About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blogzine, getting more than 25,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. and ha snow been read by over 2 million The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.


Saturday, 30 April 2011

Visual Pleasures

The June issue of Sight & Sound has selected 75 "mainstream marvels of the last 30 years" - commercial films that deserve more critical appreciation or notice.  I was glad to see a few of my favourites among the list, such as Excalibur, Deep Cover, Unlawful Entry, The Runaways, The Bounty, Breakdown, Femme Fatale, Footloose, Jennifer's Body, and Tombstone.  I have to question the inclusion of The Devil Wears Prada, which seems to me to be an obvious classic already. Several key mainstream marvels could also be added to this list of 75 (for the full list get a copy of the magazine), such as Killing ZoeLooker, Nacho LibreCongo, Don't Say A Word, The Rainmaker, and JFK.

Montreal Prize

Montreal, a 400-year-old-plus city of several million souls, the home of the great wave of Canadian modernist poets of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as legends like Leonard Cohen, has a strong tradition of poetry, and a number of vital small poetry presses.  It also is enriched by its bilingualism, a superb creative writing program at Concordia University, some lively reading events and festivals, and an international vibe at the cultural cross-roads of Europe and America.

Yet it is rarely these days at the forefront of poetic matters in Canada - Toronto tends to hold the keys to the kingdom.  So it comes as a welcome surprise to learn that Andrew Motion will be judging the world's biggest cash prize for best single poem - called The Montreal Prize.  I have some problems with poetry competitions (perhaps the biggest question being, do such occasions ever actually locate the most strange, original or unsettling works, or the ones that rather confirm already-established norms), but not enough to not enter them, from time to time; or even to host them.  Motion is a good choice as first judge.  World-famous, intelligent, and a fine poet, he is a safe pair of hands, and immediately accords the prize prestige.  Motion is, however, a very mainstream lyric poet (not a bad thing in the Eyewear household mind you), and this will make it intriguing to see what happens to the more experimental poems that get entered; if indeed any are.

Frankly, Canada needs a prize that emphasises the individual well-made poem, since some of the chief pleasures of poetry are to be found invested in such objects; experimental Canadian poets who tend to construct their poetic writing as book-length texts may have the wind of theory at their backs, but sometimes create works of terrible aesthetic quality that lack enduring appeal, at least to a wider audience.  Of course, as Charles Bernstein would no doubt be the first to tell you, the wider audience is a myth; poetic (open form) process is all; and who cares if a poem is well-made if it is banal?  Thus, like all poetry prizes, this one will yet again, stir the tempest in the tea-cup which is the age-old battle over evaluation and poetics.  Perhaps the best thing to assume is - in Bob Holman's famous quip - the best poem never wins.  The winner may well be Montreal - and international poetry, the idea of which is still sadly tenuous.

New Poem by Greg Bell

Eyewear is pleased to offer a new poem by Canadian poet Greg Bell this last day of April.  He lives in Kingston, Ontario, with his family.  His work appears most recently in a chapbook from Cactus Press, Toronto, Better Locks and Daylight.  Here he is with one of his sons, Graydon.



Pencils
 
Drawn in by the long body and lean lines;
the bejewelled ferrule crimped into place,
willowy hips, slim fit and grooved glide, 
 
as the fingers wrap around its lacquered slats,
hike-up the hem with each slow grind,
and the chaff, unclasped, spirals to the ground.
 
I have made mistakes.
But you, flipped over, stiletto tip
wagging in the dusky air, and a distant
 
word scumbles, then a sentence annulled,
until, finally, under the rhythmic rub
of that supple, pink nub, whole histories
 
crumble, swept away with a wave.
Hard-cored, redeemed, and indelible --
I’ve come to find we’re not lead at all.

Friday, 29 April 2011

The God In The Machine

I've watched the BBC all day, when not following BBC coverage online, and on the radio.  The Royal Wedding was a smashing success: weather, dressmaker, kiss, and cartwheeling verger all being splendid.  People showed up (a million) and were patriotic and happy.  There has been a lot of nonsense from the media, mostly tea-leaves reading regarding the future of the Monarchy.  Apparently, the use of Aston Martins, chocolate cakes, etc., are portents of a renewed modernity in the land.  What hasn't been discussed (until 23:00 on Newsnight, briefly) is the elephant in the room - Anglicanism.  While a Catholic myself, I am a former Anglican, and was deeply impressed by the beauty, seriousness, and moral force of the Christian sacrament of marriage - for most of the key hour of today's wedding took place in a house of God, featured sermons, readings, and hymns, and featured a sacred vow.  This extraordinary showcasing of the English Faith was admirable, impressive, and reassuring - for a day, it seemed, there was a kingdom on earth as in heaven.  The absence of any reflection on this core aspect of the wedding - the wedding itself (separate from the surface of clothing and pomp) - is a failure of Britain's secular media to appreciate, and observe, and report upon, what was staring it in the face.  Forget a renewal of the Monarchy.  Today's marriage renewed, in front of billions around the world, the significance of religion in the UK.

