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 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.


Friday, 31 October 2008

Poem by Adham Smart

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Adham Smart (pictured unseasonably with snowman) this Halloween Friday (the poem does have a pumpkin in it, so some seasonal tie-in occurs). Smart is, according to his own bio note, "an Anglo-Egyptian boy in his first year of Sixthform" who lives in Southeast London. He first became known as a young poet of much promise after winning the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2006.

Smart has been published in a handful of places, including a poem in The Rialto, short stories for The Cadaverine and a digital chapbook on the Mimesis website, and was recently selected for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2008. He also helps to run the online youth poetry magazine Pomegranate. Get Smart, as it were - he's one to watch.


Pumpkin Heart Boy

A lovester after his own fashion, he took her
hand and held it in his. Oh, was he a wonder-
kid, his hair in tufts and sweeping waves
like dolphins surfacing in a line. Golden-eyed,
he licked her lips with hand on thigh,
and stroked that pillar of bone and skin,
told her that she was more than meat to him.
His pumpkin heart, more than a muscle,
drummed and drummed and drummed and
drummed the boy and girl into the heat
of being loved and not being meat.
A sweetened lifting of his senses
drove to dreams of burning clouds. It was
the longest time they’d felt the breath
of this pumpkin-life, that never-death.


poem by Adham Smart

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Theatre on the Air

70 years ago today, America's greatest 20th century media-genius, Orson Welles, boy prankster, terrified parts of New Jersey, and beyond, with The Mercury Theatre on the Air's infamous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Last night, a very different genius of American reinvention, and media expression, Barack Obama, presented the glossiest, and most expensive, political broadcast in American history.

Much has changed in 70 years, in terms of credulity among the masses - and much remains the same. One thing does seem strikingly similar: America's dependence on the media, for information, and entertainment.

The dangers in the time of Orson are the same as in the time of Obama - when the twain meet too closely (as in some slurs that repeat and multiply over the blogosphere). For the world now, Eyewear hopes Mr. Obama can win next week; but fears, as much as any Martian invasion, the menace of Alaska's own monster, so close to the lip of power.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

BBC Heaven

The BBC has finally acted decisively. This is a major cultural moment for England - a turn to seriousness. For years, comedy, and comedians, have ruled the celebrity roost in the UK, often converting everything they touched to dross - even making British poetry safe for lightweight laddishness. Before the credit crunch, such a culling of major BBC talent would have been unthinkable - but it seems the times demand rigorous accounting - for economic, as well as moral, failings. Ironically, the attack was on a great comedian (and his family). Brand will bounce back, and likely in film, but Ross might be severely damaged. He's been a family-friendly brand for years, and has now crossed into the blue.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Brand Names

Two of Britain's highest-paid BBC bad boys are now facing unprecedented political pressure (as is the BBC) today, after Gordon Brown waded in. What makes the occasion more bizarre is that a comedian from Fawlty Towers, and his erotic-dancer granddaughter are also involved. Not just a tempest in a teapot, then, but more a cabaret in a cuppa. But mostly, bad words from the BBC at a time when funding needs to be cut, somewhere. Silly, rude, and, finally, unprofessional.

Killer Kowalski Has Died

Sad news. Arguably Canada's greatest wrestler (other than Mad Dog Vachon) has died, The Guardian reports in this moving obituary.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Governor General's Award Nominations for Poetry

The GG's are still Canada's biggest literary awards. Announced on October 21, these are the poetry finalists for this year: Weyman Chan's Noise from the Laundry; A.F. Moritz's The Sentinel; Sachiko Murakami's The Invisibility Exhibit; Jacob Scheier's More to Keep Us Warm and Ruth Roach Pierson's Aide-Memoire. Eyewear ran a review of the Moritz earlier this year. It's a very good book, and likely the favourite. One comment - knowing, as I do, how rich and roiling the CanPoetry scene is currently, I am a little surprised at not seeing more of the younger poets now rising in the ranks, including Boyd, or Mooney.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Poem by Morgan Harlow

Eyewear is very glad to welcome the American poet Morgan Harlow this Friday.

Harlow was raised in Madison, Wisconsin and studied English literature, journalism and film at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She completed the MFA at George Mason University in 1999.

A Pushcart nominee, Harlow's poems and fiction can be found in Washington Square Review, Descant, the Tusculum Review, Nthposition, and elsewhere. Her essay on Ray Bradbury's work has been reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism.

Harlow has worked as an editor in the medical and social sciences and taught as an adjunct. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and their sons.


A Partial Lexicon: "Fresh" and Related

Of all words contributed to English
by Felines, perhaps the one which
retains most its original flavor is the adjective
"fresh," demanding a squinching of the eyes
and nose for articulation in the Cattish.

The word's true usage occurs in two instances,
"fresh water," and "fresh kill;" the nouns,
of Old English and Old High German, arguably
reach a higher level of meaning with augmentation
from the Cattish than could ever have been
accomplished without. Similar expressions exist
in the Old Norse, Slavic and Portuguese, however,
these have origin in the Ermine and so are not to be
discussed here.

Other words derived from Cattish are "lime-twig,"
most recently a verb [to ensnare small birds, as in
(loosely translated) 'a lime-twigging we will go'] and
"rrrowl," not occurring in most dictionaries, being
too animal and the triple r beginning not formally
recognized in English. However, rrrowl has been
used optimally by Roy Orbison in "Pretty Woman,"
and by Bob Hope in his acting with fair accuracy.

"Meow," a word commonly thought to be of Cattish
origins, is actually of the Meerkat. It is all too easy
to confuse the two as both languages allow
impulsive, even reckless grammar and have no
alphabet or conjugating schemes that we know of.

poem by Morgan Harlow

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Kendall Polemical

In 2006 my father died, and so I missed the publication at the time of the Oxford University Press title of that year, Modern English War Poetry, by Tim Kendall. The final chapter, 12, is "The Few To Profit: Poets Against War" - and, rather flatteringly, I suppose, I'm the Bond Villain (or Aunt Sally) of the piece. Kendall poses the figure of Hecht, the American poet, who writes of "Strephon", the poet who was"one of the few to profit from the war" and then, basically, suggests editors and poets such as myself (and I am prominently featured in the chapter) might have profited, in some way, from the attention we received at the time. Kendall argues that the "bulk of contemporary anti-war poetry seem[s] sentimental and morally dubious."

He claims that I use "inflationary language" in thanking the many contributors to the Nthposition 100 Poets against the war anthologies I edited with Val Stevenson (who is nowhere, alas, credited here) when I say that their free donation is "brave and good of them". Kendall says "Swift cheapens the bravery of those who have more at stake than their poetic reputations" - assuming that none of the poets who contributed risked anything by doing so. This is repugnant, and ignorant.

Kendall claims that a poet who contributes "fashionable views to a poetry anthology" is not risking anything. Kendall is a poor historian, for not noting that in fact, in February 2003, it was not altogether "fashionable" to oppose the war, especially for the American poets in the collection - indeed, most North Americans, and many British citizens, supported their governments (which were both re-elected, after all, post-war). Indeed, many of the contributors faced discrimination, and threats at home, and at work, and in the media, for their position - and some of the poets, such as those who were from the Middle East, risked perhaps more.

