Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ted and the National

Congratulations to Alice Oswald, for winning the first ever Ted Hughes award. Meanwhile, the UK National Poetry competition has Helen Dunmore, the novelist/poetas its first place winner. Good to see Cherry Smyth, Jane Yeh, Jon Stone and Sam Riviere - to name a few - among the commended. Now I really must go take my spring break as promised ....

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Lesser of Three Evils

The British election campaign has begun, more or less - and the voting is likely to held on May 6. Eyewear declares its support, without much fanfare, for The Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg. Labour under Gordon Brown was faltering, indecisive, weak when not surly or arrogant, and, on Iraq, the Gurkhas, and MPs for hire, unimpressive. Eyewear does not support the cuts in taxation advocated by Osborne and the Tories, and suspects that beneath the Morrissey-loving exterior facade of father-to-be normalcy, David Cameron is still a bit of a retrograde toff, a Thatcher-Lite. If enough voters support the Lib Dems - who opposed the Iraq War, and, with Vince Cable, foresaw the banking crisis - then Britain might finally get what it so badly needs - a viable third party. A hung parliament would be good for these people, and for uz.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Brinton On Prynne

Ian Brinton writes on Prynne in the latest Salt Magazine.

Petty Gossip?

I am on the road to Rome, but have paused to check my location against the sun. At the moment it seems High Noon in Vatican City, where the Pope - on the ropes - stares unblinking out at a secular world that doesn't seem to get his POV. What the current Pope calls "petty gossip" is, to the world at large, a rather serious moral and criminal fault - indecision or even cover-up regarding child sex abuse cases, on a horrific, even epic, institutional level. The world has unfairly equated the Church uniquely with perversion, when, in fact, all organisations, and walks of life, conceal such predators - but the Church does bear especial responsibility for veiling its culpability behind a uniquely (once strong) moral position, quickly eroding, perhaps gone forever.

The Rock on which the Church is built has been battered by a sea of allegations. The Pope, it seems, is in danger of a Marie Antoinette moment (let them eat cake). By thinking the crowds want crumbs, when in fact they bay for blood, things could get Barabbas-bad. It may be the Pope (by all accounts a good if seriously doctrinal man) didn't himself engage in cover-up. In which case he should have no problem doing more to reassure his flock and the wider wolves beyond. Otherwise, his Golgotha may loom sooner than expected. Which would be a shame. Good man Jesus deserves better from his kingdom on Earth.

Stead As He Goes

Eyewear would like to congratulate New Zealand's great CK Stead, major 20th century poet-critic, for his post-stroke win in his 77th year of the Sunday Times Short Story Competition.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

British Summer Time!

What a week. Champagne at the Ritz for Britain's top poets. Now the daffodils are out, the sun is beaming, and the clocks spring forward. It is officially British Summer Time! Break out the barbecues! Don the wetsuits, swim the ice-cold seas, and prepare for Andy Murray to lose in the finals of Wimbledon, after Gordon Brown loses in May. Better still, who can wait to line their hamster cages with all those Summer Reading Lists, compiled by the friends-of-writers? Of course, it isn't all grim - with all the rain will come rainbows. And the grass will grow greenly, pleasantly. And the sand castles will be knocked down only to be rebuilt. Soon, back to school, leaves falling, and snow on the line, grinding Christmas shoppers to a halt. 2011, and a new Eliot winner. The cycle of life!

Amazon Is Amazing

There has been a recent hullabaloo in Canada as big-name mostly Toronto-based authors like Margaret Atwood protest the idea of Amazon - the world's leading Internet provider of books etc. - into the Canadian market. Canadian cultural protectionism (CanCon) has done some good, and some harm, over the years. Before it existed, my father's records went up against The Beatles and Elvis in the battle of the bands, and lost. With such protection, third-raters like Caucasian Chalk Circle had their moment in the sun.

The Canadian Government admirably subsidises many small Canadian publishers. This means many Canadian poets and writers get published in their homeland. I realise that the lack of many international book-selling chains in Canada means the country has an enviable number of small local independent book-sellers. However, from my perspective as a small press writer, Amazon has done far more good than harm for me, and my peers. After all, most poets sell most of their books online, to friends, fans, family, students, colleagues, and so on. Since no bookshop could or would stock every lesser-known writer and certainly not the thousands of extant slim volumes of verse in the world, who else but a place like Amazon can afford to house our works? It is true that Amazon does not run or organise local readings. But libraries and other venues can and could do that, aside from small bookshops.

And usually, their events sell far fewer copies of our books than we might care to imagine. Canada needs to be robust and open to outside influences. It is time to accept that Canadian culture is not fragile, and would only grow and mature in direct struggle and dialogue with larging competing claims.

Pullman Punches

Philip Pullman is having a good time. His new book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is out, and of course, launching it bang up against Easter, the holiest week of the year for Christians, he is getting good press - which means sales. There's something tacky about that marketing stunt, like when Antichrist was launched on DVD at Christmas, which is not heroically atheist, but just capitalist-secular-shabby. Pullman, of course, is getting credit for shooting sacred cows (or fish) in a barrel.

Surely, every theology student, and every teenager, has whimsically speculated on the possibility of a dark side to Jesus - a theme explored in The Last Temptation of Christ, for instance, to good effect. Nor is the idea that the Church wickedly betrayed the Jesus message new either - Dostoevsky made it the cornerstone of the Brothers Karamazov, one of the greatest of 19th century novels.

Only in the UK in the 21st century does it not seem anachronistic to have a donnish God-is-dead Lite message heralded as the bees knees of Zarathustrian wisdom. I am sure this is a good book, but Pullman's stance is a little dull. Further, his comfort zone is so big (he is after all a member of a privileged educated elite in a rich Western nation) he risks almost nothing for his stance - unlike my hero, author of Christology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who paid for his life at the hands of the Nazis, for bravely defending the right to pray to a living god.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Killing Kane

Is there a more contradictory play than 4.48 Pyschosis by Sarah Kane? Firstly, the text isn't shaped remotely like a play - but infamously, like a poem (and sometimes curiously-placed numbers) without characters, or any other description - no clues for set or action. Secondly, the text's consciousness seems not to be suffering from psychosis at all (that is, schizoid or psychotic breakdown) but despair or depression.

Thirdly, the play ends on a positive note ("please open the curtains") but is usually played as a descent into darkness, not dawn (which temporally it is); it is always, of course, darkest before the dawn. And no "play" is darker - it seems to build over the edge defined by Plath, extending the tropes of Holocaust, to child sex abuse and the killing fields, by way of Foucault-like observations on the sinister implications of doctors and mental patients. Kane's own suicide confirmed her, at the start of the new millennium, as either over-the-top hoax, or genius of a new age.

In Europe especially, she set a new direction for theatres and directors in Germany, Poland, and beyond. Kane speaks their bleak, post-Adorno language. Eyewear saw the latest version at the Barbican, last night, brought over from Poland. Directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna, a wunderkind of sorts, Kane's last play is re-imagined, ten years after its debut, as a Lynchian dialogue of inner-selves, via the playwright's own lifestory.

This means the more dislocated aspects of the text are normalised into figures that are recognisable as little girl, old woman, sexy lesbian lover, and skinny bored boyfriend, as well as father-figure and doctor-figure. As such, there are three female and three male characters to interact with the Kane-character. This being Eastern European theatre, within ten minutes, two women are masturbating each other in half-peeled jeans, and by the end of the play, sixty minutes later, breasts are bared and smeared in blood. This, then, is Kane by way of Polanski. The set by Małgorzata Szczęśniak and lighting by Felice Ross are brilliantly cinematic - the lighting at times dance-club sexy, or lavatory alienating, green and remote, at times, as low as it gets, until we barely see Kane's character vanish.

The acting is uniformly intense, and the edits to the text - while perhaps a brutal scalpel - trim the more teenage poetic moments, and leave the sparer, Eliotan poetry intact. Kane was a bit pretentious (the Biblical allusions sound like gongs) but at times her humour is as grim as Pinter's. She was the punk next stage after Beckett, an inevitable "in-yer-face" voice, and it is razor-blade refreshing to hear her corrosively bleak rage deployed so imaginatively. Kane is dead. Long live Kane.

When Oscar Met Arthur

Yesterday a plaque went up in my old neighbourhood, Marylebone, at the Langham Hotel, commemorating a most unusual gathering held on August 30, 1889. Joseph Marshall Stoddart, the publisher, introduced two younger writers to each other, who had never before met, and asked them both to create work for his Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. Wilde went away and wrote Dorian Gray, and Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes with the story 'The Sign of Four'. Easily a contender for most interesting literary lunch of all time.

