from Alice Notley, The Descent of Alette (1992)
From this year in-between brushing my teeth:
BOOKS AND PAMPHLETS
Miss Anthropocene (Mermaid Motel)
a selection of short lyric, ‘ethereal nu metal’ poems responding to the Elon Musk/Grimes complex.
Sonnets for Hooch – with Mau Baiocco and Kyle Lovell (Fathomsun Press)
An ongoing pamphlet series of sonnets attuned to the weirding seasons: what started as an internet joke about alcopops and longing as a keystone for exploring adolescent malaise, nostalgia and resilience thru civic space and Friendship. Current editions available are Lemon Bloom Season and Summertime Social. Two more instalments are forthcoming in association with Rat Press and Mermaid Motel.
Polychromatics (Legitimate Snack)
A pamphlet-length poem about colour, cetaceans and cosmic twilight, inspired by Walter Benjamin and a sculptural and textile works by the artist Anna Winberg.
Soft Friction – with Kirsty Dunlop (Mermaid Motel)
Soft Friction is an intimate gathering of dreams from 2018, written during a summer of ‘existential soup’, fainting at gigs, pulling all-nighters and panic surrealism. Extracted from a longer diary, these fragments wear the sensuality and sass of an active dream life shared between two people getting high on each others’ brains.
The Palace of Humming Trees (Sundays)
Edited and typeset by Katie O’Grady with visual identity by Paul Smith, this book-length poem features illustrations by Jack O’Flynn plus a curator’s word from Katie O’Grady and collaborative mixtapes. Set in the speculative locale of The Palace of Humming Trees, the poem is a jaunt through weird nature’s arc of glass, following the desire lines of hyperfoxes, sunburst melancholia and corona correspondence. Also available as a free pdf.
The Luna Erratum (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)
The Luna Erratum, Maria Sledmere’s debut poetry collection, roams between celestial and terrestrial realms where we find ourselves both the hunter and hunted, the wounded and wounding. Through elemental dream logics of colour, luminosity and lagging broadband, this is a post-internet poetics which swerves towards the ‘Other Side’: a vivid elsewhere of multispecies relation, of error and love, loss and nourishment.
‘The Rosarium’ for Zoee’s album, Flaw Flower (Illegal Data)
A lyric sequence responding to the glistening pop garden of Zoee’s debut record Flaw Flower. Available as an A6 booklet as part of the limited edition album bundle.
The Palace of Humming Trees with Jack O’Flynn and Katie O’Grady (French Street Studios)
A collaborative project with artist Jack O’Flynn and curator Katie O’Grady which took place April to August 2021 and was showcased at French Street Studios in Glasgow. Featuring new works of poetry, sculpture, illustration and multisensory dreamscapes (from mixtapes to Tarot readings), we offered a ‘tenderly crumbling foliage’ of visual and sonic otherworlding.
The Dream Turbine with A+E Collective and The NewBridge Project
This online installation explores the relationship between sustainability and dreaming, offering a space to collectively share dreams and promote 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. I contributed to a preparatory DreamPak of resources and the curation of a Dream Vault and associated ‘Lost in the Dreamhouse’ workshop on Zoom.
Cauliflower Love Bike Episode 1: Play with A+E Collective
While play might be co-opted for capitalism, true play is that which exceeds instrumentalism and commodification. This episode reclaims play from its dialectical relation with work, exploring play as a practice and thought-mode that is capable of radical sensing, temporal sabotage, tenderness, sociality and a joyous excess that is also low-carbon. The podcast series was launched at COP26 in the Rachel Carson Centre’s pop-up exhibition at New Glasgow Society.
Article: ‘Hypercritique: A Sequence of Dreams for the Anthropocene’ in Coils of the Serpent Issue 8
An in-depth venturing through the possibilities of hypercritique, featuring readings of Billie Eilish, Sophia Al-Maria, Ariana Reines and more; plunging through dream, fire and the heartwood of anthropocene imaginaries.
“Just to distract you like the inside”: a correspondence wrapped up in Bernadette Mayer’s poetry, in post45, Bernadette Mayer cluster (with Colin Herd)
An epistolary collaboration which wraps and unwraps itself in and around the poetry of Bernadette Mayer, as part of a special cluster issue on Bernadette’s work.
