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loop wrenches then it breaks

Jac Common & Katy Lewis Hood

‘In a place, which, four or five years ago, could anticipate only its continuing a mere marsh, the opulence, skill and industry of a body of individuals have actually formed an immense port . . .’

—attributed to a contemporary commentator on the opening of West India Docks, 1802

‘thamesfog the city delete’

‘thamesfog the city delete’

‘thamesfog the city delete’

—Nat Raha, £/€xtinctions

At the estuarine Thames, the tide blisters the surface. Piers creak, heaps of aggregate slipping and subsiding, overgirding bubbling marshland. Expositions of mud, ooze, softening and shifting.

Along the river’s reaches, embanked and depth-charted for the better offloading of imperial glut from ships’ holds and metamorphosed into the urban nature of finance capital, remnants of the liquid ‘past that is not past’ (Sharpe, 2016: 9) linger, abandoned or maintained. Here are two: bollards of various lumpy forms, in wall niches and on walkways, that boats could be tied to; and metal cylinders on the corners of river and canal bridges to protect bricks and towropes from the repetitions of the ropes’ dragging rub. As hemp, chain or nylon tighten and pull around these minor elements of water infrastructure, they leave scars in the material, scouring years of friction from gritted cables attached to barges, ships, horses, workers, lighters, freighters, dredge boats, Uber boats, tugs, luxury yachts. These pieces of the tidal Thames are linked through their relation to (the) capital, but also through the sounds cut into them. Frictives, tightenings, loops of trying to stabilise on churn, flow, and ebb. Sonics of water and life-on-water translated into visual rhythmicity of the scour, lineation, digging-into, the deeper grooves maybe recording more voluminous winds, louder storms, mistakes on the way up the water, or more repetitious use.

A rusted chain may cut a different furrow than a salt-encrusted rope.

Other acoustics of water and weather accidentally kept by physical corrosion. Intermittences that are other-than utterances of wetland ecologies and infrastructures. Other archives and repertoires among watery places reorganised for oceanic trade, emanating surpluses, energies, violence (Taylor, 2003). ‘Worn. Marred, recording a past, of previous forms. The present form face-to-face reveals the missing, the absent. Would-be-said remnant, memory. But the remnant is the whole’ (Cha, 2001: 38). Expanse of a city’s underthrum across the docklands, marshlands, glasslands, hauntlands.

Amid the present continuous destruction undergirding the Isle of Dogs – a peninsula of marsh and meander made into docks made into the capital’s second financial district – we’re reading poems by Stephen Watts, Nat Raha, and Tom Betteridge. They stutter and spatter as the thrown-up sediments of cycling construction, wreckage, and redevelopment: ‘and the resurgence of your material history / as the driver of entire collapse’ (Betteridge, 2021: ‘Mudchute’). Beneath the docks, the marshes? A remembered site of seep and breach?

In Republic of Dogs/Republic of Birds (2016), a book of numbered prose poems that trace birds and people and infrastructures between the Isle of Dogs and Uibhist a Tuath/North Uist – an island in the Outer Hebrides – Watts documents the 1980s transformation of the docklands’ orientational markers:

That building, that wharf with its skin of bricks, is being pulled down. The meshes of strung steel fibre pillowed with white rubble – that once were buildings going up – now they pour from that hole, its mouth. They cascade away. They are being destroyed. From the roots to the height, a reversed archaeology. And now the destruction of solid space. In a final triumph of materialism – the abolition of matter. And from that mouth it cascades – teeth, gums, jawbones, and all, falling out of a head into blue air. Destruction of a wharf on the Republic of Dogs. (Watts, 2016: 94)