Just, Married


As everyone in the world knows, today there will be a Royal Wedding, and Kate and William will be the lucky couple.  It would be churlish to not wish them well.  Eyewear is hopelessly romantic about marriage, and believes that it is an institution well worth preserving.  Love, too, needs no encomiums from me - its worth is much appreciated both here in England and abroad.  What then, the problem?  I suppose none, for the time being.  It is better that the couple be married in public, in daylight, rather than elope at midnight.  Their wedding is enchanting, and appealing, and, yes, romantic.  However, the romance which arises naturally from the occasion is an off-shoot of the Fairytale.  All weddings are predicated on magic and ritual - either the magic rituals of the priest who binds them, or the imaginative fancy of the secular participants.  Even if Elvis is the ringmaster and the binder, there is magic.  It is the magic of the Fairytale, and the tale in question ultimately involves a handsome prince, a bride plucked from nowhere, and a fabulous kingdom.  Most weddings make do with what is on offer, but this time, the Royal Wedding actually does deliver the goods.  It is the Ur-wedding, the storybook come to life.  In this way, peasant stories revolve to their incarnation in the very oppressive system that engendered them in the first place - that is, the medieval superstitious mind is self-perpetuating - we are in awe of our own capacity to be humbled.

People want to dream big, and being small, want someone bigger, out there, to act large on the stage of dreams for them.  Hence, gods, celebs, and royalty.  The charms of this wedding are the charms of a gilded cage.  In this case, a very wide cage, and one mainly benevolent.  In the longer term, though, British society would do well to cast off its need for gongs and titles and an elite based on heredity - but so too should all other people in the world shrug off their own fantasies of superiority.  We are hypocrites when we swoon for a royal wedding, and then bemoan taxation and wars we did not want.  No kings without law, order, and collected gold.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Ken Taylor Has Died

Sad news.  Ken Taylor, the screenwriter who adapated The Jewel In The Crown into the second-best British TV series of the 1980s, after Brideshead Revisted, has died.

New Poem by Todd Swift

Destination Spa In Ireland

Slyly misdirected in Monart -
lost artifice of sun & glass;
white-robed April spa-goers
style themselves for July now.

Sun's parish, milk without end.
Taking Easter morning they rise
make an occasion of tea & toast.
No explanation at noon is needed

for lying down among strangers.
Worship light blindly as it comes.
Stone bridge, pond birds, a cascade –
paid for with funds bought for a lie.

Bare-faced white facade turns true
when your blue sky breaks through.


April 2011

Guest Review: Ian Brinton on Radical Landscape Poetry


Ian Brinton reviews
edited by Harriet Tarlo

This is an absolutely splendid book! Very attractively produced, beautifully laid out, intelligently edited, it is a book to return to time and again. Harriet Tarlo makes her intentions absolutely clear in the introduction when she writes ‘Language is a form in which landscape can come alive’ and the multiplicity of forms presented to the reader within the one hundred and eighty pages of this book is testimony to that world of changing landscape:

I have focused here on poets whose formal techniques are exploratory and experimental enough to be called radical, poets whose ideological pushing of the boundaries is to be found integrated into the forms their poems inhabit.

The editor also makes the essential point about juxtaposition, ‘often through parataxis’, being a fundamental linguistic principle and suggests that some of the anthologised pieces by Wendy Mulford, Peter Larkin, Elizabeth Bletsoe and herself ‘juxtapose differing arrangements of prose blocks, found text and stanzas of poetry, each within their own spaces.’

These diverse texts speak to each other across the space, allowing readers to enter the poem and speculate over their relationship to each other.

The world of comparison and contrast, definitions being arrived at through an awareness of differences, owes something here to the French phenomenologist Francis Ponge who sought for ‘la qualité differentielle’ in his concern for appearances. Ponge’s eye was attracted to contrasts, edges, contours, meeting places: those areas which define where one thing ends and another begins. When faced with an amorphous mass Ponge seems to suffer from a type of vertigo, a feeling of being overwhelmed or annihilated by sheer bulk, and so rather than write about the immensity of ‘ocean’ he prefers ‘Bords de mer’, ‘edges of the sea/seashores’, where ocean becomes defined by that which interrupts it.

One of Peter Larkin’s contributions to this Shearsman anthology presents this superbly as he explores in ‘Turf Hill’ the interplay between the wild and the industrial, the electricity pylon and the tree:

How the boles thin to the widener of tracking turf, pylon by terrace of heeded instrument! If the tree-standing for wire is the pull of cantileaf, what can indent its continuous ornament looping on power line? The trees are resident by unavailing advantage, full technical sorrow lattices their derivative store of staying beside-hand a cloaked way below. Each wafer strut as actuator, soft spring between wing and store. Field follower across overhead pitch, into the straits which fertilise a neb of impasse, but where wire cups to its beak, a lift of towers inciting local spine, so spike your green along. Forked untransformable at heel of branch, trees topped for their sail-at-root, they bare these iron masts whenever nothing can have happened to the great limb.

Here vulnerability threads its way through ‘unavailing’ to the word ‘sorrow’ before shifting to the association of the human traveller (‘cloaked’) which suggests both secrecy and protection. The density of this rich passage concludes with a further shift towards commercialism as the verb ‘topped’, associated with the wood management of pollarding, moves towards the pun on ‘sail’/sale and the voyaging image of ‘masts’ pushing on wards with human commercial enterprise. This piece is extracted from Larkin’s volume Slights Agreeing Trees (Prest Roots 2002) where the photograph accompanying ‘Turf Hill’ emphasises that movement of voyaging forth.

The world of Gerard Manley Hopkins haunts the background of some of this writing and it is perhaps not merely coincidence that one of the contributors, Mark Dickinson, wrote an undergraduate thesis on the influence of Hopkins on Peter Larkin’s work. Nowhere is this association clearer to my mind than in the work of Colin Simms whose poem ‘The Crags at Crookleth Beacon’ stands near the opening of this anthology:

On High Crosset Climbers Comb
                        an hour destroys the kestrel’s home, charnel-tower
their privacy-plucked piracy   ching   chine-sing from chinks, in clints
sheep merely shear, shift stints           will   goes   when        people   hit   the   hill.

