There’s anti-poetry: it’s a label or name applying to a specific kind of poetry (called anti-poetry). I’d thought there may a similarly recognised species of writing called anti-writing, but can’t find it if it exists famously (fame in literary matters, of course, may only need a thousand or so people involved). Not surprisingly, Derrida comes close to something that is recognised by more than many thousands of people, if only by hearsay, but I’m looking for a literary approach to producing work more than a philosophy (although I can’t entirely ignore the latter).

Anti-writing could be a starkly defined term. Perhaps the preliterate, communal ‘oral’ culture before the printing press and the advent of increased interiority, self-centred individualism and the third dimension if Marshall McLuhan was right. Or, close to this, a Tolstoyan idyll of woodcraft folk living in a sort of Leavisite organic community where authentic humanity returns to a place before the fall. Mention of the fall and authenticity raises possibilities that essence and existence, or at least questions about them, precede and supercede writing. Alas, Sartre, Camus, Tolstoy and Leavis had a certain reliance upon the written word which renders any examination of their work in search of anti-writing to be immediately unsuccessful.

Actually, the phrase  “anti-writing” does occur frequently in pedagogic literature. It refers to a refusal to read and write, mainly by young people, as a leading cause of illiteracy (rather than inadequate teaching methods, lack of educational provision or sending children down mines). It would be possible with such a clear use of the phrase to move it easily to a prorevolutionary and triumphant rebellion against the written word. That is something which may be no bad thing, but although I sometimes think it would be a very good thing, I don’t want to spend time on it here. I am looking for something else.

There are, allegedly “writerly” books read by the few, and “readerly” books read by the many. The “writerly” are often in a category called “literary”, and the “readerly” in one called “popular”, although the boundaries are diffuse. It is also quite possible to read some writerly book in a readerly way, and some embarrassments have occurred by certain refined readers confusing readerly books with writerly ones. There is, however, certainly a sort of movement against “writerly” books (largely led, it must be said, by people who do not read very much anyway) on the basis that not only are they boring and almost totally incomprehensible, they are also elitist and too clever by half. This movement sees writing as the gift of everybody, for everybody is a writer so “anti-writing” here would mean an attack upon the belief that writing per se is something which is a craft and something that can be done more or less badly or well.

There is a school of thought, vaguely located in literary theory where it meets the more arid hinterland of narrative psychology, which sees writing as the circulation, reinforcement and reproduction of things in quotation marks. Obviously the quotation marks are not necessarily visible, and are more usually not which is also when they are at heir most insidious. A thick miasma formed of millions of interpenetrating skeins of phrases and off-the-shelf lexicons of emotional structures hangs like a perpetual fog in which people grope not for vision but for meaning. Writing is the metaphor for all forms of ideological expression; language, in a very broad metaphorical usage, is at once a dynamic of competing phrases and ideas but yet held in miraculous stasis by forces which I suppose are ultimately located in the economic base. I have perhaps over-ornated what is in fact rather dull, but such ideas do still excite the suspicions against the intellectual, and worse, the bourgeois intellectual, and who else but an intellectual would write? On the other hand, I do believe that universal literacy was faced with horror by the bourgeois establishment for untold chaos and anarchy would surely follow if the proletariat ever became educated to read and, god forbid, to write.

But none of this is what I mean by “anti-writing”. It’s simply this. It’s there anyway in irony, satire, humour, the very spirit of writing. It is like apophatic theology or cynical philosophy. It destroys, rips to bits, puts into an acid bath all of its own medium as it is producing itself. Then, and this is the magic part, after destroying everything not worth having it’s discovered in a piece of anti-writing the restoration of the vital value of writing. That’s why it’s true when they say all writing is about writing, all poetry is about poetry, and so on. It’s true, but there’s more, much more, and a lot still needs tearing to shreds before we’ll get near it.


Why I like writing bad poems

I like writing bad ‘poetry’.  Occasionally I’ll even write a poem almost half as good as one of the worst poems published by third rate poets. I have an idea of ‘taste’ by which I mean a willingness to make a value judgment about a poem.


The same is true of stories. There are other media I dabble in too. The reason I do so is partly gratuitous: it’s fun. In the case of ‘poetry’, I admit that sometimes I write an angry rant shoddily disguised by throwing a few line breaks and rhymes in: writing as emotional catharsis (although I’m not convinced that expressing strong emotion in any form is actually beneficially cathartic).


