Review – ‘What I Heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World’ by Ben Ray

Words and Photograph by Reece David Merrifield

A cleverly, carefully curated collection that spans across a dazzling number of timelines and topics, Ben’s work had me mesmerised from start to finish.

            The interspersed ‘Knee Plays’ are an inspired addition that offer brilliant tongue-in-cheek relief, personal favourites including ‘Reasons to embrace the rising sea levels’ and ‘Listening to Hitler’s speeches whilst exploring Warsaw’. A brief explanation of what ‘Knee Plays’ actually are could read as a poem all by itself, such is the way that Ben is able to weave his inspirations into the collection, adding gloss via grit which does not go unappreciated by the reader.

            What also comes across is the watertight knack for word structure, where each syllable is like mini-waves coming off an untroubled duck’s back. The impressively specific ‘Meditation on three wooden barrels from a shipwreck found in Gdansk harbour, dated to the early 15th century’ is testament to it, and allows for seamless reading where one could otherwise become instantly lost to the Baltic sea.

            The underlying thread of combatting climate change is deftly tackled with in a flexible manner, with swift shifts from the epic seriousness to the deadpan one-liner displayed in ‘Greenpeace’s final strategy’, and to the utterly cynical yet pinpoint ‘And now we are inside the mind of Nicolae Ceauşescu’. A very prominent and contemporary talking point can easily drag poets down into the cliché pit, but Ben creates clever angles to position his poems in a satisfyingly disorientated manner, which is an apt description for most of this collection.

            A final note to Ben himself, who not only trusted us with his work in one of our previous magazines, but also to grant us this opportunity for reviewing his work. We thank you wholeheartedly, and truly has been a pleasure for myself to read his work in a wider context. It is only one direction Ben is heading in, and it’s not difficult to guess which it is.

All the chapters and the world present a central problem: The Art of the Cut-up

Picture by Burroughs and Gysin, Words by Joshua Cialis

The title of this essay comes from my recent experiments with the cut-up method of writing. Devised by Brion Gysin and made famous by William Burroughs, the cut-up method seeks to ‘deconstruct language as an act of spiritual rebellion’ (Ash: 1997, p.46). This article will give an overview of the history and method of cut-ups, and also discussion of its uses.

                Inspired by Tristan Tzara’s attempts to create poetry by randomly plucking words out of a hat, Gysin went one step further by cutting through ‘someone else’s rusty load of continuity’ in order to create new art and new ways of writing. (Burroughs: 2000, p.270).The simple method includes taking a page of words and cutting it into a quadrant (so that the top left tile becomes 1, top-right 2, bottom left 3, and bottom right 4); swap the positioning of the tiles so that 2 becomes 3 (1 and 4 will remain in their original position). Read along the joins of this new text looking for phrases or sentences that work together or jolt your conscience. These new sentences don’t have to make any real sense, they just have to speak to some greater hidden meaning within your mind. You could either leave these phrases as simple sentences, or pluck phrases and sentences that go together from throughout the text to create a paragraph. I used this method with Boris Johnson’s inaugural speech as prime minister and got some illuminating Prose:

The doubters and the doomsters don’t have to wait 3 weeks to get it wrong again. The people who lose their shirts because we are really going to the front line and we are going to fulfil their fear of people and come out of the cost of caring.

As we can see from the above cut-up, there is a random nature to the sentences produced but yet there is still a sense of reality to what they say. Burroughs actually believed that these new augmentations carry the true meaning of the original text In some cases, Burroughs believed the cut-ups actually predicted future events. In his essay ‘It Belongs to the Cucumbers’, Burroughs gives the following anecdote: ‘I cut up an article by John Paul Getty and got “It is a bad thing to sue your own father.” And a year later one of his sons did sue him’ (Burroughs: 2013, p.66). is this just coincidence or could the cut-up method really have psychic tendencies? Does this mean Boris Johnson intends to take the fight for Brexit to ‘the front line’? Until the evidence provides itself, we can only speculate. However, the cut-up method does seem to overcome the ‘control’ that words have on the reader. Burroughs believed that it is our addiction to words that controls us by terrestrial, political, religious, economic, and even extra-terrestrial means. He asserted that those who control both the supply and meaning of words can control those who are addicted to them. Deconstructing and rearranging words or thoughts, through the use of cut-ups, can start that process of decontrol. Therefore, by cutting up Boris Johnson’s speech – which is essentially an article of propaganda – I have taken away from the controlling notion that propaganda wants me to think or act in a certain way. I have taken possession of the words and thus taken the control out of the hands of government – if only for my own conscience.

