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Saboteur Awards 2013: Performance

In Performance Poetry, Saboteur Awards on June 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

-in which James Webster sums up the categories he presented at the awards –

saboteur awards - performer

Best Performer

When it came down to the final day, Best Spoken Word Performer was the most closely contested of all the categories, with first place going back and forth several times and only three votes separating the winner and runner-up. That runner-up was Dan Cockrill, who deserves real credit for pushing the winner all the way to the wire, receiving many enthused comments from voters along the way. One such person said they voted for him “Because he is funny, engaging and full of bags of energy. And you never get bored of him however many times you see him!”

The other nominees also deserve a lot of kudos, Raymond Antrobus (who is one of the co-hosts of Chill Pill and whose pamphlet The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus was published this year) reportedly “has a way with words, is unique in delivery and is spinetingly inspirational.” While Emma Jones (regular at Bang! Said the Gun and virtuoso performer) has “A tongue so sharp they call it a mouth knife. FACT!!” and an “Uncanny ability to absorb a character and present a perspective rarely seen.” Fay Roberts (host of Hammer & Tongue Cambridge and founder of Allographic) was said by one voter to have “a range and depth that I envy. Her poems combine beautiful word-smithery, wisdom and wry humour and her highly original delivery is a delight.”

The winner, however, was Vanessa Kisuule. A phenomenal poet whose performances are often heartfelt, often funny, and always excellent, and have delighted audiences all over the UK.

Winner of a multitude of slams and a regular at festivals, she “combines warm humour with beautifully measured emotion and a sprinkling of bite, Vanessa Kisuule is simply one of the best performing poets around.” Another voter said “Vanessa’s poems actually steal me and take me on an adventure”, while another commented “Vanessa has a depth and maturity to her work I’ve never seen matched in spoken word”. The most prevalent commendation, however, was her uncanny knack of expressing the inexpressible, she has “the ability to articulate feelings previously considered ineffable; a skill as rare as it is wonderful” and “has the most relevant poetry to so many people, she finds the perfect words to express what so many people think but can’t vocalise because they don’t have her words. She is a total boss.”

Best One-Off

Another close category, with the intriguing events that were Penning Perfumes (exploring scents through poetry and vice-versa) and Poetry Parnassus (an almost unprecedented conglomeration of poets from around the globe) coming in joint second. Penning perfumes was called “innovative, bold, mixing genres and going outside poetry audiences to engage through use of the senses with a wider audience” while Poetry Parnassus was praised for being “a once in a life time gathering of poetry and poets and community and sharing and wisdom.”

Also in the running was Poetry Polaroid (mapping Edinburgh through poetry) that was “a beautiful concept that drew a lot of people into exploring the city and thinking about it in different ways”, while Binders Full of Women (beautifully hand-made binder celebrating poetry of writers who identify as female, trans, intersex or gender-neutral) that was “urgent, organised and awesome: a combination of creative publication and lively gatheration, with a side order of campaigning poetics”.

But the winner was the massive nationwide platform that was Shake the Dust. A mixture of performances, workshops and other events, it gave a platform to young people across the UK to explore poetry in a way that “visibly changed young lives, connecting the poetry and spoken word scenes around the globe with new rising stars. Total brilliance.”  In fact, several people commented on the power of the event that was “really changing young people’s lives through poetry”, that “provided so many opportunities for so many young people who were able to come together for a unique and special event on such a large open scale. it changed many lives” and that was “bringing together the disparate youth in art and spoken word; an undervalued gift”

Overall: “An amazing celebration of the voice of youth”

saboteur awards - one-off

Best Spoken Word Show

Some truly wonderful shows of different kinds were celebrated in this category, from the Wandering Word Stage that brings poets to new crowds at various festivals and provides “a marvellous sanctuary in the daytime and a hubbub of insanity at night”, to Dirty Great Love Story‘s fusion of verse and theatre, winning a Fringe First, touring to New York and according to one voter being “truly awesome inventive ninjas and made me cry”. And Emergency Poet (Deborah Alma) who provides rhymes in a crisis from a real ambulance: “The world’s first and only emergency poetry service, in a genuine 1960s ambulance, do you really need to ask why it should win?”

Runner up, Lucy Ayrton: Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry (a selection of feminist fairytales and dissection of the power of children’s stories) got a lot of love, one memorable remark saying she “not only harnesses the seductive power of fairytales to make powerfully incisive and beautifully made points about gender and society, but also she has lovely hair”

But the winner was Whistle by Martin Figura, a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, tale drawn from his own childhood that has toured throughout the UK and abroad. “It made me want to cry and I never want to cry except in the bank” said one fan, while others commented that this “Immensely personal tale of tragic upbringing yet hugely enjoyable” and that it “Invaded my dreams and will stay with me forever”. It’s a show that truly seems to have matched content to performance, with audiences saying: “Whistle is a bravura performance and a valuable text that makes no concessions to simple delivery but is delivered with great dramatic conviction.”

Finally, the comment that perhaps most sums it up is this one: “The most heartening true story of human resilience told in stunning poems I’ve ever seen in such an intense, understated show.”

 saboteur awards - spoken word show

Best Regular Spoken Word Night

It was a running joke on the night that we would repeatedly refer to categories as having been ‘an incredibly close race’ or having gone ‘right down to the wire’. This was not one of those categories, the winner of Best Regular Spoken Word Night was clear and deserved.

