Taxi at Sunset, China
Woman on the Bus, Yorkshire
Woman Sitting in Miranda, Italy
Fast Food Chairs in Squat, London
Velvet Chair in Squat, London
Woman in Rome, Italy
Bio: Emma Sywyj has been an artist for 14 years and a photographer for 12 years & a DJ for 7 years. 5 of those years she was based in London whilst studying photography at the Camberwell College of Arts at the UAL. From there she received a BA Honours in Photography and a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design. She has exhibited her artwork internationally in the US in New York, LA & San Francisco and Athens in Greece and Budapest in Hungary. She has also exhibited nationally in the UK and London several times, where she currently lives and works. She has also been published in several independent art magazines in the UK. www.emmasywyj.com/
is just about the only thing that’ll settle him
the opening solo of ‘Smells Like Teen
Spirit’ having his little frame droop in my
arms as if inducing an ancestral reflection of
the berries piled high the day’s game still
warm on the floor of the encampment the us
the troop in our assembly at the signal of the
evening sun enjoying a sense of togetherness
a something we let go of long ago and now
only fleetingly recreated at football matches
or club nights here in the ennui in between
the most heinous of our species'
achievements and those that will displace
them I’m stood rocking wrap-ped up in my
juvenile’s fantasy my partner off out on the
hunt my baby now soundo for as long as this
nap lasts and I’m staring out of this fifth-
floor window at strangers traipsing home to
their places not even knowing I’m up here as
Bio: Jack Houston used to put on warehouse parties in London, but now works in his local library and writes poems. He took second prize in last year's Poetry London Competition. Recent work online at And Other Poems.
Reproduction of the Mouth
"The enemy of art is indifference," says Joanne Leah. The Brooklyn based artist and photographer has been painstakingly crafting a body, an almost broken body of work tackling sexuality's blurred edges, the primal subconscious forces that move in us and that her subjects act out on the brave frontier of art's fleshy landscape. All the rituals aligning bodies are here absented and emptied of their religion, their hyper-morality, a fierce and uncompromising look under the hood of our sheltered skins, baring the experimental teeth of our electrical soul. "I was never given the mental tools to have a healthy relationship with femininity and sex," Leah says, adding; "I had to experience many negative relationships to finally learn how to reclaim my sexuality as a woman. This body of work is an important journey for me." Reconciling and wrestling with all those inherited inner antagonisms that block up a body and mind, these images, contorted, pained, desexualized, almost broken but still miraculously holding together, serve to provoke reactions that can be transformative and clue us in to some of our own missing pieces. Puzzle work is life's constant reminder of its own absence of meaning, art is the language that gives us a world and bodies to contend with, the creative layers, stripped and stacked anew, bring us closer to a mystery which constantly removes itself from capture. Joanne Leah sets artistic bear traps in the dark inner forests as a thorny reminder that our world is multi-faceted and open to invention, contortion, and sometimes even magic.
AHC: What has your own personal evolution towards a life in art & photography been like, are there a series of moments you can recall where this path, this calling, began to become the one clearly marked for you?
Joanne: Because of my religious upbringing, I have always been interested in the esoteric. In elementary school, I would repeatedly check out books from the library about witchcraft and astral projection. I would create magical elixirs using common kitchen ingredients and also practice leaving my body as I fell asleep at night. As a teenager I experimented with psychedelic drugs. I was able to alter my sensory perception, creating experiences that continue to influence me as an adult.
I never considered myself a photographer. In art school, I studied sculpture, then switched to fashion design because I wanted to make wearable sculptures. I took photography classes to document my work. I started exploring sexuality in my practice in 2007, taking erotic self portraits as a way to escape an unhappy marriage. A turning point was when the lines of subject and photographer became blurred and mirrored exhibitionist and voyeur lines. I transitioned to shooting subjects in 2010.
This current body of work (I didn’t realize it at the time) started in May, 2014. It was a casual investigation at first, and developed into an honest analyzation of my childhood memories. I direct my subjects to interact with objects and substances while they move around, stand and kneel on the floor, their faces obscured. I create a transcendent memory through a sense of confinement and meditation using composition, color, physical positioning and the tactile quality of the materials used. I visualize myself conducting otherworldly, ritualistic psychological experiments. I also pull a lot of inspiration from fetish, pornography and the male gaze.
