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Showing posts from October, 2008

Poem by Adham Smart

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Adham Smart (pictured unseasonably with snowman) this Halloween Friday (the poem does have a pumpkin in it, so some seasonal tie-in occurs). Smart is, according to his own bio note, "an Anglo-Egyptian boy in his first year of Sixthform" who lives in Southeast London. He first became known as a young poet of much promise after winning the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2006.

Smart has been published in a handful of places, including a poem in The Rialto, short stories for The Cadaverine and a digital chapbook on the Mimesis website, and was recently selected for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2008. He also helps to run the online youth poetry magazine Pomegranate. Get Smart, as it were - he's one to watch.

Pumpkin Heart Boy

A lovester after his own fashion, he took her
hand and held it in his. Oh, was he a wonder-
kid, his hair in tufts and sweeping waves
like dolphins surfacing in a line. Golden-eyed,
he licked her lips with h…

Theatre on the Air

70 years ago today, America's greatest 20th century media-genius, Orson Welles, boy prankster, terrified parts of New Jersey, and beyond, with The Mercury Theatre on the Air's infamous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Last night, a very different genius of American reinvention, and media expression, Barack Obama, presented the glossiest, and most expensive, political broadcast in American history.

Much has changed in 70 years, in terms of credulity among the masses - and much remains the same. One thing does seem strikingly similar: America's dependence on the media, for information, and entertainment.
The dangers in the time of Orson are the same as in the time of Obama - when the twain meet too closely (as in some slurs that repeat and multiply over the blogosphere). For the world now, Eyewear hopes Mr. Obama can win next week; but fears, as much as any Martian invasion, the menace of Alaska's own monster, so close to the lip of power.

BBC Heaven

The BBC has finally acted decisively. This is a major cultural moment for England - a turn to seriousness. For years, comedy, and comedians, have ruled the celebrity roost in the UK, often converting everything they touched to dross - even making British poetry safe for lightweight laddishness. Before the credit crunch, such a culling of major BBC talent would have been unthinkable - but it seems the times demand rigorous accounting - for economic, as well as moral, failings. Ironically, the attack was on a great comedian (and his family). Brand will bounce back, and likely in film, but Ross might be severely damaged. He's been a family-friendly brand for years, and has now crossed into the blue.

Brand Names

Two of Britain's highest-paid BBC bad boys are now facing unprecedented political pressure (as is the BBC) today, after Gordon Brown waded in. What makes the occasion more bizarre is that a comedian from Fawlty Towers, and his erotic-dancer granddaughter are also involved. Not just a tempest in a teapot, then, but more a cabaret in a cuppa. But mostly, bad words from the BBC at a time when funding needs to be cut, somewhere. Silly, rude, and, finally, unprofessional.

Killer Kowalski Has Died

Sad news. Arguably Canada's greatest wrestler (other than Mad Dog Vachon) has died, The Guardian reports in this moving obituary.

Governor General's Award Nominations for Poetry

The GG's are still Canada's biggest literary awards. Announced on October 21, these are the poetry finalists for this year: Weyman Chan's Noise from the Laundry; A.F. Moritz's The Sentinel; Sachiko Murakami'sThe Invisibility Exhibit; Jacob Scheier's More to Keep Us Warm and Ruth Roach Pierson's Aide-Memoire. Eyewear ran a review of the Moritz earlier this year. It's a very good book, and likely the favourite. One comment - knowing, as I do, how rich and roiling the CanPoetry scene is currently, I am a little surprised at not seeing more of the younger poets now rising in the ranks, including Boyd, or Mooney.

Poem by Morgan Harlow

Eyewear is very glad to welcome the American poet Morgan Harlow this Friday.

Harlow was raised in Madison, Wisconsin and studied English literature, journalism and film at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She completed the MFA at George Mason University in 1999.
A Pushcart nominee, Harlow's poems and fiction can be found in Washington Square Review, Descant, the Tusculum Review, Nthposition, and elsewhere. Her essay on Ray Bradbury's work has been reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism.
Harlow has worked as an editor in the medical and social sciences and taught as an adjunct. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and their sons.

