Experimenting with Weather A workshop with me and Tawnya Selene Renelle
(Online and free)
Thursday February 17th
6-8:00pm (GMT) via Zoom
Join us for this free workshop. Maria Sledmere will be our guest as she gets you ready for her new course Writing the Everyday which will begin on February 24th.
We will be deep diving into all the ways we can experiment with weather and thinking about the ways that weather can shape both the content and structure of our writing. We will be thinking about the influence of weather and how something simple might be woven into experimental writing.
Suited to all genres, skill levels, and artists of any medium.
Ecopoetics and Postcapitalist Desire As part of Glasgow Goes Green Festival (QMU, University of Glasgow)
(in-person, 5pm on 23rd February)
In his 2012 essay, ‘Post-Capitalist Desire’ Mark Fisher recalls protestors at the Occupy London Stock Exchange critiqued in the press for having iPhones and buying Starbucks coffee. In many mainstream framings of environmental activism, to be ecological is to be solemnly ‘pure’ and somehow entirely free of the taint of consumerism’s impulse. How do questions of energy, desire and expression come into artistic and activist responses to the climate crisis? Can we complicate the binary of ascetism and pleasure when it comes to ecology? This workshop asks: what does it mean to be ecological in and beyond capitalist society? Looking at various works of contemporary poetry, we will locate ecological thought within complex expressions of excess, hedonism and despair; works which intersect ecology with queer joy and critiques of racialised capital; works which negotiate ecological politics and ethics within everyday life and its games of recognition.
After a short introduction to ecopoetics, we’ll read some poems (distributed as pdf handouts), explore writing activities and have discussion.
Open to anyone interested in reading and writing poetry.
Location: this workshop will take place in Committee Room 1 of the QMU. Enter through the front door of the building and take the stairs or the lift ahead to the third floor. A member of staff will be present to direct you to the workshop.
Please bring your own preferred writing materials.
It was supposed to snow in the night and the not snowing was sore as a missed period. I awoke with two crescent-shaped moons in the palm of my hand and thought of a sacrifice unwittingly given in dreamland. Said Jesus. Peridot phlegm and the scratchy sensation, knowing that speech too could be cool, historical, safe. Could not see beyond pellucid rivulets, Omicron my windows, my streaming January. January
streams from every well-known orifice of the world. Its colour is shamelessly stone. I seem to be allergic to inexplicable moments and so keep to the edge of the polyphony of yellow. I am cared for. The Great Barrier Reef dissolves in my dreams the substrate of yellow. It goes far. Pieces of the GBR are washed ashore in Ayr, Singapore, Los Angeles, Greenland. I go to these places by holding a polished boiled candy in my mouth, like the women in Céline and Julie Go Boating. My ankles licked by truest shores / but January didn’t fucking happen.
Put together the orange-purple rose, your possible outcomes are red or gold (if you are lucky). Two reds together, with the golden watering can, could result in the rare blue rose. A novel rose. Black velvet roses grow in the old woman’s garden because she has infinite time to tend them. I’m not saying she’s immortal, like the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish; only that she doesn’t exist in our time. It’s rude to assume so. I’m not saying the lines of her face are asemic writing — nobody did that to her, or scarred her. She’s not scared. She just lives and dies all the time. She waters the roses.
Sometimes I imagine her in fisherman’s clothes, in meshy nightclub outfits of neon flavours, in extravagant ballgowns, blue boilersuits. Sometimes I’ve seen her before. The only way I can see her is to climb a few steps on the ladder by the village store, its red paint flaking, and I hang my body upside down the other side, risking exposure. I never eat before doing this. She doesn’t see me; she doesn’t see her roses either, not the blooms. In the village, people walk around with handfuls of rose seeds sometimes strung in little hemp bags. These are the currency of care. I have tended the young with haircuts and watched the flourishing of teenage roses. They say I am an old lady in the garb or garbage of former actresses. I hear them sing to me their stories. “Remember she shot the guy who brought the astrograss”. What they don’t remember, whippersnappers, is the incorrigible realism of that turf. Fuck it, I have done nothing wrong. I perform for them my cowboy gardening. Broadcast the surplus value of our mutual twilight. Halloween roses for everyone. Every night I wake up from someone else’s childbirth and the world is so sore, the wound in the sky the snow wants to fall through. They bandaged it with realism. I need to go far. Do you remember the last time you awoke and felt like a person?
