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Showing posts from October, 2007

Trick or Treats from the TS Eliot Prize

Sweets from strangers, or a bitter pill: poetry prizes, and being on or off the longlists, shortlists and final nomination lists, for them, can be either a thrilling gift, or a blade in an apple. The three judges for this year's TS Eliot Poetry Prize , the most-sought and respected of its kind in the UK, have met, and tomorrow their list of ten poets will be made public. Four are already known, as they were earlier selected by the PBS, hosts of the award, and these are Sean O'Brien , Sophie Hannah , Ian Duhig and Sarah Maguire . Six places are up for grabs, and near to 100 books are in contention. At this stage, with his Forward win, O'Brien would be the early front-runner. Eyewear will comment more, tomorrow, after the list is announced. It will be intriguing to see how parochial, or how open-minded, the final list is - that is, whether it veers more to Hobsbaum's closed sense of Tradition, or early Eliot's ideas of experiment. The panel of judges - Peter Porter

Top Ten Albums of 2007

Barring any surprises - and there may be a few - Eyewear would like to begin the listmania that usually begins in a month or so - and suggest a plausible provisional top ten list for popular music recordings in 2007. Looking back over my list for 2006 , I realise I rarely listen to some of them anymore - music's charms can be fickle - but this is what is still in my ears now. You'll note that Arcade Fire are lower than might be expected - their album, while astonishing and innovative in places, was also over-hyped and grandiose, and put in its place by the far loftier-yet-serene experimentalism of In Rainbows , by far the most impressive album of the year. I have also left off the Arctic Monkeys second album, which hovers somewhere in 12-20th spot. An early favourite for best of the year, it somehow faded in interest as the year wore on. Winehouse' s retro album retains its power to shock with how the new can be so uncannily borrowed from the past, and yet be fresh. It i

Going To Mascara

There is Mass and then there is Mascara . One gets you to Heaven, the other to good poetry, published in Australasia. Eyewear encourages both journeys, but only one is as easy as a click here . I should add I am in this second issue of Mascara .

Monocle de Moloko

Eyewear is sad to hear the eye of Roisin Murphy (pictured) has been injured in Russia . Murphy should recover, though her Eastern European tour has been shelved due to her near-optical concussion. There is an irony in this, perhaps, since her new album is Overpowered . The idea of Irish electronica-dance music is slightly far-fetched, but Murphy's latest is actually wonderful, within the groove of its genre. I've long felt that music is a derangement of the senses no worse than opiates or wines - or carnal knowledge - and so should also be allowed its wild, silly moments, as well as its austere, or heightened ones. One rarely makes love to Wagner , or would want to boogie all night to Bach . Madonna and The Doors , for instance, are both mood stimulants, and purveyors of bottled lust, released like pheromones via stylus or wireless. Sounds carry - and they transport us. Overpowered is merely trashy dancefloor pop but is also, within its tawdry, midnight realm, sublime. Mirror

"Masters of all they survey"

There is a nice irony in the fact that the Observer has chosen to start its poetry page in its Review section with a headline that resonates with tropes of conquest - observation eliding into possession - that is, "Masters of all they survey". This page seems a wrong start, even as I am glad to see the paper taking on the responsibility for giving poetry more space in its pages. My problem is with the trope of "mastery" itself, in relation to poetry. As Craig Raine wrote recently, in his controversial essay about Don Paterson's poetry, "The two great, natural enemies of poetry are exaggeration and euphemism." I am not sure this is always so - hyperbole is a poetic option - but exaggeration in the criticism and publication of poetry is rampant in Britain, and has lead to runaway critical inflation. It has also lead to a small, select group of mostly male poets dominating the conversation that the media is having with poetry. Sean O'Brien's

Out of the shadows

The British little magazine is having something of a heyday at the moment. Mimesis started up recently, and is impressive. Now here is Penumbra , a magazine devoted to "Verse, Prose and Criticism" which is on to its second issue, and looks very handsome indeed, in its "smaller, smarter format". I have a poem in it, alongside work by Julian Stannard , Heidi Williamson , and others. To submit short fiction and verse, email the editors Alex Latter and Elle Collins here .

