Sabotage Reviews and the Saboteur Awards
by Richard T. Watson
(with James Webster and Claire Trévien)
Sabotage Reviews started off modestly as a blog in May 2010 with reviews mostly by Claire Trévien, and has developed into to a website with three editors and a small but dedicated team of regular reviewers. Early Sabotage focused on small-scale published poetry, but in the last two years we’ve tried to expand on this by reviewing short story collections, zines, anthologies and novellas as well as published and performance poetry. Claire wanted Sabotage to be about more than her own tastes, which lie firmly in the world of poetry pamphlets and magazines, and so James Webster and Richard T. Watson joined as Performance and Fiction Editors, with their own varied interests.
It’s still very much a labour of love dependent on the goodwill of strangers to send us their 500 to 1000 word reviews, of editors to come home from work and press ‘track changes’ and, of course, of publishers, organisers, authors and performers, to introduce us to, send us, and invite us into their worlds.
Our Saboteur Awards mark Sabotage’s birthday each year, but our third birthday is the first time we’ve held a party. It’s on May 29th and we’re really looking forward to it. We’ve experimented with different ways of choosing who wins, and this year – wanting readers and audiences (not just of Sabotage) to be able to have their say – we’ve opened the whole thing up to popular vote. The party’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit, with music, poetry and awards, as well as a book fair.
Over the course of the last three years, an increasing concern at the heart of the website has been to maintain a balance between encouragement and criticism. On the one hand, we believe in giving exposure to small scale endeavours, but don’t think that anyone benefits from blanket approval and, of course, each reviewer is entitled to their own opinion. A good example of that practice is Éireann Lorsung’s review of Colette Sensier’s Holdfire Press pamphlet which, while finding much to admire in the writing, also highlighted a worrying trend among Western writers to practice what she calls poetic tourism. The review was one of many of the new Holdfire Press pamphlets covered by different reviewers who brought their unique viewpoint to them.
Our growing team of fiction reviewers has covered, among others, Danish mini-sagas, demonic rock bands, lesbian steampunk, and a twelve-page story of a cockroach at the Gates of St Peter – a collection of real quality writing (and some howlers!) that Richard likes to think of as the Fiction stable. Not everything in our stable strictly counts as ‘fiction’ or prose, but this isn’t something that’s ever bothered us. Sabotage aims to give some exposure to the ephemeral, the self-published, the unspoken-for, and strict categories get in the way of that; so our ‘Fiction’ happily encompasses publications that include a variety of forms which might otherwise not get reviewed because they don’t fit into an easily-described box.
For example, US-based Armchair/Shotgun has short fiction alongside poetry and visual artwork – and Richard’s particularly proud that A/S #2 went on to win the second of our Saboteur Awards. For sheer baffled disgust, our review of the Swedish Anger Mode is worth reading in full. That said, one of our favourite reviews has been Tori Truslow’s review of Steam-Powered II: The Lesbian Steampunk Anthology, if only for that airship comparison.
The performance side of Sabotage is one that folds very neatly into our envelope of ‘Reviews of the Ephemeral’. Because of the nature of spoken word, there are aspects of a performance or a certain poetry night that will not and cannot be recreated; nuances to one reading that change by the next, or things that went unfortunately and hilariously wrong. It’s one of the real pleasures of editing for Sabotage that we manage to catch and preserve some of these individual moments and serve them up to a wider audience (such as the ridiculous exchange between poet Paul Askew and his mother or the time a champagne bottle spontaneously popped during a performance by Amy Acre). And due to the kind of ‘crowd-sourced’ nature of open mic and slam events many of the spoken word artists we’ve ended up reviewing are people who have simply turned up on the off-chance of a reading and whose performances otherwise might have gone unnoticed. Instead, they’ve been caught in our reviewers’ crosshairs, suddenly receiving a barrage of critique or praise that was unexpected and has almost always been appreciated.
We’ve had the pleasure of covering a whole host of different events, but favourites include our Edinburgh Fringe coverage and Koel Mukherjee’s review of Carmina’s Poetry Tease, which exemplified our attempts to capture the spirit and feel of an event.
What we hope to achieve with these awards is a balance similar to the balance of the site’s coverage as a whole; the winners will be decided by popular vote, but there will also be a critical counterpart in the form of a review or interview to go along with the results. We want to celebrate the exciting things that are going on in underground literature, while at the same time encouraging greater quality by highlighting these excellent endeavours.
Visit Sabotage Reviews.
You can view the Saboteur Awards shortlist with a link to the voting page here.