That is not to say the other nominees didn’t put up a fight, Come Rhyme with Me (blend of food and poetry) earned plaudits because “the poetry is consistently amazing both from the headliners and the open-mic-ers. Plus it’s worth going simply for the food!” While Hammer & Tongue Oxford (founding branch of the national network of slam poetry events) was praised for its “friendly and funny organizers, great community, and excellent performers”. Inky Fingers (inventive and inviting Edinburgh based collective) “provides a welcoming and open space for new spoken word artists whilst also showcasing some top spoken word talent to inspire”.

The runner up, Jibba Jabba (multi-disciplinary and superbly supportive open mic in Newcastle) really looked like giving the winners a run for their money (read: rosette) for a while with their “great performers, great venue, great audience & words that sear into your chest & stay with you for days”.

But in the end there was only ever going to be one winner: Bang! Said the Gun, whose anarchically fun and involving events have consistently raised the bar for poetry events. As the voters said “BSTG show us all how it should be done – fun and eclectic and challenging and loud and quiet and generous. They’ve also mastered the fact that poetry nights should be engaging to look at as well as listen to!”.

It’s an event that voters pointed out isn’t just good, but is also always colossal fun: “Rock and roll poetry, why shouldn’t it win?!” Plus, it always gets the audience going: “Let’s shake, rattle and roll with poetry. Need I say more. Absoposifrigginlutely BANGTASTIC!!! The best show for miles.”

Finally, Bang! Is such a unique night because it opens poetry up to new audiences: “Weekly and sometimes on the telly too. Poetry’s best chance of a tv breakthrough.” and because it “makes poetry electric and sexy”.

saboteur awards - regular spoken word night

All very deserved winners and nominees, plus a fantastic night. Can’t wait for next year to do it all again!

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Saboteur Awards 2013: Published Poetry

In anthology, Pamphlets, Saboteur Awards on June 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

-in which Claire Trévien sums up the categories she presented at the awards-

saboteur awards - pamphlet

Best poetry pamphlet

The Best Poetry Pamphlet category was one of the most closely fought over category, displaying a wonderful range of experimental, sci-fi, and decadent verse. During the entire month, however, there were two clear frontrunners, with runner up Sarah Hymas’ self-published concertina pamphlet Lune described by one anonymous voter as being ‘like a paper flower: small and perfectly formed but expanding in your imagination into something bigger and more mysterious, like the sea itself.’

Other shortlisted pamphlets included Body Voices by Kevin Reid (‘brilliantly conceived and executed – a modern masterpiece!’); Lawrence Gladeview’s Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love (‘a fresh voice in a sea of boring books and lost writers. This is by far one of the best chapbook collections I have ever read’); and J.S. Watts Songs of Steelyard Sue (‘Unusual subject for poetry, wryly humorous, surprisingly touching – Steelyard Sue is a very real character despite being built out of scrap metal’).

However, it is Charlotte Newman’s Selected Poems (‘Razor-edged, uncompromising, ferocious artistry’) which finally claimed the crown. Published by the micro-press Annexe Magazine, the pamphlet was described by voters in the following terms:

‘Sensual but with a prickly, almost brutal, verbosity- she shows things as they are: melancholy, complicated, but resistant in their drawing of the mind’s eye. A talent that needs more recognition.’

‘Charlotte has an incredible way with words. She writes in a way that could easily carve out a new trend in poetry. Also, an award might get her to write more…’

‘Annexe is one of the most interesting new ventures around – very modern, very engaging and doing something different from anyone else.’

Best poetry anthology

The short list for Best Poetry anthology ranged from a compendium of new forms (Adventures in Form), to poetry from the north west of England (Sculpted: Poetry of the North West) to the anniversary edition of a five year old magazine (The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology), to an alternative anthology of young poets (Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets).

Adventures in Form, the category’s runner up, was described by one voter as ‘One of the best anthologies of the decade’. Fellow nominee Sculpted was praised for giving ‘a voice to the North West’ and for providing ‘a pleasingly diverse range of voices which does the North West proud’. Rhyming Thunder was described as a ‘magnificent collection full of wonderful pieces from some of the best emerging spoken word artists on the scene’. The Centrifual Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology, the only non-UK publication on the list, was described as ‘a stunning compilation of superbly-crafted poems from TCE’s first 5 years in publication. I’ve never read so much good poetry in one place before that wasn’t written by a single/favorite author.’

However, the winner was Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, with many voters praising it for the work English PEN and the editors have done to support the detained members of Pussy Riot:

‘This anthology is unique and striking in its focus; it is both a powerful tool for campaigning and a beautiful, passionate – and at times hilarious – collection of poetry. This is poetry with real heart and soul and it deserves to win!’

‘A creative, collaborative and timely collection of poems responding to the ridiculous decision to imprison the Pussy Riot women. Great use of poetry as a means of standing up to attacks on free expression as it is happening.’

‘Searing and beautiful response to the Pussy Riot tragedy – manages to be topical, timely, and purely poetic at the same time.’

Poetry Anthology

Best mixed anthology

This award celebrated anthologies that did not fit a precise mould of pure poetry or pure fiction. The shortlist included exciting work meshing together genres creatively. Runner-up Still (Negative Press) received an overwhelming amount of comments, praising its mixture of photography and prose: ‘Still is a collection of stories that provide powerful insight and emotion into the lives of those that feel they don’t always have a voice’, ‘Fantastic idea, using images from an abandoned public office to inspire a collection of short stories!’

Fellow nominees included Pressed by Unseen Feet  (‘Because York deserves to be on the literary map and Stairwell Books are awesome’), Silver Anthology (‘a wonderful mix of prose and poetry, well-known authors and new names. A delightful read!’) and Second Lives (‘because psychogeography never ceases to be fascinating. Also Terrance Hayes FTW!’).

The winner was Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry, and below are some of the reasons why voters thought it deserved to win:

‘Beautiful book full of art for the eyes and ears.’

