Forest Fires & Foxgloves

Forest Fire

Today is inside a glass box
Hanging from a crane above concrete

I am not sure if this tree
Is a hologram

This severed stump
Pouring brown ivy down like blood

Or the emerald cobwebs
On the abandoned boathouse

Which look like the Whatsapp message
You read but didn’t respond to

And if I start a forest fire
Will it all burn down to roots

Or just spark and then fizzle out
Like headphones in the shower

 

Foxgloves

the foxgloves
outside my kitchen
window are so
tall that every
time i make toast
i see a person
in my periphery
and am a little bit
surprised to find this
topsy turvy plant which
grows up from the stem
but seems to bloom down
and wears a dress of purple
castanets that make me think of
you.

 

 

credit: the image at the top is a wonderful painting by angie wright i just found by googling foxgloves which you can find here 🙂

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How Poetry Died

For those who don’t know me in real life – I’ve been unemployed for a little while now since returning from India, looking for work and somewhere to live in London. I’ve had a handful of interviews already, and hope to have some good news on this front soon. But in the evenings, after I’ve spent my day drinking double strength coffee and slavishly refreshing indeed.com, I’ve been working on another task, one equally heroic though considerably more pointless. Like a modern day Sisyphus, slowly pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, I have been – yes – trying to clear out my Steam library.

Call it the one benefit of having too much time and not enough money: I’ve been trying to get through the long list of games I’ve purchased on digital game market Steam, but never found the time to actually play. Every adult with a Steam account probably knows that vaguely depressing feeling of scrolling through your games library and realizing you’ve never even installed half the titles in it. You feel like you’ve become just another cog in the wheel of cultural capitalism, a victim of market psychology: ‘Oooh, it’s half price – wouldn’t it be stupid not to buy it?’ But, inevitably, you never find the time to play through that copy of Grand Theft Auto 2 which was marked down to 60p.

A culture of consumption

Of course, we know why this is happening. The people who run digital markets like Steam, Playstation Store and Amazon are masters of sale psychology. Limited time deals, wishlists and free trials tap into a particular part of the brain, and lead us into purchasing decisions we might not otherwise have made. It doesn’t make any difference to the platform holders whether we actually play the games or watch the movies we buy, so long as we’re spending money on them. (As a side note: anyone who wants to learn more about how corporations advertise to you should watch this fascinating Youtube video on the six principles of persuasion.)

We can see it in the world of music, too. I’ve sometimes caught myself listening to an album for no more than twenty minutes before abandoning it forever, for the sole purpose of logging it on music database rateyourmusic.com, a website where I have rather obsessively ranked almost 2000 albums on a scale of 1-10. As someone who writes critically about music, it can certainly be a useful tool for keeping track of everything I listen to. But there’s definitely an element of fetishizing the sheer quantity of music that enters into my ears, without giving it the critical attention it deserves. And even more perverse is game database backloggery.com, which I recently stumbled across, where users spend large amounts of time creating detailed lists of all the games they haven’t had time to play. Instead of, y’know, actually playing them.

“This is the reason why poetry is pretty much dead in 2018”

I think this trend towards a culture of consumption, which has probably been happening since the industrial revolution, is accelerating faster than ever now that online stores make it so easy to purchase media. And I also think this is the reason why an artistic medium like poetry is pretty much dead in 2018, or has at least lost a great deal of its cultural relevancy. A book of poetry doesn’t have a runtime, or a clear beginning and end – it gives out as much as you’re willing to put into it. It requires patience and space to think, both of which are in short supply in the digital age. And it isn’t easily qualified or ranked. In short: you can’t consume it quickly and throw it away.

And poetry is also almost completely removed from technological advancements, which have been at the heart of culture throughout the 20th and 21st century. Film, games and music have all developed alongside the technology that powers them, taking us from rudimentary projections, Pong and Kraftwerk to 4K displays, virtual reality and an electric organ made entirely out of furbies. OK, whether that last one is an evolution or a monstrosity might be up for debate. But regardless, these mediums are the ones that have remained, or become, relevant to contemporary culture (by which I basically mean popular and financially viable) because people want progress. And in the digital era, technology is progress.

