Tuesday, 20 December 2005

The Swift Report 2005

1. As I sit at my desk, and look out over the year that's been, I am seized by the poet's inevitable desire to boast, strut and advertise - or was it only poets in the 1940s who did this?

Not sure. I suspect the wish to tell others of what one has been up to is as old as Moses - and arguably the need has never been greater. When more than 23 million "blog" each day, it is hardly news for someone to send their signals in to the ether; more specifically, for poets, these are both rich and trying times: while there has never before been more media interest and money thrown at poetry, comparatively-speaking, the public is less concerned with the idea of poetic language than ever before, and even most literary critics and reviewers exhaust their time on prose. As an Internet and print editor of poetry I can attest to the thousands of decent, talented (but not very) people out there interested in wanting to write good poems - sometimes they succeed.

Speaking with Les Murray over tea in my kitchen a few months back, we discussed this idea - one he has based his latest poetry anthology on - that it is these poems, whether from the great or the unknown - that represent the true process of poetry today - and not, as seems so often the case in London - the few and famous in-between.

One thing is sure. Even many poets misunderstand the nature of their craft and art, however sullen: poetry is not merely a) form and wit; b) expression of a view or position or identity; c) an exploration of constraint, or innovation or d) an extension of prose by other means. It is, however, a balanced relationship between form and content, where either may sometimes exceed the other in exquisite tension - as sometimes the language stretches out more in the direction of having something to say, at other times, saying something, to have.

What seems clear in an opaque medium, is that language is both the source and basin of the poem, and therefore, it is right to keep a lively interest in both the practice and theory of how language relates to the world, to the mind, and navigates these twin shoals as an imagination-vessel. In short - call it avant-garde or call it traditional - but poetry is the philosophy of how one best uses words to describe beauty as if was a truth - and vice versa. This being said, I find the tedious arguments between so-called post-moderns and mainstreamers vapid and indifferent to the rich seams beneath such surface struggles.

This has been a difficult personal year for me - several deaths of close family members (like Fred Vickers), and a very serious illness for my father, as well. However, with the love of good friends and family, we've made it through, and there even seems to have been some very good medical news at the end of the year. As this isn't a personal blog per se, I'll leave it at that for now - except to say that my travels in Japan this summer were inspiring.

In 2005, I turned 39. It is a year I am very proud of, for a number of reasons. I completed my MA dissertation in Creative Writing at UEA, with tutors Denise Riley and George Szirtes. I edited two collections of writing, one at the start of the year, one at the end: the 2005 issue of New American Writing carried my special selection, "The New Canadian Poetry" - and I also edited the science-fiction anthology, Future Welcome, for DC Books.

My poetry also appeared in two major anthologies of contemporary Canadian poetry in 2005 - one at the start of the year, one at the end - Open Field, from Persea Books in New York (editor Sina Queyras) - and The New Canon, from Vehicule Press in Montreal (editor Carmine Starnino). I am particularly moved and even gratified to find myself in both these surveys of the best new poets of Canada, since the editors represent two sides of the language debate, Queyras being more open to experimental poetry, and Starnino being more intent on fostering an appreciation for the values of the traditional lyric form (but with a new energy and purpose). I happen to welcome both, and try to write poetry that expresses my broad-church views - a fact which utterly confounds most British poetry editors, who, less used to the broad-spectrum looseness of North American poets - see my sort of "abstract lyric" and post-modern work as falling between stools.

Poems of mine published in 2005 appeared in journals such as Agenda, London Magazine, Stride, Vallum and The Manhattan Review - and my interview with Al Alvarez (a true highlight of my 20 years as a poet) appeared in Magma. I published several reviews in good journals, such as Books in Canada. I was asked to write a poem for the Royal Wedding for The Daily Telegraph, and this story was covered in The Globe & Mail. I edited, for a fourth year, the monthly poetry section at the award-winning site, nthposition.

I read at several wonderful festivals and series this year (for instance was the poet-at-large in Winchester and was featured at the fine Essex Poetry Festival), but no honour was greater than being invited to read at Ledbury, arguably the UK's best for poetry - or at least poets and those who love them. In terms of teaching poetry, I was hired to be a visiting lecturer at London Metropolitan University, and ran seminars and gave lectures for Reading Poetry and Modern British Poetry modules. I was also hired - and this was a thrill - by London's renowned The Poetry School, to run group seminars and one-to-ones - I currently have 20 talented poets I work with regularly as their tutor. I also had the opportunity to mentor a fine young poet, Kavita Joshi, through the East-Side Trust program Write Up Your Street.

I had a few other special treats this year - such as having a photographic portrait displayed in The Poetry Cafe, along with the faces of many of the great and the good - taken by the poet-photographer Derek Adams, whose new book came out this year.

Finally, my work with Oxfam continued, the series of readings that I organized in Marylebone featured many of the best poets now writing, such as Les Murray, Kate Clanchy, Eric Ormsby, and many others - and thousands of pounds were raised. In 2006, Oxfam is creating a major poetry CD, which I am helping to organize, and will edit, and this will feature the work of poets such as Wendy Cope, Andrew Motion, Benjamin Zephaniah, and many more.

In 2006, I hope to begin a PhD. I have a book to finish editing, with Jason Camlot, on Anglo-Quebec poetry. I have a fourth poetry manuscript collection to find a home for. I have more reviews to write, and readings to organize and attend.

Who knows, I might even keep writing this blog.

I want to wish all my friends, poets, and fellow readers, all the best for 2006.

In Brief: Three Good Books Of Poetry From 2005

I am one of those who believes that 2005 was a very good year for all sorts of poetry published in the UK and Ireland - just look at the T.S. Eliot Prize short-list - hardly a dud there, and arguably six books that could win without much fuss over any injustice or cronyism. I'd say which book I want to win, but a handful of the poets up for it are, admittedly, friends of mine - and, in fact, I am torn a little.

It does seem odd that Hill's Comus was not selected, along with a few other collections, that might easily have slipped in for notice, but, since this was a bumper year, did not.

Three collections of poetry which I very much enjoyed, and did not, perhaps, receive the accolades or gongs they deserved, include two from Bloodaxe, and one from the smaller Irish press Salmon.

Sally Read gave us her debut collection early in the year. The Point Of Splitting (Bloodaxe) from its edgy title to disturbing cover onwards, is a sexy, dark and actually at times twisted exploration of eros and thanatos, with stops along the way to deal with issues such as nursing, men teaching women to load guns, and the joys of anal sex. Sensationalism aside, what struck me was the ability to shape and control the competing claims of lyricism, form, wit, and a strong, even unique, visual sense. Poems like Soldier ("Exhausted, you trace my bare arse with one idle hand") or the haunting and even unforgettable "Instruction" are very good. Read is on my list of the best new poets now emerging in the UK, and I very much look forward to her next book.

I have known the work of Kevin Higgins since meeting him briefly in New York City three or four years ago, at a poetry launch. His reading at Bob Holman's Bowery Club impressed me - he was not like other contemporary Irish poets - more louche, more savage in his wit, with less need to toe a party-line (even though political in concern at times) - in short, more in the line of Swift than Yeats and heirs (who are often a little too concerned with the sublime decorum of things). So, yes, Higgins was funny, and bold. He also writes a sort of poem that no one else does, currently. To my ear, that makes him an original - after all, the hardest thing for a poet to do is actually sound as unique as each person thinks themselves to be. Let me be clear on this - Higgins has forsaken a direct interest in form, or the lyric, to stake out territory that is far more bleak, blunt and necessary - he speaks as an angry man at the turn of a new century, one who refuses to be bought or sold, but knows the value of words that aren't simply being used for display, disguise - he is a sort of master of expressing disgust, and praising the shabby.

Just as Read takes me in to worlds no poet has before (bedrooms where men and women openly admit to their interest in weapons; rooms where nurses pack the dead away with calm and indifference) Higgins actually invents a world as much his as Greene's was to him: a compromised, dusty edge of Galway, suddenly made shiny and new by Globalism; Higgins is the voice of discontent, and his next collection, when he shifts in to a more interior key, after mapping the outer edges of a world being transformed utterly, will be a revelation, I suspect. At any rate, no other younger Irish poet has written so many visually arresting and witty poems about the New Ireland as can be found in Higgins' The Boy With No Face.

