Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Review: Inside The Outside

Tony Lewis-Jones, the UK poet behind Various Artists, a special e-newsletter for poets, commisioned a 500-word review. Here is the review, in full.

Presa Press, 2006
Review by Todd Swift

It is hard to imagine something smaller than “small press” poetry and poets who proudly assert their association to COSMEP (Committee of Small Magazines Publishers & Editors). I recall somewhere hearing that Michael Donaghy used to call experimental poets “ampersands” – well, these would be poets from the firm of Ampersand & Sons. I actually share some of the aims and concerns of this anthology, at least as outlined in the rather brief (two-page) Introduction by editor Roseanne Ritzema.

I certainly agree with much (but not all) of the statement: “The large, commercial publishers, owned & operated by huge communications conglomerates, have published only what is deemed a safe investment, predictably appealing to the average reader.”

This analysis of the current poetry publishing situation is, in fact, incorrect, for a number of reasons. Chiefly, it is not radical enough. The truth is worse. The “large, commercial publishers” no longer publish poetry, if they can help it. They certainly have no interest in a poetry consumer, even an “average reader” as numbers simply do not warrant such a polite fiction. There is no average reader for poetry. All poetry readers are exceptions, and therefore somewhat above (or below) average. Most readers read fiction or non-fiction. Full stop. Thus, there is no such thing as a “safe investment” when publishing poetry. The brave, independent, poetry publishers forge ahead, despite the general disinterest in serious poetry, not because they aim to play it safe and make a fortune. True, some presses have made a profit with anthologies such as Staying Alive, but any monies made on such a venture are doubtless used to underwrite less profitable collections.

In fact, because the huge communications conglomerates do not care about poetry, in the least, they have for the most part, when keeping it on, kept it as a boutique sort of imprint of a larger house and leave the poet-editors in charge to pursue their own narrow, rather conservative publishing agendas. This has tended to see an over-emphasis on “mainstream” traditional lyric poetry, which is fairly accessible, imbued with wit, feeling, and connected to experiences of the quotidian world. However, such accidents of late capitalism cannot be entirely blamed on “the old boys of the upper class New England literary mafia” who “turn a cold shoulder toward the children of Whitman, Dickinson & Poe” as Ritzema argues.

Firstly, none of the poets included here are really entitled to trace their genetic heritage back to such greats, anymore than I can claim to be a child of Shakespeare simply because I have read some of his plays, liked them, and also write in the same language. Whitman’s boundless energy and open line is a natural invitation to go Ginsberg, and many have done so. Dickinson, a rare genius, is inimitable, and has never been equalled (in America at least) for her uncanny economy of diction. Poe’s theories of extreme lyricism and artificiality could endorse many a New England formalist as much as any of the odd characters collected in this book.

This book. Indeed. It is a most unfortunate child of inbred parentage. I have never seen an uglier front or back cover. The smudged, grainy photos and oddly-scuffed, off-brown colour (is that a quasi-purple?) and green lettering, make it seem impossible to believe the publication emanates from 2006, not 1976. It bears every resemblance to the smallest of smallest publishing ventures, with “amateur” written all over it. For that reason, alone, it merits a nod of respect. No one involved with this project set out, for one minute, to try and dress up and impress those New England boys. This was always going to be a labour of love. Ugly love.

Readers in England will either be sympathetic to the poetry published here, or they will be instantly repulsed. If one reads Ian Hamilton’s rather dry, witty and dismissive reviews of poets like William Carlos Williams, one can quickly get a feel for the ways a well-educated supercilious Englishman can sneer at the “American grain” and these poems “seek to break through barriers” – the very barriers that, I am afraid, go to defining the very art of poetry for most, such as form, metre, rhyme, and so on. Instead, these self-described “innovators” seek to “explore & experience psychological & emotional mysteries”. The oldest of these detectives was 81 at time of printing. These are not the “Language School” of poets, buoyed by theory and hip addresses in New York, mind you. These poets are marginal even within the margins of their own expressly-stated avant-gardism. As Mark E. Smith once said, “you don’t have to be weird to be wired” but when it comes to this anthology, it surely helps.

The thirteen poets included are (in order of appearance): Stanley Nelson, Hugh Fox, Kirby Congdon, Richard Kostelanetz, Lyn Lifshin, Harry Smith, Eric Greinke, John Keene, Lynne Savitt, A.D. Winans, Doug Holder, Mark Sonnenfeld, and Richard Morris. Not that this means anything, but I had never heard of any of these “active poets” other than Kostelanetz, Lifshin, and, I think, Winans (but I cannot be sure). No average reader acquiring this collection will be cheated of the pleasures of discovery. I am a very open reader, and I found little here to excite or astound me.

Kirby Congdon (1924- ) seems to be avant-garde only by virtue of being completely unknown. Otherwise his poems represent free verse poetry in the grain of William Carlos Williams – accessible, observant and amiable. One modest poem (titled “Shirt Poem”) opens with the line “Even your best shirts are frayed”. Eric Greinke (1948- ) is an abstract lyricist whose poems are intriguing and worth getting to know. The sequence “The Broken Lock” is an example of his tone and style: “Hatchet. A tiny cutlet / Whirls in nude simplicity. Our magnet / Signs the blank, transparent / Mortgage of the jealous cartoon.” Such surreal, playful diction is always a useful corrective.

