About Eyewear the blog

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


Thursday, 31 August 2006

"free of the war life"

Colin Wilson, one of my favourite authors, once wrote of "outsiders". Recently, Outsider Music became a kind of quasi-genre, roping together socially marginal figures who make mavericks seem like the elite.

Now I have come across the oddest outsider of them all (odd in a good way?). The title of this post is from one his songs.
Have you heard (of) Y. Bhekhirst? The link below will take you to a site that has MP3s of all the ten songs on his under-the-underground classic Hot In The Airport tape, recorded and then re-released in New York.

The sound is as disconcerting and discordant and disturbed as a private language. This is Private Music.

Is there such poetry, as well? Is this a hoax?

Mahfouz Is Dead, Times Are Hard

Mahfouz, the great Arab novelist, pictured here, has died, but not before seeing a different kind of result from that of the Arab-Israel war of 1967, which plunged him into relative silence for five years.

Meanwhile, cluster bombs continue to kill innocent people in Beirut - even as Iran defies the West over its desire to possess nuclear power.

But, Chavez's new friendship with Syria may be a step too far.

A fraught week, indeed, in the Middle East.




http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1988/mahfouz-bio.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/syria/story/0,,1861607,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/syria/story/0,,1861571,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,1861804,00.html

Does Climate Change Require You To Change Too?


A friend of Eyewear's recently wrote this article for The Guardian.

UK readers may wish to attend the Camp for Climate Action, running until September 4.
















Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Review: Modern Times

Every artist (infinite in potential) limits their range and delineates their limit. In this way the tradition is revised, enhanced and made bountiful in conserved seriousness which establishes new norms and points to farther reaches.

Modern Times by Bob Dylan, released yesterday, is a supremely modest, mature and controlled offering of ten songs whose generous appeal and broad, open manner present the most crafted, popular sound of his late career. Those who come to this album hoping for explicit expressions of critique or contempt for these modern, fraught, American times will be turned away not empty-handed, but handed signs and symbols wrapped in tuneful enigmas, swaddled in traditional folk, blues, swing and country sounds and tropes.

Of Dylan's three great albums of the decade begun in 1997, this is the second strongest, the least cryptic, and the most romantic: deeper, socio-political losses figured as absenteed women on the road of a lonesome cowboy band.

However, critics who have tried to lessen the impact of this album are foolish and have stale ears. The Guardian suggested this was no masterpiece. A bit like splitting the difference and suggesting Hamlet ain't Lear. Bob Dylan, friends, is that rare and true thing - a universal genius - he may be America's Shakespeare, and surely exceeds (after equalling) the uncanny gifts of Whitman, maybe even Emily D. Little journalists needn't jockey to blow this house down - this work will be listened to so long as recording technology exists. Dylan's timeless as Aeschylus.

Since this album has been five years in the making, and comes after September 11, 2001 (when his major work, "Love and Theft" was uncannily released), some may have expected it to be political, to take the measure of these days. And it does, in the private, measured, and strange manner that is Dylan's - as fans know, he long ago left the protest stage for a deeper, higher platform, after strange gods and fostering elusive commitments.

The word that crops up most often in this work is "brain" - half the songs have a character with something on the brain - often the heart. In "Nettie Moore" the singer wants to escape the "demagogues" and complains about "too much paperwork".

The last, and strongest, song, track 10, "Ain't Talkin'" is an Oedipal drama set on a plain, where the singer's character takes up his "walking cane" in search of his father's killer, unaware that, in his quest for revenge and slaughter, he seeks himself. The second most common word on the album, is "hill" - where lovers are to meet. This signals the city on a hill from John Winthrop's famous New England sermon, a warning to America that all eyes were upon it, and it should be true to God's covenant.

In the penultimate, prophetic song "The Levee's Gonna Break" the rain is falling (the hard rain) and some people just "take". Katrina is thus invoked, but never named (we know Dylan loves, and derives much from, New Orleans). In mysterious yet clear fashion, Dylan extends his concerns with America, nature and with faith, while never letting the album cease to be simultaneously simply a beautifully-rendered album of moving, attractive tunes, often very upbeat in style.

The three best songs here are all as good as any but perhaps the ten best of Dylan's early period: "Workingman's Blues #2"; "Nettie Moore" and Ain't Talkin" and are startlingly robust and fresh in their big sound. There is nothing flawed or hesitant or old here - just ten timeless, supremely-crafted songs. I am now hungry for the next album, in 2011.

Eyewear's rating: 5 specs out of 5.

The album cover image is copyright Ted Croner's Estate. It is likely no coincidence the title is "Taxi, New York At Night" as this album looms, opaque, out of the dark night of New York's post-9/11 experience.

Eye On New Gold Dream

Q, the music bible with which Eyewear likes to quibble, recently suggested that Simple Minds was a guilty pleasure.

