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 Canadian-British 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.


Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Brief Essay by Derek Beaulieu

The manner/s of speaking


As founder and editor-in-chief of The Queen Street Quarterly, Suzanne Zelazo has filled its pages with a tight understanding of both lyrical and radical forms of writing. She has demonstrated an ability to combine two differing forms into a single magazine’s pages in such a way as to draw the similarities and commonalities forward. The QSQ rarely has editorial statements or an overt stated position, instead it leaves the editors’ decision-making process stated solely in what work is included. Zelazo’s editing is presented as a reading, a continuous documentation, a means of presenting a manner of speaking – a parlour for current poetics and prosody.
In Parlance, Zelazo’s first book of poetry, she parleys this engagement with writing and reading into a series of dialogues and responses, each uniquely her own. Her “taxonomy of the past” reacts to a community of writers, friends, family, teachers, mentors. Zelazo, instead of struggling against an anxiety of influence – where the “implication of verse” stilts production – has crafted her way through the social aspect of writing. The “prefix generation” of “post-” writers, of hyphenated voices, are engaged with and embraced – brought close into the texts themselves. Zelazo engages with her contemporaries and with Virginia Woolf whose To the Lighthouse is reworked as a phrase-based long poem by removing the prosaic framework of the novel and manipulating the vocabulary into a poetic form: “now the edges accomplished flattery / their woven community would speak.” The warp of community is held in tension by Zelazo’s weft, an independent thread woven through and joined.  
Zelazo’s community is woven into her texts (“we are an accompaniment”), fibres within a tight weave. The edges may be “accomplished flattery” but the pattern of the weave itself is uniquely her own.
By “sitting on the phrase” Zelazo concentrates on the swerve between phrases, the clinamen in the “fold, a stitch, dislocate. Promiscuous trick of the eye. Fetish.” Parlance’s grammar slows the reader, concentrates on the space and the shift between phrases and sentence, dwelling in the pause and full stop of composition. Here the sentence is both a medium of construction and a term; a length of service. The conversation of Parlance dwells in the synonymity of sentence and period.

New Poem by Colette Sensier

Eyewear is pleased to offer a new poem by Colette Sensier to the dying god, August, this morning.  Perhaps this will revive its fortunes.  Maybe not.  At any rate, it's a pleasure.  Sensier, a recent Cambridge graduate, is one of the more promising of the younger British poets.  She has new poems appearing in Iota soon.

Sleep

All night we lie back to back under the grid-shadow
of the blue nylon mosquito net, our arms too hot
to bear the weight of any more thick, blood-full
human flesh. Your ankle twitches against mine,
drumming a hollow rhythm, as our backs lie together
to rest like tired, reproachful dogs. I tickle your dreams

like trout. Skimmed of the day behind us, we spend
another night held in the pen of piled skin and tired muscle,
our feet twitching like fish in a cramped, singular skillet.
All night we lie cramped under the mosquito net,
the silver moon above calling our lives up to be caught.

poem by Colette Sensier

Monday, 30 August 2010

New Poem by Maureen Jivani

Eyewear is glad to publish a new poem by poet Maureen Jivani this Bank Holiday Monday (the last of 2010, alas).  Jivani's Insensible Heart was recently shortlisted for an important new London literary award.


The Dogs of Nadadouro        

Look, there will always be dogs on the sand
yowling inconsolably at the tide’s return

just as elsewhere a lone wolf in search of his pack,
descending a mountain, yips at the moon

and look how our father, building his house of cards
on the glass-topped table, whistles to himself.

poem by Maureen Jivani

Guest Review: Muckle On Rowe and Sheppard

John Muckle reviews
Three Lyric Poets by William Rowe
&
Warrant Error by Robert Sheppard


William Rowe’s Three Lyric Poets is a study of Lee Harwood, Chris Torrance and Barry MacSweeney – a triad of the best of the ‘British Poetry Revival’ or ‘New British Poets’ who began to write modernist-inflected work in the sixties. There is much to enjoy in this concise, well-turned book of admirable sympathies, and a validity to his suggestion that theirs has been a new kind of lyric poetry: “Instead of the lyric as an expression of yearning that can be accommodated to the status quo so that reader and writer can go on living as before, poetry which spits in the eye or pulls out the rug.” But the twin themes of commodification and non-unitary subjectivity rather dog these essays: an academic Marxist’s tics hopping around in the pelts of three very different writers.

Torrance’s utopianism and determination to live in a different way led him from a safe berth as a gardener in Carshalton to hoeing and planting potatoes in mid-Wales; MacSweeney offered bitter commentaries on the class struggles and destruction of his region, lyrical celebrations of its beauties, a deal of personal myth-making and a passionate celebration of his own fragile loves; Harwood explores and celebrates moments of relationship and solitude and through a series of casually improvised, haunting fictions. All of them, in their different ways, anti-capitalist poets, but none easily assimilable to the mantra-doxas of contemporary academia. It’s really in the book’s concluding chapter that pulling out the rug and spitting in the eye of consumerism are given their head; the wracked, death-haunted, politicised lyricism of Barry MacSweeney closely fits Rowe’s bill and calls forth his most spirited essay: an exploration of MacSweeney’s roots, his strong desire to “renew language by returning to the source”, his ‘nodal’ compositional methods, his debts to Chatterton and Rimbaud, as well as to Bunting, Pound and the Objectivists.

