Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Rory O’Sullivan’

‘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.

A Fiction Round-Up 2012

In Seasonal/End of year on December 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

-Decided by Richard T. Watson

‘Tis the season to be making lists and round-ups of the previous year, so it’s just the right time for a look back over the year for Sabotage Reviews and our fiction coverage. Arguably, we could do this at any time of year, but it seems more fashionable in December.

Our Poetry Editor, (now Dr) Claire Trévien, has already given her best bits and highlights from Sabotage’s poetry coverage, which you can read here. Now it’s my turn.

Following last year’s pattern of giving a ‘Top Ten’ [or Three] of most-viewed reviews, I’ve prepared a list of the most successful fiction reviews of Sabotage’s 2012. The publications might be considered as Christmas presents for that special reader in your life…? Just a thought.

#1 I Wrote This For You
A printed selection of posts from Jon Ellis’ and Ian Thomas’s blog I Wrote This For You, which the two men have composed through a process of intercontinental collaboration. There’s a narrative and a theme, but much of it is left up to the reader – Ian Thomas claiming that ”There’s no story I can tell you that is as powerful as the story you can tell yourself”. Our reviewer, Ian Chung, praised the way that ”Thomas and Ellis seem to have distilled something of what it means to remain profoundly human in a digital society”.

#2 Acquired for Development By…
A hyper-local collection of poetry, fiction and non-fiction based around and inspired by the London Borough of Hackney, and published by Influx Press. Our reviewer, John McGhee said: ”The collection neatly pinpoints some of the most critical tensions in modern urban life – tradition versus innovation, the real versus the perceived, the modern versus the post-modern – and sees how these play out in a borough perceived as both lawless and cool.”

#3 Armchair/Shotgun #3
Following the success of Armchair/Shotgun #2 in this year’s Saboteur Awards, their third instalment has also been popular. Our reviewer, Rory O’Sullivan, had this to say of the New York-based collection of poetry, pictures and short stories: ”The magazine manages to embrace so many art forms and yet remain a predominantly literary offering; storytelling is at the heart of literature, and indeed central to this publication’s mission statement”.

On a more subjective and personal note (as if the previous paragraphs have been really objective), I was pleased that the winner of this year’s Saboteur Awards in May was the second issue of Armchair/Shotgun, a review from Sabotage’s Fiction stable, and that their third issue also got a very positive review. We also got a rather lovely mention over on the Guardian website, thanks to Dan Holloway.

If you’re looking for more round-ups of Sabotage activity this year, why not have a look at the results of this year’s Saboteur Awards?

This is also a good time to thank all of our reviewer team for their hard work in the past twelve months, and to thank you all for supporting the independent and often low-budget publishing we cover on Sabotage. So thank you all. Well done you.

Oh, and have a happy Christmas.

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.’

Armchair/Shotgun: Issue 3

In Magazine on November 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-

Had you the misfortune, lack of foresight or ignorance to miss either Issue 1 or 2 of Armchair/Shotgun, all is not lost: for the Brooklyn-based magazine has returned and has come up trumps again – surpassing the expectations laid down by the first two instalments, as this literary compendium continues to go from strength to strength.

The cover of Armchair/Shotgun 3

An issue of Armchair/Shotgun is a gathering of bite-size literature, poems, visual art and authorial insight. The latest issue features four short stories, as many miniature clusters of poetry, a photo-essay, a collection of Steve Chellis paintings and an interview with writer Reif Larsen – a piece on which the issue, and the magazine at large, appears to hang its hat.

One of the magazine’s managing editors, John M Cusick, extracts some of the madness behind Larsen’s method, revealing some genuinely interesting thoughts about what authors have to go through in their lives and the lengths it can sometimes take in order to craft a story. Budding writers should take note, but Larsen also fits neatly with what Armchair/Shotgun are all about – and understanding why Cusick speaks to him is to understand the magazine’s philosophy.

Their dialogue delves into a number of concepts that are clearly important to the magazine: the relationship between content and form; the doors that post-modern art has opened for the traditional writer, the roles that marginalia and visual art have to play within the written form; and the importance of telling a story for storytelling’s sake. The penny drops, and suddenly the many components of Issue 3 fall into place – that the purity of story is at the heart of what this magazine stands for.

And they really commit to it. Fiction submissions are stripped of their signature and sender, and the strength of a candidate’s submission is based on the strength of their piece alone; the veil of anonymity is only lifted when the editors have settled on the issue’s content. Once the names behind the short-form prose were finally revealed, Issue 3 threw up a fascinating coincidence: the entirety of its contributors form an all-female cast.

