Friday, 30 April 2010

Hill or Horovitz?

The race has heated up - for the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry.  Geoffrey Hill, England's greatest living lyric poet, seemed a shoe-in, facing pint-sized opposition, until, the contest was revitalised and refreshed by the news that another poetic elder statesman, Michael Horovitz, had entered.  Horovitz has several times read for my Oxfam series.  I think he is a brilliant man - a superb poet-of-the-people - who has done more for the Beat strain of poetry in the UK than any other single human being (I mean, as opposed to organisations or groups).  He loves to encourage others.  He has a big warm heart.  And he knows his poetry.  He's right to challenge the other lesser figures running, and right, to, like Clegg, give the leading horse a run for the money.  This isn't, now, a race I'd want to call.  Hill is the master elitist of English letters, and Horovitz the ultimate English maverick, the advocate of almost everything Hill is against.  As a fusion poet, I'd want the best of both poets - but of course, in the real world, often, he who stands in the middle of the road gets hit by two-way traffic.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

British and American Poetry: The Volcano vs. Joe?

Just saw this online, at CPR.  Happy to be quoted at length here, in the good company of Alvarez and others.  The article by Brooks-Motl, raised many of the issues I am seeking to explore this week, however mildly, through blogging at The Best American Poetry blog, on young British poets.

Orion Headless

Orion Headless is a new online place for writing, edited by Sara Fitzpatrick Comito.  I am happy to have several new poems up here.  Warning - this will take you to writing by Todd Swift.

New Order

I've just received my review copy of New Order: Hungarian Poets of the Post 1989 Generation, edited and introduced by George Szirtes, from Arc Publications.  I lived in Budapest for almost five years, and met several of these poets.  It is a very good-looking book.  I look forward to writing on it for Eyewear this summer.

Hoxton Fizz

I had one of the best poetry experiences of my life last night when I attended Declan Ryan's cutting-edge poetry series in Hoxton, East London, Days of Roses.  Set currently in a hyper-cool if-small basement bar (With Lee Scratch Perry posters, red walls, a cavernous series of little snug rooms, and a great DJ), the series is pulling in the elite of the younger set of British poets.  I read with Sam Riviere, Jon Stone, Kate Potts, and Katrina Naomi last night (among others) - a very good line-up, indeed.  Ryan is himself a fine serious younger poet, and a personable host.  The audience, jampacked in, stood attentively over the two hour event (with breaks of course) and really got into the poems.  The vibe was very friendly, cultured but also hip.  If this is the coming generation, it is a great sign indeed.  Riviere has a forthcoming pamphlet, Faber New Poets 7; Stone's new pamphlet is SCAREcrows; and Naomi's is Charlotte Bronte's Corset (she was the writer-in-res at the Bronte Museum).  Looking forward to reading them all.  I enjoyed finally meeting Stone in person, after his many comments online.  He's a charming, intelligent young man, who dresses in a spiffy, dapper way, and his highly-verbose and complex poetry is erudite and entertaining.

Brown and the Bigot: A Susan Boyle Moment In Reverse

Poor Gordon Brown - he has been caught on microphone, calling a 65-year-old woman he had met on a meet-and-greet, a "bigot".  The media has played it up, and Brown has apologised on BBC radio (filmed doing so, head in hands), and also has called her to apologise in person - and then emailed his party to apologise too.  The BBC is calling it the worst moment for the Labour party so far in the election - an election that already sees them likely to come third behind the Tories and Lib-Dems.  However, this may garner sympathy.  If the woman did want to restrict immigration to keep out Eastern Europeans, she is, by definition, a bit of a bigot.  Brown actually does seem to care, and actually does have integrity.  His fault seems to be that he called it like it is.  Perhaps he was too quick to say he was sorry.  Still, the BBC news is emphasising the Janus-faced nature of the comments - that Brown would speak to a Labour supporter one way in person, and then fulminate against them immediately after in private.  Bad luck seems to hang over Brown like a fug. Tonight, this seems to be playing on and on, and snowballing.  The most famous Duffy in the UK may now be Gillian, not Carol Ann, Duffy.  This is Brown's Susan Boyle moment, in reverse.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Poetry Inc.

This new enterprise from a recently graduated creative writing student is impossibly cool, clever and well-designed, and offers poetry chapbooks, and t-shirts, etc.

Summer of 2006

The Poetry Library recently digitalised and put online the summer 2006 issue of the excellent London poetry magazine, Magma.  If you want to see what was being written in Britain five years ago, by some of the best new and established poets, here's one way to start finding out...

Young British Poets At The Best American Poetry Blog!

I will be a guest blogger at The Best American Poetry blog this week (April 25-May1), and my first post is a broad overview of the state of contemporary poetry in Britain today.  I'll be featuring a few of the best new younger poets at the important and cool American site this week.

Protestant Too Much

It being Sunday, this story is particularly resonant - and also demanding of forgiveness.  But the news that a junior British civil servant in the Foreign Office prepared an official memo planning for the Pope's autumn visit - a memo distributed widely to politicians and officials, and called a serious brainstorming document - which recommended the Pope variously open an abortion clinic, and start a new brand of condoms - seems willfully disrespectful, even sacrilegious.  People who wish to suggest I take a chill pill, and see the humour of the document may miss the point: visiting world leaders shouldn't ever be treated to such official government mockery, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may be.  When their beliefs are a religion practiced by more than 20% of the world, and by a significant minority of one's own nation, even less reason is given for such a Monty Python treatment.  Of course, in pubs and private, let the Protestant (and secular) people of Britain mock the Catholic leader.  But to have derision generated at the higher levels of government reveals an inconvenient truth: Britain's elite ruling class is now, more or less, godless.  Godless, irreverent, and even, it might be said, cynical to the point of boring nihilism.

Alan Sillitoe Has Died

It has been a bad last few days for brilliant octogenarian writers and poets of Britain - first Peter Porter, now the legendary Alan Sillitoe, has died.  I find this very sad news indeed.  Sillitoe is one of the truly iconic voices of British writing of the post-war period, and his books and screenplays, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, are classics of the Kitchen Sink manner.  I had a most memorable dinner and drinks with Mr. Sillitoe at the Groucho Club a few years ago, and he was charming, funny, smart and slightly grouchy.  He had lots to say and great stories to tell.  He'd lived in Morocco with Tennessee Williams and knew Sylvia Plath.  He was a smoking advocate.  He was an Angry Young Man who didn't like the term.  He was a famous novelist for more than fifty years, and a good poet whose prose overshadowed that side of his writing.  Sillitoe is survived by his wife, the important American-British poet, Ruth Fainlight.  He will be missed.

Guest Review: Horton On Sutherland

Christopher Horton reviews
Things To Do Before You Leave Town
by Ross Sutherland

Even for those with only the faintest interest in performance poetry, Ross Sutherland will probably need little introduction. A member of performance collective Aisle 16 and omnipotent download provocateur, Sutherland has, more recently, even found time to write and perform his own plays. What will surprise some, perhaps, is the range and depth evident in his first book, Things To Do Before You Leave Town. I say ‘surprise’ here only because Sutherland is, for the most part, better known for his grandstanding readings and recitals at performance venues across the UK than he is for his page poetry. As someone who has tracked Sutherland’s poetry career over the last few years – in small magazines such as Tears in the Fence and Rising – there is, in fact, from this reader at least, little surprise that this is a book of wit, linguistic endeavour and intellectual merit.

The problematic tag ‘performance poet’ does Sutherland a disservice if taken in isolation, for while many of these poems work on one level as performance pieces, they also reward rereading. Take for example the long poem ‘Log-on’, which possesses a deftly conveyed sense of tenderness and loss through a computer-centric conceit. The last few lines are particularly illustrative of this, ‘Having been hacked since before I was born,/ can you be sure who’s behind those eyes,/ shoulder surfing for those opening keystrokes/ as I stoop to kiss your neck?’.

Whilst it can appear voguish to frequently drop computer-speak into poetry, for Sutherland, computers have imprinted deeply on how he thinks and writes and as such are integral to much of his expression. Here, it may be too easy for this reader to reference his background as a lecturer in electronic literature but the influences of this on his work are clear.

It is also apparent that it is not just linguistic references to computer technology that interests Sutherland but the specific and multi-various vernaculars of the mathematical, scientific and filmic worlds. In ‘Jean-Claude Van Damme’ for instance, the poet’s father is the villain in an action movie and it is the energetic Van-Damme who is called upon to save the day. The poet’s father, finally defeated, ‘stands alone on his secret island’ his eyes dribbling ‘scarlet plasma’. Through these familiar filmic images, Sutherland provides insight into every son’s fear and inevitable realisation – that fathers are indeed fallible.

If Sutherland is, on occasion, guilty of bathos – ‘The Family Blessing’ and ‘Something Detonates’ – his observations on the absurdities concealed beneath the surface of our humdrum modern lives work to best effect. The poem, ‘Things To Do Before You Leave Town’, to which the book lends its title, is a good example of this. Sutherland, using his favoured address of ‘You’, ensures that the reader is complicit in the acts that should be enacted before graduating from small town life. The poem reads like an inventory where, oddly liberated by imminent departure, the speaker makes a mental note to ‘tell Steve to go fuck himself’ and to ‘meet Claire but fail to notice’. The list also includes things not to do and this particular sequence ends with a prophetic mental note to not ‘stare longingly up at the clocktower’.