‘I, Cloud: Staging Atmospheric Imaginaries in Anthropocene Lyric’, Moveable Type, Issue 13
Tracing the possibilities of ‘cloud writing’ in anthropocene lyric by way of Brian Eno, Mary Ruefle, Anna Gurton Wachter and more, asking what kinds of reading are possible or desirable in a medial world of thick atmospheres.
- ‘It Isn’t the Mist’, part of special article ‘Why I Choose Poetry (What’s Nation Got to Do with It? What’s Gender Got to Do with It?): A Collective Poetry-Essay by 21 Poets Encountered in Scotland (2016–19)’, ed. by Jane Goldman, Contemporary Women’s Writing
- ‘Lower Your Cortex’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘Selected Ambien Worms’, ‘Aspartame Labour’, ‘Orchil’, ‘Olafur Eliasson’, in Litmus: the lichen issue
- ‘Am I to be nowhere, gently?’ in collaboration with Scott Morrison for SPAM Plaza
- ‘Ode to the Yamaha SPX90’, ‘Butterfly Pea Flowers, Light Years Away’ and ‘LA in November’ in THE MOON AND THE ECHO: responses to The Moon and The Melodies (1986) by Harold Budd and Cocteau Twins (Pilot Press, 2021)
- ‘Glitch Meridian’, ‘Small Deciduous Trees’ and three images in Tentacular issue 7
- ‘FOUR STRAWBERRIES ARE ALSO JEALOUS: A CASCADE’ in Virtual Oasis (Trickhouse Press)
- ‘Heaven’s Expense’, ‘Lark’ & ‘Nuptials’ in Hotel
- ‘from A Sun Journal‘ and ‘TEEN CANTEEN’ in Babel Tower Notice Board
- ‘Self Portrait at 27’ in MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture
- ‘But the Hard Glass’ + 3 images in ‘Blue and Green Project’
- ‘Lifestream’ in Scottish Poetry Library Poems of the Year 2020
- ‘When is the Best Time to Announce a Floral Pregnancy?’ in PROTOTYPE 3
- ‘Meadow Talk’, in MAGMA Anthropocene issue
- ‘Big Natural Course’, with fred spoliar, Babel Tower Notice Board
- Meadow Fractals for A Soft Landing
ESSAYS AND OTHER ERRATA
‘On Foam’ for Futch Press
Feature: A conversation with Kinbrae and Clare Archibald ‘Tangents: letters on Etel Adnan’: a correspondence with Katy Lewis Hood in MAP Magazine (part 1) (part 2) (part 3)
‘‘Now now is everything’: Maria Sledmere on two maximalist poets of the Anthropocene’, Poetry London issue 99
‘Cloud Shifts’ BlueHouse Journal
Anam Creative Launch for MAP Magazine
Cover for Katy Lewis Hood’s Bugbear (Veer2)
Cover for fred spoliar’s With the Boys (SPAM Press)
Cover for SPAM Press Season 5 Pamphlet series
Wet-leaved, walking up hills with chain oil on my elbows, knuckles, knees. We are on the eve of the ‘big climate conference’, which is to say, to be a host city of preemptive closure: there will be no more roads so that nobody can block the roads without authority, no more bridges for your tiny feet. I imagine a commute that takes me north to Kirkintilloch and back along the canal, an extra hour and a half of leg power and stamina and to arrive like of a beetroot complexion to the moment when somebody speaks. These streets are mostly broken glassed, and I see nothing to sweep that; I see buildings go up, see extravagant plant life grow from abandoned houses. I dream about bike punctures from enormous shards of glass. A mushroom sprouts in the brutalist building. I should have planned to do something. More tired than words can.