Ai Has Died

Sad news. Ai, the American poet with the striking name, died a week ago, on March 20, of pneumonia brought on by advanced cancer. One of my most-prized poetry gifts is the copy of Ai's Vice that Nicole Blackman gave me, about half a decade back. Her strength was the uncompromising dramatic monologue. She was a major poet, and will be missed.

Hill Top?

Just saw this at Carrie Etter's blog. Good to see Hill in the running.

Brighton Up

I read at one of the best poetry venues I've ever seen, on Thursday - Brighton's Redroaster Coffehouse. The audience was great too. The only challenge in the high-ceilinged old-fashioned coffehouse is that readers/performers face a wall-sized mirror that only the prettiest and most vain of poets will adore when trying to focus on their work and audience. But, once past that distraction, it's a must-go-to space for anyone heading that way. Sadly, Daniel Kane was ill, but happily he was replaced by British-Canadian poet Naomi Foyle, who read brilliantly from her pamphlet, Canada (Echo Room Press, £3). Her poem about the Toronto poet "Jones" (anyone recall him?) was hilarious. And finally, I was able to hear Carrie Etter read from her latest work. She was sensual, witty, and moving, in equal measure - she's a real fusion poet (able to balance the needs of the page and the stage) - and also a hybrid poet (merging the lyric and the experimental). She has a great poetry voice, one of the best. Her poems about 9/11 and her son were particularly striking. The night was co-hosted by Les Robinson, poet and publisher-editor of Tall-Lighthouse, and it's always good to see him.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


This is the 1,600th post at Eyewear. In the year 1600, the anthologist Allott published Englands Parnassus; or, The Choysest Flowers of our Moderne Poets, with their Poeticall Comparisons. And Sumo wrestling began. Let's hope this blog gets to 2,000. Or at least its 5th anniversary!

Guest Review: Brinton On Swift

If it weren't for the fact it is almost my birthday - or that mirrors and doubles and water-gazing figure prominently in my new collection (which speaks to, almost as an ironic retort, my New and Selected from the previous year) - I might not have succumbed to this narcissistic temptation - really an honour. Ian Brinton, Prynne expert, scholar and critic - has sent in a delightful gift - an unasked-for piece of writing on my new book. I post it to share the gift with you.

Ian Brinton on
Mainstream Love Hotel

The heraldic statement concerning objects which William Carlos Williams included in Book I of Paterson, published in 1946, came from an early piece of his written in 1927:

Before the grass is out the people are out
and bare twigs still whip the wind—
when there is nothing, in the pause between
snow and grass in the parks and at the street ends
—Say it, no ideas but in things—

In these lines there is, of course, more than just ‘things’. There is a sense of time as winter ends without spring having begun and the newness of hope that takes people outside is juxtaposed with ‘bare twigs’ and ‘whip’: time for the first public movements, caught in the pause between one world and another, leading to social mingling in parks and at street ends.

The cinematic quality of Todd Swift’s poetry combines a similar sense of objects caught in their movement: light and time held in a balancing act:

no one else but a girl
on the bicycle

turning out of dark
from the corner

the second time
she cycles the block

a thin spoke of light
is broken alongside—

a rushing—
as of great distances

This poem is titled ‘At twilight’, a name which itself catches the shift from one moment to another, both morning and evening, and opens with such clarity as the bare scene of the page is host to ‘a girl’ whose position at the line’s end ensures a small enough break in the breath to allow, ‘on the bicycle’, a sense of photographic framing. But this photograph is no still as the present participle opens the third line to bring her from one light to another, round the corner and into our vision. The clicking movement of her wheel spokes sounds for us with ‘second’, ‘cycles’, ‘block’ and ‘broken’ before the emotional resonance of the experience confronts us with both proximity and distance. The echo of Carlos Williams brings, of course, to mind the amount that depends upon ‘a red wheel/barrow’, that 1923 ‘mobile-like arrangement’ (Wallace Stevens) which Hugh Kenner suggested had words that ‘dangle in equidependency, attracting the attention, isolating it, so that the sentence in which they are arrayed comes to seem like a suspension system.’

Swift’s eye for the particular goes beyond the world of description to capture ‘the bright aspect of recollection’ where

Shelved, small events
keep their status
and know their place
in the hierarchy.
(‘Too many and too often’)

The world of the particular is the world of linguistic differentiation, ‘this’ not ‘that’, ‘these’ not ‘those’, a sense of proximity rather than distance, a sense of bringing the catch home and relishing the value of ‘These days’:

These are the days
not other days
these are the days I was
working towards
as other further weeks,
working for days
that now I see have come in,
fish from the street

sold fresh, the man
in his whites, ringing to bring
fish just off the boats

As if to eschew any association with the quick inspired flash of poetry Swift’s ideas are matured and they are worked out over time with a full awareness that the present moment is an accumulation of what has taken place before: the HERE & NOW can only have any importance because of its debt to the THEN:

days that were in the sea
not so long ago
not brought home to me,
I’d thought to have my work
done by now, to have reached

the goals set out long ago,
I won’t get there now
no need to, here, see
what was earned, not owed,

Time and again Todd Swift grounds his language and ideas in the personal and there is a convincing quality to its domestic reference that avoids the prurient by appealing to the universal:

these days of you and me—
more than pensions, savings,
toil, long hours, ever bring—
days beginning with us in bed

and ending with us asleep—
between is the time worked
on, to make, and keep
no other days
no other ways
these are them, here,
in the basket, glinting like coins,
fish fresh and shining from the sea.

The musical movement forward in these lines, replete with repetition announcing and restating the value of the moment, allows us to settle for the satisfaction of glinting coins being superseded by the transient freshness of that last line. Charles Olson wrote his own poem titled ‘These Days’ (10th January 1950) and sent it to Carlos Williams a couple of days later:

whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them

And the dirt

Just to make clear
where they come from

Time and again throughout mainstream love hotel Todd Swift leaves the roots on and we can watch and value the accumulation of a life where things take on new values.

by Ian Brinton

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Nations Of Nothing But Poetry

As Philip Hobsbaum writes in the Preface to Tradition and Experiment in English Poetry - tradition being the "native" English (sic) tradition starting with Piers Plowman - and experiment - well, as he puts it: "The mistake, as I see it, has been to imitate, from time to time the style, as well as the subject-matter, of foreign modes; and this is what, in the book, is termed 'experiment'. He goes on to mention how this foreign mistake, this experimental element, has unspooled, through the invidious works of Chaucer, the "Italianising tendencies of Spenser" - Milton, Tennyson, Housman - and then again Imagism - with damage done by Pound and Eliot too. Written in Scotland, in the 70s, this book is about as reactionary, anti-modernist, and invaluable a guide to the current "British and Irish" mainstream ascendancies poetics, as one could ask for.

Against foreign, American, and experimental styles and themes and language, is put the ideal Tradition: "earthy, alliterative, colloquial, with a strong regard for structure and the claims of plot." This narrative, spoken-voice lyricism, against baroque, or modernist or latinate syntax and diction, was at work when Douglas Dunn savaged Hart Crane in a review. It informs the poetics of Heaney and his line.

Poetry makes decisions; or demands that poets make decisions despite their best wishes - because poetry is action, and action always demands character and values react and therefore expose their lineaments, their core. The reason poets tussle, and worse, is because things are at stake - decisions, positions, beliefs. Whole ways of living (and breathing, since poetry is breathing and living most intensely). Eyewear looks forward to a new book which looks at great Scottish modernists, and others who created a synthetic vernacular style, breaking the us-or-them tug of modernist-anti-modernist that has bedevilled some in these complex isles for too long. Nations Of Nothing But Poetry, as a title, reminds us that the only country, the only tradition, is poetry itself. And that poetry speaks a singularly multiple tongue.

Perfumed Cannibals

My review of Luke Kennard and Frederick Seidel's collections is now online, having been published and posted by Poetry London.

Younger Poets at the Rialto

Good news. Poet, editor and critic Nathan Hamilton, of Eggbox, is editing a special feature for the excellent and respected UK magazine, Rialto. He has a deadline of March 31st, and welcomes poems from poets under the age of 35, from Britain and beyond. Go for it.

