TIME OF LOVE, TIME OF DEATH: THE POETRY OF PP HARTNETT

This article was published by PETRIe at http://www.petrieinventory.com/time-of-love-time-of-death-the-poetry-of-pp-hartnett

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The work of PP Hartnett can be described as a creative tumult, a powerful clash of the desirable and the unacceptable, ultimately a fertile ground for revolt and the sort of truth-telling that destabilises normalcy and the arid routines of the mind. Photographer and musician, novelist, poet, and short-story writer, Hartnett embraces the endless possibilities of each genre, often arriving at a place of collision between them.

 

His work has often been banned, rejected, deemed outside of the acceptability zone for wide circulation. His most recent poetry volume, date of birth, time of death, bites into the paradoxes of existence under the rule of constant surveillance: as inhabitants of the “surveillance society” we are expected to be open, transparent, hide nothing, and confess everything; yet, Hartnett´s confessions, and those of his literary personas, are confined to censorship. The volume opens with a poem that appropriates the language of censorship, in an attempt to subvert it:

“female ejaculation, strangulation/ face-sitting, fisting/ potentially life-endangering acts/ not fit for general access/ violation of the membership agreement” (PP Hartnett, content warning)

 

This association of perceived deviant eroticism with defiant creative content marks the main point of critical commentary imbued in this volume. Lyricism and metaphor are replaced by sharp, heavy observations that refuse symbolism and transcendence, for a rather chilling account of the immediate, tangible experience of being silenced:

“this notice is to inform you/ that your efforts have been blocked/ from being downloaded or streamed/ from the stores you selected/ content review team/ deletion/ deletion/ deletion” (PP Hartnett, content warning)

Throughout the volume, this smothering heaviness of the physical world is countered by an antinomic exploration of desire. Technology is eroticised and sexuality is, in turn, confined to the realm of technology, underlining the blurring of lines between subjectivity and technical device:

“i think of the scene as viewed by a cctv operator (…) as if i had a camera/ as if i were that camera” (PP Hartnett, dutch, he was dutch)

 

Intimacy and desire, and the inalienable eros of our being, are broken, interrupted by technology; instinct is taken over by mechanised extensions of itself, permeating corporeality, in movement, gesture and posture. In fade into you, this is most apparent, in a translation of the photographic genre into a poetic stance. The body and the image of the body converge, speaking to the overlapping of being and being seen:

“sandy-brown hair/ silken, with a slight curl/ click/ that fine hair/ top of the neck/ click/ a little perspiration/ just there/ on your forehead/ click” (PP Hartnett, fade into you)

Resistance, when possible, manifests as a reclaiming of agency, an attempt to re-establish subjectivity as the point of emergence of love and lust, of passion and desire. This reaffirmation of humanity, opposed to the mechanics of the surrounding world, stretches its own limits, trying to prove itself real:

“maybe you know i watch/ know i´m watching/ how i watch, you/ (…) i watch so hard without blinking/ chlorine stings my eyes” (PP Hartnett, as if choreographed)

The overlapping of memory and emotion ensures a sense of being outside of here and now, simultaneously waiting for and having already experienced a peak of existence. In afterglow and death, our boundaries are erased, the self reaches out to contain the other, in a purity of being beyond time and space:

“there, flat on our backs/ I / we felt so comfortable/ half there, half somewhere else.” (PP Hartnett, dutch, he was dutch)

Words: Elena Stanciu

Cover image by PP Hartnett

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