Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Four Poems - Rob A. Mackenzie

Contemporary Death

Dead, according to whose yardstick? Beneath stones
the breathless majority have their mouths stuffed

with the idea of pancake, which is heaven. A minority
face the hammer as nails in the atheist posterior.

A few are goats. No sense in requiring quick decisions,
postmodern juries are always hung. The morning DJ

intellectualises the afterlife as a teenage bedroom with free
broadband, a paradise island of phantom links.

To him everything is such a laugh, except those
who won’t laugh, the intolerably alive. The dead snigger

from their frontline linoleum. The dead live as miis
in Wiis, fork holes in ready-meal films, lay chocolate eggs.


Jacket and sleeve conceding little to age
            the Children’s Bible leaned,
imperious and barely skimmed, against

            A Couch Potato’s Guide to Jive,
dance and religion propping one another up
            against the urge to celebrate

self-expression over art; dust covered shelves,
              the books untouched for years
                       like ancient black & white sets

stockpiled in a basement for some future
            millennium’s mad experiments
resembling outtakes from early Kraftwerk.

Sponge Cake

He is absent from the recollected scene
yet its tang of cinnamon and brine
burns the tongue.

To the left his absence
hauls in a monumental halibut,
jelly-boned and twisting
towards decomposition.

Behind where he must have been,
the airy cake
bobs like a yacht
sailing an idea of empty rooms
wide as the stanza of the sea

where the halibut twists from his hook
and swallows him and the cake
he is sure, in a fictive shutter’s click,
he had split between his guests.

Voice Mail

“Sorry for my non-appearance
at the Ultra Silents gig –

you really still drum
after all those years? –

but the Nouveau Slump
falls on the wrong side of town.

Tonight I had to snore
through the BAFTA Awards

and guess what? My film
walked the Platinum Orb,

so I’m perky. How are you?
I so admire your lack of drive.”

Rob A. Mackenzie’s first full collection, The Opposite of Cabbage, was published by Salt in 2009. HappenStance Press published an earlier pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, in 2005. He organises the ‘Poetry at the...’ reading series in Edinburgh, where he lives and works.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

One Review

Sam Riviere – Faber New Poets 7
by Joshua Jones

Riviere’s poems are definitely the best I’ve read in the Faber series so far. Initially at least, they can seem rather plain.. After a few reads, however, I realised they’re not plain at all (or polite, another vaguely negative term I had mentally applied to them), but simply meticulously honed and economic in their language, delicately tied together. It’s only a seeming delicacy, though; they are in fact composed as tightly as possible, and yet do not overemphasise this tightness and compression.

Opener ‘Poems’ is a lovely poem that at first seems to be another addition to the ‘poems about poetry’ category, but quickly establishes itself as transcending that narrow and often irritating niche due to what its metaphorical deployment of the “poems” in question potentially signifies. The first line break, perfectly enjambed, turns an engaging mundanity into a striking line:

When he first met her it was as if he could see
His poems moving around below her skin

The writing is perfectly restrained, vaguely reminiscent in its clarity and tactility of American poets such as David Berman. As such many of the lines take on more symbolic possibility, compression squeezing as much out of them as possible without becoming detrimentally abstract. What on the surface is quite sweet and straightforward reveals a sinister undercurrent of possession (a notably male possession) and the imposition of self (deception) onto other: the poems “fat and defenceless,/without natural predators, begging/to be caught, mounted and nailed to the wall.” Along with the imposition of personal yearning, the metaphorical attribution of “his” desire into “her”, there is a subtle, violent urge to own these desires placed into the other, to possess them, with the implication of asserting his power over her, via that which he has rightly or wrongly attributed to her. It is through the competent tactility of the composition and its less sinister, possibly more valid interpretation, coupled with the menacing trace of undercurrent, that the poem succeeds.

There have been complaints elsewhere (in, frankly, a rather sub-standard piece of reviewing) that there are too many brief encounters in the book. The reviewer does have a point, but his dismissal is, I believe, unwarranted. Sure, some of the ‘fleeting encounter’ poems lose potency due to proximity, otherwise fine poems (‘Paris’ in particular) detracting from themselves, but they are for the most part worthy additions to the genre, and pleasurable, if not groundbreaking and innovative, to read, hinting at more sophisticated scenarios and situations to come in later work. ‘Hello, I’m visiting on behalf of Amnesty International’, for example, is brilliantly sustained, a sprawling train of thought, commas signifying further leaps in the narrator’s imaginings.

