The FU Review is a bi-yearly literary journal. Their editions are stylish, slim and feature poetry, prose and everything in-between. About a month ago they ran a reading at Poropati in Berlin. I attended, filled my notebook with chicken-scratch and accidentally sold four or five copies of their magazine to strangers. Read on for more.
Poropati is an unassuming pub-like bar out in Kreuz-kölln. It’s further from Karl-Marx Straße than my brash assumption. I leave early and I’m still five minutes late. Luckily (at least for me) I arrive to find the FU staff standing out front fanning themselves with their stack of magazines. “Apparently they aren’t open until half past.” Abi tells me, I’ve never met her, but I know her partner, also named Abi. To me, there’s nothing more delightful than this. You’ll have to guess with one I mean as the story goes on. I used to work with Abi in Berlin’s most notorious start-up, the kind of place that sucked in lost artists that swept to shore during the Covid wave. While dragging around milk cartons Abi and I would exchange anti-work catchphrases under fluorescent fridge-lights, and mutter about the projects we’d rather be working on. He’s done the artwork for FU, he’s doing the sound tonight. I ask him if he thinks it should be easy, he shrugs, gesticulates and runs a hand through his white blond wisps of hair. Abi seems focused, she’s running the evening, she keeps remarking that she’s nervous but also that she has no reason to be nervous. She wonders how many people are going to come. “It could be ten or a hundred, no idea.” I stand back, shuffling around by the bin and keep my eyes on the street while the bar opens itself.
Church wants to come along. He’s not particularly interested in readings, but he’s always keen for a cultural outing. I get the sense that something’s happened to him while I’ve been in Paris. We’ve known each other long enough to get a sense for that sort of thing. I’m right. Church has had a week, a somewhat unexpected breakup and a 60 hours of shifts at the pub he manages. He doesn’t dwell, he keeps his oscillating blue eyes flicking from the bar staff to the gathering audience outside. He choofs down rollies and mutters about work. He seems stressed. Church always seems a little stressed. Everyone seems a little stressed. The bartenders have low faces as we roll through Poropati’s scratched glass doors. The event is called a Good Long Scream.
Inside we take a pint each and find a spot in the corner. It’s filling up. The only seats left are next to a small wooden lectern, littered with copies of FU-review. It looks a lot like me and Church are selling them. I flip out my notebook and start scribbling, it’s a carbon-paper book meant for receipts. In Paris we walked for a half hour in the heat looking for a notebook and settled on it. The lady in the shop almost refused to sell it. It’s not for notes, it’s for receipts. The bar, like most, is plastered in texta scribbles and leftwing stickers. It smells vaguely like farts. Lazy disco lights whirl. The audience is a bit of a mix, around fifty people, mostly Brits. Abi’s guess was right in the middle. Urban types swirl Aperol spritz, art kids sip Fassbier, some smoke, some vape. The bar staff look tired. People approach Church and me and ask if the magazines are free. We say we’re not selling. They say, oh, and then ask us again if they’re free. We say we don’t know. They drop coins in the can and take a few. I glance over to Abi & Abi who are on by the front door trying to get the machinery going. Abi skips over to the stage. With his Lennon-specs he looks right out of an 80s new-wave band. He moves with birdlike grace, swilling a G&T in a rounded goblet. Abi gets the microphone working, the room is too bright for the projector. They decide it’s time to kick things off.
Nina Kettiger approaches the stage, and takes a seat, announcing that she’s first to speak from the “golden couch”. She tells us her readings will be a mix, old and new. She reads quietly, calmly, and controlled. Nina tells us God is a moth. She reads 4½ poems, a meeting of spiritual, psychological and sexual. There’s a delightful esoteric edge. She mixes sperm and garlic. She tells us daydreaming is the omnipotence of life, that contact with the anus is god. Behind her on the wall are a triptych of sexual portraits, a pair of painted hands exposing a hairy assehole. We are dripping with sweat. A group of people approach me and Church’s little table and take a stack of magazines. We tell them we think they have to pay. They ask how much. We say we don’t know and they drop some coins, take a few and leave. The heat rises.
Next is Kitty Doherty. She takes her seat on the golden couch. Her poetics are visual, without a projector she worries we will lose something. Though we can’t see them, her poemetics are worth seeking out. Her fragmented language is arranged in broken geometric spirals, organised chaos. They look like they could involve typographic systems, pen plotters or perhaps some kind of typewriter fuckery. Even without the visuals, the audience loses nothing. She gets migraines, she explores pleasure and pain, family and fluids. She apologises between poems. She transcends. Her language is broken, impressionistic, and sensory. The projector stays dark. Kitty paints the room with her words instead.
