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Canada Over All?

The rise of Canada as a force of nationalism to be reckoned with is underway with the BC games of 2010. The image of our victorious women hockey players chomping Sergeant Rock cigars on the ice, or our defiant brave and noble ice skater competing in the shadow of her mother's death, signal a new spirit, in a nation that is rich in natural resources, the arts, and had a relatively small banking crisis. Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live in - and its people are vigorous, enthusiastic, energetic, and proud. More than the sea and China is rising this century. So are we.

Guest Review: Berry on Brandon

Liz Berry reviews
A Republic of Linen
by Patrick Brandon

Patrick Brandon’s debut collection, A Republic of Linen, is full of the careful observation and vivid visual imagery we might expect from a poet originally trained as an artist. Through their quiet, precise examinations, the poems in the collection uncover the curious in the everyday, drawing the reader’s eye to that which is intriguing and moving about the commonplace worlds of home and childhood. In ‘Attic’, the poem from which the collection takes its title, we peer with the narrator through the bedroom window to see his “thin boned bicycle’s still chained/ shivering, to the railing’s below” (Lines 14-15). The swimmer in ‘Sunday’, feeling like a melancholic dolphin in the local pool, slips “Straight in/Straight out” (Line 10) of the showers with porpoise ease while “others soap/their naked selves like cars” (Lines 11-12). This is the key to Brandon’s skill: carefully refocusing the lens to show the everyday world as a strange an…

Featured Poet: Liz Berry

Eyewear is very pleased to be able to return to its irregular feature series on poets deemed worth a look - worth a read. And more. The first of the poets I am happy to welcome to these pages in the new decade, this Friday, is Liz Berry (pictured). Ms. Berry was born in the Black Country and now lives in London where she is an infant school teacher. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in magazines including The North, Poetry Wales, Mslexia, Poetry Review and Smiths Knoll. She is a winner of a 2009 Eric Gregory Award. I was happy to be able to include her performing the poem below on the recently released DVD, Asking A Shadow to Dance, 35 Young British Poets for Oxfam. This poem is also the title of her tall-lighthouse collection, out this summer. She's one of the best emerging British poets I have met in a long time.


The Patron Saint of School Girls


Agnes had her lamb and her black curls;
Bernadette, her nun’s frock;
bu…

Guest Review: Phillips on Naomi

Tom Phillipsreviews
The Girl with the Cactus Handshake
by Katrina Naomi

From the outset, Katrina Naomi’s strikingly titled and entirely adept first collection plunges us into a world of polarities. Each of the book’s three sections announces a gulf: between ‘The Natural’ and ‘The City’, ‘The Sea’ and ‘Margate’, and ‘Darker’ and ‘Lighter’. In the opening poem we’re immediately reversing along the course of the Thames, from the sea, through the capital and then back up country to the source. ‘The Thames Never Breathes’, in fact, hinges on a rhyme between ‘nothing’ and ‘spring’, the inevitable opposition between the human and natural joined via a route that’s not that dissimilar to King Lear’s: the renewal of a ‘tiny spring’ only accessible if you’ve been through ‘nothing’ first. The final poem, ‘Kennington, Southbound, 11.10pm’, meanwhile, occupies a murkier psychological gap, dramatising a late-night encounter on a tube station platform in a discomfiting pair of monologues by the would-be…

Action Comics 1

The sale the other day of Action Comics #1 for a million dollars is both bound to raise a smile and a question. First, the nostalgia - my Dad once reputedly owned this comic, and sold it used for a nickel on St. Catherine Street, Montreal, when he was a little boy. Subsequently his mother threw out many other classic comics of the era, as he grew up. That's why these comics are so rare nowadays - spring cleaning and dog-eared over reading. That's the fun part. While I loved comics, and still do - and therefore am glad they are valued and collected - I wonder how many poetry books from 1938 are being bought and sold for a million in cold hard cash. Not many. I wonder, Eyewear fans - what book would you buy, if you could afford it, for such a mighty sum?

