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Showing posts from December, 2007

21st Century Hamlet?

Eyewear wishes the young Oxford student and party leader all the best at this crucial time for Pakistan. There is something Shakespearean about this sudden rise from anonymity to youthful greatness - with the ringing claim that the best revenge is democracy - surely one of the great quotes of this decade, so far (and most debatable). Let's parse this one: "With his political inexperience, shy demeanour and Armani glasses, Bilawal was not the obvious candidate to lead his mother's party." What does The Guardian have against Armani glasses? One can be a great leader, and also stylishly bespectacled.

Back From Ireland

I spent Christmas in Ireland, with some of my family, and am now back from that wonderful place, renewed. The generosity of spirit, the good humour... it could almost be Canada - except a Canada inflected with greater traditions of faith, and poetry.

Poem by Maxine Chernoff

Maxine Chernoff (pictured above) lives in California, where (among other things) she co-edits New American Writing. Ms. Chernoff is the author of many books of poems, such as Among The Names , and six collections of fiction including Some of Her Friends That Year , a new and selected stories from Coffee House Press. I am very happy to welcome her to Eyewear . She is one of the American writers of her generation who one should read, in order to know what contemporary American writing is, and what it will turn out to be. I especially enjoy poems with the word "gentians" in them, being a fan of D.H. Lawrence, these blasted gentians being altered Bavarian Gentians. I should note that one of her novels is A Boy In Winter , which is a lovely mirroring of Larkin's novel title. A House in the Country is Not the Same as a Country House Not wanting to name it, it stayed in its bed Until a break in the weather uncovered the reason the restive urge Until he found a way over the moun

Assassination By The Coward

I suppose the killing of Kennedy , or Lincoln , was more shocking than the recent, terrible murder in Pakistan of the brave campaigner - since history was not yet fully used to such underminings of democracy - but yesterday's news still had something of the dreadful lightning bolt about it. What next?

Oscar Peterson Is Dead

Sad news. One of the greatest Montrealers, and a towering genius of contemporary Jazz, is dead.

Eve of Reflection

On the eve of Christmas, I reflect on how the two most famous British citizens of the 00s - Tony Blair , and JK Rowling (the best-selling writer in history), are both on spiritual, indeed faith-based journeys - belying the general, media-induced secularism in Britain today. I would like to especially congratulate Mr. Blair, a man who made some rum decisions with regards to war, for picking up some ploughshares and joining the Catholic Church. That's a brave move in these times. The Guardian today noted that most people in the UK have no belief or faith, and yet failed to think through how this would seem to correspond with a near-total collapse of public morals. With a certain brand of militant atheism comes a void, one that science cannot fill. The best proof of the need for God is what sort of society one gets when such belief vanishes. Dawkins and Co. miss the central point of the mystery of faith - it is the journey towards God - not some zero point of blank factual arrival

The Swift Report 2007

I would like to begin my Swift Report for 2007 by thanking the many loyal readers of Eyewear who have made this blog so popular. Eyewear is maybe one of the leading literary blogs based in the UK, if only judged by readership, it being cited in The Writer's Handbook , and being quoted at length several times recently in The Guardian Review . The vitality of my blog is much improved by the kind donations of poems by poets whose work interests me, regardless of their prize status, publication record, nation of origin, or geographical location. It doesn't take much, these days, to be a fresh pair of eyes in the British poetry world - one simply has to read poetry with sincerity, integrity, and without biases based on ideas of nativist traditions, or univocal styles. It's sometimes suggested I have a radical perspective. I hope not. I simply believe that poetry can be written anywhere, by anyone, anyhow - a critic's job is not to evaluate the poem in terms of taste or pr

Poem by Annie Freud

Annie Freud (centre) with poets Roisin Tierney and Liane Strauss Eyewear is very glad to revisit this earlier post, and update it for the Friday before the Christmas holidays. Today, I welcome Annie Freud to these pages. As readers of this blog will know, I earlier this year championed her debut collection from Picador, arguing its many strengths. I believe it was one of the best poetry collections published in the UK in 2007, and among the most surprising, inventive, and witty. Freud studied English and European Literature at the University of Warwick and now lives in London. Her poems have been published in Poems for a Better Future ( Oxfam), Gobby Deegan's Riposte from Donut Press, Future Welcome , and various magazines like Magma . Annie is one of a group of very fine poets based in London, who have, over the years, studied the art and craft of writing with Michael Donaghy , and then John Stammers . A Residential Guinevere Emboldened by green-gowned carnality and a plucked

