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Rising #58 and Poetry Weekly #1

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

-Reviewed by Jennifer Edgecombe

rising

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manifesto is just that; to produce a cheap and accessible magazine in order for these seemingly new or previously unpublished poets to get printed and digested by others.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
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…

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Missing Slate #8 (Winter 2013)

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

-Reviewed by J.S.Watts

issue_8_coverpage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakeview: International Journal of Literature and Arts #1

In Magazine, Saboteur Awards on May 29, 2013 at 11:50 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts is a new literary magazine published by the Writers’ Forum at Sacred Heart College, India. At the risk of sounding overly glib, the preceding sentence encapsulates what I found most problematic about this literary project, namely its lack of focus. It almost feels as if there are two versions of Lakeview competing for one’s attention. The first aspires to the ‘International’ portion of the publication’s title, featuring an advisory board drawn from all over the world and publishing work from prominent writers like George Szirtes and Hanif Kureishi. The other comes across more like a college publication, right down to publishing the winning pieces from competitions run by the Sacred Heart Writers’ Forum. This is not to say that either approach to creating a literary magazine is better, but rather that Lakeview might have done better to settle on one or the other, at least for its first issue.

Lakeview

This sense of excess and/or confusion also extends to some of the work in the magazine. An extended sonnet sequence like Sofiul Azam’s ‘Time and Memories’ is admirable in its ambition, and contains interesting turns of phrase like ‘the living iceberg’ and ‘the verb of each and every folly’. Yet it also contains plenty of what feel like filler lines, e.g. ‘With Coldie, I turn cold, hot with Hottie’, which likely would have been edited out in something shorter. Or consider a story like Prathap Kamath’s ‘Jacoba Came to Conquer’. Although the title essentially gives away the story’s twist, the core of the narrative has the potential to make salient points about the nature of post-colonial hang-ups and the complex position of Anglo-Indians in Indian society, and for the first half, actually seems to be heading in that direction. Instead, the main narrative pay-off consists largely of a cringe-worthy seduction scene: ‘A tongue entered his mouth like a snake and probed its fleshy insides in a coiling motion. […] His hands ran over a field of soft mounts and shrubby valleys, and in an oblivious abandon his body danced to a hitherto unknown rhythm.’

However, there is still enjoyable writing on display here, especially in the trio of Sudeep Sen, Hanif Kureishi and George Szirtes, whose work opens the issue. Sen’s ‘Banyan’ is a sequence of delicate images, tracing ‘what is revealed’, ‘As winter secrets / melt’. Kureishi’s ‘Weddings and Beheadings’ is a surreal tale of filmmakers who are forced to film beheadings, which are then ‘broadcast everywhere, on most of the news channels worldwide’. In its stately rhythms and triple rhyme, George Szirtes’s ‘The Voices’ demonstrates the argument from his Poetry Foundation essay that ‘[r]hyme can be unexpected salvation, the paper nurse that somehow, against all the odds, helps us stick the world together while all the time drawing attention to its own fabricated nature’. Lakeview also has paintings and photography interspersed throughout the issue, with the paintings by Bijay Biswaal and Abdul Saleem being particularly noteworthy.

Thus on the whole, the debut issue of Lakeview is a mixed bag, but also demonstrates potential to grow as a literary endeavour. While the magazine’s eclectic selection of material offers something for almost any reader (besides poetry, short fiction, paintings and photography, there is also an essay on gendai haiku by Alan Summers and an interview by Chief Editor Jose Varghese with Jewish American author, Michelle Cohen Corasanti), this means it is also frequently unclear whom its target audience is. That said, growing pains are almost a given for any new publication. Hopefully, as more readers, and therefore potential contributors, become aware of Lakeview, it will have an easier time fully living up to the ‘International’ portion of its name, as well as figuring out precisely what sort of magazine it wants to be.

ctrl+alt+del #5

In Magazine, online magazine on May 14, 2013 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by Rosie Breese-

ctrl+alt+del is a magazine that stands out. It’s delightfully compact, neat, and visually interesting, both in terms of the clean lines and generous spacing of issue five, and the busier layout of previous issues. It comes with online instructions for folding it into some kind of super-awesome origami shape. Its dedication to ‘different’ poetry is conscious and deliberate, as suggested by editor Rhys Trimble’s editorial statement, found on the magazine’s site:

‘some readers will consider this a trivial and possibly terrible DEVIATION in terms of amateurishness, IRREVERENCE honesty, willingness to fail & critical inexperience.’

