Notes on a New Year

Issues

This post is by Finty Hunter

Finty is a third year English student at Murray Edwards. She likes exclamation marks (a lot!) and hates ellipses (…) as well as using poetry to avoid writing English essays and in her current position as Editor she now has a legitimate excuse for this! She’s been involved in Notes since first year and is very excited to head the team up this year!

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It’s that time again, when it starts to all get a little colder and the days get a little shorter, and Notes is back for a new year of creativity in Cambridge!

We have a new team, a new Senior Editor (me!), a new lease on life, and new plans to keep Notes fresh and exciting. Our new designers are planning to shake things up a little with their ideas; our publicity team has booked some incredible venues for our launches this term; and our editors are ready to read everything you’ve created over the long vacation!

Notes has always been a space for community and creativity, since it was founded by a group of students who felt Cambridge was lacking a space for producing art and receiving feedback. This still remains at the heart of Notes. This year we are planning to run more workshops to encourage those who may not feel like they have much experience with writing to give it a go.

I became involved in Notes when I saw the stall at Freshers’ Fair in my first year. Now, two years on, I’m running the stall, hoping to encourage as many people as possible to engage with their creativity and take a break from the academic stress of Cambridge to do something new.

I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, and started writing poetry when I was sixteen for a piece of English ALevel coursework. I quickly found that it was something that I could use to express jumbled thoughts in a (sometimes) coherent way. I never thought I could write poems until I tried to, and Notes gave me the confidence to keep writing and keep submitting both to small and big things.

In a recent lecture, our lecturer spoke about how literature is used as a method of processing by many people, whether by reading or by writing. I have written intensely personal pieces and read them at Notes launches and received nothing but comfort, if a little fear at first, by doing so. I hope Notes can provide the same sort of space for creativity that it has done for me.

Being a part of Notes has allowed me to understand more about the way in which I read and appreciate art. As one of last year’s editors, Xanthe, wrote in her post, each editor has their own niche interest, whether it be mud, sadness, absurdity, or food, and together we hope to create a diverse space for art. I’m yet to work out the little idiosyncrasies of our new team, but I’m sure it will be just as weirdly wonderful as last year. It has also allowed me insight into the creative scene in Cambridge: the submissions we get, when we get them, how they say what they want to say, how they show their creator’s personality, reflect the ebbs and flows of a term. Poems of returning home to family bookend the first term as people reflect on their summers and anticipate their winters, exhaustion tends to permeate our penultimate issue of the term, taking the mythical ‘week 5 blues’ and turning it into something beautiful.

The main piece of advice I would give for this year is to not be afraid to try something new (as clichéd as that sounds), and give yourself the space to do things you enjoy, whether that’s writing, drawing, running, music, whatever. I’m a big believer in not letting your degree be your whole life, three years is a short time, and as I’m coming to the end of my time here, the things I look back on most fondly are not the various essays I have (or sometimes haven’t) done, but the time I’ve spent doing things like Notes which have allowed me to have a space to create, read, learn about what I genuinely care about, and just have fun.

So happy October to everyone, the team at Notes wishes you all the best for the coming year, and we hope to see you soon.

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Notes on Being an Editor

Art, Creative Writing, Issues

This post is by Alessandro M. Rubin.

Alessandro M. is a second-year art historian from Jesus College. Like any HoA, he is an art freak who enjoys staring at convoluted pictures. His main interests are Mannerism, Baroque, and early-Modern European art. He has a soft spot for 19th-century prose and Murakami’s novels.

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Back in high school, my curriculum featured a broad variety of literary subjects, including Italian, English, Latin, and Greek. I enjoyed the analytical aspect of writing and I enjoyed learning about the many devices one can use to create an engaging text. I was fascinated by classical rhetoric and whenever I consider critically the work of somebody else I remind myself of the Ciceronian triad: docere, delectare, and movere. In other words, the writer should be able to communicate, entertain, and move his readers. When I joined the team of Notes in Lent 2017, I was surprised by the quality of the works that our magazine manages to attract every two weeks and every editorial meeting is a new surprise in the lively creative milieu of Cambridge.

