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  • Charlie McIlwain

(REVIEW) purge fluid, by Ivy Allsop

Charlie McIlwain reflects on the accumulatory impulse behind Ivy Allsop’s poetics, swerving into purge fluid (HEM Press, 2023) via Stormy Weather, Denise Riley, the compromised Language in which we seek refuge, hyperlink-cognition, Pasolini’s binoculars, Celan’s eyes, and the Ocean as undivorceable plural.


‘Milošević couldn’t care less if Bosnia was recognised’, a laughing Dr. Karadžić later told a television interviewer. He said, ‘Caligula proclaimed his horse senator, but the horse never took his seat...’[i]


Too often poetry paraphrases itself before it has offered its initial phrasing. If there is understanding in the music, it is in the listening. If there is understanding in the music, it is in the playing. György & Marta Kurtág elapse their life work attempting to nobly brook these counter-understandings, on the edge of a europe of Different Trains. A total of 44 fish with cesium levels above 100 becquerels per kg have been found in the Fukushima plant port between May 2022 and May 2023, Tepco confirmed, with 90% of those caught in or near the inner breakwater. Other specimens identified as having particularly high radioactivity were an eel with 1,700 becquerels per kg, caught in June 2022, and rock trout, with 1,200 becquerels in April 2023. An ocean as an active atrocity, or rather that which is impressed upon it. The ocean is an undivorceable plural, & we are tearing the fucking place apart. But I am not offering any alternatives, am I? Gotta go somewhere. Stormy weather. Ivy Allsop is driven by water—it says so in the ‘About the author’ section. Ivy Allsop is driven by water, heaving our symbols w/ no comfort promised aside from the real thing. No oil but water on the wheel. Can I accurately profess myself to have ‘read’ purge fluid (2023)? That would imply completion. I am not certain how to read it. I know that I have read it, but I probably haven’t. A story ‒ Once, following a difficult day at work, you wept when you saw the sun hit a pile of dirt/shit/misc./&c in the corner of a temporary car park. There was comedy in this, but the feeling didn’t comply. A moral ‒ This is perhaps the comedy of alarming comfort in the face of the banality of everyday uselessness hinged w/in the banality of absolute atrocity that Allsop is offering us. The operative word here is perhaps. Perhaps. It’s happening now.


The site of unpicking, arriving so much after the fact there is no embedded scent. Atrocity flattened, banal. Smog came in the brittle Maytime dawning, the blue was taken in haze that fed into headlights that pointed out dust.


Those lines make me cry. I will not tell you why. Or perhaps I will. Ivy Allsop is driven by water, & there is no land in sight. & there is only land in sight. There is an undeniable & terrifying accumulatory impulse behind her poetics — lines as incremental slabs that pave the path towards a doubtful understanding, or more particularly, the understanding that doubt follows clarity as the pod follows the pilot. It is a Subitism of sub-Items, ‘the mirror surface Mandelbrots’ pathing bronchial from centre & falling into Some of many circles. A ‘shedding’, that is, ‘which implies neither enlargement nor diminution but a structural alteration’[ii] — a ‘change of internal structure’ that cannot escape the processes that have pathed the institution of the change. The processes are the institution of the change, are the change itself. Allsop self-recurs from Mandelbrot set to Whitehead product. The situation is alarming. We are falling through unmappable space & beset by images of such imperceptible clarity. Things have mercifully stopped making sense, & now we can begin to make sense of things. Our fall is not downward, it is only a fall. Something of importance is being denoted, but we cannot stop falling. We cannot stay w/ the images, but fall w/ them. Somewhere & all at once, ‘bedraggled in mercurial laughter’s crash’, we realise that there is the gentlest music emitting from the sores of this wreckage. & we are no longer innocent. There is no bogus bullshit — whatever the land is named, wet earth takes primacy.


Yes, I took your name into the mud


If there’s any nostalgia in these poems, it is a Nostalgia For The Light. The operative word is contiguous. Can the Language survive such treatment? To say nothing of Images. Say nothing of Images.

an image of a man cradling a body with the hands emphasised and the faces cropped-out, rendered in black & white, taken from Wenzel Lorenz Reiner’s painting Recovery of the body of St. John of Nepomuk.
taken from Wenzel Lorenz Reiner’s painting Recovery of the body of St. John of Nepomuk.

as we took lengths of each other for protection, and the call to leave the burning wreckage i spoke i attend to i intend to tend to me


Allsop’s work is a glass cliff that stretches up past any theoretical limit, & one that we want to keep trying to climb. It is a collision process. It is a collision process. It is a collision process. It is a collision process. One cannot map the arc. The words do this for themselves in Allsop’s hands. She is seeing w/ her hands. These words became rain some time ago. No arrow-shower, just arrow-shooters. Here is poetry of startling self-evidence, that resists wholesale & in actual terms the ‘heresy of paraphrase’. Allsop is, among other things, a Prynne scholar [iii]. As a scholar, Allsop has honed-in on the notion of ‘difficult’ poetry, as a term of base description, & as I suspect a kind of reclamation, a kind of reclamation that opens up the danger & beauty of reclamation necessary w/in the act, that compelled the act to be instituted. If a poetry cast as difficult accepts itself as difficult, does this compound or release?



