A HIP READ – Review by Pete Donohue

On 20th January many of us on this side of The Pond watched mouths agape as the 45th President of the United States was inaugurated. On that same day the prestigious London-based independent publisher with strong Hastings connections Thin Man Press released American Porn by celebrated British poet Heathcote Williams.

As Donald Trump, the latest – and possibly most dangerous of this century thus far – incarnation of narcissistic megalomania to rise up from across-the-pond life, promises to ‘make America great again’ it takes little wit to go figure how this demonstrably odious toad might square up to attempt his twisted vision. What the Trump definition of ‘great’ could be hardly bears thinking about but now he holds the reins of US power and its accompanying global influence, we are forced to do just that. American Porn offers us a scathingly poetic insight into a country that both feeds upon and boasts about its own dysfunction.

Opening his new collection with The United States of Porn Williams leads us through the notion of porn as an effective instrument of control against the masses. He exposes America as not so much land of the free but more land of the free-for-all in its blatant exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. Never mind the opiate of television; pornography, violence and greed have shaped these stolen lands of America since early colonisations – now in 2017 this tradition of immorality looks to be heading towards a new era of unprecedented excesses.

‘Pornography is capitalism’s reward for political apathy…’ writes Williams, an ‘…insidious tranquilizer that neuters collective action.’ Who could possibly argue with that, other than the pornographers themselves, the enriched beneficiaries of the porn industry, or the duped and addicted? One conclusion to be drawn from Williams’ work is that the most pornographic orifice of all may well be that gaping chasm between American billionaires – 540 according to the Forbes rich list of March 2016 and rising – and the twenty or so million global citizens dying annually from hunger and disease.

It is not only Trump and his cronies on the receiving end of the poet’s polemical pen in this collection, however, as Williams explores the effects of a twenty-first century American war machine. ‘It’s war that drives the US economy, and not the brotherhood of man…’ he writes in The White House Fly; ‘…war’s Viagra increases the US economy by sixty percent.’ Here an incoming President Obama delights in swatting a fly that irritates him before inviting the film crew to zoom in on the carpet to record the hapless insect’s death throes. As a metaphor for what Williams describes as every President’s ‘Free Pass to kill’ the image neatly predicts Obama’s 2009 orders to use unmanned drones to release thermobaric weapons upon  villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan ‘…Swatting villagers dead.’ This President as killer theme is revisited further into the book in poems such as Snuff Films at the White House, Mr President and The President of the United States is Really a Tree.

Losing Presidential candidates are also no strangers to the pornography of the US killing machine Williams tells us. In Trump versus Clinton he examines the warmongering of Killary during her years as US Secretary of State. In collusion with her husband – a man with a proven track record of using casual sex to entice vulnerable young employees to swallow his power unquestioningly – Mrs Clinton has accumulated substantial personal wealth through their private slush fund we learn. It’s all about sex, death and, for the powerful bullying elite, money.

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With over fifty years of anti-establishment writings and activism behind him Heathcote Williams was never going to hold back on this critique of a nation founded on selfishness and disregard for fellow humans. His Happy Thanksgiving reminds us of the Pilgrim Father’s cannibalism and the subsequent three-hundred years of murdering Native Americans. The Atomic Museum exposes the US glorification of mass destruction, where for only twenty-four dollars you can buy souvenir earrings of ‘Little Boy’ the bomb that delivered so much death and carnage to Hiroshima. For a few dollars more there are miniature versions of ‘Fat Man’, the nuke that destroyed Nagasaki, for ignorant gloating punters to drape from their deaf ears.

This consistently thought-provoking collection ends with a work entitled The Dalai Lama, ISIS and America. A verse on the final page reads:

 

‘In the White House’s Oval Office the president of Barbarica

Signs his Wednesday ‘Kill List’ with a golden pen

And the enemies of the Imperium are duly despatched

Through State assassination or a robot drone.’

 

One could easily be forgiven for imagining this as a scourge on recent hawks such as George Dubya or, indeed, The Donald. In fact this poem describes the Dalai Lama’s persistent importuning of Obama to end political support and arms supplies to the ongoing murderous campaign by the Saudis against Yemen. The point here – and one that Williams makes very well – is that it’s not simply the actions and potentialities of a seemingly insane sociopath like Donald Trump that we all need to fear, but rather the empty soul of the American State machine. An economic Mobius strip of oil dollars converted into war dollars, and back again and again ad infinitum, ensures that the miniscule minority of haves will always keep, and exponentially increase, what they have. The have-nots are left to console themselves with fantasy, the struggle for survival or in many cases early death. Or, those who are in a position to do so could rise up in protest and activism, a cause Heathcote Williams has devoted his life to.

Meanwhile, as the gods of oil, guns, pornography and propaganda devour the fruits of twenty-first century greed and stupidity, beware mankind’s ever-quickening march towards the destruction of the human race. American Porn – as a vehicle of oppression rather than the title of this poetry collection – has a lot to answer for and a sinister propensity to instil fear for the future into any rational thinker.

Poetry has long proved an inspiration to encourage free thought, inspire revolution and act as a catalyst for change. If you only ever read one book of poetry in these troubled times then I strongly recommend that you make it this one.