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Showing posts from March, 2008

Review: Vampire Weekend

Pop isn't poetry - but sometimes it is almost better. Music composed and performed by (usually) young people in their teens and 20s, exuberantly dedicated to the zest of the moment, expressed in contemporary style and diction - well, that can be great fun, can lift the spirits, like a spring day that's actually hot. Sure, it melts on its own ephemeral going, to be Frostian; its slim grasp of tradition can make its magpie veerings as infuriating as thrilling. But when a band gets it right, well, it feels blissful, it feels sweet to be alive. It feels "like young". Vampire Weekend , measured in such terms (and why shouldn't criticism also be about joyful reception?) is one of the greatest first records of all time. Okay, until next week. But this week, in London, listening to these 11 songs of pure pop perfection, I feel like Larkin Hearing The Beatles in '63 - this sounds fresh, smart, and totally alive to its own wonky intentions. First, let's admit that V

Poetry Is A Way Of Life

I teach creative writing, and believe firmly (unlike some such teachers) that many aspects of writing can be taught - especially the forms and conventions that poets need to know (of) in order to master their craft. However, today, a tutorial got me to thinking. The student said they "didn't want to be a poet, just learn how to write poetry". Well and good - modest, even, you might think. And, in England, it is common for serious, published poets to say (at least in print interviews) they don't call themselves poets. Still, I prefer my priests ordained, and my surgeons to be professional. More to the point: poetry is a calling, a vocation, a way of life. It is possible (it might even be a good thing) to quickly train "non-poets" to learn to recognise, and compose in, a variety of traditional forms (The Sonnet, for example). What is harder to teach is "the vision thing". I don't believe poets need to have a prophetic message - but they should ha

Poem by Mark Yakich

Eyewear , poised on the brink of British Summer Time, is pleased to welcome Mark Yakich (pictured). Yakich has worked in the European Parliament and has degrees in political science, West European studies, and poetry - always a promising mix. He is the author of Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross (National Poetry Series, Penguin 2004) and The Making of Collateral Beauty (Snowbound Chapbook Award, Tupelo 2006). His latest collection, The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine , was released this week by Penguin, so it seemed like a particularly apt moment to feature his writing. Mark lives in New Orleans. Ecclesiastes, reduced to The telescope ascends And I am buried here in the middle Of some damn book the observatory At the top of the hill contains Its bubble of certainty I look up And feel like a weed a wind slips through My hair and I don’t feel it but I know It’s there and there’s no Need anymore To believe in the stars poem by Mark Yakich

Guest Review: Wilkinson on Smith and Johnston

Ben Wilkinson reviews Kairos by Barbara Smith & The Oracle Room by Fred Johnston In recent years, perhaps unsurprisingly, many new Irish and northern Irish poets have started to emerge: Colette Bryce, Nick Laird, Leontia Flynn, Alan Gillis, Justin Quinn, Caitriona O'Reilly , and Kevin Higgins, to name but a few prominent examples. The next generation, then, seem naturally intent on setting about developing from and upon the work of their much lauded precursors, including such luminous talents at Derek Mahon, Ciaran Carson, Tom Paulin, Paul Muldoon , and of course, Seamus Heaney . But for a new poet, is such a rich heritage both a blessing and a curse? For while on the one hand it may be encouraging to have such a stock of successful work, predecessors and able contemporaries to draw upon, on the other, does it not make the challenge of claiming a poetic terrain and originality of one's own all the more difficult? Kairos , Barbara Smith's first full collection, is a

Dublin Arid Port (For Poetry)

When one arrives at Dublin airport, one is (rightly) met by poetry - lines of Heaney 's. It seems fitting, somehow, to be so welcomed to Ireland - a land that tends to be thought of as particularly welcoming to poets. However, as one leaves Ireland, by way of its Dublin airport, a different vision is presented (a sort of back of the hand slap to any poetry lovers): resident booksellers, Hughes & Hughes, that famous chain, has a flagship bookshop at the airport, that currently has a (new) policy, of SELLING NO POETRY BOOKS. Nada. None. Zip. I searched, today, high and low, among the Aherns, Kings, the Lees, the Orwells, the Ludlums, the Reichs, the candybars, and the books on leadership and macroeconomics and war, the lads mags, the chicklit, the still water, and in all that vast space, there was Irish Fiction, but no Irish Poetry. That's more than odd. It is borderline idiotic. No, strike that. It is idiotic. The thousands who fly home to America, to England, to wherever, w

Lilburn and Mooney Get Reviewed

My review of two Canadian poets worth reading, Tim Lilburn , and Jacob McArthur Mooney , was published recently in The Globe and Mail , here .