Of those, J.E. Reich makes a stunning debut with ‘Days of Sound’. It tells the story of a British journalist whose quest to find out more about an Islamic terrorist – responsible for assassinating an American journalist live on the internet – whom he knew from his school days, takes him down the avenues of a North London upbringing. The assignment ends – in the story, at least – by telling us how this British reporter came to lose his hearing. The power of the human faculty is brought into focus, as the journalist tries to find something in his home environment – the same home in which he played chess with the future terrorist – to trigger a lead. In the years following his ‘days of sound’, we are not only left to wonder if his other senses will one day lead him to an answer, but feel sympathy for a man who is unable to fully communicate with the woman he loves.

The primary senses are also the thrust of Debbie Ann Ice’s amusing and heart-warming tale, ‘Scrabble’. Young girl Liz is brought over to see her mother’s friend’s daughter, Elsa. She and her mother both think Liz is deaf, but their deadpan visitor can actually understand everything they are saying perfectly well. Liz doesn’t play this to her advantage as mischievously as we might hope or expect, and only does so once she’s reunited with her mother at the end of the story. Liz’s time with Elsa starts with a game of Scrabble. Like her hearing, there’s little wrong with her literacy, either, for she thrashes her opponent. That’s despite the condescending interjections of Elsa’s mother:

“Malefic?” Her mama continued, still behind me, still eating. “Is that a word? I wonder if she meant malleable. We’ll let it go. It’s best maybe to let her win.”

They then head out for an afternoon swim at the local pool. Liz manages not to react when a boy repeatedly shouts “I want to fuck you” at her, much to the amusement of everyone around them. But once out of their earshot, she’s the one who has the last laugh.

A young child is also the subject of Sarah Goffman’s ironically-titled ‘Eddie by Himself’. The story is a snapshot into the the struggle of Eddie’s parents to manage his wandering tendencies – accompanied by his imaginary friend, Hansel – and unpredictable reverie. Unlike his surly sister, Eddie eagerly anticipates the family’s camping trip to the woods. Before they set off, we are given clues about Eddie’s affinity for the natural world and all things outdoors – something that gets the better of him when he wanders into the thick of the forest. It’s a charming tale of an innocent mind giving into curiosity, and one that wonderfully conveys the power of the imagination.

So far, the short-form prose largely goes against the tone of Issue 2. There, the reader was largely greeted with a succession of stabbings, trailer park strife, motherfuckers and car chases.

But those impatient to uncover Armchair/Shotgun‘s sinister streak will be satisfied after reading ‘Pick Up’ by Diana Clark. Sharing a similar feel to the tale that closes Issue 2, it charts the journey of a troubled soul behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. A woman is ostracised from her husband since he got a fifteen-year-old pregnant, and after driving off in her former man’s uncomfortable pick-up truck, depravity ensues as she undertakes (not all willingly) a number of bizarre and sick sexual pursuits. From masturbating while driving through the provincial night, to offering one’s body to get out of prison, the closing piece of Issue 3 will raise a few eyebrows and turn a few stomachs.

Another parallel with Issue 2 is Andrew Wertz’s photo essay, ‘Twelve photographs’. Twelve urban landscapes situated in towns between Massachusetts and Pennsylvania provide a haunting journey through places devoid of any human life, as if in a post-apocalyptic silence. Fans of The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later will enjoy this inclusion. In almost all the photos, something appears in the image that does not actually stand in front of the camera – such as a reflection, a light source or a shadow. For example, the silhouette of a street light and telephone wires lean eerily across the photo of an empty sidewalk in Schuylerville, New York state, a photo that bleaches across the front cover of this issue.

The second piece of visual art comes from Steve Chellis, whose seven paintings and illustrations are introduced by a helpful few paragraphs by managing editor Laura McMillan. One’s instinct is to decipher the story behind each piece, which range in style from Impressionist to Gothic. Fathoming the story behind the painting is, of course, a major reason we enjoy art at all – but Chellis appears to derive pleasure out of the futility of this search: “parts don’t always add up, but why should they?”, he asks us.

Elliott BatTzedek, Daniele Lapidoth and Alison Campbell make multiple contributions to poetry, while four more poets (Liana Jahan Imam, Alanna Bailey, Genevieve Burger-Weiser and Inge Hoonte) each earn a solitary inclusion.

