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Showing posts from May, 2009

The Canadian Take On Padel

The Globe and Mail has an interesting article in today's Saturday paper on Ruth Padel and British poetry, for those who might want to check out the Canadian perspective. I'm quoted. Meanwhile, the University of Alberta has hired Derek Walcott to be poet in residence, starting this autumn semester.

Poem By Jim Dolot

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome American poet Jim Dolot this Friday - the last poet to be featured before the summer break. Dolot wanted a trimmed bio note and no photo, so here goes:

Dolot's poems have appeared intermittently on The Best American Poetry blog site since August 2008.

First Three Paragraphs of a Lower-Middle Class Novel Never To Be Written

There was a man who was so lower middle class that he had no name except Lower Middle Class. On his checks his middle initial was M. Friends called him Low, and some people, including professors, thought Lower M. Class a very prestigious, not to say upper middle class name. Live and learn.

Lower lived in a small one family house in Queens, New York, where his father, a not very successful and somewhat embittered accountant had brought them from the Bronx in the early 1950s.

Lower's best friend when he was growing up was Semi Conductor. Everyone laughed at Semi because he had only half a body - one leg, one arm, half a head - you…

Simple Minds

Not, not a reference to non-Eyewear readers. Readers of Eyewear will know that I love Simple Minds- that grandiose 80s band founded in 1977 that has somehow survived until 2009, with a few of its founding members still extant (Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchhill). My love of Simple Minds is not entirely logical, and much of it has to do with the fact that I consider their album New Gold Dream to be, along with The Queen Is Dead and Closer, one of the three masterpieces of British "new wave" and alternative music. And that critical claim is based on feeling as well as thought, and that I was young then, and liable to swoon.

However, there is an aesthetic that supports this judgement, and it is this: the 80s "New Romantics" are not so far from the poetic 40s "neo-Romantics" - they both explored excess, emotionality, religiose mannerisms and personal symbolism, and verbally-dense textures. I happen to think excess is as valid as austerity - both have their pla…

Guest Review: Noon On Forrest-Thomson

Alistair Noon reviews
Collected Poems
by Veronica Forrest-Thomson

This collection of Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s curious, witty, observant, crafted, exploratory poems includes, as your average Collected might do, a section entitled ‘Uncollected Earlier Poems’. But unless you’re a reader able to put a restraining order on all prior biographical knowledge, it’s hard not to read all of these poems as early work: Forrest-Thomson died at the age of 27. The obvious question is what another fifty-odd years of writing might have produced. Though one shouldn’t make too much of this of course: when Hendrix died, at the same age, he had demonstrated that rock can be art. Some people just get it all done faster.

Forrest-Thomson’s first book Identi-kit (1967) gives, in places, a sense of having being written by a young person. Late-teen/early-twenty-something cynicism comes through in the imagery of stasis and decay, the themes of banality and theatricality in conversation, and the use of psychological…

Saving Salt

Many of my best friends - and some of the best poets - are published by Salt, in the UK. Its highly innovative marketing and production design has meant a state of the art online presence, superb distribution in shops, and beautifully-made books. Over the last few years, its publisher and main editor, poet Chris Hamilton-Emery, has written enthusiastically about the new wave of publishing strategies Salt ushered in to the UK, in books, and online posts. At times, there was a Salt swagger, and a suggestion that some poetry editors used amateur techniques. Now, Salt is in financial trouble (aren't we all?) and has thrown itself on the mercy of the poetry-reading world, with an email message asking that everyone buy a Salt book, since sales are down 80% (!) - and keep its liquidity above the red line.

