Tag Archives: document

Making poetry in these slurred times

This may not be the most coherent piece I’ve written but it might be the most heartfelt and urgent. We’ll start with some context. It’s now April 19th 2020 and I’m living with my lover, for the first time, in Ventnor in the UK and we’re in lockdown.

I don’t know about others but I write verse in order to work out about how I feel about something. The previous blog was a poem I made in response to the current and ongoing disaster, I’ve also made a v short performance piece (see below) in response to how this thing seems to be unfolding.

The shock for me is how hard this is. It should be ideal because I use documentary material, I’m a vaguely anarcho-lefty policy wonk with specific interests in health and social care and I hover on one of the main ‘vulnerable’ groups. This should therefore be the ideal opportunity, in a spacious property overlooking the Channel, to write at least one epic of Spenserian length and probably two.

In fact, there is an argument that gently points out that we creative types have a duty to spend this time documenting the disaster and how we feel about it from the inside in, more or less, ‘real’ time. To go further, I would hold up Celan’s Todesfugue as one of the greatest poems we have that did exactly that.

I’m under no illusions, I am at best an interested amateur who writes in order to perform rather than to be read. I’ve written and had performed lengthy pieces on Bloody Sunday, Ferguson and the Newtown shootings, I’m thus not averse to dealing with challenging subjects and am drawn to the complicated.

Covid-19 has, however, from nowhere on my horizon, has scrambled any feelings and thoughts that I might have.

We’ll start with bigness. In terms of a single Whiteheadian event, this particular virus is huge. A glance at one of those fucking dashboards reveals that it is infecting and killing everywhere and our collective response is hugely passive. As I type the global economy is continuing to collapse and a return to any kind of normal is looking increasingly unlikely for any of us. From this viewpoint, the making of art in itself can appear to be trivial and poetry making then becomes even more self-indulgent and vain than normal.

I’m not suggesting that all art is of little import but that big events and themes require a degree of brilliance that few of us have. In fact the bebrowed rule is that the quality of material required increases in step with the importance of the subject matter. The most obvious examples to me are Dante on the afterlife, Milton on the Fall, David Jones on World War One and Celan on the Holocaust. There are quite a few others.

Those of us who aren’t brilliant then have to try and avoid irrelevance by saying something that might be useful to the reader by presenting a different perspective and providing a consequent moment or two of reflection..

Moving on to plenitude, this catastrophe is producing too many aspects and too much data as it scythes through us. All of the media, quality and otherwise, is feasting on this stuff and putting forth opinions on everything from the plight of those locked in with their abusers to the chemistry of enzymes and proteins. None of these very many concerns are minor issues and they will all be struggled over in the years to come.

In the face of this poetry can become:

a ranting thorn in the side of the powers that be;

a record of the disaster and its effects;

a memorialisation of the dead;

a blueprint for the future;

an interrogation of the nature of science and expertise

a personal response providing one possible way feeling about this stuff.

My problem is that I want to do all of these (except perhaps the blueprint), and they all keep crowding on to my page and all of them seem really important which results in either clever-clever rantery or a major wallow.

As well as complexity, I’m also struggling creatively with adjusting to the disaster as it reveals different aspects of itself. This weekend the British media have discovered that residents of care and nursing homes may be dying in their thousands in addition to those currently recorded. As an ex-manager of the inspection and regulation of such homes I know that these figures are readily and easily available and national collation should have begun in February at the very latest. I’m also disgusted that politicians failed to act upon the bleeding obvious fact that these homes are by far the most vulnerable part of society. I’ve ranted about this on social media this morning but now feel that I need to add this specific negligence into the creative mix.

The other problem that I have is that of sudden isolation. We’re living in a small town that,for all its many faults, has a strong sense of community and collective endeavour, these things have, literally, kept me sane over the last ten years and now going out on our daily walks reveals a blank page.

Both Megan and I want/need to talk to others face to face about the weight and complexity of what’s going on and that is the activity that is most Against The Rules. Incidentally, we now have a society that’s governed by rules rather than laws and nobody seems to have noticed.

I’ve just realised that this may have turned into an extended whinge, the kind of semi-ranting self indulgence that I’m wary of. My only excuse is that at least it’s an honest exploration of the bewilderment and angst that I feel in the gripof Covid 19.