Deaths and Entrances

Speaking of Welsh poets, Dylan Thomas (pictured) was born on this day in 1914. He would die 39 years later, in November, 1953. There is an extraordinary, brief letter, in The London Magazine’s first ever (Volume 1, No 1) issue, which opens, “Sir, the death of Dylan Thomas at the age of thirty-nine is an immeasurable loss to English letters. In memory of his poetic genius a fund has been started for the Establishment of a Trust to assist his widow in the support and education of his three young children.” [1] It is signed by thirteen hands, including T.S. Eliot, Peggy Ashcroft, Kenneth Clark, Graham Greene, Augustus John, Louis MacNeice, Edwin Muir, Edith Sitwell , and his dear friend Vernon Watkins . This sounds like an establishment view. And yet, an unfortunate and I think misguided rear-guard action was already underway, in Scrutiny , well before 1954, to undermine this “genius”. It only grew, after his death. As G.S. Fraser puts it, “… Dylan Thomas’s reputation as a poet has u

Poem by Gwyneth Lewis

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Gwyneth Lewis (pictured) this Friday. Lewis is one of the most significant Welsh poets - and, given the lineage, which includes (in no historical order) Lynette Roberts, Dylan Thomas, Dannie Abse, Peter Finch, W.S. Graham, R.S. Thomas and others, that's saying a lot. In other words, she's one of the best poets now writing, and, excitingly, in several languages. Lewis was appointed Wales’s first National Poet from 2005-06. She has published six books of poetry in Welsh and English. Her first collection in English, Parables & Faxes (Bloodaxe, 1995) won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize and was short listed for the Forward, as was her second, Zero Gravity (Bloodaxe, 1998). The BBC made a documentary of Zero Gravity , inspired by her astronaut cousin's voyage to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Y Llofrudd Iaith ('The Language Murderer', Barddas, 2000), won the Welsh Arts Council Book of the Year Prize and Keeping Mum was

Review: Magic by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is one of those figures so central to American mass cultural experience that his "iconic" status as rust-belt troubadour and cause-concerned-zeitgeist-king (AIDS, 9/11) obscures how good an artist he can be. Celebrity is often the sand thrown in the face of aesthetic appreciation. So it is that yet another album from "The Boss" could be - and was in some British quarters - greeted with a shrug of Limey indifference (not just French waiters can shrug). So what, The Killers sound like this, was the refrain. Well, they wanted to, and their coe-turling attempts made some good songs, but many muddy, emotionally-sprawling bad ones. Magic comes then, as an unexpected, even unheralded, triumph (though in America, it is being called his best work in decades - perhaps since the early 80s). From my perspective, it is his finest work since Born In The USA , and at times as eerily potent as Nebraska (one of the major albums of all time). In some ways, those

Lessing At UEA

I saw new Nobel laureate Doris Lessing speak at UEA last night. She was very witty, alert, and "awkward" - her own word. She was also gracious - at the start of the hour Q&A she admitted to having a sore back, and a bad cough, but the 88-year-old had gamely kept her promise, and attended - a lesson to many younger "famous" writers who cancel appearances whenever they feel the slightest tinge of a cold coming on. Indeed, Lessing had words for the young - they were soft - in her day, people didn't expect to be happy, and weren't happy. They got on with things. They didn't expect money, and subsequently didn't mind not having it. She was very moving on the subject of her mother, with whom she battled for years. She recalled, in loving detail, how her mother would order books for her (parcels, shipped by boat) from London, that would take months to arrive in their African home - the opening of which were the highlights of her childhood. She

In Rainbows

I just downloaded the new Radiohead album - available digitally from their site - In Rainbows . It was a painless process - I decided to pay £5.00 and they added a £.45 fee for credit card handling - so, about half what you'd spend on a physical album in HMV in London - which seems fair. The download took about 5 minutes. The album itself sounds very good - more immediately pop-oriented than recent more gloomy work. "Reckoner" is my early favourite, with its Zooropa stylings, as is peppy opener "15 Step". "Bodysnatchers" really rocks, and is Revolver in a way Oasis would die to do. Much of the album suggests their influences - aside from Aphex Twin and Pink Floyd , are early-90s U2 and The Beatles - but mainly they sound like themselves - this is out ten years post- OK Computer and sounds like that works' zeitgeisty cousin, with a little more sunshine on the windscreen, and a little less shattering of glass. Good work if you can get it. And y

Peak Experience

According to an article in today's Guardian , peak oil has been reached (in 2006), and from here on in industrial 21st century civilisation(s) is coasting downhill, at 7% a year, on a slippery slope to war for rarer and rarer, scarcer and scarcer resources. 2030 is either going to be very cold, or very warm - or both. Depending on which way the news blows, I'm never sure whether we're doomed, or about to have life prolonged for 200 years by Venter . Weird, science, indeed.

