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Showing posts from April, 2008

Norwich Union

Sad news. Norwich Union is to change its name to Aviva. As a student of Creative Writing at UEA, I was - and am - often in Norwich - a city famed far and wide for its eponymous life insurance company. Aviva strikes me as the sort of bland globalspeak that does no one any good, and aims to avoid striking any chords or nerves - but its very blandness rankles. I suppose it does have the latinate life at its root - but the better name was the one that had a home, a real city, at its heart.

London In Sunlight

It seems that summer arrived today, in London - with the 20 Celsius weather. Finally! People are out, dressed like it's August in Cannes, or Miami. No time to blog, really. I was just so delighted with the sun and blue sky.

Below, an unpublished poem of mine, written last summer in Canada, to celebrate this day.

Laurentian Lakes

My brother and his wife come down to the lake
Late, vegetarians with their barbecue; but
The fuel is gone, so they drive off with my wife

In their car, leaving me alone with the lake.
Well, there are the Germans ruining the water
With their attempts to break it, and the spine-turning

Girl-guard tilted up against the shack,
Glassed-up and closed. I look out
At the copied trees, and rocks, then double-back

To her, young and caught like a hook
In the pages of a novel that might not quite be
A book, but is a story, flowing over the locks

Of each chapter-ending, that stop-start
Editors like, because it jumps like suspense;
Fish jump too, for flies; bats curve in on them.

Flies g…

Poem by Helen Mort

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Helen Mort(pictured) this Friday.

Mort comes from Sheffield, but lives in Cambridge. There she runs a Poetry Society Stanza and helps organise CB1 Poetry nights. Her pamphlet, the shape of every box, was published by Tall-lighthouse in 2007. That same year, she received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors. She is also a past winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year prize.

Mort wrote a lot of the poems in the shape of every box between shifts or at work in a nightclub, and is currently writing a long sequence, God of the Gaps, about Sheffield nightlife. Most of her influences are drawn from contemporary Scottish and Irish poetry. She is not to be confused with her uncle, Graham Mort, also a poet - though his work continues to be an influence.

I've known Mort for several years now, and she strikes me as one of the most assured, and promising, of her emerging generation of 21st century mainstream British poets. She has a finely-tuned…

Revaluation: Youth Without Youth

Francis Ford Coppola used to be the most-admired American auteur of his film generation - Scorsese has likely taken that position (though Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas do not, to my mind, trump The Conversation, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now). Last year, his first film for a decade was released, Youth Without Youth, based on a curious novella by the controversial once-Fascist scholar and writer, Mircia Eliade, whose memorial service was presided over by Saul Bellow.




The film was almost universally derided. As such, it was a failure, critically, and at the "Box Office". I have finally had a chance to view it (just out on DVD in the UK), and wish to alert its new potential audience that it's a wonderful picture, to be sought out. The film's critics have noted its strengths, as if they were weaknesses: the production was filmed in Eastern Europe, and features a cast of sometimes-dubbed foreign actors (many from Downfall); the sets are sometimes artificial-…

Review: Time Gentlemen, Please by Kevin Higgins

Kevin Higgins recently had this said of him, in Justin Quinn’sThe Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800-2000, "Chapter 12, The Disappearance of Ireland":

Kevin Higgins (b. 1967) has demonstrated a good satirical savagery when facing the new Ireland. His first collection, The Boy with No Face (2005), contains many poems in conventional lyrical modes (in which he is weaker) and others with a social critique as lithe and imaginative as that of the con-merchants who run the show. He has perhaps acquired much of his sharpness by taking part in poetry slams. ... A satire which eschews moderation and openly admits its own savagery can only succeed.

His second collection, Time Gentlemen, Please, is just out with Salmon, in Ireland. I think it is an extraordinary book, easily better than The Boy With No Face. There are any number of rising Irish poets, at any time, but Higgins must now count high among that list, alongside Wheatley, Morrissey (who recently won the Nationa…

Guest Review: Phillips On Robinson

Tom Phillipsreviews
The Look of Goodbye
&
The Greener Meadow: Selected Poems Of Luciano Erba(translated)
by Peter Robinson

Written between 2001 and 2006 (unusually for him, Peter Robinson specifies as much on the cover), the poems in The Look of Goodbye cross a broad range of territories, from Liverpool to Japan, with sojourns in Italy and briefer visitations to Austria, London and Glasgow. There are long-haul flights across Siberia and through “cloud convoys” above the Baltic; a delay in Paris while a dead passenger has to be offloaded from “that makeshift flying hearse”; and jet-lagged hours in airport transit lounges where “the ground slightly rises and falls/with an undulant motion” and there’s the “promise/of futures not ours in the distance”.