The unthinking idleness of destructive speed with which man despoils the environment echoes that unforgettably poignant image in ‘Binsey Poplars’, felled 1879, where that window of the soul, the eye is pierced:

                        Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all…

Colin Simms concludes his poem with the plea ‘never mind the economics of the trip/ give me a poetry of observed relationship’. These are words which could well describe the work of the late Roger Langley whose sense of Charles Olson’s statement from ‘Human Universe’ (‘The meeting edge of man and the world is also his cutting edge’) is recorded in his interview with Roger Walker in Angel Exhaust 13:

And sitting under a tree in Suffolk again, with lights going through the leaves. Oh yes: standing under a tree for an hour and a half. One peculiar evening, that’s the biographical centre of it: I walked out of the village at dusk and, as is extremely unusual nowadays, I stood for an hour and a half by a track and no-one came anywhere near me. And it just occurred to me that I ought to stand without moving at all for that length of time and see what happened. Not even turning my head. A lot of rabbits came up and sat on my feet. And moths whipping about within inches of me. A feeling that you might get through to what was really there if you stripped off enough.

I thought that was an interesting experience: to be alone and perfectly still. As soon as you move things take on meaning, don’t they? Because things become things that you’ve got to step round or walk over or something. They instantly become part of your map, as it were. Whereas if you stand absolutely still, then they might not be part of any map at all. You ‘see’ the place when you haven’t got any designs on it.

Langley’s own Journals, also published by Shearsman, would make an ideal companion to The Ground Aslant: a British ‘composition by field’.

Ian Brinton is an English critic and scholar, who reviews regularly for Eyewear.

Bernstein's Razor

I think that readers of Attack of the Difficult Poems can safely assume that Charles Bernstein does not think that poems are best served by sincerity, description, or traditional craft - he writes as much: "Not being particularly interested in sincerity, description, or traditional craft ..."; all those readers who wonder why film, radio, and TV drama, along with prose, have long surpassed poetry in the affections of common folk, need look no further.  For here, in a nutshell, is Bernstein's Razor.

Poems improve, and hew to the modernist design, when they shave away sincerity, description, and traditional craft.  Indeed, poems are improved by insincerity (or an awareness of artifice), a lack of empirical observation, and new formal procedures.  Readers and poets puzzled by the great divide between the so-called mainstream and the experimental are able to grasp the struggle for poetry here.  And, as Bernstein argues, the constant definition of poetry is part of the poetics that generates worthwhile critical and creative thinking about poetry - and poetics is/are generative too.  As he also writes, the best poem is the one about to be written (that is actually something I wrote but he basically makes the same strong claim).  Now, I like Bernstein the man, and I like Bernstein the poet; and I enjoy Bernstein the critic.

As I said in an earlier post, I needn't agree with him in toto.  However, his Razor does away with too much that makes poetry worth living for.  My argument, which I am developing in a book of criticism, can also be summed up briefly: sincerity and artifice can be combined in the same poem, wonderfully.  Indeed, I would claim that the key modernist credo that Hart Crane, Yeats and Eliot and Auden and Dylan Thomas observed was that feeling and thought could be fused in poetry; this is what I would like to call emotional irony, or ironical emotionality.  FT Prince is a master of it, as was Tasso.  I don't need to remind readers of the thousands of years of poems, in all languages, that contain some element of sincerity, emotionality, description, and craft, and are delightful and necessary.

I assume Bernstein would not want us to stop reading Dante, or Donne, or Hardy, or Keats, or Dickinson, or Frost.  I am much interested in their poems, because they think things through, but they also feel.  Poems that do not tangle with the observable world, or the felt word of emotion and compassion, love and fear and desire, and do not enjoy the full range of poetic and linguistic formal options, are impoverished poems.  There are great experimental poems.  Some of them avoid emotionality in favour of cognitive or aesthetic procedures remote from the human heart.  But the greatest palpitate as much as innovate.  Indeed, we need a Poetry of Palpitation.


Editor's Note: Charles Bernstein sent me this to clarify his position - reprinted with permission:


"Much appreciate your continuing engagement. But I think you mistake my view in one respect. The kinds of poetries I want allow for the greatest possible range of affect and emotion. I feel the sort of muted poetry that is, literally, prized as accessible diminishes affective and emotional range and expression. So add that to your razor. (Hart Crane is always my hero.)"

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Malarkey Pills



Charles Bernstein's new book has arrived from Chicago University Press, at my London address, enveloped in several stiff boxes like some kind of rare document.  This book, Attack of the Difficult Poems, is a must-have, must-read, for every practicing poet in Britain and Ireland.  They should buy their copies online today.  This may involve wasting money.  But it will be worth it.  Bernstein's book is a rehash of a lot of stuff he has written or said previously, and a lot of the articles appear elsewhere.  I'd read more than 50% of it.  But I am glad to have 100% of it under one pair of covers.  Bernstein's book is a bee-in-a-bonnet extravaganza, washed down with whiskey and malarkey pills - a variety act of different essays assaying styles and viewpoints, as if Wilde had been a computer programmer with a Woody Allen sense of humour.

Like most important thinkers, it no longer matters whether he is right or wrong - the ideas are sufficiently embedded in the cultural argument of our times, to matter anyway.  And that's probably a good thing, because if CB was a debater he'd be a style debater, not a content debater.  His main bugbears in this book are the difference between mainstream/accessible/Billy Collins-type poetry, and modernist/difficult/innovative poetry; how poetry is ever-changing and renewing itself through performance and the multimedia web of technologies out there now and to come; that poems should not be sentimental or sell old maxims, but maximise the thwack of the localist imperative - make it newt.

