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Halfcircle 2: Review

Halfcircle is a new poetry journal based in Oxford, edited by Arabella Currie (who won the Newdigate Prize two years ago) & Thomas Graham (who I don’t know any facts about).

I bought the second issue from the Albion Beatnik in Jericho for £3, & it is handsome to look at for the money. It is good for a poetry journal to be an attractive object; the time which must have been taken in producing the covers — apparently it is even available in four other colours — was definitely worth it. With this in mind, the contents, plain & Times New Roman (except monospace afforded Drew Milne), feel a little default MSWORD, but on noticing the tiny, almost imperceptibly faint half-circle at the top of each page all is forgiven.

Halfcircle 2 contains poems by Peter Riley, Alexander Booth, Ian Heames, Peter McDonald, Samuel Meister, Ryan Dobran, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Don Paterson, Drew Milne, John Z. Kormurki, Steve McCaffery, Rebecca Voelcker, Heathcote Williams, Richard O’Brien & Yolanda Tudor-Bloch. It is a strong & varied (& noticeably ‘Oxford’) selection which makes a lot of the twenty pages. Attracting such good poets is an achievement in itself. Stephen Ross has written on how halfcircle 2, following its editors’ stated aims, has made a noble effort to represent the broad range of current English poetry, exemplified in having Paterson & Milne on facing A5 pages. The balance is slightly towards the experimental, but this is probably best for a short journal, making it more interesting to read; a bad avant-garde poem is still going to be more enjoyable to spend one’s time on than a bad ‘mainstream’ one.

The personal highlight is the opening two-part Essex Skies by Peter Riley. It circles, like its “aeroplanes”, around a small cluster of ideas & images, managing to maintain a holding pattern whilst raising & expanding the poem on each successive pass. The “controller/of weddings and stars” sat “somewhere over the fields” is for me the most memorable idea in the poems in halfcircle 2 (with Vidyan Ravinthiran’s “thought-bubble of gore” coming a close second).

The most interesting is perhaps the final poem: an excerpt from DP by ‘Yolanda Tudor-Bloch’. Google discovers that ‘Yolanda Tudor-Bloch’ is a pseudonym of Jow Lindsay (who briefly talks about halfcircle 2 on his website), & there is something already fascinating going on. I like the idea that all of the poets in the journal are pseudonyms of Jow Lindsay & I would decide to believe it if I hadn’t been in the same room as two of them, & have an idea that most of the others exist independently too. (There is more about Jow Lindsay here.)

The poem itself takes the form of a chatroom conversation, & reproduces the confusion & mannerisms of multiple voices.

[killer0301]: how to diagnose is someone having their heart attacked
[Fagapple]: everything i say has a business case
[killer0301]: and how to fix her
[Fagapple]: you spit by the books you judged by their covers
[st paul]: Killer whose is thte possible heart attack?

The chatter of the various figures descends into preverbal nonsense at the end of the third section, with repeated “Coo”s broken only by a “Lol” & a “wtf”.

It is a hard poem to judge, as it operates entirely by its own set of principles, but this in itself makes it compelling. It’s certainly quite a kick for the journal to go out on, & I am looking forwards to halfcircle 3.

As well as the Albion Beatnik Bookshop, halfcircle is available in Blackwell’s on Broad Street, Oxford, (although I couldn’t find it there), & by mail order (details on the website).