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Showing posts from June, 2011

England Is Mine - new collection from Todd Swift forthcoming late 2011

JCS On The Top Ten Musical Highlights of 2011 At Mid-point

James Christopher Sheppard on his Top Ten musical highlight of 2011 As we hit the mid-point of the year 2011, James Christopher Sheppard takes a look back and charts his top ten musical highlights of the year so far. With stellar performances, standout single releases and albums that will be listened to for years to come, here’s how James’ top ten shapes up, in descending order, starting with the tenth best highlight. 10 P!nk ‘Fuckin’ Perfect’ New Mum, P!nk, released the second single from her Greatest Hits… So Far!!! album in March, to much critical acclaim. The video portrays a girl with self-confidence issues, who dabbles in self-harm, but ultimately grows into a beautiful women and mother. As corny as it sounds, it really is a moving song and video and incredibly apt for P!nk at this time in her life. I can not wait for the follow-up to the incredible Funhouse album. 9 Britney Spears ‘Hold it Against Me’ Britney smashed back onto the scene after a short break

Save East Coker

The rustic English village where Mr. T.S. Eliot is buried is under threat - East Coker . It is synonymous with one-quarter of one of the greatest poems in English. Poet Simon Pomery is part of the campaign . However, there is an irony in this, as the poem in question seemed a little Zen in its acceptance of change, as well as prescient: Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.

Planet-shaped Horse, a Review by Todd Swift

This picture has nothing to do with the reviewer or reviewee.  Apologies. This will not be a review, because that would be boring and mean I have to talk about someone else.  Actually, reviews are little machines for pretending to be interested in someone else.  The longer they are, the more they are about the writer.  This review is about Luke Kennard .  Luke Kennard is two things we all want to be: tall and funny.  He is, thirdly, young, and fourthly, British, and fifthly, smart about poetry.  So that's six things, really, if you count famous.  I am not sure about rich.  Luke Kennard did not use my blurb on his new pamphlet.  This hurt until I realised it was an oversight.  Life is bearable again.  I like the title: Planet-shaped Horse .  Notice this is not Pluto-shaped Hearse .  Or Plant-shaped House .  Those will come.  Give him time.  Kennard is funnier than every other poet writing in Ireland and Britain, including Kevin Higgins, Simon Armitage , and John Hegley , who are

Browning Version

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died 150 years ago today.  At the time of her death she was the most famous woman poet in the English language, and perhaps the most popular, period.  It might be instructive to all of us, today, Picador poets on down to the smallest of small presses, to keep that in mind, because in 150 years - in 2161, the middle of the 22nd century - how shall our reputations fare?  Bluntly, no one really reads even Mrs. Browning anymore, in any depth, except for students of her work, academics, and the readers who come across her most famous sonnets, in mass market anthologies.  There is hardly a craze.  Christina Rossetti and Dickinson have fared better.  And yet, her legend, and her name, have endured.  In today's Evening Standard  Michael Meredith  defends her husband from slurs he killed her (and does so handily).  How does time render us humble?  Let me count the ways.

Is British Poetry Really British Drama?

Eyewear has decided it is important to post this following message, which was forwarded to me by many different respected poets in Britain yesterday, in several similar forms; it seems that this is a simple democratic push for transparency and is not motivated by personal grudges or malice: "You've probably seen recent reports in the Evening Standard, The Sunday Times , and today's Guardian  about the dreadful current situation at the Poetry Society, where President, Director, and Finance Officer have all resigned due to the behaviour of the Board. The Board has consistently refused to answer questions despite repeated requests and letters, regardless of signatories etc. The next step is to push for an EGM in which members can attend, hear what has been happening, ask questions and vote on an appropriate motion/resolution. This is necessary before any further and lasting damage is done to the Society. Kate Clanchy has already collected 170 signatures and I&