Finally, he explores pedagogy, creative writing's failures and possibilities, academic writing, and the need for a poetics of criticism and vice versa; and ends it all with a recanting of all his major positions in a weird document that really is just slapstick.  Along the way he coins a few phrases, and reminds us that he is no fan of sincerity, is a fan of artifice, and will use a pun like some voodoo dolls use pins.  I don't agree with half of what he wreads or writes, but neither does the other half of me not.  Attack Big Mac!  Digest Big Chuck!

Giving Birth


It is now official: 25% of Americans are not just stupid, but plain wrong.  When push came to shove, Mr. Obama, born in Hawaii in 1961 (making him 50ish), today produced his full birth certifcate, immediately rendering the "Birther Movement" null and void; it has long been inane.  Where does this leave a quarter of all Americans?  Those too dumb to face facts?  Well, for a start, they can continue to think that Donald Trump is a model of good citizenship.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

New Poem by David Lehman



Eyewear is thrilled to feature a new poem by famed American poet, anthologist, and critic David Lehman this Tuesday.  The photo above, by Star Black, features Lehman with John Ashbery, on February 8th of this year.

Sermon on the Mount

Ye spirits that hover above,
bear witness to my quest
and I shall prove
as tall a teller of tales
as ever stopped a wedding guest.

If love sometimes fails,
does lust never lie?
On manna and honeydew fed,
the dreamers moan and sigh.
The truth is acted out in bed.

Can you divorce the act
of love from the fact
of death? No, and neither can I,
nor tell in what sense
the action may differ from the essence.

Bitter constraint, in darkness bred,
carves out of the marble of lust
a nymph obedient, with upraised head,
kneeling before him in whom she trusts,
in the chapel where her hormones led.

new poem by David Lehman

Monday, 25 April 2011

AV Yourself A Great Day, Guv

Vote Yes to AV!  Clegg is redeeming himself by admitting that the Tories are a right-wing clique that need to be thrown out.  This is paradoxical, because Clegg is propping them up.  Anyway, AV is not ideal, but better than first past the post.  It will improve democracy in Britain.  Eyewear supports it.

Child Violence

I read a Lee Child recently - he is the best-selling thriller author from the UK based in the US.  His hero is Jack Reacher, loner, ex-military cop, tough guy.  The plots are intricate and ludicrous, but satisfying in a Charles Bronson meets Tom Clancy sort of way.  When younger I enjoyed Alistair MacLean's novels a great deal, published in Fontana editions.  One point though - Reacher is very very ruthless.  He kills, on average, ten to twelve people in each book, I'd reckon, by strangulation, throat-slitting, and brain smashing (usually using powerful guns).  He is usually "justified" because the killers are ultra-sadistic killers or terrorists threatening the American way of life, and people Reacher loves or cares for.  Of course, he takes the law way into his own hands, and squeezes it there until it looks all broken and funny.  Good clean fun?  No.  Red-blooded pulp for boys?  Maybe.  More Spillane than Chandler, Child is a good terse prose writer, with a touch of style.  But hasn't his "hero" murdered about 150 to 200 men and women through the series, by now?  That's serial killing, more than vigilante justice, no?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Staying Alive

Happy Easter!  Today at Mass the priest reminded us of the classic song 'Staying Alive' - corny but apt.  Easter, for Christians, is about renewal, and the promise of resurrection.  I am personally assaying renewal, but still struggling with the idea of physical resurrection.  I can better get my head around the spirit of the Easter message, while the fine print makes me unsure.  Life and the world seems the place for love, and kindness, and tolerance, first.  What comes after, if and when it does, seems less groundbreaking (pun alert).  Still, the hope and promise of everlasting life is joyous.  For now, I will take family meals, friendship, some apple juice, and sun, and the turn to May, as my slice of rebirth.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Easter Break



Eyewear and Easter both start with E and end with R.  There are other links.  The blog will be on holiday during the holy week, and wishes all its readers a wonderful time with family and friends.  May your spring break be joyous and sunlit.  See you after Easter Monday, folks!  Or should that be yolks?

Guest Review: The New Foo Fighters

James Christopher Sheppard reviews
Wasting Light
by Foo Fighters

Teaming up with Nirvana’s Nevermind producer and Garbage founder, Butch Vig, the Foo Fighters return with their seventh studio album, Wasting Light. The reunion between Grohl and Vig comes exactly twenty years after they last worked together on what resulted in being one of the biggest and most influential albums of the 1990s, the aforementioned Nevermind. Last studio album, 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, was a UK #1, which furthered the band’s impressive portfolio of Top Ten long-players that currently stands at eight. Following a wait of almost four years, this release is one of the most eagerly awaited of the bands career.

‘Bridge Burning’
Destined to be a new rock classic, second single from the album, ‘Bridge Burning’ is a fast paced soaring lion’s roar of a single. With some great guitar effects on the intro, it progresses into a well-crafted thrashing melodic rock song, with a healthy balance of growling, screaming and singing. Angry and awesome.

‘Rope’
First single, ‘Rope’ continues the momentum, but is far less angry. This builds from a sound that is typically Foo Fighters into an intricately complex track, executed effortlessly.

‘Dear Rosemary’
Emotive and a change in tempo, ‘Dear Rosemary’ displays a softer side to Growl’s vocals and softer music that builds as the song progresses. This sounds a cross between The Pixies and Tenacious D, which isn’t particularly a bad thing.