The roses grow up in the gaps of the cattlegrid, knowing they will be trodden on. Again and again. We can’t stop them from doing this and they do it so often we have to account for a portion of Waste. Kissing you is itself a trellis. But we are propped and grown sideways with the vines strung betwixt our ribs. We are babies.
I like the tired way the roses intonate colour. The economics of the roses. Their euphemistic fetish. I tried to avow my commitment to rosehood the day I saw your calves all torn, and saw about women getting their labias reduced, and the red, blood roses sold on the internet, and rest. I lay this on your grave, the world.
My love, as a redness in our rosette That’s newly worn in June O my love, like the melt That’s sweetly played in turbines
So fairway artery thou, my bonnie lasso Defiled in love as I Will love thee still, my decade Tinged as the seas are garlanded dry
Tinged all the seas as thee, my decanter At the romantic menagerie of sunset I will luminary still, a debutante Of the lighthouse sarcophagi
And plough thee well, my only lathe! And plough thee well, awhile! And I will come again, my love Though it were ten thousand millennium.
My love’s rose-coloured highlighter really hurt the extra-textual, and thus booked trains to bed. I had an identity. I knew what you had done to the text. Austerity of the meadow to blame for ongoing culling of kin. You are abandonable as you have always been. Saplings for pronouns.
I feel wild and sad.
I feel pieces together stirring inside the world. Little bits of coral awake in my throat, the shape of eight billion sun-spike proteins I was dumb enough to swallow. It is not my fault but in my dreams I get product emails like, Forget-me-not a pair of jeans, high-waisted Levi’s as if to wear at the end of the month we keep saying sorry for delay, embroidered our thighs with spiders excuses to use lighters without smoking does it make us vectors the warning of snow and ice still issued from inside the snow globe of the rosehip changes as it withers, glass shards pissed from acid clouds in all colours: black, blue, burgundy, cherry brandy, coral cream, dark pink, green, lavender, light pink, lilac, orange, peach, purple’s timeless red, salmon, Hollywood white & yellow, rainbow chosen for the significant other, a masculine flower dipped in fortified light, I’m thankful I look good lying down, the long unconditional stem aka Lemonade, l-l-l-lemonade, l-l-l-lemonade…….
It was the morning I had decided to stop living as if dust wasn’t the primary community in which I sobbed and thrived, daily, towards dying. I spent Tuesday night in a frenzy trying to discern what particular dust or pollen (animal, vegetable, floral) had triggered my allergies anew, what baseline materiality had exploded in my small room its abysmal density. All recommended air filters had sold out online in the midst of other consumers’ presumably asthmatic dust panics; the highly desirable Vax filter seemed sold out across all channels, and I eyed up the pre-owneds of eBay with lust and suspicion, through a fug of beastly sneezes. A friend recommended the insufflation of water as a temporary remedy: ‘I drop some drops on my chopping board, get a straw and snort it up like a line of Colombian snow’, he texts me. I sneeze at the thought, but have to admit that the promise of clearing one’s nasal cavities with water is somewhat appealing. For isn’t water, like sneezing, a force in itself? Some kinds of sneeze come upon you as full-body seizures of will; so that to sneeze repeatedly you must surrender an hour or so, sometimes a full day, to the laconic state of being constantly taken over by this brute, unattractive rupture. ‘Sneezing’, writes Pascal, ‘takes up all the faculties of the soul’. My soul is in credit to the god dusts, who owe me good air. It’s why I am always writing poems (the word air meaning song/composition). But maybe I need good water, a wave of it.
In Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture (1990), the philosopher Catherine Clément characterises sneezing as an instance of ‘syncope’: a kind of ‘“cerebral eclipse,” so similar to death that it is also called “apparent death”; it resembles its model so closely that there is a risk of never recovering from it’. My muscles ache; I eclipse myself with blood, cellular juices and water. What kind of spiritual exhaustion results from being cast into eclipse repeatedly? Quite simply, one becomes ghost: blocked, momentarily or otherwise, from the light of consciousness. One becomes lunar and attached to the dark bright burn, the trembling red of their inflammation. Those who suffer respiratory allergies might better glimpse what Eugene Thacker calls ‘a world-without-us’. I sneeze myself to extinction. It is the hyperbole of a felt oblivion. I do this on random days of the year, at random times; it is beyond my control. But can I derive pleasure from it, as one does the other varieties of syncope (orgasm, swoon or dance)?
Let me admit, I have always had a fetish for those moments on television and film where a character is administered, or self-administers, an intravenous dose of painkill so sweet as to enunciate this ecstasy simply by falling to a sweet slump, their eyes rolled back accordantly. The premise of silencing the body’s arousal so completely to blissful inertia (suspending the currency of insomnia, hyperactivity, anxiety and attention deficit) is delicious. The calmness of snowfall, as if to swallow the durée of its full soft melt. From quarantine, I fantasise about having adequate boiler pressure as to run a bath and practice the khoratic hold of hot water’s suspension. This is not what I text my landlord.
Recently, my partner spent several hours unpacking boxes from the attic of their parent’s house, in preparation for moving belongings to a new flat. The next day, I found myself suffused in the realm of allergy: unable to think clearly, or articulate more than three words without the domination of a sneeze. On such days, I am held on the tight leash of my own sensitivity: I tremble pathetically, my blood temperature rises; my nose glows reindeer and no amount of fresh air, hydration or sinus clearance will appease it. I am not ‘myself’. The body has enflamed itself upon contact with the ambient and barely visible. I feel an intimate, but non-consensual relation to the ghost trace, the dust trace, of all boxed things — finally been given the attention they so summoned or desired in dormancy. I mourn with objects the passage of time and neglect so betrayed on their surface; I never ask for this, but my body is summoned. Dust presses itself upon you, even as you produce it. I’m scared to touch things because of the dust. What is it but the atmospheric sloughing of something volatile, mortal — the grammatology of our darkest spoiler, telling the story of how bodies are not wholly our own, or forever.
Sneezing disrupts and spoils nice things; it is an allergic response to both luxury and decay. Cheap glitter, rose spores, Yves Saint Laurent. Sneeze sneeze. ‘When a student comes to class wearing perfume’, admits Dodie Bellamy, ‘my nose runs, my eyes tear, I start sneezing; there’s nowhere to move to and I don’t know what to do. When the sick rule the world perfume will be outlawed’. Often I have this reaction too. It prompts a fury in me: Why can’t I have nice things, as I used to? During my undergraduate finals, I developed phantosmia: a condition in which you smell odours that aren’t actually there (olfactory hallucination). Phantosmia is typically triggered by a head injury or upper respiratory infection, inflamed sinuses, temporal lobe seizures, brain tumours or Parkinson’s disease. Often I have tried to conjure some originary trauma which would explain my condition: did some cupboard door viciously slam my head at work (possibly), did I fall over drunk (hm), was I subject to some terrible chest infection or vehement hayfever (often)? Luckily, my phantosmia was a relatively benign and consistent scent: that of an ersatz, fruity perfume. It recalled the pink-tinted Poundland scents I selected as a twelve-year-old to vanquish the horror of body odour raised by the spectre of Physical Education, before graduating to the exotic spices of Charlie Red. I was visited by this scent during intervals of increasing frequency as I served customers at work, cooked or studied; I trained myself to ignore them by pinging a rubber band on my wrist, or plunging my nose into scented oils I kept on my person. Years later they returned at moments of stressful intensity; the same cryptic, sickly smell.
