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Showing posts from August, 2005

Willy Wonka

Am I the only one who prefers Gene Wilder's Willy to Johnny Depp's ? Tim Burton's version is, in many ways, superior: the songs, the mise-en-scene, the special effects, perhaps even the colour. But Wilder had an uncany, unexplained aura (call it mystery) mixed with a melancholy, that was more Sickert than sick. Depp, with his (dental) family drama is more mental than anything, weird when he should be wonderful, and poutingly adolescent when he should have been magical - next they'll be recasting Depp as Humbert Humbert, and making him the young one. Willy Wonka doesn't need a Freudian backstory. He transgresses and transcends the Oedipal struggle. Wilder made me shiver and was unfogettable. Depp's too lightweight here, all tics and homages to Jackson and Rogers. His greatest performance remains Ed Wood . Now that's weirdness well done.

The Oxfam Poetry Reading Series continues

The Oxfam Poetry Reading Series continues with its Autumn season, after a very successful Summer Festival. Both upcoming events feature some of the best, most popular, and compelling poets now writing in the English language, globally, from Australia, America, Canada, Ireland, the UK, and South Africa. Due to the extraordinary demand likely for these events, please do contact us if you are interested in reserving a ticket. * Tuesday, September 13, 2005 7-9 pm, Oxfam Books & Music Shop 91 Marylebone High Street, London W1 Four Poets for Oxfam: Les Murray , Lachlan Mackinnon Isobel Dixon and Todd Swift * End of Year Finale Thursday, November 29, 2005 7-10 pm, Oxfam Books & Music Shop 91 Marylebone High Street, London W1 Six Poets for Oxfam: Lavinia Greenlaw , Sophie Hannah , Sinead Morrissey Charles Bennett , Leah Fritz and Briar Wood * Admission free - suggested £8 donation - all proceeds to Oxfam. To reserve a ticket (for a place, not necessarily a seat) call 020 7487 3570 or

Fa yeung nin wa

I consider Fa yeung nin wa ( In The Mood for Love ) directed by Wong Kar-wai the supreme work of art of the last decade of the 20th century (culminating in 2000), for its sublime and supreme mix of fin-de-siecle tropes, images and style, taken from both Western and Eastern cinema, literature and art. I think it is the finest High Erotic Drama in 20th century film, after Vertigo , which is the second best film ever created, for the intense, beautiful and multiple elements surrounding love-death themes from Wagner, Freud and Chandler, which it unleashes. 2046 would be in any list of created works that might vie against Bob Dylan's album (see previous post), but ultimately is slightly weaker than its prequel, though perhaps more fascinating, even visually intricate. However, Fa yeung nin wa seems to me to have generated its own textures - moods, flavours - so as to almost invite radical comparison with so-called reality: it is, arguably, the embodiment of desire.

Playtime for Tati

I have recently seen what now must rank as one of my ten favorite films: Playtime by Jacques Tati . Following on the heels of Peeping Tom , it has been quite a cinematic week. Playtime has it all for me (all except dialogue and plot) - ultra-modern retro design, Pan Am-style costumes, a superb soundscape, and a filmic exuberance second only to Welles. This makes Far From Heaven seem bland and colourless. Tati's satiric, futuristic, balletic work is a delight, and I urge you to try and see it as soon as you can, if only for the wonderful set-piece routines involving glass doors that don't exist (and those that do) - and images of Jetsons-like couples in their fully-exposed living rooms. The end of the film - so sad-sweet it aches - suddenly turns on an observation so simple only Tati could find the rhythm that shows the quotidien to be also the rare - all life is a carnivalesque cycle of loss and being found - rich in isolation and verve. To despair is to ignore what is on t

Postcard from Creeley

Announcing: a pooka press postcard printed at High Ground Press, August 2005 Robert Creeley 1926-2005. See image to the left. Cost $12.00. Cheque or Money Order made payable to Nancy McLean c/o pooka press P.O. Box 2648 Vancouver Main Station 349 West Georgia Street Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3W8 CANADA * (pooka is publishing poems of mine shortly, too).

Take A Stand

Volume 6 (2) 2005 is now out. A recent issue is pictured here. This new issue of Stand - one of the UK's most respected and long-running little magazines - features work by Peter Redgrove , Penelope Shuttle , Michael Heller , Alison Trower , and your faithful correspondent, TS. At only £6.50, and with its trademark wider than it is tall design, well worth the wait (this one's taken longer to appear than the next ice age).

Weather Permitted

Last night's Oxfam reading in London was a success and an endurance test - a sort of Iron Man for poets. It was un unexpectedly hot and humind evening, and, without air-conditioning, and with a capacity crowd of 115 in attendance (as well as volunteers and poets) it became a sauna, as they say. Nonetheless, eight of the best poets now out there read for over two hours, we had a long wine-soaked interval which extended half the block down the high street - and raised about a thousand pounds for the current African crisis appeal. It was memorable, and somewhat intense - and each poet read poems with a heat-related theme.

