About Eyewear the blog

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


Friday, 30 March 2007

Poem by Elaine Feinstein

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the significant poet Elaine Feinstein (pictured) to its pages this Friday. She read for my Oxfam series last year, and then again recently in London at Foyles (with Michael Schmidt), where she launched her excellent and moving new collection from Carcanet, Talking to the Dead. Feinstein was born in Liverpool, brought up in Leicester, and educated at Newnham College, Cambridge.

She has written fourteen novels, such as The Border, Loving Brecht and Dark Inheritance. She has written radio plays, television dramas, and five biographies; one of these, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet, was short listed for the biennial Marsh Biography Prize. In 1993, she was Writer in Residence for the British Council in Singapore, and in 1996 in Tromso, Norway. She was a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow at Bellagio in 1998. Her novels and biographies have been translated into French, Spanish,German, Italian, Danish, Hungarian, Czech, Hebrew, and Chinese; and her poetry into French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. Her versions of the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva were first publishedin 1971, and remain in print from OUP/Carcanet in the UK and Penguin in the USA.

Her poems have been widely anthologised, and two were included in The Oxford Book of English Verse (edited by Christopher Ricks). Her Collected Poems and Translations (2002) was a was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. Her biography of Anna Akhmatova was published in 2005. The poem below is from her latest collection.

London

For Natasha

A full ginger moon hangs in the garden.
On this side of the house there are no stars.
When I go to bed, I like to soothe myself with
streetlights, lit windows and passing cars.

When my grandchild comes to sleep over
I find we share the same preference.
She doesn't want to draw the curtains either.
'I like to look out on my town, my London...

Have you seen London from above?' she asks me.
'It's like a field of lights.' And her grey eyes widen.
Her eight year old spirit is tender as blossom.
Be gentle to her now, ferocious London.


poem by Elaine Feinstein
from Talking to the Dead (Carcanet, 2007)
reprinted with kind permission of the author

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Oxfam Reading Time Out London's Critic's Choice

Good news, this reading has been selected as a Time Out London Critics' Choice for the week of March 28-April 3!

7 POETS FOR 2007 SERIES



Oxfam Spring Poetry Reading

Thursday, March 29, 7pm

Oxfam Books & Music

91 Marylebone High Street, W1 (near Baker Street tube station)






Featuring:

James Byrne is the editor of The Wolf magazine and a respected young poet in London. His first collection Passages of Time was published by Waterways in 2003 and he is currently finishing a second book. He has worked for the Poetry Translation Centre and has recently given readings at the Groucho Club, The Green Mill (Chicago) and for Poet in the City. Earlier in 2007, James received a shortlist for this year's Eric Gregory competition.

Melanie Challenger is an award-winning writer. She co-authored Stolen Voices with Zlata Filipovic. She adapted the Anne Frank diaries into a choral work which was televised by BBC from Westminster Palace in 2005. She won an Eric Gregory Award for her poetry in 2005. Her recent collection, Galatea, is from Salt.

Janice Fixter writes non-fiction and poetry. She has a D.Phil. in Creative Writing from Sussex University. Her poems have been widely published. She has a new collection due out in 2007 published by Tall Lighthouse. She lives in South London.

John Fuller's Collected Poems (Chatto and Windus) appeared in 1996. His collection Stones and Fires won the 1996 Forward Prize, and among later collections, Ghosts was shortlisted for the 2005 Whitbread Award, and The Space of Joy (2006) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He has also published two collections of short stories and seven novels, of which Flying to Nowhere was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the most recent, Flawed Angel, appeared in a Vintage paperback last November. He is also a critic, an anthologist, and a writer for children.

Patrick McGuinness won an Eric Gregory Award for poetry from the Society of Authors and in 2001 he won the Levinson Prize from the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine. His books include a collection of poetry, The Canals of Mars, from Carcanet, academic works such as Symbolism, Decadence and the' fin de siècle': French and European Perspectives (University of ExeterPress, 2000). Most recently, he edited the Collected Poems of Lynette Roberts. He is a fellow of St Anne's College, University of Oxford, wherehe lectures in French.

Nigel McLoughlin is a prize-winning poet and the author of four collections of poetry. He was co-editor of Breaking The Skin, a two-volume anthology ofnew Irish writers published by Blackmountain Press in 2002. His new collection, Dissonances, is to be published (with an accompanying CD) byBluechrome in September 2007. He is Field Chair in Creative Writing and Course Leader for the MA in Creative & Critical Writing at the University of Gloucestershire. He is currently writing a textbook on poetry for Palgrave Macmillan.

