Pleased to announce that I’m joining the Beyond Form team as a tutor and mentor, and about to begin my first course: Writing the Everyday. If you’re interested in poetry, hybrid forms and journaling, in how we attend to everyday life in writing and think critically about time, work, ritual and habit, capitalism, technology, sickness and health, rest and dreams, then this course is for you!
This seven-week course takes everyday life as an abundant field of study. Following the rhythms of work, leisure, the body, technology, desire and play, we’ll explore various approaches to writing the daily. What forms of ‘extreme attention’ (CAConrad) can writing access, and to what effect? How do we break, queer, slow or sabotage time? What kind of writing could hold, shrink or expand the day? We’ll read a range of contemporary experiments in the quotidian and engage with journaling, poetry and hybrid writing.
Open to writers of all backgrounds and practice. This course is for anyone interested in exploring everyday life in their writing, reflecting critically on the poetics and politics of daily writing and encountering literary issues of time, intimacy, objects, environment and the body. Extracts from all texts will be supplied on a shared Google Drive and linked through Experimental Creatives Collective.
Here’s a breakdown of the course structure:
Week 1 February 24th: Today
Exploring ‘today’ as a unit of experience in writing, rhythms of repetition, return. What do we mean by an aesthetics of ‘everydayness’? How does literature encounter everyday life — its things, feelings, tempos, bodies and motions — in form and content?
Week 2 March 3rd: Work
In what ways can we explore the rhythms and demands of work, and make space for play and dream? In what ways is writing a form of work? How can our writing critique the conditions of labour which variously structure our daily lives? What kinds of interval, escape and resistance might it offer?
Week 3 March 10th: Ritual Attention
How can we practice forms of attention that estrange us from the familiarities of daily and domestic life? What forms of collage and screenshot experiments help us make sense of the chaos of daily life under late capitalism?
Week 4* Tuesday March 14th: Consumerism and Desire
What are the political and poetic potentials of our everyday desires? How can we think beyond the desires of capitalism? What is the significance of gender and sexuality within daily life, and how is this negotiated through consumption?
*please note this class will take place on Tuesday 14th March not Thursday
Week 5 March 24th: Technology and the Post-Internet
What is the relationship between writing and technology in our daily lives? How does experimental writing explore, and intervene in, the forms, genres and platforms of Web 2.0 — from social media to texting and digital objects/systems? What are the everyday politics and poetics of the internet and its various temporalities of labour, desire, data, communication and self-presentation?
Week 6 March 31st: Sick Time
How can writing explore personal and societal experiences with sickness, from chronic illness to pandemics? How does illness alter our sense of time, space, work and embodiment; how does it change our sense of the ‘day’?
Week 7 April 7th: Rest and Dreams
What forms of rest and relaxation can writing offer? What is the relationship between writing and dreaming, and how can dreaming help us imagine better worlds, or access hidden portals in writing? What are the politics of rest and how might we pursue it through creative practice?
Week 8 April 14th: Optional Open Mic
Prices are on a sliding scale and you can choose to enrol on the full course or to attend individual workshops. Most of the workshops are focused on individual writing, with room for open discussion at the end of sessions. You will not be expected to share work or give feedback on others’ work, although there may be occasion for this informally throughout the course, and through the Experimental Creatives Collective workspace which you will gain access to upon registration. There will be an optional open mic, held online, at the end of the course.
If you want further feedback on your work, I am available for one-to-one mentorship through the Beyond Form mentorship scheme.
All classes will take place on Zoom. How-to videos for using Zoom can be found here.
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.