The two longer poems are perhaps the most interesting. The first, ‘Back in the Green Night’, with its retroactive narrative, starts off bold, plonking the reader into a strange and carefully depicted environment, only to lose focus as it progresses, the trademark control built up by all the pieces preceding it dissolving into overwrought writing:

...I’ll tell it all,
when in the muggy dark the roused trees ringed us
with their roaring.

The second is possibly the most likeable of the collection, aside from the opener. Or rather it would be if its influences weren’t so apparent. It reads like a less irony-fuelled, less poststructural version of a typical Luke Kennard poem from a typical Luke Kennard narrator:

I went round saying it – ‘America is an important place,
as far as style goes, that is! Now,
would you like me to channel your ancestors?’
I stopped adding the ‘Not really!’ bit
as my sense of humour was becoming more acerbic.

It’s a good poem, very witty and funny and self-aware, and if I wasn’t so familiar with Kennard’s work I’d have few criticisms. Part of me can’t help thinking it’s a prose poem cut into line breaks, but in this case that’s not really an issue as far as I’m concerned. Even more appealing is how, if it negatively calls to mind Kennard, it positively calls to mind Frederick Seidel, which can only be a good thing.

Riviere, then, has potential. His poetry is very readable and he clearly has a way with craft. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a full-length as and when that happens, and hoping for a little more interplay between the longer pieces’ more freewheeling tone and the shorter pieces precision and control. It’s not a debut that will blow your mind (but then none of the Faber pamphlets are, from what I’ve read so far[1]), but it is one that will introduce you to a poet who looks set to develop an interesting voice, and is well worth your eyes.

[1] Massively looking forward to reading Annie Katchinska’s pamphlet, though. From what I’ve read of her thus far, she could be brilliant.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Four Poems - Jos Smith w/ illustrations by Ira Joel Haber


The trap was set from the start, never will the Wolf-Man speak. Talk as he might about wolves, howl as he might like a wolf, Freud does not even listen, he glances at his dog and answers, “It's daddy.”
- Deleuze and Guattari


There comes a time when you spread your wings and step
from the family parapet and realise, they are not wings,
they were never wings, they were always only handfuls
of beads, - and you are not flying, it's all over, you're in
that fast red space of nose-break semi-unconsciousness
trying to reach a surface on loose ropes of bubbles.
Bright, hot silence. Working those limbs like a pedal-bike.

But if you remember - not that you noticed at the time,
you ran for cover, pawed the nearest lit window and lied
your way into bedrooms, drawing rooms, parlours -
if you think back, carefully, out on the periphery (can you see?)
there were six or seven white figures, luminescent,
glaring and arching their backs as you came slowly apart.
And can you feel it in your chest, that low, background growl?


There's Dad and I out in the Glyders.
We take a path up beside the waterfall into mist,
rocks hissing and rainbows wafting about.

An ice-shelf like a balcony
cracks loose in the thaw, and skids
shattering down over the water and rocks.

We are nervous. We don't see anyone all morning.
Up and up, until the climb levels out on rubble
and we hit a foot or so of snow. No compass or map.
It's cairn to cairn in the white, speeding wind;

the way those rocks point every direction
up on Glyder Fawr! like a fistful of kindling
blindly swiping this way and that in the mist.

Dad tells the story about ridge-walking with Hugh,
a rope tied between them so if one fell
the other would jump in the opposite direction.

But we don't have a rope; we are lost.
In that moment I can see right through to his childhood.
It is a very clear and beautiful thing.
We survive, though there are paw-prints about us in the snow.


Do you remember that June day
laid down on your front on the beach towel,
the sun pressing its hot hush through your hair?
Whoops, cries, gull-calls, washed
through the wind. You were half asleep.

You put an ear to the beach, prickling
with sand, and slapped down a hand, and heard
the hollowness, that cavernous boom
of the empty earth below, as if it all
might give with one false move.

It was the space between the grains of sand,
grains packed and propped against the air
vibrating freely between them;
it was the dream of a vertigo lurching
open-mouthed through the dark.

How your eyes widened. Hairs
on the back of your neck bristled hungrily;
you gulped, listening as the pressure
descended and dispersed through your veins.
You were looking up at Mum, Dad, your brother

drained of colour in the glare of the sun,
who couldn’t have been further in the din of the beach
not looking back, utterly absorbed
where they tilted and teetered on a rolling
wavecrest line of foaming light.

In the back seat, driving home, you drifted
in and out of sleep, half-aware of the boom
in the empty earth below, the background growl
reaching out through the glinting day
holding you like Mowgli in your private dark.


