‘flick invicta’ by Sarah Crewe

-Reviewed by Charles Whalley

flick invicta is a reminder that all poems are lists of words to be interpreted. Few of Sarah Crewe’s poems contain complete sentences; most toy with some connective syntax; some are almost entirely nouns. The poems are often formatted with large spaces within the lines, justified with both margins, accentuating the syntactic gaps. The first poem, ‘flick/wavertree’, runs:

wavertree

The formatting creates two columns, encouraging the eye to move up and down as well as left to right. Likewise, the isolated words and phrases encourage interlocking connections in multiple directions, like the lines drawn through the letters of a wordsearch puzzle or like (to borrow from Wolfgang Iser) the constellations drawn by connecting stars. We have, for instance in ‘flick/wavertree’, the string of association of “aspen…girl botanic…stonecrop…wolfberry…creeping ivy”. In this sequence “girl botanic” links with “witchhunt” and then “stone[…] circles”. The “wolf” also connects with “pack” and perhaps “stalks” (as what I imagine packs of wolves to do), whilst “stalks” taken as a noun rather than verb connects back with the plants. As well as the sound patterns (most plainly in “graffiti…HIV”), these are exercises in (pack) semantics, as each word’s connotations reaches for another. It requires a reading that is reticular rather than linear; the poems develop like dot-to-dots or Spirographs.

*

Many of the poems reference places in Liverpool, such as Wavertree and Newsham Park, or, in the case of ‘Mil-Mi ‘85’, a film set in, and specifically about, the city. These locales as a setting for a poem circumscribe the disconnected phrases of the poems into atmosphere, as in ‘flick/newsham park’:

‘dips her feet in mallow     fork tailed birds swoop     grade II rooftops     circumflex
pyramids on stilts     flick smirks     jack in mind     phantom boy     penchant for angles’

Fixed geographically, the nouns eschew associating syntax; their common thread is their shared cinematic invocation of place.

Liverpool also serves as one side of a binary opposition, expressed in ‘iris on the wing’ as “north west/south east”, with Liverpool as the “not london” of ‘elephant’. This sense of speech from a position (geographically or not) of otherness or cultural alterity recurs throughout the pamphlet. In ‘Mil-Mi ’85’ the speaker remarks: “the actor’s accent slips……….mine never does”. The word “accent” implies a deviation from a ‘norm’, and one must “slip” from an “accent” to prove that it is indeed an “accent” and not one’s only way of speaking. To have an accent that “never” slips is either to be one entirely committed to performance, or to be one whose ‘real’ self has been relegated as such.

*

‘flick/blue heaven’ includes the line:

‘flag on the brow side’

I am completely at a loss to articulate why I like it so much.

*

The isolated nouns of flick invicta lead the reader to think about how the process of fashion (as manufactured obsolescence) imbues objects with an embedded, complex datedness: to be impoverished is to be condemned to the past. The neglected landscape of flick/invicta – the “creeping ivy/lock-up”, “doc leaves, “wasteland/sidelines, “wasteland nursery/flaky social club”–mirrors the “80s remnant” interest in old clothes: “dog tooth coats”; “art deco[…]flapper chic”; “1950’s polkadot”. But these clothes are not just haphazard gallimaufries of fashion’s merry jetsam fashion; these are sophisticated performances of the present’s versions of the past: it is flapper chic, where fashion reasserts its ownership over what it left behind. Considering the disenfranchised position of the past and its symbols, there is something troublesome about this appropriation or glorification of disempowerment, as Crew suggests in ‘elle d’en’:

‘O     you look so pretty in
housewife chic     you wear it well
recession in petticoat’

There is the fear, in the word “housewife”, that the social and political realities of the past may be resurrected within the fashions, that retro is a hidden conservatism.

*

*

The character “flick”, who appears throughout the pamphlet, is essentially performative, with a verb as a name since she must do to be. Often through her, flick/invicta explores the external signs of femininity, of the ‘masquerade’ (in Mary Ann Doane’s term) of “red dress     peroxide”(Mil-Mi ’85), and how, as with elsewhere, one can become empowered from a disempowered position, how one can live earnestly through signs that have been degraded as fake.