Within Minutes, read by John Armstrong (writer) and Megan Mackney (actor)

Sean Bonney and the political poem

I’ve written in the past about politics and poetry and tried to make a distinction between knee-jerk polemic and something more complex. I also disclosed something of my own political background which is at the anarchist/socialist end of the political spectrum.

I’ve spent the last few days with ‘Document’ by Sean Bonney about whom I know next to nothing. The Barque Press site says that Document’s narrative runs from the London suicide bombers to Blair’s resignation and the work itself is sub-titled ‘Poems, Diagrams, Manifestos July 7th 2005 – June 27th 2007’. The BEPC site says that- “Currently, he is attempting to formulate a poetics of total critique, which appears to be a synthesis of social detail, historic fact, Marxist theory, pornography and random insult.” I was therefore intrigued to read ‘Document’ as an example of that attempt.

The work turns out to be a fascinating working through of a variety of radical positions featuring some of the far left’s favourite topics. I’d re-frame the pornography element as ‘desire’ but that’s probably because my leftist stance on this comes from a slightly different perspective. This element runs through the book and I’m not entirely sure whether this is merely a stance or posture or whether Bonney has something new to say. The use of terms like ‘scat’ and the frequent references to items of underwear tend to point to the former.

I’d like to skim over the fact that there’s a lengthy quote from Benjamin on Baudelaire primarily because I think Benjamin is the most overrated critic that ever lived and because I don’t like (see the point of) \Baudelaire.  The quote however relates to Baudelaire’s voice being mingled with the roar of the city and there’s enough of London in ‘Document’ to signify that this may be part of Bonney’s intent.

As for politics, the usual suspects are rounded up and shot, we are exhorted to ‘kill Blair’ and told that ‘Bush knew what he was doing’ which isn’t very interesting and ‘contemporary poetry is gentrified’ which is.  I’m particularly fond of:

the police method of knowledge
is the newer, cleaner avant-garde.

(It is a crossroads where the dead come to meet)/// not poetry, revolution (note tabooed term, container driver). meanwhile we are still grateful for the compression provided by the city / private home complex. a single tube for eating, puking & squirting ink. is that macho? or the gentrification of your own poetix / mirror fermented (as storefront::: port of entry to engagement with personal identity). a diagram of human passions. there are parts of the town are inexplicable, are made of complex moans and fierce scratching.

I’ve quoted this at length because I think it shows the outrage that runs through the work and also because I want Bonney to develop some of his themes a bit more. There’s also a situationist thread (or rather a very Anglified situationist thread) pervading most of Document and this could have been developed but I’m left with a series of images and statements that are merely interesting. Speaking of images, I find the ‘diagram’ part of the book which consists of collaged images and text or typescript with lines going from one part to the other not really worth the effort to decipher- the same goes for the passages of text where the words have been split up, all of this seems too earnest and mannered for my liking.
There are 2 ‘poetix’ manifestos which turn out to be extended rants, the first contains the immortal sentence ‘Bruce Willis is a cunt’ which is quite entertaining.
As well as Blair, Bush, Marx, Baudelaire and Benjamin, there are also references to Khlebnikov, Debord, Villon and Hennig Brandt. I’d heard of the first three but did have to look up Brandt who turns out to have been an alchemist whose recipe did involve, as Bonney asserts, the boiling of urine.
Probably the bits that will stay with me the longest are the references to London and the poem directly addressed to Blair which contains “to just say ‘fuck off and die’ / would be more accurate, more austere”. I really like the use of ‘austere’ because it reflects how I feel about our Great ex-Leader and makes a much more complex point than ‘accurate’.
I could go on about the continuing naivety of all the many factions that currently occupy the far left of the political spectrum, I could also hold this up as yet another example of agitprop gone awry and it would be easy to have a rant about wasted opportunity. However, I recognise that in these dark political times we really need all the outrage that we can get and Bonney’s target audience isn’t battle weary old hacks like me. I also recognise that there’s enough good poetry to hold my interest regardless of the political intent.
The final point is that I read poetry and politics (and most other things) in order to be challenged because I like being startled out of my current way of thinking about things. ‘Document’ sets out to challenge but fails because it tries to do too many thing at once and because it confirms most of my ingrained prejudices- I won’t be returning to the barricades any time soon.
I’ve just downloaded ‘The Commons’ from Bonney’s blog which contains the following “I seem to have anarchic tendencies / but I hang around with Trots”. This speaks to me on a much more personal level so I’ll read the rest of it and try to write something coherent at a later stage.