‘Combination of aesthetics and ecology, design and content.’

‘The most beautiful book I have seen in years, thoughtfully matched images and poems.’

‘Fantastic mix of poets and artists, the best coffee table book I purchased in 2012’

saboteur awards - mixed anthology

Most innovative publisher

Another fiercely fought competition, matching champions of experimental poetry the Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press against creators of hand-crafted wares and unusual anthologies Sidekick Books, and publishers of excellent spoken word artists Burning Eye.

Unthank Books, the only publishers of to exclusively deal with fiction on the shortlist , were the runners up, with voters commenting that ‘They’ve seriously pursued a leftfield agenda, publishing novels and short story anthologies which represent the unpublished flipside of British publishing. If you want alternative, non book club friendly fiction about the UK, start with Unthank.’

Comments for the rest of the shortlist included:

‘Sidekick Books continue to mix great design with an enthusiastic and very enjoyable ethos all the while publishing great books.’

‘Cos they are interesting..and not afraid to take risks. They also bridge the gap between the spoken word poets and print. Vital to get that tradition out there’ (Burning Eye)

‘for daring to publish what other publishers steer away from. Keeping innovative literature alive’ (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press).

However, Penned in the Margins, also the winners of Best Novella, and runner-up in the Best Poetry Anthology category, received the most votes, and the following comments explain why:

‘Because they are I think the leading innovative press at the moment. The interest in form, the range and intelligence of the project.’

‘’Penned in the Margins is the most exciting smallish press around. It’s a one-man show, Tom Chivers is a superhero… and a master of taste. Everything and anything they publish is guaranteed to be great. So many brilliant poetry publications in particular.’

‘Each book that comes out of the PITM stable is perfectly packaged, of a super high quality and guaranteed to make readers think a little differently.’

saboteur awards - publisher

And that concludes part 2 of 3. Next, James Webster will be sharing comments for the spoken word and live events categories!

Saboteur Awards 2013: Fiction

In Saboteur Awards on June 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

-In which Richard T. Watson sums up the Fiction side of the Saboteur 2013 Awards

A Sabotuer rosette, from @jsamlarose's Twitter

A Sabotuer rosette, from @jsamlarose’s Twitter

The first of the Fiction stable’s awards was for the Best Short Story Collection by a single author. Four out of five nominees were traditionally-printed books, while one (Superbard’s The Flood) was designed specifically for the iPad and featured a range of interactive multimedia elements. Our voters listed its advantages as: ‘Imagination, lyricism and originality – merging classic storytelling and classic stories with a modern, nerdy scientist twist and a wicked sense of humour.’ and ‘Because it’s simply brilliant, adored the story telling and the little sea shanty, singer had a great voice. Loved it and want more please.’

The titles alone in this category deserve some awards. From The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes to Tania Hershman’s My Mother was an Upright Piano and the winner, All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams, all were quirky but somehow appropriate. Meanwhile, Fog and Other Stories featured (as described by anonymous voters) a ‘Fascinating collection of stories and images of “fog” in all its forms. Ms. Egan has a great way of expressing the personalities of the characters’ in a collection that is ‘metaphorically alluring and humanistic’.

Our voters thought Syllabus deserved to win because ‘[Stokes is] a proper, bastard, full bore writer. These are stories that are true to themselves whilst showing a wide, deep range of influence and level of expressive dexterity. They’re an antidote to all the lame, colourless half formed stories[…]

Voter comments for My Mother… focused on the originality of Hershman’s writing, her ‘stunning prose’, ‘fresh, new voice’ and her stories as ‘little nuggets of solid gold, always witty, wise and warm’, with one saying: ‘Flash fiction can never get better than this. Tania is an exceptionally talented writer – someone to watch out for.’

But the winner was Tony Williams, for some of the following reasons:
‘Because the stories are rich with surprises and they are silly and clever and fun and disturbing. They take you in unexpected directions and you want to go on reading – that’s why it should win.’
‘Tony Williams is really an extremely cool dude. As well as being a super original and funny writer he’s also a really engaging performer. I’m really excited his short fiction’s being published… and by Salt, too!’

saboteur awards - short story collection

The nominees for our Best Magazine Award ranged from the long-running Rising, to the very new, like Lummox and the Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Art, or Alliterati with its focus on young writers, via last year’s Saboteur Award winners Armchair/Shotgun, with their third issue. All of them feature a range of short fiction, poetry and often visual artwork, sometimes with non-fiction in the form of interviews or reviews.

Lummox and Lakeview both had their first issues nominated, with voter comments highlighting Lummox’s quality of entries. Lakeview, the category’s runner-up, was described as ‘A diverse blend of traditional and experimental arts. Beautifully illustrated. Excellent work by new and established writers.’ and our review indicated it had promise to go on to even better things, echoing the anonymous comment that Lakeview was ‘A breath of fresh air, no clichés and obvious choices. Here to stay.’

The tenth issue of Alliterati was described as ‘A beautiful magazine created by passionate people, with pretty much no funding. Shows a true passion for the arts’ and praised for bringing ‘art and creative writing together in an innovative way and inspires people across the globe! A great use of the new digital marketplace!’ Comments also stressed the varied nature of the magazine’s content and readership.

The follow-up to last year’s winner, Armchair/Shotgun #2, was the third edition of the Brooklyn-based magazine, described as having ‘A continued dedication to both a fantastic product and the kind of writing that makes you feel publishing isn’t dead.’ Other praise declared: ‘They have a strong vision, strong writing and art, and their interview feature is especially strong.’