AHC: Could you explore and expand on some of the motivating ideas at work in your photography and the process behind the making of them? You've described harrowing early experiences which have irrevocably shaped your outlook and feel of the world, themes of isolation, detachment, fear and identity thread their way throughout your images. Do you find that provocation, the shocking (or more aptly, honest image) bears also deep catharsis, if we're willing to brave the dark forest of our own lives?
JL: My motivation is part compulsion, part psychological experiment and part dominatrix. My work is about sensation and I want the viewer to feel what my subject feels using their own sensual interpretations. I desexualize nudity by portraying the nude form abstractly, almost broken. The enemy of art is indifference. I feel that I have a responsibility to provoke a reaction rather than the work being decorative.
Each image is a facet of my fantasy world. Sometimes I don't know where the images come from, but I research constantly: painters, sculptors, philosophy, photography, music, literature and history, finding pieces of information that connect with my subconscious vision. I "collect" props, food, liquids, colors and human subjects. Each concept, object and subject is chosen carefully based on how they will interact. I think through playful nudity, and subconsciously censoring mostly female body parts, I am dealing with my own feminine sexual identity. I was a tomboy growing up and raised Catholic, sexuality was not discussed or encouraged at home. I recently had a baby, and she has made me realize that I was never given the mental tools to have a healthy relationship with femininity and sex. I had to experience many negative relationships to finally learn how to reclaim my sexuality as a woman. This body of work is an important journey for me.
AHC: Having faced censorship as an artist, what is your message to others facing this battle, what tools are at our disposal to push back on what is still, sadly, an all too puritanical world? Do you see changes at work, or do you feel that we are still, at times, not too far removed from the court room mentality that debated the artistic merit of James Joyce, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg?
JL: Algorithms, machine learning, AI. Optimization, automation, relevance. This is language defining contemporary human interaction with data. Information is continuously filtered, flagged or removed by AI pattern recognition. Machines are now co-constructors of identity, designing a culture of context. Our only way of communicating with this AI is through social media. My artistic practice works parallel to social media algorithms, using censorship as an element and creating confusing compositions that are unrecognizable to the programming. Simultaneously, I am building a database of artist narratives, images and resources, giving individuals a voice, reacting to this new kind of censorship: artistsagainstcensorship.com
In middle school, I remember hearing for the first time, that another girl mowed her lawn
The Weirdest Question I Have Ever Asked
AHC: Who are some of your artistic influences? Is there anyone outside of the art/photography world who has had a huge impact on you and your work or who just generally inspire you on some level, writers, filmmakers, comedians, musicians, teachers/mentors, family members?
JL: Visual Artists: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Hans Bellmer, Max Ernst, Marilyn Minter
Philosophy: Carl Jung’s, Man and His Symbols, Gestalt Psychology
Musicians: Oren Ambarchi, Sunn O))) and Coil’s Time Machines album
Family: My husband is my printer and muse, he has helped me realize my vision in so many ways. My infant daughter is teaching me how to truly let go.
Subjects: Their complete trust and surrender.
AHC: What do you consider, personally, to be the most sacred and enduring aspects of art? How does it enrich our world and our cultural memory? How has it enriched or altered your own life?
JL: The sacredness of art is when idea, process and outcome happen simultaneously. What is shown is evidence of the ritual, depicting a metaphor for a cycle of transformation: conception, birth, death, rebirth. Art is the subconscious primal pulse, reverberating through society, challenging what we consider acceptable.
In order for memory to be most effective, it must involve all of our senses. I want people to be able to feel my images using their own sensual biographies. Through shared vulnerability, and subconsciously censoring mostly female body parts, I am understanding my own feminine sexual identity.
AHC: In your opinion, what does art, at its finest moments, bring into the world that would otherwise leave us more impoverished without it?
JL: Ritual in the absence of religion. Otherworldliness in the absence of spirituality. Conviction in the absence of faith. Examination in the absence of morality.
AHC: What is the first work of art you encountered that took your breath away, that lit a fire in you?
JL: I was lucky enough to see Yoko Ono’s Fly, at my university gallery in the 90s, and it changed my life.
Love's Secret Domain
AHC: Is there any art or photography you've come across that shocks or scares you? Even in a good way?
