Sam Berkson on Mark Fisher

Knowing Sam and Mark had spent some time together and exchanged ideas in the past, news of Mark Fisher's death caused us to ask Sam to write a personal piece about Fisher and his work. Below is Sam's response.  

In 2011, I had a poem selected for Acquired for Development By, an anthology of writing about the London borough of Hackney, published by the newly-established Influx Press. That they put out these alternative, insider-narratives just as the outsider-media story was starting of a regenerating, newly trendy place-to-be (i.e. to buy property) shows that they had a sharp instinct for the zeitgeist. In making my book, Life in Transit, their second publication, they also showed that they were not solely concerned with commercial success.

The book, a collection gleaned from a decade of notebook scraps and new writing set on or about travel and transport, was sent for review. After it was published, Ambit, once an avant-garde literary magazine, found the genre-crossing blend of poetry, short-fiction and reportage too wacky for them. Their reviewer was pleased that a ‘modern performance poet’ had put down his oral poetry in printed form but (rightly) found it in places “a bit preachy maybe”.

Before it was published, however, Kit sent a PDF to Mark Fisher, who was genuinely excited about it. In his review, he compared it to Burial and Laura Oldfield Ford. He said it was “attuned to the peculiar loneliness of life in neoliberal Britain”. Kit arranged for me to meet Mark and for Tim Burroughs, whose story in Acquired For… about the (redeveloped) Four Aces club in Dalston I had loved, to write up the conversation for Dazed and Confused magazine.

I had no more heard of Mark Fisher than I had of Burial or Oldfield Ford, although I knew that the latter’s artwork was on Acquired For…’s front cover. I had not realised that I was writing about loneliness or of hauntological relics of public space and lost futures in early-Austerity Britain. In fact I did not know what hauntology meant until I read Mark’s Ghosts of My Life in 2014. This does not mean that he was wrong, though.

We met in Shoreditch, found a bland bar that has, like so many others, turned into another bland bar, and we talked excitedly about a number of topics. For reasons I have never really understood, the transcript of that meeting did not see the light of day until The Quietus published it last week, a week after Mark took his own life.

Mark was an incredibly generous and kind person. Reading again, with some trepidation, Tim’s transcript of our first meeting five years ago, I remembered how quickly we had connected. I felt able to speak freely with him, despite his nervousness and manic energy. His thought was much more advanced than mine. His analysis is prescient, prophetic almost. He calls Boris Johnson, who was at the time lurking ominously as a very plausible and pathetically popular ‘next Prime Minister’, “the person who mocks the place of power while occupying it”. Comparing him to Franco Beradi’s description of Silvio Berlusconi, he says Johnson is “weirdly popular around young people in a depressing way because he doesn’t take politics seriously or doesn’t seem to. Of course, what he does take extremely seriously is that of advancing his own position and own class. This form of faux bonhomie and cynical dismissal is an extremely dangerous problem by which class power naturalises itself.” In the intervening years, politicians such as these have proliferated almost as rapidly as the rise in Hackney property prices.

I was still confused in my political views, particularly as regards the role of the state. Like many on the left, I was neurotic about anything resembling Stalinist state control while at the same time complaining about privatisation and the dismantling of public space. Generously, he still considered what I was doing worth engaging with. After the Tories won again in 2015, I wrote a blog article disgusted at Labour’s cowardly tactics. He wrote to me, approving of my analysis, but told me that it was too early to give up on Labour, saying that he thought that change within the party was possible. He had said the same when I first met him. “If a few of us went in with a strong agenda,” he suggested, “you could drive it in a certain direction.” Of course he was right about that too.

His point was that there are many terrains on which to engage. Before the Olympics came to town, the organisation of which Mark saw as a massive (and unsustainable) effort in crushing social protest and opposition, we had the student protests, Occupy and the riots. But Occupy, as Mark pointed out, though global and democratic, fetishised horizontality and anti-parliamentarianism. We could not ignore the mainstream terrains of traditional media and parliamentary politics because if we did, and spoke to each other only through the corporate-mediated social platforms and in our closed little activist circles, the Right would happily seize those spaces from which we had withdrawn.

Capitalist Realism changed the game for many of us. Just as I met Mark and immediately felt like a friend, as the cliché goes, when I read his book, I found that it said the things I had been feeling but not able to articulate. It outlined a certain totalitarian strain in current discourse that denies there is such a thing as an alternative. Instead of trying to defend the system (“Leaders of the free world” would fool few people now), the state seems to be in the business of making the famous Winston Churchill quip, “that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, a hardened truth. Capitalism may be a bad system, the ‘realist’ logic goes, but as there is no other way of organising society, we are compelled to carry on. Mark’s book, he told me, came out of his experiences “deep in capitalist realism” at Further Education college. The book, he explained was about Blairism, whose party “secured the hegemonic victory of neoliberalism.” It attempts to answer Slavoj Žižek’s question: ‘why is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?’

