Holy Moly Batman! What a week... yet another fabled anti-war protester has died - this time, beloved camp cabaret act, Eartha Kitt, famed for her feline fling as Catwoman. Sad news. Kitt, as singer, actor, and kitsch heroine charmed millions. There is a slight irony in her dying on Christmas day (yesterday) as one of her most famous songs was Santa Baby.
Sad news. The great British poet Adrian Mitchellhas died - the "shadow poet laureate". Mitchell was a commited anti-war activist, a brilliant poet and performer, and an exceptionally warm and generous man. He donated his work to both my 100 Poets Against The War anthology, and also Oxfam CD project. I was very sad to learn of his death when I turned on BBC radio this morning. I had thought to stop blogging until January - as per my last post - but the death of such a poet demanded I return. He wrote a final poem a few days back - not knowing its mischievous title would be so oddly apt - and it is delightful - ending so movingly, so playfully. The British poetry world is poorer now that its leading moral compass is gone - though his work remains, to inspire.
What a year. Eyewear, for one, is glad to take some time off with family and friends, sit by the yuletide fire, and listen to some sleigh bells - or some such version available in these isles. It's been a time-wasting pleasure to continue this ephemeral blog, and thanks to you, my readers, it makes sense to keep on keeping on doing it. For now. But not anymore, in 2008. The next few weeks belong to deeper magic, the time-tested recourse to seasonal contemplation, festivity, joy, and celebration, that is Christmas. At the peak of the year, at its darkest moments, in its wintry chill - light and warmth and fellow-feeling is both right and good. Then comes a new year. And that too, brings its needful ceremonies. See you then, and there! To paraphrase Les Murray, I wish you God this holiday season. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Love, for a start. And health. Wealth? Bah-humbug! That's proven even more ephemeral, hasn't it?, than blogs.
Sad news. Conor Cruise O'Brien- writer, historian, public intellectual, and politician, has died. In some ways, it seems fitting (if nonetheless unwelcome) that his death should coincide with the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth, for O'Brien loved Milton, particularly Paradise Lost.
I have a great memory of spending New Year's Day morning with him, about a decade ago, at a lovely castle in Ireland, reading from that epic poem, with him, his wife the poet, and one of his sons. It remains one of the highlights of my life, to have been welcomed in to his circle of celebration.
A decade before, I had enjoyed his essays, especially on Yeats. His controversial literary opinions included a critique of Yeats as nationalist which profoundly questioned that poet's (quasi-fascist) role as Irish public man. Ireland has lost a troubling, problematic, great figure.
A special Salt Cyclone event today on Katy Evans-Bush'stour of the world wide web. Eyewear is thrilled to be a part of this vivacious poet and blogger's whirlwind virtual voyage.
Katy Evans-Bush (pictured) was born in New York City and has lived in London since she was 19. Her poetry and essays have been published on both sides of the Atlantic. She is a regular contributor to the Contemporary Poetry Review and writes one of the most important British literary blogs, the very popular and always entertaining, Baroque in Hackney. Her debut poetry collection, which Eyewear recommends as one of its books of 2008, is Me and the Dead. Called "stylish, vivacious and darkly hilarious" by the Poetry Book Society, it is published by Salt, one of the significant poetry presses in the UK.
Evans-Bush has always struck me as a true original, one foot in New York, one in London (metaphorically), bestriding the pond with a wonky, warm charisma that has made her loved, and respected, by…
Long gone is the idea that any one critic can survey the entire mediascape, and determine what is truly "the best" of a period, in a genre. Instead, one can, at best, suggest what one encountered, and how its impact was received - still, an evaluation, but one admittedly provisional and problematic. I no longer even know why I try to put together such lists, but, since I find myself buying a lot of pop / rock / indie albums (I like such music, though less and less), and enjoy sharing the best of these with friends, I thought I'd put forward my not-definitive list of the albums of Eyewear's 2008.
