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Zine Review: Seance

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Comic, Jenn Woodall, jennwoodall.tumblr.com, $3

A young woman in a black cloak and pentagram necklace contacts three spirits in a cemetery while in search of a deceased friend. Each ghost she talks to is amusingly demanding in their own way — the first wants to talk her ear off about a mutual acquaintance who just arrived “down here,” the second berates her for breaking up with him while he was alive, and the third spirit is willing to help her, but only after asking why she never visits anymore. The artist’s style consists of intricate line drawings in black and white, save for the cover, which is in colour. There’s a happy ending as the young would-be witch is reunited with her friend. All in all it’s a cute comic. (Mary Green)

Zine Review: Polar-Centric Constellations of the Northern Hemisphere

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Artzine, Katherine Diemert, katherinediemert.tumblr.com, price not listed

The ‘reference zine’ combines the qualities of a reference book with the qualities of a zine, however jumbled and peculiar those may be. They are a rare find, but it is ever rarer to find one put together quite so well as Katherine Diemert’s Polar-Centric Constellations of the Northern Hemisphere. Diemert sets out to detail “these five constellations, [which] viewed when in the northern hemisphere, never set, and are therefor[sic] seen year-round.” The zine is as simple as that: five constellations with their corresponding names, diagrams, and abridged mythologies. Each constellation is completed on its opposite page with an ethereal sketch of its fictional form. The images are as ambitious as they are grandiose. The idea is simple, the layout is simple, the performance is simple, and this is where Polar-Centric Constellations finds its strength. Diemert is aware that a little coptic hand-stitching and some heavygrade construction paper make a difference that no amount of clutter can imitate. She has crafted a zine I’ll return to, and her work is an encouraging reminder that ‘amateur’ does not have to mean ‘poor quality.’ If anything, she argues quite the opposite. (Joel W. Vaughan)

Book Review: Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It

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Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It, C.R. Avery, 71 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $18

It’s funny that the main thing missing from C.R Avery’s book of poetry is C.R Avery. But for the most part, Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It is unmistakably his. Page after page is replete with the same swaggering, devilish sense of invention that makes C.R a legend in East Vancouver’s slam poetry and music scenes. It is the absence of his physical presence, however – his soft graveling voice, his toned diction – that makes this book somewhat unsatisfying to read.

If I felt obliged, I might attempt an impersonation, reading aloud with a smoky voice: “In the black outskirts of night, 4AM spirits rise like dead roses/ from the prairie wind’s fire pit as Cherokee warriors chant” (from “Lime to the Lemon”). Passively listening, a friend sitting in the same room might mistake this style as Kerouac, or maybe Burroughs.  My point is not to call out Avery for being somewhat derivative of the beat poets, but to assert that Avery’s printed words don’t translate as quickly and recognizably as his live music does.

That being said, there’s some really solid work in here that will tickle the bongos of any beat/slam fan. The longer poems “Man from Minnesota” and “My Only Tattoo”are particularly great examples of C.R’s raconteur style ramble.

Buy this book and try your own luck at interpreting the man’s legend— just don’t miss seeing him next time he comes through town. (James Gordon King)

Zine Review: Operations Manual

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Artzine, Marx Aviano, vol. XI, Pioneers Press, godblessgenerica@gmail.com, pioneerspress.com, $3 (US)

What’s your first mental image of a sharp-tongued anarchist intellectual? Whatever it is, Marx Aviano is probably the counterexample. Operations Manual confounds categories with a mix of bitingly sarcastic anarchistic political commentary (a sardonic peak is met in Aviano’s appropriation of Bill Keene’s Family Circus comic: Circus Family by Keen Bill) and disorienting randomness (a Martian counting table, grim internet memes, etc.). The heady, absurdist humor is first sketched out in a series of pieces that riff on the issue’s number. Being the 11th volume, the numerical jokes include an 11-fingered smiley-faced man, a volume knob cranked to 11, an exposition of the so-called 11:11 phenomenon and a likely
pilfered text on polydactylism (that is, having extra fingers or toes). Other non-11-related appropriated texts include an explanation of dangers for Christians using the internet (the
content is extreme and the danger is immediate, in case you didn’t know). Operations Manual appropriates freely and mockingly, including by clipping and pasting from others’ and its own Facebook pages (under the name God Bless Generica) in which Marx baits and skewers the unsuspecting. This is all in keeping with the zine’s prevalent jesterly disdain for all things conventional, Christian and capitalist. Recommended for the self-satisfied anarchist intellectual in need of a laugh. (Joshua Barton)

Book Review: School

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School, Jen Currin, 99 pgs, Coach House Books, www.chbooks.com, $17.95

We take for granted that we are defined by the way we interact with the world around us; our friends, our jobs, our alignments with certain movements and ideologies. Vancouver poet Jen Currin explores themes of identity in her fourth book School, investigating what is left of a person when the relationships and objects she’s built her identity upon are taken out of the picture.

School is a collection of memories and observations. Details of personal relationships recur, but Currin refuses a cohesive linear or narrative interpretation, . As a result, these vignettes obscure lines and act as anecdotes that do not quite cohere. Currin’s writing is beautiful in its subtlety, with lines that unfold quietly into each other like: “We used to go there before the fire. / It’s hard to know how to story things, / what anything means or meant” from “The Incense in Those Rooms,” which initially suggests the ruins of a fire, but ultimately indicates a campfire. A tension between narrative or construction and ruin or revelation prevails throughout School, and through it Currin delicately posits a human essence that predates notions of constructed identity and survives every personal catastrophe. Her argument remains a gesture to something inexplicable except by referral, and becomes more poignant with each reiteration.

While the work in School is sometimes frustrating in its obscurity, the collection offers many quiet and satisfying treasures. (Maureen Brouwer)

Zine Review: Meat & Bone

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Comic, Katherine Verhoeven, Issue One, meatandbonecomic.com, $5

Meat & Bone is the type of zine that I’m willing to bet every reviewer prays will fall into his or her hands. It’s smart, funny and relatable and the illustrations perfectly suit the text. The story follows protagonist Annie, who is moving in with her friend Gwen after going through a bad breakup. Annie idolizes the tall, thin, blond Gwen, and finds herself constantly comparing her body negatively with her friend’s. Annie’s relationship with Gwen’s is probably one we’ve all experienced at some point or another — that person that you can’t believe
is willing to condescend to be friends with someone like you, and who you view with a mixture of jealousy, admiration and love. Of course, putting a friend way up high on that type of pedestal only makes the crash harder once you realize that they’re not, in fact, perfect. The way that Annie and Gwen’s friendship is set up in this issue leaves me keenly interested in how it will play out. Annie manages a hip cafe/restaurant with owners whose business model seems to be “treat your knowledgeable employees terribly until they quit, and then hire someone inexperienced for half their salary.” It’s a challenging job, and made even more so by the fact that Annie is recovering from an eating disorder. She struggles not to slip back into old eating habits as she tries to juggle all of her various responsibilities. Meat & Bone’s first issue is a complete delight, and I’m very excited to see where the story will lead. Annie is such a charming and realistically written character that you’ll find it hard to read Meat & Bone without completely falling in love with her. (Anne Thériault)