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Experiments in reading: The Odes to TL61P by Keston Sutherland.

Part Four.

Ode 1: an overview.

You have decided to remove yourself from line by line pondering and to try and get to grips with all of the first ode at once. This seems to make sense because it's written in a way that encourages forward momentum and you feel that going with the flow is the best way to grasp what might be going on. At times like this you find yourself bringingto mind Prynne's characterisation of the late modern poem, that you've got to have an almost panoptic grasp of how one part might relate to an/or affect another. You've always been a little daunted by this because there are some poems and some sequences that are too complex or too 'big' to fit into your small brain. 'Streak~Willing~Entourage~Artesian' and 'The Unconditional' come to mind as previous defeats in the overview stakes. This is not something you experienced with 'Stress Position' however so there is some room for optimisim.

Starting with the basics, Ode 1 starts on p1 and ends on p18. It has five parts although it may have three parts with the third part containing a further two parts. All of the parts contain both prose and verse, some of the verse parts are quite structured and there's a group of three 4-line stanzas that rhyme. The themes relate to:

You are quite pleased with this list because it gives some structure to your thinking. You decide to identify what seem to be the main 'points' with regard to each of these.

This is not as easy as it first appears because the overt references to a theme are usually tied into other backgound elements and are thus difficult to disentangle. You start with:


   right angles folded until they froth, to triple its 
   unaccountability to an afflatus, doing as the banks
   just did not as the banks just said, I understand the
   hole that George is in, a dot whose innuendo comes
   too late, flushed with spirit toilet-trained ro life, but
   sucking on the aging raging hard-on held in trust

Before moving in on to:


   good of bored stiff rich men whose sexuality is
   literalised into a rampage of leverage and default swaps
   hovering above minimum wage like a bloodthirsty
   erection over a fairground mirror......

Neither of these are difficult to understand- the banks and servile politicians being the bad boys of our times but what you hadn't noticed is the proximity of cash and sex, as if lust and greed are paert of the same dynamic. The doing but not saying is a nice touch and, of course, doesn't just relate to the recent fiasco but will persist as long as there is a need to dress up the pernicious nature of capital. George (Osborne) isn't in a hole, he isn't destroying public services because of the economic fiascos, he's doing this because he wants to get the state out of service provision so that we are all better exposed to the vagaries of the market. The literalisation 'works' until you start to think about it and then you realise that it's not meant to make complete sense but is intended to give emphasis to a kind of bleak, lust-ridden violence at the heart of capital.

On the next page there is:


   before anyone could actually get hard or wet or both at
   once for leading members of that cast, lead role models
   for our past, who beg to differ, slave to eat the mess we
   inherited from the last orgasm in government for sexy 
   workers whipped to slurp the surplus spew of petty
   change remaindered when the banks have had their due,

and:


   and almost shut but not decisively shut yet and still
   shatterproof smeary and eternally not real window 
   sing the mess we inherited from the last beginning scraps
   the missing past to recycle the joy it brings, the power
   set, of a subset, of a power set, of a sex power,
   
 

You congratulate yourself on recognising the plaintive cry of every newly elected/installed government since Walpole. The elected party runs the following ritual:

Of course, this particular card has been played to the full by the latest band of dismalities but is there a 'sex power' at work here? You remain to be convinced, your view of political ambition remains that it is more driven by a desire for recognition and the opportunity to meddle on a major scale rather than by a need to sexually dominate. You notice that, as you are thinking this through, you are avoiding the 'p' word and that is probably because things (for you) start to get a bit queasy. You know that the exercise of power is not a one way thing, that it operates in many directions and across many societal and cultural dimensions. You also know that the relationship between sex and power is never (ever) straightforward. The notion of a sex power, if it is to be equated with the banal human greed that drives capital, might need to be explained at some length.

The other aspect that these two extracts bring to light is the close relationship between the state and the free market, emphasising perhaps the role of the state in making society (you and me) 'safe' for capital. This all seems to be taking place behind a "shatterproof smeary and eternally not real window" this has you nodding in vigorous agreement, it is not quite shut thereby giving the opportunity for resistance and any attempt to shatter it is self-defeating because of the immense power of the modern state to repress and destroyany kind of direct action. The window is smeary because it distorts and disguises the way that capital 'works', especially the exploitation and inequality that is at its core.

You worry about the tone of the first extract and whether it is more than a little gratuitous, the spew of small change may well refer to the amount left in the public purse after the various banks and building societies had been 'recued' but this needs a little bit of working out. Still, the equation of sex / power / capital is intriguing given the Odes concern with childhood sexuality and the power of secrets.

