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Showing posts from July, 2009

Duffy Unleashed

Taxpayers of Britain cannot complain - their money is not being wasted by the new laureate. Carol Ann Duffyhas been reading poems on the BBC, and editing sections of "leading" poets for newspapers, of late, often with a war theme. I've been there, done that. Good to see someone else - belatedly - pick up the baton and run with the anti-war and poetry theme - Tim Kendall alert! Was it just me, or was Muldoon's poem particularly cryptic, even for him? The problem with writing poems about Panther's Claw, or any other part of the Af-Pak campaign, is that it isn't out of the fog of war yet - and such ambiguity, while good for at least seven types of poetry - may not be the best for anti-war verse. Owen, of course, knew what he was against. Douglas - that sublime sociopath - knew what he saw, and liked and loathed it. But they saw war.

In the case of Iraq, the initial attack was illegal - that was the point of contention. However, the current Helmand struggles, over…

Poetry London Summer 2009 & Eyewear

The editorial of Poetry London's Summer 2009 issue, by Tim Dooley, explores important issues relating to the death and rebirth of poetry criticism and reception in the UK. One of the points he makes is that there are as many new poetry collections out each year as there are film releases, and the possibility for proper engaged reviews of each of these is subsequently becoming limited, in some ways, partially simply due to the numbers; but also because newspapers, other than the Guardian, are less and less interested in reviewing poetry (I think the Times does a bit, too). On the other hand, he observes, there are new forums to read such works. He writes: "The Internet has created new possibilities like the discussion board Poets on Fire moderated by Jane Holland, or Todd Swift's blogzine Eyewear."

I am very proud to have Eyewear mentioned in this way, especially as it is an amateur pursuit without funding and fuelled only by enthusiasm. It is the second time this deca…

Et Tu, Bruno

The new film Bruno, along with Antichrist, extends the limits of artistic expression in the latterly commercial form of cinema - albeit arthouse or pseudo-documentary. Listening to a recent radio programme discussing Eliot's common pursuit, a la Leavis, of a moral base for a society, I came to reflect upon precisely the absence of such a ground, today, in Britain, in 2009. These films - hilarious or horrifying as they may be - achieve their effects against a backdrop that is post-humanist, as well as post-Christian. They may almost be even post-atheist, for atheism at least despairs at loss, or celebrates reason's triumph.

Instead, these are films of a generation, digitally modified, that has come to believe in absolutely nothing, for five minutes at a time, and which cares less and less, as reaction and feeling are thinned out - simply, there is too much to do and see to take anything too seriously, even life and death and the full moral struggle those poles represent. I'v…

Mercury On The Ear

La Roux may win this year's Mercury. For those not based in Britain, the Mercury prize is a bit like a Grammy for indie musical artists. While a recent Eyewear post teased La Roux, it is true that her album has a number of catchy pop tunes, and, among all the recent acts paying pastiche-based homage to their more famous peers and earlier styles, she's actually very good. It seems a shame the White Lies album isn't included; as for the news that Florence and the Machine is a tipped favourite - well, it hasn't grown on me, yet, has Lungs. Both Lungs, and the new Bats for Lashes sound very much like Sarah McLachlan, who was one of the most influential indie acts of the 90s - and whose emotive portentous style has become deeply embedded in the DNA of so many acts since. McLachlan was great, but it's becoming a tired style. Or am I just really getting too old to maintain enthusiasm for pop? Today on the BBC, I listened to a very good programme on Eliot. At the e…

Julius Shulman Has Died

If I hadn't been a poet, I would have wanted to be an architect, and not just because of The Fountainhead. The 20th century's greatest American architectural photographer, Julius Shulman, has died - his Guardian obituary is well worth reading. I have a poem inspired by his Koenig House photo of fifty years ago forthcoming in my new collection, out this autumn.

Catholicism For Sinners

The news that the Vatican has accepted Oscar Wildeas a great 19th century thinker means his once-paradoxical title of Saint Oscar may one day be less ironic than all that. Wilde, on his deathbed, had time to complain about the wallpaper, and also raise his hand to accept entrance into The Church, an act alluded to at the end of Brideshead Revisted, that other supremely aesthetic achievement. Wilde saw the great beauty of Catholic ritual - Mass is one of the finest things a person can do, especially someone not talented enough to perform in Rigoletto. I agree with Wilde - sinners and saints do congregate meaningfully in a Church that comprehends the depths and heights of the human condition (the gutter and the stars). Wilde was a subtle extremist, how saw the pathos and passion in love and desire. His stories for children are the most moving in the English language, and utterly Christian. It is a great day for religious complexity when a mind as ambiguous and profoundly shallow, and ut…

High Summer, High Anxiety, High Fever?

