SPAM DEEP CUTS 2020
【ＳＰＡＭ Ｐｒｅｓｓ ｐｒｅｓｅｎｔｓ： Ｄｅｅｐ Ｃｕｔｓ ２０２０】
Hey hey, it's the internet's favourite busiest poetry nerds back at your splash page, sizzling at the intersections between superhighway and rural broadband and LOOK it's nearly the end of 2020, wow. Despite the chaos and general awfulness of this year, spending more time online meant we had to take this whole '" ~ post-internet thing ~ "' even more seriously. Earlier in the summer, we launched SPAM Plaza as the name for our online reviews journal, which has now been running since 2018. We're really proud of all the amazing reviews, essays and SPAM Cuts that our contributors and editors have written over the past 12 months, and grateful for our expanding readerships for continuing to support us through engaging with the Plaza as well as the Press (not to mention podcast! - now that's a PPP you actually WANT to have in your life/society). Special thanks to all the incredible work from our fellow indie presses, anyone who hosted a reading and ofc all the brave souls who dared unmute themselves to read us their poems on Zoom.
As per tradition, we're bringing you a steaming hot platter of poetry faves from the last year, hand-picked from the IRL/ethereal interzones by our comrades and contributors. You can also read Deep Cuts from 2018 and 2019, should you wish to make longitudinal comparisons and so forth etc. Enjoy! 💦
Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel (eds), We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat)
As they say in the introduction, editors Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel ‘wanted work that articulates a keen fuck you, and even in the first-person singular, invites an imagination of collective social and political stakes’. Yes! So much fuck you the fuck you radiates from every page. Brecht said Dante’s Inferno was truly great because you could read it outside: I don’t know exactly what he means by this but I love it, and want to say the same about We Want It All. These poems defy claustrophobia and alienation, going for the paradiso of fuck you, the leaves of grass of fuck you, the king james version of fuck you, the descent of fuck you, behind the fuck you of capital, looking for fuck you, my emily fuck you, my walk with fuck you, fuck you and class consciousness, in fuck you of my feelings. But nothing like that, too. Everyone’s going to read it eventually.
— Luke Roberts
Sascha Akhtar, Astra Inclinant (Contraband)
'Reach my dizzy head'. This is an extraordinary book. It has its own tracings and constellations mapped out by Glitter Oracle aka Francesca Lisette, as well as the stellar scintillation of Akhtar’s language: 'I know the condition that ails men / A locked repository / That not even yourself / Has access to'. 'The sky is close enough / you can hear it breathing'. This is a polyphonic spiralling dream. 'I love Dream'. This is a book of rapture, but also of agency. It’s a book of displacement but also power. It’s a book of what Gloria Anzaldúa in Light in the Dark / Luz en lo Oscuro called 'putting our dismembered psyches and patrias (homelands) together in new constructions'. What does it mean to be astrally inclined? As Mei Mei Berssenbrugge says 'stars are holes in the dark; when I look at one, I go there; entity contact eases emotion' and as Sascha Akhtar says 'if there was a ceremonious night /who encountered it'.
— Colin Herd
J. R. Carpenter, This is a Picture of Wind (Longbarrow Press)
I first read This is a Picture of Wind in its digital-born form: set out in a grid structure, Carpenter captures the changing weather conditions of a series of winter storms which battered South England in 2014, through intimate, candid diary fragments. As I scrolled horizontally through the text, I was hyper aware of the environment’s shifting movement around me, as I’m given live weather updates and words on the screen rapidly change. There is a physicality to this work, and Carpenter creatively adapts this for the page in 2020: this collection felt like a necessary breath in the stagnant air of this year for me, demonstrating skilfully and beautifully how language can materially function to reflect physical feeling through different frames, merging the diary form, and found language alongside varying patterns of poetic form and tone on the page, sometimes offering a soundbite quality. I could feel a multi-layered weather force speaking to me, rather than a human voice: ‘a lull//a rumour//a hint//a scent//a quickening//a freshening//a keening’. It is refreshing to also feel that sense of multiplicity through the inclusion of other voices in the text: beautiful essays responding to Carpenter’s words by Johanna Drucker and Vahni Capildeo. This is a Picture of Wind builds up the everyday environment through language, moving away from seemingly complete and simple metaphor and abstraction, to reveal text as weather itself, held inside a pocket sized book.
— Kirsty Dunlop
Imogen Cassels, _VOSS_ (Broken Sleep/Legitimate Snack)
_VOSS_ is a slim pamphlet with an impossible magnitude of ideas and lyric desire. Styled after the Alexander McQueen collection where haute couture meets biological excess in uniquely mournful flair, these poems perform a similar feat with the line: 'all bone and grace', 'gory pantone meniscus'. It's movement visible on the surface and underneath the seam at the same time, imploring interlocutors to 'take the film off things, or maybe glaze, to catch them, / else they're not still enough'. My mind goes to Barthes writing that the poetics of garments consist of coenesthesia—the play of surfaces on skin, the tactile variations that make signification a possibility in the first place. The poems here come from that murky area of language, but Cassels populates it with unforgettable shards, matter commuting into artifice, a series of entire garments for living.
