Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Megan Fernandes’

Published Poetry 2012: a Top 10

In Seasonal/End of year on December 10, 2012 at 12:14 am

-Listed by Claire Trévien


As the end of the year approaches, it is customary to attempt round-ups of sorts. Last year, I asked for people’s favourite poetry pamphlets on twitter. This year I will be taking inspiration from last year’s fiction top ten and providing links to the top ten most read published poetry reviews (from this year). If you are looking for gift inspirations or wanting to stumble on something new, you could do worse than take a look at this list.

They are:

1. Four 2011 Poetry Business Prizewinners (Smiths/Doorstop 2012). Reviewed by Sophie Mayer.

2. Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. Reviewed by Harry Giles.

3. Human Shade by Robert Peake (Lost Horse Press). Reviewed by Martha Sprackland.

4. lapping water by Dan Flore III. Reviewed by Ian Chung.

5. ILK #1. Reviewed by John McGhee.

6. Fleck and the Bank by Rob A. Mackenzie (Salt Publishing). Reviewed by Harry Giles.

7. All the Rooms of Uncle’s Head by Tony Williams (Nine Arches Press). Reviewed by Charles Whalley.

8. Antiphon #1. Reviewed by John McGhee.

9. Poland at the Door by Evelyn Posamentier (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press). Reviewed by Ian Chung.

10. Four Rack Press pamphlets. Reviewed by Angela Topping.

Originally published in 2011, Charles Whalley’s review of Megan Fernandes’ Organ Speech (Corrupt Press) would have otherwise appeared third.

There’s a pleasing presence of webzines and self-published work on this list. Group or anthology reviews also appear to have been popular, though I suspect that the popularity of the Smith/Doorstop and Catechism reviews is in part due to their controversial natures – but if so, where is Eireann Lorsung’s thought-provoking meditation on poetic tourism in Colette Sensier’s début pamphlet How Many Camels is too Many?

So far the least viewed review of a poetry publication is Diidxadó by Víctor Terán (Poetry Translation Centre), which seems a shame considering its reviewer, Judi Sutherland, describes it as ‘Pablo Neruda in a bitter mood’, what’s not to love?

If I were to construct my own personal 2012 list free of the constraints of what has been reviewed in Sabotage, and comprising magazines, anthologies, and pamphlets, I should no doubt curse my poor short-term memory. Such a list would undoubtedly include however: Cat Conway’s Static Cling (Dancing Girl Press, being reviewed soon for Sabotage), Agenda vol. 46 no. 4, Azita Ghahreman’s Poems (Poetry Translation Centre), Kayo Chingonyi’s Some Bright Elegance (Salt Publishing), and Adelle Stripe’s Dark Corners of the Land (Blackheath Books). A couple more impose themselves, but would be ineligible since I have poems in them: Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins), Fuselit: Contraption, and Poems in Which. What would be on your list? Please do share in the comments.


Poetry Pamphlets: A 2011 Top Ten

In Seasonal/End of year on December 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

-Assembled by Claire Trevien

Pamphlets make the perfect Christmas present or stocking filler. For one, they’re usually gorgeously produced objects, for another there’s something manageable and enticing about their small size. So, if you’re trying to convert a loved one to poetry, you could do worse than spring one of these chapbooks on them. This list is a mixture of favourite pamphlets reviewed on Sabotage, suggestions from others after issuing a call-out on twitter and facebook (democracy in action!) and my own subjective taste. You will find below pamphlets for wrestlers and nature-lovers, for burlesque dancers and do-gooders, for neuroscientists and performers, something for everyone then.