This seems to anticipate some kind of opposition, some kind of backlash. It feels like a deliberate positioning of the magazine against old-fashioned attitudes, against the mainstream, against… something. In fact, it’s not clear what ctrl+alt+del is against, or who might be against it. Maybe that’s not the point. What ctrl+alt+del is for is a lot clearer:

‘…experimental, linguistically innovative & generally interesting modern/ postmodern poetry’

Great! So let’s look at the contents. I’ve chosen to focus on issue five here, being the most recent issue and presumably therefore the most representative of where the publication is at in terms of its range and scope.

The editor’s enthusiasm for the poetry he promotes is clear from his impassioned introductory statement, and it’s easy to see why he loves his work. A lazy afternoon with issue five of the magazine revealed some real diamonds. Among them, Stephen Hitchins’ incredibly evocative snippets of urban and suburban life:

‘…tv noise. paving crackles like
bracken kindling. puddles fizz.
gnat static sparks.’

(From ‘Alarm 2’)

These fascinating sound-and-image collages document the small happenings of daily life, building up a quiet sense of unease, a synaesthetic hyper-awareness of the tiny clashes that make up even the most banal suburban scene. There is no linear narrative; rather, there is a sense of a greater pattern, or a greater chaos, the roots of which we are left to guess at.

‘Linguistically innovative’ poetry takes many forms, and ctrl+alt+del seems keen to represent a varied and balanced range, from joyfully unpredictable prose rambles (Leanne Bridgewater), to the more academically-rooted prose/poetry mashup ‘delueze vs laetzu vs ed’ (Rhys Trimble), a piece that refers to texts outside itself, bringing up the idea of reader as editor.

There is an emphasis on visual experimentation: a confusing technical diagram of the ‘Universal Poem Machine’, as visualised by Andrew Nightingale, draws attention to the difficulty inherent in separating parts of the poetic process, whilst desolate light-and-shade photographs and a concrete piece by Sarah Edwards focus on positioning, gaze and visual backstory: the act of looking rather than the act of reading. Then there is the quiet drama of Iain Britton’s ‘gestures’, a poem as economical and as vivid as a five-minute pose sketched by a sure and experienced hand:

Finally, the engrossing compositions of Linus Slug draw on philology, phonology and visual traces of the writing process (ink splatters, crossings-out) to look at the utterance as process and result: snippets describing the motor aspects of speech are laid alongside short passages that are almost scientific in their tone and precision:

extract from '::field notes::' by Slug Linus

extract from ‘::field notes::’ by Slug Linus

To sum up, what the magazine is for is more interesting than any controversy over its editorial values. Indeed, it’s these values – innovation, honesty, experiment – that have led ctrl+alt+del to discover some really interesting exciting artists and bring them to a wider audience. ctrl+alt+del is not only dedicated to promoting and distributing work from fresh and innovative poets; it’s an instrumental part of the process of sharing of ideas and ways of working that keeps poetry alive and vital. It’s part of a conversation rather than an anti-establishment polemic. It’s fascinating, it’s broad-minded, and what’s more, it’s generous: as all skint poets will be glad to hear, it’s free to download. Do so.

A Cappella Zoo 10 – Spring 2013

In Magazine on April 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm

-Reviewed by Rebecca Burns-

About thirty or so pages into this collection is a set of illustrations by Cheryl Gross, drawn to accompany Nicelle Davis’s three ‘In the Circus of You’ poems. Although I would never claim to be an artistic specialist, Gross’s drawings remind me of John Tenniel’s illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. This strikes me as particularly apt, for the Bestiary Special of A Cappella Zoo is a strange, eclectic wonderland of prose and poetry, drawing together the real with the imagined and fantastic.