In descending order, here are the ten albums that most delighted, moved, inspired, or thrilled me - as popular recorded music by a band or singer:
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes Portishead - Third Joe Jackson - Rain The Verve - Forth Keane - Perfect Symmetry Foals - Antidotes Glasvegas - Glasvegas Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III Madonna - Hard Candy
Sad news. The Australian performance poet Dorothy Porterhas died. The Guardian ran a good obituary on her the other day. I first came across her work when co-editing Short Fusewith Phil Norton, back in '01-02 (the good old days) - we included some of her work in the anthology. She was a major force on the Australian poetry landscape.
One of the most intriguing and cosmopolitan of all Canadian poets is John Glassco - Montreal-born, Paris-forged, and Eastern Townships-retired - whose 99th birthday this would be today (15th December) if he had not died in January, 1981. Lately, some of his prose has come back into the limelight. His centenary will be quickly followed by a biography from Brian Busbythat I, for one, cannot wait to read.
This excerpt from "Brummel at Calais" is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because English-French aestheticism and stylishness have always been a part of modern Montreal poetics, much more so than in the rest of Canada. I am surprised that John Ashbery has not written about John Glassco, since in some ways Glassco is a precursor of his, in francophile interest.
An art of being, nothing but being, the grace Of perfect self-assertion based on nothing, As in our vanity's cause against the void He strikes his elegant blow, the solemn report of those Who have done nothi…
The latest Poetry Review is out (Vol. 98:4). There are reviews of Rowan Williams and others by Evan Jones, poems by Alfred Corn and Leah Fritz (among others), and my review of four collections, too. Plus much more, including a new interview by Ben Hickman with John Ashbery where, asked who some of his fave British poets are, he mentions Mark Ford, Jackie Kay, and Peter Robinson; he also observes that being MTV laureate has not increased poetry sales one bit.
Also just in the post, a beautiful-looking issue (#2) of Paxamericana, featuring poems by yours truly, David McGimpsey, Paul Vermeersch and other Canadians. I was also recently in the latest London Magazine, with other poets asked to write about famous British art works. I selected Stand Up! by Sir Terry Frost (2003), the year he died. The new design of the magazine is sort of Beardsley-inspired.
Then there's the latest, stunning Wolf #19, in which my poem "Myth" appears. This Winter 2008 issue is rich with reviews, an…
Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Rufo Quintavalle (pictured) to these pages this Friday - especially as I have been publishing his work at Nthposition now for several years, always happily. He was born in London in 1978, studied English at Oxford and the University of Iowa and lives in Paris with his girlfriend, Agnès and daughter, Edda. His poems have appeared in Barrow Street, The Wolf, The London Magazine, Smiths Knoll, Upstairs at Duroc, MiPOesias, and elimae. A chapbook, Make nothing happen, will be published by Oystercatcher Press in 2009.
There is no other contemporary English poet quite like Quintavalle: from his extraordinary name (perhaps the most inherently exciting since "Ezra Pound") to his exotically-imagined, deeply-thoughtful, ruefully witty, and sometimes very brief, poems, to his slightly marginalised location across the Channel, he represents a different current - one that, should he continue to write as well over the next few years, will establish him,…
Jeet Thayil, the Indian poet, has edited an important new anthology of Indian poetry (in the English tradition), just out from Bloodaxe, a book Eyewear will review in time. Before then, it needs to be said that The Guardian ran a hugely blundering (and borderline offensive) review of the book - a dismissal by other means - on Saturday, an odd act since the UK has been in need of such a collection for more than a decade. I have long believed that the best of Indian English-language contemporary poetry, from the likes of Ranjit Hoskote, Vivek Narayanan, and Sudeep Sen, is among the best of contemporary poetry from anywhere - and its lack of availability, until now, was almost silly, if not sad. So, Thayil should have been thanked first, criticised, if at all, later. Anyway, he's responded.
The second anthology from the Stop Sharpening Your Knives collective is an attractive, glossy paperback with contributions from nine poets and three artists. A glowing foreword from Lavinia Greenlaw describing the anthology as a 'remarkable gathering of emerging poets', together with admiring back cover blurbs from Hugo Williams and George Szirtes, make this an impressively packaged anthology.