‘White Limo’
Woah! Thrusting the tempo back up, this is the most Nevermind friendly track so far, but only in that it’s as heavy as ‘Territorial Pissings’. With an impressive scream/growl throughout, Grohl shows us he can still deliver a punch, or ten, directly to your ears. Nice.

‘Arlandria’
Not too heavy, but with a good amount of punch, this is an obvious radio choice, with the memorable hook ‘You and what army, Arlandria?’ being repeated throughout. This is lyrically brilliantly crafted and could potentially be a massive hit.

‘These Days’
‘One of these days I bet your heart will be broken’ Grohl belts on the chorus of this vengeful song. Grohl’s voice sounds incredibly soft in places, which provides a great interaction between the soft and harsh aspects.

‘Back and Forth’
This recalls the sound of some of the Foo’s best-known hits, like ‘Learn to Fly’. Clearly they haven’t lost their touch, ‘Back and Forth’ is a rock standard and, no doubt, soon to be a fan favourite. The bounce bridge ‘you’ve got a lot of nerve’ is especially addictive.

‘A Matter of Time’
The contrasting heavy riff and sweet melody on this track create one of the best moments on the whole album. Fresh, but not straying too far from the sound that the band have spent the past 17 years establishing as their own, this is a great achievement.

‘Miss the Misery’
Destined to be a stadium anthem, ‘Miss the Misery’ has an old school rock element to it, which is exceptionally refreshing to hear in 2011. Best played loud.

‘I Should Have Known’
The album’s solitary ballad, this is powerful and incredibly emotive. Grohl’s voice conveys raw emotion here better than anywhere else on the album. The orchestral approach adds a whole new dimension to the Foo Fighter’s sound. ‘No I can not forgive you yet’ Grohl bellows out in despair. Deep, striking and beautiful, this is possibly the best track on the album.

‘Walk’
Already a fan favourite, ‘Walk’ is a brilliant choice of conclusion for this impressive collection. With great lyrics, this is another highly emotive track. ‘I never wanna leave, I never wanna die’ is the message here- a sentiment that will certainly sit well with a lot of listeners who are rocking out to this anthem. Brilliant song.

A cohesive collection of work, Wasting Light is the sound of an established band playing to their strengths and keeping it fresh. On first listen, fans and new listeners to the band will be very pleased they purchased the album, as they will surely still be listening to it for years to come. Wasting Light is a triumphant album for the Foo Fighters and rock music in general.  Wasting Light is available now on RCA.

James Christopher Sheppard is a London based freelance writer. For more of his music journalism, poetry and blogging, visit his website Intellectual Intercourse.



Saturday, 16 April 2011

New Poem by André Naffis-Sahely

Eyewear is pleased to publish a new poem by André Naffis-Sahely, a poet, critic and self-styled fabulist. He lives in London.

The Journalist Speaks of The Dictator

I do not like the taste in my mouth.
To remonstrate would be better,
to keep my mouth shut would be best.
I can count – and know how many
lost their nerve at the sight of his smile
and how many more died in silence
sliding down the slick wall of his teeth.

poem by André Naffis-Sahely

Lund Calling

I have post-The Killing blues, after completing the Box Set marathon.  British viewers will know that, recently, a moody 20-hour Danish TV series from 2007 (now being aired in America as a remake with the same name) caught the imagination of the mystery-mad UK.  Combining aspects of The X-Files (the paranoia, the flashlights/torches, the man-woman detective team, the creepy ambiance and techno theme), The Wire (complex examination of politics, the media, and schools, as well as police procedure), and Prime Suspect (enigmatic determined female DCI up against a thick-skulled patriarchy), The Killing is one of the best TV shows Eyewear has ever seen.  Britain wanted the nerdy wool-knit sweaters Sarah Lund, detective, wore.

This is not the place for a spoiler alert, but the only problem with the brilliantly twisty show (with its superb silent montage sequences at the end of every episode) is that its dramatic structure was so literate (combining Ibsen and Shakespeare) that the arc was visible by episode two, and, given certain symbolic utterances, and the image system, the perpetrator was obvious by Day Three, if not sooner.  Also, the increasingly comically melodramatic cliff-hangers meant that, for the plot to make sense, everyone had to be lying (Rashomon style) or withholding evidence; and the cops had to wade through a plethora of suspects before finally tumbling across the most obvious one.

That being said, I love the main character, whose stoic, and yes, sexy, demeanor always means she does the right thing, even if that means breaking the law.  I can't wait for The Killing Two (filmed in 2009, but not yet aired in Britain) and indeed, the third season, now in pre-prod in Denmark.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Featured Poet: William Oxley

Eyewear is very glad to welcome English poet William Oxley (pictured) to our pages this overcast day in London.  Oxley was born in Manchester and at present he divides his time between London and South Devon.  His poems have been widely published throughout the world, in The New York Times The Scotsman, New Statesman, The London Magazine, Stand, The Independent, The Spectator and The Observer. Among his books of poetry are Collected Longer Poems (Salzburg University Press, 1994), and Reclaiming the Lyre:  New and Selected Poems (Rockingham Press, 2001). A former member of the General Council of the Poetry Society, he is consultant editor of Acumen magazine, and on the committee of the Torbay Poetry Festival. In 1995 he edited the anthology Completing The Picture for Stride.

