Stephen Emmerson Reviews ‘Constellations’ by Chris Stephenson

Constellations by Chris Stephenson

(Zimzalla 2015)

FOLDER COVER for web

MK Ultra was a CIA led top secret set of experimental programs designed to test the veracity of psychoactive agents, and manipulation techniques. The broad scope of the project was to decipher the effectiveness of control over test subjects in various guises and scenarios, including warfare and civilian obedience. Various drugs were used on volunteers, sometimes without test subjects knowledge or consent, including LSD, Barbiturates, and Amphetamines. Hypnoses, and sense deprivation were also used.

In Chris Stephenson’s enigmatic Constellations we are presented with an unclassified top secret file on an unnamed test subject. It is presented in a manilla file case with names, dates, and other information redacted. Inside are 23 loose leafed subject notes photocopied from the originals.

It’s hard to quote entirely faithfully from Constellations because it relies so much on typography, layout, context, and presentation, but I’ll do my best. The following is some information from the first page:

Initiation of new project. Purpose of project: Research work on (Redacted) ESP, Automatic Writing, Connection with Near FUTURES, META-LANGUAGES program

PSYCHOT – HarmiCo

Clairvoyance Division

Charnel Channel Transmitting

False Hope Trauma Tech Programs

Reinstated in TIME

*

The 2nd and 3rd pages move forward utilizing cut up techniques informing us that:

‘I have not discussed this project-with any-o@ n as cutout and cover f

this grar, . t. Tlie cover title of the project is

(DELETED) core

*

Later on there are phrases associated with mind control techniques flashing through a rainbow sluice of psychic collage. ‘Marijuana extract’, ‘Sleep re$earch’, ‘Ergot’, ‘DivinLICE’.

Then, the Constellations themselves. A series of visual poems inspired in part by Apollinaire’s Calligrams and d.a. Levy’s Tibetan Strobascope, but made into Stephenson’s own through the context of this astonishing work. The Constellations are poems written in the molecular shape of a set of drugs, and in two cases Draco and Capricorn of Zodiac fame. The Molecular shapes are as follows: LSD, Unknown, Mescaline, Psilocybin, and MDMA. They are spectacular .

Other pages have the same phrase or phrases written just underneath each other giving a blurred effect that makes you feel like your coming up on acid. ‘MR NATURAL ESCHER FISHES’, for instance feels like that moment when the world starts revealing itself to you 20 minutes after putting a tab on your tongue or swallowing a microdot. Then for the hell of interrogation.

There are visual collages of magical symbols and ancient texts wrapped around Burroughsian text in mind control counterpoint, faith and stains, ink and coffee, text redacted to hell and back –

‘HEMISPHERES mysteriously’…..

Then later

’13. Destroy all paperwork. Divert any remaining funds. Operation Deep Dark’.

The final page reads ‘NEVER READ ME ALOUD WITHOUT A CIRCLE’ written in rough pencil, probably by the test subject. Below it is a magic circle filled with the alphabet of the angels.

What a ride.

Everyone with an interest in mind control, psychedelics, and conspiracy theories should read Constellations. By the time you get to the end you’ll know that: a) Chris Stephenson is one of the most interesting, dynamic, and creative writers out there, and b) that we’re all test subjects in this all too real unreality of deceit.

 FELL-TEXTURE-5B-copy

GOLDEN CABINET reviewed by Richard Barrett

Shipley Community Centre, June 6, 2015

Look at that man moving so strangely. Look at how he bobs his head and flicks his shoulders back and forth. Is he gonna take his hands out of his pockets? Is he?? They were out a second ago but then swiftly returned. I just don’t think he knows what to do with his arms. His legs as well . . . they’re moving also. I hadn’t noticed. His knees dip and return, dip and return . . . He seems awkward and self-conscious. Why is he moving like that? Why doesn’t he just stand still? There are other people around him not moving; just listening to the music; why does he insist on shuffling about in that manner if, as seems so plainly to be the case, he can’t give himself entirely to the music, held back by his stifling awareness of the gracelessness of his body’s movements?

Is the question, exactly a week after the evening spent listening to drone, electronica and techno in the community hall in West Yorkshire, that I’m now asking myself, sat here in the front room of my house in Salford, SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE on TV on DAVE. And it’s a question to which I don’t have an answer.

