Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Maybury’

A Review of “The Life of Polycrates & Other Stories for Antiquated Children” by Brendan Connell

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

As a reader, I’m sure you know that feeling you stumble across sometimes where you click absolutely with the text in hand. I’m sure you know that feeling very well. I’m sure that small snik of recognition is why some people continue reading as much as they do, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Connell’s The Life of Polycrates has proved to be one such experience.

The name is off-putting, I know. It paints pictures of dreary schoolroom afternoons and Homer, the endless list of ships.

It begins with a novella, the title piece. It reminded me of Homer, not as I read him in my younger years but in my later, when studying Ulysses, The Odyssey was suggested to be read alongside. Like with those initially off-putting tomes of ancient lands, when I began reading I found myself submerged in a strange, angular world where the names were half-familiar and the scenes mimicked films we’ve seen of late—or is it the other way around?

But it’s not until after The Life of Polycrates that you get into the heart of the matter.

Connell has been described as a Master of the Weird. There’s that irritating saying about books and covers, and I confess to list that special form of judgement among my many sins. With this collection you would be expecting something completely different to what you’re getting, as far as externals are concerned—your eyes are only fully opened when you’re deep in the belly of the beast.

It’s almost as if Connell wanted the novella and the cover and the title, the whole shebang, to be perfect as far as cunning traps can ever be perfect. The reader stumbles out of the ancient names and nouns of Polycrates and into such extraordinary, ghastly rooms and scenes (Collapsing Claude, The Dancing Billionaire) that the confusion is almost comical.

This is a form of story that is not often encountered. Having finished anything Lovecraftian, Poe-ish or even Goremenghastian and entered the 21st century in despair that such oddity would be experienced again: The Life of Polycrates is a delight.

Aside from the gentlemen and the text above, the only other works I can relate this with are those of Dickens. If you’re thinking The Muppet Christmas Carol, think again. I’m talking about the spontaneous combustion; endless, awkward corridors and corners of cities and palaces that go nowhere; bizarre caricatures of characters that seem to be all nose or all hunchback; dirt, slime, vice, greed.

This is the filth and grotesque of literature in its entire unabashed and hideous phantasmagoria. It is a collection to haunt the corners of the mind, with stories that will be thumbed over again and again, for lifetimes.

Official Brendan Connell Web Site
Official Chômu Press Web Site

A Review of “Kissy Killy” by Vox Anon

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

I like books that come with add-ons. Sometimes review books do. They’ll come with a press release statement, or sometimes they’ll be signed. My copy of Kissy Killy included

  • The author’s signature
  • Three postcards of strange sketches
  • An A4 page of lipstick kisses
  • A letter
  • Some unpublished poetry that the author is currently working on

Good show. The add-ons occupied me for hours. I would like to suggest to any authors out there reading this that they include stickers when they send their books out.

Then I turned away from the swag and focused on the content of the collection.

Vox Anon described this collection himself as a “diary-type collection of poems composed in experimental, voyeuristic, & confessional modes.” We are told that the main themes are, “kissing games, metaphysical love, & gross anatomy.”

As a reader, I am always gratified when an author describes what a collection of poetry is supposed to be about, or what themes/issues it is tied together by. It gives the reader a framework to hold in their mind as they go in to read. Some people would disagree, arguing that a work should be explored without prior knowledge/influences, and obviously this is their choice. Perhaps only Structuralists would agree with me.

I was halfway through the collection before I read the letter and the description of themes, and this summing up elevated the poetry to a status that I had demoted it from on first reading.

On first reading, you see, Kissy Killy smacks of adolescent angst and general emo-ness. I pitied the man in his 40s who would be driven to write such juvenilia. It brought to mind the books of Judy Blume, whose explorations of the body and beginning awareness of sexuality so edified me as a teenager.


Then came the letter. A little flash of understanding came into my head, an aha moment where what the author was trying to achieve came together. Perhaps it just goes to show how little I understand art that I would need the over-arcing messages to be spelled out, but perhaps I would represent the majority of people who aren’t artists.