Poems by Sam Riviere

Sam Riviere co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives , and was a recipient of a 2009 Eric Gregory Award. Faber & Faber published his pamphlet in 2010 as part of their New Poets scheme. These poems are taken from  '81 Austerities', a series currently being published in instalments with supporting material at this place . CRISIS POEM In 3 years I have been 'awarded' £48,000 by various funding bodies councils and publishing houses for my contributions to the art and I would like to acknowledge the initiatives put in place by the government and the rigorous assessment criteria under which my work has thrived since 2008 I have written 20 or 21 poems developed a taste for sushi decent wine bought my acquaintances many beers many of whom have never worked a day in their lives how would you like to touch my palm and divine how long my working week has been mostly I watch films and stare and try to decide what

Granting Degrees Zero

The UK university system keeps changing as the current government seeks to open it up to competition, that chimera.  My concern is with the idea that university education should always be about "giving students the skills they need for a good job in the marketplace".  Sure, college skills are always going to be important for gainful employ, but some things are goods in themselves, not least, knowledge.

New Poem by Ben Parker

Eyewear is glad to feature a new poem by Ben Parker today.   Parker studied creative writing at UEA and now lives and works in Oxford.   Darwin’s Beetle The Cam climbs out from under mist. The heads of tulips show. In galleries of oak the blackbirds cough dissent, the pigeons wake. Across the river’s surface golden blades of Darter’s flash. And by the bank he stands: the naturalist in muddied shoes and cloak, at rest against a still-mossed hazel stick which now he nudges up against a fold of bark and deftly turns it back. Beneath, two beetles crouch. He bends to shut their shells inside his palms. And then the earth reveals a third, too rare to lose. Right hand to mouth he stores one prize, but then recoils and spills all three: the sting of acid, and an oath. poem by Ben Parker; published with permission of the author.

John Locke On Target

The Sunday Times give us an interview with Top Ten ebook best-selling author, John Locke , who has sold a million ebooks and made himself almost a cool half-million US bucks in the process.  Locke, no relation to any philosopher, claims to be working on this third fortune, to be married to a woman with great legs, and to write for bored businessmen and 75% women; his ultra-violent, sexually-prehistoric hitman character apparently appeals to all levels of nitwit slash reader.  The key thing is, he has bypassed agents, publishers and all that nonsense from London, like the snobbery and wine in bookshops, to simply sell books he churns out like some people push toothpaste onto their bristles, for 62p a pop.  This is the future of publishing.  I teach creative writing and have seen many brilliant novels get rejected by the old p-system (publishing system). This is going to empower a lot of people.  Sadly, as my Oxfam bookshop manager friend Martin Penny tells me, most people want to read

No Poets Allowed

More on The Sunday Times - great fodder today for poetry stuff - their 100 BEST BOOKS FOR THE BEACH section had ZERO POETRY.  Wouldn't want to get sand in that Waste Land .

Breakdown of Society?

Also in The Sunday Times - news of a mass email and social networking campaign to arrange a vote of the members of the Poetry Society.  Everyone has agreed not to talk to the media, including Dr Fiona Sampson (this year's Ruth Padel , according to the catty Times ).  Sadly, British media only like it when poets are fighting like wrestlers in mud.   Eyewear is maintaining neutrality in this apparent power struggle, because frankly, Mr. Shankly, what is it about?  No one has publicly said what direction Sampson wants to go in that the outgoing president didn't.  I liked the editing of Poetry Review , so saw little problem there, though some of those Paterson essays were a bit tough to follow.

The Death of U2

The other day, the world's biggest popular rock band, U2 , played the UK's greatest summer festival, Glastonbury; the event, historic for some, was marred - or improved - depending on your perspective - by a small group of protesters, who want U2 to pay taxes in Ireland, rather than avoid them.  The response, from the group's manager was that U2 was "a global business" and had an international tax profile.  Fine and dandy - but that admission, to me, signals the death of U2 as a band of singer-songwriters I want to have in my earphones.  When I listen to music I don't want to listen to BP or Exxon.  If U2 is now a global business they can't have my business, because I don't want to think of music that way.  Would we still love and respect Heaney or Ashbery if they were incorporated?   The Pogues are not a multinational corporation; they are geniuses.  What makes matters worse is that Bono swans around with world leaders, claiming to want to improv

