Monday, 20 April 2015

Poetry and the Work of Sabotage

Writing poetry necessitates acts of sabotage. Sabotage sustains the labour of composition by encouraging in the line of verse an agency capable of offering definition to the previous line by deliberately withholding it. Writing verse can do this not because it is not prose, or because the fantasy of composition involves an inherently contradictory process of abstraction, but because the “prosodic gift” is something which compels the temporal signature of living thought to register the traffic of its combination by re-creating the conditions for its survival. Poetic work must involve the sabotage of its mechanisms of production in order to emerge as poem. The phrase “prosodic gift” is Lisa Robertson’s, from the last 'Untitled Essay' in her Nilling: “Covertly the poem transforms [the] vernacular to a prosodic gift whose agency flourishes in the bodily time of an institutional and economic evasion.” Such a gift must be taken from the prosodic lab by the labour of composition in order to be freely available for giving; its value emerges from the impossibility of its final determination as thought or thinking. No free lunches, either. Giorgio Agamben is wrong about the “end of the poem” because the “poetic institution” he defines as such can never “[trespass] into prose” since to do so would be to keep the poem shut forever. What the “end of the poem” in fact necessitates is a theory of the possibility of the poem beginning to be a poem in the first place, that is, a theory of prosody defined by the structural incoherency of “prosody” itself to account for the comings and goings of each line in relation to every other. The poem sabotages prosody by appearing to present a finished product, when really what it proves is that the product of poetic thinking is always infinitely defective. Prosody constitutes the poem by covertly evading itself. All good poems are damaged goods. To coin a tautology in prose: the conditions for the survival of living thought are poems.

When I had written that paragraph it was late at night. I was in the middle of writing what I thought was going to be a much longer poem than it turned out, in fact, to be. I think what I was trying to articulate was something like the fear that writing the poem would not be able to carry on forever, which of course it duly didn’t. That’s a fear anyone can live with. But the twist point of risk and sustain seems to me at the moment to be something like this: writing a poem involves the need to continually discover the possibility of being able to continue to do so, and to do that it needs to prevent itself from securing the kind of survival it would otherwise continue, uninterrupted, to enjoy. Another way of saying this, or of perhaps saying something similar, is that there has to be a way that the poem can begin to unravel so that it feels like it can really begin. I’m paraphrasing, or para-reading, Lisa Robertson’s untitled Nilling essay again. Robertson’s incredible sentence I quoted above is followed by this, equally incredible one: “Let us suppose here that poems are those commodious anywheres that might evade determination by continuously inviting their own dissolution in semantic distribution.” Robertson is too much of a poet to allow this sentence to remain purely propositional: sequestered into its supposition is the whiff of final “determination,” of the security of ending up, of an odious somewhere. The somewhere that Agamben’s essay ‘The End of the Poem’ gets to, quite explicitly, is that “poetry should really only be philosophized.” The end of the poem “reveals the goal of its proud strategy: to let language finally communicate itself, without remaining unsaid in what is said.” Agamben’s intuition is to treat the threatening excess of tension and thought that he identifies at the of end the poem as potentially figuring what he calls the “mystical marriage of sound and sense.” This is because of what he thinks poetry is: the name given to the discourse in which the possibility of enjambment exists.

Agamben’s thesis would only really work, or apply, if it were possible to read a poem only from beginning to end, and only once. It relies on the distinction that poetry needs to be conceptually promoted to an object to be thought of, and not a thing to be read, in order to be amenable to the rigours of Heideggerian disclosure. The difference between Agamben and Robertson’s definition of what poetry consists of, and in, is instructive: whereas for Agamben: in poetry language can finally communicate itself; for Robertson: in poetry language listens, since in poems “speech still evades quantification, escapes the enumerating sign, and follows language towards its ear, towards natality, which is anybody’s.” Robertson’s definition of a poem does not reside in the lines and ligaments of prosodic movement per se, but in a kind of roving co-embodiment: “the poem,” she says, “is the shapely urgency that emerges in language whenever the subject’s desiring vernacular innovates its receivers.” The possibility of enjambment is emphatically lacking from Robertson’s recent long poem Cinema of the Present. It is a work in which every line attempts to start again – to begin the poem – and thus in some sense to sabotage the opportunity of its completion. That this opportunity is continually suspended is the condition for the poem’s capacity to keep going. All of its questions are the titles of its unanswered interior cartography. The poem sustains itself by the exponential accumulation of irresolution.

The question of what to sustain has been an enabling element in some recent correspondence I’ve shared with poets. Sustain seems related to two questions that are deeply interconnected: why write poems? And, how can I write the next word in any poem? These questions have seemed to me lately to be of roughly the same significance. The answers I can try to find for them may not be causally or structurally related; that is, the next word in the poem will not provide an answer to the question of why I write poems, although it may help me to answer the question of why I am writing this particular poem. The thicket of relationships the two questions together throw up – as well as the relationship between both questions and the question, or predicament, of sustain – enables something to come into focus which is the real subject of Robertson’s essay in Nilling, and that is the kinds of politics that only poems have the capability to present, promise or predict. Robertson’s poetic, as I understand it, is centrally concerned with the relationship between embodied social life and the distribution of that life, which is anybody’s, through the desiring speech of lyric utterance. The poem starts by refusing to determine the limits to the social life that its politics begins. Composition is the sabotage of poetry to account for the existence of poems.

All quotations from Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: University of California Press, 1999), and Lisa Robertson, Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, The Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias (Toronto: Bookthug, 2012).

[Delivered at Work, Performance, Poetry, the Fourth Annual Northumbria Poetry Symposium, University of Thumbprint, 16th April 2015.]

Friday, 25 July 2014

* Click on Rainbow Dash to begin. It's worth also pointing out that Mike Bernstein's alternative etymology of "brony," as recounted in the new documentary A Brony Tale at around 18m 57s - 19m 18s, contradicts the origin of "brony" given in the essay (as a portmanteau of "bro" and "pony"). This alternative etymology is that the term emerged from the combination of the "b" from the "b" message boards of 4chan, and "pony." I'm not sure where the "r" got in.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Poetry and the Fantasy of Totality

[This experimental beginning/stub written for the ACLA seminar 'Poetry and Capital(i)s(m)', March 21st 2014, but delivered without the accompanying still from Fritz Lang's 'M', above, which feels important, perhaps central, to any argument the paper might have or be in the making.]

The feeling of reading poetry under capitalism is sometimes the feeling of trying to comprehend what it would be like to articulate the monstrous accumulation of everything there is, and then looking at it. Not as taxonomy or catalogue, elegy or list, but as the experience of struggling to be as contemporary as the world is, once it has already moved off into the future of the same world from which it came. Some poems give the impression of an attempt to track and trace as carefully and as formally rigorously as possible the contemplation of an everything that we would like, if we had the time, to ruthlessly critique, and when they do this they articulate a condition not of resistance or struggle per se but of disproportion. Lyric poetry survives because the attempt to theoretically de-regulate its relationship to capital succeeded. The disproportion I am talking about is made manifest by poems which take as their object the whole of capitalism not as a concept or a system or even a set of social relations whose reproduction maintains the survival of capitalism at the expense of the immiseration of living people, but as a thing which is normally and fundamentally impossible to so depict or even think. It is possible to do this in poetry because the fluctuations and sinews of prosody make discrete and discontinuous in life what is in life a perpetually evolving adaptation of that life to its inescapable transformation into dead labour. There have been many attempts to make perfectly clear what it is about poetry and about lyric that resists and struggles against the myriad particular oppressions that constitute life under capitalism. Many attempts, too, to make it perfectly clear what it is poetry does as poetry that distinguishes it from other walks of life and that makes it particularly important or relevant as a use-value for anti-capitalism. Karl Marx was the first Marxist to do this, to make poetic language intrinsic to the revolutionary imperative to transform social relations, when, in Capital, he put Shakespeare into the mouths of the dinglich actors die Ware and das Geld: "We see, then, that the commodity loves money, but that 'the course of true love never does run smooth.'" [ text here] By doing so Marx does not merely siphon off bourgeois cultural treasure into the service of the decorative eloquence of his critique, but in fact makes the inhuman nature of commodity exchange integral to the constitution of bourgeois universalism. The recognition of a world by the bourgeois reader of Capital which this sentence invites simultaneously turns that world, and everything in it, against the bourgeoisie. What is nominally the site of the universally applicable truth of great art, in this case Shakespeare, is made incongruous with the social truth of that universalism's reproduction by the mediation of exchange-value. Many poets since Marx have done something similar and many are still doing so, and it is not my intention here to reproduce a necrotic condemnation of poetry for not yet having done enough to end capitalism. We all know that poetry can tell us things about capitalism that nothing else can, and that it can articulate a scene of social relations in contradistinction and in opposition to those organised by and dependent upon the accumulation of value. And we all know that by saying these things we do not tendentiously or heroically or arrogantly assume that poetry is therefore better than, or even in competition with, activism or the politics of class struggle.