More recently, phantosmia, under the umbrella of a general ‘parosmia’ (abnormality in the sense of smell) is associated with Covid-19. Not long ago I realised I hadn’t been smelling properly for months, despite not testing positive until very recently. Had I, like many others, a ghost Covid that went undetected by symptom or test? Drifting around, deprived of olfactory sense, I felt solidarity with the masses of others in this flattened condition. I eat, but when was the last time I truly enjoyed food? My body doesn’t register hunger like other people’s; unless it is a ritualised mealtime summoned in company, I eat when I get a headache. Pacing around the flat, I plunge my nose again into jars of cinnamon, kimchi, mint tea bags, bulbs of garlic. Certain things cut through the fug: coffee, bleach, shit. I remember a friend, who was born without a sense of smell, telling me long ago that the absence of that sense made her a particularly spicy cook. Often she wouldn’t notice the over-firing of a chilli until her nose started running. What does scent protect us from? What does it proffer? Surely it is the unsung, primal gateway to corporeal desire itself: the gross and indescribable comfort of a lover’s sweaty t-shirt, the waft of woodsmoke from a nearby village, the coruscation of caramelised onion to whet your appetite. Scent is preliminary in the channel of want. Without it, I feel cast adrift into anhedonia. I begin chasing scent. Still, I sneeze.
Dust gathers. Is it yours or mine? Can we really, truly, smell our dust? How does dust manifest as material trace or evidence? In Sophie Collins’ poem ‘Bunny’, taken from the collection Who Is Mary Sue? (2018), the speaker interrogates an unknown woman on the subject of dust:
Where did the dust come from and how much of it do you have? When and where did you first notice the dust? Why didn’t you act sooner? Why don’t you show me a sample. Why don’t you have a sample? Why don’t you take some responsibility? For yourself, the dust?
It would be perhaps an act of bad naturalisation to read the dust allegorically, or metonymically, as a figure for all kinds of evidence we are expected to produce as survivors of violence and harm. This evidence is to be quantified (‘how much’, ‘a sample’) and accounted for temporally in terms of cause, effect and responsible agency (‘first notice’, ‘act sooner’). The insistent repetition of dust produces a dust cloud: semantic saturation leaves us unable to discern the true ‘meaning’ of the dust. That anaphora of passive aggression, ‘Why don’t you’, coupled with the where, when and why of narrative, insists on a logical explanation for the dust that is apparently not possible. For anyone summoned to account for their trauma, the dust might be a sort of materialised psychic supplement: the particulate matters of cause and effect, unequally distributed and called for. It seems as though the speaker’s aggression, by negation wants to produce the dust while ardently disavowing the premise of its existence. The poem asks: is it possible to have authority over one’s experience when others require this authority to take the form of an account, a story, with appropriate physical corroboration? The more I read the poem, the more ‘dust’ becomes Covid. But it could be many things; dust always is.
‘Bunny’ also reveals the process by which testimony is absorbed into a kind of white noise, a dust storm repugnant to those called upon to listen. As Sara Ahmed puts it in Complaint! (2021), ‘To be heard as complaining is not to be heard. To hear someone as complaining is an effective way of dismissing someone’. Collins’ poem performs the long, grim thread of being told to ‘forget’, bundling us into a claustrophobia whose essence, the speaker implores, is ‘your own / sense of guilt’. Does this not violently imply (from the speaker’s perspective): as producers of dust, we take responsibility, wholly, for what happens to our bodies? I take each question of the poem as a sneeze: it is the only answer I have. I feel compelled to listen.
