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Here Comes Everyone: The Heroes Issue

In Blogzines, Magazine, online magazine on December 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

 

-Reviewed by Jonny Aldridge

 Heroes-Issue-Cover-719x1024-300x336

The Heroes Issue is the second offering of poetry, short stories, and non-fiction from an embryonic community-led magazine called Here Comes Everyone, and published by the not-for-profit Silhouette Press. As I am usually a sucker for the literary canon, I was excited to read the cutting-edge works of unknown writers: I expected vigorous, irreverent prose and compact, personal poetry.

My expectations piqued during the editorial introduction, which—via Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Dambusters, Genghis Khan, and David Attenborough—teased out many of the key issues within the theme. Heroes, it was suggested, can be humanitarians, inventors, “people who brought great social change”, or more mysteriously “a facet of an idealised person who I wish I was”. There was considerable space given to the idea that it is one’s perception of heroism which is paramount over the hero himself, and it was promising to hear the editor muse that “an individual’s personal heroes can say much about them”.

As a literary blogger who has considered the role of heroism and ‘superhumanism’ in modern times, I think that this is a satisfactorily nuanced reading of the hero. So I suppose what I desired after this editorial was what anyone desires from a themed magazine: an impressive range of creative responses which combat, elude and explore the idea. Read individually, the pieces I was given didn’t really do this. The poetry was mainly a slightly flabby form of free verse, and approached the theme from the rather conventional perspectives of war heroes and celebrity culture. The short stories were a little underwhelming in their character/plot and literary texture: they tackled the “Olympian guts” it takes to jump into a swimming pool, the militant nationalism of “Ireland’s heroic martyrs”, and the everyday heroism of a busy father.

However, when read as a group, the pieces did begin to say something very interesting. They showed such a vast range of human emotion and expression that it made me feel like I was dipping into strangers’ minds as I passed them on the street: there was a woman who evidently fancied her martial arts instructor, a man who wished he were Perseus, and a man with separation anxiety retained since childhood. There were also some standout pieces, namely the ones which approached the theme in innovative, oblique ways—i.e. that alluded to heroes or heroism without having to write “he was a hero to me that day” or the like.

Emily Densten’s short story ‘Smile for me’ playfully describes the narrator’s imagined rant at a man who tells her to “smile, sweetheart” as she waits for a tube. I took her “dreamed” cathartic tirade (“I’m not here to be set decoration for you”) to be an exploration of everyday timidity; that is, why people can find it so difficult to “stand up for themselves, finally, for once”, let alone act heroically.

Another favourite was ‘Hard Times For Tolerance’ by Ben Nightingale, the first opinion piece by HCE’s regular columnist, which was a stinging defence of “freedom of speech” against “jihadis who would take it away from us [and] those among us who are determined we should cave in and give it away”. As I am a generally tolerant person, Mr. Nightingale had a hard task of convincing me that the best way of combating the religious intolerance of Islamist fundamentalism was with religious intolerance of Islam. However, his “consciousness-raising exercise”—supposing that the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon had instead been about The Koran—was entertaining enough to retain my attention in spite of his more controversial claims. Furthermore, HCE is evidently achieving its aim of creating a communal space for literary types, as contributor Eugene Egan has already commented on Mr. Nightgale’s piece online: “He made me question some of the things I’ve taken for granted which is excellent.”

On a less positive note, it was very off-putting to find multiple errors of spelling, punctuation and syntax. It detracts from the writing, betrays sloppy writing and neglectful editing, and produces an unpleasurable reading experience. Needless to say, if one is a literary type one should take care not to write “pixcelation” or “men who’s ambition”. Having said that, I was intrigued and amused by the image of pigeons cooing “Like wantons retuning home for supper”. I was happy to overlook the magazine’s slightly-lacking design—it hasn’t got the gothic style of Popshot magazine (‘Birth’ issue out now), nor the slick minimalism of Peninsula magazine (only one issue published, called ‘Visitation’)—but these mistakes are unforgivable.

All in all, Here Comes Everyone’s Heroes Issue is a promising prospect which just doesn’t quite get to where it wants. However, as a “network and resource point for people who want to get involved in the world of publishing and the arts”, HCE and Silhouette Press seem to be attempting something worthwhile; to which end, you can find out more at herecomeseveryone.me and @HereComesEvery1.

 

 

‘Fleeting Magazine’

In Blogzines, online magazine, Website on June 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm

-Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey

‘We like daring, lucid, erudite, amusing and infectious writing,’ writes the editor of the online fleeting magazine, Matt Shoard, a Kent University creative writing lecturer. There’s also an endorsement by one critic: ‘Some of the most stylish and provocative new writing online’, so I delve further.

