Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Cruel, Unnecessary and Assumptive Thing


When I made figurines of myself out of Foam Rubber XVI – a malleable material that returns to its original shape when pummelled or squeezed – I marketed them as the World’s First Poetry Doll. I was able to use the publicity I had already garnered from prize nominations and newspaper articles as a foundation from which to build a rudimentary ‘media-gurney’, from which I hung a ‘media-cauldron’ from which a small ‘media-slew’ of further articles about my publicity stunt poured forth. I was photographed in the factory where the dolls were produced. I had to pose with a quill pen by a Foam Rubber XVI Implicator Machine with a thoughtful expression on my face. And then I had to pose side by side with one of the poetry dolls – which was a simplified version of me, rendered in Foam Rubber XVI. Journalists asked me questions such as: ‘Where did you get the idea to make the World’s First Poetry Doll?’ and ‘Were your parents upset when you decided to make the World’s First Poetry Doll?’ and ‘What, for you, makes the perfect poetry doll?’

I answered the questions by squeezing the World’s First Poetry Doll’s tummy, activating a tiny voice synthesiser within, similar to the voice synthesisers you find in talking greeting cards. The doll answered the questions: ‘I have a really itchy patch of psoriasis on my shin,’; ‘In the future maybe museums will look around us!’ and ‘Trepanation,’ respectively.

Then poet and blogger Jonathan Rail heard about what I had done and wrote about it on his blog. Jonathan Rail said on his blog that it was tragic to see I had turned myself into a commodity.

And I was like, ‘Oh, really, Jonathan? Is that what I did? I had no idea that was what I did when I LITERALLY COMMODIFIED MYSELF was to turn myself into a commodity. Heavens to fucking betsy, Jonathan, is that what I did? Made myself into a commodity when I commodified myself? Because if it is I feel really silly now. I feel like the man who went through three years of police training and emerged, to his dismay, as a policeman, Jonathan, is what I feel like. Jonathan. Jonathan. Jonathan. Your name has lost all meaning.’

A small magazine asked me to retaliate to Jonathan Rail’s “accusation” and I said it just showed what a credulous fucking moron Jonathan Rail was.



This was great as I was totally able to use the small magazine interview to wage war on Jonathan Rail who responded with what he hoped might be perceived by his readers as honour and restraint, drawing attention to my use of swearing and capital letters and deducing that I must therefore be unhinged. ‘Which would be all very well if Jonathan Rail HAD any motherfucking readers!’ I wrote on my blog which I had recently set up. There followed a lengthy exchange containing many passive-aggressive phrases such as ‘I find it interesting…’ from Rail and out-and-out aggressive phrases such as ‘buttock risotto’ from me. ‘Because that’s all you are, Rail,’ I concluded. ‘Buttock risotto.’

Soon Masters MacAndrew felt it necessary to weigh-in on her own blog – but instead of taking sides she chose to come on all worthy and use it as a metonym for ‘The problem with the spectacle of machismo in contemporary poetry’ in a post entitled, ‘The Problem With Contemporary Poetry’, beginning, “The problem with contemporary poetry is that high-octane rows and disputes (such as the current testosterone-fuelled spat between Luke Kennard and Jonathan Rail) tend to obscure – by dint of they are more interesting – the work itself. It is akin to the spectacle of peacocks fighting.”

I didn’t like the heavy-handed attempt at implication in MacAndrew’s ‘opinion piece’, but by this point I was warming to my role as the “Bad Boy” of English letters, so I wrote to MacAndrew: ‘You even know what a fucking metonym is, Masters MacAndrew, you fucking idiot? Because from here it looks like you don’t. And what kind of name is Masters anyway? You name yourself after your postgraduate degree or something? It seems unlikely that you have one as you capitalise the with in titles and write clauses like “by dint of they are more interesting”. What exactly is the subject of that sentence, Masters MacAndrew? The OF or the ARE? Rest assured that when ambulances pass you, their sirens are saying to you MOR-ON, MOR-ON.’

Masters MacAndrew ignored my statements as she was still going for some kind of “saintly forbearance” thing in front of all six of her blog readers. ‘Wake up, Masters,’ I wrote in her comments field. ‘The only reason anyone reads blogs is to see people wailing on each other with three-foot word clubs.’

Next I changed my name by deed-poll from Luke Kennard to Like Kennard. ‘What do you think about that, Masters?’ I said. ‘My name is a fucking simile.’



The Luke Kennard Poetry Doll was selling steadily, but it wasn’t going to provide any lasting awareness of me as an artist – I was under no illusion about that, whatever Jonathan Rail and Masters MacAndrew thought about it. (They thought I was under an illusion about it).

In order to continue to be recognised as relevant I would require some form of movement – a movement which would become synonymous with pulling crazy shit like the World’s First Poetry Doll. I began to survey the territory of contemporary poetry, but found it largely boring. I couldn’t shake anything up by recruiting from the very pool the surface of which I was trying to disturb. I mean I couldn’t, could I?

So then I just called a couple of my friends, Rob and Joe – and said, ‘Guys, I’ve always liked your work, and recently I’ve noticed that we share certain unignorable aesthetic parallels.’

‘What work?’ said Rob. ‘I haven’t done anything since we were sixteen.’

‘But you could do some more, Rob,’ I said. ‘That stuff you did when you were sixteen on your Chemistry folder – that had real energy.’

‘You know,’ said Rob, ‘I probably still have that Chemistry folder somewhere.’

And so a new movement was born. (Joe would play his guitar). We called ourselves the New Threat and quickly set up a magazine and a reading series in the basement of a pub and a blog.

Anne Neithers pointed out on her blog that T. S. Eliot had sold a limited edition series of T. S. Eliot rag-dolls to his closest admirers so my doll wasn’t really the world’s first poetry doll after all.

‘You wait, Neithers,’ I said to her in her comments field. ‘That doll is old news now. The New Threat are where it’s at.’

‘”Where it’s at”?’ said Neithers. ‘Like the Beck song from the nineties?’

‘I like the cut of your gib, Neithers,’ I said. ‘You’re in!’

And so the first female member of The New Threat was inducted. This was important because otherwise we would have looked sexist.



I hadn’t expected the blogosphere to react well to the New Threat – our very purpose was to shake people up and if there’s one thing people don’t like, it’s being shaken up. You can tell because if you translate the metaphor literally and go up behind a complete stranger and grab them by the shoulders and shake them, they don’t like it.

Sometimes it struck me that shaking people up was therefore a cruel, unnecessary and assumptive thing to do, but these feelings soon passed. It was a mean, impolite world now, and that was what the New Threat stood for – that and being new and threatening.

The first people we had to shake up were old guard ‘wannabe mainstream’ poets like Jonathan Rail and Masters MacAndrew – both bourgeois appeasers of the highest order.