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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
The Heartbreaks set themselves a big ask: to bring back the sort of skinny tie tunes that made Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson hip in the very end of the 70s; and their sound and look go far to showing their aim was true. They catch a yearning, more traditional lyric pop style in this song, which I love for its sheer Englishness, and jangling guitars.
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
first draft of my first poem in months...
As ‘Heavenly Bodies’ by Tamaryn played
I came out of myself, lost the way, was the river in the middle
of the road, the third movement, the moving van, a targeted thing,
gossamer wing, the last to fire on the smoking man; fiddle
with your days if you can, until you break a string. I was giddy,
lost, grown relatively fat, measureless to myself, on a high
shelf, but toppling; I fell in love most days, many ways;
shelf, but toppling; I fell in love most days, many ways;
should have been a donut glaze; I floated like heat haze; broke
laws like others gauze; runners ran through the tape of my dreams.
Was seamless, fragmented, and head of the department of looms;
I ran from hall to hall patterning rooms; was a shoe-gaze instrumental.
They could have put me down as mental if they’d caught me then.
But I was so alone in the music of dreamy unstoppable procession
of being forgotten; a shoe in the back; coin under the shoe; more me
than you, but less of me than no one at all; the sigh before the squall;
the breath before the rattle; endless mindless universal prattle:
mitochondrion and collider, spermatid and nucleus, spattering.
poem by Todd Swift; revised online 28/11/2012
In the absence of my Bloody Valentine, soon to return after a very long sojourn, the best shoe-gazing dream pop this year was offered by Tamaryn. I am relatively new to this track, but I find it rapturous, and enjoy how it sweeps me away. Dreamy, indeed.
Eyewear Christmas Poetry Launch Party: Elspeth Smith and Simon Jarvis plus special guest Caleb Klaces
Eyewear is celebrating its first year as an indie poetry publisher on the 5th December with warmth, cheer and merriment at the Oxfam bookshop, Marylebone. For a Christmas treat, Eyewear are launching two brilliant new collections for its fourth and fifth titles.
Dangerous Cakes is Elspeth Smith’s remarkable debut; a quirky, dark and kitsch collection of poems. Smith’s sly poems limit themselves with obsessive tropes – shoes, wine glasses, balloons, tea, cake, dancing – and then open them up, somehow, into vast, mysterious places, with a question or apercu. She is a fascinating woman, born in Ceylon in 1928 to British parents, spending her childhood on a tea plantation.
Eighteen Poems is by one of the UK's most respected avant-garde poet-critics, Simon Jarvis. His writing intriguingly reaches out to the Wordsworthian tradition, being a mixture of the lyrical, romantic and post-modern. Jarvis is the Gorley Putt Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Cambridge.
You will have the opportunity to hear both poets read from their work, as well as our special guest Caleb Klaces, who won the Melita Hume Poetry Prize this year with his strong and original collection Bottled Air. This is being published by Eyewear in spring 2013.
Please rock up at no charge to the Oxfam bookshop, 91 Marylebone High street, 7-9pm, for a glass of white or red, some ground-breaking poetry and most importantly, some Christmas joy.
Eyewear Publishing Ltd. is based in London, England. It was founded in the Diamond Jubilee/Olympic year of 2012. Emphasis is on excellent new work, as well as the rediscovery of out-of-print figures.
Maybe Alt-J shouldn't have won the Mercury Prize. Certainly, the most unusual British band of the year, in terms of spunky jumpy Devoesque stylings, was really Django Django. This has been one of my faves since early in 2012, and remains an instant classic of eccentric new wavery.
Now, for something completely different. Die Antwoord are South African. But they appear from another planet. Easily the most rebarbitive, and obnoxiously weird group of people in the world at the moment, they combine the least settling aspects of inbreeding, mental illness, poverty, deformity, modern primitivism and Dadaism, to inflect their enraged, sexually ambiguous, and thrilling look and sound with the truly uncanny. I can't think of a song or video this century so likely to amaze and appall in equal measure. I admire them, find them fascinating. Why are they not gods? 'I Fink U Freeky' is just plain amazing fun.
Canadians are suddenly cool in the UK, now that the incoming Bank of England governor is a Canuck. Meanwhile, one of the best albums of the year was from Half Moon Run, a relatively obscure Montreal band supported by Metric. They have a sound that slides between early Radiohead and folkie Canadiana, and have created a song that I find very moving, very lovely. It may be about being a McGill med student, or a junkie, or, anyway, I love it. Brings back memories of the Montreal I used to live in, 16 years ago.
