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.
Friday, 30 June 2006
So, as we move towards Canada Day, Eyewear is very happy to present a most apt poem of hers, below.
I recall Canadian Tire and its Monopoly-style money with great fondness.
Amaryllis Canadian Tire
Near the return and exchange desk
the sink drain blare of Cash 11, Manager to Cash 11,
petals halogen rusted, garden bulimic
stand sturdy in clay cups
while the mats at the automatic door grow streamy
with boot tracked snow, slush.
Ski coats shift sibilation
each down-plump body
maneuvering the card table
careful not to catch a leaf
above sparkle-glue bijouteries
outsized flanges and piano hinges.
dismissed amid vulcanized rubber
boxing day sale perfume -
an ostentatious widow
price shopping the discount aisle.
poem by Tammy Armstrong
Let me say this about that: NIC rivals Kane or Godot as a signal 20th-century work that is both paradigm shift and summit of its type - so, as Kane is both best film and most innovative film, and Godot is most influential absurdist play and also central play since 1950 - so too is John Adam's NIC both the most popular postmodern opera of its period (roughly 1977 to 2001) and the pre-eminent one, inaugurating a new kind of reference to contemporaneity in art. It is also, like the work of Welles, viscerally thrilling for its exuberance of design.
It's written by Pico Iyer (see link below), no stranger to Cohen's Northern Comforts.
I am currently completing my own review, for NPR, so won't say more here.
One aspect worthy of mention - the Iyer article on Cohen is under the heading "Music" - not "Poetry".
Canadians may find it irritating to realise that, outside his own country, LC is not considered so much a writer-turned-singer as vice versa - as if his towering intellect had been muffled by his tower of song.
Thursday, 29 June 2006
It can be ordered from www.poetrysociety.org.uk - a single issue is £7.95.
Wednesday, 28 June 2006
Derrida, as the self who is playing his Other, his image onscreen, is strikingly photogenic - a handsome, tanned, white-haired older man who is like a combination of Einstein and Sartre - sartorial yet slightly eccentric. This is a coincidence the film enjoys - he could have been ugly, and his thought might be the same - but the fact the camera "loves" him allows him to question what love, and cameras, are for.
The film constantly implies division, and doubling - sometimes "Jacqui" is a doddering old man puttering about his dowdy kitchen in Paris, other times he is in California, speaking perfect English, quipping like Wilde, and dressed in startlingly fashionable suits, charming the pants off (it would seem) brilliant young philosophers. Sometimes, too, he speaks movingly of fidelity and love - then refuses to speak about how he first met, or thought of, his wife (a moving, strange moment) - and then again, admits that, should he be able to see a film about Heidegger or Hegel, he would want to know more about their sex life - because they spoke as asexuals. Because Derrida has not been asexual in his writing, he does not feel required to answer such questions for this film.
Knowing that Derrida is, now, sadly, dead "in reality", the film bears some melancholy weight - the weight of a vessel bearing a load for which it was not built; or rather, the exuberant hero-worship that clearly informs the makers, and lifts the film up into play while also lessening its critical functions, seems deflated by this loss. It also redoubles our fascination with the secrets, and the public iconography, it attempts to inscribe - so, a sequence where Derrida handsomely walks a Paris street, smoking a pipe, is deeply impressive, and shallow, all at once.
Derrida is invited to make several impromptu (improvised) essays - on the eyes, on hands, on identity, on biography, on love - that are both simple, and profound. Anyone who has avoided reading Derrida, assuming him to be a nihilist, over-difficult, or irrelevant, will find a different man, one engaged with moral and socio-political issues (such as anti-Semitism, forgiveness in South Africa) and able to use lyrically intense, but often very clear, language. When he confesses he cannot tell a story well, we are unsure - his hesitant, yet-firm, soliloquies are at least fables - fables of consciousness at play.
Watching Derrida allows several intriguing thoughts to emerge: the difference between poetry and philosophy (where there is one) is based on the tension between the life of the philosopher, as revealed and the thinking "itself". How much of the language in a poem - for example - is about thinking about the how and what of words - and how much is about the poet herself?
Derrida contrasts the relationship between Narcissus and Echo. He relates how Echo, even only by using the repeated words (or ends of words) of Narcissus, was able to poignantly inflect the echoed language with traces of desire. Writing poetry needs to be the place between Narcissus and Echo.
Monday, 26 June 2006
While longer works of writing have their different values and charms, one of them, surely, is the function of being able to be "picked up" later. There is no later in a novella - there is the enveloping sense of a dying movement, a now turning into a then, as one flows with the work itself. The novella is the glance at the painting that turns into the look that's held by wanting to see more, but also knows the gallery will be closed in an hour. Its dance with the finite is responsible and sweet at once - the novella is the last glass of wine before the bottle is done, the kiss at the doorstep, the short walk home. It finds its place among all the pleasures of life that are neither here, nor there - but gently in-between.
My three favourite novellas were two, until yesterday. And now a third has joined them. It is not lonely company, but a third is welcome. I love very few books, and the ones I love transport me. I make no apologies for this. I am much moved by a sense, in the author, that a time is both passing and held, in the written word; I prefer the elegiac. My previous favourite novellas are Daisy Miller and Death In Venice. If one wishes to suggest that Miss Lonelyhearts is a novella, then so be it. So, four, then. For a full handful, my fifth would be Heart Of Darkness. In all novellas of greatness, the themes are death and love, and how they meet and undress each other.