While the earthworms are sleeping
And the mad little gorseflowers are
Twinkling their bashful yellows
Under the greater stars this winter night

I hear a packhorse coming,
Hoof after hoof all night, heaving
A cartload of amplifiers over the fields
Flooding the air with deafening sex:

Love made in last year’s month of May
Screechings and moanings and
Yowlings of wrung-out song
Sounding like a tannoy through the mist.


He came to the house and felt redundant,
and went to the barn and the barn was busy
and they gave him a cup and they told him:
‘Bring water, cup by cup, from the river.’

The winter was long and the summer
was brilliant. He slept in the flowers and walked
in the breeze, but something wasn’t right.
They all chewed on a tough black meat,

and put this meat in the horses’ feed
till the horses went blind and couldn’t sleep.
Horses, who must run, cannot run
without sight or sleep.

One broke loose. She bolted downhill
head first into a rock-face, snapping
the gristle and bone of her neck.
He watched her buckling muscle shining

brown as she slid from the riverbank
into the river and drowned, and drowned
in the weight of her own collapse.
This hush fell over the valley.

Wind-chimes clonked on the side of the barn.
Clouds flew and flowers ruffled
as water boiled over her big blind eye.
And he could not fill his cup anymore.


Come crunch time, I’d always known
I’d holler your name for help.
Up balustrades and cobbled hills
Or over the river and into the blowing grass.

Your name alone, and soon enough
Push came to shove and the need arose
To send out that cry
Into the atmosphere.

So with all my chesty heft,
Its hollow, fibrous noise,
With all of a toe-shaking red-faced
Bellowing godless bawling out

I tried, but come crunch time
I wasn’t shouting your name at all.
Exhausted, emptied, sat on the ground,
I had forgotten the name to call.
Jos Smith lives in Exeter, Devon where he is writing a PhD looking at contemporary British and Irish landscape writing. He has had a number of poems published in small magazines and has received an Arts Council bursary for the outdoor installation 'No Man's Orchard' along the Pilgrim's Way in Kent.
Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn New York. He is a sculptor, painter, book dealer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in USA and Europe and he has had 9 one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum & The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. His paintings, drawings and collages have been published in many on line and print magazines. Over the years he has received three National Endowments For The Arts Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner grants and most recently in 2004 received The Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant. Currently he teaches art at the United Federation of Teachers Retiree Program in Brooklyn.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

One Poem - Maggy van Eijk

Irrelevant Remarks About The Weather

It’s that day again, that once a year routine
the same wind picks up from the sea
the same headache won’t go to sleep
I shower and get ready

I enter your dusty oak office
with pillars of books and chaotic
paper mountains and the howling sky
peers in through the window

I sit down in a collected way
one swift movement
obedient and quick

I place my hands on my lap and I keep them very still
so you can’t make a note

You begin to ask me questions
after a few irrelevant
remarks about the weather and
I am familiar with what you ask

Those questions - imprints on
my brain stamped by type-writers
of time and reason and sanity
how tick are tick you tick today tick
and I set my brain to click and tick
in a very similar way

I smoothen out my vowels so they match
your velvet voice – a fine layer of
psychiatric silk, ironing out all
traces of crazy

And you decide to take that risk
because my progress is so great
you allow me to return into
the wide windy world with my case
and my clothes and a safe dose of
pills because I’m so much better
and I might even smile and say
hi it’s nice to see you
hi it’s nice to see YOU

In true Eureka fashion you declare me healed
a paper gets stamped like the back side of a cow
I am the best cattle on this rotten farm of yours

Finally you call any one you who cares
you tell them of my success
I leave the office
down the steps

A dull wind sweeps through the corners of your office
specks of dust fly through the room
the dust will never settle
like a twitch beneath the eye
tick tick tick ticking
until the next time.
Maggy van Eijk is originally from the Netherlands but now lives in Bristol to complete her degree in English Literature and Drama. In 2007 she was awarded BBC Young Writer of the Year resulting in an all expenses paid Arvon Foundation Writers Residence. In 2009 her short story "Teardrops and Tupperware" was published by Inside Out magazine. She is currently working on a play titled "Fumes", set during a self-harmers anonymous meeting.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Over the coming months, we are putting together what we plan on being exhaustive coverage of the best writing being produced at the moment on the various Creative Writing courses in the UK. My own feelings on Creative Writing as a subject are mixed, but it is irrefutable that there is a lot of talent being nourished by these courses, or at the very least a lot of talented writers participating in them, and it is our aim to help promote them and expose their work.