This is all to the good since the point of anthologies of new writers is exposure, a way of building up a poet's profile. A new poet may not be ready for a full-length collection but that isn't to say she's not deserving of a readership. Equally, a poet may be writing to a publishable standard but it is notoriously difficult to convince a reputable publisher to take on a first collection. Poets usually have to complete a sort of informal apprenticeship, publishing in magazines and perhaps in pamphlet form. Anth…
Those in the know in London and beyond will want to be at the Zeppelins launch Tuesday 9th December, 7-10pm at The Rose, 35 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TL. Chris McCabe's new collection, from Salt, promises to be one of the better books by a new poet of this decade. I've included McCabe in my Manhattan Review section on The Young British Poets, as I believe in his writing. The launch will also feature readings from fellow Salters and excellent poets Simon Barraclough and Luke Kennard - so much to enjoy.
The very fine British poet, Henry Reed, author of A Map of Verona, died 22 years ago today, 8 December, 1986. He has yet to entirely get his due, since he is one of those poets whose work was mainly done in the 1940s, something of a Sargasso Sea when it comes to wrecked reputations. Still, his poetry is beginning to come out of the despond, and Carcanet does a Collected Poems now. Reed is intriguing for any number of reasons, but fans of codes and cyphers may want to know he worked at Bletchley Park during WWII.
The Guardian has a timely leader today reminding England that one of its greatest poets, Milton, is about to have a 400th "birthday" this December - and is in danger of becoming unread, untaught, and underappreciated.
At first, this might seem an improbable complaint, yet, reading the latest issue of The London Magazine (celebrating 276 years), I came across the following from poet-novelist Tobias Hill on the subject of poetic diction: "Ian MacMillan has a good line on this: don't put any word into a poem you wouldn't use in Morrisons [a store]; to do otherwise is as odd as popping out to the corner shop in a Shakespearean ruff".
Eyewear likes a bit of ruff. All of British poetry's current problems can be traced to such an attitude (one even more crudely anti-modernist, and anti-Renaissance, than anything Larkin ever came up with). MacMillan's offhand poetics of normalcy contains so many blandly buried assumptions it is startling: because, depending o…
Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the poet Jenny Pagdin (pictured) to its pages this Friday. I first met Pagdin when she was studying at The Poetry School (well, before then, we were introduced to each other by the American-Canadian poet Eric Ormsby). Since then, I have followed the development of her work with some interest.
Her earlier poems, of three or four years ago, were small, complex works, combining near-scientific observation with sensuous, sometimes erotic, emotionality - all wound tight with brilliant diction. Her new work, it appears to me, is opening up, and growing in stature as it assays traditional forms, in surprising ways, sometimes employing more colloquial, and directly sexual, or personal, themes. Pagdin is completing the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. In between times, she works as a charity fundraiser in Norwich. Her poetry has appeared in magazines including Nthposition, Agenda, Dream Catcher and The Frogmore Papers. Do expect a very f…
Boomslang two is out, edited by poet Kate Noakes. She's looking for submissions for #3: email her at kate dot noakes at googlemail dot com. I am sure she will gladly sell you a copy via that contact address too. I have four new poems in the issue, happily. It's a very little magazine, just starting out, so do support it.
What's wrong with Britain? Prince Charles? Modern buildings? Modernism and modernity tend to be associated with things people like to be associated with, in most Western countries - indeed, modern art, modern love, and modern poetry inspire great affection. Not in England, at least where the Prince and his allies are concerned.
You wouldn't know it from the BBC, or the British media, but, Canada is undergoing its gravest (and most intriguing) political crisis since its foundation, in 1867. In a nutshell, the very recently elected (rightwing) Conservatives face a no-confidence vote that will see them replaced by a grand coalition of all the other three main parties in the House, led by the Liberals - a major switcheroo that is all the harder to stomach, for many, since one of the parties is the Canada-despising Bloc Quebecois. However, there is a long tradition of such Upper / Lower Canada shenanigans. The Governor General will decide next week, or sooner, whether this can go ahead.