Mark thought, with Gilles Deleuze, that we have moved beyond Michel Foucault’s ‘discipline society’ based around the factory, school, prison and hospital, which all resemble each other, and into a ‘control society’ where capital has captured and manipulates our desires. The resultant descriptions were caricatures but disturbingly attuned to something real: 6th form students slumped over desks, snacking and talking continuously, addicted to video games and mobile phones, surrounded by constant stimulation, locked in “systems of perpetual consumption”, living a state of “depressive hedonia”, “too wired to concentrate.” The disturbing insight of his work was that capitalism is not just an economic system in which we take part, but something that is part of us: “As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems.” We are the ‘nerves’ of the ‘system’. Thus, much of the source for our anxieties, depression and our maladjusted functioning can be found in the structures around us:

“capitalism is itself fundamentally and irreducibly bi-polar, periodically lurching between hyped-up mania (the irrational exuberance of 'bubble thinking') and depressive come-down. (The term 'economic depression' is no accident, of course). To a degree unprecedented in any other social system, capitalism both feeds on and reproduces the moods of populations. Without delirium and confidence, capital could not function.”

But amidst this terrifying picture, what he offered us, was long-term, strategic thinking. Don’t neglect the mainstream; engage on all terrains, including parliamentary politics; expose the contradictions inherent in the current mode of exploitation; reject Soviet-style acquiescence to obvious official dissimulations, however comforting they may seem: “This strategy - of accepting the incommensurable and the senseless without question - has always been the exemplary technique of sanity as such, but it has a special role to play in late capitalism”.

He articulated for us how, with its endemic increase of bureaucracy, rise in mental illness and destruction of the environment, Capitalist ‘democracy’ was not the best that intelligent human beings could do, and he gave us means to deconstruct their arguments.

I felt like it was one of only two books I had heard of that seriously explained the current moment. The only other one my friend Michael told me about: a huge, expensive hardback book, brilliantly using radical anthropology to dismantle the whole discipline of economics, and I waited an age for it to come out in cheaper paperback. It became a deserved best seller; its author, also a Goldsmiths academic, like a striker from a lower-league team who scores a FA cup hat-trick against a big Premiership side, was picked up and signed by LSE. He and Fisher were, in a certain world (strange as this may seem to outsiders and contradictory to our own professed morality) celebrities. They moved among us at protests, bookfairs, meetings and parties, but only one of them became a friend and comrade. I once heard the other one, in rock-star’s leather jacket say in loud, sniggering tones, “the amazing thing about writing a popular book is that people outside of academia actually read all of it cover-to-cover, even the footnotes.” This was exactly what I had done and I felt a little ashamed. I thought that was how you were supposed to read books.

Fisher on the other hand, open about his family and private life, would sit with whoever and talk with them, eager to hear what you knew from your experience, rapidly analysing how it fitted into the current time. Capitalist Realism was a devastating critique of our contemporary culture, so uncompromisingly negative that we felt a new wind blowing away the inanities and sweeping in something revolutionary. Sadly, when he took this approach to a critique of Twitter culture, the gale blew back in his face. Mark suffered from anxiety and depression. His persona was fast-paced, stuttering, nervous energy. What he said in ‘Exiting the Vampire’s Castle’ was that criticism should happen within a spirit of comradeship and solidarity and that criticism of working-class ‘celebrities’ like Russell Brand, often amounted to moralising class condescension. He complained that people could be excoriated on the basis of an ill-judged remark by "vampire-priests of the castle of identitarian politics".

The tone was ill-advised, however, given the sensitivities of the subject. Part of the liberatory experience of reading Capitalist Realism was that we felt just enough chastised personally for our part in the system while in complete accord with Mark’s rage at its functioning, that we wanted to change it, and change ourselves. The Vampire’s Castle article, although in my opinion more subtle than his critics realised, was read as another racist, sexist, heteronormative, tiresome socialist “it’s all about class and not about race” rant. He fell victim to some of his own logic. The very isolating networks of social media – the echo chamber – meant that we (outside of academia) did not really know who exactly his target was, and it felt to many people, (even myself as a white, male friend), too much aimed at us. By not naming or quoting the kind of tweeters he was criticizing and hiding the identity of his opponents in the metaphor of ‘vampires’, perhaps he avoided also indulging in personal abuse, but it left interpretation open to the winds. Sadly of course, those winds blew as he said they would, and the vampires (or whoever felt they had been labelled as such) flew at him in the same vicious way his article predicted. Perhaps he was mistaken but I guess those who posted comments wishing him dead may reflect on that again.

