Friday, 29 February 2008

Poem by Derek Adams

Derek Adams (pictured here, in a photograph taken by his daughter Charlotte) is a poet Eyewear thinks well worth reading. His often macabre imagery is perhaps due to his wonderful eye for detail.

He was born in Walthamstow, East London in 1957 and has lived in Essex since 1985. A professional photographer since leaving school, he is a) currently working at the Natural History Museum and b) one of the organisers of The Essex International Poetry Festival.

His chapbook, Postcards to Olympus, won the Poetry Monthly Booklet Award 2004 and was named "Best Individual Collection Of Poetry For 2005" in Purple Patch Magazine's annual Best of the Small Press list; a collection Everyday Objects, Chance Remarks was published by the Littoral Press and unconcerned but not indifferent - the life of man ray came out from Ninth Arrondissement Press, soon after. He was the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year in 2006.


Normally it is the one dark place in a well lit town
where only ghosts and cats roam, but tonight
among the quiet stone rows there is a digger
and a tent lit up like a big top,
police at the gates and cameramen outside.
Later when your black sheeted package
has been delivered to the pathologist,
when you've been winkled from your box,
placed on the stainless steel table
and he takes a surgical bladein his rubber gloved hand
cuts from both shoulders to sternum
then down to the pubic bone,
peels back the skin to reveal the ribcage,
will he call the photographer over
I think we'd better have a picture of this
his eyebrows raised between mask and cap,
as he stares at the space behind the breastbone
at that cold black cavity that should contain a heart.

poem by Derek Adams

Bourne On The Fourth?

Eyewear saw There Will Be Blood last night. It wasn't Kane - it was morose and downbeat like Ambersons, with some of the muddiness and new century cornpone of that film - and it made me think there will be hype. I found the didactic false prophet vs. false profit motif slightly linear, and the lack of any character development curious. Of course, the acting was bravura, the tone and pace original, and the Malickian attention to men at labour in American fields, moving and well-shot. It may grow on me. One thing about the Oscars this year - most of the US films up for the big awards were very dark, very violent - this is the age of Bush - and the toxic blowback from Iraq has just now begun to seep in to the water supply in Hollywood. The best American movie of 2007 was possibly the third Bourne feature - in terms of direction, and suspense; it too, was violent, and political, but somehow deemed irrelevant - perhaps because it expressed its skills so openly. Anyway, the good news may be this: a fourth Bourne could happen. If it does, let's hope they stick to the formula (same theme song, same look, same actors, same director).

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Boy Leaves Yale, Man Meets God

William F. Buckley Jr. who has recently died, was, according to some sources, variously: a CIA agent, Catholic, Yale Man, rightwing TV firebrand, homophobe, baronially arrogant, and one of the 20th century's most brilliant debaters. Only the last need detain us here. I share few of Buckley's vices, or virtues perhaps, and less of his ideology, but I have often felt that debaters, however otherwise turned rightwards, make the best companions (for dinner, if not bed). When I was a college debater of some repute (I often debated at places called Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Vassar, McGill, etc) Buckley was a hero, for his patrician indifference to low-brows and mass culture (though he practically invented High-IQ US TV discourse). My father (alas, dead) and I loved to watch him lean back in his chair, impossibly, an architect of disdain, a Pisa of scorn, his pen or pencil in his poised hand - about to strike, viperous. I met the gentleman once, all those teeth in that slithering smile!, after a Firing Line taping live from McGill in Montreal; at the cocktail reception, we briefly discussed poetry.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Guest Review: Begnal On McLoughlin

Michael S. Begnal reviews
by Nigel McLoughlin

Dissonances is the fourth collection from the Irish poet Nigel McLoughlin, of County Fermanagh. As in the work of many Irish poets, land and place figure large here. But McLoughlin is not content to endlessly reiterate the standard rural pieties that we are now all so familiar with. There is a sort of a discontent running through this collection - indeed a kind of dissonance.

One of the first poems is "Chorus", which recalls Wordsworth's sonnet "Composed on Westminster Bridge", and like Wordsworth finds a surprising beauty in the morning of the city while (almost ironically) employing the language of the pastoral. Thus begins the section entitled "Tales from the Long Acre", the most lyrical of the four sections in this collection. "After Rain" demonstrates McLoughlin's imagist skills with passages like, "A car pinks by,/ the exhaust stutters/ a plume of smoke,/ thunder coloured..." This juxtaposition of the rural and the urban is a current running throughout the book, and indeed throughout much contemporary Irish poetry.

McLoughlin certainly does not let his pastoral impulses go unquestioned. In fact he often subverts them, albeit with a kind of regret, the sadness of having to overcome something you have loved and still love. The second section is called "The Science of Signs", implying a concern with language. No, McLoughlin doesn't suddenly begin to write "Language" poetry, but he does convey a certain awareness of the theories of Saussure and Barthes.

Like a former religious believer who has begun to have doubts, a degree of skepticism about the ability of language to directly represent the world has irretrievably crept in. Using the metaphor of a tree - thus still anchoring himself to the natural world even as he moves into more philosophic territory - McLoughlin writes, "I hear the trees ramify,/ sway unstruck, enact the oscillations/between the sign of themselves/ and what it is they signify". Did I say metaphor? Yes, and so does McLoughlin, very loudly. He is careful not to completely let go his deep lyric concerns.

Lyric poetry is clearly his prime element, and he uses it to express abstract ideas about language in "Night Fire", where the speaker and his children come up with surprisingly different names for such concepts as "sky" and "star". While there is plenty of dissonance to be found here, the one certainty in the collection is the family (the book is even dedicated "for all my family"), and in this regard Dissonances is a misnomer.

Ezra Pound wrote that "a vast number of subjects cannot be precisely, and therefore not properly rendered in symmetrical forms". By the third section of Dissonances, "Shrapnel", McLoughlin has no choice but to allow his form to reflect his thinking. The words and lines now become strewn across the page in a manner recalling Pound's colleague William CarlosWilliams, and later "postmodern" poets.

