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The Author Is Dead

Juliano Zaffino - The Author Is Dead - Blog

Once I knew a baby who killed nazis on the internet for fun

Juliano Zaffino

‘He was born a virtual nazi hunter / And I’m his everloving father Plath’s fascist / Call me Daddy / I’m so proud of my lashout baby / My beautiful boy with his flaming sword / Of vengeance / I raised him to hate hate / He’s pretty good at it’

‘He was born a virtual nazi hunter / And I’m his everloving father Plath’s fascist / Call me Daddy / I’m so proud of my lashout baby / My beautiful boy with his flaming sword / Of vengeance / I raised him to hate hate / He’s pretty good at it’

Once I knew a baby who killed nazis on the internet for fun

Now that I have your attention
Once I knew a baby
A real sick little angel
His love is violent
His love, he loves it violent
Loves the violence like a halo of fire
And the harp that he plays is a message
Of his only intolerant hate
For the nazis who are burning
Everything that they hate including us

I knew a baby
Saw him distributing justice like LEGO
He sits in his high-chair throne
Throws rocks sat in diapers
Like cupid with his arrows
It’s the same
It’s the same
When love is violence
It’s the same

And he’s never drawn blood
Or taken a life
But the baby’s been kicking nonetheless
He’s shutting them out
He’s closing them down
It’s the same
It’s the lack of oxygen in space that kills
He just hits the launch
The big red button too shiny not to touch
And the sound of the rocket
Exhilarating
It’s an instinct, primal
He crawls around in the afterburn giggling
Because he was raised to know just violence
When love is violence
And violence is an act of compassion
Let them suffer
It’s the same
In the eyes of the innocent
When the would-be tyrants are taken down
With codefare rather than war
It’s the same

He was born a virtual nazi hunter
And I’m his everloving father Plath’s fascist
Call me Daddy
I’m so proud of my lashout baby
My beautiful boy with his flaming sword
Of vengeance
I raised him to hate hate
He’s pretty good at it

I said to him boy are the nazis stifling
He said boy, the nazis are stifling!!!

Let them suffer
Let them suffer
Drown them in silence
Compassion’s not the answer
Let them suffer
Save the innocent
It’s the same
When love is violence
Let them suffer
It’s the same

Whalesong

Juliano Zaffino

‘All full up of this volcanic unloveableness’

‘All full up of this volcanic unloveableness’

It’s coming up, it has to. I ate a whale once
When I knew that I shouldn’t have.
It’s still inside me, perfectly indigestible,
Won’t go away.
It’s been rotting in me, just rotting away
Like it knew it was sinfully taken in.
I feel it bursting out manifesting
All the ugliness I hold within me
And without, the ugliness I wear tattooed,
Shaming me, the truth I crave
More than the comfort of ignorance –
I live ashamed. It’s not coming up.


They told me that whale was delicious
All excess and sumptuousness
But I tasted nothing devouring
I tasted nothing
And left nothing untasted, victimised
By popular lies and my own incessant greed.
I don’t know what I gained
Or why I did it, what keeps me going
With this orca-burden I desired once
That now keeps me confined,
I don’t know, I don’t know why.
I’d eat every whale plated just to pass the time
To save me from sensing my own breath
Confronted coldly with my old inertia.


Now I am become death
Or deadly
All full up of this volcanic unloveableness
Radiant heat unwanted by the veins
That it corrodes, searing, unfeeling.
All I ever ask is to be defined in the negative
To be constituted by the lack,
That vastness unparalleled
And not the whale that fills it
Or the volcano
Or the sickness
Or the sadness
Or the hatred, the great and endless hatred
That wakes me up at 3am
And fells me giant-tree-like on the couch,
The cold floor, the dust and broken glass.

Kate Bush Is Not A Tory

Juliano Zaffino

‘Kate Bush robbed a bank once / And I watched her do it.’

‘Kate Bush robbed a bank once / And I watched her do it.’

Regardless of what she says.

Catherine Bush may well be a Tory
But I don’t really know her.

Kate Bush cannot be a Tory
Because she’s incompatible
With hatred and austerity.

Kate Bush robbed a bank once
And I watched her do it.

Kate Bush was a helpless husk
Waiting, womb-ridden,
For toxic air to greet her,
Nuclear arms delivering her.

Kate Bush saw her gay neighbours
Dancing and in love
And full of the joys of life
That they should not have been denied
And she sang about Kashka
Singing to the moon –
She did not deport them either.

Kate Bush was a saxophone
Which is the instrument
That Lisa Simpson plays
And Lisa Simpson is not a Tory.

