Sean Bonney, Letter on Silence

Sean Bonney, Letter on Silence

It’s difficult to talk about poems in these circumstances. London is a razor, an inflamed calm has settled, we’re trapped outside on its rim. I’ve been working on an essay about Amiri Baraka, trying to explain the idea that if you turn the surrealist image – defined by Aimé Césaire as a “means of reaching the infinite” – if you turn that inside out what you will find is that phrase from Baraka: “the magic words are up against the wall motherfucker”. Its going very slowly – hard to concentrate what with all the police raids, the punishment beatings, the retaliatory fires. It’d be too much to say the city’s geometry has changed, but its getting into some fairly wild buckling. Its gained in dimension, certain things are impossible to recognise, others are all too clear. I wish I knew more about maths, or algebra, so I could explain to you exactly what I mean. So instead of that I’ll give you a small thesis on the nature of rhythm – (1) They had banged his head on the floor and they were giving him punches. (2) He was already handcuffed and he was restrained when I saw him. (3) He was shouting, “Help me, help me”. (4) He wasn’t coherent. (5) I went to speak to his mum. (6) He couldn’t even stand up after they hit him with the batons. (7) They knocked on her door three hours later and told her “your son’s died”. I can’t remember exactly where I read that. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in a literary magazine, but I guess you’ll have to agree it outlines a fairly conventional metrical system. Poetry transforms itself dialectically into the voice of the crowd – René Ménil made that claim way back in 1944 or something. But what if that’s not true. What if all it can do is transform into the endless whacks of police clubs – certainly you get that in official poetry, be it Kenny Goldsmith or Todd Swift. Their conformist yelps go further than that, actually, as the police whacks in their turn transform into the dense hideous silence we’re living inside right now, causing immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose and coughing. Because believe me, police violence is the content of all officially sanctioned art. How could it be otherwise, buried as it is so deeply within the gate systems of our culture. Larry Neal once described riots as the process of grabbing hold of, taking control of, our collective history. Earlier this week, I started thinking that our version of that, our history, had been taken captive and was being held right in the centre of the city as a force of negative gravity keeping us out, and keeping their systems in place. Obviously I was wrong. Its not our history they’ve got stashed there – its a bullet, pure and simple, as in the actual content of the collective idea we have to live beneath. They’ve got that idea lodged in the centre of Mark Duggan’s face – or Dale Burns, or Jacob Michael, or Philip Hulmes. Hundred of invisible faces. And those faces have all exploded. Etcetera. Anyway, this is the last letter you’ll be getting from me, I know you’ve rented a room right at the centre of those official bullets. Its why you have to spend so much time gazing into your mirror, talking endlessly about prosody. There is no prosody, there is only a scraped wound – we live inside it like fossilised, vivisected mice. Turned inside out, tormented beyond recognition. So difficult to think about poems right now. I’m out of here. Our stab-wounds were not self inflicted.

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