Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘visual art’

‘Time’ (ed. Sam Rawlings)

In anthology, Short Stories on August 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

-Reviewed by Charlotte Barnes

Time, a relatively new publication from Lazy Gramophone Press, is a unique and endearing collection of prose and poems that have been perfectly paired with complementary artwork. This outstanding collection has successfully drawn together different forms of art, marrying talent in literature and drawing, painting and photography, in order to compile accounts and anecdotes relating to one of mankind’s favourite topics: the union between living life and exactly how much time we have to do so.

Commendation must first be delivered to the editor of this collection, Sam Rawlings, for making such marvellous decisions and for working so closely with an impressive array of skilled artists on this novel concept.

Time cover Sam Rawlings Lazy Gramaphone

The anthology opens with a central story; this effectively lays the foundations for the texts and images that will follow, and the pattern in which they will appear. The short opening for the text explains that the main body of the publication is sectioned into three life periods, childhood, adolescence-adulthood, and old age, and while these sections exist independently of each other, there are frequent and fragile ties that serve to loosely bind one narrative to another, which is a fascinating element to track. Whether it is the use of the same name or merely a hint at the reappearance of a character through a subtle description, there is something that will intricately link one story to another story, or perhaps even to a poem, which will ultimately lead to a link with the central story.

While the basic principles sound somewhat complex on paper, when you observe them being applied in the book, they are not only refreshingly unique but also quite captivating.

I found myself enjoying the contents more as I progressed through the life periods, however there are some truly outstanding pieces to be found in the earlier sections. ‘Eibar’, written by Sam Rawlings and illustrated by Carl Laurence, who incorporates great realism to the piece through his inspired diagram of the main character, was an entry that stood out from the crowd of childhood not simply for its length (it is rather long) but also for its depth of emotion and complete ability to hook the reader into the storyline and life of the central character, who you can empathise with from the opening paragraph. ‘Lemur’, by Guy J Jackson, and ‘Macaulay, My Nephew & Me’, by Inua Ellams, were also welcome additions, with Maria Drummey’s ‘Painting in a Certain Sky’ providing what felt like an appropriate close to this life chapter due to her poignant recollections and rich descriptions, which are further enriched by the accompaniment of Emma Day’s simplistic artwork which complements this piece.

There is an obvious shift in tone that appears in adolescence-adulthood, one that is particularly apparent in Kirsty Alison’s entry, ‘Oscar Wilde Said Youth is Wasted on the Young – so Let’s Get Wasted’, which is illustrated by the talented Lola Dupre who provides a thought-provoking representation of society‘s youths.. This hilarious submission marks a clear transition between the previous age and the one we are now moving into, which is not only amusing and perhaps a little embarrassing, but also somewhat poignant. In truth, all entries into this section warrant commendation for exploring troubling and unavoidable times in this period of life, including the complex emotions that are bound to those character-defining times. While I enjoyed each entry, I do feel inclined to admit my particular adoration for Jo Tedds’ ‘Orphans of the Order’, illustrated by Paul Bloom; these two artists combine their collective talent to create an outstanding contribution that I think many readers will recall long after they have finished reading the collection.

Time story Lazy Gramaphone

For me, old age was the superior age chapter. Both the prose and poetry entirely pulled me into these hilarious, poignant and saddening tales, all of which are equipped with yet more fabulous illustrations that allow these submissions to grow even further off the page. Charlie Cottrell’s ‘Losing It’ was absolutely marvellous! My heartstrings were well and truly plucked within my chest from the beginning of the tale, only to be left feeling somewhat out of tune at the end of the story (something you’ll understand when you read it); this story also provided a clear reference back to the central story, introduced to the reader some two-hundred pages previously. ‘The Dash In-between’, by Claire Fletcher, was another favourite and was, in my opinion, nothing short of inspiring; it is a heart-warming demonstration of the concept of ‘as one door closes, another one opens’, explored in a exceptional and touching manner.

