Literature Modernism Poetry Study Notes

Notes on the contexts of Modernism

Happy new year everyone. Today I have begun studying the period between 1870 & 1940 as part of my degree in English Language & Literature. The module I am part way through is entitled ‘Literature in Transition: from 1800 to the present’. The introduction to book 2 (entitled Movements: 1870-1940) of the module examines the contexts around what we think of as Modernist literature and art. As a precursor to some planned content examining Modernist literature over the coming year, I have decided to share my notes as I believe they serve as a useful primer to thoughts about this subject.

Unlike similar terms such as romanticism, Modernism is difficult to define and critics are in disagreement over its origins, significant features, and historical parameters. Key reference points for Modernism are three thinkers:

  • Karl Marx (1818-1883), whose economic theory of capital predicted the revolutionary overthrow of class hierarchy.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), whose philosophy questioned truth and the moral framework of Christianity.
  • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who constructed a new model of the human subject through psychoanalysis.

Some of the stylistic aspects of Modernism can be traced back to nineteenth-century avant-garde writers like poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) and critic Walter Pater (1839-1894).

High point of modernism occurred between 1910 and 1930. This was also a period in which European, and especially British, colonialism entered an aggressive ‘imperialist’ phase, initiated by the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. One effect of this was an awareness and interest in the art and cultures of colonised peoples.

Simultaneously, colonial rule began to be questioned and opposed during this period (ie. Ireland) and this generated politicised art such as Synge’s Playboy of the Western World (1907).

Artists and writers from the colonies also came to the ‘great European cities’, inflecting Modernism with their own unique perspectives.

We should keep in mind an awareness of contemporary art and literature which the term Modernism leaves out, such as Edwardian realism, New Women writers, the First World War poets, and the engaged political fictions of the 1930s.

Energies of Modernism are most evident, perhaps, within the various ‘movements’ which it nurtured:

  • Forms of Symbolism and Impressionism
  • Imagism
  • Vorticism
  • Cubism
  • Italian and Russian Futurism
  • Expressionism
  • Dadaism
  • Surrealism

An important ‘movement’ to consider is the Bloomsbury circle of writers associated with Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and E. M. Forster, which did not have a set artistic agenda, but did pioneer innovative stylistic and formal techniques in literature.

A common feature of Modernism is its proponents seeing art and literature as having revolutionary potential.  This period is distinctive in fostering radical political movements:

Anarchism and Syndicalism in Europe

Bolshevism in Russia

Fascism in Germany and Italy

Writers like Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis readily adopted roles as political organisers, producing manifestos and seeing their art as a kind of challenge or attack on outmoded values and forms.

Right or Left wing, Modernist writers tended towards an equivocal or elitist stance in relation to the masses, even as they incorporated aspects of popular culture into their work. Alongside their formal experimentation, this elitism and ambivalent relation to the popular accounts for the self-conscious “difficulty” of many Modernist works.

A recurrent feature of Modernist writing is that it seeks to respond to a prevailing sense of crisis and fragmentation.

David Lodge notes that the Modernist novel rejects a linear ordering of narrative and does away with the overarching controlling feature of ‘a reliable, omniscient and intrusive narrator’. Instead we are often presented with a single limited viewpoint, or multiple different points of view, which are often incomplete, fallible or unreliable.

This may be seen as a symptom of Modernist literature’s concern with ‘the question of how to live within a new context of thought, or a  new worldview’, but it is also a formal experimental challenge to established novelistic convention and other norms within art and literature.

Modernist writing rebels against conventions (notably forms of nineteenth-century realism) and instead presents life in more subjective, abstract or impressionistic terms.

Modernist novels and poems seem to lack proper beginnings or endings, plunging the reader instead into a running narrative.

In place of a ‘constraining’ narrative structure, alternative devices such as symbol and myth would be used to order otherwise seemingly disjointed poetic or prose forms.

The decentred and fragmented characteristics of Modernist literature reflected contemporary ideas about subjectivity, perspective, and consciousness. Sigmund Freud had shown how the human mind was not the centre of a unified self, but was split and divided into a collection of drives and socially-learnt compulsions, trapped in uneasy existence.

Modernist writers like James Joyce experimented with forms of internal monologue and stream-of-consciousness (Ulysses, 1922). D. H. Lawrence developed a new sense of the primacy of sexuality, undoubtedly facilitated by Freuds ideas (which he was personally critical of).

The broken perspectives of modern art and literature, their shattered forms and odd viewpoints, were grimly appropriate to a generation which had been physically and psychologically shattered by the First World War.

Psychological disorientation however, could also be liberating. Movements like Dadaism and Surrealism used chance objects and contingent juxtapositions to create art which subverted societal and artistic norms, enabling new, creative avenues to the representation of experience.

