Sean Bonney, one of the finest UK poets of our time, died in Berlin on 13th November 2019. His work comprises seven major books and a series of pamphlets; it includes some of the most vital writing in the language today. He pushed at the limits of poetry, creating new forms in each single book. No other contemporary work destroys so thoroughly the universe of resurgent fascism.
Al Filreis, Anna Strong Safford, Zach Carduner, and Chris Martin took PoemTalk on the road where they met up with Stephen Willey and Luke Roberts at Birkbeck University of London for a discussion of Sean Bonney's Happiness. Twenty pages of Happiness were included in Letters Against the Firmament. The group focused on the first four pages or poems or sections of Happiness (pp. 120—23). Sean Bonney’s PennSound author page hosts three different recordings (two audio and one video) of his readings from this long poem (1, 2, 3). The version used here was the one recorded in London in 2011.
Sean Bonney is another poet who turns to a poetics of iteration as a poetics of revolution. Especially in Baudelaire in Englishand Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud, Bonney adapts iteration to revolutionary poetic and political ends. In these two books, Bonney attends to the way revolutionary writing, if too direct or smooth, can become implicated in the power structures it seeks to overcome. Bonney’s Baudelaire in English concludes: “the poem is in danger of becoming an overly smooth surface fit only for the lobbies of office buildings and as illustrations / expensive gallery catalogues, that kind of bullshit.” In Baudelaire in English, Bonney stresses the relation between echoes and cracks in the smoothness in his version of “Correspondances,” which contains the phrase “their echoes split us.” Bonney’s texts are idiosyncratic translations of Baudelaire’s poems so breaking the smooth surface of standard translations. Bonney’s translations overlay lines of typewritten text to the point of illegibility, even as they superimpose twenty-first-century London onto nineteenth-century Paris. Through grainy photographs of neglected and forgotten places in London, Bonney (like Baudelaire) emphasizes the ruins and decay of the modern city, the fissure lines and suffering that are the neglected side of the progress of modernity.
In Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud, Bonney again makes the city of London his subject, this time through a focus on the protests against the existing economic and political order that took place in 2010 and 2011 in the wake of the financial crisis. Much of Happiness first appeared on Bonney’s Abandoned Buildingsblog so that the book functions as a retrospective archiving and framing of poems written as news, as part of and in response to a movement for revolutionary change.