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Showing posts from February, 2009

Guest Review: Nolan on Heaney

PJ Nolanreviews
Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney
by Dennis O'Driscoll

From farm boy to Nobel Laureate, the life of Seamus Heaney has acquired a mythic proportion, in scale with the influences and preoccupations that continue to shape his remarkable output of poetry and related writings. Unapologetically a poet of the local, he has achieved a global readership, well beyond the halls of academe. Widely recognised as an affable interviewee, Heaney is also well-practiced in discretion – any tendency towards the oracular countered with determined respect for those private spaces which allow inspiration to flourish, within attendant and necessary mystery.

Denis O’Driscoll, poet, editor, commentator and stalwart of the Irish poetry scene, is also widely respected. George Szirtes has referred to him as ‘a poet of European temperament, and stature’. He shares familiarity, firm friendship and mutual respect with Heaney and is therefore well placed to coax intimacy and candour from…

Budgets To The Left Of Us

You have to hand it to him. President Obama really is the new American Chavez - and it is thrilling, and a bit scary (because I keep hearing Jim Carrey's line "somebody stop me!" as an ominous taunt that may be taken up and replied to). I don't want him stopped - this is nearly too good to be true, and such epiphanic moments in politics are rare. What has occasioned this post? His new budget, which, in terms of redistributive justice, and dismantling of military-industrial prerogatives, is audacious.

Gun Crazy Redux

This is Eyewear's 1,250th post. The film Gun Crazy(aka Deadly Is The Female) is currently resurfacing in Britain, to excellent reviews, 60 years after its initial appearance. This 1949 (some say 1950) classic of film noir is one of the key films, for me, and greatly inspired my sense of style for my early 90s work. Budavox, in which "Gun Crazy" first appeared, 50 years after the movie's creation (in 1999) is, in some ways, an exploration of the sort of world set in motion by the movie. So, anyway, I am glad to see it back on release. Seaway, from Salmon, was where I published this new version, see below.

Gun Crazy

Against the world, just us.
Behind, a trail of gas stations,
small banks, the meat packing plant,
knocked over. FBI Telexes
clatter like town gossips across America:
Barton Tare and Laurie Starr, dangerous
and armed. How did it begin?
Neon wakes me, I peel back blinds
to jackhammer rain, shake a Lucky
from the pack, and light.
Behind, on the tangled bed, you are mine,
e…

Poem By Nigel McLoughlin

Good to have Nigel McLoughlin (pictured) as the featured poet this Friday. He's one of the impressive new voices of his generation.

He is also Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire and his work has been twice short-listed for a Hennessy Award, and placed in The Kavanagh Prize and The New Writer Poetry Prize.

McLoughlin lectured in Traditions at Poets’ House from 2000 to 2004 and has worked as a tutor with the London School of Journalism and as a Senior Tutor and Curriculum Design Consultant with the Open College of the Arts. He holds an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing and a PhD from Lancaster University.

He has written four collections of poetry: At The Waters’ Clearing (Flambard/Black Mountain Press, 2001), Songs For No Voices (Lagan Press, 2004), Blood (Bluechrome, 2005) and Dissonances (Bluechrome, 2007). He also co-edited Breaking The Skin (Black Mountain Press, 2002) an anthology of new Irish poets. His New and Selected will be out soon, from Te…

Ash Wednesday

Review: U2's No Line On The Horizon

The Guardian is offering readers a chance to listen to the new U2 album, courtesy of Spotify. Diving right in, as an existing member of Spotify, I am pleased to say that it sounds like No Line On The Horizon is not the over-hyped self-important and bloated dud How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb mostly was.

It is impossible to write about U2 anymore - U2 writes white. U2 is overmediated, over-saturating. The only question we are fed is the one that makes sense to answer: is this the next Joshua Tree? The next Achtung Baby?

Both those records are bolts from the blue, true masterworks that, within a few years, spanned decades and shifted styles decisively. Could this be the third time U2 astonishes and rips up the sonic pop rules? I think not quite, but this is their best album since Pop, more than ten years back.

I want to write myself a critical blank cheque below, where I can add more thoughts, as the album sinks in, later, so for now, this is the last line:

Seaway Gets Seen

Self-advertisement warning

My Seaway: New and Selected seems to have had its first review, at Various Artists, Tony Lewis-Jones' online review vehicle, which reaches interested readers and writers across the world. The review is by poet Tom Phillips. I quote some of it here, below:
"Gleaned from his four previous collections and garnished with more than a dozen new poems, Todd Swift’s Seaway is both a ‘greatest hits’ collection for those who’ve already read this verbally athletic Canadian-born poet at length and a comprehensive introduction for those on the European side of the Atlantic who have had, so far, only the occasional chance to get a taste of his work at the jostling, competitive buffet known as English language poetry. As such, it is long overdue.
[....]
Words matter throughout. That might sound like a very obvious thing to say about a poetry collection but then, when it comes down to it, few contemporary English language collections exhibit the combination of verbal p…

And The Oscar Goes To?

