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.


Saturday, 21 April 2007

At The Blue Metropolis Festival

I have been invited to attend the 2007 Blue Metropolis festival in Montreal, Quebec - fast becoming Canada's major literary gathering. This year, both Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood will be appearing, as well as rising star Heather O'Neill.

I'll be reading on the Wednesday, alongside John Burnside, Jason Camlot, Carmine Starnino and others; then launching two books, Language Acts (co-edited book of essays with JC, as above) on the Friday, and Winter Tennis on the Sunday (part of the DC Books spring launch).

More info below and a link to the review (out today) of Language Acts in The Montreal Gazette.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Poem by Martha Kapos

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Martha Kapos (pictured) this Friday. She recently read for the Oxfam Series, in London, and is the author of one of my favourite contemporary poems published in the UK, which, by a happy coincidence, is below.

Kapos was born in New Haven, Connecticut and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having completed a degree in Classics at Harvard, she came to London to study Painting and the History of Art at the Chelsea School of Art, where she stayed to teach - writing and lecturing on art and poetry until 2001.

A pamphlet from The Many Press, The Boy Under The Water, was her first poetry publication in 1989. She won a Hawthornden Fellowship in 1994 and in 2000 was shortlisted for Poetry Review’s Geoffrey Dearmer ‘New Poet of the Year’ award. She became assistant poetry editor of Poetry London in 2001.

Her poems have appeared in a number of magazines including Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Wales, The Manhattan Review, and the TLS. A selection of her poems appeared in Oxford Poets 2002: An Anthology published by Carcanet. My Nights in Cupid’s Palace (Enitharmon, 2003) was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation and won the Jerwood/Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection.


Finding My Bearings

Such intricate
navigational equipment.
A search of the black sky

for the Pole Star. Soundings
to establish a safe depth.
Sailing in the dark up

the empty estuary, shining hotel
corridors with static
electricity in each doorknob.

Never go down teetum teetum
if you don’t go down with me.
Why are the little roads

to your secret address so faint?
The A to Z of your smile without
getting lost. Its turnings and

mysterious co-ordinates.
Let's look it up
in the index under S:

Something Circus
Something Crescent
Something Close


Acknowledgement to the TLS; reprinted with permission of the poet.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

"Men seeking good, doing evil"

Ezra Pound, pictured, the most important impresario of modernism, and one of its five greatest practitioners (others being later Yeats, Eliot, Joyce and Stevens), has now had all his poetry recordings collected, with a useful Introduction, at the link below. No excuse not to listen to what's stayed news.

Review: We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

The year 2007 presents several satisfying options for anniversaries. 25 years since The Smiths were formed (1982) or, more gloomily, 20 since they broke up (1987). The Smiths, in the opinion of Eyewear, are one of the two most significant British bands of the last quarter century or so (the other is Joy Division, whose uncanny dark sublimity is inexplicable in a popular, albeit alternative, music context). Radiohead, Oasis, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys - whatever - they ain't The Beatles, they ain't The Smiths. Strangeways, Here We Come, their fourth and final studio album, charted in the US of A at #55.

So it comes as something of a welcome surprise that, recently, one half of the duo that defined Smithean genius, Johnny Marr, joined an alternative American band, Modest Mouse (pictured) - and then went on to have, with his new group, the US #1 album.

Is this album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, worthy of such heights? Is it a curiosity, coasting on Marr's reputation? Yes and no. Marr is not a household name in America, and so his reputation could not, alone, have propelled the group to such success - and besides, they have done well previously. It just happens to be a great album.

Great, but spiky. I have been listening for several weeks, trying to get in to the heart of a mood, a safe zone, where I can reside in the music and enjoy. Only five songs on the album fully (fathomed) afford such comfort, such melody. They are, may I add, the best songs, and the ones where Marr is most influential: "Dashboard", "Fire It Up", "Florida", "Parting of the Sensory" and "Missed The Boat". There are nine other songs, which are variously either just good, or merely okay. One or two are even grating.

Indeed, the way Modest Mouse can best be described is a cheese, grating. What makes this eclectic, weird, shambolic album so off-putting and yet brilliant, is how they've taken the Pixies' (America's best 80s band) nutcase shouting of Black Francis and combined it, like some genetic splicing was afoot, with The Smiths' more lyric graces - the result, while rarely pleasant or smooth, is a bumpy road down several lanes of tonal memory.

But let's zoom in on the two great songs here - "Parting of the Sensory" - with its carbon robbers ("someday you will die somehow and something's going to steal your carbon") manages to sound like a whisky-and-fiddle piss-up in a mental asylum presided over by The Pogues (Ireland's best 80s band) and a melancholy song by Neil Young, which evokes a tremendous sadness ("all the stubborn beauty") in current American experience ("a lifelong walk to the exact same spot - carbon's anniversary - the parting of the sensory") - more directly, Death. A lament about the inevitability of species extinction, global warming, and god knows what else, it is ugly-beautiful and a benchmark song for these times. "Who the hell made you the boss?" cannot help but make me think of Bush's presiding over a badly listing ship of state ("four year trip to the same spot" might suggest that).