Beginning with UEA (purely for practical reasons: I am Norwich based and doing English & Creative Writing), we are going to hunt down a representative sample of what is being produced by these writers at BA, MA, PhD level and beyond. If you are an undergrad at UEA, on the esteemed MA course, studying for your PhD or would simply like to recommend someone on one of the courses we should look at, don’t hesitate to get in touch at Equally, if you're not on the course but are at UEA and interested in submitting, please feel free to do so.

Once we’ve gathered interest we’ll be setting a deadline for entries. Until then, we look forward to hearing from you.

NB. Of course, we're not looking to categorise or tag individual writers as 'UEA' or 'xyz school' writers, merely to help promote good work using an, to an extent, arbitrary backbone of classification. I think the best thing about this endeavor will be the difference, the wild variety of styles being produced, and the impossibility of defining a generic style that can be tagged under the heading of whatever school is being featured.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Two Poems - Adam Warne

Flotsam and Jetsam

As much chance as a man with no limbs
trying to swim.
The cherry blossom
breaks against the shore of the house.
It breaks against the shore
of the house in the morning
you will be gone.

A Rosary of Excuses

The bloody trotter your mother
wore around her neck.

The toenail clippings your father
made into soup.

That china pot your brother
kept his silent heart in.

The thoughts that climbed your spine
in their Halloween masks.

Those erotic emails you sent
after two bottles of wine.

The bath we made love in that became
a maternity ward of lilies.
Bio: Adam Warne lives in Norwich. He would like to be Dylan Thomas but has neither the literary flair nor a tough enough liver.

One Review

Haruki Murakami - The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

I saved The Wind-up Bird Chronicle until last, based on its reputation as Murakami’s masterpiece. And I’m sorry to say I was greatly disappointed. I don’t consider it to be anywhere near one of his best. I mean it’s okay, it’s ambitious, but ultimately it fails to do what it early on implies it might.

In many ways it is typical Murakami – the narrator is a detached 30-something jazz fan, there are disappearing women, ears, cats, wells, snappy dialogue, subtle philosophical pondering... Toru, the ‘I’, describes himself thus: “I owned a signed copy of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. I had a slow resting pulse rate: forty-seven normally, and no higher than seventy with a high fever. I was out of work. I knew the names of all the brothers Karamazov” (35). He cooks, listens to classical and jazz, walks around, no longer smokes. He, like most of Murakami’s homogenous narrators, seems incapable of dealing sensibly with real, immediate things, but unperturbed by the surreal and the impossible. So yes, initially it seems the book is just like all the rest of them. Which is no bad thing: Murakami does what he does brilliantly and inimitably (try as so many people might). But as it progresses it becomes apparent (well, sort of apparent) that this book has bolder aims.

The subconscious, the inner Other, is undoubtedly the driving force behind a Murakami novel. A character’s inaccessible depths are thrust onto their mundane existence; surreality and adventure ensue. His longer works are distortions of the conscious and the subconscious of the principle characters and those close to them, the microcosm of modern world he inhabits. ‘Wind-up Bird’ differs in that it attempts to link the subconscious ramifications of the events of one generation (Nomonchan, the wars) with the present generation – the violence, the suffering, the “defilement”, a kind of palimpsest of the conscious and the subconscious. And in a sense it works, but only if you step in to help the author’s failures. He sets up so much but cannot tie it all together, and ends up with a mess of empty symbols and vague links, the nearest thing to a resolution being Toru pointing out all the links in the story and hypothesising what they might mean. It’s not a nice postmodern touch: it is lazy writing.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on within the novel’s 600 pages. And for the first half it is brilliant. The narrative rages forward; the characters, while as shallow and arbitrary, as shown and not told, as Murakami characters often are, are engaging. Toru and his Kumiko’s failing marriage is convincing, the conversations between them full of silence and things unsaid or unsayable. This early depiction of the isolation of cohabitation is probably the most successful thing in the book, Toru’s pivotal realisation that it is not possible “for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another” (24) a perfect case in point. A minor domestic misunderstanding results in a beautiful description of the life happening between the private world and the public roles of Toru and Kumiko. A simple lack of awareness about a trivial thing unveils the possibility that he can never know her, this long-term wife and love. “I might be standing at the threshold of something big, and inside lay a world that belonged to Kumiko alone, a vast world that I had never known” (30).

