Wednesday, 31 December 2014

EYEWEAR'S TOP FILM AND TV IN 2014

Gone Man, sadly
Eyewear can't see everything, even with our x-ray specs.

We loved House of Cards, Homeland, The AmericansHelix, Halt And Catch Fire, Gone Girl, and a bunch of other TV shows and movies, from The Grand Budapest Hotel to The Lego Movie to The Drop, The Equalizer, Deliver Us From Evil and The Giver to Interstellar to Guardians of the Galaxy to Peter Jackson's rip-roaring final Hobbit film; as well as the creepy voyeurism/news satirical thriller Nightcrawler (with a great turn by Rene Russo).  Not to mention the impeccable yet odd homage to 80s erotic thrillers/slasher/actioner films, The Guest, the year's guiltiest pleasure. Another fine film was Belfast-based thriller '71, with an impeccable recreation of a visual and film stock style from 40 years ago. Locke, with Tom Hardy, our favourite new actor, was a brilliant one-hander, a sort of 2001: A Birmingham-London Odyssey. Not to mention The Imitation Game, Birdman, and Whiplash (all good but over-rated).

EYEWEAR BEST ACTRESS IN A TV SERIES OR MINI-SERIES 2014
Gillian Anderson - The Fall 2. Anderson has not been so riveting since House of Mirth years ago, and makes her British detective a more mature and complex counterpoint to her earlier iconic role as Scully.  This often nasty series is a new Prime Suspect-quality show, that, despite its visual cruelty, yields striking performances.

EYEWEAR BEST ACTOR IN A TV SERIES OR MINI-SERIES 2014
Woody Harrelson - True Detective.  The true believer might opt for the gaunt haunted McConaughey, who is brilliant in this great series (see below) however Harrelson's everyman turn as the Horatio-like foil to Rust's Hamlet is actually the more challenging role, and he gets it so right.

EYEWEAR BEST TV MINI-SERIES 2014
True Detective. This brief, literate, weird, and profoundly mythic reimagining of American noir through HP Lovecraft and anti-natalist thinking is one of the finest TV shows ever made. It bears comparison with Twin Peaks and the X-Files for astonishment factor, the uncanny and quality.

EYEWEAR BEST TV SERIES 2014
House of Cards, Transparent, Orange Is The New Black, The Americans... all these and others have claim to being great TV - but in the first year since Breaking Bad ended its triumphant run, and became one of the great cultural products of the decade, no show could lay claim to such monumental greatness.

One show, however, received almost no attention or acclaim at all, and this was little-seen Manhattan, a perfectly-realised, brilliantly-acted ensemble drama set in a slightly-fictionalised Manhattan Project microcosm in the Mojave desert. Filmed with the gravitas of Brideshead Revisited, and as intelligent as the best BBC or PBS dramas of yore, it combined intelligent elements of history and science seamlessly with concerns about sexual identity, intellectual purpose, and moral values, and was often erotic and thrilling, at once.

EYEWEAR BEST FILM 2014
Selma. Simply put, the finest, most moving portrait of MLK ever filmed. The fact this uplifting, beautifully orchestrated, impeccably acted movie, funny, terrifying, inspiring, eye-opening, was directed by an African-American woman, who was neglected at the Oscars, well, is shameful.

EYEWEAR BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE 2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman - A Most Wanted Man.  This is my sentimental favourite.  This was a strange, completely mesmerising, transformative performance, with a ball of rage exploding at the end, which sums up the master's great curtailed career.

EYEWEAR BEST ACTESS IN A MOTION PICTURE 2014
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl. Pike might be seen as a surprise choice in this category, but she was fascinating, hugely poised and watchable, and ultimately shocking, in her complex role within roles of the perfect cool girlfriend gone sour as the bad wife.

EYEWEAR BEST MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK 2014
'71. The Belfast-set film's use of an ominous tribalistic drumbeat, and sorrowful folk tune, managed to both ratchet up the tension, serve as a coda at the mournful end, and also signal rays of hope amid the mayhem.

EYEWEAR WORST MOTION PICTURE OF 2014
Grace of Monaco - this would have been my favourite bad movie of the year if The Guest had not cleverly adapted the very idea of a pre-planned cult movie and made itself such. A bizarrely affectless and yet at times histrionic telling of how little Monaco stood up to de Gaulle with the thanks of the intelligence of Grace Kelly, the movie star, who turned her back on Marnie and Hitchcock to be the perfect princess. Wooden, clumsy, contrived, and yet wonderfully kitsch.

edited January 29, 2014.






SOME MOVIES, TV SHOWS, MUSIC AND POETRY BOOKS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2015

Here is a list of 20 of the movies, TV shows, music pop albums, and poetry books that Eyewear, the blog is most looking forward to (we aren't of course hyping our own amazing list of forthcoming poetry books here):

MOVIES

We speak here of UK release dates...

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - what's not to like? The sexiest actor out there today, Tom Hardy, filling in for Gibson, in George Miller's near-silent master-class in silent dusty roads to death.

SPECTRE - Well, it's the next James Bond, and it may have Blofeld in it, and some Alp skiing action. Skyfall was over-rated, and had some odd problems in continuity, but it had intelligent design and acting.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - I would be lying if I didn't say this better be good, and just may be amazing.  The last three films were rubbish, but we have a new start here. Exciting, frankly.

BIRDMAN - Apparently the movie of the year, we enjoy great come-backs, and this one has one of the most startling in Michael Keaton's resurgence.

WHIPLASH - JK Simmons (a major character actor) has apparently turned in a career-defining performance as an insane Jazz teacher/ mentor.  Anything that can make teaching life-and-death thrilling (as it truly can be) is welcome.