The truly great song here, though, is "Fire It Up" - starting with a charming, mid-tempo inevitability ("if you need some conversation - bring a magazine - to read around our brokedown transportation") - it proceeds to become both very sad, very catchy, and very inspiring - as if Beckett's can't-go-on-must-go-on credo were the latest biofuel, powering this Mouse's engines. It seems to detail the boulder-pushing Camus-absurdist odd jobs of some oddballs, protecting ice cubes from the cold, etc. - crew members on or off a ship so ill-shaped its destination seems off beam and utterly uncompassed - an aberration of stardom. This unhandsome all-hands drunk on deck swagger defines the Zero Meridian at the bone of this finally achieved band.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Language Acts April 27, 2007

Language Acts: Anglo-Quebec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century
Edited by Jason Camlot and Todd Swift

to be launched at the 9th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival

Friday, April 27, 8–9:30 p.m.
St-Charles Room, Hôtel Delta Centre-ville
777 rue University (Métro Square-Victoria)

A panel discussion will be chaired by the editors and will include Daniel Canty, David McGimpsey, Lianne Moyes, Victoria Stanton and David Solway. A reception will follow.

To view the Contents Page, click here. To view the Index, click here.
For information: 514.844.6073, http://www.vehiculepress.com/

---


Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century
publié sous la direction de Jason Camlot et Todd Swift

au 9ième Festival littéraire international de Montréal Metropolis bleu

vendredi le 27 avril, de 20h00 à 21h30
Salle St-Charles, Hôtel Delta Centre-ville
777 rue University (Métro Square-Victoria)

Une table ronde, présidée par les directeurs et composée de Daniel Canty, David McGimpsey,
Lianne Moyes, Victoria Stanton et David Solway, sera suivie par une réception.

To view the Contents Page, click here. To view the Index, click here.
Pour information: 514.844.6073, http://www.vehiculepress.com/

April 25–29
http://www.bluemetropolis.org/

Friday, 13 April 2007

Poem by Steven Heighton

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Steven Heighton (pictured) this Friday the 13th. Heighton is one of the five or so leading writers of his generation in Canada, somewhat equivalent, say, to Tobias Hill in England - that is, he is both a fine poet and prose writer. I've known (of) him for years - he was already editor of Quarry when I was first starting to submit work to little magazines, in my late teens, early twenties. He took one of my first published poems. He's the author of one of the best poems written by a Canadian in the last 25 years - "The Machine Gunner". When I was compiling my selection of the best younger Canadian poets for New American Writing, in 2005, I said in my Introduction to the section that I had not included his work, as he was already well-established. I wanted to make room for truly emerging, and somewhat younger, figures. Already, in 2005, Heighton was a figure of international prominence.

He is the author of the novel Afterlands, published in 2005 in Canada and in 2006 in the USA, where it was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Editions have also appeared in Britain and Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. He has also published The Shadow Boxer—a Canadian bestseller and a Publishers’ Weekly Book of the Year for 2002—which appeared in five countries. His other fiction books are the story collections Flight Paths of the Emperor and On earth as it is, while his poetry collections include The Ecstasy of Skeptics and The Address Book.

His work has appeared in Poetry, The Independent, Malahat Review, The New York Times, Agni, Stand and has been internationally anthologised (Best English Stories, Best of Best English Stories, The Minerva Book of Stories and others) and has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Journey Prize, and Britain’s W.H. Smith Award. He has received the Lampert Award, The Petra Kenney Prize, the Air Canada Award, and gold medals for fiction and for poetry in the National Magazine Awards. In 2002-03 he was the writer-in-residence at Concordia University, and in 2004 at the University of Toronto. This year he will be an instructor at the Summer Literary Seminars in St Petersburg, Russia. He lives with his family in Kingston, Ontario.

Constellations

After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser
and peeled phosphorescent stars off the sloped
gable-wall, dimming the night vault of her ceiling
like a haze or the interfering glow
of a great city, small hands anticipating
eons as they raided the playful patterns
her father had mapped for her—black holes now
where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat
had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful
eyes of the Mourning Dove. She stuck those paper
stars on herself. One on each foot, the backs
of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on,
then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close
like a child chilled after a winter bath
pressed up to an air duct or a radiator
until those paper stars absorbed more light
than they could hold. Then turned off the lamp,
walked out into the dark hallway and called.

Her father came up. He heard her breathing
as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched
out of a rented film just now taking grip
on him and the child's mother, his day-end
bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs,
marking the trail back down into that evening
adult world—he could hear her breathing (or
really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but
couldn’t see her, then in the hallway stopped,
mind spinning to sort the apparition
of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed
his daughter and heard in her breathing
the pent, grave concentration of her pose,
mapped onto the star-chart of the darkness,
arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised—
the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love
spun to centre with crushing force, to find her
momentarily fixed, as unchanging
as he and her mother must seem to her,
and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Review: Satyagraha

I went to see the Philip Glass opera, Satyagraha (on until May 1 in London), on the eve of my birthday - perhaps vaguely apt, since Glass (pictured) is celebrating his 70th this year. Before moving from the blogger's narcissism which almost grounds the form and content, the very context, of such posts, let me add that I was very glad to do so, since not only has Glass afforded me much aural pleasure for at least 25 years (since I was fifteen or thereabouts, in other words), the subject of the opera, Gandhi, has inspired my work for peace, since at least the age of 19, when my father first gave me a book of his on Gandhi and Tolstoy; and, indeed, Tolstoy appears (silently) in this production, alongside other figures related through time, history and the search for peace, such as Tagore and Dr. King.