They are not. Their album, New Gold Dream, is a shimmering masterpiece of new wave iconography from about a quarter century ago: from signal cover to its deeply-crafted songs that hint at Christology by way of Bonhoeffer, and still calls for attentive recovery. It is now time to establish it as a recognized classic.

It is a wonder, all of a piece, this transcendent album, full of Kerr's whispers and new, resonant sounds. Each song builds on a crashing wave of revealed theology and subtle synth-sound - from the alliterative call-and-response of "someone somewhere in summertime" to the promised miracles, to the dark-night-of-the-soul doubt of "Big Sleep" to the redemptive, eschatoligical fervour that is the bold title track's luscious line: "she is your friend" (that wondrous promise still makes me swoon - oh to hold her hand).

Each song relates to the soul's journey toward faith - sometimes pulling back, sometimes entering in - and does so, in true metaphysical fashion, and in the English tradition, by marrying the secular and the divine in the body of one beloved. So it is that track 2 has the love-struck Catherine figured as a fireworks display as "Catherine wheels" in her fear of falling "in love / out of the sky" - fusing pagan and Christian imagery with Eros. The titles are themselves wonderful. "Glittering Prize" for instance.

Blending allegories from Auerbach, of sun-struck summer wheatfields, to burning youths, souls and hearts ablaze, Christ figured as the ideal teen girlfriend, the redemption songs on this album stay ever-golden, luminous and sublime, gently reminscent of the Gawain-Poet's search for Pearl. Images of friendship, light, and heraldry interpenetrate each song. Consider the song "Hunter and the Hunted" which is strongly reflective of Wyatt.

Throughout this brilliant god-haunted, love-shaped album, the well-written and considered lyrics refer, back to traditions of religious poetry and other writings (including of course the Bible), and forward, to a millenial possibility flaring on the edge of perception. A tense, compassionate struggle is endorsed in these songs, between earthly and heavenly love - in other words, the original pop tropes are cleverly, seriously, redeemed.

Critics - of music and poetry - often mock the adolescent sublime, when works of art and wonder are first encountered, and the soul shouts out to what it hopes is best ahead in the summer heat of foolhardy but heroic decision - but doubters should heed youth's aesthetic call; not all encountered when young is silly or sentimental only.

Much in the green fires of youth still burns within us years later, and can lead one home at the end of our days. I first heard NGD in the spring of my fifteenth year, as the winter ice cracked under the bright blue winter sky, and it remains a constant counterpoint to this less romantic era. We need to listen with more heart, and Hart (Crane), somewhere, sometimes ("speeding through the eye of love").

Monday, 28 August 2006

Volver

The actress Penelope Cruz (pictured here) is the best thing about Volver, Eyewear believes. Pedro Almodovar's latest Cannes-winning vanity project (each of his films is a homage to his own sensibility sustained by self-reflecting lenses) may be his best, in that the mise-en-scene, while ravishing (especially the hot reds and cool blues) is never entirely overwhelmed by camp.

Instead, a humane, and sober, web of intrigue, spun from the themes of incest, murder, hauntings and mother-love, creates a moving and thrilling picture, which plays on the style of TV sit-coms and soaps, while never entirely descending into laff-riot comedy or bathos.

Almodovar has never been my favourite director; he is my least favourite, of a generation of major auteurs that includes Lynch, Ozon and Wong Kar-wai. I am not merely aping Sight & Sound (whose recent issue asks whether PA is over-rated): indeed, I have avoided reading the article until after this post is done, so as not be influenced unduly.

What has always been his major failing is his strength - a visual sense drenched in a certain regard for older cinema. His signature has always been colour, style, passion and melodrama - usually associated with "great roles for women" (so long as women want to portray mothers and whores). PA flatters and idealizes women (and in the world of film this is sadly often called love), much as Hitchcock demonized and idealized them - driven by tired sexual tropes and desires that nonetheless achieve force when rendered as film.

Another way of saying this is that PA's movies yearn for a sentimental golden-age of film (and life) and do so by use of shallow homage and scene-quotation that is about as deep as pastiche always is.

Volver is more mature than this. The homage is still there (to Psycho, especially, although the colour is more North by Northwest - and Visconti) but the story - a touching ensemble-piece that explores the return of the repressed, as a literal figure, or figures - reveals moments of genuine pathos, psychological insight. It opens with wind, dust and gravestones in a tour-de-force shot worthy of Welles, and terminates with a sombre final act that (in a world without men) credibly restores the possibility of redemption, of heaven, on earth, as simply respectful agape among one gender.

I sometimes felt, while watching Volver, that PA is trying to fuse the colour of late Hitchcock and the existential shadows of Bergman; it is a measure of his stylish mastery that he has come close.

Four specs out of five.

Friday, 25 August 2006

Poem by Togara Muzanenhamo

Togara Muzanenhamo (pictured here) was born to Zimbabwean parents in Lusaka, Zambia in 1975. He was brought up in Zimbabwe, and then went on to study in The Hague and Paris.

