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, 30 November 2010

New Poem by Peter Oswald


Eyewear is very glad to offer readers a new sonnet by Peter Oswald.  It's very beautiful, I think.

Sonnet

She’s somewhere in the house. I will not go
To find her, right now. Let her be alone,
We will meet later, so I can be slow,
Not even bother with the phone,
Or shrieking of a child or animal,
Unless insistent. I will often stir
For no good reason, she is beautiful,
Focus my vacant gaze to look for her,
As if love was a novel I was loving,
Left in the wrong place, under towels or something,
And it concerns me, it will tell my ending,
Like a sky full of fires. But for the time being,
Let her be everywhere, fill all the rooms
With various possible sweet and bitter dooms.

poem by Peter Oswald; published with permission of the author.

Undiplomacy

A lot of fuss over this Wikileaking resolves down to the core question of secrets: should there be any kept?  I recall the 1992, and prescient, cyber-espionage thriller, Sneakers, which explored a world "without secrets" - a trope of many thrillers being the code-breaking device that renders all codes defunct.  The Enigma machine was built to render all Nazi codes transparent, and that was viewed as wholly to the good.  However, a thought experiment would quickly reveal that if all our private thoughts could be overheard, chaos would ensue - same for our private conversations?

It seems to me that what has been flooded out is eyebrow raising but confirms what we have suspected - that diplomats spy, and that some dodgy leaders and nations really are, well dodgy, and that some world leaders favour "voluptuous" Ukranian medical companions.  Privacy and secrets are the enemy of "truth" - but Ibsen, in the The Wild Duck, has Gregers destroy lives when he explodes life-lies that sustain necessary illusions - for coping with the too much reality that presses us on as humans.  Is Wikileaks a modern Gregers, showering us with the dubious gift of near-omniscience?

Ms. Clinton argues that this is an attack on the world system, but it seems a system that floats oddly above the heads of its citizens, one full of rude claims about fellow politicians.  What may disappoint some conspiracy buffs is how bland most of the revelations are - except for the question of Iran.  There we see potential for a coming war.  That's something good to know.  One last thought - Wikileaks may soon be out of a job: when all the world's secrets are out in the world, it is time to recycle Pandora's box and close shop.  Truth will become designified, emptied of its rare value.  Lies and secrets, if truly rare, would become the new strange value.  The best way to keep a secret, of course, is to tell no one.  Not even yourself, as Freud, that early Wikileaker, observed.

268

Eyewear is now followed by 268 people - a good number of subscribers for any "little magazine" - and hopes to be followed by 270 by the end of December.  Let's keep growing.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Nielsen Rating

Leslie Nielsen has died - sadly - and he must be rated, all things considered - one of Canada's greatest popular figures of the 20th century, along with William Shatner - a world famous comedian, and serious actor - who became globally synonymous with straight-faced hilarity.  Nielsen was the captain in my favourite shlock film, The Poseidon Adventure, whose reaction to the terrible capsizing wave later made him ideal in Airplane! - often voted by critics as one of the ten best comedies.  He will be missed.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Two New Poems By Mike Loveday

Eyewear is glad to offer two new poems by Mike Loveday this chilly Sunday.  Loveday is the editor-publisher of 14 magazine, a published poet, and a student on the MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University.  His debut pamphlet is out from HappenStance in 2011.

Fool's Errand

Beyond the requests -
issued my first day at his factory -
for striped paint, or a ham salad doughnut,
it’s the glass hammer and rubber nails
which come to mind now, as I’m fixing
his image into this.


Doubting Thomas

A middle-aged man, balancing
on a twelve-foot pillar
with his hands.

Not many people
have stopped
to watch.

In a white hat, white suit,
he is giving birth
to a clock.

The clock doesn’t want to come out,
but when he finally squeezes it free,
it is wearing a red hat,
and reciting a poem in Welsh.
“Y nos dywell yn distewi”

The poem scans
the audience,
grabs the man’s collar
and pushes
him off the pillar.

poems by Mike Loveday; published with permission of the author.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

225 YBPs

I have now updated the Young British Poets list, and there are 225 poets listed.  Other recommendations welcome. I hope that, in time, this list will help critics, readers, and researchers to explore this generation.

The Rialto Autumn 2010

Nathan Hamilton's ongoing exploration of young British poets has its second iteration in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Rialto, one of the UK's best poetry magazines.  Part Two of "Look Out" introduces poems by Paul Batchelor, James Brookes, Tim Cockburn, Swithun Cooper, Emily Critchley, Andrew Fentham, Charlotte Geater, Matthew Gregory, James Harrison, Emily Hasler, Luke Heeley, Ian Heames, Agnes Lehoczky, James Midgeley, Beverly Nadin, Eileen Pun, Sam Riviere, Marcus Slease, Ben Stainton, Tom Warner and Thomas Yates.  I had read the work of perhaps half of these - Cooper, Gregory, Heeley, Riviere, Warner, Lehoczky, Brookes, Geater, Hasler and Midgeley were especially on my radar.  Glad to learn of the work of the others.  Hamilton's intro is valuable as it explores various sorts of approaches to contemporary poetry, and discusses the stylistic hybridity of the younger poets.  Unfortunately, the essay is a bit undermined by typos (Don Patterson?).  Still, all interested in where British poetry is going should read this issue.  I look forward to the third (final?) selection.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Read The Book First

Modern Canadian Poets: An Anthology has caused a bit of a national stir in Canada's media, with major columns in both national papers, The Globe and Mail, and now The National Post, dealing with it.  Both columns say the anthology is, ultimately great, but take it to task for a variety of faults, that, frankly, don't quite compute.  The reason - the commentators in Canada haven't read the book yet - it was launched a week ago in Britain, and is not yet available for sale in Canada (it will be in the new year), though review copies are now winging their way over.  Questions about its ethos, its evaluative methods, its remit, etc, are all explained in the Introduction - explaining why, for example, we include poems by French-Canadian poets for the first time in a Canadian anthology of English poetry in more than 20 years; or why we stop at the birth year 1962.  We discuss the younger generation, and encourage readers to pursue their work.  We also introduce a number of other new perspectives on Canada anthologies, and Canadian poetry, but in the context of all the previous anthologies, which we read, along with 100s of major and minor poets of the last 110 years or so.  I am glad to see this coverage, but it would be even more interesting a discussion if they'd bother to read the book first. Then maybe they can explain why, if Canadian Poetry is so respected, popular, read and admired in Britain, which some are claiming in Canada, ours (Evan Jones is the co-editor) is the first anthology published in the UK in over 52 years to survey Canadian poetry.