I think that everyone should buy a Salt book. I also wish everyone would buy a Salmon book - my Irish press is also facing a toughmoment, if only because poetry sales are down everywhere…

Phillips on Orwell and Plain Speech

The misappropriation of ‘Orwell’ (the mythical version of Eric Blair) by different factions has gone on for much of the six decades since his death. During the Cold War, and the years running up to the actual 1984 in particular, his last great fictional dystopia was routinely misinterpreted as a frontal assault on all forms of socialism and, in some cases, a defence of the individual libertarianism favoured, at the time, by Margaret Thatcher. Such distortions of both 1984 itself and Orwell’s ‘position’ generally were promulgated by right and left alike, the latter resorting to some quite peculiar means to ‘prove’ that the man who’d committed the fundamental leftist sin of criticising the Soviet Union in the 1930s was a reactionary. In Inside The Myth, for example, a collection of ‘views from the left’ edited by Christopher Norris and published in 1984 (of course), you’ll find Alaric Jacob’s ‘Sharing Orwell’s ‘Joys’ - But Not His Fears’, an essay which, in attacking Orwell’s depiction …

Without A Padel

The news that Ruth Padel has resigned from the position of Oxford's Professor of Poetry - after only holding this most-honoured post for a week or so - is sad enough. But seeing how the media has - as if this was a replay of Frost/Nixon - hounded a serious poet out of a serious house - makes it bad, too. Eyewear believes Padel, once appointed, should have been allowed to remain. While I think it was low to send out anonymous packages smearing Walcott, it is also clear Padel herself did not do this; and, it is also clear that Walcott's academic misconduct was documented and real. Why shouldn't a man or woman worried about harassment be able to mention this openly? There is something loathsome about the way a bunch of eminent older male establishment figures from broadcasting and academia began to pile on the abuse - against Padel, the brilliant poet, not against the allegedly-predatory older poet.

The media fuelled this crisis. It escalated because - almost uniquely fo…

I Am An Uncle

Great news. I am happy to announce that my younger brother Jordan, and his wife, Jacinthe, have a brand new baby boy, Alexandre Swift, pictured, born today in Montreal.

Poem By Donald McGrath

Eyewear is pleased to welcome Donald McGrath this Friday.

McGrath is a Montreal-based poet, short-story writer and translator. He has had work in a wide variety of Canadian periodicals and reviews including Grain, The Antigonish Review, Prism, Poetry Canada and The New Quarterly, as well as on www.nthposition.com and www.danforthreview.com.
He has published a very good volume of poetry, At First Light (Wolsak and Wynn, 1995).

His work is characterized by arch wit and verbal exuberance, leavened with recollections of a rural childhood.


Washday

The glass was blueish green, like the sea
and furrowed like it, too. Unlike the sea's,
its waves all rose to the same height
and never broke, holding in their smoke
like a bunch of grapes. Braided like rope,
rough to the touch, they rubbed
the woman's knuckles raw as she scrubbed
clothes up and down, down and up, in
the wooden iron-hooped tub, spilling
fluffy suds upon the grass behind
the house where the white clothesline
tipped and tilted on its long g…

Morrissey At 50

Morrissey, as readers of Eyewear will know, is one of my favourite singer-songwriters. I've said in print he is Britain's leading pop musical genius, a sort of Mancunian Bob Dylan. So, it's good to see the man celebrating tonight back home, in Manchester. He's aged well, in terms of growing handsome, solid, and broad - but his recent work unfortunately pales in comparison to that of the 80s and the 90s. It's true, he had an Indian summer two or three albums back, but then the latest was miserable again, without the charm or wit. Morrissey's lyric style is predicated on repetition of key lines, phrases, and words - as well as sudden leaps in logic ("flying bullet for you") sung in surprisingly elastic ways, tricking the syntax and diction across the tongue. At its best, this is electrifying, and at times uncanny. This is why he is so Dylanesque - his words are brilliant, but the way he purveys them is more so. However, his broad themes of stymied eros …

Auden Does Lenin

A researcher in the BFI archives has uncovered a few poems by WH Audenpreviously unseen for over 70 years, which is exciting news; less so only when one realises they are translations of "anonymous" Russian songs written in praise of Lenin, for a Stalinist propaganda machine. As an insight into Auden's 30s styles and affiliations, it is fun, even informative. There seems to be little of great poetic value in the new work, though. We knew Auden had Communist sympathies, and we knew he wrote work for film. This isn't news, so much as new grist for the mill.

