Thursday, 30 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.


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.


Britney Spears ‘Hold it Against Me’

Britney smashed back onto the scene after a short break at the beginning of the year with the dub-step tinged monster hit ‘Hold it Against Me’. The song is a new direction for Britney, and while the album Femme Fatale may not live up to the standard set here, ‘Hold it Against Me’ is one of the best Britney singles ever.


Lady GaGa ‘The Edge of Glory’ performance at Radio One’s Big Weekend.

Lady Gaga had run into all sorts of critical indifference at the beginning of the year as the response to the first two singles from her album Born This Way were not met with the same ecstatic reception in the UK that she was used to. While ‘Born This Way’ slowly built on people and sold steadily, it still was the least original single she had put out, and ‘Judas’ didn’t do a great deal to help matters. Cut to May and Gaga headlined Radio One’s Big Weekend in Carlisle and performed a piano only version of third single ‘The Edge of Glory’. With no gimmicks, no crazy outfit or political message, ‘The Edge of Glory’ proved Lady Gaga’s musical talent was still as evident as ever and stands as one of her most emotional and powerful performances to date.


Blondie Panic of Girls

Returning with their ninth studio album, Blondie proved on their stunning new album that they are still a force to be reckoned with. The band sound younger and fresher than they have done in years, with Panic of Girls being innovative and full of energy. Stand out tracks include ‘Mother’, ‘What I Heard’, ‘Girlie Girlie’ and ‘Wipe off my Sweat’. Get the limited edition collector’s pack if you haven’t already, featuring an exclusive magazine, prints, a poster and bonus tracks.


Lower Than Atlantis World Record

The second full-length album from melodic hardcore band, Lower Than Atlantis, arrived in April and saw Mike Duce and his band-mates establish themselves as one of the leading alternative rock bands in the UK, getting air-play from Radio One and Kerrang, amongst others. World Record managed to outshine their outstanding debut, Far Q, with killer tracks like ‘Beech Like a Tree’, ‘(Motor) Way of Life’, ‘Another Sad Song’ and ‘Deadliest Catch’. World Record is only the beginning for these guys, which makes them so exciting to watch. Definitely a band and an album to check out if you haven’t already.


Adele 21 and that Brit Awards Performance

You must have been in a coma for the past six months if you’ve failed to notice to phenomenal success of English singer/songwriter Adele’s second album, 21. The album is now established as the longest running UK number one album since Saturday Night Fever in 1978, that’s sixteen weeks so far, and as it stands 21 is still #2. First single, ‘Rolling In The Deep’, was a huge success pretty much everywhere, and has just spent its seventh week at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, while ‘Someone Like You’ rocketed to number one in the UK following the heart-wrenching acoustic performance at the Brit Awards in February. There’s even more to 21 that the massive hits however, with gems such as ‘Turning Tables’, a cover of The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Set Fire To The Rain’. 21 is a record-shattering album, with over seven million sales since its release in January, and its obvious why- just seriously good music.


Incubus If Not Now, When?

Following a five year gap since their last studio album, Incubus finally ventured back into the limelight over the past few months to announce the forthcoming release of their seventh studio album. If Not Now, When? is delicate and mellow, yet mesmerising and powerful, with new Incubus classics such as ‘Adolescents’, ‘Isadore’, ‘Defience’ and ‘In the Company of Wolves’ to add to our already lengthy Incubus playlists.


Patrick Wolf Lupercalia

What can I say about the new Patrick Wolf album, other than it is mind bogglingly good and everyone should own a copy? Patrick is shockingly underrated and still doesn’t receive the recognition he should. He has five brilliant albums to his name and is a musical genius, and Lupercalia is the most coherent and beautiful album he has put out to date. The strings are more prominent than ever, his voice is rich and strong, the brass heightens the shameless loved-up happiness and it is just flawless. Well I think it is anyway, and this is my top ten.