Campbell’s two poems come off the back of Reich’s life-affirming ‘Days of Sound’ and this is an intelligent placement, for ‘Body’ and ‘Cemetery’ each deal with human functions and senses. True to their word after Sabotage recently interviewed Armchair/Shotgun, the poetry included in Issue 3 supports their view that the difference between free verse and traditional form should be recognised. Lapidoth’s ‘Neither’ and ‘Both’ appear somewhere betwixt the two because they are presented in organised stanzas yet still convey a loose structure, while BatTzedek couldn’t strike this balance better, with the sombre ‘After pain has taken you’ erring on the classic and contrasting heavily with ‘Earth Day’ – a lightning-quick, stream-of-conscience consideration of the relationship between a man and his pets.

Like Issue 2, the sections of poetry, prose and visual art are punctuated by agreeable etchings and illustrations. The space occupied in the last issue by old-fashioned maps is now filled with drawings of animal anatomies, parts of the human skeleton, a cross-section of half a tree trunk, and a detailed illustration of the human ear – each providing something unexpected, quirky and interesting to linger on before absorbing what comes next in the magazine.

It is this marginalia that adds to the significance of Larsen’s interview and brings home what Armchair/Shotgun are trying to do. The magazine manages to embrace so many art forms and yet remain a predominantly literary offering; storytelling is at the heart of literature, and indeed central to this publication’s mission statement. But by including the minutiae and everything outside of the verbal domain, Armchair/Shotgun show they really know how to enrich a reader’s experience.

An Interview with some Editors of Armchair/Shotgun

In Saboteur Awards on October 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Richard T. Watson speaks to Evan Simko-Bednarski and John Cusick

Earlier this year, we at Sabotage opened up voting for the second of our Saboteur Awards (which marked, not coincidentally, our second birthday). At the head of an impressive field was the New York-based magazine Armchair/Shotgun, praised variously as ‘obscure, powerful and entertaining’ and ‘a saboteur in the best and worst ways’.

Armchair / Shotgun Issue 2's front cover

With its selection of short fiction, poetry and visual art, Armchair/Shotgun does conveniently represent both sides of the printed literature Sabotage aims to cover (as you’ll see later, they’re branching out into performance poetry – we don’t have an award for performance poetry…yet); the visual art is an added bonus. For that alone, it deserved recognition in our Saboteur Awards – but it won because it so impressed our readers, its own readers and our reviewer.

Rory O’Sullivan reviewed the magazine for Sabotage in June 2011 (coincidentally, their second instalment) and complimented the ‘refreshing originality’ contained within Armchair/Shotgun #2. The submissions policy at Armchair/Shotgun makes a real virtue out of anonymity (not the only publication on our list to do so: Anon came third, behind joint-seconds Ilk and New Linear Perspective). That focus on the purity of story enabled Armchair/Shotgun‘s content to ‘distract, grip and absorb’ the reader.

As they basked in the glory of winning our second Saboteur Award and set their sights on the third instalment, two of Armchair/Shotgun‘s editors, Evan Simko-Bednarski and John Cusick, answered a few questions we threw their way. [Disclaimer: the Saboteur Award has no prize outside of a logo for your website, and some kudos]

The Saboteur Award 2012, for Armchair/Shotgun

Tell us a bit about the beginnings of Armchair/Shotgun – how and why did it start? Can you explain the name?

ESB: First off, no, I cannot explain the name. We were discussing the magazine at a bar, back when this was just a thing we were discussing at bars, batting around some truly awful names, and John’s face just lit up and he said ‘OK, how about ‘Armchair Shotgun’? With a slash in between?’

Armchair/Shotgun came about at a time where we were all working in nominally creative fields, but were feeling creatively frustrated. The economy had just taken a humongous nose-dive, and we were trying to be writers, but all of the lit journals we could get our hands on had a kind of optimism or polish that seemed out of touch with our experience. We wanted to make the kind of journal that would take a story solely on its merits, and not on the formal training or critical acclaim of its author.

What’s you favourite part(s) of publishing Armchair/Shotgun? What really excites you about it?

ESB: Hands down, my favourite part is getting to develop relationships and friendships with our authors. These are stories that we pore over for months, debate and hash out and fight for at the editing table. Getting to know the folks behind them is a unique reward.

JMC: A close second is participating in the fabulous literary community in Brooklyn. There are so many amazing writers, editors, and publications here; it’s inspiring to be a part of that.

You carry out some activities outside of publishing the magazine, don’t you?

JMC: We’re all involved in other creative and professional pursuits. By day I’m an author of young adult novels and a literary agent. The fiction we publish in Armchair/Shotgun is very different than the kind of thing I write and represent, so it’s a nice balance. One of our managing editors works in textbooks, another for a not-for-profit. Our publicist is a full-time editor at a major New York publishing house.