For all his bravado, Sutherland is also a romantic in the purest sense. When he writes about love, his poems are tinged with an Audenesque sense of incorporeal separation and loss. This is best exemplified in ‘A Second Opinion’, when he states, ‘And I knew/ that to the untrained eye,/ the September evening in my chest looked mild./ But I trusted you, implicitly,/ to take your coat with you/ on the way out’. True contentment is not a state that can ever last for a sustained period of time for this poet, whether wrapped within the conceit of an experiment or medical examination, it will inevitably escape his grasp, leaving behind merely traces, ‘Each day we spent together had a distinct tone or shape’ (‘Critical Praise for My Last Relationship’).

More generally, the transitory nature of experience acts as one of the main threads of the collection. Sutherland is a veritable journeyman, compelled to move on, to seek comfort in the ephemeral. As such his poetry is frequently delivered in the form of snapshots, recorded as if from the perspective of a passer-by. In ‘When Paperboys Roamed the Earth’, his voice is at its strongest as he flits between the lives of others, observing their idiosyncrasies acutely. This is typified in two lines that sum-up Englishness better than Larkin ever did, ‘A thousand bald patches begin to itch. An egg boils. Here is the news’.

Christopher Horton was born in 1978 and grew up in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature and American Studies at Swansea University. He has lived in the United States and China, where he taught English. His poetry has been published in City Lighthouse Anthology (Tall Lighthouse) and New London Poetry (Penned in the Margins) and magazines, including Poetry London, Ambit, The Wolf and Magma. He has also reviewed for The London Magazine and Horizon (Salt) among others. In 2008, he was commended in the National Poetry Competition and in 2009 he was a runner up in the Bridport Prize. Horton currently lives in South East London. He co-ordinates literature events for the Museum of London Docklands.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

History Boy

Orlando Figes, a highly-respected academic in Britain, has been caught writing very negative reviews of his colleagues, and very positive reviews of his own works, on Amazon.  When caught, he denied this, and his wife, for a time, took the rap.  As often happens, this all came to a head because - like Wilde - he instigated a legal case against his accuser; unfortunately (and perhaps again like Oscar) he actually was what he looked to be.  It's been in the TLS and is now in the papers and on the BBC.

Figes - who is now on sick leave - is clearly under great stress, and the potential decline and fall of his career - trumpeted in the media - cannot be helping him.  I wish him well.  Meanwhile, this sad case reminds us all of the seductive dangers of the Digital Age - how seeming anonymity, and the instant pleasures and powers of the Internet, offer many opportunities for self-destruction, as well as destruction of rivals.  Intellectuals and poets are not immune.

Indeed, isolated, in their heads often, and emotive, and used to using symbols and words to great effect, they may be more, not less, likely, to strike out, often too quickly, with these new tools, these new weapons.  Cyberia can be a cold and unforgiving place, for bullies, and for liars - but all of us need to be careful in the spaces between reading and writing online.

Guest Review: Almond On Ruthen and Dullaghan

Liz Almond reviews
Jetty View Holding
by Philip Ruthen
On the Back of the Wind
by Frank Dullaghan

These collections introduce me to two writers new to me – Philip Ruthen and Frank Dullaghan – and they’re as different as dark from light. Philip Ruthen’s (from Waterloo Press) has a nervous energy that moves with a heightened speed around the globe. Frank Dullaghan’s is more quietly contemplative, taking time to notice every small detail that adds to the whole effect. The syntax of each title gives you a sense of what is to come in terms of use of poetic language.

Philip Ruthen’s debut collection Jetty View Holding demonstrates that “there is more than one way to write” The past is the letter rack. From the calm centre of his love poems, with their moment suspended in time, there are ripples out to other places, times, contexts, so that from poem to poem there is always a tension or ambivalence between speaker and the world of which he speaks. The most powerful and memorable of these is 'Who will take this away from me?' with its acute awareness of conflict and war from which there is no imaginative escape as “we kiss in the float warm Aegean”. At times though, I find this tension manifests itself in a rather arbitrary way that is mirrored by a structurally arbitrary form that often isolates individual words on the page with no apparent rationale.

In other poems this experimental approach complements the subject of the poem – as in 'Swift' with a kinetic, acrobatic quality pulling the reader along with its swooping movement across space and page. Again, in 'Sustain – Flowers for Kefallinia' , the final poem in the book, the writer dives into pre-history in a whirl of thought that seems to scatter in all directions, but principally down the page in a list of thought provocations bouncing one off the other to reach a finale of dispersion and wild motion.

As a collection, I find the book a little unbound – again, what is the rationale for the sequence of poems? Perhaps the book is a protest against those ideas of order and design. I am left with a sense of breathlessness, admiration for a daring approach to form, but in places a longing for a little more control.

Frank Dullaghan’s collection On the Back of the Wind is more composed but no less arresting for that. He explores a rather more circumscribed and possibly more conventional world of family, memory, nostalgia – personal narratives haunted by the poet’s father although this is not revealed until later in the book.

Rooted in particular places whose features are lovingly delineated, we are moved inexorably to his first place, the family home, which he left long ago but has to return to due to its emotional hold and the urgent demands of a funeral.

"and I, always coming home in my head
taking every road back”

The details of memories shine from the page with luminous clarity –

“bread hot and yellow with butter”

“the white kiss of milk on my lips”

the rough tweed of his father’s greatcoat with a buttercup in its buttonhole.

Between the luminous imagery the poet talks of “passing-places, portals, touch-points, gaps in hedge” where he comes on his father, a presence known by the “sweet smell of his pipe”, or “I’ll sense a shape at the door” trying to find a way to bridge the gap between the living and the dead, “trying to find a new language of light and shade”. It is this new language, a balanced chiarascuro, that Frank Dullaghan has achieved in his collection which coheres in a way that resonates in the reader’s mind long after the reading – much like the presence of a dead loved one.

Liz Almond was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, grew up in South London, and has lived for many years in Hebden Bridge.  She has taught creative writing at various universities.  She has published two poetry collections with Arc - The Shut Drawer (2002) and Yelp! (2009).  Yelp! will be reviewed at Eyewear later this year; and her work will also be featured on a forthcoming Friday.

Salt and Bank

Salt is an important British publisher of poetry and poetics - and Eyewear has reviewed some of their books, happily (more pending).  So, what's going on with this rumour, circulated on blogs the other day, that it has been "defrauded"?  What could that possibly mean?  This appeared at Canadian blog, Bookninja:

Aussie indy publishing sensation Salt has just posted this message via editor Chris Hamilton-Emory’s Facebook status:

"We’ve just had terrible news: Salt has been the victim of a fraud and our entire bank account has been emptied. We’ve not a bean left. The bank is now investigating. Please bear with us while we try and stay afloat."

What seemed odd was that Chris Emery's name was spelled incorrectly - and the fact the story was being broken in Canada, not the UK.  Can anyone confirm this to be true?  I have been removed (for reasons that remain unclear) from Emery's Facebook circle, so can't check for myself.

[editor's note at 18:39: having read comments from readers of Eyewear I conclude, that, sadly, this fraud is actual.  It is to be hoped Salt stays afloat.]

Friday, 23 April 2010

A Poem For Peter Porter

Peter Porter was, I have written below, a master craftsman, and particularly good at writing of loss and the temporal. This poem is very humbly offered to him, and his memory.

In Memoriam, Peter Porter

Your death happened on the BBC
At six, on Radio 4. A sunny
Day, and my listening to Kate Nash
Now, which I know, Peter, smashes

Any sense of decorum this might
Have had. Then again, literary nights
We met by accident with white wine
You always spoke of music; fine

Talk, and warm, as well. I replied
That I liked popular things. Died,
Porter? Impossible. He lived across
Canvasses, or scores; in a note’s loss,

In colour’s fading, also. He wrote of
The world, as if to form is to love,
As if to hold a word true to its place
Was to rise in a chapel, kiss high grace.

23 April 2010, London

Peter Porter Has Died

Sad news.  The major poet Peter Porter has died at the age of 81, in London.  Just heard this on the six o'clock BBC news.  The BBC report (a brief obituary notice) noted his "tragic life" - death of his mother at 9, and the suicide of his first wife, which led to his most-acclaimed book, The Cost of Seriousness.  It also noted that, while he has born Australian, he had long ago become one of England's most admired poets (he moved to London in 1951, half a century ago).  It noted his formal similarities to Auden, and his satirical edge.  It also noted his love of music and painting - constant themes in his poems.  Finally, it noted his many awards, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and the Forward Prize.  I met Peter Porter soon after I moved to London in 2003.  While I cannot claim him as a friend, he was always an exceptionally courteous and lively interlocutor, at numerous literary events and parties, where my wife and I would often stroll over to him, and we'd all chat; often he'd be in conversation with his contemporaries, the fine poets Alan Brownjohn and Anthony Thwaite.

