Sean Bonney (Salt, 2005)
Reviewed by Delilah Glaxo-Kleitmann
I want to duplicate a few of Steve Spence’s sensible descriptions of Blade Pitch Control Unit and note one or two aspects which he missed out.
“I saw Sean Bonney read for the first time a couple of years back and it was an intriguing experience. His jerky body movements worked alongside his staccato, rhythmic projection to produce an almost hypnotic effect. […] How does this correspond, if at all, to the poetry on the page? […] Some of these pieces have an ‘open-field’ layout which help break up the sentences and aid the rhythmic flow, a central fact of Bonney’s live performance.”
I suppose the last part to refer to poems which offer several eye paths. This is all fair as far as it goes, but shouldn’t be taken to imply that an adequate translation of Bonney’s performative prosody exists in his visual layouts.
The connection between Bonney’s poems and his performance is usually overstated. The latter is somewhat-independent art form, transient and improvisional. One of the demands made on the poems is that they produce suitable material for insightful and exhilarating instances of this art form, but one demand among many.
“Bonney is certainly working within the broad limits of current avant-garde writing but there’s an element of the ranter about him which corresponds to the best of Barry MacSweeney (when coherent) and wants something more than intellectual games or clever on-display sophistication.”
“He juxtaposes his texts with occasional startling factual notes. 'In Charles 1st's reign there were whipping posts for beggars every few hundred yards in London.'”
“‘In 1649, the year the King was executed, Abiezer Coppe stood up at the pulpit of a church somewhere in central London, and swore without interruption for an hour. Clearly a lost avant-garde classic....’ an unusually humorous interjection!”
This is misleading in two small ways. First, that sentence has Bonney stamped all over it. Second, humour is not exactly unusual in Blade Pitch Control Unit; although ‘humour’ may suggest an agenda of enjoyment, which would be equally misleading. Words which lick on humour’s squad – words like farcical, crabby, lunatic, black, ironic, absurd, sarcastic, mocking, parodic, satirical, sardonic, bitter, caustic, cheeky, ludicrous, cynical, excessive, audacious, ornery, blunt, misanthropic, derisory, paranoid, gleeful, disdainful, brutal, scornful, facetious, droll, witty, sneering, crisp, impossible, pessimistic, Eeyoreish, contemptuous, contemptible, cartoonish, unfair, hyperbolic, wry, arch, sceptical, acerbic, narcissistic, self-deprecating, incredulous, baffled, idiotic, inappropriate, spastic, aporetic, twisted, paradoxical, disparaging, bathetic, mad, adamant, singleminded, scatterbrained and violent – often appropriately characterise these poems’s moments. A better way of putting that is that “not-exactly-humour” is not unusual.
“In ‘Mayday’ we are given, presumably, an alternative ‘celebration’ of either the pagan endorsement of spring or the now-defunct ritual flexing of the muscles of the industrial working-class. Bonney’s politics may well, in any rational assessment, include aspects of both but this is a world in which ‘....it’s every good kid's duty, to smash up McDonald’s and eat some granite’. Where.... ‘If you feel weighed down don't worry, it's only the price-tag in your mouth, stored in police files as wealth jangles in pockets and you study what words mean when you don't understand.’ This is paranoia fuelled by an increase in surveillance and surveillance methods, by an increase in social disintegration and the effects of individualist policies pushing ever to the extreme. Bonney’s response in his writing has become more desperate and more violent yet the poetry just about holds the emotions in check.”
I think this passage refuses to sniff the gas of poststructualism necessarily released by fragmentation and polyvocality (and which is one of the main reasons for working in this way). To implement a sincerity triage, it’s not enough to decide which are the statements of resistance.
More importantly, I think it downplays an intellectual component in the poems’s social criticism. These poems can comprehend emotion as the source of politics. Their insistence on experience as the starting point for resistance is not always unreflective, and other options aren’t always ignored.
I don’t mean that the poems of Blade Pitch Control Unit need or want a doctoral thesis or that digging down a condition of digging them (though challenging, academia-ready obscurity is guaranteed by the antinomy between occult Freak Scholasticism and punk Pompous-Loathing). They pretty clearly wallow in immediacy, and plenty of the “intellectual component in the poems’s social criticism” is poking up on the surface, in the intelligence of their perceptions and connections.
- Bo itin nyen’s respo in his wrg h hs bec ao mem ore des nse pe rat ed an mre vioo lent lod h tse em oock ti ns in hec
- Once Bonney’s jaw will blended with a glitch.
Talking about a part of Filth Screed:
“There's a sense here of a desire for renewal but no sense that this may be a possibility. Sometimes, the best thing to do with this work is read it to yourself, hear it aloud, get the rhythms and the jerkiness, understand where understanding is possible and attempt to enjoy what you can of the sound and music when understanding isn't on the cards.
Surrealism meets poetry-as-noise meets 17th century dissidents and refusers. Teasing hints of folk classics (she walked through the fair) are inserted into chance texts and suggestive vocabulary which may just lead you up a garden path. Sometimes the ride is worthwhile but hold onto your hat. I'll leave the last words to Sean Bonney:
meet me on Oxford St
we’ll go into Borders
Posted August 16, 2006