About Eyewear the blog
Eyewear THE BLOG is among the most read British poetry blogzines, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by Canadian-British 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.
Monday, 31 December 2007
Friday, 28 December 2007
Ms. Chernoff is the author of many books of poems, such as Among The Names, and six collections of fiction including Some of Her Friends That Year, a new and selected stories from Coffee House Press.
I am very happy to welcome her to Eyewear. She is one of the American writers of her generation who one should read, in order to know what contemporary American writing is, and what it will turn out to be.
I especially enjoy poems with the word "gentians" in them, being a fan of D.H. Lawrence, these blasted gentians being altered Bavarian Gentians. I should note that one of her novels is A Boy In Winter, which is a lovely mirroring of Larkin's novel title.
A House in the Country is Not the Same as a Country House
Not wanting to name it,
it stayed in its bed
Until a break
in the weather
uncovered the reason
the restive urge
Until he found a way
over the mountains by elephant
Until he rested a means
from the fog, until,
veiled but uncovered,
he managed to express
his longings in something
as art among those
who make a fetish
the general motives
behind the tragedy
He thought it was wrong
to express this panic among
the uncertain crowd
Displaying the colors
he had earlier
parsing the rhetoric
to reveal the sore
in the shrine
the blasted gentians
He sealed the hope
beneath the faraway
a thread of cognition
to angle the moonlight
constructing a realism
even as it found
poem by Maxine Chernoff
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
Monday, 24 December 2007
With a certain brand of militant atheism comes a void, one that science cannot fill. The best proof of the need for God is what sort of society one gets when such belief vanishes. Dawkins and Co. miss the central point of the mystery of faith - it is the journey towards God - not some zero point of blank factual arrival - that confirms a soul dwells within each of us.
This Christmas I wish all my readers the most enriched, and love-filled time of communion with their friends, family and neighbours, as possible.
Friday, 21 December 2007
I want to briefly summarise my year.
2007 was not an easy year for me - my father had died in September of 2006, and I entered 2007 still in mourning. After my 41st birthday, in April of this year, I began to move on from that process, and after the year anniversary of his death, really tried to close the door of grief; but it remains ajar within me.
In terms of publication history, the sore point of the last few years was the reluctance of most of the major British poetry publishers to read, or consider, publishing my collections here in England, where I reside. The response was shamefully dismissive. I was misread by both the UK traditionalists, and the experimenters, equally - neither group quite hearing my complex shifting play between high and low registers, and various sometimes-comic, often-serious, rhetorics. It's been a painful thing for me to accept, especially given the commitment I showed, from 2004-2007, to British poetry, with my Oxfam poetry series and CDs.
I suspect the future, not just for me, but for many good new poets over here, is with the smaller, emerging presses - Cinnamon, Eggbox, Bluechrome, and so on - whose busy, open-minded editors are beginning to pick up very good poets who have been ignored or sidelined by the bigger boys.
At present, I have two collections scheduled for 2008. The first is New and Selected Poems: 1987-2007, which will be introduced by Kevin Higgins, and is out with Salmon Publishing in summer of the coming year. That'll have about 80 poems in it. And, then, there is a smaller untitled collection of newer, and possibly edgier, work, for the up-and-coming London press, Tall-Lighthouse, pencilled in for some time later in '08, or maybe start of '09. Details of the second book are still to be confirmed.
The three big projects of 2007, for me (I am always busy), were, the launch of my fourth full collection, with DC Books, in April, at The Blue Metropolis Festival, the biggest of its kind in Canada, and surely the most multilingual. I read there with John Burnside, Dennis Lee, and other wonderful poets. This new collection, Winter Tennis, is really lovely to behold - I'm well-pleased with DC's design for the cover. It's unfortunate, but the book, which had very supportive back commendations from A. Alvarez, Paul Farley, and George Murray, didn't manage to be listed for any prizes, and was hardly reviewed. Canadians seem less and less interested in their expatriated authors. I am very happy with the collection, all in all.
The second was the launch of Language Acts, co-edited with Jason Camlot, also launched at the same festival. This collection of essays was a five-year labour of love, and represents, on our parts, a very serious attempt to begin the proper study of Anglo-Quebec poetry of the post-76 period. An adjunct aspect of this publication was the appearance, in Jacket, of an online anthology of the major poets from this period in Quebec, which we also edited. The highlight for me was having Leonard Cohen agree to let us have three poems for this.