I read A Month In The Country (1980) by J.L. Carr yesterday, on a train, from Scotland, and a remote farmhouse on a firth, where I spent a golden week-end with brilliant, beatiful poets in their youth - hurtling back to London. The weather darkened as the distance forshortened.
I am not sure how this book escaped me until now - that is one of the pleasures of reading - one never need read a book until it finds one. The time being in joint, I read it in one (motionful) sitting, and was moved. I won't summarize here - the "short novel" is less than 90 pages in my Penguin Classics edition. I simply hope you read this book some day. It opens irresistibly, for me - a young shell-shocked veteran-artisan stepping off a train in 1920s England in terrible rain on to a platform where he is to be greeted with kindness, friendship, love and discovery, even as his grotesque facial tic sets him apart as a man who has seen irremediable horrors. I am so touched by this meeting of opposites, of violence and gentleness. Then, it unfolds that the novel is a looking-back, to a lost time, and that always gets me.
It has something of A Separate Peace in it - also informed by a classical knowledge that life is passing. This book, too, is based on the carpe diem perspective. It is also a fine meditation on art, and work, friendship, desire, and faith. Carr loved Conrad, Hardy and the poems of Housman, and he manages to bring their various ways of writing, and seeing, into his own story. Like The Good Soldier, but more simply, each line is pitch-perfect, and leads to an ending of great sadness. The last line is one of the most quietly beautiful in the modern English language.
That being said, I am not entirely convinced by the figure of Mrs. Keach. As such, this is a great work, and it is Carr's masterpiece, but it is a slightly flawed one. Only slightly.
Sunday, 25 June 2006
Magma 35 has arrived in the post, including a review I've written, and featuring an essay by Laurie Smith, which proposes there might be a "school of London" poetry.
The Guardian and The Times, this week-end, mentioned the Oxfam Poetry CD I edited.
And I have read one of the finest novellas in the English language, A Month In The Country, by J.L. Carr. More on that later too.
Oh, and England are in the final 8 at the World Cup - thanks to Beckham.
Friday, 23 June 2006
Thursday, 22 June 2006
Horror, 1999, USA, 103 minutes
Directed by Rupert Wainwright
With Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne and Jonathan Pryce
One Spec out of Five
Headline: Like, a virgin
The Vatican has released a list of their favorite films which uplift the human spirit and celebrate Christian values; Stigmata was not one of them. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know why this movie is in a downward spiral from reel one. Stigmata is a feature-length music video with a story as thin as a communion wafer. Director Wainwright’s gospel according to MTV is burnt onto every millimeter of film, his cinematic style carbon-dated early 80s: we get every slow-mo pigeon, flickering candle and overflowing bathtub Prince didn’t use for his video When Doves Cry. And the ever-falling rain with nary a rainbow in sight is straight out of Bladerunner. We’ve been in this city of the damned before (Pittsburgh sitting in for Sodom) and know our way around.
Unlike “the greatest story ever told” the plot this time is about as compelling as wine turned into water. Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is a young graduate of a hairdressing academy from Naples, Florida, who has ended up in the big, bad urban center of her dreams. Now she works at “The Cut” - the kind of hip alternative place where a person can either get their hair done or have their nipples pierced. Frankie - who spends every night in a demonic underground club (get it?) where shots pour like blood from wounds and every dance is a gesture of profound degradation and every song is written by Billy Corgan - is the profane side of this binary equation.
Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) represents the token sacred side of life. Kiernan, a suave Jesuit, is no blind follower, however. He’s a complex man, an organic scientist turned priest in order to reconcile the mystery of life - a “big hole” science can’t fill without religion’s shovel. Father Kiernan works for a kind of Vatican X-files unit, travelling around the world in search of miracles he can debunk or establish as fact, according to his rigorous methods of snapping photographs and taking blood samples from weeping icons.
His sinister boss, played by Jonathan Pryce with grave elegance and a wink (he knows this is a B-movie) sends Kiernan to investigate poor Frankie, who begins to suffer the “five wounds of the stigmata” in alarming displays of bleeding and writhing on crowded public transport. She may be our next Lady of the Subway.
This is where the hyper jump-cuts and blue-lit “religious wounding” scenes achieve a kind of orgiastic, over-the-top momentum breathtaking in their secular shamelessness. With an obsessive, fetishistic abandon of narrative logic, we are repeatedly made witness to deadening visual excess: Arquette as she wrestles with an unseen demonic/angelic violator who throws her across rooms, rams invisible nails through her wrists, tears her clothes off revealing a navel-ring and cool tattoo, and whips her back into a sanguine mess. All this while the cool-eyed priest watches and secretly lusts in his heart, tempted by the tormented woman.
Stigmata comes close to the sort of weird porn that trades in images of nuns with a strange devotion to crucifixes - and barely manages to discharge its erotic surplus with a violent climax lifted from a far more sensitive script. Frankie, a kind of skanky Joan of Arc, is a messenger sent to reveal a long-suppressed “Gospel of Jesus” which threatens Catholicism (as in The Da Vinci Code) by suggesting that God requires no intermediary and is founded not on a rock but every pebble on the beach: Martin Luther meets Buddha.
Kiernan exposes the papal conspiracy, defeats his boss, and carries the exorcised Frankie from a burning bed into a misty garden full of flowers. Deep character issues are now easily resolved. The priest/scientist has found new faith with the love of a good woman, and the lost white trash hairdresser is born-again and a magnet for doves.
