About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blogzine, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers, and vice versa. Eyewear blog is archived by The British Library. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

new poem by todd swift

Ballad of the Non-payment

it isn’t sad because it isn’t you
it isn’t death because it isn’t true
there is no room without a view

and what we see is burning planes
the compost of sad old refrains
no song can collect human remains

a poem is what is tossed aside
by any reader who aims to glide
above rhyme for a novel ride;

I have some wisdom left apart
for my children never came to start
the acting father in me, so smart

I somehow learned to uncreate
the brood I thought would inundate
our gardens with their fortunate

water pistols aimed at trees;
I've some words to give freely;
these are words like shooting sprees:

there is no God but the god you leave;
there is no loss but that you grieve;
and it is better to love than live;

though living is what love requires;
the world dampens love’s true fires;
for truth and love are not the spires

on which our global good is built;
we rise to worship all that’s gilt;
we mourn fewer than get killed;

if I could warn I’d remove all doubt:
it is better not to write a lot;
and if you do, try not to shout;

they can hear you even though
you never speak above a slow
mourning whimper, asking how

they know you are so beautiful
and yet they’ve had their fill
before they’ve had any at all.

it isn’t last but it is the fate
to arrive too early, stay too late
and lean against a burning gate

that soon, low ash, will topple you
for being no more than evening dew;
the night has little else to do

with poems, poets, those who think
their meanings and language sink
ships or move the world to a brink;

the day has even less time for us;
we , to all creation, most useless;
our dry course, and longing curse.

be a doctor, lawyer, good with sums;
bang pots and pans and goat-skin drums;
garden with a prudent thumb;

no green accrues, no gold arrives,
by writing into being what never lives;
the poet dies each time she gives.

the poet dies because she pays a tax
for which no ruler has ever asked;
she tithes and tithes away the mask

until her body, mind and spirit lie
upon a floor that never counted grain
but threshes those who aspire to try

to count each star, each molecule, the ant
across the lintel and the pouring sand;
to enumerate the illiterate plan

nature’s laws and Zeus’s design;
refrain, resign and diplomatically decline;
the word’s unwanted in this flop, this tip.

Knock back a quick one, salute the bar;
where you are going isn’t that far;

you’ll soon be out the one true door.

poem by Todd Swift
July 22, 2014

Sunday, 20 July 2014

ZULU FIFTY YEARS ON

I was always afraid to see Zulu, the British war film "introducing" Michael Caine, which was a big hit the summer of 1964 - I thought it might be bloody, jingoistic, and awkwardly racist. And this despite the fact many movie lists feature it as one of the great films. As a film buff, what was I doing, avoiding it.

So, last night, I finally watched it.

Bloody hell, what a movie.  What a complex, haunting, terrifying, beautiful, horrific, great scream it from the roofs movie.  One of the best I've ever seen, easily now in my top ten.

Why?

Well, firstly, politically, it doesn't go far enough, but, for its time, it's remarkably balanced. The "villains" of the film, the Zulus, are really more like antagonists - but never are they depicted as less than noble, brave, brilliant. I have seen critics say they should have been given more of a voice, less of a communal mass identity, but the point of the film is to recreate an actual military battle, which was - despite and because of its offencive imperialist nature - terrifying. Meanwhile the colonialists, preachers, and British soldiers, humanised as they are, express, in their faces, their eyes, and sometimes their words, a revisionism already - questioning what they are there for, and why they should be killing people to defend a land that isn't theirs.

More to the point - the film's build up of impending doom, and then action sequences, are the most thrilling and dreadful I'd ever seen. I now understand why the film has so influenced the whole Zombie cultural phenomenon - because the only way to recreate the sense of utter horror as a vast human wave descends to crush you - without wading into uncomfortable politics, is to make the Zulus zombies.

But, see above - the Zulus are not mindless, not dead, and not simply motivated by some nameless unspeakable hunger - they are driven by the justified desire to see the occupying British forces thrown out of their country. They have right, and might, on their side - and, if they had had more rifles, they might have fended off the British troops.  As it is, by the time the Anglo-Zulu wars were done, tens of thousands of their people had died, defending a nation that the British stole from them, to give, finally, to the Boers.  Mostly due to diamonds, I should add.