He became a journalist in Harare and worked for a film script production company. His work has appeared in magazines in Europe, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and was included in Carcanet's anthology New Poetries in 2002.

The poem below is taken from his debut collection, recently out from Carcanet, The Spirit Brides. Eyewear is very glad to welcome him to these pages this Friday.


The Laughing Wood

A rock and a river,
And on the rock a blade of sunlight intensifying the colour of moss.
The sound of water
Flowing down into the valley where they found the bags.

I have never seen a fairy,
But she professed to seeing fields of them, at play, in flight.
And to talk of them in the sparkle
Of sunlight amid the dreamy sound of water; that was a great pleasure.

The moss was warm and soft,
She lay with her head in her palm and knee up,
Exposing her inner thigh
As the river flowed down into the valley where they found the buried bags.


poem by Togara Muzanenhamo

Thursday, 24 August 2006

UK Gets Bigger and Pluto Gets Smaller, Plus Tea

The BBC news has been fascinating today. First Pluto is demoted from planet to just a bit of dirt way out yonder (in Kafka's Prague, no less, by scientists who think Xena is a good name) - and you thought your ego was fragile, how about goofy Pluto's now? Then the UK gets bigger than 60 million people for the first time ever.

Now for some good news. Tea is actually better for you than water. That may explain the thriving British population, eh?






Edging

Eyewear has long considered innovative Paris-based American poet Michelle Noteboom one of the younger contemporary poets to watch.

Over the past five years or so, I have published her work in several anthologies, including Short Fuse and Future Welcome, and at Nthposition.

Now, her debut collection Edging is out, with a new press, after winning a competition. Her tour starts soon, so do see link for more information.

New Canons and Conifers

The TLS has run a good review (in its August 18 & 25, 2006 issue) of the major new anthology of Canadian poetry edited by Carmine Starnino, The New Canon. The review, headed "Beneath the conifers" is by Patrick McGuinness.

It ends with the following: "Canadian poetry deserves to be better known. .... [Starnino] has offered us a book of unusual vibrancy and range ..."


Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Pre-Modern Times

As I - and the world - await the coming of the third in Dylan's late series of masterworks, it is appropriate to once again ask: what is the greatest work of art of the 21st century?

I confess to a short list of one: Bob Dylan's album, which had been set for release on 9-11, "Love and Theft".

There have been major works in cinema, by Wong Kar-wai and Lynch and Ozon; several good collections of poetry, a handful of novels, some art installations - but without a doubt, the most troubling, complex, uncanny and relevant work has been "Love and Theft".

This is an album I return to, often, for a simple reason. Bob Dylan is the American Shakespeare, in the sense that Harold Bloom has talked about Shakespeare, and this is his late masterwork - his King Lear, if you will. Nothing I can write will sustain these claims - you must listen to the album.

What I will say is that Dylan has achieved an extraordinary texture and flow of voice, music and meaning here - and I mean extraordinary by the standards of the creator of Blonde on Blonde.

What to listen for: that American ecstatic calling forth of place names associated with the Civil War; each song's layering of characters, creating a Joycean level of stream of consciousness, while also commenting on his own previous work and the work of Shakespeare; and continual, startling shifts in phrasing, phrases and intent, so that a striking malevolence, and threat of violence asserts itself from time to time, in the midst of what appear to be the reminsicences of old, retired veterans of campaigns both military and amorous; I have mentioned Joyce and Shakespeare, but the comedy and existential emptiness openly confronted several times in the songs (especially "Floater (Too Much To Ask)" and "Sugar Baby") is akin to Beckett.

There is a sense in which Dylan has conjured up (to exorcise or excoriate?) America's deepest conflicts within its antebellum heart, to represent (presciently it must be said) what is currently unfolding in Iraq. Regardless of its political dimensions, however, the 12 songs on this album are a permanent part of the American Song Book - and no current poet or novelist in America is working at this depth of grave intent.

We may wish to resist American influence in many spheres (and I do, I do), but with regards to music and vocal expression of the lyric word, the American master, Bob Dylan, is very much the universal artist of our time, in much the same way that, 100 years ago, Henrik Ibsen could be said to be.

Betjeman

Sir John Betjeman (pictured above) is one of England's most charming and popular 20th century poets. It is his centenary this year. He was Poet Laureate, as well as a succesful media personality, and sold millions of books. One of the poetry albums made of his recordings was titled Betjemania, which quite accurately reflects the general public regard for this rumpled, Teddy Bear holding, lovable eccentric: taught by T.S. Eliot and Muse to Philip Larkin.

The great Atlantic drift between Britain and America yawns wide on the question of his reputation, thought it also seems up for grabs at home, too.

Arguably, Betjeman is little read or valued in America. Meanwhile, the BBC's flagship morning radio news slot, Today, today featured a rather long and winding debate, during its most valued minutes (the last ten before the nine o'clock news) on Betjeman's enduring legacy as a poet.

