Online Lit Mag from London Confounds and Excites
Elusive from the start, Five Dials is a clean-cut digital magazine that sets up more puzzles than it solves. Take Issue 39 for example, titled Don’t Go Too Soon.
Curiously unique and politically charged, the next section is titled, “Unable to Contribute.” Two pages worth of several paragraph-long bios for six political activists, all of whom are serving prison sentences for their political and social activism. Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, a writer from Mauritania, was convicted to death. Yusuf Ruzimuradov, one of the two longest-imprisoned journalists in the world, has been imprisoned since 1999.
What could possibly follow a section like that? Five Dials’ answer is a list of six questions, titled FAQS, which include such stunners as “What’s going on with Noam Chomsky these days?” and “What should I do with my hands?” Five Dials offers a single, mysterious answer for them all: “Here is your answer.” I ask you, reader, how can you read even these few pages and not tell someone about it? And for lit mags everywhere, perhaps this is an end in itself."
If you dare to turn another page in Issue 39, at this point, you’re only five pages in. But at last, a bit of a thread to carry you onward! Below a minimal illustration of a swimmer about to take the plunge, there’s a block of pulled text from Emily Chappell’s travel essay on becoming a bicycle courier. Of her adventure, she writes, “[it] shaped my life…and entirely derailed any hope of a normal existence.”
How closely this rings true of Five Dials’ aesthetic: there is no hope for a normal lit mag existence for Five Dials. This is something completely different.
Consider their mode of publishing, which Five Dials mentions on their website (under the Everything tab): compile a digital magazine, distribute electronically to upwards of 10,000 subscribers, leave it up to the subscribers to print it up and launch it into the world. Previous launches include: from the top of the Empire State Building (though it’s unclear whether the papers were literally launched, and then left to flitter to the streets below…) and at a sweaty dance party in Montreal. One reader in London tied up each printed issue with a pretty ribbon, another reader distributed paper copies in a sculpture park in upstate New York.
Back to Issue 39. Following FAQS is an extensive Q & A with Man-Booker Prize Longlister, Deborah Levy focusing on David Bowie, writing, and the need to estrange one’s audience for the sake of art. And as interlude, Jayde Perkin’s illustrations return. Her lone swimmer hovers with closed eyes and flexed hands as she drifts calmly through a midnight blue backdrop on the page. How mysterious our lone swimmer is, kneeling between pages of interviews in a pool of orange ripples and releasing a curl of stars across an empty white page. And yet, how hopeful. How hopeful for her that even after she releases the stars and moons and planets, even after she lifts her face to the blue-black stars rising above her, there on the next page, is a yellow-crested moon, asleep and cradled in her palm.
As curious as this lit mag may seem, one can not deny the strength of the writing. Another essay, the lone fiction of the issue, and two crisply written poems, the first two lines, the second four short stanzas. And throughout these pages, subtle connectors between essay, poem, illustration: a little girl dreams of becoming the ocean, a celestial poem about a saint, images of stars decorating the pages when Deborah Levy mentions Ziggy Stardust. One can’t help wonder, which came first—the art or the writing.
In a 2009 interview with Interview Magazine, Five Dials Editor Craig Taylor was said to have a “wandering but sharply attuned eye.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the final 12 pages of the issue, when Trevor Quirk, the contributor with the shortest publishing credits but the longest space in the issue, writes about “spending time with the superintelligent.” He talks with members, listens to their childhood stories and recounts some of his own, takes an intelligence test. The word “smart” gets thrown around a lot as Quirk tries to make sense of the concept behind it. Quirk ends his essay with this, which may not be an answer, but at least it offers some kind of condolence on the matter: “People occasionally admit to sharing my bewilderment, and I find that relieving...[This] is the truest condition our minds share: ignorance, confusion and fraternity.”
Regarding submissions, the policy is no less mysterious than the rest of Five Dials. Submissions are both accepted and not accepted. Their website reads, “of course we take submissions,” as long as the material is “terrific”….and yet, there is no contact information, email address, or submission guidelines to be found.
What can be found is plenty of back issues, all free and downloadable (and of course, printable and launchable). Frequency varies, but in general a new issue is released each month.
It would be easy to say Issue 39 is “smart” because it is difficult and strange and beautiful. It would be just as easy to say Issue 39 is dumb because it is difficult and strange, though beautiful. But if we consider the words on the pages as reflection of the magazine, lets say it is neither. It is neither smart nor dumb. It is neither good nor bad. It is a fraternity of readers, and of writers, who are confused, but also curious, about life. And committed to talking about it.