Kendall also seems to think that cheap fame was the main factor in driving submission to these anthologies - but it was in most cases, I think, genuine anti-war thought and feeling. Kendall goes on to do violence to the key Salt anthology I edited, when he fails to mention any of the professional poets who contributed (such as Mahmoud Darwish, Charles Bernstein, Marilyn Hacker, Sean O'Brien, John Hartley Williams, and Michael Donaghy) - instead, his entire essay only quotes the weaker, homely poems by amateurs that Val and I included, to represent the democratic sweep of the thousands of submissions sent to us at the time. Kendall nowhere credits the anthology with presenting alternative visions of anti-war poetry, in the more sophisticated, even avant-garde texts included, or those in translation from major international figures.

Kendall then rips out of context my reference to the Blitz, and the brave people of London, from the Introduction. He claims I mention their bravery to equate it with the decision to keep the title of the e-books - when if he actually reads my Introduction, he will see I am following on from my reference to Blitz poet-critic-anthologist Francis Scarfe's work, and question - where are the war poets? - and that I am saying this anthology is a response to Scarfe during the Blitz. This misreading is deeply unfriendly to my reputation - but also the truth.

Kendall's entire chapter casts a deep fug of suspicion over my motives in compiling this anthology, and contrasts the work I did, with Hecht's (to my mind dubious and coldly classical) aloofness. Surely, Kendall could have made more of the tradition in which I was working (Lowell's for instance). Kendall, discussing this timely anthology out of time, without full historical disclosure, fails to mention the year I took off from work to volunteer to edit that and other projects - or the countless hours Val and other anti-war poets around the world dedicated. Nor does he mention that Salt took no profit from the collection.

Instead, Kendall strongly implies, from the title of the chapter on down, that, instead of being conscientious objectors to an illegal war, we were quasi-profiteers, eagerly gumming some sort of poetic malevolent teat of war. I am genuinely puzzled as to his reading of the collection. I agree it has weak poetry in it.

But his chapter, following on the heels of David Wheatley's recent mocking article on the same book (that one edited by Kendall) suggests a rather hasty revisionism, aimed more at a weak target (Canadian abroad, with few powerful allies in the literary world over here) than motivated by savage indignation. Lazy, character-destroying work outs itself in the end. I wonder when critics or academics will begin to do a critical study of the anti-anti-war rhetoric of certain conservative Oxbridge-based poet-critics, such as Kendall - they might find something of note there.

Where No Man Has Gone Before, Again

The actor who played Sulu in the Star Trek films and TV series is currently having a spat with the actor who played Kirk, in same. Takei and Shatner, according to the great eccentric Canadian thespian on his blog, have been at odds for maybe 40 years or more. Shatner has been lashing out at his friends and foes lately, using the Internet, set to stun, as his weapon of choice. According to Entertainment Weekly, he even complained about not being given a part in 2009's much-anticipated new Star Trek film, starring the guy who plays Sylar on Heroes as the guy with the pointy ears (from Sylar to Spock being a small stretch for man). Meanwhile, the real Spock was given a walk-on.

Shatner has been weird science for a while - his poetry and song recordings are notoriously bad, and so is much else in his life. But he's also lived through personal tragedy, and being lampooned for years. His bread and butter has also been his body-hugging hairshirt. My father went to school with Shatner. No moral or clue there, just an odd fact.

What is it about Quebec that it creates (in fiction and reality) a curious sort of overdetermined AWOL son - at least among its anglophones? - one thinks of Saul Bellow, Conrad Black, Duddy Kravitz, Shatner, etc.- larger-than-life, take-no-prisoners types. Perhaps it's the wintery neglect francophone culture, then Toronto, then America, then the world, spoon out to Montrealers. Or some would say. Best to beam out, or light away at some top warp speed.

Poetry London Autumn 2008

Poetry London (no. 61) has been launched. It features poems from Les Murray, Andrew Motion, and Philip Gross. It also offers poems from a number of the "young British poets" I've included in the upcoming Manhattan Review special section, including Daljit Nagra, Ben Wilkinson, Jack Underwood, and Helen Mort.

My review of ten of the best of the year's poetry pamphlets is also included - these include work by David Wheatley, Elspeth Smith, and William Fuller. There are also reviews by, among others, Luke Kennard, and George Szirtes, well worth reading. Kennard's review is notable especially for its slightly hipster pizazz - I felt like I was reading an excerpt from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. We now know what Kennard's favourite poetry is like - he describes John Redmond's new collection from Carcanet, MUDe, as "the most exciting and inventive collection of poetry I've read in the past few years."

This begs the question - should poetry be exciting, and/or inventive? - but I think most readers think it should be. Kennard also notes the cake-and-eat-it attitude of many British poets with regards to Christianity, while writing of Stephen Romer's new book - and introduces a sort of rear-guard argument for poetic impersonality, by suggesting that "traditional poetry" assumes "the reader is interested, by default, in the poet's life" - making any of us who do write (sometimes) out of personal experience vaguely old-fashioned-feeling; whereas, Redmond "takes a form which is itself fragmented and interrupted to the point of psychosis" - fashioning something wonderful from it. Kennard here, I think, is following Reverdy in arguing for a poetry not of correspondences (as between word and world), but abstraction (as in Cubism).

Reading Modern Poetry and the Tradition, one realises that in 1939, poetic modernism could encompass emotion and intellect, so long as the play of wit was there - a play that valued, perhaps above all, metaphor. It also knew the voice was not monolinear (unlike, for instance, Arnold's) - indeed was often multiple. I agree with Kennard that poets should avoid writing directly from, or about, their personal experience, their lives, unless (and I think this is a significant unless) - a) their life actually is interesting or unique in some aspect (one thinks of Plath's relationship to madness, or Yeats' relationship to Irish political struggle); b) the poet has something interesting or unique to say about their experience (however mundane - one thinks of WCW's plums); or c) there is sufficient irony and/or ambiguity in the treatment of the life experience to remove the poem from the realm of transparent diary entry, or mere sentimental utterance. It is this last point which needs to be underlined here, because it may be that Romer does not assume the reader is interested in "the poet's life" but rather, the treatment of the life. Romer, of course, knows his French poets and poetry, as well as any of us.

Redmond's own brilliantly ingenious transposition of "experience" into different hyper-realms of game-playing is but an extreme, and successful, example, of complex irony retreating experience, via poetic figures - and, finally, language. So, poets need not discard their lives, merely write them out ever-more imaginatively (or ironically). The problem, for some poetry (for any poetry) is that it does assume that whatever is written is immediately fascinating. Kennard reminds us to all up our games here, and keep lively.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Helium 3

Ever notice how some things just suddenly become part of the zeitgeist? Like Palin, of late, Helium 3 has been making the news - expect more in future. India has just started its own space race to the moon. It turns out the rare isotope Helium 3 (scientists, correct me if I am wrong) is less rare on the moon than here on terra firm, and can be used in sec-gen fusion reactions to generate extraordinary amounts of energy. Moon-mining may soon leap back into our lives, and off the ragged pages of Asimov's mouldering paperbacks.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Poem by Christopher Nield

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Christopher Nield (pictured) this Friday.