July 15th has the right to consider itself smack dab in the middle of summer. High summer should be a time to relax - the fish are jumping. Instead, today's news is grimmer than day-old Eyewear. Depending on who you listen to, as reported by the BBC or The Guardian, death rates for previously healthy people are expected to amount to a) 25% of all cases or b) 20% of all cases. Worse, death rates are expected to be up to "1 in 200" of all who "seek medical advice from their doctor".

That rate seems higher than the current death rate of 0.28 per million the UK is experiencing at the moment, until one considers that most people don't have swine flu (yet). This 1:200 death rate means 5,000 for every million cases. Given that the government is predicting that 20% of the UK will (at a minimum) contract the H1N1 virus, and even before assuming the virus may mutate, that means, at a conservative estimate, 10 million Britons will get the flu. That's 50,000 deaths.…

Blair Overreach Project

The news that Tony Blairis the UK candidate for the position of EU president is a revolting development. Blair single-handedly made Labour both electable and unacceptable, spinning a rotten coalition of Guardian and Telegraph readers, that tried to fuse a social justice agenda with Tory takes on war, justice, banking, and privatisation of various sectors of society - in the process making Labour the most draconian, war-mongering, and pro-business government the UK has seen since, or before, Thatcher. Blair's cringe-worthy lies on weapons of mass destruction and dalliance with Bush-Cheney (themselves now staring at a smoking gun back at Langley that makes the Bourne movies plausibly undeniable) make him the least-likely convert to Catholicism since Symons. He is a dreadful politician and a duplicitous weirdo who grimaces artifice. He must not be allowed to run and ruin the EU.

In Conversation With Paul Blezard

The Hay Festival is working with Oxfam to bring writers to Oxfam shops across the UK during the Oxfam Bookfest Fortnight. I am glad to see this idea, which I long championed, coming to fruition - the development of a truly national literay series linking all the many shops and volunteers of Oxfam.

I myself, as the Oxfam GB Poet-in-residence, will be a guest of the fest. On Monday, 13th July, I will be appearing, as part of the Hay Oxfam events, at 91 Marylebone High Street, from 6.30-7.30 pm, in conversation with Paul Blezard, to discuss poetry and poetics, pop culture and pandemics. To book, email Martin at oxfammarylebone at hotmail dot come or call 02074873570.

The next night (14th July) sees seven fine poets, most from Paris, reading at the same venue, from 7-9 pm, including the new Nthposition acting poetry editor, Rufo Quintavalle, and the editor of Tears in the Fence, David Caddy.

And yes, that is Bill Nighypricing books as a volunteer in the same shop all our reading events have …

Afghanistan

Six years ago, it all seemed so clear. I was against the Iraq invasion, and so were many (most?) American, Canadian, British, Irish, and Australian poets, from what I could tell. Anthologies, poems, events, and marches, ensued. The invasion happened anyway. The revolution was e-booked. Now, Western forces are dying daily, in relatively high numbers, and the public is beginning to ask questions. I'm a member of that public, not above it, and am asking the questions too. I tend to adore Barack Obama - he is so effortlessly stylish, apparently decent, and, within reason, left-leaning for an American leader - but he has made this campaign in Afghanistan his own. Curiously, there's been little poetic response to this war against the Taliban in the "Af-Pak" region, either from the soldiers on the ground, or the people back home who are sending them there, or underwriting their deaths with their support. What do the poets think about this? Does that matter? What …

How swine flu kills

This article usefully, and frighteningly, relays how the swine flu virus can bind to either the respiratory system, or the intestinal tracks, in humans, and, if it binds higher, kill quickly through pneumonia, if the immune system reacts too strongly with inflammation. The current claims, to keep us calm, are that this is mild, but the latest science is that the virus can, and likely will, mutate and kill quickly (the 1918 version killed young people in hours, not days). London is now Swine Flu Central. This is a terrifying pandemic at the early stages, and, each step of the way, it has leaped to the next level, exactly as predicted. I for one remain concerned.