He has co-edited the anthology Modern Poets of Europe.  In 2004, Hearing Eye published Namaste his Nepal poems, and Bluechrome published his London Visions in Spring 2005.  A study of his poetry, The Romantic Imagination, came out in 2005 from Poetry Salzburg. A fine, limited edition of his Poems Antibes, illustrated by Frances Wilson, was launched in Antibes, Côte d’Azur in December 2006. In 2008 he received the Torbay ArtsBase Award for Literature.  His latest collection is Sunlight in a Champagne Glass (Rockingham Press, 2009).  I recently read with Oxley in London, and very much enjoyed the experience - he is a man of feeling and intellect, with a strong sense of history.


Numinous

The glass weeps in this window
near Waterloo Station
and coldly hisses on rails
that loop away to Surbiton

or elsewhere.  Nowhere so ugly as
in rain, bedraggled bushes of town,
buildings leaking and looking
their age, skies that are down-

cast.  But there is something numinous too,
shiningly implicatory
in the out-there of roofs and streets.
Like the mad whisper of history

it floats out and up from shapes
even of shops:  edging along walls like a cat
its creeping luminosity of
how and why and what.

 Reprinted with permission of the poet; from Sunlight in a Champagne Glass, Rockingham Press 2009

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Amazing Mazer

A new poem from Ben Mazer!


Monsieur Barbary Brecht
 
Who shall it fall upon to inspect
the comings and goings of Anthony Hecht?
The Cummings and Boeings, the strummings and knowings,
the summings and flowings of Anthony Hecht?
 
Maybe the Master, the shepherd and pastor,
the leopard, lean, faster,
that peppered forecaster,
the Phoenix and Castor, Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Who will exhume the intelligent wanderings,
the diplomat, coup de tat, government squanderings,
and furious ponderings also that stem thereof,
and fonder things, of the late Howard Nemerov?
 
No one more furious, curious, serious,
sometimes delerious, always imperious,
mighty ambiguous, slightly conspicuous,
Jane Geoffrey Simpleton—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Who will expose as verbose the rich prose,
will deface and erase its slick surface with grace,
will unweave what he wove, and enclose what there flows,
of the flaws of the prose of Ernest Fellose?
 
No one more hounding, more pounding, more counting,
more hunting, or cunting, or brushed up with bunting,
than that master of everything Asians depict,
and the roots of all madness—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Actually what is it, I’m trying to say,
tomorrow, tonight, yesterday and today,
intangible, frangible, Monsieur John Mandeville,
irreversible, curseable, not nearly nurseable,
something appealing to Barbara Hutton,
I’m trying to turn myself off, but I can’t find the button.
I tell myself, you should be more circumspect,
for one who’s the houseguest of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
General Walker inspired a stalker,
who hired John Pauker to be a big talker,
in Dallas with Alice, with much forethought malice,
his background they checked and they checked and they checked.

And though it was hot, and he took a pot shot,
played his part to the hilt, revealed nothing of guilt,
even when questioned by George Mohrenschildt,
who had made him defect?—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
There are two different kinds of fuck.
The fuck that’s fucked, and the fuck that’s fucked.
And in Algeria—last time I checked—
both were reserved for Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Professor Pitkins had a real tight jaw.
Perhaps he even wore a metal bra.
But if he did the one who could detect
that this was so was Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
If you see W.H. Auden you might just have boughten
a diversion, a version, a red and dread sturgeon,
a false bill of goods, and you may have been tricked
by that master of everything which has been bricked,
the one they call mother—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
But apart from this world, where the great winds are whirled,
and the towers are darkened, childs play
with primordial knowing of Hindoos and fairies
and Edmund St. Bury’s, and all that’s most out of the way—
they may dig holes to China, or reveal their vagina
(in the hall suits of armour compelling good karma)
but no matter how darkness betray
the extent of the world, or the word, they have trekked
through inversions of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
The ghost in the wainscot is trembling and bludgeoned
and wrapped in a fox that is dry and curmudgeoned
but the thespian sheets fly aloft in the air
and although there is tea, there is nobody there.
 
There is no one to draw lines with pen and with ink,
or to stain with hair coloring half of the sink,
but the wrought iron is animated, and the architect
of this elaborate absence is Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Try typing his name and you might go insane,
at the way the hands work towards each other and then
go in circles repeating again and again
one insistent motif like a tom-tom refrain,
and then spiral upwards—an enigma machine
couldn’t do it the justice of how it is whacked
on a simple corona—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
In the hall the rich children glare and they stare
at the poor little visitor who enters there,
his musical prodigy greater than theirs
sends them scuttling in snide little groups up the stairs.
But the hostess is compassionate and hands him a score,
but he just doesn’t feel up to play any more,
and wonders what lies behind the magnificent door
where the children all vanished, and his vision is flecked
by the shadowy mustache of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
If I were a 1926 model Ford
I would carry your body and then I’d have poured
it over the bridge and into the river
without so much as the least tiny shiver.—
So the love letters of little girls run
but they never have ever so nearly much fun
as the brain that delights behind eyes that reflect
the abductions of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
It is Christmas time and the world is still
and the windows like lenses of glass that are cracked
where the presents are stacked on the shelves do not kill
the spirit of our saviour who’s come from afar
for whom the child left the door slightly ajar
the deciduous rustle of Hyperborean pines
shuffles in the three wise men and the brilliant star shines
and no one, but no one could ever detect
the immaculate presence of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
The spires of Mem Hall, and what’s trapped in the cat,
like the great North wind go this way and that,
and no matter how anyone’s ever detained
by a shivery feeling, a vague sense of what’s stained
by what came before us, or what’s not yet come,
there isn’t a formula for doing the sum,
yet all of your queries you might kindly direct
to the highly compassionate Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
The fire’s last flicker as it falls in the shadows
leaves all in the darkness of its afterglows.
The winter winds whistle, and somewhere a thistle
is lodged in a crevice of snows.
Mother and father, sister and brother,
the family’s together, and all will protect
the spirit of Christmas, and sing the great missal,
in the translation of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Behind every brick there’s a visual trick,
an encapturement that’s luminoso,
in the rain, in the brain, in the strain, in the wane
of enrapturement, tres furioso.
It’s a kind of a click, that may not or may stick,
and may trap what I meant, I suppose so.
Like back issues of old magazines might reflect
a spectrum of tissues—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
Dante and Berryman, and Bernard Herriman!
All can be found here, can be seen in sound here!
It makes no difference what order, what corridor,
except as causation’s perceived as sensation,
no border can thwart or export or condense here
or give any quarter to the immense sense here
of Nemerov, Tamiroff, Bellow or Hecht—
all one, the domain of Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
So tell me, just how if they are indivisible
we need them. We seed them when they are invisible!
The order they cede to is perfectly cracked.
Call in the correctives—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!
 