— Mau Baiocco
Eduardo C. Corral, guillotine (Graywolf Press)
The landscape in Corral’s poems – the Sonoran desert, 100,000 square miles of mountain and valley on the US-Mexico border – pulls in and out of focus, scenes from a bilingual fever dream. Tiny details emerge: orange wildflowers, cacti thorns, single drops of blood and grains of salt. So too do homogenous blurs, in which the ‘moon shivers’, with ‘lilac shuddering through ivory’. A thousand kinds of transfiguration recur, displacement inscribed on the body. A picked-at mole becomes a rosary becomes a scorpion; memories of home turn to food for an animal that ‘shimmies with hunger… shimmers with thirst’; a face perceived in the small of a lover’s back is ‘a mask’, yanked from the flesh – ‘I wear it often’.
— Cai Draper
Tom Crompton, Rapid House (Distance No Object)
‘make me a cluster / of life that’s bleating / I got that for you’: Tom Crompton’s book of garlanded resistance-songs channels debris from orchard to picket to leisure centre, flecking the ‘cosmic of / everything dull’ with foxgloves, ‘fluorescent / anti-aster’, and scarlet creepers. Rapid House is spun-out, blown-off, fucked-up on sound and ‘maggie’s bird gear’. Whether ‘shadowing / finch / from a / too small flat’ or ‘kicking about / a bomb of blue jays in my hood’, this poetry commits to continuing and listens to itself do so: ‘sounds are enough’, it declares, to push on with, stringing themselves on ‘autopilot’ into wreaths of uncompromising, tender and embittered lobbings, their enemies always in earshot – holding fees, bosses, ‘pig-cotton’. Alongside O’Sullivan, I hear Griffiths and Coolidge in Crompton’s ‘wheeling words’: he writes phrases like ‘crush gummies / military taxi’, ‘green dingo’, and ‘the tubby skipping moon’. To be read aloud outside while shirking.
— Tom Betteridge
Ellen Dillon, Excavate: Poems after Pasolini (Oystercatcher Press)
In Excavate, Ellen Dillon turns to Pasolini, going past the myth and right into the heaving textures and openings of one of the 20th century's most thoroughly political and uncompromising artists. If translation is a means of maintaining a conversation with the dead, then Dillon's Pasolini dissolves the easy possibility of nostalgia, opting instead to collide his work with both the post-industrial soundscapes of The Fall and Slint and their opposite—the introspective college rock of Wilco and R.E.M. The result is only loosely similar to any of its constituent parts (two worlds, truce / which we don't exist, scam that), becoming a kinetic record of protests and assemblies, walking home in the dark, full with love and disgust for the world: 'splintered with a thousand lives / mystery and misery / senses, make me enemies / shapes of the world.' — Mau Baiocco
Madeline Gins, The Saddest Thing is That I Have Had to Use Words, ed. by Lucy Ives, (Siglio Press)
In this remarkable volume of Madeline Gins’ poetry, prose and collaborative work, edited by Lucy Ives, lyric meets image, architecture, mathematics, conceptual art, everyday language, sonic excess and the body itself. From the Elizabeth Barrett Browning rewrite ‘How do I love Thee’, with its cheeky opening line, ‘Let me graph the ways’, Gins invites you into a world of plot, correspondence and the slippages enabled by ‘the margin of error’. ‘WORD RAIN’, the book’s centrepiece, is a hybrid affair of concrete poetics and elliptical essaying (think Chelsey Minnis’ Zirconia meets Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons) into the verbal terrain of an ‘undergoing’. I am drawn to Gins by her Beckettian penchant for the indeterminate (‘I’ve read enough. I’ll read more’), her knack for a crystalline phrase (‘Idlewild […] for the taxi strike’), her constant iteration of language’s materiality and the mischievous possibilities of poetry and fiction. Given 2020’s electoral drama, what better time to pick up the scatter-fire ‘What the President Will Say and Do!!’ and ponder the claim, ‘Nobody doesn’t want a president who is not a shaman’!
— Maria Sledmere
James Goodwin, ASPECTS CAUGHT IN THE HEADSPACE WE'RE IN: COMPOSITION FOR FRIENDS (Face Press)
For all it’s talk about ‘work’ capital always takes the line of least resistance. That’s Bonney. Resistance isn’t distance but has a relation to it, and this sequence of poems by James Goodwin is all about resistance, giving it, encountering it, the respiration needed to travel the loxodrome - which is not the shortest distance between two points on a sphere. These poems are taut, careful, and above all caring. They walk amongst baby’s breath, weave light and dark wool, develop a kind of asthmatic music with accidental tiny intervals. Like he says: 'we // love to be around the lows and / recessions almost have to // taste what the realness gets with its / aspects caught in the headspace // we’re in'. Right now because of COVID-19 recessions hardly matter, even GDP has become collectively irrelevant compared to the R rate. Still we can taste the uneven distribution of breath and pain in this world, and, yes, love too, where we are, in it. The lows and the lowly teach realness. As usual, Face and Earthbound Press have made a stunning object. The cover of each book is a frame from a 22 second video and the .gif gives a sense of the video clip they derive from, which looped in the background at Goodwin’s Arika reading. Check out the pamphlet’s playlist here.