A Partial Lexicon: "Fresh" and Related

Of all words contributed to English
by Felines, perhaps the one which
retains most its original flavor is the adjective
"fresh," demanding a squinching of the eyes
and nose for articulation in the Cattish.

The word's true usage occurs in two instances,
"fresh water,&q…

Kendall Polemical

In 2006 my father died, and so I missed the publication at the time of the Oxford University Press title of that year, Modern English War Poetry, by Tim Kendall. The final chapter, 12, is "The Few To Profit: Poets Against War" - and, rather flatteringly, I suppose, I'm the Bond Villain (or Aunt Sally) of the piece. Kendall poses the figure of Hecht, the American poet, who writes of "Strephon", the poet who was"one of the few to profit from the war" and then, basically, suggests editors and poets such as myself (and I am prominently featured in the chapter) might have profited, in some way, from the attention we received at the time. Kendall argues that the "bulk of contemporary anti-war poetry seem[s] sentimental and morally dubious."

He claims that I use "inflationary language" in thanking the many contributors to the Nthposition100 Poets against the war anthologies I edited with Val Stevenson (who is nowhere, alas, credited here)…

Where No Man Has Gone Before, Again

The actor who played Sulu in the Star Trek films and TV series is currently having a spat with the actor who played Kirk, in same. Takei and Shatner, according to the great eccentric Canadian thespian on his blog, have been at odds for maybe 40 years or more. Shatner has been lashing out at his friends and foes lately, using the Internet, set to stun, as his weapon of choice. According to Entertainment Weekly, he even complained about not being given a part in 2009's much-anticipated new Star Trek film, starring the guy who plays Sylar on Heroes as the guy with the pointy ears (from Sylar to Spock being a small stretch for man). Meanwhile, the real Spock was given a walk-on.

Shatner has been weird science for a while - his poetry and song recordings are notoriously bad, and so is much else in his life. But he's also lived through personal tragedy, and being lampooned for years. His bread and butter has also been his body-hugging hairshirt. My father went to school with Shatner.…

Poetry London Autumn 2008

Poetry London (no. 61) has been launched. It features poems from Les Murray, Andrew Motion, and Philip Gross. It also offers poems from a number of the "young British poets" I've included in the upcoming Manhattan Review special section, including Daljit Nagra, Ben Wilkinson, Jack Underwood, and Helen Mort.

My review of ten of the best of the year's poetry pamphlets is also included - these include work by David Wheatley, Elspeth Smith, and William Fuller. There are also reviews by, among others, Luke Kennard, and George Szirtes, well worth reading. Kennard's review is notable especially for its slightly hipster pizazz - I felt like I was reading an excerpt from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. We now know what Kennard's favourite poetry is like - he describes John Redmond's new collection from Carcanet, MUDe, as "the most exciting and inventive collection of poetry I've read in the past few years."

This begs the question - shou…

Helium 3

Ever notice how some things just suddenly become part of the zeitgeist? Like Palin, of late, Helium 3 has been making the news - expect more in future. India has just started its own space race to the moon. It turns out the rare isotope Helium 3 (scientists, correct me if I am wrong) is less rare on the moon than here on terra firm, and can be used in sec-gen fusion reactions to generate extraordinary amounts of energy. Moon-mining may soon leap back into our lives, and off the ragged pages of Asimov's mouldering paperbacks.

Launch of Canadian Special issue of Crannog

Poem by Christopher Nield

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Christopher Nield (pictured) this Friday.

Nield lives in London, working as a copywriter specialising in charity marketing. He has worked with a range of organisations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, Friends of the Earth, The Camphill Family and Cancer Research UK.
His poetry features in New Poetries IV(Carcanet, 2007), a wide-ranging collection that anyone interested in good emergent poetry from the UK (and beyond) should seek out.
His poems also appear in magazines such as Magma, The London Magazine, PN Review, The Rialto, Nthposition, and Stand. In 2006 he was one of the winners of the Keats-Shelley prize. Nield will be appearing as a reader at the launch of the latest issue of Ambit, 7pm this coming 23 October, at The Owl Bookshop, 209 Kentish Town Road, London NW5.