John Keene (1965- ) explores textual and rhetorical devices to “create jazzlike pieces”. He may not be Miles Davis, but some of his works are visually beautiful (such as “Chamber Cinema” and “Map”) and offer words and lines in refreshingly disrupted contexts – although, naturally, such disruption soon becomes the new normal, and hence begins to lose its sheen of innovation. A.D. Winans (1936- ) offers images “drawn from big city streets, jazz bars & political situations” and reminded me of a good fusion poet. A few of his poems are excellent, in how they render experience immediately, in direct treatment, that is sensual and sharp. “1962” is his best here, where, going to see Miles with a young girl he is “forced to sit in the / teenage section / because she was only / 17 / sipping on a coke / high on the high note / smoke curling around / the room in long lingering / lazy circles / sweet sax / smooth slow gin / tenor / my hand on warm thigh / feeling high”. This is, of its kind, very good writing. Not original, it is nevertheless true to its style and soul, and has an integrity of line that could almost be called Classic American Free Verse. His poem about child prostitutes being abused by GIs, “Panama Memories” is also worth noting, as is “From My Window”.

Doug Holder (1955- ) has a few very good poems, including the hilarious “My First Poetry Reading” which is initiated when “I broke into / my father’s / liquor cabinet”. Richard Morris (1939-2003) has a great little short poem, “Rimbaud”, which bears repeating in full, for review purposes of course:

once quoted

as saying, “Who
my vine?”

Lastly, the best (prose) poem in the collection appears to be from Richard Kostelanetz (1940 - ), titled “from 1001 Opera Libretti”. It is witty and subversive and too long to quote, but seems to be a series of thumbnail sketches of plots for operas, with lines like “A young couple, universally attractive and recently married”. All in all, getting inside this “Outside” (if there is an outside to any book or text) is something any small press poet, or curious reader, might want to try, so long as they know, before plunking down their roughly £15, that what they’ll get is about as far away from District & Circle as a circle is from, well, a square.

Great Revelations

As Easter approaches, the revelation that Titanic director James Cameron has helped to uncover the actual burial place of Jesus - and his supposed wife Mary Magdalene - is sure to raise some eyebrows, if not other body parts - among practicing Christians. Protests are already being heard, since for most people who believe in Jesus, the idea that He suffered on the cross, was buried and rose again on the third day, is of canonical importance.

I am no theologian, nor was meant to be, but wish to suggest that it is high time we moved beyond a forensic ideal of resurrection for the body of Christ. I do not mean the actual divine miracle should be newly interpreted as a merely useful symbol. I mean that, in fact, the "body of Christ" is more aptly understood as His teachings, and his works. More fully, the spirit of the letter of Christ's law, graced with a tremendous genius for compassion, tolerance and indifference to power's corruption, is already a body resistant, indeed triumphantly ranged against, the natural order of things. Should leaders of the world ever actually throw down their swords, and beat them into ploughshares, a heaven on earth might indeed be evident. Instead, they persist in building "Tridents" - a symbol of a different godly (or ungodly) order.

It is quite possible to believe, then, in both Mr. Cameron's cream-coloured burial boxes inscribed with the name of Jesus, and also the over-arching, surpassing continuity of Christ, as idea, ideal and supernaturally-sanctioned mortal - immortal, at least, like Shakespeare, for his words, immortal, like Socrates, for his actions, too. It seems not unwise to pray to someone so gifted, kind and other-directed. But is there life after death? Perhaps. However, Christians, to avoid the sneers of scientists who presume to plumb all deeps and record all data, should avoid a narrow definition of either death, or life. Is there, indeed, a life, while alive, for those who do not believe in the existence of themselves, apart from their material forms? Better to live a few years with a soul, than an eternity without one, might be a wager to equal Pascal's. In the curious complex dimensions available to experience, and contemplation, it is likely our already incalculably wondrous presence in real time is a kind of eternal moment. Resurrection might then be simply the instant such a recognition of one's total existential status is made. Or not.

Easter comes each year. It should never cease, on the basis of medical records or dusty discoveries. Indiana Jones is no match for the Sermon on the Mount.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Hooray For Hollywood!

Hollywood has played the villain (see photo) for too long - albeit a good-looking one.

Finally, they have given Mr. Martin Scorsese the Oscar for Best Director (and Best Film) for a motion picture (The Departed) that Eyewear, on its general release last year, described as one of the best of its decade. See the review by clicking on the "film" label.

Fans of great direction, and Taxi Driver, can now relax, safe in the knowledge a cinematic genius has been recognized in his time.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Ten Years Ago Today

Eyewear's nostalgia knows no bounds....

On Sunday, February 23, 1997, I hosted a Vox Hunt cabaret show at the Cabaret Music Hall on St. Laurent Blvd. in Montreal, featuring writer Evelyn Lau, "MTV Poet of the Year Regie Cabico, local slam champ Emily S. Downing", as well as musicians Bionik, The Buzz Blast-Off Trio, and violinist Jonathan Crow, performing the work of Fritz Kreisler.