Oddly, one of the commentators expressed the view that Betjeman could not be considered a great poet (like Milton) as he was not very good in terms of "diction or form" - absurd claims from a North American perspective, where Betjeman's perfect English diction (his grasp of idiom, tone and style) and formal gifts (expert and traditional) mark him as both quintessentially English and something of a hothouse flower.

It was then put forth that, compared to The Waste Land, Betjeman had produced nothing of significant poetic value. The Waste Land is a famous and striking literary assemblage, but it is neither the greatest, or most moving, or most beautiful, poem of the century. While I agree that Betjeman is perhaps not in the first rank of poets, his gifts were many, and need not be dismissed quite so easily.

http://www.johnbetjeman.com/

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Grass, and Higher Maths

In the last few days, several major English-language writers, like John Irving, have come to praise G. Grass, ex-Waffen-SS soldier, and novelist, for doing the right thing, and admitting to having once been 17 and harbouring urges to join the most infamous and criminal gang of war criminals known to history.

These literate advocates observe that the Nobel prize-winner (never shy of publicity) has been the conscience of post-war Germany; figured thus, anything he was to say, or do - or to have said, and done - is both apt and exemplary - and supremely literary. It seems Grass has not only mastered the art and craft of fiction - but of shaping reality, as well.

Meanwhile, other Nazi-sympathizers, such as Ezra Pound, have never been brought in from the cold, presumably because they never admitted to having joined the wrong side, or never wrote about themes of guilt - though, of course, Pound is by far the greater writer of the two. It seems not all 17-year-olds are to be forgiven - Mao will never be able to live down the egomaniacal diary entries of his adolescence; and yet again, we praise Rimbaud for his youthful works.

What emerges, then, seems to be a muddled ethics of praise and blame, depending on the weather: some young people are responsible - even admirable - for what they decide to do in their youth - and others not; and other, older writers, are responsible for what they do then too - and some are not. If Grass is to be now easily and retroactively pardoned, like one more WWI deserter, then perhaps we must absolve all young men and women - and all writers of talent - from what they do. In such a world, only the middle-aged and old (and talentless) will henceforth be punishable for their moral choices.

Meanwhile, for sheer clarity, precision and purity of genius, look to hard-to-see Mr. G. Perelman. The eccentric, reclusive mathematical master, pictured above when young, has recently declined to accept the equivalent, in the maths world, of the Nobel (The Fields Medal) and a million dollars, for having apparently solved one of the most daunting of all the puzzle's human intelligence has devised (or observed). This man has neither time for, or desire of, wealth, fame or power, and works solely - one assumes - because what he does is sublime, good and difficult - the ideal model of both scientist, and artist. This seems a more exemplary heroic model than Grass is able to present to posterity.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5274040.stm?ls

Monday, 21 August 2006

Review: Factotum

Why are drunken, randomly-employed, ill-shaven sociopaths - in a low-rent sort of way - deemed to be (in brief episodic bursts) so very entertaining?

Worse, why does every two-bit "writer" model themselves on the ill-starred yet-famous Charles Bukowski?

And why is it that when arty, highbrow film-makers want to make a European-type film, they turn to his dingy-but-sex-filled life - biopic as malignant biopsy - to glorify his sad-sack existenz, shuffling about low-lit rooms with tapioca-stained wallpaper peeling away to expose infested walls while lounge music plays from 50s-era radios?

Factotum isn't a good movie, okay. But it is the perfect one to watch on TV (via DVD say) any given late evening, when drunk, bored, alone or on riveting decongestant tablets that create on-off headaches; one soon adapts, merging with the neon, the fleabag hotels, the gin parlours. It is, perhaps due to its nature, part-repellent, part-winning. It is hugely watchable, as sleaze can be.

Bukowski - as pictured in this film (just now released theatrically in America) and portrayed brilliantly by Matt Dillon (the subject of a loving recent New York Times piece) - hit a woman (which is a criminal offense); drove drunk (ditto); and smoked on the job, when not drinking. He also (not a crime but a sin) assumed himself to be a genius with a capital G - a sort of Van Gogh with two ears, one prick, and no money. He also, when paid to deliver a van of ice, let it melt, for no good reason, and never tucked in his shirts if he could help it.

In short, despite his E. Hemingway beard and handsome-if-blotched features, he was a royal pain in the Asquith. He is the sort of man, who, had blogs existed when he dawdled through the world, would have written more than one, not sober.

There is nothing heroic about having many crummy jobs - hell, I was once a copy-boy for a year. Nor is there any thing noble about getting drunk during daylight hours (perhaps the film's best scene is a set-up/pay-off on that very idea). But writing - well or okay - and getting published, well, that deserves a drink.

I hope the 78,000 rank amateur no-goodniks who can't scribe their way out of a paperbag won't see this movie (filmed with Montreal, my old stomping grounds, doing a Novak and doubling as vertiginous San Fran) and think doing serious time in shabby strip clubs with a stubby pencil and frayed yellow legal pad is a one-way trip to the Nobel Prize - but I do hope someone makes more of these sorts of movies, every once in a flickering blue moon.