Scientific advances, such as The Special Theory of Relativity (1905) postulated by Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the influence of philosophers such as Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and the dizzily accelerating machines and vehicles of the modern era meant that time had lost its linear predictability and its conventional progressive form.

In Modernist writing, time could be arrested or reversed, and the psychologism of many Modernist texts meant that forms of subjective time and memory could be exploited for literary effect. Just as how narratives could be reframed via the narrow subjective frame of a single consciousness, the manipulation of time (as the medium within which character development usually takes place) could also change characterisation.

For some writers, the new conceptual flexibility of time had further, far-reaching implications for the apprehension of history and the persistence of the cultural trace of the past on the present.

Writers expressing the modern condition as a catastrophic and/or liberating dissolution also attempted to collate some form of system or mythology to make sense of and compensate for a lost unity. Writers like T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats used myth and archetype to create a revelatory or divinatory system through which the world could be pieced back together through poetry. As Eliot stated at the end of The Waste Land (1922), which reworked classical fertility myths and the Christian Grail legend, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”.

Modernism sought to destroy and then remake the world. In this dangerous process its writers could never be sure of their cultural foundations. The intensity and excitement of Modernist literature derived from a tension between the desire to ‘make it new’ and an awareness that now the creative processes had no guiding forms and would have to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of a previous age.

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Fiction Literature Short Story


For historical context, this short story was written in June or July of 2020. The story was initially supposed to continue in further instalments, hence the subtitle taken from a song lyric, but the attempts to follow it up didn’t really go anywhere & I think (with 2+ year hindsight) that it works fairly well as a standalone, self contained, piece.

I don’t wanna be a prologue to history

I’ve had to hire a private security company to ferry this manuscript to my publishers. There’s a far-right hate mob gathering outside my house. They’re angry about the title. There’s nothing more dangerous and stupid than a braying horde of imbeciles who leap to defend their skin colour at the most minuscule sign of trouble. I Don’t even know why they’re so angry. Or angry at all. All they know is the title. I haven’t released any details of what Whiteness is about. For all they know, it could be a celebration of what it means to be white. It’s not, but these head-bangers have no way of knowing that. If they stopped for one second, they might realise that they could actually be protesting against something which celebrates their values. Or lack of.

There’s one guy who’s set up a kind of bar on top of my wheelie bin. I say bar, but he’s just got a 24 crate of Strongbow and a 24 crate of Stella Artois. He’s handing them out to the already drunken racists while they wave their fists and perform Nazi salutes at the Vote Labour poster in my kitchen window.

There’s a shrine to a road accident victim just over the road from me, you know the kind of thing. Flowers, cards and photographs of the victim. Maybe a couple of pictures drawn by children. One of the racists is stood in front of it, legs apart in the unmistakable silhouette of a drunk pissing in the street. There’s more of them pissing in the doorway of the Bakery across the walkway from me. Rivers of urine are flowing from the doorway, down the gentle slope towards the road.

I’d mentioned to an acquaintance on Twitter that I was working on this, and that it was called Whiteness. He retweeted it. Two of his friends retweeted it. It grew and grew exponentially. The next thing I knew I had every racist and his racist dog dogpiling me in the comments. “Lol muzzie convert twat,” “you’d be speaking German if it wasn’t for Churchill,” “Marx would be more than happy, he was born into a Jewish home, but family converted out of it. Ethnically Jewish is the only claim anyone can make. He’d be happy sat with today’s Nazis in the UK Labour party.” You know, sensible, measured, intelligent comments.

This went on for days until I had somewhere in the region of 4,500 comments on the original Tweet. Around 2000-3000 of them were from people supporting my right to call this thing Whiteness and speculating on why it’s not racist to call a book Whiteness. Others were arguing like cat and dog with the racists. Neither side willing to give ground in this social media microcosm of the culture war the reactionaries have been screeching for.

The comments from the far-right people got nastier and less coherent as the days went by. Less coherent relative to their usual smooth brained attempts at communication anyway. And then, yesterday somebody doxed me. They published my name and address on the tweet, that was retweeted about 3000 times and the rest you know. There’s an anti-anti-racism protest going on outside my home. White stupidity manifesting itself in the desire to prevent some unknown writer who they’ve been arguing with on Twitter from publishing something called Whiteness. Because they’ve convinced themselves, in their hate addled brains, that Whiteness is an attack, a criticism against them. I mean, maybe it is, but they have no way of knowing that. At this point, if it pleases the readership, I’d like to enter a laughing emoji into the official record.

