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Showing posts from January, 2010

JD Salinger and the Teen Dream

Two men with an interest in younger women seemingly created the teen dream - the teenage imaginary - in the Eisenhower Era - Nabokov and Salinger . Lolita became the young one as agent and provocative force of energy, and Holden Caulfield became us all. The death of Salinger is an airless chamber; he'd been dead to us since 1965, more or less. Or, perhaps, alive forever since 1951, when his immortal Catcher In The Rye was first published. It had an immense and immediate effect on my youthful sense as writer and reader when my Aunt Bev gave it to me in the late 70s. Many of my early poems are Salingeresque - and I continue to argue for the legitimate expression of the adolescent sublime in mature creative work. It is an irony of fate, or merely a coincidence, that the day of his death I was listening to the new and brilliant Beach House album, Teen Dream . It is Dream Pop via Mazzy Star , true, but Bowie -like, stately, weird, haunting, sexy and nearly as great as Siamese Dream

The rise of the pamphlet

Arguably, tall-lighthouse started it (and their Helen Mort pamphlet is a PBS choice now). In Britain, the last few years have seen the irresistible rise of the poetry pamphlet (chapbooks). Oystercatcher , the recent winner of the Marks Prize, is a prime example of such a superior press - one that publishes vital and needed poets, often sidelined by an establishment view that is partially obstructed. And, more recently, Faber's poets series is introducing, with mentoring, exceptional young poets, too. What does this all mean? Poets now often plan for, and publish, their first works in this smaller, often tighter and more compactly vital form, before expanding to a first "full" collection. More poets get the chance to stretch their legs, and reach readers, critics, and family. Perhaps aided by the Internet decade just passed, there is nonetheless something pleasingly physical and often DIY and down to earth about these brief books. No wonder the Guardian is offeri

The Limits of Power

Obama , as we know, could not stop the earthquake in Haiti (and even God didn't); humans can only do their best to help in the painful aftermath. In Britain, the DEC are doing a great job, and Oxfam is a part of that. Meanwhile, Obama is plunging in the polls - unable to answer the prayers of the left-leaning and the radical who raised him up merely a year ago. Never has the real in real politik seemed so disappointing. There are calls for more radicalism, or more centrism. Obama claims he would rather be a one-term wonder than a mediocre longer-lasting Prez. Yet that remains to be seen. A one term presidency that bequeathed the world Palin or Brown or both would be a disaster. But Obama is not to blame, alone. The American voters are more fickle than ice cream in the Alabama sun. The shameless desertion in the Kennedy backyard was bad. The general willingness to disregard the perils of global warming, and become petrified of universal health care, is far worse - the

A Scattering collects prize

Good news. Christopher Reid's A Scattering , which recently won the Costa poetry prize, has now won the overall Costa, vanquishing prose and non-fiction, and joining the ranks of the Heaney and Hughes collections that also won the equivalent award. Reid is a major British poet, and is a deserving winner.

Rufo Keeps Nth Poetry Going

Just a note to remind readers of Eyewear that Rufo Quintavalle , the superb Paris-based poet, has been the associate poetry editor of Nthposition this year and last while I am away completing my PhD research and recovering from my illness. He's done a stellar job. Do submit and keep reading.

Been Reading

Been reading Lachlan Mackinnon's new Faber collection, Small Hours . A very fine long prose sequence in the second half, which is reminiscent of Life Studies Lowell , but with a very English spin. Stephen Morrissey's Girouard Avenue from Coracle press also has something of the memoir to it, this time of Montreal - moving, serious poetry by a Canadian poet worth getting to know. Also, been enjoying Cure for a Crooked Smile , by Chris Kinsey , from Ragged Raven. Kinsey is always a surprising and sensitive poet, and she was a BBC Wildlife Poet of the year recently. She writes particularly well about the animal kingdom. Yeshiva Boys , by David Lehman , is superb - third (or is that fourth?) generation New York School poetry, that twists and turns linguistically, with verve and style - creating a slightly more humane kind of Bernsteinesque Language Poetry - but just as formally and humorously attuned. Lehman will be reading for Oxfam in the London series, March 1st, with

Guest Review: Smith On France

Barbara Smith reviews Occupation by Angela France Occupation is one of those words with many applications. In the case of Angela France’s new collection, from Ragged Raven Poetry, it can stand for the different named occupations explored in poems through various voices: the bookbinder, the mortician, the florist and the office worker. But it can also stand for those whose life’s work is a calling, a pursuit: the violinist, the witch and the shapeshifter’s wife. The other meaning that is explored less overtly, is that of the occupied – the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed – in poems which explore the idea of the invisible woman, the older woman; the life’s repository of knowledge, and even beauty, that older people have and which our culture chooses to ignore. This strand is subtler, but nevertheless extant for the reader to divine, through the use of vibrant language and sonic devices that make poems ring across their meaning. Indeed it is this rich use of langua