Rowe is most convincing when he enthusiastically expounds the poetry. In one arresting passage he scores Harwood’s punctuation and spacing, measures it against a recording of the poet in performance to give a close-read musical sense of the subtlety of this delightful poet’s approach to meaning: his broken narratives, his gaps, his questioning suspensions. Harwood is characterised as a poet of uncertainty who challenges boundaries between self and other, and Rowe makes a by now familiar but valid point that the apparent openness and unfinished quality of his poems demand the reader’s active collaboration. Chris Torrance’s sporadic life-epic ‘The Magic Door’ is celebrated for its brave embrace of drift, of making it up as you go along – an unpredictable process of self-creation. A poet with an amazingly light lyrical touch, often staggering under the weight of disastrous ideologies – astrology, necromancy, the whole trip – Torrance’s poems are, as one of his best titles puts it, ‘Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time’, and he greatly deserves this sympathetic reconsideration of his bold project:

That the affairs of man be planned
by gods I do not, I do
not
      accept.


Robert Sheppard’s political sonnets take as their starting point the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 9-11 and its spin-offs, further ramifications of the ‘war on terror’, or ‘warrant error’. These events are woven into a fragmentary account of the world economy in meltdown, haunted by the ghosts of fascism and last century’s failed revolutions, all accompanied by a cheesy non-stop erotic cabaret of threadbare Western dreams. Sheppard attempts to realise a globalised consciousness and, in his own inimitable way, to draw these apparently disparate phenomena into an account of early 21st century capitalism geared up for war:

A managed democracy dances in tune
to a spread-cleft litany, as the Queen’s English
warbler, toned to death, unstrews his truth

Hijab porn stars, comedy terrorists, bag-faced boys and Adam Smith, Bin Laden, Blair, Bush, Saddam Hussain and the retired poet laureate – all are to be found flitting through Warrant Error. Sheppard combines the cartoon quality of mass media and the intensity and the affectlessness of an internet data overload; but his sense of the contemporary world is both analytical and powerfully persuasive: the reader has a sense of being dumped amongst the viscera and cultural detritus of a thousand battlefields. His approach to the sonnet is fresh and challenging, yet it’s the sheer impacted condensary of his execution, its worked torsions, devilishly sour humour and relentless verbal ingenuity which drag you, nodding and shaking your head in unequal measure, through this brilliant, disquieting book:

You ride on a bus called Peter Kropotkin
Past shops with names like Quaff and Klodhoppers
This is not the dream but lines of the poem
That carry your dream in which
A nightmare Neo-Con indites you alone

You are the unclean skin from the fertiliser plot
You’d blow up all those slags dancing around

You are the gas fitter who plans mass murder
You cannot even spell al-Qaida
He deploys smart certainties against
You asleep he invades your interior hunger

You listen to the charges against your name
Quick guilt ignites
Beneath the soft armour of your rising denials

 John Muckle is a poet, novelist, critic, and former poetry editor for Paladin.

Eyewear For Ed

Eyewear voted Lib Dem in the last general election in Britain - and may do so again - but currently favours a greener party.  Meanwhile, two brothers go to war over the leadership of Labour - Dave and Ed.  Simply put, Dave is the candidate Blair wants, and Cameron fears, most; Ed is leaning to the "older Labour" supporters.  I think Labour should go into a clarifying and cleansing period of opposition, with Ed.  Ed was against (nominally) the Iraq War.  He represents a break with the spin and cynicism of New Labour.  He stands for more than a compromise the middle class voters can live with.  Ed may make Labour unelectable.  But I doubt that.  If The Coalition proves as unpleasant as it looks to be, then plenty of voters will be ready to swing back to a new middle ground - one with just that extra bit of sensitivity to the less-well-off in society.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

NHS Indirect

The news that the Coalition is scrapping NHS Direct is shocking, and bad news for anyone who gets sick.  Last year, when ill, I called NHS Direct, and was able to speak to first a nurse, and then eventually, as I needed to, a doctor.  The service was courteous and informed.  Now we will be directed to people with 60 hours of medical training instead.  In the week that the Camerons enjoyed excellent NHS service in Cornwall, such a blow seems low and mean.  And many lives will be lost, as misdiagnosed persons are left untreated or misguided - misdirected from the care they deserve.

Humourless Chain?

