Grzegorz Wroblewski Poetry, NOMADIC SURREALISM, the spirit of the bathtub

At a panel on Polish poetry, with the poet and artist Grzegorz Wroblewski, one of the audience members, clearly annoyed, said he was sick of the idea of the artist as outsider. The theme of alienation in art. I replied that yes some artists and writers in history are also insiders, movers and shakers, but that artists and writers, by being outside in some fashion, have something valuable to contribute to society, as the observer, and perhaps trickster, and can provide new ways of seeing and questioning, an aid against inflexibility and rigidity.

When I read some poems from The Spirit of the Bathtub later in the evening, a lecturer of Polish culture and literature, a little drunk and very annoyed, complained about my poems written about Poland. If “about” is really the right word. She said that Polish people were already exotic enough in London and my writing was exoticizing them more. I looked at my other writing later and I could see it was not limited to Poland. The speaker in my poems is a kind of outsider in many cultures and countries. Also, what is culture and is it always sacred? Yes, of course there are power dynamics to consider sometimes, the domination and destruction of less powerful cultures by more powerful cultures, but I do not find culture sacred, it is often another commodity, traded and sold, usually, or used for nationalistic purposes.

In a well written review of my new book The Spirit of the Bathtub, the reviewer mentioned the theme of alienation and also individualism. They also talk about some existential bummers.

All of this is on my mind because tonight I am teaching “Sasquatch,” a short story by Tao Lin, at the International Institute in Madrid, and the main character, Chelsea, is clearly an outsider, alienated. The narrators of the stories of Sam Pink are also outsiders. I gravitate towards outsiders. Why? What can they offer?

Well, I don’t think being an outsider always means being alienated for one. Or at least painfully alienated. They don’t always have to go hand in hand. But sometimes they are clearly outsiders in great pain.

The artist as an outsider in great pain has become a stereotype, just look at all the movies about writers and artists as alienated loners. We could of course point to a culture that does not value the artist, unless they are in the service of capital. The artist as shaman is certainly of little value for capital. So yes we could move in that direction. The alienated artist because of society. And that is certainly true. But this is of course problematic and I think that is partly what the audience member during the Polish poetry panel was referring to. The self reinforced stereotype of the artist as self destructive. There are of course many books about writers and alcoholism, writers and depression, and there does seem to be an unusually high number of writers and artists with so-called mental health issues.  The danger is assuming that in order to become an artist, in the romantic sense, you need to become self destructive. Or, if you are generally happy and adjusted to the mores of society, why write or create art?

But I think it is, in part, not an either/or. You don’t have to be completely adjusted to society (does such a case exist) or completely alienated. By being somewhere in-between, and helping to keep the borders porous, maybe some artists provide a great service. Can it be measured? Probably not.

Existing outside as an observer, as well as inside, is a common technique of meditation. The difference is perhaps that you don’t need to react, just observe, accept, let go.

For such a long time, I tried to jump to letting go. But that just created repression of my emotions, desires, fears etc. Maybe art, as Aristotle suggested with drama, can act as a kind of purging. We just need to know how to let go, and to do it skilfully. If we don’t observe and accept, we might repress, but if we only observe without letting go, we might spiral and end up feeding the emotion, helping them grow larger and larger, out of control.

I think a lot of my favourite artists are outsiders, or outlaws, and also skilful at letting go, at least in their art. I cannot speak to their so-called personal lives. I mean artists like Bernadette Mayer, Frank O’Hara, Eileen Myles, Lydia Davis. They can see the world as outsiders and outlaws, but they are not clinging to this, not weighed down by it in their writing. They have a lightness of touch as observers and outsiders. I think that is the kind of outsider art I am drawn towards. Why? Well, for me at least, it makes me fee less alone and more connected with other human beings, in other words less alienated, more accepting. Also, with looking from an outsider position, everything becomes less serious, and there is less clinging. All of this can be done with a light touch. The artist as trickster, crossing borders, another form of the shaman in modern culture.



MARCUS SLEASE POETRY, Rides, Smashing Time

Happy to have my nomadic poetics with Lyrikline from various collections, including Rides (Blart Books) and Smashing Time (miPoesias). Translated into Polish and Danish.

These poems, while nomadic, and also surreal, are also influenced by NY School poetry. Folks such as Eileen Myles, Maureen Owen. Also punk music, like The Raincoats and Pussy Riot. Lots of train rides, also, all over the U.K. (part of my book Rides). And also, Ali Pali, the local big park when I lived in Wood Green, North London.

Thank you Adam Zdrodowski and Louise Rosengreen.

Amazing collection of poets in translation from all over the world:



NY School Poetry

Eileen Myles gives me hope. Not necessarily for money for poetry. Although I did get paid £50 for my poems in Tin House and that felt somehow a little validating. Even more than the money was having poems in Tin House and the generosity of poet friends. Eileen Myles, like many I would imagine, gives me hope with her openness. And for feeling less ashamed and guilty for being a poet from working class background etc. etc. I want to feel less guilty for writing and art and to stop thinking I should be doing my real paid work when I am writing and doing art yadda yadda. Working class ethos. I can’t afford to slum it and be a radical East or South London art school hipster (no safety net or backup whatsoever) but I feel the radical ideas of the middle class artists and thinkers and art school graduates. At least some of it. It is nice to see someone with a similar working class background get some cultural capital. Although I am realising it is not common. Still seems there is a hard to climb class system in publishing and the art world. But also grateful, somehow, to end up going to university and to have time, minus the guilt and feeling unworthy, unentitled and like an imposter, and via very simple living with no children, car, pension, property, and piddly savings, to do the art. I want to feel less guilty abut taking up space in the world. It all depends where you are looking and what you are comparing yourself to. I am lucky.




