The Prose Poem and Radical Ambiguity


The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, edited by The Sunday Times poetry critic and Senior Lecturer at UAE Jeremy Noel-Tod, has already been reviewed several times, both positively and negatively, and I’m not going to add to them here; but I would like to pick up a few points made in those reviews – particularly the negative ones – which I find interesting for various reasons relating to my own attempts to grapple with the prose poem as a form.
Kate Kellaway in The Guardian, while her adjective choices are sometimes a little breathless (“stupendous”, ”exhilarating”), makes some good points and she notes correctly that “the prose poem has always been a liberating space”, a nice phrase that sums up the general feeling of Noel-Tod’s introduction. The Telegraph and The Times reviews are behind paywalls, but they must also be positive as they awarded the anthology five and four stars respectively.
Such reviews are, in the opinion of that combative and grizzled Old-Schooler Craig Raine, “abject” and “docile” due to Noel-Tod’s “intimidating” introduction. He has a great time tearing it to pieces in his magazine Areté. Now. As much as I enjoy Raine’s habit of stalking the world of contemporary literature like the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, his aim here is way off. It is motivated surely by bad blood (Noel-Tod is his former deputy editor at Areté and his former student at Oxford) rather than any real failing in the introduction, which is, for the general reader, very informative and accessible. Raine’s ostensible beef is, I think, that Noel-Tod writes too vaguely, using rhetorical flourishes and overly extensive end notes in order to hide his fuzzy thinking on prose poems. Even by Raine’s exacting professorial standards, he is being too harsh. This is “not an argument” he says derisively, but no ‘argument’ is intended: the introduction is meant to provide perspectives on a literary form that is more-than-averagely difficult to pin down; Noel-Tod is assembling a range of thoughts from people likely to be interesting and instructive, not developing a thesis. It is true that his own definition (“a prose poem is a poem without line breaks”) is a bit too minimalist to be much help, and that expressions like “….wayward relationship to its own form…” go the other way and ask the reader to make too great a leap from signifier to signified, but given that he is discussing a form “with an oxymoron for a name (Michael Riffaterre)”, the strategy of providing a spectrum of attempts to express its ‘whatness’ is as good an approach as any. And he compliments this with some features that are common to many prose poems (such as expansiveness, a tendency towards the imagistic, and towards metonym over metaphor), also supplying thoughts from various writers and critics on the two forms separately, poetry and prose, which fuse in this simultaneously too-difficult and too-easy hybrid. Again, this is a good strategy, which, although it didn’t leave me with a solid understanding of some pocket-sized definition, did provide enough different perspectives to allow me a ‘feeling’ for what a prose poem ‘might’ be, i.e. an expansive, loose, imagey, notey, cage-bar-bendy, echoey, metonym-y kind of thing. And I think that is about as much as I can hope for. Really, I don’t think prose poems want to be defined – they are radically ambiguous.
It is this sense of having to accept the form’s essential non-definability which I think lies at the heart of Jason Guriel’s complaint in his review in The Walrus. Guriel is a poet, and as far as I can tell not a bad one, who takes a reserved approach to what a poem ‘should’ be and so finds himself uncomfortable with the prose poem’s radical ambiguity. His tone is less splenetic than Raine’s, though he still sounds rather irritated. He does, however, raise the one point I struggle most with in connection to prose poems – that is, how are we supposed to know a good one from a bad one if the rules which govern what it is are so loose? To an extent this is a question that goes for a lot of contemporary poetry that doesn’t follow traditional forms, and critics often use that equally indefinable reason for their criticisms, that “it doesn’t work on its own terms”. The prose poem must present a double headache for such critics because it doesn’t even provide any terms on which it may or may not work. Guriel plays a sly trick halfway through his review, inventing a prose poem and adding it to a list of genuine ones in order to illustrate how craft-less their cod profundity really is. I have to admit that I was caught out here, and I felt (as Guriel no doubt hoped his readers would) slightly ashamed and ‘copped’ at not having been able to distinguish the genuine from the forged. Of course, with hindsight I can go back and backfill all sorts of reasons for being duped; and re-reading it I can see how he has used Noel-Tod’s introduction to write a sort of prose-poem-by-numbers.
Here is Guriel’s prose poem in full:

A text, resting on a table, having been turned to a page of illustrated finches years before. (The page was torn out years before.) And beside it, the tumbler of water. And beside themselves, the finches. And where the page was torn, an edge. An absence. A muted singing.

If nothing else, we could perhaps say that it is an expansive, loose, imagey, notey, cage-bar-bendy, echoey, metonym-y kind of thing. And you know what? I still quite like it, the way I might like a painting I know is actually crap but which gives me a pleasant feeling to look at, and so I keep it on my wall almost as two fingers up to the world. I think a lot of poems are ‘good’ in this sense – and of course there are those who are concerned that this is part of the ‘dumbing down of poetry’, and perhaps the recent increase in collections of prose poems, or including them, is seen as part of this trend.
But it is worth going back to the Noel-Tod anthology to see what the genuine prose poems have got that the fake one hasn’t. Here is The God of War (1949) by Berthold Brecht (trans. Thomas Kuhn), another poem that would fit my silly non-definition above:

I saw the old god of war standing on a stump, one side an abyss, on the other a cliff wall.

He smelled of free beer and carbolic and he showed off his gonads to the teenagers, the while some professors had rejuvenated him.

In his hoarse wolf’s voice he declared his love for all that is young. And there was a pregnant woman standing by, and she shivered.

And he continued without shame, presenting himself as a great champion of order. And he described how he created order in the barns, by emptying them.

As a man may scatter crumbs for the sparrows, so he fed poor people with crusts of bread he had taken from poor people. His voice was sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, but always hoarse.

In a loud voice he spoke of the great times to come, and in a quiet voice he taught the women how to boil crows and seagulls.

All the while he was uneasy in himself, and he looked over his shoulder time and again as if in fear of a stab in the back.

And every five minutes he assured his public that he was minded to make his entrance brief.