The third big project of 2007 was my editing and recording the second CD in Oxfam's Life Lines series. I was able to gather major poets in Soho on two days, to record new work - people such as Craig Raine, James Fenton, Fiona Sampson, and many others. That was wonderful. The CD was then launched at The Cheltenham Literary Festival, the biggest in the UK, and there were other readings, at Oxford, and so on.
I also kept busy teaching part-time at Birkbeck, and Kingston University, in creative writing, and English, at the MA and undergraduate levels.
And, I continued to work on my PhD at UEA in Creative and Critical Writing. My thesis topic is a new collection of poems, and a 50,000 word critical piece of writing. I was upgraded to being a doctoral candidate in the summer. My supervisors, Denise Riley, and Clive Scott, have been very supportive and insightful.
Poems of mine appeared, across 2007, in a variety of online and print magazines, from the small to the major, such as, in no order, The Wolf, Penumbra, Mimesis, Bordercrossing Berlin, Succour, fourWeighteen New Writing, Jacket, Atlas, The Manhattan Review, Aesthetica, and others. My reviews continued to appear, especially in Books In Canada. EnRoute magazine, the inflight magazine for Air Canada, ran a big feature on me in March, 2007, written by Doug Saunders, calling me one of the world's leading poetry impresarios.
I also read, during the year, in Galway, at the impressive Over The Edge series, and at The White House series. While there I was interviewed by Pat Boran for RTE national radio. I read also, as stated above, in Montreal, and then again, at UEA, St Albans, and other places, such as Paris, and the fun New Blood series. The most stirring reading was at Dulwich College, where I read with Daljit Nagra, Wendy Cope, Blake Morrison, and Jonathan Ward to an audience of almost 300.
In December 2007, I wrapped up the fourth and final year of the Oxfam reading series, after 22 events, having raised over £80,000 for Oxfam. David Morley, Barbara Marsh and Stephen Gyllenhaal were among the final readers at the final event, which had about 100 in the audience.
The highlights of the year for me were personal. Seeing my many friends at my launches in Montreal. Returning to Quebec for the late summer, to spend time with my mother, my brother and his wife, and to swim and canoe in Canada's beautiful wilderness. Another wonderful time was had, vale-walking in the Lake District, with dear friends, Chris and Lulu, and my wife.
I may have left some things out, but I feel this captures the spirit of the year: tirelessly engaged with reading, writing, editing, promoting, reviewing, and evaluating, poetry and writing in general. Perennially neglected by mainstream poetry Britain, for no good reason but that enthusiasm threatens to overturn their stiff little apple cart, but, in the margins, beavering away - like a good Canadian should.
Projects for 08/09 include completion of an anthology of modern Canadian poets for Carcanet, and a novel, as well as completion of my PhD.
I wish my friends and family, and all my readers, the very best for the Christmas season, and, with love, best wishes for the new year.
December 21, 2007
Eyewear is very glad to revisit this earlier post, and update it for the Friday before the Christmas holidays. Today, I welcome Annie Freud to these pages. As readers of this blog will know, I earlier this year championed her debut collection from Picador, arguing its many strengths. I believe it was one of the best poetry collections published in the UK in 2007, and among the most surprising, inventive, and witty.
Freud studied English and European Literature at the University of Warwick and now lives in London. Her poems have been published in Poems for a Better Future (Oxfam), Gobby Deegan's Riposte from Donut Press, Future Welcome, and various magazines like Magma.
Annie is one of a group of very fine poets based in London, who have, over the years, studied the art and craft of writing with Michael Donaghy, and then John Stammers.
A Residential Guinevere
We could get to reappraise the hypereality of artificial fruit, especially the gleam on the grapes and the peach’s fuzzy globe. Would we get hung up on a configuration of turrets? Or is it the rack of disbelief we’re on, or is it the junction between onomancy and grief that buys our compliance?
And, if one of our circle breaks down and cries on Day 2, the chance acquisition of a set of second-hand golf clubs or, in the very last resort, a bentwood loveseat that has seen much life, might wake in us thoughts contingent to Forgiveness Valley. The steam from the laundry and the chunk of the woodcutter’s axe will be our moral base.
Minutes pass; the illusion of connectedness caves in and each now goes his separate way, either in the closed circuitry of will or in vacuity of the mind, but always propped, always with a vehicle, be it an envied pencil case, a display of knowledge of the history of the holiday, or a bolt of yellow silk outside the cash-and-carry in the town, a reminder of sensuous life back in the real world.