— Rob Kiely
Dom Hale, Firewall (Distance No Object)
I feel Hale takes the expansive background atmosphere of tabulated online news and social media outlets, and shows us its eloquent, optimistic, despairing, potential for reinvigorating dissent. You will agree Hale was right to scorn Trump’s phantasm of a wall, but there is also plenty polemical here, to agree or disagree with. The effect is not unlike an enlightened poetic riposte to the far right populist media of Steve Bannon et al. In fact, that is exactly what it is. Hale’s ear and eye for language are also great in equal measure. It is recommended to listen along. Robert Frost wrote in ‘Mending Wall’: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That sends the frozen ground-swell under it.’ This lovely ground-swell of a poem appeared early in the year in a gorgeous monochrome cover.
— Michael Black
Will Harris, RENDANG (Granta)
As fulsome as the praise has been, I don’t think it’s captured what makes RENDANG feel so exciting. Partly it’s the intelligence at work in Will Harris’s prosody. The deftness with which snatches of rising rhythm suddenly emerge from prosaic (and prose) surroundings isn’t a case of 'showing you know the rules so you can break them', preached but not really practised by too many of mainstream British poetry’s more tedious elders, but part and parcel of how the book thinks through history. How far can we control or refuse the reproduction of the shared forms that we inherit, and how were they produced in the first place? It’s also, relatedly, exciting to see a book like this quietly but firmly document its own production: that Harris chooses to put, at the heart of that statement of intent expected of A First Collection, the precarious institutional conditions within which contemporary poems and poets circulate.
I wish this book had existed ten years ago, when I found myself essentially scared out of writing poetry: by a mainstream publishing scene that felt insubstantial and apolitical, but also by the smugly hermetic (and, yes, white) terms on which that critique was levelled by the loudest avant-garde voices. The shared work of complaint and calling-to-account on all sides which has gone into altering that is worth it for books like this – and it’s only just begun.
— Jack Belloli
Carolyn Hashimoto, The Chips are Down Here in Lockdown (OrangeApple Press)
Lockdown has been a flaming nightmare. Covid is a flaming nightmare. The government is a flaming nightmare. The state of the industry I work in is (arguably) a flaming nightmare. And what’s made me feel vaguely like there are still living breathing people who value life, creativity, chaos, is work like Carolyn Hashimoto’s The Chips are Down Here in Lockdown. When I read this weird, intense, thrilling ebook (made up of collages, texts, drawings, photographs, mini performances), I feel like I am a long dormant Twitter account that has just been rebooted. And in my newly rebooted state I’m here to comment slyly, slantedly on 'the times'... whatever the flame they are anymore. I want the people I love to live forever and forever. Why the hell should they have to die? This book makes me feel while I’m reading it that at least someone is on the same screen.
— Colin Herd
Wayne Holloway-Smith, Lasagne (Out-Spoken Press)
Lasagne is one of my favourite pamphlets out of those I read from the depths of April lockdown, loosed into the e-verse by Wayne Holloway-Smith & discovered via twitter via Out-Spoken press. It is an amuse-bouche for Love Minus Love, Wayne’s collection consequently released this year, but despite its fluffy pink baby-cow appearance the poems are dark, rich, delicious: the soup has tumours in it, the bowls are unwashed, the coffee is dirty. A horrible/incredible minced feeling as you read about the ‘shuddering lactose’ of a ‘used up cow’, poems about love offset by also being about slaughter. If the punchline is moo, what’s the joke? Meat-production, poetry-production... And milk one of those abject fluids you don’t want to think about too deeply: it leaks through the pamphlet curdling food-words into sticky defamiliarisation, especially in the conjoined twin words of ‘fatfat’ and ‘forkfork’. Something sad about the sickness of things: ‘you didn’t want this lifelife let’s pretend it’s happening anyway’, you ‘didn’t want this meal’ but you’ve been served.
— Rhiannon Auriol
Katy Lewis Hood and Maria Sledmere, infra·structure (Broken Sleep)
Created over the course of a year following an Association for the Study of Literature and Environment conference titled ‘A Place on the Edge?’ in Orkney, infra·structure by Katy Lewis Hood and Maria Sledmere is a ludic exploration of energies at work in what constitutes a world, and therefore, the space of a poem. A call-and-response of linking, navigating, shifting, and breaking instances of energy and industry, after-echoes reverberate from across the page, revealing new angles of the same, like alternate lifelines that hold other sounds, evoke other spaces. The vista of ‘Darkland’ is laid out before us, before being recalibrated from opposite ends of itself, a re-threading of meanings that seeks other energetic tendencies. ‘Torrent’ sees itself distilled to a becoming with water in a waterlogged and -logging world. In ‘Platform’, assonance is siphoned into lines that re-think acts of harnessing order, so that ‘and I grow numb with war […]’ becomes ‘numb substance love’, and so, with a flourish, encompasses all the enmeshment of context such a short line could possibly bear without breaking. While there is ‘always the energetic / question going backwards and backwards’ here, there is also ‘invitation / for tenders’, which makes this remarkable collaboration not mere manifesto or lamentation or elegy for the idea of a ‘world’, but transforms it into a playful, puckish dance with and amongst the forces at work that make such a world. This incredibly agile poetic experiment takes the experienced further on into the blue and below exponential surfaces—an elsewhere-note that delves into enmeshments of energy, environment, and the ultimate comedown of this Anthropocene.
