Monday 27 January 2014

Stuart Calton, 'The torn instructions for no trebuchet' (Barque Press, 2013)

Stuart Calton’s The torn instructions for no trebuchet has, say, five areas of concern. It requires that you read it in a succession of readings, that you read it again and again, that you live with it, really, as all the 'best' poetry does, that it might actually change your life as it desires the life it sketches, in general and in particular, to change, that you will live with this poem, that it will reveal itself to you, not from a position of teasing hiddenness, but from the work it forces and accomplishes of you and of itself, really does so. The, say, five (or maybe rather six) areas of concern are: the journey by car, around the motorway near Manchester, going and coming from where it’s unclear; the kids in the playground, who are the poet’s, but might also be the poet’s younger self; a very specific set of not-quite real or possible engagements with the inner and outer material of flesh, tongue and teeth and gums, penis and breast, melding and meshing both as very deep in oneself and as of and in another, whether, say, lover or mother; a polemical attack on Amiri Baraka’s Marxist writings as exhibiting an ultimately bureaucratised and conservative Stalinism, full of disgust for the ‘perverted’ or ‘ugly’ body, in which a fantasy of totality, full of stereotyped and cartoon figures as representations of particular forms of social evil, dispenses with the particularity of personal experience and of contradictory emotion which is not ‘bourgeois’ introspection, but the essential grounds for challenging and examining the root of social formation, and all its harm and hurt, particularly in the realm of sexual relations; mixed in with this attack, what appear to be topical comments on the SWP scandal unfolding as the book was being written, itself a major political failure in the realm of sexual relations, a collective non-acknowledgment, on the part of party leadership at least, of the absolute necessity of right conduct in the realm of these relations if the collective organisation desired for is to mean anything at all; and, finally, that with which the book ends, a desperately moving apologia for the failure of a particular love relationship to live up to the investment it was given with socialism as actually lived mode of being between specific people, and the utopian remainder within that loss of that hope as the absolutely necessary condition of being a socialist.

Psychoanalysis is crucial here, from Klein and others. As with two other books published that year, by Keston Sutherland and Andrea Brady, Calton is concerned with the formation of the subject and its relation to politics and ethics; but whereas Sutherland’s Odes to TL61P attempt would seem in part to be to inflate the subject and its love relations as if it could match the politics around it, and Brady’s Mutability focuses in specifically on the relation of mother to child in the early stages of life as a complex course of minute ethical problematics, Calton’s is perhaps less specifically tied to that personal investment, so that, though it is crucial and moving for me that those real biographical marks, that have really come from his life – the dedication to Tori, the sudden and unexpected address out to specific addressee – “Tori, I’m sorry” – the closing passage; all these both resist generalizable totality claims and insist that a vision which is something like totality, of socialism, can be found in these bits, not as essay or performance of identity but as constantly failing and falling assay, as the poem’s extended verse paragraph and irregular line lengths accumulate absolute claustrophobia and constriction, marked especially by successions of monosyllables that assume the shape of something like a tongue- or an eye-twister, the condition of absolute stress where sex is not metaphor for political cred, not thus stretched, is not romanticized life-pitch outside of daily attentive regard as the real ground of relation, love’s real work, but that it is this that it says, that the truth of the poems says, that “still forever I / hate this fucking system and I wanted our life / better to realize the true generality and make its / really-existing untruth external in our / particular.” So perhaps no one will read this book, with its lack of flash, its self-sufficient insistence on being a poem, whose argument is made in poetry, not bolstered with any interview with overt long blurb, with any of that stuff. But really, it’s fucking imperative that they should.

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