Within Temptation The Unforgiving

Dutch symphonic rock band, Within Temptation, released their new concept album earlier this year, and thank the metal Gods that they are back. The Unforgiving is their freshest album yet, blowing all expectations out of the water. The band haven’t lost any of the drive or love for what they do, and it is so apparent with this release, which sounds like a labour of love, from start to finish. Standout tracks include ‘In the Middle of the Night’, ‘Stairway to the Skies’, ‘Shot in the Dark’ and ‘Faster’. If you love female fronted rock with a difference, you should definitely check this out. The Unforgiving is currently my undisputed album of 2011 so far.


Kylie Minogue Aphrodite: Les Folies World Tour

Yes, my musical highlight of 2011 is undoubtedly the latest concert tour by our one and only Pop Royal Highness, Miss Kylie Minogue. Kylie’s most comprehensive world tour ever, with 76 dates played so far, is a simply stunning show, featuring a camp-as-Christmas set-list, including a glorious cover of Eurythmics’ ‘There Must Be An Angel Playing With My Heart’, the classics ‘What Do I Have To Do’, ‘Confide In Me’ and a rocked up version of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, as well as almost all of the #1 album Aphrodite. The show flows coherently, drifting into each new song with natural timing and features the most intricate staging I have ever seen, with water jets, moving stages and even a real life angel that Kylie flies over the audience on. The Aphrodite: Les Folies World Tour really does show Kylie on top of the world and being the absolute best she can be, which unsurprisingly is better than any other pop star out there. If I could go to this show every week for the rest of my life, I would. Kylie, we salute you.

JCS is the regular music critic for Eyewear; a graduate of Kingston University's acclaimed Creative Writing BA, he currently divides his time between Hull and London, where he is working on a book about growing up gay during the Blair Years.

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.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

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 the other really funny poets.  He is as funny as Canada's David McGimpsey.  He is that good.  He may be funnier than Apollinaire, who was only funny in French, which is like being sexy in Cornish.  I did not mean that.  I want to be ecumenical here.  He is like a screwball slapsticking a pratfall over a barrel of lubed-up monkeys.  He is the Goon Show meets Laurel and Hardy on Acid.  Planet-shaped Horse has its own Mr. Bones sort of thing happening - it has Simon and Miranda, who are characters who - in every poem which is like a new cartoon panel every day - change their identities like others change diapers: often, and for good reason.  This allows the poet/Kennard to be anywhere, but usually near to a mental halfway-home.  The key note word in all this is: prose poem minus poem to make it one word.  No one can write like Kennard but that won't stop the dogs dying.  People will now waste their lives trying to be him like we all were WC Williams for about 80 years.  Why do we still think Charles Olson was good when all he did was write lyrically with indents?  In New France, it was a royal decree that forbade sledding on snow in the 1600s that led to the death of fewer than five seigneurs - syntax off.  So - anyway, this new pamphlet is now the gold standard for surreal ha-ha English hu-mahr.  I also like the drawings and the funny bit about Hughes.  Dirigible mandolin sex practice, PART THREE.  Men want to be Kennard and woman want to be Kennard.  Does that mean we are all mortal?  Alcools on the Western Font.

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'd urge as many of you as possible, if you're PS members, to add your name to her list, contact below, and please do urge anyone on your own lists to add their names. It's hoped as many as possible will turn out to the meeting. And I look forward to seeing lots of you there...
Here's the Requisition.
We the undersigned, being 10% of the membership of the Poetry Society, require the Board to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss the recent resignations of the Director, the President and the Finance Officer of the Society.  
Please email Kate at to add your name to the petition. She'll add your address to her update list and keep you informed of progress."

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

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.


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
to wear speaking as a poet I would
rather blow my brains out than run
out of credit as the biographer
of the famously unresolved
50's poet-suicide has commented
capital is the index of meaning
anything is better than stealing
from the Co-Op with a clotted heart
without it you don't survive


I can see that things have gotten pretty bad
our way of life threatened by financiers
assortments of phoneys and opportunists
and very soon the things we cherish most
will likely be taken from us the wine
from our cellars our silk gowns and opium
but tell me what do you expect Chung Ling Soo
much ridiculed conjurer of the court and last
of the dynasty of brooms to do about it?


