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époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
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Milled to dust—ochre arable soil chunks on Pyongyang’s Tarmac road,

            starved of nitrates, starved of buses,

a screen; a tableau.


Sentinel Paektu peaks encircle Heaven’s static sapphire lake,

            helium bubbles burn skin to skin with levity,

a screen; a tableau.


Mount Kuwol underpinned by sleeping Buddhas and bronze age barrows,

            a crow teases a lotus stem—the roots disturb a stateless shin,

a screen; a tableau.


Mount Chilbo’s deposits: elephant conviction, pure-gem maidens,

            gold-wheel shame, bridled horse, attentive General, pearl-giving,

                        life-giving watchmen,

a screen; a tableau.


Tourists inhale Mount Myohyang musk around a spindle tree,

            food gifts for miraculous deer, ignorant of the outside world,

a screen; a tableau.


International Friendship Museum’s green eaves yell: Shoes Off!

            Mao's armoured train, Castro’s crocodile suitcase,

                        Michael Jordan’s basketball—Keep The Plastic On!

a screen; a tableau.


Three Revolutions Exhibition—dogma, science, culture,

            downpayment on the stars,

a screen; a tableau.


Tower of the Juche Idea: Rely On Yourself Not Others,

            Suryong’s impeccable brain in a living body tames history,

                        Party nerves swell arms and legs,

a screen; a tableau.


Korean Revolution Museum; Grand People’s Study House,

            electrons orbit their nucleus, describing great emptiness,

a screen; a tableau.


Battallions pound Kim Il Sung Square, in the eye, in the lens,

            in the camera, the mirror, the mirror facing the mirror forever,

a screen; a tableau.


Mansu Hill, Grand Monument, soldier, worker, peasant, mother,

            working intellectual,

a screen; a tableau.


Lights sweep shadows at Pyongyang Maternity Hospital,

            thus our Motherland embraces us,

a screen; a tableau.


Gray-haired portrait illuminates pitch-black habitation blocks,

            Cement gray, Dorian gray,

a screen; a tableau.


Parade ground, home-made mass-game placards synched by double-swollen-bladder-kids,

            one foot falls in the sound of another’s foot falling in the sound,

a screen; a tableau.


Flat next door, the wall so quiet, door steadfast, pans not clanging anymore,

            swallows won’t nest in the eaves like they did when I was a girl,

a screen; a tableau.


Vellum cheek, a worn out wife, children learn to flex their ducts,

            our neighbour’s cheek cringes in the corridor, asking not to be seen,

a screen; a tableau.


Copper thief, villagers compelled to watch his white suit turn red,

            Hwanggang dam is bullet-breached,

a screen; a tableau.

Luggage pile, waist high in the railway station medical centre.

            Why drag it here? your worldly goods.

a screen; a tableau.


Nampo Port, American sailors observe the lack of gulls,

            perhaps the night consumed them?

a screen; a tableau.


A Soldier roots at night through vegetable beds, searching for his eight dishes.

            The barrel is empty,

a screen; a tableau.


Exam paper. Question: If America sends ten tanks and

            the Korean People’s Army destroy eight, how many tanks remain?

a screen; a tableau.


Pixel field, ochre electrons flicked by televised combine harvesters,

            repeat that bumper crop today,

a screen; a tableau.


Collective farmer, ferro-concrete apartment, portraits on the walls,

            show the foreigners your life’s work,

a screen; a tableau.

Sweeper sweeps Propaganda’s pavements, the town runs like clockwork.

            Where there is fear an empty gesture can be full,

a screen; a tableau.


Cloudless sky, three stage rocket, dogma, science, teach the world to laugh,

            seismic waves feed the silos,

a screen; a tableau.


America, cyclorama, The Great Leader, parades, tirades,

            our threats reflect back and soothe our fears,

a screen; a tableaux.


The Great Leader is not a screen.


David is an artist, author and bookbinder from London. His artists’ books have been acquired by National Galleries Scotland, V&A, Tate, Stanford University, and National Poetry Library, where books and prints from his poem An Unknown Soldier were exhibited in 2014. David is co-founder, with Ping, of Henningham Family Press. As publishers and book designers, their novels have been shortlisted for The Goldsmith’s Prize, Republic of Consciousness Prize, British Book Awards and longlisted for The Walter Scott Prize. David’s first novel, Foulness, is to be published by Unbound in 2023.


Of the work featured here, David says:


‘The theme caught my attention because it seemed ideal for a certain poem I have written. It's tone was intended to be menacing because it is based upon a mass performance that is regularly staged by North Korea's totalitarian regime, encompassing the country's regions and history.’

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