You now move on to retail and appliances and find that neither of these might be theme. The absence of a retail thread disappoints you but only because you are of the view that every great / good poet should have the complexities and nuances of retail in sight at all times. This particular piece of wishful thinking is derived from you relatively recent experiences in this line of business and your ongoing shock thatno-one seems capable of giving it the careand attention that it deserves. With regard to appliances, this is the first passage:


   whose cameo done in grisly nitrocellolose and gritty 
   ochre/lavender of your mother in the late style of the
   perpetually born yesterday Francis Bacon dissembling
   his tantrum to dead meat bunged in oil in an overhead
   Tefal Maxifry inanely overheated to open the end up
   half empty of Fair and Lovely a single infintesimal,
   silver plated, tiny ring slowly and invisibly spins,

You consider the humour in this and then find yourself wondering if it isn't a bit too absurd, a little bit too florid, that the inclusion of 'Fair and Lovely' might be a Brand Too Far. You then (against your better judgement) use the interweb to find out more and it v quickly transpires that this particular confection is a cream used for "face lightening" which takes you back to the faux Lenny Henry footnote in Sutherland's "Hot White Andy"- a trope that still annoys you. As far as you can make out, there are no such associations with the Maxifry- even though the name might have 'grisly' connotations. You are vaguely amused by the tantrum quip but can't be bothered to work out whether "perpetually born yesterday" is meant to be anything other than a quip. You do however discover that the uber-friendly Google machine will show you, exclusively, a whole pile of Bacon's 'meat' paintings but you decided that you'd rather stay with the dissembling of tantrums as a means of artistic impression. For some strange reason both Larkin and Lowell come into your mind at about the same time. You then realise that there is some cleverness in the use of 'bunged' as in 'placed' in the hot oil and depicted in oil paint. You then notice a photograph of a bare-chested Bacon holding up two sides of beef- on in each hand and decide that you were never that fond of the work anyway.

This is also an early appearance of 'mother', a figure that becomes more difficult / problematic as the Odes progress. It's not entirely clear whether this mother is the poet's or yours, later on she clearly is the poet's. You also wonder whether Francis Bacon had a 'late style' - you were under the impression that his subjects may have changed through the years but that his 'style'stayed fairly constant.

The other 'appliance' reference closes the first Ode:


   The code TL61P belongs to a hotpoint dryer.
   You'll find nothing if you look 
   it up through the sky in the screen, the vault
   of exchangeble passion, Vertigo at
   the horizon, prostrate as an outstretched 
   cheek; but in the mouth that grows 
   in capacity behind that overflow,
   Nobody can take away the word for it:
   love; the provisional end until death;
   TL61P its unperfected provisional shadow
   opposite; Now go back to the start.

When you were first sent a draft of this, you did (of course) look it up on the interweb and you did indeed find nothing and you wrote and wondered about the absurdity of this until you came across a reference in some earlyish poem by Ezra Pound and considered whether this disclaimer is entirely what it seems. You thought you'd written about the Pound 'discovery' on your blog but it seems that you haven't. You then spend a very pleasant few hours re-reading pre-Cantos Pound and decide that you really should pay more attention to early Ez- no luck with the appliance however.

There are three other appliances, the unidentified freezer as in "rescaled to a grainy blank up on to the oblong top of the freezer whose shut white lid unhinged at the back...." and the Canon MF8180C and Brother DPC-9045CDN faxing, copying and printing units as in "a photograph blurred into alienating aleatory poésie concrète by being roughly swiped back and forth over the scratched platen glass of the Canon....". You have (as usual) more than a few problems with the use of the French when the English equivalent has the same meaning, although you do grudgingly acknowledge that the sound of the french is much more, erm, poetic. You don't like concrete poetry because it always struck you as a bit of a gimmick- even when Charles Olson does it but (if aleatory is to mean 'by chance' or 'random') the second adjective strikes you as contradictory because there isn't a lot of randmoness involved in making pictures with a typewriter. It then strike you that the reference might be to George Herbert but this is even more structured than its twentieth century descendants.

The "sky in the screen" is another attempt to say something different about the interweb that doesn't quite come off but you do like the next two although the capitalisation in this section is just annoying, "Vertigo" doesn't need the big v. The appearance of love is intriguing and you think you recall love and solidarity as two of the undercurrents throughout the work. Having spent many lines on the earlier 'congenital' you decide not to dwell too lond on provisional except to note in your head that your definition it is something that isn't quite finished or complete, that may be subject to change in the future, that isn't to be relied upon. This throws up the possibility that the shadow's unperfection is due to it being (now, thus far) provisional. As you get older and slower you realise that most things are provisional, are always on their way.

You are not surprised to find overt references to the Middle East, given Sutherland's recent work, especially "Stress Position" which is a bitter denunciation of both the West's 'interventions' and the extensive use of torture to sustain it. You are however puzzled by "You task Madiha Shenshel with cooking your breakfast (hawk eggs in fried milk, high in poly collaterals) and look up the name on the sky in the screen to find that the first three results are written by you complaining that the only result that crops up is as the point of contact for MYO Consultants, a Baghdad trading company. This is still the case except for a link to a free online text of The Odes.