Even so, there comes a time where each one, from within the unpruned coppice of his wounded loves, will hear his fetish-queen call out his name and take a stroll with her along meandering paths to view the dusty mirror of the lake, and on to higher, and yet higher ground, where the wild garlic thrives in shimmering grass whose uses are limited by nothing.
poem by Annie Freud
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
by Diane di Prima
Diane di Prima was writing and publishing controversial work on the subject of rape and incest when it was considered indecent for a young woman to live alone. She was taking drugs and having orgies when the rest of her peers were learning shorthand and awaiting marriage proposals. It comes as no surprise then, that when she was first publishing in the 50s, her work was way ahead of its time.
A contemporary of Beat writers such as Kerouac, Ginsberg and Imanu Amari Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), di Prima’s writing covers similar ground to theirs. She is obsessed with the lies and pains of civilisation and our birth right to freedom, though much more likely to focus on the utopian, futuristic and mystical than her Beat compatriots. Her Revolutionary Letters (beginning in the 60s and progressing through to the 00s) denounce all that puts limits on this freedom: conformity, bureaucracy, decorum, and the majority of them are exciting.
Di Prima makes the revolution real for us. She talks about the importance of wearing shoes in which we can run and keeping our baths filled with water in case of government initiated emergencies. She tells us which foods to buy that will keep for longest in case of a boycott and congratulates us on not being complacent and greedy like the rest of America:
remember we are all used to eating less
than the ‘average American’ and take it easy
ever notice we’re hungry the rest of the folk will be starving
used as they are to meat and fresh milk daily
She includes us in her pack of svelte, proactive revolutionaries, inspiring us with her words. The question is what to do next. And this is where di Prima falls down, even more so because we are reading her work with the benefit of hindsight. It is all too clear that her revolution doesn’t lead anywhere. And as the Revolutionary Letters progress she seems to move further and further away from what is possible, looking towards an entirely fictional world post-revolution.
This later vision of post revolutionary life is merely a utopia: a beautiful impossibility where women and men make love under trees abundant with fruit and children roam the land unthreatened. As the chance of real revolution diminishes, Di Prima’s poetry finds solace in the unreal.
Di Prima hasn’t lost her edge, but the rest of the world has caught up with her ideas, and there’s still no sign of revolution. Despite this, Revolutionary Letters contains strokes of genius. Di Prima’s stark free verse cuts into you frequently, stopping you and demanding to be read again. Her poetry stays in your head for days.
But it is often the least politically charged writing that is most impressive. In "April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa" di Prima remembers her grandfather, the activist who inspired her to devote her life to invoking change. It is the simple gentleness here – so rare in her poetry – that makes it stand out.
The idealist radicalism that di Prima is famed for rings out throughout the book, but forty years later, it has lost much of its power. The issues she covers remain as relevant as ever, but her approach to them is no longer avant-garde. Her ideas have been overworked and underproductive, her main themes no longer sound revolutionary but jaded, obvious, elementary. She hones in on capitalist discontentment perfectly, but she is one of many. The only thing that makes her stand out is the fact that she once believed revolution was possible. For that alone, then, this collection may be a testament worth owning.
Chelsey Flood has had short fiction published in various literary journals and magazines including Riptide and White Chimney Magazine. She also writes theatre and book reviews for Stranger Magazine and The Small Press Review.
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Ofsted was especially critical of primary school teachers whose lack of subject knowledge leads to an over-reliance on lightweight poems with little attention being given to classic and multi-cultural poetry. The report concluded that teachers are playing safe by using the same poems again and again while steering clear of anything challenging.
I have a vested interest here. Along with primary school teacher and literacy specialist, Kate McGann, I provide poetry performances and workshops for primary schools. In our performance piece: We Are Poets! we adopt the roles of posh poet Penelope Page and grubby, street poet Gabby Mouth. Throughout the show, Gabby and Penny bicker about what is and isn’t poetry while taking turns performing their poems. Penelope’s poems are fantastical flights of fancy whereas Gabby’s autobiographical verses are full of childhood grot, grime and scabby knees! Kate describes it as pantomime meets poetry; I call it the performance versus page poetry debate for the under 12s.