My object here is poetry that makes the capitalism that we live in as big as the poem, and that in doing so figures the experience of being alive under capitalism comprehensible as a totality, a totality which in practically all other experiential possibilities must needs be posited or exemplified or speculated; but not felt. This feeling is an experience of disproportion which the poem produces and which is the poem; the feeling does not occur a hair's breadth from reality, at the imagined standpoint of redemption, and does not even necessarily give an inkling of the direction from which redemption might appear; it occurs at the site of the most complete incommensurability of the promise of a better world and the possibility of its realisation. This is why poetry affords us a glimpse of the fantasy of totality: it can make it seem like everything is collapsing. The feeling is not emancipatory, in any positive sense; the glimpse, the fantasy of totality afforded by the poems I will discuss, is not a glimpse of utopia, or of a normative totality, or of a better world: it is, rather, a reflection of the standpoint of domination. But neither is this to say that the experience is wholly pessimistic; on the contrary, it is cruelly optimistic in precisely Lauren Berlant's sense of the deletion of the possibility of attaining the transformation of a relation or attachment which is nevertheless sustaining and confirming. Poetry delivers the fantasy of totality when it articulates a relation to domination that is deliberately and specifically capitalistic. You know the feeling.

Here is a short poem from 1969 by the British poet J.H. Prynne.

                                                                 On the Anvil

                                                                 Finely, brush the
                                                                 sound from your
                                                                 eyes: it rests
                                                                 in the hollow

                                                                 as looking in
                                                                 the shops at both
                                                                 reflections, in
                                                                 the glass

                                                                 to move and the
                                                                 sun slanting over
                                                                 the streets: shielded
                                                                 from the market

                                                                 in the public
                                                                 domain, as
                                                                 taking the pace
                                                                 of movement

                                                                 in the hollow
                                                                 furnished with that
                                                                 tacit gleam, the
                                                                 cavernous heart

Elsewhere in the book from which this poem is taken, The White Stones, Prynne articulates a condition of love that serves a much more grandiose nobility of sentiment. But this poem, partly by its length, partly by the sound it makes, partly by its formal delicacy and emphatic, literal insistence on answering the question it is prevented from fully formulating ("how / to move"), partly by its location in the scope of the enormity of the The White Stones' claims on knowledge and need, as the merest comma in the trajectory of the book's fullest social designs; this poem articulates a scene couched in such generous frailty that its effect is profoundly disproportionate to the language it deploys to produce that effect.

"As looking in / the shops at both / reflections, in / the glass" is a familiar enough experience, except in order to make it a fully familiar experience we might gloss over "both / reflections" and assume our shape in the glass to remain singular and distinct. Still, any reciprocal or isomorphic relation between that subject and her displaced or alienated image or images is further denied at the site of the poem's major syntactical and prosodic lacuna, as "the glass" of the shop window barely contains within itself the momentum needed to reach over to the mono-syllabic expression of demand and incredulity hanging off to the right, "how," and we might feel all this only retrospectively when we arrive, momentarily, in the haven of a reassuring colon, only now "shielded / from the market" and the truth of social contradiction that encounter affords. It is the poem's rhythmic consistency that has this effect as much as the pressure of its voicing, how each metrical cluster is snapped into its lowest common denominators, from the cliff-hanger iamb of "the glass" to the still-beating dactylic extra-metrical twofer "cavernous heart," so that the break between "glass" and "how" remains un-terminal only if we have withheld any significant impression of caesura until "the streets" and its accompanying ":", whose sudden appearance suggests we should, and should have. The dramatisation of Lacan's claim that "a sentence closes its signification only with its last term, each term being anticipated in the construction constituted by the other terms and, inversely, sealing their meaning by its retroactive effect" [see 'The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire'] takes place only partially: the poem's sentence is singular, though it is not complete: no gullible end-stop rounds off this estrangement, and the weight of the "cavernous heart" is therefore in part denied the satisfaction of delicious pathos it would acquire were it to be the proper telos of the poem's movement. It cannot be, because it is still too much with us, too much resplendent with some primitive greed, "cavernous," not yet entirely opposed to the "hollow" inside which the poem's flicker of exchange takes place, but its gaping reflex; the experience of the love correspondingly immured in the glassy resonance of its cry for purchase is still yet the the grammar of the language "furnished with that / tacit gleam," the trappings of sustained and necessary hunger. In the hollow, this heart cannot be full; it cannot be sincere, and it cannot be whole; it must, therefore, be cavernous. This is not a hunger that can be accounted for, or checked. The love that commodities bear for money is the excruciating, ironic truth of the encounter in 'On the Anvil,' precisely because it should not be. Both reflections oscillate endlessly between the hollow experience of the shop window and the cavernous heart of the shopper, between which the entire "pace / of movement" is measured out, quantified. In the poem, the condition for the knowledge of the reflection of lyric subject-as-commodity is the impossibility of the abolition of that subject as commodity. What I mean is that the poem does not give us a glimpse of humanity freed from the domination of the commodity form, but a glimpse of the domination of the commodity form freed from humanity. It is only possible to be shielded from the market, in the public domain, by being enclosed behind the armour of the shop's gleaming window pane. Love is the commodity becoming perfect.

One of the persistent experiences of reading Lisa Robertson's poetry has been, for me, the anticipation and the feeling of what Adorno calls sensuous particularity, but with regard to massive things. There is no other poet, to my knowledge, who can write about the sky, or language, or memory, with such surgical precision and deftness. Often the experience produces something of an irony of eloquent prematurity: you can't believe the sky can be summed up so succinctly, and yet it has been, and you are already on the next line. This experience in reading Robertson's poetry can be whimsical, humorous, witty and sensual, and it can also be disproportionate, as the intensity of preterite summation results in the overflow of attentive reception onto an object which has nothing more to say, which has finished. Some of Robertson's sentences leave you. In doing so they leave you terribly open and adrift, awake and with a surplus of attention whose objects have resolutely refused to satisfy, even or especially when those objects include everything. Consider this section from the 2001 collection, The Weather.

                                                     from The Weather

                                                     Give me hackneyed words because
                                                     they are good. Brocade me the whole body
                                                     of terrestrial air. […]
                                                                               Memorize being sequinned
                                                     to something, water. Everything you forget
                                                     inserts love into the silent money.
                                                     Memorize huge things of girders greased. Say
                                                     the water parting about the particular
                                                     animal. Say what happens to the face
                                                     as it gala tints my simple cut
                                                     vicious this afternoon the beautiful
                                                     light on the cash is human to guzzle
                                                     with – go away wild feelings, there you go
                                                     as the robin as the songsparrow go
                                                     the system shines with uninterrupted
                                                     light. It's petal caked. Leaves shoot up. Each
                                                     leaf's a runnel. Far into the night a
                                                     sweetness. Marvelous. Spectacular. Brilliant.

The propositional lilt of the bluntly syncretic sentences propels you forward even as the enormity of the sentiment packed into each proposition pulls you back like a magnet; but the lines which exert by far the most powerful gravitational pull are these: "Everything you forget / inserts love into the silent money." Christopher Nealon reads these lines in the following manner:
Robertson seems to be saying that any lapse of our attention to what we love hurries love off to capital; she is noticing that it is perfectly human to want to soak up the light, but that whatever it falls on, it is always falling on cash, so that one cannot perceive without ingesting it […] [see 'Reading on the Left,' Representations 108.2, Fall 2009]
I like Nealon's reading, but I'm unsure as to whether the discrepancy that he reads into the poem, that between what is perfectly human, and what is the unfortunately inescapable result of its attention, is really there in the lines themselves. What if what is "perfectly human" in this poem is rather less capable of wanting something as natural and pleasurable as soaking up the light; what if the "you" is as much a part of the fabric of determination, command and imperative as the "silent money" into which is inserted "love"? After all, the lines exhibit a grammatical ambiguity that seems to actively eschew a clear-cut discrepancy between the good human and the bad money, as do the later lines "this afternoon the beautiful / light on the cash is human to guzzle / with." Does everything, you forget, insert love into the silent money; or does everything you forget insert that love; or does the line break act as an icon of forgetting itself, so that what inserts love into the silent money remains as arbitrary and inexact as a "self" that says so not because it needs to, or wants to, or desires to, but merely "because it can." What agency, if any, do "you" have with regard to the love that gets inserted into the "silent money"? 

