Between the years 1990 – ’93, the poet Paul Hawkins was squatter/occupier/protestor in one of the most contested of spaces in the U.K.’s recent and past history of place-and-occupancy wars. Claremont Road, in London’s East End, was an occupied site and scene for the protests of the ‘No M11 Link Road Campaign’. Paul Hawkins was there, and has documented what took place in his book, Place Waste Dissent, published by Influx Press.
In the foreword to the book, Alice Nutter refers to Claremont Road as ‘the symbol of resistance to the road-building programme of the early ’90s’ – Place Waste Dissent operates not only as flame held close as intimate torchlight illuminating that symbol, but as intravenous entry point into the sign itself. An immersive invocation of the sign and the times it symbolises, a border-shamanic reanimation act that brings Claremont Road back breathing bleeding spitting and bounding into the now. Into the Now that requires reckoning with what was and is still its Then.
Place Waste Dissent is a work of mixed-media, one that the author himself refers to as a ‘cross-disciplinary collaboration of avant-garde poetry/collage’ – and this choice of form was a wise one. Paul Hawkins utilises and aligns his source materials through the prism of his poetic craft in such a way that the dust cloud of voices and images and mantra-scraps of sounds and sirens and street argot and town hall legalese seem to be writing the book itself. With great skill, and humility, Paul Hawkins allows the point in time to tell its own story, as well as his own.
The black pages of the book, with the cut and paste scratch and sniff overlaps of jagged text and snatched image, give the effect of peering into a darkened (time) tunnel, or portal, rushing your visor through an oncoming assault of data-ghost and spirit-artefact brought to life.
Our Siren lantern through this warren wormhole perforation of time and space is the matriarch of Claremont Road, Dorothy (Dolly) Watson.
Dorothy is the first character we meet, and she acts as our guide and entry point into Claremont Road. Dorothy reminded me of the character ‘Scullery’ in Jim Cartwright’s play, ‘Road’. Both Dorothy and Scullery are characters so entwined bound and embalmed by their connection to a place that their history is the road’s history, the road’s history is their own history. Paul Hawkins is a writer who reminds us of the eternal working class truth: that place means personage.
“mother brought me into the world
on her back upstairs in 32 Claremont road;
a bracing stroll from the wilds of Epping Forest;
pagan Green Man mythology, a strutting Dick Turpin
the highwaymen’s camp, eternities of horse sweat.
And in spite of my acid-tongued sisters
and his boozing with his mates,
I held on to my dear mother;
her apron, smile and warm hands.”
The story of Dorothy’s life within the cultural, geographic and economic flashpoint of Claremont Road is the story of many working-class people’s lives in London. Whilst it’s a story of survival, it’s also a story of disenfranchisement, exclusion, displacement and erasure. The voice of Dorothy, so incredibly reimagined and preserved by Paul Hawkins here, through the use of memory, letters written, love and imagination, is a working class voice we now no longer hear: twisted poisoned perverted through a right wing media invention a middle class gaze of distorted caricature chavs and benefit-cheats and racist brexiteers and less-thans and nuisances and drains on the communal purse. Paul Hawkins, through Dolly, has written the soul back into a voice which would be exterminated, disappear forever with Claremont Road and all the other sites of social-cleansing. And Dolly sings so beautifully. She breaks your heart.
“I wished I could cast-off
into the sunset;
the sky dipping
an orange horizon for me,
the old girl beached in Claremont;
bottled milk still delivered from The Essex Dairy”
Paul Hawkins shows the collision of cultures on Claremont Road. We meet Flea, the teenage runaway, Old Mick the tat man, and Bob The Brush, amongst others. We witness the communal fight against the state and the crush of greed and commerce, and the intersection of the internal, individual struggles, such as Paul’s own battles with addiction.
Claremont Road was a touchstone moment as it signalled the great gentry land-grab gold-rush which precipitated the property-boom social-housing dismantling of the past twenty years. It was the lighting of the blue touch paper, the moment the state bared its teeth once more, and bit hard, drew a line in blood and declared all out war on a class of people and the space inhabited. It’s when the city was Restolen all over again.
Place Waste Dissent is the poetry of squatters rights posters, eviction notices on boarded-up windows, angled wired activists cuff-linked to chimney breasts, an oral history somehow trapped upon the air, prised from the ether and preserved between pages. It’s a cut-and-paste exorcism it’s two fingers up and a palm opening it’s a fuck you it’s I love you it’s the machine’s cold alphabet and tenor reheated rehashed sprinkled with joy and bile and kerbstone idiom and punctured. It’s the sincerity of anger and heartbreak. It’s the rare flower that grows only in the field of their betrayal, and we are all the sentinels of those red, bloody petals.
