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Showing posts from September, 2008

Gurkha Moment

I grew up with tales from my father of the fierce, brave, loyal fighting men known as the Gurkhas - some of the greatest combatants of the 20th century. Their case has just been won, in Britain, to allow them to settle and live here, should they so wish. Justice has been well served. Had the Gurkhas been denied this right, imagine the stiff dishonour meted out to savagely loyal and nobly sacrificing soldiers.

Capital, Capitol, Thanatos

In one of the oddest, and most potentially self-destructive moves ever in democratic history, lawmakers and politicians in America have voted down the package to save the American economy, even though Obama and McCain, broadly, supported it. I am speechless, not a normal Eyewear thing to be. I suppose this was to save their skins (average folk were mightily agin it). Where does this leave the presidential candidates, and, more vitally, the capitalist economy? By calling such a massive bluff, will these elected mavericks herald the end of the banking system, or prove that the death-knell was less close than argued. This is a weird moment.

Paul Newman Has Died

Sad news. Great American actor Paul Newman has died. His major films include Exodus, Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. His period of greatest achievement in film was no doubt the fifteen years between 1958 and 1973, when he was Brick in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and Henry Gondorff in The Sting. During this time he was arguably the greatest male star, and the most desired. He was beautiful and magnificent in The Hustler, and Hud. He had something of an Indian summer in the 1980s, with The Colour of Money, and the haunting The Verdict. Newman was a leaner, subtler, and perhaps more intelligent method actor, in the Brando style - and almost as big a sex symbol. His death leaves few actors of that era, and that fame and talent, alive - one thinks of, perhaps, Robert Redford, or Warren Beatty, as contemporaries, or near-equals - but neither quite had the acting chops, the gravitas, of Newman. He will be greatly missed, and is immortal on the screen.

Flatlined?

A very good review here at Lemon Hound of a fascinating new kind of innovative inscriptive writing - that borders on drawing in its use of line, and avoidance of alphabetic text. Poetry was always thought closest to music by some. Maybe now, closer to architecture, engineering, or design?

Poem by Sarah Law

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Sarah Law(pictured) this Friday.

Dr. Law is a senior lecturer in creative writing at London Metropolitan University, and an associate lecturer in creative writing for the Open University. She writes both lyrical and more experimental poetry.

Bliss Tangle was published by Stride in 1999, and The Lady Chapel in 2004, also by Stride. Her latest collection is Perihelion (Shearsman, 2006). A long poem is forthcoming in the anthology Manifesto from Salt, and she is working on a fourth collection.
Law regularly contributes reviews for Orbis and Stride Magazines. She also researches issues of gender and spirituality: a chapter on medieval mystic Julian of Norwich is appearing in a forthcoming volume Julian of Norwich's Legacy from Palgrave Macmillan.


exhibition

these days, we hold hands
and go for daring themes:
the secretum was once prohibited:
impossible, or wrong,

its early japanese erotica;
an implosion of sketched smiles,
eyes bright as curves of song

as we once …

Weird Scenes Inside The Bank Vault

Truly, these are historic, and strange days, indeed. Last night, Presisdent Bush appeared to speak to the "American people" - his microphone slightly muffled - and warned that the markets were no longer working correctly and needed to be fixed by massive government intervention; coming from a right-wing Republican, that's like Seamus Heaney asking Ron Silliman to edit his next poetry collection. Pretty unlikely, dude.

So, back in England, respected Churchmen have decided to take a page from The Cantos, and bee-in-bonnet Ezra, and start suggesting money trading is very dodgy - except, not really from Ezra's perspective at all, but rather, early Auden's. Marx has not been in such an ascendancy since the days of MacSpaunday.
Eyewear has long argued that a fusion of Marxism and Christianity (often known as Liberation Theology) was the best ethical position to adopt in a world of inequality, especially as it grounds Christ's teaching on a horizon of human need. Ther…

Transparency

One of the differences between North American and British life, I think, is transparency. British society, older, and more traditional in many ways, still appears to often move forward through a series of nods and silent gestures - the patronage system that, in a monarchy, still means there are citizens knighted each year; much use of power, in the UK, is either rendered invisible, or less visible, than in, say, America - where, despite its many problems - one can currently see leading political figures openly debating the future of the US economy, and its failings - and problems with, for example, the Iraq war.

