:: Buzzwords Archive: March 2020. Click here for the latest posts.

3:AM in Lockdown 13: Matthew Turner (published 31/03/2020)

By Matthew Turner.




I prefer not to. Instead, I would rather think about the normality, not the difference. I would rather imagine a vast fresco painted on the walls of a small cell, depicting spaces of enormous enclosure.

There would be a cloudless sky, a blurred horizon. There would be innumerable cabinets of curiosities; Ole Worm’s museum of fish swimming in mid-air, spears held mid-flight, alligators and tortoises waddling the walls of a rectangular prism; Levinus Vincent’s Wonder Theater of Nature, with its forest of animal cadavers in shimmering spirit, exotic insects, shells and crustaceans, minerals and fossils — a diorama with scenes composed from various kinds of endlessly fractal corals and sponges. There would be Sir John Soane’s perennially congealing alleyway house with clouds of bizarre architectural splinters, Montaigne’s narrow writing tower the hidden conduits between floors transmitting the sound of mass. A cork-lined bedroom. It would be pinpricked with starlit priest holes, with someone concealed for days, wondering over witch markings roughly carved into oak beams. It would be set against cattle running in candlelit cave paintings; the dark, psychedelic temple at Chavín de Huántar, ever expanding light, sound, consciousness. All punctuated by pages from an illuminated manuscript of Julian Assange’s psychiatric report, illustrating his time under house arrest in the Ecuadorian embassy.

There would be stunted trees with extensive cascading roots. We would see Diogenes projecting thoughts of philosophical cynicism onto the blind walls of his home, a large ceramic jar. The blind botanist, Rumphius, collecting shells on an Italian beach, and Pythagoras teaching the principles of geometry from behind a thick curtain. We would see Nabokov shuffling a slim box of index cards, and Dr John Dee communing with other worlds through his dark obsidian mirror. Then inuits thinking in swirling circles of claustrophobic snow, Annie Edson Taylor becoming the first person to plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel. There would be fantastic visions from sensory deprivation, coruscating after images, a small hole in the wall, with a fibre-optic cable running through, alluding to the great outdoors. There will be ceaseless Sundays, transgression, fevers, revolutions of the imagination.

Image: Fra Angelico’s ‘Annunciation’ in a cell of the San Marco monastery, Florence, Italy.


3:AM in Lockdown 12: Niven Govinden (published 30/03/2020)

By Niven Govinden.


3:AM in Lockdown 11: S.J. Fowler (published 29/03/2020)

By SJ Fowler.

I don’t have a lot to say. I vacillate between sensations and have no strong opinion. It is obvious I am fortunate beyond belief or historical precedence, but I often feel this way anyway. No one, that I’ve seen, in literary terms, has anything interesting to say about it because the lockdown is happening to almost everyone. And those who are ill are best not evoked with stupid writing. Does it matter, as the internet is voluntary, that it all switches between patronising and panicking? I’m worried for some people I know. I’m alive to that and galvanised somewhat. I’m lucky. I cancelled a festival I was organising with over 100 poets who were coming to London from Spain, Italy, all over Europe. Six months dissembled in six days. But I am glad. Two of my family members are NHS or frontline etc… I like how no one has anything interesting to say and as much as I don’t like the articles on how important writing and literature is right now. But that’s just because it’s my job, those articles aren’t meant for me. There is something calming about perspective, for me at least. This is giving me that, though I’d not choose to learn now if I could.

“Another plague year would reconcile all these differences; a close conversing with death, or with diseases that threaten death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before.”
– Daniel Defoe

c-word youtube comments mashup poem

let’s see what’s going on in good, sophisticated Europe
… takes you to Liverpool

then to a double room in London
a single stays in for twenty days
and goes bananas

one dude eats a bat in China, and suddenly I can’t leave my house
quote of the decade
because we won’t live to see many more quotes

Online advice;
you cannot be anything you want.
love doesn’t get the deal done.
gratitude is the only emotion that taps into a higher intelligence.
material world detaches from the spiritual.
worth comes from character.
the universe rewards authenticity.
adversity reveals character.
the new one who can pull all this off.

within the Diet Apocalypse
Expensive Shit begins to glow
like the food seen
chewing with an open mouth
despising the bbc website

“I’m not a paranoid person”
wears a Rolex in case you need to trade it for a getaway car


3:AM in Lockdown 10: Lee Rourke (published 28/03/2020)

Anxiety and the Writers I’ve Been Thinking of in a Time of Crisis…
By Lee Rourke.

Ever since the Coronavirus Lockdown I’ve been thinking a lot about this quotation from Blaise Pascal:

‘I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.’

Dodgy nouns and personal pronouns aside, there’s a lot of truth in this, when our essential freedoms are taken away all we are left with is ourselves, and our sense of our ‘self’ is a fragile thing. When we are faced with our ‘self’ we are faced with the anxiety of ‘nothingness’ apparent in our existence (Beckett called this the ‘tinnitus of existence’) — it nags away at us, becoming louder and louder and louder, and strange things begin to happen. Of course, Boredom always reveals itself in great waves. Yet, we are ill at ease with boredom. We can’t hack it. It fucks us up. So, we try to paper over these cracks with the company of others, the accumulation of things, and drugs, junk food, flash cars, and other forms escapism we can afford to consume. It’s no surprise to me — as mind-numbingly depressing as it is — that people are still out there on the streets in social groups, panic buying, flagrantly ignoring both social distancing and the gaping voids within them. How else can we explain the lemming-like actions of those morons queuing for hours for their final Big Mac Meal at McDonald’s before it shut down the other day? Oh, George A. Romero, so much to answer for.