Ruth Wishart doesn’t take a seat on the golden couch. She stands, warrior stance, white singlet, bronzed tattooed skin, a bandaged thumb. She reads us a story about beer and death. Her reading is straight down the line, funny, detail oriented, a brogue as tough as rock. She explores tales of Buchanology, Melville, sailors, working-class tales of pirates, and the place where history and truth butt heads. Her second poem is more gentle but equally full frontal. Ruth treats us to a gothic night, she takes us to a place where blue worms burn, where God watches over. She ends with a rebirth.
As we all clap I stand up, Ruth makes me want to get another drink (that’s a compliment). I grab a pint, I’m sinking them quicker than Church, which tells me I’m sinking them quick. I’m feeling good, but I need to keep my energy up one way or another. My flight was early, and it’s hot as hell. I want to stay awake. It’s too easy to drift away. There are ways to stay frosty. I look down at the double printed scrabble of notes. I wonder if my pen scratching is obnoxious. Everyone is loosening up. Some of the crowd are chatting at the front. In front of me by the bar is a dude who radiates charisma. I grab my drink and sit down. A group of Brits catch me and Church’s attention, they mime that they want some reviews off us. We mime that we think they have to pay. They mime how much. We shrug. One of them passes over a note, and we pass back a review. Church taps his fingers on the chair, slightly irritated. He seems stressed. The charismatic man from the bar turns out to be the next speaker. If he’s nervous it’s hard to tell.
Otis Mensah decides to sit on the golden couch, but he mentions that he’s going to. He tells us he won’t explain his work. The more he explains the more it escapes him. He reads with strength, considers every syllable. He reads rhythmically, and keeps steady control on the momentum of his delivery, building to each conclusion. Otis talks of black castor oil, hot dinners, the feeling of laying dormant. His next piece takes a socio-political stance, Otis wants to render AI. His piece is dedicated to Ralph Abernathy, and feels like Gill Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey’s on the Moon’ if it were written in 2023. Otis tells us data is opium, he keeps his eyes closed, he builds momentum, he is disillusioned, but remains optimistic. He jokes about selling us his EP, he’s not sure how much it is worth in Germany, he says “Just whatever you think, but add 5 euros”. Outside people are screaming, their conversation filling the silence. His last poem speaks of a confused world, a world where people are shrieking, machinery hoisted on backs, insects roaming. He leaves the couch empty.
We all take a break. I refresh myself. My pen hand is vibrating faster and faster, I massage it. Church and I jump out front. I’m electric. It’s a mix of things, but part of how fresh I feel is having been away from Berlin. The only thing better than Berlin is Berlin when you’ve left Berlin. A holiday can do much, and though Anna and I spent only a few days in France, things back home had started feeling extremely easy. I resolved that I would write more, work less, and worry not at all. Church tells me more about his workplace problems, automatically collecting stranger’s glasses as he smokes, his mind is trapped in the pub. I nervously start hen pecking around the Abis, tipsily dropping compliments. I tell them we keep accidentally selling magazines, Abi adds it to her list of things to worry about. We all head back in, we are introduced to the artist whose paintings sit on the wall. They are hanging for the 48 hours in Neukölln festival. Her name is Romina Gualtieri, she prefers Marla. Her three paintings are surreal brightly coloured pornographic close ups, Marla reveals that the pubic hair belongs to real people.
When the lights go low again, Moira Barrett comes straight in. Her reading is like dry ice. The audience is not ready for her and she knows it. Moira doesn’t strike me as a person who deals with uncertainty. She has an unforgiving intellectual air about her, she dips between English and German. She tells us of a pilgrimage, a sprawling diary entry traversing cities of old rock. She is like an assassin the way she reads, her writing is unflinching and indisputable. Slowly, and without pause, she crumbles the old stones of Greece, stripping them of any mysticism until they are enigmatic no more. We become her clay. She ends with a smile.
Christian Beltran is up next, his wide brown eyes fix on us through his glasses as he smoothly unrolls a vintage binder. He sounds like he may have grown up in Brooklyn somewhere. He’s about to tell us his expat story. Most of us in the audience have one of our own, but Christian’s is not the usual list of anti-bureaucratic grumblings, his story is a conquering of fear. Christian dissects himself on stage, as he speaks he moves deeper, wider into his own insecurities and alienation. He doesn’t try to conquer us, or the stage, he stands naked before a spotlight, and speaks with honesty and consideration. He is earnest, and renders the alienation of relocation with lush prose.
In between acts, Abi approaches and informs the audience that the FU Reviews are for sale, and a donation of 7 to 10 euros will suffice. I notice some guilty looks around the audience. She introduces the next speaker. Organs Of Little Importance is Adrienne Chung’s debut collection. It is now available as a part of the Penguin Poets series. Adrienne graces the stage and reads from her collections. She flows between the textual and the spiritual. Her dreams and human interactions seem to inhabit the same personal space. She is a meat eater on a date with a vegetarian. She is lost between altruism and cruelty. Her life exists in a void, in the division between others. She fuses Buddhism, Tinder, lullabies and dreams. We are left unsure of what is real, and what is fantasy, in a world that becomes more alien the closer people draw near.