The more refined purpose of writing or producing in other media is that I firmly believe that it develops my appreciation of highly skilled work. To that extent, it’s no different from playing football with heart and soul with a like-minded team and opposition, something immensely satisfying on its own, but also something which intensifies appreciation for the good players.


Now that is just my own position. To concentrate on poetry, I’ve been reading it since I can remember and  I still only have a small number of poets with whom I connect. You could easily pass me a piece of gibberish and tell me that it was a translation of a famous Peruvian poet, and I wouldn’t question you: I’d tell you hoenestly, though, that I wasn’t getting anything from it. There are poets I have had to work very hard to receive. On a few occasions there has been a success, and the work and patience have brought rich rewards. I repeat, though, that the list of poets I would regard as having made poetry worthwhile to my life were their poetry the only thing I ever had read, is small. Wallace Stevens would be on the list. Then there is a longer list of poets who I continue to enjoy immensely but seem less powerful to me: Many English poets (including Shakespeare); Hopkins perhaps if I give more time to may enter the first list.


A word is a communal sign, and I share the word ‘poetry’ at different levels. I think what I have been alluding to above perhaps involves something along the lines of compression, extraordinary connectionism done with simplicity, bareness of imagery except for images that ‘blow your head off’ as Emily Dickinson would have it. For the rest, anything goes. Whether Dylan is a songwriter, lyricist or Welsh poet doesn’t interest me. I am not particularly interested in genera and species of folk musics, ballads and so forth but I do love so much the pleasurable play of words in all their expressive musical or lyrical myriad possibilitiies.


There are many who enjoy poetry reading events. They’re not for me, but then neither is opera or karaoke. There are thousands of small poetry publications, especially with the internet. I am sure among them will be some excellent poets coming through but I wait for others to laud them, and even then I’ll wait ten years because by then praise for the poet should have increased considerably. It’s important to listen out for the new voice, but not for novelty or fashionable twist. A more poetry-centred person would have as essential that vigilance for the voice which represents a shift and continuation, and, I think, give a sense of embodiment in the contemporary culture and language of the world,


I think that for me (for whom poetry is not a vital aspect of my life: I am the average diletantee) it’s simply to do with the fact that there are already so many great poets, even on my own shelves, for me still to read. And, of course, and this is the most important thing of all, the handful of poets whom a person may be lucky enough to read over and over throughout a lifetime.

Oh Wow. It’s National Poetry Day

It’s National Poetry Day. We’re told in the Daily Telegraph that poetry is mathematics, but I do believe that the article is layered with jest. I certainly hope so: in any case, I don’t think that apart from certain rough and ready forms, poetry needs much support. Like the old Benedictine analogy, a rotting trellis will do to support the unpredictable writhings and amorphous shapes of the tendrils that grow there. If Robert Frost believed that writing poems without precise form is like playing tennis without a net, he clearly has never had the joy of playing tennis without a net – or, indeed, without a racquet such as in one of the few worthwhilefilmic metaphors in the clunky Antonioni  movie, Blow Up.

National this and national that, it actually does my head in. I saw a board poster the other week, boring-exciting and dead collage style that they churn out of art colleges these days, which I first thought was advertising a new telly or teen magazine, the sort you can read on the bus with just enough interest held between stops to get you home without cracking up with boredom. It was advertising amusement, excitement, freshness; the words ‘powerful’, ‘invigorating’ and ‘provocative’ were there too. I only got a glimpse but that’s all you need for most things these days. On the next day the bus was fortuitously halted while a can of cider attached to a happy man was extracted from the road, and saw that the billboard was advertising an arts event. Or happening. Or installation. Part of the alternative stream of the two-weeks mainstream arts festival. Sort of fringe stuff.