Featured Poet: Sylvie Marie

Eyewear is very glad to welcome, this ice-cold London Friday, Sylvie Marie (pictured above) born in Belgium in 1984.  She has published poetry in several magazines and anthologies. Her first collection of poetry Zonder (which means Without) was published in 2009 and was received with great praise by the Dutch press."this may be the most remarkable poetry debut of the recent years", one critic said. Marie is also editor of the Dutch literary magazines Meander and Deus Ex Machina. She writes a poem every week for the widespread Flemish magazine Humo.  I met her in October at the Maastricht International Poetry Nights, where we were both guest readers.  The poem below was translated into English  by Zoran Ancevski with the poet.




soms

soms wil ik je dood, schat,
niet dat ik je dood wil maar
ik zou je lichaam wel eens
willen dragen wanneer
je hand ontkracht naar
beneden bungelt en je tong eruit.

ik zie me je al jaren torsen tot
oog en vlees vergaan, de
schilfers van je huid achtergelaten
als om de weg terug te weten
maar om nooit te gebruiken.

uiteindelijk zou alleen nog
het skelet met botjes, kootjes en
andere kruimels achterblijven,
jij dan licht geworpen als een
zomerjasje over mijn schouder,
mijn pink in het lusje.



sometimes

sometimes I want you dead, honey,
not that I really want you to die
but I would like to carry your body
once when your hand’s
hanging powerless down and
with your tongue dangling out.

I see myself hauling you for years till
eye and flesh putrefy, the flakes of your skin
left behind as a help to remember
the way back home.

eventually only your skeleton
with tiny bones and crumbs would lag
behind, you thrown slightly as a summer jacket
over my shoulder, my little finger
in the loop.


poem by Sylvie Marie; published with permission of the author.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Pottering Out

The world divides between those who think Harry Potter rubbish, and those who love it.  In fact, this could be further split, into those who feel this way about the books, and those who feel this way about the movies, or both.  I personally find the books beneath contempt, amazing only in terms of their unprecedented cultural success, which renders them worthy of study if not approval; and the movies a dull second.  It is good to see this series come to a close, as lifeless, draggy and ponderous as ever.  As one critic put it, it is just one damn thing after another.  The struggle between good and evil has never been more long-winded and lacking in dynamism.  It is a sign of the weak-minded times that a whole generation grew up on this twaddle, when, for instance, previous generations had Tolkien, Lewis, and Frank Herbert, to enjoy.

War?

It seems unlikely that North Korea will continue to press its aggression on its neighbour - given the pressure from both China, and America, to do otherwise.  However, it is an erratic, fragile and attention-seeking state, and anything could happen.  If war does break out, then it would be potentially a trigger for a "third world war" - precisely the reason why China, a rather cool and moderate customer on the world stage, all things considered, would not let that happen.  Still, yet another reason why nuclear weapons in the wrong, infantile, hands, can be a bad thing.  In any hands.  The Republican urge to sink recent arms reduction treaties for short-term gain, in the light of rogue proliferations, appears ever more craven.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pitt Stops

One hopes that Heaven will be letting in Ingrid Pitt - surely the right one - who has sadly died today, the Queen of Hammer Horror, and the Countess Dracula.  Pitt, whose buxom figure emphasised the diabolic sensuality on offer to her victims, was synonymous visually with the tantalising transgressions of a certain tendency in semi-erotic horror films - a far cry from today's dismal and dehumanised "torture porn".  Pitt, who was Polish, appeared in several of the classic films of all time - such as The Wicker Man, and Where Eagles Dare,   and also acted in television, appearing in Dr Who, and Smiley's People.  Her three most famous roles are likely in The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula, and The House That Dripped Blood, at the start of the 1970s.  Indeed, her major period is brief, 1968-1973.  She had earlier taken small or uncredited roles in Welles' Chimes at Midnight, and Lean's Dr. Zhivago.  She will be missed.

Cromwell, The Famine, and 12.5% Tax

The Irish in Britain have been welcomed and included, at the highest levels of cultural activity, for more than a century - one recalls Yeats in London, one thinks of Faber's healthy Irish list now.  The green passport has allowed a comfortable sense of kinship to develop, so that more than one contemporary poetry anthology of British poetry has felt the need, indeed, the wish, to include Irish brothers and sisters.  It must come as something of a rude awakening, then, to see that this friendship was fickle, and about a nickel, or pound, deep, in some quarters.  No less than The Guardian's Polly Toynbee has argued in today's paper that the Irish have been "terrible neighbours to us" (Britain) because of the tax rate of 12.5%; and, many less-left politicians and public figures, in the Tory party and mad media, have expressed outrage that so much largesse should be shown, so much noblesse obligingly proferred, to Ireland.

