Some pages from a notebook kept while invigilating The Palace of Humming Trees (French Street Studios, 2021) during a thunderstorm in August.
July was such a busy month but one of its delights was working on the design for this book, With the Boys by fred spoliar. I’ve been so buzzed about upcoming SPAM releases (more to be announced soon) and what better way to kick off our 2021 roster than with this vivid purgatorial rush of a book. The cover design is a collage layering of illustrations, colour effects and old woodcuts (including those vomiting sun battle scenes which divide the book into sections and contribute to the faux ye olde vibe) which gesture to the book’s primal scene (imo): the confrontation with the boy laying down >insert meme here: “you winning son??”< as the OG basis for all the boys, are we for or against them, might we let them rest? As fred reminded me at a recent reading in Crystal Palace Park, “masculinity is no joke maria” and this book explores how the cascades of climate crisis, austerity, property relations, ‘fake news’, ongoing colonialism, racial capitalism, transphobia and pandemic are all bundled up in the ancient, ever-mutating violence of patriarchy. The demands the boys place on us and those placed on the boys, we understand them in a camaraderie of the here-and-now that is our future ancestral citation, cracking a cold one for the world that is burning ice and going online. With the Boys is a book of post-internet poetry, an adventure story, a lyric dalliance with historical epic in synchronic form. It’s a book that refuses linear models of transition, progress and accumulation, and ideas of history as a totality; a book that finds residues of love and care among masculinity’s ‘trashfire’ (in Al Anderson’s words). I want to think of it partly in the realm of Keats’ ‘negative capability’, the idea of lyric identification as doubt, the pluralism of the boys as a quivering flame or rippling plasma, capable of being more than what essentialist gender ideology would deem the boys. Your ‘brain on elegy’, your ‘stupid hurt’, your ‘buzzcut chorus’ and ‘apple products’ – humming, ubiquitous, they belong to all of us, in a way.
There is something about a (re)birth in this book; fred has called it ‘a purgation’. Something been set on fire or released, the way of touching abysses of sleepless thinking and facing up, fuck, to the impossibilities of work and not-work. To morph, mourn, join together, be commoning or calling out, be warm or hard or wet or sore, be there and gone. One thing that resounds is the refrain, the sonorous sense (something Verity Spott commented on at our recent launch, and something I love about Verity’s work also) of lyric in the book as a musical sprawl, fever, affirmation. For me, this is totally synaesthetic and electric, ‘a crucial magenta song’ and ‘like aleatory dance departing’ in the sacred gatherings of the rats — the animals that survived 2020 (their epic and terrible year) and will go on thriving beyond us. Like, we are not supposed to be here. Like, we crawl over the language that won’t want to hold us and we throw out this ask. Are we to be comrades? Sometimes you read fiery poetry that enflames and hisses (kisses) and makes you want to attend the protest, make the call, offer your body to the line (the book’s closing poem, ‘kludge time‘, was written in response to the recent Kenmure Street anti-raid action), and With the Boys summons this fire, but also sings in the muscly erotics of its cinders. These cinders which catch in the breath before and after the poem, which can’t be reduced to this or that reading; which burn with occasional satire, twinge and catch of meaning.
You want to say the boys are a folk knowledge, they are song, they are the startup code that ceaselessly reboots until lyric glitches in ‘fertile crevices’. They are a compost, the dregs of bad schooling, an institution of historical impotence, a gesture of care and play (‘I push you on the swings’), an orientation towards the vibe, a grammar of suspension ‘stopping by the interchange‘, a big fucking ‘nova‘ that hopes to find you well. Hi, hello, hi. *WAVE*. Everyone in some sense knows them. They are obviously so much more. I’m this hush-breath away from saying the boys are a hyperobject. You decide. The boys are shoegaze distortion all over capital’s weeping, the road less travelled, dazzling and pregnant and ‘wilding’. They will do your makeup and hum the ‘harmonic law to / love to leave to love’ — bright pink and chartreuse. You better have a go at them.
With the Boys is available for £8 from SPAM Press. You can get in touch with the editors for review copies or to stock in your bookstore at spamzine.editors[at]gmail.com.
Excited to announce a new installation I’ve been involved in as part of A+E Collective. From The NewBridge website:
This online installation explores the relationship between sustainability and dreaming, offering a space to collectively share our dreams and have discussions surrounding these broader topics. The Dream Turbine was conceived by A+E Collective in collaboration with Niomi Fairweather and Jessica Bennett, as part of the Overmorrow Festival.
A turbine (from the Latin ‘turbo’, meaning vortex) is a device that harnesses the kinetic energy of fluid, turning this into a rotational motion which can generate electricity or otherwise ‘work’. From windmills to waterwheels, turbomachines are a crucial part of our energy history. The Dream Turbine is a speculative, participatory turbomachine for stimulating, processing, converting and sharing sustainable and postcapitalist imaginaries.
From Earth Day to early summer 2021, A+E Collective will be taking to cyberspace and installing The Dream Turbine at The NewBridge Project. In solidarity with The NewBridge Project’s values of cooperation, adaptation, environmental and social justice, The Dream Turbine hopes to promote alternative, non-extractive ways of thinking, desiring, memorialising and living through various ongoing crises as individuals and collectives.More information here.
A+E Collective website.
PART ONE: FLOWER NEUROSIS
There is a place where these supermassive roses might be planted. A harsh place that exists at thin resolution, we have to resample; I am doing the maths to know how 100gb permits her entrance. The process slows because this behaviour is not natural. Her entrance with the roses bundled in giant’s arms, and the long tresses of foam and seven neat words she has tucked in a satchel of crocheted pea proteins. She is attuned to a certain instant where it works that she plants the roses. They are gnarly, monstrous, thirsty. The roses are not sober. And the girl? She stumbles on her third negroni, abstracted, poured by the silent one who inhabits the hedgerows. Vermouth of sun, gin of moon, aperitif of the bitterwort and marshes, garnished with wedges of orange from overseas. These seven neat words I will not tell you with her lips sealed blood sugar, femme confection, a certain rain, a squall.
The clarity is lost a little when we adjust figures. But the girl is still there, in the corner maybe, bundled from sight with impossible flowers. What do we know of a girl and her flowers? She could be a waitress, a bridesmaid, a funeral attendant — but no, this is extravagance to belie all such professions. The flowers won’t fit in the picture this is. It is not merely to carry. Some say they are hyperobjects, but if so, what of the girl? She is also beyond human proportion; she would live a thousand years. Sprinkle hundreds and thousands of leap years merely upon breakfast, and yet at nineteen does she not look a million? If you were to splay the fine skin between her thumb and forefinger, you would begin to see the star stuff which flows in human capillaries. But at such resolution!
Of her face since nineteen, the narrator of Marguerite Duras’ The Lover [L’Amant] (1984) writes: ‘But my face hasn’t collapsed, as some with fine features have done. It’s kept the same contours, but its substance has been laid waste. I have a face laid waste’. So when the girl lay down for another of her size; they were a cloud, it rained, the girl awoke with child. But she gave birth to nothing but roses. She was a fixture of the processing plant. Initially, sealed in mousseline baubles, they were not even roses but rosehips clustered among thorned vines. And you would imagine these vines entwined with her spine, climbing them as if the destiny was always her neck. She would speak at night, tapping the fine glass, warming them as eggs. Give everything away: the rose-meat of petals and their pale, inward jam, hatching saps, their crying.
A cloud always passes, it creases the sky. Cars go in and out at night.
The fruit of rose, especially a wild kind
when I write of a Mary Sue
or brush her teeth, when she is more tall
than willow and yet I have set her colours inverse
so in reaching for rosehips she must reach into shadow
and isn’t that all
in the working day of dreams is deferral
of Edenic cinema, she grows in wilderness
also known as the fortress of lossy compression
where trees are shaky with original pixels
and her clothes are torn as mine would be
crying forever by the sea
with my dairy allergy for twilight
‘The blues are because you’re getting fat
and maybe it’s been raining too long’
and if she is me then I am she
rehearsing definitions for litany
via prayer, supplication, complaint
am I a melt vector on cutting board
you call me aslant with the knife tucked close
to cupid’s bow of my lips
‘she was noted for her command of dialogue’
but no one said anything
lipsticks: sweet chestnut, amarena red
tender rose and orange delight
shaking the rosehips all night for Roman god
of erotic love is just rare labour
of the shepherds in pleasantview, saying sorry
or what colour your blouse is, mine is damask
you could press to make attar
so I know how I love
is mother puts glitter on a wreath
of ivy and dying hydrangeas
to hang on the door, entrance Mx
I give you generally acceptable apples
the shop called jazz, they are wrapped in plastic
we look up to see the planets ‘almost touching’
but they are something else entirely
easy, lucky or free. These green diamonds
don’t occur in the wild;
she makes them from slices of apple
glitch effect plumbob
oil of rose is condensation
a playable simulation
novelist in decline
as I lick the sea wall
cast this upwards
to where another hour is ravished
you start to read.
PART TWO: SACRED PORRIDGE
Perhaps this would be enough of the rose-girl if she would stop haunting me. I dreamed Bernadette Mayer wrote a novel overnight, it was midsummer, she was 27 and had a fountain pen the size of the Eiffel Tower. Tell me what she was smoking, was it Marlboro or lemongrass? Maybe cloves? I get mixed up, I’m darks and pastels, nobody likes me. Open a beer to share regardless / Crude oil streams from her words. I became suspicious the rose-girl was a fiction of Bernadette’s, that I was stuck in the internet fiction and whittled away. There was a poem called ‘Thorn’ about a penis. Brexit or no Brexit, I was anyway hoarding tins of beans in the hope they would get me somewhere – a similar purpose to breakfast. Recite to me from memory these stats about lactose, creatine, muscle enhancement. I lift my arms to reach you, I am hauled to the new wall painted mint to match the green iris tea of your eyes, it’s Greenwich Park / I am spent with apple pips and cauliflower hallways. I want to be hurled across continents sprightly / put acorn in pocket. I am not her but she is me, here, in a harsh place. You are the smoothest nut! What was the novel? I don’t know, I have this line: ‘the negative capability of raisins’. Don’t kill the squirrels! Sunday you make porridge with peanuts, sour cream, biscuit, honey, drops of chocolate, muscovado sugar, extra milk of oat – why not acorns? The rose-girl watches. Her breath is a draught.