Kate Bush ran up a hill
That men could only ever dream of,
For fuck’s sake.

Kate Bush looked dead ahead
At the gaping maw of life
She saw all the horrors of it,
All of it, and she chose to live
Anyway, to surface again
When the cold waters pulled hardest.

Kate Bush fought an unjust war
From the other side.

Kate Bush waged her own war
Against an army of exploitation.

Kate Bush danced her feet raw
Because she was compelled to do so. 

Kate Bush made a masterpiece
In a sun cycle, pushed for funding (probably).

Kate Bush danced with Hitler
And afterwards would have lost her mind.

Kate Bush had a threeway
With her husband and herself.

I tell you Kate Bush is not a Tory
Even if she wants to be
Even if she votes that way
Even if she tells you so
Even if that’s more problematic
Even at home, at your window, so cold

Winter Miscellany III: Robot Twerking Horses

Juliano Zaffino

‘It’s a sad season / I want to weaponise it’

‘It’s a sad season / I want to weaponise it’

For the past two years, around this time, I’ve posted a small selection of wintery poems I’d been working on around that time. This year I’m doing the same, for the third time, with twenty poems icy and grey. Some of these poems began as early as October – the closing poem began just last night.

1. Robot Twerking Horses (Overture)
2. Winter Solstice
3. As If You Were A Pearl
4. Waiting For Us To Plummet To Our Deaths
5. “No One Likes A Bipolar Clown”
6. So Casual
7. Conversation With Family Around The Holidays
8. New Year Prayer For The Apocalypse
9. Here Come The Sommeliers (Drunk Poem)
10. Twelve Minutes In Traffic
11. It Suits You
12. Canonising You
13. Controlled Burn
14. When Odysseus Comes Home (II)
15. Heaven For Everyone
16. Mutually Assured Destruction
17. I Am The Pretty Picture Of Damaged
18. Another Gay Poem
19. Horses
20. Winter Waxes, Winter Wanes

*

Robot Twerking Horses (Overture)

“Swathes of conversations
And dreams
They come to me singing
Demanding to be heard
A voice
A warrior riding
Helms an army
Riding high
On robot twerking horses”;
I think that’s what you tell me,
I think that’s what you mean,
As the hypothermia sets in,
The delusion that blurs your edges
With mine,
One of us the reflection,
The other,
The knife.

*

Winter Solstice

A cross on the calendar tells me
The time has come
To write a hundred heartaches into poems,
Render winter bleakly
On the cold white page afore
It’s a sad season
I want to weaponise it
Strike fear into the hearts of my enemies
With a chill wind
And a depressing anecdote
Everything going cold all at once
This apartment and this body
And this temperament

Here on the watershed second
Such warmth and progress behind us
Brace for snowfall covering
A shining reset button
Seasons spent in freefall, screaming 

*

As If You Were A Pearl

Horror fantasies unravelling unpalatable truth:
You’d have no way of understanding the world
Through the glittering eyes of a beautiful person,
A visceral disconnect brutally affecting you
And the processors in your head,
Stunting emotional growth
Breaking glass against your fine-china skin

Imagine waking up as a beautiful person
All enamel toughness and determined value,
The subject of a vast economy
And a currency, safe from insolvency
In a world that would protect you
As if you were a pearl and the world, really,
Your oyster, the ugly shell that houses you

Does it matter that beauty would corrupt you
The way power does, when all you want
Is to be coveted biblically? Your innards
Will still be rotting beneath gilded skin
A mind infinitely decaying,
Your smiling face inviting every stare
And strangers laying their hands 

*

Waiting For Us To Plummet To Our Deaths

I wish I wasn’t so ambivalent
Towards our latest predicament,
The precipice we’re hanging over.
In this moment I know with certainty
I have become a Millennial™,
Because I roll my eyes so hard
It shifts the weight of the car,
Teetering now above oblivion.

I wish you weren’t so oblivious
Towards our latest predicament,
The smashed up guard rail
Behind us and the rocks below,
The way my hands shake
The steering wheel. I brought us
Here, and you didn’t even notice,
I did it just for you. Mostly.

I wish we weren’t so utterly fucked
But I tell myself it’s too late for that,
That all we can do is react to this
Situation, to the here-and-now.
I tell you we are about to die but you
Are texting someone and smiling
So I think to myself “alright, at least
I get to die how I lived, self-righteously”. 

I get bored of stupid wishing
And take off my seatbelt, car creaking,
Open the door, climb out to safety,
Thinking “how will I tell this story
In two hundred and eighty characters
Or less?” But you’re still in the car
And the car is still, for the most part,
On the ground, just one foot in the grave.