So, yes - the red coated British soldiers are, broadly speaking, utterly in the wrong, the true villains of the piece.

However, as the film reminds us, they were also men who, oftener than not, didn't want to be there (the Welsh farmer who sings for instance, or Hook, the thief and rebel, or Chard, the bridge building engineer).

Regardless of the historical setting, the film unfolds almost entirely, except for the framing narration by Richard Burton, which is pompous and of its time - as a real time exercise in mounting horror - as the very small, mostly injured garrison, of 150 troops at the remote mountain station - realise that the Zulu warriors are marching to destroy them - 4,000 Zulu warriors - led by a tactical mastermind, their King.

And, you are there with them.  What do you do?

Well, some run away, or leave (including the cavalry, one of the cinema's finest downbeat moments), get drunk, rave, - but, in a manner that was borrowed by Robert Redford in All Is Lost (a film that is Zulu with the sea as the warriors) - most of the 150 remain stoic, calm, and professional, and set about preparing for the worst.

Here is where the film becomes the existential masterwork it really is - for the feeble bulwarks, the few sandbags, the plan to move to the redoubt - are all as nothing against the oncoming doom - and yet, still, for the most part, the weary and increasingly terrified men, engineer and plod and button up their uniforms, and - yes, die - many horribly.

It is terrible to see the warriors shot down in their hundreds by the British rifles - and it is terrible to see Zulu spears also kill - and the killing itself is dreadful, and sad, and one realises the carnage is, from one angle, senseless.

But war has an awful logic, and the logic runs like this - why are they coming to kill us, Sergeant?  Because, we are the ones here.

And, if 4,000 people are coming to kill you, what do you do?  If you are the preacher, you do not fight, you leave. If you were a British soldier or officer in the 1870s, you stood your ground, to fight. To not would be to be shot as a traitor.

The film is beautifully shot - and the isolation and weakness of the British position, those few red coats - is hugely evocative.  This is, of course, the best British Western ever filmed - and since it explores class, power, war, religion, bravery, duty, fear, death, and race, unflinchingly, it earns a dignity that so few other war films do.  And, finally, the film is about dignity, torn from the wound of war. I wonder what you think.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

DISSECTING DIRECTING HERBERT WHITE, THE PATIENT ETHERISED ON THE TABLE

It would be too easy to conclude that James Franco's new collection of poetry and prose, from Faber, Directing Herbert White, is the weakest book of poetry they have ever published, though one would have to go back to, arguably de la Mare, to find an equal. Simply put, most of the poetry in the book is so flat that one is forced to conclude that some kind of post-modern hoax is being perpetrated, the kind of thing that, from time to time, Hollywood actors get up to in their vanity project phases.

Dismissing Franco, who is, after all, a good actor, a handsome young man, a rich and famous American, and a student and promoter of poetry, might smack of envy, or sour grapes.  After all, very few humans alive are currently as fortunate as he, in terms of health, wealth, looks, and opportunity. He is, in the secular and gross way of celebrity, blessed - or cursed, as he would like us to think, too.  Using the persona of Lohan, the doomed actress, he is prepared for any mockery in advance, noting that blogs do not master him, and basically the rich and famous have the sex and bungalows the rest of us can only dream about. And, from my few dealings with him by email, he is a nice and helpful guy.

Choosing heroes like The Smiths, Brando, James Dean, and Frank Bidart, Franco's world is pop-cultishly blank and unsubtle, but not without interest - for he writes of some experiences that most of us, even poets, or especially poets, won't have, like acting in major motion pictures, and living in expensive, hip hotels for years on end. A mood is generated, of waste, arrogance, and a festering artifice of immortality which movies seem to donate to those who find themselves enambered therein. It's all very Sunset Boulevard.

Franco is not the first actor to write poetry - surely the greatest poet in English, our immortal Will, was an actor.  Nor is Franco the first rich, famous or desired man to pen verse - Byron was more celebrated than Franco, in his day. Nor is he the first young American to be published by Faber, either - that would be Eliot or Pound. So he is not as rare as he might at first appear, or as preposterous.  Yet, his poetry cannot stand up to those forebears.