Imagine awaking beautifully at 5am each day, to actual birdsong and car sounds, still going through the night to Edinburgh or the general east as they do. I miss the ocean, which I have not seen since May. Sometimes I forget that its quiet, rhythmic hush is always in my ears, a tinnitus with the switcher dimmed. All summer I swapped the ocean for industrial estates, teeming with buddleia. If I go to a club, it gets full bright. The hush. At 6am I make atomic coffee, await words, say rain. I could tell you about the new university building and how I will never find a space to work there, doomed to circle identikit floors like airports in a suspended time that nonetheless eats into my time of work, a starship, doomed to fill a cup of hot water and carry it up and down escalators only to be cast back outside with scalded hands, cried into blustering autumn. A hazmat suit to be a student, studying the microparticles of your love in blunder. If I could study on the floor, in the street, with the leaves stuck to me. But I am a sufferer of frostbite and poor circulation, owing to damp homes, an unfortunate experience in the snow and damaged nerves, fragile metabolism. I am not there anymore, in the place we have been
Canned words taste better with more salt on them. Fuck you. Sitting on the curb in the 1990s surprised us when a plane went by, it was carrying my childhood. Remember we used to put each other literally in bins, until that wasp stung your ass and I was sorry. We prise open tins for the juicy bits of the story like, what would it take to get the attention of a virulent benefactor? Should you become a red squirrel enthusiast, or take up the statuesque hobbies of sportsmen? What beneficent largesse would require it?
Imagine not living by the anticipatory hormone storm of a coming menstruation, or like, the cramping wildness of the night and morning or blood gushed trying to have coherent thought in the day when your mind is fog. I want to transcribe some of that fog to writing, to remember how it was when again I am in clearing, to be like this is the place, it’s never gone. I was held in it, the tearing itself to shreds sensation to write this at six in the morning before work. Plants don’t have to go through this; is it that they’re always ‘working’? How do trees feel when they shed their leaves? Is it like an annual period and do they miss them? Should I develop fondness for shreds of blood in the toilet, abject bits of me and not? I saw a leaf blush out of my mouth and into a leaflet. Smoking kills. I watch the men in high-vis sweep up the dead leaves, more like dying, into black bags by the side of the road. Someone around here is always burning rubber tyres in secret. It’s kind of erotic to watch people do something repetitive and with great concentration, as if no one else could possibly notice this. To do your work that way. O your beautiful butterfly shoulders. Missed opportunities.
For instance, I could have lived through this moment to learn another language, write a curriculum vitae for the purposes of waged employment, called you.
“It feels so good to walk in nature.”
Blood drop in the shape of sycamore.
Where is Canada?
The revenge fantasy is only that trees are flirtatious as hell, winking pollen so that you watery-eyed have to look up at the stars sometimes and beg, like take me. Let me out of the forest so I might see
(fantasies of committee,
the ground to tie
my own laces in figures of eights.)
The figure of eight in Karla Black’s sculpture which is pink-smeared recalling everything I used to put on my face. The idea is to find a sort of peace with it. School bathrooms where a face was pressed against glass and cruelly examined. I dream of rooms filled entirely with blizzards of eighties-blue eyeshadow. Angel Olsen, 2014, Pitchfork Festival. Having lived with the spirit not for resale, traded on a stark memory of that colour where every remembrance seems to intensify blue, until all I have is the pigment itself, ultramarined into oblivion. To wake into that blue and not see beyond it. I put my sore arm through the right-hand loop of the eight and pulled this out for you.
In the dream we pass an armed convoy and into the bakery with coins allotted to us by authority figures, and we buy pastries adorned by sugar ice drawn in mobius curlicues, and the pastries flake away as we eat them, greedily on the street, so many flakes falling before the guards. And we are butter-mouthed in the face of conflict, war and summit. A kind of shout chokes the air but the golden morning goes on, the falling leaves. I have these cramps and double over in the falling leaves. Men come to sweep around me, where I have fallen. One of them bends down — he is so young to be working — and pats my head tenderly and I see a leaf fall behind him and I know that leaf to be us, so we embrace platonically for one moment, as though I were his long-lost twin, before the foreman calls his name, which I can’t recall—
No, not that at all — he touches the soft part of my ear, goes “are you not young to be leaving?”
In trash, the language of trash, the trash piled up against the highway of your declaration. The men stopped coming.
Azalea, camilla, plum blossom, hydrangea.
Rizla, tin foil, styrofoam, gum.
The noise of vehicles pulling up around the city, emitting fumes.
The petals shed and I sleep on them, dreaming my blue becomes turquoise
another morning where the sun won’t rise
until we are paid.
