Keston Sutherland’s Stress Position

I was going to write this in the manner (style?) of the prose section of this poem but then I realised that this would only make any kind of sense to those who had read it and that only I would be amused.
Let me start by saying that Stress Position is a major piece of work that makes a significant contribution to current debates about language and its relationship to the ‘real’, compromised world. Bits of it are also very funny with extraordinary images.
The poem is ‘set’ in Baghdad and features the poet, a number of historical and fictional characters and Black Beauty. Rumsfeld and Cheney also get a name check and the sky makes several appearances.
If Keston was bipolar (which he isn’t), I’d be gently telling him to increase the lithium because the poem manages to hover on the bridge between mania and psychosis but is probably an attempt to express dialectical consciousness and produce poetry that is “as impossible as reality”.
So, the poem would appear to be a radical critique of American imperialism particularly with regard to torture but it also sets up a particular ‘metric’ (a term much used by Prynne) between aspects of the external world and the inside of Sutherland’s head. This is incredibly successful in that it takes the reader on an exhilarating ride through dystopia and manages to throw out a broad range of ideas at the same time.
I have a personal rule when reading poetry which is to count the lines that I wished I’d written. Stress Position is full of these so I should be overcome with envy but I’m not because Sutherland has thrown down the gauntlet to those of us who aspire to write poetry and change the world (not always at the same time).
Sutherland doesn’t have a good time in Stress Position, he gets gang raped in a toilet cubicle in McDonald’s and loses a leg but the overall tone is rhapsodic rather than brutal. A gastro yacht is also featured along with references to number of dishes- the significance of this escapes me but I’m working on it.
Sutherland has made a distinction between ‘readers’ and ‘consumers’ of poetry and made a passing swipe at mainstream poetry in the process. He was using Prynne as an example of a poet who demands very close attention and scorning those poets whose work can be read and fully understood in one go. With regard to Stress Position, the poem does demand attention but it’s of a different order to that demanded by Prynne, there’s no need for a word-by-word examination nor is their as much ambiguity but there’s still work to be done. The “anagrammatic” Diotima makes an appearance, certain words and phrases are italicised, a lot of compound words are used and I’m not at all sure about the presence of Black Beauty nor the presence of Sutherland’s mother before he gets gang raped. So the attention is more about the poetic structure rather than what the words may mean. Some words are printed in block capitals with numbers attached and I will need to work out what that’s about. There’s also bits of French and German that will require my attention.
The poem is also immensely quotable I’ll just give three lines as an example-

That means that he that the dots are all joined up in a skeleton already

and that skeleton is publically wanked off, into the open darkness

and the darkness spits its wet dust on a sticky mirrorball.

The other thing that the reader gradually realises is that the poem is tightly structured. Sutherland spent a long time thinking about this before putting pen to paper and it has paid off because we stay with the various threads rather than reading the various episodes as random and chaotic.

Ideologically, Sutherland and I are miles apart. I don’t share his Marxist/Hegelian slant on things nor do I have much faith in the dialectic but I do share his outrage at American foreign policy and the forces of late capital. I also share his concerns about the way that language gets appropriated by the impossible world. I don’t read poems to agree with them, I read them to be challenged and to steal ideas and Stress Position more than meets those criteria.

There is a bitchy dig at Derrida that is overly simplistic. If you are going to take on Grammatology then you need to be very clear what you are taking on and why.

Sutherland will hate this but I think the whole world should read Stress Position – it’s available from Barque Press for £6.

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s