2015 looks to be one of the great years for film, with, as well, new films by Spielberg, Roy Andersson, Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson and Ron Howard. We also look forward to 50 Shades of Grey, The Martian, MI: 5, and the Avengers sequel.

MUSIC (New LPs)

MARK RONSON - UPTOWN FUNK - the title track was a late-blooming mega-hot end of 2014 for Ronson, and if the other songs are anywhere near to that one's upbeat zany 80s vibe (think Michael Jackson meets Frankie Goes to Hollywood) then this will be very fun.

BOB DYLAN - SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT - one of the more eccentric albums from the genius - a reversioning of standards from the American songbook, a sort of deconstruction of Nat King Cole and Sinatra.

SLEATER-KINNEY - NO CITIES TO LOVE - the greatest girl group of all time returns.

MADONNA - she'll be back in 2015 with a new album, and judging from throw-away single, 'Illuminati', this could be great, and out-Gaga Gaga.

THE WATERBOYS - MODERN BLUES - a once-great band, a new album after some Yeatsian dalliances... this will be a flop or simply majestic.

TV SERIES (returning)

TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 - A hard act to follow, series 1 (stand alone) was a masterwork of weirdness.

HOMELAND Season 5 - Well, Brody really is dead, sort of. Quinn is the new love interest, lost on a mission; Lockhart (the best creep in TV) is going; Saul is back in charge; and Carrie is either going to take on Mum duty again, or be an agent again, or what? Hard to tell where to go from here, but some parts of Season 4 were as exciting as anything else on TV.

THE AMERICANS Season 3 - The smartest, sexiest show ever made about marriage and ideology, with lots of room for more wigs and erotic Russian accents.

HOUSE OF CARDS Season 3 - We will be able to gorge again on the most dastardly Congressman ever to become President, and his ultra-cunning and charming wife.  Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are electric.

MAD MEN - the end of the series.  Well, this long ago became somewhat dispiriting - but we all want to see if the most handsome ad-man of all time, is going to find some sort of integrity, peace or just die on the instalment plan.

Of course, there are also Game of Thrones, Manhattan, the Hilary Mantel adaptation, Wolf Hall, the last season of Glee, Fortitude (mystery set in Arctic), Sherlock, Better Call Saul, but that's much more more than 5...

POETRY BOOKS

FRANCES LEVISTON - DISINFORMATION - Leviston's essay on the autumn British Poetry issue was a reminder she is one of the smartest of the young British poets.

JACK UNDERWOOD - HAPPINESS - Underwood is the last of the generation of Riviere, Kennard, Berry, Leviston and Mort to get his debut collection, and it promises to be brilliant.

PAUL MULDOON - ONE THOUSAND THINGS WORTH KNOWING - Ireland's greatest living poet, and one of New York's wittiest, has a new book? Heart-stoppingly exciting.  Few poets command such expectation.

RF LANGLEY - COLLECTED POEMS - A chance to finally read the hopefully not as slim as apparent output of one of the slyest and most compelling of the innovative Cambridge poets (sadly deceased) that have inspired the work of, among others, Denise Riley (and myself).

SANDEEP PARMAR - EIDOLON - Parmar, an American-British poet and academic and editor and critic, is one of the finest poets writing in English these days, and backs up her intellect and knowledge of hidden aspects of modernism with a passionate appreciation of the Plath tradition.  This book could be one of the contenders for collection of 2015.

There's also a new Don Paterson out this year; the Collected Poems of TS Eliot in two volumes, edited by Christopher Ricks; and collections of great interest by PJ HarveyChristian Wiman, Donald Hall, James Byrne and Tony Hoagland, among others.



Note, some information here from:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-30554336

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

3300

Eyewear, the blog is on the cusp of greatness - it enters its tenth year in 2015 as the longest-running personally-edited British poetry blog.  A decade of posts.  Wow.  This is the 3,300th.  Enjoy.

SAFE TO FLY?

As we know, flying is the safest form of rapidly crossing vast distances (especially oceans, mountain ranges, jungles, forests, deserts, and the poles). Millions of people fly every year, and only a few thousand die in hull losses (crashes). However, as we also know, 2014 was the most deadly in a decade.

Every time a billionaire airline company owner weeps in sorrow, or tweets in joy at a miraculous disaster averted, they avoid the ugly truth - commercial passenger aviation is based on a table of profit and losses, whereby some deaths and accidents are factored in, in advance.  If you don't build and fly airliners, people can't die in them, so obviously, so long as planes are not 100% safe (they are only 99.999% safe), the airlines are culpable, like tobacco companies, for some of the deaths, indirectly, perhaps only ethically. You cannot throw 400 people into the sky ten thousand times a day and then act surprised when some fall down and die.

No, we all accept, rather cruelly, the lottery of flying.  We know some people will die each year in a plane, flying with teddy bears and books and iPhones just like us, but we don't want those people to be us; so long as it usually is someone else dying, we accept the risk.  It is a risk unlike that of a major operation.  You never really have to be elsewhere, but sometimes you do need a tumour taken out.

One thing seems clear - more or less, planes, since 2005, are safer than before.  They fall down less often, and explode less often.  If we remove pilot error, wartime acts, and terrorism, from the list, we see the machines themselves almost never fail.  Few engines explode, few wings fall off - though rudders do, and engines do fail.  Which leaves us with this year.

In 2014, a few planes appear to be have been brought down by failure to fly when entering stormy weather.  This is a cause for grave concern, and should be addressed immediately.  This is because a) storms are foreseeable and b) inevitable and c) avoidable.  It is arguable that no passenger jet should ever have to fly anywhere near a serious storm system, at a time when it might prove deadly, in the same way no plane would be asked to fly into a volcanic ash cloud.  So why have so many recent air disasters arisen after pilots lost control during major storms?