This production by the ENO is, astonishingly for such an important and beautiful work, its UK premiere, though it was first performed in 1980 by the Netherlands Opera. Unlike the other famous Western cultural version, the film that won the Oscars, this work stays focussed on the South Africa years, 1896 to 1913 and the New Castle March. It hardly needs saying that the theme of the opera is resonant today: peaceful resolution of conflict with regards to resistance of imperialist force. While many would see this as a rejection of the Bush Doctrine, it is also fair to note that no one in Iraq at the moment seems to be employing the methods of M.K. Gandhi with much success. The man remains a legend, his methods often neglected in the world of action - our own time's equivalent hero, Mandela, did not renounce violence as utterly, did he?

The opera is long - three acts, 150 minutes. The first two are as mesmerizing as the mind or ear could hope to expect - the combination of the voice of Alan Oke in the lead, the chorus, the repetitive, haunting music, and the bizarre and provocative stagecraft of Improbable is superb. It is only in the last 30 minutes that - as an Obama-style version of Dr. King gesticulates in the background on a huge raised plinth - a sort of post-modern tedium sets in - one induced paradoxically by the fact that, in the last 20 years, the music that Glass once championed along with Reich and Adams has become, if not the norm, then clearly mainstream (often used in film scores, and not just recently); this overfamiliar minimalist pulse, at once lulling and upsetting, with time can wear thin. Still, myself and my friends were deeply moved, in the whole, by the the power of the staging, the vocal performances, and especially the second act.

Glass is a major composer of his American moment, but, comparing this to last year's magisterial Nixon In China, also at the ENO, I am afraid to say perhaps villains make better subjects. Perhaps Glass should write an opera, then, on the Bush Doctrine, after all.

Jason Camlot Turns 40 Today


Jason Camlot (pictured above) turns 40 today.

Eyewear wishes him a very happy birthday.

If music and thought are the twin poles of poetry (with wit somewhere sliding between) then he's your man. Both a musician and a literary scholar, Camlot is equally at home in the bistros near Duluth, singing his own songs, or scouring mansucripts in the British Libary for arcane Victoriana.

Jason and I edited Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century, to be launched at the 9th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival / 9ième Festival littéraire internationale de Metropolis bleu, Friday, April 27, 20h00 – 21:30, Salle St-Charles, Hôtel Delta Centre-ville, 777 rue University, (Métro Square-Victoria).

Below is a poem that well evidences his virtuosity - a lyric he wrote in California, translated into French.


Charlotte Gainsbourg

J’ai vu Charlotte Gainsbourg
En Californie
Adossé à une voiture,
Elle avait l’air gentille.
Charlotte Gainsbourg
En Californie,
J’ai admiré ses yeux
Et son visage,
De loin.
Je l’aurais bien saluée
Mais j'étais trop gêné.
Dire que je pourrais mourir ce soir.

Charlotte Gainsbourg
Tout près de San Francisco,
Je me demande où elle ira
Après le ‘show’.
Je ne connais pas cette ville,
Mais elle est charmante
Vu de loin,
Vu du ciel.

Mais son père savait écrire une chanson.
Son père chantait mal, mais il était plus fort
Que je ne le serai jamais,
Aussi longtemps que je serais dans ce pays.

Je ne suis pas d’ici, elle non plus.
Je veux dire, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Avec son air solitare.
en Californie--S'il vous plaît, emmenez-moi d'ici--
Je pourrais mourir ce soir.
Et je ne peux plus me passer des cigarettes.
Je ne peux plus me passer des jeunes mignettes.

On exige que je lise
Hawthorne
Cet auteur du dix-neuvième siecle.

On exige que je lise
Un livre de Nathaniel Hawthorne
Un roman
Qu’il a ecrit en exile.

Voila Charlotte Gainsbourg
En Californie,
Adossé a une voiture.


poem by Jason Camlot
translated by the author with help from Patrick Leroux and Stephane Paquette
taken from his recent collection Attention All Typewriters!

photo credit: David McGimpsey, 2005

http://www.dcbooks.ca/AttentionAllTypewriters.html

Monday, 9 April 2007

Vimy Ridge 90 Years Ago Today

Before Cobain's suicide in 1994, April 9th was most noteworthy for the Canadian push on Vimy Ridge in 1917. It is telling that for Canadians - so often considered a peaceful people - one of their defining moments as a nation is this concerted assault, doing what the Brits couldn't, and losing a number (a relatively small, and therefore impressive in terms of strategy) of men. Vimy Ridge is the Canadian symbol of breaking away from being an overmastered colony - of breaking with the British.

