This is a review of Popshot #11 by Veronica Sullivan

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Popshot Magazine Issue 11: The Journeys Issue

Editor: Jacob Denno

64 pages

£6

 

Themed issues of magazines and journals can be tricky things. Too broad, and the theme feels gratuitous, slapped on to a disparate collection as an afterthought in an effort to create some cohesion. Too specific, and the theme runs the risk of narrowing the publication’s focus to a tedious collection of repeated ideas. Sometimes, themes just don’t work at all. Not every magazine has access to the deep pool of skilled contributors necessary to adequately flesh out and explore the nuances and possibilities raised by a specific idea.

Thankfully, the Journeys Issue of Popshot is a gem. Dedicated to short stories, flash fiction and poetry, the magazine publishes the work of new and emerging writers. The ‘Journeys’ theme is both expansive and particular, capturing emotional, psychological and physical progressions equally. Here are tales of planes and trains and long distance car trips, escape from war, births and deaths, drifters and grifters. If it sometimes seems as though Popshot categorises any and every experience as a journey, it doesn’t suffer for this open-minded approach.

Founded in 2008 purely as an illustrated poetry magazine, Popshot is still dominated by the poetic form. Many of the poems are formally idiosyncratic, strange beasts with dreamlike contents and composition. The more abstract poems work best – ones that skirt around images and ideas, and play with the sounds of words even though they rarely rhyme.

The slightly lopsided rhythm of Kristin LaTour’s ‘Malady’, an eerie paean to woman and the ocean, conveys a ship’s lurching momentum:

 

"He plumbed the depths of her chest

leaving a wake to lap at her limp arms

 

her gauze-wrapped wrists.

The woman knew her malady was weaving

into layers of seaweed, crusting her corneas

 

with barnacles and hazing her words with salt

while she lost her appetite to tide.

She listed to starboard, capsized quietly."

 

Other poets use arresting imagery to explore reality, as with Vincen Gregory Yu’s critique of capitalism, ‘After Wall Street’. His baleful eulogy to the age of excess asks ‘and how can we forget the women/who would wipe our shoes/if only to simulate the taste/of rich man’s skin and perfumed sweat’. Thomas Danthony’s accompanying illustration shows a uniform blue bank of office windows, shining and opaque – with one window shadowed by the tiny silhouette of a man, gently falling.

The occasional flash fiction pieces are firework sparks of imagery and energy. Their invigorating snapshots and fragments break up the poetry and longer short stories. Pieces like Adena Graham’s ‘The Hut’ demonstrate how much can be conveyed in a single page: an entire story’s worth of narrative progression is encapsulated in a few hundred words, as a young woman circumnavigates the world. It is only when she returns to her starting point that she realises she is trapped in her own inert, comatose mind.

The less refined element of Popshot is its short stories. Though technically accomplished and stylistically polished, too often they grasp at symbolism and significance, but lack emotional heft or a distinctive writing style. The prose spells out characters’ actions and emotional responses, rather than trusting the reader to interpret inferences.

The opening paragraphs of Peter Mortimer’s ‘Wake Up Time’ set a scene that is banally familiar, and do so without conviction:

 

"His mother, Rene, now in her eighties, suffered from Alzheimer’s. The two of them could no longer have a proper conversation. This both annoyed Malcolm and came as a relief. Annoyed, because he had little time for anyone spouting nonsense, relief because it meant he no longer needed to discuss his life with her, nor meet with her disapproval."

 

This sort of description disappoints primarily because its unfulfilled potential is evident: the writing is functional, and its subject has potential to resonate with the reader if explored with adequate skill. But ultimately, it fails to move. As the story unfolds, Malcolm’s foul attitude towards his mother becomes increasingly dismissive and cruel. When his comeuppance arrives, it is a dark and horrific – a classic twist-in-the-tale. Unfortunately the strong concept and plotting are let down by mercenary writing.

The stories contain flashes, though, of brilliant prose: nimble, imaginative passages which interrogate complex issues of movement, change and progression. Charlie Galbraith’s ‘The Break-Up’ is an elegiac but matter-of-fact depiction of dystopian societal breakdown. It’s a story that takes the maxim ‘no man is an island’ to its (il)logical conclusion – ‘unless, of course, he is’. The bizarre separation of humanity that unfolds is frighteningly plausible, though unlikely.

Almost every piece is accompanied by a beautiful image. Popshot specifically commissions emerging and established artists to respond to its written contributions, and the results thankfully veer away from literal interpretation of the words, taking the stories more as starting points for inspiration. Often, the artworks are comic-style illustrations, with bold graphic lines and a broad colour palette. These are one of the journal’s most appealing aspects: the images demand to be ‘read’ with almost as much attention as the accompanying words. Inevitably, the two mediums inform one another, the illustrations imbuing the writing with deeper and more complex meaning.

On a purely aesthetic level, Popshot is gorgeous. It’s a lovingly crafted and carefully created object. The illustrations are full-colour and often full page, and printed on thick, smooth paper stock. There’s plenty of white space to act as a counterpoint to the rich artwork; each written piece has its own page and nothing feels rushed or hurried. Emerging writers and artists seeking publication should consider Popshot: in the spirit of its self-appointed status as ‘the illustrated magazine for new writing’, Popshot is open to all visual and written submissions.

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Veronica Sullivan is Deputy Online Editor of Kill Your Darlings journal and a Creative Producer with the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Her tweets are here and her writing is here.

Find stockists and subscription details for Popshot here.

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