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  • Futch Press

On Foam

Maria Sledmere

Figure 1 Foamcore. Coloured pencil on paper (2021).



Foam: An Ars Poetica



You called from the end of the line

want to go down

when you answer in polyester blouse of the weather

to exist in present-tense sphere inside the people’s sphere

unbuttoning to get closer to flowers, like when our chests

smash grass and other chests

the art of being here faster

crosses the skin


॰°ₒ৹๐



I want to replace my eyes with asterisks

so you know to look elsewhere

as if for snacks


in the fantasy of what Sloterdijk calls ‘spherological original

catastrophe’ I only ask what comes after

like toothpaste or bubble-gum or lux, latex, dry fast

this stuff of houses, levelling ethereal tokens

& dry my eyes with

the end of a line


॰°ₒ৹๐



Lossy of voice on the iPhone call of like, inexhaustible

morning belonging to ars poetica of compressed registers

was it Archibald MacLeish

who said ‘A poem should be palpable and mute

As a globed fruit’

I cut down the middle with moan to experience

the simpering plenitude of this foam

which is the poem’s vom, or like everything not to be said

inside stratigraphy, hot sweet foam

between lines, filling the glasshouse

with ‘be here soon’ and the same reply, latte

that scaffolds the altered state of the heart


nestled in blood foams and a book no one reads

is this anthropocene realism or am I the pomegranate

inside the blood orange you gave to me

a whole new globe


[…]


all fruit is deceptive

the poem believes anything


॰°ₒ৹๐


Foam surrounds what Marie Buck calls the lyric moment,

‘when the poem stops narrativising something

and starts using associative logic and goes really big’


(this is the bit where something is missing)


when the fertiliser actually works

and you get longest sentence, also palpable

and fat with pulp


॰°ₒ৹๐



if to operate systems as theatre, the glasshouse

where everyone performs the way blood laps

against their chest

lying down, pressed against imaginary meadows

hemmed by her clouds, It’s Okay

To Cry or like

put the poem on mute as you otherwise listen



॰°ₒ৹๐


To chorus or khora

like my body is sore


under a valerian chandelier, leaking vinegar…


this party of

more nature than you bargained for


chewing all chlorophyll jewellery….


॰°ₒ৹๐


From memory foam mattress to foam of the heart

is a sea-foam, emollient, harnessed

by pallor

to lay out the panels and salt mortar

as a porous cry-smile, like :’)


I give you it…


o

O


Try adding to bestiary the dream-foam

don’t forget ambrosia has many meanings:

food, soap and perfume of the gods, plus

popular American dessert of the twentieth century

featuring oranges, apocalypses, coconut, sugar…


this original spherological catastrophe could be in your mouth…


carbon negative

when I took out my tampon and foam came out…

and scarlet fishes

having circled the foam of the heart

and womb…


(O)


There are many variations on this recipe

as poetry goes, conformed to body shape


॰°ₒ৹๐


Foam’s therapeutic application of the moon

or to insulate the diamond swamp I fantasised

that candy is out the bag!


Poem’s therapeutic application of the moon

is pink and growing, it gets really full on Zoom

where someone vacuums their palpable flesh of glass.


The temporality of candy tends to shrinkage, lag, stream.

How long can you crunch a dream?