Wednesday, 21 June 2006
I met Canada's poet laureate today, Pauline Michel (pictured here), at a luncheon event thrown in her honour, in London.
Greg's comment about women laureates, below the previous post, is thus all the more apt.
Ms. Michel is an extraordinary personality - vibrant, enthusiastic, and fully committed to bringing poetry to all ages, all cultures, and bridging the gulf between the English and French communities in Canada. She also has a wonderful singing voice. It was a delight to meet her (after lunch I invited her to the Ritz for a glass of wine). By the way, her book of poems is translated into English and published by Joe Blade's Brokenjaw Press. Do get it.
Tuesday, 20 June 2006
That's mainly good news. It might be even better and more productive if the laureates were given at least four years, like American presidents, to ply their trade - they practically shuffle off before the ink is dry.
Though, in a fast-paced multicultural democracy like America, two years may be a long time in any revolving door, even one leading to a garden of verses. On that note, when can we expect to see more women as laureates?
Hall is a very good and influential anthologist, as well as being an accessible poet in the key of Robert Frost, though his politics apparently skew somewhat to the left of that canny faux-farmer. I have three of his classic anthologies here beside me now, which did much to build trans-Atlantic bridges now all gone the way of the one at Kwai: Contemporary American Poetry (Penguin Books, 1962); The New Poets of England and America (Meridian Books, 1957 - co-edited with Robert Pack and Louis Simpson, with an Introduction by Frost!); and American Poetry: An Introductory Anthology (Faber & Faber, 1969).
England's laureate, Andrew Motion, has said recently he will step down in 2009, after ten years in the post. Motion has been the best laureate of the 20th century, it seems to me, and many others.
Monday, 19 June 2006
The gallery reading went well - perhaps 45 or so in attendance. The exhibition was of modern British art, 1900-1950, and a Wyndham Lewis of Ezra Pound was to my left (ironically) as I read. Kinsey's work was vivid, rich in imagery, and well-delivered; she was able to connect each of her poems to a painting in the gallery, as she lives nearby.
Haye-on-Wye, as may have been said (if not consider it coined here), is to book shops what Venice is to canals. The best has to be Chris and Melanie Prince's The Poetry Bookshop which is on Brook Street; nicely, I found Cleanth Brooks there - namely, a first edition of Modern Poetry and the Tradition, published in 1939 (!) in Chapel Hill.
Cleanth must be one of the most beautiful names in the English language.
I am currently apalled yet revived by reading Winters. His precise attention to certain strictures whets the mind's dull knife in this age of celebrity and the inflated blurb. His meter is moral and exact. And his claims often patently absurd.
It seems a different age in which someone could (try to) dispel Yeats with an essay - and one that is also refreshingly alternative and eccentric.
In 1980, Andrew Motion won the Arvon International Poetry Competition. The four-poet judging panel? Ted Hughes, Charles Causley, Seamus Heaney and Philip Larkin.
It seems impossible to imagine a much more impressive panel, for the second half of the 20th century, although another possible dream ticket (with the understanding that all poets needed to be contemporaneous and alive) could have been, say, in the early 1950s, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost.
Or, for that matter, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and W.S. Graham.
Such a panel today, to have such striking heft would still include Seamus Heaney, but also Andrew Motion. Who might the other two be?
Such trivial games mean almost nothing, but sometimes Eyewear plays them anyway.
Friday, 16 June 2006
Her poetry has appeared in Overland, Cultural Studies Review, and was anthologised in 2004 in Straight Out Of Brisbane (SOOB): New Writing. She was recently selected as Vibewire's Poet in Residence. She recently completed a review of a new critical text on Vladimir Nabokov for the American journal Politics and Culture.
I think Ms. Holland-Batt is one of the new voices emerging from Australian poetry we should be keen to follow over the next years, and was glad to feature poetry of hers at Nthposition. Here's a new poem of hers, below:
We’ve become used to each other—
you don’t yet have a key, but you let yourself
in, and boil the kettle meditatively,
but tonight everything was shaken loose—
we lurched and scuttled in a dazzled haze,
fog rose from the startled asphalt, and
millions of dizzied baubles rattled down,
a wild rush of iced rain, globes like golf
balls or styrofoam meteors clattered down
stairs, shored up against embankments,
tucked into crevices, ripped poinciana leaves
down in a palpable frenzy. Go home, I thought.
Leave, leave, so I’m free to prowl again
the white noiseless streets, to shiver with
the crazed possums leaping along power
lines, to be alone with my cold, with
this religion of frozen things.
poem by S.J. Holland-Batt
Thursday, 15 June 2006
Last year around the same time, at that summer festival, I was called Todd Smith too, if I recall... (see one of the first posts on the site)... sorry, that was Todd Shaw...
Wednesday, 14 June 2006
This is always an important and anticipated event - the poetic equivalent of a Paris catwalk where the latest fashions are displayed - with the possibility to discover work that might last longer than the usual cycle of short-long-short hem.
This year is no exception, and among the readers, for instance, is the much-talked-about Frances Leviston, which Eyewear has in the past written about, saying she might be the best new mainstream voice of her generation (those under 30).
The reading takes place this coming Thursday, June 15, after the completion of the England game, 8 pm at the Poetry Studio, Betterton Street.
Congratulations to The Eric Gregory award winners for 2006:
Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Monday, 12 June 2006
That's pretty impressive for a country that has fans goose-stepping in Germany.
