But the point was that the force of that moment, really being a citizen, collective force as antipathy and hatred mixed with an absolute joy and solidarity, creating that solidarity, was our one hold to the era that she destroyed, that she, as convenient embodiment, bogeywoman, figurehead, channeler of particular social forces of which even she could only imagine the iceberg’s tip, sought to make mentally and physically inconceivable. Again we saw the miners’ flags. As so many filthy rags.
But I mean it was Wrong in the sense that the 2011 or 1967 riots were Wrong, and while I’m not saying that to riot is a revolutionary strategy, economic parody, lash-out, smash and grab, slash and burn and loot, it is perhaps these moments that a poetry of guilt and frustration and fury and over-reaching finds its deepest affinity for. What that says about longer term struggle is more problematic. I mean, yes, it would be useful to “organize ourselves,” and I would hope we might have started thinking towards that position already. But if the questions is: “at what points in the class struggle can poetry intervene at this moment,” aren’t those wrong moments – the riots, Thatcher’s funeral – again precisely where (a particular kind of) poetry does find that affinity? As, and out of, reactive fury. Getting the jitters. A poetry participating in a particular kind of social spirit. Perhaps this means nothing in formal terms. “But it did also seem to me that the thatcher [streetparty] was one of the few occasions of a counterpublic, a spontaneous and non-bureaucratic street eruption, where people came together not to consume but to celebrate.”
Yet even this celebration was in part a negative force. Because the force I’m talking about must be negative. As Jean Genet has it in Les Nègres, hatred, not love, is from where we begin. Thatcher. Cameron. Cops. Cuts. Off The Pig. If you behave like an animal, we will treat you like an animal. They’ll say the same for us, and they have the weapons to back that up, which, in a practical context, makes them right, affords them that ‘right’. I mean the law. The question of the military. Escalation. The liberal monopolisation of lethal weaponry in the hands of the state, its so trusted and loving representatives. Those same cops. Those same soldiers. What strategy you could have here.
These are important questions to consider, but in considering them, we must remember that militancy is not just gun-romanticisation, vicarious cowboy-mythologies, “one bullet / is worth / a thousand bulletins,” the individual nerved-up case, poet participating as mental bodysore, mere social nuisance, crazyman, shouting and shouting, through a megaphone, outside BHS or inside an occupation, shouting what becomes, in that context, as Sean [Bonney] described it earlier, “incomprehensible speech.” Militancy, then, not as this, but as a longer-term collective organizational strategy, its specifics, as Danny [Hayward]’s and Sam [Walton]’s papers have just now begun to discuss.
What, for example, do we do every day, in relation to poetry and the community of reading and writing and socializing that clusters around it? What kind of a community are we fostering? Without stopping or shutting off, in some overly-worthy politically-correct move, that which we are already doing – the alcohol-fuelled reading nights which combine an intense attentiveness with a joyful excess that seems to reflect an excess in the poetry itself – how could our community be expanded, taken into different areas, in relation to the gender, class and race barriers which we perhaps unconsciously perpetuate in the most apparently insignificant of venue choices, interactions, modes of communication?
WHAT IS THIS PROPAGANDA?
We do not have the channels. The administrators have them. All we can see on the TV is a burst of black and white fizz which suddenly shapes into the hideous demonic faces of dozens of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs all possessed at the same time by Margaret Thatcher’s ghost, hordes of evil children like in the video to Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’. All we can hear down the telephone line is horrible shrieking static mixed with occasional bursts of internalized propaganda and the horror, the infinite internal delay, of holding muzak. Elevator music for the lift to the scaffold, the race to the bottom.
So the channels don’t work. And yet we should stay in with the crowd – not the in-crowd, the crowd that realizes the horrific violence and fakery of that crowd in its every champagne cocktail, its every white-walled muck-fest, wanking over shit sold as gold, degree show, biennale, funded project, but the crowd scowling on its fringes, fag ends outside the library, wanting to feel uncomfortable, feeling uncomfortable, who you march with on the big demos, on the fringes of the crowd smashes the windows, shouts a whisper in the plugg’d ear of the prime minister. Well your channels could be there. Mass-produce, you got printers, photocopiers, intended for what, lecture handouts, power-point presentations, conference programmes, tea and biscuits, directions, sympathy, bureaucracy. We didn’t hand out the ‘memorial booklet’ at Thatcher’s funeral, at the celebration. We didn’t hand out the poems we wrote out of that movement of marches those few years ago, though we gave them to ourselves, to each other, email, fugitive copy, accumulating status for rarity. Like, literally flood that fucking street, all these trees have died for this moment, their beautiful sacrifice for this which you can only consent to betray.
Or again, sacrifice to what seems to you ‘boredom’, to organization, to long-term strategy. The poets who came into Occupy Oakland advocating various forms of escalation then left black people to swim again in their own shit once the movement had ruptured. Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Comment # 1’ is still absolutely relevant, in class and racial terms. Orpheus cannot always sing, must choose to knuckle down. Shit on his fucking myth.