My girlfriend had told me about this night in Shipley, a 10 minute train ride outside of Leeds, which she’d been to. Ace, she’d said it had been. GOLDEN CABINET. My mate from work, Gareth, had told me he’d read something in WIRE about how it was all happening in Shipley. Coz I’m a dopey bastard though I hadn’t realised he was referring to this night GOLDEN CABINET as well. Everyone wants to go to GOLDEN CABINET I eventually realised. So entirely in the spirit of bandwagon jumping I went as well. And I danced. Or, at least, I did what passes for dancing for me. Something which still feels kinda remarkable even now.

As long as I’ve been going to gigs the routine has always been: be all excited about them when they’re, like, a month in the future or whatever; then, on the day of the gig, become convinced that going out will prove to be far more effort than it’s worth and just a giant drag et cetera and that I’d be much better off sat at home watching CORONATION STREET – at which point one of two things will happen: I will indeed either [a] remain at home and watch CORONATION STREET or I will [b] drag my sorry ass to wherever the action is. If I do manage to get out I will invariably go on to have an amazing time and vow to devote the rest of my life to taking in as much live music as possible. Last Saturday, pre GOLDEN CABINET, was slightly different though. Yep, I’d gone through the ‘this is gonna be a lot of effort and a drag’ stage but, seemingly, I’d gone through it somewhat earlier than usual: the day of the event I just found myself excited and very much looking forward to the forthcoming gig.

An excitement fuelled, somewhat to my surprise, by the media – both trad and social. That morning a preview of GOLDEN CABINET and a brief run through of its history had appeared in the GUARDIAN online. GOLDEN CABINET’S twitter feed contained a huge number of mentions of the night retweeted from other sources. Also in their twitter feed were links to the two WIRE reviews of the last events they’d held (or perhaps that’s not true. Perhaps I’m only imagining I saw those reviews online as well. I definitely saw them but I did so in copies of the mag Gareth leant me. Whatever). The reason for all this attention seemed mainly to do with GOLDEN CABINET’S location: Shipley. How has this obscure town in Yorkshire managed to become such an important place in contemporary electronic music seemed to the gist of much of the coverage. And I was left feeling a bit uncomfortable by what felt to me the slightly patronising and amused tone of this line of enquiry. 7PM in Shipley is the new 2AM in Berlin, I’d read somewhere. The intention of which seemed to be, to me, not to elevate 7PM in Shipley to the, I presume, supposed olympian heights of coolness of 2AM in Berlin but, rather, to shore up that more established position by contrasting it to a town no one had heard of and a time when serious (lol) clubbers are probably just having their cornflakes.

All that said though, the question of GOLDEN CABINET’S location is interesting I think. I’m not trying to suggest its being based in Shipley is irrelevant; no, far from it. I’ve wondered, and am still wondering (kind of), would the night have received as much attention as it has if it’d been based in a major city? If GOLDEN CABINET had been a Leeds or a Manchester or a Liverpool thing would it have stood out as much? My immediate answer is ‘no’ but then I think of the ISLINGTON MILL bods in Salford who are doing similar things to GOLDEN CABINET and, well, the media managed to find them amongst everything else that’s going on in Manchester / Salford. Plus, as well, GOLDEN CABINET had two years of events under its belt before the night I was at – so that’s two years of slow build towards earning its reputation as, as Gareth has said to me, the only place in the north currently hosting exciting and innovative electronic music. Trying to say that reputation was won, then, because the night had based itself away from the competition would clearly be a nonsense.

Shipley, or at least the bit of Shipley that I saw between the train station and the community hall, was concrete, stone and grass. Much like any northern town. The only thing setting it apart from its Greater Manchester equivalent was that there was more grass visible. You just don’t get that much grass in Manchester. The place felt BLEAK – which, last night, my girlfriend said I shouldn’t say for fear of offending any Shipley residents. No offence meant to anyone from Shipley though – the comment applies pretty generally across the whole of the north. We continued on our way through the town’s streets following Google maps. At some point though we were able to put our phones away as the bass that we could hear thudding from somewhere ahead told us where our destination was.

The ‘turns’ playing that night were AHRKH; SOME TRUTHS and VESSEL. Prior to that evening I’d heard nothing by either of them. I had read, though, a couple of DISCOGS reviews of some SOME TRUTHS material that Gareth had sent me at work. Incredibly hyperbolic stuff: “makes music like you’d imagine the wizard of Oz would make”. I was excited about hearing this dude. All I knew of VESSEL was that he’d featured in a WIRE cover article about the new Bristol sound a year or so earlier. The issue containing that article then being in my bag back at my girlfriend’s flat, having been leant to me by Gareth (and currently languishing in my bedroom. Still unread. Soz Gazza). I was excited about hearing this dude. Though slightly less excited about hearing him than I was SOME TRUTHS. I’m sure VESSEL will recover from this bombshell.

