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Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 14

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 14
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
Copies are available by mail from:
Small Beer Press,
176 Prospect Avenue,
Northampton, MA 01060

From their website:
"We recommend you read Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet before submitting. You can procure a copy from us or from assorted book shops.

"We accept fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and black and white art. The fiction we publish most of tends toward the speculative. This does not mean only quietly desperate stories. We will consider items that fall out with regular categories. We do not publish gore, sword and sorcery or pornography. We can discuss these terms if you like. There are places for them all; this is not one of them."

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Przybyszewski

Here's a hint: writers must read the publication to which they submit. Read one edition, if that is the only available edition. Read one story, if that is all time allows. If the writer can get more editions, then that writer should read more editions.

Here's why: editors publish the stories they like to read. It's that simple. The caveat is that editors will publish the story they like best from what they are given.

With that said, this 14th volume of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet shows either a paucity of submissions or a lack on the part of the editors to offer compelling pieces to the reader (or maybe just this reader).

To start, the movie column in which William Smith (not the actor) writes about the 1972 movie, Greaser's Palace. Why this movie deserves a second look, or what Smith's particular interest in this movie is unclear. "Greaser's Palace is a notable example of the 'acid western,' an extinct 70s sub-genre that combined the metaphorical ambitions of top-shelf westerns, like Shane and The Searchers, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the irrelevant outlook of the counter-culture."

Uh-huh. Does Smith talk to his mom with that mouth? Ignoring the idea that there can be a "notable" example of the acid western, Smith does little more than show off his knowledge of movie dramas. Thank you, Mr. Smith. We now know you took Movies 101 at your community college. (I don't know where Smith went to school, or at all. But it was a funny line, so I'm keeping it.) Smith goes on to relate a film, in which "Jesus -- in a Zoot suit and spats -- parachutes onto the western plains and heads for 'Jerusalem' to find the agent Morris and become an 'actor/singer/danger.'" Fun stuff. Smith shows this movie's "surreal" take on religion, and how religions should not leave their Holy Land, they should not be taking seriously, and they should not be used as the basis for ideological (and literal) warfare.

Smith's analysis is good in that he specifically shows his views, and he tries to give details from the movie to support these views. However, does he make a case that this movie is worth the three bucks and a trip to Blockbuster? Not really. By throwing around big ideas that one can read in any history/religion/philosophy book, Smith highlights the silliness of this movie, more than shows its deeper meaning. The result is a review that one can barely believe, much less consider at a level past a surface-level read.

The fiction of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet leaves the same impression of flash, but no fire. Douglas Lain's "Music Lessons" is a sparse and often confusing statement about music, art, and the creation of the two together. Lain takes on a tough job: to wed the music heard with the words read. At the same time, he has to show some semblance of the process of creation. Instead of going for non-fiction and using the interviews of musicians, or musical analysis, Lain presents a series of vignettes that is supposed to "show" the process and how it works.

Fine. But showing scenes of mixed imagery cannot replace clear, concise exposition. The question and answer sessions, in which the main character talks alternately to his psychiatrist and aliens, are minimalist past the point of emulating Hemingway (does everyone have to use his dialogue style?). "Will you tell us why we came here to watch you tonight," the main character's audience asks him. "Will you tell us why we paid good money to come and watch you pretend there are walls where they aren't any?"

"Do you live where there aren't any walls?" the main character asks back. The dialogue continues, and there is little sense there. To be sure, the writing is good. It's like looking at a Modernist collage that has color and form, but little substance. It's nice to look at these pieces of art and to see what we see of ourselves in those words. However, it's not art in which the author expresses himself or his view of the world.

That's a mistake, in my opinion. The reason humans look at art and the reason that humans need art is that they are able to learn something about themselves. They learn little from mirrors, which only catch surface-level impressions. What makes humans learn is an exploration of some idea about life that challenges their beliefs and forces them to grow and change.

In contrast to this poorly planned prose is the excellent poetry present in this edition. Sally Bayley's "The Blue Period" talks about a silent piece of Picasso that hangs in the child's ward of a psychiatric hospital. "The sound of the clock/ticking above was a/ church clock/ in a deserted/ Spanish plaza,/ after the soldiers/ had swept through/ and ravaged all the women/ and children."

Bayley does a number of things right in this stanza. First, the metaphor that compares the clock of the psychiatric ward with the clock of the plaza draws the reader to the despair and the sense of crime committed against the children in both settings. The deserted Spanish plaza points to a place where the "officials" (the doctor's staff and the soldiers) have left the children to the mercy of the elements. Alternately, the presence of the doctor's staff and the soldiers is a presence of dread and abuse.

"But the child in blue/ took advantage of our/stupor,/ and stepped out/ from this famed institution/ to the institution/ of our lives,/ day after day." In this vivid image of an artistic figure breaking out of his wood frame, Bayley shows the reader a difference between the limits on art and the limits on life. Whereas the form and structure of art gives discipline for the artist, as well as give the artist a contained area in which he or she can flourish, these children -- limited by their mental illness and the institution's (and society's) incarceration -- have lost their ability to flourish. The energy that reflects from the confines of an artistic medium is lost in the invisible walls of their internment.

The difference in quality and clarity between prose and poetry is significant in this edition of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. Why is that the case? Ask the editors. They are the ones who put the magazine together.

Copyright © 2004 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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