Porter was a gentleman, and very good to talk with.  Personally, I liked him very much.  While I don't share the full extent of his more traditional formalist bent, I considered him one of the greatest poets writing in the English language, and told him so, on several occasions; he was modest and I am sure my Canadian bluster embarassed him - he's become more English over the decades.  He seemed to me to be the major Australian poet of the 20th century, and, more than that, after Larkin, one of the later 20th century's best verse formalists, simply.  His masterful poems were always erudite, and brilliantly aphoristic.  It is hard to imagine a more cultured or civilised poet will come again soon to London, or make more of an impact.  While less vicious than Pope, he had some of that kind of inventive literate genius.

I should say that, one day was particularly enjoyable with Peter Porter.  We had just finished recording his work for the first Oxfam CD, Life Lines, in Camden.  He was the last of the day at the studio, so we went out and got a bit drunk together at a nearby pub.  He told me marvellous stories, including one about how he had been friends with (and he saw the irony) of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, when they were both younger; and he recalled, fondly, his old friend David Wevill.  Porter did have somewhat anti-experimental views (he was a disciple of Hobsbaum's and in The Group), though he wrote intelligently on Ashbery, among others.  At the end of the day, he left us some magnificent poems that will last.  The Guardian's obituary is here.

Featured Poet: Sheila Hillier

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Sheila Hillier to its storied pages this post-ash Friday. Hillier trained at the London School of Economics and The London Hospital Medical College, where she gained a Ph.D in 1986. She was appointed Professor of Medical Sociology in 1992, the first sociologist to be appointed to a Chair in a UK Medical School. She has undertaken research in the UK, Trinidad and the People's Republic of China, where she has been involved for over thirty years.

Her research interests include health care organisation and the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China and beyond. She has also undertaken research on the health of ethnic minority groups in the UK. She was Visiting Professor at Shanghai No 2 Medical College and is currently Visiting Professor at the Chinese University Hong Kong and Professor Emeritus at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

As a poet, Hillier has studied with the late Julia Casterton, and at The Poetry School, and is now completing an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. She was awarded the prestigious Hamish Canham Prize by the Poetry Society in 2009, and was commended in the National Poetry Competition in 2006. Her poems have appeared widely in UK Journals. Her debut collection, A Quechua Confession Manual, (now available for pre-order) from dynamic and respected Cinammon Press, will be launched in June at the Barbican; those wishing to attend should contact the press online to rsvp.

I have had the pleasure of being one of the poets who has worked with Hillier over the last few years, and I believe this collection is one of the debuts of this decade, in Britain. Below is the title poem from the collection, which I hope will showcase what are some of Hillier's impressive talents: wit, erudition, an interest in other times and places, and a genuine strangeness of imagination. Reading Hillier is a corrective in so many ways - gone is confession, banal anecdote, and the trivial - replaced by the unusual, the exotic, the unexpected - she writes poems with some of the panache of FT Prince, with the added precision of a scientific eye. She seems to me to be one of the true originals of the moment.

A Quechua Confession Manual (1584)

Remember, in this hemisphere the stars
are different. Look up and see the Pleiades.
My brother, understand, the sins are different too,
that’s why you’ll need this book.
These people have no knowledge of concupiscence,
their only prohibitions are of rank
yet in their ignorance, immortal souls
are heading for Hell. It’s not true by the way
that they have said they do not wish for heaven
if the Spanish are there.

This volume in their language will embrace
all possible offences of the flesh.
Learn it and rehearse your questioning
before you hold Confession.
Establish frequency, clarify with whom he sinned,
inquire if she’s a virgin or the wife
of some cacique. For female penitents,
ask if they seduced a priest, or climbed
on top of a man, made love-philtres,
allowed unnatural practices.
Do not omit the question about llamas.

They should respect us more, but fifty years ago
even their slaves were dressed in gold
and thought they were the Children of the Sun.
Brother Felipe likes to tell the novices
of when he gave the Sacrament in Cuzco
the Inca prince and all his sons wore silver suits
and emeralds in bunches, big as the grapes
below Valladolid. Sometimes I think
they understand ecstasy—that day their bone flutes
played homage to the spilling of Christ’s blood.

A quarter of a century has passed since
I’ve been home. I won’t be going back
unless as Incas say, the sun should change.
Here’s some advice for your first tour of duty:
before going out on pastoral visits
across these mountains and the highest snows
select the plumpest brother here as your companion.
He will sustain you with his dreams of food,
amuse you with a stock of impure stories. When
the puma that’s been stalking you for days
leaps out in ambush you’ll be sure that he
won’t emulate your turn of speed.

poem by Sheila Hillier; from her debut collection of the same title.

Tied Tongues

Last night's leader's debate - aired on the dastardly Sky News channel - yielded no clear winner.  Indeed, the earlier Cleggmania has faded somewhat, as the new dog with the new tricks became old hat.  He used names looked into the camera, and basically made the same claims about being different.  Ho hum.  But Clegg did have clear and different policies on Europe, Trident, and immigration - all left-field and quite brave.  Brown was better than I have ever seen him: angry, principled, and informative; he seemed to have a fire in his belly at last.  He claimed Nick was anti-American and bad for security, and David anti-Europe and bad for the economy.  Cameron - to my mind - was the weakest - though his calm upper-crust "Gap Yah" delivery was at least less shaky than first time out, and he seemed to score points about the campaign literature scare tactics that Brown may or may not have authorised.  Eyewear is now on the fence, between Labour and the Lib Dems.  I wait to see the last debate next week.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Cabin Fever

There is something grotesque about the way the airlines have begun to bully and browbeat the Civil Aviation Authority, and governments, who (rightly, it seems to me) threw wind to caution, and grounded planes due to scientific concerns about the damage volcanic ash can due to jet engines.  Yes, it is true the industry lost a billion dollars or so - though clearly they should recoup much of these losses as they fly people home eventually.  But to claim that economic interests might trump public safety seems odious, and wrong-headed.  The aviation industry is already too strong a lobby.  Flying should be pruned back.  Despite the travel headaches, everyone on the ground noted the bucolic blue skies above with some degree of approval.  Less planes would do more for the planet.  And, until science establishes a different set of facts, it stands as given that volcanic ash can cause catastrophic engine failure and result in hull losses.  It was right to be prudent about the plume.  Fly the careful skies, not the reckless ones.

Carcanet's Modern Canadian Poetry Anthology

I am pleased to announce that Carcanet's Modern Canadian Poetry anthology, edited by Evan Jones and myself (Todd Swift) has been listed in the latest, and very attractive, catalogue from the superb small press.  It is available as a PDF.  Go to page 27 for more information on this book, forthcoming November 2010.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Nominations Are In For Oxford Professor of Poetry

Not only will Britain have a new government sometime soon after 6 May - in June, it will have a new Oxford Professor of Poetry, to fill the shoes of the retired professor, Ruth Padel.  So far, this has been a rather arcane campaign - plans to provide for online voting seem at odds with the decidedly low-key (and byzantine) system - as nominees must be put forward by Oxford students with degrees (and some apparently never bother to officially "take" such degrees). At any rate, the flood of popular, sunny, Clegg-like figures has yet to sweep us the people away.  Only three poets have been so far confirmed, and of those, the less said the better about two of them - or rather, the more said, because I had, frankly, never heard of them until today.

It seems odd and a little ludicrous, if not vain, to allow oneself to be put forward for such a position, when one is, obviously, not of the first, or even second, rank.  The third nominee is the great genius of the English language, Geoffrey Hill.  Hill should have a real and healthy challenger.  Some Oxford graduates should nominate a few of the younger, lively, and intelligent poet-critics of the last few generations: Fiona Sampson, perhaps, or maybe even a fine English poet with popular appeal, like Daljit Nagra,  or Paul Farley.  On the other hand, even younger dynamic figures, like James Byrne, or Tom Chivers, or indeed, a poet like Heather Phillipson, would be of interest, if only as youth-vote candidates to shake things up.  Let alone Alice Oswald - someone of that weight.

In short, this could be a thrilling opportunity to showcase the variety of opinion and talent of the current generations of poetry.  And, since any poet from anywhere in the world can be nominated, John Ashbery, or indeed, a Canadian (Anne Carson?) could be put forward.  Michael Schmidt, too, would be a superb option; or the antipodes' CK Stead.  The list is endless.  It seems to speak of a decline in interest in poetry that the Oxford students have yet to make any startling, or fresh, or exciting nominations, beyond that for Hill, so far.

Stock Still Bond

The news that Bond 23 has been delayed "indefinitely" while MGM gets its financial house in order (or not) is both good and bad news, Eyewear thinks.  On the one hand, the culturally significant British franchise is now (for better and worse - it glamorises evil; but also sends up evil and glamour) a part of the calendar, and to see it just peter out would be sad (it needs to go out with an exploding oil rig, underwater domed HQ, or erupting volcano).  On the other, the Craig series has run out of steam, and needs retooling anyway.  The Bourne trilogy demanded a response, and Bond answered, with a similar aesthetic - but an angry, avenging Bond - very Old Testament, to Brosnan's smiling New Testament Bond.

This back to fundamentals was intriguing, but quickly lost fuel, in its second installment, with a bizarrely underwhelming climax in an eco-friendly hotel.  It seems time for a new Bond - one either younger (like the new Doctor Who) and more 21st century; or a more retro Bond (as Tarantino had suggested, set them in the 60s) - or, perhaps most compellingly, a black Bond (see The Wire for an idea of who they might cast).  I think Clive Owen has lost his shot at the role.  But there are several others who might get the series back on track.  Fiennes the younger?  We need a less dark, less post-9/11 Bond.  The new decade demands more of a Cleggish Bond, in fact - positive, Eurocentric, monogamous but with a past.