Oxfam 8 Poets Tonight

Oxfam Summer Poetry Festival 2005 Gala Reading, Thursday, August 18, 7-10 pm OXFAM 8 POETS, featuring: Paul Farley Leontia Flynn Nick Laird Sally Read John Stammers John Stiles George Szirtes Tamar Yoseloff (hosted by Todd Swift ) Oxfam Books & Music 91 Marylebone High StreetLondon, W1, near Baker Street Admission free - £8 recommended doantion - all proceeds to Oxfam Biographical notes for the poets below. Nick Laird Nick Laird was born in County Tyrone in 1975. He attended Cambridge University, before working as a litigator for several years in London and Warsaw. In 2004 he was awarded an Eric Gregory award, and in 2005 he won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Irish Chair of Poetry Prize. His collection To A Fault appeared from Faber in January (and has been nominated for a Forward prize). His novel, Utterly Monkey, appeared from Fourth Estate in May. John Stammers John Stammers is a Londoner, born in Islington, where he still lives. He graduated in Philosophy

Peeping Tom/ Michael Powell

The opening shot of Michael Powell 's infamous film Peeping Tom is the unfortunate scopophiliac eye of Mark Lewis - pictured to the left, as used for the cover of a paperback introduction to hypnosis. Mark's pitiful director's chair, with his name, a boyish toy, is one of cinema's unforgettable props. This is the year of Powell - the genius behind great but little-seen films like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Britain's Citizen Kane ) and Black Narcissus - since it is his centenary. Amazingly, after the shock that greeted Peeping Tom (released the same year as Psycho ) the director was never allowed to direct a film again, even though he was still only in his 40s, and would live several more decades. Powell was rediscovered and championed by Martin Scorsese , and Scorsese's longtime editor married Powell eventually, so almost a happy ending. I saw the film (as peeping Todd) for the first time the other night - which is somewhat embarrassing, since I h

Been Reading: Love, Amy

I enjoy a cup of tea and a book in the afternoon, and today found a new book that went perfectly with my English Breakfast Tea (just published this August 2005) edited by Willard Spiegelman : Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt . I mentioned Amy Clampitt in a post just the other day, since she came up in conversation with Sally Read, the English poet, who also intends to read this book. I am very fond of Clampitt's poetry, in the same way that I delight in the work of Hopkins , Stevens and (some of) Ormsby - for the music, and the manifold textures, sensuous details, the observation wrapped around fine eloquence and elegance - refinement on fire made of vermilion you might opine. She loved words well-placed, and meaning well. You might observe - incorrectly - that there is something askew about having mention of Amy Clampitt (her name the best poem of all!) so close to a post on Todd Colby , who is so contemporary and punk-oriented - as many will make the diction-cha

The Point of Splitting

" Sally Read ’s first collection is a marvellous book, bringing together poignant and lyrical meditations on love, mortality, art, healing and the Italian landscape in poems of fine judgement and a true poet’s skill. The Point of Splitting marks the debut of an accomplished writer, not only one to watch, but one to read now, for her wit, craft, and clear vision" – John Burnside I had drinks with Sally Read yesterday in London - some fine white wine from New Zealand. It was a treat. She's reading as part of the major Oxfam fundraiser this Thursday in London. Ms. Read is, to my mind, one of the most brave and clever of the poets born in the UK in the last thirty or so years - her work straddles traditions without fear and with style. Basically, we discussed poetry, and our unabashed embrace of it, whether (North) American or British (and beyond). She and I both share a great respect for the American poet, Baron Wormser (as well as a passion for Amy Clampitt ). I mean to w

Been Reading: The State of the Prisons

Sinead Morrissey was born in Portadown in 1972 and read English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, from which she took her PhD in 2003. In 1990 she received the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry and in 1996 she won an Eric Gregory Award for the manuscript of her first book, There was Fire in Vancouver (Carcanet, 1996). Her second book, Between Here and There (2002) was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Award. She lived and worked in Japan and New Zealand and now lives in Northern Ireland, where she has been writer-in-residence at Queen's University, Belfast. Her most recent collection, The State of the Prisons , was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. * From time to time, I'll be leaving notes, comments, and very brief reviews here, regarding collections of poetry I am currently reading - very unofficial and not at all meant to summarize or in fact review at all. The first in this occasional series is The State of the Prisons , by Sinead Morrissey (see above). I haven'

Budavox Is Gone

One of the signs of the end of the world is... the end of the old world signs. As you may know, I lived in Budapest for something like four years, and in that time, came to fall in love with the BUDAVOX sign (pictured above) which was on a building near the infamous Astoria hotel (where the Nazi HQ was during the occupation) where the British Council held many of their poetry events: so, Ken Smith , Douglas Dunn , Matthew Sweeney and others read there. The BUDAVOX sign came to represent, for me, the fading glamour of the period in Hungary between the 20s and 50s, when socialism and modern technology intersected in wonderful design achievements in architecture, many of which were in the process of being torn down in the late 90s, as capitalism rushed in. There were many beautiful signs with superb retro lettering, but none as big as BUDAVOX. I had written the dubbing band for a documentary about Hungary's "Golden Team" - their legendary footballers, and had first glimpse