The best way for me to describe our current situation is through Heidegger’s maxim: ‘We are suspended in dread’. And for most of us, with this dread comes crippling anxiety. Each morning I look at my hands: they are red raw with over-washing. The skin is dry and peeling, bursting with potential sores. My hands have become a focus of fascination for me: a Bataille-like base materiality of my mental state? Maybe. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I wash them each day. I must wash them in a strange miasma. It has become routine. The other night, quite out of the blue, the famous poem by Keats appeared in my head and I ran to my bookshelves to read it:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

Oh, to be ‘conscience-calm’d’ right now in this strange state of suspension. I know I am suffering with chronic bouts of anxiety, I know I am ill with it, but I embrace it, and in a strange way it comforts me. These hands are mine.

It’s not all doom and gloom here, though: all my asthma medication has arrived, home-schooling the kids is ace, and I read this today, regarding Heidegger and anxiety and nothingness, from a Simon Critchley interview, which gives me strength:

‘Heidegger when he says, “Anxiety reveals the nothing.” And on one level I didn’t even know what that meant grammatically — what does that mean? But I knew intuitively what was at stake. Because I was suffering from profound anxiety, but it wasn’t linked to a fear of anything. So the first discovery I made, if you like, was making a distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear is always related to an object. So you can be scared of crocodiles or whatever, and if a crocodile is not there then you’re not scared. Anxiety has no relationship to a particular object. Anxiety’s a kind of general mood that one has in relationship to the world. And once you’ve got that, once you’ve made that discovery, then you’re no longer scared in the same way. Right? That’s good. So mostly we misdescribe anxiety as fear and we think that I feel the way I am because I’m scared of this or that or this person or that person. And then if you get rid of that, you realize that this is just what it means to kind of be alive. And to be happy with that, then you can lose your fear.’

So, let’s all stop being fearful of ourselves, and simply stay inside, let’s all calm down, as Gabriel Josipovici once said: ‘Everything passes. The good and the bad’. And it will pass. In the meantime, let’s all be alive and content in our rooms.

For now.

Lee Rourke

3:AM in Lockdown 9: badaude (published )


3:AM in Lockdown 8: C.D. Rose (published 27/03/2020)

A View From the Window
By C. D. Rose.

I crack open the window, noting how dusty it’s got, stick my head out of the narrow gap and look up and down the street I live on. To the left, there’s a late 70s low-rise industrial unit, steel mesh over its few windows, a corrugated plastic roof. A plume of white smoke still rises from the chimney and occasionally vans come and go so I assume they’re still working. Next to it, a handsome late Victorian workshop, three floors, redbrick, big arched windows. Anywhere else it’d probably have become apartments, or a bar, but on the edge of the centre of the large city where I live, the place is falling down, a ‘For Sale’ sign outside for more than a year now. To the right, there’s a flat-pack apartment block, early noughties plasterboard and scaffolding. It’s often quiet on this street, but now there’s no one but the gulls squawking, a crow hopping, and a magpie pecking at a bin bag.

As a child, I was much taken with the story of Eyam in Derbyshire. In 1665 this small Peaks mining village was touched by the plague and — so the story goes — its inhabitants self-quarantined, staying strictly in the parish bounds rather than risk spreading the contagion that had reached them. We were taken there on a school trip, I remember, to look at the Coolstone and Riley’s Graves, and we met a woman who told us she was a witch.

I’m tending to get up early these days, 7ish or before. I make tea and check my messages but not the news. I do some work. I like the silence. I go back to bed around 10 or 11 and sleep until 1 or later if I can: M stays up till 2 or 3 in the morning then sleeps right through, so we breakfast together at lunchtime. Time has become sludge.

This isn’t Fisher and Berardi’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ — for one, it’s happening too quickly for that — but it’s also taking the present, and the past.

I find myself looking out of the window obsessively now. It’s an uninspiring view, mostly, but in search of distraction I have become aware of the routine of each jogger and dog-walker, the sweep of the light and how it picks out different details at each point of the day, of the coming and going of delivery vans and postal workers.

The plague arrived in Eyam via a parcel of patterns — an itinerant tailor, George Viccars, had requested samples of cloth to be sent to him from London, then the epicentre. The samples were damp, and hung up to dry in the house where he had taken lodgings.

One moment I’m sprawled on the sofa in the afternoon sun, snoozily reading; the next I’m standing in the bathroom unable to piss straight with fear. I get up to put the kettle on and find a hot cup of tea on the table, one I’d made myself minutes earlier and had forgotten. Lapses and gaps make up the days whose names I have lost track of. I think back a week and it seems a lifetime.