The first thing to strike me is the series of arresting and startlingly beautiful photographs which are mostly by staff photographer Miss Aniela. These are attached to certain pieces of writing, creating a strange and interesting conversation between the two. I especially liked the one accompanying ‘Afternoon’ (a black and white image of a young guy almost up to his chest in a lake) and the photo going with ‘The Distance Between These Things’ – a thought-provoking image, which shows two drenched figures, heads hanging back, maybe from a raised trampoline. All sorts of moods are possible.

The About page also introduces the rest of the fleeting staff: poetry editor Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, who has edited three other journals and is a published poet; David Whelan, a journalist who has written for the Guardian, Times, Sunday Times and Independent, who does the author interviews; David Miller, who won Literary Agent of the year in 2008, is a consultant; Dan Hales, editorial assistant, is an English and Creative Writing student at the University of Kent.

On the clean, clear Submissions page, we are told that fleeting has an acceptance rate of less than 1% – now there’s a challenge! But they helpfully add that you’ll hear from them within a few days, so no agonized wait. There’s also ‘a taste of what works’ and an invitation to ‘look around’ which takes the reader to poems and short fiction that has not only been published in the magazine but has also won or been shortlisted for ‘The best short writing in the world’ award, run by fleeting magazine. You can read the winners and shortlisted work on the Prizes page.

There’s also editorial advice offered – visit The Clinic, and for a startlingly reasonable fee of £2 you can have your poem critiqued. The feedback is impressive, with a list of testimonials, one of which reads: ‘This was the most detailed and exciting feedback I have ever received ‘.

Four pieces of fiction which I found compelling were ‘The Financial Lives of the Poets’ by Jess Walter, ‘The Confusion’ by Ken Poyner, ‘The Poppy Festival’ by Chris McCormick, and ‘Forever Breathes the Lonely Word’, by Ashley Stokes, a previous Bridport winner. (Matt Shoard obviously likes lists, like me, because as well as this one, there are a number of other ‘list’ pieces of writing, including ‘Footnotes in Search of a Story’ by Adrian Slatcher, ‘Tuesday 26 July 00.51-1.22am’ by JDA Winslow; and ‘I $ you’ by Chelsea Martin).

The Poetry page is equally diverse and consistently surprising and interesting. One particularly striking poem is ‘Shanghai’, by David A.F. Gui. The titles of some of the other poems should give you an idea of what to expect: ‘The Lepidopterist’ (Robert Masterson); ‘Poetry Terrorist Alliance (PTA) Video’ (Brett Bevell); ‘While Facing the Urinal’ (Marc Vincenz); ‘Grey Men’ (Mario Petrucci); ‘Mg – Magnesium 12’ (Marj Hahne); and ‘Negotiation’ (Tammy Ho Lai-Ming).

The Prizes page features The Best Short Writing in the World prizes for 2010 and 2011 (a title coined by the magazine, and a competition judged by them.) First, second and third prizes are personalised subscriptions to Stack Magazines. It’s an added incentive to submit work, knowing that it may be shortlisted for such a cockily titled competition! ‘In my opinion, there couldn’t be a higher accolade’, writes one fan.

All in all, the three-year old fleeting is an exciting addition to the online journals available. It’s definitely one to watch.

‘Squawk Back’ #50

In Blogzines, online magazine on May 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

Squawk Back #50's colourful coverSquawk Back is an online publication that publishes on a weekly schedule, boldly proclaiming that it is ‘far less interested in exploiting emergent literary voices than providing them with a slightly louder box with which to squawk’. In an article on The Lit Pub, editor-in-chief Zak Block offers this description of Squawk Back’s aesthetic:

…greatly interested in what could be described as ‘postmodern-outsider-literature’: written works of prose, poetry, non-fiction and memoir that can, among other things, be appreciated through, or have been created in, a kitsch/camp spectatorial mode; and that have been created, in some cases, by dwellers of the very fringes of society: be they the abjectly impoverished, mentally ill or incarcerated, but almost un- or intentionally beautiful.

Issue 50 opens with ‘Grünerløkka’, a short story by Adam Moorad. What unfolds reads like a miniature Beckett play. An unnamed narrator wakes up in a backpacker motel bathtub, his roommate Malibu ‘sitting on the toilet beside the tub, in a bathrobe’. Moorad deftly paints a picture of the characters’ relationship within a short paragraph: ‘We had shared a bunk bed for about a week. He claimed to be an aristocrat and an avid surfer. He had no accent. I thought he was insane.’ Following some desultory conversation, the toilet begins flooding (‘The way the sewage spilled, it reminded me of a birth’), then a knock on the door brings not housekeeping but a ‘throng of skinheads’, who proceed to trash the room. ‘Nothing made sense’, as the final paragraph admits, but the story still manages to wrap the disconcerting enigma of itself up in an aesthetic moment: ‘We were lost there, somewhere in what qualified as civilization. It could have been daytime, but the sun outside held no more power than a sponge. In this light the smoke, which had been a bright orange, had turned a deep blue.’