I recall sharing cigarettes with Heather O'Neill that evening, backstage. She had run to a shop to get them for us. She must have been 22 or so. Already brilliant and writing then, she recently published a highly popular new Canadian novel. I am happy for her.

Poem by Kathryn Maris

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Kathryn Maris as this week's featured poet.

Maris is an American poet based in London. She was educated at Columbia University and Boston University and has held fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Yaddo. Her poems have appeared in American journals including Poetry and Ploughshares; in the British magazines Magma and Poetry London; on websites such as Slate, Verse Daily, and Poetry Daily; and in two anthologies.

She regularly publishes essays and reviews in British and American periodicals and recently edited, with Maurice Riordan, a British and Irish poetry supplement for the American magazine Agni. She has just published her first collection, The Book of Jobs, which was launched in London on Auden's centenary birthday, a few days ago.

I think this is a very fine debut collection (from Four Way Books, see link below), which emphasizes Maris's wit and sense of argumentative, stylish flow. Poems dash forward, double back, often pivoting on words, or phrases, reconsidered, revealed to be duplicitous, or delicious, in many-meanings. In this way, urban, and personal, anxieties, and reflections on identity, are not only explored but displayed, in language both profound and pleasingly resurfaced. So, the language of the quotidian (jobs, the markets, houses) is inflected by the language of deeper or simply different aspects (love, fear, desire). These are artful, striking, often absurdist poems that think, linger, surprise and disturb. I recommend the collection highly. The poem below is from the collection, and I think displays many of the virtues I have praised, above.

The End of Envy

The end of envy
Is a staircase in midair.

From there,
There is nothing to want,

But there is wind to love.
I miss what the wind bent,

But I’m used to the bare world.

When I was sentenced to the stairs
For eternity, I didn’t know

I would climb them pregnant,
Or ill, or with the aim of soothing a cry

That would reappear
As soon as I was at the bottom.

In a way I am happy here on the stairs,
For the end of envy

Is the end of desire, the end of the edifice,
But not of elevation.

poem by Kathryn Maris; reprinted from The Book of Jobs with permission from the author.


Thursday, 22 February 2007

A Reading and Refreshments

Kingston University – School of Humanities – Field of Creative Writing Creative Writing Reading Series



WEDS 28 FEBRUARY, 5-6.30 pm, in town house 111



Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Auden on Ash Wednesday

In a canonical alignment of great beauty, today, Ash Wednesday, is one hundred years since Wystan Hugh Auden (pictured) was born, in York, North Yorkshire, in 1907.

Some words of his below...

We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

excerpt of "From The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio", by W.H. Auden

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Making An Ash of Themselves

As an Anglican, I have been quietly observing the recent round of negotiations regarding issues relating to gay clergy in the American wing of the church, and hoping (some would say praying) for the best. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a sombre time of reflection and renunciation, moving in time towards the great feast of Easter, when light and plenitude returns to the world. The body surrenders much, and the mind is sharpened by its austere experience of a denuded world.
It is time the Anglican communion surrendered its links with those within its body, who believe that gay men and women are not equally worthy of God's love, and seek to seriously delimit their agency within the life of Anglicanism.

For the sake of staying enlarged as a governing body, the Church's current Archbishop, the very fine Rowan Williams, has been tempted to make increasingly absurd deals and accommodations, with fundamentalists who, to my mind, reflect none of Christ's extraordinary charity.

Christ's body was broken on the cross, and arose again. The Anglican communion should not fear a similar rupture, over what is right and meet to do. And that is to include, indeed love, homosexuals fully, without condemnation. The only sin is the sin of intolerance.

Welles-Sized Mardi Gras

The Carnival in Rio is in full swing and today is Mardi Gras - the time for pancakes and revelry before Lent. 65 years ago, Orson Welles (pictured there) was its unofficial presiding spirit of misrule, as a brief quote from my recent review (for Books in Canada) of the wonderful Simon Callow biography Orson Welles: Hello Americans suggests:
"After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December, 1941, his new-found career was, in a sense, sunk, as the mood of the nation swung away from the sort of thoughtful eclecticism he had epitomized. At just the moment when Welles was discovering his dark and complex genius, America was deciding it wanted light entertainment. Ambersons was never going to qualify as such, even if Welles had bothered to stay stateside and edit it. Instead, he was approached by the State Department and sent to Brazil, to act as a goodwill ambassador to help maintain relations with South America.

Welles abandoned Ambersons with RKO, but did so with a great sense of mission. Unable to sign up (he famously tried and flunked his medical due to flat feet) he could instead help the propaganda cause (America feared Brazil would join the Axis side). His idea was to film a three-part pseudo-documentary, called It’s All True, whose central scenes would celebrate Rio de Janeiro’s frenetic Carnival. Callow superbly depicts (in voluptuous and often comic detail) how quickly Welles unravelled. Greeted with complete adulation by the people and government of Brazil, he soon plunged into a lifestyle of promiscuous sexuality, partying until dawn with a beautiful new lover each night, plucked from the Carnival erupting in and around the film set, overwhelmed by trying to find a narrative amid the musical and sexual chaos. Within months, Welles had squandered all the goodwill RKO had to offer."

