Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for the ‘online chapbook’ Category

‘Jagger’s Yurt’ by Kate Fox

In online chapbook, Pamphlets on August 15, 2013 at 9:25 am


-Reviewed by Cecilia Bennett-

“There are so many things we’ll never do,
many of them unnecessary,
but for me this one’s a rite of passage,
I’m finally going to Glastonbury!”

 YURT_cover__JPG_

Although it presents as a collection of poems, Jagger’s Yurt really benefits from being read all in one go. Together the poems build up a linear sense of the festival in a light-hearted, honest fashion, beginning with an anticipation that builds towards the reality that ensues. Kate Fox dives straight into her blow by blow account of a Glastonbury experience with the simple but effective introductory poem ‘I’ve Never…’, half of which reads as if the narrator were going through a previously-written bucket list with her reader. And as the Fox launches into the following poems, this narrator becomes increasingly excited about the possibilities that going to Glastonbury will bring. Fox’s poems themselves are nothing ground-breaking – they are often strung together by a jaunty bouncing rhythm, and if you expect poetry to rhyme you will not be disappointed. What the reader will find, however, is a narrator with a quirky sense of humour and a keen sense of the absurd: the title poem ‘Jagger’s Yurt’, for example, is entirely devoted to imagining the luxuries that might populate Mick Jagger’s tent at Glastonbury, and there is an entire poem dedicated to the famous Glastonbury ‘Poo Drop’.

Fox’s poems are perhaps lacking in technical finesse, but they are also endearing in their simplicity. I couldn’t shake the feeling, in reading them, that I would have preferred to hear her read them to me, that they were an immediate portrayal of the experience of Glastonbury, which suffered slightly on the distancing medium of paper. Jagger’s Yurt did not meet my expectations – though I would be hard-pushed to explain what I thought it would be – rather it cleverly mirrors the festival itself: it builds up towards an unexpected series of amusing snapshot experiences, ends rather more quickly than you expected it to, and isn’t half so Serious or Meaningful as you’d expected it to be. In truth Glastonbury, as Kate Fox points out, is “too multiple for simple labels,/I suspect it might be all of them, and none”, and the real strength of the collection is that it recognises and conveys this fact.

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‘i wrote a poem dedicated to god that i considered to be extremely disrespectful’ by Diane Marie

In online chapbook, Pamphlets on April 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

-Reviewed by Charles Whalley

Diane Marie’s i wrote a poem dedicated to god that i considered to be extremely disrespectful is self-published as a 20 page PDF on Scribd. It appears to have been written for a PDF format: each page marks a new poem in the sequence, and each word is aware of its position on the page. It is typographically quirky; every single I, on its own or within words, is italicised (I won’t attempt to reproduce this in my quotations). In publishing online like this, the sequence marks itself out as part of alt lit, which can be better described as a community than a movement or a genre. Indeed, often the only distinguishing characteristic of alt lit, as i wrote a poem dedicated to god… can be categorised, seems to be its publication practice; however, alt lit, and Diane Marie’s poetry, show signs of a shared aesthetic that is best described as post-internet. The simplest definition of post-internet art I’ve seen is that it treats the internet as banal rather than novel. I suppose the online publication can be seen as part of this, as it is easier to pretend the C21st doesn’t exist when one’s poems are in print. And whilst artists are often placed as pre- or post-internet based on their age – as in, whether they grew up without or with the internet – their art, by birth, is post-internet, and so has no reason not to reflect the same pressures. It is fair to accuse pre-internet poetry written in a post-internet age of redundancy. i wrote a poem dedicated to god… is certainly post-internet in its outlook and aware of the backwards glance in ‘post’.

It is a sequence mostly concerned with connectedness despite everything. The backdrop of the poems is a gentle apocalypticism, of the melancholy of those of us hanging around after the end of history. A dog-walker, who appears in a few of the poems, “thinks about the way the earth moves slower every year” as, we are told elsewhere, “ev’rything is/slowing down”. The dog-walker, with his stopped watch, is trapped in inactivity through the sequence, waiting “for the dog to change his mind about the rest of/the walk”. Something like this idea appears in the sequence: “JOAN OF ARC WAS A WITCH AND A BELIEVER//I AM NOT EITHER”. The first line, to be heretical, can be understood as “Joan of Arc partook in the system by which she was condemned” or “Joan of Arc still drew personal meaning from a system which would kill her”. The speaker of the poem is free from accusations of witchcraft but also excluded from belief. This mood invokes the paradoxical situation of the networked post-internet individuals of the C21st: more connected than ever, yet more aware of our isolation as a result.