Generally, though, Mark was brilliant. How we need his strategic thinking now! I went to his lectures, which he made open to the public and were often rammed out in stifling theatres, and I heard words like “affect”, “libidinal”, “oneiric”. He talked about Fredric Jameson, Wendy Brown and Stuart Hall, who at the time I thought was the paedophile Radio 5 football commentator from It’s A Knockout. So I learned things. An auto-didact himself, he repeatedly wrote about the anxieties of being unmasked as a (working) class fraud. Like Hall (the Jamaican-born, British cultural theorist), Mark wanted to use his position and his education to popularise learning. He analysed popular culture as serious works deserving of study. He advised myself, Zena Edwards and Mark Gwynne Jones on our attempts to write poetry around mental illness; frank and honest about his own struggles with depression and history of abuse.

******

Suicide, he wrote, talking of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, “has the power to transfigure life, with all its quotidian mess, its conflicts, its ambivalences, its disappointments, its unfinished business, its ‘wastes and fever and heat” into a cold myth, as solid, seamless and permanent as the ‘marble and stone’.” I am thankful that I do not fully understand those words. However, when he writes of how “the depressive experiences himself as walled off from the lifeworld, so that his own frozen inner life – or inner death – overwhelms everything”, I’m sure that description resonates painfully with many of us. We know, all too well, how, “for the depressive, the habits of the former lifeworld now seem to be … a series of pantomime gestures … which they are no longer capable of performing and which they no longer wish to perform”.

We are encouraged to think of suicides as failures. When George Smith spoke against systematic sexual abuse in Prince Charles’s household, the media were told he was a "sad, sick man with a series of alcohol and stress-related health problems.”[1] The establishment uses mental ill-health as proof of their critics’ delusion. Smith’s premature death confirmed their hypothesis. Mark tried to show that mental ill-health was part of the functioning of capitalism, not just the malfunctioning of individuals.

Mark’s suicide is proof of nothing, but we know that we failed him. We failed to build a world in which Mark could be Mark and be comfortable in himself. He loved teaching but he found work to be mired in Kafka-esque bureaucracy. He was depressed by a generation of digital addicts who suffer from “twitchy, agitated interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus”, yet he was striving for a way out of a control society that “registers as something other than dejected apathy”[2]

On a personal level he did much for me. He reviewed my book in glowing terms, he came on my radio show, introduced me personally to people he wrote about, like Oldfield Ford, he set my thinking straight on a lot of things, and was a friend. He was also, like me, part of Plan C. Justin has written of how we learned a way of being that “is not about making life liveable under unliveable conditions, [but] about figuring out how to produce genuinely liveable conditions at any cost”. Mark sent a message to us a while back, apologising that depression had kept him away from our meetings. We all said we would go and visit him in Suffolk. We never did. The times he and I spent together were too often snatched moments after a talk, lunchtimes at conferences, meetings with purposes. There were projects we talked about doing together which never materialised. As is true of so many of my relationships, we rarely found that truly radical time of just being friends, without ulterior (business) motives.

If only we had found a way to keep Mark with us. I know no one else in Britain who could explain the way out of the “control programme” as he did. Mark, your ghost is with me in these words. You left us with a means of analysis and a way to approach the contradictions of this time. How sad that the only ‘way out’ you found for yourself was the one you did.

 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1446252/Prince-Charles-set-to-sue-Palace-aide-over-scandal.html

[2] Capitalist Realism; p30.

Open letter objecting to the invitation of Milo Yiannopolous to speak at Simon Langton

The far right-wing activist, Milo Yiannopoulos, is in the news again, concerning his invitation to speak at the Simon Langton Grammar School For Boys in Canterbury, Kent – like ourselves, he is a former pupil at the school. We remember Yiannopoulos as a young man and have seen his public profile grow as adults. We share educational roots, but finally have felt compelled to make a statement on the subject.

Milo Yiannopoulos is not the “alt-right”; he is a twisted new incarnation of the far-right. His harassment and bullying of women, particularly black women, online is well documented, resulting in  him being permanently banned from Twitter for his actions. His invective is hate speech. A man who states 'feminism is cancer' is not interested in debate or nuance.