If Canada's post-colonial moment begins anywhere, it is here (arguably culminating with Expo '67 - whose 40-year anniversary 2007 is - when its international status was confirmed). One of the cultural implications of this date, then, is also the break with the English Tradition (in literature, especially, poetry) - at exactly the moment when T.S. Eliot's greatest (and strangest poem) "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was published - not in America but London - therefore making it suspect to Canadian Modernism (which is belated, and really begins with any force, in Montreal, in the late 30s, early 40s). Otherwise, writers and artists became increasingly nativist (or inward-looking) - consider The Group of Seven painters.

Even now, a sympathy with English poetry (such as I have) in Canada is mainly misread as being conservative, neo-fascist and retrograde (by the older generations), as most Canadian poetry has, since the 1960s (except in the Anglo-Quebec tradition, which remained open to the British option) swung broadly to the American Grain, then the Black Mountain and now the Language poets.

The men of Vimy Ridge didn't know it, but as they fought among the bursting shells and mud, they were also throwing bulwarks of Canuck diction and syntax against Hardy, Auden, Larkin and Motion.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6538487.stm

http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/vimy/

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Happy Easter

Eyewear wishes you a Happy Easter.

I turn 41 today, and wish all the millions of others who also do, a very happy birthday.

Last year, I asked close friends to provide me with words, for my 40th, to write a poem. Here it is, finally, and in full.

Good Friday

I.

What I haven’t written,
I haven’t written. Last Easter –
April takes vinegar once a year –
I turned forty, gave up youth

And reckless afternoons endowed with darkness –
Being twenty is like being a millionaire
About to be ruined in a house of sweat and roses –
Promising gathered friends, among the ghost

Of celebration, shadowed by near loss –
For my birth was on Good Friday (premature,
Incubated, my parents cradling my smallness
To cherish the weak miracle guarded by glass) –

I should have come in to the world in summer
Not shadowing the saviour like a blinking twin
Upstaging his unbroken promise on the skull
(Venerate the cross with kisses!)

With a spring birth, poor but full.
I asked each friend for a word to create
A poem to complicate a pattern,
Indulge my submission to growing older

With a new start, a kind of rhetorical failure
To accept that the middle way requires
Words to halt, youth’s flame to cancel,
As if a cashier’s cheque, smoke and fire.

II.

Long ago I gave the promise
To create an accomplished thing:
A poem made of given words,
A sort of trying, triumphing.

Now, on Good Friday,
After a celebration of
The Lord’s Passion

In St. John’s Wood
At Our Lady’s, love
Compels a beginning.

After the communion,
Tongue taking what’s distributed,
It is time to observe a silence
And in that silence rise and sing.

III.

The mystery of words
Never ceases to serve,
To matter. A poem
Is a moment of intensity
Carved in time with words.
Isolated, moving, the pen
Writes on the dark, opens
Light as if a letter, restoring
Day, after a night of tumult
And no repose; I sleep to cry
Out, bothering the bed with recollections.

My father, bleeding from his arms,
Stares, eyes craving health.
Embrace him. I try to heal but
My hands come away from the body
Wet with blood and faeces. Balm
Cannot secure a corpse from time.
Time ruins love with continuity.
I will begin to deceive the surgeon,
Borrow his steel into the bargain,
And relieve paternal wounds with wound
Words. I will apply a salve, to save.

IV.

Gifted with words, I must obey –
Use them, flagrantly.
Caution is not the dancer’s way
With music, or the porpoise
Commanding vast water. To obey
Form is to occupy all wings
Of its theatre – flowing space,
Across the stage, a sort of flung bouquet –
Mastery requires gay indifference,
Less majesty, more rude stylish straying –
To act upon language one must
Indulge in what one loves, one wants,
Whether it be old or new, in one’s gift
To give or merely taken like a loan –
Indulge at last in a thrown saying.

What follows is what was given,
Imposed, like old laws, half
In folly, half in wisdom –
For love has a ceiling, which touches
Upon God’s civil kingdom, yet
To reach that glass one must first press
Upon a darker serenity, parted by
Interruptions of winter lightning,
Elements of poetical fashion, flashing,
And break past all of this, all of them.

V.

The priest continues alone.
The poet is the man or woman
Whose progress is more solitary still.
Each side is open from a spear.
A perforation marks the borders.

*

We moved to priapic Budapest.
In Montreal, Sara had mounted
A bicycle one late evening
On boulevard St. Laurent – I followed
To Middle Europe, a wild card.
Csokolom, they said, who
Had never read Heaney
Or seen the Borg. Hungarian, alien.

*

We were never lost among the ruins
We moved among, carried always
By the map of our selves, our shared
Aim to arrive safely, together, elsewhere.
We honeymooned on Hydra, island
Of laughter, but also bad dreams.

*

The accident offered our love
The quality of careful workmanship:
Hope is only as smart
As home is possible.

*

What is music but a scramble
For charmed time, a network
Of tintinnabulations made unfamiliar
In the sequenced air? A bumblebee
Will adumbrate, with élan, its fertile
Music, in a yellow field, upon
A family of ensunned flowers.

VI.