Monday, 26 November 2012
As mentioned earlier, this was the year when half the bands in the world tried to sound like Tears for Fears, or some offshoot. Bear In Heaven were one of them, creating a clutch of New Wave pop gems of great cut and quality. Perhaps the most resonant, and certainly the most reverberant, is the echo-laden, galloping 'Sinful Nature' which could almost be Depeche Mode meets Yeasayer. Haunting, romantic, lyrically frank at times, this song made me want to be skinny, twenty, and in a disco falling in love listening to it. Listening to it, I was. The ending is especially sick slash cool.
No artist's long playing debut in 2012 was more anticipated, or instantly derided, than Ms. Del Rey's. The faux auteur slash bad girl singer-songwriter emerged fully grown from the fused pages of Kubrick's Lolita, and Lynch's Blue Velvet, as she was keen to tell us. She was as staged as the Monroe photo where she "reads" Ulysses. Lana's trope abuse was impressive - she wrung the last bit of blood from Jimmy Dean's broken body, basically speedballing Hollywood Babylon for the meme generation. As if deriving all her source material from Love and Death in The American Novel, she has continued to find links between the diseased poetics at the heart of an evil, carnal, eternal American Gothic sublime, and the bubblegum pink ecstasies of teen America: as if Minnie Mouse was a pornstar, or Sylvia Plath had slept with Howard Hughes under contract for his film company she combines the American DNA we all know and love, but usually keep separate - as such, she is the new airbrusher deluxe - that Hefner once was to middle America, so now is Lana. She excites and soothes at once - saying it is okay to love sex and death. Holier Thanatos, indeed. Born To Die the album is a strange, fruity masterwork - so camp it comes with its own lake. Many of its songs are flawed classics - both inert and clumsy, but also literary and artificial in a way that I welcome, as I welcome the poetry of David Trinidad. I have chosen 'Born To Die', finally, as the song to represent her, but half a dozen of hers would have done; though it lacks her sense of humour it does show her darker more portentous side.
The countdown continues - or rather, count up (I am going in reverse order, did I mention that?): with 'Honey' by Swim Deep. The video says it all - here are skinny lads, painting walls and themselves, day-glo lotharios, one stripped to the waist, as if a shy Red Hot Chili Pepper; one t-shirt is from Nirvana. It's all cute and teenage, but then there's the honey being licked off the lips of the American pretty girl as if directed by Eddie Powell. Borrowing the echo chamber from the xx, and posturing more than most, this scrawny band has still managed to generate a very captivating pop song. Pure pop, in fact. Honey never looked or sounded better.
Ludicrous, delirious, and defiantly Korean, Psy's silly global hit not only became a viral meme of epic proportions spawning x number of copy cat versions, in the process achieving the most watched video of all time status, but it also gave hope to pudgy men that look like potential dictators, and invented a new dance craze. I hesitated before adding this to the list, but then I thought, to heck with pretension - no song this year was as crazy, fun, or unexpected.
My favourite album of the year is from the prize-winning Australian band, The Jezabels, called Prisoner. As I wrote earlier this year at this blog, the album is limitless to me in its sonic pleasures - I have listened to it literally three hundred times this year, often before bedtime. Its shimmering generosity, and drumming panache, reminds me of the best of U2, or Simple Minds, with a dash of Siouxsie. But it has a radiance all its own. The high point of the album is 'Rosebud' with its romantic connotations, and hint of Citizen Kane. It lifts my spirits every time I hear it.
Another stylistic mode of the year in popular music was the turn to, or digging in of, an interest in the "Laurel Canyon" style of soft rock from the 70s, singer-songwriter folk. Indeed, 2012 has been a fascinating melange of two decades once thought mutually exclusive, the 70s and 80s. The best 70s soft rock song of this year, capturing the sense of melancholy and romance that decade epitomised at its best, has to be 'The Great Exhale'. "When I get in I will see you are there" feels both lovely and deeply sad.
Sunday, 25 November 2012
Forget the Vaccines. The most exciting guitar band in the UK now (no, not more landfill indie) is likely the Palma Violets - they only have one single out, really, but the NME hype machine is chugging overtime on them. Okay, but this time it is deserved. Fully fresh, and yet resonant with a variety of traditional tropes as if plucked from The Smiths, The Ramones and The Replacements, 'Best of Friends' manages to become, in its classic 3 minutes and thirty-three seconds, one of the best indie guitar songs of the 21st century. Full stop.
