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Showing posts from June, 2009

No More Unicorns

Richard Dawkins must be pleased with the emerging revelations that Michael Jackson appears to have been a cocktail-drunk drug addict, hopped up on numerous meds to keep the anxiety and despair at bay. After all - that's another myth gone - a genuine hero that people could love. Or maybe, Jackson was tarnished as long ago as 1995, anyway, and had no more to lose. Still, it rankles that Britain's top atheist has set up a summer camp for kids, where - I kid you not - there will be a prize for the best proof of the non-existence of unicorns. No doubt, they will also be taught (incorrectly) that there is no Father Christmas, too.

Now, it may be okay for Dawkins to peddle his sad and empty sophistry to adults, but surely he should resist the urge to hang with the kids, and steal what little wonder and innocence they have left. When adults do that to children, we have a name for it. Now, some may think taking a child's imagination is not a sin, so long as their parents have …

June roundup

I thought I'd stop blogging so much, but the world keeps turning. A few quick things - I hear Tom Chivers has a book of poems out. I'd like to know more about this - can someone send me a review copy? He's such an active presence on the London scene, but I don't know his poems as well as I'd like. Want to see what he's put out there. Also, was in Selfridges the other day for their 50% off sale, and spotted Ben Wilkinson's poem on the ceiling by the Blink counter. There are poems which I selected by young poets all over the store, hope some of you spot some of them. I also wanted to say that Amazon's just delivered the two new Penguin modern classic reissues of those first two key Susan Sontag books of essays, Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will. They look great, and readers of Eyewear who don't know these books should get them - Sontag was, of course, one of the first to think seriously about popular culture in English - much-i…

The King Is Dead

Sad news. As everyone in the world must now know, Michael Jacksonhas died. In a spontaneous act as moving as the lights dimming on Broadway, the web slowed worldwide at the news. I don't have much to say. I woke up, got out of bed, turned on the radio, and was met by the news, which stunned me. This is the greatest loss to pop culture since the death of Elvis.

As many commentators have been saying, Jackson was a sort of Elvis and Beatles in one - a triple-threat singer, songwriter and liver performer of extraordinary ability. He was the Mozart of the age - and the major figure of the 1980s, surely, in terms of cultural impact and influence. I don't happen to like the song "Thriller" but the album is a masterwork of its kind. Jackson was stranger than fiction - and curiously disliked in later years, when many other less brilliant, and less strange, entertainers were less sinned against. It is, for example, unlikely his excesses match those of The Stones. He was never …

Farrah Fawcett Has Died

Sad news. Farrah Fawcetthas died. She may have gone on to do other things, but her status as a major pop cultural icon of the 1970s is secure - she was the televisual Marilyn Monroe of her time, as an actor in Charlie's Angels, perhaps the quintessential cheesecake 70s TV show; and, she married Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man. Her life was variously rewarding and tragic, but she was greatly loved (and desired) - often imitated, never bettered. She will be missed.

Eric Gregory Award Reading 2009

Eyewear attended the Eric Gregory readings last night at the cool Farringdon-area pub Betsy Trotwood - Ms. Baroque was also there. This annual event was created 9 years ago by a former Gregory winner, Scottish poet Roddy Lumsden, an indispensable force on the UK scene (few do more for young emerging poets). Lumsden hosted with an informal, informative style, and the readings were in three sets, spaced by 15 minute breaks, that seemed to go on forever; they were needed though, the venue became stifling at times, and a no open-windows rule was enforced. There was a good crowd - maybe sixty or so, mainly younger people, with a few parents and older types like me. The little stage is ideally placed, and the sound system was crisp and clear.

It was an immensely positive vibe - everyone seemed glad to be there, and generally happy for the winners. It felt like an ideal situation - new poets being welcomed to the pack - not with envy, but admiration and support. This sort of event should be t…

The Death of Jonny Dollar

Sad news. I just read the obituary for the great music producer Jonny Dollar. I confess I didn't know his name before now, but I knew the music he helped to create: trip-hop. It seems like the distant paleolithic, but was really only a generation ago, in the 1990s, when the trip-hop style was the most exciting and fresh around - it really felt like the sountrack to the lifestyle of my friends and peers on the streets and clubs and cafes of Montreal, in the summers that made up the mid-90s on St. Laurent Boulevard (once Grunge had died). Nothing was stranger, sexier, or more of the moment. Of the songs that came from this period, Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, was the masterpiece, and Dollar co-wrote that. It was the music that played on the first date with my (now) wife. Dollar's part of my life, and his genius, unknown to me then, is now plain. What a loss, he was only 45.

i before e except in UK?

Curious news. Schools in England have been told to no longer teach the catchy mnemonic "i before e except after c" because it is "irrelevant". I may be thick, but I still use the rule several times a day - it's one of the only things I do remember from school, along with "seven eights are fifty-six" (sung to a particular tune). Hope they reconsider.