personally i can’t remember         hearing of a time there was so much     
well-written work being produced        all of it extremely well-written     
S’s first novel is excellent        H's new collection is also excellent
i’m told how nice it is to see that I                 T and E finally have their
books out i'm sure they'll receive        excellent reviews in the broadsheets it's no exaggeration to say that         there are not enough minutes
in the day to give each the attention       they undoubtedly deserve


it depends if he is genuine or not
if he is it is wonderfully expressive
sensitive overt yet subtle brave art
if he is not it is an arrogance and
conceit a concept daring to see
how stupid people can be how much
they can be conned by confidence
it's a confidence trick that if he gets
pleasure from makes him in my eyes
an arsehole to do something like that
although it could be argued if the
audience are aware of his exhibitionism
and enjoy the twist to a normal stage
performance it is of no matter what his
psychology is and he would not be an
arsehole or a twat only he himself
knows how much of his planned act
however planned is motivated by
honesty and how much is disingenuous
absurdism if that distinction can be made


naked french girls smoking weed
naked ecuadorian girls drinking cherryade
naked dutch girls watching a philip seymour hoffman dvd
no naked french girls smoking weed


much against everyone's advice
I have decided to live the life
I want to read about and write it
not by visiting the graves of authors
or moving to london to hear
in my sleep its gothic lullaby
not by going for coastal walks
or being from the north and lathing
every line as an approach it's
way outmoded I run a bath turn
off the lights I think only of
lathering the pale arms of my wife
for now a girl who dreads weekends
then I guess I might as well teach
squandering so as not to squander
this marvellous opportunity right?

poems by Sam Riviere; reprinted with permission of the poet

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.

Monday, 27 June 2011

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.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

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 crime novels - and never tire of sexual sadism and brutal killing.  If writers want to offer poetry or something a little less red in tooth and claw, they might have to charge 32p.

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.

Robo Faber

The Sunday Times Culture section has a cover story on Faber's new app, for The Waste Land.  Sounds great.  What next, iPound?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

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 improve things.  He should keep his own house in order.  In a time of austerity, he might start by cutting ticket prices.  These lads are multi-millionaires, they can afford to stop stashing away so much loot under their rainbow.  Their passports may be green, but U2 needn't be about the green stuff.  It used to appear to be about so much more - or were they always just looking for that perfect tax haven in the sun, in a bank with no name?

Friday, 24 June 2011

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, magicians, and other megalomaniacal professionals.  In short, he was an updating of Father Brown, removed from the ecclesiastical English context and transplanted to America.  Falk will be much missed.  His Columbo will live forever.

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 this week.

My Aunts

Grew up on the Jersey Shore in the 1970s.
Always making margaritas in the kitchen,
always laughing and doing their hair up pretty,
sharing lipstick and shoes and new juice diets;
always splitting the bills to the last penny,
stealing each other’s clothes,
loving one another then turning and complaining
as soon as they walked out the door. Each one with her doe eyes,
each one younger than the last,
each older the next year, one year
further from their girlhoods of swimming
at Sandy Hook, doing jackknives off the diving board
after school, all of them
being loved by one boy and then another,
all driving further from the local fair, further from Atlantic City.
They used to smoke in their cars,
rolling the windows down and letting their red nails
hang out, little stop lights:
Stop now, before the green
comes to cover your long brown bodies.

poem by Meghan O'Rourke; reprinted with permission of the author

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.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

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 Wolf has released since 2007’s live favourite ‘The Magic Position’, ‘The City’ is a joyous celebration of not letting ‘the city destroy our love’. Brass is used heavily throughout the song, which suits the theme as it seems to have an element of standing proud, defiantly, and announcing that it is here to stay. With more songs like this on radio, I’m sure we would notice a much happier Britain.

‘House’ 10/10
Even from the charming intro, ‘House’ is one of the most exhilarating and happiest love songs I have heard in years. If ever there was a song that might make you want to get married- this is it. And somehow, Wolf manages to evoke this feeling without straying into cliché or cheese-land. ‘House’ is an absolutely beautiful, upbeat, shiver inducing love song.

‘Bermondsey Street’ 8/10
Less upbeat than the celebratory first two songs, but still very much on the love boat, ‘Bermondsey Street’ has a simple sweet melody and has the sense of walking through your favourite street with the sun beaming down on you.

