Barking Sycamores, Issue 1: A Review

So, I don’t like non-paying markets. This is probably not a surprise; I have a vested interest in being paid for what I write. Writing is work; and there is a time and place for volunteer work, particularly in an activist context. But when one is expected to work for free as part (or all) of one’s career, or told that working for free is the only option because of one’s marginalization, bad things happen.

I don’t like non-paying markets. And I don’t, as a rule, review non-speculative stuff.

So why the heck am I reviewing Barking Sycamores?

This is a zine which is dedicated to showcasing the work of neurodiverse poets (and artists), but doesn’t pay them. There’s a “donate” button, but the money goes to distribution, not contributors.

And I could rail about this being an unethical way to showcase poetry from an already-underrepresented group. Or I could roll my eyes and go do something else. Yet here I am, writing an actual review of Issue One. Possibly because this is exactly my thing; possibly because I don’t know of any other market, paying or not, with the same mission. Possibly just because my brain grabs on to things sometimes and doesn’t let go.

So.

You might expect that, in a non-paying market, the work will vary in quality. It does. But there are many good pieces in here, and the issue as a whole is enjoyable to read. There is a strong sense of shared mood and theme: topics vary, but each poet conveys a sense of a slantwise sensory and cognitive approach to life. Each poet owns and validates their difference, even though many are painfully aware of surrounding forces that wish to erase them.

The best of these more-painful poems, dealing with the sheer weight of NT expectations, is Savannah Logsdon-Breakdone’s “Sleep“. Emily Page Ballou’s coordinated pair of poems, comparing her “real” self to the self adults wished her to be, is also intriguing, as is Barbara Ruth’s “At Sixty-Seven, Still Brain Damaged, Still Brilliant“.

Those readers looking for speculative fare might be satisfied by Sarah Akin’s magical-realist “To George“, or by a few of Christopher Wood Robbins’ poems; meanwhile, Lucas Sheelk’s “Dear Allistic, Love, Autistic” is not quite a poem, but is well worth reading as an intimate, true-to-life look at a type of relationship we don’t often get to see in what’s published about us.

There are several poets in these pages who are very interesting to me, and whom I’ll (eventually) be looking up for further work. If you’re interested, as I am, in both poetry and neurodiversity, then it’s all worth a look.

One wishes, however, that each of these worthy poets had been paid something for their efforts. I totally agree with trying to distribute neurodiverse poetry to a wider audience, in order to give new readers a sense of neurodivergent authors’ experiences and personhood. But if we really wish to honor the poets’ personhood, surely that should include paying them something for their published work, as other poets are paid – not simply using them as a convenient source of free words to use in furthering a cause.