The films of the forties, the great women’s films,
are baked on the surfaces of post boxes and kilns,
like the whisper of porcelain, the threads of empire,
that visit the sky and retire in a spire,
they expire in the senses, for one and for all,
one vast waiting ocean, the windows recall,
with curtains and windowseats holding hopes checked,
but nothing’s arrived today—Monsieur Barbary Brecht!

poem by Ben Mazer; published online with permission of the poet.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Silkworms Ink: Chapbook 50!

Guest Review: Kirk On Learner

Anna Kirk reviews
by Gill Learner

Gill Learner’s head holds a vast imagination, yet her feet are grounded firmly in earth. Her first collection, The Agister’s Experiment, is coloured with myths, legends, Bible stories and the supernatural. However, these poems are rooted in people, in labour and in the land. A number of her poems are prefixed as being ‘for’ particular individuals, people Learner knows. Her poems are about humanity; how we experience nature and the world we now inhabit. The whole collection is dedicated to the memory of her parents, and a sense of looking back and valuing things past is prevalent throughout. As she writes in ‘The descent from Mount Olympus’: “Let’s begin in the time of cherishing”.

Her father was evidently a great influence on her, a man who carried “the Daily Worker tucked inside his coat” (‘My father sees red’) whilst also reverently remembered as a father who “would have honoured / the artists’ genius if not their god” (‘Through and Through’). He admires the workmanship and beauty of churches; his sense of the divine lies in honest reaction to what humanity can create. She describes “a nave unholy with welders, masons, scaffolders” in ‘How to create a cathedral’, yet it is these skilled craftsmen who construct this holy place of awe. Craft and hard graft are highly prized talents, and Learner plies her own craft in layering stories and creating her own lasting monuments through language:

…my shoulders tingle
to the dot-year chip and scrape of chisels,
mortar-slap, levelling knock of trowels.

(‘Country Church’)

A poem, after all, is etymologically ‘something created’. In the title poem, ‘The Agister’s Experiment’, the myth and magic that so many of Learner’s poems embody are handled with a mechanistic touch. A note at the beginning of the collection tells us that agisters are officials in the New Forest that are responsible for the roaming livestock. Learner absorbs this earthy role and takes it into mystical territories, whilst retaining a sense of mechanical labour: “both animals were / sparking on all cylinders”. Nature and man-made machinery are linguistically working in tandem. The voice of the poem is that of the agister, who crouches and watches the two animals mate, hoping that “at last I’ve bred a unicorn”. Learner is fond of compound words and kennings, combining two different things to form something new and original. As kennings abound in Old English works this also gives a pronounced archaic tone to some of her poetry, which compliments the spirit of her subject matter. Although there may be “only thumbs up or a V-sign at the past” (‘A sense of the river’), this is not so much an aggressive gesture, more one of regret. Landscapes have changed and, as she writes in ‘Mapped/Unmapped’, there are now wires that are “tying the land and charged / with energies man can no longer understand”.

Despite a lack of aggression, I think there is a kindling anger present in Learner’s work. Water and fire are recurring motifs, and it is the fire that often wins out. In ‘The craft’ a carpenter’s mother dies and she is placed in “a simple container” crafted by her son. Four women then carry “their grandma, / not to the sea but the fire”. This image evokes tales of old, conjuring a world of warriors, community and workmen that have now all but burnt away. Learner ignites them, makes these lost things blaze on the page. She also applies a powerful turn of phrase to the future, which she accepts she can only question, but this is done with bravado, as in the conclusion to ‘Beginning’:

And can we hope,
one day to see a woman
Primate of all England
or even Pope?

There is a playful humour present, along with a balanced, measured phrasing, yet the repetition of the hard ‘p’ spurs these lines on with a punching strength, adding force to her vision of successful women in a time to come. This is what I mean by fire in her writing. Life is fire, and we will all burn up eventually. She wants to remember life, to make stories and people known, to honour what we can see, hear, feel, before they are all lost to us: “Please, before we burn, tell me about rain” (‘About the olden days’).

What we hear in Learner’s poetry is not only the content of the stories she tells us, but the music of the words. She is a lover of music, and several of the poems are inspired by particular musicians and composers. However, musical terms and modes of expression chime throughout the whole collection. Singing, clatters of castanets, and “baritone words” (‘Beginning notes’) create a rich soundscape, and the artful ‘De capo’ is a string of known lyrics skilfully manipulated into rhythmic coherency. In the final poem, ‘Quartet for the end of time’ about the French composer Olivier Messiaen, Learner writes that he “shaped hope in sharps and semiquavers; / shared his vision”. She is sharing hers, conjuring images with music and myth, and all underscored with robust authenticity. It is not the case with Learner that “Most words are lost but melodies bounce between the ears” as is claimed in ‘De capo’. She has honed her craft so that she retains both lasting words and those bouncing melodies that linger. This collection proves that her poetry is now paper, thus history, whilst also valuing an oral tradition that gives poetry an undying intangible presence:

Paper returns to earth or burns to feathers on the air.
It’s history and power.