I find talk of bad neighbourliness a bit much.  I can't help thinking that the badness has been mostly blowing one way for well on three or four centuries now, at least - from the East.  Without bothering to roll out a full carpet of crimes and follies, may I mention just two: Cromwell, and The Famine.  I cannot help but feel that Ireland has done well by the UK this past 80 years or so, as a modern nation state, and that the healthy two-way traffic, marred as it was at times by troubles and world wars, benefited the UK as much or more than the Irish.  Needless to say, the growth of Ireland also helped the UK economy.  More to the point, the sad, shabby and sorry history of English involvement in Ireland inflicted more cost, pain and bother on Ireland than £10 billion can ever repay.  Toynbee should be ashamed.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Guest Review: Chonchúir On Wells and Perry

Nuala Ní Chonchúir reviews
When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things by Grace Wells
and
The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance by Paul Perry

Two Dedalus Press collections under review, one a début and the other – Paul Perry’s – the poet’s third full collection. Each volume is beautifully produced and they are a credit to the publisher who has taken care with the design of the books. Books are consumer items and the reader wants to own a well-made, attractive book as much as anything else.
            Grace Wells is a poet of specifics; her collection When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things is a journey from dark to bright times and, ultimately, to love; all of which is invested with concrete, engaging detail. Along the way there are poems of domestic violence and fear, loss and hope. She never shies away from the raw detail of sexual violence and, in that sense, her work is revelatory.
In the poem ‘Rescue’, the narrator returns, ghost-like, to the scene of the violent marital home she occupied, to rescue herself and her children:

                        ‘...no sanctuary except that last crouched corner
of the house in the hole she burrows for herself
by the floor, quaking, beyond tears, her mouth,
her lungs, her penis-choked throat denied air.’

            Wells is a poet in control of emotive issues like violence, parting and death. Her poem ‘The Dress’ has as skilled an ending as Heaney’s ‘Mid-term Break’. It’s a potentially hopeful poem about a poor man’s loving gift to his wife – the dress of the title – but the poet wraps it up with a shock last line that is both simply and skilfully delivered.
            The natural world, particularly plant-life, is very important to this collection – it is often in nature that Grace Wells finds sanctuary and solace. Gardening and natural things soothe the poet and they provide some of her richest images. In the poem ‘My Garden and Those Who Made It’, the poet states, ‘A garden forgives everything’. This poem could be a metaphor for the entire collection – the overgrown garden that is tamed with the help of friends, and is finally free to be as good as it can be. There is an evocative clarity in many of the nature poems that speak to the growing strength of the poet as mother, partner and writer:

                        ‘And what flows in her now
is rainwater, woodsmoke, silence reflected
on the lake surface; leaves turned,
hair snagged on briars. Stones. The small,
white feathers that line nests.
She is sung with fox bark and pheasant call.’ (‘Pioneer’)

            Although this collection deals with the hard stuff of life it is a hopeful one and the reader enjoys the accumulating strength of the narrator and is glad to accompany her as she walks ‘once more into the shimmering world’. (‘Clearing’)
            Paul Perry is a peripatetic poet; he travels within his poetry all around Ireland, over to Providence and Everglade City in the USA, and on to Lithuania. But his most diligent mapping is the landscape of the heart and mind – many of the poems tease at the bonds which tie people together and at the inevitability of letting go. For all Paul Perry’s wandering – because of it, maybe – his is a convincing poetry. There are colourful characters aplenty to be found, as well as insight and tenderness. As in the poem ‘Reservations’, in which the troubles of an old lover are remembered and honoured, while the narrator is haunted by the cries of foreign birds:
‘Sometimes,
you can hear it

cry out
in the form
of the great blue heron.
Look:
it’s landing

on a body
of water, and
you, idle,
resigned, but appreciative
are standing by its banks.’

This simple form is typical of many, but not all, of the poems in this collection. The title poem, for example, brings to mind the triumph of the poet’s last collection, the historical narrative poem ‘The Lady with the Coronet of Jasmine’. In ‘The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance’ we get a return to this form of poetic storytelling at which Paul Perry is so accomplished.
This poem concerns the Roanoke Colony, on Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina; it was an enterprise financed by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 16th century to set up a permanent English settlement there. Several groups attempted to establish a colony but were unsuccessful; the final group of colonists disappeared and are known as ‘The Lost Colony’; their fate is still unknown.
‘The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance’ is a poem of deep loneliness and regret, evocatively given voice:

‘Iron pots rusted. Maps and books spoiled by rain.
Words sank into the soil never to be heard again:
words like love and peace. In this moon-shaken dawn
there was no evidence of a struggle, no sign of violence.’

The collection ends with a beautiful poem about a new father driving home from the hospital after the birth of his first child. The ‘hospital doors/closed’ to him and the steering-wheel of his car is ‘brittle crumbling/and disappearing’ in his hands. He arrives to an empty house ‘hungry thirsty elated and exhausted’, perfectly capturing the insane high that accompanies the birth of a child, for both parents alike.
Paul Perry’s is a ruminative collection; his poems are delicate and, one feels, very carefully constructed to achieve their directness and apparent simplicity. His gifts lie in an almost melancholic understanding of human nature and in finding pared back, beautiful ways of imparting this knowledge.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in County Galway.  Her debut novel You was recently published by New Island.  She was one of four winners of the 2009 Templar Poetry Pamphlet competition. Her pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car was published November 2009; her third full collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Hayes Wins

Terrance Hayes has won the National Book Award in the US for his fourth collection, Lighthead.  Hats off to him!

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Alan Baban - poet, writer, medical student - was at the Modern Canadian Poets launch last night wearing the best geek chic eyewear I've seen lately, and after we went out for some talk and dinner (I don't eat before events) the subject of the year's best music came up - Alan is a music critic for cokemachineglow, and we're lucky to have his comments at Eyewear, too.  Anyway, he's heard a review copy of what is apparently going to be the kick-ass album of 2010 - Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  The reviews so far have been ecstatic - as if this was Pet Sounds-Thriller-Okay Computer as second coming.  Let's hope so.  If it is, it will confirm my suspicion that this has been the best year for popular music, ever.  The new effects that can be achieved in production, combined with the new immediacy of transmission, have led to the scene breaking open in so many ways, sounds, and styles, that the cornucopia has become narcotically, insanely enveloping.

