece, lasting only a few pages, boasts a completeness that only an accomplished writer can achieve. The breadth of styles, settings and subject matter is excellent. We have repeat viewings of the same film; we have a ‘two blokes in a pub’ story gone horrifically wrong; we have a football riot and a street party of two; we have an apocalypse scenario and a mysterious plague. Many writers have published more than one story in this same book, and they are skilfully arranged – and written – so that we are never given a chance to tire of one person’s voice.

In some ways, the consistently high quality of London Lies makes it difficult to review. Every time I have sat down to start writing, I’ve wanted to highlight different stories. I will, however, begin with a constant favourite: as a lover of fairytales, I particularly enjoyed Emily Cleaver’s ‘The Frog’, a 21st century re-imagining of the story of the Frog Prince. It is, by turns, disturbing and sad, bringing some of the realities of modern dating into harsh relief. Several stories in this anthology are about romance and dating, but this was by far my favourite – like London, it is older than the hills at the same time as being new.

Those stories that are either faintly surreal, or introduce an element of the bizarre to an otherwise regular situation, are the ones that have stayed with me most easily. ‘The Escape’ (Cleaver again), in which an ordinary London market is introduced to the bull chases of Seville by a strange and ill-conceived prank, is one of the more memorable. ‘Rat’ (Liam Hogan), a story about talking rats, reminded me of nothing so much as Terry Pratchett, but the concept of every Londoner having a rat familiar was sweet and the twist in the tale was very well presented.

This is not to say that the more realistic stories are less impressive. There was something sweetly convincing about the idea of riot police turning up to a street party held in the rain (‘O Happy Day’, David Bausor); something thrilling about Simon Hodgson’s ‘Thieves We Were’, a story of Irish gangsters in the 1930s; and something horribly compelling and familiar about David Mildon’s ‘Red’, in which children of football fans are taunted simply for cheering for the ‘wrong’ team. This last, in particular, shows how unfriendly and forbidding this city can be to those who’ve come from outside. This story was immediate, well-paced, and left plenty of food for thought.

If someone asked me to define London, I would unhesitatingly point to the ethnic and cultural diversity of its population. One of the things I love most about my city is that people from all over the world, and from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, rub shoulders together on a daily basis. If anything is missing from London Lies, it is a firm sense of that diversity. The love stories appear to focus on heterosexual couples, and any characters from minority ethnic backgrounds tend to be incidental. I would love to see a little more of the richness of London’s people in future anthologies from the Liars’ League.

[Ed: Review edited to credit David Bausor for ‘O Happy Day’]

‘Lines Underwater’ (ed. Laura Seymour, Kirsten Tambling)

In anthology on August 26, 2013 at 9:08 am

-Reviewed by Caroline M. Davies


People have been writing about mermaids for centuries but Lines Underwater is an anthology which brings the mermaid into the twenty-first century. 

It started as a collaborative project, Poems Underwater, between Laura Seymour and Kirsten Tambling early in 2013 with visits to three places in th UK replete with mermaid histories and stories. They decided to invite other artists and writers to contribute to the project, resulting in over forty contributors to the book covering a range of disciplines.  It offers exactly what I would want from an anthology; fresh work from writers with whom I was already familiar and an introduction to new voices.

Lines underwater also includes multi-media elements. There are scannable barcodes so you can access songs and short films. These are also available via the website if, like me, you don’t have a smart-phone. Twitter finds its way into one of the short stories, #mermaidsrock by Piotr Cieplak, a witty and cautionary tale about our continuing obsession with monarchies and celebrities. I read it whilst all the fuss was going on in the UK media about the birth of a British royal baby. Cieplak’s story provides a new twist through the inclusion of social media and even the mermaids are not what you’d expect.

The anthology is organised into four chapters covering various aspects of mermaids in story and myth: ‘Stories of washed up things, ‘Nets, nerves and wires’, ‘Bricked in and crossing borders’ and ‘Skin, scales, skirts’. Rebecca Gethin’s poem gives us the fisherman who carved The Mermaid Chair at St St Senara’s church in Zennor;

‘Vicar assumed he must have communed
with an angel, asked him to carve what he’d seen.’

Katie Hale reclaims the Sirens from being wicked women who lure men to destruction into much more sympathetic creatures:

‘We couldn’t help ourselves but sing.
To see men’s faces lift,
and hope rekindle in their eyes –
who wouldn’t give the gift.’

The deaths of the sailors in Siren’s Song are a peaceful release and this was a poem I kept going back to for a re-read.