JL: Nothing is shocking or scary in this world of over-stimulation.
AHC: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for young artists and other creatives who are experiencing self-doubt in their art, frustration or blocks? What are the types of things that have helped you to move past moments where you may have become stuck creatively?
JL: Don't listen to advice and keep working.
AHC: Do you have any upcoming exhibits or new projects you'd like to tell people about?
JL: I will have work in the group exhibition, 18+, at Recspec Gallery in Austin, TX opening February 16. Le Petit Voyeur included me in their latest issue, releasing in February, and they will also be displaying prints of my work at their launch party in Copenhagen. I will be showing large scale works at a show here in NYC in early March (details soon). NSFW: Female Gaze at the Museum of Sex has been extended until April, including a special event to celebrate the show. A friend’s cafe recently commissioned me to create a wall mural in Brooklyn. I’m also working on several collaborative and curatorial projects this year that I’m super excited about.
treating a burn
“...we ensure that we are providing a foundation built off of mutual respect.
Therefore, we expect everyone involved in the program...to treat others
as they would want to be treated to help uphold this ideology.”
-About Us, Youth Care Residential Treatment Center
she came from wilderness in north carolina
with a bandage around her left forearm
said she’d passed out during solo onto her little stove
we gathered each morning to watch the nurse
change the seeping dressing of her wound
it kinda looks like pizza
with the cheese peeled off we’d say
& staff would say
to mind our own business
she slept in the bed next to mine
& refused to get up for maybe a week
all day she’d weave her bloodied sheets
around her into a pointless chrysalis
staff told us we were not to talk to her
i snuck a packet of soy nuts & left it by her head
her glasses perched on the bedpost unused
her mother flew in from oregon
& made staff take her to the hospital
& i cleaned up the strawberry smoothie
& partially-dissolved vicodin
she’d puked onto the closed lid of our toilet
i rinsed off the pill
& took it
awhile after her graft we were outside
passing a soccer ball back & forth & it popped up
& she blocked with the injured arm & a precise oval
of pus stuck to it & staff picked it up
hands protected by a walmart bag & threw it
over the fence into a mormon tea shrub
they told her to go sit & wait
for the nurse & they told me to go
& get another ball
& i did
SAO: sexually acting out
you // the offender // have been caught // engaging in deviant sexually-motivated behavior // this may or
may not include // physical contact with another resident or therapist or staff member // excessive
emotional attachment to other residents or therapists or staff members // administering a high-five without
permission // singing along to “i kissed a girl”
YZ: yellow zone
you will lose all earned privileges // including access to your own clothing // you will be searched // & given
complimentary sweatpants // with three droplets of blood on the inside of the waistband // & a faded piss
mark on the right leg // you will be confined // to the unit
CMR: communication restriction
you may not engage // in any form of communication // individual therapy sessions will cease // once daily
// if behaving // you will join your other offending peers // to complete the allotted hour of recreational
therapy // staff will play a vhs of sweatin’ to the oldies // & you will perform every hop & slide & sashay in
silence // facing that bubbly troupe of middle-aged women // most of whom are probably by now obese
again // or bedridden // ♫you would cry too // if it happened to you… // you will sweat // to the oldies
IF: individual focus
you will be moved // to an unoccupied room // & you will sit at the desk & reflect // & swallow the
medicine you are prescribed // & you won’t fall asleep // or make eye contact through the tiny window in
the door // or cover your face // or hide your hands // you will slip a scrap of paper into the hall //
begging in pencil // to use the toilet // but you won’t open your mouth // you will stare at the white wall //
you will say nothing // of course // you are nothing
Bio: sally burnette currently lives in Boston. their poems have appeared most recently in BOAAT, Calamus Journal, Sixth Finch, and Yes, Poetry. tweets @dunebuggy12.
