“Which is more avant-garde —- a giraffe or an elephant?” *

Imagine me a pen to write this down? Impossible! 

What the avant-garde is not: a Supermarket for all of poetry to fill its baskets of word product. 15 poets sold 15 poems in as many days = superheroes. It’s not a dry cleaners, or a Bookies. The avant-garde is not very poetry trending right now on Twitter. If it’s avant-garde, we may not know it yet. 

I ask the avant-guard to name names - it’s says, Wait for the 2091 Census to see who is left off the list in the normal houses (servants, whores, bin men) the visitors who birthed poems out of wedlock. Never sell your bastards.

Kenneth Koch admired the French surrealists and William Carlos Williams. So many men hiding weird women under Exquisite Corpses. I keep all those women in a precious cabinet along with Mallarmé. Koch made up a few extra poets to enjoy. If there are poets missing in your life, translate them. Remember the bravery of Cahun on Jersey photographing her resistance of dummies, pocketfilling protest into German soldiers - read her poems and risk your life, get arrested, be naked where naked hurts most. Be sentenced to death. 

Why is the avant-garde so short? Probably because it ends so abruptly such as Mew, Wickham or Rimbaud, or the falling old ladies of starved, imprisoned Daniil Kharms - “Well, to Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Anna Ignatievna. But it is not so easy to tell about Anna Ignatievna. Firstly, I know almost nothing about her, and secondly, I have just fallen off my chair.”

There’s no harm in deception, the avant-garde comes alive like in the film of Pinocchio. Oh those poems made of wood telling lies used by the power hungry to string you up for a show. No mention of a wooden boy. 

Be kind. Be uncool. Don’t give a fuck what any magazine or institution thinks. Write without consideration or conformity- confuse your poetry neighbours who say, “carrots would never say that, or do that.” - Pedant! Carrots do whatever they like! Remember, your grammar is on the back of a tractor spelt like Mina Loy (that’s not her real name). Your career is over in a hairstyle. Be as intellectual as the self-checkout (which is also avant-garde because technically you can get away without paying) - take no receipts - reject all payments for the stupid books you locked your poems in. Punish every poem in a shrink-wrap stanza - lie them on the floor like a spoilt child: scream them, rise them to the sound of naked lights illuminating her final words 100 years ago, and still as missing:

“She was right to be bright. Edith was right. Scenery is a valley in moon-light.” Gertrude Stein. 


Thank you to Caleb Parkin for asking me to think about this for his recent Poetry School Class, 'Letting Your Avant Garde Down',  

“For you, what even is 'avant-garde'? “

“Does it exist anymore, or has it ever?”

“If there's anything that is avant-garde right now, what would you say it is?”

“What would you say your own 'avant-garde' is - how do you try to push beyond, become a 'pioneer', in your own writing and language? (Is this important - and if so, why?)”

*Kenneth Koch

Dragoljub Obnažena!

Me and Dragoljub sit in the bathtub u uživanju.                                
Our small lake sings daleko but he thinks in guitar.                          
Let’s go to Japanski he says i utiskuje large feet
between my breasts – moja strast!                                                 
I turn taps to zadivljujući hot, o radosti.
But he’s neoprezna ponekad with my feelings                                              
such spoilt bubbles, he’s polako made instinski                           
silna and I am obnažena! Oh kako sam žude
for warm dry towels of savršenstvom.

From, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood (Cultured Llama Press)

Viola Man

Martine, it’s a disgraceful act of resistance you display with the viola man. 

But I love viola man and nothing you can do, or sing, will change my mind away from his engaging output of Ode to Joy. When he plays it I am in love all over again. 

How about cake? 
No, not enough ‘ode’. 
How about pizza? 
No, not enough ‘to’, 
How about frozen eggs?

Yes, yes! This is it. Frozen eggs are the ultimate in Joy! I shall construct him a letter with absolute immediacy ... it’s all over between me and viola man. Pass me a frozen egg. 


For Kim Moore

If you were a pair of socks Martine, would you display yourself in dirty little piles about this room, sitting about with other dirty socks failing to reach the wash basket in such a demonstration of filthy deeds? How long would you hang about with such vagrant items, itching and holing around, the muck of you an irritant to those who love and care for your well-being, those who share your foul spaces, cluttered moments, inconsiderate escapades of slattery? If you were a pair of socks would this behaviour continue, or would you strumpet and slurf your dirty way to the wash basket with a face like Desdemona in her final moments, waiting for Othello to forgive her in that last leap to the basket, the denial of your love for other dirty socks. O Martine! I can not walk by. This makes men mad, it is the very error of the moon.

O Frances, a guiltless death I die.


Destination 1972

You are on a train get and off at your expected destination. The train arrives in your old house, in your old lounge. Your fire place is a station house, your father a signal box, your mother a bridge. Your couch is a hard wooden bench where strangers are waiting for the next train. The sky is 1970’s wallpaper - it’s all post war around here. The black and white Telly tells you where to go: there are no trains running today. You join the strangers on the bench and wait. 

Frances and Martine


"Knock hard. Life is deaf." —Mimi Parent

For a long time I've been drawn to the surrealists and this month I decided to get to grips with what it really means to be a 'Surrealist'. I am interested in this subject because the word 'surreal' is often attributed to the work I write. But am I a surrealist? And who cares?