Saturday, 24 November 2012
Agnieszka Studzinska reviews
The Other Side of Glass
by Gail Ashton
If you have ever imagined what life might look like through glass then Gail Ashton’s collection The Other Side of Glass is a journey towards that. The poems in this collection are sometimes tilted, we think we see one thing but maybe are looking at something else, sometimes there is shimmering clarity and other times, a complexity of meaning permeates through the work. In the poem, ‘She knows’, we enter a strange and otherworldly place of knowing or perhaps not knowing ourselves or the world we inhabit. This spacious poem, chisels language to sculpt a metamorphosing self:
….she is destined for the small life: the grammar of nighfal, lillies,
crawl of skin, fall and flutter of heart. Things she knows verbatim,
heard, unseen. Words that won’t lie down.
What floors us everytime
The strangeness of language is captured in the poem, ‘Still some way to go’:
You were the kind of girl to eat magnolia and know the
subtleties of beige. Me I dreamed of chaos, the outrage of a polar
sky. The poem could be described as an ode to love, I am done with love, it’s
disappointments….., says Ashton and she leads the reader to follow a’ Wet snout to a
pitcher of ice, snow-hole, a growl of lightning bluer than the arctic snow. And still some way to go.
Ashton’s writing in this collection reflects different shades of meaning in this world, we move gently from one subject matter to another. In ‘Still Life’, Ashton captures the moment of stillness. She creates a distance between herself and the reader as well as the closeness she brings through her surprising images, which flow from one line to another, to paint an evocative still life moment.
It’s the small things, snags of lemon grass
in a voice, once the waterfall of a spine
and I am caught
light on the back of a hand,
in an evening that comes with a shock
of citrus, bass notes blue jazz patchouli
and flocks of humans
falling through a window
to the outside of my skin.
Her work is both assured, and rooted in what may be personal memory in ‘Emigrating to South Africa’ and in ‘In the garden’ as well as unassuming; ‘In praise of days’, a simple poem on friendship; encompassing what others often steer away from in the collection, a straightforwardness, we know where we are. This familiarity cannot be said of the poem ‘Signs,’ its silence preys on nature and the semantics of waiting:
moments on which a day might turn
Like deer, liquid as the slip of water separating us
The lexicon of Ashton’s poetry is vast and skilful. She is a poet that you will re read with intrigue and like her poem, ‘Something,’ find yourself observing the starkness of humanity:
This is the way of all of us:
slow fade, skeletal at the last
Agnieszka Studzinska has an MA in Creative Writing from the UEA. She teaches and edits a local community magazine. Her debut collection, Snow Calling (Salt) was shortlisted for the London Poetry Award in 2010. She is currently working on her second collection.
Sad news. Larry Hagman has died, but for most of the world that has ever watched a TV set, he isn't the hapless husband dreaming of a genie (though he was that), or the troubled alcoholic who suffered various medical ailments (that too) but the ultimately iconic figure of J.R. Ewing - arguably the most popular anti-hero (okay, villain) of all time on American television, and by extension, globally. It is hard now to comprehend, but once Dallas was an event of the first order, in terms of popular culture; and its recent enjoyable second coming is now in doubt. Let's hope the show runners were as devious as their best character, and plotted a way to keep things going without their eminence gris. Hagman, you'll be missed. You put Texas on the map for a billion people.
Imagine a sexier Cat Stevens, and you have the Pop Levi sound - this song has weaselled its way into my mind and its sickly sweet use of "bye-byes" notwithstanding, the lyrics and tune are brilliant (perhaps the fact he also threatens to cut his hair off and get tattoos makes that more palatable). One of the most indelible, haunting love songs of late.
Friday, 23 November 2012
Jessica Mayhew reviews
by Michael S. Begnal
Beginning at the end of this collection, Michael Begnal notes the poet’s refusal “to fix ourselves/ in time or ink” (‘Manifesto’), and this would serve just as well as an epigram to Future Blues. This is a collection aware of the fragility and harshness of time and language, and a refusal to be rooted in the stasis of either. Begnal’s poetry is fluid and immediate, and his use of textual play allows it to slip from being pinned to the formal.
In ‘Primates,’ Begnal explores the “conception of the word/ HUMAN.” This poem examines a photograph of a group of chimpanzees, comparing it to an early-morning glimpse of the self in a mirror, “a face so secretly and fiercely familiar,” which readers will be able to wryly identify with. However, this poem also goes much deeper than the “3:10 A.M” stunned and squinting eyes, and the knowing nudges of aging; the parallels drawn between poem and chimp highlight the “iron light of sentience,” the harshness of knowledge.