Yesterday's speech by Gordon Brown, for all its dullness with a human face approach, never broached the wars that Britain is fighting. Much gets dusted under the rug. Of course, Noam Chomsky is despised by mainstream America for seeking to delve deeper into the power structures of US finance and government - the entire West is based on smoke and mirrors (capitalism's tr…

The world shall come to Walsingham

Today is the feast-day of Our Lady of Walsingham.

As Robert Lowell wrote, in his great, grandiose, Four Quartets riposte, "The Quaker Graveyward In Nantuckett":

VI

OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM

There once the penitents took off their shoes
And then walked barefoot the remaining mile;
And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file
Slowly along the munching English lane,
Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose
Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree,
Shiloah's whirlpools gurgle and make glad
The castle of God. Sailor, you were glad
And whistled Sion by that stream. But see:

Our Lady, too small for her canopy,
Sits near the altar. There's no comeliness
At all or charm in that expressionless
Face with its heavy eyelids. As before,
This face, for centuries a memory,
Non est species, neque decor,
Expressionless, expresses God: it goes
Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows,
Not Calvary's Cross nor crib at Bethlehem
Now, and the world shall come to Walsingh…

Is Poetry Better Than TV?

1.
Nick Laird is one of the best of the younger Northern Irish poet-critics now writing. His recent articles on poetry, in The Guardian, are ways to reach new readers for poetry, and they mostly do some good. So, it is with some regret that I have decided to disagree with some of the things he has written in his most recent brief essay, published yesterday.

I do so, not to disagree with Nick Laird, note, but with some (not all or even most) critical, serious ideas he has put forward. In the UK and Ireland, to disagree with someone is often seen as throwing down a personal gauntlet, but I think criticism needs to be more robust, collegiate, and relaxed than that, now, for younger poets. Unless we're free to openly express gentle disagreements, and differing opinions, without fear of being struck off some invisible register, then the whole literary project is finally doomed.

Anyway, in his essay, Laird argues for an important thing: complexity in poetry, its right to have difficulty as…

The New Deal

Eyewear, last Sunday, predicted this week might look like the 30s. Well, at week's end, in some ways, it does: the current projected US Government intervention in the economy is historic, and reminiscent of the sort of measures that FDR had to undertake, during The Great Depression. This time, the aim is to head things off at the pass; currently, there is a market rally. We must see. How will this play out with Obama vs. McCain? These are thrilling, frightening, new times for capitalism, which is evolving into a new form, one highly-regulated, and underwritten by government. So - is America, (again) to be a mixed economy? Is this the end of old-school capitalism?

Poem by Annie Katchinska

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome poet Annie Katchinska(pictured) this Friday. She seems to me to be one of the most impressive young poets currently writing in London, perhaps England, which is why I was glad to publish her work recently, online at Nthposition.

Katchinska is 18 and lives in London. She has been a Foyle Young Poet of the Year twice and in 2007 came second in the Christopher Tower poetry competition. She is on the editorial team of Pomegranate, an online zine publishing poets under 30.


Too Many Storms

Often, pretending to sleep, I hear my father
in the next room, importantly flicking his books.

Sometimes he hums –
a song from the summer he said he’d hung a thousand wind chimes
in high places, dark places my eyes could never reach –
He hasn’t been himself.
He says there are too many storms on this island,
not enough elsewhere. He won’t explain this word,
insists I learn to play chess then snaps
that I hold the king too tightly
and scatters the pawns. I sweep up bewildered ivory.
Now…

Another Way To Die

Eyewear readers know the profane calendar can be divided into years, months, and days, that do, or do not, feature a James Bond film. In one of the great pop culture moments of all time, the cult singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, dying of cancer, said it would be "a drag" if he died before the next Bond film came out. Paul Muldoon, as we know, worked with Zevon - what the world needs now is a Muldoon long poem on Bond. In the meantime, we have the new theme song (well, we did until it was removed from Youtube for copyright reasons) from Jack White (and Alicia Keys) for the Qauntum of Solace film; the song's title is not the title of the film, which seems needlessly busy (but Bond movies do that sometimes, think of the classic Louis Armstrong ditty), but is instead, Another Way To Die. Well, okay, it isn't Duffy, or Amy Winehouse - they would have been elegantly, or at least retro-great, with the Ronson treatment. But, in the same cluttered offbeat tradition of Paul McC…

