Saturday, 23 December 2006

Merry Christmas To All

I would like to offer a very special Christmas poem to all my readers this year. It was written Christmas, 2005, which was the last I would spend with my father. We spent Christmas in Richmond, Quebec, at my grandparents' home, across the river from Melbourne. An Eastern Townships Christmas is about as idyllic as one can get. Snow is half-a-man deep, and the fir tree boughs are laden with it. Days we'd ski or walk in the woods, nights sit by a roaring fire, and read Robert Frost. This poem is set in this territory, which is where my mother grew up. I've found a most appropriate image, a painting set within a mile or less of where it was written (though a hundred years before) by Frederick Simpson Coburn, the painter and illustrator who was born in Melbourne, Quebec, before moving to study in Berlin and Paris. Curiously enough, he became an illustrator for some of the stories of Edgar Poe, in New York in the early 1900s, which perhaps also ties in with the slightly macabre tone of this work. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

The Last Blizzard

My mother showed me
the house she had lived in
fifty years ago

when she had been a girl
who threw glass
at her enemies

with a pig named Margaret.
My father kept his eyes
on the deteriorating conditions

ahead, saying: soon we won’t see
a thing in front of us
For now, we could.

The town my mother
no longer lived in
had big wood homes

with long, wide porches.
Fir trees stood nearby.
Christmas lights. At the end

of her street the river was met
by a green bridge.
As we crossed we saw icy water.

My mother pointed out
a view that had once been
on the two-dollar bill, before

counterfeiters forced them
to use a more intricate design.
She showed me her school,

where she had walked and run
and where she moved to later on.
So what if the weather made us slow?

We stopped to watch
a white deer standing
in a white field, not moving.

poem by Todd Swift

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

The Swift Report 2006

Each year I write a report to my friends, summing up the year that has been, and looking forward to the next. 2006 was the saddest year of my life, although in some other, lesser ways a good and important one. Three close family members as well as four friends died this year. Most significantly, my wonderful father, Thomas Edward Swift, died of brain cancer, on September 9, at the age of 66. I had spent weeks with him in hospital in Montreal. It has been a very difficult time, and I miss him so much (he is pictured here). His memorial service was very moving, and many friends and colleagues of his (and mine) attended, to celebrate the kind and exceptionally generous man he was. I am quite concerned for my mother, for the other two relations who died this year were her father and brother (my grand-father and uncle Ian and Edward Hume). As well, my good friend, the poet Rob Allen, died of cancer, start of November.


In 2006 I turned 40. In the spring, I moved to Maida Vale with my wife. My father was very proud to know that I had begun my PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and that poems of mine appeared in some very good journals and papers, such as New American Writing, Poetry Review and The Guardian. Other poems of mine were this year published in Iota and The Cimarron Review. I have accepted poems forthcoming in Acumen, Chapman, The Manhattan Review and Vallum. I continue to be a Core Tutor for The Poetry School. I also began lecturing on the MA in creative writing course at Kingston University. This year I also published reviews in Books in Canada, The Globe and Mail and Poetry Review. My father was also very proud of the Oxfam CD I edited this year, Life Lines, and launched in summer 2006, featuring over sixty major UK poets, including the poet laureate Andrew Motion, Wendy Cope, Simon Armitage, David Harsent, Anne-Marie Fyfe, Al Alvarez, Dannie Abse and Fleur Adcock. It has so far sold over 5,000 copies. I also edited an e-book anthology with funds to the Red Cross, Babylon Burning, for nth position, to note the 5th anniversary of 9/11. At the end of 2006, my-coeditor Jason Camlot and I turned in our manuscript to our publisher Vehicule Press, for Language Acts, the major new study of Anglo-Quebec poetry, the first of its kind in 40 years, to be launched spring 2007. In the autumn, a good-looking pamphlet of new poems of mine, Natural Curve, was issued by the small Alberta press, Rubicon.


Things I look forward to next year: working on my manuscript for the Carcanet Book of 20th Century Canadian Verse, which I am editing. Doing further research for my PhD. Maybe doing some more teaching at university level. Doing poetry readings, as both host and reader. Writing some more reviews. Launching Language Acts in Quebec. And most of all seeing my mother and brother and his wife again, back home.