You laughed that winter, as I placed
A gargantuan toque upon your head,
Crowning you queen of the white snow.
Now, that snow is gone, is clear

As the water that dried off Ararat,
The world cleansed or differently bled.
Nothing is broken, not a leg or word,
Unless the prophet says it should be.

The defenestration of language
Leads to silence, fallen silence,
To words, bound and solemn,
Judged ignorantly on The Pavement.

The stones cry out for a changed verdict,
But the prisoner, which is language,
Needs no victory to be freed.
Caesar cannot constrain,

Actually.

VII.

I have completed my tapestry
For you, celebrating

A spring liturgy, enriched by
Elements from Coker,

And separate words offered
By my friends, to compose

These lines, a year ago,
Exactly, as if time

*

Waited for poetry
Or poetry ever delivered
A timely riposte.

Poems, instead,
Linger, undiminished
By earthly qualities

Like sloth. Both
Temporal and tempted,
Lost beyond time,

They sustain the body
By being a kind
Of mouth for the spirit –

Unable to die completely,
Thereby living again,
When the stone

Is turned away
With the reading,
Communicating, eye.


April, 2007

poem by Todd Swift

Friday, 6 April 2007

Good Friday


The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
(excerpt from "East Coker" by T.S. Eliot)

Poem By Cralan Kelder

Eyewear is very pleased to feature Cralan Kelder (pictured) this Good Friday.

I met him in Berlin late last year at the Hearings 2006 festival put together by Alistair Noon. Cralan is a unique performer - erudite, erratic, engaged, empathetic, engaging, expressionist, entertaining, and ultimately, enthusiastic. He had the audience enraptured by the end. He's the Kelder Statesman of European Continental poetry.

Kelder was born in London in 1970, but spent the first fifteen years of his life in California, before moving to the Netherlands in 1985. He studied anthropology and agricultural development in St. Andrews and at UC Davis, then conducted development work and research in Lesotho and Nambia.

His beautiful poetry collections include Lemon Red (Coracle 2005) and Night Falls and Is Slow to Get Up (Longhouse 2005). French Pastry will be released as a broadside by Coracle in 2007. In Amsterdam he is a member of wordsinhere writing collective and the poetry editor of Versal http://versal.wordsinhere.com. His website is http://www.cralan.com and is recommended.


French Pastry

Driving through Wyoming,
I see my first ‘boycott france’
bumper sticker.

By some great stroke of luck
we actually have a croissant
in the truck, and I am prepared
to throw it.

Imagine their surprise,
to have a croissant hurled down at them
from a passing pickup,
leaving a light, buttery, imprint
on their windshield.

But they are too fast uphill in their sedan and
I have to hope that we will see them again,
parked somewhere down the road, maybe at a rest stop,
so that I can gently and firmly tuck
my french pastry beneath their wipers.


poem by Cralan Kelder

Kevin Higgins Turns 40 Today

Eyewear is pleased to celebrate the 40th birthday of Irish poet Kevin Higgins today, with a poem of his. Higgins is one of the best of the new generation of Irish poets, and by far the most savage in his wit. His new book from Salmon is forthcoming in 2008.

Days

We’d let the Daddy-long-legs take
the tower-block hallway,
as we took time out
from demos in support
of those more fortunate
than ourselves
for a feast of taramsalata
on vintage brown bread
washed down
with the best can of Kestrels
a fifty pence piece could buy.

Our kitchen sink may have been
a failed utopian experiment;
the revolutionary group we’d just joined
a corpse passing wind.
But all we needed was
a draft to sit in
to talk about Agent Orange;
and with your rolled cigarettes,
my missing teeth,

we were insurgents waiting
to be hanged at dawn;
as we watched
the flat be torn apart
by a Keith Moon cat.
All dressed down
and someone to be.

Whatever happened to alienation?
Those were the days.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Layton Revisited

I have before me The Selected Poems of Irving Layton - the classic New Directions "paperbook" from 1977, introduced by respected critic Hugh Kenner, who knew a little something about Modern Poetry.

I've long been an advocate of Layton's work - and indeed met him on a few occasions. He was a "father" of modern verse in Canada, and a kind man: he telephoned me once to say the poems I'd sent him (as a young man) had promise. That being said, a revaluation is in order, one that begins to seriously read and reconsider the actual value of the poems left to us by such major forefathers, for these are Canadian poetry's common wealth, and they form our meagre canon, such as it is, or may be said to be.

I realize that Layton (pictured) came to write later poems, but his reputation - as a poet - surely rests on the 50 poems presented here, to an American audience. It is these poems (or some of them at least) which led William Carlos Williams to (famously - in Canada) say "what else are you going to say about a man whose work you wholeheartedly admire than that he is a good poet?".

Part of the problem has been the heart, not the head, leading much Canadian criticism, including some of my earlier reviews. Williams was right - Layton is a "good" poet. The word avoided is "great". It is this that must now be considered.