OK, but what about the work that we could do with poetry? We could start now. (Though obviously, none of this really means anything unless the poetry we’re writing is good poetry. And that itself is equally a part of our political task. We can’t kid ourselves that it’s any good just because we distribute it in some cool guerrilla-underground-street flier-type way, bark like dogs in a seminar room.) But broadsides, handouts, well, you know, thrust into your hand by crazy rant-preachers, sectarian factions, club-nights, the miserable sandwich-board subway man on the street all fucking afternoon, yeah you throw them in the bin, but you might even look at them, when that social moment, that moment of wrongness and force splits the dank walls of the possible open just a chink again, as you’re watching the news, or there by chance on the street near where the action is, or in your daily life feeling the sheer normalized brutality of the strictures in which that life must now be lived, when all that happens, might turn your anger directed inwards - immigrant, scrounger, BNP, EDL, UKIP, the lean to the right - outward, just that one thought-seed planted. Which is obviously so fucking patronizing. But still, look at the alternatives. Who in their right mind would listen to Billy Bragg.
Magazines with art so boho-chic. Whitest Reviews. But shit, one picture is worth, in terms of speed of access, immediate imprint, a thousand words, or something, and I don’t mean words that translate into cash, $1000 for an original Free Angela poster. Shit, remember Emory Douglas? The Black Panther Party Newspaper. Text and photograph, collage. The art of the world, not the art world.
To the (Supposed) Patron: “There is no substitute for a rich man.”
How absurd it would be, would it, to think that ‘the people’ or ‘the crowd’ or ‘the working classes’ could be your ‘patron’, and how would that (re)(con)figure your relation to them. Not even a thought worth completing, a provocation worth answering, no doubt. Certainly nothing for anyone’s ‘edification’, however much the ethos of paternalism flickers with welfare-state nostalgia. Please don’t tidy my desk.
When your actual patron, or set of patrons – the rich man, the corporation passing as a body, the smooth face of an arts council administrator having a little asexual orgasm as they tick a box marked ‘culture’ – does not even care for you, when what you do doesn’t matter to them, fills a certain role, fulfils it, within those limits can do whatever the hell it wants, a bit tight for money sometimes, a bit of a scramble, cuts and more cuts, looking over your shoulder, job security, the barbarism of workfare round every potential corner, volunteered slavery.
Sponsored by The National Lottery, The Arts Council, The AHRC. Take the money while you can, but who and how breaks out of the circle that money so charmingly allows you to construct? The poetry of our friends, for our friends, against our enemies but totally unimportant to them, ignored by them. To want to be taken as seriously as poems used as evidence in trials, jailings, beatings, martyr complex syndrome, to want them to be read by those against whom they are intended. To strip the flesh from David Cameron’s face, iamb by atom by iamb, free verse from slavery cop-out card, might poems move to prose, prose to poems, html, spray-can, the pages are stitched and the book will never appear on the shelves of Waterstones, if it did we would have to steal it back.
Or is that mere clique-mentality as defeatism? Pasolini, communist, homosexual, revolutionary poet, from out of the working class, was a public figure, an international figure. Would it be just entirely impossible for such a figure to emerge here, or elsewhere? Are the following words, from Barry MacSweeney, simply simple and inaccurate dreams of the 1960s? “my impulse is to reject the cult system[…] a Writers Union! its that ballpoint and bayonet again […] something dear to me […] Unionists in Verse! Strikers with poems […] poetry to be read to an audience of 10,000 – youth, the stress on it.”
Put everything that comes out of this out for free. Maybe the authors’ names don’t even matter. Language as anyone’s property. The ‘public’ in ‘publication’ is not understood as a series of consumerist receptacles, waiting for your golden eggs or turds to drop into their mouths or onto their plates, and publication is not equal to publicity; think of a publication as potentially available to everyone, not mediated thru economic exchange, not as the real existence of some Habermaisan liberal imaginary sphere, inside the inside of his shiny head, but instead some realization of antagonism and clash and wrongness that smashes up against and tries to break thru the commodification of all channels. The word ‘poetry’ sounds horrible in my mouth, offends the air, mouth-fart, stinking belch of introspective self-impressionism, the natural medium of the middle-class. Wanting otherwise, so that poetry wouldn’t be shit, wouldn’t just be ego-massage, observance of the world unfolding especially for you, for your specific keenly attuned descriptive eye and I; supercapitalist collusion but without any of the bright shiny sheen that implies – coke for breakfast, hilarious unreal brilliance of neon, Daft Punk’s latest album, skyscrapers in New York – instead just the pure dreariness of not even exhilarating compromises. Like being shot in the middle of your brow. Someone please shoot me there, or let me shoot back. Let poetry not be shit, or let it be the shit that we need, “like a particular political commitment going beyond the self” or examining that self from within, “and I still think ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie / dead dead dead’ was the greatest poem.” A poetry and a public – a counterpublic – that will spit in your face, that is absolutely negative, and absolutely wrong, and thus absolutely correct, that will force the false ‘inclusivity’, apathy or hippie escapism of your ‘public’ sphere absolutely out of fucking orbit.
Ideas in this paper were stolen from others named and unnamed in the text.