Tag Archives: globalisation

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)

Wendy Brown on Walls and Anxiety

I haven’t come across Wendy Brown before, apparently she’s an American professor of political science and recently she gave an interview on Broken Power Lines (an excellent blog which is ‘devoted to how power never functions as intended’ – I like that) about the current political situation in which we find ourselves.

Professor Brown says that directionlessness and meaninglessness are features of late modernity and that neoliberalisation provides direction without providing meaning. ┬áThis has some resonance for me, I’ve always been a little sceptical about the importance some commentators attach to ‘meaning’ (because it’s a term that can easily become overly portentous) but I do recognise that in the UK there’s a fundamental emptiness at the bottom of neoliberal free market dogma. This is best expressed at the moment by the posturing of politicians in the run up to our forthcoming general election. The question (as ever) is not how best to produce a just and fair society but which of these hollow men are best placed to ‘manage’ the vagaries of globalisation and the free market. The ‘quotidian nihilism’ that Brown talks about has its most obvious expression in continually falling turnout rates and the cynicism with which British politicians operate.

The question is- how can we combat/challenge this emptiness and replace it with something productive? The other problem we have is to figure out whether this malaise is an inevitable feature of late modernity (as Brown suggests) or whether it’s a product of this particular long wave of capital. I’d go with the latter primarily because there’s a lot of features of late modernity that I quite like. In terms of combating the emptiness, it seems to me that getting bogged down in ‘meaning’ as a replacement is a waste of time, like Richard Rorty I’m much more drawn to alternatives that are both useful and interesting without wishing to attach any further depth.

We now come to walls and anxiety. Brown’s view would seem to be that we are becoming more anxious because we are using our sense of place as globalisation whittles away at the nation state and that we need walls to be able to define ourselves. When I first read this I didn’t think that it applied to me- I’m a citizen of the free world and despise petty nationalisms so I recognised that this anxiety could apply to others but that I was was immune. Yesterday, however, a friend asked me if I liked living in Ventnor and I said that I did because I can’t see the rest of England from it. Ventnor is a resort town on the south coast of the Isle of Wight that is sandwiched between the English Channel to the south and 750ft high downland to the north so we are well and truly ‘boundaried’. ┬áLiving for the last 17 years has given me a strong sense of place and is a refreshing contrast to other places in which I have lived (Essex, Middlesbrough) which don’t have similar walls. So, whilst I’m not that bothered by national boundaries, I have to recognise that my own walls are very important to me and perhaps we need to give greater political consideration to this sense of place (which is different from identity).

Incidentally, Broken Power Lines also contains a review of 24 city which is the latest film by the very clever Jia Zhang-Ke which everybody should see.