Mermaids are used as a metaphor for contemporary issues and dilemmas. Most memorably, Jo Stanley’s ‘Adaptation’ recasts the mermaid as a WAG, the girlfriend of a racing driver undergoing surgery to transform her tail into legs. It provides an incisive commentary on celebrity culture and cosmetic surgery and also includes veterans from the war in Afghanistan and transgender surgery:

“Mainly I visited Stella, who was in supported housing in Slough. She was feeling lonely for all that some of her army mates visited between tours. Seeing their injuries upset her but she loved feeling one of the boys again, as they tried to drink themselves sane.”

Like much of the work this is a long way from the somewhat clichéd traditional view of a mermaid as an enchanting woman with a fish tail. Lines underwater is by turns playful, thought-provoking and above all packed with original work.

I leave the final say with Charlotte Higgins’ ‘Ariel’:

‘No one ever told you
that you cannot sing these new words
any more than a man can waltz on the surface of the sea.’




‘Not on our green belt’ (ed. Lindsey Holland)

In anthology on August 23, 2013 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by Lettie Mckie

‘A selection of Britain’s best contemporary poets united against green belt development’


Traditionally poetry and political activism are not pursuits that naturally go hand in hand. Poets are, by and large, considered by society to be quiet reflective thinkers, musing on events after they’ve happened, rather than taking an active role in shaping them. Poets are, in fact, much more often known for either glorifying an event (Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’) or damning it (Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’). However in Britain there is also a long history of poets using their work to speak out and embrace the most controversial and life changing of subjects. From Shelley’s reaction to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 (‘The Masque of Anarchy’) to the ground breaking work of Jamaican poet James Berry (who settled in London in the 1940s) poets have shaped the way we see and understand our 21st century world, the work they produce impacting upon our attitudes and informing our political stance.

This well considered and thought-provoking anthology sends a firm, but gentle, message of a peculiarly British type of protest. Subtitled ‘Poets against Green Belt Development’ the book protest against the threat of building onto protected belts of countryside. Contributors to this book are therefore united not by style but by a clear political and ideological viewpoint. The result is a charming plethora of impassioned approaches to a subject which is clearly close to each poet’s heart. The collection reads like a manifesto, an emotive argument which opposes the threat of over development in the countryside.

The diversity of approach to subject matter is certainly the most successful element of this collection. Some poets (such as Brian Wake in ‘Trees’) tell ‘before and after’ stories of the destruction of the countryside, focusing in on the unpleasant characters and economic attitudes they deem responsible, highlighting a widespread and wanton disregard for the future of the countryside. Wake highlights the frustrating inaction and procrastination of ‘the men from the Council’ who are ‘salaried by our concerns’ and warns ‘They are killing trees, we say and you will not see the wood for dead trees’. Similarly Sarah James in ‘Unelemental’ tells the story of a remote country house which slowly gets sucked into an ever growing town. This contrast between the freshness and purity of the countryside and the hot, sweaty putrefaction of the town is an on-going image that crops up in many guises throughout the collection (Cathy Bryant’s ‘Termite Nation’, Sarah Hymes’ ‘Handiwork’). This contrast is perhaps a little too simplistic but the point is clear, the countryside is immeasurably rich, a source of comfort and a life blood for many. Bryant’s poem in particular succinctly extols these benefits but is slightly overstated:

While in red rage and desiring revenge
Became leavened by time and light…
Through the soft hushings of trees?’

Other poets employ more abstract forms to glorify an existing or a remembered countryside. Angela Topping in ‘Duke’s Clough’, Andrew Forster in ‘The Cottage’ and Lindsey Holland in ‘We’ll Give You Walls’ all evoke beautifully detailed childhood recollections to express a sense of loss and decay. Some of the best poems in the collection focus in on natural life disturbed by the human hand (Valerie Laws’ ‘Chainsaw Massacre’) or an exploration of our deep-seated need for a connection to nature (Polly Atkin’s ‘Room’, Alyson Hallett’s ‘Unremote’). Law’s sonnet beautifully evokes both a passion for the countryside and her horror at its destruction;

‘I would hope to see
Green buds on boughs that shake against the cold
I hear the growling chainsaw gnaw each tree’

Elsewhere, Ira Lightman protests much more directly, pitting himself and his cause against a faceless and oppressive establishment (‘Rob the Hoodie’). This poem is less easy to sympathise with because it requires the reader to share his political and societal views.


Another successful aspect of the collection is the cohesive voice of the protestors. Each poet’s love of the countryside has deep roots (often through childhood memories developed into a lifelong need for fresh air and a connection to the earth) and together the poems generally focus not on aggressively asserting their cause, but a calm glorification of the world they are trying to protect. Although this can sometimes spill over into sentimentality, in general the book’s peaceful message of love for what we have (and a deep seated desire to keep it safe) is what makes it compelling.