The answer is ugly - the business demands more flights, more often, and planes are being thrown into air that is more turbulent than it should be.  If flying was deemed a little less urgent, and a little more deadly, we might be more cautious as consumers, and could expect to only be flown somewhere during calm winds.

This is perhaps silly, but it is a fact - we get the dangerous skies we demand.

If an airline advertised it would not fly into storms, or heavy weather, it might lose some business, but might gain much more from those of us (a silent majority) who fear death every time we take off.  And land.


DISTANT READING

"Close Reading" is the term for a technique often used to read poems, or poetry that was instigated in the 1920s at Cambridge by several critics; and though it tends to be questioned now, most poetry book reviewers, and even most poetry critics, do, at least sometimes, read poems from a close reading perspective. And that's fine.

But I wish to assay something else, also, now.  Imagine if we only discussed the weather in Britain - the storm fronts, the cloud banks, the gale force winds, the light and heavy rains, even the snow - in terms of individual snowflakes or pellets of rain.  It wouldn't do - instead, we generalise; draw expansive maps, and look at much larger forces.

If one sees each poem as a drop of rain, or perhaps one weather event on one day, then by stepping back, we see a broader picture emerge.  Heaney as a warm summer breeze; Larkin as a squall.  This is not meant to be apt, just a lightness of touch.  But the idea is there - what is the distant reading of a poet? What does that look like?

I think that too often, poets and critics nowadays know too much - or think they do - about poets, poetries and poems.  After all, poems are an old technology, and how they are made has not changed much in 2,000 years.  We can all quickly understand why we do or do not support the lyric, the voice, the conceptual, the linguistically innovative, and so on - and we can quickly comprehend the mechanics of set poems.

What happens if one steps back into a fog bank, past the awards and the prizes, the certainties of greatness, and acclaim? What does one see, or feel, about contemporary poetry?  What vague notions, images, impressions, and reports from afar does one detect?

It is worth the effort to imagine ourselves way beyond a place where we think we know what a poem or poet is, even.  What else might be poetry? Is all poetry man-made?  Is it lasting? Impermanent?  Cold? Hard? What worlds are summoned and summed up therein? Perhaps let us resist pat maps and anatomies, new directions; old shibboleths.

From space, our poets are sometimes smaller, sometimes brighter, than we might think, and their work, as a whole, constellates a wide range of patterns, worth observing, apart from the need to hone in on anyone line or phrase. This is a breaking away from the human form the poem insists on, to the form an eye makes, distantly.

Just some thoughts, on the edge of a new year. It may be that we need to apply ideas of weirdness and speculative realism to the objects and things that are poems, and poets.

EYEWEAR BEST BOOKS AND POETRY OF 2014!


End of the year best of lists are, as we know, vaguely suspect.  They are riddled with cronyism, laziness, neglect, partiality, bias, improvisation, ego, incompleteness, and general lassitude.  It is literally impossible (that is, I defy you to prove scientifically it is possible) to survey (in short, read) every book of poetry, every poem, every magazine, published in the English-speaking world. However, what is the point in giving up? 


A while back, a metaphor was introduced, that of the "Internet surfer" - it suggested a sort of skilled adroit yet reckless conquest (albeit very brief) of the unconquerable and impossibly vast - we surf the oceanic forces at our peril, but touchingly so, because humans can at times rise above nature's vast impervious strength. That is an artistry of the body and mind, but Internet and more broadly, magpie cultural surfing - that pick and mix mash-up hybridity that has become the default position of most artists these days (think of St Vincent, by many standards creator of album of the year, or Beck, or The War On Drugs, the other contenders - all are mash-ups).

In short, we cannot survey all, we must survey all - we must seek to rise above the ungovernable swells of content, and do our agile and effortful best - we must take on the playful role of surfer, the impossible athlete of ephemeral grace. Such lists, then, become not canonical interventions, not even helpful signposts, but acts, in their own right, of art.  The art of being a cultured person.  What was once called a reader. Readers have never been asked to read everything.  One of the charms of being a reader is that one reads what one wants.

My ideal form of reading is in a place that no longer exists.  It is to my mind the great Valhalla and Heaven of reading.  It is in December, or early January.  It is in Quebec, in the forest.  In My grandmother's large wooden house.  A fireplace roars with huge logs crackling. Outside, snow drifts halfway up the windows.  The snow is about five feet or ten feet deep in places.  Outside are wolves.  It is possibly minus twenty outside.  If you go outside you may well freeze to death.  So you stay inside.  It is 3 pm.  You have a cup of cocoa.  And you sit in a huge comfortable armchair by the fireplace, and you read.  You read what you take down from her shelves.  For Melita Hume is a collector of books.  All sorts, history, criticism, anthologies, Russian, Chinese, French, German, English - and you are fourteen or twelve.  But you can read Nabokov.  You can read Twain.  You can read poetry.  You can read Bloom.  You read Dickinson, Atwood. You read widely, as you wish, you are free, and safe, and yet to take the risks the reader takes.

So, two images - one is of being ensconced, the other of being a sort of flung conch. Both involve perfection of the moment. Joy is central.  Reading without joy is a waste of time, and is not the aim of reading.  What you read may be tragic, informative, funny, or maddening - but the reading must be a joyous act.

So what is my list of the year?  It is a list of books piled by my bed, and piled by where I read.  It is a list of books read, half-read, books I want to read.  It is a wish list, a shopping list, a love list. Friends jostle with strangers, even possibly enemies.  It is not a list of recommendations.  It is a list of what I would dip into again, by the fireplace, in the blizzard. I do not list the books I wrote or have published this year, but all those, it goes without saying, should be here. I am adding 21.  Memoirs, magazines, pamphlets, poetry by the dead and living - young and old. Litcrit. Rescued reputations.  Eccentrics. Bestsellers. Humour. Sex. Bereavement. Mental illness.