“We’ll still be able to write poems in the dirt with our mutated, radioactive fingers.”

I went to a poetry workshop in Bath a few weeks ago titled ‘Publishing Your Poetry’, which was hosted by a small publisher called Burning Eye Books. One of the things that struck me the most was when the speaker made a very casual comment that there was ‘absolutely no money in poetry’, and that none but the one or two biggest publishers do better than barely staying afloat. Of course, I never expected I would make any money from writing or publishing poems I’d written, but I was surprised to hear just how bleak the business reality is.

Perhaps that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. Everyone who works on the publishing side of poetry does it purely as a labour of love, and for the sake of the art. Likewise the people who still feel the urge to write poems in 2018. If poetry is dead, maybe it can live an afterlife where it serves as an antidote to the culture of consumption which surrounds contemporary art? One which exists outside the whirlwind of reviews, sales figures, fame, twitter controversy, and – yes – steam sales. And even if that never comes to pass, we can at least take comfort in this thought: when Donald Trump and North Korea lead the world to an inevitable nuclear apocalypse and all human technology is destroyed, we’ll still be able to write poems in the dirt with our mutated, radioactive fingers.

Petrichor – a poem

Today is a rainy day and I’ve been lying in bed writing a little poem i quite like and wanted to share soooo…here you go

Petrichor

I can smell the pensive rain
And its name is my favourite word:
A cleansing acid, a watering can
Applied to a dry brain
Or the feeling of relief
Which the storm brings in:
Being excused from everything
Outside
And only leaving boot prints
In the oversaturated earth
Of my thoughts.

The Surface of Mercury

Here are some more poems from the collection I finished writing last summer, The Night and the Moth. I’ve been rereading all of them recently and I think they’re probably not modern or consistently high quality enough to be published, so instead I’m going to pick out some more of my favourites and post them here for anyone who’s interested. I’m currently working on another collection that I hope will be more cohesive called Pet Names for Music, in which each poem emulates the rhythm, mood and subject matter of a different album that’s been important in my life. In the meantime, here are some earlier poems about: seasons, planets, Brexit, Youtube, and having an anxiety attack. I’d love to hear any thoughts people have in the comments below.

The Surface of Mercury

Expose the cratered face of cold battery –
The weird terrain of cobbled paranoia
The shadowless plains of anhedonia
To the comet-laden sky.

Blasted at every step in silence –
Without an atmosphere to carry sound
The history of that gouged and glass-sharp ground
Can never be told.

The magma chamber is dormant.
Fireless and full of holes
With secret sheets of ice beneath the poles,
Resigned to an orbit both endless and lifeless.

A day lasts longer than a year –
The side that faces the blistering heat of the sun
Is an arid lunar desert, while the one
Opposite knows no warmth.

And all it knows for comfort
Is a blanket of airless blitzkrieg
As constellations of meteors descend
Upon the surface of Mercury.

 

Persistence

In Spring, the stem grows tall
And gathers power
In the rain.

In Fall, a beautiful thing
Does not flower
But sustain.

 

The Surface of Venus

The Romans thought they had seen
The surface of Venus in the night sky.
All they had seen was the skin.
All they had seen was the toxic orange cloud
Rocking with nine-branched Protean lightning:
They named it for their God of beauty.
When Gallileo first set eyes on Venus
And saw the cloud of dust through a telescope
He dreamed of seas and rainforests beneath.
But Venus held her mystery like a wet towel
And dared us to dream.
When we finally penetrated that dark mystery
And gazed upon the surface of Venus
There was nothing but rock.