Obama Contra Congress

For those who wanted an activist Mr. Deeds style (even Chavezesque) US Presidency from Obama - well - you have it. Going it alone, against Cheney and Congress, Mr. Obama is pursuing a clear and presently controversial position on Guantanamo - it was a mess, and needs cleaning up. Following on recent moves to cut gas emissions by a third, and strong moves to support Kyoto-style global warming countermeasures - as well as the lucid defense of the right of a woman to have an abortion, Obama is increasingly becoming the most left-leaning, liberal, and decent President in history. Those who criticise him should do so with caution - it is hard to imagine a more coherently and sanely presented version of such a socialist / green agenda in a form able to capture the White House. Let's hope he keeps this up.

Thank You

I have been very moved by the replies to my post. The messages are bitter-sweet, because they both encourage me to focus more on my own work, but also remind me how many brilliant and talented writers and poets my words do reach, with this humble blog. Thank you, friends, for your advice. I shall still move Eyewear into a slower, quiter summer mode in June, and then revisit the vexed question of renewing its pre-summer levels, again in the autumn. But before then, there are still some good reviews to come.

Madness

No, not Eyewear's, or King George's - or even poor Speaker Martin's. Actually, the band. Madness, that great two-tone Ska sensation. Back, and, perhaps, better than ever. I bought and played The Liberty Of Norton Folgate (I am writing this from memory in a library so I hope I get the eccentric title right) last evening, and was deeply moved by its inclusive, upbeat sound and content - it is a sweeping love letter to London, and its people, and, the second track is generous enough to reference poets, along with plumbers, as a key part of the London experience. Indeed, the opening line, mentioning the Mosque near Baker street (my Marylebone area for years) brought tears of joy to my eyes. Madness is back, and not a moment too soon - their cheery, positive music was a tonic in the Thatcher era, and we need it again. This delightful album reminds us all that finding the seam of light in the dark is also artful. And that London can be a hell or a heaven, as they sing.

Enough is enough

By the way, I have decided to end Eyewear, permanently, in the autumn of 2009, or sooner. I'll start scaling things back over the next few weeks, and have a total break June-September. I have a number of books I want to get reviewed, and poets to feature, mostly because I promised them I would, and because - why I do not know - I believe that poets should be helpful to one another, and help to build a community online, given the relative indifference the wider society has to their art.

I have found blogging exhausting, and, even though we are coming up on Eyewear's 4th birthday, increasingly empty. While I am pleased to have 90 followers, my recent poll indicated I have, in any week, only around 66 people willing to vote - and, lately, most posts get 1 or no comments. Blogging is, I think, changing. Less and less rare, it is now slightly old-hat. There are newer, abbreviated ways to instantly message, and, more and more, blogs that do get readers are slicker, better edited, and…

Borders patrol

I read at Borders today, as part of the Kingston Readers Festival, organised by Sandra (Sandy) Williams, who does an amazing job. Often, as you will know, readings in book chains are under-attended and poorly planned. This one was great. I had over forty in attendance, at lunchtime, and sold ten copies of my new and selected, Seaway. The audience listened well for over 45 minutes of poetry, asked questions, were supportive at the end, and was a genuinely wide-ranging group, of writers and readers of all ages, from about 20 to I'd say 75. It seemed the model of the sort of event one would want in one's own town. The Borders, in Kingston, is one of the only places to stock my work, so do support them, by getting a copy there, at Market Place, Kingston-Upon-Thames.

One slightly sad aspect was how everyone expressed their delight at hearing my poetry, and saying how well I'd read it. After my reading on 30th May, I have no events booked for the rest of 2009, in the UK. …

Speaker! Speaker!