AHRKH started before I realised they had. At first I thought the DJ had just taken his record choices in a more interesting direction away from the, what seemed to me, generic techno that had been playing when we entered the hall; the repetition of the sounds though – seemingly the same record, again and again, getting so far before being wound back – made me realise that something was going on. As well, I saw that down near the front a couple of rows of attentive listeners had formed. AHRKH, I had learned from a poster over by the serving hatch near where beer and vegan cake was on sale, was the solo project of a geezer out of Islington Mill psychedelic drone heroes GNOD; accordingly, the sounds that were beginning to fill the space began to make sense to me.

Sounds that seemed to me ELEMENTAL. One lone bloke – long black coat; black hoodie pulled up; black beard – somehow managing to create sounds which suggested to me what I imagined the earth’s formation might have sounded like. BOLD CLAIM. But anyway . . . Stood in a small room in Shipley I felt somehow like I was present at THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD. Yes, BIG-BANG conditions successfully recreated.

The visuals projected behind the dude and onto the ceiling: am I remembering those correctly as images of molten lava bubbling and the like or have I just added those today, some weeks after the event, feeling that’s what we should have been seeing? I don’t know. From this remove I have no way of knowing either. The projections, though, became kind of irrelevant as the images the sounds were planting in my brain became much more compelling than whatever we’d been presented with. And in my brain I was seeing the earth’s prehistory: enormous tectonic plates slowly coming together round the earth’s core. The joining bangs echoing down the centuries to resound through us as vibrations of joy at being alive and in the world. All conjured up, seemingly, by one bloke hunched over a bank of equipment playing a record for a moment, stopping it, then pulling it back to the beginning before letting it play again. It wasn’t break beats we were hearing it was monolithic slabs of sound. Alongside ELEMENTAL a second word I was thinking of was PROGRESS. The repetition, strangely, had to it a forward momentum of getting somewhere. Where AHRKH was taking us though I had no idea.

An additional layer to those sounds was added by AHRKH geezer chanting over the top of the noises he was pulling from his decks and electronics. He seemed to be giving his devotions to nature for creating the earth beneath us all. It was not GOOD TIMES music. It was, though, an impressive, mighty noise that forced the listener to think of both their and world’s origins and to think of how they, by their behaviour, might be impacting upon the world. My offering for AHRKH, if playing the game of ‘invented bullshit music genres’, would be ECO-RELIGIO DRONE. Try typing that into Amazon and see what results you get.

By contrast SOME TRUTHS very much was GOOD TIMES music. Confusing me again, though, by starting without making it obvious that he’d started (what, is this some kind of electronic music gimmick???). I’d noticed the equipment set-up over by the wall to the right of the stage but because it was off to the side I’d, rather stupidly (!), assumed its position was only temporary and that before SOME TRUTHS began playing he’d shift everything centre, front. He didn’t. Which I think is interesting . . . but before I get into why I think that’s interesting . . . Gazza had text me asking me to take a pic of how SOME TRUTHS had set his synth up (which was apparently a modular one. Whatever that means) but because I thought I had more time than I actually did in which to take that picture it ended up not getting taken (Gazza, here is your second apology: soz). Performing off to the side suggests a leaning towards wanting to be unobtrusive; a humility, I think? Which is cool. But how real is that humility given that the guy was one of the main acts of the night? There seems something of a contradiction there but, really, what were his choices: humility or be a nob head. So of course you opt for humility no matter what possible contradictions it might make visible.

And I danced. Or I did what I consider dancing. I left where I’d been sitting at the back to join the semi-circle gathered round SOME TRUTHS. I began just by watching him which gradually, when I realised I wanted to move, shifted more towards watching what the people around me were doing: a line-up of head-nodding, cautiously shimmying blokes in their thirties and upwards, broken by one sole kid energetically moving backwards and forwards from foot to foot. I absolutely wanted to be able to dance like that dude but possessing a very strong awareness of my limitations I, sadly, had to accept that that just wouldn’t be possible. Instead I turned to my tried and trusted indie shuffle, as described in detail some way above. And I had fun and, as my self-consciousness slowly fell away, even went so far as to enjoy myself. Which, tragic as it might seem (and, god yeah, it does seem sorta tragic to me) feels pretty dam noteworthy. These days, at gigs or whatever I usually just STAND STILL and listen. SOLEMNLY. Against my better judgement, against my habitual behaviour, against my learned behaviour SOME TRUTHS got me moving. And if at this point I can’t remember, as I can’t, much of how SOME TRUTHS sounded I think for me to say he made music (‘music’ note; this wasn’t the ‘sounds’ or ‘noise’ of AHRKH) that made me move is pretty much all I need to say. It certainly feels like one hell of an endorsement to me.