Nelly has brought a Canadian summer heatwave with her new album, just out, Loose - people have been fainting in the London underground today to headlines of TUBE HEATWAVE NIGHTMARE.
Plus, The Guardian liked it, too...
Speaking of popular Canadians, I read my poems tonight at The Poetry Cafe. Alas, I won't be backed by Timbaland. Nelly has me beat, then - but when has pop ever been poetry's little sister?
Sunday, 11 June 2006
Hope to see you there.
See the Academi website, below, under news (scroll down) for more information.
Saturday, 10 June 2006
Anvil Press, Canada
Viral Suite is the poetic equivalent of a genre flick (say, a thriller) that’s a guilty pleasure: that is, within the frame of its own choices, production style (very high), and strategies, it yields a precisely-constructed satisfaction - but the uninitiated or just-not-interested might be left out in the cold.
In the case of Rowley’s book of poems, let’s say linguistically innovative poetics is the strategy, and the choice is to work within a set of thematic and structural constraints (including prose poetry and scientific and technical jargon) to yield something new and experimental.
Rowley’s sense of how poetic and scientific language can interpenetrate to fecund effect is pretty good. Take “Flowers of Sulphur” which opens: Screaming yellow rape ripening in the fields,/ the reeking sulphurous edges of sloughs. In this poem she also tells us “gaseous compounds can kill in seconds” while in “Sex in Space Time” we are advised that sex, gravity, quantum theory/ are just the play of/ matter and energy, radiating.
It is this mix of useful, if perhaps disconcertingly geeky, information (the poet herself calls it Elucidata and appends it to some of the poems), and witty sensuous play, that makes the collection take off. The sequence “Boreal Surreal” is a bizarre melange of National Geographic factoids interlaced with erotic, sinister perils and transformations, a prosaic and hyper-modern updating of Ovid. As the writing is, to quote from section 1, so too: she is absorbed and dispersed.
The standout (long) poem in the book is “InArticulations”, a series of memos that interweave borrowings from art magazines from the last century with the 18th century Schiller’s musings on aesthetics; Rowley (pictured above) calls this “poetic bricolage”.
Giles Goodland has done this supremely well recently in Spy In The House Of Years, but such textual assemblage is always welcome so long as, to quote the last line of "Memo Ten": symmetry is found in the barren landscape of abstraction.
Friday, 9 June 2006
Jope is one of the more intriguing innovative poets now writing in the UK - his work is at times satisfyingly strange, exotic and linguistically rich. I have previously anthologised his work in the Nthposition anthology In The Criminal's Cabinet.
Jope was born in Plymouth, where he lives again after lengthy periods in other locations (most recently Swindon, Bristol and Budapest) and works, as an administrator, at the College of St Mark and St John.
His collection For The Wedding-Guest was published by Stride in 1997, and his poetry has appeared in many magazines, webzines and anthologies. Ex-editor of the magazine Memes and lapsed reviewer for a range of magazines and webzines, he is currently preparing two large-scale retrospective collections (one of poems in verse, the other of poems in prose) as well as editing a critical companion to the work of Richard Burns for Salt.
from Suspended Gold – Saharan pistes
The body’s fear becomes golden. Something in the body, which is called ‘the mind’ but consists of a brain that falls to earth in a parachute of nerves, is splayed out in heat. The distance is reduced to the space between two pincers, but the body shines. Antares ascends at nightfall, casting its hematite net across the dunes. Towards morning, the arc-lamp of Mercury rises, paraffin-pink, between the constellations and the sun… but the body shines at dawn, is a golden gap that trembles.
Sun-side, shadow-side – the same exposure. Skin ground down to ashes and light. Walk here even in imagination, and one is exposed, impaled, on tomorrow’s side of everything. Here, one is under the spotlight of the One – living from moment to moment by grace, in a constancy of confrontation, where the pulse of thirst repeats itself with the terror of the first time.
Thirst exists at every level of the need pyramid. And there are fears at all levels – that the water will only prolong the agony, that familiarity will smother all miracles, that the One has no love to share with the Many, that the effort is doomed and one can only await one’s eventual desiccation. So the dunes of Mourzouk hold both promise and threat – they allow the gods of thirst to express their divinity, whilst offering them the obliteration not normally imposed on gods. They offer all, at the risk of withholding everything.
So fear emerges, a burning water flowing between two cliffs, swelling to the point where it is the river, not the banks, that are noticed. To row through the desert, on a river of this nature, torments the traveller. But one is cast into that honey-coloured space, exposed and called as if to account, where any hiding-place would immolate the intruder.
So, the moonwalk walked in dreams on the dunes of Mourzouk. One faces what is – one’s impending death. One walks, leaves footprints which are steadily blown away. Yet one is briefly golden, here on the golden ground of the silent sand.
(prose) poem by Norman Jope
Wendy Cope is one of the most beloved poets of our time - and her darkly witty, formally inventive poetry is the best of its kind - often imitated, never bettered. Her work will endure - and indeed is already canonical, appearing in Norton and many other international anthologies of note.
The London-based poet and critic Katy Evans-Bush has written a piece on Wendy Cope that should be read. Here is the link below.
Thursday, 8 June 2006
The Oxfam CD is now online at BBC News...
Wednesday, 7 June 2006
The era of the iPoem arrived yesterday with the unveiling of an internet site that will offer more than 1,000 poems to download for 50p each.