The final, overarching binary opposition running through the poems, after South West/North East or Present/Past, is gender, in terms made clear by the reference in ‘flick/newsham park’ to a nursery rhyme: “two for joy[…]/[…]three for a girl”. The nursery rhyme implies a greater value of men not only in that they are worth an additional magpie, but with the logic implied in the patterning of the first rhyme: ‘girl’ is to ‘boy’ as ‘sorrow’ is to ‘joy’. The same poem also names the three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, who emblemise one form that empowerment and subversion can take as well as the risks of attempting it: “flick thinks of     maria ekaterina nadezhda”(‘flick/newsham park’). (Sarah Crewe was one of the editors of Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, the tremendous anthology which deservedly won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Anthology this year.) A similar model of female power is found in Cheetara, the “cunt cat hybrid” who “asphyxiate[s] prey”(‘hail cheetara (forever becoming)’), but mostly in “flick”, who is always the centre of her poems, always moving through the settings, and who often only has a verb following her name (e.g., “flick smirks”, “flick invokes”). Flick is the source of agency whenever she appears, as the one who ends the poem ‘flick/peacock’ with “let’s walk”, refusing the passivity normally assigned to the female. She is the only confident agent at home within the depthless, illogical atmospheres.

*

Sarah Crewe’s poems are deliberately resistant. flick/invicta raises the question: does a poetry which comes from outside, or which challenges, dominant ideology also need to come outside of normal syntax, to exceed normal registers? Does poetry need to challenge our modes of interpretation before it challenges anything else? Some of the poems in the pamphlet become so obfuscated as to resemble catalogues of private obsessions, and seem like the “secret code” mentioned in ‘bridge’. Others are, in context, remarkably conventional. But the best are hair-raising and subversive, breaking language up to “bring the vowels back” and “prise consonants/apart”.

Saboteur Awards 2013: Published Poetry

-in which Claire Trévien sums up the categories she presented at the awards-

saboteur awards - pamphlet

Best poetry pamphlet

The Best Poetry Pamphlet category was one of the most closely fought over category, displaying a wonderful range of experimental, sci-fi, and decadent verse. During the entire month, however, there were two clear frontrunners, with runner up Sarah Hymas’ self-published concertina pamphlet Lune described by one anonymous voter as being ‘like a paper flower: small and perfectly formed but expanding in your imagination into something bigger and more mysterious, like the sea itself.’

Other shortlisted pamphlets included Body Voices by Kevin Reid (‘brilliantly conceived and executed – a modern masterpiece!’); Lawrence Gladeview’s Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love (‘a fresh voice in a sea of boring books and lost writers. This is by far one of the best chapbook collections I have ever read’); and J.S. Watts Songs of Steelyard Sue (‘Unusual subject for poetry, wryly humorous, surprisingly touching – Steelyard Sue is a very real character despite being built out of scrap metal’).

However, it is Charlotte Newman’s Selected Poems (‘Razor-edged, uncompromising, ferocious artistry’) which finally claimed the crown. Published by the micro-press Annexe Magazine, the pamphlet was described by voters in the following terms:

‘Sensual but with a prickly, almost brutal, verbosity- she shows things as they are: melancholy, complicated, but resistant in their drawing of the mind’s eye. A talent that needs more recognition.’

‘Charlotte has an incredible way with words. She writes in a way that could easily carve out a new trend in poetry. Also, an award might get her to write more…’

‘Annexe is one of the most interesting new ventures around – very modern, very engaging and doing something different from anyone else.’

Best poetry anthology

The short list for Best Poetry anthology ranged from a compendium of new forms (Adventures in Form), to poetry from the north west of England (Sculpted: Poetry of the North West) to the anniversary edition of a five year old magazine (The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology), to an alternative anthology of young poets (Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets).

Adventures in Form, the category’s runner up, was described by one voter as ‘One of the best anthologies of the decade’. Fellow nominee Sculpted was praised for giving ‘a voice to the North West’ and for providing ‘a pleasingly diverse range of voices which does the North West proud’. Rhyming Thunder was described as a ‘magnificent collection full of wonderful pieces from some of the best emerging spoken word artists on the scene’. The Centrifual Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology, the only non-UK publication on the list, was described as ‘a stunning compilation of superbly-crafted poems from TCE’s first 5 years in publication. I’ve never read so much good poetry in one place before that wasn’t written by a single/favorite author.’

However, the winner was Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, with many voters praising it for the work English PEN and the editors have done to support the detained members of Pussy Riot:

‘This anthology is unique and striking in its focus; it is both a powerful tool for campaigning and a beautiful, passionate – and at times hilarious – collection of poetry. This is poetry with real heart and soul and it deserves to win!’