I remember (I think I remember) points of light of light projected onto the ceiling and thinking that SOME TRUTHS music was somehow following or mirroring that light. He had his back to the people watching, never once turning round to acknowledge their presence, which – at the time – I took as yet another sign of his humility/coolness but, discussing all this with Gazza the following week, I realise now his not turning round was due to the difficulty of what he was doing and the levels of concentration required. The music was jazzy. Not of the easy-listening variety rather the demanding experimentation of an Ornette Colman or the like. When Gazza asked me to describe it I said it was squelchy. He said, what was the bass like? I said I didn’t remember there being any bass. He said there must have been bass underlying the synth noises. So ok then, there must have been (I’m wondering though, now, just what exactly it is that I’m reviewing here as it doesn’t seem to be the music as I’m making a pretty poor job of describing how that sounded – and I have even less to say about VESSEL than I’ve so far had to say about the two acts that preceded him. I guess I’m writing a review of the whole ‘going to GOLDEN CABINET’ experience with the music just being a part of that rather than the primary focus. Not the usual way of music reviews though is it? No. So perhaps something else I’m doing here might be ‘reinventing the traditional music review’???? Sounds good, yep. I’ll have that).

VESSEL built and built and built. What he was doing was more readily comprehensible than the sounds made by either of the preceding acts; which is to say that his music was more obviously aligned to the techno we’re used to hearing in bars and shops and the like. A comment given without a value judgement attached; I’m just saying. By the time he came on I’d returned to my seat at the back for a breather and nothing he did gave me cause to want to get down the front again. In fact, I sort of switched off whilst that dude was playing. My attention became focussed on one of GOLDEN CABINET’S organisers, watching him dance. Wasn’t dancing in a funny way; probably wasn’t even dancing in a way worthy of mentioning here; nevertheless, as watching him was what I was doing instead of actively listening to VESSEL I guess it’s reasonable to mention him (jesus, I’ve built this up into something that it so wasn’t): what the guy was doing was a kind of funky march on the spot. There. That’s all. I was proper liking watching him though (and pretty much since I started this review I’ve been thinking about what to do when I get to the point I’ve now reached – that of the extent of my incredibly limited commentary on VESSEL having been exhausted. One possible solution I considered was listening to some of his stuff online and then writing about that but pretending I was writing about the night, the stuff he played at GOLDEN CABINET. I’m sure that kind of thing must happen all the time. I decided not to go down that route though as (a) I just can’t be bothered listening to him now and (b) it’d obviously be pretty dam bogus. What I have decided to do then is just hold my hands up and admit I have nothing much at all to say about the dude. Soz VESSEL. So that said then – the final word on the night’s final act having just been given; which that was; that sentence just gone about having nothing to say about VESSEL – I guess this review must now be almost over then? Yes, it very nearly is. Just bar some closing remarks which will begin, immediately, the other side of this parenthesis . . .).

HERE. The night was TOP. I loved it. I loved the build-up to going; the going; the being there; the listening; the not-listening; the watching; the waiting for the train back to Leeds feeling as though we’d been part of something special; the thinking and writing about it afterwards. The only thing I didn’t love was that there are, so far, no more events scheduled. That that was the last GOLDEN CABINET for a while. There will be more though, apparently. And whenever the next one is I’ll be there. As should be everyone.

DMT Review by JJ Mars

There are ideas afloat that you can activate your pineal gland and have a near death experience. It might be the third eye. You can get your DMT in a brew called ayahuasca. They call it mother ayahuasca and most people, it is said, get a good ass kicking. Because that is maybe what most of us need. A good ass kicking. We are out of whack, as they say. We need to get realigned. You know what I’m talking about. You can wrestle demons with ayahuasca. Check out the youtube docs.

It was reported by Terence McKenna that a Tibetan lama took some DMT and said it was a familiar space. It was the lower lights of the bardo. He said it was as far as you can go. You can’t go any further without physically dying.

There is another version. Less wrestling and more an overload of visual information. It is called Changa. It lasts about 10 minutes or so. But the wrestling can come afterwards in trying to reconcile the experience with everyday waking consciousness. Which is the hallucination?

Our western scientists don’t know shit about the brain. They can’t even find where memory is located. Maybe they’ll never find where memory is in the brain because memory might not exist in the physical brain at all. It might be like testing the wires to a television set to find the images. You ain’t gonna find it there. I mean, maybe our brain is a receiver. Maybe DMT is the signal of a collective human memory.