Verse by poets such as John Hegley, Jean ''Binta'' Breeze and Benjamin Zephaniah will be available through a service inspired by the Apple phenomenon iTunes. Each poem will be spoken by the writer.
The site, among the first of its kind in Britain, will also offer film downloads to illustrate the poems. It was welcomed as revolutionary by Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, who said: "This is an area with huge potential. If we can have symphonies and religious sermons to listen to on our iPods, why not poems?"
The new site, ipoems.org.uk, which will go live in October, will contain 1001 recordings of modern poetry which can be bought for 50p each after an annual subscription of £10. The first month will be free.
A spokesman for Apple said poetry was only available through podcasts submitted by individuals and relayed through the iTunes site.
Meanwhile, you can get over a thousand poems - as text - for free - by checking out the archives at www.nthposition.com ...
Monday, 5 June 2006
If America has had five or six genuine popular singer-songwriters of genius in the last 100 years, and it has, then Paul Simon is one of them - though not the pre-eminent one - that is Mr. Bob Dylan. But we have to admit, he's in that lucky choir of voices that sing more sweetly than we do, and to which we must bend our ears and attend.
So, I respect Simon, and especially Graceland, which arguably influenced contemporary poetry in how it showed the way music, wisdom, playful ease of wit, and style could cohabitate and form something of enduring quality, while still being for the people. Surely, it is an American classic, and not only because the once-fallen and newly-ascendant Gore used "You Can Call Me Al" on his election campaign tours.
I respect Simon, but do not love him. There was a time, when he was part of a duo, when I may have - a few of those songs can still render me seventeen and heart-broken. But in the last few decades, Simon's work has left me admiring, but not embraced.
His new album is all about that sort of pristine, polished excellence that American entertainers of a certain caliber achieve and exude. The product, which is this album, impresses even as it pushes away. It is, alas, slick as a magazine. But not just any magazine, friends: Atlantic Monthly, or The New Yorker. For this, surely, is one quality magazine - one that is liberal, decent, but pragmatic - rational humanist, you might say.
Simon is joined in this enterprise by workers of supreme skill and renown, from Brian Eno, certainly the greatest living record producer - musicians like Herbie Hancock and Bill Frisell - and even America's most-respected living book cover designer, the legendary Chip Kidd, recently praised by John Updike as being something of a genius himself.
What Eno has done is laid on, or under, the near spoken word of much of the prose poetry of the album, a translucent ebb and flow of musics that is at once ethereal and grounded in human noise and even anxiety - it is like a bush of ghosts being exorcised by a stockbroker - Eno has made the "sonic landscape" American, haunted, professional, and yet his own - as if U2 or The Talking Heads might wander into the same aural desert at any moment, and see a vision.
Next, Kidd has laid out the booklet and lyric texts with the elegance of a very hip magazine from the East Coast. He uses various fonts, and images, that all reference myths of water, of human origins, scientific and religious; and, he has emboldened certain words, festishizing them to highlight words that refer to water. It is all very lovely, and smart, and somewhat sophomoric, if the sophomore was from Yale.
Now, for the songs themselves. They are brilliant, written from a pristine chapel that's had one half of its architrave knocked away by a terror attack. Humane, wondering, erudite, and always sharp as a tack and funny as Bugs Bunny with a PhD, Simon has exceeded the work he'd done before.
The whole thing, though, is ever-so-slightly watered down (for me at least) by an all-purpose sentiment, that is both Simon's curse and calling - these songs, about war, and faith, and family devotion, skirt saying what the exact problem is, in favour of a poetic subtlety that doubles as marketing prowess - no listener need be offended in the playing of this album, all pieties are here confirmed.
Perhaps, finally, that is Simon's surprising message: he has exceeded the limitations of any one ideology or belief system - and neither praises nor blames the soldiers, so much as the act of war itself (in "Wartime Prayers") - and, sundered from its moorings, America itself floats free of blame, is simply a ship of state that needs all good hands on deck, fast. Sink, then, or swim - but either way, end in an oceanic feeling. Over and above troubled water.
Eyewear gives Surprise 4 out of 5 specs.
Their new album, out in the UK June 5th, Twelve Stops And Home, is not, in fact, a typographical error referring to some unfortunate addict's struggle to kick the sugar rush of pop music, but it could be.
When someone mentions Supertramp, Bread, 10cc, The Alan Parsons Project and The Beach Boys - well, someone else reaches for their gun. For every mad lover of "Jet" or "Eye In The Sky" there is an equal and opposite personage welling with great hate for such pap - especially people who support the idea that 77 punk was the second coming. Well, The Feeling predicate their very existence on the idea that it was time for an anti-thetical return of the repressed - call them the Soft Negative.
Nothing on their fluffy, sickly-sweet, jaunty, piano-tickling Breakfast-in-America-style album is as good as their pop masters' very best, which is the problem - not the so-bad-it-is-jolly-good stylistic decision to mine the sugar walls of this 70s goldmine of supersweet melodies.
For the record, there are three or four exquisitely good songs here, though they don't seem to all be the planned singles, but here goes: "Kettle's On", "Sewn", "Same Old Stuff" and "Helicopter". "Sewn" stands above these others, and demands an almost OCD-like replaying, so entrancingly upbeat is it.
As attracted as repelled by the honey-trappings, Eyewear gives this 3 specs out of five.
Not one to be churlish, I still find this claim needs to be marked in that great big red book of Lies The Labour Party Told Us, 1997-2006.