I have been reading Seamus Heaney for at least 30 years - since I was 14, and my aunt Bev gave me a book of his.  He started publishing the year I was born, 1966.  For 44 years, he has been a major figure, and since his Nobel win, in 1995, a pre-eminent one.  Indeed, since North in 1975, he has been a dominant poet.  Traditional poet, of course.  I am not here to discuss his entire output, or unquestionable import.  As Helen Vendler, and then a thousand others, have said, he is the lyric poet of our moment.  He is not the poet of the disturbed lyric, he is not experimental.  But he is in the line from Frost on down to us.

Of course, these ours and uses are themselves debatable.  There is no one or two poetic audiences anymore, no poetry receiving line.  The king stands alone, and what courtiers come, come on their own, in their own time.  Heaney's 12th collection has arrived at my door this Saturday from Amazon.  Nothing says more about what remains of England's civilisation than that it has Saturday post.  Human Chain is a handsome book.  I opened it with great excitement and interest.  A new Heaney is an event - a new Dan Brown for those who love "quality" poetry.  Human Chain - I broke off a third of the way through to write this very provisional post - puzzles me.  What is it that forms his appeal?  I do not think Heaney as good as Robert Frost or WB Yeats.  There, I have said it.

Of the poets of the last 110 years, who have ploughed his furrow, others have done better.  He is excellent, others are, I think, superior.  Indeed, Frost, Edward Thomas, Housman, Hardy, and Larkin, are to my mind greater.  Ted Hughes perhaps, perhaps not: I am not sure.  I do not find Heaney's poems as inviting, moving, or warm, as the best of lyric poetry in the great Frost-Thomas line.  Rooted as they are in his memories, his politics, his reading of the Classics (all humane and intelligent) and his sense of the communicable values of language, experience and value - his poems grate on me, at times.  They resonate with their intent.  They telegraph their import, even, paradoxically, their modesty. How many poems about Virgil, about the underworld, do we need?  How many carts, wagons, bails of hay, can any one reader stomach?  I do not find Heaney's pastoral images, his tropes, in this new collection, universally engaging, as Frost's birches and boulders are, as the flowers of Thomas are.

I do not find myself, a third of the way through - convinced utterly.  I know this is well-written poetry of the first rank.  I know it means well.  I know it is decent, wise, fully-felt.  I know the words in italics have been looked up in the OED and understood to their Latinate atoms.  I know this, I do not feel it.  "The Wood Road" seems to me a blunt instrument, with its sepia, blood, smithereens and hunger striker.  "Had I Not Been Awake" seems forced in its portentous conclusion.  "The Conway Stewart" is charming, but a little clunky in its scuba gear-pen analogy.  "Uncoupled" is superb, among his best, though again, a Shade poem.  "The Butts" is yet another child among his father's clothes poem - excellent, but not original.  "The Baler" is another rural-mechanical lyric.

I will go on to read the whole book, with care - this is not a review, after all, but a commentary in mid-read, a mid-stream look-about.  Perhaps the book will lift like a kite at the end (I have peeked).  It is a calmer, quieter book - the poem about the ambulance ride is honest and moving.  It may be a masterwork.  But I feel that there is a ponderous, rhetorical, cultural-keeper-of-the-flame feel about this late work, this late style - so that the poetic that is emerging is both comfortingly sturdy, and solid, but not either surprising or entirely delightful.

When do Heaney's new poems take us out of themselves, out of ourselves?  When do his new poems rise beyond the scrupulous making and reflection on making that marked his very first well-staring and pen-gripping?  How many times can a poem be written before it ceases to be a Heaney poem, and becomes, instead, and more wonderfully, first an extraordinary occasion of language?  I am sure this post will lead to my crucifixion in some quarters, but I did want to assay a tentative questioning - not of the master's over-all stature - which is secure from the likes of younger critics like me - but in order to clear the air for a clear-eyed reading.  After all, if poets are beyond criticism, they are also beyond appreciation - which is different from adoration.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Featured Poet: Kavita Jindal

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the poet Kavita Jindal (pictured) this last Friday of the British summer, as September looms.  Jindal was born and raised in India. She lived and worked in Hong Kong for several years before settling in London.

She is the author of the poetry collection Raincheck Renewed (2004) published in Hong Kong.  Her poems, short stories and reviews have been published in various newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies, including The Independent, The South China Morning Post, Dimsum, The Mechanics Institute Review, Asian Cha, In Our Own Words, Not A Muse, and Asia Literary Review.

Jindal contributes a regular literary blog to Birkbeck’s Writers Hub website. She is also the convener of the Poetry Society’s south-west London Stanza.  She enjoys collaborating with photographers, painters, musicians and other artists on diverse projects.

Chaining the Ecstatic


As the white light on this summer’s day
is pulled back into the molten sky
white flowers begin to gleam
fresh against green hedges
in the slowpouring darkness.

White flowers gleam
while the garden’s other beauties
the scalding pinks  
recede with the last of the light
dissolving into stems, pots, fences.