Bastille Day Reading For Oxfam Bookfest

Bastille Day Poetry, Wine & Cheese Evening
Oxfam Book and Music shop
Tuesday 14th July 7pm

Featuring readings by:

Barbara Beck
David Caddy
Jennifer K Dick
Brentley Frazer
Rufo Quintavalle
George Vance &
Jonathan Wonham

All the wine is being brought from Paris and a selection of cheeses
Hosted by Todd Swift our Poet-in-Residence
Admission free

91 Marylebone High Street, London, W1

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Bios of writers appearing

RUFO QUINTAVALLE
Rufo Quintavalle was born in London, 5th January, 1978. He has an M.A. University Iowa English Literature and a B.A. Oxford University English Literature
2009- Poetry editor Nthposition; 2007- Poetry editor Upstairs at Duroc
Make Nothing Happen (AWARD-WINNING Oystercatcher Press, 2009)

JONATHAN WONHAM
Dr. Jonathan Wonham lives in Norway where he works as a geologist. Jonathan was born in Glasgow in 1965, but spent his childhood in Morpeth, Northumberland. He has been published in the book Poetry Introduction 7 (Faber) as well as numerous magazines and anthologies. A new book…

Duffy's Prize

The new poet laureate has met The Queen and announced a new UK poetry prize. It is named for Ted Hughes, is worth £5000, and will run for the next decade, using the annual fees she receives as its award money. My first reactions are mixed, though obviously money to support new work in poetry is a good thing. I suppose I wonder why the prize was not named for a woman poet - there is already the T.S. Eliot Prize.

However, that's not a major concern. What is worth thinking about is that the prize money situation somehow supposes that the fee for the laureate was a frippery meant for better use. It will be morally hard for a future laureate to dispense with this prize, if it does well, but the laureate may not always be self-sustaining or wealthy. The money, though symbolic, actually does allow the poet to pay for things they may want to do - like travel to various events. Andrew Motion, for instance, was all over the UK promoting events big and small.

Poetry tastes and opinions are wid…

I'm Not Your Toy

La Roux's been getting too much press. It's really just a synth band duo that's been thrown from a wormhole in a back to the future sort of nostalgia trip, giving us the sort of Speak and Spell sounds that I love, but probably make most people reach for their phasers. However, if you liked Vince Clark era Depeche, then this is your moment. For my money, the two best tracks are the infinitely catchy "Colourless Colour" and "I'm Not Your Toy" (which sounds as if it was written by Prince for Ms. Easton). Eighties pastiche and homage is well and good, but how long can it be mined, like Whitby Jet, before the cliffs are bare?

Humane Cinema

I've been catching up on films on DVD of late. I recently saw two that Eyewear recommends unconditionally for their take on the human condition - Milk and The Class. Milk recreates the gay struggle for freedom and respect in the American of the 1970s in the Castro district of Frisco, and all that was missing was poet Thom Gunn to make this one of my favourite movies of all time.

I appreciate gay culture and its achievements, and very much admire how lovingly the movie celebrates these men (and women) who were brave and out there. It really is a bracing socio-political portrait of the queer shoulder to the wheel, with some of the verve of Costa-Gravas. Easily the director's best since Elephant. Emile Hirsch as a swaggering young rent boy with curly hair and outlandish Swifty Lazaar specs steals the show, though Penn makes all the right moves as the giddy-yet-Republican midlife-crisis man who gets a new lease on life (twice) by jumping into love, then public life.

The Class, …

Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy

I wish to make something of a Jackson retraction. My post of yesterday was written before I had watched Michael Jackson's memorial in Los Angeles. In hindsight, it was no circus, but a very stately, and mostly classy event. I was particularly moved by Al Sharpton's pulpit rhetoric, and the phrase he coined - surely to go down in American history - "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what he had to deal with". As a comment on both racism and the hard road of African-Americans to achieve dignity, but also as a comment on the weirdness of ultra-fame, it is superb. But as a gift to the children, it is even more profound and generous. My own father was strange - and what he had to deal with was too; I am not sure it is always best to deny the strangeness of persons.

