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Showing posts from August, 2009

Mainstream Love Hotel

My 6th full poetry collection - and debut British collection (after living here since 2003) - is being launched at the legendary Calder Bookshop, on The Cut, in London, at 7 pm, Tuesday, September 15th (three weeks from today). The publisher is that intrepid small press, now in its tenth year, tall-lighthouse, run by the great Les Robinson. The title is Mainstream Love Hotel. You are very welcome to attend the launch - admission and wine free.

Tears in The Fence 50

I'll be reading on September 5th as part of the celebrations in London for the publication of the 50th issue of Tears in the Fence, one of the indispensable, and more internationally-aware, little magazines of poetry and criticism from the UK. The latest issue features two poems by me, and poems by, among others: Melanie Challenger, John Kinsella, John Welch, Luke Kennard, Isobel Dixon, Jeremy Reed, John James - so you can see its an inclusive and intriguing spectrum. There are also some good reviews and articles by Jennifer K. Dick, Jeremy Hilton, John Stiles, Frances Spurrier, and Dfiza Benson (to name a few). It's a strong issue, and an impressive line-up of talents. Hats off to the editor, David Caddy, and associate editors, Sarah Hopkins, and Tom Chivers.

Humbug

In some quarters, Arctic Monkeys are a sort of second coming of The Beatles, The Kinks, Joy Division and The Smiths combined - an authentically-British, regional, literate, and above all first-class band. Gordon Brown and Simon Armitage (and a handful of models) are among their best-known fans. Andrew Duncan, in his latest book, raises the question, how is that pop lyrics are popular, when poetry, which is often like pop lyrics, isn't? The answer, which he does not offer, might be: music. As poets are tired of hearing themselves say, poems are lyrics with the music in-built - poets are one-man or one-woman bands. Armitage is among those careful to delineate the subtle knife that divides a song by Morrissey or Alex Turner from a poem by Geoffrey Hill or Carol Ann Duffy. Duncan, when trying to ascertain the points of difference between "mainstream" and "avant-garde" poems (his terms), doesn't make enough of the ear/eye distinctions between traditional l…

A friend has died

Sad news. My friend Dr.Richard Berkowitz, beloved partner of Letty Dahme, has died, yesterday, in America. I met Richard on Hydra, Greece, an island we all loved. He was a witty, compassionate, deeply thoughtful, rational, and fine person. He was the light of Letty's life, and together with her - though he was already well into his 70s - he travelled the world, sailed, and otherwise acted like a person half his age. His dancing at my wedding, back in 2003, was spry and impressive and full of vim. I liked him immensely. I loved him. He'd been a talented doctor before retiring. He retained dignity and concern from that career. In Letty, he found a brilliant and literate interlocutor, and friend, and they sparked off each other, adding years of renewal and love and hope. Letty and Richard inspired all who knew them. They made one know that life and love are far less limited than some might claim. They opened doors to people, made unexpected links, and experienced eac…

A New Poem Inspired By Reading Giles Goodland

Hammersmith, June

The sadness of England.
The coming storm.
The exodus from Tesco.
The death by flu.
The disused factory.
The walk under the rail bridge.
The can of lager in the hand.
The silence of certain streets.
The man smoking by the nursery.
The internet in the video store.
The broken espresso machine.
The 11.30 Mass.
The sunbathers on the Green.
The uneven footing.
The broken pavement.
The methadone clinic.
The shelves outside the shop.
The closed inquiry.
The rain at five to six.
The word path.
The hot and cold.
The end of the class.
The poets of promise.
The ground floor flat.
The geraniums in the box.
The sense of an ending.
The slow growth for another year.
The fear of the impending.
The autumn after the summer.
The unsigned contract.
The request for information.
The loss of nerve.
The godfather agreement.
The leukaemia email.
The post on the floor.
The revolutions elsewhere.
The rubber band left untouched.
The locks on the door.
The friends over after dinner.
The bra being modelled.
The detector vans.
The five nov…

The New Andrew Duncan Book: Preaching to the unconverted

I received a review copy of the new Andrew Duncan book of polemical criticism, The Council of Heresy: A primer of poetry in a balkanised terrain, on Friday, and read it through over the weekend, as gripped as if by a thriller. Duncan is perplexing and exasperating and compelling in equal measures: he's arguably one of the most significant poet-critics now writing seriously in Britain (if not the most), because of his passion, wide experience, eccentric insights, and unexpected juxtapositions and references (often to obscure German or medieval or theological texts). He never writes as an academic, per se, but uses footnotes. He is definitely not of the "mainstream" yet he retains an open mind. And, unlike almost everyone else, he knows who Terence Tiller is (the best joke in this book is when he claims that the 40s poets failed because of their moderation, a paradox worthy of Wilde).

