Pleased to announce I’ll be working with Aaron Kent in editing an anthology of poetry and prose in response to Frightened Rabbit. I’m anticipating this as a really special project, and a chance to make something collaborative in celebration of the work of a band that touched the lives of so many. I love music! The pandemic knocked some of that out of me for a while, but it sounds good again. Music! I want to write about it all the time. Send us your best odes, ekphrasis, reflections, fiction, mini essays, lyrics etc.
I went looking for a song for you — Frightened Rabbit, ‘The Oil Slick’
Edited by Maria Sledmere & Aaron Kent
From the release of their debut album, Sing the Greys (2006), Frightened Rabbit were a phenomenal presence in the lives of many. To be at a Frabbit show, to read the liner notes, to belt the words back at your friends was to feel if not release then solidarity in suffering. To catch love from the greys and live in colour. The band’s inimitable singer Scott Hutchison (also a talented illustrator) penned lyrics that captured the weight and heat of adolescence and its wreck, of joyous chaos and loneliness, of growing into a person, falling in and out of love. Frabbit helped many of us nurture a voice in the woodpile of the dark, and to embrace what happens when it sparks.
This anthology is a celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s work in both music and community. Their songs inspired many of us to pick up a pen and write, or share our stories and inner lives with others. We are looking for work that engages with the themes of the Frabbit discography: work that takes its cue from a quoted line, a song, a title, a particular performance. Work that processes the memories filtered through music, that delves into the landscapes, emotional topographies and rich imaginaries of the Frabbit world. Work that shows us how the band’s immense legacy continues through our words, and makes tiny changes.
As Tom Johnson, founder of the magazine GoldFlakePaint writes in a heartfelt tribute to Scott, not long after his passing: ‘The songs are right there anyway; they will always be there’. This is an invitation to carry on the songs. Send us your poems, send us your words.
Walking to the supermarket today cost wild amounts of strength and energy, for which I am grateful to have spent now that I can eat nauseating Roquefort cheese in the hope of coaxing my numbed-out tastebuds to attention (so far semi-successful) with lathering of French mustard on wholewheat bagel. Semi permasick seemingly from something in the walls in me. MOULD. Watching the Easterheads peruse giant boxes with undersized, foil-wrapped eggs inside reminds me of a lecturer I had many years ago whose primary exam advice was to study always with such an egg by your side, because curved chocolate is ‘superior’. Trying to summon childhood memories of Easter and all I get is something hardboiled and glum, rainbow-painted free-rangers being rolled down the smashed-up concrete of Minnoch Crescent estate. What were you supposed to do next? Retrieve the egg. I forget. I roll over. I have to sleep on my side or something in my organs hurts; but I believe cats have healing powers and if a cat wants to sleep right on my chest, sure, I’ll sleep on my back and wake up better.
So I’ve been enjoying The Blindboy Podcast and recently the episode where he talks about the internet before it became, well, everything. The total bombardment. Blindboy has charming tales of what cultural scarcity was like before you could just shazam the shit out of any sonic phenomenon, google every micro-thought that comes into your head or find your brain rewired around the big-ass anxiety MMORPG that is Twitter. I’m geriatric millennial enough to remember this and especially tapes. I had a thing about tapes. I wrote about this already, way back in 2014, my thing for tapes. That was kind of before the indie tape revival (is it still going on?). Seriality in writing is irresistible to me. The backwards and forwardsness of it. Krapp’s spoolish jouissance. Bernadette Mayer’s tape recordings in Piece of Cake, Memory and Midwinter Day. The glossolalic Mr Tuttle in Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist.