Monday, 22 March 2010


Poetry London Spring 2010 No. 65 - among many other interesting things - includes a review of the Oxfam DVD Asking A Shadow To Dance, directed by Jennifer Oey, produced by Martin Penny, with 35 poets selected by yours truly. The reviewer, TS Eliot-prize winner, Philip Gross, says, "the project does good service both to Oxfam and to poetry." Also reviewed is my debut British collection, Mainstream Love Hotel, from tall-lighthouse (2009). Julia Bird, Salt poet and good egg, argues that "Swift's poems become truly spirited and involving" when the experimental and lyric fuse, and spots the "verbal refractions" that either "illuminate or merely dazzle" and notes the "skilled and deliberate" formal structuring of the collection. She singles out the poem 'Green Girl in Vermont' for being "endlessly re-readable". Read it for yourself.

Poem Focus: Great Poems From Identity Parade #03

The third poem in this series of contemporary "British and Irish" classics is by Galway-based poet Kevin Higgins. Higgins can be said to have introduced a paradigm shift in Irish poetry around the turn of the century - away from, on the one hand, Joycean avant-gardism, and, on the other, Heanyesque sincerity. Instead, Higgins returns Irish writing to its third policeman, Satire. Not the po-mo irony of Muldoon, mind you - not the bitter loam of Kavanagh - not the high tone of Yeats - but as down-and-dirty Swift as it gets, with the additional blade-in-the-apple of Aubade-era Larkin. Higgins has turned Galway into a Higginsland - the new Boom-and-Bust Ireland of power lunches, Polish waitresses, and sudden economic collapse - and turned his caustic eye on the country as a whole. With a dash of performance hubris, he is that rare thing - a crowd pleaser with the mirror turned on the audience.

'The Couple Upstairs' is one of Higgins's gentler, more Larkinesque poems, but it captures his midway style between humour and lyricism. It features a nameless couple upstairs (who may or may not include Higgins) and an unnamed widow below, armed only with her stick "suddenly frantic against the ceiling" as sex happens, or a poetry book drops to the floor, ruining an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. Higgins here uses his original trope of contextualising the Irish-banal with historic events ludicrously outsized, so that the "chair/ you've sat in since Jimmy Carter" places her decades past her due date. The poem finally ends with a bit of lightning that Thomas might have forked.

New Gold Dream

President Obama has achieved the near-impossible - bringing sensible (and humane) health care to most Americans. A knife-edge and teeth-chattering down-to-the-wire House vote saw the Democrats just managing to do the right thing. Like in a wrestling match, the Republicans wore the ludicrous villain's mask and threw their bluster around like cheap seats. November may either see the good or bad guys thrown out like bums. For now, Obama has secured his place in history for a second time, and redeemed his first term. It's been 50 years coming, but this was worth the wait.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Orange is not the only fruitcake

Oddly, the head judge of the forthcoming Orange Prize, Daisy Goodwin, has claimed that too many books by women involve sexual abuse, rape, and Asian twins. Instead, she would like more humour. Her complaint is that books seem dark, and focus on depressing issues. Where is the light stuff? The dumbing down of British culture continues apace. Where novels, such as Hard Times, or Middlemarch (to name one by a woman), once dealt with the struggle and hardship of human existence, now it appears, contemporary novelists who actually explore themes and concerns that are of relevance to actual women (alas, these include incest, abuse, rape, as well as twins) are in danger of boring readers like Goodwin. Perhaps the problem is such prizes themselves. Asking anyone to read 120 or more novels over a limited period is a marathon a day sort of madness. Instead of savouring, one begins to look for ways out of the tedium. So - a good laff. Ironically, whereas British novels are apparently ever-less-funny, more and more poetry is light etc. Maybe the judges of prose should come back to poetry. And leave the darkness to the big girls and boys.

Goldberg Variations

Arguably the most visually-complex and witty real-time pop music video of all time, "This Too Shall Pass" by OK Go is must-watch YouTube viewing. Meanwhile, Americans and friends of America, must surely hope that Obama's health care package shall pass, today, too. If not, a lot more than paint will be spillled. There will be blood and tears, for decades, as well.

Vortex Sucks In Creative Writing Students

Vortex is a magazine of student work from the University of Winchester which also accepts submissions from other universities. You can email Neil McCaw at neil dot mccaw at winchester dot ac dot uk with your queries or electronic submissions. Deadline is March 31, 2010.

Citizens Kane and Etter

I am reading this coming Thursday in Brighton, with American citizens slash British-based poets, Carrie Etter and Daniel Kane, who are on the avant-garde edge of things. A tall-lighthouse gig. Hope to see you there, for a start time of 8 pm, at Redroaster Coffee House, 1d St James's Street, Brighton. Never been to Brighton before, despite being a big fan of Greene's novel.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Spring Cummings In

To my mind - and many poetry lovers - Spring means ee cummings and his disturbing-delightful poem of piracies, puddles, and the goatfooted balloonman. Here's a version - the least eccentric of the amateur versions I've located online. My mother used to read this to me when I was very young, and I can't help but admit it contributed mightily to my poetry urge.

In St. Lambert, where I grew up, the Spring Equinox meant ice breaking up on the great St. Lawrence seaway, and very dramatic floods as foot-high snowbanks melted, as giant icicles plummeted, deadly as daggers, and the sunsets were a brilliant blue-into-vermilion-into-black. The air was so fresh and clean, and I'd run with my huskey dog, Rascal, and write poems in my head. This equinox is equally moving to me.

It's been just over half a year since I entered the worst of my private darkness, and I feel a coming out into light, out of the mind's inner-winter. Hope springs eternal. Sometimes, it actually arrives, on time.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Alex Chilton Has Died

Sad news. Singer-songwriter (and sometimes unsung genius) Alex Chilton has died, at the age of 59. I first heard the name when it was used as the title of a famous song by 80s cult band The Replacements - one of the most ecstatic and erratic rock songs of all time.

Chilton happened to be a part of several extraordinary musical moments - first in The Box Tops, a 60s band, where he sounded implausibly old and determined and haunted in the huge hit 'The Letter' (whose 1 minute and 53 seconds tell an eternal story of longing - is it a coincidence that The Replacements take those numbers, 1.53, and make their song, 'Alex Chilton', run for precisely 3.15?).

Next, he created some of the finest power pop, in the 70s, with Big Star - the band that famously inspired REM and The Replacements (not least in their song personas as fragile, sensitive, and romantic loners). Finally, in his third incarnation, as simply Alex Chilton, he continued to create his own brand of jittery, dizzy, ultra-cool outsider indie rock. Rock and roll is here to stay - Chilton is a big part of why.

Featured Poet: Abi Curtis

Eyewear has been featuring poets here since 2005, almost since the blog began. The poets eligible for inclusion have been, well - everyone. I've featured famous poets, lesser-known, emerging, young, old, new, and, of course, mid-career, poets. Poets working across a broad digital age spectrum (fusion/hybrid?) - from performance, to lyric, to more experimental. Poets from all over the world, from many different countries. The only thing was that they had to work with the English-language poetic tradition - which, as an internationalist - I believe constitutes one greater poetic nation - and be alive and resident on planet Earth. Perhaps that's why my second anthology was called Poetry Nation.

I am very pleased to welcome Dr. Abi Curtis as the 160th poet to be featured at the site. Curtis (pictured above) lectures in creative writing at The University of Sussex, Brighton, where she also completed a PhD on psychoanalysis and literature in 2007. She writes poetry and fiction. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2004, and was one of the winners of Salt's Crashaw Prize in 2008. Her recent book, Unexpected Weather, is currently being read for future review here at Eyewear. The very fine poem below is from that book.

Tyndall’s Flame

I am a stranger in town gathering with a crowd
in the lecture hall. The benches give and creak
like bones. A smell of smoke, cologne and clay.

He takes the stage with a Bunsen-burner
and draws from it the tallest flame, brimming
blue, flecked with greens and browns

like the inside of an eye. I watch.
A flame is a tulip; it bows and whispers.
Tyndall speaks to us and lets us wonder.

He’ll show the nervousness of flames:
Their sensitivities and starts and foibles.
A flame is a person; a friend, your family.

A flame is a lip. A bud. My nightmare.
I watch. A woman in the front row knits.
Fire catches in her irises like knots.

He’ll demonstrate enigmatic resonance
to each of us. To all. The blaze roars
like a human enraged.

Tyndall sings his fire-tune.
It prisms, flourishes and turns.
It looks to be in pain and trying

to escape. I don’t feel well or right.
A flame is a picture. An orange-rind.
A flame is a quick thought of red.

