About Eyewear the blog
Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blogzine, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers, and vice versa. Eyewear blog is archived by The British Library. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.
Wednesday, 31 January 2007
The family unit, united in tragedy, circles the (volks) wagons, and keeps out the Injuns, in this case, a majority of moral (or morally dubious) characters, from a perverted cop, to loud-mouth bereavement councillor to a cruel beauty pageant director. A late sublime moment ensues, when the failed Number One Proust Academic in America, lately suicidal, careens down a corridor, solely to reach the Little Miss Sunshine desk in time, his priorities realigned by the sense of the journey.
Like in all good quest narratives, the knights achieve their wisdom through their trials and tests as much as by what they locate at the end (of the rainbow, consider the empty promise of Oz). I am left with an ambiguous sense about the justness of the conclusion, which I won't reveal, except to say, it leaves an issue of sexual permissivity hanging in the air, that is most charitably resolved by saying, innocence cannot be corrupted by a tin man or cowardly lion, and perversity is, ultimately, in the eye of the beholder, not the dancer or the dance. This may surprise us all and beat The Departed for best film.
Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Monday, 29 January 2007
Sunday, 28 January 2007
Friday, 26 January 2007
Dreamhouse, a musical based on her work, ran in Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York City.
Love breaks the boundaries
of not just your ridiculous
punch-line of a heart
but truth and time,
washes up on shore and spills
her rusty hooks to you,
her mouth frothing over
with fish stories
maybe you get the flash
of a fin,
a glint of bead on the surface
when the surface is enough
to make you fall in.
I knew this girl,
until winter fooled me,
took her back
when sea horses came
to the bedroom window.
by Barbara DeCesare
Tuesday, 23 January 2007
Woke up in the house in North By Northwest
the one that flies out over the abyss.
What part of me is on microfilm?
When you were shot at the Grand Canyon
it was a fake bullet and fake blood
but you felt light as a lifeless glove in my arms.
It feels like disequilibrium to be walking here
amidst art from London, treachery from Russia.
Violent cultures produced my favourite authors.
Before the plane comes to take me away
in the forest of small pines, the light shooting
through, may I admit that my body loves you.
My mind is quite another subject, as you suspect.
This vase is like my dress, green, lifeless.
When I betrayed my nation I lost sleep.
Existence quickly becomes memorable, sadly.
In Vienna they taught me to ride horses,
speak with an American accent: Apple Pie!
poem by Todd Swift
Saturday, 20 January 2007
Meanwhile, a related story developed, at least, in the media's eyes. A modest, and exceptionally gifted emerging UK poet, Daljit Nagra, who writes of the Indian immigrant experience with real verve (and often in dialect) has his debut collection, Look We Have Coming From Dover!, from Faber and Faber, out February 1. Nagra was a huge supporter of my Oxfam series (he's on the Life Lines CD) and is a great guy. Nonetheless, he should resist the way some talking heads in the media are now trying to position him as the answer to Goody's baddy-behaviour.
Last night, Nagra was afforded the sort of media spotlight the rest of us poets, frankly, just don't get very often (unless one is Tom Paulin). He was on BBC's major TV show, Newsnight, where cultural commentators focused on his new collection, with, for the most part, alarming ignorance of the literary context in which it arises. Only the dazzling Sarah Churchwell, observed, pointedly, that Nagra's verbal exuberance is granted permission for lift-off as much by Paul Muldoon's poetry, as his own, also-notable, invention. The other panelists seemed, thrown a poetry bone, unsure of how not to salivate. One said "give him the Nobel now". Another said this collection was the first in British poetry not to be, basically, flat and about bicycles. There seemed a genuine excitement at getting the chance to discuss poetry, but, rather than praising an individual talent, what drove the (welcome) enthusiasm was, basically, the pleasures of any poem (one commentator enthused about the long lines, and linguistic brio, as if these, pre-Nagra, were alien aspects of the form).