Frankenstein Politics

There's been much derision, and some serious debate, in the UK, recently, surrounding the possibility that Catholic MPs might be "required" to vote against a three-line whip. It bears repeating that a politician ought to be a human being with a (moral) conscience, as well as a spin machine - and, if so, that conscience may (though not should ) be guided by religious conviction. In England, a basically Godless society ruled by Big Business and Big Science (those happy, pragmatic twins birthed by Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Adam Smith ), with Big Media a distant popular third, religious belief is usually synonymous with irrational lunacy. Actually, a respect for the Gods is an ancient, and wise, position. As The Enchiridion says, "As to piety toward The Gods you must know that this is the chief thing, to have right opinions about them, to think they exist, and that they administer the All well and justly". It is possible to follow one's religious faith and a

Little Criminals

Congratulations to Montreal writer Heather O'Neill for being shortlisted for the Orange Prize, for her brilliant novel. O'Neill is also a poet (a collection was published with small, vibrant Montreal press DC Books) and used to perform her work at the poetry cabarets I ran in the mid-90s. Is this one of the books that Lily Allen championed?

Going to HAL

It's been a bad few days for those who love British cinema. Arthur C. Clarke has died. Among other things, he co-wrote the screenplay (and the book) with Stanley Kubrick , of the most significant science fiction film of the 20th century (including Star Wars ): 2001: A Space Odyssey , still considered by most critics to be one of the ten best films ever made (see the 2002 Sight & Sound poll). It is surely one of the slowest moving, and hardest to easily comprehend. It was first shown almost forty years ago (in April 1968), having been filmed in England (Kubrick loathed flying). Often considered visionary for its concerns, the film's key scenes are those in which the intelligent, speaking computer HAL disintegrates vocally and intellectually during a tense cat-and-mouse game between man and machine; Canadian actor Douglas Rain provided the computer's unforgettably unsettling voice. Clarke himself was a professional visionary, as well as being somewhat controversial, fo

Anthony Minghella Has Died

Sad and shocking news - one of Britain's leading film directors, Oscar-winning Anthony Minghella - has died suddenly at the age of 54. Minghella's best work was arguably in the 90s, and in The English Patient he managed to create a film of enduring exoticism and romance to rival the epics of David Lean . His Talented Mr. Ripley was icy and glamorous, and is still so ambiguous and unsettling it has yet to be fully measured and appreciated; it provided an early launch pad for Jude Law (who was never better than in this movie), and showcased Venice wonderfully. This is a tragic loss for Western cinema - it was expected, and hoped, that at some point the writer-director would create yet another masterpiece. As it is, we have a few very fine films from the man.

Guest Review: Smith On Pugh and Williamson

Barbara Smith reviews Relinquish by Meryl Pugh & Prussia Cove by Patrick Williamson What is poetry? If you are involved in the business of poetry you will be asked time and again to define it. Lately, the best effort at defining poetry I have seen is in The Enthusiast Field Guide to Poetry : "an arrangement of words containing possibilities." That definition is loose enough to permit that each of us has a bearing in the perception of poetry’s capacities, but tight enough to allow that poetry is qualities of language in a special amalgam that separates it from its cousin, prose. With that quotation as guidance, I look for possibilities in poetry that aren’t static like pinned butterflies in a Victorian lepidopterist’s cabinet tray. Poems should point towards something that the reader equally works towards gleaning, as well as demonstrating the sureness of craft. Two poetry pamphlets received recently, I think, demonstrate two poets approaching that point in their career

Poem On St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day! In honour of the occasion, Eyewear invited Galway-based Irish poet Kevin Higgins (pictured) to provide a poem for this poetry-inclined blog. He did, and it is below. Quality of Life after Charles Simic Today Polish waiters bring us more soup than we’re able for. But I was happier then. When I asked for soup I’d get a bowl with nothing in it. We’d sit there for years, our heads full of smiley, Irish thoughts, gazing into our bowls with nothing in them. Each night we’d sing our anthem “For these bowls with nothing in them, may we be truly grateful”, and mean every word. Saying ‘Thank you’ was big. We spent our whole lives doing it. Not like now.