You may have many more choices.  Think of this as a desire of reading. A start, a foray, a jumble, an over-reaching.  A relaxed Saturday.  A snowfall.  A bit of fire. A memory jolt.  A mixed bag.  Mixed nuts. Help-yourself. Just some of what might be said. A gentle reminder. I keep adding:

  1. POETRY MAGAZINE - ANY ISSUE 2014
  2. A POET'S GLOSSARY BY EDWARD HIRSCH
  3. TERROR BY TOBY MARTINEZ DE LAS RIVAS
  4. BLACK COUNTRY BY LIZ BERRY
  5. FABER NEW POETS 12 BY DECLAN RYAN
  6. JOHN GOODBY'S NEW COLLECTED BY DYLAN THOMAS
  7. DAVID WHEATLEY'S STUDY OF BRITISH POETRY
  8. ROSEMARY TONKS' POEMS FROM BLOODAXE
  9. THE SELECTED NICHOLAS MOORE FROM SHEARSMAN
  10. LYRIC SHAME BY GILLIAN WHITE
  11. PILGRIMAGE BY LUCKY PICK
  12. BASED ON A TRUE STORY BY ELIZABETH RENZETTI
  13. ANGER IS AN ENERGY BY JOHN LYDON
  14. H IS FOR HAWK BY HELEN MACDONALD
  15. THE LAND OF GOLD BY SEBASTIAN BARKER
  16. BLOOD WILL OUT BY WALTER KIRN
  17. SUSPENDED SENTENCES BY PATRICK MODIANO
  18. THE GIRL WHO WAS SATURDAY NIGHT BY HEATHER O'NEILL
  19. THE GHOST IN THE LOBBY BY KEVIN HIGGINS
  20. TUPELO'S ANTHOLOGY OF WORLD ANGLOPHONE POETRY
  21. BE THE FIRST TO LIKE IT: NEW SCOTTISH POETRY.
  22. SELECTED POEMS BY MARK FORD
  23. THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE BY JOHN BANVILLE
  24. THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY BY JEFF VANDERMEER
  25. THE DOG BY JOSEPH O'NEILL
  26. STATION ELEVEN BY EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL
  27. SALT'S BEST BRITISH POETRY 2014 EDITED BY MARK FORD, WITH JON STONE




Monday, 29 December 2014

SOME OF THE POETS WHO HAVE DIED IN 2014

Below, sadly, are the names of some of the poets - writing in all languages, living around the world - who died in 2014.

Most are widely-published, and were beloved figures; a few were more "obscure"; one or two were best known as performance poets. One is a quasi-fictional figure (Mayall).  All were linked to poetry in their obituaries this year.  A few I counted as friends.

Every death is terrible; the death of a poet no more or less than another's, except in how it closes the conversation that poet had with life and the world - from then on, all we have is what they were able to say, to write, to compose, to edit, to erase, to publish, while alive.

Poets are not always the easiest people to love while living - but once they become their words, their books, they become loveable.  Larkin is the best example.

But there are many others.  I wish these poets posthumous readers.  And to their family and friends, students and colleagues, peers and readers, I offer condolences. I also welcome additional entries (though I do not wish for more dead poets) and any information you wish to send me; and of course, corrections.


ALLAN KORNBLUM

ALLEN GROSSMAN

AMIRI BARAKA

ANNE ARDOLINO


BILL KNOTT

CAROLYN KIZER

CLAUDIA EMERSON

DANNIE ABSE


DOUGLAS ISAAC

EMMA LOU THAYNE


FELIX DENNIS

GALWAY KINNELL


GERARD BENSON


IGOR ISAKOVSKI


JOHN ASFOUR

 
JOHN HARTLEY WILLIAMS

JON STALLWORTHY

JUAN GELMAN

KENT MAYNARD

KESHAV CHAND

LILLIAN MORRISON

MAGGIE ESTEP

MAMA BRENDA

MARK STRAND

MAXINE KUMIN

MAYA ANGELOU


NIK BEAT
 
PHYLISS JANOWITZ

RENE RICARD

RIK MAYALL (THE PEOPLE’S POET)

RYOR BARADULIN

SAID AKL

SAMIH AL-QASIM

SEBASTIAN BARKER

Simin Behbahani

SUSAN GRINDLEY


TADEUSZ ROZEWICZ


Tomaž Šalamun
 wENDELL BROWN

ZACCHEUS JACKSON

THE SWIFT REPORT 2014

2014 seems like a very long year, and, like many moments of crisis, it is an event in two halves. My Swift Report is necessarily personal, even, it may appear, egoistic, or egotistical.  This is in the nature of such posts.  I can make no apology for this, the genre I am writing in here is memoir, specifically, a brief summary of "my" year.  It is not, for example, a history of the year from the perspective of murdered young men in America; or victims of the mysterious plane crash; or the horrid Ukraine conflict; or a story of the victims of the Taliban; nor a jocular discussion of the adventures of Hollywood actors. It is not a story of Ebola victims or doctors, Winter Olympians, World Cup losers and victors, the struggles of Man United, or the return of Simple Minds.  It is not a lament for the rise of the right, or the decline of the book.  In short, to reiterate, it is not a story of all of 2014 (if such were even possible), but of whatever the word "me" can mean.  Me of course, is a word and concept that extends to others, specifically, wife, family, friends, business colleagues, poets I work with, and so on.