He also has here rescued Anthony Thwaite from semi-obscurity (and let's face it, undes…

Review: The XX

The XXare a new British band of two boys and two girls that are getting great press for their debut, titled XX. I bought it the other day and it is lovely. I am sure it's going to be ignored as Humbug is released today (more on that later I suppose). One of the things that's not true about the reviews is the claim that their sound is original. It isn't - but it is a clever melange of Sonic Youth, Pixies, Lou Reed, Interpol, and perhaps most of all, Joy Division - that is, the post-punk guitars and spare arrangements, and horse-calmed vocals - most remind one of the artier end of indie. Some of the music even seems like Glasvegas, but one austerely pruned. It's haunting, sweet, sometimes eerie, and often moving - and intelligent in an understated way. It'll be an album of the year. My favourite track is 7.

Guest Review: Harlow on The Best Canadian Poetry

Morgan Harlow reviews
The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008

The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008 is the inaugural volume of this series in Canada. Edited by Stephanie Bolster, the series editor is Molly Peacock.

“Who do you think you are?” asks Stephanie Bolster at the beginning of her introduction to The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008. It is a phrase, she explains, that refers to a “reluctance to pronounce a viewpoint,” making an apt launching point for a discussion on the responsibilities of the role of editor in a ‘best of’ series. “Who do you think you are?” echoing the Alice Munro story of that title, is also a political statement, for Bolster and in this context conveying a sense of what it is to be Canadian, to be a woman, to be a poet.

As an American, a United States citizen writing a review on The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008, I, also, begin by asking myself, “Who do you think you are?” Most of what I think I know about Canada, its literature, music and art, …

St Ives School

I am now back from my staycation. Eyewear's policy is to not spend too much time on the merely personal details of my "private life", but I will say it was a welcome break. Penzance and St Ives are marvellous places to visit - the people are very warm, the pace is slow, the beaches as beautiful and clean as on the Med (more so), the light fascinating, and the culture and food (often the freshest of seafood) are excellent.

Next year we'll bring wetsuits - the sea was 12 degrees most days, which made swimming for too long a challenge, though we did our best. Also enjoyable was the hammering deep into the sand of special gayly-coloured windscreens. Watching the families play cricket and other ball games together, and the many children timelessly building their little engineering projects against the waves, was moving. It was possible to form a sense of what an "ideal" Britain might be, one guided by play and simpler pleasures. August is a kind of heaven.

T…

Scottish Independence?

Those watching the events of the last few days, in which a principled, upright and devout lawyer stood up to his community to do the right thing, might think they were watching a Scottish version of To Kill A Mockingbird, or even, a play by Ibsen. More Ibsen than Lee, methinks, if only because such moral decisions always have deeper roots and more ambiguous, even tragic results, than intended. It is not enough to be moral, you might say - you must also be wise. A few refreshing things have emerged from this incident of the convicted mass murderer's release - a chance to see Scotland act as a government on the world stage, and a chance to hear Christianity openly discussed as a tool for making decisions. These good things have been offset, though, by the damage done.

As others have already observed, mercy needn't be excessive to be true, and there is nothing in the Bible, or Sermon on the Mount, about releasing murderers from jail (other than Barabbas). Indeed, the early (and ve…

Staycationing During A Barbecue Summer

Eyewear is back soon, and will report on the impressive English beach holidaymakers and their stiff upper lips, able to make 12 degree water seem like the Med, and mallet in windbreaking screens to protect against dull and lowering skies with aplomb.