This is a poem that I don’t just want to look at but to touch, climb onto, open up, root around, delve into, investigate. Even though it is in translation (perhaps because it is in translation) there is something in the word choices, the images, the surprises, the repetitions, the themes that pulls me in, demands not only that I read and speak it but that I speak and write about it. Something, well, indefinable. And I can only express what I want to express about how the poem affects me through the metaphors of the previous sentence – how fuzzy is that? There is nothing in the Guriel fake that makes me feel anything like I feel when reading the Brecht. I used to mock Christians (when I did such things, git that I was, back in my Dawkins days) for their use of metaphor: “Well, of course you’d say God is Light because there is Light whereas there is no God”. But now I see that some things just do not trade in clear definitions – they need metaphor and analogy because they are made of something that conventional clarity cannot capture. And that’s okay. After all, a simple biological definition of ‘The Human’ would miss an awful lot of fuzziness around the question of what a human really is. If we were looking for a literary form to fit the contradictions and contrariness of the human character, perhaps we would choose one “with an oxymoron for a name”.
What Noel-Tod’s anthology has helped me understand is that knowing what a prose poem, or any poem for that matter, is is not the point, the point is what it does. I know a good prose poem when I read it because of the way it makes me feel, what hidden truth about the world it points me towards, what it makes me want to do after reading it, where it takes my imagination; and you can call it what you want. Some poetic forms afford us the comfort of a clear definition and Audenesque memorability, while others don’t. Equally, some readers require such clarity, along with the security of being able to say ‘I know this is good because it fulfils criteria A, B and C, which are all good things, and it bends criterion D, which is clever’. While others don’t.

You can buy The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem here.

In Praise of the Poetry Sloth

poetry sloth

The sloth, that most beautiful and temptingly anthropomorphic of animals, has for too long been used unfairly as a metaphor for idleness (unfairly metaphormosed, perhaps – ho, ho). It’s time, in my view, to celebrate a creature which should represent not laziness, listlessness, and inertia but careful and, yes, slow – but fully alert and thoughtful – movement through the branched entanglements of modern life.
It is almost a truism that we should all slow down and bit in the face of early twenty-first century existence, whose pacemaker is no longer the movement of the sun or even the tick of the clock but the constant and frenzied whirl of social media, powered by ‘likes’, those ultra-addictive ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’, as Justin Rosenstein, their Facebook inventor, called them. Of course, we all need to step back and recalibrate. But if there is one activity in life where we should really, really slow down, surely it is as readers. This goes for reading any text but I’m principally thinking about reading words, i.e. literary texts. On Twitter at the end of last year (and this is presumably not the first year this has happened but the first I’ve noticed) was the peculiar sight of people advertising to the world the number of books they had read that year (and the numbers tended to be unattainably high by most people’s standards 100, 150, 200…and higher), the subtext of course being: the higher the number, the more literary/intelligent/skilled etc. the reader. Frankly, I would have preferred to see someone bragging about having read only one book in a year, having spent a day on each page, considering it, weighing up its effect and the techniques and strategies used by the writer. I think I would have tapped the ‘like-heart’ on that tweet. That show-off would have won my respect as a Literature Sloth – because there are not enough of them around.
Marcel Proust began writing A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu in 1909 and it was, famously, still unfinished at his death thirteen years later in 1922. This massive tome is not only the masterpiece of 20th century literature, it is (more importantly today perhaps) the Anti-Tweet. I began reading it, by a coincidence that I’ve only just realized as I write this, exactly 100 years after Proust began writing it, in 2009. I’ve still not finished it in 2019 so I guess I have three years left if I want to complete it in less time than it took the great man to write it; but I must admit I don’t, particularly. I like my slow approach. I pick it up, read a few pages, put it down, think about it, read other things, forget about it for a bit, pick it up again two weeks later, read a few pages, put it down again, etc. Over the last ten years it has become an important part of my life, which I really don’t want to lose, and so I’m happy to keep plodding through it (I’m about a third of the way through The Prisoner, the fifth of its seven volumes) and if I happen to die before I finish, well, that’s okay. This is, I suppose, a humblebrag as I’m advertising the fact that I’m reading Proust, even if I’m doing so slowly. It’s also a little disingenuous because it’s not like I’ve got much choice, I’m a slow reader by nature – I’ve never been able to read quickly and never taken the time to learn (the speed-reading book by Tony Buzan that I got in my teens sits on my shelf now as it has for thirty years). But I use myself as an example of the Literature Sloth because I think I’m getting something from Proust that those who dash though him in, say, six months, miss. I’ve had time to get to know intimately Marcel, his family, his girlfriends, his social acquaintances etc. And I’ve had time to forget parts of the earlier books, books which I read nine or ten years ago during a part of my own life which was very different to my life now – so Remembrance of Marcel’s Things Past becomes indivisible from remembrance of my own life.
In some ways, prose asks for a quick reading, narrative whisking readers along the way it does, sucking them into its ever-present event-horizon; our eyes slipping easily along the slick rail of the written line. Long novels especially tempt us to rattle through them, skipping words and sentences – subordinating stasis (looking un-movingly at a single word or even letter) to the ever-unattainable light-speed flash of meaning-consumption, story arc, and the need for conclusion. From one side of the page to the other, over and over, the actual words disappear, and they are replaced with a different world, the world of narrative – or at least a world built through narrative. This is all no doubt fairly 1.01 Prose Theory stuff and I mention it only to contrast it with poetry, which tends towards the static rather than the dynamic, prioritising word-choice over the sentence flow, and exposing individual letters amongst words. Narrative is there sometimes of course but even then, when compared with prose, the number of words involved is so much lower (how much longer would even the Iliad have been if it had been written – all of it, without edits – in prose?) that the relative value of each individual word is much higher. To one degree or another, poetry tinkers on the periphery of stasis. It is not a chaotic city, but a complex jungle. And this is the realm of the Poetry Sloth, because any reader who rushes through a poem at prose-speed will see at best the distorting perspectives from a train rushing through the countryside, and at worst little more than a blur. The eye must slow down, so that the brain can engage poetically rather than prose-ishly.
To continue my sloth re-metaphormosis (because I’m enjoying it) the Poetry Sloth is a sub-species of the Literature Sloth, but even slower, even more careful, and even more discerning of every leaf of language it chews on. Literature as commerce – i.e. the industry – wants us all to be Poetry Dogs dashing around the forest floor sniffing madly and gobbling down whatever we find before moving on to the next morsel; and social media brings out the dog in all of us. But up in the trees I think everyone will find, if they look, the peaceful face of a Poetry Sloth considering in careful slow-motion every mouthful it chomps and gazing sagely at a single piece of tree.
Hurray for the Poetry Sloth!

