Four Books from Hesterglock

Four Books from Hesterglock (2018)

50 // fifty by Michael Harford and paul hawkins

Cocktail Kafkaïne by Mustapha Benfodil translated by Joe Ford

The City Itself by Billy Mills

logbook by hiromi suzuki

 

50 // fifty by Michael Harford and paul hawkins

This short collection of 50 fifty-word poems by paul hawkins with 50 collages by Michael Harford was written as a constraint-based project during Hawkins’ 50th year.  For the constraint, paul wrote a fifty-word poem every day for 50 weeks of the year, sending one text to Michael each week. Harford responded with a collage for each text and the results are collected together here.  The process of collaboration features not only in the constraint but also in the way the texts and images are presented, and, visually, in the collages themselves.  Each page features a single colour collage above a short numbered text, running through from #1 to #50.  The collages immediately alerted my eyes to the juxtaposition of disparate p/arts – each collage being composed of several cut-out images placed together within its own square perimeter to make an ostensible whole, and the overall project being a placing together of individual pieces – both visual and verbal/textual – to construct the whole.

The images and poems are placed together with varying degrees of harmony and dissonance.  Knowing that paul’s previous projects have focused on dissonance, it’s interesting to note the resonances and dissonances between certain texts and images in the collection.  For example, #13 riffs on the idea of ‘painbirds’ mentioning sparrows specifically and swallows obliquely.

‘same old same old

sparrows dive bomb

peck at your ears’

‘drink swallow inhale’

The collaged image depicts two sparrows hanging upside down from the top right corner – in a potentially dive-bombing location as they point towards the two human figures across the centre.  But their body-positions suggest that they’re sitting rather than diving.  The movement in the image is suggested by the postures and gestures of the two human figures, who in the poem are seated. There’s a line of sheet-music and a cut-out letter (as in missive) – perhaps alluding to the poem’s ‘voices without mouths’.  In the background – maybe sand – and a textured stripe of something evoking the ‘front seat of a renault clio’ in the front.

These resonances are oblique and have to be worked at – readers are invited to make connections between two seemingly disparate and dissonant artefacts brought into the juxtaposition of a single page, or book.  Yet we’re also asked to notice where that resonance ends and the dissonance begins.  Neither the images nor the poems are designed to be directly translatable to each other. This book presents readers with many ways in to a potential conversation, but always reminds us that the interlocutors are distinct and individual subjects: each with their own particular language and way of speaking.

50 fifty

 

Cocktail Kafkaïne by Mustapha Benfodil translated by Joe Ford

Conversation and the ‘(un)translatable’ feature heavily in Cocktail Kafkaïne, a collection of Algerian poetry in French by Mustapha Benfodil with accompanying translation by Joe Ford.  The book presents the texts in mirrored translation, with the original French on the verso (left-hand page) and the translation on the facing recto (right-hand page).  This is, in part, to raise questions about the (un)translatability of poetry, and also to give readers access to a full collection of Benfodil’s body of poetic writing in both its original French and in English translation.  Benfodil, a poet whose name English readers may not be familiar with, performs poetry as protest on the streets of Algeria at considerable personal risk.

Giving ‘wild readings’ in public places has led to his repeated arrest and questioning by the police. While some poems, such as ‘#Tract’ and ‘TATATATATATATATATA’ refer explicitly to politically radical events and perspectives, other of Benfodil’s poems are personal musings – such as ‘Asset Declaration’ and several poems to his daughter.  Regardless of the content, he tells us in the introduction that it’s possible to be arrested and questioned simply for the act of reading poetry or an extract from a play in a public place without a permit – hence Benfodil founded and developed the concept of ‘wild readings’: unlicensed public poetry readings.  Poetry, in Algeria, is in itself an act of wilful political defiance.  ‘A bullet in the narration’ testifies to the threat posed by literary arts in a fundamentally religious society, culminating in a list of the names of writers murdered for their art since 1962.

