About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is among the most read British poetry blogzines, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by Canadian-British 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.


Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Make Poetry History!

You've seen it here first: the new Oxfam National Poetry poster.

I helped commission and create it, working with Oxfam's Business Development Team, as the Oxfam-poet-in-residence.

This is part of the "Make Poverty History" campaign, and starts the next phase of Oxfam-poetry projects we're developing for 06-07.

The poster goes up in the 100 or so used books shops that make Oxfam the biggest such retailer in Europe.

More to the point, it features a donated poem from the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (a great honour).

It also presents cover images from some of the collections that pass through our doors and into the hands of poetry-lovers everywhere. Careful observation will yield a pleasant surprise in the top left corner.

Make Poetry History!

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Kennys Is Going, Now The Waste Land

Kennys Bookstore (to the right) is perhaps the most famous and eccentric independent book shop in Ireland - Brendam Behan read there, along with many other legends (every Irish author worth their salt has read there and some Yanks too) - and now the Galway institution is closing; or what may be worse, going all virtual.

I read at Kennys for the launch of one of my recent collections (the pints after blur the memory) - actually, it was, oddly, the day after my wedding. Flushed and well-dressed, I read for a good crowd.

Mr. Kenny himself sat there puffed up in a three-pice suit at a huge desk in the middle of one of the rooms where books were on sale - slitting open letters with a pen-knife and gruffly answering the old black phone as browsers shifted around him, like some Kubla Kane of Books.

I found a copy of Map-Maker's Colours, the first anthology I co-edited, when I was 19-20, with the Belfast poet Martin Mooney. The reading was fun - read with Kevin Higgins.

My photo was taken for the walls - those famous walls adorned with the photos of the great and the good in the literary world. I had hoped to have more than two years of infamy on that wall, which now comes, allegorically, down like those at Jericho. I wonder if the photos of Behan and Co. will go virtual, too?

In the meantime, we need to panic. If all such independents disappear, the waste land that will come after will not be suited to the life of poets and writers, who like the wine and cheese served in such places.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Interview With Al Alvarez

I am interviewing Al Alvarez tomorrow (he is pictured here beside me, at the Oxfam poetry event I organized to feature him earlier this year) at his home.

Al Alvarez - poet, anthologist, critic, and great friend to poets - has long been one of my favourite literary figures and an inspiration - so I am quite honoured that one of London's most respected literary magazines, Magma, invited me to conduct the interview for their latest issue, out this December.

In October, Books In Canada will be running my long review of Alvarez's latest book of criticism, The Writer's Voice.

Friday, 23 September 2005

Eratio Now Up

I can now report that my work is included in

eratio postmodern poetry issue six, fall 2005

http://www.eratiopostmodernpoetry.com

reader and writer do look this one up -

it is edited by the fine poet Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

New American Writing Needs You

NEW AMERICAN WRITING / 369 Molino Avenue / Mill Valley, CA 94941

Dear Friend of New American Writing:

Because we are currently receiving less than $1 per issue of the magazine’s “sell-through” at Barnes & Noble and Borders, which unfortunately dominate the bookstore trade and use a heavy hand with small providers such as literary magazines, it’s urgent that we reduce our reliance on income from those chains and thus also our distributor, Ingram Periodicals. If we are not able to do so, we will be forced financially to cease publication of a magazine that has existed since 1971.

Therefore, we ask you to order the magazine directly from us using the following methods:

(1) Purchasing a three-issue subscription for $27, a savings of $1 per annual issue. To do so, send a check to the address above. If you wish to use a credit card, order through our website:
http://newamericanwriting.com.

(2) Purchasing individual issues as they appear from the same address, by check or by credit card through our website.

The current issue, No. 23, was published in June. It contains new poems by Mahmoud Darwish; The Black Heralds of César Vallejo, translated by Clayton Eshleman; a selection of contemporary Vietnamese poetry translated by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover; edited by Todd Swift, the work of twenty younger Canadian poets including Christian Bök and Lisa Robertson; and poetry by Donald Revell, George Albon, Elizabeth Robinson, Andrew Joron, Clayton Eshleman, Stacy Doris, Laynie Browne, Linh Dinh, Joseph Lease, Anna Rabinowitz, Timothy Liu, Sally Keith, and Aaron Shurin, among many other outstanding U.S. poets.