Looks Like Up To Me

This is the anniversary of my worst - although gloriously survived - year. At the end of February a year ago, a very close loved one became ill, and faced surgery. First few days of March saw them quite ill in hospital, when the surgery went a bit wrong. They recovered, but the stress of that time reminded me of three years before, in 2006, when I spent a summer with my father, by his side in hospital, as he lay dying of brain cancer.

Harrowing doesn't quite touch on that period. I suppose I was returned, if only second time farcically, to the storm and strain of inhospitality that even the best wards tend to offer. Fear of dying in such surrounds, fear of losing someone there, is now a part of what I need to work through - and I know I join millions who share my feelings.

Over summer 2009, worries and losses piled up, and by September 2009, I was suffering from - as long-time readers may recall - severe esophagitis (perhaps one of the most painful conditions). Every swallow, even w…

Bella at the BAFTAS

The BAFTA awards are getting big time. The new president is balding Prince William. Long-jawed Tarantino was in the audience. Deeply sincere Dustin Hoffman gave an award. And, best of all (other than a woman director getting the nod, as rarely happens) twitchy pale teen ingenue Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame won the Orange Rising Star mask. Rumours of split with her vampire-friend, and most-desired male colleague, may explain her befuddled 'tude in this clip. Still, bravo to Bella, belle of the ball!

Todd Swift Reading in Cambridge March 2

Next week will be busy for me, exciting, and a little exhausting. Following on from hosting the Oxfam event on March 1, Tuesday March 2 finds me reading in Cambridge with Charlotte Runcie, for tall-lighthouse and Helen Mort, along with other poets from the floor. A chance to get a signed copy of my 2009 collection, Mainstream Love Hotel. The event starts at 7.45 pm, at the trendy gastropub,The Punter, 3 Pound Hill, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB3 0AE. Admission is £3; concession £2.

Return of the Oxfam Series

I was down but not out the last six months - and now am coming up for air, a little battered but once again able to crawl on my own hands and feet. One day I may be Homo Erectus again. For now, I'll paddle and inch forward, one day at a time, best as I can - no Prince William, nor meant to be. The Oxfam Series (a long-running London event that has raised over £25,000 for the charity over the years since its launch in 2004 when the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, Wendy Cope and Charlie Dark read for a packed shop, and also launched a variety of CDs, pamphlets, contests and a DVD of poetry, which have raised an additional £50,000) is now back too. Future guests will be announced at surprising intervals.

In the meantime, the March 1st event will be a wonderful occasion, and I hope you will attend, or tell others to. David Lehman, poet, critic, writer and editor/anthologist extraordinaire, is over from NYC, and will be reading with fellow Ashbery fan, Faber poet, essayist, and scholar, M…

Cryptology

Poetry in the Crypt has been running for a number of years by some very good poet-organisers, and is one of the best and most vital of London's reading series. Its first event of 2010 features Linda Black, Andy Croft & Deborah Tyler-Bennett, 7 pm, Saturday, February 27th, at St Mary's Crypt, Upper Street, Islington, London N1 2TX. Part of what makes the series so enjoyable, apart from the unique subterranean location, is the hospitality offered - delicious cakes, coffee and tea - and the opportunity for readings from the floor. As well, the proceeds will go to Hospice Care Kenya, so the £4 admission will sting a little less.

New Poem by Todd Swift

Reflections on the Confession of Tiger Woods

Slowed by what slows the mood
I locate by moving slowly the good
Which is simply the bad passed
Without, in the process, becoming toast.

Sex addicts and poets are lost
In the flood of power that most becomes
Those who reside in interior luxury;
The sea overrides the beach, desires

To reach the inland empires, may breech
The green controlled lawns of golf;
There is a gulf between swing and speech,
But tongue and arm both touch

The rough yawn that lies between fire
And rain, beauty and being plain;
No god or man or woman resists a lyre
If plucked by a finger that has tension

And release at its recall; longer fingers
Better caress the strings. Redder lips best
Sing of wine and grape-sweet nights;
Light demolishes the injurious sheets,

Renders them just fabric, not gold thread,
Pulls back the lids to let us see
That the lover we sought to overcome
In our riding passion is a tomb,

