(INTERVIEW) A correspondence between Lotte L.S and Kashif Sharma-Patel
Lotte L.S’s A town, three cities, a fig, a riot, two blue hyacinths, three beginnings, five letters, a “death”, two solitudes, facades, four loose dogs, a doppel-ganger, a likeness, three airport floors, thirty-six weeks... (Tripwire, 2021) is a peripatetic series of essays reflecting on poetics and politics. Lotte’s meditations are situated across Europe and the Mediterranean world including Marseille, Athens, Rojava, Ukraine, Tangiers, London and Reykjavik. This geographic movement is testament to a commitment to collective action, both found in the social relations that mediate these inhabitations, as well as the flurry of poets and writers that are brought into the fold of the broader conversation through reference and quotation. The essays reflect an embodied socio-political practice with a bricoleur-esque method that develops a pliable and adventurous take on self-determination, political struggle and, latterly, the implications of capital’s hold on poetic production. In the exchange that follows, Lotte produces an account that expounds on these themes after having settled in Great Yarmouth, England’s most easterly outlier.
There’s a lot I want to get into but I’ll start with a couple broader points that came to mind when reading back over the pamphlet and my notes. Obviously a big concern in the pamphlet is the relationship between poetry and politics, or poetics and politics. And I feel one of the ways you are doing that, or signalling it, is through a grounded sociality. Like this section:
Movement depends on moments of collectivity, if not a totalising unison of[…] Like poetry, movements, and moments, are not invented – but develop out of discourse, out of relations, out of real or imagined proximity and diffuse subjectivities. When are your poetics, your politics not implicated in another. (7)
It goes on to say ‘real intimacy requires collaboration’ (7). This is clearly discursive, embodied (real) and provocative at the same time right? Like my feeling is this is both happening and being willed-into-happening. It reminds of Moten and Harney’s undercommons in that respect; as something always ongoing but taking conscious shape at various flashpoints. Is that fair to say?
I am also drawn to this idea of movement, figurative and literal: ‘the poem continued as the crowd turned the corner.’ (9) Like life as poetic arrangement beyond mere metaphorical yearning. It seems very reminiscent to me Bonney’s insurgent secret that irrupts in the street, and the way that problematises the relationship between aesthetics and politics. I guess you are trying to complicate that and explore it through the duality of literature of life vs anti-literature? It felt very generative in any case.
Sociality is also brought into the fold through the space of the text: ‘I was drenched in texts’ (20). I read the pamphlet as part of a shared semiotic space, some virtual coming-together, which may be called discourse but also maybe poetics, or politics. But that ‘we’, as you say, is fraught and difficult. I wonder if you approach your work in terms such as social practice, socio-political practice or creative-critical practice? They’re all terms in currency at the moment and I’m having a hard time working them through in relation to the sort of conviviality you describe - in the protest, in the text, in everyday social relations.
The ideas of horizontal encounters are perhaps interesting in this regard, and reminded me of Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue; writing to witness, to transcribe and transform simultaneously. There’s also something here about historicity and form but I can't quite articulate at the moment; something about insurrection and a moving, collective subjectivity in relation to social and aesthetic form.
Although the pamphlet came out last summer, I wrote the four essays in it back in 2019, over the course of a few weeks. 2019 feels like much longer ago than it is.
When I wrote those essays, and I write about this in the pamphlet's afterword, I was quite naive really, in terms of not knowing what I was writing into: traditions in poetry, conversations, theories, scenes. The Poetry Emergency festival at the end of 2018 introduced me to a contemporary politicised poetry scene in the UK I was unaware of. I remember going to a workshop and there was this guy there, talking in this idiosyncratic way, and I disagreed with something he was saying — about poetry and politics, I can't remember exactly what it was — and interrupted him. Later I realised it was Sean Bonney! I had no idea, and even when I found out his name, it didn't mean anything to me. But later that day he got up and read, and I was so moved by his reading — he said something during it about writing being a part of refusing to allow the friends to disappear... That really stuck with me. I wrote him after and we laughed about the moment in the workshop. But I guess what I'm saying here is that while I was living the events of the pamphlet, I had little idea of what I was writing into, or poets that might be thinking and writing about similar things. I was just writing about my life, really - wondering if it was possible to write about it in that way, without representing or harming those living it with me. And trying to work out the contradictions I was holding in my mind, trying to fit together these seemingly opposed pillars of poetry and politics. Since then my life had changed a lot - where I was, who I was surrounded by, what I thought it meant to live a life committed to political struggle, meaning and learning, and how I feel about reconciling contradiction.