Recently, editor, writer and absolute king [<3] in the poetry community, Aaron Kent, published a pocket-sized pamphlet called The Rise Of… (Broken Sleep Books, 2022). The back page features the familiar anatomy of tape reels encased in clear plastic. There’s a kind of Side One/Side Two vibe: a long essay-poem, ‘The Rise Of…’, which documents the process of coming to know what happened in the wake of a sexual assault; and a poem ‘Inkmist’ dedicated to ‘CRASAC group therapy; for saving me‘. This is a breathtaking work that doesn’t so much ‘confront’ its difficult subject as enter into a kind of ‘momentum’ capable of thawing the petrification of trauma. Of central concern to the speaker is the notion of hallucination, of letter-writing, of ‘difficulty’ itself. I opened it gently from the envelope as I once would a cassette from its casing, read the whole thing in one go and found myself at this point upside down on the sofa, blood rushed to my head, kind of too stunned to even cry. The fluidity and force of Kent’s words are such that all kinds of dormant synapses in my own brain began to take flight again. This is poetry which dials up exposure not exactly to ‘tell a story’ but to disclose the whole affect-storm of a writing that could approximate a traumatised consciousness — one that is at once deeply singular, embodied but also permeable within language itself. A writing that soaks up the residues of thinking’s trillions. It’s hypnagogic, syncopated, a rush; full of swerves, stops, broken clauses, syntactic mania. Forget punctuation. This is a book about the secret. About a wild undersong of constant, yet fluctuating pain. ‘I’m like a sponge i’m always shedding and if i don’t deal with it the pain won’t go away’. Anhedonia, itching, ‘something so simple and powerful’ about a scream. ‘There must be a word for losing melody’. In a blurb for the book, Day Mattar describes this not so much as ‘a stream of consciousness’ but ‘a flood’. There’s something mesmerising and unstoppable here. ‘I am the rapture!’ Buy this book.
When I was in London I also picked up Emily Berry’s new collection, Unexhausted Time (Faber, 2022), a book I’d hotly anticipated owing to Berry’s excellent previous titles Dear Boy (2013) and Stranger, Baby (2017) but also because the book cover perfectly matched the magenta of fred’s new iets frans tracksuit. I read this last weekend in a few turbulent, food coma type nights, marvelling at how my brain could just pick up a special Berry ellipsis, steal it for a dream and then awake to another suspension in the poem. This is a book full of ghosts and twisted souls, a kind of carefulness around utterance itself; spellbinding in the sense of a spine for holding together our weathering lives. A book bound by some kind of spell. You have the sense of a secret, and a holding back:
All statements purporting to be act are true. Nothing goes away… You carry it with you, if not on your back, or in your arms, then somewhere behind your eye… So be careful… See the ghost scratching at the door frame for the note that will free her. The past is parked next to me like a dirty van with messages fingered in the grime…
(Emily Berry, Unexhausted Time)
These lines summon us but also disintegrate on the page as dust. I imagine the automatic typing of a super-intelligence gleaned from our messages. It feels intimate, uncanny. Where is this person speaking from? I want to take their advice seriously. There’s a lowkey lockdown hauntology, the house turned inside out by a kind of social toxicity. Anything natural is also sort of monstrous: ‘It always seemed to me a kind of madness, / the gardens all in flower year after year’. It’s sort of obscene to me that the blossoms are all out and I feel about as disconnected from them as if they existed purely as pixels. Is this disintegration of the senses a prefiguration to ageing? How do you stay involved with the big delicious ‘madness’ of the sensory world? The hyper-pitch of birdsong made audible by the lockdown of spring 2020 was lush, but also spooky. As if to be always in the dawn song of 5am, alone with the birdly chimeras — too piercing to surely be real? I miss it. The feeling of being wholly alive in waves. Write something to the ghost?
It always comes back. And there are new messages…
The digital eeriness of felt presence. New messages. Poems in their seasonal palimpsests. I want that unexhausted time, a time we haven’t yet strung out, a time to be rechilded. A time for birds.
Dearest, Happy pink moon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lastly, the new Ludd Gangarrived. Mark Francis Johnson:
Those birds of passage present as fists.
I think we fauns may learn more from those birds than
half-hours by the sea teach us.
In the summer the woodcutter wanted to fell my home
and I let him.
