Blog [reviews, reports, retorts]

  • Introductions to Reading Series [Lisa Jeschke, David Grundy, Rosa Van Hensbergen, Janani Ambikapathy, 2014-2017]
  • Jeremy Hardingham's Shit Theatre [David Grundy, 07.10.2013]
  • The Inhumanity of Keston Sutherland's Odes to TL61P [David Grundy, 23.05.2013] 
  • Report from The Odes to TL61P (London Launch) [Lisa Jeschke, 23.05.2012] 
Some Introductions given to readings in Cambridge from the years 2014 - 2017

[Introductions written by Lisa Jeschke, David Grundy, Rosa Van Hensbergen, Janani Ambikapathy.]


[2014]

Lisa Jeshcke
Tom Allen

Timothy Thornton (unused)
Ian Heames

[2016]

Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon
David Grundy
Anne Boyer

Gizem Okulu
Naomi Weber
Rosa Van Hensbergen

[2017]
Stuart Calton
Caitlín Doherty
John DeWitt

Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon
Linda Kemp
Verity Spott (x2)


Materials Reading Series, 15.05.2014

Lisa Jeschke

Lisa’s poetry is motivated by rage and tenderness and all those things the poems themselves, would then turn on and question; it thinks about children and mothers and workers and social constitution and reproduction and material and material bases and immigrants and the parody discourse of the chauvinist characterisation of foreign stupidity and money and the internet and money and material and death, dead cheap; it even thinks at times about nature poetry, the environment as a total whole inhabited and thought about in serious parody, like the sun, or the park, or autumn, or hell, or the PVC kitchen floor. And also it has this parodic visceral violent sense of making me feel my body, its parts and organs, with a hyper-violent and disarming directness aware of the possibility of its own recuperation, of the recuperation of any tendency towards ‘vulnerability’. With its excess, its boredom, its repetition and its rhyme, it is completely ethically stringent and confused, exactly as it should be.

[D.G.]

Tom Allen

Tom’s poems have a range of concerns including Wordsworth, St Paul, Little Match Girls, flippancy, the voice of dead labour, nameless hordes, cops covered in stretched skin, filtered through white space and water and flames. There’s something inscrutable about them which I find attractive: they seem like things that have been worked on, worked away at, chiselled, hammered into shape. This is Tom’s first reading in the UK, and I’m intrigued to see how he reads these poems, because it seems there are several ways in: on the page they don’t seem to offer themselves up to any one way of (voiced) reading, there’s a resistance within them, which perhaps contributes to their distinctive tone: I think they’re pretty unique in comparison to what we might find in any number of poets writing now.

[D.G.]


Materials Reading Series, 15.11.2014

Timothy Thornton  [NB: Unused intro. Thornton was scheduled to read with Ian Heames but was unable to attend.]

The last time I saw Tim Thornton read in Cambridge was at around this time of year in 2011, at the launch for his Mountain Press book ‘Jocund Day’. At that reading, Neil Pattison introduced Tim by saying that there are two types of poems: those you believe and those you don’t, and that Tim’s was very much in the former camp. Neil also said that Tim’s work had made him able to love better, a claim grander than the first and quite something to live up to. It was a bold claim, and one that played on its boldness, but it was very much sincerely meant, and perhaps we should not be afraid of such claims. Because I think this is the kind of work that makes the possibility of such a framing seem more than merely fanciful overstatement. It’s work that demands or allows absolute trust, whose near pitch-perfect music belies, or rather, amplifies its concern with imperfection, blemish, constraint, entangled masks of desire and power – hurt and hope – cars and masks and singing birds – cairns, decay, violence, riots, resistance and the brute acting out of despair, beating breathless in build-up of hectoring, fractured, stumbling sound. Perhaps here we might think of Mayakovsky, in ‘How are Verses Made’:

“I walk along, waving my arms and mumbling almost wordlessly, now shortening my steps so as not to interrupt my mumbling, now mumbling more rapidly in time with my steps. So the rhythm is trimmed and takes shape – and rhythm is the basis of any poetic work, resounding through the whole thing.” 

As a musician, Thornton’s poetry is concerned very much with intricacies of sound resonance and echo – but this is sound pattern not as decoration, as be-jewelled cover for lack of substance (masquerading as glittering substance in itself), but as a means of poetic thinking. Sound is cut or choked, rhyme (more often half-rhyme) is a texture suggesting further layers of meaning, or a kind of concealed meaning between the spaces on the page, between the words, punctuation chopping up and forcing the phrasal units around it into new and unstable places.
As Danny Hayward argues of the sequence ‘PESTREGIMENT’, on the level of prosody and the role of the pronounal ‘you’ as cipher for direct intimacy, genuine erotic address, ‘erotic spontaneity’ is here cut-up by neologisms, negative formulations (words prefixed with ‘un-’) and the disruptive presence of everyday idiomatic phrases whose locational origin in the poem – their speaker – can’t be placed or held down. Writer and reader alike are swallowed in a spasm-ing language, notated jack-hammer stammering, tounge-twisting, tripping over itself in pitched skill, highest measure, up to the limits of what it can or is trying to say, as if willing itself to the border of inarticulacy, inside-out, yet always insistently and necessarily wanting to address something that, as the manically satirical poem ‘TRAILS’ puts it, “actually happened.” 

“We won’t deliberately / never try it.” “my tongue flag white. Tonight love I shall beat / impaled // on you combative and // leashed, the retreat”. Tim Thornton.

[D.G.]

Ian Heames

Ian Heames is a print-maker and publisher of poetry, running Face Press, formerly formerly (c)_(c) – and a poet. I’m just going to begin, stupidly, but stupidly for a reason, by reading out the titles of all of his publications:

‘Bad Flowers’ ((c)_(c) press, 2009),
‘[PAREIDOLIA]-BACKMASK’ ((c)_(c) press, 2010),
‘Out of Villon’ ((c)_(c) press, 2011),
‘Gloss to Carriers’ (Critical Documents, 2011),
‘Banners over Terminal Highway’ ((c)_(c) press, 2012),
‘Array One’ (Critical Documents, 2012),
‘To’ (Iodine, 2013),
‘A.I. in Daylight’ (Materials, 2014),
and two recent books of Sonnets (with Jonty Tiplady) (Face Press, 2014).

This list probably came across as a boring introductory exercise, but I felt it was important to read it out because Heames’ work is exactly attentive to questions of exercise, as well as to how the work of publishing relates to the production of poetry, and to how publications might run into one another both in the sense of complementing one another or in the sense of colliding and arguing with one another. Hence in ‘Out of Villon’, as the title implies, Heames wrenches something out of the fifteenth-century French poet François Villon, he takes something from him as a kind of theft, he is on the run, out of Villon --- but exactly from that position of absolute historical distance, he can allow himself to construct an encounter between the poetic I and Villon where they relate to one another intimately as long-time companions or buddies:

I
I and François Villon
Wanted to break the very in love prison
In fast maul

To duel with lime pits

he set-up reads as if he was teasing Villon, or poking him back to life from the drunk and dead – which makes you laugh on the inside, but, because the image is so forcefully contained, restricts your ability to laugh on the outside, or at least restricts your ability to laugh convulsively on the outside.

It is its precise formal containment, the sense of an openly repressed giggly-ness, which marks also Heames’ more recent chapbooks. Hence A.I. in Daylight from 2014, which is a chapbook of 27 poems pedantically numbered from 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and so on through to 3.3.3, seems at times to be written from the perspective of an attentive observer of a computer game – and simultaneously from the perspective of an attentive observer of the news. To quote from 1.1.3: ‘Teamspeak audio is cut now / Because the video is sped up / To compensate for “time dilation” / Kill the terrorist leader inside / The pleasure hub / (I know where my skillset ends) / Our characters are in love / This game needs new leaders’ and from 3.1.3 ‘After the games they sent in hovercrafts / Feeding our imaginations and investment / Dollars / To a career high’. These lines are important because they do not use media and games jargon in relation to the war on terrorism or the financial crisis as a declaration of something like the world-as-simulacrum, but, on the contrary, as a declaration of the fully material relation between language and the real world. This is why what I have described earlier as formal containment in Heames’ work functions not as literary withdrawal, but as a form of pressure, where his poetry is pressured by the outside world and in turn exerts pressure upon that outside world. That is, the formal perfection, i.e. the perfected-ness of his lines and the representation of perfection in his lines, presents ultimately an image of absolute error and mistake, where it is, to a totalitarian degree, impossible for him or any of us ever not to be mistaken – ‘just when I thought / I was perfect / I find this big weird mistake’. In summary, Heames’ poetry works like a machine, a very surprising machine.

