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Showing posts from November, 2008

Jorn Utzon Has Died

Sad news. One of the 20th century's architectural geniuses has died - Jorn Utzon, the controversial force behind Australia's most famous building, the Sydney Opera House - arguably, in terms of its surprising shapes, a precursor to the Gehry style.

Poetry and religion

There is something dispiriting - literally - aboutNick Laird's latest column in this weekend's Guardian Review (the Review lists Tuesday's Oxfam event in London, by the way, and also features a best of the year book roundup, which might be of interest to readers of Eyewear) - in how he discusses his lost faith - and subsequent attempt to find it in poetry. Faith isn't just lost. Faith is like a radio that needs to be constantly tuned - sometimes, the faintest signals of possibility can be detected, at other times, it is all a fuzz.

When one entirely loses faith, one is in a sense saying something about the human soul: that there isn't one. Otherwise, if one still believed that, then not all would be lost. Nihilism and poetry reached an exquisite dead-end in the darkly fascinating morgues and flesh of Gottfried Benn. Laird, though, seeks to argue that poetry can replace, even supplant religion - not a new thought, surely. Keats thought this. Wallace Stevens exemplifi…

Guest Review: Benson on Evaristo

Dzifa Bensonreviews
Blonde Roots
by Bernardine Evaristo

When the television series adaptation of Alex Haley’sRoots came out in 1977, I watched it with the scalp shifting horrified fascination that I imagine many people, black and white, watched too. Since then, I have read and seen many other books, films and television documentaries about the iniquities of slavery. Some of it has been documented in grossly minute detail – the floggings, rapes, amputations, the Middle Passage, the savagery, the exploitation, the humiliation – they are all very well known these days. All have been disturbing to take in but nothing has been quite as shocking since that initial jolt Roots ministered. It was difficult to imagine how slavery’s sorry history could be rendered afresh in art.

In what is perhaps a homage to Haley’s Roots (surely the title can’t be a coincidence?) the ever inventive Bernardine Evaristo’s new book and first novel entirely in prose, Blonde Roots, does make you consider that dark peri…

Poem by Sampurna Chattarji

Eyewear is delighted to welcome Sampurna Chattarji (pictured) this Friday. Born in Dessie, Ethiopia in 1970, Chattarji is an award-winning poet, fiction writer and translator.

Her books include The Greatest Stories Ever Told (fiction) and Abol Tabol: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray (translation) both published by Penguin India. Her poetry has featured on Hong Kong Radio; in the international documentary Voices in Wartime; in First Proof: The Penguin Book of New Writing from India 2; Fulcrum Four: Fifty-six Indian Poets(1951-2005) and Imagining Ourselves, an anthology released by the International Museum of Women (IMOW) in San Francisco; as well as in Indian and international journals such as Wasafiri, nthposition, Slingshot, The Little Magazine and Chandrabhaga. Sampurna is an Executive Committee Member of the PEN All-India Centre, Mumbai, and on the Editorial Board of its journal, Penumbra.

Her first book of poems Sight May Strike You Blind has been published (January, 2007) by the S…

Mumbai

Terror knows no bounds, is an attempt at boundless contempt for society's limits. It appeals, therefore, to those who believe that limits are wrong, or currently are of the wrong shape - paradoxically, many who enact terror desire more, not less, limit. Yet they work in chaos who desire a new order. Mumbai, a great city of the world, is currently facing a new kind of freewheeling madness and cruelty that makes artistic depictions of the urban same, in films (like the recent Batman) jejeune and false. What is being expressed in these terrifying acts is that free agents of ruthless determination can move at will through serious cities, nearly unhindered - yet ultimately, hindered. That battles are still raging, more than 24 hours after the initial attacks, is alarming. Anarchy, it now appears, can appear anywhere, in even the midst of great civilisations, and establish small failed states. The 21st century is falling apart. Obama can only do so much, and most of the world seems to b…

Is comment free?

The Guardian has a slogan online: "comment is free". Too true. I've noticed, lately, that sometimes articles appear (in print) in The Guardian, and other papers, a few days after the same ideas, even phrases, and images, have circulated, freely, in (on?) the blogosphere - including, a few times, at Eyewear.

