[how do you describe an ephemeral / emotional / fragmented experience?]
[why do you describe and share the experience after the fact for people who did not live it?]
I wrote a set of poems with a particular meaning within a particular context, but their significance pressed against the boundaries of contexts and places, needing an additional life. I resolved this, but their need continued; this accompanying note is a sort of life history, as it were, of the poems and a way to transfer them for a third time into a space which allows me to get at the issues at stake in the work and to let it travel of its own accord along the invisible, global routes of the internet.
These poems (below) were written in Brighton, UK, in 2017 as part of a creative/critical dissertation called “Belonging in Fragments”. They were and continue to be many things at a theoretical level – developments of my thoughts on hybridity and deterritorialisation, ways to investigate family histories of migration and diaspora, and responses to analysing two contemporary poetic texts on displacement and belonging: Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil, 2015, and Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo, 2016. They are also, however, deeply rooted in my experience of being a European living in the UK post-Brexit and they celebrate the intimacies and elsewheres important to my three years studying in Brighton.
They needed a life outside of “Belonging in Fragments” which could explore an alternate vision of their role through an additional, ambiguous – possibly even in-between or liminal – relationship to the literary criticism of contemporary poetic hybridity which my dissertation had offered. I thought about for whom I intended my hybrid work, and whether I might still not know how to question the boundaries I felt needed questioning; the result was that I devised what I called a “disembodied performance” of the poems1
I used virtual transportation to subvert geographic location. I wandered Brighton flâneuse-like, placing A4 posters which acted as digital access points to the poems in places which felt right in the moment. The original order of the series which fitted alongside my theory went out the window, with resonance taking priority. The sheets each contained a QR code which led to a poem, hidden from web searches and accessible only through the code; they did not identify the individual poems, containing only the invitation “Scan for Poetry” and guidance on which apps to use (a QR code scanner or Snapchat). In this way, passers-by were invited to cross a boundary into a technological inter-space between poem, poet and reader. The encounter was anchored in place and time by the ephemerality of the print-outs; although the poems were removed from their traditional textual geography, access to them was wholly dependent on being in the landscape of Brighton.
Audience agency was central: the actual performance of movement and reading was one which the reader might enact – perhaps only partially and accidentally since I never included a full list of locations. A central part of the endeavour was the likelihood that the poems would be ignored, and that I had failed in challenging barriers of privilege since owning a smartphone was central to accessing the poetry. The fact of being read, however, was less important than the poems’ being: simultaneously anchored in Brighton and occupying a digital interspace while the writing invites the reader to consider movement, displacement and home.
1. [In many ways, I was inspired by the writing I had analysed to offer my own writing a new life: unseen yet reported performance is central to Ban en Banlieue and my contact with the two authors I was studying within the digital landscapes of Twitter and email led me to Kapil’s “Hybrid Worksheet” written as final essay prompts for a module taught 4,700 miles away at Naropa – which I used to reflect on the hybrid dissertation I had already produced in response to studying Experimental Writing with Sam Solomon at the University of Sussex.]↩
The poems in space:
[click on the coloured toggles below to view the location and title of each poem]
This is The Level, a green space pretty much right in the middle of Brighton: it’s a sort of hub for all sorts of routes people might take crossing the city and people gather there, too.
Travelling to meet you
I remember splintered parallelograms
interfering with the coffee stain of September dehesa;
the transitional landscape of my traditional journey
was severed in two by my traveling to meet you.
The train tracks sped me out of Caceres;
Casatejada, glimpsed, played Adelstrop’s part.
I felt surface an intimation of proxy memories
as Grandpa examined the village sign.
He never bought it. He did not belong
to Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire –
more to reading Aesculus under
a far-flung Banyan tree. But
how insignificant is the place itself
to a poem’s intergenerational encounters.
The train rushed on, that September. You
anchored me to the future.
Through the saffron-sprinkled window
I saw already how you would conjure
a hilltop at dusk out of Madrid’s cracked boulevards:
your greatest feat, a heavy pink sun elongating the dusk.
When we went camping, you made the tent home
and when I touched you – expecting everything to slip –
you held me and – at length – you produced
Hong Kong’s eggshell dawn rising from behind Dieppe’s rain.
You have a knack for belonging. I think
I must have been nervous to give up those hurried escapes
but when I got off that train
you showed me home afresh.
This poem was written about a chance encounter on this street with a man claiming to my partner and me that his eyes changed colour thanks to the power of God.
What colour do you see – in my eyes?
Deep earth fruit, laughter lines
crease beetroot. Milskin iris.
Movement below. This iris is many things. Dust,
of demolition maybe. Sea spray erodes the rocks
here. Seawall sprayed haphazardly purple. Your chosen slogan displayed
to the elements. This grey pulsates lilac. Unasked: if he’s blind how did he know
my boyfriend was here and reach for the baby?
He asked: Are your eyes brown? I think there’s blue along the very edge,
cupped by skeletal pathways of blood. A loud laugh, hurrying passing footsteps
God speaks through my eyes: he sends everyone a different colour.
A welcome of sorts.
This is a side street I had never walked down before. I stumbled on a treasure trove of re-worked May ’68 posters, which felt appropriate for the poem below.