I used to care. I don't really anymore. Old age setting in? Credit Crunch? The Obama Factor (real change more exciting than the fictive kind)? More and more, awards seem built for other people, established at a level where awards don't seem relevant, or real - I refer mainly to rock stars and millionaire actors. Now and again, of course, a genuine, unsung talent is permitted to step forward (one thinks of Borgnine winning).

Underdogs, too, though, are part of the Hollywood myth - and this year has several. Heath Ledger, of course, as dead, is the ultimate underdog, and will likely win for his weird and flexible performance - and that seems fair. Mickey Rourke, half-dead and barely recognizable after years of tough love and uneasy living, seems likely, too, to win - which is a sort of small miracle. Finally, small British movie Slumdog Millionaire, literally about the rise of the underclass and the underdog, seems destined to triumph. Slumdog is a curious tour-de-force - at once…

Poem by Colette Sensier

Eyewear is very glad to welcome young British poet Colette Sensier (pictured) this Friday. She's one to watch over the next decade; her lyrical gift seems strong.

Sensier is 20-years-old and comes from Sussex. She is now in her second year doing English at King's College, Cambridge. She has been a winner of the Foyle's, Tower Poetry, and Peterloo Poets young poets awards. Her poems have been published on the Pomegranate webzine, in Books For Keeps, and new poems are forthcoming in the Rialto and Monkey Kettle magazine. Sensier is also currently Literary Editor at Varsity, her student paper.

Shades
The colours of skin, as easy to forget as passing cars, until one winter
when a face appears, a sharp thrust as clear as a path in sudden
moonlight. Or the curve of a leg, scooped from memory, suggests itself,
like something seen underwater. For a moment, one long line is clear,
from here to death, something faceless, simple, and as soft as grass.
poem by Colette Sensier

Futurism 100 Years Old!

100 years ago today, Marinetti proclaimed the virtues of Futurism. There is something melancholy about such an anniversary, since it emphasizes the way that history has a way of becoming antiquated, and the new of becoming old hat. For the experimentalist wings of 21st century poetry, avant-garde work of 100 years ago continues to be a red herring with the scent of an elixir - a potent promise of renewed relevance - even though its historic course, as Danto argues (persuasively to a point) the age of manifestos is kaput. Still, poetic enterprise lacks any vim if it doesn't have some lead in its pencils, and that just may be a fuel driven by youth, energy, or even brash stupidity.

Futurism retains its ability to shock and amuse, if not inspire, because its design style is impressive, and because its claims are truly destabilising. Much of what Futurism endorsed, of course, seems "morally wrong" - notably the celebration of the beauty of war - and hardly the stuff to si…

The Special Relationship

Britain likes to think it has a "special relationship" with America, that supersedes all other of the indispensable nation's alliances. It's therefore good to see a subtle realignment, as Obama's first foreign visit is to Ottawa. It may not be popular to say so over here in the UK, but Canada, far from being "boring" - is a dynamo, and a key nation in terms of environment, diplomacy, economy, and culture. I cringe every time I read another triumphalist account in the papers of some British actor or actress getting "the nod" from some award or academy. Half of Hollywood is Canadian, and yet, modestly, we Canucks rarely go berserk when one of ours does well there. Anyway, Obama is very welcome in Ottawa. I hope he has time to taste a beaver's tail, the local delicacy.

Bring Back The Myth Kitty!

In what must surely be one of his last radiophonic interventions, before retiring soon, the greatest Poet Laureate of the last fifty years (and beyond), Andrew Motion, has been at it again, today on the BBC, arguing for a need to study The Bible, for its "great stories" - in order to appreciate "Western Literature".

This is Descartes before the horse, surely. Western Literature once was designed to help appreciate The Bible. More to the point, as someone who believes that some of The Bible is "true", I must wonder at how much can be gained from merely cherry-picking the exciting bits (and there are a lot).

Turning to a major Holy document to find adventure tales is like recommending Playboy for the articles on Existentialism - they're there, but not really the crux. I think Motion, a self-described atheist, is sensing a truth, though - people coming to university to study "literature" are now, often, culturally illiterate. Reading, itself once…

The Slightly Deceived?