Next up comes Elizabeth Walton’s ‘A Service Announcement’, a flash fiction that begins as a contemporary fable (‘One day there was a lion with no eyes but extremely keen hearing’), swerves into a critique of the politics of prize-giving (‘See, prizes are funny; awarded at the awardee’s discretion, no interview or funny poll or quiz beforehand in order to determine what would be most appropriate’), before getting completely derailed (‘Gifted with the powers of transformation and transmitigation and illustrious intelligent adjectives for which they pawned their underage daughters on the stock exchange’). The true bite of this flash though, is in its ending: ‘Grandpa closed the book and set it down on the old nightstand and folded his hands and eyes and lungs into a perfect square and sent me off to bed. I’m not sure if even he knew the moral of the story.’ Clayton Lister’s ‘Parsnip Pop, It’s Good for You’ is an offbeat tale of young love, set in the countryside, perhaps hinting at the tension of the urban-rural divide in its sporadic references to Leeds.

Yet of all the work in Issue 50 of Squawk Back, it is Schemelia’s two free verse poems that to me best reflect Block’s professed interest in ‘postmodern-outsider-literature’. In fact, one of the poems is named for Block, in which Schemelia writes, ‘I heard the disease last afternoon / … / the disease told me to close my eyes… / … / to have faith in something from some thing’. His other poem, ‘pyeon sai’, plays games with language, blending English and French (‘color me clear / as a mirage du mer’, ‘every / I say every / day, speak one more word than the jour before’), even as it insists:
‘plain
loud talking
and the pain what comes
to vain brains

has been known to cure aggressive infection’

The ‘infection’ in question is not explicitly named, although earlier lines like ‘the boy what forced his Irish accent / well into the tenth grade’ and ‘any prosperity begets suffering / as there is no king among the working class / except one’ are suggestive enough. The literal and metaphorical heart of the poem though, comes in the two stanzas ‘what spoils we’ve disrobed and rerobed in shocktoxic shame what nothing the / metropolitan with crinkled hands can do // but live because you are still alive as far as you care to tell’. That single line, isolated in its own stanza, sounds a defiant cry to hold on, a bold squawk from the fringes of literature, if you will.

As Squawk Back marks its first anniversary later this month, it is indeed heartening to see how far the publication has come, and it will be interesting to see how it continues to squawk back to more mainstream literature.

Literary Bohemian #14

In Blogzines, Magazine, online magazine, Website on April 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

-Reviewed by Harry Giles

Literary Bohemian is a lavishly produced webzine, dedicated to ‘travel-inspired writing that transports the reader, non-stop, to Elsewhere’. Its homepage splash is a carefully designed collage of faux-retro travel iconography: luggage tags, postcards, coins and coffee in the hippest of sepia tones. There’s a full and well-organised archive of 14 issues, along with book reviews, travel photos, links to lodgings and destinations – a gorgeous wealth to enjoy. It’s lovingly put together, but I’ll admit the aesthetic irked me. I worried that this would be acquisitive, appropriative, with the destinations checked off like tallies in the bathrooms of backpacker hostels. Would it be travel as bourgeois privilege or aesthetic necessity?

It is, unsurprisingly, those poems which are totally immersed in and part of their locations which stand out most from the latest issue. In Sean Edgley’s ‘Postcard from Belgrade’, for example, the city is built from a complex scatter of images and energetic physical moments – a skinhead ‘erupting in biceps’, a girl with ‘hips poised like the centered swivel of scissors’, a city suffering ‘the sadness of Chinese restaurants’. Edgley patiently constructs his Belgrade through profusion and surprise: there is despair and disrepair here, but it is part of a living, breathing whole.

Athena Kildegaard’s ‘Five Views of Guanajuato’ takes a similar approach, though with more delicacy. The state is seen through five perspectives, and each summons a world experienced by believable people, operating within softly sketched social context. The language is direct but full of care, from clever use of sound (burros ‘sound one slack-jawed heave. / Brave bougainvillea bloom’) to shockingly perfect simile (‘tethered animals sad as beans’).

It is probably no coincidence that the most effective of the narrative pieces, the ‘travelogue’ of Doug Clark’s ‘Love in the Time of Facebook’, succeeds partly because the travel in it is essential, rather than chosen by pins in a map. Here travel is compelled by a love that feels true through its problematic as much as through its expressed emotion, and it has a liveliness that sings in direct, honest prose. (And all this despite an over-glib, ironising title!)