But the numbers…


॰°ₒ৹๐


Foam as the intelligence of hyperlinks, dead pages, not the stuff

of improvised shimmer or wanting

the sour foam of unpasteurised autumn, somnolent


o

O

o


or conditioning your hair

in milky rain

as though acid did not exist

except as accident


and foam we didn’t know, naturalised peaches

dying in our arms when we were farmers

scything amazing yellow

catch crop

once in the dream


the same as foam is tender to know what daily happens

gathering up the sides of the poem


if I take out the candy I forget


॰°ₒ৹๐


please more of this fodder for living on

borrowed time, poem-time, exit main chatroom for better location

warm surmise, the cloudy femme clouds


what gets left behind and why



॰°ₒ৹๐



Foam is such a mood right now. You can’t hold it like water, it just dissolves or spreads elsewhere. Eileen Myles says ‘there’s just something hopelessly queer about foam’ (2018: 99). Squeeze a toy universe and you see it’s full of foam, the frothy material of a representative nothingness. Cumulus foam, luminous air, formless weather; everyday latte art of future divination. Whether you answer, sip or stir; whether you thirst or call. Something about the blurring of nature and culture: ‘an undefined cluster of foam bubbles’, Myles proposes, could symbolise ‘a condition of nature that is transformed into a condition of culture’ (2018: 99). In her essay ‘Telefoam: Species on the Shores of Cixous and Derrida’, Lynn Turner looks for a posthumanist ethics in the ‘distance-proximity of the telephone’ and non-anthropocentric modes of communication (2014: 158). The foam is something of a congealed excess between space-times and voices; the bubbling static on the line, ‘assonance’ signalling ‘waves washing against the shore’, gesturing hospitality towards ‘the one who arrives (l’arrivant) without ever fully arriving in the present’ (Turner 2014: 159). In a protean, contingent discourse, we can’t be sure if who arrives is human (Turner 2014: 159); telefoam is a play between open and closed, the thickening message of the call. Hello, it’s me; this voice is a touch, it curls and slips.


Calling to the anthropocene, we produce the bubbling mass of voices down the line, bodies on the line, a mass that forms in the body, amassing bodies. I think of foam in microbes, toothpaste, ocean pollution, thalassic expanse. Foam is literally the sea; it asks what we see of a call. The gull cries back across the bay, its throat congealed as the water itself — sip sip — the sand bar held in plastiglomerate [1] rasp. The anti-thesis, the anthropocene as a failed completeness, antithesis: ‘the Book has always been thought to be endlessly spraying foam of an inexhaustible ocean’, constituting a redundancy in thought (Nancy 1993: 325). To write or speak the anthropocene is to hold that contingency in your mouth: to want to expel a reverberating whole, to compose the repeat materials of bewildered sense, to want to control the volume of speech.


For Peter Sloterdijk, foam provides a ‘metaphor’ that shows up ‘a republic of spaces’, in which ‘“life”’ forms space without end to plurality, ‘intertwined with other lives and consist[ing] of countless units’, ‘articulat[ing] itself on nested and simultaneous stages’ (2016: 23). Foam offers an impression of ‘the independent spatiality of the communications’ that go between life-forms, entities (Sloterdijk 2016: 237). I want to think more about this link between foam and a glasshouse — this place where thought could grow. Where the intersecting lines of a network offer ‘a universe for data fishers’, foam captures ‘the topological allocation’ of living space in its ‘self-securing creations’ (Sloterdijk 2016: 237, 235). But what is foam actually used for? Foam glass is a porous, lightweight glass material, commonly used in building construction due to its properties of durability and insulation. New bioactive glass foams are being developed with ‘controlled microstructure’ including ‘porosity, pore shape, pore interconnectivity’, allowing for porous attunement and biocompatibility in the fabrication of tissue constructs (Hoppe and Boccaccini 2014: 205). This bioactive glass foam raises the question of a bodily supplementarity in the context of techno-innovation.


The supplement is that which adds, that fills in for what’s missing but also enriches. Derrida describes the supplement: ‘As substitute, it is not simply added to the positivity of a presence, it produces no relief, its place is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness’ (1997: 145). I want to borrow this congealing of ideas — glass foam, supplement and ‘republic of spaces’ — to think about what a glasshouse could do. The glasshouse as lyric architecture. Let’s think of this glasshouse as the essay itself, embodied articulation of anthropocene textuality, here we are. The light comes in. The glasshouse as simultaneity; architecture experienced in the converging space-times of thought, interface, dwelling, flesh. ‘[S]uccessful application of an engineered tissue construct relies on highly vascularized structures’ (Hoppe and Boccaccini 2014: 200). For the supplement to adapt to its system, there must be a density or intricacy of lines, vascular flows of imaginary, energy, signification. The supplement itself ‘produces no relief’ and yet that mark of an emptiness is where we begin again, where we forgot we would even begin. Bioactive glass as scaffold, glasshouse as the affective, tangential architecture of where we are now, wounded in lack when we think of the future.