The Other Side

As I was reading The Guardian today, I was struck by a strange sense of horror and nostalgia, as two key figures from my childhood - offbeat though they were - had died and had obituaries on opposite pages. So - sad news: Bob Bogle and Hans Holzer have died. Bogle was lead guitarist with The Ventures - that Sixties instrumental surf band whose delightful cool twangy Walk, Don't Run was my favourite song and album for a long time when I was a kid; in Japan, they were, literally, bigger than The Beatles.

Holzer is the eerier guy. He is of course the famous ghost hunter, a writer on the In Search Of... series from the Seventies that used to scare the hell out of me and my brother, and part of that whole ESP-reincarnation-haunting vibe that - along with fear of nuclear war - really shaped the zeitgeist of the period.

I can still see those books of his at my house in St. Lambert, newly-bought from a church book sale, dog-eared and full of weird yarns. That was over 30 years ago, but …

Seeing Through Things

What part of transparency doesn't power get? In Iran, the digital revolution continues, and it is - for now - more heartening than dispiriting - to see bravery, allied to new technology, attempt to express the natural human wish to have a say, and to be counted. Meanwhile, as Obama swats flies and millions cheer (a new form of charisma), that unkempt and awkward man, Brown, holds on to his plans for a secret inquiry, to learn more lessons. If, as reported today, both Butler and Hutton - even those whitewashwers of yore - consider the need for some sort of open exploration of how Britain came to go to war - then how much longer can the PM hold out?

Pleasurable moments

Speaking of which, I just spotted this at Lemonhound. It kindly mentions a poem from my New and Selected, Seaway, in the same breath, or breadth, as several poets I admire. Thank you.

Saunders on the Canadian National Magazine Awards

This sent in from Craig Saunders

At a gala ceremony on June 5, Sina Queyras won the National Magazine Award for poetry. The NMAs are Canada’s top prizes for magazine writing. The author of four books, including Teethmarks, Lemon Hound and the newly released Expressway, the Montreal poet won for “Her Dreams of the Expressway,” published in the Malahat Review.

The silver award went to Vancouver poet Jennica Harper for “Liner Notes,” published in Prism International. Honorable mentions went to Warren Heiti, Michael Lista, Peter Richardson, Barry Dempster, Sylvia Legris, Amy Dennis, Lorna Crozier and Jan Zwicky.

It was a banner night for the Malahat Review, which publishes out of the University of Victoria, British Columbia. The literary journal also won the gold and silver awards for fiction with stories by Andrew Tibbetts and D.W. Wilson, and a silver in the “personal journalism” category for “Bad Day” by Joel Yanofsky.

AlbertaViews was named magazine of the year. The Walrus won the most aw…

Brown's Whitewash

It wouldn't be Eyewear if it didn't mention the illegal Iraq war from time to time - and it wouldn't be Britain if there wasn't an establishment urge to cover the whole thing up. It seems almost absurd that, at a time when even in Iran the supreme authorities are having to rethink their anti-democratic shenanigans, so strong is the democratic pressure from the people, Gordon Brown - Prime Minister in name only - continues to try and pull the hood over our eyes about the mess he and Tony got us into (with a little help from George). I won't wax polemical here - you can imagine the rest. Only one thing though - how did Brown think this anti-transparent whitewash would get past us, so soon after he promised a brand new listening-and-improving self? He's the same-old-Brown, alas. Willing to learn lessons - but only if some other anonymous person's results are graded for him, in secret, in a dark room, under the seabed, where everybody is truthful and intel…

School's Out For The Summer

The Poetry School group I work with has disbanded for the summer. A bittersweet moment, as such partings after a project well done always are. I have so much enjoyed working with them - they're talented, smart, and very good at supporting but also honestly critiquing each other's work. This year, the group included Kai Adams, Emily Berry, Mike Kavanagh, Samantha Jackson, Katrina Naomi, and Alex McRae. They've won prizes, have books out or pamphlets out, or on the way, and have completed or soon will commence, MAs, and PhDs. They're active.

Whenever I count my blessings - and should more often - I consider the chance to work with these (and other) poets through the Poetry School, and at Kingston, high on the list of good things. Poetic faith is renewed by such mentoring, by such fine students - students who become peers, and colleagues, and sometimes, friends, with their dedication and goodwill. I sometimes hear writers question the value of teaching creative writ…

Sir Andrew Motion

Sir John Betjeman - it has a ring to it, and signalled an important establishment respect, even admiration. Now, the UK has Sir Andrew Motion, after the Queen has bestowed new honours, announced today. As the acceptable face of British mainstream poetry, Motion has excelled. His poetry extends and strengthens the line of new-Georgianism that Larkin returned to post-war. Sir Motion will hopefully continue to do good work on behalf of poetry, for years to come. Meanwhile, though, Eyewear feels that a gulf is opening, between the reality that is how poetry is read and written, and the false hopes and claims often made on its behalf by apologists everywhere.