Nix This In China

China has a problem that the world needs to help it solve. Or rather, call it a dilemma. They want two things presently, and in terms of cake, and eating it, it won't wash: on the one hand, they want to present a smooth-running impressive Olympic Games. On the other, they want to violently crush all (even peaceful) protest, including in Tibet . This isn't a matter of Western values being imposed - the Dalai Lama has spoken out about this latest spate of killing, and he is hardly a Western liberal, though he is friends with some. Instead, this is matter of some concern, for a great nation, with an immense history, and a genius for slow but gradual improvement. China needs to speed up its openness to free expression, and slow down its automatic hand that punishes whatever threatens its perceived best interests. Otherwise, the Tibetan crisis could easily derail its Olympics. The Nazi Olympics in Berlin, which was a horrific travesty, had some dissent in the shape of great African

Poem by L.K Holt

Eyewear is very glad to welcome L.K. Holt (pictured) this Friday. Holt is one of the more impressive of the younger poets to emerge from Australia recently. Holt lives in Melbourne where she was born in 1982. Her childhood and growing up were mainly spent in Adelaide. She is a graduate in History from the University of Melbourne. Holt's collection, Stories of Bird , was published in 2005 as part of a Poets Union (NSW) Emerging Writers' Fellowship. Her "Self-Portrait with Red Bird" won the 2005 Woorilla Prize. Her poems can be found in journals such softblow, N thposition, Meanjin , Verandah , Poetrix and My Perfect Diary. Her latest collection, Man Wolf Man , from John Leonard Press , was published in 2007. The Ontological Whore The witch stole three penises at the Devil’s order: she kept them in a bird-nest and like babies they squirmed for her. That morning she pissed on the Book in her Sunday best then told a neighbour that her consecrated wafer was baked god. Sh

What do British contemporary poets believe?

As an aside to my last post, let me pose a simple, yet essential, question: what do leading British contemporary poets believe? How often in recent years, and days, have leading poetic figures stepped forward to pronounce on the value of craft, and the tradition. Well and good: but as T.S. Eliot (whose name these leading poets invoke when they accept his prize) argued, poetry is not enough, culture is not enough, finally, without the addition of some belief, some values, at its core. These constant calls for "craft" assume that most British poets are somehow sloppy open form amateurs - nothing could be less so - indeed, the average published British poet currently displays more sense of form and craft per square inch than at any other time in English history - not even The Georgians, or The Victorians, were such masters of the sonnet. Nor is there much free verse these days - the majority of English poets refer to some form of syllabic line, at least. As for Tradition - ever

Frances Leviston and the Magnificent Seven

North American poetry cannot imagine how conservative and traditional most mainstream English poets are - though perhaps this makes sense, given the fact that the English poetic tradition is both long and unusually impressive, solid grounding on which to stake commonsense claims. To try to get a sense of how stolid most poetic thinking in the UK is now, read the opinion piece in today's Guardian by UK poet Frances Leviston , a new Picador poet, whose work is affiliated with that of Don Paterson, Sean O'Brien , and others of that serious group. It is worth noting (and I think, for instance, a poet-critic like Ron Silliman wouldn't bother) that the above-mentioned are good, intelligent poets, who know a lot about verse, and craft. Some of their work is very fine, and contributes to a genuine line of English poetry, that extends from Thomas Hardy , through Ted Hughes down to the present. Since there has never really been post-modern poetry in Britain (they had pop music ins

Reversal of Fortune

Eliot Spitzer's sudden downfall (one almost unparallelled in modern American history) raises issues no thinking person should avoid. On the one hand, he appears the classic Tartuffe - hypocritically representing exactly that which he secretly despises, even undermines - bourgeois law and morality - on the other, perhaps a deeply, sadly flawed human being, struggling with desires most humans are familiar with. It is both symbolically perfect, and exceptionally sensational that the lawman who broke high-class sex rings used them himself - but it is hardly, on reflection, either peculiar, or even extraordinarily wicked. Eyewear feels Spitzer was right to resign because of his lack of judgement (surely such vices are not compatible with his occupation) - but not because of any moral lapse. That is for him, his family, and his faith to work out, out of the public eye. In the meantime, is Western society placing too much pressure on the lawman , the public official, indeed, each of the