In "Sand", McLoughlin notes that "a word/ slips/ like meaning/slips", and embraces a Heraclitean sense of flux. "Glenshane" is jagged and brilliant: "coming across/out/ of the fracturing/ night/day/ border/ the last/shards/ of dark..." The speaker here wishes to cling to "home" though he is also aware that we "cross/never the same line/ twice". Fermanagh is a border county, and McLoughlin sometimes writes of the conflict in the North and of the dispossession of the native Irish - so the idea of home must always be insome way tenuous. The current conflict in the Middle East comes into it too, in the poem "Joke". There is always that engagement with the world and all its trouble, both past and present; never does the author of Dissonances, in the words of T. E. Hulme (another of Pound's colleagues), "fly away into the circumambient gas".

There is further "dissonance" in the form of translations, mostly from the Irish - a minority language under threat from the violent forces of homogenisation. Máirtín Ó Díreáin's "Uprooted" is simultaneously a kick against the pricks and a vicious counter-attack on the Irish system: "But we too will be remembered:/ in some state office a stack of files/will be turning to dust along with us". McLoughlin, though, will certainly avoid a fate of dusty decay.

Dissonances is such a transitional collection that one would think he's capable of virtually anything in the future. With this collection he has set down a challenge for himself. He has extended himself beyond the English lyric, yet neither has he completely rejected it. So will his dissonance pull him into a permanent state of fragmentation, or will it begin a new stage of evolution, in which labels like "lyric"and "postmodern" become irrelevant? The power and dynamism demonstrated in this book suggest the latter.

Michael S. Begnal is the author of three poetry collections: Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry, 2007), Mercury, the Dime (Six Gallery Press, 2005), and The Lakes of Coma (Six Gallery Press, 2003). He is included in the essay collection, Avant-Post: The Avant-Garde under "Post-" Conditions (LitterariaPragensia, 2006), and was formerly the editor of the Galway, Ireland-based literary magazine, The Burning Bush.

Magnitude 5.2

Eyewear's flat trembled about 45 minutes ago. Did yours?

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Remembering Julia Casterton

The wonderful London-based poet Julia Casterton died last year on this day. She is remembered with much love. The Guardian's obituary notice for her can be read here.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Poem by L.K. Robinson

Eyewear is very glad to welcome L.K. Robinson (pictured) to these pages this Friday. Robinson is, as well as being a London-based poet, a significant publisher who runs the rising new small press, tall-lighthouse, which is continuing to grow, in the process publishing many new and emerging poets of real talent.

In short, he's a mentor to the next generation or two of younger British poets, casting about for a home for their debut pamphlets and collections, as well as being a serious, energetic promoter of poets and poetry.

But, he's a poet in his own right, too. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines. His first collection was winterburn, which was published by Waterways in 2004. His latest, second collection is you say it’s been good. Poet Helen Mort has written of this book that it "is a beautifully observed journey through night, winter landscapes and the contour of other people’s lives."


They say the view
from here is simple

beyond the window the land is still,
undulating, stretching to a distance
of summer grass or winter snow

and whatever the season the horizon
is nothing more than an artist’s
impression beneath a dome of sky

simple, yes, but in early morning
or the coming of night, watching
and waiting is far from that

there is always the unseen
movement of sound;
birds, mammals, insects

and on other occasions
at the edge of all this
a light moves across the landscape

a plane crossing continents
a boat pushing its way back into harbour
a car meandering back to town

something about to happen
in other peoples lives.

poem by L.K. Robinson

photograph by Chloe Barter

Thursday, 21 February 2008


Cha is a new Asian online journal always looking for new contributors, and readers. Do check it out.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Robbe-Grillet Has Died

One of the eccentric-yet-significant writers of the 20th century, Robbe-Grillet, has died. Aside from his infamous new style of novel, which sought to do away with plot as if it was but one more victim in a murder mystery, he scripted L'Année dernière à Marienbad - which remains one of Eyewear's favourite films. Its influence is everywhere, most recently in the temporally-refracted editing of Atonement's first 40 or so minutes (itself set in a similar space of fountains and gardens, though in miniature). He also wrote and directed other works for the cinema, though none with quite the same impact. At one stage, it might have seemed he would have been an intriguing candidate for a Nobel, but his eminence waned, if not his name, which remained the ultimate in one form of French avant-garde sophistication.

Review: Atonement

Eyewear is of two minds about award-winning Atonement - just as the film is, about itself. On the one hand, I admire the mise-en-scene, and the lush "hottest day of the summer in the Manor House" section, which comprises roughly the first 40 minutes of the film (more, in flashback, especially the diving-drowning scene). I am tempted to call it a "tromp lawn" film - for it plays with the mind's eye, surely, as much as it does on the filmgoer's easy sense of genre. I suspect, though, the film tries to have its Eton Mess and eat it, too - with a silver spoon.

By this, I mean, it is all very well to try and throw prisms and postmodernity at Brideshead Revisited type visual tropes (languid beautiful young things, army fatigues) - and, like The French Lieutenant's Woman - "offer" different endings - with a knowing wink that, well, you know, this Upper Class Porn (the tooting yellow car, the Remains of the Day decor, the flappers, the elegantly lit fags in every scene) is being twisted, exposed, for the shallow surface of things it is. Vile Bodies for vile body's sake. Possibly - but director Joe Wright has managed to evoke a plausibly desirable Utopia that is the Tallis home, with its Chariots of Fire lawns and servants (as he must to establish the postlapsarian descent into France) - and so deliciously conveys the love in the library (Paolo and Francesca, doomed Dantean lovers, reading no more that day), with its erotics of sinewy backs, slim napes, thin collar bones, and parted knees (as if this was Emmanuel At Cambridge) - that it is hard to see this as a deconstruction of anything, so much as a loving collage of all the best of that Merchant-Ivory realm.

The British always do Irony except when it comes to trying to win an Oscar; there is no I in Hollywood. So, yes, very beautiful, very well filmed - but somehow, horribly contrived. At the core of this is a premise that I don't buy for one pencil-thin-moustached moment, and which is dear to Ian McEwan's heart - namely, how writers lie, and how all fiction is some sort of manipulative game, with characters tossed about like dolls by a spoiled little girl, albeit a little girl with malicious genius. That's a vision of the Muse worthy of Stephen King, but hardly convincing.