It is against this backdrop that the sequence explores the possibility of connections. To quote the penultimate poem in full:

it is the future now
and we are both dead
a long time ago
but i still love you

Much of the sequence covers the characters within the dog-walker’s “tableau of dog and lead and/ man and bench”, connected by their views of each other. Some of the best lines in the poems are descriptive, as they play with sublimity and excess and the way in which the external world connects to the individual, or the individual practices a mode of sight upon the world. The third poem, for example, is one long sentence, beginning:

and the beach below is wild and coarse dark
sand and great green-smeared curves and the
sea is huge and deep and wholly blue and
overhung with a thick grey wall of cotton-wool
sky and climbing the dunes and dry rock bluff
are samphire glasswort aster and thrift

The unbearable excess of the external world is portrayed most in a poem which begins “There was visibility in all directions”, and follows a pattern of slowly varying sentences about the horizon and the sky and everything creating the appearance of being “in the center of some body of water”, accumulating into “The/impression was obliterating.” The impression, the subjective sensation that obliterates the observer’s mode of seeing, is what we are looking at, not the object of their sight. This is important, as the mode of seeing incorporates an emotional response, and it is this emotional response to impressions that gives rise to the empathetic connections between people that the sequence also explores.

Crucially, the characters in the dog-walking tableau never seem to share a glance, as a smoking woman “wonders what would/happen if the man standing still looked up”. Many of these gazes act as a prompt towards connection via the common experience (as a burden and a joy) of the body. As well as the smoking woman, the dog-walker and his dog are seen by a “passing cyclist” who “notices/all four eyes on the man and the dog/blinking in unison and blinks also”. That the man and dog’s eyes are numbered individually rather than pairs implies surprise not only that the man and dog are blinking in unison with each other, but that they are blinking in unison with themselves. The cyclist then becomes aware of his own body, as in a later poem, “suddenly acutely/aware of his eyelids.” This poem then fills the rest of the page with closing brackets, which make the reader’s eyes feel funny too; we are blinking at the cyclist’s blinking at the man and dog’s blinking. As the sequence’s second poem, coming directly after the cyclist’s blink, runs: “oh shit i have//”feelings”.” There is a joke in the faux-ironic speech marks, but it suggests the sense of physical sensation in the word “feelings” (rather than, say, ‘emotions’) and holds this up against C21st isolation. The sequence, like much post-internet literature, exploits the visceral and the physiological as a route towards sincerity, or as a route at least to provoke any sort of reaction at all.

It’s a very impressive set of poems, albeit with some messiness; I can’t get much out of one poem which goes over the words “rain”, “rein” and “reign”, even if it does combine this with some of the wittiest lines of the sequence, such as the sequence’s title or the final lines: “do a radio interview and/i don’t know the exact reasons.” But i wrote a poem dedicated to god…’s patchiness can be forgiven for its cleverness and the direction of literature that it represents.

You can read some more poems by Diane Marie here

‘The God of Love is Stained’ by Tiffany Anne Tondut

In online chapbook, Pamphlets on March 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by Strat Mastoris

God Of Love

‘The writing of some
men
is like a vast bridge
that carries you
over
the many things
that claw and tear.’

That’s Charles Bukowski, from the collection Love is a dog from hell. I was led to re-read some of his poems by ‘sex is a bitch from heaven’, the penultimate poem in this collection by Tiffany Anne Tondut. For me, those few lines sum up a lot of the reasons to read, or write (or indeed to review).

Tondut also references Bukowski in ‘floodlights’, the second poem in the collection, where she locates him in the second line:

‘but then I read an almost made up poem
by charles bukowski …’

Two Bukowski-inspired poems out of a collection of only eleven; pretty much bracketing the work so that we can’t miss the influence. Tondut emulates the poet’s style too, writing almost exclusively in lower-case, and she uses slashes and apostrophes to miss out letters.

Bukowski has a fairly bleak view of the human condition, but he seems basically at ease with himself and fairly tongue-in-cheek about his travails. In ‘Love is a dog from hell’ he remembers past lovers by the condoms he wore with them:

‘my box of rubbers is getting
stale
I take them out
Trojan-Enz
lubricated
for greater sensitivity
I take them out
and put three of them on

the walls of my bedroom are blue

Linda where did you go?
Katherine where did you go?