Tracy Faud is next up on the golden couch. She smiles warmly and introduces her work. In her promotional pictures she seems always laughing, but becomes very serious as she reads. Her work reveals itself to be deliciously sharp-toothed. Tracy ambushes us. She takes us to the beach, she takes us to Iraqi Kurdistan. Tracy seems fascinated by mortality, boredom and liminal space. Her poetry is complex, her language both inviting you in and expelling you out, somewhere between the penetrable and the impenetrable. A rope ladder that leads you upward, and then upside down. The feeling of suddenly dreaming, when you would have sworn you were wide awake.
We all take a breath. There is a moment as we build to the last event. It is now dark enough that the projector can whirr on, but it needs a moment. Church and I refresh and take one more beer. By now, my notes are making very little sense. I’m buzzing with electricity. I still have the post-holiday gleam. I’ll never work a day in my life again. Church is not on my wavelength, his last proper holiday was years ago. Botris texts me and says he’ll come too, he’s been working, I tell him it’s almost over. Everyone seems a little tired. It’s a Sunday after all. This is not a day to be enjoyed, it’s a day to be stolen. We are Jones sliding beneath a collapsing brick wall, trying to slide out with our hat between our fingers. This our last breath, before the week slips fingers around our necks. I’m buzzing, but I’m an idiot. I let the heat sink in, the tobacco fumes and the stink of the pipes. My battery is overflowing. If I’m not careful, I could short circuit.
The last event is a short film by Yael Mor, who mixes performance, film and poetry. I’ve watched some of Yael’s work on Instagram on the way over. Much of it features graphics recorded from Sims 1. Her piece this evening is called “To Love A Snake With Wings”, she has recreated her childhood home in Israel. She explores Imaginary friends in a lo-fi landscape. Her voice whispers. Time moves in waterfalls. The desert at night is an expanse of octagons and crude stars. Childhood is lonely and never ending. A mother and son reunite. A wave of noise. The elation dips into nothingness. The nostalgia becomes meaningless. The night is over. The golden couch is empty. I dart to the bathroom. The toilet lid is broken in two and left in the cubicle corner. The bar staff are cleaning the tables before we even walk out. The big long scream is over.
The pandemic feels like a long time ago, but a little less so this evening. There is an undercurrent of dislocation to all the speaker’s work, one that feels even stranger at home. Dreams and reality become one. Feeling alone overseas is a different matter, you are far from home. The world changes. Doors open, and the rooms behind them are the same, but rendered differently. It’s all more than Covid. It’s water slowly boiling. Something is not right. The scream builds. Much of the speakers talk of boredom, many speak of “god”, and almost everyone has something to say about the liminal world. We exist now in a liminal space. A nonsensical world. One where stress builds, but has no signifier. Within the poetry, prose and film, sexuality takes on an interesting light. Not rendered as a necessarily pleasurable act, or a political topic, but as an outlet, a psychological space, a pressure valve attached to the spider webbing machinery of the body. Flesh is a mystery. The world outside the golden couch is shifting, confused. Insects make more sense than people. Code, algorithm and AI are a desperate cloud. An infiltrator, a threat, but not quite an enemy. There is to be no gathering of arms. We have already lost. All we have is the scream. All we can do is try and let it out. All we have are our confusing bodies, glued over with strangers hair, we are not trying to understand it — we are trying to take them back.
Church, Botris and I sit outside on the plastic tables. I’m coming down to earth. I have work tomorrow, and the beer tastes flat. My headache returns. My sunburned scalp drips with sweat. I ask everyone what they are up to this week. They tell me they are working, but they’ll see. I notice Abi slipping off. She looks exhausted, and I tell her it was a great night. She says she’s going home. I catch her a few minutes later by the Karl Marx Straße, she’s standing with a friend. The cars are speeding by. The evening light is surrendering to the LED glow of the Döner shops. A garbage bin spews along the cracked concrete. I realise she was never nervous, she was stressed. On Karl Marx everyone seems stressed. In Berlin, in Paris. Everywhere. The traffic carries on. I slip down into the U-Bahn and yawn as the train rolls into the platform. Inside are people. They feel like strangers to me. In twenty-four hours I won’t even look at them anymore. We will all just keep going. Do what we have to do. The space between us will be like gold. The scream is over. It was fun while it lasted. I get home, and sleep, unsettled, my alarm waiting for me. I dream of rebirth.
Thomas Huntington is a writer from Melbourne, Australia. He has written for Grattan Street Press, Apocalypse Confidential, Berlinable, and Post-Human Magazine. He is the founder and indentured servant of Soyos Books.