All 6 entries tagged Polarity Magazine

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October 06, 2010

Holey/Holy/Wholly Pockets

Once upon a time, most new cultural forays like Polarity existed thanks to the toner-cartridge pulsing of the government's bureaucratic heart. Used to be, so I've heard, you could walk up to the offices of the Arts Council, or whatever it was called back in those days ('Official Bureau of Questionable Public Spending'?), act strange for half an hour, show a few pencil sketches of your mother having an epileptic fit and pass yourself off as a bona fide Artiste. After which, you walked away with £10,000, or more if you'd washed that day, with which to do something artistic and, hopefully, not blow the money on stacks of jellied eels and a lifetime supply of broken wing-mirrors.

These days, not so easy. Buried within the squawking of New Labour's sloganeering and buzzwording (“Accountability!” “Education!” “Military spending!”) was the germ of the Arts Council's erosion. Now, sadly, public money must be transparently totted up, penny by penny, into a list of targets, effectively or ineffectively attained. Forms forms forms. The application annd evaluation processes are so form-based these days that they even set up a roadshow to try and explain to us poor provincial taxpayers how we're supposed to fill in some of their boxes. Not with a set of colouring pencils, clearly.

(As a side note, I should mention that there are other places that offer start up funding, or loans, who could be considered a little more qualitative in their approach, compared to the Brazilian dystopia that the Arts Council has become. If you're still in puberty, or whatever they call people under thirty these days, The Prince's Trust is a good place to go, but I remember them expecting a high degree of business acumen from me when I met them, several years ago. I also heard about something called IdeasTag recently, but still need to look it up. Also lots of art foundations and trusts around, like The Moose Foundation, or the Paul Hamlyn, but I'm not sure how rigorous they are in their processes now.)

Most of the funding applications I've written involve attempting to learn another language in order to convert an artistic idea into a string of meaningless statements. 'Teaching kids from refugeee backgrounds how to play with language and use their imagination' becomes 'Community outreach in minority ethnic / BME communities to improve language skills, build confidence and increase cultural cohesion'. (Well, my language might be a bit out of date now, but you get the idea.) Done well, a funding application can tickle all the right phrenological zones in a bureaucrat's target lists, but ensure that the artists delivering a project can actually get on and do whatever they want without having to think about the evils of reducing humanity to a stack of statistics. They can just imagine, create and throw tantrums, like they're used to.

Yet the more applications I wrote, or consulted on, the more I felt like I was becoming one of them. My facial features began eroding and dark staining in the shape of a grey tie began forming around my neck, complete with an Arts Council England tie-clip mark just below my sternum. The vocabulary and administration you have to lean begin to colonise you annex your creativity. I've been involved with supporting organisations receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds ('RFOs' as they're cunningly acronymmed to) and peanut-sized writers' bursaries. I no longer feel the offer of money outweighs the price of the administration, in terms of the damage it does to my creative drive; and there's also the question of whether I want the funder's Rottweiler's sphincter of a logo slapped all over my produce. Eventually I made the decision to stop asking government offices for money. I signed up to the idea that if my artistic ideas could not survive independently in society, then they didn't deserve to survive.

The current government might agree with me for different reasons: art should stand on its own two feet, like any industry, without government bailouts propping it up. A free market would allow the public to decide what stays and what goes. The Arts Counci's days may well be numbered and that's ultimately a bad thing - some people are good at writing bids, playing that game and getting some great art made along the way.

In reality, though, artists have survived through community, giving, long before government funding existed – friends, family, other artists, bring support in the form of things other than hard cash and red tape. The Arts Council is very nearly anathema to the spirit of gift-giving and community-building that artists need to survive, in my opinion, and Polarity is one way of proving this to myself. So for the time being it's entirely funded by me and anyone willing to offer me money towards the costs.

What tends to happen – what's always happened, I reckon – is that heads turn when you do something ambitious. Some of those heads will like what you do, and some of those heads will choose to give you something – a handful of lentils to keep you going to the end of the week, a free website redesign, or maybe some money towards print costs. You then become responsible to them for certain other things – maybe a list of patrons on the wall of the theatre, or free tickets to performances, and so on.

Did I mention Lewis Hyde's The Gift? It's a great answer to all this.

September 29, 2010


It isn't normal to be putting out a specialist literary magazine in print these days. Everything is online. Supposedly. And online is cheap, gets more readers, can be nicely designed, etc. It's especially not normal to be doing this in the surrealist/absurdist tradition, which is exactly why it needs to be done. (I'll save raving about why surrealism needs to come back into the public eye for another blog.)