DECEMBER 2, 2008, OXFAM Reading 7-9 pm 8 poets in 80 Minutes 91 Marylebone High Street London W1
Niall McDevitt performed in various Ken Campbell productions including the 24-hour play THE WARP, a sex education play for children WE DON'T TALK ABOUT IT, and a Melanesian version of Shakespeare PIDGIN MACBETH. His poems have been published in Poetry Ireland, The Wolf, The London Magazine, and broadcast on Radio 3, Radio 4, RTE1 and Resonance FM. His poem 'Off-Duty' was winner of BBC Radio 3's THE VERB Urban Poetry Competition in 2005. He leads Blake/Rimbaud/Yeats and other poetry walks in London.
David Prater's publications include The Happy Farang (2000), We Will Disappear (2007) and Morgenland (2007). He is the editor of online poetry journal Cordite (http://www.cordite.org.au/) and also maintains an Internet home page (http://www.daveydreamnation.com/). He has performed at various Australian and international poetry festivals and currently lives in The Hague.
News that the world's most French, most prestigious, and most pretentious film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, has neglected to list a single "British" film in its top 100 has put the British critics and pundits into apoplexies of Blimp-like consternation. What?!!! No Powell and Pressburger? No Lean? No Reed? How dare they? In fact, there are several British auteurs in the list - Hitchcock and Laughton make the top ten; Chaplin is also there. Given that the magazine's perspective is on director, not nation of production, this should limit the insult. Still, Carol Reed's The Third Man is, frankly, one of the greatest films, and should be there. So too, I think, should Black Narcissus. Still, it is good to see "Kane" still at number one, 67 years on. Given how Welles died thinking himself a failure, that's a moving tribute.
Sad news. One of the 20th century's architectural geniuses has died - Jorn Utzon, the controversial force behind Australia's most famous building, the Sydney Opera House - arguably, in terms of its surprising shapes, a precursor to the Gehry style.
There is something dispiriting - literally - aboutNick Laird's latest column in this weekend's Guardian Review (the Review lists Tuesday's Oxfam event in London, by the way, and also features a best of the year book roundup, which might be of interest to readers of Eyewear) - in how he discusses his lost faith - and subsequent attempt to find it in poetry. Faith isn't just lost. Faith is like a radio that needs to be constantly tuned - sometimes, the faintest signals of possibility can be detected, at other times, it is all a fuzz.
When one entirely loses faith, one is in a sense saying something about the human soul: that there isn't one. Otherwise, if one still believed that, then not all would be lost. Nihilism and poetry reached an exquisite dead-end in the darkly fascinating morgues and flesh of Gottfried Benn. Laird, though, seeks to argue that poetry can replace, even supplant religion - not a new thought, surely. Keats thought this. Wallace Stevens exemplifi…
When the television series adaptation of Alex Haley’sRoots came out in 1977, I watched it with the scalp shifting horrified fascination that I imagine many people, black and white, watched too. Since then, I have read and seen many other books, films and television documentaries about the iniquities of slavery. Some of it has been documented in grossly minute detail – the floggings, rapes, amputations, the Middle Passage, the savagery, the exploitation, the humiliation – they are all very well known these days. All have been disturbing to take in but nothing has been quite as shocking since that initial jolt Roots ministered. It was difficult to imagine how slavery’s sorry history could be rendered afresh in art.
In what is perhaps a homage to Haley’s Roots (surely the title can’t be a coincidence?) the ever inventive Bernardine Evaristo’s new book and first novel entirely in prose, Blonde Roots, does make you consider that dark peri…
Eyewear is delighted to welcome Sampurna Chattarji (pictured) this Friday. Born in Dessie, Ethiopia in 1970, Chattarji is an award-winning poet, fiction writer and translator.