 

Wrong Way Time

The promise of the superhuman
Circulates inside an empty room:
A body of bleach with silky skin
In a battery-acid tomb
And prosthetic lips that part to pose
A coiled up, cobra question:
Am I looking at the screen or my reflection?
COMMUNITY / ETERNITY / DEPENDENCE

The absence of a phantom limb
Craves the itch that it can never scratch
Nerves light up in halogen
Make every sense detach
And fill the lungs with septic breath
As venomous as spores:
Does the mind go blank while the sightless eyes explore?
ILLUSION / INVASION / AMPUTATION

The image pulls me out again
On a whispering riptide of streaming video
Avalanching everything
In drifts of pixel-glow
But if I turn the monitor off
And choose to hear the chime
Can I escape the flow of wrong way time?
LIKE / COMMENT / SUBSCRIBE

 

Independence

In the morning after the referendum
I walked through Bristol city centre
Making my way to work.
English flags were spilling from open windows
Like gargoyles, stately and foreboding.
But were they flying for exile
Or independence?
And should we call it freedom
This vote that leaves the nation
Isolated and divided in one fell swoop?
And now that unspoken histories of class and race
Have bubbled to the surface
How can we regroup?
How can we reconcile the anger and the difference between

Those who voted remain, but want to leave
A legacy of unity that’s bound
Like winding threads in a weave

And those who voted leave, but want to remain
An island of ignorant, bordered bliss
Like a child’s birthday party in the rain?

Anxiety Attack

Start
My eyes are inside
Out whats the matter with
Me were you whispering
Saw you were whispering
Break
My fingers scratch and
Shake don’t look at me
Saw you were looking
Can’t stop itching
Break
Can only hear my
Fear it shakes like
Bass it bursts and
Splits my eardrums
Break
I’m staring into
Space and I can’t see past my
Thoughts and I’m trying hard to
Breath but it just keeps
Going and I can’t stop
Twitching and you all keep
Talking I can hear you
Talking I can hear you
Break
My mind just isn’t
Right don’t feel
Safe can we
Leave I’m sorry
Break
Just need to be a
Lone
My mind feels like a
Stone
And it sinks beneath the waves

Break

The Fairy Fountain (some more poems)

Here’s a couple more poems from my collection The Night and the Moth which I recently finished, and wanted to share. The first is about dreams, memory, and The Legend of Zelda. The second is a mirrored sonnet I wrote after going to the Tate Modern and seeing a bunch of Rothko paintings. And the third is about…sex, pretty much. Enjoy. For the rest of the poems I’ve posted to The Wooden Man, click here.

The Fairy Fountain

A wall of water is running down
To a marble turquoise pool.
A pilot star encircles
Sheets and sheets of memories
Stacked in rows like server farms
With tiny blue lights
All these tiny blue lights…

Remembering is a cloud save:
The corners get rubbed away
And leave the outline
Malleable like flesh or javascript.
When it waterfalls into life
It keeps me up at night.
It keeps me up for hours.

It cups the sift of selection
And everything we think is lost
Is only saved in suspension:
Passing on through each new century
Like the wisdom of the old Great Deku Tree
And breaking in a flood
That bursts the dam.

Like on the cusp of dreaming
When I can feel forgetting
Gauze and glowing…
Take me to the fairy fountain.
Quickly, quickly:
Before it pounces
Come in, and light the torches.

 

Seagram Murals

Rothko’s Seagram Murals were hanging,
Hind-legs coiled, in a dim mahogany
Corner of the Tate Modern,
Beckoning like a campfire.
My breath made red mist
At the door of that vermilion room,
Diffusing into the petrified cold of museum air con,
Adding layer upon layer to six sharp, thick frames.
But then, playing at their crooked games
With all the downy violence of a swan
A herd of children burst into the gloom
And monolithic thoughts are all dismissed.
– Should I be grateful when they come
To disturb my doom of purple?

 

While You Beat a Tambourine

I want to
Bathe in your fleshes melt
And suffocate in smoke
I am your bodies belt
The darkness is your cloak
And tiny fish are swimming
In pools among your feet
You crush them all while grinning
And splash inside their meat.