One thing. I have yet to finalize news of the publication of my fourth collection of poetry. Hopefully, early in 2007, I will be able to do so.


In the most difficult times, kindness, even gentleness, can make the smallest difference seem a vast improvement. Hope, even faith, is also a welcome traveller to bring along. I wish you God, or at least grace. And as much light and peace as can be found in this dark world. Be well in the new year.

Dear Santa,

I know you are very busy this year bringing all kinds of electronic games to all the good boys and girls of the rich world, but if you have any time, could you send a red-nosed reindeer to help the International Red Cross in their campaign to ban cluster bombs. Those toys only hurt people don't they? Lots of people ask for peace, but from what I have seen, peace can't happen yet. So all I want this year is a few small things. Next year I'll ask you for a miracle,

Monday, 18 December 2006

Tis The Season To Buy My Poetry Pamphlet

Crimbo is here. That's Christmas to those not currently based in the United Kingdom. Christmas is a time for giving and, especially, for ordering that hard-to-get rare (yet still in stock) poetry pamphlet. Say, Natural Curve.

Order while supplies last! And support a poet.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

No Time To Lose

The Winter 2006/07 issue (volume 96:4) of Poetry Review, edited by poet Fiona Sampson, is now out, with the theme "A la recherche".

North American (and other non-UK) readers wishing to follow the contemporary poetry world as it unfolds on these isles should subscribe to PR - it is, to paraphrase Ms. Turner, simply the best.

That being said, I am honoured to have a review published in this issue, on the new collection by Paul Farley, Tramp in Flames. Other contributors include Michael Longley (specially featured), Eavan Boland, John Fuller, Ruth Padel, Alan Brownjohn, Jackie Kay, Glyn Maxwell, Jay Parini, Patrick Crotty and Frank Dullaghan.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Poem by Joe Dunthorne

Eyewear is very glad to welcome rising literary star Joe Dunthorne (pictured) to these pages, especially as the holiday season approaches, for now is a good time to be festive and celebrate this exciting writer's work.

Dunthorne, who graduated from the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia the same year as me, is both a fine prose writer and poet. At UEA he did the Prose strand and was awarded the Curtis Brown prize. In 2005, Dunthorne traveled to Bangladesh with the British Council as part of an exchange project with young Bangladeshi writers.

His poetry has been published in magazines and featured on Channel 4 in the UK. His novel, Submarine, is forthcoming from Hamish Hamilton in early 2008.

Eating Out

There are dumpsters simply brimming
with left overs and send backs,
black sacks full of nummy slop:
coconut pannacotta
truffle honey mozzarella
California bouillabaisse
and even if you mush
the food together
I’ll bet it still tastes pretty good
but then, you see,
there are these down-by-luck
table-salt of the earth types:
smelling like asparagus piss,
no money, no grub,
little half-healed cuts on their nose bridges,
and anyhow
you’d think they might be allowed
to lick a strand of marinated pig fat
from the inside of a bin bag
but no, because the nosh,
even when it’s been tossed out,
still represents the chef
– it’s still product –
and they say a restaurant’s reputation
is only equal to its clientele
and, on occasion, these homeless chaps
shout abuse through letter boxes
so the really good restaurants
have a cage,
a big steel cage in the alley out the back,
to protect the scraps
from these poor sods
with their bellies cramping
and their sunburnt eyelids
and so, I mean,
it makes you feel terribly helpless really,
forty slightly overdone scallops
going to rot in a cage, imagine.

poem by Joe Dunthorne

December Poetry At nth position

If you have any time alone this holiday season, Eyewear offers something more than coal in your stocking and suggests nth position's bag of poetic goodies for this Yule...

Oxfam Bloomsbury Reading Last Night

Beloved authors Jeanette Winterson and Ali Smith (both pictured) read last night at the Oxfam Bloomsbury shop - December 14, 2006. I hosted. Around 70 people were in attendance, filling the intimate shop. Wine and mince pies were served. The writers were captivating, giving, full of fun, each reading two Christmas stories they'd written - in one instance, Smith giving her new story to Winterson as a gift. Winterson read half a story from a power book. Sitting atop the Oxfam counter, legs dangling. It was the first time the friends had read together. The audience was deeply appreciative and the entire event seemed dusted with joy. Oxfam raised approximately £1,000 on the night for those in need.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Top Ten Albums of 2006