In speaking about the reactions of a reader to certain subjects, I wonder if the response says more about the reader than the subject. My immediate rejection of a work that deals with physical love probably reveals more about me than about how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ a work of art might be, if such value judgements can still be applied.

With that in mind, once the initial knee-jerk reaction is dealt with, Vox Anon does address some issues that are lacking in an awful lot of literature. By this I refer to the reality of the body, or the feelings that people don’t admit to themselves that they have, the twisted, ugly desires and needs that many people and works of literature like to pretend don’t exist. I exclude Nabokov’s works in general from this, of course, Jean Genet in entirety, and, finally, Ulysses.

Perhaps such works deal so extensively with masturbation and disturbing sexual fantasy that other texts feel they don’t need to cover the same ground.

Kissy Killy moves from genital mutilation to the expelling of the ovum during menstruation, to the feel and taste of the inside of a woman’s most secret places. These are only three examples.

We live in an age of distance from the body, of immersion in virtual reality, of transformation and scientific advances as regards cosmetic and bionic bodily ‘upgrades’. Kissy Killy brings the reader back to the simple actuality of the corporeal fundamentals that they’ve forgotten—the body they already possess. Like Erlend Loe’s magnificent Naïve. Super, Kissy Killy should be required reading for the new generation—of which I am a member—who exist on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as through blogging and text messaging. We need to be reminded of who we are in the first place.

Finally, the style and techniques of the writing itself.

The poetry is abstract in the extreme. There are little quirks that I found endearing. God is never mentioned aloud, for instance, and is always represented as G-d. As a taste of everything I’ve been discussing here, and everything that Kissy Killy is offering to the reader, I leave you with an extract from ‘Every Time I’:

the way you stare i could never
be your camera or ocean mirror
captive in your bird
cage my dear when
darkness feels like home
the eye of the calm appears
a storm palace swarming
alarming whirlpooling wisps
shipwrecks set sail i try
tangled in your tentacles sheer
childhood tears will never tear
the seventh veil i am

Official Vox Anon Web Site

A Review of “Airplane Novel” by Paul A. Toth

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Toth has been described as a “notable force in contemporary fiction” and a “literary wizard.” Other reviews of the novel say that it’s a “wonderful cubist and surreal tale of truth through fiction.”

What is it, anyway?

THE 9/11 novel, apparently.

I wasn’t aware that there were others. The idea of there being others is slightly distasteful to me. Yes, there are novels about other dreadful happenings. The Holocaust, for example. The good books about it were only written decades later, when the writers had escaped a devastated Europe for a cleaner America. Or they’ve been starting to appear now,  when everyone who could remember what living in Berlin (for example) in 1941 was like.

Is Airplane Novel too soon?

Oddly, no. 9/11 was a strangely 21st century atrocity. Everyone feels they were there; it’s over familiar; it’s imprinted on our minds like movie reels when we close our eyes. It was bombarded at us from TV screens everywhere across the globe for months. Years later there are tales of dust settling, lungs clogging—memories of where we were, who we were with, the people we were at that time and place. The weather of that day is forever cordoned off in the mind.

In this respect, Airplane Novel is almost about something that didn’t happen.

To clarify:

The event has been so twisted and ballooned out of proportion, and blasted in our faces for so long, that a certain sense of desensitisation has crept in.


Correct me if I’m wrong, and I do of course mean no offence. I write from a country far away from America, from a viewpoint removed. When all you know of something is what you see on television, after a while it becomes almost like a story you’re watching on-stage, acted out by real people, yes, while remaining fundamentally unreal.

Reading Airplane Novel as a European, I read it without the visceral emotional investment that I know some of my American friends would have done. I read it, really, as a piece of fiction. A life and death of a building, the South Tower of the World Trade Centre.

As a literary work, the piece is tiresomely self-reflexive. I know that post-modernism is avant-garde in some other decade, but I do hope that we’re moving along a little now.