ESB: I am a freelance writer, a poet, a performing musician and a bicycle mechanic. About once a week, I sleep.

What do you look for in a) creative writing submissions, b) artwork submissions, c) poetry submissions, d) non-fiction submissions and e) a perfect meal?

ESB: With poetry, I’ve never been a fan of flowery verse, or works very beholden to a formal structure. We certainly have published very ornate diction and fairly formal structure, but only because beneath all of that was a gorgeously constructed work of poetry that felt tangible, that begged for a second or third or fifth read. To me, poetry is storytelling without any of the requirements of narrative or grammar. In prose, there’s a linearity to the very structure of a sentence or a paragraph— they necessarily go forward. To my mind the mark of a good poem is to arrive somewhere different than where it started without relying on that linearity, or by playing with it, or by acknowledging it but going somewhere different.

JMC: For fiction, we prize story and character over style. We like to be moved emotionally, rather than wowed intellectually. Finding novel or beautiful ways to write fiction is fine, so long as your literary fireworks are in service of the story. Our taste in art is harder to pin down. We gravitate toward the understated. As with fiction, we’re more interested in craft than concept. As for a perfect meal? After an all-day editing session, nothing beats pizza and beer.

In a similar vein, what makes an Armchair/Shotgun piece an Armchair/Shotgun piece? What marks these things out as being yours? Is there a particular style, say, or theme, maybe?

JMC: So far we’ve published two stories about troubled dogs, and a few about lonely drivers on long stretches of highway. I think due to our name, we tend to receive a great deal of rusticana and rural settings, but we’re not looking for any of that specifically. We’re open to all genres, all styles, so long as the piece makes us feel something.

Is there another publication or two out there that you especially admire? Who else should we really be looking at?

JMC: We’ve modelled ourselves after the Paris Review, somewhat. The local folks we adore include Bomb, the Coffin Factory, Electric Literature, Abe’s Penny, the Atavist, and many more.

What’s coming up for Armchair/Shotgun?

JMC: This autumn we released our third issue, participated in the Brooklyn Bookfair, and were honoured to have a story from our first issue, The Kill Sign by Marvin Shackelford, featured in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading Program. We plan to do many more events in the coming year — panels, readings and the like — and have plans to partner with the Cambridge Writers Workshop for a few literary ‘performance pieces’, for lack of a better term.

ESB: One of the things that thrills me about our latest issue is that, with our anonymous submission policy, all of our poetry and fiction for Armchair/Shotgun #3 turns out to have been written by women. I don’t know if you are familiar with the VIDA count, which tracks the discrepancy between the publication rates of men and women in large literary publications from year to year, but there’s often a lot of talk as to why there is so consistently a bias towards the publication of men. I think it’s pretty interesting that by ignoring our authors names and bios, we came up with an all-female group of authors, and I’m tremendously excited to share their work with our readers.

The cover of Armchair/Shotgun 3

‘The future of publishing is in ebooks and online, not in printed documents’ – discuss.

JMC: Publishing is transforming into an electronic industry, but print products will continue to have a market so long as people want to buy them. I know I still do. The thing most folks forget is that format is not nearly as important as content. I hope the companies who have found success publishing books don’t suddenly decide to get into the software development business. That would be like Ferrari coming out with a line of fragrances.

ESB: The future of publishing may lie in e-books, but the future of the art form very much requires paper. John and I worked at a radio station in college, and we always noted how terrestrial radio differed from the internet: the radio dial is only about yea big; you’re going to find something even if you’re not looking for it. The advantage of print lies in a particular advantage of the bookshelf— you can only fit so many things on it. This means that someone thumbing through a bookstore is going to happen upon authors they weren’t looking for, because the shelf has been curated. So much of e-retailing is based on identifying and pitching to a reader’s comfort zone. And it has to be that way, otherwise you’re staring at an app-store of every title ever written. But it means that the reader never gets jarred out of their routine the way they can be by a well-thought-out bookstore shelf. In an infinite space one only finds what they’re looking for. Happenstance requires certain physical limitations that belong to print. And that means new and different authors finding new and different readers.

One comment from our voters described Armchair/Shotgun as ‘literate’ and ‘fun’, in a world where the two are ‘too often, mutually exclusive’ – do you think they’re mutually exclusive? How do you manage to be both at the same time?

ESB: I think that there is a tendency to gird oneself against the vulnerability of creativity by being self-important. That’s true in any artistic community, and sadly that means too many literary events aren’t a whole lot of fun. But for us the point of all this is story. We wanted to read better stories. And story tellers are intriguing, interesting and fun people at their core. I think the trick is to be very serious about the magazine Armchair/Shotgun while having as much fun as possible with the organization Armchair/Shotgun.