[L.J.]



Materials Reading Series, 08.07.2016

Lisa Jeschke & Lucy Beynon – The Tragedy of Theresa May

Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon make some of the most rigorous, moving and thoughtful theatre currently in existence. It is, necessarily and importantly, a shit theatre. It is a shit musical, a shit cabaret, a shit poetry reading, a shit dialogue of wrenching directness and relentless complexity. It is essential.

When I say that it their theatre is ‘thoughtful’, I do not mean that its operations of thought exist as some sort of ‘thought experiment’; but rather, that they exist as a process of engaging with lived contradiction which has material and political impacts. This is a kind of thought which is vital for how ‘we’ live now – and Jeschke and Beynon do nothing if they do not immensely problematise any kind of ‘we’ that would be immanent to theatre, whether in its proscenium arch repertory guise, or in the more fluffy liberal guise of participation, democratization and the like. When I say it their theatre is ‘moving’, I mean among other things that, as Jeschke has written, “violence moves”; that the issue of the movement of people is connected to violence and to exploitation; that manipulation and emotion and emotional manipulation exist; and that the expression of a solidarity of suffering – not an ‘empathy’, not a ‘sympathy’ – is a necessary ground for resistance.

Since Jeschke and Beynon first performed their new piece, The Tragedy of Theresa May, which they’ll be performing again tonight, its subject, the British Home Secretary Theresa May, currently in charge of immigration and the police, has assumed an even greater significance. In the wake of the recent EU referendum, it now seems highly likely that May will become the new Prime Minister of this country come autumn, negotiating in part, on the basis of restricting the free movement of peoples, under the slogan: “Brexit means Brexit.” Apparently she will not now try to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, a previous pledge. There are small mercies, moments when the Fascist tide momentarily holds back its onward flow. These are not moments into which we can or should relax. They are being and will continue to be outnumbered in vast quantities every day.

Theresa May is a member of the Church of England and worships regularly on Sundays. May voted against the fox hunting ban and the increasing of taxation on incomes of over £150,000. She voted for the Iraq War and reductions in spending on welfare benefits. In the past few days, I have kept returning to a photograph which depicts her speaking, teeth bared, behind the Tories’ 2005 anti-immigration slogan, both May and the slogan appealing to the ‘common sense’ of the archetypal little Englander. That slogan reads: “Are you thinking what we’re thinking”?

Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon are not, and they passionately resist the thoughts which form part of a ‘one nation’ policy based on cruelty, on suffering, on the perpetuation and exacerbation of violent exclusion. Their work engages in full, uncompromising analysis of the condition that the Tory slogan expresses, and that May – as embodiment and abstraction, as representative, as concentration of flesh, of economic, racial and class power – increasingly expresses more than most.

Danny Hayward has written of Jeschke and Beynon’s work that its “great accomplishmentthroughout all of its vicissitudes and inevitable reverses, is that it makes the real inevitability of large collective acts feel undoubtable in a period in which the pressure to doubt them is ferocious and hatefully ubiquitous and unabating.” When I saw The Tragedy of Theresa May performed, in May, in Turkey, in the upstairs room of a bar, Jeschke at one point banged on a table, causing plaster to fall from the ceiling below.  Some things can hardly be ignored. More than ever we cannot fall into a reactive silence, a stunned sorrow, the defeat of those who never saw this coming. Existing within, but also standing absolutely against what Hayward names as our present condition of ferocious and hatefully ubiquitous and unabating doubt and despair, Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon.

[D.G.]

David Grundy

I want to do something slightly strange and introduce David Grundy’s work by talking very specifically about a poem that may seem irrelevant to this occasion, a poem he wrote and published in 2012, called ‘Happy Now’. It came to my mind because in the way poems can sometimes communicate better with the past or future than the present, ‘Happy Now’ seems written exactly for now by fervently articulating an impossible-yet-indispensable demand for absolute solidarity before a single subject can count themselves happy, concluding with the nearly impossible yet necessary ‘& in the end what i wanted to say / was that i am so unhappy right now / becoz u are unhappy / & in my subjective universality / i love u / the whole human race / & i just want u too to / be happy with me / but i cant be happy / becoz ur not happy / & this is my love letter.’ For the poetic speaker to state that a poem which has just moved through various convulsions of thinking politically and philosophically about conditions of happiness, for the speaker to state that that poem actually constitutes a love letter is an act of confrontation against any love poetry that would remain cosy within its own four walls, that would imagine itself bound only by the presence of one other person, not the simultaneous existence of all other subjects. The poem reaches this end-point after having moved through a series of contortions and transformations in occupation and style: among other things, we find extended, awkward prose reflections, narrow verse columns, the juxtaposition of alternative and contradiction (‘Poetry makes us Happy, or Unhappy’), entirely unambiguous conclusions (‘Becoz yr happiness right now frankly            sucks’), extended social argument (‘the object that contains or is the cause of my happiness is the cause of my happiness, but its production is factored out of that occasion, & that production is or may very well be the occasion or result of another, of many others’ systematized unhappiness’), dumb trashy lists, (‘my feet are happy my legs / are happy my arms are happy / my arse is happy’.). ‘Happy Now’ feels simultaneously like a thinking machine and like an animal that keeps shifting its shape, not to dissemble, but, on the contrary, with the aim of a truthful thinking through in resistance to accepting a statically fortified universe. The day Grundy first read the poem, someone asked me if there was a stream at this point in Cambridge of argumentative poetry, and even though I’m not sure there was, I do think that large parts of Grundy’s work since then can be considered as direct continuations of this motion of a thinking-through begun with ‘Happy now’, a continued insistence that poetry must expose itself as and to thinking, as opposed to providing perfected thought. As their heavily rhetorical titles indicate, Grundy’s expansive The Problems, The Questions, The Poem from 2014 and To the Reader from 2016, among others, continue to propose an argumentative experience of the world on the part of a hugely inflated and hugely self-mocking lyric I throwing itself into the attempt of a thoroughgoing scholarly inquiry into the fucked-up, abysmal political determinants that structure our non-existent souls.

[L.J.]

Anne Boyer

Anne Boyer was born in Topeka, Kansas and is currently based in Kansas City, where she teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Her most recent book, Garments Against Women, was published in the States last year, and has just come out in a UK edition with Mute. I first came across Boyer’s work around 2011, with the publication of her chapbook My Common Heart, a book written in the spring of that year, which anticipates and speaks to the energies of the Occupy movement that flourished that Fall. (Elective Affinities blog) This book remains a record of hope and struggle, of weakness and strength, of the relation of poet to an as-yet-unshaped and vexed collective, the collective which above all else is desired, for what it can accomplish and for what it can be.

As Boyer writes in a poem entitled ‘The Crowd’: “I prefer the teeming crowd of souls to the teeming soul itself.” My Common Heart is concerned with bodies and with the crowd, with empire and gender and struggle, its tone at times echoing Rimbaud’s poems from the Paris Commune, at times the incantatory lists of Whitman or Ginsberg, the tender ferocity of Diane Di Prima and the measured rigour of Juliana Spahr. Even when tempered by irony and self-interrogation, it never gives up a spirit of fervent hope.

More broadly, Boyer’s work frequently interrogates the limits of what poetry might reasonably or unreasonably be expected to do; how it might be defined; and what the boundaries are between ‘poetry’ and ‘the poem’, activity and object. Some of the questions it asks include the following. Faced with the current state of affairs – of immiseration, of the infiltration of ideology that claims it is not ideology into the cells of the body and the crevices of the mind – what can poems do? To whom can they speak? What are their gestures of refusal? What is the relation between exclusion and refusal? Can poetry be mapped onto the horizons for revolutionary transformation and transformed social organisation, and how? What is a poem?