॰°ₒ৹๐


In moving between material metaphors, what if to write, here, was to meld divergent agents, foaming the glass of the world to harden in the mind of whoever might read or listen. To move between the abstract and tactile, looking for a suppler microstructure, tracing the foam of a thought in space. Lending hypermaterials to the everyday. When I bring in this or that thing that happened, the dam’s collapse, the closed-off roads, the viral form, the screen-time of my double vision. Trying to see where we mutually make our spaces, finding a way to articulate that intertwined existence which is queerly in excess of itself, which spreads regardless, which touches: ‘Put them here and put me in beside the / caribou and them beside the past and / put the little stars inside their heads / inside the place they are’ (Jarnot 2013: 63). The anthropocene raises the conundrum of where things are placed or put, the ethics of assignation. Lisa Jarnot’s poem ‘Altered States’ moves between entities and their traces of presence and motion, ending on a gesture towards ‘the things / still left I never cannot name’ (2013: 63). With this double negative, Jarnot’s speaker notes the imperative towards speaking what still holds language in the twist of presence among absence, the need to vocalise what remains, reminding. The poem is a way of asking where I belong, what constitutes a ‘we’, who are ‘they’. Its politics is a way of arranging the spaces we fill as living entities; reminiscent of Sloterdijk’s foams it shows how this ‘republic of spaces’ might play out in time and, more specifically, its human arrangement. Foam’s poeisis is this bringing-forth of the inside as outside, the distant adjacent, the unexpected intimacies prompted by loss. With its imagery of ‘bodies’, ‘the highway’, ‘boats’ — ‘let them row for days’ — this could be a poem about those displaced or in transit, the crisis of existing between, of living only in a liminal space whose occasion dissipates. But this is also a poem about the caribou, whose population is stable, despite ‘the little stars’ that fill the reindeers’ heads with intimations of a distant extinction. The animals she names are not of immediate conservation threat (by ‘orange bird heads’ (Jarnot 2013: 63) does she mean the Western Tanager?) and so are still nameable, even with their names aslant. Foam is an altered state. Jarnot’s poem stages the shifting republic of spaces as a question of pronouns, timescales, here and there and now and then.


॰°ₒ৹๐


‘Foam begets nothing’, Sloterdijk writes, ‘it has no consequences. With no life expectancy or next generation, all it knows is running ahead into its own bursting’ (2016: 31). Foam is against reproductive futurism [2] in the realm of art, intimacy, life itself and the work of critique: it does not solidify hereditary traits or build by foundation; it clusters, slides and flows by instinctive effervescence. Although recent developments in bioengineering have situated foam in the realm of productivity and construction, foam remains the stereotype of ephemera, dissolution. Foam’s queerness might be its resistance to fixity, legacy and reproduction. Sloterdijk calls it ‘a charlatanry made of air and something or other’, this ‘unreliable and shimmering’ thing (2016: 29), gesturing towards a certain vagueness, a wishy-washy quality we associate with its substance. Foam is a lightness, a fugitive trick. What is it to seek no consequence with my prose, to promise nothing? To admit a foundational defeat? Is foam a kind of ‘queer negativity’, ‘dispossess[ing] the social order of the ground on which it rests’ (Edelman 2004: 6)? The fuzzy red line of a radical grammar, something we’d thoughtlessly clear with a swipe and click? Or the irrepressible bubbling outwards of the matter of the line itself? I want to look at the sociality of foam, the worlds of memory, touch, word and speech it shores. I want to see what hardens and cools, and what warms up. What of which globe, bubble or surface is warming. The glasshouse, then, as a kind of ‘“extended hothouse science”’: an ‘interpretation of foam’ (Sloterdijk 2016: 36-37).


Evelyn Reilly’s Styrofoam (2009) poses a floating poetics of its inexhaustible namesake, a closed-cell polystyrene foam whose evaporated fumes contribute to ozone degradation. There is something humming within us we still can’t say, we might not know (for all the polymer diagrams the book shows, the chemical breakdowns, how do we really know styrofoam). Reilly writes: ‘& all the time singing in my throat’; there is just this myth, ‘this mood of moods’, ‘All this.formation’ (2009: 9, 11). A kind of periodic lux that blinks between verbs and determiners, so we have to look close to see the happening; we notice the arbitrary tense of grammar in a time of objects whose scales elude us. Light as the epiphenomenon of false ephemera: as though all the granite in Cornwall or Aberdeen were replaced with Styrofoam, snowily glittering. I could take pictures. I could drink coffee, ‘all the time singing’. Does time itself sing in Reilly’s speaker’s throat, or does she merely sing all the time — and what permeable state do we achieve of song? Pieces of styrofoam snow still cling to your lips, after the takeaway drink. There is stimulant, detriment, after-effect.


