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‘XZ #1 Noir: Singing the Necessaries’

In online magazine, Website on June 30, 2013 at 3:25 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

XZ is a new online fiction project from Annexe, whose aim is ‘to dissect various genres of writing, film and drama by reconstructing them from the ground up’. This first issue looks at the genre of noir, featuring a six-part collaboration between Eley Williams, John Boursnell, Akiho Schilz, Komal Verma, Jack Swain, and Ben Gwalchmai. According to editor Nick Murray, the writers were given ‘only the bare essentials needed to keep the story cohesive’. While it is possible to extrapolate which elements or details were specified for the writers, I think it might have been useful if these had also been made available to readers of XZ.

Singing the Necessaries, XZ 1

Of the six writers, Williams, Schilz and Verma are the ones whose sections most closely tread the path laid out by the noir genre. Williams has the responsibility of laying the groundwork for the story, and does so admirably with an opening paragraph written in the second person, where the reader merges perspectives with the protagonist in a series of instructions for a routine concerning a bottle of whiskey and a glass. So by the end of this section, we have our detective, Sam Grayle, our mysterious woman, Eve Butler, and a murder to solve. Schilz’s section then gives us our detective’s confrontation with his narrative nemesis, Eric Strathray, which winds up with Sam trapped in a fishing boat in the next section, written by Verma.

These three segments of perfectly serviceable noir are complemented by slightly more experimental takes on the genre. Boursnell’s section bridges Williams’s and Schilz’s, as our detective travels from his office to a club licensed to a certain Strathray. What is striking about it is the filmic quality of the writing. Laid out like a free verse poem, this section is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of a series of actions. One can almost imagine how the camera would pan and zoom in a film version of Boursnell’s section, and the effect is to inject a sense of constant movement into the narrative. Swain’s section then forms a sort of coda to the main narrative that ended in Verma’s portion, taking the form of an ‘Extract of debrief of Acting Agent in Charge Michael Banner’. It helps to clarify how and why our detective was double-crossed, which Gwalchmai’s concluding segment also does in the form of a poem, containing moments of humour (‘a Grayle of Butlers’), self-reference (‘You should have warned me / reader’), and enjoyable wordplay (‘you should have warmed me / to the killing by flagging / the flogging that follows’).

On the whole, XZ #1 comes across as an interesting dissection of the noir genre, a sort of variation on the game of exquisite corpse. I am keen to see what this method will produce when it is brought to bear on other genres (the next issue will explore Gothic horror). Having said that, I personally found myself feeling ever so slightly cheated by the end of the story, due to its brevity. Certainly, as Murray notes in his afterword, the characters in Singing The Necessaries ‘have been given lives and motives, both written and implied’. Yet there is perhaps too much that has been left oblique, or at the very least, a lengthier story would have helped to create more reader investment in these promising characters.

Top Website for Self-Publishers Award

In Website on December 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm

-We interrupt the usual broadcast with Claire Trévien

We were delighted to find out today that Sabotage Reviews was nominated by members of The Alliance for Independent Authors for their Top Website for Self-Publishers Award. Here is the shiny badge they gave us for it:


Also nominated and worth a look were:

  1. World Literary Café
  2. Lindsay
  3. Louisa Locke
  4. Rachel Abbott
  5. David Gaughran
  9. Joanna The Creative Penn

It’s also been wonderful to be name-checked in the Guardian recently by Dan Holloway, who recommends us (along with the fab  htmlgiant and 3:am) as a good place to find out about exciting self-published work (as well as ‘chapbooks, zines and true one-offs’: our favourite things! Send us more of those to review please!)

In this spirit, I have plunged into our archives and come up with eight recommendations of works that can be categorized as ‘self-published’, each interesting in its own right, but please, make use of the comment box to expand this.

I found this task harder than I expected, partly as we have not systematically tagged works as ‘self-published’, partly because Sabotage is so invested in indie enterprises that it is hard to know where to draw the line. I have mostly limited it to works produced and written by the same author. I probably pushed the boundaries by also including an edited work in the selection but it is such a one-off published by Claire Askew’s one-woman micropress that it seemed churlish not to. Some of these reviews have aged better than others, and it was sorely tempting to edit out sentences patting self-publishing on the back for being almost as good their ‘professionally’ printed counterparts. What I have come to appreciate in the two and a half years of Sabotage’s existence is that yes, while self-publishing can equate work of dubious quality, it can also be a veritable treasure trove of unique and exciting ventures, and I hope that we bring more of the latter to light in years to come.