2013 ended very well.  I had spent Christmas with my beloved brother, his wife and little boy, my Godson.  My publishing company was faring well.  I was enjoying teaching, and I had a new book of my own poems on the horizon. January 2014 started badly - first the New Year's Day loss at Old Trafford of my team to Tottenham - and then, my family leaving to head back on January 5th to Canada.  I felt bereft. It got worse quickly. It was at that moment my backer for my press reneged on his contractual promises, and pulled all funding for the press, due to major losses he had made on the stock market in 2013. I thought I might have to close Eyewear Publishing; and then, a few days later I collapsed with a terrible flu that became a chest infection. I was in bed for a fortnight on strong antibiotics.  When I arose from my bed, I was a changed person - anxious and shattered, afraid to lose my business; haunted, and feeling lost.

Over the next few months, several close friends died, often young, as Kirsten Bishopric, that wonderful smart, impossibly witty and beautiful Canadian actress and a dear friend, did, at the age of 50. As did Doug Isaac, my troubled, brilliant poet friend. On a lesser note, I fell and broke a finger the day before our Mexican embassy launch, which has still yet to mend entirely. And so on.

This is not the place to go through the first half of 2014.  It is now mostly a nightmarish blur.  However, by summer, I had managed to cobble together ways to keep Eyewear's press afloat, and had moved to a new full time position, at Worcester University (I need the money to keep my press alive).  As it happens, Worcester, city and university, are for the moment at least rather delightful. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this very friendly and beautiful part of the English midlands; and I have joined a very good new university that is innovative and seems far-seeing.

I will not mention in detail the numerous books Eyewear edited, published, launched, and sold, in 2014, except to say they were highlights of the year, for me, and I am very proud to have worked with the authors and poets, and our Eyewear team.  Of course, having The Boy From Aleppo made as a BBC Radio 4 show that was heard by half a million people in November was a great moment in my life - I am so very proud to have shepherded this book so far.

My own writing never satisfies me.  I always feel there was something better, wiser, truer, kinder, more complex I might have said.  It would be wrong though to say I did not have a few publishing moments in 2014 that gave me satisfaction, pride, even joy.

I had a poetry song with LA-musician Kennedy; a pamphlet from KFS in 2014, a Selected Poems from Marick Press (in Michigan); a poem selected for Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt); and a major review/essay on new British poets in Poetry magazine in the autumn. I also placed poems in Salamander. I have a chapter on FT Prince appearing in a book next year. I am currently working on a full tenth book of poems, which I hope will appear by 2016, when I turn 50. So, in terms of "publishing outputs" - that crude phrase, I am doing okay, I think.

I am not going to "look forward to" 2015 here. I am unsure what such a sentiment might mean, in the world we currently inhabit. I cannot recall, when younger, such a bleak prospect for humanity, even during the nuclear-ready Reagan years.  The idea that in 100 years many species will be gone, and the world scarred by warming and mass starvation is not welcome; and I cannot help but think technology may have made things worse. Nanobots and micro-drones are not my cup of tea. My faith in God is sorely tested, though I find the idea, which I came across recently, that God's impassive silence may be a form of communication, oddly comforting. It is true that the hell on Earth we are making, we are making.  We do not need a demiurge, demon or deity to blame.  We know the culprit. I think it is hard to discount the sense that human nature is, despite what post-structuralists idealistically argue, far less flexible and porous than one might think - our identity as a human species seems hardwired to contain plenty of war, competition, violence, acquisitional greed and sexual depravity. And that's just the poets.

Over the year, a few very good friends came to visit in London, including Phil Hiebert, Lisa Pasold, and Dr Oliver Brennan, and these were all wonderful moments.

My two happiest moments in 2014 came when I left Britain. Though British I am unsure if Britain is heading in the right direction.  I wish Scotland had managed to become independent. I deplore the rise of UKIP. And fear that a Tory government will lead to more and greater cuts. British society has turned against ideas of community and co-operation, to become a divisive, competitive, unequal and often very unfair place to live; and the gross naked capitalism of "The City" is repellent to me, insofar as I believe the highest human goods are (aside from love), communion with nature (swimming, walking, hiking); quietly reading or writing; playing games with friends and family; conversation; and music and art.

Anyway, I was happiest in Quebec at a lake for a few weeks this summer, swimming, reading, BBQing, kayaking, cycling, and, essentially, spending time with my family, who I miss and love.

I was also very moved and happy to launch my Selected in Michigan and Chicago.  I fell in love with Chicago, and also, oddly, with Detroit, a city I suspect is the new Berlin. If I could, I would move to Detroit tomorrow, and live in a loft, where I would write and hold poetry events. It was, finally, the greatest honour of my life to date (after my marriage, and my PhD graduation) to be invited to read, and indeed, to read, at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, in the world's best acoustic room for the human voice.  I wish to end this note with a warm and complete thank you to Don Share, whose belief in my critical writing, and my poetry, helped to sustain me through some very dark months, indeed.

My dream would be one of welcome.  To wake to feel a sense of proper and loving, kind literary community in the UK. None of this likely to be forthcoming, I will do my best to write, publish, edit, mentor, teach, and support others, safe in the knowledge that life is not fair, and we need, always, to fend that off, and be gentler, and more accommodating to others.  Poetics and debate and coteries are fine, but at the end of the day (I use this cliché on purpose as this is a Winter Solstice post) we all die, often in great pain and in fear.  To try to make life more bearable for our fellow humans as we all pass through this vale (veil) of tears seems like the best new year's resolution of all.