Over the years, we have published more than 2,000 poets including many of you receiving this letter. We are proud of our record of introducing exciting new poets and poetries.

If we can add 400 new subscribers, we can insure the longevity of the magazine the next three years.

Please join us as a subscriber and forward this message to your friends.

Sincerely, Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover

Monday, 19 September 2005

The Like Of It


Another day - another anthology. So sighs the world-weary professional poetry editor (I am currently trying to meet a deadline for my sixth anthology, due next week at the publishers in Canada).

And yet, they serve a purpose - they serve notice. They demand that certain poets are noticed.

In Britain, where debut collections are cruelly limited, both by perhaps overly conservative standards, and rigorous market concerns (with less arts funding than, say, in Canada), very few good poets get their own books out, and the battle is always on to draw attention to those who should be so published.

So, this anthology, The Like Of It, promises to highlight with a very strong marker some exceptionally gifted younger poets who - in a just, stylish, poetry-smart and less po-faced society - would all already have first or second books. It is thus a needed as well as superb offering. I should add I know most of these poets, having met them over my last few years in London. I am glad to have met them.

Here's the blurb from the back:

Whilst anthologies often play up their diversity, the pleasure of 'the like of it' lies in the fact that these writers seem to be in conversation with each other, all working towards a mutual idea about what literature should be. They share sensuousness, a subtlety of line, an intelligent sense of humour and a seriousness about their art, born out of the knowledge that: 'Nothing's real until you say it, and even then - / knowing how to do things with words can be terrible.' Inventive, well-read and wise, these Songs of Experience are a real treat for those who like their poetry grown-up. — Clare Pollard

Baring and Rogerson are pleased to invite you to the launch of The Like Of It
an anthology of new poems by
Karen Annesen, Edward Barker, Katy Evans-Bush,
Heather Holden, Simon Rees-Roberts, Liane Strauss

6.30-8.30
Friday, 30 September 2005 (reading at 7.30)
Rebecca Hossack Gallery
35 Windmill Street London W1T 5NQ

Forgetting About Simple Minds

The T.S. Review is likely to exhaust some of its critical goodwill by revealing that one of its absurd guilty pleasures is that it uncritically loves Simple Minds. The aformentioned band had its greatest moment exactly 20 years ago (1985), when its uncharacteristic anthem to teenage love, Don't You (Forget About Me) was America's number one song for what seemed that entire summer. It had been featured in the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club.

There tend to be snickers and ironic winks in the U.K., but it is possible to argue that Simple Minds were, simply, the biggest UK alternative rock band of the 80s in the U.S. (discounting Depeche Mode which is a different and somewhat later story) which is no mean achievement (U2 is excluded for being Irish, of course), especially when one considers how difficult Oasis and Robbie Williams have found the search for a U.S. top ten position, let alone number one with a bullet.

At any rate, the song from the Hughes film has entered the soul of any preppie alternative kid who came of age in North America, and danced at that time. The song lends itself to precisely the sort of skyward-posing whirling gestural preciousness that makes 80s music preposterous to those who were not there, but to those who were, ah, it is sheer caviar. If music is a time machine to when one was happiest, and best-looking, most naive and heart-crushingly in love, then let such music thrive.

Simple Minds are now back, with an album which seems to be titled Black and White 050505. Nothing on the new album gives one the same visceral thrill of the early songs (New Gold Dream is their best album for its religiose, glimmering, everything-which-rises-shall-converge guitar-and-Kerr-transcendence) but it has its almost-moments of OTT greatness. Make no mistake, Simple Minds are the sort of thing we will miss when they are truly gone: unalloyed flamboyant eucharistic bombast.

Oddly, one of the new songs, "Stranger" is a bizarre and blatant cross between Madonna's "Mysterious Stranger" and Zooropa-era U2; as well as a tip of the hat to, naturally, their most famous song from the Reagan Era (the sha-la-la-las are a dead give away).

