Thursday, 9 August 2018

Air Hunger, out now from Plea Press

A new book of poems, Air Hunger, is out now from Plea Press in Berlin. From the publisher's website:

Plea’s inaugural publication is a collection by the Brighton-based poet, Joe Luna. Air Hunger is a set of poems about finitude and loss; about psychic cannibalism and the inexorable movement of desire inchwards towards death.

“Joe Luna writes extremely careful poems that pursue recklessness. Air Hunger is highly allusive, intricately detailed, and yet unfussy: it flows freely between weirdly earnest Romantic pastiche and formidably dense modernist music. It’s either a giddy celebration of self-destructive love or a melancholic lament for a love that’s not quite self-destructive enough. I can’t decide. But either way, the book is thoughtful and moving, and a great read: come for the alienating compressed syllabics, stay for the humanistic pleasure of recognising yourself in the lyricism of its neurotic involution. Luna’s writing is fraught in the best way.”

– Steven Zultanski

What relation stops subtending shards of recognition 
that glint in crass identitarian prolepsis, that prevents 
this glow from seeming nothing less than too much 
gorgeous irony, that love is, endlessly, the sight of you?

The book is available to order now from for €10 incl. shipping everywhere. Risograph printed with a glue-spine, an image by Martin Steuck, and ten poems.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Indexical Self-Cut

A short squib read at the Doubting Thomas’ symposium at the University of Sussex, 18th April 2018. 

In a 2007 exchange with the critic Sam Ladkin, the poet and theatre maker Chris Goode calls Caravaggio’s The incredulity of St Thomas “the most powerfully salient depiction of exemplary wound response that we have.” Goode continues:  

“Noise […] increases uncertainty: therefore, the wound – its appearance, its tangibility – must be a signal that dispels Thomas’s doubt: because it encourages him into a confrontation with the physical body. Caravaggio, as touchingly as any boyband fan, trusts the idea only insofar as he trusts its carnal embodiment. But it’s only the body below the surface that carries such authority; the surface appearance of the body may still be a depthless apparition, a commercial presentation, one of a million roaming pin-ups. So as the wound slowly heals, the body becomes less like itself, more like its image.”

At stake in this enigmatic polemic is something like a commitment to the truth of damage beyond its reconciliation into a healthy body politic; the question that concerns Goode is the following: “how do you enact fidelity to a wound, once the possibility of preventing it has been lost?” He goes on:

“In other words, the wound may be an instance of failure in the body system, but it is also a local suspension in our failure to know each other within our social system. The body thus becomes the setting for a legible signal, but also its enemy; and for as long as the wound remains, a tension exists between the tendency of the body towards closure and the tendency of the open wound towards information-giving. There is then a civic aspect to this tension, and it is, I would want to suggest, the tension that I want to hold open, not (sadistically, torturously) the wound.”

Caravaggio, for Goode, represents such a “local suspension” in our failure to know, in this instance, the risen Christ; incredulity is itself, in Goode’s reading, a Christian synecdoche for that slew of negative affects that put us in touch with a self whose price of admission is temporarily slashed. In Caravaggio’s Thomas’s incredulity, not his scepticism or his faith restored, Goode sees the possibility of rendering in aesthetic experience the very distinction between you and me, not as a function of an historically organised set of divisions and alienations, but as “a civic aspect,” that is, a kind of trust mediated not by exchange per se (in which the value of the gift is always measured by the prospect of its loss) but by community itself. It is in this sense a properly communist aesthetic, because the being of one body is visible (is readable) as the condition of the other, not as its corollary or analogy.

To move off at a bit of a tangent, this brief contribution to today’s discussion offers the following claim: it was important to certain poets writing in the 2000s, and remains important to certain poets writing today, that they cut themselves so that other people can poke around inside them. I mean this sentence to absolutely collapse the distinction between pain expressed in poetry, and the pain of the poet, because it is essential to a poetics of wounding as I understand it that no false pretences be made about some airy sphere of language distinct from the hands that write it and the mouths that speak it. Properly wounded and wounding language, language which refuses the salvific functions of lyric harmony, is one of the defining features of the current avant-garde, and is often misread as a kind of heroic martyrdom: look at the poet bleed, they must value their own blood highly. But it seems at least worth considering what kind of violence is done to what Goode calls the “civic” commitment of wounded language when we assume either that the poet is attempting some kind of personal catharsis, or that they merely represent kinds of suffering for the edification or the activism of others.

Goode’s reading of Caravaggio suggests to me another way to think about poetry that is full of open wounds, poetry that is designed to hurt. And that is to think about it as serving a “civic” function such as the one Goode alludes to in his conversation with Ladkin. In many ways this term “civic” is the unexplored term in the exchange: it is not at all clear what it means, and it even seems likely that Goode himself is unclear as to its meaning in the context he creates. In any case, “local suspension[s] in our failure to know each other within our social system” happen all the time; perhaps they are happening right now. But criticism needs to insist on these encounters as suspensions in failure so that the wound has a chance not to heal, and the body to be more like itself.

And in that spirit, here are some recklessly polemical suggestions for further thinking:

1. Only poetry that hurts, and stays hurting, is capable of making us feel restlessly available to one another as that which we need to be alive.

2. Poetry that wounds only to heal, or to gesture towards a recuperative synthesis of body and social body without keeping alive the specific kind of “tension” that Goode describes – that between the tendency to bleed and the tendency to forget – might as well be pop music. That would be fine.

3. Poetry that ruthlessly and torturously wounds itself in an endless display of linguistic gore, and which tips into misery without the straining of lament or dirge, is despair without incredulity, and is therefore useless.

4. It is important that criticism preserve something of the incredulity of St Thomas as I read it above – as the productive tension that elucidates the negative image of a fully-fleshed out encounter – by closely reading poems without plastering over them a theoretical account of social relations which the poem is supposed to exemplify.