She is so huge you would miss her. All December the faint scent of her pea satchel follows me so I know I couldn’t possibly have corona. Plunge my nose in vegetal folds. I would be the aura of plasma around her sun, that’s all and merely. Does it rot? The size of these roses, really, is impossible to measure. Expect several hundred metres or miles, stumbling in the world of error where we go to buy bread. Is it for months you have been a tile, a talking head? You are very delicate and I stroke your nice hair, which loosens through the screen to meet me waterfall. I climb to the top of the beanstalk we braided from eating well. We read Lee Harwood in the rain, As Your Eyes are Blue, and drink mulled wine. I guess I am riding horses to catch up with the size of these roses, blue ones also, fat and mellow. Jackie Wang calls this ‘outlaw jouissance’; a phrase I wrote in my notebook, quickly. The line gets whipped! I think about Cy Twombly. The horses are all kinds of colours, but mostly the pearlescence of inside seashells, or mollusc aurora’d in a way that seems Björk or genital. I suppose the rose-girl arranges them nightly as saints do, genial; I suppose it is like Sylvanian families. Sometimes from copses of rowans, the tops of the miniature or minotaur trees, red-berried painted I read her Sylvia Plath. My poison voice must catch the wind exact, ‘The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea / And comes from a country far away as health’, as health shall be a human dimension, unrhymed, the rose-girl considers. She is the only one of us who has seen a corpse flower, in a third-floor apartment where somebody important had smuggled the seeds from Chicago, where was she. The corpse flower is not a singular flower but a cluster of blooms, and so is she. It all stinks, I say, so I don’t have corona. If you touch the flanks of these horses so smooth your hands will vanish in gossamer, they become other materials, still smell like hay. This viscosity to friction feels good, it’s lush with endorphins — why don’t you try it. The water is warmly you and me, like the sea; it comes from the eyes of the rose-girl, crying.
There’s still time to shop, you collect from store
towards a possible come on let’s go of the literal
it stings, who you would be in the dream
not the enemy’s eye
or the unripe banana
I stayed in bed til mid-afternoon
writing feel-thesis, correcting citations of Clarice Lispector
it’s Christmas, you know
I don’t have corona
on the phone to Avanti the songs are played in such intervals
of 45 seconds as to make you hate
the very nature of a chord progression
is desire’s deferral and will you secure a seat for us
at motion sickness
what is necessity feels like
Velocity is I am washing my hair
with tar shampoo and cider vinegar.
Come close, wish soon,
Should I call someone?
It might be you,
explaining multiplication to me, you carry the one
and the two, and then I never do
read my old diaries
smelling of blood and sleep deprivation
acrid bulimia, spray of A7
garlic mussels, scarlet muscles
my brother says he will donate his plasma
for medical causes, have I fear of needles?
Lady bird shell collect
bathroom dust, antibodies, I am clean
and typeset like the stars. You open my coat
because of this Reynauds, too cold
to unbutton. My anhedonia
is cyclical, I stick little poems to the wall
they go like
once upon a midnight weary
came the lovers on a ferry
they were drunk and very old
but never had they had a cold
over the hills and overseas
they could be you or even me
It’s like the Friday of 2019
I read Hannah Weiner’s clairvoyant journals
from low-res pdf festive darkness
crying in trashland
and couldn’t stop tasting purple for a week
of otherwise phantosmia, what I smelled was
the crushed illustrious rose of infinity
pinned to my bittersweet nasal cavity
as I am to watch corpse flower time-lapse
resemble green diamond, they erect an umbrella
and a rare titan arum bloom
typing at the library am I
bike spoke, a concept strike
for closing the erstwhile windows?
Click to know mood…
We keep going
We leap in a pool of pure negroni
and my lungs keep coming up blossom of orange
and call you
welcome back to the room, you can open your eyes now”
Like probably I have told you before
about the band I am starting, a synth-punk
deathcore revivalist outfit called Yoga with Adriene
I have her permission, she says
May all beings be happy
Move from a place of connect
Present and awake
Love your neighbour
Things get better, they have to
It’s a revolution of the muscular laxation
of the life you find cored
If you have apple belly
thick-skinned of futurity, there will be a chorus and verse for this
that goes like scream
Motive, Trust, Floor,
High, Kindle, Salve,
Soften, Strength &
My thighs are burning brightly, it’s the end
friend of my Norwich or Brighton, Manchester, Glasgow
and some kind of New York resemblance
is ‘cracking America’ at the top of your list
I have never been to the south coast
of an average celestial body
yet watering your houseplants
I won’t go viral in the night with pills and tweets
There’s no cheating in yoga, you make it your own
as I do cartwheels on a leap day of acid comedown
they say I do it too fast
the flight gets in and distant cat miaows
as I do kiss you
a lot they say
catharsis is found in the blues
and green laps up the rest is stretching
if you can only find it
like the sweet spot asana with arm across chest
I am become rowan tree, flexing queen of the prom
you pluck fruit pastilles
from inside me the sea,
first try is easy.
PART THREE: TENDER ALPHABET
A. will write in the time of commute
B. prefers spearmint toothpaste
C. is inside of me
D. the size of Paris cumulus
E. is all you can eat, ecstasy
F. who I love
G. has grown
H. the hendecasyllabic I fail to write
I. doesn’t rightly exist
J. sends endless emails
K. is a joke
L. for loosening jewellery
M. with dark sweet cherries and doubles
N. conspicuous passionate weekend
O. checks the notification
P. of classical pleasure
Q. minds the gap
R. is a rising rat-souled singer
S. supposes the cognitive deficit
T. exists in lyric saloon
U. then driving me up the highway
V. to frangible lust I am
W. of shimmer lamb
X. into cowbell rhythms we go
Y. yellow warning of wind has been issued
Z. is a property of citrus
PART FOUR: FLOWER SHOW
In The Besieged City (1948) by Clarice Lispector, ‘the flower was showing off […] it too was untouchable, the indirect world’, ‘exhausted’, ‘What is the flower made of if not of flower itself’.
OPEN LOOP (
BOUQUET ( )
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ) )
The flower exclaimed a soft orchestral impression of breathing. Adults no longer snack in movies. Spent five hours on a train, six on Zoom, three in the outside air is nice. A time-lapse corpse flower, the music being used, pace of light. Heat syncope of the sea, we dive. Someone is hired to recover her pearls or pears. My skin is peeling from sanity gels.
A fault language of shiningly happy teenagers. Rosettes for the nuclear pony. It’s all total showers today. Condensery of lemonade gemstone, sertraline, the lapwing massacre in a Sufjan track / so I am endlessly sorry.
PART FIVE: NATAL SMUDGE
When everything started to wilt, the moon was too late. Untouchable stem of a name, yet the rose-girl knew what to do. She swallowed the world like a gobstopper, a lightbulb, a tulip. The arrogance of sundown was only that it knew how to try.
Turning over, see the supermassive rose in her belly.
Superstitious gemstones include violets and opals, sleepflower, nightshade; don’t @ me if you think they are cruel or kind. Marlene drops cranberries from the wall and you piss twice as hard in Scarborough Fair, are you sad, buy me blue cheese, there is vigilance in the dead. Rosemary for memory, thyme for a life you led, who sells it. Marlene says she misses Alisha, that’s not-me. Pray you arrive here safely, smudge of tarragon, mushroom photography, lines of flight.
We, after Sophie, after Frank, say Ask for everything!
Regarding conjunction, something about publishing, spirituality, knowledge and authority figures. There will be tension with Aquarius principle. A slip of paper. I was born at 06:20, in a thunderstorm.
[Oh yes! x]
The rose-girl had an overture: she tore wedding pearls from her branch-sized clavicle, let them scatter from the tub where she lay and the tub was a cloud, the pearls were snow. At the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, she was a divorce child with her hair in two plaits we would climb up to kiss at the nape of her neck, that’s it, I play all my aces so we won’t die. These cards are beautiful, we turn them away. There will be no dying, not here or now. I thresh the rest of my skyluck, lager, my skylark. I’m lucky the mirror is showing up nowhere. Sometimes it is Freud’s voice, or an oil pastel. The foam from her brushed-down hair. Of the past you have given me everywhere, Andromeda, minipops, electronic renaissance. In writing the poem I am playing the cello, I am playing the cello of poem to death, why not?
It’s up to you
It’s down to you
Don’t be so mournful…
PART SIX: SCENTED AND GENEROUS
I had a dream about the diary with the days mixed up. Each day had its own fragrance:
Cognac, cannabis, dill pickle, mown grass,
libido enhancer, sweet vanilla, jasmine,
ylang ylang, who shares all, heart notes
of shrub, blackcurrant, oak moss, popcorn,
peppermint candy, lavender, ginger
castoreum, chypre, neroli,
understory, wooded and tonka,
ambery, orris, top note,
emily brontë rose, cinnamon,
hot shit, gold dust, brine of ocean,
roast aubergine cologne
near airstrip pheromone,
oil pipe explosion, special cinders,
vetiver, slots into psyche, balsam,
absinthe, cassie, frangipani, saffron,
strawflower aka immortelle,
black liquorice, lactones, myrrh,
sassafras, fruit loops, chocolate ice,
pamplemousse or french for grapefruit
martini and rockrose, peony,
tobacco, peppercorn, petitgrain,
scottish myrtle and soft fir,
nutmeg, new car, coffee brew,
pine needles, indole, musk of course.
Pitseleh means little one. Elliott Smith sings, ‘no one deserves it’.
I’m turning a petal to see you better / that I am someone’s difference.
If we were to wed in the childhood memory where you circle the prairie with diet cola and you always know what to do, I see the cherryade reds in you, sanguineous of first degree and alacrity pitching your letter. The post office is closed. I eat more peanut butter than Elvis and nobody stops me, I get it from Aldi. The day feels closure and we edge towards lockdown, I’m texting, Starbucks is open on Christmas Day, will you bring me something? Again, like the time we ordered starlit capitalist fuck lattes and dusted methamphetamine before shift; we were exquisite, fruit toast, the nourishing glitter in our hair was ace; we served 200 covers, sixty quid in tips, and you were scarlet in the uniform poem called A Scarlet Letter. Not the one or the many, just any. I knew this already. We had written them all! You have to have dashes of green to make red, tell Hilary, which is why I am writing to you from my rowan tree, fred asks is this a rowan bush, I say a rosehip, I don’t know what to do; the inchplant is coming up fast, it will ingest the television, I look forward to it. Brockley Station, Nina Simone, stomach cramps, star flood. Must learn how to climb / the branches brightly.
Write to me of conspicuous passions, such as aging, or the fairy fountain with permissible agelessness. Crystal arpeggio. The various glacés of Rome, ornamental corpse flowers, pistachio and your deep, carnal desire to dance. I brush all the sea-foam from the rose-girl’s hair and she would collapse in panic. What the heck is in this carpet. Can you send me again the dimensions, dots per inch in terms of the plant, or planet? There is much to do. I am sewn a yellow word and kissing you cherries to lemonade, black to blues. Needing earth for it, rich stuff, thoughts on allotments. Omnidawn is the word, when the camera pans out and one million people have streamed this song, the credits come up. O blush, Love’s refrain in summer! 500,000 ampersands, can you imagine it? My new grand dreams of porny conjunction…
You taught me how to shoplift the various accessories of girlhood; I’ve given it up. See how my brows disapprove!