Shave your beard and go home, Sam
shave your beard and go home, Sam
there’s no more light in this lightless room
there’s no more weight left to put on this heavy story
you’re not this room made smaller and smaller
you’re not this dance done into the point of exhaustion
you are in fact Marin County and the faceless trees
the roadless highways, the elation at every other star
the differed sense of self that you chase after at the nose
of your undying headlights in the california night
the hidden stitching on each and every book you’ve ever read
shave your beard and go home, Sam
you are a wild bird in an opened cage
you are dragging around barbed wire for too many miles
kiss clean the past and let it disappear into the deep end of it all
take this baby deer into the field and shoot it in the head
that gun will sound louder than any shouting match in history
but in history it will disappear from profanity into grace
shave your beard and go home, Sam
this is it
my last ditch effort to brazenly remind you to save your own life
Portrait of a Horse Spooked by a Gun
this is not an easy poem for you to write
you wander around in the attic of your own skull and wipe dust from some old mirror
for the first time in a long time you examine the lines of your face
you identify a new gray hair, an abandoned missile silo in the field of the dreams of youth
you identify a new pair of crow’s feet resting on the phone line of your eyes
in the soul of your eyes there is the shrapnel pieces from a dozen love bomb explosions
the pieces dancing like dust as you float into the ether of your own past
you muddy your face with the dirt of your unending apologies
you muddy your face with the water of your everything will be alright sing-song
your face become unrecognizable it collapses into the black of that same ether in your eyes
and this is where you hide
in unrecognizable spaces that flicker between fragments of film reels of you riding your first bike
film reels of you crying at your birthday party when you blew the candles out too soon
film reels of you, in bee-swarms of temper-tantrum, stomping up the stairs and slamming the door
your pillow soaking up tears like a sponge, you disappear into its collective fallen feathers
someone flips the gravity switch off
we find that we are seven billion humans floating just above the surface of a round planet
with your feet in the air and your head on the ground
you control grab at a car door or a windowsill anything to stop from floating off
sideways upside-down fire hydrants blasting cold water stuck frozen in time
and how do we proceed from here?
in a world without gravity we are free
but what do we have left to ground us?
you are walking walking and walking through a dense forest of dead trees
you are searching searching for any semblance of something still alive
but still dead trees still dead trees like ten thousand dead spiders
why is there not a single thing that is alive?
your bouncing souls crackle on the dead leaves and the dirty ground
why is there not a single thing that is alive?
why is there not a single thing that is alive?
you assume the role of priest in this strange confessional of friendship
you sit solemn-eyed fingers cross-hatched as they scream into your ear
i can’t do it any more i’m stuck i’m lost it’s too late i’m gone i’m gone i’m gone
and you you can you’re free you’re everywhere it’s never too late you’re here right now eternally
the confessional walls break down
there before you in black mascara tears sits pagliacci the clown, crying
and in your other ear another someone crying
and the red face of anger screaming in your face and the squeaking of the broken dryer in the basement
and another someone calls and tells you they might be pregnant as you sip your camelbak of coffee
as you revisit the past against your will it’s here it’s back in this present moment trying to drag you back
as another someone sings off key, as someone screams at you in traffic
the harrowing violin string tornado warning of catholic guilt, of hebraic neurosis
of america the last battalion of clashing anxiety shot up onto the jumbotron
ten million deadeyed faces all crying and screaming enveloping you enveloping you
and in this overflooded megachurch you speak in drought and ask yourself if anyone is praying for you
your hands clasped tight in conservation of energy of energy
a strange dream where when you step forward you move backwards
thoughts fogged and lost to the eternal moonshine of the blotted mind
a strange dream where when you step forward you move backwards
an old timey movie scene where the car is clearly not in motion
film reels of you behind the driver’s seat racing into the heart of darkness
you’re trying to reach her love but you cannot reach her love
you’ve let the flowers fly out the window
you’ve left the bride at the alter
you wake up alone
a strange dream where when you step forward you move backward
you find yourself in a massive empty museum
staring at a portrait of a horse spooked by a gun
and you are the horse and the gun and the portrait and the museum
and recognizing yourself the horse you can stare the fear in its dirty face
you can nuzzle right up against it and sleep with it by your aching side
The Eight of Swords
you keep handing me this crying baby like it belongs to me
and i think what i’m finding is you are a broken boat
i think it’s time i tell you i can be a river but not an ocean
you keep asking me to sing in keys my sore voice can’t reach
i’m not a singer, i’m not a dancer, i simply bleed blood
and usually i’m searching for a sponge to clean that up
so take back this crying child that’s screaming your name
take it back it’s not mine
i know there’s blood all over my hands
but i’m not going to paint us red with it
i’m resolved to stay in this forest for a while
i’m resolved to sleep in tiny beds
but it’s three in the morning and my eyes are fire
i can’t even hear your howls anymore
i can’t use my broken hands to dig for bones in your backyard
i see the cage around you and i see the open door
i’m not going to slam it shut
i’m not going
i’ve counted my own doors and left them open
i’ve counted my own doors and understand that these rooms
are just compartments of one swollen heart
i’m staying home
where its home and i know how many doors there are
open your doors and carry your child
before it carries you
BIO: Brice Maiurro is a poet from Denver, Colorado. His work has previously been featured by The Denver Post, Birdy Magazine, Suspect Press, and The Denver Poetry Map to name a few. His first collection of poetry, Stupid Flowers, was released in June of 2017 by Punch Drunk Press.