I've just received my copy of Faber's Philip Larkin "lost recordings", The Sunday Sessions. It was a necessary purchase - after all, Larkin, for better and worse - is the face of non-modernist British poetry post-1945 - and is also one of the English language's greatest coiner of phrases. He's not a poet you just ignore, even if (as I do) you disagree with some or all of what he thinks about poetry. Still, I disagree with Pound often - but enjoy some of his poetry.

Larkin's also something of a closet modernist himself (if one notes how much he drew on Yeats, Auden, Eliot and others). Anyway, imagine my surprise when I played the CD, and found that it was less than 46 minutes long (45 minutes, 20 seconds to be exact).

The back of the attractive CD promises "Running time approx. 1 hour". Maybe in a Bangkok massage parlour, - but for this listener, "approx. 1 hour" should be approximately 60 minutes, give or take one or three. The back cove…

Guest Review: Kennedy on Perez and Wood

Jake Kennedyreviews
from UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY
by Craig Santos Perez
and
Inextinguishable
by James W. Wood

Stand against? Line in the sand? Declaration for? Marker to counter other markers? Too much legislation, already, from without? George—not that one—Oppen reminds us that poets are the legislators of the unacknowledged world. Thus, poets' produce is—ideally!—new rules in the service of what was overlooked, silenced, missed, stifled, fragmented, lost, killed. More boldly: poetry does write the laws of and out of the margins; not in the sense of legitimating the model of "core as centre/centre as core" but rather in the sense of "poetry fills in the so-called 'blanks.'" Maybe?

Anyway, have you read from UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY [hacha]? Do you know this cat Craig Santos Perez? Here's a project, and a poet, that allows poetry to work in the intrepid service of reclamation—to use language against instrumentality; to trouble the certainties of geographic…

Poem by Cherry Smyth

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the poet Cherry Smyth(pictured) this Valentine's Day weekend (and also, auspiciously, on a Friday the 13th!).

Smyth is an Irish writer, living in London. Her debut poetry collection, When the Lights Go Up, was published by Lagan Press, 2001. Her anthology of women prisoners’ writing, A Strong Voice in a Small Space, Cherry Picking Press, 2002, won the Raymond Williams Community Publishing Award in 2003.

Her poetry pamphlet, The Future of Something Delicate, was published by Smith/Doorstop, 2005. A second collection called One Wanted Thing appeared in 2006, again from Lagan. The title poem of this collection was nominated for the Forward Best Poem of the Year 2004, and carries Smyth's hallmarks: precision, linguistic inventiveness and joy.

Smyth was a prize-winner in the Tonbridge Poetry Competition, 2006 and the London Writers’ Competition, 2007. Her work was selected for Best of Irish Poetry, 2008, Southword Editions. She also writes for visual…

The Buried Butterfly

Good news. I am glad to see that "The Buried Butterfly" - a poem by Isobel Dixon - is up on Poetry Dailytoday. It's been selected from the section at The Manhattan ReviewI recently edited, on The Young British Poets. The UK launch event for this special issue will be on 5 March, at 91 Marylebone High Street, Oxfam Books & Music, from 7-10 pm

Finch Finds It Good

Annie Finch has blogged at the Poetry Foundation site about her visit to Britain, and makes some intriguing and relevant comparisons between American and British poetic culture (as she observed it). In the post, she calls my Oxfam series event (for which she read) the single-best organised bookshop poetry event she has ever been at. I'm chuffed. I've been organising and compering (hosting) poetry events and cabarets for 25 years now (started when I was 18) and always believed that poetry emceeing was an art form (however minor). Since 2004, I've tried to make the Oxfam events at 91 Marylebone High Street as good as any reading can be. Nice to have a poet say so.

Nthposition Poetry In February Now Online

100 Years Worst

Ed Balls, a top British politician with a background in economics, claims this current financial crisis is the "worst" recession in 100 years (since 1909 in other words) - and may prove more global than the Depression of the Thirties. Apart from this being upsetting news for us all - how does this relate to poetry?

Well, notice that Poundian poetic modernism (itself perhaps a red herring - modernism begins with Pater arguably) and imagism - the strike against the Georgian style - begins around 1910. That's 100 years of Anglo-British modernism and anti-modernism, played out against capitalism as a dominant form of ideology - often in struggle with communism or socialism. 2009 marks a break with those narrative struggles, surely. Can poets begin to forge new poetics? New ways of using language?

