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Eleanor Perry reviews Frances Kruk

Frances Kruk – lo-fi frags in-progress

(Veer Books, London, 2015. Paperback, 148pp, £10. ISBN 9781907088742)

 

Frances Kruk’s lo-fi frags in progress is composed of five related sequences, some of which have previously appeared as stand-alone pamphlets from yt communication, Veer Books, Dusie and Punch Press. The collection’s title implies insurrection against military-industrial structures of power—frag meaning to throw a grenade at a superior officer, particularly one who is fanatical in their desire for bloodshed—but it is one which is ongoing (in-progress) and deliberately unpolished (lo-fi)

The sequences negotiate various sites of contemporary ruin: bare rooms, boiler rooms, storage spaces and basements; the factories, cubicles and “honest concrete” of urban modernity; post-industrial seascapes, rotting forests and marshes. These are the brutalized spaces of industrial capitalism, embodying the “no-place of Suck”, a “naturalized state / of emergency” which consists of a vast and relentless present where “there is no event, only mud”. It is a present temporally severed from the future—“the inconvenient later”—and slowly stagnating. This hellish “Fourth World” is not a post-apocalyptic spatial abstraction but an incisive critique of our socio-cultural reality. In DWARF SURGE, Kruk writes “a circle comes at night & has / no reason for its borders”. Nothing could be more relevant in our contemporary moment of anti-migration rhetoric than a poetry which so fiercely fights against the administrative demarcation of arbitrary boundaries. 
 
Likewise the unremitting corporeal fragmentation throughout the sequences is less an examination of what language can do to the body and more a registering of the damage that both military-industrial and capitalist violences inflict upon it. The human form is constantly and continuously sliced, torn, plucked, cleaved, fractured, butchered, shattered and broken down into parts: “offal, ossicle, epidermal crumbs”; hair, kidneys, blood, tongue, bones, organs, mouths, jaws, guts, lungs. This violence is not theoretical; it is a tireless account of the way in which these violences exert a depersonalizing and dehumanizing force. There are passages which evoke the CIA’s post-9/11 ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’: “Water hates Water hates Water wants a hum sans the skin-bag interruptor” and “I wish / to question vertebrae til they puke / their secret ice”. The “circles of pigs fed evidence / piece by piece under no body’s supervision” evokes a history of brutal and corrupt police violence. It is a heart-breaking parody of the well-worn ends-means equation, where the means are “the frenzy of their numbers”, the “hell quack boot stomp”, the “blood of procedure”, “data-packed / False triangles, charts, Glam & berserks”; and the ends are “sick nostalgia”, “Silence […] / the white hush of pathological ellipses / slammed into a fuzz”, and “the mass gum of result not worth discussing”. 
 
Kruk’s speaker registers the way in which the horrifying imbalance of this equation is dismissed by those who enforce it, asking “what necessary things are harmless”. Within the mechanisms of a capitalist war machine—where “peace amounts to nothing / but a waste of equipment”—the individual is simply an instrument in the service of infinite violence. Conflicting questions of accountability within this structure are raised: on the one hand there are phrases such as “& anyway they did it” and “or in other words / denial face”, which circumvent individual culpability. On the other hand, however, these are counteracted by, for instance in DWARF SURGE, the chilling acknowledgement that such unremitting violence can only breed further dehumanizing violence: “who has heard the basement song & not practiced agony thereafter”. As much as we might deny it, we are both vulnerable and culpable. And though we may be fed a narrative of “collective / responsibility”, as the speaker acknowledges in lo-fi frags, this responsibility is for preserving the capitalist system (“inconvenient, the woods, the work”) and not for registering the damage that this system exerts. 
 
The damage is done both to the individual and to the other; the “I” becomes “mythic ordinary people / with hearts of plastic, wire & nail”, and the “you” is annihilated “they x you in / your faces dotted lines every time / & no not / even the dead are safe”; while any sense of community and or kinship identity—i.e., the “we”—has “been confiscated”. Interspersed within the text, the “basement songs” are presented “in the form of collages”; striking pieces of visual work which fuse body and landscape with industrial diagrams and the language of capitalist production. These images punctuate the sequences with visceral and haunting reminders of capitalist damage. Their otherworldly quality signposts just how inhuman our humanity has become; where “The most Pathetic poem is small people on fire”, and “history’s deaths mean nothing”. 
 
What becomes when—as Yeats claimed in ‘The Second Coming’—“the centre cannot hold”? Kruk reimagines Yeats’ anarchic post-war vision for an age of brutal and relentless austerity and horrific global inequalities; a world which is “partitions in the form of radii / from circumference to centre”; in which people are moved in a “common narrative of ribs”. Unyielding in their intensity, these poems are bleak, beautiful, and full of heart. If our contemporary political landscape is a “motionless centre”, then Kruk’s searing collection is an incendiary device designed to set it on fire. 
26 November 2015