Tag Archives: bloody sunday

Vanessa Place and the Archive

First, a couple of announcements, John Matthias and I have now completed the annotation of all seven sections of the first poem in the Trigons sequence and any feedback would be most gratefully received. Secondly the experiments in reading project has now acquired additional material on all three poems: ‘Night Office’; ‘The Anathemata’ and ‘The Odes to TL61P’. With regard to ‘The Anathemata’, I’m particularly grateful to Tom Goldpaugh for his support and contributions.

I think I’ve said before that. as a make of poems, I’m attracted to archives and in particular archival records of Bad Things that have occurred. I know that I’ve also expressed my admiration for Vanessa Place and the crucial work that she does. So, imagine my delight in coming across ‘Full Audio Transcripts’ on the radio-break site. This is a sound file which consists of the poet reading transcripts from conversations between various government agencies of Sept 11 2001 as the morning progressed. The most frequent conversations are between aircraft controllers and the other agencies. The reading lasts just over 90 minutes and is mesmerising.

I’m a tired old cynic and I know what happened and in what order it happened on that day, I’ve read senate reports and watched a number of documentaries so I didn’t expect this to tell me anything I didn’t know. After a few minutes I became transfixed because of the way in which another picture was being painted, a picture without a single viewpoint of a world that is confused, chaotic and more than a little scared. If there is a narrative it is that all the acronyms and numbers and command structures and all the military might in the world will now save you from a group of men with box cutters and imagination.

There are multiple confusions ranging from whether planes have been hijacked or not, in which direction and at what height a plane is flying, the fate of the crew on one of the planes. Place reads this mounting chaos in virtually expressionless speech with clarity and sustained stamina. The effect is to draw the listener into the heartbreaking conversations and to identify with the various voices as they try to make sense of the unfolding tragedy.

Poetry purists (and not-so purists) have many things to say about this kind of thing, that it doesn’t contain any original work, that is much more about form than substance, that all conceptualists are charlatans who are more interested in producing a single idea rather than a sustained and considered piece of work. I, however don’t have problem with the conceptual per se, my own bias lies in the direction of the confessional as well as P Larkin, but I’m saddened that most of it isn’t very good. This is especially unfortunate because it has the potential to mount a proper challenge to the over-lyricised state of things today.

I’m also not a fan of everything that Place doe, her “One” collaboration is both overly precious and underwhelming but, at her best, the work remains essential. Both ‘Transcripts’ and ‘Tragodia’ challenge the current poetic and depict in some detail, the forces of the state at work and the very many flaws therein.

Of course many would argue that this isn’t poetry and that is part of the ‘point’ because it can’t be anything else, ‘Transcripts’ makes its own demands- it uses one voice to read out the words of many and it must be viewed in the context of contemporary poem-making. This is not to suggest that it’s a foundational Ur-text marking the moment when the established order is overthrown but to demand that attention is paid to what it does and what it says.

In terms of subject matter, I’m reasonably ambiguous on 9/11. It was a magnificent thumb in the eye of imperialism and capital but nobody deserves to die in that way and it was organised by a small group of fundamentalist nutters (technical term) who ever since have received far more attention thn they deserve. It also gave the clapped out forces of imperialism to demonstrate their ineptitude and impotence in a number of sovereign states across the globe.

I’m also very aware that the above is many miles away from the American mainstream and I don’t listen to this reading in the same way that a US citizen would but I can be horrified (still) by the slowly dawning realisation that something very bad is unfolding, from the first calls from the flight crew to the muddled decisions to open fire on hijacked aircraft. This isn’t sensationalist, Place does not read any of the words of the victims as they occur in transcripts (and are all over the web) but she does read out what others say about them. One of the things that struck me whilst reading the second and third parts of Tragodia is the amount of numbers that the state use to keep control of its own data/instruments of power. This aspect is underlined by the constant reference to acronyms and numbers between the various civil servants and military personnel. Oddly, this is not something I took much notice of when I was involved in policy and procedure setting, but looking back (especially in child protection issues) it is how things were done.

A couple of years ago I was heavily involved in a poetic examination of the massacre commonly referred to as Bloody Sunday. Listening to Place reminded me that I still have the transcripts of military chatter on that day and am now about to compare and contrast….

In conclusion, ‘Full Audio Transcripts’ is another brilliantly defiant work by Vanessa Place that demands a response from all those who profess an interest in poetry and the poetic.