Dorothy’s Opiates is the name of the real Arcadia not to be busted, learning that sleep deprivation is a kind of spiritual death from a podcast featuring the Nap Ministry I set off to sleep under three duvets: one is representative of snow, the other a sleep mode, the other a body. I write to you from beneath this slumberous context to wonder why anyone who ever lived in a single glazed tenement loved the cold. I can think of reasons: always something to look forward to such as the crocuses and milder temperatures, the searching of someone to warm you, wanting to dissolve into their skin this someone who is never cold like you. I can’t explain this cold but I can summarise its various sensations, cold as in a kind of disease that eats your bones from the inside with terrible icicles and lives in your back as a demon, cackling from within your kidneys; a small child dependent on your energy, the cold needs fed. The cold is in your chest, your throat, your head. It throbs in your fingertips until they are red and puffy and burning like nothing else you have ever felt: imagine every orgasm of your life summarised and congealed as an opposite evil — pain — and concentrated in the tips of your fingers, as though a malformed heart had grown in each one, beating out of time, each heart individually failing at the tips of your fingers until the pain spreads out like a juice all the way down your fingers, hot, the nerves pulling into your arm but it is so concentrated at the tips, you can’t really move and to hit them against each other is like clanging vegetal matter against blunt metal, they are thumpy and numb, now the pain is melting it becomes a warm sensation of somewhat release as though only a generalised bruising of the nervous ends of all your digits. And by this time I hope I’ll have gotten home to run them perilously under cold water, bringing them to room temperature as if they could crack off and crumble into snowflakes of ache it takes ten minutes or more; after which they will sting with the feeling of having been battered. And it will happen again the second your blood spikes, you go outside; they may as well have been trodden on or run over by a van the way they feel right now. I ask you sometimes to squeeze my hands so hard it bursts the blue of us. Once I knew a worse cold accordant to body weight this kind of cold is all-consuming for all seasons of the year, a kind of inverse fire that licks your insides with its ice so you feel it as a constant in your sternum, the cold that is eating the meat of your ribs so you become a delicate succulent, always with sugar on your mind, wanting to be watered. Always watering yourself fruitlessly and feathered of flesh, wilted as if to float upon a snowdrift and not leave footprints. Sometimes it is barely to speak or, having dry Januaried the masses, some lubricant of society was missing sorely from our dreams. So we did not dream of touching each other so much as falling from breezeblocks, frosted, the hard fuck that doesn’t come bounding down stairwells to greet you at sun-up with cigarettes and coffee, which you cannot touch, which aggravates your nerves to a passion. Nicotine, caffeine, dopamine. The endocrine systems of our dreams are running on empty and I have fed this day with the manifest boilersuit, as though to fix my own boiler with mechanical prowess, die in your arms and so on. There are parts of the city whose arteries confuse to the point of a general surge, desirous of insulation and drivers arrange the marzipan animals of their dashboard tenderly. Snowfall. The first of the year’s cold drama gone to pick up a wardrobe through the Narnias of other vinyl records caught on the loop of the sweltering imaginaries a slice of life, of liquorice. Flying by the Vogue Chippy of Cumbernauld Road. You play loose with it, as if the rain alone would melt what meadow remains of the innocence. A summary of the movie of other Januaries: asking if I am a bad feminist for not liking such-and-such a book, the enclave of housing utopias, the sunshine duration of the ad for Stella Artois, the scene in All is Forgiven where the drunk kids dance to The Raincoats’ version of ‘Lola’. I want to be inebriated with chips and cheese on the corner and kissing you darkly in the overlit takeaway. Anniversary of another fascist coup. The cold in blunder, spraying my tongue with Vitamin D, worrying about sleep. ‘Dorothy’ is a song by Kevin Morby in the video, somebody plays a trumpet underwater. I drape a cardigan over my daughterhood, pull stories across my knees until I am deep in the grass with you, the snow grass, a long sore note, we have pink faces keeping up with each other’s sleeps, to rotate in the bed, the powdery dreamscapes gathering form. Dorothy, Your warm apparition not to be sold or bought, an account of the aspirin sunlight, too much, taking the flower pill that makes me react as a plant, long stem in your arms and coaxed of sap. Calcium is a luxury to those who might keep their flesh self- sustained and hard and warm. I thought of Kansas and corn with the morning yoghurt as a viscid snow, spoonfuls of what we are missing to kiss goodbye of the freezing streets of Partick, melt in your mouth, the pressure of boilers adjusted by release, the way our bodies incline to the light even when it is missing, how I wish you could trade kisses for calories of actual heat, the truthfeel of one in the morning stands for baggies of memories the prized alacrity of exercise, I insufflate the nervous internet. If this poem really were sentient, this would be the queue for the doctor’s office, which is a location after all, novel in its banality, after the fact of actually being here, a state of waiting requiring the mortal presence of your body. I stopped asking what a poem can do when it seemed like I was done typing with my fingers searing hot white words like arrows tearing the flesh as they wrote, O Dorothy, listening to a band called Trapped in Kansas. I was born. Wrestling with duvets to change the music sheets afresh, up close with the soot-covered mountains, called to the room with thermometers jammed in the hole of the poem, its quavers jostling with old composition, bloodstream, organ, snow. It is safe, it is safe.
