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Showing posts from May, 2008

Joseph Pevney Has Died

Joseph Pevney, who, among other things, directed several of the great Star Trek TV episodes, was the unlikely model (in some ways) for the Heroes villain, Sylar. Heroes, of course, is filled with nerdy references to Star Trek, and other classic sci-fi product, and pays homage to Pevney, subtly, in the origins of Sylar - who, like Pevney, was born the son of a New York watchmaker. There, the similarities ended.

Poem by Bert Almon

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Bert Almon (pictured) this Friday. Almon, a Canadian poet, has published nine collections. His latest book, A Ghost in Waterloo Station (Brindle and Glass, 2007), won the City of Edmonton Book Prize. In 1995, he won the Writers' Guild of Alberta Poetry Award for Earth Prime (Brick Books).

Almon has been a Hawthornden Fellow and a major prize winner in competitions like the TLS / Blackwell's Poetry contest, and the Cardiff International Poetry Competition.

He has taught at the University of Alberta since 1968, and twenty-four of his poetry students had published at least sixty books.

Readers who wish to read witty, stylish, and intelligent verse, should seek out Almon's poems.


The Muse In The Surgical Theatre

My muse watches with the transplant team
as they wait for the exuberant moment
when the first golden drop of urine
forms at the end of the cut ureter
of the newly-grafted kidney

Then she smiles behind her mask
remembering the day that Pegasus
dug hi…

Oh, Canada!

British readers of Eyewear may be surprised to learn that Canada is not always boring. Not only did Heroes (televised on BBC 2 last night) have a scene based in "Montreal, Canada", but, better yet - Canada is now in the throes of its very own sub-Profumo sex scandal. The CBC offers a nifty history of Canada's scandalous past.

"The Iraq War Was Not Necessary"

While Britain's failing labour government continues to keep mum, those in Bush's shabby inner circle begin to come clean. One of the best documentary films to come out of the Iraq war can be ordered here as a DVD.

The Irony of Winehouse

It's ironic that Cambridge English students are being asked to compare a lyric poem by Raleigh with the pop song lyrics of Novello-winner Amy Winehouse. The irony is not that one is an established, canonical poet, and the other is a controversial contemporary singer-songwriter - or that one text is "traditional" and the other words meant to be set to music and sung (as the lyric was always connotative of a musical association). Instead, it's that the question seeks a moribund comparison rather than provoking a far more relevant and pressing point of dispute - the exam should have been a comparison between "Language Writing" by, say, someone like Cambridge poet Prynne, and Faber poet Don Paterson. Or, Bernstein, say, and Billy Collins.

Both sets are figures who exemplify, in their writing practices, interest in reviving and redefining what the lyric entails, for the 21st century. Indeed, it's a shame such an old-fashioned debate between high and low art h…

Is Creative Writing The New Mental Hospital?

Hanif Kureshi is one of the more celebrated writers in Britain at the moment - and he's known to have a Swiftian urge to his writing. He's been at the Hay festival, sponsored by The Guardian, where he was no doubt encouraged to say inflammatory things, to earn his keep; the rotten truth about the media-literary nexus these days is they make every writer perform like a two-bit Oscar Wilde to oil the wheels of interest. The books, the writing, never enough for them - a story is required. They got one. Just saw this. If indeed Kureshi did make these remarks, it is disappointing. They're just basically silly and counter-factual.

I am a visiting writer at Kingston University, where he also teaches creative writing. I know he's inspired a few good writers there since he arrived. These comments - even taken lightly, in a spirit of '68ism - well, they do tend to damage the enterprise of creative writing teaching. His comments boil down to three points: 1) creative writing s…

Sydney Pollack Has Died

Sad news. The great American director-producer-actor, Sydney Pollack, has died. His major films included The Way We Were, Tootsie, and Out of Africa - but Eyewear enjoyed, even more, his acting, often in small-yet-potent roles, as powerhouse heavies, often fuelled by masculine drives, as in the strange, masterful and undervalued last film by Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut.

Review: The Fourth Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones 4 was very sad. The whole thing was flooded with dusk - a farewell to the boys of summer, Spielberg and Lucas, andHarrison Ford, who brought us so many great sci-fi and adventure classics.