Her books include The Greatest Stories Ever Told (fiction) and Abol Tabol: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray (translation) both published by Penguin India. Her poetry has featured on Hong Kong Radio; in the international documentary Voices in Wartime; in First Proof: The Penguin Book of New Writing from India 2; Fulcrum Four: Fifty-six Indian Poets(1951-2005) and Imagining Ourselves, an anthology released by the International Museum of Women (IMOW) in San Francisco; as well as in Indian and international journals such as Wasafiri, nthposition, Slingshot, The Little Magazine and Chandrabhaga. Sampurna is an Executive Committee Member of the PEN All-India Centre, Mumbai, and on the Editorial Board of its journal, Penumbra.
Her first book of poems Sight May Strike You Blind has been published (January, 2007) by the S…
Terror knows no bounds, is an attempt at boundless contempt for society's limits. It appeals, therefore, to those who believe that limits are wrong, or currently are of the wrong shape - paradoxically, many who enact terror desire more, not less, limit. Yet they work in chaos who desire a new order. Mumbai, a great city of the world, is currently facing a new kind of freewheeling madness and cruelty that makes artistic depictions of the urban same, in films (like the recent Batman) jejeune and false. What is being expressed in these terrifying acts is that free agents of ruthless determination can move at will through serious cities, nearly unhindered - yet ultimately, hindered. That battles are still raging, more than 24 hours after the initial attacks, is alarming. Anarchy, it now appears, can appear anywhere, in even the midst of great civilisations, and establish small failed states. The 21st century is falling apart. Obama can only do so much, and most of the world seems to b…
The Guardian has a slogan online: "comment is free". Too true. I've noticed, lately, that sometimes articles appear (in print) in The Guardian, and other papers, a few days after the same ideas, even phrases, and images, have circulated, freely, in (on?) the blogosphere - including, a few times, at Eyewear.
Most recently, today, columnist Mark Lawson has a piece on the poet laureate, referencing John Sergeant, Obama (not normally two subjects linked, I'd have thought) and other comments that strongly echo my post of a few days back on the same subject. Coincidence? Surely.
However, bloggers are doing a lot of the unpaid gruntwork these days, it seems to me, for the "professional" media commentariat, and, since we all know (from plagiarism cases on campus) that "Googling" can get results, fast, it is surely time that some credit is due, when whole arguments or themes are lifted, verbatim, from popular blogs.
Sad news. Woolworths, the original "five and dime" store, and one of my earliest childhood memories (buying red licorice there) has gone bust. The UK is entering a new phase, then, of its economic crisis.
Eyewear grows old. It wears its trousers rolled, and stuffs fingers in its ears when listening to Axl Rose.
Chinese Democracy is both eponymous and oxymoronic, and, bloated. This review commits a sin - that of refusing to listen to the whole before judging the parts. The parts are tediously overwrought, overlong, and overloud. Mr. Rose, who inspired Nirvana and much else that came in the 90s, in the wake of his revival of hardcore rock, has an exquisite wail, and a voice to reckon with. He is a rawk gawd.
That is enough to make this 14-song album an event, and a disaster - as in Titanic. No album should have a song called "Prostitute" and be in the hands of children. Or is that too moral? At any rate, AC/DC's recent foray into the black ops of heavy metal, Black Ice, was good dirty fun, and never took itself without a tongue in someone's cheek. This cheeky CD, though, is a Rose that stinks.
In Hannah and the Monk, Julia Bird’s first book, almost nothing is as it first appears. One example is "Clip", which if it begins with the bright optimism of any typical Hollywood road movie, ends with the kind of dark catastrophe more in keeping with a bleak David Lynch thriller. When a couple who had been ‘necking Americanly in the front seat of a Cadillac…a Buick’ are unceremoniously killed by ‘a swarm of stockfootage’ the tone quickly changes and it becomes apparent we have been cunningly misled.