December is cruel, the dark green foliage of tinsel and shrubbery, poinsettias, it’s kitsch. I learn a blue-grey song on guitar but it sucks. Mum makes paella for xmas eve etc. Pantone named yellow-grey the colours of 2021, Katy is raging as I might too; I had a poem about this from before f-sharp, it was all about cycling, snapped ankles, absolute melt. Get to you. The way you arc your arms just so is centrepiece: everything will be the same as the sum of it was, serving us dinner. Cryptocurrency, wrong-name, Tony Blair of bad air was trending, you do it last-minute, pronounce it soft, you wear a blue velour lace thing, fka misty. These are the suburbs where doors were slammed, and these were offered cookies. Fuck a lawn. But you dip your feet in scant oasis, you break off a piece of the dark chocolate donut. I have dreamed of this. Stillnesses are not without purchase. Another spam mail arrives, dear pal—
I am going out to buy us blowsy hours, belong and casual distortion. Black forest gateau and log of the roasted poem, emitting steamiest lines, pleasure days, no breaks just ganache is that thick language. We lay together, birthday of shadow work, wrote sunlessness. I draw dark green liner on their eyes like vines. Wish holidays longer. We enter the alone wood with natural lights they are strung they are simple, leafage pressed between them. 1800 dpi, virus gone, unmute the sea. You are warmly invited.
Mermaid Chunky – Gemini Girls
‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry
God Help the Girl – Down and Dusky Blonde
Sunflower Bean – Moment in the Sun
Phoebe Bridgers – Graceland Too
M83 – Karl
Tomberlin – Hours (Katie Dey remix)
Gia Margaret – apathy
Felicia Atkinson, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – And The Flower Have Time For Me
Massive Attack – Black Milk
Björk – It’s Not Up To You
Cocteau Twins – Orange Appled
Yaeji – When in Summer, I Forget About the Winter
Laurel Halo – Blue Notion
Sun Glitters – Somewhere, Nowhere
Robin Guthrie, Harold Budd – Beau, As In Beaumont
Lana Del Rey – Summertime The Gershwin Version
Joan Baez – The Rose
Karen Dalton – Ribbon Bow
Lucinda Williams – Met An Old Friend
Pinegrove – Morningtime (Amperland, NY)
Elliott Smith – Pitseleh
Vashti Bunyan – Here Before
Zoee – Used
Julianna Barwick – Inspirit
Pelican Tusk – Not What You Meant
Neutral Milk Hotel – Where You’ll Find Me Now
Cloth – Old Bear
Lawn – Rats
Mush – Revising My Fee
Big Thief – Not
Joanna Sternberg – Don’t You Ever
Belle & Sebastian – I Don’t Love Anyone
Bloc Party – Waiting for the 7.18
serpentwithfeet – mourning song
Magic Island, Zoee – Agony (Yung Lean cover)
Anna Burch – Can’t Sleep
Kelora – Ultramarine
‘Hear me, hear my silence. What I say is never what I say but instead something else. When I say “abundant waters” I’m speaking of the force of body in the waters of the world. It captures that other thing that I’m really saying because I myself cannot.’
— Clarice Lispector, Água Viva
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
— Adrienne Rich, ‘Diving into the Wreck’
On becoming a body,
the little abundant shines and its pores are clotted with dust.
I saw what sound it was a wave makes
when startled by gestures towards this torsion
a long beach, the false irrigation of beautiful islands.
The melody was a long intimation of losing faith
in what is meant by a certain colour, not
this blue which runs in the prussian rain.
I want to run up the spine of your back
and settle the amygdala city, tie
my lyrical wrists in mobius fibres
and return the rights to speech.
Do you want to continue?
He was born and beautiful,
he might have seizures. We interfere in definition.
The depression of time is a beautiful curve
in the small of morning, named
after the call you wanted.
Blue dust of feeling.
Blue dust of biblical name.
I worry for his tiny heart.
in the radical millions
when I say this bird
is a nameless bird, plotting
and pecking the wreck
I go down
in such hunger
I go down
The world is stuck.
I sing to you
in the echo, in the rich
and greatest loss.
Who hurt us?
I had a dream we were swimming
in the San Pedro Bay, just like the video
it was almost sunny. There will come a time
when my car won’t start
if I ever have a car
in a lightless world
the structure of passion is a ritzy hotel.
Your hour is a fucking astronaut.
Imagine Disney injected
Imagine a fire in the minibar
at the back of your mind.
As the relation to your wreck
I call it ship, I still want
the elsewhere conduit of thoughts
to sign my brain as treeware
in the black black gold
my oleochemical, fear of soap
and gaussian world is a kitten.
She burns it all up.
On becoming this back-lit
history of pixels, we pour into jars
the last of sea-glass, liquid shingles, I cut the bird
into salad I cut this sort of pristine hope
to feed the kitten.
I thought the picket
was shining in rain, a sound.
Something is drawing us out.
I make a romance from your shoes
and the kissable way of these days
is a no-show, mewing, the marketing
of genital shame, the apocalypse breakfast
tastes of salt. Come back into my life,
I always found you
with a breath laced in pesticide,
a currency of morphine
back like a thrush, I want to wreck
the multitude of this song
with its hyperthermia, its oil-made
hide of feathers.
You want me to be less literal,
littoral I like your wildlife.
what we see
What can soak
up the dark this good.
I like your messages.
I like to react with my abstract halo.
The rediagnosis read depression, to kill
not clean the long and beautiful rain.
Prising the daylight from its packet
I want April, a lot
of lilac song.
I go down to the nervous water,
deep in mammalian blood
I am, I am
not breath, not bird
my body is a poke of air
in the book. And it lets in
the crudest wind, reminder of gold
in the room where we woke up last October
in my father’s house
in the valley
where frost never leaves the cornicing forests
or sets its voice to speak
for the sodas and junipers.
If we could just avalanche into orange
like the song, Mount Eerie would be a genuine place
to kill or not kill the birds we oiled
in the prussian rain, they gleam
doesn’t in the colourless streets.
We share a little nest
of noctilucent materials.
I was jobless
as the natural light, listening
to your comedown opening chord
which is to say, I think we should stop
seeing, I think we should stop
seeing at all. I roll around
in the oil of this
to sob uncontrollable
to stop trying to see you
if a former love should fall
very cool, like a two-minute Uber
costs less than lunch.
could break me
the ultimate mosh is us.
I have said that he could and he could
I have said that too much.
To float like capital
back to your panic
I smooth my sleepless residuals.
Ducked it, ducked it
you come back, holding a blink
that time is a gleam, we had a guest speaker
passing out in notional
structures of passion.
I wrote everything down.
It is a wreck to think in the beautiful rain.
It is all that dissolves
I hope to meet in code someday
again, to set this
in parenthesis, very lightly
choosing to run
the artificial palms
horizontal across your eventide.
This was all ours in the poem.
Prospering, we’d know
so much more than mineral
in the flotsam
way, a lot of coffee
fills our faultlines
and the tar sands sing, and the quicksands
go astray, what of the waters
don’t touch what we were
to sing something
hurting, to rainbow
the quoted weight of your heart
is only debris
I go so long in the rain
to break her
I go so long in the run
as to make a beach
in loops of oil
to empty my purse
of mermaids, to feel like
the only decorated islands
in the United States of America.
This poem was written following a talk I gave on Energy (W)rites: Telling the Embodied Stories of Energy, as part of The Curatorial Fellowship: With the North Sea series at Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen. It responds specifically to Lana Del Rey’s ‘The Greatest’, where the mournful twangs of a classic rock ballad play out over sunset scenes of Long Beach in the San Pedro Bay, whose four decorative ‘Astronaut Islands’ were built in the sixties to camouflage offshore oil derricks and muffle their sound pollution. Classic rock is a genre and industry founded on oil: vinyl is a type of plastic made from ethylene (found in crude oil) combined with chlorine (found in salt). PVC, the resultant material, is a highly toxic form of plastic, for both our health and the environment. Perhaps it’s only ‘natural’ that Lana would style a kind of vinyl-nostalgia to sing of various kinds of tainted existence. If her earlier work was dubbed ‘Hollywood sadcore’, we might note this recent aesthetic shift as something more like ‘anthropocene sadcore’: where the cinematic eulogising of wasted youth, ‘the greatest’ American Dream, is played out against the false beauty of late twentieth-century petroscapes. But alongside oil there is also water, and the brilliance of light, tone and pigment. There is haze and trace and repeat. Lush tints within variant opacity. A khoratic space where the colours soften or harshen into each other and something of form is held between, with varying paleness or intensity. It could be Billie Eilish singing of ‘burning cities / And napalm skies’ in the apocalypse unconscious of her song ‘Ocean Eyes’; it could be a flare of orange burning into Grimes’ ‘permanent blue’, its elegia for opioid bliss and extinction. The weird pleasure vistas of a scene we can’t quite name. An improvised blur or break. What the water speaks as a force of shimmer. The accompanying visual works are by multimedia artist and sculptor Jack O’Flynn.
There is this Anne Carson poem, ‘God’s Work’, which ends with the line ‘Put away your sadness, it is a mantle of work’. By chance, I was reminded of the poem via some post on Instagram that came up an hour ago. I want to think about this ‘it’, like how it is the sadness and also the work, and the pronoun of living, the abstract embodied. ‘Mantle’ is something that covers, envelops or conceals, it is a portion of the Earth, a sleeveless cloak or cape. Is it also the bevelled edge of a door? One can be mantled with a blush, the mark of a covering shame. Is it a mantle of work to hide your sadness, or does the ‘it is’ refer to some other thing whose outcome is that we must put away our sadness? We must close a passage of time behind us? Notice I am switching to a plural pronoun, because I have entered the poem, sharing the position of both addressee and speaker. I am the the person with this feeling; I am the person addressing this feeling. To speak at all, I am doing the mantle of work. There have been these tectonic shifts in my life of late, the underlying move or loss that is a portion of everything. ‘Put away your sadness’ asks you to imagine a physical form for the affect, a classic poetic move: my sadness is a bird, my sadness is a stone, my sadness is a rose, a scrunchie, a sea. These are things you can put away, tie back; or you can hide with a cloud, or you can dive in. Typing in ‘my sadness is a’, Google suggests:
a father introduced
a joyful dance
It seems these things are all correct, at the present moment. For instance, I drink from this mug and I think about Prague, and how it looked in the rain of a flickering image. That is a souvenir, but it is somebody else’s rain. The internet offers ‘Healthy ways to deal with sadness’, ‘Why am I sad all the time?’ and the old adage, ‘It’s okay to feel sad’. I have been reading Heather Christle’s The Crying Book (2019) and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). Didion insists, ‘The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room’ where one could ‘touch a key and collapse the sequence of time’. In one of my favourite Laura Marling songs, ‘The Captain and the Hourglass’, she sings ‘Behind every tree is a cutting machine and a kite fallen from grace / Inside every man is a heart of sand you can see it in his face’. I love the pessimistic, teenage fatalism of this album, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008), its jump cuts of warning and love and familiar pain. Is the man the whole of humankind, or men in general? What if instead of words we had the bark of a tree, its abrasive shavings; a shaven novel or heart of sand in which to bear our suffering? Dissolve is imminent. There would be the rings of your life, the brief achievements of flight, but then the fallen linen, the tired old string, the particles blown. Didion wants it all at once: a simultaneous display of the frames, the scenes of a life. You would then choose what to cut, reassemble or stow away. What doesn’t matter to be dispersed. In the cutting room, a mantle of work is required. And what of the work that is to write who you are, when what that seems is only pencil shavings, sawdust and woodsmoke?
