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, 31 January 2006

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 Odyssey Homer
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
Hamlet William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost John Milton
Lyrical Ballads Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Portrait of a Lady Henry James
Ulysses James Joyce
The Waste Land TS Eliot

***

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

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
Collected Poems Robert Frost
King Lear Shakespeare
The Idiot Dostoyevsky
The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
Prufrock and other poems T.S. Eliot
Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift
Long Day's Journey Into Night Eugene O'Neill
Collected Poems Emily Dickinson
The Outsider Colin Wilson

More Poetry And Politics

The concluding part of my essay, see link below:

http://wanabehuman.blogspot.com/2006/01/comment-on-poetry-and-politics-part_31.html

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

Monday, 30 January 2006

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 books (such as novels, cook books, bibles, etc). Hmm.

Isn't this in fact a startlingly positive development? How about the headline: Poetry Sales In UK Almost Million Per Year? As a genre, poetry seems to be selling incredibly well.

Of course, sales figures don't tell the whole story, even in terms of readership - since many poetry books are borrowed from libraries, or passed down, or acquired second-hand - or, horrors! - found on the Internet.

The fact is, and I have said this before, the UK Media doesn't know what to do with poetry. They keep hearing it is immensely popular at a grasroots level (see Turnbull's performance work, all the readings, E-Magazines, awards, etc.) but then send out jaded prose-types to cover the story, and all they want to do is belittle the wonder.

It is deeply ironic, and sad, that, whereas the British media basically collaborated like Vichy turncoats to make the Potter phenomenon occur, they can't collude to generate the same wide-eyed feel-good buzz about poetry. Perhaps because poetry is what the media is not: deep, complex, and resistant to the cheery sound-bite.

No, I am afraid the news isn't good for the BBC - when it is long forgotten, poetry will still be around, in some form or another. The reason? Poetry is not just about distibution systems or technology - it flows through all cultures and time - it is part of the very way that humans interact with language, themselves, and natural, timeless experiences, such as death, love, birth, the seasons.

Morris dancing? Not bloody likely.

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

http://www.library.mun.ca/qeii/pil/index.php

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 Shamshad Khan.

A side-note: I included the work of Francois in my Short Fuse anthology several years ago, and am glad to see her continuing to do so well.

Friday, 27 January 2006

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 guitar excellence; one part Nirvana stop-start energy; and generally hyper-witty-yet-down-to-the-kebab-shop-sharp lyrics. It is really good.

But will Arctic Monkeys be around in 249 years? In the meantime, don't wait to find out, get yerself a copy of the album of 2006:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4660394.stm

For a highly intelligent look at Sheffield bands contextualizing the AM, scroll down a bit here:

http://cookham.blogspot.com/

This pin-points their kitchen sink roots:

http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/a/arctic-monkeys/whatever-people-say-i-am-thats-what-im-not.shtml

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, joyous, possibilities. This is the anxiety of the fairytale, the dream, taken to one possible series of limits. You'll never think of coffins, ribbons, or trains the same way again.

The Holy Girl, by Lucrecia Martel, is another extraordinary investigation into burgeoning sexuality, though this time more openly portrayed, though no less subtly, and controversially. The story unfolds during a medical convention in a retro-Latin American hotel lit in burnished reds, with strange rooms and a weird pool, and the mise-en-scene manages to be both stylish and uncanny. The master-servant dialectic between the male predator, and the girl on the verge of discovering her experience, raises many questions about sexuality, and even, guilt, that transform ways of thinking about such issues, from both the male and female perspective.

Both these films are exemplary for asking questions about identity, gender, and the subject, without impinging with easily-formed, judgemental, received impressions. They suggest a way forward for the art of cinema, and reflection.

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

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.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

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/

Monday, 23 January 2006

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 love this sort of yearning thing, usually, and salute Ashcroft's ongoing mission to deify "lovers" and curse the crazy mixed up world we all live in - I also enjoy his quasi-deistic impulses.