For anyone interested in parliamentary debate - or democracy - today is truly historic. For the first time in 300 years a Speaker of the House of Commons (UK) has had to step down, basically because of near-total MP disdain. Of course, he is being scapegoated - most of them are, it turns out, greedy and corrupt, or maybe just unethical and inept - but we can't ditch every last rotten bum out, can we? The danger is - who do we replace them with? At a time when Obama is making American democracy seem invigorated by decency, intelligence, energy, culture, and high purpose, the lack of any potential British figure to step forward is a little astonishing. What has become so rotten in this state? And why?

I suspect a cultural rot: the media, and other elites, in business and politics, along with many in the upper class, have connived for years, or rather, simply let things happen with an invisible hand - to allow British culture to degenerate into a medley of celebrity, shagging, uneduca…

Chapman on Star Trek

Space. The New Frontier.

JJ Abrams’s new Star Trek film opened recently to spectacular business and critical acclaim. It’s the first time Trek has intersected with the mainstream since the movie First Contact in 1996 but to do so, it had to reinvent itself. This is not the first time that Star Trek has become new. Over the decades, it’s started again several times, to varying degrees of commercial and artistic success. Often, its creative rebirth has been at the hands of outsiders, fresh perspectives bringing new ideas. Let’s go back to the beginning of the final frontier and have a look at those incarnations, bearing in mind that every generation gets the Star Trek it deserves. Or, to put it more positively, Trek does well not just when it’s in touch with the times, but also when it coincides with moments of optimism.

Forty-five years ago a former motorcycle cop and fighter pilot, Gene Roddenberry, tried to sell NBC on a show he described as ‘Wagon Train to the Stars.’ As pitches go, t…

Maxine Cooper Has Died

Sad news. Maxine Cooper(pictured) has died. She starred in one of the major 50s noirs, and an Eyewear favourite, Kiss Me Deadly, the anti-atomic hardboiled flick with the erotic sucker punch. She was also basically blacklisted for being an activist and too smart for her own good. Hollywood doesn't know where to put women's minds, sadly. I hear the new Jane Campion film about Keats may win at Cannes this year, by the way. Campion is one of only several female directors in a tediously male game. Time to break the glass ceiling for the silver screen.

James Mason's Centenary

As David Thomson so ably wrote the other day, James Mason was a class act. He's one of the actors I most love - especially for his work in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Odd Man Out, and The Man Between. And, of course, Lolita and North By Northwest. Eyewear would like to saulte this greatest of British character actors on the centenary of his birth.

Poem by Andrew O'Donnell

Eyewear originally recently came across the young, and talented poet Andrew O'Donnell (pictured here) at a Manchester poetry reading - and then again at the Essex International Poetry Festival, where he came third in the poetry competition judged by Roddy Lumsden.

O'Donnell is from Lancashire. He studied Literature and Philosophy at Staffs University and wrote an opera libretto entitled 'Transmission' in '97, performed at Huddersfield College of Music the same year.

He's travelled and lived for years in Asia. His poetry and short stories are published on the net at Unlikely Stories and Nthposition, and in Orbis, The Wolf, and Grain.

A Weeping Page

To Raul Zurita

Satellites beam the news to a screen
in a tank filled with strangers both
strange to each other and strange
to themselves. Then the weeping starts.

I turn on a tap because my own
weeping has started; wash my hands
in the tears of strangers, mark this shift;
tear-threshed, to begin the fresh weeping.

In the street th…

Event no. 32

I am reading at the Kingston Reader's Festival next week, 19 May, as Event no. 32.

Saturday, 30 May, at 7.30 pm, I am reading with Judi Benson and David Perman for the long-running and popular London series, "Poetry in the Crypt", at the Neighbourhood Centre next to St Mary's Church, Islington.

A chance to get a signed copy of Seaway.

Obama and Walcott

Barack Obama has recently hosted a "Poetry Jam" at the White House, inviting performance poets and Jazz musicians, among others. I didn't recognise any of the guests, and do hope the great Patricia Smith and Bob Holman get invited soon. It appears that the "coolest man on the planet" - and easily the most cultured US President since Kennedy - likes poetry (we knew he wrote it); indeed, he was seen lately with a collection of Derek Walcott's "in his back pocket". The meteoric rise of Walcott's reputation in American political circles has been matched by an equally catastrophic fall in Britain.