I have not walked in the woods for so long, and the last time it was with you. But let that not be the last. I was cloaked in so many layers; I could not get rid of the cold. It was a damp and green, needling feeling. It was not so much inside as around me.
Heather Christle puts it really well, this question of the cutting room and the cry:
Maybe we cannot know about the real reason we are crying. Maybe we do not cry about, but rather near or around. Maybe all our explanations are stories constructed after the fact. Not just stories. I won’t say just.
It is a relief to write while crying. There is something comforting about the simultaneous flow, as though letting two substances at once run through you: one being language, the other chemical; each in a woven relation. Crying, then, is the anarrangement (ana being Greek for ‘up, in place or time, back, again, anew — OED), of a state of things that are happening in life, in the body, in the social, in various temporalities. There is the before and after of a break; there is the running on, running behind, the sense of feeling this from ‘above’ or ‘below’. Like when for ages I didn’t properly eat the world was a glassy thing I was seeing from underwater, poking the ripples, falling backwards. To cry is to indulge in both prolepsis and analepsis, to slip and collapse, to blur and feel into. A friend says, you have to work through and not around it. I try not to cry about, but recognise the ambience of sadness. I won’t know until later what is really happening, what narrative this can all be placed in, or slip from.
Somebody nearby is playing a flute really badly.
The chime of a text message. It’s okay to feel sad.
In the office, friends and I exchange tales of election night. One of us is trying to fix a puzzle, the other drinks for sorrow; there is a mutual sensation of violence which can only ‘end’ in blackout, keying a car, throwing a punch, posting a rant or falling through sleep’s amnesia. For a while, I could only listen to songs that came out before this happened, and before the Tories were a bad new government, which felt forever ago.
What if daylight itself became elective, and that was the bold democracy of what it was to enter a day. Do you choose the light, or does it summon you? I just make playlists.
The moon has been flagrant of late, or was it right before. I remember seeing rainbows around the moon for days at a time. I remember that seeming too much, like I’d overdosed on the dust of this planet, like there were molecules of colour in my nose I could not sneeze or shake out. Like there was a terrible high about to happen.
I have not seen the moon at all this week.
I write this raining.
A thought of the before and after which remains unfixed and semi-colonic. It is to say and not say of what was said.
There is a special release in crying by bodies of water. I believe in a clairvoyant sadness, one that predicts some upset to come. It is the body’s sincerity of knowing. So you cry by the sea, or lately, a river. All that I have. Cry your eyes out by the Clyde. When you arrived, I was reading about the horror of purple, that ‘which hurts both sides’, ‘the horror’ (Hannah Weiner, The Fast). I wear it around my sleepless eyes. It is a bruise colour, the muscular failure to move through the day; it is a pile of clothes, a burgeoning energy of the horror. So I turn to blue, which is a star, or a gas flame because someone is cooking.
That line in Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’, from Blue, a lifesaver every Christmas, which goes, ‘Just before our love got lost you said / I am as constant as a northern star’. And it’s that ‘I am’ that I like, the moving throughness of it, the insistence that this is and not was. Because there is something of forever which is getting lost, or a wound that is hidden and cannot be healed. That is forever opening up. For we were so close, a year ago. And of course Joni flips, deliciously, to the mundane. She asks ‘Constantly in the darkness / Where’s that at / If you want me I’ll be in the bar’. As though to look down in your soupy negroni, you would find that hot abyss from which love is turned, over and over. And maybe you’d shed a few tears in it. And you’d struggle to say the location.
I remember dressing as a wise man for a play at school, wearing a homemade crown and parading slowly towards a manger. Somebody was acting the part of the star, and we followed them.
Somehow in a notebook I wrote, ‘I am going to be fine. I am going to shine at it’. To be shiny in this being fine, I wrote that in a café and I remember my hands were trembling, my earrings were not real gold.
There is this dream from last night where I wear a blindfold made of a banana leaf, and you are helping me cross this road, this road that is river.
In Goodbye, First Love, there is a hat that floats away in the river where Camille is swimming. This happens at the end. It is either too late or too soon, and she is crushed. This is the wiki summary. From the film I remember the widening shot of the river that flows on but closes, and the sunlight, and crying as I watched this at six in the morning, after reading about it on somebody’s blog, the link now lost. It was almost spring and I had not cried since winter. Back when I would add things to my weekly list like, ‘more on lattices’, ‘a setlist’, ‘a more explicit weave’, ‘reply’ and ‘pack’.
Writing this now, am I attempting to ‘put’ this ‘away’?
When he tried to be practical, mentioned ‘In the long run…’ I could only think of that song by The Staves. It was a churlish note, curled at the edge and not mine or yours. That night, there was a cat called Olive, a taxi to Greenbank, sleeping in a friend’s sister’s bed, waking up face to face with Sophie Collins’ small white monkeys again. In the notebook I had written in a slurred hand, ‘I wish I would cry now but I feel afloat’. It was the elated tiredness, the denial. I had a freezing shower to cool my shame.
Climate breakdown is also a breakdown of the heart. We have to admit that. Something is always stinging, ‘I’ve been thinking’, a mug of hot water. I could not sleep, I was reading Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva in fits and starts, which is perhaps how it demands to be read:
I swallow a mouthful of blood that fills me entirely. I hear cymbals and trumpets and tambourines that fill the air with noise and uproar drowning out the silence of the disc of the sun and its marvel. I want a cloak woven from threads of solar gold. The sun is the magical tension of the silence.
A spoon of blood, not sugar, not jam. It is the hot lump in your throat when you cry and the blood that is anyway. About to. Remember I bled for thirteen days, or was it more. It was because of hot liquid, a rush, a pill. How you nourish yourself or not. A friend says, when I cry on buses and trains I listen to specific kinds of music and pretend I’m in a movie. Is it detachment we want from that? Would there be cymbals and trumpets and tambourines in this movie? I want you to put me in it, the noise. I want to stand at the front of the gig, be buffeted. I want to be bashed around like a note that won’t break from the instrument. I want to find a post-it note stuck to my back, but what should it say? Over time, I garner respect for the sun. It is not that my nocturnal years are ‘over’, but I am wondering what it would mean to truly love and rejoice in the sun. The giver of life, not Byronic darkness. To lie in a colourless sea. What would this clarity that Clarice writes of look like, the woven cloak of ‘solar gold’, its ripples? Is it the mantle one could wear to cloak a sadness? But what if the sadness was the clarity itself? I say, I think you are brilliant. It is a mantra. It is a giving away. When the van swerved and nearly hit me, I felt the sunlight so incredibly brightly. The east coast, the sense that this was someone else’s morning. The silence remains still, and I look for it in that ‘magical tension’ of the said and unsaid, and I am doing what Didion does with her grief, the magical thinking that is arranging all these scenes at once for something to emerge as possible. That is trying to sort a timeline or feeling yourself ‘invisible’, between things, the living and dead, an incomprehensible love.
In Ariana Reines’ recent collection, A Sand Book (2019), the pages of the final section, ‘MOSAIC’, are black. She introduces the scene that prompted this section with italics,
The sun’s warmth kept filling me, and what had begun as a slightly above-average warmth kept growing. It was starting to fill my body, and just before I totally surrendered to it, I had the inkling this might be something like the “bliss” I had heard about in old books. I had to sit down.
What is relayed as a religious experience, a spiritual experience, is then a series of transmissions (‘MOSAIC’ is in reference to Moses). But it is also fundamentally a solar experience. I think of Laura Marling’s heart of sand, something grazed by a coming warmth, the lap of a sunlight like the sea. A hot liquid thing that is coming inside me, causing the bleed, the bliss, the generous massage of some hormone. It is embarrassing writing, it demands a hot bright mantle. To feel it, feel through it, you have to sit down. You might go to the bar, as Joni does. In fact, I write this lying in bed, as is often the way. There is nothing to set out for or plan, so much as the needling of this ‘inkling’.
I go to see Little Women, and focus on Jo’s ink-stained fingers.
I have not been ‘on holiday’ for so long but if I did I would make a solar panel of my opening chest and lay where the river and the light would take me. I think the black space on Ariana Reine’s pages is just as important as the whitely capitalised text, ‘EARTH IS SPECIAL […] THERE IS NO “BACK” TO GET TO’. We can’t get back to any bliss other than what is felt in the present. And there has to be so much energy. Put down your phone.
Dorothea Lasky says she tells her students ‘not to have a plan, but to collect things and poems and then put them together’, there is this ‘holy idea’ of ‘emergence’. I write mostly by assembling quotes I like, streaming things down (for to ‘jot’ implies a decisiveness, an almost violence) whenever they do or don’t make sense. Text myself so the thought is received as though in reply. I have all these poems from the month I don’t yet know how to assemble. They are as much of the rain as the rain. Someone comments on a fresh sense of ‘scarcity’.
‘I wish I had a river so long’. And there is no snow here. The lines feel hard and overly sweet.
Candy canes hang upon the tree.
On Christmas Day, we walk by the canal and stop by the locks. The trees seem anorexic, as in a Plath poem; as though they had chosen to strip this pure and gleam on the water. They too will see from below, but they know a different renewal.
I can’t say a certain five letter word.
I want to know what the seven words are in the Weyes Blood song.
‘I wish I could swim in an ocean / As cold as’ a line I can’t finish, listening to Grace Cummings as though it were autumn all over again. But people on the internet are still going wild swimming. The world is not everywhere cold. The caption reads, literally all I want for xmas.
Two photos on different accounts of a landscape blurred by the motional train.
It’s funny, I even wrote, ‘it’s like The Topeka School and the failure of language’.
To sob into the warm, soft fur of a cat.
The want of a cigarette.
Astonishing winter light.
I couldn’t finish the wine.
In The Fast, Hannah Weiner writes, ‘I didn’t know any golden light people, but I knew a couple of blues. I knew I had to be rescued (I thought of it that way) by a blue, or someone near it’. One of my closest friends and I both Instagram a snapshot of ‘River’ on Spotify at separate points across the festive period. It is this secret, not-so-secret gesture of the living-on, the warmth and possible. I think she is one of the golden light people, in loops, and I wonder what I am, if one of the blues. Who else is a blue? But I have always loved green eyes. And the Earth, which is a globe of something like green and blue, (de)pendant on/of the universe. Whose. And I have seen the garden in four seasons now, but just barely. The scene is still swinging and won’t stop to focus.
What Reines writes of how there is no ‘back’ of the Earth to get to. I think of the back of a tapestry: a ragged collation of stems, snipped-off threads, criss-crossing lines. A simultaneity, a mess, a work in progress. When I am trying to write about the anthropocene, about what is happening, about the earth, is it this ‘back’ I am trying to write. It is not to get back to, but a back that is happening, the other side. I have been trying and failing to learn crochet; I think those who succeed are beautiful and perfect, I won’t turn over their lovely creations. In her song ‘Other Side’, Grace Cummings sings ‘The fall of a raindrop / Returns blue to the daylight / Your mind must return / To behind your eyes’. One drop of blue can restore the day. I think of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, living on Montague Street, in one or more stories. The worried thread. It is like putting on makeup to stop yourself crying, but doing it anyway, later in rivers of mascara and other clichés. When you are watching a movie and the crying is about to happen and you feel it as a sparkle, because it is not about the movie for which you are crying, but something around or near the happening, the space of it, being there in the other imaginary. And then what is going on ‘behind your eyes’. Crying happens in a space. It is all the prettiness we do while we can, which is a mutual hurt, a hot slide of a tear that catches your neck and means something small and inexplicable.