I've received a flood of new books to read and put up for review at Eyewear, such as, as it happens, Flood, by AF Harrold, Sunflowers in Your Eyes: Four Zimbabwean Poets, and Arlene Lang's Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu.  Also been sent the latest Peter Finch, from Seren, which I am pleased to have supplied a blurb for, on the back.  And much more.  Will try and get these looked at over the summer or sooner.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The New Kate Nash Album: My Best Friend Is You

Kate Nash's new album, out today, My Best Friend Is You, has received some mixed reviews. The main concern was that this upbeat pop singer had perhaps suddenly become too eclectic, complex, or ambitious (whereas, perhaps in sexist form, critics have saluted Paul Weller for being just that with his own new major album, Wake Up The Nation). Stuff and nonsense. This is one of the most fun, charming, and even thrilling, pop albums of the last few years, and easily better than her debut, Made of Bricks, which made Nash a star in Britain. If you want to know what meeting a cheeky, smart, sassy, fun-loving and ironic young British woman is like, in today's Broken Britain of 2010, play this record. Nash has effortlessly, but stylishly, used many classic pop song tropes, from riot grrrl, to Bow Wow Wow, to Pixies, to wall of sound, to jangly indie, to power pop - to forge a new and contemporary voice for her generation - a magpie generation to be sure. In the process, she's assembled 13 songs that are, if sometimes unexpected or a little challenging, never less than great to listen to. As she says: I read Glamour and the Guardian, in her stunning spoken word rant (full of sex and vinegar), 'Mansion Song'. Nash has just stepped ahead of her pop grrrl peers with this off-beam masterpiece.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Barbara Smith

Eyewear has read on the Irish poet Barbara Smith's blog that she has recently had surgery following pneumonia and a collapsed lung. I wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Sunny Uplands

One could be forgiven for waking up in England today thinking one had been transplanted to the set of The Prisoner (the remake at least) - a sunny utopia where the impossible rises like giant balloons. Today it is very warm and sunny here, and people are strolling, with perambulators, lovers, friends, out to recreation grounds and public places, wearing shorts and shades like it was Florida.

And we woke, the people of Britain, to at least two impossible things before brunch: the news that Nick Clegg is now, according to The Sunday Times "the most popular leader since Churchill" (with 72% approval) and that volcanic ash may keep belching out over the next year, intermittently keeping planes on the ground for the foreseeable. It's all happening. Britain seems like a different, alternative reality version of itself, one with coalition governments and a quiet Heathrow. Meanwhile, Eyewear's partner is slowly making her way home across Europe - a four-day trek to catch a boat to Portsmouth.

She is one of a million or so currently stranded abroad, but slowly and surely making their way home to Britain. The Dunkirk spirit indeed. When was the last time mid-April was this strange and exciting in the UK?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

It's Blitz

This was billed as the "first classic episode" of the new Doctor Who series.  It wasn't quite.  I am not sure the jazzed up logo and modified theme make the show more, or less, contemporary - something about the colours and tone sound too of the moment.  Sometimes retro is actually cooler, and more classic.  The new Doctor is an improvement on the last one, frankly, who I found a little insufferable.  This time around his manic eccentricity has an edge of uncertainty, bordering on insanity, that is fun.  The new assistant is even odder.  Unfeasibly tall, with a curious open face and big eyes, this pale Scottish lass is quirky, spaced out, and sometimes compellingly smart, all at once, while also looking like she's just bonked for an hour (or is that wishful thinking?).  I think she's a good character twist.

Tonight's episode was classic BBC twaddle, that convinces itself it is genius - remember the hype when they put Titanic in space?  So, this time, it was spitfires.  No real explanation was made for how the RAF was suddenly able to fly above the ack-ack and plumes and fire lasers at the Dalek mothership - alien science robot aside.  Surely some retro-fitting (sic) would be required?  And, if Churchill had that new technology, why would he need to pinch the Doctor's key?  Nice to see the Doctor threatening to blow up the Daleks with a Peak Freen biscuit.  However, most of this Blitz episode seemed far too enthralled by its own historic importance.

In a week when the election debates showed the power of TV to actually blow the dust of centuries and decades off of stale convention, isn't it time the Doctor Who (and BBC) stopped relying so heavily on these ho-hum history boy moments from the colonial past?  What next?  An episode where Larkin is whisked off to China in the Tardis, but brought home in time for Tea?

C Change

The latest polls suggesting that Nick Clegg's brilliant and engaging manner and message won over the TV audience of Britain in Thursday's debate is a truly new moment in UK politics - finally, the media is not just (a la Murdoch) dictating to the masses, but letting them see for themselves what is really at stake.  Finally allowed to be seen and heard, the Lib Dems (who are supported by 25% of national voters as is) appear credible, and even ready to rule.  It is too early to see if Clegg is the "new Obama" as some are saying, or if his mass appeal will fade - he has two more debates to go, and some of his rhetorical tricks (remembering the names of audience members) will be less impressive second time around.  And, the other two leaders will now know they have a force to be reckoned with.  But, here the strategy gets tricky- for a rise in Lib Dem popularity damages the Tory chances of forming a majority government - so Labour may not bring down its mighty fist.  It would be wonderful if the voters of Britain went with their gut reaction, and actually gave Clegg a groundswell.  Cameron may be stopped yet!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Featured Poet: Claire Potter

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the Australian poet Claire Potter (pictured) to its pages this ash-plumed Friday. Potter grew up in Perth, Western Australia and moved to Sydney when she was twenty. There she completed an Honors degree in English Literature, before being awarded a French Embassy Scholarship to complete a Masters in Paris, concerned with psychoanalysis and tragedy.

In 2006 she was awarded an Australian Young Poet Fellowship from the Poet’s Union and the Australian Council for the Arts. Her first chapbook, In front of a comma, was published and launched at the 2006 Sydney Poetry Festival. In 2007, her second chapbook of poetry, N’ombre, was published by Vagabond Press. Potter is currently reading a joint doctorate at the University of Western Australia and the Universit√© de Paris VII, where she is writing about Thomas Hardy. Potter’s first full-length poetry collection, Swallow, will be published by Five Islands Press in October 2010.

Robert Adamson has written of her work: "Claire Potter is a born poet, expressing passion along with ideas in the ‘open field’ of her work. Her forms dance with the intelligence of her choice of imagery. Her lines, laced with flight and song, double back through the poems, then unfold extra meanings on second or third readings."

I had the pleasure of meeting Potter a few years back when we read together in Paris. Her work is polysemous, thoughtful, and less lyric than experimental, perhaps taking bearings from European thinkers like Blanchot, but also a certain line of Australian poets, such as Kevin Hart - and of course, writing with an awareness of ecriture and Language poetics. She is recommended to you.

Within The Visible, A Garden

Within the visible, a garden widens, deploys wonga vines along telephone wires, draws threads of rain water into the circumference of invisible spider lines.

Down the spout, a tiny sugar glider prone on a cushion of breeze: scribbly gums, molten in sunset, bow inwards to a circle of soft green leaves, rubbing their backs against the wind, swaying ceremoniously from stone to star.

poem by Claire Potter

photo by Elena Heatherwick

Eat The Plumes

WCW had his plumbs.  Britain, and Northern Europe, continues to have volcanic plumes.  This is getting more Day of the Triffids every hour.  Over 100,000 Brits are stranded in the near abroad.  Was it just me, or did the streets seem deserted in London today?  Anyway, no one is panicking, yet.  If this is prolonged, of course, the economy would collapse, and people would go mad.  But not yet.  My partner is one of those stranded.  Eyewear is a bit at sea with all this compromised sky.

Clegg Up

It seems to be universally held that Nick Clegg, beforehand something of the Invisible Man of British politics (in league with his henchman, Vince Cable, the self-styled Elephant Man, so an extraordinary leage of gents, then) has won, hands down, the first-ever leaders debate in a modern British election.  Televised (that barbarous word!) and radio'd out to a vast audience of over ten million, it was almost as if three new Dr Whos were being rolled out.  Gordon Brown started very badly, and never stopped being stiff and grimace-wracked, often smiling oddly - but his level tones, and fact-filled answers impressed; he knows the names of the helicopters everyone else wants more of.  David Cameron (perhaps rattled by meeeting me) forgot to mention his Big Society - as if his manifesto had evaporated in the bright lights of the studio.  Instead, he appeared normal enough, but not exactly over-impressive.  Clegg, though, was positively Clintonian - using questioner's names, and playing the same record over and over - he is different.  In fact, the three parties can be summed as follows.  Clegg: Give Difference A Chance.  Cameron: Hope Over Fear (wasn't that the pedo slogan from Donnie Darko?); and Brown: Ringfence the Police, Schools and NHS.  It'd be great if the debates cascaded into real life and made a voting impact.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Ash Thursday

I was going to title this post 'Poor Visibility" - an Eyewear title if ever there was one - but went for the more theologically resonant one instead.  Odd times over the European skies today - ash is general over England, and beyond.  There was a large volcanic eruption in Iceland on Wednesday.  Due to the weather conditions, a plume of volcanic ash has now spread southwards towards northern Europe and is severely affecting all airlines' flight activity in the area. For safety reasons and on the direction from Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) a decision has been made to cancel a number of flights and close all London airports.  All British Airways domestic services have been cancelled on Thursday 15 April. On the BBC, they are talking about maybe no flights until Saturday, unless the ash plume, now pretty immobile, moves on.  This seems relatively unprecedented, and more than a little sci-fi slash disconcerting.  No eye in the sky, indeed.  Iceland's revenge on Britain for the banking crisis?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Poem Focus: Great Poems from Identity Parade #04

Patience Agbabi has been an exceptionally important figure for "British" poetry over the last decade or so, both as practitioner, and exemplar, of a mode of composition I have termed "fusion poetry" - that is, a style of writing that is equally adept on the page, and in performance (on the stage). Agbabi's work has been marked by formal intelligence, humour, sociopolitical engagement, and humanity. Without stretching comparisons out of context, she is the UK's Patricia Smith (without the scandal) - a universally-admired performance poet, but also a distinguished published poet, as well.