Maybe give the guy the Nobel in a few years? The marketing and pr machinery in the UK has nearly destroyed whatever legitimate conversation the British people might have or had with poetry. Every book is blurbed to the max on its back cover, with ringing endorsements that cannot all be true, certain few poets absurdly celebrated and celebrity-fied, almost all the rest totally ignored, and a general sense of lax disinterest prevails. Every six months, Andrew Motion correctly notes, in the media, that the problem is not that no one reads poetry in the UK, or that "poetry is dying", but that the media doesn't much read it, and always over-reacts when confronted with a poetry "story".
Why, for instance, is Nalgra the topic of the week, and not the ten other exceptional poets up for the Eliot awards, which was just won on Monday by Seamus Heaney? Or, for that matter, where is the media interest in leading younger Indian poet Ranjit Hoskote, whose brilliant New and Selected Poems recently came out from Penguin India? Hoskote does not yet have a publisher in London, which seems a shame for such a significant Indian voice.
At any rate, I believe Daljit Nagra has a good chance of winning the TS Eliot prize for 2007. Why not? His book is very good. He deserves to be read, very widely.
But, can the BBC begin to cover poetry, please, on a more regular basis, with sustained, researched insight? Poetry dumbed down isn't poetry anymore. It's a license for Big Brother.
Friday, 19 January 2007
I was glad to learn that one of his poems from my selection has been in turn selected by poet Heather McHugh for her volume of The Best American Poetry, in this case, 2007, forthcoming this autumn. He also read last year for my Oxfam series, in London, while he was in Rome on a writer's grant.
His work certainly gets around: he has new poems in the recent issue 74 of the New Welsh Review, guest-edited by Patrick McGuinness and Matthew Jarvis; and the verse-letter below first appeared in issue 100 of the New Quarterly, part of a series "addressed to" some of the key mentors from Anglo-Quebec poetry that have shaped his thinking and writing.
Starnino has published three volumes of poetry, for which he has won numerous awards, including the Canadian Authors Association Prize, the A.M. Klein Award, and the F.G. Bressani Prize, in addition to being shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Prize for best first book. He is the author of A Lover's Quarrel, a collection of essays on Canadian poetry, and the editor of The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry. He lives in Montreal, where he is editor for the Signal Editions series of poetry collections, and is an editor at Books in Canada.
Few Canadians think or know more about Canadian poetry; and fewer still have demanded more from it, or urged it on to greater heights, than Carmine Starnino - and fewer still have been so resisted or reviled for their bracing independence of perspective.
Though I sometimes (often?) disagree with the exact dosage this physician of the Canadian poetic soul visits on his trying patients, I cannot say the diagnosis, in the first instance, was wrong. There's a sickness at the heart of the Canadian poetic, one which shies from a direct confrontation with the mature demands of a serious tradition.
It is time Canadian poetry engaged directly with the English tradition, again, rather than the American one, and forged its further unique destiny on a doubled engagement with the long lyric past, and a sense of our native powers of innovation, which need not be contrived or merely opaque.
Happiness could do worse than our bedsheet’s
two day spell head down outside the window.
Festive with polka-dots, it flaps the span of frame,
catches the sun full on. That, and the damp
in the air makes me think of travel by sea.
Here dryness is something we miss by moments.
The electric heater making a poor fist of it.
T-shirts exude their drip like water clocks,
and detergent enacts its mouth-to-mouth with the early hour
so that our underwear turns pheromonal—
the room filling with the scent of aroused communication.
If, as Nietzsche said, we should try to live
always in expectation of some impossible grace,
well, one couldn’t do better than this place.
poem by Carmine Starnino
Tuesday, 16 January 2007
The award ceremony, organized by the Poetry Book Society (founded by Eliot years ago) was held in the glittering heart of Marylebone, in The Wallace Collection's fashionable atrium cafe, and was attended by nearly every poet, publisher, and event organizer concerned with poetry, of note in the UK, other than those primarily concerned with radically experimental writing. It was, as O'Brien pointed out in his speech, an unusually strong year - with Nobel laureates, Forward, Eliot and Pulitzer winners, up against each other in a dream field of traditional mainstream poetic brilliance. In the end, the judges went with quality, fame be damned. Whereas the Forward and Costa prizes dramatically turned against Heaney's masterful new book (getting headlines in the process which crowed about other poets beating Heaney as if he were a tied-down Gulliver among the small), the Eliot panel decided that, despite winning a Nobel, to quote Heaney on the BBC, "anything can happen".
