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(REVIEW) All Woven Feeling:Lyric Transition & Nomadic Exchange in Threads (Parmar, Ramayya & Kapil)


Avert the icy feeling. (Kapil)

> I first read Threads: Lyric Violence, The Nomadic Subject and the Fourth Space, a slender pamphlet of essays from Clinic Press, in the hairdressers. A hot summer’s day blasts through the salon’s wide windows: in here there is no air conditioning to cut the heat with a stifling whir; just the occasional roar of driers, which polish each cut to a gleaming sheen. I settle into the warmth. I have half an hour to wait and so open my new book, with its pleasing orange cover. The sentences soon slip around me, tendrils that illumine and exact, just as my own hair will fall in bright copper threads to where the ground becomes a listless, citrine sea. As I read about the lyric ‘I’, the constant restitching of the subject in process, I glance up at my own face in the gleaming mirror, split many times across the other mirrors of the room, where we are so many women, dwelling temporarily in this zone of appearance in transition. And what a luxury, a privilege to enact this transition. Between pages, I fall into possibilities of elsewhere; the liminal place of identity denied its whole, its material ‘belonging’. I am made finally, painfully aware of the rhizomatic entanglements that writhe beneath every poetic surface: how even the most avant-garde appearance has long smoothed out the restless struggle over who gets to be ‘human’. The bright red major key of my hair, newly restored to its ideal colour, seems almost too much, perhaps obscene, in this complex unveiling of contested identity. I look for its surface as strands again, feel paradoxically disordered by the sense of a whole, an ornament complete upon my body. I catch myself getting ahead of myself, lost in knots I can hardly tug.


> Threads, it probably goes without saying, is a book of numerous restitchings. A book which unravels the tightly-wrought cords of the white and Western lyric ‘I’, ‘England’s dominant poetic mode’ (Sandeep Parmar). A compilation of three essays which weave their way around each other: Sandeep Parmar and Bhanu Kapil’s ‘Lyric Violence, the Nomadic Subject and the Fourth Space’, ‘Threads’ by Nisha Ramayya’ and ‘Avert the Icy Feeling: Fourteen Notes on Race and Creative Writing Writing (With Bonus Trauma Loop)’, a ‘prose sonnet’ by Bhanu Kapil. The essays are followed by a useful list of Further Reading, should the reader find herself wishing to gather up extra threads. Which undoubtedly she will, since this is a book which probes, prompts and asks as many questions as it answers.

> In ‘Lyric Violence’, Sandeep Parmar sets the scene of contemporary lyric poetry. A poet herself, Parmar speaks from the personal experience of writing in a country—Britain—whose lyric ‘I’ ‘spoke from within a kind of integrated knowingness and belonging’, whereas the ‘I’ Parmar found herself writing ‘transformed into a curio of voice, an embodied other’. Having brushed up against the more plural ‘I’ of American poetry, returning to Britain made clear for Parmar the ideological underpinnings of this singular, expressive, Romantic ‘I’, whose ‘border guards are the literary gatekeepers of shared assumptions about experience, language and tradition’. While she acknowledges modernism’s brief aversion to this ‘I’, Parmar rightfully notes its resurgence in recent years as the lyric basks upon our contemporary reality hunger: a twenty-first century craving for ‘authenticity’ that also finds itself manifest in recent studies of lyric address and shame by Jonathan Culler and Gillian White. Moreover, and perhaps most strikingly, Parmar finds similar ideological fault-lines in experimental poetry which resists the singular lyric ‘I’. Although anti-lyric poetries, inspired by poststructuralism, undermine the stability of this lyric self, quite often they reinstate their own forms of violence and exclusion. Quoting David Marriott’s essay ‘Signs Taken for Signifiers, Language Writing, Fetishism and Disavowal’, Parmar notes how many postmodern poetries (including US Language poetry and the British avant-garde) ‘reject the lyric ‘I’ only to create their own “fetishistic poetics of embodiment”’.