As she is asked, ‘Why don’t you take some responsibility? / For yourself, the dust?’, the addressee of the poem becomes conflated with the dust itself. I often think of this quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963), where erstwhile sweetheart Buddy Willard announces to budding poet Esther Greenwood, ‘a poem is […] A piece of dust’. Poems can be swept away; they are miniscule in the masculine programme of reality. They are stubborn, perhaps, but easily ignored by the strong and healthyy. In ‘Bunny’, the addressee’s own words are nothing but dust, ‘these words, Bunny’: the name ‘Bunny’ hailing something beyond the colloquial term, dust bunny — a ball of dust, fibre and fluff. The invocation of the name a kind of violent summons: you, the very named essence of you, are nothing but words and dust; there is no proof. The more I say the word ‘bunny’ aloud, the more I become aware of a warm and tender presence; this entity who has lived so long in the house of language — under the stairs, on the mantel’s sentence. Bunny, bunny, bunny. Clots in syntax. Dust can be obliquely revealed to all who notice; it coats the surface of everything. It is in the glow of wor(l)dly arrangement, the iterative and disavowed: a kind of ‘paralanguage’ Collins writes of in her nonfiction book small white monkeys (2017):
similar to ours but that is not ours […] when a writer manages — nearly, briefly — to access this paralanguage, we get a glimpse of what could be expressed if we were able to access this other, more frank (but likely bleak, likely barbaric) reality.
Running parallel to, or beneath ‘Bunny’, is the addressee’s reply, or lack of: the dust of her permeable silence, or inability to speak. It catches as a dust bunny in the throat. So how do we speak or listen, when faced with the aporetic knots of a hidden, ‘barbaric’ reality that is glimpsed in various forms of testimony and written expression? ‘Citation too can be hearing’, writes Ahmed. The title of Collins’ poem cites implicitly Selima Hill’s collection Bunny (2001), which she writes of extensively in small white monkeys as a book ‘I am in love with’. This citation opens ‘Bunny’ through a portal to the household of trauma that is Bunny: documenting, as Hill’s back cover describes, ‘the haunted house of adolescence’ where ‘Appearances are always deceptive’ and the speaker is harassed by a ‘predatory lodger’. Attention (and reading between texts) offers us openings, exits, corridors of empathy, solidarity and recognition. Its running in the duration of a poem or conversation might very well relate to the ‘paralanguage’ of which Collins speaks, in the oikos of trauma, grief and counsel. If poems are dust, then to know them — to write them, read them aloud and listen — is to disturb the order of things, one secret speck at a time. But the sight of each speck belies the plume of many.
The morning I tested positive for Covid on a lateral flow, having assumed my respiratory problems were accountable to generalised allergies, I decided to blitz my one-bedroom flat of dust. In the hot panic of realising my cells were now fighting a virus, I vacuumed my carpet and brushed orange cloths over bookshelves. I was really getting into it. Then my hoover began making a petulant, rasping noise. I turned off the power and flipped it upside down. To my horror, in the maw of the hoover’s rotating brush, I saw what can only be described as dust anacondas: huge strings of dense grey matter attached to endless, chunky threads of hair. Urgently donning a face mask, I began teasing these nasty snakes out with a pencil, as clumps of dust emitted from the teeth of the hoover and gathered on my carpet, thickly. All this time I was crying hysterically at the fact of my having Covid less than two weeks before my PhD thesis was due, the hot viral feeling in my head, and of having to deal with the dust of my own flesh prison: the embarrassment, shame and fail of it all, presented illustriously before me.
If only I could have purified my air! Forced to confront my body’s invasion (this time coronavirus, not just dust), I try to settle into the ‘load’. I make lists of the smells I miss, research perfumes online (aerosols glimpsed from the safe distance of text). I sneeze a lot, cry a lot, wheeze a lot; and then my sinuses go blank. Is this breathing? I imagine the cells of my body glowing new colours from the Omicron beasties. I re-watch one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies, My Neighbour Totoro (1988), which features anthropomorphic dust bunnies known as susutarawi, or ‘soot sprites’ (which also appear in Spirited Away (2001)). The girls of Totoro, Noriko and Mei, initially encounter these adorable demon haecceities as ‘dust bunnies’, but later they are explained as ‘soot spreaders’ (as per Netflix’s Japanese-to-English translation). When the younger girl, Mei, gingerly prods her finger into a crack in the wall of the old house she has just moved into, a flurry of the creatures releases itself to the air. She catches one in her hands, and presents it proudly to Granny, a kind elderly neighbour who reassures her the soot sprites will leave if they find agreeable the new inhabitants of their house. When she opens her palms, the sprite is gone, leaving just a smudge.