Friday, 18 August 2006

On Planes

For those of us who fly trans-Atlantic - as I did yesterday - the thought that "criminals" from Britain, essentially bright young militants from middle-class families, were - in ultra-code-red fashion - intending, any day now, to set off liquid bombs on ten flights, mid-air, mid-Atlantic, en route to New York, LA, or Washington, DC - well, the thought is horrifying; and, had it happened, the crime would have been mass murder, and unforgivable.

What K-H Stockhausen unfortunately uttered in 2001 is now, in a sense, true - these crimes do not have to happen, to have impact - that is, as the odd German composer said at the time, the Twin Towers massacre was greater than art - for its power. Like the best - and worst - conceptual artists, this new band of 24 (plus the five on the run) have out-Hirsted Hirst - they merely conceive of a terrible thing, and behold - every plane traveller in the world is transformed, into a denuded creature, clutching a plastic bag, without water, hair gel or books; mothers must taste of their own breast milk to prove it is not poision. They have made us travellers less opaque.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,,1842411,00.html

Monday, 14 August 2006

He Made It Strange

50 years ago today, Brecht, pictured here, the greatest political writer of the 20th century (and yet arguably the one with the worst hair cut) died.

Viva Bertolt!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertolt_Brecht

Friday, 11 August 2006

Poem by Nathaniel Tarn

Eyewear is very glad to be able to feature a poem from such a fine poet as Nathaniel Tarn, pictured above. It first appeared, in print, in The Poker, edited in Boston by Dan Bouchard of MIT and then in the book Recollections of Being from Salt (2004). It seems all-too relevant again today.

Tarn is a poet, translator, critic, anthropologist. He has led a distinguished literary and academic career studying and/or teaching at the Universities of Cambridge, Paris, Chicago, London, SUNY Buffalo, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Jilin (P.R.C.). Among some 35 books are The Beautiful Contradictions (Random House); Lyrics for the Bride of God (New Directions) and Selected Poems: 1950-2000 (Wesleyan).

He was founding editor of Cape Editions & Cape Goliard, London-New York, in the late Sixties. He lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico.


from: War Poems Yet Again

3] The Asphyxiation

Needful, while it is taking place,
that the process be invisible
both to the executioner and to the victim.
"For now, let’s say the victim is your honor,
the judge-role done with and the robe burned.
Guerilla war is universalized: the whole world
is the menace now, we see the enemy
at every gatepost: our law alone is
liberation." Kerchief, or gag, whatever,
to be as black as blackest ink,
whole face as well covered in tulle,
this black of course – as in those plays
where scene-shifters don black to sign “invisible.”
Interrogator, interrogators, to be most normal folk
such they could be exchanged for any other folk
and no one, [none, no one], would ever be
so much the wiser. Sitting
most days in offices, filing bland duties
like mostly paperwork and such banality.
All this though all the prisons melted down:
the world may witness we are white as sheep.
No one in town to know the difference
one way or either. So that, to go to town, to greet
one’s friends implies the occultation of the strangled
scream inside the throat that swallowed gag or kerchief
in the act of living. And you say “fine,” yes, “fine thanks,”
[“fine” again and always “fine”] until the end of publication.
“How are you doing this fine morning?” “-Fine, how are you?”
the language plumbs the depths of idiocy
hoping you all and sundry will make “enjoy your day.”
The eye of judgment sits the Adam’s apple,
continues unrecorded in any document.
And you go home to swallow time
as if, on the first day, you’d swum the sea
to find on coral reef the last of judgment
with throat now free of all encumberment
since you had mastered the asphyxiation.


poem by Nathaniel Tarn

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

I saw the Farine Five Roses / in red

The Montreal Gazette does not usually share the same opinions as I do, but one of their editorial leaders for today - "Long Live Farine Five Roses!" - is right up my alley (or should I say narrow urban transit route?).

As the editorial writer says: "It's easy to dismiss the passing of industrial symbols as no great loss. They are neither great art nor great architecture. But they are humble monuments to the working world of thousands ... they deserve a place in our hearts, if not on our skyline."

The FARINE FIVE ROSES sign - a giant, neon-lit series of letters in red retro style - pictured here - has stood over the Bonaventure Expressway for 60 years and is in some ways as iconic for Montrealers as the HOLLYWOOD of LA; sadly, the company that owns and illuminates the sign has sold the trademark to another company, and so, to save money, and avoid advertising a competitor's brand, has switched off the power, rendering the great tall words dark in the night. As the Gazette suggests, Smuckers can still improve by re-lighting the historic sign.

