Thursday, 30 July 2015

MY FRIEND, MARTIN PENNY, RETIRES

Martin Penny was the first, and truest, friend, I made when I arrived in London, from Paris, in 2003. Ours was an unlikely and instantly achieved connection - he was the ironic, Atheist, very English, Chelsea-supporting Oxfam manager of wry wit, indifferent to poetry (but a keen reader and collector of prose) - and I, as you may know, was the Catholic-in-waiting sincere enthusiastic poet from Canada nursing bad injuries from a car accident  - but what we shared was a love of wordplay, conversation, pushing the boundaries of taste, and lunches over coffee at a local cafĂ© (where we have had a meal together at least once a week for over ten years).

TODD SWIFT AND MARTIN PENNY AT THE POETRY LIBRARY
Martin is retiring, at the age 55, tomorrow, from being manager of the best bookshop in the Oxfam chain - at least for awhile - the Marylebone branch, recently poignantly downgraded to a clothing shop with some books in the back.  In its heyday, when I joined as poet-in-residence in 2004, the shop was making over a million pounds a year in sales, and was one of the top three in the UK - the steady decline in book sales started with the crash of 2008, and the rise of the e-reader and e-book.

Some of you may have been to the one of 60 or so readings held over the years of the Oxfam series there - crowded, long events in the cheese-scented shop with the battered floors and skylight - legendary events where many of the greatest poets of the age read for free. Martin gave me free reign to hold the events there and politely listened to all the poetry - some of it which he actually enjoyed.  He might have preferred if I had brought in comedians, but it was poets I brought in, and we raised over £20 k in the process.

Anyway, Martin was a superb manager of the shop - because like Rick in Casablanca he was a jaded, enigmatic loner, with a sharp sense of fair play and a total lack of interest in cant, with a fascinating backstory - a private man, he quit working in accounting when young to live in Malta on his own for 5 years to write; he had an interesting background - his father had worked in broadcasting, with, among others, The Goons, and he himself was a big fan of The Buzzcocks.

Oxfam shops rely on hundreds of eccentric, often damaged or unemployable volunteers coming in to work shifts, from schoolgirls to 90-year-old widowers - many love books, or helping, but some are only lonely, or half-mad - and Martin treated each of them as equals, with great respect.  Those who know me know I am prone to controversy and debate - but in the over ten years I worked there, there were only one or two occasions when I ever witnessed any conflict in the shop.  Martin had an unassailable integrity and commanded near-total respect, so no one ever stepped too far out of line. Only one insane volunteer would come in once a week, muttering to me, Oh Mr Penny, he is a bad man! (because the toilets were never very clean).

Martin was, however, truly a great Oxfam shop manager because of this curious twist - he never really held the ideals of Oxfam in overly high regard. Though he always dutifully and properly obeyed its rules and regulations, he had not "drank the cool-aid" - he saw his job as raising as much money for the charity as possible, by simply selling books and DVDs and CDs and Vinyl and posters and postcards as best he could.  His truest loyalty was to the goal, not the ideologies. At least I suspect as much.

Volunteering at the shop for 11 years has changed my life - it gave me a home in London (when I missed my family and friends back in Canada), and eventually it gave me a national identity as a poetry organiser and fund-raiser.  It gave me a solid weekly purpose, a place to be - to discover new books, old books, and mainly read and talk about and price books.  But it mostly, above all, gave me my best and truest friend over this past decade or so - a decade that nearly killed me several times, as I suffered multiple deaths in my family, other physical traumas and sorrows, failures in career, and business - in short, however bad things got (including my father dying of brain cancer), Martin was there to tease me over a coffee in Patisserie Valerie. His cruelty was superb. I have been asked almost weekly for ten years how my poetry books are selling.