In a recent cut-up experiment I cut an essay on language up into four parts; rearranging the tiles produced some interesting truths which may get to the central meaning of what the author was trying to portray. Or maybe cutting into an essay on the rules and techniques of language I was in fact cutting away at the control that language holds over our writing and communication:

All the chapters and the world present a central problem. When Plato handed the world naturalism deconstruction occurred. Deconstruction consistently engages literary criticism; metaphors actually hold the mirror to nature. This distinction is implicit considering that part of literary texts start from an assumed separation.

So why not take your own control of language, find what it is that needs to be released from a text. Hold a mirror up to nature by trying your own cut-ups, use this essay – cut it up into four parts and determine what I’m really saying as I waffle on.

Cited texts:
Ash, M. Beat Spirit: The Way of the Beat Writers as a Living Experience (New York: Putnam Books, 1997)
Burroughs, W. S. ‘It Belongs to the Cucumbers’ in The Adding Machine (New York: Grove Press, 2013) pp.65-74
Burroughs, W. S. quoted in James Campbell, This is the beat generation (London: Vintage, 2000)

Available Now!!

Both Foxtrot Uniform: 004 and Luke Scarisbrick’s debut pamphlet, I Bought a Skull called Francis, are now available to order from our website.

Foxtrot Uniform: 004 is a poetry magazine for our troubled times. Full of hope, darkness, and creativity FU spans several continents bringing us all together using fresh words. You can buy 004 for £3.00 (plus postage if living outside the UK).

I Bought a Skull Called Francis – an idle year in ten movements is the debut pamphlet by Luke Scarisbrick. The pamphlet charts a year in the life by mixing poetry with polaroid pictures.
The poetry is surreal and straight-up hilarious, but it is also tinged with darkness, which the polaroid pictures both exacerbate and illuminate. You can buy I Bought a Skull Called Francis for the amazing price of £2.50 (plus postage if living outside the UK).

To order a copy simply send the correct money along with your postal address to https://paypal.me/FoxtrotUniform?locale.x=en_GB then we will get your order in the post.

Please help spread the word so that we can share these amazing words even further and wider!

March Poems

Continuing with our monthly series, Josh and I have decided to share poems we have written to each other in letters over the past 3 months, entitled ‘Lines in Envelopes’:

I

Modernist monsters in the machine of night
pour beer on all our dreams
,no movement to surf on, all stragglers
in need of clarity, sober perhaps?

But probably otherwise.
The piano slips through changes
cleaning up the strain of doubt.
I don’t know a lot about music but

I can tell something’s off-beat
when we shuffle our feet
perpetually to someone else’s drum.

II

TV screens in hues of pink,
a plastic rose atop a radio

a whiff of hairspray
the death chambers are coming

A little too concrete for my liking,
dial it down to an unkempt sound
that looks like breakfast in the afternoon

or silver service on the streets
and the circus leaving town.

III

Filthy shoes and empty ferries
year of the pigs here already
will need something
stronger than a sherry

But a bottle of Perrier will not do
so I’ll sit here under a tunnel
etching my name into law and lord.

IV

Brutal buildings losing their shine
as the modern brute bullies the remnants
of a complicated century.

V

Just before

            Coffee

I

            Reveal something important

The Utopia

            Screaming at me to

Speak to strangers

World Book Day

Far from simply being an opportunity for school children to dress up as book characters, World Book Day is an opportunity for us to share our favourite books. Therefore, we are sharing our ultimate reading list here. Our reading list is not an exaustative list of our favourite books but they are, in our minds, the best universal reads.

Joshua’s reading List

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac

The Outsiter – Albert Camus

Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimar McBride

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Complete Poems of Allen Ginsberg

The Collected Dylan Thomas

The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chobsky

Feral – George Monbiot

Reece’s List

Spring and All – William Carlos Williams

Player of Games – Iain M. Banks

Trainspotting – Irvine Walsh

Master and Margarita – Bulgakov

Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

Songs of Innocence and Experience – William Blake

The Overcoat and Other Stories – Gogol

HHhH – Laurent Binet

The Outsider – Albert Camus

The Tempest – William Shakespeare

Woody Allen’s Short Stories

Volpone – Ben Jonson

A quick look at Manifestoes:

Words by Reece Merrifield

A Manifesto is never perfect. Indeed, everybody that has an opinion and a plan can create a manifesto, which can and will create schisms of thought and obvious differences in the multitude of manifestoes.

