Sean Bonney and the political poem

I’ve written in the past about politics and poetry and tried to make a distinction between knee-jerk polemic and something more complex. I also disclosed something of my own political background which is at the anarchist/socialist end of the political spectrum.

I’ve spent the last few days with ‘Document’ by Sean Bonney about whom I know next to nothing. The Barque Press site says that Document’s narrative runs from the London suicide bombers to Blair’s resignation and the work itself is sub-titled ‘Poems, Diagrams, Manifestos July 7th 2005 – June 27th 2007’. The BEPC site says that- “Currently, he is attempting to formulate a poetics of total critique, which appears to be a synthesis of social detail, historic fact, Marxist theory, pornography and random insult.” I was therefore intrigued to read ‘Document’ as an example of that attempt.

The work turns out to be a fascinating working through of a variety of radical positions featuring some of the far left’s favourite topics. I’d re-frame the pornography element as ‘desire’ but that’s probably because my leftist stance on this comes from a slightly different perspective. This element runs through the book and I’m not entirely sure whether this is merely a stance or posture or whether Bonney has something new to say. The use of terms like ‘scat’ and the frequent references to items of underwear tend to point to the former.

I’d like to skim over the fact that there’s a lengthy quote from Benjamin on Baudelaire primarily because I think Benjamin is the most overrated critic that ever lived and because I don’t like (see the point of) \Baudelaire.  The quote however relates to Baudelaire’s voice being mingled with the roar of the city and there’s enough of London in ‘Document’ to signify that this may be part of Bonney’s intent.

As for politics, the usual suspects are rounded up and shot, we are exhorted to ‘kill Blair’ and told that ‘Bush knew what he was doing’ which isn’t very interesting and ‘contemporary poetry is gentrified’ which is.  I’m particularly fond of:

the police method of knowledge
is the newer, cleaner avant-garde.

(It is a crossroads where the dead come to meet)/// not poetry, revolution (note tabooed term, container driver). meanwhile we are still grateful for the compression provided by the city / private home complex. a single tube for eating, puking & squirting ink. is that macho? or the gentrification of your own poetix / mirror fermented (as storefront::: port of entry to engagement with personal identity). a diagram of human passions. there are parts of the town are inexplicable, are made of complex moans and fierce scratching.

I’ve quoted this at length because I think it shows the outrage that runs through the work and also because I want Bonney to develop some of his themes a bit more. There’s also a situationist thread (or rather a very Anglified situationist thread) pervading most of Document and this could have been developed but I’m left with a series of images and statements that are merely interesting. Speaking of images, I find the ‘diagram’ part of the book which consists of collaged images and text or typescript with lines going from one part to the other not really worth the effort to decipher- the same goes for the passages of text where the words have been split up, all of this seems too earnest and mannered for my liking.
There are 2 ‘poetix’ manifestos which turn out to be extended rants, the first contains the immortal sentence ‘Bruce Willis is a cunt’ which is quite entertaining.
As well as Blair, Bush, Marx, Baudelaire and Benjamin, there are also references to Khlebnikov, Debord, Villon and Hennig Brandt. I’d heard of the first three but did have to look up Brandt who turns out to have been an alchemist whose recipe did involve, as Bonney asserts, the boiling of urine.
Probably the bits that will stay with me the longest are the references to London and the poem directly addressed to Blair which contains “to just say ‘fuck off and die’ / would be more accurate, more austere”. I really like the use of ‘austere’ because it reflects how I feel about our Great ex-Leader and makes a much more complex point than ‘accurate’.
I could go on about the continuing naivety of all the many factions that currently occupy the far left of the political spectrum, I could also hold this up as yet another example of agitprop gone awry and it would be easy to have a rant about wasted opportunity. However, I recognise that in these dark political times we really need all the outrage that we can get and Bonney’s target audience isn’t battle weary old hacks like me. I also recognise that there’s enough good poetry to hold my interest regardless of the political intent.
The final point is that I read poetry and politics (and most other things) in order to be challenged because I like being startled out of my current way of thinking about things. ‘Document’ sets out to challenge but fails because it tries to do too many thing at once and because it confirms most of my ingrained prejudices- I won’t be returning to the barricades any time soon.
I’ve just downloaded ‘The Commons’ from Bonney’s blog which contains the following “I seem to have anarchic tendencies / but I hang around with Trots”. This speaks to me on a much more personal level so I’ll read the rest of it and try to write something coherent at a later stage.

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