An absent-presence in My Neighbour Totoro is Noriko and Mei’s mother, Yasuko, who is in hospital, recovering from an unexplained ‘illness in the chest’. Mei’s confrontation with the animated dust mites, or soot sprites, acts out the wound of her mother’s absence. With curiosity and panic, she and her sister delight in the particulate matters of the household, of more-than-human hospitality. What is abject about history then, or even the family, its hauntings, is evoked trans-corporeally through the trace materials of a powdery darkness, dark ecology (see Timothy Morton’s 2016 book of this name) that is spooky but sweet. (S)mothering in the multiple. My sense of smell now is consumed entirely by a kind of offbeat metallic ash; I’m nostalgic for cheap perfume. I’m not sure if this essay is a confession or who is speaking; it seems increasingly that I speak from a cloud of unknowing coronaviruses. And so where do I end or begin, hyperbolically, preparing my pen or straw? The ouroboros of my dust anacondas reminding me that I too was only here, alive and in this flat, by tenancy and to return from my current quarantine having prodded the household spirits for company, with nothing for show for it these days, except these, dust, my words.
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 Turbinewith 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: Playwith 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.
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
Sam Williams’ project, A Soft Landing, is ‘an online resource inspired by the activity of communal gardens and city allotments. It is a space where volunteers are invited to share, learn, contribute and care for themselves and others, through the sharing of material that could be used for nourishment, growth, pleasure, education or healing’.
I like this website because it’s what I want from the internet, a place to share and graft and cut and paste, to nourish and discover something unexpected. You tend a little plot and see what grows from it. I used to live near Woodlands Community Garden and loved seeing the flora and fauna change throughout the seasons, people volunteering, pulling out weeds and planting. Something of A Soft Landing is in this spirit: you might get asked to respond or contribute, you might volunteer yourself. You never really know what might crop up in the meantime, which is why there’s a satisfying ethic to ‘checking back’.
I’m happy to find a home for an ongoing and incomplete series, Meadow Fractals, among the leaf matter and stems of other makers. It features a sestina after Kevin Killian (and isn’t the sestina the most fractal traditional form?), plus some weird and tessellating meadow illustrations done on an MS Paint simulator. Long live Paint. You can find the full selection at a-soft-landing.com (look for the dark grey tendrils).
In recent months, I’ve also been reading Sean Roy Parker’s Fermental Health substack, which has got me excited about blogging, and even food again. Do have a read! 🌱
Writing in the gloaming I would even call meadow, its scorched-out centre you can probably see from a helicopter, a drone, should you choose the option of aerial photography and remote capture in a time of social distancing. Should you have access to that tech, perhaps in a speculative way; should you have access, the way children have access because they discuss so thoroughly the possibilities, and they do this illicitly into the night. My excellent stenography skills, if we are calling this shorthand, were honed from adolescent hours on Microsoft Instant Messenger, affectionately known as MSN. Any one of us born in that particular bracket of the fin de siècle will understand what it means to spend time in one’s room alone, not quite as in ‘Adam’s Song’, but touching the void through sign-ins, statuses, emoticons, nudges. To live in the delirium of many glimmering windows. I wanted to call you up from my bower, listening to ‘Lime Tree’ on repeat because it carries me away; I wanted to call you up, but could I bear to put down my pen for this. You will never know if I am writing or typing; ‘this kind of thing’ bears no performative ellipsis. Had I known anyway what you would say, as someone who needs access to their own face to talk, something is coming away for free. We have been watching each other watch our own expressions: as with emoticons, each manner of the face feels curated. Some of us collapse on the phone. In the fractal reality of self-isolation, I divvy up zoomy contingencies of speech. When was the last time I talked without seeing my own face. Deleuze and Guattari