End of Year Round-Up: The Reviewers

2010 was the year Sabotage went from being just a thought to a fully-fledged website. To celebrate not just the wonderful reviewers who are the backbone of this site, but also the literature that has made our year what it is, I have asked several reviewers to answer these three short questions:

-Has 2010 brought to your attention any outstanding literary magazines (be they online or in print), if so, which?

-What event sticks out in your mind as the literary event of 2010 (it can be a personal accomplishment)?

-What was your favourite literary discovery of the year (it can be a single poem, a novel, a pamphlet, a press, …)?

Below you will find the answers of several of this year’s reviewers, and in a few days I will publish the answers of several authors, both of poetry and fiction, who were kind enough to take part.

To make things fair, here are my brief answers, then I’ll hand it over to the reviewers:

-Obviously the creation of Sabotage has brought my attention to several excellent magazines. My favourite discovery is probably Diagram. I reviewed its Summer 2010 issue for The Review Review. It was a bit of a surprise favourite as I tend to prefer poetry to short stories. This is what I said about it in the review: ‘The fiction featured displays an obsessive relationship to dissection and decorticates genres, voices, people. Sometimes this mad-scientist effervescence overwhelms the content to the point of un-readability, but more often than not, it elates. Diagram is a welcome shock-therapy to more traditional online journals – a breath of unruly air displacing paperwork.’

-There are several events that I could cite, 2010 brought the death of two personal heavyweight: Edwin Morgan and J.D. Salinger. Though with the latter, I could not help but feel a certain morbid curiosity for the work he kept hidden, as if he were the guardian of a treasure and finally defeated by a cocky young hero who knew the answers to the riddle. On a personal level, it was getting two poems accepted by Poetry Salzburg Review, a magazine I have long admired for the consistent quality of its output, and its vibrantly multi-cultural authors.

-Now that’s definitely a tough one. I discovered James Merrill’s ‘Charles on Fire’ and Charles Causley’s ‘Convoy’ thanks to Katy Evans-Bush’s workshop Making Poetry at the Poetry School, both have stuck with me for days beyond reading. Amongst pamphlets, my favourites were Mark Halliday’s No panic here, Jon Stone’s Scarecrows and Joe Dunthorne’s Faber New Poets pamphlet. As far as collections go two stand out: Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard and Karen Annesen’s How to Fall.

The Reviewers (in no particular order):

Richard T. Watson is a writer and director who has reviewed several works for Sabotage, most recently two of Sidekick Books’ publications, Pocket Spellbook and Coin Opera. You can find his review here, and his blog here.

-Its focal hero might make it seem a tad outdated, but I’ve enjoyed the Ben Jonson Journal (which I discovered in 2010, but has been running for much longer). It’s one of the many things I came across as a student that I wanted to get into in more depth, but never had time because of the looming deadline thing. But what I did read of the BJJ helped with my Dissertation, and all of it was fascinating.

-It’s not that long since National Poetry Week, which included a BBC adaptation of Chris Reid’s poem The Song of Lunch on BBC Two – which I think is probably my literary event of the year (and not just for the connection to my own University). The poem was translated more or less directly to the screen without addition or abridgement, a rare case of bringing poetry to mainstream popular culture. Having Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson involved helps as well.

My favourite literary discovery of 2010 is Julia Bird’s poem ‘For my Brother, Relentlessly’, which is published in Coin Opera, a micro-anthology from Sidekick Books. It’s a poem in nostalgic praise of  arcade game classic Space Invaders, laid out like the screen of a Space Invaders game. The text itself is simply the repeated question ‘Can I have a go on the Space Invaders now?’ – but what I especially like is the way that the title’s comma conjures an image of a small girl asking this of her brother without pausing for breath for several minutes. Then, when she does finally take a breath, she says ‘please’.

Juliet Wilson is a poet who has written a series of reviews on environmental literary magazines for Sabotage, her most recent review can be found here whilst her website is here.

