The world used to be awash with zines of all sorts. The ones I saw were mostly punk or comics (or punk comics), and occasionally publications about UFOs or how to set up your own citizen’s militia and create all sorts of civic disruption – fun stuff like that. As a productive zine creature once upon a time, I know the world of soaped stamps and Tippex and paste-ups and (my own) atrocious spelling all too well, and although half a dozen photocopied and collated A4 sheets will eternally be the origin of the species, I am always happy to find a low run independent publication striking a new path and elevating the standard and potential of the medium…
DRAG ACID is an art and audio zine produced by thirty three-45 in Drogheda, Ireland. Each issue contains visuals and noise from a specific artist packaged in a full colour 7” booklet format with an accompanying vinyl replica CDR – As something cross-disciplinary and multimedia that willfully eschews the online world in favour of a tangible artefact, it works remarkably well.
Issue one set the tone and format of this rolling project in May 2020 with Brian Hegarty’s lively salvages of collage work and an 18-minute electroacoustic drone piece. The highlights of subsequent issues include Jason O’Reilly’s excellent lo-fi ambient cut-up soundtrack Still Time Left To Destroy The Memories, and the intriguing mail art of Sarah La Puerta’s Always Check The Mail. There was a Nurse With Wound issue, which I haven’t seen, but thirty three-45 is sold out of its allotment of these – the issue is still available via NWW here.
To retrospectively dissect each issue in detail would be an exhausting mess of superlatives, veering slightly off course from the task at hand. So the focus here is the most recent offering, Fran Cassidy’s Earth Angel And Snowy, a photography-based issue with a collection of poetry recitations on the accompanying CD.
Fran Cassidy’s photography is markedly different in style from the artful obfuscation and filtering of previous photography based issues. It’s a celebration of observational content over preoccupation with obliqueness (although there’s a place for this approach too). These images are the result of heavy footwork and a shrewd eye for what is inherently interesting about happenstance. The work is at its best when capturing human activity – sometimes posed and sometimes incognito – and these seemingly random portraits find common ground with an undefinable empathy… a bored phone shop worker, African women hairdressing, An elderly couple sharing a tipple on a park bench… 20 pages is probably not enough to showcase the style and rhythm of this photography, but the cohesion between the audio and visual of this issue breathes life into everything.
In general, the world of poetry is not something I naturally gravitate towards (and I won’t attempt to make a case that song lyrics are poetry – out of context, most are drivel). Beyond ardteistiméireacht hell, my experience of poetry is still predominantly as it was at the age of eight – Spike Milligan and AA Milne.
What I have encountered since is either the golden observational wit of national treasure Pat Ingoldsby, or impenetrable offal that leans into bullshit onomatopoeia, pseudo-intellectual fragmentation of language and “poetry slam” pretensions – The former contently sets up shop in Howth Harbour or College Green on sunny days and has more than earned his status as a kind of elder statesman of DIY. The latter cuts a pitiful figure at endless open mic nights attended by the barman and the indifferent bloke waiting to drive the borrowed PA home.
Poetry runs hot and cold through these ears – If there’s tepid ground out there, I’m blissfully unaware of it.
So what of the poetry of Fran Cassidy? Before this issue of DRAG ACID fell into my hands, I knew some of these pieces through social media smartphone recitals from the back of “the van” – a vehicle occasionally weaved into proceedings (It kind of reminds me of the role the iconic self-built camping trailer/mobile studio played in the editorial cartoons of Carl Giles).
This is poetry in a folk tradition. Much like the photographic element of the zine, it tackles themes of unapologetic ordinariness and teases out the minutiae, locating worth where this might not be immediately obvious – distant memories reanimated by an old deck chair, libraries during lockdown, random encounters, midwinter etc. How’rya Horse touches on the same sort of socio-economic topics that veteran Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong has made a career out of. By contrast, A Fragile Encounter successfully resists the temptation to be about anything really… at least, from an outside perspective. Only the final piece, Coming Unstuck ventures into the sort of abstract introspection that usually sees me avoiding poetry, but this serves as a kind of inconclusive summary of what preceded it, and not an invitation to bear witness to some halfwit’s turgid swirls of language.
These are low-run zines – mostly published in quantities of 75-100 (except the NWW issue which was 300). I’ve gone through and absorbed 6 out of 7 issues and there’s very little to dislike. Some things work better than others for this brain, but that’s to be expected, and tastes aside, the quality is uniform across issues. DRAG ACID succeeds as a unique publication through solid creative ideas and strong presentation – A must for people who like their “stuff”.