The Failure of Interest In Poetry In Our Time

Poetry - a literary genre - cannot be said to fail, whether it be conservative (in places) or innovative. I have often wondered how intelligent poets, who espouse an interest in science and medicine, could understand science to pertain to the whole of the world (indeed, to all existence) with its laws, but still accept that "Poetry" could be one thing in, say, America, and another in Scotland, or India. Languages separate poems, even poets, but poetry is an indivisible and complex whole, a concept that contains many different possible options, perspectives, and approaches. Otherwise, how to explain Ashbery and Heaney - both significant figures - writing poems of very different kinds, and orders? Too often, criticism has sought to position various "poetics" or "poetries" at odds (official verse culture, say, or the avant-garde) - when a larger, and more positive, similarity accrued, across the globe, with relation to poetry. So, poetry has not failed in ou

Guest Review: Flood On Di Prima

Chelsey Flood reviews Revolutionary Letters by Diane di Prima Diane di Prima was writing and publishing controversial work on the subject of rape and incest when it was considered indecent for a young woman to live alone. She was taking drugs and having orgies when the rest of her peers were learning shorthand and awaiting marriage proposals. It comes as no surprise then, that when she was first publishing in the 50s, her work was way ahead of its time. A contemporary of Beat writers such as Kerouac , Ginsberg and Imanu Amari Baraka (then LeRoi Jones ), di Prima’s writing covers similar ground to theirs. She is obsessed with the lies and pains of civilisation and our birth right to freedom, though much more likely to focus on the utopian, futuristic and mystical than her Beat compatriots. Her Revolutionary Letters (beginning in the 60s and progressing through to the 00s) denounce all that puts limits on this freedom: conformity, bureaucracy, decorum, and the majority of them are ex

In Praise of Oscar Williams

Readers of the Dylan Thomas letters will know that no one did more for the heavy-drinking, over-spending poet, in North America, than Oscar Williams , yet sadly, in letters to friends back home, Thomas mocked his supporter, calling him things like "old Captain Oscar Cohen" - a borderline antisemitic jibe (Williams was, in fact, Oscar Kaplan ). Thomas, who I think was a great poet and a shit as a human being, probably, wrote things to Oscar like "Little dear Honourable Treasurer of mine, how are you?" - and would then ask for money. Thomas kept Williams hooked with promises of featuring his work on the BBC radio, which I believe never materialised (and not just because of the death in New York). The Thomas-Williams affair exposes a constant of the poetry world - certain successful poets often misuse their closest allies to get ahead, flattering them mercilessly. Thomas wrote (perhaps his last printed words) the following cable, on October 25th, 1953: DEAR ELLEN OSCA

Ning, Nang, Nong?: article by Helên Thomas

A recent Ofsted report, Poetry In Schools , stated that schools rely too heavily on a limited number of poems as resources for teaching poetry. A survey of schools revealed a top ten of poems which included "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes ; "On the Ning, Nang, Nong" by Spike Milligan and "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll . Interestingly, all of the poems in the top ten were written by men, most of whom are dead. Ofsted was especially critical of primary school teachers whose lack of subject knowledge leads to an over-reliance on lightweight poems with little attention being given to classic and multi-cultural poetry. The report concluded that teachers are playing safe by using the same poems again and again while steering clear of anything challenging. I have a vested interest here. Along with primary school teacher and literacy specialist, Kate McGann , I provide poetry performances and workshops for primary schools. In our performance piece: We Are Poets!

Faggots Of The World Ignite!

Yuletide faggots set the Christmas mood, as do songs on the radio. A shame then, that one of the greatest popular music songs of the last century, The Pogues single, "Fairytale of New York", has suddenly, and ludicrously, been bowdlerized by the Beeb . Situation normal all fugged up.

Except for Canadians

I thought this recent Guardian article on Facebook funny - especially the awkward phrase: "And Britons do it online more than anyone else in the world, except for Canadians." Actually, no - that should read: "Canadians do it more than anyone else in the world, followed by the British."

Cheerleaders of the world, unite!

Eyewear found Heroes (Season 1 has just ended on terrestrial BBC2, Season 2 airs in 2008, and is delayed post-episode 11 due to the ongoing writer's strike Stateside) eye-catching entertainment. However, its hybrid, multicultural plotlines, more than homage to great 60s TV series like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek , and comic books like the X-Men , and Star Wars , was often as not more a quasi-rip-off of ideas from, say, The Incredibles (where another evil-minded maniac kills superheroes to pilfer their powers). However, originality need not be the benchmark for great TV entertainment, and, starting with the straight man Mr. Bennet (and his mutilated-yet-recoverable post- Lolita daughter, Claire, pictured), on to the semi-dumb yet lovable cop who can read minds, it won hearts. Sylar and his murderous moving finger cemented the show's greatness - or maybe the dumpy Japanese bespectacled guy, Hiro, hopping about time, did it. It was also fun to see the cameos from pseud