Eyewear is not immune to the worthless desire to tell total strangers what the best of the year (in any number of categories) was, and has one advantage in not trying to sell anything (well, except perhaps for some poetry from time to time) - so, 'tis the season to launch the lists. Today, we shall have naming of albums - the top popular music that, while maybe not the best, most tickled the fancy of mine ears (and so on); all albums listed have been reviewed here previously, except for the first place winner, and all quotes are from Eyewear reviews:

1. Ys by Joanna Newsom
Newsom's masterwork has the advantage of being produced in consort with Steve Albini and Van Dyke Parks but it sounds more like Walt Disney teamed up with Bernard Hermann - the enchanting, off-kilter harp and string arrangements do what is so often promised but rarely delivered - transport. The listener of this album is taken in hand to a different world, one vastly more imaginative and whimsical. Spelunking animals and lessons on meteorites rivet, amuse and utterly estrange - the lyrics veer towards genius, the voice amazes and dismays, and the whole tapestry becomes the most innovative soundscape of the year - perhaps signalling a new, female Dylan for these hard times. Eyewear calls it medievalia.

2. Modern Times by Bob Dylan
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.

3. Show Your Bones by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The last time three members of an American band sounded this good was maybe 15 years ago, and that was Nirvana.

4. Sam's Town by The Killers
The Killers have aimed for a truly odd husbandry, breeding new pop out of dry lands, by attempting to fuse early Springsteen and recent Arcade Fire.

5. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not by Arctic Monkeys
Okay, what makes the recipe work: one part Streets-geezer-lingo; one part Beatlesque one part Smiths jangly guitar excellence; one part Nirvana stop-start energy; and generally hyper-witty-yet-down-to-the-kebab-shop-sharp lyrics. It is really good.

6. Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Rick Rubin has now mastered a sound that suits the band to a T, and makes them simultaneously dangerous and "white as snow" - safe for middle-class consumption, timelessly well-crafted, and yet still subversive enough (all the drug and sex imagery) to attract and impress.

7. Eyes Open by Snow Patrol
The best thing about Snow Patrol's ambitious fast-paced, persistently and sometimes achingly sweet new album, Eyes Open is the 8th track, "Set The Fire To To The Third Bar" which features Martha Wainwright on vocals.

8. Surprise by Paul Simon
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.

9. The Drift by Scott Walker
To be admired, and frankly, at times feared, The Drift is likely to be the goth-spiral-into-madness-soundtrack of choice for intensely pensive readers of 20th century German philosophy and early Eliot; for the rest, it simply remains the most daunting and persuasively conceived anti-pop-album of the 21st century.

10. An Other Cup by Yusuf
This grave, solemn, and at times preposterously upbeat recording, with its 12 songs (only nine original to the artist, and two brief spoken word poems, really homilies), sounds a bit like Dylan or Marley at their most fundamentalist, at their moments of greatest conviction.


11. Black Holes and Revelations by Muse
This is not a subtle sound, but one prone to grandiose utterance. But it is thrilling, and oddly fresh, despite the "Mr. Roboto" vocoder effects in places and the endless invention.

Happy Arms

Who says there isn't any good news? Like something out of a Chinese fairytale, the world's tallest man has used his world's longest arms to save two dolphins... wonderful.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Upstairs At Duroc

Upstairs at Duroc is one of the best English-language literary magazines to come out of France. Its editor in chief is Barbara Beck, herself a good poet. It's a publication of WICE, based at 20, Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75015 Paris.

Issue 8, 2006, is now out, looks great, and features poets such as Mark Leech, Rufo Quintavalle, Lisa Robertson, Mark Terrill and Cecilia Woloch. I'm also in it.

To order copies, send a French cheque for 11 Euros to the address above, payable to WICE.

If you would like to see more details about the magazine, have a look here:

Deadline for submissions for the next issue is 31 January 2007. More details here:

Friday, 8 December 2006

Poem by John Welch

John Welch is a good, complex, sometimes very moving and thoughtful poet whose work deserves attention. He is very welcome at Eyewear this Friday. I include a brief biographical note below:

As well as editing an anthology, Stories from South Asia (OUP 1988), Welch has contributed articles to Poets on writing (Macmillan 1992) and more recently to journals including the London Review of Books, fragmente and Scintilla. A new poetry collection is The Eastern Boroughs (Shearsman Books). I included a poem of his on the Oxfam audio CD Life Lines, released this summer.