(from The Faun Book)
You go stumbling, burned your pineal gland, phone mum. I keep the doors open in my dreams in case a deer walks in. ‘With my eye’, says Jesse Darling in the same issue, ‘I wanted to go / there, to the end of that road. With my whole body I wanted to go / there’.
Let the cold, curved chocolate fit the lip of my tongue, from the fridge.
Want also to melt.
Earlier I wrote something of our weathering lives. It’s the most beautiful and encompassing thing you can say to someone, becoming the spooky sweet hail in flux with sunbursts and mugs full of snow, a rainbow.
Something like an offering, snowballs of silver foil. Blossoms and more blossoms.
Again, from Ludd Gang (the last poem), Gloria Dawson writing for Callie Gardner:
hey, you were my weather sometimes arriving at my door
It’s been a fair while since I posted. Struggling through Covid, another supercold (emerald phlegm forever), more transitions, finishing my thesis, April snow, more streaming of the body and ache, but here we are. It’s good to get words down. I can’t smell or taste anything at all right now (coffee is just…neutral earthiness, sweet potatoes are…mush of the orange variety, bread is…send help) — so the vicarious pleasure of language is all the more heightened. Sometimes it’s a barrier: why read about anything when your senses don’t respond? I’m drawn to the elliptical which doesn’t hold me for too long. I want to be let go or dissolve a bit. Like eking my reading through a fine mesh of muslin, a semi-permeable membrane of comprehension. Or pull it over my head, this paragraph, the whole fabric of the thing. I was gonna write about a month’s worth of reading: mostly while walking west to east along the polluted, outer commuter belt of the city; on trains between Glasgow, Inverness, London, Leeds; in frail, unwaking mornings; at the park, in that golden week, sitting in the grass with salad from Juicy and daffodils. Instead I wrote about sleep.
Finally I got round to reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), a book I wanted to read especially because a trusted friend described the ending to me as ‘disappointing’. I love to glut myself on disappointment. For some reason the novel produced a similar effect on me as Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005), in that the pleasure was all in the premise. I would love to exist endlessly in the loop that is prolonged sleep or the reconstruction of a highly specific sensory memory. I want these novels to just go on and on like that. Of course, there has to be escalation, as per the rules of plot or ~human nature~. Is it true we can’t circle the mobius loop forever? That after a while the pleasure is desensitised, and we need to dialup on the extremity? McCarthy’s novel sort of preserves that perfect figure of eight in its set-piece ending, and you’re left with the image adrift to loop back on the primal, inciting moment of falling debris and trauma. I found the Moshfegh ending ‘cheap’ in that it seemed to cash in its bulimic character for a kind of tragedy whose fate was to fall. Bulimia, I can say, is generally an experience of permanent insolvency in the body, resulting in a loop time of binge and purge. You pay the debts of fasting by devouring; you pay the debts of eating by purging and fasting. Rinse, brush teeth, ouch, repeat. The sociologist Jock Young talks of ‘bulimic society’ as one where the poorest and most marginalised are often the most culturally enmeshed in the desperate iconography and desire economy of consumerism. The most excluded populations, according to this view, absorb images of what is apparently available under the veil of late-capitalism; but simultaneously they are rejected from accessing this culture themselves due to material inequality and class difference. As Young puts it: ‘a bulimic society where massive cultural inclusion is accompanied by systematic structural exclusion. It is a society that has both strong centrifugal and centripetal currents: it absorbs and it rejects’. But does capitalism spit us out or do we boak back? This is why I am scared to go on TikTok, like fear of lifestyle saturation to the point of nauseating breakdown.
Often powerpoint slides defining bulimia for this sociological context mention an ‘abnormally voracious appetite or unnaturally constant hunger’. In Moshfegh’s novel, the character Reva (an insurance broker) is constantly eating or constantly fasting; something our protagonist describes with pity or nonchalance. Reva is tragic because she wants too much what the protagonist effortlessly has by birth: beauty, thinness, style, money. Thinness is kind of the ur-sign for WASP privilege in the aftermath of the heroin chic fin de siècle. Reva is jealous of the protagonist’s weight loss, steals her pills. Both women are after control (or its relinquishing) in a world in freefall.