Esther Morgan, whose work I have been pleased to publish at www.nthposition.com has produced a very fine second collection, The Silence Living In Houses (cover pictured above), out from Bloodaxe. A poem like "Balancing Act" presents her lucid, elegant and disturbing voice precisely: "The blood tilts inside her head: / in a continuous present / a girl is carrying a tumbler".

I found poems like "Small-boned" and "Half Sister" chilling, eerie, haunting - of course, the book takes as one of its aspects the Gothic theme of houses haunted - by former acts, by present memories. This is a difficult sort of trope to make new, and Morgan does this. Indeed, the opening section of the book, "The House Of" is a sustained, small-boned triumph, and is especially recommended. Once again, Morgan, like Read and Higgins, stakes much on a strong visual offering to the reader. At the end of "Endurance" the house as ship is figured so: "the house rigged in ice and going down".

As Morgan says "I worry at my argument of bone" - and she does so with terrible care, alerting the reader to the sinking and the rising spirits that haunt each dwelling place, whether that be a home, or a poem. Morgan's third collection, when it comes, will almost certainly establish her, once and for all (as if more than this book was needed) as one of the best younger poets now writing in the British isles.

Future Poetry

Just a little note to say, I was glad to see this week-end's The Guardian (in the shape of Robert Potts) mention some of the more witty and well-written avant-garde books from the UK in his all-too-brief recent round-up, as well as the latest book by G. Hill (Comus) which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Of course, one of the major books (republished with new poems) of this year, which gets a mention, is J.H. Prynne's Collected Poems, from Bloodaxe, a key work for me over the last few years, since I discovered his work late in life.

Key in the sense it is a benchmark for how I like to imagine where poetry and language can extend beyond, a sort of horizon of possible speech and inquiry. I usually tarry well clear on this side of that linguistic border, but am keen to know it is there.

Due to David Wheatley, who kindly quoted a section of a post on this blog a few weeks back, sharing it with a few hundred poets on a well-known list-serve, and rather poor reading skills on the part of a few, word has gotten around that I actually said "Prynne look out!" as if I meant it (as if poets, critics or texts are never ironic or ambiguous...). Well, actually, I meant that the mainstream and the avant-garde in the UK are seriously misaligned, and need to converse more.

As for those still perpelexed about my relationship to post-modernism - do check out my latest anthology, Future Welcome, which features speculative, innovative, as well as mainstream, poetry and prose by a number of writers from Canada and elsewhere - dealing with issues such as nanotechnology, environmental science, and, well, okay, sex robots (see picture above - still from the much-maligned but delightful - to me - TV series Buck Rogers).

Monday, 19 December 2005

Review: King Kong

Naomi Watts (to the right) endures another "Darrow escape" - or does she? - as the peril-prone Ann in Peter Jackson's three-hour epic, King Kong.

The T.S. Review is reluctant to offer this film - as a sort of jungle-drum sacrifice, bound and heaving - its highest review, Four Quartets (out of four) - but must do so, for reasons to be proffered below, in less robust circumstances, and with fewer blazing torches.

King Kong - the idea and the beast - like cinema itself (and this allegory is one that Jackson belabours like a man attempting to give birth to a Welles) - is a titanic and at times self-defeating thing - compromised by trying to be two things at once: massive (in appeal and profit) and tender. It is hard to hold nuances in an ape's gigantic fist, but a blonde girl's sweet face can sometimes be stroked profitably in such a grip.

All this to say, Jackson nods to the contradictions in his subtext (firstly, by referencing Conrad's Heart of Darkness, hardly a novel filmic homage; secondly by constantly using the word subtext in his script, in reference to the love between Watts and Brody; and thirdly, by actually having a character say, at about the first hour mark, "this isn't an action movie anymore" or something to the same effect) without actually confronting the two big ones:

1. King Kong is a film that purports to expose the callow "savage" in the concrete jungle of Western man's cities, like New York, who would destroy what is sacred, mystical, and mysterious, just for a fast nickel - doing so in terms, and within the medium, of, the most developed industrial process for creating and selling (false) images known to capitalism: the movie; Jackson's only semi-witty self-referencing of cinema history and practice via a few of his venturesome characters (the earnest bespectacled "Preston" who is no doubt Sturgess being one). In Jackson's defence, he loved the original on which this oversize love-letter is based, and so, even as he rakes in the billions, he can claim a certain sincerity amid the Barnum.

2. The second contradiction is more ideological still. Kong, as a film, may be a classic, and even represent Jungian depths of male turmoil, but it also dishes up, well, a blonde dish who tames a typical inarticulate male bully by showing a bit of leg and fainting a few times - and nothing in the film, aside from a veiled critique of "live animal capture" and lantern-jawed flying aces, really questions the male-dominated patriarchy. The question remains: why did Kong never fall in love with one of the (shall I put this delicately?) less-than-American-looking indigenous women of Skull Island? There is something in the gyrating ugliness of the "savages" on the uncharted isle that are less innocent in Samoa and more unruly in Alabama, and a sort of punitive put-down seems part of what the camera fails to gaze upon with admiration.


All serious politics confronted, let us admit, and admit it with a chest-thumping grunt: this is a superb piece of film-craft.

There are many sequences in the film (the ship running aground on the rocky shoals of Skull Island; the sacrifice scene; Kong's struggle against three dinosaurs to save Ann; Kong's heart-rending defeat at the hands of far lesser men; the Kane-like Theatre scene, leading to Kong's id-swelling smash-out from his massive chrome manacles; and of course, Kong's futile stand-off on the top of the Empire State Building, without a doubt one of the most memorable moments in all of cinema, here less reimagined as burnished by time) that stand very strong comparison to the best work that Steven Spielberg has ever managed - which is saying a lot.

On the evidence of this film, and the previous Rings trilogy, Jackson is the new major popular film-maker of the century. He also has some virtues Spielberg lacks (as well as the vice of thinking a creepy-crawly or a dinosaur can swell a scene or keep it moving when simple motivation might do): he is less obsessed with childhood as a trope, so lets adults steal the show - and is, in general, and perhaps for not being American, more subtle, or at least neutral.

But what of Kong and Watts?

Well, she is slinky sexuality with a next-door tang par excellence, and Kong is the next level of Gollum-goes-to-Hollywood.

Together again for the first time, as the saying goes, Jackson teases out subtleties of desire, and a profoundity of commitment between the zoologically-thwarted pair, which is truly moving. One glimpses, in the elegiac last moments of the picture, when the truly vast and mysterious presence that is Kong is literally slipping away, from life but also off the screen and the tower, down to the street-level and its indifference crassness below, a note as sad and true as at the end of Middle Earth.

Jackson's theme, or at least, leitmotif, seems not to be childhood's end - but more universally - the decline of wonder itself. Such a loss of appreciation for the magic in the heart of darkness every poet knows, as we long ago slipped from the radar, knocked off the tower by the sniping bullets of a prose-worn media that might as well be bi-plane pilots.

There is a majesty of loss in this film that, like a mini-Vertigo (also about the gaze and sudden plummeting), will break the heart. If there is a consolation, it is that the lonely beast found love at least once in his mighty life, even if having to go to New York to die, in order to taste its sweet destruction.

Thursday, 8 December 2005

What To Do About Barker?

George Barker (pictured here) was one of the major British poets of the brief period sometimes described as "New Romanticism" - roughly late 30s to end of the 40s. I have recently been preparing a lecture on the poetry of this time, and reading work by the Apocalyptic Henry Treece, W.S. Graham, and of course, Dylan Thomas.

What struck me instantly was that, wherease Treece has gifted posterity with no memorable poem (and is thus almost fully neglected now by 21st century readers); and Graham moved on to create his best work in the 50s-70s; and Dylan Thomas wrote perhaps a dozen of the greatest modern lyrics - well, George Barker didn't quite do any of these things.

That is, his poems are not instantly unmemorable, nor did his best work flower in him later to allow us to ignore or forgive his youthful brilliance, nor did he - and this is the delicate part - ever seem to write a poem that quite works all the way through - that is, Barker seems to have written perhaps a dozen of the nearly-greatest modern lyrics.