A Capella 10

Weighing in at a hefty 345 pages, A Cappella Zoo is comprised of seven sections, with titles like ‘Crematorium’, ‘Shelter’, ‘Aquarium’. Its editor, Gina Ochsner, sets out the journal’s remit in the introduction – to provide a space where magic realism can be presented as a ‘viable and legitimate form for narrative and image-rich poetry’. In this respect, A Cappella Zoo succeeds; gruesome, zombie-like stories jostle alongside shorter pieces about oddly fragmented families. Some are disturbing, others powerful. A disinterested father disappears into sand at a children’s playground, an elderly grandfather turns into a tree, the body of great-uncle who had been severely wounded during the Second World War falls apart time and time again.

Some pieces in the collection really shine; for example, ‘When The Weather Changes You’ by Amber Sparks. The empty sadness of the great-grandmother, the story’s protagonist, is captured perfectly in the metaphor of ash – decaying inside, the great grandmother is unable to love but urgently longs for the physical heat exerted by her only lover. Sparks portrays the grandmother’s conflicted desires with sensitivity, leaving the reader sympathetic rather than frustrated with her plight. Similarly, the ghoulish intrigue of ‘Three Conrad Poems’ by Kristine Ong Muslim is equally well done. The poems juxtapose the theme of familial love and Frankenstein-esque grotesquery of a zombie family: “I squeezed his hand to make him stop. It crackled./‘Don’t worry,’ I whispered over a mouthful/Of grass, earth, and dark river water. A family recipe./‘I’ll weld the bones later […].’ Such loving grotesquery is repeated later in Randolph Schmidt’s ‘Larva’, where a father imitates his son – in order to understand him – in the eating of insects and wood.

I was also moved by the sad, respectful tone of ‘War Crumbs’ by Joe Kapitan. The great-uncle in this story ‘falls apart’; literally, his body breaking apart at the joints. The disintegration of the self is repeated elsewhere in the collection, as in ‘The Adventures of Star Fish Girl’ by Lindsay Miller. This piece has a distinctly female take on the theme and provides an interesting take on the consumptive nature of relationships – that sense of something being taken by a lover.

Another standout story is ‘Trouble in Mind’ by Julia A. Rosenthal, which portrays the loss of language and its replacement with a number-driven intelligence. It is cleverly done, with Rosenthal skewing the common experience of partners becoming unable to talk to each other. In the parallel world of ‘Trouble in Mind’, this inability to talk occurs to characters following an illness. They become infected with a condition that takes away their vocal abilities and understanding of spoken language, replacing it with a new, number-driven intelligence. The ‘infected’ characters thus communicate with each other through Byrons – machines that translate and transfer the silent speaker’s words. It is an interesting premise and Rosenthal is skilful in her representation of the loneliness created by a decaying language. The only thing that didn’t settle with me in this story was the use of word Byron. To my mind, Byron conjures a sensual, brooding poet, who used language to challenge and provoke. Perhaps calling the translation machines Lovelaces would work – Ada Lovelace was Byron’s daughter, and a pioneer in maths and forerunner of computer algorithms.

I enjoyed and was challenged by this collection. Some poems and stories took me well out of my comfort zone and I applaud the ambition. The Bestiary edition of A Cappella Zoo is a journal to revisit and re-read.

Rebecca Burns is the author of Catching the Barramundi, longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Award.

Lummox #1

In Magazine, Saboteur Awards on April 22, 2013 at 9:00 am

-Reviewed by Billy Mills

 interview-with-raindog-of-lummox-press-L-yIESOL

This first issue of the annual poetry journal Lummox is a great unwieldy beast of a thing. Two hundred and thirty pages of closely-packed text, with, as the cover is at pains to point out, over 160 poets included, along with interviews, articles, featured poets sections and testimonials to others recently dead. And when I say packed, I mean it. Poems are frequently bent out of shape to squeeze an extra one on the page, and everyone gets their biographical note at the foot of their contribution.