It seems like a very good decision. The Eliot Prize is immensely prestigious and vital, and yet, the greatest Irish poet since Kavanagh has not won it. To deny Heaney on the grounds he was too prize-rich already would have been a shame. Poets never lose the need to be reminded of our love - and poets such as Heaney should be honoured in their lifetime.
Nonetheless, several other exceptionally deserving collections, sadly, had to go away empty-handed. The best of these, and surely the runner-up in most people's minds, was Paul Muldoon's exceptionally complex and brilliant Horse Latitudes, which took on American imperialism, pop culture, and bereavement, with equal levels of genius, mystery and vim; it is a major book, and should be sought out by any reader who wants to understand the verges where the post-modern and the tradition meet with most fecundity.
Monday, 15 January 2007
Last night's field was tremendously impressive, and any knee-jerk American avant-garde dismissal of such poets as from the "School of Quietude" would be absurd. This is seriously good writing.
Indeed, the long list for the TS Eliot Prize is this year nothing short of amazing: Seamus Heaney; Paul Muldoon; Simon Armitage; Paul Farley; Hugo Williams; Robin Robertson; Penelope Shuttle; Jane Hirshfield; Tim Liardet; W.N. "Bill" Herbert.
Arguably, three of the five most significant voices from the UK/ Ireland of the last thirty-odd years are represented in this field, those being Heaney, Muldoon and Armitage. Heaney, a Nobel-winner, is universally regarded, in the English world, as our time's Yeats (even Eliot) - in fact, he did not read last evening (as he is recovering from an illness) and the poet who read his work for him, Bernard O'Donoghue, wittily said it was like "being God's representative on Earth"; Muldoon is our time's Auden - the stylistically unique, intellectually vast young man who was his generation's undisputed genius and quickly scurried to New York, conquering America, too; and Armitage is our time's Muldoon - the next great poet of invention, wit and message, beloved by many, known to all. This isn't even to mention Paul Farley, who is our time's Armitage, that is, the next great stylish witty man of letters to emerge, at 40, schooled in Donaghy, fuelled by Red Bull and the charisma of The Beatles, destined to go far.
So who should win tonight?
I know many of these poets, some are my friends, so I will be diplomatic and tender here....
Seamus Heaney should win, given that his collection, District and Circle is a magisterial summing up of the themes of his career, and echoes with grace and power. The last poem, about a blackbird and the memories of his dead brother, is destined to be read in a hundred years, much as we read the great last poems of Yeats - it is a deeply moving classic; further, Heaney has not won the T.S. Eliot Prize yet, which is like the Academy Award never having gone to Hitchcock.
Paul Muldoon should win, given that his collection, Horse Latitudes, his tenth, is the most inventive, complex, witty and playfully masterful by this genius yet. It touches on war, bereavement, pop culture, and science, using a variety of forms Joycean in their difficulty and fun; yet, he has won the Eliot before, in 1994, so this may weight against him; he did, however, read delightfully last evening;
Simon Armitage should win, given that his collection,Tyrannosaurus Rex versus The Corduroy Kid, is a signal collation of what makes him the best mainstream UK poet of his generation - its verve, daring, pop sensibilities, and fearless treatment of political realities (Blair being a liar, Iraq being a quagmire) would in a normal year have made it the one to beat; also, Armitage has not won this prize, which is like Scorsese not having won an Academy Award.
The next three poets who also have a clear shot at this prize are Penelope Shuttle, who read wonderfully last night, and whose poems of loss and remembrance for her husband, the great poet Peter Redgrove, make hers a major collection; Paul Farley's Tramp on Flames is a complex, brilliant and meditative third book, and the long poem to Michael Donaghy is a major new poem; he read very well last night; Tim Liardet, although less-known than some of the superstars on the bill, has written, in The Blood Choir, a profound and important book on men, incarceration, pity, redemption and freedom - and he read superbly.