Constable's Painting "Weymouth Sands"

It's these spaces you are beginning to find
Opening up behind you, these gaps in memory,
Bits that fly out of your head like birds
And then disappear as if overwhelmed by sky.
The sensation is not altogether unpleasing.
This trying to remember, will it feel more and more
Like reconstructing an accident,
As if you had been living in its aftershock?
The thing is, as you get closer, one by one
The echoes disappear. Instead there are
These gaps in the fence that keep on opening up.
More and more clouds are racing towards you.
There is still that odd sensation though, of "I am",
That hovers at the edge as if waiting
To greet somebody - the figure in mid-distance
Perhaps, who might yet succumb
To the fascination of so much surrounding absence,
The way when, a child being compelled to sit still,
You would watch the light spread its silence over stone
As if you were waiting to become that everywhere -
Because somewhere it's all still there, and
Enormously more sky.

poem by John Welch

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Review: Casino Royale

Eyewear was wrong to carp.

The new James Bond film, number 21, Casino Royale, is the best in the series since Sean Connery tossed his to Miss Moneypenny for the last time.

[Spoiler alert]

First, let it be admitted that the Bond films are not precisely works of moral genius. Paul Virilio would no doubt argue they instead form part of the continuum in art and science that, in the 20th century, saw a "pitiless art" destroy the human form, if not the very idea of the humane (and so the scene in Miami, set among the plasticized skeletons of that bizarre recent exhibition is entirely apt). Indeed, what is James Bond if not the avatar of a pitiless man, arrogantly prepared to take life ("00") with an ice-cool modern instrumentality for a heart?

This is where the new film ricochets off the genre canon established in the first 20 features. By taking this very issue to heart, we are presented with something very much like the origin of Darth Vader that was seen in the Star Wars epic - just as Vader was a good if passionate man of talent who becomes twisted when his beloved dies so too is Casino Royale very much a "begins" structure (last seen in the new Batman): we get to observe the death of a soul and the rebirth of a less-human-but-more-powerful legend.

The movie takes an almost Lynchian turn in its last 45 minutes or so (some might say Finchian) starting at the exhilarating moment when Vesper Lynd is kidnapped and Bond pursues her at night (the chase has echoes of the intensity of the car scene in Fargo) - and suddenly Lynd is lying bound in the road, presented like a cruel homage to the damsels in distress of early silent films. It is a beautifully shocking brief image.

Bond veers off the road and crashes horribly. Dragged from the wreckage, he is surrounded by Le Chiffre and his men, who remotely observe their prisoner and cut his homing device out of his arm. Next a silent and deeply concerned Lynd and Bond are thrown in to a car and driven to a gloomy port, then roughly shoved into the depths of a rusted hulk. The sequence is without precedent in any previous Bond film, in terms of both its sombre mood and its cinematic intelligence. It is a deeply troubling few minutes, that manages (as both Lynch and Fincher sometimes can, as Kubrick could) to imbue the screen with a deeply evil sense of things awry at a level that is not entirely narrative. The world itself is out of joint.

Nothing else in the film is this good. However, the last main sequence - in which Bond suspects red-dressed Lynd of stealing money, follows her to the bank, through narrow twisting alleys, engages in a gunfight, and then Lynd drowns herself in a locked submerged elevator carriage in a sinking Venetian palazio (a homage to several films such as Death In Venice and Don't Look Now, with its red dress and themes of water and drowning) - is very suspenseful and troubling.

In general, the texture and tone of the film is similar to Dr. No. It features post-colonial hotels, sweating locals, ascensions from the sea, and romps at resorts. The violence is gritty and often hand-to-hand. This is all good, though the gambling scenes are poorly edited for continuity and suspense is often lacking during the card game itself. The first hour is fitfully interesting, if sometimes overwrought (the long chase at the airport is curiously dull as nothing much seems at stake except the destruction of a corporate prototype - does the new plane have passengers?).