Sunday, 18 February 2007

French Dancing

On the subject of the French, I was at a small party near High Street Ken last night to say farewell to some friends heading back soon to France, which is always a sad occasion.

However, we had a good time, especially as the evening came to a close, and, all of us in our 30s or very early 40s, danced to tunes from the 80s, on the lovely wooden floor, somewhat more stiffly than when we were younger, bien sur. The French dance Le Rock, of course, that regimented, impressive and faintly ridiculous style of swinging their partners about with impeccable timing that we in the English world associate with Jazz dancing from the 40s. I am tempted to try and compose a paragraph that has numbers 10-100 in it now, but will avoid that compositional urge.

Have you seen battles of the iPods yet, at parties? I have. Amateur DJs, drunk on champagne, huddle in gentle conflict, each plugging and unplugging their rival machines, quickly accessing their own files, to inflict a new, more private choice of song on the few remaining dancers, flailing or regulated, by the fireplace with its candles.

One guest, French but with great musical taste, played "Boys Don't Cry" and "Just Can't Get Enough". I was in retro heaven. But there is a shadow Parisian 80s, known only to the French and francophiles, that is equally delicious - Les Rita Mitsouko, Indochine, Vanessa Paradis and so on - wonderful kitsch. My favourite song of the period would have to be Indochine's classic "L'aventurier" (about the "real hero of all time" Bob Morane) - covered so well by Montreal's Kingpins in the 90s.

LRM have a new album out March 16, 2007.


I will be reading in Paris in March. More about that soon.

In the meantime, I am delighted to have appeared on the remarkable poet's site Connaissances, from Jonathan Wonham, with a new poem. Wonham creates images especially to accompany the texts he selects, which is both an honour and a treat.


Friday, 16 February 2007

Poem by Jacob Polley

Eyewear is very glad to feature the work of Jacob Polley (pictured) this Friday. Polley's first book, The Brink (Picador, 2003) was a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. It was one of the best books of its year and excited me, particularly with its marvellous command of image and metaphor.

His second collection, Little Gods, was published in December, 2006. This, from which the poem below is taken, is a remarkable book, delightfully (at times frighteningly) focused in theme and tone, with more than a whiff of the late 50s, early 60s, to its occult, enriched post-war diction, as if Hughes and Gunn were writing poems about rain, witches, love, channeling Keith Douglas on the Ouija board.

It's a superb book, a haunted one, and one of the ghosts is decadent French poetry, too. It redeems, in some ways, the tedious normalcy of some recent British poetry. This is work of great ambition, and, more significantly, atmosphere.

Polley was born in Carlisle in 1975, where he still lives, but is currently the Visiting Fellow in the Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge. He read for the Oxfam Poetry Series in London a few weeks ago, and the audience was rapt. The poem below is one of my three favourite from the new collection.


Now there is only the sound of the rain
which is the shape of the streets and the ropes
of overflow knitting at the mouths of drains
and fraying from the gutters and downpipes.

Whatever the leaves were saying must wait:
rain has filled the trees with its own brisk word.
There’s thunder in the darkened slates.
The pond’s green eye rolls heavenwards.

You can’t charge a page with the hiss, with this
cooling of the city like a new horseshoe.
Rain in the hair, at the neck and the wrists:
for rich and poor, there’s rain to hurry through.

The boil and spit of pavements: mirrored brick.
Every patch of grass is fiercely lit.

poem by Jacob Polley; reprinted from his new collection, Little Gods (Picador, 2006), with permission of the author.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Artie Gold Has Died

Sad news from Quebec.

The poet Artie Gold has died. He was born in Brockville, Ontario in 1947, grew up in Outremont and became a Montreal legend. His work came to prominence in the 1970s and was collected in key anthologies of the period, as well as in his own works. His best-known collection is The Beautiful Chemical Waltz.

Some of his poems linked to below.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Valentine's Day

Eyewear hereby offers a litte pre-Valentine's poetry on the cusp of the great day for (and of) Eros. Much love to you and your beloved (and other loved ones).
Hotel Oriental

sometimes the visible is the deeper world
Christmas lights in Shanghai

the rain is her leaving
a hotel is a room that you buy with minutes & days

the woman next door keeps your dollars in a tin box
a body is also a place you can wait in

gambling, until the end of longing
& thin walls let desire through

like rain-obscured radio or the click-click of vinyl
how you love is how photographs will remember you:

in dark suits, hair slicked back, slim moustache, a body
carrying itself like a film actor’s

the rain projects its film on the green wall
& its ghost, its furrows

its slinking unfolding rivulets of time
every drop that falls has hurt you in its motion

each drop her heel in the hall, her
coming forward, going away

in the hotel you shared as each body shares its double
its mind, with some element of the visible

crossing through small square panes
of the opaque glass that sometimes appears to be

all there is of the present & surface, texture & reflection
how it stands behind us, this flat, deep screen

all that was good is a picture or a song
of her moving between lingering smoke & a dream

of a nightclub in Hong Kong where
nothing destined was wrong

if properly lit, red blue green
all that can be loved can be heard & seen
poem by Todd Swift
[note: this love poem originally appeared in the pamphlet Natural Curve, from Rubicon Press, Alberta, 2006]

Monday, 12 February 2007

State of the awards

Eva Green (pictured) has recently moved to London, for work. Her talented work in Casino Royale has put her on the UK map and last night she won a major BAFTA (the British equivalent of an Oscar, which is a bit like saying a damp afternoon in Brighton is the equivalent of Miami beach) for rising star. Green, who was soundly cheek-pecked by rising new Bond Daniel Craig, is no doubt the most popular newcomer in town.

