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.

Work-in-Progress

The Practical Senior Teacher, Finella and Philip Davenport (Curated by Tony Trehy)  Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2016

‘bbbbut…’

Finella and Philip Davenport’s The Practical Senior Teacher is a book in the loosest possible sense of the word, and yet also in multiple senses of the word, too. First the loose associations: This is a collaged work spanning over thirty years begun by sister and brother Finella and Philip Davenport (collaborating as The Gingerbread Tree) in 1984 and continuing to evolve as a work in progress to this day. The pages collected, printed and bound as the 2016 KFS edition bearing the title represent a fraction of the 300-plus page work that exists and has been exhibited in loose-leaf form at the Text Festival in Bury and the Storey Gallery in Lancaster.

Beyond the codex are the physically collaged pages incorporating layer upon layer of magazine cut-ups, adverts, government health warnings, comics, paint, lipstick, scribbled notes and empty painkiller packets. The book is just one possible iteration of the project of The Practical Senior Teacher, and readers can accompany their reading with the YouTube playlist The Margaret Thatcher Museum for an additional, aural, layer to the collage. Further videos by The Gingerbread Tree feature collaged pages from the book thrown into alternative contexts.   This is a restless and relentless project, a perpetual work-in-progress that has been continually worked and re-worked since its inception. The ‘book’ is just a part of it.

Yet this project also fulfils the definition of book from multiple perspectives. The title, The Practical Senior Teacher references the original textbook that forms the substrate for the composition of the collaged pages. This book started life as a textbook for school teachers in the Thatcher era, and the subsequent collage-work provides its own document (Old English boc, book) of those times through its incorporated layers. This is both a personal and a cultural document of those years, creating a history from the detritus of a throw-away culture interwoven with the debris of personal crisis and development. Pages documenting Finella’s experience of the life-threatening post-natal condition HELLP are left unchanged by Philip, yet the condition is represented, like everything in the book, by its waste products.

the practical senior teacher

Throughout the book, various excerpts and iterations of Finella’s poem Bee Scandal are woven with the collaged pages, giving a kind of loose metaphorical narrative of a society disintegrating and self-destructive – the same society attested to by the decades-long collage project.

The days

we hid in a      basement

beneath the incessant buzz

didn’t know which side was winning

took turns to take

guard

(ear to the radio:

the well-bred

            the dead

 

will take

the Queen

The poem carries echoes of a bunkered and broken society as well as a colony of bees in a hive. As the poem becomes more fractured and fragmented the bees themselves begin to pile up ‘like abandoned rubbish … trash stings scattered needles’ – again interweaving the twin narratives of the bees and the society they echo. The bees piling up like abandoned rubbish, their stings scattered like the needles of a drug user. Society itself broken and addicted. Each reduced to its own destruction. Through collage, however, the abandoned rubbish becomes the material of recreation, the constant reconstruction as work-in-progress with whatever materials happen to be at hand.

Other fragments of text from the layers of collage appear and disappear through the worked pages – whose most recent form of reworking includes digitisation. This has allowed pages to be duplicated, mirrored and adapted digitally; distinguishing the collected pages from their material counterparts and enabling effects such as reversal and repetition that further distort the reading and disorient the reader.

When the work was displayed in Lancaster it was as part of Understanding the Ritual, an exhibition of art-shamanism, and it’s this that interests me the most about The Practical Senior Teacher: the ritual process at play in the project. The restlessness of the ritualistic acts that have compelled Finella and Philip Davenport to keep creating, destroying and recreating this work for over three decades, and the alchemical transformation of that act physically, mentally, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually. One of the most intriguing text-fragments for me is set onto a page painted almost entirely red and includes the following mythically-resonant phrases:

‘Heart of Dionysus

 

heart of hare

not eaten lest it make the eater timid

heart of lion or le[op]ard eat           heart of wolf

& of bear

eat to acquire courage

 

SCREWS YOU UP’

The final phrase is taken from the 80’s Government health warning ‘Heroin Screws You Up’, and there’s so much going on here. Is the eater of the wolf’s heart the mythical equivalent to a junkie? Does the juxtaposition suggest equivalence or contradiction, or something less exact? The association with heroin brings to mind a play on wasted / waste / wasteful that resonates with the theme of detritus throughout the book and finds another expression in the empty pill packet representing a moment of serious threat to Finella’s life.