Poetry Focus: Stevie Smith

Stevie Smith by Gerard Wozek

As a graduate student in my first British literature course, I fell passionately in love with poet Stevie Smith and certain compelling elements of her work that underscore her infatuation with mortality. Smith was a poet enamored with death. Her later poems suggest that eternal life was more of a threat to her, rather than a theological promise of redemption or damnation.

Quick to criticize the dogmas of her Anglican background, Smith spent the latter portion of her life questioning the validity of organized religion. She was quoted once as saying, "There are some human beings who do not wish for eternal life."

For this bold poet, a child of eight who often contemplated suicide as a happy release from the routines of a caustic boarding school, death was often viewed as a merciful friend. The power of passing away is envisioned in many of her poems as a source of great strength, yielding solace and an utter, almost welcome, finality.

These ideas seem …

Is Carmine Starnino an Enfant Terrible?

Poetry magazine is one of the oldest, most respected, and significant magazines devoted to poetry in the world. The September 2008 issue has a few lively letters, by and about Canadian poets, that are worth reading in full. In the UK, there tends to be radio silence when it comes to much North American poetry, so it is good to see the Canadian-US border opening to more convivial mutual dialogue. Evan Jones, a good younger Canadian poet studying for a PhD in Manchester, writes to defend Al Purdy, the quintessential free-verse rowdyman of Canadian poetry, from his detractor(s).

And, Nicholas Bradley describes Carmine Starnino, one of Canada's leading younger poet-critics, as Canada's literary enfant terrible. Eyewear would like to weigh in on these controversies in the following way: a) Al Purdy is over-rated in Canada, but under-rated elsewhere, and it is likely he is as important for North American poetry of the 20th century as a Robert Creeley; b) Carmine Starnino is an infant…

Science and Religion Collide

The big bang you're hearing is the noise of science and religion colliding, in the UK. The resignation, today, of a respected scientist, who also happens to be a Christian, from an important scientific post, because he suggested that creationism too could be taught in schools, alongside the theory of evolution, is a shame. Dogmatic anything is bad news: whether that be theism, atheism, or Darwinism. Clearly, evolution, a highly-robust theory, is assumed to be true, though unverified - but does not rule out the value of appreciation of alternate views on how the universe and sentient life in it came into being. There are versions of creationism (intelligent design, for instance) that are complex enough to dovetail with science, and surely some aspects of creationism are symbolically, if not philosophically, intriguing - for instance, the idea that nothing comes from nothing, or that, at the start, some being or great force conceived of existence itself. Science should not rule out …

Richard Wright Has Died

Sad news. Founder Pink Floyd member Richard Wrighthas died. Pink Floyd are, of course, one of the great bands of the 20th century.

Guest Review: Wood on Howell and Auerbach

James W. Wood reviews
Ghost Test Flightsby Bill Howell
and
Radius of Lightby Joshua Auerbach

Canadian writers face an unwelcome task in trying to create a recognisably Canadian literature. Living under the hulking shadow of the world’s most powerful and, to some, culturally imposing nation, Canadian writers are too used to being subsumed into their neighbour’s traditions by foreign commentators to find the phenomenon worthy of comment most of the time.

Added to this, Canada’s writers have at their disposal a smorgasbord of traditions that generations of immigrants have brought to their country, imparting French, Irish, Scots, English, Welsh, Portuguese and, more recently, Chinese and Korean influences. And native Canadian stories and poetry have their own compelling power that clearly influences the nation’s output, as best seen in Michael Crumey’s recent and brilliant novel River Thieves. Given all of these factors, it’s easy to see why writers such as Atwood and Robertson Davies have mor…

Squeezed Lehman

It isn't 1929 yet - or the Great Depression. But, 79 years after Wall Street bankers and brokers lept from ledges, ruined - well, disaster is striking the money markets, again. Tonight's news that Lehhman Brothers may go bankrupt is disturbing, even ominous. It was the fourth largest of its kind in America - and the ripple effect of its collapse may become a domino one. The next decade may be the most lowdown since Auden's Thirties. Meanwhile, America seems bent on electing Palin as President-in-waiting - America's second most incompetent president is in the wings.

