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A New Canon?

The Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (pictured here)along with other major British literary figures, such as Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling, has been asked to supply their ten essential literary works that all school-children should read and study.

Motion, the best Poet Laureate of modern times, has provided a canonical list that pulls no intellectual punches, and aims to reverse the brain-numbing dumbing down of so much British media discourse on culture and writing (see Dancing, Morris). The lists, along with The Guardian article, below:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1698548,00.html

Andrew Motion's list is:

The OdysseyHomer
Don QuixoteMiguel de Cervantes
Hamlet William Shakespeare
Paradise LostJohn Milton
Lyrical BalladsSamuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë
Great ExpectationsCharles Dickens
Portrait of a LadyHenry James
UlyssesJames Joyce
The Waste LandTS Eliot

***

It's an impressive, undeniable list. If I'd been asked, mine might have been.…

More Poetry And Politics

Without Title

Hooray for Geoffrey Hill (pictured above)!

His new book is out, and gets a rave review from Nicholas Lezard - see below.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1690132,00.html

I have just purchased it, and look forward to reading it this week.

One pleasant surprise, my friend, the fine American poet, Eric Ormsby, now based in London, is quoted on the back of the Penguin book:

"Hill has been writing his incomparable poetry for over fifty years now ... each new book of his has been a fresh, and sometimes unexpected, triumph. The combination of immaculate poetic skill with intense originality is always rare, and never more so than in our diminished age" - Eric Ormsby, New Criterion

Goodwin Predicts Bad Days For Poetry Ahead

Another day, another trumped up British media scare-story about the death of poetry...

Cue Fry's "arse-dribble" claim; cue BBC lit-star Daisy Goodwin's well-meaning lament for the decline of poetry...

(as banal a debate as the one about Rimbaud lampooned in Haneke's masterpiece, Cache, where Georges, the TV producer and host for a French culture show cuts and edits deep opinion for shallow times. )

This most recent anti-poetry-virus started yesterday, as reported in The Observer, which claimed Goodwin had expressed fear that poetry's demise was, like global warming, an inevitable disaster - soon poetry would be as obscure and eccentrically-loved as "Morris dancing". Today it was on the BBC's famous Today radio broadcast at breakfast, and the usual emails came in to the show, denouncing poetry as useless twaddle.

Why all the anxiety? Because sales figures show only about 800,000 poetry books sold each year in the UK, compared to 45 million for other…

Ugly Is The New Less Ugly

Issue 11 of The Ugly Tree poetry 'zine is available from February 1st 2006.

This issue features poetry from Todd Swift, John G.Hall, Ian Mullins, Peter Johnson, Usha Kishore, Ken Champion, David Thornbrugh, Ivana Sojat-Kuci, Vincent Berquez, Reshma Madhi, Brendan McMahon, Deborah Maudlin, Paul Tristram, Austin McCarron, Ben Barton, Cathy O, Timothy Fighting Light-Shade-of-Blue, Carol Batton, Geoff Stevens, Arwen Lewis & a review of Smoke magazine.

The Ugly Tree \ ISSN 1478 8349 \ £3.00 per issue \ £8.50 annual sub \ ed. Paul Neads

Copies can be ordered from Mucusart Publications, 6 Chiffon Way, Trinity Riverside, Gtr Manchester M3 6AB enclosing payment of £3.00 (payable to P. Neads) or by visiting Cornerhouse Bookshop & Whitworth Art Gallery Bookshop in Manchester.

For a taster of this issue & those that went before

www.mucusart.co.uk/samples.htm

Poetry In The Library

Tim Turnbull Wins Big

Tim Turnbull has won 'The Contenders', a £10,000 Performance Poetry Fellowship, awarded by the Arts Foundation.

Turnbull, born in North Yorkshire in 1960, recently published his first full length collection ofpoetry - Stranded in Sub-Atomica - with Donut Press (in the review pile of this humble editor).

Readers of this august blog will recall that I singled his work out in my review of the Hallam anthology, last summer. It's good to see a poet who fuses the page and stage get this sort of recognition.