Here are 14 descriptions of a DMT trip. After the 6-10 minute Changa ride. Not Ayahuasca. They are 14 fingers pointing at the moon. Don’t mistake the moon for the fingers or whatever.

  1. After the physical pain I felt like I was no longer in my body. I opened my eyes and looked at my body. It was a glowing shape. It wasn’t a body. I felt frozen and couldn’t move.

  2. At some point I opened my eyes and couldn’t see the surroundings at all. This was at the beginning. The room completely disappeared.

  3. I saw a lot of fairy tale/cartoony stuff and travelled through glowing spacey gates. Some of the fairy images included dragons.

  4. The room was blurry and layered with squares within squares with lots of numbers/code. The ceiling was an inverted pyramid.

  5. I saw some very crazed bugs bunny in there. Though crazed he was okay and having a great time. It didn’t seem like he could chose what to do.

  6. Tons of cartoony stuff and animals and machines I’ve never seen. They were merging and sometimes fucking.

  7. 10 mins after, we’re all still lying down, I sat up and leaned back and the room was very odd, the basic outlines of it were there but fuzzy and it was composed of countless tiny vibrating hexagons or something, and I put my hands up and watched them and they looked half there and half not, like computer generated outlines of hands composed of these tiny bits though most of the fingers could not be seen at all.

  8. I saw cartoony figures. Witches hats for example.

  9. The geometric part was only for 10 seconds or so at the beginning.Then it was figurative for quite a while. The last minute or so was about the history of materials. Collages and montages. Layers upon layers. Liquid metallics, totem pole wood, some kind of primal soup. I felt the materiality of the objects. Wanted to touch the textures. It felt like some kind of history lesson. But what kind of history? Whose history?

  10. Maybe we are simply hacking into the program via the pineal gland. Maybe it is all OK. Maybe this is part of our own growth and development as an alien species.

  11. Various images come back but the feeling of being in them is harder and harder to grasp. Is this new knowledge a part of myself?

  12. I know now that consciousness is not a product of our brain. It seems completely plausible now to perceive the world as it is, infinite.

  13. I mean if that DMT vision is what is waiting for us who would want to stick around?

  14. Part of me really wants to do it again someday and part of me is unsure. I’m gonna see how the next few weeks go.

Chris Stephenson Reviews ‘I’m in Your Mind Fuzz’ by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Gizzard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Live @ Belgrave Music Hall Leeds (13/11/2014) + I’m In Your Mind Fuzz album review.

Thurs 8.00pm : Me – Hello mate short notice but do you fancy coming to see this band called King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard next week?

Thurs 8.02pm : Me – Posts video of ‘Head On/Pill’ to Facebook wall.

Friday 10.15am : Danny – Yeah let’s do it!

Friday 10.20am : Me – Ok Great. But I’m working on the Friday so I can’t go nuts and nearly puke in a taxi again.

There should be a couple of cardinal rules if you go out to a gig on a Thursday night in Leeds:

1. Take Friday off or make sure it is free from anything other than sleep, food or hair of the dog.

2. Do it more often.

The arrival of the new Alien Mothership looking music arena to the City Centre may have been seen by many as Leeds finally claiming heavyweight status on the musical map, but, for long term residents Leeds has been a thriving, inspirational and important place for music lovers, whatever you might be into, for years and years.

The sad closure of The Cockpit this year is a massive loss that will continue to be felt for some time but the wonderful Brudenell Social is still going as strong as ever, and the rise of some fantastic new smaller places such as the Belgrave Music Hall bodes extremely well, especially if they keep treating us to acts of the quality of King Gizzard.

Sit upstairs on the roof terrace for some street food and an early couple or three beers without realising the whole band is sat on the table next to you.

Drunkenly buy your merch from the band themselves without realising they are the band even to the point of clearing out the wallet of the singer/guitarist and taking all his pound coins in change.

Wake up with barely enough time to get to work with zero clue how you got home feeling like your heads been turned into a tombola filled with petrified chest-bursters from LV-426. Instead of prizes.

Listening to the first 4 tracks of their new album (a high octane 13+ minutes of brilliance that continues to surprise even after many, many repeat listens) will give you an excellent idea of what King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard might be like live. Except they are way better! In fact quadruple the amount of fun you think you might have!

Harmonicas. Theremins. Flutes. Synths. Squalling and screaming and competing contortionist guitars. Double drummers. High strangeness. Cellophane. Epic stomping fuzzed up distorted and extended wigouts that you wish would last forever.