Nield lives in London, working as a copywriter specialising in charity marketing. He has worked with a range of organisations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, Friends of the Earth, The Camphill Family and Cancer Research UK.

His poetry features in New Poetries IV (Carcanet, 2007), a wide-ranging collection that anyone interested in good emergent poetry from the UK (and beyond) should seek out.

His poems also appear in magazines such as Magma, The London Magazine, PN Review, The Rialto, Nthposition, and Stand. In 2006 he was one of the winners of the Keats-Shelley prize. Nield will be appearing as a reader at the launch of the latest issue of Ambit, 7pm this coming 23 October, at The Owl Bookshop, 209 Kentish Town Road, London NW5.


Prayer Wheel

A circle forms a lotus in the brain,
Omniscient and happy as the sun.
We turn the wheel and watch the world remain

An exiled god, whose broken words explain
Beyond the revolutionary gun,
A circle forms a lotus in the brain

To doubt that titan’s rational disdain
And liberate the many from the one.
We turn the wheel and watch the world remain

A monkey full of wanderlust and pain.
May love describe a heart where there is none.
A circle forms a lotus in the brain,

A hunger to be lit in every vein –
To sit and face the ghost we cannot shun.
We turn the wheel and watch the world remain

A devil’s meditation and refrain:
The mind goes out the moment breath is done.
A circle forms a lotus in the brain;
We turn the wheel and watch the world remain.

poem by Christopher Nield; it originally appeared in The London Magazine; reprinted with permission of the author

Review: Oasis' Dig Out Your Soul

Oasis, meanwhile, have returned with their 7th studio album, entitled Dig Out Your Soul. Oasis have an unparalleled postmodern career: their entire output is a pastiche of Beatles-era rock, and every song and album of theirs has been weaker than the one before - as such, they enact, titanically, a myth of nostalgic regression - their final act will no doubt be to play, in utero, a McCartney-Lennon song. That being said, this myth of eternal failure (married to a myth of near-heroic invulnerability) renders Oasis criticism-proof. Like the flip side of an Oxbridge toff like London mayor Boris Johnson, whose buffoon-status cannot be ruffled because it already is, Oasis employ their proud working-class work ethos to justify their stolid, journeyman approach to touring and record production. Sod's Law seems to be their invisible hand. Anyway, this new album is not as "bad" as many critics claim. It is certainly a crowd-pleaser (and how else does one measure popular music than by its popularity?). There is not a shred of new thinking here. Thinking doesn't even enter in. But the Oasis swagger, that ineffable ability to be cool, is present. And, there are few outright clunkers. Yes, there are more sitars than any man or woman needs, and more Revolver-era stuff than - well, ditto. It's an Oasis album, dude. Get over it. Three and half specs.

Review: Keane's Perfect Symmetry

Keane have always been the wettest of UK bands - it is faintly embarrasing to like them. I, personally, never have. Even Eyewear, open to New Romantic yearning, finds their style over-overblown.

However, their latest album, Perfect Symmetry, arrives as a curio of pop culture worth noting. The album, from booklet design, to production manner, to song composition, is a back-to-the-80s primer (they admit as much in a recent Entertainment Weekly Q&A where they reference Thriller and the Top Gun soundtrack as touchstones of their youth) , as most critics have noted - a melange of Bowie's Let's Dance period, Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, and perhaps most obviously, Vienna-era Ultravox. There's also a bit of Red Rider here, that great unsung 80s band, famous for the song "Lunatic Fringe" if for anything.

As such, it's not unlike Partie Traumatic by that already-forgotten band of the moment. Why all this 80s stuff? I am not sure demand for the period is so high, though obviously, those of a certain age will sigh for it, and those too young to remember it first time around may think it genuinely novel.

Whatever the motives, several of the tracks are delightfully catchy, hyper-flamboyant, pop songs, especially "Spiralling" and "Better Than This". At the end of the day, though, one has to endure a certain earnest tone that might grate on all but the most New Wave-starved ears. Four Specs.

Obama As Superman

Canadians have always been proud of the creator of Superman, one of their own. It is therefore Eyewear's pleasure to report that Barack Obama is actually Superman. Meanwhile, to confuse things somewhat, Joe The Plumber is not named Joe, nor is he a plumber.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Brownian Motion

Prime Minister Brown's rescue plan for the banks, and wider economy, was hailed, as recently as a few days ago, by media pundits and Nobel prize winners alike; at the start of this week, shares seemed to rise, and hope gave way to genuine optimism. Unfortunately, three days later, all is not so well. Not only does it seem that Brown's expensive plan was a finger holding back a sea of trouble, but that financial institutions no longer have the confidence to even be bailed out. If last night's dramatic stock plummets continue today, we'll be back to roughly where we were last week, end of this one - down 20%, or more. Meanwhile, as the world economy grinds to a halt, the world faces a severe downturn. This is worrisome news. No one is out of the woods, Bretton or otherwise, yet.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Conservatives In Moderation

Canada is hardly drunk on the Conservatives - but has still elected another minority government of them. This is a shame, Eyewear thinks, because, given the way they have cut funding to the arts, and managed the economy and environment, they seem rather less impressive than the alternatives. Perhaps it is is time for the Liberals to find a leader persuasive enough to win back the country? Meanwhile, under new laws, it is likely the natural life of this parliament will be four years. If Obama wins down South, they may make strange bedfellows.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Review of The Verve's Forth: Revaluation

I have edited this post, since I first wrote it, because, on a 100th listen, The Verve's Forth has become one of the comforting and lyrically subtle albums of the year for me, despite my earlier qualms. It's good to see this on-again-off-again band from the 90s (which I think of as one of Britain's best of that period) welcomed back so warmly.

After The Verve broke up, again, gangly prophetic lead singer Richard Ashcroft took his dreamy voice and visionary lyrics on a self-interested joy ride over a few albums of pleasant, rambling boredom. It was hoped a rejoining of the group, including hugely talented guitarist Nick McCabe, would force Mr. Ashcroft to be less verbose, less aimless, and more, well, brilliant. I loved A Storm in Heaven - one of the great albums of the last 15 years. A Northern Soul (with stirring anthem "History") upped the ante.

Then came the smash success of Urban Hymns - an album that seemed to marry poetry, personal lament, and "Galveston"-style country pop, with druggy indie rock. Well, Forth is like its brothers, but not quite as handsome. It stretches its legs, wanders about, gets lost in a haze, and makes ponderous statements about life and love - mostly at mid-tempo, even sampling the start of "Live To Tell".

All the verbal tropes and tics are in place (even the warbling through a distorted mic that sounds like a tannoy system run amok). This is sleepy stuff, nodding off before bedtime. It is a sleeper, truly, and actually very good. Four Specs.