So, the private security guys. Huge, muscle bound ex-military types carrying shields and batons. They’d prefer to carry guns, I’d imagine, but that would be frowned upon in the U.K., armed mercenaries guarding private residences. It doesn’t bear thinking about. They’re also dressed in thick, cutting edge, Kevlar body armour and visored helmets. One of them points into the crowd, at a young ‘roid rager dressed head to toe in camouflaged fatigues and wearing a red beret. He has a hipster beard and is performing a Nazi salute.

“See that guy in the uniform?” Says the private security man.

“Yep” I reply.

“He’s a Walt. No doubt about it. A fucking Walt. Makes me so fucking angry. I’m fucking raging.”

“A what?” I ask.

“You know? A Walt. A Walter Mitty. A fake. Pretending to be a veteran. A cunt”.

“I see.” I didn’t see. I do now though, I’ve looked it up since this exchange. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “a Walter Mitty is “an ordinary often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs”. Soldiers use it to call out edgelords on social media who claim to have served in the armed forces. They do this to win far-right debates, to justify hate crimes or to appear more interesting and important than they actually are. Usually, these edgelords have just played too much Call of Duty and become overexcited and overconfident in their own abilities. Dunning-Kruger effect, essentially. The mercenary was telling me this dude in the crowd was essentially cosplaying as a veteran. To add an air of legitimacy to their idiotic riot.

Now you’re probably wondering why I don’t just email the manuscript to my publishers. Well, that’s a good question. The thing is, I was gifted an antique typewriter by a relative for my 21st birthday (I won’t say how many years ago) and it’s been sitting in a box in my parents dusty, junk filled garage pretty much since then. Recently they decided to give up the garage as the rent was higher than they thought fair and they weren’t keeping a car in it anyway. They asked me to sort through my stuff before they cleared it out. I found sealed boxes of cassette tapes, old music magazines, books and DVDs. I opened one box and it had a full glass ashtray sat on top of a pile of magazines and newspapers. Decades old roaches in decades old ash. And finally, I found the typewriter that I’m ashamed to admit I’d forgotten I owned.

I took the typewriter and told my parents that everything else could go in the skip. Don’t want it. Get rid. I’m something of a hoarder at the best of times, so this was definitely for the best. It was a beautiful typewriter, once I’d dusted it down and replaced the ink ribbon. A Hermes 2000 manual typewriter in a wooden case. Like the one William Gibson wrote Neuromancer on. An absolute beauty. So, I decided, since I had the typewriter, and hadn’t actually used it before, I’d buy some paper and type my next significant project on it.

So, when I say that Whiteness is a manuscript, I mean that literally. A bound bundle of typewritten A4 pages printed on one side only. Placed inside a box file, sealed with tape and ready to be taken to my publisher. It was quite the challenge even convincing the publisher to accept a typewritten manuscript. It’s not really the done thing in 2020. Writers write their work in Microsoft Word (or similar) and send .docx files to their publishers as email attachments. The way you’re probably thinking I should’ve done it. But we’re here now, in this place, at this time, in this situation. And that’s all there really is to it.

You’re probably wondering how the publishers are going to transfer my typewritten manuscript into book form in this modern era of digitised publishing and e-readers. Probably the first typewritten manuscript submitted to a publisher in over a decade. Well, I guess that publishers used to work from typewritten manuscripts and anyway, they told me not to worry about it, so I’m not.

You’re probably detecting a few inconsistencies in the narrative in this section of writing. Maybe you’re wondering when exactly in the process of writing Whiteness, did I write this section. If I wrote about these events after they happened, how can I be relaying them to you here? Did I break the seal of the box file to add these pages to the front of the manuscript? Did I predict this and write about it in advance or is this whole thing fiction and I’m feeding you a pack of lies? Did I just switch from present to past tense, mid paragraph a few paragraphs ago? Well, none of that really matters so I’d probably avoid dwelling on it. In fact, you could have and should have probably ignored this whole paragraph. It’s meaningless. Nonsense.

Now the private security firm – or mercenary company if you like – has brought an armoured van to my house to pick up the manuscript. It’s like the kind you see collecting cash from businesses and delivering it to banks. Presumably ferrying it from bank to bank too. It’s parked up the street, about three quarters of a mile away. It has the name of the security mercenaries on the side of it, Stahlrim Security Consultancy. The crowd of jackboots and brown shirts (metaphorical or literal) are thick around my house, so the Stahlrim boys are going to be in for a hard time. Sure, they’re wearing thick, expensive body armour and carrying shields and batons, but these fascists are drunk, angry and spoiling for a fight. There’s also a woefully thin line of police keeping the crowd back as best they could.

If I could just beg your indulgence, I’m going to switch into past tense now. I believe that present tense has done its job and set the scene nicely. From here on out, I’ll be too busy for blow-by-blow narration. I’ll be recounting this to you after the events. An AAR, if you will.