A flame is a tear of lace. The cliff-edge.
He laughs, face altered as a broken egg.
Fire pulses in exact time to the beat of a watch.

Each click and shift from the audience
hurts my skin. Something runs over my body
as if a man could turn tuning-fork.

I zing.
I quiver.
Rare as a letter.
Sore as flame over droplets of water.

Don’t make a sound.

But he leaves the room and whistles
from a closed apartment three stories away
and the flame twists on its plinth.

A flame is deep pain in the faces around me.
I shall jig over the rooftops until I’m out of air.
To think: I only came in here to escape the rain.

poem by Abi Curtis


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Thursday, 18 March 2010

Poem Focus: Great Poems from Identity Parade #02

Daljit Nagra's poem 'Look We Have Coming to Dover!' is arguably the single most important poem of this younger generation in the past decade. The poem won him many accolades and awards, and led to his being the first "British Asian" poet in decades to be published by a major press like Faber. Furthermore, few poems had been able, up until this one, to bring into their sphere of influence theories of hybridity, cosmopolitanism, post-colonialism and canonicity, with so much wit and flamboyance of linguistic play. It was as if Muldoon and Edward Said had collaborated on a work.

The poem itself is in five stanzas, of five lines each, and each stanza presents a visual "steps" form - so that the first line is followed by the next, which is slightly longer, until each of the final lines is rather elongated. The longest lines are fifteen syllables long, more or less. The rhyme scheme is subtle, if there at all. What is immediately noteworthy is the eccentric, visceral diction - part-Heaney, of course - but also partly Nagra's own: "gobfuls of surf", "vexing their blarnies", "Blair'd in the cash". This colourful language has been described as comparable to Dylan Thomas's surreal (and presumably uncontrolled) use of words, but that doesn't seem right. Instead, the inventiveness is closer to that of the Martian, though, again, more violent in its energy - almost an Elizabethan energy. In fact, there is a lot of Shakespeare (especially the comedy) in Nagra.

Of course, the poem is most famous as a send-up, or textual revision, of Arnold's 'Dover Beach' - if only insofar as this poem inverts the relationship the text has to the white cliffs of Dover, famous for welcoming immigrants, and symbolising England's promise. Here, Nagra envisions immigration as an act of slowly encroaching otherness, becoming, finally, open enough to toast their "babbling lingoes" in the clear - as England itself is changed. No longer do ignorant armies clash at night, but richly-differing cultures mesh by day.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Mineral C

Here's a list, partially courtesy of Wikipedia - that excellent source of always accurate data - of ten famous Canadian-born people, who "made it" in the UK. There are apparently 69,000 Canadian-born people currently residing in Britain. Oh, and Ricky Gervais has a Canadian father! The Office, eh? has less of a ring to it. Admittedly, it's a bit weak as a power list, but it does include several millionaires, pop stars, tennis pros, poets, and a prime minister.

1. Baron Beaverbrook

2. Nicole and Natalie Appleton

3. Conrad Black

4. Owen Hargreaves

5. Lionel Blair

6. Hans Snook

7. Andrew Bonar Law

8. Ian Iqbal Rashid

9. David Wevill

10. Greg Rusedski

Eyewear welcomes other names to add to the list.

Poem Focus: Great Poems from Identity Parade #01

In the interests of encouraging readers to check out and buy Identity Parade - the most significant anthology in the UK of its kind for a decade - I will from time time be mentioning particular poems, by particular poets that are both memorable, good poems - and possibly even "great". In my now infamous (and curiously reviled) review of the anthology, I said I thought this book did not include more than a dozen major poems of the lightning-strike variety - by which I meant poems as good and immediately authoritative as, for example, 'Prufrock', 'In Praise of Limestone', or 'Lady Lazarus' - poems with the intelligent command of tradition, and insightful originality of 'Church Going' or poems from Wintering Out. But it does have at least twelve of those, - any generation that does is fortunate - and I will mention them here.

Such a poem is Alice Oswald's nature poem, 'woods etc.' The poem opens memorably - "footfall, which is a means so steady" and then works through sixteen lines and four stanzas, avoiding most punctuation and ending on the extraordinary final three lines:

in my throat the little mercury line
that regulates my speech began to fall
rapidly the endless length of my spine

as the poetic speaker is moved into a dark area of the woods, away from the rustling of language and woodsound, and "your voice" - until, entirely alone, they locate an utter zero of the self, where the body and silence enter a chilling (if profound) zone of otherness. It is a breathtaking poem - at once clear, simple, and yet deep - a sort of modern updating or fusion of Frost and Dickinson.

Memories of Montreal St Patrick's Days

Montreal - with its lively Irish-Quebec traditions - always had huge St Patrick's Day parades. My parents would take me as a kid, and I recall the many red-faced men waving from their rather ordinary flat-bed trucks, touched with a strand of green something. The highlight for me was always the horses, and the horse-s--t, and the musical marchers stepping with the luck of the Irish down the littered streets. It was usually bitterly cold - sometimes zero or below. After the parade my mother would want an Irish coffee, and we'd go and have something green to drink - as I got older, coloured beer. My father, Irish-Canadian (his Mom from Belfast) would sing us Bing Crosby songs from the album Shamrocks and Shillelaghs. Who threw the overalls in Mrs Murphy's chowder...

Winter was breaking, the town was festive, - it always seemed like a good omen for the rest of the year. As I got older, Winter Carnival debates would sometimes fall around that time. Debaters from across the world would gather at McGill for tournaments - I won top speaker at several of these in my late teens, early twenties. My best memory of the period was when I was 21, and read poetry at McGill, for my English girlfriend of the time, a Ms. Smith. It was a good reading with bands and other poets, in the student union.

22 years ago, I can still barely recall the thrill of having written a new poem for someone I loved, still fresh with discovery of poems and language. 22 years later, I no longer drink - and poems come less readily - but with an Irish wife and many Irish friends, the day still holds great meaning to me.

Poem by Kevin Higgins On St. Patrick's Day

My very first featured poet at Eyewear was the Irish poet and critic Kevin Higgins, who was then about to marry poet and writer Susan Millar DuMars. This poem is from Kevin's debut collection, The Boy With No Face, from Salmon. The poem was written for Susan. Both of them have new collections out this spring 2010 - they'll be reviewed here in the goodness of time. Meanwhile, it seems like a good idea to welcome St. Patricks Day with a poem by Higgins.

The requiem plays, though not for us

Let’s never gaze at each other
across an unbridgeable space,
(even through cold panes of glass
may our fingers reach and touch)
nor battle, separated,
through the mobs of shoppers
and the caustic weather
of a raw November thoroughfare.
May the music we make
be a Spanish guitar,
let no disconsolate adagio
be any creation of ours
and if, of an evening,
you happen to catch me listening
to Mozart’s requiem,
it won’t be our union
that sombre music
will be mourning.

poem by Kevin Higgins

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

New Work in Poetry, or Old Hat?

When it was announced last year that Carol Ann Duffy would be using some or all of her laureate money to create a new prize - The Ted Hughes Prize for New Work in Poetry - it seemed an Obama-like moment of real change was in the air. A year later, Obama is just a politician mired in gridlock, and, well this prize is about as new as a Waste Land gramophone. The shortlist - far from introducing Britain to new, innovative poets, perhaps working with multimedia, digital, or other new forms of technology and arts fusions - is fustian, or generally conservative, and almost totally mainstream - bordering on establishment.

Several of the nominated "works" are simply books of poems, however worthy, such as Andrew Motion's rather poorly-received latest. Then again, there is the Collected Poems of Dannie Abse - a great poet, but the opposite of new - will this prize become mired in the latest career-defining final summing ups? Abse deserved the Queen's Gold Medal, not this. Farley's Field Recordings is welcome here, because it does span different media, such as radio, but then again covers a decade of work. Oswald's lovely book of poems (already nominated for the Eliot last year) combined drawings and verse - brilliantly, but in a form which is centuries old. And Duffy's old friend, Jackie Kay, seems to be the only poet to be listed whose work is both new and appears in a different form or on a different platform (though then again hardly ground-breaking - it is poetry for the stage).

In Canada and elsewhere, such prizes generate interest in, and advancement of, very innovative works, that expand the definition of what poetry is - works that combine music, architecture, dance, film, and other new media. This prize needs to become very 2011, fast, or next year may seem like 1911. It seems for now, the only thing the judges think "new" means is, is "recent".