Everyone Is Gay

It has been a funny old week-end, or so, here in the UK. Reading The Sunday Times I have discovered that the new Booker winner despises the telegenic parents of a missing child, that Mr. Clegg , a candidate for the Lib Dems leadership allegedly wrote glowingly of opium at Oxford when 18, that Hilary Clinton has no chance of winning the Presidency as she coldly jilted Socks post-White House, that one of the great geneticists and Nobel winners has been banned from his lecture tour of England as he is apparently a bigot - and, mostly oddly of all, that Dumbledore is "gay". J.K. Rowling , not to be confused with other initialled geniuses W.B. Yeats or T.S. Eliot , has "outed" one of her fictional characters, after selling a billion dollars worth of merchandise, some of it in text-based format, to adults and children - now, this once-anodyne billionairess is able to go all po-mo on us. Harry is bi, and Hogwarts is a cover for an S&M club. Why not go further J.K a

No Friday Poem This Week

I was just too tired after all the launches and readings to blog that much this past week. I'll start the features up again this Friday.

London Launch of Life Lines 2

The London Launch of Life Lines 2 featured readings by Dannie Abse , Sujata Bhatt , Siobhan Campbell , Elaine Feinstein , Wayne Smith , Atilla the Stockbroker and John Hartley Williams and was held at 7pm At The Poets’ Church, St Giles in the Field, London. The collection was in aid of The Darfur Appeal . I'd say about 80-100 people showed up - and maybe 60 remained after the interval. I would have hoped for a larger, more supportive crowd (especially as the CD itself features 56 poets, and many of the poets did not appear). The church was rather cold, too - no heating on. The poets read well, though.

Deborah Kerr Has Died

The major British actor Deborah Kerr , pictured, has died. Her great period was arguably the decade between 1943 and 1953, when she appeared in some of the era's finest (and biggest) motion pictures made in England or America, such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , Black Narcissus , Quo Vadis , King Solomon's Mines , and From Here To Eternity . However, for another fourteen years after that, she appeared in a few interesting, popular or significant films, such as The King and I and Casino Royale , before effectively ending her film career in 1969. As such, she worked steadily for roughly thirty years in cinema, before returning in late life to do a few roles for TV and lesser movies. Never quite an icon, she was still a star.

How To Kill Your TV Show

Prison Break , the popular American TV series now in its 3rd season, has recently made a creative decision, based on behind-the-scenes problems, that will undoubtedly destroy the show's already-perilous hopes for any future life, or viewer loyalty. They have recently killed off the character of Dr. Sara Tancredi, the main love object of tattooed protagonist Michael Scofield. Over the first two seasons, their painful, complex relationship (based on using, being used, and getting over that) was at first enigmatic, then deeply moving, becoming the centre of an otherwise often simply ludicrous and hyper-violent spectacle. Sara was the emotional anchor of the show. Unfortunately, the actor playing her character, Sarah Wayne Callies , pictured, became, in "real life", pregnant, wanted out of the show, and refused, it is claimed, to co-operate with a third season 13-episode arc that would have had her death (one imagines) more artfully engineered. Instead, she was unceremoniousl

Laying Claim, Laying Waste

Excuse me for being naive, but I thought Antarctica was the last best hope for "mankind" (the moon being already targeted for military expansion in future): a place no one could own, no nation could exploit. I stand corrected. It's been reported that the UK is laying claim to vast tracts of Antarctica and surrounds, in order to secure oil and mineral rights - resources that in the 21st century will become increasingly required to sustain industrial expansion. So many things are wrong with this action, I won't even begin to argue a coherent case against the land grab. But I will say this - when will coherent, calm and capable people begin to argue the case against national interest? Almost every evil on the world stage, and every good that is halted or hindered, is related to an act made in some nation's "national interest". And yet, we are all victims of bleeding across porous borders. I am concerned that the late century ahead will feature increasingly