But it is true, Gordon, that you'd look good on the dancefloor... like a robot from 1984...
Sunday, 4 June 2006
by Margaret Christakos
Fearless & Gross Encounters
by Graham Fulton
The romance of crime & Wrong
by Hannah Walker
My father, Asfaw & Rimbaud’s crutches
by Chris Beckett
by Stav Sadot
City of gas
by Elizabeth Swados
Underground & Being God
by Jeni Williams
Republic Day, 2001 & Nation Language
by Sandeep Parmar
The Neds, Evacuation at the Danforth Pool & Astronaut
by Michael Kavanagh
On the Viaduct, Hampstead Heath
by Wynn Wheldon
The reconstruction, which is artistically and architecturally faithful, is (perhaps in a Disneyland way) exactly how one expects it to be. It was the first balmy night of the London summer, and the bank of the Thames was thronged with drunks and lovers. Sometimes these were the same people.
Have I ever had a better time at a Shakespeare play? Maybe once, when I was fourteen, in Ontario, or so, when Brian Bedford played a brilliant Richard II. But I doubt it. The bawdy, ultra-violent production, directed by Lucy Bailey, takes full advantage of the groundlings as a crowd to swell a scene. Also, the use of carts, as used in medieval mystery plays, pulling the players through the audience, in the round, to declaim and sport there, was thrilling and doubled the visceral sense of the play's havoc unleashed.
Much has been made of the story - which is deeply resonant of the present moment in Iraq (and elsewhere) - a cycle of barbaric militarism-turned-sadism that becomes a spiral of very cruel bloodshed. In brief, Titus is a great General and a good Roman (a Colin Powell type) who obeys the law to the letter, and beyond, into blinding nobility. This means that, upon his return to Rome, having vanquished the Goths, he sacrifices one of his prisoners (Queen of the Goths Tamora's son) as is the rule of law, to Roman gods, despite her pleas for leniency - this sets off a chain of madness.
Next, within minutes Titus declines the crowds' demand that he become Emperor, and supports the lawful transition to the callow, debauched Saturninus, the late Emperor's eldest son. Saturninus, newly-laurelled, now declares his intention to take Titus' daughter Lavinia to be his wife, even though she is betrothed to his brother, Bassianus. This near-Oedipal rapine signals worse to come. Titus' sons defend Bassianus' claim to their sister (which is based on true love) and seek to kidnap her away from the bad Emperor. Titus defends the claims of the young Emperor, and kills one of his sons in trying to rescue back his daughter.
Startlingly, the unfair Emperor does not appreciate this noble sacrifice, but rather blames Titus for his son's actions - and cancels his marriage offer to Lavinia, instead marrying - on the spot - the sexually charismatic Tamora, hacking away her chains. Tamora's and Titus' shocking reversal of fortune is now complete - the slave is Empress of Rome, and the beloved General is an outcast, doomed to be destroyed by Tamora who remembers the murder of her son and vows revenge. All of this takes place in the first ten minutes, so you see how action-packed the play is.
The tragedy is that both Titus and Tamora are locked in to a belief in vengeance. However, as the play proceeds, Titus, much like Job, or Lear, is brought to suffer levels of horror and ordeals of such sadism and loss, that he must either go mad and lose faith in divinity, or have his faith strengthened. This being Shakespeare, not King James, Titus goes mad.
A short deviation is in order here. The acts of violence in this play re worthy of a "video nasty" - it makes something from a chainsaw massacre look tame - and indeed about ten people fainted the night I was there - old and young, man and woman - and Tamora's sons have something of Deliverance about them. Terribly, Lavinia has a surgically-enforced aphasia thrust upon her, as she is faced with an unbearable mimesis - becoming the "real" to classical "Philomel".
Philomel was raped, had her tongue cut away, and hands cut off. So too, with Lavinia. The scene where she and her young husband are cornered, trapped, and then realize what will happen to them is - to say the least - deeply disturbing, The way that Bailey directs this transgressive sequence of extreme sexual mutilation gives full weight to the suffering impact of all victims of torture and rape in wartime.
Back to Titus. He is played beautifully by Douglas Hodge. I think that Hodge is the best actor I have now ever seen on stage, and that includes Ralph Fiennes and Kevin Spacey. I had enjoyed his dashing turn in the BBC-TV adaptation of Middlemarch, but nothing prepared me for this. He was electric, galvanized, tormented, funny, and always-moving, just compelling to watch.
Hodge entirely enacts the post-traumatic eloquence of utter despair. Mirroring his muted Lavinia, who is forced to retain only an inner voice, Hodge, who begins as a stalwart Roman, evolves into a fully deranged, yet never less than also fully conscious, witty, humane expressiveness - he becomes the tongue his daughter has lost. He cackles, jests, debates, and ultimately concludes that justice has fled the earth. Having given his hand, and received two lopped heads - his deeply-sensitive and loving blood ransom repaid with total humiliating indifference - Titus confronts the unspeakable, and determines to throw language above the world, to the next. In this world, he will use action again.
Knowing his talking can do nothing, he shoots arrows to the lost gods, begging for mercy or justice. The arrows become rain somewhere, but otherwise fall on deaf ears. There being no justice, Titus/ Hodge goes medieval on Tamora's sons, and the end of the play descends into Death Wish bathos - but always grippingly. You can understand, if not condone, to paraphrase Cherie Blair.