‘A creative, collaborative and timely collection of poems responding to the ridiculous decision to imprison the Pussy Riot women. Great use of poetry as a means of standing up to attacks on free expression as it is happening.’

‘Searing and beautiful response to the Pussy Riot tragedy – manages to be topical, timely, and purely poetic at the same time.’

Poetry Anthology

Best mixed anthology

This award celebrated anthologies that did not fit a precise mould of pure poetry or pure fiction. The shortlist included exciting work meshing together genres creatively. Runner-up Still (Negative Press) received an overwhelming amount of comments, praising its mixture of photography and prose: ‘Still is a collection of stories that provide powerful insight and emotion into the lives of those that feel they don’t always have a voice’, ‘Fantastic idea, using images from an abandoned public office to inspire a collection of short stories!’

Fellow nominees included Pressed by Unseen Feet  (‘Because York deserves to be on the literary map and Stairwell Books are awesome’), Silver Anthology (‘a wonderful mix of prose and poetry, well-known authors and new names. A delightful read!’) and Second Lives (‘because psychogeography never ceases to be fascinating. Also Terrance Hayes FTW!’).

The winner was Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry, and below are some of the reasons why voters thought it deserved to win:

‘Beautiful book full of art for the eyes and ears.’

‘Combination of aesthetics and ecology, design and content.’

‘The most beautiful book I have seen in years, thoughtfully matched images and poems.’

‘Fantastic mix of poets and artists, the best coffee table book I purchased in 2012’

saboteur awards - mixed anthology

Most innovative publisher

Another fiercely fought competition, matching champions of experimental poetry the Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press against creators of hand-crafted wares and unusual anthologies Sidekick Books, and publishers of excellent spoken word artists Burning Eye.

Unthank Books, the only publishers of to exclusively deal with fiction on the shortlist , were the runners up, with voters commenting that ‘They’ve seriously pursued a leftfield agenda, publishing novels and short story anthologies which represent the unpublished flipside of British publishing. If you want alternative, non book club friendly fiction about the UK, start with Unthank.’

Comments for the rest of the shortlist included:

‘Sidekick Books continue to mix great design with an enthusiastic and very enjoyable ethos all the while publishing great books.’

‘Cos they are interesting..and not afraid to take risks. They also bridge the gap between the spoken word poets and print. Vital to get that tradition out there’ (Burning Eye)

‘for daring to publish what other publishers steer away from. Keeping innovative literature alive’ (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press).

However, Penned in the Margins, also the winners of Best Novella, and runner-up in the Best Poetry Anthology category, received the most votes, and the following comments explain why:

‘Because they are I think the leading innovative press at the moment. The interest in form, the range and intelligence of the project.’

‘’Penned in the Margins is the most exciting smallish press around. It’s a one-man show, Tom Chivers is a superhero… and a master of taste. Everything and anything they publish is guaranteed to be great. So many brilliant poetry publications in particular.’

‘Each book that comes out of the PITM stable is perfectly packaged, of a super high quality and guaranteed to make readers think a little differently.’

saboteur awards - publisher

And that concludes part 2 of 3. Next, James Webster will be sharing comments for the spoken word and live events categories!

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Winners!

A more in-depth post will come soon, with comments from voters, logos for each winner, pictures and links to videos from the night (if you have any, do email them to us!), but we thought some of you might like to know as soon as possible who won in each category. You can find links to reviews of the shortlisted works here. We’re also featured in the Guardian today here, while Dan Holloway reviewed the event here! There is also a storify here of the event.

photo-10

The Results!

Best one-off 

Winner: Shake the dust
Runners up (joint-place): Penning Perfumes and Poetry Parnassus

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

From @jsamlarose's twitter after Shake The Dust's win

From @jsamlarose’s twitter after Shake The Dust’s win

Best short story collection

Winner: Tony Williams, All the bananas I’ve never eaten
Runner up: Tania Hershman, My Mother was an Upright Piano

Best magazine:

Winner: Rising.
Runner up: Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Best poetry pamphlet:

Winner: Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman
Runner up: Lune by Sarah Hymas

Best spoken word performer:

Winner: Vanessa Kisuule
Runner Up: Dan Cockrill

Best regular spoken word night:

Winner: Bang said the Gun
Runner Up: Jibba Jabba

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards!