‘The Future’ 10/10
Possibly Patrick’s most radio-friendly ballad ever, ‘The Future’ builds beautifully around a chorus that relies on some stunning female backing vocals that compliment Patrick’s vocal in a similar way to the Snow Patrol hit, ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’, does with Martha Wainwright. The only thing that could improve this song would be more of it!

‘Armistice’ 10/10
The first song to really resemble Patrick’s haunting balladry featured throughout his past works comes in the form of ‘Armistice’. And a striking example it is, easily matching the splendor of ‘Magpie’ from 2007’s The Magic Position or ‘The Sun is Almost Out’ from The Bachelor, only ‘Armistice’ is a song about love surviving throughout the darkest times. Very subtle and moving.

‘William’ is less than a minute long and is more of a mid album interlude than a song by itself. ‘William’ appears to be a short poem dedicated to Wolf’s future civil partner, the man who supposedly inspired this entire album.

‘Time of My Life’ 10/10
First single from the album, ‘Time of My Life’ is finally available to own on CD and digitally, following it’s release exclusively on vinyl last December. The song has gone on to become a live favourite, as the already ecstatic crowd at Monday’s album launch show became particularly excited when the first few bars kicked in. ‘Time of My Life’ is a string heavy uptempo song that has a shiver-enducing sentimentality as it features the chorus ‘Happy without you’- presumably about acknowledging the good times through a break-up, wishing the other party well, all while trying to pick yourself off the ground. Pretty heavy song- this deserves an Ivor Novello award.

‘The Days’ 10/10
This song begins very delicately and beautifully and builds into string lead moving finale. ‘The Days’ is an example of Patrick Wolf at his emotionally moving best. With lyrics of yearning and regret leading towards the haunting ‘But when we come ghost, I will promise I will meet you, I will meet you at the end of the days’. ‘The Days’ is the saddest moment on Lupercalia.

‘Slow Motion’ 7/10
I first heard ‘Slow Motion’ at a show in December last year and it failed to grab me. After a few more listens and having seen it performed live again at the album launch, it has grown on me, but remains my least favourite track on Lupacalia. ‘Slow Motion’ is about living in slow motion prior to finding great love. ‘You gave me this kiss of life’ Wolf sings, and there are luscious strings, but it fails to hit the same peak as the other fine moments presented amongst this stellar collection.

‘Together’ 10/10
From the album’s weakest moment to it’s strongest, ‘Together’ begins almost like a Florence and the Machine track, but quickly evolves into a synth-tastic up-tempo electronic song, with soft vocals, lush strings and beautiful harmonies. Pure string-lead electro new wave, ‘Together’ would be a standout track on an album by Hurts. This is just brilliant.

‘The Falcons’ 9/10
‘The Falcons’ could almost be ‘The Magic Position’s and ‘Time of My Life’s love child. The charming melody yields to the classic ‘Position’, while the strings and style are in a similar vain to ‘Life’. ‘The Falcons’ has a simple sentiment- ‘things are looking up’ now two lovers have found each other.

Lupercalia 10/10
I have to give this album full marks, as I have awarded over half of the tracks 10/10. On his fifth album, Patrick Wolf has made one of the most coherent and charming albums of his career, and in fact, of 2011. Lupercalia should appeal to the masses and not just Wolf’s dedicated wolf-pack while establishing him as the astoundingly talented musician he is. I could not recommend this album highly enough.

Lupercalia is available now through Mercury Records.

JCS is the regular music critic for Eyewear; a graduate of Kingston University's acclaimed Creative Writing BA, he currently divides his time between Hull and London, where he is working on a book about growing up gay during the Blair Years. For more information on James, see his website

Robert Kroetsch Has Died

Sad news.  The Canadian author, Robert Kroetsch, winner of a Governor General's Award, has died in a car accident in Alberta.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

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 doubt some nutter will want to try and mimic the show.  It certainly puts ideas into sick and healthy heads alike.  Great drama has cathartic confrontations with evil, but it is also well-written and has deeper consequences.  This was just rubbish.  I want my money back.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

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 the ideas of McLuhan, Gould, and Orson Welles, in-studio.  The result was The Envelope, Please, released in 2002 on the Wired on Words label.