Featured Poet: Judy Brown



Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Judy Brown (pictured) this foggy day in London with a new poem.  Brown was born in Cheshire and has also lived in Northumberland, the Lake District and, in the early 1990s, Hong Kong, where she worked as a lawyer.  She now lives in London and Derbyshire.  Her pamphlet Pillars of Salt (2006) was a winner in Templar Poetry's first pamphlet competition and her first full collection Loudness is due from Seren in Autumn 2011.  This year she won the Manchester Poetry Prize for a portfolio of four poems.  She also received first prize in the Poetry London competition in 2009 and the Poetry Society's Hamish Canham prize in 2005.  Her poems have appeared in the Bloodaxe anthology (editor Roddy Lumsden) Identity Parade (2010) and the Forward Book of Poetry 2006 as well as in various magazines. Hers will be one of the debut collections of the new decade in UK poetry.



THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD

            And now the reader will ask what became of the three penguins’ eggs for which three human lives had been risked three hundred times a day, and three human frames strained to the utmost extremity of human endurance?”  (Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922))

was to the Natural History Museum where he took the eggs
after his friends had died coming back from the Pole.
They were huge, waxy, thick-walled - an imperial pound of souls

he carried blind from the ice where the penguins breed.
That night their canvas shelter was snatched in a matador switch
and they cowered under the burn of Cape Crozier’s wind.

He wrote: I wondered why it did not carry away the earth.
By then he thought the place was a church.  Butter broke
like a seven-years-bad-luck glass at the touch of a knife. 

His teeth shattered too.  Seventy miles out there, hauling
a sledge in the midwinter dark.  As the curator took the eggs,
they shrank.  Then just a grey-white absence, stigmata

drilling his palms, the only way back to the South. 
Nothing was ever real but that trip, the jokes, how much,
at the end of each day’s march, his heart had slowed.

new poem by Judy Brown; published with permission of the author

Dooley's New Book Out With Others, verbatim

Salt Book Launch: Matthew Sweeney, Padraig Rooney and Tim Dooley
Date:Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Venue: The Betsey Trotwood Pub, 56 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 3BL
6.30pm for 7pm start / Free
Come and join celebrated Salt author's Matthew Sweeney, Padraig Rooney and Tim Dooley as they launch their new books in London. We will be in the upstairs bar.

For more information on the venue please do check out their website: http://www.thebetsey.com/
Penned in the Margins Event
Date: Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Venue: Aubin & Wills 188 Westbourne Grove W11 2RH
7pm / free
Penned in the Margins presents
Tim Dooley
George Ttoouli
Julia Bird
Hannah Walker
at Aubin & Wills. Nearest tube: Westbourne Park / Notting Hill Gate
Refreshments provided.
Please RSVP to info@pennedinthemargins.co .uk
Please do visit the Penned in the Margins website: http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Guest Review: Saphra On Oswald

Learning Gravity

Death, that often visited subject of poets, stalks the pages of Helen Oswald’s Forward Prize nominated ‘Learning Gravity’. This is a collection that explicitly attempts to get to grips with the subject of loss, as signalled at the front of the book with a dedication to Oswald’s brother, who died in 1992.

In fact if any poem in the collection could be said to sum up its overall thrust, it could be the sonnet, ‘Not Wanting to Write about Truffles’ which describes the imagined process of terriers looking for truffles, and ends touchingly and with an echo of Eliot:

‘Their value is not scarcity but in that saving,
exhuming delicacies from dead ground.
Try as I may, I still go down there with the hope of it.'

And ‘down there’ is exactly where many of the poems go. The subject of death and mortality becomes - to borrow the poet's metaphor - the book’s centre of gravity, pulling much of the material in towards it. The theme is sometimes expressed obliquely, but often confronted head on. Unflinchingly, these poems examine their theme minutely from many angles, so that the act of writing seems to take on a redemptive quality. In the title sequence, ‘Learning Gravity’, which reads as a series of elegies, lines like ‘Death stops all machinery.’ are balanced with the idea that the dead never leave us:

‘You sit patiently with me, waiting
to be given back your shape
in some strange way,
don’t you think?’

('Learning Gravity')

By writing the poem, Oswald is of course implicitly giving 'shape' to the loved one who has died.

Oswald leans towards the lyric in her poetry and there is some beautifully controlled and arresting imagery. When this works well, it lingers in the mind: in ‘One Day on the Moon’, she writes, she ‘buried/my face in the hinge of my father’s knee’ and in ‘Leaving the City’ she refers to coming home as ‘coming back down through seasick wheat’. In ‘The Melt’, there is a vivid evocation of the appearance of a thaw in a snow-covered city:

‘The bared spines of roof ridges, cars’ exoskeletons
anaesthetised in ice, reawakening. Everywhere
                                                                        white robes
slipping open.’

('The Melt')

Sometimes, though, it's as if the poet's ability to come up with powerful metaphors slightly runs away with her. In ‘Full tilt’, describing a childhood bicycle ride – I assume with her brother - she writes: ‘you sliced across a major road/like scissors through ribbon’ which is harder to visualise; difficult in my mind at least, to connect a bicycle with a pair of scissors. Later, in the same poem, which is, after all, only twelve lines long, Oswald goes on to write:

The handlebars locked horns and joined us at the hip
until we came apart, you and I,
like a book falling open.

('Full Tilt')

So here in the same sentence, we have handlebars locking horns – so vivid - but then immediately the simile of a book falling open, and all this following so soon after the earlier metaphor of a pair of scissors cutting a ribbon. I begin to wonder whether this melee of images is just a little too much to follow. This is a pity, because the central idea being expressed, that of togetherness and separation, is a strong one, and congruent with many of the other poems.