Jeffrey Wainwright is a poet whose Selected Poems (1985), The Red-Headed Pupil (1994) and Out of the Air (1999) are published by Carcanet . He has translated plays by Péguy, Claudel, and Corneille. A book on the purposes and styles of poetry, Poetry the Basics, was published by Routledge in April2 004. His book Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill,was published by Manchester University Press in 2006. Carcanet will publish his new collection, Clarity or Death!. He is Professor in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University and teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


Hosted by Todd Swift, Oxfam Poet-in-Residence

Admission free, suggested donation £6 - all proceeds to Oxfam.
Please RSVP: Martin Penny

Telephone: 020 7487 3570;

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Not Since 1878

While all media attention in the UK was yesterday on Northern Ireland and its cleavages, Quebec, a multilingual province of more than six million people the size of Europe, went to the polls in an election that, once again, confronted the issue of whether it should secede from Canada or retain its union with the federal government.
Last night, the (somewhat) pro-federalist Liberal's Jean Charest (pictured) won light backing for a minority government - the first in the province for 130 years. It will be curious to see how Charest manages to keep things going for more than another 18 months or so, like this - but he may learn a trick or two from Harper, Canada's right-wing PM.

The good news is that the PQ (the separatist party) came third.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Congratulations to Derek Mahon

Eyewear is glad to report that Derek Mahon, the Irish poet, pictured, has been awarded The David Cohen Prize for Literature at an award ceremony hosted by the British Library on March 22. According to the prize's site:

"this biennial prize, valued by writers as the most coveted literary award in the British Isles .... is awarded to a writer from the UK or Ireland in recognition of a lifetime’s achievement in literature. The winner of the 2007 David Cohen Prize for Literature will be presented with a cheque for £40,000. ... The winner of the David Cohen Prize is selected by a panel of judges comprising distinguished authors, literary critics and academics. The prize does not accept submissions, nor does it publish a shortlist. The panel for 2007, chaired by the Poet Laureate, Professor Andrew Motion, includes Liz Calder, Anne Enright, Jackie Kay, Hilary Mantel, Rt Hon Lord Chris Smith, Sir Peter Stothard, Boyd Tonkin and Jeremy Treglown. ... Previous winners of the David Cohen Prize for Literature are V S Naipaul (1993), Harold Pinter (1995), Muriel Spark (1997), William Trevor (1999), Doris Lessing (2001), Beryl Bainbridge and Thom Gunn (joint winners, 2003). In 2005 Michael Holroyd became the first biographer to win the prize."

Mahon is a worthy winner, author of several good poems that will last. His winning of the prize sees a kind of (fitting) closure of acceptance within the circle of friends (The Belfast Group) that comprised Heaney, Longley and Mahon. Heaney has the Nobel, Longley the Queen's Gold Medal, and Mahon the Cohen.

It now remains for the jury in 2009 to seriously consider the presiding genius of contemporary English poetry, Geoffrey Hill, worthy of such an accolade.


As an aside, Mahon was very kind to me, when my first collection, Budavox, was being prepared for publication in 1999. He was shown the poems in the manuscript, and, through a mutual friend in Dublin, agreed to write a brief quote for the cover, which read "Swift is a voice for our times" - which I have always felt was a delightfully witty double-edged sword, echoing as it does Ben Jonson's "not of an age, but for all time".

Friday, 23 March 2007

Poem by Barbara Smith

Eyewear is glad to welcome Barbara Smith (pictured) this Friday. I met Smith recently in Galway, where we both read, and enjoyed the conversation. Born in Dublin in 1967, her work has appeared in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland, in journals such as Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Garm Lu, Agenda, nthposition, The SHOp and west47online. A chapbook, Poetic Stage came out in 1998, and a collection, Kairos, is forthcoming.


Trench Monument

It wasn’t the flies so much as the reek
caught downwind that giddied passers by.

The lush green of new moulted shoots
smoothed the vale down to the river.

