- auto belay
- protein oat flapjacks
- oversized trainers
- ragged cuticles
- kohl in general
- secret stick n pokes
- the silver foil inside crisp packets
- smell of shoe polish
- (sandy) alex g
- high quality coloured pencils
- carbon stains on off-white garments
- challah bread
- lentil soup
- excessive misspellings
- dissociative weeping
- falling asleep with the light on
- freshly-cut keys
- bath swoons with epsom salts
- the prose of Fanny Howe
- one-off marlboro window smoke
- ambiently watching sport
- whisky and soda
- The Commons
- charismatic porcini
- bleeding mascara
- the movie
- horrible black tights
- cognitive aporia
- barry m dazzle dust worn as highlighter
- waiting lists
- cosy zoom
- forehead kisses
- epistolary delays
- missed calls
- odyssey walks home
- thigh highs
- mortal dysphorias
- wet leather
- butterfly heart rate
I’m on the twelve-hour CrossCountry from Penzance to Edinburgh. Penzance is the most westerly town in Cornwall and being this close to the edge of something calms me. I always sleep better by the sea. On my way here, on the Great Western Railway, a woman gifted me a glass sculpture with a rainbow inside it, as thanks for helping with her bags at Truro. ‘It’s for stirring your drinks’. For the past week, I’ve been writer in residence at The Grammarsow: a project which brings Scottish poets to Cornwall in the footsteps of WS Graham, who was born in Greenock but spent much of his life down here, making a home of Madron, of Zennor, of the moors. To say this has been a magical week is to say it changed me. I first came across Graham when the poet Dom Hale sent me a voice note of his elegy, ‘Dear Bryan Wynter’, out of the blue; I immediately went out and bought another bright blue, the Faber New Collected Poems. There was something about that foxglove on the wall and the hum of some memory in childhood, watching the bees.
Graham grew up in Greenock, on the Inverclyde estuary. A town where I used to teach writing workshops at the Inverclyde CHCP, taking weekly, then fortnightly trains with our chitty from Glasgow. That time in my life is a blur of shift work, seasonal overhaul, hopeless crushes. I’d get there early to look at the lurid flowers in Morrisons with Kirsty, my co-tutor, or visit the docks alone. Sometimes, I brought my little heartaches to the docks because the air felt smelted, or salt-rinsed, excoriating. The nature of these workshops was that people would share their life stories of such intensity we’d bear them home. I remember one woman writing a story about the moon, ‘we share the same moon’: the one thing connecting her, unconditionally, to her estranged daughter. Many people with stories of recovering from addiction through returning to childhood pursuits: the fishing taught by their fathers, the harbour walks, the musical grammar of language. Graham was trained as an engineer and spent some time on fishing boats, but dedicated most of his life full-time to poetry. The more I learn about this, the more I pine for the shabby romance of that clarity of pursuit. Not as a sacrifice but a great generosity from him, like a penniless rock star.
I’m sure it took a toll on his friends. Graham sent many a letter pleading neighbours and pen pals for the loan of a pound or a pair of boots, once thanking the artist Bryan Wynter for a pair of second-hand trousers. His letters are documents of a life lived in gleaning, bracing the elements, enjoying his wife Nessie’s lentil soup and of course, drinking. On a ‘bleak Spring day’ in 1978, by way of a quiet apology, he pleads with Don Brown, ‘I was flippant in the drink when you came with your news […]. Please let me still be your best friend’. He was often full of fire, a real zeal, taking poetry so seriously but life a strange lark, ‘speak[ing] out of a hole in my leg’. He wrote to his contemporaries — artists such as Ben Nicholson and Peter Lanyon, Edwin Morgan, along with family and friends — with bags of personality, a man self-fashioning in the long blue sea of ‘I miss yous’. As he wrote to Roger Hilton:
We are each, in our own respective ways, blessed or cursed with certain ingredients to help us for good or bad on our ways which we think are our ways. What’s buzzin couzzin? Love thou me? When the idea of the flood had abated a hare pussed in the shaking bell-flowers and prayed to the rainbow through the spider’s web. I have my real fire on. I am on.