There are a number of loose sonnets in the collection, and a three-sonnet sequence titled 'Allotments' strikes a particularly joyful note in what is, on the whole, a rather sombre book. These three poems celebrate life, love and growth but - like most of Oswald's poems - are not without their dark side: 'Killing us, but killing us softly.' is the ending to the second sonnet in the sequence. But the last one finishes cheerfully with a triumphant and neatly Shakespearean couplet about a rescued chick who

decoded the hieroglyphics of his sky-built DNA,
mastered a frail technology and flapped away.

('Allotments')

And again in a slightly happier vein, alongside the many explorations of loss from different angles, there is the tracing of a long distance love affair. In ‘Morning After’, she writes

Romance is a parrot –
I love you, I love you.
It parodies what cannot be put
into words, or cages.

('Morning After')

These are carefully built lines – with the lovely sound echo of ‘parrot’ and ‘parodies’ resonating through this stanza in a delightful collusion of sound and sense.

In 'Night Flight', another love poem, this time constructed of tight, fully rhymed couplets, the last two lines are: 'You and I exist in flight/between arrival, departure, delight.'. I'm carried along by this ending because of the poem's Marvellian-style couplet form, but I'm a bit less convinced of the endings of some of the other poems where Oswald does tend to drive home in the closing line or two what is already implicit. In Air Raid, Coventry’, an evocation of her mother's childhood fear of air raids - but more significantly, a different fear she refuses to name - the poem ends rather heavily with ‘Silence/detonates in the space between us’. Similarly, in ‘The Meet’ a poem about hunting, which begins with the fabulous image ‘a clot of pink coats …’ finishes with the single sentence ‘Someone blooded, run to ground’. The word ‘blood’ has hovered so convincingly over the poem it seems a pity to let it land so firmly at the end. But in the haunting poem 'Inventing Zero', where the poet imagines a person coming to grips with the idea of 'nothing' and finding a symbol for it, Oswald closes with a beautifully light touch:

Down by the reeds I see Zudin
laughing and throwing stones
from the bank, oblivious
to the reckoning, the shape
I have given nothing.

('Inventing Zero')

I was charmed by a couple of the more quirky and light poems in the book, perhaps because they were juxtaposed with such painful material. In ‘Keeping an Eye’, a poem about identity, the poet describes herself as the sort of person who might be asked to watch someone else’s bag on a train, but suggests that she might just take that person's bag and identity and leave her own skin ‘neatly folded on her seat’. Similarly, 'Second Language’ which describes a brief and startling encounter with a foreign stranger is another poem in the collection that I enjoyed for its sheer brio:

How long have you been here? And,
What have you seen so far?

You, you say, I have seen you.

('Second Language')

I found it a relief to encounter the witty conceits of these poems that moved away from the subject of mortality, and I enjoyed their tightness and wry tone. But this is primarily a book infused with powerful feeling, one that moved me: a collection articulated with a naturally lyric voice, poems that repeatedly circle and return to their subjects of love, loss and memory. Here is a poet who is willing to look at difficult subject matter and confront it with a startling clarity of vision and emotional honesty.


Jacqueline Saphra is on the editorial board for Magma Poetry. Her pamphlet Rock'n'Roll Mamma from Flarestack is to be followed next year by a full collection, The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions, supported by the Arts Council of England and published by flipped eye.

Launch of Modern Canadian Poets Anthology in London Tonight

Modern Canadian Poets: An  Anthology, edited by Evan Jones and Todd Swift (Carcanet, 2010).

London Launch Event
Thursday, November 18th, 2010
6.30-8.30 pm
Oxfam Books & Music
91 Marylebone High Street
London W1U 4RB
near Baker street tube
Telephone: 020 7487 3570

Wine reception, book signing, with brief readings from
George Elliott Clarke, Marius Kociejowski, David McGimpsey and Eric Ormsby

All are welcome; free admission
with support from Kingston University

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Cryptography

Not to be missed event for those in London: the last Poetry in the Crypt reading of the year, which features Tim Dooley, Rosemary Norman and Penelope Shuttle.  Three excellent readers, plus floor spots and the traditional selection of tasty cakes at the interval.  And all in the good cause of supporting Hospice Care Kenya.
 
7 pm November 20th
in the crypt of St Mary's Church
Upper Street Islington

Review: Let Me In


Director Matt Reeves was tasked impossibly with remaking a universally acclaimed horror masterpiece, Let The Right One In, for the American market.  The original is sombre, pensive, sensitive, and artful - perhaps the most profound meditation on love, desire, ageing, adolescence, and evil, in all of the horror film canon - so the idea that a new version would have anything to add was obscene.  Instead, Reeves has turned in an unusually sensitive reappraisal, which subtly readjusts the setting, and some of the scenes, without altering the themes, the mood, or the mise-en-scene.

The new version, Let Me In, has not been embraced by audiences - though it has made ten times as much as the art-house precedent.  This is too bad, but perhaps inevitable - Let Me In is not just a horror movie, but a character study, and a potential love story (as signalled by the introduction of the Romeo and Juliet theme here) - and it unfolds at a solemn, almost funereal pace.  Reeves directs with a commanding control of his style and allusions - the opening pays homage to that of Kubrick's The Shining, and early on, a nurse's reflection reminds us of the opening of Citizen Kane (a character who let no one in); his much-talked of use of Reagan's speech about evil is - as a boy coming of age at the same time (1983) as Owen the protagonist -  beautifully resonant; and the setting in Los Alamos, that most symbolic of places (where America's awesome post-war power was secured and arguably perverted), stands in wonderfully for the original Nordic landscape - who knew it snowed in New Mexico?