Lest we forget, Jim Kerr and the lads are actually great, and should be adored, despite their silly refusal to be put down, and their willingness to keep a ghost of their youthful strut and kick alive.

Thursday, 15 September 2005

Sustainable Politics and the United Nations

There is a reason the United Nations exists. It was born from the ashes of Nazi Germany, and the war to defeat that power and its allies.

This week, pundits and other media types have been, along with sly politicos, crowing about the failure of the U.N. to reform itself, to get its act together.

The T.S. Review finds the claim that the United Nations is a failure a short-sighted, simplistic and ultimately defeatist position, which is, from a global perspective, also false.

The first consideration must be - who else, and how else - to discuss, negotiate and ultimately achieve truly international consensus on key issues? The only alternative to the U.N. (and one which Mr. Bolton is aware of) is, indeed, an alternate coalition, perhaps, in a post-modern sense constantly shifting, formed and lead by the dominant hyper-power of the day, in this case America. The idea that such random, open-ended alliances are in any true sense an equivalent to a body consisting of approximately 200 member nation states is counter-factual, for the very reason that such coalitions come into being precisely to seek objectives (often military) that run counter to the interests of many other, often opposed nations (as with Iraq).

To wit: the United Nations exists precisely not to replicate the existing hierachies that some very powerful nations might wish to impose on the world order - as was the case with Hitler's Germany - but instead to approximate to some sort of balanced diplomatic (and perhaps Hegelian) struggle, in which oppositional forces clash, merge and mesh as some stable median point is agreed to; but such an inter-national forum was predicated on the idea of some sort of mutual sense of responsibility.

The failure identified as belonging to the United Nations - the failure to stop Rwandan Genocide, and so on - in fact belongs to the far starker world community, bereft of anything to govern its actions but the crudest self-interest and real politique. It is, in fact, the members who make up the U.N., and too often (always?) bring their limited, national interests to the table, that are responsible for the failure to achieve greater and wider agreements and goals.

Clearly, America's position with regards to the world, the U.N., and many binding international treaties at this time - from Kyoto to world courts - is in direct contradiction to the aims and ideals of the U.N. - in so far as America's current stated foreign policy is to seek the clear best interests of its own people first. That such a policy can be then blanketed in wider universal claims for world good is silly, and the hypocrisy is so evident that it becomes terror's best recruiting sergeant. No nation can have it both ways, though America and the UK via Tony Blair's senseless preaching faux-idealism, seek to: you cannot pursue naked self-interest and achieve wide-scale global justice with the same words and acts.

And of course, time and time again, this is the case, with arms control, the environment, the arms trade, and world health and poverty goals. To take is not to give; and to genuinely aim to ameliorate unjust distributions of wealth is not to withhold money unless narrow faith-based interests are served.

What is needed is simple: a sustainable politics, one which actually seeks to envision mutual, long-range, cross-border concerns, and aims to devalue nation states as instruments of self-aggrandizement. This would have to mean the end to the use of conflict to resolve disputes (except in the most radical of instances); a world economy that took into account global warming and other environmental concerns, and which severely limited the manufacture and sales of weapons - among other things.

It isn't the U.N. which constantly "fails". It is us - supposedly free people - who fail to act, to bring into being organisations and policies that are ethical, non-violent, and sustainable.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Les Murray, Isobel Dixon, Lachlan Mackinnon reading



Tuesday, September 13, 2005
7-9 pm
Oxfam Books & Music
91 Marylebone High Street
London W1U 4RB
Four Poets for Oxfam:

Isobel Dixon - award-winning South African poet; author of Weather Eye;

Lachlan Mackinnon - author of The Jupiter Collisions (Faber & Faber);

Les Murray - Australia's leading poet; winner of the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry.

and Todd Swift.

