Diane Williams Reading and In Conversation with Toby Litt

Diane Williams, author of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine from CB editions will be reading and in conversation with Toby Litt at the University of Westminster on Monday 11th December, 6.30-8.30pm.

Tickets are FREE but registration is essential.  Click here for more details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/diane-williams-reading-and-in-conversation-with-toby-litt-tickets-39826440957

Diane Williams Flier 2

 

Opening The Magic Door

The Magic Door, Chris Torrance: Test Centre, 2017

Chris Torrance’s The Magic Door is a collection of poetry spanning almost five decades and comprising eight original chapbooks of Torrance’s poems. Torrance began work on The Magic Door in June 1970, and continues to work on this lifelong poetry project into the twenty-first century. His most obvious influences for this work are the Beats and the open-field poetics of Charles Olson in the US, as well as the many contemporary British poets to whom these poems are dedicated: Lee Harwood, Barry MacSweeney, Iain Sinclair and Allen Fisher, among others.

The collection begins, in typically Beat-fashion, with a road trip – from Bristol to ‘The New Territory’ of Wales, marking Torrance’s move from suburban England into rural Wales and his parallel decision to live the life of the semi-hermit-poet among the landscape, geology and mythology of the area surrounding the Brecon Beacons. These poems are lyrical, spontaneous grapplings with mystery and landscape that Phil Maillard suggests in the Introduction could genuinely be called ‘Psychogeology’. They are also musings on the nature of poetry itself. In a later poem, Torrance includes the quoted phrase ‘all poetry / begins in mysticism / & ends in linguistics’, which echoes somewhat the trajectory of this collection, although the explorations into language never really threaten to fully supplant the mysticism of the poet’s preoccupation with myth and landscape. Language and landscape coexist in Torrance’s poetry.

The nature of poetry, the nature of language, the nature of self, and the nature of ‘nature’ are the predominant themes in The Magic Door; the poetic forms shaping themselves around the collage of mystic and earthy lived experiences that shape the poems. The later poems take on a greater visual and sonic quality, fracturing and fragmenting on the page with mini sound-structures forming internally, such as, in Cylinder Fragments from the Twentieth Century:

Voyager

 

The visual fragmentation here is complemented by the sonic structures. The percussive rhythm of the two hyphenated collocations lend their beat to the alliterative ‘gas giant’ in the following line and to the final two syllables, ‘the deep’. This opens out into the sibilance of ‘Saturn / space whale sounding’, which in turn pulls the earlier ‘broadcasts’, ‘ice-cold’, ‘mustard-coloured’ and ‘gas’ into its sonic orbit. Torrance also invents some luscious neologisms that satisfy not only their context but are also satisfyingly pleasing to hear and to say: ‘solstistic’ ‘sludging’, ‘whifflings / & screekings & screelings’. The title of the first book, Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time hints towards this delight in the sounds of words and their play, and is something I would have liked to have seen carried even further throughout the poems in this collection.   

Chris-Torrance_Magic-Door_front

Openness is key to this collection, both in terms of poetic form and in the spirit of incompletion and enquiry that drives it. In this sense, The Magic Door carries the sense of a door that stands open, welcoming in all those who enter. One form of this openness is the poet’s desire for true self-expression, the Kerouacian desire for a transparent language to communicate the self directly and openly from within: ‘opening up the hopefully uncensored self to the present / the fallible, living trace that is us in the world’. Or in ‘Gemini – for Iain Sinclair’:

Gemini

 

Yet the door can stand closed, too, veiling these mysteries from view. There is longing in Torrance’s recognition that language, poetry, is not transparent and open, however much he might desire it to be. He asks, ‘& how do words / manage to lie so, this time / & as always?’ Suggesting, perhaps, that ‘This accounts for / a feeling of alienation within us’. Yet this alienation is also paradoxically what gives the poetry its openness, its resistance to the closure of mono-semantic, transparent and incorruptible meaning.