Some poems from my ms MILK TOP MAGIC HAT over at Map Literary:

little men in my bathtub, rainy Bukowski southwest train to Reading, E.T. and rocket ships in Milton Keynes.

Some fantastic poetry and fiction over there. Like Anne Gorrick’s measurements to the sun for example.


It is part of my book in progress Play Yr Kardz Right.






“There is only seeing and, in order to go to see, one must be
a pirate”

There are mashups with train rides forwards and backwards all around the U.K.

Rides is part of my nomadic surrealist project.






NY School Poetry

Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick is opening a space for me to exist in. To move around in. She says,

“Reading delivers on the promise that sex raises but hardly ever can fulfill- getting larger cause you’re entering another person’s language, cadence, heart and mind.”

And that’s when I feel most alive. Expansive writing. Expansive reading.

But the so called personal is there. And that’s what NY School poetics, Eileen Myles, Michelle Tea and others have given me. A space. A permission. A recognition of the complexities of being male. I’ve never been an insider of those big powerful worlds of writers and artists. I hadn’t felt completely at home inside those insulated walls of power. The towers of HSBC or the towers of Cambridge university.

“Because we rejected a certain kind of critical language, people just assumed that we were dumb” says Alice Notley. These spheres. These permissions. In Revolutionary Letters, 1971, Diane di Prima wrote “I just realized the stakes are myself.” And that’s where I am. The self is performative. The personal is critical. Men are taught to move away from the personal into the universal. The objective. To find and unlock the big secrets of knowledge. The greatest secret is that there is NO SECRET!

Since the death of my brother, the personal has become more and more the subject of my art. And not the personal as locked in place. But moving. In motion. And full of doubt and questions. The personal full of uncertainty. An attempt to move closer to reality. Intersubjectivity. I am wrong a lot. Being sure of your self is a sign of male power. It is the president of whatever country. And that power is also a prison. Is certainty a freedom? It might be a privilege but it’s a trap. It’s not freedom. “Isn’t the greatest freedom in the world the freedom to be wrong” writes Chris Kraus in I Love Dick. And I say yes. I cannot mansplain. I never been one for mansplaining. Acting like I know something. I see it all the time. It is not limited to men at the university where I teach. Where does it come from? This need to be objective? Science. Hard science. Why is hard better than soft? Why is aggression celebrated and softness a weakness? Stubbornness and conviction a sign of strength and uncertainty and doubt a weakness? Do we all need to become hard to survive in this world we have created?

When I watch a Brooke Candy video it makes me feel because I have more freedom to move. Like the role of aggressor and predator in being biological male is less static. It’s being played with. It is reframed somewhere else. To the point of absurdity. But absurd for who? Are these gender codes being questioned in a Brooke Candy video? Or is just flipped onto other side of coin and thus the same coin?

Men need to part of the discussions on gender. It is a whole system of traps and signs and straight jackets. But we need honesty. The media perpetuates data. It is trying to be hard science. Hard facts. Us versus them in whatever context.

How do we get out? What are we getting out of? Duty? I want to get out of my duty. To my gender. I am between genders. Between classes. I can pass for the dominant one.  A white male. Almost middle class. But not really. The complexity is a simple one. It’s a spectrum. Can we go there?

What if everyone woke up to the game? Then what? End of game. No game. Another game or end of life.

We keep trying to fix this game. It’s not working. Can we play another one? How much of life is performance? All of it? What isn’t performative?


"Žibutė" / 9 / Eileen Myles in Vilnius

NY School Poetry

Eileen Myles reading in Vilnius. Terrific! Expansive and open and generous. Her confidence is contagious. I think she opens up the space and all the people in that space. So many poetry readings feel closed and sometimes suffocating. We need more open spaces (in body, mind, and spirit). We need more expansive poetry and art. NY School poetry has many expansive places for us. When I returned to London in 2010 it is was NY School poetry that gave me space to breathe and start my life long nomadic writing project. A nomadic surrealism. There are too many straight jackets, including gender. So many boxes we are supposed to tick. I am borderless, transient, a nomad from the milky way. It is the best place to be but not always easy. A nomadic surrealist life project.


eileen myles.jpg



Erkembode (DAVID KELLY-MANCAUX) has created a saintly scroll of my poems (a minimalist version of Kerouac’s On the Road).
Erkembode created the poetry scroll while working the gift shop at the British Museum. He said the till was going crazy spewing out poems instead of numbers for receipts.
These poems are conversational vernacular poems. A mix of the bop prosody of Kerouac Ginsberg and the expansive and plainspoken NY School poetry of Frank O’ Hara and Eileen Myles.
But it’s not on the road. It’s in the bathtub and on the train and hanging in my housing estate in east London docklands etc.
Chris Gutkind got a saintly scroll and hung it across his balcony.
A waterfall.
I was very happy to see poems as waterfall. And as receipt scroll.
They are part of my ongoing Nomadic surrealist life project.
And also my book in progress Play Yr Kardz Right.