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Ain’t got no style / I’m strictly roots

Recently, I was getting acquainted with May Swenson.

I saw her photo and couldn’t resist:


Today, she would have a septum piercing and an undercut.

A few days before I was reading Women Wearing Clothes – and the question came up: why do some girls have style and others not?

On the train, I picked up a copy of the Metro that had Vice Magazine’s latest campaign over them. I thought, god, yeah, Vice and the Metro. A hellish match made in heaven.

And the whole thing got me thinking about what this poem will look like. I think I have been too cautious aesthetically. And I have been ignoring the way the world looks.

Forgive me if you’re not a fan of concrete poetry, but I was struck by one of May’s, called Fountain Piece:

Which looks a lot like the beginning of the ‘Eye’ section of Ali Smith’s How to be both. A bleeding-edge-of-the-moment novel in which one half might be the imagination of the the other.

In each case, there’s a folding back happening, a kind of concertina-ing, with each bit of the text touching the other. And there’s panning the out; the sentence, then the truth of the sentence. Which is Ali Smith’s signature style.

Since I spend upwards of ten hours a day at the computer, I got to thinking about what my environment looks like. And this was helped by seeing Teh Internet is Serious Business at the Royal Court, beautifully stage designed by Chloe Lamford. It’s a smorgasbord of inflatable penises, plastic balls, red and blue bowling shoes:


I don’t write quickly, but I think fast. When I have an idea, it usually comes suddenly, almost fully formed out of something else I’ve seen. I behave in a similar way. I find myself adopting traits that I notice in others. This is why I hate the question ‘who are you?’ (and ‘how are you?’ and ‘what do you do?’ but these are other gripes.) I am a ghost, steering a meat covered skeleton made out of stardust, as the recent meme goes. And my poems tend to be jolts that hit me very suddenly, because something is very beautiful or unusual or has merged with something else.

Yesterday, coincidentally at the Royal Court, a friend and I were trying to work out a word for when you come from two places. She said ‘Polyroot’. At some point, when the right project comes, I will ask if I can borrow that.


And it is this idea that I have applied to my poem, which is unfinished, but nearer to whatever I was imagining when I started this. I have no real recollection of what I was imagining, other than I was focusing on the text, being minimal, like a corporate web page. That seemed in keeping with the theme: memories, surely, are made of granite and have words carved into them.

All that Susan Sontag. All that ‘cemeteries as the perfect city’ stuff.

And in the wake of Exhibit B – the fall out, the aftermath – I remember a recent thing that was going around about the way black victims of police violence are portrayed in the media.

It’s chaotic. Style against style.

The Internet is often represented in its tackiest form – cats, usually; or porn; or glitchy references to pop culture. Everything on top of everything.

I’m going to try that. See how it goes. Play with opacities. Maybe have a whirl around the world wide cemetery.

My initial impulses were to investigate the past. And I’m still very much into that. But now I wonder why I saw the past the way I did. What else can be done?

This is my last official post, but I will put this untitled text adventure on my site very soon. And you too can frolick in its foldy, non-linear pastures.

Jay Bernard is the Poetry School’s 4th Digital Poet in Residence. You can follow ‘An Untitled Text Adventure’ here.

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