Less successful are those pieces where the speaker’s presence and judgements obscure the sense of place and movement. In Ken Turner’s ‘Crossing the Border Near Lahore’ all is heavy poetry (‘ghost trains groaned through the border / leaking their loads on the rails’) carrying a burden of external observation. Though ‘fear / swelled like a corpse in the sun’ has power, if somewhat laboured, it is  not given enough real context. ‘The birds must know / the history of this place’, but it’s not clear the author does, beyond the guidebook version. The poem is an unloving judgement, rather than a considered exploration. In his ‘Saigon Streets’, as well, every noun needs its overblown verb: ‘shutters snapped’, ‘motorbikes swarm’, and if that’s not enough they swarm ‘like angry bees’.

Similarly, in Sy Margaret Baldwin’s ‘Berlin’ the city feels pre-determined, expected. Despite often felicitous word choice (‘the first hairs of frost in a hard winter’ particularly struck me), pedantic sentences cramp the poem: ‘a waterfall of cheese / that coagulates in a sticky pool at the exact level / of my neck.’ Of course this Berlin is war-torn, is ‘bullet-pocked’, has a ‘bleak construction site’. And of course this is winter. I feel as though I am watching the film of Berlin, not being transported there. Even then, though, Baldwin does close with a sharp indrawn breath of insight – and it is true that even the least moving poems here all still take me at least some of the way.

Even when I was frustrated or bemused by a piece, I was glad to have read it. In Jennifer Faylor’s ‘After Your Funeral I Set Out to Find You in Different Time Zones’, I found the bland procession of unnamed countries (‘dark with foreign numbers’, ‘a beach somewhere’) something of a missed opportunity, but there was still beautiful control of sound and tightly paced revelation. Timothy Kercher’s ‘Lazarus’ is at its most convincing in the description through powerfully disjointed sentences, but less lively when the speaker enters the picture, overplaying the metaphor. ‘A town that is no longer / a husk shucked’ is a perfect, gorgeous image – so why add the lurching ‘like me’? And though in Mary Kovaleski Byrnes’s ‘Christmas Emotion Salad’ the humour may occasionally be too blunt or clunkily idiosyncratic – the opening line has far less subtlety in its cheer than the delicious closer – the poem is still in its own when the food arrives, summoning memories and futures and making my mouth water: sloppy and spicy, it is a delicious, over-seasoned, massive American meal.

The whimsy of travel has a strong place in the collection, especially in the ‘Postcard prose’. Jennifer Faylor’s ‘Buttons’ employs a magical whimsy just on the right side of sickly – occasionally overplayed, but very strong when parsimonious, especially in its closing sentences. In Kirby Wright’s ‘The Enemy Tree’ the playfulness is simpler and blacker, played calm and straight: the prose gives us one image, one experience, very clearly indeed, taking me straight to its strange country. Back in poetry, Jennifer Saunders’s ‘The Changing of the Flowers’ is a thoughtful villanelle whose sweetness and clarity of meaning almost carries it through the stumbles. Perhaps the peculiar off-beats and scattering of not-quite-rhymes are there to highlight the way her ‘immigrant clock runs counter / to this native marking of the time’, but if so it is a too-easy metaphor of form. Nevertheless, it caught me and held me and I returned to rethink the poem more than many of the others.

It is ‘A Photo of Pennsylvania in Fiji’, another Byrnes poem, which most represented the collection for me – this tension between the poems which summon a place with poetry’s magic, and those which obscure it with tendentious metaphor or weighty language. Her Appalachia is reflected in worn signifiers polished to a shine, whether through sound (‘coal / bucket, cricket dusk, hair gray static’) or insight (‘The Saturday church will heave with your wishes’). Her Fiji, though, is barely a sketch, and has the inevitable ‘Children dressed in American t-shirts’. It is as if Fiji is being seen from Appalachia rather than the other way around –  but perhaps that is how we travel: memory more present than observation, which is indeed the poem’s territory.

A mixed bag, then, but one I was delighted to rummage in. I like the motivation of the curation, its direction and drive, and am impressed with the variety and poise of the selection. I’d like to see more focus and commitment from the poets and the editors: what is it really that they want travel poetry and writing to do, and how does a writer really transport us? The best writers here are those fully absorbed in their places – for me the real successes of Literary Bohemian are, of course, when I am truly moved.

Antiphon #1

In Blogzines, online magazine, Website on March 26, 2012 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by John McGhee

House lights darken. A baton taps. Rows in black tie. Opening night.

The editorial in Antiphon’s premiere issue draws parallels between poetry and classical music: the role in each of pitch and patterns, the flow of sound and the unexpected. So perhaps it follows naturally to find Antiphon’s poems structured as a performance in four acts, complete with prologue, interval and closing ovation.

Antiphon is a quarterly online journal coedited by poet Rosemary Badcoe (incidentally also a moderator of the excellent forum at Poets’ Graves) and poet and writer Noel Williams. The first issue features twenty poems in a range of contemporary styles, from twenty poets, most well-known and widely-published. It is a strong selection for a debut publication.