Monday, 15 March 2010

Identity Delayed

To answer the comment about my cheering for Canada at the Olympics... people do have divided loyalties. I have a dual sense of identity - part-Canadian )where born), part British/Irish, where I live. As Morrissey sang, "Irish blood, English heart" (or was it vice versa?). My wife, who is Irish, cheers Canada, since we met there. We both have affection for Hungary and Hungarians, as we lived for a few years in Budapest. Why the need to pin down other people's identity? Dual citizens abound, with multiple passports - and in 19th century and before, as Paul Fussel reminded us, there were no passports (very few before the 1930s) - you just went and travelled. As Sydney Greenstreet once called himself, maybe poets are "citizens of the world". All this to say, be not confused - Eyewear sees double (at least).

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Review: Swift on Identity Parade

Todd Swift reviews
Identity Parade
edited by Roddy Lumsden

Poetry anthologies are like beds: the most interesting question is who is and isn’t in them. Roddy Lumsden’s monumental Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010) is a long-awaited generational summing up from one of the UK’s most active poet-editor-organisers. Lumsden, a master formalist, and crafty word-player, has mentored many younger poets for over a decade, and knows the mainstream British poetry world like few other practitioners. The anthology features 85 poets – and, in pluralist fashion – they represent a variety of styles and linguistic approaches, from performance poetry to the well-made lyric. There are also a few “experimental” poets included (such as Richard Price), and the Introduction is more or less unique among such enterprises for being not editorially bellicose but open.

It is also notable – and this extends Bloodaxe’s long-term dedication to women poets – that there are more women than men represented. Lumsden has set out the terms of what made poets eligible for inclusion: their debut in the last 17 years or so, and from a British-Irish press; born in Britain or Ireland (what Lumsden calls “here”); or based here for more than a decade. He has tended to exclude, therefore, poets over the age of 55 who published first books in the 90s, and poets born in America, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand (for instance) who may have lived and worked in the UK or Ireland, for less than ten years. As such, there seems to be a desire to delimit the poetic community to national borders – a possibly latent antimodernist, or at least conservative, position. Many previous British/Irish anthologies of other decades have opted to included poets like Eliot, Adcock, Stevenson, Plath, Donaghy, Porter, Pound and Wevill – “foreigners” who moved here and made Britain home. Of more concern is the question – does the book suffer from, even still, too much inclusiveness? Its refreshingly broad church attitude would tend to err on the side of plenty rather than austere evaluative discrimination. Lumsden claims in his Introduction to have modelled the anthology a bit on the American recent door-stopper, Legitimate Dangers, from 2006; that anthology is almost unreadably thick, but does offer a panoptical overview of what some editors think is the contemporary US direction. Another similar anthology was Carmine Starnino’s Canadian book, The New Canon, with 50 new poets.

What emerges from such extensive “almanacs” is a sense that the critical faculty has been short-circuited by the sheer plenitude of published poets, many with legitimate claims to being respected, even necessary, as a piece of the contemporary puzzle. Lumsden notes in his Introduction the interesting idea that this period’s period style is “individualism” – and that this may be connected to the new digital mediascape, which has at once fragmented and multiplied options. This may be so, but reading the poets and poems in Identity Parade, one is not so much struck by lack of uniformity, as by certain moods, modes, tones, and rhythms that do reoccur. Far from being an entirely heterogeneous and strange period – at least as represented by Lumsden – most of the poems selected are relatively coherent.

Most tell stories, express emotions, are witty or engagingly imaginative, and use the forms and manner made famous by Heaney, Muldoon, Duffy, or Paterson – clearly the four presiding spirits. American influences would tend to the lighter and more amiable of the New York School type. There are very few poems here that deeply interrogate the nature of language, in the manner of Prynne, Bernstein, or Lisa Robertson. Not that this is required of poems, of course.

What is odd is how this compression of talent – and this is a very talented generation – manages to diminish even the larger figures in the midst of the pack, who feel a bit crushed in the crowd. These might be Patience Agbabi, Alice Oswald, Paul Farley, Luke Kennard, Jen Hadfield, Gwyneth Lewis, Jacob Polley, Richard Price, John Stammers, and Kevin Higgins. To select just ten of the more impressive. Then again, readers will locate other constellations and clusters of interest. Also missing are the show-stoppers - the lightning-strike poems - that mark a poet or generation as great. While there are hundreds of good, solid, well-written and often genuinely dazzling or inventive poems included, it is hard to actually recollect a dozen or more whose lines are so memorable as to represent a genuine threat to Ted Hughes, Larkin, or Mahon. As such, it may still be very much a provisional period, not yet fully formed - and the leaders of the pack have yet to fully dominate the minor figures. Or put their own stamp on the language. In a longer review I'd cite the best poems, but leave it here for the reader to find them on their own.

There any number of poets I would have liked to see here, such as John Stiles, James Byrne, Isobel Dixon, Jane Yeh, Tom French, Paul Perry, Kathryn Maris, Kathryn Simmonds, or Andrea Brady, to offer a few personal favourites drawn from poets based in Britain or Ireland. But it’s Lumsden’s book, not mine. What is missing – to some extent - is any definitive evaluative discernment, able to offer this generation a map out of the rush and roar of the poetry bourse. A selection of 35 or 40 – one thinks of the Paterson anthology of recent years – might have been less even-handed, but could have actually been diagnostic.

Still, as a survey of the last decade and a half in the UK, this is a very good, useful, and genuinely engaged and engaging effort. Identity Parade will be the de facto go-to guide for many teachers, students, and lay-readers for years to come, and offers rewards and surprises even to the hardened poetry experts out there. Lumsden is to be praised for his hard work in putting this labour of love together. The line-up is already forming for the next book of this kind, no doubt to appear in 2020 - which will hopefully star poets like Emily Berry, Sam Riviere, and Helen Mort, among others.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Gaga in Prison

Speaking of prisons, the latest online sensation is the nine-minute trashy video from Lady Gaga, riffing off of Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction. It is also a knowing wink to girls behind bars movies, and employs a number of porn tropes, too (not least the sadomasochistic outfits and situations). Beyond blue, this sort of thing would have been banned a few years ago, and is surely a new low in terms of exposing young people to mind-poison, and the glamour of evil. That, or it is hyper-cool, po-mo fun. In the digital age, even the identity of genres and their ethical implications are fluid and fastly-shifting. One thing is for sure. Watching and listening to the kooky, sexy Telephone, it is more than ever clear that the Wilde-Madonna template has been lifted and learned exquisitely. Using decadent costumes and witty cultural inversions that shock and expose masks and facades, Lady Gaga is now the 21st century Madonna - a pop culture instigator of artistic purpose and genuine power.

Shutout Island?

There is a scene in Shutter Island where a doctor tells the Federal Marshall hunting a lost mental patient that "once you are called crazy" every protestation of sanity only confirms the diagnosis. Foucault 101 this may be, but it bears recalling. The same is true for any self-description. They are fraught, minefields. The moment "I" reply to someone's label of me, I am implicated in their discourse. Denise Riley has written of this alienating linguistic situation in several of her studies. It occurs to me I am creating the same linguistic vicious circle by asking the question - as I did of Roddy Lumsden recently at Eyewear - am I a British poet? The answer is a resounding no. And, in fact, it explains a lot about my behaviour these past 7 years, doesn't it? Imagine if you think you are a cat, but are a dog.

Every catlike thing you do will be met with scorn or derision or confusion from the real cats; and dogs will not recognize you either. You become lost. Disoriented. Readers, I entered into the British poetry community from day one - naively and enthusiastically and genuinely - as someone who thought their identity was "British". Having lived in London now for 7 years, my editing, compering, teaching, and research work, all is based on the idea I have a hyphenated identity - that I am British-Canadian (born in Canada, long-term tax-paying resident of Britain). Of course, not ever being included in anthologies here (or in The Poetry Archive etc) was always puzzling and frustrating. I also have operated under another assumption: I am a good serious poet. So, let's spell it out. Todd's delusion: I think I am a good serious member of the British poetry community. That means I consider myself on a level playing field with Lumsden, Farley, Laird, Stammers, etc. If readers and critics think that, in fact a) I am not a member of the British poetry community and b) am not a good serious poet of that level - then they are entitled to consider me either deluded, misinformed, or tragically in denial. Just as in Shutter Island, the protagonist's vision of reality is so far from the truth as to represent a wound in nature, I either am completely out to lunch, or not. Which is it? Am I dog or cat? Shutout, or in? On an island, or a prison? The answer may require a decision to move to another country. After all, what point living in a place that thinks you should be barking at those you want to lick milk with.