Together, they have given the world much unreconstructed pleasure, and here, again, they revisited their key themes, of Americana, innocence, boys-into-men (and their fear of women and foreign entanglements) - and, of course, aliens wanting to return home. Most critics have noted that Ford looks and acts old - which is the case - and it is shocking, indeed, how grizzled, even (Ryder?) haggard, he does look - surely, that is the point. Rather than conceal the force of age from the fourth film, then, it seems a decision was made to foreground the idea of Time. Shakespearean as this is, it's apt, and adds a dimension to the film that, at first glance, is missing: namely, quality.

The movie feels half-baked. Then, on reflection, one reminds oneself that these are movies paying homage to …

The Guardian Mentions New Poets

There is a new new generation of British/Irish poets, arising, mainly without the connivance of pr spin. A refreshing, welcome broom of change - serious, witty, smart younger poets, mostly not interested in old divides and grumpy feuds, but 21st century poetry and poetics. There's an interesting article by poet and literary organiser Anne-Marie Fyfe on this new effervescence, here. Good to see, especially, Helen Mort and Luke Kennard mentioned. I'd add other names (all British-born) to those mentioned here - James Byrne, Nathan Hamilton, Emily Berry, Alex McRae, Melanie Challenger, Daljit Nagra - among them, but this is a good start.

Writing A Poem In A Luxury Apartment

John Kinsella, in his Introduction to the international anthology, Vanishing Points: New Modernist Poems (Salt, 2004)writes: "Context does matter. Someone writing a poem in a luxury apartment in a great city at the centre of a military empire does create a different intentionality from the singer composing with community members, expressing the group's marginalisation, loss and defiance. The expression 'avant-garde' is military in origin."

Who is this someone in the luxury apartment in the "great" city? Paul Muldoon? Auden? James Merrill? I don't know many poets, really, who live and write poems in luxury apartments. Would that be flats over £750,000? In Chelsea? Sure, context matters - but does the poetry this anthology explores, and shares with a wider audience, take a stand on the question of this new sub-genre: Luxury Apartment Poetry?

The avant-garde is sometimes awfully self-satisfied - as if they didn't, too, use and benefit from, t…

Poem by Stephen Gyllenhaal

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome poet and film-maker Stephen Gyllenhaal (pictured) this Friday. He was good enough to fly from LA under his own dime last Christmas to read for Oxfam's series in London, where he caused quite a stir.

As Eyewear often mentions, in the UK, pop culture and poetry culture don't always mix, so his credentials were as much a hindrance as a help to a fair hearing - but the audience was won over, by his charm as a reader, and, more to the point, the seriousness and quality of the writing itself. Ironically, in an age of celebrity writers, this was a writer wanting to move past that, while having to go through it. As such, the work, often political, often trained on the camera eye, or the world it mediates, resonates into a wider sphere of concern.

Raised in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania and alumnus of Cinestudio/TrinityCollege, Hartford, Connecticut, Gyllenhaal is a film and television director – most notably of Waterland (based on Graham Swift's novel),…

Review: Portishead Third

On relistening to Portishead's austere back-catalogue, Dummy and Portishead, one realises they aren't what one thought they were, at the time. They're now as dated as the scratched, tinny recordings they themselves sampled - a part of that 90s decade that liked acid jazz and all manner of trip-hop styling. Dated, but in the way a classic Bogart film is: noirish, of a moment - but also definitive within that sociocultural period. Portishead is as much a sound of the 90s as Nirvana, in precisely the other way: mannered, mediated, Brechtian, eerie - but similar to Cobain because also anguished, emotive, and linked obliquely to a past pop terrain as filtered through Scott Walker and Ballard.

Joy Division was known to be influenced by Ballard, too. I sometimes think Ballard, and K. Dick are the two major novelists, post-Orwell, to shape contemporary culture. Anyway, if the first two Portishead albums were quasi-dystopian, and quasi-Bondian (Fleming is a third key writer for our …

The Presentation of Blogs in Everyday Life

David Wheatley has been having fun over at his clever blog about how Eyewear's claim to be a persona seems to evade responsibility for one's critical position. His response is patently foolish.

What I said was: "this blog is a text (indeed, intertextual) and full of shifting registers of discourse - not a transparent medium for the simple expression of an ego" - in order to counter the idea that blog-writing is simply a "lyric I" poem by another name. It isn't. "Eyewear" is a persona - a collection of gestures, attitudes, tics, styles, conventions - that shifts. It isn't meant to be "me" - whatever a me might mean - but nor is it "not Todd Swift", either. What I am not is James Bond, though.