What Reilly names ‘INFINITE PLASTICITY’ (2009: 54): is this the malleable ‘stuff of alchemy’, ‘the very idea’ of a substance’s ‘infinite transformation’ (Barthes 1993: 97), or the everlasting afterlife of plastic, which does not degrade so much as fragment into pellets of scattered excess. ‘It is a misconception that materials / biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe’ (Reilly 2009: 10): Reilly’s volume, according to Lynn Keller, ‘challenges readers to confront the perhaps unfathomable reality of thermo-plastics’, their time-scales and planetary effects beyond human comprehension (2015: 847). Read by Keller as a case study in Timothy Morton’s notion of hyperobjects (2013), Styrofoam anticipates a troubled poetics of material agencies colliding at the limits and overspills of language. In Styrofoam, language itself is a hyperobject of divergent disciplines, scales and times, moving between evocative, conjunctive or disjunctive lyric fragments (‘hence this mood of moods’), definitions, images, parenthetical asides that form as nested, representational loops ('one of many permutations possible’) and question/answer formats (Reilly 2009: 11, 15). With its command-line prompts and sense of ‘overflow’, the volume resembles a (styro)foam of inscripted code for sounding out the ecological thought of complex materials, whose reality settles snowily around us in prompts, interruptions and fragments. Coming in drifts, slushes and precipitations. Holding code, diagrams and visual materials, I wonder if Styrofoam comprises not just a conversation between poetry and science but an anthropocenic archive that hails an im/possible reader to come, whose intelligence may well be artificial. The qualities of the kind of ‘ecopoetics’ Reilly sees in her own work are not ‘really anything to get the big aesthetic glands salivating’ (2013). Might there then be a beyond-human quality to the work, with its foam of mutual spaces, its stammering algorithmic lilt, its hyperlinked syntax?


Asking ‘Why would any poet want to touch this stuff?’, Reilly writes:


Perhaps because it is not “stuff” at all, meaning it is not a genre or a movement, but rather a fact of writing in a world of accelerated environmental change, meaning one cannot not touch it. And this makes me wonder if it is a poetics at all.

(Reilly 2013)


‘Stuff’ invokes the plural thinginess of styrofoam itself: polystyrene comes as foam, plastic and film. Is this ‘another language or no language at all’ (Wood 2013: 17)? What if Reilly’s work was styrofoam’s khora, radically resistant to definition, touch, human intervention, expression. As though it had congealed, placenta-like, with the membranes, hormones and nutritious stuff of language, synapse, discipline: the virtual space of contingent poetics. Contingent because hardly ‘a poetics at all’, at least in the sense of traditional lyric expression set to a poet’s (however divergent) intent. Like khora, this kind of anthropocenic poetics is ‘a fact of writing’, mutating along the lines of ‘accelerated environmental change’. What if khora was more like tumour: cancerous assemblage of contemporary toxicities, slow violence (Nixon 2011), moving across the page, the snow of our screens, our sense, the streams of our blood, of its own accord? One cannot ‘touch’ the fact of this writing: it’s just there in the foam, shimmering, trembling, falling as snow. And to invoke this both as metaphor and literal description. I think of Christina Sharpe, riffing on Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved (1987): ‘In my text, the weather is the totality of our environment; the weather is the total climate; and the climate is anti-black’ (2017). The climate is a psychological weathering and a physical abrasion on persons striated and marked by race, geography, gender, class, sexuality and (dis)ability: suffering the disproportionate effects of teargas, surveillance, poverty, pollution, toxicity, food scarcity, the architectures of public and private space. To weather an anti-black climate, Sharpe argues, there must be ‘changeability and improvisation’, which ‘produces new ecologies’ (2017). An experience of the weather is always relational and produced in specific material contexts. Perhaps it isn’t a question of what poet would ‘touch this stuff’ as what poets have choice to.





Oversnow


As though snow

through a flavour,

Seafoam forever.

It’s no use as zero

running the ones.

“How are you today.”

Tropical lime on

cocktail snow, before

Pink snow, no noise

is elliptical precise

portion of crust & yellow

to chase, less of a corduroy snow

listens for snow-sound,

harsh bright rush

bell-bottomed, indifferent

species of hormone

eclipses clearly, head spin

the sentiment set to speak

eons of us without ornament.

The stimulant blues of futures

collate as white, tiniest

fractal you are now

warmer layering ice

to not new snow,

absent powdering

hero snow, once-

slush plastics of lucite scent,

actual ground &

nothing completes.





Shimmer Lamb


I dream of the lamb and foam.

Old and ersatz roses.

Quietly you cut the cake

but candles are too expensive.

I feel like a secondary quality of lichen, nightfall

Foam begets foam, a form

you fill. Scratch that infinity

place beyond gender.

Stupid petals

of crescent sugar. Still,

had I been to Manhattan

watching the fractal lambs in the mall

and the hyperloop of future sleep.