Martin is a very clever man. He is also a father, and his wife (who he met at the shop) is British-Turkish, and so, he, his sons, and his wife have moved to Turkey. On Monday he will be as far away as my family in Canada. I doubt I will see him again, more than once a year, if that, from now on. I am about to turn 50, and find myself missing my key friends, my brother Jordan, Thor (my oldest friend from Montreal), and now Martin. I am not sure how to bear this absence, how to think of it.  Our effortless, utterly natural flow was never spoken of - and not it is cut short, or rather, thrown far and placed very differently.

I know our friendship will move to a different sort of place, of Skype and rare meetings. But an era has ended for me - and also, for Martin, and his shop, and the tens of thousands of customers who have grown fond of his stoical, seemingly indifferent manner. But he has a softer, kinder side, and we knew it was always there when needed. Many poets who enjoyed these many events and CDs and DVD and anthology and national competition we ran, and worked on together, from 2004-2012, should also be appreciative of an unsung poetry hero - a man who never really loved poets or poems all that much but ended up creating one of the best homes in the UK for poetry this century(and always gave me more shelf space than poetry probably warranted, given its space to sales ratio).

I am happy for him - he has got out of the London rat race, and retires young enough to enjoy the sun, the kids, his lovely wife, a new landscape, and his writing and books. But I remain, nonetheless, astonished at what a chance meeting in 2003 allowed me to enjoy for so long - one of the great friendships of my life; and I will miss him terribly.

Monday, 27 July 2015

LEE HARWOOD HAS DIED

Very sad news.  Lee Harwood has died.  Harwood was an important British poet, whose work bridged over to American poetics and styles, especially those of the abstract lyricists of the New York School, perhaps.

He was a gentle person, and his presence was lovely.  Had his work not fallen foul of certain critical tendencies in British poetry reception of the 60s-80s especially, which favoured a more well-made traditional poem, he would have surely been more widely enjoyed for what he truly was - one of the best, and most lyrically evocative  poets- sensuous of thought if minimal of touch - of his generation. As it was, those in the know loved his writing.

EYEWEAR SUMMER PAMPHLET LAUNCH IN BLOOMSBURY

SHE'S A FAN

The STYLISH Eyewear 20/20 Pamphlet series - edited by Les Robinson and designed by Edwin Smet - is now up to 16 poets - and we're launching 8 of the collections July 29th, at The Rugby Tavern, Bloomsbury, at 7-9pm, in a pub famous for being a watering hole for Plath and Hughes.

Fans of great contemporary poetry by new, emerging, and established poets cannot but find something to enjoy - and since each poet will be reading for only 5 minutes, it will be a relatively quick and fun event (plus drinks, chance to get books signed, chat, and generally mingle).

Here are the poets reading, IN NO ORDER, including a guest from Ireland, Julie Morrissy, whose work with Eyewear is out only later - she's a taste of things to come (I will be reading from Jack Little's pamphlet, he is back to Mexico now)....

GEORGE SZIRTES
JULIE MORRISSY
KEITH JARRETT
DAMILOLA ODELOLA
SAMANTHA JACKSON
SHELLEY ROCHE-JACQUES
LEILANIE STEWART
V.A. SOLA SMITH



Tuesday, 7 July 2015

ANNOUNCING THE EYEWEAR BEST NEW BRITISH & IRISH POETS SERIES AND COMPETITION


The Best New Poets: 50 Poems From Emerging Writers is a brilliant series from America, that seeks to celebrate younger poets that don't yet have a first book published yet.

Eyewear PUBLISHING is now starting a similar series for the UK and Irish poets in a similar boat, in pure and honourable homage to a great series we admire from abroad, much as Salt has the Best British Poetry series, modelled after its American influential counterpart.

THE BEST NEW BRITISH AND IRISH POETS 2016 can be submitted to now...

How does one get included? Simple. You enter our competition to be considered.

You email us between 1-3 of your best poems (no more than 100 lines please)  in a word doc, including a 50-100 word bio, to info at eyewearpublishing dot com.

