Let’s get physical
The first issue of The BitterSweet Review is themed ‘Let’s Get Physical’, and this literary and arts magazine is packed with stories, illustrations and photos about bodies and touching. It’s thrillingly intimate and often slightly unsettling; one of my favourite stories is My Catalogue of Casts, in which Emma Gomis writes to her sister about life after rehab, surrounded by the casts of various body parts that her sister made as a child and later while making prosthetics as a make-up artist. The women’s relationship seems devoted but distant, their lives damaged by addiction and made fragile like the old casts that evoke such loving memories.
The editors use their opening note to give some context on the theme: “When we say ‘physical,’ all that our queer brains hear is Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit song of the same name (if you’re younger than us, we allow you Dua Lipa). Whatever your reference, the physical doesn’t only pertain to the human body, quite far from it. The adjective ‘physical’ takes its origin from the Latin word physica: ‘the study of nature’. From the seventeenth century onwards, however, Cartesian thought absorbed la physique into the realm of mechanism: the ultimate and uncompromising promise of reason. As opposed to the body, the mind becomes a nonphysical substance, and the resulting dualism becomes the foundation of modern sciences. ‘Let me hear your body talk…’ What, then, would our bodies say if we asked the right questions?”
Hopping between high and low culture, The BitterSweet Review is immediately accessible but also satisfyingly substantial. Gender and sexuality keep on popping up throughout the pages, but they’re used to unpack ideas around politics, art and identity, rather than existing purely for the thrill of the erotic. The photography by Spyros Rennt (above) is probably the most overtly sexual bit of the magazine, but here too there’s more going on than eroticism alone, the pictures of grappling, grasping, faceless nudes bringing a sculptural beauty to the pages. (Okay, and one close-up penis.)
Of course ‘Let’s Get Physical’ extends to the thing itself too – the first printed issue of this new literary magazine. Up to this point The BitterSweet Review probably existed as a series of ideas and conversations, then as a set of documents on a computer, but here it is, out in the world, a real physical object for readers to stumble across and discover. It’s an impressive launch and a distinctive new voice, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the second issue will take it.