JMC: Why should literature and fun be mutually exclusive? Books are fun to read. They’re fun to write. They’re fun to go to parties and talk about. Book people are some of the most interesting, amusing folks around. At last year’s Brooklyn Lit Crawl, Armchair/Shotgun, along with a few of our authors, performed a live reading of a Flash Gordon Radio Drama. It was a blast, and utterly goofy, and we hope to perform again next year. If you ask me, books are the most fun you can have in New York City.

That same comment goes on to say that Armchair/Shotgun is good for reading with a drink, but also to have a drink with – what would Armchair/Shotgun‘s drink of choice be?

ESB: A lot of what would later become Armchair/Shotgun developed from weekends in the country with typewriters and bourbon, writing short stories until we were sober. The Armchair/Shotgun drink of choice has definitely spent a while in an oak barrel.

JMC: We’ve been developing the ‘Armchair/Shot’, but so far none of the recipes have quite clicked (ingredients considered include black pepper, mango flavoured wine coolers, and gun powder).

Congratulations once again to all at Armchair/Shotgun, and well done to the other publications that made it onto the Saboteur Award 2012 shortlist. To follow on from the interview, as a dessert, if you like, here’s our more recent review of Armchair/Shotgun Issue 3.

Radgepacket #6

In anthology, Short Stories on March 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-

If short stories about East End cannibalism, council estate dawn raids, petty murder or smack-happy voyeurs busting a paedophile ring aren’t currently on your ‘to-read’ list, then prepare to take a literary smack in the chops like never before.

This is because the wonderful, if slightly crazy, people at Byker Books have just published their sixth Radgepacket volume of Tales from the Inner Cities – and they’ll make sure you pick up a copy by whatever means necessary.

Radgepacket 6, published by Byker Books

It is a compendium of good ol’ British grassroots literature that – by the end – will ensure you know your Sky Rocket from your Loaf of Bread, how best to retrieve the wallet you carelessly left behind after sleeping with the fiancée of a well-known mobster, and the most sensible means of exacting revenge upon a ganglord who likes to fiddle young men.

It features a total of 23 pint-sized tales of underworld despair, torment and anguish – pinning you up in a darkened alleyway as you embark on one story, as the one just gone quietly picks your pocket.

Fans of the poetry that the Arctic Monkeys unearthed in tower-block, bus-stop Britain will like this.

But despite the tragedy (and, my word, there is tragedy) comedy and hope remain important themes.

Examples include a poignant fable about a local darts champion’s struggle to come to terms with the grave his middle-age lifestyle is digging for him, in ‘The Greatest Sportsman in the World’. The likeable Trev knocks back between fifteen and twenty pints a day – his mammoth ale sessions punctuated by success on the oche and daily trips to the kebab shop. Doom drags us down as his overweight, wheezy and drunken presence gets the better of his wife as well as us. It is nice of author Danny Hill to offer us solace within an otherwise desperate story as his health takes a turn for the best (sinking just the ten pints now and again) – his changes in fortune neatly underlined by the narrative of two darts commentators egging him on.

Sally Spedding is less forgiving, though. In ‘Tea for Two’, she offers us a revenge tale that will have you struggling to keep down your greasy spoon breakfast.

The subjects of resentment for one’s life (or lack of) and rampant alcoholism are dealt with sternly in Ian Ayris’s ‘Shadows in the Rain’. The extent to which it affects character Len paralyses his ability to display any rational temperament towards the people around him, and had me drawing immediate parallels with Emile Zola’s L’assommoir (The Drinking Den).

There are just the two burial scenes over the 23 stories. One comes unexpectedly in ‘All you Fascists bound to lose’, by Nick Quantrill, in a rather comic twist as two friends chat and smoke over a tinny having put their acquaintance six feet under, while the second is less welcome. Hippies – or friends of hippies – must avoid reading Charlie Wade’s ‘Environmentally Sound’ if you’re in a particularly earth-loving mood.

So do it. Grab an overly-salted bag of chips, crack open a can of Special Brew and allow your baser instincts to ride this gritty and hilarious rollercoaster. And I promise I haven’t been held at gunpoint to say that.

‘Living Room Stories’ by Andy Harrod

In anthology, Object, Short Stories on January 18, 2012 at 4:39 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan–

Living Rooms Stories is the literary sister of a set of instrumental tracks by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds (Living Room Songs), for which he recorded a piece a day for seven days in his Reykjavik apartment. Andy Harrod’s literary counterpart comprises of short stories, each influenced by one of Arnalds’ compositions, following a couple as they contend with their own and each other’s emotions.