I think having little idea of the context I was writing in, and into, was freeing in a way. I don't think I will ever write anything like those essays again, or from that particular energy again. I'm too conscious now of what I would be writing into, and all the ways a certain kind of politicised writing has currency. What, and who, it makes visible. When Danny Hayward's book Wound Building came out recently, with that final letter to me partly about a poem I wrote shortly after the essays in 2019, after travelling to Iceland for the memorial of a friend who had died fighting in Rojava, I went back to the poem I'd written, and realised how much more ambivalent I feel now about it — not as a trace of that moment in time, or document of political grief and the struggle that necessitated it, but as a 'kind' of poetry. I think I feel much less compelled to write like, or about, that now. I feel more protective of those moments, but also my life has changed: I live in a town, in England, which I feel very absorbed by, and tied to — politically, emotionally, practically — in both good and difficult ways. I guess you could say it like this: when I wrote those essays I was writing as if individuals make up the collective; now I want to live believing that the individual is made by the collective.
You ask whether I approach my work in terms such as ‘social practice, socio-political practice, creative-critical practice’. I don't really think about my writing in those terms, probably less so now than ever before. I don't have a fixed relationship to poetry, or to publishing: its position is always shifting, but writing has always been an unavoidable part of my living and thinking. Like I said, at the time of writing those essays, I was so full of unease about the relationship between poetry and my politics, as if they were two oppositional — even mutually exclusive — sides of myself in conflict with one another. It's not like they're integrated now or something, they just no longer exist as 'poetry' and 'politics' — as two parts of an identity, that must be made visible in order to exist. Each is already inside the other.
What I do think about is what it means to be an anarchist writing and sharing my work. A friend once said they think there would be no books in an anarchist society. There would be poems, and there would be stories, and they would be a part of society and everyday life — but no books — they would be rendered meaningless as 'publication', and take us away from the present. I don't know whether I agree, but it's always stuck with me. It's hard to imagine living in a society where you wouldn't want to be taken away from the present.
I do think being an anarchist means I want to place less meaning on what I'm writing than how I'm living, though obviously the two are tightly connected. In much poetry in the UK at the moment there feels like a focus on communicating a politics — some kind of resistance — through signifiers like property ownership, tenancy, landlordism, etc — which of course is significant in how they embody a power structure, capitalism, class war, the precarity of everyday life, etc. But I guess I want to think more in terms of the privatised life — the life that is privatised: that seeks privacy and personal freedoms and uninterrupted time — and is just as easily pursued while renting. Living as individuals, as coupled pairs, as people with our own belongings, our own money, our own issues, our own exercised autonomy and independence and 'rights'. The institutionalisation of precarity should make it harder to live a privatised life, but what seems to be happening is the opposite. In order to function, capitalism must always prevent us from seeing that we could live differently, with more freedom and more obligation, and a more meaningful relationship between work and need. I think one way it's easy to live a privatised life is to be surrounded only by those who share your precise politics, interest, aesthetics, age, etc - even political commitment. I don't really think a collective language is even desirable at this point.