It is true, writers must have a sliver of ice, etc. - and they do murder to create, etc. - but the sad-eyed ancient writer at the end of the film stares out with unblinking blue unblinded yet Oedipal eyes - her 21st book her last. Is this meant to be the Ur-novelist, or just one version of the creative process? There are alternate visions of the creative art of writing - Heaney, for one, speaks of redress; no Larkinian religious wounding for him. Perhaps poets are less harmful, in the long run, than fiction writers, who can concoct whole sprawling set pieces for their poor players (in the film, Atonement, the camera whirls around the wartime beach for a bravura five-minutes, as if grasping at Welles for some nous - ironic because in general the WWII scenes seem rushed, as if the budget was running out - hardly a Homeric journey in 20 minutes - or is that showing fear in a handful of dust?). What the little girl with the typewriter did was bad, of course - and, like some writers she both mistook something she saw, and then used it for a better story - but also, hardly representative - or, is this finally about art's ruling class, not its privates?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Deep Woods

James Woods is one of the most highly-esteemed popular literary critics, and reviewers, of the current age. Unlike, however, figures such as Ford Madox Ford (who encouraged Lowell), or, for that matter, Cyril Connolly, he is apparently indifferent to poetry's charms. Woods is a Novel Man. Apparently, his bluntly-titled How Fiction Works (taking the idea of a manual to its instrumental level, one supposes) sides with prose, over poetry. Well, apparently poets write mainly about themselves (and what selves!?) - and are more concerned with style than substance. Their "careless [lyrical] rapture" and interest in "strenuous display of style" are somewhat beyond Wood's pale. Well, okay. But literary criticism hasn't been this stern since Plato, and, surely, elements of style learned from poetry (and its musical aspects) have powerfully enriched the rhythm's of prose, as well as its-less-austere moments. One doesn't have to be Pater to recognise, or love, the poetry in Fitzgerald, Chandler, Greene, Bronte, and many, many others.

More to the point, this prejudice against surface display of style and its flamboyant, ornate pleasures, has been a guiding critical worm burrowing through the books of writers these last few often Puritanical centuries - through Wordsworth on to early Davie, through Winters, and beyond. Adam Kirsch, for example, in reading James Schuyler, seems intent on developing an apologia for how to read The New York School, despite, not because of, their many surface, often-stylistic, delights. However, Woods is mainly wrong on this point for another reason - in poetry, form and content are not easily pried apart (they form a stubborn oyster uneasy to open) - and what often seems a poet's excessive style (in Auden, say, or in Stevens) may be a part of the text's deeper engagement with world and word. Sometimes, style is not just a cigar, but something more, something saying much, about not just poetry, or the poet, but how generously language can spread its ultra-enriched fan.

Submarine In Wales

Joe Dunthorne is a graduate of the fabled UEA Creative Writing MA - the British answer to Iowa. Eyewear featured his poetry a while back - and he is a very promising younger Welsh poet. But Dunthorne is also a novelist. Here, his new book, Submarine, gets a very good review in The Observer. It's been about 60 years since Wales had young male writers so equally adept at both prose and poetry - Owen Sheers recently emerged as a force to be reckoned with in both genres, too.

Singeing Gogarty

The Observer today reports on the vicious cyber-bullying that has been dished out to the son, Max Gogarty, of a Guardian travel writer after he was given a prestigious blog space on that paper's world-famous site, accused of benefiting from nepotism, armed with middle class bona fides (the UK media world is often thought to be rife with such things). What strikes me, immediately, is how odd it is that this young man, and this rather common incident, suddenly receive such attention. Might it in fact be because, indeed, his father is well-connected? His father, after all, has written many travel articles for the paper in question, and the many bloggers who began to ask why they should be excited to follow his son's gap year hols had a point, surely, though some may have pushed it too far. His father is quoted as noting the quintessentially cruel nature of this bullying. Well, actually, no. The British can be cruel - but the online community, in general, is no stranger to snarling, vicious, sarcastic, attacks. Max got off rather lightly, I'd have thought. Eyewear has often received such backhanded compliments - and tends to be mocked over the coals by one Mr. Wheatley, Irish Poet-Critic-At-Large, on a regular basis (no bad thing, really - as Wilde would have assured me). I do think it rather sweet, and also self-reflexive, though, to report on this one incident. It reminds me of the chief reason why mainstream literary types are worried about dipping their toes into this roiling blog-water: the lack of deference - the human voices that swamp, and drown one - the lack of authority, of policing. This can be harmful to learned discourse, indeed - but it can also be creatively unsettling, too - a corrective lens to the worldview that sees only a small minority of lucky characters get to be allowed to have their say.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Soft Is Better Than Hard

A new report from a thinktank in Britain argues that the UK's "post-Christian" and "multicultural" society - supposedly fragmented, without a unifying idea or belief-system - makes the nation a "soft touch" for terrorists and other attackers. Britain is a soft touch - Democracy has a vulnerable belly - and thousands have died in wars to keep it that way.

The alternative - a fortress, in mind and body (and infrastructure) might benefit those in defense or industry whose careers depend on garrison mentalities - but would not be a society that resembled the one that defeated fascism in 1945 - or resisted the darker designs of the Bush doctrine (well, some of them). Simply put, you can't have a free society and not have "fragmentation" in terms of belief. What do the generals behind this report want us to rally behind - some monolithic Orwellian creed? Secular Atheism? Theism? Militarism? Rugged Capitalism? - all of these jostle for space in the current British marketplace of ideas. The UK is still, admirably, one of the freest places on Earth. Soft touch for monomaniacs? Maybe that's because something's being done right. Nothing challenges closed minds more than open spaces.

Poem By Jessy Randall

Eyewear is pleased to welcome Jessy Randall (pictured) this Friday just after Valentine's Day.

Reading her poems online, recently, I was struck by her fresh, witty, whimsical take on eros, and other matters. The poem I've selected below perhaps exemplifies what I think is best in that aspect of her writing.

Randall is a rare books librarian living in Colorado. Her poems have appeared in Asimov's, Drunken Boat, and Painted Bride Quarterly, and she has also written for McSweeney's and Brain, Child. Her poetry is forthcoming at Nthposition. She hopes to publish a second issue of her zine, The Huge Underpants of Gloom, later in 2008.

Her first book of poems, A Day in Boyland, is now available from Ghost Road Press.