I  believe that the poem plastered on Marks and Spensers by Roger McGough in the centre of Liverpool saves me a lot of effort here. The idea of an ode to M&S, written by Radio 4’s poet in residence, brazen and unashamedly looking over one of the city’s main public squares fits in perfectly with the consumption of poetry. The only thing I’d add is that, and maybe I meet the wrong people,  whereas I suffer the frustration of needing time, a very great deal of time, to read poetry and literature, others seem to do so while at the same time, on the bus perhaps, travelling between ‘venues’, and consuming vast amounts of latte therein. I really am an old cynic. Or maybe just old, fashioned oldly. I still have to give hours, and yes I do have to – it’s part of who I am – to private reading and writing. It may be just that old people are slow. I just don’t to seem to have the energy to watch endless television ‘about’ the arts, or visit the eternal round of venues and art factories. (I’d add that I do believe in things like writers’ groups, and serious community arts projects which involve single-minded attention, dedication, and most of all, that deeply unfashionable word, effort. I should add humility too.)

Anyway, who will I be reading this ‘national poetry day’? It’s Paul Farley, who happens to be from Liverpool, write with reference to Liverpool and from a refracted autobiographical base: such attributes are contingencies, for he is a very good poet, and one, I believe, who fully deserves the accolade of being recognised for his poetry and not for his accidental associations with the city of culture.

Time and Ideology

It is especially important to dispense with the febrile notion of ideology as false consciousness, as if there were a state of consciousness that is not false. The only state of consciousness which is pure is the dream, and representations of this purity in memory and recall immediately contaminate, and are immediately ruptured from it. Metaphor to be taken literally is one of the few worthwhile entry points into language. Analogy is a tool, fragmented compass or divider on a deserted ship. The spirit and act of revolution requires the walking out on ideology. Gravity is pervasive but aeroplanes fly, except when they land or crash to earth. Ideology is  idolism, idealism, fetishism, but it is also a packet of crisps – full or empty – and a particular moment during 1815 at a particular place.

Mind leads mind, mind follows willingly: conversation. Time is “agreed between” so that there is no consciousness of time as an issue to be negotiated. Time becomes aware when contention arises. Singularly, the individual’s being on their own, in “free time”, untaken, evokes strong awareness of time. Boredom is the commonest attribution, time drags, something drags – is it through’ it drags? Time though is a hypostasis, not an entity. Time is empty. Time does not exist. It does not drag.

Doing, acting, are often very intensely and precisely in the pleasure of time, its excitement, for it is the metaphor for co-ordinated action, often very complex microactions. Awareness of time ‘moving’ quickly or slowly in relation to the action is an attribute of the action, not of something outside it. Such judgments about time are post hoc, and are not perceived as part of the action, except when beating the clock is the frame of reference. Usually, aware of time is unpleasant. Activity fills time so activity is sought. Awareness of time is often negative. Negativity propels, motivates more than goals.

Existential perspectives – mortality, being and nothingness, suicide 0 enter the picture as elaborate games to fill time. They are not part of an individual’s consciousness, nothing ‘alongside’, meta, ever is. Where not only my mind but my body too are taken by need – to labour, survive, build, fight – there is integrity since mind and body, themselves material, are led by materiality. There is a Tolstoyan idyll, true, but this is ideal idolism, ideological idleness, mere semantic fairy tale. In the most actual culture of ‘nature’ there is always dsruption and disjunction, disaster, aging, sickness, tribalism, familialism, power. In urban culture the rupture is constantly reinforced and reproduced so that mind becomes a representation of an ideal state that does not exist. The body always comes to collect its rent.

Ideology offers a promise of filling time, which is its power, a promise that time will never be empty, that the future will be full and make possible what is impossible for an animal to achieve: the valorisation of the mind and civilization is, of course, the most pernicious ongoing lie ever sold.

Mind leads mind, and time slips from consciousness; mind seems spaceless, without proportion or ration, dimension, differentiation, field and foreground, perspective. Mind is valorised precisely for its being disembodied (not in its workings or energy but in its relative autonomy). It is the holy ghost of old. The sentimental secular replacement for the holy ghost is found in the popular science titbits of superstrings, matter as energy, gravity and time interacting: all very appealing stuff as superstitiously attractive to a scientifically illiterate culture as any religious superstition ever made its appeal. Not surprisingly, the secular and religious unashamedly overlap, so it is not unusual for a Catholic Priest to write little books about quantum physics.

