Friday, 21 December 2012

The Shortest Day

Here we are - having survived the end of the world.  And, fittingly, we made it, on the shortest day of the year.  Rejoice: the light starts coming back as of tomorrow, and Christmas is coming too!  Eyewear will be back in 2013, with more posts about poetry, film, music, and politics, and the new books we'll be publishing - we have some eye-catching reviews lined up.  For now, it's time to start hanging up the stockings by the chimney with care.  Also, spare a moment for those who are ill in body or mind, in prison, homeless, away at war, lonely, or depressed.  Try and give someone you may know who is having a hard time a better time of it. May I wish you a very happy time with your families and friends, and all the best for the new year.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas Poem 2012 by Todd Swift

The Fourth King

I could have done more, following that star;

pausing, let my eyes wander, at the oasis, though,

to other, closer flashings.  Light on the gold

around a girl’s throat.  The pomegranate’s myriad

redness, interior stars clotted into fruit;

the way that water when it rises from a well

weighs nothing in its sweet necessity.  The swell

of her breast as she breathes.  Night cold as a blade,

and all the other stars, though never as bright,

strangely alluring in their alternative light.

So, I stayed days and nights among the travellers:

some with tangled slaves; others rich in stories

alone; our opulence was limited by our place

in the desert; we would fast again before winter

had brightened off, as each chose when to leave

this slivered ideal of a paradise, no larger than

a small market in a dusty town; but flourishing

this time in green and moist insouciance, turned

against the blurring white hot outwards at our faces.

Had I known what the others found in that barn

I might not have traded places.  Their shy sunburnt

gaze fell upon a tiresome greatness demanding action;

satiated, I stayed put in some small Eden to grow old,

never wondering what the child said or did or knows.

new poem for Christmas by Todd Swift

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Ben Parker's The Escape Artists

Ben Parker is a gradate of UEA's Poetry MA, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Melita Hume International Poetry Prize in 2012.  His debut pamphlet The Escape Artists now comes from tall-lighthouse, who have given us great such debuts in the past, from Liz Berry, Emily Berry, and Helen Mort (who all studied with me in my Poetry School workshop and have since gone on to establish themselves as significant younger poets).  I have not ever mentored Parker, but I wish I could say I did, for his is a very impressive debut.  The poems tend to come in two or three forms - mostly, they flow down the page in one large block, without stanzas - each line punching out a firm sense of its sound.  They work like the short stories of Kafka, or the poems of Charles Simic - as surreal, unsettling parables, teetering on the edge of the recognisable.  They are not merely edgy or sinister - overused terms for such a manner - but they are uncanny, and they leave the reader haunted.

The word play and music of the poems is subtle, but it is there - even when apparently prosaic, these are clearly designed to be poems, and they bring back a mythic sense to poetry that was somewhat lacking of late - that is, these are both darkly witty and serious poems, with a heft to them.  These are no mere pastiches, or ironic trifles.  You feel a worldview here, are in the presence of a very active imagination.  The cinema where you watch the drowning is terrifying, but unusual.  And half the poems at least contain ideas of unique merit.  A few of the poems strike me as being fully brilliant, and warrant inclusion in whatever generational anthologies still loom.  This is one of the key pamphlets of 2012 published in the UK, and I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Perhaps The World Should End

Apparently, as we all know, the Mayan calendar tediously predicts the end of the world this Friday - or, rather, tediously, the media of the West has inundated us with stories and films about this for the last few years.  The end is rather an anti-climax.  Except, a horrific massacre of children in America reminds us that doom is not farcical, but horrifically potential, in all our lives as individuals, if not as whole communities; after all, America is in mourning but it has survived this onslaught.  Calls for gun control are worthy but a little naive, though gun control is an essential step for America as it seeks to become a mature and civilised nation - naive, because American culture, and by extension, the cultures of Britain, Canada, Australia, and Europe - are exceptionally violent.  As Frankie Goes To Hollywood said about thirty years ago, "sex and violence are the new gods."  Not quite new.  About as new as the Mayans, probably.  However, the point of this post is, as a Catholic, I see the world as fallen  I see hope in this recognition.  Atheists too often see the world's problems as the fault of others - other laws, other politicians, other beliefs.  But the fault is in all of us; as humans, we are partly evil.

Now, what world would Satan build for us if he were real?  A world of war, pornography, brutal financial systems, polluting multinationals destroying the world's ecosystems, random killings, and massive inequality?  A world of hate, terrorism, and a cheapened private sphere, where poetry, prayer, contemplation and down time are almost impossible to locate amidst a global Internet babble?  Yes, this world of ours, this Western world of capitalism, and empire-built declining prosperity, has its Satanic mills and military-industrial complex.