Peter Bogdanovich: People sometimes look at your films and say, “G-d, what an insane, great shot.” But when I’ve expressed something like that to you, your blank look shows me that clearly to you the shot was normal—or rather, not unusual—simply the way you saw it. Orson Welles: I like it when you answer your own questions.


The same image taken from Wenz Lorenz Reiner’s painting as above, but now in colour.

There is sincere comfort in how Allsop refuses to offer comfort through the usual channel of Thought-Terminating-Clichés but critically does not hold in their place a false & violent musculature, the Thought-Terminating-Path that Ocean Vuong has termed ‘Old Glory’ [iv]. Instead there is a vulnerability w/out acquiescence to a false clarity, the combined values of humbling emotional nakedness & sheer fuck-you Form. To dismiss this work is to dismiss the insula.


Enough marks enough. Visible to a severed eye, tidal striations leave a fractured rust system, fibrous corroded Haeckel matrix.


Who are the names of these isthmus’ future, now? The future of the future? Branfoot, de Búrca, Offield, Meadows, Colville, Allsop [v]? The term ‘make it new’ failed from its initiation, because the central ‘it’ was always a past unreal conditional. [vi] A dead whale is not made new by seeing a dead whale. What is made new is the seeing, which is only ever the present moment. ‘I shall sit with your own words a while as I think it's best for our type of writing.;[vii] We can see the moments ‘gone just before’ the seeing, but they are never the seeing. By seeing we are consigned to a present. By seeing w/ our hands, we can begin to pull things apart. purge fluid is a water tablet, a catalogue of what emerges & of what intrudes. purge fluid is a fluid manual, w/ all that that ent(r)ails. It is a history of naming in the same way that humanity’s relationship w/ the nature from which it emerged & remains is a history of naming. This Beagle is a glass boat, & there is no land in sight. Where is the ocean? This is a Private Language made Public w/out the falsity of re-wording. The translation is in the process of reading, something close to what Allsop herself has described as ‘the value of poetic labour’ — these words act on their own account, earth their own mounds. We follow them. Rather than stuffing our own words into the mouths of poets, we are now obligated to listen to the difficult real that first emerges before it is corralled into the blunting-space of clarity, that Oxygen Minimum Zone.


Our party formed an ocrea in a hazard wind privy to snifters of dust, suspense distorted by the fibreglass tapping out echoes between trunks: little birds marching their boots.


An ARGUMENT — Our alphabet is a failure. It holds no images. It is the circumspect deletion of calligraphy, the dull heave of the literal. Attempting an imitation of life from the aggressively-ordered symbols of a dead language. The hand that does not erase, but merely obfuscates. How can there be a poetry under such conditions? There can not. We should have learned this at an earlier stage, preferably at the start. We did not. A COUNTER-ARGUMENT — The above self-coruscating occidental wankbag will not offer. It will light no lamps. A RESOLUTION — But it is the case we have developed a Language that has developed past the past of universal retention, & w/out the pictoral to guide the memory. Invocation of the correct words w/in the correct environments remains crucial, but the correct words keep changing. The cells are replicating past the system, & the system refuses to yield. These are the kind of things we are supposed to remember, to make something of. 


If I have to be present it will be in clouds of my own making.


We write words w/in the operating fibres of our context, then wish to make them clouds. The borders of our biology are freer still than the borders of our Language, perhaps only because w/in our bodies we can feel the change occurring. & because our bodies are ours, our names are ours, they are as immutable or mutable as our naming provides. Language has no primacy unless it has, body has no primacy unless it has. It can be said it can be unsaid, the primacy being only that it can be. That its existence can be posited at all. The body cannot be rejected so long as we are held w/in it. But it is ours. We recognise this, & so the division disappears. It was never there. A cut on the thumb is us. A thought is not necessarily us. Our splitting renders us plural w/out ever numbering more than one. The sincere revolution of such a way of being is that through existing at all it challenges the complacent bases of how being continues to be articulated. The body can be rejected so long as there are others. The protozoa is to be held rhythmic in the counteressential aboundary of the obligate parasite, the extracellular matrix of a language that is both alien to our processes & inherent to their basic operation [viii] This is Allsop’s poetry, a cogence of alerts. Fluid returns to site. This makes sense. Now we’re talking.


and how to talk when it runs counter to the torqued muscle language of seek rip disregard, the non-thought that offers structure and loss

This question applies to all areas. If we cannot describe the hand before the face w/out overstatement, how can we find sufficient faith in a Language? Uh. How can we sufficient have faith in a Language? How we can sufficiently locate faith as-w/-in a Language? How can suff—…No. How can we hold, yes, sufficient hold sufficient faith w/in a Language. Wait. How now can we find sufficient faith w/in a Language when we cannot even describe the face before the hand before the. Wait. Hold on. Faith is the wrong word. Perhaps. Oh no. Suffer the Language. As in that Celan poem [ix],


Zur Blindheit über-           Eyes talked into redete Augen.                    blindness.