I wish you all love, joy, peace, and, failing that, the strength to overcome sorrow, and find some measure of hope or faith, in and for the new year, 2015.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN WELBY ON DESERT ISLAND DISCS

I was very moved today to listen to Archbishop Justin Welby on BBC Radio 4's famous Desert Island Discs. What comes across - and I cannot say I agree with all of his theological positions - is a highly-intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive person - who reflects upon the mysteries of faith, the afterlife, and injustice (as we might expect) - bringing to bear upon his duties the full weight of a proper 21st century education. Further, his unhappy childhood with an alcoholic father means that he is never merely a happy story, but a complex one.  He knows sorrow, as all of us do.  However, so close to Christmas, the over-arching message is this - it is feasible to be a fully-intelligent, well-rounded human being, and to still believe in the good news of Jesus Christ.  At a time of radical well-organised doubt and antagonism towards religion, this is a welcome gift, from the BBC.

Friday, 19 December 2014

TOLKIEN ABOUT JACKSON

Very little art is pure - most art, as TS Eliot observed in a famous essay - is a response to something of the past - and the relationship between individual talent and tradition is a fascinating, febrile and often festive one. Peter Jackson's film-making talent is obvious, but neither is it startling original (not that it need be). However, the Tolkien estate has openly decried the impurities the filmic adaptations of Tolkien's best-known books seem to have introduced. This is nonsense.

Professor Tolkien was an amiable and brilliant eccentric, who borrowed almost all his best ideas from the ancient and medieval myths and legends of the Germanic, Norse, and Judaeo-Christian cultures (sometimes these overlap). He borrowed a great deal, as well, from Wagner's cycle, The Ring, including the idea of dwarves obsessed with gold. What was new was that Tolkien saw the evil of the Nazi-German powers, and so created an especially English, anglophile response to the foreign legends, in the form of a provincial modest tribe, the Hobbits of the Shire.

Jackson's genius, not unlike Tolkien's, has been to cobble together myriad influences, in his case from classic war and horror and fantasy films.  Having see the final film in The Hobbit trilogy, I can now say it is one of the greatest adventure films ever made for a family audience.  As an aside, I did want to note how many of the key scenes with the Orcs are based on Zulu (see my post on that war film) - for instance, in the second film, when the Orcs clamber over homes then drop through the family roof in Laketown and the Elves and Dwarves fight them off close quarters, that is a direct lift from Zulu.

So too, whenever the Orcs appear on the horizon, and then, with sinking horror we see more and more horrible creatures appearing, that is fully Zulu.  In fact, it seems obvious to me that Zulu is one of the five or four key films for Jackson. Raiders of the Lost Ark and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would be two others.

But Jackson makes these his own, with his gleeful bad taste that sees some naughty little sight gags and puns and bad jokes break in ("Sting. That's a good name" for example, in the second film of the trilogy). There is no pure Tolkien or Jackson, but that's because impurity is the way of all great art.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

UNHOLY WAR

I have been reading the Oxford philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny's lucid, at times startling, and always thought-clarifying book What I Believe (2006) the last few days.  His chapter 'War' is particularly helpful to me in formulating my response to the murder of many schoolchildren the other day in Pakistan. Kenny observes that there are only a few arguments for just war, and that for many centuries Muslim and Christian theologians were mainly on the same page; a just war had limits, and a clear one was (and remains) the rejection of the killing of innocent non-combatants. Holy wars, as Kenny observes, however, conducted by Muslims and especially Christians, have tended to be unjust, in the sense that the killing of civilians was often excused, or encouraged, on religious grounds he (I think rightly) concludes are ill-founded in reason; and few other wars have been "just" through and through.

The decision by "Taliban" fighters to kill a hundred or more children in a school in Pakistan the other day is an atrocity to rival any in human history.  It is, by any but the most cruel and insane standards, an evil act.  Only a belief in a very harsh and extreme kind of holy war could explain the act, which has no moral, sensible, humane or rational excuse.  It is, by almost all ethical, religious, political, and human standards, an act of total depravity, in the sense that those who performed the act have, in the performance of their crime, removed themselves from the common network of reasonable civilised bonds that connect societies, peoples, and even whole nations and faiths. As such, these people should be apprehended and punished, to the full extent of the laws governing war crimes.

However, and further, their actions the other day underline what has, for many people in the West (and beyond) become apparent over the last 15 years - any legitimate grievances harboured by post-colonial peoples due to harsh, unfair and violent treatment by Western nations and their allies have become increasingly beside the point, as more and more terrible atrocities are committed with a ferocity and fanaticism beyond even the normal human range of thought and action - the killing of women and children and innocent captives in cruel ways, and the throwing of homosexuals off roofs are examples. This tone of ever-crueller, more deranged violence, an ultra-terrorism begun with 9/11, is both terrifying and self-defeating.  The terrorists, who never had the moral high ground in the first place, but perhaps had some claim on territory, are now in a sub-basement where they will find few if any allies willing to support their ongoing actions.

As such, they must be defeated, with full use of all force necessary.  It is no longer morally feasible to formulate arguments for appeasement and reconciliation.  Not with sadistic madmen who massacre children on this scale.  This is a just war, and talk of oil and land and control of empire can no longer sweep aside the reality, that the fanatics at work in broad swathes of Asia and the Middle East speak for a brand of religious thinking that, even by Medieval standards, is barbaric and ill-judged.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

IGOR ISAKOVSKI HAS DIED

Igor Isakovski, one of the leading Macedonian poets of the 21st century
Sad news, the energetic poet, novelist, publisher, editor, book designer, translator and friend to many poets globally, Igor Isakovski, has died suddenly of a heart attack, the other day. I include a poem from his recent collection below (translated into English), a photo of the poet, and a recent biographic note.  He had translated my work, and published it in Macedonian.
 