(and Nina went to England)’

Tondut uses an almost identical structure in ‘sex is a bitch from heaven’, but in contrast to Bukowski, the characters in Tondut’s poems are all quite damaged women, and their experience of life, and sex, is intense and gut-wrenchingly honest. The narrator of this one has a number of men on the go. We learn this from the contents of her bedside waste bin, which:

‘is blooming
w / durex (extra safe)
supposedly
numbing sensitivity
i pull two of them out

the walls of my bedroom are venus white

alex is gun smoke
ollie is pale swan
(but henry stayed in brighton)’

The narrator is obsessed by colour. Alex’s semen is the light grey colour of gun smoke, Ollie’s almost white, while she tells us later that her own eyes are ‘hunter green’, the colour of the wellington boots.

Her bedroom may be white, but there’s a darkness at the centre of this woman:

‘shipwrecks
death cars
& duende excite me ‘

Duende – emotional darkness in the psyche – what Lorca, talking about music, called ‘black sounds’- that’s what drives her.  And she has a new problem, too – those ‘durex (extra safe) supposedly numbing sensitivity’turn out to be ‘(extra safe) supposedly’, as further down in the poem –

‘there’s no ticking inside me
just a bomb
i sense something swimming up
inside a canal’

These lines too are adapted from Bukowski’s poem –

‘there is a ticking behind me
but no clock
I feel something crawling along
the left side of my nose’

Tondut does the same thing in ‘floodlights’, taking another Bukowski poem and incorporating a lot of the imagery and tropes into her own work. It’s not pastiche, nor really homage, so why is she doing it so obviously?

In ‘w’althamstow heights’ she uses apostrophes in place of missing letters, giving the reader a sense of the narrator’s pronunciation, and thus where she fits into the British class structure. She has been killed in the last line of the poem, (‘a’ thought, ‘e cannot kill me. bu’ ‘e did.’) so there is a second possibility – this may be a buried corpse or a ghost speaking to us, with difficult diction. A lot of Tondut’s imagery offers multiple possible readings, of which more later.

The collection is named after the poem ‘the god of love is stained’, and this piece brings low self-worth right into the foreground. It’s a monologue, preceded by a short scene-setting: ‘zelda (early 30s) is a writer living in london. she’s joined a support group for vulnerable women. in her introductory speech, she attempts to explain her reasons for attending.’  Zelda launches into a rambling tale of failed relationships:

‘and every time I found love it wasn’t right / just hurt hurt hurt / beat beat beat / and of course I believed that’s what I deserved …’

but she’s been emailed a photograph of a William Morris stained glass window of  ‘the God of Love’. The window is stained and cracked, and she thinks that it’s symbolic of how her god of love is stained. Then she notices that the window has a girl standing next to the god:

‘but he’s never going to return her gaze, is he?  no matter how long she stares. but she still exists, and that’s when it hit me, how like her i am. always looking for the god of love, never once looking for me.’

As confessionals go, that’s pretty intense, and it’s difficult to know whether these characters are articulating the poet’s own feelings or whether she’s constructed them, like a novelist, to show us some of society’s losers. I find myself wondering if the Bukowski references are meant to give the collection some cultural prestige that the author fears it might otherwise lack.

And yet she has no need to worry – these poems have a vigour and a power that is uncommon. Her subjects are only too believable – I’ve spent a long time thinking about the narrator of ‘sex is a bitch from heaven’, looking at different layers of meaning, and the same goes for other examples in this collection.

Her use of vocabulary is subtle and multi-layered – remember the ‘durex (extra safe) supposedly numbing sensitivity’.  In ‘wanted’ she puts us into the mind of a woman who fights boredom by fantasising:

‘on dead days
like this I wish
i was dillinger’s
moll draped in
a fox fur stole’

See how she uses crime-related vocabulary – ‘dead’ days, a fur ‘stole’. Other words would suffice, but these choices keep us focussed on gangsters.  Very sexual imagery, too, the words working on several levels:

‘working a stick
of red against
my lips ‘

and later –

‘my long
legs matchin the
swing of his gun’

These poems are unsettling, grammatically and emotionally, but they have a power and a rawness that makes them hard to forget. The rhythm of the lines made me read some of them out loud, pounding out the words.

The God of Love is Stained is not easy to read but it’s powerful and hard to forget. Tondut gives us a lot of Bukowski’s ‘things that claw and tear’, but it’s her own vision, and her own voice, with her own remarkable use of language. Try it.