The Zone of Loneliness

“He was surrounded by a zone of loneliness” – Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands

This is a palpable lack
one I can feel with my tongue
the emptiness of my mouth, the bed
of my mouth, the recurring metaphors
flying over New York City.

The act of missing you has become love
the way a bathing suit on a hook becomes dry.

In the novel Einstein’s Dreams there is a town
where no one has a memory and so each night
you have sex for the first time with the man
you met one second ago.

I love you like shaking orange juice:
do it longer than I have to
because it feels so good.

In my dream, all the men I’ve ever known
move to my town and see me accidentally
at the grocery store. I look so cool
they wish I was still writing poems for them,
bad poems, love poems, poems that they
fold up and put somewhere, and eventually
throw away, do they throw them away?

You are like chocolate milk for ten cents on Fridays --
predictable, delicious, I drink you with a straw!
You are something to look forward to
all week long drinking only water.

There were five in the bed and the little one said
“I’m crowded...”

I am writing about you under a fake name.
You are the last extra blanket
in my cold, cold life.

I am seaweed in the ocean and all your friends
are picking me off their bodies, not wanting me
to touch them, but you are just
floating there, letting me wrap around you.

Tales of the apocalypse are nothing compared
to the disaster that is us together.

Supposedly we went to Europe, but that is
not to be talked about. Now when I call you in Prague
my own voice echoes back over the phone.

With this one it was fruit sodas at Algiers.
With that one it was Marx Brothers films.
What do I think I will lose if I lose you?

I try to empty the contents of my soul into yours
but you are as insubstantial as a kitchen colander.

In Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla was
the first woman who could take all
of Jondalar into her. She was like
a yeasty crescent roll around him! He was so happy
he let her think she invented everything!

All my valentines are little clouds
that float away in tiny envelopes.
In New York the valentines are snowing down,
but here, in the South, nothing freezes.

Trying not to fall in love
is like trying to be quiet because
the sign says “Warning: Avalanches.”
So I tiptoe quietly on the ice and
try not to sneeze. But guess what?
Avalanches can start for no reason.

In my dream we took the wrong elevator;
the petals stayed closed.
He had only to touch me to bring me to my knees.
But I could not find my keys.

When I’m with you I shoplift orgasms
and place them in your hands.
You lick them up, taste me, you are me,
you are the first man with no holes
for my soul to seep out of,

and now I am in the zone of loneliness.

poem by Jessy Randall

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Decca dence: Morrissey's Greatest Hits

The CD is designed to look like a classic Decca label - the vintage simulacra suggesting vinyl, and perhaps a divine, long-past, moment of glamour for the recording artist. Morrissey's latest album has been greeted with much engaged critique, some of it of note for poetry anthologists, and others who like to think about the problematic nature of canons, and of career trajectories. This Greatest Hits has 15 tracks. As everyone now knows, the majority are from the recent two albums, from 2004 and 2006 - short shrift for the early works (post-Smiths) of 1988 - still, this is a 20-year-span retrospective. The absences trouble critics who (heaven knows why) wanted a seamless linear progression to be portrayed - as if Morrissey was not a provocative artist, but a national economy with a satisfying upward curve. Truth is, he is on the upswing - most of these "hits" are drawn from his late-flowering mid-career. I am thinking, now, of Gene Pitney, another flamboyant, odd, highly-versatile singer-songwriter, who also enjoyed persona, and flirted with a homoerotic (if more subtle) appearance.

Pitney is different from Morrissey in that he disappeared in every uncannily fraught and intense song he wrote and sang (each in a different style) - but they share a professionalism that made each song a crafted separate unit. However, Morrissey is, like Wilde, someone who has nothing to declare but his genius - in fact, not even that, his genius is a given, has nothing to declare but his self-reflection (some of us are in the gutter looking at ourselves). We know what he sees - the dismal truth that death is coming, and that life is sad and lonely - and sometimes filled with violent boys and men. So, not just Gene, but Genet, then. But Pitney, too, because, aging, Morrissey is reconfiguring himself as a master-entertainer, a stage artist, and someone with a back catalogue that is slowly solidifying - becoming as hefty, as considerable, as Elvis Costello's - maybe even Elvis's? For, this is sturdy rock music, isn't it? The music is not central, it is a backdrop, often cheesy - the frontman is very much to the fore. One also needs to recall Leonard Cohen, at this point - another droll, melancholy cabaret singer who never lets the musical fabric be more than standard velvet curtains behind him.

These are, despite what the critics say, his hits. He might have chosen other favoured songs from early albums (several of my favourites are missing, like "Sister I'm A Poet" and "Dagenham Dave") - but they were not Top 20 songs. This is Morrissey's canon, not of "best" songs, but most commercially-successful. It is his bid for something other than critical, or cult, status - for National Treasure status. The curious thing is, he already has that. However, this monument lays out that actuality, and makes it solidly public. As various critics have observed, he has become something hoped-for, but still startling: the only alternative British singer-songwriter of the 1980s to be more popular, respected, and commercially-active now than 20 years before (not even Sting can really claim this). Prince and Madonna have lost some lustre. Morrissey is aging comfortably into lounge lizard mode.

What of the songs? How good is he, really? Eyewear thinks everyone should own this album, or at least these songs. Morrissey is a genius, and a cultural phenomenon, and will be one of the people you'd want to meet in heaven, 100 years from now. The best songs drip with the same acid wit that Larkin had. They are also tedious, dysfunctional, repetitive, and, yes, whingeing. No other popular recording artist has ever managed to project such a powerful sense of voice, one so clearly of a disordered personality - in poetry, Poe did this, maybe Berryman - and, rarely has humour and real existential venom been so mixed. Maybe Larkin is the closest, then.

But Larkin didn't sing his own songs, and wasn't so sexually ambiguous - though both men pretend to keep love's objects at bay - make hay from such efforts. Finally, "there is no such thing in life as normal" - Morrissey's message is bracing, liberating, and has empowered people. The songs rise from the sometime-mediocrity of their melodies (though they are often catchy), to become strange anthems for (yes) doomed youth. Someone - was it me? - said Morrissey was like Sinatra. Well, a Sinatra that wrote his own songs, was not exactly heterosexual, and less-swaggering - but both command their moment, their stage, as forceful undeniable international presences - as total egos in engrossing action. What greater thing can an artist become? Well, objective, Eliot would have said... but he didn't have Wilde on his side.