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. Its leitmotif of Luna, a shapeshifting feline of satellite proportion, waxes and wanes through poems which move beyond the twilight moods of left melancholia, sad hospitality and ecological crisis towards a fugitive imaginary that lingers in the ‘Flirtation Device’ of lyric and its many echolocations.
Taking cue from Jenny Boully’s ‘erratum’ — ‘the text of what is and the text of what should have been’ — Sledmere writes with failure, friction and fractal attention, with a yearning for intimacy, shelter and ongoing ways of bearing the im/possible. She offers poems of mystery, refusal and pain at personal, political and planetary scales, tracing the desire-lines of the everyday and its glitching encounters. The Luna Erratum is a book of memory and friendship in the so-called anthropocene, of bodily disorder, painterly gesture, quantum kissing, rodent sisterhood, open world intervention, technology, tenderness, shimmer and song.
Praise for The Luna Erratum:
How do you explain yourself to yourself when you suspect that actuality – your experience of it – is provisional and full of error? You come up with your own poetics, your own tense and mode of address, which is a lunar one, and which involves speaking in crushed, frothy mouthfuls to a terrifyingly silent, unpredictable and generous friend (celestial objects, an indifferent lover, &c.).
The Luna Erratum offers no truth except in things – colours, materials, beings, dreams, schemes of language, human artefacts and locations – and their known convergences, all of which hold as much affective weight and capacity for transformation as the events that precipitated this profoundly graceful, unsettling and mesmerising book.
— Sophie Collins, author of Who is Mary Sue? (Faber, 2018)
A glittering universe, Maria Sledmere’s first poetry collection is both lyrical and electric, both video game and watercolour. Reading these poems feels like ingesting semantic MDMA, the ectoplasm of a Victorian ghost trying to reach her lover through an unstable wifi connection. Sledmere’s words ooze a desire that is part animal, part human, part astral body. Let them transfix you.
— Nadia de Vries, author of I Failed to Swoon (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2021)
In Maria Sledmere’s The Luna Erratum, rivulets of neon daylight stream through the ever-quickening fibre-optic cables of the soul. Beneath ‘morphine clouds’ climates change as human groans crosspollinate in the moon’s tread. Sledmere concentrates the neural pathways on the world spirit, crossmatching the matters of attention. The lines grasp at what repositories of sentiment might be made secure for poetic memory, as the pleasure of every experience is threatened by its immediate disappearance, like Bernadette Mayer reciting Keats in the abandoned sea life centre. And yet, for the poet’s eye, the sumptuous bounties of the world are still all up for grabs; the human squats on top of the non-human and: ‘you can take bites from the sun’. This book is a hot tub full of Tamagotchi frogs’ spawn glistening in the light of the full moon atop the Yggdrasil skyscraper.
— Ed Luker, author of Other Life (Broken Sleep, 2020)
If you would like a copy for review, or to stock in your bookshop, please email mariasledmere [at] outlook [dot] com. 🙂
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
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.
Last year’s April was a leap year. For every 29th day I summoned to think of the hours as gifted, secret, strength. I spent the actual leap of February in somebody else’s bed, a cherished cliché: cradling sadness, cat-sitting, reading Anne Carson and rolling the word ‘tableaux’ around my stressy mouth, whose hostile environment required twice-daily salt-rinses. On the 29th of last year’s April, I wrote about vermillion and silverware, ‘the lint of your heart’ and hayfever. A friend and I exchanged tips on how to best work from the floor, how to make it your best work. I miss ‘working the floor’ in other senses.
What do you want is not the same as What would you like?
There was a reading group on Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal (2020), and the Zoom chat was elliptical pursuit, a good fuck pendant, fractal kissing and restless deferral. The word besmirch which isn’t a word search.
I remember cycling long into the hard sun; I recall better eyesight.