I am wishing again that you’ll look up
And see where you are headed,
That you’ll look for me and find me
Missing, that you’ll come back to me.
What break-up story would I tell
If I left you here? Instead I watch the car,
Its vertiginous, nauseating see-saw.
It’s not too late. Just give me a call.

*

”No One Likes A Bipolar Clown”

There is some dark makeup
Running down my bright face
Blurring the unclear lines
Between sadness and rage;
I’ve left myself in the cold,
In this self-isolated place,
Caught up so furiously
In the helpless excess of my age.
It’s pointless advice; no further
To fall, no further to disgrace
Myself for the paying audience
That long to see me in a cage.
They love the endless drama
Of my disorder, they embrace
Me as I am, free reassurance
They don’t belong on this stage.

*

So Casual

It’s the middle of December
And outside someone
Is calling my name –

We’re in that rural hotel
That’s come to delineate us,
That situates our mutual timeline:

Another dazzling jacket
Made impressions in the hallways
(Every one I wore for you);

A white shirt, sweat stained,
Hanging from the rounded wood
Of the four-poster bed.

It feels like I’m here every year,
Sometimes in a different bed,
And you always have a long bath.

For that one hour my sadness
Could be only decorative
Before you open a secret door –

You lie silently the night through
Hours passing by me, bitterly,
Unsure how to make it to morning –

Your breath is the background music
Amplified to cover this torture,
Teeth sunk into my own skin –

It’s clear, you’re disappearing,
In this fast settling fog,
The obscurity you summoned –

By sunrise I’ll be different.
This is not an empty promise.
The centre has shifted.

It’s the end of another year
And in every aspect
Nothing really has changed –

But it’s the middle of December
And outside someone
Is calling your name.

*

Conversation With Family Around The Holidays

Family: (in unison) Hello!

The boy has already said hello
To most of his family, the same greeting
Regurgitated, the way it always is
And somehow still more soulless;
In the kitchen, his grandmother
Stands around supervising dinner’s
Preparation, a priest at the pot.

Boy: Hello.

It’s been so long.
The boy looks around the kitchen.
He used to do the washing up here,
Scraping tasteless food into oblivion
And ignoring the thoughts
That crowded him, the darkness
Knocking at the windows every night.

Grandmother: I almost forgot what you look like.

Now he wonders why he ever came back,
Why his family don’t come to see him,
How his existence could be so incidental.

Boy: Lucky you.

The boy’s family laughs, his grandmother
Rolls her eyes lightly, politely.
Later the boy will drive home alone,
In the dark, where he can’t see
His own reflection in the rearview,
Doubtful he was ever even living.
Elsewhere, the lights out,
His family are still talking,
Animatronics when the kids blink.

Family: And isn’t it nice that our lives are continuing that nothing is ever changing that we have everything we need here in the dark here in the silence that everything outside this door is nothing to us that those who leave will never come back forever

*

New Year Prayer For The Apocalypse

Ushering in the New Year with the glamour
Of a thousand massacres. That’s all I know:

It started off wrong and now I’m pretty sure
It’s going to kill me. You know how it is

When you get in the car and hit your head
Before driving off. No matter what happens

The destination will only ever be polluted
By the journey’s agony. Self-sabotage or sacrifice

Killing my own plastic avatar, so passively,
And still losing the game. This is the future,

Where only unconsciousness is a practical escape
From my presaging failure. And even then

Sleep gives way to dreamed up dormant horrors
Rooted in my phobias, deep. Maybe unavoidably

In the dream I’m still rolling dice and praying
Frantically I roll a five. And so I roll all night

*

Here Come The Sommeliers (Drunk Poem)

Who will defend me soberly
When your mother calls me boring?
I claw, all frantic-like, for my sanity
To keep a fragile brain in check;
It’s work for me, a full-time job
Just to be okay. And I know it’s easier
To say nothing, the way it’s easier
To be cruel when you are bitter,
But whenever I decline a drink
And feel the shifting eyes of everyone
Judging my out-of-stepness with the rest
I think “it’s even easier to say yes”
Than to decline the slow ambivalent poison
That clouds me, that unsettles my spirit.
“It’s boring.” I am boring. Self-preservation
Is
        Deathly
Boring. Maybe I should tell her
“Actually I’m not boring, really, I’m a warrior
Battling off the sommeliers with reason,
Your greatest weakness, all I have left”.
Maybe you could just tell her to fuck off,
And we could leave with our heads high,
Me driving intently, you dozing, drunkenly.

