Pandemic. (Regrets for my old dressing gown*) by Charlotte Northall

PANDEMIC. (REGRETS FOR MY OLD DRESSING GOWN*)


It’s 10:30 am and I am back in bed. Blinds down. Swiping and bashing away at the screen of my phone. I’ve taken off my dressing gown and tied a knot in the arm, which I strategically mash myself against. I have elected frottage as my one form of daily exercise: A hommage aux Francais. Nothing new here, but now it counts. At the beginning of the week the dressing gown was cream. Now it is brown with spilt food and menstrual blood. The windowpanes are loose and the heaters sap cash so I’ve been wearing a hot water bottle belted to my stomach to keep warm. This distends the front of the grown, transforming it into a floor a length bib. The artificial girth is exalting. I feel cavalier and excessive. Lurching about my flat like a Flemish Master, drunk on the play of light. Rembrandt in his latter years.

I haven’t even reached the bang in ‘interracial gang bang’ when ‘corona virus’ is suggested as a trending search on Redtube. This feels like finding a message from God spelt out in my own turds. The most private part of my brain, ancient and recessed, the spot ordinarily reserved for the solitary perusal of smut, has been invaded. A mirror has been cast into my cave: The word ‘DEATH' printed across its glass. In an unequivocal Sans Serif font reserved for public health announcements. For the first time I see myself as I am. An animal, born to die. It’s like simultaneously driving a car and running oneself over at the same time. It is only at this moment that I understand: What’s happening in the world right now is real.

The couple are wearing face masks. They pump away grimly on a slab of bed in a nondescript room. The title of the clip is ‘A cure for coronavirus is getting fucked by a PAWG’. I google PAWG: Phat Assed White Girl. I wonder if the WHO are aware of this. They must be if it’s on the Internet. Shit, it’s lazy. I want to see something a little more inspired. Fornication at 2 metres. How much blood would it take to raise a 2 metre long erection? If the average length of an erect human penis is 5.16”, and the average male height is 1.7 metres, unless the man with the 2 metre long penis was more or less 25.93 metres tall the endeavour could be fatal. The vital organs would be sapped. The heart would implode. The brain deflate like a balloon at a party no-one attended. Legs drain and snap like drunk straws. In some species, the male dies shortly after procreation. But never before. It won’t work. A 2 metre cock is unsupportable. I drill deeper, down the mind shaft. Telescopic dildos. Artificial insemination. Super Squirting. The splash proof perspex till shields that they’ve installed in Tesco. Latex gloves. Field hospital orgies. Ventilators, respirators, Asphyxiation. I’m grinding away on pillow mountain, trying to work up some juice. Supernatural arse aside the video is abject. Imagination is always richer. Porn merely an easy portal, a conveyance into my own reservoir of extrapolated filth. I manage to make myself come. I roll off the knot and onto my back. How quick we are to forget our own mortality.

I developed a dry cough a few days ago. And a vicious headache. The gavel-to-temple variety. Like a wine and whisky hangover, without the retching and regret. Alongside the cough and the headache, come flashes of heat. One night I wake up chilly at 4am. Without a thermometer a temperature remains speculative. I do not own a thermometer. I can only imagine the kind of person who might: Parent, hypochondriac, nurse. Not me. Three people I met recently have tested positive for coronavirus. One, rich enough to buy a test. The other two, a couple who fled London with their baby, received tests upon entering Germany. If not definite, it’s probable I have it. I do not worry for my survival. I am robust. A hardheaded cockroach.

Still, I don’t need an excuse to stay inside. With a few exceptions I dislike people. Not enough to want to kill them, but it doesn’t cause a great deal of pain to be physically parted from society. All the mindless productivity and consumption sets me on edge. Friends are disturbed by my empty flat. Bare walls, no carpet. An anchorite’s taste in home furnishings. Ordinarily this reluctance to participate, to decorate life with any absorbent trappings, material or otherwise, casts me into a kind of margin. Now, for the first time in my life, this still indifference is regarded not as lazy or suspicious, but brave and responsible.

A couple of days’ meditation on death and all I can think about is fucking. This seems a healthy if primitive reaction to abstract mortal threat. Sex and death have always been connected in my mind. Sex and violence too. Preferably at the same time. Moving between the bathroom and the bedroom and back again. Hot, coughing, smelly. Brown robed. Jostling through a priapic jungle of throbbing pricks, salty ravines and glistening thickets of oily pubic hair. Fornicate in the face of death! Fuck the pain away! I’m on the edge, Godless. My genitals seem to be sweating constantly. The sexual obsession is twinned with a sense of existential ennui. Maybe I’m eating too many eggs.