Whatever the answers to these questions – and these will not be easy or definitive – Boyer’s poems exist in the condition of political turmoil, where the daily turmoil and violence that already exists might be resisted: a resistance which seeks the end of the world as it is constituted today. They move in the territory of apocalypse; in the territory, which is today’s, of the archaic and the digital; in the territory of technology and of what she calls “the trial of the opened body in the opened square under the opened sky in the opened streets in the opened city”.

That trial is one many of us have undergone and will have to undergo, in order to resist the living death perpetuated by the order of things as they are. But this realisation is one of clarity, even as it is also one of wrenching confusion. Boyer’s poetry and prose attests to the lived experience of conditions which are not only social in an abstract sense, but which manifest in the intimate relation of one’s self to one’s body to others’ bodies and to other selves. Nowhere is this expressed more movingly and precisely than in the work written during her recent treatment for cancer. Here, she moves into the condition of hope necessary to go on in the world, the ceaseless seeking for what she calls “another kind of poetry”. In a piece entitled ‘Tender Theory’, she writes:

You can stop fearing death, too, if you begin to think of the collective project of being alive in the common world, that one’s own end and the end to one’s work and one’s love is not the end of what is right or good. What needs to go on will.

Anne Boyer.

[D.G.]


Poetry Performance Series, 26.11.2016

Gizem Okulu

The 31 poems in Gizem Okulu’s sequence Mesmer, forthcoming from Materials press, assume the same basic template. Each begins with short lines, generally consisting of no more than a single word, which rigidly adhere to the centre of the page, followed by left-aligned prose paragraphs which read like sudden bursts of glossolalia after the staccato concision of what they follow – or, at once concision and drawing out, a stuttering in which a short phrase which could be sounded or seen at a glance, or in a single breath, is broken by the line breaks into artificially-imposed parts, suspended, an elongation through fracture in which meaning threatens to escape our grasp. This, indeed, is the subject of many of these broken and extended lines – the terrifying possibility of lack of speech, of blocked communication, in which a poetry written between languages and countries both bridges and attests to the gap, the chasm that “opens / up / isolated / and / frightened”:

“silence / yes / the /  Fear / it / will / enter / the / Fear / that / tongue / lingering / the / Fear / with / a / broken / grammar.”

Okulu’s adherence to a vertical pattern, in which the eye is drawn down, rather than across the page, is offset by the horizontal prose lines that follow. The centralised lines thus visually function like a column arising from the thick prose block of a foundation, but with no overarching roof or building to support: shells rather than shelters, exposures in which anxiety and a fraught tenderness emerge in visual and verbal formations at once firm and fragile, fixed and mutable. Okulu’s poems attest to displacement – of subjects, of places, of exile, of the speaking subject. As she puts it in the sequence’s second epigraph:

“The subject identifies itself with a holograph. It vanishes somewhat embarrassed. It has got no personal identities, no national insurance number. The subject is non-existent.”

Okulu, who has just embarked on a practice-based Ph.D at Royal Hollowa, is originally from Turkey, and it’s hard not to read these poems as haunted by the political catastrophe which in recent years has built and bubbled over under the leadership of President Erdogan. The poems in Mesmer are poems about wandering, fleeing, fogs and rivers, conditions of exile and danger. In their forthcoming book publication, they have been set with collages by Okulu’s father, still based in Turkey, which simultaneously encircle, protect and threaten these thin tendrils of words. In their choice of vocabulary, they remind me sometimes of the work of Frances Kruk, whose poems seem to be referenced, either directly or indirectly, intentionally or accidentally, in lines featuring fake orchids, forests and dwarves. Like Kruk’s work, they contain a biting humour that should temper my preceding characterisation of their more fraught aspects – witness the appearance of Barbarella, the occasional fuck-you’s and suggestions of barbed anecdote.

In any case, having harped on the visual qualities of these poems, I’m intrigued to hear how they’re sounded. Gizem Okulu.

[D.G.]


Naomi Weber

Naomi Weber’s lyric sequence Very Lonely Animals, just out from Materials press, sprawls across its pages in slabs of delicate observation, shying away from the objects it half-presents to our attention, on coasts, in the sunlight, working through the condition of innerness and outerness, fragmentation and totality, those quasi-mystical modernist themes tempered with dashes of what sound like theology, and the delicate affections or affectations of vernacular speech peaking through. To me, what it offers contains a kind of accessible evasion, a shying away that is not rebarbative or hostile, nor the studied “luminous detail” of a particular kind of wrought, mystic Modernism, but that sings it own song, almost to itself, from just off-centre. So that these poems have the feeling of being overheard, though not quite in Mill’s sense of lyric – the fitting of the right object to the innermost workings of a private consciousness, the “exact shape” of solitude and confession – nor his sense of the communicative outflowing of its apparent opposite, eloquence. Rather, there is a voice passing through here, fixed in snapshots that dissolve or that offer themselves for further inspection, gently overlapping, the sea in the shell in the ear. The locations of these poem are wide open, seas and coasts, rooms in which people nestle and seek protection, but from which they pereptually seem to be on the verge of leaving: the line ripens in sounds unfolding within and across the break, lulling or obscuring. And there is a catch in the tone which won’t stay but moves on, yet catches us on its gentle reiteration, catches us off-guard.

“This world we love and keep our love in keeps
Tearing our hands
The shreds around nails dragging behind
Looking around for gazes to meet
Digging bone to neighbourly flesh
God help me I am trying to be kind
But what other worlds have you given us
To serve, says a secret prayer”

Naomi Weber.

[D.G.]

Rosa Van Hensbergen

Rosa van Hensbergen’s work across genres is one of the singularly impressive things going on today: often surprising, sometimes perplexing invention, turns of phrase that spin webs of reference and intricate play, all shot through with streaks of sometimes jolting alarm. As, among other things, a practitioner and scholar of the Japanese avant-garde dance form butoh, it would be tempting to draw too easy parallels between her work in different art forms: nonetheless, this widening and spreading out of concern is a part of her work, whether its in her editorial and publishing guise with The Paper Nautilus magazine, dedicated to women’s writing, and with Tipped Press, an imprint with which she has put out a number of exquisite books, their binding hand-stitched, their paper hand-made. Last year she curated an ambitious, week-long series of performance events in the Drama Studio under the title In: Finite Variety, which included one of the more spectacular uses I’ve seen of this space, transformed into a post-apocalyptic landscape in a kind of poets’ theatre collaboration with the poet John De Witt.

She is the author, amongst other things, of an extraordinary verse novel Lights Out to Love in HD, in which dramas of familial tension play out into and across a futuristic narrative of technological surveillance, gameplay and identification, sexuality and culture clash; the disturbingly and exquisitely framed poems of Some New Growth at the Temple or Lobe, published by Critical Documents; and, most recently, the discursive and bitingly humorous poems of In Accident and Emergence: For Disasters for the Head and Heart and Hemisphere, published by Veer books, where, as in Gizem Okulu’s work, collages sit alongside and against poems; where emergency becomes emergence becomes emergency, urgently cut through with sparks that light up then burn away: matches, neon, fireworks, strip-lights, red lights, eerie phosphorescence: all of the lights, all aquiver, all aglow.

In these poems, writes William Rowe:

“The duration of affect, in an unusual, intense and precise way, [is] precise in relation to space, in fine equilibrium with the world and acute disequilibrium. Awareness of the body in space and perception of other bodies in space, their suffering. Desire for the destruction of what is and for the practice of care: sustaining that dialectic. The placing of that principle in trial by fire. And commitment to truth.”

