BY Ben Eastham in Culture Digest | 25 MAR 16

Revolutionary Poetics

The inaugural issue of Swimmers, a London-based publishing project uniting poets and artists

BY Ben Eastham in Culture Digest | 25 MAR 16

Swimmers, Issue One, March 2016. Courtesy Swimmers, London, UK; cover design: Kevin Green

Reading Kirill Medvedev’s poems, actions and essays – published in English as Its No Good (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2015, ed. Keith Gessen) – inspired in me that lazy, tortured nostalgia for an age in which marginal literary movements meant something. (‘Oh, why didn’t I live in [insert decade, city]?’) The irony, of course, is that Medvedev continues to write witty, passionate and celebratory poems – despite having renounced copyright in 2004 – and to perform his idiosyncratic protests against the post-Soviet regime. 

Nor is it necessary to look abroad to witness how poetry is flourishing as a site of protest, activism and dissent. Keston Sutherland – co-founder with Andrea Brady of Barque Press and an extraordinary performer of his own work – is among this country’s most brilliant chroniclers of our headlong plunge into ecological and financial catastrophe; the ‘Hi Zero’ nights run by Joe Luna in Brighton provide an electrifying platform for new writing that seeks to challenge or overthrow the systems embedded in English. The art world’s recent embrace of poetry is at least partly a recognition of its value, due to the different economies and institutions in which it is (or isn’t) implicated, as a means of critiquing the political and economic systems that govern our lives.

The latest example of this small revolution in independent publishing is provided by Swimmers, a publishing project which grew out of a series of readings and performances. The first of a series of 12 free pamphlets (limited to an edition of 35) – each of which combine an artist and a poet – was published this month, and features an insert by Ned Scott alongside poems by André Naffis-Sahely. These are introduced by a brilliant essay by Kayo Chingonyi addressing how the promotion by prominent British critics of a modest, ‘restrained’ style in poetry is tantamount to silencing those voices who do not belong or accede to the dominant culture. The resistance is there, if you want it.

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Ben Eastham is editor-in-chief of art-agenda and author of The Imaginary Museum (TLS Books, 2020).