Sadly, he had to withdraw from the running for the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford, after a dodgy dossier was sent around to academics (and voters) alleging harassment claims. It's an awfully shabby way to treat a poetic genius, and Nobel prize winner. I think it might be wise to postpone the elections for a year, to let the dust settle. Howe…

Alain Bashung Has Died

Sad news. The great French singer-composer Alain Bashunghas died. As a Montrealer, I have fond memories of his songs and videos, especially "Vertige de l'amour" and "Gaby, O Gaby". His growling voice and Elvis Costello sneer (he actually looked a bit like Bourassa at times) endeared hom to my brother and I instantly.

Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems

I've been reading the slim handsome new Faber Ian HamiltonCollected, recently published. It's a corrective reading, because no one else, really, writes in his style now, as Alan Jenkins observes in his intelligent, honest, and compassionate Introduction. This is impressive, because it means that Hamilton's terse, controlled, famously minimal manner seems almost unique, and as remote as from another century. Most influential and respected as a poet in the 1970s, it may be hard to believe, now, but Hamilton was, along with Larkin, and Hughes, arguably one of the three best-known and respected English poets of that decade (Heaney was of course the major Irish figure). Before the Motion and Morrison 80s, and, setting aside for a moment the other tradition being pioneered by Prynne, Riley, Crozier, Raworth, Hamilton was a major figure. Is he still?

The new edition of his work is austere in its claims and offerings. There are not many more than the famous 60 poems. What is new do…

Guest Review: Campbell On Fritz And Dancing Bear

Nancy Campbell reviews
Going, Going…
by Leah Fritz
and
Conflicted Light
by J.P. Dancing Bear

In Going, Going… we find Leah Fritz ‘under Westminster Bridge’ contemplating ‘the world out on parole’. Wordsworth is the first of many poets whose shadowy footsteps she traces through London and beyond. Yeats and Plath are remembered – and their deaths contrasted – by means of their tenure in Primrose Hill. Fritz locates herself by literary tradition as much as by geography, slipping between poetic forms just as an experienced traveller integrates with customs and cultures. This selection includes a ballad, ‘As We Speak’, that comes with ‘apologies to William Blake’, and a sonnet about, and after, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (‘Death in Florence’). Yet this is no mere fan-worship; Fritz’s distinctive voice reads like a conversation with her forebears. While her gaze is predominantly retrospective, she also acknowledges her contemporaries: a sonnet dedicated to Mimi Khalvati betrays ‘What teachers get…

A Parliament Fouled

We've had parliaments of fowls, now we have one fouled. The "mother of all parliaments" - that in London - the seat of British democracy - is now it appears the floundering seat of entitlement, hypocrisy, and pitiful corruption (expenses claimed for moats, helipads and manure). British pundits are suggesting this might be a collapse in the public acceptance of politics as we know it - a sort of latter-day let-them-eat-cake moment. Will there be an English Revolution, at last? This is the worst of times, and the worst of times, but I don't see too many heads rolling yet - though the red-faced, blustering Speaker of the House should go, and soon. European elections are coming, and, should this utter fiasco, which leaves few moral compasses left unsmashed and pointing due North, swing to the right, Britain might get darker, before it gets a proper dawn.

Brinton On Prynne

Good news, Ian Brinton'sbook on the major British poet, J.H. Prynne, has been published by Shearsman, that important poetry press. I should add, my (mixed) review of the recent Shearsman book, Avia, by Nathaniel Tarn, is out in the latest Wolf.

Observers of the British scene - from afar - might be puzzled at the excitement in the media, this last week, surrounding Carol Ann Duffy - a formidable and intelligent poet to be sure - and the absence of any mention of Geoffrey Hill, or Prynne, as alternate potential laureates.