A Reading at Exeter College

I read Sunday with Elaine Feinstein at Exeter College, Oxford, as part of the Life Lines 2: Poets for Oxfam launch readings to a good-sized audience of appreciative and thoughtful students. During the Q & A questions regarding translation, evil and truth in poetry, and other matters, arose. One audience member rather kindly compared the sounds in my poems to Heaney and Plath . We then attended Choral Evensong (there was also Holy Baptism of two young people), followed by dinner at High Table, as a guest of the Rector. It was a very fine day, altogether, made better by the extraordinary sunlight.

One Way Of Looking At It...

Sean O'Brien , in today's Guardian , writes of the affliction of poetry - not, in his way of thinking, a career at all - but rather, a bit of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't kind of thing: one either writes poetry or goes mad, or writes poetry and goes mad, as he memorably, and dramatically, suggests. I find much of this article convincing, and thoughtful, and useful reading, especially for non-poets, who often don't consider the immense and usually near-useless sacrifice that most poets make of their lives (as O'Brien reminds us Eliot had noted); for every two or three poets in each generation that continue to be read 50-100 years later (name three poets of the 1890s who are really read widely now, other than Yeats , Wilde and Swinburne ; okay, now name ten; now name twenty.... now make a list of the 100-200 poets writing now...) the hundreds who also spent their lives on poetry (and it is a spending) are mainly lost to indifference, or studied, if at all

Poem by David Caddy

Eyewear is glad to welcome David Caddy (pictured) this week. He lives and writes in rural Dorset. Founder of the East Street Poets in 1985, Caddy was director of the well-known Wessex Poetry Festival from 1995-2001. He is the editor of the literary journal Tears in the Fence , which publishes good poetry from around the world, and is open to a variety of poetic viewpoints. I recommend it as a place to send work, and also a place to find work. Caddy presents the monthly Internet radio programme, So Here We Are: Poetic Letters From England . His latest books are London: City of Words , a literary companion from BlueIsland (2006) and The Willy Poems (Clamp Down Press 2004). He regularly reviews for the Use of English magazine and Terrible Work online magazine. His next book, Man In Black , is out from Penned In The Margins this November. I look forward to reading it. Shuffling The Icons Shaking The Trees 1 Black is this year’s white and light born yonder to appear as beyond nature, the

Lessing Is More

Congratulations to Doris Lessing for winning this year's Nobel prize for literature. She is a worthy winner. I do hope that Canada's Margaret Atwood wins one day, for her extraordinary - nearly unrivalled - contribution to poetry, prose, and critical writing. No other living writer in the English-language has so shaped their own national literature as she has, a sort of belated Yeats for Canada, say, or Ibsen. She's also an outspoken advocate for PEN, and other good causes, and a brilliant, witty public speaker.

Review: A Mighty Heart

In many ways, A Mighty Heart , the Michael Winterbottom film about the abduction and brutal killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl , is the antidote to The Bourne films - in this case, an American is lost in the world of terror, espionage and multicultural clash, unable to assume another identity, or use force to escape a wrongful fate. Winterbottom, a practiced and busy British director, has borrowed the Greengrass style and intent to dazzle with movement - here the camera jerks and stutters uneasily through the busy streets of Karachi, and zooms in on faces of drained, concerned Wall Street journalists, or a torture victim, with telescopic, grainy imperfection - the screen is a rapid eye movement of colour and cut - the film is mostly about seeing the Real - ironic, and apt, as the central action is left obscene, off-scene - the ritual slaughter of Pearl, simply because he "is American". Or, more accurately, Jewish, as Pearl's moving last words prove. Journalists

Life Lines 2 Launched and Available To Order

Life Lines 2 has been launched, and is now available for £4.99 across the UK, in all 127 Oxfam book shops. I edited it, and was able to collect donated poems from 55 British, Irish and American poets. The poems were donated by the poets and their publishers, and recorded live, mainly in Soho and Camden. Poetry works. To order it online go here .