Or will they return to the comforts and challenges of older forms, themselves potentially radical? Will the poetry of the next 30 years be as engaged with culture, society, and …

Blossom Dearie Has Died

Sad news. The "Jazz pixie" Blossom Dearie has died. I first recall hearing her work when my dear friend, actor-director-writer Thor Bishopric first played me some of her songs from one of her classic Verve recordings, way back in the late 80s. Her voice is unforgettable, and immensely charming, evocative of a now-gone cosmopolitan era of effortless late-night sophistication, and, perhaps, sophistry.

Budavox Redux

2009 is the tenth anniversary of my first full collection of poems, Budavox, published by DC Books in Montreal, in 1999. The collection represented the work I'd been publishing and performing in the decade 1990-1999, during the time I ran first the New McGill Reading Series (with Bill Furey), then Vox Hunt Cabaret, in Montreal, before moving to Budapest, in late 1997. The title is taken from a famous very tall retro-style sign (now gone) in Budapest, on the Budavox Building. Budavox was a telecommunications company in Hungary. The poems in Budavox explored themes of sexuality, nostalgia, travel, poetics, violence, desire, and popular culture. The book was well-received by critics at the time, and was selected by Geist - then perhaps the hippest culture magazine in Canada - as "one of the five best books" of the year, and sold fairly well, for a book of poetry. I do hope that readers of Eyewear who are interested in poetry will seek it out, to see if it has stood the test…

Arthur Rimbaud Drift

AN ARTHUR RIMBAUD DRIFT is a poetic walk following the London trail of Arthur Rimbaud and his fellow poet Paul Verlaine, who first visited the English capital - which they called Leun Deun - in September 1872.

The route goes from Charing Cross Station, where the poets arrived, through French Soho, where they first lived, and ends up at the legendary 8 Royal College Street where they had a proto-surrealist bust-up over a fish.

Poet Niall McDevitt has gleaned the great biographies of Rimbaud by Enid Starkie, Jean-Luc Steinmetz, Charles Nicholls and Graham Robb, as well as JoannaRichardsons' excellent biography of Verlaine, and has mapped out many of the most significant Rimbaud/Verlaine sites.

It is worth remembering that of Rimbaud's meteorically brief literary career, 14 months were spent in London, that he wrote some of A Season in Hell in London, most of Illuminations, and that the latter is one of the city's outstanding literary landmarks, a modernist classic 50 years befo…

Guest Review: Baban on Merriweather Post Pavilion

Alan Baban, Eyewear's in-house out-there music critic weighs in on the new Animal Collective work

Prosperity never made me want to listen. Neither does the thought that somewhere there exists this band that, given half a chance, might repurpose my outlook, fashion new gears, change the world, whatnot. Things used to be way simpler way back when— remember? We stood still at Modest Mouse shows and tried to look important with our cigarettes and stale cider, because in our ignorance those things made us thrifty cool (they did!); and the things we did we'd learned from music television; and the noise we made we made in silence; and the death we abandoned ourselves to got syndicated, like everything, the whole of us, mailed-in piercings, silly as fuck. Meanwhile the band played some song on stage and we clapped and it all pretty much blew very loudly. Which was interesting.

Indie carps in a different currency these days— that is to say, what we now think of as 'Indie' is…

Lux Interior Has Died

Sad news. The great psychobilly performer, Lux Interior, who, with partner-in-music Poison Ivy made up the bruised core of The Cramps, has died. American "trash culture" has lost one of its major iconoclastic icons. I saw them perform once in Montreal, in the late 1980s, and it was weird and inspiring. No one who was anyone then had not danced to "Human Fly".

The Cramps' style (they never cramped mine) was very influential, I think, on Canadian poetry of the 90s, in the sense that they were at the vanguard of a movement to reintroduce, or reinretroduce perhaps, a B-movie subculture to greater prominence, in the way that Vampirella did. This led to the rediscovery of Ed Wood, Bettie Page, and other lost figures on the sordid margins of the Eisenhower Era.

This love of creepily backstreet Americana was also part of what drove David Lynch and Tarantino. This was very much in my mind when I began my cabarets, and it was a part of the zeitgeist, then, for poets and pe…

Poem by Dave Lordan

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Irish poet Dave Lordan (pictured) this Friday.

Lordan was born in England in 1975 to Irish parents who soon returned to Clonakilty in West Cork where he grew up. He began writing in his teens and his chapbook 18 was published by the English literature society in UCC in 1994. While at UCC he gained a reputation as a strong performer of his own work and he continues to read regularly to great acclaim.

He graduated in 1998 with an MA in English Literature. In 2001 he took the Mphil in Creative Writing in Trinity College Dublin and in the same year was featured as part of Poetry Ireland's Introductions series. He received an Arts Council Bursary in 2004. He was runner up in the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2002 and he won it in 2005.