Cultural Olympiad and Poets

There is now a year until the Olympics.  205 poets from all 205 competing nations will read their poems in London and tour Britain.  Simon Armitage will help judge which poets are to be selected.  Sounds good.

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 seems a narrower needle than that, now.  But I maintain this core belief - love and tolerance and compassion - kindness - are required, in the daily and supernal realms.

Monday, 20 June 2011

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 at that.  Until organised religions permit all forms of sexual love between consenting adults, they will remain all-too-human, in a petty and backward way - far from the angelic dance on the head of a pin we might have hoped for.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

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 have to remember to create.
You have to create to form memories.
What I write down is not only happening
It is making me realise what I have missed.

June 2011

poem by Todd Swift

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 polish them off.

They were an eclectic mix of Colin Wilson, Ngaio Marsh, Mimesis, and, most memorably, the most wonderful summer book, I Am Not Stiller, by Max Frisch.  I had a deep woods crush at the time (I was 16) on a Hungarian-British girl from a posh part of Montreal I had met at a debating party, and we wrote letters to each other that summer.  I can still recall how I trembled to kiss her.  She had green eyes.  I wrote her many poems.  But mostly I read Frisch's deeply moving novel about denial and guilt and desire and identity.  I wept when it was over.  I have read other gripping books with joy and total immersion (The Idiot, Fear is The Key, The Secret History, most of Greene, The Road to Wigan Pier, The Good Soldier, A Month In the Country, Nemesis, poetry) but never again more so than then.  Will I ever be so transported again?  I always remain open to the chance I will be.

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"), invigorating, nasty, brilliant; I was taken out of a Montreal disco on a stretcher, after dislocating my kneecap dancing to this song.  At track nine is 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' ("to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine"), with its darkened underpass - whose strange fear summed up all the passion and pathos of adolescent longing.  Stamped throughout with melancholy-witty pop genius, this is frankly one of the best British things of the last century.  A pleasure that won't ever go out.

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 expected from a lead single from a new Incubus release. This is less ‘Megalomaniac’ or ‘Anna Molly’ and more ‘Are You In?’. Still, ‘Promises, Promises’ is an uplifting piano lead moment of funky lightheartedness and one that will be welcomed by many.

‘Friends and Lovers’ 7/10
Another chilled out track, ‘Friends and Lovers’, has a sweet melody and is executed brilliantly, but is not a stand out moment amongst the collection.

‘Thieves’ 9/10
Out of soppyville, ‘Thieves’ provides some brilliant lyrics and the most upbeat song yet. ‘Everything is fine, so long as you’re a god-fearing white American’ Boyd sings against the charming mid-tempo backdrop. Nice to see Boyd is his band mates haven’t lost their provoking lyric writing talents!

‘Isadore’ 10/10
The beats are slightly harder and heavier, yet the laid back mood continues. The lyrics here are the most vivid and story-telling on the album. Erica and Isadore appear to be riding a balloon to the moon, but Erica takes the only parachute, abandoning Isadore. I’d love to see an animated video for ‘Isadore’. This is addictive and layered and deserves several listens.

‘The Original’ 8/10
Boyd’s velvety tones are what makes ‘The Original’; that and the progressive build. The last minute builds into an epic multi-layered which is very welcomed at this point in the album, but the lyrics are a little too sickly for me, with ‘Girl you’re the original. Always were, always will be’, nevertheless I’m sure many guitar playing boys will enjoy serenading their girlfriends with this one.

‘Defiance’ 10/10
A purely acoustic guitar driven song, ‘Defiance’ is a stunning song that shows the band’s raw talent and ability to really deliver in a minimalistic way.

‘In the Company of Wolves’ 10/10
Over seven minutes of brilliance is ‘In the Company of Wolves’. The acoustic feel remains, and Boyd uses his voice like a well-oiled instrument. The song features several different techniques and sounds and progresses from soft acoustic, to an almost organic brooding mid-section, to an instrumental epic finale. Absolutely mesmerising!

‘Switch Blade’ 8/10
Boyd is apparently being attacked by a girl in a black hat? ‘Switch Blade’ has the most nonsensical lyrics on the album and provides a fitting moment of relief from otherwise very mellow and grown up album. Still, ‘Switch Blade’ is a very different track for the band.