Catherine Edmunds’ ‘topple and fall’ opens Act 1, inviting the audience to share in its sly rustic fantasy. There is a particular delight in the playful passage ‘and the little dog scampers / pursued by a duck like a dodo, a headless torso / and sphinxes that look out with children’s faces’.  Martyn Crucefix’s succinct and assured ‘On foot’ ruminates on the value and effects of ‘treading carefully’ though life. It seems composed with great confidence and there is a succession of delicate images, such as ‘full grown men / ghosting the undergrowth / gliding like phantoms’. The first act concludes to the inflections of Andrew Shields’ biting break-up sonnet ‘The View From Here’, the mythic wanderings of Larry Jordan’s ‘A Way’ and the taut domestic dread of Angelina Ayer’s ‘Breech’.

In Act 2, Norwegian Jane Røken plays a plaintive take on a Celtic standard in ‘It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me’, accompanied by the sounds of keening voices and the humming and howling wind. The tempo of ‘Cochlea’, Richard Moorhead’s dissection of knotted relationships, increases towards its conclusion, building to the potent lines: ‘Placed four in an empty snail shell. / Crushed them with a click of a heel / as we walked home’. This is immediately followed by a lively moment, when one character voices her – entirely justified ­– suspicions of the writer-narrator: ‘She said / No doubt you’ll write about that’.

One of my favourite pieces here is James Howard’s ‘Conversations with Guru ii’. It uses humour to contrast with its more sinister elements: from ‘Now guru is doing handstands and making teas and coffees with his feet’ to ‘The large bird crushing my chest has a claw / on my heart’. ‘Why do you live on your own, without any children?’ soundtracks a bittersweet family incident. Michaela Ridgway uses simple rhymes as a technique to draw the reader through the piece: Crocs / socks, with her / weather, not so far / morning star. Cora Greenhill rounds off the first half with ‘Nil by Mouth, week 3’, a graceful reflection on the diminution of the senses in the dying. Its closing notes are certainly affecting: ‘this ballooning happiness, held on rope of grief’.

Curtain down.  The audience files to the foyer for its pre-ordered refreshments.

After the interval, consisting of several perceptive reviews and a thinkpiece on ‘truth in poetry’, all worth reading, the performance recommences with Mario Petrucci’s virtuosic ‘when a gaze’.  This is reminiscent of his sequence ‘i tulips’, sharing the economy and invention of that collection. Claire Dyer’s ‘Triptych’ is another highlight, with its three permutations of houses and bedrooms transmitting both character and feeling. The ‘rime-hardened fields, / white and unwelcome’ is the setting for John C Nash’s ‘White’, visited by splendidly ominous ‘morning tourists’. The work of living is likened to horticulture in Janet Fisher’s stoic ‘Life and other terms’ and the contemporary and colloquial sonnet of Thomas Zimmerman’s globetrotting narrator in ‘Mind in Flight’ completes Act Three with a flourish.

The final act commences with excerpts from Jan Fortune’s sequence on an abandoned slate mining village, ‘Tŷ Schrödinger’ (which is also featured in the recent first-rate collection of British prose poetry, This Line is Not for Turning). The second section of the extract, ‘Cwmorthin for two voices’, is a chanting cascade where the emptiness, grey and white of the ghost village in winter is fully realised. Brian Edwards’ ‘Eating for Two’ describes childbirth through a succession of bold half-rhymes and well-observed details (including the jolly ‘brief encounter with a tuna-mayo sandwich’). David Harmer’s ‘Archie’s Paris’, a requiem for poet and short story writer EA Markham, reads as a memoir of a New Year’s trip to France. Harmer’s voice, a mourning tourist, stumbles through familiar Parisian landmarks, as echoed thoughts of his friend are called to mind. This is followed by Pippa Little’s ‘The Cartographer’s Morning-After Shirt’, which performs aerial swoops across wheatfields and meadows, like images taken from the Landscape Channel, only more heartfelt. In this poem, a map provides no assistance: ‘you have erased the scale / and I may never get home’. The audience remains in the clouds for the finale, David Callin’s ‘In Babel’: ‘we are rising all the time’ / ‘The eagles will look upward when they fly’.

The Antiphon site has a clean design, is easy to navigate and the smidgen of artwork on the site harmonises but does not overpower. In fact, Antiphon reads rather like a traditional print journal. The poems look good on the screen but it feels like a missed opportunity when an online collection does not find a way to use audio and video. Perhaps some A/V Easter eggs for readers in future issues?

The highest praise for Antiphon #1 is that it does not feel like a debut issue. It has launched fully-formed and already has its own style. To risk oversimplification, it is rather more symphonic than punk, more pastoral than urban, and is diverse and high-quality but not revolutionary or subversive (there is not a single swearword, fairly unusual for an online journal, I think). Antiphon, accomplished and ambitious, is well worth your time.