Then again, Robin Roberston could win - his book, Swithering - is a superb rendering of the traditional and sublime interests of neo-classical poetry, with echoes of the early Heaney; his use of myth is impressive. Hugo Williams has won before, and recently, for a book of which this new one is a sort of sequel, so he is less certain to win; Hirshfield and Herbert are each also possible contenders - the American because her work is redemptive, intelligible and wise; and Herbert because he is the most diversified versifier now writing in Scotland, a sort of quasi-Muldoon with his own range of interests and complex forms.
In short, this one is too close to call. Readers of poetry not based in the UK should order all ten books (you may already know Hirshfield) - the range and quality and sheer talent of contemporary mainstream British poetry is inspiring. Let's hope the judges in 2007 select a few more women, and some work that is a little beyond the linguistic comfort zone - maybe someone (innovative) published by Salt or Reality Street? It's likely next year will feature Maurice Riordan and Daljit Nagra, so, anyway, the Eliots are shaping up to be compelling for the years to come.
Note: the photo is of Paul Farley, one of the short-listed poets.
Sunday, 14 January 2007
by Noel Rooney
by Justin Hill
The woman who walks in the museum, Times of the year & The good matador
by Suzanne Harvey
by Lorri Neilsen Glenn
by Rumjhum Biswas
Irish country girl visits Tate Modern
by Elaine Feeney
by Sue Stanford
Saturday, 13 January 2007
I hope she won't mind my replying, then, with all due respect, to her comments, written in today's Guardian Review section, in her review of De-iced, a book by Susan Wicks (Bloodaxe): "There are questions that creative writing teachers are careful never to ask of their students, questions which are out of their remit and destructive to their jobs. 'Is this poem original?' is one, 'Is it urgent?' another, and 'Could it find an audience outside our subsidised community?' an unmentionable third".
I'm a creative writing teacher - and have been since 1998. I also have an MA from the University of East Anglia's creative writing department, where I am currently pursuing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. I currently am a Core Tutor for The Poetry School, and lecture on the MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University. I enjoy teaching, and see it as an inspiring, meaningful and practical activity - one that complements my other roles as a poet, literary editor and poetry advocate.
Firstly, creative writing teachers succeed when their students succeed - foremost by creating work they're proud of, and that stretches the student writer's abilities, their craft, their imaginations, their sense of language - so no questions about writing are ever beyond a creative writing teacher's remit or destructive of their jobs - any teacher who churns out only mediocre writers just isn't doing their job properly.
Clanchy's statement to the contrary seems to me to be incorrect. In fact, these questions, often framed or phrased somewhat differently, but amounting much to the same, such as Is it a cliche?, Is it fresh?, Are you saying something new? are central to provoking students into reaching beyond their comfort zones, often by reading more, and revising more.
Thirdly, as for "reaching beyond our audience" - what is the audience for poetry, and what's beyond it? Poetry reaches who it does, and always has.
She was best known for her vampiress role in The Munsters (1964-1966), which was cancelled the year I was born. Like many who came to love her, and the show, I saw it in re-runs.
Friday, 12 January 2007
Haynes was born of parents who were professional entertainers. After dropping out of school at 16, he joined the RAF, before going on to university, where the great poet F.T. Prince ("Soldiers Bathing") was his tutor. Haynes spent 1970 to 1988 as a lecturer in English at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria where he founded the literary journal Saiwa. Now back in the UK, he has continued teaching, writing and publishing and is the author of a number of books: on teaching, style and language theory, as well as African poetry, stories for African children, and two other volumes of verse. Sections of Letter to Patience have appeared, over the years, in London Magazine, Stand, Poetry Review, Ambit, Critical Quarterly and Poetry Wales. He has won prizes in the Arvon and National Poetry competitions. He has a PhD in applied linguistics.