Prayer Wheel
A circle forms a lotus in the brain,Omniscient and happy as the sun.We turn the wheel and watch the world remain
An exiled god, whose broken words explainBeyond the revolu…

Review: Oasis' Dig Out Your Soul

Oasis, meanwhile, have returned with their 7th studio album, entitled Dig Out Your Soul. Oasis have an unparalleled postmodern career: their entire output is a pastiche of Beatles-era rock, and every song and album of theirs has been weaker than the one before - as such, they enact, titanically, a myth of nostalgic regression - their final act will no doubt be to play, in utero, a McCartney-Lennon song. That being said, this myth of eternal failure (married to a myth of near-heroic invulnerability) renders Oasis criticism-proof. Like the flip side of an Oxbridge toff like London mayor Boris Johnson, whose buffoon-status cannot be ruffled because it already is, Oasis employ their proud working-class work ethos to justify their stolid, journeyman approach to touring and record production. Sod's Law seems to be their invisible hand. Anyway, this new album is not as "bad" as many critics claim. It is certainly a crowd-pleaser (and how else does one measure popular music than…

Review: Keane's Perfect Symmetry

Keane have always been the wettest of UK bands - it is faintly embarrasing to like them. I, personally, never have. Even Eyewear, open to New Romantic yearning, finds their style over-overblown.

However, their latest album, Perfect Symmetry, arrives as a curio of pop culture worth noting. The album, from booklet design, to production manner, to song composition, is a back-to-the-80s primer (they admit as much in a recent Entertainment Weekly Q&A where they reference Thriller and the Top Gun soundtrack as touchstones of their youth) , as most critics have noted - a melange of Bowie's Let's Dance period, Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, and perhaps most obviously, Vienna-era Ultravox. There's also a bit of Red Riderhere, that great unsung 80s band, famous for the song "Lunatic Fringe" if for anything.

As such, it's not unlike Partie Traumaticby that already-forgotten band of the moment. Why all this 80s stuff? I am not sure demand for the period is so high, tho…

Brownian Motion

Prime Minister Brown's rescue plan for the banks, and wider economy, was hailed, as recently as a few days ago, by media pundits and Nobel prize winners alike; at the start of this week, shares seemed to rise, and hope gave way to genuine optimism. Unfortunately, three days later, all is not so well. Not only does it seem that Brown's expensive plan was a finger holding back a sea of trouble, but that financial institutions no longer have the confidence to even be bailed out. If last night's dramatic stock plummets continue today, we'll be back to roughly where we were last week, end of this one - down 20%, or more. Meanwhile, as the world economy grinds to a halt, the world faces a severe downturn. This is worrisome news. No one is out of the woods, Bretton or otherwise, yet.

Conservatives In Moderation

Canada is hardly drunk on the Conservatives - but has still elected another minority government of them. This is a shame, Eyewear thinks, because, given the way they have cut funding to the arts, and managed the economy and environment, they seem rather less impressive than the alternatives. Perhaps it is is time for the Liberals to find a leader persuasive enough to win back the country? Meanwhile, under new laws, it is likely the natural life of this parliament will be four years. If Obama wins down South, they may make strange bedfellows.

Review of The Verve's Forth: Revaluation

I have edited this post, since I first wrote it, because, on a 100th listen, The Verve's Forth has become one of the comforting and lyrically subtle albums of the year for me, despite my earlier qualms. It's good to see this on-again-off-again band from the 90s (which I think of as one of Britain's best of that period) welcomed back so warmly.

