• Ali Graham

(ESSAY) ‘This glint of light on the cut’ by Ali Graham

reflection of plant silhouette on wallpapered wall

In this essay, Ali Graham explores writing a sequence of poetry and working comparatively with poetry and film to see what each form reveals of the other. Looking to the poetry of Geraldine Monk alongside thinkers such as Laura Mulvey, Alain Badioú, Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Grosz, Graham writes on film's flickering and how this might be staged in poetry, how to translate the medium of cinema into poetry, how both poetry and film have motion, light and sound at stake and whether it is possible for poetry to enact a film.

> I want this film to act real.


> Cinema and poetry often put before their audience a strange temporality to which a strange grammar is inextricably knotted. Grammar is put to the end of subject formation, rather than establishment of linear time. The passage of time is put to the end of producing the work, and it is liable to jumping around. > Poetry and cinema turn on a recurring present. Their images move and sound in a here and now. This is a present that seems to have happened before it has, that has been through consideration before I meet it, an occurrence that I chase after but do not happen after[1]. This means it is near but apart from me[2]; detailing a position in space is inextricable from inscribing the nature of what is described.

> Folk horror’s present is also troubled; the genre’s works ‘use folklore, either aesthetically or thematically, to imbue [themselves] with a sense of the arcane for eerie, uncanny or horrific purposes’; that ‘present[] a clash between such arcania and its presence within or close proximity to some sort of modernity’[3]. It restages tales of history, returning into the past from a distance, creating conflict in sameness.

> This in the sense of being near but apart is also true to these two mediums, which are not perfectly interchangeable. In the process of setting out a definition of cinema, Alain Badiou repeats ‘it’s not sufficient’ five times[4]. After the third repetition I wonder if I have a these on my hands. Badiou posits ‘…a film is not reducible to one image’s movement, or one image-movement; it is a composition of different image-movements, which we name a sequence.’ Through naming, it becomes singular. Speaking holds these together and makes a this of them. In Badiou’s account, the speech act folds in on itself; naming the composition a sequence and noting the naming of the composition happen at once. This folding feels grammatical.

> In Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011), I find a feature of grammar that also folds: the historical present. Berlant states that ‘[t]his book’s main genre for tracking the sense of the present is the impasse’[5]; the impasse being ‘a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic’[6], a time of acting in accordance with ‘those processes that have not yet found their genre of event’[7]. Folding in the sense of buckling, crumpling, of life being too much; the present being known best when colliding with its own crisis.


> ‘Dig, Cutler, dig,’ barks the alchemist O’Neill in A Field in England[8] when it seems that the treasure he promised to the group and himself – on which he makes his claim to command – may well not exist at all, or may not be in that particular field, or those present in the field may not be able to bring the treasure out of the ground. Between these there is no difference. The field is no good; the treasure is not. He continues: ‘[t]his country is at the edge of something.’[9]

> When watching Midsommar, I lose my nerve not even halfway through and leave the cinema. The bathos of this is in line with how my life feels when writing English radiant ground. I have got myself into a bad relationship with my life and need to leave it for my life, a different one. I realise this in part by how often I have been saying “my life”. When piss-scented mould non-

mould dripping from ceiling

metaphorically grows thickly on my bed slats, how can my life become this life? >Most of my optimisms escape me. After work, I receive bad news, and I

expressive face in the grass black and white

A Field in England

lie face down on the pavement, put my hands over my mouth, scream into my skin and the tarmac. It happens in a weird present; I need to do it I do it when no cars are coming, when near no houses

> I am conscious of how I will appear to others; I see how I might appear in various courses of action before taking one.

grotesque face

Penda's Fen

> In this year my life is a creature and in the eyes of my life there is an unreadable glint.

> Witchfinder General ends with a close-up of Sara Lowes’ screaming face; dialogue escapes the circumstances. She screams after or maybe because the evil has been ended; the antagonist

Witchfinder General

Hopkins is dead. No words come after. Sara has the last word, undeniably, and she has it every time the film happens.

> This screaming is positioned human sound without the guiding hand of grammar. An unbounded need to sound. In my bad year, I sustain My Life , a “made thing[]…mostly made of sound”[10]; I hold to writing. There are moments without poetry, that afford only public screaming. There are moments in English radiant ground where the screen between my life and lyric is thin; I have also been a self-shorn figure in the countryside. In this bad year sound does not always take the form of words.

