Aphorisms XIV

Pronouns again – A teenage girl bought the airfix. “Did she?” says my friend. But here is a place where I would say ‘they’ – uncertainty again being the aspect relevant to explaining why. I don’t know them…


Can there be a superlative without the disgust of the ordinary? Yes. In fact, that is a prerequisite. It’s not the difference from the ordinary that makes something superlative, but a superlative relation of that thing to us, experiencing it. And the disgust of the ordinary often slides in surreptitiously at the back. It may seem stupid to say that the best film has no relation to other films by that fact, but it is stupider to say that any film could satisfy the language game of suiting the squirly set of conditions for bestness taken in the tool like sense. The best tool for the task does that one job better than the others. But a film without an adjective, has no one task. I guess it’s a classic example of language going on holiday.


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The quicksand and sea of mud
and the sea itself, running
with cold skies as long and deep.
Trees step out from cobbled banks
and the train’s rumble stirring
the café in the pale house –
I cannot escape from this

barbaric lyric’s enclave –
with the way that the world goes on
why can I still find this peace?
Maybe I should have chosen
to be the gull, the shaggy
dog in the rail underpass
whose soft songs betray no-one.

Aphorisms XI

A plot or storyline can be outlined in a more or less random string of images. If you want to, you just have to massage them into shape to make them seem like they were destined to appear together.


Say a french novel was published in 1954. If you are nostalgic, or a scholar, you may want to translate it in a way that expresses the 1950s in France through a kind of amalgamated 1950s english. But, If I want to really relate with the characters, as it were, I have to go all the way, and rather than travelling back in time to put myself in their positions, I bring them forward in time, putting them in our positions, or at least positions more well known to us, living as we do. If we are going to translate a book, why not really translate it? We need both kinds of translations, and more and different still, if we are to really translate something.

To do otherwise is to fetishize language, do our best to ignore who was speaking it, or at least to try and control them by confining them to the past, or to a kind of nostalgic revery.

Good lord, listen to me, I’ve only just  started translating. So ignore me, or don’t. It doesn’t matter.


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Aphorisms VII

On a Certain Experience in Relation to Sex – In response to a talk by Leila Slimani, I think of someone I love browsing on tinder, or not even that, but of spontaneously, magically, having found someone to bring home and fuck. And this causes a pang of something in me. But where does this pang happen? And in relation to what? Is it a spur to action, to step through into my ideal space to avoid missing out, or to assert control? Or is it the same as the anxiety dreams I have sometimes, that in some manner everything would fall apart, that I actually have no power over them, all my power, our relationship, has been undermined or not existed quite how I thought?

What, after all, could I do? For it must be an issue of confidence here, of self-worth. I fear having no recourse to a response, no power to respond to such a situation. Insofar as it is not just a kind of pang of sadness, or of lost hope, of ‘I thought you cared, but now it seems you don’t, or at least not in the way I hoped, to enchant everything about you sexually, morally, like a kind of drug’, it is also this self-relation, that I do not even see the potential to action in response, and rather just experience it, curl up like the proverbial stamped on worm.

But of course, if someone were to perform this act, in reality, what is to say we would not be able to respond, to say ‘I value myself more than this experience, I demand of you something (submission?), a tribute, a change in you, or I will simply walk away, believing I can achieve great things again. In this way it becomes clear that the whole thing about these experiences is that they are tied up with power and power relations, which is another way of saying relations of self-image. Because power is not inherent but relational. I would not care in this case if I did not see myself as essentially powerless, though unconsciously. The whole situation would not occur without neurotic and twisted power relations already being present. All of which would indicate that people don’t get sexually jealous unless they are insecure in some basic way, or in an insecure situation.

But is this any different from betrayal, from paranoia tout court? I can imagine similar pangs happening if I knew I was missing out or hadn’t been invited to some event, though without the extra sexual fizz and burn. Then, maybe that extra fizz is just sex itself, and that is all that there is particular to an experience of sexual jealousy. Thought invests so much in sexual relationships, that they become monolithic and hard to parse.