It’s got to be madness [I think]
amid the uncharacteristic silence of all the birds of Oxford
Expectation denied [I compare myself]
[I watch] a couple at home in these invernal pathways
[I explore] non-recognition and non-belonging through
name-plaques on every wall: familiar to them
[Litost and a meditation on indecipherability]
Along the deadman’s walk, I hope
these things are not symbols:
- The neat folding of leaves into their own deaths
- That bench where worlds’ borders thin for separated lovers
- The silence of the birds
- The old age [and likely long marriage] of the couple
[Projection that this may be an indictment of belonging and love]
The poem below was inspired by Council planning meetings (!) where there was much discussion about underground rivers running below Brighton, and the issues they cause with construction. It seemed like a beautiful subterranean sign of the importance the sea holds for the city… So this QR code went up beside the two piers on the seafront, where this invisible estuary occurs.
La desembocadura / the estuary
In that other language, the act of river transforming into sea
sounds something like un-mouthing, a peculiar un-utterance
since this is the negation of the act of entering the mouth
or – freedom from the state of being within the mouth
(constraints of teeth, tongue, gums,
the imperatives of chewing and forming words)
or – being liberated from the conventions of language learnt.
Mover los labios dota al silencio de un valor embrionico
al ser posible que cada palabra
acabe vocalizada. Brighton’s
[inverse of an entry] into
[that which exists in contrast with a mouth]
is produced by twin movements
que corren subterráneos por Patcham
a lo largo de Lewes Road in hidden power
y se van abriendo hacia el canal de la mancha.
Its underground perspectives are freed from
las lenguas de la superficie as they move closer
to their saltwater incarnation – while generating surface
interpretations : “hidden” /
/ “flooding” / “lost” /
In the un-forming of something invisible making its way into
simple vastness, el horizonte implica la aventura de lo distante.
En la des/integración que experimentan los invisibles ríos de Brighton en el mar,
the mouth forming them before their final briney expulsion
is punctuated by crooked concentric circles of Georgian teeth
stained candy floss colours. Este es el pasadizo desde dentro a fuera.
In anatomical knots the head in which this mouth is placed
twists back, jammed close against the rolling fat
on this body which starts, contorted, at England’s southern tip.
With chalk-skin crumbling, pores deepened by foxes’ nocturnal scavenging;
por sus pasadizos escondidos corre la sangre de la ciudad
en su submarine throat, escondida por el imperativo capitalista de la construcción.
An old timber and characteristically turquoise Brighton bus stop. This one is right by the beach, at the opposite end of the city to the University.
Membrillo: impossibly / capture / beyond / ceased
after Vahni Capildeo, “Too Solid Flesh”
For a year the scent of the
membrillo wafted through
my window most evenings
from the South Downs
bringing a familiar light
seguido por egg yolk
spreading into the
University of Sussex
I would head into the hills
following its scent
distracted by this light
transforming trees too far
north me escapa
cosas de la vida
it was but añoranza de verano
tardío and impossible to
cosas que pasan again and
again past autumns
amid falling leaves sensed
it spread from the hills to
my room on campus
trailing eventually onto
the bus and
I looked out for hints in
Antonio López’s Madrid
paintings the softness of
sunflower petals women’s
top lips on every street
learnt to navigate by
“foreign” grocers and
botanical gardens but when
I left my campus room the scent
This is an entrance to another one of Brighton’s parks: Queen’s Park, relatively near the sea. The poem below is, in fact, written largely about Monk’s House, the Sussex home of Virginia Woolf, but the park seemed appropriate for a poem focused on the sea and nature.
After CA Conrad
Emptying-out is the outpouring of river into sea / I won’t relinquish our summer outings
to Southease though other memories have flowed into their own absences /
our sudden insight into British quaintness was white-clad sportsmen a stone’s throw
from Virginia’s house / I felt the specters on the grass / I pointed
to where my icons had stood / we stood there / you held me there
time’s passing and a resolution to cling only to the transformative had cleansed me /
the year before Virginia held me as I thought about leaving / we ordered pizza
let’s return home to warmth and food / how different from that last visit:
the busy pollution of the road and the stony faces of the busts before /
how cruel my scrutiny is / Virginia’s eyes were unfinished
but my ritual is accidental / the magnet-pull of the water
and the power in the house / Virginia striking a match /
she pulled me from my waking sense of drowning that first time / anchored me /
a stolen white flower produced a sneaking sense of calmness /
the sea into which the Ouse flows obsessed me from the start /
here / I have the pebbles gathered on my path as I homed in on Brighton beach
and I can only wonder what talismans survive / as time rushes on
what we hold now that we may forget entirely/
I swear I won’t relinquish / either / the memory your bouquet
on my desk here above 2017’s demo leaflets
[This poem never appeared physically in Brighton. Instead, it is the culmination of the project written after the lives of the series]
I have become
an inadvertent / self-appointed cartographer / of the stuff of negative space
borders are artifice after all / attached to landscape tenuously through map and sign /
and indoors through painted line / “UK BORDER”
manifest in penetrative light and dull blue metal / but the intangible tends towards inarticulable
we generated new contact zones
no need for pilgrimage / more its product
we bathed copper in acid / delicate scratches moss-like the first etchings of future explorations
organic and multiple / these boundaries drawn we can step over
dance on the faultlines, healing as we go
a border / entanglement of ownership / invisible conflict / controlled between: dust
space between: us / armspans contracting / distorted contradictions
/ now in transformation