> It is all very well for a privileged subject to make impersonal ‘flarf’ poems or artfully curate the online detritus of other people’s everyday lives, but this refusal of subjectivity, for Parmar, is ‘only appealing or possible for those who have not been screened out, marginalised, silenced by the powers inherent in language itself’. Although she tactfully avoids naming the writers in question, one suspects the likes of Kenneth Goldsmith haunts these assertions. Notoriously, one of Goldsmith’s poems, titled ‘The Body of Michael Brown’, comprised a reordering of Brown’s autopsy report. Such conceptual work wades into the fraught waters of what the Mongrel Coalition have called ‘colonial aesthetics’: in this instance, appropriating a black man’s body for poetry, making literature from the raw material of black suffering. Of course, the discussion around Goldsmith and other controversial conceptual poets is complex—a good outline of the online debate around the Michael Brown poem can be found here—and the essays in Threads are less interested in tangling themselves around the interminable details. Instead, Parmar, Ramayya and Kapil trace their personal experience as readers and makers through proximate cultural landscapes, articulating a lucid and much-needed sense of the racialised power politics around the lyric ‘I’—instating their own responses and solutions to a system in which the ‘I’ perpetuates the historic, subjugating formula of whiteness = humanity.


> Parmar asks: ‘how do poets of colour themselves differently embody the “I”? Or does it come to embody us?’. I begin in the hairdressers because this is a book about the body as much as the intangible writing ‘I’ in a poem. Having a haircut is, in a sense, enacting a quiet violence on the self, pruning its dimensions. Tightening the threads.


> But whose threads are we tightening? What position are we writing from? Quoting Robin DiAngelo’s essay ‘White Fragility’, Parmar makes the point that white poets get to write about universal experience, an idea of humanity ‘that goes unchecked’; while poets of colour can only, as DiAngelo puts it, ‘represent their own racialised experiences’. The beauty of Threads is its pulling together of many existing sources and essays which comment on the problem at hand. As many non-white voices are silenced in the context of mainstream publishing—academic or otherwise—this curatorial plurality is a welcome feature throughout. Parmar, Ramayya and Kapil not only internally comment on each other’s essays, but also draw in a pristine net of necessary voices, those who reflect and refract the matter at hand with analytic precision and grace—from Edouard Glissant to Vahni Capildeo and Nat Raha. Threads may be a slim volume, but its reach is consistently one of widening accessibility. 


> In both form and content, Parmar, Ramayya and Kapil seek ways of resisting the fixity of the conventional lyric ‘I’, resting as it does on the solidified, congested beds of post-imperial Britain’s ‘undigested’ colonial history. A legacy which becomes ever more powerful in the Brexit era’s ideologies of nationalist nostalgia which threaten to plunge us into further stagnancy, the majority culture—cemented in mainstream politics—stifling the lyric present’s potential ‘as a site of resistance or structural social change’ (Parmar). As our culture becomes Brexiteered and self-congratulatory, bloated on a smugness of supposed independence, we lose the potential tangents of myriad cultures that thrive within—we let them die in a cloud of cultural oppression, derision and fear. We are not in safe times of cultural inclusion; we are potentially regressing into cultural ‘blockage’, caught in our own ‘unassimilated’ colonial history (Ramayya). Many poets are pressured to carry their ‘ethnic difference’ as a minority status, especially in a ‘national culture that has not addressed its legacy of violence’ (Parmar). The purpose of Threads, however, is one of both exposure and solution: Parmar outlines these problems with the intention of looking forward to poetry’s potential for unsettling these persistent binary frameworks. 


> Parmar’s chosen mode is Rosi Braidotti’s Deleuzo-Guattarian notion of ‘nomadic consciousness’. While acknowledging the potential sensitivity of such a term, given the recent and ongoing refugee crises across the world, Parmar carefully suggests that nomadic poetics have the potential to unsettle the very nativist and xenophobic cultures which perpetuate the violence of binaries. A nomadic poetics seeks those ‘lines of flight’ which instate a ‘creative alternative space of becoming’, resistant to the binary categories that would otherwise tame and subdue it (Braidotti). I’m reminded of Deleuze and Guattari’s essay, ‘What is a Minor Literature?’ in which they read through Kafka to suggest the idea of a minor literature as one which deterritorialises its ‘major language’, in tandem connecting the individual and political and producing a ‘collective arrangement of utterance’ (Deleuze and Guattari). Writing from subject positions in flux, a minor literature can reterritorialise that fluidity and autonomy within the major language which would otherwise fix, objectify and oppress it. Usefully, Parmar demonstrates this potential reterritorialising with reference to tangible historical events and their after-effects—in this case, India’s Partition and her own subsequent life in England, generations later: ‘The long-term effect of a simple generation twice removed from “home” is measurable in the lives of their descendants, often still faced with a sense of non-belonging though they are, at least technically, British citizens’ (Parmar). Recognising these intergenerational, transnational ‘coordinates of being’ and personal journeys was the basis for a collaboration between Parmar and Kapil. 