"The bar is what you're going to miss," you said,
"not me," but that's wrong isn't it, to draw
lines around people (even if they're dead),
as if I'd miss the place you live in more
than you, when there's no line between at all
and that's something that you kept saying, your
philosophy, the sense of floor, mud wall,
dust road as who we are, the kites' long cry
at harmattan, the beggar's rhythmic call
outside Alhaji Kowa's store, this I
that floats and enters you from just as far
as ever, dear one, shapeless as the sigh
that lifts out of your mouth, out of the bar,
out of the rusted corrugated zinc
and mixes with some wailing armoured car
out on the road, and then the first tink-tink
of birds, the cockerel's call, none of it you,
except that when I think of it I think
it is and not the old femme noire, femme nue
"Afrique", no, something shared in spite of skin
colour, and Lugard's maxim gun, or through
just those, is it? I think so, what we're in,
as what we are. And so I'm writing this
Magana Jari Ce, am I, to spin
you into words? A spell, a selfishness
to try and keep you there, or rather here,
closing my eyes with lust to see, miss
you, sharper - no, the bar, musci, the beer?
Or it's an elegy for someone dead
for all I know, for all I fear to fear.
section excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Letter to Patience
Seren Books, 2006
by John Haynes
Thursday, 11 January 2007
eds. Jason Camlot and Todd Swift
paper / 276 pages / 4 appendices
Language Acts: Anglo-Quebec Poetry 1976 to the 21st Century brings together twenty provocative essays on the state of English-language poetry in Québec since 1976. Born and raised during this historically resonant period of Trudeauism, organized Québecois nationalism, sovereignty referenda, language legislation, and profound demographic and cultural change, Anglo-Québec poetry has come of age in the 21st century as a literature with its own distinct arguments about itself, and its own poetical acts in language.
Featuring essays on many important, even canonical figures such as Robert Allen, Anne Carson, Leonard Cohen, Louis Dudek, D.G. Jones, Irving Layton, Michael Harris, Erin Moure, David McGimpsey, Robyn Sarah, and Peter Van Toorn, and on a wide range of poetry activities including those of the Véhicule Poets and the Montreal Spoken Word scene, Language Acts is the first critical collection of its kind to appear in over forty years, and will set the terms used to discuss English language poetry in Québec for years to come. As such it is an indispensable guide to a body of 20th and early 21st century writing that is simultaneously American and post-colonial, Canadian and uniquely Québecois.
The TLS (missing the poems, if not the prose) recently [January 5, 2007] asked, in its oft-brilliant NB column (edited and written by J.C.) -"Where are the poets of war?" - before suggesting that one oughtn't to look for them in the anti-war camp, despite what Francis Scarfe wrote in 1941: "a good war poem must also be a good peace poem."
Simply put, there are two types of poets in the world - those fundamentalists who are roughly humourless and have the face of the farmer in American Gothic and think words are for sincere barter, about as subtle as a ton of pig - and those gay, Nivenesque souls who employ irony in their work, as not just a method, but an esprit. I am thinking, really, of the difference between a great many poets whose poems are about even more than an authentic disclosure of experience - and those who enjoy a little aesthetic distance, even artifice, in their writing. I am thinking of the wonderful New York School Poet, Kenward Elmslie, who wrote poems like "Girl Machine" and "History of France" - insouciant poetry that couldn't care less what you thought about it (dear reader) and yet always makes you feel part of the circus act (a circus where Shirley Temple might get eaten by lions).
Nor is this a "postmodern" versus "mainstream" shoving match, either. The great American avant-gardist (and Amazing Absorbing Man) Charles Bernstein is hilarious, ironic (in the sense the poem is never mistaken for being a bus ticket that can get you from A to B, whether that be Heaven or Hell) and eclectic in Benjaminian fashion; but some experimental poets can sound very sombre and pretentious, indeed, and would never ever think it right to include the name of a movie star in one of their poems. And yes, some mainsteam poets, like Simon Armitage, are ironic as hell, and often very funny, rarely acting in their poems like they are laying down a direct line to Stalin or the Pope or Wordsworth. Meanwhile, others act like every word not only counts, but plays the fiddle, dances, and transports you to the garden of Eden, for five cents, return.