Every time I approach one of the three interior doorframes contained within my flat I stop. I have forgotten why I am passing into the next room. The need for reason remains. The vertical jambs are transfigured into giant pearly joists. I try to find a narrative to my life. 32 lamentable years. Addictions, poverty, institutions. A short-lived religious conversion. Can this be it? Deeply unsatisfactory. It’s been 6 months since I left a monastery and returned to society. 4 years’ religious incarceration. 4 years’ ripening the same old stupidity. We do not change, we age. Tonsure is supposed cut desire off at the root. Now my hair is growing back. With it, illusions, desire. I do not want to die like this. Alone, but for hirsute dreams and half baked answers in this draughty, condemned flat. Awaiting demolition. Even the mice have moved out. I need guidance, I decide to worship the Pompeii masturbator, embalmed in a sheet of calcified ash, cock in hand. What an honest symbol of humanity.


Title taken from Denis Diderot’s essay, ‘Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.’ https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/diderot/1769/regrets.htm


Charlotte Northall incurred debts at Goldsmiths college, lost years, sampled facilities, Masters degree in creative writing at Birkbeck. Dropped out of a doctorate to spend 4 years deconstructing in a Zen monastery. Working on a collection of short stories. Novel to follow.

CONCERT FOR ANARCHY by Scout Bolton

CONCERT FOR ANARCHY

I said I would make this my magnum opus. 
Wrung out shirts like tongues from the 

radiator’s mouth, rain pins us down from 
 
the inside, this time. A piano collapses open

is splayed. I’d sooner extract each single key
 
now broken, than fix the thing and 

finger you Für Elise.

You never expected this to happen but I did.
I thrust my hand and push you bed-wards by the chest.
Drifting, as you do, you are yanked hard awake
and upwards by your hair. A smart pinch commands
 
my hips and yes, I wear my finer feelings like 

I wear this apparatus: elegantly.

The rest is entropy. On this occasion, I’ll drink.
A slug of St. Emilion coughs out of a knocked glass
and, on top of everything, you remind me you smoke.
About the bed are dotted instruments — of darkness?
 
Of music? Don’t tease me, but, of torture?
If you’re looking for your phone, it’s there.
Nestled in your underwear.

I think of the dismantled piano. I wonder about us.
A fate come undone, imbalance of order, how can

the student come to lecture a professor, an
idolater venerate the divine from behind?
Between me, this nagging shiver of duty. 
Blow your smoke in my face.

I started calling for you long before you knew my name 
again I’ll come astride you so you can say it out again.
However briefly your whistling kettle wailed for me
I won’t forget
how the steam you gave was so close
you got everybody wet.


Scout Bolton is a poet, artist and editor from the North of England. She has previously been featured in places such as The Guardian, 3:AM, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. She is the author of the collections Softcore Cloudstep (79Rat Press) and Wild Heather (The Accomplices) and her art has been featured at the Syracuse University Art Gallery and in the anthology MACRO (Boost House).

Lebanon Blues by Douglas Payne


LEBANON BLUES

She cut your eyeballs out of the family
album beloved, put gelatin green leaves 
between your two thighs. 

I don’t know what I take away 
from this: one palette of hair color
shades from zyklon blue to your red-eyed 
blushing blonde. I wonder

if everything is 
recorded: when I walk across the street
to give away my cigarettes to eighth graders:
listen to old men talk about their relationships
with their dogs, wheelchairs, their grandsons
who play basketball on the street in the dark. 

The lamplights on the street 
burning out for the dark, neighbors
in ragged sedans pitching water balloons
packed with driveway gravel.

Tell everyone about fucking your friend’s older brother
inside an abandoned windmill in the summer,
your mother crying in the dark 
with a gun in her mouth. 

I dreamed this just yesterday even though 
your baby pictures blur in my high, melted evening, de Kooning -- 
Someone put this Patti Smith record on backwards
and that same fuck drank all of the bombay gin my god.

There a dog sleeping on the carpet, his drool collecting
on the corner of your glowing star map fallen from 
the ceiling. Cardboard cutout ghost of a dead singer
in your bathroom. Now today it’s next week and I am asleep 
on a park bench in a town I’ve never been to: Lebanon, KY.


Douglas Payne is a poet from San Diego, CA with aspirations to flee east or north. He is the author of If You Have Ghosts (Amphetamine Sulphate, 2019) and Salted Rook (Chest-o-Drawers Press, 2017). His work has appeared in various venues including decomP Magazine, SCAB Magazine, Angel City Review, and the blog of author Dennis Cooper.