After The Verve broke up, again, gangly prophetic lead singer Richard Ashcroft took his dreamy voice and visionary lyrics on a self-interested joy ride over a few albums of pleasant, rambling boredom. It was hoped a rejoining of the group, including hugely talented guitarist Nick McCabe, would force Mr. Ashcroft to be less verbose, less aimless, and more, well, brilliant. I loved A Storm in Heaven - one of the great albums of the last 15 years. A Northern Soul (with stirring anthem "History") upped the ante.

Then came the smash success of Urban Hymns - an album that seemed to marry poetry, personal lament, and "Galveston…

After the end of Vertigo

This is Eyewear's 1, 111th post. It therefore seemed appropriate to discuss what Eyewear believes to be the best Anglo-American feature film of the last 50 years - Vertigo (1958) - which, in fact, is also exactly 50-years-old. Citizen Kane would have to be considered the best pre-1958 film of its kind. Kane and Vertigo have much in common - they both feature scores by Bernard Hermann, and both present stories of thwarted love, and deeply tragic lives. However, their differences are acute - Kane is American, various, lively, and overtly stylish, and in black and white - Vertigo, though stylish as well, is in profound colour, is actually very European, in tone and depths of Freudian and Nietzschean influences.

Roughly, the dualities at the core of Vertigo, between the real world and the apparent world, correspond with the worlds of repressed and conscious desire; and life is aestheticised, in order to try to cope with tragedy - though in the process, Scottie loses both Madeleine and …

Slow Motion Crash

It seems to be official. If a stock market crash is a 20% fall over a few days, then that's what this is. Meanwhile, pundits now compare the US election campaign to that of the Depression-era, between Hoover and Roosevelt. An air of unreality still hangs over these unfolding times, though.

Poem by Sebastian Barker

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Sebastian Barker(pictured) to these pages today.

Barker was elected Chairman of the Poetry Society 1988-1992, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature 1997, and editor of The London Magazine 2002-2008. In that last capacity, he was a bravely outspoken critic of certain Arts Council funding policies.
Barker's poetry publications include The Erotics of God (Smokestack, 2005), The Matter of Europe (Menard, 2005), Damnatio Memoriae: Erased from Memory (Enitharmon, 2004), The Hand in the Well (Enitharmon, 1996), Guarding the Border: Selected Poems (Enitharmon, 1992), and The Dream of Intelligence (Littlewood Arc, 1992).
Barker, whose father was one of the major poets of the 30s-40s period, continues a tradition of visionary, richly-eloquent, highly-poetic utterance - unafraid to sound like, or be, a poet - and, as such, the religious, philosophical, as well as aesthetic, implications of his significant work meet, head on, the more debased and secular (e…

Forward Prize Winners announced

As Eyewear predicted (more or less), Imlah, Simmonds, and Paterson won Forward prizes worth £10,000, £5,000 and £1,000, respectively, for best Collection, best First Collection, and best individual poem. Congratulations to the winners. Eyewear happily featured Simmonds (pictured) recently, and I also included her in the forthcoming Manhattan Review feature on The Young British Poets.

Le Clezio Wins Nobel For Literature

Le Clezio who? No clue. The English world - recently chastised for its insularity - may scratch its collective head over the latest winner of the Nobel Prize. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio is not, I would have thought, a household name in Britain, or America. That may be part of the point - though I lived in Paris for several years, and did not encounter his name there, either. Following him on Amazon, one can quickly see, despite a few translations, his work is mostly out of print, out of bounds, off-limit, for most Anglo-saxon readers. "J. M. G. le Clézio" resists being absorbed into the celebrity world of publishing, prizes, and parties, that typifies a kind of Americanized hegemony of the bookworld (or so it might seem to some jury members). However, despite the undoubted talents of this thrillingly obscure (to me) Francophone writer, I wonder how long Margaret Atwood will have to wait, to be recognised as one of the major post-colonial literary figures of the past 40 ye…

Things Fall Apart, The Emperor Melts

What is it about Milo Ventimiglia, and poetry? Recently, the first episode of Heroes, season 3, ended with a rather forced sequence that included a portentous voice-over of Yeats' "The Second Coming". Meanwhile, his DVD-prone ultra-nihilistic surgeon-slasher minor motion picture vehicle, Pathology, was filled with beam-affixing allusions to Wallace Stevens' Ice-cream emperor. Industry coincidence, or attempt to infiltrate mass culture with modernist poetry? Are they paying royalties for these poems? Patients etherised upon a table indeed.

