Winter’s Immutable Poetics

by Ed Simon

A certain slant of light remains at the centre for any poetics of winter. Whatever else literature of those dark months takes as its concern – the crunch of snow underfoot, the strange material effervescence of one’s breath, even the liturgy of Advent – all aesthetics of solstice ultimately is about the half-luminescence of the low winter sun. To sing a song of winter is to sing a dirge. Representations of the season must deal with the expiring embers of daylight, effervescence’s spindly dying glow as the year progresses, the subtle yet sublime awareness of the hazy light of the shortening day. Approaching whatever collapse awaits us, feeling the rising temperatures of a 21st-century December, or perhaps knowing the grey ashen chill of future nuclear winter, what is reassuringly uncontrollable is the predictable tilt of our planet’s axis. Our seasons remain a pagan liturgy, enthralled to the motion of the sun and moon, and our poetry is similarly moved. [read full essay]

The Best Is Noise

Damon Krukowski, The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World

reviewed by James Cook

In 1972, John Berger published the hugely successful Ways of Seeing, a collection of seven essays on how to better understand art and the visual image. Damon Krukowski’s first book, The New Analog, does something similar for the perception of sound in a digital age, and deserves to be equally successful. Indeed, its title could easily have been ‘Ways of Hearing’. Like Berger, Krukowski is reflecting on a period of recent change – in the case of sound, the paradigm shift from analog to... [read more]

A Walking Nexus

David Widgery, Against Miserabilism: Writings 1968 – 1992

reviewed by Matt Myers

David Widgery was many things. He was a writer, a doctor, a father, a socialist – as the essays in Against Miserabilism ably show. But what is more, Widgery was a man who offered his considerable talents to the service of others; his life found meaning in the common struggle for a most just and humane society. As he wrote in the preface to Preserving Disorder in 1989, the last collection of his essays to be published: ‘I’m glad I heard Hendrix live but gladder to have marched with the... [read more]

It Was Bound To Go Wrong

Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix (eds.), Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night

reviewed by Stuart Walton

That the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Hate, as the high-water mark of 1977 came to be known, passed without much overt commemoration of the British punk movement says something more than that there was no burning desire to remember it. It speaks eloquently of the relation that punk rock already had with its own afterlife, even during its rapid maturation. Acutely conscious of the reified institutionalism to which popular music had already long since succumbed in the suffocating forms of... [read more]

Bobok in the Bardo

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

reviewed by Leonid Bilmes

The bardo, according to Buddhist teaching, is a kind of limbo state for the soul after the body reaches its corporeal date of expiry. Souls of the departed linger in the bardo before they are ready to move on to whatever happens next (either reincarnation or nirvana), but in the fictional world of George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo – winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize – this liminal space functions a little more like purgatory. The souls of the departed come to inhabit their... [read more]

Biscuits in the Parsonage

George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis

reviewed by Tom Cutterham

For a month in 2013, one small neighbourhood in the South Korean city of Suwon banned cars from its streets. Local authorities widened the pavements, and gave out bicycles and electric scooters to residents. ‘Cafes and restaurants spilled into the streets,’ George Monbiot reports in his new book Out of the Wreckage, ‘and people began to connect in ways that were impossible before.’ Without cars and their infrastructure cutting through the common spaces, community could return to old... [read more]

A Cavalcade of Waynes

Wayne Holloway-Smith, Alarum

reviewed by Erik Kennedy

Some books of poems contain a part that overwhelms the whole, like an apple in a bowl of berries. In Wayne Holloway-Smith’s full-length debut, Alarum, that part is the 12-page meditation on class, brutality, and guilt entitled ‘Some Violence’. Although there is a political dimension to the violence of the title, Holloway-Smith does not report or catalogue it, as someone like James Fenton or Carolyn Forché might. And although the violence is local – domestic – Holloway-Smith does not... [read more]

Be Here Now

Richard Power Sayeed, 1997: The Future that Never Happened

reviewed by Alex Niven

My abiding memory of 1997 is of a music video that emerged towards the end of the year. Officially a charity single for Children in Need, but actually an encomium for the BBC and its licence fee, the all-star cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ released in late November was something like a dying fall for the ’94-’97 interval – that weird, quixotic glitch in the neoliberal timeframe. Everything about this curious micro-period was summarised in the song and its heavily rotated... [read more]

A Precarious Privilege

Kate Briggs, This Little Art

reviewed by Annie McDermott

I don’t know how stockings are made nowadays, Roland Barthes says in a lecture he delivered in 1980, but when I was a child they were knitted. He describes growing up surrounded by women who were ‘obsessed with the risk of getting a hole in their stockings’ which would then form a ladder, and the gesture ‘whereby a woman would wet a finger in her mouth and apply it to the weave, cementing it with saliva, and in this way she would stop it.’ He remembers, too, a tiny stall of... [read more]

This Is Normal

Anna Feigenbaum, Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

reviewed by Peter Mitchell

Consider the gas-mask dancers of Gezi Park. In 2013, during the occupation of Taksim Square, dancers – whirling dervishes, ballet dancers – started to put on shows, spinning and dipping in their full regalia, with the addition of the gas masks which were by then becoming the cardinal symbol of the protests. The images quickly gained traction within the feverish meme-jockeying that surrounded Gezi, and no wonder: there’s something indecently powerful in the juxtaposition of dervish robes... [read more]

Some Freaks

James Miller, UnAmerican Activities

reviewed by Jude Cook

The loosely linked short stories in James Miller’s third book – it’s not quite a novel, despite the back-cover blurb, though this is not to diminish it one iota – focus, in the words of its meta-narrator, on ‘a subterranean America full of un-American activities.’ This, at first glance, might appear to be familiar, even hackneyed, territory, supported by the book’s impressive quasi-graphic-novel cover, which drips with junkyard spares, palms, neons and law enforcement officers in... [read more]