Theme--Clowns and Ghosts

Reviewed by Steve Redwood

I think I should say at once that this is the last time I shall review Sein und Werden because I know I'm simply not the right person for the job, and can't do justice to the poetry or the 'odder' pieces, finding it difficult to distinguish between sheer nonsense and a true 'ism' (especially as it's quite possible to be both at once). So why are you here then, mutter or scream all the ismists, shove off, you old fraud! Readers may not know but Whispers Review Section is run on fear, pure naked terror (think NKVD). It begins with an email from a certain PT, El Innombrable, advising a shadowy gang of fearful wretches that something is 'up for review'. If no one takes it after two more emails, there comes one final ominous one: “Whispers ALWAYS delivers!” Then--maybe in a week, in a month--comes the knock on the door at midnight. Through the peephole you see the masked Bear. Two literally beady eyes stare through the slits. Your only hope is to stutter, “OK, I'll do it, I'll do it!” The beads stare for a long minute, then without a word, the creature turns and shambles away. It has a certain sense of decorum: it always attends the funerals of those foolish enough not to take this last opportunity to ensure that Whispers Delivers. (This is complete and utter nonsense--Ed)

So, apologies in advance to the authors of those no doubt fantastic pieces that I simply don't 'get'. The fault may well be mine.

At my great age, you're allowed to mumble and repeat yourself, so I'll say again my main complaint with Sein und Werden is the minuscule font, which simply doesn't make for a physically pleasant reading experience. Yes, it does mean you cram in a lot of reading--but you'd better start saving up to buy that guide dog. However, for those with Argus eyes...

This is the inward-looking Sein, like the old Ace books, the two parts, Bring Out Your Dead and Send in the Clowns, starting at opposite ends of the magazine, and rushing in to meet each other like the armies in LotR, or Antony and Cleopatra after a long separation.

Ghost by John Brewer © 2007

Starting with Bring Out Your Dead, Lawrence Dagstine's The Nightmare of Bayhurst is a well told but fairly traditional horror story about a somewhat restless corpse in the basement, and such corpses, apart from a propensity to befriend incapacitated people, are also apt to cause trouble to the living. Prepare for fire, bullets, and far worse!

Emma Lee's Lizzie's Baby is perhaps the best story in this section. She bases it on the sad case of Lizzie Siddal, the Pre-Raphaelites' earliest and favourite model, who couldn't accept the loss of her first baby, and would sit beside the empty cradle believing her dead baby was still sleeping in it. The loss of her own child, and the picture of Millais' Ophelia in the room, leads the protagonist Audra to have nightmares in which she too believes she can hear her own dead baby crying--but is it really her baby?

Night in London by Rhonda Carrier didn't quite convince me. It is too wordy at the beginning, and at another point becomes almost a lecture on the German photographer Bill Brandt, and especially his Nude, Campden Hill, 1949. A supposedly menacing impression (which I myself don't receive) from this photo is tied in to Polanski's Repulsion, and we finally find out that the protagonist is himself stepping into madness. It is all cleverly done, but somehow the parallels between Carol in the film and Marcus the narrator seem too forced. The ending, despite a certain amount of thematic preparation, still seems almost tacked on. However, it is a thoughtful, original piece, and a more visually oriented reader might well pick up on things I missed.

A Rain of Dust by Bendi Barrett is a nice atmospheric piece, as a Valkyrie faces some of the einherjar, souls of the dead that she has collected, who will soon have to fight, and die, again after the battle of Ragnarok that brings the world to an end. The Valkyrie knows it is her last day on the tiny piece of earth still remaining. Her weariness before the one last final battle among the dead--but also her unquestioning loyalty to her role--is well expressed.