I can see how it can be strategically important for communists to be surrounded by other communists - to be together, organising, in one place; but I’m not sure the same goes for anarchists... What you want is an anarchist in every part of social life — every workplace, every street corner, every kitchen, every boxing gym, every advice centre, every post office, every school staff room. Conflict is inevitable, and a necessary part. Because anarchism isn't simply goal or strategy, but a frame for acting, it's necessary to scrutinise every part of your life — not just our relationship to the labour and time that doesn’t belong to us, but how we write, how we love and desire, where we live (and how we relate to where we live), and how we share what it is that we write. The how seems increasingly more important than the what — i.e. form and content, which I touch on a little in the pamphlet. I think it means being prepared to stop writing, stop publishing — in the same way it means being prepared to stop, or redirect, any aspect of our living: to make sacrifices, in order to avoid this one long unconsensual compromise they call life. And so these days I feel little angst about being a poet, because I am always prepared to abandon it.
With this developing perspective since writing those essays has come an exhaustion of analysis, including my own. I'm most suspicious of my own, best intentions. Critique is a necessary part of revolutionary culture, but there's a difference between shared, invited critique as revolutionary practice, and critique as a function of individualism, to cover one's own back. In many ways, the essays are polemical, but one thing I still like about them is their invention. I wanted to exert pressure on tenses, and to complicate the way — or speed, or non-simultaneity — that things are imagined to 'happen': the ways in which memory and intention force the past and the future into the present. I think they are probably read quite literally, as almost documentary, and for sure by the time I reached the third and fourth essay I felt a pressure to acknowledge the fictions in the previous pieces, but I think I would feel more confident now to not. Tearing this world down necessitates the creation of a new one, a new way of living and relating to one another. I don't think it's any coincidence that the explorative worlds of films and novels are what touch me the deepest, and give me the will and desire for struggle without an end point — than explicit commentary, answers, or the authority of analysis. To tell stories, to invent worlds — that takes guts over self-consciousness, intuition over angst. To think outside of, rather than just against: to refuse to exist solely in negation. I can see how parts of the pamphlet exist in negation: an anti-literature, as you point out. I think this distinction is a kind of prioritisation of expressing over speaking, the latter which I'm growing continually suspicious of. And I think all of this touches on what you say: 'Like life as poetic arrangement beyond mere metaphorical yearning.' This past year I've been part of a group meeting online to talk about social poetics, and someone commented on how it can seem easier to build an archive of political work than to revive the practices that are being archived — that really stayed with me.
In terms of sociality, I think this means that there has got to be more, and other, possibilities than what there currently is for reading and writing and sharing one another’s work - whether this is deemed 'publishing' or not. Sometimes I wonder how much as 'poets' we tread on, we disappear, the social and political possibilities of poetry — poetry because a moment demands it: an encounter — able to be accessed by everybody. As if the more we engage with some kind of literary industry — or even with 'poet' as an identity or career, and 'poem' as a thing you write and submit and publish — we infringe on the possibilities for everyone to have these moments of encounter, or have these moments recognised within ourselves as moments of experience. People will scrawl poems across the busted walls of cells, on napkins, toilet doors, bus stops, scraps of paper passed across classroom chairs. We don’t require publishing, or presses, to share our work. In fact, poems will find their way in the world despite publishing and presses. I'm not at all saying don't publish, don't start presses, etc — that these are a lost cause. Just that they aren't the beginning and end, and for them to be part of a revolutionary politics means relating to one another, and ourselves, in totally different, new ways.
I don't want to represent anything or anyone — but I do want to write. And I do want to share what I write, and not just with the people I already know or people who also write. The publishing aspect is the more angst-filled part, also politically — and maybe that's what my friend was inferring when they talked about a society without books. I recently worked with a friend to edit and publish their poetry, and saw more clearly how, in order to share it with others, we have to kill it a little — that magic livingness that exists in poems, not poetry or poets, but poems — that makes what didn't exist before exist now: that moment you realise you were only ever half-alive, a body without a song in your head... What is the power of the song that remains untranscribed? You kill it a little in order for it to exist for others. I guess as the years go by and I keep writing and not-writing, the killing part feels like it gets a little harder.
Lotte L.S.'s A town, three cities, a fig, a riot is available to order in the UK via Red Herring Press.
Lotte L.S.'s Iceland pamphlet can be downloaded here.
Introduction: Kashif Sharma-Patel
Text: Kashif Sharma-Patel & Lotte L.S