Review: Shutter Island or Not Frisch

Eyewear saw Shutter Island last night - how could I not? Scorsese is one of the best Hollywood directors of our time, and his sense of film history is second to none. Hearing he was doing a genre picture (which Sight & Sound observed is his "The Shining") from an auteur/ homage angle - referencing Fuller, Lewton, and Hitchock - was thrilling. The film itself is disappointing, if only because expectations were raised it might be a masterwork.

Instead, Shutter Island is a slow-moving, at times melodramatic, thinking-person's movie, with disconcertingly various elements - including ultra-violent depictions of Dachau, child murder, suicide, and mutilation; psychoanalysis; film theory; and 50s retro kitsch. Spoiler alert: the main problem is, anyone who knows the sub-genre of sane-men-in insane-asylums is likely to guess the "twist" - hardly a twist and more a foregone conclusion. There is, as a writer, only one binary option when putting a fish into a tank - either they belong there or need to get out, fast. In this film, both are true, and, to its tragic credit, neither would work. One recalls the novel I'm Not Stiller, by Swiss-German Max Frisch.

The subtext of the film is terrible and sombre - man's inhumanity to man and woman and child is so great - so monstrous - that "too much reality is hard to bear" - and a false sense of self might be more pragmatic (even heroic) than enduring the grimmer truth - that we are monsters and there is no God. As such, the film entirely explores the zeitgeist of the post-war period, 45-55, when Adorno-atom bombs-atheism fused with McCarthy, Freud, and fear. This was the classic noir period, and the best films of the time (Kiss Me Deadly for instance) reference paranoia, politics and sexy-violent mania potently.

Max Von Sydow and Ben Kingsley are well cast as the sinister shrinks - Kingsley was the post-war Gandhi who represents the best in mankind, and Von Sydow carries a great deal of cinematic angst when he casts a shadow. DiCaprio and Ruffalo are superb as 50s tough guy dicks - the way they carry themselves is spot-on. The music is ominous and almost impeccably assembled (a la Kubrick) from a catalogue of high-brow modernist European composers. The film is such a brilliant treatise on issues of cinema, Lacan and culture, it forgets to be entertaining. At times it is rivetingly strange and upsetting; at others comatose-dull. The final scene of the return of the repressed is strikingly paced for being both dull and upsetting - it really does represent the breaking through of an unacceptable memory in all its ambivalence (boredom/fear).

The main genius of the film is that it layers the various levels of what is shown and seen so that dream/ trauma/ memory/ hallucination/ "reality"/ recreation/ and play are indistinguishable for viewer and protagonist, and we are left, as an audience, asking, what were we seeing when we thought we saw it. The power of film to convey the inner psyche - the "mind" - is almost pre-linguistic in its force. This is its secret hold over us all - its Medusa mirror stage. Shutter Island unblinkingly exposes the violence of the gaze, the potential healing of self-reflection - and the terrible promise that oblivion holds for the anguished soul. This is the sort of film that will fail at the short-term Box Office, but be revisited in a few decades as a major achievement, if flawed.

Friday, 12 March 2010

New Poem by Todd Swift

Having been sick for months, it's been a slow time coming up for air. My mind was fogged, or so I thought. Poems have been slow, too. Here's one of the first in weeks - feels like forever. Thank god the poetry is coming back.

Start again

In a key of slow
Then again stop and go.
Are trees made of pianos
Or the other way?

March plays the bare bones
Like it was evening
In a dive, solo.
Beneath the poverty

A billionaire lies
Domiciled in the soil
And about to pay out glowing
Light and growth.

Recovery is what the ill
Try to do, and succeed
Or die. Health is a portfolio
We all want into.

I am putting these together
Not as if my life depended
On the assembly, that’s bomb
Disposal. Or disassembly,

Critical. Wires cross
As leaves revive cool green
And April steps out
Into the sun after a year

On the town, run down, has-been.
Nothing cyclical gets lost:
Time spins and so is redeemed;
Spins because planetary, so

Laws define the poetic sense
That hope is eternal; poetry
Makes lawyers of us all.
I step forward knowing my foot

Slips as part of its patter,
Faster then slower, not always
A goer but ready for a tip or jot.
No longer hot toddy, I warm

To the idea of writing
As a second chance to fail.
The grandeur was always second-hand,
Beauty the accident in what we planned;

The birth of someone else’s child
When your hallway has no pram.
Gutted is the direction we head in
Leaving traces of our loss behind –

A fish dragged across the water
On a line you’d miss until blind.
I felt loss when it left me
Saw what I had as it flew

Caught the train by jumping ship
And sailed for home in a caboose
Boxed my eagles with an iron glove
Glued love to my ears loose but true.

Maida Vale, March 2010

poem by Todd Swift

Featured Poet: Meryl Pugh

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Meryl Pugh (pictured) this Friday. Pugh was born in 1968, and grew up in Wales, New Zealand, East Anglia and the Forest of Dean. She was educated at Queens' College, University of Cambridge and the Institute of Education, University of London.

In 2003, she was selected as a Jerwood/Arvon Young Poet and left teaching soon afterwards, in order to spend more time writing. She was shortlisted for the 2005 New Writing Ventures poetry prize, and awarded a Hawthornden Residential Fellowship that same year.

Pugh has reviewed for Poetry London and Poetry Review, and poems have appeared in various publications, including Entering the Tapestry (edited by Graham Fawcett and Mimi Khalvati, Enitharmon, 2003) and Reactions 5 (edited by Clare Pollard, Pen and Ink Press, 2005). A pamphlet, Relinquish (Arrowhead Press), was published in 2007.

Pugh lives in East London, and works as a library assistant. Last year she was awarded a Distinction in the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. I for one await her debut full collection with much anticipation.


She opened her mouth: before she could speak
the One Before climbed out,
hauling itself across molars and tongue.

Her eyes watered, her nose oozed
and still the caul dragged over
her bleeding lips, distended jaw.

Flicking its skirt clear of the mess,
The One Before stepped free,
pulsing and stretching, opening its mouth

in a yawn or a roar that didn't end,
that stretched, then rolled back the skin,
turned the whole body inside out.

Stuck to the membrane, a tiny creature –
all pinafore and wisp of white hair –
stirred, looked up, prepared to speak:

poem by Meryl Pugh

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

R's Boat

Lisa Robertson's latest collection, R's Boat, is recently out from the University of California Press. Looking forward to reading it. Reviews welcome.

Mark Linkous Has Died

Sad news. Mark Linkous, who suffered from depression, and was Sparklehorse, has killed himself. This follows the recent suicide of his friend, Vic Chesnutt. Linkous, who some critics felt possessed near-genius, famously wrote spectral, eerie, fragile songs, in a low key, that sometimes remind one of Mercury Rev. Or Elliot Smith. But they have a texture all their own.

Adventureland Revisited

Eyewear saw a little-heralded "stoner" indie movie that came and went last summer (2009) after a Sundance debut - Adventureland. Starring Kristen Stewart of Twilight infamy, and Jessie Eisenberg, of cult classic The Squid and The Whale, the film (on DVD) is actually a very sweet (and hilarious) coming of age story (with discussions of theology), set at the fag end of the Reagan 80s, in the dead-end summer job Purgatorio that is Adventureland: a sagging lo-fi amusement park that employs kids too broke to go to Europe, and divides them into a Games and a Rides cohort.

Playing on the Schindler List trope that saw Schindler's quick rise through the fascist ranks due to his copious baskets of champagne, the main character is gifted with a magic stash of weed at the start of the film, and manages to ingratiate himself quickly with the theme park wastrels.

Of these, the most touching is the loser Russian lit student, a beanpole four-eyes with alternative hair and a stunned expression; and then again, there are the girls - at one end of the the spectrum "Lisa P", a Madonna-like flirt with ideal curves in spray-on pink jeans; and Em, played by Stewart, who is a smart complicated haunted Jewish girl from a rich broken family, simply dressed in cut-offs and Lou Reed Ts. The soundtrack avoids the big hits (Prince, U2, Madonna) and goes for the chintzy core of the decade - we get songs like "Obsession", "Rock Me Amadeus" and Wang Chung. That's about right, but there are a few classics from The Cure and The Replacements. Missed are Pixies.