The Big Seven

Speaking of "the canon" and modern poetry - The Guardian is publishing seven pamphlet inserts this week, starting today. They've selected seven poets: Sassoon, Eliot, Auden, Larkin, Plath, Hughes and Heaney . Now, the first thing to say is, this is a good group - almost all would make most people's top 10 or 20 list of significant poets from 1908-2008. Clearly, the emphasis is on British poetry, and also on the second half of the twentieth century (just). What is worth noting (though Eyewear in principle supports the mass distribution of poetry to newspaper readers at all times) is that this is completely a list taken from Faber and Faber's stable of poets. Now, they also publish Frost, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens , in the UK, so Faber's top ten would still have been very admirable. And one might have added Lowell, Moore, Berryman and even Thomas Hardy , and they'd have been Faber, too. Ditto for W.S. Graham . Yeats seems curiously missing here

Guest Review: McLoughlin On Sato

Nigel McLoughlin reviews Badlands by Aleah Sato Aleah Sato's (pictured) debut collection pulsates with all-pervasive darkness and the uncanny. The book itself is divided into two parts: Girls Vanishing and Illumine and at 53 poems it reads as a lot more substantial than it looks – largely due to the wide page format holding two columns of poetry per page in many cases. The reader is never allowed to settle in this collection: the viewpoint changes from character to character, poem to poem, and it builds up to a compendium of female voices, each of whom speak to us of some dark element that paternalistic society demands they repress. There is a razor-like edginess to much of the poetry in this book. There is a sense of the unheimlich in the poems, because the characters are the dark sides of wives and mothers, subverting the whole notion of home-making and the homely, and which unsettle the reader with their honesty. There is a wide spread of character tackled: Eve, witches, mot

1,500,000 Fans Can't Be Wrong

There is a scene in Control which must be the funniest moment in a movie about a suicidal epileptic nihlistic musician. His manager comments to his depressive friend, "at least you're not the lead singer of The Fall". Ron Silliman can always take comfort in not being part of "Official Verse Culture", though as his famous blog wittily (?) observes, his cohort, Language poet Charles Bernstein seems to have been ushered into that frame recently. Silliman's Blog recently reached the "over a million burgers served" moment refered to in the title of this post. That's good for poetry, and good for the blogosphere. Bravo.

Sean O'Brien Is Right

Eyewear sometimes questions the serious masters of contemporary British poetry because they care about poetry as do I, and so some poetic and aesthetic differences emerge. But make no mistake, reader - any and all poets seriously committed to poetry are, ultimately, allies, no matter how challenging this might feel, or seem. Allies against societal indifference to the poetic. Too often, poetic coteries, schools, and clubs wrestle among themselves, without looking up at the audience (to see there is no audience). Poets are bloodied sad gladiators in a vacated arena. So, thumbs up for Sean O'Brien , who, in today's Guardian , argues for a poetic canon , and for poetry to be regarded as important in the 21st century - not despite its challenges, but because of them. I could quibble with aspects of this article (and in future, might) - for instance, I feel much more could be done to encourage younger writers and readers by trying harder to incorporate their experiences of music, im

Interview With The Poet

As Eyewear has said often, the Internet is the place where younger poets and poetry readers tend to flock. I have an interview just up at Pomegranate , a new, exciting UK literary site that skews to the poets of the future.

Poem by Camellia Stafford

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Camellia Stafford (pictured) to its pages this Friday. She is one of the younger London poets now emerging who is worth reading and attending to. Stafford was born in Warwickshire. She studied English Literature and Language at King's College London, and has an MA in Art History from the world-famous Courtauld Institute of Art. She received a commendation in New Writing Ventures 2006. Her poetry has appeared online at Limelight . She has published a collection with Tall-Lighthouse, in the pilot series overseen by Roddy Lumsden , Another pretty colour, another break for air . As befits a poet who has studied the visual, her work is sensuous, peppered with images, and enriched with colour. I look forward to her next collection. Before a mirror, I kneel to tend my face Cache of gloss and brushes, gel and cake, my make-up bag, ritually unzipped reveals silver encasements. Each bares use marks, fingerprints of peachy foundation stippled with tinct dusts

