–Reviewed by Claire Trévien–
Online magazines seem to go one of two ways: either they emulate the print copy by having a PDF, (or at least separate section dedicated to a singular issue); or, they resemble blogs by having a rolling format. The former are generally more digestible and focused, they have unity, if not a theme – a concentrate of creativity. The latter have their own merits, but their leviathan format makes them harder to review. You have to follow the magazines for a longer breadth of time, building a picture of its quality and style from each link emitted from its facebook or twitter page.
Used Furniture Review is a new online magazine of literature and follows the second of these formats. The website is on the whole functional with headers leading to different sections (Poetry, Fiction, …) and includes some interesting features (‘Talking with Furniture’, interviews, reviews, columns, …). Used Furniture Review is an unusual choice of name, one whose origin is not explained. It appears to me to be a poetic comment on the palimpsest nature of all writing. The banner playfully refers to its title by means of a retro wallpaper pattern lending the website a homely understated charm. Although Used Furniture Review features a wide variety of writing, this review will only concentrate on poetry in the interest of sparing you a titanic of a read.
One distinct advantage of the format chosen by Used Furniture Review is its ability to showcase authors. The lack of spatial constraints means that we are confronted, in the poetry section, to an average of two to five poems per poet. The sampler of five poems by Karol Nielsen for instance means that you get an immediate sense of her interests in banality conflicted with death. The poems have in common her clipped dispassionate voice as she classifies various people:
‘I wrote about a divorced woman,
a gun to her head in Penn Station;
and a pretty college student—raped,
shot, stuffed in the trunk of her car.’
These samplers are like mini-collections within the webzine, allowing the writer to potentially acquire a readership. Most posts have comments suggesting that the magazine already has some faithful users, keen to join in the discussion – which is laudable. In another sense, however, the web format of the magazine is not exploited far enough, there is no direct link from the poem to Nielsen’s biography, one has to clunkily search for her in an entirely separate area if interested in her other work. It’s a wasted opportunity demonstrating that Used Furniture Review hasn’t fully grown into its own yet.
In terms of overarching style, the poems found on the website, as a whole, can be described as conversational, as is the case in Meg Pokrass’ ‘Grass Fed’:
‘I imagine you still feel bruised,
in that way that one can’t smile
all the way up, the cheeks want to,
but the chin rebels’
As with any style, some poets are more adept at it than others. Whereas someone like Mark Halliday can manage to sound casual whilst being deep, it is not a technique everyone can successfully emulate. There is music and purpose to Halliday, here the words seem casual because they are casual – they’re not pulling their weight, they’re just sitting there, hoping that if they wave violently enough no one will notice that they’re dead behind the eyes. If that sounds like a harsh verdict, it is one born out of frustration, because when Pokrass isn’t trying to be off-hand, it is apparent that she has a keen eye and the ability to conjure unusual visuals. Unfortunately, these are used so haphazardly that her talent doesn’t quite shine through.
Another theme that emerges, most apparent in Cassie Manne’s poetry, is a taste for shock value. There is of course her ‘Poem for a Pedophile [sic]’, a combination of pat rhymes, salacious images and a moralizing ending. In her poem ‘Catholic Upbringing’ she can’t resist, of course, linking religion to sex, but it’s perhaps more disappointing to encounter in the otherwise promising ‘Flood Season’ this particular line: ‘The house falls asleep to masturbating crickets’. Put together, these three poems feel immature and cheap. Yet, ‘Flood Season’, by far the strongest of her three poems, shows a real talent for story-telling and atmosphere-conjuring. In the poem, Manne shows herself capable of depicting delicious sensory explorations:
‘This is July.
Mosquitos attracted to the sweet smell of freckled arms. Calamine lotion
has not yet been invented. It will be the third day of rain;
bodies rush through towns like bloated floaters in the pool.
Couples linger under sheets and sweat.
It bakes their worn ankles and thundered thighs.’
A third theme I should like to briefly draw on is the appearance of tattoos in three of the poems:
‘Permanent tattoos of
(‘Catholic Upbringing’, Cassie Manne)
‘I bear these stories like a life sentence,
their grief indelible, like a prison tattoo.’
(‘Life Sentence’, Karol Nielsen)
‘And climb into the blinding light
Of a sky tattooed with lightning’
(‘Through the Pane’, Liz Masi)
Poetry Tattoos appear to be all the rage of late, so perhaps it is not so surprising to see that the love is reciprocated. These three poets appear relatively close after one another, so this can’t be a coincidence, surely? Are they set to become the new cliché? They certainly attempt to inflict some street cred into otherwise innocuous poems.
Liz Masi, whose use of the word tattoo is the most evocative, is one of the better poets to be found on the website. She uses refreshing specificity in ‘The Piano Bench’ for instance, and is capable of more disturbing tableaux too, as in her poem ‘Ribcage’:
‘I realized that my ribcage was a lead-heavy carcass
Hanging like a skeleton from my phony grin.’
But the faux-naïve voice she employs gets jarring after three poems – so that the showcase here is a disadvantage that lays bare her current limitations.
Whilst no poems on Used Furniture Review are appalling, none are outstanding either. There is no doubt, however, that its authors have the potential to develop; and that the magazine, still in its early stages, will attract a higher level of submissions in time. The hardest stage is done: they have a dedicated readership, a website that is fully integrated with other social media, the rest will surely follow.