Not that it tries, either.

Despite the many many famous friends and mentors he mentions in the book, his poetry seems to resist either the music of the traditional lyric, or the post-structural linguistic innovations of the conceptualists. He writes in a deadpan, flat, banal, and generally plain spoken free verse, of statement, and line break, where portentous meaning is derived from every act of enjambment.

Don't get me wrong.  I like the book, in many ways.  I too, for example, have written poems about The Smiths, movies, Hollywood, and materialism, sometimes assaying a free verse style, and creepy personae.  Of course, I did this in 1999, 15 years ago, and my Budavox is a better work - more shocking, perverse, witty, allusive, complex, and, for the time, visionary.

But the reason it is a better book is subtle - it is because I was not then, and am not now, really a movie star.

Poets, to rise to their highest calling, cannot be entangled in another vocation - at some stage, and the word is intentional - their poetry must imagine, must envision, and enact, a world their work brings into being, a more-than-mimetic making, which is what poeisis is.

Yeats, as in all things, is the benchmark.  His occult powers of generation are staggering, and he became a Mage - because he believed in, yielded to, and in turn channeled, the powers of rhyme, and metre, and verse.  He embodied, he became, poetry.

Yeats did this by becoming a god.  Or thinking of becoming a god.

James Franco, sadly for him, is already a kind of god, for he is a famous star.  His imagination is embedded in a world he already surveys and in many ways dominates.  He is a master of the ultra-hip bungalows of the super-famous and sexy. He has the keys to many doors of experience and satiation.  He can sleep with any one of a thousand men or women tonight - less limited in reality, his powers of poetry are more limited in compensation.

Franco can become a far better poet.  He could even become a genuine, potentially serious, poet, one to be reckoned with.  Yet first he must renounce his ego, and his fame, and go into retreat.  This is what Leonard Cohen did, for years, and it served him well.

Franco's book, despite its dire and uninviting title, is a good book to read - it is entertaining, eye-opening, often funny, and even a bit gossipy, bitchy, cheap, trashy and daring.  It is a book almost no British poet could write, except maybe Joe Dunthorne - and so it needs to be welcome on these shores for all its problems and challenges.  It is a book that affronts us, because we know 100 great American poets that do not have publishers in the UK, and we know they are not actors and never will have books here.  But Franco cannot be dismissed as being simply the child of good fortune.  He is lucky, and he doesn't on the face of it deserve a Faber book.  But if this book had been published by a smaller press, already, the modest impulse would have set the work off better. It isn't bad poetry, per se - it is simply non-canonical, and we read Faber books as if they are canon-forming.

As such, we can conclude, it is not like when Wallace Stevens, or Frost, were first published in London.  But this book challenges what we think popular poetry is and does, far more than any ten books from Cambridge or UEA, and as such, it is a bitch-slap to our pretensions and our critical senses, made infuriatingly lively by its arrogant and assured provenance.  In short, we must read it, before we can toss it aside.  And so, Franco has already won.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

OUTRAGE

The downing of a Malaysian passenger jet a few hours ago, over rebel-dominated Ukraine's airspace, is a terrible loss of life - 295 souls, apparently, including a full complement of 15 staff. It is also an act of war, and a moral outrage.  Our prayers go out to the families of those lost, and any survivors, if there are, mercifully any. The possibility of it being a coincidence, in a corridor that has seen military jets downed recently, is slim.  It seems odd that a civilian airliner was routed over such disputed space, but perhaps the assumption was this was a civilised theatre.  It is not, anymore.

America is weak at the moment, horribly so.  Firstly Mr Obama, the weakest American President in memory, refrains from reminding Israel (our democratic partner in the Middle East in many things) of the immediate and lasting need to avoid killing women, children, and innocent men in Gaza in any manner that has impact; he does nothing in Iraq, less in Syria; lets China bully its region; cannot reign in North Korea; and sees Ukraine falling into the hands of its enemies.  Mr Obama needs to resign or step up to the plate.  His pay grade requires leadership, resolve, and, if necessary, force, deployed intelligently.