We have to think about where our edges are. Being in print isn't unique, but can become so if done well enough. Most printed literary magazines fall into a small range of sizes, the primary two being A3 folded or royal octavo, roughly (bigger than A5, not quite A4), saddle-stitched (that's stapled in lay terms) or perfect bound (with a spine). These formats are standard for a reason – printers have the equipment to put these out at a reasonable price, with less hand-finishing. Prose magazines like The Idler or Granta actually look more like books than magazines, but they're called the latter instead of compendiums or anthologies because they're published regularly.

So Polarity's shape and feel was an important distinction to be made. Our models have beautiful looks – magazines like The Believer, with its slightly-off standard shape, retro-vibe, or McSweeney's, published by the same independent team, which has a unique design every issue, from mock-broadsheets, to a travel-case shape complete with haircomb and a story by Robert Coover printed on one suite from a deck of cards. We went for a solid 21cm x 21cm for two reasons: firstly, it came to me in a dream that Polarity was a square magazine and secondly because the width allows us to fit the magazine in standard A4 envelopes, without fussing around with larger sizes and postage costs.

Since starting, we've found a few closer competitors than we imagined were out there. I've not yet looked it up properly, but there's a Leeds-based magazine called Phosphor, run by people connected to the Leeds Surrealism Group. Also something we found on a recent foray to Foyles, called Patricide – a new, Wales-based mag, printed roughly royal octavo with spine. It's long, intense and produced somewhat on the cheap side, with a colour cover, but black and white inner pages and thin paper stock.

Patricide's an interesting case because it employs some of the USPs Polarity went for, but in slightly different ways. It runs thematic issues with the material graded through the magazine under chapter headings, with little emphasis on the contributors' personalities, as it's about the content. They also use quotations to intersperse the new content.

Polarity has two themes per issue, and the material is graded according to how closely each piece of writing or art fits one theme or the other, with a grey area in the middle where the work loosely fits both or neither of the themes. We also have 'provocations' – quotations from various sources (newspaper articles, stories, essays) that suit the themes. And we have archival material – longer extracts from out of copyright texts to add a wider, pre-surrealism scope to the magazine.

One place we differ from them, and from most magazines out there, is in not including biographical  details for our contributors. Most magazines are an ego-fest of fame and famished, mouldy gratings from the cheeseblock of contemporary celebrity culture. Polarity is designed to try and look like the content is more important than the people writing it – we can celebrate (thank) the (unpaid) contributors in other, better ways, such as by making the magazine gorgeous and not letting any typos slip through. At the same time, readers are a curious species, and we've chosen these people's work for our first issue for a reason, so we went for a 'Further Reading' list at the back instead. This means people can read other work by our contributors and hopefully chase up more surrealism-connected work.

USPs are a business point, something I personally tend to refer to ironically when talking to creatives about Polarity. Yet these have all been important factors in getting the magazine noticed – we mentioned Tenderproduct, and we've another place stocking the magazine in London, the independent and thoroughly exciting Intervention Gallery, based in the middle of Kilburn Cemetery, near Kensal Rise Tube. Without any hard work on our parts, they've both shifted copies of the magazine to people wandering in. Ditto feedback from word of mouth: everyone who's picked the magazine up to look at has said good things about the design. It's making it much easier to build up early  interest than it was for previous lit-mags I've been involved with.

But at the same time, the real reasons for thinking Polarity is a good idea, in the middle of a recession, is based on gut instinct. I've been asking people for years if there's anything in the UK like The Believer, or anything which publishes the kind of weird stuff that the surrealists were into. Everyone says no, which doesn't mean it's not there, but that whatever is there isn't quite right for what we want to read.

So, like most literary movements and manifesto groups, if no one else is putting out the work you want to see, you create it yourself. These groups – the vorticists, the imagistes, surrealists, situationists and all the other little private clubs – have had little more to ride on than the shared sense of being 'different', coming from a sense exclusion or disillusionment with existing magazines,  before diving in to the world of publishing. There's a degree of ESP about it, a gut feeling that there are other people out there who feel the same way. So far, I'm being proven right, it's just finding out how to reach all those people we haven't yet.

September 22, 2010

Reconstructing Michael Minahan, by Martin Green

First baseball cap

for Michael Minahan

Three lines of tamed oil
transferred from folded tin foil rims,
           four oblong spaces;

gaps fill easily with windows, balconies, doors.
Homes observed from alibi dusk, 
           a coveted order.