— Loll Jung
Bhanu Kapil, How to Wash a Heart (Pavilion Poetry)
It’s incredulous that How to Wash a Heart is Kapil’s first full-length UK collection. This is a precarious long poem exploring the exhaustions of immigrant-guest-and-citizen-host logic. Like the ice surrounding the red, beating heart of the title, this book asks to be submerged, to be read through water and its vagabond flows. These transgressive subjects - detained, repatriated, occupied - give utterance to that violence which threatens to 'evolve / Beyond the limits of the human,' and ask us to reconsider the radical care and hospitality at the centre of creativity and survival. Like Kapil’s previous books, How to Wash a Heart invites us into conditional forms of migration and belonging, on the vulnerable body arriving but never the arrival, 'Because living with someone who is in pain / Requires you to move in a different way'.
— Jay G Ying
Rob Kiely, Simmering of a Declarative Void (the87press)
Nobody captures the demented cindering universe of late, racial and carceral capitalism quite like Rob Kiely, a master of the sly, iconic couplet: ‘which encapsulates space in crescendo, / suffusing the noosphere of the nearest Tesco’. Banal familiarity is folded into motion studies and the intensities of science-fiction — ‘Blog unrivalled spirit-sequencing’ In her blurb, Holly Pester describes Kiely’s scenes as ‘grotesques’; Fred Carter aligns them with Danny Hayward’s notion of poetry as self-defence. His sinewy lyric catalyses a negentropics of the possible against the claustrophobic expenditures of being a labouring body, uploading cognition to the administrative realm. The sequence ‘Killing the Cop in Your Head’ is like mainlining the breath percussion of Nat Raha’s poetics while zooming through the speculative glitchverse of Clouds’ LP, After the Eclipse (2018). This book launched on the 11th March, the day COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and the life&death dramas of 2020 are all here, preempted in the urgent nervous system of Kiely’s text: ‘fall is zoom / stitched to your skull / and leeched’ (‘How to Read’). In lieu of the easy deep-freeze of cynical irony, Kiely opts for a generous, intricate poetics of solidarity, reassembly, play, excess, contradiction and ascent to intimacy, survival and strength.
— Maria Sledmere
Daisy Lafarge, Life Without Air (Granta)
I was dreading the darkening nights of winter approaching when I received Life Without Air and here was the brightness I needed: many of these poems are so exact and so startling in their precision that to read them was like staring directly at the sun, and I had to take a breath and look away. Concerned with breath, air, and airlessness, the collection is a heady mix of scientific fact, dreamlike observations and a blend of characters, relationships and scenes which move around and inside airless states. Lafarge expands the notion of what life without air might entail, exploring Louis Pasteur’s observations and the emotional nuances of deep ecological thought. From the poem ‘ghosted’, where a 'love is too full of good bacteria', to clouds that 'are polyamorous’ in ‘parasite climax’ and the toxicity sequence of ‘Dredging the Baotou lake’, the blend of the human and non-human works at both the macro and micro level in Lafarge’s poems, creating what feels like an otherworldly environment. I also felt so emotionally close to the poems, particularly ‘‘How to Leave a Marriage’ in which Lafarge writes so perceptively about the airless space of entrapment in a toxic environment and the gasp for exit: ‘I walked past the bushes panting, I mean, the bushes were panting’. On each new reading of this collection, I can feel the immediacy of energy pulsing through the language, alongside a slow and deep vigour in thinking — I’m grateful for its continual reawakening of my own senses.
— Kirsty Dunlop
Jazmine Linklater, Figure a Motion (Guillemot Press)
‘Ekphrasis must be understood as coming back to, or through, the body’, Jazmine Linklater writes in an interview for MAI journal with Vahni Capildeo, as ‘[a]rtworks are events, and poems are events.’ Responding to art by Ruth Barker and Hannah Leighton-Boyce, Figure a Motion’s bodies never settle – pulsating and pressed upon, anticipatory, residual, and compromised – in relation and its conditions. Linklater’s poetics oscillate between the ‘stuff’ of composition and assembly – materials and their apparatuses, the ‘drying rack’, the ‘temporarily glued’ – and the kinetics of encounter, where ‘corners snagged sentences split sickly clovers slick juniper sticky’. Almost-repetitions and switching prepositions undermine the stability of body and work; we catch glimpses and parts of what might be recognisable figures, goddesses and myths, but also gendered labouring bodies and the circularity of scopic economies in concrete poem form. There’s sonic sparking aplenty in these ever-shifting proximities.
— Katy Lewis Hood
Dominic Leonard, Glib and Oil (Broken Sleep; Legitimate Snack)
This cut is, in part, a synecdoche for the entire Legitimate Snack series: the latest, joyous, righteous strategy in Aaron Kent’s ongoing campaign to collapse poetry and mutual aid into each other. In a year in which my happiest experiences of poetry have been the gifts and drafts and scratches that friends have shared in my inbox or on Zoom calls, these pamphlets read like attempts to create the nearest-possible publicly shareable version of that intimacy, and to give it loving material form.
But it’s an especially delightful theatre in which to overhear Dominic Leonard trying out all the ways he might throw his voice. In amongst his dreamscape of images, layered up like baroque impasto in a variety of cunning frames, ‘we rhyme because we are animals’ stood out as my line of the year: somewhere between a statement of fact and an enchantment, it’s a sentiment I never knew I deeply needed until I heard it.