That’s not the whole story, of course, and Robinson certainly isn’t what you’d call a travel poet, an EasyJet-generation post-Beat in search of experience in so-say exotic climes. A sense, though, of being permanently in transit and, as it we…

The QES Weighs In On Poetry

A few years back, I spent a bizarre night, lecturing on contemporary poetry, to the QES (Queen's English Society), and Dr. Bernard Lamb(a writer of naughty limericks, as on Eyewear). It comes as something of a surprise then, to hear him on the BBC radio this evening, debating with poet-critic-publisher Michael Schmidt (one of the best minds British poetry and poetry criticism has), on whether or not poetry must rhyme and use traditional metre. Lamb insists it should, and wants the "Poetry Society" to tell him what poetry is, suggesting that any society that doesn't know what poetry is shouldn't be a poetry one; of course, he's very wrong. Poetry is essentially unknowable, and poetry gestures to new, yet unheard, or written, ways of saying. It also, obviously, resists easy definition, and narrow formal limits. What's the point of poetry, or a poet, who always toes a line? Surely, any rule that a society - especially one designed to uphold the "Queen&#…

Poem by Charles Bernstein

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Charles Bernstein(pictured) this Friday. I happen to think he's one of the most significant poets now writing in the English language, and that his recent collection, Girly Man(newly out in paperback this April 15th) is one of the key poetry books, so far, of the 21st century.

Like the music of minimalist Glass, much of the effect is in the shifting tones, the space between the lines, the comedically-timed, exquisite swerving what-comes-next of it all. But in maximalist manner. Bernstein combines (as no British experimental poet currently alive perhaps does - Empson did) the highest and lowest of registers, and the full range of verbal possibilities in his work - from silly pratfall music hall tricks to deadly serious matter.

As such, his poetics clouds minds, and befuddles issues, but makes something clear: no language is out of bounds for a poet, no matter who she is. I find his work bracing, tough, hilarious, sometimes totally out of line, and ofte…

Aime Cesaire Has Died

Sad news. The great poet, anticolonial thinker, and political activist Aime Cesairehas died. Where was his Nobel, one wonders. No matter, his life, work, and poetry speak out beyond such things.

Review: Joe Jackson's Rain

On the day when the media reflects on the death of Joan Jackson (nee Joan Hunter Dunn), I've come to listen, finally, to the new release by Joe Jackson, the CD Rain. I agree with a review at the BBC site which says it is a great work. I'm tempted to say it's Jackson's entirely unanticipated, and unheralded, late masterpiece. Indeed, there's something triumphant in its effortlessly cool pop achievement, and something oddly stirring - for Jackson has been an "Invisible Man" (the title of the opening track) for years now, except perhaps as a grumpy pro-smoking activist (a stance I tend to disagree with). Jackson's career began 29 years ago (in 1979), and he's always been more famous and admired in North America, where the British "New Wave" sound he pioneered with Elvis Costello and a few others caught on - even more than back home.

His four biggest albums are Look Sharp!, I'm The Man, Night And Day, and Body And Soul, and over the cours…

Guest Review: Pasold on Wormser

Lisa Pasoldreviews
The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir Of Living Off The Grid
by Baron Wormser

“Words weren’t meant to do what poetry wants to do with them,” writes Baron Wormser. “Words are counters we use in daily life to note whatever we wish to note. We exchange them and live more or less unconsciously with them.”

I don’t agree. Written words may have originated as counters—admittedly, the Rosetta Stone doesn’t boast any hidden poetry other than its amazing translation of taxation laws—but over time, words have acquired different weights, different ramifications, different subcultures, and all kinds of different meanings.

Take the expression “living off the grid”—an expression I first heard in the Yukon, to describe someone living in the bush, in a two-storey log cabin, off the electrical grid. A literal definition, but the words “living off the grid” want to mean so many other things—including living outside of the controlled grid of ordinary daily life, beyond urban ex…

Love and Tennis In A Time of War

The pulse of 20th century British poetry's durability - and sometime light, popular touch - can be taken today, as the death of the most famous tennis-playing woman in poetic history was announced: that of Miss J. Hunter Dunn, who, of course, inspired Poet Laureate John Betjeman to compose his most-beloved poem, "A Subaltern's Love Song". It might only be traditional verse, but it was musical, brilliantly witty, swooningly (if realistically) romantic, and oh-so gin-and-lime middle class. There may be "poetry wars", but somewhere there is also a Britain that needed such poems, and, thankfully, got them. Growing up, I loved this poem, and was moved, to hear it mentioned on the BBC this morning - and sad that Miss Hunter Dunn had died. As I've said before, the heart belongs in poetry, too - and sentiment - and a great challenge for the 21st century is to try to find ways to intelligently combine feeling, and complexity, in poetry, so that it neither stales…

Can You Infra Dig It?