It is this alienation, the not-knowing of language’s obscurity, that drives the poetic enquiry within The Magic Door, leaving it to stand forever ajar in the half-openness of an incomplete process; the question of the living poet answered-and-unanswered through the continual act of creating the poetic work. These moments of uncertainty about the nature of poetry itself resonate throughout the collection, beginning in the first book, in a poem written in April 1971, setting the agenda for all that is to follow. Recognising that ‘the failed purpose is made part of the poem’ from the outset, there is nothing for the poet to do but to go on making poetry.

Deep Breathing

 

Click here to find Chris Torrance’s The Magic Door at Test Centre.

About the Publisher:

Test Centre is an independent publishing house and record label with an interest in the spoken and written word. Based in Hackney, East London, it was established in 2011 by Will Shutes and Jess Chandler.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster and is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press. @Spaewitch

 

Women, Writing and Freedom

“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

This poignant and all too necessary event was hosted by Linen Press and the Contemporary Small Press on Thursday 19th October at the University of Westminster’s Regent Street Campus. Celebrating women’s writing and the achievements of the press and its writers, the event also delved into the complex struggles and injustices facing women and their writing in the current publishing climate.

Lynn Michell, the founder and director of Linen Press, welcomed us all and began the evening by sharing some of the home truths and hard facts about women writers in the publishing industry. She asked: “How do we get books into the big stores without paying them to sell the books?” Shedding light on the difficulties of gaining recognition in mainstream bookstores, when the fees for production are inordinately high, meaning that authors rarely see a profit from their labour of love. Male writers often take home book prizes and gain greater recognition for their work than both women and minority writers; therefore, publishers often do not want to take the ‘risks’ attached to publishing female writers and will not consider their work. Michell mapped out the lay of the publishing land for women, and the reality of how disparate the landscape is between female and male authors truly hit home – there is still so much work to be done in order to enable women to thrive in the publishing industry.

The keynote speaker, Maureen Freely, a writer, translator and senior lecturer at the University of Warwick, spoke of the often-neglected area of publishing translated works in the UK, particularly those written by women, as the works of male writers are more frequently translated. Freely is currently the president of English PEN, an organisation that campaigns for at-risk writers around the world whose rights to freedom of expression have been censored. English PEN’s inspirational work fights to remove inequalities in the literary world, facilitates the translation of foreign works into English and promotes such work in the UK, introducing UK readers to impeccable foreign works. Commercial censorship was highlighted as a huge and ongoing issue that shapes what writers say and, in turn, what readers are able to read. Freely gave the example of when a writer known for writing chick-lit was unable to publish work with themes around depression or anything “too dark”. Freedom of expression and writing are indivisible, which led Freely to help at-risk writers around the world, with a focus on women in Turkey who are currently either being imprisoned for their writing or are unable to work due to the risks of hiring them as writers. Their freedom to express themselves has been greatly impinged, costing them their writing, passion and voices as feminist activists, journalists and writers, and equally their own personal freedom to remain a part of their society. Freely has regularly contributed to the Observer, the Guardian and the Independent, and is hugely invested in writing on feminism and Turkish culture, where her written work complements her activist work by helping to assist these women writers in the process of gaining asylum in the UK and joining a community of writers, so that they can continue to speak out against the inequality and injustices they are facing.

Freely also shared with us the exciting news of the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, which will be awarded on 15th November 2017, and aims to provide an opportunity for greater recognition of the invaluable work produced by women. The prize was set up for works of fiction, poetry or non-fiction by women, which have been translated into English by a female or male translator, published by a UK or Irish publisher, and translated and published between April 1st, 2016 and March 31st, 2017.