But, there is a God, too, so we also get things like joy, hope, creativity, sport, love, giving, art, music, medicine, and philosophy.  Violence is in the heart of our entertainment worlds, our imaginations: the biggest grossing film of the year in the UK is Skyfall, a violent fantasy.  The most popular TV shows are Homeland, filled with gun battles and espionage, and The Killing, filled with sadism and torture.  I found these shows entertaining - because I am human, a sinner.  But that does not mean I think they are ideal.  I regret the time I waste on cheap popular culture, but it is hard to focus on uplifting fare all the time; though we must seek virtue.  One concern we must have is with these video games, best-selling thrillers, movies, and shows, that constantly emphasise serial killers, hit men, and snipers, sold to us constantly in the media.  No wonder children want to take up arms, and shoot people.  This is a sick world we inhabit.  I hope it won't end on Friday - but if it did, what would be lost?  A lot of good, yes, but some evil, as well.

Two New Poems By U.S. Dhuga

I am very glad to offer you two new poems from the Anglo-Indian poet U.S Dhuga this bright, crisp London morning a week before Christmas. Dhuga is a classical philologist, and classical music critic. He received his PhD (2006), MPhil (2005), and MA (2002) in Classics from Columbia University. Professor of Classics at Calvin College, Dhuga is also the founder, publisher, and managing editor of The Battersea Review. His recent book entitled Choral Identity and the Chorus of Elders in Greek Tragedy was published through Harvard University's Center for Hellenic Studies in the series "Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches" (Lexington Books, 2011).

Rue Sedaine Insomnia

Up at six and 'us'
Fills the space that sleepless leaves.
Fall's precipitous.


This morning breakers off of Polzeath shore
aren't breaking as they broke before
those hours which we spent ashore alone
and watched the rippled herringbone
the dinghies left behind them
as they went away the way the trouser-hem
of ocean goes away from Polzeath shore
then brings the dinghies back ashore:

the way that I can rest assured
that you will go away once more
and leave me on the shore alone
but come back in an inverse herringbone
so neat and arrowed and intent
as Ocean's made-to-measure argument. 

poems published online with permission of the poet.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Eyewear's Top Songs of 2012: #40 'Yeah Yeah' by Willy Moon

There were other tracks, like ''Serpents' by Sharon Van Etten, or 'Poison & Wine' by The Civil Wars, 'Husbands' by The Savages, 'Wrath of God' by The Crystal Castles, a new song by the Stones, several by returning heavy-hitters Public Image Ltd., ZZ Top, Soundgarden, Sinead O'Connor, Dexys, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Bill Fay, Blur, Bobby Womack, Scott Walker, and Leonard Cohen, as well as universal hits from Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen, Usher, or Taylor Swift, as well as songs by Jack White, that might have found a place in Eyewear's Top 40 affections at the end of 2012; and each came very close to slipping in.

However, at the last moment, it seemed utterly essential to include Willy Moon's outlandishly upbeat pop song, 'Yeah Yeah'.  The song is preposterously in-yer-face, and entirely joyous - it celebrates musical entertainment as the purest form of instant gratification, and does so with the simplest, perhaps most classical of all words in the pop-rock canon, those "yeah yeahs".  Its simple, immediate Yes and again Yes, to life and love, and dancing, makes the song and video - for all its silliness - brilliant - and frankly, at the dark edge of this violent, difficult year - something mindlessly positive to hold on to, as we brim over into the next year.  I cannot guarantee that if you listen to all these forty songs you will have heard all the great songs of the year, but you will have heard a very strong sliver of the best.

Eyewear's Top Songs of 2012: #39 'Hollow Talk' by Choir of Young Believers

Was there a more haunting, crypric theme song on telly this year, than 'Hollow Talk' for the arty, very cerebral/visceral Nordic Noir, The Bridge?  Chanelling A-ha and Talk Talk, these young believers managed to forge something new and yes, poetic.  Lovely.

Swift Reviewed In Poetry Review

I have received an excellent review in the latest Poetry Review, volume 102:4, Winter 2012, the UK's leading poetry magazine, just out; expertly guest-edited by Bernardine EvaristoRob A. Mackenzie says the following about When All My Disappointments Came At Once (Tightrope Books, 2012):

"...the poems pave a via negativa through times when sources of hope seem absent."

"Swift's manipulation of rhythm here is impressive."

"...a tragically perfect image for depression."

"this powerful and painfully honest odyssey through brokenness, love and recovery".

I am moved and relieved to see this hard-won collection receiving some notice in the land I live in, though I had to return to the land I was born in to see it published.

Perhaps others struggling with their own life challenges will derive comfort from this book.