In December he performed with fellow Contenders Shortlistees at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. On Thursday 26th January, at Pentagram in London's Notting Hill, he discovered it had won him the £10,000 prize.

The Contenders judges were Ian McMillan, poet and presenter of BBC Radio 3's The Verb; Ruth Borthwick, Head of Literature and Talks at London's South Bank Centre; and poet, Philip Wells. Other shortlisted poets were Zena Edwards, KatFrancois, Matt Harvey and S…

Arctic Monkeys Vs. Amadeus Mozart

One of them is 250 years old today - and the other, in 2006, is basically one: in the battle of the bands, who would win, Arctic Monkeys or Amadeus Mozart?

Well, Mozart is a universal genius, and we all love him, so let's move on:

Roll over Beethoven, and tell McCartney the news - Arctic Monkeys are the best band to appear in the United Kingdom since The Smiths, maybe The Beatles. That's right folks, forget Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand et al. - here come Arctic Monkeys.

As you probably know, if you are an anglophile, their mouthful-titled Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not debut album (Internet infamous) has been flying off shelves like no tomorrow - in fact, like 1994, which was the last time a debut sold so well (it was Oasis). This is not a buzz so much as a typhoon in a teapot, but one deserved.

Okay, what makes the recipe work: one part Streets-geezer-lingo; one part Beatlesque non-BBC-diction-working-class-accent; one part Smiths jangly g…

Two Films By Women, About Girls

Two of the very best films of the last few years - both of which I recently saw on DVD - are directed by women, and concern young girls coming of age. Eyewear gives both its highest rating.

Innocence, directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, is the more recent (2005) and problematic, as its visual alphabet consists of troubling Nabokovian elements (the butterfly collecting motif gives this literary connection away), such as the poster above amply indicates. However, as the director has said in interview, what the male and female viewer brings to this film is going to be very different, since, for women, the subjects are, in a sense, embodiments of themselves, whereas, for some men, the subject will be the other, and in some senses, one which is taboo. However, beyond such limiting constraints, the film is actually best seen as a richly complex discussion of the idea of experience, aging, and bodily transformation, that teases the viewer into always balancing utterly dark, and then again, j…

Squeezed For Cash

Glenn Tilbrook used to be the frontman for one of the greatest pop acts of the last 40 years - Squeeze. He also co-wrote some of their classic songs. He is something of a musical genius, I'd have thought, along with Chris Difford.

It therefore comes as something of a shock to learn he is now a 48-year-old guy who travels across the dusty back roads of America in an RV, staying at campsites and playing gigs of 100 or less, often putting out his own records - you thought poets had it penurious!

Redemption may be around the next hairpin curve, or up the junction: a new film, out today on DVD, from maverick, indie, okay, fannish cineaste Amy Pickford - One For The Road. It follows Tilbrook on his Quixotic tour of the States, and finds much comedy in the pathos. May it bring Glenn some well-deserved cash. That'd be cool for cats.

http://www.quixoticrecords.com/gt_albums.html

Dog Gone To Heaven

Chris Penn has died, 40, in Los Angeles - may he rest in peace.

The picture above captures him in happier times, as part of one of the greatest ensemble casts of 20th century American cinema. Reservoir Dogs was a rite of passage, a badge of honour, and a totem for my generation, and, despite the retrograde violence, its style and impact have rarely been bettered.

Penn was in other films, too, and some were good. But he had the fortune to appear in at least one that was great. In that sense, he lives on, if only on the riddled, soaked silver screen.

Full Marx For Trying

It is tempting to wonder what Auden would have made of Canada's new Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, hardly Harper Marx. He would likely have said little - Canada not usually on his radar.

The fourth part of my essay on poetry and politics is now online, see below:

http://wanabehuman.blogspot.com/2006/01/comment-on-poetry-and-politics-part_23.html

Minority Report

Canada has just voted for a minority Conservative government, that may well have its more egregious pro-Bush policies tempered by the NDP.