Don't misread me. I think he is a very worthwhile poet, one unjustly less-read these days - and he is dreadfully ill-served by a lack of a very slim, tighly-edited Selected, which could clear the air, and present him not as the author of long, intermittently weak or rambling verse - but as someone who was at home in shorter forms.

If I was to edit such a slim Barker Selected, the heart of the book would contain the following poems, all drawn from anthologies of the period (these are some of the poems for which he was known, loved and respected then): "The Seal Boy"; "Summer Idyll"; "He Comes Among" (this chosen by Yeats for his Oxford book); "To My Mother"; "Summer Song I"; " ' Turn on your side and bear the day to me ' "; and "To Whom Else".

There are maybe four or five more of these kinds of brief, lyric poems, and a few dozen more could be found to round the collection off.

Of even these better poems (one hesitates to claim them as the best) a stumbling-block, surely, is the urge to make puns. What might be generously termed "word-play" can become a tedious tic. I can accept "mourning" in to "morning" and vice versa, but am somewhat repulsed by the dog/god binary - it is simply too obvious to be of much lasting interest or resonance.

Barker's strength is in his force, his immediacy, his energy, his passion, his drive - he had no less of a green fuse than Thomas.

"Summer Idyll" seems, to me, very lovely, with a superb ending, and might stand as one of his great poems. Surely, the author of such poems as these needs a new editor, and new readers, to realize what we have been missing - an exemplary lyric voice at the great mid-way point of the last century, and a daring rival for the crown of eloquence all-too-easily bestowed on Thomas.

Friday, 2 December 2005

Did We Do Enough For Gunn?

Thom Gunn, one of the English world's major poets of the last fifty years, died summer of 2004.

Have I missed something?

There does not seem to have been the promised events celebrating and commemorating his work, here in Britain, which I would have expected - readings, special publications from Faber, talks on Radio 4... or perhaps I was asleep at the time.

If Gunn's passing was not properly marked, this is a pity. And it might not be too late to mark what would have been his 80th birthday, in 2009.

If anyone wants to ask me to help organize such a celebration of the great poet, on any terms, even fighting, please do let me know.

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Fry Declines To Debate Swift For Charity

The man pictured to your left is very busy, indeed.

I received a very polite letter from his publisher, at Random House, stating: "Stephen's time is fully booked and I must therefore decline your offer".

My offer was for Stephen Fry, celebrated poetry expert, to come to the soon-to-open flagship Oxfam Bloomsbury bookshop, and debate myself, or another cultural figure of poetic repute, on the question: "Be It Resolved That Modern Poetry is Arse-Dribble" - or something of the sort.


I think Fry stood a very good chance of besting me in debate. And we would have raised interest in both his new book, poetry in general, and some money for a major and important charity.

I am glad Fry is fully booked, if not fully bookish.

More Adventures in Sound Recording: Poetry 2

The poetry archive which Charles Bernstein directs is indicated below:


New Adventures In Sound Recording: Poetry

This from The New York Times, online (see below, in a slightly smaller font):

[The T.S. Review recalls a lecture given a few years ago, by the American innovative poet Charles Bernstein, about the coming age of the digital revolution in poetry recording, where he called for all poems to be spoken and recorded and archived, in an accessible universal format. He also praised the pioneering work of Swifty Lazarus in its poetry recording experiments. It is good to see British and Irish poetry also launching such an enterprise, and one hopes it will link to Mr. Bernstein's site.]

A new Web site under the auspices of Andrew Motion, the poet laureate of Britain, will collect recordings of poets reading their own works. The Poetry Archive (www.poetryarchive.co.uk) goes online today with recordings of Margaret Atwood, above right, Harold Pinter, Simon Armitage, U. A. Fanthorpe and Seamus Heaney, who is listed as the organization's president.

The site also has historical recordings by Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Tennyson, and W. B. Yeats, among others. The recording project, begun five years ago, captured Charles Causley and Allen Curnow shortly before their deaths.

"Actors may (or may not) read poems well," Mr. Motion said in a statement, "but poets have unique rights to their work, and unique insights and interests to offer as we hear their idiom, pacing, tone and emphases." He added, "They all, in their different ways, validate the intention of the archive to preserve the mystery of poetry while tearing away some of the prejudices which can make it appear unduly 'difficult' or separate from familiar life."

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Seven Poets For Oxfam Tonight


Tuesday, November 29, 7-10 pm


Featuring: Lavinia Greenlaw, pictured here, (author of Minsk, Faber, and Forward Poetry Prize winner); Sinead Morrissey (author The State of the Prisons, Carcanet); Sophie Hannah (Penguin Selected Poems forthcoming); Charles Bennett (author of Wintergreen); Briar Wood (New Zealand-born poet and lecturer); Leah Fritz (London-based American author of The Way To Go); Polly Clark (author of Take Me With You, Bloodaxe, current Poetry Book Society Choice).

This finale will close the official run of the highly succesful two-year 2004-2005 poetry project in Marylebone, and inaugurate new poetry events for 2006. The series has so far raised thousands of pounds for Oxfam.

Oxfam Books & Music
91 Marylebone High Street
London, W1, near Baker Street
Admission free - donations gratefully accepted - all proceeds to Oxfam.

To reserve a ticket, call 020 7487 3570
or email Martin Penny at

Monday, 28 November 2005

Magma, Magma Everywhere

Magma 33 is now out.

It features my interview with Al Alvarez, as well as Philip Gross "on Basho and William Carlos Williams" and many poems by many good poets, such as Moniza Alvi, Michael Symmons Roberts, Tobias Hill, and reviews by David Boll and others.

A very worthwile issue to borrow, or better, own, if you don't mind me saying.

Magma has a website now, www.magmapoetry.com, too.

The launch for 33 is at 8 pm on Monday December 5 2005 in the Coffee-House Poetry series, at the Troubdadour Coffee House, 265 Old Brompton Road, London.

Friday, 25 November 2005

The Queen's English

I was the guest speaker at the Queen's English Society meeting the other night, at The New Cavendish Club.

It was a good mix of people, some very articulate indeed, such as Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Lamb, the Times Crossword expert Roy Dean (who presented me with a copy of his book Mainly In Fun), and the golden-voiced former BBC radio broadcaster Peter Barker, who read poems between the music on BBC 3, along with other clever and oustpoken men and women, including a chap who is a tram driver and a lady who confessed (privately) to being an atheist - her secret is safe with me.

After lecturing on my subject, "Trends in 21st century Poetry" for 45 minutes, I was asked to read my own poems, for about another 25. I read from Cafe Alibi, Rue du Regard, and a few new poems from my UEA MA dissertation.

Then there was a coffee and biscuits break, then we debated the state of contemporary poetry, and finally had sandwiches and port in the library.

Those interested in learning more should go to the link below:


Thursday, 24 November 2005

Is Modern Poetry Mostly "Arse-Dribble"? Revisited & Revised In The Light Of New Information

The man to the right of the page is none other than Stephen Fry.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, October 23, 2005 (just brought to my attention today) Mr. Fry has had it up to here with modern poetry which is mostly "arse-dribble".

He is also "sniffy about" the poet laureate Andrew Motion, and thinks that the series of e-books I edited, with Val Stevenson of Nthposition, the 100 Poets Against the War series "pathetic, naive, like small noisy tantrums". He thinks modern poets are lazy: "you cannot work too hard at poetry".

No, you can't. First task on the road of manual labour (after all, Fry once played a witty genius in a film, Oscar Wilde) is to actually read some "modern poetry" which Fry clearly hasn't.

Simply put, Dr. Fry has made the cardinal error of conflating the speed of delivery of poetry in the Internet age (i.e. e-books and poems on web sites and blogs) with the time, or care, taken to actually write said poems. Given the evident lack of time or care taken by Professor Dr. Fry to compose his own reflections on poesy, mostly modern, this is particularly ironic. I could give you six other types, but won't bother. Fry is no Empson.

That being said, Fry's new book, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within, from Hutchinson, London, is a Christmas book no good or bad boy/girl -poet should be without. Form is something ALL poets need to know about, if only to further enjoy their deviant language. And Fry is right to hammer this home with velvet tongs.