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!

‘Reasons not to live there’ by Humphrey Astley

In online chapbook, Pamphlets on July 23, 2012 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey

This small, self-published pamphlet opens with ‘Homework’, a stream of consciousness that flows, like Joyce’s Molly Bloom soliloquy, unhindered by a single full stop. The ‘blood-red Spanish wine seeping my studies’ is in a mug, but as soon as the reader has smiled at that small detail, some unsettling images are introduced. Although the speaker’s friend has a ‘foreign girl’ who ‘begs for him in London and begs for him inside her’, he ‘would never make a slave of a woman who can’t be alone so…he must be good we must be good unlike the young men responsible for the recreational drug rape of my sister…’

The speaker allies himself with his friend who, he feels, is not exploiting someone – and yet he is, by getting her to beg for him. These moral shades of grey are what define this pamphlet. Today, the virtual world has become, for many, almost more real than the concrete world, and the speaker is conscious here not only of his apathy (‘I have no opinion’), but also his altered sense of reality: ‘in the parallel universe known as the real world…’

The text moves from one situation to another, from the present to the past, his Irish mother who ‘gave her youth to England only to be spat on in the street’. But in spite of the injustices he mentions, the speaker simply wants to get drunk and ‘sing off-key and in the azure morn raise with tongues like two dry leaves’. Here again, he reflects the passive stance of those who just want to have fun: ‘I’ll stay here with my wine…’

In the next poem, ‘Resolution’, this notion of taking the path of least resistance persists. It’s the end of a relationship, but

‘you are staying together,
because if either of you leaves,
there will be less warmth for the baby.’

Once more, all is not as it seems: ‘Your happy home is as real to me/as a haunted house.’

‘St Mary’s Road’ opens with a defensive line: ‘They weren’t Pakis to us’. Again, there’s a grey area: while the speaker’s family avoids this politically incorrect word, he uses it here, to show us that this wasn’t the reason for the tension between them. Instead, ‘we had our own reasons/for hating them.’ These reasons appear to include ownership of a ‘two-timing’ tree that grows ‘right through the wall’ between the two gardens. In the next stanza, the kids next door are referred to as ‘Indian’ – perhaps a more accurate word than the earlier ‘Pakis’. The tree gives the kids an excuse for ‘make-believe claims/on its roots’. It’s an interesting poem, because the moral ambiguity apparent in previous poems continues; while there was some sense of patriarchal ownership over women in the earlier poems, here, it’s territorial. And with the mention of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of race, comes the implication of empire. Even between children, in contemporary England, the notion of conquering is all-consuming: ‘How many times could we have/the same argument? As many as it took to give them what for.

In the more experimental poem ‘A hard-on in the shower,’ the speaker is again sitting on the fence, or more literally, hanging ‘in the doorway.’ But as with other poems in the pamphlet, inexplicable line endings and indentations make this a less than satisfying poem, both visually and in terms of meaning. For example, the word ‘the’ is indented and also stands alone, as does ‘our’ ‘and’, ‘with’, ‘and my’, ‘with the’ etc. As Don Paterson puts it, well-considered line endings allow for key words to ‘resonate into silence’.  There was an opportunity for powerful resonances here, and in other poems, which the poet missed.

‘The Big Society’ is a gentle dig at the PM who chats with his children over breakfast as it’s ‘good practice for dispensing little pearls’ even though ‘at this rate the kids’ll be late for/the best school’. His inner circle ‘seal him in a circle’ and ‘like to smell the money in each other’s musk’. The internal rhymes and assonance (crest/chest, dress/peck/ desk/press; spilling/pillow; golden/yolk/ hook/neck; stack/tabloid/rags; world/pearls) throughout the poem create a neat cohesiveness. Again, the idealistic colour ‘azure’ appears. Twice, for added irony. But after the moral ambivalence of other poems, the authority of the speaker to be critical lacks credibility.

Having said that, the following poem, ‘St Giles’ Street’, is, in my opinion the most convincing in the collection: because the speaker puts on ‘an oversized suit’ and makes a stand, even though the two repeated lines return to his more usual tentative tone: ‘These are not patterns,/but prayers of a sort.’ And yet, what the poem suggests is that a pattern is finally being broken.