I feel that poetry is actually in danger, from all sides - from both those who would make it entirely experiment-driven and Adornoesque in its austere claims and hermetic techniques - and those who think it can be a laugh-a-minute vaudeville act - comedy with rhyme basically. Poetry needs rigour, intelligence, a sense of form, and…

Pandemic

Eyewear has predicted for weeks that this would be a difficult autumn in the UK, and now, unfortunately, the swine flu pandemic has been confirmed in the last few days. I have become rather tired by the stiff-upper-lip attitude of many of my British friends. They are being a little too stoical, I feel. Obviously, there is no need to panic, but neither does complacency seem in order. Latest figures suggest between 12 and 16 million Britons will get the swine flu this winter. Of those, between 25,000 and 30,000 are predicted to die. In a usual flu season, that number is more like 4,000 deaths. An almost 8-fold increase in mortality, especially one that will predominantly effect young people under the age of 60, is a pending tragedy, not a ho-hum situation. That many of the victims will be those with AIDS and underlying conditions alarms me, as I have close friends who are ill in such ways. Also, as a lecturer, I am concerned for my students, who always seem to have a flu or cold…

Guest Review: Paine on Petit

Vicky Paine reviews
The Treekeeper’s Tale
by Pascale Petit

The poems in Pascale Petit’s fourth collection are located firmly in the outside world, in forests and rivers, beneath permafrost and in star-filled skies. But her poems are not simply observations of flora and fauna; rather, the many creatures that appear in her poems inhabit mythological landscapes and spark off imaginative narratives. These landscapes form a backdrop for subtle meditations about our sense of self, what it is to be at home in the world, and the wondrous diversity of life.

The book is divided into four sections. The first, ‘The Treekeeper’sTale’, focuses on the enormous redwood trees that grow on the westcoast of North America. The poet speaks from the canopy of these huge trees and her new perspective creates a heightened sensory awareness: ‘Silence has small sounds I have learnt to listen to with my skin –the sap’s slow rise up three hundred feet of xylem.’ The sibilance of these lines suggests the hiss of the…

Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest

Earlier this year, Eyewear predicted that 2009 would prove to be a superior annum for popular music. There have been dozens of exciting releases since January - but one, half-way through the year, stands out for me, so far - Veckatimest, from East Coast hepcats Grizzly Bear. They've been heralded by some critics as the new Vampire Weekend, or even Fleet Foxes - which is all wrong, but close, in that it expresses the fact they're young, interested in sophisticated sounds, and genuinely fresh.

However, this album's sonic influences (why do we always cite influences now?) are more intriguingly confused and far-flung: The Doors, Steely Dan, composer John Adams, post-50s experimental Jazz, and of course, The Beach Boys by way of The Beatles. That makes the album sound either a little obvious, or perhaps outlandish. Instead, it's beautiful, complex, and at least for now, ever-renewing to the ears. It's one of those rare albums you can listen to intently, savouring ea…

Ambler Into Fear

Good news. One of Eyewear's favourite authors - British spy-book Thirties genius Eric Ambler- is back in print, after a decade in the wilderness. 28 June marks the start of his centenary birth year, and Penguin's done a good job on five of the books. Pity they haven't reprinted his first - the spy spoof The Dark Frontier, which I think is one of his best.

I loved Ambler almost more than Greene. His books made great noir films, too - The Mask of Dimitrios, with Peter Lorre, was one of my boyhood faves, and inspired one my earliest poems (in an Audenesque style).

We often think of the Thirties landscape as ambiguous amoral territory, with debates between fascists and socialists, in a crumbling Europe, as mapped by Auden or Greene, but Ambler is the third part of that imaginary triumvirate, I think (well, one might want to add Orwell). Speaking of which, Orson Welles (there is a weird name echo there) quasi-directed the Ambler classic Journey Into Fear, and made it a madcap far…

Gordon Brown's Meltdown

It was a strange night for politics in Britain, and a sad one. The EU election results are Labour's poorest since 1918 (beaten in Wales and Scotland, with far-right parties getting a toehold), with less than 16% of the popular vote. Eyewear feels the only way forward for Labour is radical and dramatic renewal, instigated by drastic change at the top. That this likely won't happen only redoubles the Labour tragedy - and the potential destruction of the party for a generation is a tragedy - and it likely won't because a) Brown is stubborn enough to cling to power until next May and b) his peers and MPs seem so demoralised and/or craven as to resist the bold steps necessary. This means Labour is dead on its feet - like someone stuck at the edge of a diving board, shivering, unable and unwilling to climb down or make the leap. It seems obvious that any leader would be better, since Brown cannot communicate with human warmth and will never win voters around now. Someone e…

The Best American Poetry Blog and I

Good news. Greg Santos, the Canadian poet based in New York, has intro'd me today at The Best American Poetry blog, as part of his research into Anglophone Quebec Poets. My modest foray into the American consciousness continues, with a poem that has just appeared in the latest issue of New American Writing 27. I also have work in the latest issue of Gargoyle and Steam Ticket, and forthcoming poems in Fulcrum. Thanks to all those editors.