Like the making of this ‘book’, the reading is a work-in-progress, an unsettled and unsettling process of excavating and creating connections within, between and beyond the pages. No two readings are ever the same and there’s no fixed ‘meaning’ to discover. Reading this book is a physical process that can, if the reader chooses, engage multiple senses and experiences. For me, its magic is in its perpetual openness to recreation, coming alive at its multiple points of connection, writing and creating not only the lives it contains but also the lives it touches.

Click here to buy The Practical Senior Teacher direct from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

About the Publisher:

Knives Forks and Spoons Press is a prolific publisher of avant-garde poetry by internationally acclaimed poets and emerging young writers. ‘KFS is a forum for an extraordinary range of diversity and risk-taking artistic experiment.’

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.

 

Divided We Fall

The Cut by Anthony Cartwright: Peirene Press, 2017

‘He spoke of the weight of the past on the present, a sense of betrayal, of something undone, of retribution on some grand, futile scale.’

Just over a year ago, the UK awoke to the cataclysmic news that by a very narrow margin, the nation had voted to leave the EU. Released on the first anniversary of the Brexit referendum, The Cut by Anthony Cartwright was specially commissioned to tackle the deep divisions at the heart of British society today.

The town of Dudley in the Black Country forms the backdrop of the story. A former powerhouse of the industrial revolution, it is painted bleakly, with a depressing sense of lost identity amidst relentless modernisation. The ruins of a castle and engine house are the only reminders of its proud history, when people worked for the steel and coal industries with a sense of purpose that has gradually been eroded.

Documentary maker Grace Trevithick, an academic’s daughter from Hampstead, visits Dudley shortly before the referendum. She wants to interview ordinary people, ‘conscious of saying ordinary people and all that might mean,’ to find out why they are considering voting Leave. The reality, she discovers, is complex. She tries to be open-minded but her innate condescension proves difficult to shake off.

‘She saw them as a bobbing, swaggering whole. She was struck by the state of their work clothes, ragged and dirty like something from an engraving of Victorian squalor.’

The_Cut_2000px-568x900

Grace’s confidence and sense of entitlement sharply contrast with local man Cairo Jukes, an ageing boxer struggling to make ends meet. He works clearing old industrial sites to be replaced by new entertainment complexes, facing financial uncertainty on a zero-hours contract. Cairo is a deep thinker who doesn’t easily fit into any convenient box. Grace is surprised by his eloquence and the two attempt to communicate without prejudice, forming an unexpected romantic bond.

The Cut highlights the different experiences of British citizens, offering an insight into alienated communities. There is a claustrophobic sense of being in the thick of the action, a tense immediacy heightened by the close third person narrative. A key scene involving UKIP members having a fight in a curry house certainly grabs the attention. The focus shifts frequently between different points of view, providing a glimpse inside the minds of the main characters.

Although they have things in common, the relationship between Cairo and Grace feels a little contrived. Brexit is too complex an issue to condense into a love story between two white English people on opposite sides. The referendum created a distorted sense of polarisation but how people voted was not simply dependent on privilege.

However, as a comment on the British class system, it is an insightful and revealing short novel, exposing prejudice so ingrained it is rarely confronted or discussed. Class is the elephant in the room in the UK. People are casually judged based on their accent or the way they dress. Carefully laid out definitions aiming to protect people from discrimination do not extend to class. Victims are effectively silenced and powerless to defend themselves without the necessary vocabulary.

‘All you people want to say is that it’s about immigration. That we’m all racist. That we’m all stupid. You doh wanna hear that it’s more complicated than that. It lets all of you lot off the hook. Never considered the problem might be you.’