Further: In Accident and Emergence maps the body (which is by no means here a singular thing, abstract category removed for further study) onto disasters present and historical: conflagrations such as the Great Fire of London, the urges of the pyromaniac, the will to destruction and the hovering threat of destructability, with a marked, unsafe humour flickering round the edges like the sputterings of a broken lightbulb. (This is the place to go, for example, if you want to find out whether or not you can consult your horoscope without reading Adorno.) Here is a sample:

                                    “FIRE
SHOOT
RENT

the tournage
the glass
the window with falsetto

I’m gonna have you
hollering                                 I’m gonna have you
hollering                 I’m gonna really have you
with delight and torrent
through the hulls
the corridors
tearing on
to the boiling point
between us
BLEVE”

And here is Rosa Van Hensbergen.

[D.G.]


Poetry Performance Series, 10.02.2017

Stuart Calton

Stuart Calton lives in Manchester, and s the author of the following books: Sheep Walk Cut (2003), United Snap Up  (2004), The Bench Graft  (2004), The Corn Mother (2006), Three Reveries (2010), The Torn Instructions for No Trebuchet  (2013), Live at Late Dilated Ileum (2015), and Blepharospasms (2016). As a musician, he is the incomparable dictophonist TFH Drenching.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Stuart’s work as a poet in particular to me has seemed some of the most vital and important of the past, I don’t know, ten years. In its concern with the interstices – to put it crudely – of the personal and the political, it interrogates, through a ruthless and unsentimental exploration of the self, the politics that shape that self, the social forces lived consciously and unconsciously, through which harm and pain are passed down. But this is not done through a poetry of dourness, or misery. Instead, objects morph and fly around in narratives of speedy and dazzlingly inventive precision which attest to Calton’s skill as a musician.

When he read in Cambridge in 2013, he began, not with his own work, but with ‘Against Bourgeois Art’, one of Amiri Baraka’s Marxist-Leninist poems from the 1970s. Though this served as a preface to his own poem, The Torn Instructions for No Trebuchet, which in part attacks the Stalinism of Baraka’s poem, he also clung to the unfashionably Marxist didacticism and excoriating satire of Baraka’s intensely politicised work. His own work doesn’t function in quite the same way.

It is a poetry which does not wear its ambition on its sleeve. There is something modest about it, and I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, nor do I mean to suggest that it is not thrillingly, almost ecstatically virtuosic, which it emphatically is. But this is not simply a poetry of surface, though that surface is dazzling. Deeply informed by readings in both psychoanalysis and Marxism – Calton describes himself on his website as a “left Kleinian” – as well as his involvement in left-wing activism, Calton’s poetry takes dream work seriously, even if it at times assumes a parodic usage of psychoanalytic vocabulary, what Calton calls the “rabbit-out-of-a-hat quality of psychoanalytic explanation.” In part, Calton writes about his own psychic life, the very personal dreamscape of his own unconscious. He makes no pretensions about the significance of doing this, does not do it to laud his own experience, to elevate it to the rank of the poetic genius, set apart from others by the particular quality of their vision, their attention – or, in the worst version of this model – the particular quality of their self.

His new book, Wimpy and André, has just been published by MATERIALS press, and copies are available TONIGHT. Wimpy and André is a poem in ten sections, setting forth the interrelations between protagonists Wimpy, Climpy, Sandy and André, in a potentially infinite selection of mixed scenarios. Amongst other sounds, the poem includes the sounds of a car alarm, the thin barking of a radically rationalised trick poultice, a shout, a voice, silence, static, galloping and The Lark Ascending played triple-speed nine octaves up like rain on a steel bin-lid over a rave synth line.

Calton has said:

I wanted to move to a place where almost anything could be said and made to function profitably. Or at least where I could seem to be saying “anything”, in a game of bluff-calling and trust-testing with the reader. 

This game of trust and bluff is one that comes with high risks. This is part of the poem’s excitement. And Calton can invariably pull off what he attempts.

In  2015, I wrote this about Live at Late Dilated Ileum.

“The language of internal feeling and phantasy intersects in complex construct with a world of domestic appliances, electronic gadgets (including musical instruments), social spaces, night, exotic animals, sea creatures, the body’s internal organs, the language of left-wing political organising as a critical undercurrent. It is a poetry which manifests a near-instinctive capacity for skilled prosodic composition, live and urgent, playful and alarming, sucker-punches and pressure points, enclosure and exposure, containment and claustrophobia, language at full fever-pitch ramming itself up against self-appointed walls in a pleasurable play of stricture and selectively deployed release.”

More recently, Keston Sutherland has written that that Blepharospasms is a poem

“madly trying again and again actually to hack its way out of paralysis and grab hold of a life that is obscurely out of reach. It is a poem about what can’t be done, about not being able to do things, or do things right, including things that poems ought to be able to do but can’t. […] It is a militant, delirious and radically incautious poem, motivated by an unflinching commitment to try not to cover up or extinguish the evidence of its debt to an unconscious origin.”

Wimpy and André, which I believe began as something of a “footnote” to, or development of a particular aspect of Blepharospasms, perhaps does something different again. In any case, you’ll now see for yourself. Stuart Calton.

[D.G.]

John DeWitt

Near the beginning of ‘Good Old Testament’, the first poem in the 2013 pamphlet, Visceral Apocrypha, John writes ‘we will totally disappear but the good news is on archive’. John’s poetry reads like it’s both broadcasting ‘good news’ – ‘Future man has gone public’ (he writes in the pamphlet Ends) – and simultaneously re-viewing its own language ‘on archive’. 

Ends, his first pamphlet, published in 2011, lingers in this future perfect space: in a ‘fantasy cumulus’, a ‘chamber of potential / so pure / like shot dimensions’. The dimensions of this poem’s bleached chambers are both ‘pure’ with ‘potential’ and already dead and gone, they are ‘shot’, on record. Its language is viewed as in ‘retrospect’ – ‘In retrospect I was Headed’, he writes. John’s trade-mark neologisms and syntactical torsions are back-catalogued at the moment they twist into view, as: ‘an extinct / language fleshes out / honing through / this thin clarity’ (to cite from the poem). Because, only through the ‘thin clarity’ of ‘retrospect’ can the bones of a future language be brought back to life from extinction. Overleaf from this line on extinction, floats a piece of dead language’s resurrected debris. The portmanteau word ‘withstance’. ‘Withstance’ both withstands and keeps its distance. Only viewed at a distance – say, through the eyes of ‘Future man’ (this poem’s only, lonely character) – can its potential afterlife as an archived word from 2011 become visible.

I personally think Future man will have an archive of John’s words, because like ‘good news’, or good newnesses, good novelties, they have the feel of something that should have been but wasn’t, something ‘extinct’ before it got out. They also have the feel of something arcane, a well-kept secret. ‘[S]ecret scratches on secret’, he writes near the beginning of Ends, and then finishes the poem off with the lines: ‘the gift saved for / when I need it most / hidden in the tooth.’

John’s poetry has changed a lot since the future of Ends in 2011, because like ‘good news’ it keeps moving. Reading his work from then to now is like watching a TV turn from monochrome to colour. The ‘grey air’ (to cite Ends) of his earlier work has been exed for the technicolour of living. He writes in ‘Good Old Testament’ in 2013: ‘The movie people will do / just about anything for you –– stay alive / to be honest get on boat and fall out of single color.’ If the ‘dimensions’ of Ends had been ‘shot’ in a ‘chamber’, this more recent work roams through the movie-sets of Hollywood. Its ‘archive’ is full of first-takes, miss-takes, things accidentally shot, and corrected. In ‘Good Old Testament’ there are the lines ‘Shoot for versatile / corrected Versailles is in / the boonies’. The word ‘versatile’ autocorrects to ‘Versailles’, but not the French Versailles, the American one – the U.S.’s largest private residence, located out in ‘the boonies’ of Florida. Or perhaps rather than the autocorrect of a computer, ‘versatile’ was in fact an odd voicing of ‘Versailles’, ‘Versailles’ with an accent, like someone trying on the word for the first time. A little later in the same poem, we hear the lines: ‘Wait for the Passover market to pay / for your late night accent’.