The Idea of John Bercow at Key West (poem)


The Idea of John Bercow at Key West

(After Wallace Stevens)

Translated there from a blustering sea
Where the waves rise into anger and fall
Into panic, a tidal morass
Of lunged air and green-leather bladderwrack,
Where fear is the lady and hate is her song.
The dolphin, the leatherback, both are gone.
There from the sandbanks of oak-panelled noise,
A referendum’s unpleasant surprise,
To the sighs the unmetaphorical
Ocean denies, through me. There he goes.

Off he pops. And just above the tropics,
God-like-zilla, barnacled, he rises.
The man who wrestles order from ordure
Stands tall above this southern pin of light,
Presses his feet through the roofs of houses,
An Englishman doing what Englishmen do.
Squat. Not here. Sandcastles all along the beach.
Oh dear John. Or dare, John, or-dur, or DUH.
Squash. Squash. The sandcastles fall one by one
As an old-man/child lopes along a stretch.

It’s not you, John, but something in your skin.
I’m in here too, man. We’re both ghosts as our sun
Completes its epic fail, we walk conjoined
Between the rusty links of driftwood in
The darkness of this frankless, guilt-charged vale.
The very idea, sir. A very idea.
A very sky. A very song. A sea.
Key West is translated into Hong Kong.

The makers are changing, look north, look south,
Where the body’s physiognomies
Refuse to stay tied down, our heavenly bodies,
Political; see what the satellite
Strains to see through clouds of diffusing light,
The DNA, twisting, theoretical,
Of history dividing, subdividing
Those points X and Y into eternity.

I’ve not said what I meant to say.
There is no he or she or sea but hate and fear.

Oh! Pale John Bercow, tell me, if you know,
Is every moment such a bow in time
Where all the tight material of now
Loops into past and future crimes
And contains the means to let them go?

The Zero-Sum Game That Isn’t

A strange and sad essay was published in the American online journal Utne Reader this summer by the poet Bob Hicock (The Promise of American Poetry). Strange, sad and actually quite annoying.
In the essay, Hicock, a successful white male poet with nine collections behind him, waxes mournful at the apparent tailing-off of his career in recent years (a phenomenon he aligns with the growing number of non-white-male poets getting published and scooping up awards) while at the same time cogitating on the necessity of old white guys like him being sacrificed at the altar of multiculturalism. It’s a thoughtful essay, don’t get me wrong, and genuinely felt; but there is rather too much of the Noble Captain Oates about it. A sense of the “It is a far, far better thing I do”…
The poet has already taken something of a roasting on Twitter, and Timothy Yu has responded comprehensively in The New Republic (The Case of the “Disappearing” Poet) so I don’t want to blog about the essay just to pile in, but Hicock’s response to a perceived taking-over of a cultural space that he has become used to occupying by some ‘other’ group is worth pausing over; especially as the issues relate equally to the UK poetry scene.
The problem, if it is a problem, is not that more people of colour are writing poetry but that more people in general are writing poetry, it’s a more popular genre than ever before. But as Yu points out, the audience for poetry is growing too and this is borne out in poetry book sales, competitions, festivals etc. There is evidence that this growing world of poetry is more diverse than many older poets are used to, but the world is more diverse than they are used to so why would poetry not reflect this? To an extent one can understand the reactionary right-wing pushing back against this change in demographics (they would not be right-wing reactionaries if they did not react this way), but heartfelt expressions of personal loss from the liberal, progressive side are almost more difficult to stomach.
The best metaphor I can think of is of a spoilt child who has been told he has to share his toy. 
It brings to mind the recent complaint from a male British writer about a poem by Kim Moore, which I blogged about here. He complained that her ‘objectification’ of men represented a school of thought which ultimately wanted to eradicate men from existence entirely. This is the child’ s tantrum. Hicock’s reaction, the plea for understanding of what is framed as a quite reasonable sadness, equates to the child’s glum sulk, or perhaps their quivering-lipped acquiescence.
These are men who are culturally privileged – and have been for their whole lives – and they see that privilege being taken from them. The reader would be forgiven for feeling that a more dignified response would be simple silence. But let’s face it, in the literary world we all want to say something because if we’re not saying anything, we’re nothing – literally.
Part of this might be that every poet secretly thinks and hopes they will be the one to be remembered by generations to come, theirs is the poetry that will last forever and enter the Canon (whatever that is). To this extent, poetry is (to contradict a phrase I keep reading) a Zero-Sum game. Only a tiny fraction of all the poetry published in the last fifty years will remain in print and on undergraduate reading lists in another fifty. Even most Poet Laureate work is likely to be forgotten other than by a tiny number of academics (who reads Alfred Austin or Robert Bridges these days?) especially as it is no longer a life position. So the more poets there are out there, the lower the chance that any one will be one of those few who stay in print. And as other younger poets become popular and the realisation sets in that ‘actually perhaps I was just another poet’ there is bound to be some sense of loss.
The question is whether Hicock would have felt the same intensity of loss if the younger poets he saw coming through and displacing him were white. Possibly he would; but what is interesting is that he links his perceived loss of status not with younger poets per se but specifically with those poets of colour who are among the new generation. This is where a residual racism lurks, behind the conscious mind, a place where progressives are as defenseless as reactionaries until they notice and self-correct.
But, in my view, the culprit here is not only the racisms hidden in patriarchy, it is also an increase in poetry being thought of as a form of entertainment, the success of which is measured in book sales, festival invitations, public readings, competition wins etc. (intelligent, consciousness-altering entertainment maybe, but entertainment nonetheless) This is a winner-loser mentality which, again, is a Zero-Sum game. If you win, I don’t. If publisher X publishes 25 poetry books each year, then the other 500 poets who have submitted collections lose out. 
But these are not the only criteria for successful poetry, or even the best. What about that one poem which said exactly what you wanted it to say, even if no one else ever read it? What about the poem on your website about which a single person wrote to you and said ‘thank you, that helped me out at a difficult time’? What about that one piece of positive feedback from a person whose poetry opinion means more to you than anyone else’s? What about the poem you wrote or read which changed the way you look at the world or helped you understand another perspective on an issue? These amateur, small scale measures of success will never hit The Bookseller’s statistics but they are surely the most meaningful measures in this shared cultural space we call Poetry?
Amateur painters the world over don’t expect to see their work hanging in national galleries so why should every poet expect to be published or to win a competition? Beyond the warm glow of validation, what does that kind of success mean? Of course it sometimes means money to those who need it, but poetry is not yet the go-to genre for those who prioritise wealth over art…poetry and careerism is perhaps best left for another blog.
As an unpublished poet, I will not take this point further or I’ll end up sounding bitter (of course I’m still sending poems and manuscripts off to publishers! I crave validation as much as the next person).
But here’s a thought to take away: Poetry is not a Zero-Sum game, but the Poetry Industry is. Perhaps if poets like Bob Hicock thought more about the former and less about the latter, they would not feel so upset, and be less likely unwittingly to reveal those hidden racisms which would be better off analysed in their poetry than blindly bumped into in a public essay.