People come genuinely but mistakenly

This is a plea for feedback on this audio file which is the last attempt to do something useful with the Bloody Sunday / Saville project. I’m asking for feedback because it seems to ‘work’ in the way that I want it to but I’d be interested in the response of others especially in terms of coherence.

” People come genuinely but mistakenly to believe that they had witnessed something”

the marking of the letter k

quiries pt 1 or Bad Things That Happen

(From Saville, Phillips, Stafford and the Bank of England with 5-15% original embellishment, the bleed into the clouds is, on this occasion, entirely intentional)

Daniel McGowan identified this person as himself

Entrance 
to
Glenfada
Park
North
 Shops
under
canopy
Southern
end of
Block 1
of the
Rossville
Flats
   Gap
between
Blocks
2 and 3
Joseph Place
alleyway
Fahan Street
steps
CAR PARK
(redacted)
  
  first house is
Joe McColgan
b-in-law.
LORRY FORMING
PLATFORM FOR
CIVIL RIGHTS
MEETING AFTER
MARCH
Walks up to alley heads
for town
CROWD HERE
small
rubble barricade
illegible soldier(?)
WRECKED CARS
hears first
shots
STEEP GRASS VERGE
shot just before
getting to illegible
looks over to
phone box
TELEPHONE
BOX
illegible soldiers (?)
ROSSVILLE ST
SMALL
RUBBLE BARRICADE
Daniel McGowan
identified this
person as himself
Bullet
Hole
I left the window after this
none of the men I saw had anything
in their hands
photographer
came from here
windows
FAHAN STREET
ALLEYWAY
   Man
ran from
here and
he was shot
1st man shot here
(he was dragged away)
2nd man shot - dragged
himself towards the alley.
ROSSVILLE STREET
D
E
1
2
F
G
Maisonettes ALLEY Maisonettes
Rosville Flats
Flats
4
Flats
  LANE
Car Park
S
T
E
P
S
  1
3
2
1 & 2: The men shot running into the lane
3: The man shot while crawling for cover
4: The woman who shouted from the flats
Chamberlain
Street
Gap between
Blocks 1 and 2
Patrick Doherty
LOW    WALL
rifle fire
CAR PARK
rifle fire
CONCRETE
LEGEND: "join
local IRA
x Doherty
x McGuigan
ROSSVILLE STREET
  Posititon of
Patrick Doherty
when
photographed by
Gilles Peress and
Fulvio Grimaldi
Arc in which the
firer must have
been located
Joseph Place
  alleyway
Fahan Street steps
Joseph Place
  alleyway
Fahan Street steps
Joseph Place
  alleyway
Fahan Street steps
 Bernard
McGuigan
 Body of
Bernard
McGuigan
Position of
Bernard
Mcguigan's
body
Southern
end of
eastern
block of
Glenfada
Park
North
    Body of
Bernard McGuigan
Nevertheless he felt able to mark with the letter K the
appropriate position of the man on the map attached
to his written statement to this Inquiry
(verbatim, the casualties in sector 5)

Slow poetry part three

The work of mourning

In the work of mourning it is not grief that works, grief keeps watch
In the work of mourning it is not grief that works, grief keeps watch
In the work of mourning it is not grief that works, grief keeps watch

In the work of morning it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the work of morning it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the work of morning it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch

In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch

In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil

In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil

In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil

In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil

In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief stays awake
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief stays awake
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief stays awake

i.m. Patrick Doherty

We never did find the bullet that entered Patsy’s right buttock
We didn’t really look for  the bullet that entered Patsy’s right buttock
We may have hidden the bullet that entered Patsy’s right buttock

We searched high and low for the bullet that penetrated Patsy’s right ilio-sacral joint
It was never in our interests to find  the bullet that penetrated Patsy’s right ilio-sacral joint
We may have disposed of  the bullet that penetrated Patsy’s right ilio-sacral joint

We all went to look for the bullet  that entered Patsy’s abdominal cavity
We scoured the ground in our search for  the bullet  that entered Patsy’s abdominal cavity
The bullet  that entered Patsy’s abdominal cavity will never come to light

We never did come across the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s aorta
We didn’t really search for the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s aorta
We may have secreted away the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s aorta

We never did find the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s inferior vena cava
We didn’t really look for the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s inferior vena cava
We may have hidden the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s inferior vena cava

