A Letter from the Editor
September 21st 2011
Welcome to Issue Three.
The months which followed the publication of StepAway Magazine Issue Two have been marked by unrest both at home and abroad. Here in England, communities in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham bore witness to the most serious outbreak of widespread rioting and looting in a generation. Libya readied itself for a forced regime change. The United States lost its triple-A credit-rating, a dramatic reversal of fortune for the world’s largest economy. Less than a month later, Hurricane Irene tore through the Caribbean and up the eastern seaboard of America.
Far be it from me to don a sandwich board and traipse up and down Oxford Street declaring that the end is nigh. However, I found it fitting to open this issue of the magazine with two conflicting portraits of civilisation. The first comes in the form of our cover image; a despairing, vertigo inducing print entitled “Reigning Men” by the British artist Paul Baines. The second is a message of hope: our opening poem by Lemn Sissay MBE entitled “Let there be Peace”.
Mr. Baines found inspiration for “Reigning Men” whilst watching footage of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, particularly the manner in which “one Wall Street banker after another, in a final act of desperation, took it upon themselves to end their lives by leaping to their deaths, leaving behind their plush offices and leather-bound executive chairs, mahogany desks and reams of worthless bonds and balance sheets.” “Reigning Men” is a snapshot of the dizzying vertical power structure of the contemporary cityplace and the plummeting weight of an economy in freefall. Much of Mr Baines’s striking and controversial artwork presses the pause button on the fall of civilisation. “Reigning Men” is no exception, presenting with freeze-frame clarity the hopeless instant preceding a fatal crash to earth.
In a review of Mr. Sissay’s most recent collection entitled Listener, the Independent proclaimed: “his poems are songs of the street.” ‘Let there be Peace’ is by no means a walking narrative, rather, an age old message of unity shaped for the current moment. The poem will soon adorn a wall in Manchester. Mr. Sissay states: “landmarks are utterly democratic because people choose a landmark, they refer to it as the place ‘just around the corner from the pub with the poem on it. My idea is that we should paint the whole country with poems”. Whereas Mr. Baines work portends the fragmentation and fall of capitalist society as financial markets and financiers alike are dashed on the urban sidewalk, Mr. Sissay’s poem is a statement of hope and social togetherness inscribed directly onto the city’s walls.
The turbulence of the past months has paid testament to the irrepressible momentum of the city. In the aftermath of England’s riots hundreds of residents showed up on the street with brooms, eager to clean up the streets, rebuild and move on. Many clean up campaigns were coordinated on Twitter using the hashtags #riotcleanup and #riotwombles. In Manhattan’s Battery Park, the BBC reporter Laura Trevelyan braved the onslaught of tropical storm Irene, whilst a New York jogger trotted nonchalantly by her. Yellow taxicabs continued to work the streets and avenues despite instructions to remain indoors. It is perhaps this inexorable nature of the cityplace which deems it most captivating to the walker – and the manner in which the city’s buildings appear indifferent to such dramas having witnessed similar on many occasions before.
Meanwhile, StepAway Magazine has gone from strength to strength. The past three months saw us gather an all time high of 115,000 hits, and attract a record number of submissions. We were also delighted to gain the attention of Professor Chris Jenks, Vice Chancellor of Brunel University and author of a number of important critical studies regarding the practice of walking. Professor Jenks commented that “StepAway Magazine is a welcome contribution to our growing body of understanding of urban culture.” We offer our thanks to Professor Jenks for his support.
In recent years there has been a marked revival of interest in the practice of walking, ranging from the critical re-examinations of the flâneur, to the reinterpretation of the contemporary urban landscape via psychogeographic practices. New initiatives crop up on a regular basis, however one of the most fascinating and ambitious is W.A.L.K. (W.A.L.K. Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge) a research initiative co-founded by Prof. Brian Thompson, Dr. Tim Brennan and Dr. Mike Collier at UoS. The aim of the initiative is to interrogate and define the practice of ‘Art Walking’. The team state that “W.A.L.K. can make a significant contribution to research by developing a role as a ‘custodian’ and critical friend for the practice of ‘art walking’ and examining the relationship of ‘art walking’ to the practice of painting, sculpture, photography, music and performance.” A bi-annual academic journal will accompany the initiative. Further information can be found here.
John Rogers at Vanity Projects was kind enough to send us a review copy of his film The London Perambulator, which follows the movements of urban wanderer and deep topographer Nick Papadimitriou. In this film Papadimitriou demonstrates his unique reading of the urban landscape, finding beauty in the utterly mundane. It is a study of the forgotten, and the broken; a reclamation of those overlooked places which lie in what Papadimitriou describes as the ‘edgelands’. The full length documentary can be viewed online here.
StepAway Magazine continues to follow an alternate path, urging writers to rediscover the ‘dirty magic’ of the street by repeatedly treading the pavements/sidewalks of their chosen cities. Issue Three offers as a dazzling array of urban writing. We begin with “LVIV”, a short by James Robison which is a study of war time occupation set in Lviv, a Ukrainian city at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. This is followed by “Promenade”, W.F. Lantry’s balmy stroll through the rues and ruelles of Nice. “Linda Street” by Jeffrey Alfier leads us to suburbia and the streets of Torrance, California at dusk.
The nineteenth century Parisian flâneur was famed for taking a turtle for a walk. In “Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco” David L. O’Neal goes walkabout with his parrot. Kevin McLellan explores the Memphis ‘edgelands’ in “Postmodern Park”. Joan McNerney’s poem “Lost dream” is StepAway‘s first encounter with the auto-flâneuse, set at night on the icy, twisting roads of Albany. In “Vancouver Visions” Michelle Ward-Kantor explores Vancouver after dark, whilst “Two Twilights: Queens”, a poem by Lorraine Schein, observes darkness fall upon the outer boroughs of New York City. ”A Geisha’s Shamisen” by Sonia Saikaley visits a nocturnal café hidden in an Osaka alleyway. Meanwhile, Thomas Bacher’s “Buying Dope NYC Style” features a drug run in Sugar Hill, Harlem. Finally, “Broken Glass” by the previously unpublished writer Caitlin Walsh is a collection of broken images and fragments from the street.
As a surreal antidote to Paul Baines’s cover art “Reigning Men”, I include my own short, entitled “Vertical Axis”. I do not intend StepAway Magazine to be a vehicle for the publication of my own prose. However, on this rare occasion when the magazine opens with the image of thirty-six men falling, it appears rather appropriate to conclude with a story about one man borne aloft above the New York crowd. “Vertical Axis” was first published in print in Fractured West, but has never been published online.
Finally, may I wish our contributor Michelle Ward-Kantor a happy anniversary!
I hope that you enjoy reading our third issue.
Darren Richard Carlaw