An engulfed outpouring of indefinition, heaps and gaps where there were forms. The ‘abolition of matter’ required to destroy old wharves on the Isle of Dogs could be a legislative form of destruction that only destroys matter in the grab of its own terms and conditions. The destruction is speculative, for the speculators, a speculation. A legal fictive enactment that makes possible an opening of ‘solid space’ for extractive finance capital’s triumphal façades. Abolishing matter, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) makes the speculative feasible by opening a future in which the edificial ‘glasstrash’ (Raha, 2018: 110) of the Docklands can pour ‘into blue air’. Blue sky thinking, a metaphorical and actual terra nullius that weird speculative futures can populate through the fantasies drawn up and plotted on the hoarding boards of the never-finished riverfront development, or the LDDC’s propaganda posters from the late 1980s. The ‘blue air’ that abolishes matter is drawn on the same logics that open space for externalities, those matters of capital’s raw material and raw excrement that can be transfigured as t/here and not-t/here, the heaps of aggregate downriver, the burped belly rotpile of Rainham landfill, atmospheric carbon, endocrine disruptors, ‘baby blue plastics’ (Betteridge, ‘Mudchute’). All the nonmatter that’s killing people.

Detail from a poster produced by the London Docklands Development Company (LDDC) in the late 1980s, reproduced in the Museum of the London Docklands. One part of the text reads “Think a minute: wouldn’t you work better when the space between buildings is filled with glittering water not tarmac?”

(T)here, the surfaces and structural ‘meshes’ facilitating the movements of ships and bodies and goods and profits via dockers’ hooks and warehouse loophole doors become:

sediment of all hands & wood & steel & the

girders history

's fabric in flesh

plunder & modern / atrocity / glass trash.

(Raha, 2018: 110)

In ‘the island – that thin black line where we breathe our lives, where we are compressed as into sediment’ (Watts: 41), there is ‘flesh’ and ‘plunder’ in the sediments making up the glass fronts and concrete ‘girders’ of the ‘mort wharf’, its transparent ‘lux / to finance’ (Raha: 110). The buildings still going up, the futures prices, the tidewaters swelling. At Riverside South, a chunk of land leased for 999 years to the world’s biggest investment bank, rain puddling on the undeveloped concrete fails to reflect light back as blue as the proposed glassfront highrise; what’s left are stacks of assorted pipes from the nearby pumping station, and strange rusting metal structures that look like tuning forks. In Raha’s poems, the slashes might be prongs or breaks or breaths or coughs.

Abolition is an act. Act, n.: something transacted in council, or in a deliberative assembly; (the name of) a decree or statute passed by a legislative body, a court of justice, etc, e.g. an Act of Parliament (OED). Thinking of acts under this definition can be a historical throughline, a temporal hawser that pulls and is pulled by the capstan of the British state’s complicity, permissiveness, and maintained, contested architectures of colonial capitalism. Those wharves, the ‘buildings once going up’ were also legislated-for under Acts of Parliament to build the East and West India Docks, the Royal Docks, the City Canal, Limehouse Cut; the ships that unloaded plunder were compelled by Acts of Parliament into the locks and watery yards owned and administered by the East and West India Companies to protect their trade monopolies. The ‘abolition of matter’ then is not so much as unique to the emerging free market and Thatcherite ‘violences of the eighties’ (Betteridge, ‘Mudchute’), but a historically constituted continuation of a space – the Isle of Dogs – already plotted as a nexus for matter’s abolition. Perhaps the ‘final triumph of materialism’ is a kind of revelation that capitalism in all its forms can dematerialise everything, even the matter of its own establishment. ‘Now they had been metamorphosed, not as rocks are but as money does’ (Watts: 18).

But to stay with ‘abolition’ as an act also asks us to perceive its undoing and to go beyond it. The ‘abolition of matter’ as a legal and corporate fiction is inherently unstable and, in concrete fact, already undone by the material processes that undergird it. The actual structures of the docks appeared not simply out of Acts of Parliament, but out of labour and transfigured stone. ‘These nodes of the Atlantic nautical networks were built by workers who hauled the rubble . . . hewed the stone, transported it, and arranged it on the seabed [and] piled rock’ (Linebaugh and Rediker, 2000: 65). Value in the form of goods extracted from stolen land and enslaved peoples ensured the docks of the Isle were viable commercial locations, and the aftermaths of colonial violence are folded into the silicon and steel of edificial finance capitalism during so-called redevelopment. A repertoire of laborious matters, performed and unearthed by the poetics we’re discussing here, could be an undoing of matter’s abolition. Matter returns, as if it ever went away, to ‘solid space’ from the externalised not-t/here, through what Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley might call ‘remember[ing] connections that counteract imperial desires for global southern disaggregation’ (Tinsley, 2008: 208).

