What Why in the How
The still is the lord of the restless – Lao Tzu
To be living anywhere in the world at this point in time provides many accelerating reasons for loud distress. Primarily, climate crisis and the current and ever-imminent extinctions that characterise a planetary spiral into what might be less-than-cheerfully abridged as the inevitable endgame of capitalism and the global exploitation, destruction, and death it relied upon to exist and will now continue to spread in its overdue and drawn-out expiry. Meanwhile, huddling feverishly around the ‘house on fire’ reality of the world’s burning demise, are the cumulative sociopathic economies of our own age: mass surveillance, mined data, and a naively volunteered self-surveillance repulsively naturalised as social; the virtual space in which populations have long since exchanged self-expression for self-promotion and are now expected to participate in social media to find jobs, get jobs and keep jobs.
Sure, I sound like a tediously obvious dinosaur exclaiming these problems as if they were new but thankfully, I didn’t grow up with social media – I’m 30 and it entered my life as a novelty distraction around age 18 (forever immortalised as the demon brainchild of Jesse Eisenberg) and it has since cosily ensnared me in its dumb and monstrous ivy that, in the continued efforts to find publishing and employment, has become a tediously unhealthy itch of dependence. Still, at least it wasn’t a digital rash from day one.
And then, the incipient dread that a freedom of, and around, ideas is dying. I mean this not in an incensed alt-right give-my-unimaginative-frightened-and-ugly-madness-a-megaphone kind of ‘freedom’, but as the freedom lost through an increasing lack of sustained awareness around the self-censoring narrowing of ideas through algorithmic choice. This is a choice that presents directed advertising as the legitimate basis for new pathetic playlists of self. In the online mediums of communication that now dominate there is also a censoring inability to engage in mutually respectful or sustainably intelligent debate without trolling latent insecurities into hate, competing for click-bait crowns (a brief tiara for every tantrum) and the instant gratification of viral success. Performing an egotistical slalom between self-righteousness and anger enables an indirect censorship – of the kinds of conversation that could remove the engine from polarizing ideologies and allow a space and temperament for different and developed movements of thought. In the UK, as in America, we see this behaviour replicated in political debate.
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the purpose, place or reason for poetry when poets (and writers more generally) are increasingly so embedded in perpetuating the agitated circuits of online promotion, and not always through their own fault but through a deranged necessity of online ‘status’ as now damagingly prioritised – in jobs, in publishing, in the grim and hollowed aspiration of symbolic capital as a way to find a liveable income or fulfil delusions of success – all of this can misleadingly become prioritised above the slow consideration / enjoyment of content. Sometimes it can be difficult to write when the actuality of corrupt politics, human rights and environmental disaster combine to make poetic indulgence seem unforgivably detached, or even conceited and contrived in its assurance of urgency or relevance. Conversely, sometimes these are also the same reasons that make it unforgivable not to write. On this topic, it would be customary to refer to Brecht’s famous refusal to let dark times end the singing of art, but for there to be singing About the dark times. And of course, this is what many poets have always done and continue to do, and for that vital song I will always be grateful – it will always exist, and with it hope, resistance and bravery. Yet, I have never been able to do that, at least not reliably or particularly clearly.
There are many reasons for this reticence or inability. Firstly, there are circumstantial realities of privilege that make approaching certain injustices a fraught act of potentially callous and misguided ethical insensitivity. This is not to say there is no possible contribution I could make, but that most often the best contribution is to be listening and learning as opposed to vocally muddling an excuse for short-sighted cameos in a conversation that I’ve joined late and without understanding. Presumptuous violence of the entitled or impatient I: keen to weigh-in, itching with the same impulse of social media placarding, to billboard a blunt entry and to assert presence before reason. Secondly, there is the fact that the poets and art that influenced me most formatively have been champions of ambiguity, the cryptic, and the raggedly, honestly confused. Consequently, for my own writing – though it is impossible to ignore the clamour of urgent injustices and also impossible for it not to (however obliquely) enter my writing – I hope to find a quiet, almost utopian space.
To invite playful language into a clearing for other, less impatient or bullyingly advertising, forms of meaning to explore less readily available (for me, at least) movements of attention and experience. My poetry does not do that yet, but it is what keeps me writing. Much of my writing has borrowed from, extended, and embodied a lot of the neurotic distractions that anxiety and depression have made familiar to me, and that the monopolising nature of social media has capitalised upon and encouraged. It has been ‘natural’ (though that’s a painfully conflicted word) for my writing to explore this, as such fidgeting and negative energies have intruded upon, changed, and compelled much of my lived experience. But there is so, so much more that exists and could exist. Looking for a more meditative counterpoint to such busy refractions of attention have led me, more and more, to search in poetry for a space to mean anew and not wrestle with what is already, elsewhere, loudly meant. It would be poetry as a celebratory play of curiosity and confusion, slowing to contemplate how language and experience – in their braid and fray – can encounter movements in and of reality as joyously strange.
