"What the razor knew": Ken Edwards (II)

In 1982 Ken Edwards published Drumming & poems with Peter Hodgkiss' Galloping Dog Press, and this is the second book to be collected in the No Public Language volume from Shearsman. Each poem is prefaced by the listing of a particular album. Is this what Edwards was listening to when writing the poem? Should the reader listen to the album when reading?

The cross-cutting whimsy and song of the earlier work has provided an inchoate form which is here fleshed out into small grids of political commentary and social documentary of a speeded-up though not indeterminate kind (for the latter, see 1992's Good Science, Roof Books, which spans 1983-1991).

To me, the most interesting parts of Drumming & poems are those that edit and re-arrange transcribed voices of various kinds. 'Old Man, Camberwell', Edwards tells us in his notes, "uses material from an unpublished set of interviews with people who live alone". The result is a brief comedy of part-sentences:


I went straight from school
in England I know nobody

bother me I think
naturally, but I do

stutter, just from temperament.
When most people were

people if anybody
like the freedom of

vast walks, sometimes over
the moment for the past it

drives me up the wall.
On the gas fire, proper

hot food; I'm pretty
introspective by nature, so I have

a radio I don't need
for about 5 years and I

cook at weekends when I cook.
It's a ridiculous

bedsit I'm living in
a room with a bloke

I haven't been
from my childhood.

It can be read as a single sentence which is jogged forward at every line break; but each line is also enough to flicker a wildly incomplete social world past. Oral history interviews are always edited in any wider presentation (never more so than in apparently neutral formats) - Edwards takes this sometimes hidden editing and brings it out so that broken off pieces of syntax point out from these one-person families: "in England I know nobody" leads this technique on towards its compact, specific use in 'Southall', "from eye-witness accounts, mainly by Asians, of the riots of April 1979". Here we have one poem and one statement which is clearly also several statements; but it is one and several at the same time. It is a structuring of speech which can't resolve. The 'Front' is the National Front meeting which was the subject of the initial protest.

Many people shouted to them, to stop and looked very strange.
I ws in my garden & I saw this quite clearly this boy was standing

and was left unconscious he sit down protest in the garden when 2 police
rushed past him one of them hit him dropped down I got a glass

hit me on the head with entire area round the Front meeting.
I tried to run and told him like this: Move! [. . .]

The death of a teacher in the riot, Blair Peach, becomes a source for elegy in 'Drumming (Slow Return)'; to date, no-one has been arrested for his murder despite eleven eye-witnesses testifying that he was struck about the head by police. This latter sequence of pieces also tracks the Nationality Bill in winter 1980/81 and "refers to the three classes of citizenship proposed by the Bill". From Southall to Parliament? The second part of this sequence "is based on reminiscences by Isaac Gordon, a Jamaican immigrant"; the phrases refuse to stay in discrete sections, though, and each of these inputs modulates into a poem which increasingly reads as a frenetic attempt to make visible the connections between networks and physical locations:


"The blow had split his skull
from its base to his right ear.
People holding the new
citizenships would be
eligible to have
passports describing them,
splintering the bone &
bruising the brain to
a depth of an inch.
It will be necessary
to restrict the right of
entry to each of them."

Elsewhere in Drumming & poems is "What the razor knew", a collage set of variations, a cut paragraph: this is a space which does not conceal its content.

Edmund Hardy

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