In Nat Raha’s £/€xtinctionsfirst published in 2017 as a steel grey pamphlet and republished in Of Sirens, Body & Faultlines (2018) – the final pages compress deep geological and oceanic temporalities into the reorganising violences of racial capitalist extraction around ‘opulent Europe , its monopolies & stolen’ everything. The poem titled ‘(after fanon)’ collages dark, blurred blocks of paper with cut and torn fragments of text, ‘temporalities of planet / ary / , progress as effigy extractions’ and ‘capital ripping core / raw earth, compositions, / minerals, feet & toxicity, floodwater ;;’ (Raha: 109). Punctuation scores and obstructs flow, the colonial notion of planetary progress broken up into jolts and hesitations, the ‘creative madness’ of reconstituting ‘raw earth, compositions’ through the ‘occupation & decommissioning of banks’ (as infrastructures of finance capital and the dykes and embankments making the island they stand on) by those who have been rendered raw earth (Ferreira da Silva, 2017; Yusoff, 2018). The final line on the page quotes Fanon directly, from the chapter ‘Concerning Violence’ in The Wretched of the Earth: ‘we have decided not to overlook this any longer’ (Fanon, 1967: 96).

Fog drifts off the river onto the Isle of Dogs. Regain, one of a fleet of tugboats owned by Cory recycling and waste management company, pulls a barge of containers upstream to be filled with waste and returned downriver. The other tugboats are named Resource, Reclaim, Recovery, Redoubt, Resolve.

— & ‘thamesfog the city delete’, Nat writes like an imperative because it has to be / ‘tabula rasa’ (Fanon: 35) in all the violence of de/composition, unbearable touch of a backspace that doesn’t exist, poetics (un)reckoning the wrecked elemental accumulating toxic particles lasting in bodies, atmospheres, sewage and toxins in the river that has carried waves of cargo, waves of loot. Against whiteness’ ‘ownership of the Earth forever and ever’ (Du Bois, 1920: 29) via sea paths, in the elemental subsists memory of multiple temporalities of social and ecological life, from undergrounds t/here and elsewhere ‘raising over dockyard & head / where materiality failed / process rendered back into soil, / brief trees, carbons & nitrates’ (Raha: 110). Reading across the linebreaks, is materiality’s failure the impossibility of ‘render[ing] back into soil, / brief trees, carbons & nitrates’ a world irrevocably altered by racialised fossil capital, the ‘carbon base :: upper classes anoxic’, where ‘dead organics / crack / thermal, after centuries / extinct in europe’ (Raha: 112)? With ‘abolition’ we might place ‘deletion’ – the crashing in and pierce and rupture of interruption.

The day we see the Naarm/Melbourne-based drone metal duo Divide and Dissolve play an old railway building in Hackney, the tops of the high-rises in Canary Wharf are no longer skyscrapers; the fog overfolding (them) does not lift for days. Feeling saxophonist/guitarist Takiaya Reed’s unleashed amplitude moving through us, our implicated bodies. The hauntwait of looping wind instrument holding pause before swells and distant grinding and vibrating from amps via strings via fingers, communality of bodies moving to snare hammer and cymbal crash. Turning the din of extraction and genocide back onto itself. An atonal knot overtightening the string of empty time (Benjamin, 1970: 252) and snapping it to a shaking now. Absolute distortion as a mood of vivified haunting. Denial against the originary noises of originary colonial cutting, a radical riff and scream: ‘...metallic, musical screeches as systems of thought pushing away from, and through, the imposed limits of the conventional harmonic or social systems, thus clearing some ground from where we can offer counter proposals’ (Bonney, 2015: 34). A mantra of swaying-against. Expressive manouevres of listening that tear open, punch through. The tube head turns off, the overwhelm cuts out, snaps in the rollswitch click, snatches itself away from ears but into guts. No graceful fade for tonics and compositional narratives. This is over, this is off.

