Lütfiye Güzel is a poet, and since 2014 has been publishing notes, novellas, poems and monologues under her own label, go-güzel-publishing. Lütfiye Güzel runs poetry workshops at schools and museums.
it‘s time to radicalis
I’d slowly progressed from world politics to city (London) politics to local politics, till finally I was left with the smallest unit – myself. And without a sense of humour what can be done? Anna Mendelssohn
This self-portrait plus question is from Anna Mendelssohn’s memoirs, and can plausibly be dated to the late 1970s. Anna Mendelssohn: arrested in 1971 and charged with involvement in actions by the left-wing revolutionary group the Angry Brigade, to which she pleaded not guilty. sentenced to ten years’ prison, paroled after five; later, in an effort not to be reduced to these events, she was extraordinarily productive as a poet – often using the pseudonym Grace Lake or alternative spellings of her own name; author of unpublished works, as well as small pamphlets self-published or put out by various Samizdat/DIY/grassroots/indie publishers (an approach which is still widespread in British poetry today). If one were ungenerous, the above- mentioned movement – from world politics, to city politics, to the self – could be interpreted as a retreat to interiority. But that would be to miss the joke, and hence the point. The sequence described should be read as satire through inversion of whatever-politician-you-care-to-name’s CV, the doggedly self-certain clamber up the power rungs from “local” to “city” to “world”. Performing this movement backwards and calling it “progress” constitutes an intentional dissociation from a specific (and limited) kind of Realpolitik. Furthermore, Mendelssohn’s sequencing of these terms should not be read solely from the perspective of its ‘end’ point (the discovery of the smallest unit), but should rather be taken seriously as a serial form in which what has come before continues to be thought in what follows. In light of what has led up to it, the (supposedly) smallest unit, the I, also contains all of world politics. This is especially obvious in Mendelssohn’s case, as her subjectivity and status as a person were so decisively conditioned by her criminalization and incarceration that it can hardly be said to have offered her shelter from the ‘outside’ world in any meaningful way. In her sentence we find ourselves included in a temporal movement in which the past cannot be erased – though perhaps it can be disassembled, because in spatial-optical terms it is a matter of deconstructing an illusion (away with the fictional façade “world politics” in its current state!); or the progressive dismantling of a tower of children’s blocks in order to begin again from the foundation stone; or a macroscopic enlargement of the self which occurs through moving closer to it. By concentrating on the elementary unit, we’re also concentrating on everything else.
Lütfiye Güzel’s poetry begins from where the Mendelssohn citation leaves off: with the smallest unit, which nevertheless includes within itself the whole process of turning towards the social world. Here, alongside the self we find various other smallest units with which the work will be done: “get glue and copy poems, send them out into small living rooms, where they lie on little breakfast tables and next to the bed. They are like intruders into the world of people whom I have never met.” (nix meer, 43) A toy construction set made up of realities: an operating I, glue, poems, small living rooms, little breakfast tables, bed: parts that put themselves together to form a “world of people” – a totally different expression from that of “world politics” – that is always being made anew and always entering into new relations. What a single poem can bring about inside a stranger’s flat is totally unpredictable! Therefore: we should look at the individual parts, units, building blocks of Güzel’s poetry in detail.
Production units: Apart from the substantive parallel in the two poets’ emphasis on the self as a realm for investigation, the connection to Mendelssohn is also pertinent since Güzel’s work – especially in the case of her collection of leaflets elle-rebelle (2017) – explicitly alludes to the form of the political pamphlet. The leaflets are presented in an open brown paper bag that has grey paper glued onto both sides; on the back ‘cover’ we find the typewritten words “time / to radicalise” and an author photo. The latter, taken in black and white, with the figure disappearing fuzzily into the grey background, recalls the RAF wanted posters from the 1970s. But it’s not a close-up frontal portrait; instead, the author – at least as far as it’s possible to tell – seems to be crouching, as if she might leap out of the frame at any moment. The title, like the photograph, alludes both to the individual person (“elle”) and the iconically excessive female rebel – with an added touch of French glamour (“rebelle”). In an absurd etymology, the smallest unit is again encapsulated in a larger unit (reb/elle). The overall aesthetic makes clear that Güzel’s smallest units can also be thought of as guerilla units: Guerilla Unit Brown Paper Bag, Guerilla Unit Myself, etc.
