Archive for March, 2011

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 “The Shame of What We Are” by Sam Gridley

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Spencer Dew

The vignettes that make up this “novel in pieces” follow a child named Art as he sorts through the confusion that is childhood. These are glimpses at moments of vulnerability, strung along a trajectory of change, development, the old Bildungsroman shtick, without the roman part, really, as these are more sketches than anything else, and there’s a sense, throughout, of a holding back, perhaps geared to mimic Art’s own withdrawal into art, wincing away from the terrors of atomic war and Sputnik by turning to science fiction, adventure stories, or seeking to escape from his father’s rage by traveling deeper into his own interior existence. At the book’s beginning, Art is in a hospital bed, and this theme of the fragility of life recurs throughout—the horror of childhood is, in part, horror at the reality of the mortal condition. A pet is crushed between the wheels of a car, a model plane crashes into the ground, and Art, meanwhile, matures from daydreams of invisibility to fantasies of suicide. From bruised child to young bohemian, but, again, it’s the unspoken that characterizes The Shame of What We Are, and not in some laudable way. Art comes to believe that “his true life was in another universe,” but we aren’t shown that universe, merely why and how a person might come to that conclusion, might come to need that belief. Art—the category of human actions—morphs from mechanism of escape to one of defense to, ultimately, a place of refuge, but unlike so many successful Bildungsromans, we’re never shown this transformation, merely told about it. Art—the character—reads Lawrence Durrell in class, and he relays to us that it was a thrill, but unless this information incites some vicarious memory in the reader, the reader will likely be left out. Which is perhaps Gridley’s intent; “It seemed he’d always been as disconnected and lightheaded as he felt now,” he writes, about a narrator who is as dazed, at the story’s end, as he is at its start, still flinching away from the pain and fear of life.

Official Sam Gridley Web Site
Official New Door Books Web Site

decomP’s Nominations for storySouth’s 2011 Million Writers Award

Friday, March 4th, 2011

For storySouth‘s 2011 Million Writers Award, we nominated “The Salesman’s Apprentice” by John Minichillo, “Hanger” by Kat Lewin, and “Colour, letter, ninety degrees” by Monica Carroll. We wish our nominees the best of luck in the selection process! You can view reader nominations here and editor nominations here.