Gaza needs to have a ceasefire that holds; Ukraine's borders, including its airspace, need to be defended; and, across the globe, a sense of order and lawfulness needs to prevail.  Barring that, we could conclude the world, currently marking the centenary of WW1, and about to celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-Day in 2015, is, seemingly as always, on the brink of yet more suffering.  As Morrissey reminds us on his best album in 20 years, we are not very humane, us humans. We kill animals, each other, and ruin the planet.  Outrageous behaviour, indeed.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

RAW POWER IN 1986

One of the best memories of my college years - I was educated at a private college run by nuns - was a summer house party hosted by Adam Frank - we were around 19, and we were drinking gin and tonics, and later Margaritas.  Adam has since become a brilliant professor.  We were into A.J. Ayer, Colin Wilson, Brecht, Kafka, Welles, Freud, Wilde and, Iggy Pop

Raw Power was playing - on a turn table I believe - and I had never heard it before.  Adam was wearing a bow tie and his goofy glasses - he was tall, with curly hair, and very funny, and smart.  Also in attendance were our friends the impossibly tall, erudite and charming Misha Glouberman (soon off to Harvard), Marcy Goldberg (so slinky and clever, a secret crush of mine), Douglas Barrett, a slim, blond physical and intellectual comedian, action-packed, manic, sexually exploratory, possibly blood-stained from previous antics, and my boyfriend at the time, sort of - our Cassady.  The poet, at the time an enigmatic petite red-lipped black-clad Goth, China-plate pale, Joy Division girl Susan Briscoe, was also there, and perhaps languid, Armani-casual Fabio Bagnara, now an Italian architect, then a handsome young playboy with film star looks but a shy bookish manner belying his desirability.

There were perhaps a few others - young men and women, intellectuals on the cusp, in a hot Montreal summer, August, at a pleasant suburban home, getting drunk some afternoon, with 'Your Pretty Face is Going To Hell' playing.  I loved that irony - the mix of Kleist and punk, decorum and style, and latent youthful exuberance.  We were in love then, with the idea of ourselves as on the brink of moving on - and soon, we all would leave Quebec, more or less (Susan has stayed, and forged a literary career there). I recall us later in the day sitting on the grass in the backyard, tipsy, eroticised, talking for hours, about ideas.  The lustre of thought, youth, desire, possibility, and the anarchic power of Pop limning those hours, forever, as signal times.  I was rarely ever again so among my kind, so pleased, so full of an occasion's lazy greatness. I hope they are still alive. I have not seen some of them for 25 years or more. 'Come and take me... I am alive.... Penetration'...

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK 33 YEARS LATER


The first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, I had recently turned 15. I had lined up at 7 am in the morning, outside The Imperial cinema, in Montreal's East End, with my best friend of the time, Timmy. It was June, 1981, and we knew nothing of the movie, its many plot twists, its future classic status.  We only knew it starred Harrison Ford, who we had loved as Hans Solo, and was created by George Lucas and Spielberg.

There was, of course, no Internet back then, no social media, so buzz was from radio and newspapers, and, as we were young teens, from school gossip.  There had been a big pr push, some billboards, but we were rather innocent.  We entered the cinema around noon, about 33 years ago, to see the first showing in Quebec, bought our popcorn and soda pop, and then quickly became amazed.

I watched Raiders again last night on TV, for the first time in maybe ten years - hell, maybe 20.  I've seen the sequels a few times since, as well.  I recalled the film fondly, but a new viewing astonished me.  Very few things from one's youth remain the same 33 years later. However, this movie, if anything, is funnier, smarter, more stylish, clever, well-plotted and subtle, than I recall.

