This is a review of Scum Mag by Emma Koehn.



Scum Mag

Editors: James Butler, Sian Campbell, Sam George-Allen and Jessica Alice.

Online here.


Proper adults have spent years trying to solve the big literary mystery of why young people write memoir. What could these alien youths possibly have to say? Is this what everyone was talking about when they said iPhones steal your soul and that the Kardashians melt fresh brains?

What these detectives often miss is the point that memoir writing, horribly simplified, is about telling stories of one’s life so that others may be entertained and/or find comfort. Done well, this can build communities of readers who feel a bit less crap about their own uncertainty. Mystery solved.

Scum is a magazine that works in memoir, as well as fiction, poetry, opinion and cultural commentary. Its caretakers talk about devoting a space for people who are questioning: about sex, relationships, pop culture, politics and that big ol’ life thing. The snippets that result are funny, genuine and manage to actually reference the way we communicate online without degenerating into a puff piece about the mystiques of Generation Y.

This is because Scum is made by people who aren’t trying to mimic an online aesthetic, but are actually living it. You can’t underestimate how important that is; because while internet publications are hardly an endangered species, few can weave excerpts of actual online correspondence into work without emerging with a tone similar to K-Rudd’s 2007 twitter archive.

Scum is the opposite of a politician on social media. Lily Mei and Mike Day pen a collaboration piece on their friendship, born from Twitter and existing only in digital form. They copy in screen caps and it feels authentic, warm with the humour of two people connected without having the anchor of a physical place. They commentate on the beginnings of their friendship with excerpts from their conversations, capturing relationships that hold truth even though they’re acted out across cables:

“m: when lily told me she had a boyfriend, i told her that was great. it’s strange feeling jealous over someone you’ve never met. he has a lot more twitter followers than me – just a couple thousand- which is kind of a bummer.”

Over the course of the Emerging Writers Festival, Scum delivered a 2am confession series, in which writers typed secrets to the festival audience, and the world, in the dead of night.

For this, Emma Marie Jones gifted ‘This Is Kind Of About You And Kind Of About Some Things I Read On the Internet’ (scroll back to May, and trust us), a piece on sex and indecision and not knowing the people you’re pressed up against in the city:

“Do you want to have sex no strings attached? I can’t think of a better match. I don’t have strings anyway. You can’t attach yourself to me. I like your shirt and your shoes. You dress like you have someplace to be, someplace where I’m not after I’ve gone home. We ride the tram back into the city and we’re both high on the sex we haven’t had yet.”

It’s stuff that reads best at the same hour as the initial posting – tugging you out of your own worries in the middle of the night, reminding you as you scroll your phone screen in the dark that other people have no answers either.

Then there’s the poetry, rants and hairdressing mistakes. Zenobia Frost writes some ‘period magic’ poetry . Patrick Lenton reflects on a youthful decision to trust a on-campus hairdresser. Kat Muscat looks at what Buffy character Spike says about attempted rapists, and the need for a discussion about pop culture's portrayal of those who rape.

If you’re a writer who recalls the excruciating apprenticeship of awkward that constitutes ‘finding your voice’, you know that confessionals are tricky to achieve. You will never get those hours back that were spent in creative writing tutes, tentatively workshopping poorly expressed blow job-themed fiction (though this is an important process). It takes a while to make these themes seem authentic and this is where mags like Scum are useful to emerging writers. They create stuff that is usually pretty sure of its tone. You can pull it apart, enjoy what your early-career peers are making, and remember why you want to tell these stories in the first place.

If you’re more of a reader, and occasionally need a dose of honesty while waiting for your capital city’s woeful public transportation options, there are lots of bite-sized pieces to keep you out of trouble.

It won’t all be for you. This might seem obvious, but some pieces will read much better if you have read/seen/grown up with the things being referenced. That in itself if kind of nice – when you hit on something that seems tailored to your specific experiences in this topsy turvy world, the payoff feels greater. So persist, bask in the gratuitous uncertainty of it all, and pop back every so often to see what Scum have going on.

Like many a little publication, you might wish for more content than can feasibly get posted. Luckily, the site also recently launched a successful Pozible campaign to make a ‘Blue Light Disco’ themed zine, in the works for publication later in the year. Keep those eyes out for hard copy Scum in the near future.

Check out what pieces the team are after, and submit:


Emma Koehn is Reviews Editor at The Writers Bloc. She tweets @MsEmmaK.

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