Let’s all remember that fabulous China Miéville quotation:

‘We piss and moan about the terrible quality of self-published books, as if slews of god-awful crap weren’t professionally expensively published every year’

Living Room Stories by Andy Harrod. Extract from Rory O’Sullivan’s review: ‘What a collection this is. It would be no exaggeration to say that I have not taken pleasure out of a reading ‘experience’ quite like this before. I think that this was helped by reading each story aloud while listening to the corresponding piece from Arnalds’ collection. Harrod’s work should be regarded as a new form that calls on influences from literature, poetry and music. This project is a stunning marriage of the three, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.’

Muses Walk by Christodoulos Makris. Extract from Rishi Dastidar’s review: ‘the notion of the street as a muse is artfully explored through these sixteen poems, and Makris strikes an excellent balance between a sharp, urban sensibility, an unhurried languor and an elegiac air which reminds us that, even on our streets, there are always stories to be found, to be recreated and to be inspired by.’

Starry Rhymes: 85 years of Allen Ginsberg  edited by Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh. Extract from Chris Emslie’s review: ‘Starry Rhymes is a loving testament to the work of an undeniably important poet. This shows in the care with which the chapbook has been conceived and collated. Its most powerful moments do not, however, rest in the flattery of imitation. […] Undaunted by the not-small task of responding to a giant of modern American poetry, this assembly of thirty-three voices reflects (or possibly refracts) Ginsberg at his most feverish, human and heartbreaking. It is Michael Conley who best summarises how the poet himself might reply to a birthday gift like this: “I am grateful / you have kept me alive. / I am. Listen to me.”’

Everything Speaks in its Own Way by Kate Tempest. Extract from Dan Holloway’s review: ‘Both sound and sight stand on their own (on which note I have to mention the layout of the words – presented on the page as paragraphs more than poems, which works incredibly well, not forcing us to guess or impose rhyme and metre but to let the words flow through us), but this does what beautiful artisan books should do – it is both a full introduction to an author’s work and a collector’s item, perfect for fans and newcomers alike, and a fitting way of bringing a genuinely landmark book to the world.’

Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals by Sarah Dawson. Extract from Ian Chung’s review: ‘Far from being terrible, Dawson’s poems are lyrical observations, shot through with imagery that is tactile and visceral.’

Reasons not to live there by Humphrey Astley. Extract from Afric McGlinchey’s review: ‘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.’

lapping water by Dan Flore iii. Extract from Ian Chung’s review: ‘Ultimately, the most compelling feature of lapping water is its intimacy. The danger for the lyric ‘I’ to lapse into solipsism is averted in Flore’s collection because his poems frequently reach out to draw a ‘you’ into their imaginative space.’

Markets like Wide Open Mouths by Tori Truslow. Extract from Claire Trévien’s review: ‘Truslow’s Bangkok comes across in this work as a culturally rich, touristy, buzzing, cosmopolitan, ghost-infested and endlessly fascinating city. In her hands, even a bus journey becomes extraordinary.’

‘Fleeting Magazine’

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

-Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literary Bohemian #14

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

-Reviewed by Harry Giles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antiphon #1

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

-Reviewed by John McGhee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The orchestra, mute. Applause.

Neon #28

In Magazine, online magazine, Website on March 7, 2012 at 10:30 am

Reviewed by Barry Tench

Sometimes you can look and look and then you have to really look; then you might see the light, even if it is the faint light of a Neon sign creeping across a hotel bedroom. You might listen in the dark, you might listen closely and perhaps you might make out a voice. It might be the voice Kerrie O’Brien describes in her poem ‘Blurring’:

‘Now I know I’m saying

None of this out loud.

But I’m hoping you’ll hear it in me

This time,

If you’re listening’.

Neons neat presentation and well placed poignant photographs make it an attractive proposition on a wet and wintry evening. What is even more impressive is the copy online, which you can also download for free and gently peruse over a mug of cocoa. I received #28 to review which says something for the longevity of Neon and its lasting appeal.

If there is a collective voice of Neon it has the terse and uncomplicated tone of a rail against the alienation of modern living. Take Danica Green’s ‘Me, You And Everything Else’:

‘blinding nights and charcoal days blending with the uniform

grey of what generally constitutes a normal life’…

…‘No one comes home. I sometimes take respite in my

stone-cold bed, and when I wake up from the dream, the world is

on fire.