The Bright Eyes song ‘Train Under Water’ begins, ‘You were born inside of a raindrop / I watched you falling to your death / And the sun, well she could not save you / She’d fallen down too, now the streets are wet’. I used to think that song was about miscarriage, now I know it could be about any kind of love and loss. Remember when Jeremy Corbyn said something offhand about getting the train to Orkney? I dream about the sub-thalassic train sometimes, northerly moving, passing by jellyfish and flashes of shapeless light. Where are you going, where have you been. The milky unborn thing that we bear yet. Feeling sick from relative motion. It is the glassy way we watch from behind falling water, all of our lives. What touch do we really share of each other?
The air is a key change.
At the reading, Gloria says something like, we have all been thinking of writing as a practice of moving through the days, a practice of living, of marking time. Here are the days I give you in words. In Utopia, her little red book, Bernadette Mayer writes, ‘Everything you or I or anybody says always seems 100% wrong sometimes, unless you keep forcing it to be closer to the truth’. There is a truth quality, say, to the way plants photosynthesise or a starling assembles her nest. The percentage quality in which I can or cannot get out of bed, and whether you are ‘Active Now’ or in fact just barely online. Again, it is a question of green.
Marianne Morris has this beautiful poem, the last in her collection Word / World (2018), that a friend and I once read aloud together on a patio in summer at the XR climate café, the first I’d attended. Everything seemed shimmer then. The poem, ‘Lion’s Gate’, is a prose poem of some intensity. It is about what it means to love and to hate, and what is worth keeping. I really want to quote the whole thing but I can’t, so I’ll make do:
We do not want to go back with more questions pertaining to life on this Earth. We must learn them before we leave, loving every possible second upon this beautiful Earth, because we will not come back. We will move on elsewhere. It is like a heart breaking feeling suddenly, I see it all so clearly and I want this moment to stay. This feeling of certainty that the only thing that matters in this life is that you enjoy your time here and keep thirsting and seeking and do not resist the lessons, rush towards them and learn them all, so that you can die to yourself, die into light.
Green Day – 2000 Light Years Away
Caribou – You and I
Market – Told
Angel Olsen – Lark
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams
Pinegrove – Skylight
Rob St. John – Your Phantom Limb
Laura Marling – Tap At My Window
Karen Dalton – God Bless the Child
Joni Mitchell – River
Grace Cumming – Other Side
wished bone – Pink Room
Nirvana – Something In The Way
Wilco – An Empty Corner
Belle and Sebastian – We Rule the School
Vashti Bunyan – Winter is Blue
Connie Converse – I Have Considered the Lilies
Bright Eyes – Train Under Water
Big Thief – Dandelion
The National – Guilty Party
Organ Tapes – Simple Halo
Björk – Sun In My Mouth
Eartheater, LEYA – Angel Path
Mitski – Last Words of a Shooting Star
The hall is full of noises, sounds of torrid airs and sigh. It is a steel hall, non-place, serving lusciousness in plastic cups. The animals sing on a loop. The choir just lifts. ‘The science is clear’ (Greta Thunberg). I stayed up waiting until the cries came, curled on my little sofa. It isn’t years that slip when she starts, when the young ones start, when the colour is like a radical hydro seminar. What do you have to contribute, I give you my silks just once, clutching a ticket. Can’t stop worrying the skin of my cuticles into a bleed, scrape the hard bit sore against my thumb. She just swirls. Something has shifted between us since. She moves she. Moveable she. I can’t start up.
Two of us drift in dresses, crushed of scarlet velvet.
It has been a long time since this was honeyed. I felt sultry like an Everly Brother, his actions speak louder. On the line standing and learning, the lines, I think it hurts.
In the poem I am clipping my nails again. Words, words, words; a snip.
How is it that we sat up late, same sofa, in the skeins of this year? Have you even come down yet?
His actions speak louder than shimmer_
Bliss not this, Christmas cactus at the corner of_. Is it better to cry in the sun or the rain. The rain is so obvious. I confected a dialogue to spite the blues and the cherries, rinsing packaging in the sink. It was supposed to be red. You said it fell flat. There was a half-moon curve between us and I sat there hugging my knees. The others. I like when you say you like a riff. Let’s be as I was in the hall, champagne later, tiniest bubbling; don’t say rise, let’s hold it cute. A sippable glitch in the music. Walking home in the rain, I murmured it: wtf wtf wtf. I made this punctuation; be here now, missing the body. She does this thing with her lips; teensy bubbles taste dust of gold & angel.
Watching your arms like a symphony, fucking—
Perhaps it is not about being at all, yet I am at the table and the hydrangeas are just too much. I wish there were Silk Cuts. Deathly attendant, where writing to you at the specific moment was standing in the flashbulb of a passing car and trying to look up at the stars. Just as the stars in the valley, we visit the shire. The stars you say are most particular, yet they are anyone’s; the stars are in the garden now, a proximate shrubbery and I put on my makeup. Deep bled fuchsia into sage and clary; yet we are violets, smelling the sea. And a dram before class, something citrine to start us, blendable night. I try it again; the word ‘frenetic’ peals from me.
If history was different, wouldn’t I be singing this.
Merry season helichrysum. There is a headpiece of corals worn by the sea. A quartet of angels play the flute-hoop and daylight twists, and Greta says it more than clearly. So hot this hurts. At current emissions. Someone in the back shouts FUCK THE TORIES and I put on my shoes. I wake up to my nails not coral-red, my eyes not pressed with cornflower blue. ‘if the word / does not arise it will fall back, the thing itself, it will fall again / into that ocean where it is not biodegradable’ (Beverly Dahlen, A Reading: 11-17). The thing of the word fell back into water, lots of it deep and luxury water. I wanted to say, the word has been waiting in shallow poetics. Floats of white. Water is a memory of the water before it. That feels like love but is that a falling. Into it, into it. That ocean speaks its chords again, thingly and falling. Dear degradable, non-bio daylight; sentiments of infrared, blip of foam.
I wanted to ask, are you striking, striking. The blood clots around the skin of our thumbs. Got lost in the rhythm I leave at the door / you painted helium blue. I knew it would bring me home to you. I was immediate, here, I knew what to do. This electric hand, hello.
What did you have to almost wake up for?
There is so much to grasp, at any one point. ‘We’ll clear a trail through the forest’, Hélène Cixous says, but ‘We can’t go via the city, nor at will, nor by bus’ (Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing). All those doors in the underpass, surely one was a portal? I thought it was only that you wanted me back in the leaf-trails of language. What is it that carries you now? The cold air whipped your chest and I pissed in the bushes. How much neon is the news.
Time collapsed so soft, we were in thrall of the science tiara.
We sat in this anonymous hotel lobby while the rain piled on and the beats got wet. Tresses of soaking beats. You say the only music that gets you now is pop. Continuum of sweetness in the formula lifts: the trick is melodic. So hot, you’re a burning peach. Embarrassed, I look at such childhood photos, the soft plash of it: language out of language it folds me again. Brush your hair. Softer your face, I come back to that star that is it. Approach, he holds out a finger to say, hello hello, hello you green. Is there something like a sour glissando? The bass was flat, my wilted leaves; the Styrofoam kept your guitar too warm. There are so many strings, collecting the sea. Only one you know
I was at the edge of a rainbow, sipping echinacea tea. ‘Farewell, Angelina, the sky is on fire and I must go…’ (Joan Baez, ‘Farewell, Angelina’). Do you think maybe it’s like, those emails were part of the plenum of summer, when I passed so south on the train with sugar-licked cakes of rice and a readerly silence? The sky was burnt and strange. And you could have boarded at the requisite moment, or maybe you were in the glass also, the glassery crying for the sound of drowning Amy from the game. When she did this impression of the lamb, I could not help but cry out. The aw, the aww, the missing ‘e’ in awe, a ewe. It was you. http://www.findyourfood/. Zombie tunes, sonic aporia. Mum said she nearly called me Amy, and I would have pink hair and sheaves of lyrical gestures, like this. Someone I loved had a house.
The sky is untitled.
Branding me narcopastoral, shepherdess at stringent dawn. We drag a high—
Break into it, careful at first then with clear intention. The wrapper falls back and away by clouds.
Upside down, we approach the softest waves. I’ll not harp on about the light, how it caught the crease of our plastic. You take us to the boat, so lovely and blue like sky. In the dream she unfurls her fist, a lot of blue dust comes out and her voice is thick and quick as an auctioneer’s. She has swallowed the age of the water. But we are rowing on, cordoned from time by the ripples of unforgivable sea. I want you to never forget this. Dream again—
We wandered a garden of samphire and crystal, met some friends at the edge of the blue. The grasses were singing a grassy melisma. Suffering cramps by the burning sea, the glass of the elsewhere orange, trembling sky. Scrolling my phone, I was reading an essay on birth control where the author, a man, argued that taken daily two spoons of honey would regulate your cycle. She got him by accident, a cherub handed down by the gold-dripping moon. I polished his soapstone limbs and drank from the chalice a lateral condition. Let’s go at this sideways, say every droplet of rain was a baby. Honey.
The additive birth of water, over.
Most palatial things are isles or sets.
They bring treacle scones for the picketers.
Bottles of wine for your glistening birthday. The sky is a film; it goes click, click. The season you say is looming, a moment agogic and I let you tender the rain of me down. I was all strings when the image appeared and you pulled on a tensile thread, a tease and we fell into the same whole notes…
‘Ion square, perspex swings / I breathe out, you breathe in / Permanent midnight’ (Bloc Party, ‘Ion Square’). It’s this song that feels like fucking, live in happiness, breakable day you free in a hold, before this sleep and the night bus home. I walk along the motorway. A breath between us feels like math, the ruination of the norm. I had nothing to bring you; I was reaching the end of the film where they find her dead, but only in photos. End of the lilting road. Quadratic Lily, Lily, say this is Lily. It’s just somewhere in London, and I want to love my mind. And I want to love my mind again. Did I love yours and yours too much. The fog rolls out of the square the same. When you drew me, it was like I didn’t have a face. The birches gifted their silver and I felt like sleep, so heavily berried. The sky is a film, you take it.
Trapped in acid, the hotel air is seething. I wanted breakfast to feel the same, and I wanted to love my mind; to love my mind for the sake of you in it. When the lyrics appeared it felt like the end-of-the-world digested, yes, it was a crème de menthe apocalypse — by which we mean, you can just hop in the grass of the future. Björk’s utopia. Juuuuuussssst that kiiiiiisssssssss. Perpex swings in helix of flute, could you insinuate a sleep, these spirals of harp. I’m not where I want exactly; look out the window. Sugar-rim. They pay less, pay less, pay less. A shot.
