About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blogzine, getting more than 25,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. and ha snow been read by over 2 million The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

POETRY FOCUS: NORMAN CUTHBERT, MP


MAJOR TORY POET
Few if any Tories in the current government (now dissolved until after the hung parliament) would want to admit it, but one of their own is a published poet, the right honourable Norman Cuthbert, MP from Twillick-upon-Roundabout South, a Surrey constituency that is most famous for having hosted more episodes of BBC Radio 4's Gardeners Question Time than any other in the UK.  Cuthbert (pictured) happily agreed to let Eyewear feature one of his poems today, on the understanding that we briefly discuss his position on Europe, immigration, and poetics.

Mr Cuthbert, the son of an Anglican vicar and a music hall dancer who was famous for juggling large balls, grew up with a stern, patriotic fervour and a bit of a gift for panto. Having attended Eton, where he was particularly fond of rifle practice, the burgeoning poet-politician soon found himself at Oxbridge, where he managed to get three Firsts, a Second, and a Half, in Ancient and Modern Languages; he also was something of a tuba man, and had to choose between brass bands, and his major love, languages, old and new.

But first, that tap on the shoulder, from other shadowy powerful men that led him to standing for the Conservatives - where he was narrowly slaughtered by the Tony Blair landslide debacle of 1997.  Cuthbert, out in the wilderness until a by-election occasioned by a tragic French cheese suicide, began publishing with small Northern presses, run by angry middle-aged bearded men.  This was a complex time in his life, then he met Sally, and the late night dog-walking ended, amicably.

Sally and Norman now turned to being the ideal married CofE political family, despite Sally's penchant for dancing lessons with Flavio Montezuma, her instructor from Spain.  This soon led to public disgrace for Cuthbert, as Sally left him and fled to the continent.  Thus began Norman's flirtation with the Eurosceptic side of the party, and his turn to small Welsh publishers, for his next five pamphlets, each named after a part of the Bible, starting with Genesis.

Cuthbert's Selected Poems is due out soon with Pepper Press - his first mainstream collection - and includes all his pamphlet work from the Cool Britannia years up to the Clegg-Farage Years.  A whopping 685 pages, it has been nicknamed The Domesday Book. His views on immigration are: all full up at the inn. His views on poetics: not here you don't mate.

Norman Cuthbert represents that radical line in English poetry that extends from the great Georgian poets through Larkin to Motion. He seeks to speak with a pastoral English diction, a complacent syntax full of decorum and control; and a limited sense of style.  Don't rock the apple cart, he likes to say.  Hats off to the man of the hour!

SUNNY UPLAND DAYS

On sunny upland fields
The man-boy would walk alone
To find hard stones that feel
And reciprocate the hand-loan

Of all things blighted, time-worn
That hayricks in the sun yield;
A bad Roman stood here once
To stick an English rose, forlorn

Upon the same wind the hawk
Climbed like arpeggios, mawk-
Ish but not Irish. So love is born.
But not before dancing Spanish die

For wrong-headed nimble sympathies.
I stumble here in para-rhyme, borders
Not my normalcy. We use the sea
To wall continental riff-raff out, order

Is what one does in right-thinking cafes
At Tea. But also what one requires
To hold a heart divided, so chafed
To mend, invisibly, old-new spires.

poem by Norman Cuthbert, MP, copyright 2015

Monday, 30 March 2015

THE HEART OF LOVE IS OF DARK MATTER

THE HEART OF LOVE IS OF DARK MATTER

on her birthday

She recreates the world she begins
when she sings, even though we both
despise Billy Joel, and that's the song
her choir rehearsal requires; a sin

is when what's done is off-piste -
avalanches await those who stray.
I dream bad nightly, wake drained
by guilt for what may have been.

Half of life is wiping the other half clean.
Why division? I crave a simpler union,
not a simpering one. It's the going away
that breaks in two. Going off-course

is creation, bang or garden version.
There's always a bow snapped,
fruit debranched. Dispersal, no,
need to cohere, crush love down

into a stranger charm, a ball of matter
not slow or massive, a cold core
nonetheless - a hot core that won't slip
or digress. Fall off like a black dress.

I want to build our love as if it was
a model of the working universe
made in a professor's Birmingham office,
all the forces expanding to coalesce.