The same sort of thing happened in Budapest, a visual-historical voiding, where the important, and retro-classic BUDAVOX sign was finally torn down. That sign was the title inspiration for my first collection (DC Books, 1999) - the sign can be seen on the cover. BUDAVOX was several stories high, and very beautiful, of its modernist period. Budapest closed many of its cinemas, or tore down a lot of its Deco and Modern neon signs at the turn of the millennium, to renew its city; such changes are often later profoundly regretted.

There are a few scenes in Miami Vice (one on the Argentina-Paraguay border) and again in Cuba, where Mann zooms in on, or features in the background, signs (one is a huge eye, the other the name of an Art Deco hotel) that herald the semiotic, ironic and iconic value of such signs, such letters. As the poet W.C. Williams, and the painter Charles Demuth, had it: "I saw the figure 5 / in gold" - one of the most beautiful phrases - and paintings - in 20th century modern art.

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/11/na/ho_49.59.1.htm

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Portrait from Hydra

Poet and artist Henry Denander (who sketched me on Hydra I now discover) has recently posted a new portrait of yours truly on his site, see below.

And yes, it features my Alain Mikli eyewear.

www.henrydenander.com

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Visual Pleasure and Miami Vice

Adorno once said he never left a cinema without feeling less humane; Seneca warned against the visual pleasures of violent blood-sports and crowd spectacles.

Michael Mann is clearly no respecter of Seneca or Adorno, having tossed us several dozen bodies to enjoy seeing employed in illicit activities, in his latest auteur-voyeur semi-classic, Miami Vice.

First, I confess to having enjoyed Audioslave on the soundtrack - but feel the sound in the sight and sound helix that is film was severely cropped here - what was MTV-cops is now more like illegal-downloads-intercepted - so songs dribble in, as if Tubb's iPod was low on juice.

The truth is, no one films the surface of things as well as Mann in legitimate cinema; and no one else explores the circles of hell bad men travel to work each day through - Bogota Unreal City - with such cerebral venom in the veins: half the film is Crockett and Tubbs (re-enacted like mannequins by stars of the day) being patted down, escorted and forced to swagger like Mephisto on Meth.

Mann is also great at presenting villains you want to see get shot in the head: he focuses on one Neo-Nazi's eyebrow pimple so many times it beckons for ballistic removal. What faces his villains and Feds possess! - each tell s a Carver story if Carver had done time in San Quentin - and Ciaran Hinds - late of Munich, has the best.

The final sequence channels Iraq small-arms-fire: the tinny pop and snap of the guns, and then the heightened endless chatter of the Uzis, and the random silence, is eerie and masterful.

Gong Li (pictured) and assorted women in peril, the go-fast boats and splendind planes put one in mind of pseudo-Bond, and heighten one's awareness that this is really just pitch meeting madness: Soldier of Fortune Meets GQ; Mann does surface tension, but is less good at the wake churned up by speed's brute passing - the hospital sequences are bland and naive.

The best sequence features the kingpin and Gong Li planning their business/perfidious week while reading the latest Wall Street Journals scattered across their massive bed in some deep jungle overlooking fifty major waterfalls, while stock info darts across the screens installed in the Xanadau-style bedroom; it is in this Shakesperean scene of men and women so evil they represent a challenge to the alternative, as lightning flashes beyond the fronds, we expect C. Kane's parakeet to screech.

Friday, 4 August 2006

August Poems Now Online at Nthposition

10 poets, up at www.nthposition.com


Advice to the Prime Idiot
by John Hartley Williams

Tree house of the dream child & Rochelle’s movie
by Rose Solari

Terminal
by Douglas W Gray

A moon song & Material
by Jill Jones

The hostages
by Andrew O'Donnell

The life cycle (Nova Scotia) & A guide to breaking the banking industry
by Jacob McArthur Mooney

Please talk eerily amongst yourselves
by Jake Kennedy

To John Tranter, after reading 'Late Night Radio' & debbie jaffe
by Adam Fieled

Idol & The lost planet
by Patrick Chapman

good friday, prize & you're so beautiful
by Tom Harding

Audioslave to the music

James Bond is not meant to shoot himself in the foot - that's the other guy, and it's not meant to be the foot, either.

Since the latest Bond film was announced, many, including Eyewear, have felt it represented a kind of low, in terms of vision - the casting, for one, has been so dire, a website has been created to deny the very existence of the Bond they claim will be Bond (very Baudrillard this).

Now, amidst so many misfires, comes the most laughable of all - the choice of theme song. Often the theme song has been given to has-beens - but, at other times, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Duran Duran have been invited to belt out something trite and so-bad-it-is-great about dying or killing or living (always with the Monty Norman backbeat and the double-entendre that the only mort is petite) - and some of these songs are wonderful (including the classic by undisputed musical genius Louis Armstrong).

So, who do the Bondsmen chose to master their new song but - Audioslave. Roll over Hegel and tell de Sade the news.

How did this happen? According to the NY Times, rock does not sell in 2006 - and the two biggest rock acts stateside at the moment are (The) Killers and Evanescence (new albums due October 4). In the UK, guitar bands are big again, with Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys; Radiohead have a new album soon.