Being an editor is a multiform experience. Deciding what to publish and what to reject is only a step in the process of putting together a publication. Contributors need to be encouraged, supported, and followed in the creative process. At Notes, we take care of this aspect through extensive feedback which we provide for each submission. Whether we decide to accept a text or not, we are going to write back a reasoned paragraph about how it can be improved, its positive aspects, and more comments we may see fit. It is so rewarding and stimulating to see contributors writing back and trying to implement our suggestions. As editors, we pride ourselves on empowering a community of creatives and I believe that this is truly the core of our work.

Beyond the editorial sessions, editors tailor the image of the magazine by sourcing collaborations and determining the theme of each issue. Generally, we prefer to leave this open rather than set a specific topic, even though this may happen on special occasions. For instance, we have recently reached an important goal with our 50th issue, which was launched this week. Eager to celebrate this important moment in the history of the magazine, which has been around for a few years now, we have set “celebration” as the issue’s theme. Even so though, we left people free to interpret this concept and develop it in any possible direction. In fact, we always try to publish a range of different works and the diversity of the editorial group makes it a winning combination.

Personally, I am more inclined toward prose. In fact, my personal writing preferences do not influence much the editorial process since Notes relies completely on external contributions. On the other hand, I would say that this tendency of mine reflects my attention to the structure of texts. I enjoy pieces of writing which show a consistent form and are able to convey a defined character without resorting to hyperbolic structures. The longer one writes, the higher the risk of being redundant. This is something that I remind myself of continuously when writing and I think this is also a suggestion I would give to every perspective contributor: be clear about what you are trying to communicate.

Looking back at my past year as editor, I hope Notes will continue growing and providing an open platform for everybody to share their writing and ideas. Following a successful experimentation earlier last term, I hope to introduce writing workshops on top of our usual fortnightly publication. As editor, this is my personal goal for the year to come. This said, I am happy to work in a solid and experienced team and I am sure that Notes is only at the beginning of an even longer and successful journey.

Notes on Being an Editor

Art, Creative Writing, Issues

This post is from Xanthe Fuller. Xanthe is an Editor of Notes, she likes poems and writing to be simple and funny. She used to write a column about breakfast and now frequently receives messages about what people consume in the morning. She doesn’t know what to do with the information, but appreciates it.

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I didn’t know very much about Notes when I applied to be an editor. I had heard the name mentioned a bit via some friends who had been published and through the odd Facebook post, but I had never submitted or attended a Notes event. All I knew when applying was that it seemed like a worthwhile thing, and a thing that I could hold in my hand while essays ploughed from keyboard to supervision to the deepest reaches of the back of my mind. I did a Skype interview with two pixelated (and frequently faceless) individuals. They asked about writing I liked, so I talked about appreciating William Carlos Williams and said that I –  like everyone seems to – thought Ali Smith wrote the most beautiful prose going. I gave my opinions on things and they made understanding sounds and gently suggested their own ideas to further discussion. It was less of an interview and more of a conversation, a lovely conversation. I swiftly realised that this is what editors’ meetings were like, not a set of brutal yes or no piles, but a conversation about art and people who make it. Editorial consists of isolated reading, meetings, construction of the edition and culminates in the launches. At the launch parties, it all comes alive and you match the face to the email and the voice to the clever prose. You get to hold an object you have spent hours creating and just enjoy it. The launches allow the editorial, design and publicity teams to come together, so you can meet the people who love to write for it and see all the people who have contributed to its creation.

The editorial process begins immediately after the submission deadline. Before every meeting each editor has to read the submissions over a day or a day and a half. Sometimes it’s a long, arduous process, and sometimes you can rattle through the submissions. There are ebbs and flows in the submission quantity and qualities. Over the holidays people have time to reflect and write about the big and the small events in their lives, from the way that snow falls and settles on windowsills to crushing breakups and intense loves. While submission numbers tend to fall in week 6, with the supposed week 5 blues suppressing creative time, energy and enthusiasm. The rhythm of the year is reflected in the writing we receive, the quantity and content moulded to the shape and spirits of the eight-week term.