Titus Andronicus is often considered a lesser, savage play. It is violent, but it is violence bodily entangled with language, blood and flesh - it is the play that most demands we note the way the tongue, and the polis, are connected. This poesis / polis connection makes the play a subtextual working through of Platonic and Aristotelian notions of poetics, and politics. Shakespeare clearly fused the two worlds.
[ps comment on A's note - I saw Lester as Hamlet; Spacey in many productions (he's a genius I think) and still say Hodge was superb. I found nothing wrong with his diction. As for indicating that I live in "London, England" - perhaps my worthy interlocutor is geographically-impaired - but it is common courtesy to do so, lest those who live in "London, Canada" - and other such, smaller Londons, feel neglected.]
Saturday, 3 June 2006
To my mind, Anderson gets everything right about spoken word, and discards all the pitfalls and pranks that are the practice's tempting ills - that is, his voice is subtle, melodious and full-registered, here threatening, now soft, then smoothly unctuous (then anxious), again enraged, giving voice to the gamut of emotional possibilities of human uttered expression; and, his writing, that is, the words he gives vented voice to, are daring, informed by a canny sense of the history of 20th century performative work (from Dada on down), and thoughtfully engaged with the political and social issues of our age - all this, without, as I said, dwelling in cheap camp, crass humour, or shock for its own sake. In short, Fortner Anderson is one of the most mature, impressive, and alarming of North America's poets who perform their words, and his long serious career has now exposed his craft and art over many decades. For this reason, I have several times anthologized his writing and work, and hope to again.
So: all this to say, it was good to finally get my hands on a copy of his latest CD, from Wired On Words, Montreal's indispensable poetry label, run by the hard-working poet Ian Ferrier, himself no spoken word slouch. This one's called Six Silk Purses (link below) and it is a good idea: Anderson has given six composers of soundscapes / music to do what they will with pre-recorded versions of his poems - the result - a thrilling investigation of how words and musics / noise / sound can be taped, mixed, looped, produced and finally meshed together to create a greater masterwork, a soundartpiece.
This avant-garde practice is one I myself explored with composer Tom Walsh, something of a pioneer in this field, and it is very heartening to see Montreal continuing to further deepen this worthwhile way of making poetry a part of media, and vice versa. I'll wrote more when I have listened to the CD a few more times. I'll also feature Anderson some coming Friday. In the meantime, anyone interested in innovative spoken word / poetry recording must own this.
Friday, 2 June 2006
The poem has lots to commend it, though (or because) it's undeniably busily weird, getting more of the world in to its triplicate lines than most issues of Mojo and Lancet combined.
Indeed, its disturbing layering of Glocks, Les Paul guitars, Saints, sinners, Twin Towers, and cancer (which moved me especially, as my father has this terrible disease) makes it arguably one of the more richly interleavened poems the TLS has ever published - also, in all likelihood, the most "postmodern".
Worth buying the issue for, certainly.
I am currently reading Stoke's Michelangelo, and may report back later on that front; and am also awaiting his poems, from Carcanet, in the post.
This last was edited by Peter Robinson, a good poet I know through an email correspondence, and whose work I have gladly published on occasion in things I've edited.
Back to Stokes. He combines an interest in several matters that concern me as well - particularly psychoanalysis (in his case, he was Melanie Klein's analysand in the 30s); art, and poetry.
Stokes was an influence on any number of artists and writers, including Elizabeth Bishop, and deserves to be read.
I hope the link below, written by Robinson, and including some poems by Stokes, will, well, stoke interest.
Thursday, 1 June 2006
Costume Drama, 1999
US, 147 minutes
Directed by Andy Tennant
With Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling
3 specs out of 5
Headline: PALACE COUPLE
Anna and the King’s opening credits claim it is based on the writings of real-life Anna Leonowens, elegantly waltzing around the royal issue of primogeniture. Everyone knows this film’s a pretender to the throne, a remake of beloved classic The King and I, indelibly starring bald Yul Brynner as the eponymous potentate.
This actually signals an important, politically correct shift in the script. In hindsight, there’s something a little less charming and more than a tad awkward about an imperious British schoolmarm taking an Asian ruler to task over how to be more “civilized” - given colonialism’s barbaric legacy.
In this revisionary version, Anna’s relationship with the man she works and falls for - King Mongkut (Yun-Fat) - is put in context, and she appears in the unflattering glow of the British East-India Company - a transimperial corporation to make Empire-mad Kipling proud.
Fortunately, the story’s heart stays intact, since desire and duty are forces that have not changed much since the 19th century. A prim and by-the-book English teacher, recently widowed, arrives in Siam to tutor for the King, and they soon are in a love that cannot (because of the time’s social and racial barriers) be consummated in more than a formal, albeit passionate, dance.
The romance is believable, and the “cry now” subliminal messages pop up several times to teary effect, especially during well-choreographed death scenes. The Romeo/Juliet sub-plot involving concubine Tuptim (feline Bai Ling) and her pining monk lover, is unexpectedly powerful. Surprisingly, there is an even more riveting sub-sub-plot with megalomaniacal General Alak (Randall Duk Kim) nearly worthy of Ran. Duk Kim’s gnarled face and veteran’s growl makes him the most fun villain in ages.
The lead actors are less successful in their roles. Jodie Foster’s pinched features and strained British accent are more mannerism than from the manor born. Chow Yun-Fat, marvelous in his hard-boiled roles in the Jon Woo actioners that inspired Tarantino, is not a fluent English-speaker (hardly his fault) and so is often unintelligible. Still, the on-screen chemistry experiment works (nature abhors a vacuum) and their acting strengths soon sweep aside such quibbles.