They could have asked any of these - or Bob Dylan. Or Depeche Mode, whose every song is a Bond Theme manque.

Instead - Audioslave. Not Tool. Not Marilyn Manson. Not even Nirvana's intrepid rump, Foo Fighters - but the post-grunge melange known as Audioslave.

Sounds just the ticket for a serious, adult, profound and tough-but-stylish film set in a Casino.

Not.

Poem by Jake Kennedy

I included some poetry by Jake Kennedy (somewhat pictured here) in the .DC anthology, Mooshead X: Future Welcome which I edited in 2005. I liked his work the first time I read it.

Jake is teaching in Peterborough, Ontario, in the Cultural Studies Department at Trent University. He recently received his doctorate, in English literature, from McMaster University.

Eyewear is pleased to feature him this Friday.


TV Jack Ass, after Nam June Paik

1.

People translucence
waking hee haw
People flashlights heautoscopy
People electrical matter

People are I believe meat
aerosol and hair fallacies

My dear drowning and poets
in blue flickers. This is not
the age of Rilke.
People more batter.

2.

So what are these assignations?
Windows against people
People that green
and grey intentionally, old people—

what people are
people are

—but young Mars bars
People fight flies
People canyons, with noodles.
People into rag-tail-swat-nuisance.

poem by Jake Kennedy

Thursday, 3 August 2006

The Passion of the Madonna

First Mel Gibson does an Ezra Pound and broadcasts (albeit drunk and via one cop) his wild-eyed anti-Semitism; now, another major American celebrity has raised the stakes (as it were) and gone and done an anti-Gibson - crucifying the crucifixion, to mock the most profound symbol (or reality) of the Christina Faith - and Rome is damned if it's going to let that go uncondemned.

Now, I have always enjoyed Madonna's corpus (anti-Christi?) of work - some pictured here - but perhaps it is time to ask of her the question which she is so lewdly spelling out in splayed fashion on her stage - Quo Vadis? - that is - may we begin to interrogate the interrogator, take down the taker-downer, mock the mocker - and beg the question from the queen of buggery?

In short, Madonna: what do you believe? What is your alternative philosophy for the good life?

Drawing a conclusion from both her work (music, films, videos, books) and her life (etc.), the answer is relatively clear - Madonna represents an "empowered" American sexual "liberator" who blanches at accepting the authority of church (if not state and capitalism) in dictating her behaviour in public or private sphere - i.e. she stands for radical individualism. At various times, she may also have espoused one or other transcendental or pseudo-spiritual options of a mystic bent, but basically she is still a material girl.

Now, I don't know about you, but, given global warming, Iraq (and beyond), and the generally abusive spectre of American power, expressed in terms of freedom, liberty and international careerism, the once-stylish and cute flaunting of US-type free-speechery typified by Madonna on the cross, has now become less pleasant or admirable. It is perhaps time to suggest that more community-based, less-self-interested, and more complex and nuanced responses to the environment, multiculturalism, and other religious faiths, is now required - nay, demanded, by the times. Tilting at Jesus on a stick doesn't cut it anymore. Besides which, the Sermon on the Mount is hardly a document worthy of hoisting on its own petard - it still remains the blueprint for a way of life that, if widely adopted by humanity, could save us all - even if secularized and lifted from its religious impediments.

Or is that what Madonna is saying?


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/5242638.stm

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

The Oxford Book of American Poetry, 2006

Eyewear has been looking at (even reading) The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006), edited by poet and editor-extraordinaire David Lehman of NYC (and creator of The Best American Poetry series, that essential thing) which The Economist (which tends to be economical with its praise of new poetry books) has recently recommended. With a few reservations, Eyewear is able to second The Economist - it is certainly a bang for the buck, at over 1,000 pages.

First, the bad news (there is much good to follow, fear not and read on): Lehman has chosen not to include Vachel Lindsay, pictured, one of the great pioneers of spoken word poetry, an inspired sometimes surreal poet, as well as being the first poet to ever write intelligently about cinema; he has also not included some first-rate contemporary poets, (perhaps some of these too young?); the only Canadian included is Anne Carson (unless one considers the little-known Joan Murray), though he mentions the idea of a "North American poetry" - Klein could have figured here, as well as Layton.

The editor has also seriously under-represented Stanley Kunitz (one poem), Archibald MacLeish (whose great "You, Andrew Marvell" should be there, as well as the one about the end of the world, ending with - I recall - "nothing, nothing, nothing at all..."), Bob Dylan (one poem and not his best - "Desolation Row" - "Tangled Up in Blue" would have been better even - and none by Cohen, I think the better poet), Amy Clampitt, and Millay without her wonderful poem about being merry, on the ferry.