Arnald’s music (consisting largely of piano arrangements that accompany delicate violin, viola and cello performances) is inspiring, and I feel it would be a struggle to not pen something of real quality off the back of it. But it’s having the idea to set it to ‘story’ in the first place that makes Harrod’s endeavours all the more fabulous.

Living Room Stories is thus a highly original project. And you sense this before reading a single word: each story is written on the back of square card and they are presented in a neat vinyl record sleeve that is a nod to the collection’s musical influence.

Living Room Stories, Andy Harrod, reviewed for Sabotage by Rory O'Sullivan

On the piece of card that introduces the collection, Harrod tells us that Arnald’s first song, Fyrsta, “flowed through me; I pictured a couple, I felt love’’. The corresponding story, ‘beginnings’, raises the curtain beautifully for what follows.

We are presented with a scene where a woman is standing below the glow of a street lamp at night. There is a strong feeling of unease. She looks towards the lights of the city further down the hill and, immediately, we are left wondering how she ended up here. Tantalising clues are offered, however:

Turning her focus onto the rain, she notices how it glitters in the light before softly
disturbing the puddle at her feet, reflecting her worn out shoes.
Memories of chalkboards, puzzles and a bearded face fill her.

Allowing a character to recall memories in this way is a rather Proustian device, and is something that features prominently in the stories. Memories are stirred up frequently, summoning emotions – nearly always negative ones – that give these stories their thrust. In ‘month eight’, past torment is roused by the sight of a soft toy cat: “its neck squashed and bare through a desire for safety; a desire for a love that won’t bind and abuse.”

Memory of the past and its role in the present is clearly important to Harrod. In ‘the third person’ music is the instrument of memory recall and provides a direct invitation to the reader to consider the role of the past and how it affects the characters: “she hears the sweep of bows across strings in her head, repeating, repeating. It plucks at her memories”. The story develops in order to follow her thoughts at this point and, by now, a picture of a very troubled soul is being painted.

‘light’ is perhaps the most optimistic of all the stories. Moving on through time, and after stories that chart the couple’s wedding (‘together’) and hosting a gathering with friends (‘home’), ‘light’ winds the clock on even more and we are introduced to their children. As the brother and sister play in the snow with their green balloon (a scene that is described superbly in the opening paragraph), we are told:

Their mother smiles at their playfulness and how simple life can be.

Nearby, the father crosses the finishing line in some sort of race:

His body strains with effort, but it doesn’t hide his smile or the enjoyment in his eyes.
He blows her a kiss as he crosses the line. Looking up he laughs at his children
sliding down the hill.

He never thought that these days would be his.

Beautiful. What’s more, its juxtaposition within a rather downcast narrative (in terms of the whole ensemble) makes this story all-the-more positive. There is, however, an ominous feel at this point. Like Arnalds’ corresponding song, Near Light, something is missing. Perhaps, deep down, the couple aren’t truly at one yet with their happiness and that closure remains a distant goal. The imperfect cadence at end of the song compounds this. Something isn’t right, and imperfection seems to supersede absolute positivity.

Over the course of the collection there are no names, no places. Yet somehow the stories feel so ‘real’. Attachment to objects is limited because of the absence of proper nouns, and this heightens the sense that the emotions explored in the stories are universal and not only confined to the characters who illustrate them. Related to this is Harrod’s extraordinary ability to attach a lyrical and poetic quality to his descriptions.

He likes to give us detail, to invite us into a scene, image or setting. This feels all the more deliberate when you consider that each story weighs in at a mere 15 lines on average, making references to detail all the more meaningful. What is the significance of the mulled wine glass, the ash from her cigarette, the child’s green balloon? Parochial detail is abundant and helps make the characters and their emotions as real as possible.

The order of Arnald’s original pieces has been cleverly re-aligned in order to create a saddening history of our couple. It is more than simply a like-for-like, ‘story for each song’, rehashing of the Icelander’s collection. Rather, it is an artistic interpretation, a beautiful tribute to a fellow artist’s work, and represents an innovative means of finding inspiration.

At its heart, Living Room Stories is a study of love and emotion, characterised by the torment, heartache and hope that consumes our couple.“The focus was on love, love as destructive when conditional … and love as healing when truly unconditional. I wanted to keep this theme uncluttered, for without love I fear we are nothing”, Harrod tells me.

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.