Most recently, today, columnist Mark Lawson has a piece on the poet laureate, referencing John Sergeant, Obama (not normally two subjects linked, I'd have thought) and other comments that strongly echo my post of a few days back on the same subject. Coincidence? Surely.

However, bloggers are doing a lot of the unpaid gruntwork these days, it seems to me, for the "professional" media commentariat, and, since we all know (from plagiarism cases on campus) that "Googling" can get results, fast, it is surely time that some credit is due, when whole arguments or themes are lifted, verbatim, from popular blogs.

Woolworths Not Worth Much

Sad news. Woolworths, the original "five and dime" store, and one of my earliest childhood memories (buying red licorice there) has gone bust. The UK is entering a new phase, then, of its economic crisis.

Golly G?

Brian Campbellhas an interesting post on some alledged weirdness over in Canada re its top poetry prize. Judges in cahoots with a winning poet? Nah, no way - and never in the UK!

Review: Chinese Democracy

Eyewear grows old. It wears its trousers rolled, and stuffs fingers in its ears when listening to Axl Rose.

Chinese Democracy is both eponymous and oxymoronic, and, bloated. This review commits a sin - that of refusing to listen to the whole before judging the parts. The parts are tediously overwrought, overlong, and overloud. Mr. Rose, who inspired Nirvana and much else that came in the 90s, in the wake of his revival of hardcore rock, has an exquisite wail, and a voice to reckon with. He is a rawk gawd.

That is enough to make this 14-song album an event, and a disaster - as in Titanic. No album should have a song called "Prostitute" and be in the hands of children. Or is that too moral? At any rate, AC/DC's recent foray into the black ops of heavy metal, Black Ice, was good dirty fun, and never took itself without a tongue in someone's cheek. This cheeky CD, though, is a Rose that stinks.

Guest Review: Horton on Bird

Christopher Hortonreviews
Hannah and the Monk
by Julia Bird

In Hannah and the Monk, Julia Bird’s first book, almost nothing is as it first appears. One example is "Clip", which if it begins with the bright optimism of any typical Hollywood road movie, ends with the kind of dark catastrophe more in keeping with a bleak David Lynch thriller. When a couple who had been ‘necking Americanly in the front seat of a Cadillac…a Buick’ are unceremoniously killed by ‘a swarm of stockfootage’ the tone quickly changes and it becomes apparent we have been cunningly misled.

Indeed, throughout the book, Bird exposes the limitations of narrative by consistently denying us the happy ending we may unconsciously desire. Her brief short film poems – of which there are five threaded throughout the book – similarly subvert the conventional storyline. In "Short Film", for example, a man who seems to be taking his first driving lesson is about to freewheel into his own mother or at least this …

Public Poet Wanted?

Odd news. The next British Poet Laureate will be selected in a bizarre mix of academic and public polling (which may yield cross-purpose results). This may not be the great Obama moment that seems intended - democracy and poetry don't always mix well, since the vast majority of people don't understand the value or purpose of poetry extends beyond voicing 19th century sentiment in rhyming couplets. Nor is new poetry merely rap, though Eyewear likes Lil Wayne. Should the winner be a dynamic, talented, personable and decent poet, like Simon Armitage, or a brilliant, important contemporary figure like Carol Ann Duffy, all will be well. Maybe Prynne could win. However, the selection process might just as easily yield a John Sergeant type, a favourite plucked from mediocrity to challenge artsy-fartsy (perceived) notions (though past laureates were often bland anyway). I feel the Ivory Tower is about to be shaken. What next, choose the Archbishop of Canterbury by phone-in?

10,000 Hours To Be A Poet?

I heard Malcolm Gladwell, the Canadian guru, on the BBC today, citing an idea from his new book on successful persons (though this idea has been kicking around for a while): namely, it takes 10,000 hours to master the skills of something, from football to math, to music - so, Mozart is not born, just given more time to practice. In poetry this explains hard-working Pound (or Yeats), but not quite young guns like Rimbaud, or Keats. Creative wrting, as a methodology, begins to make more sense when seen in such a context though - as the valuable space in which the mind can continue to do what it must for its art.