“‘ere mate?” The lead merc shouted to one of the coppers on the line, “you guys got any teargas?”

The copper just shrugged and rolled his eyes. He looked scared. The coppers were wearing light armour too. You might call it riot gear if you were writing about it with a particular agenda, but it wasn’t really. Just a stabproof vest, a yellow hi viz tabard and their normal “tit hat” helmets. They looked woefully under equipped compared to the mercs, although they did carry riot shields.

“We’re racist and that’s the way we like it!” the crowd chanted, eager to assuage any fears that I may have exaggerated their sheer awfulness out of partisanship. I mean, I would. I definitely would’ve but they ended up being so vile that I didn’t even need to exaggerate how shitty they were. I started looking at their “banners”. I put it in inverted commas because most of them were sharpie pen on a piece of cardboard, torn from a box. Some said, “All Lives Matter” and some said, “White Lives Matter”. There were Confederate flags (I know, in the U.K.), Union Flags and George Crosses. The odd swastika dotted about. I even saw a couple of Ulster Banners. This was a teeming mass of white nationalist aggression and it was roiling away on my doorstep. I mean, fuck. I couldn’t even take my dog out for a piss or a shit whilst these idiots were there.

“We’re just about ready, sir,” the merc who’d done all the talking so far said to me. I could see the bloodlust in his eyes. He was desperate to crack some right-wing skulls. Probably the ones he referred to as Walts. He seemed to hate those idiots with an unquenchable passion.

“I dunno,” I said. I was having a bit of a wobble. A moment of unwelcome and unexpected uncertainty. “I’m not sure the world is ready for Whiteness. I dunno if the world can handle Whiteness.”

He looked at me with an amused side eye. “Sir, that’s up to you. I must inform you though that we are unable to offer you a refund for our service.”

“Fine, fine, I’ll go and fetch it. I’m sorry. I was just having a little wobble. I’m on my way.”

I went through into the back room, the box room, where my typewriter was set up. Even here, in the depths of my house, my fortress, I could hear the rabid chanting from outside. “The Jews will not replace us,” they chanted. I was actually looking forward to seeing a few of them get a truncheon in the face. I grabbed the box file and brought it out to the lead merc. He took it from me and gave me a solemn nod.

“Please be assured sir, that now we have taken possession of your parcel, we will give our all, our utmost, to get it to its destination. That is our mission. That is our pledge. If you are satisfied with this service, please give us a review on Trustpilot.”

“ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 5,” shouted another merc from a fair distance away, straining to be heard above the vile crowd noise, “HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOUR EXPERIENCE TODAY.”

I didn’t know what to say. Fuck, I didn’t know what to think. These Stahlrim boys are fucking weird. “FOUR,” I shouted back at him over the din. He looked vaguely hurt. I felt I’d just pissed on his parade. Was four not good enough? I didn’t think that four was unreasonable. Four’s really fucking good. If I wanted to slight him without insulting him, I’d have said three. To make me feel worse I saw one of the other mercs pat him, consolingly, on the arm and smile at him warmly.

The lead merc took a few steps towards the police line and turned back to me. “I’d probably get back inside now if I were you, sir,” he said. I nodded at him and stepped back into the house. I didn’t close the door though. I wanted to see these fucks getting set upon by the mercs and the police. I wanted to see blood flying and beaten, broken Nazis laying in the rivers of their own piss which they’d desecrated my street with. He whispered something in the coppers ear. The copper nodded back to him.

The privateers formed up into an incredibly compact, tight formation – a kind of pointed shield wall. They started walking forward into the crowd. The police line parted to let them through and then followed them, forming a passage through the rioters and pushing them out of the route to the van. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea or an overconfident stage-diver diving into an indifferent crowd. I could see both the coppers and the mercs dishing out hefty swings of their batons and rioters going down in sprays of blood. The racists fought back but, despite their superior numbers, they were just too angry and drunk to coordinate their attacks. Their amateurish and chaotic combat saw them get pushed back again and again with little serious trouble. The mercs advanced slowly towards their armoured van, professionally swinging their batons at the knees and shins of the anti-anti-fascists and forcing them to the ground.