> The important upshot of this collaboration is the idea of a ‘fourth space’: a forum for ‘overlapping voices’, not tied to singular continents but always in motion, attuned to the voices it may contain. Parmar highlights that this kind of overlap often takes place in the exchange of gifts and hospitality, two practices that inherently express rootedness and connection to community, cultural memory and place. An unexpected ‘overlap’ occurs when significant tokens are exchanged: ‘three pieces of wheat’, ‘a pink heart’ adorned with a quote from the Tobago-born writer, M. NourbeSe Philip: ‘“The purpose of avant-garde writing for a writer of colour is to prove you are human”’. Exchanging gifts forms a material basis for exchanging voices—here, the gift literally becomes the quoted ‘voice’ of another writer of colour—enabling a vicarious meeting of consciousnesses through symbiotic, experimental poetics, staging the basis for an different kind of empathetic intersectionality. If being human is a privilege defaulted upon dominant culture, then avant-garde writing may unsettle the very baselines of ‘humankind’, stage dialogues which invite consideration of the necessary violence or power struggle underpinning such a term’s encompassing impulse. In Politics of the Gift: Exchanges in Poststructuralism (2011), Gerald Moore builds on Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of ‘the gift as event’ and argues that gifting is ‘the giving of an existence that repeatedly and constitutively evades subjective identification’, and as such enables politics as response. Although Moore writes within a largely anthropological framework, we might figure avant-garde writing’s ‘meta’ concern with object, relation and affect as similarly poised on this logic of reciprocal gift economy—enacted between writers and readers alike, opening a transitive gateway within personal and cultural archives, remaining itself a reflection of process, ‘our written experiment’ (Parmar).


> Following her remembered gift exchange with Bhanu Kapil, Parmar presents the email conversation which comprises her and Kapil’s fourth space collaboration. There is something of the symbiotic potential of Julia Kristeva’s chora in Parmar and Kapil’s fourth space, this warmly enclosed, safe environment for swirling dialogue and semiotic resistance. Email itself is a necessarily collaborative, accumulating medium; we talk of email ‘threads’, the intimate rhythms of send and receive, the palimpsestic processes of redrafting, caught between moments of localised condition, process, qualification and structural imposition—‘My computer registers the US spelling as incorrect’ (Kapil). The email exchange between Parmar and Kapil documents personal anecdotes, fragments of memory and recollected shame, allowing reflective statements of identity in process: ‘We became women and put away our bodies’ (Kapil), ‘It was me’ (Parmar)—processes dependent upon a moment in time, not assured with permanence. An email in a way is a time-stamped sketch of meaning, a performative nexus of thought—literally entwined with globalised, archival networks. Its association with the mundane and daily, with the impersonality of work, provides juxtaposition for the arresting, personal and poetic content of Parmar and Kapil’s experiment. They describe tales of being Othered in girlhood, list glints of abstracted statement, stories of familial violence relayed from neighbours. Language itself becomes a fraught zone of conditional dwelling: ‘I can’t lie down in language as you do’ (Parmar). The textual space of Threads provides the chora in which such memories become accessible in shifting dimensions, an opening gift exchange with the reader. Once again the stories, as much as the bodies and things within them, become event in the act of reading itself; they activate political resonance from the filigreed realm of the literary, shot through with gaps and personal imaginings, where often the addressee is hailed directly—‘are you the memorised pattern she nightly pulls apart?’ (Parmar). 


> The emails are beautifully free-associative; poems in themselves, consisting of lists, questions, reveries, asides and inflections of commentary: 

Composite nomadism is like a mud-covered ruby, it’s like rotating [touching] something again and again. 
Similarly, our correspondence is glinty and European [recursive] and yet the “burning village” is like a well. (Kapil)

Symbolic details glister throughout, but their meaning cannot be fixed and only gleaned from contex—as the bracketed descriptions imply a holding of breath, a hypothetical. The luxuriant ruby, sign for composite nomadism, is itself a material aggregate of facets and surfaces, lines and refractions. There is the vertical axis of metaphor and simile, shifting between these objects, a continual play of identity’s selection. Back to the hairdressers, I articulate world and text as ‘like’, like, like. It’s like this, or like, like this. In conversation, my inability to complete is a stuttering. I want to leave half-finished, wet-haired and roving the streets with these threads. Perhaps this is how it feels to write a poem when the I’s stability eludes you. There is shame in the half-finished subject, a sort of paralysis glitching against linguistic insistence, the imperative of a stable grammar, a chair on the ground; but also power, a physical imperative towards freedom: ‘In the fourth space, the memorised pattern has been tugged loose, the yarn or wool or radical fibres on the floor like water’ (Kapil). Wave outwards, an excess of unfinished lines and sparkles. Think of how far you have come, and where you are going. 