Friday, 10 October 2008

After the end of Vertigo

This is Eyewear's 1, 111th post. It therefore seemed appropriate to discuss what Eyewear believes to be the best Anglo-American feature film of the last 50 years - Vertigo (1958) - which, in fact, is also exactly 50-years-old. Citizen Kane would have to be considered the best pre-1958 film of its kind. Kane and Vertigo have much in common - they both feature scores by Bernard Hermann, and both present stories of thwarted love, and deeply tragic lives. However, their differences are acute - Kane is American, various, lively, and overtly stylish, and in black and white - Vertigo, though stylish as well, is in profound colour, is actually very European, in tone and depths of Freudian and Nietzschean influences.

Roughly, the dualities at the core of Vertigo, between the real world and the apparent world, correspond with the worlds of repressed and conscious desire; and life is aestheticised, in order to try to cope with tragedy - though in the process, Scottie loses both Madeleine and Judy. This liebtod theme is deeply Germanic, and reminds us that the early Nietzsche believed the world is one of terrible lack. To possess, but not possess fully, or truly, is terrible, to paraphrase Yeats. Scottie's double and utter loss, at the end of the film, is so deeply abject because his fetishistic attempts to totally dominate the image of his desire is also the utter destruction of the actual object of his desire. In a horrifying irony, his will to power ruins his attempt to make existence bearable - he over-stylizes his fantasy, and renders his world null and void of any meaningful possible future.

What then, to paraphrase Arthur C. Danto, whose book on art features an image of Madeleine, is "after the end of Vertigo"? What can be thought from that point on, that point of utter loss of hope and love? What is after negation? What sort of existence, creative, sexual, even spiritual, can Scottie - can the viewer - hope for?

As Danto, I think, observes, the end of a thing is not its death - it may even come back, later, proliferating in new varieties, post-historically (not least in pastiche, in other art works, and other genres, as in U2's banal pop song, or in other titles, such as American Vertigo, which borrows the force of the original by simply alluding to it). But has any film, since Vertigo, so profoundly enmeshed high, even Wagnerian art and emotionality, with the low arts that cinema allows (scopophilic satisfaction chief among them)? I can think of only one film that attempts to supersede Vertigo, in terms of its blend of eros, thanatos, and music, and it is non-Western - In The Mood For Love.

Slow Motion Crash

It seems to be official. If a stock market crash is a 20% fall over a few days, then that's what this is. Meanwhile, pundits now compare the US election campaign to that of the Depression-era, between Hoover and Roosevelt. An air of unreality still hangs over these unfolding times, though.

Poem by Sebastian Barker

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Sebastian Barker (pictured) to these pages today.

Barker was elected Chairman of the Poetry Society 1988-1992, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature 1997, and editor of The London Magazine 2002-2008. In that last capacity, he was a bravely outspoken critic of certain Arts Council funding policies.

Barker's poetry publications include The Erotics of God (Smokestack, 2005), The Matter of Europe (Menard, 2005), Damnatio Memoriae: Erased from Memory (Enitharmon, 2004), The Hand in the Well (Enitharmon, 1996), Guarding the Border: Selected Poems (Enitharmon, 1992), and The Dream of Intelligence (Littlewood Arc, 1992).

Barker, whose father was one of the major poets of the 30s-40s period, continues a tradition of visionary, richly-eloquent, highly-poetic utterance - unafraid to sound like, or be, a poet - and, as such, the religious, philosophical, as well as aesthetic, implications of his significant work meet, head on, the more debased and secular (even laddish) concerns of much contemporary British poetry of the mainstream. He also reads his work strikingly and unforgettably. I was glad to have been able to record one of his poems for the Oxfam CD, Life Lines. I think he is one of the best, and most serious, of the poets now working in these isles.


The Critical Faculty of the Poet

Improving what was previously better,
None too sure of what it wants to put,
Collapsing truth by pulling out a letter,
And lameing music by cutting off a foot.
Inserting meaning where none ought to be,
Feeling sure that spelling, syntax, grammar
Are more employer than employee,
Nailing the crucifix with logic's hammer.
Harping, chiding, squabbling, snarling, stabbing,
Mauling what it cannot love or praise,
Distempering the pure, while none too quietly grabbing
Whatever suits its foul and foolish ways.
The critical faculty at length cleans out its gun.
Without its fierce resistance no war of love is won.

poem by Sebastian Barker; portrait of the poet by John Minihan.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Forward Prize Winners announced

As Eyewear predicted (more or less), Imlah, Simmonds, and Paterson won Forward prizes worth £10,000, £5,000 and £1,000, respectively, for best Collection, best First Collection, and best individual poem. Congratulations to the winners. Eyewear happily featured Simmonds (pictured) recently, and I also included her in the forthcoming Manhattan Review feature on The Young British Poets.

Le Clezio Wins Nobel For Literature

Le Clezio who? No clue. The English world - recently chastised for its insularity - may scratch its collective head over the latest winner of the Nobel Prize. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio is not, I would have thought, a household name in Britain, or America. That may be part of the point - though I lived in Paris for several years, and did not encounter his name there, either. Following him on Amazon, one can quickly see, despite a few translations, his work is mostly out of print, out of bounds, off-limit, for most Anglo-saxon readers. "J. M. G. le Clézio" resists being absorbed into the celebrity world of publishing, prizes, and parties, that typifies a kind of Americanized hegemony of the bookworld (or so it might seem to some jury members). However, despite the undoubted talents of this thrillingly obscure (to me) Francophone writer, I wonder how long Margaret Atwood will have to wait, to be recognised as one of the major post-colonial literary figures of the past 40 years?

Things Fall Apart, The Emperor Melts

What is it about Milo Ventimiglia, and poetry? Recently, the first episode of Heroes, season 3, ended with a rather forced sequence that included a portentous voice-over of Yeats' "The Second Coming". Meanwhile, his DVD-prone ultra-nihilistic surgeon-slasher minor motion picture vehicle, Pathology, was filled with beam-affixing allusions to Wallace Stevens' Ice-cream emperor. Industry coincidence, or attempt to infiltrate mass culture with modernist poetry? Are they paying royalties for these poems? Patients etherised upon a table indeed.

Poems For Children Launched On National Poetry Day


Anyone interested in hearing the best British-based children's poets performing their best children's poems might want to consider ordering a copy of this latest poetry CD from Oxfam GB, which I co-edited with Judith Nicholls, with the support and guidance of Michael Rosen, Children's Laureate for the UK.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Radical Poetry In The UK

Shirley Dent's recent post on radical British poetry is worth a look, and not just because I get a mention.

Pagdin On The Future of Poetry Publishing in Britain

Jenny Pagdin
The Future of Poetry Publishing in Britain

Few people in Britain read poetry and fewer still buy it. Poetry only accounts for 1% of the total number of books sold in the UK[1]. According to a 2000 Arts Council report, over 90% of contemporary poetry sales in the previous year were generated by one imprint, and 67% by one poet (Seamus Heaney). Yet the numbers of people who write poetry and hope to be published just grow and grow: Roddy Lumsden estimates that over a million British poets “harbour some hope of publication[2]” and Peter Finch describes the 1980s when, “for the first time in history it had become more popular to write poetry than to read it.”[3] Before then, according to Finch “The ambition to Get Published At All Costs had not set in. Now it has”[4]. This popularity of ambitious creative writing puts an extra pressure on the market for poetry.