city night reflection
too many thoughts
and not enough oxygen.
books of all origins
on a weathered case.
so many people
and such old shapes.
old bricks glowing
against iPhones and bonfires,
talking beneath the few
stars that do peek through;
we’re in it together.
it’s the fabric of so many
hearts among the ivy,
the worn storefronts,
the new ideas;
the beauty and
Bio: Kelsey O'Kelley is an editor, poet, and green tea fan who hails from Chicago. She has also been published in UpWrite Mag, The Whistling Shade, and Sea Foam Mag.
I cut off my tits
my menstrual flow reverses back inside of me
and I’m a child again
I crawl up my mother’s vagina to hide
nothing can get me in there
I slide down her fallopian tubes and squeal with delight
I swim inside her ovaries and crush the other eggs
there will be no sibling rivalries anymore
a hand reaches up to pull me out and I snap at it
tearing it off
and I swallow it whole
there will be none of that!
I won’t go willingly
I won’t go quietly
I’ll stay here safely
until she dies
then I’ll sneak back out and resume my womanhood
without her in the way
that’s always been how it’s done in my family
we emerge from the cocoon when it’s safe
and the mouth is perpetually quiet
BIO: Natasha Cabot is a Halifax-based Canadian writer whose work has been featured in Thrice Fiction Magazine, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Wilderness House Literary Review, as well as several others. She recently completed work on her first novel, "Patriotland."
In My Garden
it has been over three years
since Hugo ripped open my body.
he planted many things.
what is there to say about a garden of salt?
fatty ripped tears all over my stomach.
my arms; blue veins spilling red.
my back; remembering his body.
his body which miraculously
in a morning.
the garden is dead, has always been
sitting in my garden,
I have attempted to flourish it up,
putting plastic pink chairs,
drinking lemonade in the sunlight
but September always comes again.
many stop through the garden,
deciding to head elsewhere
as they step over red rocks
that hurt their feet.
my vulnerability is a jagged thing.
I am alone in this garden,
much as I was alone before.
I remember growth once.
Bio: Erin Taylor is an American poet whose work has been featured at LAMBDA Literary, Cosmonauts Avenue, Scum Mag, and more. More of her work can be found at erintaylor.tumblr.com and she tweets at @erinisaway.
you wake to the woodpecker,
an empty milk carton,
and no clean socks
Excitement and Purpose eloped
and you can't find an address to reach them.
the killdeer guards its nest, the garden hose
frowns over its hook in the yard.
you work like the woodpecker’s beak,
incessantly and with nothing to show for it
yesterday the bank called
and you told them they had the wrong number.
the day before you spotted your sister at the park
but kept walking,
and between your footsteps,
you asked Siri questions
just to hear a voice answer you
Siri tell me who I am
to which she said error, error, error
and you were satisfied.
you took the sign from your neighbors lawn
and ate meatloaf on it, sitting in their yard beside the fence,
ketchup and grease smeared over the American Dream.
you knew it was ironic because you studied irony in school.
you laughed and then noticed you were laughing so you stopped.
the voice in your head has turned automated,
its responses predictable and apathetic.