Cairo is a particularly well drawn character, his intelligence and sensitivity proving attractive to Grace. He is deeply insulted when his interview on the news is subtitled, translating his accent into his own language, as if he is somehow ‘foreign’ in the country of his birth. Cairo fears that despite his keen insight, his opinion somehow doesn’t really matter. He and his family are looked down upon, but worse is the sense that they may simply be ignored. ‘If they talked about them at all’ is a phrase that appears frequently in this story.

‘And this is how it began, she supposed, prejudice on a scale of a whole country.’    

At this year’s National Writers’ Conference, poet and academic Andrew McMillan of Liverpool John Moores University emphasised the need to focus more positively on the underrepresented in society. He believes that ‘there must be an urgency, now, to help disenfranchised communities of all different types express their identity, to celebrate their history, to see themselves as belonging to part of a bigger picture, and this must include a refocusing on the working classes.’

The narrative of The Cut is sympathetic without being patronising. It is a book advocating dialogue with a message to look beyond the stereotypes and actually listen to people. This is a timely, challenging story exploring not just how Brexit came about but the social gulf it represents. Like the canal system referred to in the title that links Dudley to the rest of the UK, ‘we are all connected’, a theme of hope on which to build. This compelling and thought-provoking novel is essential reading for anyone wishing to better understand modern Britain.

Click here to buy The Cut by Anthony Cartwright directly from Peirene Press.

About the Publisher

Peirene Press is an award-winning boutique publishing house based in London,  specialising in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation.  The Peirene Now! series enables the press to work closely with writers and commission new British fiction on current political topics.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is a creative writer, poet, book reviewer and dog lover. She recently won the City Writes competition for her short story The Anniversary. She is a judge of flash fiction for the Hysteria Writing Competition. She voted Remain. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123. Website: www.beckydanks.com

 

 

‘We bulwark our flesh from the effort’

Common Rest, Holly Pester: Test Centre Publications

By song we bulwark our flesh from the effort and flesh from our flesh from effort from them

– Care

Common Rest takes the form of the lullaby as a structural and thematic starting point for experimentation with poetry in its material manifestations.  A project in collaborative, improvisational sound-poetry accompanied by a book of written poems, both of which explore the languages of work and rest.  Holly Pester’s collaborative sound-work with accompanying book of poetry is available as a 10” vinyl LP in a gatefold sleeve from Test Centre in a limited edition of 250 copies. Pester is exceptionally talented in this field, and this collection features collaborations with Nat Raha and Verity Spott – both of whom are working experimentally with sound in innovative and exciting ways.  The record also features collaboration with poet Vahni Capildeo, as well as artists, musicians and sound artists: the result is a poetry project tangible and alive with shapes and shades and weathers.

tonight you might feel your feet multiply / you might lick or suck or clean ‘em / cos you’ve got a nighttime job 

– Burn

Common Rest

The juxtaposition between the poetry on the page and the sound poetry generates tangential layering and a satisfyingly physical sensation to roll around one’s tongue and cradle in one’s limbs. It’s tangible, tasty and textured.  The materiality of language in its verbal and visual forms is central to Common Rest’s project: the soundscapes feature improvised repetition based on sounds, words and phrases lifted out of sequence from the poetry; ad libs; riffs; vocal and instrumental atmospheric sounds; shifts in volume and pace; haunting, dream-like lullabies both sung and spoken… What the LP is NOT is a spoken word recitation of the poems in the book. There are counterpoints and variations, fissures and reimaginings, teasing and testing the limits of the poetry on the page. The book of poetry itself is equally aware of its material qualities: printed in teal-blue lettering on spacious, soft-white pages, the colour and layout create the sense of tranquility that each poem desires and yet which eludes the vocabulary of most.

These are objects that have been designed with materiality in mind. The poetry’s physical effect/affect on the listener’s body is central to its extended materiality: ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) artist Claire Tolan works with Pester on the track Brush to engender a soundscape that will soothe (and haunt) the listener physically as well as mentally and emotionally, perhaps as a lullaby traditionally might.