Throughout the poem objects coalesce into imperatives whose claims on possibility range from the banal ("Give me hackneyed words") to the theatrical and ludicrous ("Brocade me the whole body / of terrestrial air") to the troublingly beautiful, yet traumatic ("Memorize being sequined / to something, water"). These do not feel like demands that can be met. Their tone is almost totally inscrutable, deliberately and painfully blank, reposing on the page as if to invite any reader to dare question their simple possibility of existence. What at first seems like the sheer pleasure of the vocable inevitably becomes the instrumentalization of that pleasure in the service of historically feminized labour: "Say sequin because the word just / appeared" precedes "Memorize being sequined to something," and as the over-determined line-break smugly intimates that "the word" was never going to do anything else other than "appear," the vocable itself becomes less and less possible to attend to pleasurably at all, and the stacks of demands to "Say" things become more and more sinister and unpleasant. Utterance, material production and memory are woven together in the verse to such an extent that it becomes impossible to distinguish, the further down we go, the human face from the cash into which a putatively human love is smuggled, inserted, and as "the system shines with uninterrupted / light" what is finally nominated as "beautiful" in this poem, what is named in a series of blunt, unarguable declarations as "Marvelous. Spectacular. Brilliant," is that "system" itself, the entire process of demand ("Brocade me"), production ("being sequined") and purchase, this last the point of exchange in which the substitution of abstract for particular human labour produces the fetish of equivalence that makes "cash" itself "human." It is not that human pleasures are derailed by the accidents and contingencies of the world in which that "pleasure" finds its objects; but that all pleasurable objects essentially reflect the "beautiful light" with which "the system shines [...] uninterrupted," and this goes for everything from cash, to language, to humans. It is in this sense that everything, whether you forget it or not, inserts love into the mutely universal equivalent for which everything can be exchanged.


Monday, 2 December 2013

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Note on the metaphorical economy of fucking

Hi all,

Reading and reflecting on Jen, Selina and Will's posts to the blog I was reminded of my own contribution to the deployment of a vocabulary of fucking. This may yet dwindle into spurious and diaristic auto-critique, but I suppose that could be useful too; here goes. The language employed is in the untitled 'last' poem that was published in a pamphlet published by Grasp Press, 'Poems, Written Between October and December, 2010,' which contained (contains) poems by Timothy Thornton, Jonny Liron, Francesca Lisette and myself. I believe this printed fold is now out of print, but I have a .pdf and can send it to anyone on request.

The poem opens "Sections of an absent pressure herein fucks us[.]" To gather the sense of a language of arbitrary, despairing, despondent, throwaway ease of reference in prosaic terms, terms that are used to refer colloquially, but no less passionately uttered, to a situation in which dinner might be burnt and therefore fucked, as much in a situation where generations of children would be excluded from the right to education as matter of profitable principle and therefore also fucked, did not, at the time, seem to me to be, as for example Will's last paragraph figures it, to be fighting fire with fire; that is, its usage did not seem to fight being fucked with fucking. Rather, it attempted to channel disgust at a culture of domination into a steady articulation of the social moment; to be representative of a doomed solidarity of victimhood. This now seems far too abstractly posed. What it felt like was the use of a vocabulary that risked a negatively defined solidarity, one that emerged for me as an aspect of the protests at the time that were eminently doomed to failure, even as the movement in its grandest gestures were at their most ebulliently defiant. The vocabulary of fucking would, I hoped, be powerful enough to to reproduce the affective mediocrity of a ruinous and ruling universal imperative - to sacrifice life on the altar of capital - but banal and colloquial enough to temper such a grandiosity of declaimed solidarity; so that the desire to define ourselves negatively in opposition not only with our friends and each other but with everyone we didn't know, the unborn progeny of policy, would be tempered with a more particularly deflated exhalation. The situation in those protests felt so fraught with the sense of everyday intimate ruination that I wanted to try to register this in the most prosaic terms possible; the violence felt so palpable, so keen and generalised and essential at the same time, that I wanted terms that risked collusion in a violent, unthinking metaphorical economy, as connotative of casual despondency as they were of abject despair, in order to rig my "protest poem" with the catch in the throat any such song would need to be articulate. It was precisely the elucidation of the coeval nature of the banal, the ubiquitous and the horrific that the terms "fuck" and "fucked" tried to articulate. That the ruination of intimacy could be properly imputed by the appropriation of the language of sexual violence to connote general suffering I now find hard to stomach; being raped is not like having to pay £9000 a year in tuition fees. I wanted a disproportionate analogy to exacerbate the normalised credulity of defeat; I now think the analogy is clumsy and perhaps useless.

I'm conflicted about the last line of Will's post, that "struggle, in a revolutionary sense, is the only valid form of ecstasy." I suspect that nominating such ecstasy, however various and contingent, as "the only valid form" risks demanding of the language in poetry that it resonate monochromatically with the authentic desire of "revolutionaries," in whatever context they may be writing; and that that resonance will shine with the singular truth of the ecstasy of struggle in order to refute the lesser, invalid ecstasies that are not of the form "struggle." I don't think I'm being pedantic here; I'm not suggesting that Will means that struggle is always and everywhere ecstatic - surely in the vast majority of cases struggle, however broadly defined, is definitively ecstasy's endless refutation - but I want to escape what seems like the extreme reciprocal tennis-match between fucking as sheerest bliss and being fucked as sheerest oppression. For one thing this underlying assumption seems absolutely based on the privilege of penetration and of the cock-bearer: someone always ends up getting fucked. This contradiction seemed pertinent to me at the time of writing the poem in the pamphlet: it exercised an aporetic economy of unfreedom that could be analogous to the condition and trajectory of any collective innervation produced by a large number of my kettled friends. But it now seems to produce in me the wrong disgust.

Sam Solomon wrote an incisive and committed review of the pamphlet, which can be found here.

I want to say all this in the spirit of questioning my own practice as a commitment to getting poetic work done, and to consider the ramifications of work that has been done, because I think my contributions to this exciting on-going discussion can perhaps best pertain to the particulars of work that I know as much as work of my own that I perhaps no longer know, or feel like the conditions for which were so crushed into a sense of staving off despair that I can no longer know them, or reconstruct them as if I did, but have to grasp at their production in retrospect. I feel at the moment that I'm more capable of doing this than anything else, since after all I want the material content of poems to be at the forefront of thinking about what poems are good at, and what they need to be better at doing, in a forum like ours. That said, I don't want to apologise for the potential treatment of this letter as in any sense narcissistic, although I'm aware it might be taken as such.

all best,


Originally posted to the Militant Poetics listserve, June 25th 2013.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

To Mary

your life, and life presented
make that claim
circumoral to the bad loop
charlatan in front

of us who charmingly delivers us,
you go, and finely
strain life out to the ants and to

rank subscription that amends.
by piecemeal
universal schtick your ankles
are still the same

ones you walk on, following a line, down
that claim is nothing like your life
or the same

world that does
lock instead
round everything that
still so patently,

for you,
obtains. you

know that, and come back round.
at back of you, grass and they
spill the air rips

over you love
nothing less, nothing
that claim
does not subtend, or claiming even
locks out

shit, that happens, so
that loop slides piece
meal into
the grass, and the ants, and the rain,

the whole professional harmonic
on his fingertip
partly your life cannot but
still you appear,

clouds bank up outside
the window of you
you do. you turn round
your fantastic face,
and go, destroying object
-oriented ontology

and hype,
and you
the air reeling away. 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

New Haven

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Beaming with the thrill of live violence, Hi Zero Publications announces the emission of ASTROTURF & other poems by Me Joe Luna. A full set of histrionic lyric tantrums over 21 poems and 40pp., printed 8k comic-size in an edition of 100: "In basic passion it's the Lana Del Rey arc bent into a Möbius strip".

£5 UK postage included; ROW £8 postage included (provisional).