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards! Photo from @bangsaidthegun twitter feed

'They don't shake themselves' (Bang said the gun)

‘They don’t shake themselves’ (Bang said the gun)

Best spoken word show:

Winner: ‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
Runner Up: ‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best poetry anthology:

Winner: Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot
Runner-Up: Adventures with Form

Best fiction anthology:

Overheard: Stories to be read aloud
Runner Up: Unthology volume 3.

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Best mixed anthology:

Winner: Estuary: a Confluence of Art and Poetry
Runner Up: Still (Negative Press).

Best novella:

Winner: ‘Holophin’ by Luke Kennard
Runner-Up: ‘Count from Zero to One Hundred’ by Alan Cunningham

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Most innovative publisher:

Winner: Penned in the Margins
Runner-up: Unthank Books

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien (photo by Tim Wells)

Binders full of Women

-Reviewed by Joan Standwick-binders-of-women-image

Binders full of women was originally a limited-edition chapbook edited by Sophie Mayer and Sarah Crewe created in response to Mitt Romney’s ill-advised comment (which now has its own Wikipedia page!) These lovingly glitter-glued chapbooks have now sold-out, but the chapbook is available digitally for free, with the option to donate to two charities, Rape Crisis UK or the Michael Causer Foundation, the original recipients of the money raised by the physical chapbooks. Sophie Mayer and Sarah Crewe are no strangers to creating poetry projects in response to current events, earlier that year they also edited, along with Mark Burnhope, an anthology with PEN in support of Pussy Riot. Since then, Mark Burnhope and Sophie Mayer (along with Daniel Sluman) have launched Fit for Work: Poets against ATOS, a webzine with a focus on disability in all its forms, and a campaigning agenda.

There is no doubt that these are all worthwhile causes, but does it make for good poetry? Poetry that too overtly displays its agenda can be at risk of being preachy, or not slanted enough. Fortunately, Binders full of women is engaging on all levels. First one has to mention the fabulous punk-aesthetic to this chapbook, with its ripped-from-zine images plastered on the cover, and actual mini-rings binding it together. The editor’s foreword is delightfully quirky, a flow-chart of its creation, a  visual brainstorm of its purpose. This sets the tone for the poetry which is by turns funny, experimental, gut-wrenching. Take Sarah Crewe’s opening poem ‘Performance’ which simply, yet effectively, bolds different parts of the word ‘performance’ within its poem:

‘carmela, he bought you a pear. it matches your hips. chimes with your womb in parenthesis. a guns scrapes the wall and the bathtub enamel. your silence is perfect. your acquiesce perpetrates a wife’s anonymity in the script.’

It is a stealthy and deadly method of raging against silent acceptance, that avoids the easy comfortableness of a one-sided depiction.

The subjects vary from intimate moments to large political acts. There is rage at cumulative acts of patriarchal repression, such as the pressure to shave: ‘Tights were not an option, / in the same way that gravity exists’ (Rowena Knight, ‘Razor’). From this theme emerges also Steph Pike’s joyous ‘We Will not be Deodorised’:

‘take your fashion, your body fascism
your plucking and shaving

[…]

we rejoice in fat and muscle and hair
we stink of blood and sweat and piss
we will not be deodorised
we reek of the ocean deep hot hunger of our lovers’ cunts
we will not smell of the sanitised chemistry of your misoginy’

A poem that reminds me of Catechism and indeed it ends ‘we are pussies. we riot’. Chella Quint writes a love poem ‘To the Leaking Girl’, perhaps my favourite poem about periods (and in fact it appears to have been first published in a zine dedicated to menstruation poetry, something else I didn’t know), which sees a girl reclaim an accident and turn it into laughter.

There is darker material too, exploration of unhealthy domestic situations, as in Sarah Hesketh’s ‘The Adulturer Teaches his Wife to Swim’ who writes of her imagining ‘his hands in her hair — / getting the magic out’. Michelle McGrane’s ‘A Girl Like That’ is a brutal depiction of rape culture: ‘the cheeky / cunt had it coming’, as is Jacqueline Saphra’s ‘Spunk’, which rightfully condemns today’s still too prevalent attitude of victim-blaming when it comes to rape.

This is a comforting and discomforting chapbook, in all the right ways. Discomforting enough to make you want to stand up and fight for improvement. Comforting enough that I wish I had been in possession of it as a teenager. This is poetry for chanting and cradling, and long may it live.

 

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!

VOTING IS NOW CLOSED!

Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (Twentysomethingpress.com)
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Alliterati
Lummox
Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts
Rising
Armchair/Shotgun

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)