You then become a micropatron for £10 as entrance fee (which also entitles you to 2 free 2015 paperback collections or pamphlets) and Eyewear's team of judges, including Todd Swift and Cate Myddleton-Evans, will select any poets's poem that strikes them as extraordinary*.

The poems can have appeared before in magazines or pamphlets; but they cannot be online. They must be original. You must be either a British or Irish citizen or a permanent resident of Britain or Ireland.  You cannot have a full collection published or due out before July 1, 2016.

The deadline to submit is September 1, 2015 - so you have the dog days of summer to polish those quills and tap those itty iPhone keys... good luck!

This paperback, out early 2016, designed by Edwin Smet, will be a wonderful way to get your work out there, as we will sell it in shops in the USA, UK, Ireland, and on Amazon and via our website.

We hope to make this an annual event!

*We reserve the right to call in poems and poets, if we do not receive enough top notch work over the transom.


7/7 ten years on


Eyewear was a very young blog of a few weeks, when tragedy struck London, ten years ago today in the morning.

Here is what we wrote then:

'The thing we feared most has happened: Madrid-style, multiple terrorist attacks on the London Underground and bus routes in the heart of London, timed with surgical cruelty after London's Olympic win and the start of the G8 summit. It is an unsettling time, and there have been many casualties. So far, over 33 fatalities have been reported.

It is - weatherwise and ironically (as in New York in 2001) - a warm, sunny day now, with lovely blue skies. Tens of thousands of would-be commuters are slowly walking home early. With no underground system, some mainline services closed, and few buses in Zone 1, some will be walking for hours. The streets are eerily calm, punctuated by sirens.

The people of London, accustomed to such things, are brave and will endure, but this is a sad day for all who love London and live here.'

Sadly, it ended up that more died - amid stories of great bravery and suffering, often deep underground - or in the twisted metal of the red bus in the violently disrupted street. One victim, at least, was evacuated from the tube to find herself moments later on the bus that exploded.

Ten years on, London's attacks remain the worst the country has endured since WW2  - though Tunisia is another awful event - and we can thank the security services for that.

However, we are not complacent. We know that a small group of lone wolves are out there, full of hate for Western values. They hate women and gays having equality. They hate British culture. They despise moderates on all sides.  They seek more destruction.

We are brave in London. We honour the dead. We respect the injured, and those who rescued them. We will stand strong.

But we must also do our best to vote for positions that will emphasise peace, tolerance, multiculturalism, and openness. We must not let our fear predominate. And we must do just battle, when required, with villains who would otherwise slay us. There be dragons. And we have Arthur's sword.

We are Britain, now and forever.

Monday, 6 July 2015

WHAT WENT DOWN - FOALS - BEST TRACK OF 2015?

Eyewear doesn't usually break its protocol - we list our fave songs and tracks on a semi-regular basis, but not often would we just throw one name at you.

Here is a difference - the just-released single from the new Foals album, out August, is titled 'What Went Down' - and it heralds a mean, powerfully-driven, intense, and fully enclosed worldview - Foals are, with this song, the single most exciting rock (even hard rock) indie band in the UK.

Forget Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood - this is a new level for 21st century rock music in England.  This is as hard as Led Zep. Has there been a British rock song this lean, pure, intelligent, resonant, and affecting this decade? We love it.  Do you?

EYEWEAR NOVEL OPTIONED FOR FILM


MS SUMIA SUKKAR

For Immediate Release


B7 Media secures film and television rights


to Sumia Sukkar’s acclaimed novel of Syrian conflict


 
The Boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War follows B7 Media’s successful BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of a modern literary masterpiece

 
London, 6 July 2015:  The film and television rights to The Boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War, the debut novel by Sumia Sukkar set during the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, have been acquired by B7 Media.
 

Independent production and distribution company B7 Media has announced it has acquired an option to develop a motion picture or television serial based on Sumia Sukkar’s acclaimed debut novel of the Syrian conflict, The Boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War.
 