Überredete, ‘persuaded’, to have been talked-into. Do the splits. Über-redete, to over-talk. An above-talk. Is this to ‘talk over’ as we understand it, to drown out opposition & name this persuasion? A speech that overlays our own. To be talked into, to have a house built around us -- we look up, it’s too late, we live in it. We cannot reject it, as ours has been knocked down. It was talked-over to the point of collapse. T h e B r i d e S t r i p p e d B a r e b y H e r B a c h e l o r s, E v e n. Violent & strange. I keep thinking I’ve read this book, then I find new words. Did I read them before? All I have done here is to impose my own dull symbols. Perhaps. Just read the book. No perhaps about that. The book is called purge fluid. Ditto. Spomenik as Chorten. . These things happen by occident.


It was built we can say as much, It was sunk we can say as much. The disrepair fits spomenik criteria, its plumbing of minerals not so much.

Pasolini's Salò ‒ when a ‘Libertine’ is too close to the atrocities he is directing even at the distance he is viewing them from, he turns his binoculars around so as to reduce this closeness & create a removal through seeing. He has caused the events, he is complicit in the events, he is viewing the events, but he must remove himself through his participation. He must see from a distance even when he is there. Pasolini is behind the camera, we are watching the film. I am not stating new information. New information? &c &c. “ue, culattoni!” I have not seen the entirety of Salò. I am o.k. w/ this. I likely shouldn’t be. This Image scares me. That is its intention. To do so. The film critic Will Sloan ‒ ‪’a

rarely-acknowledged reason why this movie is great: I’m 100% certain that, like Sade before him, Pasolini finds much of what he depicts to be kinda funny and hot.’[x]  That idea of being a moral witness. Arousal. Compromised. (im)moral. That idea of seeing & being aware that by seeing you are participating. That idea that you are involved. This does not need to be a bad idea. As in a discomfiting one. Sometimes it needs to be. Sometimes it can be a comforting idea. The notion that you are a part of that being seen. That the exchange is two-way. That the art in which you seek brief solace is a blue plane sky listening back. Sometimes. Possibly. Maybe. ‘You are all seeing this.’ Still that notion of being seen. Having someone see you.

you see this image of me; that is what i hate about it


purge fluid culminates into its own return, words struck dumb by their nakedness. This is humbling, compounded by the essential thread of humility that already binds the pages. The lyric ‘I’ enters upon re-entry, a register of ‘please’. Asking to be understood w/in one’s own words, rather than someone else’s. Allsop’s book combs the seabed, writes maps for countries that no longer exist & which haunt their terrain w/ their lack of existence, writes maps for countries that exist all-too-much — & then those naked words, & w/ them the possibility of saying that one is alive. I have already called this humbling. I will call it that again. ‘cortical the aspic grasses, the vain rail development, our passage’. Beckett’s neither. Anohni’s bridge. Derrida’s Khôra. Allsop’s benthic one-hander. The ‘uncertainty space’ in which one steps. Open house, open room. It is possible that by expressing the existence of this space, one erases this space. But only the hand that erases can write the true thing. Perhaps. The operative word is perhaps. No. The operative word is contiguous. No. The operative word is care. No. The operative word is water.

on the left, a right hand raised with palm facing the viewer, all digits splayed. on the right, two hands explore a wound in a man’s chest. both images taken from François-Joseph Navez’s painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.
both images taken from François-Joseph Navez’s painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

Making has parameters, walls shamefully swaddle but without them I might only launch a flare that blooms malignant smoke and a pulsing sinking glow, marking position of that moment and those gone just before it.