Layton needs to be judged by the terms with which we read Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Dylan Thomas, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, or Ted Hughes. His work, in short, needs to be read in terms of formal command, mastery of style and music, and poise of theme; its intelligence, its flow, its skill, need all to be thought of. He must be read against, and within, the grain of the American but also British / Irish Tradtion. These mid-century poets are canonical to the mainstream in a way that Layton is not. They each wrote at least ten poems that one would not want to lose.

Layton's key poems are, it would seem to me: "The Swimmer"; "Paraclete"; "The Birth of Tragedy"; "The Cold Green Element"; "The Improved Binoculars"; "Song for Naomi"; "Whatever Else Poetry Is Freedom"; "Cain"; "Butterfly On Rock"; "For Mao Tse-Tung: A Meditation On Flies and Kings"; "Berry Picking"; "Keine Lazarovitch 1870-1959"; "A Tall Man Executes A Jig" and perhaps "Shakespeare". Readers may have other favourites, but these are likely minor, and no doubt satiric or light pieces. The reality is, these are the works upon which Layton's reputation for expressive command and rhetorical force chiefly rest.

14 poems.

Of these, only a handful are perfect as poetry. "The Swimmer" seems, for all its flow and force, limited by certain unfortunate phrases such as "the gonad sea" or "the skull-like beach" - moments that are less than ideal, in an admittedly early lyric poem of some great beauty that reveals its juvenile source. "The Birth of Tragedy" which has, in parts, poetry to equal that of Auden or Dylan Thomas, seems hampered by a dying fall, a conclusion of some bathos: "blows birthday candles for the world" being somewhat anticlimactic in the diction department. "The Cold Green Element" - often taken to be a masterpiece - has phrases like "Hi, I tell him/ a great squall in the Pacific blew a dead poet/ out of the water" - which, while funny, mars the serious perfection of the whole performance and sounds more and more like bad Beat writing. Indeed, many of Layton's major poems (and all his minor ones, surely) are marred by this sometimes rebarbative comic turn (of course intentional but all the more unfortunate for that). His gestures at being a jester are off-putting where it matters most: line by line, the inch work that the poet needs to put in to be great. Even "Whatever Else Poetry Is Freedom" - with its marvellous rhetoric - is damaged by the introduction of a preposterous vampire near the end (Layton has a bizarre B-Movie urge in him) that cuts across the imperious force of the lines preceding.

What we are left with is a handful of six perfected (if at times slight) poems, where Layton seems to have taken the time to be both craftsman and acrobat, visionary and artificer. These would be: "Paraclete"; "Song for Naomi"; "Butterfly On Rock"; "For Mao Tse-Tung: A Meditation On Flies and Kings"; "Berry Picking"; and "Keine Lazarovitch 1870-1959". Of these, the last two seem to me near-perfect, works of poetic genius. It is troubling to consider how rarely such heights were reached in later years, as the writing became prolix and self-perplexed or delighting in grandiose measure.

These half-dozen truly great 20th century poems may be less than Layton would have hoped for, but they are far greater in number and quality than most other Candian poets of the 20th century were able to leave to the world. And they are still, as far as I can tell, little known or admired beyond Canada, even in WCW's America.

Blomer Reviewed By Kavanagh

Eyewear is pleased to start a new occasional series of reviews by poets, of new poetry collections.

Yvonne Blomer
a broken mirror, fallen leaf
78 pages
Ekstasis Editions

Review by Michael Kavanagh

Yvonne Blomer's first collection documents, in quiet, imagistic poems, two years of life on the island of Kyushu, Japan, with the JET programme. For those who don't know, JET is a cultural exchange started in 1987 with the goal of internationalizing Japan through language teaching and cultural programmes. In her collection, we see the Blomer's vision of Japan shift from nostalgia, to a darker world of real experience and alienation. In returning home she finds herself a stranger in her native country.
The book is in four sections, which trace this thematic journey. It opens with 'Four Seasons,' a sequence of poems celebrating the familiar 'cherry blossoms' picture of Japan. Here, Blomer is in full poetic mode, with traditional observations of nature in haiku:

A thousand tiny moons
reflect themselves
above this tickle of river.

But perhaps it is not so simple. The river is not just a river, but also a broken mirror, producing a distorted image of the sky. The images of nature are peppered with modern observations, like 'the flashing lights / ... at the Pachinko parlour'. The collection is not all haiku, but many of the poems have that tone, with quiet, zen-like images.
The next section is titled 'Gaijin Da', which means alien, according to the glossary at the back of the book. Here, the poems are rooted more in the day-to-day of life, going to a bathhouse, taking tours of Japanese cities. These poems have a more psychological element, the speaker jarred by their experiences, or feeling unfamiliar. For Blomer, this problem of alienation is ultimately one of language, as she sums up in one of my favourite poems, 'There's No Word for Husband':

In Japanese
I never learned the word for husband, instead lowered my head
to the custom of distance – ano hito – that person, kono – this
dance has a long beginning where man and woman press
words into each other's ears, hands together, bodies held
back, a kind of withholding of self. Time
Allows for the shaping of language – I left
able to carry conversations.
...
Secrets
held in the folds of language, in the root
of what we bear and master between us.