Just No More Things: Peter Falk Has Died

Sad news.   Peter Falk , the great American actor with the glass eye and the peculiar drawl, best known for playing Columbo , arguably the best-loved TV detective of popular culture, has died.  He was also a character actor known for taking challenging roles in art-house films, such as Wings of Desire , A Woman Under The Influence , and Husbands .  His first TV role was in 1957, and his last was in 2009.  In that 53 years, nothing he did equalled, in terms of sly charisma, the brilliance of Columbo , the highwater mark of intelligent adult entertainment drama on US television during the 1970s and 1980s; it was certainly always a special night when a Columbo show was on.  What I loved about the shows (as did my father) was how the unassuming, seemingly bumbling rumpled detective, who always smoked a cigar and referred to his wife, was actually a genius, more than a match for the psychopathic narcissistic killers he would eventually outwit - usually brain surgeons, conductors, authors,

Featured Poet: Meghan O'Rourke

Finally, a sunny day here in London!  To celebrate, we welcome a rising star of American poetry,  Meghan O'Rourke , pictured.  O'Rourke, born in Brooklyn, began her career as one of the youngest editors in the history of  The New Yorker.  Since then, she has served as culture editor and literary critic for  Slate  as well as poetry editor and advisory editor for  The Paris Review.   Her essays, criticism, and poems have appeared in all the best places for such things to appear, such as  The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Poetry, The Kenyon Review,  and  Best American Poetry.  O’Rourke is also the author of the poetry collections  Once  (2011) and  Halflife  (2007).  Halflife  was nominated for the UK's own Forward First Book Prize. A graduate of Yale University, she has taught at Princeton, The New School, and New York University. Her latest book is the memoir  The Long Goodbye .  If you have yet to read her work, now is the time!  Summer reading season began

Greece Deserves Better

The news that British PM David Cameron has fought in Brussels to severely limit Britain's financial exposure to EU funding for the Greek bailout is not good.  It is evidence of an historic betrayal.  Since at least the time of Byron , Britain has understood the importance of Greece, as classical ideal, and as reality.  Millions of British people travel to Greece every year, for holidays in the sun, welcomed by great hospitality, food, natural beauty, and ancient history of extraordinary worth.  Modern Greece is not Athens in its golden age.  But we owe the idea of Greece a debt worth far more than billions.  We owe them our civilisation.  It therefore seems sad and petty and ignoble to refuse to come to their rescue, when they need us most.

Lupercalia: JCS On The New Wolf

James Christopher Sheppard reviews  Lupercalia by Patrick Wolf Lupercalia is the fifth studio album from underrated British singer songwriter and all-round musical genius, 27 year old, Patrick Wolf . Each of his previous four albums branch out in different directions, with Patrick experimenting with folk sounds, electronic music, brass lead pop, haunting piano melodies and just about everything in between. Lupercalia was originally intended as part two of concept album The Bachelor , but Wolf dispelled this theory in August 2010 through Twitter, claiming that the concept and original name, The Conqueror , had changed. The theme of the album is reflected in the title, with Lupercalia referring to the ancient festival of love and fertility around Valentines Day. Wolf told Digital Spy that despite the album being about love, which is the most common theme in pop, he ‘wanted to approach it in a way that has not been done before’. ‘The City’ 10/10 Easily the most flamboyant song that W

Yawn Tennis

Tennis is a great sport - but the British press is ruining it with their obsessive need for a British winner at Wimbledon.  IS THIS MURRAY'S YEAR? blare the headlines.  Truth is, probably not, since at least three better players, a few the greatest ever to play on grass, are also competing.  Murray could win, if he was lucky and at the top of his game plus some, but he may not.  And, actually, who cares?  Why the need for a British winner?  This constant jingoistic urge ruins all the sporting events reported on here - rather than just focusing on sporting excellence from whichever nation it may hail from.  I say balls to Murray-obsessed tennis reporting.  Let the best men and women on the day win and well done to them.