argue that faces ‘define zones of frequency or probability’: the face ‘constructs the wall that the signifier needs in order to bounce off of’. Hoping to give you a meadow — multifarious and mysterious plenty — I yet give you the wall or the screen. A zoomy contingency that you are happy, that you had signed out of the chat. Against it I file down my voice to its lower registers, taking the edge off an earnestness. If you could measure the frequency of sleep, perhaps architects of the dream-state would salve the true riddles of twenty-first century expression. I wanted to call you up with a slow, perfected drawl, relay how I was hanging upside down from my bower. How I imagine the song to end is a very beautiful flower, floating down the river, but that is only how the song begins. It really ends with a daydream, ‘now that living is no good’, and the singer is lost and found as they enter the woods, barefoot like a child. Why am I telling you all this, barefoot like a child, now that I cannot tell the woods from the trees in my nameless life. And Coleridge sings, this lime tree my prison, my prison / feels like prism. If a wood haloed the meadow, if a moat, if a liquid loop — arboreal, molten, stupid. Walking in the scorched-out meadow an hour or more to be here, sometimes dreaming of this place, needing to be here — no longer a meadow for having been burned. What occurred to ruin the centre. I want to bounce, bounce, bounce with it. All my friends active now and forever. I stumble on the grammar of an instant; are you online, are you online in the meadow, I am calling you up to say this. I am checking-in, the way people used to on Facebook. What is the name of this place? The meadow goes undocumented. What is the probability that your face means the shape of a grassland, a patch of unruly narcissi, a noticing gesture that I would say I have been here before. At least in dreams. Someone is trying to brand the meadow. In quarantine, my old longing for those messaging days recurs. We all talked on that singular platform, confessed under pseudonyms, and ever since I have been lost in the trees of each channel — their foliage concealing the one true thing. Someone is trying to sell the meadow. Infinite recursion of memes and secrets and finance. There was a purity to MSN, something about its frequency. Namelessness. You see what I mean? Sometimes in the poem, I mean the scorched-out cindering middle of the poem, you take grace enough to say fuck it, hiya, wait, no, I can’t hear you. You hold ‘us’ in brackets. If I could timestamp the start to end of that, like debt. One time C. messaged me on Instagram to ask what is really meant by the gloaming. What time of day was this asked, did that matter? I think gloaming would be different at four in the morning to noon; but what did I give as reply? A quick skim of the platforms comes up with nothing. Besides, soon my battery will die in the old archaeology of dissolving thought. There was a purpose in calling you up for this, and now ants are crawling all over my notebook. Nothing has touched me for weeks. I want to say I have a lascivious craving for seaweed flakes, tousled hair, disco kisses, regular breakfasts, offline status, cetirizine, romance and saffron cakes. I have been touching nothing; lately asking myself what is it we do that makes us fruit. The blossoms are stirring on Montague Street. And you click and collect, you drag us backwards. I know that faceless, somewhere you construct the wall. Last night I ran down Great Western Road, my Spotify shuffling back to ‘Adam’s Song’, ‘Tomorrow holds such better days’. I felt burdened by the days inside the days, their seeming neon-fold, ‘the time goes by’ in the flicker of your eyelid. Because my eyes are screen-burned, hot-taken, hypothetical, exhausted; because my eyes looked too long at the meadow. Its torrified heart reduced to this logo. Because your eyes held green astride creamy lindens, to only open the same elsewhere, ‘No sound is dissonant which tells of Life’, etc. I was overwhelmed by the sweetness of power chords, the lines about apple juice spilled in the hall, harmony, the burden of a loss the size of adolescence itself. St. John’s Wort doled in the morning, soft-bitter ersatz taste of the sunlight and sensitive. I have no heart for war but air. How did I get here, on the brink of my phone battery’s untimely death, filling my notebook in the moonless April? Otherwise it would happen, haze, my father posting endless on his wall, unbeknownst to the standard quota expected on the book of the face. This feels so banal and yet I am telling you the grass