Review: The Golden Compass

I saw The Golden Compass twice in less than 24 hours (the first viewing was on Friday, at the little cinema on Baker Street, truly a terrible place, where seats collapse, screens are tiny, and, in this instance, a badly-marked and inaudible print was run), and the second time, the sound was as it should have been. I read the novel on which the film was based about nine years ago, in Budapest, and enjoyed it immensely. The introduction of a talking polar bear, and a cowboy balloonist, among other elements, was as quirky as the anti-theology was thoughtful, and the plot was gripping. Lyra seemed a classic character. I didn't expect the film to be this good, simply because I feared the rather English essence of it (based on Exeter College, Oxford, and other very British traditions, like stiff-upper-lip explorers) would be drained away (as was done with The Dark Is Rising film, ruining it). Instead, the movie is a treat to watch. It is very retro in feel, and texture - a bizarre cros


This no country for old men. If rock music is demonic - in the best, Bloomian sense - and it seems it is at least Dionysian - then hard rock is more so; and the true fathers of heavy metal are Led Zeppelin , satyrs of swing, starting in '69. It is hard to think of a string of albums ( I-IV ) that are more intensely thrilling, varied, and yet of a piece - the core quality of these albums is a darker sublime: bluntly, music that mirrors youth's reckless exploration of sexuality, excess, and realms of the spirit angels sometimes fear to tread in. "The Battle of Evermore" still sends shivers down my spine (I first heard it in Berlin). They're a great band - easily better than The Stones or The Doors , The Who or you name it. Put on a Led Zeppelin album, and you are in a sensuous hell of your own making, one that tempts you with the idea that's the best place to be. This power, and this skill, in terms of vocal and performative ability - a striking, unsurpassed

A Good Book To Buy For The Holidays

Eyewear recommends Lifemarks: Poetry about the Big Events of Life . In this new collection, some of Britain's finest poets write about the great events of our lives. Poems by Ian Duhig , Julia Copus , Paul Farley and others mark these moments in a remarkable and life-affirming anthology. All poems have been freely donated and the proceeds go entirely to the Motor Neurone Disease Association. All orders received by 21st December should have their book for Christmas. Copies of Lifemarks @ £6.99 each. Add p&p @ £2 for first book, £1 for additional books. Send your name and address with a cheque payable to the Motor Neurone Disease Association to: Bell Jar, Unit 4.3, Banks' Mill Studios, 71 Bridge Street, Derby DE1 3LB

Hey Kids, Look, More Poetry!

The Internet, far from being "inane", is allowing younger, emerging poets to reach an audience, and generate a community of readers. In short, the web is allowing poetry to pass on to the next generations, with verve. Check out this new project, Pomegranate , for example.

Stockhausen Is Dead

Sad news. K-H Stockhausen is dead.

Hard Lessing

It is one of the paradoxes of our age that, even as the Internet - comparable in scope and range to aviation or the phone, perhaps combined - alters our imaginative landscape, and permits extraordinary freedom of expression and transmission of information - certain vested interests, and older literary figures seek to cancel out its achievements. Latest to protest too much is Nobel laureate Doris Lessing . Her new anti-net diatribe is not new, but stale invective. It is a retread of that old canard that books will be killed off by digital enjoyments. Blogging is singled out for its addictive, time-wasting effects, a new opium. Sadly, Lessing ignores the fact that blogging encourages writing, and reading - and is a new genre of creative writing. Just as comics were once seen as the ultimate foe of literacy, and are now revered as a new kind of classic, so too may be certain works of the Internet-era, in future. At the very least, the enemy of great writing is not the web. It may, instead

Poem By Sarah Lang

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the Canadian poet Sarah Lang (pictured) to its pages this Friday. Lang (one wants to say "out on parole"), according to Wikipedia, shares her name with "a game show winner" and was born in 1980. In the spring of 2004, she completed her MFA at Brown University. She began work on her PhD in Chicago in the fall of 2005. Her work, which includes poetry, prose, personal, critical and medical esssays, has been published in Canada, Great Britian, and the United States. She has translated work from Latin, Ancient Greek, French, Ukrainian, Japanese, and Mandarin. Her first poetry collection (recently out), from which the text below is an excerpt, is The Work Of Days , from Coach House Books. She's one of the future directions of contemporary Canadian poetry. from Videos in Montreal Admittedly, there are ends. I no longer wanted. There are ways to sign season, home; a body is not tender. I knew change; no, things grow where they w