By the time I got back, the leaves were all gone. The stars, as if they were plural.
In the belly of the gnarliest graphics / I felt impaled on a former capital. There is luxury in the curriculum, but we live off our clearest cakes of rice. Break this as crumbs, don’t say word / The consoles cast their dust again. Press replay. I wanted to lie in a field, but that was you. A salty fist. I wanted the lie. Little curled hairs in the sink. Your name is doing well / Look where it got you.
The university a corpus ate the rat.
I was tired, you were tired, my mum was tired. This makes a rainstorm a screensaver.
Has anyone notified the trapeze artists about our sea?
Most things don’t occur as they do in this space. It flexes and folds in lucite, yet against the glint, less of your mobius eye. Roll it up, like a wave. We wait for the bus and it rolls in smoke / I press my faceless against the glass.
Bloc Party — Ion Square
Björk, Arca — The Gate
FKA twigs — home with you
Double Discone — Sam’s Kinky Hat
Clearance — Chances Are
Bradford Cox — Natural Harp Monitor
Princess Nokia — Balenciaga
DJ Heroin — My Veil
Grace Cummings — Paisley
Alice Coltrane — Lovely Sky Boat
Malibu — Nana (Like A Star Made For Me)
Hiro Kone — A Desire, Nameless
Hannah Peel ft. Hayden Thorpe — Cars In The Garden
The Brian Jonestown Massacre — Food for Clouds
Maija Sofia — The Glitter
Tomberlin — Seventeen
Weyes Blood — Seven Words
Soko — Sweet Sound of Ignorance
RF Shannon — Snake Oil
Caroline Polachek — So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings
The Everly Brothers — Love Hurts
The Cure — Charlotte Sometimes
Princess Chelsea — Come As You Are
Astrud Gilberto — Look To The Rainbow
There is a scenario in which the jukebox is equivalent to the poet and some elaborate analogy is to be made between intertextuality and the limited catalogue whose selectional form produces play. The scenario only survives in video. It needs this urge of duration, not to mention the tenderness of a touch. Where fingers brush keys like notes, there is something to add to the story. A social space in demand of ambience; on flickering alongside off. When Lana is alone on stage, hands stuffed into a bomber jacket, singing ‘Fuck it, I love you’, swaying almost nervously, I want to think about what she is doing there and who she is speaking to and from where she is speaking. She is not really speaking but singing. The lone girl on the stage is the open mic dreamer, with nothing but lines. She is scattered across june-dreams of multiple personality: ‘The I which speaks out from only one place is simultaneously everyone’s everywhere; it’s the linguistic mother of rarity but is always also aggressively democratic’ (Riley 2000: 57-58). We mother our solipsism with words but in doing so there’s an opening. So to say fuck it and state the interruption with syncope, sincerity. Lana Del Rey was born on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer season, which more than explains that statement: ‘Fuck it, I love you’. With her sails to the wind. To say it over and smooth into plural refrain, you could even say chorus. For a chorus wants to be shared. It is a commodious mother, fed by the keys of the jukebox baby. There is a constant reversal of nourishing; the democracy of lyric utterance, the milky feed that streams.
Denise Riley argues that any ‘initial “I love you” is barely possible to enunciate without its implicit—however unwilled—claim for reciprocation’ (2000: 23). But what is reciprocation in a song? Is it just the urge to be sung with? And this ‘fuck it’, the pervasive millennial injunction to just be, to move on, as the tag which erases the expectant price of the utterance? Riley argues that I love you ‘must at once circulate as coinage within the relentless economy of utterance as exchange’ (2000: 24), but in a pop song it bears the leaden weight of so many prior expressions. The irony is that to cut through that with a simple fuck it, Lana can attain something like sincerity in the very pop mode whose lineage of commercialised love would surely undermine her feeling. Fuck it, in spite of saying I love you I really do. The pop song becomes this space for the staged epiphany of repeated assurance, I really do. It is a softcore admission of the self in its burning limit.
‘Fuck it I love you’ is soaked in lights, but they’re fading. ‘I like to see everything in neon’, is the line that opens the song. To see everything in neon is to fluoresce what is haunted and gone. I think of Sia dragging rainbow dust down her tearful cheeks in the video for ‘The Greatest’ — tragedy’s shimmer as fugitive mark on the body. Lana offers herself up as sugar dust, cliché in honour of Doris Day: ‘Dream a little dream of me / Make me into something sweet’; she acknowledges ‘dancing to a pop song’, but it’s not clear if this is her or the character or the one she loves. ‘Turn the radio on’ could be a reflection or an imperative. The reader is hailed between these positions of love and the loved and the effect is saturating, warm, delirious. Separation is that ‘it’, the spacing. In the video, we watch Lana painting and then suddenly she’s surfing with the aurora borealis in the background. She’s on a swing, her jean shorts caressed by the camera, she’s the sexualised pop icon again. She’s on a surfboard, green-screened, young. She’s choosing a shade of yellow from the palette, singing ‘Killing me slowly’. What is this ‘it’, killing her slowly:
I’ll return to the unknown part of myself and when I am born shall speak of “he” or “she.” For now, what sustains me is the “that” that is an “it.” To create a being out of oneself is very serious. I am creating myself. And walking in complete darkness in search of ourselves is what we do. It hurts. […] a thing is born that is. Is itself. It is hard as a dry stone. But the core is soft and alive, perishable, perilous it. Life of elementary matter.
(Lispector 2014: 39)
I want slyly to argue that this is a kind of anthropocene existentialism. Recognition of the self as this ‘hard’, ‘dry stone’ thing of geologic mattering, reflexive species. This is what it is to be ‘Human’ right now. And yet the agential spark within, the ‘core’ that is being alive in a world where we have deposited those sedimentary layers. Creating ourselves in the stone, often with the tarnish of the very products we chose and developed to beautify, excoriate and cleanse ourselves, to remain forever young. So there is this oscillating temporality at work between desired infinity and the trace of our fugitive place on earth. The very earth minerals that would ruin humanity, mine our bodies of endless labour. But to go back to the song, with its idea of a gradual dying. I want to call this something like anthropocene softcore: the unnamed presence of species being within Lispector’s slender novel from the early seventies, or the Mamas and the Papas brand of late-sixties ‘sunshine pop’ whose solarity derives from the perishability of that energy, utopian commons, cascade of flowers — that serotonin glow of selves in streams and streams.
Lana’s anthropocene poetics are not of the hardline, direct call to action. You would not say of her cultural presence, eco-warrior or nature goddess. You would not brand her Miss Anthropocene in a kind of demonic marketing gimmick. You would say most often she is a siren, per se, leisurely supplicating us towards death on the rocks. Desirous flow. This is anthropocene softcore. This is what it is to challenge the act of self-description itself, and in doing so questioning those generalisations that arise from the ‘we’ of humankind, not to mention the ‘I’ of pop’s delectable, mainstream lyric. Alchemically, Clarice Lispector and Lana make of these malleable pronouns the ‘perilous it’. The it, the feeling, the speaking self which is nothing much more than a bundle of affects, sensations, atoms. To be cast over and crested by the wave. Significant that ‘Fuck it I love you’ ends with the rising bubbles of this wave, the one that spills us through the fourth wall and into the studio. This song slams together pop’s saccharine mythos of California as dreamland, a late-summer song as the former was written, surely, for autumn. California: ‘it’s just a state of mind’. She could be talking about the self or the state, or the state of the self.
What happens next? The shot drifts over the cliffs, the coast, to a strip of palms and a distant view of the LA skyline. That shining love in the previous track is replaced by a minor key, a glimpse of the jukebox whose songs include The Eagles, Bon Iver, The National. Artists whose Americana is the melancholy of generations moved from political despair to something like the glitch of the times as a basic fact of intimacy. One of the Bon Iver songs shown in the video is ‘22 (OVER S∞∞N)’, and if that title was not rife with implicit apocalypse, what is, what is. A stammering into language, pitch-shifting the fragile space of utterance. There’s a spiritual glimpse to the sky and the infinite quality of the stars:
There I find you marked in constellation (two, two)
There isn’t ceiling in our garden
And then I draw an ear on you
So I can speak into the silence
It might be over soon (two, do, two, do, two)
(Bon Iver, ‘22 (OVER S∞∞N)’)
I don’t know what the maths is doing. I don’t want to know that the song ‘was inspired in part by Bon Iver mainman Justin Vernon’s unsuccessful attempt to find himself during a vacation’. I am however interested in the hubris within this term ‘vacation’ at all. Do we now live in a world where you can take ‘time out’? There is nothing of the world we know that could be switched off. There is no ‘away’ of complete erasure or original presence. Deconstruction caught up with our living. Vernon describing this song as a gesture towards what might end of his emptiness could just as easily be flipped: its relief is equal to a mortal sense of loss. The impending erasures. It ‘does’ or acts the accretional event of extinction that is speaking into the silence, to those who could not speak back.
Fragments and snatches: the neon green lining Lana’s eyes, the aurora borealis, the neon green palm in the club where she sings alone. A season by yourself. The love of the couple together surfing is cardboard, Hollywood. It is a trembling symbol. It is almost ridicule.
What is Justin Vernon looking for in the constellation? When he sings ‘two two’ I think of Hilma af Klint’s nose-touching swans, or the hours of the day chipped at the edge — two of them stolen by tragic event. I think of a mic check, two, two, ch, ch. Click. Near-enough-presence of speech. A white swan on black background; a black swan on white background. Flip. The swans are geometry, signets of signature, they move towards abstraction. Growth. I love them. Fuck it I love them. The way they are just it. Inversions of colour and a monochrome mood splashed with cornflower blue, the tiny excess we can treasure. It is the cornflower blue, the little webbed feet, which make the swan in question unique. So we can care for it, figuratively as it swells through grey-white waters of memory. The swans we have lost in our shit. Royal iterations freed from belonging. This painting is from af Klint’s series Paintings for the Temple, works derived from spiritual communication. The abstraction of the swan / renders us stark in frame / for we were Lana or Leda / before we were animal. Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Seven Swans’: ‘All of the trees were in light’, ‘a sign in the sky’; ‘My father burned into coal’. And all of our sadness was carbon neutral before this. We plunge into whatever remains of the water, its plasticky thickness.
I keep pausing the video as it transitions. ‘Fuck it I love you’ twinned with ‘The greatest’. When The National sing ‘It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders’, what exactly is the ‘quiet company’ of the ‘it’? It could just as well be spiders. Maybe it’s the web itself, the web between the human and the more than human, the gossamer moment where metaphoric articulation becomes more than feeling and gleams material. ‘It’s a terrible love that I’m walking with spiders’ — what is the grammatical transition done by that ‘that’ and who is to blame. Walking with spiders might just be that love. Transitional, subject/object logic is reversed in this song: ‘Wait til the past?’ is sung, then ‘It takes an ocean not to break’ when surely the ocean itself would break you. Soon the ‘terrible love’ is a substance, something ‘I’m walking in’ — to feel it is an act of immersion. It is to let that wave crest over, the ‘lyric auto-explosion’ (Moten 2017: 3) of the wave that would break you.