Lordan's work has been widely published at home and abroad. The Boy in The Ring - his debut collection - was published by Salmon Poetry. His website is http://www.davelordan.com/ and you're encouraged to check it out.

Mome…

Poetry Focus: Seán Rafferty

Seán Rafferty by Alistair Noon

The Scottish poet Seán Rafferty was born a century ago today, on February 5th, 1909. At Edinburgh University in the early 1930s he impressed Sorley MacLean with what the latter would later recall as “his brilliance in the Hugh Selwyn Mauberly manner of Pound.” Over a half-century later, MacLean could still recite long sections of Rafferty’s early Mauberlyesque The Return to Wittenberg. But MacLean was also careful to point to Rafferty’s future development, mentioning “some very different poems that were perhaps adumbrations of his mature poetry, than which nothing could be more different from the early Pound.” Here’s one poem that for me is quite distinctively Rafferty in the way it combines lyricism and simplicity of diction with a subtle idiosyncrasy of syntax:

Who walk this side of silence still?
long since to sleep a day’s work done
across the fields over the hill
the harvesters are home and gone.
Who walk this side of silence still?

The harvesters are home…

Buddy Holly's Eyewear

The great pop musician Buddy Hollydied 50 years ago today. That's a sombre anniversary, but a date worth recalling. Holly literally touched several generations of major musicians with his brief - shockingly brief - career - and, in the process, generated enduring rock and roll classics, as well as a style and look that are for all time. I don't want to dwell here on the music - though I love his songs, and recall first playing my Mom's Holly 45s on her old player when I was a kid - but pause to note how significant Holly was for eyewear.

It is not clear to me whether Holly was being entirely ironic when he donned his horn-rimmed specs, but he is arguably the first icon of popular culture to be directly associated with glasses as part of his signature look - though he is roughly simultaneous with TV's Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko. I am sure that most movie stars only wore sunglasses, and few stars of any kind would be caught dead wearing optical devices (perhaps a monocle)…

Chapman on Who: A New Smith in the TARDIS

Patrick Chapman considers the 11th "official" Doctor

In Bruce Robinson’s 1986 film, Withnail & I, Uncle Monty says to his nephew, “It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself: ‘I will never play the Dane!’ When that moment comes one’s ambition ceases.” These days, you could justifiably exchange the word ‘Dane’ for ‘Doctor’ and not many people would bat an eyelid. Well, maybe Uncle Monty would.

Richard Griffiths, who played Monty, was considered for the role of the Doctor when Tom Baker departed it in 1981. The actors who played Withnail and ‘I’, both went on to actually essay the role. Paul McGann was the dashing, Byronic, Eighth Doctor in the 1996 BBC/Fox telemovie pilot that, despite excellent ratings in the UK, didn’t go to series. In 2003, Richard E. Grant played the Ninth Doctor as a sort of jaded, Holmesian figure in Paul Cornell’s BBC webcast animation, Scream of the Shalka. This appe…

Something There Is That Doesn't Love A Snowman

The snowman we made last night had been trampled this morning when we awoke, by a chaos of children. His twig arms lay under snow like avalanche victims. His carroty nose was simply no longer present at the scene. His small stone eyes were unaccounted for. He was a gone snowman. He was the snowman who wasn't there. What drives someone to eradicate a snowman? Is it the nature of the materials? Is being built of snow an invitation to break what will melt into air anyway? Nature abhors a melting creature. What isn't solid gets knocked down to size. Molecules scatter, crystals dissipate, the melting white gentle thing dissolves and is forgotten, in the blizzard that is creation, in the murder that is the blizzard. One has to have a mind like an icepick to pick apart a snowman, or just be a wild child, running across snow, perhaps never so deeply seen before. Snowmen are invisible in snow, like poems are in a world of prose.

Snow General Over England

I had some friends over today, one a poet, and we drank lots of wine, ate, and then they left. There was also a dog, and some children, and some crayon drawings on a lamp, by the end of it. Then as snow began falling, I read some new books. Farewell My Lovely, a new book of poems by Polly Clark, which I found exceptionally moving and well-made, with couplets that burst with surprising dark images of loss; and the new Faber debut, by Emma Jones, which seems quite good, though influenced by Wallace Stevens, and perhaps fussy and whimsical (the use of the word "fictive" in several poems is very Stevensian). Some of her poems use tropical flourishes and explorations of doubles and perception in the usual fun and clever ways; I always love both snow and tropical things in poems. Then I started reading The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano, who died recently. I saw a copy of his 2666 in the Tate the other night (Rothko!) and have found his book very fun, if a little sad: first …