A manifesto, as Rem Koolhas says, is a ‘blueprint’, but one that ‘does not predict the cracks that will develop in the future’. The manifesto is not a machine, it is a living organism. Organisms live and die, and so too do manifestoes.

The manifesto will never project perfection. The manifesto will, on the other hand, point out other viewpoints. A manifesto can be a set of rules, or it can direct a person to break established dogma.

‘A’ manifesto should never claim to be ‘The’ Manifesto.

A manifesto is an art form, it can influence people beyond belief, be it politically/artistically/spiritually. A manifesto could question you, it could reflect your life, or you may reject it outright, but at least it is there.

Manifestoes are under-appreciated for their ability to influence and motivate large groups of individuals. A manifesto cannot be alone. To read a manifesto is to join a group, to decide whether your subscription to that group is temporary or permanent, to show them other manifestoes, to build on that already existing manifesto.

Manifestoes have no end, have not ended and will never end. This article is a manifesto.

YouthStrike4Climate

Words by Joshua Cialis

Today I caught up with school children, in Canterbury, who didn’t go in to school to protest against Climate Change. I joined the march by chance while walking down the high street. Their chanting and drums – a fresh sight in the winter sun of Canterbury.
I spoke to several students who were risking detentions to stand-up for their own futures, and all Power and Solidarity to them. The peaceful, but vocal march moved through the town with passers joining – off the street and out of shops – throughout.

The strike was part of a national movement of students to protest against Climate Change and the lack of action from the Government on Climate Change. It was a varied meeting of families, school children, socialists, Green activists, environmental studies students, politics students and normal people. The youngest person I spoke to was five and the oldest was 65; the majority were between 13 and 18.
These are children who, in the Prime Minister’s eyes, are ‘wasting lesson time’, but in my eyes they are heroes, radicals, and the future.

Foxtrot Uniform stands in Solidarity with you in sending a message to the Governments of the World, telling them to do something to stop Climate Change.

Light Reading

Words by Joshua Cialis, picture by J. M. W. Turner (‘Sunset over Water’)

‘Yellow after the night goes to sleep’ (O’Hara, 1955)

Poets have used light since the beginning of creative thought, to illuminate the cave walls on which they depicted stories, to shine onto writing desks, to demonstrate some sublime metaphor, to light their journey through a dark patch in life, or more recently to spotlight themselves on a stage. However we look at it, light is immensely important to poets.

For Coleridge, light was a portal to the sublime; a sunset allows the ‘veil [to the] Almighty Spirit’ to be lifted. In fact in ‘This Lime Tree Bower My Prison’, Coleridge almost explicitly defines the sublime as only coming through in light; the light ‘hues’ of the sunset allow the poet to be struck by a ‘swimming sense…less gross than bodily’. In light we experience the deepest of beautiful feelings. However, there is also a sense of what might be going on in the dark. In ‘Kaddish’, Ginsberg muses on darkness and death in the lines: ‘like a poem in the dark – escaped back to Oblivion/ No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream’. Here, essentially Ginsberg asserts darkness with death and destruction of pure imagination. Therefore, light is essential for creativity and beauty.

It is interesting to look at light and how it is depicted in poetry. A favourite image of mine is morning light through a slatted blind. It is that purest kind of light, the sort you only notice for a couple of minutes before it is gone into the business of the day. But that blurry eyed beauty can be locked up in the lines of a poem to transport us back to that serenity of waking up to light. O’Hara captures this morning light brilliantly in his poem ‘Talking To The Sun On Fire Island’, a poem in which the Sun patiently waits for O’Hara to wake before asserting the equality of the Sun’s light and how it shines everywhere, and must therefore be a power for all writers and creatives.

Burroughs’ used artificial light to create hallucinations. Using Briony Gysin’s ‘Dream Machine’, a sequence of flashing lights shine through a spinning cylinder creating a strobosofic effect. This flickering light stimulates the optic nerves to create images behind the eyes of the watcher. This hallucinatory effect of oscillating light had such an effect on Burroughs that he uses the images seen in his Dream Machine experiments in almost all of his books. The fact that light can have this ability to expel writers block demonstrates its power in the poet’s tool box.