It is rare for a book review that discusses rock and roll to cut to the heart of contemporary British poetics, but Toby Litthas managed such an exciting feat. In his review of Simon Armitage's new book, Dig: The Life and Times of a Rock-star Fantasist, he raises a striking point about the "fantasies" that Armitage is willing and able to open up to: ones that seem genuinely bounded by humility, and attention to a local (even Larkin/Little England) perspective. As Litt observes, for Armitage's aesthetic worldview, "grandiosity is infra dig." It is as if the sin of pride had been oddly inverted here - a curiously cramped ambition haunts some contemporary versions of poetic Englishness - as if being true to one's own self, own voice, own place, were enough (were always, even, possible).



This is certainly the reason behind the ongoing belittling of the poetic style of the Forties, best exemplified by Dylan Thomas, on the part of many mainstream UK poets, and …

Gordon Brown Is A Tiny Dot on This Planet

Gordon Brown is having a bad week. Make that last few weeks. He bottled the election, and then has continued to be weak, indecisive, and rudderless - from the environment, to the Olympics, to any number of things. The talk, in this weekend's UK press, is that the contest may already be on to suceed him. One hopes so. Labour is doomed under this dour dot. Meanwhile, Mr. Mugabe has managed to coin one of the funniest insults ever in political history, even while managing to ruin a whole nation. Calling Gordon Brown a "tiny dot on this planet" was funny - but mainly weird. Mugabe's priceless fist-gesture was part of the impact of the taunt, which was a direct hit on Brown's already scuppered-vessel.

Rickrolling

I have not been rickrolled, have you? The latest Internet "craze" - apparently the most widespread (and basically harmless, a nice change) viral of all time - involves the vanilla 80s crooner, Rick Astley, a manufactured heart-throb who for four years was world famous, then gently declined into total (and gladly-received) obscurity - until now. Eyewear loved Astley's music, then, and still retains a fondness for the idea of the man, and his music - it was fun, old-fashioned, tuneful pop. I think the sweet irony of rickrolling is that Astley never hurt a fly, has no axe to grind, and is entirely out of the loop; a good pop culture icon to reinsert into the Zeitgeist.

The Death of Andrew Crozier

Sad news. The significant British poet Andrew Crozierdied on April 3rd. Eyewear asked Ian Brinton to write a few words. They are below:

Andrew Crozier 1943-2008

As an undergraduate in his third year reading English at Christ’s College, Cambridge, Andrew Crozier edited what Ralph Maud was to call ‘an Olson-biased’ American Supplement to Granta. The short collection was largely based on Donald Allen’s landmark publication, The New American Poetry 1945-60 and included work by Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, Robert Creeley and John Wieners. At the end of this publishing adventure which was prepared to rattle the status of the safe English Movement poets Crozier appended a letter from Charles Olson to George Butterick which included the phrase ‘freshen our sense of the language we do have’ adding that ‘the spirit of Olson informs this whole collection: he is the major figure in mid-century American letters.’ It was no surprise then that Crozier should have quoted a line from Olson as the title f…

Poem by Alistair Noon

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Alistair Noon(pictured) this Friday. Noon (born in 1970) grew up in Aylesbury, studied German and Russian, and has lived in Russia and China. He has been based in Berlin since the early 90s. In the later 90s he wrote sound poetry and performed at sound art festivals internationally. I first met him, a few years back, when he and I both performed at a Magma launch, at the Troubador, in London.

He's an active translator. Noon's translations include, from German, WWI Expressionist poet August Stramm and emerging contemporary figure Monika Rinck; from Russian, Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman, and from Chinese, contemporary poet Xiao Kaiyu.