The chastened Liberals will be back, but only after a leader change. Sadly the Chretien legacy is tarnished.

Bad news is, the turncoat Bloc continue to exist as a force for secession. Read all about it:

http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes/

An Ashcroft Of Himself

Speaking of Grunge, just after its demise with Cobain, the British band The Verve appeared to emerge in the early 90s, with a spookier, more stately, psychedelic sound, anchored by the prophetic crooning of that most angular of singers, Richard Ashcroft (right) who was to the cheekbones born - a genetically-determined frontman if ever there was one.

For a time (and that time was brief, and over by '99) Ashcroft seemed to some a true original and a possible heir to the Cobain mantle: driven, overwrought, fully-engaged with the vision thing. Well, maybe that's stretching it, but The Verve is surely one of the best 90s bands.

Ashcroft was recently described (at Live 8) as "the world's greatest singer". Now he has launched his third solo album, since his band's break-up. This time, it is called Keys To The World. I wanted it to be better, but wishing won't make it so. It is really mediocre, with overblown moments that gesture at grand feelings and ideas. I lov…

Marienbad Trip

Eyewear has seen the DVD version of the Gus Van Sant film Last Days and thinks it grand.

As the poster shows (Michael Pitt pictured), this is a thinly-veiled homage to the last, lost week-end of junkie-genius Kurt Cobain's life, before he took the "Hemingway out" with a shotgun.

What could have been deeply annoying and merely arty - a rambling, incoherent, mainly silent non-narrative vision of one man's helpless descent into drug-induced anarchy and then death - instead achieves an aching, utterly beautiful epiphany: we see into the core of creativity, and its broken heart.

Forget acting - the shambling, hazy, slow-footed grunge musicians who seemingly stumble through the cavernous Washington State mansion/ hunting lodge one sunny early summer day - all looking for a way to fix or fix on to Cobain-like "Blake" - become the real thing. The Tarkovsky-dull paint-drying texture, at times cut like Last Year At Marienbad, impacts like a hit. The few key moments are …

Lucky Soap

J.R. Carpenter's impressive site is below, and both links mention Future Welcome:

http://luckysoap.com/lapsuslinguae/

http://luckysoap.com/publications.html

Who Is Eddie Linden?

The T.S. Review was invited to a private function at the Poetry Cafe last night in London (Friday) - a celebration of the 70th year of Eddie Linden, and the launch of Eddie's Own Aquarius, wityh introductory remarks by the brilliant poet Alan Jenkins.

The gratis wine flowed thanks to the Christianity of the Irish embassy, and when it was announced they had sponsored it, cries of miracle! miracle! erupted from the packed, mainly Irish audience.

Eddie is the real minor miracle. I finally met the icon last night - he's now a dapper, wizened man, with over-large spectacles - who bears a slight resemblance to Louis Dudek. His most famous poem was written in the early 70s, "City of Razors" - but he yelled it out last night with the same rebel force as once animated his every move. His real fame stems from having - against immense odds (he was often broke) - put out a vast number of issues of the significant little magazine Aquarius - including ones dedicated to George Barker…

City of Oranges: Arabs And Jews In Jaffa

I was invited to attend Adam LeBor's launch of his eagerly-awaited new book, City Of Oranges: Arabs And Jews In Jaffa, last evening at Daunt Books in Marylebone, one of the most beautiful shops (with its arcade) in London. The photograph above, by Judy Hamer, shows Jaffa in the near distance.

LeBor was born in London and studied at Leeds University and also at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He worked for several national British newspapers before becoming a foreign correspondent in 1991. Since then he has travelled extensively in eastern and central Europe, covering the Yugoslav wars for the Independent and The Times. Currently Central Europe Correspondent for The Times he also contributes to Literary Review, the Jerusalem Report and Condé Nast Traveller. His books have been published in ten languages.

I co-wrote a screenplay with LeBor in the late 90s, Necessary Evil, which aroused a great deal of film industry interest but was ultimately shelved, due to its controversial re-t…

Was Churchill A Poet?