In no particular order:

  1. Megan Fernandes, Organ Speech, Corrupt Press. This ‘unnervingly good’ debut pamphlet is the perfect present for those dragons who ‘read / they were dinosaurs and became / conservative’. Technically rigorous stuff that handles neuroscience with learned ease and is still generous enough to let you in. Read the review here.
  2. Jon Mitchell, March and After: poems from Tsunami Country, Printed Matter Press. Christmas is all about giving, so what could be better than to offer a limited-edition pamphlet with proceeds going towards Peace Boat operations in Tohoku?
  3. Emily Hasler, Natural Histories, Tim Cockburn, Appearances in the Bentick Hotel, and Mark Burnhope, The Snowboy, all from the Salt Modern Voices pamphlet series. A special mention goes out to JT Welsch’s Orchids and Amy De’Ath’s Eric & Enide whose pamphlets, published in December of last year, narrowly miss out from the narrow criteria of a year-by-year list, but are also excellent. The whole series is worth investigating and I am cheating a little by mentioning so many as a single offering but this is in part because they look wonderful together (as well as separately).
  4. Sarah Dawson, Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals . For those people out there who can only read on their Kindle, Dawson’s short collection is the perfect present. Created especially for electronic consumption, the usual hindrances of reading poetry on a screen are avoided.
  5. Angus Sinclair, Another Use of Canvas, Gatehouse Press. Who said poetry can’t be butch? When the world of wrestling and poetry combine, the reader is treated to a glimpse into a new exciting world. Read the review here.
  6. Deborah Tyler-Bennett , Mytton…Dyer…Sweet Billy Gibson, Nine Arches Press. Nine Arches produce beautiful pamphlets too and the content of this one, with its larger than life personalities, is sure to be the perfect present. Hand it out, read it out loud and enjoy.
  7. Luke Kennard, Planet-Shaped HorseNine Arches Press. Many have tried to imitate Kennard’s wonderful mixture of absurdist, acerbic wit and seeming off-handedness, but very few have succeeded (a trend that’s perhaps worse than Bukowski imitations). This poem-play is a gift you should give at all times of the year. Read the review here.
  8. Kirsten Irving, What To Do, Happenstance Press. Irving needs no introduction to regular readers of Sabotage, we loved her numerous collaborative projects with Jon Stone, while this pamphlet got an excellent review from Chris Emslie here. Buy this while stocks still last because Irving is a poet to watch.
  9. James McGonigal, Cloud Pibroch, Mariscat Press. McGonigal’s pamphlet was the winner of the Michael Marks award and was also a PBS choice. Don’t let the accolades put you off, this pamphlet is a quietly impressive work that’ll make you look at nature afresh. Read the review here.
  10. Wayne Holloway-Smith, Beloved in Case You’ve Been Wondering, Donut Press. If aesthetics are your primary concerns then Donut Press should be one of your first points of call – they make thick, well-crafted objects with beautifully designed covers. Holloway-Smith’s is no exception, but the content is decadently wonderful too. Holloway-Smith gives us a world full of masks, sleeze and burlesque dancers, but of strange beauty too. It must sound like someone you know, give it to them.

A Pamphlet that I Have Not Read but Which I Am Told is Excellent

I have not read Roisin Tierney, Dream Endings (Rack Press) but it has been nominated several times so I put it forward as a Wild Card Bonus. According to the internet, it begins with the poet’s dying sister and ends with an exuberant funeral. Having read Tierney’s poetry in The Art of Wiring I can only expect this pamphlet to be an excellent & well-crafted pamphlet.

‘Organ Speech’ by Megan Fernandes

In Pamphlets on December 7, 2011 at 10:30 am

-Reviewed by Charles Whalley

From the Paris-based Corrupt Press, the unremarkable cover of Megan Fernandes’ Organ Speech hides a remarkable collection of poems that are mature, intelligent and bold, ranging over family, memory, desire, botany, neuroscience, Anglo-Saxon poetry, The Troubles, and Alice in Wonderland . The best description of her surreal style is perhaps (to borrow something else) ‘cognitive poetics’, as she exploits the synaesthetic and associatory possibilities of language. The best poems in Organ Speech, such as ‘Here is earnest’, are those in which language itself seems to dictate the content. It takes a poet with a very keen and free awareness of words, the “recipes for moods” – the objective correlative? – , to produce tremendous lines which seem to produce considerable effects entirely out of themselves, like “Teach me about / ghosts and abstractions, / and the caffeine of wrecked space.” (‘Here is earnest’)