The best BAFTA film was The Queen. Frears, the director, hoisted his trophy and half-heartedly announced himself "Queen of the world".

Ricky Gervais was a presenter, and seemed nervous and rude (his persona?), insulting several "people who don't speak English" who had won awards - as if talent is bounded by language: hardly the message of another nominee for Best Picture, Babel.

The Last King of Scotland, a film based on the novel by poet and author Giles Foden, won for Best British Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Lead Actor (Forrest Whitaker). Bizarrely - and perhaps unforgivably - none of the three groups to come up to express thanks for their wins even mentioned Foden - indeed FW thanked the adapter of the screenplay for his "great characters" - surely a gift, originally, of the man who wrote the book on which their success was based?

Meanwhile, same time, different bat channel, apparently the Grammys happened. Lumbering though they may be, they're the music awards of note. I was glad to see the RHCP win best Rock Album, as Stadium Arcadium is a superb double album, but was sorry that the great Yeah Yeah Yeahs lost out to weird Gnarls Barkley for best Alternative album. More oddly, the great reggae album Youth lost in its category; a shame, since it is a thrillingly mythic and eccentric work.

Of course, The Grammys also saw several Phoenixian moments - the rise of the newborn The Police - let's hope they have another Ghost In The Machine within them - and the celebration of The anti-war Dixie Chicks - the times may be a'changing. In fact, even Bob Dylan won a Grammy. 2007 or 1967?

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Turning Point

After September 2001, America experienced its burning Reichstag moment - a trumped-up (or misinterpreted) crisis laid the groundwork (amid the rubble in Manhattan) for the rise of an extremist American Presidency, one that could be described as neo-democratic, or pseudo-fascist, but is basically a new hybrid form of ideology - hyper-capitalism fused to hyper-militarism: do as we say or your're f----d as one Bush lieutenant put it.

In 2003, when I and countless other poets were among the first to warn of this, many in the media suggested this was mere scare-mongering. Now, as Bush is poised to attack Iran (see this week's The Economist for their sober version of how this could very well happen) and is offering to cut health care for the weak and aged in America to pay for his continuing insane war aims in Iraq, a turning point has occured, today - a major breaking point you might say.

Russia has said enough is enough.

The days of the hegemony are over. Unipower is being challenged, and not in cafes in Paris. The world's second-most-powerful nuclear state, and one with gas and oil reserves second only to the Middle East (or Texas), is throwing down its gauntlet.

Vladimir Putin has just said that America is very dangerous, and its use of military power has exceeded its borders and international law, fuelling a new arms race.

Read another way: hands off Iran - this is Russia's new sphere of influence.

We are now officially in a new cold war - some pundits call it a cold peace. Same difference.

Bush and his war criminal cronies are to blame. America is being piloted by people who, in any other circumstances, would be considered insane, or worse, "evil". The time is fraught with hope (Obama, Clinton) and terrible dangers. The 00s are like the 30s. But who in the West is this time speaking out? Not Blair.

It's an ironic moment in history when America can be lectured to by Russia. They should listen.


Friday, 9 February 2007

Poem by kari edwards

The American poet kari edwards (above) died too young, late in 2006. I had been in email contact with her a few months before then, and would have featured her work at some point between then and now. Her writing is necessary reading for anyone who wants to think through the connection between language, poetry, and a cluster of issues relating to gender, identity, aesthetics and politics. kari edwards grew up in Westfield, New York. In college and graduate school she studied art and creativity. She received a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from Washington University in Missouri (1982) and became an artist and teacher, teaching for many years at Denver University in the art department. In 1995 she returned to school at Naropa University in Colorado for a Master’s degree in contemplative psychology (1998). After finishing that degree, kari continued on in the Poetics and Writing department for another Master’s of Fine Arts degree in poetics (2000). Throughout her writing career she held various jobs in the mental health profession.

kari edwards (1954-2006) was a poet, artist and gender activist. edwards won one of Small Press Traffic’s book of the year awards (2004), and was a recipient of New Langton Art’s Bay Area Award in literature (2002). edwards is the author of obedience (Factory School, 2005); iduna (O Books, 2003), a day in the life of p. (subpress collective, 2002), a diary of lies -Belladonna #27 (Belladonna Books, 2002), and post/(pink) (Scarlet Press, 2000). edwards’ work can also be found in Scribner’s The Best American Poetry edited by Lyn Hejinian (Scribner, 2004), Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action (Coffee House Press, 2004), Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, Toronto, 2004), Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others (Hawoth Press, 2004), Experimental Theology, Public Text 0.2 (Seattle Research Institute, 2003) and many other places. edward’s work has also been published in numerous journals and zines.

