Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Dawson’

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.’


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.

‘Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals’ by Sarah Dawson

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

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

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


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


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

You were mining breaststroke – the universal

sign for swimming. Found the beach, whilst I was


watching silken laundry sea that lapped the

pillars. Beneath, fish were sewn from thousands


of silk scraps – seams that faced out, unhemmed

loose threads, labels, that you ached to cut


they brushed each other; coats they ached to shrug off


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


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


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