I felt a kinship with writers trying to get to grips with the awkwardness of relationships: the etiquette of social interaction, the disquiet of staring down the twin barrels of loneliness and rejection. Despite tackling common poetic subjects, many of the poems use language that is both fresh and engaging. Kerrie O’Brien’s poem ‘Escape’ struck me for the line ‘it burns to be still’ and then again in ‘Every Morning’ she gives a cliché a nice turn when she writes ‘life off / the pedestal’. Catherine Owen’s poem ‘The Autopsy Report’ also stood out and I particularly enjoyed the phrase ‘post-haste to The Hall of Turning Things Inside Out’. In another poem, ‘The Climbing Accident’, Owen challenges us with images as surprising as ‘the T-bar of pharmaceutical barrenness’ and ‘her mind tallying up this budget of flesh’.

Patrick Gabbard makes interesting use of form in his poems. In ‘The Pines of Bucharest’ he manipulates spacing, line lengths and endings to give the poem an uneasiness. The jagged edge is perfectly suited to Gabbard’s surrealist images:

‘Between his thumb and forefinger her nipple –

She laughs again, louder this time before she collapses on his chest

And he thinks   I am a warm dead galleon’.

Light in the darkness of contemporary life is captured in the short stories in Neon 28. Danica Green gives us an existentialist reflection that has its lyrical moments: ‘Nothing ever happens uninvited, the most beautiful and painful experiences welcomed through an open window’. Allana Balek’s short story ‘An Ending’ is another existentialist narrative that has some poetic images: ‘I turn off the music and we listen to the wind. I wonder how long the sunset will last and if we’ll ever get to see another one’, and ‘Clouds, she says. Dreams. Sunlight. Catchy music and long, lazy afternoons.’ It’s a nicely crafted piece with a hard hitting punch line.

There is strong imagery in Emily O’Neill’s poems too and the final stanza of ‘Last’ is very sexy (don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining): ‘so you sat me on the desk and pushed my skirt up around my hips’. In ‘Before the Elegy’ there is imagery of a very different kind but just as striking: ‘a car crash or bullet in lieu of that coward needle’.

Neil Sloboda’s poems are typified by his use of unexpected images. For example, in ‘After the Buyout’ he writes:

Perched on the edges

of cold metal chairs,

we hectored one another

about how best to employ the time:

rip apart rotting decks, tear off asphalt shingles,

or fell dying trees behind our homes?

I also liked the unusual juxtaposition in this poem: ‘unpacking / daydreams and peanut butter crackers’. There is an evocative metaphor in ‘Hives’: ‘the diamond-backed lancers’ and I love the idea of ‘a flip-toy dog who never lands / on his feet’. Sloboda, like all the writers here, shows a willingness to experiment with language and imagery to stir our emotions.

Kirby Wright’s stories, ‘Ticking Clock’ and ‘Green Fruit’ veer toward prose poetry whilst giving us strong narratives dotted with clear imagery: ‘The highway skirted a pineapple field that stretched to the horizon’. But again there is this feeling of disconnection: ‘Did I walk through that door?’ and the battle of coming to terms with emotions in a harsh landscape ‘As he drove East, he prayed the baby would never be born’.

The light thrown by Neon 28 is modern and edgy but it keeps enough hidden in the shadows to keep us guessing at what is really there, what is hiding in the corners and under the bed. My biggest concern is that what we find there might dissolve in the bright light of day.

ILK #1

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

-Reviewed by John McGhee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Darts

In online magazine, Website on April 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

-Reviewed by Roy Marmelstein

Paper Darts is a strange but ambitious beast. Based in Minneapolis, it’s a beautifully-illustrated but sometimes difficult to browse website that sets out to showcase exciting art, poetry, music and prose.

Now, the problem with this sort of thing is that the qualities of the different arts aren’t really the same. What makes a piece of visual art fantastic isn’t the same as what makes a song or a poem great. As competent and as passionate as curators and editors can be (and the editors of Paper Darts sure seem passionate), it’s unrealistic to expect them to be as knowledgeable about every form of artistic endeavour.

So, is Paper Darts a jack of all trades and master of none? Far from it. The art showcased is hugely impressive. Much of the prose is very well written. The poetry is rather hit and miss. The music isn’t very good at all…

Let’s discuss these in a bit more detail:

*Art* – Paper Darts knows its art. All the works showcased were fresh and of extremely high calibre with Ruben Island’s eery creations being a personal highlight. It’s also the easiest area to browse on the website, with the editors simply presenting us with a profile and a gallery for every featured artist. Definitely worth bookmarking and checking for updates.

