Relatively new to the literary world (only in its second edition) Placeholder is already making waves in what can feel like a saturated market. Describing itself as full of ‘poetry, prose, art, essays, everything’ might sound like a broad remit, but did it pay off, and what did our writers make of issue #2? A stroke of creative genius, or a moment of madness? Read on to find out…
A few years back at an open mic in an undercroft pub (intense witchy vibes), one of the performers handed everyone a rainbow sticker that read “BE GAY DO POEMS.” I still have it to this day, tucked into the edge of my pinboard behind an old cinema ticket. The performer, Alex, eagerly nattered on about a new publishing endeavour they were undertaking. We should all submit work (!), follow on socials (!), be gay (!), do poems (!). You’ve got to give them credit, they certainly knew their audience.
Now here we are, you and me sat on my yellow sofa, dissecting Issue 2 of Placeholder Press’s literary magazine. How time flies.
It’s been a long time since I managed to read a book cover to cover. The books did absolutely nothing wrong, they were perfect gents. I just haven’t been in the mood for that level of commitment. Yet somehow, I found myself spending an evening in excellent company with Issue 2 and finished the collection in one sitting. What can I say… it was my type on paper. First and foremost, it’s an excellent read. The pieces are well curated and naturally build upon one another whilst allowing each writer their moment in the spotlight. The collection feels balanced to the point that I felt I would do it a disservice to pause reading midway through.
In the after word from Alex, now officially titled Editor in Chief (!), they addressed the air of sombreness that permeates the issue. I agree with their statement that perhaps this was inevitable. However, there’s a certain peace to be found in reading about lives caught in their own, individual moment of sorrow rather than a wash of ‘this is my pandemic, can you relate’ stories. These pieces aren’t pandering to the current mood of the masses – they earn your attention and empathy by being entirely specific.
Whilst the issue doesn’t claim to have any particular theme, I found ideas of queerness, heritage and immigration prominently running throughout. It was only once I finished reading that I realised why I enjoyed the issue’s depiction of queerness so much. Rather than being the focus of any piece, the references were woven in delicately such that no ‘queer agenda’ emerged. The absence of a queer agenda was refreshing as the pieces unconsciously agreed to acknowledge, appreciate and quietly move on, never being the intended final destination.
Two pieces stood out to me from the issue: ‘eulogy’ and ‘things inherited from my mother’. Juliana Chang injected humour into her poetic pondering that led to gems like ‘things inherited from my mother’ – “my height, like a sentence cut short by a sneeze.” Lis Chi Siegel’s short story ‘eulogy’ possessed all the themes that seemed to define issue 2. I really enjoyed the snapshot into the lives of Windy, Luwei, Belinda and through their memory, Priscilla.
I read issue 2 as a digital PDF, but next time I will 100% be after a print copy. The layout and artwork are suited to the page and don’t translate perfectly onto a digital format. Nevertheless, Placeholder Press have outdone themselves with this literary magazine.
There seems to be a deep sadness in Placeholder’s second issue. In fact, Alex Russell, Placeholder’s Editor-In-Chief, says it themselves: “it’s definitely a little bit more sombre than the last one.”
You can find it in Rosa Pappas’ ‘Billy Pappas’, where a beloved uncle is remembered as someone who “cooked and bused / and waited and smiled and joked and shared it all”. Here, the nostalgia becomes mingled with the wish to answer the questions that are too late to ask, such as how he figured it out, got so cool, and if he ever found “the one.” It’s even more clearly addressed in Lis Chi Siegel’s ‘Eulogy’, which explores the aftereffects of a death on a group of close friends, one of whom harboured secret romantic feelings for the deceased. The short story is perhaps the least experimental piece in the whole collection, yet it is arguably one of the most successful as it simply lays down all the regret, anguish, and heartbreak the character feels in the page for the reader to absorb.
Yet the past year seems to not just have brought out the mournfulness in some of these writers, but it also seems to have opened up an experimental side of many of the contributors too.