Poem by Aleah Sato

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Aleah Sato (pictured) to its Friday Feature.

Sato spent her twenties traveling across the United States, and, in 2002, moved to Toronto. Her writing explores secrets and society. Much of Sato's work seeks to expose the tyranny of dualistic thinking and its impact on our relationship with nature and each other. Her poems have appeared in numerous print and electronic publications, including Wicked Alice, Nthposition, Blue Fifth Review and Eclectica. She is the author of Badlands, No Peaceful Sleep, and Extinct.


Nine Years

I am happy here. It doesn't say so but I am sure
it was happiness. The sun shining on our white
skirts and sneakers. Two cats in tow. We always liked dogs
but the cats held secrets. I am smiling like I don't know
what is happening. Behind my head, there's a vague figure of a man
tinkering on a truck. It seems as if he's laughing. I could be wrong
but I am sure it was something like laughing.

The other girl was my sister. She …

Simmonds Goes From Strength to Strength!

Congrats to Kathryn Simmonds, UEA graduate and a rising star of British poetry - she's just been shortlisted for The Costa, for the "most enjoyable" poetry book of the year. Probably so, hers is a superb collection, which rightly won the Forward prize recently, but who shortlists for this? Surely Katy Evans-Bush, or some other Salt poet, should have also been on that list, too.

Bingham and Kendall

It surely must be a footnote to history: even as Lord Bingham, formerly Britain's top legal mind, considers the war on Iraq illegal, poetry critics like Tim Kendall argue that the 2003 opposition to the war, by British poets, was merely fashionable, likely futile, probably aesthetically nugatory, and, finally, ultimately hypocritical, even self-serving. While America has elected an anti-Iraq war president, Britain, with its limited democracy, resists any public inquiry into the mess; and, its most conservative literary types oppose even the slightest hint of literature becoming embedded with the biggest political issue of our time. Why is this?

Pax Americanada

Good news. Poet and editor Greg Santos of Pax Americanahas put together a special online issue of contemporary Canadian poets, including rob mclennan, John Stiles, David McGimpsey, and Jason Camlot. I'm also there, with a new poem that fleshes out the title for my recent New and Selected (a poem not actually in that book though). Do check it all out.

Mickey Mouse Is 80 Today!

Eyewear wishes Mickey Mousea very happy 80th birthday! Steamboat Willie was released on 18 November, 1928. It's hard to fathom the influence of that moment, or his high-voiced, finger-challenged character - both for good and ill. Without Mickey, no Disneyland empire; without Mickey, no Bugs Bunny.

Mickey has been the face of watches, pop art, subversion, and, of course, the name of all that is dumbed-down or facile ("Mickey Mouse classes"). He's resilient, at 80, but less popular, I think, than he once was. Still, an icon, even a cartoon one, deserves some respect. How old is Pluto?

Guest Review: Shields On Skloot

Andrew Shieldsreviews
The Snow's Music
by Floyd Skloot

Many of Floyd Skloot's poems about artists address moments when their brains are still creating in a way they cannot physically keep up with. In "John Field in Russia, 1835," for example, Field "has come back to die where darkness lasts," but his mind is still generating melodies—rather, his body is, as he learns when he sits down at the piano:

His hands move before
his mind knows the opening theme.

Thus do the body's long-ingrained practices provide an outlet for the brain's productivity even without the active knowing of the mind.