Several songs are very good, really - especially the tortured, Marlboro-voiced "Sweet Brother Malcolm" which oddly pays homage to 70s classic "C'est la Vie" - it wrings every possible tear, citing the "broken-hearted", "house arrest", and "madness" amid violins.

No, the album is nothing if not ambitious (although it retains all the stylistic effects from his previous albums): it soars and and swoops, rattles and rolls, but like a dove in a cement mixer.

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 opiate-sweet and twice as dark (and sometimes blackly comedic) - such as Blake's attempt to make Kraft Dinner, or the visiting Mormons.

However, the central moment, when the vacant, seemingly forsaken shell of a musician picks up his guitar, near the end of the film, and begins to compose, and sing, a yelping ballad from hell, the hair rises on the back of one's neck - this is the dark side of the creator - in the midst of near-total loss and despair something beautiful terribly occurs - the canary sings sweetest, in the poisoned mine.

I may be biased, having been a Nirvana fan, and a child of the Grunge era, from the start. But this is a great movie.

Saturday, 21 January 2006

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, W.S. Graham, Canadian and Australian poetry.

Eddie's Own Aquarius features new poems (!) written for Eddie by Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney, and many others, so you can get a sense of his cultural impact from that. It's a good looking, if expensive item (£20), but bound to be a collector's treasure some time down the road. It was compiled and edited by Constance Short and Tony Carroll, of Dundalk, who were in London for the occasion. The original idea for the book came from Michael Donaghy, the gifted Irish-American poet who died recently in London.

Friday, 20 January 2006

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-telling of the Nazi gold story and the new rise of fascism on the Internet, just at the moment when 9/11 made such ideas of terror in the homeland, and revenge, more than fictionally disturbing. Spielberg's Munich now looks to explore territory we had begun to map out.

His new book, according to his agency is: "The first account of the Arab-Israeli conflict to be told through the personal stories of families who live there, that faces up to the grim realities of bombings and checkpoints but keeps the human side firmly in view. Through the stories of six families – three Jewish and three Arab – Adam LeBor goes behind the news and the rhetoric of entrenched positions to tell the tragic, occasionally comic, but always deeply human story of Israel in the last eighty years.In the words of people who lived through those times, or are retelling the stories of their parents and grandparents, we understand that the founding of the state of Israel could be simultaneously a moment of jubilation for the Jews, and a moment of disaster – the naqba – for the 100,000 Arabs who fled Jaffa in 1948, most of them never to return. And we see the main port of the Eastern Mediterranean sprout a modern European suburb of Tel Aviv, with white Bauhaus architecture, of which Jaffa today has become a suburb. But, though full of tension and violence, this is not a story without hope."

The book has now been reviewed in The Guardian Saturday Review and selected as "Book of the Week":

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1690070,00.html

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

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

Monday, 16 January 2006

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 allusion (often to the French, or French-inspired New York School), and urban dandyism is close to his Prufrock persona (updated for the new century, of course).

Pascale Petit is exploring the intersection between the personal and the universal in ways new to English poetry, and is fusing her powerful, disturbing imagery with elements drawn from art, and European surrealism - she has built on the precedent of Plath, and made this dark territory of internal suffering brought outwards, her own.

David Harsent has been one of the few sane, intelligent poetic voices in the U.K. to examine the toxicities of war and violence, and its impact on society and the lone person, during the Iraq crisis, and so has established considerable moral and aesthetic weight for his current work.

Sinead Morrissey has written three or so poems in her new collection, which, for their music, intelligence, feeling and virtuoso use of form, push the writing of verse forward a decade or so.

Polly Clark's sense of style, humour and fresh new perspective on love, and animals, establishes her as one of the best of the younger generation of poets now writing in the U.K.

Carol Ann Duffy's new long series of love poems takes the entire canon of English love poetry and turns it on its head, daringly testing found ideas and cliche, and providing her own sense of beauty. "Tea" is an exceptionally moving poem.