I got Toth’s point, though:

9/11, as broadcast on every station in the world, was a narrative, and as a narrative of this narrative, it’s therefore apparently imperative that we’re reminded it’s a narrative. The table of contents, for example, being the first thing we meet, is laid out in the arc of a novel’s perfect action: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement.

Airplane Novel is not unlike a Quentin Tarantino film: brilliant beginning and end…and the most boring tosh in the middle that you’ve ever had to chew through. By this I mean pages upon pages of pointless extrapolation that reads as if it’s been put there to fill up time, as though Toth was being paid by the word.

As for the plot itself:

We are provided with an autobiography of sorts of the tower, and then sympathetic characters so that we can connect with the story, and finally, of course, the day itself.

My favourite character was George, the chronic masturbator, and his ex-wife Muriel, with her telescope. The characters are very vivid, moving through the mind’s eye as though they’d spontaneously come into being there. Not very many writers achieve such fluidity without reams of Dickensian description.

In summary:

Eminently quotable—the man can certainly write a damn good sentence—and with endearing, terribly ‘real’ characters, Airplane Novel, nevertheless, feels wishy-washy. The bombing, when it finally does come, is anti-climactic, but perhaps that was Toth’s point all along. Violence means nothing to us anymore.

Official Paul A. Toth Web Site
Official  Raw Dog Screaming Press Web Site

A Review of “Imperfect Solitude” by Tom Mahony

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

On first glance, Imperfect Solitude looks like a tourist guide to Ireland. I wasn’t particularly psyched about receiving it in the post, but it was the first novel in the little package that I decided to read because two words jumped out at me from the back cover: surfing and biology.

Writers who aren’t just writers are always an interesting find. Mr. Mahony is a biological consultant. Williams, as we know, was a doctor. I admire that. I think people do need an external life in order to be able to write, lest everything they write be just dreams. It’s is fine sometimes, it’s true, but reading about people who aren’t writers is always fun (looking your way Stephen King and John Irving).

Books about things are also an interesting find. So often modern literature is caught up with character and relationships, cause and effect. Imperfect Solitude, however, promises a glimpse into a world out of the ordinary, full of facts and figures, rituals with meanings different to the common lot.

And so, biologically speaking, and in terms of surfing as well, Mr. Mahony’s novel is great—exhilarating, even. Very few people seem to actually do any work in novels anymore, so this aspect of the narrative lends a realism to the work that some others would find difficult to obtain.

Reading-wise, however, after I got over my initial excitement about soil charting, the book would be good as a condensed version of the story. A book of a film of the story. There were beautiful landscape descriptions which landed you right there and then, but the rest of Imperfect Solitude was kind of akin to a plot summary. Which is a bad thing to have to say about a book I nevertheless enjoyed, but perhaps Mr. Mahony would be better suited to poetry that contained lyrical landscape description?

Official Tom Mahony Web Site
Official Casperian Books Web Site

A Review of “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” by P. Edward Cunningham

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

On first introduction, the page featuring Cunningham’s collection seems confusing. I had been expecting a collection of poetry, rather than a series—but from the very start each poem links to the others like songs on that political Green Day album or an early Raveonettes LP.

The first poem of the series is the longest. It brought Ted Hughes’s “Panther” to mind. It sets the scene. You’re a child in a dream of zoos, of lions.

With Kool-Aid stained teeth
and a paper mask,
you roared like a man-eater.

The poetry that follows doesn’t resemble poetry in the way that the first does. There are no familiar left-aligned lines, stanzas or any of that malarkey. What we have are paragraphs. Is this poetry? What makes poetry poetry anyway? I once heard the argument that the two words that elevated William Carlos Williams’s note about eating the plums in the ice box were, “forgive me.” What about here? Here we have stark colours and images set before us in crisp lines. “These lights and red organs stretched for miles and you realized earth’s seams were coming undone.” If this is poetry, then the novels of Michael Ondaatje should surely also be poetry. Or have we crossed the boundary between poetry and prose poetry? In these post-modern times, does such a blurring matter, or is it expected?