IGOR ISAKOVSKI. Born 19.09.1970, in Skopje, Macedonia. Died 15.12.2014, in Skopje, Macedonia. He took a BA in World and Comparative Literature, Sts. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia. MA in Gender and Culture, CEU, Budapest, Hungary. He was completing doctoral studies at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius University. He was founder and director of the Cultural Institution Blesok where he worked as editor-in-chief since 1998.

Published books: Letters (1991, novel), Black Sun (1992, poetry), Explosions, Pregnant Moon, Eruptions... (1993, short stories), Vulcan – Earth – (1995, poetry), – Sky (1996, 2000, poetry), Engravings, Blues Phone Booth (2001, prose etchings), Sandglass (2002, short stories), Way Down in the Hole (poetry, 2004), Swimming in the Dust (2005, 2010, novel, award Prose Masters 2005), Blues Phone Booth II (2006, prose etchings, awarded 2007 annual prize for best visual-graphic design of a printed book), Interning for a Saint (poetry, 2008), The Night Is Darkest Before the Dawn (poetry, 2009, unique award winner of the 4th Belgrade Poetry and Book Festival in 2010), Vulcan – Earth – Sky (poetry, 2010), Love (poetry, 2011), Death Has Seaweed Hair(poetry, 2013).

Selections and translations in other languages: – Sky (poetry in English, 1996, 2000), Sejanje smeha (Sowing of Laughter, selected poetry in Serbian and Macedonian, 2003), I & Tom Waits(selected poetry in English and Macedonian, 2003), Sandglass (short stories in English, 2003), I to je život (That's Life Too, new and selected poetry, published in Montenegro, 2007), Iz bliskov in ognja (From Glitters and Fire, new and selected poetry in Slovenian, 2011), Pjesčani sat(Sandglass, short stories in Croatian, 2012), Dlanovi puni srče / Дланки полни срча (new and selected poetry in Serbian and Macedonian, 2013), Светлината ве чека на рецепција / The Light Awaits You at Reception (selected and new poetry in Macedonian and English, 2013).

Isakovski edited four anthologies (the latest is the bilingual Six Macedonian Poets, published by Arc publications, UK, 2011) and two CD-ROMs. He translated poetry, prose, and essays, from and into Macedonian, English, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and from Slovenian into Macedonian. Into his Macedonian translations, there are more than 60 published books.

His poetry and prose works have been translated into sixteen languages and published in about twenty countries. He was included in a vast number of selections and anthologies in Macedonia and abroad. 

 
 
Lights around Paths

   I clean the stains off the table,
   I wipe out prints of liquids,
   ash and gunpowder – I need to set off
   somewhere. I wipe with keen
   precision, I clean up traces.

   I’ll step into the snow, I’ll make new
   paths – wide and merry, like lights
   sparkling around the planet, playful
   like my restless steps: I need to set off.

   I clean and tidy up, like in the past when I was
   expecting guests – I know that I’m alone, I know
   no one will come: let it be neat and warm.

   I’ll set off with my nose in the air, like a hound, searching for
   more gunpowder. If it comes to that, I’ll face the gun.

   I clean and tidy up, as if saying farewell to the world.

 
poem by Igor Isakovski.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

250,000 PAGE VIEWS IN 2014!

GREAT NEWS! Eyewear, the Blog, has averaged around a quarter of a million page views in 2014 - as it has done, more or less, since 2005.  That's over 2 million page views over a decade so far!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

THE 20 BEST TRACKS OF 2014 AT YEAR'S END.

We've had great pop, indie, dance, rock and soul songs in 2014 from the likes of David Bowie, and bombast from U2, and new ideas from Prince, new rare pathos from Stevie Nicks, comebacks from Billy Idol and Echo and the Bunnymen, and mournful Beck... and none of these makes our ultimate top 20 of tracks from 2014 you can locate on Spotify (UK) - sorry Morrissey. Here is our countdown, with three-word reviews. Tell Eyewear what you think.

1. 2: 54 - 'The Monaco' - indie pop heaven.
2. Alvvays - 'Archie, Marry Me' - smartest summer track.
3. Banks - 'Begging For Thread' - dark sexy pop.
4. Charlie XCX - 'Boom Clap' - big breakthrough hit.
5. Childhood - 'Right Beneath Me' - the new Smiths.
6. Dum Dum Girls - 'Rimbaud Eyes' - pitch-perfect 80s retro.
7. Ella Henderson - 'Ghost' - uplifting radio moment.
8. Fat White Family - Touch The Leather' - creepy twisted indie.
9. Foxes - 'Glorious' - as title suggests.
10. Lana del Rey - 'Cruel World' - David Lynch pop.
11. Radiator Hospital - 'Cut Your Bangs' - cute quirky indie.
12. Sam Smith - 'Stay With Me' - song of year.
13. SBTRKT, feat. Ezra Koening - 'NEW DORP, NEW YORK' - cool odd dance.
14. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 'Stranger To My Happiness' - super retro soul.
15. Simple Minds - 'Honest Town' - new gold song.
16. Sleater-Kinney - 'Bury Our Friends' - best indie track.
17. The Smashing Pumpkins - 'Drum + Fife' - implausibly cool return.
18. St Vincent - 'Digital Witness' - new David Byrne.
19. The War on Drugs - 'Red Eye' - great beer rock.
20. Warpaint - 'Keep It Healthy' - best indie album.





NEW POEM BY ZACHARY BOS


On Governor Nixon’s Advice


            Ferguson is the Great Society writ large
                       Roger L. Simon

 

Despite the bitter news we woke up to
   I am determined to maintain my faith
that hate shall subside and peace will prevail.

Be reasonable. That's all folks have to do:
   Stay calm, let America heal. (So saith
this white boy, joking when a man should howl.)