It did my heart good to see so many Nazis getting knocked to the ground by the police and the mercs. I took extra satisfaction from the mercs because they were doing it in my employ, at my behest. It also did my heart good to see Whiteness leaving. Whiteness getting loaded into the armoured van. Whiteness about to be unleashed on the world, unsolicited and arrogant. Whiteness as art. Whiteness as propaganda. Whiteness as news. Whiteness as fake news, flim-flam, falsification. Whiteness as an all-encompassing attitude which everyone should be expected to adopt. Whiteness as water, air and food. Whiteness as a pandemic keyworker, keeping the world turning. Whiteness as abstract. Whiteness as dream. Whiteness as palpable nightmare. Whiteness as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When the police and the mercs had finished pushing back the protesters, they set up temporary barricades at the entry points to my street. The rioters hung about behind them, shouting racial slurs into the air, chanting their vile chants and getting more and more pissed. The crates of booze were still set up on my wheelie bin and, even though I couldn’t stand the stuff, I’d had a stressful morning, so I picked up the remains of the crate of Stella Artois and went back inside. I opened a can, fired up the Xbox 360 rerelease of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and tried to relax by gunning down Ballas and Vagos, provoking gang wars. Nostalgic vibes, good times.

Several hours later I took my dog out. The police and the racists had gone. With the object of their impotent white fury no longer present, they’d just kind a wondered off. The street was like the aftermath of a music festival, beer cans, plastic carrier bags and cig butts everywhere. Rivers of piss flowed from the doorways of the nearby shops and a burned-out police car sat in the middle of the road. My dog sniffed it as I walked her past it. She paused to piss on its charred remains.

When we got back from our walk, all signs of the fascist riot had gone. The street looked normal-ish. There was a dark stain on the road where the burnt-out police car was and another where the river of piss had been, but everything else was gone. It reminded me of San Andreas. The way that you could be battling police, massacring them by the dozen, pop inside CJ’s house to save your game and then, when you come back out, all of the corpses, wrecked cars, bikes and helicopters, even the bloodstains, all gone. As if it never happened. I went back into the house, let the dog off her lead and resumed tensely refreshing my Outlook inbox between San Andreas missions.

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Literature Poetry

Liminal Bridge

I thought I felt something brush past me
As I reached the escape velocity
To escape the gravitational pull
Of gods.
In the dimly lit fuselage
Of the privately funded rocket
I stood shoulder to shoulder
With dead eyed depressives
Who should be social distancing
In this fading future.

When the big dumb boosters lit up
We found the systems
Syncing our cloud data
When we needed them the most.

Every week we drift further and further
From the promise of sepia:
The genius of photography,
The dust clouds of eternity.
Bloody red nebulae &
Radio chatter
The ‘Wow!’ Signal,
Orbiting Soviet spheres that bleep
& chemical dependencies
That help us to sleep.

In work-sore dead of night
I reach for prescription painkillers
On the dust covered nightstand.
Chemical dependency degenerates
Neural connections,
Enforces aphasia,
Panic and alarm, clenched fists,
Knuckles white in the confusion of morning,
Why is everyone in here?
Where am I?
Why am I here?

I’m wearing a cricket jumper
On Top Of The Pops
In 1990.

A solitary eyeball collapses
Into a visionless organic mass.
Claws clenched like
Whitened knuckles,
Circling wings beating down
Dust storms rising into broken AC.
As we take off, the particles percolate
Into a swirling vortex of COSHH governed peril.

On orders from the old timers,
I throw some bleach around
Until they nod in approval.

White walls and cage doors,
Dragging Henry by the suction tube
Across familiarly patterned floors.
I’m wearing the carpet upon my chest.
Lights swing like ligatures
In the hospital heated mornings,
Flickering in the heat of neglect.
I eagerly anticipate
A fortnight of jet lag.
As I look on, heavy lidded eyes,
A fluorescent strip stutters and fades.

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Fiction Literature


Something a little different from me today. Some microfiction. I hope you like it & let me know if you’d like to see more of this kind of thing. Cheers.

The good cop bad cop dynamic was thought to be the surest route to a bloodless coup, but reality like battle plans, rarely survives contact with the enemy. The two cops who exited the cruiser and strolled nonchalantly to the stopped car were huge, imposing units. They couldn’t, however, have been any different to each other if they’d tried. One had the predatory grace of a great white shark. Glinting eyes and jagged dagger teeth. His aspect was like death, animals dispersed and fled where he walked. The other was like a calm, contemplative elephant. Slowly striding forward, chewing tobacco in a languid jaw motion. His aspect was life. Cheerful demeanour of a spring morning postman. If he wasn’t chewing tobacco, he’d almost certainly be whistling. The shark grinned like the reaper’s skull, the elephant smiled warmly.

As they approached the stopped car, it took off suddenly in a screech of burning rubber. Cool as a cucumber, the elephant unholstered his sidearm, aimed it and released the safety in one fluid movement. He squeezed the trigger gently and a bullet tore through the air before penetrating the rubber of the escaping vehicle’s rear right-hand tire. The car fishtailed wildly across the road before smashing with force into a lamppost, crumpling the front of the car inwards like a crushed beer can.