Place Waste Dissent is the story of metropolitan greed and its resistance, and while it’s the story of Claremont Road during the the ‘No M11 Link Road Campaign’, it’s also the story of social housing in London, the continued story of the tearing up of the social contract, the setting alight of the sacred right to place, stakehold, cultural inheritance, occupation and shelter. It is the story of a covenant betrayed. It is the story of right now, and it is the story of how we got here.
If the poet is an oracle then it is as the oracle of the collective memory. Paul Hawkins fulfilled the poet’s function. He remembered the lives and stories he witnessed and he captured them so that we may never forget what happened. This book is a testament of witness. It is also a pact with Justice. Maybe not the justice of renumeration or reparation or punishment, but the justice of testimony – the justice that ensures that what wrong was done shall be recorded and preserved. It is also a love story. Paul Hawkins and the other protestors and residents of Claremont Road shared a moment in time within the wild space of a communal contract. When Paul Hawkins speaks of Dorothy Watson you can hear the love and respect he holds for her. Whilst speaking to Paul, he told me how important Dolly was to him. How he had been living in Spain when he heard the news that she had died, and made it back to England to attend her funeral. How, unbeknown to him, Dolly had left Paul half of her life savings. How this gift saved, and changed, his life. So, Place Waste Dissent is an instance when a book is more than just a book. This book is an act of love, generosity, community and faith, repaid.
I love this book. I say that as a born Londoner who cannot afford to live in the city of his birth, whose mother was gentrified out of her London home, whose city of birth is no longer a home, but a crime scene. A great open wound where a home should be.
Place Waste Dissent is an incredibly important book. It is a window on the past but also a mirror on the gentrified times of today. I really, really urge you to read this book. You can purchase it from the publisher, the mighty Influx Press, here.
Also, Place Waste Dissent is the fruition and continuation of a powerful project of examination resistance and correspondence through experimental poetics which Paul Hawkins began in his other books, ‘Claremont Road‘, and ‘Contumacy‘. Paul is an incredible poet, the poet of England’s right here and right now. Seek out his books, and
change.” – Paul Hawkins
* * * * *
“I am standing on the thirteenth floor of a towerblock looking through a divine plane out onto the city of London. Everything is on fire. Oh, our dumbfounded gentry. You were warned.” – Miggy Angel
* * * * *
28th July 2016 PLACE WASTE DISSENT SPEECH THERAPY TAKEOVER CHAMELEON ARTS CAFE NOTTINGHAM
Back in July 28th of 2016 Paul Hawkins kindly made his way out from Bristol and up to Nottingham to read from Place Waste Dissent at Speech Therapy poetry night.
It was a magical night, we had a packed crowd in attendance, and in what is usually a loud and hyper atmosphere at Speech Therapy, you could hear a mic drop. Thank you to Paul, and everyone who attended, for an incredible event, and making a South London gentrified child incredibly happy. It was a night I shall never forget.
About Miggy Angel:
Miggy Angel is editor and founder of Burning House Press. He is the author of the poetry collection, Grime Kerbstone Psalms, published by Celandor books, he organises and comperes the monthly poetry event, Speech Therapy, and also facilitates a weekly writer’s workshop for writers in recovery. He is one half of the musical project We Bleed Ink. Miggy Angel was born and raised in South London and lived to tell the tale. He has been writing/responding to the gentrification of South London since 1999. Miggy is now resident of Nottingham, England.
About Paul Hawkins:
paul hawkins is a bristol-based poet, text artist & word-processor. he studied the art of sleeping standing up and drinking lying down with nearly disastrous consequences. he’s the author of Claremont Road, Contumacy (both Erbacce Press) & Place Waste Dissent (Influx Press). he collaborates with Portugese text artist/poet bruno neiva and they co-authored Servant Drone (KF&S Press) and The Secret of Good Posture (Team Trident Press). at the last count paul has moved on average every 11 months, but only ever owned one tent. paul & steve ryan have a collaborative exhibition and events coming up this year; Diisonance opens at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield from June 21-24 and St. Margarets House, Bethnal Green, London Sept 1-30. Much more info at www.hesterglock.net