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