-2010 was the year I really became aware of Anon Poetry magazine. I knew it existed and had read an old copy but this year they accepted two of my poems and I found myself at the wonderful launch party at the Scottish Poetry Library and bought more back copies. The current editor Colin Fraser really knows how to choose good poetry (not just because he chooses mine!) and there are also a selection of intelligent and thought provoking articles about poetry in the magazine. Add to this that its a lovely neat format and fits quite easily into a handbag or pocket for reading on the bus, definitely a great read. The anon website is here and they’re on Twitter too:

-The event that for me was the literary event of 2010 was (sorry to blow my own trumpet!) the launch of my poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies by Calder Wood Press.

-My favourite literary discovery was Lorsque j’etais un oeuvre d’art by Eric Emanuel Schmitt, an amazing, weird and wonderful novel about a man who is saved from committing suicide by an art entrepreneur who offers him the chance to become a living piece of art. A thought provoking exploration of what it means to be human written with the narrative drive of a thriller. I don’t know whether it’s been translated into English. I always find that reading an exceptionally good book in a foreign language intensifies the experience for me, as I meed to concentrate more and there’s a real sense of achievement in the reading!

Ian Chung is a poet who blogs here and tweets here. His most recent review for Sabotage is of the arts-collective website Lazy Gramophone.

-Polarity Magazine comes to mind. I came to it quite by chance, as the chief editor happens to teach on my university course as well and there was a launch event held at the university. It’s a print magazine, very professionally done, with each issue being ‘organised around two falsely polarised concepts’. The magazine’s website has some excerpts from the first issue.
-I’m going to go with a personal accomplishment here, and that was getting a couple of my poems accepted by The Cadaverine. It was my third time submitting, so I guess it’s true, third time’s the charm! Seriously though, it was an honour for my work to be chosen, and I’m looking forward to seeing it appear on the newly revamped website.

-I’m going to say it was Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. In a seminar last year, I’d read the Zadie Smith essay, ‘Two Paths for the Novel’, in which she reviews Remainder and Joseph O’Neill’sNetherland, and was intrigued by how she saw them as representing opposing futures for the Anglophone novel. I’d meant to read Remainder since then, but only got around to doing so over the summer holidays. It’s definitely an interesting read, in the way that its protagonist escalates the cycles of repetition that are the only means by which his life can anchor itself meaningfully. Smith notes at the start of her essay that Remainder took seven years to find a publisher, which isn’t surprising, given how its structure deliberately defies the sort of marketable narrative that would sit nicely in a chain bookstore’s window display.

Caroline Crew is a poet and a prolific blogger of all things poetic here.  She reviewed Blue-eyed boy bait for Sabotage here.

-For me the publications that have really sung that this year have all had a really strong sense of identity and of purpose. Literary magazines and projects that eshcew the normal manifestos on the submissions page. The ones that have really struck me this year have been Fuselit– a gorgeous magazine that runs of a spur word. Popshot, the illustrated poetry magazine that brings together the visual and the verbal to stunning effect, and my current favourite, > kill author, an online magazine that helped me rid myself of the silly preconception that print is inherently better.

-Sadly, for me that would have to be the passing of Edwin Morgan, at the grand age of 90. He was the first Scots Makar, and when it comes down to it, just a absolutely stellar poet. The death of such an imagination leaves an abyss.
-Well, moving across the Atlantic has been strange for me in many ways, but the epic differences in the poetry being written was definitely the most astounding. My favourite discovery so far would have to be Ada Limon. I saw her read recently and bought her excellent collection, sharks in the rivers, and cannot let it be out of my reach.

Jared Randall is a poet who blogs here, his first book of poetry, Aprocryphal Road Code, is now available from Salt Publishing. He reviewed >kill author for Sabotage here.