Love, Poetry

What place does "Love Poetry" have in the 21st century, especially, shall we say, in the romantic quarrels between various suitors for Poetry's austere attentions - the post-avanters, the courteous, the discourteous, the mainstream, the innovative (all mere labels, just words, but with some force, one supposes, for all that)? I tend to want to think about poetry, these days, as something to do with artifice and emotionality - and feel the marriage of these two aspects, or elements, within poetry, is vital, and generates good things. I say emotionality, also, because while I agree with Charles Berstein that multiple (heterodox) styles and even voices within a poetic work can be admirable, it is not the case this invalidates the significance, or use, of the individual "voice" (though its primacy, in a polyphonic composition cannot be guaranteed, of course). Love poetry is usually lyric poetry - emanating from some "megaphone" - be that the idea, or reality, or semblance - of a self. Selves may have voices. But more interestingly, I think, regardless of what theory of self a poet holds to - how does the poetic text "express" (or is it inscribe, or produce?) feeling?

Or display feeling. Operatic, rhetorical, subtle, or repressed. Too much worry goes in to establishing conflict between categories that need not be arrayed against each other (form and craft, versus the eclectic, the open) - a work can be a work of complex, shifting variation, and be formed (that paradox we all know) - for poetry is an artifice. The question, it seems, to me, is, where do poets place love within the artifice? Rough or smooth, the texture of love runs along many types of fingertips and tongues. Auden's "lay your sleeping head, my love" or Bernstein's "once you came to me in a shadow" both appear in works of high artifice - and yet both, potentially, allow for emotionality, for reader, for writer. I say this because there is, in some ways, a contemporary disdain for sentiment in poetry: the cool, the ironic, the rational, the academic - seem all the rage. Poets love poetry or are not poets. I simply wonder, then, what to do with how one wants to feel and form, cerebral maybe, guided by voices, or a poetic. Love is all you need?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Sylvia Plath

One of the greatest American poets of the 20th century died 45 years ago, today, in London. Her work lives on - despite the urge of some diction-cautioning poets to try to curb and cure her baroque and excessive genius. It isn't the case that a poet's style must mirror a placid mind, or keep a governed tongue - for sometimes the internal is wilder than form itself may allow. Perhaps ironically, today was blessedly warm and sunny in London - the polar opposite of February 11, 1963. If Plath sent such poems to London editors today, what would they say?

Casting The First Stone

No one wants to see people stoned in the public squares of England - though everyone does get stoned, to paraphrase one Mr. Dylan. Still, one figure has been drawn and quartered of late - Dr. Williams. It's therefore good to see the clunking fist of GB (Gordon Brown) retracted. The commentariat of London and beyond should be ashamed of themselves - England's famous tolerance for free speech seems to extend only so far - the limit being questioning Secularism's rising tide. This is the week-end, after all, which saw The Guardian distribute free copies of its Darwin booklet, with the drooling praise of Dr. Dawkins. Darwin (himself a religious man, at the end merely agnostic) is a little god now, as the patron saint of British scientism and atheism - as if he killed God with his observations. There's talk of painting a "Sistine Chapel" ceiling for him in some great museum. What I think is worth noting in all of this is what Dr. Williams really said, what really upset the apple cart, had nothing to do with multiculturalism (though that is also a taboo in some circles) but with religion itself. People seem to forget that Dr. Williams is head of a Church - not a debating society, and not a parliament. He actually stands for faith, and for theology. That is, his first principles rest on a belief in God - and also on tolerance. In all the talk of his need to tutor, train, or trim his comments (and the idea he needed better spin doctors) it should be recalled it is those who are already predisposed to deny God, or feel religion is best unheard, and barely seen, who barked first. This is a perpetual dog-whistle issue, in a British society that seeks to deny the reenchantment of the imaginary. The Secular World View (which is the mainstream) is one best-suited to survival-of-the-fittest City banking, global markets, and mass-commodification of what was once the soul, and is now merely a shopping profile. Dr. Williams has been exposed as a man of God - horrors! His crime was to believe in what he was hired to preach.

Guest Review: Mooney On McOrmond

Jacob Arthur Mooney reviews
Primer on the Hereafter
by Steve McOrmond

It is common for poets from McOrmond’s area of the world (Atlantic Canada) to approach nature with a humility so complete it can look like ennui to a distant observer, but for McOrmond, it is rarely that simple. It’s really more of a sense of being comfortable with one’s smallness and with the natural world’s blunt and frequently massive ecology. In Primer on the Hereafter, his second collection of deftly tuned and plainly spoken lyrics, McOrmond wades into the physical world around him and is at his best when not causing too many ripples, instead positioning and repositioning his sensitive lens in an attempt to frame a narrative for his focussed observations. I like to think of it as a book of nature poetry that is not always (or even often) about nature.

What I like best about Primer on the Hereafter is the subtle crisis of self-representation that flares up every time McOrmond busts out a down-homeism to give place-specific weight to the scenes he’s setting in the book. The opening poem talks of crows above a town full of local colour with references to Prince Edward Island geography (Dorchester St) and East Coast slang (pogey). It is followed two poems later by a rebuttal of culture as a use-what-sells marketing tool when he flips a PEI tourism slogan on its head in Come Play on My Island. This tension between reference and marketing, between true memory and simplified nostalgia, haunts all of the Atlantic-facing poems in the collection. When McOrmond hangs the word “authentic” out above the lines that came before and after it in the selection “How authentic:/the old salt at the helm and the boy/untying the bow line” we can feel the bitterness inherent in the word. McOrmond begins to enter into a conversation in these early poems about “quaintness” and all that word does to a culture. It’s essentially a conversation about colonialism, weighted down by everything such conversations bring with them.

Wolsak & Wynn’s publicity for Primer features a quote from the Toronto Star that reads “there’s both small-town genuineness and urban polish in his work.” What’s so hilarious about the quote (among other things) is that the speakers in these poems would be very unlikely to associate genuineness exclusively with the rural environment or polish with the big city. McOrmond spends Primer on the Hereafter mining the detail from his varied environments in the hope of lending them complexity beyond tacky tourism schemes and, it would appear, major Canadian newspapers. Let’s not blame Wolsak & Wynn for this, though. They’re just using what will sell…

For all the lyrical mastery in Primer on the Hereafter, it’s frustrating that the book doesn’t come out of its shell any more than it does. Some of the less memorable pieces in the collection, with their subject matter of old boats and old grudges, sound like a talented composer dutifully playing his scales in preparation for an opus that blips onto the page for a few lines here and there but never fully coalesces. But I can’t issue a full-throated complaint on anything in this book, it’s just too dextrously written to fall into any of the traps that it flirts with.