‘Reasons not to live there’ and ‘Holiday’ are similarly heartfelt and intimate. Underlying the cynicism (‘I’ll have to get you wet with booze and/mould you into someone I can/use for a foil’) a longing for some kind of constancy can be detected. Remote places, such as the Scottish highlands or the beaches on the south coast, are simplest, where ‘the attractions are old fashioned’.

Today’s world is complex, and in his pamphlet, Astley has captured the confusion faced by the youth in Britain, where identity is no longer established simply by an accent. Here is a thinking poet, with a natural talent, whose work shows considerable promise.

‘Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals’ by Sarah Dawson

In Kindle chapbook, online chapbook, Pamphlets on October 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

Since this is a review of a chapbook designed for the Kindle, in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I have never owned one. Nor do I plan to, no matter how shiny the various companies make their e-readers. (To be fair, I do read on my iPhone, but mainly stuff on McSweeney’s Small Chair app that has been specially formatted for it.) I probably own enough books to start my own library lending service, and though my bookshelves at home and at university are groaning under the weight, I would not have it any other way. This is less a case of my hating the digital revolution, and more a case of my remaining largely indifferent to this aspect of it.

 

Frankly, the experience of reading Sarah Dawson’s chapbook, Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals, has not changed my mind about e-books. This, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the poetry or its presentation, both of which are excellent. On her blog Poetry After Ink, Dawson states that her goal was to self-publish a group of poems she was proud of. As for choosing the Kindle format? In her own words, ‘I kept reading that formatting poetry for Kindle was close to impossible, and I wanted to prove it wasn’t.’ I read the chapbook on both the Kindle for iPhone and for PC apps, and I have to say that whatever Dawson did in terms of formatting (details in this blog entry), it works perfectly, e.g. line breaks are preserved when resizing the text.

 

Turning to the poetry, there will always be those who remain sceptical about the quality of self-published work. This is not the place to rehash the debate, apart from registering my assent to Dawson’s comment that ‘[t]he ideas that digital formats cheapen poetry, and that all self published writers are terrible are self perpetuating’. Far from being terrible, Dawson’s poems are lyrical observations, shot through with imagery that is tactile and visceral. The opening poem, ‘Barceloneta, May 2010’, is short enough to quote in full:

You were mining breaststroke – the universal

sign for swimming. Found the beach, whilst I was

 

watching silken laundry sea that lapped the

pillars. Beneath, fish were sewn from thousands

 

of silk scraps – seams that faced out, unhemmed

loose threads, labels, that you ached to cut

 

they brushed each other; coats they ached to shrug off

 

There is a patterning of sounds in this poem, an ebb and flow to the manner in which they appear, go away, reemerge in new configurations. The image of the ‘silken laundry sea’ introduced in the second couplet regulates the rest of the poem’s sounds. The fish become transformed into ‘silk scraps’, as if they have merged with the sea at an essential level. Yet when the poem performs its own merging by pulling in the ‘m’ sound from the first couplet, a curious moment of linguistic play occurs. Pronouncing a word like ‘unhemmed’ presses the lips together, but the meaning points to something coming undone. Cleverly, ‘seam’ is also linguistically janiform, since it can mean both a junction and a fissure. The tension between these two impulses, to join and to separate, is caught up again by the last line, where ‘brushed’ echoes ‘breaststroke’ in the first, even as the fish are still trapped in ‘coats they ached to shrug off’. It is inconceivable not to acknowledge such patterned economy of language as deserving admiration.

 

Another example of Dawson’s craftsmanship occurs in ‘Lug worms, rag worms’. On her blog, Dawson mentions that this poem began life as a pantoum, which she subsequently edited down. The version that appears in the chapbook has been pared down further, and while no longer recognisable as a pantoum per se, still does something interesting in the way bits of the repeated lines seemingly ‘burrow’ into each other, like ‘worms’ moving through the ‘sand’ of the poem. As the poem comes to a graceful finish, ‘Plucked from / our burrows, now exposed, our frayed threads / antagonize each other’, the compass of its central metaphor expands to connect worms and people in the same predicament, the threat of being ‘exposed’, of being made vulnerable. Where a lesser poet might have worked in a pun on ‘bristle’ and linked it with ‘antagonize’, Dawson’s use of the unrepeated ‘exposed’ stands out as a moment of subtlety.