‘Adolescents’ 10/10
‘Adolescents’ is heavier than it first seems. Crank up the volume or witness it being performed live (as I had the fortune to do last week at the HMV Forum) and you will have a whole new respect for the power of the song. Possibly the most commercially appealing song on the album, ‘Adolescents’ is energetic and mesmerising.

‘Tomorrow’s Food’ 9/10
A fitting close to the album, ‘Tomorrow’s Food’ has a complex calm orchestral feel. While Boyd sings ‘There’s no such thing as the end of the world’, he poignantly points out that we are tomorrow’s food, today, maybe highlighting our insignificance. It is beautiful, moving, kind of inspiring and kind of sad.

Incubus have evolved into a sophisticated band and If Not Now, When? is their calmest and most mellow album to date. As with all Incubus albums, this is completely different to any of their previous releases, but stays true to their highly individual sound. If you want heavy, chuck Make Yourself or S.C.I.E.N.C.E on, but buy this too, for those days you want to really listen- there’s a whole lot going on here. 9/10

If Not Now, When? will be released in the UK through EPIC records on Monday 11th July 2011.

JCS is the regular music critic for Eyewear; a graduate of Kingston University's acclaimed Creative Writing BA, he currently divides his time between Hull and London, where he is working on a book about growing up gay during the Blair Years.

Friday, 17 June 2011

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 Readings were held in this new venue for the first time and were a great artistic and audience-building success, attracting 2,000 poetry lovers, one of the biggest audiences for a single poetry event of recent times. The winner of the 2011 Prize will be announced at the award ceremony on Monday 16 January 2012, when Mrs Valerie Eliot will present the winner with a cheque for £15,000.  The shortlisted poets will each receive £1,000.

Featured Poet: Anna Swanson

Where did the British summer go?  Eyewear is looking out on another rather dull London day.  Still, there is some good news - we have a great Friday feature.  Anna Swanson (pictured) is a poet and children’s librarian living in Vancouver, Canada. Her debut book of poetry, The Nights Also, from Tightrope Books, asks how identity is formed and challenged in relation to chronic illness, sexuality and solitude. It won a Lambda Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in 2011, which is the most significant Canadian debut collection prize (similar to the Yale or Forward in prestige).  As I was chair of the judging panel this year for the Lampert (given out by the League of Canadian Poets), it is especially heartening for me to be able to showcase this brilliant younger poet on my British blog this morning.  Her book was very lyrical, very moving, and very witty - and cohered as a whole in a satisfying way.  Also, its exploration of sexuality was refreshing, especially from a British perspective, where far too few lesbian, gay and bisexual poets write candidly of their experiences, notwithstanding the fact we have a gay Poet Laureate.  If there's one Canadian poetry book you read this year, why not start with Swanson's?  The poem below is from that collection.

The patron saint of bagpipes

The patron saint of bagpipes and the patron saint
of concerned parents are having at it
at last. Gathered around, cussing and cheering,
are the patron saints of adult acne, late periods,
of slot machines, locking the keys in the car, of calling
out the wrong name in bed. And, of course,
the patron saint of trying to fall asleep
when you’re lonely. These are the lesser saints
in their lesser heaven, blessed only with the power
to hold back your hair while you puke
in your private stall. They gather round,
waiting, as Our Lady of the PTA
threatens to get all fisticuffs with Bagpipes.
Bystanders become a crowd, and the crowd
starts to circle. Perhaps, I tell myself, perhaps

this is why they can’t hear me. Tonight, when I’ve called
everyone in my book, when I’ve asked that thin thread of faith
to show itself like fishing line against the dark lake.
No matter what small thing I ask for—waiting poised
to close myself over any flash or morsel—no one answers.
So, as I drift into that place that isn’t sleep,
I lay my money down and buy Pipes another pint,
sidle up behind PTA and whisper loudly—
Thinks he can intimidate her. I know, and especially
after how he’s been eyeing her daughter.
Then I join the crowd.

poem by Anna Swanson; reprinted with permission of the author and publisher; from The Nights Also, Tightrope Books. Photo credit: Vivienne McMaster.

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