Curiously, on page 324 or so of this arch-traditionalist Magnum Opus, in the section titled "Poetry Today" (Fry gives this important subject less than 1/300 of the whole book), the author cites several worthy poets now at work, including my former tutor, Denise Riley, as well as "Jeremy" Prynne (the most divisive, difficult and innovative UK poet now working, known to most readers as J.H. Prynne) and Tom Raworth - one feels Fry hasn't read them, since their work is, though clearly formed by superb classical training, utterly opposed to the general conservative drift of the manual in toto.

Oh, and Andrew Motion is the best Poet Laureate since Tennyson.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

George Szirtes T.S. Eliot Lecture

The lecture by George Szirtes is now online, see link: http://www.poetrylibrary.org.uk/news/poetryscene/?id=168

T.S. Eliot Prize Shortlist Announcement

The T.S. Review is pleased to share this announcement with you, below.

I am glad to see so many of the excellent poets who have supported the Oxfam Poetry Series in London over the last few years, by donating their readings, featured on this year's list, such as Polly Clark, Pascale Petit, John Stammers, Sinead Morrissey and David Harsent.

It is also interesting to see the shortlisted poets so evenly spread among the major publishing presses.

It seems a particularly strong list, though, the judges have chosen to not represent any writing by either more experimental UK poets, or those who work in the margins of performance based poetries. It represents the main stream of current British poetry, in its more lucid, lyric, form.

There is a neo-classical tendency at the moment, in the UK,which worships form, wit and order at the expense of the less-controlled aspects of imagination, content and vernacular insight - the diction of the margins, be they multicultural, multimedia, or multilingual.

That's a pity, since it would be good to have a rapprochement between various schools, or views, of poetry, in order to achieve more of a balance in the flow of the poetic tradition in Britain - at the moment, the canon has become skewed by various poetics, who cannot seem to find a common ground for their heterogenous tenors and vehicles. Surely, the ground for all poets is language?

George Szirtes gave his T.S. Eliot lecture last evening, which I was unable to attend, lecturing myself elsewhere, but I look forward to reading the full essay at some point. His theme, the figure of the skater, seems to tease out just such concerns as I voiced above.

T S Eliot Prize Shortlist Announcement

The Poetry Book Society is pleased to announce the Shortlist for the T S Eliot Prize 2005, to be awarded to the writer of the best new collection of poetry published in 2005.

Now in its thirteenth year, the T S Eliot Prize is 'poetry's most coveted award' (Jane Wheatley, The Times). Judges David Constantine (Chair), Kate Clanchy and Jane Draycott chose the following ten collections:

Polly Clark, Take Me with You, Bloodaxe

Carol Ann Duffy, Rapture, Picador

Helen Farish, Intimates, Cape

David Harsent, Legion, Faber

Sinead Morrissey, The State of the Prisons, Carcanet

Alice Oswald, Woods etc., Faber

Pascale Petit, The Huntress, Seren

Sheenagh Pugh, The Movement of Bodies, Seren

John Stammers, Stolen Love Behaviour, Picador

Gerard Woodward, We Were Pedestrians, Chatto

The judges will make their final decision on Monday 16 January 2006, when the prize of £10,000 will be presented by Mrs Valerie Eliot at an award ceremony in London.

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Link Wray Is Dead

There were not many Wrays as famous as Link - though the one in King Kong's clutches must count as a distant second.

The death of Link Wray is the end of an era of sublime trash-noise simplicity whose cultural value will only rise with time. He was a musical genius, and more interestingly, a man with a fascinating personal story.

The fortunes of Quentin Tarantino, and his masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, would have been very different, if Wray had not supplied some of the major musical moments, which, along with Miserlou, are the leitmotifs of the film. It is no puffery to say that Wray had the opportunity to create signature sounds that were iconic in at least two key decades, one of them being the 90s. His influence on garage-punk-surf, both originally and during its revivals, is comparable to that of Ezra Pound on Imagism - which is to say, he almost single-handedly (as it were) strummed the power chords of his genre into existence.

I have long felt that, should the thin walls between high and low culture ever truly crash down, in a thundering surf, it will be recognized that a legimate B-poetry movement has been rumbling along, beneath the surface, all the time, since the Beats. This trashy, indie, alt-poetry, if it is ever noted, will come to be called The Age of Wray, in honour of this often wordless troubadour of something wild, raw and utterly itself.

The link below (no pun) takes you to his obituary.


French Letters

A site with world poetry features a poem of mine translated into French by the fine writer Robert Paquin.

Thought you might enjoy reading it.


Monday, 21 November 2005

Review: The Consequences of Love

The Consequences of Love, the Italian film released in 2004 and now out from Artificial Eye as a DVD, receives Four Quartets from The T.S. Review.

It is one of the most poised, stylish, suspenseful, and under-stated European films of the last five years, with an extraordinary series of final images that reminds one of Pasolini's Christ, if not for the reasons one might expect.

The central roles are cast perfectly, with Olivia Magnani and Toni Servillo, as the Beatrice-waitress-figure and the Dante-middle-aged-business- traveller, respectively.

I welcome haunting films about isolation, desire, the gaze, despair and transgression set in hotels, Death In Venice perhaps being second only to The Night Porter. Now, add a third classic to this genre.

Revillo invests his face, manner, body and stylish dress with an exhaustive but invigorating melancholia; and Magani is utterly astonishing in her long, languid silence, and speech.

Moving, elegantly but with feline-immediacy, from the most sublimely measured asthetic shots of glowing interiors to hyper-cool chrome-bright, Mecededes-black violence, this is a study in the hot and cold both of the image, and the interior self, and how imagination moderates, or does not, our movements between worlds of love and death.


Thursday, 17 November 2005

Switch or Fight?: Ever More New Canadian Poetry

It seems 2005 is shaping up to be the "Year of New Canadian Poetry" and canon-revising anthologies - first my own section for New American Writing this spring, then Sina Queyras' Open Field from NYC, and soon, The New Canon from Carmine Starnino, and, altogether less-expected, Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry. As a long-time enthusiast of the anthology, I am particularly pleased to see this series of alternate publications unfolding.

The introduction, by the editors, contains the following by Jason Christie:

"Most introductions include all manner of caveats to anticipate or deflect criticism, to comfort egos that may have been bruised during the selection process, etc. Editors often apologize for what isn't included in the anthology and why it wasn't included. In introductions to anthologies where the editors presume to a project of capturing distinct, new voices, of encapsulating a new generation of writers, or ensconcing an elderly, threatened generation in a monumental marble edifice to weather the wreck of centuries, such editors must address the connotations of their pomposity with caveats. We offer no apologies because we are not attempting to suggest our anthology establishes boundaries, exhausts possibilities, or captures an entire future literature in the gestational state of its potential. Shift & Switch is not a complete catalogue of New Canadian Poetry."

My comment here is that S&S is most certainly not a complete catalogue, and its ruptures, aporias, holes, absences, vacancies, discrepancies, revaluations, shiftings, etc., may be invaluable, but the collection has done itself a disservice - it seems to me - by failing to include a number of Canadian writers, like Meredith Quartermain, Sina Queyras, Ray Hsu, Alessandro Porco, and many others, who indeed are practitioners of work which is not within the lyric Canadian sublime.

The editor also writes:

"Writing is alive, mutational, impermanent, flexible, and explosive rather than reductive, static, rigid, and entombed; writing is a dynamic system rather than an hierarchical tree. We would sever the thin lines that connect our anthology to a current tendency in Canadian letters toward community instead of toward sects, a movement toward inclusiveness and encouragement instead of exclusivity and elitism by pretending to such an impossible and false endeavour as Canon-building. With this anthology, we partially demonstrate the variety of talented writers currently underrepresented in Canada. We are not responsible for 'discovering' or 'uncovering' any of the writers in this anthology: we were fortunate to have had the chance to come into contact with their work and are eager to share their work with you. I believe that with this anthology we have a chance to sidestep lineage-bound and fraught notions of patriarchal literary inheritance with which we've been nurtured, to find a warmer intelligence than the cold austerity of reason."

This sounds to me like an attempt to reach Bernsteinian post-modernity without working through the modernity of Early T.S. Eliot - which is indeed a fraught project. Writing is both static and dynamic (it is in fact a dialectic) at times, and there is a tradition, albeit one which shifts continuously. It isn't clear to me whether they are celebrating elitism or inclusivity, community or sects - I read it as saying they wanted sects and elitism - presumably arguing that a quietism lies the other way. As one of the fathers of several inclusive, eclectic, broad church anthologies, I actively disagree with the total abandonement of community for sects - although we should all mate on the high crags with our own kinds, as poets, following Stevens, arguably. On which note, I should add, this anthology is curiously confrontational of the idea of "Canada" - in favour of a strongly American form of "innovative practice". Such a shift was essayed before, notably in the 60s (see the essay on Bowering in the latest issue of Jacket by Canada's own rob mclennan).