Women Writing Freedom
Hema Macherla, Avril Joy, Lynn Michell, Maureen Freely.  Photograph courtesy of Linen Press

Avril Joy, an awarding-winning short story writer and novelist, took us back to her years of teaching and management at a women’s prison, where she learnt the power of imagination, both for these women and for herself, when the writer-in-residence inspired her and prompted her own journey as a writer. Joy initially outlined the context of working at the prison – men would rarely visit the women and, therefore, letter writing and forms of writing in general quickly became a necessary and sought-after skill. More importantly, Joy found that these women were desperate to learn and hungry to thrive in ways that they had not had the opportunity nor freedom to before. It was strange to think that prison would in many ways provide a previously unknown freedom for these women, but within Joy’s cupboard-sized classroom, she was met with a desire to gain more from life, and writing became a way to explore this. Joy remarked that she often heard the women say that “they can lock me up, but they can’t lock up my mind” – a pertinent statement that may resonate with many women who may feel oppressed, their voices unheard and their freedom censored by a society that still retains double standards. Joy gave these women the permission to write their own stories, to voice their own lives and find power in imagination, a power they had so often been unable to access. Whilst many may have been victims in their lives, through the ability to voice themselves creatively, they started to recognise themselves as survivors, changing their relationships to themselves. Ultimately, Joy urged us, like those women in prison, to use whatever voice we have to tell our stories, and to survive.

Hema Macherla, an Indian writer whose works have been translated into English, poignantly articulated her own journey with writing, as well as the injustices faced by women in India when they do not conform to the male-instigated and deep-rooted traditions of Indian culture. It is shocking to realise how much is still needed in order to gain equality and justice for women in India, when men are still ‘justified’ in beating their wives, and the coercion into and practice of Sati (a funeral custom in which a wife immolates herself after the death of her husband) was only banned in its entirety in 1988 by the Sati Prevention Act. Women are struggling to have their voices heard and their freedom granted, since these brutal experiences often go undocumented or unspoken, as they are simply part of the way things are in India, and so Macherla bravely writes of these women within her novels. In her writing, she creatively expresses the cruel and shocking reality of a culture that still subordinates women and justifies the brutal actions against them through a hierarchical system of valuing men, their position and their rules, above the rights of women.

Michell closed this insightful and thought-provoking event by congratulating and thanking her writers and interns who make the work at Linen Press such a pleasure and inspiration. The audience then had the wonderful opportunity to view the trailer for her newly published novel, The Red Beach Hut, which is available online to purchase. It is a beautiful and sensitive portrayal of two lost souls who find themselves pacing along a beach together in a moment of their lives in which they both need a friend, someone who will be out-of-sync with them. To finish the event, we celebrated ten years of Linen Press over glasses of wine and had the opportunity to continue the thoughtful, powerful and much needed discussions with the event’s speakers.

Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.

Women Writing Freedom Books
Women, Writing and Freedom.  Photograph courtesy of Linen Press

Women Having to Huddle Under Kiosk Roofs

Dance by the Canal by Kerstin Hensel, translated by Jen Calleja: Peirene Press, 2017
Dance by the Canal, or Tanz am Kanal, as Peirene promises, can be read in a single two-hour sitting. The category of the ‘single-sitting’ novel is one Dance by the Canal fulfils in all aspects; engaging, complicated and addictive. This novel in translation is a haunting reminder of German history and of the all too familiar challenges unresolved in our current world. Kerstin Hensel, born in Karl-Marx Stadt in the German Democratic Republic, is a prize-winning poet. She also studied in Leipzig, the basis for the fictional industrial town of Leibnitz in East Germany, where the bulk of the story occurs. This is probably why the sense of place that surrounds the novel is so strong and not at all lost in the translation:

‘Katka knew a place under the Green Bridge for forbidden things and other thrills.
Goldenrod and something that looked like giant rhubarb grew on the embankment.’

dance_canal_2000px-568x900

The story begins in 1994 with the protagonist and narrator, Gabriela von Haßlau, feeling joy for the first time in years because she has decided to write a book, an autobiography on whatever blank scraps, she can find to write on. The reasons she has not felt joy for so long soon become abundantly clear, starting with the fact revealed on page one that she lives under a canal bridge, which is very definitively her bridge, with only the comfort of a thin, grey blanket (two in the winter months) from the homeless shelter to keep her warm. From then on, we are flung into two narratives, the one of her writing, living under her bridge, and the one of what she has already written, and how she ended up there. The switch in time flows beautifully, answering questions from the present through the past with just enough room for the reader to speculate.

