Short Reviews: Enamel 2, Bravado 19, and “You And Me And Cancer Makes Three”, by John Irvine

It’s review time again, with two literary magazines and a poetry chapbook to consider: all three of which I enjoyed.

Enamel 2

Enamel is an annual literary magazine edited by poet Emma Barnes. Issue 2 appeared a couple of months ago. I thought the first issue was good, and this issue matches up. (Disclaimer: I have three poems in this issue.)

Helen Rickerby has an excellent review which concentrates on the poetry, and lists the contributors, so instead I want to say a little bit about the two stories in this issue.

Susanna Gendall’s “Nowhere Else” is a quiet but well-constructed tale of lost love and lost connections. I liked the understated way she sketched out and resolved — or perhaps un-resolved – the situation, although I had to read it a couple of times before I worked out exactly who was whom.

Jenni Dowsett’s “Infection” is another story of the end of a relationship, but the context is very different – what seems very like a plague of zombie-ism is sweeping through the community, and when one partner is infected and the other isn’t, this can lead to some tough decisions … I enjoyed the way this story worked through the implications of its premise.

So, with these stories and lots of good poetry, Enamel is well worth getting.

Bravado 19

Bravado is a literary magazine based in Tauranga. It’s been going for the best part of a decade and, perhaps without the publicity it deserves, does a really good job of publishing authors along the spectrum from first-time-in-print to well-established. (As an aside, we tend to talk about ‘new and established authors’, but this binary classification leaves some rather large areas of writerly territory untenanted.) I have been published in previous issues of Bravado, but have nothing in this issue.

Confession time: when I open an issue of a literary magazine, I look at my own work first – typos, typos, are there any typos? – then the work of people I know, and only then at the work of people I don’t know. This is neither fair nor reasonable, but at this very moment an evolutionary psychologist is huffing into view to explain why I behave the way I do. (It’s in the genes, apparently.)

So: I’m always pleased to see Laurice Gilbert’s name when I open a journal, both because she’s a friend and because I always enjoy her work. Her poem in this issue, “Are We There Yet?”, is an immediate favourite: and of the poets whose work I didn’t know, I especially enjoyed David Griffin’s back-country poem “The Back Valley”.

There’s much more to Bravado than poetry: it has stories, essays (I especially enjoyed Sue Wootton’s essay-cum-poem-exegesis “Bulls’ eyes and oxtails”), interior artwork that would do Edward Gorey proud, and book reviews: mainly of poetry collections, but also a lengthy review of Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s Best of Both Worlds: The Story of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahau.

I would urge you to subscribe to Bravado, but, ominously, the Subscriptions page on their site says “We have currently suspended subscriptions to Bravado pending an announcement”. I fear what that announcement might be; I hope it won’t mean the end of this excellent magazine.

You and me and cancer makes three, by John Irvine.

When John asked if I would review a chapbook about his experiences as a cancer patient, I said “yes” with less than complete enthusiasm, because my first thought was “This will be horribly depressing”. I’m relieved to say that it isn’t depressing at all – in fact, this is a delightful little book.

In 2009, John spent a month in the Lions Cancer Lodge at Waikato Hospital undergoing radiation treatment after the removal of some skin cancers. This book has a poem for most of those days, each facing a colour photo John took during his stay. The emphasis is on the shared experience, the warmth and humour of the residents – and the carers – and the characters John spends his time with:

… suave Paul, with sleek silver hair
looking every bit the politician
that he isn’t

and so forth. The course of treatment imposes a natural narrative structure to the book, and so the ending is bitter-sweet, with John leaving, but many of the friends he has made staying behind.

I liked “You and me and cancer makes three” a lot. To find out about getting a copy, contact John at cooldragon (at)

Tuesday Poem: As you know, Bob

As you know, Bob

As you know, Bob, our numbers are dwindling. Genetic factors are to blame: our Y chromosomes, fragile to begin with, have proved uniquely vulnerable to the combination of pollution, rich food and grain alcohol. Only in the pristine environment of space can we truly flourish — but that is the preserve of a lucky few. The rest of us dwindle in protected enclosures, pacified by large-screen televisions, released only to be the subject of scientific research, the unexpected element in reality TV shows, and the providers of the litres of sperm which, carefully husbanded, will ensure the survival of the race.

As you know, Bob, the Testosterone Reduction Act of 2012 solved many of our problems. Fast cars with bored-out mufflers lie rusting in the fields, while young men knit, crochet and garden. Packs of drunk young women no longer prowl nightclubs at 3am. War is the province of old men’s uneasy dreams. Children are dandled on knees, lawns are left unmowed for many successive Sundays, and our tallest peaks are no longer strewn with the frozen bodies of over-ambitious climbers. Only a lack of progress in the more recondite branches of mathematics can be termed a disadvantage.

As you know, Bob, religion proved to be the answer. Give me a boy at seven years, and in due course I will give you a sizeable bill and a New Monastic. Devoted to penury and hardship, they till the fields, herd cattle, and leaven the bread of daily life. In wooden prisons, in draughty halls, they offer shining faces and silent witness. They bank treasure in heaven to set against reproductive defeat. Nothing is to be gained by opposing them. Let us, Bob, walk hand in hand to the river.

Tim says:“As you know, Bob” was recently published in Issue 2 of literary magazine Enamel, edited by Emma Barnes. There is lots of good stuff in this issue; I’m going to post some more info about it in a couple of weeks’ time, but in the meantime, you can buy copies on TradeMe!

This prose poem arose from a conversation about the “New Monastic” movement during a car journey to Whanganui. It will, I hope, take its place in my next collection, “Men Briefly Explained”.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

Enamel: The First Issue of a New Literary Journal

Emma Barnes, in addition to being a fine poet herself, is the editor of the new literary journal Enamel. The first issue of Enamel has just been published, and I’m pleased to say that I have two poems in it: “The Penciller” and “Nightlife”.

Emma starts her editorial by saying:

When I decided to start Enamel I naively placed the word pro-feminist in my call for submissions. At the time of writing I phrased it as a slight bias toward pro-feminist literature. Little did I know that this would cause a dearth of submisions from anyone who didn’t identify as a woman. Tumbleweeds rolled across my inbox.

Well, Emma seems to have dealt with that tumbleweed problem (you can probably turn rolling tumbleweeds off using a hidden option in Gmail), because there are some fine poems in this first issue of Enamel – although it’s true that not many of the poets are of the masculine persuasion. The poets represented in this issue are Johanna Aitchison, Anna Forsyth, Tim Jones, Miriam Barr, Jennifer Compton, Helen Heath, Reihana MacDonald Robinson, Andrew Coyle, Meg Davies, Elizabeth Welsh, Ruby Mulholland, Meliors Simms, Lori Leigh, Marcia Arrieta, and Helen Rickerby.

On my first, quick look at the issue, poems that stood out for me included “Extravagant Promises” by Meliors Simms, “Useful Cupboards” by Jennifer Compton, and “Nothinghead” by Helen Rickerby. But that’s just on a first look: I am sure there will be more when I take the time to look again.

Emma is selling hard copies of Enamel through TradeMe for a price between $10 and $15. PDF copies are available for a donation. And if you’re interesting in contributing, the next issue of Enamel is due to be published in March 2010.