I confess to being frustrated when some readers don't "get" my poetry. The reason they don't get it, is because they do get it, and they don't want what they're getting, just like some people don't want gay people in their churches or hotels. The truth is, sadly, many readers of poetry want ONLY some things from a poem and one of the things they ONLY want is that ahhhh feeling, like when you see a rainbow, or feel a lovely breeze on your face. I write poems about rainbows, because that is part of life, having an ahhhh every once in a while. But there's a lot of pleasure in being an Elmslie, or a Denby too - formal, serious, artful and clever, yes - but never less than witty, never not open to the full delights of the tongue, which cannot always be governed, and must sometimes be joyously diverted by cheek.
In short, the poetry world isn't ultimately divided along lingustic, class, national, ethnic, theoretical, or even philosophical lines, but whether we think poems always have to be po-faced or not.
(On the other hand, it sometimes is lovely to just be sincere, earnest and straightforward, and say something you believe in, eh?)
well I was. No more. A quick blog-standard speed-reply, below, in order:
Wednesday, 10 January 2007
According to a government site, Steffler "was born in Toronto, Ontario in November 1947 and was educated at the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph. He moved to and adopted Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador as his home in 1974. He taught at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (a campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland). His five books of poetry are highly regarded and have been well received throughout Canada. They include That Night We Were Ravenous (1998) which won the 1999 Atlantic Poetry Prize. His novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright (1992) won the 1993 Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Thomas Head Raddall Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book."
It's good to have a poet from the Atlantic provinces, following on one from out West, and then Quebec. I look forward to reading his collections.
To order Helix: New and Selected from Vehicule Press, see the link below.
Guess we'll have to read Haynes and see if Letter to Patience (Seren) is all form (in this instance terza rima), signifying nothing, or something more. To order the book, go to the Seren link below.
Monday, 8 January 2007
Many readers of Eyewear will know that I am a passionate advocate of Robert Allen's writing, but it is good to see other writers coming forward to establish what will hopefully become a consensus, with time: he was one of Canada's major writers, as poet and novelist.
Friday, 5 January 2007
So it was a treat for me to recently come across the writings of one Mr. Ben Wilkinson (pictured), and find much there to appreciate and share - from his musings on pop music to poetry on his blog http://deconstructivewasteland.blogspot.com/. He'a young poet well deserving of your time. Eyewear gladly welcomes him here in this liminal January week after the new year's rites of passage.
Wilkinson is a poet and undergraduate at the University of Sheffield. Much of his time is currently taken up by research for a dissertation on the New Generation Poets of 1994, primarily the work of Simon Armitage, Don Paterson, and Carol Ann Duffy. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines, including Dream Catcher, Poetry Review, The Frogmore Papers, and The Interpreter’s House. He has been a huge fan of the Smashing Pumpkins (as I am) since his early teens and plays the electric guitar.
Hanging baskets frosted white
in the orange blur of a maple wood dusk,
ice stalactites rigid towards the pavements.
The firing of some gun from the woods’
clearing. A bus rumbles on, coughing,
and a local makes his turn at the pub’s carpark.
The village shop’s newsboard pleas
bears pictures of twenty-somethings
last seen by a farmer, a dog walker,
fourish on the forest’s edge: a thick fog lingering,
spores shrouding the milling groups of deer. Ahead,
the brook ends near to where the search began.
Ploughed into the limestone wall
of a roadside house, the yellow
Beetle’s bonnet kinks sharply out,
torn, the police at the kerbside, directing
traffic and taking statements. The borderline
where post boxes change from red to green.
Hillside housing estates flicker with lights,
clamping shut against the winter’s cold.
The backfields fold between them
and a stretched A-road; ice, potholes, nettled bushes,
a makeshift sign saying ‘No Golf’. The grass peters out
to bracken, cat’s eyes flickering through the foliage.
poem by Ben Wilkinson
Wednesday, 3 January 2007
Bryan Singer (the "y" was always going to be a problem) was the once-and-future-Fincher of American cinema, a great rising director. Instead, after The Usual Suspects, that bijou pic whose lustre is somewhat tarnished now that everyone's picked up on it, he opted for blockbusters. X-Men, etc., and now yet another "reboot" of yet another "franchise" (even using the jargon of film's industrial trade is an assault and battery on the mind), Superman Returns, as above.