Karen Allen as Ms Ravenwood is sexier, more nuanced, and Ford is more handsome, complex, and disturbing. Even the smaller roles are handled expertly, and overall there is genuine sense of reverence for the subject matters of history, time, religion, and God. Indeed, given the theme of a Jewish God's revenge against evil empire set in Egypt, the treatment of the Muslim characters is even-handed, not jingoistic, since Indie's best friend in Cairo is a good man, and it is Muslim children who save Indie in a key scene. Hitler is clearly contrasted with the Pharaohs who enslaved the Chosen People, and there is a sense the collaborating Frenchman is prefiguring the Vichy-water subplot in Casbalanca. Denholm Elliot, always a gentle, intelligent character actor, is very fine here; and who can forget the creepy Nazi torturer in his black fedora, in homage to Lorre?

At the time, we marvelled at the breakneck speed of events, the set pieces (the drinking game in Nepal, Indie shooting the man with the sword, the "bad dates" monkey scene, the Nazi with the burnt hand,  the bald German boxing airman and the plane rotors, the Ark being hidden at the end in a warehouse), the great sound effects, and the humour and derring-do.

However, this time around I was able to admire the direction's pacing - how the bravura opening sequence is then followed by a slow expositional scene with the government agents and Indie at his college - Speilberg learned from Hitchcock's Vertigo here. Indeed, Raiders wears its loved of cinema on its leather sleeve, as we know - without Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Lawrence of Arabia, and numerous cliff-hanger reels of the 30s and 40s, it would not have been made.

What impresses me no end in 2014, however, is that this film has solidly taken its place alongside Kane and Casablanca, in my mind, as one of the very greatest of American films - its sense of dramatic beats, comedy, romance, and action has never been rivalled. Belloq's speech about planting a cheap watch in the sand and eventually seeing it cherished as priceless is also true of cinema.  Raiders - never cheap - has appeared however as the supremely well-made roller-coaster to end all summer films.  I am still thrilled the young man I was got to see it on its first day, all those summers ago.

Monday, 14 July 2014

GREAT REVIEW FOR AN EYEWEAR BOOK AND THE EYEWEAR DESIGN FROM KIRSTEN IRVING!

One of the best of younger British poets, Kirsten Irving, who knows a thing or two about book design as well, ends her fresh review of Tree Language as follows:

"Let’s talk about production. Hardback, elegantly typeset on off-white, tasty shades of chocolate and raspberry (or blood and clotting) with complementary endpapers. There’s clearly a crack crew working on the Eyewear look. Designer Edwin Smet’s clean, expressive style is a fundamental part of the distinctive Eyewear house look. Using only lines and shapes which resemble paper cut-outs, he has for other titles conjured a Rottweiler, moonlight, weather phenomena and the outline of a stranger.

If you’re big on irony and detached cool, it’s most definitely not for you, but if you want poetry that dives in with a small, keen dagger, enjoy. As a collection, Tree Language is so dense, well-meshed and infused with spiced notes there’s almost too much to say. Subverting the kinds of themes that so often garner major prizes, this collection is determined to speak its own language."

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Mario Götze, Eyewear's Poster Boy 2014

In the end, it was Mario Götze - that German wunderkind - who won the World Cup for the German side, with an elegant, effortless and noble strike.  Well done, young man! You may not wear glasses, but Eyewear loves your charm, style and sporting acumen.

THE 10 BEST SONGS OF 2014 AT MIDSUMMER

Eyewear has listened to over a thousand tracks on Spotify since the year began, read the NME, the Guardian, the FT, and Q, among others, to seek new artists, new tracks.

A lot of big indie and mainstream names, like Coldplay, Swans, Pixies, Beck, Jack White, Warpaint, Metronomy, Wild Beasts, Broken Bells, Dum Dum Girls, The Black Keys, Kasabian, Le Roux, and East India Youth, have released noteworthy tracks and albums THIS YEAR. None mentioned above made the top TEN, but many did make our long-list.  Some may make our Top 40 at year's end. More listens may suggest new orders of evaluative ranking, as is critically sound - the canon shifts as ear worms are unearthed and exorcised.

Here are the top 10 AS OF MID-SUMMER -  mix of Canadian, American, and British songs, each of them, in their own way, exemplars of getting the best from style, emotion, genre, and pop craft. Each draws, undisguisedly, on the great traditions of rock and roll, R & B, indie, and pop of the past 60 + years, and offers a stirring new potential classic to the songbook of the ages.