Noting that elle-rebelle is a loose-leaf collection of pamphlets already indicates to some extent the way in which Güzel is continually thinking the materials of production anew – starting with the individual sheet of paper, through to stickers (selfklebend, 2018), through to playing on the form of the newspaper (SÜPER DEPRESSION, 2019). In general, apart from publications in literary magazines, for years now she has only published with her own press, go-güzel-publishing – whose name shamelessly admits (and precisely thereby satirises) the self-promotion driving it. She has published bound books, too (most recently nix meer, 2018, and dreh-buch, 2019, among others), but the fact that these are not brandished as the sole and apparently natural form already defamiliarizes the ‘book’ as contemporary poetry publishing norm. The book is always a specific and deliberate gesture –
Word units: – just like every single word is. Because precisely which word one hears or selects for utterance is so impressive or significant, there are some words to which violent fantasies are the only possible reaction: “if I hear the word ‘counterproductive’ one more time, I’m getting out the axe” (nix meer, 35), “I’m oriented. Another one of those words for the axe” (ibid., 58). As we all know from our daily experience with neoliberal jargon, it’s precisely the most trivial words from the work- and free-time worlds which can engender extreme suffering for the individual – the cruelty of the reaction imagined by Güzel merely reflects that of the mentioned terms. This becomes even more appreciable with the word “heimat”. The most offensively antifascist poem from elle-rebelle calls for the abolition of Heimat (word, concept, reality) in the following way: “chase everyone out of the homeland / & throw out families / against homelands / & against roots”. Again, Güzel’s cruelty is only an apparent one; the poem is actually an utterly humane response to the violence of the concepts deployed by “these Nazis, not neo, just Nazis, time and again Nazis”, who wear “polo shirts” and study for “their Bachelor of Obscenity” (nix meer, 24). Passages like the one cited above break aggressively into poems that are otherwise characterised by a flow of associations, reflections and anecdotes which accumulate a kind of torrential readability. It’s precisely when they are read through rapidly and experienced in their seriality that the poems reveal themselves to be complex artistic constructions. The axe motif can serve as an example of this, too – the first time it appears, the idea of attacking a word with an axe can be skimmed over easily enough; the second time, it flashes up as an unsettling political demand, but also as the hilariously quixotic attempt to smash a word as though it were a physical object.
Self as unit: If there is one quality traversing all of Güzel’s works, it’s that the always very present self seems pervaded by extreme sadness and morbidity. A few examples: “if i were / my own mother / i would weep / for this old child” (elle-rebelle), “the wind / the tree / & / death” (elle-rebelle), “my father says: / one should die full” (elle-rebelle), “cried three laps” (elle-rebelle), “The stomach is hard, not like stone, like tombstone” (nix meer, 19), “The mother and the father mere ghosts” (nix meer, 33), “Tipped out of the world” (dreh-buch, 33), “Everyone who knew me / is dead” (dreh-buch, 47). However, since her language never resorts to overinflated lyricism, the grief she describes is not turned into elegiac cliché; rather this problematic is written anew, collectivised. Güzel calls for a “TristOléismus” movement which would enable “the sad” to “reveal themselves” (nix meer, 64), and she thereby avoids falling into a purely individualized relationship with sadness. A demonstration!
If Güzel’s lyrical speaker is thus permeated by death, then it is precisely through her world- weariness that she connects with others. This happens not only through TristOléismus, but also in making common cause with the dead, turning consideration for them into an ethical demand placed upon the living: “and I can’t take anyone seriously anymore if they don’t know hell or haven’t seen at least one actual dead person” (nix meer, 33). Her repeated allusions to sleep and its furniture can be read as references to death, especially since the poet is not afraid of using explicit metaphors: “face / buried / in the mattress” (elle-rebelle). At the same time, falling asleep expresses something fragile and soft that is at war with the rigidity of the careerist world: “they go into politics / i go to bed” (elle-rebelle). Once again, we encounter an inversion of the pro politician’s progress, except that here the withdrawal seems even more marked than with Mendelssohn – the individual simply goes and has a lie-down. If we think of this posture as an even more extreme continuation of Mendelssohn’s sequence, the passivity it outlines makes perfect sense as active resistance to the status quo – yet also as passivity, which should not be interpreted away but rather held onto precisely as such: I’d slowly progressed from world politics to city (London) politics to local politics to the self to sleep to death. Death, too, is always part of a sequence; it irrevocably follows life and the conditions of life, and is thus socially provoked. Every single dead person is a guerilla unit, a forensic witness to what happened during life. In death, the final resistance begins: “Resistance. / Resistance. / Repeat. / Resistance.” (dreh-buch, 36).
Poetry selection in English / Poetry selection in German