Similarly, the scenes of suffering, torture and violence from Nomonchan onwards are unlike anything else Murakami has ever written. They’re unrelenting, free of whimsy, dry and bare. Unfortunately, the characters (or devices, as that’s really all they are) become the opposite: silly caricatures of moral absolutes, good versus evil, ruining all the quality tangibility and purposeful surrealism of the first half. It’s not that the ideas behind the novel are not good – it’s the way the story dissolves into pointless fragments, semi-relevant anecdotes and pseudo-philosophising before coming together into one massive béance that ruins the whole endeavour.

Perhaps the novel is best explicable through this: May Kasahara sums up the its stance on cause and effect, on the determinism/free will debate:

“Maybe the world has two different kinds of people, and for one kind the world is this logical, rice pudding place, and for the other it’s all hit-or-miss macaroni cheese. I bet if those tree frog parents of mine put rice pudding mix in the microwave and got macaroni cheese when the bell rang, they’d just tell themselves, ‘Oh, we must have put in macaroni cheese mix by mistake,’ or they’d take out the macaroni cheese and try and convince themselves, ‘This looks like macaroni cheese, but actually it’s rice pudding.’ And if I tried to be nice and explain to them that sometimes, when you put in rice pudding mix, you get macaroni cheese, they’d never believe me. They’d probably just get mad.” (462)

It’s the closest the book comes to revealing itself. For the first time, Murakami is making me cringe, properly cringe, not just another-silly-description cringe but an embarrassment that this attempt at an important piece of literature has failed, fallen into silly non-philosophy in an attempt to say something profound. It is probably the only Murakami I won’t reread. It has nothing on Hard-boiled Wonderland or South of the Border, none of the unclear clarity or nonsensical epiphany or affecting semi-resolution.

To quote perhaps the worst line Murakami has ever written, this is how the novel leaves me feeling: “To say that [my] reception was cool would be an understatement. The doors of all the world’s refrigerators seemed to have been thrown open at once” (49).

Oh Haruki...
by Joshua Jones

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Two Poems - Ella Chappell

Engagement Party

I kicked over a glass of red wine yesterday.
The streak of scarlet on cream was met with silence
Rather than yelling. Even worse.
Yesterday it sat, sad and ashamed,
Soaking through the house’s supply of salt.
But today, its lilac stain matches
The co-ordinated engagement banner and balloons.
The rooms are filled with the silence of food.
Crisps await their rustling. A fat honey-roasted ham
Proud and patient.
Big bowls of salad are motionless, contented
In happy greens and reds.
Guests arrive. Family. Sunburnt uncle and aunt.
Writer father- in- law. Artist mother- in- law.
Divorced, they drink prosecco at opposite ends of the room.
Do they remember theirs?
Long-haired brother, smiling girlfriend.
Fiancees, mother, father.
We are going to watch a home video of the couple.
But father can’t resist the oldies.
Over chocolate torte they tell me stories of myself at 3 years.
I sneak upstairs for a precious respite.
I think they don’t know me.
But they know more than I ever could.
We wave goodbye.
I don’t know when I’ll see you again.
The food is sad now. Scattered around,
Dreading the coldness of the fridge or the shame of the bin.
I arrived too late to be a part of this club.
I’ll never catch up. But no-one ever does.

The Walk Home

A petrol rainbow yawns around your shoe and rain glistens down leaves, like fireflies.
Some snowdrops in a garden bow their heads with no advice to pass.
Car headlights. A Crocus burns out in violet before it can reach the sky.
And then, uninvited, happiness creeps in under the draught excluders, bypassed
by the snoozing cat. It quietly cuts the pain from the photos on your shelf,
Draining the colours to sepia. And, when you’re sleeping, makes an unwelcome guest.
It clings to your irises. It drives your car with calm hands. It nestles itself
In your ear. It rolls you out of bed into warm socks.
It lifts your hands into a ray of light to tease the dust into undulations.
And it’s swept away in the light to come crashing against the wall
Where it strikes a dull yellow circle. The moment is lost.
Find yourself with your fingers stretched out, thinking of something else.

Bio: Ella Chappell is studying English Literature with Creative Writing at UEA. She is a Norwich-based writer with a Mancunian soul.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Three Poems - Sophie Clarke

At the End of the Airfield

Bluebells nestle metal. I keenly
remember our dolls house cottage;
a man on a ladder who patched

the thatched roof. His silence and
Lancasters overhead. At a friend’s
(your colleague’s wife), I sung

happy birthday to little Jasmine,
just five, and let the children lug
dining room chairs for dens, dark

rugs thick with dust. My hair was
gold and thickly curled from rollers.
Still, I hear their pleas for you,

see, distinctly, the garden fence,
a blurred mass of trees beyond.
A neighbour's polite enquiries,

and the bloom of her cheek,
a similar shade to the foxgloves
I nurtured, roses I dead-headed.