My own feeling is, Canadian nationalism, in terms of poetics and publishing, should be certainly interrogated by international sympathies (as I have) but not so far as to dispense with a grasp of the socio-political and literary-economic realities, pressures and burdens of history, writing, and "Canada" as these ideas intersect - in short, there is a Canada, and it has poetries of its own, whose strong point is also its weakness: it always tends to resist the best of international writing, while seemingly investing its efforts in aping what is weakest in foreign models.

Rather than abandoning all interest in the lyric, the tradition, form and so on (we might as well abandon the poem while we're at it) a blessed recovery is in order. The poem, as written in the UK, and Ireland, for instance, is alive and well, and sometimes rather lovely for its interest in voice, metre, and music. Much of what is best in the human being (if such a thing still exists for these editors) nourishes, and is nourished by, the lyric imgination, which, if extended in an Ashberyian fashion, can contain flow, wit, experiment, and delight, without recourse to "math".

I look forward to reading this...

Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry
Edited by derek beaulieu, Jason Christie & Angela Rawlings
Cover art by Brendan Fernandes
The Mercury Press
$19.95 / $16.95 US, ISBN 1-55128-116-3

A Perfect Night To Go To China

The T.S. Review is pleased to announce that David Gilmour has just won the 2005 (Canadian) Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction for his novel A Perfect Night To Go To China. Gilmour has long been a fixture on Canadian television. He lives in Toronto.

I recently reviewed this novel for Books in Canada, where I said: "This seems one of the most refreshing, moving and supple works of fiction written since the 21st century began; it is lovely to see it achieve so much that is uniquely Canadian by handsomely converting great American and European works, without missing a beat. " I stand by my words. This is a Canadian masterpiece. Bravo to Mr. Gilmour.

Future Welcome Is Coming

The Future isn't what it used to be. No more Buck Rogers. Now it is all nanotechnology and innovative poetry...

Do consider the link below, which leads to information about the new anthology, Future Welcome, which I recently edited for DC Books.


Poem by Bernard Lamb

Eyewear is pleased to present a limerick from Dr. Bernard Lamb, Reader in Genetics, Imperial College London (as pictured here).

I met Lamb at a dinner, as part of a literary festival where I was "Poet-at-large" and we sat next to each other, where we struck up a lively conversation, about poetry, and genetics.

Dr. Lamb is a prolific writer of limericks, which combine his interests in science, word-play and edgy humour.

Defective DNA

The mutation ‘hyperkinetic’
Makes fruit flies really phrenetic;
Their legs kick and beat
As if they’re on heat -
The problem’s deeply genetic.

poem by Bernard Lamb

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

New Writing Ventures Poetry Prize 2005

The winner of the recently-announced New Writing Ventures 2005 £5000 cash prize for poetry is Valeria Melchioretto. The judges were Andrew Motion (pictured to the right), Jacob Polley and Eva Salzman. The competition, out of East Anglia, was national, and had many hundreds of high level entries.

The T.S. Review is very pleased with this news.

Melchioretto has had poems published in various publications including Poetry London, Wolf Magazine and The Salzburg Review - and in anthologies and/or online journals which I have edited.

She attended a number of workshops and courses, including workshops with Pascale Petit, and has worked for years at the Poetry Cafe.

She has been, to my mind, consistently under-rated for some time in British poetry, because her complex, verbally rich imagination no doubt worries the more cautious. Now, hopefully, she has begun to receive the recognition she deserves, and her work will begin to reach a wider audience.

To read her work click here.

Review: The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener, directed by the now-great Fernando Meirelles - famed for his co-helming of City of God, is one of the most visually rich, beautiful, and morally challenging ever presented in the context of a "Hollywood" production, and, arguably, some of the textures, colours, and cinematographic palette in general, represent the finest work done since Gregg Toland's reinvention of the style-content balance in Citizen Kane.

That is, as an exercise in an epic revaluation of how rich Western eyes see the "poor" world of Africa, the film is an aesthetic masterpiece - the drained cityscape of a Waste Land-like London contrasting explosively with the stunning, riotous splendour of colour that is the African landscape.

The film is also significant for presenting situations and images which are strikingly alien to the Western gaze, simply because they constantly seek to pull focus from the (mainly) white characters and situate the action in the faces of the "extras" - as Carol Reed used to do. In this case, the "extras" are the third world, and the director is developing something of an oeuvre based on giving more than dignity back to this return of the repressed. The film is a first bubbling to the surface of the guilt and anguish continuing capitalist exploitation and neo-colonialism is visiting upon Africa and the world's poorest.

What the film is not - despite rave reviews to the contrary - is a narrative or literary masterwork. That is, the written (and acted) screenplay is merely good. The political exposition is at times clumsy, over-determined and simplistic - even to a Guardian reader and Oxfam supporter such as myself. Big Pharma may be corrupt, even potentially murderous, but that doesn't mean its "sinister representatives" should be portrayed like Bourgeois Pigs in some agitprop student film, swilling wine and toasting soaring profits, or greyly dining in shadowy Pall Mall clubs like some latter-day Moriarty. Also, the tired trope of the amiable nerd-kid who can crack into computers and "zoom in on" the faces of people in crowds left me somewhat incredulous - was this the best they could come up with?

Only in the German "spy" scenes does the movie move into territory once so well-mined by The Odessa File, and improved upon recently by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass in their also-stylish Bourne series: that eerie, casual and thuggish sort of violence that is always more terrifying when set in bleak Berlin.

The theme of searing grief finds itself a lackluster objective correlative that quickly lapses in to pathetic fallacy, as the gardener of the title wilts in overgrown, abandoned, weed-strewn backyards, his widower's pale face pressed up to the cold glass between him and his edenic past. Only in the last reel do the violence and pathos of such loss come together, in an unforgettable close up, which is haunting.

Danny Huston (the most under-rated actor now working in America) performs superbly, but even then, his British accent is mid-Atlantic at best. I have long felt Ralph Fiennes did his best work as a Nazi. What is extraordinary is that a film could feature Pete Postlethwaite's cabbage-patch-doll face on top of a ludicrous South African accent and still be a great movie.

As in the best of Lang, Reed and Welles, the mise-en-scene, and directorial vision, exceed the plot's thriller elements, in this instance to create a statement about love and exploitation that is timeless, and yet startlingly contemporary. There are scenes in this film that actually, as they appear, signal things never quite seen this way before.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Books In Canada Review and other news

My review of the new book by Al Alvarez, The Writer's Voice, is available in the latest (October) issue of Books In Canada, on newstands now.

In other publication news, my poem "The Expedition" has just appeared in the October/November issue of The London Magazine; and several poems in The Manhattan Review.

Thursday, 3 November 2005


I confess to being a fado-masochist. Fado, the traditional song of profound, passionate, melancholy expression, born in Lisbon's taverns in the old Mouraria district, has found a new voice to keep its traditions alive: Mariza (pictured above).

In the week where we recollect the 250th anniversary of the terrible devastation (100,000 dead, and a giant tsunami) of the Lisbon Earthquake of November, 1755, which helped inspire Kant's ideas of the sublime, the T.S. Review is glad to report that Lisbon has recovered, if it can produce such vibrancy.

Mariza, who performed last evening at the Barbican in London, is a visually striking, engaging, and fiery entertainer, who literally had her audience begging for more.

Her songs, often reinterpreting the fado form for the 21st century, and using the poems of Pessoa, remind poetry how its best course is to utter out from the self, fully integrating with life, without let or hindrance, and yet keeping the shape tradition allows.

With some of the strength and humour and presence of a Belafonte or Piaf, Mariza is that welcome and always unexpected stage presence, where presence itself is redefined in the act of its appearance. Sublime, indeed.

Attention All Typewriters Tonight

The T.S. Review has long considered Jason Camlot a triple threat, as poet, scholar and song-writer/singer - a sort of cleverer Leonard Cohen for the 21st century. His poetry is where whimsy, wit, worldliness and wordplay wrangle, well.