We searched high and low for the high velocity round that lacerated the two main blood vessels in Patsy’s abdomen
It was never in our interests to find the high velocity round that lacerated the two main blood vessels in Patsy’s abdomen
We may have disposed of the high velocity round that lacerated the two main blood vessels in Patsy’s abdomen

We weren’t that bothered about the high velocity round that tore through Patsy’s bowel and colon attachments
We never did find the high velocity round that tore through Patsy’s bowel and colon attachments
We searched high and low for the high velocity round that tore through Patsy’s bowel and colon attachments

We may have found and the disposed of the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s diaphragm
It was never in our interests to find and retain the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s diaphragm
We searched high and low for the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s diaphragm

We never located the bullet that entered Patsy’s left chest cavity
We may have hidden or otherwise discarded the bullet that entered Patsy’s left chest cavity
We don’t have the bullet that entered Patsy’s left chest cavity

We searched high and low for the high velocity round that lacerated the lower outer part of Patsy’s left lung
It was never in our interests to produce to this Inquiry the high velocity round that lacerated the lower outer part of Patsy’s left lung
We left no stone unturned in our search for the high velocity round that lacerated the lower outer part of Patsy’s left lung

We never did find the bullet that fractured Patsy’s eighth left rib
We don’t have the bullet that fractured Patsy’s eighth left rib
We may once have had what was left of the bullet that fractured Patsy’s eighth left rib

We searched high and low for the bullet that fractured Patsy’s ninth left rib
We may have hidden or otherwise discarded for the bullet that fractured Patsy’s ninth left rib
It was never in our interests to produce to this or any other Inquiry for the bullet that fractured Patsy’s ninth left rib

We never did locate the bullet that left Patsy’s body through the left side of the chest, well below and somewhat in front of the armpit.
We never really tried to find  the bullet that left Patsy’s body through the left side of the chest, well below and somewhat in front of the armpit.
We searched high and low for  the bullet that left Patsy’s body through the left side of the chest, well below and somewhat in front of the armpit.

Because I still like him

Because I still like him, I can foresee the disappointment of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the disappointment of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the disappointment of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my wrong reader
Because I still love him, I don’t ignore the rage of my wrong reader
Because there is love and anger  between us, we don’t read as we should.

 

Slow poetry: a manifesto

Whilst trying to earn some money this week, I’ve also been thinking about the poem that I published here a few days ago and wondering whether this particular vein should be pursued. Positive feedback from Jim Kleinhenz and my daughter makes me think that it might be worthwhile but as working with repetition and small changes is new to me, I thought I’d put a few thoughts down before I progress any further with the material.

This started when I was listening to Laurence Crane on Radio 3 last week.  He was being interviewed as a way of introducing each piece. In the introduction to ‘Ethiopian Middle Distance Runners’ he said that he was interested in repetition and the effect of small changes and also in the way that these changes can still carry something of the original. My immediate response was to groan inwardly because I’m not usually fond of this level of austere abstraction.

The piece was then broadcast and I listened whilst trying (again) to write something interesting about Bloody Sunday. about two or three minutes into the piece I found I was listening intently to the repetition  and waiting for the change to occur. The pen was then put down and I gave the rest of the piece my full attention.

Things then began to fall into place quite quickly, I recdognised that repetition and small changes could be used in verse to produce similar effects. I’d had a line running through my head- ‘we don’t die enough’ that I’d absorbed and adapted from Blanchot and started to make a few notes. I have to say that I was pleased with the result because it provided a ‘use’ for the line and also pointed to other possibilities. I then tried to be a bit more ambitious with a description of a wound taken from the original Bloody Sunday pathology reports and developed that using less repetition and more complex changes to the line. I found this satisfying to do primarily because I was working with language in a different way and because the ‘technique’ seemed quite straightforward.

I then read the two pieces aloud and had a bit of a panic as to whether they should only be read aloud or printed on the page as well. I then found that I had a need to put these initial efforts on this blog- something I haven’t done for many months and that this need wasn’t so much about getting a reaction but more about display for it’s own sake- I still haven’t made sense of this impulse.