I am asleep


but my organs work on some image my heart

likes to look at in the rest space

– Glamour hallucinated love

Playing with the structural conventions of the lullaby and the vocabularies of work and rest, these poetic works explore the impacts of work and rest on human bodies and psychologies.  The two Untitled Lullabys highlight  both the song’s ability to ‘bulwark [the] flesh [against] effort’ and the exhaustive toll of that effort on the physical body. Pester suggests that, ‘While a lullaby sounds out the material labour of care, makes its flesh and breath felt, it also sounds out the radical obscuring of work. Therefore a lullaby might be a chorus for all bodies, affectively performing a different worksong, a kind of common rest.’  Physical Capabilities seems to take its vocabulary from a standard government document to assess a disabled person’s fitness for work.  Pester compounds the words ‘tell us how’, so that the verbal telling is conflated with the visual showing, highlighting the burden of proof as it increasingly falls on the vulnerable, as well as foregrounding the formal strategies employed within Common Rest as a project.

Tellus if you use


a stick tellushow it affects It varies Can you go up tellus more about steps Reaching

– Physical Capabilities

This poetry project locates the effects of the political within the physical bodies of the individual and collective workers and their rhythms of song and sound.  It is one of the most innovative and exciting new poetry projects currently available and it’s a perfect showcase for the publishing work of Test Centre.  Test Centre has an impressive back-catalogue of spoken-word vinyl LPs, books and pamphlets published since 2011, a regular magazine of poetry and fiction, and a forthcoming list of new works.  The combined sound-and-book production of Common Rest re-energises the publication and performance of poetry and demonstrates why Test Centre was nominated ‘Most Innovative Publisher’ at the 2015 Saboteur Awards.

In my opinion, ALL poetry should be presented like this, but I suspect that it just wouldn’t always work.  What Holly Pester and her collaborators have created, however, has found its most fitting expression in the publishing expertise at Test Centre.  This is a collection you should own.

Click here to find Holly Pester’s Common Rest at Test Centre.

Common Rest contributors:
Holly Pester is a poet, writer and cross-disciplinary researcher. hollypester.com
Emma Bennett is performance artist and stand-up comedy scholar. emmabennettperformance.wordpress.com
Vahni Capildeo is an award-winning poet, multi-disciplinary writer and Old Norse scholar. carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?owner_id=1167
Jenny Moore is an artist, musician and drummer in a band. jennymoore.co
Nat Raha is a poet, trans activist and researcher in queer Marxism. sociopatheticsemaphores.blogspot.co.uk
Vera Rodriguez is a photographer, dancer and a sex worker support telephone line operator. ethicalstripper.com/site/the-collective/vera-rodriguez/
Verity Spott is a poet, cellist and mental health care worker. twotornhalves.blogspot.co.uk
Claire Tolan is a sound and ASMR artist. cst.yt
Yasmin Kuymizakis (sound editor) is a sound artist, sound designer and singer/songwriter. soundcloud.com/yasmin-kuymizakis
Mariana Simnett (album cover artist) is an artist. frieze.com/article/focus-marianna-simnett

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. @willowwriting

Skimming over Black Glass and Counting Lies

The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell: Inspired Quill, Release date – October 2017

‘Ready?’ Always the same word. The same starting gun. He liked that.

Are we ever truly ready for what life throws at us and can we outrun fate? As Abbott, a gay man who works with troubled boys, runs to the refuge of a red beach hut during a time of fear, persecution and the threat of his life being torn down, he meets an unlikely friend, Neville, a young boy aged eight. Lynn Michell writes a beautifully innocent and endearing tale twisted by the tainted gaze of society’s perverse darkness, as two lost souls find hope in their unlikely companionship amidst their separate turmoil. As the odd yet surprisingly complementary pairing draw the attention of others’ gazes, which eventually places them under suspicion, Michell subtly tackles prejudice by treading the thin line between what is and is not appropriate. Abbott continuously questions how his actions may be read and misconstrued by those watching, yet both Abbott and Neville provide each other with the quiet trust, understanding and constancy they are each searching for in a time of need.

