Jacob Charles Wilson

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The White Review: Issue 22

The cover of The White Review issue 22.

For the fourth year in a row the annual White Review and n+1 magazine launch party was held at Bold Tendencies. The round room, one level below the upper concrete deck, induces a very real sense of a literary salon—not simply a space to hear readings, but to watch who's coming and going, who sits where, and who wears what. This year following several weeks of heatwave the small, enclosed space was unbearably hot, so hot that the readings had to be shortened. While this may have been a kind gesture to those who were sweltering or wished to catch the end of the England vs. Belgium game, to my mind they were a little too short. I would have happily sweated to hear more.

On the night, n+1 was represented by writers David Wingrave and Jill Crawford; The White Review by Sophie Robinson, whose poems featured in issue 19; Chloe Aridjis, who read an extract from her upcoming Sea Monsters (also extracted in the latest issue); Lucy Mercer, the winner of the publication's inaugural poetry prize in 2017; and Julia Bell, author of Really Techno, the closest thing we've ever had to going viral. As the crowd filtered out to the bar I picked up a copy of the Review, to spend the next morning at the even hotter Brockwell Lido reading between swimming laps and scorching my back.

This issue, the second following the design refresh under the new editors, opens with a round-table on universities led by Helen Charman, a PhD researcher in maternity, sacrifice and political economy, accompanied by UCL professor of English Matthew Beaumont, Leeds poetry fellow Vahni Capildeo, and Branch Secretary of Cambridge UCU Waseem Yaqoob. They talk in the aftermath of the pathetic capitulation of UCU officials before the demands of the branches and within the context of The Office of Students, and the transformation of student unions from representatives to managerial organisations. I'm always hesitant when round-table discussions are published, the transcription of these conversations can be difficult, but the flow of the extensive discussion & debate is captured well.

The division of speech and text is something that poets and readers of poetry have to contend with. Poet Voice is easy to mock, but it really does flatten and render all texts the same; the same emotion, the same pacing, the same breathlessness, especially those that can be seen as well as heard. Lucy Mercer's is one perfect example; her work relies on typography and shapes that cannot be conveyed in speech, or rather, must be seen to be heard. Dream Houses moves across the page right to left in staccato lines of two syllables or more that form a flight of steps. Invagination emphasises words and letters through italicisation and misused glyphs, an ô stands in for the o of open. Letter 3 is a personal favourite that she did actually read out at the launch, but it was only in its written form that I felt fully able to appreciate it.

It's also only in the printed magazines that visual art can be seen (perhaps posters could be made for each launch?). An abstract red and blue painting by Kerstin Brätsch decorates the cover, and more of her signature oil on Mylar works—lacy striations of agate, the swampy figuration of Jean Dubuffet—accompany her interview with Annie Godfrey Larmon. Towards the back of the issue are Barbara Kasten's photographs of abstract compositions made from wire and plexiglass, the detritus of the photographer's studio, arranged to form structures and cast shadows, collected in several series dating from 1981-2012. However my personal favourite is Andrea Büttner's collection of photographs of painted and decorated pebbles, themselves gathered from online gallery archives and auction catalogues, each resized to correspond to the stone's dimensions.

Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Melanie Mauthner, relates the confused winding flow of the Rukarara river to the refugee's experience of displacement. In parts of her text the river is a point of identification, it's a place that from birth to death is in the locals' minds and bodies; a baptism in its protective waters and the healing properties of the deep rich silt are valued more than that provided by the church or a hospital. When after fleeing Rwanda she is confronted with a Burundi official tasked with providing identity documents, the river is the narrator's only point of reference. But the river's precise identity is uncertain, it's known only relative to other places and other things: The safety of the Rukarara is contrasted to the danger of the Akanyaru river, at the same time the Rukarara is said by the 19th century explorer Richard Kandt to be a wild hurtling youth compared to the shaky exhausted Mwogo. The Rukarara derives its prestige in part from being named the source of the Nile, as speculated by Kandt in 1896 but only proved in 2006. To link oneself to a river is to complicate one's identity - you cannot step into the same river twice - and nobody experiences the malleability of identity more than the refugee.

Quinn Latimer writes in Some Heat of holidaying in the Californian desert where, purely by coincidence, she reads book after book featuring women literally and figuratively being set ablaze. Reading is voyeurism, Latimer writes, no more so than in newspapers. But Latimer critiques these media-orchestrated controlled burns of patriarchal institutions and acts, which ensure the forest remains standing. She draws this together in the case of incarcerated women (enslaved would be a better word) 'employed' for less than 2 dollars a day as firefighters of wildfires that blaze across the US. She acknowledges the irony of writing on violence, enabling voyeurism, but wonders if women simply do want to burn it all down, including themselves. It's a very powerful ending to the issue, and essential reading.

I want to end on Julia Bell's Really Techno - it was Bell who closed the launch night with readings of extracts, although it deserves really to be read from the first line to the last. This first line, spoken to a nameless bouncer at the entrance to the Berghain, Ich bin einer, literally I am one loosely translated to just me, defines the piece. It's a personal reflection that takes place over the course of nine hours at the club. However for the first page I found myself taking the role of the bouncer, I read and scrutinised Bell's appearance and demeanour to work out whether this 45 year old woman ought to be there. But as Bell points out the hapless rejects of the queue, she reminds me that the Berghain is precisely for people such as herself; queer audiophiles who take their techno very seriously.

Bell's writing doesn't expound the euphoria of the club, the ecstasy of humans dancing together but the solitude and singularity of music, once I get in, if you dance too close to me I'll probably move. Focusing on the interiority of her experience she delves into the loss of a close friend. While I've never danced at the Berghain I have danced at many other places on my own; sometimes separated from friends by a heaving crowd, other times because I simply, paradoxically, wanted not to worry about others, just to enjoy the music and dance alone. This was an essay that struck me, just like a sudden change in tempo, just like spotting a familiar face in a dark crowded room.