The real fire may have been a woodburner, sure, but it’s something lit within him. The letter as a turning on, turning towards: we see this spirit of openness and address in the poems. The real commitment to Lyric. I love the hare that shakes in the flowers with its rainbow religion. I love the flush of arousal from walking uphill at speed. I saw many a spiderweb and two hares chasing each other on dawn of Thursday. On the train home texting many friends as if to have the rush of being held again, ‘Love thou me?’, could I be so vulnerable. A foxglove shook in the wind. The line as a tremble is lesser felt in the steady verse. Clearly, Graham wasn’t afraid of sincerity, though he always took pains to remind his addressees of his roots. ‘No harder man than me will you possibly encounter’, he assures Hilton; elsewhere, after the death of Wynter, he writes to his Canadian friend Robin Skelton of the coming funeral: ‘Give me a hug across the sea. […] I am not really sentimental. I am as hard as Greenock shipbuilding nails’. In a way, the infrastructure of space inflects the language as its face. I’m reminded of a quote by Wendy Mulford which Fred Carter shared at the recent ASLE-uki conference in Newcastle, where she talks about ‘attempting to work at the language-face’. I wear the face of the land, Graham seems to say, and the build of it. At West Penwith, we face the end of the land, literally Land’s End to our west. It is sometimes a silver gelatine, other times a bright blue, a fog grey thicker than thought. A granite-hard land that nonetheless sparkles. I recall a rock on the beaches of Culzean, in South Ayrshire, we’d come across as kids. Mum called it a ‘moonrock’ or a ‘wishrock’. It was a perfectly huge dinosaur egg of white granite. I find this particular rock showing up in my dreams, even now; as if having touched it, I become complicit in a deep time that doesn’t so much store the past as bear its promise. What could hatch from within a rock like that? What could move it, or hold it?
Graham had the idea of poetry’s ‘constructed space’, what I’d call a lyric architecture for reassembling something sensuous in memory or emergence. That this space isn’t just designed (as in my idea of architecture) but constructed points to that emphasis on building. What kinds of muscle, time, effort of spirit and will go into this? The poet Oli Hazzard writes that one of the effects of Graham’s poetry is ‘that I feel like it allows me—or, creates a space in which it becomes possible—to see or to hear myself’. Graham’s poem ‘The Constructed Space’ opens with the line ‘Meanwhile surely there must be something to say’. I always hear it in the lovely vowels of his Inverclyde accent, assuring. Like he’s sitting with you in the poetry bar, two pints between yous, and the poem gives this permission to talk or make space to listen. I think of Denise Riley’s ‘say something back’. My own need always to blurt, interrupt, muse out loud what mince is in my head. It continues:
[…] at least happy
In a sense here between us whoever
As I write this, light dances on the opposite wall of my tenement flat and it’s prettier than anything given to me by the window. Sometimes my love says I am harsh when they need delicacy, and so I soften the heather of my voice to listen. It’s true that I was happy while reading that poem, a happiness or lightness in the brain as precarious as the light is. Changeable and easily blown further west to let in what fog, or dimness. I don’t mind my brain when I’m in Graham’s poems. By which I mean, it’s no longer a drag to be conscious or sad; things move again, their metaphors in process. There’s a lightness to quietude, its intimate premise, that holds me. Nothing extreme is promised here, ‘whoever / We are’: lyric address sent through ether to find that ‘you’, held in the future’s new ‘us’. It’s better than a page refresh, reading the poem to think something Bergsonian of the self’s duration. I’m more snowball than the first maria who read this. It’s a kind of exhale, in a sense, like Kele Okereke singing ‘So Here We Are’ from an album named suitably Silent Alarm. Imagining my loves at the same time, out in Stirlingshire lying tripping by the loch, their eyes skyward, the high or low. I cherish that wish you were here / so here we are. I can look out from inside the constructed space of the poem. Wheeeeeeeeesht, you. You’ll find constructed spaces everywhere in Cornwall. The lashing blue skyscapes of Peter Lanyon, the abstract panoramas of Ben Nicholson, the ambient plenitude of Aphex Twin (especially ‘Aisatsana’ and most things from Drukqs). I want ambient or abstract art to give me the clouds in my head back to myself, with the light of it. Colours, gestures, fractals, lines.