Where Reeves revs things up is in the serial murders, which are now slightly less creepy if no less brutal and strange (though the vehicular disaster is well-done); and in the more obvious display of Abby's supernatural metamorphosis.  Abby in the original was the dark Other, the immigrant to a blonde land, but here that is switched, so the boy is dark-haired, and the girl is fair.  Also, the parents are now occluded, and exist mostly in shadow, out of frame, on the phone.  The bullying is more effectively dramatised, and, in some ways, the exploration of pubescent sexual awakening is more openly admitted, as is the unsettling relationship between Abby and her grown-up helper.  I can't imagine a better remake possible - the casting is superb, and Elias Koteas is especially good.  The film is beautiful to watch, deeply upsetting and challenging, and also poignant. It remains a puzzle - one of the key tropes - perhaps unsolvable - the heart is no Rubik's Cube after all - about whether evil and good can co-exist, about the sacrifices that love requires, and about the rights of need and hunger.  In one sense, the children are killers and should be stopped.  In another, they are touchingly star-crossed friends.

In fact, they are both - and, like Bonnie and Clyde - their murderous transports are both rapturous and heinous.  But the romance of crime and the bonds of those damaged in childhood, by abuse or neglect, often strong enough to sustain and empower the rankest of co-dependencies.  A vampire's prerogative is to take life to keep their own quasi-life; but here, the cost to others is fully explored.  Four Specs out of Five.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Henryk Gorecki Has Died

Sad news.  The 20th century Polish composer Gorecki has died.  At first an obscure modernist, he became an unlikely "star" in the popular realm when his "symphony of sorrowful songs" stopped traffic in Los Angeles and was a world-wide phenomenon of the early 90s.  It seems hard to believe this haunting, deeply spiritual and humanist work should have been famous for 18 years, when it seems like yesterday when I first heard it, at the age of 26.  I was deeply moved - no surprise there.  The promised "new age" of spiritual wisdom never materialised, instead we had the Balkan wars, and then the "clash of civilisations" marked by 9/11.  The music continues to transcend its moments, though, and while Gorecki never completed another work of universal acclaim, he remains a key cultural figure of the pre-millenium period, and the creator of the darkest, most sublime piece of music created in the post-Holocaust era.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Featured Poet: David Wheatley

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Irish poet-critic David Wheatley - pictured above - to its wind-blown pages this blustery November day.  Wheatley, one of Ireland's impressive younger literary figures, was born in Dublin in 1970, and is the author of four poetry collections with Gallery Press: Thirst, Mocker, Misery Hill and A Nest on the Waves. He has edited the work of James Clarence Mangan, also for Gallery, and Samuel Beckett’s Selected Poems for Faber and Faber. He often reviews for, among others, The Guardian Review section - where his reviews tend to be judicious and thoughtful, and non-representative of his edgier side.  Wheatley is - as many of his Irish generation are - an outspoken opponent of the Catholic Church, and a far-ranging (sometimes madcap) satirist, at least on the Internet, where he has run a lively blog.  In his combination of erudition,  sense of play, and seriousness, he makes a tantalising offer to the future, of growing into the next important Irish poet after Muldoon - though his own style is notably different.  He lives in Hull where he lectures.  This poem is a translation (see his note below) taken from the impressive new anthology, Patrick Crotty's The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.

Poem by Anonymous

Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa (?1560-1612) was court bard to three successive chieftains of the Maguire clan in Co. Fermanagh. He exemplifies the aristocratic (rather than folk) tradition in Irish poetry that would come to an end with the defeat of the Gaelic chieftains at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. He is best known to readers in English through James Clarence Mangan’s ‘O’Hussey’s Ode to the Maguire’, and is the subject of James Carney’s 1958 study ‘The Irish Bardic Poet’. This anonymous elegy observes the convention of comparing poetry to a woman, who suffers loss of symbolic authority and status on the death of the poet. The original Irish text can be found in Osborn Bergin’s Irish Bardic Poetry.

On the Death of a Poet (composed during the last illness of Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa)

Poetry is touched by decline:
how can we come to her aid?
She is sure all hope is gone
in her poorly state.

Consider poetry’s plight,
fit only for the sickbed
as word of Eochaidh’s death is brought
to her who was his bride. 

It is hard to witness the honour
once hers turn to scorn:
woeful indignity drawing near,
the cloud of abasement come down.

To Eochaidh above all men she gave
the flower in its prime
of her artistry and love;
and all to nourish him.

The hidden ore of his poet’s craft
burned with a gemlike flame
lighting up the art he left;
much died with his name.

Well he knew the schoolmen’s work,
who sat among the wise;
poet of the golden cloak,
a great lament shall be his.

He stumbled on the hazel of knowledge
in its secret grove,
and left its branches hung with flesh,
stripping the nutshells off.

Out of words both dark and subtle
the poet makes his art
with perfect ease, and in recital
omits no part.

It is no small help to his work
to add the gold relief
of learning to his every word:
such is the way of the beehive.

Bees all over brim their hoard
with the juice they collect 
from the oozings of a milky gourd
or a flower unpacked.

They are examples to the bard
whose craft none can match;
no flower or fruit, soft or hard,
escapes his search.

It is he resolves the doubts
of those already skilled;
he who settles all debates,
he to whom all yield.

Who has not been touched by sorrow
at the master’s loss of life?
This disease goes to the marrow
and pierces like a spike.

Like a cow parted from her calf,
my wits are overthrown;
I make melody from my grief,
who now am orphaned;

and poetry is a widow unless
Maoilseachlainn’s son returns;
no-one can make good her loss
but the man she mourns.

poem translated by David Wheatley from an anonymous poet; from The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry; reprinted with permission of the author.

Todd Swift Sightings

Some of my poems are up this week at good blogs: Dan Wyke's Other Lives has five (!) poems of mine, and Joshua Jones has put up a few with clever illustrations over at etcetera.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Dino De Laurentiis Has Died

Sad news.  One of the greatest producers of camp, and schlock, films, in the history of cinema, has died.  Dino De Laurentiis, among other films, produced La Strada, Serpico, Flash GordonConan movies, a King Kong remake, Barbarella, Dune (one of my favourite films), and four Hannibal Lecter sequels.