Begnal excels at finding just the right words to root a sentence. ‘Primates’ opens with the line, “His eyes intimate knowledge, this chimpanzee,” the deliberate choice of “intimate” suggesting both an ancestral closeness and the implication of communication, and from this, the poem works around suggestion. The poet guesses – the chimp “maybe the poet of his tribe,” and the speaker’s own “sapience” is “unknown.” This disturbance to the ability of language to express meaning builds to the final stanza:
tomorrow I will kill the poachers
/I will murder the colonists
/I will cut down the loggers
/I will exterminate all the brutes
What seemingly begins as a threatening wish to protect the chimpanzees of the first stanza begins to splinter, reflected in the use of the forward slashes, building to the Heart of Darkness climax. However, in Begnal’s poem there is no Marlow to act as editor and tear off the postscript. The speaker becomes a Kurtz-like figure, and the violent ambiguity of “brutes,” leads the reader back to deeper concerns of role of language as communication.
Darkness and language surface again in ‘Dithyramb.’ The pattern of the urban/ rural couplets are broken when:
...I enter the poem
and am immediately strong-armed
into a dark garage
where there are no shining mirrors,
no strains of deathless song...
The entry of the speaker disrupts the flow of the poem, and yet seems to begin the dithyramb, which is a wild hymn to the ancient Greek God Dionysus. Begnal attacks the urge to define:
they claim they can define
everyone, that I’m this or that,
a maker of cloudy cadence...
An urge which he ultimately defies, setting the poet alone in the urban/rural landscape:
and I’m out along the leaves,
olive-green under the
Bengal uses the juxtaposition of the rural imagery against the streetlights to create a hallucinogenic rebellion which both harks back to the ancient poetic tradition and places it firmly in the contemporary.
The theme of the poet existing outside of the established order is revisited in ‘In an Unknown City, It Seemed.’ There is a distinct modernist atmosphere to the poem, not in form but in content. The poet becomes a flâneur-like figure, roaming through a disorientating city. Temporality is disrupted:
in this part of the city
when you looked at them closer
were constructed of Mayan ruins…
(‘In an Unknown City, It Seemed’)
This sense of timeless isolation is shattered when the speaker of the poem encounters another figure. There is a sense of threat at the end of the poem, when another man emerges to see the speaker, “like a priest.”
One of the strong points of this collection is the shift of tone between poems. In ‘The Fluctuations,’ Begnal observes, “death & loss in your twisted black guts like shit,/ in the stark stochastic scald.” This sits alongside ‘At the Cliff,’ where death/ time sits in contrast, “time wilts and willows,/ residue builds sweet on the tongue.” Here, the softer assonance gives a much gentler impression of time ebbing and flowing, rather than the harsh sounds of the former. Throughout Future Blues, Begnal consistently compliments the themes of his poems with a studied ear to the sounds they make, which is apt for a collection at least partly inspired by music. This attention to the aural is particularly effective in ‘Betty Page.’ The classic monochromatic pin-up image is created in the third stanza:
black her hair
and pale white skin,
the classic black/white
The sound echoing through “black/classic,” and the half-rhyme of “skin/ porcelain” draws the reader into a poem which centres heavily on the notion of darkness, not just in colour (or lack of), but also in tone. This builds to the final proper stanza, in which decay is emphasised through consonance, and the final rhyme acts as an evocation of the pin-up herself:
and clay collects in the cracks below the window
and the furniture begins to show its age –
“Sexless” is scored through in this poem, an ironic nod to the epigram from Betty Page, “I had less sex activity those seven years in New York than I had any other time in my life.” Begnal’s use of typography and textual play works well throughout the collection. In “Dead Rabbits,” he introduces coloured print with the word “red,” emphasising the visceral nature of the poem. An image of a horn is added to “Horn,” further breaking the text and bringing a visual element to a poem focusing on sound. This typographic play could be used more often to bring more of an impact.
Future Blues ends with a ‘Manifesto,’ summing up the poet’s intents and beliefs. This collection flits between deaths – death of the body, death of language, death of the self – and in this movement is the escape of expression. In ‘Manifesto,’ Begnal writes, “for death is statis/ and poetry moves everywhere.” This collection looks to a mythic past, even as it passes through the present. In this poem, as in the others, there is a lack of concluding full stops, which serves to emphasise Future Blues as a continuous, supple body of poetry.
Jessica Mayhew is a British poet, and reviews regularly for Eyewear.