These collected poems, written over a period spanning twenty years, have a Beat-style aesthetic: irreverent, radical, personal; in the form of spontaneous-seeming long lines of free verse and variations on the list-poem.  And they’re a brave testament to free-thinking and radical self-expression in the face of a repressive regime.

Cocktail Kafkaine

 

The City Itselfby Billy Mills

‘words for this space

a space to frame them

concord of sorts’

The texts framed within The City Itself invite readers’ speculations towards a ‘concord of sorts’, as suggested by the book’s epigraph, above. Comprising poetry, prose and quotation, the mixed genres speak to one another in moments of both accord and discord. The section of fragmented quotations called ‘A Short History of Dominick Street’ immerses readers in the streets of Dublin.  Evoking not only geography and history, but also voice and vernacular, the sounds of the streets are heard in the telling.  The following section, ‘Pensato’ (meaning ‘thought’ in Italian, but also – in music – an imaginary note that is written but never played or heard), presents slight poems often arranged in couplets or single lines that I first expected to be echoes of the language found in the History.  Reading back, however, I couldn’t find a lexical connection. Thinking on it now, I wonder if it’s not the echoes of the language, but the act of listening itself that creates a concord between the two.

‘listen

do not

 

sing

it is

enough’

The poems in this section reflect on sound and silence, stillness and movement, while Mills’ deliberate use of spacing – both the space of the page and the spaces in between lines – invite readers to experience these qualities in the act of reading. The texts weave subtle materialities, often allowing readers to pause and experience ourselves living for a moment. Yet also gently demanding that we do the work of being with these words.

The City Itself

 

logbook by hiromi suzuki

This book of Hiromi Suzuki’s collages is an understated collection of ‘visual poetry’, which, for Suzuki, ‘means invisible poetry’.  The poems, whose text is invisible, are hinted at in the delicate weave of colour, shape and texture with occasional figurative images and fragmented typography of each collage.  Some collages are titled, others untitled.  Some seem linked by resonant images, such as the prevalence of hands in the gesture of holding, while others form loose narratives in concert or alone.

Like the invisible visual poetry of these pieces, Suzuki says the stories are also ‘invisible … in the faint moonlight’, while she hears ‘a voice and melody from the page’.  Each page is a record of daily memory and ephemera, yet each is open enough to speak to us in myriad ways.  These collages rarely reach for mimetic depiction, and instead offer gestures of space and movement by which we might construct our own narrative or poetic resonances with the work on the page.

There’s a youthful and innocent playfulness in the language that is used, sparingly, to give occasional titles and to provide context for the collage work.  One pairing, ‘Where troubles melt like lemon drops’ and ‘that’s where you’ll find me’ depict splashes of light and dark textures with sharp, angular intersections that lend weight to the apparent linguistic levity. Another pair, ‘m for mortal’ and ‘e for embrace’ evoke both visual and textual poetry in their wordplay and images. Displayed together, the two collages read ‘me’ – suggesting the self can be identified as a ‘mortal embrace’ – while sandpaper-like textures in black and white conjure the sense of an abyss.

Suzuki likens her collages to ‘automatic writings’ – creating one each night before sleep.  The simplicity of this gesture belies the depth to be found in the collages, making this a tender and inspiring collection, richly represented in colour by Hesterglock.

logbook

Click here to find these books at Hesterglock.

About the Publisher:

Hesterglock publishes work from poets / artists / writers of any/all gender(s), colour(s), sexual orientation and dis/ability.  Work that is anti-systems of oppression, intersectional, across form(s) and across discipline(s).

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics and performs poetry as ritual to open up [r]evolutionary space for positive transformation.  She teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Westminster.  Her poems have been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf.  Chapbooks to date: The Unfinished Dream (Sad Press, 2016) and Atha (forthcoming with Knives, Forks and Spoons). Find her on Twitter: @Spaewitch.

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Diisonance Launch

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.

diisonance
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.

Click here to order Diisonance from Hesterglock Press.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.