The overall sense of clutter is largely a product of editor RD Armstrong’s ambitious approach as outlined in his informative introduction. There are a dozen guest-edited sections intended to represent either a region of the States, a loose-knit school or, in one case, Nigeria. The editorial process for these sections was that the guest editor selected the poets, asked them to submit 3 or 4 of their favourites from among their own poems and then Armstrong whittled this down to 1 or 2 each. Interleaved between these are eleven numbered sections called ‘The Poetry I to XI’, containing the seventy five additional submissions that Armstrong had already accepted.

The titling of these sections has the unfortunate, and presumably unintended, consequence of at least implying that the remaining verse may be something other than poetry. To be fair, this is not the case. While little of the work presented lives up the ‘fantastics’, ‘marvelouses’ and so on that pepper most of the guest editor introductions, the vast bulk of it is perfectly competent, the product of that vast army of semi-professional poets that inhabit the world of local poetry groups, creative writing workshops and residencies that form such a dominant part of the American poetry landscape, at least if the individual bios are to be believed.

There is little difference in quality or tone between the guest-edited contributions and the rest. The dominant influences are the plain speech of William Carlos Williams, but without his acuteness of perception, the hallucinogenic cowboy effects of Ed Dorn, but lacking his metaphysics, the earth-mother Buddhism of Diane di Prima, minus her energy, the debauchery of Charles Bukowski, without whatever it is of merit that people find in his verses, and, oddly, a smattering of Eavan Boland’s early-period domestic politics. This is, I suppose, what happens when an avant garde style become the everyday manner of a body of poetry. Surveying these 160 writers, almost all Americans, you would be forgiven for believing that nothing new had happened in the world of US poetry since about 1963. The one section that doesn’t conform to this pattern is the Nigerian one, where the primary impression is of reading texts that were written in the authors’ second or third language, which is probably the case.

All of which is not to say that there is no interesting writing in Lummox. There is a fine untitled poem by Simon Perchik where the sounds of words are weighed carefully:

–he must dread the splash
is trained to wade slowly and where
the waves are buried, where these stones
harden, climb to that same altitude
they once flew

an equally interesting one by Jared Smith called Equinox which opens:

A grasshopper crawls over the twisted steel rail, rusting
within a hand’s reach from where I sag down on haunches,
tumbles on its head, flails its feet on the rotting wooden ties
and takes to air tick-wickering the way grasshoppers do.

and one of the featured poets, the late Kell Robertson worked the outlaw mode with more conviction that most.

Among the essays, interviews and reviews at the back there’s an impassioned rant by Jack Foley against the professionalization of poetry as a result both of the proliferation of MFA programmes in American universities and what he calls the tolerated poetry ghettoes of ‘the coffee house, the college or university, the precious little literary group, the workshop, the library and the bookstore or museum’. It reads like a direct attack on most of the preceding 160 biographies and, indeed, on the likely readership.

The most positive outcome of reading Lummox is that it made me ponder what it is I want from a poetry journal. I don’t want bulk-purchase poetry; I want an editor with a clear vision of the kind(s) of work that interests them and the ability to be brutally selective in presenting it. I want generous and representative selections from each poet that are given space to breathe on the page. Most of all I don’t want to be told how great the poetry is; that’s a judgement for me to make. I’ll assume the editor believes in it anyway.

Alliterati #10

In Magazine, online magazine, Saboteur Awards on April 20, 2013 at 10:56 am

-Reviewed by Cameron Brady-Turner

alliterati

It’s hard to know where to begin with Alliterati. Issue 10 was published free on Issuu in March and offers 88 pages of poetry, short-fiction, art and illustration, as well as a short script and sound piece to flick/click through. This issue also showcases the winning entries from a Valentine’s competition which challenged readers to take on the topic of Love without being Hallmark about it.

In browsing Alliterati you are promised eclecticism and colour from the off. The layout is spacious and unpretentious and appealed to me right away; as someone who has spent a lot of time with his nose in poetry journals it is nice to occasionally get away from an institution generally inclined towards right-angles and stencilled lines, monochrome and prickly serif fonts that can imbue a publication with the pomp and self-importance of a tax-form. This is perhaps a luxury of Alliterati’s online forum, since pixels are a cheaper commodity than ink, and the art certainly benefits from this freedom, as well as Issuu’s zoom features. I am no connoisseur, but I feel there is much to admire in terms of the art on display, which ranges from illustration, like Kris Tukiainen’s cartoonish ‘Heartbreak Eternal’, to Ella Dorton’s stunning painting (that is used for the front cover), and whilst the art is rarely used to complement the writing, it certainly livens and breaks the magazine up.