It is for this reason he was inclued in the New American Writing section of younger Canadian poets. His latest collection, which I have been reading with glee (Davids Antin and Trinidad both have good things to say about it too), is just out, and is now to be launched in my hometown, of Montreal - see below for details.

The other book out tonight is written by a brilliant former professor of mine, and anyone who is savvy, hip, well-read or wants to be, will be there, on that infamous boulevard. I would gladly be there, and you who can travel freely, in North America should seek to.

DC Books is pleased to announce the Montreal launch of Attention All Typewriters
by Jason Camlot

With Host David McGimpsey and ‘Live Funk’ dance party after the reading

How to be an Intellectual in the Age of TV: The Lessons of Gore Vidal (Duke UP) by Marcie Frank will also be celebrated this same night.

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005
The Green Room
5386 St-Laurent Blvd.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

The New Canon Is Coming!

The New Canon - from one of Canada's best young poet-critics, Carmine Starnino - is due out later this month.

Introducing the fifty major new voices in Canada's poetry (poets born between 1955-1975) - it will prove to be most contentious, an invaluable resource, and the one to beat, I suspect.

More when it is out. At the moment, do see the publisher's link, below:


[editor's note: I should add my own work is included]

The Envelope Please

The men pictured here are Swifty Lazarus. I am one of them. The other is Tom Walsh, one of Canada's most visionary Jazz musicians and composers.

I met him in rainy London last night, to speak of future grand projets, MacLuhan and Dylan and Hermann.

In the meantime, do check out the review of the first studio album at Adam Fieled's site (see link, then fish around a bit).

Meanwhile, it is a big day for this oft-neglected duo of lonely noir practioners: arriving in the afternoon post, Royal Mail brought more good news for the Men in Shades: a review of their album The Envelope Please, in none other than poet-performer Dave Reeves' Raw Edge Magazine (the new writing magazine for the West Midlands), #21 [autumn/winter 2005] - suitable for these dark-seasoned lads, and it says: "it is well-written, well-produced... probably one of the most consistently pleasing and interesting spoken word albums that I've ever heard".

If you wish to hear it yourself, please go the releasing label at www.wiredonwords.com and figure out how to order it online - it is complicated and thrilling.

Friday, 21 October 2005

Miles Goes The Extra Spacey

Last night Eyewear attended the Old Vic's new production (directed by Trevor Nunn) of Richard II, with Kevin Spacey as Richard, and Ben Miles as the usurper. It was extraordinary. The modern-dress setting was perhaps too busy with the usual tropes of cameras and cell phones as imagos of a post-modern world, but the stark crisis between godly tradition and naked power was well presented even in contemporary fashion (the play partly being about fashion of course). Kevin Spacey has never been better, and lent Richard a few extra layers of pathos and eloquence, as well as suavity and cattiness, beyond the usual ones of self-pity and preening vanity stripped bare like a winter tree.

Ben Miles was a revelation - a bold modernizer out to capture his country like some former-day Cameron or Fox (or Blair). The play itself, delivered with such passion and seriousness, is newly-minted as one of Shakespeare's greatest and most profound essays on being and identity itself - the soul being appeased by "being eased to being nothing" - and Spacey's soliloquies with the mirror and in the cell were arresting and ravishing.

At the bleak end, when the brilliant, poetic king is grossly murdered, one is struck by the play's underpinning subtext: that the poet in society is disposable, no match for a determined forceful march forward - for all of Richard's speeches, which fuse his sense of self with tradition and language, ultimately link him to the royal fabric of spoken thought itself, which is, finally (and finely) poetry.

Causing A Scene

The always irrepresible and informative Canadian literary site, Bookninja, has an article out on the pros and cons of being in or out of a "writing scene". See link below. Warning, may contain traces of TS. ...


Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Review: Playing The Angel

Depeche Mode have a new album out (meaning they now have a 24-year-old career). Bands once mocked now have a quarter of a century under their belts, and serious discographies and histories worth considering.

The new Depeche Mode album, Playing The Angel, is not as good as Violator or Music for the Masses, which arguably have the key songs, and are in fact from the golden middle period (after the early candy-synth and before the portentous slow decline into irrelevance) - but it is a work that coldly, and strongly, references the whole back catalogue with sinister wit.

Depeche Mode are loved by some, and regarded as faintly silly by most others, and for the same reasons: their merger of S&M, biblical allusion, electronic music and ultra-louche posturing (where all behaviour is deontologically challenged) is a brew not all may consume lightly.

I have always considered them natural heirs to the Byronic tradition: there is nothing Byron (or the idea of Byron) didn't do they have done, which includes the opiates and the orgies - with a curious C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters diabolism. In fact, it is surprising they have never titled an album Screwtape - it would be be the summation of their summa psychopathologica - that is, they take the path of Judas, and celebrate it. They combine Poe and the Pope.

The best song on the new album is undoubtedly "John The Revelator" - a clear homage to their own "Personal Jesus" - which is about as joyous a misuse of American Gospel Born Again rhetoric and music as can be imagined - it is as if a Mormon choir joined Nine Inch Nails on tour and really got into it. This is what Depeche Mode do better than anyone else - desecrate the transcendental like some sort of coy William Empson about to be sent down for having a condom in his digs. That is, if they are of the devil's party, it isn't for want of trying to get into Magdalene first.

The rest of the album sags under the weight of too many dreamy ballads and less than impressive forays into their slow stuff. But it has three other highlights: "I Want It All"; "Lilian" and "Suffer Well" - which basically sum all their tropes up, lyrically and musically, but with valedictory panache, at least. Of these, "Lilian" is the most refreshing - it is rare for a Depeche Mode song to actually celebrate an actual person as subject (if even a fictional one) - too often their love objects are simply objects, and love isn't the right word to use either.

One final note: the James Bond franchise has overlooked DM for their theme song as often as the Tories have Ken Clarke - and this should stop. No other contemporary British band combines European sophistication, real menace, and kitsch as well as they.

Monday, 17 October 2005

Otherwheres In Islington This Wednesday

Otherwheres - "the new anthology from the University of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA course. It showcases the fresh talent of the Class of 2005 across the genres of prose, scriptwriting, poetry and lifewriting. UEA’s course is famous for selecting and nurturing a wide variety of writers and launching the careers of many well-known names in the world of literature, including Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Toby Litt and Trezza Azzopardi. UEA Creative Writing Anthology 2005: Otherwheres is a fabulous collection that ranges from the military courts of Pakistan to a marshland in France, on to the teeming streets of Osaka via a New Jersey airport, stopping at Tuscany and Siberia on the way and serving up burnt porridge to the Brontë sisters." - as the blurb goes.

What makes it meaningful, to me, despite the to-be-expected-hoo-ha is that my poetry colleagues and fellow classmates on the same year are in it; and we have wonderful, insightful and witty introductions from our marvellous tutors, Drs. Denise Riley and George Szirtes (two of the best poets now writing in the UK and beyond, if I may say so).

It'll be interesting to see how you compare this to the Hallam collection reviewed here a few weeks back.

The London launch is on Wednesday 19 October at 7.30 pm in The Mini Bar @ The Garage, 20-22 HighburyCorner, Islington, N5 1RD, which I shall be hosting.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, 16 October 2005

BBC Notices Poetry

The T.S. Review is happy to note that the BBC reviewed the recent Citizen 32 reading in Manchester, earlier posted here.

They kindly state:

"2004’s Oxfam Poet in Residence Todd Swift was entertaining as he was controversial".

See the link below.

This photo of me is by the Welsh writer Jo Hughes, and was taken in London in 2003.