The film’s generally high quality - costumes, location and cinematography are all first-rate - is marred by the insipid child actor Tom Felton, whose constant cheerio-pip-pip demeanor is like five fingernails scraping Anna’s schoolroom chalkboard. Further undermining the cinematic class act is a childish climax (with Bedknobs and Broomsticks flare) whose resolution makes "The Charge of the Light Brigade" seem like brilliant military strategy. When Anna and the King teaches us adult lessons about life, it is superb; when it stoops to conquer the kids with jolly-good-fun, it is poor - a pauper where once was a king.
Two Molson Prizes, worth $50,000 each, are awarded every year to distinguished Canadians, one in the arts and the other in the social sciences or humanities.
The prizes recognize the recipients' outstanding lifetime achievements and ongoing contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada.
See complicated rules below!
PARLIAMENTARY POET LAUREATE FOR CANADA NOMINATIONS SOUGHT
The Poet Laureate term is from November 17, 2006 to November 16, 2008. In order to give equal representation to Canada's two official languages, Poets Laureate are selected alternately from each official language community. For the 2006-2008 term an English-speaking Poet will be selected.
Candidates must be residents of Canada. Candidates must have made a contribution to the cultural and literary community; have produced written or oral work reflecting Canada; be accomplished literary artists who have influenced other artists; have a substantial record demonstrating literary excellence. The quality of the accompanying supporting documentation, including letters of support, is vitally important to the nomination. Nominators must ensure the following materials are received in the following order:
a completed nomination form;
A letter of nomination;
A brief description (up to 250 words) of the nominee's significant contributions to the literary community and why he or she should be considered an outstanding nominee (this may be part of the nominator's letter);
A brief description (up to 250 words) of how the nominee's work reflects Canada (this may be part of the nominator's letter);
A brief description (up to 250 words) of how the nominee has influenced other literary artists (this may be part of the nominator's letter);
A one-page biography of the nominee, summarizing education, significantachievements, current professional activities, any honours or awards received and a copy of the nominee's current bibliography or a copy of the nominee's current curriculum vitae, including the same information;
Two letters from colleagues in the literary field supporting the nomination;
An example of the nominee's published work or an audio or video tape of work in the oral tradition.
All material referred to above should be letter-size (8 1/2 x 11) and loose-leaf. Bound materials (e.g. stapled or spiral bound) will not be accepted to ensure ease of copying and mailing. The Library of Parliament is not responsible for the loss or damage, whatever the cause, of supporting material.
Material will not be returned after the nomination process. Late or incomplete submissions and unsolicited attachments will not be considered.
Send submissions to: Poet Laureate Selection Committee, Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Public Programs, 90 Sparks Street, Suite 940, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A9.
For more info: (613) 992-4793 or 1-866-599-4999 or e-mail email@example.com
Deadline: July 31, 2006
In that time, I've:
written about poetry readings; books, films, art, albums and other cultural events I've enjoyed or thought worth bringing to wider attention (though how wide is an issue); given notice of obituaries of cultural figures of interest to me; expressed personal political convictions - normally cheering on Chavez and booing Republicans; began to add photos with most posts; tried to link to other good blogs and sites; featured dozens of poets, emerging and established, from around the world; a few times published my own poems; expressed ongoing concern with the quality and content of media discourse on poetry - and equal concern with the way poets of various stripes relate to each other, via poetics, publishing and reviews. More recently, I have begun to describe personal matters, relating to family, friends, and loved ones.
Of course, when I began, I had no idea that 7/7 was about to transform London living; at first, the terrible event made me want to quite blogging - then it made me want to go on.
I changed the name of the blog, from the T.S. Review, which seemed too pretentious, to Eyewear, which seemed more fun and irreverent. I am always open to changing it back, so do register your vote.
I also recently set up a system to track how many "visitors" I get. This was astonishing information. Apparently, in May I had over 2,000 such readers. On average, about 65 people a day come here - a small community, but a growing one. According to The Economist in their recent survey, any blog with 150 or so regular readers, such as Eyewear, constitutes a lively node of communication. So I am grateful to you, my faithful, invisible readers.
What do I think of blogging, a year later?
A few things:
- I am surprised how quickly it accrues - a post every day or so and a year later one has a book-sized compendium of musings and notes.
- I find it a vaguely irritating habit, like smoking (which I quit three years ago) - sinister in its addictive qualities but harmful in other ways, most especially in that it seems something of a time-consumer. Not quite a diary, not quite an urgent epistle, not quite a bottle that no sea can bear, it is a beast borne furiously forward on digital waves the human species is only still beginning to fathom. One of the great pleasures of writing a blog is that one can adopt any rhetorical tone or strategy one wishes, at random. It is still beyond the pale, and therefore somewhat free of frowning school marms and po-faced critics.
- I am pleased and startled by how quickly news travels on the blogosphere - several times my posts have set off small controversies quite unintended.
I'll continue, for now, but reserve the right to stop, at any time. Like that fellow in the Muldoon poem, Brownlee was it? - why I might leave is part of the enigma. Or was it in Larkin, where he might just give the toad blog up, and go off with a cutlass on the nut-strewn roads?
[note: the photo above, which I think is amazing, is from the great blog lemonhound - linked here - do check it out]