Behind, a stand of pines on the crown of the hill.
The buzzing became an engine purring

closer towards the hill crest.
Carcass caverns loomed stark lying

as they had done, in November permafrost.
But now, in spring, white maggots blindly crept

from thawing flesh remnants, writhing, vying
for their own stale warmth, feeding the biomass,

reducing the remains to a future fossil.
Particles of dust, carbon atoms:

emissions in a shell-shocked future.


poem by Barbara Smith

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Tanya Reinhardt Has Died

Sad news.

Regular contributor to nthposition, Tanya Reinhardt died in New York on 17 March age 63. She wrote her doctoral thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Noam Chomsky, and taught at the universities of Tel Aviv and Utrecht.

In December 2006, she left Israel and taught at New York University. Tanya was married to the poet and translator Aharon Shabtai.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,2038790,00.html

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Chapman

Chapman 109 is just out, with a cover feature on Stewart Conn, at 70.

Chapman is "Scotland's quality literary magazine" and I am glad to note that I have six poems in the current issue.

Do check out their site at www.chapman-pub.co.uk and subscribe. As per an earlier post, it is important to support the magazines that form, and inform, poetry in the UK.

Poets in their youth

I am reading soon as a featured poet as part of the Shot from the Lip festival, associated via this month's New Blood - the fresh happening series, Wednesday, March 21, 7.30pm - start of a spring awakening, no doubt.

This at the Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London.

In keeping with the Wedekindian theme, I will be joined by two young poets - Ashna Sarkar, described as "ridiculously young, ridiculously talented, ridiculously good" and the thrillingly-named Scroobiou Pip, a previous winner of Shortfuse's Poetry Idol.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

St. Patrick's Day and Niagara Falls

Eyewear wishes you a happy St. Patrick's Day.

Reflecting on the Irish genius in language, it is striking to consider that the greatest poet of the 20th century is arguably Yeats, the finest prose writer Joyce, and most influential playwright, Beckett. Should that be controversial, you might say that, waiting in those wings are Shaw, Heaney, Banville, Friel, Kavanagh (pictured) and Muldoon.... or - well, the list is implausibly long, if not endless.

Ireland and the Irish diaspora continue to yield much - recent books of 2007 include Maurice Riordan's The Holy Land (Faber), Eavan Boland's Domestic Violence (Carcanet) and Ian Duhig's The Speed of Dark (Picador). Each of these is a poetry collection no reader of contemporary verse would want to be without.

In today's Guardian, Duhig's poem in memory of the great Irish-American poet, Michael Donaghy, is published (see below, also made available online).

As an Irish-Canadian (if such a hybrid is allowed) let me, as an aside, gently mourn the Guardian's recent decision to downgrade Niagara Falls in its giant poster of the "Wonders of the World" - both natural and man made. Despite the fact that Canada has more extraordinary examples of natural splendour than all of Europe combined, it remains blank on an otherwise busy map (America is given three or four wonders). Niagara Falls is just not there - but disappeared.

Households and schools across the UK will be enjoying the fun of putting stickers on the busy world, but Canada - as usual in the UK media - will be left barely-described, as a dull place not worth investigating - a few yards of snow.

Come to think of it, wasn't it another Irish genius, Wilde, who once noted that Niagara Falls was only a new bride's second biggest disappointment, on her honeymoon?


http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/poetry/story/0,,2035797,00.html

Friday, 16 March 2007

Poem by Alison Pick

Eyewear is very glad to present Alison Pick (pictured) this Friday.

Pick, a true rising star, was the winner of the 2005 CBC Literary Award for Poetry, the 2003 National Magazine Award for Poetry, and the 2002 Bronwen Wallace Award for most promising Canadian poet under the age of 35.

Her 2003 collection Question & Answer was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award and for a Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award. Alison's first novel, The Sweet Edge, was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of 2005 and has recently been optioned for film by Four Seasons Productions in Toronto.

Originally from Kitchener, Ontario, Pick has lived, read, published, and taught across the country. I am particularly pleased with this poem, as it deals with something that, even in March, resonates with my Canadian memories: snow.