Turmeric edged clouds spread across the nose,
eyes retain the shock of prison conditions,
             separate from blanched skin.

The stripe that bled the most,
incorporated as shoulders and an undone button-
              down collar.

Lost hat leaves forehead pleats,
spinning zoetrope figures wane
            to a furrow 

and the thinnest stain, imperfectly transparent,
sketched around in dark pastel, disguised
             as a worry line.

Second baseball cap


Brown elastic hair tie,
flattened into the shape of a human ear.

A not entirely happy doorbell.

The most predictable object,
turned upside down to expose a surprise.

Confetti rabbit floating in a rain-filled bottle top.

Bright pink cocktail stick,
in the shape of a swashbuckling sword.

The blue plastic end of something.

An incomplete arm from a pair of spectacles,
dark grey with delicate inlaid flowers.

A metal nut with a small white stone lodged inside.

Two rectangles with a hoop,
oxygen tanks for a diving figure, or,
a pair of doll’s house fire extinguishers.

Fragment of a bowl with a black and white pattern.

Shield from a broken dummy,
without handle or teat.

Red plectrum, Jim Dunlop, USA, Jazz 3.

Baseball cap folded in on its self,
sleeping like a grey cygnet.

Third baseball cap

Party, Party, Party

Flattened champagne wire cages
sewn onto triangular and crescent panels
unpicked from a baseball cap
strung into short lengths of bunting
unaffected by a curious breeze.

White, scratched,
scuffed into something purer,
kicking thousands of imaginary goals
until hexagons flap and fall,
making star and snowflake shapes
from a peeled football.

Shredded confidential documents
strewn like the jettisoned innards
of a party-popper battle
adopt the part forms of plates
and place names.

Fourth baseball cap

September 15, 2010

At the Office by Jessica Vickerage & George Ttoouli on The Prose Perspective

At the Office

UNDERNEATH THE CUPBOARDS it looks like snow after driving forward from your fortnightly shop (that’s how many times I have my hair done) the floor is left straightly dried – this is where we bury the bones Mr Policeman Sir. Think of a diagram of a skeletogram (he doesn’t take his clothes off) and you see the bricked up part of the machine – “there will be no charge for this service” and “I don’t have the Latin”: this is what you want, to carry the load, higher a little – “it has been over a year now”: radio waves.

Peeling fingers from the clam ledger and trace up to 100 with breathy remembrance – “Officers! (chairs rolled up) The fan and whir next time (Betty) Thank-you Betty.” And (oh) I have the dandruff back (after a bottle of pills) – whole shoulder blades – thinking back, deposit, wriggling fingers through the batter to find the cod, back to the undersides and bellies to the previous kitchen cupboards gummed and sealed from the rain and robbers now – they hold the crystal, dum dum da dah, and the crock(ery).

Half the world draws a pension whilst the other presses a ribbing hand against the hipbone of this outfit and you just squeeze until the money runs damp dough. “We used to have a shelf above the fire to store the teapots, Betty,” singing as my hobnail boots tap the rhythm of the dales, Granny stop stuffing the sofa with your dosh. I see Japanese girls dressed as red brides in the park and I have three pencil pots and not a scrap of lace to rub together whilst they ballerina into a two up to down with the one.

From the look of your lineage (unbalanced) you’ve been thinking about jumping for a while now (stepping from the television to violins), did you swim to this ledge? (hand on wet shoulder – comforting like). Quite bad with their minting this high up – “it’s been a year now,” I remember last week repeated over and over, but, “you can’t really can you?”

To the Sunday spread now, they’ve stamped my house one and house two: spokes (tick), pinecone fresh (tick), sprung (tick); line us up will you, but the gold bars stop us from being accidentally cooked (the paper said fried) in the microwave – now there is a thought – a jam(med) door would stop those dribberly fingers from sticking to the forms – “ah, but they leave no trace (Betty)”.

I felt the kick on my shin upwards stairwards, I went up with the tobacco and the fumigation – (PLEASE READ WITH A BLOCKED NOSE) – “I’ll calculate your time remaining, a matter of tabulation, oh, estimates for the better, but will we find the mean, I think, sticking with the average size of an electric pylon, a suicide to tip the scales and repetition along the rail – “Now I’ll be Beachy Head and Bedlam for a while and you do the sums.” DEFINE ME ELEPHANTINE LETTERS YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS I ASK. The Priest is mine for a day; no matter just strap it to the coffin in the final bolt forward.