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Where are they now? Unreliable Authors give us an update

It's been 5 months since An Unreliable Guide to London was released. Since it contains so many great writers that you might be interested in reading further, we thought we'd get an update from most of them to make it easy for you track their movements. Literary movements, obviously. We've not weirdos. 

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On The Foreign Passion - by Catherine Boyle

At our launch of Cristian Aliaga's The Foreign Passion (trans Ben Bollig), Catherine Boyle, Professor of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s College London gave a great talk on the importance of translation and the book. 

Here is a transcript of that talk. 

Translation is about travelling. And in many ways translation is no different now from it was in the middle ages. It passes through the body of the translator, of the traveller. Translators are on the look-out for new stories. Our constant question is: what are the stories that you have that that we could borrow and tell again; tell to ourselves; tell to each other? And as we translate we do not colonise the language – although that has been known – we inhabit it. We travel with it and we make it live again in another place, another time, with new eyes and ears. And we hope that in that new space and time what we have translated can find its voice, can find an audience, new listeners, new interpreters. Maybe, even, that the translation can have an impact on the language and time it has come it inhabit anew. Just as we are worlds of migrants, nomads, incomers, newcomers, intruders, we are worlds of invention and re-invention.

Translators are also advocates. As we travel the world physically and linguistically we are alert to those stories that will travel and when we find some we respond to what Peter Brook calls ‘the formless hunch’, as I have said and written so many times before: the intuition that what we have found needs to be translated, brought to the new place to speak again because it has something urgent to say to us, now, and here.

What Ben Bollig has done here in The Foreign Passion is a form of advocacy. He has found in La pasión extranjera a poetry that speaks to him, and knowing that he can only be of his time, he intuits that it will speak to other people. We are introduced to themes that are crushing in on us, of the political construction of the spaces we inhabit, of global capital and its / our impact on our earth, of migration, immigration movement, of belonging, and of the strangeness of being other, or of moving into spaces in which we are rendered as other. Profound memories are lost and commodified, and are located in museums where people go ‘to beg for a memory’ / ‘para mendigar un recuerdo’ (‘Belleza ajena’), pathetically pleased with, for example, the postcard that is the most abject trace of what we think we want to remember, or own again, or belong to again.

These poems and their translations remind us that all translation is an exploration. There can be no translation without the journeying through words and meaning. The creation of excess – of many drafts, many possibilities, many suggestions – allows to wander through the poetry. We need this space to allow a submersion, from which we will emerge clutching the right word, the word that does the job. For this time, for this moment, for now. It may not be the same next year, but the submersion has allowed the creation of a parallel poetics and by the time the words come to rest on the page – for this particular version printed – there is a sense of coherence, of rhythm, of a new poetics that can deliver meaning in the new space. ‘Come to rest’ suggests an end, a dead place. But I don’t mean that at all, because the page will always provoke the new life of reading and listening.

The M62 [as featured in the poem ‘Natural Life’]. I know it. I know that house. I’ve passed it two or three times a year between London and the west coast of Scotland for about twenty-five years. I know the story of the house. I have another story of this house, different from Aliaga’s. His poem makes me want to tell that story, to respond to his story. My rhythms of telling it would be different and the shade would be inflected by dark winter nights with Chris Rea singing ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ or long summer nights with the promise of even longer nights ahead. And that’s the point of the travelling of poetry: it provokes other stories to be told, maybe borrowing- knowingly or unknowingly-from the new account.

These poems destabilise the centre. That sounds like academic speak. It is, but we academics too want to and can provoke ideas and meaning. Ben talks in his introduction to the book about some of the ways in which Cristian Aliaga brings his own language and the language of others with and through him to write and unwrite history and lived experience. Well, I know the places of The Foreign Passion. Some of my own history is written there, in Scotland, Ireland, England, in reading, in histories, and poetry I’ve read. So when I say that Aliaga destabilises the centre, I mean that he makes me very well aware that I have a ‘centre’, that that centre is European, no matter how much and how openly I have travelled and that the our centre, our home is visible to, analysed by, sought after, loved and hated by others, by those whose centre is somewhere else.   Of Peckham Rye station [in the poem ‘Un-chewed Life’].

So, thank you, Ben for doing the work of the translator: for travelling, seeing, recognising and bringing back ‘home’ these stories. It doesn’t matter that they were written here, because they really weren’t. The beauty of translation is to find the place that the poems were written, and rewrite it so that we can be destabilised and made to look at our world with different eyes. With words we recognise, but in their foreign passion, we have to work that bit harder to find, to harvest and bring to a new home.