The Silence of Sound (review: Deaf Republic)


Deaf Republic (Faber & Faber)

by Ilya Kaminsky

It almost seems from the plethora of online and mainstream media reviews, and the extensive Big Gun quotations on the front and back dustcovers of Deaf Republic, that there are very few people left who have not heaped praise on Ilya Kaminsky’s second full collection. So, is another review really necessary? A book can be over-reviewed after all. A great deal has been written, much of it is very insightful, and Kaminsky’s book is as good as his yay-sayers claim; but even after all the clamour and commentary, I feel there are a few things which have, surprisingly, been left out of the conversation so far.
The first is that for all its originality and power, Deaf Republic is not the only recent book to have looked through the prism of poetry at the cruelty and oppression that comes with the arrival of an authoritarian, militaristic regime. The rather under-reviewed The Illegal Age by Ellen Hinsey provides a different, less narrative-driven, and in some ways more devastatingly intimate evocation, which puts totalitarianism itself under the microscope, breaking down the lyric almost entirely, rather than commandeering it as Kaminsky does. Both approaches work, and together they could be seen as key political/poetical texts of our time; but they should be read in tandem, and why Hinsey’s work has not attracted more attention mystifies me (although her social media invisibility as compared to Kaminsky’s enthusiastic embrace of Twitter could be one explanation, and his startlingly charismatic public readings could be another).
Secondly, the name that leapt into my mind as I read Deaf Republic, but which appeared in none of the reviews I have read is that of Bertolt Brecht, whose non-Aristotelian drama surely provides the framework within which Deaf Republic’s aesthetic develops. The work fits a Brechtian reading in several ways. The action pushes forward in ‘scenes’ with the narrative drive of theatre and it includes two acts and a dramatis personae, and yet each scene is a discrete poem which also stands effectively on its own, resisting the flow of traditional drama as Brecht’s drama does. The opening line of Act One, “Our country is the stage”, is both Shakespearean and Brechtian, as is the play-within-a-play technique hinted at by the puppet theatre and the frequent puppet-related references to characters – in both cases the reality of history and society subordinate any ideas of ‘entertainment’. Both the use of a fake Ukrainian town and the bookending of the narrative with a prologue and epilogue are strategies that work to alienate the reader, distancing them from the emotion inevitable in the contemporary America of the final poem, which juxtaposes a cop shooting a man through his open car window with the President’s wife clipping her toenails. Is this not something close to the Verfremdungseffekt? The lack of back story (who actually are Alfonso and Sonya?) and resolution (what becomes of Anushka?) also serve to create a distant and universal “folk-drama that feels archetypal” as Andrew Motion’s front-of-book blurb has it. And, without wishing to (further) labour the point, the lyricism of the poetry, or certain heightened moments of it, could also be seen as analogous to Brechtian songs, not used so much to entertain as to underline, to jolt and to ‘teach’. It would only take a small leap to imagine these lines from the end of Act One being sung to the music of Kurt Weil:

“Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air –
a story signed by those who danced wordless before God.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise
with no protection but each other’s ears.
We are on our bellies in this quiet, Lord.”

But these lines invoke and address God, which Kaminsky does frequently, and which suggests, along with some wonderfully light-touch eroticism, a passion at work here which goes beyond the Brechtian/Marxist passion for social change. The tragic lovers and even Alfonso’s incongruously Hispanic name suggest that perhaps someone like Federico Garcia Lorca may be another influential poet-dramatist. And there will be others as well, unknown to me, but to be clear: none of this detracts from the originality of a tone which is, in the end, Kaminskian.
Third, there has been a lot written about the what of Deaf Republic and a fair amount about the why, but relatively little about the how, not on the level of how specific language attains its effect, anyway. Raymond Antrobus has written rightly in The Telegraph about how the varyingly-lengthed lines buzz along the white of the page like the course of a bullet or a piece of spit, but most commentators have focused on his overall lyricism, the breadth of his imagination and his metaphors rather than the technical effects of Kaminsky’s language choices. Reviews are generally not long enough to have space for such specifics, but this is my blog, I have as long as I want, and I feel compelled to make an observation:
The short, simple (i.e. single-clause) sentences linked with punctuation rather than conjunctions (which are rare so that when they do occur the reader sits up – “On earth / a man cannot flip a finger at the sky / because each man is already / a finger flipped at the sky” – combine with generally uncontracted verbs and negatives (see above ‘cannot’ rather than ‘can’t’, for example) to maintain a rhythm and register that can be read, certainly by western European and American readers, as Slavic, peasant-like (perhaps the simple structures encourage us to feel it has been translated from a more vernacular original?) and therefore redolent of Peter-and-the-Wolf-style folk tales (as per Motion’s comment). This in turn combines with frequent moments which utilize a dated register to punctuate particular, vivid imagery:

“Observe this moment
– how it convulses –
The body of a boy lies on the asphalt like a paperclip.
The body of a boy lies on the asphalt
like the body of a boy.”