I’ve spent the past week schlepping around the moors and lanes, reading Sydney Graham’s poems and letters, cooking veg on my wee stove and eating simple marmite and butter sandwiches. I have this grandparent on my mum’s side who shared his name, who died of cancer before I was born. Sydney was the name Graham tended to go by, signing letters. It’s not that I’m looking for literary fathers but I stumble into their charismatic arms all the same. Is it guidance I look for, or perspective? I love the rolling enthusiasm, pedantry and chiding of his letters, as well as their cheekiness and charm. His dedication to writing and reading, his swaggering or boastful tendencies after an especially successful performance (coupled with an irresistible gentleness and warmth). His big sweet expressions ‘THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS IS CONDENSED – TTBB)’, ‘IMPOSSIBLE TALK’. TTBB is the slogan of Grammarsow and a familiar exhortation in Grahamworld, meaning Try To Be Better (the title of an excellent anthology of Graham-inspired poems, edited by Sam Buchan-Watts and Lavinia Singer). I summon my voices, I try to be; used to be; want us to be.
There’s a quietude I love about the work, which suits the land and mind. After a summer of working three paid jobs, and two voluntary, I was ready for a gearshift into something relaxed and focused. I’d had enough of my own ‘impossible talk’. Being here was like being given permission to play and explore. Quickly I realised my time didn’t need to be ‘dedicated’. I lived by the cruising whim of the big sky, its scrolling clouds and moodswings. Saw the moon at two o’clock in the afternoon. I watched dragonflies dart between the lanes, listened to my neighbourly ravens at night. Watched big jenny long-legs make flickery silhouettes on the walls. Slept peacefully with spiders above me and the ravens being craven. I wanted all these things in my poemspace, and the poems themselves were initially scarce, then they began a familiar elongation that was comforting, with the swerves of a bus but also the tread of a walk. Some poems wanting to hide themselves between logs where I might later try and find them.
A grammarsow is the Cornish name for a woodlouse, or what we’d call in Scots a slater. I remember growing up and having this internal argument about language: was I to go with what my English mum said, or everyone at school? Aye or nay, yes or no. At some point I realised it wasn’t a question of scarcity and elimination, but abundance. The words became barnacle-stuck from all over the sloshes of life, swears and all, and I cherished their stubbornness. Even those gnarly, uncommon words and spicy portmanteau like ‘haneck’, ‘gadsafuck’, ‘blootered’ and ‘glaikit’. And yous: the juicy, plural form of you. Addressing the crowd, the swarm or many. A woodlouse is a terrestrial crustacean drawn to damp environments. I grew up with woodlice crawling out from under cracked kitchen tiles, unearthing raves of them hidden under rotten logs, finding them in tins of old paintbrushes or sometimes a bag of flour or sugar. I always liked the way their little legs seemed translucent, a little alien, and was especially seduced by their darling tendency to curl up into a ball, for protection, like Derrida’s idea of the poem as hedgehog.
Across the English language, there are many amazing names for the humble woodlouse, not limited to:
- armadillo bug
- billy button
- carpet shrimp
- charlie pig
- chisel pig
- hobby horse
- pea bug
- pill bug
What is this penchant for lists I share with Graham? I want abundance from something other than products. I’m dumbly monolingual and lists are one of the few ways I can accumulate nuances of meaning. My attention-disordered brain collects lists as procrastination for the Thing itself, what is it I should be doing, always on the tip of some other event horizon bleeding through the last and first, so nothing is really finished. I like that in West Penwith, to look at the Atlantic you don’t see any islands, so there doesn’t have to be an end. You have the illusion that there can always be more time. The sea as this list of limitless light, colour shift, unbearable senses of depth. You are here.