If you can listen to them going off into the stratosphere without wanting to run after them like a madman beaming from ear to ear then you might as well give up and go listen to Kenny G in a corner with an old wank sock stuffed in your mouth. I will happily duct tape it in there for you.

They do laid back equally well too and, consummate musicians, even when things appear initially off kilter they still sound beautifully coherent

On the new album, ‘Empty’ is a strange but wonderful construction and a complete change of direction, driven by an unusual time signature and flute, with some dirty tightly wound guitar thrown in. The whole thing is gorgeously twisted together, building soaring and pulsing melodies and harmonies that catch fire like solar flares.

Hot Water bounces along, effortlessly joyous and weird at the same time with more flute surfing around and around the bass, like someone’s got lost, happy wandering in the dreamtime on their way to a full moon party in some alternative dimension Byron Bay.

In fact this is the kind of music that Terrence McKenna and his Machine Elves must surely be dancing to out there somewhere in 5th Dimensional Hyperspace.

Am I In Heaven? Astonishing! Just listen to it! How many directions can one 6 and a half min song go and still be completely fucking brilliant!

I’ve been really struggling to work out if I’ve ever heard anything like it before? Not that it matters. I suppose, if we absolutely must put things into categories, then as far as I’m concerned, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard belong to the following;

1.) Single most listened to track of 2014 – Head On/Pill (closely followed by Am I In Heaven? from the new album.)

2.) Favourite live show of 2014 (and that includes The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Rose Windows.)

3.) Favourite album of 2014, by a long, long way.

I genuinely can’t remember the last time a band blew me away like this and made me want to rush off and share them with everyone and anyone who might listen. I’m going to have some serious fun digging through all their other stuff and finding out more!

Chris Stephenson

Chris Stephenson is the author of two books of experimental poetry/writing, Napoli Metro Bad Dream Sequence (Blart Books) and Revenge of The Mirror People (Stranger Press).

http://strangerpress.com/

Peter Manson Reviews ‘Comfortable Knives’ by Stephen Emmerson

Comfortable Knives cover

Stephen Emmerson, Comfortable Knives. Newton-le-Willows: The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2014. 40pp A5, £6. ISBN 978-1-909443-45-7.

On the face of it, Comfortable Knives couldn’t be more different from Stephen Emmerson’s first collection, Telegraphic Transcriptions (Department Press, 2011; second edition Stranger Press, 2013). The radical, open-field, multi-mode, informational, pharmacological and diagnostic overload of the earlier book has narrowed to a quite unexpected kind of visual consistency: a set of 36 almost-sonnets, 13-line poems set out as stanzas of 5, 4 and 4 lines, modelled on the Dream Songs of John Berryman. The choice of Berryman as an influence is already encouraging. It’s surprising how rarely British poets of our New Weird tendencies own up to being influenced by any modern American poetry which doesn’t have a root or a branch in the Donald Allen anthology. Berryman’s work, like the last poems of Sylvia Plath, has a strangeness that I at least am unable to reduce by comparing it to anything else – knowing which poets influenced Berryman and Plath is amazingly little help in reading them. Emmerson’s homage is far from being pastiche. The prosody has something of Berryman’s way of secreting quite long phrases of regular metre inside passages which add up to something much less regular, though with Emmerson it feels more natural to read each stanza as a verse-paragraph, to be scanned continuously, the way Gerard Manley Hopkins intended his own to be (“the scanning runs on without break from the beginning, say, of a stanza to the end and all the stanza is one long strain, though written in lines asunder” [G.M. Hopkins, “Author’s Preface”]). Emmerson takes another cue from the proliferation of characters and pronouns in Berryman, figures which may address one another, or address themselves in any of the three persons, or disappear for a moment behind an apparently unmediated authorial voice. There are few names in Comfortable Knives, and it’s almost always remarkably difficult to know who or what is addressing whom or what. The most urgent and animate voice often seems to be that of the nascent poem, a thing that knows it is only language and never will be alive, trying to rouse its author function from sleep in order that it may come, at least, to be.

