We Will Bury You by Verity Spott (Veer, 2017) – Reviewed by Dylan Williams
 

Verity Spott’s recent poem We Will Bury You was composed in 88 minutes of vicious, enthused intensity around lunchtime on 29th June 2017, two weeks after the Grenfell Tower fire, and a day after the government voted against removing the cap on public sector pay. [1] The poem runs through each of the MPs who voted against the proposal, the usual list, assigning each a personalised, livid invective. For example:

            Tonight, whilst you sleep you will begin to convulse. You will need to be
            saved. Nigel Adams.

            Tonight, whilst you are dying the world will sleep assured that you will
            disappear. Adam Afriyie.

            Tonight, whilst you are dreaming of your world cells will latch with their teeth into
            your bone marrow. Peter Aldous.
            (p.7)

The formula is simple, and repetitious to the point of neuroticism. But as each ‘tonight’ arrives what could have been a prophecy transforms into something else: a broken mantra, an unfulfilled speech act, a curse that fails. Retribution against the aggressor-agents of austerity Britain is put on indefinite hold.
            Spott is no stranger to the use of the hex as a poetic unit, having employed similar formations in Gideon (2014).[2] Indeed, other poets on the innovative circuit have been dabbling with spells as a strategy for political critique (notably Sean Bonney’s Letters Against the Firmament but also, more obliquely, Keston Sutherland’s The Odes to TLP61P).[3] The innovative aspect to Spott’s performed hexing is its multivalence – the way it performs a furious, livid scream against our political present, while gesturing to the limits of language and poetry as vehicles for material change.
            For Benjamin Noys the poetic hex “at once names, curses and tries to produce the object of the curse.” If late capitalism is fluid – characterised by stealth, non-fixity, and dispersed accountability – then for Noys “abstract power is made to appear by the powerless” through the hex.[4] This analysis is compelling: the hex is not deployed to hurt, but instead to fix in place. To hail, to locate, expose and mark the diseased element in society. Spott calls out the list of MPs – most of them low-profile, wilfully anonymous – and pleads their true nature as ravenous, infectious monstrosities. Spott marks them out as fixed points of culpability for the injustices enacted against the carers, nurses, primary school teachers, and, above all, the faceless victims of Grenfell that flit in and out of the poem.

            Tonight, for the carers who took to save you. For the taken chop. For these
            titles, do you become allergic to yourself? Sir Peter Bottomley.
            (p.19)

The narrative voice returns again and again to the physical bodies of the MPs, as if through describing and hailing them the poem has found a soft edge to the fluxing swirl of capital. Something real and tangible that can serve as a site for retribution. Spott’s poem fulfils this agenda, fixing the vulnerable, often sleeping bodies of the MPs as metonyms for a wider, shapeless social malaise. They are at once themselves and more than themselves:

            […] again until it burns a hole the whole of the tongue wraps its arms around the           tooth of your stock. Never did you listen as the words, tides pulled out. What
            a mouth you have.
            (p.56)

The “tooth of your stock” here implies a body that holds the external ‘market forces’ within it – the external and the bodily come together. But the phrase also likens the class of MPs to livestock – a dehumanisation that implants the idea of their vulnerability. The notion that they are ready for the chop.
            There is, of course, something shamanistic in Spott’s network of incantations. Certainly, there seems a curative drive in the will to inflict violence on a social cancer:

            Tonight, clusters of maggots born inside you. You are not a life. It is not
            wrong to want you removed. You said. Jo Churchill.
            (p.28)

However, the hexes repeatedly refer attention to their own form, undercutting the spontaneity of shamanistic reverie. “You said” problematises the hex and its conveyance of bad karma towards the MPs. It becomes unclear who is speaking, and who is controlling the hex itself – it could be the poet, the victims, the MPs themselves. The hex becomes problematic because it is built out of ambiguous language. In the face of the brutal violence of austerity the poem begins to doubt itself: “[…] the organisations of / sanctioned poetry cannot help us to live. Cut the line your throat reads out / loud. Alex Chalk.” (p.25) The invective “cut the line your throat reads out” sees the magical violence of the poem begin to push back, away from the body of the MPs and onto the body, the throat, of the speaking poet. Spott, then, questions not only the political utility, but the very ethicality of writing in the moment of crisis. This poem oscillates, neurotically, between enthusiastic anger and guilt-ridden introspection.  
            The more you look at it the less self-assured Spott’s hexing becomes, and the poem displays a postmodern, self-reflexive tendency that sits uneasily with its Blakean anger.  Furthermore, the text at times enters phases of communicative decay, as with (the quite beautiful): “Justice is done for your / name only, yours. & the branks is you. The branks is you. The scold. Colin / Clark.” (p.29) Reminiscent of certain lines by Maggie O’Sullivan, the enigmatic “the branks is you” disrupts the communication of the poet’s anger, rather than expresses it.
            All of this crafts an uneasy, problematic text where the hex, on closer inspection, becomes a broken hex, and the poetic form constantly unpicks itself. But a broken hex is different from a failed hex. The mantric repetition of “Tonight” is, after all, a relative, deictic temporal marker. Every new day brings with it a new “Tonight”.  It is as if the poem, in its brokenness, is unresolved, choking on an anger it has failed to expel and communicate properly. The formula “Tonight…” sits there like a monolith, a gesture of the ever-imminence of a retribution that cannot, yet, be actualised. Spott’s We Will Bury You manages the encoding of an active hope that is unresolved, one way or the other.

 

 

[1] Verity Spott, We Will Bury You (London: Veer, 2017). For the sake of referencing, this review takes the first title page as page 1.

[2] Verity Spott, Gideon (London: Barque, 2014).

[3] Sean Bonney, Letters Against the Firmament (London: Enitharmon, 2015); Keston Sutherland, The Odes to TL61P (London: Enitharmon, 2013).

[4] Benjamin Noys, ‘“Neurotic I Am”’ in The Neurotic Turn: Inter-Disciplinary Correspondences on Neurosis, ed. by Charles Johns (London: Repeater, 2017), chapter 12, paragraph 26, Kindle edition.

© 2018 Colin Herd and all the individual poets

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