Indeed, throughout the book, Bird exposes the limitations of narrative by consistently denying us the happy ending we may unconsciously desire. Her brief short film poems – of which there are five threaded throughout the book – similarly subvert the conventional storyline. In "Short Film", for example, a man who seems to be taking his first driving lesson is about to freewheel into his own mother or at least this …
Odd news. The next British Poet Laureate will be selected in a bizarre mix of academic and public polling (which may yield cross-purpose results). This may not be the great Obama moment that seems intended - democracy and poetry don't always mix well, since the vast majority of people don't understand the value or purpose of poetry extends beyond voicing 19th century sentiment in rhyming couplets. Nor is new poetry merely rap, though Eyewear likes Lil Wayne. Should the winner be a dynamic, talented, personable and decent poet, like Simon Armitage, or a brilliant, important contemporary figure like Carol Ann Duffy, all will be well. Maybe Prynne could win. However, the selection process might just as easily yield a John Sergeant type, a favourite plucked from mediocrity to challenge artsy-fartsy (perceived) notions (though past laureates were often bland anyway). I feel the Ivory Tower is about to be shaken. What next, choose the Archbishop of Canterbury by phone-in?
I heard Malcolm Gladwell, the Canadian guru, on the BBC today, citing an idea from his new book on successful persons (though this idea has been kicking around for a while): namely, it takes 10,000 hours to master the skills of something, from football to math, to music - so, Mozart is not born, just given more time to practice. In poetry this explains hard-working Pound (or Yeats), but not quite young guns like Rimbaud, or Keats. Creative wrting, as a methodology, begins to make more sense when seen in such a context though - as the valuable space in which the mind can continue to do what it must for its art.
Eyewear is very glad to welcome Aleah Sato (pictured) to its Friday Feature.
Sato spent her twenties traveling across the United States, and, in 2002, moved to Toronto. Her writing explores secrets and society. Much of Sato's work seeks to expose the tyranny of dualistic thinking and its impact on our relationship with nature and each other. Her poems have appeared in numerous print and electronic publications, including Wicked Alice, Nthposition, Blue Fifth Review and Eclectica. She is the author of Badlands, No Peaceful Sleep, and Extinct.
I am happy here. It doesn't say so but I am sure it was happiness. The sun shining on our white skirts and sneakers. Two cats in tow. We always liked dogs but the cats held secrets. I am smiling like I don't know what is happening. Behind my head, there's a vague figure of a man tinkering on a truck. It seems as if he's laughing. I could be wrong but I am sure it was something like laughing.
Congrats to Kathryn Simmonds, UEA graduate and a rising star of British poetry - she's just been shortlisted for The Costa, for the "most enjoyable" poetry book of the year. Probably so, hers is a superb collection, which rightly won the Forward prize recently, but who shortlists for this? Surely Katy Evans-Bush, or some other Salt poet, should have also been on that list, too.
It surely must be a footnote to history: even as Lord Bingham, formerly Britain's top legal mind, considers the war on Iraq illegal, poetry critics like Tim Kendall argue that the 2003 opposition to the war, by British poets, was merely fashionable, likely futile, probably aesthetically nugatory, and, finally, ultimately hypocritical, even self-serving. While America has elected an anti-Iraq war president, Britain, with its limited democracy, resists any public inquiry into the mess; and, its most conservative literary types oppose even the slightest hint of literature becoming embedded with the biggest political issue of our time. Why is this?
Good news. Poet and editor Greg Santos of Pax Americanahas put together a special online issue of contemporary Canadian poets, including rob mclennan, John Stiles, David McGimpsey, and Jason Camlot. I'm also there, with a new poem that fleshes out the title for my recent New and Selected (a poem not actually in that book though). Do check it all out.
Eyewear wishes Mickey Mousea very happy 80th birthday! Steamboat Willie was released on 18 November, 1928. It's hard to fathom the influence of that moment, or his high-voiced, finger-challenged character - both for good and ill. Without Mickey, no Disneyland empire; without Mickey, no Bugs Bunny.
Mickey has been the face of watches, pop art, subversion, and, of course, the name of all that is dumbed-down or facile ("Mickey Mouse classes"). He's resilient, at 80, but less popular, I think, than he once was. Still, an icon, even a cartoon one, deserves some respect. How old is Pluto?
Many of Floyd Skloot's poems about artists address moments when their brains are still creating in a way they cannot physically keep up with. In "John Field in Russia, 1835," for example, Field "has come back to die where darkness lasts," but his mind is still generating melodies—rather, his body is, as he learns when he sits down at the piano:
His hands move before his mind knows the opening theme.