Faber Rebooted

Stephen Page , publisher and chief Executive of Faber and Faber, has begun to see the digital light - or at least, some of its glow. While his brief article in The Guardian is hardly evangelical, it does seem to represent a conversion, for mainstream British publishing, away from a model that ignores social networking on the Internet, to one which seeks to grab hold of that platform, and haul bricks and mortar publishing, paper and all, into the 21st century. Eyewear has been arguing, in these unpapered but lettered pages, for just such a decision, for some time now, and welcomes Page's moves, to an extent. However, if one reads closely, one will see that what is being proposed is not precisely an e-celebration. Rather, Faber is proposing to basically do what Salt Publishing already does - the "build it and they will come" approach, where a site offers cool things, around the books for sale (podcasts, and so on). This is not new; nor is the print-on-demand idea - many o

March Poems Now Online At Nthposition

Rock on the orange meditation mat by Melissa Buckheit Rack & ruin by Stan Rogal The lock-up by Elizabeth Kirschner When, Mud, March ending & Passing by Alison Brackenbury Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair, Equestrian & The cape by Sarah Sloat Ghazal 607 by Monica Mody by Norman Jope Chyort by David Musgrave Much & Rocks by Rufo Quintavalle System of belief (2) by Ethan Gilsdorf Are we nearly there yet? & House by Aoife Mannix

Gary Gygax Has Died

It is rare to be the creator of a new genre. Dungeons & Dragons was co-created by one Gary Gygax - and it was part-game, part-fantasy novel (or series of novels), and part, frankly, ambitiously-imagined (if sometimes derivative) alternate world. His work was hugely influential - often despised as (especially before video games took over as enemy number one) the instigator of teenage murder, suicide or derangement; or at least, nerdy alienation - and then again loved by millions. D & D clearly proved the worth of the fantasy market, and is as responsible as Tolkien for its continued popularity, in later film and book incarnations (including Rowling ). Anyone who has had a Palladin or Elf confront a many-eyed gelatinous monster in a dank corridor will know the thrill (and perplexing complexity) of those many-sided dice, those well-thumbed books. He will be missed, his game will live on.

The London Magazine and Canadian Poets

The London Magazine was not properly supported by the Arts Council recently, which was a shame, given its storied past, and impressive cultural credentials. Fortunately, an intrepid band has gathered to keep it going. I have edited a special and very brief feature on the rising generation of 21st century Canadian poets, dubbed Minus 50 , for its latest incarnation (the December 2007/January 2008 issue), which will be celebrated at The Troubadour next Monday, March 10. There are about 30-40 Canadian poets born since 1960 or so that are worth reading, and a larger anthology would try to represent more of them (such as Carmine Starnino, Ray Hsu, Joe Denham, Lisa Pasold, David O'Meara, Louise Bak , etc.) but the nine I selected, in this instance, were Elizabeth Bachinsky, George Murray, Steven Heighton, Stephanie Bolster, Jason Camlot, David McGimpsey, Mike Kavanagh, Sina Queyras and John Stiles ; I felt this various and transcontinental clutch of talented, lively poets showcases the

Hedda Gabler

The work of German director Thomas Ostermeier has long been on the radar of Eyewear - no other European theatre company seems so au courant , and yet thrillingly-engaged with the classical, as his. Hedda Gabler (seen at the Barbican last night, and reviewed in rather lukewarm fashion for instance here by the British press) was simply a pleasure, for 120 minutes or so. The production highlights the way that film can be looped back to bleed mood and texture to theatre, and generate a hyper-real, if cinematic, event. Gabbler, as superbly played by Ms. Schüttler , is a sly, restless, bored boyish coquette with great legs, stylish sailor outfit, and a deranged sense of being and nothingness. Ibsen , the master builder who created her in 1890 (that is, 118 years ago) must be credited with outdoing Freud , let alone Film Noir (thus, out-Tarantinoing Tarantino ), in conceiving of the Ur-femme fatale. Girl Plays With Guns, Girl Points Gun At Man, Girl Gives Gun To Man, Girl Blows Her Brains