John is a man from Nashville, Tennessee, living and writing in Paris. He spent his childhood in Mexico, and wrote Ends while living in Uruguay. He has spent the last five years teaching English on the side. ‘So yeah I’m naked’, he writes in the ‘Jolly Rancher’ (in Visceral Apocrypha), ‘I live in the U.S. / and spend all my time in Uruguay, France / constantly impressed with the Zulus’. John’s poetry is also an ‘archive’ of glorious experiments in a second language. The kind of ‘withstance’ it promises is certainly not monolingual. His English is conquered by other tongues. He writes in ‘Good Old Testament’: ‘there must be a conquistador tucked away somewhere / in my soul patch.’ Spanish works on the soul of the words printed in Visceral Apocrypha. At the heart of this pamphlet are John’s translations of the Uruguayan poet Idea Vilariño. The first poem takes Vilariño as its soul conquistador. It reads: ‘Neither delicately / nor carefully. / Maybe / go on / break your animal.’ The last line, a translation of ‘romperse el alma’, ‘break your heart’ or ‘soul’ in the Spanish, becomes ‘break your animal’ in translation, because ‘alma’ sounds like ‘animal’ in collapse, ‘animal’ in text speak, ‘animal’ as a fudged anagram. But also because ‘animal’ might be a kind of extinct future for ‘alma’. As he writes in the list of ‘Selected Terms of Use’, included at the end of the translation, under the word ‘alma’: ‘The soul is taken for a person, a sensitive brute.’

Perhaps we all hide animals (‘sensitive’ brutes) in our almas, waiting to be un-archived in translation. At any rate, John invites us to try out that extinct feeling or hearing of ‘soul’, our anima our ‘animal’. John’s poetry – from which I’ve cited Ends (2011), and Visceral Apocrypha (2013), but which also includes Buildings (written with me in 2012), and forthcoming works like The Neckless Spokesperson (performed here last February) – extends invitations to try out words for the future past. It is, as he puts it, in the ‘Jolly Rancher’, a kind of ‘ancience, sci-fi’. To cite one last invitation, also from the ‘Jolly Rancher’: ‘just imagine / you’re John and take it poisonally. / You like difficulty? Try these socks’. Over to the man in the socks, I’m excited to welcome, John DeWitt.

[R.V.H.]

Caitlín Doherty

The final poem in Caitlín’s new pamphlet Our Party, begins: ‘2 cashpoints shout / over market square: “DAS DING DINGT” / abject history of / collation becoming keepers’. The announcement, “DAS DING DINGT” ‘the thing things’ is pilfered from Heidegger, but was immortalized by the Vienna School as an instance of philosophical nonsense: what can the ‘thing things’ possibly mean? It tinkles ‘DING DING’ in the poem, like a piece of commercialized philosophical tat, shouted by a pair of cashpoints. But it is also dangerous thought in this poem. Because it comes to mean something like ‘das Ding denkt’, ‘the thing thinks’. The thing thinks itself beyond itself, the ‘thing’ outthinks itself into a conceptual version of itself: the ‘thing’ is really just a ‘collation’ of all the shitty objects of the world, but it promotes itself to the ‘keeper’ of that worldly shit. The ‘abject history of / collation becoming keepers’, then, is also the abjection of objects under Things or Dings. Overleaf we read an exchange between ‘Thing’ and ‘object’: ‘Thing takes object by the hand and says: / I am your institution and your source; I / am you without a function and am in you till your end. Object cries a lot.’ ‘Thing’, here, is also abstract labour, specifically female labour.

All the functions are given over to the poem’s feminized objects, its feminine abjects. The pamphlet’s protagonist is ‘ELLE-LA-MACHINE’ – either a kind of superwoman ‘worker [bee]’ of the fashion industry, or a she-machine, a ‘rusty’ photocopier. She has ‘notes’ and ‘tones’, she ‘is overproductive and splits each cell she meets’. She ‘splits each cell’ because she, too, is subject to, what the poem calls, ‘time in capital’. Women are objects, abjects, machines, mass quantities. As Caitlín writes: ‘we just lost our rights to not say yes to work / so as a yes woman, one of millions, I say we stand / on mountainous Issues and envelope ourselves’. Like a letter to the tyrant of abstraction, these women ‘envelope’ themselves as a work of resistance.

Prosopopeia is a persistent, and unexpected, political strategy in Caitlín’s work. It can make the dead, or those who are handled like dead meat, dead objects, live. It can give voice to their thinking and feeling. The ‘Ding’ might think he thinks well, but it is ‘das Objekt’ that is doing all the political ‘denken’ in these lines. This strategy persists from Caitlín’s first pamphlet, Satellites (2012), to her most recent work, Our Party, written five years on. Between now and then, I have carried a single line in my head, which I find incredibly moving. It is the last line of the second poem in the pamphlet, and reads: ‘I love you & they have miscalculated’. This poem, ‘On the Collision of Iridium-33 with Kosmos 2251’, a U.S. and Russian satellite that collided over Siberia in 2009, is one of the most spectacular contemporary love lyrics I have read. The poem is built around a refraining play on the near-homonyms of ‘fool’ and ‘fall’. Each of us are fools for thinking we fall the hardest. In the second stanza we hear: ‘your glow / is limitless horizon & / I cannot stop the way you fall / as I fall quick behind you / shine at me / you glint so well / that I am fooled in silence’. Then later ‘shine at me / I am a fool & / in the silence you / glint so well’.  And at the end: ‘shine at me / I am your fool / & know when we collide / the sky will white and / hot ash will fall across America’.

These satellites on a collision course are not analogies for human love. Their ‘curvature’ is ‘beyond analogy’, as Caitlín puts it in ‘To Laika’. Their love is more real than our love. Their love whites ‘hot ash’. We can learn something from the Satellites. The last page of Satellites has the lines: ‘they do it so much better / than we could but with / more spite and no fear of / the vertical ambition o’. We are their Satellites – their satelles, ‘attendants’, ‘followers’, ‘underlings’. And this attendance reminds us that the sky is a political space. Again in ‘To Laika’, she writes: ‘the real colonizers look up and / down’. Politics is looking where you’re not – say, at ‘the test dummy of the underground worker / who cannot be trusted not to breathe wildly up there’ – trying to make itself invisible. Which is why looking (or attending) better might be in itself a political work. Caitlín writes in Our Party: ‘A domestic woman is a builder. / Social change is / practicable in small movements. / Attention is drawn / and I am brightly aware of my existing shortcomings’. We might all become more brightly aware of our existing shortcomings if we allow our attention to be drawn in by Caitlín’s work. Without further ado, I’m excited to welcome, Caitlín Doherty.

[R.V.H.]



Poetry Performance Series, 03.03.2017

Linda Kemp

Is a poet and musician based in Sheffield. She is the founder of the DIY publishing press and record label enjoy your homes press, and her book Lease Prise Redux was published by Materials last year.

Lease Prise Redux is a book of sixty-four sonnets. It is very much a political book, but not one which wears its politics in clear agitational pose. Instead, it possesses what Stuart Calton has described as “a cumulative impact which slowly seeps in, like a kaleidoscope of slow-moving debt, arrears and social smallness.” These poems are, indeed, small, tight, compact, but their sheer volume lends them a kind of inexorable, grid-like structure: each individual poem is necessary to the whole, and must be understood in the context of that whole. Perhaps we could liken the book to a block of precariously-rented flats or houses, its tenants squeezed and pressured in, constricted and demonized in their allowed social poses, their possibilities to ‘gainfully’ reproduce their labour in order to gain the money merely to eat, merely to live and survive. Kemp’s book forces us to understand that constriction and expansion are not just formal terms for talking about verse patterns, as if something like ‘the sonnet’, or ‘metre’, or ‘rhyme’, were somehow disconnected little pods, or monads, of pure formalism, formal purity. Rather, Lease Prise Redux uses sometimes all, sometimes some, sometimes none of these ‘formal’ tools as tools of urgent political argument, where politics is understood as the lived experience and the very real material need of those not often given a voice in the seminar room.

expansion is imminent risk when choice
over the lakey
know this
greater precariousness
end-stops ever

Kemp questions the tools of financialized value and evaluation which place the profit-drive of controlling and apportioning out space at the expense, not only of so-called ‘quality of life’, but of the actual survival of the lives of real human beings, living and dying in houses or on the streets outside the buildings they cannot afford to inhabit. This is a bleak poetry in some ways, but it is also a poetry which, because it is about these questions of survival, must survive those conditions, must help us to survive them. And this even when surviving itself can seem a kind of living death. A specific set of lines have haunted me since I first encountered these poems around a year ago. In these lines, the conditional structure of the phrasing both beautifully and brutally suspends itself over the line breaks through and in which this speech ends and begins again, anxiously breaking out into whatever future we are ‘allowed’ or, better yet, can take.