Eyewear here features a poem of hers, below, from her unpublished manuscript, "Bharat Jiva". Fran Blau, who has kindly granted permission for the appearance of the work here says that kari had described the manuscript as "a long poem (110 pages). It is a dialogue/document of nine months in India, exploring an intersection of Eastern and Western political and philosophical perspectives in a time of war and globalization."

Something driven by intelligence

I can not begin to know
producing difference by deferring
second third person construction
in the first third person narrative
promising surrender to the dead
acknowledging, I am an unknown participant
something maybe, something blind
consuming scarcity
producing hunger
constructing gender
breathing markers
making someone a thing
scapegoat instance
another perfect occasion
construct of a common sense sentence
out of many different bank accounts
apparently to produce
a final outcome
illumination legible
newspaper flyspeck
on the edge of an abstract noun
sliding affirmation
speaking of poverty
in an industrial word
where the lakes, rivers and oceans
are no longer lakes, rivers and oceans
but mud covered hunger living in bodies

poem by kari edwards

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Rob(ert) Allen, my dear friend, mentor and fellow Montreal writer, was, as I have said elsewhere, one of the great Canadian writers of our time. He was not as well known as Atwood or Carson, but his poetry stands comparison; and his prose is equally brilliant. I am certain that his work will enter the Canadian canon within the next decade, as its full range is reckoned. In terms of wit, erudition, and elegance, he had few peers. His writing belongs on the same shelf as The Third Policeman or Aberation of Starlight, or Gravity's Rainbow.

Today, Canada's national newspaper of note has run an obituary that gives some sense of the man we love and miss still.


Review: The Shins, Wincing The Night Away

Eyewear is getting old - or maybe it's living outside North America. Having never seen Garden State, an indie Gen Y film from the 00s, I missed the scene where Natalie Portman's character infamously (at least in almost every review I've read of the band) recommends The Shins, saying "they'll change your life". Until today, my life had only been changed by 9/11, the war in Iraq, marriage, leaving Paris for London, and the death of my father and several other family members and loved ones (death didn't just visit Arcade Fire in a press release, it is real and outlines us with light and dark) since 2000 rolled us into a new world order. But the state of my garden has been at least slightly enappled, with Wincing The Night Away, the third album from the band with the name like The Smiths.

The Shins, friends, sound a little like The Smiths, when not sounding like The La's. Or for that matter The Red House Painters (hear "Summer Dress") or the recently digitally-commodified The Beatles. See Apple. They write and sing songs that have the jangling guitars of "Sister, I'm A Poet" and the melancholy-wry vocals of Morrissey. They make music, in short, that is very sweet-pop 80s, and anyone who loved /loves indie pop of that ilk will want to have them in their purview.

The album is clearly some kind of watershed moment for American music in this decade, like The Byrds were when they hit. This is subtle, folk-imbued, thoughtful and swooning stuff, with opaque lyrics and images that hint at darker forces ("towers" and "lines in the sand").

And the album, out just a few weeks Stateside, just started on the charts at #2 - a best for Sub Pop (remember Nirvana?). In other words, this is music now. And it is beautiful to listen to something so well-crafted, exquisite and - let's be honest - English (in the way The Beach Boys were the American Beatles, The Shins are the American The Smiths, only separated in time).

How good is this album? Unless a meteor hits or something, it will probably be on my top ten of 2007. Best of the year? Too soon to tell - a new Arcade Fire is coming; Bloc Party's latest has let me down a little, but may grow on me (it's too portentous).

Let's count the blessings - there are eleven tracks (of course) - only ten full-length. How many are truly great (the hype around this band is total so let's ask such things) - this is the era of a dead Anna Nicole Smith and 12 billion dollars lost-shipped to Iraq and Nazi-Nixon-Bush so it's the 60s again, but digital and worse. So how great is this music, really?

Six songs are very good: "Sleeping Lessons", "Australia", "Red Rabbits", "Turn On Me", "Spilt Needles" and "Girl Sailor". Two are good: "Black Wave" and "A Comet Appears" (though a little like Billy Joel). Two are superb. The first, "Sea Legs" is like the best Bowie song he never wrote. "I am a victim of the impact of these words" as the song goes. Wonderful, shimmering, fusing eros and mood with a great tune. And the second of these is a major masterpiece. A defining song.

"Phantom Limb" is exquisite, perfectly-turned, utterly sweet-sad, honeyed by history's dappled losses and gains, like an autumnal day on a West Coast beach, as helicopters fall from the skies, and she walks away, summer over, and you just graduated. One day, when someone makes a movie about the war, the protests, and young people in America in the 00s it may well be the song they use at some point to break hearts and recall the times, that changed in September.

Monday, 5 February 2007

February Poetry At Nth Position

Things Fall Apart

Curriculum is the surest way to immortality, one would think - that and a Nobel. Oddly, two of the great English-language Nobel winners of the last 100 years - one dead, one living - Yeats and Pinter (very much on opposite sides of the political and lyric spectrum) have just been axed from set text lists in the UK. In their place, some invaluable new voices have been added. But, surely, reading isn't such a zero-sum game as that?