Interview with Steve Finbow by Tom Bland


INTERVIEW WITH STEVE FINBOW

Photo by Karolina Urbaniak



A short interview with the remarkable writer, Steve Finbow. I first encountered his work on necrophilia, Grave Desire, and then discovered he had already written a bio of Allen Ginsberg. Out of the blue I found out he’s friends with the remarkable artistic duo, Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak, who run the amazing Infinity Land Press. His last book was a collaboration with Karolina, Death Mort Tod: A European Book of the Dead, a superb book, which I cannot recommend highly enough. 

(I recently interviewed Martin and Karolina on their series of Artaud publications which can be found here.)

Check out his publications -





I discovered Ballard in my teens when the film Crash came out and I was too young to go to the cinema so I read the book. He spoke of his obsessions as an impetus for his work. What are your obsessions or recurring themes?

I grew up five miles from where Ballard lived – Old Charlton Road in Shepperton – so I knew Ballard’s topography, cycled its roads, watched planes land and depart, walked around the reservoirs. I think I was about eighteen when I summoned up the courage – or had quaffed enough pints of lager – to phone Mr. Ballard (his number was in the book) to ask him for an interview. He was very polite but declined, saying that he had a deadline – no doubt with a large glass of scotch and soda. So I took to walking past his house with its yellow door and overgrown front garden, hoping to catch a glimpse through the dingy net curtains of Jim or at least his reproductions of Paul Delvaux’s ‘The Violation’ and ‘The Mirror’, apt descriptions of Ballard’s prose with its doubles and perversions, its violence and psychological/pathological reflection. My obsessions stem from my early interest in Surrealism – dreams, orgasms, immanence, chance, violence. I was about fourteen when I became interested in Magritte, Ernst, Carrington… and then punk started and then post-punk and industrial and so it all melded together into an obsession with nightmares, paraphilia, death and I found these primarily through writers like Nietzsche, Genet, Burroughs, Ballard, Kavan. So there was a cross-threading of music, literature and art. I was very pretentious and would walk around with Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen sticking out of my pocket, drinking cans of Skol Special Strength because the colour of the can matched the book cover.

Let’s talk a bit about necrophilia. Why fuck the dead?

I don’t think many people have. As far as I can tell through my research, it’s a case of proximity, ritual or psychopathology. It is, arguably, the greatest taboo – even more so than paedophilia or zoophilia. Strange, because there is no real victim. The dead body is merely a receptacle of semen – vaginal secretions in Karen Greenlee’s case – and fantasy. I’m interested in borderline morality and the breaching of rules, not only with regards to sex but also with art – Malevich and Warhol, poetry – Khlebnikov and Mac Low, music – Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse. People ask why I wrote Grave Desire and it was because I wanted to read about it but could only find legal and/or medical texts on the subject.

One of the things I’m always entranced by with your work is the sheer diversity of influences. I come from the poetry world, where schoolism is a real thing 🤮. I wonder what prompted you to ignore or even fight against sitting nicely in one school of thought…

Well, as you can see from above, I’ve been influenced my many artists. But I don’t really believe in schools. Take the Beats – the writings of Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg are completely unalike. Politically, Burroughs and Kerouac were poles apart. Like necrophilia, schools have to do with proximity – usually an anthology or a group show – so the New York school of poets, abstract expressionism, pop art. I dismiss categorisation. I don’t want a ‘voice,’ I want millions of voices. I don’t want to just write fiction or nonfiction or poetry or essays, I want to be able to write in all forms. It’s a very British thing to pigeonhole an artist to work in a singular genre – “form is never more than an extension of content” – as Charles Olson argued. I’m equally influenced by Clark Coolidge as I am by E. M. Cioran, by Captain Beefheart as I am by Cabaret Voltaire, by Caravaggio as I am by Luc Tuymans. Fuck schoolism.

Have your obsessions turned into a methodology for you?

Do you mean, have I applied my theory for practical purposes? No. Fantasy – be it sexual, violent, artistic – is the realm in which I play out my obsessions. This is from where my writing stems – as in the case of Grave Desire – I’ll think of a subject I’m interested in – necrophilia, illness and creativity, sadomasochism, happiness (believe it or not) – and then look for works on these subjects. If I can’t find anything that fulfils my fantasy about the subject, then I will write about it, as in my next published work The Mindshaft (coming soon from Amphetamine Sulphate). So, yes, in that way, my obsession turns to methodology but, no, I haven’t been breaking into cemeteries late at night with a crowbar and a tube of lube.