TRBH crop

The novel’s structure eloquently intertwines memories and inner dialogue throughout, weaving Abbott’s childhood memories of days on the beach with his aunt and the terrible mistake that led to him running from his current life. The Hut becomes a refuge and a safe place to revisit these memories – a place of innocence and happiness. Meeting Neville helps Abbott, in many ways, to recapture this time and see the world through a child’s eyes once more; allowing him to share the heartfelt, excited, compassionate, and honest perception of Neville. Michell develops the characters with an undercurrent of stillness running through their fibres; capturing the mind of Neville with such authenticity and attention to detail, which is no small feat. She interlaces his inquisitive nature with a quirky need to count everything in an attempt to appease an anxiety for order, rules and consistency. The literal, black and white mind of a child tests the grayscale of an adult’s mind, as Michell captures deep and poignant moments when tackling the truths and lessons people learn as they grow up.

Neville has a fascination and desire to understand words, to understand language and his place within it. Abbott meets this desire through the knowledge he’s gained whilst working with troubled boys, providing Neville with an adult figure who will actually be honest with him and treat him as an equal – recognising that he needs consistency and someone to take the time to know him. 

‘But we can say now it’s day and now it’s night…’

‘Only afterwards. There’s light and dark but there’s grey in between. Twilight. It doesn’t matter if we aren’t sure. It’s OK sometimes not to know. To be uncertain.’

‘I like certain.’

‘I know you do.’

‘What about me and you? Are we certain?’ He liked the word.

Whilst Neville teaches Abbott to be true to himself and find the honesty in what is spoken, Abbott provides Neville with the safety and security to be ok with the uncertainty of life; to be ok with not knowing. Michell presents the reader with the delicate and fragile moments in which one reveals oneself to another and hopes that that vulnerability will be met with compassion. Abbott gives Neville the confidence to speak and the trust in someone being there to listen. He is given the chance to share his voice and his thoughts, a truly powerful gift to give another, which Abbott, knowing the danger of being made to feel voiceless against discrimination, knows all too well.

In The Red Beach Hut language is not always vocal: Lynn Michell’s writing evokes the subtle languages of touch, of music, of being on the sea, and of being still. There are other ways, and sometimes more powerful ways, to communicate than with words.

 

Before they set off, the boy bounded up the steps and slipped his small hand into the man’s big one. Abbott let it rest there. The gesture spoke of trust and Abbott offered his acceptance. How could he betray it?

They give each other companionship, yet through this pairing Michell similarly tests the boundaries of intimacy, as Neville desperately wishes Abbott was a father-figure and Abbott must navigate the conflict of the intensity of emotions within a child’s mind. There is a tenderness to Neville – the deep and absorbing love of a child who’s found a friend with whom to learn how not to be so alone. The internal world of a child is a lonely place, a confusing place of learning the rules of life, and Abbott offers a helping hand of guidance.

One goes on and on, running on the same treadmill, never considering an alternative until forced to stop, he thought.

In each other’s company, Abbott and Neville find a moment to pause, reflect and just be, there is an easiness in which they can both stop running – Neville stops counting all the time, and Abbott stops running from himself. Out of rhythm with society, they find solace in the sea’s rhythm, the subtle shifts in the water’s moods and the constant gravitational pull they feel to be there on the seashore looking out and imagining what could be. As Neville says, “I can wish”, and perhaps wishing is all we ever can do.

The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell

About the publisher:

Inspired Quill is a not-for-profit publishing house which is dedicated to quality publications and providing a people-oriented platform for writers to develop their skills in writing, marketing and self-editing. They value a collaborative approach with their authors throughout the process from submission to launch, endeavouring to produce unique and powerful pieces of work.

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.