“Please do pass the bank I need more money for cream.”


The Prose Perspective

One of the benefits of working in a creative writing institution is the ability to mould the minds of the next generation of readers. But not writers; no matter how much leverage one applies to another person's style of writing, they'll always return to their own way of doing things, after a few unsatisfying imitations.

Luckily, Jessica Vickerage turned up at the WWP's doors possessed by the ghost of Gertrude Stein, and towing a seven-inch eyeball on a leash. I made some of that up, but the point is, everyone is steeped in the baggage of alternative reading histories, even if they prefer Wayne Rooney's autobiography to Tender Buttons. Those few who have succeeded in overcoming mainstream sandblasting to find their way into a small, safe cave of obscure delight are the kind of writers, and readers, Polarity is interested in. Better still if they've done it before formally engaging with these immersions in an institution, where good habits will be mutated, possibly damaged, by over-analysis and self-consciousness.

I should qualify 'interested in' with 'exploiting their work in return for early publication.' The Warwick Alumni in Polarity (in alphabetical order: Scott Anthony, Ivan Juritz, Siavash Pournouri, Jessica Vickerage, not to mention the yoked co-editors), are already part of a community which the magazine is a sub-division of. And the magazine is secondary to the community.

There are examples, path-forgers, for us to follow. Some writers, like Frank Key, have dug their way deep into the network of tunnels under Mount Parnassus. (Prose writers are content with the dark underbelly of language, while poets are sun-worshippers, playing mostly with the superficial level of text and leaving meaning to chance.) One recent delight was tripping over a copy of a magazine founded by Chris Cutler in 1985, Re-Quarterly, in which Frank Key featured alongside artwork by Peter Blegvad. People who've been merrily complicit in their own financial exploitation for decades, yet also supported by community, cult fanbases, people who offer grateful boot-kissers like us the patronage of a few fleeting typo-free stories and images, and the hope of survival.

This isn’t so much an aesthetic explanation, as a pointer to the aesthetic tradition’s recent practitioners. But I suppose the key aesthetic explanation for what I’m looking for in the prose is ‘delight’, the 'enchantment' of Nabokov's declaration. That's what's missing from most of the stuff I read these days, include in a lot of leftfield experiments.

August 25, 2010

Essential Definitions

Some riffs off the chord sequence set by Georges Bataille, in his Critical Dictionary.

A Book

A device for determining correlations between time and thoughts. E.g. the rate at which seeds planted in childhood can blossom into: werewolves in sundappled glades flirting with vampires wearing duck's asses; arguments urging the ascent/descent of creationism along the staircase of human progress; warnings about the dangers of sexual relations with one's mother / one's siblings / egg-laying land mammals / people dressed as animals / people imagining one dressed as an animal / a shark.

Essential characteristics include: multiple facets containing legible squiggles that can through time be made partially illegible, thereby enhancing the Hyper-Mysteron Rating of a Book (Harrumb); limpeting procedures allowing the attachment of facets; portability (when one is able to carry away); transportability (when one is able to be carried away by). The depth of a Book's squiggles are measured in Meanings per centrimetre of Subtext.

A Magazine

When a book-related phenomenon lends itself to transition measurement in any of time's directions, periodically released.


With lasers for eyes, these golems are said to be forged in dark caves by magi descended from the first human shamans. Their primary function: to create books and magazines. First recorded instance discovered near Hasankeyf approximately nine millennia ago. They are thought to be excellent gardeners, able to manufacture seeds in their stomachs which excrete into political and artistic movements. Many Editors have clocks instead of hearts, whips instead of hands and in their skulls a switch that allows them to turn all moral decency on and off at will.

Contributing Editor

Peripherally constructed Editors in the formation of a pentagram, carrying a natural protective incantation. Smaller in scale to full Editors, the magi often inject these creatures with holistic levels of relevant seeds, permanently infecting them with Book DNA according to need.


Ancient Editors, their maturation marked by the smell of Book dust. Through time an Editor's skin naturally manifests tattoos from their creations. These tattoos can be harnessed and recorded by adolescent Editors given the correct cyphers, yet the process is costly; Advisors bear fruit once per year at most.


Beings whose skin is a non-Newtonian liquid, born with multiple hands. In the presence of an Editor, a Designer will melt, allowing their internal organs to be reforged according to need; hands will transmute into crustacea, legs into wheels, or in the case of incompetent moulding, mallet heads and tree stumps respectively. The brain must remain at the top of the reforged Designer form, with eyes radiating in all directions, to allow efficient operation.