Painted Shrines, Woods – Gone
Au Revoir Simone – Stay Golden
Uffie – Cool
Margo Guryan – Something’s Wrong with the Morning
Green-House – Soft Meadow
Frankie Cosmos – Slide
Arthur Russell – A Little Lost
Grizzly Bear – Deep Sea Diver
Tricky – Makes Me Wanna Die
The Raveonettes – I Wanna Be Adored
Beach Fossils – Sleep Apnea
Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Cate Le Bon – Running Away
Vagabon, Courtney Barnett – Reason to Believe
Angel Olsen – Some things cosmic
Jason Molina – I’ll Be Here in the Morning
Cat Power – I Found A Reason
If you wanted to know, I’m from Mars, like men are, or in the order of things what a man doesn’t know the controverse of other waters, almost all of us exist as ice. Never to be ready for end, its artificial blush, to edit and close to the distance of light.
That you await water or more, gone muscle of the month nothing happened, acres of pleasure gone and into the stadium, more or gone to wake pink and stinging the dream, everybody wants to. The many-stomached among us arrive and wearing lace. We eat bees, we half kiss
If it is a mall and if analogue. I begin to forget the difference between, how easy it is to order hard slushie, rewind and loop myself into the fretless moment, a whistle of football, a slow man. Test acids:
No cup of coffee is hot enough. You up, you accuse me of people, I seem to have revelled in the air for too long. Where did our liquid water go? The intriguing discovery of three buried lakes, surface bruises. Had I the famous grouse and soda of your eyes are bubbles, we sup on the luminous and blemish, generous language. “Lack of a substantial atmosphere” was our review. Not to advise a trip here. Wait.
But trip, you go. Sip peaches under the bleachers, three poems. Not up yet. Not bright, not early. Waiting on me for the thirst. Bloglore, blueness, periorbital circles. Why so much neon pigment, not sleep, you go bass it is sultry “just pretend they’re your friends”. Advantage of entering thirties is the austerity of early sanguine, no YOU go to bed at noon; I will iron your watercolour until it is warm.
Victory to the internet so said privacy, party, my vice a nightly garment, smelt pain. At the left desk dream-amaze you save me, take pictures in natural formation, go see frog. Conflagrate lateral flow, high up in the sentence is forfeit, your sweat.
There is a courtyard on Mars where daylight, nay the leafminer, leaves scarification. No more raids. I have been here in flesh and blood to salsify, lightly the oyster plant is edible and does not grow. You do shrub mail, you don’t hot. Everything to do could else refuse.
No more scare, cup ring, close your accent permanently.
Plans for the Fall. Accounting.
Enrol to all that and wear a cloud, I want to write this you, to you, lower ourselves to parallel tarmacs; am I to speak the particulate deltas of this planet, no this one, you are a rainbow. We could be anywhere. Alice says ‘sad foam’, ‘Disappear’.
The money forth comes, does not accommodate thought; it is the feeling that I saw a seal. Start your bitcoin emptiness and pyre of light; I wrote on afternoon this letter. Ocean goes away.
Fullness and not to floss sleep from prison but I think the Marxist rabbits are fucking released.
Maggie says of the urge to begin mistakes. A surprise that the flotsam arrived here, not of shape, are you the sleekit to enter say the sea isn’t real.
We build whole houses with roofs of sequin. Desperado attic of saltheart, salvage flower. Meadow / Black / Wild / Yellow varieties.
I deleted 54% of this article.
Substantial genitalia of the not getting wet.
1.6% argon, we are gone
where softly the walls sag.
Knit you a fortress of seasonal transition. Khora my lame electron.
Martian quality relayed in me a voice, surface, can’t get a full-length mirror from you, get dressed, exit the internet. I exist in this flat and wait for the post. No more furnishing.
Lemonade also goes this way.
How did I thinner the telescopic? Lop a water? Log into the apple?
Well, it is Red.
Starfish suck excess from solar landmass.
Sometimes gravity, shoots you up, does not come back. Inelegant hipbone blue and yonder. Sometimes very close to the ground I like spiders. Eat you up. You up.
What did you think of your time alone?
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.
New publication: Soft Friction by Kirsty Dunlop and Maria Sledmere
Here we present you a bundle of our dreams, wrapped in something like a rhythm, or did we mean a ribbon? Soft Friction is an intimate gathering of dreams from 2018, written during a summer of ‘existential soup’, fainting at gigs, pulling all-nighters and panic surrealism. Extracted from a longer diary, these fragments wear the sensuality and sass of an active dream life shared between two people getting high on each others’ brains. From dolphins thrashing in kitchens, to maths equations, celebrity encounters and shopping for underwear, the pamphlet runs through the four stages of sleep and wakes you with a cheeky tickle of incompleteness.