Thus do the body's long-ingrained practices provide an outlet for the brain's productivity even without the active knowing of the mind.
There is a whole section of such poems in Skloot's latest collection, The Snow's Music, including poems on Georges Braque, Paul Signac, Claude Monet, and Claude Debussy, as well as a comic turn on George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers playing badminton on the beach. (In Skloot's 2007 Selected Poems: 1970-2005, published by Tupelo Press, there are also poems on, am…
De-Iced, Bloodaxe 2007 Night Toad, New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe 2003 The Clever Daughter, Faber 1996 Open Diagnosis, Faber 1994 Singing Underwater, Faber 1992
The poetry of Susan Wicks is surreptitiously erotic, ‘I curl, sniffing you … comfort the tip of your lost tongue …we still do it in our sleep’ (‘After Sixteen Years’, Singing Underwater), ‘this is how they make rain, the raw/repeated drumbeat of two pulses ….Her two legs split perfectly open ..’ (‘Rain Dance’, The Clever Daughter), ‘Rolled in my mouth, my tongue/is growing fat. By morning/it will have found the farthest places’ (‘Sleeping Alone’, Night Toad). There is a continuous noting of the power of the body that has the alert languor of sex; that is never just tender:
I follow the soft valley of your nape, parting the hidden shafts to the scalp, white and unwrinkled as the skin of a boy I once saw shivering on a field, his hair teased into rosettes like a guinea-pig’s.
Reading the latest Forward anthology of best poems, etc, of new British poetry, a terrible thought suddenly hit me - the aesthetics of the 30-second TV advertisement had become the default lyric position of 75% of all contemporary mainstream British verse. The style - speedy syntax, clever image, cunning set-up, perfectly amicable and yet "fresh" pay-off, and overall sense of accessible, pleasing, upbeat zest, yet with some edgy topicality - it's all TV, mate. I know, because I was a TV writer. I understand this machine-tooled, gleaming perfection - it is the popular product that Adorno warned us of. Readers of Eyewear know I still enjoy high-quality pop stuff - but I also know its place, its contexts. I resist some guilty pleasures. Poetry needs, at times, to yield fewer of its mysteries at a first Palin-wink. Ambiguity, complexity, obscurity, difficulty - these were not just the rallying cry of modern poets for the fun of it - they were elements of a strategy of…
Eyewear is pleased to welcome Nathalie Handal (pictured) this Friday. Handal is a poet, writer and playwright. She has directed and is the author of numerous plays, and her collection The Lives of Rain was Shortlisted for The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize/The Pitt Poetry Series.
She is a member of Nibras Theatre Collective and Associate Artist and Development Executive for the production company, The Kazbah Project. I was very pleased to have her in the anthology 100 Poets Against The War - and very glad to be including her at Eyewear, as well.
She is one of the poets currently writing whose work - political and lyrical - seems most needed in this decade, for how it negotiates the way language slinks, sways, slides and shifts between beauty and truth, at once terrible and lithe.
Recently, she co-edited a significant anthology of world poetry from Norton, Language for a New Century, with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar, which I recommend.
Seamus Heaney is undeniably THE major Irish poet of the second half of the 20th century, and, after Robert Lowell, Thomas, Larkin, Hill and Ted Hughes, likely the greatest English-language lyrical poet, in the Hardy-Frost tradition, since 1950. Of the great 20th century poets, he's possibly one of the Big Ten. I've met him - he's charming, and fun, and real. And serious. So, this new interview with him (related to a forthcoming book) is basically necessary reading for anyone concerned with poetry of our time (and of the past).
The excerpts here are frank, personal, and at times even intimate - the man comes through, as intelligent, principled, dedicated, and human - a sort of poetic Obama of the 60s/ 70s - a man who made poetry matter, for many, putting it down in soil it hadn't been rooted in before. Heaney has not, it is clear, made peace with the experimental wing of contemporary poetry - he calls it "a refusal of the kind of poetry I write" - which begs th…