-Fucking hell Brian! said the shark, I’m supposed to be the bad cop.

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Literature Poetry Science Fiction

Taxidermy #2: Cyberpunk Hauntology

Another literary taxidermy I have worked on for the past several weeks. This time the first and last lines come from a novel rather than a song, William Gibson’s cyberpunk defining Neuromancer.

Taxidermy #2: Cyberpunk Hauntology

The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel,
Greyscale mashup of crusty pixels,
Launching the careers of a million YouTube video essayists,
Flickering lines in horizontal drift
Across convex surfaces of CRT screens.
With sunglasses affixed, like Mollys eyes,
I slide a cassette tape into my portable cyber deck
And flip
Back and forth
Through advertising pop-ups
For dating apps
& how to manage your crypto portfolio.
The other side is games on tape,
Pixelated faces in two colours
Or two shades of the same colour.
He told me Molly was his soulmate,
In this semiotic swirl of neon billboards,
Fake tanned robots & whitened teeth,
She was the only thing that brought him joy,
He said,
The only thing he thought of as pure, good
She tattooed a Molotov cocktail on her left cheek,
Just below the eye, the legend read:
“A toast to the rich.”
It’s all over social media:
Guillotines outside Bezos’ mansion,
Pitchfork & torch mob chasing down Musk,
Gates crucified,
Rihanna spreadeagled.
Molly licks her lips & cuddles up closer
To Kurt Cobain & Eugene Kelly.
He had proper insomnia for the first time in months,
Propelled by podcasts & hope for denied futures,
Spectres haunting Europe in the sickly light
Of late-stage capitalism.
He thought I was a robot, for some reason.
Maybe it was my telescopic, go-go-gadget arms
Or my electrified hull.
Have you never seen a guy with tank tracks before?
She said she’d take me anywhere,
Pasted in gum Arabic,
Monochromed by xerox
& stapled in a bedsit.
TS Eliot wanders in & asks me if it’s his.
Mayakovsky commodified
As social realism is used to self me junk food.
Here, in the desert of the real
The mirages take on the aspect
Of heroic scenes of miners at the coalface,
Writ in mosaic
On the marbled plinth
Of a six hundred foot Lenin statue,
Loyally guarding the industrial dock lands
From the predatory approaches
Of Union busters
& Pinkerton patrols.
He found her next
At a union meeting, waving a red flag,
Armed & dangerous, bullets for bailiffs,
1312 carved into the stock of her rifle.
She smiled at him warmly & offered him coffee.
It was like a support group,
Name badged workers sitting in a circle
On plastic chairs.
“My name’s Colin & I’m a communist.”
“My name’s Andy & I’m an anarchist.”
We escorted the Nazbols out, at gunpoint.
All through the meeting
She made regular eye contact with him.
It reminded him of bus journeys
From petroleum-choked city centres
To endless fields of humming pylons,
Brutalist substations & grazing cattle.
Terraces & tower blocks giving way
To reservoirs & army bases.
Liminal transition:
Burial into Boards Of Canada.
The urban rain nestles up against
Bucolic pastoral mellotrons.
It was here, amongst the effigies,
That they were finally separated.
Burning haystacks hummed
Like an overcharged oscillator,
Birds singing like circuit bent toys,
Folkloric mythology depicted in pixels.
My avatar is a pagan deity,
My alt anon account is a denizen of the underworld.
I see him running, mind scrambled
Like a CRT between two magnets,
Flickering lines of snow whisper prophecies
In ancient hard drives.
I never saw which way Molly fled,
Or if she survived,
But he woke up screaming
In a soft walled room.
The medication soon soothed him.
Empty bliss of depersonalisation.
He never saw Molly again.

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Indie Rock Literature Poetry

Taxidermy #1: Strength

I recently became aware of the concept of Literary Taxidermy. The general idea is that you take the opening & closing lines of a poem, story or book & write an entirely new poem, story etc. between them. Instead of following this formula precisely, I have written this poem using a lyrical couplet from one of my favourite songs, Zürich Is Stained by Pavement (see below). The opening couplet here is about self-doubt & the fear that you’re not as strong as you need to be. I took this theme & ran with it. I hope you like it.

As a side note, I know I usually post poetry on Slow News City, but as discussed in the recent post A few thoughts about the direction of this blog, my approach to what I share on my blogs is changing slightly. Thank you.