Evil Will Be Televised

I pay for the BBC - everyone with a TV set in the UK does.  Last night's BBC 9 pm show, Episode 2 of Series 2 of Luther , was more than a waste of money.  It was a criminal waste.  The first series of Luther was shocking and thrilling.  Last night plumbed the depths of evil enacted for entertainment - what is sometimes called "torture porn" - a genre more or less invented by the makers of the films Hostel and Saw ; it is a cynical genre, that knew that eros and thanatos thicken and congeal in the human imagination, and that people will pay to see bad things happen to good-looking people.  Fine for cinema - but public TV need not follow such bottom-feeder trends. The Luther episode featured a bound police officer being branded; a man's hand crucified with hammer and nail; and fourteen children kidnapped on a schoolbus, gassed liked during Nazi Germany, and graphic discussion of how their bodies could be destroyed by acid.  Each of these acts is repeatable, and no

The Greatest Canadian Born 100 Years Ago Today

Marshall McLuhan - the English professor turned Guru for the Age of Media - was born 100 years ago today in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  No one could have imagined that a fusion of I.A. Richards , Ezra Pound , myth, and  TV, would spark the cool (or is that hot?) vision of McLuhan, a man so hip Woody Allen had to summon him up   for perhaps his funniest film moment.  Media had been supplanted by Internet - but in a world where 19-year-olds hack into the CIA and Facebook drives the Arab Spring - the dizzying blurring boundaries of global communication are ever-more relevant. If one adds Glenn Gould as the second greatest Canadian, it will become immediately apparent that the native genius of this vast land is to explore visionary ways of communicating across distances, in practice and theory.  Ten years ago, Tom Walsh , composer-conductor-musician, and I, working as the electronic duo Swifty Lazarus , worked on an album, September 2001, in Budapest, Hungary, that would try to enact

Catholic Taste

I became a Catholic a year ago, and now that the summer is upon us again, this June 21, I find myself, much like the English weather, only partly sunny.  I have wavered this year - coming in and out like that politician's infamous spiritual radio; as discussed previously here, the numerous nuclear accidents, wars, cruelties, and destruction of the environment, have made it seem as if God is distant.  And, some of the positions of the Church are difficult.  Not least, celibacy, and also a lack of ordination for women.  Still, having a faith is a bedrock, even if one has to lie in (on?) it.  A hard bed, then, but one for some assurance.  Not that I am certain of Heaven.  I tend to think that Christianity is best in this world.  I wonder why it is that humans, godless or not, are so hell-bent on destroying the oceans; and battering themselves to hell. This disenchanted, secular, world, is clearly fallen.  I had hoped poetry would help raise it up.  Or good works.  Or belief.  It seem

Head Of A Pin

Theological debates are not always esoteric - sometimes they impinge on the human sphere.  The recent Anglican compromise, to allow gay bishops who are celibate, bases itself on a nice distinction between inclination and action which isn't really all that nice at all.  By suggesting that heterosexual Anglican priests needn't be celibate, but gay ones must be, the age-old bias against homosexual erotic practices is maintained, the assumption being that the action is sinful, even if (somehow) the inclination isn't.  Well, we now know, late in our human civilisation, that gay love is as natural as heterosexual love; and this is the basis of our Western society's new and emerging laws of tolerance.  My sense of theology is that as the human consciousness of good expands over time, so too must our interpretations of ecclesiastical law develop and mature - always moving towards greater love and tolerance.  In short - this compromise is a half-way house, and a belittling one a

Good enough for Goodenough?: Todd Swift Reading With Greg Santos and Grahame Davies

New Poem By Todd Swift

August 1982, Lac Bridgen Last how memory won’t come, Late how the trick doesn’t snap. No click of it, some snag at back, Come on doll, whistle again later. There’s fur on the feathers, Suntan on petals, rust in our soup And a ladder by this window. No one withers at the ledge And a sedge shivers.   Quit smoking Or dig up the rubbish for a shortie. It was hampering rain on the tin Or ten ton hammering up the foil. All the oil on the lake from engines And loons honking out of season; Not able to look that one up mother. Boxes of Penguins; murder mostly Wearing a girl’s clothes silently. Shade-lust.   Not to admit mice But there they were, hopping Beam to beam mad as veins. Stone stabs the water with its white. A black grave when the sun went off. A lake is like a lid; it hides what it sees. Not there anymore.   Is thy cabin shut? Can’t locate lyricism in this head. The cure has killed off this impatient If her patient was verse.   What’s left When form has declined to form? You h

