There is something at work in the world that wants to put its hand over our mouths again. It wants to steer us back into dark rooms and pin down our voices and keep our bodies mute. It wants to buy and bury our stories, mock our sounds of resistance with locker-room sneers; it tries to smear our memories with boys-club laughter, it uses rape jokes to rally its troops. It wants to keep the corridors of power safe for men in suits to violate us. It wants to dress capitalism up in the white sheets of god and make slavery gospel again. It thinks it has the mandate. To put children in colour-coded cages. To cash in the planet for celebrity shares. To reinstate the closet. To polish the glass ceiling. To litigate the neck of our wombs. It thinks it is entitled. It thinks it has the right. And it’s easy sometimes, when confronted with image after image of its sleazy ascendancy – like the recent spectacle of a Mississippi stadium roaring support while abuse-survivor Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was taunted, filling the bleachers with a bloodchilling reprise of the jeers that soundtracked her original trauma – to think it has momentum. To think it has tapped into ugliness and found some monstrous traction. To fear it has swung the majority and there is little, now, that we can do.
But what it doesn’t have is the words. It has a kind of script but it’s drained, cheap, jaded; it twitters an obsolete, bloodless doubletalk. It can bat around labels, trade dumb comebacks of macho might-is-right mentality, slap on fake slogans, it can rhyme mobs with jobs for a quick right-wing scare – but it can’t even pronounce compassion, integrity, dignity, revolutionary tenderness. It can’t speak the language which has driven generations out into the street, a ferocious chorus of resistance which continues on the page, and fills language with fire again, wields it with meaning and muscle and empathy and voice and anger and pussy and heart, to counter the shorthand evil that stamps its brand on empty soundbites of privilege. I’ve sat in workshop after workshop this year, with writers of all identities and ages, and we’ve found our talk reaching the place where we’re punchdrunk with politics, staggered by the cutthroat conservatism which seems to be somehow sweeping the planet again, by the merciless commercialism which is driving it blindly to the brink. It is hard for us not to come to class gutted, as one student phrased it, by the suffering in the world; it’s hard for many – far, far too many in the fragile circles where our stories are shared – not be overwhelmed, bodily, by the way this regime’s abominations calls up our own bruises, triggers pain we’ve fought a private lifetime to get through. And even in a ring of writers, we’ve found ourselves questioning, how can our pages help, what can our words do? But the writer in me – who, as Katherine Mansfield wrote, has always been powered by a ‘cry against corruption’ – will always get hold of her battered banner and say: words can save the world. They’re all we have to save it – and they’ll always be the source, the flame, the way forward. They’re how we reach out, move ahead, how we show the hurt and heal it, how we join in protest and in aroha, how we endure and connect. There’s an image in a recent exhibition of photographs celebrating suffrage at the Auckland Museum where an older woman stands at a rally, her small blunt placard a tattered chunk of cardboard reading I can’t believe I am still protesting this shit #1970. She looks sick to the back teeth of fronting up to the same old system, its ignorance and atrocities, she looks let down and used up and frankly fucked off. And I can relate. But the point about this woman is that she’s still got her fist raised in defiance, still got that crappy sign in her tired grip, and the sturdy mid-frame forearm below it has had enough, is drawing the line on this eternal shit. And the other point is: she’s surrounded by a crowd of women holding up their own words – and above her forearm and its disbelieving banner there’s another younger arm jabbed high, and the word it’s waving is cut off at the top of the shot but we can still see it’s SOLIDARITY. Another word the current powers-that-be can’t hope to pronounce – or to vanquish. This thing that’s at work in our world won’t ever win, because it doesn’t have those words. It doesn’t own them, it can’t control them. The war is being waged in our mouths, it is aimed against our voices – but it won’t ever claim that territory. It can’t stop the sounds we make there, the sounds of insurgence and challenge and rage and hope – the sounds which fill the pages of Mayhem. Not so long ago this journal was dismissed by a critic as representing ‘angry boys and girls’ – far from taking it as a deterrent, we’ve worn that quote like a bloody badge of honour. Issue Six is still wearing it. Because let’s face it: what the world needs now is more angry girls and boys and those who identify with neither (because it’s not the 50s, and we will no longer be moulded into matching Janets and Johns), angry human beings turning their voices out onto the pavement and into the screens, mounting the counterstrike in full vocal colour, using their words to hammer the status quo, and (says the woman still raising her ancient beat-up flyer) making sure no means no after all these fucking years. It’s the time for tears not reason, blasphemy not balance. Passionate testimony versus fascist tweet, poetry versus popcorn evil, blistering, lit-up, loud, arterial, unashamedly human language versus the last bloated cartoonish gasp of a dying patriarchal state. I know which one I back. Welcome to Mayhem, Issue Six of many to come.