Gareth Twose - The poetry parodies political language, marketing spiel, and the mores of contemporary society; but it's overall feel is not one of anger, but of humanity and wit; the language resisting these political and commercial forces by its sheer effervescence.



Image result for Gareth Twose, Seven Types of Terrorism,
Gareth Twose, Sven Types of Terrorism, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2017.
sample (pdf)


In a recent interview in The Paris Review, J H Prynne, commenting on a poetry reading he had just attended, said "These poems we heard this evening, some of them were quite witty, some of them were adept. But they're all poems written by a poet, and I could do without that." Prynne continues, "To hear poems that were written by a poet is to find them trapped in the poetic habits from which they originate."
Gareth Twose's poetry, in this book, is not trapped in poetic habit. This is the opening of part 5 of Twose's sequence "Sven Types of Terrorism":
"Born irritated. Norman killer. Check top right, Bayeux Tapestry, the guy aiming syringe into eyeball of English Boeuf head. No way does this guy queue. I mean, slowing down, stopping. Every road a race track. The name on my vest: Discovery: deep blue, the patches of planet earth as seen from space, the figure-hugging lycra pants, thigh size."
This is not language which is pausing to consider itself, or to invite the reader to admire its lyricism; it's not consciously poetic. The whole sequence is compact and fast-moving, a mental dialogue of a manic cyclist, ending:
"All riders need a hero-shot: me scooting down the side of a row of cars stuck at lights, me slicing through, switching lanes, a seamless segue. Ride-by assasination."
I enjoyed Twose's earlier pamphlet, "Top Ten Tyres", but the density of its language made it, at times, an exhausting read. This book is looser, more accomplished; there's just enough breathing space for the reader to relax and enjoy the wit and zest of the language. The poetry parodies political language, marketing spiel, and the mores of contemporary society; but it's overall feel is not one of anger, but of humanity and wit; the language resisting these political and commercial forces by its sheer effervescence.
The collection is divided into three sections; the rationale for the first of these, "The Alexandr Technique",  gives us an idea of Twose's approach. He says in the notes:
"Inspired when I bought car insurance from comparethemarket.com - and got a free meerkat toy. I started getting email updates from the toy about its progress across Europe, as it journeyed to my
home."
There are 89 "updates". The form provides a vehicle (excuse the pun) for Twose's wordplay and anarchic humour, which, while clearly arising from anger at the banalities of late capitalism, somehow always manage to be engaging and good-natured:
"73. Conspiracy theorist Dr. Shad State demands that the monument be smashed up into a million pieces and used to make some rather nice furry coasters. Or funky enamel ware.

76. A stategic pause.
87. On page 96, Aleksandr says he always remembers what his aunt, a one-time collector of Edwardian furniture and former presenter of Flog It, said on cold desert nights in the burrow: you have to warm your eye up, to look through it all."
The second section of the book, the title sequence "Sven Types of Terrorism" (yes, “Sven” not “Seven” – see later for the missing “e”) is a set of satirical prose pieces, with the 'terrorism' being, at one level, oppressive systems or ways of thinking. I've already mentioned the aggressive cyclist of no. 5. But there's also parody of brand marketing ("Just what was Victoria's secret?") and formula TV shows ("For the technical challenge they have to prepare a batch of English muffins before ending with their best loaves"), and no. 2 is a spoof Wikipedia Entry on Time, delivered in with wit and sparkle:
"'The Glasvedas', the earliest texts of Glaswegian philosophy, describe the universe going thourgh repeated cycles of creation, destruction and rebirth, with each cycle lasting a Friday night"
and
"Free Time
a). a shadowy continuation of labour.
b). something that involves DIY"
Type Seven is simply "The missing 'e'" (i.e. missing from "Sven"); this, presumably, is a nod to Georges Perec's novel "La Disparition", written without using the letter "e", and is a nice bit of playfulness, typical of this work.
The final section of the book, "Blobitechture" is a series of sonnet-like poems, reminiscent of the early work of Tony Lopez, but more anarchic. Each poem is named after a style of architecture, although the poems simply use that as a point of departure, and provide a vehicle for Twose's fast-moving parodies of language and life in the early twenty-first century. The opening lines of the first poem "Bahaustrasse" are:
"The soonologist had been fired for failing to predict
the next three minutes and government replaced
by a fixed odds betting terminal."
The poems satirize contemporary idiom, especially that of commerce; cultural references, both real (Poundstretcher) and parodied ("The Man Who Fell to Perth") crop up at frequent intervals. There is, of course, a certain level of satirical intent in these poems, but here, as in the rest of the book, there is a sense that the whole thing is driven more by Twose’s zest for language; the strength of the book is that he gives this impulse free rein. This final sequence is a pleasure to read because you sense that the writer enjoyed writing it, that he took pleasure in the puns, wordplay and linguistic associations which are, it could be said, the basis of poetry (even though this particular poetry is not written by a poet). - Litterbug