Winged messengers made from woven speed. The surface of their hands can perfectly meld with the surface of books so as to deliver the produce of Editors and Designers without causing damage. They have many mouths and their ears function as radiowave antennae, allowing a psychic affinity with Designers. Naturally the Marketeer is a gregarious being, yet they also occur in isolation. Their wingspeed increases in packs, but the frequency of radio waves produced by individuals' antennae is not always consistent, causing disruption to their subvocal communication.

Polarity's Team

Editors: George Ttoouli, Neeral Bhatt, James Brookes

Contributing Editors: Zoe Brigley, Luke Kennard, Simon Turner, Theo Chiotis (TBC)

Advisory Board: Peter Blegvad, Frank Key, Carol Watts

Designer: James Harringman

Marketeers: Michael Wilson, Alexandra Szydlowska

August 11, 2010

Eponymous Introduction

Writing about web page

George Ttoouli introduces The Rhizomatic Angel

Welcome through the velveteen arches of this sanatorium under the sign of a broken hourglass, hosted by the editors of Polarity Magazine UK, George Ttoouli (Main Ed. & Prose), Neeral Bhatt (Art Ed.) and James Brookes (Poetry Ed.). Polarity is the magazine of the New Surreal; we’ve set out to fill a hole in the soul of today’s culture-kestrels. That sounds catchier than it means.

We’re attempting to synthesise the best parts of magazines like Georges Bataille’s Documentes, and contemporary mags like BOMB, The Believer and McSweeneys. Why? Because in the UK there isn’t anything quite as beautifully produced, contrary, untimely and entertaining out there. Each issue is themed around two falsely polarised ideas so as to create a weird artefact of ideas, creative work, interviews, essays and archival material. And, as a bonus, each issue comes with a free supplement, an artefact+ that props up the issue.

The first issue, Death vs. Taxes, has work by artists and writers new and established, as well as a free pamphlet proposing a system of taxation on thought, in order to help pull Britain out of recession. Really it’s an excuse to let all the weirdest parts of our ids out into the world, a call to arms to people like us, the start of some kind of critical mass. The feedback’s been good from readers so far, but don’t take my word for it – go take a look yourself.

This is both a social experiment – using the internet to facilitate a small press project – and an aesthetic crusade. The internet levels the playing field of traditional ideas of authority (hence, as Deleuze and Guattari pointed out a couple of decades ago, it’s a form of rhizome). You could merrily be reading a review of, say, Noam Chomsky, thinking it's all high quality for appearing in an established broadsheet; but it's followed by 40 extremely lucid reader comments that tear the ideas and standpoint apart, point out its biases. And so you pop up indie opinions, or other established writers who blog about the same subjects. Who do you listen to, trust?

There’s room on the internet to establish a base and grow, in the way most micro-businesses grow, slowly, patiently, according to limited resources. Polarity's aim, then, is to use the internet to create something that will save us from the boredom of the same-old-names cycled and recycled around mainstream magazines who aren't the strongholds of authority and opinion that they once were. (So, an angelic mission as well as a social experiment, even if the angels have huge, flaming swords and no interest in traditional ideas of angels).

Small scale ventures can survive, with a little ingenuity and a lot of quality, time and energy, by harnessing the internet in ways that cost little money. We’ve a small band of supporters – market research and content from Michael Wilson, Alexandra Szydlowska and an excellent designer, James Harringman – but at the moment we’re short on time and energy. The quality is out there, artists creating work that is immediately arresting, rewards revisits, and sits within the pages of a magazine you won’t want to throw away at the end of the year to clear space for whatever disposable, mainstream airport literature you've picked up, that will end up pulped into the foundations of a runway, or stretch of motorway.

We’re still in a kind of beta phase, testing out the design, the aesthetics, our ability to promote online, our ability to scare ourselves and others. We’ve a small business brain attached, from prior experience in small press publishing, and we’re learning new technologies as we go along. The real strength is our passion for Polarity, the desire to make it work, slowly. As long as there’s new content coming in, we can find the best ways to get the work out there, reach people, build a community, step by baby step.

Further reading

Gists & Piths – co-edited by George Ttoouli & Simon Turner

Iguanodon Studies – Neeral Bhatt’s critical art blog

James Brookes' online hovel

The Believer

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern


Story of the Eye

Some extracts from the Critical Dictionary / Encyclopaedia Acephalica

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