David Foster Wallace Has Died

One of America's greatest prose writers of the last half-century has died, by his own hand - David Foster Wallace: novelist, essayist, and infinitely talented wordplayer; genius might be a word to use in relation to his work. He was also, by all accounts, a gifted and caring creative writing teacher (no mean feat). It is a tragic truth of writing that one never really realises the pain and sorrow behind the exuberant verbal masks that writers put on, and publish. Writers are so very vulnerable, even the best, and most beloved. Readers, take care of them. Fellow writers, be more gentle, too.

Poem by A.F. Harrold

Eyewear is very glad to welcome A.F. Harrold(pictured) this Friday. Harrold is a poet and performance poet based in Reading. His publications include a book of love poems, Logic And The Heart (Two Rivers Press, 2004), two collections of comic prose and poetry, Postcards From The Hedgehog (Two Rivers Press, 2007) and The Man Who Spent Years In The Bath (Quirkstandard’s Alternative, 2008) and the shortly-forthcoming limited edition collection of nature poems, produced in collaboration with internationally exhibited artist Jo Thomas, Of Birds & Bees (Quirkstandard’s Alternative, 2008).

Harrold has performed poetry, comedy and cabaret in many places – including Paris, Copenhagen, Vancouver and LA – and has been part of the line ups at Cheltenham and Swindon Literature Festivals, Essex and Ledbury Poetry Festivals, Leicester and Reading Comedy Festivals, as well as taking a comedy-oriented rock or roll band to the Edinburgh Fringe (The Most Boring Man In England and Other Love Songs, 20…

Friendship and Poetry

The relationship between friendship and poetry is rarely openly remarked upon, or studied, and yet, it is perhaps the single strongest force acting upon the development, and distribution, of published works of poetry, since 1800. Without small groups of friends, often acting in sympathetic concert, as mentors, co-editors, sponsors, and allies, both Romanticism and Modernism would not have generated the works they did (one thinks of Wordsworth-Coleridge, or Eliot-Pound). The friendship between Thomas and Frost was seminal for them both. Again, in the 30s, there was Auden, and his group.

Or, in the 50s, and beyond, The New York School. Or, Lowell and Bishop. Or, in the 60s and 70s, Heaney and Mahon and Longley. Or, the current friendships among the Language poets. Still, such friendships are something of a taboo subject. It was therefore surprising to read the recent article by Chris Hamilton-Emery, poet and publisher, in the latest (2009) version of The Writer's Handbook, where he r…

Guest Review: Porco on McGimpsey

Alessandro Porcoreviews
Sitcom
by David McGimpsey

David McGimpsey’s Sitcom (Coach House, 2007) marks the writer’s much-anticipated return to poetry (it’s been six year since the release of his Hamburger Valley, California [ECW Press, 2001]). As expected, Sitcom is sometimes uproariously funny, always pop-acculturated, and intimidatingly literate. Of course, McGimpsey’s humour has always been thoroughly noted by critics, while the formal, thematic, and philosophic scope of his work (i.e. the more literate elements)— omnipresent in Sitcom— often willfully ignored. Critics will grant that McGimpsey’s humour succeeds; however, that very humour is also used by those same laudatory critics to dismiss McGimpsey’s efforts as trivial or light. An even greater problematic: because McGimpsey has shown repeatedly he possesses a capacity to access and effect a comic mode with ease, it’s wrongly assumed that McGimpsey’s always only working within that mode. Thus, those poems that seemingly challenge s…

What Is The Booker For, Then?

The latest Booker shortlist excludes Salman Rushdie, in favour of six novels that are "fun", "readable" and "page-tunring" - in short, that represent the rewards of entertaining commercial fiction. Michael Portillo, a failed politician, and now incompetent literary judge, has said he is "not a literary expert." I see. What then, is he doing judging the Man Booker prize? Another judge said they "want a book to tell me a story". How infantile. Readers need to stop wanting things from books and novels - they're not websites you can just click on for instant gratification, nor TV's flatscreen teat. Literature in Britain is now officially dumb.