‘The Aleksandr Technique’, from Gareth Twose’s poetry collection Sven Types of Terrorism, was inspired by email updates “written” by a toy meerkat during its shipping to the poet’s home. The meerkat in question, named Aleksandr Orlov, is a recurring persona deployed across media platforms by the car insurance company comparethemarket.com. As one of the company’s marketing tactics, a toy meerkat is sent to every customer that buys car insurance online. In response, Twose’s sequence cannibalises the affective appeal of the company’s gimmick – its ‘Aleksandr Technique’. Turning the faux-update on its head, Twose appropriates the meerkat’s narrative for a bewilderingly Dadaist odyssey through consumer society on the levels of system and language:
  1. Landing at Dover, Aleksandr notices the slippery when
    wet quality of five day old English consonants. In the
    corporate hands.
Discussing Rimbaud, Sean Bonney has pondered the political upheavals of the 2011 riots: “How could what we were experiencing, I asked myself, be delineated in such a way that we could recognise ourselves in it. The form would be monstrous.” With some irony, Twose’s sequence of updates offers this monstrous self-recognition, deploying the persona of Aleksandr the meerkat as catalysis – as a proxy experiencer. Through the voice of Aleksandr and his imagined travels, Twose exposes a continent that is far from well:
[…] he describes noticing during his travels across
Europe how the skies are full of Farage balloons,
modelled on an antique dirigible.
[…] the word ‘businesskat’ is mentioned 2030
times, nearly as many times as the word ‘choice’ is
mentioned in the Health and Social Cattery Act 2012.
Twose’s world is beset by right-wing miseries and Aleksandr, the furry face of media-savvy capital, is perfectly placed to whistleblow. But Twose’s poem is more than an affirming litany of political grievances. Co-opting the marketing device as a poetic persona empowers an intelligent, focussed critique of capital on the linguistic and formal levels. Twose’s first update gives a clue towards this particular function of the text:
  1. The meerkat is not cited in any of the case studies that
    form part of the research used to justify the complete
    synthetic personalization of language.
“Synthetic personalization” here refers to an idea from the sociolinguist Norman Fairclough. A disingenuously “strategic” communicative technique, it gives “the impression of treating each of the people huddled en masse as an individual”. Twose’s experience of personal address delivered by an inanimate, inbound toy would certainly qualify Fairclough’s term; it is this disingenuous linguistic manipulation which is targeted for subversion by Twose. By de-familiarising and parodying the Aleksandr persona, Twose disrupts its ability to carry a disguised marketing agenda. The persona and the language it uses are liberated from domination by capital. This liberation is performed through the recuperative elevation of Aleksandr’s language as a specifically poetic language – a metamorphosis carried through by three poetic modes (all traditional enough in the field of “linguistically innovative” poetry): ironisation, what I will call “hyper-realisation” and the decoupling of narrative sequence.
Firstly, we see Twose inject a postmodern formal self-consciousness into the sequence:
  1. A strategic listening pause.
and
  1. Skip ad.
  2. Skip ad.
In turn, the formal artifice of expression is foregrounded against the core impulses of any marketing text (where unconscious ingestion of content is paramount).
Twose also ramps up the over-arching tone of the original Aleksandr advertisements to a ridiculous pitch, with the poet’s meerkat becoming a hyper-real parody of its original self:
  1. Fleeing Meerkovo as a result of some local ethnic
    cleansing and visiting Monaco for the first time rubbing
    fur with the riches and famous, Aleksandr’s smoking
    jacket bursts into flames of caustic love.
Framing Aleksandr’s adventure against a background of ethnic cleansing and migration adds moral gravity to the situation (Meerkovo = Kosovo?). This impinges upon the comic book adventure style utilised by the original advertisements, folding its appealing escapism back onto the political structures of the real world. Additionally, Twose pushes Aleksandr into ideological positions and forms of knowledge laughably at odds with the interests of a car insurance company. Aleksandr, for instance, becomes “leader of the Meerkovan Liberation Army”, and is imbued with a visionary sort of structural insight:
  1. I am a refugee from la langue, a linguistic
    migrant. You have a choice.
Twose cuts up and frustrates the smooth flow of narrative sequence. Between updates, Aleksandr continuously shifts location, context and company without any sense of firm trajectory or geography. The meerkat-as-marketing-tool has gone rogue.
Through these interventions the poem subverts capital’s instrumentalisation of language in favour of a language that runs free and causes problems. Passive ingestion is impossible – the interpretative problems of the text call upon the reader to become decidedly active. Aleksandr is appropriated by the poet and transformed into a trace liquid, exposing the topography of the flows of capitalist Europe in which it travels. Changing from an object to a perceiving subject, the persona becomes liberated enough to perform its symbolic exposé of capital and state.
That said, one obvious problem of Twose’s poem is that we are not entirely sure what is being critiqued. A right-dominated system, certainly, but how can we be more specific? Finance, politicians, austerity, neo-colonialism are all blurred together chaotically. Remembering Bonney, however, we understand this to be the experience of the capitalist simulacrum at ground level. In this, ‘The Aleksandr Technique’ takes an obviously modernist urban aesthetic – experiment and gyre – and applies it to the twenty-first century’s eminently virtual topography. This is the value of Twose’s text: the militation of “innovative” poetry’s trademark neo-modernism into a tool for focussed linguistic critique. In creating poetry from advertising-speak, language is seized from the jaws of domination. As a collection Sven Types of Terrorism carries this further, rattling off multiple poetic sequences, of which ‘The Aleksandr Technique’ is only the first. All find and disturb different areas of contemporary life drowned by capital.
Twose’s innovative and humorous subversion of comparethemarket.com’s email updates echoes other attempts to claim the forms of contemporary media as poetic forms. Roger Whitson’s intriguing work with Markov chain algorithms (which transform the tweet into a site for a unique form of poetry) comes to mind. The value of ‘The Aleksandr Technique’, then, is that it shows how poetry has a social role in making us conscious of contemporary language and its hidden ideologies. If “linguistically innovative” poetry is to avoid accusations of elitism and ludic irrelevance in the face of crisis then attention should be paid to this poem. With it we see how poetry can be put to work in a legitimate, socially useful way: as an interruption in the silent flows of nauseating capital. - Dylan Williams





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