*Music* – The music part is by far the weakest aspect of Paper Darts. The section instantly attacks you with a frustrating and badly-designed Flash carousel. It’s slow and difficult to browse and the actual music is mediocre
at best. I much preferred the art, prose and poetry sections…

*Prose* – The fiction part of Paper Darts features 24 short stories, their excellent selection feels a bit like a treasure trove. The ones I read were all fantastic. Standouts were Elizabeth Sowden’s “Final Notice” that perfectly captured youthful poverty (reminiscent of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger), OneThirtyFive’s short polaroid stories were pretty entertaining and “The Living Water” By Sara Aase, like the best short stories, was deliciously mysterious and left the reader wanting more. In comparison, the non-fiction area of the site seemed a little less exciting with well-written but rather dull contributions (with the notable exception of an intriguing flash non-fiction competition Paper Darts ran on Facebook).

*Poetry* – In a bit of a crude generalisation, students and teenagers who first dabble in poetry like to be a bit emo, attempt to shock the reader with sex-related imagery, experiment with unusual forms  and try to make a political point. It’s completely natural to start with bad but personal poetry and many will grow out of that initial phase to write really great poems. My issue with much of the poetry on Paper Darts is that it’s still in that embryonic teenage phase.

For example, this section from “On Their Eighteenth Birthday” by Sergio A. Ortiz

“–First she thought she was a Tapir,
then a pole.  I stuffed a butt plug in her mouth,
but she asked for a loincloth.
She fell in love with my skin, wanted to peel
it, peel me–Our lady of the Broken Condoms,
Latina Americana gringa wanna be
with the sagging implants. ”

or “Fly Over Poem” by Matt Rasmussen

“Your jet contrails stream
across my face of sky

like a money shot
in slow motion.”

Now, I’m not a prude and there’s nothing wrong with sexual imagery when it’s used for good effect. In fact, one of the better poems in Paper Darts‘ selection is Show Me Your Breasts by Niels Hav, a beautifully odd and rhythmic longing for a Russian woman and Russian culture.

There’s definitely some wheat in Paper Darts‘ poetry selection, but unfortunately there is quite a lot of chaff too.

Considering Paper Darts is completely free and online, there’s no reason not to check it out and it’s a great way to spend time on the internet. The art and fiction sections are particularly well done and you may find some good poetry in there too. As mentioned, the editors are a passionate bunch and I’m certain Paper Darts will continue to improve with future updates…

[Ed: Due to time constraints this is a review of the website’s blogzine rather than the print issues produced by Paper Darts but in the advent of it being shortlisted for a Saboteur Award we will judge issue #3 as the most recent issue at the time of review].

A little bit of fiction…

In Conversation, Website on March 13, 2011 at 12:39 pm

-By Richard T. Watson

March 2011 is a significant month for fiction in the UK. Mostly for readers of fiction, but I guess that’s most people involved with fiction at one stage or another.

This month is significant for two main reasons. The first is the widely-popular World Book Night, which involved 20,000 people giving away thousands of copies of books. The second is the much more important fact that the Sabotage blog has undergone some changes, including the appointment of a Fiction Editor (hi!). Forget Comic Relief – this is the heavy stuff.

World Book Night was most successful in generating a buzz around the idea of reading a printed book; largely thanks to extensive use of Twitter and a dedicated night on BBC Two, it brought the reading of literature to a mainstream audience. The remarkable act of giving away thousands of books for free has been shown to have a positive social impact, when it was revealed that homeless people in Manchester love to read and are encouraged to hang out in libraries. Though perhaps the appeal of a library is not its reading matter but its heating.

While I admire the spirit of the mass giveaway, I can’t help feeling that World Book Night missed a trick in only giving away printed books. Sabotage has been highlighting the rise of the online publishing since 2010, and World Book Night may have reached an even wider audience by giving away e-books or Kindles.

Speaking of Sabotage, the other event to rock the literary world this March is our expansion and re-structuring. As of March 2011, Sabotage has someone specifically in place to commission reviews of fiction. It means that Claire can concentrate on poetry reviews without limiting the scope of the site. So I’m looking for short stories, novella, fiction journals, zines, pamphlets etc. for review. I’d also love to hear from you if you’re interested in reviewing for us. I’m prepared to be open-minded on the form of things we review, but we won’t be reviewing novels or larger works: they have the PR machinery already. Every now and then, maybe I’ll liven things up a bit with a feature article or a non-review.

If you want to get in touch, I’m at, and you should probably have a look at too. Our fiction reviews should offer intelligent critique of work, be fair (even if not balanced) and allow space for debate. The internet means that criticism is no longer the closed shop it once was, and this site has already seen the increasingly interactive nature of criticism playing across its comment threads. That’s the future and we fully endorse it.

I’m off to raid iPlayer for Faulks on Fiction and to ignore Comic Relief. Do drop me a line on