Admission free - suggested £8 donation - all proceeds to Oxfam.
To reserve a ticket
call 020 7487 3570
or email oxfammarylebone@hotmail.com

Monday, 12 September 2005

Guest Review by Alexis Lykiard

LOST DAYS by Stephanos Papadopoulos. (76 pp, Leviathan & Rattapallax, 2001). £8.00.
A WORLD PERHAPS: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2001 by John Lucas.
(158 pp, Sow’s Ear Press, 2002). £8.99.
BLUES FOR BIRD by Martin Gray. (286 pp, Santa Monica Press, USA, 2001). $16.95.
TAKE IT EASY by Jim Burns (40 pp, Redbeck Press, 2003). £5.95.

A quartet of unusually enjoyable books from a tyro and three veterans. Lost Days is the attractive first collection from a 27 year old American-Greek, and includes a CD of the author reading most of the poems from his book. The CD, though a nice touch, doesn’t actually add much, for Stephanos Papadopoulos reads in what seems to be the prevailing American style – brusque and rather deadpan, if not altogether passionless. However, hearing poets read their own work is invariably instructive: strengths are underlined, weaknesses exposed, stresses and obscurities clarified.

Papadopoulos has a gift for phrase-making and the vivid detail, but unfortunately tends also to ramble overmuch. In consequence, these poems – variously descriptive of America, the Caribbean, Scotland, England, France and Sweden, as well as Greece – often lose focus and direction, drifting toward a conclusion perhaps less meaningful than intended. But with a touch more irony and experience and some tighter editing, he could turn into an interesting poet. As it is, there are occasionally questionable line-breaks and too much reliance on the present-tense pictorial approach: within the selfsame poem pleasing images in neat phrases may be coined, yet their impact is lessened when they’re juxtaposed with examples of rhythmic or linguistic slackness.

The over-extended opening poem, ‘Mavraki’, epitomises the curate’s egg nature of this nicely produced piece of bookmaking. A description of a derelict building has “the memory of plumbing/ risen to the surface like veins.” Excellent, but a few lines later the eponymous protagonist “traces the snail’s path through sidewalks/ that speak of old Athens through forty-year cracks,/ of a younger, lighter man.” Such awkwardly expressed clichés are soon followed by the epithet “salmon-tired”, applied to tourists moving up Hadrianou Street. Y et this same piece ends with a memorable sentence on Hellenism and Greek mythologising: “Before/ the gods became a circus out of work.”

Despite the sporadically lazy diction – poems strolling along in rather too leisurely or self-conscious fashion – there are pleasing discoveries here. In the main port of Samos (a large island where I lived during 1979), the poet sets the Sunday morning scene with quiet accuracy – its café “tables bare / of all but chairs stacked/ in fours and the occasional cat,/ relaxed, laid out cold in fact, / like a question mark that / fell sideways and stayed.” But the poem’s all of two pages long and doesn’t really get anywhere, despite a thumpingly nostalgic, abstract conclusion! Indeed, the shorter length poem sharpens his focus. There he employs rhyme and syllabics unobtrusively, taking neat verbal snapshots: “ photographs of men trapped/ behind the iron bars of black moustaches”; “the still puddle reflecting the tug/ of a calf muscle stretched to perfection”; or “a grapefruit / losing its ruby-red symmetry to the spoon.” Yet often Papadopoulos sounds a jarring note – a particular phrase like “the gaping of your absence”, or (from the very last poem in the book) a bald, apparently unironic statement: “It is hard sometimes, being a man” – which undermine a poem’s general effect. Here’s a young poet, however, making a mercifully unparochial, lyrical and likeable enough debut.

John Lucas’s book is inevitably more substantial, and is wholeheartedly recommended. Lucas is one of a rare breed – Geoffrey Grigson and Alan Ross were others – so essential to the health of UK culture as a whole. I mean that endangered species of committed and combative literary all-rounder, the poet-editor-critic. As befits any good jazz musician, moreover, Lucas has a fine ear, a keen sense of humour, and a highly distinctive, relaxed yet precise style. All these qualities are in evidence throughout this generous selection from 5 poetry books published since 1971, alongside some new work.