Further reading:

Sam Ladkin and Chris Goode, Some Correspondence,’ in Chicago Review 53:1 (2007), pp.126-138.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Aphorisms for the Strike, 6th March 2018

1. Poetry is the durable record of the future ingrained into the present experience of hurt and historical disenfranchisement. The structure of verse contains and expresses the movement of history beyond what is presently possible to write of poetrys effects, because effects have the inconvenient tendency to either happen or not, whereas what is effected in poems is not limited to the immediately discernible reaction they may or not elicit in people, but is instead realised according to the historical coordinates of their composition and reception. The questions of contemporary verse practise the understanding of present struggles by subjecting those struggles to the innermost scrutiny of affective resolution, and by doing so they preserve in language - in the intimate shape of common feeling - the conditions of political existence. To write of what is effected in poems built at moments of acute crisis or the threat of social upheaval, far from relatively promoting or relegating such moments beyond or beneath the generalised political crisis of what passes for "the times," is in fact to recognize crisis itself as the indelible mark of historical transformation, and in turn to transform through the praxis of reading what might otherwise remain latent into the shared acquisition of manifest social knowledge. This is to offer a definition of close reading that treats the object of interpretation as a social fact of historical contingency. It is to refuse the logic of simple cause and effect by representing effect as a product of the world poetry swallows and regurgitates the better to savour its taste: effect is mathematical, logical, universalised without a second chance; poetry is the promise of non-equivalence in the sound of an equivocal promise. Antithetical to the slick, gilded logic of consumption, poetry sticks in the craw.

2. One way in which poetry generates an extraordinary reserve of critical momentum is by being basically and belligerently unrealistic. Reactionaries always claim that this is a failure of the imagination; or rather, they claim with the syrupy pathos of a broadsheet editor that the poets eyes are bigger than their stomach, but that nevertheless they provide a hopeful vision (whether visible or invisible) of a future stripped of the qualities of the world from which it emerges. This is bullshit. Hope in poetry is not to be idealised out of existence by cleverly diluting it in the antidote that would cure the poem of its ills, but maintained at the cost of its violent eradication at every turn. Against cynicism, readers should claim the audible communication of hurt as the condition of social truth; against idealism, they should interpret this hurt within the careful proximity of material injustice. Likewise, those that claim that damaged or hurt poetry - that is, poetry marked by crisis - only parades the wounds of the bleeding heart solipsist, betray their own narcissistic image of suffering as something that exists only to be claimed as ones own, rather than produced in the contingency of individual composition as a protest against its social organisation. Bad poems are usually bad because they forget this basic fact; the mainstream perpetually misrepresents "protest" as a levelling of the unrealistic against the real, whereas the point is to fashion the unrealistic as a critical weapon against the present terms and conditions upon which reality is conceived and enacted. The recent production of hexes by contemporary poets attests to this fact. Spells are the ironic exaggeration of material powerlessness to effect the justice that material inequality demands. To read them as magic divests them of their social truth. But to believe entirely that social truth snaps shut the eyelet opened by the spells casting.

3. Nostalgia, like love, is neither inherently radical nor inherently reactionary. The losses of the past, like the losses of the present, need not be recast in the bloody light of pathos or damaged optimism to remain painfully alive and persistent; they can injure the despair of complacent rectitude just as well by refusing to succumb to a happy ending. Love in the poetry of Frank OHara, Lisa Robertson, and Keston Sutherland is not the end in futurity of a presently unrealisable affective surplus, any more than it is finally the same thing in each of their poetries. But it is possible in each of these cases to discern a passionate optic of desire that motivates, even as it interrogates, the social constitution of desire. This is the recursive critical idiom of the best contemporary love poetry. Recursive does not mean self-destructive: no excoriation of the unlovable subject completely atones for their willed self-importance. But neither can love be abandoned to the scrap-heap of self-indulgence without also abandoning the desire for self-transcendence, the loss of which curses the poet to a paradise of one. During moments of particularly intense social momentum, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2010 student movement, the poetry of love acquires a semblance of blank futility, as it reflects beyond catastrophe the solace of intimate conservation. But such desire should also be read as its readiness for adaptation, in the sense that elegy is always also a projection of relational memory. The poetry of those periods is riven with exorbitant, flailing, gratuitous violence, precisely as a means to measure, apperceive, and comprehend the destruction of life that each moment seemed to promise, on their different scales of historical significance and proximity. That response, in all its variety, was a form of loving exactitude enacted on the principles of solidarity with the victims of military and economic violence. What are the forms of love that will make the interruption of the present moment cleave most passionately to the future it drags behind it?

4. Aphorisms are a cop-out. They claim through wilful hermeticism and the dense topography of impacted thought an insight into historical time, especially that of crisis or struggle, protected from the scalpels of the uninitiated by a thick carapace of rhetorical suggestiveness. In this sense they are the exaggerated image of the shibboleth-esque that some read into the contorted lines and ligaments of contemporary radical poetry. Why should we listen to these poets, the argument goes, when they simply will not tell us what they simply mean? The answer to this question is a necessarily aphoristic one: because they have nothing to tell you that you want so desperately to know that you will stop at nothing to have it told. Times like ours present this contradiction in the starkest of terms: you can see it on the picket line, in the contorted lines and ligaments of the face of the scab, in the enormous focus of concentration it takes to ignore an invitation proffered, however clumsily, in the spirit of joyful cooperation. There is no greater ringing endorsement of the primacy of address to each other that we make in our poems than the face of the other for whom an invitation can only be heard as an insult. In the face of that narcissistic portcullis, initiation is a field day. And in the moments gathered in the fragile precarity of collective resolution, by the permanent record of beautiful dissent, the day is ours.