And all the soldiery are not drunk but dead.
Skin is what we touch to comprehend our
Own inf…

Byrne's, Baby, Byrne's

Eyewear is pleased to spread the news about the 2010 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year competition sponsored by Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop & Michael D. Higgins TD. In 2010 Over The Edge is continuing its exciting annual creative writing competition. The competition is open to both poets and fiction writers. The total prize money is €1,000. The best fiction entry will win €300. The best poetry entry will win €300. One of these will then be chosen as the overall winner and will receive an additional €400, giving the overall winner total prize money of €700 and the title Over The Edge New Writer of The Year 2010. The 2010 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year will be a Featured Reader at a reading to be scheduled in Galway City Library in Winter 2010/11. Salmon Poetry will read without prejudice a manuscript submitted to them by the winner in the poetry category.

"I Need Your Help"

Those who heard Mr T. Woods speak yesterday are no doubt in one of two camps - those who think him facile, cynical, even hypocritical (or overheated in protest), and see this as a laughable celebrity moment - and then again, those who (or so I hope) see the pathos and significance of what could be a genuine flood of change, taken hold of in this man's onrushing loose life. The important words, surely, were "I need your help". Billionaires, world famous and great at their work, rarely stoop to such vulnerable postures. There is something of the New Testament in such a humbled mightyman, calling for help. In that series of books, he would have received it, from a loving man-God, who forgave all and accepted all sexual sins. Sex addiction, such as Mr. Woods has bluntly explained it, is no joke.

Rather, it seems the virus of the age - and not just for those, such as he, who had immense power and immense opportunity. The Internet now permits anyone to access lewdness that woul…

The British Disease?

So it isn't just me, wee Canadian in Britain that I am, who has finally recognised, then recoiled from, the toxic bite of the endless, sinister snake that is the British media. Now the Vancouver Olympics chief has hit out at what Eyewear has been noting all week - a brutal and cynical news cycle of attacks, bent on downgrading a superb event, due to one tragic accident, and unseasonably warm weather (as if the English can keep their own weather under control either!). People in glass houses indeed - and what does this warn about the coming media storm in 2012? This sort of media approach has often sidelined and diminished poetry in the UK, too - because any thing based on love, enthusiasm and good news tends to ask to be kicked and trampled, apparently, by the kitten-bashing talking heads and journalists of these isles.

Obituaries: Fritz On Poole and Rety

Phil Poole and John Rety
by Leah Fritz

Phil Poole and John Rety, both people of significance to contemporary poetry, died within days of each other - on the 1st and 3rd of February, respectively.

John Rety was a founder of the Torriano Meeting House and managed the events there with his partner, Susan Johns, for 23 years. He and Susan also ran Hearing Eye press which published pamphlets and books by both well-known and ought-to-be-well-known poets. John was particularly proud of the anthologies, In the Company of Poets and Well Versed, which he edited, but he took great pride in all the publications of Hearing Eye, whether or not they sold. Among Hearing Eye's publications are pamphlets of John's own work in both poetry and prose, sadly unheralded as the original and substantial works they are.

Politically John was an anarcho-pacifist. His daughter, the artist Emily Johns, following in his footsteps, is co-editor of Peace News. His political beliefs were his own, though. By defini…

Orbis

This in from Carole Baldock, poet and Orbis editor. Orbis is an important UK-based magazine with international scope, and an openness to various poets and poetries. It also reviews well, and widely, and has lively contests each issue. It's an essential little magazine. So, consider the message below:

"Suggestions and submissions welcome for our next issue, the big 150. Plus 40 years of Orbis - and my 30th issue as Editor. And consider the latest issue -

Orbis 149, Autumn/Winter 2009

Featured Poets
Winners of the Virginia Warbey Prize

1st Prize: Jamie Walsh (Preface)

2nd Prize: Shelley McAlister (Sacred Heart)

3rd Prize: Jane McKie (Vija Celmins’ Surfaces)

Poems from Carol Carpenter, Stuart Jay Silverman, Robert Stein, Louise Warren; Prose: Vanessa Gebbie and John Lowry; Translation Jonathan Greenhause: Prefiero by Marcos Barcellos; Obituaries: Mike Shields on James Kirkup and Pauline Rowe on Michael Murphy & Matt Simpson. Reviews Editor: Nessa O’Mahony. "

Ash Wednesday

Guest Review: Hymas On Noakes

Sarah Hymasreviews
The Wall Menders
by Kate Noakes

This is a second collection, whose voice is strong, confident, sure of subject and identity. As such it’s a steady illuminating read, a manifesto for environmental awareness.