The style and tone is so accurately nostalgic for an era usually derided, and the characters so lovingly handled, one feels like it is classic manque that will hopefully find a new life as a rental night-in - a bit like a John Hughes film crossed with Caddyshack. I for one was deeply moved by several romantic and comic moments. Highly recommended for all those who were once smart, skinny, 21, erotically challenged, and in-between university and the bad world. One concern for the leads - so ideal are they as teen/young adult indie geeks, it is hard to imagine their twitches and grimaces and shrugs and little breaths and downcast eyes will translate bankably into adult roles later. But for now, they are sweet.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Utter Difference, Infinite Etter?

Shearsman's 2010 Reading Series continues with an important launch tomorrow night, (Wednesday, 10 March at 7:30 pm) of the anthology Infinite Difference. The venue is Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20/21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A. Admission free.

This event will be emceed by the wide-ranging poet-editor, Carrie Etter, and will feature short readings by Sascha Akhtar, Isobel Armstrong, Caroline Bergvall, Andrea Brady, Emily Critchley, Claire Crowther, Catherine Hales, Frances Kruk, Rachel Lehrman, Wendy Mulford, Redell Olson, Frances Presley, Sophie Robinson, Zoë Skoulding, and Harriet Tarlo. Shearsman is one of the significant poetry presses in the UK. I look forward to getting this reviewed for Eyewear.


I saw this over at Shanna Compton's blog (Compton is a New York poet, poetry editor, publisher and DIY free-thinker who studied Joan Murray's poetry) - a new series of Hypothetical book covers. My novel is, so far, hypothetical, but coming along nicely. Speaking of which, my old site needs a redesign - know a good webguy/gal?

Little Episodes, Big Idea

Mental illness - especially depression - is far more common than some people accept - and remains a stigma, when other diseases (such as cancer) no longer seem a mark of Cain (despite what Sontag wrote on the subject). Recently, Little Episodes, a platform for artists, musicians, writers and other creatives, was put online, to establish an interface between mental health concerns and creative endeavours. It is an impressive project, and I am proud to say students from Kingston University are involved with the work.

Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's Day

Eyewear salutes women this International Women's Day (IWD). Most particularly, Kathryn Bigelow, whose powerful Oscar-winning war film, The Hurt Locker, reconfigures the male-dominated Western genre in such a way that is able to be both existential, pacifist, and true to the actualities of conflict. Her Best Director Oscar is an historical achievement, and much-deserved.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

E-book Week

Read an E-book Week (7-13 March 2010) is upon us. When Val Stevenson of Nthposition and I began thinking of poetry e-books back in March 2003 (seven years ago now!), at the start of the Iraq war, they were basically PDFs you could download, share, swap, email, host and so forth - not the more elaborate platforms in place now, to use with tablet-shaped readers. I had thought e-books would catch on sooner than they in fact did. Their rapidity of circulation on the Internet, potential lack of expense, and democratic editing and publishing options, made them possibly a wildfire phenomenon - but much resisted their ubiquity, or the rise of the e-writer and e-reader as dominant in the marketplace.

Why? 1) resistance from the literary establishment, which remains the gatekeeping presence, determining editorial, review and marketing hegemony; 2) lack of grass-roots support for a real bottom-up revolution in the production of literary products; and 3) an uncertain technological interface, compounded by the unforeseen rise of the social networks in mid-decade, that to some degree made self-publishing less attractive than total and non-stop self-promotion, through feeds, blogs, tweets, and other updates. Each of us has been publishing ourselves, virtually, for the last five or so years.

Now, there are many options, such as, PoemHunter, or Bewrite Books, for instance. The Poetry Library has a good if small list. What's next?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Over The Top

Thanks to Eyewear's readers for coming through. We now have over 150 regular followers. That's as many as read many or most little magazines. It's a strong small community and I am very pleased to be a part of it.

Mulligan New

The Oscar for Best Actress tomorrow night should go to Ms. C. Mulligan, pictured, whose meteoric breakthrough in An Education, is nothing less than revelatory. Mulligan has a jejeune star quality that sparkles like Audrey Tatou, or Audrey Hepburn. She's arguably the most exciting new English actress since Julie Christie, and she brings a genuinely fresh air to the screen. Baby-faced, pleasingly slim, and able to be sultry or pouty, wise or silly, at will, her performance in this fine, troubling and very sad, moving film (which constantly asks the viewer to question what love, what desire, and what ambition are worth) is striking. She becomes the Sixties ingenue par excellence. Ms. Mulligan makes the film a classic. She deserves the statue. Meanwhile, she is to appear, this year, in three of the most-anticipated films: Brighton Rock (with Sam Riley), a Kaz Ishiguro adaptation (with Keira Knightley), and Wall Street's sequel.

Be the 150th

Eyewear has 149 "followers". That's a wonderful number for a plucky little blog - but it'd be swell to have 150. Won't you be that one?

Longley Way To Go

There are too many poetry competitions. There are not enough poetry competitions. Both statements are half-true. Until a poet has won one, it is worth going on. Or not bothering. So many of my poet friends and colleagues see-saw between the self-hate that is entering, the self-love that is entering, such black holes, that suck up our money, our hopes, and hold onto our best unpublished poems for months and months. And yet, and yet. Some poetry competitions are more equal than others. One of the UK's best is the Poetry London one. Closing date this year is 31 May. And the judge? Michael Longley. That elicits a wow from Eyewear. Longley is a master lyricist, and one of the finest Irish poets since Yeats. It'd be an honour to be selected by such a poet. Speaking of Poetry London, it launches its latest issue on St Patrick's Day March 17, at Foyles, Soho.

Hardie Fare

Graham Hardie has alerted me to the rise of the new iteration of The Scottish Poetry Review - an online rattle-bag of poems, reviews, and other stuff about the burgeoning Scottish poetry world (which is arguably more impressive than its countrparts in Northern Ireland, Wales and England, these days). The review of Rain is particularly bold.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Brown Is Wrong

Gordon Brown has today confirmed that he believes the Iraq war was "right". Eyewear is of the opinion that Mr. Brown is wrong, and that said war was illegal, under international law, and an act of aggression; at the very least, it was deeply problematic and complex. The certainty that Blair and Brown brought and bring to this subject is troubling. Mr. Brown should be voted out of office at the coming election, if for no other reason than his position with regards to the 2003 invasion.

Featured Poet: Jeffrey Side

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Jeffrey Side (pictured) this Friday. Side, as polemicist and instigator, is a controversial figure in some circles, for his online championing of views and positions that, to say the least, question "establishment" and mainstream critical perspectives (for instance whether Heaney is a significant poet). He is sympathetic to the British innovative and New York poetry schools (Ashbery is a big influence), and his own work explores the lyric, and language, with a passionate interest in the traditional canon as well (such as Blake).

Side has had poetry published in various magazines and sites including Poetry Salzburg Review, Underground Window, A Little Poetry, Poethia, Nthposition, Eratio, Shadowtrain, Blazevox, Jacket, P.F.S. Post, Great Works, Hutt, and Dusie. His poetry publications include Carrier of the Seed (Blazevox Books) and Slimvol (cPress). From 1996 to 2000 he was the assistant editor of The Argotist magazine. He now edits The Argotist Online web site.

Trees of Sorrow

The trees of sorrow
that hang over these graves,
mark the spot where you are hidden.

You flew away too soon.

And all the while I could not
see the larger picture.

Your hair used to breathe
like the autumn smoke.
And you let me keep the cherished
dreams that fed me.

All for the sake
of trying to satisfy the eternal yearning.

All for the sake
of feeling some warmth in the night.

All for the sake
of flying too close to the candle.

All for the sake
of swimming in the contagious sea.

Such futile joys
we strove for,
and which brought us both to grief—

me, in my glass-walled palace,
you on your barrier reef.

When the sensuous hand
of destruction tempts and beguiles you,
who is safe to touch?

Who is safe from the cuts that
are too small to see?

Someone always comes forward to
be the victim when
the temptation is too much.

And is it just me, or is there someone,
somewhere, always missing you?


Harmony from Damages

I have heard a good deal most
difficult I would not presume to
dispute the thinking eye or why we
do not recall past lives.

Now the chief god of the Olympians
the moon and witness to genesis in
1980 a group met putting aside a
need to revive the dead.

O my God forgive these angels
seeking some sport in the sun.
Do not remember my madness
and the pain you know I must bleed.

My daughter went within a man
once the viceroy of Egypt. A man of
empty hands I warned about talking to
himself beneath his visions.