No longer want to be the chaos I contain,
the art of madness has flushed my face.
I'm bright toxin, pantaloons for a drunk
performer, torn to bits. Tie me down,

I don't wish to flee from you, anymore.
Draw me tightly in, nip the exits please.
Sing the way you do to make my heart spin.
Sing those Irish songs I was born to listen to.

March 30, 2015

poem by Todd Swift


Friday, 27 March 2015

FLYING DAGGERS

As we said yesterday here at this blog, it would likely emerge that the co-pilot was hiding an illness, or had been jilted, - as it turns out, both. In this case, which is one of mass-murder/suicide, the underlying illness seems to be depression. As a poetry blog, we are broadly sympathetic to the rights of anyone (including poets) suffering from the disability that is chronic depression - and our chief editor has written eloquently before in poems and posts about depression.

Clearly, most depressed people do not commit murder - though a small but notable minority will go on to take their own lives.  Depression is often linked to a constellation of other personality disorders which might lead to mass murder, but again this is very rare. With treatment (usually medication and some form of therapy), almost all depressive conditions can be put into remission, as it were; but make no mistake, major depressive episodes can be nightmarishly debilitating, and commonly are associated with totally negative thinking and a sense of utter hopelessness.  In the dark absence of any hope or futurity, suicidal ideation can be born.

As such, it is neither impossible, or common, for a depressed person to want to kill 150 strangers when they die; it cannot be ruled out, but neither is it to be expected that a seriously depressed pilot is going to crash his plane. Unfortunately, this raises an issue of insurance, and safety. Can an airline company allow an employee to pilot a plane when there may be even a 1% chance their depression could lead to suicidal thinking? Or is .5% enough? .0015%? The truth is, having a seriously depressed pilot onboard clearly adds levels of risk that are unacceptable for most insurers and passengers.  Would I get into a car with a driver who I knew was considering wanting to die? Weighing disability rights against the rights of passengers to safety (which must be the paramount concern in flying) we need to say that serious depressive episodes, like active alcoholism and drug use, sadly place the pilot in a high-risk category, on the day of the flight.

This does not mean pilots should be removed forever or always from the cockpit, but clearly pilots who are drunk, on drugs, or thinking of suicide need to be kept at home and treated until they are well enough to return. Any company, indeed any institution, has a duty of care, both to its disabled employees, and its other customers and clients.  The right balance is therefore to properly support and enforce sick leave for depressed workers; and to also allow employees back to work when and if their treatment allows them to be well enough to no longer want to die.

The Melita Hume Poetry Prize 2015

 
The Melita Hume Poetry Prize

THE MELITA HUME POETRY PRIZE is an award of £1,500 and a publishing deal with Eyewear Publishing Ltd., for the best first full collection by a young poet writing in the English language, 35 YEARS OR UNDER at the time of entry. The aim of this prize is to support younger emerging writers. This is open to any one of the requisite age, of any nationality, resident in the United Kingdom and/or Ireland.  It is free to enter.
Previous winners are Caleb Klaces for Bottled Air (2012); judge Tim Dooley; Marion McCready for Tree Language (2013); judge Jon Stone; Amy Blakemore for Humbert Summer (2014); judge Emily Berry.

2015 competition

The Judge for the 2015 competition is Toby Martinez de las Rivas.  His poetry collection Terror was published by Faber & Faber in 2014, and he is widely considered one of the best younger poets now writing. Toby Martinez de las Rivas was born in 1978. He grew up in Somerset, then moved to the north-east of England after studying history and archaeology at Durham where he began writing. He first worked as an archaeologist and this, together with the landscape of Northumberland and the work of north-eastern writers such as Barry MacSweeney and Gillian Allnutt have had a significant impact on the development of his own poetry. He won an Eric Gregory award in 2005 and the Andrew Waterhouse award from New Writing North in 2008. His pamphlet was published by Faber as part of the Faber New Poets scheme.

The judge will select the best collection from the shortlist, which will be no more than ten, and no fewer than six poets.  The 2015 competition is now open, and closes at 5pm on April 8th, 2015.  The prize is free to enter, and submissions will be accepted from anyone of the requisite age, of any nationality; the poet must be resident in the United Kingdom and/or Ireland.  Manuscripts must be between 50 -100 pages; and the work must be previously unpublished in full book form. Up to half the poems can have appeared before in a pamphlet.

The 2015 shortlist will be announced in by June 2015 and the winner will be announced by July 2015.  The winning collection will be published in 2016.