This is important, because, for a long time, black British poetry was somewhat sidelined, or marginalised, it seemed, by mainstream (and avant-garde) circles, of publication, and critical, reception (though Bloodaxe was always open to this poetry) - perhaps because the explosive diversity and range of the works challenged received notions of what "British" poetry (especially English poetry) was or should be. Remember, the emphasis on form, and mastery of craft, and lack of emotive exposition, has often shaped the critical discourse in the UK, especially over the last few decades. Still, the pressure of post-colonial and "identity" writing, from America, the Caribbean (Walcott), and the superb British poetry from Linton Kwesi Johnson and Fred D'Aguiar, among others, began to break down barriers. Agbabi has been one of the poets to aid in this transition.

Agbabi's poem 'Josephine Baker Finds Herself' is not one of her most dynamic performative poems, nor is it particularly funny. However, it does highlight the other elements of her writing, that are so impressive. La Baker is a very significant figure in her own right - and her dual citizenship (African American and French citizen) complicates ideas of identity politics, as does her multiple activities as civil rights activist, performer, and all-around legend. This duality or complexity is formally expressed in the shape of the text - two sixteen line stanzas, that mirror each other, with end words repeating as follows (1 and 32, 2 and 31, 3 and 30, 4 and 29) and so on. This form was one that intrigued, among others, Dylan Thomas (another famous figure intrigued and moved by the War).

As such, the words that double-up include up/up, down/down, Brixton/Brixton, lesbian/ lesbian as well as negative/negative and diva/diva. The language is racy, and fluid. The poem inverts, as well, its emotional content. At first, we follow the poetic speaker as she confronts a female lover (dressed in twenties Baker fashion, with pearls) who "picked me up/ like a slow-burning fuse. I was down / the girls' club used to run in Brixton" - so that upbeat eros and a very definite time and place are simultaneously evoked. However, as the poem runs, its mood turns, and we sense a different relationship between the lipstick lesbians, one dark, the other her "light-skinned negative", so when the poem ends "I was down. / She picked me up" we see the doubled significance of such an encounter of textual and sexual opposites (as lesbians also the "same"). Thus, Agbabi plays well with heterodoxy and homogeneity as tensions and releases, in clubland, England, and also, poetry itself.

Guest Review: Brinton On Hughes

Ian Brinton reviews
by Peter Hughes

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.

The first thing to be said about Peter Hughes’s adroit lyrics, registrations of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, is how hauntingly beautiful they are.

we suddenly lost interest
in such impossible pasts
lifting our heads towards
the river elsewhere
a new jetty stood beside
the old beyond repair
time mends an idea
slips its moorings
swings out into the current
& a kneeling figure
works on
pausing only to reach
for three more nails
& place them gently
between her lips

In his 1997 autobiographical sketches George Steiner suggested that almost everything said about musicalcompositions by poets or by music critics is inevitably just ‘verbiage’:  It is talk which enlists metaphor, simile, analogy in a more or less impressionistic, wholly subjective magma.

Music, like a ‘primal burst out of nothingness’ (Steiner), comes before language and the fall of man can be seen as a withdrawal into the rational explanation involved in verbal expression. These thirty-two short poems by Hughes are not explanations of Beethoven, they are linguistic responses in which the mind is permitted to travel free and lose ‘interest/in such impossible pasts’. There is an intricate freshness as the ‘new jetty’, associated with its French counterpart as an act of throwing, stands beside the old one which like all past moments is ‘beyond repair’. Words cannot re-call ‘impossible pasts’ but they can recall them as an echo left after the event has gone and Orpheus turning round to lay firm grip upon that which is behind him is left with the image of his lost wife fading back into the world of the dead. In this lovely opening poem Peter Hughes recognises the freshness of the present as time ‘slips its moorings’ and ‘swings out into the current.’ The placing of ‘swings’ at the beginning of the line carries the reader out on the journey whilst holding the rational inevitability that the ‘current’, the running moment, will be replaced by the returning movement of how a swing works. What could be a dream-like moment is given an etched clarity as we are invited to see the kneeling figure whose steadiness in her task is held for us, short line by short line.

The swinging back and forth of movement, the present becoming the past, the feeling requiring cognitive recognition in language, is taken up in poem number 8 as the ‘rhythm of concern’

rocking to & fro
before the knock on the door
with time & a mouthful of nails

The echo of Eliot’s premonition of death with his ‘waiting for the knock upon the door’ precedes Hughes’s acknowledgement that what we value in life is made up of moments, ‘remnants’ which are found

to be more interesting
than the fate of the bulk
of each roll

Peter Hughes is not, of course, the only poet to have suggested to his readers that there is a musical association involved in the sequence of his work: T.S. Eliot’s ‘Preludes’ and ‘Song’, ‘Rhapsody’ and ‘Quartets’ are among the most celebrated testimonies to the association. Perhaps in the case of Behoven a more direct link might be made with Basil Bunting’s awareness of Scarlatti’s B minor fugato sonata whilst he was writing Briggflatts. Bunting insisted that at no stage in that poem’s composition was the sonata form in control from the outside and in Peter Hughes’s sequence the words compel us forward with their own liquidity of movement not directly controlled by the Beethoven piano pieces. Given that, there are what might seem to be direct connections between the poetry and the formal structure of the music such as number 14’s relation to its counterpart, the ‘Moonlight’ sonata, where the Allegretto second movement of the Beethoven is only two minutes long and Hughes’s stanza has just one line. However, despite that seeming control from the original, the poem has an energetic life of its own which is fundamentally separate:

a high-tide line
of dead ladybirds
in a world without sound
pulse in a crevice

& words sail
into altered time of dark
red wine for several
hours now years & geese
migrating over
the house

The suggestiveness of that one-line stanza where the word ‘crevice’ connects so seamlessly with the line of where water meets land and the smallness of the insects and then urges the reader out into such expansive movement is sheer lyrical grace.

When I suggested at the beginning of this review that there is a haunting quality to these poems I was almost inevitably thinking of that Orphic sense where the words try to capture ‘an unrepeatable moment’ (24) and it is perhaps appropriate that the sequence should conclude with a glimpse from the dead to the living (32):

here where words

were stars


The light sent out from what may well be the no longer-existent stars still manufactures for the observer a patterned fabric upon which he can build his awareness of the present and I am left wondering if this hand-written final poem was an error of printing or was itself a movement back beyond the technological competence of current book-production. What does remain with me is the sense that the poetry is controlled by the intrinsic needs of each poem’s structure, the ‘behoven’, and as Bunting was to write in 1972 ‘Whatever you think I am saying is something I could not have said in any other way.’

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

Guest Review: Walsh On Swift

The Irish poet and writer, Niall Walsh, currently based in Hungary, has sent in his reading of Mainstream Love Hotel.  With transparency (I wrote the book) let me offer it here to those who might find it of interest:

Niall Walsh reviews
Mainstream Love Hotel
by Todd Swift

The first theme that emerged for me was one concerning water. The opening poem 'Mirror' presents us with the platonic question of reality: which is real, the shadow or the substance? Are we to believe in the paddlers in the boat, or their shadows reflected in the water? The answer comes in the final line of the poem, "the sister of knowing is making". This reflects Yeats's resolution of the dilemma of body and soul in 'Among School Children' "how can we know the dancer from the dance?". In 'Seaway Park' the act of swimming becomes a form of delving into one's past, to retrieve the unresolved issues of our childhood. The final line of the poem "light in water is time forgot" adds another dimension of time to Eliot's time past, present, and future, namely "time forgot". 'Now the rain's my only reader' shows us water, not as a reflector of reality, or as a repository of memory, but as a sort of purging ablution "breaking its fever" and restoring a voice to the parched throat, and also restoring the "dry salvages", another Eliotian reference.

Often intersecting the theme of water is that of light. In 'Skylon' the sun "uncovered by MI5" makes London "almost human". London light hitting the pavement in 'After the cinema' serves only to reveal the crudeness and menace of the city, "Light as a weapon then".