The words “observe” and “how” (these lines can be read simultaneously as “look at the way this moment convulses” and “look at this moment, oh how it convulses!”) prepare the ground for this remarkable simile and its subsequent negation by raising the lines to a tone which gestures towards heightened nineteenth-century styles of literary expression (“Such is the story…” is another example). This style is consistent with the ‘universal parable’ nature of the story’s landscape, but one of Kaminsky’s great skills is to combine this use of language with references and word-choices that jolt us back out of the folk-world-feel into something that appears much closer and more real (“My people, you were really something fucking fine / on the morning of the first arrests”; “a helicopter eyeballs my wife”; “So much sunlight – / a t-shirt falls off a clothesline…”). In this way, Vasenka and its inhabitants become real/unreal, modern/historic, distant/up-close, and achieve an unusually plain and affecting power.
Finally, reviews have noted glowingly Kaminsky’s extraordinary use of deafness/Deafness and silence as a means of evoking resistance and, as Dzifa Benson puts it in Poetry Review as “a will to power”. Benson’s use of the Nietzschean term is particularly interesting and although I’m not sure it’s quite right (even if power is taken to mean growth and self-overcoming), some further thought about what Kaminsky does with deafness/Deafness in Deaf Republic might be worthwhile because it is so central to the cumulative effect and originality of the book, and perhaps even to this poet’s particular claim to genius. Actually, Kaminsky does not ‘use’ deafness at all, he transforms it. And I think there are three levels to this transformation: 1) into a metaphor (deafness to authority as a form of resistance); 2) into an ability (to see past the ‘invention’ of silence); and 3) ultimately into a productive rather than receptive phenomenon. The first is complex and fascinating but already dealt with in existing reviews. The second is revelatory for hearing people as it turns a previously fixed notion into a relative one: just as those bodies with built-in air-vibration-reading machines create the idea of sound, so they must invent its opposite, or inversion, i.e. silence. To bodies which do not possess air-vibration-reading-machines there is no such thing as sound and therefore no such thing as silence. They are, then, able to perceive a world without the sound/silence duality, one where sight-signal and touch-signal are unfettered by such distractions and distortions as this duality can conjure. In Kaminsky, then, sound becomes silence before they both evaporate, leaving an altogether new landscape, a landscape represented at the end of the book where the final poem before the epilogue, unlisted in the contents page, consists entirely of sign-illustrations. The third level of transformation is part of the first two and yet more radical than both, the sum being greater than the parts as it were: by exploiting its metaphorical potential and energizing it positively as an ability as opposed to a disability, Kaminsky proposes deafness as a mechanism for output rather than a barrier to input. This, ultimately, is the central proposition from which much of the book’s power flows. The creative force of deafness issues forth from the story, its characters, and its aesthetic just as the globule of phlegm issues forth from Petya the deaf boy towards the sergeant in ‘Gunshot’. This is, as far as I know, a genuine departure from the way that deafness has been represented before, it is both empowering for the Deaf and awareness-altering for the Hearing. I might, therefore, tweak Benson’s “will to power” and suggest “will to empowerment”.

There is no doubt that Deaf Republic, along with The illegal Age, are the two recent collections which most effectively and intelligently provide the kind of insights into our increasingly charged political age that poetry is uniquely suited to offer.

You can buy Deaf Republic from Faber and Faber here.

You can buy The Illegal Age from Arc here.

The I that can be we (review: Skin Can Hold)


skin can hold2

Vahni Capildeo, Skin Can Hold (Carcanet)

Of all the contemporary poets writing in the UK today, Vahni Capildeo is the one who, with seven books and five pamphlets behind them, most gives the impression that they are only just getting started. Capildeo’s intelligence, learning, wit, anger, skill and insight appear to be, on the evidence so far, limitless; and it is a brave person who would hazard a guess as to what they will come up with next. Of course, it is not actually any of the above qualities that make Capildeo’s work stand out (they are adjectives that could be applied to any number of active poets), but it is the way those qualities are used – the purposes to which they are put.

When Geoffrey Hill died, Rowan Williams elegised him in the Guardian with these words: “He speaks from deep inside his language. The reader sees the ripple on the surface, puzzling, even apparently arbitrary; but not the fathoms-down movement on the seabed. To read with understanding, you have to join him down there, which is an arduous journey and often frustrating, but generates a sense of challenge and vital unsettlement.”

Capildeo’s poetry is not easy, and I would suggest that, as with Hill, their work provokes in the reader a “sense of challenge and vital unsettlement”, but Capildeo does not require us to dive to the dark seabed of language in search of understanding, as Williams had Hill doing, rather they bring it up into the joyful, harsh, sometimes blinding sunlight on the surface. Puzzling, maybe, but hardly arduous.

In some ways Skin Can Hold moves thematically away from the previous two Carcanet collections, Measures of Expatriation and Venus as a Bear, in as much as the constant questioning, testing, stretching and redefining of the ‘lyrical I’ largely shifts in focus from some of the strategies that have served the poet so well in the past (for example, using geographical dislocation as a metaphor for distancing inner from outer / mental from physical worlds, and some of the more Ovidian forms of metamorphosis to be found in, particularly, Venus as a Bear). Capildeo is clearly continuing their project of breaking down the I, but in this collection, we find more twisting together and opening-up of pre-existing texts (see the Muriel Spark sequence for the former and the Martin Carter section for the latter), as well as direct engagement with fellow contemporary poets (Mark Ford and Zaffar Kunial) and an ‘inviting-in’ of the reader (or audience) with several poems that include stage directions (e.g. ‘Four Ablutions’) or prose explanations as to the purpose of the poem (i.e. the syntax-ified Carter poem ‘I am No Soldier’).

The overall result is a feeling that this is a collection which Capildeo is holding out to the world, offering – as a teacher may offer to a student – a utensil that will help them participate and therefore understand: ‘Look’ they seem to say, ‘now it’s your turn!’ Perhaps it is increasing confidence that leads Capildeo to offer up their work this way, but I get the impression that this is the way things were always heading. The Carcanet volumes (the only Capildeo collections I am familiar with) all seem to be developing towards something which involves sharing a new way of looking through poetry (or looking, through poetry). We may not need to follow Capildeo to her ocean depths, but she would like us to take part in her language, to join her in the water so to speak – and perhaps the understanding is in the taking part. There is, however, no sense that this is the arriving at a destination, or the culmination of a previously incomplete sequence of work.

I think the continual development of forms and ideas, call it experimentation, is central to Capildeo’s work because it represents the poet’s vision of a fundamental ‘unfinishedness’ inherent in the human condition. (This is distinct from ‘incomplete’, as it is perfectly possible in Capildeo to be both complete and unfinished simultaneously). We see this directly in poems like ‘from The End of the Poem’, which is both complete in itself and an extract from another poem (and which contains the ultimate ‘unfinishable’ image, that “infinite tonguetwister” the self-devouring ouroboros), and we see it also in ‘Fragment of a Lost Epic from the Losing Side’ – which is in the most overtly political, final section of the book – in which both a city and an individual perch for eternity on the verge of destruction. Both these poems define themselves as just the visible element of a larger and more complex whole – complete in that they present as entire ‘units’ but unfinished in that what lies behind the visible remains impossibly always-to-be-arrived-at.