Catherine Boyle is Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies at King’s College, London. http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/splas/people/staff/academic/boyle/index.aspx 

Buy The Foreign Passion now

Thoughts on independent publishing in the Brexit era

Britain is in the grip of a profound crisis; economic, political, cultural. The far right is emboldened more than we’ve seen in decades, enabled by an austerity-led government and a currently weakened opposition. So far, British politics has failed to adequately challenge xenophobia, racism and intolerance. We are exiting the European Union, which for all its faults has been a wonderful facilitator for cultural exchange with our brothers and sisters on the continent.

Regardless of how you think our political parties should progress, we are sure we can all agree that the most pressing issue we face as writers, publishers and cultural producers is protecting and fighting for the cosmopolitan, heterogeneous and inclusive future of the UK. We must fight for the margins, with the unheard, and alongside those who want the same fundamentally plural society we have managed to create in large parts if this country. We must continue to forge cultural relationships with Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. We must challenge cultural fascism at every turn.

Influx Press promises to do this not only by publishing the voices of those who are under threat from racist violence and xenophobia, but by amplifying others who publish these voices too. This is not the time for competition, but for solidarity.

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The Anti-Canon: Douglas Hall's In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86, by Yvvette Edwards

I seem to have always had an interest in the slave trade. I find the subject mind-bogglingly vast, involving so many people from so many countries for so many centuries, that to have an expert understanding is probably beyond a lifetime’s work. Perhaps because of the author in me, my interest over the last few years has evolved into a passion for first-hand accounts of slavery, a desire to understand something of the experience of being a slave on an emotional and psychological level, to read authentic and realistic accounts of what a slave’s life was truly like. 

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The Anti-Canon: Rant and Reflection by Jarred McGinnis

The Anti-Canon: Rant and Reflection by Jarred McGinnis

Lots of Johnsons and Willies, both Big and Blind.

Canon. What a silly idea and in so many ways. Such a backward-looking reactionary way to approach art. Swathes of kids each generation lost to the faith of words because they are taught to think a book has to look like something dead white guys made in mahogany lined libraries between attacks of gout. Two centuries of posh folk with emotional constipation is plenty. Silly also because ‘Canon’ smacks of someone telling you a book is important rather than giving a person the tools and time to figure it out for themselves.

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The Anti-Canon: María Angélica Bosco by Ben Bollig

The Anti-Canon: María Angélica Bosco by Ben Bollig

 

The Argentine novelist and critic Carlos Gamerro once wrote that the ‘whodunit’ is doomed to struggle in his country. There is a simple reason for this. In Argentina, if there is an unsolved murder, everyone assumes, or maybe knows, that the police or the military did it. In his novel An Open Secret he explores the role of the police during the Proceso, the dictatorship of the late 1970s. Police forces carried out disappearances, torture and repression far from the big cities, where there was no significant military presence and, it’s worth mentioning, there were very few of the alleged ‘subversives’ whom the junta claimed they were targeting.

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Call for Submissions: Novels

[Submission window: 1st December 2015 – 1st March 2016]

 

In 2017 Influx Press would like to publish two novels. We wish to receive completed manuscripts or proposals. We welcome work from emerging writers and established authors alike.

We want work that investigates and interrogates culture and life under-represented in mainstream literary output - like all of our previous, non-novel publications.

We are particularly interested in submissions from BAME writers and those from low income or marginalised backgrounds.

We want exciting, original stories of characters and places that make us see things in a new light, see things from a different perspective, encourage us to think in other ways.

If you would like to send a proposal please email Kit on kit@influxpress.com. You must already have some work published so we can assess your writing as well as your ideas.

If you would like to send a manuscript submission please send a synopsis and the first 30 pages of your book to submissions@influxpress.com, marked ‘Novel Submission’.

We welcome submissions through agents and writers without agents.

We look forward to reading your work!

Kit and Gary, Influx Press

Kermit
Kermit

The Battle of Kingsland Road - by Paul Case

[This is a story from our first book, Acquired for Development By. In light of the Fuckparade protest thing and everyone getting their knickers in a twist about gentrification and the battle for space in the city, we thought we'd post Paul Case's now rather prescient satire on this sort of thing.]

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Influx Press Summer Reads Recommendations 2015

Here is a list of books editors Gary Budden and Kit Caless, authors Eley Williams, Clare Fisher and Darran Anderson are looking forward to reading this summer. They're not necessarily new, but we're certain they're all banging.

 

Darran Anderson (Author of Imaginary Cities)

 

Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World - edited by Joscelyn Godwin

Long before there was the internet, there was Athanasius Kircher. This book is a source of endless wonders.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 18th edition

Another cabinet of curiosities in book form. I read this as a teenager and it has sent me off in a thousand different directions. I've started writing a mythological travel guide involving real places so now seems like a good time to return to it.