                                           25 xi 14
new poem by Zachary Bos

SUSAN GRINDLEY HAS DIED

Sad news. The British poet Susan Grindley (pictured) has died of cancer, on Thursday. She was the author of New Reader, a pamphlet from Rack Press, and had poems in many magazines, anthologies and online journals, including Nthposition, when I was editor.  Susan was a regular presence for many years on the London poetry scene, where she read, and attended many events in support of others. Susan was born in Essex but lived most of her life in Hackney. She was shortlisted for the Larkin and West Riding Poetry Prize and the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Prize and read at literary festivals including the Edinburgh Book Festival and the Ledbury Poetry Festival. A full collection remains to appear, but I hope that in time one can be compiled and readied for a press. She was a lovely person and will be much missed.

Zonal Pelargoniums

Call them geraniums, everybody does,
these are the ones with round, frilled leaves
marked like targets, creased like fans.
I found them in the bath – easier to water


the house being shut up – and took them home.
When they came into bloom I recognised
the plant that stood in her front porch for years,
two petals balanced above three, on flowers


I would have said that she was like, if asked –
coral, like the lipstick she wore every day.

Next came the Schiaparelli pink
she painted on her door and fingernails,


and on a specimen with leaves the size
of doll’s-house dinner-plates – the pale shell tint
she never knitted for a baby girl.

Dark and bright reds have been the last to flower.

The latest bud to open gave me the shock
of arterial blood –  an ordinary scarlet geranium,
the kind that DH Lawrence thought to be
beyond the imagination of God.


poem by Susan Grindley

Thursday, 13 November 2014

JOHN ASFOUR HAS DIED, A PERSONAL OBITUARY BY ANN DIAMOND, CANADIAN WRITER

JOHN ASFOUR BY ANN DIAMOND

(Ann Diamond is one of Canada's most innovative and controversial poets and writers of the last 40 years).

John Asfour poet (1945-2014)

I met John Asfour only a few times and never quite believed he was really blind. His default mood was always wry, ironic, gentle and dignified. Expansive in his silences, embracing and generous in his speech. At the cable TV station where we first met in the early 90s, he was seated with his white cane and dark glasses when I rushed in, sweating and flustered. "You look beautiful today, Ann!" -- and he grinned, pleased with his little joke.

I didn't know he had died. I hadn't seen him since a reading in 2011 when he lit the hall with poems of family, loss, emigration. By chance I was in the neighbourhood where we'd had lunch. Remembering that day, I realized I no longer had his number. I had a sudden gnawing sense it could be too late.

Coming home, I logged onto Facebook where, surreally, a notice scrolled down my feed.

Memorial Service for Montreal poet John Asfour.
Thursday, November 6, 2014. St Sauveur Cathedral. 11 am.

I searched in vain for an obituary. Someone had thought to update his Wikipedia page:

"John Asfour (born in 1945 in Aitaneat, Lebanon) (died in 2014 in Montreal, Canada) was a Lebanese-Canadian poet, teacher and translator. At the age of 13, a grenade exploded in his face injuring his eyes during the Lebanese crisis of 1958.

He moved to Canada in 1968..."

In 2009 I had visited him at Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, where he was writer in residence. We took a walk around the neighbourhood, and went for takeout at a hole in the wall restaurant where he already seemed to be a regular. Later, we went sightseeing at False Creek market. His visiting family cooked Lebanese delicacies and drove him downtown where he was speaking to a class at a college.

Introducing him later, I said a stupid thing. I told the audience that being with John Asfour was like entering a black hole. Lost for words, I struggled to explain. Sharing a space with him was like a journey into one's own heart. One of my favourite poems is his In the Metro: about venturing out in public and feeling surrounded and overwhelmed by human kindness.

The mosque-like Melkite cathedral stood in the distance as the dark-haired woman in a green jacket got off the bus just ahead of me. She wore dark glasses although it was cloudy, and we both crossed the busy street and ran the last hundred meters, thinking we were late. Men in black coats stood on the church steps, talking into cell phones. Inside, mourners had filled half the pews as more were arriving. John came last, in a closed coffin next to a single vase of flowers as Byzantine choral music poured from an amplifier overhead.

Men in robes chanted a liturgy in English, French and Arabic. The priest read from scripture. Then he said: "This is the first day of John's new life." It seemed so obviously true, you wanted to climb in  and share that small dark space with him in blinding light.

John's daughter Mikaela took the mic to read some of his final poems, about approaching death, family, loss, immigration. Novelist Rawi Hage spoke about how it felt to lose this friend, and praised John's commitment to social justice, his great contribution to poetry --

"Everything he did was for others."

He left this world discreetly as he lived in it, vanishing into the vacuum that he once filled with poems. 

Another memorial will be held in Vancouver at Joy Kogawa House where John has many more friends who will also miss him --

Books by John Asfour:

2012: V6A: Writing from Vancouver's Downtown East Side edited by John Mikhail Asfour and Elee Kraljii Gardiner, Arsenal Pulp Press

2011: Blindfold, McGill-Queens Press

2009 Nisan: poesie par John Asfour traduit par Nadine Ltaif editions Le Noroît, 103 pages

1997: Fields of My Blood (poetry), Empyreal Pressà

1992: One Fish From the Rooftop (poetry), Cormorant Books

1988, 1992: When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, Cormorant Books
 
Shortlisted for the League of Poets Award (1990) and John Glassco Award for Translation

1981: Land of Flowers and Guns (poetry), DC Books
 
Three poems by John Asfour

 

THE WINNER OF THE 9TH FORTNIGHT POETRY PRIZE IS...

Kierstin Bridger! Congratulations, she wins publication of her poem on this blog, and £140 to be paid immediately via PayPal. ...