When honey lips surround you
They sip your midnight ink
When stars wrap rings around you
They sparkle mercury-pink
And all the slaves are raising
A temple inside touch
They set a fire blazing
But the fire burns too much.

The body needs its heat
But the hand recoils away
That bitterness turns sweet
When the night engulfs the day
And all our bones begin to mesh
Into one bony dream:
I bathe inside your flesh
While you beat a tambourine.

i write poems.

Yup. I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, and just yesterday I finished a big project that I’ve been working towards for about six months, and wanted to share. I’ve edited and collected all the best poems I’ve written (about 60 of them) into a collection titled The Night and the Moth which I’m going to attempt to shop around to some publishers. The collection is split into three chapters – The Night and the Moth, Secret Names and Waveforms – and comprises probably about six years of writing all together.

I’m well aware that poetry is pretty much a dead medium in 2017 and is mostly read by other poets, but I did this because it was important to me and because it brought me pleasure, solace and sometimes power in the process of creation. It would mean a lot to me if anyone else got some kind of pleasure from reading, so I’m posting a few selections here for people to read. Can post more in the future if people enjoy them 🙂

 

Being Ill is Comforting

Being ill is comforting
Like stillness after a bell.
Mind retires, murmuring
– Go tend to body’s shell.

Lost inside a game of chess
Against the evening air
You’ve all the time to convalesce
Into another’s care.

Sickness holds its honey sway
And empties out the port
Making space to put away
Ecologies of thought.

While wet beneath a sweat-stained sheet
Body’s ships are whispering
That there is pleasure in that heat
And being ill is comforting.

 

Ravens

Do ravens see
Eyes gleam blue?
Shrine a hipbone
Tomb it in with me:
Each curve to carve
Swooping through
A spear inside the tree.
I nest my own
And reap when sparrows starve
Harp the neck and hush:
When it sleeps
It sleeps in me.
When it speaks
Open throat to thrush
Claim and call my name
Nothing, nothing, nothing
But the sound and smell of rain
And when it
Comes down on the concrete
All the bony vermin scatter
Softly through the storm and sleet
Kissing a firecracker
Whipped up in a gripping mist
Slowly this tsunami
Everything in negative
And ravens all around me

 

Empathy

Empathy is a forked fox-quick that stalks
With padded paws – down to pace upon
Thought and snout, stumbling
There upon truths:
A panoply of golden garbage cubes.
Empathy makes a hoard-tail flick and
Flash of red rubied
Eyes in darkness:
Hunger of a stomach rumbling.
Carcasses lead nose, lips and dreams
Outside the self – down towards
Shelter, and a fox-fast savannah where the
Sun-baked sand sleeps.
But I never find the source of the tracks that play
Their distant, endless music in that desert of dry clay.

 

Pear

Happiness is a pear
With a cold, inviting skin
If left too long in the air
It shrivels and grows thin.

But if you sip too soon
At a cup of unripe joy
Your mouth becomes immune
To the sweetness you destroy.

 

I Know the Reason

I know the reason why the heron
Sleeps inside its neck
And orange flowers camouflage
The cricket’s singing-speck

I know the reason why the river
Murmurs in the night
And shimmering birds make silhouettes
In beams of purple light

I know the freedom of the forests
Secret habitats
And hidden among their leaves I find
One hundred hanging bats

And I know the reason why the rain
Still falls on the silver sea
But to tell the reason why would stain
Elemental privacy.

 

A Feline Flame

There is a feline flame
That moves in me some nights
A fox upon the snow
Which feasts upon the sights
Of memory’s half-painted gallery.

There is a frozen stag
Which paws among the roots
Of gnarled and crooked trees
With gnarled and crooked fruits
For anything to salvage.

There is a quiet thought
That wrestles with the locks
My fox becomes a stag
My stag becomes a fox:
There are two kinds of love.