From the dedication, itself a poem, Noakes declares a pull between external and interior lives in a neat, rhythmical acceptance that hints at a queerly felt displacement. This tension between the sanctuary and hopefulness of outside and the world of work binds the collection.

The first section, Taking a Hammer, is a series of meditations on how the poet travels within the natural world, moving through comfort where moss, mountains and clouds offer a “place where /no-one can touch me”, where she can “float free” and “breathed soft under the massif’s roar”. So far so connected. But with ‘The fire walk’ the tone shifts slightly; as “footprints in the embers hardened/into memory”. This hardening continues in the following poems. Here Noakes considers graffiti, identity ch…

Doug Fieger Has Died

Sad news. The Knack singer, and writer of song 'My Sharona', Doug Fieger, has died. That 1979 song was the theme of my just-pubescent junior high school years. The song was jarringly adolescent, leeringly (disconcertingly) hypersexual, and utterly catchy - it was, simply, the power pop song of the year - and is arguably, along with 'High School Confidential', one of the raunchiest ever written about the stickiness of love and desire. I loved and feared it then, and still do. It sets me going every time I hear it. While The Knack never amounted to much after that, they allowed power pop a moment in the sun, and caught the new wave cusp as the 80s began.

Bad Canada

The problem with the media is that its function is the message - it needs news, and if it doesn't have a feed, will stir the pot to make one bubble up. So it is with the British media and Vancouver 2010. The ongoing demonisation of the games - the virtual garlanding with tragedy's albatross - stems largely from the fact that Team GB is not currently doing well in the medals table. I find it to be negligent to report more on a pre-games accident than on the fact that athletes from many nations are daily striving and winning in good faith and with alacrity and poise. The charge, made in the Independent the other day, that Canada's winter athletes have an unfair home advantage, having had more time than foreign competitors to train, is absurd - all host nations have such advantages - and, given Canada's only recently assuaged drought of home-won gold - it is a dubious advantage at that. The luge death was a terrible accident. It is true the poles were in a bad place…

Reply To Jane Holland

Jane, thanks for your comment re genre fiction, pulp fiction, and my library post. I confess to being totally flabbergasted by your comment that I am a snob and elitist culturally. What planet are you on? Certainly, not planet Eyewear. Anyone who ever reads this blog will know it is wildly and widely open to popular culture, genre fiction, kitsch, and breaking down barriers between high and low culture.

Have you ever read Eyewear on James Bond, Tarantino, or Ross Macdonald, for instance? Or, have you ever read my own poetry collections, which are filled with positive homages to Hitchcock, Chandler, and a variety of pulp and film noir sources. Perhaps you fail to recall my anthology celebrating "B-Poetry". Or forget I worked in TV for a decade, writing for schlock like Teenage Ninja Turtles, and Japanese anime like Sailor Moon? Or perhaps you ignore my work for Penthouse? In short - geez, come off it, Jane! You can't protest about one post without reading it within the con…

Neither a Borrower

It is hard being a British librarian. One has to lend, as often as not, mediocre rubbish to semi-literate readers who prefer pap to Pope. The year's most borrowed listings are out, and reveal a top 100 riddled with pulp fiction too bland even to deserve that B-side accolade. The top poetry book? Well it comes from faux-genius S. Fry, who is neither a poet or a critic, but a celebrity whose main message is to argue against vers libre, 100 years too late. In fiction, it is an American crime writer who has a Fordist production line to pump out his books so cheap they should be recalled as unsafe at any speed of reading. Literacy is so often extolled as a virtue that we often forget that reading badly can also mean reading unwisely. At least they only borrow bad books and not buy them.