The orchestra, mute. Applause.

Saboteur Awards 2012

In Blogzines, Magazine, online magazine, Saboteur Awards on February 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Vote here!

This year we’re going to do things differently, and leave the choice of winner down to you, the reader. In this post we feature all of the literary magazines we’ve reviewed on Sabotage since 30th April 2011. Voting will close on 30th April 2012 at midnight, with results revealed on 1st May 2012 to celebrate Sabotage‘s 2nd Birthday.

The Saboteur Awards exist to celebrate literary magazines be they online or in print. To read all about our 2011 winners go here. There are no monetary prizes, however, the winning magazine editor(s) will be interviewed for a feature on Sabotage Reviews, they will receive a logo to put on their website, and bask in the knowledge that they are appreciated.

We encourage you to read the reviews and read the magazines before you vote. Who knows, you may discover your new favourite publication that way! The magazines in the running this year are (in no particular order):

Fantastique Unfettered
New Linear Perspectives
Ilk
Night and Day
Five Dials
Mythic Delirium
Curbside Quotidian
Mudluscious
Used Furniture Review
Paper Darts
Brittle Star
Anon
Armchair/Shotgun

Voting is now open!

Click here to cast your vote!

Voters are encouraged to leave comments explaining their choice.

ILK #1

In Blogzines, online magazine, Website on February 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by John McGhee

The Canadian experimental poet Christian Bök, in his ‘fantasy about the badass-ness of poetry’ The Extremophile, likens poetry to an indestructible bacterium: ‘It feeds on asbestos… It grows in lagoons of boiling asphalt…  It can withstand temperatures of 323 degrees Kelvin, hot enough to melt rubidium… It is invincible.  It is unkillable.’

I’m with Bök.  Let’s have poetry that is indestructible, brilliant, and bold.

The excellent launch issue of ILK, an online journal edited by Caroline Crew and Chris Emslie, has just the right kind of boldness.  In its best moments, there is inventive imagery and language and structural playfulness.  The tone is one of convivial brashness.  In the main, the poems are punchy, and the poets’ concerns are urgent, personal and contemporary.

Much of what is lively and mysterious in ILK is generated using relaxed, unadorned language.  Amy Herschleb provides the disgustingly memorable ‘birds hidden in the grass like meat Easter Eggs’ (‘The Title of This Poem is Secret’).  In ‘Ukulele’, Rob Macdonald turns a minor mental leap into a mellow reflection on childish innocence.  Read this and you’ll want to believe again that ‘the world is sugarcane and good and goes on forever in every direction.’

There is variety in approach and structure.  One poem is a recipe: Deirdre Knowles’ ‘Rabbit’, where the reader is commanded to ‘unsheath your finest knife / and cut your best hand in two’ and ‘re-entrail a pheasant’.  Knowles also has a story told algebraically, ‘Total’: ‘I am a B not an A nor a C. / You are a D and wish you were an S.’  Canadian Amanda Earl pours us two flavours of ghazal (‘Anti-Ghazal’ and Bastard Ghazal’).  Both are furtive and inebriating.  David Raymond’s Poetry Assemblies and Theories Var*’ is a story as a numbered list, elaborated using footnotes containing offbeat definitions.  The longest piece is from Mathias Svalina and Julia Cohen, the unsettling extended prose poem, Two Sisters’.  In fact, prose fragments are favoured and variations involving rhyme are not represented at all.  Maybe I missed it but I couldn’t find a single rhyme, unless I count Dearman McKay rhyming ‘tongue’ with ‘tongue’ in the eerie ‘Lingua/Zunge‘.

The choice of subject matter and how it is described also shows a boldness but one that does not descend into gratuitous nastiness or shock for its own sake.  Michael Koh’s intriguing ‘I Take Pictures’ paints a grisly war scene in short fragments, a staccato massacre.  The cheerless narrator of Molly Prentiss’s I Can Be Found Right Here’ appears ‘squatting over a toilet seat and peeing on my leg’ and opines ‘fuck everyone… fuck super hero shows.  fuck cutting and pasting my life into 140 characters.’  On a lighter note—but one just as splendidly vulgar—Deirdre Knowles clears up the vexed question of whether a penis or a vagina makes a better musical instrument.  It’s the penis, apparently.

At ILK, the day is today and the time is now.  It is poetry being devised on laptops and read aloud from smartphones.  Celebrities, computer games and websites are name-checked.  A plea: just once, wouldn’t it be great to read a poetic reference to a website other than Wikipedia, Twitter, Craigslist or Google? What about a poem about B3ta or Pathetic Motorways, just for a change?