Poems For Children Launched On National Poetry Day

Anyone interested in hearing the best British-based children's poets performing their best children's poems might want to consider ordering a copy of this latest poetry CD from Oxfam GB, which I co-edited with Judith Nicholls, with the support and guidance of Michael Rosen, Children's Laureate for the UK.

Radical Poetry In The UK

Shirley Dent's recent post on radical British poetry is worth a look, and not just because I get a mention.

Pagdin On The Future of Poetry Publishing in Britain

Jenny Pagdin
The Future of Poetry Publishing in Britain

Few people in Britain read poetry and fewer still buy it. Poetry only accounts for 1% of the total number of books sold in the UK[1]. According to a 2000 Arts Council report, over 90% of contemporary poetry sales in the previous year were generated by one imprint, and 67% by one poet (Seamus Heaney). Yet the numbers of people who write poetry and hope to be published just grow and grow: Roddy Lumsden estimates that over a million British poets “harbour some hope of publication[2]” and Peter Finch describes the 1980s when, “for the first time in history it had become more popular to write poetry than to read it.”[3] Before then, according to Finch “The ambition to Get Published At All Costs had not set in. Now it has”[4]. This popularity of ambitious creative writing puts an extra pressure on the market for poetry.

For most poets, the ambition to Get Published At All Costs is an ambition to get published in printed form – prefera…

October Poetry At Nthposition

Black Monday

This is Eyewear's 1,101th post.

Today is the worst day since records began, in 1984, for the London FTSE 100. That is, in London's City, today's stock market "crashed" more severely than in 1987, or post-9/11. Meanwhile, Iceland may be going bankrupt, according to the BBC. What's ahead? Alistair Darling may cancel Christmas. How should poets react? Will there be a turn to "Thirties"-style poetry? More, or less, engaged, with the "world"? Separate from poetics, I'm concerned this is turning into a major global crisis that will not simply right itself in a year or so.

A Furnace of Paradox

What is poetry, and what is British poetry? Is that a political question or two? Sebastian Barker finds a metaphor in the furnace, in his essay on art and politics in UK poetry. Meanwhile, I am part of a debate on politics and poetry, to be held this coming Tuesday, in Brick Lane. Hope to see some (all!) of you there.

Guest Review: Narayanan on Roubaud

Vivek Narayananreviews
Poetry, Etcetera: Cleaning House
by Jacques Roubaud
translated from the French by Guy Bennett

It can’t always have been very easy to be Jacques Roubaud, though, now growing gently into an elder statesman of poetry, he likes to make it look that way— in practically every one of his sentences, one is at first reminded of his mentor, the great Raymond Queneau, founder, with Francois Le Lionnais, of OuLiPo. All of Queneau’s signature effects return, in some part, in traces, in Roubaud, and yet, he stops short of being as thrilling, entertaining and wildly inventive as his master. Roubaud’s real talents lie elsewhere, and are decidedly quieter, more measured and, one could maybe argue, more mathematical[1].

As a poet and as a writer (or as a “composer of poetry and mathematics” as he describes himself, with careful emphasis and syntax) he seems to be more interested, perhaps unfashionably, in the fundamentals of grammar and ultimately in logic. At its best, his language c…

A Reading Tonight

Saturday 4 October 2008, 7-9pm
The search for freedom: Personal, Social, Political
Venue: Church of St Luke, Homerton, London

JAMES BYRNE
NIALL McDEVITT
JOHN ROE
&
TODD SWIFT

Donations : £4/£2 welcome (plus £0.50 donation per glass of wine at the interval).

St Luke's Church is located at Woodbine Terrace, Homerton, London E9, near London Fields.