On the level of language as it moves from word to word, Comfortable Knives is not really all that far from Telegraphic Transcriptions. One of the most vital aspects of that book is its endlessly-fertile strain of electro-shock collocations, words abutted so as to refuse easy elision, making for a clear, word-isolating rhythm that can sometimes do without the small words altogether (the nearest comparison, though the tone is utterly different, might be Maggie O’Sullivan’s A Natural History in Three Incomplete Parts). It’s the same seam that Emmerson mines in No Ideas But in Things, his very funny word-association collaboration with Chris Stephenson (some sample exchanges: “diabetic mosquito”, “crotchless magma”, “suicide pancakes”, “punk rock servitude”), which plays Tonto Lavoris to the hydrogen jukebox of Telegraphic Transcriptions. Kindred superdense clusters abound in Comfortable Knives (which has “rodent metaphobia” in its very first line), but the reader’s response to them is complicated by their proximity to apparently quite different kinds of language-use. There are meditations on memory (“I know how memory is a / language. It is the worst, most / illiterate language, but it is one, / and one in which I am fluent. They / bury the dead in it too” [p.7]) – I am, predictably, reminded of the time Stéphane Mallarmé buried his father in a place whose name (“Sens”) is also a French word for meaning). These merge with barbs fired from the poem as artifact towards the poet who maybe isn’t listening (“Remember when I thought my arm was / a text? Cannot adapt (either way), is it / daylight where you are? Yet?” [p.19]), and fired right back again by the poet (“Blootered dense facial, pillow- / zilch on paper. Coming in for the / sulking wasted, baroque controlled / by voices” [p.18]) who has boarded the long train of the serial poem and can’t get off. Everywhere, there’s an openness to what sounds like overheard London speech, sourced from the people at the sharp end of police violence and pushed past the point of ecstatic Nadsat to become the linguistically-innovative poetry it always was: “The girlz say he Bang-Tidy and shit, / way he crimps his bejewelies and hammers / back the shot. But without not shattering the / cramps (when how it bellows absent of us) // it is deluded claptrap that wallows” [p.17]. I think Bill Griffiths would have liked that. The book describes its own process far better than I can: “Neutral colloquialism steeped / in further reading, (how damn entire / breathing can enter that way), then / discern such vandal and heart” [p.28].

What I take away from the book as a whole is the unresolvable conflict between a basic human need and what happens when it is fulfilled. There’s the need to bear witness, to translate human trauma into words or other art, so that there is a record of it, and also in the hope that the process might function as a kind of exorcism of the obsessive power of trauma over its victim. And then there’s the danger that the record, once set down, doesn’t function like that at all – writing is an aid to memory, it’s incredibly hard to erase, and as all writers return like a dog to their sonnet, maybe all writing puts a block on the brain’s slow, inevitable ability to heal itself by forgetting: “To be aware of everything / is nothing to be proud of. The / process of forgetting, where / sudden spark and burst. Retain / only, those Halloween // masks. Your eyelids black / and raw, blinked for reduced / thinking” [p.36]. Comfortable Knives suggests that there’s no point in Prospero’s trying to drown his book (“Actually, the / drowned books prosper, though / stagnate is a seizure it is // not digested” [p.32]), and agrees with the Sir Thomas Browne of Urne-Buriall that the only things which never go away are the things we try to put down and bury: “Earthworks – / for every hour lent, then despicable, degraded, / so precious after all” [p.40]. What will survive of us is the nuclear waste we buried in Precambrian bedrock; Comfortable Knives attests to a more personal, but equally heartbreaking, access of toxic optimism.

Peter Manson‘s  books include Mallarmé in English (Blart Books)Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse (Miami University Press 2012), Between Cup and Lip(Miami University Press, 2008), For the Good of Liars (Barque Press 2006), Adjunct: an Undigest (Edinburgh Review 2005), Before and After Mallarmé (Survivors’ Press 2005)

https://petermanson.wordpress.com/

Emma Hammond Reviews ‘AW14’

I can’t get out of. I can’t get out of my. Dream about an eight year old calling me a pig. I can’t. Should go for a run. Should empty the bin & also fridge. The rot has set in. I sob in the night remembering the caravan in the woods, in italics. Anyway, it’s all typing now, and trying to paint pictures without a canvas or paints. Must get down the Co-op. Fuck the Co-op. Opening my eyes every day and going back to sleep.

My cat is dead, his little vein wouldn’t take the needle. He is under the ground in the back garden, turning to liquid. I taped up the catflap with packing tape. I dream of him and enlarge pictures of his eyes. I don’t know where he went. One day my Mum will die and I’ll probably feel guilty because I never phone her. Her limbs are thin as twigs from the cancer. She will fold up in the earth like a collapsed clothes dryer.

Trying not to dress like a mum when you are a mum. A choice of shoe. I do the school run then say hello to the man in the Viking shop and the little man from Angel mini mart. They exist in my life. I can’t. I don’t know where they go. I’m trying to read Moby Dick but the words keep skipping about. I think I have anger issues. Boring. The Christmas tree up in the square. The nights are. And all my friends married, like defeat.