Alice Oswald has adopted the tone, high seriousness and mythical agon of a Ted Hughes, and re-expressed it importantly in terms of 21st century language - at once looser, and more austere - and never as assured, given the complexities of how meaning and language are now known to interlock.

Pugh, Woodward and Farish have each written very succesful lyric poems that explore memory, love, loss, and the human need to establish order in a disordered world, through well-deployed images and often inventive lines and phrases.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

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's Lolita, 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.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1687174,00.html

Friday, 13 January 2006

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 shimmering, talon sharp, shiny new blade,
Determined to snip and trim what simply would not grow:
Medusa’s worm weave with its wriggling go slow,
Received from his salon hands, one final cut and blow.

poem by Helên Thomas

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Poetry & Politics

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

http://wanabehuman.blogspot.com/

Monday, 9 January 2006

January Nthposition Poetry Now Online

New Work Now Online at Nthposition








Remains, Print & A roundel
by Jenny Pagdin
[ january 06 ]
Some things to dream of & Education
by Joe Dunthorne
[ january 06 ]
Freckles & Bush craft
by Patrick Brandon
[ january 06 ]
The Messier Dep & Investigating the phantom signal
by Robert Earl Stewart
[ january 06 ]
The reprise, You only need some distance for a curse & Momentum
by Jonathan Morrison
[ january 06 ]
Rent'd
by AnneMarie Eldon
[ january 06 ]
The pugilist
by J Fisher
[ january 06 ]
The Hole (1) & The Hole (2)
by Emily Dening
[ january 06 ]
What they say in Avenale
by Caroline Maldonado
[ january 06 ]
A passing fancy, A fine catch, Archaeozoology & The girl with the impossibly long tongue
by Lara Frankena
[ january 06 ]

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 capitalist society - the viewer feels that these souls are lost in a machine that has no time for lovers, much in the way of 1984. The disgust at the everyday and the working life of the city and town, and the institutions, such as marriage, and television, that underpin such drudgery, that director Ang Lee expresses, is palpable.

On the other hand, the image and idea of the free man - the cowboy - is dutifully and lovingly traced - one could almost say such a trope is unquestionably expressed - and therefore this is hardly a revisionist film at all in this sense (notwithstanding the homosexuality which will trouble some - many in my viewing left the cinema, sadly). Many of the great American ideas are burnished, if anything, especially the right for an individual to follow their own bliss.

McMurtry, who wrote that great classic from about 35 years ago, The Last Picture Show, has returned to his territory of young lovers in pickup trucks and dusty cars, honky tonk bars, sad lives in trailer homes, and very small towns, and he captures this world well; it is good to see Randy Quaid, a veteran of that masterpiece, return here, in a cameo. The T.S. Review gives the film Three Quartets.

I'll save my review of McCarthy for when I am finished the book. Suffice it to say, the novel is in extreme contrast to the film mentioned above. In this world (the writer is a Catholic) the unredeemed world is a flood plain of sin, and extreme violence (no sex so far) and good men line up against evil - it is almost Manichean in its fighting terms. The style, and fury, seem a bizarre mix of Faulkner, Jim Thompson, Chandler, and at times, sadly, Ludlum. It is, however, an extremely gripping yarn, as they say.

Link to his fan site below:

http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/Biography.htm

Saturday, 7 January 2006

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 lecture. instead of them,
the not here, we get debris;
which, in cases,
like these, is both
the losses of others/and poetry.
affairs seem likely in a university town,
by degrees of lust and luster are lost
so many campus sweethearts, and ph.ds
tossed from aleppo to princeton,
various ambitions circling honor and desire
with achievement’s alter side, sickness
at the dagger-minded, incarnadine price paid
by profs who want to write and get laid
and keep a family drama politely on ice;
the crux of any text or life is corruption
when the folio is separated from the author
for too long; when the words shift, wicked,
from page to performance, from politics
to partisan reviews, martini afternoons
with deans’ concubines and matriculating ingenues;
complexer the circuitous fall when plummet
measure’s grace, that especial favor, with past-times
that, curvaceous — that singular eye — pleasing deceit
of motion — miss the king to kill the thane.
crane and lear — rush jobs — not the three poems
necessary to enthrone one’s glint of genius...