A Field in England

young person in shirt looking away with landscape behind, caption reads No. No!

Penda's Fen

> Screaming provides a way in to (re)configuring the troubled status of women and/or those who are gender non-compliant in horror. I note screaming and breathlessness as frequent designations/outputs of womanhood in horror. Breathless and/or screaming when fleeing danger, when distressed, when pleasured. I work aloud on ‘Young Woman Cupping Her Own Hands’, determining what poetic technique is suited to reproduction of filmic breathlessness. I use scansion and lacunae to indicate that the stress falls not on words, but on air itself:

… / my mouth admits the decision of opening three times / my mouth is refusing your name how / it / creaks / the shame of you

> Guiding this was the desire not to discount horror’s techniques outright, but to invert them; to enact them self-reflexively. Laura Mulvey argues for ‘mak[ing] way for a total negation of the ease and plenitude of the narrative fiction film…transcending outworn or oppressive forms.”[11] The scream in the final line of 'Figure Breathing’ is not described onomatopoeically. It is brought outside of itself, back to language. It does not end the sequence, either. The scream is not final. It is used because it is this moment’s best fit. After my public screaming I breathe deeply, walk home, speak to a friend, eat, sit.

> ‘The past is not a peaceful landscape lying there behind me’[12]. Light hits the edges of things noisily. The ground is not inert.

> ‘The past is not…a country in which I can stroll wherever I please, and which will gradually show me all its secret hills and dales’[13]. A woman is led weak-kneed up a hill by her bound hands by men, followed by watchful men and women, all in seventeenth century dress. Behind them there is a village’s worth of twentieth century houses.[14]


> Daniel Tiffany asks, ‘[i]s it possible for lyric to maintain a kind of objectivity, to conceive a substance apart from its own body?’[15]

> What is a glint to its light?

person crossing arms against blank background with spatterings

Penda's Fen

> In my case: can lyric poetry conceive of a film?

> I consider how to avoid becoming too removed from film while writing these poems – how to stay hovering at the screen theatre’s exit – and decide attention to medium will be key. To gesture to thirty-five millimetre film, I adopt a constraint of thirty-five characters per line for every line of the portrait-oriented figure poems. This constraint is present and knowable but not straightforwardly visible. There is a sense of a pattern, the lines being of similar lengths, but no explicit disclosure, only a sense that some thing is working.

masked long-haired person in pentagram of swords

The Wicker Man

> I realise that foregrounding of medium is central to this (re)enactment of a [film]. What is it about film that turns so much on medium? A.M.A. van de Oever emphasises that ‘it was the early cinema experience that sensitized [Shklovsky] to the medium’[16], when Shklovsky wrote ‘[b]y this “algebraic” method of thought we apprehend objects only as shapes with imprecise extensions.’[17] The forms I make use of in these poems gesture to this; how the algebraic constraint of thirty-five characters turns letters to numbers, and how the landscape-oriented ‘ground’ poems extend themselves across the page as strange limbs in an uneasy welcome.

woman in white gown with arms raised against stone wall

Blood on Satan's Claw

> To go beyond writing after a [film] – to enact it – I need to recreate how the medium of the film reel performs to make an encounter with a film possible. A film reel works by flickering; an image is shown momentarily, the reel moves, another image is shown. Movement is perceived because each frame is visually different. The flickering of film is iterative. The movement of the reel repeats as the reel’s images change. It is an event and relation, rather than an object. Through the reel’s movement, other movements can be reproduced; through the manoeuvrings of the reel’s body, the doings of other bodies are made perceptible.

horse's legs walking through countryside misty woods

Blood on Satan's Claw

> Poetry’s access to the visual is by the performance of its text upon the space of the page; by the gesturing of its words to their correspondent images; by its requirement that it be read (though not necessarily visually) to be experienced. In ‘Young Woman Semiconscious and in Purple’, I write:

…These are, with ease, brought in. Brought in the colour is rare, like rope. > The exertion of poetry’s bringing is conveyed by the line break; there is a pause, a moment of strain, before the colour can be detailed “rare”. A poem tells its present; a film is its present.