This is an allusive, literate yet very accessible poet, in no way cramped by his academic background: while most of his poems use rhyme and metre to their best effect, the content and tone matter equally. The serio-comic voice is both congenial and shrewd, and there are captivating poems about important, too often neglected areas of life – cricket, jazz, and cats. But Lucas is also properly (and improperly) satirical about less appealing issues like politics, propaganda and death: these he tackles head on, putting one in mind of a grittier Midlands version of the late Gavin Ewart. Gavin, I’m sure, would have relished especially a couple of little gems here, ‘Randyloins and Murdoch’ and the found poem ‘The British War Effort: Cairo 1940-45’. (These and many others should be loudly declaimed, and in full, rather than merely quoted from.)

For all the humour and fluent writing, John Lucas can move the reader too: there’s a fine sonnet sequence commemorating his father, and another – alternating prose and verse – entitled ‘Flying To Romania’(1992). The latter very precisely and ironically gets the measure of a ruined, complex state trying to recover from the havoc of Ceausescu’s prolonged, vile dictatorship. Like Lucas, I too visited that beautiful, spectacularly grim country – but in the late Seventies, when its gruesome repressive regime (quite disgracefully supported, off and on, by the UK) seemed immoveable. Lucas provides a fascinating and observant view of his own visit – hilarious, poignant, engaged and engaging – which in itself is well worth the price of this excellent book.

My only quibble may seem pedantic – too many typos: see pp. 8, 10, 138, 152, 153, 158 – but there are minor blemishes and oddities of this sort also in Martin Gray’s original, splendid and unclassifiable book on the genius (ignore Larkin’s sour strictures!) who was Charlie Parker. I’ve been reading Gray’s epic elegy, Blues for Bird, over almost a decade: half a dozen chapbooks, initially, then the 88-page 1993 publication from Ekstasis Editions, Canada, and now this revised, expanded and probably definitive version, 12 books and 5400 lines, complete with glossary and author’s Introduction.

Jazzlovers will scarcely need read the well-merited comments on the back cover: the musicians’ names will be enough – recommendations from Horace Silver, Howard Rumsey, Frank Morgan, Stan Levey and Teddy Edwards! The great Silver, a longtime hero of mine, affirms that “One of the great blessings of my life was to have known and played with Charlie Parker”, and Gray’s freeswinging, anecdotal, referential (though not unduly reverential) verse biography will surely send readers back to those classic recordings with renewed awe and astonishment.

Gray is another eminent academic, a Tennyson specialist, who therefore knows much about the music of poetry, its rhyme and metre. He explains how and why he has chosen the six-syllable trimeter, largely iambic line, analysing the various strengths and weaknesses of this particular form. But the basic problem remains one which another academic and jazz buff, Glyn Pursglove, identifies in a recent, appreciative if highly critical, 9-page review (Poetry Salzburg Review 5, autumn 2003): “Too much in Blues for Bird seems to me to be prose ‘matter’ turned into verse.”

True, and this can result in some awkwardness and stilted diction (e.g. ‘Jack’ McLean, passim). Typos (‘Thelonius’) and occasional errors also creep in – surely the great trumpeter Kenny Dorham didn’t play trombone? – but on the whole such blemishes don’t unduly detract from what Jim Burns (in Penniless Press 16) rightly calls “an ambitious work”.

As Burns concludes, “[t]he story of how Parker revolutionised jazz and at the same time led a life most of us would have found a full-time occupation in itself” is described “in a plain direct language that, if it doesn’t match Bird’s flights of inventiveness, is at least easy to read”. Jim Burns himself is an enthusiastic yet scrupulous and accurate writer on jazz, Americana and much else. His own poetry is always attractively direct, if deceptively relaxed: it tells stories, too, and in consequence has been misread as ‘flat’ or ‘prosaic’ and thus generally underrated. Take It Easy is a short yet far from slight collection whose title measures up to its laidback, lucid contents.

Since his earliest publications in the 1960s Burns has produced a substantial body of criticism and poetry. In both areas, the wide but unpretentious frame of reference, the fairminded and well-informed radical viewpoint and the quietly witty, disabused Northern humour have been consistently in evidence. There are splendid pieces here on music and musicians, life, death, work, cats, social injustice, illusions great and small.