Taxidermy #1: Strength

“I can’t sing it strong enough.”
Well I might be able to,
No promises,
But I’ll give it a go.
Maybe I’ll be able to find new reserves
Of deepest, strongest strength to tap
Way down deep where I wouldn’t expect.
Maybe I’ll absorb that strength from others,
By osmosis while holding hands
Or shaking hands
Or hugs
Or fist bumps.
Maybe I’ll fall within the range
Of an area-of-effect buff
From one of my stronger,
More confident companions.
Maybe the strength I seek
Will be found in spirituality,
Although I must admit,
That is incredibly unlikely;
A long shot, to say the least.
Maybe I’ll find the strength I need
In the unshakeable belief
In my fellow man,
Solidarity in community
& rejection of competition.
Solidarity not selfishness,
Sacrifice in the face of solipsism.
Maybe the strength required
Can be found
In the wisdom of the dead,
Dusty library words,
Observances and inventions,
Artistic enlightenment
That gradually evolves
Into feelings of encouragement
& spasms of renaissance.
The worst-case-scenario, of course,
Is that there is no fresh,
Untapped well of superhuman strength,
External or internal,
Waiting for me when I need it the most.
No secret inner quality,
No unrealised ambitions
Or dormant skills.
Maybe there is nothing but weakness,
Doubt and disillusionment.
Maybe, just maybe,
“That kind of strength I just don’t have.”


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Remembering William S Burruoghs

Today marks the 24th anniversary of the passing of William S Burroughs. The hugely influential Postmodernist and key figure in the Beat Generation is loved and revered to this day, as much for his raw & paranoid prose as for his gruff, antiauthoritarian personality. His crowning achievement in literature is surely his nightmarish sequence of vignettes, Naked Lunch. The novel, which famously had to fight several bannings and an obscenity trial, was a nonlinear torrent of vile images and scenes, many taken from Burroughs own personal experiences as a hard drugs user.

As well as his feverish depictions of drug manias and psychoses, Burroughs is well known for his use of the fabled cutup technique which involved cutting up newspapers, magazine articles etc. and rearranging them to form new, bizarre prose. Burroughs believed that he was tapping into something here & potentially seeing glimpses of the future. This method, & Burroughs more generally, were a huge influence on many cultural icons going forward, most notably David Bowie. Lyrics to several of Bowies tunes were written using the Burroughs-esque cutup technique. A particularly great example of this is his Time of the Assassins, a cutup of a full issue of Time Magazine, in response to their review of Naked Lunch.

I myself became enamoured with the cutup technique and created several pieces of poetry using the style. See the Slow News City Poetry Index for links (Cut up or shut up #1-8). You can find a useful online cutup generator here, if you fancy having a go yourself.

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Experimental Literature Post Punk

The Mark E Smith Guide to Writing Guide (Video & Transcript)

What follows is a short spoken segment which Mark E Smith, reluctant Working Class Autodidact & erratic frontman of The Fall, recorded for Greenwich Sound Radio in 1983. Smith was already becoming respected for the poetic & eccentric content of his band’s lyrics (see The N.W.R.A below), which he whittled down from huge blocks of prose written with a similar methodology to Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose technique.

Here we hear Smith not only giving an insight into his writing process (about 50/50 chance of being serious) but also some poetry. Please enjoy the audio & the transcript I have provided below. The section which describes the process was taken from here, while the poetry & prose which follows was transcribed by myself.

Hello I’m Mark E. Smith and this is The Mark E. Smith ‘Guide To Writing’ Guide.

Day-by-day breakdown

Day One: Hang around house all day writing bits of useless information on bits of paper.

Day Two: Decide lack of inspiration due to too much isolation and non-fraternisation. Go to pub. Have drinks.

Day Three: Get up and go to pub. Hold on in there a style is on its way. Through sheer boredom and drunkenness, talk to people in pub.

Day Four: By now, people in the pub should be continually getting on your nerves. Write things about them on backs of beer mats.

Day Five: Go to pub. This is where true penmanship stamina comes into its own as by now, guilt, drunkenness, the people in the pub and the fact you’re one of them should combine to enable you to write out of sheer vexation. To write out of sheer vexation.

Day Six: If possible stay home. And write. If not go to pub.

Using this method, this is a poem I wrote called London.

(Mock American Accent) I’d just got over to London, get me a pint of your fine old British ale.


Decadent backbone of former empire.

Spittle chinned Southerner looking forward to next holiday.

Digitale Croydon, fourteen pound per hour.

An immigration backlash type situation here

And there’s an Indian clerk in the backroom with a literature degree,

His boss is a roofed architect over-bathed, intense.

Project Victoriana Punish,

His clothes are flapping United Nations:

Japanese pants, odd boots, Euro shirts.

Is no shirt, his mind is Parisian

Fifties situationist

and ‘neath his designs you have no choice,

Stay where you are.

He is looking down on you from his tech drawing board.

