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Peter Hughes

‘the shadow and its word’ - Forgotten by Simon Howard

The poems of ‘Forgotten’ zig-zag down the pages like falling leaves, or a hare’s flight through stubble, or attempts to escape tear-gas and kettling, or long flights of stairs through a void, each insubstantial step of which needs to be tested. It’s hard to move with confidence. The surroundings and the very language have been undermined. The danger is not imaginary. Everything is at stake. Getting through the next day and night will be a substantial achievement, as will reaching the end of the page.

A drink of liquor

          in darkness

               no idea

                    of time –

                         dark rain falls

                              darker than the dark it’s falling through


                              open the box

                         thousands of grey moths


               out. An old deal table the word

          disappeared scratched on it, the world

disappeared scratches on it

This is the second piece, of twenty four. The whole sequence finds its way through an autumnal darkness in which dream and waking, world and word, calls and responses drift through an absence of stable identity. Perceived, remembered and imagined phenomena drift through and around each other and there is a sense of an absence of gravity to ground them. Actually, there is a sense that if the phenomena were to be forced together they might annihilate each other. There is liquor, darkness, medication and a police presence.

                                             A programme

                                        for humiliating

                              the poor, the sick, the

                         disturbed in their minds, the merely

          unfortunate. To flay

their souls dead alive the living’s death

Amidst the ‘helplessness’ and ‘hopelessness’ there is also a steely stare at those who would blame the poor for poverty, those who would incite others to despise fellow citizens in real need of support and justice. It is symptomatic of the poem’s careful delineation of specifics that Simon Howard includes the name ‘Iain Duncan Smith’ twice in the same sequence. The poems shy away from the prevailing discourses of domination because those words are harmful and not to be trusted. The word ‘Alexithymia’ hovers in poem three like a police helicopter. It signs off a passage referring to ‘A scientific / technique / for grading qualities of / sorrowfulness...’ and refers to a condition of being devoid of emotion, incapable of empathy.

So the poems of ‘Forgotten’ step quickly down the page, seeking a foothold on a language riddled with falsehood; falsehood, what is more, systematically programmed to make invisible the human realities of the poor and dispossessed. The words keep on the move and none wishes to become an easy target. Howard’s response to a politics which clamps the unacceptable down onto the streets, into the media and into the skulls of the people, is to improvise a music which leaves scarce traces. The poems travel light and carry little which may be snagged or trapped by the armed guards of the new-old dispensation. Some of the words are glimpses of old film, hints of isolated music, disturbed dream and random data. Real rain on the windows cannot be distinguished from what feels like rain in the head. But the poems insist on moving forwards, like a frail sailing boat into a gale, tacking from side to side, barely completing the journey.

Simon Howard had a passion for the greatest radical music of the past, for contemporary improvised music, and for poetry which could find its own ways through the city by avoiding recommended routes, surveillance cameras and literary officials. He had a kind of desperate trust in kinds of art which risk incoherence in order to be true to experience. By ‘experience’ I don’t mean some kind of autobiographical chat. I mean the ongoing processes of perception and reflection as the linguistic uses and abuses we inhabit, and are inhabited by, stream or blend or clash.

Simon will be much missed but his poetry will be increasingly present.



Copyright © PeterHughes, 2014.