For most poets, the ambition to Get Published At All Costs is an ambition to get published in printed form – preferably with their own collection. Finch explains it very well:
“for most of us publication means print – poetry set in type and reproduced on paper. Print implies merit, truth, it imparts status. If you’ve a poem printed, everyone can recognise your achievement”[5].

This is why the vanity presses survive, although publishing with them is many times more expensive than publishing on blogs or as pdfs. And poets want to be published in book form because it means the reader will pay to read the poetry, implying that it has value. There’s also the kudos associated with a good publisher’s name - what the Swedish professor Svedjedal calls the “publisher’s aura”[6]. As yet, none of the reputable British e-book publishers[7] can rival the best of the print publishers, and the most prestigious print publishers are not selling e-books. Interviewed recently for Wolf magazine, Michael Schmidt was keen but nervous about the idea of publishing Carcanet titles as pdfs: “I hope we will jump in the next year. It would be nice if a few of us could jump together.”[8]

I think that if or when the e-book arrives, poetry will be one of the last genres to become electronic. It’s not what poets want. And because the number of non-poets who buy contemporary poetry collections is so small[9], what poets want is the most important force in the poetry market.

That said, some poetry publishers are already offering short, free e-books as tasters. Tony Frazer of Shearsman says: “The Internet is very useful to me as an add-on.”[10] Poetry e-books are not profit-making products but marketing adjuncts, which can increase the sale of print books. Salt, which offers potential customers the chance to read sample poems as pdfs, announced in 2007 that its 31 March UK trade sales of poetry and short stories had increased by 200% during the previous 12 months[11] (partly due to Arts Council support). Fifty percent of their sales are now made in North America, via the Internet.[12].

I think that the future of little magazines will be online. E-zines cost very little to produce and attract far greater numbers of visitors than the numbers who subscribe to or buy printed poetry magazines. And the little magazines have seldom been run for commercial reasons. However, the change may take a while to happen. Despite Jacket’s success, there is still distrust among reviewers and traditional book publishers: as Schmidt says, “few editors of my acquaintance credit the web as a place to look for poems”[13].

Poetry’s future in terms of books sales may also be online. Online book sales already account for 10-12% of the general books market and in August 2006 Amazon was the only retailer to appear in the top 25 most popular websites[14]. Moreover, with the growth of print-on-demand, the immensity of Amazon’s catalogue, and what Chris Anderson calls the “long tail”[15] effect of online bookshops (where single books can be bought many years after they were printed and after shops stop selling them), the Internet may be able to offer the space for diverse poetry which the bookshops no longer can.

In terms of poetry collections, nothing will change until the people Neil Astley calls “poetry police”[16] – gatekeepers in the form of publishers or bloggers – establish themselves online. Poets have long been accustomed to receiving no payment or a nominal fee for publication in magazines, and fairly insignificant revenue for publication in book format, even by the best publishers. The recognition (by the editor) and exposure (to a readership) are sufficient reward for most. The Internet can offer strong exposure but it is, as yet, relatively weak in providing recognition or validation. Until gatekeepers are well-established online, I think the Internet can only be an important sideshow.

Bibliography

Books

Clark, Giles, Inside Book Publishing, London: Routledge, 2000.

Feather, John, A History of British Publishing, London: Croom Helm, 1988.

Finch, Peter, How to Publish Your Poetry, Great Britain: Allison & Busby, 1998.

Finch, Peter ‘Poetry – No Longer a Rare Commodity’, in B. Turner (ed.), The Writer’s
Handbook 2007
, Basingstoke & Oxford: Macmillan, 2006.

Gomez, Jeff, Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2008.

Schmidt, Michael, ‘Poetry Getting poetry published’, and Lumsden, Roddy, ‘Approaching
a Poetry Publisher’, in Alexander McCall-Smith (ed.), Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2008, (London: A&C Black Publishers Ltd, 2007).

Svedjedal, Johann, The Literary Web, Stockholm: Kungl.Biblioteket, 2000.

Zaid, Gabriel, So Many Books, London: Penguin, 2004.

Newspapers online

Alberge, Dalya, ‘Every novel on Man Booker Prize shortlist to be available free for online
readers’, The Times, 18 October 2007. Newspaper online. Available from
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2681255.ece . Accessed 16 March 2008.

Smith, David, ‘Poetry? It'll soon be about as popular as morris dancing’, The Observer,
29 January 2006. Newspaper online. Avilable from
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/jan/29/poetry.books . Accessed 25 April 2008.

Weblogs

if: book [webblog]. New York: Institute for the Future of the Book, 27 April.
http://www.futureofthebook.org/blog/ . (Accessed 29 April 2008).

Salt, ‘Sales of poetry and short stories are booming’, in News from the Salt Office, 6
August 2007 [weblog]. Available from Salt,
http://www.saltpublishing.com/blogs/index.php?itemid=66 . Accessed 29 April 2008.

Side, Jeffrey, ‘Rupert M. Loydell Interview’, The Argotist Online. Magazine online.
Available from http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Rupert%20Loydell.htm . Accessed 28 April 2008.

Silliman, Ron, Silliman’s Blog, [weblog], Ron Silliman, 25 April 2006,
http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/2006/04/yesterday-i-looked-at-simmons-b.html . Accessed 28 April 2008.

Magazines online

Allen, Tim, ‘Tony Frazer (Editor, Shearsman Books)’, The Argotist Online, Magazine
online. Available from http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Tony%20Frazer.htm . Accessed 28 April 2008.

Anderson, Chris, ‘The Long Tail’, Wired, October 2004. Magazine online. Available from
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html . Accessed 29 April 2008.

Argotist, ‘Adam Fieled’, The Argotist Online. Magazine online. Available from
http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Adam%20Fieled.htm. Accessed 28 April 2008.

Argotist, ‘Geoffrey Gatza (Editor, BlazeVOX)’, The Argotist Online, Magazine online.
Available from http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Geoffrey%20Gatza.htm . Accessed 28 April 2008.

Byrne, James, ‘Interview Poetry Editors’, Wolf Magazine Issue 17, April 2008. Magazine
online. Available from http://www.wolfmagazine.co.uk/17/17_interview.htm Accessed 3 May 2008.

Doctorow, Corie, ‘Giving it Away’, Forbes Magazine, 1 December 2006. Magazine
online. Available from
http://www.forbes.com/technology/2006/11/30/cory-doctorow-copyright-tech-media_cz_cd_books06_1201doctorow.html . Accessed 29 April 2008.

Glazier, Loss Pequeño, ‘Introduction to the EPC: A Brief’, Read Me, Issue #3, Summer
2000. Magazine online. Available from: http://home.jps.net/~nada/glazier.htm Accessed 29 April 2008.