Her memories begin with five-year old Gabriela being presented with a violin, ‘-Repeat after me! Vi-o- lin! Vi-o- lin!’ Her father, a successful vascular surgeon, tells her. Because language and words, words which belong to certain people, are so important to this story. A particular focus throughout being the ffffon in Gabriel von Haßlau that every character besides her mother and father take note of. They take note because von is a symbol of wealth; something which Gabriela, along with the rest of Eastern Germany in the 1960s, do not have. The von Haßlaus are living under communist rule and there is no place for their von any longer. Combined with the ‘I’ marked next to Gabriela’s name on the register for Intelligent it would appear she would be at an advantage, but her von and her ‘I’ are only the beginning of her downfall.
Being unfamiliar with the history of the GDR, there were observations, I am sure, that
were lost on me. The general consensus seems to be that us younger Brits do not
have enough knowledge of this particular period of German history to fully grasp the
extent of the truth underlying this story. It would possibly be helpful to read up on the subject before embarking on this book, for example knowing more about the huge
social, economic and political differences between East and West Germany, and
how they became unified, what the longer term consequences were for people living
in the East. However, not knowing the history does not impinge on the overall impact of the novel. Since the number of people sleeping rough in Britain has more than doubled in the last two years, and has risen by 134% since 2010, this is a novel not only about the past, but about the present, and how it doesn’t take much change for someone to lose everything. In the brief foreword that founder of Peirene, Meike Ziervogal, writes in every Peirene novel, she states “This book will make you think.” It certainly has.

Click here to order Dance by the Canal from Peirene Press.
About the publisher:
Peirene Press is a boutique small press publishing house, specializing in contemporary
European novellas and short novels in English translation. Peirene Press publishes its
translated European novellas in trios and Dance by the Canal is the final instalment of the “East and West: Looking Both Ways” series.
Review Laurie Robertson
Laurie Robertson is a recent Literature and Creative Writing graduate from the University of Westminster, currently working at Penguin, DK in non-fiction works, craving the kind of fiction that the Contemporary Small Press reviews!

Diisonance Launch

On Friday 8 September, a curious group of people met at The Gallery Café in Bethnall Greenfor the launch of Diisonance – a book of protest texts, art and collaborative experimental poetry. A solitary microphone stood among café tables in front of a curtain of lights. Paul Hawkins welcomed us, an intimate rabble, before swiftly tearing pages from his latest work Place Waste Dissent: ‘I’m not precious about my work,’ he said.
Place Waste Dissent – published by Influx Press in 2015 – utilises zine culture using ‘scuzzy xeroxed black and white images, cut and stark, pasted typewriter text, drawings and signs.’ The book commemorates a love and loss of Claremont Road, where government plans to construct the M11 Link road tagged every property for demolition and destroyed a flourishing community. Protestors formed a cooperative resistance, exercising their rights and causing dissonance between the community and the status quo. Place Waste Dissent ‘takes the aesthetics of poetry as seriously as the occupation and protests that inspired its writing’ by balancing narratives of occupying protestors
and original residents (notably Dolly Watson who had lived on Claremont Road since 1901) giving voice to those who otherwise were not given the opportunity to be heard.
In its turn, Hawkins explained, Diisonance responds directly to the social issues in Place Waste Dissent. Diisonance, he says, “is a culmination of how it’s affected us, our lives and the psychology we’ve been left with, as a detritus from the whole thing.” Voices come together to fight against social crises, such as housing that persists perilously today: with inevitable tragedies like Grenfell Tower, for example, and the looming demolition of Robin Hood Gardens.