Maybe longevity gave the edge to winner (by just four votes), Rising, with many voter comments stressing a consistency and a willingness to take risks. One longer comment runs: ‘Rising has always unfailingly supported new and emerging writers alongside more established ones. Rising is brave and doesn’t shy away from bold subject matter or experimental forms. Every issue feels new, not just on the pulse, but Rising feels as if it were the pulse itself.’

Best Magazine Rising

Our category for Best Fiction Anthology catered for multiple-authored collections of short fiction, sometimes organised around a theme by an editor or publisher, but always representing the best of a wide range of submissions.

We had the world’s first ‘post-experimental’ collection from Bartleby Snopes, Post-Experimentalism, with its stated aim of providing literary satisfaction while transcending storytelling genres. Voters emphasised its innovation, with one saying: ‘Not only is this an innovative and entertaining anthology, but Post-Experimentalism seeks to bring forth a new movement in the literary world.’

The Dalkey Archive anthology, Best European Fiction 2013, is the latest in an annual series by the American publisher, showcasing what they consider to be the best foreign-language fiction in English translation. Voters called it diverse, refreshing and an ‘incredibly important anthology of fiction in translation, refreshing the staid Anglo scene. High production values (as ever) from Dalkey, bringing a diversity of voices and styles that expand the mind and bookshelf.’

The young, Scarborough-based Valley Press put forward an anthology featuring young writers under the age of twenty-five writing about their take on modern society. Front Lines was praised for the vitality of its young writers, with our own review expressing relief that the short story was in good hands with a new generation. One voter commented that: ‘The quality of work in both the writing and the editing in Front Lines by Valley Press is testament to how well small publishers can do in this new age of publishing.’

The category’s runner-up was Unthology #3, the third anthology from Unthank Books, and the third to be well-received by a Sabotage reviewer. Voters praised the variety and experimental nature of stories, as well as the overall quality and cohesiveness of the anthology as a whole. One described it as: ‘A variety of fresh new British writing talent is given vital oxygen by this consistently high quality volume’. Another said ‘the third collection picks up where the second left off and goes further still. Wonderful and eclectic. Can’t wait for the fourth.’

The theme for the winner was clear. Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud falls very much within the oral/aural storytelling mould, with stories deliberately designed for reading out loud – whether in the reader’s head or literally out loud – and short enough to appear in front of an audience without them getting restless. Editor Jonathan Taylor’s introduction places the collection in a tradition stretching back at least as far as Dickens’ public performances of his novels, and probably as far as primitive camp fire storytellers. Voters commented on the range and breadth of stories and of writers, as well as the collection’s more-ish nature. One said: ‘This collection deserves to win because, quite simply, the quality of the writing is very high throughout, as opposed to in part, which is so often the case with fiction anthologies. Credit must go to Salt Publishing. They have quickly become synonymous with unearthing new talent and this collection builds on that reputation.’

Best Fiction Anthology: Overheard

The Best Novella category also featured a young field, including Sally Ashton, Luke Kennard, Alan Cunningham, Jason Rolfe and Django Wylie.

Sally Ashton’s Controller told the story of a young English woman paying her way as an artistic life model in Spain. It never shies away from the visceral, and is a graphic tale of eroticism and exploitation. One voter said: ‘This is one of the most unique and disturbing stories I have read in a very long time. Clever, erotic, and disturbing.’

Django Wylie’s The Middle strikes a chord with disappointed commuters everywhere, with our reviewer calling it a ‘stunning novella, sometimes heartbreaking, but always funny’. One voter said: ‘Such wonderful language and and an extremely enjoyable read. Left me wanting more!’, with another calling it a ‘great intelligent piece of writing’.

Runner-up Alan Cunningham’s Count from Zero to One Hundred is an intimate exploration of the life of a disabled male narrator, praised by voters for its honesty and insight. Its autobiographical feel extends to memoir-like passages and almost travel-writing sections as the narrator encounters the cities of London, Dublin, Budapest and Berlin. One voter said ‘The subject matter is at times painfully honest and the writing style captivating and entertaining’, and another that the novella was ‘thought-provoking and poetic. Something truly special which stays with you’.

In his first foray into prose writing, Holophin, Luke Kennard creates a believable sci-fi future-world where nations have been superseded by corporations and everyone carries a personal, semi-autonomous computer behind their ear. Voters praised the originality, wit and humour of Holophin. One voter described it thus: ‘It’s a small but terrifying satire, an ingenious idea, with all kinds of philosophical consequence, and it rips along joyfully and oddly, with some brilliant handbrake turns (the Proppian folktale for god’s sake!). It’s just ingenious, cleverly playful and masterfully unsung about itself.’

Both the runner-up and the winner were published by Penned in the Margins, who went on to collect the award for Most Innovative Publisher. Unthank Books were also nominated in three different categories.

Best Novella Holophin

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Winners!

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on May 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

A more in-depth post will come soon, with comments from voters, logos for each winner, pictures and links to videos from the night (if you have any, do email them to us!), but we thought some of you might like to know as soon as possible who won in each category. You can find links to reviews of the shortlisted works here. We’re also featured in the Guardian today here, while Dan Holloway reviewed the event here! There is also a storify here of the event.

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The Results!

Best one-off 

Winner: Shake the dust
Runners up (joint-place): Penning Perfumes and Poetry Parnassus

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

From @jsamlarose's twitter after Shake The Dust's win

From @jsamlarose’s twitter after Shake The Dust’s win

Best short story collection

Winner: Tony Williams, All the bananas I’ve never eaten
Runner up: Tania Hershman, My Mother was an Upright Piano

Best magazine:

Winner: Rising.
Runner up: Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Best poetry pamphlet:

Winner: Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman
Runner up: Lune by Sarah Hymas

Best spoken word performer:

Winner: Vanessa Kisuule
Runner Up: Dan Cockrill

Best regular spoken word night:

Winner: Bang said the Gun
Runner Up: Jibba Jabba

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards!