1. MORRISSEY - STAIRCASE AT THE UNIVERSITY

Morrissey dismayed the world, but discovered himself, when he left the greatest British band after (and perhaps including) The Beatles. That was about 26 years ago, and since then he's made ten albums, about half of them good or excellent, the rest so-so.  Mainly, after the genius of 'Suedehead' and 'Everyday is Like Sunday' - easily two of the finest pop songs written - things slackened off, until the wonderful 'I Have Forgiven Jesus'.  What's always been missing since The Smiths, is a balance to the ego of a preposterous genius by music that's astonishing and fun and not simply background accompaniment.  This new album of his has about three or four of its 12 tracks in the groove of late Smiths, it's almost like Strangeways Here We Come Again - tuneful, humane, sensitive, melodic, energetic, playful - and not as aggressive as we usually get with solo Morrissey. This song, which should have been the title track, placed smack dab in the middle at 6, is simply put, the best Smiths song since The Smiths split - it could easily have been on a Smiths reunion album and be acclaimed a great song of theirs. It has the clapping, whistles, joyous empathy for the underdog (put-upon girl student) and thumb to nose for the establishment (parents, the education system) we expect of Moz, circa 1987.  Arguably, it's therefore the finest indie British pop song in 27 years. Wonderfully thrilling because so emotive, so eccentric, and so relevant (he must read the BBC online?) - and so British (three As) - and so catchy - it's the equal of 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before'.



2. FUTURE ISLANDS - SEASONS (WAITING ON YOU)

Speaking of eccentric and emotional, this obscure American band exploded as a distressed meme a few months ago, when their Letterman appearance yielded a gruesome, passionate and geeky live version of a wonderful song.



3. THE HIDDEN CAMERAS - SKIN & LEATHER



This Canadian band explores gay subculture as if Arcade Fire had happily married Depeche Mode, and in the process produces a song about fetishism and desire that is upbeat, anthemic, unsettling.

4. LANA DEL REY - F**KED MY WAY UP TO THE TOP




Almost every track on this album is great, but this one is perhaps the most clever deconstruction of her mythos in relation to the industry that spawned a monster, and in its astonishingly candid, sarcastic, lewd way, out GaGas the lady. I love it when she says "Go, baby, go".

5. RYAN ADAMS - GIMME SOMETHING GOOD

Adams has produced a song in the Tom Petty, Red Rider, Bryan Adams, tradition of 80s Americana heartland rock, which in the process ends up being both homage and classic in its own right. Something good indeed.




6. BRODY DALLE - DRESSED IN DREAMS

Dalle's punk/ grunge inflected new album, about childbirth, is bold and striking.  This is the best song on a powerful album that inspires with its unexpected humanity.


7. SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS - STRANGER TO MY HAPPINESS

Motown is a perennial style to revisit.  Detroit itself, motor city, may be in decline, but ever since Amy Winehouse, the new century has gone back to the Gordie sound.  More authentic and hugely engaging than most songs of this ilk, and sounding like the lost cousin to 'Soul Man', here comes a track from arguably the great party LP of the year.



8. ALVVAYS - ARCHIE, MARRY ME

I am a sucker for girl-fronted guitar bands with a West Coast twang (Haim for example, or Best Coast), and now here comes one of the songs of the summer, just released, by a Canadian band - a pure pop rush of plaintive fun - with its winsome echoes of lost classics, and a seeming reference to the famous comic book character with several girlfriends, one blonder, one not.


9. ST. VINCENT DIGITAL WITNESS

St. Vincent is a bit stentorian and thus hard to listen to at times, quirky and stiff and so intelligent it hurts.  She's famously worked with David Byrne, and has that same NYC performance art meets post-modernism sheen to her outlandish work as The Talking Heads. That being said, this is one of the significant songs of 2014, in terms of its theme, its complex structure, its catchiness, herky-jerky Brechtian mood. Her album will be on the top of every critic's list at year's end.


