A Read of Paper and Ink

Paper and Ink Zine: Tales from the Bar Side
Issue #13
40 pages
June 2018

Paper and Ink resembles a classic punk rock zine from the 1980s in all its glorious, shambolic variety.

Black and white. Cut and paste. Print and staple. Loud and lively.

And while the sheets of paper bound up as the zine may technically be as flat as any computer screen, the scabs, patches, and crusts of photos and fonts make Paper and Ink much more tactile than your average online/electronic literary undertaking. That makes it the perfect forum for a collection of poetry and short fiction curated as “Tales from the Bar Side” – a theme that, on one hand, conjures the humid and heavy spectres that haunt broken down watering holes on the wrong end of town; and the dizzy anarchy of the more lively party rooms on the upside.

The bread and butter of this editorial slant comes in the form of poems and stories that may revel in the dirty glory of nightlife, or indulge in a more sober (pun intended) look at what such seamy decadence wreaks.

Take a poem from (the always nihilistically razor sharp) Rob Plath, whose “the spackler at gunther’s tavern” is appropriately steeped in guttural wit, or Rebecca H. Wang’s more meditative, rhythmically rocking “Seven Drinks”. Both demonstrate the range of tone still possible in this well-poured genre.

“Behind the Fat Chance”, some short fiction by Hosho McCreesh, takes the freshest approach. The narrative never actually slips into the environs but, instead, uses the romantic notion of ‘bar as haven from reality’ to strip that idealization down to the dusty floorboards. McCreesh’s portrait is like a character from Cheers exposed as he wakes up in the lunchroom to find out that no one ever actually knew his name.

Leap over to the bar side here.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Read of Slag

Slag Review – a journal of art, literature, and metallurgy

Issue #8

Spring 2018

Slag, the material, is a by-product of steelmaking, a process that also renders an easy and accurate analogy for the work featured in Issue #8 of Slag, the Review. Not that the fiction and poetry is a junk by-product – far from it. But, thematically, many of the selections in this edition hang together as examples of a balance of process, between what becomes and what remains. That includes a recounting of experiences of emotional marginalization; sharp shards of disquieting imagery; and scenes that are peeled off the everyday yet still hang over it like a gauze of spectral light refracting on what is left behind.

In “The Man and His Till”, Annie Blake offers a mostly straightforward recounting of a college student’s part-time job and a study of her employer. It unrolls like the narrative is a finger slowly tracing the outline of a silhouette – until the almost literal explosion of colour at the anti-climax.

On the other hand, Brad Liening’s haunting, multi-part poem “Visible Cities” abruptly stands up a nightmarish metro-scape, where a city’s populace has been freed from the corporeal bonds of law and order, and where one may find oneself “holding a gun/and you’re waiting/for just the right moment/for your life,/your real one,/to begin”.

Somewhere inbetween is the quasi-inspirational “Rolling Your Guts”, DS Maolalai’s poetic exploration of how a wretched experience produces a more wretched (and wretching) by-product that the reader witnesses “propelled/by pressure from the centre”. But it’s one that also produces an ultimately regenerative wave we watch “returning to the sea”.

To dive back down the analogy-mineshaft, if metallurgy is the process the separates the more valuable metals from their basic foundational ore, the work within Slag neatly reproduces that cleaving, as the mystical and the spiritual are contrasted with the rote and the physical. It’s a process that deconstructs our reality, but also infuses it with more spirit, energy and mystery.

Join in here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Read of Armstrong’s Orphaned Words

Orphaned Words: Forgotten Poems from a Haphazard Life

By RD Armstrong

247 pages

2018

Lummox Press

Lurched at one end of the barstool-poet spectrum, the Charles Bukowskis rage in blood and booze for all the attention in the room. The John Yamrus-types efficiently go about their business at the other, dissecting experience with lean verse (like the architecture of poetry has been stripped down to a drafting sketch) and spitting their epithets off with tobacco-spite. Closer to the middle whirl the RD Armstrongs, with casual lyricism that captures a fuller internal life, richer tapestry of images, and more contemplative moments.