Case in point, my favourite poem in the whole piece has nothing to do with Prince Edward Island and nothing to do with nature, "Luminous veil" is a very eat-my-shit take on the city of Toronto’s decision to install a protective net under a local viaduct known as a popular retreat for suicide-seekers. McOrmond, always one for the underdog, adopts the voices of the inconvenienced: “Do you hope we’ll slink home/and rethink our lives, find the god of/second chances?”

And there’s more. As McOrmond’s book relaxes into its later sections, we find a poem about Sweden ("Stockholm"), lust among the elderly ("Man in a room full of nudes"), TV ("The little girl in poltergeist") and more. Variety sneaks up on you a bit in this book and it may be because while the location and philosophical bases of the poems start to shift around McOrmond’s voice is a lot less dynamic. I think I’m fine with this, on the whole. It’s a really convincing and often punishingly witty voice, but it’s difficult to stay with a speaker who uses the same tone for one hundred pages without wondering how you’re expected to be affected by all this when he clearly hasn’t changed his mind about things during the few years it took to write the book.

I feel I need to repeat that, all flea-picking aside, this is a hearty and rewarding read. McOrmond won the Atlantic Poetry prize for Primer, and I’ll vouch for the jury’s choice. It’s a well-churned collection; rhythmically satisfying and full of the kind of sharpened memory befitting a poet who wants very much for there to be specific meaning to be gained from his experience and the experiences of those who came before him. Primer on the Hereafter’s most powerful after-effect might be the confidence it leaves in you that Steve McOrmond’s next book will be better than this one, and the one after that will likely be better than them both. Whereas Primer is approaching its second birthday and another collection is (assumedly) being prepared, what better compliment could a reader really issue?

Jacob McArthur Mooney is a 24-year-old Nova Scotia native now living outside Toronto. He is the founder of The Facebook Review and an editor at His first book, The New Layman’s Almanac, is due out in March, 2008 from McClelland & Stewart, Ltd.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Poem by Sally Read

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Sally Read (pictured) this Friday. Her first collection of poems, The Point of Splitting, was published by Bloodaxe Books in March 2005. Her poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals including Crab Orchard Review and the British newspaper The Independent on Sunday. She has also featured on the CD Life Lines (Oxfam, 2006), and BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.

Her work has been translated into Italian, and published in international reviews and the anthology, Gatti come Angeli (Medusa, 2006). Her work has also appeared at Nthposition. In 2001 she was the recipient of an ‘Eric Gregory’, awarded to the most promising poets in Britain under 30. She is currently working on her second collection. I've long considered Read one of the most exciting, talented younger poets writing in English today - something to do with the range and originality of her themes, her unflinching eye, and sensuous ear. Her poems pivot on a stylish edge where American and English style meets.


The room dim behind fly-screens.
Cicadas ratcheting their waves of itch,
scratch, itch. Your face is swollen,
like an un-sprung peony. Asleep

on my arm, it bobs and tinkers
gravity like a bud barely able
to support its neck in a glass jar.
Even in this heat your skin

is smooth. It has a dull light,
and your lashes score your cheeks,
your face so full your eye-lids
belie their sockets. You slide

between my arms, your parted lips
hovering at my breast’s tip.
Dry thrill. Your mouth smacks
and dreams of milk. I think

of the five peonies I kept on my desk
last year and how I yearned
to chuck them when they broke
their rash of swiftly browning secrets.

I couldn’t stand the recklessness;
the deep pink and the fancy layers;
the exhaustion of promise. Blasé
as the neck of a woman out of love.

poem by Sally Read

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Unto Caesar

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the nominal head of the world-wide Anglican communion, of which I am a small part. Tonight, he is under great political and public pressure for comments he recently made, about multicultural tolerance in Britain. I'd ask that those who feel able to do so, might want to pray for him at this challenging moment in his career.

He's a brilliant, informed, and compassionate Christian, and I think he's working through, and thinking about, some highly-complex ideas - his gravest sin might have been in overestimating the media and general public: intelligent discussion is rare these days in the marketplace - too often the polis becomes instantly enraged. It isn't just other cultures, other nations, that are excitable or intolerant - it is also us, the West.

Williams was seeking to reply to that, to try to welcome, within limits, a different vision of things, of law, into the fold. Much more thought needs to done on all sides before snap judgements are made. In the meantime, Prime Minister Brown should have restrained his attack dogs - but sadly, he's been seen as weak and indecisive, so this was an opportunity to be a big fist. Shame he is striking down someone liable to turn the other cheek.

What Is A "Literary" Blog For?

This is my 840th post at Eyewear (give or take, some have gone by the wayside). I confess to being agnostic about blogs - the fact I have one should not be considered a ringing endorsement. I blog, therefore I am in the blogosphere, but where that gets me, or you, or anyone, is another matter. I think that this uncertain (or to be more stylish - say problematic) genre which is a blog leads to errors in reader response - though, how can any reader ever be really wrong about their own reaction? It is my experience that the Internet is not a cool medium. Or do I have that inverted? What I mean is, it evokes strong, near-instant responses. Blogs are emotive. They employ and discharge feeling - in that sense, they are like elements within poetry. But blogs also use (usually) prose, and are informative, and discursive - hence, the rational patina of much blog writing.

Still, the writing may appear calm and cool and collected, but the impression, of a reader, upon finding their name, or book, or other cultural object, mentioned or reviewed, on a blog, is often visceral. One of the problems with a new medium is that no one knows what it is yet. They used to use phones, in Budapest, to deliver the morning news, like radio - every house would be called simultaneously, and someone would read the listeners the news. Blogs are a bit like that too - the messenger and message are still confused.

In other words: the urgent immediacy and in-yer-faceness of the blog format is actually the medium's fault, not the individual blogger's style - yet too often, readers fume and chafe, not against the medium, but the messenger. So it is that, every week, or so, some well-known literary figure, critic, or other "name" appears, to carp about something I have written.