Noon has worked as a language teacher, translator and most recently in hospital administration in Berlin. He coordinates an excellent annual reading series in that city, Poetry Hearings, and is an editor of Bordercrossing Berlin, a superb-looking periodical, with much of value in it. His recent essay "Translo…

Guest Review: Noon On Borek

Alistair Noonreviews
Donjong Heights
by Ben Borek

Judges of the National Poetry Competition must be glad, no doubt, of the sanity-saving line limit in the rules. Deliberately or not though, that limit helps norm the poem of our times into a text of forty lines or under. So much poetry from both the distant and the not-so-distant past would, if it were entered now, be disqualified, in more than one sense of the word.

Ben Borek’s recent Donjong Heights tells how one inhabitant of an eponymous tower block in South London organizes a Christmas party with the ulterior aim of winning back his estranged grand amour. For this it draws on Pushkin’s novel in verse Eugene Onegin as a model, with its distinctive and complex fourteen-line stanza form.

That isn’t all that Borek half-inches. The Russian winter countryside and its melancholic, bored inhabitants are transferred to Peckham in December, inc. plumbing problems and SAD. Dancing the mazurka is replaced by staggering out of the boozer. As in Pus…

E.A. Markham Has Died

Sad news. E.A. Markham, the poet, has died in Paris.

I will update this post with his obituary notice, when it appears.

Men In Blue

Eyewear was there, yesterday, in London, as the Olympic torch began its marathon (and was it ever!) on foot, in Notting Hill. I was actually present for pro-Olympic purposes (My family has long been a believer in the Olympic spirit).

Makers of video games will no doubt be musing on this one: 31-miles, dozens of bearers, thousands of cops - you be the protester and snuff the flame out! Or, as France put it, today's relay through Paris will see the flame protected as if "a visiting head of state" - in short, a symbol worth dying for.

Or at least struggling against. This is dangerous territory - already, the attempts in London to blow the flame out with an extinguisher, or by knocking down anyone who carries it, have badly missed the mark. The Olympics are a movable feast - an ideal, and an event, larger than the host state, on any occasion. It isn't the Olympic flame that needs to be rekindled, or doused - but the actions of a particular government, that should be addres…

Charlton Heston Has Died

Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning star of Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes, and other epic films from the 50s-60s, has died, not before making some of the greatest kitsch and sci-fi films of all time, as well, including Irwin Allen spectaculars. However, his finest film was the Orson Welles late masterpiece, Touch of Evil, which is, after Kane, one of the finest, strangest films of the 20th century.

Indeed, Heston's unassailable, virile decency is a dynamic lynchpin of the movie's explosive hybridity - straddling the US-Mexico border, and dealing with the dualities of interracial marriage, truth and lies, film and radio (sight/sound), and crime and policing, among others, in its modern baroque style. I love this brave straight-faced performance of his, and I think it earns him kudos critics often withhold from him; if we can forgive Pound his intolerant ideology, why can't we forgive Heston, a serious film actor, his older manhood with its boyish guns?
At f…

How To Dislike Poetry

Poetry always lays claim to a Golden Age just behind the corner. Perhaps poetry was always, more or less, unpopular - mainly of interest to a few. It seems that, in 1947, according to Time, the problems for poetry were not that far removed from in the schools today.

Nor was contemporary poetry more appreciated in the 1950s. According to John Press in The Chequer'd Shade (London: OUP, 1958), Stephen Spender stormed out (in protest) of a poetry reading being held at a Foyle's literary luncheon when Lord Samuel took the occasion to attack "the vice of obscurity" ruining British poetry, and read out, with evident distaste, a poem by Dylan Thomas, starting "A grief ago..." - such distaste still evident today among many English poet-critics.

A new acclaimed book by fellow-Montrealer and music critic, Carl Wilson, on the music of Celine Dion, has taken the subject of distaste in a fun and fascinating direction - he loathed her work, and sets out to comprehend why sh…

Burnt Out In London

The Olympic torch - once a near-inextinguishable brand (or is that symbol?) of something good - is guttering in London. The culprit is China, whose recent brazen incarceration of a man whose chief crime seems to have been to critique obvious flaws in the system, is sadly obscuring the glory of the Olympian flames, with rather shady behaviour. Eyewear had hoped this would not be another 1936 - but it seems increasingly likely. China doesn't get it - it can't host a wonderful, open, world event, and also continue to be a bullying tyranny.

Poem by Elaine Feeney

Speaking of Bertie... Eyewear is very glad to welcome, this Friday, one of the rising stars of the new Irish poetry - one who speaks in different ways, without fear of being thought funny, or crude, or critical (as Joyce was, or Kavanagh, or Durcan, as Irish poetry often can be, when not striving for the merely lofty).