Wheatley's position is foolish for any number of reasons. Students of the philosophy of identity will know that we are never the same twice. This flux is not alarming, because much of what we are appears to be the same over time -…

Man Prize

Eyewear would like to congratulate Man United on their paper-thin victory over Chelsea last night in Russia. It was moving that the win came on the 50th anniversary of Man United's air disaster. The question of whether evenly-matched contests between strong sides should be determined by penalty shoot-outs has long been debated - as everyone says, it becomes a lottery. But then again, maybe not. The side who wins this way has slightly a) more luck; b) more skill; and c) a depth of manpower able to confront the elements, and the pressure of the moment. That set of gifts will always belong to the better team, on the night.

Never Say Never Again Tomorrow!

Never Say Never Again
7 Poets For Oxfam 2008

Tuesday May 20th, 7pmOxfam Books & Music91 Marylebone High StreetLondon, W1
Featuring Seven Poets:

Helen Dunmore
Nathan Hamilton
Cralan Kelder
Gwyneth Lewis
Kathryn Maris
Sudeep Sen
&
Lemn Sissay

The evening is expected to be popular, so please reserve your places in advance.Call Martin on 0207 487 3570Admission is free. Suggested donation £8.

The Next Poet Laureate?

For those aware of the "divide" in British poetry, between a mainstream and a less main one, nothing is as likely to provoke gnashing of teeth than the Poet Laureate position - and those opposed to the Monarchy and British-Empire trappings might also be known to wail, too. One of the less-attractive elements of the world today, is that the media feeds us little literary stories we don't need, all-too-often, as if to remind us that we still love poetry (though "we" don't: there is no mass consumer interest in serious poetry anymore by contemporary figures).

The latest travesty in this department issued from The Observeryesterday (which, in the 60s really engaged seriously with poetry), who weighed in on the imminent retirement, after a good decade, of Andrew Motion as Blair's laureate. One wants to sigh, the "nice decade is over". Of course, Blair torpedoed Carol Ann-Duffy's boat last time, we are told in this creepy article, because of her …

Guest Review: Turner on Stanford's Day-Lewis

Simon Turner reviews
Cecil Day-Lewis: A Life
by Peter Stanford

There are too few reviewers out there willing to admit to their own shortcomings, the gaps in their literary knowledge. I want to buck that particular trend by admitting to an almost total ignorance of Cecil Day-Lewis – both of his life and of his work – before embarking upon Peter Stanford’s new biography of the poet. I was aware that he had been Poet Laureate, though I could not have confidently placed him within a chronology, but beyond that, I knew little aside from the fact of his siring a certain celebrated actor and part-time cobbler.

Why should Day-Lewis have fallen so comprehensively off the literary radar, when the other poets of the ‘MacSpaunday’ gestalt – Auden, MacNeice, Spender – remain fixtures in the 20th century literary firmament? Ian Hamilton, in Against Oblivion, suggests that Day-Lewis’ day in the sun was chiefly a matter of moving among the right literary circles, and whilst this is true to a certain exte…

Hart Crane in Britain: A Bridge Too Far?

Maurice Riordan has edited a Selected Poemsof Hart Crane (pictured) for the British market, with a lovely, passionate Introduction that, unlike so much of the cold-handed, stiff-lipped sort of writing and mini-enthusiasm that gets doled out sparingly in the UK, for poets like Crane, is, actually, wonderfully enthusiastic, and humane. Riordan observes that Crane was in London, once, for a Christmas dinner with Graves and Riding at their houseboat, which is a treat to imagine - and that event in 1929 was "the high watermark" of his reception in British literary circles. In short, Crane has never been fully integrated into the British poetic sensibility. As Riordan points out, Leavis found him turgidly "rhetorical", and Douglas Dunn greeted his Complete Poems, as late as 1984, with a mighty harrumph ("his wilful wordage"). Instead, Riordan (editor of Poetry London), celebrates "Crane's extravagant poetry".

