HOME / THE POETS / ESSAYS / THE NUTS AND THE BOLTS / RESOURCES.


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

Part Two.

The Blurb

You've decided to leave the identity of the depilated Janine alone for a while in the hope that things may become clearer as you progress. Instead of ploughing along at the pace of an arthritic snail you decide to have a closer look at the blurb on the relevant Enitharmon web page:

The Odes to TL61P is a suite of five massive, turbulent, tender and satirical odes written and revised from 2010-13. It is the explicit history of the author's sexual development from early infancy; a commentary on the social and political history of the UK since the election of the coalition government; a philosophical account of the common meaning of secrecy in the most intimate, private experiences and in international diplomacy; a wild work of revolutionary theory that investigates in minute detail the difference between commodities and human lives; a record of a thousand revisions, deletions and metamorphoses; an attempt to radically extend and reimagine the very possibility of the ode form; a monstrous accumulation of techniques and mimeses, from the strictest and most perfected metrical verse to the most delirious and cacophonous noise music; and a devoted love song to the now obsolete product ordering code for a bygone Hotpoint washer-dryer, "TL61P". It is the longest poetical work yet written by Keston Sutherland and his most comprehensive effort yet to transform the grammar of human existence.

You don't normally pay any attention (at all) to what publishers say about their wares but in this instance it would appear that this is a shameless piece of self-promotion by our poet himself and may therefore be worthy of some attention. It turns out that the above ticks the boxes of what you thought might be going on, childhood sexuality, the repressive effect of secrecy, the strange (and getting stranger) phenomenon known as 'austerity' intermingled with some of the to be expected Marxian guff. In terms of form, you're guessing that you've started with an example of the "most delirious and cacophonous noise music". You begin to worry about your lack of knowledge of the ode as a form and half-heartedly resolve to do something about this but you're taking more notice of the ommission of the absurd from the above.

This is puzzling because an element of the ridiculous isn't usually that far from the surface of Sutherland's work- the role of Black Beauty in "Stress Position" being the most endearing example. The dedication of the Odes to a "bygone" white good strikes you as firmly in the absurdist camp even though it might be an arch comment on the relationship between human lives and commodities. You've dipped your toe in this particular world view enough to know that it has its attractions but you wonder why such a committed Marxian should be attracted to this particular "voice". You then re-read the blurb and try to work out whether the first page is an example more of delirium. You decide that there's enough of both and they're punctuated with the "only ever kidding" and "who the fuck I am now speaking to" device both of which seem to be trying to drag the hapless reader (you) back into whatever might be going on.


    Each time you unscrew the head the truths burn out
    and fly away above the stack of basements inundated
    in aboriginal mucus, elevating the impeccable,
    hereafter congenitally depilated Janine rescaled to a
    grainy blank up on to the oblong top of the freezer 
    whose shut white lid unhinged at the back alone
    preserves a pyramid of rigid meat, budget pizzas,
    devirginated arctic rolls, only ever kidding in a
    prophylactic void torn into great crates of glittering
    eye shadow, dowsing all its stickiness in dark empty 
    swerves, for no-one is the radius of everything we 
    are,  reinforced steel artery in the very integument
    to be burst asunder by reason of innately shattered
    strobes as soon lived as burnt out, ramming an unplanned
    crack into the door mechanism; who the fuck I am
    now speaking to or at or for or not at this moment
    is compensation for being completed into a circle
    resigned to resume the first square, the first on the 
    entire board, and is listening there, afloat and spent yet
    lost in streaks to the opening night whose primitively
    explosive starlight is progressively nit-picked from a 
    lately impatient and fidgeting sky, not far too far or fast
    too inquisitively squinted at, its cartilage of crudely
    lubed-up open access sex arcs scraped out piecemeal
    and in single-file, and once there inaudibly ask yourself
    why; inside it is the fundamental sky of shining fact:
    the abolition of capital is the social revolution; state

After the seemingly endless tussles with the first four lines, you've decided to take a more panoptic view to try and get a bit more sense of the 'flow'. You notice that we start with "truths" and end up with at least one fact that is said to be shining whilst in the middle you've got crates of cosmetics, a bad joke about food, an almost lyrical evocation of the night sky interspersed with references to you, the reader. Most of this occurs after the momentary appearance of the enigmatic Janine. You've half-realised that you're not being invited to worry over-much about how a void can be prophylactic. Having written "a void" your mind, in spite of itself, takes a wander to the first square and ends up with Georges Perec and all things Oulipo which requires a re-reading of the epigram(s):

And the situation is like that in certain games, in which all places on the board are supposed to be filled in accordance with certain rules, where at the end, blocked by certain spaces, you will be forced to leave more empty spaces that you could have or wanted to, unless you used some trick. There is, however, a certain procedure through which one can most easily fill the board.

Wake up my fellow citizens and middle class and go look in the mirror.

You run this through a few times, Oulipo was/is 'about' creating patterns and writing in accordance with certain (usually mathematical) rules in order to highlight the inherent meaninglessness of everyday life which doesn't sound very Sutherland and indeed the above seems to be much more about the "hidden" hand of capital than any kind of Gallic nihilism. One of the really curious things about this first page is that it fights shy of its brilliance or, at least, it appears to undermine its own technique and you can't put your finger on why this might be but there are some wondrous moments that seem to falter in their moment of triumph. You look again at "integument" and decide that it's a saboteur, an unnecessarily complex/obscure word that adds nothing to the sense of what's been said but just uglifies (technical term) the flow and distracts from the 'sense'. Of course the offending noun might carry weight with those that actually went to college but you doubt it. Warming to your theme, you decide that "nit picked" provides a similar function. You look at "only ever kidding" and come to the view that this does something quite complex on the use of language to cover up or deny acts of violence and/or oppression. On the other hand it might (just) be a 'real' attempt to justify the arctic roll quip but this is counterbalanced by the fact that Sutherland tends to avoid "kidding" which (now you come to think about it) is a verb which requires closer scrutiny.

You decide to think some more about this person/listener/reader that Sutherland claims to be addressing and you discover that this addresse provides some compensation which for the moment you to take to be a softening of the blow rather than monetary reward. It turns out that this blow is being forced or cajoled or manoeuvred into the first square (again). At this stage there is some justifiable confusion in your head about who is on the square but the way that things progress would indicate that perhaps we, everybody, are all back at the first square just as we are all beneath this sky which fidgets with impatience like a small child.

So, in terms of narrative or things that happen, we seem to move from truths soaring over the murderous basements of American and British foreign policy through the hairless Janine, various foodstuffs, a freezer, some eye shadow, a door mechanism that may or may not be part of the freezer, the person whom the poet is addressing and then on to this squares/chess device before arriving at the fundamental sky of shining fact and the truism about Capital. Whilst building this trajectory, you notice again "no-one is the radius of everything we are" which stills sounds better than it should. There are two obvious questions- how can person become a radius and who are the we? you don't know whether this is a profound observation on the human condition or just another absurdist/monstrous tic- an echo of some half-recalled pomposity. Either way, it's annoying but that may well be the 'point'.