Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Welsh’

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:

topwebsite

Also nominated and worth a look were:

  1. World Literary Café http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/
  2. Lindsay www.lindsayburoker.com
  3. Louisa Locke http://mlouisalocke.co
  4. Rachel Abbott http://www.rachel-abbott.com/
  5. David Gaughran http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/
  6. http://www.bragmedallion.com/
  7. www.janefriedman.com
  8. www.IndiePENdents.org
  9. Joanna The Creative Penn http://www.thecreativepenn.com/

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.’

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‘Starry Rhymes: 85 Years of Allen Ginsberg’ (edited by Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh)

In anthology on October 24, 2011 at 8:33 am

-Reviewed by Chris Emslie

Best to begin honestly: I came very late to the Allen Ginsberg party. On my first look-through of Starry Rhymes, a collection of responses and reactions to his intimidating body of work, my exposure to Ginsberg was limited to the compulsory rushed reading ofHowl in the first year of my undergrad. Arming myself with a Selected Poems, I set myself to write a review I felt horrendously underqualified for.

Editor Claire Askew is careful to point out in her introduction that “not one of the pieces here needs to be read in tandem with the poem that inspired it […] to make sense”. This I will not dispute: the thirty-three poems in the Starry Rhymes chapbook rest secure as coherent pieces, indebted to but not dependent on their spur-poems. However, it is certainly easier to grapple with this collection if we keep the man himself fresh in the mind. What Ginsberg conjures is a fevered rush of enthusiasm – most strongly evinced by the breakneck holler of his most famous piece, the aforementioned Howl. There is a dirty-fingered energy to Ginsberg’s work that any replying poem must acknowledge, if not attempt itself.

It is interesting, then, to see how the Starry Rhymes poets answer back to Ginsberg’s famed exclamation. In the opening poem, Marion McCready takes a magnifying glass to Ginsberg’s early ‘The Bricklayer’s Lunch Hour’, distilling his narrative to a few closely-observed moments. The psychic space of the poem is beautifully handled as McCready addresses the “cellar nature” of a brick wall “tempting [a] kitten” and the unexpected softness of the titular bricklayer: “He strokes the kitten / the way he strokes his chin”. This poem is in essence a slowing-down of Ginsberg, the effect of which is a more surprising opening than the most raucous yelp of “starving hysterical naked[ness]”. The clarity which gives McCready’s poem its distinction stumbles a little over the final image (“an unlikely new-found womb”), but the strength of others (the bricklayer “voiding the cradle of bones” in his lap) keeps the piece afloat.

While this chapbook is intended as an homage to Ginsberg – a celebration of “the 85th anniversary of the great man’s birth” – its strongest poems are those which recall their starting points from a distance. Clever relocation aside, Kevin MacNeil’s ‘Allen Ginsberg! I’m with you in Scotland’ falls a little flat, not because of its borrowed refrain but because it tries too hard for synthesis. MacNeil’s attempt to reappropriate the “Rockland” of ‘Howl Part III’ seems to grow from a desire to critique “Scotland / where the madness is banal and institutionalised”. Mirroring Ginsberg’s structure allows MacNeil to adapt the poet’s relationship with America into a reiteration of the old Scotland-England dialectic:

“I’m with you in Scotland

where we hug and tongue and caress England

under the bedsheets the England that

snores all night and won’t let us sleep”

Here MacNeil uses Howl as a template for what Frances Leviston has called the “spiky insularity” of Scots writing, and the poem ultimately comes off as more agenda than tribute.

This is offset, however, by the playfulness we find elsewhere in Starry Rhymes. Ryan Van Winkle is wonderfully self-deprecating in his response to ‘America’, asking himself “Ryan, // Why are your poems not bombs? // In your poems men get nowhere in cars, speak like graduates.” Francis Wasser’s ‘Planet Earth, I’ve Taken This Very Literally’ adheres to Ginsberg’s structure but applies a wicked sense of humour that relieves any influence anxiety. Wasser addresses the planet like it’s a personal oracle, or a teacher who’s grown used to a pupil’s impertinence:

“Planet Earth please make popular culture unpopular.

Planet Earth which god made men?

He’ll never do it again.

Planet Earth what is meta for?

Planet Earth what is metaphor?

Planet Earth we could learn a lot from that.”

This poem stands out because it has no apparent ultimatum. It responds to its inspiration without taking itself (or indeed Allen Ginsberg) too seriously. Similarly, Suzannah Evans replies to Ginsberg’s ‘Personals Ad’ with a light-hearted charm which her poem affords to pets and inanimate objects: “Me: The Yorkshire terrier at number 15. / Take me away from this place. / Throw me a frisbee.” Karen Head, meanwhile, addresses Ginsberg himself with obvious affection, arguably the entire point of the project:

“and, ultimately, I’ll read some line

you wrote years before my birth

and I will feel the reproach

meant for those you knew

would be inclined to listen.

Nevertheless, you are always welcome here.

Try not to step on the cats.”

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. I have met several young writers and readers for whom the Beats – and  consequently, Ginsberg – are the beginning and end of great American literature. Fortunately this does not seem to be the overwhelming ethos of this collection. Co-editor Stephen Welsh contributes a cut-up facsimile that is a compelling retrospective on Ginsberg and his contemporaries, if a little inelegant in this context. For the context is one of mixed and palpable talent. 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.