Pseudotooth – Review

Pseudotooth – Review

Pseudotooth, Verity Holloway: Unsung Stories, 2017

Verity Holloway’s debut novel from Unsung Stories is a richly developed story entwining multiple layers and perspectives weaving in and out of consciousness as the plot traverses dream, fantasy and reality.  Following the experiences of seventeen-year-old Aisling Selkirk, whose blackouts and pseudo-seizures cause bewilderingly altered states of consciousness, the reader is plunged into the intensity and confusion of a protagonist who is never quite sure where she is.  The skill of the novel is in maintaining that disorientation throughout the plot, never quite drawing clear boundaries between dream and reality, while creating a compelling narrative that propels the reader forward with momentum.  It achieves this very successfully most of the time, although it took me a few chapters to fully immerse myself in the book after a potentially slow opening.

Aisling, whose experiences are figured alongside the mystical visions and poetry of William Blake, is drawn further and further into a world that defies the linear logic of temporality and geography on an adventure to understand not only her condition but her desires.  Comparing this new world with the familiar world of reality, would she choose to go back even if she could?  This question is left hanging, and the novel is far stronger for its refusal to accommodate a satisfying resolution.

“None of this is real, is it? … I think I’ve worked it all out now.  And I don’t mind that it’s not real.  I’m happy here.”

“Because you’re happy, it can’t be real?”

The question of the reality of one place or another is likewise never resolved, with the general suggestion that each can be as real as the other.  On one level, the book could be an exploration of the effects on consciousness of various forms of writing – poetry, journal writing, fiction – words and worlds are tangled and layered in a perplexing swirl of locations, identities and possibilities, and the ways that words are used to conjure those worlds underlines the close proximity of alternative states of consciousness to what we generally experience as normality.

Pseudotooth

The novel is incredibly well researched with threads including William Blake, contemporary mental health issues, Russian history and speculative fiction.  Characters and plotlines are well developed and complex – which is necessary for this kind of fiction and something I felt that Unsung Stories were yet to develop in some of the earlier books I reviewed.  The complexity of this novel, its intertwining plotlines and well-developed characters made it a substantial read while leaving enough questions unanswered to spark a desire to flick back through it in search of missed connections.  Both ‘pseudo’ – something that is not genuine or not fully what is seems to be – and the eponymous ‘tooth’ feature as integral to plot and character throughout the novel, but the title is perhaps never fully resolved within its pages, only suggestions are made which the reader must actively attempt to demystify.

At its heart, the novel poses questions about the viability and desirability of any potential utopia – exploring the conflict between the desire for purity and the desire for acceptance.  The novel frequently raises the problematic complexity of any so-called utopia based on an idea of purity which leads to differentiation, isolation, segregation, exclusion, expulsion or eugenics.  This is an historically important question which bears repeated asking, and a question which seems to have more and more vital contemporary urgency with every passing day at the moment.  It does, however, lead to a very occasional heavy-handed morality in the writing, although this is always consistent with character or plot and never overly intrusive.

The book is a remarkable achievement for young writer Verity Holloway and a quality addition to the Unsung catalogue.

Click here to buy Pseudotooth directly from Unsung Stories

About the Publisher:

Unsung Stories publish literary and ambitious speculative fiction. This means science fiction, fantasy, horror and weird, and the fuzzy bits between these genres.

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.

 

Second to None

Second to None

This Is Not Your Final Form: Poems About Birmingham, edited by Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright. The Emma Press, 2017.

Join Emma Wright at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 27th June 6-9pm.

‘This is not a city.

This is a cloudburst of culture –

and we are not citizens,

we are soaked to the bone.’

(More canals than Venice! By Kibriya Mehrban)

The UK’s second city has a genuinely inclusive, refreshingly unpretentious, truly exceptional creative scene. This Is Not Your Final Form is the much-anticipated anthology of entries to the inaugural Verve Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word competition, which took place earlier this year.