Smart, Adham, ‘Life In Poetry Motion’, Pomegranate, 3 (2006). Magazine online.
Available from http://www.pomegranate.me.uk/interview301.html . Accessed 28 April 2008.

Teicher, Craig, ‘Poetry Off the Books’, Publishers Weekly, 10 April 2006, Magazine
online. Available from http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6323184.html . Accessed 29 April 2008

Reports published online

‘Rhyme and Reason: Developing Contemporary Poetry Executive summary’, Arts
Council Research Report No. 37, 2000,
http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/documents/publications/371.pdf (Accessed 25 April 2008).

Buntin, Simmons B., ‘Writing the Infosphere : Session 1. Online Poetry Survey, General
Writing Resources & Online Books & Chapbooks’,
http://www.terrain.org/survey/WritingTheInfosphere_SurveyResults.ppt . Accessed 28 April 2008.

Key Note, Book Retailing on the Internet - Strategic Overview - January 2007. Retrieved
9 April 2008, from Key Note market research reports database.

Websites

57 Productions. Available from www.57productions.com . Accessed 29 April 2008.

AhadadaBooks. Available from http://www.ahadadabooks.com . Accessed 29 April 2008

Astley, Neil, ‘The StAnza lecture, 2005’ . Available from
http://www.stanzapoetry.org/stanza06_archive/lecture.htm . Accessed 29 April 2008.

BlazeVOX. Available from www.blazevox.org . Accessed 29 April 2008.

Denuant Books. Available from http://www.deunantbooks.com/acatalog/Poetry.html .
Accessed 28 April 2008.

Forward Press Publishing. Available from forwardpress.co.uk. Accessed 17 April 2008

Hamilton-Emery, Chris, ‘Making Poetry Submissions’, in 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell:
The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published. Cambridge: Salt, 2006. Chapter online. Available from Salt. http://www.saltpublishing.com/info/submissions.htm . Accessed 16 April 2008.

Lulu.com. Available from www.lulu.com . Accessed 29 April 2008

My Poetry Shared. Available from www.mypoetryshared.co.uk Accessed 22 April 2008

Nthposition. Available from www.nthposition.com . Accessed 29 April 2008.

ProPrint Publishers. Available from proprintpublishers.co.uk . Accessed 17 April 2008

Shearsman. Available from www.shearsman.com . Accessed 29 April 2008.
[1] Smith, D., ‘Poetry? It'll soon be about as popular as morris dancing’, The Observer, 29 January 2006. Newspaper online. [Internet]. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/jan/29/poetry.books (Accessed 25 April 2008).
[2] Lumsden, ‘Approaching’, 327.
[3] Finch, P., How to Publish Your Poetry, (Great Britain: Allison & Busby, 1998), 2.
[4] Finch, How to, 2.
[5] Finch, How to, 12.
[6] Svedjedal, J.,The Literary Web (Stockholm: Kungl.Biblioteket, 2000), 141.
[7] For example Ahadada Books, BlazeVOX, Shearsman
[8] Byrne, J. ‘Interview Poetry Editors’, Wolf Magazine [Internet], Issue 17 (April 2008). Available at http://www.wolfmagazine.co.uk/17/17_interview.htm (Accessed 3 May 2008).
[9] Visel, ‘How people read’.
[10] Allen, T., ‘Tony Frazer (Editor, Shearsman Books)’, The Argotist Online [Interview]. http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Tony%20Frazer.htm . (Accessed 28 April 2008).
[11] Salt, ‘Sales of poetry and short stories are booming’, News from the Salt Office, 6 August 2007, [Internet], http://www.saltpublishing.com/blogs/index.php?itemid=66 (Accessed 29 April 2008).
[12] Hamilton-Emery, ‘Making Poetry Submissions’.
[13] Schmidt, ‘Poetry Getting’, 323.
[14] Key Note, Book Retailing.
[15] Anderson, C., ‘The Long Tail’, Wired, October 2004, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html (Accessed 29 April 2008), referenced in Key Note, Book Retailing.
[16] Astley, N. ‘The StAnza lecture, 2005’ . Available from
http://www.stanzapoetry.org/stanza06_archive/lecture.htm . (Accessed 29 April 2008).

Jenny Pagdin is an MA creative writing student at UEA (this article is based on an essay written for the course). Her poetry has appeared in Nthposition, Agenda and The Frogmore Papers. She lives and works in Norwich.

October Poetry At Nthposition

Longing for Limone & Limone
by Myra Schneider

Classroom, Edge, Highs in the low Seventies, Pipe smoke, The Director of Antiquities: a photograph, 1953 & Yorick sings
by Andrew Shields

A year in: clippings
by Ariel Gordon

"Yes, I do wish to go back there", "Our time is not yet" & "Is this how we enter the dream?"
by James Midgley

Skywalker country & Collodion
by Patrick Chapman

In an '08 Honda Civic, fast out of work and
by John Trigonis

Harbour
by Patrick Williamson

The ornamental room
by Iain Britton

Indian Joe
by Fergal McNally

Figs
by Rufo Quintavalle

Tracy's face
by Simon Turner

Monday, 6 October 2008

Black Monday

This is Eyewear's 1,101th post.

Today is the worst day since records began, in 1984, for the London FTSE 100. That is, in London's City, today's stock market "crashed" more severely than in 1987, or post-9/11. Meanwhile, Iceland may be going bankrupt, according to the BBC. What's ahead? Alistair Darling may cancel Christmas. How should poets react? Will there be a turn to "Thirties"-style poetry? More, or less, engaged, with the "world"? Separate from poetics, I'm concerned this is turning into a major global crisis that will not simply right itself in a year or so.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A Furnace of Paradox

What is poetry, and what is British poetry? Is that a political question or two? Sebastian Barker finds a metaphor in the furnace, in his essay on art and politics in UK poetry. Meanwhile, I am part of a debate on politics and poetry, to be held this coming Tuesday, in Brick Lane. Hope to see some (all!) of you there.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Guest Review: Narayanan on Roubaud

Vivek Narayanan reviews
Poetry, Etcetera: Cleaning House
by Jacques Roubaud
translated from the French by Guy Bennett

It can’t always have been very easy to be Jacques Roubaud, though, now growing gently into an elder statesman of poetry, he likes to make it look that way— in practically every one of his sentences, one is at first reminded of his mentor, the great Raymond Queneau, founder, with Francois Le Lionnais, of OuLiPo. All of Queneau’s signature effects return, in some part, in traces, in Roubaud, and yet, he stops short of being as thrilling, entertaining and wildly inventive as his master. Roubaud’s real talents lie elsewhere, and are decidedly quieter, more measured and, one could maybe argue, more mathematical[1].