> Major culture finds its unravelling in a minor, nomadic poetics—the kind Kapil and Parmar practice with every unfolding sentence, which beckons back and forth across the text, a push and pull of lively, often cryptic exchange. We must ask what knowledges we pour into the gaps, from what positions we are reading into as well as writing out from. ‘Down go the sparkles. / Down goes the particular language’ (Kapil): we move from observation to intimacy, the smudged glints of identity and shared memory compelled towards expression’s specifics. The subject in the fourth space is everywhere and nowhere at once, intimate and outward-bound, thirsty for details: 

Curious, suddenly, I realise, about the what and where of your grandmother’s home. Can you describe a cushion cover? My complex eye doesn’t know where to look. India? The north of England? LA? (Kapil)

There is the sense of the everyday as an anchoring, but one which might be ever unmoored. ‘My complex eye’ puns on vision and identity, the eye and ‘I’ of poetic utterance and memory’s observation. Threads asks what poetics might come from a nomadic consciousness, what might enter the realm of such poetics. 


>  In Nisha Ramayya’s essay ‘Threads’, the collection’s central motif is more explicitly shown, each sentence a weft and warp of words. Placed at the centre of Threads, the essay unravels the workings of the book as a whole, encourages readers to be reflexive about the practice of reading itself: be open to connections beyond the book, weave its meaning within their own lives and selves: I think of the weaving frame as a context in flux, that may be moved and expanded across spaces and times, that may transgress national borders and rational systems, a potentially unlimited contexts. 

I think of threads as parts that frame, as repetitions that enable memory, destruction and recreation, as continuities that loop and accrue meaning. Threads are moving bodies and the movements themselves, narratives and the processes of narrating. (Ramayya)

We find throughout Threads a poetics of entwining, taughtening, release. The pulling of collected strands, the unstitching. As with Parmar and Kapil’s essaying, Ramayya’s literary theorising is woven around knots of remembered anecdotes which situate the body in space (‘So many occasions, I remember being the only person of colour at a poetry reading’), whose purpose is not to pack a punchline or explicit moral upshot (‘I do not mean to count bodies’), but rather to provide more threads for connection, to enrichen the narrative. The reader can assemble a tapestry of meaning through such scenes, impressions of ‘minor’ subjectivity in a ‘major’ culture. There are persistent gaps or interstices, through which we might glimpse silence as both the implication of textual violence and the fold or nick from which new patterns may spin.


> Referring back to Parmar’s essay in sustained analysis, Ramayya adds another layer to the story, demonstrating what both criticism and practice might look like in this ‘fourth space’ of nomadic literature, instating further dialogue. Ramayya describes the Parmar/Kapil collaboration as an ‘affective reciprocity’, their fourth space of poetic exchange as ‘a space that enables their relationship apart from the places they share; in the “fourth space” they bring together voices, memories, questions, and styles’. Recalling again Kristeva’s chora, we might then think of this fourth space as a virtual or speculative location, though one that maintains a symbiotic relationship with material conditions between times (the time of email, the time of one’s grandparents), fluctuating between memory and what might still be to come, the ‘fluid, fluxive’ ‘towards’ time that captures ‘multiple angles’ of being and ‘shared resistance’. The thread is then passed onto another essay; as Ramayya puts it: ‘I pick up the question and continue’. 

[source: metamodernism.com]

> Weaving is of course a frequently feminised craft. We might think of Jane Campion’s film Bright Star, about the interrupted love affair between Keats and Fanny Brawne, where closeups of Brawne’s sewing and stitching centre this material craft alongside Keats’ flighty but nonetheless woven words. The refocusing on stitching then draws attention to a marginalised history, the feminine side of the story left out by legend and history alike. In Campion’s film, when Keats compares poetry to the art of stitch, Fanny’s character even says something about stitch being useful, unlike poetry. There’s a question of labour and value; of what weaving might make or do, what comforts it might provide, new shrouds or sweaters or worlds. It is obviously also associated with the practice of the everyday; being routine, needlework is a craft that once consumed whole evenings as necessity. So where does poetry fit in this comparison? Is it flimsy and foolish, the pretty ornament of daily life, or can it be redeemed by its inherently generative power as an act of making?