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards! Photo from @bangsaidthegun twitter feed

'They don't shake themselves' (Bang said the gun)

‘They don’t shake themselves’ (Bang said the gun)

Best spoken word show:

Winner: ‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
Runner Up: ‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best poetry anthology:

Winner: Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot
Runner-Up: Adventures with Form

Best fiction anthology:

Overheard: Stories to be read aloud
Runner Up: Unthology volume 3.

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Best mixed anthology:

Winner: Estuary: a Confluence of Art and Poetry
Runner Up: Still (Negative Press).

Best novella:

Winner: ‘Holophin’ by Luke Kennard
Runner-Up: ‘Count from Zero to One Hundred’ by Alan Cunningham

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Most innovative publisher:

Winner: Penned in the Margins
Runner-up: Unthank Books

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien (photo by Tim Wells)

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

In anthology, Saboteur Awards on May 29, 2013 at 3:40 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-

Here’s an idea: invite some of your colleagues in the writing scene to submit individual pieces of short fiction, novel excerpts, verse, screenplay and other literary minutiae – all of which must honour a pre-determined theme – collate them, shuffle them into a polished sequence, then sit back and watch your anthology receive all the plaudits it deserves.

Unfortunately, we’ve been beaten to it. So we’ll have to make do with Silver Birch Press showing us how it’s done.

Silver anthology Silver Birch Press

The Los Angeles-based publisher have brought us SILVER: An Eclectic Anthology of Poetry and Prose, a compendium of silver-themed literature featuring work from established as well as up-and-coming writers.

Editors Joan Jobe Smith and Melanie Villines (who themselves appear extensively) will doubtless have been pleased by the vast range of subject matter, tone, style and form that the numerous contributions threw up – each one offering a varying salute to the concept of silver from one to the next.

Of the many connotations of silver, it’s little surprise that age – or, rather, ageing – features prominently. ‘Yoga Teacher’ by Tamara Madison is a poem that suggests how greying and getting old can be a graceful, almost beautiful, process in a physical sense but warns that the mental equivalent can leave a lot to be desired. Grey hairs are treated differently in ‘This gray hair means something’ by Thomas Kudla, a piece of fiction that explores the trauma of youth and its effect on appearance.

Indeed, many of the pieces in the collection share sub-themes of silver but leave us with contrasting perceptions of them. Love – and the many ways this is manifest through the colour silver – is no different. For example, a silver ring in ‘Today you open the wooden cabinet’ by Meghan Pinson marks the end of couple’s marriage, and serves a similar purpose in Tim Wells’ two-stanza ‘Talvisota’, whereas silver is celebrated in ‘Silver threads among Gold’: Barbara Dahl with a heartwarming tribute to love’s potential longevity and her 25 years of ‘untarnished’ wedlock.

Another stark category of the silver pre-requisite comes in the form of weather, climate and seasonality: the off-white clouds in ‘Mystic mists of Rotorura’ and ‘Foggy November’ by Dale Sprowl; the moonlight that creates silver linings on fallen leaves in Amy Lowell’s ‘Autumn’; the clouds and their silver lining in Barbara Eknoian’s ‘Glimmer’; not to mention the beautifully poetic depiction of a crescent moon in Lowell’s ‘Silver eyelash’.

We also encounter a melancholy side to silver. ‘The Dancer Downstairs’ by Paul Kareem Tayyar tells the tale of a boy transfixed by the out-of-body meditations of a woman in a neighbouring flat that is a nod towards voodooism and magical realism, while the religious and the supernatural are brought to light in ‘Car Ma’ by Barbara Alfaro. Merrill Farnsworth’s ‘My Divine Comedy’ considers the diabolic implications of a recurring nightmare. The subject of hell also touched on by Fred Voss, who questions why it should take the work of Dante to inspire anyone to compose an landmark piece of literature.

Voss is partly responsible for another of the major manifestations of silver. Along with a poem by Linda King, he offers an illuminating tribute to the late Jack Micheline, whose birth name is actually Harold Marton Silver. Voss honours the famous Beat poet with a literary profile and a poem of his own, while three examples of work from the great man himself are included.

Indeed, much of the anthology’s ‘cast’ are accomplished professionals – Walter de la Mare and Lowell, to name two other poets that fit such a billing. That may well deny a total sense of the ‘ephemeral’ as many of the contributors are established to some degree, but it’s fair to say the anthology’s freshness owes a lot to the grassroots arena.

For all its brilliance on a micro scale, it’s easy to lose sight of the anthology’s vastness. I really have barely scratched the surface. It weighs in at a hefty 240 pages, and features no fewer than 62 different contributors. That’s contributors, not contributions – and some, including Smith – chip in with a handful each. Words? Just the 51,000 of them.

The great benefit of the anthology’s size is that it allows for a seemingly endless comparative scope, to which I’ve given a disproportionately modest indication. And that certainly seems to be Smith’s intention, if her initial idea for a silver-themed anthology is anything to go by. After briefing the invited contributors, she was hoping to receive anything ‘from second-place finishes, to eating utensils, twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries, hair color, swirling fog, coins, bells, jewelry, the tin man, space suits, car bumpers, airplanes, family heirlooms and on and on. Let silver spark your imagination’ – that final thought, which comes towards the end of the collection’s introduction, carrying a certain irony, for it ends up as an instruction not to the author, but to the reader. I, for one, obeyed.