Extravagant is the right word: it impli…

Poem by Paul Hoover

Paul Hoover (pictured above) is, to my way thinking, something of a hero. If that sounds a little naive or brash, then so be it. Ever since the age of 14, I have loved the idea of poet-anthologist-editor-critics like Ezra Pound who go out there, size a scene or a time or a movement up, and then help nudge it along, all the while creating their own writing, too.Paul Hoover is that sort of writer (without the radio treason, to be sure) - he has been engaged with poetry in a variety of necessary ways over the last several decades: as poet (author of collections such as Totem and Shadow: New and Selected Poems and Winter (Mirror) ); as editor (of The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry; and New American Writing, with Maxine Chernoff); as teacher (developing the Poetry Program at Columbia College); as critic (Fables of Representation) - this without even mentioning his prose (Saigon, Illinois) or film work (Viridian).Hoover's writing and connected work is part of what it means to be …

Guest Review: Lynch on Warbey

Valerie Lynch
reviews Ratified
by Virginia Warbey(1968 – 2004)

Virginia Warbey was born near Rainham in Essex, 40 years ago. She was already writing poetry and prose before she read English at Liverpool University, or took her MA in Creative Writing at Chichester. Two novels (The Ropemaker's Daughter and The Carradine Diary) were published by Diva; her first poetry collection, A Legacy of Echoes, was published when she was 22. She was killed in a car crash at the age of 36 at a time when she was working on a new novel and planning a seond poetry collection.

She was a member of the Chandler's Ford Writers' Group, who helped to ensure the publication of Ratified, her second and posthumous collection. It is a sad and powerful witness to a poet in the process of change and development.

From the beginning, there is a sure grasp of rhythm, and of the power of the line-break. Her work is always characterised by a strong sensuality and sudden breaks of humour; also by delight in the un…

Swift, Todd Swift

I wanted to highlight, for my readers, a section from some comments published by one of the regular readers of Eyewear, Sean Bonney, a UK poet, who writes:

"I do always read your blog, and have at times wondered if you are some kind of satirical fictional character. pompous, essentially dim, but in your imagination the James Bond of a poetry world that is simply too ungracious to recognise your genius. like most stupid people, you imagine that you are highly intelligent, because you cannot conceive of an awareness and perception that goes further than your own limitations.

Christian Bok, by the way, is an imbecile. he's almost as bad as you ..."

I'd leave this as "no comment required" - but these comments show the level of malevolence that is generated from the conflictual system at play in British poetry. Particularly striking is the dismissal of one of the very best experimental poets in North America today, Christian Bok. Eyewear, isn't, of course, Jame…

The Postmodern Condition in Contemporary Poetry

[Note: I have edited this post, after a breakfast-time meeting with Charles Bernstein, today, and have therefore updated the date of the post. He and I discussed the fascinating work that Redell Olsen is doing, as in her work researching women poets. We also discussed the various ways in which American popular culture can be usefully reworked and considered, within an innovative practice. He also reminded me of the more severe strain of poetics that leans to Adorno, with Adorno's dislike of Jazz. We also discussed how comedy has long been "broken" into innovative North American poetic practice, as shown by works by Christian Bok, or, for instance, Deer Head Nation.]

According to Redell Olsen, in her thought-provoking, engaged chapter "Postmodern poetry in Britain" (from The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century English Poetry), there has been, and remains, an "important and decisive split in post-war poetry in Britain".

This split, I believe, still f…

The Wolf Bites Back

The poet and journalist Jonathan Morrison has weighed in at his blog on the rise of a new wave of little magazines published by younger poet-critics in the UK, not least of them being the original, feisty Wolf, whose latest issue, #17, seems to be the best yet (especially because now it is perfect-bound, and ever larger). There are good articles on the new Ted HughesLetters, and Mina Loy, as well as poems by Andrea Brady and others of note; and a fascinating interview with the poetry editors of Carcanet, BOA, Bloodaxe, etc. The Wolf's advisory panel is impressive, too: Carolyn Forche, John Kinsella and Robert Minhinnick know what they're doing, and also have an important eco-eye on things.

Rauschenberg Has Died

Sad news. The major American artist Robert Rauschenberghas died.