One way to harness this power of light in a simple writing exercise is to note the shapes that light form in a specific place throughout the day. Notice how these shapes change as the sun sets and then how they morphe further after the sun goes down and the light becomes artificial. Muse upon how these changes affect you and your outlook on the environment around you and what happens once the light has gone.

Reece’s Pieces: My Relationship with Surrealism

Words by Reece David Merrifield; acknowledgments to David Morris’ ‘The Lives of the Surrealists’

When I had to come up with a research topic in my second year, it was only ever going to be related to surréalisme. I embarked on an ‘art translation’ project inspired by Brauner, Tanguy, Miró, Magritte etc etc etc., and the week itself, all alone on the hottest week in July, only added a surreal edge to proceedings. This piece however, is not a reflection on that time, but why I reserve such interest in Surrealism.

            For me, it is the adult’s excuse not only to escape reality, but also to question it too. Why must a watch never droop? Why can’t a businessman have an apple for a face? These are probably the most famous examples, but the point still stands. We need these points, not a forward-straight path of reality, to enjoy ourselves. Surrealism embodies a resistance to established norms in flamboyant fashion. It isn’t (or at least I don’t think it should be) violent or dismissive, but playful and emotive. Max Ernst put it succinctly when he said ‘I believe the best thing to do is to have one eye closed and to look inside, and this is the inner eye. With the other eye, you have it fixed on reality, what is going on around the world’. You must observe your surroundings, but not let it fully dictate your relationship with it too. Surrealism to me is ironically a constant act of balance, a businessman on a tightrope.

            I enjoy incorporating surrealistic elements into my own work (and usually persist even if others don’t understand). I also enjoy work that, although not directly related to the movement, contains surrealistic tendencies, like Magic Realism or (up for debate) science fiction. It is away from what I already know or am expected to know and is subsequently all the more interesting because of it.

            In preparation of this article I have been reading Desmond Morris’ ‘The Lives of the Surrealists’. I am in equal measures astonished and fascinated finding out about the characters beyond their paintings and writings. Dalí is a well-documented case: not only did he fantasise about Hitler, he also supported Franco’s reign in Spain, only to flip-flop between these beliefs when the Second World War was beginning and, after Franco’s death, ‘transferred his allegiance to the Spanish royal family’. He also carried the largest ego within the movement, and after a while a person like that can become, in my mind, over-indulgent and sickly. It was also a shock to find that Breton, the proclaimed founder of the movement, was misogynistic and homophobic, and was often seen by the inner circle of Surrealists as dictatorial (and to their credit a lot of them brought up this point, only to be expelled or angrily dismissed). It is difficult to accept that these people held such beliefs or actions, but they must be put aside as individual characteristics, and allow Surrealism as an ideal to prevail. I relate much more to Miró, a ‘figure […] of small stature and immaculately dressed in an a quietly elegant suit’. He seemed, as Morris supposed, someone who put so much into their work that that was enough creativity without further causing or spilling havoc around him. If there were to be a neo-surrealistic movement, it would need its celebrities, but also many more Mirós.

            I think that I will always hold Surrealism in high regard and defend it to the hilt. I enjoy the inhibition it allows, the games you can play, the vividness it creates. On my travels, coming upon art galleries, I always hope to find art that is surreal, regardless of its owner’s artistic motivation or association. Long may that continue.

Get back to it…

Statistically this is the week in January that most of lose our motivation to carry on our New Year’s Resolution. So if your resolution is to get back in to writing (or to write more) this is the post for you. Here are a couple writing exercises to get you back to it…
If this post helped you to write something great send it across to us and we might even publish it.

Exercise 1: Rooming
Read William Carlos Williams’ dreamlike poem ‘Good Night’ (Al Que Quiere, 1917). In the poem Williams points out all the things in his kitchen while filling a glass of water for bed. In the middle of this description of the room, Williams is interrupted by the memory of ‘three girls in crimson satin/pass close before me on/the murmurous background of/the crowded opera’. It seems almost as if these girls actually pass his kitchen window but it is actually just a memory dream.
In this exercise, write what you see where you are – you might be at your desk or in the kitchen or in your bed – it doesn’t matter where you are just write what you see: that weird lamp shade in the corner, or the state of your coffee cup. Half way through your descriptions you will be interrupted by a memory, build that memory into the poem. Then close the poem with what you are actually doing and what’s coming next.

Exercise 2: Voices
This exercise can make some pretty surreal poetry. Play your favourite song alongside a radio news program (at the same volume), just keep writing until the song finishes. Let your unconscious freely write whatever comes to mind.