One outcome is that I’ll be following many of the names this anthology has brought to my attention, their work blazing a silver trail that I urge you to explore with as much curiosity as I will be.

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.

‘The Middle’ by Django Wylie

In Novella, Saboteur Awards on May 29, 2013 at 10:10 am

-Reviewed by Nick Sweeney

The Middle is a short, powerful book about journeys, both actual and metaphorical, through hope and failure, but ultimately towards the suggestion, at least, of some kind of redemption. The characters, a boy – actually in his late teens – a man who feels the breath of middle age on his neck, and an old man facing his last journey, are un-named, but never simple ciphers; they are recognisably and uncomfortably real, and may well be looking out of a mirror at you at various times in your life.

The Middle Django Wylie

The boy is on the London Tube on the way to Heathrow. We witness his surveillance of the types around him with their cheap clothes, electronic gizmos and air of failure and disappointment. I like the timelessness of his gaze and passing conclusions, that Holden Caulfield-like contempt of the world of phonies, the notion that youth knows best. The boy contemplates his possible futures:

The choice was stark, and the outcomes bleak: drop out and probably end up in the Argos stock room, or keep trudging on for the entitlement to spend eight hours a day in an artificially-lit office.

The writing is superb, with some great metaphors: the Tube as a ‘living Rubik’s cube’, the ‘wandering nihilism of late adolescence’, a ‘pint-sized Terry Waite – a Terry Lightweight’, and this gem:

He’d once heard some motivational speaker on the radio who’d been going on about how opportunity was always knocking. The problem was, the boy thought, so are salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He couldn’t help but
wish it used the bell.

Despite its resigned tone, its consideration of failure and suicide put off partly because he has to get his farewell note to hit exactly the right spot, the boy’s narrative is a celebration of youth. With all its flaws, youth still doesn’t hold the terrors of ageing.

The empty pointlessness in politics, culture, academia and student life falls under his pitiless gaze, but he never loses sight of where he is going, and you get the impression that he gets taken along with it all somewhat helplessly but, importantly, with the spark of indignation in knowing that he goes unwillingly. He refers to God as ‘our dear creator’, and notes the self-serving nature of ‘a god that would change water into wine to inebriate some broads at a wedding but ignore the cries of those on board United 93, or suffering Mamma Mia the Musical’.

Stuff like this makes it one of the funniest books I’ve read on the modern condition.

Like any sensitive, misunderstood young man, the boy wants to write, and he has a refreshingly honest take on it:

All he wanted was the chance to call himself a writer to girls in the pub (it sounded better than unemployed), and to possibly see his name, or that of his ridiculous nom de plume, in bookshops.

Those who people the boy’s journey distract him from his thoughts, but they prompt new ones too. These people – painted unforgettably in a few lines – serve a catalytic purpose in the narrative. Were they to be without this purpose, then they might just have appeared to be the butt of what might seem cheap jokes – I like them anyway, I should say – but they put the finishing touches to each thought, and start the next.

The boy’s aim of getting to Paris may only be a dream. It may also be better left as one. His journey reminds me of an episode in J K Huysman’s Against Nature, when his hero Des Esseintes starts for London but then, surrounded by English travellers in the waiting room at the Gare du Nord, realises that he has got the essence of it.

In part two,‘the man’ is at the airport. He starts off thinking about his regrets, not writing a novel – like the boy – and not making it with the band he was once in. Time has stolen everything from him, he reflects, ‘like Lehman Bros’, has delivered him away from his dreams into the clutches of wife, children and mortgage.

Unlike the boy, the man seems to have reached the stage at which he will get on a plane. Like the boy, he makes a fantasy out of his New York trip, all the while the reality of it – a dull business meeting – in the corner of his mind.

He ponders one of the many crises of capitalism, and his place in it:

Providence had given him everything, and yet everything was not enough. In fact, nothing was ever enough. Having more things created more opportunities for it all to malfunction… the man couldn’t help but think he had been the compliant architect in the construction of his own suffocating prison.

The man’s story has the most melancholic turn to it. The cheerfulness is missing from the humour, and, more chillingly, hope is also absent. We can believe the boy when he dreams, can accept that he may well turn his life into something. The man has lost that optimism. Like the boy, he has escape in mind, and sees himself ‘disappearing; reinventing himself’, but we can’t take this as a serious proposition at any time.

‘The old man’ is also fixed on travel in part three, though we can assume that this journey is probably going to be his last:

It would be a stretch to say that the old man couldn’t wait for the final throes of his earthly existence, but he wasn’t particularly enamoured with the idea of
hanging around too long. Hospital life was inane and dull – it was just like real life.

Doctors are sinister and vulpine, and the old man’s fellow-patients are sheeplike, content to waste their final hours in watching daytime TV. However, my main impression of this part was that the old man had regained the comic, but also generous, eye of the boy in this sequence, which could be depressing, but isn’t.

The old man is another who regrets the not-done. There is yet another unwritten book here – but at least it got a little further than those of the man and the boy. He also thinks of ‘unimpregnated woman’ and, a comic note of chill, the people he didn’t kill in a spree.

Django Wylie has given us a stunning novella, sometimes heartbreaking, but always funny. ‘Start over’, the last page exhorts us (before we go on to a playlist of music I don’t feel qualified to comment on – though I will be investigating it) and I wanted to, and I will.

‘Adventures in Form’ ed. by Tom Chivers

In anthology, Saboteur Awards on May 29, 2013 at 8:30 am

-Reviewed by Lucy Ayrton

Adventures-in-Form

Adventures in Form is a beautifully curated anthology of contemporary poets engaging strongly with form in their work. The poems are clustered under 15 areas (Code is Poetry, Traditional Revised and Correspondence, to name three), each reflecting an approach to exploring form.