Sleepwalking With The Enemy

Yesterday night, the cabinet member James Purnell, made a brave move. He opened the way for those in cabinet, and backbench Labour MPs, to voice their discontent with Gordon Brown. It all seemed to play for. Incredibly, though, instead of rallying to the young visionary's letter today, the fearful Labour cabinet has rallied around their embunkered leader as he accomplishes a semi-shuffle. It's a terrible day for Labour. They seem incapable of not bottling things. Whenever a strong clear decision to lead and make hard choices is called for, they retreat. This was the chance. Now Alan Johnson has been co-opted - a cowardly act on his part, revealing him as venal and small. Britain will likely have another year of this gang - unable to lead, unwilling to move on.

Griffin Prize Winners Announced

C. D. Wright'sRising, Falling, Hovering and A. F. Moritz'sThe Sentinel are the International and Canadian winners of the ninth annual Griffin Poetry Prize. Eyewear had reviewed Moritz's book recently, and thought it was very good, indeed. Good also to see Wright do so well.

Voting Intentions

The Guardian today calls for Gordon Brown - that hapless Scot - to go. I wish he would. It seems that voting for Labour is currently a bad idea - if only because of Iraq; the failure to address the poverty divide; and due to current incompetence and cowardice. The Tories are worse - anti-EU (and aligned with fanatical homophobes in Europe) and still too Thatcherite for our own good. The Greens are angelic in the abstract, but too left of the centre to be a valid mainstream option - for now. Therefore, it seems the Lib Dems have a window of credibility we need to open for them. I don't much like atheistic babe-magnet Clegg, but Vince Cable is a great leader-in-waiting. If I were to vote tomorrow, it would be for the Lib Dems, then.

Guest Review: Muckle On Goodland

John Muckle reviews
What The Things Sang
by Giles Goodland

The structuring principles of Giles Goodland’s poetry are the list and the proverb, the proverb and the list: a list of proverbs, a proverbial list – of words, objects of perception, apercus, saws, definitions. He is a lexicographer by trade: alphabetical order is irresistible to him, as are all kinds of tidiness and symmetry – as is also a contrary impulse to subvert a policed language of fixed definitions by means of various techniques he has evolved for calling its orders into question. A proverb is a linguistic structure – if this that, as this is so that is, and so on: as many other kinds of ifs, whens and ases as he can dream up, a series of rhetorical figures, checks and balances, permutating propositions, additive arrangements, suggestions of similitude, and paradoxes, spooling on and on, melting into one another until we begin to fear that any notion of a proverb as an encapsulation of useful wisdom is gone, and a collec…

Goodwin vs. Darwin

Isn't it time the British media stopped using Ruth Padel as a whipping post? The latest installment was Sunday's column in the Sunday Times, by Daisy Goodwin, which basically argues that children (including her daughter) should not be encouraged to become professional poets, because it is a vocation that cannot really be taught, and that is best practiced by people in banks or offices like Eliot or Stevens, not creative writing profs, as work provides the humanity that drives inspiration; amateur poetry is the thing.

Her main example of the poet gone wrong is Padel, who is described more than once as "ambitious" for quitting her academic teaching post at the age of 44 to concentrate on writing poetry. The article is really ludicrous, and ill-informed, and, more to the point, badly damaging, I think, to poetry. I am beginning to recognise that the main enemy of British poetry is the British media - their ideas of what poetry is, or should be, are rather quaintly Victor…

Eyewear Is Four Today

Today, blogs seem old hat - almost as antiquated as those phones in Dashiel Hammet movies that you have to pick up and dial. Somewhere along the line of the last year or so, I became middle-aged enough to no longer get the latest innovations in technology. I don't own a Blackberry, an iPhone, and can't tweet or twitter for beans. But I have tried to do something modestly innovative with my blog. Basically, it's a hybrid form, both personal enough to allow some laments for the dead, and hurrahs for the born, and impersonal enough to welcome other voices, guests, and writers, in, from time to time.

If I have had three main aims, they have been to 1) continuously represent an interest in poetry as a global interest, without constant reference to borders and nations; I happen to think that "English poetry" means poetry written in English, regardless of culture of origin, and am as happy to read a poem by Ranjit Hoskote, Patrick Chapman, or Nicole Blackman, as one …