Armstrong’s verse includes everything from the honest melancholia of ‘Have I Told You About the Rain’, to the blues riffing of ‘Cool Blue Walls’, to more intense meditations like ‘Ignorance,’ where he explores the lost innocence of a whole generation in a compact string of far-reaching stanzas. He even throws in a visit to the ancient Muses (while still cut in his trim contemporary wit) in ‘Odysseus Returned’. His work generally carves slices of insight off the whole gamut of experience (life, love, the pursuit of more resources), but he can also offer quick gems of unexpected imagery that “dart past…like a startled mouse”.

Armstrong’s work is always intense and intimate, even with these “orphans” that were left out of previous collections – and which he has revisited because, as he says in the intro, “you never know what the reader will latch onto, be it your best or your worst”.

And there is plenty of the former to adopt here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Take the Berlin-Warszawa Express

Berlin—Warszawa Express
By Eamon McGrath
98 pages
2017
ECW Press

Constant acceleration may be the gateway pace to spiritual illumination, but it’s also an eventual route to physical burnout. Hooked on (and hanging on for dear life) to that Beat Generation tradition, Eamon
McGrath relates a rabid hobo quest for experience in Berlin—Warszawa Express.

Instead of poets bumming from Times Square to New Orleans or into the mountains of the North Cascades National Park, McGrath gives us indie punk grebos stumbling through Eastern Europe – and mainly Berlin to Warsaw. (The titular Berlin-Warszawa Express is a cross-border train route that, well, goes between Berlin and Warsaw in about 6.5 hours.) The scraggly milieu that McGrath travel-logs about (in what is a fictionalized account of the indie-rocker’s own touring life with his band and as a solo act) is a sub-culture that is ravenous for new experience but never satisfied with what it hunts down. The novel has a frenzied narrative to match, with McGrath burning from one gig to the next, one bar to the next, and one country to the next, with an insatiable appetite for fresh encounters.

Like the best work of the early Beat writers, the narrative action here is grounded in – or ungrounded
with – that constant need for movement. But McGrath’s prose is neither a big Kerouacean religious
meditation on transience, nor a deliberative John Clellon Holmes-like study of art and popular culture. It
is a sleek and efficient account that greases his thoughts and keeps them rolling at maximum speed along with the geography of the journey.

And, to McGrath, everything may ultimately be just about the journey for the sake of the journey, with
no transcendence available. Even when he returns home at one point to undertake a mini-tour through
Canada, he realizes that “all I could think about was how much I wanted to return to Europe.” While
McGrath never defines what he is looking for past the searching itself, that conundrum gives him pause for
consideration. At one point, encountering a “punishingly loud three-piece free jazz band from Warsaw playing at a breakneck volume” and drowned in this tsunami of sound, he experiences his own satori:

Amid this cacophony, I knew that I was in a place where no time existed. I was a prisoner of my own chains, I had lived my life trapped by confines that I had created. True freedom existed somewhere and at this point in my life, in Berlin, I was as close to it as I would ever be, or at least had ever been. All this would fade to memory in seconds, but there was something that felt so violently everlasting in that big, circling noise.

Along with music, booze is a key driver here – a travelling partner, a fuel, but also as great a risk to the
body as restlessness may be to the soul. A hangover leaves McGrath feeing pinned down with “the
familiar feeling of weight…It’s like all your thoughts are pained and clogged, and goop flows through your existence – the kind of viscous, molasses hangover where everything is slow. Then we got on the train and we went to Austria.” The artificial joy is both a stimulant to the journey and an entropic drag.

Still, McGrath continues to offer the reader beauty with the ruin, as the rush of the poetry of his language mimics that restless, relentless travel:

Cars race by on the Gürtel, laughing drunk brutes come and go from the doorway of Thaliastrasse U-Bahn station, and as we hear the hum of Vienna rise up in a soothing roar, Esteban and I both laugh and drink and know that amid all this trash and unhindered humanity is something beautiful that could only be birthed by the mother that is the tender
warm hands of the night.

The quest for new experience is certainly a Sisyphean journey for McGrath – but it’s also a thrill ride for
the reader.