Fiction Reviews: A 2011 ‘Top Ten’

In Seasonal/End of year on December 17, 2011 at 10:05 am

-Decided by Richard T. Watson

It’s the time of year for lists again: lists of things, lists of people, lists of events and occasionally, just occasionally, lists of lists. I think lists of lists are my favourite.

It’s also a time to look for Christmas presents. Sabotage’s own Claire Trévien has already provided a Top Ten list of pamphlets for the poetry-lover in your life (or soon-to-be poetry-lover, once you’ve wowed them with your poetry pamphlet selection), so now here’s a list of suggestions from Sabotage’s fiction division. A Christmas Top Ten, if you like, of prose presents for the people in your life who like a bit of short story or novella every now and then.

I say it’s a Christmas Top Ten… It’s not a Top Ten based on any sort of reader feedback, bestseller charts or in-depth critical reading on my part. [The critical thinking has mostly been done by Sabotage’s reviewers, who are a lovely and hard-working bunch – thanks, guys!] I’m basing my list roughly on our most popular reviews on Sabotage, so maybe even if you don’t get the books themselves you can enjoy the reviews while hiding away from the family over Christmas and New Year. But y’know, the books are worth getting hold of too.

It’s more of a ‘Who did well this year’ list. Oh, and there’s only three entries, not ten. So, maybe a Christmas Sabotage Fiction Top Three…

1. Armchair/Shotgun #2 (indeed, all of their issues, but we covered the second) has an admirably egalitarian attitude to authorship, claiming: ‘Good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school dropout…and it does not care what you have written before. Good writing knows only story.’ Good storytelling is central to Armchair/Shotgun #2, with our reviewer (Rory O’Sullivan) saying: ‘Many of the pieces illustrate grassroots story-telling at its very best […] and there is a freshness and a spice to this collection that brings to mind the originality of the Beat generation.’

2. We’ve had a review of Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories before Sabotage had a fiction division (I’m going to keep calling it a division, until someone suggests a better word), but the follow-up publication, Steam-Powered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories definitely makes this list in its own right. Both collections have been popular on Sabotage, and they sound like really great reads. Certainly if our reviewer’s opinion is anything to go by (and it is). The review (by Tori Truslow) says: ‘this anthology was a marvel to read, a real magical mystery airship tour crewed by rebel mechanics and guerrilla historians. If the first Steam-Powered was daring, the second is dazzling.’

3. My third entry to this list is a bit of a cop-out. We’ve reviewed both of the anthology publications from Unthank Books this year, winningly entitled Unthologies, and both have sounded well worth the read. Ian Chung reviewed Unthology #1 back in April, and agreed that it ‘largely achieves what it sets out to do in terms of ‘showcasing unconventional, unpredictable and experimental stories’ and ‘inject[ing] fresh venom into the shorter form’.’ Then Elinor Walpole reviewed Unthology #2 in October and concluded: ‘With such a variety of styles, voices and visions of what it is to be human, I believe that this makes up a very decent and edgy selection of ‘resonant tales for anxious times’.’

I’m also going to add this one (Ian Farnell’s review of Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode) in as a consolation fourth place, mainly because it’s amusing and references Bruce Springsteen a few times.

Finally, on a deliberately Christmas-themed note: if you haven’t bought presents yet, can I ask a favour of you? It’s not a difficult one, don’t worry.

If you’re willing to shop online, please have a browse through the retailers on Sabotage’s Spend and Raise page. Spend and Raise allows not-for-profits like Sabotage to raise a bit of cash via the commission on your online Christmas shopping – most importantly, it doesn’t cost you anything extra: you pay the amount you’d pay anyway, and Sabotage is given a percentage. All you have to do is go to the retailers through our Spend and Raise page, instead of directly.

Thanks a bunch, we really appreciate it.

Happy Christmas, and merry reading!

Clinic II

In anthology on August 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan

In Clinic’s own words, this – their second anthology – is a “physical embodiment” of their raison d’être – an artistic collaboration of art, music and poetry.

On the face of it, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a collection that deals purely with poetry, but art is granted equal importance here. Music, meanwhile, may not be evident at the surface, but at the level of performance this collection very much deals with the ‘live’ dimension of artistic expression.

And if it’s a quirky, obscure – even trippy – manifestation of the arts you’re after, then you can do a lot worse than getting lost in their latest offering. Leafing between the charmingly obscure etchings, paintings and squiggles and the absorbing pages of verse, it’s as if Dr Seuss’s illustrators have teamed up with the pretenders to the poetic crown.