The meetings happen on Saturday mornings in bedrooms or college rooms. We gradually move through the submission emails, going on tangents, spending a disproportionate amount of time on small details and clashing over divided opinions. The editors all come from different colleges, years, subjects and mind-sets. We all have different ways of reading and discussing writing, and this really emerges in the meetings. You get to know the other editors in a way you don’t know your friends. You learn about their taste before their personality: the types of writing they like and dislike, the things that they prioritise, the intersections between your Venn diagram of taste and theirs. Jun likes beautiful small things, Finty loves self-conscious melancholy (cigs and sadness), Rosa likes mud and Alessandro always surprises me. Little by little you see patterns in your own taste: I love it when people use food in order to create art, when artists or writers derive value from the mundane or seemingly trivial. You also learn to appreciate things when they aren’t to your taste at all, simply because they are worth appreciating and deserve to be published.

I think there’s a general sense that to be an editor you have to know every canonical – and modern – author well or be able to quote every Poet (with a capital P). A sense that you have to have been published in every publication that you have ever submitted to, that you have to know exactly what you like. But this is not the case. It’s an editorial team, you can play any role you like within it, just as long as you bring something to the table. Being an editor has allowed me to think about what makes something good, about what makes me like it and most of all, why art is valuable at all. It allows you to think about words or images beyond your degree, with no looming examination or intellectual pressures. I have loved being an editor for Notes, it has been a grounding, interesting thing, it has been a way of meeting great people I know that I definitely wouldn’t have met otherwise and it has been (as I originally hoped) so worthwhile.

Notes on Joining the Notes Team

Issues

This post is by Anju Gaston.

Anju is a Notes Designer. She is from Devon, where she lives about nine miles away from where Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes used to live, and is the proud owner of two miniature dachshunds.

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When I arrived at Cambridge, I decided (decidedly) that I was not a creative person. I was to take up my post as a geographer and it was apparent being a geographer was about almost anything other from creativity (the old “colouring in” joke might come to mind here but from my experience of the Geography Tripos there is no physical colouring in. I did, however, spent a considerable length of time learning rudimentary Excel functions in a very drab computer suite). I had done a little bit of writing at school with a really cool teacher in sixth form (thanks, Aelred) but at Cambridge it seemed like unless you were extremely competent at something, you didn’t engage in it or talk about it. In fact, the people who turned out to be the most competent at something seemed to say the least about it (we all know the cellist with a diploma who denies being musical, the Olympic swimmer who only ever talks about water when they’re drinking it, the devoted owner of the Shih Tzu that won Best In Show at Crufts but doesn’t stroke dogs when they see them in public). Accordingly, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t allowed to lay claim to any sort of creative outlet. After all, I hadn’t done an art foundation anywhere or ever had anything published.  

However, I quickly realised that I hated Geography. I did the only thing that any rational person would do and made the decision to switch to HSPS. Because this seemed a little closer to English in nature, it felt more socially acceptable to try and write some poetry. I can’t remember how I came across Notes but when I submitted a half-bad, half-good poem (literally, the first stanza was terrible and the second one made it into the ///Notes Anthology of 2016///) the editors very gently suggested that if I deleted the bad half, they would publish the good half. It felt really nice having something published on paper. I showed it to my grandma who said repeatedly (and not at all forcedly) that she loved it and e-mailed it to my librarian from secondary school who was suitably indifferent about it (thanks, Mr Logan). In sum, Notes gave me a bit of a nudge to dabble in something that I enjoyed.