The sequence continues in a blur of metaphors and similes. It probably sounds like this is turning into a roll-call of names and allusions, but I am reminded of Glamorama:

Inside the space where its heart should have been, you retrieved a fistful of red confetti. You held your fist outside the cage and hummed as you released a paper roar.

Wrenching my head out of the other books I recognise, I realise that we are turning a corner here. The lion of the first poem has transformed, and so has the child.

The collection masses itself in the mind as a primeval collage-cloud, coiling in suspension, in myriad colours. Hopefully it won’t leave any time soon.

Official P. Edward Cunningham Web Site
Official Pangur Ban Party Web Site

A Review of “Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers” by Tom Duckworth

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

It’s never a good sign when a writer prefaces a collection with an apology. It’s best to skip it and come to the poems with no preconceptions.

This collection from Philistine Press is a delight in the way that some professional photos of babies are a delight. Most professional photographs concerning infants are disturbing travesties, but every now and then you get one or two that work. Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers smiles up at you from the Internet with an uncomplicated glee that I can only compare to Neil de la Flor’s excellent Almost Dorothy.

One thing that caught my eye on the first scan of these poems is Duckworth’s use of sound effects. I was going to use the word ‘onomatopoeia’  as a descriptor here, but it doesn’t exactly fit. Not as complex as Joyce’s thunderwords in Finnegan’s Wake, the words nevertheless splat off the page as sound rather than language. The title of one poem is “The plane went Bang! pvff cLK”. The text of another is:

End tune

A fly gaped, size of me bewildering,
He smiled too,
insecticide immune


Um … gutted

Other things that charmed me? The line and sentence lengths vary, creating a rolling rhythm that carries the reader to the last poem on its own momentum. The language is fresh, serving up a view of the world perceived with new eyes. I’m not going to talk about the contents of the poems, the themes, the tropes—I am neither a Structuralist nor a believer in the idea that the poetry of this post-modern age has to be ‘about’ anything. Each image materialises on the page utterly detached from its fellows; it stands alone to be turned every which way, and admired. Some examples include, “Walkers pack logo bag before them, / the sun rains a dry flavour,” “Sixteen hooves fight, / clash, rider spirit fiery,” “Survived the blur of watching shoals, / Constantly surfacing to pinch at all the fleshy parts,  of gruesome, dishevelled bodies.”

There are many things I could continue to pick apart and display from this collection. If I did, this review would run on longer than I intended. Text on the Internet should be short. So we come to my final point. The collection is bookended with a strange collection of text taken from signs. There are photographs of each sign, apparently taken on the way to and from Duckworth’s walk to university. I read the texts through quickly, thinking it was a cool idea to present texts like these as poetry. After a few days, however [I’m not the brightest bulb in the box], I noticed that the title of each text corresponded with the title of a poem in the collection. A ping! moment  reverberated in my brain. On studying the similarities and differences between the poems themselves and their corresponding texts, I was reminded of Pale Fire. Anything that makes me think of Nabokov gets my vote.

So, how would I sum up this collection? With a glimmering smile and steely teeth:


Official Philistine Press Web Site

A Review of “The Republic of Naught” by Jay McLeod

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

What can I say? Because this is a polite publication, there will be no expletives in this review. All I can really tell you is to never read this. For the sake of brevity—because this really is a wearisome subject—I will list all the reasons why for you below, dear reader.

This collection should never have been published. Why should McLeod’s travesty never have been published? Well, dear reader, it’s clearly not finished. So why is it on the Internet? I am an understanding person, I would hope to think. An open-minded reader, as it were. I appreciate half-light, sketches, details. This could have been any of them. It’s not: presented as a completed work, there is really no excuse I can make for it.