More photos of the book against various natural objects at the Hi Zero Tumblr. To order or merely remark, contact

Friday, 15 February 2013

... obviously

Thursday, 17 January 2013

From an open[ed] letter to Ed Atkins

Dear Ed,

...I really only wanted to write an appreciative letter about Us Dead Talk Love, which I saw at the Chisenhale last month with my good friend H, and we sat through it twice with increasing and deepening mutual involvement, pleasure and interest, and afterwards I felt such a flush of excitement about the work and its textual skeleton, or scaffold (not quite the phrase, I'll try to articulate that better in a bit) that I wanted to let it settle before getting in touch and talking about it. I've seen some of your previous work and liked it, but this one really did it for me.

I see in this work a really crucial materialist dialectic that unravels the imprecision of hi-definition itself into the physiological task of comprehending the body image at a point in time, now, where the highest resolution it is possible to achieve is one of the more perfected practices of post-human digital barbarism. Love in this work is not given over to the faux-romantic obsession with the coils of bad irony surrounding a valorised and ubiquitous connectivity that so much otherwise attractively but desperately contemporary art is producing; instead I think that love in your work, in this work, is fundamentally concerned with articulating the severance of the labour of the body from an active eroticism as the real death of intimacy, and I think it is a beautiful and necessary caution to the types of re-production of contemporary forms of internet or digital mediation that end up celebrating those forms of mediation, rather than critiquing them, as I feel this piece does so tenderly and intensely.

The experience of the whole show was one of becoming increasingly entrenched in the contradictions of the virtually sexual and the holding of that excitement over the duration of the voiced text, so that the whole audio-visual apparatus itself acts as a kind of theatrical wish-fulfillment, "As in..." repeatedly speculating further and further along the horizontal wormhole of the time the piece takes to start and finish, the almost forgotten "I wanted to ask..." never quite being allowed to remind us that all of this was in fact never asked, that it was a withheld or repressed desire, perhaps, that the desire did not come to fruition as so much of the speech does come, to at least a giddy, imperative demand that eroticism be felt as much as practised. The reason I mention the text as a kind of scaffold, though, is only because I realise I'm perhaps reading the piece too much, instead of attending to its installed appearance: the virtual, presumably downloadable head, rotating as if on the playful axis of infantile technological curiosity, and the attendant bursts of tone or colour or text on the opposing panel. These images seemed hung on the text, for me, rather than the other way around - not necessarily that the text felt original or originary, but that in the experience of the whole audio-visual field what creates the cues for the diffusion of accumulation of intimacy are the deliciously enunciated syllables of the script, like:

"A relation to life that coerces the cadaver into a being that does not require a prior life - requires no living human to be smashed into oblivion by some high definition hammer for merely tuning fucking gods."


"I wanted to ask if love might productively be thought of as the faith that the body that formed the eyelash and...laid it, like some foetal mammal, beneath my foreskin."


"How this desire might be partially satiated at the miraculous presence of a LOVER, who bears witness to my definite, inconclusive state change; my thick faint into repugnance and mockery."

And I choose these three instances as only moments that I particularly favoured and still relish. The eyelash is not fetishised, it is made a detachable erotogenic zone, proving one of Freud's more extravagantly stupendous claims, that any part of the body may become an erotogenic zone - it seems therefore already excessive to the cock upon which it was discovered, as if suddenly dead matter attached to the genitals was new and particularly concentrated and at the same time live. This is the beautiful contradiction: between the snap and calm of the megapixel and the impossibly low-resolution grit and dust and sweat and suck and sound of sex, sex's coolness, sex's careful particularity and curious resistance to (but simultaneous comradeship with) universalism. Sex and death aren't here, as they are in Georges Battaille, the markers of a transcendence that desires as much continuity as can be gleaned form a world founded on discontinuity, but instead the reminder that real bodies desiring might always prove to be a site unobtainable by the biopolitical or the global contextualisation of every action it is possible to imagine performing, even as it acknowledges, crucially, the shift in what it means to know one has a body, what it means to discover one's own representation as flesh and blood, what it means, even more universally, for life to be determined by and understood through the "faith" in the apparatus which were designed to accommodate the ever-siwfter and unimpeded movement of capital, and only secondarily the mechanisms of the fun side of digital globalisation and the attendant "smashing into oblivion" of the interactive (read: shopping) living human under Google Earth. 

And as a love poem I think the work terrific too, reminding me of Barry MacSweeney's Odes, and more contemporaneously with the work of Timothy Thornton, whose cadences the prose of your piece reminded me so much of...

[Ed's new show WARM, WARM, WARM SPRING MOUTHS runs from the 16.01.13 to the 24.02.13 at the Jerwood Space, London]

Monday, 14 January 2013

Outward Travel Must Not Be In The Past


Friday, 11 January 2013


'Okay' by the J. Arthur Keenes Band. The really quite wonderful solo-project of Canada's Daniel McLay, whose previous album, Computer Savvy, is probably the best thing 8-bit Peoples ever put out, can also be listened to on the bandcamp linked to. Best two from Savvy are 'Water2 (wetter)' and 'Foe Paw,' whose 10-hook a minute extroversion is your new best friend you don't want to tell anyone about, but I think 2012's The World's Smallest Violin raises the stakes in terms of the songwriting and musicianship: witness the sheer clarity of cascade and interpolation in 'Okay,' the lyrical matter harmoniously orchestrated, rather than ebulliently jostled about, the nonchalant melodious enticement, it's alright. In 'Okay' the ironic affirmation of mediocrity gradually becomes the more profoundly moving affirmation of mediocrity's negation in favour, or in fact, of the slow and steady progress of happiness. Hardly the labour of the concept, but something like it, while you get yourself back together. It is a weirdly moving song; I don't hear it as supercilious, more quietly heroic, self-help for tyrants, the schizophrenic apostrophe of lyric self-regard.

Although I'm quite fond of the transcription of the words into regular quatrains, it doesn't do justice to the eerie concatenation-effect of the eponymous lyric, especially the in last two verses. There, 'Okay' shimmers in Janus-faced oscillation between lines, belligerently refusing to sound like it will start something new, but equally unwilling to mop up after itself: neither resignation nor acceptance, those syllables register the information they subsume under their own metrical progression the only way they know how, sort of gleefully wallowing in "the element of tragedy that lies in the very fact of frequency." The hanging coda of the last line's upshot sounds less hopeful, to these ears, than all those authentically disabled false starts.

Okay, I talked to you all day
The things some people say
I wish you'd go away
Find somewhere else to stay

Okay, I threw my phone away
And learned where not to lay
You just won't stow away
I have to pay and pay

Is this some fantasy of yours
Always knocking at my door
I've got things to do I swear
I have to wallow in despair
I have to shave off all my hair

Okay, I talked to you all day
The things some people say
I wish you'd go away
Find somewhere else to stay
And never meet my day

Okay, I read you loud and clear
Okay, this road is ending near
Someday, I will forget my fear
Someday, it could take years and years

Okay, I'll be the hand that steers
Away, I'm smiling ear to ear
Someday, I will forget my fear
Someday, I will get out of here

Saturday, 8 December 2012

But the power of alienation soaks you in flames

- William Fuller, Hallucination (Flood Editions, 2011)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Modernism is, of course, not postmodernism

"If, as China Miéville has suggested, literature tends to oscillate between recognition and estrangement, then the British poetic mainstream groups around the former pole while seeking to cash cheques in the latter’s name. Beyond the Lyric is a perfect illustration of how successful poetry in this country stifles the challenge of what Sheppard terms the “linguistically innovative” with something that may be a cousin of Freudian “kettle logic”; according to this rubric, the avant-garde doesn’t really exist (its estrangement effects are just gibberish designed to fool the credulous) and the mainstream is where everything that’s truly experimental occurs anyway. Sampson separates her peers into finickety, portentously-named categories like “The Iambic Legislators” and “The Touchstone Lyricists” to create the illusion of edgy, internecine aesthetic struggle between these poets who devote so much time to puffing up each other’s work. Shapcott and Paterson are “Dandies,” wielding their “swagger-sticks” of linguistic brio against the “Plain Dealers” who succeeded the Movement and “Anecdotalists” like Jackie Kay and Paul Farley. What a rich, complex poetic ecology this country can lay claim to."