This is a period novel: set in the early 2000s, New York in the lead up to 9/11. It’s full of that inertia following the boom of the 1990s. The desire to just sleep in the unit of a single year is like a microcosm for not just an end of history, as per Fukuyama, but a refusal of history altogether as this thing that keeps growling, accumulating, disrupting sleep. I kind of buy into Reva’s bulimia as something about the consequence of being voraciously invested in a world that wants to expel you, sure. The sky’s big whitey’s the limit around Manhattan. Chewing on this feels productive. The violence of the novel is primarily in the gallery where the narrator starts out working. The gallery’s prized artist, a young man called Ping Xi, has these ‘dog pieces’: a ‘taxidermied […] variety of pure breeds’, which are rumoured to make their way into the artist’s exhibition via premature slaughter and industrial freezing. The work apparently ‘marked the end of the sacred in art’. The narrator is kind of offhand disgusted but eventually comes to identify with the young animals in the freezer, waiting to be thawed into art. Writing can be a bit like self-cannibalism; the denial of which leaves you stoked for a snack.
There are several kinds of hunger in the novel: primarily for sleep and food, but also for meaning, intimacy, loyalty. Love is a strange relation that moves uneasily between two girlfriends whose friendship is based on a premise of inequality and co-dependency. The hungers are sated by devouring emptiness. Sleep, junk food, fleeting talks. That bit in Melancholia where Justine screws her face up deliciously and says the meatloaf tastes like ashes. When I realised the same of my dinner, I didn’t even react.
We look more peaceful when sleeping. It’s worth lauding, like Lana singingPretty when I cryyyyyyyyyy………….
O, and the concept of the sad nap:
There was no work to do, nothing I had to counteract or compensate for because there was nothing at all, period. And yet I was aware of the nothingness. I was awake in the sleep somehow. I felt good. Almost happy.
But coming out of that sleep was excruciating. My entire life flashed before my eyes in the worst way possible, my mind refilling itself with all my lame memories, every little thing that had brought me to where I was.
(Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation)
The brutal awakening cashes in on the extra expenditure of napping. I’ve written in a poem somewhere, ‘I wish I could sleep forever’. It’s different from wanting to die. It’s more like, wanting to feel aware of the nothingness and calm in its premise. Nobody needs anything from you and you can’t give anything back. It’s restful or at least prolongs the promise of rest. Stay awake super late to relish the idea that you could go to bed. I don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling energised by sleep. </3 I remember listening to an interview with the editor of Dazed where he talks about sleep being his great reset. I remember thinking wow sick cool. Whatever mental health thing he’s going through, sleep will heal it. Sleep can otherwise be a kind of emulsion of depression. You’re in the weight of it spreading right through you. I carry sleep along even when I don’t ‘have’ it.
I want you mostly in the morning when my soul is weak from dreaming (Weyes Blood, ‘Seven Words’)
I used to wake up extra early before school to steal back from sleep. I felt sleep would eat me alive. I used that time to browse the internet, write, read. Eat shitty muesli. Puke.
I’d sleep in class. Teachers would bring it up at parent’s night. I just couldn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t regularly passing out over their schoolbooks.
The perma-arousal of bulimia is a counternarrative to the inorganic sleep cycles pursued by the novel’s main character. I got a similar vibe from watching Cheryl Dunn’s Moments Like This Never Last, a documentary snapshot of the pre- and post-9/11 world of New York’s underground, showcasing Dash Snow’s graffiti and outsider art. Dash is always cheating sleep to go tag, paint, take pictures. There’s a ton of cocaine and consequence. 9/11 had toppled right through all of that leaving a wound. You know by the law of entropy that it can’t be sustained, this life, writing on the walls and all that. Maybe tagging is also about a kind of hunger-purge. Colour’s aerosol vom marking time, presence, ideas. It’s permanent, but then someone can just go clean it up; the ultimate fuck you.