Booker of Bookers?: Boring

As recent Eyewear posts have discussed, many British poets are (rightly I think) concerned, lest poetry become commodified, incorporated into a part of the capitalist literary industry. Sadly - or perhaps happily for those less-Marxist - novelists have fewer limits to their access to the culture of commodification. Indeed, prose writers are routinely coopted into an increasingly slick assembly-line approach to narrative-based writing: novel, radio play, audiobook, then audiovisual adaptation for TV or film - the "book" being simply the first in a potentially (and legally) infinite series of incorporations across all foreseeable media platforms. Meanwhile, back on Planet (Man) Booker, no one seems to have stopped the tedious juggernaut of endless back-slapping and PR machinations.

Yet another prize has been concocted, out of the list of 41 Booker-winners, so far. The first was in 1969, so this isn't even the 40th anniversary (that's next year) - or is it? At any rate, …

Further, Regarding The Postmodern Poetry Post

Sean Bonney, in comments on the Eyewear post about the ambiguous status of "postmodern" poetry and poetics in Britain, suggests the "divide" between poets cannot be bridged by rainbow coalition, as it were, because genuine, even radical, politics divides those who work in "the mainstream" and those who work in the "late modernist" traditions. This reply, which was rather knee-jerk, instantly glossed over precisely the key point of my post, that, at least in America, a 21st century poetics is being developed which is less divisive, and, indeed, interested in various forms and styles of poetic process, and utterance. Bonney does little but reiterate entrenched, and, frankly, late-20th century grievances - grievances that are, indeed, grounded in historical debates over poetry in the UK.

However, he remains, to my mind, unconvincing - because he has yet to establish how and why he finds a link between Modernist and experimental poetic forms, and the…

Cha #3

Good news. Cha, the Asian Literary Journal with the truly global reach, has just launched its third, online, issue, here. They're also reading for the fourth issue.

Staying Ahead: Bloodaxe and Poetry DVDs

As the Guardian observes, today, in its review (by British poet Frances Leviston), Bloodaxe has released (yet another) anthology, this time to mark its 30th anniversary, combining word with sight and sound: rather than including a CD with the book it's offering a DVD of poets, to complement the text (as Rattapallax was among the first to do, in 2002, with its anthology, which I co-edited, Short Fuse; now it does DVD/magazines).

Despite what Graves and Riding might have said, in their famous critique, anthologies helpfully situate poets, communities, and moments, especially for readers who cannot keep pace with the baffling shifts and turns of the poetry world in all its momentum.

The review also (I was glad to note) mentions the Oxfam Life Lines CDs. Oxfam did a limited poetry DVD for the first Life Lines CD, in 2006, but it only featured 12 or so poets; it was made available on YouTube, too. There is nothing all that "new" about the Bloodaxe book/DVD initiative. Rather, i…

Poem by Andrew Shields

Eyewear is pleased to welcome Andrew Shields(pictured) this Friday. Shields was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1964, and thereafter raised in Michigan, Ohio, California, and England. He attended Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania (where he finished his PhD in Comparative Literature in 1995).

He has published poems in print and online journals in North America and Great Britain, and in the chapbook Cabinet d'Amateur (Cologne: Darling Publications, 2005). His many translations from the German include books by Michael Krüger, Dieter M. Gräf, Ilma Rakusa, and Joachim Sartorius, as well as the correspondence of Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt. In addition, he received an NEA grant in 2004 to translate the poetry of Jacques Réda from the French.

Shields lives with his wife and three children in Basel, Switzerland, where he teaches English at the English Seminar of the University of Basel. He is also a songwriter who plays guitar and mandolin, and is currently in a tr…

Guest Review: Brinton On Celan

Ian Brinton reviews
Breathturn
by Paul Celan
translated by Pierre Joris

In his autobiographical work, Errata, An Examined Life, George Steiner talks about language and music:

Trapped within its measureless limitations, inside the fruitful immensity of its final failures—‘Word, word that I lack,’ cries out Schoenberg’s Moses in the face of the unspeakable—language posits negatively but overpoweringly the pressure, the ‘thereness’ of what lies beyond it. As mystics insist, as daily experience so often confirms, the falling short of language makes absence substantive.

Pierre Joris’s translation of Paul Celan’s late work, Breathturn (Atamwende) is probably the most attractively produced and welcoming introduction available to this complex poet of post-war Germany. Steiner referred to Celan’s late work as an attempt at reinventing a language which lies ‘north of the future’, taking his image from an early poem in Breathturn:

IN THE RIVERS north of the future
I cast the net, which you
hesitantly wei…