The grammarsow crops up in Graham’s letters. In a missive to Robin Skelton, he muses:
And what are we now? Maybe better to have been an engine-driver in the steam-age. A sportsman a shaman a drummer a dancer rainmaker farmer smith dyer cooper charcoal-burner politician dog bunsen-burner minister assassin thug bird-watcher poet’s-wife queer painter alcoholic ologist solger sailer candlestick-maker composer madrigalist explorer invalid cowboy kittiwake graamersow slater flea sea-star angel dope dunce dunnick dotteral dafty prophesor genius monster slob starter sea-king prince earl the end.
Again the ‘steam-age’ of other infrastructures interfacing language. Better to have been a wave engineer in the renewable(s) era. I find myself somewhere between the ‘ologist’ and the ‘angel dope’, strung out on critique, measure and the promise of sensuous oblivion. Not sure if the dope is connected to the dunce or angel, but I’ll claim it spiritually as something good: an enhanced performance. As in, those are dope lines I’m reading. Do you want some? ‘And what are we now?’ not who, but what. A question I want always to ask — it’s almost Deleuzian — with someone in my arms or the sea swishing up to waist height, a sea-star clung to the hollows behind my knees. What’s possible when shame is gone. I love tenderly Graham’s list of possible existences and wonder how many I might retrain as (O genius monster), keeping in mind Bernadette Mayer’s old quip that all poets should really be carpenters. I love the raggedness of letters, which is why I love blogs (letters to the idea of being read). Who are they for? We’re so lucky to have these old ones, bound for us, evidence to the material conditions for our wild imaginaries.
In Cornwall, I love falling asleep. I love falling for new poems, stumbling a little on the rugged paths, falling for the air and water, for a little more mermaid’s ale or Bell’s, a blackcurrant kombucha or 100g of coconut mushrooms. In his essay for Poetry Foundation, ‘This Horizontal Position’, Oli Hazzard writes about a time Graham ‘went for a walk on Zennor Hill in Cornwall and fell into a bramble bush’. This falling was a repeat pattern: in 1950 he drunkenly fell off a roof and complained of his three-month hospital stay, ‘I hate this horizontal position’. In my DFA thesis I wrote extensively about lying down as a beginning for writing, the horizontal as a form of refusal when it comes to the upright requirements of an assertive ‘I’. It’s no secret that I prefer poetry in the mode of dreamtime, but that’s not to say I’m also a rambler. It’s a poetry of breath and of steps (of vigour!) I enjoy in Graham. Zigzagging and winding down well-trodden moor paths, stumbling upon bridleways that lead around the hills from holy shrines.
I was the lucky poet to first bless a new writer’s cabin that my host, Rebecca, built on some land near the Ding Dong Mine. From the garden, you can see right out over Mount Bay. The skies are huge here. I’ll say that a lot. I saw a seal down by one of the zawns on the north coast, felt the fear of losing the moon in you, let my lips chap on the telepathy of remote secrets. I try to be better, regardless. My poems become languorous obscurities. All of the land has hidden depths.
There was a summer before secondary school when we were gifted an unlimited pass to Historic Scotland, meaning our holidays involved camping across Dumfries and Galloway, the Trossachs, the Highlands, in search of abbeys, monasteries, castles and holy sites in various states of decay. I was turned off by leaflets documenting the actual details of history, emerging sleepy-eyed from the car where I’d been navigating the turgid sentences of fantasy novels or playing platform games like Super Mario. There’s a particular form of carsickness that produces electrolytic effects conducive to imaginative ventures. What I mean to say is, instead of vomiting I overlaid the real world with the promise of portals to elsewhere. In Penwith, I walk off my city sickness and sit by the standing stones, quoits and old ruins of industry. What do I imagine but a ‘news of no time’, still to come? Zennor Hill is both poem and place. The more I’m here, the more a sort of aura thickens.