- from Joe Kennedy's review of Fiona Sampson, Beyond the Lyric: A Map of Contemporary British Poetry (London: Chatto & Windus, now)

Thursday, 30 August 2012

fuckyeah R. Stevie Moore


i like to stay home
you go on out just close the door
i like to stay home
where it's safe and sound
and nobody has a rifle

i don't care about going anywhere
i don't think about appearing anywhere
i got enough to do right here

i like to stay home
relax and read the facts of life
i like to stay home
where it's safe and sound
and nobody asks me what's wrong

i don't care about movies or hockey games
i just need about
why is it jabberwocky blames me?
i got enough to do right here

i like to stay home
and play guitar and play it back

i like to stay home
where it's safe and quiet
in private inside me
i think i'll stay home

i don't care about making any plans
i don't think about showing up at the dance
go without me got enough to right here

i like to stay home
you go on out and have a ball
i like to stay home
where it's safe and quiet
in private inside me
inside me

©1986 r.stevie moore

Sunday, 1 July 2012


JN, JS, SS and JL read at Spread Art, 104 Messerole Street, Brooklyn NY on the 21.06.12. Record Heat. Photos by CC.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

"Don't go full Britney"

The following correspondence took place between myself and Andrew Duncan late last year and just now; I sent A.D. a draft of the essay in the last post, for the most part in response to his essay in Hi Zero 8, and partly beyond that. for the scum psychotope tope map in full skrim. Thanks to Andrew for permission to reproduce the gabble, all in sic.




thanks very much for this article on Jaunty Toplady.

I did acquire 'Zam Bonk Dip' somehow and read it. I quite liked it but the problem is of lack of definition. The language relates somehow to a passing state of mind but most of it seems to spill. It could even be scattery language alluding to a state of scattered wits. Take 'lava mice'. I know about sugar mice, computer mice, field mice, but lava mice? I think the issue for New Readers is why so much of the verbal fabric has no function. This can be disconcerting. If the lack of connectedness refers back to a febrile state, that would be comprehensible.

I look at a window display of the (underground) poetry scene now and it’s full of names I don’t know. It’s impatient to make some critical information available so that fewer people have that confused feeling. I did scheme to have essays about 20 ‘new poets’ in issue 23, but gave up because the effort was too much. In this context an essay on Tiplady is helpful. It’s a good essay because it expresses a subjective response and because it records that in objective prose, as opposed to disintegrating along with the poem. There seems to be this belief around Quid and Barque that you can have something completely subjective and yet so much in line with important Theory that people can’t argue with it. I think that part of subjectivity is the ability to say ‘no’.

The use of unlatched language - call it yibble, call it doo-wop, call it spontaneous - seems to be quite a feature of new poetry. It repays consideration. Of course some proportion of readers are going to say ‘OK, now we know what it is we are saying no to it’.

I can see that poets want to get back into the dizziness and fulfilled gratifications of Pop. But what makes it onto the page is unrecognizable as part of Pop. This baffling quality can also be the source of something new. Pop has that conformist subjectivity, the beat telling everyone how fast to breathe. Maybe the value of individual words is less important than the gestalt, but the gestalt ha sto become visible at some point.

An email I started to open nine minutes ago hasn’t opened yet. Actually what I am trying to do is delete emails so that the performance goes up slightly. I think I had better try to un-glue this application.

groaning slightly. I think there is a whole genre of poetry - going back maybe 50 years now - where the poet is listening to music & writes something down and the something has no trace of the music, or its aura of New York avant garde jazz, carnaby Street, Ibiza discos, or whatever. The poet can hear it but the poem can’t. You can’t replace legacy prosody with imaginary music.




Dear Andrew,

Thanks for this, you've got a whole telescopic thing going on, but with language. I do see what you mean about the "lack of definition", although I wouldn't go in what seems to me like the Empsonian direction of relating that back necessarily to a "state of scattered wits" - surely that would only be semantically consoling on the most abstract level, that we knew something that we couldn't know, or rather know that we can't know it; it would wrap up the meaning in a sort of smallpox blanket of finally knowable affect, based on author-brain. I don't buy that bit of Empson, and neither did Frank O'Hara, who I think is very relevant to Tiplady's work, and indeed a great deal of the Barque scene; he has that great line in Personism, to whit:

" the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man's Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can't be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don't believe in god, so I don't have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don't even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve."

Obviously this is designed to piss people off, which is brilliant, but more importantly it's very risky to take it totally seriously, like the best of O'Hara's poetry, but which readerly activity garners its best and most passionate diagnosis of contemporary intensity in the never-ending present discontemporaneity of lost love on the brink of commodification. O'Hara wants to see his heart in the window of a shop on Main Street because that would at least be a true reflection of the conditions of passionate consumer affect that keeps New York's blood pumping. Die Ware ist das Ganze. That I think is a very important inheritance, for Tiplady, Sutherland, Brady, Stanley, Thornton, etc., (the best contemporary love poetry, basically) and one which hasn't yet to my mind been fully examined. But what I mean is that the whole status of something like "lava mice", instead of being understood as pure linguistic wash, a symptomatic feature of the acid-bath or whatever, that its deployment in the poem, however flippant, does something to the overall feel of the poem, as you say the gestalt becoming more important, the poetry, in fact, being more important than any single poem, and what it does is to say, "I am the kind of allusion or reference you expect at this point; if you don't expect it, you are perhaps not up to scratch with the culture this poem was built for". That is to say, I think moments like that are flippant, acerbic, facetious land-mines to protect against an over-academicised reading of image or allusion. They piss you off, and its hard to take them seriously, but I think in my brief reading of that bit I tried to suggest that to scan them by assumption, to feel what is going on with them in the predication of the line, what they are "scathing about" and why, is more important that what they are as an image or allusion. So that the lack of function becomes deployment as a function in itself - this is the never-ending panning back of contemporary poetry, which must not only cannibalise itself but take into account exponentially more than it ever has done; the effort at utter comprehension is in fact what becomes disguised or mis-diagnosed as the complete failure of such an effort, or its actual obverse.

Now I don't think I completely believe the argument I've just tried out. I think it's the one that Kerridge and Reeve use in their book on Prynne, or that Bernstein appropriates and rather bastardises from Forrest-Thomson, that incomprehension can now be used as a tool, lack of meaning used in a poem to designate just that, but only as part of an overall argument. I find that believable on one level, but I don't think my reading experience has ever matched it, in that I don't think I've ever read through a poem, by Prynne or anyone else, and thought, "ah yes, here is the non-meaingful bit. Let's see how it contributes to the whole later on!", I just don't think it's possible to read like that, at least not, you know, in time. But lack of function isn't perhaps the same thing as lack of meaning, and uselessness is surely at this point more useful than meaningfulness. Those "lava mice" mean less than what they're useful for; they may well be a crap image, even phonetically ambiguous (I can hear "lavam ice" and lavam eyes" and "laav amice", none of which mean anything), but couched within that ambiguity is perhaps some more work for us: what would "lava mice" be if they existed? Probably some kind of garish YouTube meme, knowing the context. (And that "knowing the context" is also knowing the poem's enemy: it doesn't want to be read, I suspect, by anyone not prepared to give the lava mice the benefit of the doubt. That is why Tiplady's poetry is not cute: it is full of spite and trickery.) And what they do in the poem, being scathing about every poem's end, is a relation of antagonism to the finished product: the incomprehensible arguing for nothing to finish. That is what I mean by the melancholy of the poetry - it is desperate for the world to slow down, cannot bear the speed at which it is made to move, and is yet utterly implicated in that speed itself, in fact dwells in it and gains succour from it. Maybe it is uselessness attempting to make itself useful relationally - the same thing was tried in modern Art under the curatorship of Nicolas Bourriaud, but was mostly hideously boring.

This argument is difficult to make because it might sound like I'm desperately shoring up every conceivably incomprehensible (whether useless or meaningless) fragment against ruin; that project would, I think, be to produce an unhelpful totalising structure for a contemporary poetry that would leave any single poem utterly bereft of strangeness and mystery and unidentified beauty and fear and all the other negative relations that make a new, good poem so thrilling.

"lava mice" may of course also be a red herring. These are, as you say, becoming more prevalent. Sounding like a contemporary poem is becoming a tool for satirising contemporary poetry, but only from the inside, so it's like a total clique joke, everyone gets it, and at the poetry reading the people at the front snort down their noses in a rush of self-congratulatory carbon dioxide. Gross.

Well, I had better sign this off. Sorry to be so scattershot. Speak soon,

joe x


Joe, I think you are over-identifying with Tiplady and this allows you to produce endless possible interpretations without stumbling over the basic lack of clarity in his poems.

I am guided (or misdirected) by a count I did in 'The Oxford Guide to 20th C poetry in English', edited by Ian Hamilton, where I filtered 374 more or less 'British' poets out and found that 111 out of these had studied at Oxford. Where X identifies with a poet, this may be simply due to co-ownership of key assets. A cultural cartel. Hamilton's identification with these poets is what a reader is supposed to do. Yet it is distasteful once you get the sociological key.