Okay, recently. Do you want to hear this? I spent a week of anticipation, languishing with migraines and digestive upsets and the kind of blues where mostly you curl foetally into the fantasy that really you, or this, doesn’t exist. Sip worry coffee and brush the hair, tweeze or shave, sit patiently on top of the abstract, waiting for something lucid to hatch. ‘Opening up’. A weekend bleeding, the minor cramp of womb in Autechre rhythm; then a further week of physical ailment whose primary treatments, according to the lore of reddit, included punching one’s spine, counting to ten, pinching between nose and lip and lying in hot baths. I did not have the baths, which seemed terrible and luxurious given how faint they could make me. I read two books by Samuel Beckett.
In Garments Against Women (2015), Anne Boyer writes that ‘Everyone tries to figure out how to overcome the embarrassment of existing. We embarrass each other with comfort and justice, happiness or infirmity’. It is awkward to smile and to squirm. To be red-faced and faint after a luxury bath. To be found frowning in the Instagram reel of somebody else’s dreaming. To apologise, to dwell upon, to ask for help. To be the one clutching a hot water bottle in the Zoom call; to hide or show this. To sip beer, the migraine coming. To say “hello” from the room next door. To deem something luxury, to partake of it. ‘I have done so much to be ordinary’, writes Boyer, ‘and made a record of this’. Say I learned this month how to paint my nails grape soda, define hypercritique, appreciate the slept-in curls of my hair.
It is awkward to be unwell, to express this without clear definition. “Sorry it’s all late, I’ve been sick” and to not elaborate on that sickness, the specific ways it kept you up all night, kept you retching or clutching something tight inside yourself which seemed to want to give birth. A stray barb or small contaminant. A numb pill. Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts. Plants are not awkward; they just grow. Sometimes upwards, sideways; sometimes back inside themselves. Wilt logic. ‘Let’s be happy insofar as we were for a few days not infirm’ (Boyer). The ecstasy of a new morning where the body stretches out, the mind clears and one is ready to work. Who gets these mornings? Can they be traded? Is their delicious ease somehow fungible? What would I give for more of them? Fungus, rot, the fangs of lilies.
Maybe it starts with crisp garments. But pretty soon the neat attainment of day will unbutton. Watch it happen in Lorenzo Thomas’ poem ‘Euphemysticism’:
Some happily sing They have joy for white shirts Singing “O white shirt!” And that’s just the start
What ecstasy to declare the white shirt! What embarrassment! The chiaroscuro of lily-white shirt against the everyday’s dull shadows, but then showing up ‘baby pictures / Of pollution becoming disaster’ and Thomas’ poem is all about this. Disaster. Headlines, emissions, confusion. And that’s just the start. ‘A man crashes with his shadow’, perhaps because there is no one else. I did this for months on end because nothing else was safe. I could go the long walk for my safe grassy spot and crash there along with my shadow. I crashed in sunshine and rain. Crashland. Why did I bring the lily. It was like being fourteen again and walking for miles just to find a safe, anonymous place to smoke or weep. Sleep crash. ‘In the prickling grass in the afternoon in August, I kept trying to find a place where my blood could rush. That was the obsolete experience of hope’ (Lisa Robertson, XEclogue). It was like staring at the potential of Marlboro Golds tucked behind books and wondering what version of me they belong to. Synecdoche. Rising swirls. The poem burns out but also gets better. Blood rush and screen crash are lyric in pop songs. Sorry my windows. They are getting cleaned today.
Narrate my day again to you.
Thomas’ poem turns to the reader: ‘I’d like to check your influence / Over these ordinarily mysterious things’. The poem takes pictures or talks about it. What is a photographer responsible for? Do they re-enchant or estrange? If someone took a picture at this point or that point, if there was evidence, who would need to be told. How do you photograph pollution? Is this merely witnessing? In the past year and more, I have become witness to my own inability to really see. Disaster itself recedes into medial condition, blood swirls, scratching matter. I think of the way Sibylle Baier sings ‘I grow old’…
Some happily sing the white shirt and are they complacent with their conditions of work? Influence! ‘Desire is a snowscape on a placemat’ (Thomas). I trace its snowy lines in the stray thread of this weave. Ant-sized bloodstain. Am I to be made safe, or eat giant buttons? Put your plate on a place elsewhere and devour the rolling hills. Artificial snow is delicious. Crinkled thread. The white line curls around my tongue like spaghetti. Lila Matsumoto has a poem, ‘Trombone’, about hammering buttons. I unbutton the top three buttons of my blouse to walk around in fifteen degrees, absorbing/zorbing, and call the sunlight oil inside me.