That’s by way of a longish introduction to a manifesto on what I’ve decided to call ‘slow poetry’. I think that this has two main strands-

  1. the use of repetition to encourage greater attention and to provide emphasis- a kind of incantation;
  2. the use of small changes to demonstrate (indicate) the complex relationship between the words and ‘sense’

There are a couple of other provisos, the first is that the initial line has to be quite strong, by this I mean that it has to gain and hold the reader’s interest and that it has to hold the potential for development. The second proviso is that things when modified shouldn’t become too complex or busy. The third is that the piece needs to end properly and that the last line requires as much thought as the first.

These have all come to light since I’ve started to see what repetition can do. I’ve also discovered the joys of appropriation, in working out ‘strong’ first lines I’ve found that it is feasible/reasonable to plunder bits of philosophy and to subject these to repetition and modification. I’ve done something with a line (which is almost an aside) from Derrida’s ‘La carte postale’ which has led me to think quite hard about this line in particular and what Rorty says  that Derrida’s doing with this  tome.  The good thing about slow poetry is that I’ve been able to work through very very gradually what might be going on. I’ve also discovered that appropriation is misnamed, it is much more about selection than theft.

There is also the documentary aspect, I have on my hard drive many of the witness statements provided to the Saville Inquiry and twenty or so of these describe one particular event in many different ways. I’ve been using some of these differences to experiment with what language does to sense described above. This has been immensely rewarding because I’ve spent 18 months using the ‘superabundant’ approach  to achieve the same effect and this minimal approach seems so much cleaner and more disciplined.

Bloody Sunday is important to me for several reasons and one of the things that it shows is how complicated and fragile the witness / knowledge / proof / judgement  process actually is and that this fragility undermines our notions of knowledge and ‘truth’. What slow poetry gives me is an opportunity to demonstrate this in a reasonably compelling way.

I’m very encouraged by Jim’s response primarily because he’s a very accomplished poet who gives a great deal of thought to what he writes. Both Jim and my daughter throw up ways of thinking about this stuff that I haven’t considered and will need to incorporate in the near future. I’m also intrigued to see Jim’s use of repetition on his blog this week.

The other thing that comes to mind is that I’ve spent this week thinking more about language (in all its forms) and less about poetry……. I also feel the need to post more of this stuff.

Celan, Derrida and bearing witness

This might take some time as I have a number of things that I need to say and a number of other things that I need to throw up in the air to see how they land. Whilst this piece is prompted by Derrida’s essay “Poetics and Politics of Witnessing” which focuses on a poem by Paul Celan, I also want to talk about the creative possibilities that the process of bearing witness offers.

I’m one of those sad obsessives who take an interest in public inquiries. I’m fascinated by the way that the State seeks to exonerate itself when bad things happen and by the way that the State will use inquiry findings as an excuse to act in a draconian manner. I have been tangentially involved in one such inquiry (into the Cleveland child abuse fiasco) and the final report did not tally with what actually occurred during the crisis. At the time, I put this down to the State having its own agenda which was to introduce new legislation but, having now read primary material on the BSE inquiry and the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, I can see that it is the process of giving evidence (bearing witness) that is flawed.

The last lines of Celan’s poem are “No one / bears witness for the / witness.” Paul Celan was a Holocaust survivor and both his parents died at the hands of the Germans. Throughout his life Celan felt compelled to act as a poetic witness to the Holocaust and Derrida rightly points out this task is in itself impossible. He substantiates this with- “That comes down to saying – always the same paradox, the same paradoxopoetic matrix – that as soon as it is guaranteed, certain as a theoretical proof , a testimony can no longer be guaranteed as testimony.”

I’ve said before that Derrida is the finest reader of Celan that we have and his reading here of ‘Aschenglorie hinter’ underlines his honesty and intelligence in stating within the text and confronting its challenges head on. Before I get on to discussing these issues I do want to expand a bit on the witness/testimony problem. There are a number of stages in the ‘official/judicial’ bearing witness process. The first is the point at which the witness becomes aware of the bad thing that has happened. We all perceive and make sense of things differently so witnesses to the same event can produce materially different accounts of the same event, neither of which is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. The second part of the process is the making of the statement which is usually done in the presence of a friendly/sympathetic official and provides the witness with an opportunity to recount what they have witnessed. The third part of this phase consists of repeating this as part of a judicial process and the fourth occurs when the witness is cross-examined by lawyers for other interested parties.