Although the poetry in this collection is thought provoking and passionate there is an ingrained assumption that Green Belt Development will result in the total disappearance of the countryside (Geraldine Monk’s ‘Lines After William Blake’, Alec Newman’s ‘Constable Country’). So many of the poems focus on total catastrophe and annihilation as the ultimate consequence of any development, but what is the factual evidence to support this essentially emotional argument? The ideology behind these largely fantastic poems is let down because the question of the appropriate level of fear over the countryside’s future is never addressed. If we take these poems at face value the threats they describe are imminent, but this is an assumption on the part of the authors and no proof is given.

An unsettling and challenging read, this impassioned collection celebrates the countryside that exists both in reality and in our minds. The arguments expressed within these poems are fuelled by the love these poets have for their countryside and the resulting value that they place upon its survival.

‘Green’ (ed. Melanie Villines & Joan Jobe Smith)

In anthology on August 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

-Reviewed by Linda Legters

The Green Anthology comes on the heels of Silver Birch Press’s Saboteur Award-nominated Silver Anthology published in 2012. It, like the one before it, is a treasure trove.

Green Anthology Silver Birch Press

Editors Melanie Villines and Joan Jobe Smith have gathered poems, stories, fables and memoirs from some seventy contributors who recalibrate green. From across the centuries come writers as disparate as Henry VIII and Kurt Vonnegut, Andrew Marvell and Steven Kuhn, Amy Lowell and Jax NTP. Their work – their play – take us to green aspects of nature and our gardens, of course, but also to shades of money, envy, luck, love and food. The Green Anthology is a rich feast.

Villines writes in her introduction that, ‘my esthetic preference was to look at one thing in many different ways […] the thematic resonance helps the component parts fit into some larger architecture […] making the material more meaningful.’ The associations we have with color are both individual and universal, and we know, of course, that with literature we see things from angles we might not otherwise consider.

Readers may be especially enchanted when a writer casts a different light across a familiar concept or object, large or small, such as green. As I read and write this from my cottage, I might not have noticed exactly the way, after an unusually rainy spring and summer, vegetation pushes in at the windows and doors, or, as Gaia Holmes writes in ‘The Glass House’, ‘the world is plump and curved/full of juice and spectrums.’ A few pages later, Andrew Marvell offers the enigmatic, ‘Annihilating all that’s made/To a green thought in a green shade,’ in his ‘The Garden’. And to think I had only been thinking of how much pruning I needed to do.

When considering love, there is Henry VIII, offering fidelity, yes, fidelity, in ‘Green Groweth the Holly’:

As the holly groweth green
And never changeth hue,
So I am, ever hath been,
Unto my lady true.

But there is also Joe Hakim, in ‘Mind the Gap’, who may have his mind where we would expect to find Henry’s:

I see her
arms folded across a sea-green top
I see her
legs emerge from her skirt
like a run of good luck.

Naturally, if there is a discussion of green, there is going to be a discussion of money. Al Basile finds funds tantalizing in ‘How I Learned the Value of Money’, as his young narrator gazes at dimes and nickels resting in his uncle’s palm. Far more alarming, the narrator of Conrad Romo’s ‘Pillow Talk’, has discovered the danger of money by getting caught up in pyramid schemes.

For such a luxurious color, it is surprising the degree to which some writers find green disconcerting. Here we have Stephen Kuhn’s ‘Green’:

and green becomes the first fireworks I ever saw,
blasting memory,
shimmering, percussive streaks of the novel new:

Against this is this from JAX NTP’s ‘neurosity lxxxviii’: ‘my anxiety has a baby rattlesnake in it’ which curls through our inside. Also worrying is Joyce in The Dubliners: ‘I saw a man approaching from the far end of the field . . . He was shabbily dressed in a suit of greenish-black . . . When he passed at our feet he glanced up at us quickly . . .’ All green, but one neon, one slithering, and one threadbare.

The Green Anthology, dedicated to that greatest of green, Graham Greene, stands upon his belief that, ‘The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer, you see—every scrap’. Clearly, the editors understand this is also true of color. Villines and Smith seem to be on a journey that celebrates color, last year silver, this, green. Perhaps next year, they will tackle my favorite, blue, or yours.

‘Time’ (ed. Sam Rawlings)

In anthology, Short Stories on August 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

-Reviewed by Charlotte Barnes

Time, a relatively new publication from Lazy Gramophone Press, is a unique and endearing collection of prose and poems that have been perfectly paired with complementary artwork. This outstanding collection has successfully drawn together different forms of art, marrying talent in literature and drawing, painting and photography, in order to compile accounts and anecdotes relating to one of mankind’s favourite topics: the union between living life and exactly how much time we have to do so.

