The CTC Reviews: streetcake experimental writing prize winners’ anthology 2019

Streetcake experimental writing prize winners’ anthology 2019 (55pp, £8.00, Streetcake experimental writing magazine)

In September 2019 I submitted my dissertation, completing a year of studying on the MA Poetic Practice course at Royal Holloway under Professor Redell Olsen, and throughout the last year I have studied a great deal of contemporary, experimental poetic work; I was so excited to receive this anthology. It has been an utter delight to read, thank you so much Nikki and Trini for kindly giving me the opportunity to spend time with this fabulous work.

As I prepare to begin a PhD in 2020 which addresses illness narratives, otherwise known as pathographies, I was curious and interested by the extent to which images of the body occurred in the poetic work that was featured. Beginning with the linear directionality of movement affected by the ladder in Leia Butler’s Word Ladder,phenomenological bodily experience appears within each poem in the anthology, from the visceral sense of awkwardness in Yvonne Litschel’s dogwalkslowly, to the texture surrounding eyes in Vivian Li’s complicity_12.3.9.exe.

Word Ladder presented a challenge to normative forms of reading as the reader’s sense of direction is consistently made fluid, travelling both down the “rungs” that score the centre of the page, and those that line the borders of the ladder’s “side rails”. Proposing a shift in the gaze of the reader, the text offers alternative references to rising and falling within the linear structure of the ladder; ‘Re / born. Now / rise’, ‘Fall / fail’, and ‘A free / kite’ suggesting both ascent and descent exemplifying the duality of movement within the body. I think this careful consideration of page space, linearity, and conventional reading practices, has rendered a poem that explores the spatiality of the ladder as a domestic object and its ability to place the body in transit between both low and high places.

Allusions to corporeality populate Vthyl’s work complicity_12.3.9.exe, made evident in visceral textural references to ‘carved eyes protruding, protracting, purporting’, ‘discomfort’, and ‘silent grudges between your two jellyfishes of scleras / sclerites’ in conjunction with ‘red liquorice’, ‘black faux’, ‘machinery’. The combinative effect of bulging eyes, their fleshiness foregrounded; alongside commercial products familiar to the aesthetic of social media resulted in a discomfort which was heightened as the poem progressed.

Eyes played a similar role within look at me by Laurence Waters Blundell as the lyric ‘I’ remains implicit as the prose line moves through bodily references; ‘cackling’, ‘half-closed eyes’, ‘but still; eyes.’ Facial features and their descriptors appear no less than five times within this 10-line poem, which concludes with a female voice in citation that ‘speaks from within’;

‘If to fall is to lose then consider me lost.
But I have moved closer to a sweet brown earth
and seen faces painted high upon the trees’.

Considered lost, her voice appears to suggest that by falling she is brought closer to the earth, this proximity to the soil directing her to project anthropomorphic features into the architecture of the trees: an poignant irony.

I was immediately endeared by the irony of Michael Sutton’s kommunikation, the title itself being written in German, referring to communication as a process continually negotiated through forms of translation. The poem immediately establishes a lament addressed to ‘you’;

‘if you were sensibly cooperative                             not unreasonable
     we could do business                              broken                 tibia fibula radius
fractured skull’.

The broken bones adding to the sense of space within the body of the ‘you’, the poem, and place within ‘in the lost city of England /… off the coast of Suffolk’. I began to think of the body of the ‘you’ as reconstituted within the poem through preconceived notions of reason and brokenness thus making ‘business’ impossible.

The anxiety of traversing public space was undeniable within Yvonne Litschel’s poem dogwalkslowly, as someone with social anxiety this was amusingly relatable, watching the poem enact a form of curving across the page self referentially; uncomfortably shifting across the space with the same nervous, stuttering energy before the breath present collapses concluding with the fantastic, interrupted refrain-like line ‘dogwalkslowly down r’. It’s an almost claustrophobic poem that accelerates as the ‘I’ overthinks the ‘slow dog’, the ‘lukewarm water’, while attempting to overtake a complete stranger on the pavement.

