Pinning Down “Punk”

“1991 may be known as the year punk broke,” writes Anne K. Yoder, “but 2013 may soon become the year of its canonization”:

[It’s] no surprise that the current fêteing has lost touch with punk’s confrontational roots, its urgency and exigency—the capstone being the punk show at the Met, currently exhibiting facsimiles of CBGB’s bathroom walls.

The antidote? One comes in the form of the latest chapbook, Punk, from Sarah McCarry’s Guillotine press. Punk skewers this kind of nostalgic teleology, among other things, in the dialogue between lifelong lady punks, Mimi Thi Nguyen and Golnar Nikpour. Nguyen has been making zines like Slander and Race Riot since 1991 and has written a great deal about punk along the way; Nikpour grew up in New York by way of Tehran and was a co-coordinator of seminal punk fanzine Maximum Rocknroll, which she still contributes to intermittently. Their final note is a good starting point for the conversation, as Nguyen defines punk as “a plural, rather than a coherent, series of forms or formations, that can and should resist institutionalization,” and that “attempts to describe punk are always partial because punk is—”

And so the chapbook ends, leaping into whitespace that refuses to propose a stable definition of punk. … [The authors] concur that punk by its own definition exists as a constellation of scenes united by a rather elastic set of punk ethics, and that history cannot be reduced.

And the medium is the message:

If anything, Punk, and the entire Guillotine chapbook series, adheres to this essential punk ethic that Nguyen and Nikpour identify with and promote. For one, it’s a DIY endeavor and McCarry designs, letterpresses, and sews the chapbooks herself—a practice more common within poetry circles. The series is dedicated to publishing “revolutionary nonfiction,” front-loaded with incendiary political material that’s also quite timely and often couched within a personal narrative.

Recent Dish on punk here. The above video of Debbie Harry demonstrating the pogo, the British punk dance, for Americans on Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, is via Dangerous Minds.