I despised anything and everything punk growing up. Looking back on it now, I find it ironic considering that I am enamored by anything punk. The very fact that I hated punk was pretty punk rock in itself. Rebelling against a system that was designed to rebel against society because I thought it was conformist took on a form of meta-rebellion. The fashion seemed reductive and childish to me. The music was grating and loud. Self-identifying ‘punks’ seemed pompous and poser-esque. When my brother played any music in the car that felt like a wall of sound, I was actually repulsed. I did not quite get it: what was with all the black clothing, piercings, and obnoxiously colored hair?
Fast-forward to today — my quotidian outfits are all blacks and reds, my hair has been dyed a deep burgundy wine, and I recently had my ears pierced with Titanium earrings entitled “Hydra.” Bands like The Clash, Blondie, and Patti Smith frequent my Spotify Playlists. I live for the moments at concerts where I am pressed against the barricade and the crowd behind me moshes to the harsh ebb and flow of guitar riffs and drum pulses. These are the moments which I remember most vividly, finding both anonymity and collectivity within the darkness of a venue’s pit. What happened to me? How did I become who I am today?
Punk Rock emerged in the 70s from the underground rock movement in Greenwich Village with famous club CBGB serving as a locus for the developing movement. Patti Smith frequented CBGB and was developing her own sense of punk-rock lyricism with a feminine approach. In Queens, the Ramones formed and also played at CBGB alongside the band that would become Blondie. New York City served as the backdrop for this movement; the anti-establishment lyricism, blunt quips, and harsh instrumentals juxtaposed nicely against corporate America. Here, Punk described this emerging music scene and less one form of music that was already beginning to diverge. Now, we see bands such as Paramore and Green Day serving as the legacy of the punk movement as well as the emergence of pop-punk.
It’s this very scene that led to the development of the punk fashion subculture. Interestingly enough, the fashion blends together these music influences with more established names. For instance, British designer Vivienne Westwood is often cited as one of the more prominent influences on the style. Other designers like Anna Sui influenced the style accordingly. Punk as a look differs greatly; there are anarcho-punks, glam punk, garage punk, etc. However, there are a few common threads in the aesthetic — torn clothing, leather jackets, controversial letterings, fishnets, safety pins, piercings, dyed hair, combat boots. They all came together to form this aesthetic that I can only describe as a sort of arranged chaos.
And isn’t that what poetry is? All the chaos and tumult of the human mind rendered in neat little stanzas, sometimes metered and rhymed, on the page? Patti Smith, the poet turned punk-rock laureate herself, ends her song Dancing Barefoot with spoken word: “The plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face/The mystery of childbirth, of childhood itself/Grave visitations/What is it that calls to us?/Why must we pray screaming?/Why must not death be redefined?/We shut our eyes we stretch out our arms/And whirl on a pane of glass/An affixation a fix on anything the line of life the limb of a tree/The hands of he and the promise/That she is blessed among women.” Smith doesn’t just describe her emotions, she unravels words as prophecy, admits her own ignorance in her questioning of the world, and uses highly specific imagery to convey her message. For most people, I assume this excerpt is a bit of a riddle.
And thus, punk and poetry go hand in hand. The pleading, the aesthetics of mystery, of rebellion, of frustration and anger and passion, the blunt yet clever turns of phrase, no fear of judgement. Punk radiates through the page as it does through music and fashion. To me, punk is the perfect compliment to fiction and poetry, it teaches you all the skills for which a writer needs. It allows you to be vulnerable in the ugliest ways, in the purest ways, through sadness, anger, vitriol, and simple pure unadulterated emotion. Punk doesn’t put a filter on what needs to be heard.
Last year, I wrote a poem as one of my final pieces of my creative writing class. My professor likened it to the lyricism of The Clash, one of the most popular bands of the punk movement.
"the problem is in the past tense. there is none. the present is longer than this instance. the past
bends forward and folds into the future like cancer cells metastasizing, ribbons in the sky, wolf
fang, walrus tusk, herb, spice, white sage, my mother’s cooking, lightning bolt, halt, the sound
of (my voice) (the symphony on the stage), bending over a white table, exposing my neck, tarot
cards scar my fingers, oracle of delphi, the phone lines under the water, the red string tying
my ankle to unknown people, the man swimming in the ocean, campfires, zipline, dine dine dine,
when will it be time to die?
i am not afraid of the devil,
i am afraid you may have misjudged me"
– Ryan Aghamohammadi, “Rite Of”
When I wrote this, I wasn’t worrying about how it may be judged or if it was palatable or even if it fit into the conventions of what poetry should be. I was simply writing out of pure anger, passion, and a desire to break free from the societal constraints that were boxing me in. I suppose this was the moment in which everything clicked, and I realized what Punk was about. It’s about expressing yourself, your ugly humanity as it is, consequences be damned. I’ve realized that I’m not in the interest of being palatable. Why should I?
Like Patti Smith, like Blondie, like Green Day, I am approaching art, fashion, and my life as it really is: a narrative that belongs to one else but me. I call out injustice where I see it. I am avant-garde in my approaches to art. I reject labels as identifiers. I wear all-black outfits, torn jeans, and blazers; dye my hair unnatural colors; pierced my ears; and listen to punk rock. However, it’s become apparent that punk is more than that.
Punk is not just about rebelling against society; it’s about carving out a space for yourself and finding liberation in that. The culture, the politics, the society — whatever may fail you — does not matter in the end. Through punk, I have forged a space of freedom and from that I can find sanctuary as I work to better the world and myself. Punk is the ultimate rebellion against society because it prioritizes one’s own happiness over conforming to societal expectations; it’s about listening to yourself and doing what will make you happy and not giving a damn about what others may think.
Punk demands that you be seen, be heard, and be present; it is the perfect riot against those who would try to erase you. For those that would be made invisible by society, Punk makes them visible. It lets you be. It has given me the freedom to be who I want to be, write what I want, wear what I want, and what more can I ask for? It doesn’t demand that you be anything but what you want. Punk hasn’t claimed me. I have claimed it.
– Ryan Aghamohammadi