So heaven this is where I find you
laying your silk sheet on me
while I stand still in June
inhaling the white bouquet of life.

poem by Kavita Jindal 

Guest Review: Brinton On Gross

Ian Brinton reviews
by Philip Gross and Simon Denison

A recently published essay by Peter Makin on the work of the octogenarian Midlands poet, Roy Fisher, was titled ‘The Hardness of Edges’ and it opens in such a way as to shed light on what Philip Gross has achieved in his series of poems from Cinnamon Press:

When the total contents of each micro-package of similar wavelength reaching me distinctly (from this leaf, or from that greenhouse window-pane) are evenly diffused over the whole surface of the retina, then I can no longer see; I am effectively blind. This can be achieved (a) by placing a ground-glass plate before the face, (b) by cataract.
We depend absolutely on the distinction of this from that; our lives depend on it.

Gross’s poems complement the distinctive photography of Simon Denison’s industrial landscapes: both photographs and poems are measures of distinctions. Both poems and photographs cohere within the covers of the book without the distinct differences of each being forfeited. The collection is introduced by George Szirtes who emphasises the meticulous and thoughtful way in which Gross responds to Denison’s pictures:

What Denison presents—the dark rootings of steel and concrete; the feeling of something slamming into the earth, establishing its narrow vocabulary of grass, stone, mould, leaf, strut, and the strange, focused moony chill that freezes everything—moves through the clarity, steadiness and humaneness of Philip Gross’s verbal imagination to create something new.

The pictures themselves require a moment of introduction so that the reader’s position can be made more precise. They are all photographs of pylons taken with a homemade box made of mountboard, duck-taped to a 6x6cm film back, with a pinhole drilled in the front, and a piece of black tape for a shutter. This pinhole camera contained no lens, no viewfinder, no technology except for the film itself and it was positioned at the same distance of an arm’s length from the foot of each pylon. The poet then responded to the photographer’s invitation ‘to tease out some of their suggestive possibilities’ provoked by the results, possibilities that Gross was to term ‘the meditative single-mindedness’ of the pictures, producing a series of sonnets which range across a variety of visual presentation.

          Seeing only seeing

is the hush that comes upon us
in the camera obscura

round the battered
shallow bowl of a world

with woods and wind and
people seething in it.

Seeing them not seeing

we’re the back row
of the silent picture palace,

the usherette’s torch,
the zippo spark,

the cigarette tip glowing
here in Plato’s cave.

The images themselves are haunting and one of Gross’s achievements in these poems is his ability to capture a wonderful sense of the unknown, the undiscovered, what is there if you keep looking and keep believing:

That seeing and believing
are a structure, cross-struts of each other…
How such slender underpinnings

can support a span…Let us consider

girders: say belief is the vertical
out of our ken, cross-braced
by slim physical evidence

or conversely that it is sense

stretches off away to smallness
that’s much like immensity, and only
the story that we hold

ourselves to be in holds us
upright
pulsing slightly in the wind

And so, looking closely at the foot of a pylon might on the one hand make us consider a ‘hoard’ (‘These faint discs like coins of the realm/unearthed: rough chieftains with a face/they looted from the Romans, emblem/of a cursive horse, or in this case/the planted feet of pylons, meaning my/hillside my power my kingdom…’) or we might be prompted to reflect upon the world tree from Norse mythology, Yggdrasil, where the human world is found in the tree’s lower branches. Some vision may pursue a less fruitful path and the poem ‘Via Negativa’ opens with a negative

                                                This is not
say, a surgical boot or a calliper,
not a clog or mud-clagged wellie,

where the language itself has a reluctance to move forward, held back by the sounds of the repeated ‘cl’ and the emphatic ‘not’.

One of the most eerie of these poetic reflections is titled ‘Pylon In The Mist’ where the very presentation of the title has a pylonic structure to it! The photograph presents us with a pylon standing tall, seeming to lean slightly forwards and shadowed by its doppelganger in the mist whose arms and legs take on the force of mocking imitation, a trick of the light:

          Forget these club-foot underpinnings.
My mind’s somewhere higher. Can you follow

me up to where I strip down to geometry?
To where the proof of a theorem must be true

because elegant. Not a nut or bolt for show,
but each pleat and dart of the stress field

traced on the mist in rust-painted steel,
like an intellectual necessity. Essential

me, out in all weathers wearing nothing
but my purpose—as ascetic, ideal

and myself as a bare tree in winter. Possessed
by a certain charisma—can you hear it,

power, everywhere and nowhere, its dry
crackling in the cloud around my head?

There is a memory here of Leonardo’s mathematical tracings of humanity, skeleton and geometry combining. There is also an echo of the outcast Edgar from King Lear who ‘with presented nakedness’ outfaces ‘The winds and persecutions of the sky’. The picture possesses an extraordinary sense of pathos as the blurred vision in a mist suggests movement and the angling forward, arms stretching outward from the body, conveys a giant’s lurch as he steps across a world of darkened trees.

This wonderful little volume made me think of the world of Objectivism in the 1930s and Charles Reznikoff’s two-line stanza from ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ (1934):

Among the heap of brick and plaster lies
A girder, still itself among the rubbish.