> ‘Poetry’s stuff is the everyday’, Vahni Capildeo writes in The White Review, ‘the texture of lived experience; the simple mechanics and music of words. If I generalised from what happened to me personally, wouldn’t I be part of the problem?’. Posing this binary problem of personal/political, Capildeo again raises the point about the violence and silencing of the lyric in assuming universalism from personal experience. Making a world from a singular world, or indeed word. We need to defamiliarise the universalised portrait of everyday life and in tandem, quotidian poetics, spun as it is canonically from the yarns of white, mostly middle-class men. Engaging with Capildeo’s essay, Ramayya situates this discussion in relation to the Brexited lacings of Theresa May’s pronouncement: ‘if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’. Capildeo returns, in the wake of this statement, to affect. How does Brexit make immigrants (of any generation) feel? How does it affect their relationship to identity, space, belonging, family? Astutely, she reminds us that what is missing in loaded statements of belonging and integration is a focus on reciprocity. Forcing the absorption of a dominant culture without learning from others, without remixing and inviting new threads through the tapestry. Fresh splashes of multiple hue and difference. To live as a person of colour in an overwhelmingly white location is to be a survivor, as Capildeo puts it, carrying the weight of several cultures and unfinished histories—the violence entailed and the silence of suffering, the suffering of silence. ‘Reciprocity’, Ramayya argues, ‘demands that we know our own and each other’s histories, that we learn our own and each other’s cultures, that we affirm the possibilities of ourselves and each other’. She asserts in plain language the need for exchange, speculating the question of an Indian Shakespeare in the way Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, once envisioned, through a feminist lens, the potential writing career of Shakespeare’s sister.


> Whether quoting from the likes of Nat Raha’s de/compositions (2017) or performing other kinds of woven, inter or intratextual exchange, Threads continues to operate as a fluid weaving and unweaving. There’s a hunger for invitation, participation, a sense of both assertion and openness; a commitment to what Raha calls ‘shattered dynamics’; an admission of space and incompletion. Amidst both contemporary and historical specificities and speculations, Threads asks, ‘How to think about what happens next?’ (Ramayya). This is the purpose of Ramayya’s proposed ‘Tantric poetics’, a mode that refocuses on specificities: those of ‘names, violations, and demands’. We might think of the Everyday Sexism project, or Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen (2014), which highlights the burgeoning traumas or microaggressions of ‘everyday racism’. As Andrew Epstein describes in Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry (2016), poetry in the twentieth century became understood as ‘both a form of attention and means of pursuing the ever-elusive everyday’. A tantric poetics might revisit the specificities of habit and encounter within the sphere of the daily, re-attending to divergent experiences in a way that does not moralise, transcend or ‘elevate’ the daily, but rather expresses innovative modes of connecting the experiences of different subject positions. In that sense tantric poetics is a situated, intersectional practice; its specificities ‘do not deny the possibilities of our working together, of destroying and recreating together, of the multiple and diverse practices that will enable our individual and collective expressions “after the shatter”’ (Ramayya). 


> The collection ends on Kapil’s lyric essay, ‘Avert the Icy Feeling’, which comprises 14 fragments or ‘notes’ on ‘race and creative writing’. 14 fragments which make up a ‘prose sonnet’, itself a hybridising of essay and lyric. Given the collection’s interrogation of lyric poetry, some context is perhaps needed for referring to Kapil’s piece as a lyric essay—a genre or mode which has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, perhaps as a natural evolution from noughties blogging culture, or perhaps as a vital creative reaction to the fraught identity politics of our present era. Deborah Tall and John D’Agata describe the lyric essay thus: 


Given its genre mingling, the lyric essay often accretes by fragments, taking shape mosaically – its import visible only when one stands back and sees it whole. The stories it tells may be no more than metaphors. Or, storyless, it may spiral in on itself, circling the core of a single image or idea, without climax, without a paraphrasable theme. The lyric essay stalks its subject like quarry but is never content to merely explain or confess. It elucidates through the dance of its own delving.