What is sure is the charm of the lead. Craig is a very good Bond and he does what was promised: convey the moral damage that being a murderer for one's government does. His scenes with the beautiful (see above) Eva Green (Lynd) are mostly electric, and the erotic tension is sustained. Green is a good actor and is able to imbue her character with impressive depths. The plot of killing the woman Bond loves is not original to this film - see On Her Majesty's Secret Service. But here the stakes are higher. We care about the new bonds forming between Bond and Lynd.

The opening credits are mediocre, though the style is generally pleasingly retro, down to Chris Cornell's mainly muted turn as a latter day Matt Monroe crooner. Richard Hawley would have been the better and more intriguing option for a song.

The last scene is clever - we get the signature Monty Norman theme tune and the pay-off "Bond, James Bond" just at the cut to black - in more ways than one - as the movie fades out, Bond is about to rub out "Mr. White" - the white manipulator of the black African villains of earlier (and the de facto killer of Green in her red dress); now Bond's black ops will begin, in earnest.

If Bond 22 can keep this level of style, restraint and intelligence, this could the renaissance long-hoped for.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Good News for Canadians

The Guardian finally chooses to write about Canada and Canadian politics, and ends up mentioning our former PM, Brian [sic] Martin. Hilarious, and a little sad:,,1963076,00.html

Meanwhile, the good news - Dion not Ignatieff as Liberal Party leader.

Dr. Ignatieff was hubristic, seemingly pro-Iraq war and generally out of touch with Canadian sentiment.

Dr. Dion is French-Canadian, an expert in intergovernmental affairs, passionate about unity, and interested in environmental issues. He's the right leader at this time.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Poem by Anne Waldman

Eyewear is very proud to showcase a poem by the great Anne Waldman (pictured) this first day of December, 2006.

Ms. Waldman - poet, editor, performer, professor, curator, cultural activist- carries in her genetics the lineages of the New American Poetry, and is a considered an inheritor of the Beat (Allen Ginsberg called her his "spiritual wife") and New York School (Frank O'Hara told her to "work for inspiration, not money") mantles.

Directing the Poetry Project at St Mark's Poetry Project over a decade, she co-founded the Jack Keroauc School of Disembodied Poetics with Allen Ginsberg at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University in 1974. She is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of Naropa's celebrated Summer Writing Program and is working with the Study Abroad on the Bowery project in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Author and editor of over 40 books and small press editons of poetry, some of her latest books inlcude In The Room Of Never Grieve: New & Selected Poems with CD collaboration with Ambrose Bye, Dark Arcana: Afterimage or Glow, with photographs by Patti Smith, and Structure of the World Compared To A Bubble, a long Buddhist poem. She also co-edited the anthology Civil Disobediences: Poetics & Politics in Action. She is co-founder of the Poetry Is News collective which curates forums of political and poetical discussion.

“Thy” of No Dire Greenhouse Effect

Yea tho I am walking
yea tho I walk forever in thy direction which is thy “thyness”
yea tho thy “thyness” be friendly
that it be no shadow, that it be no death
yea that thy “thy” be willing, be aura, be oracular
yea that “thyness” be without gender without godhead
godhead is no way to be walking towards “thy”
thy is no kingdom come
thy is no purple privileged glory
thy is no flag, no rod, no scepter, no staff of brutality
thy is no random particle
thy is a kind site of no dire greenhouse effect
thy is a place with conscientious war tribunals
they is of mercy and follows all the days of tracking war criminals
thy is the hours of constant tracking
thy will keep you awake in any time zone tracking
because thy is observation, is a current affair, is tracking “thy”
thy goes back to any older time you mention
a time the increments of language were simpler, were strange
thy was a module, thy was a repository
thy was a canticle for future discipleship
thy is architecture, thy is the entire book for the things of “thy”
thy is a book of thy “thyness” which is not owned
can you guess the “thy” in all the days of my defiance
yea tho I fear thy terror of “thy” amnesia, thy negligence
yea tho it stalks me in the valley
yea that it beseeches me to lighten up
yea tho it behooves me to abdicate “thy”
I will keep the sleep of ancient times
of Arcady of the holy cities where thy hides
thy could be done, thy could be stationary in any language
and then thy could be moving as I do in pursuit of sanity
that they track the war profiteers
that they track the war criminals
that they track the murderers
who slaughter innocents
that they are exposed in the market place
that they are brought to justice.

poem by Anne Waldman


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...