A crackling radio: news
from Japan. The vicar’s small,
sweet cakes. Isn’t it wonderful,

almighty God! I remember the
journal pages slipped under
floorboards, white as a bone.


You smoothed your notebook on the bed, strained
to explain the bulk of words. And this the proof –
salubrious, serenity, soft swirls
of life’s great truths. I glanced and bit my lip
as yours curved in a Well, what do you think?
And your shy eyes blinked, welling with ink.
Forgive me: time whirled back to the slow slip
of Sunday afternoons, whole Lego worlds
towering from my small hands. I think truth
smudged the window; small, reduced to rain.

Over the Wall


Deftly as a cat you scaled the wall.
You strutted the thin line like a tightrope walker,
like you'd been doing it for centuries. I inched,
two strands of hair glued to my eyelashes,
fumbled the air with my fingers,
jumped. Caught my foot
on the rough stone.


On a picnic rug with our faces
absorbing the midday sun,

you said you like the feel of honey
daubed thickly on my lips,

the shapes my legs make
in the parched grass.

“Some girls,” you winked
“have such a sweet tooth.”

I am not one of those girls.
After a few mouthfuls I feel nauseous.

You had packed round cakes
with cream squirted down the middle.

I licked jam off my spoon, pips
like bullets between my teeth.


I remember the afternoon's drunkenness.
The greenhouse. The checked tablecloth
swallowing the table in ripples, then great waves,
like bottomless, rolling pockets of fat.
The deep crimson of the wine
as I poured it into a bulbous glass, too large
and too full. The vicious stain as my hand slipped.

The bees lulled away from their gigantic petals,
swooning and hitting the glass heavily
until they laid down to rest and were still.
The stench of milk left out in a saucer.

I waited for you.

The tomatoes jostled. Heat bore down
on the glass, intense as a sonnet.


When did the day become violent?

One minute your eye pressed to the keyhole, the next
your body spread-eagled on the roof, grinning down at me.
Vines wrapped around my neck and on your wink stretched,



When I woke and noticed my foot was bleeding
I couldn't find any water. Where were you?

Instead I picked up one of the maroon serviettes
and bound it round tightly.

And I couldn't tell what was blood and what was serviette,
the material was so red.
Bio: Sophie Clarke was a commended Foyle Poet in 2007, and has poems featured in the ezine Pomegranate, Popshot magazine, and the forthcoming issue of Fuselit. Amongst her favourite things are Radiohead, cardigans, and sleeping past noon.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Two Poems - Anna Kirk

Crafting Hour

Crafting hour begins at two thirty.
Tooth hurty, dentistry without drills
But scissors and jokes instead.
We cut and stick our chattering teeth,
Pasting a collage of the past few weeks,
Arranging, overlapping, and gumming up with glue.
I lost the snipped out smile,
Then found it stuck to the sole of my foot.
I like the oddness of your socks, she said.

You should see socks like jazz:
Play your own tune, at counterpoint to others
Who are drying theirs on the rack.
Riff, jam, make dramatic discord
In a cacophonous key, profanities in F major –
Ten in a sock and the little one’s stubbed.
Shooting pains and blasphemies
Strike after that urge to kick the stone
Toe-curled contours of nun’s big feet.

Cut and stick. Cut and stick, hop and skip
To the chant of Nun’s Big Feet.

If I make a habit of it
Then the smile I snipped out,
Causing mild toothache,
Will always stick to soles.

For Leonhart

I made a smudged interpretation of a fuchsia,
Muddied onto the page in Ireland,
Where dogs are named for the wrong star,

I find my way by fuchsia-bush Satnav,
The crushed petals plotting a map;
Second stigma from Tufnell Park
And straight on till Hampstead.
The map is now well-trodden,
Releasing rotting perfumes
Just as Ronald releases nausea when
The flowers are beneath his foot.

Phew, she said whilst drowning,
No longer playing the heroine
Of an exhausting gothic melodrama.
She had peaked, but now prefers
To float as a mannequinned martyr.
She chassées into futile cha chas
Down the sewaged moat,
Making her red gown wilt.