One of the poems I read was:

The Shape of Things to Come

Resembles a triumphant trump of doom;
Is like a hollow room; a horn of plenty;
A ballerina’s shoe; a house in Hooville,
Like a devil’s mouse; a bang-
Drum, a pirate drunk on deadman’s

Rum; like a broken broom used to brush
Away the webs from day-dreaming boys
In a math exam; like a rack of lamb;
A donut convention; a depleted pension;
Like the sort of position churchmen don’t

Like to mention; is shaped like a poem,
Mute and dumb; like a big bronze bell
Held by a handlebar-moustachioed strongman
Working for Barnum; like a circus tent;
Like the hole rent in just such an umbrella;

Like a sausage and some French mustard;
Seems to be hoist on its own petard; looks
Like rain; is infinite, so will and won’t come again.
Is shaped like love; is shaped like a question
Mark and also an exclamation mark and also

A period. The shape of the terrible future
Is a sonnet and a no, looks like a Chinese box and
A door without locks, a hairless fox,
A vortex, a matrix, a nexus, a government rope.
Dystopia up around that there bend

Appears to be green soap abandoned
Under an infernal never-ending tap. The future,
According to the latest discovery, is a bit
Like a U-boat captain, or a tortoise neck.
The bad things ahead look like a two-mile wreck.

poem by Todd Swift


Friday, 14 October 2005

Craig As Bond Is An Owen Goal

The badly-cropped image to your right is a picture of the Man Who Should Have Been Bond: Clive Owen.

Instead, the Friday 14 annoucnement, in London (a day after the far merrier Pinter Nobel) is bad news for those who want their Bond dark-haired, and good with a croupier.

Owen, by far the better actor, seemed a shoe-in - after all, he actually looks the part, and has played several Bond-like characters. Perhaps Owen did not want the part, now that he is an Oscar-nominated act-tor.

What we have instead is Dalton Mark Two. Warning bells are already ringing, and the volcano HQ is about to self-destruct, along with the franchise. As soon as I read that Craig wishes to "take the part to darker, more serious places, with more emotion" and that the writer of the screenplay wishes to create a sombre character study without Q or gadgets, I realized that the reality principle was about to burst the greatest fantasy bubble in cinema history. Bond is not Hamlet, nor was meant to be. When Dalton tried to go dark and thespian, it went all pear-shaped.

I hope I am wrong about this. However, rather than getting Masterpiece Theatre on Bond's ass, they should have hired Tarantino or some other edgy, cool director to make a retro classic, updated to reflect the current cinematic trends from Asia and beyond. Retreating to Casino Royale seems like a fallback position. I am shaken, not stirred, today, to reuse the most tired trope in the biz.

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Harold Pinter Deservedly Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

The T.S. Review is very happy, indeed, to report that Harold Pinter has today been awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize In Literature.

Pinter - like Kafka or Beckett - defines the age he finds himself in, through the anxieties of language, and the unease of its uses, misuses and the emptiness (silence is not sufficient) between what is said and unsaid - the dialectic of human speech, and thus, society. In fact, the politics of how we say things and do things to others, surely the core concern of writing.

As a playwright, screenwriter, and antiwar poet, he has fully earned this honour, which is a refreshing surprise, and a bloody nose to both Blair and Thatcher. Coming on her 80th birthday it is a double irony - and a welcome one, given this is also HP's 75th birthday year. There were complaints in the British media not enough was being done at home to fete the great man - now there will be.

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Review: Siberia

Eyewear is of the firm opinion that the new album from Echo and The Bunnymen, Siberia, recently released in the UK, confirms their 25-year-career to have been unexpectedly crowned by this superb collection of heartfelt yet well-made songs.

Rather than being just another 80s New Romantic band, Echo (see left) have now made a crafted, mature album that argues for their lasting cultural importance. Contemporary guitar-led new-alternative bands need to watch their backs - song for song (and there are 11 of them) this is as good as the last outings from U2, The Cure, Franz Ferdinand or Coldplay, and far more elegantly generous: it actually shimmers, soars, saddens and soothes, savvy and cerebral and shamanistic. As usual, words and music both twist with surprise and still deliver the goods.

Fans of their significant mid-80s work (which inspired aspects of cult film Donnie Darko) - as lovely and haunting as anything then produced, with a slight Lizard King touch of rock-soaked poetic grandiosity - will not be displeased. While there is no "Killing Moon" here, many songs come close to the greatness of Ocean Rain, and in fact the whole is more impressive for being belated.

What this album provides is the sound of young men young no longer, shouldering a kind of manhood, still passionate and cold as Siberia; the album reverberates a sense of melancholy mastery, as if with rue comes great wisdom.

Stand out tracks include "All Because of You Days"; "Scissors In The Sand"; "What If We Are"; "In The Margins" and "Parthenon Drive".

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Letter To The Guardian

The Guardian has today published an edited version of my letter, sent in reply to Catherine Gander's recent column.


Please find the full text below.


October 7, 2005

To The Editor of The Guardian,

Catherine Gander's article "We need a poetry idol" of Friday October 7, 2005 was ill-informed, unhelpful, and ultimately silly. The choice of The Guardian to publish it reflects a sad truth: while poetry flourishes, at hundreds of festivals, public readings, and in journals and blogs across Britain and, indeed, the world, the media fails to report this correctly, therefore compounding the myth which Gander perpetuates: that poetry is unpopular, and needs to be saved by some outside hand.

Instead, poetry has never been a more popular, democratic, or accessible art form, and continues to reach more people than ever before. I was at the Cambridge poetry reading which Seamus Heaney recently gave on October 5, the 10th anniversary of his Nobel win. The auditorium was filled to capacity with awestruck and attentive students and people from the area, and I was told 500 more had signed up on the waiting list. The night before, I attended a Manchester Poetry Festival poetry cabaret with over 250 people in the venue. My own Oxfam events are routinely packed, and the poetry e-book I edited, which was against the Iraq war, has been downloaded (as The Guardian reported at the time) over a quarter of a million times. Anecdotal evidence, perhaps, but compelling.

Gander claims that poets require a celebrity to endorse them in order to achieve name brand-recognition, much as she suggests Bob Dylan was championed by Martin Scorsese. This is ludicrous. Firstly, Bob Dylan's genius, work or person needs no introduction - not since he was 20. 20th century poets such as Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin - and even, indeed, the serious and difficult T.S. Eliot - are widely read, and beloved figures. In our own time, Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, and Benjamin Zephaniah are equally known and popular. It is hard to imagine how or why one would want an Ant and Dec, or Bono-type figure to step forward to endorse poets who, in fact, mostly reach the readers they want, already.

Poetry is not a Barnum and Bailey world - it is a quieter, more private, and more long-lasting practice - and as such, is exempt, mostly, from the cheaper aspects of a commodity culture. Attempts to market poetry generations and create instant superstars in the poetry community usually fail, because poets and poetry readers know the real thing when they hear and see it. True poetry is that which cannot be sold - it can only be given, and received. Poetry, after all, offers uniquely rich rewards to those in the know, and they are simply not in "university seminar rooms" - but in all places and walks of life.

Gander states that "publishing houses and poetry societies need to strive towards fashion". This is an astonishing thing for someone apparently "researching a doctorate on modern poetry" to write. Surely she, of all people, should know that poetry has always either been far ahead of fashion, or blessedly disinterested in it. As Ezra Pound pointed out, good poetry is always "news that stays news" - while fashion is that which quickly reverts to being unfashionable. Implicit in her comment is an underlying, and I fear simplistic, belief that somehow, not enough is being done, by either poets or their publishers, to make poetry a sort of "popular" past-time, like Sudoku. However, contemporary poets already write truthfully, entertainingly, and with great skill, about the central issues of our times - love, desire, fear, and fun - just as novelists do, and cannot be said to be out of touch with the times. Nor do they, for the most part, write with more complexity of style and diction than many literary, popular novelists. And their books, when published, are done so attractively.

Gander is right about one thing, when she writes: "poetry is unforgivably poorly advertised". Well, whose fault is that? Most newspapers and magazines rarely list poetry events with the same effort they would film, music or theatre shows; and almost never review them, though often they are no less ephemeral than a one-night rock concert. This is an editorial choice, and the The Guardian, it can be said, rarely pays the same attention to progressive poetry as it does similar movements in other arts, and in politics itself. It seems to have halved the Berliner-size of its poetry review space on Saturday (although adding a few smaller secondary reviews) - and also has failed to mention many significant poets, publications and events, despite its apparently liberal stance (for instance the major Oxfam poetry series in London of the last two years). For example, its article the other day, featuring photos of prominent poets, signally failed to properly represent the many fine Black and Asian poets now writing, and was also imbalanced in terms of region, gender, poetics, and class. Nonetheless, poetry survives, as Auden said - "a way of happening - a mouth".