(Bus routes 253, 254, 106, picked up from Bethnal Green tube, alighting Hackney Town Hall, thence a short walk along Morning Lane to Woodbine Terrace).

Proceeds in aid of the church renewal and development fund.

So which is it?

I was at a party last week, and was informed by someone there that Americans don't do irony. This is a commonplace comment, here in London, that seems to erase out of the record the irony-interested New Critics, and the ironic Mr. Eliot - among others. Now, today, comes some sort of ironic last-straw. A critic in The Guardian, complaining because the Coen Brothers have no heart in their films, just plenty of irony (called cynicism, but here meaning the same thing - see Hardy's little ironies). So - which is it then? Are Americans masters of irony, or not? I think what's at stake here is tone. I have discovered that, time and again, North Americans and Europeans in dialogue have trouble hearing each other's use (and variance) of tone, in written and spoken utterances (such as poems) - which can cause misreadings.

Irony, like ambiguity, comes in a number of shapes and sizes (see Booth's A Rhetoric of Irony). Meanwhile, I'd say most British film and TV product has …

Poem by Katrina Naomi

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Katrina Naomi (pictured) this Friday. Naomi is originally from Margate and lives in south London.

This year she won the Templar Poetry Pamphlet Competition and the Ledbury Festival Text Poem Contest. Her pamphlet Lunch at the Elephant & Castlewill be published by Templar Poetry in October 2008 and launched at the Derwent Poetry Festival. She will also be reading at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November.

She is working on a first collection for 2009.

B Movie

You have to be blonde
or jet black, either way, sister
there’s a lot of dyeing.

You have to forget what you see,
remember aliases,
but don’t get smart.

You’ll get used to the eyes
of the rest of the mob,
they’ll go no further.

You’ll smoke at all hours:
first thing in your silk camisole,
4 am in your fox fur.

You spend days alone,
turning his diamonds in your palm,
arranging imaginary flights to Rio.

You spend nights waiting,
ready by the phone,
pistol out of the bedside drawer.

You know there’s a wife, Italian…

The time of earthquakes is at hand

Now - October 2008 - is the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first surrealist poem in English, written by David Gascoyne. On the October eve (more or less) of "National Poetry Day" next week it seemed a good time to mention this.

Never Going To Give Him Up

One either finds capitalism and the production of pop music always bad, or sometimes shot through with moments of redemption - second time as a farce, to put it in Marxist terms. Farce meets the postmodern-sublime, then, in the news today that virtual 80s pop icon, Rick Astley, has been nominated for the award of Best Act Ever at the pending MTV Europe Awards. Eyewear was always partial to the pint-sized charmer with the impeccable grooming and hair, and the killer pipes. There would be something delicious in his winning. As other acts pummeled away at trying to become increasingly huge, Astley retired, to a modest new life, far from the manipulation of the media. His new fame relies entirely on a crowd of strangers, who invented an Internet phenomenon called rickrolling, boosting him into an unlikely hero for a new generation otherwise oblivious to his very existence. It is as if he was summoned from thin air. This genuinely artificial re-meteoric rise is truly unique, not least in i…

The Eye of the Needle

In the midst of the banking crisis this week, in America, Britain, and beyond, a small, yet hugely moving personal story has emerged. A young, very succesful banker gave his life, trying to save a homeless man and his girlfriend from being terribly beaten, perhaps killed. This has biblical echoes, of the rich man and the eye of the needle, and the Good Samaritan. It is a reminder not to judge, ever, who a person is, just because of his job, or lack of one. This man risked - and lost - everything - when he didn't have to - because of human kindness that knew no boundaries. The world is poorer for his loss. If there is a heaven, that place is now richer with him in it.

Bernstein's Bailout

Charles Bernstein's recent intervention in the poetry markets makes sound poetic sense for uncertain poetic times.

Anyone wanting to further comprehend the current situation should then turn to the infamous 1941 essay on popular music, and replace "music" with "poetry", to see how Adorno's "official music culture" became Silliman's "official verse culture". Did popular poetry become standardized with pseudo-individualization?