Wash, dry, rustle taffeta,
And silk shot bright with scarlet,
Vining, veining, blotting blood
That scabs with fine flesh tissues.
Expose those billowing bloomers,
A shade darker than the tutu,
And dangle tiny ballet slippers,
Quiver, caught in gentle gusts.

Grown beneath my smudged interpretation
Is the greatest compliment I ever had;
A copy of my flower, stuck with
Bio: Anna Kirk is in her final year at UCL, studying English. She has been published in a New Writing North publication called Monkey Business, on The Literateur, an online literary magazine, and has read at various London pubs and basement open mic nights. She find that red wine, fairy lights and bunting all help in creating a poetic atmosphere. Cardigans, Keats and the perfect mug all make her smile.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Pictures of Frozen Water

An Interview With Sam James Hill
by Isabel Lockhart Smith

I think the EP’s title, ‘Pictures of Frozen Water’, is brilliant. How does it relate to the songs? Could we see the songs as the ‘pictures’?

I hope they are pictures. I don’t go overboard on lyrical content in my songs, but I like them to have themes and I like to focus on what I was going into writing it. Because my music is based a lot on repetition, the idea of capturing motives, feelings and ideas and rethinking them is something I’m fond of.

Your music is constituted of many superimposed levels. Do you have a particular process of composition, or does each song materialise in a different way to the last?

I write the phrases of a song before I write the song. Usually those emerge by accident when I’m playing around with effects or rhythms or looping things in different moods and then I ram them into ways or working into each other, or build them on and on each other. Sometimes it was difficult trying to take the phrases apart in the studio to record them. Sorry, did I type studio? I meant tiny cupboard under the stairs.

The sound is really clean, despite these many levels. Has the EP been a long time in the making?

22 YEARS IN THE MAKING!! Well, about nine months. I’m very happy with how it sounds- Alex Carson (Barefeet Records/Musician/piano teacher/social butterfly) did a great job. We did it all in bedrooms with basic equipment, but he’s got a lot of recording knowledge and a good musical ear and had some great ideas. We had to do it slowly- we both had erratic amounts of time, and I was terribly annoying and kept changing the songs I wanted on the record, writing new ones or changing the ones I already had.

Having seen you live quite a few times in the past year, I was wondering whether your songs underwent any significant changes in the transition between performance and recorded material?

We tried to keep things as close as possible to how they were played live, but it did give us leeway to make some subtle changes and some crazier-than-Mariah-Carey stuff. We affected my voice quite a lot to give it a bit of a choral, odd timed feel and thickened out some of the bits I can’t do live- drums, effects. Even when Lydia Walker (from Tawny Owl and the Birds of Prey) is around to play bass live, everything is limited to what the drum machine or loop pedal can do at the time, so it’s nice to expand outside those restrictions. However, we tried to stay within the realms of what could be realistically done, just because that’s how I work out stuff. That said, there is one song- the title track- that’s fully created on a laptop using re-samples of the other tracks- specifically Reminiscence- and shares some of the same lyrics, but can’t really be played live without pressing play on a laptop. It’s meant to be a hazy looking back at looking back, or summit.

Do you find certain themes reappear in your lyrics?

Memories, parties, people, books, pie, cheap poetry, things I studied in my degree, other music, feeling guilty for no apparent reason.

So are lyrics important to you? Or does the music always come first?

My lyrics are vague and not great, but I know what I mean and they’re important to me writing a song.

Who or what influences you?

Soundtracks that change the tone of a film. It’s a really odd sensation when you hear different to what you see.

Van Der Graff Generator (the band, not the electric equipment).

Jon Martyn - he played folk guitar music through a rack-mounted delay system in the 70’s and it sounded rad. I remember catching video of him late night on tv and it was amazing.

I like Mogwai, Four Tet and The Books.

The modern music scene loves to impose genres, subgenres and movements. Please, if you can, define your music for us. A safe little sound bite will do nicely.

Experimental folk(tronic) post-rock?


You quite deftly reconcile the mandolin with the loop pedal. Is it fair to say that you are interested in incorporating ‘old’ and ‘new’ forms of music-making? And if so, what do you think is achieved by this?

I’m not sure. I think any and all music that is created today is a reconciliation of old and new. Anyone who cites a previous musician as an influence or had a teacher is incorporating something that has been done before with something else.

Finally, Norwich is in the running for UK ‘City of Culture’. Any other Norwich artists, musical and non-musical, you want to plug (in a bid to up the East Anglian cultural ante)?