There is a whole section of such poems in Skloot's latest collection, The Snow's Music, including poems on Georges Braque, Paul Signac, Claude Monet, and Claude Debussy, as well as a comic turn on George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers playing badminton on the beach. (In Skloot's 2007 Selected Poems: 1970-2005, published by Tupelo Press, there are also poems on, am…

Poetry Focus: Susan Wicks

Susan Wicksby Sarah Corbett

De-Iced, Bloodaxe 2007Night Toad, New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe 2003The Clever Daughter, Faber 1996Open Diagnosis, Faber 1994Singing Underwater, Faber 1992

The poetry of Susan Wicks is surreptitiously erotic, ‘I curl, sniffing you … comfort the tip of your lost tongue …we still do it in our sleep’ (‘After Sixteen Years’, Singing Underwater), ‘this is how they make rain, the raw/repeated drumbeat of two pulses ….Her two legs split perfectly open ..’ (‘Rain Dance’, The Clever Daughter), ‘Rolled in my mouth, my tongue/is growing fat. By morning/it will have found the farthest places’ (‘Sleeping Alone’, Night Toad). There is a continuous noting of the power of the body that has the alert languor of sex; that is never just tender:

I follow the soft valley of your
nape, parting the hidden
shafts to the scalp, white and unwrinkled
as the skin of a boy I once saw
shivering on a field, his hair
teased into rosettes like a guinea-pig’s.

‘Cutting Your Hair’

And yet the poems…

Has British Poetry Been Destroyed By The Mediascape?

Reading the latest Forward anthology of best poems, etc, of new British poetry, a terrible thought suddenly hit me - the aesthetics of the 30-second TV advertisement had become the default lyric position of 75% of all contemporary mainstream British verse. The style - speedy syntax, clever image, cunning set-up, perfectly amicable and yet "fresh" pay-off, and overall sense of accessible, pleasing, upbeat zest, yet with some edgy topicality - it's all TV, mate. I know, because I was a TV writer. I understand this machine-tooled, gleaming perfection - it is the popular product that Adorno warned us of. Readers of Eyewear know I still enjoy high-quality pop stuff - but I also know its place, its contexts. I resist some guilty pleasures. Poetry needs, at times, to yield fewer of its mysteries at a first Palin-wink. Ambiguity, complexity, obscurity, difficulty - these were not just the rallying cry of modern poets for the fun of it - they were elements of a strategy of…

The Writer's Voice

Talk and Reading by Al Alvarez
Legendary poet, critic and writer
As part of the WORDS IN CONTEXT KINGSTON LITERARY SERIES

"The Writer's Voice"
Thursday 27 November 2008
At 5.00 pm
Clattern Lecture Theatre, Penrhyn Road campus
Kingston University
Kingston KT1 2EE

The talk will be followed by a wine reception and book signing

RSVP to Lisa Hall by Tuesday 25 November(020 8547 7853)

Travel and location information: http://www.kingston.ac.uk/about_ku/location/maps/index.htm

Poem by Nathalie Handal

Eyewear is pleased to welcome Nathalie Handal (pictured) this Friday. Handal is a poet, writer and playwright. She has directed and is the author of numerous plays, and her collection The Lives of Rain was Shortlisted for The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize/The Pitt Poetry Series.

She is a member of Nibras Theatre Collective and Associate Artist and Development Executive for the production company, The Kazbah Project. I was very pleased to have her in the anthology 100 Poets Against The War - and very glad to be including her at Eyewear, as well.

She is one of the poets currently writing whose work - political and lyrical - seems most needed in this decade, for how it negotiates the way language slinks, sways, slides and shifts between beauty and truth, at once terrible and lithe.

Recently, she co-edited a significant anthology of world poetry from Norton, Language for a New Century, with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar, which I recommend.


Les Eventails, Portraits of Passion

The shadows of b…

Berry and Wilkinson Launch Pamphlets This Friday

Two of the best younger British poets (both included in my just-out Manhattan Review special section) - Emily Berryand Ben Wilkinson(pictured above) are launching their debut pamphlets from tall-lighthouse this Friday, 7.30 pm, in London, at the Acquarium Gallery, Farringdon. This is not to be missed for those within reach.

The Inner Circle of Contenders

Seamus Heaney is undeniably THE major Irish poet of the second half of the 20th century, and, after Robert Lowell, Thomas, Larkin, Hill and Ted Hughes, likely the greatest English-language lyrical poet, in the Hardy-Frost tradition, since 1950. Of the great 20th century poets, he's possibly one of the Big Ten. I've met him - he's charming, and fun, and real. And serious. So, this new interview with him (related to a forthcoming book) is basically necessary reading for anyone concerned with poetry of our time (and of the past).