In Time Lived, Without Its Flow Denise Riley describes the ‘a-chronicity,’ from whose ‘serene perspective you realise, to your astonishment, that to dwell inside a time that had owned the property of flowing was merely one of a range of possible temporal perceptions’. Time does not always ‘flow’ she suggests, if indeed it ever did. ‘Your apprehension of sequence is halted. Where you have no impression of any succession in events, there is no linkage and no cause. Anything at all might follow on from any instant.’

Like many of us who teach writing, I’ve occasionally despaired about the number of students who’ve given themselves to dystopias during the past few years. But none of them, I think, none of them, emerging or established, could have imagined something as colossally fucked as this. A virus that makes us stand quite literally apart from each other, at a time when we need society and community and solidarity more than ever. A virus which stops us being close to our loved ones, knowing that we could be the very ones to contaminate them. A virus which makes many of us welcome a police-enforced lockdown and even consider letting our movements be tracked. A virus which lurks unseen for weeks, throwing time out of joint.

‘You can’t … take the slightest interest in the activity of writing unless you possess some feeling of futurity,’ writes Riley. ‘Describing would involve some notion of the passing of time. Narrating would imply at least a hint of and then and after that. Any written or spoken sentence would naturally lean forward towards its development and conclusion.’ And she’s right, and yet — difficult as it is — I find myself doing so nevertheless.

If you look more carefully, the story of Eyam is far from what it seems. Apart from the terrible roll call of the parish register and a few letters written years after the fact by the Reverend William Mompesson, Eyam’s vicar, there is little of contemporary record. The tale becomes mostly known in the early Victorian era, an example of Christian self-sacrifice, stoicism and fortitude mixed with a good dose of Gothic contagion. Later, doubts were cast as it seems the vicar may have forbade anyone to leave (it was totalitarian), or everyone faced their own fates (it was existential), the villagers didn’t self-isolate but were forcibly stopped from entering any neighbouring village (it was fascism, racism.) The story has been retold many times, re-fashioned for its own age each time: as doomed romance, as agit-prop, as a metaphor for AIDS, as one for the destruction of working-class communities.

In an article for n+1 Francesco Pacifico has warned against using metaphor for the current crisis. But what else do we have? I wonder what the story of Eyam means now. Nothing more than it ever did, if only we knew how to read it. One thing I think: how starkly clear this shows it all; my fury at those who would gladly put the lives of others in danger rather than risk losing a penny of their own.

I have the radio on but turn it off on the hour. I don’t read the headlines or look at the BBC website. The local Tesco Express reminds me of being in Eastern Europe in the early 90s: empty shelves with random appearances. (Yesterday there was no canned veg apart from two massive cases of off-brand butter beans. I bought some, anyway.) The streets are empty, and save for the seagulls, the sky too. This is eerie in the sense invoked by Mark Fisher: there is nothing where there should be something. There is no time where there should be time.

I worry I am stuck in the stopped time of this, already trying to read it from its end. I worry I have too much time, and connect everything with everything and overload and collapse. With no end, clocks feel useless.

Like many of us who teach writing, I encourage the writers I work with to try to record the textures of life as intimately and minutely as possible, and I try the same. But in these times, I cannot. Time has stopped around me and it is too close. We won’t know what this looks like until some twenty or thirty years in the future, when we will have our Defoe (who wrote his Journal of the Plague Year fifty years after the fact), someone to tell us what we lived through, what happened, and what it felt like.

I do not want to make this now always. Other things are happening out there, other things have happened and will continue to happen. This is not the only story.

M. shuffles out of the bedroom to make tea and the light catches her hair. I stick my head out of the window again, as far as I can, and right now, the new-warmed March breeze and the late afternoon sun feel beautiful.


3:AM in Lockdown 7: Chris Kelso (published )

By Chris Kelso.

Copyright Matthew Bialer


It’s meant to be an introvert fantasy

And it is

In a way

Replacing dreams of single origin coffee

I’m the pride of the Empire

Left in the soul, right in the head

With my colonial breastplate

And zero-hour contract

Identity is fluid in quarantine

Meet me at the emergency night-shelter

Bring Starbucks, Pret,

There’s pesticides in my vegan sausage roll

And I’ve been begging for gluten-free poverty since 2006

Seeking solace,

Dreaming of my own funeral

Now I’ve got my dream coffin

All I want is . . .


One week in isolation, now it wants in
I won’t let it
It longs from the gutters
Writhes in the sumps
Even beneath the hood of my car
I won’t let it in, and
Boils raise on my forearm, I burst them with a pin
I still won’t let it in

But the city wants in so bad, its
Streetlights hang like a gang
Of ominous petals on a black bough above the bazaar
And whang the skull uptown,
I can pretend that this place means something,

Rip off the Band-Aid, show off my scar
It really wants in
I won’t let it, and,
It crawls along the membrane, so thin
I won’t ever let it in, even as
My pores are clogged with city-stink,
Eyeballs glued with grime and bathtub gin
I still won’t let it in, no, it’s a
Prisoner of my temple
Like Solzhenitsyn
Submit to its hysteria and demands
My identity is not this city
It wants in
The frail bark of my skin
I won’t let it in