On my last morning, I wake to sunrise over the sea. Dew shimmers the rosehips. The air is earthsweet as ever and I don’t know how I’ll go home. Travelling is an experience of dislocation: here, I find home again in language, its caught habits, Graham’s words sluicing Clydewards. There’s a poise to his poetry, steadfastly composed as ‘verse’ and often by iambic measure. Making perfect prosody with the chug of the train. I was pleased to roll into Glasgow having bumped into my friend Kenny, the whisky god of the Hebrides, attuned to the flight-pulse of conversing again. Hungry, ‘putting this statement into this empty soup tin’ to say cheerio as Sydney would, lighting up poetry to finish it, the best thing of all, a warm scaffold to hold up how we missed each other. A quiet disintegration of cloud. What are we now?
With thanks to Andrew Fentham, David Devanny and Rebecca Althaus for kindness and hospitality. Long live The Grammarsow!
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
Some pages from a notebook kept while invigilating The Palace of Humming Trees (French Street Studios, 2021) during a thunderstorm in August.
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)
Not long ago a blog was destroyed. Inside the blog was a forest; what they called forest but by all intents and purposes was more the unknown contribution to chronology which made up many pages of codes and trees. Codes and trees. The liquor in a small pool was seemingly endless dirty martini, where olives float in lieu of lilies. I meant to say it was destroyed and the incident being customisable, now to look back, I see a particular man at sunset wielding buttons. Pop, pluck, glock. Boys share the same blouse as me. Then gingham and dungarees to write in the blog another hour or more, sleeves rolled, plunging seasons into seasons. Keep yourself sewn. Don’t get shot. This winter will you change your life. This summer will you lose it. All of the paper incineration. Sound of artificial camera flash in the dark, razor the code from the trees. This change, not the life, not necessarily. Scrolling the trees.
What will it take for the server to work? There was a dark room of my childhood filled with blinking lights, layer-bake hard drives, wires and cables. Bringing you coffee, I go there closing my eyes to the electronic warmth at the heart of the office. Whose office is this? How can I work there? Will you give me a job? I am a fine typist / I like the word ‘twilight’.
But not long ago, a blog was destroyed. We were in generic city, you know the one with buildings, and something swerved into us. I was scared at first, weren’t you? We kept left-clicking the breeze to stop, but the way your hair looked, lifted — I could’ve almost gone with it, the hum and song of the breeze just pink. Remembering lines like ‘January is endless’ and ‘the Northern Line is the loudest’ as I consent to give cookies, consent to be multiplied in the archive of giving me moments in capital city; where is my iPod? Small things you can do, exchange of fruit, the scale of it. Something swerved into us. I was scared at first, weren’t you? My blood was all scattering berries, clots, poisons. We knew the album was amazing. We said this many times. I said we have to see a doctor. Just a guess but the crescendo fucking kills me. I breathed too hard it was scary. The road was quiet but something swerved into us. Couldn’t tell if it was a truck or a set of emotions. Kisses from France. I was climbing to get to the good bit. This is a painful song coming on I won’t talk about further, being dull and adult, seeing old college friends lost. What is a moon. I said we have to see a doctor and we did, we got in line outside with our masks; it was a time before masks but I add them. Losing your pearls, losing your solace barometer. Remember X overmind of me. We were turned away at the last. Did not see doctor. Jellyfish. I wore the blouse that all the boys wore, proudly.
Driving to Brighton, not driving to Brighton.
The ocean washed up masses of cash, bank notes sticky with kelp and salt, tons of pennies in lieu of pebbles, bits of glass. I paid for a book of poems with a cheque signed on behalf of my father. I paid for my life. The blog lived inside of the sea. It was being destroyed and so the blog called tsunami. It had a world in it. Tsunami_93. Commission you tell me the endless failures of Wednesday, Thursday, watching the ants by the ocean accumulate broadband costs. Watching the ants and cash. Spiralling ants and cash. I said something swerved into us, it was fucking horrible. I saw it, the long hard crash of the numbers, upwards. The colony of allied ants just clicking away in the dark like we already knew them. A politician comes and goes from the hole where you fall through, nightly, clutching at sand. A burlesque of sleep. The patent glitter of policy, it gets in your body. The ants made a moat of the hospital.