Taken At The Flood

There is a tide in the affairs of men, and so on. Gordon Brown , the British PM with the sombre brow and deep solemn voice, this week-end made a terrible mistake . As the whole country seemed to be running pell-mell down a hill to a general election - this riderless cycle set in swing by the kick of no other than Brown himself - he suddenly showed a loss of nerve, and called the whole thing off. Inevitability has never looked so second-rate. Brown has cancelled the check he wrote, the one that, if cashed, would have given him a major win, I believe. Instead, looking into the whites (or greens) of that pseudo-Blair, Tory Cameron (un-teleprompted that he is), Mr. Brown blinked. He caved in. He threw in the towel. He is the Northern Rock of UK politics, now, on which Labour will build increasingly shifting fortunes. Time will run out, Mr. Brown. You lost your moment. Like Hamilton, in pole position, your tire blew before you got to lift the golden prize.

Back from Cheltenham!

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (5-14 October) may be the best of its kind in the known universe. Established in 1949, this year its attractive image features a hand, with, on each finger, a word - not just a word, but a word doing something. This bold hand urges us to: "Question, Debate, Discover, Engage, Enjoy". Literature could also do with the following Prison Breakesque body-commands on its other hand: Learn, Change, Create, Critique, Share. This year will feature an astonishing range of writers and bookish figures from across the tiny planet we call home (as we say), including, yes, myself. More on that in a minute. Others appearing include: Alan Alda, Al Alvarez, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Iain Banks, Pat Barker, Simon Callow, Douglas Coupland, Alain de Botton, Sebastian Faulks, AA Gill, Stephen Hawking, Nick Hornby, Mimi Khalvati, Galway Kinnell, Naomi Klein, Ken Loach, Ian McEwan, Daljit Nagra, Michael Ondaatje, Steven Pinker, Craig Raine, General Sir Mi

Poem by Sheila Hillier

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Sheila Hillier (pictured, in a photo by Derek Adams ) this Friday, especially as this is her birthday. Hillier is a medical sociologist who has researched in China for many years and is now Professor Emeritus at Queen Mary's School of Medicine. She began writing poetry in 2001 under the direction of the late Julia Casterton . I have been working with her on her poems, through the Poetry School, these last few years. Her work is widely published in British poetry magazines, including at Nthposition , and she was recently commended in the UK's highly-prestigious National Poetry competition, for the poem included below. Hillier is currently putting together her first full collection. I think it is a very impressive manuscript. Pollux and Castor, elephants Krupps’ cannons pound the walls, the darkness smells of soil and gas; at Voison’s, rue Cambon, a special black card buys sauce souris on pate of rat. It’s a challenge to garnish donkey with c

BBC Oxford

Kate Clanchy and I were on BBC Radio (Oxford) today for about 30 minutes, with host Jo Thoenes , discussing poetry, and the new Oxfam CD, Life Lines 2 . The show should be available for replay online at some point. She asked me for a limerick, while on air, on her name. Here is my hastily composed effort... There once was a girl name of Jo Whose speed was fast, not slow She interviewed Todd Swift On her show for a lift And now Jo is raring to go. --- I should have worked radio and head into this one, as Radiohead - digital pioneers that they are - hail from Oxford. Oh well.

Happy National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day. I understand why some poet-theorists, like Charles Bernstein , resist the lure of such public celebrations of an otherwise private, and ideologically-complex art. Poems, arguably, are meant to oppose just such occasions, such broad-beam jamborees. To question everything civic and communal. To resist, with language, any too-easy consumption of language. Language should also stick in the throat, not just slide down like so much predigested pap. Okay, but as poetry is already on the outside of civil society for 360-plus days of the year, a day, a week, even a month, in which to bring its riches before the public is not necessarily a bad thing. Only so, if the only poetry celebrated is simply rubbish. Which most poetry isn't. Even the most so-called mainstream, or traditional, work, has its moments of challenge. No good poem can be just simple, just accessible, even if it seems so. A swan dive requires skill to execute, as do all elegant acts, and so should not be

2007 Forward Prize Winners

Congratulations to Sean O'Brien , and Daljit Nagra , who both won Forward prizes today , on National Poetry Day in Britain. Alice Oswald also won the prize, for best poem. Hats off to her as well. O'Brien is the first to win the Best Book prize three times, since 1995, and Nagra, the UK's most-talked-about new poet for years, now establishes his collection as something of a contemporary popular poetry classic. Nagra is one of 56 poets on the new Oxfam poetry CD launched at The Cheltenham Literary Festival tomorrow. O'Brien was one of the first poets to read for the Oxfam Poetry Series, in London, in 2004, as pictured above, with fellow poet Polly Clark , who also read that night. Both poets are now likely to compete for the T.S. Eliot Prize, awarded in January 2008, along with 8 others who will be shortlisted. It should be a strong field.

