According to the introductory 'note on the text' these
fragments are 'found' texts which were discovered on the walls of a feminist
squatted community known as 'the sistership'. This is an intriguing starting
point for this collaboration between Sarah Crewe & Sophie Mayer, however
'worked-on' (or not, or entirely invented) these pieces are. There is no claim
of 'intention' behind the composition of these poems though a clue can be
gained by the Guardian quotation on
the last page, from Adrienne Rich, which suggests a strong political and
feminist slant and 'on the continuous redefining of freedom - that word now
held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the 'free' market'.
night those once-called brothers
came, knocking down our door.
shame. They came with rods &
regulations, with the bones
revolution still on their breath.
(from '19 - Written small in the dust by the back door
The poems veer between inner monologues and assertive, celebratory moments
and are filled with strange erudition and an often haunting, erotic yet
prayer-like quality which feels biblical at times (there are quotations from
a new translation of The Song of
Songs). Richly lyrical sections are
intertwined with more down-to-earth narrative constructions and the timeless
and archaic rub shoulders with the here and now and immediate in terms of
Shlomo works for weeks on the float,
finding fabrics and wood in skips.
Aerosols of gold and silver, given by
taggers to give it shimmer. Ultraviolet
wristsnaps and glowsticks for his dancers.
'and the daughters of the place of peace
paved it with love'
There is the naming of names and the celebration of seasonal change - 'Ha!
flower/power. Springing/from seeds' wintersleep/under frozen ground.' - and
if this all sounds a bit hippy dippy and 'counter-cultural' then it surely is
in an 'Adrian Mitchell sort of way', a positive response hopefully to the
Occupy movement and the near-collapse of the banking system. There are
dangers though as made explicit in this brief lyric from poem 6. :
watch the doves
against the sky
watch the hawks
against the sky
This is risky poetry in the sense that the positive assertion and
celebration of 'peace, love and understanding' by the powerless, can appear
na•ve and hopelessly idealistic, especially in a contemporary setting. And
yet, I think it has to be worth the risk. Another intriguing poetry
collection from the 'Knives Forks and Spoons Press'.
This new collection from Nial McDevitt begins with a
bristling introduction from Heathcote Williams and concludes with an
eloquently argued essay which extols the virtues of David Gascoyne and
acclaims him as the great British poet
of the twentieth century. It's an unexpected finale and a sweeping tour de
force which adds gravitas to a book which must rate as one of the most
articulate and extended rants in the history of poetry. It's actually a
series of poems, of course, not a continuous piece
but its 'state of the world' polemic is both streetwise and gloriously
enriched by its wide-ranging vocabulary and partisan complexity. By which I
mean that while McDevitt is clearly 'of the left' he is also fully aware of
the limitations and straitjacket possibilities of the 'ism' and is very wary
of the dangers of reading only within 'a prescribed field':
I favour the
bohemians, say Benjamin and Debord,
to the academic
and anyway as
Ken Campbell said
'I'm not mad, I've
just read different books'
and the brick
wall of English Marxism
is a book wall
cannot live on frankfurters alone
(from 'Umpteenth Epistle to the Marxists'
'I am not a Marxist' -
The cover illustration depicts a flying eagle, claws outstretched, yet with
the head of Dame Shirley Porter crowned with a golden lavatory seat. This
gives a strong clue to the territory we are in!
While I'm reminded of Abiezer Coppe and the ranters of the seventeenth
century - also the lavatorial humour of their 1980's namesakes - when I read
McDevitt, there is also the European modernism of Baudelaire and Rimbaud and
while he largely steers clear of the 'academic avant-garde', I'm also
thinking Aidan Dun (an improbable reference point, you might think), Andrew
Jordan, Alan Morrison and Sean Bonney. This is ambitious writing which
combines a streetwise attack from below with the more lyrical qualities which
great poetry can exhibit. McDevitt's heterogeneity is impressive and
politically focussed, a great blunderbuss blast against the current
administration and the ethos of consumer capitalism.
I inhale the sun
in the Sumerian city I walk upside down
by a noiseless river
with noises of rivers
of coffee shops
a baptism of adverts
but in towers
doors slam (echo)
of a mystery people
(extracts from 'LEUN'DEUN')
McDevitt presents a rich mix of celebration and attack - he's a flaneur who
suggests alienation as the inevitable response to the increasing gap between
rich and poor and to the 'divide and rule' ideology of the masters. Where this
may lead us we are unsure but we certainly live in interesting times.
'Processed Words'* is a brilliant encapsulation of the power of new
technology to enslave rather than free us (not what we were told in the
1970's I seem to recall), not because of the technology itself but because of
the use it is put to in the realm of post-industrial output. A new generation
of wage-slaves (reduced mainly to the minimum wage) is put to work to
'process' the work of the 'real' producers and McDevitt's parody of PR speak
is both faultless and caustic:
We like to believe our word-workers are content
to perform a task they enjoy (i.e. the production
and processing of printed matter.) Receipt of payment
is an essential but secondary
You'll find our words user-friendly, eager to please,
but not-we hope-too sycophantic or too trivial.
(N.B. It is important that no one is offended;
although, now and then, a little controversy
or frisson is a useful
*(May contain traces of horseshit)
(extracts from 'Processed Words')
This could be partly a generational thing of course as a lot of young
people have bought into (or been coerced into) this new reality, which can be
made to feel inevitable and while some may thrive in this 'brave new world',
the majority are being reduced to a new form of misery. 'A Tory in Avalon'
posits the scenario of a conservative minister gone AWOL at the Glastonbury
festival under the influence of drugs and a more 'laid-back' lifestyle.
Unfortunately, he's been recording his inner thoughts on his smartphone and
the information has been broadcast far and wide. The P.M. is not amused and
there is a sticky ending to the proceedings:
A Tory in Avalon ponders onÉ
'The Matter of Britain? The Matter
with Britain is the Neanderthal politics
of a two-and-a-half party system
in a land-grabbed land, class-divided,
with white-collar criminal institutions
who keep the 99% in the workhouse
and too many swaggering 'business kings'
slapping taxes on light, heat, water, etc.
A Tory in Avalon orders a cocktail
from the backstage bar. It's called a Merlin-
two Sipsmith gins, a La Fee absinthe
and a few carefully crushed medlars,
with mandrake-also known as Coup de Chien.
É..An ego-bomb explodes.
He takes the air of toxic Babylon.
Tory in Avalon is missing for 24 hours
but in the rock'n'roll bubble, no one
thinks anything of a locked cubicle.
He takes no air. The air is taken back.
from 'A Tory in Avalon')
'FUCKU' is a long, rambling, open-field, typographically adventurous piece
filled with scatological squibs, witty and scabrous one-liners and 'up-ended'
tabloid jargon mixed with topical commentary and onslaught - 'royal wedding /
their Shakespeare comedy /
written by / jilly cooper/ É hail the right-geist!' 'A Thousand',
incorporating '1The Jew', '2 The Christian', '3 The Marxist' and '4 The
Whore', reminds me of Andrew Jordan's oblique 'definition' poems where the
commentary is suggested by the title yet distanced from it, surreal and often
apocalyptic, roughed-up at the edges, seditious and subversive:
Salting my wound with money, and the wounds of men
With deference and technique
Milking their glands religiously
I have poems as salmon
(from '4 The Whore')
McDevitt revels in contradiction and difference - he both rails at and
celebrates ritual, has a strong sense of the theatrical and mixes surrealism
with streetwise anger while retaining an abiding sense of the absurd. This is
a cracking book which I hope you enjoy reading although perhaps 'enjoy' isn't
quite the right word!
© Steve Spence