Language here is inseparable from the physical individual, and Capildeo makes chromosomal references several times, most overtly in the second section of ‘from The End of the Poem’: “The poem is Trinidadian, / is double x chromosomed, is one hundred and fifty cm, / is creatively crushing on a dead Scottish man / and imagines itself in medieval Italian / and is none of I, Lord have mercy, it is not what I am.” So, the reader would clearly be unwise to identify poem and poet as synonymous and yet the poet appears to run through the poem at an almost genetic level (I’ve written about linguistic DNA before, and find myself on an unfinished learning journey myself here too, as this link will show). But for Capildeo, individual identity, like gender and like race (which are of course inseparable from self) is fluid, creative, unfinished and ultimately not actually individual at all: Martin Carter’s I is described as “extensive, inclusive” and containing a sense of “the I that can be we” and this is also true of Capildeo’s own I (and all of ours) – this is both political (“I am this poem like a sacrifice” wrote Carter in ‘I am No Soldier’, whose poems Capildeo wishes to be “with and inside” through syntax poetry) and personal (“Do not SHE me” the poet puts it bluntly in ‘Shame’) In contrast with ‘she’ / ‘her’ the personal pronouns ‘they’ / ‘them’ are plural, inclusive and as such reflect the communality of a self-definition which seems to wrest the notion of ‘containing multitudes’ away from Whitman. Capildeo does not make any claims on ‘largeness’ but expands the I to celebrate all the unfinished, unfixed, and fluid plurality that the Skin Can Hold.

More than with any poet, I am aware of a ‘review’ format being inadequate to cover the myriad delights that Capildeo presents to the reader – and further aware that there will no doubt be many more delights I have missed because of my own lack of reading. My unfamiliarity with the work of Muriel Spark, for example, stunts my appreciation of one of the two central sections in the collection, ‘Sparks’, a knitting-together of various Spark stories with elements of Shakespeare, Webster, Marinetti and Two Knotty Boys (Google them if you need to. I did!) among others, but this does not prevent me from seeing the creativity of different ages being intertwined and thereby metamorphosed into something new and by extension, again, unfinished. And it also inspires me to seek out and read the work of Muriel Spark – which is not such a bad outcome – and then to return to these texts more fully-informed, perhaps to write a second review. So it may be that this review is itself unfinished.

I love Capildeo for their wit and rage, which often comes in one and the same expression (“Fuck that shit. Now that’s a poem”) but more than that for the complexities of life that they refuse to gloss over glibly, or ignore, as many do. This is poetry which is interested in looking for the truth with the only tool we have to do so, language. In other words, for me this is real – stop, slow down, read, think – poetry. And I make no apology for linking it as I did above to dead white male poet Geoffrey Hill in this regard.

I have had reason recently to quarrel somewhat bitterly on Facebook with a relative who is of the ‘science-tells-us-men-are-men-and-women-are-women-and-trans-women-are-men-who-pose-a-threat-to-actual-women’ school. I feel I argued the case-against successfully (although my relative would disagree) but how I wish I could find a way of having us sit with each other and for us to read Vahni Capildeo together, and to talk about the non-binary complexities of life and how art can help us see these complexities which science is only beginning to reveal in some cases, and to think about the multitudinous nature of selfhood and how language reflects that. I don’t think my relative would take the time required to do this though – they are filled at the moment with too much blind anger, panic and fear, those most contemporary of abstract nouns. But it seems to me that it is language as a defence against just those nouns which Capildeo holds out to us so generously in this collection.

Skin Can Hold is published by Carcanet, and is available here.

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough: an informal interview


I recently met up with Elisabeth Sennitt Clough at The Cambridge Blue on Gwydir Street for a chat before her CB1 reading around the corner at The Blue Moon on Norfolk Street. She read alongside the unique and wonderful John Lyons, who I will make the subject of a separate post.
Liz has been a friend since we completed our online MAs at Manchester Metropolitan University together. She has over the last few years won and come highly placed in several competitions, been published in countless magazines and been named a Poetry Society Recommendation for the most recent of her two full collections At or Below Sea Level.
It was an informal sort of interview and I didn’t want to risk creating a stilted atmosphere by recording what we were saying. We agreed that we would just chat and I would pass my write-up by her before I published it on the blog, to give her the chance to correct anything I had misremembered. So, that’s what we did.