For Fernandes, language and thought map on top of each other, and so in many of the poems, and in her dominant mode, she dramatises or allegorises thought to create fantastic (in the proper sense of the word) landscapes and uncanny images where language is the primary logic. So, for instance, in the opening ‘Synaptic Space’, suicide by a gun becomes a way to project “your synapses” across (or on to) the universe, making the mind a microcosm of space (or space a macrocosm of the mind) where you can “[f]ollow the scent / of your childhood pajamas, they smelled something sweet and / deranged: measles, beetles, and boxed apple juice”. The individual becomes an explorer within their own thoughts, which have been stretched out and rendered tangible or spatial. In ‘THE BRAINHOOD ADVENTURE!’, Fernandes starts this exploration by opening the poem with “Eyes turn inwards”, to use the idea that we could look at our own brains to introduce an allegory of thought, desire and memory, mixing the literal morphology of the brain with a dream-like fantasy journey; for example:

‘Beside the swing, on the spongy terrain,
I take you to meet Ida in the Cannibale café,

in the parietal northwest corner of the brain.’

We are simultaneously in the spongy brain and in Paris, and not really in either. Because the events are fantastic the reader can’t create a mental picture independent of the text, and so almost complete agency is given to language. This gives a sense of freedom and of infinite possibility.

The surreal brainhood adventures provide an effective training ground for when Fernandes attempts more concrete topics. A poet who knows that violet “makes grief / but never quaintness or purposeful”(‘Here is earnest’) can produce lines as perfect as “give me / dead lavender and raw milk”(‘Corinne on Bodies of Water’). In the sinister and unnerving ‘Queens’, for instance, which is about hijra in Mumbai, the heart of the poem is provided by a sudden flash of the surreal:

‘They stir me through female nightmares: ash-heaps, fields of limbs, everything in

The “nightmares” give a pretext for the uncanny images that follow. (Although the more I read that line the more “stir” seems like the cleverest part of it.) In ‘Archives’ and ‘Hallways’ Fernandes writes about her family, and the mental richness that these subjects provide a landscape in which she can invigorate concrete topics with little flashes of the surreal (often, again, with the pretext of ‘imagining’ or ‘dreams’).

On the other end of this, the poems sometimes falter when they become fixed in the concrete, as is the case with ‘Grendel’, for instance, which is about a murder, and the victim’s sympathy for the culprit. (The ‘pretty murder victim’ theme is a bit LiveJournal.) Fernandes is perhaps a bit too insistent upon the strength of the reality of the moment, and doesn’t seem to want to let language get in the way. As a result, the poem is like the dragons in ‘Here is earnest’ who “read / they were dinosaurs and became / conservative”, and is somewhat dry and thin. However, we expect a pamphlet to be varied, and it’s quite possible readers other than myself will enjoy the more serious poems. (If I have been talking a lot about personal preference in this review, it is because the sort of poetry that is so dazzling in this pamphlet is the poetry most exposed to the idiolect fringes of words.)

It is exciting to discover a new poet and a new press. Megan Fernandes is a sophisticated and sensitive writer, and her poems are, by turn, surprising, vivid and affecting. Organ Speech is unnervingly good.

Strangers in Paris: New Writing Inspired by the City of Lights

In anthology on July 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm

-Reviewed by Claire Trevien

Strangers in Paris is an anthology of Anglophone poetry and fiction inspired by the city of lights. The unifying thread varies depending on the writer, from writings where Paris is part of the fabric, to writings set outside of the city but written while in Paris, such as Isabel Harding’s Zombie Mermaid where France gets a passing mention. In contrast, in Rufo Quintavalle’s poem ‘Joined-up writing’, Paris is explored as a form of writing in itself, through the comparison of the constraints of a Parisian park to constraints on the page. While the anthology features big names such as Alice Notley and John Berger, it is in the less well-known names that we find the most refreshing takes on the city.