 

Earlier, I stated my lack of interest in e-books. (At least when it comes to buying my own reading material. I read plenty of digital stuff for reviews!) To reiterate, this has never been a value judgement, but purely a question of personal preference. Perhaps then, the highest compliment I can pay Dawson’s chapbook in closing is to say that had it been published as a physical chapbook, I would have happily bought it, which is what I normally do anyway when I read something I like online that is also sold in hard copy. As it stands though, in the case of Dawson’s chapbook e-reader converts certainly have one up on people like me, and I am glad to admit it.

Silkworms Ink Chapbook #8 : ‘Short Stories’ by Jen Spyra

In online chapbook on October 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Silkworms Ink are the new(ish) kids on the block that specialize in the publication of online chapbooks as well as literary t-shirts. An unusual but clever combination since I suspect the latter provides the financial backing to allow accessibility to the former. The chapbooks have found themselves gradually included in their blog providing a theme that influences each of its posts:

‘Each week we take a theme and construct a magazine of sorts that forms as the week progresses. Intro Monday, Poetry Tuesday, Fiction Wednesday, Music Thursday, Chapbook Friday, Mixtape Saturday and Mini Essay Sunday.’

It’s not a traditional technique and for the most part it works. The relentless output means of course that there are a few dud posts, but also some stand-outs, in particular Phil Brown’s Wikipedia manifesto, Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Luke Kennard musical tribute, and Jon Ware’s indescribable ‘They Call Him Doctor Turnips’.

I’m a bit late at reviewing Jen Spyra’s online chapbook. Since its issue, 24 more chapbooks have been posted online by the Silkworms Ink team and yet, this is the one that has endured the most in my mind.

Spyra’s five short stories range from the exhilaratingly mad to the disappointing. Amongst the better stories there is the ‘Glorious Emergency Status Report On The Order Of The Blood Of Thoth’ that imagines the bankruptcy of a secret order. Bloodsmen are warned amid other cost-effective suggestions that the ritual burning of airline tickets be restricted to tri-state area tickets, adding:

‘And Bloodsmen, if you haven’t registered for a Rapid Rewards account yet, don’t wait for Miranda to send out another email. It’s a quick and easy savings that we can’t turn down right now. ‘

Spyra excels in this story at contrasting the grandiose with the mundanity of economic failure. The tone is perfectly judged and like the best short stories it looks like the glimpse of a much larger world.

On the other hand ‘Recession, Schmessession’ and ‘MOMMY BANGERS, EPISODE 105: SHE ORDERED SAUSAGE’ are more disappointing offerings. In the first, the flippancy of her tone and gratuitous self-referencing are more grating than amusing. ‘MOMMY BANGERS…’ on the other hand is a facile but entertaining satire on political correctness within the context of a pornographic shoot. Spyra changes tact here by giving us the script of this imagined porn, complete with directions and for the most part it works:

‘DELIVERY BOY: I’m getting hard. Say that again.
HORNY HOUSEWIFE: We’re two consenting adults who are alone and want to have sex outside of the workplace.’

Spyra is a gifted comic writer but this story is a case example of her lack of ambition. The problem with ‘MOMMY BANGERS…’ is that the story is so very satisfied and excited at its risqué choice of subject that it stops itself short of doing something interesting with the material, or even the chosen format.

However, the chapbook redeems itself with the closing stories of ‘Mr. Tambellini’s School of Driving’ and ‘The Olympian’. ‘Mr Tambellini…’ was published by McSweeney’s and is also the oldest story in the collection (at least in terms of publication if not inception) and its maturity shows. Spyra restrains her style by staying on the safe side of deadpan:

‘Based on what I’ve heard from my friends, typical driver’s-ed instruction consists of lectures and videos. Mr. Tambellini’s instruction involved an old episode of Cops and him holding his hands up to an improvised steering wheel, encouraging me to “go like this.”’

‘The Olympian’ is perhaps the strangest story yet in the chapbook: the first-person narration of the anti-athlete personified who is convinced that she will be taking part in the Olympics. The good humour of the narrator bellies the unnerving feeling that her perception of herself is untrustworthy. It seems fairly certain that she is delusional but Spyra persists, like a devellish Jiminy Cricket, in trying to convince us that there is truth in the madness.

As the unapologetically nondescript title of the chapbook suggests, ‘Short Stories’ is an odd assortment of stories. They veer from the epistolary, to script, to more traditional formats with subjects as wide as the Olympics, the recession and a driving school. The only constant is Spyra’s not always successful irreverence towards her subject matter. However, whilst the quality may be patchy in this chapbook, the worlds created by Spyra’s over-active imagination are never dull. It is a collection of short stories easy to dip into and harder to leave.