I was keen to know how she thought MMU had helped get her started on what has been a relatively meteoric rise. Her response was interesting because it was not what I had expected: as online students she felt we had missed out on an important part of ‘being there’ and experiencing the face-to-face dialogues that are part of a physical university presence. We had, I think, all enjoyed and got a lot out of our ‘virtual classroom’ workshops, but it may well be that online students of creative courses miss something ‘organic’ that comes from seeing peoples expressions, and reading their bodily reactions (a subtle smile here, an involuntary grimace there!). Anyway, perhaps as a result of this perceived limitation of the online aspect of the course Liz threw herself into taking advantage of modules that allowed her to travel to Manchester, entered the university competitions (such the Rosamond Prize, which she won for a piece called ‘Samson’ in 2016 in collaboration with BBC Young Composer of the Year Grace Mason) and supplemented her university writing by travelling to poetry residentials and workshops up and down the country.
Overall, we agreed, Liz had grasped, far more than I have even now, the importance of poetry as collaboration. For me, even working on our MMU workshops felt a little like ‘cheating’, and I still fight advice to an unreasonable degree, but by embracing the community of experienced and skilful poets, she has been able to learn from them, build on their advice and shape her (I use the word although I dislike it) ‘craft’. Liz still takes advantage of mentor schemes, which she says allow for far more dialogue and nuanced discussion than the editing process involves, and she made a point of mentioning and praising her present mentor Rebecca Goss (Her Birth, Girl – both Carcanet) in this respect.
Anyone who has read Liz’s work knows the importance the Fens plays in her poetry and I mentioned to her that she sometimes seems to almost get inside the land itself (particularly in some of the poems from At or Below Sea Level) and I felt that in one particular poem in her pamphlet Glass, ‘Fallen’ – a traumatic evocation of a sexual assault – the speaker almost appears pressed into the earth by her abuser, and I wondered if for her the flatness of the Fens and the positioning of her ‘poet’s-eye’ so close to the ground represents the oppression, the physical pressing down of women under the weight of patriarchy. She took it further and replied that the Fens are an ‘abused’ landscape, almost literally beaten into submission over hundreds of years of drainage. So, yes, they are the perfect landscape to symbolise female subjugation.
I think of Liz as a ‘poet who uses nature’ rather than a Nature Poet (as I would call someone like  Alice Oswald, another writer who keeps her eye very close to the ground) because her use of her immediate surroundings seems to emphasise the symbolic / atmospheric over the mythic / organic; and so her Fenland narratives and characters (including her ‘I’) are steeped in their surroundings’ history and shape in the present just as individuals are surrounded by their symbolic selves (man v Man; woman v Woman etc.).
Liz’s work shows a fascination with unusual, interesting and foreign words, but not, so far as I have noticed, Fenland dialect words; and so it was interesting to notice her use later in the evening, during her reading, of the word ‘dyke’ to mean ‘ditch’. I noted that my grandfather in the North East used to use the word to mean ‘hedge’ which I believe is a more northern and Scottish use of the word, but this prompted me to ask Liz if she had thought about using more dialect words in her work – as these often seem to me to form a bridge between language, history and landscape. She had been made more aware, she said, of the power that dialect words have on a poem after reading Liz Berry’s Black Country, and it is true that the Fenland of East Anglia, like the west Midlands, is very rich in dialect potential. But Liz has spent years away from the local dialect, living in Cambridge, the Netherlands and the US, and so she does not feel linked to the local language in a way that has allowed its use to feel natural in her poems so far. Having said that, she acknowledges it may be a rich seam of inspiration and so does not rule out using dialect words in poems in the future. I’d be fascinated to see what the results would look/sound like.
I asked Liz what direction her new work was taking and particularly whether she felt she had ‘written out’ the traumas in her past which have informed some of her previous work. To a certain extent, she said, she had, and for that reason her most recent work (for her forthcoming collection The Cold Store), while retaining the Fens as a central theme, casts its net wider and looks at more global, environmental issues. The work she read later in the evening, which is destined for the new book but still going through the process of being honed, certainly bore this out. And if you have read Liz’s previous work, the pamphlet Glass, through her first collection Sightings to her recent At or Below Sea Level you will have seen her themes broadening, her risks (and their pay-offs) increasing, and her thematic reach being stretched ever-further, and so this movement towards a more overtly political eco-poetry will seem both a natural and an exciting progression.
By way of finishing off, I include here a poem from At or Below Sea Level, ‘The Fens as Post-Apocalyptic Region’ (previously published in The Lighthouse Literary Review) as it is a lovely example of how Liz pulls the Fenland landscape’s history into the present and works it for its symbolic value.
Whatever she does next, poems like this show that Liz is likely to remain worth watching…

The Fens as Post-Apocalyptic Region

By the beginning of the 20th Century,
only one acre of true Fenland remained.

The Apocalypse arrived five centuries ago
as fire in the belly of a Dutch engineer.
Now elderly ladies wear The Apocalypse
between their brows, as they pursue
the earliest Early River plums on Ely Market.
Traces of the apocalypse can be detected
in the arsenic-green signage of the two
Poundlands in Wisbech town centre.
Teenagers carry snakes of The Apocalypse
in their eyes, as they loiter between
fog and shadow in Whittlesea bus shelters.
A doctor’s surgery in Boston prescribes
apocalyptic pills instead of HRT.
Cash machines in Fenland banks spit
apocalyptic saliva instead of notes.
Local playgroups nurture toddlers
with apocalyptic tantrums. In Earith,
bakers bake apocalyptic loaves
and in Haddenham, butchers string strings
of plump apocalyptic sausages together.
And, all the while, the Fen Blow blows
apocalyptic dust over its people.
The Apocalypse has come, a Fenland pastor tells us.
We know, say the Fen people and fill their cans
of petrol to fuel the apocalyptic flames.

You can read my analysis of Liz’s poem ‘Pages You Lose to the River’, here.

You can buy Glass from Paper Swans Press, here, Sightings from Pindrop Press, here, and At or Below Sea Level from Paper Swans Press, at the Poetry Book Society here.


A Prayer For My Daughter (poem)


A Prayer For My Daughter

After Yeats

That you will read this when I’m gone
And not be sad or tied to anyone
(Unless self-tied) including me,
Who as, I hope, a happy memory
Will have some form of life inside
Your head, not as a father or a guide
But as a simple loving friend
Until you die, and then content to end;
That you will not regret your life
As lover, mother, single-parent, wife,
Whatever you should choose to be
In your relations with contemporaries;
That you will say I learned from my mistakes;
That you will be delivered from the fakes
And perverts you will no doubt meet
In every city, down every street;
That you will sieve the dust of words
And filter out the sly, absurd,
Wicked, false and downright bland;
That you will think about and understand
A thing before you call it A
Or B, before you yield or disobey;
That beneath the sky of your last night
On Earth, free from hatred, pain and spite,
You will breathe in peaceful air.
That’s my prayer.

For Ellie

Kim Moore’s ‘I Let a Man’

This blogpost comes from reaction to Kim Moore’s poem ‘I Let a Man’, which was published in The New Statesman in March, and which elicited a surprisingly strong comment on Twitter from a male writer who called the poem “horrible, unpleasant”, and appeared to accuse it of objectifying men, then later of being part of a “liberal backlash against men” which “seeks to denigrate and reduce them at every turn” and which if taken to an extreme “will result in the annihilation of men”, the critic then referenced the SCUM Manifesto of radical feminist and would-be Warhol assassin Valerie Solana.

What horrors were awaiting within, I wondered as I clicked with a quivering finger on the New Statesman website. Never having read Moore’s work (I subsequently have) I didn’t really know what to expect but I had read interviews with the poet online, and I found it hard to believe that the poem would be quite as bad as its critic made out. I was right. It isn’t bad at all. It’s a brilliant poem which should be celebrated by men and women alike.

I want to take a look at some of the ways the poem creates a disquiet that works through its female voice to to speak of an all-pervading sense of menace which, far from contributing to men’s obliteration, should grab them by the lapels and force them to look afresh at the effect they have, through their actions, on female psychology.

But first I cannot help wondering why a poem like this should create such a negative response in a male reader. There is a clear sense of fear in such over-the-top reactions; this is expressed more or less openly in the use of a word like “eradication” – some men read their own destruction in critiques of male behaviour towards women, much as some white people fear (on various levels) increases in non-white populations. Upping the ante from the mere diminishing of power to the (il)logical extreme of entirely losing the right to exist provides a useful rhetorical hook but also smacks of panic-induced desperation.

