New British Mag is Home for Dirty Realism
The Nottingham Review is a British digital literary quarterly that publishes original short fiction and poetry from around the world. Their website is well-designed and uncluttered with lots of whitespace. The look plays well with the content of this particular journal. On their submissions page is where you’ll find out what they are about aesthetically:
We're looking for diverse characters, voices and settings in stories that focus on the ordinary, mundane aspects of contemporary life. Situations and characters that are firmly grounded in reality. We particularly love literary minimalism/dirty realism.
While I’m generally familiar with the literary terms they mention, I found the Wikipedia entry for “dirty realism” helpful. Coined by Bill Buford of Granta in 1983 as a sub-category or realism concerned with the seamier or more mundane aspects of ordinary life.
Dirty Realism is the fiction of a new generation of American authors. They write about the belly-side of contemporary life – a deserted husband, an unwed mother, a car thief, a pickpocket, a drug addict – but they write about it with a disturbing detachment, at times verging on comedy. Understated, ironic, sometimes savage, but insistently compassionate, these stories constitute a new voice in fiction. – Bill Buford
Authors who have come to be associated with this mode include Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, and Cormac McCarthy. The Nottingham Review’s strength is its narrow focus. All of the pieces in the issue I read hewed to this mode and gave the entire issue a nice cohesiveness. Another good editorial decision is to keep the pieces short. The upper limit for fiction is three thousand words, but many of the pieces were far shorter. Of course this sort of minimalist/realist/MFA style of writing is not for everyone, and I do find long narratives of mundane realism, where characters examine (or don’t examine) their interior lives and very little happens, wearying.
Some of the pieces in the fiction section were so short and spare that they were more kin to the prose poems in the poetry section. As someone who loves both flash fiction and prose poetry, this is a distinction I love to see blurred.
Overall, I found the work a bit uneven, though these were all new voices to me, and the issues are short and sweet, so if you like this sort of thing it’s definitely worth reading. And if you like to write this sort of thing, it may be worth submitting to.
Among the prose, “The Fence” by Taylor Kobran was my favorite. A father and his estranged daughter have to work together after a deer dies trying to leap over his backyard fence. It is filled with telling details from their pasts as well as their encounter with the deer’s still warm body. Their cooperation getting the deer disentangled leads to a small, satisfying moment of connection.
“Here’s the Truth About Not Being the One” by Cari Scribner leads off the issue and is also strong. Told in second person, this account of a disappointing blind date by an unnamed narrator injects some moments of insight in this familiar scenario. The fairytale idea that everyone is destined to find “the one” is interrogated from the point of view of someone who, according to her date, is not.
While this story ultimately appeared to be set in New York City, terms like “tea shop” and “pub” felt more British. Without looking into the nationality of the author, I found myself wishing the story had a better specificity of place. This wasn’t the only story that seemed to be reaching a bit for American touchstones in their descriptive moments. When the references seemed general, it was a momentary distraction for this reader. Perhaps this springs from the idea that the original description dirty realism aligns itself with American authors?
The poetry was made up of free verse and prose poems. Perhaps because of it’s more lyrical nature, the poems provided a bit of relief from the unrelenting realism (despite the fact that I feel this journals focus is a strong point, there is always a danger of too much of a good thing). The issue was organized with all the prose first and the poetry second. Interspersing the prose and poetry might provide the relief of variety.
As far as individual poems, I enjoyed “peristalsis” by Samuel Ugbechie. This series of interlocking couplets joins metaphors of digestion and landscape with a narrative of love and absence. Here’s a bit:
and, at dawn, you walk me into the belly
of the land – the tunnel we passed through
a small intestine, where the stomach
of a lawn empties itself, where shrinking
pebbles seem to break down
and digest, where fallen leaves hide
their faces under the sand, but,
it’s been more than a year since I saw you
Also strong is “Slap” by Lola Haskins. It is one of the prose poems that has a strong narrative, which brings into question the distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry in the best way.
Readers who enjoy short minimalist pieces that explore small interior moments in the mode of realism, should definitely check out the Nottingham Review. For those who write in this mode, they are not a paying market, but submission is free with an option to pay $2 for an expedited decision (though their normal response times are an entirely reasonable six to eight weeks). They allow for simultaneous submissions but not multiple submissions. New work only. Their standard prose length is listed as 100 to 3,000 words, though word count limits may change for specific issues, so check their guidelines.