(REVIEW) Suburban Finesse, by Ashwani Sharma, Azad Ashim Sharma and Kashif Sharma-Patel
In this review of Ashwani Sharma, Azad Ashim Sharma and Kashif Sharma-Patel’s Suburban Finesse (Sad Press, 2021), T.Person bears upon site and trace, intersection and rhythm. Meditating on what a site might be, T.Person arrives at: ‘as much an intersection between, what powers the neon, what charges the conversation, multiple diasporas, as an intersection at the end of the northern line’. Playfully finding itself at the precipice of writing that posits a resplendent gesture to location, both in language and environment, this reading of Suburban Finesse compels a sustained encounter with the text at hand.
I first read Suburban Finesse on the bus to Birmingham, teetering across the Gravelly junction — the, yes, original spaghetti junction: inedible/indelible concrete mush. On the M6 Southbound, then the A38, entering Birmingham, facades, names, histories appear: Shahed’s, Londis, Aston Arms, Masjid-E-Noor, The Barton’s Arms. I am circling into place through shopfronts, architectural gestures and the shifting facades. I’m scared that a gust of wind will tear away at the shopfronts, revealing only desert behind, and yet there’s a magic in the mix, the rushing past of ‘everything’ with your face to the window. This effect is mirrored in Suburban Finesse; the setting or site — site in multiple senses: portal, construction, junction, location — we’re invited into is Morden, South L****n; we are guided into the book, the new site, with gestures, descriptions and commands of visual interrogation. A quote from Fred Moten helps me consider ‘place’ and ‘site’ in this book: ‘Places like that are effects, and sites, of planning, belief, and study. I’m interested in one such place, which is of but not in Chicago, under and above and on the outskirts of that and every other sweet home’. The book performs a benevolent circling of site as Moten presents it: above, below, between, under, through, as, lived, forgotten, inhabited.
The recursive ‘Morden’ is at once a location, a setting and an abundant juncture, then a ‘ruckus’ –– it morphs into ‘Mordune’ or ‘Modern’; its shimmering presence approaches, but also resists, a lyrical dedication. This place, Morden, becomes the overarching vehicle for multiple, woven tenors, however it is in propinquity that it gains relevance as a juncture between the text and its frame. It is the frame for the text’s restless experimentation: without it there is no discourse.
There is an unheimlich reverberation of anagram and pararhyme that draws attention to the restless overlapping of text and place; it shines light on how we can meet the book’s vivid and slippery language play. There’s a temptation for the reader to comprehend the three-sided pararhyme — Morden, Mordune, Modern — as an etymological trace, but elsewhere in the book we’re driven towards the ‘Palimpsest’: the erasing, scratching, over-writing into a constant anew, an attentive vision of similarity and difference in a rendered present that is unforgiving in its delivery of history and future.
I sing the Morden finesse at the age of the northern line southbound out of the window in uncle Salim’s whip inside the outside Community of communities make the sheath more ornate than swords No room for bloodied Metal because without Mordune I do not exist.
An infinite parallax: there is a generous antagonism in these poems, one that plays on the edges of understanding and assertion, that foregrounds concrete imagery and quite frankly ‘lived lives’, but then also a directness that plays with the edges of theory whilst performing it. It’s helpful — also from Moten — to locate the text as a work in active knowledge and completion, the praxis as possible framework, the sense of building comes in, well, the building. We read everything outside of institutional and colonial knowledge systems. The whiff of autobiography* in phrases like uncle Salim’s whip — who’s your uncle? — blow smoke on the structure of air that flows throughout the text, bringing relief to the roaming dissolution of subject/\object that other parts of the text perform.
What is the site for? How is it becoming and belonging? It’s as much an intersection between, what powers the neon, what charges the conversation, multiple diasporas, as an intersection at the end of the northern line, which is, in itself, peripheral, left behind, although the argumentative elements in the text force the end of the line or the periphery into a punctum from which the book’s work circles outwards, encompassing elsewhere. In this sense these poems undo our thought, tear away at its illusory coherence or, on its own terms in the book’s introductory notes, unthink. They carry a referential specificity to such a belonging juncture, of alignment, that of being with, of adjacency.
Inside one and the other the fusion of freshly poured Guinness mixes with the saag and the calcified butter, aromas over and under our lot so now the morning commute one appreciates this as the zone where we cusp on to the garden & the concrete: Sunological -
Traces of futures /\ aporia euphoric. Tympan: the banging of the drum, the call to action. A thunder. Touchstones* A section verbless and in motion, sprawling, bobbing, close-ups, a shifting series of dissolved subjects/\objects [at its strongest] strengthening the lease of the location.
The feeling of the prefix and instability of meaning are paramount in Suburban Finesse. Post-, Para-, dys-, dis-, de-, the temporality of prefixes as coming syntactically first, but signifying after, next, beside, against. From the introductory notes: postcolonial madness as a twisting spiral, a vortex of dense poetics, para-coloniality, a mass of entanglement, the dislocation of roots and traces through the dismantling of word components.
The authors are dead; they’re invisible to the reader and yet there are words on the page, boots on the ground, khaki suits / strolling in the sky over Haifa.
I can only begin a posteriori, by perceiving the world as vast and overwhelming; each moment stands under an enormous vertical and horizontal pressure of information, potent with ambiguity, meaning-full, unfixed, and certainly incomplete. What saves this from becoming a vast undifferentiated mass of data and situation is one’s ability to make distinctions. The open text is one which both acknowledges the vastness of the world and is formally differentiating. It is form that provides an opening.
