Sein und Werden vol 1, issue 3. ISMs Press, 2007. Pp. 54. £3.50.

Reviewed by Christopher Michaels

This "The Collaboration Issue" is the third issue of the first year of an adventurous quarterly “zine” or magazine project for promoting creative writing with a dark edge. It has fifteen pieces exploring collaboration in the writing arts.

The first story in this collection, by Paul Bradshaw and Peter Tennant, is the most conservative in terms of form though the content as a horror porn is reasonably confronting—Steven King with balls. ‘The Birth of Athena: Redux’ doesn't, however, connect in anyway with Greek myths or the stories of Athena, no reference or sense of mythic depth. Simply Gothic teen wank material. The only mythic connection is that two characters study Greek mythology. This was not an omen enticing me to want to read on but Sein Und Werden's two earlier issues suggested I should look beyond this first impression.

What is interesting about this collection may be that it provides an opportunity to explore the boundary between pretentiousness and challenging word art, and that between intellectual game-playing and emotionally engrossing work that reaches inside you. So the question is can you play with and stretch form in a way that leads readers to connect more intensely than using old, more common forms with clear narrative structures and images that you can grab onto easily. This group of poetry, prose and sometimes interesting crossovers I think is patchy in living up to “Empress Editor” Rachel Kendall's target of hoping collaboration will give birth to “something new, something screaming, something monstrous and mutating, pulsing, a writhing homunculus”

The second collaboration, also taking a mythic reference, is a case in point. Julie Cook and Matt Williams take the Biblical reference for gender and creation embodied in Adam and Eve exploring them by exchanging media. A poet takes a prose work into his medium and a prose writer takes a poem into her medium, and they swap genders in the process. Each piece is a tribute to the writer who wrote it and to the writer who wrote the original. They seem to take ownership of the translated work yet there is a beautiful, dark and insightful sense of the gender point of view that refers back to the original.

The next poem written by 5 writers has the sense of one of the group writing exercises you play in creative writing classes but this seems to have a structure and point and is a straight out beautiful poem. The next two stories are strikingly creative; one, ‘Haute Couture’, a more traditional horror, the other, ‘Career Path’, a touching brother and sister story that takes takes horror to a different place. The abjectness of being drawn into identifying with the worst kind of disability and yet taking action—suicide and euthanasia or is it murder (an action that horrifies most but is a source of power and freedom here).

The only story that is credited to one person yet seems to be partly written with someone else called ‘Keeping Angels—Part Three of Four’ is the most confusing and masturbatory of all the pieces in this book. This may be that it doesn't work out of context or that this critic is too simple a man to get it. The two writers' styles seem to collide and the structures don't fit for me. It's almost like taking a piece out of a mystery and expecting it to make sense, except this is a surrealist mystery and I just haven't spent enough time reading the dream encyclopaedia they're using as a reference. Mostly I just got too bored to want to make sense of it.

This collection is definitely worth the very inexpensive cover price and the high design, low-tech production of the book itself. The poetry excited me most, the prose was readable but not nearly as interesting or as adventurous. Horror storylines offer the opportunity for stretching in all kinds of ways. So why is it that so many writers think the confronting subjects are enough? They stick to more conservative ways of telling the stories and when they do experiment have problems keeping the reader in the story in away that lets them see something new about themselves and their fellow humans through the structure. Publications like this one are necessary even when they fail, and this one mostly doesn't, because they help us find the new voices for our generations. This group of collaborative experiments are what you expect of any attempt to enter new territory: you stub your toe sometimes, but that's par for the course and there are so many interesting, scary and beautiful things around you soon forget it.

Purchase or read Sein und Werden online

Home Current Back Issues Guidelines Contact About Fiction Artists Non-fiction Support Links Reviews News