Jean Simmons Has Died

Sad news. One of Eyewear's favourite actresses has died - Jean Simmons . She was in classics like Olivier' s Hamlet and Black Narcissus ; and then again in blockbusters like Spartacus, but I love her performance as the lovestruck doomed evangelist in the under-rated masterpiece, Elmer Gantry . Later on, she found new work and respect in the major TV event of the time, The Thornbirds , for which she won an Emmy.

PK Page has died

Sad news. Canada's greatest living English-language poet, PK Page , died last week, January 14th. She has yet to receive a proper obituary notice in the British press.

Gross Nets Prize

Eyewear salutes Philip Gross , for winning the latest TS Eliot Prize (worth £15,000) for poetry, for his collection The Water Table , from Bloodaxe - the publisher whose Jen Hadfield also won last year. The Eliots is becoming exciting, since dark horses and underdogs are seemingly now as likely to win as poets with names like Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney . This instability of critical consensus is a good thing for UK poetry, and it is refreshing for a fine serious and dedicated poet like Gross to win.

Guest Review: Naomi on Rich

Katrina Naomi reviews A Human Eye - Essays on Art in Society 1997-2008 by Adrienne Rich Adrienne Rich’s essays over the last decade are wide-ranging in scope and inclusive in nature. They are clever, yet accessible. A Human Eye contains 13 essays, which broadly cover the politics of gay and lesbian poetry; modern Iraqi poetry (and who does and doesn’t gets translated); Jewishness; Adrienne Rich’s poetic imagination; essays on Muriel Rukeyser; James Baldwin; Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg and Che Guevara; June Jordan; James Scully; LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka); and on the correspondence between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. Apart from the essay on Marx, Luxemburg and Guevara, which added little to what I would imagine most politically-aware people would know, this is an inspiring collection of essays. I particularly enjoyed her discussion of James Baldwin ‘The Baldwin Stamp’, partly because I’ve long been a fan of his prose and partly because Rich shows new ways of considering his work.

Pandora's Box Office

Reviewing Avatar is like opining on sunshine. At a certain point, sheer global approval makes a critique willful, redundant and even silly. Actually, Eyewear saw the 3D spectacle with his six eyes (doubled specs) and enjoyed the retro feel. The future is 3D we are told because it foils pirates. It also makes cinema feel like an event again. The Leicester Square audience applauded after the screening. Of the plot, it is the nothing new. A bit of Pocahontas , Dances with Wolves, Braveheart and The New World , The Mission , along with Aliens and Matrix . Still, it is great to see Giovanni Ribisi put to good use finally after Boiler Room . The animation and effects are state of the art. One felt one was in the 70s poster art world. I found it a thrilling if predictable ride and was moved by the attempt to redress the evils of Western imperialism and anti-Gaiaism through this fantasy. If only film changed the past! James Cameron has begun to look more visionary than Spielberg . With the t

You Are Here: Poetry As Theatre

Colette Bryce, Daljit Nagra and Jo Shapcott , write emotional, complex, funny and engaging poems. Publishers, readers and prize judges alike love them. You Are Here is a new poetry show which brings the poets together on stage for a beautifully designed performance which asks Who are you? Where are you and where are you going? Poems pose the questions and whisper the answers. You Are Here is produced by Jaybird , the live literature production, promotion and management enterprise run by Julia Bird . (Julia also works part time for the Poetry School and recently published her own first collection of poetry). She says ‘I have worked as a poetry promoter for years, but I also have a love of theatrical sparkle and spectacle. When I produce live literature shows like You Are Here (and Tilting the Mirror with Jean Sprackland and Greta Stoddart previously) I am trying to find a way to introduce the pleasures and provocations of contemporary poetry to a theatre or arts centre audience.