All of the poetry in the show was written [by me] with the literacy strategy in mind. That said, I didn’t allow the strategy to stifle my creativity, and sought feedback from teachers and children along the way. Children’s laureate, Michael Rosen, has been quoted as saying: “The literacy strategy has been disastrous for poetry. Children spend their time counting metaphors and proving what makes a poem effective.” He has a point, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The strategy is open to interpretation; with a bit of imagination, it is possible to teach children about the nuts and bolts of writing while illustrating that poetry can be lively, evocative and thought provoking.
Despite the arid nature of the literacy strategy, I think I have managed to use it to produce a variety of poems that are relevant, inspiring, accessible and at times challenging. I say this because these are all words that have been used by teachers when feeding back. Many teachers seem to fear poetry; according to Ofsted, “poetry becomes a chore rather than a pleasure”. This resistance to poetry is illustrated by a quote from a KS2 teacher referring to one of our workshops: "I was dreading the poetry, but that was excellent!"
I believe that the We Are Poets! package of performances and workshops takes the pain out of teaching poetry. We demonstrate that anyone can write poetry about anything they choose whether that be the stuff of daydreams or grim reality; that poems can be long, short, complex or simplistic; that poems can tell stories; that poems can be accompanied by music, actions or a simple drum beat; that poetry can be loud and energetic or quietly contemplative.
It’s fair to say that we don’t qualify as multi-cultural and none of my poems are classics (yet). However, unlike most of the poets in the top ten, we’re not men and we’re certainly not dead! We’ve encountered lots of interested, dedicated teachers who make the most of our visits using them as a starting point for future work. When we leave a school, the children are fired up and can’t wait to read and write more poetry; some of the children even go home and write their own poems, quite independently, just for the fun of it. Imagine that! We’re doing our bit to keep poetry alive in schools. I think we’re doing a good job.
by Helên Thomas
Thursday, 13 December 2007
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Something still grates, though. Perhaps it was the series slogan: "Save the cheerleader, save the world" - a mantra that became tedious. My main concern was that the "world" was never even in peril - just several million people in NYC. Once again, a very American-centric view of the world prevailed, as in other superhero films (admittedly usually American in origin) where, aside from a few shots of Wonders of the World being toppled by meteorites or giant waves, most of the rest of humanity barely exists. Worse, still, is the absence of any sense of two major factors in human experience.
The first is culture (other than rather 19th century figurative painting), which seems entirely absent from the worldview of any of the characters, all isolated, in pure postmodern post-industrial American fashion, and individual, uniquely alone and mostly frustrated in their dreams of fulfillment - fulfillment which, it should be added, has nothing to do with an interior journey that might involve education, enlightenment, let alone literacy. It is often the unspoken blindspot of TV product that it seeks to render invisible the letter, literacy, and text itself - books, reading, writing - and the heroic journey that sort of quest involves, is annihilated. In Heroes, the world of the mind, rather than being saved, is already mostly lost - Mohinder, the Indian genetic scientist, represents Reason, but hardly Art.
The second absent factor is Economics - or rather, a historical, or Marxist, reading of America. In Heroes, you would hardly suspect that worse things threaten mankind than several insane people capable of going nuclear (a very Bush-style paranoia) - for instance, global climate change, or the AIDS pandemic, actually represent catastrophic human suffering - yet our Heroes instead scramble to merely confront a local, pathological watchmaker. In creator Kring's defence, this is only the first season, and the series arc may confront wider international issues. However, the major weakness at the core of most American filmed product (There Will Be Blood may be different) is that it cannot deeply question the "American way of life" and posit an alternative system of distribution, or social co-operation.
Bereft of the idea of true solidarity, or community, the ruggedly individual quests of the main characters combine only at key crisis moments, presenting a "family values" idea of brotherhood (like The Waltons did) without offering a sustained critique of the rot beneath. Therefore, the shallow, surface plot elements that seem subversive (a corrupt presidential candidacy predicated on mass murder) merely reinstate a feeling that, ultimately, as one young character says, when told the world needed to be cured: "I didn't even know it was sick". Indeed. While America continues to think all is well with capitalism, nothing will be done to stop capitalism's destruction of the planet.
Heroic? Not very.
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
I read the novel on which the film was based about nine years ago, in Budapest, and enjoyed it immensely. The introduction of a talking polar bear, and a cowboy balloonist, among other elements, was as quirky as the anti-theology was thoughtful, and the plot was gripping. Lyra seemed a classic character. I didn't expect the film to be this good, simply because I feared the rather English essence of it (based on Exeter College, Oxford, and other very British traditions, like stiff-upper-lip explorers) would be drained away (as was done with The Dark Is Rising film, ruining it).
