1871

Go straight to the digital companion project to 1871: These Cuts Cut Too Many To Name (requires flash), or read on for the full story of the poem. 

“We’ve got a song for you”, they said, as I walked into the studio on Curtain Road, and after the obligatory buzz of pedals being powered and the occasional hit of a snare, they played it: the form was fast and fragmented with gaps left for poetry.

‘As the law peals from the far edge of a glove darkly at night how everything turns/ In and to the white snow/ Turns’

Here’s the back story: Rumour Cubes, a band I’ve been working with since 2010, had been booked to play a gig on 18 March 2011 at an Arts Uncut event at the Bull and Gate (Kentish town).

That date, eighteenth of March, sound familiar? It did to me. The gig coincided with the 140th anniversary of the Paris Commune. The show, not the Commune, featured comedians like Josie Long and speakers like Steve Hart, Regional Secretary of Unite the Union. It wanted to open up the anti-cuts movement to a wider audience and Rumour Cubes were going to help.

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Credit: Chris Mathews (Laughing Man Images)

Back in the studio thoughts were beginning to form, and back at home thoughts turned to sentences. I made a list all the different cuts that the coalition Government had made or intended to make. I was soon overwhelmed. There were too many cuts to name. The list ended up as an unfinished testimony to an unfinished violence.

The cuts were targeting women, the elderly, the poor and the young, all but the richest in society. They still do. I’ve since come to see this as an attack on language, and on memory too. Over several rehearsals this content was cut, forced and relocated until it met the demands of the song and the historical moment. More than just a list of cuts, ‘1871’ was a poem striving to be useful, ready to be spat in the appropriate direction.

Alongside this, Adam Stark (the creative-technologist, guitar player and programmer in the band) and Hannah Morgan (Violin) worked on a micro-site to take the energy of the poem online. We created this digital project: These Cuts Cut Too Many To Name (requires flash).

This isn’t the only project I’ve worked on with Rumour Cubes or with Adam Stark (see Code_Words), but it certainly was one of my favourites. You can listen to ‘1871’ (recorded at Cafe Music Studios) or check out this live performance at Cafe 1001, London (2011).

One of the coolest things that happened to ‘1871’ came after it was published (under its original name ‘Le 3e Arrondissement’) by Critical Documents in the ‘International Egg and Poultry Review‘ (Cambridge: 2011). Manchester based poet Stuart Calton, also known as T.H.F Drenching, found the poem in the magazine and recorded his own version of it. It’s pretty different from mine and I like it.

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