And every freelance should take to – if not learn by – heart, a poem entitled ‘Propping Up The System’, which in its 25 short lines exquisitely satirises the employer’s old ‘cheque-in-the-post’ excuse. It really needs quoting in full, so here instead is another, shorter gem on which to close:

A Question Of Belief

Midday on Market Street,
and a man with a beard and a Bible
is crying to the world
about the wonders of religion.
We walk past him, smiling,
clutching our shopping bags.
The noise of the traffic
soon drowns him out,
and we are glad.
What we believe in
is what we have bought.

review by Alexis Lykiard

Publishing vs. Literature from Winston to Zadie

Zadie Smith, pictured here, recently enjoyed two privileges rarely afforded a poet (Margaret Atwood perhaps being the exception): she was nominated for a Booker Prize; and almost simultaneously was misquoted at length across the length and breadth of the British media as saying that, to paraphrase, (living in) London is now crap, and writing isn't a very intellectually demanding craft, unlike, say, philosophy where one has to actually think fully new thoughts.

Poets, of course, have their own prizes, but few arrest the attention like those dedicated to prose; and few poets finds their alleged complaints recorded and broadcast like rolling news from Iraq.

Why is this?

There are complicated, aesthetic answers, some of which can be traced back to Longinus. But a simple point can be made here.

We now live in a world of "publishing" not "literature". By literature, I mean, a literate interest in the written word, and by extension, the best words written down in the best ways. The world of publishing we live in has all the vices of any market-trade, without some of the virtues that people who sell, say, legumes, at least possess (humility, honesty and rough good humour tempered by the seasons).

To narrow in: publishing sells "authors" not, per se, "writing". It is true, books are sold, and books are written. But publishing needs a story, and the story is increasingly about celebrity. Publishing is also about profit, Hollywood spin-offs, and deals made at book fairs to translate into 12 languages. Sadly, poetry lends itself poorly to translation, Hollywood formats, and large profit margins. Therefore, as publishing increasingly shapes and determines how the public thinks of writers, books and the world of written words, a very limited - and exceptionally ignorant - sense of the scope and range of contemporary writing emerges in the public sphere.

One might ask, why should it matter, if Joe Blogs doesn't know about the subtle developments in poetry coming from Norwich, Iowa or Toronto? Well, indeed, perhaps if the problem of lack of appreciation of the wider and more complex story of writing could be limited to the public, damage would be minimized (though sales of course would continue to favour famous books by famous people).

But the publishing world view has now colonized the minds of even the bright young things who write prose, and also many of the agents, editors and publishers who might otherwise pay more - and proper - attention - to literature in all its guises - as opposed to its most palpably mainstream, commercial genres (popular fiction).

This is to say, if one were the world's best under-35 poet, and one wandered in the valleys of Islington, Hoxton, Clerkenwell, Soho or Primrose Hill (not to mention other fashionable areas like Marylebone), one could float past the great and good celebrity novelists and they would barely bother to nod. They would, as Hemingway would have said, cut you.

Poets are now regularly cut - cut from the private as well as public conversation that British society is having about art, literature, and itself.

The damage being done is calculable: everyone is becoming less articulate, and less thoughtful. Poetry, at its outer reaches, is the foremost crucible for testing language. Poetry is where language meets thought, and works the relationship out. Poetry, in fact, is exactly what Zadie Smith was misquoted as saying novels aren't anymore: poetry is smart, challenging, and profound.

Pity almost no one sells, buys, or reads it anymore. I partially blame the world of 21st century publishing, and its many printer's devils.

Friday, 9 September 2005

Poem by Nathan Hamilton

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Nathan Hamilton (pictured here). He recently studied in the UEA MA Creative Writing program - where I was very glad to have met him.

He is a very fine young poet.

His poem, below, is very welcome here, as well as being a fitting fin-d'ete offering.

South of France, 2005

Attempting distractions at roadsides,
As a journey sidetracks upward
Through mountains, I jot:
Pale pink and yellow houses
Tessellate above rusted earth,
Green vines, spice markets of soil.
Your thin hairline is recalled
In sparse fronds by the next peak.