Good question.

Depends what you think of rhetoric, power, and language...

In the meantime, while the poetry wars rage, please see part three of my essay on politics and poetry, below:

http://wanabehuman.blogspot.com/2006/01/comment-on-poetry-and-politics-part_17.html

Carol Ann Duffy Wins T.S Eliot Prize 2005

Carol Ann Duffy, one of the preeminent British poets of her generation, has won the 2005 T.S. Eliot Prize tonight, in London, for the best book of poetry published in 2005 in Britain or Ireland (out of a field of 90 collections) - for her book of love poems, Rapture.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4618104.stm

T.S. Eliot Prize Readings

Eyewear (i.e. I)attended last night's readings, at The Bloomsbury Theatre, featuring the ten poets short-listed for the 2005 annual T.S. Eliot Prize - to be decided this very day - more on that decision later this week.

They read in the following order:

Sinead Morrissey; Pascale Petit; John Stammers; Carol Ann Duffy (absent, read by Elaine Feinstein); Alice Oswald; Break; Polly Clark; Gerard Woodward; Sheenagh Pugh; Helen Farish; and David Harsent.

It is an impressive list, and they all read well, except for Duffy, who was conspicuous by her absence. But Ms. Feinstein did a fine job of covering for her.

This competition is too close to call.

I will make a few remarks on the poets. I feel that any of these poets could win this year, without much damage being done to the sterling reputation of this competition. I don't envy the judges at all.

John Stammers is the kind of poet T.S. Eliot himself would have enjoyed, during his early period, as the use of metaphsyical wit, literary a…

Winters Discontent

Eyewear is sad to learn of the death of the great American film actress Shelley Winters (pictured).

While loving her in her most corpulent role, the tragic Israel-bound swimmer of The Poseidon Adventure (one of the great movies of the 70s), Eyewear thinks her finest work may have been done earlier, in films where she won Oscars, and in Kubrick'sLolita, where she plays the hapless mother to the eponymous diminutive love object.

Her autobiographical writing revealed a buxom woman at home with many leading man lovers, including Brando, Flynn and a host of others, giving the lie to misperceptions of this complex beauty as some sort of carnivalesque fat woman - though being Monroe's roommate must have been trying at times.

Winters was involved with poetry all her life - as a young starlet, she chose her first name thanks to the great Romantic poet she most admired - and later in life, she played with Dylan Thomas, aiding and abetting him. A full obituary below:


http://www.guardian.co.…

Poem by Helên Thomas

Eyewear welcomes Helên Thomas to its pages with open arms, and loud applause, not at the same moment, which would be difficult.

She is one of the UK's very best performance poets - and a witty, crafty, formally inventive writer for the page, as well.

Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies, such as Short Fuse (Rattapallax, New York, 2002). The link below will direct you to some of the things she does:

http://www.creativewomensnetwork.co.uk/CWNWeArePoets.htm


Useless Medusa

Medusa Minutiae: alopecia sufferer,
No fork tongued sizzling serpent scalp for her,
But nano-sized nematodes, slithering unseen.
What use this see-thru swim cap without sheen,
To a mythical snake-hair who’s meant to be mean?

Should she, Medusa shun shampoo or use less,
Hairspray and products; should she brush and mousse less?
So she summoned a stylist: Perseus so called,
Who on reflection claimed he was appalled,
By useless Medusa whose scalp was quite bald.

Percy was scissorless but he was not dismayed,
With his shimme…

Poetry & Politics

The second part of my essay on the relationship between Poetry and Politics is now online at:

http://wanabehuman.blogspot.com/

January Nthposition Poetry Now Online

Yes, Country For Men

I have been having a rather Western week-end. I am reading Cormac McCarthy's contemporary Western, No Country For Old Men, recently published - and have also just seen Brokeback Mountain, the wildly-acclaimed cowboy-love story, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, and written by Larry McMurtry, one of the great Western writers of the 20th century.