Alliterati’s submissions page states that it wants that which is short and striking, and certainly, the issue stays true to this by offering up poetry and prose like pic ‘n’ mix; bitesize, colourful, and, unfortunately, as nourishing. The problem seems to be that the writing hasn’t been edited properly: spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes are rife throughout, several sentences don’t make sense, other poems misuse words, while a fair few pieces simply shouldn’t be there. Openings like: ‘A young man, just nineteen, / Wound up in love with a beauty queen. / Caught in the mesh of true loves grasp, / He sealed it with a golden clasp’, made reading Alliterati feel like I was marking someone’s homework.

Alliterati has its moments however, and it’d be a shame to let them get overwritten by what happens to be around them. Jim Meirose’s quirky short story, about a young girl’s obstinacy as her parents try to move her off of a garden step, is probably the most interesting story thanks to its peculiar and possibly profound ending, whilst Daniel Bowman’s ‘After the Funeral’ renders capably and poignantly the ennui and entropy that has rotted a mother’s domestic family life . Meanwhile, I found ‘Long in the Memory’ by Joe Horsey charming and well-observed (albeit slightly juvenile) as it looks at how different members of a family approach new media; here the Dad remarks of mobile technology that

It’s all more sleek and subtle now,
and my thumbs are far to flat
to type much more than ‘pub?’ or ‘match?’

Emma Swan’s ‘Wilting Lily’ is a delightfully unnerving short piece about a woman’s mental breakdown, and there are some noteworthy moments in the otherwise scrappy ‘Drive’ by Matthew Rushton, a story about an abusive relationship which ends with probably the most resonant and disturbing image of the issue. Further to this, the poems for the Valentine’s competition that lead the magazine are probably some of the best on offer; in ‘Marriage: Day 4380’ Michelle Ornat writes:

I want you to reach up and pull down
Mars and Venus and a host of unnamed stars
and feed them to me until I am full,
until the light inside me weighs
more than my blood.

The juxtaposition of the hyperbolic and the everyday makes her poem one of the most emotionally attuned of the issue. Elsewhere, Megan Towey demonstrates some sparkling turns of phrase in ‘New Year’s Day’:

with my head like a getaway bag, hastily packed,
a floppy trammel of lost lists: lists of lies
told and believed that have since
turned into calcitrate in unsunned cloisters,
and I should know the dawn because I’ve seen it
and I should know the gap because I populated it

While at times garrulous, Towey’s work is admirably distinctive amongst Alliterati’s other offerings.

In spite of these promising moments, the pieces in this issue are often fairly flaccid pastiches that fail to make much of an impression. Alliterati doesn’t yet stand for anything (except for featuring predominantly young writers), and the uneven quality of the work jeopardises the magazine’s potential to establish itself as a brand. However, the magazine can only get better with more attentive editing, public attention and submissions; the foundation of an exciting brand-name, supporting artists and design is there, but at the moment the writing is a very mixed bag.

Astronaut #1

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

-Reviewed by Alana Tomlin

astronaut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saboteur Awards 2013

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

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!

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

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

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

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

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

This is going to happen in two parts:

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford Poetry XIV.2 (Winter 2012)

In Magazine on February 13, 2013 at 12:46 am

photo (19)

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien

It’s a compliment to say that Oxford Poetry, one of the oldest poetry magazines of its kind (113 years old to be precise), does not look its age. The cover may be quietly unassuming, in a vintage picnic basket kind of way, but the list of contributors reads like a who’s who of the Next Big Thing (with some exceptions, such as Fiona Sampson who, we can agree, is no longer emerging). Just like a previous generation of poets centred around the workshops of Michael Donaghy, many of these are regulars at Roddy Lumsden’s Poetry School workshop.