As a poet and as a writer (or as a “composer of poetry and mathematics” as he describes himself, with careful emphasis and syntax) he seems to be more interested, perhaps unfashionably, in the fundamentals of grammar and ultimately in logic. At its best, his language can be nearly without texture, almost without lyricism except in rare and sparing touches. This is not really a poetry of emotion, even in understatement. If he complains, in Poetry Etc.’s early, more “political” pages, of poetry having a hard time because it can’t be translated, can’t cross borders and negotiate literary immigration and “customs obstacles” (pg. 24), one still can’t help thinking that Roubaud’s poems might be easier to translate than most, as he himself shows, in “Life”, a “sonnet” (pg. 30) consisting entirely of ones and zeroes and thus not needing translation at all.

Poetry Etc., the book under review, translated by Guy Bennett, is another sturdy little volume in the ever heroic and reliable Green Integer series. It is a collection (or perhaps more accurately, an arrangement or a chain) of Roubaud’s essays, with only a very occasional poem running from the prose as a kind of quick demonstration or diagram; yet, the whole bears much family resemblance—Wittgenstein does come up—to his poetry; though clearer and not as full of contradictions and sleights of hand, it might even be read as one of his long poems. At any rate, these texts are odd even as essays, written wholly between quotes as a kind of ongoing Socratic dialogue between two voices, painstakingly constructing interlinked theories and theorems as if they were little LEGO chalets, nerdily, or perhaps playfully, indulging in acronyms[2], methodically working up from first principles, or “pseudo-axioms”, as he calls them. Like any mathematical treatise, the book plods slowly and self-evidently along at times, makes the reader restless, and then suddenly lands somewhere unexpected or refreshing, perhaps by some quick, nimble, obscure or violent large leap or gesture, some willful and stubborn contradiction. Here, for instance, is my own summation of one set of his “pseudo-axioms”. Note that the below is not quite or not necessarily a direct quote, but a paragraph assembled from my notes to pages 67-81:

Poetry says nothing. Poetry says something. Poetry can’t say everything. I forgot what the poem said. What was it I forgot? What this poem says is not really what the poem is saying. Poetry says nothing. Poetry says. Poetry does not say “something” because poetry is not paraphrasable. Poetry says what it says by saying it. Poetry does not say “something” but sump’n. Sump’n is the inner shadow of poetry caught in poems. Poetry is only a public silence. Poetry keeps nothing silent. Poetry cannot exist outside of objects of language.

Or, as a second example, I give below Roubaud’s lovely rumination on poetry as memory. Note that the following are direct quotations from the text of pages 108-110:

[A] poetic event provokes a process of memory… In the memory of poetry words dissolve, deconcentrate, decenter, their syllables diverge. The memory of poetry is light thrown on memories. Memory of poetry: black light of memory: diaphanous of the darkness, in us […] Poetry is external memory and internal memory […] Poetry cannot be reduced to its public aspect, to the text in the book, to the performance of voice, of gestures… Poetry is also private […] Poetry is double […] There is… an enormous distance between the memory effects of poetry, of one memory within another. For all other linguistic activity… these effects… must be reduced to a minimum… considered… as neglible and parasitic, or secondary; in the case of poetry this reduction is impossible.

I had to acquire a taste for this book as I read it; the early pages seemed obvious or pedantic, boring even, but quickly it begins to hold, being valuable and insightful, not to mention hard to figure out if you weren’t paying close attention to the formulations of the early pages. Roubaud is reaching for his own, irreverent, total vision. Although one can’t be absolutely sure who he’s read or seen or heard—the French edition came out in 1995, and goes in for that more allusive, winking French academic style of reference more often than any direct citation— he appears to be nodding, sometimes smirking, and, in his own way, being seemingly rather au courant with just about everything that’s been slowly coming into being or trendy in current poetry, whether it be “information management”, quotation and found poetry of various sorts, the innovative revisiting of translation procedures, multimedia or the new turn to performance. Or at least, one could easily read this book that way. But importantly, as a man after my own heart, Roubaud is engaged by the new without being, for the most part[3], like some ideologues, obsessively “neophilic”, school-oriented, dogmatic, or insistent that the current moment deserves / requires only one kind of response and no other. For instance (note again that the paragraphs below have been distilled and reassembled from pages 137-180):

Let us note that recourse to a new screenic [sic.], interactive and multimedia art does not protect against poetic “old-fashionedness”. It could even disguise it.

If you don’t mark your metrics, more generally your prosody, it will mark itself for you. Meter is arbitrary, but not unmotivated.

There are never exhausted poetic forms, just exhausted versions of forms.


If the formal conditions of a poetry are soft and blurry, poetic individualities are slow to emerge. The Surrealists are all interchangeable, as soon as we peek beneath violent surface variability. Later, the feeling of déjà vu predominates. The sonnet is a different story: the first superficial feeling is that of resemblance. Next, we realize deep actual variability.

The avant-garde gesture is a gesture of destruction / liberation. But the liberating gesture conceals the poverty of the Tabula Rasa gesture. The avant garde gesture is condemned to repeat itself. It quickly becomes parrotry. Because tradition is not actually destroyed. You can’t put a poetic tradition before the firing squad.

Amnesia was never a good thing, even and especially when it affected revolutionaries. Now, forms that were supposedly destroyed survive, especially in the poetry memory of the avant-gardist himself.

Exclusive positions omit one essential fact: the poetry of the past is also a present poetry.

Given that OuLiPo’s legacy has been taken up precisely by many Anglo-American avant-gardists who are more or less exclusive or dismissive in their programmes and clique formation, all of this might seem a little startling at first. Yet, it is perfectly consistent with Roubaud’s lineage. We seem to often forget one very relevant detail: that OULIPO was itself the avant garde of avant gardes (the Surrealists in literature and the Bourbakians in mathematics) that were locked into hierarchical, exclusivist and programmatic behavioral patterns, seeking to “make obsolete” the continued practice and decadence of all that came “before” them, and that the OULIPO manifesto was, above all, a response to this posturing, a deep parody of manifestoes, programmes, canons, dogmas, and pronouncements, one that with its naughty, appropriative idea of “plagiarism by anticipation” (!) wanted to be, in its own way, “neither modern, nor postmodern, but what [Roubaud] would call a traditional literature according to traditions” (pg. 215, emphasis his).

To properly absorb and understand OuLiPo’s investigation of constraints, Roubaud seems to be telling us, we need to reach back to the mysterious, antediluvian origins of poetry as much as forward to its distant and hopefully plural future. In theory at least, rhymes, lipograms or N+7s should all be treated as equally valid, on the same plane, as contemporary and contemporaneous, even if, as Roubaud also notes, some formal designs like the sonnet have been, for various reasons, thus far, historically, more robust and enduring than anything OuLiPo has invented (pg. 223). At the same time, while Queneau and Le Lionnais believed “that only mathematics could offer a path… between passéist tenacity to antiquated modes… and the intellectually feeble belief in the virtues of ‘absolute freedom’” (pg. 216), they also acknowledged that literary value would arise not from the banishment of intuitive approaches to writing or the belief that strict constraints would allow literature to somehow automatically write itself.

In truth, the OuLiPians spanned the entire continuum between Le Lionnais’s theoretical emphasis on generative form and Jean Queval’s intuitive approach that came alive at the moments when it chose to violate its constraints, in the seemingly absurd but quite profound concept of the clinamen (an intentional violation of the constraint for “aesthetic” reasons).

