Poetry News

She and Her Collaborators Demand Nothing: Samuel Solomon on Younger UK Poets for Lana Turner

By Harriet Staff

In his piece, "What Pools Love to Arson: Two Recent Pamphlets from Younger British Poets," for Lana Turner, Samuel Solomon takes the time to read Jonny Liron, Francesca Lisette, Joseph Luna, and Timothy Thornton (Poems, Written Between October and December 2010, Grasp Press 2011) and Marianne Morris, Luke Roberts, Sophie Robinson, and Josh Stanley (Untitled Colossal Parlour Odes, Bad Press 2011). Solomon's piece is an ambitious endeavor pulled off without a hitch, and incorporates thinking around last year's London student riots, the poets' relationships to that moment, and "general" political unrest/undoing's connect to distinct lyric stances (+ LOVE!).

Starting with the first pamphlet, Solomon writes of Francesca Lisette that "[her] use of symbols rather than words here complicates the documentary tone, exhibiting skepticism toward such accounting and recounting. It is as if the straightforward narration of violence is complicit with the crippling realism of financial rationality– better to ironize the symbols that reduce lives to numbers" and of Timothy Thornton:

Thornton's poem from December 10th, the best standalone poem in the pamphlet, works through the conceit of the command with which it begins: "now stop/ the injured bird's heart." This murderous injunction follows what seems like a gentle satire of the lines by Jonny Liron that precede it, which close with "fucking myself to tears." Thornton's next words—"our hero/ ejaculates just as the hat-pin pierces the rat's/ heart; the cop's heart is felt in the ears and/ in the temples; abrasive crepe pulse, anechoic/ linen...."—begin a description of the heart as a violent organ, both central and mobile, an autonomous organ that is tactile and audible in ears and temples. These lines explode the heart as the cop goes on "rolling his stark winter sky right out/ into the bedroom and around the city's heart, lapping at the street-lamps as it goes."

As for Jonny Liron, "[he] next moves through more violent invective, followed by what I call his 'pornographs,' block prose stanzas of unpunctuated sex talk", and on to Joe Luna, whose lines can be seen as a "conflation of Liron (fucked) and Thornton (heart)":

with silliness & love taut multiplies

the trauma that produces humans. here

is my head so bleed it will you make my

infant mouth stay nothing: there, if I am

fully human, what goes in and how

the square can phrase that with a charge

of infantilism or crack: head's mother

tongue's cheap trick, selling short what's smashing

but prevented, love: given half a chance

who wouldn't harm what represents us,

striking echo's pressure's fucked, surrounded

by the .mpeg of your most erotic moment,

glistening with someone else's sweat

Luna's juxtapositions of harm and care ("with silliness and love taut multiplies/ the trauma that produces humans") reflects the dialectic between love and violence I sense throughout the fold—a contradiction in which economic violence torques the subjects' love toward each other and toward the motive force of such care, namely, economic violence. Luna's frequent returns to "love" suggest an unwillingness to give up some transcendent love among us "fucked subjects." This is buttressed, however, by his prosody, and most particularly by his unusually frequent, and willfully confusing, use of apostrophes for possessives and contractions (as in "echo's pressure's fucked"). Conflation is king, not precision; not social anatomy but a soup of indifferentiation that loses analytic clarity. Transcendence then seems necessary, before being backed down by negation, as in the poem's close: "cherished hate its strangulating lifeline leftover/ politicks our love into the core of you."

In Untitled Colossal Parlour Odes, Solomon notes that "[The] poems announce a devotion to failure, issue pledges to 'nothing.' The ode is loosely construed as a tonal rather than a formal structure; Robinson and Roberts's poems are composed in mostly regular stanza and line lengths, while Morris and Stanley's are irregular." Solomon notes that "[Luke] Roberts's frustration with the poetic attitude of solitary ethical embattlement is quite serious," while Marianne Morris "transvalues this account of lyric personhood, suggesting instead that lyric might provide, through its destructive errors, a vehicle for actual practices of care"; and that Josh Stanley has taken on J.H. Prynne's 1971 poem about "rubbish," "L'extase de M. Poher" (among much, much else).

We're hardly doing it justice. Please read the full piece to grasp it--'tis a thorough engaging of what's/who's currently moving in the younger UK poetry whorld. Solomon on Sophie Robinson is a great closer:

Robinson writes through the "parlour's" simultaneous publicity (the space for parlance) and privacy (the "family" room). It stages the coalition government's dismantling of social services. But the poem doesn't romanticize earlier incarnations of the welfare state; it suggests instead that queer refusals of good socialization have always been necessary in the face of seemingly benevolent forms of control and their nefarious ends. The poem circulates at first through the word "like"– both in terms of indicating resemblance, and as the expression of preference – as the edges blur between the public realm of rhetoric and the ostensible privacy of desire. Check the fourth stanza:

we're like honey – this is for you – I'm young &

I know nothing – I occupy all of your time.

I like having art poured into me wide-eyed.

Robinson drags queer passivity into the anti-austerity protest, suggesting that the solidarity forged in the kettle is not the result of revolutionary heroism but a desubjectifying passion. If Robinson writes a song for burning London, it is neither a cozy fireside sing-along nor an elegy for the funeral pyre. She writes as the deafening hiss of the flame. Where Poems, written sometimes sought transcendence, Robinson and her collaborators demand nothing, which is not quite the same as having no demands. If literary education is a luxury and not a right, if nothing is demanded of poetry, it can only be "dead in the face" of its antagonists. This might seem like a defeatist attitude, but only if we expect poetry to bring our salvation. All eight of these writers know that material struggle is what is demanded instead – if poetry can reflect this need through a real and sometimes violent force of love, then perhaps there is something to be done with it.