This is the first collection published by Philistine Press that I have ever read, and on that first introduction alone I decided to boycott them forever. Luckily I read a charming collection by Tom Duckworth next. It restored my faith in humanity.

Form. I’m sure at least someone out there appreciates a good structuring device. There isn’t one here. He doesn’t change from blank verse for the entire collection. A stanza here and there would have been nice, some tongue-in-cheek rhyming, perhaps, some experimentation—some depth, layering, allusion, anything. Call me old fashioned. I’m not talking villanelles, here. I appreciate modern poetry, I do. But surely to break the rules, one must know them first—and judging by this collection, McLeod appears to have never read a poem by someone else in his life. What we have here instead is meandering drivel that mumbles itself out of existence well before the last line of the piece.

Linguistic tension. There is no muscularity to the sentences: they are flabby, uninspired and no effort appears to have been made to ‘craft’ anything. Isn’t poetry supposed to be about an aspiration to something higher, or a new perspective, at the very least? Case in point:

The supermarket
Is the heart of commerce
Many folk write letters and e-mails
Of support and diligently
Follow the sitcoms
And reality shows

Some punctuation would have been nice.

For the sake of balanced, unbiased criticism, I shall end this review with two things I liked. Two short quotations, included so that I can minimise the mean e-mails I might find in my inbox.

I only liked these two sections because they reminded me of somebody else.

From “At the End of a Line”:

I will borrow your manner
Murmuring something
About the weather here

From “Planes, Trains, and Dishpits”:

I’ve been taking planes
every year or so since then
and I still don’t know how to drive
a fucking car

Out of context they make no sense, which surely isn’t a promising sign regarding the immortalisation of this collection.

Official Philistine Press Web Site

A Review of “Venti” by JoAnne McKay

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Like Kat Dixon’s Don’t Go Fish, and Jesse Bradley’s The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is a Robot (both reviewed before for decomP), Venti is a book I carry around with me frequently. I dip in and out of it. It’s like dunking your head underwater and listening to the clicking of the sea.

I was worried it wouldn’t arrive in the post. It was a month and a half late. I blame the snow, the Christmas, the Irish postal system. When it arrived and I unwrapped it, I felt relief, and, on further investigation, a small explosion of delight.

Like Eric Beeny’s Snowing Fireflies, Venti is beautifully made. It’s obvious from the get go that it has been much loved. It is punctuated here and there with stark, angular images (by Matt Kish) inspired by Moby Dick.

The poetry borrows titles from the Bible, ‘For Ishmael and Elijah and Those Who See’; science, ‘Levity, Gravity’ and, ‘Hippocampus, Hippocampus’—the genus of seahorse: the poem plays with the Ancient Greek word forms—; and ‘Octopodes,’ a rare plural of ‘octopus’. The title of the collection, Venti either refers to the Roman gods of the winds, or a network storage system that permanently stores data blocks. Both meanings are possible. On producing the book in my Auntie Hilda’s kitchen (think cats and teapots and a picture of the Sacred Heart), she avidly studied it, but complained of the sometimes long and unintelligible titles. This is not a collection for the uneducated. I had to look up many words on the ever-trusty Wikipedia. Brush up on your reading.

The poems. They are tight and controlled and deal with often complicated but elegant images and ideas. From ‘Hippocampus, Hippocampus,’ the first poem in the collection:

the memories of meaning
of things that were and are
lie in your sea-horse structure,
pulling us this way and that,
making the past the present
ripe for reminiscence,
ready for what will be.

Some of the poems remind me of the early work of the British Laureate Ted Hughes, in that they concern themselves with the natural world; octopuses, seahorses, trees, the moon, horses, hares. ‘May Fly,’ in particular has striking similarities to his ‘Examination at the Womb Door,’ from Crow:

When is the dead time, mother?
At midnight.
What time is it now, mother?
One micron past midnight.

And so on.