In ‘The Greatest’, Cat Power sings of former ambition now cast to nostalgic regret. There is a sense of time slowing to delay, laconic strings, relaxed drums, the balladic sleep of a once-held fault. It is a parade slowing down in the rain. To say ‘Once I wanted to be’ is to hold this question of ‘the greatest’ as a generalised desire itself. The hunger we lose in time, whose primary colours soften. I hold to that precious, cornflower blue of a swan’s foot. ‘Two fists of solid rock / With brains that could explain / Any feeling’. This solid rock that would box you into the future, that would harden the edges of self. A thing is born, as Clarice puts it, ‘hard as as dry stone’. This is the thing born ‘that is’. To exist is to be this hard thing, protein ligament, to kick out in lines; but then in time there is the plasmatic self inside that, like some fatty animal byproduct, sticks to the others it loves, it needs, it leaks. Gelatinous, softly sticky love. The ‘it’ that needs saving. Anthropocene softcore; soapy inside of all geologic agency. Who we are and what we regret. The turning of the outside-in, the inside-out. Kathleen Jamie, in Sightlines, asks: ‘What is it that we’re just not seeing?’ (2012: 37).
A sightline is a hypothetical line, from someone’s eye to what is seen. Is it clear or blurred, bad or good? Anthropos recedes in its very own scene as the ocean continues and we howl in the dark like a lossy-compressed version of species. We are the sirens and wolves. We are at the great concert of the Earth. We have to resist what Bernard Stiegler calls the ‘proletarianization of the senses’ (2017); we have to find longform ballads of what’s happening, pass them down the line, resist the short-circuiting of thought that occurs between screens and machines. We have to send letters back to our consciousness, our elders and children. This is the work of lyric. It could be the work of dance. I think of Zelda Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Alabama, learning to be a ballerina too late in her life: ‘Her body was so full of static from the constant whip of her work that she could get no clear communication with herself. She said to herself that human beings have no right to fail’ (2001: 180). Alabama barely eats; her energy is all the zeal of will. The dance of lyric as reduction, lack, as static and chased success whose collapse lands as Alabama will eventually do on the event of inevitable break. Grapefruit squeezed on the gritty turmeric shot of the future. And a brake, a screech. And yet we write, we cast out limbs and materials, we work towards this loss; we imbibe it.
This is an ugly type of writing in which the outside is always imagined from the inside. Horizons are fictional and buildings are barred. I have no sightlines. I’m
fucking cutting the corners of someone else’s desire. All paths are the continuation of a pre-existing line. This is a city from which I send myself postcards wherein I wish I was here. Flying letters. Words stolen from myself. I refuse to recognise that I have not composed them unintentionally
(Bolland 2019: 78).
The videos for Lana’s ‘Fuck it I love you’ and ‘The greatest’ swerve between inside and outside. We find ourselves in rooms we don’t remember entering. Writing the anthropocene has an ugly, masturbatory quality of fucking yourself with the rush of elaborate doom. Okay, so. Constructing fortresses of lines which would make a valiant destination. When I listen to Lana, I’m accessing shortcuts to ‘someone else’s desire’ which is the opening up of presence. ‘This is a city’; ‘I wish I was here’. I have never been to LA. We plagiarise our very own diaries to get back that sense of the once-intentional, the greatest declaration on Earth. That we were here, and we loved. She wrote that lit, forgot. The papers curled up and rolled away in a sultry air that was summer, 2012. The year of failed apocalypse, the year Lana released her debut album, Born to Die. We saw her campaign of fashion smoking through plexiglass bus shelters. Remember all ‘horizons are fictional’: they tell a narrative, they bleed and tilt and set like ice. Towards them we stupidly drift: the lived throb of our softcore skins, our hungers and rhythms.
Drifting in colour like H.D.’s Leda, the rape of the land and the body and bodies engendering bodies. Worlds ending around us. And so I could say, but this is just one song, a phrase, a white woman of fame lamenting her world. But this self-conscious cinematics is a gesture towards the western world itself as this haunted, tragic protagonist: ‘The culture is lit and if this is it, I had a ball / I guess that I’m burned out after all’ (‘The greatest’). So you could say, anthropocene softcore speaks to the lyric I in its state of orphaned exception, which in turn is the loss felt by us all unequally. If we make of Lana a sort of anthropocenic siren, we must recognise the distinctions within our longing. For we all lose worlds differently; harm is striated along lines of class, gender, race, ethnicity, geographical distribution — of course. That wave that closes the video could elsewhere be a tsunami. I like to think its place on the edge is a deliberated hint to what could or is even already happening here or elsewhere. And maybe the colour, the aurora, is this streak of need for an excess beyond static blank, ‘human’ planet, standardised canvas; the need to splash something more of blur and blue. Flood the structure.
When we say something is ‘lit’, we mean it is hot, on fire. We mean it is turned on, ignited, intoxicated, drunk, excellent. Lit is the past simple and past participle of light. Isn’t that line alone just lit? Maybe we are in the twilight of a former Enlightenment, recognising our species hubris as this alien green that tinges every familiar horizon, upsets the normalised green of pastoral. Is it toxicity, the elsewhere within ourselves? It is a radar showing who we are and where we have been. Those material metaphors cook on a smoulder, and this is the softcore coming to knowledge about what is happening.
What does it mean to sing: ‘I’m facing the greatest / The greatest loss of them all’. To sing this on the brink of a hyperreal sunset, to chase a solar excess among loss. This loss could be a love but it is more like a culture; it is more like a voice and the condition from which to speak or sing it. The loss of lyric, its possibilities of address, and the loss or deferral or ruination of place itself. Maybe this is Lana’s lyric maturity, a generational acceptance that ‘young and beautiful’ is no longer the apex state of what we should strive for. Absence tenders complexity. Is this, as Roy Scranton puts it, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene? This question of mutability, the green-winged eye that sees a darkening world, a lack of birds along the bay, an edge. In the video for ‘The greatest’, Lana’s jacket reads LOCALS ONLY on the back. I google the phrase and find a hipster restaurant in Toronto with the slogan, LET’s PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED. There’s a kind of parochial nihilism that glisters like the light on the sea, but the sea can never be local only. There’s a boat in the video whose name is WIPEOUT. It’s all happening; the signals are obvious. How we are practicing the absent-presence of the name’s erasure. My tongue gets twisted when I say anthropos; I want to say mess, I fall into ‘guest’ and ‘gesture’. With its glaring cinematics, LA offers the hospitality of light. But it is an exclusionary light. For now, only some of us get lit, get to the mic.
Lana sings from within the metallic architectures of LA’s coastal infrastructure, the port. In the bar, she throws a dart and misses her target by a nonchalant smidge, knocks the 8-ball towards its pocket. I keep thinking about exports and imports, what we put out, take in and trade. Economies of luck and depth and surface. Maybe Lana is a hydrofeminist, her soaring lyric gesture recalling a hauntology of America as that dreamscape of what lies beyond or in the deep. And now we know it is further extinction, precarity, hardened borders. What do we do with that looming closure? Lana has shrugged off her jacket now, she’s smoking in the kitchen where the lid slides off the pan to let the steam out. I’m not saying we’re sitting on a pressure cooker here. There’s simply work to do, mouths to feed, ears to fill. This is a ballad, a paean to the transient, fragile beauty of everything. The songs shown again on the jukebox are songs of a type of blues specific to oceanic or cosmic consciousness, to hunger, the time of lost summer or that of a broken love:
Janis Joplin — ‘Kozmic Blues’
Dennis Wilson — ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’
Sublime — ‘Doin’ Time’
David Bowie — ‘Ashes to Ashes’
Jeff Buckley — ‘Last Goodbye’
Leonard Cohen — ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’
I’ve spoken before of what ‘anthropocene sadcore’ might look like in poetry. I’m still working through that. It comes from the common phrase used to describe Lana’s music, ‘Hollywood sadcore’. I’m interested in how that emphasis on mediation, transmission and cinema plays out in our understanding of ecological emergency, but more generally the existential condition of the anthropocene, which places us as geologic agents under the generalised, gendered rubric of Man. Maybe Anna Tsing’s feminist work on the ‘patchy Anthropocene’ could be applied to the cut scenes of a glossy Los Angeles caught on video. A patch is also a software update, where comprised code is ‘patched’ into the code of an executable program. Maybe the patchy anthropocene involves this kind of cultural patchwork: the lament to a love or a culture is patched to include this bug of ecological consciousness — the patch is a kind of coded pharmakon, poison and cure for apocalypse blues. But Lana paints in shades of yellow too. Blue and yellow making aurora borealis green. A cosmic gesture to what lies beyond thought. And what of those oil rigs in the distance, glistening. They form an audience to the siren’s lament; they are part of this story, and we are mutually complicit. Where the magnetism of the male gaze is often part of Lana’s canon, here it is mostly replaced by oil rigs — supplementary Man as the infrastructure of anthropos, looking back at its melancholic, warning siren. Softcore is less affective than sadcore; it is the ambient hum of climax coming. Its cousin is the slowcore, luminous melancholia of a band like Red House Painters, perhaps: ‘Purple nights and yellow days / Neon signs and silver lakes / LA took a part of me / LA gave this gift to me’.
In Bluets (2009), Maggie Nelson writes of a restaurant she used to work in, where the walls were ‘incredibly orange’. After each shift, collapsing exhausted in her own home, ‘the dining room’ of the restaurant ‘reappeared in my dreams as pale blue’:
For quite some time I thought this was luck, or wish fulfilment— naturally my dreams would convert everything to blue, because of my love for the colour. But now I realise that it was more likely the result of spending ten hours or more staring at saturated orange, blue’s spectral opposite.
(Nelson 2009: 43)
Orange and blue, water and flame. The mind’s alchemical transformations reveal the way colour works chiastically upon us. I think of Freud’s mystic writing pad, the waxen surface of memories allowing for palimpsest versions of stories that trace and erase. ‘This is a simple story’, Nelson writes, ‘but it spooks me, insofar as it reminds me that the eye is simply a recorder, with or without our will. Perhaps the same could be said of the heart’ (2009: 43). ‘Fuck it I love you’, sung to the blue-orange wall until something comes off that surface like a static or fizz. Irn bru, ironed blue. There is quinine in my dreams of hungover labour. Surely there is a violence to this particular love, that is staring, necessary. The love of what must be limitless hurts.