It strikes me as curious, that, in this busy, aggressive British media world, poets and other writers think they have the right to bully bloggers for expressing their own opinion (David Wheatley has been known to blog about my blog, accusing me of whingeing, for instance). If I've put a foot wrong, and said something personally hurtful, I will remove it at once, of course - that's my policy. Unlike critics such as Logan, say, in the States, I never seek to mock or belittle. Gently chide, perhaps, but never mock. I use a blog because, unpublished in the UK in book form, and without a big publishing marketing machine, a fancy education or trumped up prizes to back me up, I have only my own wit and writing to get by on. But, as I have found in these least literary of literary worlds, polite dissent is not brooked in this poetry turf war.

Without Official Puffery there is only panache. But, is that reason enough to waste time, yours and mine, on this hybrid form (confessional, diary, ledger, day-book, review, essay collection, memoirs, etc)? Likely not, but I shall continue to assay it, as best I can.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Barry Morse Has Died

The Guardian obituary fails to mention it, but "British" actor Barry Morse, who has recently died in London, was a naturalised Canadian citizen, from 1953 on, and a key actor (in more ways than one) in the renaissance of Canadian television, film and stage drama of the second half of the 20th century. He was a beloved national Canadian treasure. He was also, of course, a major character in two classic TV shows, The Fugitive (one of the very greatest series), and the retro-kitsch Space 1999. As Eyewear often observes, there's a blind spot where Canada should be in the London Eye.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Flim-Flam World

The BBC radio morning show, Today, broadcast a story (this morning) about Barack Obama's visit to an English town, years ago, for a family wedding, which resulted in him fleeing from a stripper in a pub dressed like (apparently) a posh schoolgirl. He did the right thing.

Not sure why this was reported today, except it's Super Tuesday, and also Shrove Tuesday, and also Pancake Tuesday, and also, dear me, Mardi Gras. Lent is coming. What will you give up? The Republicans look set to set aside Mitt, in favour of John. Hillary still has miles to go before she weeps. I suspect she'll ultimately overcome and take the Democratic nomination, and then JM will be the next President.

Obama wrote poetry (such bloody awful poetry one is tempted to say) and the BBC also had some of that read out too - something about a "flim-flam world" and his grand-father. Reminds me of exactly the sort of poetry Charles Bernstein, in A Poetics, mocks (all poets got grandparents, all poets got memories). Still, Obama is something of a Language Politician.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Top 10 Film Villains

The Observer's new Film Quarterly magazine is chock full of all kinds of candy that's bad for you, but that seeks to sell, deliciously, mainstream industrial cinema (I mean, that Hollywood stuff we love and love to knock, us Art Housed). Okay. And it has a very fun and quite considered Top 10 of Film Villains, selected by their best critic, Philip French. I was very pleased to see Joseph Wiseman's Dr. No (many might have thought Goldfinger the best Bond baddie), Lorre's M, Palance's killer from Shane, Welles in non-cuckoo-clock mode, and Hopkins as pure sociopathic evil. - etc. Some of the great villains were not included, including: Mr. Bates from Psycho; Darth Vader; Malkovich's weird assassin in In The Line of Fire; and Brando's Kurtz (Mister Kurtz, He Bad). Who else? Well, The Jackal in the film of the same name (original version). One pleasant, refined choice: James Mason in North by Northwest (a subtle choice, that).

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Guest Review: Crowther On Maris

Claire Crowther reviews
The Book of Jobs
by Kathryn Maris

I, for one, appreciate the North American presence in the UK poetry scene. I don’t know if it is as pronounced outside London as in the capital, where you can often hear Americans read. This dripfeed of an alternative English has certainly nourished my own work. Indeed, from Eliot and Pound a hundred years ago through Sylvia Plath to our own time with Michael Donaghy, Anne Stevenson and latterly such stimulating arrivals as Carrie Etter, Jane Yeh and Tamar Yoseloff, there’s a tradition that has made a huge impact on British poetry. Even short trips have helped. A fascinating bond developed between American Robert Frost and Welsh-English Edward Thomas during Frost’s stay in Beaconsfield and Gloucestershire before the first world war, allowing both to realise their poetic genius (though it might have contributed to Thomas’ demise as Frost blamed himself for encouraging Thomas to enlist).

New Yorker Kathryn Maris’ established presence in London, as a teacher since 1999 as well as a writer, is perhaps lending some upcoming voices a different edge. Her first collection The Book of Jobs (published in New York by Four Way Books) offers a distinctive American voice. Maris has drawn attention to the chasm between these different worlds. On settling in England, she says: "I started to discover how different the aesthetics are. It’s hard to say exactly how they’re different, but in general I find British poetry more wedded to the Anglo-Saxon tradition than American poetry. The iambic pentameter line is still more prevalent in the UK - it’s almost the norm rather than the exception, or at least it feels that way. And UK poets never seem to get bored of sonnets, and nor do judges of the many poetry competitions that run here."*

However, a "London gloom" that "will out even in June" (p21) is a dominant tone in this collection. Maris’ theme is employment, gainful or otherwise, hence the title (which refers to the book of job listings once used by a university careers office). It is not a narrow theme – how we spend our adult lives defines us and Maris uses jobs to encompass the subjection of the unpaid as well as to pick out faces from the faceless crowd.

One tactic is to observe the interplay of genders, races and ages. For example, the job of artists’ model, which Maris herself has done, allows the poet to explore poetry via the image of the male gaze. Both painters in the poem "Figure Painting" (p29) are male, both models are female. Germaine Greer recently said: "It is a truism of feminist history, that women have been regarded primarily as body, passive, fertile, body… If women artists were ever to engage with anything, they were going to have to engage with body…" (The Guardian 28.00.08 p28)

Greer points out that recent women artists have chosen their own body as subject and asks: "Why does a female artist need to use flesh in the first place?" Greer’s answer is that an artist doesn’t and is risking her own work to do so. I don’t think "Figure Painting" is a failed poem even though the last stanza looks at first like a female submission. In fact, as soon as you’ve read it, the whole poem billows out into the mainstream thrust of this book – that poetry can take control of powerlessness:

My work thrills me:
billowing in someone’s
better vision.