Your book on Ginsberg – who is Ginsberg to you?

I was very lucky to work for Allen. Right time, right place. I’m not a great admirer of his poetry – I prefer more experimental writing – but as a writer and a human being, there are not many who are more hard-working and generous. Allen gave freely of his time and advice. And also, through Allen, I met a lot of my heroes. It was a remarkable time – 1989-1990 – I lived in Harlem and then 13th street and 6th Avenue, it was before gentrification in Manhattan – great bars, White Horse, Kettle of Fish, Grassroots and Chumley’s where, on a visit fifteen years after I had left NYC, a girlfriend spotted my name signed on a board on display with the signatures of Faulkner, Dos Passos, Kerouac and Mailer. Looks like the pretentiousness hadn’t gone away. Still hasn’t.

I loved the book of the dead you did with Karolina. Obvs death has been a long-term obsession with me. Being immersed in the histories of death – how did that shape your understanding?

Through illness. I’ve been close to death on at least six occasions. At one point, while
embolising my gastroduodenal and then my splenic artery, the surgeon shouted “Fuck!” When I regained consciousness, he told me if they hadn’t stopped the multiple aneurysms, I would have had ten minutes to live. I’ve also been in numerous comas because of my type-1 diabetes, a notable one while I was living in Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan. So I was interested in death anyway through my artistic interests and then through experience. I’ll quote Simon Critchley here, ‘For human beings, time comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger famously calls “being-towards-death”. If our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death. Heidegger subscribes to the ancient maxim that “to philosophise is to learn how to die”. Mortality is that in relation to which we shape and fashion our selfhood.’ But I would also say “morality” and “art” in relation to how we shape our selfhood. Death Mort Tod was a long project and Karolina Urbaniak created some amazing images to go along with my text and I think it works in its discussion and projection of mortality, morality and art and the transgression of all three.

What else would you like to say about yourself and your work?

At a time when seemingly everyone is either writing or contemplating writing a book, for the first time in fifteen years, I am not writing one. The Mindshaft will be out later this year. I have a novella in a science-fiction anthology (also Amphetamine Sulphate) published later in 2020, maybe a trilogy of sci-fi novellas linked to that as well. I have a huge novel The Tokyo Dead sitting with my agent. I am researching something that will be called Being & Happiness (no italics yet) and copying up twenty-five years of notes on William Burroughs, which at the current rate will  be over one thousand pages in length. I’m also enjoying writing introductions, afterwords and blurbs for people and contributing shorter stuff for journals and magazines.

Thanks for asking.

ATOMS by Isabel del Rio


ATOMS

heave and plunge: atoms
colliding converging collapsing camouflaging contaminating;
the urge to destroy
is a creative one, as seen on
a street wall and
signed by Filth; between the fresh sheets of
newspapers we stumbled upon fragments
of mendacities; after
all that, it has come to this; your writing
is already being
considered for a posthumous award;
it might bring some
comfort to make a list of the things
we will not do
ever, ever, ever; nothing
seems to be rising
from the ashes
of societal expectations; you had always
wished for a life
lived dangerously, and look at you
today; they even cancelled
the journey I embarked upon to meet
my fate; this time
I am planning to finish
Dead Souls; the prevailing
landscape
comprises a solitary
cyclist, a single van,
a secluded child; as you recite Eliot
by heart, there is clearly
something else
on your mind;
we will probably never
meet again, at least
in our present state; I can be found
in my red room
for the conceivable
future; in any case, sex
was already performed in
self-isolation; no one must mention
the/this war; explain
what you mean
by fulfilment; more fiction than
non-fiction, I
would have thought; from this moment
on, we will need to live off
who we once were;
it is not a plight but
one more plight among many
plights; the memory
of strolling
along the elm-lined lane
keeps resurfacing;
as to tomorrow, it is
undecided;
have they signed
your
death sentence
yet?


Isabel del Rio is a poet, a fiction writer and an extremely amateur photographer and artist.  She is the editor of the independent imprint Friends of Alice Publishing, with the aim of creating some kind of wonderland to which to escape to one day. 