Ideology, by enabling communion, joint action, joyous interaction, timeless activity, the emptying of the void, ellides all awareness of the power structures that structure its existence (analogically, the body), ensuring the perpetual conservative stasis of history. Like death and the chemical possibility of life, ideology is undifferetiated, unreifiable. It cannot be qualified by value adjectives. It is, as ideas are. To represent ideology as a specific is to present an empty signifier – notwithstanding that ideology is itself empty.. All actions occur within ideology that is always outside itself. Every human mind is interpellated by ideology and implicated in all ideological narratives, that is all narratives, narratives as inevitable as the cellular reproduction of neural syntax.

Time when it is represented becomes always ‘something else’, something that acts as co-ordinates for mapping narratives which fill emptiness. Time is empty, ideology is empty: there is nothing to fill. The concord of agreement signified by complex  naming are free-floating and unattached to time, which does not exist except as a pure dream which cannot be represented except falsely and obliquely from the other side of dreaming. (The unconscious mind is not “structured like a language’). What, at the level of concord is called ideology or time or narrative is empty. Political action, art, value-making are all empty activities. Thus, the totality of human activity in its emptiness as signifier does indeed represent the emptiness of ideology: an empty mirror reflecting an empty mirror.

If dreams were to be found a status analogous to their not fitting into language it would have to be in violence, terror and the erotic.

Only through the preservation of an amazement at being and the armour of knowing history (which should be the only human discipline since all others are subsumed by it) may the constraints of time, ideology and biology be overcome. Only thus exists the moment of all revolution.

The Delights of Melancholy

The Varieties of Religious Experience

Henry James

Durer: Melancholia

It is not religion that is the concern here. Human emotions and feelings are the focus. How these influence a personality could as equally underlay their political orientation, their philosophical orientation, and they do in fact represent how a person actually is in the world: how they relate, how they feel, in short their character. There is an existential edge, of course: how do we go on, make meaning, find stable identities of ourselves and the world? To ignore religion and mysticism is not a problem, for anybody with a little knowledge will know that in all traditions the mystics have warned against confusing psychological states with religious insights or mystical openings, although that is not my interest here.

The main emphasis, and what concerns us all in our individual lives, is whether we feel good or bad. Let’s follow James and refer to the healthy minded against the ‘sick soul’, or just happy people and sad people. Rather than fleeting moods, these refer to long term characteristics of being in the world. All I propose to do is mainly quote from James, with minimal observation.

One interesting point to  start involves the summary James gives of the contrast between happy and unhappy people’s reactions to the idea of evil. I’d point out that there is a huge problem with James’ writing in that he never considers the syntactical role of language in categorisation, in the way that our language itself is at the root of our emotional experience: Continue reading

Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’: an angry review

When you hold this book in your hand remember that it is an item within the book. Books, print, signs, words, language: all in this novel faded to dark and sodden greyness, mulch, meaningless. The sparse words here, sparse burned landscape, scratched by the quill of an oracle at some deserted crossroads, yet all that is left of the fire and the light in the human, sparse and stark and violently pressed words, the last splutter of something – someone? – who is the last form of the Prophet. Remember this when you confront the image of a headless infant being roasted on a spit. There is only so much words can do, only so far that images can reach, and the reader is also in the book that is held in the hand, for it’s all mapped and mazed as one entity the world that ended, all of it: there is a juxtaposition of a woman at a café, head in hands, a cat, papers on a desk from that time which is this time, and the overturned shelves of a library of theology and philosophy books. Everywhere, in the book’s time is ash, moulded books, papers, rubbish, and the word ‘gray’ occurs without apparent repetition like a canopy over the text. Continue reading

Sentimentality, Meaning and Cultural Genocide

I read “Practical Criticism’ by I.A.Richards as a 16 years old just beginning ‘A” Level Literature (a pre-degree entry examination in the UK). I was minded to return to it recently less with an interest in poetry and meaning, and more because of my growing distaste for the widespread application of sentimentality in thinking. Since I generally concur with Turner’s thesis that the elementary structures of thinking are ‘literary’ (Mark Turner, ‘The Literary Mind’), there is no great difference at the level of my concerns between the ‘literary’ and other discourse, in any case. My concerns, by the way, are wearily pragmatic, having to do with nothing more interesting than values, policy, strategy and implementation pertaining to providers of public services, especially in health and related fields, and the formation of ideology in preparing minds for militarism and cultural genocide. Anyway, here are Richards’ useful concerns regarding meaning and poetry: Continue reading