The third section of the book introduces aspects of time, often arising from contemplation of water and light. 'Late history' presents us with time as felt by an ailing figure at the window, unable to participate, only to observe. The world beyond the glass is no longer to be joined, "Who will speak for the tired times?" In the Larkinian 'These days' time is redeemed by experiencing it through manageable days, rather than through vast and nebulous concepts of past, present, future and eternity. The goals set long ago are unimportant now, what matters are "these days of you and me". The places where meaning comes through specific events, such as the unloading of fish from the boats, and a night of passion fulfilled. The fisherman also bears "days that were in the sea", reflecting the retrieval of memory carried out in 'Seaway park'.

On a more personal level we have poems reflecting the passing of the father, and what that says about the nature of our own existence. 'Letter of the law' places our little gestures of life in the context of "the greater cursive hand" that consigns us all to oblivion. The poem concludes that it is better to exist and suffer, than not to exist at all, "since pain at least implies a mind or body remaining to suffer". In 'Dream father' the father returns in dreams like the ghost of Hamlet's father - a mute and disturbing figure that still has unresolved issues that only the living can resolve. The torment of a life ended, but not completed, haunts and castigates the poet who "cannot forgive the lonely death you had". Perhaps the great unanswered question of the poem is 'who cannot be forgiven?'

Other notable poems in the collection include 'November' which contemplates the futility of creating and continuing in a context of decline. Man and machines lash the air "with threshing, actions, much shouting", but "Over all is a present sense that this is a tableau, false, will end". 'Love in a time of inflation' shows us a world in which all communication is digitised, where love is just a form of currency, and where "no lions roar in the mountains anymore". We are defined by our clothes and gestures, not by the secrets of our souls, "If we smile and agree, we are good: if we frown and snarl, we are foreign". In 'Light Sweet Crude' oil shares become the ultimate arbitrer of value and worth, up and down, real and unreal. The language of futures and commodities flows through our belief systems like the progress of black oil itself.

review by Niall Walsh

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance

Paul Perry's new collection, from Dedalus Press, is being launched May 4, 7 pm, in Dublin.  I've heard some of the poems from this, it'll be a good book, for sure.  Title is intriguing, to say the least.  Now to get a copy of this one, too...

Well Versed

Rae Armantrout's tenth collection, Versed, has won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry last month.  Eyewear is ordering a copy even as this is typed.

Animation Free For All!

The Labour party in Britain has just unleashed a series of free animated manifestos from the land of chalk drawings.  They're awfully cute, and even rather funny.  Will they tip the swing voters back?  Meanwhile, Gordon Brown now claims to be a fan of Lady Gaga.  I am trying to square that one with his circle, or rather, circle that with his squareness.  On another bat channel, Cameron and Co. are offering a government we can all join (without the smell of the sedan leather, as one BBC pundit put it this morning) - which means WE get to set up the schools, run the fire departments, clean the wards, and fire bad cops - making Britain the first fully-functioning Fisher-Price kingdom.  Very juvenile all this.  What is Clegg offering - free candy-flavoured unmentionables?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Holroyd Through It

Sad news.  As Tony Lewis-Jones wrote via his Various Artists communique: "Poetry Monthly International, one of the mainstays of the British Small Press since 1996, is to close. Poetry Monthly has been at the forefront of the millennial Poetry Boom, a cutting edge leading provider of Poetry solutions which has gone thru over 150 editions, numerous books and booklets, and a state of the art graphics business, and will leave a truly cavernous hole in the middle-ground of British Poetry Publishing when Martin Holroyd produces his final issue in June 2010."

Haiku Master From Bristol

Tony Lewis-Jones, a fine British poet from Bristol who actively supports the small press world of poetry alternative to the London scene, has placed highly (one star, third prize) in perhaps the world's most prestigious Haiku thingamajigThe Mainichi Haiku website out of Tokyo Japan has, after all, some claim to be the number one poetry website in the world, with 15 million readers.  Hats off to the syllabic master of these isles.

Jim Dixon Wrote A Lot of Larkin

Been reading Lucky Jim - at last! - while on vac; I know, I know - but I always preferred to come at Amis Senior via his under-rated poems, which are rather good, really. Aside from noting being a lecturer hasn't changed all that much in 56 years, it is striking (and this is a rather expectable observation, the kind I like to make) how many tropes, themes, phrases, and exact words, seem directly influential on the poems of Larkin, who was, of course, privy to early drafts of the work. Fear and boredom dominate the life of eponymous hero Jim Dixon, as does an interest in pretty "girls" beyond reach. It's a surprisingly romantic, even touching book, as well as being pretty darn funny at times. Required reading, indeed.

Random Quote Out Of Context

As seen in yesterday's Sunday Times: "The way the Establishment deals with people like me is to ignore them. When you become unignorable, they smear you" - Heather Brooke, journalist who helped to expose the MP expenses scandal.

Wheatley In New Anthology!

David Wheatley, a leading Irish critic-poet of his generation (those born in the 70s), is one of the poets selected to appear in the latest - and from the looks of it, invaluable (or at least intriguingly copious) - anthology of "modern" Irish poetry to appear.  Cynics might say these anthologies are as regular as "bloody buses" - but then again, if anthologies usefully update and revise canonical thinking, each one subtly or not so subtly, shifting the relations between poems, then, the more the merrier.  Eyewear looks forward to reading this one, edited by Wes Davis.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Entertainment Finally?

Strangeness alert: a paradox threshold, or is that irony watershed, or is that ambiguity tipping point, or is that satire level, or is that hypocrisy overload? - has been reached this week, with the unlikely, but nevertheless deserved news, as posted on Charles Bernstein's own worthwhile blog, that his latest, All The Whiskey In Heaven (a selected of 30 years poetry from FSG), has received an -A from Entertainment Weekly.

This is rich odd good news for Eyewear - since Eyewear modelled itself, in some ways, on a possible-world EW where poetry was as well-observed and perkily and glossily treated, as movies and music - in short, as if poetry could and did entertain a mass audience - though Eyewear has always operated on the understanding such a thing, if at all desirable, is barely possible in a capitalist secular world where celebrity is king - the Adorno problematic that the Language poets did so much to bring to our notice these last 30 or so years.

So how is it, then, that Bernstein finally makes the grade, and gets noted in such a mag (rag?) - and that he welcomes such a cross-over acceptance? This is the man who has often questioned the validity of a mainstream, public role for poetry, whose poetics, if not as rigorously austere and resistant to commodification as Prynne's, are nonetheless rebarbatively opposed to poems being absorbed into a reifying culture of consumption and hype. Is he mellowing, or accepting, his now-confirmed role as big new fish in the big new pond of American poetry? For, name me a male poet, over 50, yet younger than Ashbery, now working in America, more feted or discussed than he? Other than Muldoon, few. But -A? Surely, this book, which I was given on my birthday in Muscat, the other day, is A+ work all the way.

Report Abuse

Pope or Pilate? Washing one's hands may be a Christian trope, but it shouldn't be a guiding principle. The latest revelations concerning the former Cardinal Ratzinger's reluctance to prosecute or defrock child-molesting priests, for the claimed sake of a larger purpose (presumably protecting the name of the Church) is chilling, and more Machiavellian than even we might have expected emanating from an Italian city-state with subtle leanings.

The Pope is leader of a Church with about a billion followers (communicants) and he shouldn't be collared like a common criminal when he visits the UK soon, as Dr Dawkins and Mr Hitchens now propose; but he is an uncommon figure, and if found responsible, or irresponsible, in such serious matters, his judgement, and moral fibre will have been called into more than just question - they may be dragged into the mire, and sullied beyond normal repair. Forgiveness for sins is a major aspect of Christianity.

But so is obedience to Caesar's laws, when possible. Sex offenders in universities, hospitals, churches, the military, schools, offices, - in short, all walks of life - should never be shielded, but need to be turned in immediately to the authorities. One hopes they will receive justice, compassion, punishment balanced with proper treatment - but not, ever, cover to continue harming the young. The Catholic Church is left wondering about their current leader - is he the man?

Posh Boy Sighting

A curious incident this morning: as Eyewear came home from Heathrow by cab, around 7 am, I spotted a handsome youngish man in a dark designer suit bicycling alone in North Kensington.  It was the Leader of the Opposition and likely future PM Mr David Cameron.  Not wasting a moment, I asked the driver to stop, stepped out and briefly chatted with the somewhat startled cyclist.  I wished him a sporting good luck, and he thanked me, and sped off.  Oddly, and impressively, he seemed genuinely unattended by ostentatious security of any kind.  Sometimes the UK is impressive for its eccentric and open ways - suggestive that Britain is not all that broken.  Note, thought, he was not wearing a helmet!  And, on top of Sam Cam's lack of a seat belt the other day, that's a security risk too far.  Safety first, lady and gentleman, please!

Man, Oman

I am just back from a very fine week in the Sultanate of Oman, trekking in the mountains, desert, and spending time by the sea reading. Oman is an exceptionally interesting country, a small nation on the Arabian peninsula connected by its historical, cultural, religious, and sea-faring ties, as much to Africa, Asia, as to the Middle East. A predominantly (moderate) Islamic country, it is not as oil rich as its neighbours, so it has had to diversify its economy. For the past 40 years it has been ruled, benevolently and intelligently, by Sultan Qaboos, who has won international awards for his far-seeing commitment to environmentalism. Oman is also a leader, in the region, in education, health, and eco-tourism. Oman is mainly a gravel desert, and mountainous, country, very hot and humid most of the year (it is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer), with some monsoons in the summer in the south, and a cooler breeze along its long coast (the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman).