Guest Review: Pugh on Haynes

by John Haynes

Haynes’ first collection, Letter to Patience, was a long poem in terza rima addressed to a friend in Nigeria. The present book is again a long poem, this time in rime royal, the stanza of Troilus and Criseyde, addressed to his Nigerian-born wife.

As in his first book, the classical form is given a more contemporary feel by being handled quite freely. Rhyme is anything from full to a vague approximation of vowels, while the metre, though basically iambic, is also often irregular and, above all, uses a lot more enjambement than Chaucer would have contemplated.  This is where one of the problems comes in. Rime royal seems less able to accommodate constant run-on lines than terza rima was; Haynes’ version of it may sound more contemporary, but it also often sounds awkward:

Not sure she’d woken up, he called out "Kakka"
very softly just in case, then when her
voice creaked from the dark

The first line there is perfectly sayable; the second, with its jarring run-on, stumbles horribly. This happens several times, and always in connection with rather daringly run-on lines. Where the poem flows, as it often does for long periods, the line breaks fall into the way of matching natural pauses in the syntax just as they would in Chaucer.  I'm driven to the conclusion that sometimes, the reason a thing has been done the same way for centuries is not that no one has thought to see if another way is better, but because it works.

The poem also seems to flow better when he's narrating facts than when he's pondering life, the universe and everything. At these points the syntax can get downright convoluted and not only the rhythm but the sense is hard to follow.  In this verse

And Lara born almost the day your mother
died, a second soul, the joy and sorrow
child across all this school map Sahara,

that third line, with its impenetrable three-noun phrase at the end, had me baffled and wondering if it were a typo; had a word been missed out? There certainly are several typos, including a couple where the word "its" has carelessly acquired an unwanted apostrophe – "that calls the tale to it's own exile" and "this Africa, it's use". He also sometimes baffles me with his use of italics: why, in this line, the italics on "are"

still dark as are the walls of that stone womb

let alone the last two letters of "sentimental" in these lines:

                                   or try to put
my case sentimental, holding your foot

where I can't imagine what is being achieved.

But mainly where there is puzzlement it comes from this being partly a very personal poem. It does have universal relevance; it is an often fascinating meditation on what we mean by the word "you", the concept of another human to whom we stand in a relationship, but it is also addressed to a "you", the poet's wife, and contains many personal references from which we are necessarily excluded. This is quite acceptable in a poem, certainly preferable to having everything carefully explained as to an idiot, and here we come to another problem, the copious footnotes. Where these relate to Nigerian language and custom, they are sometimes useful but we could often do without them; the gist would come over even if the word did not. This account of an old woman's death is for my money, quite affecting without being translated:

Roof-thatch, brushed clay floor, clay bed, a wrapper
over her. She spoke from where she lay.
"Few days, one week, you no go see me, shah."
She drank, then smiled. She wasn't scared. She'd see
them all again, parents, sisters. "Bature,
you are welcome. How are you? Sannu!"
I answered: "Na gode". It means "Thank you".

I'd happily have done without the intrusively explanatory last sentence, and without the footnotes explaining that "few days" means "in a few days' time", "shah" "I assure you", "Bature" "European" and "Sannu" "hello". It reminds me of nothing so much as when the BBC adds subtitles to some Indian or African speaker whose English was perfectly comprehensible in the first place.  Even worse, though, is when he footnotes something which, if it is to make its impact on a reader at all, must do so without being signalled, like a quotation or literary reference – eg the footnote to the line "because here is the sun where I was born", which goes "Desdemona's words – "I think the sun where he was born/Drew all such humours from him." Here, surely, one must trust the reader to make the connection. If they don't, too bad, but spelling it out can never match the frisson of noticing it in one's own reading. This is something that must be conveyed without being said outright. To some extent, I have the same reaction to the frequent references to other writers, theories, the Reith lectures etc; they make the material feel vaguely unassimilated and though the urge to credit one's sources is admirable in an academic paper, they work better in a poem when buried.

To stress again, there are long stretches where this poem does move well and convey what it means to while carrying the reader with it:

Dad, what's it like to die? And when you're dead
will you still hear me play the violin?
Will you be you? Or just the word instead
of you? No, I'll be you. I'll snuggle in
your memory like hide and seek again.

If he relaxed more and trusted the reader, it might all come over as easily as that. This is an ambitious and unusual endeavour, as his last book was; it is always something to see a poet thinking on a large scale, not forgetting the importance of lyric moments but managing to weave them into a wider narrative.  It is also liberating to see poems that are not Euro-centric but recognise a wider world.  It's not the concept but  the execution I have some quibbles with.

Sheenagh Pugh reviews regularly for Eyewear.  She is a leading British poet.

New Poem by Peter Daniels

Eyewear is glad to welcome British poet Peter Daniels today with a new poem of his.  Daniels took a break from poetry but came back to win the 2008 Arvon Competition, and recently the 2010 TLS Poetry Competition. He is now working on new poems and translations, especially from the Russian of Vladislav Khodasevich.  His 2010 pamphlet Work & Food is a mini-retrospective from Mulfran Press, and another will appear in 2011 from HappenStance, to add to pamphlets from Smith/Doorstop and Vennel Press in the 1990s. Given the current state of unrest in the streets, this poem seemed apt.


Emergency

Respectable ladies are raiding the shops
for regency figurines, red shoes, red meat,
and whose respect do they need, now?

Up on the castle terrace it’s unclear
which way to go. Skirts full of peaches
to pelt the palace walls, or to eat in the gardens.

poem by Peter Daniels; reprinted with permission of the author.

Will English Be A Dead Language?