S Cearley claims to have “tricked a computer into making poetry when it thinks it is making art”, yet I think “mastered the art of the 2D sculpture” could be a more accurate description. The images, made entirely out of words, are literally flat and still, but are also able to trick the reader’s mind into thinking they could be pulled out of the page and a living, moving thing would come out. Even more alive are Luis Dias’ Cosy RPGs, which invite the reader (and at least one friend) to take part in a series of bizarre yet light-hearted role player games, where readers can become radio DJs, mistaken tour guides, or famous international experts on a vague topic. The results are cosy, and I feel like I would know the person I’m playing with much better at the end of a game than I had at the start, whether that be how they view a certain place, how they would talk about something they know nothing about, or which songs mean what to them.
What I found to be the pinnacle of the whole collection, however, arrives just before the end though, with Thule van Den Dam’s ‘there’s a william blake quote that i’ve forgotten but i really love it and you have to 30 believe me, it explains everything’. Like ‘Eulogy’ and ‘Billy Pappas’, the story touches on the loss of a loved one and the convoluted mix of nostalgia, grief, and regret. Yet the fragmentation of the prose leaves the reader to decide the precise order the story unfolds into, much like how the reader is left to decide the ending of an RPG or decode the meaning (if any) of a computer generated poem.
Each piece included in this issue stands as its own distinct piece of art, created by one of nine distinct writers and artists, and yet all the pieces seem connected by one common thread or another. While I am aware the editors wanted to avoid this being known as ‘The Pandemic Issue’, I also think that the duality of uniqueness and unity is what makes this issue of Placeholder one of the best artistic testaments to how this past year has unfolded. It is a reminder that we can always find commonality with each other, despite what may separate us.
I have always had a soft spot for the virtual magazine style, and certainly, over the pandemic I have found myself not only consuming this ‘zine’ like style more often, but also contributing to a few of them here and there. There’s something about it that radiates a sense of community like no other publication can for me, perhaps it’s something to do with the eclectic mix of voices you can get, or even just the metaphorical cheeseboard of content you can get. The ability to sample each one and indulge on the ones you like best is something unique to this kind of medium.
Placeholder is a comforting collection of interesting and thought provoking works. They range from excerpts of poems to prose to artworks. Some contributors have multiple entries, and some only contribute excerpts, which overall gives a good variety of things to indulge in.
Personally, I am a really big poetry fan, and there was definitely a pleasing array available to read in placeholder. Thai Braddick in particular with their Poem shoplifting glitter on Friday 13th, which somehow manages to inspire a lot of mixed feelings in me, everything from comfortable nostalgia to apprehensive dread. It’s almost like buying cheap nail polish at Claire’s and then trying to creep into the Odeon to see a film that you know you’re too young to see. All risk and a little bit of innocent regret. And Juliana Chang with her piece things inherited from my mother, which is a visceral exploration of the idea that familial similarity isn’t always a blessing. A rhythm like a catchy song the way Chang uses words is beautiful to read.
As well as the poetry though, there are also some unexpected treats hidden within the pages of this magazine. Luis Diaz comes at us with some RPG ideas, games and activities you could likely do with friends. I must admit at first it threw me through a loop a little, I had expected that I was looking at a poem with an experimental layout or even a piece of prose—I kept looking for deeper meaning or a theme. In the end though, it did not require that much effort on my part which in some ways is the beauty of it. They’re just games, suggestions of ways to connect with the people in your life. It’s innocent and a little childish but in the best way. And especially as something that I am consuming in the midst of a pandemic and knowing that socialisation may never be the same again. Some cosy RPGs are exactly what I needed without knowing what I needed, and shockingly became my favourite part of the whole publication, perhaps because of the unexpected nature of it.
But if I was being perfectly honest, there were other parts that just didn’t grab me as I’d hoped it to. Which, I suppose, is also a risk of collating a vast array of works from a vast array of voices. Sometimes those voices will not resonate with me the same way they might with others, and that’s fine, but I did find myself skipping over some pages just to find the parts that I was genuinely interested in.
Overall Placeholder is a magazine I would happily read again, if not just because it’s reminiscent of sticking your hand into a lucky dip as a child. Whatever I come out with, even if it’s not necessarily my cup of tea or what I’d hoped to come out with, gives me a little thrill for the game regardless.
Visit the Placeholder website to find out more and order yourself a copy.