Concrete barges on the north shore of the Thames Estuary, which were allegedly scuttled at Rainham Creek in 1953 to provide flood protection against tidal surges, and are now haunts for rock pipits and gulls. In the centre of the image, flue gas rises from the Cory Riverside Energy plant, which burns non-recyclable waste. The Isle of Dogs is visible as a cluster of buildings in the distance on the horizon to the left of the image.

Feral winds up the Port of London as ‘breath expulsion summoning / relation into up- / breath down- / breath’ (Betteridge, ‘Heuristic’), gusting among lumps of material stacked for export. Tom Betteridge’s Mudchute (2021), whose title comes from an area of the Isle of Dogs used as a dumping ground for mud dredged from Millwall Dock, heaps up sonic matter in precariously staccato lines:




in marshland


a carved-out



(Betteridge, ‘Soapbox’)

What (under)grounds the possibility for poetic and political articulation here? The soapbox is ‘a makeshift stand for a speaker’ (OED) made from the crates used to transport the industrial products of reproductive labour: cleaning, washing, scrubbing, scouring. In the poem, the soapbox is rendered as a ‘pallet / flotilla / part-submerged / in marshland / monoculture’ of echoes: ‘part’-submergence a sonic lengthening and compression of ‘pallet’, anticipating ‘marshland’ sounds, the ‘carved-out / back-route / unthought’ a trying out of different soundings of what might appear on the surface the same. What about when the soapbox is half-sunken into the reclaimed marshlands of the ‘cracked / fetish : canary wharf’ (Raha: 46), a place accumulated from plunder & modern / atrocity / glass trash. / hygiene ecological’ (Raha: 110), the after-airs of the soap factories clustered around the docklands? On the regenerated quayside, the emptied plinth ‘under statue feet / no longer making news’ (Betteridge, ‘Soapbox’) in the long now of racial capitalist violence keeps (re)stabilising the platform for (certain) forms of speech and circulations of value.

A statue of slave factor Robert Milligan, put up at West India Docks in 1813, was removed by Tower Hamlets Council in 2020 in response to the Black Lives Matter uprisings.

In Divide and Dissolve’s Gas Lit, almost every track opens with a layering and entwining of looped saxophone ethereal. How does that returning motif, a loop of loops amongst the rumbles and snaps of noise, in-form the sonics of refusal and denial? A multiplied entry point that can emerge anywhere – which can kind of act against the blank-space-assuming jolts of industrial cacophony, or the flattening drone noise of heavy machineries. The action-reaction of instrument-bodies. Later or always-happening, we’re reading Tom’s ‘Heuristic’ over the sounds it was written with: Éliane Radigue and Rhodri Davies’s ‘Occam I’. Sometimes your voice losing or lost into ‘drone kiss’ (Raha: 111), or melding with the scraping demands of the voiceless, meaningless import of the instruments. What does the bodied motion of the loop do to sound in space, sound in memory? Cranking wheel of a hurdy-gurdy; fingers plucking a tampura; underclick of loop pedal engaging polyvocals. ‘The only concrete thing in music is the instrument’ (Lispector, 1973: 39). Ongoing noise-sound production always and necessarily fleshed with the conditions of its interruption, its cessation. Decomposition of heavy industry’s infrathump. Water may make the whirling estuary of stuff, but it also overwhelms it, subducts it:



from silo

clothwork two


across harp





pinned in cove


(Betteridge, ‘Heuristic’)