Commendation must first be delivered to the editor of this collection, Sam Rawlings, for making such marvellous decisions and for working so closely with an impressive array of skilled artists on this novel concept.

Time cover Sam Rawlings Lazy Gramaphone

The anthology opens with a central story; this effectively lays the foundations for the texts and images that will follow, and the pattern in which they will appear. The short opening for the text explains that the main body of the publication is sectioned into three life periods, childhood, adolescence-adulthood, and old age, and while these sections exist independently of each other, there are frequent and fragile ties that serve to loosely bind one narrative to another, which is a fascinating element to track. Whether it is the use of the same name or merely a hint at the reappearance of a character through a subtle description, there is something that will intricately link one story to another story, or perhaps even to a poem, which will ultimately lead to a link with the central story.

While the basic principles sound somewhat complex on paper, when you observe them being applied in the book, they are not only refreshingly unique but also quite captivating.

I found myself enjoying the contents more as I progressed through the life periods, however there are some truly outstanding pieces to be found in the earlier sections. ‘Eibar’, written by Sam Rawlings and illustrated by Carl Laurence, who incorporates great realism to the piece through his inspired diagram of the main character, was an entry that stood out from the crowd of childhood not simply for its length (it is rather long) but also for its depth of emotion and complete ability to hook the reader into the storyline and life of the central character, who you can empathise with from the opening paragraph. ‘Lemur’, by Guy J Jackson, and ‘Macaulay, My Nephew & Me’, by Inua Ellams, were also welcome additions, with Maria Drummey’s ‘Painting in a Certain Sky’ providing what felt like an appropriate close to this life chapter due to her poignant recollections and rich descriptions, which are further enriched by the accompaniment of Emma Day’s simplistic artwork which complements this piece.

There is an obvious shift in tone that appears in adolescence-adulthood, one that is particularly apparent in Kirsty Alison’s entry, ‘Oscar Wilde Said Youth is Wasted on the Young – so Let’s Get Wasted’, which is illustrated by the talented Lola Dupre who provides a thought-provoking representation of society‘s youths.. This hilarious submission marks a clear transition between the previous age and the one we are now moving into, which is not only amusing and perhaps a little embarrassing, but also somewhat poignant. In truth, all entries into this section warrant commendation for exploring troubling and unavoidable times in this period of life, including the complex emotions that are bound to those character-defining times. While I enjoyed each entry, I do feel inclined to admit my particular adoration for Jo Tedds’ ‘Orphans of the Order’, illustrated by Paul Bloom; these two artists combine their collective talent to create an outstanding contribution that I think many readers will recall long after they have finished reading the collection.

Time story Lazy Gramaphone

For me, old age was the superior age chapter. Both the prose and poetry entirely pulled me into these hilarious, poignant and saddening tales, all of which are equipped with yet more fabulous illustrations that allow these submissions to grow even further off the page. Charlie Cottrell’s ‘Losing It’ was absolutely marvellous! My heartstrings were well and truly plucked within my chest from the beginning of the tale, only to be left feeling somewhat out of tune at the end of the story (something you’ll understand when you read it); this story also provided a clear reference back to the central story, introduced to the reader some two-hundred pages previously. ‘The Dash In-between’, by Claire Fletcher, was another favourite and was, in my opinion, nothing short of inspiring; it is a heart-warming demonstration of the concept of ‘as one door closes, another one opens’, explored in a exceptional and touching manner.

With a short and unexpected burst of poetry and final illustrations the collection is brought to an unwelcome end as you are left with lingering questions, most of which relate to the central story (which I have deliberately withheld information about). ‘Ocean’, a poem written by Sorana Santos is littered with love, faith and empowerment and is a perfect addition to the closing moments of this anthology, complemented greatly by the artistic contribution provided by Kaitlin Beckett, who, alongside Santos, also explores the wonder of the ocean in a visually captivating manner. The final illustration contained in the collection, which is to accompany the poem ‘The Fires’, written by Liz Adams, is aesthetically pleasing in many ways and would certainly be a welcome addition to the wall of any modern art enthusiast. It is a truly outstanding piece that is certainly lingering about in my top five examples of visual art contained within this exciting collection.

Time is a fascinating collection littered with not only wonderful literature but also fabulous illustrations that ultimately make it a credit to any book-lover’s shelves. Lazy Gramophone Press have done a splendid job in combining different styles of art and entangled them through the bond of a common narrative, or at least elements of a common narrative, that allow these pieces to stand united as well as independently. I sincerely hope that there will be another venture similar to this in the future.

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.

‘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.