Here the existence of the girder is highlighted by the busy-ness of the words surrounding it. With the opening seven words there is a feeling of the accumulation of rubbish and the sound of the last three words seals off the image at the centre: ‘lies/A girder, still itself’ with its further definition teased by the pun on the word ‘still’. George Oppen wrote about being ‘Incapable of contact/Save in incidents’ and he was a great admirer of the slightly older Reznikoff. In a letter dated February 1959 to June Oppen Degnan, his half-sister, he wrote about those two Reznikoff lines:

Likely he could mull along and tell you what he had in mind. But how other than with this image could he put into your mind so clearly the miracle of existence—the existence of things. It is only because the image hits so clear and sudden that the poem means what it means. I don’t know that he could make it any clearer by talking about it.

I suspect that were George Oppen alive today he would recognise the value of what Philip Gross has tried to achieve and admire the quality and workmanship of the result.

Ian Brinton is a scholar and critic who reviews regularly for Eyewear.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Guest Review: Monios on McVety

Jason Monios reviews
Miming Happiness
by Allison McVety



Allison McVety’s second collection arrives with a certain level of expectation due to the success of its Forward-nominated predecessor, The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (2007), and the new book returns us to some familiar subjects. There are poems on childhood, working class life in post-war northern England, old houses, damaged relationships and partial lives. All are depicted without sentimentality or mawkishness but with cold appraisal and dignified precision. A wealth of detail imbues her vignettes, in poems such as “On the East Lancs Road”:

                                    . . . There, on the East Lancs,
men listened to twin cylinders: the rapid-fire
rattle of pistons banging down the exhaust.

But they are more than simply descriptive snapshots. Phrases such as “the scars/ ran the length of their lives” (“What the Women Say”), or “to hear/ the slap of our own names in the foot’s/ repeat” (“Typewriter”) demonstrate her ability to use rhythm to shade meaning, as do the following lines from “In the Weeks after Rationing”:

Mirrors watched the women, time hung
heavy at their wrists. Boredom stuffed
pockets like worn down stones.

or these, from “Making a Show”:

Gauze over new-born breasts, a membrane
of cotton that covered the render, that covered
the clench of ribs that covered my heart.

The collection is divided into three sections (unnecessarily, I thought), and while the overall tone is perhaps a little lighter than her first book, McVety still has much to say about the development of society through the post-war years up to the present, producing poised, clear-eyed portraits of the constrictions of family, relationships and society and in particular the limitations on the lives of women.

Readers of the first volume will be familiar with the author’s observational skills, and in Miming Happiness she continues her elevation of the quotidian to the evocative, from ration books and typewriters to buttons and school exercise books. Her imagination also creates interesting thought experiments, as in “Offspring”: “all the children I didn’t think to bear/ will come to find me . . . Hundreds of them, each a calendar-cross/  apart.” Elsewhere, she muses on night shift workers living a parallel life to the rest of the world:

elliptic constellations in revolving skies,
the earthly pull of best-befores and sell-bys.
(“Night Shifts”)

The use of such imaginative devices is a hallmark of her style, and in my favourite poems (“Whit Walks”, “Pathology”, “Offspring”, “Night Shifts”, “Irwell” and “After Darwin”) the tight form and precise metaphors unite an image and an idea through her imaginative construct.

McVety writes in a contemporary style, conversational and concise. Yet her accessible free verse is arranged in a loosely formal manner, frequently employing regular stanzas that keep the material neat and balance the often intensely emotional core. Her particular strength is her ability to fuse observation with imagination, to merge the specific with the abstract. However her finely-phrased observations are not forced to bear the weight of reflections on broader issues; rather the images have been carefully selected such that the poem’s meaning emanates naturally from the material.

McVety also reveals a fine eye for the urban environment, animating structures with her descriptions. Buildings “wear their reds and yellows as a woman wears/ lipstick to bring in the milk.” (“In a Northern Town”) A train driver “gets the backsides of houses/ flashed at him like drawerless drunken women” (“The Train Driver’s View”), while “the underbellies of bridges/ are upturned hulls pocketed with breath” (“Irwell”). She compares human relationships to coastal erosion (“Like Coastal Houses”) and an autopsy to a house inspection (“Pathology”).

Many poems begin with a few interesting observations, develop into a wider reflection upon a subject or its potential meaning, then conclude with an arresting image or a deftly woven connection to a larger significance. For example, the ending of “Ordnances”, a poem about excavating battle sites in Ypres:

. . . We’re six feet down,
shovelling war; blisters, moans about conditions
are not aired here among yet more boots,
adding to the growing piles of lefts and rights,
leather compacted, rotten with years, unknowable.
And some of them still occupied, like shells.

With writing of this quality, I would like to see the author move beyond these two or three stanza poems to the occasional longer piece of say two to three pages. I have no doubt that she could push her emotional queries into longer work, but this is a minor quibble that should not detract from the praise for a judicious poet who knows how much to cut from early drafts and when to decide that a poem is finished. McVety has shown in her two volumes to date that she is just such a writer.