This week, I ordered David Gascoyne's book of 1935 and now published by Enitharnon, A Short Survey of Surrealism. David Gascoyne was a translator of the 'leading' French Surrealists: Dali, Ernst, Breton, Eluard and others. I was struck by the lack of women. Surely there were women.

"Certain critics and curators have attempted to isolate women surrealists from the Surrealist Movement as a whole, not only by reducing their work to the traditional aesthetic frameworks that surrealists have always resisted but worse yet by relegating them to a subbasement of the art world known as “Women’s Art.” Ironically, the old (mostly male) critics who ignored or minimized women in their studies of surrealism are not that different from these newer (often female) critics who ignore or minimize surrealism itself in their studies of women who took part in it. Each of these one-sided and erroneous views reinforces the other, and both prop up the insidious fiction that surrealism is yet another “Men Only” movement." Penelope Rosemont, Surrealist Women (Surrealist Revolution) University of Texas Press.

Some of them have been reduced to shadows of the more famous men. Take Lise Deharme: "In recent years, historians such as Marie-Claire Barnet, Mary Ann Caws, Renée Riese Hubert, Andréa Oberhuber, and Penelope Rosemont, have begun to un-do the "reducing" of Deharme to "a failed love story." These scholars have set out to establish a more dynamic conception of Deharme's reputation."

I searched 'women surrealists' and found a list on Wiki. This is where you fall down a fantastic rabbit hole. Don't follow me, you might never get out! I'll make a list of women whose poetry I can make a link to and then a further list of Surrealist writers.


Aase Berg (born 1967) is a Swedish poet and critic, among the founding members of the Stockholm Surrealist Group in 1986. EIGHT POEMS

Joyce Mansour (1928-1986) was an Egyptian-French poet. She first encountered Surrealism in Cairo, but moved to Paris in 1953. FIVE POEMS

Olga Orozco (1920-1999) was an Argentine poet of the Surrealistic 'Tercera Vanguardia' generation. THREE POEMS

Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972) was an Argentine poet heavily influenced by Surrealism. SIX POEMS 

Gisèle Prassinos (1920-2015) was a French writer of Greek heritage, associated with Surrealism since her first publication at the age of 14. ONE POEM

Penelope Rosemont (born 1942) is an American writer, painter, photographer, collagist and cofounder of the Chicago Surrealist Group. Her edited anthology Surrealist Women demonstrated the breadth of women's contribution to surrealism. MY TRIP TO RUSSIA  also editor of Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (Surrealist Revolution Series)

Blanca Varela (1926-2009) was a Peruvian poet. Octavio Paz characterized her poetry as in the "spiritual lineage" of surrealism. THREE POEMS

Unica Zürn (1916-1970) was a German writer and artist. She wrote anagram poetry, exhibited automatic drawing and collaborated with Hans Bellmer as his photographic model. Nine Anagrammatic Poems

Dorothea Tanning (1910–2012) was an American painter, sculptor, printmaker, writer, and poet, whose early work was influenced by Surrealism. She became part of the circle of Surrealists in New York in the 1940s, and was married to fellow Surrealist Max Ernst for 30 years. FIVE POEMS

Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was a British-born Mexican Surrealist painter. She met the Surrealist Max Ernst in 1937, and had a painful and complicated relationship with him. Much of her work is autobiographical. ONE POEM


Lise Deharme (1898-1980) was a French writer associated with the Surrealist movement. WIKI PAGE

Valentine Penrose (1898-1978) was a French surrealist poet, author and collagist.

Guia Risari (born 1971) is an Italian writer, novelist, essayist, translator.

Ginka Steinwachs (born 1942) is a German scholar and writer. Her doctoral thesis on André Breton was published as Mythologie des Surrealismus.

Haifa Zangana (born 1950) is an Iraqi writer active in surrealist activity in London.

Penelope Rosemont asks in Surrealist Women (Surrealist Revolution)  University of Texas Press,


"Neither silly nor simple, these questions are vital for anyone who wants to know the truth about surrealism. Critics who attempt to define the movement in aesthetic or literary terms, as a “style” or a “school,” overlook the crucial fact that surrealism is above all “a community of ethical views,” as Toyen put it in a statement included in this collection."

"Many are the writers who at some point in the course of their careers have expressed themselves in a surrealist voice—"

All the women included here have been co-thinkers and co-dreamers in surrealisms revolutionary project. More precisely, for the purposes of this collection, I define a surrealist as one who

(1) considers herself/himself a surrealist and/or

(2) is recognized as surrealist by surrealists and accepts being so designated, and

(3) takes part in surrealist activity by:

(a) producing work recognized by surrealists as a contribution to surrealism;
(b) collaborating on surrealist penodicals;
(c) participating in surrealist exhibitions;
(d) publishing under the movement’s “Surrealist Editions” imprint;
(e) cosiging surrealist tracts;
(f) taking part in Surrealist Group meetings, games, demonstrations, or other activities; and/or
(g) otherwise publicly identifying herself/himself with the aims, principles, and activity of the Surrealist Movement.


If you are interested in participating
in the activities of
the Surrealist Movement,
please write us at Black Swan Press
c/o Charles H. Kerr Company
1740 West Greenleaf Av
Chicago, Il 60626

For orders phone 773-465-7774

Let us know, in as much detail as possible:

1) your views regarding contemporary revolutionary thought and action;
2) your orientation toward surrealism and its project here and now; and
3) what contribution(s) you believe you can make to surrealist revolution today.