As Leila Slimani says, I think that having secrets is important, and if not vital then helpful in all things. We must fight the urge to know all, to totalise the relationship, to totalise anything, really. We know that the total is the real lie, the real wasteland. We sense this because knowing everything can bring the moment of banal clarity, and that clarity wipes away all sexiness, all suspense, or it controls and prescribes til that controlling and prescribing becomes everything. We all agree that we shouldn’t know everything about our partners, our friends, because we agree not to know a prescribed set of things about them every day, their breakfast, their toilet routine, their every thought. We just need to accept more secrets, not worry about finding out. Why act as if Love is an investigation, when it’s a lot closer to gambling? In gambling, we know we lose sometimes, that’s part of the charm. But then that also brings its own problems.

Provocatively put you might say sexual jealousy is not something that people in general have, but rather certain societies have.


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Note: The Version Series

If you are wondering why I am writing so many numbered versions of the same form of poem, the real answer is that I organically came to the conclusion it would be a productive way to get some good poems. But then I came up with the following retrospective rationalisation.

I heard a poet* say something to the effect that when they want to write a collection, they just write 170 poems and choose 60. And it made me think. If you want to write n good poems, you just have to write xn poems, where x would change depending on your poetic quotient. So if you want to write a collection of, say, 100 poems, and your poetic quotient is 3, then you should write 300 poems, and then scrape off the impurities, leaving 100 great poems. The poetic quotient of the quoted poet is 170/60, or 2.83. Pretty low, I would think. A lower quotient is more consistently successful, and a zen master poet would have a quotient of 1, where every poem they write comes out pure and beautifully successful, regardless of the style.

So thought I would try writing xn poems. But to arrive at an accurate result I would have to limit other factors – a set form would remove a lot of variables. The form that emerged with the idea was a poem of six stanzas, each of four eight syllable lines. Each titled by a version number. ‘V’s from one through to either 100, or 364, or whatever, depending on when I decide to stop. Then I will end up with n poems, and I will have an indication of my poetic quotient.**

The idea is to use a set form as a poetic diary, recording something for each day, or every other day, so I get a range of styles, moods, material, inspirations, etcetera. That’s the real interest in this for me I think. To see how my use of the form changes. The first few were taking a lot of inspiration from the style of Ben Lerner, and I have changed already to a more colloquial and referential style.

*I think from Alice Oswald or Anne Carson, I can’t seem to find it now.

**This is all tongue in cheek as I don’t really think such a thing is accurate or even helpful, just a productive idea. I don’t think anyone in history has had a poetic quotient of 1, though it would be a nice mythic characteristic. Poems don’t drop off the tongue like gold bricks, they are filigreed (etymology: thread-and-grained) to make a whole after the fact. And I fully intend to go back and rework them as I go, as I always do. But that won’t change which poems I feel to be the greater successes, if my experience is anything to go by. But then which poems I think are successes doesn’t often correlate with what other people feel are the successes. On top of that our poetic quotient would change from day to day, moment to moment – I rarely write every day, and some days I write several poems I consider to be successes. The best poems in the world could be written by the poets with the highest quotients. The whole idea is just meant to have some sort of illocutionary force. To accomplish something creative.


You’ve got to find the people who
are fighting the good fight and then
somehow you have to support them.
You’ve got to hold back on holding

back with the praise, and criticize
only when you think it’s a fire
to the forest that requires it
which it turns out is basically

never when it comes to most art*
because art is not a war, you
know? no matter how many dolts
want to make it so boring it

shatters through density. holding
art is like making a gesture of
greeting like reaching out your hand
on deck. Let us lower anchor,

let us stay now in this lagoon
and watch the sun set together
on our shared future. and I won’t
stop you if you want to go back

to shore, to go shore the ruin’s
baseline, you aren’t ready to join
hands and think of death and greater
things. learn to throw your shade inside

*bearing in mind that the stupid can never be art.