Jason Monios left his native Australia in 2001 after completing a PhD on the structural concept of the vortex in the poetry of Ezra Pound. He then travelled and worked throughout the UK, settling in Edinburgh in 2004. His poetry has appeared in Acumen, nthposition, Poetry Scotland, New Writing Scotland, Umbrella and The Guardian.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Guest Review: Hymas On Brennan and Kinsey

Sarah Hymas reviews
two recent collections
by Catherine M Brennan and Chris Kinsey -
Beneath the Deluge and Cure for a Crooked Smile

Beneath the Deluge is Catherine M Brennan's first collection, published as one of Cinnamon Press's prize-winning collections. A cohesive and focused thematic collection, it considers boundaries, particularly those that exist between humans and the natural world.

These are not clear borderlines. The opening poem presents an image of Vikings:

fade now between monochrome borders
on the slow return from a naming, a wedding, a wake.

so blurred it is possible to interpret the figures as doing anything. This loosening of possibility is what opens the poems out into the realm of the readers' imagination. Nothing is prescriptive. Everything is open to interpretation: what are the boundaries between "skin and air"? How substantial are shorelines? Where are the regional divisions invisible to the seer?

When you look, as Brennan does, so much becomes indistinct: Sunday mornings dissolve, Nothing blinks from shadows, words fail, rivers and roads run parallel, light filters fine china and absence offers more uncertainty. But she doesn't allow her language or imagery to follow this preoccupation.

'He cannot escape the drowning', one of the collections many water (or drought) related poems, is a fine example of precision that defines a contained world. From the "estuaries alive with the black calls of gulls" to the "cool solidity of stones floors in the chancel" the chill and echoes of the place's history and the present, are laid as carefully as ships' timbers. The poem rolls forward, pressing against its edges, to travel through the landscape to the humanity of those within it.

The referencing of water underpins the movement within the collection. A cool movement. The tone Brennan maintains throughout is detached, a careful marvelling at what is observed; reminiscent of a traveller passing through, unwilling to become too attached to where they are. At the imminent death of a spouse,

He carries the watering can
through the house, patient while earth cracks
('Facing the drought').

Even two lovers in bed are described as having hollows between them,

as soundly as an old tree holds earth
in the hollows of its base
('Hollows').

The effect of this is not total dispassion but an unsentimental care of the poems' subjects. In 'Crossing Niagara Falls', we're told "The balance is in the mind". Brennan appears keen to keep her poems balanced. So while exploring love, nature, decay, fragmentation and faith, there is no unhinged siding, but the experiences are spread carefully out for us to view. The danger is of "text book weather talk" (how much this line could be applied to some of the poems?) But the delicate observations save the collection. The many ghosts and remembrances peppering the collection hint at it being one washed in the past, already at one remove. Hence the blurring, that presents a quiet honesty illuminating our relationships with ourselves and each other, as well as the world we inhabit.

Chris Kinsey's second collection, Cure for a Crooked Smile, is also primarily a book that concerns itself with the natural world and its creatures. But where Brennan is measured in tone, Kinsey is interested in a larger, more robust scale of nature ("sky soon heals"), in recounting the delight of witnessing glimpses of creatures, or exploring the psyche of greyhounds.

Kinsey clearly enjoys the naming of things. The collection flurries with kingfishers, goldcrests, wrens, toads, angelfish, swallows. Also, she wants to get inside what she sees. An otter she spots "turns somersaults inside my head"; a greyhound she walks:

dream scents twitch his limbs,
and he's off
howling
running the horizon down,

and she is ready to admit it:

I mark time mumbling: mallard, merganser, moorhen.

The compactness of language evident here, coupled with Kinsey's love of rhyme (particularly through alliteration) ensures a vital race through activity. The physicality of being alive, of experiencing the natural world resonates in many of the poems.

This exuberance does not preclude the frailty of humans: people notice the age spots on sycamore leaves, there is the waiting for news on health:

The thin wind that clicks the alders,
crisps fallen leaves and silences the blackbirds,

announcements of death  come with their own portents, "A large moth flew from my sleeve". The natural world seems to be what Kinsey aspires to, for "the stamina of a river", the kingfisher that provides "a drop of antifreeze".

The sequence 'Appointments with Hades' reveals how this love grew during her childhood. Where childhood songs and rules led her, how the "white open mouths of convolvulus" offered a sanctuary.

It wasn't that she muddled amphibian and ambition
they just swam together.

This early connection has grown so the adult constantly watches the light and motion around her, seeking to capture the essence of where she is:

how to catch the scent
of stalks refusing to be straw?

As if to counter this unknown, Kinsey often resorts to humour in her imagery: "I love a good hoar" is a cracking first line that sets an energised tone sustained through 'Blue Skies Thinking', suggesting the might of nature over our besotted selves. We are at the mercy of it.