Instead, the movie is a treat to watch. It is very retro in feel, and texture - a bizarre cross of Oliver Twist, Pippi Longstockings, and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. To that should be added the other obvious, if startling, filmic inspiration, Dune (a film that one day will be seen as brilliant). The movie is, as Peter Bradshaw has noted, far stranger than anyone could have hoped it might be. The shadowy close-ups of aging British movie icons, the art deco zeppelins, the old-fashioned, thrillingly strident music, and the unusually slinky Mrs. Coulter (Kidman) make the film run like a very classic show from the start.
That being said, the movie is so good, it reveals the weakness of the novel it is based upon. Most everyone says Pullman is a master-storyteller, but that is not true - more interestingly, he becomes a better writer as his trilogy progresses, and in this first novel, Northern Lights, what were clever were the elements (the souls outside the body, the off-kilter anachronisms) - not the overall storyline. In short, the film exposes the lack of any central dramatic journey in the work - yes, there is a race to rescue children, but the battle for their lives is won easily, and no powerful resistance is made - and so the film ends with a great sighing anti-climax. Meanwhile, the theology and anti-God stuff putters along, a little winded and alone, by the side of the main plot, basically bewildering and unfun. The Magisterium (aka The Church) seems as threatening as a museum - simply a big dull place to wander in, and its members are either sexy women, or weak-looking men. Their one weapon is an automated fly that is quickly cupped in a normal glass. Okay, they also have an ineffectual recourse to poison Tokai. The cutting machine is dispensed with so simply, it comes across as a gizmo, not the ontological-killer it is.
The movie works as a great children's yarn, full of wonder, innocence, and spectacle. The sequels, if there are sequels, should up the darkness and danger factors, considerably. And also include a genuinely engaging dramatic issue to be resolved.
Still, well worth seeing. Twice.
Monday, 10 December 2007
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Saturday, 8 December 2007
Friday, 7 December 2007
Her work, which includes poetry, prose, personal, critical and medical esssays, has been published in Canada, Great Britian, and the United States. She has translated work from Latin, Ancient Greek, French, Ukrainian, Japanese, and Mandarin. Her first poetry collection (recently out), from which the text below is an excerpt, is The Work Of Days, from Coach House Books. She's one of the future directions of contemporary Canadian poetry.
to sign season, home; a body is not tender. I knew change; no,
things grow where they will. To what use? You mimed
movement with the skill of one who has moved. A snail
without shell bruises and bruises easily. Our house is thin,
flat flesh. I never could have swallowed all expectations,
or yours. You were the first instance. Where fall
flames, that is flowers, your bones like the trees
are a new season. A chest blooms with demands.
A body is erstwhile in its delicate, radiant finery.
The city has drawn a blank. How big
you are; a tarmac in the cool summer.
You pretend to love them all. Let
is a word like a creek in spring.
We are strangers; there are ways
to lie. There are trees, there are
trees, there are trees. The wind
does many things. A Hungarian sign
is not unlike your mouth. I never claimed
gravity, strength. From the left, a cot
has great significance. Like the city
we squeeze in tight for a photograph.
Thursday, 6 December 2007
by Sally Read
Summer solstice, At the Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich & NW/SE
by Danny Birchall
Connecting flight & The Christmas truce
by D Nurkse
After all this, can you imagine parasols?
by Michelle J Boese
by Tim Keane
Living with Cleopatra
by Frances Spurrier
Stationing, Spring in fragments & Iraq in fragments
by Eric Linsker
by Sara Fitzpatrick
Recipe for success & Cruise
by Tara Deal
Picture awakens memory
by Jeffrey Mackie
Supermarket selves & Poets are just like everyone else
by Susan Millar DuMars
Come celebrate with me, and our last group of guest poets, as this extraordinary reading series comes to an end, with one of its most exciting and surprising line-ups yet, including guest readers from afar. The American film and TV director, and poet, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is in from Los Angeles, especially for the night, and Alistair Noon is in from Berlin.
Oxfam Poetry series
Winter Poetry Reading - The Last One
Thursday, 6 December, 2007, 7 pm
Hosted by Todd Swift> featuring poets:
Oxfam Books & Music Shop
91 Marylebone High Street, W1
near Baker Street tube station.
Admission is free - donation of £8 appreciated.
All proceeds will go to Oxfam.