I worry about this and the protection is to make sure that the poetry is burnt very deeply into the verbal fabric and not hovering somewhere 'off stage', detectible to insiders only. This is the worry with Tiplady - that you identify with him so intensely that you aren't interested in the words. Would this poetry survive if it was pitched into a space, a group of people, where nobody knew anything about the 'cultural placing' and only had the words to work with?

Meaninglessness is the 'soft area' where this kind of emotional identification soaks in and shows up as a stain. It's a sort of void where insiders see perfection and outsiders see only perplexing failure to articulate. It takes on the colouration of delicate signals which otherwise would not be picked up at all. It allows collusion. It is like the ‘la la la’ in a pop song - it is either seductive or irritating, depending on whether you like the song.

I think 'lava mice' was maybe a Barry White song of about 1972 with a transcription error, so it was 'lover mice'. Mice are known for their preoccupation with each other. In fact, 'Love cats' was a response record to this lost Barry masterpiece.

As suggested, I suspect that the inexplicit is a key area for any poetry, all the same the example of Hamilton and a slew of others makes me very sceptical about the identification process. Frank was a deep insider as we know from the biographies and memoirs.

So Frank O'Hara is the justification for the way this new poetry is. Possibly justification is unnecessary. Thinking you're Frank has been recognised as a common psychological ailment in the new DSM volume, the reference classification guide for psychiatrists. Insurance companies now have to pay up for treatment of people who think they're O'Hara. In fact there is a huge area of Federal Reserve land given over to residential care for them, it's like Area 51 only it‘s full of beach houses. So the news that many young poets think they're Frank does not come as a shock.

My co-editor Charles Bainbridge is writing a thesis on 'Frank O'Hara in 1959'. My guess is that the move into the immediate present, short attention spans, hedonism, transient social attractions and moods, is picking up all these as decisive features of popular culture, and that this immediacy was being sought, in New York, in 1959, by hundreds of songwriters who had never heard of Frank. Intelligent poets today are moving into popular culture. The problem might be more that you eliminate everything profound and still want to be profound. Acquiring the qualities that the Beach Boys had, or doo wop, or Depeche Mode, means a sort of rigour. You have to leave out the boring bits. You also have to be instant, not obscure. Don't go full Britney.

The close reading fetish of Hamilton and other critics of the 'empirical' era may have been deep camouflage for the cultural snobbery which pervaded their understanding both of poetry and of their fellow humans. They liked poems where you could tell which university the poet had gone to. Empiricism was a realisation of the existing cultural order. It was an alibi worked out over decades. Have things changed fundamentally?

The new Tim Burton film features Barry White at a key moment. Allowing a brief yet blissful regression to 1972. Where else would you hear the Vanilla Fudge? Covering that Donovan song. Being influenced by The Carpenters would be so much more original than being influenced by Frank. 'Every sha-la-lava mouse, every wo-uh-wo-wo.'

yours, Andrew

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The World is For This: on the poetry of Jonty Tiplady

Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything.
- André Breton

Things make us happy. But this is not always true, and even if it is, emphatically true, what kind of ‘things’ are we talking about? Objects? Commodities? Beer? Holidays? Lovers? All these and more undoubtedly make our lives more complete than they otherwise would have been, regardless of whether that standard of completeness has been pre-programmed into our relations of exchange by those things themselves. Happiness can at least be decisively accounted for by things, especially commodities, because they provide what emotions and circumstance, bound by unflattering indeterminacy, cannot: a knowable and total cartography of desire, mapped out for us in every bus stop and chatroom, deftly legible in any situation in which we might find ourselves. But, this is not always true, and certain things are better at carrying off their thing-ness than others. Partly this has to do with function, or evacuated function, or simple crassness, that peculiar inability of a thing to justify its own existence; nevertheless, things do make us happy, especially things that use their thing-ness to re-create the conditions for their necessity whilst proposing their own superabundance of universal humanity. What avails a sense of idealized empathy from subjects otherwise incomplete, weakened or damaged by desire, is the complete thing, the bounded, constant, secret, composed thing, held out to us with all the sublime grace of macro-life, supernumerary, brilliant chrome, the miniature gestalt containing all the crucial elements of style and faith to make it the ideal companion, the soundtrack to our lives, gliding effortlessly along beside us & life in impeachable parallel design, offering. But we’re not even fucking subjects any more, and anyway, the preceding has already by its all-too-grandiose effort at categorization defied the truth of the elemental thing it wished to approach, which might better be apprehended as slightly as possible so as not to destabilize its delicate purity in the face of its ready-made dismissal as opium for the MTV masses, tin-pan alley manufactured nothing, the final, lowest common denominator dregs of mass production’s appropriation of the most stylistically abstract of the arts. The pop song can endure this flagrantly overwrought introduction because it is that thing of things, a thing which we love because it is both profoundly superficially like us - relentlessly complete and forever wanting - and profoundly dismissible as waste, superfluity, neon capital. We want it and we want it to make us happy and it does do that, if we want it to.

It does this, of course, by doing what the persistent use of the first person plural might do to any listener well-disposed to the fact that the universal proposals which Pop declaims are in suffering fact in gleaming denial of the evil truth of Pop hegemony as the suckers on the tentacles of global capital: by recklessly producing the desire to desire itself, claiming itself on your behalf, making its own particular, industry-standard brand of happiness the normative state of affairs for everything from bedroom politics to class warfare - Pop makes you its own happy. But that’s also bullshit, if you think about, or in fact actually listen to, a pop song (that you like). Thinking about pop songs is immensely difficult because the residue they leave is short-circuited, a kind of ‘self-destruct in 5 seconds’ sonic memory that only works by imparting the double dream of future listening bliss and the abject melancholy at the parallel objectification of the world that the pop song enacts (more on this melancholy later), and because, most importantly, they are emphatically not built to be thought about, or thought with, or thought on, or in fact done anything with except bopped, tranced, head-banged, slammed and smiled with. To. You can’t smile with Pop, you can’t even smile at Pop - it must be smiled to, because built into its silvery organs of transmission are not companionship or subjectivity but ruthless collectivity and the universal propaganda of love. Pop hates you and you love it back.

You are not the Pop Princess. You’re not even the pop princess. You’re a sham, a charlatan, a contestant, a by-stander, a listener. Pop’s most gloriously insipid achievement has been to clinically wipe off the face of the earth the act of listening, and in its place has produced the ersatz sublime of Pop satisfaction, deep, meaningful, recyclable, carbon neutral, cute. You love it. I love it. The truth of it is, of course, that it doesn’t matter what we do, what we love, because the best, most finely wrought pop songs appeal directly to the individual outside of the collective euphoria ‘we’ always assume they are supposed to document, perform or create, and if they didn’t then the sheer intensity of Pop’s innately huggable chrome robot of love wouldn’t produce such giddy affirmation in the pit of your stomach whilst simultaneously (or rather retroactively) revealing the condition of such intensity as intensity itself, with no other ground than that you desire to be affirmed by an Other which turns out to be the 99 pence you spent downloading the 256 kbps mp3 from iTunes. The stunning vacuity of the gargantuan mechanisms that pump Pop around the entire universe in the consistent futurity of 20-whatever is more than enough to render the immortality of children merely equal in duration to the ad segments audibly enforced by Spotify’s evil geniuses. Last year’s Facebook campaign to make a 1992 song by Rage Against the Machine Christmas number one in the face of the massively over-determined popular economics of the X-Factor favourite Joe McElderry was somewhat evacuated of its grass roots radicalism when it was pointed out that both franchises belong to the Sony BMG corporation, who would be doubling profits whoever won. Pop loves you, and you have to hate it back.