This eclectic miscellany of visual and verbal art has something for everyone. But unfortunately the concept of ‘everyone’ is not something that this anthology can acquaint because a rather stingy 500-edition print-run has been imposed.

Still, that kind of adds to the charm of being able to curl up with a copy if you’re lucky enough to come across one.

A total of 28 poets and 21 artists feature over the course of this 100-odd-page compendium of artistic celebration. Many of the contributors are grouped in the ‘emerging’ bracket – as the short bios at the end of the anthology suggest – and it is delightful to see space afforded for genuine upcoming talent while lining them up alongside more established players of the field.

Clinic’s four co-founding members provide strong contributions:

Rachael Allen (The Porpoise and An expected future event), Andrew Parkes (the previously-published Juror#10 and the beautiful yet sobering Cockermouth), Sam Buchan-Watts (Airport Poem and Landing) and Sean Roy Parker (with an intriguing photo-art piece) tow the party line of a vibrant, slightly-larger-than-pocket-size showcasing of modern art and poetry.

Much of the visual art is of an acquired taste. If modern art isn’t really your ‘thing’, I can only encourage you to give this a go. Few will deny their agreeable punctuation between each poet’s handful of contributions, providing timely pauses to consider their surreal – even downright odd – place within the work as a whole.

Some of the poems require a fair bit of attention and ‘tapping-in’ to the poet’s mind. A good few re-reads are required, which is no bad thing. Imagery is at times rather obscure and keeping track of it can provide a challenge, while the subject matter far-reaching from one poem to the next.

But to intellectualise this anthology would be to miss the point somewhat. The poems aren’t there to be carved up and examined at close-quarters. Yes, the poetics (in the academic sense) are of a decent to high standard, but Clinic II is trying to achieve something far simpler than that.

For example, I implore you to read some of these poems aloud – alone, or to friends. They are crying out to be performed – sung, even. It is poetry ripe for the stage as much as it is for the coffee table. It is no coincidence that the wonderful people at Clinic place so much emphasis on the ‘here-and-now’ element of creative expression. And this anthology is a heart-warming manifestation of that.

‘All The King’s Horses (An Expression of Depression Volume 3)

In anthology on August 3, 2011 at 11:53 am

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-

If you haven’t yet come across them, I would recommend seeing what Little Episodes Publishing are up to: an edgy but humble bunch bent on giving aspiring writers a glimmer of hope in an unforgiving industry.

The latest from the Samaritans of the British literary scene is All the King’s Horses (An Expression of Depression, Volume 3).

It is a dark and sobering anthology of poetry, free prose and screenplay that pulls no punches in its exploration of mental struggle and portrayal of the human temperament:

A bride attempting to drown herself in an ornate bath on her wedding night; a young boy continually raped by a local priest; an immigrant birthday boy making haste from Deptford to Putney in a race to score heroine; the graphic lament of a girl documenting the life of her young brother having just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.All the King's Horses, published by Little Episodes and reviewed by Rory O'Sullivan for Sabotage

To what purpose this outrageous gravity? Well, understanding Little Episodes’ mission statement is key to understanding why a collection such as this needs to be so bold and why it must exist.

There are plenty of journals and arty groups out there who profess the difficulties of breaking into the literary industry and attempt to alleviate those boundaries in order to lever budding talent. Little Episodes seem no different, but with All the King’s Horses they are coronating a particular breed of this talent: the mentally afflicted.

Nothing seems to stand in the way of co-founder Lucie Barât’s ambition to give a voice to those with mental suffering. She says, in the Mission Statement that serves as a refrain to this collection, that she hopes to “de-stigmatise depression and promote compassion and understanding rather than fear and embarrassment”.

Whether or not such a dream will be realised, we really can’t say, but we have here a work featuring writers who would remain unknown were it not for Little Episodes’ charitable outlook.

More importantly, Little Episodes’ benevolent work is not an exercise in positive discrimination but, rather, it forces acknowledgement of the fact that mental imperfection is often the root of creative ingenuity and expression.

As Bob Dylan once said, “a contented man is a boring man”. Artistic expression is so often borne out of mental suffering or a response to struggles tied up in childhood, bereavement or unstable, oppressive living which can all affect the human subconscious.

Little Episodes Publishing aren’t a company that just bitch about the industry, in the same way that All the King’s Horses is not a collection of sob-stories to get the mentally-afflicted a sympathy vote. On evidence of the suffering documented (for the writer as much as any character) – and, believe me, there is a lot of suffering – I feel that this collection is as good an opportunity as any for us to step back and locate what it is in our minds that urges us to put pen to paper.