‘There is a risk inherent in sliding all over the place’ (Boyer). This is what language does. There is a risk in crackle, in static, in the O shape of ‘sorry’ or ‘love’ or ‘alone’. Petition to upgrade for bubble emoji.
Last night, on the train back from another city I had not visited since August, I opened Sarah Bernstein’s new novel, The Coming Bad Days (2021). I did not close this novel again for several hours, except to pass through ticket gates or beyond groups of steaming men whose presence was vaguely threatening. They seemed cardboard cut-outs, stumbling towards me. When a migraine began burning my temples, I took paracetamol and kept walking, reading. When the light became gloam I walked faster. When I got home I sat at the table and opened the book again, like a schoolchild eager to begin their homework (as a ticket to freedom) or revisit a dream. It is risky to write about something you finished barely twelve hours ago. It’s embarrassing, the way talking about illness is, or happiness. To gush. You risk offering a raw piece of thought. Something has stuck to you and you are trying to convey the exact, impossible, vicious way in which you are changed by it. Still steaming.
This is what I understand by gorgeousness. As in, I gorged on it.
In the book’s last third occurs a fabular moment. The narrator is often telling their inner life through external surroundings — textures and fluctuations of weather. This is also to tell disaster. It is not the dramatic crash so much as a slow, implacable violence whose consequence ripples below and above the surface of our lives. Sometimes there is rupture: a cyclist is hit by a motorist, a storm occurs, an unspecified act of harm is committed, a life-changing conversation alluded to. But so much is in the insidious atmospheres which turn between dream and reality, which refuse to be nailed to the moment:
I dreamt of a landscape, overgrown grass, trees blanketing a hillside, leafy canopies moving against the sky, a deep river bisecting the scene. Fat berries pulling on their stems, apples weighing down their branches. Then a breeze came through with a slow hiss, and I knew it carried poison on its back. Here was a green abundance that I could not eat, a cold stream from which I could not drink. Take care, a voice said. Take care to call things by their names.
(Bernstein, The Coming Bad Days)
In this Edenic scene of harvest and green abundance, nothing is properly named. The landscape is unspecified, generic, anywhere. The voice belongs to anyone. It could be a serpent, a god, an angel, a person. Unlike Adam, the narrator cannot name things in nature. It is not their purpose. They came to Eden in dreams and after the fall. What fruits of knowledge exist are overripe and almost a burden to their branches and vines. In addition to the biblical resonance, this passage recalled for me the fig tree motif in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963),the poison tree of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Experience (1794). Wrath is in the air, and failure. I want to wrap around the passage like a kind of vine. Hold and be held in it. Is language a kind of taking care? A watering cruelty? What are the ecological arts of attention and tending to, towards, against?
I was struck by the possibility that Bernstein’s narrator embodied the abject and porous, slow and injured thought of an anthropocenic subject. This statement feels inevitable. The only abundance they could conjure was unconscious and laced with ‘poison’. It could not be imbibed; was not nourishing. But somehow such dreams nourish the text. For all its depiction of coldness, cruelty and the failure of communication, the cold stream of suffering, the weathering of Bernstein’s lyric prose effects a possible intimacy. Weathering, for Astrida Neimanis and Jennifer Mae Hamilton, ‘names a practice or a tactic: to weather means to pay attention to how bodies and places respond to weather-worlds which they are also making’. I think of the narrator skittishly eating cheese sandwiches at the window of their office, every single day of the week. I eat this sandwich with them. What is it they see? Each iterative mention of the weather reminds us that the social and interpersonal dramas of the novel are part of the medial, immersive or remote dramas of climate. The agential presence of rain, frost, clouds and fog, the turn of the waves, the ‘glistening violet evenings’: it’s more than metaphor. It sinks into the prickling skin of Bernstein’s language. Maybe you’d want to call this a weathering realism.