Summer Reading, Time Regained

The Guardian today asked some famous writers and poets to name their favourite summer holiday reading from the past.  It was a lovely list, and the anecdotes really caught the best thing about summer reading - the incongruity between sun-kissed or rainy, grotty or exotic, setting, with the novel or book in question ( Tolstoy , say, or Proust ).  I used to go away for a month or two every summer when I was a teenager, with my mother and brother, to a small log cottage on a private lake in northern Quebec; my father would drive up from Montreal on the weekends.  The nearest town was a good hour walk.  You reached the lake by driving half a mile down a dinky little pebble lane.  Bears were in the woods; beavers slapped on the lake surface at twilight.  The lake was a place of joy for me, prelapsarian, and I loved swimming for hours, and rowing and canoing.  Also, building fires at night.  But mostly, reading books.  I would bring a box of maybe 40 books up with me for the 6 weeks, and p

Long Live The Queen

About 25 years ago, on June 16, 1986, the third album from The Smiths - the greatest British band of the 1980s ( Pixies are the American equivalent) - was released in England.  It was called The Queen Is Dead .  And it is without doubt (still, evermore) one of the finest popular music albums ever released.  The thrumming, drumming insistence of the first (title) track is deliriously potent, with its great lament: "life is very long when you're lonely".  'Frankly, Mr. Shankly' is still the best monologue of a mediocre talent put to music, and is Morrissey 's riposte to Larkin 's 'Mr. Bleaney'; and ends with the wonderful "give us money."  In the middle, come two of the great Smith moments - 'Cemetery Gates' (" Wilde is on my mine") - which I loved - and then the extraordinarily weird 'Bigmouth Strikes Again" ("sweetness I was only joking when I said/ by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed"),

If Not Now, When?: JCS on the new Incubus

James Christopher Sheppard reviews If Not Now, When? by Incubus It’s getting on for five years since established American rock band Incubus last released an entire album of new material, so expectations from their legions of fans are astronomical for new release If Not Now, When? This new album is their seventh release since Fungus Amongus , their 1995 debut and follows their longest break between releases. Fans will be pleased to know that If Not Now, when? does not disappoint… ‘If Not Now, When?’ 8/10 The first track is minimalist and a calm introduction to the album, lead largely around Brandon Boyd ’s mesmerizing and unmistakable vocal. The sound Incubus have spent years crafting is as present as it was on 2001’s Morning View . ‘If Not Now, When?’ may not be an instant thunderbolt of a song, but with each listen, improves and yearns to be heard over and over.  ‘Promises, Promises’ 8/10 First fully released single from the album, ‘Promises, Promises’, is not what is typically

Good Judges Make Good Poets

Good news - three good poets will be judging the T.S. Eliot prize this year... see press release excerpt below, verbatim; nice to see Leontia Flynn will be in contention: The Poetry Book Society is delighted to announce the judges for the 2011 T S Eliot Prize for Poetry. Gillian Clarke will be Chair of the judges and the other two members of the panel will be poets Stephen Knight and Dennis O’Driscoll . The judges will meet in October to decide on the ten-book shortlist. The four Poetry Book Society Choices from 2011 are automatically shortlisted for the Prize. The Spring 2011 Choice was Night by David Harsent (Faber) and the Summer Choice was November by Sean O’Brien (Picador). They will be joined on the shortlist by the PBS Autumn Choice, Profit and Loss by Leontia Flynn ( Jonathan Cape ), and the Winter Choice, which will be announced in August. The T S Eliot Prize Shortlist Readings will take place on Sunday 15 January 2012 in the Royal Festival Hall.   The 2010 R