A brief introduction to Keston Sutherland.
Keston Sutherland teaches at Sussex University and, together with Andrea Brady, runs Barque Press. He is the most accomplished younger British poet and is also an exceptional critic, especially on the work of J H Prynne.
Most of Sutherland's work has a political theme but this is usually presented in a genuinely innovative manner which welds seemingly disparate elements together into an almost coherent whole. There is such an intensity to his longer poems that the reader begins to fear for his well-being and stability. His work is not without humour (even when he's writing about torture) and some lines are very funny indeed.
'Stress Position' is probably Sutherland's most accomplished work to date, it is set in Baghdad and it's major themes are torture and American foreign policy but it also features a brilliant wedding reception scene as well as Black Beauty (the entirely fictional horse). 'Hot White Andy' is an extended analysis of how we perceive the rise of China. 'The Proxy Inhumanity of Forklifts', a recent poem, deals again with torture but also contains the full text of a patent for a "door closer assembly for a household refrigerator" in verse.
'Innovative' is an adjective that gets thrown around with great abandon these days but Sutherland is unique in pushing the parameters of British poetry as far as they will go.
He is also the clearest and most perceptive writer on Prynne which springs from a deep understanding of Prynne's practice as a poet and a careful reading of the work. He manages to convey his enthusiasm for Prynne without resorting to the kind of esoteric and confusing language that usually surrounds the work. Frequent reference to Marxist thinkers would indicate that Sutherland is well to the left of centre but he doesn't preach as is the case with most Marxist critics.
Sutherland is difficult on three levels, his use of language often depends on neologisms (new words) that take a while to unpick although this is always rewarding.
The second kind of difficulty relates to subject matter, the wedding reception scene is essentially a portrait of a mind in anguish and is done with such accuracy that those of us with experience of mental anguish can only flinch when reading it.
The third kind of difficulty comes from the sheer effort it takes to get the gist of some passages. The Forklifts poem, for example, contains a prose section that is 'punctuated' by numbers that are written out. This serves to disrupt the 'thread' of the text in a very effective way because the reader has to really concentrate on what's being said.
In summary, Sutherland's work represents what the future of British verse should look like. No-one can doubt either his commitment or skill and everyone should (must) read him.