I suspect Jackson was, all things considered, not mentally well at all times, and had eccentricities and disorders of the personality that, at the least, led him to modify his bo…

Jackson Ressurection

Is it just me, or do others expect a Michael Jackson resurrection? Part of me - no doubt the anti-Dawkins, credulous part - suspects Michael is not in fact dead, has faked his death, and that this is the most extraordinary hoax in human history. If indeed Jackson rises from his gold coffin, then he will fulfill biblical prophecy. He would be, I guess, the beast, or anti-Christ, a moonwalking evil twin of his former self. Jackson was large in life, vaster in death. I am impressed with his King Tut majesty. His name and fame will outlive all poets, and even the stars and sun, and moon. Music is great, those who express it perfectly, perfect and immortal. May he rest in peace, beyond all nonsense.

Robinson on Dylan

Peter Robinsonwrites on Bob Dylan's ‘Back in the Rain’


Protesting too much, the Biograph (1985) notes on the out-take recording of ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’ include twenty-four lines of irritated outburst from Bob Dylan about what interpreters (‘Stupid and misleading jerks’) have made of his work. Though he does get on to the question of whether he has been playing roles and reinventing himself over the years, the beginning and end of this passage both confront the notion that Dylan has at times been an autobiographical and a confessional ‘poet’ in his song-writing career:

You’re A Big Girl Now well, I read that this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they go ahead and print stuff like that. I mean it couldn’t be about anybody else but my wife, right?

To clinch his point, and he does have one, Dylan ends by admitting that he did once write a song straight from life:

I don’t write confessional songs. Emotion’s got nothing to do with it. It only se…

Swine Flu Etiquette

Health Minister Burnham's announcement of yesterday, that there is a doubling each week of swine flu cases in the UK, that the pandemic is now out of control, and that there is likely to be 100,000 new cases a day by the end of August, is not good news. There are 8,000 cases, roughly, in Britain as of this Friday. That means by start of August, there would be over 128,000. That would be a million and rising by September, and, if the current model holds, everyone in the UK, more or less, would be infected by November. This scenario is terrifying. People with low immune systems will die, and there are not enough respirators to keep a fraction of oncoming pneumonia cases alive. Ask your friends in health provision about how many oxygen tents would be required to keep people alive.

Further, if large swathes of the total population are incapacitated, even for the 7 days or so that is required, civil society will bend if not break. A new etiquette, or some guidelines, need to be p…

Karl Malden Has Died

Sad news. Karl Maldenhas died. As Mitch in the stage and film versions of A Streetcar Named Desire, and the priest in On The Waterfront, he was a key 50s character actor closely aligned to the method acting system, and its greatest figure, Marlon Brando. I love Streetcar, and consider it the best American play of the last century, after Long Day's Journey Into Night. He also starred in Fear Strikes Out, that weird 50s baseball film with Tony Perkins that remains one of my guilty pleasures. Malden was also great, in the 70s, in The Streets of San Francisco.

Poem by David McGimpsey On Canada Day

David McGimpsey (pictured) is one of the funniest and most brilliant of Canadian writers, popular as a poet, prose writer, and serious thinker on, among other things, baseball and TV. I've been including his work in anthologies for years.

This poem originally appeared in the special section on "The New Canadian Poetry" I edited for New American Writing in 2005. Eyewear is very pleased to reprise this self-reflexive blog poem on Canada Day, July 1, 2009.

Please Don’t Make Me Read Your Blog

I’d do anything
if I could have your love—
I’d give up strip poker
and my apricot facial scrubs

To see you smile I’d drink
30-day old egg nog.
But, please,
don’t make me read your blog.

I’m sure your mother
said some cutting things to you
and that sweater you lent your girlfriend
is not going to walk back home to you.

But, please, please, please,
don't make me read your blog.

To spend some time with you
I’d try your ham bits stroganoff
and I’d clip my toenails—
at least the biggest one

To show you how m…

Pina Bausch Has Died

Sad news. Perhaps the most significant choreographer of her European generation - and surely the most visually strange and imaginative - Pina Bausch has died. I recall seeing her works on several occasions, in London, at Sadler Wells, and was always struck by the visceral and surreal brilliance of her ideas about dance and movement, and staging (often the stages were littered with flowers, or muck, or bricks, or other shattered remains).

Bausch saw the world, at least partially, as things to be moved around, often with transgressive force - desire and rage and natural disaster all colliding in the human body. I am not sure dance had ever been so existentially challenged before, so hurt - or so healed. I found her work bracing and laugh-out-loud funny - she gave me some of the abrasive pleasure that some of David Lynch's work does - she very much saw and showed the world in a new light. In her work about the after-shocks of an earthquake in Palermo, for instance, a young woman …