So Much More To Say

The final snow-removal trucks
arrive like liberating troops. Up and up
the streets they charge to roses tossed
from windows. Winter’s a war finally won.
Throw back the drapes: warmth sashays in,
a kink, little inkling: we’ve felt this before,
forgotten it too, in the womb, in an earlier

life. Dreaming is easy in hours like these,
the mind’s backyard awash in new light,
but troops are troops, welcomed or not.
Still I haven’t said what I meant: something lost
will clear a space for something new to follow.
Ice in the harbour, for instance, melting,
starts the swell of spring. The Quakers,

for instance, worship in silence that breaks
in an outburst of words. The shattered things,
which is to say, the cool of your palm against
my thigh, which is to say there is no saying
for the dark and shady. And no perfection.
My broken parts have always been broken –
touch me. Touch me there.

poem by Alison Pick

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Paris Reading Monday

I will be reading in Paris in a few days, with Claire Potter and Rufo Quintavalle.

Details below. Hope to see you there.

Berkeley Books of Paris
8 rue Casimir Delavigne
75006 Paris
Metro Odeon

7 PM, Monday March 19, 2007

Monday, 12 March 2007

Tradition and the Individual iPod

PN Review 174 (just out) has an editorial that all those concerned with poetry, in the UK and beyond, should read carefully.

The Arts Council is in the process of "restructuring". Some of this is good news, but the shift in emphasis is also leading to unexpected casualties: first, universally-respected (among poets and poetry publishers that is) Literature Director Gary McKeone was given his walking papers; next, "traditional" small magazines like The London Magazine have had their funding cut, completely. This signals a transition to support for new media outfits, performance poetry, and poetry that excites youth, and gets them involved.

Salt Publishing, for instance, has been awarded a "large grant" to develop its print-on-demand and online operation. David Lammy, the Culture Minister in the Blair government, and a big supporter of the Iraq war, is ironically overseeing the transformation of the publisher of 100 Poets Against The War - but then again, Salt's direction has (arguably) changed radically since 2003, as it now publishes a far wider spectrum of poets.

The editorial ends with the line "the triumph of performance poetry is clearly at hand".

I have long foreseen such a shift (see the introductions to my anthologies Poetry Nation, 1998, and Short Fuse, 2002) - and tried to ease (and influence) the transition by arguing that spoken word and performance /multimedia poetry should ground itself in a strong sense of the (literary) tradition of written (and published) poetry. As the digital age, and the celebrity age (different but connected because of capitalist tendencies) is relatively unstoppable in the short term, "youth" will begin to access - and share - their poetry (if and when they even do) in terms of what can be delivered via these new media. This will mean poems performed and recorded like files of songs, and, more and more, poems experienced via electronic devices.

The tragedy is not that new machines are entering our lives (telephones and planes did not stop Eliot or Auden from writing well) but that the funding agencies are mistaking the media for the message. The foundation of poetry in the UK has been, and must continue to be, small magazines and dedicated editors and publishers who know, and love, poetry, top to bottom. Ceasing to fund a legendary journal like The London Magazine and thereby terminating the legacy of Alan Ross, is equivalent to bulldozing listed buildings. In short, a spirit of conservation, if not conservatism, is paradoxically called for, at just this moment of radical change.

I have long been misread in the UK (in some circles) as the minstrel of new media mayhem. Far from it. I know the need to share poems with new generations of readers, to keep its spirit alive. But I also know that the spirit is non-negotiable. Poetry isn't for dumbing down. That's entertainment, and it's a different remit, a culture without gods.

The Arts Council - which supported my Oxfam series and does much good work to be sure - should continue to fund the great traditional paper little magazines, even as they support new forms of delivering poetry.

As for "youth" - Mr. Lammy should be careful as his hand doles out cash like sugar cubes. Empowered rappers, spoken word artists and poetry readers may continue to question the illegality of the war his government has prosecuted. Poetry is not merely efficacious and edifying - it can bite. That's a government of the teeth behind the tongue.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Poem by Revathy Gopal

Eyewear is sad to report that another poet has died. Revathy Gopal (pictured) was a winner in the All India Poetry Competition, a contributor to Nthposition, and a good poet. She died earlier this week, of cancer. Gopal was born in 1947 in Bombay, a few months before India became independent. She lived for most of her life in that city.

She wrote: "I grew up listening to and reading the great legends of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as the mythology of Greece and Rome. I am fascinated by the strangeness of the poetic imagination. If poetry is a different way of seeing, there is still a measure of artifice in the way a poem is finished and presented. The struggle between ‘pure’ consciousness and the language and craft used to define and refine a poem is what makes a poet.” Her recent collection is Last Possibilities of Light (Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2007).

Lines on Meeting a Cousin, Long-Lost

“You have your father’s mouth,” she says,
“and the family nose we have all inherited.
Such a gentle man, your father,
I remember him with great affection.”