If
anxiety is order
the day drifts &
value is bricks & mortar.

If to carry on is not to

I am very pleased to introduce Linda Kemp. [DG]
Verity Spott
(N.B. Unused Introduction)

Is a poet and musician based in Brighton, and the author of Trans* Manifestos (Shit Valley, 2016) Gideon (Barque Press, 2014), Balconette (Veer Books, 2014), Dear Nothing and No One In It and Effort to No (Iodine, 2013). She runs Iodine press and Horseplay. Click Away Close Door Say has just been published by Contraband Books, and another book of lyric poems, written with Tim Thornton, is due from Face Press. Verity is also editing the poetry of Arlen Riley Wilson.

In Verity’s voluminous work, lyric fractures and is fractured by violent acts of interpellation, noise, interference, feedback: as she puts it, “a monstrous / terror waiting inside, in / those cruel and beautiful notes”. I use these sonic metaphors advisedly: Verity is an improvising musician of great skill, and her approach to poetry is often informed by this. Yet what I’m here terming fracture manifests in both sonic and visual form: symbols that might at first appear unvocalisable, invocations of creatures and divinities of chaos, a mise-en-page that veers between page-straddling long lines and broken shards of tabbed fragment.

Verity’s book-length poem GIDEON was a hex on former chancellor George Osborne and considers the limits of political violence, figurations of revenge, of purges, of solidarity. CLICK AWAY CLOSE DOOR SAY, just published, is another book length poem, written in and of work in mental health services. These are crucial poems, in which discursive limits break in and out of the text, marking the physical wounds that discourse enacts, literalising them, eviscerating them, satirical and tender and necessary.

Verity’s work appears on her blog, Two Torn Halves, with great frequency, sometimes daily, so that the poems can seem something like news items, bulletins of where we are, in all the rage and despair that condition entails. Is this “News that stays news”? Or might we reject the injunctions towards a Fascist conception of temporality that this Poundian formulation might imply, especially now? I think that rather, what we can say is that Verity has evolved an approach which, in its capacious moving across lyric, prose, essay, quotation, song and noise, is broad enough to be as reactive as the times demand. In particular, she has developed a prose style, manifested perhaps most notably in the Trans* Manifestos published last year by Shit Valley press, in which texts that are something like essays are constantly disrupted by the explosion and expulsion of poetic fracture. Poetry here functions not as lyric coherence but as a kind of shattering into noise which disrupts the flow of argumentation and the formal architecture of phrase-making through consonant sound-patterning. As she writes: “How form adopts us; absorbed into it on every level, how in that case it becomes unattainable; all movements unsustainable.”

Both coherence and disruption risk falsity; it is only through their dialectical interaction that the poem can proceed with the necessary, unstinting fidelity to what we could name as truth. Verity is a lyric poet of sometimes heart-breaking musicality and of tender and fierce directness, and this is not to be separated or distinguished from the languages of violence and resistance. As she writes in Trans* Manifestos: “I don’t want allies, I want accomplices.” To finish, these lines, at once benediction and curse, from her poem ‘A Little Reverie’, dedicated to the poet Sean Bonney in a gesture of militant friendship:

And I will tear down anyone who hurts you
And I will strangle the world that shot you in the brain
And I will summon storms
And hold you
And chaos will burn from my fingers.

Verity Spott. [DG]

Verity Spott
(Introduction used for Reading)

A specific strain of left poetry, or poems using left aesthetics, or left as aesthetics has left me feeling like the aesthetic has been anesthetised. Trawling through that which is left of the left (in poetry) has come to be a principle and a political act. Verity’s A Short Essay on How to Make Your Poetry More Marxy speaks directly to this discomfort. It acknowledges certain privileges in & over language. Verity writes ‘in that which sounds like it might have something to do with Marxism, but is yet marked by a seething or dulling (etc.) abstraction that reduces it to merely being 'Marxy' - marked (as in beast) by its Marxyness.  It is not just about using tropes and frameworks that are reduced to a kind of dullness—I’d take it further to say it’s an act of violence. Language is robbed, as is the struggle. Reduced assimilated syllabic matter.

When she says ‘The Muse is obviously essential. It's best if the Muse is contained within the brevity of an unnamed woman and/or an unnamed civilian caught up in conflict’ she’s pointing to the ugly question about agency. The kind of ugly that makes people say ‘why must you make it about race’. What is the difference between the unnamed-civilian-in-a-conflict and a photo of the naked black child by the dirty canal in the Aid for Africa poster? What is ethical principle behind such affect creation? I don’t have to tell you about agency (of the marginalised) against systemic, structural oppression, and reduction is a form of oppression. Can we allow poetry to become a part of this structure? This is why Verity’s critique is important, and extremely urgent.

Couldn’t I just be happy that people mean well? They are writing from the right of the barricades after all. Well, no. If you don’t see it, well, you don’t. 

David Grundy in his piece on Verity uses the phrase ‘militant friendship’ – I like it quite a lot, and here’s my version of it ‘militant friendship & critical solidarity’. There can be no solidarity without critical interference, and thank you, Verity, for this interference.

[J.A.]

Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon

In a recent introduction to Lisa Jeschke’s translations of Ulf Stolterfoht’s Nine Drugs, J.H. Prynne suggested that what is remarkable in Stolterfoht’s work is the ‘pressure’ it exerts on the German language. This pressure might be necessary if the ‘life of this language’ is to be sustained. When someone like Angela Merkel speaks, ‘she speaks a boring language and more or less a dead language’, says Prynne. This matter of pressure is one to which Lisa and Lucy’s work speaks. But if they exert language-pressure it is, rather, in order to reveal the latent political pressures that are already at work in conditioning the way we speak. Merkel’s language is not only ‘boring’ and ‘dead’, it is violently coercive.

When, at the beginning of Lisa and Lucy’s work, The Tragedy of Theresa May, Lucy, the ‘successful impersonator’ of Theresa May, uses a word like ‘love’ to describe her relationship to Volker – an ‘impaired’ worker, played by Lisa – and when Lisa, as Volker, responds with the relentless refrain ‘I love you […] love you… love you… love you…love… to work… for you’, ‘love’ is made to mean two very different things. Or, rather, ‘love’ is a word that measures the success of its speaker. May’s response to Volker’s outburst is not swooning, but reevaluation: ‘You have upset my expectations’, she says, ‘and I have to re-evaluate your status. Perhaps this won’t work out after all.’ Volker’s success is dependent on her submission to May, ‘love’ is already a coerced word in her mouth, and used improperly, used too fast for May’s timing, used to ‘[steal] the show’, it will cost Volker May’s love, and his job.

Using the word ‘love’ properly, according to May, is also using it impersonally. When Volker is finally fired for a combination of poor performance and for telling another worker how much she is paid, May claims: ‘it is not personal’. But Volker wants it to be personal: ‘I want it to be personal!’, he says, ‘Our love was personal to me!’. Love, our love, Volker thought they shared the word, but May, after all an ‘impersonator’, had emptied all the person out of it. It would take some serious pressure to reinsert the person into our personal language. It would, for example, take some pressure to hear an actual ‘you’ in Theresa May’s First Statement as Prime Minister: “we’ll think not of the powerful, but you […] we’ll listen not to the mighty but to you. […] we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you.”