Yeats isn't just a poet - without him, Heaney doesn't make any sense, let alone Muldoon. And, while it is good to see Dylan Thomas properly ensconced, his own lightning was forked partially on the basis of the late-flowering fuse of romanticism that Yeats lit, surely. Yeats is - paradoxically - England's greatest 20th century poet (though they'd rather it was Eliot). Just as Wilde is their greatest playwright in 150 years. No doubt slightly hard to bear. These major Irish writers are, of course, first and foremost Irish - but their work transformed English culture, too.

Meanwhile, dropping Forster and Waugh makes no sense to me, since Forster paves the way for Zadie Smith and a whole stream of English post-war fiction (and film) and Waugh is quite simply the greatest English stylist of the 20th century, other than Auden. Have they dropped Auden, better check...

Byron the young can live without, perhaps. His sexual escapades have dated badly, making him more criminal offender and less pop star - but certainly his fame and youth are more relevant in this age of diminished celebrity.

But, really, to drop Yeats? A terrible idiocy.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

About Suffering He Was Never Wrong

2007 is the centenary of W.H. Auden, pictured, one of Eyewear's beloved poets. Look out for some important new publications or new versions in April, this year. Meanwhile, the major English poet James Fenton (who read last year for the Oxfam series) has a fascinating essay in today's Guardian on him, see link below; one thing that emerges, that I did not know, was that Auden did not enjoy the idea of poems being too well-performed by their authors in public, and disapproved of readings that were too much like advertisements; I suspect he would have disapproved of my own reading style, then. Chastened, I may subdue my theatrics.

Also below, a poem I wrote for Auden, which play off of, among other things, the photo image presented here. I offer my earliest draft, in ironic inversion of Auden's own habit of altering his young work later, often harming it.
Auden In Snow

I’d love you until the snow turned black and white,
And history melted into a photograph. You come

Towards me, now no bigger than a thumb, coated
As shabbily as Delmore Schwartz, down some

Nameless New York street, from dive to blizzard,
Your face that familiar map of crumpled age,

As if your face was a torn out page manhandled
By a child with a distaste for verse circa 1930-1960;

You show your age, you show us all how to go
Through the bright cold confetti of the image, on

Straight into the lens, both hands pocketed, secure
In the stroll: your body says the lag is over, this,

For now, was home. I’d follow you, Wystan, if
I had the clothes, the haircut, the wrinkles, the poems,

Or the desire. Seeing you makes me want to rage
Against hot days and apolitical formalists who seem

To stake their claims on half of what you did,
Without looking under the shield as well. Mid-

Term and after any election, the legislators change,
But never the powers that grace them briefly, like sun

Will deign to elect a flower for its silly noon, until,
The shadow is slid into the neglecting position,

And nature is hurt as all tropic lovers must be. Hard,
To have known so much, and to have moved, stayed.

I would have wanted to kneel by you as you prayed,
As much as propped my elbows at the bar when you

Lined them up, and drank them down. Bourbon,
Or whatever poison it was that made you late home.

Maybe I am a sucker for old-time well-turned verse.
Regardless of why, I’d gladly kiss your snow-wet boots

And ride shotgun down Fifth Avenue on your hearse
To hold off the enemies of Plato and each humane love.

poem by Todd Swift

Friday, 2 February 2007

Poem by Peter Riley

Eyewear is pleased to welcome Peter Riley (pictured) this Friday. Riley was born in 1940 near Manchester, read English at Cambridge, worked at the University of Odense (Denmark) for several years and has since subsisted by casual teaching of various kinds and bookselling, first in the Peak District of central England and then Cambridge, where he ran a small press and collaborated in organising international poetry events until retiring in 2005. His website is at http://www.aprileye.co.uk

His other recent books are The Dance at Mociu [Transylvanian travel sketches] Shearsman Books 2003, Excavations [prose poems] Reality Street Editions 2004, and The Llyn Writings and The Day’s Final Balance (uncollected writings 1968-2006), both newly published by Shearsman. A selected poems, Passing Measures was published by Carcanet in 2000.

These are the first four poems of a sequence situated in a mediaeval hermit’s cave in a wood in Derbyshire. Each poem in the sequence begins by paying attention to a 15th Century crucifix carved in the wall of the cave.

Crucifix and lamp niche carved in the wall
quiet breathing slowly devolving thought
wine corks and olive pips in the ash heap
soft singing, dry powder, global home.

Prevent me from disheartening, spread
my thought into result seal my song
in a small pot my heel turning on the ground
at the centre, where the sky sits.

Night closes in, heat lifts from the valley floor
the stars reappear, the grasses part
and they enter the earth, the sung men.
The traders, burdened with a constant elsewhere.


Crucifix and oil stoup
in the gritstone wall
a floating wick, turning
shadows. The book
sings itself into the sack of grain
the owl at the door
and the washing-up to be done.

Gladly, willingly, free of guilt
free of not-guilt, fixing
sequences across
distant points, where
shadows gather, where
the living trade, and sing
their lives into the earth.
Everything I do is that song’s descant.

The broken pot in the grave
outside the front door
what you might wish to become:
shadows on the sea,
stronghold sure.


Cross and cup scooped
in the living stone
in the earth, elsewhere.