*

Twelve Minutes In Traffic

I feel a little sick, after a while, I leave my body,
Unable to bear twelve minutes of feeling
Time like a cold wind passing me by.
My fists are numb from swinging back
And forth against the leather of the wheel,
These hands turning black. In the past
I could wait a few minutes for tragedy,
Now every second lost feels like a death.

*

It Suits You

There was a time
I knew how to pronounce my own name
Before it was subsumed
In a sea of other people’s mispronunciation
And disregard for specificity.
And I know it doesn’t matter to you
But I never know how to introduce myself
Or how to correct people
When they get it wrong
When I trip over it myself
And in the end it’s easier anyway
Just to say
“Yes that’s me”
And to carry on, taking on that alias too
Weighed down by another way
You can address me. We’d both
Be less hassled
If you just spit at me instead;
It means the same.

*

Canonising You

For a time every word about you
Was a love-poem. I filled volumes
With testaments to the love I bore
Like a child for you, so in the future
Some distant civilisation might see you
For the deity I blindly worshipped.
When did I stop canonising you?
How did we become the people
I wrote about in satires and tracts,
The blindfolded solipsists
Shoving silence in their mouths?
Someday you might return to my canon
Like a new-fangled hero, the love-interest
With no secrets, someone who survives.

*

Controlled Burn

It’s a marvel that you never tire
Of deforesting me,
Stripping the land of all that grows
For me. It is hell to want so much
When all you have left
Is cinders in the cedars. I used to be
Something, not much, not a continent
But contained, content.
Once I grew skywards and you
Nourished that, invested in that,
The green skyscraper city I was becoming,
Built up to be cut down, like a god,
Like produce bound for the rot.

*

When Odysseus Comes Home (II)

I feel like Penelope
When Odysseus comes home
Alive,
I feel like myself,
Odysseus my chariot, his hips,
All exploration and raging, battle.
It’s brief, a five minute ecstasy
Takes me out of Ithaca,
Out of the funeral pyre I burn for him.
I don’t believe my eyes,
I hold him tight, husband to the queen,
The cunning, Penelope.

*

Heaven For Everyone

There’s no one alive I know of
Who really wants to get into Heaven.
I heard a joke about how it’s “Heaven (comma),
For everyone”, and I couldn’t help myself
But picturing my colleagues, the co-writers
Of the gay agenda, parading fierce down
The streets of Elysium, passing Gay-fearing
Worshippers who must conquer themselves
With a smile or else be cast out of paradise.
I thank my lucky stars that I am already cast out,
A godless heathen dancing naked in the flames.

*

Mutually Assured Destruction

I know, it’s unfair of me, I need to stop but I have a problem, you want spoons and I’m writing can openers, I just can’t help myself (I use that phrase a lot I know) because what I do is compulsive, it’s the sort of thing I can’t just choose to turn off and I think if you really loved me you’d never even ask in the first place, you’d endure a thousand poems unflattering you if you cared about my health and wellbeing and the need I have to get it all out, to let my mind like blood from a sore, and I guess we’re not really on a cliff-edge, it’s more like we’re tiptoeing around the wetted lips of a volcano acting like we’ll never fall and burn if we just don’t look down, holding each other’s gaze in the vain hope we might survive, a pact that if we can’t live together truthfully then we won’t, that’s more accurate, so like I was saying we’re not really on a cliff-edge any more than Eliot was really in a wasteland and I am not comparing myself to Eliot I learnt that lesson the hard way last time but what I am saying is that this is poetry and it doesn’t mean anything because it’s imagined worlds and words but that doesn’t mean I can stop that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter – no – you’re right it doesn’t matter but it matters to me, a little, if you’d just let me finish –

*

I Am The Pretty Picture Of Damaged

If you look up
“Damaged”
In the dictionary
You will see a four-thousand word
Personal essay that describes me
And the crumpled sun-worn image
Of my two hundred and six broken bones.
I’ve never been the same.

*

Another Gay Poem

I am an untapped resource
Use me
This is not sexual
My body is political
And all my life I have longed
For someone to think
That I could be useful
As an object, as a martyr,
It doesn’t matter
If you swear
You’d die without me

I never got out of Heteroland
Here and trapped forever
Singing prayers
For a grand gay liberation
Becoming a parody
Screaming in the face
Of straight brutal passivity

Winter is the worst time
To live in another’s land
Blindsided by Christmas trees
And heteronormative greeting cards
Gendered robins mocking me
Don’t put a ribbon on me
I won’t be shelved like that
Insistent existence
No matter the cost, no matter
How many friends
And relatives I have lost
To my unbitten tongue,
Unbridled winter rage

I’m telling you
Just do whatever you want with me
I’ve had enough
Of all this pesky agency
It’s drained me to think
So long for myself,
Never laughing at a thing
It would be easier not to
And I want to be easy

I forgot where I was going
With this

*

Horses

“Swathes of conversations and dreams
Come to me singing, or…
Demanding, to be heard, like…
It’s like… it’s a voice,
It’s the voice of a warrior riding
Before an army, high above them
Like a movie, it’s wrong but they’re
Working horses, they don’t know”
And even now that you’ve repeated it all to me
I don’t know what the fuck you mean.