The Offending Adam is probably the most intriguing online lit mag to catch my eye this year. TOA has taken the online lit mag format and run with it. Editors Andrew Wessels and Co. present weekly features that you can read in a relatively few spare moments because they focus on (usually) a single poet’s work. This focused brevity includes a brief statement from the author or a third party about what they think of the work and how it has come into existence. What is more, TOA takes care to ensure this glimpse behind the scenes/recommendation lends a sense of literary justification and thoughtfulness without descending into either facile interpretism or the chance to merely sound off on one’s poetic opinions.

Rather than browsing for a mag’s hidden gems among a multitude of works that may serve as mere fodder, every entry of TOA leaves me excited for next week’s installment. TOA’s eye for quality and the breathing space they leave to really consider the work at hand fly in the face of the common “dime-a-dozen” argument against online literature journals. You can sign up for weekly updates via email or Facebook and always know that your next poetry fix is in the wings and that you won’t have to wade through scads of authors to get to something you’ll truly want to consider.

-I don’t know that I’m qualified to give a grand literary pronouncement of what event was most important on a grand scale, but I did experience a very personal circle of memorable events at the end of 2010. The circle involves the publication of my own first book of poetry (Apocryphal Road Code) but really centers on the National Book Award in fiction as won by my former Western Michigan University undergrad professor, Jaimy Gordon.

The background of this story goes back a decade. Jaimy’s was my final fiction workshop before I dropped out of school for nearly four years after ignoring her advice to stick with it (no exaggeration). Of course, she was right, and, in 2004, I went back to school, finished up my degree, and from there received my MFA at the University of Notre Dame. How ironic that, barely a week after my first book came out, I was privileged to hear Jaimy read from her award-winning Lord of Misrule at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

This event, with its local southwest-Michigan flavor, was a culmination for me. I reflected, while waiting in line to have Jaimy sign my copy of her book, on the good fortune I had to study with great writers in the Kalamazoo area while in undergrad. I realized, after Jaimy spoke on the importance for her of finding a character’s voice, how I, too, learned the importance of voice from her all those years ago. Voice is important in my recent book, and I knew in that moment that I owe Jaimy more than I had either suspected or remembered.

Though it comes from a true prodigal, I believe I can safely say that all of us who have studied with Jaimy know how good she is, how careful and precise and insightful are her critiques. I could not be happier on her behalf for the recognition she has received, and I can only hope to enjoy a touch of the same in the future. Also, if you have not picked up a copy of Lord of Misrule, do so. A great book to curl up with over the holidays!

-I did not have to think long in order to settle on Chad Sweeney’s Parable of Hide and Seek from Alice James Books. Chad is a writer who is also local to a Kalamazoo area rich in talent, and I fell in love with his new poetry during a reading he gave recently. In particular, his poems “Little Wet Monster” and “Holy Holy” struck such a personal chord with me that I had to acquire his book right away.

The first is an incantation, a welcoming, a calling forth of an unborn child: “Come antler through the gates my thingling/ Your grapes contain the houses// Unmask the stones my darkling grief/ Come whole my homeward early// You alone devour the night,” and so on. The child comes from the dark womb but brings the secret of light, a rich paradox among many in Parable. Mother and father voices merge somehow in a poem that Chad reads with a lot of courage and all the real passion of a father who appreciates the mystery and precious gift that is life. I jive with that, being a father of four with another on the way.

In “Holy Holy,” Chad also manages to get me where I feel it deep down. It begins, “For me speech is/ a way of touching,/ a rummaging under/ for what’s not meant// to be moved,” and continues, “a sentence begun// before my father was/ beaten for his stutter.” I adore the double to triple meanings of these enjambed lines as they turn on one another. The poet then asks for “courage/ to fail publicly// in ordinary tasks,/ give/ me corner beams laboring/ without grace.”

The humility and gentle sensibility of Chad Sweeney’s poems are, judging by his reading and conversation, wholly genuine. Their surreal yet familiar landscapes pull me in, and I think they will you, too. Give him a try at www.alicejamesbooks.org or your favorite seller. In fact, treat yourself to an entire Kalamazoo, Michigan, literary romp! There are plenty of authors to choose from, whether recently published or from years gone by.

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