A Reading List
Galina Rymbu | Life in Space (Ugly Duckling Presse). Can poetry be a revolutionary practice? Under what conditions can poetry trigger change? In All The King’s Men, Guy Debord states: “The point is not to put poetry at the service of revolution, but to put revolution at the service of poetry.” As a political activist, Rymbu participated in the 2011-12 protests for fair elections during her time at the Moscow Gorky Literature Institute. The street is still the place where the anti-capitalist fights, the struggles for a better life take place. The poems of the cycle White Bread can be located right here. Poetry is open resistance and not an imaginary barricade behind which you might entrench on occasion. Those who fear the influence of poetry have long tried to belittle it and get rid of it. (an excerpt from my forthcoming review)
The Collected Poems of Anna Mendelssohn | I’m Working Here (Shearsman Books). In theme and style, Mendelssohn’s poems draw on an expansive, post-1850 avant-garde lineage that includes Baudelaire, Stein, Akhmatova, Hikmet, Lorca, and Raworth. Attuned to the fraught legacy of the female vanguard writer, as well as to disparities of class and race, Mendelssohn’s poems are charged, acute, and probing. Part aesthetic treatise (“a poem is not going to give precise directions”); part antipolitical manifesto (“the war is too close / for revolution to be understood”); part lament (“softly the sound of woe / gallops”); part celebration of poetic sound and possibility (“I worship at the shrine of poetry”), Mendelssohn’s writing resolutely resists containment or category. This scholarly edition is the first replete collection of the poems Mendelssohn published or prepared for circulation.
Patrick Blagrave | Profit | Prophet (Recenter Press). They profit off my need to have a home. / They profit while I sleep. When I wake up / everything I do is for their profit. / They profit off my decision not to / freeze in winter. They profit off my thirst / & my hunger & the cheap clothes I wear. / They profit off every dollar in the bank / & every time my account is empty. / They profit when I get sick but they profit / anyway when I’m healthy. If I die / before we make them change they will profit / finally off grief. More than anything / they profit off misery; if you’re happy / you’re probably one of them, profiting.
Oksana Vasyakina | Wind of Fury – Songs of Fury (Sinister Wisdom). he only beat me once when he found out I cheated on him the linoleum was covered in blood and the wallpaper and the molding good thing the wallpaper is pink imitation marble I thought at the time the blood won’t show and then when my eyes filled with blue spots when I spat the shards of my front teeth onto linoleum he threw me against the radiator it was summer so it wasn’t hot he raped me for several hours and then when it was already getting light he brought me a bucket and a rag and told me to clean up the mess I couldn’t stand up for a long time everything hurt no tears though I heard the birds singing outside my window in the dawn and him snoring on the other side of the wall he was sleeping I got up and mopped the floors
Andreas Malm | How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Learning to Fight in a World on Fire (Verso). In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel extraction to stop—with our actions, with our bodies, and by defusing and destroying its tools. We need, in short, to start blowing up some oil pipelines.
Offering a counter-history of how mass popular change has occurred, from the democratic revolutions overthrowing dictators to the movement against apartheid and for women’s suffrage, Malm argues that the strategic acceptance of property destruction and violence has been the only route for revolutionary change. In a braided narrative that moves from the forests of Germany and the streets of London to the deserts of Iraq, Malm offers us an incisive discussion of the politics and ethics of pacifism and violence, democracy and social change, strategy and tactics, and a movement compelled by both the heart and the mind. Here is how we fight in a world on fire.
Tongo Eisen-Martin | Waiting Behind Tornados For Food (MATERIALS). In this collection of poems and of five recent essays, his first to be published in the UK, Tongo Eisen-Martin reflects on poetry’s role in the tornado-like devastation of current political conjunctures: white supremacist street lynchings, the naked abuse of state power, the classed and racialised effects of a global pandemic. Eisen-Martin’s work crackles, investigates, worries, riffs, insists, explodes, presenting an empire in slow eclipse through the lenses of double consciousness, poems, poisons, prisons, “dry-Leninism”. This work is animated by the spark of individual phrases, turns of phrase, refrains: common sense and senses from the commons. Aphorisms, maxims, dispatches from “the hell / of where we are” (Joseph Jarman), Eisen Martin’s words are imbued with music which strains the edge of music and strains the edge of the poem; a chorus of voices filtered, refracted and remixed through the completely singular voice of its poet. Their architecture ranges across the page like that of the city—San Francisco—and its correlates whose interstices they rigorously trace, attentive to the spaces of daily life—tower blocks, vacant lots, streets, porches, bars, rooms, roads, cars—and the realities of power that cluster in and around them.
With the nation collapsing around the corner, these texts inhabit “psychology of the mask”; “half distracted (half suicidal)”, they rest and rove by the “hard residing” of the porch, by the “kitchen table that likes to talk”, by “working class windows”, by walls with eyes and ears; then venture out in search of “socialist breakthroughs”, of revolution’s “amazing grace”. In this “cotton gothic society”, a “strange fruit theatre” where capitalism walks on water and people play dead “so they could be part of the miracle”, it can be hard to tell if you’re “alive” or “differently alive”. But Eisen-Martin knows that sometimes, it’s ghosts who write poems, and that there’s a criminality buried in art: “like introducing Gabriel Prosser to Thelonious Monk”. “World history has a proletariat when the lights come back on”.
Feminism and Art in Postwar Italy. The Legacy of Carla Lonzi (Bloomsbury). Introducing a volume of eleven contributions dealing with Carla Lonzi’s legacy in the arts and culture of postwar Italy does not feel like a straightforward ting to do, since one of her most important legacies, perhaps, is the radical refusal to participate in those systems of culture that have been shaped by the historical exclusion of women: art, art criticism, academia, history, publishing … and the list could go on. In fact, after working for over a decade as a professional art critic, in 1969 Lonzi announced her formal resignation from the art world, in the foreword to Autoritratto, the book based on a series of tape-recorded conversations with artists. The publication of the founding manifesto of Rivolta Femminile, the group Lonzi co-founded with Sicilian artist Carla Accardi and Italian-Eritrean journalist Elvira Banotti in the summer of 1970, famously also marked a point of no return from her profession as an art critic. In her involvement with feminism later on, Lonzi also rejected the prevailing concept of creativity, in particular the notion that art itself could be an emancipatory practice for women in a field of creativity colonized by ‘the myth of male culture’.
Brigitte Studer | Reisende der Weltrevolution. Eine Globalgeschichte der Kommunistischen Internationale (Suhrkamp). Die Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts lässt sich ohne die Geschichte des Kommunismus nicht verstehen. Mit der Kommunistischen Internationale nahm 1919 ein revolutionäres Projekt Gestalt an, das auf einer schlagkräftig organisierten und global vernetzten Avantgarde aufbaute. Mit besonderem Augenmerk auf eine Gruppe von transnational engagierten Frauen und Männern zeichnet Brigitte Studer ein Gesamtbild der Komintern in globaler Perspektive nach – von Moskau und Berlin über Baku und Taschkent bis nach Wuhan und Shanghai. Sie zeigt die soziale Realität der arbeitsteiligen Welt der Komintern und die Erfahrungen, Hoffnungen und auch Enttäuschungen von Menschen, für die die Revolution Arbeit und Lebensinhalt war.
Pierre Broué | The German Revolution 1917-1923 (Haymarket Books). A magisterial, definitive account of the upheavals in Germany in the wake of the Russian revolution. Broué meticulously reconstitutes six decisive years, 1917-23, of social struggles in Germany. The consequences of the defeat of the German revolution had profound consequences for the world.