Elaine Feeney (pictured) was born in Galway in 1979. She studied English and History at University College Galway and completed postgraduate study at University College Cork and University of Limerick. She divides her time between teaching, writing and being a mother.

Feeney has been writing poetry since her teens and has published her work in journals and magazines. In 2007 she published a short joint collection entitled Indiscipline, with Dave Lordan. Known as a strong live performer of her work, Feeney has read her poetry at venues in Ireland and England, including the Cuirt International Literature Festival, Irish Film Insitute Dublin, and The White House Poetry Reviv…

Tears in the Fence (Number 47)

Tears in the Fence. Is that tears, like crying, or ripping? Never you mind. Either way you say it, this is one of the best "little magazines" now operating in the British Isles - one independent of mainstream and avant-garde alike - or rather, simply interested in whatever it deems interesting, regardless of hype or coterie affiliation - a magazine always open to poets from abroad (especially France, North America and Australia) and various styles and ways of writing. The editor is poet David Caddy.

I'd recommend you submit and/or subscribe. It's only $20 cash for four issues for Americans, and £15 for three issues here - or take the lifetime gamble, for a mere £100 (!). For American orders, contact Deane Laczi, 714 South 12th street, Lafayette, IN 479005, USA. Send other queries to Caddy at 38 Hod View, Stourpaine, Blandford Forum, Dorset, DT11 8TN.

Issue 47 has reviews of Giles Goodland, my new collection Winter Tennis, and Ian Brinton on Lee Harwood. It feat…

Guest Review: Jensen On Chiasson

Charles Jensen reviews
Natural History and Other Poems
by Dan Chiasson

This omnibus volume collects together under one title the lion's share of poems from Chiasson's first two American books, The Afterlife of Objects and Natural History, with a few new pieces tacked on the end for good measure. It's always instructive to read a poet's work in depth, granting the reader the rare opportunity to witness a poetics as it coalesces over the course of what amounts to many years of the poet's work; this volume does just that, presenting a cohesive and fully-rounded perspective on Chiasson's body of work thus far.

Chiasson's poetry can be characterized by its dualities. As a poet, he is concerned both with the ancient world and its contemporary counterpart, locating between them a sort of formed conclusion—that one leads decisively into the next. This is most succinct in the long poem "Natural History," which takes as its formal and thematic source the Histor…

April Poems Now Online At Nthposition

End of the Ahern Era

Irish leader Bertie Ahern- a key player in the Irish peace talks of the past decade - has announced he will resign in early May. I met him once in Budapest, he seemed affable. His resignation, somehow related to accusations made that he received dubious payments at some earlier stage of his political career, marks the end of a distinguished career - and also the end of an era in Ireland - what was called The Celtic Tiger, but may now be seen as The Ahern Era. It was a giddy time of champagne promises, to put the crass label on the crass bottle - when unexpectedly high rates of economic growth turned Ireland into the well man of Europe - turned Dublin into a quasi-Monaco of drug-fuelled high living. At times, it was surreal - house prices as high or higher in Dub 4 than in Chelsea or Ken.

All this had an impact on Irish poetry - after all, the cocktail of sudden wealth, perceived glamour, and political defrosting in the North was heady - and meant a new generation of poets emerged, who…

900

900 posts at Eyewear. Why? And, now it's done, where to? 900 pages in a book, that'd be a lot! Somehow, though, there's ennui in this, a public wasting of energy. Readers will know I've begun to add more reviews, and work, by other writers and poets - increasingly, it seems uninteresting to focus on my own work alone (indeed, I have a pile of recent publications to announce, but never find the enthusiasm for it). Anyway, I've decided to keep the blog going a little longer, at least until the end of April.

Poem By Hamish Wilson

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome major British poet Hamish Wilson (pictured) to these pages this day. Wilson was born in 1958, and educated at Oxford, Cambridge and London Metropolitan universities. As a child he suffered from night fears, but his brothers made that go away, as he writes in his poem "Mind Robbers".

Wilson is one of the leading exponents of the "Light Bulb Makars" school, which, in the last few years, has become so influential on these isles. In his dour, sometimes grumpy, and often brilliantly dazzling reviews for the major papers (and BBC radio), Wilson has attacked any poetry which "uses language like frippery, like a girl's pink ribbon" and denounced "the fake makers, the fun-havers".

For Wilson, poetry is "science - and not just science - rigorous making, like hammering a sawblade back into shape after it has been bent by a fool." Wilson names his heroes as "Yvor Winters and Adam Smith", and bases muc…