 Terms and conditions

1.     This contest is open to poets 35 years of age or under at date of entering.

2.     Entrants can be from anywhere in the world.  Entrants must be currently resident in the United Kingdom and/or Ireland— please note that publication will be in the UK and sold internationally.

3.     The Prize is free to enter.

4.     Work must be in English and unpublished in its full form (up to 50% can have appeared in pamphlet form prior to submission and individual poems may have appeared in magazines).Translations and self-published books are not eligible. The work must be by a single author.

5.     Only electronic manuscripts are admissible. No printed paper entries will be accepted. Documents must be titled with the name of the poet.

6.     Manuscripts must include a standard covering sheet that includes your name, address and contact details, your date of birth, the title of the work, a biography of between 150 and 250 words and a statement that you have read and accepted these terms and conditions. Covering sheets are available as a Word document upon request from us at info@eyewearpublishing.com .

7.     Manuscripts must include a table of contents and a list of acknowledgments for poems previously published.

8.     Electronic manuscripts must be typed in Microsoft Word or supplied as a PDF file, paginated, single spaced and between 50–100 pages in length.  The page size must be A4 (297 × 210 mm).  The page count does not include the covering sheet, list of contents or acknowledgements of previous publication.

9.     No alterations to the manuscript will be accepted after submission. No correspondence can be entered into for entries once they are made.

10.            Submissions must be sent via email to info@eyewearpublishing.com by 5pm on April 8th, 2015.

11.            Late submissions will not be accepted.  Eyewear Publishing takes no responsibilities for technical difficulties. 

12.            Confirmation of receipt of entries will be sent by email within ten working days of submission.

13.            The winner will receive a £1,500 prize, including publication within 18 months by Eyewear under their standard contractual terms, and a launch in London.

14.            The shortlist will be no fewer than six and no more than ten poets. 

15.            All poets must agree to send promotional material if requested (photo and extended biography), and grant permission to be listed as shortlisted for the prize in press releases and online.

16.            Poets agree to abide by all the rules, and must accept the prize if selected as the winner.

17.            We cannnot offer feedback on individual entries. 

18.            Eyewear Publishing Ltd. retains the right to cancel the Melita Hume Poetry Prize without prior notice.

Checklist


1.     I have included a completed covering sheet with my submission.

2.     I have emailed my submission.

3.     I have read and understood the terms and conditions above.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

ON A WING AND A PRAYER

Eyewear the blog has long considered the aviation industry less safe than it could be. Of course the safest plane is one that stays on the ground, and some risk is always involved in lifting a ton of tin 36,000 feet into the sky. However, one thing has clearly become obvious today - one of the oldest myths about flying is now outmoded and needs to be replaced.

Given that we now know the German plane was intentionally crashed into a mountainside by the young co-pilot, after he had locked the pilot out, and then gradually eased the plane into a gentle if fatal descent, we have to face a fact that is ugly: we are no longer safe to assume that pilots have our best interests at heart when we fly.

It was once said that since no pilot wanted to die, every pilot who flew us up and down was obviously reassured of the safety of the plane and route being flown. Though accidents will and do happen, we counted on the expertise and glamour of the pilots to keep us aloft.

But that is a feeble 20th century idea now.  In the starker, more nakedly cruel and insane 21st century, in many ways a 15th century world of crusade and fanaticism, persons seek to kill themselves and others more often, more violently, for more delusional reasons. In the absence of a God, or in the presence of a cruel one, some persons derive some measure of strange delight in destroying themselves and others by piloting aircraft into the ground or buildings.

We must now expect from airlines far more stringent testing on their pilots and their backgrounds; their private obsessions and ideologies; and we must of course work out a system to allow manual over-ride of a rogue pilot bent on destruction. This is one of the most sickening and senseless mass murders of recent times - they are all horrific, but the utter randomness (seemingly) is all the more chilling, even existential.

We can only assume the killer was bound to fail his next medical in June 2015, and needed to act fast.  Was this always a pathological obsession from youth? Or a revenge against employers or a steward or stewardess (or both) who had jilted him? Paranoia? Or even terrorism by another name?