The excerpts here are frank, personal, and at times even intimate - the man comes through, as intelligent, principled, dedicated, and human - a sort of poetic Obama of the 60s/ 70s - a man who made poetry matter, for many, putting it down in soil it hadn't been rooted in before. Heaney has not, it is clear, made peace with the experimental wing of contemporary poetry - he calls it "a refusal of the kind of poetry I write" - which begs th…

TS Eliot Shortlist

Just saw this now - must have been out of the loop to have missed this - actually, just busy with the American elections, teaching, and my own life (poetry does slip sideways and away some times - probably good to let the hot air out of the tires from time to time). Good to see Jen Hadfield on the list - she stayed with my parents for a few days in St. Lambert as part of this epic Canadian journey poem; and Romer. Imlah should win, I'm sure. Maura Dooley has a good shot at this, too. Notably absent are any of the good Salt collections from this year - including those by Katy Evans-Bush. Also, where's the Simmonds? Ah well, at least they got Doty on it. Good luck to them.

In Search of the British Obama

The man who should know whether there could be a British Obama says bias in the UK would hold such a surge of joyous meritocracy back. If so, that's a shame. But not entirely surprising. Those, such as myself, who live here in Britain, but observe it from an outsider position, can clearly detect the curvature of class beneath the skin - bluntly, some more force will be required to even this place out, to allow a level playing field. I think the key may well be education. Clearly, access to good schooling is paramount. But so too must ideas change. Americans "dream" and dream big - they will themselves to transform - and while it is sometimes terrifying to others (when the dreams are nightmares of domination) there is no denying the possibility of anything happening in the US of A - even very good things. That nation is a green beacon of excellence.

The UK, too, is a democracy, with much genius, yet it is timorous when it comes to change (its reference is resistance to rev…

Duncan's Underground

Andrew Duncan'sOrigins of the Underground: I've been reading it on the train from Manchester to London today. The book is must-have for anyone interested in British poetry from the 30s to the present, and counting. It's as if Lester Bangs, or Greil Marcus, those great rock and roll / punk critics, had been turned loose to consider, in freewheeling yet always informed, and brilliant fashion, poets like Terence Tiller, F.T. Prince, George Barker, and Lynette Roberts - yup, that's right, it's a completely personal, eccentric, yet researched foray into my favourite British period - the Forties.

This isn't a review or a full-blown commentary on the book - wait for my book on the 40s for that - but an appreciation of a book that's never less than controversial, impassioned, and often deeply useful, even when annoying. One of the things that Duncan really achieves is to push along the tired us/ them, avant-garde/ mainstream thing - and observe that the real issue s…

Poem by David Prater

David Prater(pictured) is the poetry editor of Cordite (see links) and a significant Australian poet, currently based in the Netherlands. He'll be reading for the December 2 Oxfam fundraiser.

Eyewear is happy to feature this poem, at this time.


Insurgency

drained without shame under
lights in a clearing skin so
oh provoke me white drifters
slide a canvas wax wing over
the unforgiving cold conduit
called rations pipeline by a
soft sand footprint threaten
strikes upon infrastructures
western worlds never noticed
what smouldered in the lusty
icons our yesteryears alpine
lakes polluted by hot sperm
swimmers upstream & cryptic
destinations hand sheathing
beehive hairdos bleach peel
coming into cans & over fat
sizzling in pans on bracken
eucalyptus highs in moments
of fire right inside a zone
unaware of their binoculars
trained upon my abs a laser
tracing the sky or my pants
shifted nervously from feet
to a crotch reassured by wet
stains i'll stand above you
shading your upturned mouth
then we'll …

Todd Swift Reading For the Oxford University Poetry Society

I will be reading from my new collection, Seaway: New and Selected Poems (Salmon, 2008), this Thursday, 6 November, as part of the Michaelmas '08 series, as a guest of the Oxford University Poetry Society - a great honour. Former invited guest poets include Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes, Elaine Feinstein, Andrew Motion, Seamus Heaney, and Paul Farley. Other guests forthcoming include Colette Bryce (next week), and Daljit Nagra, Week 8.