Among the shorter pieces, I liked Brian Collier's very authentic-looking satirical ads for a 19th cent Spirit Caller and a Tesla Parascope, the latter allowing you to see the spirits while you talk to them. It isn't necessary to have read Calvino's Invisible Cities to enjoy Tim Horvath' Urban Planning, a strange and memorable piece with a rather grim outcome. I especially liked the woman who 'rolls forward with the certainty of a shorebound wave'--reminded me of the tank-like middle-aged Spanish shoppers. A couple of the other small prose pieces baffled me completely, and I always hesitate to give an opinion on poetry, but there's some good imagery in Bike Boy, and The Fuck-Machine Ghost certainly packs a punch.

Eye am 1 by S Musick © 2007

You turn the mag round, not unnaturally a bit glum after the end of the world at Ragnarok, hoping for some good chuckles when they Send in the Clowns. Peter Tennant provides a lot in Nine Dreams of the Clown, but are they the nice innocent kind? Is the Queen close to her People? The Clown imagines how he could have led different kinds of life. For instance, he could have been Jesus, becoming widely popular among the circus-going populace of Palestine, but then the silly bugger decides to go for the big venue, Jerusalem--and makes the mistake of turning the strippers and the barbershop quartet out of the Temple nightclub, not realising that the town council all have their fingers in the pie, and maybe something else. The Clown tries to fulfil other dreams, which range from massacres through masturbation to amassing masses of money, but destiny always seems to be against him. Until... Some great ideas, acute observations, and witty turns of phrase, and--as it should be--an underlying sense of sadness and futility.

I don't know if it's me or the writer, but Phil Doran's Pandemonium seems to be two ideas not welded together too well, a science class run by clowns, and an attack on the Rio Tinto mining company's labour practices. I can see that various valid ethical and educational points are being made, but I can't see any underlying structure.

However, Pandemonium is as obvious as Othello's jealousy compared to Ya ho! We are Bliss by Kenneth Mulvey. I'm not sure whether it concerns a girl born deformed, or some kind of alien birth, and neither am I sure whether she is kept locked in some underground chamber for scientific study or whether she has been sold to a circus, or both. Typos like 'read' for 'red' and 'boats' for 'boots' (I guess) don't help. Whichever, when she eventually escapes to the outside world her clown's face and lack of all knowledge of the world bring her only grief and violence. Though I don't understand everything, I can still say this is a powerful story, written with a compressed almost orgasmic use of language, and culminating in 'a collapse to scabbing white knees', an image summing up the tragedy of someone born different.

Following a rather good poem by Serena Spinello which portrays the clown as somewhat less than salubrious, Steven Pirie's To Pull a Child from a Woman is just as strange as its title might suggest. And this is the task the protagonist, Hobo, has literally to do--pull a child from inside a woman for the delight of the spectators at a sinister infernal circus of death. He knows it can be done--the evil ringmaster Whiteface dragged him into the world the same way--but the mother of course dies, ripped open. In a secret part of a library he finds books which tell him how it can be done, and also meets the librarian, a woman who has never been able successfully to give birth... This is probably my favourite story in the magazine, a study of loneliness and need and faith, just pipping the offerings by Emma Lee and Peter Tennant.

Mark Howard Jones' From the East is a more realistic story, set in Germany in the period immediately succeeding the 'Liberation'. The impression of a city in ruins, and the desperation of a defeated and hungry people, is well conveyed, although the story itself is a little disappointing, and the ending is signalled way too early.

Back to weirdness with Brent Powers' Elihop. Elihop is not quite the innocent clown that makes children laugh, but an almost elemental force, a Puck-ish figure, the power of lust and sexual abandon, one of a 'great and secret fraternity' who 'get all the virgins'.

So, for people with good eyesight and lighting, quite a cornucopia here, and to be recommended, not least because it features so many Whisperers, a sure indicator of quality.

Sein Und Werden edited by Rachel Kendall and Spyros Heniadis. A5, 60pp, £3.50/$6.50 or £14/$26 for 4 issues (for payment options see website).


NB: There is also an online version of Sein und Werden, with work by many of the above contributors.

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