— Jack Belloli
Lotte L.S., 'Happens in floating instances' (Self-published)
There are some poetry pamphlets I consider to be personal touchstones, in that they help to right the direction of a decision, or remind me of what might be true about this world. These are often the little A5 pamphlets that can fit into a breast-pocket, the ones that can sit close to your heart with ease. Lotte L.S.'s Happens in floating instances became one of those touchstones in the early days of 2020. A poem and post-script about the 'week spent together in constant daylight, in the spaces left behind' by the loss & absence of a revolutionary friend, it resounds against the utility that such loss may carry. '[N]ot everything must become “art,” / become “cause,” become transformed', yet still, 'something is happening / obvious / and somehow inexplicable' in the absent spaces we are left to live in. It is a poem that opens into the potentiality of uncertainty, delineating what a militant form of care may look like, and asks 'what could happen if we just left it alone?'. So when the light & tone & muchness of an absence strikes too hard against the walls of each day, I reach for this touchstone as ‘a perennial fuck-you to being scared of forgetting, to learning to live with it and by which learning to ignore it’.
— Kyle Lovell
Amy Mackelden and Dr Dylan Jaggard (eds), Anthology of Illness (The Emma Press)
I was excited when I came across The Emma Press’s Anthology of Illness, as it’s not often that a full collection is dedicated to the subject of disability and illness. And it didn’t disappoint! Edited by Amy Mackelden and Dr Dylan Jaggard and including an array of voices and themes – from the dehumanising effects of the medical encounter, to the nature of pain, and the frustration of living in a body that does not conform to societal norms – the collection explores the experience of illness from the patient perspective. Also included are a number of poems that position the patient as sexual agent, capable of desire – a subject that is very rarely touched upon, despite the fact that sick and disabled people are so often desexualised. For example, Sharon Black’s poem ‘The Problem With Good-Looking Oncologists’ describes how the speaker’s nipples ‘harden like winkles’ under the gaze of the clinician, whilst Marian Fielding discusses the traumatic implications of an intimate examination with a male doctor in her poem ‘Outpatient Appointment 11.40 a.m.’. For me, it is these poems in particular that make this collection an important contribution to the emerging fields of illness and disability poetry.
— Jane Hartshorn
nicky melville, ABBODIES COLD : SPECTRE : 01:10 (Sad Press)
These days everybody is writing about ghosts - how could we not? This poem, a sequel to ABBODIES (2017), goes for the gut, rescues entertainment from its alleged holders, the movie franchises. Every linebreak crackles. Technical virtuoso of the refrain, scrying the entrails of popular culture, nicky melville offers a concordance of warped coincidences, cracks our cultural geometries under the weight of capital’s vanishing point. David, who featured in the first instalment, is still homeless, and melville gives him two pounds to put him in his poem. Tom Betteridge is still probably melville’s dad. We all know that the conspiracies we live under and through are no less real for hiding in plain sight. Listen to his songs, read this book. 'the spectre / and spectators of fascism / are haunting the world / and the world is not enough / they want to go / to Mars as well // wtaf!'
— Rob Kiely
Nina Mingya Powles, Magnolia, 木蘭 (Nine Arches Press)
Nina Mingya Powles’s poetry makes me think of a plate of jewel-coloured fruit, sliced and delicately arranged by a mother for her child. Her care over language, its words, its characters, evokes the deft handling of the paring knife: precise, gentle, sharp, balanced. Magnolia木蘭 is graceful, thoughtful, yearning, dreamy. It inhales the scents and tastes of a diasporic slipstream; it parses the colours of heritage with an insight yielded from uncertainty: ‘Home is not a place but a string of colours threaded together and knotted at one end’. Here is a humane, mediated ecology, decorated (in the deepest sense) with the packaging of everyday items, with the patterns of aprons and tablecloths, low-lit by the phosphorescence of markets, shops, kitchens. It compels you to join its ‘almost dreams’ with the most gentle insistence. Beautiful petals fall…
— Rhian Williams
Nell Osborne, On Dog Perverts (self-published)
‘One effect of economic decline is impotent rage,’ Nell Osborne tells us, ‘another effect: the bourgeois pathos of dog perverts.’ On Dog Perverts is a lyrical manifesto against the affective spectacle Donna Haraway once called ‘caninophiliac narcissism.’ Where Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, & Significant Otherness claimed ‘dog-writing’ and its co-constitutive multispecies encounters as feminist theory, Osborne offers an anti-social turn on this same intersection of gendered, speciated, and mediated mattering: ‘the superlative good boy.’ Tonally, her work inhabits the shifting satirical register of Valerie Solanas or Hamja Ahsan’s militant feminist manifestoes, interspersing caustic barbs with moments of disarming vulnerability or weaponised introvert refusal. Tracing the abuse of loyalty and love from Homeward Bound to state-sanctioned canine torture of Abu Ghraib, the zine envisions the abolition of the family, the military, and the dog meme with equally affirmative aversion. Uncollared, On Dog Perverts demands only total disloyalty to the kennel and the forever home.