The venue will be St Edmund Hall, Old Dining Hall and the reading should start at 8.30pm.

Hope to see some of you there.

Crichton Has Died

Sad news. The major popular, controversial novelist and entertainment writer Michael Crichton has died - at the young age of 66. He was astonishingly prolific and succesful in tapping in to the zeitgeist, creating the TV series ER, and the Jurassic Park franchise. This alone would make him a key cultural figure of the 90s.

His greatest novels were The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man - icily-procedural and strangely prescient thrillers about the collision between humanity and science, or the unknown aspects connected to science (bacteria, brain surgery). I still think the original The Andromeda Strain one of the most disturbing films ever made, and can still recall the underground labs, monkey autopsies and the epileptic fit as if it was yesterday.

Crichton lost many fans (including me) when he became a sort of Dawkins of the anti-global warming set, though. His finger usually on the pulse, this pro-Bush perspective was oddly out of step with the times, and his death, timed at the …

Oxfam Poetry Series Is Back

I am doing another season of Oxfam poetry events, at 91 Marylebone High Street, due to popular demand, between December 2008 and summer 2009.

This includes the December Christmas fundraiser, on December 2, featuring:

AF Harrold
Peter Robinson
Phil Hancock
David Prater
Nancy Mattson
Joe Dunthorne
Niall McDevitt
and
Julian Stannard

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A January mini-festival, with two end of month events featuring poets such as Annie Finch, Ken Edwards, John Hegley, Mimi Khalvati, Kathryn Simmonds, Michael Horovitz, Tug Dumbly, and others.

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The March launch of the latest Manhattan Review issue, featuring the special section on The Young British Poets, including Emily Berry, Sally Read, Daljit Nagra, Melanie Challenger, and more.

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More details of the 2009 events in 2009.

Do rsvp for the December event with Martin Penny, starting today, if you wish.

Seaway launched Tuesday

The launch went very well last night - thank you all who came, and supported the poets reading. The shop estimates over 90 in attendance, perhaps 100. Sales of books were vigorous, to match (over 75 Salmon books sold). It was good to see such warmth from the London poetic community.---Tuesday, 4 November, 2008

Todd Swift & Fellow Salmon Poets
Celebrate the launch and signing of his Seaway: New & Selected

Featuring guest readers Patrick Chapman, Susan Millar DuMars, Kevin Higgins, Jessie Lendennie, and Pete Mullineaux

Admission free
Start Time 7 pm

Oxfam Books & Music
91 Marylebone High Street
London, W1

To reserve a place
Call Martin on 0207 487 3570

Our Kennedy Moment

Change has come to America, has come to the world. In a moment that feels vastly unfamiliar, because good happens less often in history than wickedness, a truly good man has won office as most powerful person in the world, lifted by true purpose, the idealism of millions, and the love of countless others across the globe. As if Kennedy and King were one, the best of American virtue and intelligence and energy has been fused. The word historic has been cheapened, but this is a truly historic moment. I am so glad to be alive to have witnessed the win of Barack Obama.

November Nthposition Now Online

The Bond Identity: Quantum of Solace Review

Eyewear has seen the new Bond film (#22) at the Tricycle Theatre cinema, where a plaque notes, cinematography was nearby invented, around 118 years ago. My immediate reaction is, Quantum of Solaceis one of the half-dozen best of the whole series, if not quite as good as Casino Royale.

It's easily the most stylish and nuanced, with more film references than many (including to Vertigo in the bell tower). Clearly, the Bourne trilogy has made a deep impact on the choreography of the action (rooftops, and brutal fights) - and the use of mobile telephony. However, the rooftops from Bourne are, of course, really the rooftops from Vertigo.

There are several elements never-before-seen in a Bond film, which artsy director Forster adds, including reaction shots from wounded, or shocked, or dehydrated extras in crowds and peasants (in Bolivia), humanising, almost de-Orientalising, Bond's previously imperialist trappings.

Further, the dialogue about espionage, power, oil, the environment - b…