Friday, 14 December 2012

1983 Is Coming...

It will soon be time to dust off those golden oldies from 1983, via Spotify - and what a year it was, 30 years ago.  Just 20 classics from then to consider, each of which remains with me as one of my favourites still, and raises the question, wasn't the singles chart better then?  I mean, how to compete with Gaye, Jackson, Bowie, etc...:

  1. Safety Dance - Men Without Hats
  2. I'm Still Standing - Elton John
  3. Hungry Like The Wolf - Duran Duran
  4. Our House - Madness
  5. Goody Two Shoes - Adam & The Ants
  6. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These) - Eurythmics
  7. Down Under - Men At Work
  8. Rock The Casbah - The Clash
  9. She Blinded Me With Science - Thomas Dolby
  10. Little Red Corvette - Prince
  11. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
  12. Every Breath You Take - The Police
  13. Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant
  14. Come On Eileen - Dexy's Midnight Runners
  15. Let's Dance - David Bowie
  16. Mickey - Toni Basil
  17. Steppin Out - Joe Jackson
  18. Maneater - Hall & Oates
  19. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? - Culture Club
  20. Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye

The Hobbit, Part One, reviewed


I loved The Hobbit when I read it as a child.  It remains one of my favourite books as a consequence, and, though I have not read it in decades, it retains a hold on my imagination, though I no longer clearly recall the conclusion very well.  I also enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, the books, but not as much, and probably skimmed them over.  They felt too adult to me then.  Now, I am older, and came to the screening of Peter Jackson's fourth Tolkien adaptation with much anticipation, not least because his first trilogy of films was brilliant - arguably the most faithful and beautifully executed of any literary adaptation for film.

Jackson has tried new things here, technically - 3D, and a faster rate of film speed - and neither, to my mind, caused any of the aesthetic or medical problems some audience members have reported.  The film did not look shoddy nor did it occasion nausea.  However, I cannot say the film is as much a triumph as before.  At times the movie is magnificent.  Sometimes it lags, though.

The main challenge was always going to be that this adventure was on a smaller scale, and, literally, a smaller, quainter map.  The enemy, rather than being a sort of Satan, is a mere dragon, and there are no major battles.  Jackson has tinkered with the storyline a bit, to very much put this back into the world of the later books that Tolkien wrote, papering over the cracks, and deepening the sense of dramatic irony: now Gandalf is very much the foreshadowing prophet of doom, sensing a "darkness" coming across Middle Earth; and, in a startling scene, one of the major villains of Lord of the Rings appears.

Jackson has done a very good job of tying it all in, though the first ten minutes are confusing, switching too soon from a narrated, epic event, to Frodo and Bilbo.  Martin Freeman as young Bilbo grows on one - at first he seems to be comically mugging all the time; but later, he manages to be physical enough to believably fight orcs, and smart enough to outwit Gollum (the highlight of this first instalment in the new trilogy).

The dwarfs are too many, but the few who get speaking parts are mainly enjoyable.  It remains annoying that all the bad guys and monsters have "working class" English accents, as if trolls are all "chavs".  Also, where are the women characters?  There is only one in the whole film.  And I found some of the massacres of the trolls, goblins, and orcs disquieting and a little brutal, though I realise they are "monsters" and I suppose fair game for our heroes.

My main concern is that I can't believe Smaug is such a force of power and evil that all the dwarf forces could not defeat him (with all their skill and mastery how did they not build a fortress impregnable to dragon fire)?  Jackson has depicted the dragon (barely glimpsed) as a sort of flying atom bomb of destructive force.

In terms of emotional beats, the first film ends with Bilbo having bravely earned his keep as the 14th member of the party, the heart-of-gold "burglar" who ironically spares Gollum and burgles the most important ring in the world.  Gandalf seems older here than in the earlier films, though actually he is meant to be 60 years or so younger, but we must make allowances for real time.  The action scenes are impeccable and as exciting as anything in the earlier films, perhaps at times even more so - and the choreographic sequences are up their with the best of Spielberg.  Jackson is clearly a mainstream film-maker of genius.  As well, and as before, the use of the landscape is simply ravishing.

No one who has ever read The Hobbit can, should, or will, miss this film, which really warrants viewing in the cinema over the holidays.  It seems to me to be too frightening for young children; at times I was terrified.  While sometimes worthy, plodding, and a little forced, in general, this reminds us how poor the Potter films were - and will be one of the most popular and treasured movies of this decade.

--- Todd Swift

Swift's Juevnilia

I have started a new blog - a place to post my unpublished early poems, written before my 20th birthday - most before my 18th.  Do check it out.  I hope you enjoy.