With a short and unexpected burst of poetry and final illustrations the collection is brought to an unwelcome end as you are left with lingering questions, most of which relate to the central story (which I have deliberately withheld information about). ‘Ocean’, a poem written by Sorana Santos is littered with love, faith and empowerment and is a perfect addition to the closing moments of this anthology, complemented greatly by the artistic contribution provided by Kaitlin Beckett, who, alongside Santos, also explores the wonder of the ocean in a visually captivating manner. The final illustration contained in the collection, which is to accompany the poem ‘The Fires’, written by Liz Adams, is aesthetically pleasing in many ways and would certainly be a welcome addition to the wall of any modern art enthusiast. It is a truly outstanding piece that is certainly lingering about in my top five examples of visual art contained within this exciting collection.

Time is a fascinating collection littered with not only wonderful literature but also fabulous illustrations that ultimately make it a credit to any book-lover’s shelves. Lazy Gramophone Press have done a splendid job in combining different styles of art and entangled them through the bond of a common narrative, or at least elements of a common narrative, that allow these pieces to stand united as well as independently. I sincerely hope that there will be another venture similar to this in the future.


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.

The Literary Bird Journal #1.2

In online magazine on January 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm

-Reviewed by Juliet Wilson

The LBJ is a biannual publication dedicated to  creative writing about birds. Its title comes from the acronym for “little brown job,” used by birders to describe difficult-to-identify species, such as many warblers or sparrows.

The LBJ publishes creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, narrative scholarship, literary journalism and showcases visual art – all on themes related to birds.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on a paper copy of the LBJ, but their website offers a small selection of pieces from the publication, which I’ve used as a basis for this review.

I’ll start with ‘He Knows Me as the Blind Man Knows the Cuckoo’ a short story by Elena Passarello in the current issue of The LBJ. This is a wonderful piece of fiction, which I have shared with students in the class I teach on environmental writing. It opens:

‘It’s the first day of spring. A male Cuckoo in his prime bursts into the open fen, hollering as he sails over its weeds, scrubs, and dikes. He lands in a shady spot, firing the sound of his father and his father before him—all those males he’s never met.

I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad, he sings, imagining a marriage that probably took place in this same fen one spring before, with an earlier variation of his own, famous descending third: cu-koo.’

From there on it continues, an exuberant story of cuckoos, with references to popular culture and human behaviour, which presents the birds’ breeding behaviour in a way that the reader can relate to, while being accurate bird biology too. It’s brilliant and was a worthy winner of the LBJ’s Urb Bird Contest.

Moving on to poetry, we haveFor the Birds (1900 – 2009)’ by Camille T. Dungy, a heartbreaking list poem of bird species that are known or believed to be extinct, some of the names are poetry in themselves – Nuko Hiuo monarch, short-toed nuthatch vaga, red-moustached fruit-dove. The fact that most of them are species the average reader won’t have heard of only makes it all the more poignant.

Linnea Ogdens ‘I and the Starling’ is a sestina (a poetic form that relies on repeated words rather than rhyme) illustrated with words arranged to look like flocking starlings. It’s a beautiful, swirling piece of poetry, full of wonderful observations. I read it over and over, and it inspired me to experiment with writing sestinas, which previously I have found dull and tiresome to write.

I have to admit, I’m not sure how much appeal The LBJ would have to anyone not already a keen birdwatcher. The work seems to assume a certain level of familiarity with bird biology and a good variety of bird species (and it seems to be biased toward North America too, so even the keen British birder may be at a disadvantage). My other criticism is that some of the pieces seem to be overwritten. If you like your prose ornate and flowery then fine, but it doesn’t always work for me. It did in ‘He Knows Me as the Blind Man Knows the Cuckoo’ (see earlier) but in other pieces I found it irritating. An example is the editor’s introduction, which in the current issue is a moving and interesting story about a family of peregrines, that I couldn’t help thinking might have benefited from tighter language and fewer adjectives.

However, judging from the selection on the website, The LBJ is an excellent publication for anyone interested in birds and literature.