Silently, you came to town in my closing dream which was killing our molars from kissing too much in any forsaken house by the sea, endless you climb inside me — figure this in, you figure this out. Sometimes the text at the bottom of the page just disappears. Tell you a blog was destroyed and my concern is for glutinous sentences, stretching. Planetary hardship was relative. Tell me, hold me. I write about dying in my diary, how will it feel to be six or five and not knowing about the dying, how will it feel to look back knowing you lived through it. Tear off the blouse the boys gave to me. There is a coming through of such dreams I have had, splashes of sick pink light, infinite distance — and can I say the animal I never met was nice, they were so nice, the album was amazing. The animal pronoun that therefore I am. Something swerved into us; it was the whole fat year of pink rain. Where a blog was destroyed, you put down the stone. It is shaped like a heart that needs convincing to beat.
Kept diaries of numbers kept easy job kept crying. Felt like portraits of femmes in rose blush and yellow and emerald green, leaking, felt like looking into you back from Matisse or wherever it was in generic city we saw what doesn’t is seen. Domestic bliss. I remember the wires in my childhood were totally opaque. Quiet symphony of dialup and call you. eBay and a “flurry of cosy ideas” says eye, closing for the last time, plated. Down a long gold tunnel and DNS error. “Are you alright? Are you alright?” I hate this question but whacking a drum and bass beat right HERE was good, if originally ballad but easy
to me, this song is less about a particular situation, and more about that feeling you get looking back
on things that have meant a lot to you, or you
feel could have meant more
I hide the application anyway. It is spring 2008, no forests exist, the bathroom sounds of lemongrass scent and harshest bleach. I’m sick. I’m sick of parks I want genuine forestry and a place to be lost and call you. I remember football on the low green, barging into silver, not knowing a wave meant more disease. Not knowing the waves as anything other than the earnest self-abuse of the sea. Salt heal. It hurt to listen by the long thin phrase of your cigarette, smoke getting up in the hours of my eyes. I remember kissing in tents / remember running home drunk from school. Remember who watched us. The man who squared-up for no good reason other than the sound his own voice made, which was a sound of bright cash howled from the sandy reminder. There are memory dunes where stuff piles up, stuff gets sucked or dragged away. Stuff gets pissed on. Something swerved into us and we did not phone the cops. I carried the hurt for a while instead. Walked from one end of the green to the other. Now in the city. On the mobile phone a big red sound passed beta-waves through us and you asked, “what was that?” and pleaded “please don’t die”. I minimise the year, I always reply. I fantasise portals to London.
Dreamt the prime minister was crying on Mars for the ninth time and it was a ninth wave and it was very bee loud it was glandular. Second wave, third wave, watch out for next winter. A man who swallowed all of the cash of the sea was blatant in wanting to touch this and ruin my life. It hurt to listen. A novelty sermon on visions, ecstasies, roses and bread. Something H.D. says about a jellyfish and will you sign up for infinity melt club — it requires the overmind, sad to miss, buoyed up by salt water always. We passed the number we wanted not to pass. Will Alexander writes that poetics is ‘a place where language becomes a fertilised concentration that explodes’. I’m talking about everything we used to do. Another life. Voice barely makes it to audible status. Every month I turn fifteen again and my mouth tastes of Yorkie bars, acid, ice cubes painted with crude sweet oil, Diet Coke, extra salt. Maria, it says, and I wonder. Someone is a shadow they are painting the walls with it, more and more, the paint fizzes up. Crude sweet oil, the blouse of the boys. Softly you bring me the water, more of it, enormous with cash, I hate it. I mix all the paint with us.