2.

i wish john a. smith (his name
before his father predeceased him
purposefully with a gun to the temple in florida)
were here with me now.
i would like to buy him a drink
(regardless of consequences
or what this forgives)
and talk of cal, delmore, yeats, rp, randall
(that opinionated dandy, cruel and gentle
who hurt his peers into excellence or pall)
or girls with paprika in their veins —
how a well-curved bum sits well with us
august gentlemen; we’d rank his pals
in a boozy canon; and i’d ask him to pray
for me, as lowell did, most famously.
advice from such quarters
unlikely to be forthcoming,
i plunge over the past
and into the cold, quick-running
future — a mississippi — to consider
what time stores ahead for myself,
let alone those i might love.
how that joyless block
crawls into our fullness
and yanks us through
to be words, less read.
for him, berryman, to be dead
how, possibly, could it go better
for a later man? worried
by all the equally different
women, cigarettes, alcohol
and intoxicant all all all of life, and
who thinks too often
of first, last and interim things
that dance a limited evening
in paris, of the moment, where
eileen (his wife, remembering, no
mistress bradstreet she, a flesh
and bloodied rival to the unamused
obsessive of more maternal music)
was, with a second husband, diplomatic.

3.

after the first, poetic,
succumbed to succumbing.
creation, which is never a hero
to its muse, slavers —
child/animal — his letters being
opened in cafes while he, dizzied,
made very many minor breaches
in the closing fields of indifference,
opening mortal absence to arrows
of art that hit the head under armor,
wounding open day sounds — which
open organ grinders and spring
into rooms off — here — saint-placide,
a rue no longer entirely closed
by winter reading; that is to say:
a poet’s close, living,
even when presumed the opposite
when re-opened properly, just so —
at the page that’s bright with flow
and spring’s longing — that dumb compulsion
to grow a birth from nothing which breaks
by precedent with death’s preeminence, abroad.
a split wrist that feeds us paprika-stained
blood, to revivify, in loss,
what voice was nearly us,
was THEIRS, can only now be OURS.
this transmission, substantiating much,
underwriting more, the blank check
in his pocket identifying him,
river-dragged and sodden
to the ambulance, then home...
is the palpable reason — the placid heath
ripe with copulation and forgiving kin —
deserved and not derived,
that can be pardoned
for seducing us away
from lovely full-on fear, the argument
we have with life, which terminates.
what’s after is shook out,
that silver shock of light
from the unlockable book,
not always good, or polite.


Paris, March 27, 2002

poem by Todd Swift

Thursday, 5 January 2006

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."

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

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 with a rambling, occasionally witty and informative, Foreword, that takes potshots at, among others, August Kleinzhaler, in defense of democratic poetry against what seems to be AK's rage against folksy poetry-for-the-people radio broadcasts and Keillor's Good Poems anthology. Kleinzhaler, apparently, is one of those poets (I could name fifteen right now) who like to claim there are only about five real poets writing at any moment (thus usually cancelling at least 66% of themselves out) - and Lehman wants a far more open and welcoming perspective - naturally enough, since his enterprise is based on the idea that at least 75 poets are worth reading every year.

My own experience, as an editor, is that there are currently several hundred poets now writing somewhere in the world, in English, who should be taken fairly seriously - though not all are canonically major, of course.

Then the hard part - Paul Muldoon (whose own Introduction is cursory) has to select the best poems. He's done a curious job. Compared to other years, the selection seems somewhat thin on the ground, and I am not sure why. The poets mustered can, at first glance, hardly be described as unimportant - in fact, Muldoon has chosen more than anyone's fair share of canonical, dead poets whose posthumous work rather movingly weights the anthology as a whole, along with other heavy-hitters: A.R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Charles Bukowski, Marilyn Hacker, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice, Galway Kinnell, Adrienne Rich, Charles Simic, Louis Simpson, W.D. Snodgrass, Gary Snyder, James Tate, David Wagoner and Charles Wright.