John Hughes Has Died

I am stunned. I just saw this at Baroque in Hackney - John Hughes, the retired genius of the American teen film genre, has died. Now is not the time to go into this in detail - readers of Eyewear will know I have long thought the intersection between Hughes and Simple Minds may be the quintessential preppie 80s North American adolescent moment - but he was great, and will not be forgotten.

Oxfam and secondhand bookshops

The BBC and other media (The Guardian) have recently picked up on complaints made by some secondhand bookshops that Oxfam's network of secondhand shops - for which I have been poet in residence for 5 years - is putting them out of business. Little mention has been made of the good work Oxfam does, of mutual benefit to them and the writers, in establishing innovative cultural platforms across the UK for poetry and other writing, such as their Lifelines CDs, and the recent fortnight book festival, the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world. While I am sure having excellent Oxfam used bookshops nearby provides competition, it is likely the pressures on all book-sellers come more from the Internet, where used books are easily located and cheaply shipped. If anything, the Oxfam shops are extending a quality network of secondhand bookshops to communities and areas that might not otherwise have them.

Guest Review: Naomi On Gittins

Katrina Naomi reviews
I'll Dress One Night as You
by Chrissie Gittins

This collection opens with a bravura poem "Leaving Brancaster Staithe". I was knocked out by this extended metaphor using a flock of geese to foretell a death. You really need to read the poem in full, each stanza builds and reinforces what has come before, and I can't do it justice with an extracted line or two. However, the second stanza will at least give a flavour of the quality of Gittins' writing here:

Spread like iron filings
over a starched white tablecloth
they settled on the marsh,
a single snow goose the eye of their storm.

"Leaving Brancaster Staithe" is the first in a sequence of poems which gives the book its title. While the sequence is strong, for my money, none of the others in the sequence are as powerful as the opening poem. However, Gittins is a fine poet, nearly always managing at least one (and often several) cracking line(s) in every poem.

Take "The Second Drive to …

The Decline of the Auteur

Sight and Sound's latest issue features a wild bunch of out-there auteurs. Also, a fawning interview with director Quentin Tarantino. I haven't been to Cannes or seen his latest Nazi hunter film, though I know his production company once expressed interest, about ten years ago, in a Nazi hunter screenplay I'd co-written. I'll be interested in seeing his movie. I actually think Tarantino has done some expressive, stylish and startling work of importance, especially in Kill Bill 1, and he seems a key cultural figure of the 1990s. I also think it is a sad reflection on the decline of the arts, and the auteur, that, in 2009, as significant an arthouse journal as S&S should be hanging on this indie maverick's every word.

The problem, it seems to me, is that QT's ideas - if translated into a literary or literate medium (and he often speaks in terms of novelistic devices, like chapters) - would be sub-par, or even old-hat. Apart from his explorations of genre…

Ross Macdonald

There was a quite good retrospective little essay by Tobias Jones on the North American crime writer, Ross Macdonald, in the Guardian recently. Macdonald has been one of my favourite novelists since playwright Morwyn Brebner turned me on to his work over twenty years ago. For those who love Chandler, Macdonald does deepen that oeuvre. I went to Foyles, the UK bookstore, the other day, to see how Macdonald was doing. There was only one of his books available, whereas the crime shelves featured more than a dozen books by most well-known crime authors. It seems his rep may have flagged, at least over here. Of his many classic books, The Blue Hammer, his last of the Lew Archers, moves me the most. I find the key trope almost unbearably moving.

Sonja Skarstedt Has Died

Sad news. One of the leading lights of the Montreal literary scene since the 80s, Sonja Skarstedt, poet, editor, essayist, and publisher, has died of cancer. I have incredibly fond memories of Sonja and Geof (her partner) during the Zymergy days (87-91) when she was editor. She took great photos of the events I was running, then, with Bill Furey, the New McGill Reading Series, which we ran out of the Bistro Duluth. It seems strange to think that was more than 20 years ago now. Sonja was funny, kind, very warm, and very brilliant. She lit up the room when she walked in. She was interested in so many people and ideas, and was a fine writer. She did marvellous things for the community in Montreal, not least by being so supportive of the Louis Dudek legacy. She will be much missed. Her obituary is here.