Dr. Ronan McDonald Replies

Eyewear is pleased to report that the Internet and Blogosphere continue to bear much interactive fruit. Dr. Ronan McDonald has kindly and thoughtfully replied to an earlier post, questioning his stance, in The Death of the Critic - available on Monday, 8 October. I for one am eager to read it. Here is his reply, sent to me earlier this evening by email: "Dear Todd, Thanks very much for your attention to my article. I've had a look at your blog entry and I would say we're much less in disagreement than it might appear. My book The Death of the Critic is not hostile to the blogosphere (though the line you quote from the article on blogging might give that impression). Can I blame the by-line on the article and the exigencies of space? One obvious advantage the internet has over the newspaper is space. I know there are excellent critics working on the internet and I hope that they get the recognition they deserve. I feel that blogs have unleashed a wave of energy through

Blog Ambition

Eyewear would like to disagree about blogs with the author of The Death of The Critic , who is chairing a panel discussion on the subject at the ICA (London) on 4 October . According to Dr. McDonald , writing in The Guardian yesterday, "there has been a tremendous democritisation in response to the arts". He argues that the death of the commanding (and professional) critic - one who, like Leavis , or Greenberg , has the authority to make large statements and champion artists - has been in part reduced by narrow academics, and also the tastes expressed by bloggers. He asks, "can we rely on the bloggers to bring vital if alienating art to a wide audience?" - and then sums up, "without critics of authority, the size and variety of contemporary criticism may ultimately serve the cause of cultural banality and uniformity." This seems wrong, for a number of reasons. Chiefly, it is wrong about the nature of blogging, and bloggers. It is a common mistake, for t

Joe Mitty Has Died

Joe Mitty , who started the first Oxfam shop, in Oxford, has died, at the age of 88. The world has lost a great visionary, and a good man.

Nthposition's October Poems Now Online

Life mask & Service road by Frederick Pollack Reversible swirl, A mind of summer & Sealed warrant by Philip Fried Miss Child's owl, Monday, Friday by Penelope Shuttle Footprint, Orientation & The god by Sally Carr Maledicta, The gear train & Spell for a wardrobe by Asa Boxer Aucuba japonica, Expedition to Greeneland & A good offer by Susan Grindley Pedro sits beneath an ash tree, Memory of younger days & Summer in Islington by Wynn Wheldon Yeah, yeah & A way out by Jill Jones Bloody by Alfred Corn Stage left, Bookshop romance, Untidiness & The annual air show protest by Kevin Higgins Another autobiography: I work with machines by Gregory Lawless At the center, Motorcycle & What about by Bob Holman

Guest Review: Wilkinson on Turnbull

Ben Wilkinson reviews Stranded in Sub-Atomica (Donut Press) by Tim Turnbull It’s interesting that one of the poems early on in this shiny and slickly produced first collection gives Simon Armitage a decisive ribbing, albeit a distinctly tongue-in-cheek one. The target here is ‘Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass’, a poem from Armitage’s 2002 collection, The Universal Home Doctor . Turnbull’s poem functions as a sort of dialogue piece, then, sarcastically questioning whether Armitage has ever actually ‘heard the creaking hinge [of a genuine chainsaw] / and rushing air as six tons of timber and branch / come roaring, like a train crash, to the ground’, or whether, as is more likely, he’s simply the proud owner of a ‘glorified hedge trimmer.’ And it’s suitably ironic because, what with all the down-to-earth humour and barefaced honesty that marks it, Turnbull’s work ultimately owes a lot to his hedge-trimming contemporary. The other trademarks are there, too, from a commitment to the pres