Hawkins handed out the loose pages of his book, explaining that we were about to do something that has never happened before, and can never happen again. The room, rising to its feet, read aloud from the discarded pages of his book – glossy black and white fragments of experimental poetry, collage and text. The room filled with the sound of dissonant voices. It didn’t matter who spoke, sung, shouted or whispered: the text rose from the page into an electric air. Words dissolved in the noise of our many voices, our many fragments. Hawkins moved through the crowded space, the crowded noise, recording the moment that couldn’t happen again.

diisonance
To launch the book, a collaboration of writers read their work – Paul Hawkins, Tony White, Sarer Scotthorne, Gary Budden, Roy McFarlane – with an exhibition by visual artist Steve Ryan. Tony White read from his novel, Charlieunclenorfolktango, written twenty years ago and published by Codex, a defunct small press, in 1999. “This is probably not suitable for children,” White said, before galloping into a dialectic rant on the fifty ways a “mad fuckin’ killer” could break into your house and murder you: “so that’s why there’s got to be coppers” so you can “sleep easy.” Spitefully humorous,
the work accounts for ways the police protect and serve but enforce a system of inequality and injustice. Blue lights flickered across the walls of the café as a police car passed along Old Ford Road.
Hawkins gave a brief reading of his poetry. We learned of the police brutality that occurred during the events at Claremont Road, paying homage to lives and communities deemed worthless when the government approved demolitions for construction of the M11 Link Road, built to link the North Circular Road to the A14, northwest of Cambridge.
Sarer Scotthorne – poet, writer, staunch and radical feminist – read a collection of corresponding letters sent to Miggy Angel. She wrote to Miggy about the dissonance of sound and the human body. Letters, a nostalgic medium, collaborate separate minds that meet on the page. Scotthorne discusses divisions of the human body, reciting her letters as poetry: something private becomes public. The work picks and plucks at the idea of sound and dissonance between things through melodious poetic imagery: ‘the music, the world, all here at once.’ Scotthorne expresses her body oppressed, a body othered; the marginal being that harnesses her muteness to be heard: ‘can you read my silence?’ She incorporates binary code, “0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1,” shifting the atmosphere to a strange robotic default. Sound is intrinsically linked to the ‘mouth-sound,’ the ‘beetle-voice’ of female silencing. The female voice is other, alien and isolated but also continuously speaks up from the hushed prisms of the body – Scotthorne presents her silence, the silence of her sex, as a dissonance of self, a fracture of internal harmonies, that begins to use realms of silence in order to speak from the ‘silent maternal body.’ Try to imagine language in reverse: if we can speak in silence, phallogocentrism loses its dominance.
Gary Budden read from his new story collection The Wrecking Days which explores themes of nature and narcotics, writing from the margins of society ‘where reality thinned a little.’ His piece suggested that the artificial and the natural are not opposing at all, instead they are transcendent. Budden writes about youthful and reckless days spent on the London marshes. In such places of in-between, on the fringes of London, Budden writes about notions of being and belonging: the idea that ‘memory is a marsh’ as the world diffuses in mist and nostalgia. The marshes act as a psychogeographical jettison between two places, between city and country, between artifice and nature. Such spaces, as Budden presents in his collection, allowed them to explore their minds, without ‘shutting parts of yourself down.’ It was ‘a way of seeing the world for what it really is,’ to find their own version of what it means to be free: to be and belong on their own terms. But Budden acknowledged, through his tales of the wrecking days, that being able to see the world as it is can also pull you apart.
Roy McFarlane, a poet and playwright, rounded up the evening with two resonant readings from his recent works. The first reading, ‘Tebbit Test,’ reflected on the comment made by British Conservative politician Norman Tebbit, who suggested that immigrants who continued to support their native countries, rather than England, at the sport of cricket, are not significantly integrated into the United Kingdom. Such racial inequity led McFarlane to write about racism and politics in relation to sport. McFarlane reminds us of the cutting dissonance of racial injustice that is active everywhere. His second reading tempered with volumes of sound. The world to McFarlane, as it is now, feels ‘turned
up’ to the point of ‘cut, break, fracture, dissonance.’ As an alternative, McFarlane proposes, the volume of the times should be tuned down – ‘a discordant sound’ falling into a weightless void of silence. He conjured the image of water dripping into ‘a bottomless well of silence.’ McFarlane responds to our discordant times with a call for
silence; a call to listen for the ‘echo of love’ that falls, not like a drip but like a stone, into the water. These moments are lost in the cacophony of noise and noisy images. Yet, McFarlane suggests, these quiet moments have healing properties. They are ripples of time capable of changing social dimensions, from something static to something more fluid.