How be it that poor servant girl
is now cast from our congregation?
Has her scream exposed the elaborate
near-handler or other communal soldier?

poems by Jeffrey Side

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Foot Soldier

Sad news. The death of Old Labour seems confirmed with the death of the great Michael Foot, an idealist and Labour leader whose "longest suicide note in history" was none other than a long list of ethically valid and visionary demands. Foot falls into the category of those "peace mongers" and gadflys who sometimes get into positions of genuine power (one thinks of Jimmy Carter, perhaps Obama) and are then accused of weakness when their integrity and goodwill is thwarted by wicked and small-minded men and women, who argue that what is actually needed is electability and pragmatism. Stuff and nonsense. AH was electable, so was Bush. A lot of very evil people have been practical - see Arendt. In fact, what the world has always needed are idealists, dreamers, and far-seers - and those are the ones that too often get defeated, by the likes of Thatcher and co. Sadly, too, Tony Blair came along and sleeked and slicked the Foot vision, in the process getting elected to a vacuous platform in which, it now appears, only the interests of the rich and powerful were truly served (including arms companies, war mongers, and high financiers). Labour became comfortable with the filty rich, and less comfortable with the dirty poor. Foot's death reminds us of roads not taken. Brown could have been a Foot soldier, but has fought different battles. David Cameron is Thatcher Lite. What a world.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Lehman Back In New York

David Lehman is back in New York after his whirlwind reading tour of London. Stacey Harwood blogs about his London trip at Best American Poetry. His Oxfam reading with Mark Ford and younger poets was a resounding success - one of our best audiences ever. Photo by Harwood, after the event.

Wilbur Force

Richard Wilbur turned 89 at the start of this week, March 1. He's one of the finest American poets, and it's good to know he is still at it. Happy birthday!

Poetry Is...

Sina Queyras - a significant Canadian poet, anthologist and blogger - is a guest over at the Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet. She recently asked a bunch of poets to complete the sentence Poetry is - with these results. My favourite is McGimpsey's.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Guest Review: Brinton On Thompson

Ian Brinton reviews
Holes in the Mapby Nathan Thompson

editor's note: due to html restrictions, some of the text quoted may be differently presented on the page in the published collection to how it appears on the reader's screen.

It must be disconcerting at the very least for the mundane traveller to discover that his map has holes in it whilst for the more imaginative explorer the very nature of those holes can provide both challenges and opportunities: openings through which the mind can fall. Nathan Thompson’s twenty lyric pieces which make up this attractive addition to the fast-growing Oystercatcher canon echo hauntingly across the page, a geographical and historical map where the reader is guided by literary references and poignant accumulation of detail. This poetry is as obscure as music and it brought to my mind immediately the words offered by Peter Riley in a letter to the editor of the Cambridge Literary Review which will appear in its entirety in the forthcoming third issue of that journal:

Obscurity is a natural condition of poetry. To fail to acknowledge that is a cowardice and an evasion. It is poetry's song condition which it always fails to renounce. Listen to any song and it is obvious. It speaks in shadow. It has to because it is not alone, it is not free to speak. As a developed faculty obscurity opens the text to far laterality and distant sightings, it shakes off the fetters of sense and relevance. But why, to what point? Surely the ambition must be to pass beyond the pleasures (and pride) of obscurity into the real world without losing the reach, and then possibly total sense, a kind of paradise.

From the opening of the sequence, titled ‘heresy hut’, we are presented with shadowy suggestions of the journey ahead:

idea herself verb as in ‘to’
we are able to discover

taking my authority in jeopardy
a small red vase shaped from an empty heart

ventricles and a black cat
I have heard of life worth

possibilities of transport ‘a typewriter’
banged out by the holy ghost on a typewriter

music shed its clothes to punctuate
night is due about now

a northern psychologist in the 1940’s showed this
lit inherited feuds horror and alarm

other data objects your cigarette this map

The forward impulse here, abstract ‘idea’ into movement with the root of the infinitive, leads us to being able to ‘discover’. The uncertainty of the journey’s guide is mooted with the suggestion of ‘my authority’ being ‘in jeopardy’ but a dual meaning of the word ‘transport’ pushes us out not only into vehicular movement but also into a raptured state of mind. Just as any journey forwards contains a good deal of reflection that looks backwards as well there is an archaeological feel to that last line with its ‘data objects’.

As the journey gets under way in the second of the lyrics, ‘sparsely populated’, we are soon confronted by a world of commerce where ‘a world of money and power’ and declining fish stocks is contrasted with ‘your sensory browser is delighted/autonomy’: a safeguard against what is almost literally in store for the pilgrim. But this sequence of poems looks backwards as well as forwards and the ninth of the poems is titled ‘near harbour radio’:

so many angles light off
the sea touching us gentle

rounding on boat-chimes
to back where we came from

sorting ley lines in the dark
you a brush of musk

sandalwood curtains drift
soft air lips to kiss returning

a lent-on promise open
light swell tomorrow south-westerly

The impressionistic first line is both immediately visual and also reflective of the way language has been used in the sequence of poems. The accumulation of what is seen crossing this map with holes in it suggests a reference to Jeremy Prynne’s ‘Afterword to ORIGINAL: Chinese Language-Poetry Group’:

Within the great aquarium of language the light refracts variously and can bounce by inclinations not previously observed.

In ‘near harbour radio’ these inclinations can move us musically, ‘rounding on boat-chimes’, to rediscover where we came from and the transporting of the mind along routes which are also unseen connections (ley lines not to be found on maps) opens up a fragmented beauty of time gone which itself echoes the drifting fantasies of the Man in Samuel Beckett’s Play.

The seventeenth poem plays again with perspectives as we contemplate ‘ship in a bottle’: the symbol of exploratory journeying contained immobile within the glass-house. We are transported to a world that is ‘bigger inside than out’ and find ourselves at the end contemplating

this picture is stillness

closed guilt a map superimposed on
another place smaller more people

Holes in the Map has a musical resonance and the echoes bring to mind many literary references which all form parts of this map of the mind’s journeying. For instance I can hear Lee Harwood’s voice in poem thirteen, ‘in open parenthesis’

the river moves through cities and ‘you move me’

And, to return to Peter Riley, I can hear the letter to Tony Baker which opens up another sequence of mapping, Alstonefield:

And I began to think of the place as an arena, a theatre of outrageously manipulated light in which the soul puts on a show for the people, where the self’s instant of being is depicted as the lost masquer bearing a lantern among towering land-forms, in search of his company.

Nathan Thompson’s sequence of twenty poems is a magnetic land which I shall re-visit on many more occasions. The doors in his language keep opening to offer vistas of both past and future and he scatters words with precise weight. As Philippe Jaccottet wrote in his diary for March 1962:

So, too, must you go on, scatter, risk words, give them exactly the weight you want, never stop until the end—against, always against yourself and the world, before you can finally go beyond the opposition, with words, precisely, words that cross the border line, the wall, words that make their way, overcome, open, and finally triumph, sometimes, in perfume, in colour—one instant, only one instant. That, at least, is what I cling to, to say what is almost nothing, or to say only that I am going to say it, which is still a positive action, better than inaction or the action of withdrawal, refusal, denial…For the hundredth time: I am left with almost nothing, but it’s like a very small door you have to pass through, and nothing proves that the space beyond will not be as vast as you imagined. All that matters is to pass through the door, and that it should not fall shut for ever.

Ian Brinton is a critic and scholar. His books include A Manner of Utterance, a study of JH Prynne.


The sixth issue of ottawater, Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal, edited by rob mclennan, features work by various residents current and former, and is well worth the trip.

Sidney's Defence of Hockey

Last night, at Vancouver 2010, Sidney Crosby - now arguably the most important Canadian hockey player of all time, after, or even including, Wayne Gretzky - won the gold for Canada, in OT, in what could be claimed to be the most exciting and widely-watched hockey game of all time. Canada claims ice hockey as its own - though in truth, Americans and Russians have also dominated the sport over the years. But hockey's heart resides in Montreal, Toronto, and all points east and west. Canada's games have ended, but not without a bit of wry Canuck humour to water down the nationalism - Michael J Fox, William Shatner, and others added lustre, pathos and good cheer to a closing ceremonies that showed that what begins in tragedy, can end in comedy. I wish Great Britain and London all the best in their hosting of the summer games in 2012.

On the value of reading during a global pandemic

On the value of reading during a global pandemic Though it save no life passes time that could be wasted w ith Money Heist or Tiger Ki...