This leads naturally to another compliment, that in spite of there being a sense that this grouping of poets are all part of the same ‘pack’, there is no uniformity of voice. No one could accuse Sophie Mayer and Matthew Hollis’ poems of being too similar in tone, form, or subject. Nevertheless, some themes do emerge, reflecting the tastes of editors Lavinia Singer and Aime Williams, for storytelling and still lives. Still lives here is meant as freeze-framing of a particular time, as epitomized by Daniel W.K. Lee’s ‘The Way we Wore Young’ whose snapshot of 1995 America erects cultural and time barriers, pelting information like a Windows screensaver from which a killer last line emerges. On the storytelling side, Emily Hasler’s poem ‘What Gretel Knows’ is a stand-out, a delightfully dark take on the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, set out in long barbed lines:

‘Gretel knows, put a girl in water and she’ll drown; boil it;
and she’ll cook. Gretel knows there’s no salvation; only storage,’

Each line powers forward scattering on the way clashing registers: part dark incantation, part childish glee, part sweary delicious humour. It’s an exhilarating trip, relying on our pre-knowledge of the tale to transform it into a larger meditation on these archetypal characters all ‘obsessed with our stomachs’.

Not all poems are exceptional, a number try to deal with historical or fictitious events but struggle to bring added interest to the table. For instance, Ben Parker and Alex Niven’s reports from unknown places feel insubstantial, though the latter has turns of phrase that add colour to the depictions: ‘Warriors were / expunged from the phonebook’ and ‘Friends withered and sank’, he writes. Parker’s ‘From the Histories I’ would have perhaps benefited from being partnered with his more intriguing poem ‘From the Histories II’ (also from his pamphlet, reviewed here by James Webster), which reveals the limitations of Oxford Poetry‘s current one poem format. As a standalone, however, there is little of interest in the language though the premise shows promise:

‘Conflicting reports were delivered daily
from the city of high walls and no gates.
The crops were flourishing even
as the wells came up dry.’

Also disappointing is Fiona Sampson’s ‘The Night-Drive’, a poem which doesn’t add anything to its title save for the blossom which hangs ‘hallucinatory / in darkness, beside the road’. Perhaps most frustrating with these poems is that there is no active ‘flaw’ within them, but they are unsatisfyingly straightforward descriptive poems lacking in intent or purpose.

Thankfully, there is no lack of exciting poetry elsewhere in this journal which more than makes up for this. Indeed, there are more standout poems than can fit in this review, such as Sophie Mayer’s intoxicating flight of fancy ‘The Mayer’, or Dai George’s ‘My Peace, the Ornament’, which begins with a delightfully playful description of the invasion of noise into his flat from ‘the witless bus and incontinent van /unloading on the kerb’ before ziplining the reader, along with the narrator ‘to days when childhood’s brain / was a rammed junction.’ Other favourites include a creative translation by Sophie Collins of Astrid Lampe, and Caleb Klaces’ ‘An Agreement’, whose elastic mixture of theatrics, birds and claustrophobia is set playfully on the page making the eyes leap from line to line.

Meanwhile Phillip Crymble shows what it means to take a risk; his poem ‘Brogue’ flirts with disaster with its bordering-on-cliché definitions. Taken individually its sentences feel frustratingly predictable, but they build up into an intriguing exploration of language and identity for today’s third culture kid:

‘All over. Meaning lost or gone. A local idiom that speaks
of disappointment. When asked it’s here I say I’m from.

All over. Meaning don’t belong. An orphan with no mother
tongue. The aspirated consonants of Ulster. Low-mouthed

vowel sounds. A confederacy of opposites.’

Where Crymble plays on simple expressions to create a complex tableau, John Canfield’s ‘Amortisation’ prefers to borrow from the ‘”Jargon Buster’ of a commercial property developer’ to create a humourously obscure take on a relationship:

‘Real trust exempts participants both
from growth and service. The exchange is total
return earned over a specific period
and often expressed at the beginning of the year.
Turnover. Yield.’

By turns conservative and experimental, modern and old-fashioned, this issue of Oxford Poetry is designed to please everyone, which won’t be to the taste of everyone, but who are we to point fingers at an institution for having democratic tastes?