Why All Music Criticism is Shit (an ode to Lester Bangs)

(If you read this whole article, I love you. Mwah)

A Legendary Critic

I’ve just finished reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of music criticism, scattered notes and other pieces of writing by Lester Bangs. For anyone who hasn’t heard of him, Lester Bangs was an American rock critic from Detroit who basically wrote the idea of punk rock into existence. He was an alcoholic, nihilistic, typewriter-trashing madman who was touting the Stooges and the Velvet Underground as a revolution in music while everyone else in the sixties was busy writing them off as too silly, too amateur, and too gay (they soon came around). Bangs was the kind of guy who saw through the bullshit mythology of rock music and could tear it down in an instant, but likewise was talented enough to write whole new mythologies that glorified noise, energy, and not giving a fuck about anything at all.

He was completely unique, and his writing style seems to me almost shocking in how it dares to approach music criticism with actual personality and, you know, a sense of humour. In retrospect it makes so much of today’s music writing look codified and predictable: too cool, and trying too hard. A typical Lester Bangs piece would begin as a straight out review or interview or whatever his poor editor had tried to wrangle him into. But it would quickly devolve into a digression from the tangent of a digression: ten pages in you’d find yourself reading an elaborate fantasy in which Bangs imagined himself eating Elvis Presley’s corpse and transforming himself into Elvis, then segwaying into a psychedelic essay on the power of celebrity, taking a detour through the history of jazz music from the perspective of Jack Kerouac, and then ending with a flourish by returning to the album in question: “Oh yeah, it’s pretty good. You should go buy it.”

Lester Bangs was not afraid to embarrass himself, which is just about everything he stood for in music, too. Sometimes his rants and detours go so far off the rails that its a wonder they were ever published (and a fairly extensive ‘unpublishable’ section in this book shows just how much wasnt). But this is what makes his writing style so electric and alive even forty odd years after the fact: nobody else could jump so carelessly from anecdote to fantasy to wild opinion with no care for structure or pacing. His whole life is like an unclosed parenthesis. And half the time Bangs seems so buzzed off his nuts on drugs and cheap wine that he probably couldn’t even remember the last page he wrote, let alone edit it for quality. He writes with pure, uncensored and unedited passion, the kind that makes you want to listen to every single record he reviews.

There are some absolute gems in this collection. Firstly there’s the review of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks where Bangs approaches the album with all the reverence of a Sacred Text shining into his life like a vision, ending by comparing the lyrics to the title track with a Fernando Garcia Lorca poem in a manner as casual as it is revelatory. Then there’s the review of the Stooges’ Fun House which grows into a ‘program for mass psychic liberation’ over the course of 22 incredible pages. There’s the hilarious story ‘John Coltrane Lives‘ in which Bangs recounts a particularly strung out acid trip where he stole a friend’s saxophone, then chased his terrified landlord around her apartment blaring out bum notes before being arrested by local police. There’s the brilliant Kratwerk interview where Bangs asks them about groupies and drugs, and they respond by explaining behavioural modification through technology and the morality of experimental music. And then there’s the lengthy piece where Bangs goes on tour with The Clash and reports on the British punk scene from the inside out, which is a fascinating historical and personal document.

In between these moments of brilliance there are inevitably some passages where Bangs’ unedited, rambling style gets the better of him. One in particular finds him reviewing some shitty TV-guide B-movie called Teenagers From Outer Space, devolving into a fifteen page rant about…something that is borderline incomprehensible. But that’s part of the appeal of Lester Bangs in the end: the sense of having no filter and absolutely no restraint. It’s both his superpower and his kryptonite.

https://i2.wp.com/hipquotient.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/lester-beach.jpg

A Whirlwind Tour Through the World of Contemporary Music Journalism

Where else today can you find anything even close to this in the world of music journalism? If you asked me to, I couldn’t name a single critic working today with a style as unique, exciting or interesting as Lester Bangs. There’s Pitchfork, whose writing is actually of a pretty high quality but is hidden behind so much trendy agenda-pushing bullshit that half the time it’s not worth the effort. I mean lets be honest, a Best New Music isn’t really a distinction of quality as it is a distinction of popularity, one which lost all meaning when they started being handed out to Future and Young Thug and whoever else. And the Pitchfork news section is no more than a second-by-second update on Kanye West/Father John Misty’s respective Twitter accounts, with some social justice controversy thrown in for good measure.