Poem by Patrick Chapman

Patrick Chapman is a very intriguing writer, indeed. I've known him for a few years, since we met in Paris, after he'd contributed work for the 100 Poets Against The War anthologies. I'd read his early poetry in the collection The New Pornography , and enjoyed his dark sensibility, which seemed, in its style and themes, so refreshingly un-Irish. Chapman is one of Ireland's most versatile younger writers, equally interested in creating award-winning science fiction, short films, and widely-published poetry. He has a fine, cinematic eye for the disturbing image, and his work often concerns itself with territory that might be loosely described as Cronenbergian (with a side-trip down Lynch Boulevard). He's been doing some good readings lately, and has a new book forthcoming from Salmon. It'll be his best, I believe. He's only in his mid-30s and just hitting his stride now. The link to his blog is where you'd expect to find it. Unlike in Chapman's work

In Praise of Vladek Sheybal

Vladek Sheybal is one of the greatest screen villains from that golden age of 60s and 70s thrillers set in Europe during a grey morning frost, or evening of cobble stone streets and Citroens. I think here of The Odessa File and most famously The Day of the Jackal . I don't know why films of this era make me feel so curiously happy (I tingle like when I smell snow) - perhaps it is a simple childhood reflex, as I was born in '66. More to the point, Sheybal was Kronsteen in From Russia With Love - and a truly sociopathic heroin-dealer/clock fetishist/ chain-killer in Puppet On A Chain (1970). Puppet On A Chain - which is on DVD - is one of the grittiest and most entertaining of those 70s films with the porn-style soundtrack - and seems dubbed by actors with slightly Dutch accents. It is very entertaining, if you, like me, are a fan of all things retro. It has the flavour of an Avengers episode, but is more dark and violent than the Bonds that had preceded (and influenced) it.

Robin Cook and the Tragic Departure

Robin Cook has died tragically, at the age of 59, while hill-walking with his wife in Scotland - apparently of a heart-attack. I learned of Mr. Cook's death yesterday while in a hackney cab in London. The driver, who had just heard the awful news on the radio, turned to me and said: "he was the best of the lot". The best of the lot. A tribute indeed. Throughout London yesterday and today, I have seen and heard the little, everyday average decent people of Britain murmuring their shock, and sadness, at the loss of the one decent man associated with Labour. Robin Cook was a hero of mine, for his principled resignation on the eve of the illegal British war against the people of Iraq, in 2003. In some ways, he inspired my actions as part of the poets against the war movement. He was a catalyst for putting ethical considerations back at the heart of government and foreign policy, and he lost his job for it. But he was the hero of many. His death - at a time when he was widel

60 Years Ago Today

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb by Allied forces on Hiroshima, at the end of WWII. I was in Hiroshima three weeks ago, and went to see the Peace Park and the dome, pictured above. I was not prepared for the banality of time: Hiroshima has flourished, trees, people and buildings (life) have returned, and the city, in summer, is lush, hot, and beautiful. The hypocentre of the bomb-blast - targeting the T-shaped bridge - was a smallish island set in the middle of a river, at the heart of the city, and on the island, 50,000 people lived. They died within seconds. As readers will know, many more died within minutes, hours, and more terribly, days. The tens of thousands of fatal and violently disfiguring injuries, from heat, blast-force, fire, radiation, and flying glass and steel, should remind those in London and New York of their tragedies - and compel people of good will everywhere to oppose the development of weapons of mass destruction. I have a few

Russian Submariners

The Russian Kursk submarine (pictured to the left) met its tragic fate roughly five years ago - the anniversary will be next week. Tragically, another Russian submersible is today - in waters of a depth of 190 meters - facing a similarly trying rescue operation; the world can only hope for the best for them at this time. Five years ago, I was very much exercised by the intersection between poetry and the immediacy of world events as conveyed by the news (and was living in Budapest). At that time, I wrote a poem with disturbing echoes of today, not least the death of German tourists (then in an Air France crash, this time in Russian bus accidents). You'll find the poem "Hull Losses" below; originally published in 2002 in my second collection, Cafe Alibi . The technical-actuarial term hull losses refers to plane crashes, but also the hulls of submarines; and by extension, I was thinking of Larkin, who lived in Hull, near a bleak seascape, and faced many different losses in

50 Years Waiting For Godot

Fifty years ago today, August 3, in London, Waiting For Godot had its English-language premiere, directed by Peter Hall . It is as we all now know, one of the great post-war plays, and the sequence of events triggered by the August 3 production (at first being harshly reviewed then lionized) led to the less-than-well-known Beckett becoming the Irish Kafka of the 20th century - the bleak-yet-witty writer most likely to be associated in chrome-gleaming suburban Cold War households with a sort of Existenz -darkened Zeitgeist . He also won the Nobel Prize. Today, the works seems more permanently a part of the canon than ever - and it is somehow astounding to realize it is only 50 years since Godot entered the public imagination. In a world where new episodes of Dr. Who are described as "edgy, dark" etc., the vision of this masterwork remains brilliantly opaque and ascetically lavish. I retain an unfair suspicion, however, that some writers ascend to the dizzy heights partially