— Fred Carter
Richard Owens, Poems (BlazeVox)
Anyone who read Richard Owens’s No Class back in 2012 could see where things were going and know where they had been. It grappled with the contradictory demands of tradition and radical thought – call it rescue and critique – all of it animated in bear-hug prosody. This big book of Poems is as ferocious as it is tender: from border ballads to working-class punk, lines like bumperstickers and others like a chorus. The long 2018 poem Dead in the House of Pound (‘Opioid addiction / now as common as the flu’) is really the great totemic object of the ongoing American nightmare. It’s one of those books where you want to go ‘1234!’ before you open it, like you were the drummer in a band. Go get it.
— Luke Roberts
Eleanor Perry, Unspeakable Patterns of the House (Salò Press)
I guess it’s easier than ever to find language, to warp the poem with a glitch of vocabulary or borrowed syntax. Our strategies of estrangement get tired. But what Eleanor Perry does is much harder to pull off: these poems return to sensation, argument, thought. The spiky texture reminds me of Nat Raha and Francesca Lisette, and Mina Loy the mother of us all. I thought I knew what it was ‘about’ – a kind of kick against any vulgar logic of fate, from psychoanalysis to astrology to biology. But each time I read it something different happens, and what could be more pleasing: a living thing.
— Luke Roberts
T. Person, Cymbalism & Lemonade (SPAM Press)
‘nothing, wrapped in beeswax tunics’ T. Person’s debut collection spills from page to page, stopping, starting, beginning, ending, being and becoming and becoming what has been – ‘in katabasic time’. Person builds poems from blocks of letters before your eyes, piled higher and higher like pebbles. Using crisp lines, minimalist stanzas, cascading tercets nestling in corner of the page, Person’s poetry is completely concrete; to be absorbed through the osmosis of a myriad of cells, words as particles, words as raindrops, words become letters ‘cl ump ing like mussels’ and smelling of the sea. Words play with one another, making music as they bounce like atoms, moving forwards and back
a pigeon walks by the church the church sits on the hill the hill is chained to other hills the hills circle the city the city stays up all night
and left wanting more and more and more.
— Meredith Grace Thompson
Pratyusha, bulbul calling (Bitter Melon)
Bulbul calls from lightly tangled branches; ‘dark, seamed, watering dreams’, seep through Pratyusha’s exquisitely poised ruminations on synchronicities and porosity. Between what is mapped, and what is vaporised in a breath, is a scent on still air. This gorgeous pamphlet is sensual, heady, immersive, but it is incisive, melancholy, serious. Its finely balanced forms, its couplets, ghazals, its typographical accents, flecked paper, sewn construction: all of this is a sensory intervention. In 2020, this pamphlet startlingly probes disordered seasonality, witnesses the ‘open shrines, open wounds’ at the shore. This ‘island nation’ has so much to learn.
— Rhian Williams
J. H. Prynne, [All the Prynnes] (Face Press/Critical Documents/Legitimate Snack)
We have this plant – I think it’s a tradescantia – and at some point over lockdown I moved it from one end of the bookshelf to the other, a little more light. Now it takes us by surprise, throwing out new shoots with rapid abandon: that’s what it does. What’s to say about this year’s abundant crop of pamphlets from J.H. Prynne? Each one like a gift, entirely, month-by-month in definite space. From the chalk-light prose of Memory Working to the sweating Shakespearean duets of The Fever’s End, flickering sense comes through, definite, like signals beamed back from somewhere up ahead, a seam in the meridian. I have this recollection of something Prynne said once, at a talk he gave in Sussex. It went like this: if you put two words next to each other, something happens. But when you add a third, sometimes you make a string of new language, a new combination, and now you’re in the future. Maybe I dreamed it? But it feels true, reading these half-dozen books, encountering ‘sleeping cypress cordon’ or ‘coral precision choral aim’: fierce joy in a dark time.
Now all that needs to happen is for someone to bundle them together in a single affordable volume, no gimmicks, no frills.
— Luke Roberts
Nat Raha, 'Four Dreams' (Earthbound Poetry Series)
Nat Raha’s short text was published in September this year by Earthbound Press, as one in a series of beautiful risograph-printed pamphlets by experimental poets. Language is cut loose here, as in a fever dream, we are cut free from reference points, from subject and object, and Raha’s language moves front and centre. We are offered a language riven through by ‘the scope of the traumatic’, by marks of violence, and surveillance, against which the poet must work towards new ways of speaking honestly. Following Raha, we see that poetry must search, through this work, for a ‘circular / clearing’, or a ‘barricade’, within which to momentarily regroup.