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

I've made a good stab at reading all of the superb SF Masterworks series of books and the one I'm inclined to return to most is this curious and mesmerising exploration of the universe. A book for the oddballs among us who like night-walks and staring up at the cosmos while the rational world sleeps.

   

 

 

 

Clare Sita Fisher (author of the forthcoming How the Light Gets In, 2016)

 

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

This novel focuses on the relationship between the narrator and her perpetually suicidal sister. It’s perceptive and moving and, believe it or not, hilarious. It asks the old ‘what’s the point?’ question from new and satisfyingly oblique angles, and definitely comes out on the side of life.

Don't Try This At Home by Angela Readman

Try this at the beach, on the train, by the pool, on the balcony, at the park… You get the idea. I’m hardly magic realism’s No.1 fan but Readman’s existential take on the genre took my breath away; there are things you can only say through a character’s transformation from mother and employee of a chippy to, erm, Elvis.

Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis

If you’ve read Davis’ Collected Stories, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve seen everything she can do with a sentence; you haven’t seen s**t. If you’ve never read Davis then what are you doing still sitting here, reading this? Go out and dose up on a totally unique interpretation of the short story form – her latest collection is as good a place to start as any.

 

Eley Williams (author of future Influx short story collection in 2016)

 

Shklovsky’s Zoo by Joanna Walsh

The 10th of July sees the launch of Joanna Walsh’s Shklovsky’s Zoo from Pieces of Paper Press, and you BETTER GET YOUR SNAFFLE-HOUNDS THITHER because this fascinating chapbook has a limited run of 150 copies. Limitation and constraint are crucial to this piece, which sees Walsh trouble and disrupt the concept of autobiography, literary lineage and what it is to occupy a page.

A writer of [seemingly endless] energy and innovation, Walsh’s work is a consistent delight, always witty and yearning and completely artful: Shklovsky’s Zoo looks like it will be a neat, nigglesome trick-shot of writing. There is nothing better.

It is small enough to fit in a pocket. You have a pocket, and you should put this in it. A taster for the forthcoming memoir Hotel (Bloomsbury, 2015) and novel Vertigo (Dorothy, 2015).

   

 

 

 

(O) by Sophie Mayer

I’m really looking forward to falling and falling and falling into Sophie Mayer’s new collection (O), available this summer from Arc Press. In the past, educator and activist Mayer has described her work as ekphrastic and adaptive – I’d add intricate, beguiling and just so bloody clever. As a poet who frequently packs more into a single, cool seethe of a sentence than many writers manage in an entire essay, add that the book’s blurb promises ‘[s]pirited, politicised, contemporary and Classical, these poems bring a poetic voice to the women that have lived in the cracks of history’, this an instant addition to my summer bookshelf. I find I’m forever returning to Her Various Scalpels (Shearsman, 2009) and The Private Parts of Girls (Salt, 2011) because of the way Mayer makes language and ideas buckle and blister. Her writing is a finger at a wineglass, making the air ring. In short, the idea of a new book makes me mix metaphors with giddiness. I can’t wait to be snagged in (O)’s orbit.

Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja

Fresh from winning Gatehouse Press’s New Fictions prize, Kumkum Malhotra is the new novella from Preti Taneja. I’ve the pleasure of hearing extracts of the work in the past, and so I am completely unsurprised to see Taneja’s spare prose – lyrical but incisive, elegant in its precision – earning her a legion of new fans (‘beautifully sculpted surfaces and terrifying depths’ says Maureen Freely, with Deborah Levy adding 'Preti Taneja is a writer to watch, no doubt about it'). Set in the Nizamudin area of contemporary New Delhi, Kumkum Malhotra is a story centred upon crisis, loss and unearthing: with an eye for the taut and uncanny, this is a writer who regularly, utterly transfixes. Get it while it’s hot.

Gary Budden (Editor, landscape punk)

 

Francis Plug – How to be a Public Author - by Paul Ewen

The funniest book I have read in years, about deluded alcoholic gardener Francis Plug (also an aspiring writer, of course) and his one-man mission to get as many Booker prize winning novels signed by their authors. Highlighting the ridiculousness and over-seriousness of live literature events, this book is a must for anyone who’s ever been to a book launch and had too much free wine.

My favourite parts were where Francis decides to quote Hilary Mantel dialogue at a bunch of bankers, calling one of them a ‘leek eating c**t’, and when he meets V.S. Naipaul at the Hay Festival , claiming AS Byatt is the wind and trying to blow the tent over in reaction to Naipaul’s comments about female writers.

