On Friday 8 September, a curious group of people met at The Gallery Café in Bethnall Greenfor the launch of Diisonance – a book of protest texts, art and collaborative experimental poetry. A solitary microphone stood among café tables in front of a curtain of lights. Paul Hawkins welcomed us, an intimate rabble, before swiftly tearing pages from his latest work Place Waste Dissent: ‘I’m not precious about my work,’ he said.
Place Waste Dissent – published by Influx Press in 2015 – utilises zine culture using ‘scuzzy xeroxed black and white images, cut and stark, pasted typewriter text, drawings and signs.’ The book commemorates a love and loss of Claremont Road, where government plans to construct the M11 Link road tagged every property for demolition and destroyed a flourishing community. Protestors formed a cooperative resistance, exercising their rights and causing dissonance between the community and the status quo. Place Waste Dissent ‘takes the aesthetics of poetry as seriously as the occupation and protests that inspired its writing’ by balancing narratives of occupying protestors
and original residents (notably Dolly Watson who had lived on Claremont Road since 1901) giving voice to those who otherwise were not given the opportunity to be heard.
In its turn, Hawkins explained, Diisonance responds directly to the social issues in Place Waste Dissent. Diisonance, he says, “is a culmination of how it’s affected us, our lives and the psychology we’ve been left with, as a detritus from the whole thing.” Voices come together to fight against social crises, such as housing that persists perilously today: with inevitable tragedies like Grenfell Tower, for example, and the looming demolition of Robin Hood Gardens.
Hawkins handed out the loose pages of his book, explaining that we were about to do something that has never happened before, and can never happen again. The room, rising to its feet, read aloud from the discarded pages of his book – glossy black and white fragments of experimental poetry, collage and text. The room filled with the sound of dissonant voices. It didn’t matter who spoke, sung, shouted or whispered: the text rose from the page into an electric air. Words dissolved in the noise of our many voices, our many fragments. Hawkins moved through the crowded space, the crowded noise, recording the moment that couldn’t happen again.
To launch the book, a collaboration of writers read their work – Paul Hawkins, Tony White, Sarer Scotthorne, Gary Budden, Roy McFarlane – with an exhibition by visual artist Steve Ryan. Tony White read from his novel, Charlieunclenorfolktango, written twenty years ago and published by Codex, a defunct small press, in 1999. “This is probably not suitable for children,” White said, before galloping into a dialectic rant on the fifty ways a “mad fuckin’ killer” could break into your house and murder you: “so that’s why there’s got to be coppers” so you can “sleep easy.” Spitefully humorous,
the work accounts for ways the police protect and serve but enforce a system of inequality and injustice. Blue lights flickered across the walls of the café as a police car passed along Old Ford Road.
Hawkins gave a brief reading of his poetry. We learned of the police brutality that occurred during the events at Claremont Road, paying homage to lives and communities deemed worthless when the government approved demolitions for construction of the M11 Link Road, built to link the North Circular Road to the A14, northwest of Cambridge.
Sarer Scotthorne – poet, writer, staunch and radical feminist – read a collection of corresponding letters sent to Miggy Angel. She wrote to Miggy about the dissonance of sound and the human body. Letters, a nostalgic medium, collaborate separate minds that meet on the page. Scotthorne discusses divisions of the human body, reciting her letters as poetry: something private becomes public. The work picks and plucks at the idea of sound and dissonance between things through melodious poetic imagery: ‘the music, the world, all here at once.’ Scotthorne expresses her body oppressed, a body othered; the marginal being that harnesses her muteness to be heard: ‘can you read my silence?’ She incorporates binary code, “0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1,” shifting the atmosphere to a strange robotic default. Sound is intrinsically linked to the ‘mouth-sound,’ the ‘beetle-voice’ of female silencing. The female voice is other, alien and isolated but also continuously speaks up from the hushed prisms of the body – Scotthorne presents her silence, the silence of her sex, as a dissonance of self, a fracture of internal harmonies, that begins to use realms of silence in order to speak from the ‘silent maternal body.’ Try to imagine language in reverse: if we can speak in silence, phallogocentrism loses its dominance.
Gary Budden read from his new story collection The Wrecking Days which explores themes of nature and narcotics, writing from the margins of society ‘where reality thinned a little.’ His piece suggested that the artificial and the natural are not opposing at all, instead they are transcendent. Budden writes about youthful and reckless days spent on the London marshes. In such places of in-between, on the fringes of London, Budden writes about notions of being and belonging: the idea that ‘memory is a marsh’ as the world diffuses in mist and nostalgia. The marshes act as a psychogeographical jettison between two places, between city and country, between artifice and nature. Such spaces, as Budden presents in his collection, allowed them to explore their minds, without ‘shutting parts of yourself down.’ It was ‘a way of seeing the world for what it really is,’ to find their own version of what it means to be free: to be and belong on their own terms. But Budden acknowledged, through his tales of the wrecking days, that being able to see the world as it is can also pull you apart.
Roy McFarlane, a poet and playwright, rounded up the evening with two resonant readings from his recent works. The first reading, ‘Tebbit Test,’ reflected on the comment made by British Conservative politician Norman Tebbit, who suggested that immigrants who continued to support their native countries, rather than England, at the sport of cricket, are not significantly integrated into the United Kingdom. Such racial inequity led McFarlane to write about racism and politics in relation to sport. McFarlane reminds us of the cutting dissonance of racial injustice that is active everywhere. His second reading tempered with volumes of sound. The world to McFarlane, as it is now, feels ‘turned
up’ to the point of ‘cut, break, fracture, dissonance.’ As an alternative, McFarlane proposes, the volume of the times should be tuned down – ‘a discordant sound’ falling into a weightless void of silence. He conjured the image of water dripping into ‘a bottomless well of silence.’ McFarlane responds to our discordant times with a call for
silence; a call to listen for the ‘echo of love’ that falls, not like a drip but like a stone, into the water. These moments are lost in the cacophony of noise and noisy images. Yet, McFarlane suggests, these quiet moments have healing properties. They are ripples of time capable of changing social dimensions, from something static to something more fluid.
Overall, the Diisonance book launch explored spaces between binary constructs. Tony White mimicked the discourse between ‘us and them’ that resonated with Paul Hawkins aching reminiscence of creative communities in London, such as Claremont Road; sites where state ideology betrays human rights. Sarer Scotthorne dislocated ‘male and female’ and spoke about how silence is related to structures of gender. She picked at the social structures of male speech and female silence by tuning into feminine silence – and performing it. Gary Budden dislocated the ‘here and there’ of places of being and belonging, where the London marshes act as a safe space for experimentations
of selfhood. Finally, Roy McFarlane expressed the racial disconnect between ‘black and white’ as dissonance, as well as the implication of sound: a ‘lack of harmony between things.’
The Diisonance book launch was an evening of protest and resistance against oppressive forces that attempt to control our lives, that are an especially prominent part of life in the city. The writers acknowledge the present state of things – political, social, economic – expressed through their experiences in the past. Throughout their lives, they have seen things at their best, their worst and everything in between. Diisonance is a project among many that attempts to galvanise the hearts and minds of the people and restore the magnetic flow of life in London.
Review by Kirsty Watling
Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.