— Dylan Williams
Nisha Ramayya, Notes on a Means Without End (Earthbound Poetry Series)
‘I’m tired of being transcendental subject; cansei de ser sexy like what if we just stop’. What if refusal of bounded individualism and erotic performance was something like listening to CSS’ debut LP, Cansei de Ser Sexy (2005) in the sensuous vorticity of the POV of the note itself, spiralising through all the time wage labour stole from you. A kind of oceanic striptease of the sonic (un)conscious. What if this wasn’t metaphor but the actual sense of ‘Let’s not end up where we are now’, wobbling ‘the jelly that isn’t ready’, the ‘anterior formlessness’ of our poems as politics. “I’ve been listening to nothing but spiritual jazz in lockdown,” a friend says, and I imagine a whole house, a planet where Alice Coltrane reverberates in the bones of all that architecture, all that earth, all that beauty (in Fred Moten’s words). These are the kind of material swerves and conjurings Nisha Ramayya inspires in this ‘essay’ (yeah I know it’s Deep Cuts but who am I to be the poem police; there are line breaks in this, rhythm and music, it’s also a poem! – plus I saw it performed in part at Just Not back in February) which was the inaugural volume of the brilliant Earthbound Poetry Series. What if the note was a word, and the word could be ‘fuck’, or ‘EXPRESSES’, ‘vajra’…or better yet — no wait, I want this review to be as continuous as this pamphlet feels! ‘Say it again, say yeah, say those words I heard you whisper’: Ramayya takes you through an intimate, braided thought-tour of her experience of Arika’s Episode 10: A Means Without End, held at Tramway in Glasgow in November last year. Better than any conference report or gig review I’ve ever read, this essay-poem (appropriately ‘still in progress’) is a richly alert and generative response to what gravitational feel, entanglement and mathematical infinity might actually feel like as a mode of study, practice, gesture, intimacy and relation. Given how 2020 panned out, I’m just aching for this kind of declaration: ‘Beautiful friends, let’s hold hands and sing: “Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze!”’
— Maria Sledmere
Luke Roberts, Inhalers (Equipage)
Luke Robert's output over the past few years has been essential for imagining what the best possible vocation available to poets right now might be: militant, generous, open to being remade in an instant of tenderness or solidarity. Inhalers is the most recent pamphlet of Robert's diaristic and occasional verse, covering the period up to this past spring and being a meditation on strikes, nature, everyday doubt, the dawn chorus, and 'all that twee shit / another season / waiting for the poets to remember how to do it'. The words here are much more than a holding pattern however, and in 'Ventolin' (a landmark early poem of the pandemic) the pastoral trappings come off: 'keeping vigil's what I said / to the damage / and fuck a Virgil.' Inhalers encounters the quotidian but its problematic is that of the general strike, and out of this year's catastrophes it commits to imagining 'the total break / but not like that / and not like this.'
— Mau Baiocco
Vik Shirley, Corpses (Sublunary Editions)
Shirley has created an entire ecosystem of (non-)meanings through the cadavers that populate this engrossing pamphlet. It begins: ‘Corpses dangled from hanging-basket hooks around the village.’ The plainness of the language and its matter-of-fact tone continue through the twenty-nine prose miniatures that follow. Although they are grotesque and at times disturbing (in a Sandford/Stepford kind of way), they are also lol:
The mortician made an excuse and left the room when the family came to view the corpse. For the deceased’s friends had thought he was sleeping and had written DICKHEAD on his forehead in permanent marker.
Corpses saturate the book so that the term loses its referents, to the point where almost (almost) any word could suffice as its substitute. Here, language starts to eat itself and the book becomes more about the corpse of meaning than the meaning of corpses. Look out for Vik’s forthcoming collection with HVTN.
— Cai Draper
Jaye Simpson, it was never going to be okay (Nightwood Editions)
Every moment of each page is considered, like masterfully plated food. Each movement is deliberate, each space is perfectly timed with a floating musicality. Not shying away from the painfulness of the indigenous trans experience in the colonized Canadian west, Simpson asks with heartbreaking clarity
do you think they too are eavesdropping? (our ancestors i mean) do you think they understand why their kin speak their abusers’ language?
Moving with seamless agility through forms, Simpson shares stories of the colonised, the fetishised, and those who have been made to disappear, bringing them forward to be seen. And heard. With warmth and with joy. Jaye Simpson is a gift.
thud thud////thud thud /—/ thud thud /—/thud thud // let’s begin.
— Meredith Grace Thompson
Maria Sledmere, Chlorophyllia (OrangeApple Press)
The world Maria creates with her writing is one I could live in & live in & still have my breath taken. There is something slippery-universal in the liminal spaces these poems take you – with subtle references to Björk, Grimes, Keats, Barthes & Hamlet, the ‘known’ is made strange through orthography, who goes “there”. There is no there there. It’s true; I’m a simp for alchemies of theory, technology & the neo-natural, installing us softly…flower data. A lot of the poems in this pamphlet will lead you over a cliff & into the waters of an icy experimental, ending with simply a ‘this’ or ‘and only’ – edging us. Emote Anthology. Emotional Topiary. Low Quality Lovely Broadway: ...You are someone who reads. An affectionate synaesthesia moves through language to find us teenage as bird song, listening to that four tet track, lying among the shameplant, crying, but carrying on. Anyway, here’s the emoji bouquet I would use to describe these poems: 💚 🐍🔌 🥀 Be subscribed… xxx
— Rhiannon Auriol
Maria Sledmere and Rhian Williams (eds), the weird folds: everyday poems from the anthropocene (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)
This is an open manifesto. It lightly unfolds for us, the nature of all those weird challenges of perceiving and defining the Anthropocene, for want of a better word. Proposing a poesis that we need for the contemporary everyday, it also shows sensitivity to the environmental future. There are three rich courses of poetry here. I wonder about preparing some tasting notes. Pratyusha’s poem about seasonal doubt leads me to reread Callie Gardner’s’ Naturally it is not (2018), their treatise on dispelling the structural determination of the year according to seasons. Yet that scarcely covers this volume’s resonance for twenty-first century poetics and theory. This volume from Dostoevsky Wannabe is praised on the back cover by the inimitable CA Conrad. It comes with a very sharp preface from the editors, Maria Sledmere and Rhian Williams, and an enticing foreword from Timothy Morton. The poetic episodes come wrapped in a fluorescent olive green cover.