44pp (A5 B/W)
Printed on recycled natural paper 100gsm
Cover by Maria Sledmere
Published by Mermaid Motel
£5 inc. UK P+P
To order, email kirsty_dunlop[at]hotmail.co.uk or simply paypal £5 to this email with your postal address. For orders outside the UK drop Kirsty an email for postage.
Last year’s April was a leap year. For every 29th day I summoned to think of the hours as gifted, secret, strength. I spent the actual leap of February in somebody else’s bed, a cherished cliché: cradling sadness, cat-sitting, reading Anne Carson and rolling the word ‘tableaux’ around my stressy mouth, whose hostile environment required twice-daily salt-rinses. On the 29th of last year’s April, I wrote about vermillion and silverware, ‘the lint of your heart’ and hayfever. A friend and I exchanged tips on how to best work from the floor, how to make it your best work. I miss ‘working the floor’ in other senses.
What do you want is not the same as What would you like?
There was a reading group on Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal (2020), and the Zoom chat was elliptical pursuit, a good fuck pendant, fractal kissing and restless deferral. The word besmirch which isn’t a word search.
I remember cycling long into the hard sun; I recall better eyesight.
Okay, recently. Do you want to hear this? I spent a week of anticipation, languishing with migraines and digestive upsets and the kind of blues where mostly you curl foetally into the fantasy that really you, or this, doesn’t exist. Sip worry coffee and brush the hair, tweeze or shave, sit patiently on top of the abstract, waiting for something lucid to hatch. ‘Opening up’. A weekend bleeding, the minor cramp of womb in Autechre rhythm; then a further week of physical ailment whose primary treatments, according to the lore of reddit, included punching one’s spine, counting to ten, pinching between nose and lip and lying in hot baths. I did not have the baths, which seemed terrible and luxurious given how faint they could make me. I read two books by Samuel Beckett.
In Garments Against Women (2015), Anne Boyer writes that ‘Everyone tries to figure out how to overcome the embarrassment of existing. We embarrass each other with comfort and justice, happiness or infirmity’. It is awkward to smile and to squirm. To be red-faced and faint after a luxury bath. To be found frowning in the Instagram reel of somebody else’s dreaming. To apologise, to dwell upon, to ask for help. To be the one clutching a hot water bottle in the Zoom call; to hide or show this. To sip beer, the migraine coming. To say “hello” from the room next door. To deem something luxury, to partake of it. ‘I have done so much to be ordinary’, writes Boyer, ‘and made a record of this’. Say I learned this month how to paint my nails grape soda, define hypercritique, appreciate the slept-in curls of my hair.
It is awkward to be unwell, to express this without clear definition. “Sorry it’s all late, I’ve been sick” and to not elaborate on that sickness, the specific ways it kept you up all night, kept you retching or clutching something tight inside yourself which seemed to want to give birth. A stray barb or small contaminant. A numb pill. Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts. Plants are not awkward; they just grow. Sometimes upwards, sideways; sometimes back inside themselves. Wilt logic. ‘Let’s be happy insofar as we were for a few days not infirm’ (Boyer). The ecstasy of a new morning where the body stretches out, the mind clears and one is ready to work. Who gets these mornings? Can they be traded? Is their delicious ease somehow fungible? What would I give for more of them? Fungus, rot, the fangs of lilies.
Maybe it starts with crisp garments. But pretty soon the neat attainment of day will unbutton. Watch it happen in Lorenzo Thomas’ poem ‘Euphemysticism’:
Some happily sing
They have joy for white shirts
Singing “O white shirt!”
And that’s just the start
What ecstasy to declare the white shirt! What embarrassment! The chiaroscuro of lily-white shirt against the everyday’s dull shadows, but then showing up ‘baby pictures / Of pollution becoming disaster’ and Thomas’ poem is all about this. Disaster. Headlines, emissions, confusion. And that’s just the start. ‘A man crashes with his shadow’, perhaps because there is no one else. I did this for months on end because nothing else was safe. I could go the long walk for my safe grassy spot and crash there along with my shadow. I crashed in sunshine and rain. Crashland. Why did I bring the lily. It was like being fourteen again and walking for miles just to find a safe, anonymous place to smoke or weep. Sleep crash. ‘In the prickling grass in the afternoon in August, I kept trying to find a place where my blood could rush. That was the obsolete experience of hope’ (Lisa Robertson, XEclogue). It was like staring at the potential of Marlboro Golds tucked behind books and wondering what version of me they belong to. Synecdoche. Rising swirls. The poem burns out but also gets better. Blood rush and screen crash are lyric in pop songs. Sorry my windows. They are getting cleaned today.