I’ve heard the brain shuts down
In certain cold conditions
And I know for sure
That mine is never working
When you talk to me, nothing sinks in.
I wonder if this is all that’s left for us,
Shivering and misunderstanding.

Eventually I’ll realise
You’re not even here, I froze myself
To death alone, for nothing,
Imagining the last vestiges
Of your signature warmth.
You’re safe, you’re somewhere else,
As I become nothing
And we both forget myself.

Cut open the sky, love, you are my knife,
Serrating east to west in lightning,
Forked, lightning drawn in sheets
To call me home to bed, to you.
I ride a wave of silver horses
In someone else’s vision,
My own dreams coming to
With clarity, the way I do
When I come home to you. 

*

Winter Waxes, Winter Wanes

January.
Already I can tell it’s getting colder
Even as the winter wearies of itself,
As its days are numbered
And its festive joys long behind it.
It’ll be colder yet, again, and
Freeze us all out, there will be nothing left.

Here on the watershed second
The cold and loss behind us and ahead,
I can tell,
There will be nothing left.

A Year In The Life: Top 10 Lists of 2018

Juliano Zaffino

2018: Top 10 Lists
2018 has been a challenging year with working full-time until starting my full-time PhD in October, with less than usual time for all the reading and cultural consumption I love so much. I didn’t come close to last year’s reading target record (of 104 books), but I have read over 60 books, seen over 40 shows at the theatre, and been to as many concerts/festivals as I (and my wallet, and my calendar) could justify.

With all that in mind, here's my top 10 lists for theatre, poetry collections, prose (or non-poetry) books, albums, and concerts in 2018. As with last year’s lists, each one reflects my own personal, subjective responses. If for some strange reason you're interested in reading my more-fleshed-out thoughts on any of these things, I've posted more in-depth reviews etc. throughout the year on both Instagram and Twitter.


Top 10 Theatre Of 2018
1. Kate Prince – Sylvia (Kate Prince and Priya Parmer) (Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells and ZooNation)
2. Lyndsey Turner – Girls & Boys (Dennis Kelly) (Royal Court)
3. Rebecca Humphries – Red/Wolf: A Work in Progress (VAULT Festival)
4. Sally Cookson – A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd) (Old Vic)
5. Sam Gold – Fun Home (Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori and Alison Bechdel) (Young Vic)
6. Amy Draper – Day Of The Living (Darren Clark, Amy Draper and Juliet Gilkes Romero) (RSC, The Other Place)
7. Richard Eyre – My Name Is Lucy Barton (Rona Munro and Elizabeth Strout) (Bridge Theatre)
8. Marianne Elliott – Company (Stephen Sondheim) (Gielgud Theatre)
9. Emma Rice – Wise Children (Emma Rice and Angela Carter) (Old Vic and Wise Children)
10. Annie-B Parson – 17c (Old Vic and Big Dance Theater with Dance Umbrella)

Honourable Mentions:
Pale Sister (Lisa Dwan and Colm Tóibín at Hay Festival, performed reading)
Prom Kween (at Harlow Playhouse, and again in Bristol)
Mouthpiece (Enable Us Project in Sheffield)

***

The Old Vic’s production of Sylvia might just be the finest piece of theatre I’ve ever seen, showcasing the best of music and dance and stagecraft and raw performance, and as a work in progress, I’d be surprised if 2019 didn’t yield another run, this time assumedly of the final product. Girls & Boys, the emotional gut-punch performed solely by Carey Mulligan, left me reeling for days afterwards and still I find myself going back to some of the speeches in that 90 minute monologue and being utterly floored by their insightfulness and brutality. Although not the musical work in progress you may expect from the creator of Prom Kween, Red/Wolf shows Rebecca Humphries to be a theatre-maker capable of range and extraordinary sensitivity and depth, a star on the rise and a force for good. Another devastating show on this list comes from the Old Vic’s adaptation of A Monster Calls, which had me openly weeping in the theatre, so deeply emotionally invested in Matthew Tennyson’s character and the very real grief and drama. Speaking of openly weeping, Fun Home, when it was finished making my face ache from smiling, left me wiping tears from my eyes for hours after the show finished. Day Of The Living, meanwhile, provoked me in a way I wasn’t used to, unsettling and triumphant as it was. Laura Linney, like Carey Mulligan, delivered a 90 minute monologue with emotional precision and the most commanding presence in My Name Is Lucy Barton. With Company, Marianne Elliott proves yet again that she is the best ever theatre director, with few other contemporaries in her, ahem, company. And, with two more shows from the Old Vic rounding off this list (for a total of four out of ten, which is kind of staggering?!) Wise Children showed Emma Rice’s bold and playful vision in a testament to the magic of the theatre, while 17c sought to address and redress the legacy of the misogynistic Samuel Pepys in the form of dance and experimental theatre.