Things make us happy, but that happiness is radically contingent on the production of those things which are designed to make us happy, and to keep us, in a sense, the limiters rather than the arbiters of our own happiness. Self-regulation as Pop primacy. But I think that, actually, if we are trying to figure out something resembling a more rigorous happiness, which is what I think we have to do, or to figure out what kind of things might help us constitute that happiness, then we have to think about the conditions of reception at least as much, if not much, much more than, the conditions of production, and to think about how those conditions of reception might be able to impel a reading of Pop, or a pop reading, that tempers a stultifying and inertia-driven dialectic of the thing; not just that such conditions are always already built into this or that thing for pre-packaged digestion, but what we might choose to do with them, how we might decide to deploy the things we love to pre-empt or re-activate or re-recuperate or, perhaps most perilously of all, truly believe in what it is that Pop ineffably does, despite itself. A rigorous happiness needs to understand the things that make us happy and figure out why they must, and what we can do to actively account for them, not merely passively accept them as in fact negative fulfillment, but positive affirmation, in order to produce an affirmative viral humanity that could infect the very mass production of love as product placement, and in this sense make love itself a form of insurgent recuperation that would destabilize and militate against the truthfully and necessarily mendacious love of things. Reality (Poetry) must be constituted by our own investigations into the appeasement of un-reality which is the basis of the culture industry’s diurnal cartography.

One problem with this kind of untenable, flowery global cultural détournement might be summed up in the condition described by Adorno in section 48 of Minima Moralia:

In a phase when the subject is capitulating before the alienated predominance of things, his readiness to discover value or beauty everywhere shows the resignation both of his critical faculties and of the interpreting imagination inseparable from them. Those who find everything beautiful are now in danger of finding nothing beautiful. [Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 2005), p.76.]

The passage continues, ‘The universality of beauty can communicate itself to the subject in no other way than in obsession with the particular’; but in ultra-modern real-live hyper life where the World itself, 50 years after first being sentimentally objectified by William Anders’ Earthrise photograph (a moment marked by Prynne in ‘The Ideal Star-Fighter’ and ‘Of Movement Towards a Natural Place’ and by Dorn, weirdly, before it happened, in ‘Song: The Astronauts’, among others) has become one enormous broadcast particular of Hooman planetary affairs, where can we locate the real particular? When every street corner is up for grabs in Google Street View, the elimination of distance realized by a joyous and efficient new barbarism, the instant of direct apprehension phased out by Skype sex and real-time warfare simulation, the virtual hegemony in apathetic overload makes Chat Roulette the new global larynx, perhaps attempting to find everything beautiful might hew our attention to the particular conditions of that everything in a positively utilitarian manner. A rigorous happiness might further start by realizing that any particular is now recuperated by generality and virtual categorization at Infinity speed and thus find worth and real live soft humanity by getting at it from the other direction, by going straight through Life, the Universe and Everything to where those abstracts constitute you, and consistently determine your happiness through things.

In 1985, for example, it is still possible to demand that ‘an account of almost everything, inside or out, in any given historical era, is hardly too small a goal for any art to embrace’, even if it is only possible for Stephen Rodefer to demand it. [See Stephen Rodefer, ‘Prologue to Language Doubling’, reproduced in Chicago Review (54:3), Winter 2009, pp.50-52 (originally published in Jimmy and Lucy’s House of “K” (4), June 1985, pp.74-76.)] Contemporary wranglings over the atomistic, physical or political efficacy of poetry seem still to be couched in terms of the art-life continuum, as if we hadn’t all sublimated that shit, like, 30 years ago, after someone clocked that being led into the hallowed halls of Life carrying the Art of the future on your backs for inspection by the great and generous Work in the sky wasn’t going to cut it for much longer. Transformational for whom? Well, the poet for a start. If you write something that changes your life, at least it changes your life, which is the most direct and stupid way of pointing out that Art and Life no longer matter in the sense of their substantial adherence to a world picture that has to be antithetical before it’s isomorphic, that fleshing out the polarities and relative elevations of the street song last on everybody’s lips just sets off the moving blocks and makes it harder for Mario to get to the end of the level. Comparing life and art, even without capitalization, does injustice to them both by abstracting them from either ‘works of art’ or ‘reality’; we become endlessly trapped amongst their competing claims to that which is already where we all are. You are, amongst a billion other things, the opposite of language personified. I’m not saying that the distinction is invalid as an historical discourse for understanding the dizzying chicanery of autonomy’s incessant critique and recuperation over the course of Art History - I’m just saying it doesn’t count any more. Recuperation in the age of digital reproduction has become so intensely rife that wherever it does not simply leave the most self-indulgent lethargic cynicism strewn like hipster blood across the spine of VICE magazine, it makes it the new beautiful - in various galleries in East London, to my endless joy, they call it institutional-critique-for-institutional-critique’s-sake-core. This beautiful cannot be distrusted simply because it happens to be fashioned out of the impacted URLs of a 1000 Tumblr accounts rather than gouache, any more than it can be praised for being truly integrated into actual life: what both of these mono-positions lack is a dialectic of passionate irony, apart from any sense of what it means to be contemporary. Any newbie’s doing praxis right now on MySpace, but good art is more real than it is yet possible to be, and we are not yet there, which is why reading poetry is the single most unrealistic thing I do; without it I would have no excess from which to fashion its perfected shadow opposite in later life. The issue is further complicated by the pernicious historical fact that art and life are peculiarly equivalent speculative constructs, as Oscar Wilde was fully aware when he wrote The Decay of Lying, leaving them prey to the aspersions of those who would have one infiltrate the other in order to prove that such interpenetration is not, after all, that desirable, like Bürger pulling out in distaste at his own theoretical climax, or Trotsky wagging his finger at Mayakovsky’s ashtrays made of human skulls (‘inconvenient and unhygienic’) in the revolutionary spirit of measure and moderation. ‘Life-praxis’, built on misguided abstract functions which it cannot fulfill, is then castigated not only for doing a bad job of importing revolution, but for daring to assume that it would be a possible outcome in the first place.

This is not the place (ha!) to get into a sticky discussion about the constitution of the first person plural, or the composition of the readership at large. I could make a cringing statement to the effect that the voice of culture distinguishes not those whom it embraces (didn’t I point that out earlier?), or perhaps make clear that even fewer people read theoretical accounts of avant-garde poetry (passionately not even masquerading as Positive Thinking) than read the poetry itself (if there is still such a thing. ha.), and that therefore the whole efficacy debate (which I realize at this point that I may or may not have invented for the purposes of this essay, or better yet be some flagrantly misremembered bullshit Jamelia Wigmore whispered to me in the pub on New Year’s Eve) is fried from the start because if you’re reading this, you already care, and are probably changing your mind, and therefore your experience, right now. But instead, I say we flip the whole shebang, and not just for metaphysical shits and giggles: what real, substantial, social effect does Life have on Poetry? What, in any case, is efficacious life? How is my life affecting Poetry? After all, a little art can solve a lot of problems, and usually does. Rodefer, in the piece quoted above, has more to say about self-help:

What is crucial is not the ingenuity of a verbal work, nor the meticulous care for detail, nor the working out of schema and intent, however much these may contribute, but something absolutely vital no matter what else is present. I mean that power to lift us out of our seats and keep us in them. Perhaps that old churchy purpose of literature to be uplifting is not so far off in a varied sense. To disclose, in short, a design and a vision which impel us to a greater apprehension of where we are situated as inhabitors [sic] of room on this globe, larger than we, and smaller than the universe. [Rodefer, ‘Prologue to Language Doubling.’]

So we can at least see that if poetry is still to compose, comprise and constitute us, wildly and beautifully, as we as readers of poetry surely feel we are so composed (even if it doesn’t always have to be wild and beautiful), that apprehending everything could not only be useful for qualifying and interrupting everything’s machinations on the real, but also for evincing and articulating that real as an essential component of every thing we passionately inhabit. [And thus, as Rodefer’s crucial neologism simultaneously suggests, inhibit.] I believe in poetry’s didactic promise to teach us how to love, for example, but more than that I believe in the necessary risk involved in saying, this time with only a residual trace of unwitting pathological irony embedded in my teeth, something that pathetic and stupidly bourgeois. When I say “us” I mean “me”. Me and Jonty.