Rory McVicar
Space Metaliser
Milly Hirst
Bearsuit (New album soon!)
Lady Panther
Mat Riviere
Follow Your Heart
The Middle Ones
Alex Carson
Tawny Owl and the Birds of Prey (although this is a cheat, as I am a Bird of Prey)
Royal McBee
Horses Brawl
Alto 45 (Album soon!)
Fever Fever
Alloy Ark
Shane Olinski
King Laconic (new EP soon!)

Sometimes I just have a gander at NUCA’s exhibits and realise exactly how good the art is there.
Ditto with UEA’s creative writing students.
Poetry by Adam Warne is pretty sweet. Also, Sam Riviere and Jack Underwood have Faber and Faber poetry pamphlets published, as well as both being in brilliant bands.

The UK’s only music video festival (28th June – 10th July).

If that’s not good enough for a city of culture then I don’t know what is. Although I think the likelihood of Norwich becoming said city is very unlikely. Be nice though, wouldn’t it?

Review of Sam James Hill's Pictures of Frozen Water
by Joshua Jones

Norwich-based musician Sam James Hill’s debut EP, Pictures of Frozen Water, is damn near perfect. Which is not to be hyperbolic – it is flawed in parts, though minorly; and these small flaws only serve to heighten the EP’s charm and promise. In short, it is 25 minutes of icily beautiful pop music.

It is the kind of music that is a pleasure to describe. Its influences are many, all apparent enough and somehow all capitalised on, and, to an extent at least, transcended. It brings to mind, often all at once, The Postal Service and The Notwist, Ulrich Schnauss’s A strangely isolated place, Loveless’s less guitar-heavy tracks, Patrick Wolf circa Lycanthropy, The Age of Rockets, Fennesz, Four Tet...the list could go on. While he isn’t necessarily doing anything radically different from bands like the above, Hill has managed to incorporate his influences astutely and to create something of his own, cherrypicking some of their best features and filtering them through his own sound without ever coming off as redolent.

One of the reasons it works so well, one of the reasons I perhaps misleadingly termed it perfect, is that it really should be taken as a whole. It is meticulously sequenced, each track segueing completely naturally into the next, furthering the sound, exploring itself from within itself, from the base of a very assured and complete palette. All the pieces matter, and it is well aware of how best to serve each individual piece. So I should rephrase myself: it is a perfect example and a perfect rendition of what it is and what it wants to be.

The only organic instruments I can detect are mandolin and bass, both effected wonderfully, never losing any of their human qualities amid the bed of electronics. Actually, bed is probably the wrong word to use here – the electronic element of the EP is its soil, the wash of sound from which the looping mandolin and bass parts expand and thrive, interlacing and growing over the course of the individual songs but never leaving or losing the core. The vocals hang and dissolve and return over and under everything, lyrics less important than the tone. The various riffs and phrases loop and circle, changed by superimposition but still there.

‘Reminiscence’ is my favourite track, at least for the moment. It is the longest of the six, and seems to embody everything that the EP is doing. It opens with echoing rimshots and what sounds like Orb-esque electronic keys, slowly growing, vocals washed out as if coming from somewhere other, filtering from channel to channel in search of whatever or whoever it was that prompted the statement “Some things change.” There is a bridge of sorts; for just a few seconds one wonders where the song is going to go next, as if after all this build up it’ll simply return to where it was, until all of a sudden it begins to swell, distorted mandolin burning its way through the production as the vocals dissolve into swathes of sound, only to eventually, at the end of the song, when everything has winded down, play unadulterated on their own for just a few seconds. It is a fleeting, masterful piece of production, the perfect resolution to all the song’s circular searching, returning to a source that wasn’t overtly there in the first place, sounding like a beginning as much as an end.

The rest of the tracks all work similarly, and none of them are weak. The first two are the most immediately striking, the two in the middle content to maintain the pace before the more condensed closing two. The only real flaw to my ears is that ‘Alfred’s Last Gasp’ speeds by too quickly, loses some of the impact it would and could have contained if it just hadn’t rushed through itself. But even that is hardly piercing criticism.

It is one of the most satisfying debut releases I’ve heard for some time, one that holds so much promise and potential for a longer work but is, at the same time, more than enough for now. A multi-faceted, multi-purpose record that deserves exposure and, especially considering its very reasonable price tag, deserves to be bought and consumed unsparingly.

You can purchase Pictures of Frozen Water here for just £3. It is released on lovely independent label called Bare Feet Records, which in the coming month we will be featuring, as well as reviewing some of their new records, for the simple reason that they are putting out shockingly good music that I hope we can help reach the wider audience the artists involved deserve.

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