Following B7’s critically acclaimed radio dramatisation of the novel for BBC Radio 4 in 2014, featuring Farshid Rokey, this new film adaptation will look to explore this powerful and intimate drama in a widescreen setting. Simon Moorhead (Mirrormask, Luna) and Andrew Mark Sewell (Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Exit Thread) will produce.

Published by Eyewear, London, the novel was an immediate critical success on publication. The story gained a whole new audience when B7 Media adapted it into a successful Saturday Drama for BBC Radio 4, directed by Fiona McAlpine, produced by Andrew Mark Sewell and Patrick Chapman and dramatised for radio by Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle. Farshid Rokey, Noof Ousellam and Jalleh Alizadeh led an outstanding young cast in this moving realisation of a heartrending story.
 

About The Boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War

 
Adam is a 14-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome, who attempts to understand the Syrian conflict and its effect on his life and family by painting his feelings.  Yasmine, his devoted older sister, has to cope with her own traumas when government soldiers abduct and torture her. His older brothers face the dilemma – on whether or not to take sides and the consequences of their eventual choices have repercussions for the entire family. 



The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War is the powerful and deeply moving debut novel from Sumia Sukkar.  It chronicles the intimate sufferings of a family in the midst of civil war – with uncommon compassion, wit and imaginative force.  Told mainly from Adam’s perspective, this gripping story achieves the timeless dignity of a true report from an unpredictable and frightening place. How do we preserve love and beauty in brutal times? What does a major conflict do to the fabric of a family? How does one challenged young man survive when his world falls apart?


Producer, Andrew Mark Sewell says of the project: “The immediacy and impact of this drama bear witness to the horror of war, and the triumph of the human spirit over almost unbearable adversity. When our development producer, Patrick Chapman, first brought Sumia’s novel to my attention, I was struck by the intimate and powerful voice Sumia brought to the story.”


Written when she was a mere 21-years-old, Sumia Sukkar is the youngest female British Muslim to have had a novel published in the UK: “Writing my timely novel was a way for me to express my grief towards the tragedies of what's happening in my country. Readers will find it interesting to experience the traumatising events of war through the eyes of an innocent young autistic boy who has lived his whole life completely dependant on his family and then having to be separated from them.  It contains a blend of political events, emotional drive and Arabian tradition.”

 

About B7 Media

 
B7 Media is an independent production company that has an extensive track record in film, television, radio and theatre. Notable credits include Haunted for UKTV (shortlisted for the Montreux e-Rose); the acclaimed motion picture Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont starring Joan Plowright, Anna Massey and Rupert Friend; and Tim Arnold’s Sonnet 155, staged at the Almeida Theatre featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Hattie Morahan, Paul McGann, Lisa Dillon and Richard Briers (in his last stage appearance).

Recently completed projects include two independent features by Canadian director Paul Kimball, The Cuckoo in the Clock, featuring Jacob James; and Roundabout, featuring Annie Briggs. Both films premiered at last year’s Atlantic Film Festival. B7’s latest collaboration with Kimball, Exit Thread, is currently shooting in Nova Scotia.

In the realm of radio drama its reputation for creating dramatic, widescreen audio worlds that sound lived-in, real and cinematic, was demonstrated to epic effect in its recent BBC Radio 4 adaptations of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (a Silver award winner for Best Drama Special in the prestigious 2015 New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards); and Sumia Sukkar’s The Boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War. B7 is also known for the epic audio reboot of cult TV classic Blake’s 7, featuring Derek Riddell, Colin Salmon and Daniela Nardini (for BBC Radio 4 Extra).

Press Contact


Patrick Chapman | Development Executive

B7 Productions Ltd | Station Court | High Road | Cookham | Berkshire | SL6 9JF

e: patrick@b7media.com | w: www.b7media.com | Twitter: @B7Media

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