Its beauty, then, is an ability to braid the subjective and objective, the personal and political, the historical and daily. Its work is in the dance of form that dazzles and illumines but does not settle. As with ‘everyday’ poetry’s ever elusive pursuit of what constitutes daily experience (Epstein), the lyric essay is also a form of quest or journeying, not to mention recapitulation. Formally, the core work of the lyric essay is not the end, the goal or conclusion; but rather the arrangement of its parts: its symbols and metaphors, its careful yet elastic structuration that gives rise to semiotic play. Its resistance to paraphrase ensures the intensity of each reading as experience renewed, the reader doing also the work of weaving—a more democratic act of collaboration.


> In ‘Avert the Icy Feeling’, metaphor and morphing image orchestrate the reflexive, associative logic of a sonnet. Kapil imagines ice as ‘a public form of whiteness that does not melt but freezes’. Kapil’s notes unfold as scraps of metaphor that remain unexplained but are picked up again later: ‘Rethink your relationship to unicorn memorabilia’, ‘another failed unicorn in an audience of fifty, five or one’. There’s a constant shifting of objects, things, identities, impressions and affects; a reimagining of the lonely unicorn, the mythological ‘I’ within these lists, events and details. At times, Kapil adopts the imperative voice of the second person, forcing the reader into a compromised or vulnerable subject position—the sole person of colour at a poetry reading, for instance, as mentioned earlier by Ramayya. She performs, textually, that state of anxiety, the acute awareness of one’s body in space: ‘contract your body around your internal organs’ (Kapil). There are references to quotidian acts: watching Dear White People on Netflix, eating a ‘microwaved vegan samosa’ (Kapil). The second person acquires the incantatory quality of a spell or a recipe, levelling the attentiveness of Ramayya’s tantric poetics, dwelling on details but also extravagant statements borne from the moment—’Never go outside again’. Then spiralling back to the ‘I’, the writer who is standing intensely at the poetry reading: ‘Do you ever have the feeling that a large group of white people could kill you, if they wanted to?’.


> The effect is disarming: ‘Think about complicity as a mode of phatic communication’. Kapil is a master at enmeshing her politics and personal experience within the tricksiness of grammar, finding ways to resist, resituate or ironically expose language’s complicity with power. The negative mode of complicity becomes itself a social function, an active form of communication. Kapil draws those unspoken threads to the surface. Her notes are both statements of affect and effect, recordings of everyday life and potential hexes to melt the ubiquitous ice of whiteness. I’m reminded of CAConrad’s defamiliarising poetics of somatic ritual; I’m reminded of frustrated Facebook posts, exposing some daily encounter whose resonance (capitalist algorithms withstanding) makes alienation a shared experience. I’m reminded of the internalised notes we carry on our own body, comments made by ourselves and others, stuck. The loosening threads that Kapil, Ramayya and Parmar pick at become also the veins of our body, nerves and tendons pulled taut by anxiety and relaxed again by a lucid, empathic poetics, then tightened again with a spark of anger or recognition. Kapil performs various forms of sumptuous, lyrical estrangement: ‘Sew the sun inside a book so that when another person reads it, the pages turn a butter yellow, the colour of the crayon a child selects when it’s time to draw the sky’. She asks how words themselves might ‘emit a weak light’, might provide warmth and thaw the sharp, hostile edges of our cultural ‘ice’; might carry us around in a kind of diasporic time.


> With her lyric essay, Kapil forges her own fourth space which spreads and becomes the reader’s too. There’s a longing to reach out, a ‘perhaps’ of connection, shared reading, ‘a ritual of disclosure but also discharge’, which invites the ‘desire to write something else now’ (Kapil). The use of italics again defamiliarises, gives the impression that these are statements made always already, coming from somewhere and someone else, singular or collective, swirling brightly in this new fourth space. The final note, number 14, closes again on the fabled event of ‘the poetry reading’. Kapil’s speaker soon finds herself at the home of ‘a well-known lyric poet’. Plunged into the middle-class, academic universe of this poet’s world, handed a mason jar of ‘“overnight oatmeal”’, the speaker feels an aversion to its extravagant demands: ‘It’s too much for me to now be involved with this nourishing health food in a home environment that is redolent with inherited wealth and secure routines’. This problematising of hospitality exposes the complexities of privilege as it plays out, consciously or unconsciously, in spheres of culture, work and friendship. There’s a gulf between worlds, domestic existence and nomadic life, that the speaker struggles to bridge. Not quite a resentment, so much as the exhausting sense of difference. An almost vertigo.