Music magazines are basically all dead. Q is completely without personality and is just an echo chamber for a certain kind of old-school rock-ist circlejerking. NME is exactly the same except swap out classic rock for Britpop and just basically get Noel Gallagher’s opinion on fucking everything because he’s so naughty and cool. Fuck Noel Gallagher, fuck Damon Albarn and fuck every boring jangly Smithsy indie band that NME shoves down the throats of impressionable teenagers and hipsters who’ve never bothered to explore music further than the kinds of albums that appear on countdown TV shows of the Greatest 100 Albums of All Time where we all collectively bukkake on the corpse of John Lennon for an hour.

The only music magazine I can sometimes stand to read is Wire, which walks a delicate tightrope between being utterly pretentious and genuinely thought-provoking, usually while trying to convince me that an album of lo-fi sheep recordings is the best record of 2017. Once I was reading an issue of Wire, and the following actually real sentence appeared within an album review that was so perfectly pretentious and symbolic that I couldn’t stop laughing at it: ‘…But if you’ve come for the high conceptualism, you’ll stay for the beautifully rendered field recordings.’ I mean, that’s just perfect, isn’t it? You have to be so far up your own arse to write that sentence that it becomes strangely elegant in the end. But on the flipside, Wire have put me on to some incredible experimental artists like Richard Dawson and Julia Holter, who have made some of my favourite albums of recent years. So they’re not all bad.

Beyond the fleeting gales of print media there’s Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop, whose opinion I respect an awful lot. One thing Fantano is very good at that magazines like Wire completely miss, is explaining clearly and simply whether or not he thinks something is good. Choosing not to give an album a rating is fine, but if you make that decision, I think you have to be even clearer with qualitative judgments on a record. Some experimental music is just aimless wankery masquerading as intellectualism, and the critics job should be to sift out the shit. Fantano is as good as anyone as this, and has a sense of humour to boot. I think Youtube is probably the future of music journalism, just as it is the future of targeted advertising, music videos, dank memes and ASMR videos. Our generation are truly at the frontier of life.

 

TL;DR

You’ve already stopped reading this article, so it doesn’t matter what I write here. Just more proof that printed/written media is dying because nobody has any attention any more (myself included). Will it even be possible to have an individual style in the wordless future of criticism? Will everything just be reduced to snarky, 140-character opinions and clickbait? Should we all just make like Lester Bangs and shove valium up our butts and drink ourselves to death because nobody is even reading the 2000 word article we’ve just written ranting about obscure websites and magazines and books that nobody else even cares about?

No, no, no. The point of this (pointless) article is not by any means to glorify punk or nihilism or any of that leather-jacket Rock God machismo bullshit that accumulated throughout the 1960s and 70s. Rock music has been imploding further and further in on itself for about thirty years now, through post-punk to grunge to metal to today’s indie rock, which is so detached from its own sentience it might as well be a bearded brain in a jar.

The point of this article is simply to celebrate individuality and style and writing the way you think things OUGHT TO BE and not the way they currently are. To celebrate tearing down all forms of cultural mythology and idol worship before they inevitably build themselves back up again like silt collecting in a river bend. If Lester Bangs had lived past the age of thirty three, this is exactly what he would be preaching in 2017. He would be stripping trap rappers down to their underpants, declaring that Weird Al Yankovic was bigger than Katy Perry. It’s a tragedy that he never got to listen to Swans’ To Be Kind, or black metal, or Merzbow. But his writing and life should encourage everyone who encounters it to pursue passionately all the weird fucked up stuff they enjoy, just as he did. Ergo, this indulgent and impenetrable blog post that nobody cares about. Rest in peace, you brilliant piece of shit.