— Michael Black
Verity Spott, Hopelessness (the87press)
Hopelessness ranges through an assemblage of forms, from poetry through prose to dramatic dialogue. The language is poised, difficult and addictive. The text is coursed through by exhilarating questions of interconnection and loneliness, violence and care, purity and compromise, transformation and loss, spell and edict:
My spores, my spore, my announcement pure strong, I am, and determined. I am a life in the service lifts I form, from a lilting dream in the rising and falling dreadstate I am new, made up and trusting.
Spott is a political poet, and the tragedies of the real world are present in this poetry, truly. Yet the social is present as but one linguistic element in a larger compound metaphysics, suffused by and bound up into a language that holds resolute potential for care and tenderness. A language that can spore and break free momentarily, to suture our world.
— Dylan Williams
Laurel Uziell, T (Materials)
In T, Laurel Uziell presents a remarkable document of anti-testimony against the sheer glum fuckery of legalese and the ‘vulgar naturalistic materialism’ that undergirds the violence of transphobic rhetoric. Wandering through an intricately awkward sprawl of lyric-cum-citational-cum-essay, T composes itself into an open-ended enquiry of ‘nature’, binge-eating smarties, and Mumsnet. With a confidence that never settles into a singular position that can be pinned to a binary system, the pamphlet quick-shifts between dialogues from the nineteenth century Rebecca Riots into lyric notes on how everyday state surveillance violently restricts the safety and survival of trans bodies:
Captive in semblance: the body cam pro- truding inwards, there is the image of a shattered contradiction cuts the lungflesh just across the edge.
With lines like these, brightly furious and absurd in (un)equal measure, T is a vital interjection against the reductive hatred faced by a vulnerable community - my community - that I was deeply grateful for when I first read it in April. After this hellish year and all that’s come of it, I’m even more grateful now, even if I wish I didn’t have to be...
— Kyle Lovell
Kaiya Waerea and Jane Hartshorn, In the Sick Hour (Takeaway Press)
Published as a digital pamphlet mid-pandemic, In the Sick Hour explores ‘how to write a poem in crip time’, attending to the shapes, rhythms, and opacities of living/writing with chronic illness but also questioning the normative temporalities of (re)productivity as a social demand. Some poems seem to loop – a word or phrase from the beginning returning at the end – yet what happens in between is ‘knot’ and ‘burl’ and ‘snarl’, the folding and warping of embodied time. ‘Bed Rest’ poems of acute sensation are interspersed with rhizomatic poems connecting bodily processes to insects and plants, at once metaphorical and co-existent. In the final poem, a manifesto after Dodie Bellamy, Waerea and Hartshorn imagine a world where ‘[e]veryone will co-write their own medical history, a document that will allow for metaphor.’ The appended body of correspondence between the authors delves brilliantly into the politics and poetics of legibility, apology, waiting, and rest.
— Katy Lewis Hood
Samantha Walton, Bad Moon (SPAM Press)
Samantha Walton’s Bad Moon reads like an incantation of sorts, an uncanny glimpse into an unrecognisable future, a ghostly harbinger of the climate crisis. Unravelling in the wake of an unspecified ecological disaster, the sequence of poems places the reader in a shifting landscape of disorientating features, where rocks burst into flames and the sun is ‘alive behind the glass’. This is a place where even the body becomes unfamiliar, morphs into something else; ‘my insides / slipped / my everything / on fire’, echoing the gooey insides of the shoal of mackerel the ‘I’ of the poem finds washed up on the shore. In this distorted reality, where ‘it is far too late for metaphors’, and where reason and explanation have failed (the ‘suit man on the news’ no longer imparts his wisdom), divination and ritual are the only means of interpretation. Lines like ‘I place three stones into my mouth / wait for the words to form’ and ‘I have learnt / to read the skin / the scattered rash / staining the flesh / with ugly tears / like cirriform’ point to the inadequacy of language, and the failure of the old systems of meaning to make sense of this broken world. My favourite pamphlet of 2020!
— Jane Hartshorn
Alli Warren, Little Hill (City Lights)
‘Are feelings tactics? can emotional life be radicalized? can / I sweep away their ideology? what will be left?’ This pocket-sized book asks mammoth questions at the scale of something held in the hand: a phone placed intimately upon another phone to charge, a ‘fresh coffee’. This is solidarity enjambed with riff, ‘plunder culture’, sensuous imagination and lush (dis)orientation. Circling ‘the cognitive hill’, riffing on a unique ‘Moveable C’, Warren’s speaker articulates tenderness, pleasure and residue intimacies in the midst of ecocide, police brutality, racial capitalism and all ‘compelled paid labour’: ‘I lay into the fragrant air and kiss your little windows lid / by lid’. The imagery is startling, questioning; poised between survival’s unequal struggle for breath and the genuine jouissance of lyric assertion against capital’s cheap reproductions: ‘Let this life be more than / An apparatus for producing an ever-greater quantity / Of feelings, of shoes’.
— Maria Sledmere
DISCLAIMER: The works of some SPAM editors and publications seem to have crept into this list, entirely at the independent whims and tastes of our contributors. 🐙😬🤪🥰🐸
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