Bathroom by Amy Acre


BATHROOM

I’m sitting on the closed lid of the toilet replying to messages 
my daughter is in the bath drinking bath water using upturned 
Lego pieces as cups which she is double fisting
I am ignoring her to write this poem which I am writing to avoid 
replying to friends I first messaged to try and keep up with 
only to get replies which demand more replies and the nightmare continues
I am writing to avoid my total lack of velvet or capsule wardrobe 
my memeless empty mouth roof how at my core I am a seaplane taking off for nowhere Kim Kardashian in the passenger seat and the pilot 
is the inflatable autopilot from Airplane! my daughter is submerging 
and rescuing a plastic octopus slide over and over and she runs 
to the bottom of the staircase when I walk down it and shouts ‘hooray!’ 
but one day she will understand that I am a dry blank bathroom 
a driverless vehicle she will know and there will be nothing I can do about it


Amy Acre is the editor of Bad Betty Press, and the author of two pamphlets: And They Are Covered in Gold Light and Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads, each chosen as a PBS Pamphlet Choice.

Something Red by Jonathan Kemp

SOMETHING RED 

In the swimming pool I spat out something red. I looked at it a while and then forgot it. If we look at all the intellectual undertakings of humankind, as far as they’ve been recorded all over the world, the common denominator is always to introduce some kind of order. It’s extremely important to find out if there’s a difference and, if there is, what kind of difference between traditions collected from the outside from those collected on the inside, though as if they were collected from the outside.
     This story, despite my best efforts, freed an anguished memory that had been haunting me ever since the world began. An alienated human subject is born, a silence gifted with speech, oscillating between unthinking unity and reflective dislocation. Body and soul at war.
     Life consists of burning up questions. Desire comprehends blindly by linking body to body. There can be no potentiality where there was no expectation. You who have nothing left must nevertheless find something to eat and drink to build up your strength for endurance and yet more endurance in the teeth of all possible logic. You’ve said what you’ve said, that is all, that is enough.  These moments are candles to be snuffed out until the dark swamp out of which you crawled reclaims you in a process not dissimilar to digestion or entrapment. You’ve loved all the wrong things, but the dust that’s thickened on every surface of your worthless past can be made to shine if the timing is right and the downdraft of an angel’s wing is allowed to disturb the fine covering of grit that kept you alive this long. Crows land on your face, refuse to move, refuse to be silent, too. Their chorus gives you nightmares, but the alternative reality provided by these nightmares is a comfort, a blanket, that allows you to continue breathing despite your best efforts to expire without fuss and cover your tracks with the flight feathers with which all of us are born and few retain beyond puberty. As the waters rise, you realise there is no one here to teach you how to swim.
     You’ve tried to kill the heart many times, but it stubbornly refuses to die. That battered little muscle keeps reaching out for something, not even him, necessarily, the object of your love, for didn’t he treat it with such cavalier disregard sometimes it made you doubt that this is love at all. But still your imbecile heart sits with arms outstretched, pleading.
     Ignore it.
     As forests burn, so does your heart; that heart you plucked from the cosmos at random and used to give some substance to the candyfloss that rotted your teeth and left you standing at bus stops in the dead of night offering blow jobs to any passing man. The wave isn’t complete until it’s dissipated on the shore.
     After you’ve fucked under a sky of timeless time, eruptions, interruptions, the insignificance of lust, you will replay each kiss, each position, each moan, recalling the ecstasy on his face as you both got exactly what you wanted.
     I’m aware of dangerous forces lurking within me. The appetite for singularity and the attraction of the forbidden.
     You realise that you will always throw love out of the window for you know too well  what comes afterwards, when it fails. The carnage. Your wisdom is as spurned as chaos. The body a treasure to be squandered.

Your tiredness and isolation balance each other, alleviated and aggravated in equal measure. He leaves. Leaving holes in a text is a form of seduction. Mystery is the clarity you’ve found. Beyond the extinction of human life lies what? The promise to do better? A comedown is the price of every high just as grief is the price of every love. The only conclusion I can draw is that the whole world has gone mad. This thought strangely soothes me.

During the Mercuralia, merchants sprinkled water from his sacred well near the Porta Capena on their heads.

Graceful, clever, and quick, he makes me feel slower than a glacier. Eyes black and unfathomable as a phone screen. I see infinity if I look too long into those inscrutable eyes. I feel exposed to their gaze, like he can see me in a way that I can’t see myself. What do those eyes see when they look at me?
     How could one today approach the question of how to live an ethical life? How much can you tell about a person from the size of the lines of coke they rack out?

N leads you and S to a hollowed out tree where you each have a shot of g and a hit on the pipe. N pulls down his trackie bottoms and squats to release a pool of pearly cum and lube that glows amongst the autumned leaves, which makes all three of you laugh. Then you link live location on your phones and separate. What is queer if not a way of being that is radically, violently, at odds with the norm?
     Let me repeat, none of this has any real meaning.


Jonathan Kemp lives & works in London. His first novel London Triptych won the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award.