The less obscure reference is:

   .................................But reality is not at the
   bottom of the abyss, the abyss is in time just reality
   being itself, at least to begin with and at the same time
   conclusively as if contracted - soft - to a single point
   (a dot) at the end of the universe, when dark matter is a
   distant memory subject for chastisement to the
   fluctuations of military nostalgia (in her foot) and I am
   not sure to go on, or how to, or even what name that is
   any more, whoever you are I do this for, person this
   human this, this window for this crack or even if I do
   it, and probably I don't, the strings on a thousand dolls,
   relief at Abu
   Naji I cite its adpatation on bliss in memory,

You are a little bit pleased with yourself because you recognise 'Abu Naji' as the British military base where Baha Moussa was murdered and 28 other Iraqis were tortured. The obsessive repetition of this is effective but you don't understand what it might be that is being done. The first part of the sentence about the abyss is reasonably straightforward if the abyss is the Abyss much loved by poets everywhere. Sutherland seems to be attempting to rob it of its mystique (for the want of a better noun) and strength by pointing out that it is just the ordinary everday stuff but (being itself) stripped of the illusions and delusions that we use to make things bearable. As a depressive you can relate to this as an example of that 'bare bones' perspective that severe depression gifts you but you're not sure that it might be an accurate description of What Might be Going On. The following oscillations sound better than they read and you are vaguely annoyed by the dot/foot trope which was used in Stress Position and seemed affected then. You know (as an Inquiry obsessive) that one of the concerns as Abu Naji was the use of some or all of the Five Techniques as a means of interrogation and you consider whether the military nostalgia is for the time when these could be openly deployed- they were found to be illegal in the early seventies. This makes a kind of sense becuase on the next page there is:

                                            Since once
   you get from A to B, take your time returning. Isn't
   it the problem that I want you to stare at me until
   our eyes trade sockets, trailing visions, fucking our
   mutual brains out all over the wrongest floor not the
   implication that hooding was banned in 1972 that asks 
   for an adaptation on bliss in memory? Light
   sockets, the halo pinned to bodies in remorse,
   devoured in a shadow life sends back?

Hooding is one of the Five Techniques and was used routinely at Abu Naji, soldiers in evidence to the Baha Moussa Inquiry claimed not to be aware that they weren't supposed to use it. 'Eyes trading sockets' is nicely ambiguous as is the 'wrongest floor' but the central conundrum is the 'bliss' repetition and what it might mean in either context. This is where you might need to take the forensic guess approach that you've been known to use with Prynne. Normally it would make some sense if it was adaptation of bliss but it isn't. You try first of all the reasonably rational reasoning that this bliss is in your memory and therefore has the potential to be recalled although it isn't clear whether it is something that is being consciously remembered. You then spend some time with the OED and find that 'bliss' once meant "Blitheness of aspect toward others, kindness of manner; 'light of one's countenance,' 'smile." But that this was only in Old English, the rest of the definitions match the ones that are already in your head. You then move along to 'adaptation' and discover this as the primary defintion: "The application of something to a particular end or purpose; the action of applying one thing to another or of bringing two things together so as to effect a change in the nature of the objects. Also: an instance of this. Obs." The first recorded use occurred in 1597. So, does this troublesome phrase mean the application of bliss to memory? This has possibilities but you decide to proceed.

The next reference to exciting adventures abroad is:

   Traherne: love is deeper than at first it can be
   thought, and the extra will last you
   past care to a better joke about
   you drilled through to infiltrate the gothic froth of Helmand.

You know that Helmand is where British troops have been thoughtlessly allowing themselves to be blown up for the last few years so 'gothic' would make sense. You normally think of froth as something flimsy or insubstantial, something that is used to deflect attention from the 'real' content. An example of this would be the current use of austerity froth by politicians everywhere to further impoverish working people or the fundamentalist and/or insurgent froths to justify random slaughter and torture. The British military presence is meant to be seen as some kind of pre-emptive defence against the threat from Muslim extremists when it has much (much) more to do with a country that is desperate to cling on to some notion of Empire and, at the same time, please the Americans. Anybody with any understanding of history knows that invading Afghanistan is even more stupid than marching into Russia. Given that our leaders are not entirely stupid we must therefore assume that this little adventure is 'cover' for the punishment of Arabs everywhere and for increasingly intrusive methods of malveillance on the various domestic fronts. You then decide to track down the Traherne quote:

Love is deeper than at first it can be thought. It never ceaseth but in endless things. It ever multiplies. Its benefits and its designs are always infinite. Were you not Holy, Divine, and Blessed in enjoying the World, I should not care so much to bestow it. But now in this you accomplish the end of your creation, and serve God best, and please Him most: I rejoice in giving it. For to enable you to please GOD, is the highest service a man can do you. It is to make you pleasing to the King of Heaven, that you may be the Darling of His bosom.

You decide that the 'extra' refers to a love that "ever multiplies" which is in direct opposition to the experience of being 'drilled though' which may refer to soldierly drill on the parade ground - but you doubt it.

This 'method' of following the themes / threads seems to work in that it gives a wider view of what may be being said and it also points up things that may benefit from more focused attention.

To be continued.