Narrate my day again to you.
Thomas’ poem turns to the reader: ‘I’d like to check your influence / Over these ordinarily mysterious things’. The poem takes pictures or talks about it. What is a photographer responsible for? Do they re-enchant or estrange? If someone took a picture at this point or that point, if there was evidence, who would need to be told. How do you photograph pollution? Is this merely witnessing? In the past year and more, I have become witness to my own inability to really see. Disaster itself recedes into medial condition, blood swirls, scratching matter. I think of the way Sibylle Baier sings ‘I grow old’…
Some happily sing the white shirt and are they complacent with their conditions of work? Influence! ‘Desire is a snowscape on a placemat’ (Thomas). I trace its snowy lines in the stray thread of this weave. Ant-sized bloodstain. Am I to be made safe, or eat giant buttons? Put your plate on a place elsewhere and devour the rolling hills. Artificial snow is delicious. Crinkled thread. The white line curls around my tongue like spaghetti. Lila Matsumoto has a poem, ‘Trombone’, about hammering buttons. I unbutton the top three buttons of my blouse to walk around in fifteen degrees, absorbing/zorbing, and call the sunlight oil inside me.
‘There is a risk inherent in sliding all over the place’ (Boyer). This is what language does. There is a risk in crackle, in static, in the O shape of ‘sorry’ or ‘love’ or ‘alone’. Petition to upgrade for bubble emoji.
Last night, on the train back from another city I had not visited since August, I opened Sarah Bernstein’s new novel, The Coming Bad Days (2021). I did not close this novel again for several hours, except to pass through ticket gates or beyond groups of steaming men whose presence was vaguely threatening. They seemed cardboard cut-outs, stumbling towards me. When a migraine began burning my temples, I took paracetamol and kept walking, reading. When the light became gloam I walked faster. When I got home I sat at the table and opened the book again, like a schoolchild eager to begin their homework (as a ticket to freedom) or revisit a dream. It is risky to write about something you finished barely twelve hours ago. It’s embarrassing, the way talking about illness is, or happiness. To gush. You risk offering a raw piece of thought. Something has stuck to you and you are trying to convey the exact, impossible, vicious way in which you are changed by it. Still steaming.
This is what I understand by gorgeousness. As in, I gorged on it.
In the book’s last third occurs a fabular moment. The narrator is often telling their inner life through external surroundings — textures and fluctuations of weather. This is also to tell disaster. It is not the dramatic crash so much as a slow, implacable violence whose consequence ripples below and above the surface of our lives. Sometimes there is rupture: a cyclist is hit by a motorist, a storm occurs, an unspecified act of harm is committed, a life-changing conversation alluded to. But so much is in the insidious atmospheres which turn between dream and reality, which refuse to be nailed to the moment:
I dreamt of a landscape, overgrown grass, trees blanketing a hillside, leafy canopies moving against the sky, a deep river bisecting the scene. Fat berries pulling on their stems, apples weighing down their branches. Then a breeze came through with a slow hiss, and I knew it carried poison on its back. Here was a green abundance that I could not eat, a cold stream from which I could not drink. Take care, a voice said. Take care to call things by their names.
(Bernstein, The Coming Bad Days)
In this Edenic scene of harvest and green abundance, nothing is properly named. The landscape is unspecified, generic, anywhere. The voice belongs to anyone. It could be a serpent, a god, an angel, a person. Unlike Adam, the narrator cannot name things in nature. It is not their purpose. They came to Eden in dreams and after the fall. What fruits of knowledge exist are overripe and almost a burden to their branches and vines. In addition to the biblical resonance, this passage recalled for me the fig tree motif in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963),the poison tree of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Experience (1794). Wrath is in the air, and failure. I want to wrap around the passage like a kind of vine. Hold and be held in it. Is language a kind of taking care? A watering cruelty? What are the ecological arts of attention and tending to, towards, against?