(Fahrenheit 451)

There is history and power between the pages of The Agister’s Experiment, but it is never weighty or laboured. Learner has a genuine enjoyment of storytelling, patterns and language, and this is why the words trip off the tongue, and why I turn the pages wanting more.


Anna Kirk lives and works in London, and is currently studying for an MA in Poetry at Royal Holloway.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Guest Review: Dixon On McOrmond

Oliver Dixon reviews
The Good News About Armageddon
by Steve McOrmond

In a time where a “Biblical”-scale disaster has razed the world’s third richest nation, killing tens of thousands and precipitating a possible further nuclear catastrophe, where civil war and revolution are flaring across North Africa and where here at home we face a pernicious neo-Thatcherite decimation of public services, arts funding and education, Toronto poet Steve McOrmond’s title seems timely.  Is he of the same mind as Michael Stipe of REM when the latter sang “It’s the end of the world as we know it/and I feel fine”, content (like Birkin in Women in Love) to see our botched human world swept away? Or is McOrmond, rather, exploring what’s left to cling to in this “end of history”, scrabbling for shreds of good news among all the apocalyptic headlines?

If so, even as he dissects the culture that surrounds him McOrmond seems intent on satirizing our contemporary scatterbrained “search for meaning”, oscillating between outrage and bemusement, jadedness and sarcasm in addressing themes of religious zealotry and spiritual salvation:
                                                                                      Forgive me, Father,
                                       I’ve watched too many wars, surfing between
                                       car-bombs and the canned laughter of sitcoms.

The title-piece is a compelling poetic sequence taking up around a third of the present volume, a set of terse yet loose-limbed assemblages of mordant reflections, lyrical fragments, quips, quotations and found texts held in place by a repeated form comprising 4-8 unrhymed couplets and a recognisably likeable narrative-voice, as ruefully self-facetious as Berryman and as playfully tangent-prone as Ashbery, not so much world-weary as world-exhausted.

Cutting ironically across the poems’ carefully-weighed structures is a vivid and often poignant sense of the narrator’s exasperated attempts to locate cohesion or personal authenticity within the post-modern babel of media-overload, commercial sloganeering and “virtual war”: “The roll call of extinctions is televised”. Efforts to evade consumerism and its vices, such as quitting alcohol and cigarettes, getting “reacquainted with nature” or even making love, seem doomed to blackly comic setbacks.

The glimpsed epiphanies accorded by poetic insight itself (“We are as wisps of hair caught in brambles/Our presence loaned to us by the wind”; and – worthy of William Carlos Williams – the haiku-like “O spring!/A woman holding her skirt down in the wind”) are all that’s left to build on, it seems, although no moment of afflatus is allowed to flourish unchecked by a contrary sceptical impulse. Despite lapses where the self-mockery sours into self-pity and the drollery turns corny (as in the wearisomely dated “Dem bones” piece),’ The Good News About Armageddon’ is a powerfully sustained sequence which plots the internecine dilemmas and contradictions of contemporary society with dogged wit and grace.

The remainder of the volume is something of a mixed bag. There are further effective and tautly-written pieces extending the theme of apocalypse, such as the haunting list-poem ‘The End of the World’, which crescendos to the disconcerting final image of “the locals celebrating/the wedding of the loveliest girl in the village/by firing their guns into the air” and the post-catastrophe vision of ‘The Light-Keepers’, almost like a monologue by the boy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, though leavened with faint hope: “From less than this, civilizations have risen:/A man, a woman, a wing, a prayer”.

A shorter sequence ‘Strait Crossing’ certainly takes on a topical resonance in the context of watching daily footage of tsunami-ravaged Japanese coastline on the news at present, but its handling of the over-familiar theme of human vulnerability in the face of natural forces – the sea, the weather – is perhaps less than convincing. To say of a violent gale “It will do to us/anything it chooses” is too near to stating the obvious to work as gainful poetry.

The final section is the weakest, including several poems (‘The Tooth-Fairy’s Lament’, ‘Penny Dreadful’) which – and I can only imagine this to be a stinging pejorative among the international poetry community – seem to me distinctly English in their gauche, jokey tweeness and reliance on a sort of undemanding, populist, intellect-free register. Although perhaps included to counterbalance the darker and more acerbic poems that dominate the book, they seem unworthy of the pithy, sharp-tongued McOrmond of ‘The Good New About Armageddon’ sequence.

Oliver Dixon is a poet and writer based in West London whose poems and reviews have appeared in PN Review, The Wolf, Frogmore Papers, Blackbox Manifold and Nth Position.

New Poem by Paul Perry

Eyewear is very glad to reprint this recent poem of Paul Perry's here today.


To The Republic
- after Frank Bidart

imagine they picked themselves up
from the ground
from where they had fallen
dipped their hands into their wounds
and pulled out the fire-wear
which had entered them by decree
imagine they un-strapped the other
from the chair he had rested in
righted him and put their shoulders
beneath his arms and carried him
imagine they walked through our city again
what a parade it would be
we might stand about in disbelief
take pictures or lower our eyes in shame –
poets come back to life

give us our daily bread





poem by Paul Perry; reprinted with permission of the author