is beautiful, endless, strange. Marigolds cluster around glitching trees, impossible to reach. If I could I would give you a pool of marigolds. Only just realised pool is loop backwards. Yellow and / I drag into blue and backwards to call you. I’m sorry I’ve been listening to ‘Lime Tree’ again — it’s just that this song came out in 2007, I was only fourteen, yellow + blue make green, I was starving and ever since then I’ve thought of this story. Something you could cut out from inside you, could burn from the meadow. A little kernel of narrative you tap with your tongue and your teeth, you give to me slowly. I want to leave the message to assure you, ‘It’s done’. Would you know I was talking about the disease? I was coming down from my bower, coming down, breezeless and sleepy, wishing I could call you up and quote the line, ‘Don’t be so amazing / Or I’ll miss you too much’. I wish I could climb through a window to see you, smooth myself right through the glass. Could I miss what I had not yet touched, in April’s middling haze of something receding. All those years you had told me to eat. Oh you know and you know and you don’t. Remember those hours? If we could give them back, little gifts of death, as Derrida says, like an ethics. It’s only me. I’m sorry if calling freaked you out from inside the machine. What I wanted to say was, it made me ecstatic, on GWR, zoomy the song and the voice and I could see Venus so bright in the sky. And the sky was rich as ganache, thick filled with more sky; Matty would say like chocolate, or saffron, or debt. Such a spooky ecstasy! (<3) The calorific night…I write you this so as to cut into it, hazy, reflecting, give you a slice of my dreams. Whatever anyone says feels charged with history, so I want this to be utterly redundant, depletable, delectable, careless as crossing the road without cars in the city that now never wakes or sleeps, but only deletes. The adventitious device, zoning close to us, is taking a photo. Is this a kind of labour. There are such archives beyond access they try for. Here, I will be always the small green light in lieu of a meadow, the lyrical unfinishing of cringe to know this. A breath I took / You can just call me up.
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 collaborative exhibition with artist Jack O’Flynn and curator Katie O’Grady, happening until 8th August at French Street Studios in Glasgow.
The Palace of Humming Trees is a collaborative project between artist Jack O’Flynn, writer Maria Sledmere and curator Katie O’Grady which took place from April to August 2021. This collaboration will be showcased in an exhibition at French Street Studios, Glasgow, featuring new works from O’Flynn and Sledmere which travel through poetry, sculptural entities and dreams of impossible possibilities.
This project was formed in a concert – along mixtapes, Tarot readings, zoom calls and shared research. We present it here as multiple sensual journeys; to an exhibition of hyper-foxes and tenderly crumbling foliage, through a publication of lichenous illusions and rummaging thought and in a selection of music and voices which trailed our imaginings.
Intertwining themes of ecological thought, world building and re-enchantment we sought to un-ravel the question: how can we act and think in this present moment to ensure positive change to our relationship with the world around us? The action and thinking which we wandered became located in small and monumental formats – enacted in the everyday and in how we create and build the future. We were enveloped by uncertain certainty, whether apparent through non-human thought, the possibilities of visual art and poetry or the endorsement of magic. Living in a world brimming with unease by climate crisis and extreme inequality – brought upon by extractive capital, far-right strategies and carceral logics – we wished to communicate a different model of awareness that could refuse these structures and re-imagine being a Being.
Exploring this sentiment O’Flynn and Sledmere have created a body of work that opens a portal to a forest of vibrating thought. One of galloping states, lockdown meanderings and a lyrical suffusion through language and art that prompts how we can think and imagine differently.
Please enjoy this digital showcase of The Palace of Huming Trees and, if you can, come to visit its physical iteration at French Street Studios, 103 – 109 French Street, Glasgow. Open July 30th to August 8th 11 AM to 5 PM (closed Monday and Tuesday) with a preview on July 29th 6 PM – 9 PM. Book to attend exhibition via Eventbrite here and to attend preview here.