It should have been called "Brando Returns". The production is ghosted by the expensive actor - his virtual reproduction haunts its halls, out-takes from the original "crystal seed" mirrored, replayed and echoed endlessly, like so much "the Force, Luke" stuff. But not only is Singer proud to play paycock with Brando's cinematic shade, he has allowed other homages to unaccountably cluster and multiply, like Mahon's mushrooms in a disused shed. For one, Eve Marie Saint, great opposite Marlon in On The Waterfront (and luminous in North by Northwest) becomes old Mrs. Kent, living on the same ranch as Mrs. Ryan (of the saved son in Spielberg's epic), and Lex Luthor's moll (a Parker full of Posey, husha-husha) is named "Kitty Kowalski", nodding subliminally to the sublime Streetcar.
Why do this, unless, at heart, one is sick of the artless nature of the enterprise? Singer's sense of direction is good, his visual sense strong (for one thing, he has borrowed heavily from Welles and Kubrick, in his use of silent framed space as well as space flooded with sound - see the hopsital sequence at the end, which refers to Kane, among other films) - but the script is a let-down, despite its clever deployment of a rich field of flight images and metaphors (ghosting 9-11 certainly), and the usual father-and-son routine.
No, the problem is Luthor. Kevin Spacey is one of my favourite actors. His physical deportment in the film is superb, choreographed to swing his megalomania like a bebop trombonist on horse. Still. Little thought (and this often happens with graphic novels when translated to screen) was given to the requisite gravitas of the villain - or more bluntly, his infrastructure. Three or four goons and a gum-cracking moll does not an army make, and Luthor's plan, admittedly meant to be insane, still does not seize the imagination, let alone colonize the imaginary, as it should - surely, stealing America from the pale-faces by resurrecting an Atlantian wasteland like some sort of submerged Leviathan is a clever Sex and Death in the American Novel trope, but where's the S & D? Billions are threatened with extinction, none die.
Luthor could not even outdrink the Rahv's in heat, let alone sublet a block in Manhattan, let alone conquer a timid new world. The way in which he "kills" Superman with Kryptonite is sufficiently wicked, but not much else is more than a bled-out reprise of the Gene Hackman performance first time round. Why do screenwriters insist on making the villains so undaunting? Armed only with a few stolen artefacts from the Fortress of Solitude and one helicopter, how does Lex expect to hold off the armies of the free world? In what way does he in fact "steal" fire from the gods (the best scene involves his brief lecture on Prometheus)?
More to the point (carping diem), if Kryptonite kills Superman, then Superman cannot lift it. He surely can't, then, lift a vast continent laced with Kryptonite miles into space, can he? He can. Oh. Okay, then.
Return of the repressed? As Superman floats in the ether, hearing, godlike, the pleas of humanity (a dictator brutally murdered here, a child blown up by a land mine there, a bank and its property threatened here) what is most absent is ideology, or any sense that the film is created within a system of capitalism. The German idea of the Superman, if I recall, was that he transgressed, or at least extended, human values - there was a transformation of ideology. American brute force has been shown to be incapable of lifting countries free from toxicity, let alone thrusting new continents (ho hum) - only new systems of thought can do that - Superman's persistent loner status, his reluctance to co-operate, or work in league with philantropists like Bill Gates (ha ha) renders him, perhaps, as useless as Lois Lane's prize-winning editorial would argue.
Tuesday, 2 January 2007
Robin Roberston, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Paul Farley, Simon Armitage, Hugo Williams, Penelope Shuttle, Jane Hirshfield, as well as Tim Liardet and W.N. Herbert are on the shortlist.
Anne Carson (the only North American woman to have so far won it) is notably absent.
Eyewear will keep you informed of the latest developments...