Politically, it is diplomatic, and has had ties with Britain, but also has worked with Iran, among others. The country has been stable for the past 40 years. The people of Oman, based on those I met, are universally friendly, welcoming, and pleased to show tourists around. They are proud of what their Sultan has achieved, and how clean and beautiful their country is; and of its history of forts and dhows. It's geography is stunning and unique. It is specially known for its "Wadis" - mountain-fed streams that form rock pools in narrow, palm-lined gorges (fjords) that rise thousands of metres on either side, and snake deep into the mountains, that lie off the coastline, inland a few hours from the sea. It also has a part of the legendary Empty Quarter, and has sand deserts, as well, where Bedouin still live. It also has several of the world's finest luxury resorts, including the Chedi in Muscat.

As my 43rd year was the worst of my life, I wanted to turn 44 in a different place, and to explore a different culture. I had always had an interest in Arabia, but had never been there. So it is, my wife and I travelled to Muscat, via Bahrain, and spent a week touring, with Passion-Trek (recommended). Abdul, our young, handsome and athletic guide, was a lot of fun, and also thoughtful. We swam in hidden caves and remote Wadis (the best swimming of my life), as well as sinkholes, and the sea. One night, we camped in the desert. I had strong black coffee with the Bedouin (my first coffee in 8 months, as I have to be careful with my digestive disease), and avoided camel spiders and scorpions. We ended our vacation with two nights at the Chedi, the most beautiful hotel I have ever seen.

As it was my birthday the night we arrived, they upgraded us to a suite, and sent me a surprise cake - very sweet! The service was impeccable, and the giant fountains and palm tree garden outside our balcony were exotic and mesmerising. Every day was hot - none less than 34 Celsius, and night time the air remained a warm 30 Celsius. It was always sunny, or just slightly overcast. The food was mostly rice and spicy lamb, or chicken, or prawns, with an Indian or Asian bent. Oman offers the traveller unlimited opportunity for adventurous trekking, or pampered beach reading, or both, and the safe sense of the nation and its placid people was most assuring. I hope to return some day, and stay longer, exploring more of the mountains, and the south.


Eyewear is thrilled to note that we now have "175 followers".  It'd be swell to get up to 180 by May.  I am aiming to have 200 for our 5th anniversary in June.  Wishful thinking?

Friday, 9 April 2010

White Egrets

I have been reading Walcott's 14th - White Egrets - published in his 80th year by Faber. This may be the finest late work in the English high modern lyric tradition since Yeats. Heaney will be set an example to follow by this well-wrought confession. The symbolic resonance of an old man's lusty, deteriorating memories and regrets (the egrets of the title) act as leitmotifs, along with the white horses of the sea, painting, palms, European and Carribean cities and ports, light, time, and poets and poetry - and death shadowing all. This book is a lofty collection whose each poem interlocks and interleaves with its neighbours, offering a particularly fragrant, emotive and sensuous experience of mood, place, and purpose. Both profoundly sad and inspiring, it is canonical writing of the highest level. An etude of loss, disease, desire, and post-colonialism. Do search it out.

Malcolm McLaren Has Died

One of the greater Western cultural impresarios of the last 40 years died on my 44th birthday the other day: Malcolm McLaren.  He will be missed.  I met him once in a Moroccan restaurant in Paris.  Certain of his provocations, bands (not least Bow Wow Wow) and songs ('Madame Butterfly') are an indelible part of my earlier life, and his work in some ways influenced Tom Walsh and I when we worked on the Swifty Lazarus project a decade ago.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Bad Child

I just completed my first real pulp thriller best-seller in years (I used to love Fontana paperbacks featuring parka'd men scrambling on ice floes with ice picks) - the penultimate Lee Child.  It is, at times, shockingly misogynistic, violent, and even borderline racist (or at least the main character is).  Edward Said would not have been amused, in the least.  Child is not the new Chandler, as some have claimed, but he might be a new sort of Spillane.  Jack Reacher has some intriguing characteristics.  A pity he seems to hold dimestore views about le monde Arabe - a far more complex and valuable cultural space than his post-911 worldview (or the one his creator cynically adopts to sell books to the airport everyreader) seems to admit.  I am breaking my promise not to blog over the Spring break - okay, will try to keep my mitts off this blog for a few days.

Judt Land and Identity Parades

Tony Judt would be a fascinating reader of Identity Parade.  Perhaps he should be shown a copy, though the great American writer and thinker is sadly very ill with a debilitating disease.  Nontheless he has been dictating essays, and some of his recent writing has appeared in the latest The New York Review of Books.  There he discusses the identity of the edge ('Edge People', March 25, 2010), a cosmpolitan and fragmented identity that he advises intellectuals and academics to adopt, against what he decries as a very dictatorial attempt to define and delimit what is British identity (his own example), among others.  This essay is well worth checking out, to see a well-argued defense of what is basically my position - that strictly nationalist definitions of identity can be dangerous and even demagogic.  It has some wonderful quotes: '"Identity" is a dangerous word.  It has no respectable contemporary uses.'  Or, the conlduing paragraph:

Being Danish" or "Italian", "American" or "European" won't just be an idenity; it will be a rebuff and a reproof to those whom it excludes.  The state, far from disappearing, may be about to come into its own: the priviliges of citizenship, the protections of card-holding residency rights, will be wielded as political trumps.  Intolerant demagogues in established democracies will demand "tests" - of knowledge, of language, of attitude - to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch or French "identity".  They are already doing so.  In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals: the edge people.  My people.

Blond Ambition

Eyewear is currently reading Blond's Red Tory, this new book that may or may not be Cameron's Third Way. In the meanwhile, let me say it is a pity the author doesn't seem to acknowledge he has not coined the phrase Red Tory at all - such progressive conservatism was de rigeur in Canada, for the PC party, for decades, and many great Canadian politicians have been called red Tories in their time. Blond does make a compelling case, as Eyewear often does, for a new space for values in British society, and calls the current State-Market nexus flattening - in the sense it leaves no community space for what used to be social good (as in Church groups, caring neighbours, genuine virtue, etc.). Blond is also good on the Broken Britain of young sex, young knives, and young drinking, where youth is bought and sold and marketed, cheapening everything.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Rowan, Gently

Dr Rowan Williams has had a busy Easter.  The other day he appeared in The Guardian as the even-handed, cheek-turning Christian reviewer, who subtly and gently turned the tables on atheist-turned-author P. Pullman, by suggesting the many ironies of the four gospels - four types of ambiguity then?  But the other Archbishop's face seemed turned the other way, to menace.  There he was, quoted on a yet-to-be broadcast BBC interview, scathing on the Irish Catholic Church, for its moral bankruptcy - forgetting, apparently, that the Church is all the people, as well as the steeple, and not just a so-called sinister Pope and the criminals who attacked children (though no less than the shaven-headed ululator of yore has also come out to attack).  It seems an odd display of virtuoso critical and moral authority, but it confirms Williams as a fascinating mind.  This Easter, all of Britain should be proud to have such a curious fellow in their midst.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday

I was born on Good Friday, 44 years ago - and just barely survived, being exceptionally tiny, three months premature, the smallest baby on the ward, and one of the youngest at my size to ever survive in Canada - a "miracle baby" as they were called then - perhaps still are.  It was a fraught time for my parents, and of course, for me - and I am grateful to have struggled through.  Today, at a celebration of the Lord's Passion, I could not help but reflect on my good fortune, to have lived, at all.

Eyewear will be back on April 12. In the meantime, fellow eyewearers, enjoy the various religious holidays with your families, the returning light, and the sense of renewal in the land. May you achieve physical and spiritual health. Or, if that is too much, enjoy some chocolate bunnies. Nothing like a good egg hunt.

What's to look forward to in April at this blog?

A few superb new poet features; reviews by Christopher Horton, Ian Brinton, Abigail Curtis, and others.  And the usual entertainment, current affairs and poetry commentary that readers world-wide have come to know and love. In the meantime, do check out Eyewear's healthy back catalogue of posts.

For those so inclined, please do pursue the comic genius of John Hegley, whose line always comes to mind at this time - "If that's a Good Friday, wouldn't want a bad one".

And, yes, RIP, John Forsythe.  Blake Carrington was a big part of growing up in North America in the 80s.  Peace be with you.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Guest Review: Ironmonger On Porter

Tom Ironmonger reviews
If you consider Peter Porter's contribution to poetry you might well be forgiven for assuming that the title of his latest work Better Than God is self-congratulatory. This would be understandable considering that, during half a century of residence in this country, his writings have been of such a prolificacy and quality to warrant this lofty comparison. However there is nothing bumptious about the poet or poems in this collection, Porter's subjects might be grandiose but his treatment is not. His stable themes (art and religion) are viewed with a wry Porterean reverence which is at odds to distinguish the fallible from the sublime. Those expecting a commemoration will find footage of candid behind-the-scenes action, a perspective which often seeks to portray the existence of his fellow worshipers: 'We are/ philosophers and drainmakers,/ prospectus-holders, vainly gripping/ the under-edge of a minor star.'