Volker’s ‘you’ is a deeply personal one – it is fired at the person behind the mask. It is enough to slay the figure of Theresa May. And, even, to hold her accountable for that death. This is a ‘significant [act]’, to borrow from Danny Hayward’s review of Lisa and Lucy’s previous political work, David Cameron: A Theatre of Knife Songs. It is significant because it does violence as much to me as it does to you, to use ‘love’ or ‘me’ or ‘you’ personally. Those close parts of language are where the knife twists the worst, but the pain caused might be necessary if we are to feel, rather than remain immune to, the possible ways in which language might pressure and be pressured. I will leave you with Volker’s killer-outburst at the end of the play: ‘YOU WERE NEVER GOING TO DIE OF SOMEONE ELSE, YOU WERE GOING TO DIE OF YOU! JUST LIKE THE REST OF US! WE ALL DIE OF YOU! GET DOWN! DIE BITCH! IT IS FOR YOU TO DIE NOW! THESE ARE YOUR TERMS!’ Lisa and Lucy over to you.

[R.V.H.][2]




[2] [Further Thoughts: The revelation of mechanism is something that thinks back to Beckett. Volker’s speeches are part borrowed from the ‘Mouth’ in Not I, but they also, I think, make recourse to Lucky’s ‘thinking’ stream in Waiting for Godot. The figure of oppression, Pozzo, is abstracted by the time it gets to the blacked-out torture-chair in which Billy Whitelaw played ‘Mouth’, but that invisibility makes it no less pernicious./ Volker = people; Ute = wealth]


Jeremy Hardingham’s Shit Theatre

“I’m like your sphincter and I’m forcing the shit out of you.” Jeremy Hardingham’s play-text ‘Shit’, published in the 1996 b/w paper-&-staples photocopied-magazine ‘SPORT IS FOR FAGGOTS’, features a combative dialogue between characters monosyllabically named, not quite boiling over into the physical violence or act of love-making that at least one of its characters would seem to imply or desire in the ‘exchange’; that love-making, or, rather sexual power game-release as brutally present as undercurrent in the constant reiterated frustrations of ‘fuck’ in its various permutations as verb and adjective. The dialogue-exchange is not so much an exchange as a debate on the coercive force in all relational interaction (not necessarily gendered; indeed, the sex mentioned would seem more likely homo- than hetero-sexual, featuring ‘fags’ and ‘your fist’), and specifically on the question of being ‘moved’ by a piece of theatre; this notion of ‘movement’ developing into the crude base materialism of the shit metaphor of expelling some innerness out, as in shit, not by ‘having’ a shit, that term implying possession or at least control of that which is expelled, but by having a shit forced out of one by uncontrollable muscular contraction, forced out like the stream of words and shit that breaks the desired self-enclosure of the scatological failed solipsism of Antonin Artaud’s late work, but in this case forced out by another human figure, figured, in this metaphorical instance, as that muscle inside one over which one has no control, theatre-maker as sphincter ‘moving’ the shit or tears out of the moved audience member, abusing the erotic valency of their charge. (Indeed, consider the fact that ‘sphincters relax at death, possibly releasing fluids’; that loss of control of the dying or the very-young, as the body’s un-willed operation, pre- or post-individuation, acted on unceremoniously by an internal assertion that seems external, in that one has no control over it, that breaks down or pre-dates a conception of one’s self as a separate and controllable or controlling entity, leading one to exist in a state of horrific un-differentiation that might be echoed in the inter-personality and shared physical inhabitation of the erotic, but which is far more abject than that consensual ecstatic sharing, is closest, if anything, to rape.) The name of one of the characters in Hardingham’s play is ‘Drane’: filtering out the shit, not drowning in moved sobbing, the naturalized dirt of rainwater tears. Theatre as shit and waste, not so much as the cathartic purification the metaphor of the drain might imply, but as an actual assertion of and participation in the material ephemera, the ephemeral material, of a live performance that is nonetheless a participant in, and inscribed with, history, that does not imagine relation to exist in a clean vacuum, flushing the shit of history down the participatory toilet, that insists on a messy and potentially problematic work and working.

And so, the statement ‘I can’t help but be moving’ isn’t to imply the straightforward worthiness of theatre as some kind of transparent medium for a truth it un-problematically presents, in bite-sized little shit-cakes we can cleanly digest and consider ourselves well-fed by, 100% organic, ‘illusionism and simple morality’, that kind of shit. ‘I can’t help but be moving’ leaves open the question of whether or not that ‘movement’ is inevitable, bad, good, a particular structural model, and so on. But, you say, “that does not yet solve the question [of] whether [theatre] should be […] so moving […] Violently moving.” (What Would Bertolt Brecht Do?) This all perhaps implies a none too-happy ethical charge, which the play does not condescendingly ‘resolve’, and which theatre itself, in its most rigorous forms, thus far does not or has not resolved; yet the play also has a second half or epilogue in which (these the days of ‘Jurassic Park’), Jeff or ‘Geoff’ Goldblum notices a pile of “dinosaur doo doo”, shit here become, in a dialogue between a ‘young one’ and a parent, a child-like joy in wastage and in throwing away, expelled ephemera, solid enough, deliriously happy in that loss of control, that shit cray. [To be continued, perhaps…]

[David Grundy, 10.07.2013]
The Inhumanity of Keston Sutherland's Odes to TL61P

  

This poem, or series of poems, is an ode -- rather than the song of praise that implies, a love-poem, perhaps, but more or most likely a lament for TL61P, the code for a now-obsolete replacement door for a Hotpoint Tumble Drier. It is an attempt to write a poem directed towards a non-human object which exists, not as some spurious 'object-oriented ontology', some 'ethical' attempt at bringing into being fantasized 'inter-objectivity' between the human and non-human words that tries to escape human mediation and thus overlooks the actual real of material human labour, the actual mediations we live inside, but as a means of relating to objects produced by humans which does not give them an agency of their own, as Bruno Latour, having internalized the logic of capitalism which Marx satirizes, would have us believe, but realizes them as living, or, more accurately, dead, because these objects contain the dead labour of those exploited under capitalism and as capital itself.

TL61P is at a triple remove: it is a code which stands in for that which it exists as a replacement product-part for - code stands in for replacement door stands in for door stands in for the dead labour that produces it and that it reproduces. The obsolescence of TL61P, turned into the 'inhumanity' of non-meaning letter-number code, a 'word' or series of signifying objects turned into affect-less code, the arbitrariness of the sign, is a deadness like the deadness of dead labour, a mere statistic. As a specific object, the tumble-drier door is in part chosen for its deliberate arbitrariness, or the gesture of choosing it is made to seem that way - pick an object and fix on it as if it meant more than it did (like your comment about constantly wanting to mean more than the shit you do mean, poetry's poverty aspiring outward in teenage belief). Or, as Sutherland puts it in an interview in Naked Punch, “seizing on a very improbably specific detail of consumer society and trying to make from that some image of the whole” -- which is, after all, what consumer items, commodities are, encapsulations of the labour that produces them, the products of a complex (and now global) system of exchange and exploitation which they both cover over with their shiny desirability and embody. 

But it (the hot-point dryer door) also comes to take on specific qualities, not as an exact 'symbol' so much as being forced into a certain level of metaphorical affect by the pressure being placed on it to be 'worthy' of its centrality to the poetic project, to 'live' up to the attention violently or lovingly directed at it. Thus, the tumble drier dries out the wetness and sweat of dirty clothes and turns them once more into new and gleaming objects, as if just taken from the rack, though at the same time it wears down and fades the colour of those clothes with repeated usage, giving the lie to its own re-birthing function; just as the commodity tries to dry out the blood and sweat and wetness of the dead labour that produces it, makes that undead labour non-human. Addressing the ode to it doesn't quite attempt to make it human again, because that would just be a parody of the process of dead labour's congealing, but suggests, by imparting it with that trace of humanity, the displacement of real needs and desires onto fictitious or all-too-real material objects, and thus, implicitly, how love might be re-directed from the object-made-human to the human, which, under capital, is made object. Not to consume or 'exhaust' that object, but to realize the inexhaustibility of it, in Adorno's terms: not that TL61P is that which to which one must direct an inexhaustible love, but that the conditions in which that love might so be directed to the human could be thought, against and out of a visceral, strenuous and comprehensive attempt to live through the wrongness of relation which gives rise to Sutherland's project.