This novel seized me to read with compulsion, the way a dream does come and the writing of the dream is luxuriance that only later you bathe in. Not quite vulnerable or resilient. Responsive. Exposed to something.
On the 28th April 2019 (no entry for the 29th), I wrote in purple ink:
We would do better to sleep now, I have been sleeping much better and trying to resist the pull of insomnia, trying to perfect a monologue. What comes and goes in a dream without noticing, whose handwriting on the sun you recognised chancing your luck with yellow corn and fields of trials against sensitive, colours of smear and floral obstacle. Hyperboreal data flow into the crinkle cut futurity. Applying for latitude, acid.
Not sure about ‘we’: did I mean the ‘we’ of me reading back, and the ‘me’ who was writing, there in the moment? Are you also included, reading this passage over one of my shoulders? Can we take care to name things in dreams? But when I dream of people — friends, loved-ones, family, colleagues the famous — as I often do, what happens when I write their names? Am I opening them up to something that could harm or exhaust them? Is their presence a giving over of energy? Am I to be persecuted by the purple, anonymous flower of somebody’s need? What if I didn’t even know? What if the mark-making of initials was key? Will it bloom or wilt?
Go back to sleep in the forest, soft cosmos of dissolving forms.
There is a sense of missing someone that grows an acorn in your belly. It hardens and rattles with new life. It burns out of place. Leaves you with a feeling of placelessness. Impregnates every word with the possible, the fizzy wake, the fear and hurt. Makes you grow sideways. Hey. To exist in no-time of not knowing when the feeling comes. Pastel vests are back in fashion. Pull over. Kisses. Rarest flower emoji that doesn’t exist. To be sometimes well and other times racked in a well-documented madness that pays various attention to weather. Something painful. A few days of goodness seized. I would leap out the door, do 15,000 steps each day; so I would name the colour chartreuse when I saw it. Watching for changing bone structures in Zoom tiles. Your hair grown long and lemon blonde. My internet broke for a whole day and night. I felt old-timey in the pdf archive. Phoned you.
Bebby Doll – Weeks
Ana Roxanne – I’m Every Sparkling Woman
Zoee – Microwave
Cowgirl Clue – Cherry Jubilee
Laurel Halo – Sun to Solar
trayer tryon, Julie Byrne – new forever
Life Without Buildings – Sorrow
Cocteau Twins – My Truth
Kelsey Lu, Yves Tumor, Kelly Moran, Moses Boyd, ‘let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out’
Iceage – Gold City
Le Tigre – Deceptacon
FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred again.. – Don’t Judge Me
Porridge Radio – Wet Road
Angel Olsen – Alive and Dying (Waving, Smiling)
Big Thief – Off You
Perfume Genius – Valley
Grouper – Poison Tree
Sonic Youth – Providence
U.S. Maple – The State Is Bad
Sky Ferreira – Sad Dream
Waxahatchee – Fruits of My Labor (Lucinda Williams cover)
The Felice Brothers – Inferno
Bright Eyes – Train Under Water
Weyes Blood – Titanic Risen
Lucinda Williams – Save Yourself (Sharon Van Etten cover)
Excited to announce a new installation I’ve been involved in as part of A+E Collective. From The NewBridge website:
This online installation explores the relationship between sustainability and dreaming, offering a space to collectively share our dreams and have discussions surrounding these broader topics. The Dream Turbine was conceived by A+E Collective in collaboration with Niomi Fairweather and Jessica Bennett, as part of the Overmorrow Festival.
A turbine (from the Latin ‘turbo’, meaning vortex) is a device that harnesses the kinetic energy of fluid, turning this into a rotational motion which can generate electricity or otherwise ‘work’. From windmills to waterwheels, turbomachines are a crucial part of our energy history. The Dream Turbine is a speculative, participatory turbomachine for stimulating, processing, converting and sharing sustainable and postcapitalist imaginaries.
From Earth Day to early summer 2021, A+E Collective will be taking to cyberspace and installing The Dream Turbine at The NewBridge Project. In solidarity with The NewBridge Project’s values of cooperation, adaptation, environmental and social justice, The Dream Turbine hopes to promote alternative, non-extractive ways of thinking, desiring, memorialising and living through various ongoing crises as individuals and collectives.