The glow is in the words, fixed & brutal reconstructions operating w/in the context of a compromised alphabet. Contiguous motion of ocean in a heat age ≅ Kraftwerk in a blackout. ‘The misplaced light finds / void’. Angrignon pap. Keyhole regurgitant. Summer in September, Christmas in July. If there is a fault in this collection’s assembly, it is a fault that is inherent in the assembly of any collection — a fault inherent w/in the notion of a collection at all. The Anxiety of Order, or rather the Anxiety Directed Towards & Expulsant from The Idea of Order [Key West / direct environs., optional]. The contiguous spasm that is the linear mode, that is compelled by the stropping-onto the linear mode. Pushdown automata dismantled. The linear mode is an Arab strap, & the alternative is a lack of books. Christian Bok proposed this alternative, but now he primarily spends his time hawking NFTs & Schachtürken. This is uniquely awful — when poets slip into self-parody/moral-zero, they at least don’t typically take a corner of the sky w/ them. No arbitrary new w/out refuge in symbols. The water is stored in more than 1,000 sky-blue tanks lined up on the site of the plant. Tokyo Electric — or Tepco, as it is known — pumps the water through the destroyed reactors to cool melted fuel that is still too hot and radioactive to remove. The failure of complexity & the failure of clarity. We are not innocent any more. & we are no longer innocent. What could be stranger? Ask the Lone Ranger. Newness is a quality independent of the use value of the commodity. It is the origin of the semblance that belongs inalienably to images produced by the collective unconscious. It is the quintessence of that false consciousness whose indefatigable agent is fashion. This semblance of the new is reflected, like one mirror in another, in the semblance of the ever recurrent. The product of this reflection is the phantasmagoria of “cultural history”[xi]. Or something along those lines. What is the legal status of ice? There was a revolution — where did it go? This is our ‘Trial in rhododendrons’. Yeah cool this makes sense. The words are weighting. I have finished reading purge fluid. Now I must start reading purge fluid. Yoiks, & away.

an image of a bearded man, Orson Welles, holding his gloved right hand in front of his face with the index finger and thumb placed close together. Overlaid on the top-left-hand-corner of the image is text reading “IT’S ALL TRUE”. Taken from Jean-Luc Godard’s film essay series Histoire(s) du cinéma, which in turn took modified the image from Orson Welles’ film essay F for Fake.
Taken from Jean-Luc Godard’s film essay series Histoire(s) du cinéma, which in turn took modified the image from Orson Welles’ film essay F for Fake.

     There is no other break in the     descent, since without that it's all break     anyway. The purity is a question of     names. We are here to utter them. This is     a prayer. I have it now between my     teeth and my eyes, on my forehead. Know     the names. It is as simple as the purity     of sentiment: it is as simple      as that. [xii] 

another detail from Wenzel Lorenz Reiner’s painting Recovery of the body of St. John of Nepomuk, again in colour, this time showing only the previously cropped-out faces of the two figures (the cradler & the cradled).
another detail from Wenzel Lorenz Reiner’s painting Recovery of the body of St. John of Nepomuk,

Text contains interpolations of quotes from two newspaper sources --


'Japan to Release Treated Water From Ruined Nuclear Plant Despite Concerns'.

the New York Times.

Motoko Rich and Hisako Ueno.

August 21, 2023.


'Fukushima fish with 180 times legal limit of radioactive cesium fuels water release fears'.

the Guardian.

Gavin Blair.

July 24, 2023.



[i] as-spoken-by Beverley Foster in ‘Buzzers’, a song from Scott Walker’s 2006 album The Drift.


[ii] a section from Four Archetypes, C. G. Jung [trans. R. F. C. Hull]., Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959.

[iii] What was it Douglas Oliver wrote of Prynne’s Kitchen Poems? ‘His is difficult verse, whose themes are too complex for short summary. Already the book has been called pretentious - though in a sense all search for fresh knowledge is necessarily so.’


[iv] ‘Knock them dead, big guy. Get in there guns blazing, buddy. You crushed at the show. No, it was a blow out.’ – ‘Old Glory’ is a poem from Time is a Mother, Ocean Vuong., London: Jonathan Cape, 2022.


[v] respectively -- Tom, Stephen, Alanna, Zara, Keilan, & Ivy.


[vi] From Wikipedia -- “In 1953 [white supremacist & klan member John] Kasper opened a far-right bookstore, "Make it New", at 169 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, that displayed Pound's work in the window.”


[vii] From an email exchange between I.A. & C.M.


[viii] a paraphrase of Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect, Denise Riley., Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 2005.


[ix] ‘Tübingen, Jänner’, along w/ Michael Hamburger’s translation.



[xi] Walter Benjamin in the Arcades Project.


[xii] J. H. Prynne, ‘Die a Millionaire (pronounced ‘diamonds in the air’)’ 

You can buy a copy of Ivy Allsop's purge fluid (2023) from HEM Press here!


Text: Charlie McIlwain


1) Hem Press

2) Wenzel Lorenz Reiner’s painting Recovery of the body of St. John of Nepomuk

3) ibid.

4) Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma [Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom]

5) both images taken from François-Joseph Navez’s painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

6) Taken from Jean-Luc Godard’s film essay series Histoire(s) du cinéma, which in turn took modified the image from Orson Welles’ film essay F for Fake.

7) Another detail from Wenzel Lorenz Reiner’s painting Recovery of the body of St. John of Nepomuk

Published: 27/02/2024


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