All we know is, stranger danger now applies to pilots as much as anyone else. We live in a world where some priests, politicians, police officers, surgeons, doctors, pilots, teachers have recently all been shown to abuse their power to abuse, kill or hurt others. No profession is untouched, no one is genuinely to be trusted.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

THE SEX PROBLEM NEW POEM BY TODD SWIFT


THE SEX PROBLEM
 
 
To answer for

Performing or being real

One never knows

Whether the animal
 

Or mineral in us

Most throbs

At this gift of carnality

That robs and robs
 

In the throes of its thrall.

Saints sin and sinners rise,

We embrace denial

Or lust full throttle.
 

You can't break open

Twice the same bottle.

Not being one

But two
 

Is the bifurcation trouble.

Do you co-exist

Or tango solo?

Fools come singly
 

Or in pairs; we

Split easily as hairs

Sex is what wants

And is unwanted
 

And forces through

Like tubers

In lacklustre gardens.

Trousers hold parties
 

You have a standing

Invitation to.

Let this be more clear:

Sex is what you fear
 

Fearlessly; the plunge

To take regardless

Of the fall or bill:

High risk is low fare;
 

A muddling affair

Bruising, boisterous,

Not always about care.

You split when you go
 

And don't go

To where the rapture

Leaks through a floor

That is someone else's
 

Chandelier. Love

Isn't sex all the time

Either which breaks

The fast; the problems
 

Are multiple waves

Of orgasm or not

So we are damned

Whatever we've got
 
 
In hand, bird, bush
 
Or burning hem.
 
No cure that Turing
 
Could call human
 
 
They cut out the lump
 
As if urge was a noun
 
Not a verb; action
 
Has no medical coping
 
 
Mechanism - we do
 
Or don't, like you hit
 
Or miss the ducks.
 
Carnival it may be, but
 
 
Paying or free, forced
 
Or happily agreed
 
Entry into the domicile
 
Of a different body
 
 
Is transmigration
 
Trumping souls -
 
What rushes of splurge
 
What revelations
 
 
Of clumping natural burst
 
What dingling lubricuous
 
Dumb gongs banging
 
Like cow bells off a cliff -
 
 
The passion overkill
 
Throws us all out with the baby
 
And the broken viscuous
 
Litter of our finished pose
 
 
Leaves us gasping
 
Like Yeats's peers
 
On the shore, fins agog,
 
Scales tippling empty air.


MARCH 18 2015
BY TODD SWIFT

Sunday, 15 March 2015

GUEST REVIEW: SAUNDERS ON SUTHERLAND

Lesley Saunders reviews
BoneMonkey
by Janet Sutherland

Like HughesCrow, Sutherland’s Bone Monkey (from Shearsman) is elemental, brutal, amoral, part Jungian shadow, part Freudian id, a trickster and shape-shifter nightmarishly familiar from the old dark tales – yet wholly original, authentically uncanny, in the forms and voices he takes on between the covers of this book.  On the front cover is a reproduction of an 18th century mezzotint of an écorché, a human figure stripped of skin and flesh to reveal, in this case, how the major muscles are attached to the skeleton: an apt image for the psychic flaying that the poetry enacts and exacts.

Bone Monkey is a manifest apparition, a conjured entity, both primitive and contemporary.  I heard Sutherland read from the work at Lauderdale House in spring 2014, not having come across her work previously, and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled animal-like to the stalking presence she invoked.  I might add that we’d had supper together in a café (with the evening’s host Shanta Acharya) before the readings and I’d noticed nothing in the least shamanic, let alone demonic, about this grey-haired and softly-spoken woman (whose true likeness appears on the book’s back cover).  Sutherland introduced her reading by saying that an elderly relative of hers who’d been suffering from dementia had spoken about the monkey who sat on her shoulder, no doubt a personification of the condition, the profound disturbance it produced in her.  This information certainly helps to account for the sustained and malevolent energy of the work but is not necessary for an appreciation of how Bone Monkey operates as an archetype, an unwelcome companion from the underworld, one who insists on recognition – very much like Crow.

Bone Monkey is articulate and resourceful, well-read and well-travelled, yet in the telling of his story the creature has given away almost none of that capacity for visceral shock with which he first arrived in Sutherland’s world.  Some of the narrative incidents may seem to have been scooped from the heap of mythic material to which many poets have recourse (‘Emblems from the Wolves’; ‘Apollo, Marsyas, Bone Monkey’; ‘The Blacksmith made me’), but this poet knows exactly what she’s doing with such matter, tonally as well as formally, in the mastery of line as well as of diction.  Here’s the opening section of ‘Apollo, Marsyas, Bone Monkey’, which places the precision of plain speaking in the service of rococo horror:
 

Intricate work; those long ears,

the pocks on his bulbous nose,

took patience and a steady hand.

