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"Ne Swik Thou Naver Nu": PhantopoeticsReview of ABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE, Nicky Melville (Sad Press, 2020)

Colin Herd

"The ghostly schema now appears indispensable." - Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx (1993)

“The ancient men, in secret, say 
'Tis the first chief of Aspin grey 
That haunts his feudal home; 
But why, around that alien grave 
Three thousand miles beyond the wave, 
Where his exiled ashes lie 
Under the cope of England's sky, 
Doth he not rather roam? 

I've seen his picture in the hall; 
It hangs upon an eastern wall, 
And often when the sun declines 
That picture like an angel shines; 
And when the moonbeam, chill and blue, 
Streams the spectral windows through, 
That picture's like a spectre too.”

- Emily Bronte, from ‘Written in Aspin Castle’ (c. 1843)

"For the spectre is social, it is even engaged in competition or in a war as soon as it makes its first apparition. Otherwise neither socius, nor conflict, nor desire, nor love, nor peace would be tenable." - Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx (1993)

I'm spooked af. In a good way. The associative, connective, rippling bodies of spectrality in Nicky Melville's ABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE are the cause. Everywhere you turn in the thrilling poetry of this book, the zombie reality of contemporary politics is revealed in its chilling, deadly reality. But so too, as that last Derrida quote hints, is the possibility and tenability of love and peace beyond the gruesome reality of a contemporary where "we're at an all time high / for having visible fascists / at large a / round the world" and where "the UK is going through / the biggest squeeze / on living standards / since the Napoleonic wars". In other words, when Emily Bronte in the poem above, writes about the ashy, spectral "cope of England's sky", Nicky Melville here writes about how fucking difficult it is to cope under England's endless skyfall.   

Of course Abbodies (Sad Press, 2017) needed a sequel, Nicky Melville's sell-out tour-de-force Abba X Perlongher X Rowe Tribute. I'm only surprised, given the hauntological disruption of time that plays out everywhere here ("the times change / and we change with them") that there isn't a prequel in pre-production, although to be honest this is a sequel that is a prequel anyway ("words speak us / pre / diction"). Abbodies inhabited, noted, and offered a poetic ripost to the Austerity Hell inflicted by successive conservative governments. ABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE extends this into the media-hyped xenophobia of the war-on-immigration aka Brexit, which, as this book points out has been haunting us for centuries:

in fact

aliens have been known

by our government 

since 1905

The Aliens Order Act

amended the law

with regard to



Nicky Melville's poetry in its pitching repetitions and catchy refrains (its shadow texts and ghost writing) has its own uncanny qualities that make it feel "glorious, sacred, accursed" like "an immigrant chez nous", in Derrida's words:

Marx remains an immigrant chez nous, a glorious, sacred, accursed but still a clandestine immigrant as he was all his life. He belongs to a time of disjunction, to that “time out of joint” in which is inaugurated, laboriously, painfully, tragically, a new thinking of borders, a new experience of the house, the home, and the economy.  

For those readers who got hooked by the hawkish "Buzzard" refrain in AbbodiesABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE doesn't disappoint either. Except, here the insistent prey-err-ful buzzing of the "Buzzard" buzzer is replaced with the "cuckoo" of the "cuckoo". Cuckoos are associated with desire and with a world caught up in its own spectrality, as in Wordsworth's 'To a Cuckoo'

the earth we pace 

Again appears to be 

An unsubstantial, faery place 

That is fit home for Thee

Is it just me that sees Wordsworth's weird taunting of the cuckoo as slightly cuckoo in and of itself. What's clear is the cuckoo is part bird part "wandering voice" and "invisible thing" i.e. ghostly. I always feel like the actual signifying of the spectre of the cuckoo gets missed by Wordsworth in this poem when he climaxes into the fitness of the earth as a home without looking to its futurity. I sometimes imagine that in a time-disjointed sort of way Wordsworth's interrogation of the cuckoo had in fact already been answered by the 14th Century folk round "Sumer is icumen in" (more recently rendered in an antithesis as Winter is Coming from GOT):

 Cuccu, cuccu,

Wel singes thu, cuccu.

   Ne swik thu naver nu!

"ne swik thu naver nu" usually gets translated as "never stop now" - and I do want to say that of this collection, to garble Freddie Mercury Don't Stop Nicky Melville Now, We Don't Want Him To Stop At All, - but here in relation to Nicky Melville's ABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE, the correct translation would in fact be more along the lines of "never say never again": a more fit world is possible if only we all listen to ABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE! The cuckoo song doesn't get lost on Nicky Melville of course: "they have our future / and our destiny in their hands". To read this work is to both construct and strip apart the phantom states of pop and media culture that keep us suspended in endless empire-bolstering hauntings of ABBA-palindromic bonds: economic, cultural, political and social. 

In After the Future, Franco Bifo Berardi writes:

The psychic and somatic form of the human cannot take this, and as our cognitive, communicative, emotional capacities become subject to cellular fragmentation and recombination under the new machine-speed of information, we get sick. Depression, panic, unhappiness, anxiety, fear, terror – these are the affective conditions of contemporary labor, the “psycho- bombs” of cognitive capitalism, each, naturally, with their own psychopharmacology. Nonetheless, we actively submit ourselves to this regime; this is the perversity of contemporary culture. Of course, the vast majority has no choice – these are the structural conditions of work. But the progressive commercialization of culture, deadening of metropolitan life, loss of solidarity, and insidious dispersal of mechanisms of competition are such that we have come to fixate our desires on work. Even as it pushes human affective and cognitive capacities to breaking point, the enterprise form is the only adequate expression of our communicative and affective qualities, and the one most able to confirm our increasingly competitive and narcissistic drives.   

Nicky Melville's ABBODIES: COLD SPECTRE is one of the books that I feel has the ability to spook us out of the vicious bonds and contortions of contemporary capitalism and rising fascism with the gusto and generosity of a ghost busting vacuum. In the delicious, sensuous, personal, witty poetry of this book I feel like there's hope of some kind. We're all haunted if we don't listen to Nicky Melville. Thank-you for the music. Keep it coming. You better not be kidding about Abbodies III.  Your fans will queue up & won't let you not write it. 

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