>  In the airport, the next morning, the baggage officer pulls the speaker aside about the overnight oats, but she manages to convince him they are not ‘“a liquid”’. And with this carefully wrought anecdote, we are left pondering the significance of a woman of colour, eating this non-liquid, ‘damp, gorgeous, healthy, delicious’ gift from a ‘kind, white poet’ in the non-space of the airport terminal. The sense of where next, where next—the imperative of future negotiation, its slippery matters of affect. Is this a break from the ‘trauma loop’? And what of the work of acceptance, apology? Luckily, a sonnet’s conclusion is able to contain such paradox, hold its parallels and problems. With an experimental sonnet, you surrender to form then shrug your way out of it, loosen its bounded lines—expose the colour and movement, the necessary lacuna.


>In his Four Lectures (1982), Stephen Rodefer calls for a type of writing that shimmers and startles in its complex layers, a ‘painted poetry’:

A poetry painted with every jarring color and juxtaposition, every simultaneous order and disorder, every deliberate working, every movement toward one thing deformed into another. Painted with every erosion and scraping away, every blurring, every showing through, every wiping out and every replacement, with every dismemberment of the figure and assault on creation, every menace and response, every transformation of the color and reforming of the parts, necessary to express the world. Even the words and way of language itself will suffer the consequent deformity and reformation. The color beneath, which has been covered over, will begin to show through later, when what overcame it is questioned and scraped on, if not away. Political revolution answers the same process. Shapes and lines converging and diverging will formulate new ideas, the true statement of which is not fully disclosed, but fully embodied. There is a continuing direction felt within, but ordered from without. When the oppressed whole is dismantled, the parts will find a new place, more proper to them, or else all fails.

Whether we look at resistant poetics as nomadic, threadlike, meandering or, as in Rodefer’s vision, palimpsestic, what persists is the need for reciprocal convergence and divergence, overlap and embodiment, mingling and dismantling, reterritorialising at all angles and planes, rearranging the parts and the whole—starting with the parts in lieu of the whole, as sites of power, potential—a vibrant semiotics of experience. Whether painting or weaving, the impulse needs to be towards colour (and here we might celebrate the glorious orange of Threads’ design and cover, by Theo Inglis). How to run lines or threads over that ice-drift of imposing whiteness? How to colour the ‘universal subject’ into myriad potentials? Where and how to show the fault-lines, the future currents, the trails to elsewhere that lead back here and onto there? How to show brokenness as well as healing?


> As a white person, British and Jewish by way of Holland ‘originally’ then England and finally my adopted Scotland, I was initially anxious about my own ‘way in’ to writing about Threads—was it my position to speak or write about these topics? Until now, it had been my privilege to refuse barely a thought of my own ‘ethnicity’, except in certain situations of whiteness as shame and embarrassment in the wake of Brexit, the occasional confrontation with Jewishness in a time of rising anti-semitism. But the beauty of Threads is its insistence on dialogue, its sense of textual welcoming from myriad positions, the many-coloured threads overlapping in a way that is elegant and generous instead of competing or overwhelming. I pick up new experiences with every read—both my own and from the text, from television, books and cultural memory. My awareness of the play of the ‘I’ and its desires, origins, hostilities and assertions, gathers nuance. With all thrust of necessity, Threads provides a clear, measured overview of the situation at hand in contemporary lyric poetry; while offering a vibrant, formal example of how to tackle, resist and reterritorialise the homogenised voice of much of the lyric canon. How to push a text, find your way out from within or within from without. 


> When I sit in the heterotopic hairdressers, a space for making and unmaking, with other women of many cultures, legacies or histories (sometimes shared in that small safe space of informal discourse; how unlike the remembered salons of my childhood, where difference was often shunned in small-town gossip and racist dialogue), or when I push through the busy streets of my diverse home city, I too am part of that crowd. I unravel. The woman who cuts my hair comes from another country. She knows more of the world than me. She arranges the threads of my hair, I trust and I listen. 

And yet, not despite our differences but in relation to our specificities, our bodies move close together, our knots amass, our resistances and refusals crowd the scene, together, we continue to weave. (Ramayya)

Threads is published by Clinic, and can be bought from the publisher here, or on our affiliate bookshop.org storefront here.

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Text by Maria Sledmere



Selected Reading



Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, 1983. ‘What is a Minor Literature?’, Essays Literary Criticism, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 13-33.

Epstein, Andrew, 2016. Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

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