-Reviewed by Cathy Dreyer–
Box[Ed.], a new magazine from a group of MA students at Kent University’s School of English, arrived in a buff-coloured box, its contents huddled together like a pile of leaves in an Autumn garden.
I felt quite protective of this small assortment, as if I ought to guard it from the chaotic winds of my desk which might scatter it at any moment. I handled the pieces with care.
I liked the evident haphazardness of their presentation. Editors typically spend a great deal of time thinking about the order of contents and the reader must engage with the intentions behind that order, and how it contextualises the content, almost before s/he can engage with the goods themselves. I worry about this and often start at the back of things.
So I found it very refreshing that the team at Box[Ed.] are content to let the vicissitudes of the postie’s sack decide which of their contributors is first out of the box.
The box held twenty six pieces which are, broadly, a mixture of prose fiction, visual art and poetry in a variety of formats from postcards to hand-made pamphlets. I couldn’t discern any unifying themes, although almost a quarter of the pieces played with the idea of water in some form, from baths to the sea.
I also wondered if I was seeing the influence of twitter and other social media on some writers here. There were a couple of very short pieces, if not quite 140 characters then not far off. It seems as if the pleasure of finding an online home for our micro-thoughts is something people now want to bring to print.
Beau Jackson’s ‘Some things I have accepted that I will never understand’ seemed to me pitched in an enjoyably light tone which I often encounter online. Her three line list piece includes this fragment:
- The feeling, similar to guilt, that you get when getting into a bath that’s too hot.
I spent a long and happy time thinking about this, frustratedly unable to remember how I feel when I burn my toes while attempting to bathe, but convinced that there is a distinct feeling which that experience always evokes, and that it is close to guilt. I’m currently plumping for ‘mild shame’.
Julia Horeftari’s short ‘Check if Applicable’took the form of a metaphorical, check-list which you might find in a set of instructions for putting together furniture, here figuratively applied to the human condition, or aspects of it.
I enjoyed the playfulness of Horeftari’s format and imagery, if not the bleakness of her vision.
‘Indiana’, by Rathe Temple-Green, is another very short piece, at just seven lines, but took me back to more traditional, lineated poetry.
This was another piece in which I invested significant time. As it is short, I quote it in full.
A good friend of mine
went to buy a cake —
Anyway he went to get his keys out of his coat pocket
before he found them
he took out a tub of chocolate porridge
then his passport.
This is what being prepared for anything means
Reading this, I stumbled at line four, expecting the sense of the line to be ‘before he left’, so that ‘before he found them’ came as a surprise, just as the narrator experienced a surprise at the contents of her good friend’s pocket.
Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, feeling what s/he felt, connecting, is such a pleasure.
I enjoyed the skill of this, and the commentary on the risks and opportunities of idiom.
Of the longer prose pieces I found Julia Fermentto’s ‘Clattering Forks in Manta Ray’ the most successful.
The narrator’s voice seduced me into liking her almost instantly. Fermentto’s skilful exploitation of the ironic potential of unreliable narration meant it was only close to the end that the doubts about, and finally horror at, the events described set in and I was forced to re-understand everything from the beginning.
I understood the piece as a parable about the difficulty of multi-cultural society, principally due to the limitations of empathy and the ubiquity of narcissism. When I learnt from Box[Ed.]’s notes on contributors (confusingly called ‘Contents’) that Fermentto is an Israeli writer based in Tel Aviv, her story took on a sharper edge, especially in the context of recent, tragic events in Gaza.
Gaza also sprang to mind when I picked up Helen Theodoridou’s photograph ‘Echoes’. It shows a scene of devastation and seemed to me to be asking where have you seen this before? and, perhaps, how many more times will we see this?
My mind became a gallery of unbearable images from Gaza, through Grozny and Baghdad, to burnt out villages in the Congo, and all the way back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as 1940s London and Dresden. A powerful piece, which uses synaesthesia to great effect.
Some pieces were frustratingly unrealised. Two of the longer prose pieces showed verve but left me either disappointed after a great start (Alex Hough) or confused despite a format with plenty of potential (Tom Luck).
On balance, though, this collection of ‘experimental, creative and … odd’ pieces, as Editor Jane Summerfield puts it, repaid my time and attention with lots of pleasure and interest. I’ll put the pieces back in their box and keep it somewhere safe. I’d like to read the next edition.