Editorial: Winter 2016
How do you fuck up a system from within? asks Aase Berg. The hacker and the parasite are metaphors she uses at length in her new collection Hackers, extracts of which are translated from Swedish by Johannes Görannson in this issue. The hacker and the parasite enter the host culture and wreak havoc from the inside. In her poems the ‘hostess animal’ may be the female body as a space vulnerable to invasion, or that could be reversed – we could, she suggests, hack oppressive structures such as patriarchy out from the inside by using the very language and narratives of those structures. Seeking out and refashioning language she has found on the dark web or in business manuals, Berg’s poetry is full of dystopian scenes, forcings-together of words and strange – often gross – alien creatures. She forges new words into being and makes fierce entries into the ‘world male’, exploding black and white binaries into new complexity. Her new language feels completely necessary at a time when the predominant narratives of our media and politics are oppressively nativist and regressive, xenophobic, dangerously inward looking. The feeling of this state is captured (and challenged) for me in this issue by Nat Raha, in texts written in 2015, prior to Theresa May’s premiership:
Post- 23rd June 2016 the language world of Britain appears broken and out of kilter, with slogans and headlines no longer bothering with any modicum of sensitivity or fact. It has of course always been the case, and poetry knows this, that the language of ‘fact’ is never stable or ‘truthful’; words always have other meanings, right? But then two slogans now come to the fore of my news-addled memory: We send the EU £350M a week, let’s fund our NHS instead and … My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.
There is an extreme turn in public discourse and we swim in its bodily fluids. Words like NHS, freedom, Britain are quickly appropriated for their positive meanings or turned against us in hate-inciting or misleading contortions. Political canvassers tell that they read headlines online from the extreme-right wing press in the morning and hear the exact same language from people on the doorsteps in the afternoon. We are now hearing politicians repeating the racist and regressive rhetoric back at their conferences in order to secure power. We may not be passive swimmers in the language body, the ‘world animal’, as Berg puts it, but we humans do latch on to some narratives over others, we do have a tendency to repeat. Repeat.
But how can poets become like parasites in the body of hegemonic language when we are humans, part of the world animal itself? Hackers may appear to be anonymous but behind their masks they are organisms formed in the world animal. Likewise poets are not separate from the oppressive language body they may seek to shift and contort, they may easily repeat what the world gives them. As in many of the arts now, poetry culture is suffused with privilege of one kind or another. The ubiquity of this privilege, where increasingly those with some helping hand already in place are most often the ones who find the time to write and read, perpetuates inequality further as it creates an increasingly homogenous cultural landscape.
But that’s not to say that poetry is now devoid of working class voices or poets who do not come from typical British privilege. Kate Potts’s essay on the treatment of class in poetry in the UK explores this issue in depth. But it is also notable that the two pieces on recent developments in Welsh language poetry by Llyr Gwyn Lewis and Elan Grug Muse – commissioned by myself and Eurig Salisbury to give some insight on the recent scene for readers of English – mention social class as a defining recent change in the art in Welsh.
I hope to support poets who destabilise the language of the oppressive system from within, and that I, along with others, will also destabilise my own language, to decolonise, deprivilege and decouple words from their violent structures, to re- or de-appropriate and hack until, in Nat Raha’s words ‘division mutually breached’, or we have ‘the negation of england as an island’, or we have fucked the bad system up. In Aase Berg’s words:
‘The parasitical yes eats from within. Twist the hoof back and forth. The thud
of the fifth heart, the three-wheeler, the wood horse!’