10. THE WAR ON DRUGS - RED EYES

It's been a year of big albums, but few arrived with such critical respect.  This is one several remarkable tracks that manage to mix the tones and moods of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, with Tangerine Dream, out-Enoing Joshua Tree era U2. The whoop of joy at 1:50 is exhilarating. It feels like all the destined forward energy of America is flooding across this song, as if the fastest Chevy ever was driving on a dusty empty part of Route 66 into the sunset.


SHIELDS ON ANDERSON'S GRAND FILM ON VIOLENCE AND LUXURY

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel begins with a frame story as elaborate as the movie's sets. In the present, a young woman walks through a graveyard to the gravestone of a famous writer. After adding a key to the many hotel keys already hanging on the gravestone, she begins to read a book called The Grand Budapest Hotel. The scene cuts to 1985 with the author of the book reading it to the camera. The story he tells goes back to 1968, when he visited the Grand Budapest Hotel and heard Zero Moustafa tell the story of how he came to be the hotel's owner. That story, which takes place in 1932, focuses on the hotel's concierge, M. Gustave.
            At the end of the film, Zero sums up M. Gustave's life: "To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it—but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace!" M. Gustave's world is that of the luxury hotel; as the hotel's concierge, his job is to create an illusion of ease for his wealthy patrons. As he tells the new page boy (Zero himself), the staff must be both invisible and omnipresent: the patrons must never see the staff unless they want to see the staff, but the staff must always be ready to serve when the patrons want them. The illusion is "sustained" by the staff's performance, and the hotel itself serves as a "frame". Inside it, the "marvelous grace" of that performance; outside it, the world that can be forgotten while one is at the hotel.
            But the forgotten outside world can always intrude on that illusion. The wealth of the patrons comes from that outside world, as does the wealth of the hotel's initially unknown owner, who is later to be revealed to be one of those patrons, the ancient Madame Desgoffe and Taxis (nicknamed "Madame D" by M. Gustave). As is revealed when her will is read, her money comes from industry—and especially from the manufacture of armaments. The money that keeps the aesthetic illusion going, then, is based on the very violence that the hotel excludes from its frame.
            When M. Gustave and Zero are on their way to Madame D.'s funeral, a war has just started, and their train is stopped in the middle of a snow-covered barley field. The soldiers who board the train do not accept Zero's papers, for he is a stateless person. Their attempt to take him away leads to an uproar with M. Gustave; the noise brings the soldiers' commanding officer to find out what's going on. And here, the illusion is able to overcome the violence that it otherwise keeps at a distance, for this officer, Inspector Henckels, visited the Grand Budapest as a child, and he remembers M. Gustave fondly from his time there. In this train car, then, the aesthetic world of luxury is able to maintain its distance from the violence that makes it possible.
            M. Gustave gives a little speech that comments on the scene: "You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, fuck it." Thus, he both asserts and dismisses ("fuck it") the idea that the illusion of "civilization" can resist the "slaughterhouse" of human violence. The crude language even figures how the "barbaric" overwhelms the "civilized" despite the momentary "glimmer" offered by the reprieve made possible for M. Gustave and Zero by Henckels and his memories of the "graceful illusion" of the hotel. Indeed, when the scene is later doubled in another train ride interrupted by soldiers, the paper Henckels gave Zero to allow him to be free to travel is torn to pieces by the soldiers, and M. Gustave is taken off. The storytelling Zero of 1968 only tells his interlocutor what happened when asked, blithely mentioning that M. Gustave was subsequently executed.

            If this second train scene represents the failure of the illusion of civilization to offset violence and barbarism, Zero nevertheless reasserts the power of that illusion by repeating M. Gustave's earlier speech—but this time without dismissing it: "There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity... He was one of them. What more is there to say?" Well, Zero, perhaps this: the aesthetic is itself often a matter of luxury. But unlike the luxury hotel, which must "frame" and ignore the violence that makes it possible, the aesthetic can and must take up its relationship to violence—not to neutralize that violence or even conquer it, but simply to be honest about it. And The Grand Budapest Hotel, itself an example of such "an illusion sustained with a marvelous grace", is entirely honest about the role of violence in the production and maintenance of such illusions.

Andrew Shields' debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in 2015.