35 to 3000

We have 35 (34 now) posts to go until we get to the rather lovely number of 3,000 posts!

Eyewear's Top Songs of 2012: #38 'Young Man In America' by Anais Mitchell

One of the most intelligent Americana singer-songwriters of our times is Anais Mitchell.  Her song 'Young Man In America' is an epic dramatic monologue - "everyone will know my name" - of the rise of the eponymous American - and his disturbing ambitions for power and love - as if penned by Theodore Dreiser.  It feels timeless, essential, very poetic, almost biblical, and relevant to this age of fiscal corruption.  Two more songs to go...

Free Wlodzimierz Umaniec!

The artist behind Yellowism, a small but legitimate art movement, Wlodzimierz Umaniec, has been imprisoned for two years in Britain, for defacing a small corner of a painting in The Tate.

I love Rothko's work and would never want to see his paintings ruined.  I do not support vandalism.  However, a two year prison sentence for the damaging of insured property seems sickening, at a time when no Bankers have been sent to prison, or any Politicians, over the financial disasters of the last four years.

A man's life seems to me more important than a work of art, even two years of it.  There must be better ways to punish and protect in such cases.  Where are the artists and poets of the UK now, eager to save Pussy Riot, when Wlodzimierz Umaniec needs them?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Letter Machine

I received this interesting email today - perhaps some UK readers may fancy this?

Hello there:

Order Peter Gizzi's Ode: Salute to the New York School now for $16 (includes shipping) here.

We also have a new special deal for Peter Gizzi's Ode, Andrea Rexilius's Half of What they Carried Flew Away, and Juliana Leslie's More Radiant Signal. All three for just $35.
Click here.

Peter Gizzi's Ode: Salute to the New York School
An abecedarian cento of New York School poems, this piece was first delivered in March 1996 at The Popular Culture Association Conference. As Gizzi notes:
"Ode: Salute to the New York School is a cento, a late Roman verse form made up of lines from other sources. First, I put together a chronological bibliography of over 100 books published by New York poets from 1950 to 1970. Many of these books are deeply out of print so I had to do some real digging. Then I extracted lines from each book to compose the cento. Happily, Clark Coolidge supplied lines from the books I couldn t find. The cento also works as an index to the bibliography. The combined bibliography and cento form the libretto to a musical work for the composer Richard Alan Applebaum. My intention was to make what I call a 'performing bibliography.' Since this is, in effect, what most of us do on a daily basis -- referring to or performing what we've read -- it seemed a useful metaphor to describe how we enact our reading practice. My idea was that a simple accompaniment to a series of bibliographic entries could generate both scholarly information and an emotive effect. I wanted to express the latent desire for lists and order, and to create a texture to accommodate the eros inherent in research. What I learned along the way is that literary movements survive primarily in the ruins of the texts they leave behind rather than in the unified literary histories that we create for them after the fact."


New books by Aaron Kunin & Eddie Berrigan will be out very soon as well.

T H A N K Y O U--

Lazy Bastardism

Lazy Bastardism is the startling title of one of the books anyone interested in Canadian poetry criticism should read - that may seem like a narrow, even laughably narrow, genre, but Canadian poet-critics have a long and impressive history of polemical writing, at least since the 1940s.  This 2012 book, beautifully produced by Gaspereau, is a readable selection of essays by Carmine Starnino, an editor for Reader's Digest, Signal Editons and a prize-winning poet.  Subjects include John Glassco, Margaret Atwood, and Modern Canadian Poets.

Eyewear's Top Songs of 2012: #37 'Yet Again' by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear came to prominence several years ago with a brilliantly nuanced Jazzy album of indie pop with an obscure title; but this year they returned with an album of songs that had critics comparing them to a new Radiohead or Coldplay (though they themselves are American).  'Yet Again' more than confirmed such claims - it's one of the richest, smartest and most satisfying songs of recent years.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

New Poem by Todd Swift

Another Poem Making Important Claims About Language, Sort Of

Frankly, tedious
how this becomes that
with a twist of tongue;
drop of the hat; lingua
spat out; nowt
here for us, they say
up North.  Aboot
becomes about

if you go South;
house is unhomed
in what a word does.
And every poem claims
as much – the splendour
in the hiss, the Sibyl
of sibilance; the affront
of click or grunt.

The lyric is linguistic;
how oeuvre is work;
a quirk makes cheval
hoarse in a new throat.
Don’t go out much,
old words.  They’re ancien
regime.  It all seems
spoken more than heard.

I’d make a point,
then point at a sign,
then use my fingers
but that would be Helen
Keller’s sort of thing;
and I’m too dumb already
to sing absurd.
No speak Anglesea.


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...