Overall, the Diisonance book launch explored spaces between binary constructs. Tony White mimicked the discourse between ‘us and them’ that resonated with Paul Hawkins aching reminiscence of creative communities in London, such as Claremont Road; sites where state ideology betrays human rights. Sarer Scotthorne dislocated ‘male and female’ and spoke about how silence is related to structures of gender. She picked at the social structures of male speech and female silence by tuning into feminine silence – and performing it. Gary Budden dislocated the ‘here and there’ of places of being and belonging, where the London marshes act as a safe space for experimentations
of selfhood. Finally, Roy McFarlane expressed the racial disconnect between ‘black and white’ as dissonance, as well as the implication of sound: a ‘lack of harmony between things.’

The Diisonance book launch was an evening of protest and resistance against oppressive forces that attempt to control our lives, that are an especially prominent part of life in the city. The writers acknowledge the present state of things – political, social, economic – expressed through their experiences in the past. Throughout their lives, they have seen things at their best, their worst and everything in between. Diisonance is a project among many that attempts to galvanise the hearts and minds of the people and restore the magnetic flow of life in London.

Click here to order Diisonance from Hesterglock Press.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.

 

From Professor Murasaki’s Notebooks on the Effects of Lightning on the Human Body

From Professor Murasaki’s Notebooks on the Effects of Lightning on the Human Body, John Latham: Comma Press, 2017

I was intrigued by this poetry collection, published, as it is, by Comma Press – the small press that has become synonymous with short form fiction. As they remarked in their canny advertising campaign: they don’t publish poetry, so when they do it must be special. I wanted to know what made Comma Press love a poetry collection so much that they wanted to publish it as their own.

From Professor Murasaki

Reading John Latham’s From Professor Murasaki’s Notebooks on the Effects of Lightning on the Human Body I do get a sense of the richness of its language, the depth and scope of its range of subjects and the subtly intricate connections between them. As with a short fiction collection, there’s a tender intensity to every poem that’s complete within itself while also being open to repetitions and connections that make it part of the whole work. There’s a gentle but dynamic movement between poems and within the collection that enables the lines to speak to one another across the pages.

One prevalent motif that traces its electric presence through the work is of course that of lightning. Beginning with the staccato eponymous notes taken from marginalia translations of the various effects of lightning on the human body we read of lightning striking a young girl in July 1978:

‘lightning

conflaged cracked dead-bush 6m from stone,

surge entering body by left toe and knee-skins

scorched but hardly. …

Her memories of suction into light fibrillating

like new leaves.’

A further incident in 1997 came without warning, ‘No hailstones, no St. Elmo’s Fire, so foreboding invalid’, a school teacher’s fingers ‘badly cindered, fused, / yet still holding black stone for further play’; while his son, though ‘hurtled into the water, naked’, was ‘unscathed except for fern-prints on left heel’. Throughout the collection, lightning, leaves, hailstones and St. Elmo’s Fire will recur to play again, assuming new positions and bearing new significances as they ripple through the weave of the text.