From the industrial revolution to intimate family histories, public and private stories combine in this new book of poems celebrating Birmingham. As a Brummie based in London, I was very excited to read it. An ambitious project, it attempts to capture the humour and humanity of this dynamic and open-minded ‘city of a thousand tongues.’ (Beorma by Gregory Leadbetter)

This Is Not Your Final Form

Heather Freckleton’s In the Bullring: After image of my Parents took me straight back to shopping for dress-making fabric in the Rag Market with my Mom when I was little. We would have ‘greasy newspapers full of chips’ as a treat, possibly to stop me moaning. Shaun Hands made me laugh out loud with his references to Daysaver bus tickets and the old Brutalist architecture in Birmingham: An Odyssey in 21 Images. His witty blend of admiration, nostalgia and disgust flawlessly contrasts the modern with the old images of the city.

‘As long as kids are throwing shopping trolleys into rivers/

There’ll always be a Birmingham.’

Washday by Bernadette Lynch captures the unpredictability of working class wartime life. In this vibrant snapshot of the past, a mundane afternoon is made extraordinary by the dramatic return of a soldier. It is a beautifully understated study of how challenging times fostered the resilience of local people who carried on through adversity.

‘Our Dawn scrubbed her knuckles raw on the washboard, cleansing Europe of Hitler.’

In the melancholy prose poem The Second Law of Thermodynamics by Susannah Dickey, Birmingham’s Electric Cinema, the oldest working cinema in the UK, forms the backdrop to an unsuccessful date. With a nod to its seedier past, the narrator attempts to make a connection amidst the chaos of the city whilst struggling with insecurity.

‘I wish I could stop trying to justify myself. The city urges me not to, in its greenery,

its concrete, its clustered formations like constellations.’

Memories of family life growing up in modern Birmingham are intricately woven into Reza Arabpour’s ingenious Another Day in a Brummie Life. Local and international communities combine, emphasizing the city’s multicultural heart. It subtly focuses on the human face of the city as well as the hidden beauty behind the concrete façades.

‘I picked up a gab’s worth

of Baba’s Mama’s tongue –

the Persian version –

in Handsworth above my Amoo’s shop

among the varieties of life making roots

from distant time zones.’

The incredibly catchy Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Tree? by Helen Rehman is based on a real-life local murder case. During the second world war, a woman’s body was found hidden inside a tree in the woods. The mystery has never been solved and the poem artfully incorporates the various local conspiracy theories surrounding the story. This rhythmic plain spoken lyrical poem reads like a sinister children’s playground chant and stayed with me for days.

‘Birmingham has bloomed since 1943,

from the Bullring to John Lewis to the Library –

we have theatres, universities, a symphony,

but we still can’t name the woman in the wych elm tree.’

This Is Not Your Final Form is a compact, accessible read befitting multiple revisits in order to uncover the poems’ many layers. It made me laugh, cry, and wonder why I’ve never wondered what the Floozie in the Jacuzzi dreams about at night. The poets have channelled the city’s depths and looked (for the most part) beyond the obvious clichés. Talented voices of many different backgrounds and poetic styles are featured, reflecting the diversity which to me is one of the city’s greatest strengths. The city’s distinctive self-deprecating humour and outlook fill the pages of this funny, bleak, uplifting, tragic, original, gritty and inspirational love letter to Birmingham.

‘An open sky/

The streets I was raised around/

I walk among them/

Feel this world before me’

(Birmingham: An Odyssey in 21 Images by Shaun Hands)

Emma Wright, founder of The Emma Press and co-editor of This Is Not Your Final Form will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Tuesday 27th June 6-9pm.  For more information and tickets click here.

About the Publisher:

The Emma Press is an award-winning independent publisher based in Birmingham. Founded by Emma Wright in 2012, it is ‘dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books’ and aims to make poetry more accessible. The Emma Press is keen to discover new writers and holds regular themed poetry competitions.

Click here to find This Is Not Your Final Form on The Emma Press website.

Review by Becky Danks:

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, occasional poet, and book reviewer. Among other things! Her poem was shortlisted for the Verve Festival poetry competition 2017. Read her magazine feature on the Verve Festival here. Twitter: @BeckyD123. Website: www.beckydanks.com