With Netflix launching this month in the UK, surely it is timely for me to recommend Madison Langston’s ‘Asking Someone What To Watch On Netflix Is A Form Of Flirting‘, which concludes with the glitzy ‘I have never masturbated / to the Wikipedia entry for Carmen Electra / but I have masturbated / to the idea of it.’  Favourite title of the issue goes to either M.G. Martin and his nervy tale The Band is Playing CTRL + ALT + DELETE, Again’ or Wendy Xu’s account of morning ennui, The Future Doesn’t Care About Your Breakfast‘.

ILK’s website design is snappy and functional (although for Luddites like me, a PDF option or other print- ready version would be great).  I see US and Canadian poets are well-represented in the debut ILK and, casting forward to future issues, I am interested to see how the geographic mix of contributors develops.  I’m sure there are plenty of UK poets who will be able to match the boldness of those appearing this time.  Why can’t poetry be badass?  Subtlety is overrated.  As Bök’s Extremophile suggests, poetry ‘breathes iron… needs no oxygen to live… It awaits your experiments.’

Used Furniture Review

In Blogzines, online magazine on June 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Reviewed by Claire Trévien

Online magazines seem to go one of two ways: either they emulate the print copy by having a PDF, (or at least separate section dedicated to a singular issue); or, they resemble blogs by having a rolling format. The former are generally more digestible and focused, they have unity, if not a theme – a concentrate of creativity. The latter have their own merits, but their leviathan format makes them harder to review. You have to follow the magazines for a longer breadth of time, building a picture of its quality and style from each link emitted from its facebook or twitter page.

Used Furniture Review is a new online magazine of literature and follows the second of these formats. The website is on the whole functional with headers leading to different sections (Poetry, Fiction, …) and includes some interesting features (‘Talking with Furniture’, interviews, reviews, columns, …). Used Furniture Review is an unusual choice of name, one whose origin is not explained. It appears to me to be a poetic comment on the palimpsest nature of all writing. The banner playfully refers to its title by means of a retro wallpaper pattern lending the website a homely understated charm. Although Used Furniture Review features a wide variety of writing, this review will only concentrate on poetry in the interest of sparing you a titanic of a read.

One distinct advantage of the format chosen by Used Furniture Review is its ability to showcase authors. The lack of spatial constraints means that we are confronted, in the poetry section, to an average of two to five poems per poet. The sampler of five poems by Karol Nielsen for instance means that you get an immediate sense of her interests in banality conflicted with death. The poems have in common her clipped dispassionate voice as she classifies various people:

‘I wrote about a divorced woman,
a gun to her head in Penn Station;
and a pretty college student—raped,
shot, stuffed in the trunk of her car.’

These samplers are like mini-collections within the webzine, allowing the writer to potentially acquire a readership. Most posts have comments suggesting that the magazine already has some faithful users, keen to join in the discussion – which is laudable. In another sense, however, the web format of the magazine is not exploited far enough, there is no direct link from the poem to Nielsen’s biography, one has to clunkily search for her in an entirely separate area if interested in her other work. It’s a wasted opportunity demonstrating that Used Furniture Review hasn’t fully grown into its own yet.

In terms of overarching style, the poems found on the website, as a whole, can be described as conversational, as is the case in Meg Pokrass’ ‘Grass Fed’:

‘I imagine you still feel bruised,
in that way that one can’t smile
all the way up, the cheeks want to,
but the chin rebels’

As with any style, some poets are more adept at it than others. Whereas someone like Mark Halliday can manage to sound casual whilst being deep, it is not a technique everyone can successfully emulate. There is music and purpose to Halliday, here the words seem casual because they are casual – they’re not pulling their weight, they’re just sitting there, hoping that if they wave violently enough no one will notice that they’re dead behind the eyes. If that sounds like a harsh verdict, it is one born out of frustration, because when Pokrass isn’t trying to be off-hand, it is apparent that she has a keen eye and the ability to conjure unusual visuals. Unfortunately, these are used so haphazardly that her talent doesn’t quite shine through.

Another theme that emerges, most apparent in Cassie Manne’s poetry, is a taste for shock value. There is of course her ‘Poem for a Pedophile [sic]’, a combination of pat rhymes, salacious images and a moralizing ending. In her poem ‘Catholic Upbringing’ she can’t resist, of course, linking religion to sex, but it’s perhaps more disappointing to encounter in the otherwise promising ‘Flood Season’ this particular line: ‘The house falls asleep to masturbating crickets’. Put together, these three poems feel immature and cheap. Yet, ‘Flood Season’, by far the strongest of her three poems, shows a real talent for story-telling and atmosphere-conjuring. In the poem, Manne shows herself capable of depicting delicious sensory explorations:

‘This is July.
Mosquitos attracted to the sweet smell of freckled arms. Calamine lotion
has not yet been invented. It will be the third day of rain;
bodies rush through towns like bloated floaters in the pool.
Couples linger under sheets and sweat.
It bakes their worn ankles and thundered thighs.’

