Valve is a literary journal which publishes fiction and poetry that (in the words of the editor) “uses form, language or techniques in unusual ways, often generating an essential set of rules within a piece through which to channel creativity.” This is its third issue and many of the pieces contained within it succeed in their experimental mission to express something in a creative new way and adhere to their own internal logic while breaking away from traditional form. The editors carefully pair different pieces within the journal usually bouncing two distinct stories or poems off each other which are variations on a similar theme. This transforms meaning in itself. Of course, the pleasure of flipping through a journal like this is that pieces can also be taken at random whether in a hurry on a morning commute or steeped in a warm bed on some sleepless night.
One of the pieces of writing that struck me most was Lucy Ribchester’s story ‘The She-Squid’s Embrace’ where intense desire is expressed in a squid’s taking possession of a shipwrecked sailor. She takes him down to her lair and tries to coddle him though he’s slowly being devoured by sea creatures and disintegrating on the ocean floor. While presenting a warped version of passion the story expresses something very true about love and the longing to hold onto someone who is falling apart.
More radical experiments with form itself take place in other pieces. Some are composed of lists such as Andrew Blair’s funny and vivid numbered reasons in his piece ‘you cannae shove your granny.’ Harry Giles gives indications of gruesome and tragic scenes occurring while only providing impersonal lists or an announcement. These highlight the way we are screened away from the horrors of reality by the mechanical processes of a regimented society. Bjorn Halldorsson gives ‘A Swimmer’s Guide to the Front Crawl’ which is a set of instructions that trail down the page like words riding currents in water. This transforms a physical activity into a metaphysical meditation. Katy McAulay’s ‘Important news for lifeguards’ presents another list purportedly for instruction, but which really takes on a graver meaning in the way people may be experiencing an internal crisis though they look alright on the outside. David Greaves ‘Boulders’ presents text with additional groups of words in the margins on either side of a primary text that can be left out or inserted into the main body of words to elucidate the central meaning. Another piece by Martin Schauss uses repetition of the second-person “you” to create a poetic sense and give a suggestion of being romantically transfixed by another. Poetic repetition also occurs in Lynsey Cameron’s ‘The Man Holding Flowers’ where a profusion of possibilities and a torrential downpour of past experiences bloom out of the single image of a man holding flowers.
I was once in a creative writing class where someone passed me a hand-written piece which she’d revised a lot. She intended only the words which weren’t crossed out to be read but I felt all the deleted (but still visible) words highlighted different meanings and emotionally expressed someone grappling towards what they wanted to really say. Kirsty Logan’s ‘Love in Centralia’ is an impersonal description of a town where the text is mostly slashed through with black lines. Only a few essential words are left unmarked to give a radical new meaning. There is a tremendous amount of power in writing which is crossed out so the process of selection and editing can be seen. For this reason I’ve loved looking at holograph editions of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Jacob’s Room’ and ‘The Waves’ which present drafts of these novels which show where she crossed things out and inserted other things into the text.
Some pieces in Valve enter into a self conscious dialogue with other artists to elaborate on original ideas or ricochet concepts off others to provide entirely different meanings. Clair Askew takes issue with Wordsworth’s view of the Lake District offering her own poetic view of a starker more reality-laden landscape. Scott Morris pays homage to the surrealist poet and photographer Paul Nouge with short sharp quips that expand upon a world inverted by speech and offers transformative ways of seeing.
There are flashes of the way popular competitive events inveigle their way into our consciousness making us care one moment and forget the next in the form of a Masterchef challenger in Graham Fulton’s ‘Larkinesque’ and a hotdog eating race in Charlotte Turnbull’s ‘Hotdogs.’ We’re swept into a voyeuristic sensitbility witnessing the triumphs and failures of individuals, our hopes for them dampened by a sense of superiority when they blunder. In the case of Fulton, Welsh competitor Larkin’s plight is likened to the raw reality of the cosmos. Turnbull plays much more with form in her story brazenly shouting at us with text enlarged and bold like a commentator’s irritating blathering.
One of the longest pieces in this issue of Valve is Elaine Reid’s ‘Trees for Africa.’ This story follows a call centre director over the course of a day where she receives lewd responses from a man she contacts about helping to maintain forestlands in Senegal. The worker traces the call to the home address where she meets a harried lonely woman caring for a number of children. The story expresses a sense of how we are disconnected from one another and gives a haunting feeling of good intentions being swallowed by shorthanded emotion.
In David Manderson’s ‘On the Beach’ he portrays a European holiday beach resort overseen by a tourist with his head full of the impending doom for the European economy. His pleasure of the holiday and his emotional investment in the beauty and grotesqueness of his surroundings is hollowed out by his sense of societies’ failing and feeling like “A silent man trying to scream.” Destruction comes in a more literal form in Chelsea Cargill’s poem ‘Tsunami’ which expresses a deep desire to leave a personal mark upon a world that is being washed away.
Afric McGlinchey transforms the domestic privacy of a bed into a tangled forest landscape where the body becomes tree. There is a sensuous physicality to the descriptions and deeply intimate associations are produced in small details. Ryan Van Winkle includes an Untitled poem about living surrounded by snow. Here I felt the heft and persistence of snow is likened to the way our best efforts and hopes are buried by the weight of reality. In another poem of his ‘The Duke in Pines’ an experience of listening to the jazz musician sparks an imagined dialogue between the narrator and someone who the narrator has designs upon.
Two poems by Mary McDonough-Clark are filled with such raw emotion that it feels like the pared down phrases contain a heft of feeling that expands voluminously to fill the whole page. An elaborate scene of torrid violence is summarised in a few pointed words “I retreat, you accuse, I ask, you deny: she feeds.” She gives a powerful sense of the riotous scenarios which are mentally played through amidst the actual disintegration of a relationship.
Valve is a great platform for writers to push the boundaries in what’s possible with both language and form. These pieces don’t dally with experimentation and reconfigure structure for the sake of it. They have something immediate and meaningful to say which can only be expressed in formats which aren’t traditional. I've read many of the pieces several times and find them richly rewarding. The work within this journal teases, surprises and illuminates.