If even the Booker prize seeks to merely select popular "big reads" what hope is there, for serious, intelligent, and, yes, sometimes difficult literary fiction? It used to be, this prize was meant to discriminate, for readers, and lead them to the best. The best, mind - not simply t…

Motion Sickness

Andrew Motionhas done more than any other Poet Laureate to promote poetry. So, it comes as something of a sad shock to see him so openly complain about the thankless task of the role, and to hear him describe his challenges overcoming writer's block. Certainly, the role made him world famous - and he is still young enough to, when his term comes to an end soon, move on to bigger things. However, this intervention will, no doubt, raise new calls for the abolition of the role, at a time when either Simon Armitage, or Carol Ann Duffy, are poised to take it on. Of course, as Eyewear has noted, British poetry is in a curious state at the moment, as funding and other demands impinge on it.

Roughly-speaking, British poetry is going more towards performance, the digital, and the mainstream, but not really connecting with a wider audience, anyway (see next post about the Booker) - since even serious literary fiction is now struggling to connect. The problem with poetry, is that, despite its…

Elbow Room

Britain's Mercury Prize for music (complete with Simon Armitage appearance) was awarded last night to another seldom-heard band, Elbow, instead of going to Radiohead, and their innovative In Rainbows. It is good to see smaller, less-known bands celebrated by such awards - but surely In Rainbows was, quite simply, the most important record event of the 21st century (so far)? Not only did it alter the way music is made available to the world, but it presented the most upbeat, and even lyrical, songs that Thom Yorke and friends had ever recorded. It's a great, great album. Perhaps its reward will be in heaven.

The Big Turn On: Not With A Bang

The BBC news (radio 4) had live coverage this morning of the turning on of the variously-named machine that will measure how the universe began. After the muted cheers and handclaps of the scientists (mostly, alas, men), champagne was passed around. It felt like the moon-landing, but somehow in reverse - all the fun was being had in the control room. This subterranean, coiled monster of an experiment may destroy the world, later today, or sometime soon - or instead merely explain how it was created.

In many ways, it recalls Eliot's poetry - the murder and create dichotomy is strong with science. Hopefully, our end will not, though, be in our attempt to find our beginning. It's been said, by the media, who like metaphors they can sleep with, that this is like a "cathedral", and that the search is for a "god particle" - but science, more often than not, peels back the layers where the onion god makes us cry, exposing less, not more.
What will the first things o…

The 2nd anniversary of my father's death

Today, September 9th, is the second anniversary of my father's death. I tend not to get personal at Eyewear, but the grief over his loss has shadowed these posts and pages these past two years, in different ways.

Firstly, I turned to this blog as an occasional diversion from the darker truths of existence: beyond poetics, beyond (even!) art, lies mortality. Some may feel another life waits, on some other side. Or not. I feel there are ghostly presences, if not demarcations, and have, at times, seen a dead one walking, if only in dreams (Orbison's tremulous sanctum). Where is my father now? Not here, is the only answer.

I think of him still, often, and he has become - death does this to perspective - both more clear, and yet, less full - sometimes I think I discern a pattern, a shape, a meaning. Then no. As with Milton's wife, one wakes and sees the beloved has fled. I am only writing this because death and loss are universal, not particular - everyone has this line across th…

Guest Review: Harlow on Bordwell

Morgan Harlowreviews
Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell
The film, the whole film, and nothing but the film. David Bordwell focuses on the poetics of cinema, leaping over the various schools of criticism that have come into vogue over the last 60 years in research in the humanities, and, more recently, to film study. A prominent film scholar and Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bordwell describes a poetics of cinema quite apart from the rhetoric and interpretations of methods-based theorizing.
How is a film made, with what effect, in what historical context? Poetics of Cinema, a collection of essays written over the last 30 years, aims, in Bordwell's words, "to produce reliable knowledge by pursuing questions within two principal areas of inquiry. First is what we might call analytical poetics. What are the principles according to which films are constructed and through which they achieve particular effects? Second, there's historical poetics, which …