Common Ground- by Rob Cowen

This is a perfect example of when the ‘New Nature Writing’ works; Rob Cowen’s account of his fascination with an unloved patch of edgeland near his new home in Harrogate merges autobiography, social history and extraordinary passages of fiction to great effect. Common Ground is also pleasingly politicised, veering away from the twee wistfulness that can blight this kind of writing. There is a sustained piece of charged imaginative writing early on in the book, charting the final day of an elderly male fox, which will stay with me for a very long time. This is how to write about to place.

Hellgoing- by Lynn Coady

Not exactly new, but new to me, Canadian author Lynn Coady’s collection is one of the finest examples of short-fiction I’ve had the pleasure to read. Sharp, insightful, dropping the reader into the middle of the characters’ complicated (and often unusual) lives and getting out before any solid conclusions can be made, Coady’s writing is exemplary of the form.

   

 

 

 

Kit Caless (Editor, highest batting score this season 83*)

 

Hotel Arcadia - by Sunny Singh

I met Sunny at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival and was immediately taken with her articulate, knowledgeable, warm personality. She spoke on a panel we helped organise fluently and with great wisdom. Since following her on Twitter I seem to have learned more in the last two months than I did at secondary school. Hotel Arcadia is her newest novel, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. A thriller set during a terrorist attack on a hotel, with what seems like a John McLean style photographer not wishing to die hard, it’s sounds right up my street!

   

 

 

 

Best of British Short Stories 2015 – edited by Nicholas Royle

Each year Salt produce a wonderful collection of short stories from our rainy island, published in various organs over the year. This year looks as vintage as ever with stories from Hilary Mantel, Helen Simpson, Alison Moore and Matthew Sperling. Nicholas Royle has an excellent eye for the short story and has edited some of my favourite novels in the past so I know the book is in safe hands.

 

At Hawthorn Time - by Melissa Harrison

Unfortunately, Gary’s influence seems to be rubbing off on me and I’m looking forward to reading a book set in the, wait for it… the countryside (gasp!). Melissa’s writing is excellent – I really enjoyed Clay and there’s a central character called Kitty (close enough for me – last year I chose Nikesh Shukla’s Meat Space which had a character called Kitab in it, so this is proving somewhat of a tradition) in her second novel. It’s been praised to the high heavens by plenty of people who like great books. I can’t wait to read it while sitting in Hackney Downs pretending I’m in a meadow or something.

An evening with Jacaranda Books at Pages of Hackney

On Monday 6th July, 7:30pm - 9:30pm at Pages of Hackney, we present Jacaranda Books for an evening of readings and discussion.

Jacaranda publish exciting new fiction from the UK and around the world. Following on from Africa Writes Festival, Jacaranda are bringing two great novelists, Francis Mensah Williams and Pede Hollist to Pages of Hackney for readings and discussion with Valerie Brandes, originally from Hackney and the founder of Jacaranda.

Please come down, support the event and listen to some excellent authors and what will prove to be a very interesting discussion!

It's free, of course.

jacarandaflyer

The Anti-Canon: Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo – by Irenosen Okojie

The Anti-Canon: Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo – by Irenosen Okojie

 

I first picked up Ishmael Reed’s inventive satirical thriller Mumbo Jumbo in college, on a sticky summer day. I found it beneath a turnstile on my way to the computer lab, as though it had emerged through a rabbit hole and landed at my feet. Published in 1972, Reed’s seminal novel set in New Orleans, New York and Haiti introduces us to a central character called PaPa LaBas, a private dick operating from Mumbo Jumbo headquarters with a sign on the door that reads ‘PAPA LABAS MUMBO JUMBO KATHEDRAL FITS FOR YOUR HEAD.’ At the beginning of the novel, we encounter an American south in peril, the psychic epidemic Jes Grew is tearing through the land with cases reported of people in a state of uncontrollable frenzy, doing stupid sensual things, wriggling like fish, dancing the ‘Eagle Rock’, the ‘Sassy Bump’, ‘lusting after relevance’ with the only successful anesthetizer being sleep. Jes Grew’s symptoms include seeing Nkulu Kulu of the Zulu, a locomotive with a red green and black python entwined in its face. And feeling like ‘the gut heart and lungs of Africa’s interior.’ It is an anti-plague even, characterised by ebullience and ecstasy that defies race, class and consciousness.

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Poem of the Month: May

Each month Influx Press is featuring a contemporary poet you might not know but definitely should.