Heard on the BBC this morning - English may become "a dead language" in a thousand years, or at least, a minority language, like French.  Dear me!  I am not sure becoming like French is such a disaster.  The English have relied a little too much lately on the soft power of their mother tongue, and it might do us all some corrective good to brush up on our Chinese, and learn some international and cultural humility.  That being said, I doubt that the poems and novels of the English language will be as dead as the Greats for some time, and I am sure that this new Classical English, however quaint and obscure, will be studied for a few more thousand years, if only by scholars and saints.  Though, it must be said, I am not yet convinced that human civilisation in its present consumerist form will survive.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Guest Review: Jindal on Bartholomew-Biggs

Tradesman's Exit

Tradesman’s Exit is a collection imbued with personal memories and nostalgia for the past, and these base notes which flavour almost every poet’s work are harnessed here to motivate the strongest poems in this book. Published by Shoestring Press, this is the second full collection by Bartholomew-Biggs. His accessible style and easy humour are evident from the early poems, such as ‘Say It With...’ which starts out “What you done wrong then, mate?”, a question addressed to the narrator holding a bunch of flowers.

Bartholomew-Biggs has an undoubted gift for inventive similes too, as in ‘Gas Station’:

...place him in that rosary
 whose beads are wayside accidents and graces
strung on a time-lapse image of your tail-lights

Or, as here, “...coarse-grinding dreams made extra dark / by roasting in my skull too long” from the poem ‘Broken Rhythm’. Occasionally this talent for metaphor is stretched and over-used so they jar the reader out of appreciating the essence of the poem.  As an example there are two good similes for words in the poem ‘A Chat with Dylan Thomas’, but they come one after another followed by yet more descriptive images:

“Words rolled from him like syrup off a knife, / or as water drops / released with perfect surface tension / from frozen house-tops fondled by a winter sun.   A chuckle like dark chocolate runs through...”

Does he mean syrup or water and why both when one will do? Barely do we imagine the sun’s ‘fondling’ before we have a dark chocolate chuckle.  

Each reader of each poem sees something different, it is true, and during my close perusal of this collection I discovered my own previously-hidden preferences. I found I was drawn to the poems where the first line, however subtle, captured the reader and led her on to the next; and where the momentum of the poem matched its beginning and styling. One such poem was Over’. A veteran cricketer prepares to bowl. In the second verse he reflects on his life:

His contract not renewed; no offers
from another quarter: which, he thought,
pretty well described his love life.

Narrative gives this poem its lift and the unexpected ending demands the poem be read a second time and that the reader pause to ponder the life of this older bowler.

This match of beginning, styling and momentum, is, of course, difficult to pull off in poem after poem. But other pithy poems that did fulfil this harmony were ‘Cold Snap 1963’, ‘Miles’ ‘Reduced’ and ‘Surface Reaction’. They flowed naturally with no sign of strain or force, and to my mind, were among the outstanding poems in this collection. ‘Miles’ begins:

There is frost on the verges
And he is playing Summertime.

It ends with this stanza:

To accept I’m an extra
is getting easier each time
directors keep the take the star ad-libbed
and then, to match, they cut and splice the seasons.

The last two poems in the book worked very well without recourse to similes: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’ and ‘Thomas’. Both poems are simple first person re-tellings of two Biblical stories: of the man who buried Jesus in the grave he had prepared for himself; and of the apostle Thomas who doubted the resurrection when first told of it. The first line of the latter poem is one I greatly admired. “I’d not collude with anyone’s delusions.”

Notoriously, collections are meant to have a single theme that binds the work together. For poets who write sporadically or else widely on any number of topics, bringing together the disparate elements in a collection while retaining a sense of cohesion is difficult. In collections that cover several themes, the best are those where the voice of the poet carries across the discrete styles and subjects and provides the connecting context between them. Bartholomew-Biggs’s voice is one of empathy, compassion and wry humour, and he engages with universal emotions; yet there seems to have been an attempt to find a greater raison d’etre for the poems in this collection.  

According to the blurb on the back (and book jackets are one of my perverse pleasures): ‘Tradesman’s Exit tests the links between who we are, what we do and why we are remembered.’  To test the links is an ambitious aim for a set of poems. The blurb continues: ‘It mixes personal recollection with tributes to an array of master craftsmen in fields such as sport, music, film and literature. Along the way it looks affectionately at some of the 21st century’s endangered trades – and at what might supersede them.’

Certainly I encountered affectionate portrayals of butchers and coalmen, but I must have missed the poems that detail the trades that will supersede these. We are in the 21st century, and blurb writers should perhaps be more careful about extolling predictions for the future, unless some are actually contained in the text. It would have been completely accurate to stop at the first sentence about the tributes to master craftsmen. But call this is a pedant’s nitpicking.

Bartholomew-Biggs does a fine job of addressing the fashions of the contemporary with wittily phrased observations, such as the “quasi-Esperanto names” for automobiles and the fact that “national panache is obsolete”, both excerpts from ‘Generic Engineering’.

In ‘A Capital Christmas’, in the stanza subtitled Deck the malls, he asks:

Was the sponsored dove in Regent Street
the freeze-dried Holy Spirit? Were the angels
and the shepherds praising Pure New Wool?
Did cattle round a crib by Matroncare
sport logos with good news of British beef?

The past (mainly the 20th century) and people the poet has known in the past are evoked with attention and love. Several poems are dedicated to particular people, some well-known, others not. ‘Someone Had To’ is a tribute to Samuel Plimsoll, MP, “the seaman’s friend”, who campaigned for safe loading limits for ships. This knowledge is imparted in a low-key yet interesting manner. Poems such as ‘Leaving the Veterans’ Home’ and ‘Going Gently’ strike a chord because they are so personal and heartfelt. The writer’s light touch with  explanation and his nostalgic focus are highlighted again in ‘The British Aircraft Industry, Circa 1966’ of which here is the ending stanza: “And outside the bombers are lined up and rusting / These small British cousins of B-52s / relied on their pilots: now governments favour / anonymous bombing – cruise missiles, not crews”.

The Art of Memory serves Bartholomew-Biggs well; and what holds this collection together is the strong sense of loss permeating the poems, whether the loss be personal or of a way of life.

Kavita Jindal is a London-based poet.