Roubaud’s discussion on OuLiPo (with some digressive, mocking attacks on the Tel Quel group, while praising the unique work of Dennis Roche) leads finally to a return to the allusive, in final passages that defend of the domain of poetry and of difficulty against that of the novel (another of Roubaud’s arch enemies) even while attacking some of the postures of poetry. It’s a strange book that he has written, by embracing his contradictions in this way, hovering between severe agnosticism and secret belief—strange, more persuasive at some times than at others, but deeply instructive.

[1] It must be qualified, though, that what we in the writing world sometimes proudly refer to as the “mathematical” aspects of poetry are usually treated as so much Muzak by real mathematicians.
[2] Roubaud’s three great stage villains of the current age are PROFECO – the “PROFit ECOnomy”, that “closes up languages like mine shafts”, TODINTRAN – “Totally Digital for INstant TRANsmission”, the information highway where poetry is “a cyclist, at best”, and IGLOVI – the “Idea of the GLObal VIllage”, where PROFECO runs for sheriff.
[3] Except for one slightly puerile, somewhat random attack on Rita Dove, which is actually meant to be an attack on Helen Vendler.

Narayanan has lived in India, Southern Africa and the United States. His short stories have appeared in Agni, Best New American Voices (Harcourt), and New Indian Stories (Harper Collins India). His poems have appeared in Harvard Review, Fulcrum, Rattapallax and the anthologies Reasons For Belonging: Fourteen contemporary Indian poets (Penguin India), 60 Indian Poets (Penguin India), The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry, and Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W.W. Norton). His debut collection is Universal Beach.

A Reading Tonight

Saturday 4 October 2008, 7-9pm
The search for freedom: Personal, Social, Political
Venue: Church of St Luke, Homerton, London

JAMES BYRNE
NIALL McDEVITT
JOHN ROE

&
TODD SWIFT

Donations : £4/£2 welcome (plus £0.50 donation per glass of wine at the interval).

St Luke's Church is located at Woodbine Terrace, Homerton, London E9, near London Fields.

(Bus routes 253, 254, 106, picked up from Bethnal Green tube, alighting Hackney Town Hall, thence a short walk along Morning Lane to Woodbine Terrace).

Proceeds in aid of the church renewal and development fund.

Friday, 3 October 2008

So which is it?

I was at a party last week, and was informed by someone there that Americans don't do irony. This is a commonplace comment, here in London, that seems to erase out of the record the irony-interested New Critics, and the ironic Mr. Eliot - among others. Now, today, comes some sort of ironic last-straw. A critic in The Guardian, complaining because the Coen Brothers have no heart in their films, just plenty of irony (called cynicism, but here meaning the same thing - see Hardy's little ironies). So - which is it then? Are Americans masters of irony, or not? I think what's at stake here is tone. I have discovered that, time and again, North Americans and Europeans in dialogue have trouble hearing each other's use (and variance) of tone, in written and spoken utterances (such as poems) - which can cause misreadings.

Irony, like ambiguity, comes in a number of shapes and sizes (see Booth's A Rhetoric of Irony). Meanwhile, I'd say most British film and TV product has too much irony, and not enough heart - and also agree that the Coens often deploy style before sentiment. However, surely this is a matter of genre? They are satirists, and post-modernist satirists at that. It is hard to imagine a Coen film that could ever display authenticity (and what would such a film be like?) - unless it was the sort of stylised form of emotionality, such as Nabokov and latterly Banville employ sometimes - melodrama.

Poem by Katrina Naomi

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Katrina Naomi (pictured) this Friday. Naomi is originally from Margate and lives in south London.

This year she won the Templar Poetry Pamphlet Competition and the Ledbury Festival Text Poem Contest. Her pamphlet Lunch at the Elephant & Castle will be published by Templar Poetry in October 2008 and launched at the Derwent Poetry Festival. She will also be reading at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November.

She is working on a first collection for 2009.

B Movie

You have to be blonde
or jet black, either way, sister
there’s a lot of dyeing.

You have to forget what you see,
remember aliases,
but don’t get smart.

You’ll get used to the eyes
of the rest of the mob,
they’ll go no further.

You’ll smoke at all hours:
first thing in your silk camisole,
4 am in your fox fur.

You spend days alone,
turning his diamonds in your palm,
arranging imaginary flights to Rio.

You spend nights waiting,
ready by the phone,
pistol out of the bedside drawer.

You know there’s a wife, Italian,
that he’s got children
and you won’t have any of your own.

You know you’ll live
in a series of apartments,
each less elaborate than the last.

poem by Katrina Naomi

The time of earthquakes is at hand

Now - October 2008 - is the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first surrealist poem in English, written by David Gascoyne. On the October eve (more or less) of "National Poetry Day" next week it seemed a good time to mention this.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Hayden Carruth Has Died

Sad news. One of America's major poets, Hayden Carruth, has died. His own poems won prizes, and told truths, and his anthology, The Voice That Is Great Within Us, was a touchstone for generations of young poets discovering new ways in American poetry. He will be much missed.

Never Going To Give Him Up

One either finds capitalism and the production of pop music always bad, or sometimes shot through with moments of redemption - second time as a farce, to put it in Marxist terms. Farce meets the postmodern-sublime, then, in the news today that virtual 80s pop icon, Rick Astley, has been nominated for the award of Best Act Ever at the pending MTV Europe Awards. Eyewear was always partial to the pint-sized charmer with the impeccable grooming and hair, and the killer pipes. There would be something delicious in his winning. As other acts pummeled away at trying to become increasingly huge, Astley retired, to a modest new life, far from the manipulation of the media. His new fame relies entirely on a crowd of strangers, who invented an Internet phenomenon called rickrolling, boosting him into an unlikely hero for a new generation otherwise oblivious to his very existence. It is as if he was summoned from thin air. This genuinely artificial re-meteoric rise is truly unique, not least in its gentle sense of whimsy. What is more deserving of an award in a brutal industry than an invisible hand, and terrific vocals?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Eye of the Needle

In the midst of the banking crisis this week, in America, Britain, and beyond, a small, yet hugely moving personal story has emerged. A young, very succesful banker gave his life, trying to save a homeless man and his girlfriend from being terribly beaten, perhaps killed. This has biblical echoes, of the rich man and the eye of the needle, and the Good Samaritan. It is a reminder not to judge, ever, who a person is, just because of his job, or lack of one. This man risked - and lost - everything - when he didn't have to - because of human kindness that knew no boundaries. The world is poorer for his loss. If there is a heaven, that place is now richer with him in it.

Bernstein's Bailout

Charles Bernstein's recent intervention in the poetry markets makes sound poetic sense for uncertain poetic times.

Anyone wanting to further comprehend the current situation should then turn to the infamous 1941 essay on popular music, and replace "music" with "poetry", to see how Adorno's "official music culture" became Silliman's "official verse culture". Did popular poetry become standardized with pseudo-individualization?