in the interest of promoting William Rowe's recently published Collected Poems, here is the afterword that he asked me to write. The book is available here
The catastrophe has already taken place, it’s just that all of its light has yet to reach us. It’s not clear from what or when that light might be coming. A burning city. A barricade. A refugee stumbling out from an already decided future, an insistent and illegible memory of something that happened long before any of us were born. A light that might yet illuminate the location of the emergency brake. A brake that by now is glowing far too hot too touch.
Its five years since the riots. Sometimes I think I might have left an important part of myself back there, leaning against a wall, completely at my ease as a gang of kids ran past all screaming “let’s go shopping”, the crack of joy in the final syllable seeming to articulate everything I understood about Johnson’s London, about austerity Britain. The windows in the shops were boarded up for weeks afterwards. These days it all seems about as real as the time I woke up in my room in Berlin to find some kind of night-demon, some kind of plastic ghost staring me down, terrifying and somehow familiar. That thing was illuminated too.
The same kind of irreality runs through these poems, a stark heat-shimmer, an absolute realism. A central text is simply a list of all the businesses that were looted in the weeks of the riots. As far as I know, they are all still trading, are still living, are un-dead. Counter their names with a list of all of those who have been suicided since Cameron’s gang of spectres took power, say that most days Britain stinks like a charnel ground, and if you’re not with the dead you’re with the vampires. This is the cargo Rowe’s poems carry. The darkness is dazzling. A bomb goes off in Athens. Thatcher’s corpse opens its mouth. The ghosts of the miners slaughter a thousand cops at Orgreave. The body of Boris Johnson is tossed into an oubliette somewhere on the other side of the border, any border. Solar winds on the rim of the system. Missiles on Blackheath. Nothing stops. Nothing speaks.
On the day of the last Tory election victory, Rowe ended a poem with the line “start the civil war”. Now, a couple of days after the referendum, it looks like that war has started. It won’t be declared. Every declaration, every sentence spoken by every public figure has been a lie. The poems that Rowe writes seek to take measure of those lies, of the public wound those lies would deny - to break open the mephitic syllables of a Johnson or a Farage and find inside them the voices of their victims, all of the nameless and insulted dead of the centuries. We’re deep inside the apocalypse now. Rowe’s work can now only be seen as part of a collective effort to get us through to the other side. No sleep. No dreams. Just a grim determination to defeat those fascists who would murder us, and to cast them intact into the hell of worms.
Berlin, 27th June 2016.