The quote above is from Hejinian’s essay, The Rejection of Closure, which helped unpick elements of the book through its discussion of open or closed texts, a discussion I think is celebrated in Suburban Finesse. On Hejinian’s terms this text is vast and unbounded, it carves a space for itself in which to develop an infinite critique of being in postcolonial Britain not as an ontological retreat, but as a consideration of the ‘disjuncture between words and meaning’ and how, as a reader, we can act at the edges of new, abundant comprehension. This really pops in the section Tympan, or, listening to paintings. It’s an almost verbless section that best displays the book’s dizzying interest in streams of perception. The common syntactic structures of subject/\object are not present and yet it poses the vision and feel of multiple voices who are seeing. This phrasal and flowing poem piques the reader in its authoritative and radical daydreaming form: tower of babel / imperceptible capitalism / blue sirens / algorithmic music / sonic booms / turbulence / ambient / atmospheres / diasporic cacophony / ears vibrate, / oscillate, fluctuate / plugged in, / plugged out / head-phones / phone-heads / beats / migrant beats / two tone / urban jungle, grime / me-pod. I-not we. / head music / bass rumblings. All these phrases sweeping across the page like aural refractions; they’re images and slogans and calls to action refracted through the prism Suburban Finesse builds. As a consequence to the dismantling of any subject/\object relationship, we, as readers, are culpable in the image-making and hence active and open in the generation of meaning from these fragmented phrases: we are shown. Our relationship to time is meek as it becomes an ancillary of space and without time it feels as if there are further heterogeneous origins from which we collect meaning. The gaps open up; they are then filled with appropriative measures like migrant beat or queer rhythms or blue sirens. We experience an abundant rubato, a detailed pushing and pulling of cadence and metre. [Derrida, but pronounced like Flo Rida] As readers we experience a conditioning of our internal structures in this text that posit temporal simultaneity, is that possible in an atemporal site, a Lynchian portal?
‘The present therefore is always complicated by non-presence. Derrida calls this minimal repeatability found in every experience “the trace.” Indeed, the trace is a kind of proto-linguisticality (Derrida [pronounced Flo Rida] also calls it “arche-writing”), since language in its most minimal determination consists in repeatable forms’.
*Touchstones In Tympan Alan Davies’ RAVE & Sylvia Legris’ ANTIPHONAL are stylistic touchstones, in so far as they use a floating, verbless dismantling of syntax that allows the reader a kind of psychic slippage, a euphoric apophenia, an almost ekphrastic zing and lip-smack of descriptive force in relentless motion that brings the reader into their vacant present: faces glued to the window like John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum.
Often the lines carry the feeling of ‘the one that got away’. A manifest dizziness, inchoate and irreducible, a simultaneous — a presence, an urgency — resistance to and acceptance of exterior pressure. It paints tonalities of dissidence, of refusal and resistance that pitch and trace the present; they complicate it, urging the reader to see what is there.
The term ‘Finesse’: ‘as depression’ is depression; the finesse is a lyric of multiplying desires, of variegated interrogations, of combat, roaming and refrain; the lines themselves are not enough, but full: a minimal repeatability, their eddying of breathlessness and history are hard, weathered. Finesse feels while reading a multi-faceted theory of intersections; it is sung, shouted and whispered.
As diffraction and as difference, the morden finesse utters continuity For Punjabi Glaswegian bus drivers of the 50s, the charos in Finchley , the forgotten histories of South Asian women who fought apartheid.
Suburban Finesse develops into a future-facing lament in the latter sections. It takes no prisoners and flickers and punches with an urgency we should all carry. The sequence De-Presse: MeMe Noir (Morden Finesse) holds the most combative and generous space in the book. It defines a series of modern targets and posits their interrogation, with the refrain of the depressed speaker, the struggling subject who carries the weight of ten-years-tory-rule.
Zero vibes just smart phones and stupid people I ain’t felt alright in a while now arguing with all the liberals and the tories it’s exhausting and the betting shop full of unofficially employed rudeboys is just the place for me
The blatant anti-talk that comes through in lines like “I’m done with the ism and schism / London is the problem; the city is Babylon”. The speaker is later solemn as a lobster, then slapped by the salmon sky and asking for repentance [tawba tawba]. We’re rushed into the collective in the following lines: We stan with the upriser against the usurper.
The vagrant poetics, the threaded tonal shifts, combine into the paradoxical space of less talk: a poetics of action and community.
We read a synthesis of styles and contents that make the book seem infinite in its replayablity. It’s a morphing mass of entanglement, one that is thematically haunted by colonialism and its continuing structures. The book occupies a space of ‘literatures’, rather than the narrow and impossible term ‘literature’.
Madness/\sanity from Foucault: ‘deep-seated regulations that structure and limit the creation of discourse’ in theory the number of things we can see and write about is infinite, but our statements, broadly our claims to knowledge in institutional frameworks, are limited by certain factors: for Foucault by Taboo, Madness/\Sanity and Institutional Ratification. We are constantly presented with the limitation of statements in Suburban Finesse [Let the sub/urban riotous/righteous run amok]. I feel the temptation to read “/” as “and” and “or” or “with” and “without”. The bracket provides a vivid fluctuation between multiple conjunctions and subjunctives that create a vast plain of open readings as well as heightening our focus on the fragmentation of language and its tendency to bear history.
This book envelopes a mastery of dissemination, an active restructuring of ratification and presence: ‘...we are the madness of the postcolonial inhabiting, transversing, haunting the imperial notion in rapid descent’.