The introduction to the book (by Tom Chivers) was a joy to read. Chivers is clear and passionate about his subject matter, and this felt like one of the most coherent and tightly curated anthologies I’ve seen.

“Form is not something to be ignored as irrelevant and old fashioned or, conversely, defended at all costs against the barbarians of free verse. In any vital literary culture, form must be subject to repeated renewal.” Tom Chivers

The strength of the collection was its diversity. It was nice to be challenged as well as have a selection of poems that I’d have chosen to read anyway, and I took something from each of the authors. Some of the poems, however, were exceptional.

‘Note’ by Hannah Jane Walker was a beautiful, narratively driven piece of surrealism with a precision of detail that shoves the poem off the page and into your face (“I see her sometimes sock-shuffle in and stand in front of the DVDs./ I saw her pick off pieces of your Thorntons easter chick and melt/ hold them on her tongue.”) The use of occasional grammatical inaccuracies contributes to a kind of disjointed, broken feeling – like this correspondence is more about disconnections than communication.

This is the kind of book that makes you interrupt your happily telly-watching boyfriend and ask him if he knows what a Univocalist poem is (“Frosty mongs bosh shots of scotch/ on London’s Brook Common,/ rock-off to soppy mono toss;/ lost songs of London:/ Town of Bop.” – ‘Two Moons for Mongs’, Ross Sutherland).

Some of the poems I just flat out didn’t “get” (‘Eating Chinese Food in a Straw Bale House, Snowmass, Colorado, January 2011’ by Paul Muldoon was just a string of letters, repeating and slowly changing. I guess if you read them aloud it sounds like an eating noise. But is that it? Is that the whole point? Surely I’m missing something? Gah!) and some felt like exercises rather than finished pieces. Much like improv, I suspect some were more fun to write than they are to read. The form N+7 (“a translation process in which each noun in the original text is replaced by the seventh noun after it in the dictionary”) in particular, struck me as more of a starting point than a poem. Having said that, Ross Sutherland’s ‘The Liverish Red-Blooded Riffraff Hoo-Ha’ (actually an N+27 poem) felt much more carefully constructed than the form implied. Also, what’s wrong with providing starting points? If read as a “some cool things you might like to try if you’re a bit blocked” compendium, Adventures in Form is no less satisfying than when read as an anthology.

The ideas are delightful to skim through, even without the poem. A poemixtape (where one word must link each song title to the next), a quantum poem (words written on sheep, their juxtapositions left to chance) and The Analogue Guide to Parenting (Chris McCabe wrote down 12 inane things they said to their toddler. The toddler chose the order by pointing at a toy clock) were particularly delicious concepts.

Adventures in Form is a wonderful book. Like a literary equivalent of a pinterest board, it makes you want to have a go at creating your own versions of the poem as much as to stare and coo over them. I’m not sure I’ve done it justice, but trust me. Properly exciting in a way that anthologies can rarely sustain, Adventures in Form should be the next poetry book you buy.

‘Second Lives: Tales From Two Cities’ (ed. Rodge Glass & Jane Bernstein)

In anthology, Saboteur Awards on May 28, 2013 at 9:20 pm

-Reviewed by Charlotte Barnes

I approached Second Lives: Tales From Two Cities with apprehension, given that I was somewhat unprepared for what the anthology would contain. It markets itself as a collection of views provided by various writers in order to portray individual perceptions on the once-industrial cities of Glasgow and Pittsburgh. The anthology combines various examples of art, with some writers expressing themselves through the medium of short stories, some opting for a harsher and more accurate non-fiction approach and some even refusing to use words, choosing to portray their city through images that they have either taken or created themselves.

Second Lives Cargo Press

The basic purpose of the book wasn’t apparent to me initially, perhaps because I do not usually delve into this sort of literature. However, upon reading the introduction, which is a transcript of a conversation that occurred between the editors, Jane Bernstein and Rodge Glass, I found myself immediately pulled into the anthology.

As we flit between cities, beginning with Allan Wilson’s perspective of Glasgow, the true essence of these places soon becomes filtered through the writing and, ultimately, your reading of the texts. Wilson’s ‘Remember when this was a farm?’ is a particularly emotive story, with clear references to the developments in Glasgow that were slowly appearing where simple land used to be. Despite the emotional torment that seems apparent in the protagonist Jamieson, there still seems to be a final tone of optimism within the tale.

Lori Jakiela contributes a number of memorable poems to the anthology, offering her insight into Pittsburgh, before Kapka Kassabova plummets us back into the artistic depths of Glasgow, delivering another heart-warming example of short fiction.

Pittsburgh writer Gerry Stern delivers another interesting view into the city through his assessment that he has, ‘a love-hate relationship with Pittsburgh’. In detailing what he adores and despises about the city, it feels that we have taken another step closer to understanding the fundamentals of this land that so many artists appear to be enamoured of. Stern’s poetic musings are followed by Mitch Miller, writing for Glasgow, who proceeds to divulge details about his ‘dialectograms’ – while I won’t make a mockery of this art by attempting to explain it in my own layman terms, I will say that it’s a truly unique art form that is yet another contributing factor to what makes this collection so special.

One piece in particular that I enjoyed was ‘Dear Mr Billy Connolly’, written by Peter Mackie Burns; this short extract tells the tale of a pub in Glasgow that always has a Billy Connelly CD playing in the toilets. For me, this particular piece is a wonderful example of the quirks that are hidden beneath both Glasgow and Pittsburgh and, after reading and enjoying this anthology, I would like to thank all the writers involved for awakening me to those quirks which, before now, I was ignorant of.