Write What You Know

“It rests on the assumption that a particular linguistic community is the best artisan of its own language, or even its own mythology, which is a vast overestimation of the value of experience, or rather an extreme strengthening of the principle that language grows precisely out of experience, rather like regular crystals forming in a puddle of salt. In fact it is much more messy.” – The Ghost of Ludwig Wittgenstein

“If we tried to philosophise only what we knew, we would be pre-empting failure by giving up philosophy before we even began” – Anti-Russell

“A surfer does not surf, instead they ride waves which are so unique, they will never occur again in the history of the universe” – Surfer on a Late Night Rerun of The Tide

Hang on a second, go back.
your captains name wasn’t Ahab?
Don’t tell me
What about the shark sermon?
Give it up old boy
Let me say why not make all your characters
You with a moustache and glasses?
Call them Melville
What do you mean they all survived?
I thought I alone escaped?
Scrap it – instead why not write
About sitting down to write?
And all those little ideas you have.
Best to keep it little –
Replace the white what
With your cat, little Moby here
And of the problems of fur on clothing
Write revenges of tiny majesty

But hang on a sec. Again
But your cat does so much without you
Better to avoid such difficult subjects
As it stalks apt nouns in the fields
Better to talk about this chair, this table
Are you feeling quite up to it?
A table is a difficult subject
I met a man once who wrote a whole
Book on it
It was called ‘The Point of Pure Intelligence
Hovers in a Blank Space Slightly Too Close
To The Dim Screen, Typing –
The Adventures of Said Table’
It was okay if you like that sort of
Table. But hang on

A second where was this beauty made?
Oh dear.
I’m fast becoming a flat plain
Free of everything – is it not liberating?
Almost pure prose, pure purpose – but not quite, yet
Aha! Let me ask you, writer
Can your pen bend round end to end
To write upon itself?
If not then we are really in trouble.
Better to just start scribbling, quickly
Before anything else disappe

A Chance Betrayal

Her dark eyes and dark hair drew
My body to hers, although we stood in regiment
Forward facing to the band –
And only for the third time, burned
My living with a brand of love
Or let me grasp again, at least
The meaning of that ancient phrase –
From life to life; love at first touch
Though I can no more believe it, fallen
In pragmatics, as I am
Or simple shyness to the flame
Which makes us small and stays our moving
Paralyzed with lack of vision.
Betrayed by confidence, I flee – and not
By my own legs, but led on thoughtless
Stancing back to her – we leave
And I don’t speak of it til later,
In a lonely tent, now taken
With a lonely hue I had not noticed
And quickly smother my grief in sleep.

The forecast is for rain, that this poet
Would rather do poetical work
Than the real work of the leap of faith
That I won’t be laughed away by empty sheets
Of paper – at least on a good day
And try and tell of why I didn’t
Rather than rushing out to throw my life
On the pulsing rack and await reply.
Well, here’s my confession, nonetheless
Pulled in lead across the page
As I am pulled in soft self rage.

Three times say I that I’ve been cracked
Upon the rocks of the female form
The second was more slow than this,
More sparkling, more warm.
But the first is why I leave the way
Willingly whenever such grief appears
I broke myself, that time, in years
As an animal, and now I rue these days
When, chaos forged cog, I see
Another closely matching my speed
Of rotation, and am tempted to engage –
A perfect storm of human attributes
And dancing before the stage.
And instead I spin in place.
Rather than risk collision
The chancing of disaster, even if it goes our way.

(Note – The aspects of attraction aren’t all nameable, but they are all relations of one to another, which is to say ‘subjective’ or experienced. And they are not only to do with the individuality of the person but their surroundings, which is to say they infuse and are infused by their surroundings. And they are not straightforwardly physical attributes like dark hair, or dark eyes, or boxes to tick, but storms or nebulae which can centre on such things, stretched over you and the world, which are to some extent, lesser or greater, sourced from this body, not that one.)