Take the chicken run, run to the bog

You can do it

Do not

Warning! rumours of grey cancer builders greatly exaggerated


Dear TV Times,

Your majesties, I have concocted, through the noble invention and the blarney craft of the humble Northener, a system where by constant annoyance by the telephone can be erased. This entails explosive charges, left to me by a dead sailor from Bury, being wired up under every windowsill, close proximity to my ears. When phones ring and are inconvenient to the ears I just press table lamp-like what next to my bed and they blow up. I got the idea from a book.

Yours sincerely,

Mr Reg Varney.

Please note: all herbs is available from P.O. Box 935 GTV Manchester. Once you get a bit of pain I was splitting myself, them hilly-billies.

Manchester is

Manchester ship

cringing for punishment

As promised above. It’s good to read the lyrics as you listen. The Annotated Fall also has some great notes on them.

When it happened we walked through all the estates, from
Manchester right to, er, Newcastle. In Darlington, helped a large
man on his own chase off some kids who were chucking bricks and
stuff through his flat window. She had a way with people like that. 
Thanked us and we moved on.

‘Junior Choice’ played one morning. The song was ‘English
Scheme.’ Mine. They’d changed it with a grand piano and turned
it into a love song. How they did it I don’t know. DJs had
worsened since the rising. Elaborating on nothing in praise of
the track with words they could hardly pronounce, in telephone

I was mad, and laughed at the same time. The West German
government had brought over large yellow trains on Teeside docks.
In Edinburgh. I stayed on my own for a few days, wandering about
in the, er, pissing rain, before the Queen Mother hit town.

I’m Joe Totale
The yet unborn son
The North will rise again
The North will rise again
Not in 10, 000 years
Too many people cower to criminals
And government crap
The estates stick up like stacks
The North will rise again X4
Look where you are
Look where you are
The future death of my father

Tony was a business friend
And was an opportunist man
Come, come hear my story
How he set out to corrupt and destroy
This future Rising

The business friend came round today
With teeth clenched, he grabbed my neck
I threw him to the ground
His blue shirt stained red
The north will rise again.
He said you are mistaken, friend
I kicked him out of the home

Too many people cower to criminals
And that government pap
When all it takes is hard slap

But out the window burned the roads
There were men with bees on sticks
The fall had made them sick
A man with butterflies on his face
His brother threw acid in his face
His tatoos were screwed
The streets of Soho did reverberate
With drunken Highland men
Revenge for Culloden dead
The North had rose again
But it would turn out wrong
The North will rise again

So R. Totale dwells underground
Away from sickly grind
With ostrich head-dress
Face a mess, covered in feathers
Orange-red with blue-black lines
That draped down to his chest
Body are a tentacle mess
And light blue plant-heads
TV showed Sam Chippendale
No conception of what he’d made
The Arndale had been razed
Shop staff knocked off their ladders
Security guards hung from moving escalators

And now that is said
Tony seized the control
He built his base in Edinburgh
Had on his hotel wall
A hooded friar on a tractor
He took a bluey and he called Totale
Who said, “the North has rose again”
But it will turn out wrong

When I was in cabaret
I vowed to defend
All of the English clergy
Though they have done wrong
And the fall has begun
This has got out of hand
I will go for foreign aid
But he Tony, laughed down the phone
Said “Totale go back to bed”
The North has rose today
And you can stuff your aid!
And you can stuff your aid!

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Journalism Links Literature Politics

Closing Tabs: Link Library #1

I needed to close some tabs on Safari on my iPad & I realise that I have read these various articles & poems but not closed tabs because I don’t want to lose them. Maybe I’d like to refer back to them or reread them later. I could bookmark them, I know, but I thought it would be nicer to share them with my readers. Hopefully you can find something interesting here. Knowing the way I “collect” open tabs like this, I’m sure this won’t be the only post like this. A couple of times a year (maybe more, maybe less), I’ll share what I’ve been reading.

Predicting a Pandemic: William Burroughs and COVID-19

Burroughs and Beats in Men’s Magazines: William Burroughs Appearances in Adult Men’s Magazines

Some Alternatives: Brands, Bands, Sell-Outs and Meltdowns Pt. I

Some Alternatives: Brands, Bands, Sell-Outs and Meltdowns Pt. II

Trump’s speech at CPAC was enough to haunt your most surreal fever dreams

Junk Media – Silver Jews: An Interview with David Berman

Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signalling you through the flames]

Clip-On Tie by David Berman (in The Baffler)


& for some now-forgotten reason (maybe related to Kentucky Route Zero?)

Robert Frost – The Death of the Hired Man

Art Literature Videogames

Kentucky Route Zero – Screenshots 1

Happy new year. Today I have been playing this wonderful video game & wanted to share some beautiful screenshots I took. Hope you enjoy & if you’re curious maybe check the game out.

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