All Essays

ESSAY Sounding Out the House: Thinking Sound and Sight in Poetry

by Elliot C. Mason

It felt like I had only ever seen poetry; like it had always been some kind of shining flotilla flashing up ink on immense blank spaces, distracting me with repetition: the same sight again, another configuration of the visual. Sound seemed constant, against the binaries of these repetitions. In every sphere of capitalist existence – production, circulation, consumption – repetition is the code to keeping the whole machine enthralling. Occasionally a wave, like sound, punctures the production line. As Benjamin Bratton neatly put it: ‘Repetition means legibility, and legibility helps with the distracted audience problem.’ Kaminsky seemed like every clichéd metaphor of inspiration imaginable. It impelled me to consider where else in poetry there is sound. [read full essay]

ESSAY He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear

by William Poulos

Trying to retrieve this spirit of dialogue, Bate presents the thesis that Shakespeare helped create an English Protestant culture which took its inspiration from ancient Rome while separating itself from modern Rome and the Catholic Church. Although interesting, this thesis isn’t exactly new. Bate’s novelty is in his attempt to link Shakespeare’s plays to ideas and idioms found in Plautus, Terence, Virgil, Horace, and Cicero: authors who were extremely influential but aren’t compared to Shakespeare as often as Ovid and Plutarch are. These parts of the book are disappointing. Bate gathers a great amount of evidence from many sources to support bland conclusions: Plautus and Terence included taverns, drunks, and whores in their comedies, and so did Shakespeare. Horace wrote about male friendship and a retirement to the country, and so did Shakespeare. Cicero wrote about civil war, and so did Shakespeare. [read full essay]

ESSAY Because She Was a Prostitute

by Frith Taylor

No Bad Women brings the policing of morality into sharp relief, as well as the intersection of sex work, disability and economic precarity. Patricia Whitfield's husband was a wheelchair user, and her work was their primary source of income. She and her husband wrote pornography so that Whitfield could move away from sex work. Their writing was in the form of a memoir, which becomes a kind of metatext in the play. Extracts are read out and scrutinised in the trial; the defence lawyer suggests that Whitfield's embellishments in the memoir show that she is dishonest, while the explicit sexual content is used to cast doubt on her character. This problem of narrative and ownership is central to current discourse surrounding sex work. A woman's pornography can be used against her, while her testimony detailing her sexual assault is questioned. The message is clear: only 'good' victims deserve justice. [read full essay]

ESSAY Review 31's Books of the Year 2019

by Review 31

Our 2019 fiction highlights range from David Bowman’s ‘vast and hyperactive’ polyphonic survey of 20th-century Americana to the ‘supercharged energy, pace and wit’ of Isabel Waidner’s idiosyncratic portrait of contemporary Britain; to the more phantasmagoric landscapes of Tim Etchells’ short stories — ‘corrupt, ludicrous or even grotesque’ in their linguistic playfulness. The selection includes two particularly timely novels that explore the devastating legacy of US state-sponsored violence: Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive — ‘fiercely political, as well richly associative; brimming with intelligent observation and humanity — and Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto, which combines 'wit and virtuosity' with 'a core of seriousness and rage'. [read full essay]

ESSAY The Lives of Others

by Charles Fernyhough

Writers have a duty to ask what is involved in letting a reader inhabit a different worldview. How, when and under what conditions can – and should – writers try to master a perspective that is different from their own? Every author will answer this differently, and all writers will have to work out for themselves which doors might swing open and what lines must never be crossed. But each one I have spoken to has defended it as a right that can, with the appropriate knowledge and sensitivity, be earned. The best literature celebrates this magic trick, but also feels for its boundaries. Dare to imagine, it tells us, but do it with respect, and do it well. [read full essay]

ESSAY Remembering the War Dead

by James Heartfield

The case against war had been strongly put. The best argument against the war was the cost in lives. What the official commemoration of the dead did was to take all the grief that might have counted against the war-mongers and turn it instead into part of the case for war. The dead were now called the ‘fallen’ (though most had been struck down). The killing was sanctified as a ‘sacrifice’ — the ‘Greatest Sacrifice’. [read full essay]

ESSAY (The Refusal) To Work Forever

by Elliot C. Mason

Subjectivity, in this capitalist work ideology, is based on representing a universal form – based on being a site of accumulation, a place of value-production. Poetry resists this spatialising movement. So while every moment of constant work is another restriction on the feminised and racialised body – in different ways, but both with the result of rejection to the periphery – these poets that place resistance to work in the striking snap of slowness, the antithesis of productive capital, can withdraw a subversive way of being from beneath the sweaty bodies constantly performing for the totality of labour. [read full essay]

ESSAY Letter from a Nation of Freemen

by Ed Simon

You can be killed in a school, a movie theatre, a shopping mall, a bar, a concert, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a goddamn garlic festival. Because this is what it’s like living in America as the second decade of the new millennium draws to a close. If there are still Americans in the future on the other side of that divide, in a hopefully fairer, saner, better nation, please read this as a missive from foreign country. This is a civilian letter in this grim war, and what I’d tell all of you fortunate enough not to wake up everyday with push notification of a mass shooting in your neighbourhood is that in the United States we’re scared and scarred, jarred, anxious, frightened, and most of all exhausted. [read full essay]

ESSAY At The Right Distance

by Leon Craig

‘Loss, I thought, did not have to be a void of grief and pain, it could also be an encounter’ realises Echo, the protagonist of Saskia Vogel’s debut novel Permission, as she is comforted by her dominatrix lover. While staying with her parents in a coastal town outside Los Angeles, she goes climbing with her father in a nearby cove and he suddenly disappears into the waves. As harbour patrol and the rescue divers slowly abandon the search, she remains trapped in her parents’ house, isolated from her mother by their shared sorrow and desperate for distraction. Driving around the cliffs looking for somewhere to be alone, she is forced into continually re-encountering her lost adolescence. [read full essay]

ESSAY A Party in Four Parts

by Minoo Dinshaw

David Cameron had inherited a party split by Europe; he did not know or care much about the older, underlying tension and started a bar-fight that ripped right across it. He ended up leaving behind him a party in at least four parts: Whig Remainers, grey-faced Establishment spectres (they produced Theresa May and are now led by Jeremy Hunt); idealistic, sometimes confusing Tory Remainers, of whom Rory Stewart is the most persuasive example; Whig Brexiteers, blithely ahistorical venture capitalists; and Tory Brexiteers, atavistic and excitable backwoodsmen. [read full essay]