Janis Joplin’s ‘Kozmic Blues’ rises to a swell, a jostling of guitar licks and urgent, assured vocals. A sonic thickening. ‘So mastered by the brute blood of the air’, H.D. writes in ‘Leda and the Swan’. Held in that vascular shudder that acclimatises to a manmade world, what happens next is a loosening, a shimmer, a shrug of the garment. In the poem or song, in the painting or film, in the collapse of that wave into a bluer future. To incur a kind of erosion and yet live on in those terminals. ‘There’s a fire inside of everyone of us’, Joplin sings, and I think not of flames but of cinders. ‘At what temperature do words burst into flame?’, asks Ned Lukacher in the introduction to Derrida’s Cinders (1987), ‘Is language itself what remains of a burning? Is language the effect of an inner vibration, an effect of light and heat upon certain kinds of matter?’ (Lukacher 1987: 3). I know if I did not write I would smoke. These acts of temporality in its material extinguishing. What makes the remembered restaurant blue, not orange, is something of this transmogrified smoulder — an inversion akin to af Klint’s swans, demanding that splash of blue. When I write, am I pursuing the absent space of that skyward blue? ‘Blue is the colour of the planet from the view above’, Lana swoons in a song (‘Beautiful People Beautiful Problems’) from her previous album, Lust for Life (2017). But in Norman Fucking Rockwell, Lana’s California album for 2019, it’s less of this ‘above’ we see. We are held within the infrastructure, cinema, the end of summer. The dreamlike logic of How did she get on that boat? When did she enter that room? Who put that song on the jukebox, baby?
I want to say:
It takes an ocean not to break a planet.
It takes not a planet to break a species.
Lana’s voice grows wispier as she sings of that burnout. There’s this imperative that okay we could enjoy this with American flags, we could pour communal Jack and go down in flames. We could riff the history of our culture in archives of song, gestures and nods of reference. Ladies of the Canyon, Cinnamon Girl, Norman Fucking Rockwell. We could keep laughing or dancing while the world is or was at war. Lana is both behind and at the bar, the sightline of where we go to be ‘served’. Intoxication is the order of the day and we call it ‘fun’ to put the fucking of other people’s desires under erasure, strikeout, as Bolland does.
If this is it, I’m signing off
Miss doing nothing, the most of all
Oh I just missed a fireball
L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot
Kanye West is blond and gone
“Life on Mars” ain’t just a song
Oh, the lifestream’s almost on
(Lana Del Rey, ‘The greatest’)
‘Miss doing nothing’: post-recessional ennui becomes the paradoxical happiness of living in static, not working as a kind of work that resists the future as set out by capitalist horizons of accumulation. We used to just ‘hang out’ and several other dreams of youthful nostalgia. Kids of today can’t even touch that innocence. We know so much; maybe or probably they know more. We are all variously entranced by the softcore unfold of this happening; we are all variously called upon to be complicit, to recycle, act, resist. To speak or not-speak. To be in one of many different levels of rising heat. The conditional state of being’s value, ‘If this is it’, in the anthropocene raises its pitch to a charge. To sign off is a form of surrender that gives up the name for the blur of species. I think of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, the planet that would smash us and yet somehow Lana dodges it, that.
The audience in the bar where she sings are mostly men, but their gaze is not sexual, as in much of Lana’s prior visual oeuvre. Rather, their longing gaze, often filtered through further glass, is something like the profound melancholy of a multi-generational sense of this loss. These old men have lost the planet, the one they grew up with, just like Lana’s siren, come from some other time, a life ahead of her steered by the changing climate, the hurt and vengeful seas. The camera holds close ups on their staring faces. The song holds the long durée of a loss that spans generations, damages and is damaged by elders, sparks in the present-tense of cultural tendency. In Lana these men look to a future hurt whose cause was partly theirs, as inheritors of industry: she is both victim and heroine, singing and swinging. The shot opens out to reveal her smiling with younger friends, her own generation. These intimacies are what we have left. The next shot shows some kind of factory or refinery leaking smog into a cloudy, overcast skyline, sulphured yellow. Once again the boat appears with its title, WIPEOUT. Lana is supine on the bow at sunset. She is golden, angelic, silhouette. It’s like she missed the fireball but melted it, cooked it up for tea, apocalypse syrup. Things are going down around us. She hugs her arms, later standing, laughing with a dreamlike intimation of imagined elsewhere, closing her eyes. Be hospitable to yourself and others. The reel of the jukebox keeps ever turning: this is our ever faith in culture. We have to take care of what’s left in whatever space we can make of song, duration.
But the mainstream disciples and idols of Hollywood are failing, Kanye West is ‘gone’. Surely a reference to Elon Musk’s plans to save us by colonising Mars, ‘“Life on Mars” ain’t just a song’ is sung with a melancholy matter-of-factness, a kind of sigh which implies the banality of techno-utopia in a time of extinction. The thrill of such dreams is lost now. We lost our faith in Hollywood, lost our faith in the movies and the scale of those solutions. In a world without books, we’d be ‘bound to that summer’, addicted to one of many narcissistic ‘counterfeit[s]’ to make love to nightly in futile repetition — that would be, as Weyes Blood sings, the ‘Movies’.
What we look back with:
The trauma is not, in the Freudian lexicon, this or that violation from the world (such as war), but the ill and trauma of this originary installation of “the cave”—what could properly be called the cin-anthropocene epoch, particularly given that the era of modern cinema is to be regarded merely as an episode: that of the machinal exteriorization of the cinematic apparatus, given that it coincides with the era of oil (artefacted “light”), given that its arc coincides with that hyperconsumptive acceleration leading to mass extinction events, ecocide, and an emerging politics of (managed) extinction.
(Cohen 2017: 246)
The trauma of greatness as such is this accelerated promise of the dream, the event, capitalist growth, the movie itself — whose imperative is towards scene, closure, episodic narrative in demand of the next. But the drinks in this video are barely drunk; they are more like props. Everyone is aware of their place in the tableau vivant of the anthropocene, even in its softcore, consumerist pop expression: the iconography of oil rigs, downbeat affect and intergenerational longing. Not a violation from the world so much as the stream, and where its accumulative logic would eventually come to crisis, even as corporations beyond our imagining were already plotting that logic of a break within archival excess: the feverish incineration of the present, the smoulder and melt that smogs and spreads and streams.
Fire is there or it is not there. […] But surely there is a word for that moment when a fire log, beneath its bark, has become one immanent ember, winking like a City or a circuit board; for that moment when you know only the desire, no, the need to stir it up. What is on fire, you ask yourself, staring into that waiting. What is that moment. What is that word.
(Lennon 2003: 434)
The nights ‘on fire’ that Lana sings of are those of the Beach Boys, reprieve of the sixties; the bar on Long Beach that served as a ‘last stop’ before the tiny island retreat of Kokomo. Frank O’Hara died on Fire Island. Fire is presence or absence, but there is a moment before it is both. A slippage between the extinct and extinguished. And the world was lit up as before. I wonder if the word Brian Lennon looks for is simply ‘sleep’, the title of his essay which I first read in John D’Agata’s anthology, The Next American Essay — with intimations of that Lana song, ‘The Next Best American Record’. What is with America and the positioning of the next. A constant state of pressurised imminence that streams and streams: ‘We lost track of space / We lost track of time’ (‘The Next Best American Record’). We sleep into death or spirit. My first legal drink was a fireball whisky, in a pub by the sea they built in a church. That moment when you know only the ‘need to stir it up’, fanning the flames. That impulse towards blitz feels extra political in these contexts. We need something of relief that would stream, and in that flow be more than a question. Something of cinders, drifting.
In Lana’s song, I’m interested in this word ‘lifestream’, which seems like a slippage from the more familiar internet-lingo, the ‘livestream’: the coming live that seems provisional to digital retro-future, the promise of satellites beaming the present, simultaneously. Lifestream, instead, is a vascular imaginary of bodies flowing together. ‘LifeStream’ is actually the name of a blood bank serving the Inland Empire and its surrounding areas. Lifestreaming is, Wikipedia tells me, ‘the act of documenting and sharing aspects of one’s daily social experiences online’. It is the flow of the timeline, akin to the wall, the blogroll, the feed. But here, at the end of the song, the promise of information’s overflow is in a liminal state — ‘almost on’. Extinction’s monetised data cast as the simultaneity of thick presence spread by millioning participants. We are here and we said something, our words were atoms, splashes of blue. We stream towards a life, cut ourselves short on the fragments of others’ desires. Mortality’s softcore contingent. The fear of missing out is assuaged by the narcotising work of cinema. And if this is it, Lana has already signed off. It’s something more like her spirit that’s here for us, the stream of an echo, fold of a song that we could replay, continue voicing. Hope lies in the circadian rhythm, the lived time of a pause in the anthropocene’s ceaseless, cinematic duration — that which we see and drown our hearts in. As Jean Rhys’ drunken, depressed protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight (1939 – the year WWII began) muses, ‘Well, sometimes it’s a fine day, isn’t it? Sometimes the skies are blue. Sometimes the air is light, easy to breathe. And there is always tomorrow….’ (Rhys 2000: 121). And what if tomorrow was the greatest loss of them all?
Bolland, Emma, 2019. Over, In, and Under (Manchester: Dostoyevsky Wannabe).
Cohen, Tom, 2017. ‘Arche-Cinema and the Politics of Extinction’, boundary 2, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 239-265.
Fitzgerald, Zelda, 2001. Save Me the Waltz (London: Vintage).
Jamie, Kathleen, 2012. Sightlines (London: Sort of Books).
Lennon, Brian, 2003. ‘Sleep’, The Next American Essay, ed. by John D’Agata, (Minneapolis: Gray Wolf Press), pp. 427-234.
Lispector, Clarice, 2014. Agua Viva (London: Penguin).
Lukacher, Ned, 1987. ‘Introduction: Mourning Becomes Telepathy’, Cinders, trans. by Ned Lukacher, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), pp. 1-18.
Moten, Fred, 2017. Black and Blur (consent not to be a single being) (Durham: Duke University Press).
Nelson, Maggie, 2009. Bluets (Seattle: Wave Books).
Rhys, Jean, 2000. Good Morning, Midnight (London: Penguin).
Riley, Denise, 2000. The Words of Selves: Identification: Solidarity, Irony (Stanford: Stanford University Press).
Scranton, Roy, 2015. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilisation (San Francisco: City Lights Books).
Stiegler, Bernard, 2017. ‘The Proletarianization of Sensibility’, boundary 2, Vol. 44, No,. 1, pp. 5-18.
Lozenges of Responsive Eye
A jail cell of pin-striped trousers
And jelly is stretching
Ben and Bridget’s collaborative secret:
Stripes vs polka dots; battle of personality
For personable sense
A ballet of silk as scream
All Jack Wills plagiarists
Pluck a little learnèd relief,
My trypophobic kitsch.
The over-blunt rust of the pencil takes over
With Anthropologie’s rich, ornamental fruit
All that plasticine:
infinite optic nude.
E= Mc2= seafoam equalities
Keys having sex
Some sexy metal grinding grind core
Towards the yonic aporia.
Runway & Egyption palette of
Patchwork architecture w/ international sunset
Peach plastic, has to be fantastic
Too many black hole doors of exhibited thrill.
& Wind massage
Pulses the butterfly, connects such dots.
Ribbony eel of clandestine dreams:
Gel pen explosion, want that scented mint,
Bubblegum and banana
=> Warp nostalgia
Almost forgot about my cola phobia
Piña colada for the pleistocene.
There’s a woman reading behind her triangles,
Meeting the tender tremble:
Slimy triangulation overlaid
Blurring pyramidal bluntness
Blooming bud above belly a bus of mixed feeling;
Keep looking, unhooking
The ghostly room and pastel pleasures.