This month to mark Dementia Awareness Week (17th- 23rd May) we chose a couple of poems from Sarah Hesketh’s The Hard Word Box. This collection is a result of the twenty weeks Sarah spent in a residential care home as part of a project called Where the Heart is. This month we’re also featuring a Q&A between Kyra and Sarah which delves further into this fascinating project and behind Sarah’s creative process.

Spoons

   Spoons break up the day.
Yes. No. Out of mouths
    wedged in the spaces
between who and when. In
    bookshelves and along
windowsills, bright slugs
   who came in for the night.
Such shiny visitors,
    they give us back to ourselves,
our faces strangely curved.
   Small windows into tiny worlds
we hold to impossible angles.

The Hard Words

Look, let’s be clear: don’t imagine
there is anybody here who enjoys
dribbling poetry. If you think we’re
holding stars on our tongues
that’s your eyes want testing.
If you hear music when we grunt
you haven’t understood exactly
what it is we needed to say.
You might enjoy the ruins
of our grammar, the way we
chew up our nouns to song.
It’s not your hand that’s getting
thinner on the blanket.
Please don’t ask us to speak
the hard words all at once.

Did you do a lot of research into writing that has already been produced through working with Dementia patients? If so did that influence how you approached the project?

When I first started on the Where the Heart Is project it was all quite daunting so yes I did start by trying to research and read as much as I could. I was already familiar with the work of the artist David Clegg and The Trebus Project, so that was a huge help as a starting point. What I quickly discovered was that there wasn't all that much writing out there that had been produced as a result of working with people with dementia. I read a lot about memory, both scientific and more literary works. Penelope Lively's book Ammonites and Leaping Fish was very helpful. Most of my research ended up being more around form and the crossover between visual art and text, because as well as the book, I knew my poems were going to have to feature in a physical exhibition, and that was a new kind of work for me.

I love the fragmentary form of these poems. I think you've perfectly captured in poetic form how memory works - we don't remember things in a linear way yet often as writers we attempt to impose this linear narrative structure, so I think the poems work because not only are they reflecting the disorienting, disintegrating aspects of Dementia but of life generally which is fragmentary and disordered. Did that kind of style come about because of the project or were you already naturally inclined to write that way?

The fragment form was something that I was already very interested in. I'd already started a fragment sequence on another topic, but these parallels that you're describing were part of the reason why I was so attracted to the residency opportunity in the first place. I'm very interested in gaps and what readers choose to put into them, and I think that the experience of reading a poem, and the experience of having a conversation with someone with dementia can be very similar and require similar strategies for extracting meaning.

You work with found material and the collection includes conversations you've transcribed. Did you find it challenging balancing your own poetic voice with the voices of those whose stories you were communicating?

From the outset, all of the artists on the residency were encouraged to think of the work we produced as collaborations with the people we were working with. I wanted my own impressions to have a place in the book, but I was also very keen to capture the voices of residents, relatives and the care staff, and also to find a way to represent those who were no longer able to speak, but were still full of communication. In some ways I thought of the book as a group portrait - a picture of a certain group of people at a certain time. I think that image also stops people from looking for too many general 'truths about dementia' in the writing.

Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the title?

The title comes from a line in an Anne Carson poem, 'Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings,' that features in her collection Plainwater. Carson's poem is, as you would expect, a complex one, but one of the ideas she's exploring is the pressure we place on people to speak and tell of themselves, and that was something I was very interested in during my residency. It's also a line that gestures at the difficult connections between dementia and language.

As it's Dementia Awareness Week and I know the project was keen to get past the simplistic use of the arts in health care settings, maybe you could comment on the value of poetry in particular in exploring the topics of Dementia and old age.

I'm very wary of making any special claims for any kind of arts practice in dementia settings. I think the arts can bring a huge amount of joy and interest into people's lives - whether you have dementia or you don't. I don't think the arts should be positioned as a 'cure' or a 'treatment' for dementia, because I think that can lead to situations where the arts end up as a smokescreen for bigger problems in a healthcare setting. I do think that art, and perhaps in particular words, can be a great advocacy tool for improving care for older people. People with dementia are largely voiceless in society at the minute, and I think artists and writers can help to amplify those voices and encourage them to be heard.

Sarah Hesketh is a poet and freelance project manager. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and her work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies including The White Review, Soundings, Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot and Binders Full of Women. Her first collection of poetry, Napoleon’s Travelling Bookshelf, was published by Penned in the Margins in 2009. These poems are taken from The Hard Word Box (Penned in the Margins 2014). In 2013-14 she was a poet in residence with Age Concern Central Lancashire. You can read Sarah's blog on the project here: http://wheretheheartispreston.tumblr.com//