Kirsty Gunn and Zoe Venditozzi (eds)
(Discovery Press, 2012); pbk £5.99
New Writing Dundee is an annual collection of literature compiled by “Literary Dundee” from works submitted by both published and unpublished authors. The end result is an eclectic mix of poetry, short prose, extracts from novels, and essays.
The seventh volume of New Writing Dundee opens and also ends with the engaging “Wendell’s Story”, a sensuous and poetic extract from a book-length manuscript by Lisken Van Pelt Dus. Beginning with an address to an unidentified character, the speaker compels his subject to “Teach me your veins’ music,/how the ride pulses,/to sleep on a green ribbon sun.” Later, the perspective shifts to the third person and the reader then learns that the speaker is a man speaking passionately to his lover: “She is an ocean,/shimmering, and he/drenches himself in her depths.”
Kate Pullinger’s Landline is a short story that concerns the gradual estrangement of a son from his father following the death of his mother. Now grown up with a family of his own, the son’s dreams are haunted by the desire to reconnect with his father through a simple phone call. However in his waking life the son struggles to fulfil this unconscious desire. At one point he succeeds in calling his father but, overwhelmed by the moment, he adopts the guise of an employee from a telemarketing firm. Pullinger’s strengths lie in her attention to small and everyday details. These give the story credibility and emotional ballast: later in the story the father’s disdain for phone calls made while on the move is something that further discourages the son from making contact.
Aliki Varvogli’s Dead Authors and Fishy Handshakes is a thoughtful essay on the potential of literary criticism to have a stifling effect on the creativity of new writers: “What if the things that came naturally to these writers suddenly stalled, weighed down by too much analysis and discussion”. Varvogli, a lecturer in creative writing, suggests that although criticism and analysis of literary work can be a useful tool in understanding how a piece of writing functions, these practices will not necessarily provide an understanding of the cognitive processes of an author during the act of imaginative creation.
Sandra L. Ireland’s Voice is an affecting short tale about a woman who has been committed to a psychiatric hospital. Taking inspiration from a real admissions book from Sunnyside Hospital, at one time Scotland’s oldest psychiatric hospital , Ireland retells the story of Mary’s committal. Mary’s apparently happy youth as an islander, her later relocation to Dundee and her job as a jute mill worker are told through flashbacks. Ireland successfully juxtaposes these experiences by endowing them with tangible everyday associations; the idyllic island location is described as “a place of curves” while Dundee, like the psychiatric ward in which the story begins, is made up of hard edges and corners.
A Night In Nice is Kathryn Johnson’s first published work. The poem captures a luxurious night spent on the French Riviera. The room where the speaker stays is described as “cool and airy eggshell blue,/so worthy of a courtesan in France.”, and the drapes “would make a satin ball gown dance”. This romanticised view of the environment reflects the emotions of its occupants: “I kissed the smile that played upon his lips”, the speaker explains, “He beckoned sweetly, how could I resist?”. The result is a surprisingly intimate poem.
In bookending the collection with another fragment from “Wendell’s Story”, the editors seem to suggest perhaps, something about the very nature of reading: a transfiguration to “many places”, a dissolving borders between self and other. Reading becomes the caress of lovers, the dialogue of self and soul. The writing highlighted here is just a small selection of the well written and enjoyable work in this volume of New Writing Dundee. Readers who have an interest in discovering new or lesser known authors will find much to enjoy.