I sincerely enjoyed the visual textuality of there she goes… by Callum Beesley; the poem forming a parallelogram that’s split across the double page, sentences, the prosaic lines, and individual words being interrupted by the page margin. The repeated use of ‘for me’ forming a notable rhythmic beat within the work, echoing the hissing, breathing, wheezing, pumping of the mother and her favourite automatic air fresheners.

Images of bodily immediacy continued within the 18 – 21 and 22 – 26 fiction; ephemeral, queer, and displaced across generational and geographic boundaries by the father in Grace Tompkins’ Her, by the body whose ‘insides want a chance to go outside’, in L.H.S.’ dematerialismin, and by death, and sex in the bath in Sarah Dean’s Consider an Apartment in Washington. Dean’s short story narrates the inhabited place of the body; the traces of history and trauma in skin alongside the inhabitants of ‘Apartment #401’. Her bawdy and pragmatic voice juxtaposes a love of British chips with murder; the same light-hearted articulation creating a very strong first person narrative.

dematerialismin contained an equally authentic voice which is interrupted by the thick lines of redaction which populate the text. The materiality of the body here is palpable as it ‘push[es] / ideas out like shits’, with consistent reference to the passing of faecal matter, smoking, and sex. The image of a body in motion within its locality, in its relentless encountering, appeared similar to the camp aesthetic and absolute obsession within Richard Siken’s Crush; lines like:

‘I’m shaken cookie and the sex worker talk about work, they
don’t really want to do it, they discuss but its good money
And here i am sitting here complaining about ideas’.

Grace Tompkins’ Her achieves a similar energy, the friction between the ‘I’, the lover, the sister, and the father, cumulate in a stunning moment of tension as the speaker appeals to the reader;

‘And over and over we whispered. Care about me.

With our bodies. Care about me.

Again, and again. With our bodies. Care about me.

Please.’

This appeal for empathy, connection, and affection expand within the concluding repetition of; ‘Care about me.’, which appears isolated on the final page, framed by the large expanse of blank. The piece asked me to care, and I admit – I did.

The body in Vermis Sanctus is an infected one and holds some of the same romanticised imagery of 19th century tuberculosis writing. What pervades alongside this unflinching fascination with mortality is an undercurrent of feminist reclamation; Ula Taylor-Reilly’s work asserts the female body as infected, as occupied, an identity as ’host to a permeant guest’. The worm is positioned as both parasite and as a vengeful organic force capable of outliving the host body; ‘swim[ming] out of the incision and wrap[ping] itself seven times around’ the throats of journalists who announce the death of the speaker with a gendered revulsion: ‘Mile-long parasite found on autopsy table! Morticians horrified!’.

Definitely New by Lauren Orange, begins with the fantastic opening line:

‘Now that I’m seventeen. I feel like I have lived long enough that I can start to feel the size and shape of a year.’

I enjoyed this allusion to a form of embodied knowledge that characterised the dimensions of time as a familiar concept. The presence of temporal weight and movement through these dimensions at the outset of the narrative seemed to be speaking to the anxieties that Gen Z are accustomed to; those of crippling financial debt, climate crisis, and an increasingly digital society. Throughout, the protagonist articulates a constant disconnection between the self-confidence she presents and the self-doubt she disguises, this becoming increasingly evident within the latter section of the narrative.

Ana Dukakis’ YOU + the DARK + the DOOR on the other hand, was a spectacular sequence reminiscent of the text-adventure games of the 1980s and 1990s that places the subject; ‘you’, within ‘The Room’. ‘You’ looks, calls, and thinks about the ‘DOOR’, the ‘WALLS’, the ‘DARKNESS’, and the ‘NOTHING’, addressing each phenomena within proximity in a stark encounter within the attempt to escape; the conceptualising of the ‘key’ permitting its presence to materialise within the text. The ‘DARKNESS’, the ‘NOTHING’ and the ‘BREATHS’ are all refigured in object form; interpellated by the ‘You’, they are reconstituted by the game, encoded as constructs that co-exist both inside and outside the structure of the body.

What struck me most throughout this collection was the willingness to innovate, to contest the normative structures of thought, reading, and representation. It’s a stunning anthology and I can’t wait to see what each writer produces next; I shall certainly be excited to see their work again.

October 26, 2019
Cat Chong

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