Here Blomer re-enacts how, during her early days of living in Japan, she introduced her husband with a peculiar distance, using awkward phrases like, 'this is my person,' not knowing how to express the real word in Japanese. Towards the end of the poem, she discovers that this linguistic distance has exposed a fundamental mystery in her relationship with her husband. Language functions like a broken mirror, not only distorting the world, but offering a fresh perspective on it.
'Small Japan', the third section, is Blomer's 'Songs of Experience'. The poems in this section have a note of sexual identity to them. Here, Geisha wear Kimonos like tapestries of an emotional past, while grown men reflect on their daughter's coming of age. The language in this section is more edgy, and explores the darker side of Japan's culture. Take these lines from Shinjuku:

A man with daughters
fucks girls with fathers his age.
Flirts with the school-girl-look-alikes
on the way to fetching his daughter.

Blomer is attending to a seedier Japan here. Small Japan is a cry for the small child above, it is also a pejorative name for a country which has been reduced from the nostalgic vision of the first section.
The collection ends with a section called 'On the path, home.' This section is the synthesis of the themes introduced before. Here Blomer works to reconcile her nostalgic Japan with her present-day Japan. At the same time, the poet struggles with how this Japan fits into her experience of returning home to Canada, the emotions of leaving a place where deep experiences have been had, back to where her past is rooted.
The title poem (and the final poem in the collection), 'a broken mirror, fallen leaf' is a good example of how this synthesis works, describing the poet's emotional landscape on returning to Canada:

It begins with a vastness:
C a n a d a
forgotten limbs of bonsai

A kindness akin to labour
pain this slow unpacking
this returning that is not quite
not quite what it is or
promises to be

Alphabetical: a i u e o
Chirp and call hiccoughtrip
native language on gone-ethnic tongue

Everything is familiar to the speaker, but nothing seems quite right. Blomer connects Canada with 'forgotten limbs of bonsai', producing the idea that your past identity, or memory of your previous life is like a phantom limb. It is achingly real but you can't touch it, nor recall it perfectly. Blomer's casting of this idea onto a bonsai tree adds another dimension to this powerful image: the bonsai, which is both an anachronistic fantasy of idyllic Japan and at the same time a living craft involving obsessive pruning, is a condensed image of how we identify with the past. In this poem, as in 'There's No Word for Husband', the strongest image is that of language distorting, and enlightening the world, the 'hiccoughtrip' of 'native language on gone-ethnic tongue'.
I enjoyed reading this book. First, for its documentary style. It is so visual, playing with juxtaposed images that it feels at times like a film in verse. At her best, like in the title poem, Blomer experiments with language itself, for example with made-up words like hiccoughtrip. I was left wanting more of this, as we only get a glimpse of this voice in small doses, particularly near the end. This is a poetry of particularities, and of place. It has no grand philosophies, but rather treats a single subject in detail, exploring its nuance.
But, for all of its rootedness and detail, at times the book seems to be lacking in variation of tone. The 'haiku' mode is well established, and all the poems have a sense of tranquil-yet-fresh-observation and space about them. While this works, it does drag at times.
Another interesting aspect is Blomer's use of Japanese words. Most poems are sprinkled with a term or two of italicized Japanese. These do add documentary detail to the poems, adding a sense of place, and texture, and furthering the poets theme of the alienating influence of language. A glossary at the back of the book allows you to look up meanings, many of which are rather interesting. Looking up the words as you read feels a bit like opening the doors of an advent calendar to reveal a colourful picture. More could have been made of the language play here. Often the Japanese words are not explored in the poems, sometimes seeming dropped in at random. After a few poems, it gets distracting looking them up as you read. I tended to give up 'live-lookups' in favour of dipping into the glossary afterwards.
One of the great Canadian cliches is that there is no national Canadian identity, the story goes that Canada is a multi-cultural country where no one identity dominates. This model is usually contrasted with the American melting pot. It's an old debate, one that lost interest for me a long time ago. It only takes a few years in a country like Britain, also with a strong national character, to realize it is really a multitude of personal identities.
A personal identity which we endlessly make and remake, seems far more nuanced, subtle, and reflects my own experience. I think in this sense, Blomer has given us a fresh look at Canadian identity, and national identity in general, by rooting identity where it belongs, not in the country, but in the emotions, and making it complex, not simple.
The idea of national identity which with its uniform picture of human experience, far from giving us a sense of ourselves, actually alienates us from our unique selves. Blomer's poetry, which, through suggestive, nuanced language, stands for the individual's unique experience of a nation.

Blomer Shortlisted for The Lampert

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is given in the memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who organized authors' tours and took a particular interest in the work of new writers.

The award recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The Award carries a prize of $1,000 and is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets. It is presented each year at the League's Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Gerald Lampert Award Shortlist for 2007:

a broken mirror, fallen leaf by Yvonne Blomer (Ekstasis Editions);
In the Lights of a Midnight Plow by David Hickey (Biblioasis);
Tacoma Narrows by Mitchell Parry (Goose Lane Editions);
Anatomy of Keys by Steven Price (Brick Books);
Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists by A. Rawlings (Coach House Books);
Every Inadequate Name by Nick Thran (Insomniac Press).

