Aphorisms XXIX

Why do we hold unalloyed engagement with a show, an act, to be the most valuable form of engagement? Especially when the matter of the art is smooth and brushes at the attention with a feather.

If you do things with your phone, to engage, it can result in a deeper engagement with the matter of the art. To make pictures while you listen to the jazz. To read the mythology in the background of a painting (here to simply look is to completely ignore the painting.) To play the videogame.

To call your friend and have them hear the music through the phone. Rather than sit, absorbed, where you will forget to be with the art, and instead just watch it. Often the alloy, hardly the element.

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Aphorisms XXVIII

Condescension of Revolution – It is so easy when you look at what such an upheaval costs, first, in violent reaction and, then, the counter reaction which tends to follow. But when a political arrangement will not change, has no inbuilt manner through which to change it to make it more democratic – when the tantrums of imperial powers set their unwieldy mass behind autocracy and freely exercise and defend their monopoly on violence – then what else is there left to do? As the gridlock tightens, as reaction tightens, the temptation grows and grows…

And when democratic revolution can be undertaken peacefully, for the most part, the arguments against it are dulled to a whisper.

What am I saying here? I’m saying that there is space for a democratic revolution even in a nominally democratic system, a system which bears traces of democracy already.

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Reading: The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins

What is the constellation of forces that makes a text dystopian? Weirder, what makes one want to create a dystopia? Consider this –

An owl is watching from a skeleton tree, as people board the buses. The vehicles are old, but not in a quaint way, and some are dented. They seem scratch built from the leftovers of an imperial past, and people pack onto them, carrying bags, battered laptops, and cracked smartphones. The convoy wakes, the sound of engines soon lost over the city scrub, but the owl doesn’t seem disturbed. Its eyes blindly stare as the trucks disappear into the outskirts, picking up speed past the towns, the haunted tanks from lost armies, and abandoned imperial outposts, and goes on into the desert. The landscape isn’t safe, and speed is essential – rising dust from the column mixes with heat and fumes, and as night falls some buses split off and pass into the mountains. Onboard one of the rattling carriages an empire-adjacent storyteller has escaped the core and dedicated his life to following one of the occupied, Omar.

“The drivers did the fifteen-to-twenty-hour trip in one shift, often with the help of hashish or amphetamines”

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Aphorisms XXV

There’s something cleansing about watching old papers burn, something similar to watching a big long delete bar progressing on the screen, things being overwritten with randomly generated strings. The process of scrunching up letters, and then seeing them turn to ash, the randomly generated strings of the earth. Like we will!

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Aphorisms IX

When I was what you could call ‘virulently atheist’ I remember warding off any future professions of faith with great vindictiveness. What did I expect? I imagine it was a form of self-reinforcement.

I would say… if, in the future, I profess faith, then you can know that it is truly a mistake. As if to protect and account for my future self, who would undoubtedly have gone through an incredible transformation.

I’m still atheist, I’m just a lot more materialistic about the cultus now. Now, I would say of my future self – if he professes faith, just be kind to him.

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Say NO! to hysteria

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Metre and syllable limit are machines to make beautiful language, or good poems. There are others, among them actively thwarting metre and syllable limit. These machines routinely break down, when they are not understood as machines.

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Game Point

“Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down” – Robert Frost

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down, in the rain, on an aircraft carrier, whilst experimental jets launch fireworks into space above you

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down, on an aircraft carrier that was sunk in 2004 off the coast of Florida to form the basis of a coral reef, and losing with grace

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down, on an aircraft carrier in a pop-up cross-section book, and accidentally slipping off the edge and falling into the cardboard sea

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down, loose in fact, when it begins to move, blown by the air off the edge, over the sea, until it crests a wave then slowly sinks to join millions of bones on the seafloor

Writing free verse is like playing tennis, but it’s not tennis, you’re holding a pen, and you try and hit the ball but it just sticks on the end of the pen and ink dribbles down your arm to the white flagstones

Writing poetry is like playing tennis with the net down but with the net up

Two Bus Poems

I

Every day bar some
the bus comes sometime, stops.
A law as certain, now
as the coming of night
of day, of suns, novas.
And people wobble on it.

I sit on the top floor
it feels safer up here
and I think of your face
whom I meet at the stop
on the odd occasion.
I think of the bus crash

where the corner taken
slightly too fast ended
in an event survived
by two of us alone.
The tragic accident
with one happier dream;

as we stare for months from
plaster casts at open
eyes across the room – heads
in a cartoon-like wrap –
your eyes like oil vents loosed
and set fire in the night

and that oil drains downward
to soak our sweat drenched casts
our two hospital beds
in the desert, they melt
and we walk slow to meet
and this under dark rain

burning rain – we are one.
We were only standing
sparsely chatting back then
now we melt into
puddles of each other – and
the dark oil rolls onwards.

II

Your fingers tap cleanly
on the deep red plastic
suitcase – where will it end!?
I would say hi, open
the suitcase of futures,
allow random packings

to array themselves – smile –
You smile as I walk by
the bus’s lit windows.
It had to be raining.
Now, not only can I
not skateboard but dwell, too

on your face, this soft chance
which for once makes the sharp
butterfly wings softer –
an anxiety lost
and gained this idea
of our nights together

in the Sevillan shade
sharing an orange – peel
of our clothes scattered on
the warm tiled courtyard floor
as I whisper in your
deepest ear – what fragrance.

The suitcase slipped out
of your grasp – rolled and I
caught it, its dimpled shell
shining under bus lights
this cavern of hard flesh –
but what am I saying.

V.48

It is remarkably easy
crossing rivers, over the grass
that is submersed. I walk across
the bridge and turn, see my vampire

friends shivering and swearing there
typing fragments of disgust at
this thing which flows on and never
likes or retweets anything. Wow

I say, just wow. Come on over.
They can’t. Their undead hearts pump blood
borrowed from moment to moment
from various devices. Who

am I kidding? My thoughts are run
through with desire paths. My
thumbs are tired and I can’t think.
I try press the river into

service as a question, a graph
an interesting friend, a text.
But the water keeps on going
and eventually cracks out

of my phone screen, as I walk on,
fizzing like a burst pipe, I sigh
and my clothes are drenched. Their toothy
grins follow me, as I trudge on

V.47

Writing the last poem was weird
I got to the line where the dog
was scratched, and I felt a scratch at
the back of my head. A tall girl

scratched the back of my head. Then stopped.
In the café she stood in a
phase which lasted a long second.
Then she realised she didn’t know

me. What an oddly nice event.
She was very embarrassed, ran
across, shouted, oh my god its
the wrong person. I talked to a

guy across from me, said, that was
weird, but nice! and he said, it was!
Later I heard them chatting on
about how she didn’t pay mind

to him. Well, her absent minded
nature bestowed me a gift of
a surreal moment I will dream
the way the fabled soul mate comes

from nothing to slide through the door
of unawareness. It was nice
to meet you, anyway. I sat,
wrote this, and calmed down. Life is strange

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 produce some 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. Of course, if someone claimed it, we would know to look in their hidden wastepaper bins. Poems don’t often 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 (something which seems particularly difficult to accept for some people.) The whole idea is just meant to have some sort of illocutionary force. To accomplish something creative.