I'll say little about Brokeback, except it is an account of love deferred - a sort of Of Human Bondage without the waitress - and at times is both either deeply humane and touching, or moving; it is rarely explicit, or even erotic, but the pastoral lovemaking and the young men in their outdoors apparel are full of youth and splendour.

I find the idea that it is a tragedy for star-crossed lovers to only manage to meet, several times a year, for 20 years, rather hard to swallow - so many love affairs are quashed far earlier than that.

The film is best when it evokes a sort of subtextual horror which is American mainstream capitalis…

John Berryman, January 7

John Berryman was one of the very best poets of the last century.

On this day, in 1972, he jumped to his death from a bridge - no doubt the new year's demands weighing heavily on him.

I have written a poem with this very much in mind, published in my previous, third, collection, which I present below, offered in loving homage to one of dark-saddened wit's lyric masters.

A link to a site with much more about him is here:

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/6





Berryman In Paris

1.

i think, walking home
from lunch, of john berryman.
how he put his glasses
in his shoe, before bed.
he had so many wives
he was practically a king,
indeed, henry. now, too, historical,
a figure who can no more dance
to the edge of a bridge
or tilt his glasses on the bridge of his nose.
he’s gone, not leaning in the door, about
to say or do something hilarious or sad,
play out some inner drama on a college
professor’s varsity stage — play out
on coeds or fawning poetry buffs,
or any chicken farmer with twenty bucks
to buy a …

Irving Layton Dies

Irving Layton - Canada's greatest modern poet - and the most lyrically agonistic and antagonistic - has died, at 93, in Montreal, in the dead of winter. If Bloom is right - and he surely is - then Layton is the strong poet so many of the younger poets of my generation wrestled with, along with Klein and Cohen.

As Leonard Cohen has said: "I taught him how to dress - he taught me how to live forever."

Cold Calls Wins Whitbread

Christopher Logue, the 79-year-old British poet, has won this year's Whitbread Prize for Poetry, with his new book Cold Calls, beating the favourite, David Harsent, who had previously won The Forward Prize for his strong collection Legion - as well as two innovative younger poets, Jane Yeh and Richard Price. (Harsent has read for the Oxfam series on several occasions, and Yeh is due to read for Oxfam in Marylebone next month.)

From the start, the shortlist was odd, even a little left-field, as several of the very best books of the year, from Hill, Morrissey, Stammers, Petit, Clark, Oswald and others were not even selected.

Nonetheless, Eyewear congratulates Mr. Logue for his win. As he says himself, it appears to be his first prize, and, after such a long career, that alone should be cause for some muted celebration, even on the part of those other poets he beat to the £5,000.

See the link below for more on this:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1677536,00.html

Review: Best American Poetry 2005

The idea - a good one, admittedly - was no doubt originally to provide one way through the jungle of poetry publication, as if with a fine-toothed machete - and, so, when the first "Best American" annual review, featuring the best 75 poems, was published in 1988, with none other than the great John Ashbery as Farley Granger, all seemed well.

Well, since then, the series has produced its own in-a-mirror self-round-up, from Harold Bloom, no less, whose 1988-1997 compendium drew on the best from the first ten years.

Now, the 2005 issue is out, and it looks better than ever: a stunning cover (see to the right) and selected poems by Paul Muldoon, arguably one of the more playful, original, influential and significant poets now writing in English.

What's not to like?

Well, mostly the book is very much worth reading - though what it says about the current state of poetry affairs (in American) may be vaguely depressing to some.

Firstly, the Series Editor, David Lehman, has opened wi…

I Wanabe Human

I am happy to report that an essay of mine, on the relationship between politics and poetry, is being serialized in five parts on the innovative new site Wanabehuman - see below: http://wanabehuman.blogspot.com/

Vallum

Vallum (Contemporary Poetry magazine) from Montreal, Canada, and edited by poets Joshua Auerbach and Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach, has become one of the best-looking, and best-edited, journals of its kind (bi-annual, glossy, international) of late, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts.

