The Conflict of Language.
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell.
There were places, and no doubt there still are, where admitting to writing, or even reading, poetry would be a guarantee of getting your head kicked in. Most people either hated or had nothing above indifference to verse. Poetry was seen as the preserve of men in tweed jackets, something boring and old-fashioned you were forced to study at school. And in a way they were right, it had been effectively stolen by snobs or soured in school syllabuses. There was nothing more alien to someone growing up in a city than an 18th century sonnet dedicated to a nightingale which they’d be forced to endlessly analyse. Equally people were intimidated and irritated by postmodern poetry that was shrouded in pretentious, cryptic language.
Increasingly inroads were made with people challenging the literary establishment. With the Beat movement and the emergence of performance poetry the focus of literature shifted. No longer was poetry the sole property of conservative laureates, now poetry could be found in basement jazz bars and along the highways of America. This was followed by successive revolutions in literary thought and practise; the explosion of rock n roll when poetry could be found on records by anyone from Dylan to the Velvet Underground, the rebellion of the sixties and then the late seventies, the emergence of the internet and its vast proliferation of journals and websites. And in the late sixties there was a revolution in poetry itself, one initiated by working class poets like the Glaswegian Tom Leonard, Etheridge Knight and Charles Bukowski.
By producing poems of great energy and wit in their native dialects they demonstrated fiercely that the cultured inhabitants of Middle England, or for that matter Manhattan, have no monopoly on truth and beauty. The reaction to their work established one thing; that there are two sides conflicting over language itself.
On one side there are those who believe language is something that has strict rules and is set in stone like some set of commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, that it cannot change, that cursing and emotion and playfulness are wrong and that the Queen’s English cannot, must not, be tampered with. That language is something sacred and dead.
Then there is the alternative. On this side are those who claim language is something constantly changing, that there are no strict rules, no one sacred unalienable truth but many truths. That there is as much beauty, and perhaps more truth, in the working class langwij of Glasgow or Derry or New Jersey than there is in Received Pronunciation. And in this alternative way of thinking things like curses and emotion can enliven discussion. For this language is true to life and in being so is fundamentally alive. This is the side spearheaded by the likes of Tom Leonard. It is also perhaps the only thing the works in this e-zine have in common.
In this the first issue of Laika Poetry Review we are proud to present a diverse selection of exciting and accessible writing from all over the world: from Glasgow, Albuquerque, Toronto, Tyrone, Kiev via Brooklyn, Tennessee and San Francisco right back to Weimar Germany.
We are delighted to be able to showcase two previously unpublished poems from Tom Leonard that manage to be both fearlessly political and hilarious.
We are also proud to present two hauntingly beautiful, yet disturbing, short stories written by Rennie Sparks, lyricist and musician from the alt-country duo The Handsome Family. The works, first published in her book Evil, are reproduced here with Rennie’s kind permission.
It is a pleasure to have onboard the San Francisco Beat poet A.D.Winans of whom Charles Bukowski once remarked, “A.D.Winans can go ten rounds with the best of them.” One of the driving forces behind the San Francisco literary renaissance A.D.Winans has contributed a tribute to his friend the late great poet Bob Kaufman, a poem brimming with his trademark compassion, rhythm and energy.
In addition we have a thrilling selection of new poetry and short stories from Adam Jeffries Schwartz, Alex Galper, Colin Dardis, Ryan Bird and Colin Mesler all of which are lucid, imaginative and exciting examples of vital contemporary writing.
Finally we have a study of the tragic German poet Jakob Van Hoddis who kick-started the most incendiary and ultimately doomed of artistic movements: German Expressionism.
The philosopher Wittgenstein once defined language as, “an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses." In this city there are high streets, luxury apartments, mock Tudor mansions, suburbs with white picket fences.
But there are also side streets, run down areas, subways, old rickety houses that local children are afraid of, smoky basement bars. Places frequented by barfly prophets, street corner preachers, mad offspring locked in the attic that nobody talks about, the places where things get interesting…