Charlotte Glynn’s recollection of her younger years in Pittsburgh, followed by her abandonment of and eventual return to the city, I found particularly moving – more so given the diagram she supplies on which she plots her growing love for the city. If nothing else, this collection will encourage you to firstly, appreciate the world around you that you have not yet explored; and secondly, it with surely ignite some curiosity for your own hometown and exactly how you feel about it.

The Pittsburgh and Glasgow writers had very different impacts on me during my reading: something that I particularly enjoyed during my reading of Glasgow’s tales was how artistic this city is, something that I was completely unaware of until my reading of this anthology. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, endowed me with a wonderful picture of a town that is full of different perspectives, all of the same thing; I particularly enjoyed the over-laps between tales in which different writers referred to the same thing but in an entirely different manner – it was eye-opening, to say the least.

Despite my initial mixed feelings for the anthology, I am pleased to say that I would now recommend Second Lives to anyone – including people like myself who would no doubt grumble the same, ‘I don’t read these books’, moan that I did. I thoroughly enjoyed delving in and out of these people’s lives and their cities, and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to do so.

‘Pressed By Unseen Feet’ (ed. Rose Drew & Alan Gillott)

In anthology, Saboteur Awards, Short Stories on May 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm

-Reviewed by Richard T. Watson

Around ten per cent of York’s working population is employed in tourism, directly or indirectly, and more than a handful of those are employed in the city’s competitive ghost story industry. The historic centre is crammed with ghost tours, the spooks seeping through ancient cobblestone streets that have seen Romans, Vikings, Saxons and generations of people since. York is a city proud of its long history – last year celebrating the 800th anniversary of its city charter – and its streets, like the lawns of TS Eliot’s poem, have often been ‘pressed by unseen feet’.

Pressed By Unseen Feet

York-based Stairwell Books has put together an anthology of prose and poetry taking its title (Pressed By Unseen Feet: An Anthology of Ghostly Writing) from Eliot, and offering up a series of chilling stories and spooky poems from Yorkshire writers. They are stories from the stones of York, or occasionally ghosts from farther afield. These are mostly concerned with things seen out of the corner of your eye, or poetic landscapes haunted by a feeling of unease or even just a memory.

Over the centuries, we’ve understood ghosts to be many different things. Sometimes, the souls of the dead, caught between this world and the next, that haven’t managed to pass on, to Heaven or Hell, maybe because they have unfinished business with the living. Or they’re memories of the dead, of those we cared about who have gone forever but somehow remain. Or guides/guardians from a higher plane of existence, hanging around to help mere mortals get through the process of living. Occasionally, as in Pressed By Unseen Feet, they appear as figures from history, when the distant past bleeds into our modern times. Then sometimes they’re something else even harder to describe and explain.

For example, ‘Cavern’ by Pauline Quirk, has as its narrator the spirit of a cave – its conscious essence, if you like. Like many of the other entries in Pressed By Unseen Feet the story hints at a world beyond human or mortal comprehension, pointing to a consciousness that can’t be explained by rational thinking or science. The anthology as a whole urges the reader to push the boundaries of our understanding and open ourselves up to the possibilities of a world we can’t fully explain. It asks what’s so special about the rational world in the first place, and suggests we’re limited by mortal blinkers.

Jim Fairfoot’s ‘Existential Pizza’ is another entry that asks the reader to look at the world in another way – it’s about what it sounds like it’s about – calling into question the reliability of the traditional five senses and rationality. What evidence do you need that the pizza is, in fact, a pizza? Like much of Pressed…, this debunks rational thinking with something not quite explicable.

On the other side (of the coin, perhaps, but maybe a spookier ‘other side’), there are the entries that imply we live our lives surrounded by the memories and debris of former lives – our own, those of people we knew, or of our ancestors. A lot of the entries set outside of York, for example, focus on the memory of the stones or of buildings. John Coopey’s poem ‘The Ghost of White Hart Lane’ ties ghosts to the memory of a physical place, a sort of collective consciousness of a shared history – shared with other people and with a specific place. In this case, it’s a football stadium – and there’s an attendant sense of loss as Spurs get ready to move to a new ground – but it’s a feeling that applies in countless situations. Meanwhile John Gilham writes about Roman sandals and the ghostly shades in the mud of the Thames, in his poem ‘The Fish-Eyes of the Dead’. These are perhaps Pressed by Unseen Feet‘s more credible kinds of ghost story in an anthology that contains plenty of stories of the shiver-down-the-spine variety, and poems haunted by loss.

In a smart combination of the traditional ghost story with the more subtle ghost-as-memory story, Andrew Brown delivers one of his excellent and touching tales from a nursing home. In ‘The Return of Uncle Clarrie’, Clarrie’s retelling of childhood trauma – and a ghostly encounter – forces a turning point in his life, in which he himself has barely played any part for decades.

Despite its long and solemn history, its famous city walls and countless tales of the dead, York has its amusing quirks, and so does Pressed by Unseen Feet: ‘Game Over’ by Ed Cooke. It’s a funny, off-the-wall warning about the dangers of technology and human nature, with a very British take on nuclear apocalypse. It’s a little dark, yet perfectly pitched. But it’s not spooky, ghostly or creepy, nor does it have any obvious connection with York or Yorkshire. But it is brilliant, all the same.

That aside, Pressed by Unseen Feet succeeds in giving the reader a taste of the ghosts we often create for ourselves: half-remembered lives, departed loved ones, and the flicker in the peripheral vision that we can never quite place. It hints at those we’ve lost but not really lost, sitting beside us, with their lives (or some sort of life) still going on around us, only occasionally seen.