What are the ‘disclosive’ processes of instruments making aharmonic noise and looping – scraping ‘bows / across harp’, splitting reeds, pedal click? Can noise music, noise in poetry, reflect back against the repetitive stalling of control mechanisms (‘procession / pinned in cove’), the extractive circulatory thump of labour-rhythms, how breath (‘sigh’) becomes accumulable/extracted (‘siphon’) with bodily aftermaths (‘clot-tickle’)? Instrument(al) noise sensed as a material or counter-material, or sound-as-space, distortion (dis-, -tort) – that way of playing as twisting inside machines and lumped constraints of logistical sites (‘from silo / clothwork two / bows’). If instruments are themselves kinds of machines, then can noise be a kind of re-insertion, re-covering, smashing-in of desire – from one machine to another – into the ceaseless blank processes of colonial capitalism, hoarded materiality, heavy industry, and carceral infrastructures? Taking their motions of grinding, first to sense the cacophonic membrane of alienation in the sonic terms of the extractive process; then dissolving them, re-making them, distorting them, abrading them, refusing them, deleting them. Throwing them out-of-gear with ‘abrupt breaks, hesitations, tremolos, discordant notes, and unresolved chords’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1984: 45). Radical plays of resistive production. ‘in gain in- / delible / resonance / in string / abrasion’ (Betteridge, ‘Heuristic’). Bridge cables and wires on the container ships hum ‘laboriously quiet’ (Betteridge, ‘Mudchute’).

Trying to walk this huge bend of the Thames and the Isle of Dogs keeps on disorienting us, the glass and water surfaces shifting liquidities in a fluid materiality untethered from spatial relation. Maybe ‘part submerged’ in hyperhorizon mirage where ‘[t]ime is an inland lake of winter water – or else a dead dock’ (Watts: 4), these wharfscapes in various states of decay or ‘lux / to finance’ trace racial capitalism’s cuts and loops. These circulatory infrastructures make places, waters, people as externalities, as loopholes in capital’s logics that exceed accountability for repeated extraction and exhaustion. The poetry and music we’ve been gathering here register these exhaustions as bodily constraints and scraped possibilities – ‘collapses in form’ (Betteridge, ‘Heuristic’) – for bending the sonic geometries of the riverloop and its liquidcut parabola, or generating poetic escape velocities that burst its membrane. As the riverloop dis/continually forms, deposition and erosion intensify until, eventually, it breaks out to form new channels, leaving lakes and marshes as wet volumes bubbling, permeating, silting. Unspool. The loop, scaled and disappearing, exists only by the material necessity of its own destruction. And what is the clamorous sound of a ship’s chain finally slicing through a scoured mooring?

References (in order of appearance)

Here's a playlist of music we listened to while writing this piece:

Nat Raha, Of Sirens, Body & Faultlines (Norwich: Boiler House Press, 2018).

Christina Sharpe, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

Tom Betteridge, Mudchute (Veer2, 2021).

Stephen Watts, Republic of Dogs/Republic of Birds (London: Test Centre, 2016). NB: In-text citations refer to the poem number rather than page number.

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra (London: Verso, 2000).

Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley, ‘Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 14:2-3 (2008), DOI: 10.1215/10642684-2007-030.

Denise Ferreira da Silva, ‘Blacklight’, in Otobong Nkanga: Luster and Lucre, ed. by Clare Molloy, Fabian Schöneich, and Phillipe Pirotte (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017), p. 245–53.

Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).

Nat Raha, £/€xtinctions (Leith: sociopathetic distro, 2017).

W.E.B. Du Bois, ‘The Souls of White Folk’, in Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1920).

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin, 1967).

Divide and Dissolve, Gas Lit (Invada, 2021).

Walter Benjamin, from Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations, trans. by Harry Zorn (London: Bodley Head, 1970).

London Riverside Bid, ‘Local History - Concrete Barges and The Diver’,

Sean Bonney, Letters Against the Firmament (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015).

Éliane Radique and Rhodri Davies, ‘Occam I’ on Occam Ocean I (Shiin, 2017).

Clarice Lispector, Água Viva, trans. by Stefan Tobler (London: Penguin, 1973).

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (London: Bloomsbury, 1984).

This piece is part of Katy and Jac’s Coneffluents project @coneffluents

Jac Common can be found on Instagram as @sumptedious

Katy Lewis Hood can be found on Instagram as @mossish_


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