I was struck by the possibility that Bernstein’s narrator embodied the abject and porous, slow and injured thought of an anthropocenic subject. This statement feels inevitable. The only abundance they could conjure was unconscious and laced with ‘poison’. It could not be imbibed; was not nourishing. But somehow such dreams nourish the text. For all its depiction of coldness, cruelty and the failure of communication, the cold stream of suffering, the weathering of Bernstein’s lyric prose effects a possible intimacy. Weathering, for Astrida Neimanis and Jennifer Mae Hamilton, ‘names a practice or a tactic: to weather means to pay attention to how bodies and places respond to weather-worlds which they are also making’. I think of the narrator skittishly eating cheese sandwiches at the window of their office, every single day of the week. I eat this sandwich with them. What is it they see? Each iterative mention of the weather reminds us that the social and interpersonal dramas of the novel are part of the medial, immersive or remote dramas of climate. The agential presence of rain, frost, clouds and fog, the turn of the waves, the ‘glistening violet evenings’: it’s more than metaphor. It sinks into the prickling skin of Bernstein’s language. Maybe you’d want to call this a weathering realism.
This novel seized me to read with compulsion, the way a dream does come and the writing of the dream is luxuriance that only later you bathe in. Not quite vulnerable or resilient. Responsive. Exposed to something.
On the 28th April 2019 (no entry for the 29th), I wrote in purple ink:
We would do better to sleep now, I have been sleeping much better and trying to resist the pull of insomnia, trying to perfect a monologue. What comes and goes in a dream without noticing, whose handwriting on the sun you recognised chancing your luck with yellow corn and fields of trials against sensitive, colours of smear and floral obstacle. Hyperboreal data flow into the crinkle cut futurity. Applying for latitude, acid.
Not sure about ‘we’: did I mean the ‘we’ of me reading back, and the ‘me’ who was writing, there in the moment? Are you also included, reading this passage over one of my shoulders? Can we take care to name things in dreams? But when I dream of people — friends, loved-ones, family, colleagues the famous — as I often do, what happens when I write their names? Am I opening them up to something that could harm or exhaust them? Is their presence a giving over of energy? Am I to be persecuted by the purple, anonymous flower of somebody’s need? What if I didn’t even know? What if the mark-making of initials was key? Will it bloom or wilt?
Go back to sleep in the forest, soft cosmos of dissolving forms.
There is a sense of missing someone that grows an acorn in your belly. It hardens and rattles with new life. It burns out of place. Leaves you with a feeling of placelessness. Impregnates every word with the possible, the fizzy wake, the fear and hurt. Makes you grow sideways. Hey. To exist in no-time of not knowing when the feeling comes. Pastel vests are back in fashion. Pull over. Kisses. Rarest flower emoji that doesn’t exist. To be sometimes well and other times racked in a well-documented
madness that pays various attention to weather. Something painful. A few days of goodness seized. I would leap out the door, do 15,000 steps each day; so I would name the colour chartreuse when I saw it. Watching for changing bone structures in Zoom tiles. Your hair grown long and lemon blonde. My internet broke for a whole day and night. I felt old-timey in the pdf archive. Phoned you.
Bebby Doll – Weeks
Ana Roxanne – I’m Every Sparkling Woman
Zoee – Microwave
Cowgirl Clue – Cherry Jubilee
Laurel Halo – Sun to Solar
trayer tryon, Julie Byrne – new forever
Life Without Buildings – Sorrow
Cocteau Twins – My Truth
Kelsey Lu, Yves Tumor, Kelly Moran, Moses Boyd, ‘let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out’
Iceage – Gold City
Le Tigre – Deceptacon
FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred again.. – Don’t Judge Me
Porridge Radio – Wet Road
Angel Olsen – Alive and Dying (Waving, Smiling)
Big Thief – Off You
Perfume Genius – Valley
Grouper – Poison Tree
Sonic Youth – Providence
U.S. Maple – The State Is Bad
Sky Ferreira – Sad Dream
Waxahatchee – Fruits of My Labor (Lucinda Williams cover)
The Felice Brothers – Inferno
Bright Eyes – Train Under Water
Weyes Blood – Titanic Risen
Lucinda Williams – Save Yourself (Sharon Van Etten cover)
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.