To find a form of attention that finds Surrealism as a condition of the experiential interrelations of language and / as / of / in / through perception and vice versa, whereby Surrealism might be the most faithful expression of realism. This should not be poetry quarantined into reified traditions of ‘surrealist’ and the tiresomely goofy romanticism of automatic thought or its historical deferral to all things Freud…but fluid in acknowledging Surrealism can be one of many interchangeable terms for more deeply understanding experience. However, it should not just be (again, this is for me and my own compulsion to poetry) the innately surreal encounter with reality but also a way to question howthat encounter can leads into new ways to mean. When poetry pushes into, and out from, the possibilities for changing a relationship to meaning, it can then begin exploring the active (dis)arrangements through which language might embody the confusing how and motion of that meaning. To move in an always moving that is moving away from any stasis in message or closed certitude of statement to offer instead a sanctuary for play. Another language-world to turn to, away from the bludgeoning economies of rhetoric; a space of resting in the restless how and motion, each the other’s call to answer in a further porous questioning. The hope of this is to open out what might be possible in the experiences of meaning (one in the other to dissolve one and other) that, through changes in grammar and vocabulary, might provide nourishing alternatives to utility. Skip in the wispy moss and chew tangential on the clouds, a lull and drift to imagine a language to shelter inside (a beyond) the violence of language as capital, dogma and division: to find poetry that invites the possibility of unlearning in the play of restless rest, a quiet celebration.
There was pollen –
a misdirected joke about your hat.
My floundering had become visible.
So many books to read, too many, and so it’s a choice
of who and when to commit that buckles knees,
palms clammy with indecision.
But you’re bearing up. I’ve been here all my life
and have little sense of having learnt
how best to use what it is I’ve learnt.
So much dressing up
and then you take it off, convinced
the others are all so effortlessly, confidently naked.
Yet I never thought to tell you
how I only felt when pushed, talked up onto no brink.
There was sunlight
and the ants were sure of where to go.
You couldn’t say we’d found each other,
it meant as much as all the water.
To be living like matchsticks –
our heads unlit and itching.
Of floating away
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher Barbara Guest
now is holding me
i am always tired
i don’t have any
as they warn
“we could float away together”
it’s how sleepless circles lift
around each other
caught up in following
to a stranger ocean
again & again
not a choice but
that brings the body back
inside its limits, singing cold
shock & only feeling
through skin a thrill of sky in sea
only feeling –
– & where
do we land?
do we ache to land, for stability?
or do we feel we ought to ache
ought to understand?
i have been meaning to write and too often writing to mean
the rest of it a rest from it to resist the us transmitted air
as what unliving will outlive outnumbering what it counts
pollination outlying in the glitch of anybody now bodybags
zipped surveillant time and we volunteer without faith
to rapture click accept our data spores and i need to hold
together, to sit
as each embodied movement sheds the body, opening
in and of a pause the present of its sensation, itself
the joining elsewhere
taken by the wind as grains from open palms in air
allowing it and self to recede from thinking
to be usurped by murmuring colour
a river lifting from the ground
Forgotten the Queen
beneath each arrow, the scurrying hearts
each violent asterisk, the crockery of fallen stars
dropped from no god and her lines
spoke red around the eye, a sun
circling flights in burial, here
the chattering every wing and look of her
to sketch a blur of being still, the birds a language
drawn from trees, the forest underwater
how are you
being are you
being and how
not how you are
how are you
being in and as
in and as
to be is being
let seat and sitting join
of movement at rest
moving at rest
a moving how
at restless rest
being of you being is how
David Spittle (English) is a poet, filmmaker, and teacher. His first pamphlet of poems, B O X, came out with HVTN Press in 2018, and his first collection, All Particles and Waves, is due out with Black Herald Press at the end of 2019. David’s first film, Light Noise, funded by the BBC and Arts Council England, is due out soon. He holds a PhD in Literature from Newcastle University (2016) in the poetry of John Ashbery and Surrealism. He lives in the UK. His website: https://www.dspittle.com . Twitter @DavidSpittle7