You are your own poetry machine!

We can all be poets and linguistic warriors. And if we can win our wars for the liberation of language we can win something else in the bargain: The ability to express ourselves again. Or at least have fun trying.


Review of SEND CA$H, by Stewart Home, Morbid Books (2018)
By Tony Oats.

‘I found myself getting up on stage to perform short banal pieces as a humorous riposte to a horde of po-faced hacks wallowing in misery. I wanted to make still life pictures in words and provide a quasi-punk counter-offensive to the bloated gothic whinging that too many selfstyled ‘serious’ ‘young’ poets were grinding out at that time.’  –Stewart Home

Preach it Brother Home, I feel you. We all feel you.  We all remember the age of whinging oh-so-serious poets – “the drone wars” as Penny Fate used to call it.  Oh my god what was that mess? It’s no fucking wonder people hate poetry. It stems from that moment when poetry began to hate itself.  It was a system-wide artistic suicide pact using kambucha instead of Kool Aide. And what was Stewart Home doing in those days? Well, he stepped up to the mic and smacked poetry upside the head with a two-by-four.  No, that isn’t right. He smacked it with a giant dildo. Because humor counts too.

The secret sauce is right there in the introduction to SEND CA$H – poetry as riposte; for context matters a lot.  Poetry should never have been framed up like little pictures to be aesthetically contemplated by the chronically undermedicated.  It needs to play against the rest of language. Unencapsulated. It is a war for the liberation of language. It is a war for the joy of language.  It is, if you think about it, the only war that matters.

Stewart Home isn’t the first person to move down this path.  There have been plenty of so-called “anti-poets,” including my personal hero, the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, and Greece’s Elias Petropoulos and the “anti-literature” folk and, the Hungralists, working in the Bengali language. But Homes brings a very different aesthetic – more of a prankster aesthetic, and more than a little bit of a punk aesthetic.

First published as Facebook updates, 42 ATM poems ‘SEND CA$H”

I do have a complaint though:  The label. Why does THIS poetry have to be called “anti-poetry”?  Those whinging po-faced hacks are the true anti-poets. They are hella anti-poetic, and they descend from a long tradition of the anti-poetic and anti-linguistic – all those people trying to chain up language and like Procrustus and his perfectly sized bed, stretch poetry or chop it just enough to fit their bed of official meters and dactyls and in some cases, fucking rhymes.  My point is that poets, like Home, should be in the language liberation business, and the language-play business, and in the anti-business business, and into your business and the state’s business and above all it should be at war with those who would tame language and turn it into a suicide-inducing drone fest.

And this brings me back to the Collection, and it is certainly a Collection with a capital C – a Collection of work that spans several decades and that evinces the retired weapons the prosetry wars.  And yes, at times it feels one is wandering in a Medieval armory, looking at maces and lances and the odd crossbow, all of them still bloody because why would a poet want to clean up the mess?

There is deep truth in this Collection.  The bits of language that are spoken and written may not be the actual poetry; those things may simply be epiphenomenal – the causally inert byproducts of the true poetry – which is a mode of living.  Thus, Home writes:

But while my Collected Poems may be a slimmer volume than the fat tomes documenting the output of those who had nothing better to do than write verse, I have lived more poetically and produced a perfectly formed body of work with a very strong pelvic floor and transverse abdominis. 

True that; in a world that venerates manias, we seem to have confused poetry with graphomania, and scribomania, and nonstop graphorrea, and above all tipomania.  Just stop already and live like poets instead of meth-addicted Medieval scribes!

Part one of the book is the material from the 80s war against the “po-faced hacks,” and here there is at least one additional deep truth, and that is the idea, alluded to earlier: Poems are not self-contained.  They play against each other, and the poetry of others, and against canonical language itself.  

My favorite poems go like this.

the sun set like a broken armchair 
being dropped from a third storey window

I say favorite poems, plural, because there are 34 poems in the Collection that go exactly like that.  The only thing that differentiates them are their titles, which, when listed, generate a kind of poem all of their own.

JOHNSHAVEN, BOLINAS, DULWICH, SWANSEA, PONTARDDULAIS, CAMBERWELL, BRIXTON, ELEPHANT AND CASTLE, WATERLOO, REGENTS PARK, BRIGHTON, HOVE, CAMDEN, SOHO, COVENT GARDEN, EUSTON, BATTERSEA, VAUXHALL, CLAPHAM, KINGSBRIDGE, SALCOMBE, EAST PORTLEMOUTH, HALLSANDS, WOOD GREEN, PORTSLADE, DUNDEE, STRATFORD, WANDSWORTH, MORTLAKE, ALBORAYA, BLACKHEATH, VALENCIA, CANALS, XATIVA

Like I said, the poems are not self-contained, they play off of each other (and their titles) and probably your knowledge of British and Spanish geography, encapsulated within London and Valencia region.