 

The intimate folds and crevices

were tender and whitened with yeast.

He was thorough and took his time.

Yet Bone Monkey, also like Crow, leaks ambivalence.  The purpose of the poetry is to call him out, to expose him as forlorn, needy as a babe, an outsider who craves a share in humanity, even though he confuses sex with violence, love with war.  When Bone Monkey falls in love,

he rocks her    rocks her    riding

all her dreams     he loves her

loves her not

 and when this lover becomes pregnant,


It might be his

Can he shake her

like a rattle?

 Even so, at the end of ‘Lullaby’ (the third poem in the sequence), Bone Monkey is encountered by the unflinching gaze of the other – his own infant – as he:
 

offers his teat to its searching mouth,

and feels it tug and worry for the truth.

 

Who’d want a daddy like me? he croons

to the eyes that open to stare him out.

 The sixth and final poem in this sequence ‘Bone Monkey in Love’, called ‘Desire Lines’ (quoted in full just below), drags the reader to this place of psychological exposure, then makes him/her complicit in the remorseless stripping-off of layers:
 

The dark breaks open a long scar

from heart to groin.  The skin is peeled

 

to the tenderest flesh, peeled and peeled

 

though your finger drawing down the line

finds that path of least resistance.

It’s worth saying that the striking quality of the poetry is well served by the book’s production, in an unadorned legible font sitting in plenty of white space on good quality paper.  These things matter, especially when the work is this good.

What’s impressive about the collection is on the one hand its refusal to step too far away from Monkey in order to take or to give comfort where none is to be had, and on the other the capacity to riff apparently endlessly on situations and occasions for Bone Monkey to display his prowess, his protean identities – as in the sequence ‘Bone Monkey in Illyria: an English Gentleman Abroad 1846’, which is ironically witty and beguiling by turns, and brilliantly realised:
 

[...]

I found a good specimen of a Serbian woman,

alone in the woods on her way to market,

 

her hair dyed black and twisted to one side;

she wore, like the Greeks, a tight under vest,

a purple velvet jacket, embroidered in gold and silver,

a treble row of ducats around her neck

 

and a silk petticoat which slipped through my fingers

like the river Morava. [...]

There’s a breathtaking relish in the evocation of images, personages, scenarios, throughout the book;  in ‘In the beginning’ Bone Monkey has to undergo a metamorphosis or moulting in order to regain his youth:  the virtuosic performance of slitting his own throat in order to walk out of his old skin is accomplished in front of our eyes by the confidence and poise of the verse.  The poet’s vivacity of line and lexis is how and where her emotional work is done, the work of invoking, accommodating and challenging disintegration, death of the spirit as well as the flesh.  Inside several poems nestle scenes of the implacable fate that dementia wrought on Sutherland’s relative – the surprise is that in ‘Vespula Vulgaris’, for example, Bone Monkey momentarily assumes the role of carer rather than perpetrator: 

when she wakes

he soft-boils an egg

and parts her lips with a spoon

 

yolk lines a lip crease

he loosens the edges with his nail

picks at the oily flakes

 

he puts three spoons of sugar in her tea

clips on the beaker lid

and offers her the straw

 And in ‘Bone Monkey at the Allotment’ it’s in the guise of gardener that:


His nail has dipped and bitten into flesh

that so often happens he mutters

as he rubs the peapods    one against the other

 
Later on – in ‘The pond in summer’, the last, impressionistic poem – it becomes clear that not even Bone Monkey, having partaken of human life, can ultimately escape bodily decline and degradation: 

his urine finds its way by dribs and drabs

from slackened penis to transparent bag

 

[…]

 

He floats    he calls her     but she won’t come

 
At this point the collection stands revealed as neither narration nor curriculum vitae;  there is no sense of development or progression, only of organic processes following their inescapable logic.  It seems to me that it takes great poetic as well as personal courage not to look away, not to escape into sentimentality or philosophic consolation:  the suffering is unbearable but it is nonetheless borne.

This is a book that, in times to come, I fear I shan’t be able to do without.
 
Lesley Saunders is the author of five books of poetry, most recently The Walls Have Angels (Mulfran Press 2014). Lesley also leads poetry workshops, and undertakes editing work as well as book reviews.