She says nothing, practically nothing,
a perfunctory word about my mother.
Silence fills the spaces between us,
where once we shared noisy baths
and each other’s skirts.

The years cannot be breached.
Her muscular wrist, the strong jut
of jaw, the rough palm on my cheek
at greeting and parting,
tell their own story.

My mind the mirror,
I meet my mother’s eye
narrowed in recognition.
It is hers, the same
geometry of bone beneath the skin.

I could match her now, word for word.
I could meet her now, on equal terms. I think
I could draw blood.

poem by Revathy Gopal

http://spaniardintheworks.blogspot.com/2007/03/in-memoriam-revathy-gopal.html

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Review: Neon Bible, Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, released on Monday, has received the sort of reception one supposes that Jesus might get, should he wander into The White House - or rather, it exposes precisely why such a reception might be more in line with that meted out to the Messiah in Dostoevsky's fable of the Grand Inquisitor.

In short, this is a critically-lauded album of eleven songs by the world's most famous Canadian band (with a Texan frontman) that, based on a novel about false religion by an American suicide, critiques the current age from the position of the pulpit (paradoxically, recorded in Quebecois and Hungarian churches) while at the same time questioning the rock on which America's foreign and home policies lie. The Killers must be gutted that The New York Times has accused them of forging a false-voiced sound, whereas Arcade Fire has married Springsteen and The Talking Heads effortlessly, and in exuberant, original stride.

The New York Times has compared them to Cirque du Soleil fused with The Clash, which is a nice idea, but fails utterly to take into account the rich local history of Montreal music of the last 20 or so years. Arcade Fire have not (unlike Topsy) just popped out of nowhere, but instead draw on the tradition of cabaret music shows in the city, which I (along with Jake Brown and others) used to host in the 90s, featuring artists like Martha and Rufus Wainwright and The Kingpins. Further, this tradition of spectacle and zany intense live shows with many costume changes mainly derives from the influence of legendary Montreal band Me, Mom and Morgentaler (pictured). It is tedious to see this current act of rampant hagiography occur without due attention being paid to the sons of the desert who came before.

Arcade Fire have few enemies, many friends, from David Bowie to The Guardian and Observer and Q and Entertainment Weekly - all who mention epic sound and sonic and moral greatness. Neon Bible is a bit like The Waste Land - a cultural product delivered to the consumer with the tag of masterpiece already on its toe. Curiously, it is not the first album to be recorded in both Montreal and Budapest, to explore sweeping soundscapes, and discuss issues of conspiracy, the Apocalypse and 9/11. That was Swifty Lazarus, with The Envelope, Please. It would be nice to think Arcade Fire know that, but probably not.

I think this is a very, very good album, with stunning songs, and an alert, provocative and refreshing tone that is marvellous. Great? I don't actually think it betters Funeral, whose childlike brilliance is still entirely unique. Whereas Neon Bible reminds one of those who came before - from Bowie to Black (Frank) to Byrne to The B-52s. I also find the lyrical and thematic content slightly ham-fisted. The concept that America's Neo-Con alliance with the Fundamentalist Christian wing of the Republican party led to an illegal war in Iraq is hardly new. Nor is it, on its own, profound. Worse is the suggestion that faith (the church) necessarily leads to such political criminality. It sometimes clearly does, but the priests and church members who allowed the band to record in their acoustically-friendly chambers no doubt think more subtly about the church-state question. Given that many of the leading anti-war figures since Vietnam have been church-affiliated is worth bearing in mind.

Father Berrigan comes to mind. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer's resistance to Hitler (in which he died at the hands of the Nazis, willingly going to his death by returning to Germany) is certainly a more potent statement of commitment than making an album. I only go this far, because the critics are heralding this as a major work, of sound and substance. I think the sound is sound, the substance less so, perhaps built on sand.

Still, "Windowsill" and "No Cars Go" are great songs, and powerful as political statements. The lines: "Don't wanna fight in a holy war/ Don't want the salesmen knocking at my door/ I don't wanna live in America no more" sure beats The Killers' "he doesn't look a thing like Jesus" for a statement of defiance that will go down on Win Butler's permanent record. That sort of shining posterity is admirable, as indie pop's been bland since 2001, issuing few such transforming rebel yells, and queer-shouldered yawps. Bravo.

http://www.metacritic.com/music/artists/arcadefire/neonbible

March Poetry at Nthposition In Like A Lamb...