Maris’ technique is to use very simple language, short lines, develop simple stories making simple points. Within that, she carefully constructs a metaphor of mutual dependency which complicates the simple truth that most jobs are boring, low paid or not available. T he syntax of "Figure Painting" emphasises mutual dependency between stanzas and sentence parts by using a lot of colons, semicolons and dashes. There’s also strategic use of enjambment. None of this is so marked as to distract the reader who will hardly notice what’s going on technically. How about:

This is the gestation room: this
studio, maroon in mood, a use-
spattered, sixth-floor dungeon.


for a quietly packed first stanza? Roles are reversed, in that men are giving birth here not women – the two female models sit, waiting for the men to produce. In fact, Maris is quoted as saying that her job as model allowed her time to gestate these poems: "though [modelling] was tiring, I look back on it as a happy time, because it was during those hours of stillness that I began to shape in my mind some of the poems that would later appear in The Book of Jobs."*

There is sexual tension, though, which crackles throughout this collection:

The antique heater sparks
like a three-legged dragon

just feet from Michele and me.


An art class is one among many educational settings. Jobs here are educations – a narrative of learning who you are in the world. There are many education-related terms – "professor", "studied", "educated". The interface between childhood and adulthood is another way of looking at innocence and experience. There’s a hint of Blake, "At the fence of the world" (p19), looking out and in. To guide the reader, there is usually a narrator who skips between self-analysis and observation of other faceless workers.

Hints of folk-fairytale-riddle-ghost story work well with Maris’ bare style and sudden eruptions of modern detail ("My dress is Belgian deconstructionist’" p5) add to the pace. She does wry wit well and I smiled often – as in:

There was no clue
as to the contents of his toolbox


Or more self-consciously in "Language, I Have Wanted", a poem in which the narrator comes to terms with a desire for language and its reluctance to allow her full play:

at times I still want more from you,
or less. But I will stop wanting, if you stop

showing me up, exposing me as wanting


Maris has said (perhaps self-deprecatingly) that her use of simple language is to avoid boring the reader: "I like my poems to be spare because I have an unshakeable paranoia that I’m boring, so I compensate by avoiding wordiness. But at the same time the poems are powered (I hope) by a degree of wit, and probably some eccentricity too. “Work Horse” is a particularly spare poem, because it’s a cruel poem, the cruelest poem I’ve ever written. So it’s direct, barbed and terse."*

Cruelty is inescapable in this collection, not just in "Work Horse". There are blows, stalkings, burdens, imprisonment, ruin, sadness, even children sold for love. Unsurprisingly, these poems expound over and over the idea that the inside and outside of people, things, states of mind are either shells needing to be filled or emptiness asking for enclosure – either way "wanting".

On one level, this may reflect the poet's experience as a long-term visitor to another culture. I once spent the best part of a year in California and know how a much-welcomed visitor can be lost beneath their culture tags. English was suddenly all I was. You can become needy even while taking in the new.

Many current collections deal with the nature of writing poetry and this one does so in terms of the central theme of emptiness. This may have a psychotherapeutic cast – as in her dealing with transference, the replicating of a childhood relationship in an adult one. The short poem "Transference" uses the verb "fill" twice and relates filling to language: "I call them bodies. (I’ve filled them with a name.)"

"Hansel in the Cage" uses a well known fairytale to express the paradox of apparent freedom being in fact containment : ‘Hunger: our ruin./Our bodies: our ruins.’ (p8)

Images of full and empty states alternate through the book. Though the title refers to jobs as in employment, even the job-centred poems can seem simply metaphors for the cage and its contents. Uninhabited planet, an entered bed, the locked door, the burgled room – metaphors of stripping and replenishment abound. And technically, the spare, the cold and the bare words, stanzas and shapes on the page, are never allowed flesh, warmth or decoration.

Unlike Germaine Greer, I prefer to look beyond the subject matter of a woman artist’s body to professional virtuosity in the piece itself, and in the relationship between collected pieces. A play of structure against meaning makes a powerful and satisfying set of artworks, in poetry at least.

* quotes from A Conversation with Kathryn Maris by Jason B. Jones, December 2007, posted on, accessed on January 30th 2008

Claire Crowther's poetry has been selected for several anthologies; current examples are We are Twenty People (Enitharmon Spring 2007) and Only Connect (Cinnamon Press 2007). Her first collection Stretch of Closures (Shearsman Press) was published in January 2007.

Winter Tennis Gets Read

The Globe and Mail, Canada's leading national newspaper, reviews my 2007 collection, Winter Tennis, today, in its Saturday edition, along with other poets of interest.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Woman, Interrupted

Has there ever been a sadder story? Yes, maybe, but not since Frances Farmer has a talented, much-loved, and world-famous female celebrity lost their mind, so in public. As if Foucault's interest in madness and sexuality had fused in one form, then burnt out, Spears, a performer of stunning effect, is simply human, and in danger. Now, the media needs to go far away from this. No crowds. Let this person heal.

Poem by Alison Brackenbury

Eyewear is very glad to feature Alison Brackenbury (pictured) today. Brackenbury was born in 1953 in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and went to the village school at Willoughton and then to Brigg High School. She studied for an English degree at St Hugh's College, Oxford.

Brackenbury has worked as a librarian in a technical college (1976-83), then as a part-time accounts and clerical assistant (1985-1989) and, since 1990 has worked in the family metal finishing business - a poet in a boiler suit.

She is married, with one daughter, and lives in Gloucestershire. Internet-savvy, she's one of the Poetry School's online tutors; and has a blog. Her latest collection, drawing on work from two acclaimed BBC radio features, is Singing in the Dark, published this month by Carcanet, from which the poem below is drawn. I've been reading this new book, and it is impressive, very English, lyrical, often based in Nature, or sentiment, and reminiscent of some of the best British poetry written between 1900-1930, while keping a contemporary diction.


Through, in, over, out.
Who else troubles about

Such little words? Sail past,
You solid nouns, the blast

Of verbs drives you to sea.
Adjectives glide, still lovely.

But icebergs glare and face.
Why hack at frozen space

Unless I come to you,
Over, out and through?

poem by Alison Brackenbury
from Singing in the Dark, Carcanet, 2008

On the value of reading during a global pandemic

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