Jonty Tiplady’s poetry takes what Pop proposes, mendaciously, coercively, and attempts to make it real, vulnerably live, and loveable. It can, after all, be real. We can, for the moment, really believe in the hook, verse and chorus, the rising minor key synthesizers of “Dear World and Everyone in it”, primed as it is for super-realisation of the fully-blown burgeoning reality of life composed around us, forging an intenser real from the cacophony of Pop-sexuality, Pop-social performance and Pop-cataloguing than any smarmy neo-Romantic blitzkrieg of luddite pretensions could ever believe possible, let alone confirm, let alone betray. Like AiDS-3D’s or Universal Swimsuit’s remixes of 90s dance hits, the poem achieves grace not by cynical or ironic citation, but by actually re-investing its material with the hope, or if there is to be a concession to at least a modicum of restraint, the wry hope, that the affirmatives of its lyric appeal might truly be believed, or at least trusted in until the poem either frowns in belated emo majesty or squirms in pathologically persuasive climax. The relentless anti-nostalgia in the form of a precise and presumably ever-accelerating hurtle into retro Technicolor futurity is couched in such endearing generosity it almost effaces the sustaining melancholy of the underlying drift:

So I believe, eleven, that since there / still must be some street corner soul, for example, some effects of it, the issue becomes not loss but the quality of these surviving effects as they / enigmatically insist out of and into that loss. Street corner soul was perhaps / always not what we think we now know it isn't anymore, which perhaps / means it now has a chance of still being more itself than it ever was, more / snappy and strange, which is to say less, always less. Yet anewly so. [Jonty Tiplady, Zam Bonk Dip (Cambridge: Salt, 2010), p.30]

Which, incidentally, is also how lost love operates, or is perhaps love translated into ‘different Google machine language’, the double rainbows of ‘darkest happiness’ proving by negation of non-affirmation that ‘life / isn't something we made up’, even though the parameters of the verse itself in a book like At the School of Metaphysics are a testament to that very composition. ‘Here I’m over pop, / which therefore rises falls again, like there is no absence only very weak / shades of presence down to the custard at your feet’ announces the first poem in this sequence, riffing on a heart-rendingly addictive materialism whilst declining to do much more than riff, thus betraying by that very succulent aphoristic approach the love of pop not lost but ‘always less’, and newly so. Here, love is distressingly like a box of chocolates which you’re never going to get, but which will instead be held in such careful, tender esteem that the possibility of its always being available to our sticky fingers might be at least forever sustained. About every poem’s end is a particularly hook-esque sign-off, recalling the distance between ourselves and the ‘brief dream’ we’ve just managed to occupy (or inhibit), a style seemingly distilled from the intensity of alienation even from those things we love too much, or especially so; the lyric subjects in ‘Madrock Gunned Down in Flowers’ and ‘For the Brazilian Rocket Queen’ are in themselves practically parallel in their worldly roving, ever hugging the surface of the earth without ever being fed into a machine for Wohnen or housing benefit. Parallel in the sense that they are about the very world they are passionate about, rather than buried inside it - their ‘furiously hopeful music’, a love of loving that might in some poets become emotional sycophancy, but which here is the absolutely necessary temporary structure for thinking the troublesome nature of ‘losing so much / especially zeros’, that bad negativity plumbed for all its image of emotional leverage that becomes actual emotional leverage when you realise that the description is not just wittily uncanny, but true.

Happiness in Tiplady’s poems is certainly true, however provisionally, and in fact perhaps radically and necessarily provisional; such a state is always under duress, must be worked at and maintained, is usually durational by dint of its intensity, however offensively charming. ‘Like tissue for some universal fucking soul beat’ the gags and splurges ‘get your human / ass night on’ by refusing death and the economy in favour of ‘abracafuckingsexdabra’ and singing the Google-future not as something so cynical as a pop-culture reference but as the enveloping ‘sound of bricks’ that is happiness itself, digitally dark and only blithely, deliciously conversational if the conversation happens to be Life and not resemble it. ‘It’s like when my room / resembles a hospital, my insides cry out, and / the thing seems to be the more happy I am’, at which point we meet face-to-face the damaged bedroom-pop utopianism that best characterizes the work of Tiplady’s that I’ve so far imbibed, an intensity of focus that over-stimulates happiness to a wild and pathological distress by believing in its own appeal for reconciliation. Thus ‘A happiness he cannot / face’ becomes the enduring site of a too-susceptible empathy, for Pop can contain and limit a kind of queer subversion mere local happiness can only dream of or dread, or in this case, both. Too much happiness is bad for the soul, it seems.

The melancholic carries the poems on a bed of tonics and dominants that can sustain the ‘brief dream’ for as long as it can, and no longer. ‘Those lava mice are scathing / about every poem’s end’ because they know that’s where we want to get to, finally, as the détourned image of real happiness, but must by necessity of song brush past in the time of reading, or as listening, you know that the more you play the song the less the pre-fabricated hooks are able to cope with the love you have for them, and will eventually buckle under the stress of your desire and become quotidian again. I think that same fear regulates the poems in At the School of Metaphysics: they dare not grip the rail too tightly for fear of the structural reprisal built into their code for loving. It is the curse and charm of the poetry, this parallelism noted above, and this choral flop, both part of a disconcerting vulnerability that is the truly antithetical informal device at play, ultimately deflecting the immortal chrome pretensions of the Pop Golem. However thinly veiled by the camp, affectionate slapstick of ‘I went with my Mum to headbutt a cactus’, the palpable weakness of the arbitrary, scattershot line speaks in Negative Capability without the caps, and, ‘Almost even too free and fair to want to / act as art at all’, both the pop analogy and Pop materialism are hereby dropped and subtly, almost insidiously, reinforced as the self-effacing labour the poetry accomplishes, despite its ersatz self:

Last but not / least, I believe, as the song says, that you are the only one to understand / why it is I will have to spend a lifetime saying the very opposite of what I / believe, which is that there is no such thing as cosmic pessimism because / there will be nobody there to feel it, unless there is somebody there to feel / it, or unless there is nobody or somebody here, now, to feel it. Are we not a / little this last glissade made colossal pop affirmation? [Zam Bonk Dip, p.31]

The opposite of what I believe is not thereby ignored and eliminated from the life of the poetry, relegated to some blasé ignorance where it could lie perniciously unobserved, but militates against the negation of itself by this willful, obtuse and ‘colossal’ affirmation. By shoring up everything against things, Tiplady’s poems proclaim a rigorously happy irruption into the damaged life that efficiently and sublimely determines the social reality that (the) poetry strives to realize and accomplish. The poetry and my vague sense of it remain, crushingly, bigger and more powerful than particular poems could ever hope to be. The question, to what extent this accomplishment might be altogether too exact to allow the poems to exist as anything more than affirmative pastiche, peeled off the ruptured artificial nostalgia to reveal: nostalgia, is itself the measure of their barely contained, humorous self-destruction; after all, suicide is painless. The risk of believing in what pop can do for you is the risk of believing Pop on face value. But mightn’t the poem’s question invite the glib rhetorical response: no, we’re not, we’re reading about it, however much we love to yearn and yearn to love better and more realistically; and doesn’t the fact that “there will be nobody there to feel it” smack uncomfortably of the kind of solipsistic utopian apocalypse that invites love of self to be the yardstick by which an already fantastical ‘we’ is ultimately measured, brushed up, squared, before finally being redeemed from the frailest of bourgeois miseries? Transformational for whom, indeed. Sitting comfortably, I opened my copy of The Revolution of Everyday Life. When I say ‘me’, I mean ‘poetry’. Remarkably, that same ‘stunning vacuity’ that renders the intensity of Pop the shaky ground of its own enticing real is suddenly and breathlessly evinced by your desire to have your own life affirmed in poetry. ‘Dear World and Everyone in it’ does not just implicate you by association, it is, in a sense, your own composition, and thanks to Merleau-Ponty we have the proof:

The thing is nothing but a significance, the significant ‘thing’. Very well. But when I understand a thing, a picture for example, I do not here and now effect its synthesis, I come to it bringing my sensory fields and my perceptual field with me, and in the last resort I bring a schema of all possible being, a universal setting in relation to the world. At the heart of the subject himself we discovered, then, the presence of the world… [Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2002), p.498.]

I bring in M-P not to kick-start a discussion of reading or reader-reception theory that would pop-up more subjects & objects than we could by this point possibly be real enough to render useful, but to further emphasize the universal settings we all save in our versions of real life to enable us to function at the level of fully-human. Readers of poetry know that some poets are ultimately better at providing themselves with an armory of succor and artifice than they are at providing them for the rest of us, which is the point at which self-identification kicks in to bridge the gap opened up by that very knowledge, a kind of generous readerly compensation for the poet’s (bad) superabundance of desire. Ultimate subjectivity is hard to come by, and harder still to keep from collapsing in on its own maximal designs, ours or theirs. But readers of poetry also know that everything is theirs by right, and that happiness involves the risk of attentiveness to every thing that could possibly threaten the opposite of what they believe. Or maybe I’ve just written myself into that conclusion because I want it to make me happy and it does do that, if I want it to. Either way, everything is too much for nothing except total joy. Human is a positive movement.

January 2011

[This essay was originally drafted between November-January 2010-11, minor revisions December 2011. Hello sunshine.]