Monday, 5 March 2007

EnRoute

enRoute, Canada's leading in-flight magazine (Air Canada), has an article on me for the month of March. Photos by the talented Joseph Ford - as above. I am described as, among other things, "the nightclub manager of modern poetry".

Sunday, 4 March 2007

25 years at the Barbican

Eyewear was glad to have raised a glass of cheap fizz last night, toasting the 25th birthday of the Barbican Centre in London, whose 25th birthday party concert it was.

Sir Colin Davis had the baton before the London Symphony Orchestra. The highlight of the evening was Mitsuko Uchida on piano, playing Mozart's K467, which dates from March 1785 - that is, precisely 222 years ago. Uchida was sublime, as was the music.

The LSO seemed more comfortable with the kettle drums and pizzicato of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4 in F Minor, Op 37, which was first begun in 1877 (130 years ago). Its passionate struggle with desire and Fate is as moving as then, no doubt.

Also played was the curious incident of the premiere of James MacMillan's Stomp (with Fate and Elvira) which interweaves (rather obviously it seemed to my untrained ears) elements from the two pieces mentioned above.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Poem by Julia Casterton

Eyewear is featuring a poem by Julia Casterton, the much loved poet and creative writing tutor, who died last Saturday in London.
Julia (pictured) was born in 1952 in Nottingham where she grew up. She studied at Essex University and worked as a creative writing tutor at the City Literature Institute since 1981, at The Poetry School, and also had a twenty year association with Ambit magazine. A winner of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 1990, her first full collection The Doves of Finesterre (2004) won the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize in 2004. Her books on writing include Writing Poetry: A Practical Guide (The Crowood Press, 2005) and Creative Writing: A Practical Guide (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).

Julia was one of the most striking, electric, intriguing and engaged people I have ever met. Brilliant. Sympathetic. Critical. Funny. Kind. She was instantly compelling. I taught with her on a shared course at London Metropolitan University last year, and she also read for my Oxfam series, summer 2006. She was a fine poet. This is a great loss.


Blood Oranges

I halve and squeeze them for my breakfast,
their lovely egg and bacon red and yellow,
and see my own blood and my bone marrow
on the six glass hospital slides
like sunrises. “Oh, beautiful,”
I said to the doctor who’d take it
so gently from my hip-bone. “Yes,”
she replied. “Even more so when it’s magnified.”

We sit in the bare ward, waiting,
sunrise after sunrise waiting in my bones.

poem by Julia Casterton

Thursday, 1 March 2007

World Book Daze

The poll for World Book Day, as published in today's Guardian, lists the 100 books that voters "could not live without". No poetry (or philosophy, essays, Freud, Marx, Darwin, or OED). "Books" has obviously become - in most minds - a debased concept that means "novels". And, not just any kind of novels. Three kinds, basically: a) books for children; b) classic books read in school; and c) recent non-literary airport-type genre fiction. The list is wearyingly familiar, almost as bad as one of those clone town high streets we hear so much about in Britain. It is a clone mind, or clone library. The fact that the top "100" has space for the Harry Potter books, Birdsong, and The Time Traveller's Wife is just dumb. They're in the top 20! The Great Gatsby is only at 22; The Da Vinci Code is one place ahead (at 42) of One Hundred Years of Solitude. On what denuded moonscape of the mind is Dan Brown something a reader cannot live without?

There is so much excitement about reading, about literacy, we forget that most people are dunces. Most readers are people. Therefore, most readers are dunces, too.

This is an elitist position. I see no alternative to it. Otherwise, we might as well just let the philistines have their own country.

A list of 100 top books without any Yeats, or Frost, or Eliot, or Wordsworth - that's sad. Also, the absence of Graham Greene seems odd, too.

One piece of good news, though, which has not been noticed by the UK media, is that three Canadian authors make the top 100. And two of those are in the top 50! LM Montgomery and Atwood come in at 46 and 48. Martel is at 51.

This is ironic, because the British think they find Canada boring. But there is no Australian or Irish writer in the top 50. That's right, in the top 50 books, no Joyce, no Wilde. Ulysses is at 75. At 68: Bridget Jones's Diary. Who are these people, who voted?

But the good news is, to repeat, readers are finding Canadian authors, and finding them indispensable.