In ‘From A Glossary of the Forms and Qualities of Ice’ we discover

Lightning Trigger: In the cloud a hailstone bristles, distorts

electric force-lines, compresses them until stressed-out air

breaks down, a spark leaps out of ice, becomes a filament

glowing on its wayward path to earth. The sky cracks open.’

The connection between hail and lightning made firm here.  Like the cover image, the traces of lightning weave themselves across the skin of this collection, touching deep nerves in places.

Words and phrases dance, echo and leave traces between found-text fragments and lyric poems, weaving a collection that feels alive with rhythmic desire. This, to me, is how the best collections of short fiction pulse, too, and it could be one reason Latham’s poetry has captured the heart of Comma.

Click here to buy From Professor Murasaki’s Notebooks on the Effects of Lightning on the Human Body direct from Comma Press.

About the Publisher: 

Comma Press is a not-for-profit publishing initiative which aims to promote new writing. It places a particular emphasis on the short story. The Press declares on its website that it is committed to “a spirit of risk-taking and challenging publishing, free of the commercial pressures on mainstream houses”. Comma began life as an artist’s group in 2003 with a series of short story booklets in four cities across the North of England (distributed as free supplements with each of the cities’ listings magazines). This project then developed into a series of book-length anthologies. In 2007 Comma also launched a translation imprint (again specialising in short fiction) to bring new masters of the form to British readers. Comma also publishes poetry collections and the occasional novel.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster.  She is Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.

 

 

Bellowing at the Moon

Blue Self-Portrait, Noémi Lefebvre (Translated by Sophie Lewis): Les Fugitives

This short novel in translation from Les Fugitives Press is as unputdownable as it is unforgettable. Mid-flight between Berlin and Paris, our female narrator constructs a narrative of herself that weaves between memory, assumption, speculation, and (in rare and brief moments) the details of the flight she’s actually sitting on. Equally between locations as between languages, she must spend the flight time switching back to French from German, as her thoughts veer between the two modes and the two countries. In a space never fully occupied by itself, this novel explores the flights of imagination that keep a restless mind ever-elsewhere.

Blue Self-Portrait

‘If I’d allowed my inner goings-on to show you’d have taken me for a cow bellowing at the moon’

This metaphor is returned to throughout, suggesting the narrator’s inner stream of consciousness – in which we, the reader, are immersed unrestrainedly – is the equivalent to a howl of inarticulable, bestial noise. This is deftly juxtaposed, however, with the exquisite and virtuosic sweeping prose of the novel. Rhythmic, cyclical, polyphonic. Sentences can carry for the length of a paragraph (or more) which, in turn might run to several pages. Within a single sentence conflicting ideas, contradictory thoughts, randomly associated memories will be brought into a kind of rhythm with one another that is utterly compelling. Dwelling particularly on the subjects of painting and music (Schoenberg and his blue Self-Portrait), the novel effectively accomplishes its own inner musicality, while presenting the spectre of a self-portrait lived between memory, association and speculation.

The novel retains its high intensity throughout a narrative that could be read in a single, uninterrupted and fervent sitting. Within these pages are both the remembering and the forgetting of the horrors of the world, the personal and intensely lived experience of being, and an ardent resistance to all notions of collective happiness in its variety of forms.

Beautifully pitched and compellingly virtuosic, Blue Self-Portrait is translated from Lefebvre’s original French novella by Sophie Lewis and published by Les Fugitives Press which specialises in publishing only short novels by award-winning francophone women writers. Despite its brevity, Blue Self-Portrait has an epic feel to it, and the precision of Lefebvre’s language demands an exacting translation by Lewis. Les Fugitives is dedicated to bringing such novels as this to an English-reading public, and we are the richer for it.

Click here to buy Blue Self-Portrait directly from Les Fugitives.

About the Publisher: 

Les Fugitives is an award-winning independent press dedicated to short, new writing by francophone female authors previously unavailable in English.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster.  She is Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.