Fields are more staved
Than those behind me,
Words more fresh – oublier;
The bark of plane trees impressionist;
Cypresses more defiant
Than the boughs of willows
Drooped with the low cello note
That feeds the earth.

Intermittent thumps of wind
In sails almost articulate.
Unpacked and garden wandering,I
'm busy with the blossom
Of white snails, the lumber
Of fat, ink-stain bees,
And note the chitter-chatter
Of cicadas, traded for traffic noise.

A slow handclap of shutters
Announces a storm.
Its curtain draws,
Darkening the valley's green.
A bruised sky
Detonates,
Cannot console.

poem by Nathan Hamilton

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Paranoia Agent

If you have to see one Japanese Anime TV series this year (and you know you do) then let me recommend director / creator Satoshi Kon's curious audiovisual guilty pleasure, the cult Paranoia Agent (Vol. 1) - the rest of the series is out later this month.

"Paranoia" may be a bit of a 90s theory thing for those of us in the West (see Panic, and the X-Files as sub-sets) but it has naturally made a come-back thanks to events like September 11th, whose latest anniversary is fast approaching.

Kon's series, which is expertly animated, escalates, each episode building from the previous one, in terms of levels of violence, sexual perversion, and indeed menace, so that, in fact, the viewer participates in a spiralling level of unease, and paranoia.

It starts innocently enough - a kid's cartoon designer (pictured above) begins to crack under corporate-life pressure before being apparently hit on the head in a random attack by L'IL SLUGGER - a weird boy with golden in-line skates and a bent-like-it's-broken gleaming baseball bat.

Enter a duo of very laconic detectives, and a cast of alpha-students, schizoid sex workers, mafia types and bent cops... complete with knowing references to cult American TV of the 90s, like Twin Peaks from David Lynch.

Having very recently been in Japan (and having been the credited story editor for the last season of Sailor Moon) I can maybe attest to the intelligent and nuanced way in which the series deals with issues of urbanization, globalization, techno-media-mania, work-related stress, environmental destruction, loss of identity in an alienated post-industrial world, in the context of the Japanese experience - but, startlingly, in a universal way, too.

It may not be The Simpsons (often considered the pinnacle of animated TV product) but this surely sets new standards for serious-yet-hip, smart-yet-fun, adult Japanese Anime.

Monday, 5 September 2005

Ways of Looking at Poets

The image above says it all.

Derek Adams, poet and photographer, has put together a striking show of images of poets - and I am honoured to be among them, along with some of the finest practitioners now in the UK. Very much an exhibition worth going to see. Runs until September 30.

Sunday, 4 September 2005

Open Air Cymbeline Now and 55 Years Ago

I have just seen the final night of the Open Air Theatre Regent's Park performance of Shakespeare's Cymbeline, which was very good, and made more delightful by the surroundings, complete with summer Christmas lights in the rustling trees. The only distractions were random planes and preposterusly inappropriate fireworks in the third act, but that is half the fun of such stages - they are vunerable to the world.

The play itself, often thought to be complex to the point of (willful?) absurdity, under the nuanced direction of Rachel Kavanaugh, revealed itself to be a profound unveiling of layers of reconciliation - all things pardoned.

The young, good cast yielded several star turns, among them a lithe, swarthy, over-determinedly strutting Malkovichian Iachimo, played by Simon Day, and an exuberant, under-sized and comical Cloten, from James Loye.

The play, seen by some as a footnote, strikes me as one of the greatest from the master - and, as one of his last - a profound redressing of tragedy itself as a genre. The key terrors of the play - murder of a wife by a jealous husband (Othello); poison of a king (Hamlet); sleep misread as death (Romeo and Juliet); a weak king who disowns those he should trsut (Lear); Roman violence (Julius Caesar) - I could go on - are resolved and dissolved in the denoument, which seems to sweep aside both fiction and fact to achieve an unparalleled vision of grace.

I found this clipping showing that Cymbeline (not seen in the Open Air of Regent's Park for 50 years until this season) was played in such an environment in my home of Montreal, 55 years ago, by the Canadian thespian, Christopher Plummer, as a much younger man.