In a recent review of John Ashbery, Porter described his poems as being 'made of verbal structures derived from everyday life on earth but magically manoeuvred to a newly created life on the moon'. The same might be said for the poems in Better Than God except they orbit much closer to the sun and the manoeuvring is more a case of craft over magic; his sublimation of form throughout is a testament to this. Linguistically, however, there is a great deal to say for the pragmatism of the poetry, which is at times heroic in its lack of pretence:

A species which feels sorry for
not just itself, but worms and bats,
would like to make life fair and take
the wrinkles out of sex and war.

('Whereof We Cannot Speak')

Stanzas such as this provide important lessons for students of poetry with a tendency to overwork the artifice; they exemplify the effect of poetry that speaks truthfully. But Better Than God is brimming with lessons. Many of these through their opposition to the milieu of contemporary poetry and specifically its preference for indifference over opinion. For this collection is a reminder that, when masterfully executed, poetry is an eloquent voice for sophisticated or complicated ideas; that poetry can be soulful and political. No more is this justified than in the poignant satire of 'The Little Fish Have Gone':

And the big fish are looking guilty,
the morning census bides a tear
and the people of the house
are momentarily gods.

This is just one of many registers in Better Than God, for Porter's ability to manipulate voice is apparent throughout. Like the absurd and obscure lines of 'Henry James and Constipation' or the irresistible banter of 'For John Ashbery' ('In the end, aren't you a bit pissed/ at living in the world's most powerful country?'). Yet the most idiomatic of these voices is typical of Porter's later poetry, the language of lived erudition. It is true that Porter's vault of knowledge seeps into each and every line, complete poems such as 'Chocolates and Gratitude' or 'Shakespeare's Defeat' are saturated with his scholarly worldliness. For these poems are those in which Ancient Greeks, Social Theorists and Contemporary Artists, freely converse in the queue. Such juxtapositions can, admittedly, provide obstacles for those trying to overhear, especially for those with unaccustomed ears. Nonetheless, it is not altogether important whether or not these references are realised because when this polygamy of culture works it creates original and invigorating verse.

It would be wrong to think of Better Than God as communicating purely in high-talk, for would ignore some of the elementary humour that it contains. A few of the aforementioned titles provide clues to this, but many of the poems contain moments of comic reprieve. Porter seems to revel in catching his subjects on the lavatory or, in the case of a certain Russian author, having a sardonic dig at their malaise: 'Refurbish Dostoyevsky's gloomy flat!/ Apocalypse as heating under floor,/ Madness steaming in a samovar'.

Better Than God deserves its title, not by any theological dictum, but because of its qualities as a work of poetry. For this is a work that answers to Eliot's essay 'Tradition and the Individual Talent'. It is the work of a lifetime of immersion and dedication to art, a collection of writings that speaks out of respect for decorum. However what is most impressive about these poems is their vigour and their unashamed refusal to be anything other than themselves. They are an example of the type of panoramic view achievable when a poet has the ability and industry to climb high. Most importantly they carry the pertinent thoughts of a man who is concerned about the future. Here are the final four lines:

I'm on a river bank. I think I see
The farther side: a choice of nothingness
Or Paradise. My poems wait for me,
They look away, they threaten and they bless.

('River Quatrains')

Tom Ironmonger is a poet and writer currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths.

Orbis Is 150

Congratulations to Editor Carole Baldock, who has pioneered the intrepid quarterly international literray journal Orbis, in a difficult financial and cultural climate, to the remarkable milestone of its 150th issue (Winter/Spring 2010) - just out now. The issues features poems by Robert Nazarene, Nessa O'Mahony, William Oxley, Rupert M Loydell, and many others, new, unknown, and widely-respected, alike; Orbis is open and fair, welcomes all, from wherever. It also features good reviews of many collections, and mentions contests and magazines poets need to know about. It is a classic current little magazine, and we should thank Baldock for her work on its, and our, behalf. Orbis is the sort of magazine by which poetry thrives, despite the bigger boys and girls. One way to thank would be to order a subscription, or even a copy of Carole's latest poetry collection. Money where mouth is are words sweet to the poet-editor's ear.

Belgian awful

Belgium has just banned all wearing of clothing which obscures or semi-obscures the face - in a clear attempt to stop certain religious clothing most often associated with women of a certain faith - on the absurd grounds that no one should be allowed to "see but not be seen" in public. Are bans on tinted car windows and sunglasses to follow? Bans on security cameras? We in the West live in a pan-optical society, and the right to look extends far beyond the right to be seen. Otherwise x-ray specs would be enforced. We have a right, surely, to protect our dignity, modesty, person - and even privacy. More to the point, is religion such a threat to the secular powers that be (namely so-called democracy and capitalism) that it must be basically cleared from the market place and the public squares, as a contagion, like second-hand smoke? Religion threatens humanist mastery, and especially the aims of instrumentalism. It gestures to realms and spaces less visible, and less scientific - indeed, the mystical, the spiritual, perhaps the magical, and, at times, of course, the musical and artistic. At the least, the need or desire for religion is a deep and valid psychological one. Whether there is a God (and we must hope there is, or could be) there is definitely an historic belief in one, extending over thousands of years. It seems churlish and simplistic to seek to rescue these women from garments they have no wish to rend. Such laws are inhospitable and utterly infantile. True freedom would allow for each of use to choose how we wish to be arrayed and disport ourselves. Clothing makes the man. Symbols have power. Without religious symbols, religion is drained and purified, desalinated to the point of evaporation. Then again, perhaps God exists finally in the thin air the State demands he disappear into. To trouble our minds no more.

British Association for Canadian Studies Conference

The University of Cambridge will play host this April 6-8 for the annual BACS conference. If there do look for the Vehicule Press books, including Language Acts and The New Canon.

National Poetry Month

AngelHousePress and Amanda Earl are bringing you a poet/poem a day this April. I'm appearing on my birthday, April 8th! Enjoy.

Featured Poet: Teddy Sloe

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Teddy ("Ted") Sloe (pictured) the antipodean poet, this special day before the Good Friday pause. Sloe is one of the leading poet-editors of his generation, a New Zealander by birth, who has lived in various exotic and far-flung places, like French Polynesia, Panama, Wisconsin, and parts of Russia, but now is semi-firmly based in Paris, where he lives with his fiancee, the successful stockbroker Myrna Malone. As such, Sloe considers himself a "Franco-Kiwi". Though he often chunnels over to the vibrant London scene.

Sloe has published six collections, starting with his celebration of all things 80s - Ultravox (1999) from Gold Key Publishing, in Manitoba. This was followed by three more Gold Key books, in rapid succession - European Eatery (2002); Sesame Street Revisited (2004) and perhaps his masterpiece, Summer Snowballs (2007), which explores the harrowing death by tuberculosis of his step-mother, Tamara Sloe, the New Zealand cabaret singer, and the joys of the great outdoors. These were swiftly followed by 2008's Collected Poems, sub-titled Underdown, and 2009's Post-Collected, and UK debut, Avant Sex Hospital, from Short-torch.

Sloe has also been an active anthologist. He has been arguing for a long time that all things spoken aloud and/or digital are important and shape the spirit of poems. His most important anthologies are either eco or politico in scope, range and cleavage: Global Poetry Inc. (1999); 212 Poets Against Global Warming (2003); Hemisphere Ahoy! (2007) and his tirade against the bankers, Kapital Punishments (2009). He is currently co-editing New Modern and Anti-Modern Poets of New Zealand, with his brother, Gary Sloe, and their friend, the experimental poet-butcher Hans von Truck, transplanted to Paris from Vienna.

Sloe is a controversialist, and on various online magazines, networking sites, e-forums, and even by telephone, manages to stir trouble and air his dirty laundry as his psycho-social needs require. He also organises various "Word Smash-Ups" where poets, punks and restless others compete for top honours, in seedy hostels and dilapidated warehouses in low-rent districts. He also runs a reading series for Very Old Poets, in a junk shop in Paris Nord, all money raised to go (eventually) to Doctors Without Beards.

His CDs and DVDs for this cause include 92 Very Old Poets for the Helpless, and Line Up: The Best of the Rest. Relentlessly driven, exuberantly gifted, protean, over-sized, and Orson Wellesesque in ambition, scope and range, Sloe, though he has won no prize or peer-recognition of note, manages to keep himself in the game by Vachel Lindsay-like self-promotion and Barnum and Baileyian activities. Eyewear is glad to welcome this international stylist par excellence maintenant, this fish of April flung gasping on the shore.

This Be The Reverse

Slam the brakes and gyrate the hips.
Lips are for licking, screw
Your plaster to the sticking
And point out where your little

Sister is sitting. They shoot hoarse
Dancers don't they?, you go first -
Quench that long thigh-thirst
And debate the lung's inner burst

That Kraftt-Ebbing diagnosed.
We want underthings unearthed, slips.
Get garters. I announce my fling
With vocables here, on this bed, Hearst

Or Kane, able to punish any stable.
Bend over and expose your swell gams,
Ma'am. The Kiwi shrieks in the foliage,
Fecund exploitation mars this page.

I regret the excavation of the tar
In Alberta, but think Regina king.
Suck and mope on my swagger, Tam.
Mother, brother, father - all spawn dying

Like the low sea-birds mapped in oils.
Kiss my placard and march, baby.
Let us go now and ruin a new world
Sweet with sheep and love and rabies.
I first saw a top shelf coastal girl like a girl.

poem by Ted Sloe

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