While Auden is included (in spades) as a Brit who went Yankee, Gunn is left out, though no poet was more American during the AIDS-tormented-80's than Mr. Gunn. Also in the MIA category must be almost all the poets one associates with "multicultural" or "identity" poetry - including those whose work usually resists such limiting categories, like Rita Dove, Maya Angelou or Leroi Jones/ Amiri Baraka (no doubt disgraced for his astounding 9/11 views - like father, like Gibson?) - and so are most of the key performance poets simply not present or accounted for, from Bob Holman through to Marc Smith - perhaps, again, all born after 1950 (though Patti Smith makes an appearance - if her, why not Iggy Pop, let alone Lou Reed, Mr. Hell, Ms. Anderson or a dozen other underground artists of similar weight and quality). Lehman has also given just a few too many pages to his New contemporaries, (and much too much to Bukowski) against the claims of poetry written before 1900 - half the book and more is really a modern/ postmodern anthology of post-Pounders.

The good news is better - this is, despite these concerns, a major new revisioning of the American Poetry canon, and Lehman should be congratulated for seriously revising the outdated and slightly moribund anthologies he inherited, from F.O. Mathiessen and Richard Ellman. Lehman contains multitudes, and while he admits to avoiding the word "poetries", admits too that there are at least polarities, in American poetry (broadly-speaking, mainstream formalist and innovative alternative) - and represents each side widely, if rarely deeply - so, a number of significant avant-garde poets (the cut-off date is the curiously succesful 1950, which ropes in many of the big guns) get a look in: Jorie Graham, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, Aaron Fogel, Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, Barbara Guest, as well as lucid mainstreamers like Billy Collins and Dana Gioia, to balance the accounts.

Lehman has also done justice to The Objectivist (Oppen, Reznikoff, Zukofsky - but no Rakosi) and New York School, even so far as including Edwin Denby, and other poets that Ashbery has long championed, like vehicular homicide victim and eccentric John Wheelwright. On a side note, Lehman's brief, witty, sometimes rather catty, and often informative bio notes about the poets reveal an astounding sense that about a quarter of American poets either saw one or more of their parents kill themselves (or their partners) or killed themselves, or both.

Actually, like a missing persons bureau gone supernova, Lehman has done much to rescue the lost also-rans of US Poetry and return them to their deserved status: David Schubert, Trumbull Stickney, Stein, Joseph Ceravolo, Samuel Greenberg (Crane's friend), H. Phelps Putnam, Kenneth Fearing, Yvor Winters, Karl Shapiro and Weldon Kees are all restored to the canon - in some cases with thrilling results (all the more sad then to see Lindsay out). And Lehman admits this is a canon - after all, revisionist that he is, the Introduction starts with Eliot, and Eliot swans through most of it, with most of his grand ideas intact. Aiken is back, a little, in the process, but not much.

Other poets are lifted higher in status than before - so Ammons and O'Hara and James Merill and Donald Hall (a fine poet of wit, order and humanity) have nearly as many pages as Eliot or Auden - and some are lowered - Lowell has far fewer than might have been expected. More tellingly, the poetry before the Whitman-Dickinson moment is sidelined - basically, only one hundred pages are reserved (that is, roughly 10%) for poets (other than the two Major figures just mentioned above) writing from the time of Bradstreet to that of Julia Ward Howe - that is, 90% is poetry written in the last 110 years or so, or clearly modern in scope and manner.

Thoreau and Melville scrape by with a few poems each; Poe does well, thank goodness, as does Emerson, who reads very well. Longfellow's work seems musty and there for sentimental reasons, like "Casey At The Bat". Had Lehman been as equally sparing with the poems of the last decade or so (the 1990's and beyond) and given us a collection of, say 900 pages, I think this would have been the clearing of the air that has long been needed - and been more austere than Astaire; I don't mean cutting poets, just poems.

As is, this new book is almost as top heavy as one of those Florida oceanliners, and could tilt on the cruise (sans Crane) into the deeper waters of the 21st century ahead. But it does say something about what American poets and critics think are their tradition's strengths, and weaknesses - as always, with America - the strength is the idea of the future... which is always the newly-presented present.

British readers of this new Lehman classic (no Edsel-Lemon this) will be able to see for themselves that having C. Bernstein and B. Collins (CB and BC let us call them) under the same roof doesn't blow the house down - just the opposite - divided, the house of poetry falls.

*

To this end, let me propose very briefly a thumbnail sketch of an Integrative Approach to Practical Poetics (practical, as in relating to editing, reviewing, and adjudicating); it would have two simple procedures: a) bracket all first-level issues and inquiry relating to the philosophy of language, and purpose of poetry (these can be discussed, and should be, often, but not with regards to particular poems or poets); and b) all particular poets and poems should be evaluated and appreciated (both enjoyment and judgement are required by a good or great poem) on their own terms - terms which are usually present and determinable from a reading of the text itself - so, do much as Lehman does: search for what is strange and interesting in writing, whether it be from the Language, The Beat, The Black Mountain, The Confessional, or the Transcendental school. - or a school yet to be devised, by some eccentric soul, mind and/or body yet to be born.