Rockies Start

Canada's winter-discontent games are whizzing like a snowball with a rock in it. On the one hand, the opening ceremonies folded the Luge tragedy into the pomp like the end of Star Wars with JacquesRogges solemnly ruling over his quasi-fictive utopia with emotive solidity; on the other hand, the rain has postponed events, Heil lost her golden moment, and Celine Dion didn't sing at the opening, where dysfunction kept some of the pillars slow to rise; on the other hand, KD Lang sang Cohen with genius and it was good to see the fiddle and Who Has Seen the Wind back in pride of place; on the other hand, the display of oil-rich Cannuck bravado was off putting - though what other nation (GB?) would place a slam champ on a pedestal to mouth stirring sub-Cicero corn? The rise of spoken word at the games confirms my Poetry Nation prediction of 12 years ago. Hopefully neither sleet nor Heil will slow the games as they slide on. The black arm bands are the lining of a silver games that so…

Bemused Britain Vaguely Eyes Snowless BC As 2010 Winter Games Commence

Eyewear is a staunch supporter of the Olympic movement, and, as a Canadian landed in London, is wide-eyed at the lack of British interest in the Vancouver Games, about to begin in a mostly snowless environment that beggars belief. The British like their hardware, and their medal haul at the summer games were impressive. They don't do snow that well - leaves on the tracks slow them, snow halts the nation. Winter does not inspire athleticism here, but weary hunkered down stoic getting on. So it is, Team GB aims to win three medals. Meanwhile, the big story about Canada's team is two-fold: a) they've never won a home Gold: and b) they have created a scientific project to plan to dominate their own games. That seems oddly inhospitable, but it was time to do Soviet-era science on the bobsledders. The Winter Games are good spectacle. Cool eyewear, Velcro and Lycra. Stupendous spills. Rocketing pucks. May the flame never go out!


Phil Poole and John Rety Have Died

Sad news, first brought to my attention by Leah Fritz. Phil Poole and John Rety both recently died, two North London fixtures on the arts and poetry scene. Poole has written a collection of poems that will be published posthumously next week. Rety died very suddenly of a heart attack. He ran the Torriano Meeting House with his partner, Susan Johns, for 23 years, and also the publishing house, Hearing Eye.

Valentine's Day Poetry Contest

Forget roses for the big day - why not a tree? That's what this company does. And they're running a poetry competition. Love is, after all, along with death, and political resistance, and nature, and language, and desire, and - well, along with a few other things - one of the central concerns of poetry, and life.

Jewish Book Week

This year's Jewish Book Week looks as good as ever, perhaps even better, with appearances from, among others, George Szirtes, Adam Lebor, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein and David Lehman.

A tale of two magazines

I recently got the new Tears in the Fence(issue 51) in the post; and Upstairs at Durocissue 11. They're two of the best international little magazines of our time, and form a sort of London-Paris Nexus. The firstly mentioned mag has some great reviews and articles, by Ian Brinton, Jennifer K Dick and Tom Chivers. John Goodby's new Dylan Thomas-inspired work uncaged sea(Book and CD) is reviewed, and boy do I want a copy - it sounds brilliant. Duroc features a few poems of mine, and work by, among others, Rufo Quintavalle, Peter Hughes, Adam Fieled, and Laura Mullen. Subscribe to both.

Review: The Soft Pack

The Soft Pack's eponymous album is a garage rock classic. As such, it is both utterly lacking in innovation, and crudely compelling. They do it well, and what they do is simple and onrushing. We all know the antecedents of this mainly North American phenomenon, and we know that anyone who name checks this style has The Seeds, Iggy Pop, and The Ramones in their closet, as well as early REM. And indeed, this California band has all of that going on. The fifth track, "Pull Out", had me dancing in my living room today, not something a moderately depressed person usually does. It's that fun, that good, that dumb. There are and will be more complex, multicultural, and surprising albums this year. Not sure there will be one more addictively visceral.