In this angry reaction there is also a blindness (wilful or not) to the function of a poem – or at least one of the many functions – which is the fact that poems are able to break free of dominant discourses and provide both writer and reader with a vision of what lies behind such discourses. They need to be read as opportunities to look from a new perspective: I am a man; a woman has written a poem which provides a woman’s perspective on men; I can learn something new about men; I can learn something about myself. Unfortunately poetry is a medium that requires scalpel and tweezers and we live in an age of clubs and axes.

The writer has also mistakenly identified the objectification of men. We are simultaneously ‘selves’ and examples of a ‘kind’. You cannot be yourself without being one of many others who share characteristics that affect your relationship with the outside world. Asking critical questions about your own ‘kind’, (especially if the particular group you belong to is and has been the principal oppressor throughout the history of the modern world) is no more or less than the responsible thing to do.

Poetry provides the cultural space for women (and everyone for that matter) to vocalise identity without reference to hegemonic and patriarchal expectations (cf recent examples Blakemore, Collins, Tamás). If this space also presents men with the opportunity to consider critically male subjection of women, well that is not objectification, it’s a gift we should accept gratefully.

On to the poem itself.

The word “let” bears a great deal of the emotional weight here; its repetition seems to incant into existence a feeling of self-recrimination that creates the sense of a female voice speaking from within something it cannot escape. That the reader comes to the voice from the outside allows them to see the menace, coercion, bullying and abuse that the speaker does not seem able to name. It is the dissonance between what the speaker acknowledges and what the reader infers which builds into the poem an impression of a misogyny bigger and more all-pervading than either the female speaker or the various male protagonists are aware. The poem is doing many other things but it seems to me that this sits behind everything else.

The whole idea of letting a man across the threshold of a house has vampiric associations, a use of the just-out-of-view supernatural which builds on word choices such as “space”, “shadow” and “light” (three consecutive line endings) to hint towards the female speaker as filmic or literary victim of some genre-evil. The very language of the poem in this way becomes part of the culture (in both senses of the word) that traps the ‘character’ it creates.

The shadow and light also sets up a critique of the black-and-white nature of the choice imposed on women, knowingly or unknowingly, by men – once a tacit agreement for sex has taken place, there is an expectation that it will be followed through, because “a mind is not for changing”. As if a mind is for anything else. This is a false binary which is approached first through the abstracts of dark and light, then developed in the opening and closing of lift doors, simulating the jarring clash of body against body, and finally brought to its quiet ‘climax’ in the extraordinary final line “I open then I close my eyes” – the culmination of having accepted the false binaries throughout the poem, the speaker finally really only has two choices left: either to open her eyes and look at her unwanted partner during sex, which she cannot bear to do, or to close them and pretend it’s not happening, which she does.

I’m only touching on the surface of what this poem contains that is worth analysing and discussing. I would encourage anyone, and yes, I think particularly men, to read it, share it and talk about it. But don’t just write it off as man-bashing.

You can read ‘I Let a Man’ at the New Statesman, here.

anger land (poem)


we’re all football hooligans now you’ve picked your side
you’re waiting to pass your colours down the generations
as you’re chanting syllables of phlegm out onto the pitch
thinking your vee signs from the height of your terraces
we’ve all got stanley knives to slice our points out of faces
pool balls in our socks like Ray Winston in scum united thus
from barbed wire council estates to the gardens of eton
all of us simultaneous individuals and examples of our species
do you remember when it was only the punks and the pinks
who were filled with bile but it’s only a fascist who thinks
about the good old days these days a metropolitan poet
told me to fuck off the other day not really i just said that
to get noticed and dear lord all i want is to get noticed
we haven’t got time to think it though history will sniff
they had too much panicking to do too many days and no
i know pinks doesn’t really work but it rhymes and no
i know i’m repeating words too much but i haven’t got time
and why o why am i using a lower case i christ without
a capital this means nothing to me as Midge Ure said
and after that there’s really nothing left to say except
it’s likely some of us at least will live to fight another day
politics has just appeared and politics has never been away
i feel like i should read parlement of foules i don’t know
what it’s about but it sounds about right could check it out
on wikipedia but probably won’t just look at those cunts
doing their best from within their wormy little holes
if they had plastic seats to rip out they’d be flinging them
across the commons more than ever we are the blind
following the blind this country is a parlement of mole
rats a talking shop for wealthy troglodytic vermin whose
eyes have been sealed no not by 40 years in the european
union in fact but the 360 since the tenures abolition act
or so i understand from placards
demonstrate we’re such an eccentric race what fun
what fun to leap on a train to london daddies-aunties-
mates-and-sweethearts-against-the-nazis revolutionaries
and soixante-huitards hardly more than a pitch invasion
to the multimillionaire and the builder’s apprentice and
the out-of-work foreman who suddenly have something
in common before them a self-righteous army
of the relatively wealthy confused into certainty hungry
for blame easily offended i think we all thought
that history had ended but that was a lie the size of a bus
this jumble of ill-considered words is a metaphor for brexit
i’m flagging this up because subtlety’s dead and this
and this and if there is anything left to say you can be sure
it’s already been said look there’s no good rhyme
for ‘brexit’ but ‘sex it’ that’s what a chick sexer does
to separate the pullets life of enforced reproduction
from the cockerels moments of life then maceration
this i feel provides some insight into our chicken shit
nation but what that insight is i cannot say have you ever
thought what this must look like from the outside not
the outside we like to think about because it’s not
really outside at all but from the real outside the one
where people work hard and starve to death every day
and everyday some of them will know that up there
somewhere those spoilt ones are squabbling because
they fear some of their luxuries might get taken away
okay this is doggerel for a doggerel time
but even the worst poem you’ve ever written
can be revised i mean look at that terrible chicken
analogy just now any citizen in their right mind
would go back and cast their eyes over what’s done
take pen to paper in a second referendum but still
what should have been a marathon became a sprint
between two individuals you lost you won
we didn’t know what we were voting for is the point
is not the point we were lied to by those bastards
is the point is not the point yes we’re all individuals
is the point is not the point world war two
is the point is not the point we are all degrees of racist
is the point is not the point changing demographics
is the point is not the point millennials is the point
is not the point capital progress technology greed love
is not the point and because two things can be true
is the point the whole point and nothing but the point
one statement can be both impolite and kindly meant
and vice versa polemic quickly descends into mindless rant
but o my god it feels good to be angry and good to have
someone to be angry with and good to transfer all my
insecurities and weaknesses onto a single group my enemy
my guilt my paranoia my self-hate my inner-ugliness
my lack of understanding my hubris my humiliation