Book Review: Lou Ham

Lou Ham: Racing Anthropocene Statements, by Paul Hawkins, takes appropriated text from the world of Formula One Motor Racing and creates a series of commentaries. Each page contains just a few lines, staccato sharp experimental poetry that is scathing towards the attitudes of those who participate in the activity. The result is to provoke the reader to consider why it continues, and why the drivers remain so revered.

Climate chaos is a recurring theme, as is the money involved and the hollowness of the spectacle. In stripping away the hype, the inane and damaging nature of motor sport is brought to the fore.

None of the entries are straightforward text given the structure of their transmission. The humour is mocking yet effective in portraying the self-satisfaction of the driver, encouraged and facilitated by their team. The statements are the driver’s voice, divided into countries on the race calendar.

From ‘5 spain’

i’m happy with qualifying
fanfares should be ten yelps
i veered
i’m disrespectful

i was really happy with it
well i did get the win
it’s been a loudmouth of work

i was in teasels about it
still there’s no need
to get emotional
i got everything i could

a big congratultions
to this tearaway

The narrative builds, a sardonic exposure of a meaningless and detrimental spectacle, a costly entertainment. That cost is complex, and it is this that the percipient text delves into.

This is protest poetry that immerses the reader in the glittery, grubby world of wealth generation and its transient frontmen. Racing pollutes not just the planet but its participants. A challenging, persuasive read.

Book Review: Bristol

Bristol is an anthology of experimental prose poetry from the wonderfully subversive publisher, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, under their DW Cities imprint. Created in collaboration with an array of literary groups, each book in the series is accompanied by a local event held in the city featured. Like the writing, the idea may be innovative but it is satisfying that such a venture is made possible by supporters and contributors. The literary world benefits from original thinking.

This slim title contains diverse work from six writers. It opens with a concept piece from Sarer Scotthorne which I interpreted as a commentary on the effects of zero hours contract relationships. There is a feeling of risk and disconnection – of those who sign up being expendable. Hours are described as ‘missing’, method as ‘island gropes’ or ‘into a kind of abyss’. It is strangely disconcerting.

Vik Shirley offers a series of poems on celebrity (Betsy) and their varied acolytes (vigilantes). Betsy is a has been whose continued fame relies on her intense following. They demand certain standards for inclusion and have become a power in themselves. The real Betsy is no longer needed for the vigilantes to continue as influencers.

David Turner sets his pieces in the Tate Modern and provides an entertaining alternative commentary on famous art installations. They are playful in their treatment of the conceits and rage of well known artists and their work.

Paul Hawkins’ contribution is more opaque. I took from it a cynical despair at continuing demand for vanilla living and writing.

“the world is full of climbers
putting the win on instagram

hucksters pumping sherbet after sherbet
of effects into the stratosphere

balm ready
going super soft option for the whining win”

Lizzy Turner opens with a quartet of diary entries highlighting the problems of living with anxiety. She then blacks out increasing sections, thus bringing to the fore the ongoing darkness of such a condition. It is a powerful evocation.

The final contributor is Clive Birnie whose bio explains he works with appropriated text. His six interrelated poems are about deals and money-making. Their protagonist, The Lemon Squeezer, is a ‘cease and desist investor’. There is mention of disgrace and deteriorating conditions, of catastrophe ‘becoming commoditised’ – advise given:

“A fool should sell himself, while
he still has something left to sell.”

One of the difficulties of reviewing experimental writing is a concern that my interpretations may be wide of the mark intended. Such is the risk taken by any writer publishing their work. As a reader I enjoyed unpacking this collection. It benefits from rereads and offers much to consider.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the editor, Paul Hawkins.

Book Review: Place Waste Dissent


Place Waste Dissent, by Paul Hawkins, presents the reader with a monochrome kaleidoscope of imagery overlaid with the bleak poetry of personal experience and anarchy. Using a scrapbook of cut up photographs, legal notices and rough typed words it documents the events of the Claremont Road protests against the proposed M11 link road in east London in the early 1990s.

In the wake of compulsory purchase orders, the derelict properties were inhabited by squatters and other protesters against the government imposed demolition of homes to make way for roads. The lengthy dispute brought to the public attention how radical dissent could not be easily subjugated. If law and order are to be maintained there must be a willingness to comply or a fear of the consequences. Those who have nothing to lose are difficult to control.

The book opens with the story of Dolly Watson who had lived at 32 Claremont Road for her entire life. She had survived the blitz, although the experience had left her fearful of fire. At the time of the protests she was all but housebound, unable to climb her stairs. She got by on a morning sherry, porridge, tea and a 40 a day smoking habit, neighbours doing the little shopping she required. After all that Dolly had seen and experienced throughout her long life she saw no reason to leave her home. The arrival of the squatters and protesters added colour, the grandchildren she had never had.

Interspersed with the personal stories of a few of the Claremont Road occupiers, many of whom spend their days high on drink and drugs, are snippets from the summons, threats and surveillance operations that were enacted in an attempt to drive the troublesome individuals out. None of it worked. When the police stepped up the measures they were willing to use to force evictions, so too did the residents. They chained themselves to pipes, walls and each other. By the end the houses were being demolished around them, great chunks being removed with protesters still attached.

Fascinating though these details are, it is the strength of the presentation that gives this book its edge. It is performance art on the page, an installation with time as the third dimension rather than space.

The work is full of static and flux. Although the stories of Dolly, and a young girl they call Flea, are poignant, many of the protesters are far from admirable in the way they live their lives. This is presented raw. What comes across is that these are people who have fallen through the cracks created by a society which values corporate success over caring for those who are less able to cope, or who are unwilling to become cogs in the mechanisms that keep the privileged in power.

Dolly remembers the unemployed of 1907, those left homeless by the war, the endless fighting in far away places throughout her lifetime. The arrival of the squatters did not surprise her:

“they did that everywhere in London after the war, they had to live somewhere and it’s the same today…”

Running roughshod over the needy, blaming them for their predicament, will not make them go away. The poor have always been amongst us, they have nowhere else to go. This book is a timely reminder that it only takes a few determined individuals to tear down the facade of order. Injustice breeds discontent. This powerful work documents how damaging that can be for all.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Influx Press.