Honourable mentions for Mouthpiece and Prom Kween, both of which I saw first in 2017 and which made the Top 10 list for me last year, and Pale Sister, a breathtaking and electrifying reimagining of Antigone, performed by Beckettian marvel Lisa Dwan and co-written by Dwan with Colm Tóibín.


Top 10 Poetry Collections of 2018
1. Florence Welch – Useless Magic
2. RJ Arkhipov – Visceral: The Poetry of Blood
3. Kate Tempest – Running Upon The Wires
4. Hannah Sullivan – Three Poems
5. Richard Scott – Soho
6. Sophie Collins – Who Is Mary Sue?
7. Tracy K. Smith – Wade In The Water
8. Andrew McMillan – playtime
9. Liz Berry – The Republic of Motherhood
10. Raymond Antrobus – The Perseverance
    / Danez Smith – Don’t Call Us Dead

***

Florence Welch’s collection of lyrics and poetry, Useless Magic, contains some of the best contemporary poetry I’ve read, connecting instantly while remaining stylistically interesting. Visceral: The Poetry of Blood sees Arkhipov’s poems, first written in blood, beautifully presented; stunning, emotional, experimental, these poems resonated with me so hugely as a gay man, and I can’t think of an emerging poet I’m more invested in than RJ Arkhipov. With her latest collection Running Upon The Wires, Kate Tempest continues to craft her legacy as the most pre-eminent British contemporary performance poet. The triple-bill from Faber Poetry excites and amazes: Hannah Sullivan’s Elliot-esque, intricately crafted Three Poems, Richard Scott’s celebratory gay musings in Soho, and Sophie Collins’ challenging, furiously feminist Who Is Mary Sue?. Tracy K. Smith’s Wade In The Water asks urgent questions about race and identity in modern America, while with Andrew McMillan’s playtime my penchant for beautiful gay poems manifests itself again. In The Republic of Motherhood, Liz Berry breaks down and builds up all sorts of myths and monuments of motherhood. And, in joint-final place, a call too close to make, The Perseverance and Don’t Call Us Dead by Raymond Antrobus and Danez Smith respectively, again address contemporary identity politics; for Antrobus, it is about race and D/deafness and lineage, while Smith’s concern is with race and sexuality and body politics.


Top 10 Prose Books of 2018
1. Emilie Pine – Notes To Self (Essays)
2. Daisy Johnson – Everything Under
3. Lauren Groff – Florida
4. Claire L. Evans – Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
5. Lisa Hanawalt – Coyote Doggirl
6. Sally Rooney – Normal People
7. Olivia Laing – Crudo
8. Jade Sharma – Problems
9. Becky Chambers – Record of a Spaceborn Few
10. Yrsa Daley-Ward – The Terrible

***

I’ve been vocal enough about my love for Emilie Pine’s Notes To Self, which I recently made my “Book of the Year” on -YourShelf-, the book subscription service I run; it’s so easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, brutally introspective and full of unbridled rage, agony and hope. Daisy Johnson’s Booker-shortlisted debut novel, Everything Under, is a worthy successor to her short story collection Fen, a mythological retelling of the highest order. Florida, the new collection from Lauren Groff, is an ambivalent love/hate-letter to the state she recently moved to, full of memorable characters and moving turns of plot. With Broad Band, Claire L. Evans, of the incredible American electronic band YACHT, captures a previously unknown history from Ada Lovelace onwards, explicating the subjugation and exclusion of women in the tech/Internet world, and looking forward to a hopeful future where the web is ruled by women, descendants of the women who made it. I’ve enjoyed a few graphic novels in my time, but none so much as Lisa Hanawalt’s Coyote Doggirl, a gutting-then-uplifting tale with characteristic and charming characters and a heroine nonpareil. Sally Rooney’s Normal People, much lauded with praise and awards, reads like it was beamed directly out of your head. With Olivia Laing’s first novel, Crudo, the agonies of the post-Trump, post-Brexit age are magnified, feverish and angry and insistent, like Normal People and so many other books on this list, on the power of love and its necessity for staying hopeful. In Problems, Jade Sharma takes readers on a wild ride through the ups and mostly downs of an addict constantly hitting new lows and unable, or maybe unwilling, to change. With the third volume in her Wayfarers series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers’ distinct brand of progressive, socially-inclusive sci-fi is brought to new depths of social commentary and emotional impact. Finally, in The Terrible, Yrsa Daley-Ward combines her unique poetry with memoir, to tell the incredible story of her life, relating it constantly back to her art.


Top 10 Albums of 2018
1. Florence and the Machine – High As Hope
2. TuneYards – I can feel you creep into my private life
3. Poliça and s t a r g a z e – Music For The Long Emergency
4. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
5. Chris Garneau – Yours
6. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
7. Christine and the Queens – Chris
8. John Grant – Love Is Magic
9. Ex:Re – Ex:Re
10. Mitski – Be The Cowboy

***

Florence and the Machine’s new album High As Hope, perhaps predictably, has been on constant rotation in my life, personal and political and more daring than ever. With I can feel you creep into my private life, TuneYards take their whacky brand of alt-pop to new places, exciting and unusual and catchy as hell. The new collaborative album from Poliça and s t a r g a z e, Music For The Long Emergency, is a sprawling, chaotic marvel trying to make sense of the chaos of our times, while Dirty Computer from Janelle Monáe does something similar through the medium of infectious hip-hop/R&B/soul/rap/pop hybrid excellence. Chris Garneau’s Yours is a monumental achievement, experimental at times, deep at others, full of longing and agony and gay wonder. In Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett continues her trend of conversational tunes, more direct and angry than ever, a clear response to the terrible times we find ourselves in. Christine and the Queens creates surreally stunning pop in Chris, playing with gender and identity, repositioning desire, all with a retro, 80s-inspired flare. Speaking of flare, Love Is Magic is John Grant’s most flare-exemplifying album to date. Ex:Re, a new solo project from the lead-singer of the band Daughter, is the deeply emotional mosaic one would expect. And, from Mitski, Be The Cowboy, a varied and unusual beauty from a damn legend.


Top 10 Concerts of 2018
1. Florence and the Machine (High As Hope Tour)
2. Lady Gaga (Joanne Tour)
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (All Points East Festival)
4. David Byrne (American Utopia Tour)
5. Christine and the Queens (Chris Tour)
6. Poliça (on their own, and with s t a r g a z e)
7. St Vincent (An Intimate Evening, and All Points East Festival))
8. Courtney Barnett (All Points East Festival)
9. Lorde (All Points East Festival)
10. Patti Smith (All Points East Festival)
    / Lykke Li (All Points East Festival)

Florence tops yet another list, probably helped by the seven separate occasions on which I saw her and the band perform live this year (oops), with her magnetic and majestic stage presence and her impeccable band. Lady Gaga, an eternal favourite, wowed with her postponed Joanne tour, cancelled just days after I saw her in January. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds converted me from casual fan to devotee at his All Points East show in June with his commanding presence and musical grandeur; ditto for David Byrne, who impressed me so much in June that I returned to see him again in November, one of the most spectacular and innovated live shows I’ve ever seen. Christine and the Queens’ live-show goes from strength-to-strength, the kind of high-culture gig-theatre that I live for. Poliça, both on their own and in a collaborative live-show with s t a r g a z e, electrify the room with seemingly no effort. Between her electro-marvel show at All Points East and her intimate evening with only a pianist at Cadogan Hall, St Vincent moves and amazes and never once lets her audience catch their breath. All Points East commands the rest of the list, from Courtney Barnett’s furiously brilliant live performance, to Lorde’s euphoric dancing rave-show, and in a tie, Patti Smith’s literary and classic touch with Lykke Li’s super sad, super sexy, leather-wearing genius excellence.


Complete 2018 Reading List (in chronological order)
1. Anne Carson – Nox
2. Barney Norris – Turning For Home
3. Joe Lycett – Parsnips, Buttered
4. Emma Glass – Peach
5. Ishion Hutchinson – House of Lords and Commons
6. Lara Williams – A Selfie As Big As The Ritz
7. Hannah Sullivan – Three Poems
8. Caroline Bird – In These Days of Prohibition
9. Danez Smith – Don’t Call Us Dead
10. Lauren Haldemann – Instead Of Dying
11. Anne Carson – Autobiography of Red
12. Sophie Collins – Who Is Mary Sue?
13. Kaveh Akbar – Calling A Wolf A Wolf
14. Daisy Johnson – Everything Under
15. Claire L. Evans – Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
16. Toby Martinez de las Rivas – Black Sun
17. Emily Hasler – Natural Histories
18. Greta Bellamacina – Selected Poems 2015-2017
19. Anne Carson – Float
20. Tracy K. Smith – Wade In The Water
21. Sean O’Brien – Europa
22. Richard Scott – Soho
23. James Brookes – Spoils
24. Lauren Groff – Florida
25. Yrsa Daley-Ward – The Terrible
26. Hera Lindsay Bird – Pamper Me To Hell And Back
27. Maya Catherine Popa – You Always Wished The Animals Would Leave
28. Olivia Laing – Crudo
29. Florence Welch – Useless Magic
30. Becky Chambers – Record of a Spaceborn Few
31. Kathryn Maris – The House With Only an Attic and a Basement
32. Leontia Flynn – The Radio
33. Nikita Gill – Wild Embers
34. Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric
35. Terrance Hayes – American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
36. Jericho Brown – The New Testament
37. Andrew McMillan – playtime
38. Emilie Pine – Notes To Self (Essays)
39. Jade Sharma – Problems
40. Charly Cox – She Must Be Mad
41. AK Blakemore – Fondue
42. Nick Drnaso – Sabrina
43. Sally Rooney – Normal People
44. RJ Arkhipov – Visceral: The Poetry of Blood
45. Lisa Hanawalt – Coyote Doggirl
46. Kate Tempest – Running Upon The Wires
47. David Lynch and Kristine McKenna – Room To Dream
48. JR Carpenter – An Ocean Of Static
49. Rowan Evans, Geoffrey Hill, Toby Martinez de las Rivas – Modern Poets Seven: These Hard and Shining Things
50. Raymond Antrobus – The Perseverance
51. Elif Batuman – The Idiot
52. Joe Dunthorne – The Adulterants
53. Channy Leaneagh – I Will Only Yell
54. Stephen King – Elevation
55. Toby Campion – Through Your Blood
56. Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends
57. Kate Bush – How To Be Invisible
58. Lavinia Greenlaw – The Importance of Music to Girls
59. Liz Berry – The Republic of Motherhood
60. Sally Rooney – Mr Salary
61. Nick Cave – The Sick Bag Song
62. Anne Carson – Red Doc >
63. Maggie Nelson – Shiner
64. Maggie Nelson – The Latest Winter

Complete 2018 Theatre List (in chronological order)
The Twilight Zone (Almeida), Twelfth Night (RSC), Julius Caesar (Bridge), The Divide (Old Vic), The Duchess of Malfi (RSC), Mouthpiece (Sheffield), Red/Wolf (VAULT Festival), Girls & Boys (Royal Court), Not I (Touretteshero), Macbeth (RSC), Macbeth (National), Prom Kween (Harlow Playhouse; later in Bristol), Coraline (Royal Opera House / Barbican), The Great Wave (National Theatre), Périclès, Prince de Tyr (Cheek By Jowl), Romeo and Juliet (RSC), Nightfall (Bridge), Pale Sister (Hay Festival), The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich (RSC), Translations (National Theatre), Mood Music (Old Vic), Brontë (Loft), #WeAreArrested and Day of the Living (RSC, The Other Place), Working (Royal Academy of Music), My Name Is Lucy Barton (Bridge), Killer Joe (Trafalgar Studios), Miss Littlewood (RSC), Othello (Shakespeare’s Globe), Ian McKellen (Duke of York’s, King Lear cancellation), Fun Home (Young Vic), Consent (National Theatre / Harold Pinter Theatre), Pity (Royal Court), Aristocrats (Donmar), A Monster Calls (Old Vic), The Merry Wives of Windsor (RSC), Tamburlaine (RSC), Julie (National Theatre), Little Shop of Horrors (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Exit The King (National Theatre), Six (Arts Theatre), Tartuffe (RSC), Sylvia (Old Vic), Allelujah! (Bridge), The Prisoner (National Theatre), Dust (Trafalgar Studios), 17c (Old Vic), Maydays (RSC, The Other Place), Bismillah! (Wound Up Theatre), Dance Nation (Almeida), Wise Children (Old VIc), King Lear (Duke of York’s), Antony and Cleopatra (National Theatre), Measure for Measure (Donmar), Troilus and Cressida (RSC), The Woods (Royal Court), Trying It On (RSC, The Other Place), The Wild Duck (Almeida), Henry V (Antic Disposition), Company (Gielgud Theatre), Timon of Athens (RSC)