Emma Hammond is on Twitter @EHwords

Andrew Spragg Reviews ‘Nothing Important’ by Richard Dawson

Richard Dawson

Those aware of Richard Dawson’s previous work, most recently the luminous the Glass Trunk from 2013, will be familiar with his ability to teeter between poles. He is notable both as a guitarist and vocalist for his ability to move from moments of melodic clarity and tenderness to instances of passionate over-reach. The opener to Nothing Important, ‘Judas Iscariot’, begins with a series of awkward, distorted guitar figures. It falters and pulls, not settling into pure abstraction, but coming close enough. The influence of some-time Dawson collaborator the harpist Rhodri Davies is felt in the ringing feedback and compact violence of the arrangement. It recalls in places Bill Orcutt’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts, with the overdriven acoustic guitar a consistent tonal presence through the whole of the album. The improvisation jumps in momentum at several points, turning into a club-handed set of chords delivered with an intentional dragging sensation. Dawson has a way of playing that manages to balance between an assured technical certitude and almost gleeful self-sabotage. Even at his most accomplished, the musician comes across with an enthusiasm and humility that frequently opens out into a willingness to risk looking foolish for the benefit of emotional catharsis.

This catharsis is one of Dawson’s triumphs, both in terms of his vocal delivery and guitar playing. The singing voice is all rich Newcastle accent, straining at the leash of its own dynamic and pitched ranges. The title track finds Dawson ricocheting between whispered tenderness and incomprehensible howls. ‘Poor Old Horse’ from The Glass Trunk was a milestone for demonstrating how his voice could carry the tension of traditional folk singing to its logical conclusion. Here, it extends further, over the course of 16 minutes launching, or soaring, into a warble or a deep growl. By the time Dawson declares that, “I am nothing, you are nothing,” the listener is caught in his total derangement of the melody, and yet its idiosyncrasies rouse the senses. His ear for how those stresses and strains impact on the listener’s reading of the song is remarkably. On ‘The Vile Stuff’ the forceful intensity of the main melody uplifts suddenly on the word “helicopter”, evoking the whirling vehicle lifting his schoolmate bodily into the air.

Lyrically, Dawson manages to blend everyday imagery with surrealistic brutality. His sense of detail is homely, also Unheimliche: “A toby jug filled to the brim with curtain hooks/A sheepskin rug discoloured with tobacco smoke/Within its braids concealed a rank/of plastic soldiers set to burst underfoot” (‘Nothing Important’). ‘The Vile Stuff’ begins with a bacchanalian incantation of adolescent violence, drinking and sex, then moving through a series of vignettes that imbue the seemingly mundane business of life with vexatious injury, “My neighbour Andrew lost two fingers to a Staffie-cross/whilst jogging over Cowl Hill with a Peperami in his bum-bag.” Dawson delivers close, contemporary detail and regional vocabulary in a way that seems to almost project these events outside of logical chronologies. Several violent episodes are compressed, the narrative walls collapsing so that there is just the moment of the blow, the infliction of the injury, the disparate events forming a set of signifying resonances.

The central preoccupation of both ‘Nothing Important’ and ‘The Vile Stuff’ is memory’s interaction with forms of suffering and pain. Whether this an immediate wound, or a more emotional hurt, it enables Dawson to deliver some poignant reflections on things both savage and tragic. The most startling line of ‘Nothing Important’ is delivered after Dawson’s narrator has run through a set of objects either within view or recalled through the memory, “- I don’t care about these things\why do they remain so clear while the faces of my loved ones disappear?” Plain-spoken, it strikes at the frustration of a failing memory, and the melancholy of gathering entropy. Nothing Important is notably distinct from The Glass Trunk in its frequent use of modern day imagery, eschewing the community archive and replacing it with a set of personal and introspective memories. Dawson’s performances feel closer to our time, but still out of it. They are contemporary objects shellacked with folk residue, and this is a large part of what makes Nothing Important such a thrilling album. Little else sounds like it in 2014, little else comes close to sounding so new and old in equal, uncanny measure.

Andrew Spragg is a poet, performer and critic. He was born in London in 1984 and lives there currently. He has had work appear in Hi ZeroHalf Circle and on The Literateur. His writing was also included in Dear World & Everyone In It: New Poetry in the UK (Bloodaxe, 2013). He edits Infinite Editions, a blog that publishes free poetry postcards for download and distribution, and he writes regularly for Bonafide Magazine. His publications include: The Fleetingest (Red Ceilings Press, 2011); Notes for Fatty Cakes (Anything Anymore Anywhere, 2011); cut out (Dept Press, 2012).