There is a moment in a creative writing workshop when the air is utterly charged, the tension visceral. You raise your page to begin to read and your throat dries, your voice catches under your ribs, your gut contracts. The words you’ve prepared spill over the paper, a quake of dark marks that follow the faultlines in your hand, no longer under your control. The shaking spreads to your breath, your self-belief. But you go on. And although the story cracks and halts, the poem shivers, the room is transformed around you. The scene you have faced – raw loss, dark laughter, the memory that haunts, the shadow you’ve dared to give voice and shape – lifts off the page, unlocks from your body, and enters the silent circle of those who listen. And their response, before any critique is offered, any insight phrased, is palpable. Your words have reached them, made their chest wall ache, made them blink and sweat, unsettled their pulse rate. The mayhem of sick nerves that rushed your circuits when you started to speak has been worth every perilous thrill. Your words have touched down on skin, made contact with your reader.
Mayhem Literary Journal is a tribute to moments like this. The fuse that leads to our opening issue was lit when I first stepped into a creative writing workshop on campus: from the outset, as I listened to students exchanging their work-in-progress, I knew I was in the presence of explosive talent that demanded a wider audience. Session after session in the workshops on my papers – during the original Summer School ‘taster’ ENGL318, the core Undergraduate papers which developed from Summer School’s success, ENGL215 Voice and Image and ENGL314 Creative Nonfiction, and the Graduate paper ENGL546 Writing and Embodiment which was freshly instituted in 2013 – I continued to encounter voices that needed to be heard, visions that deserved to be hung in a public space. The aim of establishing an online forum in which this exciting work could be stored and shared became more urgent. And from the moment that I first approached FASS to seek support for the initiative, the response (for which Mayhem is crazily grateful, particularly to Cathy Cross, our cyber-angel of all things mysterious and technical) was a resounding yes. Mayhem sparked, Mayhem spread.
The concrete task of building a space where this work could be showcased might still have seemed insurmountable however without the active and on-fire input of students themselves. Like most of the writing collected here, the editorial team of Mayhem was ignited within on-campus workshops. Intoxicated with the sense of creative connection that came from the workshop experience, a number of students found themselves unwilling to surrender the process at semester’s end, and went on to form a splinter cell they christened Write Club. This radically gifted group of students continued to meet with ruthless devotion to their workshop, to trade, celebrate, and sensitively question their developing work – and Write Club became the core of Mayhem, its engine room and hands-on inspiration. When confronted with the step-by-step reality of putting together a literary journal, I knew in this dynamic body of students I had the source of energy I needed – they possessed that strange rare blend of traits that every writer must have a streak of: drive mixed with mad flair, disciplined practicality spliced with passion, commitment to both craft and wildness, rigorous practice and reckless audacity.
It is my hope that in opening the pages of our inaugural issue the reader is drawn back into some echo of the workshop space where most of these pieces were originally shared. When these works of creative intensity first arrived in the room they altered the atmosphere. When the searching grief of Carl Unternahrer’s ‘Hollow Point,’ the gritty political assault of Jeanie Richards’ ‘Sorry,’ the rhythmic psychic fragmentation of Stephen Henderson’s ‘Pill Time,’ the carnal chant of Rachael Elliott’s ‘Write the Body Bloody,’ the brutal vulnerability of K-t Harrison’s ‘The Things I Carry by J-O-R-D-A-N,’ the fierce testimony of Kristy Lagarto’s ‘Coloured Dirty’ were witnessed in the workshops and readings where they were first delivered, the air was electrified. Listeners knew the power of a fine piece of writing to warm the skin of the heart, to chill the back of the brain, to use language to colour outside the lines, to deepen, complicate, invert, irradiate our view of the world and our fragile selves within it. We knew in our spines the risk that had been taken, knew what it had cost the author to speak. Other pieces collected here may have been slipped silently into portfolios, but their capacity to seize the reader’s senses was no less palpable: only a few hallucinatory images from Monique Van Lamoen’s ‘By God I’ll Never Touch Another’s Heart Again’ surfaced in the workshop, only a bare hint of the rough authentic voice of Chris Lee’s ‘Gone Riding’ was heard in class, but I clearly remember the awe I felt when the finished pieces – luminous, warm, disturbing – unfolded from their final portfolios. And perhaps this demonstrates another truth about the writing gathered here: these poems and stories are not just objects unleashed from dream, pain and instinct (although few writers would deny the centrality of those sources) – they are also artefacts of acute control and strict commitment, their lines weighed and balanced, their sound tasted, their images precise and honed. And lest you get the impression that creative writing is solely a misery business, the slick observational nuances of Erin Doyle’s ‘Burlesque,’ the eloquent black wit of Hamish Ansley’s ‘Room 101’ and the slapstick striptease of Onyx Lily’s ‘A Short History of My Vagina’ led the workshop from wry smirks to dirty chuckles to belly (or lower) laughter.
So: in launching our first edition of Mayhem we pay homage to the workshop moments that have stilled and stirred us, to the words that have entered our bloodstreams because they seem to have issued from the writer’s own. For each writer who stepped into that moment of intimate jeopardy in the workshop circle, there was another watching who was fired by their act of courage, a catalyzing process we hope the experience of reading Mayhem will continue on. Welcome to our online gallery of voices.