The 2007 Jury: Heidi Greco, Brian Henderson, Alison Pick.

Eyewear wishes to congratulate all the nominees. Yvonne Blomer (pictured) studied with me for the MA at UEA, and so I am natutally pleased to see her debut collection on this list. She's a good poet.

A review of this book is to appear shortly at Eyewear, starting a new feature of occasional reviews by other writers.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

April Poems at Nthposition Now Online


Kale, On not being able to eat, after a bug & The flower ships - after Chateaubriand
by Julia Casterton

Focus
by Earl Coleman

Natterer's bat
by Jane L Dards

Library Ladies
by John Oliver Hodges

Chapel, Messengers & Call
by Martin Figura

Dirty dancer
by Rita Ann Higgins

Trial, Requiem & The poem wishing itself
by Cyril Dabydeen

Baptism
by Bob Rogers

On painting the images of deities
by Matina L Stamatakis

Desert missile silo, Just one bright day & The last time
by Hassan Melehy

Heath, September 2001
by Anne Stewart

Canadians In April

Canada is still smarting from The Guardian's downgrading of Niagara Falls from a Wonder of the World on its recent chart...

Perhaps in order to remobilize its forces, here's a big Canada-led cultural event in London (according to Prospect better than NYC):


CANADIAN LITERARY NETWORKING NIGHT IN LONDON

16 April 2007
18.30-21.30
Free Entry

The George
Temple, 213 Strand
London, WC2R
nearest tube, Temple

Featuring

Todd Swift
John Stiles
Heather Taylor
&
Samantha Wright

register online as space is limited and in demand, at: www.networkcanada.org

Winter Tennis


Eyewear is happy to offer you the first sneek preview of the cover art for my forthcoming fourth collection (fourthcoming, then?).

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Faber Should Follow EMI

The big media story of the last few days has not been about an author or a movie - it has been about Steve Jobs, EMI, and the opening access that is being afforded to those who wish to download and acquire music ("tunes") from the Internet.

I have long been interested in three things - poetry, books and new digital media, and their intersection. I feel that the UK giants in poetry and book publishing - such as Faber & Faber - have so far missed the boat, in terms of what they could do to move more strongly and dynamically into the online market. If poetry is the new rock and roll, those who publish and market it need to note the succesful models of those who use the Internet wisely to distribute rock and roll (indeed poetry). I stand ready to receive an email from them to advise on what they might want to do next.

In the meantime, not holding my breath, let me offer a free preliminary bit of advice, in the form of bullet points:
  • Faber should put all their poetry book content online, as of 2007

  • They ideally would make it free to browse like The Guardian

  • They could sell individual poems for text dowload, for phones, like songs

  • Faber would continue to sell print versions of all the same books

  • They should also begin to publish an array of younger and more innovative poets, edited by a variety of fresh editors, alongside their enviable and impressive list of more mainstream figures

I believe that having the Faber poetry back catalogue completely online (from Nick Laird to Simon Armitage, Wallace Stevens to Sylvia Plath) would draw new interest and attention. Those who genuinely love paper books would seek them out, ordering online to have hard copies. Younger readers would discover a new world of poems. Much as the impressive Salt Publishing website has become a mecca for readers of poetry, Faber's site would become a central location for discovery, discussion, and indeed, purchase. Combining more innovative and fresh models with the more traditional approaches of old would no more disrupt the Tradition than Eliot's work did - in fact, as Eliot himself argued, each new work simply realigns the whole canon, in new, vital ways.

EMI, Apple, and other major brands and companies are stretching how they think about media and delivery systems. London's tradition-bound publishing industry - during London's Book Week and April's cruel month - should start to think of how to reach the next generation of readers and writers, with truly new and innovative ways of using the net.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Poem for April The First


Love Or Poetry

I know now that love, not poetry, will save me
From your blessed injuries, your uneven surfaces,
Your deviant forms and targeted marketing; and
Not just love, but any love, will do – various

As all get out; love of whomever, by anything
Or anyone is the get out of jail card required, free
As every player of Monopoly knows (on the nose,
Write it on the nose); poetry has been a killer

Of children, and the old; it has been in a sorry state
Of late; it hurts what touches it; it congeals
Habits that are poor, shows generosity the door.
The sun is a good example of love, when out;

When obscured by clouds, that’s poetry society:
Lowering, glowering, scouring, causing some to
Cower. Love opens a bower of roses no winter
Can annoy or dislodge; love forgives, pardons,

And cajoles merely to improve. Poetry judges,
Decides, and awards. Sets up a moon in the place
Of the sun, elected by its Parnassian buddies,
Chortles in crisscrossed darkness, calling shadows

Swords, beams of the moon rays of pure gold.
I bleed on poetry’s knife-crime statistics, cut
Like a line that doesn’t work. It won’t open out
Like love will. Poetry mutters, scuttles, rebuts.

I strut now in bars of sure sheer sun, unashamed
Of my lack of poetry. I swoon to swim in prose.
I love what this lack of tortured syntax means;
It means I can go waste my life being ordinary.


poem by Todd Swift;
photo by Madeleine Waller