After such an impressive valedictory role-call, that leaves 60 newer poets to be discovered and celebrated by Muldoon - and presumably what had been hoped for was that this gently-post-modern poet would astonish and delight with quirky, witty choices off the beaten track...

Well, he does this, a little, drawing from a few online or relatively indie journals, but also sticking to a large number of established mid-career folks, too, like Mary Jo Salter. The collection includes younger poets, many from creative writing backgrounds with MFAs from places like Iowa, but also perhaps one of the oldest ever captured in the series: the wonderfully-named Dorothea Tanning, born in 1910 - and last year's editor, the Language poet Lynn Hejinian even finds a place. The whole thing feels a bit like Aslan's rag tag army of animals, where no one with a heart in the right place gets left out, except the Polar Bears (who presumbaly want it to be winter always just because).

In general, the poems tend to be rather less eclectic than might have been expected, and several partake of "Muldoonian" strategy - most curiously Wilbur does this, with his children's poem (this hardly seemed necessary to say, but he does) titled "Some Words Inside of Words" with lines like "At heart, ambassadors are always sad". When will poets ever get over words?

One of the nice surprises is that Muldoon acknowledges the impact of the Iraq war on poetry (if not vice versa), and includes several poems (and by no means the best of their kind) to represent this fact. Given the work done since 2003 in this field, such a note of recognition seems belated, though still welcome.

More often than not, though, the younger poets respresented are trying very hard to be Paul or John - witty, flowing, rhetorically masterful, and vaguely weird or abstract. This seems to be the North American poetic tic of the moment, and as far as it opens the wardrobe and gets those mothballs rocking and rolling, I'm all for it, but too many zany poems in one night is like dancing to The B-52s for six hours straight - one's penchant for "Rock Lobster" diminishes as the clock turns ever on.

I was very glad to see poems by Richard Garcia, Vicki Hudspith, D. Nurkse (all previously published by Nthposition) among some others.

My own four favorite poems of the lot were by Charles Wright (whose "A Short History of my Life" will be read in 100 years as one of the major poems of this decade - its last lines alone makes one shiver as late-Cantos Pound does - "The world in its dark grace./ I have tried to record it.") and by Stephen Dunn and Tony Hoagland. Dunn's short poem on roses, his honeymoon, and the start of the Iraq war is as simple and moving in its use of image as William Carlos Williams at his best. Hoagland's work is funny, and well-turned at the end. Donald Justice's brief poem is also a treat, in a Yeatsian sort of way.

So, not a bad year, though perhaps a somewhat conservative harvest.

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/

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

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 a collection of poems, Cafe Alibi would be the perfect choice. Moody, sophisticated, and vigilantly flirtatious, Swift's poems use language to bring the gaze to the place just beyond the reel."

To order a copy today: www.vallummag.com

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 "retro" and mildly interested in 80s bands like Echo & The Bunnymen and of course the above-mentioned Mancunian masters.

Editors (they've even edited The) seem to have set out, rather modestly, to approximate the exact sound, tone and effects of Interpol, which is to recreate the spooky, disembodied, zero-at-the-bone morbid philosophy of Ian Curtis, that herky-jerky somnambulist of post-Adorno poetry.

So, let us salute these bleak troubadours (open your arms and welcome them, even) - and hope they find a dark sliver of uniqueness - even light - in their room of the great black back catalogue.

Monday, 2 January 2006

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 like 50s-era Brando, and yet manages to move like some masked orgiastic wretch in the traume that was S. Kubrick's Cruise-Kidman dream-bomb - Eyes Wide Shut (my favorite bad movie).

Oh - and happy new year to each and everyone of you.