In summary, there is a 19th century air of education and classical allusion here that is charming if somewhat elitist. Secondly, the poetry itself is beautiful and fragile. It wavers on the edges of things. Lastly, my favourite poem is ‘Northern Lights’. Short and sweet:

Aurora Borealis.
What a mouthful that is.

Official JoAnne McKay Web Site

A Review of “Don’t Go Fish” by Kat Dixon

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Don’t Go Fish is the fourth chapbook Kat Dixon has published, the others being Kississippi, an e-chap from Gold Wake Press, and Planetary Mass and Birding, which are both forthcoming (Dancing Girl Press and Thunderclap Press, respectively).

Coming from Maverick Duck Press, Don’t Go Fish is plain and unassuming, and after a few reasons I realise why. Dixon’s writing needs no adornment. The images rise up from the pages to evoke an inner landscape that, while whimsical, is lit by a stark and unforgiving light. By stark, I mean a sparseness of metre and economy of words. By unforgiving, I mean in tone, in meaning and in style.

Speaking of style. This might be taken as a reductionist observation, but certain things like attention to line length, use of colour and metaphor remind me of poets like William Carlos Williams and H. D. Which lead on through logical progression to the Modernist movement in general, the Imagists in particular.

Lines such as “Address: / (stunned blue beneath a collapsed / skylight and folded / into so much rescued wrapping paper,” and, “When morning comes, I’ll be there / Sewn into the neck of your undershirt. / Breathing,” are all spare simplicity and offhanded control. Dixon doesn’t need long, overly clever interpolations or convoluted, emotionally weighted similes.

I have been carrying this book around with me for months. The lines sink in slowly, giving up their subtler narratives measure by measure. It is not a book that can be gulped down and digested—you must wait, and taste it first.

Official Kat Dixon Web Site
Official Maverick Duck Press Web Site

A Review of “You” by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Jessica Maybury

I find that I cannot lose myself in many novels. The world never seems to be entirely credible; the characters are never completely solid; the plot is predictable. I make myself sound like a book version of a snooty wine taster but it’s true. I come to books with expectations, and sadly I can never throw them away entirely. As an Irish novel, I thought You would be all misery-guts and poor-mouthing. It’s not. Suffice to say, I finished this novel in almost one sitting, finding myself immersed in it as one is in luxurious, foamy bathwater.

The novel is told in the (seemingly forbidden) second person, and while I was waiting for there to be a point to this device, it never emerged. I didn’t find myself disappointed, however, as the novel had much more to offer than narrative ploys. You centres on a house by the Liffey river in Dublin, and a mouthy but sensitive ten-year-old girl who has a lot on her plate. Tragedy ensues. It is handled with gentle care and compassion, with humour and grace. This is what makes You such a welcome surprise to read.

The novel has many facets; elements of a children’s tale, of memoir, of a coming-of-age story. It is sharply drawn with the eye of a woman with a keen taste of timing and scene-setting, and with the secret inner ear of a poet, each sentence constructed with care and fitting in with the others in perfect balance.

An established Irish poet—see Portrait of the Artist with a Red CarTattoo/Tatu and Molly’s Daughter—this is not Ní Chonchúir’s first foray into fiction. She has story collections, Nude, To the World of Men, Welcome and The Wind Across the Grass. It is, however, her debut novel and a well-realised, believable one.

As an Irish novel, it is never entirely free from the shadow of the Irish literary tradition. In short, the tradition involves rural life, sombre themes and a lot of rain. How does You both conform and refute to this tradition? It ticks some of the right boxes in the pro camp: the themes and events are solemn, with a casual violence and matter-of-fact presentation that is both shocking and true to life, reminding the reader, to some extent, of the plays of Martin McDonagh…and that about sums it up. You breaks through the traditionalist stained-glass ceiling with a refreshingly modern and urban splintering and scattering of shards. It emerges in the 21st century, intact and with a new way of writing, of seeing, which at once heralds the novel as a focal piece of contemporary literature.

Official Nuala Ní Chonchúir Web Site
Official New Island Books Web Site