Whose space does this belong to? Remainder is a novel about gentrification, the white guy’s obsessive reorganising of London spaces as precursor for the gentrification of Brixton. A novel of the zombie flaneur, fuelled on flat whites, iPad swipes and vape juice, as Omer Fast’s 2016 movie adaptation brings into focus. Moshfegh’s novel is set around the same time, but her protagonist is decidedly not a flaneur, even if she carries that vibe of the waking dead. She barely leaves her apartment to get coffees from the local bodega, and when she does venture further it has all the amnesiac disaster of a night on the NY tiles with Meg Superstar Princess, furs and all. I find this zombie existence an irresistible metaphor for the numbing effect of late-capitalism: we are overstimulated and aroused to the point of just turning off. It’s banal to say that, sure. What’s great about the Meg Superstar Princess blog girl revival is the way the writing itself is charged with like, full off-kilter zaniness. The opposite of zombie. It’s like barhopping around A Thousand Plateaus — cheap wine in one hand, vintage Android in the other —to the tune of Charli XCX and it’s absolute chaos: ‘spitting e pillz out my mouth, trying to live normal, disco n apz’. You get smashed. You’re alive! I’ll have it in writing because I can’t really have it elsewhere rn, the same way I sleep but I can’t really sleep. Apps (f)or naps?
For all this tangent on (post)pandemic hedonism (let’s say post to mean, posting and not to signal some wholescale shift in era), it’s weird how history just hits you in the face at the end of Moshfegh’s novel. Falling debris, bits of glass. Words:
On September 11, I went out and bought a new TV/VCR at Best Buy so I could record the news coverage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. […] I watched the videotape over and over to soothe myself that day. And I continue to watch it, usually on a lonely afternoon, or any other time I doubt that life is worth living, or when I need courage, or when I am bored.
(Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation)
Earlier in the novel, she’s frustrated when someone replaces her VCR player with a DVD player, even though she doesn’t have any DVDs. She kind of hates the concept of the DVD. She likes the process of rewind. Video tapes, with their seriality, make you confront duration; whereas DVDs allow easy random access to specific scenes. The over and overness of Moshfegh’s careful, clean, lethargic prose is at once soothing and disturbing. When the pandemic first hit, I couldn’t stream anything because the thought of having all that content at my fingertips seemed appalling. Like accessing a trillion orderly dreams of someone else at the very moment I couldn’t even touch another person. Maybe video tapes would’ve been different. The residue of wave matter at the edge. The analogue sense of fossilised images, decaying in visible time.
In a poem called ‘Along the Strand’, Eileen Myles is like,
The times of the day, the ones with names, they are the stripes of sex unlike romance who dreamlike is a continuous walker
I love the rhythmanalysis of daily life here. VHS stripes in descending order of luminance: white, yellow, cyan, green, magenta, red, blue and black. How the speaker clings to named moments of the day as like khora: receptacles unseen for adhesive feelings. ‘Vigorous twilight’, ‘noon’ you slip into, ‘Morning’ as ‘something / I could stay with’. The times of day are lovers. If romance is continuous walking, there’s not a lot of romance in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. So after reading the novel I’m sorta stuck on wanting the romance of sleep again. Exhalations as stripes of sex. Like when you have a new partner and after a few weeks of breathless sleeplessness suddenly the first thing you realise is how well you’re sleeping, like being beside them all night just fixed your life. And so to be in love you know noon tastes different, and twilight has a lilac halo. And you’re sharing this shiny sticky static in the air like asterisks, so much more to say.
Sleep. After a long walk, I remember circling South Norwood Lake and humming Elliott Smith’s ‘Twilight’, because of the time. You asked me to sing it. I had a low voice, a high voice. I was just waking up; the air was all lavender, leaves in fall.