My personal experience of both civil and criminal cases bears this out and also underlines the deterioration that occurs along every step of the way as outlined above. I once spent three days being cross-examined in a child abuse case and all of this consisted of having to defend my personal and professional integrity rather than on the veracity of what I had witnessed. In this particular instance, what convinced me that a very bad thing had occurred arose from a chance conversation with a young person with quite profound learning difficulties who was trying, as bet he could, to communicate to me that he was the victim of sexual assault perpetrated by a colleague of mine. Professionally I knew that this witness could not actually bear witness but the truth of what he said remains with me to this day (there were 22 other victims and my colleague was jailed for seven years).

Contrasting the witness statements with Lord Phillips’ final report into BSE is a further illustration of how veracities get lost along the way. There is one veterinary pathologist who is convinced that BSE (‘scrapie in a cow’) was first identified 12 months before the ‘official’ date, she knows this because she carried out the autopsy. The final report flatly contradicts this without introducing any meaningful evidence and does this (as Phillips admits) in order to dispel media speculation that the British state had known about BSE for a year without taking any action.

We now come to Bloody Sunday and I’m aware that I’m writing this prior to publication of Saville’s findings. There are however some aspects of witness testimony that won’t find their way into the final report. A teacher who was on the march recalls seeing a soldier crouched down on one knee with his rifle sight to one eye and realising that very similar poses are struck in army recruitment brochures. The report will ignore this and in doing so will occlude one person’s ‘truth’ of the moment. Bernard Mcguigan was shot in the head by soldier ‘F’ who happened to be crouched on one knee- this will be in the report but will be missing was that Barney (as he was known) was seen having a ‘crafty’ smoke as the march began and that his wife didn ‘t like him smoking. Other details will also be missing, that his wife had soaked an orange cloth in vinegar to ward off the effects of tear gas, that she was cooking bacon and/or sausages when her brother called to tell her that Barney was dead. These are all truths taken from just two of the hundreds of witness statements that were made.

The point that I’m trying to make is that bearing witness is a complex and tricky business and that Derrida is absolutely correct about the damage that is done once witnesses encounter an official domain.

Poetry has the potential to act as witness in a way that is less mediated/corrupt. Our finest poets (Prynne, Hill and Sutherland) have all produced work which stands as witness to bad things that have occurred. Prynne has done this brilliantly with the multiple viewpoints of ‘Refuse Collection’ whereas ‘Triumph of Love’ is Hill’s magisterial take on the various excesses of the twentieth century. Finally ‘Stress Position’ manages to be both a searing indictment of Western atrocities in Iraq and a technical exercise in perspective. All of these poets are compelled (creatively and morally) to bear witness and do so in a way that should jolt us out of our complacency.

Celan really struggled with his compulsion, he saw the Holocaust as such a terrible scar, such an omniscient tragedy, that putting it into language of any kind gave him enormous difficulty. This poem is a truly terrible poem to read and must have been agony to write but it stands today as the finest example we have of bearing witness.

The other point of writing this is to think aloud about my latest creative ‘project’ which will probably be a long and fairly dense conflation of Bloody Sunday and BSE as expressed in witness statements and expert evidence. For the first time ever I’ve done research, I’ve learned about proteins that misfold and about the difference between an entry and exit wound.  I’ve also tried to work out in detail the motives of the British state in both of these events.

I’m trying out different forms and different voices (primarily because I’m bored with writing/sounding like RS Thomas) and have thus taken note of how the best do it (bear witness). I have to say that the early results have pleased me and, as I write to please myself, that’s all that really matters. I’m thinking of calling it “The Ballad of Barney and Beast 142″ which has a bit of and echo of Sutherland’s “honest account of Ali whoever’ from Stress Position.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to have a bit of a rant about John Felstiner who chooses to translate ‘glorie’ as ‘aureole’. This is perverse in the extreme- ‘aureole’ may be a subsidiary definition but there is nothing to suggest that this was Celan’s intention- every other translator into French and English gives ‘glory’ as does Derrida. Given the status of the Felstiner collection shouldn’t more of us be pointing out that there are far better translations out there? I’m thinking in particular of Hamburger and Joris both of whom have published their own poems whereas Felstiner hasn’t.

Finally, in a 1994 discussion Derrida defined the ideological difference between Heidegger and himself. He said that Heidegger was concerned in gathering things together whilst he was concerned with scattering them. Inquiries are concerned with the gather whilst the truth lies in the scatter.