Paris has a long association with writers, most recently this romantic appeal has been touched upon in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, where an aspiring novelist returns nightly to Hemingway’s époque. The image of the penniless American writer typing in his Parisian attic is a cliché, and yet, like all clichés, it is one that new generations bravely pit themselves against. Paris has in recent years strived to remove dust from that stereotype with a new generation of Anglophone writers. The energy comes from two main centres: Shakespeare & co, where a weekly workshop takes place, and Culture Rapide, where a weekly open mic is hosted. Both Anglophone, both open to strangers wherever they hail from, both led by one of the editors of this anthology: David Barnes. These are writers that are just as penniless as previous generations, just as passionate, just as flammable, and it is their determination to use this city without prejudice or fear of the footsteps they are walking in that makes this anthology, like a manifesto, so refreshing.

What is a stranger? It is of course a foreigner, a newcomer, an alien but also an unknown person with whom one is not acquainted. The word evokes disconnection too, a fracture, as is the case in the late Jessica Malcomson’s short story I’ll neologise you, baby which, while not in any obvious way set in Paris, captures an emotion that must be familiar to any stranger in a foreign town. It is a tale about the struggle to give each intangible thing its proper name and find it slipping out of grasp. Colin Mahar tackles the disengagement by translating Claire Malroux’s translations of Emily Dickinson poems. The results of this two-tiered translation process are less interesting however, than their premise. A more successful portrayal of estrangement occurs in Sion Dayson’s short story The Idiopath, where being a stranger is a self-imposed condition. The protagonist is emotionally stunted, unable to offer comfort whether it is to the epileptic girlfriend he left in the States, or to a suffering stranger on the metro:

‘He looks around at his surroundings, realizing he is a disease unto himself’

In several works, we can see a conscious effort to move away from a romanticized view of Paris. In Eleni Sikelianos’ ‘Untitled’, the café, that old Parisian trope, is rejuvenated. In this prose poem, the café setting encapsulates the slippage of the sense of self that can occur when placed in an unfamiliar setting:

‘I can’t see myself in the glass except when people pass. When people pass they block the light (light plays). I wait for myself to appear.’

It is only through other people that the displaced protagonist remembers who he is. Likewise, in David Barnes’ short story She always reads the last line first, the café is a pivotal location, hinting to the reader future developments as well as showing how the city is echoed here on a smaller scale:

‘The tables are the tiny round ones all Parisian cafés have, just big enough for two people. Paris is a city geared to the I-you relationship’

In Jeffrey Greene’s Cooking Octopus with Madame Esteves, relationships are an integral part of the Parisian experience too. The story is a reminder that Paris is both a city and a village with its gossiping, its spying, the compulsive intertwining of beings. The tale also masterfully exposes the way a foreign city can assault a person, imposing a new tongue and new rules, through such episodes as the French tutor forcing herself upon the protagonist:

‘She led me to her small cell-like bed, suddenly tutoyering me, forcing me to adjust my verbs while I was being undressed’

The loneliness of being a stranger weighs heavily on several of the writings of this anthology, but in Kathleen Spivack’s poem ‘Straining’, self-pity is avoided through the ventriloquing of Rilke. In this, loneliness itself is a stranger, sponging off a body, creating diseased writings:

‘Loneliness, that leech obscene

on his mouth, was sucking,

glutting out whole sonnets,

clots of sound’

Beyond the loneliness, the disconnection, this anthology is also a celebration of difference, of the clash between cultures, of the creativity that stems from being in an unknown environment. Perhaps most exemplary of this trend is co-editor Megan Fernandes’ poem ‘Red Umbrellas at La Nuit Blanche’, based on a one-off night-time installation by Noel Dolla on the Buttes Chaumont. Being a stranger here is to be an extraordinary anomaly, creating a temporary experience that lingers in the mind long after it has ceased:

‘The umbrellas laze,

breathy and indifferent from their usual call to action–

for how often do their faceless blooms gaze into a clear sky?’