And this is perhaps at no time more evident in the recent weeks with the Haitian earthquake, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano and the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This insistence of poets to use the natural world as subject underlines a widespread preoccupation that leads me to question what can each individual poet bring to it? What is the continuing relevance of new volumes of 'nature poetry'? Perhaps this will become only clear in years down the line, when a narrative stands proud from the crowd of voices, pointing what we do not yet know.

Sarah Hymas is a British poet and editor

Guest Review: Butt On McLoughlin

Maggie Butt reviews
by Nigel McLoughlin

It’s possible that Nigel McLoughlin may have the most extensive vocabulary of any man in Britain, and what a gift that is for a poet.  His contents page says: “the following abbreviations are used in footnotes to the poems: (Ir) Irish language, (Hib) Hiberno-English dialect, (collq) colloquialism or slang;” but he doesn’t list (Ac) academic or (Mu) the music of words or (He) the language of the heart – all of which he speaks like a native.  Even the title, Chora, is a word redolent with meanings which are different within the realms of ancient Greek, ancient philosophy and modern philosophy.  I expect he also knows it is a genus of nolid moths.

I first encountered McLoughlin’s work with the 2007 collection Dissonances (again a word with a range of meanings) so it was fascinating for me to see the genesis and development of poems published between 2001 and 2010. Some ‘New and Selected’s have poems in reverse order like a CV, but these are chronological, and enable us to walk with the poet through the growing sophistication of  his craft, through places and characters he encounters and leaves behind, through his themes of family and history as he strides out to ‘hobnail my way through all / the ploughed lands of language.” McLoughlin ‘’unroll(s)/ words like a carpet” and increasingly layers meaning, themes and rhythms from the clear simplicity of the earlier collections to the polish and craft I had already admired in Dissonances.

The extracts from his first collection, At the Water’s Clearing, are full of Irish music. From the plaintive mountain-and-bog setting of ‘Some Go Dancing’, through the rosaries and Ave’s, to the gritty urban landscapes of ‘Foreland Heights in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, this has to be Ireland.  From his first collection he introduces closely observed, un-named characters: his grandfather (?) who died in the first world war, a grandmother (?) who wove tales and divined futures , “and told me she saw faces in the flame”, the latchico (undesirable) and the Green Man with their magical powers, the ‘Poitin (potcheen) Maker’, who “avoids conversation like excise”, the navvy armies tunnelling through mountains, the fishermen at the lough, “here is a bond of blood / that pulls me to it – several ancestors/ dead by drowning.” 

With the 2004 collection Song for No Voices, the mix of musicality, intense emotion and tactile engagement with the world which characterises much of the later work, is emerging strongly.

From Blood there are familial blood-tie poems, “what it is to curl/all our hopes up in a ball/ and make a fist of them” , there are translations like ‘The Song of Amergin’ (who says the author is dead?), but most of all there is a pervasive sense of history, of the past living with the present, of a heritage and culture which is not just owned but breathed: “Forward and back, / forward and back, / all our histories go.”  This is “a land full of blood” where he manages, “to dance on bog, to heel/ and toe the line between / the mountain and the sky”  in a land of “whiskey/ coloured waters,” and stunted “pig-iron” trees where “even the grass is vaguely ferrous.”  These poems are deeply concerned with the history of Northern  Ireland, movingly, gut-wrenchingly full of the waste of it, “bloody as all our hands.”

After the tumult and terror of the Blood poems, the polish and experiment and – sometimes - joy of the poems from Dissonances where “everything burns, everything rings including me. / The great bell of the world vibrates and I am drunk / with winter sunshine” throws both into sharp relief.

And finally, in the new poems, McLoughlin circles again, around his themes of  Irish countryside and history, of families and of words, from the humanity of close observation of ‘Incendiary’ and ‘Synaesthesia’, to the chilling accuracy of ‘Exodus’ and ‘Market’, and the final poet’s-poem of ‘Chora’:

“The air greens into mistletoe. Something
moves in my head. I open the poem and enter it.
It shapes itself and imprints its flux like the arc
of a spark fading through.  The weight of a rhythm
cuts itself out of the place where forms form themselves.”

Dr. Butt is a British poet.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

New Poems by Laurie Duggan

Eyewear is pleased to feature two new poems by Laurie Duggan.  Duggan was born in Melbourne in 1949. He moved to England in 2006 and now lives in Faversham, Kent. Recent poetry books are Crab & Winkle (Exeter, Shearsman, 2009), Compared to What: Selected Poems 1971-2003, (Shearsman, 2005) and The Passenger, (University of Queensland Press, 2006). His translations of The Epigrams of Martial have just been republished in the USA (Boston, Pressed Wafer, 2010).



