Thursday, August 17, 2006

With a Little Help from His Friends

Areté Magazine
Edited by Craig Raine

Issue One Winter 1999. (158 p.)
ISBN: 0904 241 165

Issue Two Spring-Summer 2000. (158 p.)
ISBN: 0904 241 211

When Craig Raine decided to become the editor of a literary magazine, he knew what he had to do to succeed. "No one is being paid," Raine made clear in a New Statesman piece. "All unpaid - in advance. A first." Who would contribute to a new literary venture without expectation of compensation? Friends. Raine has quite a few of them, and he has reaped the rewards of their labors for the first two issues. Martin Amis shows up in interview. Julian Barnes offers a new short story. Ian McEwan appears in both issues, as does Rosemary Hill, Jerzy Jarniewicz, and Jeremy Noel-Tod. Areté does not suffer from a lack of quality.

Of all the highlights offered in Issue One, Raine's own contribution deserves special attention. "A la recherche du temps perdu", a candid portrayal of a past love affair, was much maligned in the press for its harsh reality and forthcoming nature. "Raine's work has always been pretty yucky," claims a Guardian article, which then goes on to add, "Raine's reality, the way it was for him, is a bit too real for me." Talking to the Daily Telegraph, friends of the deceased lover (the poem reveals she died of AIDS) believe Raine "should have left her alone". In the end, all of the commotion fails to convince that the poem is anything but brilliant. Julian Barnes is quoted in the Sunday Times as stating, "Nobody else could have done such a thing except Craig." In the same Daily Telegraph piece mentioned above, Barnes adds, "The headline should be: Craig Raine writes a wonderful new extraordinary poem. I don't know if it's causing a stir. I think it should cause a stir ... as a poem."

The reality the critics disparage is the exact feature that allows the sometimes "graphic" details of the lost relationship to flourish. In Raine's hands, nipple hair is transformed from banal pubic growth to a touching, symbolic tribute, a memory of something tangible and true. The following passages (pages in parenthesis) are but a few examples of Raine's tenderness toward his subject. Raine's poem isn't about graphic details or explicit sexual encounters, but about genuine concern and feelings, both lost and lingering.

What has all this to do with anyone else?
Why all these intimate details?

You taught me sex
was conversation and not a speech. (67)

I licked a nostril, kissed your chin.
Never so close again.

And now I have remembered you.

You difficult, lovely, lost masterpiece,
this is my purpose.

To make you real.
To make you see, to make you feel,

to make you hear.

To make you here. (84)

Raine followed the success of Issue One with a Spring/Summer issue brimming with continued promise. Areté is filled with many great contributions, but Julian Barnes's short story "Appetite" offers the greatest enjoyment. Barnes's story deals with ageing and the loss of self and is filled with as much clarity and shocking reality as Raine's poem mentioned above. Similar in style to "Interference", the great opening story of Cross Channel, "Appetite" develops a tone that is much darker, perhaps because of the all too common familiarity of the subject. In previous works, Barnes has developed the idea that we are made of memories. In this short story, he addressed what it is like to be lost to those memories. To discuss the story further would only diminish its strength, but the £8.00 price of Areté is worth paying for this story alone.

The other great contribution to Issue Two is a letter submitted by one Barret Crampik. Accompanying his letter of congratulations for the publishing of Areté's first issue, Mr. Crampik submits a poem titled "The Beautiful Testicle". Raine publishes the poem directly after Mr. Crampik's letter and both are a tremendous joy to read -- again and again. One hopes that the good Mr. Crampik will submit more such poems in future issues.

If the success of a literary magazine were determined by the quality of the writing it contains, we should expect to see many more issues of Raine's new venture. Since money is always a factor in the publishing world, you may wish to support Raine's efforts by subscribing. Please consult the Areté Magazine Website for details.

-- Ryan Roberts, June/July 2000


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