It is increasingly a venue for poems and reviews by some of the most established and intriguing poets currently writing in English, which is impressive, given its humble origins, and location (Anglophone Montreal has few equivalent surviving ventures, though long-lived Matrix, of course, is the model).

The latest issue, 3:2, as well as featuring new Japanese poetry, also presents new poems by Fanny Howe, George Elliott Clarke, John Barton, Heather Spears, Ross Leckie, Franz Wright, and yes, even myself.

Horn-tooting warning...

My two latest collections also get reviewed, by the American poet Kimberly Burwick, who says: "Were a director like Jean-Luc Godard to direct a feature-length film from …

Poems Up At The Dublin Quarterly

I am happy to report that I am one of the featured poets for the latest issue of the fairly new Irish online journal The Dublin Quarterly - see below:

http://www.dublinquarterly.com/

Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus

Another thing I did on my holidays was see the latest incarnation of Narnia, thanks to Disney.

The painting above represents a child-like vision of Lucy meeting Mr. Tumnus at the start of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - which should, if Wittgenstein (which one you might ask?) was right about how language represents the world, be titled The Wardrobe, The Witch and The Lion (but nevermind).

The best part of this new film, which is so well-made you couldn't break it with a dozen V8 rockets, and at times has a real Merchant-Ivory worthiness, is when Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus, in fact. This is so perfectly rendered - just like the drawings in the old Puffin versions - I cried.

Sadly (in a different way) the later parts of the film rather gloss over Aslan's sacrifice, and the final battle (until Sequel 7 anyway) seemed rushed and under-inventive, given the pressure of Jackson.

Still, so long as there are lamposts in winter, there will be a Tumnus. And that's a good thing.

Eagle Games

I recently had one of the best afternoons in my life - returned to Canada, I was able to find time to play a strategy game with my brother - which, when we were young - was one of life's chief joys.

Responsibility and distance have made this a once-every-eight years sort of event now, and, crammed between more important moments (such as seeing loved ones and long lost friends) we only managed to steal a few hours back from a lost adolescence - even still, it was great fun, and I hope to be able to travel thousands of miles to do it again some day.

The game we played was Conquest of the Empire, a classic Milton Bradley design which is a far more complex yet still playable Risk-style boardgame (you could play it in 4-5 hours easily, with pizza, crisps/chips and soft drinks to keep you going). See below to order.

http://www.eaglegames.net/products/cqst/conquest.shtml

Review: The Back Room

Editors are a new-alternative Birmingham band, who have, aptly, released their latest single, "Munich", yesterday (January 2, 2006) - in the stark dead zone of the new year - just when Spielberg's new film, Munich, is soon to open.

"Munich" - though good - isn't actually one of the four or so stand-out tracks on the album The Back Room - those would be: "Lights", "All Sparks", "Bullets" and "Open Your Arms".

It is, however, thrillingly derivative of New York's Interpol, by way of the starkest of them all, Joy Division (a personal favourite of mine). My brother, who used to run an indie label, worked with some of the Interpol lads, I believe, when they were called Flashlight. At any rate, their first album was an exquisite homage to a particular time and place not their own.

Editors are inexplicable, which is not the same thing as being unjustifiable, except in the context of the moment, which is, barely, in to "…

For Your Consideration

There are many heralded best supporting actor roles in 2005, but how about considering an unheralded one?

For my money, one of the most startling performances (in a lousy picture) was Mr. Craig Bierko - who? - see below - playing the mood-swinger with the matinee-idol-looks psycho pugilist Max Baer in Cinderella Man - no one has ever made dating two leggy blondes during the Depression seem more malevolently rich than Caligula at play in his Senate, and no man has ever knit such brows. I was compelled to watch this on the flight back to London from Montreal - that winter paradise - and enjoyed it even with the sound off - because Bierko is that good.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0081572/

An even stranger possible Academy Award Nomination - and so left-field I wish to signal its worth in advance - is quirky thespian Ed Norton as slim noble and strange King of Jerusalem in the globally-derided The Kingdom of Heaven - Norton, who plays the role of the leper from behind a golden mask - sounds …