Poetry is the art and craft of using words to express emotion and thought, and is a perennial aspect of human existence, literally as old as the first fires around which people sat, and talked. Its value is not, unlike newspapers, under threat from multimedia - since it flourishes on the Internet. Instead, poetry continues to obtain in all cultures and languages, despite the cynical lack of interest from the media. It is newspapers which need more poetry, not poetry which needs more newspapers, you could say.

Gander is right to imply that poetry rarely "throws a hero up the pop charts" as music or film or football does - but has nothing to say on why poetry needs an "outside influence" to "get people reading" poetry. It sounds as if she wants a sort of Saatchi figure, to create another bloated and exaggerated movement - a sort of Blairite spin-machine for poetry - a CoolPoetry movement. But people in their tens of thousands already read, and write, and listen to, and most vitally, love poetry, in the UK. The poet laureate, Andrew Motion, does much to assist this, and Gander's comment that he is "a man in a largely wasted position to promote poetry" is ungenerous and inaccurate.

Gander needs to get out to more street-level poetry events. She might find the budding poetry idols of the future where one might have expected them all along - on stage, reading their own work to us, if we would only listen. The true force that drives the fuse of new poetry is always the presence of a great poet and the words they use to move us, needing no other.

Monday, 10 October 2005

The Black Mountain Review Redux

I am pleased to inform you that five (5) poems of mine have appeared in the recent issue (Issue 11 Spring/Summer 2005) of The Black Mountain Review, guest edited by poet Nigel McLoughlin. The editors can be reached at editors@blackmountainreview.com - and base their journal in the North of Ireland.

For this is not the Black Mountain of Black Mountain College fame (see above) but a new incarnation, based in the North of Ireland, and named, one imagines, after the famous Black Mountain there, with echoes of the earlier Black Mountain review and poetry movement.

It is a good looking journal, and long may it thrive.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Essex Poetry Festival

I am just back from the Essex Poetry Festival.

I have much to relate.

In the meantime, please make do with the info below.

7th and 8th October

at The Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road
Chelmsford, Essex CM1 1JG
Box office: 01245 606505

On Saturday we are delighted to have Matthew Sweeney who will be reading alongside Chris Beckett and Meryl Pugh in a showcase set for Poetry London magazine. Seam magazine will be presenting Canadian poet Todd Swift, Stephen Duncan and Kevin Higgins. Essex Poets Estill Pollock from Mersea and Philip Wilson from Colchester wrap up the afternoon session.

The evening session starts at 7.15pm with Roddy Lumsden introducing the winners of the Essex Poetry Festival 2005 Open Poetry Competition, and their prize winning poems. Then our very special guests: Daljit Nagra, Forward Prize winner 2004 for Best Individual Poem, Jackie Wills, one of Mslexias top ten new women poets of the decade, and Don Paterson, winner of both the Whitbread Poetry Award and the TS EliotPrize for his book Landing Light.

Friday, 7 October 2005

Howl 50 Years Later, Fusion Ten Years On

The following report comes from Heidi Benson, of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Fueled by various stimulants, fellowship and a near-mystical belief that the world must change and poetry was the way to do it, this group coalesced and staged a reading on Oct. 7, 1955 -- at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street -- that has gone down in history as the moment of conception of the Beat movement.

No photographs of the evening have turned up, but by all accounts, when 150 to 200 people showed up at this low-ceilinged former auto-body shop in response to hastily printed postcards, the size of the crowd astonished everybody.

Rexroth served as master of ceremonies that Friday night. Kerouac, who had declined to read, brought jugs of burgundy to share.

First to take the orange-crate podium was San Francisco-born Surrealist poet Philip Lamantia, who read poems by John Hoffman, a friend who had just died.

Next up was McClure, reading "Point Lobos: Animism" and "For the Death of 100 Whales," both presaging the animal-rights movement.

Then came Philip Whalen, a friend of Snyder's from Reed College and later a Zen monk, reading his poem "Plus Ca Change."

(On this night, McClure first met Whalen and Snyder.)

Then Ginsberg took the stage, drunk, some say, and visibly nervous. Kerouac urged him on, hollering "Go! Go! Go!" as the poem gained momentum:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night ..."
The poem brought down the house. Ginsberg and Rexroth were in tears."

The T.S. Review celebrates this important poetry event, which in some ways inspired the goals of the Fusion Poetry movement 40 years later (in 1995). What is to be regretted is that, despite widespread media attention for such historical (and thus relatively safe) movements, the fact that a true current subterranean movement of global poets, driven by the Internet, is primarily neglected, in favour of established figures who represent a fairly mainstream alternative.

If only some more of the Beat spirit of risk, derangement and humour could continue to subvert and impel the poetry now being published and celebrated in the U.K. and elsewhere. Meanwhile, it must never be forgotten that Beat poetry mistakenly relinquished its hold on form, craft and the sense of tradition - all necessary aspects of the poetic art.

Hence the need for Fusion, which is an attempt to merge The Beat and the New Critic (both sides of the poetic psyche) approach and thus establish a fertile rapprochement that can enable poetry to find its force in both chaos and craft: full-bore passion and a blessed rage for order wrestling together to create inseparable dance-beauty.

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Legion Wins Forward

David Harsent, pictured here, has just won this year's Forward Prize for best collection of poetry. The T.S. Review heartily congratulates him for his most-deserved win, and all other winners (as well as those on the short-list).

The book is called Legion - a poem from which appeared in 100 Poets Against The War, which David Harsent kindly supported - he has also read for the Oxfam series I organize.

The Forward poetry prizes are "the most vaulable" in the UK and are widely respected among poets.

The prize for best poem of the year (published in a UK journal) goes to Paul Farley (who recently read for Oxfam as well in a brilliant show of mind over wine and codeine).

Please see the poem below.

Liverpool Disappears for a Billionth of a Second

Shorter than the blink inside a blink
the National Grid will sometimes make, when you'll
turn to a room and say: Was that just me?

People sitting down for dinner don't feel
their chairs taken away/put back again
much faster than that trick with tablecloths.

A train entering the Olive Mount cutting
shudders, but not a single passenger
complains when it pulls in almost on time.

The birds feel it, though, and if you see
starlings in shoal, seagulls abandoning
cathedral ledges, or a mob of pigeons

lifting from a square as at gunfire,
be warned, it may be happening, but then
those sensitive to bat-squeak in the backs

of necks, who claim to hear the distant roar
of comets on the turn - these may well smile
at a world restored, in one piece; though each place

where mineral Liverpool goes wouldn't believe
what hit it: all that sandstone out to sea
or meshed into the quarters of Cologne.

I've felt it a few times when I've gone home,
if anything, more often now I'm old,
and the gaps between get shorter all the time.

poem by Paul Farley
(as found on The Guardian Internet site)


I had the most extraordinary evening last night.

My friend, the distinguished poet and writer, Tamar Yoseloff, is currently writer-in-residence at Magdalene college, Cambridge. She kindly invited me to Seamus Heaney's reading, which coincided with the tenth anniversary of his Nobel prize being announced, and began the year-long Literary Festival.

We sat at Head Table near the Master, and dined with the Fellows of the college, and then enjoyed candle-lit conversation over claret, regarding theology, the history of Christianity, and poetry, including Eamon Duffy, John Mole, Jane Hughes, Goethe's biographer Nicholas Boyle, and the former Bishop of Coventry, Simon Barrington-Ward, whose book on The Jesus Prayer I look forward ro reading shortly. It was especially moving to meet someone so interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's work.

It was a superb evening, and I am very grateful to those who welcomed me with such grace and warmth.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

I Read in Manchester Last Night

I read with Aoife Mannix, Chloe Poems and Helen Clare last night at the Manchester Poetry Festival, for the Citizen 32 magazine launch at Matt & Phreds Jazz Club - a trendy place with friendly staff and very good pizzas.

The magazine, edited by Dave Toomer and John Hall, is a crucial vehicle for bringing poems concerned with politics, social justice and progressive ideas, to readers, locally and globally.

It was a great event - filled with perhaps 150-200 people, seated at round tables - and the stage and sound was good. Aoife was particularly impressive. My own 25-minute set was very well received, and one of my most openly political and performance-oriented in some time, which brought back memories of my work in cabaret poetry in the summer of 1995, ten years ago.


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...