A Certain Violent Tendency

The recent statement made by Tarantino in London that violence is what the cinema is for and about, will not surprise either his detractors or fans, though it is a sad aesthetic limitation; I suspect it is a red rag to a bull or red herring: QT's work is as verbal and musical as it is visual. Indeed, if he ever makes a non-violent film (well) he can rest on his laurels. I find it intriguing that two of the best American films of the year are violent Westerns by other names - Basterds by QT and The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow . QT's film is a contrast to the Iraq bomb disposal film in almost every way: one is comedic, falsifies history, and flamboyantly cinematic; the other is tragic, attempts to be cinema verite, and uses documentary style - but both are about bands of wild (and less wild) American soldiers fighting on the margins of the acceptable. The Hurt Locker is one of my favourite films in a long time, mainly for how its main character mushrooms from villain to en

Hand + Star

Tom Chivers - poet and unstoppable force for poetic good in the UK - has started up a new magazine - literary and for the digital age, called Hand + Star . It is already looking to be one of the places readers wanting to keep up with the increasingly exciting New Decade of British Poetry will turn.

Guest Review: Phillips on Robinson

Tom Phillips on Spirits of the Stair by Peter Robinson Having published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, translated Italian poets Vittorio Sereni and Luciano Erba, amongst others, and written a quartet of critical works, Peter Robinson’s Spirits of the Stair brings together more than 700 of his aphorisms: short, often sharp observations, remarks, ruminations, musings, notebook jottings, insights, witticisms and jokes. This isn’t the first time he’s travelled into this territory. As well as two sets of prose-poems, the 2004 collection Untitled Deeds (Salt) included a sequence of 354 aphorisms – all of which are included here – and further samples have subsequently appeared in both The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006) and Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists (2007). For some of his readers, it seems, this apparently sudden diversion into sound bite-size prose has been something of a surprise. Robinson’s poetry, after all, has long been associated with mapping co

Vampire weakened?

Contra , the second album from Vampire Weekend , hardly needs a blasting or a blessing from Eyewear ; in a time of vampires, their counterintuitive blend of Graceland era world music and preppieish pop is top fang. They're now seriously big in a fresh indie way that The Strokes could not sustain. I recall their debut as an utterly beautiful spring of new joy. It was also arch and subtextually ironic. Contra continues the buried lyric references to military history (especially failed rebellions), and architecture, while keeping the songs mainly surface-level about love and privileged youth (as in the song "Diplomat's son"). Musically, the ten clean songs here are, if anything, an improvement- better produced, more complex and a teensy bit more varied. Still, the band's leitmotif is rich uniformity- the cover design of their new album is almost identical to their last- so the songs are almost identically upbeat and as fun as first time out. The image of contradict

Older Magic

Rumours or news that Geoffrey Hill might become Oxford Professor of Poetry have Eyewear thrilled. Hill represents a more serious tradition than that espoused by the current laureate; and one loftier, more sublime and rhetorically nuanced. Hill is the finest living poet writing in the Miltonic line. He would bring much to the post.

A Scattering

Hats off to poet Christoper Reid for his recently-announced win of a Costa prize for best poetry collection of the year. A Scattering is a powerful elegiac book, comparable to the work of Hardy and Douglas Dunn , who also wrote of the remembered loss of their wives. It is good- in a year that has seen a newer generation seemingly seize the reigns in the UK poetry firmament- to see an elder statesman of poetry, whose work came into prominence in the 70s and 80s as a so-called Martian- get a look in.

Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine

Eyewear congratulates Professor Don Paterson , Scotland's leading male poet, on his youthful win of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. He must be one of the youngest winners - it's an honour often reserved for elder poets. The poet put forward must have the laureate's blessing, and Scotland's leading female poet, Carol Ann Duffy , clearly felt an affinity. Besides the Scottish, Picador and generational links, Duffy and Paterson were key mainstream poets of the 90s and 00s who saw off the threat of Heaney and Muldoon and created a new populist vernacular style. Paterson, who doesn't - judging by his editorial and critical writings - much like the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Prynne , or amateur and anti-war poets, is as admired in the UK as he is controversial. Is he the new king of the cats or prince in waiting? Surely, his North American reputation is set to grow. I predict he will win the Nobel Prize for literature before 2020.


The decade which has just passed was - arguably - the best and worst of my life. I went from being 33 to 43, a screenwriter with a hundred hours of produced TV to a teacher, and from health to sickness. Along the way, I lived in Budapest, Paris and finally London - all extraordinary cities where I made many friends, and had wonderful experiences. I was married to the love of my life, Sara , and still am. My father died, horribly, of brain cancer. Many other relatives died too: beloved uncles, an aunt, and my maternal grandfather. I became an uncle myself, when Alex was born. Good friends died also, such as Richard and Robert . This decade, I returned to university and received an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. I became a poetry tutor and university lecturer, first at London Met, then Birkbeck, then Kingston University. I recovered from a car accident (one arm could not move for a year). I became associated via Martin Penny with Oxfam as their poet in residence. And poetry - th