For equity, for spread of gain
raise the white stone, the red
light on the shore where
the merchant ship rounds the headland

Two pale lines on the ground
over the hill’s shoulder
the returning workman catches
the song in the night
from the wooded hillside
a faint light among the trees,
owl and badger signalling
beyond their species.

Intimately, in the village, turn
the dance, the baby’s head towards.


Face gazing down, rush-light flame
marking eyebrows, inscribed into
the material as if through it,
from somewhere else.

Singing teacher, from somewhere else,
come and sing to me
down the ploughed fields
where the lapwings gather,
the incline, sing to me the elsewhere,
the outcome,
make it plain for all.

The incline, the outcome, I
mislaid a life. But a small light among foliage
strikes the happy lads on the way home,
slowly falling to earth.

From A Map of Faring published by Parlor Press, West Lafayette, 2005, http://www.parlorpress.com

Corporate Watch

Eyewear would like to let you know that an Anti-corporate Poetry Anthology has been Launched to Celebrate Corporate Watch's 10th Anniversary, February 2, in Oxford.

Corporate Watch, the radical anti-corporate research and publishing group, has published its first collection of poetry, in celebration of its 10th anniversary. The collection, This Poem is Sponsored By...: Poems in the Face of Corporate Power, features over 60 poets including Adrian Mitchell, Mario Petrucci, Heather Taylor, Aoife Mannix, Attila the Stockbroker and Todd Swift.

With bold passion and bare faced cheek, the poems in the collection confront the advertising industry, the media, supermarkets, banks, oil companies, consumerism, and the work ethic, and play with visions of what the world could be like if we can see beyond the mall. The collection brings together so many strong voices it feels like a declaration from a strident and colourful movement.

Author and journalist George Monbiot says of the collection: "I love these dark, subversive, thrilling, transgressional poems. Sometimes you need a poem to show you what you were seeing but not noticing. It's a brilliant collection."

The collection will be launched at Corporate Watch's 10th Anniversary celebrations held on 2nd February 2007 at Escape nightclub, Oxford, UK.

The collection is available at a special reduced price of £7 including post and packaging from Corporate Watch http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Oxfam Poetry Tonight!

Life Lines: 7 Poets for Oxfam

February 1, 2007, 7.00 pm

Oxfam Books & Music, 91 Marylebone High Street

London, W1


Derek Adams

Philip Fried

Mark Ford

Martha Kapos

Blake Morrison

Jacob Polley

Penelope Shuttle

hosted by Todd Swift
February 1 2007 Oxfam Winter Reading

1. Derek Adams
was born in London in 1957, now lives in Essex where he is an organiser of the Essex Poetry Festival. He is BBC Wildlife, Poet of the year 2006 & was winner of the 2004 Poetry Monthly booklet award with his pamphlet "Postcards to Olympus". A full collection Everyday Objects, Chance Remarks was published by the Littoral Press in 2005. He is also a professional photographer and is currently working on a series of portraits of poets, some of which were exhibited at the Poetry Cafe in October 2005.

2. Martha Kapos
is an American (originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts) but now thoroughly rooted in London. Her collection My Nights in Cupid’s Palace came out from Enitharmon in 2003. It was a Poetry Society Special Commendation and won the Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection. She taught in the Art History Department at the Chelsea College of Art for many years before she became Assistant Poetry Editor of Poetry London.

3. Philip Fried
has published three books of poetry: Mutual Trespasses (Ion, 1988), Quantum Genesis (Zohar, 1997), and Big Men Speaking to Little Men (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2006). His poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, and in anthologies such as Poetry After 9/11 and What Rough Beast: Poems at the End of the Century. Since 1980, he has edited The Manhattan Review, an international poetry journal that often features the work of Australian, Irish, and UK poets.

4. Penelope Shuttle
lives in Cornwall and is the widow of poet Peter Redgrove. Together they wrote the ground-breaking feminist studies on menstruation, The Wise Wound, and its sequel, Alchemy for Women. Shuttle has published many collections of poetry, including Selected Poems (Oxfordpoets/Carcanet) in 1998, which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, as were two of her other books. Her new collection, Redgrove's Wife (Bloodaxe, May 2006) looks back at her life with Peter, and the processes of loss and grief. It was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, 2006.


5. Jacob Polley’s
first book, The Brink, was a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. His second collection, Little Gods, was published in December, 2006. Jacob was born in Carlisle, where he still lives, but is currently the Visiting Fellow in the Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge.

6.Mark Ford
has published two collections of poetry, Landlocked and Soft Sift, from Faber, and a study of the French writer Raymond Roussel. He was editor of Carcanet’s anthologies on The New York School Poets. His latest publication is a collection of essays, A Driftwood Altar. He teaches in the English Department at University College London.

7. Blake Morrison
was born in Skipton, Yorkshire. His books include two collections of poems, Dark Glasses and The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper; two memoirs, And When Did You Last See Your Father and Things My Mother Never Told Me; and a novel, The Justification of Johann Gutenberg. With Andrew Motion, he co-edited the very influential The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, and he has also collaborated on plays and operas. His new novel, South of the River, will be published in March. He is currently Professor of Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.


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...