In a similar vein, there are 42 “ATM” poems, the first two as follows.

ATM 1 There are 3 ways to learn wisdom: 1st, SEND CA$H, which is noblest; 2nd, use PayPal, which is easiest; & 3rd write a cheque, which is the bitterest. If you don’t feel cheated you haven’t lived! SEND CA$H!

ATM 2 Ever wondered why I’m known as the human tripod? SEND CA$H to find out!

Et cetera.  The cross-poetry connections (and humor) are obvious. It is perhaps also worth observing that the message in these poems is fundamentally the true message of every poem of the last 100 years.

It’s not all ca$h and sunsets, however.  The other poems are tiny gems that show how less is more, even when describing heroes, dispensing advice and crying out in existential despair – yet another deep truth about the capacity of poetry that has been largely forgotten since Sapho.

SINGING SURGEON 
needles 
thread 
music

WHISTLE EVENT 
blow a whistle

TOMATOES 
I’m sick and tired 
of fried tomatoes 
that always sound the same 

that sizzle in the fat 
and then fall silent 
on my plate

PRESS 
O

Part two is entitled MINING SPAM FOR FLARF POEMS and it involves a technique that has been used with great success (and failure) by a number of experimental poets (sometimes called “spam poetry” or spoetry, in this case “flarfing”), and it is clearly related to cut-up techniques. I myself have anthologized the Magellan Poetry of Urizenus Sklar, which built poems from lists of the “last ten searches” from the pre-Google Magellan search engine.  Home’ discoveries here deliver more blows to the head with a dildo, pulling sex-based spam out of its context and shoving it into the poetic context and making us all see, whether we want to or not, exactly what our language has been up to.

From: COCK HUNGRY BISEXUAL REDHEAD

pretty young stripper 
just 21 years old 
is ripped up with a dildo 
a hot steamy whore who likes her ass fondled 
as Latino lesbians lick taco 
to a 70s disco soundtrack

Part three is called SONGS, RANTS, & PLAGIARISMS, but he could have just called it all PUNK!, because, as it turns out, the poems have a punk etiology.

[T]he longer ranting work in part 3 is possibly my oldest surviving poem. It was written to illustrate how easy it is to produce pieces in that vein, or at least easy for me because even back then I’d already ‘composed’ dozens of punk rock songs.

I’m not sure which poem he is talking about, because none of them are that long, but I want to believe it is the poem KILL, KILL, KILL, if only for the “chorus”.

Kill, kill, kill, fucking kill everything 
Kill, kill, kill, practically everything 
Kill, kill, kill, fucking kill everything 
Kill, kill, kill, practically everything 
Kill, kill, kill, fucking kill everything 
Kill, kill, kill, practically everything 
Kill, kill, kill, fucking kill everything 
Kill, kill, kill, practically everything

NON GRATA Performing “TOTAL EXORCISM in GRACE EXHIBITION SPACE
photo Mara Catalan

Even the …philosophical?… poems are punk. I give you a snippet from ARSEHOLE.

Arsehole, wanker, shitbag, scum 
Plonker, dickhead, extension, length! 
You think you know it all with your Catholic hang-ups 
But your philosophy is bullshit, you’re just a washed-up empiricist 
You don’t know a thing, you don’t even doubt effectively 
And Descartes never told you hate proves we exist

You might be tempted to say, “hey I could write that shit,” and here, like Meno’s slave, stunned by Socrates’ barrage of questions, you are on the brink of understanding. Fucking right you can!, for this collection is also an instruction manual, and it comes with its own motivational speech.  

These days if you want to encounter a poem worth hearing you pretty much have to write it yourself… What are you waiting for? You are your own poetry machine! 

Preach it, Brother Home. We can all be poets and linguistic warriors.  And if we can win our wars for the liberation of language we can win something else in the bargain: The ability to express ourselves again. Or at least have fun trying.

About the author:

Tony Oats lives in Bushwick, New York, with zir cryptokitties Salvador Beachnut Sizzzz and Tangerine Cream.  Ze writes poetry about can openers, blenders, and the philosophy of time.  Ze does not write prose, except in anger. Contact: tonyoats99@gmail.com or FB:

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