Having submitted a couple more poems to Notes and got over the fact that you are-allowed-to-be-more than-your-subject and you-don’t-have-to-be-brilliant-a-something-to-enjoy-it, I was faced with a new devastating realisation: I (god forbid) did not do a single extra-curricular activity… When Notes opened applications for a publicity position it seemed like the perfect chance to find myself an activity that made myself look a) busy and b) arty. I longingly envisaged myself spamming every Facebook page I had access to with event pages and having something to put down on the ‘Other Experiences’ section on my Curriculum Vitae.  I did not mention this at interview. At interview, I said how I would like very much like to set up an Instagram account for the publication (that we ended up getting locked out of and having to start all over again – please do go and follow the new one). Long story short, I got the job and making that application was the best thing I did that year in Cambridge.

It was the best because it led me to meet very great people who study all sorts of things and come from all sorts of places. Before I joined Notes, I never thought I would know someone from Dubai or someone who ate Belvita biscuits on a regular basis or someone who led a double life whereby they built computers at night and wrote prose during the day. While the novelty of posting on Facebook pages and using Notes-related examples for competency-based questions at interviews wore off very quickly, the chance to enjoy other people’s creative work did not; neither did turning up to launch events and have a good time with my colleagues. Today, I am a designer for Notes and I continue to very much enjoy my job. My co-designer is a very good friend and I find pasting things into InDesign on Saturday afternoons very meditative.

There is, to my mind, a really original profundity to this story: there is no one type of creative person! You can be a NatSci (Physics) and write amazing things (my friend Sam is a good example of this – I even met him at a Notes event!). You are allowed to try things even if you think you are no good at them (because even if it emerges that you’re right and you are no good at them, you might still enjoy them). Anyway, to make sure my blog post actually answers the question that I signed up to answer: I joined Notes because it helped me to realise all this. I also joined Notes for duller, less imaginative reasons, but the people I have met and the stuff that I have got to read and organise have been anything but dull.

P.S. Evelyn (my co-designer) and I are looking for people to take over from us when we graduate next year. If you are interested in a role as a designer, please do get in touch (submissions.cam@notespublication.com)!

Notes on Noticing II

Art, Creative Writing, Issues

This post is by Elizabeth Huang.

Elizabeth works on the Publicity team. On the rare occasions she’s allowed to leave the law library, she can be found at the Maypole trying to understand new-fangled things like mobile telephones.

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“This is what art is” – wrote Laura in her lovely post last week – “a narrative of noticing that allows others to notice too”. Notes too, has its own narrative of noticing – of selecting, curating, arranging. Each issue, we present material to be noted and I like to think that Notes can facilitate noticing in the same spirit as a work of art or piece of writing. ‘Notes on Noticing’ is thus a kind of homecoming, a reflection upon, and return to, what we ourselves do in the process of creating each issue.

In some ways, the act of noticing is a paradoxical one. Noticing requires un-noticing: to notice something demands a selective gaze. Rani Rachavelpula’s “twelve tolls of the church bell”, Anju Gaston’s “five pounds’ worth of twenty pence pieces”, Tom Pryce’s “earthy caramel pebbles” – all these are details, imagined perhaps, but chosen nonetheless. We do not know what else there was. Noticing is at once a process of recording down, and a process of forgetting. You focus your attention on a detail (a brushstroke, a line, a simile, a moment) and the rest recedes into the background.

At Notes, we find ourselves faced with this tension – what do we select? What do we leave out? How do we challenge and disrupt our own habits of noticing? Inevitably, every issue of Notes must be a fragment – a mere sliver of material, which we have carved out from our own (fallible and imperfect) noticing. But we accept that something is always lost in this translation between the eye which sees, and the I which interprets. Part of our work, I think, is to learn to notice that which the eye sees and does not instinctively like.

Noticing is a mindful thing, and ‘Notes on Noticing’ invites you to partake of its stillness: the pause at the end of a poem’s reading-out, the white margin surrounding an artwork. These are the moments which allow us to notice – “emptiness is another form of art”, writes Jamie Hancock – in these moments, our own narrative of noticing lies blank, and waits patiently to be written.