12 Poets for December Now Online At Nthposition

Broken sleep, The belly & The crossing by Sally Read Summer solstice, At the Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich & NW/SE by Danny Birchall Connecting flight & The Christmas truce by D Nurkse After all this, can you imagine parasols? by Michelle J Boese Yet another prolegomena to any future metaphysics by Tim Keane Living with Cleopatra by Frances Spurrier Stationing, Spring in fragments & Iraq in fragments by Eric Linsker Density & The artichoke by Sara Fitzpatrick Recipe for success & Cruise by Tara Deal Picture awakens memory by Jeffrey Mackie Supermarket selves & Poets are just like everyone else by Susan Millar DuMars Airborne by Andrew Bailey

The Last One

The Oxfam Poetry Series, hosted by the Oxfam Books & Music Shop in Marylebone, is in its fourth and final year. Since it began, it has helped to raise over £30,000 for the charity, as well as spearheaded the Life Lines poetry CDs series, which has raised an additional £50,000 so far. Many of the leading British poets have read for the series, or for the CDs. Come celebrate with me, and our last group of guest poets, as this extraordinary reading series comes to an end, with one of its most exciting and surprising line-ups yet, including guest readers from afar. The American film and TV director, and poet, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is in from Los Angeles, especially for the night, and Alistair Noon is in from Berlin. Oxfam Poetry series Winter Poetry Reading - The Last One Thursday, 6 December, 2007, 7 pm Hosted by Todd Swift> featuring poets: Alan Buckley Claire Crowther Anne-Marie Fyfe Susan Grindley Stephen Gyllenhaal Luke Kennard Tim Liardet Barbara Marsh David Morley Alistair Noon

Ash of Himself?

It is always fun when The Economist reviews poetry. Who is their anonymous reviewer, I wonder? Someone rather dry, serious, even-handed, and a little conservative, perhaps. They were recently a little baffled by Muldoon . Now they seem slightly puzzled by Ashbery . The good thing is, their review of 384-page Notes From The Air: Selected Later Poems (Ecco, or in the UK, Carcanet) actually engages with the poet's language, rather than entirely recoiling from it, as some British critics do. Here are some of the things they say: "beguilingly casual"; "delicately playful"; "perpetual shifting of tones"; his tone can be "alarmingly inconsequential"; "endlessly digressive". His manner is "free-flowing, conversational" - lines often "untrammeled by any concern about whether or not they scan". And, finally, "Mr. Ashbery likes using similes in his poetry" - that last not so surprising, as most poets do. Reading

One In Ten

I recently made a list, for fun, of the most popular 20th century (deceased) British poets. These had to be ones whose work had truly entered the public imagination, and language, and were almost universally famous. The list was Kipling, Owen, Eliot, Auden, Dylan Thomas, Larkin , and Hughes . I then noticed that they corresponded more or less directly with decades (that is 00-10, 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s). I suppose Hardy, Brooke and Betjeman might wreck this, but who else? I don't think this list represents the most innovative, or even enjoyable, poets - but it did suggest to me what I had long suspected - the public cannot endure too much poetry. For them, one (or so) poet every decade is just about right. The Americans tend to get two in each decade...

Far Flung

In The Player , one of the great Hollywood films about itself, a suit trying to imagine a writerless future for their studio picks up the paper, and pitches movies from the headlines. British film could get like that, and do no harm - too many of its films are set in a tough-guy world of the banal. Consider this just in . Who knew that the most remote island community in the whole world was British, and lived on a volcano? Not Eyewear . In the meantime, this is also reality, and let us hope the disease is cured soon, and medical supplies reach sooner.


The word of the day is: Christianophobia. A British MP has called for a debate on the decline of Christianity in the UK. He has a point: most schools aren't having Nativity plays this Yuletide season, to avoid stepping on the toes of those of little, no, or other, faith(s). More pressingly, a very aggressive, cynical form of Dogmatic Atheism has become the default mechanism for many average Brits. It's cool to kick Christ, especially when he's down. Leaving aside the dangers of fanaticism (which are legion), religious faith can be a great balm and boon to society. It leavens culture, charity, and community. It is also, historically, a key element in the story of Britain.

Evel Crosses Over

Like Stretch Armstrong, or G.I. Joe, but for real, Evel Knievel became an action figure that no boy or girl in North America, and beyond, could ignore - he was the daredevil of our time, and his monicker itself is worthy of acclaim, requiring a P.T. Barnumesque genius for public appeal to conjure up. Snake River Canyon is not the greatest leap into the unknown - death is - and we all make that jump, some not wearing such entertaining armour. Somehow, in his own showbiz, corny way, he made such stoic confrontations with death (he was, after all, the living embodiment of "death defying") more than a stunt - almost a credo.