Paphos

Darkness across the water, before which
lightning, hail against windows;
a morning of tombs and low scrub, the desire
to get ‘shit-faced’ in some bar

The term ‘authenticity’ is meaningless here,
even the ruins attest to constant change

Sea-horse duct above rooftop generators,
satellite dishes, air-conditioning units, hot water services
VISIT PAPHOS AQUARIUM and
CHRIS HOLIDAY RENT A CAR
An illuminated truck circles the town
playing Christmas carols
Santa Claus awash on the seafront

At night a manhole cover, lifted by waves
clanks in the middle distance;
the sea flattens out
with a slight breeze from Africa

The cats of Paphos exist as small clues
in a big picture

A bar that sports mixed drinks:
‘sex on the beach’ and ‘blow job’
hosts a band that plays ‘Down Under’

The old is new, the new is old,
nea and kato
(‘an after dinner sleep
dreaming of both’)

Everything here is ‘English’d
by various hands’

insomnia?
That’s a Greek word

---

At the Norfolk Arms

pressed tin and Corinthian columns
smoked jamon, cut glass,

a gilt Madonna hemmed
by dried peppers: W1 espagnol.

This neighbourhood’s Georgian,
the pub, named for Norfolk who?

Thomas Howard, the 4th duke,
Norfolk in Sussex, recusant?

The Spanish barman says
of the wine list I stare at
‘the most expensive is the best’

I remember instead the edict
on an album cover
(The Dictators Go Girl Crazy):
‘quantity is quality’

poems by Laurie Duggan



Sunday, 22 August 2010

Hey kids, Poetry T-Shirts!

Silkworms Ink have outdone themselves with their stylish new range of poetry T-shirts - for all occasions that require poetry and t-shirts - which would be many, or should be.  Order now for Xmas!  For birthdays!  I feel pretty.  I feel like I can't wait to wear one of these.  Okay, I admit, one of them has a poem of mine on it.  But still, what fun.

Bourneography, or, On First Looking Into Anna Chapman

Philip Noyce directed one of my favourite films, Dead Calm, an utterly thrilling (and romantic) movie about a bereaved couple and a handsome madman on an isolated yacht (based on an idea by Orson Welles for a movie).  Then he directed a lot of big-budget thrillers based on Tom Clancy, some a little hit and miss.  Angelina Jolie, who stars in his new film, Salt, is a curious actor - although world-famous - she has been in relatively few good films - and, more interestingly - alternates between action blockbusters like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Wanted, and more intelligent worthy dramas like The Changeling, A Mighty Heart and fusions of the two like Beyond Borders.  She worked with Noyce last century in The Bone Collector, so they have a history.  Salt wants to be a franchise like the Bourne trilogy - that most influential of all genre movies of the 00s, reshaping Bond and the style of all subsequent thrillers.  It has a good shot at this aim.

It's not as fun, smart, or fire-on-all-cylinders as other chase-em movies, though - one thinks of The Fugitive as the classic of this kind of pic; nor as sinister-slick as Telefon, Winter Kills, The Manchurian Candidate, or any number of sleeper-spy movies it also borrows from.  I enjoyed the first act immensely - Salt's escape from CIA HQ is cool and fast-paced up to her rendez-vous with the Russian president.  I had a few problems with the spider venom (far too obvious why it is needed) telegraphed by the silly detail of her having a spider-scientist for a husband (a wasted August Diehl, so good in Inglourious Basterds) - and the identity of the second Russian mole, while not immediately a dead give-away, is hardly surprising.  The actual plot (or web of intrigue, natch) is too silly for words - and actually impossible to execute, based on about a million things going exactly to plan.  "Day X" is kicked off in a way that, working backwards, actually makes no sense.

That being said, Jolie kicks serious butt, and does a few amazing stunts, killing a baddie in the last reel in one of the most astonishing ways I've ever seen.  It is odd, but we never see this amazing killing machine in a T-shirt - her arms are always sleeved - because Jolie is sadly near -anorexic in look, and her arms have no muscles (she is no Linda Hamilton) - but she kicks and leaps and clings to walls and trucks like Spider-woman.  I found the "War Games" scene at the end sort of exciting, however, again, nonsensical (the use of a machine-gun to breach a top-secure room is just dumb, and ricochets would have killed Salt).  The very end is, like the Dark Knight, or the recent Robin Hood, an attempt to establish the myth of a loose-canon outlaw working beyond the margins of society and civilisation, hunted and hunting.  Seen as a bit of a spoof, and with a few satisfying moments, Salt is a mid-level actioner worth paying to see on a big screen.  I'd even go to Salt II.  But it doesn't compete with Anna Chapman.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Long Poem Magazine

There is an expression in England - "it does what it says on the tin" - and frankly, I am pleased to say that Long Poem Magazine falls into that category.  Rarely has a name of a little magazine so clearly and usefully lead readers to its pages: if you want long poems, here you go.  And what poems!  Issue Four, Summer 2010, has poems by Jane Duran, Patrick Early, Giles Goodland, Cherry Smyth, Claire Crowther, Graham Mort and Roger Moulson, among others.  I don't often write long poems.  Reading this fine selection makes me want to.  Buy this, and submit.