My Corona

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It seems to render all irrelevant:

the selfishness of each of us,

the tiny hopes and dreams we held,

as if a shroud had dropped upon us all,

a leveller if ever there was levelling,

our lives on hold, the future now postponed.

 

Or is it only in my head? For when I step outside

the cordoned zone that is our home,

the world looks pretty much the same.

There are no bodies in the lane,

the strapping dads are pushing strollers in the park,

the planes are roaring overhead.

 

But sure as hell, my missus and her mate

will not be seeing Rome in May.

We may be dead by June.

More likely we will wonder at contagion,

at this tabloid Armageddon

and the rumours pushed by half-informed buffoons.

 

The core of all is insignificance,

irrelevance of what one’s done:

these words in notebooks, washed away and powerless

against the force of what is coming anyway.

Fighting for our lives: Shoshana Zuboff’s Age

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SHOSHANA ZUBOFF’S The Age of Surveillance Capitalism has followed me around for the last two months, ever since my eldest son gave me the paperback edition for Christmas.

I’m relieved to report that I have finally reached the end of its 500-plus pages (not including the even denser 130 pages of notes) and feel compelled to recommend it – more than that, to urge everyone to read it, however slowly, as an act of what Naomi Klein in her blurb called “digital self-defence”.

Subtitled The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, The Age is a truly phenomenal thing: a bible of indignant protest at the deeply sinister manoeuvres that Google, Facebook et al. have gotten away with in the last 15 years. Zuboff writes a rigorous, hypnotic, almost monotonously poetic prose that rams home the jaw-dropping infringements on not just our privacy but our human nature – hoovered up as “behavioural surplus” for Silicon Valley’s “renditions” of every move we make and every breath we take.

More than anything, the great fear is that the numbing impact of Big Tech’s “inevitablist” appropriation of our souls – and distortion of our democratic values – has been so stealthy and so uncontested that the youngest human generation will not realise their freedom has gone, allowing a new totalitarianism to take root and take control of all human life.

Reading Zuboff – a true prophet for our terrifying times – prompts me to dig up a poem I wrote almost four years ago on a trip to San Francisco: a visit on which I witnessed how the soulless geniuses of “the Valley” had destroyed the social fabric of a great American city… and how, unchallenged and unchecked, they will inevitably destroy the social fabric of human trust, reciprocity and freedom.

Zuboff deserves a medal of honour for this heroic book.

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Disruption

 

Was I ever young and thrusting?

I was young but dumb – and timid too.

I typed out words with clattering keys

before the words got processed by PCs

and all got sucked into the seas.

 

I have a foot stuck in the past,

the other’s stepping terrified.

A crazy scrum of lemmings on a cliff,

we drop into abysses hollowed out by billionaires

and nerds in UberCHOPPERS

scheming to replace us with machines.

 

We’re prey for predators, we’re tapping at our phones,

the zombie surfers of the shallow flats:

too busy sucking up the glut of pointless stuff to see

we are the product we’re consuming,

mere regurgitated selves.

 

And so I sit, a broken frightened man, half in, half out.

My soul’s been digitised to death,

an insect flailing in their web.

 

Perhaps it all will be alright:

the maniacs may yet recall

that life is flesh and feeling,

writhing mess and mass that can’t be mapped

by algorithmic fiends.

No Other: A poem for Gene Clark

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He is always eight miles high and always low,

and never in between those poles of chemical elation/haunted hurt –

that craggy boy, the Byrd that cannot fly but soars

on gravitas of baritone; that odd one out with tambourine,

the mystic misfit and the bashful stud.

 

Harold Eugene Clark the newest Christy Minstrel,

Missouri balladeer and cuckolder of Papa John.

He is always high and always low,

a seeker after peace, the bard with the Ferrari and guitar,

a handsome dad of handsome boys,

with oceans in the pools of deep-pained eyes

and nervous sober laughter as the bottle beckons and the needle calls.

Thus Harold Eugene Clark heads back to canyons and cocaine

and arms of other blondes.

 

We had to cut him loose, for even Crosby could not help

that tall and sorrowed man,

that lonesome shadowed soul

found splayed upon the kitchen floor.

get out

Get Out

“I knew my deepest dread had not been of getting robbed or even shot. I’d been afraid of blackness itself.” Nik Cohn, Tricksta

 

Haunted by the trickle of the blood,

the tears that coursed along the skin –

the scenes I watched in horror as I flew –

I never felt as white as I feel now.

 

Around me sit black men and women:

descendants all of men and women

bound and shackled on the ships,

bought and sold five hundred yards from here.

 

How deep the rage must run, how much I’d hate

the pallid man sat here.

How vile the colours of his skin,

how smooth and smart the darkness of their cheeks.

 

There is no end to this, no change is gonna come:

there’s war and more. And even Dan Penn voted

for the blotchy pig, the vicious troll who sports

the honeycomb that’s spun of lies.

 

Get out! Get out!

For even in our blandishments,

our Jazz Age negrophilia,

we’re rotten to the core.

 

Charlestown, Nevis, January 2019

Against Narrativity

bruce

(with apologies to Galen Strawson)

 

Bruce on Broadway, born to run and run,

the burr of Everyman whose tales of bars and father

constitute the story of a life well done.

So why does life for me instead feel like a murky mess,

disjointed, pointless, scattered, inconclusive,

never like the lives in songs and films?

For only there is our existence tragic, glorious

or merely meaningful; only there is life a valiant lie

delivered by a righteous standup guy.

Munch’s Girls: Oslo, 2014

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I’ve lapped this circuit once before,

and stopped before the girl in Puberty,

the long wrists crossing her pudenda still.

I’ve turned from wanting to protect her,

scanned The Dance of Life from left to right and birth to death,

tried not to see that leering fiendish face lean in,

and of course have heard the Skrik that sounds around the world.

 

Today the one that caught me and called out from its frame:

the study of the trio on the bridge,

a moment frozen for all time that nonetheless

moves form and matter so all swirls and flows,

vibrates as matter does,

the stilled and staring girls themselves a single shape in aureole,

road rushing down in shooting lines

and all forms molding into one another

as the physics mystics say they do.

 

I stood intoxicated, psychedelicized,

stood swimming in those lines and shapes

and saw again how all great painting takes the apprehended world

and melts it down to show it as a single intermingled thing.

In three dimensions we’re deceived, believe we are

discrete and solid selves,

and so we stop upon the bridge and scream.

 

National Gallery, Oslo, February 2014

civil war

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I try to stay away,

stay off the grid, resist

the impulse to let fly.

No good can come of this:

I cannot change your mind.

 

But sometimes I’m too stoked,

I have to vent or else explode.

And then the invitation’s there: please step this way.

The silo and the echo chamber usher in

the apoplexies of the day.

 

So up it goes, the link, the pic, the facile howl.

I’ve posted what was “on your mind”,

I’ve shared the shit that swills about the brain

and straightway know the soapbox hollowness

of howling out the pain.

 

But still I leave it there and still I check

who Liked, who Commented,

my very own below-the-line:

the kitchen-table trolls and, worst of all,

the Friends who seem entirely blind.

 

I thought I knew them,

thought they had a heart,

but here they are, they’re fuming,

fulminating, spewing out their poison.

Even worse, they’re quoting Jordan Peterson.