Hop onboard.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Few Snapshots

The most direct and simple poetic forms, like haiku and tanka, offer the means for direct and simple moments to touch the eternal. They combine subjective observation with objective imagery that hooks brief moments into universal, repeating cycles.

The challenge for working with these forms and making them relevant to a modern reader is the quaint view many of us have of their inherent Muse: that is, Nature. Readers are more likely to recognize simple truths through a pop culture meme than the weather on Mount Fuji.

The UK-based Snapshot Press takes this as a challenge, offering explorations of small slices of modern life through compact traditional works, from the haibun to the haiku. Their publishing schedule includes a yearly contest that results in a trove of echapbooks that yield a variety of answers. In the 2017 batch, tanka and haiku offer sharp moments of emotional and/or philosophical revelation. Some of the collections are familiar, grounded in flora, fauna and reflection; others reveal more inward gazes and sombre sighs.

The most markedly contemporary is A Dawn of Ghosts, in which Thomas Powell combines the power and familiarity of the short line with a modern vernacular, as he observes “the darkness beneath/pond skaters” or “the wool and bones/of a passing winter”. His are enriching examples of how language can make form relevant and contemporary.

And all are examples of how to find the eternal in the briefest, most transient snapshots.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Try a Read of Try Never

Try Never

By Anthony Madrid

50 pages

2017

Canarium Books

Try Never actually tries a little bit of everything in its 50 brief pages. As a result, they are overflowing in poetic styles, allusions, music and imagery. Whether voiced out loud or sung in your head, Anthony Madrid’s collection presents a rhythmically diverse and dynamically alive universe, but one in which consciousness is trying to grasp identity in an ultrafast, cluttered, post-modern existence.

Rhythmic and rhyming (whether internal, end, or otherwise) poetry can easily trip into sing-songy triteness. But Try Never is built on a solid frame of verse that still flexes with enough rhythmic variance to keep up a challenging, sometimes syncopated, beat. 

The stanzas are drum-tight, with rhyme, half-rhyme and alliteration pounding out the syllables. In a poem like ‘Quinacenera’, the rhymes also tumble from one verse into another in a continuous rhythmic cartwheel. The effect can be like listening to a virtuoso guitar player who thrumbs a steady bass-line on the bottom strings with his base digit, while the rest pluck up and down the frets of the four highest ones. 

Think of a truncated Gerard Manley Hopkins mixed over a slighly funkier Tuck Andress.

In content, Try Never is not narratively cohesive. The poems present a multitude of ground-level snapshots of a sort of apocalypse of the mundane: a “Boarded-up shop” faces a “Severe terror rain”; a “basketball held underwater/Wants violently to come up”. You may have to piece meaning together out of the disparate images throughout the poems, but once you do, you get a full view of quiet desperation. 

Try Never delivers a blurrying amount of potential significance in the rush of imagery. But the repetition, rhyme and rhythm keep it all in focus. 

Try it right now, right here

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dusting Off: Borb

Well, not quite dusting off (Borb was published in 2015 by Uncivilized Books) so much as catching up with a unique work in the line of Orwell, Bukowski and Jackson that’s also a tragic poem in graphic novel form. Woven from a collection of self-contained comic strips that could have been clipped from a few months-worth of newspapers, Jason Little’s dialogue-light panels recount the drunken very-misadventures of the alcoholic and homeless titular character. Each strip is a verse in the overall tragedy, superficially echoing a variety of down-in-the-gutter literary works, but completely devoid of any (even bleak) romanticism. Borb is still compassionate, if clinically so: Little’s vision is a surgically precise imagination of the anti-life of Borb, bleakly-lyrical as it presents the flaws that led to his downfall, the physical toll that alcoholism and homelessness wreaks on his body, soul and mind, and the lack of responsibility on the part of the modern polis that pins him tight in the gutter. And the narrative cycle of the book, starting in medias res and leaping back in time to the edge of Borb’s fall, threatens to implicate the reader in the whole process – proving no one gets out of this gutter unsullied.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized