Sean Bonney's poetry attacks rather than seduces — it is typically an angry voice, whose patterns and disturbances reveal the centre of this anger as creative and controlled. It is like listening to some disturbing voice in the street — then — you realise he knows! He really knows! The air becomes electric as your frame of reference shifts. Everything you have been told is a lie. There is a secret history, which really has been suppressed by power.

Bonney's poetry is indeed like a voice of the streets, or the view from a crowded London gutter. Go out into the Kingsland Road: it's that. His background is diverse and out of London (born 1969, Brighton), but it is difficult not to relate him essentially to East London (where everyone's background is diverse . . .) His poetry's viewpoint and experiences are those of the dispossessed and cast aside — not pathetically, not 'realistically', not sentimentally comic or nostalgic, but with a radiant fury fuelled by the harsh awareness of what this society's systems do to those they reject/who reject them. He is a poet like Bill Griffiths or Barry MacSweeney, giving voice to the ranter and the rebel. It is a genuinely Blakean poetry, burning in the fires of Experience. He deserves to be the most popular poet in England Keith Tuma has declared.

His writing boils and stutters out, whether on the page, where Bonney's layout and typography are gloriously individual and expressive, upsetting all canons of communicative good taste; or in his performance, where the mingled energies and obstructions in the voiced language force your attention onto its nature and sources. Not language as any banal system-in-itself, but language as our pained resistance to and constant negotiations with the forces acting against us. It is very relevant that Bonney passed through Writers Forum, that great crucible for innovative oral poetry run by Bob Cobbing for many years. I know that anything's performable, and on any level.

What may appear from outside as merely personally expressive and self-indulgent mannerisms, in other words, are a precise and controlled technique to allow an impersonal voicing of the otherwise unheard, to let it break through the framework of a language set up to deny its voice. It is a programmatic assault on the norms of literary discourse — or rather of the often so narrow confines of recent English literary discourse. When I was 16 I read the Morrison/Motion anthology to find out what was going on in British writing, and was so bored I didn't even bother looking for any for about ten years. His breathtakingly free and forceful versions of Baudelaire in English are a victorious battle in this war against official English literary culture. The power his approach gives his writing is vast.

Bonney has engaged in low-tech publishing ventures with Jeff Hilson, and at present with Frances Kruk (yt communications). He and Hilson (and originally with David Miller) also run Crossing the Line, a monthly reading series, which is simply the best in London. (Usually first Wednesday in the month, at The Leather Exchange, 15 Leathermarket Street, London Bridge, SE1 3HN.)

Things to look out for and enjoy: cultural references from the suppressed and denied; energetic, powerful, indeed frightening, performance; breathtaking creativity with language in its utterance and through complex feats of parataxis; energy, energy, energy!

Sean Bonney on the Internet


Peter Philpott, September 24, 2009