That person who used to work, I miss her. January is endless. Should the blog be destroyed? It was Platonic like kissing the stone at the place where sunflowers grew upside-down by a crumbled temple, they let us go. You say, “this is wretched” then turn on the radio. Elliott Smith in front of a mural, covering The Beatles. That I a girl from Maybole would like to be consulted; would like consultation. Because. The doctor turned us down. The river was frozen. Salt. Pretzels of fallopian tubes. Someone on the radio said poverty. The blog consolation of be love because you. Remarkably clean air I remember? What comes next is older and older, how early the cruel was, forecast, thinking in paradigms and not glassware. “You look young!” It might be I always hold out. Still you smash, the failures of Tuesday, no melatonin. Blissing Chamomile Mountain. Payne’s Gray, Davy’s Gray, Naples Yellow. Salacious impression of what is a gesture. I have all these dreams about ladders like—
The problem of the marry a cloud of the martyred morning
In the soft-touching laminate space of the morning
The promise of a landing, striped by the morning
We edit cumulus, collect yon fish by the morning
A rain passed wetly over our morning
The actual cat got into the morning
My proletarian alignment against the morning
Is only a maths class happening this morning
Did you want palaces in the light of this morning
To feel you never got hurt this morning
When it swerved into you in the morning
Of comparative hotness at morning
Equivalent to mattresses morning
That planets lie down inside us, warming
And the flowery agenda of what they would do to avoid this scarcity. Kept saying science, science like a car advert, £500, kept you awake at night. Salt. The technology trusts us! Liberating production to what freeing from labour a person being careful would order milkshake. Water this artificial strawberry. Audit the communal blog was destroyed. Salt and oil. A wheat field in a movie. I remember aspartame sunrise at which close to the not-top of Louise Bourgeois’ many ladders was a droplet of hooch blood, red-to-punk-pink. Under the fairy lit trails of Tuesday, I said FUCK YOU to the motorist, I said OUCH! Today is Blue Day, tomorrow is Green Day; expropriation of serotonin to Bad Day, it is quite a state; put back ice that you stay on, tulips; a sugar-lift etch to keep say [“I miss the nineties”] belong to my early days of still love indie. Weeks become necklaces I am choked inside them. Tending the forest, drive out of the city. Impossible tacos in landfills pass us, having never harmed animals. Nothing swerved ever in heaven; you get really close.
Study the lightning-shaped graze on my knee.
Burial – Chemz
SOPHIE – Is It Cold In the Water?
Honeyblood – Super Rat
Billie Eilish, ROSALÍA – Lo Vas A Olvidar
Sharon Van Etten – Serpents
Widowspeak – Sanguine
Infinity Knives – In The Mouth of Sadness
Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Xiu Xiu, Liz Harris – A Bottle of Rum
Fishtalk – Hummingbirds
Los Campesinos! – Got Stendhal’s
Tim Heidecker, Weyes Blood – Oh How We Drift Away
The Antlers – Solstice – Edit
Songs: Ohia – Boys
Field Medic – chamomile
Vagabon, Courtney Barnett – Reason to Believe (Karen Dalton cover)
Sun June – Everything I had
Coma Cinema – In Lieu of Flowers
This Familiar Smile – Flawed Fables
Hamburger – Supersad
Donovan – Colours
The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane
The Replacements – Skyway
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
Friends, I was so close to not doing one of these this year, but my bad case of archive fever was too strong to resist. For the first time since the depressive loops of my early 2010s, I’ve really struggled with music this year. Yo-yo’d between extremely intense relations to music (listening to Grimes’ ‘IDORU’ three times in a row in spring’s post-cycle endorphin twilight, crying to Mogwai in the supermarket, thrash dancing to old Boiler Room sets alone in my bedroom, knocking everything over, basically living inside Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Garden Song’) and a very numb sense of trepidation about listening altogether. Have gone whole weeks without listening to anything except ’10 hours sounds of a meadow in june’ on youtube. Have gone whole months without noticing new releases. Music has anchored the year in strange ways. I think about the man in my block who kept singing/screaming Oasis’ ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ in the shared garden, and did this several times throughout lockdown 1.0. I was so concerned. Boards of Canada albums I fell into, haphazardly studying. The conditions of lockdown, not to mention PhD and other pressures, have slowed down my output of published music writing, but I continued to diarise my listening habits and it was a pleasure to write on occasion for GoldFlakePaint, Secret Meeting and other places on new releases from Jason Molina, Phoebe Bridgers, Katie Dey, Superpuppet, Fair Mothers, Modern Studies. As ever, you can dive into the music journo archive here.