While they may not have been interested, these, and other significant British poets are of equal stature and seriousness, and the British media does the nation no favours with their simplistic equation of popularity/clarity and poetic quality. Blame Orwell. Orwell, the guru of the British journalist, was on guard against all complex and opaque language, suspecting what wasn't plainly spoken as being cant or worse.

However, what he argued on behalf of prose does no…

Poem By Samantha Jackson

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Samantha Jackson (pictured) this Friday.

Jackson is a poet and commissioning editor based in London. She graduated with a first class honours degree in English Literature from the University of East Anglia in 2000. During her time at UEA she undertook poetry workshops under the tutorage of Esther Morgan. Jackson went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in Publishing, during which she worked briefly at Carcanet Press. Jackson currently works commissioning books for Pearson.

Her poetry is alert to the sensuous and the symbolic, and is influenced by poets such as Redgrove, Plath, Keats, Swinburne and Baudelaire. Jackson is one of the promising younger British poets I have included in the Selfridges 100th birthday project, and a version of the poem below can also be found displayed at the flagship shop in London.

French Gilded Mirror, circa 1720

You’re winking at me again,
flashing your glass
across this crowded place.

I’m caught in your bottom right, a penin…

Blitz Spirit Vs. The Flu

It's official - or is it - swine flu, though relatively mild, is a pandemic in all but name, is spreading, and is closing schools, and stopping the US navy in its tracks, something not even pirates could do. Well, not in Britain. As if recoiling from their earlier gung-ho media frenzy, the British press is now taking an altogether stiffer upper lip in this new week of the epidemic - with plenty of commentators and hacks outdoing each other in terms of their indifference, even disdain, for the highly-contagious virus. "Slap people with masks" one journalist writes. Another mocks a young girl on her "deathbed" - with "cold symptoms". Even on Eyewear, sarcasm drips. It's as if, after the Nazi Blitz, nothing short of the Bubonic Plague is bloody well going to grind Blighty to a halt. Admirable sentiments. But loose lips sink ships - and cavalier attitudes can spread germs. Before dancing a jig on the grave of this swine flu, let's first g…

Guest Review: Bailey on Miller

Andrew Bailey reviews
The Day in Moss
by Eric Miller

Eric Miller is, quite clearly, a nature poet; The Day in Moss is packed with robins, redwings, rivers and river willows, alongside less immediately romantic elements such as snails, lichen and pill-bugs. It's probably no surprise, then, to find that one of his specialisms in his lecturer day-job is John Clare; the opening poem of the book, 'River Willow', even shares an image with that poet.

This is Clare's willow, from 'To Anna, Three Years Old':

The old pond with its water weed
And danger-daring willow tree,
Who leans an ancient invalid
Oer spots where deepest waters be.

Whereas Clare's poem promptly finds its personification in the "ancient invalid", Miller's willow sparks a question - "This crack willow, just who is she? Ophelia, I think [...] Likewise, this willow's Narcissus lucky [...] In fact, Ophelia and Narcissus couple here, living above and below the image, reaching down and reac…

May Poems At Nthposition And A Farewell

I've been editing the poetry section at Nthposition since 2002. I am now stepping down for the rest of 2009, while I complete my doctoral research. Nthposition has replaced me with a very able acting poetry editor, Rufo Quintavalle. I like his poetry a great deal, and published him often over the years, at Nthposition. I look forward to what he selects over the next 8 or 9 months.

So, May is my bumper crop - enjoy!

Headmaster's report, Words spoke where coals are dug & Sally-Anne-Moose
by Alan Baban

May I now, Language and the gaze & My legs in the bathtub
by Anne Korff

Fire song
by Aseem Kaul

Longing & The wait
by Pierre Ringwald

Desertification & A Gurkha's take on the former workshop of the world
by Samuel Prince

Midnight at the Hotel Savaria
by Norman Jope

A sleeper at the station is aflame Part 2
by Brentley Frazer

Washington & Tremont
by ryk mcintyre

Community
by Christopher Horton

Willy Loman's twin
by Glen Sorestad

'And what is seen is what and what is se…