Lynn Taitt Has Died

Sad news. A great musician has died. The Guardian ran the obituary today of Ska and rock-steady legend, Lynn Taitt, who moved to Canada in the late 60s and found himself, among other things, playing in my brother's Ska revival band, The Kingpins, in the last few decades of his life. Coming as this does almost to the week of the 30th anniversary of The Specials' first Number One in the UK, it's a reminder of the enduring appeal and quality of this great music and its various styles.

Jacket Required

The world's best poetry magazine may be Jacket, and John Tranter - with Pam Brown -has been editing it for an eon, thank goodness, so sad-glad news to hear he is stepping down from the day to day stuff, after issue 40, and the magazine will be moving stateside - all archived at the University of Pennsylvania. Jacket 2 will arise in 2011, via the university and PennSound, edited by a new team. The new editor will be Michael S. Hennessey.

All The Whiskey In Heaven

Good news. Charles Bernstein has a Selected Poems out in March, from Farrar Strauss Giroux, titled All The Whiskey In Heaven. One of the funniest and most inventive poets in the English language under one cover - what's not to like? Pre-ordering will never feel better. By the way, with a book from FSG, is the ultimate rebel and un-mainstream poet about to get a book deal with kissing cousin Faber and Faber?

Swift Sightings

What's a blog for, if not to sometimes toot one's own horn - and all the better when the links also lead to much other excellent writing. My poems appear at the recently online Blackbox Manifold 4, in good company, with work also there by (among others) Charles Bernstein, Sean O'Brien, John Tranter and Medbh McGuckian; several of the poets share an exploration of high rhetoric and poetic excess, which is good to see. And, a new poem is happily up at Hand + Star.

Alan Baban On A Decade Of The Best Music

Alan Baban on the Music of the 00s

Culturally we inhabit the margins. If the major movement in pop music over the last ten years was stealing other people’s ideas, we’re now in a position to see exactly what we got away with. What did we get away with?

We got away with wholesale theft. Many of the decade’s most lauded bands did double-up as penciled-in, papier-mâché versions of older (always better) acts. You can footnote The Strokes at Marquee Moon. The National did a fairly risible REM. Our own Libertines tried to do The Strokes, then they did The Clash, then they did The Strokes again. Too many bands copped Talking Heads. Not enough copped Pavement— not even the band’s erstwhile frontman Stephen Malkmus, who shot off into acid-psyche territory with his new band The Jicks, and in the process put out this decade’s best guitar album (2005’s utterly loopy Pig Lib). Sidenote: too many people played guitar, then again, too many people didn’t. Radiohead did and didn’t. (I liked them better …

Papal bull?

Secular Britain is up in arms today as the Pope has spoken out about an "equality bill" that would require (among other things) Catholic orphanages to give equal consideration to gay parents. Now, Eyewear has always been an outspoken defender of gay and queer rights; and has often chided the Anglican communion for being intolerant. I believe Christ would not have unwelcomed homosexuals.

That being said, the Pope has, surely, the right - the right of freedom of religious practice, if not expression - to defend the non-secular (that is, religious) convictions that he believes underpin the faith he is leader of. We (or you) may not agree with him - but he has the right to say and believe - or religious freedom has been abandoned for some sort of vague secular notion. But secularism masks an aggressive rationalist attack on faith, and one man's secular equality might be another person's sin.

Meanwhile, Wole Soyinka, the nobel prize winner, has recently called Britain a ces…

District 9 Among Oscars Top Ten

Good news - the Academy has nominated the South African sci-fi instant classic District 9 as well as Avatar for this year's Oscars - first time in decades that ten films will vie for the statue. The big news is the ex-husband and wife head to head, as Avatar and The Hurt Locker both lead in nominations. I predict that the 3-D blockbuster will win, for the obvious reasons. Jeremy Renner is superb as the wild man bomb disposal expert, but will likely not prevail over sentimental favourite Jeff Bridges. Absent is much mention if any of The Road, or for that matter Brothers. Tarantino's film has done surprisingly well, and hopefully will win best supporting actor.