What follows is a selection of albums I’ve managed to dip in and out of, form some kind of bond with or which otherwise stayed with me. One of music’s main attractions this year was its provision of sociality: whether through late-night Instagram DMs or seeing everyone’s Spotify listening (pale vicarious experience of sonic simultaneity as commons), running Pop Matters workshops with the inimitable Conner Milliken or losing myself in heartfelt comment sections, music was a kind of touchpoint for contact when other kinds of talk or response seemed impossible. That you could screenshare FKA twigs’ ‘Cellophane’ video and all silently hold in tears while free-writing together on Zoom, that you could send some kind of bedroom performance to a friend when words were scarce, that you could buy stuff for Bandcamp Fridays and feel like you were doing *something* for artists while our livelihoods were otherwise being stripped away by lockdowns, recession and endless government (in)decisions. That you could send lyrics in acts of solidarity. That you could sit round a fire in the Trossachs and listen to ‘Farewell Transmission’ with smoke in your eyes or be in Hackney with a heatwave and Lucinda Williams; that you could cycle past psych buskers on Kelvin Way, or lie on the floor with Grouper recordings from 2018; that you could breeze down Sauchiehall listening to ‘Gasoline’ in a world without cars; that you were lucky enough to see your cousin, Hannah Lou Clark, play The Hug and Pint before lockdown; that you could micro-analyse Angel Olsen remixes with Douglas, lamenting another postponed gig or remembering an old one; that you could walk yourself into autumn melancholy with Grace Cummings, longing for the wind and sea; that you could read Amy Key’s excellent essay on Joni Mitchell’s Blue and remember the first of January, sober as a trembling bell and listening on repeat as everything refused to wake, and wine. Admittedly, I may have missed many significant things. Tell me!
Previous EOTY lists:
In no particular order:
Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
Angel Olsen — Whole New Mess
Waxahatchee — Saint Cloud
Savage Mansion — Weird Country
Yves Tumor — Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Sylvan Esso — Free Love
Mogwai — ZEROZEROZERO
Minor Science — Second Language
Caribou — Suddenly
Moses Sumney – græ
Grimes — Miss Anthropocene
Open Mike Eagle — Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Run the Jewels — RTJ4
Protomartyr — Ultimate Success Today
The Kundalini Genie — 11:11
Sparkle Division — To Feel Embraced
Juliana Barwick — Healing is a Miracle
Arca — KiCk i
Pelican Tusk — Rhubarb’s House (EP)
The 1975 — Notes on a Conditional Form
Porches — Ricky Music
Fiona Apple — Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Martha Ffion — Nights to Forget
Gia Margaret — Gia Margaret
Mary Lattimore — Silver Ladders
Jason Molina — Eight Gates
Sufjan Stevens — The Ascension
Fleet Foxes — Shore
Keaton Henson — Monument
Half Waif — The Caretaker
U.S. Girls — Heavy Light
Katie Dey — Mydata
Kelly Lee Owens — Inner Song
Eartheater — Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
Oneohtrix Point Never — Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?
Perfume Genius — Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Field Medic — Floral Prince
Braids — Shadow Offering
HAIM — Women in Music Pt. III
Porridge Radio — Every Bad
Christian Lee Hutson — Beginners
Soccer Mommy — Color Theory
Four Tet — Sixteen Oceans
Lawn — Johnny
Lomelda — Hannah
Bright Eyes — Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was
Pinegrove — Marigold
Adrianna Lenker — songs / instrumentals
Duval Timothy — Help
The Pictish Trail — Thumb World
Tomberlin — Projections
Tennis — Swimmer
Laurel Halo — Possessed (Original Score)
Alex Rushfirth — The Moon in the Clouds
NNAMDÏ — BRAT
Autechre — SIGN / PLUS
Superpuppet — Under a Birdless Sky
Bartees Strange — Live Forever
The Avalanches — We Will Always Love You
A.G. Cook — 7G