Life calls and you tell it to leave a message after the laughter,
Life hangs up because it knows better.
the sky sings in a purple tune, you count the cars
that pass your window
until one hits the killdeer.
you walk to her nest
throw an egg as high as you can,
it hangs, then plummets,
before splatting onto the tar.
love does not want this body
so I leave her and bring it to you
forgive me, what is your name again?
fall-back-girl you kissed once in a summer meadow
and I remember, your purple dress shaming the tulip’s color
mallards pulling beetles from the dirt
the memory of my failed-love
as far as the threat of winter.
yeah, it’s me again
loveless as the doe
whose buck I shot last spring.
forgive me, for I’ve already bit into your giving heart
blood like licorice down my chin
let-down-boy with stomach gorged on your false promise
and the guilt comes, it does
when you reach for my hand
and I pretend to scratch my beard.
tell me the truth
when you’re sleeping I whisper
apologies like prayers into the dark
but in the morning I thank you for the oatmeal
steal another kiss before the bus comes
blame the wind as to why I didn’t hear you ask
will you stay this time?
For the First Time in Twelve Years, I Draw a Bath
hold my legs to my chest, flatten my cheek against my bony kneecap.
the tub can’t figure out how to house me,
waterline barely reaching the tops of my shins,
but I let warmth envelop me, for once.
the last three nights I got high and cried until I couldn’t.
she’s been gone four years, ample time to make amends
to frame the obituary, tattoo her handwriting on my arm,
and I have, I’ve done and done and everything else too
grieved the ‘right’ way and the ‘strong’ way and I’m still here.
why won’t the well dry?
bathwater through my hair, soap the stench of cheap barbeque off my arms
no candles. no music. the drain groans for a good meal.
a season of stillness, what happens when the mind
has time to catch its breath:
there she is, white streak in her hair, forty-three and laughing.
and I am crying, again. disturbing the placid water with salt,
watching everything drain but the grief.
Bio: Nick Stanovick is a graduate of Temple University, a Babel Poetry Collective alumni, and an International Poetry Slam Champion. His poems have appeared in Spillway, Vinyl, Public Pool, Rising Phoenix Review, Drunk In a Midnight Choir, and SickLit Magazine among others. He’s currently a Masters candidate at Auburn University, where he studies Composition and Rhetoric and eats many grilled cheese sandwiches.
Lies Hanging from the Ceiling in my Third Grade Classroom
‘Knowledge is power’
hung from the drop ceiling
on a ribbon and spun
like a piñata
asking to be broken open
Knowledge is not power
only a lens to recognize it
a tool to help you find
the longest broomstick
and the angle to swing it from
It is hard to know who you are
when you’re trying to be someone else
or, in other words, ‘be yourself’
except for the bruises, or the hunger
no one wants to know about that
or how your grandmother loved you
in an unconditional way
but you were too afraid to stand
at her bedside when she passed
how at nine years old you’re already
except for that
There are no stupid questions
except if you can be anything you want
you’ll realize how stupid that question is
when you take statistics
To Pry a Nail Loose
Worked the janitorial shift all summer.
There was nothing clean about it.
They drew guns. Sweat fell sour.
They pulled triggers. No one won.
He spoke up. No one listened.
So he nailed his mouth shut.
Their tongues cocooned. Butterflies emerged
with words on their wings and flew.
There was a great relief in being known
truly known—by another person.
Rain Over the Niagara River
A cigarette rolls between my fingers
as if holding onto things
is the same as doing something with them
Out over the Niagara River I can see rain falling
and I'm going to drive into it even though I see it coming
I can't help it -
I didn't make the highways
It dances in the distance
and I can picture it up close on the windshield
How much messier beautiful things can get
the closer you are to them
My fingers find the lighter among pennies and Burger King receipts
My knee takes the wheel
I'm begging life to show up and prove me wrong
The rest of the morning is too pretty
like Bob Ross was commissioned to paint it
but a pipe burst in the middle of the night in his studio
and the rain in the distance is the result
Perfect things have always cut my eyes
their corners too sharp to exist
in a world of curved lines
and crooked backs
A boat heads out from under the clouds
I press the gas and push forward
Light the cigarette and add smoke to the air
Bio: Benjamin Brindise is the author of Rotten Kid (Ghost City Press, 2017) and co-author of Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire (EMP 2018). He is a Teaching Artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center and facilitates after school poetry programming for Buffalo’s Public Schools. He has represented Buffalo twice in the 2015 and 2016 National Poetry Slams and has recently been published in Maudlin House, Foundlings, and The Magnitizdat Literary among others.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.