A third theme I should like to briefly draw on is the appearance of tattoos in three of the poems:

‘Permanent tattoos of
“Our Father”’

(‘Catholic Upbringing’, Cassie Manne)

‘I bear these stories like a life sentence,
their grief indelible, like a prison tattoo.’

(‘Life Sentence’, Karol Nielsen)

‘And climb into the blinding light
Of a sky tattooed with lightning’

(‘Through the Pane’, Liz Masi)

Poetry Tattoos appear to be all the rage of late, so perhaps it is not so surprising to see that the love is reciprocated. These three poets appear relatively close after one another, so this can’t be a coincidence, surely? Are they set to become the new cliché? They certainly attempt to inflict some street cred into otherwise innocuous poems.

Liz Masi, whose use of the word tattoo is the most evocative, is one of the better poets to be found on the website. She uses refreshing specificity in ‘The Piano Bench’ for instance, and is capable of more disturbing tableaux too, as in her poem ‘Ribcage’:

‘I realized that my ribcage was a lead-heavy carcass
Hanging like a skeleton from my phony grin.’

But the faux-naïve voice she employs gets jarring after three poems – so that the showcase here is a disadvantage that lays bare her current limitations.

Whilst no poems on Used Furniture Review are appalling, none are outstanding either. There is no doubt, however, that its authors have the potential to develop; and that the magazine, still in its early stages, will attract a higher level of submissions in time. The hardest stage is done: they have a dedicated readership, a website that is fully integrated with other social media, the rest will surely follow.

Literary Blogs

In Blogzines on March 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm

At a recent Identity Parade event at Paris’ Shakespeare & Co, the four invited readers, A.B. Jackson, Annie Freud, Sally Read,  Ahren Warner, as well as editor Roddy Lumsden were all asked about their opinion on blogging. I was surprised to hear that none of them were particularly active on the internet, preferring the spoken word. Annie Freud said she had great admiration for those who do it with ‘application’ but couldn’t stand word ‘vomiting’.

In that spirit, I would like to share a few blogs who do ‘do it’ with application. Having said that, in compiling this list, I found myself rather torn as several of these blogs are also, to varying degrees, magazines (or blogzines if you will). Blogzines are those fluid entities that give us the same material as a literary magazine would (without the unity of purpose of singular issues)  peppered with more personal subject matter. Their effect is very different from, say, thumbing a copy of Poetry Review, or even a specific internet magazine like Diagram, but I am not implying that in a negative sense. The atmosphere is different, less stilted, more inviting, you can dip into them on Tuesday, check back a week later and find new exciting things to take your fancy. These blog-zines manage that seductive blend of uniting quality with accessibility and candidness. They are forces to be reckoned with.

(in alphabetical order)

Baroque in Hackney

Katy Evans-Bush’s blog is an incontournable feature of the blogosphere. Here you will find, jostling comfortably together, politics and poetry, presented in a wry, informed and entertaining manner. Katy is not afraid to dive into incendiary subjects head on and emerge victorious, she might almost convince me to use an Oxford Comma.

Cut Out & Keep

The blog of the excellent magazine Fuselit edited by Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone. Much more than a promotional tool for the magazine, the blog wittily reviews and promotes other presses and authors, provides insights into the Fuselit machine, and, much like the rest of the website, makes you hope they achieve everything they set out to do.

Eyewear

Todd Swift’s personal blog, also happens to be a rather impressive magazine (so impressive that the British Library are archiving it for posterity). It combines insightful reviews of poetry, features poets and also discusses politics and pop culture. Also, on a shallow note, I love the different images used for the header.

Flotsam

There is something eminently refreshing about Caroline Crew’s blog, whether it’s feeling the same excitement when discovering the new poet she decides to share or eagerly nodding as she summarizes a current trend in the poetic world. She is also a fine reviewer, y’a know.

Hand + Star

Although I enjoy the ‘New Writing’ section of this webzine, I have to confess to preferring its blog even more for reviewing live literary events which is something not done enough, IMHO.

Peony Moon

Michelle McGrane’s blog of contemporary poetry puts most blogs to shame for the regularity of its qualitative output. Here you will find reviews, find out about events and discover new poets in the process.

Raw Light

Jane Holland’s blog is not just a recording of her trials and tribulations as a writer (though there is some of that), she also posts plenty of sound advice for writers. Both are written with this sort of gusty bravado that make you want to roar, if you want to taste some of that medicine, you could do worse than start here.

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This list is far from exhaustive (and doesn’t pretend to be) these are just a few of my favourite blog(zine)s. You are very welcome to add your own favourites in the comment.