This has, of course, has been a part of Sutherland's work for several years now, from Hot White Andy and Roger Ailes ("Roger are you there", "Hot white Andrew Cheng"), the displaced figures of love - Chinese middle-ranker, nefarious Fox News figure - but, in the Odes, it is taken to a non-human extreme. Giving oneself up to an inhuman object, to the totally other, is what we are required to under capital every day; the condition of sacrifice, of human blood, of human flesh, propitiation to the money-god. Through an absolute attempt to inhabit and make potently manifest this state, Sutherland attempts to move through that condition into a place where it might be possible to imagine some other condition -- somewhat akin to that state Will Rowe discussed in his paper at the Militant Poetry and Poetics conference at Birkbeck this past weekend, in which one would have to live and feel and think as if one had completely inhabited and passed through the condition of absolute, paralyzing fear which at times seems to psychologically prevent the thought of any kind of resistant counter-action to prevailing internalized propaganda.

It is another question whether or not we find this project to be successful or not, and whether or not we believe that poetry per se, or a particular kind of poetry, or this particular poem, is the place for this attempt, an attempt which can clearly not exist without the movements for social change with which it seeks to act, both existing as the conditions of possibility for the other. And it is another question even whether the poem itself does want what it, and its title and general schematic framework, claims. In that sense, perhaps the above is merely a ventriloquization of certain theoretical positions which exists as a merely conceptual, rather than imminant-critical approach: no praxis here. But perhaps this can be a start towards thinking outside these boundaries, towards a properly close reading that challenges the claims made above.

[David Grundy, 23.05.2013]

Report from The Odes to TL61P (London Launch)



On 14 May at Cafe Oto in London, Keston Sutherland read from The Odes to TL61P (Enitharmon, 2013). If poetry readings are - among other things - live performance, they work as a kind of poor theatre, with little material means to support it: sort of as if you wanted to make a vast heterogeneous theatre performance but the only means of production or channel you had was a telephone line, so you call someone as an attempt to compress EVERYTHING into that one call. The Odes are super-restless, they're SUPER with all that term's implications of trash  and globalised minimal-maximal communication - and yet, as either words on a page or a voice in a room on a surface level sensually unproviding and unconsoling, like a mono-channel. But this mono-channel is not entirely limited by the walls of, in this case, Cafe Oto, just as a telephone line might in fact evoke a whole theatre or, the reverse, a theatre performance evoke a mere telephone call, as in, say, Beckett's Not I. This reading in particular, but really perhaps all readings, felt/feel super-concerned with the fact that we form material co-extensions not only of the spaces we find ourselves in, but also of several simultaneous historical periods past and present - for example as numerically visualised by the sequence '2013', or as conceptually apprehensible as 'late capitalism'. Not that 2013 or late capitalism are imaginary conceptions, rather we see them as we look at each other, in our voices and physiognomies and bodies: 'I am a real hole for you, not a barely noticeale flimsy crack; David had a stupid way of laughing and a fucking ugly blush. Hasten defections. I swapped stickers with him, [...]' (p. 64). The hegemony of life lived in its time might relativise - though not erase - the problem of authority in the reader-audience relation: if there are all sorts of exterior factors and hegemonies running through and exceeding the time and the structural politics of the occasion of the reading, the authority of the poet might (also) seem miniature. One of these exterior factors is the textual material: if the words already exist on the page and are to some extent pre-recorded, of the past, then the now of the live situation is kicked in its back from behind, and past and present double, exploding the limits of that now; like when recorded voices of the dead haunt us as ghosts which are materially present, in exactly one voice that struggles to speak them all.

This is what the Odes seem - partly - concerned with: the question of containment, and who is contained by what, and what is excessive of whom, that is: what is the relation between poetry and everything else, naively to be called, perhaps, the world? The Odes seem to demand to be more than poetry, and they demand of the world to be more than the world. There is an attempt at absolute and excessive openness, where the word and the world would spill into and over one another swallowing, exceeding, incorporating, intruding upon, violating [without object]. Which one is smaller? And which one is a co-extension of which? In terms of size and scope, what is our beginning reference point, if poetry is one material form forming part of further material forms, sort of in a relationship of geometric translations? But: before this poetry can contain the world or be contained by the world or all and both at once, the Odes are bound to struggle with reaching the excessive openness they gesture towards in the first place; the demand is not yet its own fulfilment, and it is their necessary and pathetic struggle with what they propose that defines the Odes as _work_. The Odes work, but perhaps less like humans than like fleshly virtual computer game worms advancing slowly eating their way through everything and anything that crosses their way:

'Pope's descents to Beckett's dips, Keats astride a grave betimes, a Nigerian sex slave. A Nigerian sex slave plying its overstretched, hedged, oily ass at the dusty fringes of the Biennale to drunk sponsors of the European tents. Or what will not debase so much as shatter, or what will not rejoin but soon rip up, or rearrange with gratuitious violence, undo savagely primp or outright annihilate. Our amity is fitted for division. You won't say anything more radical than sex.' (p. 29)

The prose line eats through the boundaries of poetry, only to be contained within the boundary limits of the prose line itself: i.e. where prose initially seemed to test the limits of poetry, suddenly the occasional bouts of verse and mock-verse in turn seek to question the limits of prose. As do those prose lines standing out beyond the mostly standardised page margins: 'the poor should live where they can afford to / not where they are, redistributive justice; it became a country / full of torture, omnivorous ravenous gut for riveting blood' (p. 37)). Sometimes a spade needs to be called a spade, i.e. a grave needs to be called a grave. These passages of direct and violent accusations against this state/State of things are mixed with long sections of lingusitic parody: where 21st century language is extremely rich and testifies to an, to our, extreme poverty of thought and experience, virtuosically:

'Besides paedohilia, which now means the sexual love of prepubescent individuals in particular, we now have hebephilia, a diagnosis for the sexual love of individuals in the early stages of puberty, but not earlier; ephebophilia, a diagnosis for the sexual love of individuals lately progressed out of puberty (these last two are sometimes also called korophilia and parthenophilia.' (p. 55)

It's like we can be anything we want to be, but only 'Reactionaries think life should mean life.' (38) Which might be an echo of Adorno's epigraph to Minima Moralia, Life does not live. Which, in turn, seems like a weird and condescending thing to say to people who might feel a mistrust of metaphorical (?!) accusations of not being alive, when they do have the subjective impression of being alive. But like in Adorno, deadness in the Odes is not morally assigned to ennui or spiritual emptiness in the bourgeoisie - which has been the gesture and accusation of some earlier 20th century avant-gardes - but is concretely and analytically linked to capitalist forms of wage labour and production, as well as to this government and this day's day-to-day politics. This is about how we are hurt and dissected and killed in our day-to-day lives, and in fact about how we hurt and dissect and kill, sort of as if the active and passive voice all melted into one another: the argument implies it is our reps (politicians and artists! structurally) who suicide society, not the other way round.

The Odes feel like that absolute - and absolutely ugly and megalomaniac and even ridiculous(ly) teenager-like longing in Kleist's 'Michael Kohlhaas' - where the hugeness of the demand is itself something that might threaten the order of the state: the state of things, but also specifically the State. This seems like a massive demand for and of poetry: the desire for all wrongs to be righted. But regardless of the individual's desire: 'If there will be a revolution in the UK, it will require the army.' (p. 65) Here suddenly the revolution is small (limited to this UK kingdom and its army), and, even worse, poetry is tiny, toying, poor, removed - quantitatively. But qualitatively it fights against its poverty by channeling a huge world (involving the sun, the moon, the stars, the revolution, every single fucker who dares to be happy, every ghost of a life hovering around unhappily, every dialect spoken anywhere, every word dead and alive) into a single line of speech. Which is all asymmetrical: this poetry is fucked.

[Lisa Jeschke, 23.05.2013]