Wednesday, 30 November 2011

New Poem By Conor Clooney

Conor Clooney (pictured) is one of Kingston University's Poetry Now students.  Here is a recent sonnet of his, written for my class. I find it very moving, and adept.

My Father’s Tattoos

I remember looking at your tattoos.
When I was a child I’d stare for hours
Hoping that one day I’d be just like you;
Smelling of ciggys and whisky sours.
You’d come home late with swallows on your hands
And women on your arms. My name branded
On your bicep. I cannot understand
Why it is there and you’re not here. Stranded
In the flat, I wait for you to come home
And kiss me and play with me in the dark,
But you don’t and now you’ll never know
That I wanted you tattooed on my heart.
So now I see that like you they lose their colour
And I should’ve tried to be more like my mother.

Poem by Conor Clooney

Crashaw Prize Winner Is Worthy

Vesna Goldsworthy won the Crashaw Prize this year from Salt, for her new poetry collection in English - she's already well-known for her prose writing.  She's a professor of creative writing at Kingston University, and a colleague of mine there.  It is being launched tonight.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Bad Canada

Canada has changed.  No longer boring, it is now one of the richest countries in the world, with the largest reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia - alas, it is also becoming more conservative, in a Bush-like way.  The Canadian government has signalled it will not renew its Kyoto obligations.  Indeed, the decision (aided and abetted by the UK) to develop the Alberta Tar Sands, is horrific - if this goes ahead, dangerous global warming will be unstoppable.  I am not sure what to do, as an expat Canadian, except to say there is a new kind of international figure swaggering on the world stage: The Ugly Canadian - the Toxic Canuck.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sight & Sound's Best Film of 2011

Good news.  The Tree of Life has been chosen by Sight & Sound's critics poll as the top art house film of 2011.  Eyewear saw it this summer and loved it.

Andrea True Has Died

Sad news.  One of the great disco singers, Andrea True, has died.  Her key song, 'More More More (How Do You Like It?)' aroused great interest in my high school self and epitomises an era as well as any other song.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Guest Review: Loveday On Gaffield

Mike Loveday reviews
Tokaido Road
by Nancy Gaffield

The latest Murakami novel hits the bookstores, the marketing machine starts a-whirring, and Japanese culture is once again making literary headlines. Nancy Gaffield’s book, inspired by Japanese art, and published by the marvellous CB editions earlier in the summer, has just won the Aldeburgh first collection prize. Hopefully this award will provide additional marketing of sorts to bring yet more readers to what is an excellent book of poetry. It is a fascinating themed sequence, responding to Hiroshige’s woodcut prints (made in 1833-4) which charted the route of Tokaido road, linking Japan’s East and West.

It has been said that there is something in Japanese culture which appeals to a British reader – perhaps a shared valorization of reserve and an emphasis on social hierarchy. And one of the great joys of this collection is that its descriptions immerse us in an ancient foreign culture and geography. This is often helped by evocative Japanese words judiciously placed within the poems. There is a long glossary at the back of the book which always helps satisfy the occasional urge to pick beyond the musical and beautiful foreignness of these terms. “The camellia he gave her | rises up like onryō” (Kusatsu, p.60), “Here the sake tastes of flowers| over the ayu | we put our differences aside.” (Kuwana, p.48), “the edo-jin stir ashes to a dogged glow.” (Nihonbashi, p.1).

There are 55 poems here, each responding to a woodcut about a single staging point or “station” upon the Tokaido Road between the terminal points of Nihonbashi and Kyoto. Sometimes the poems describe the locations with verisimilitude; at other times they are more complicated, describing a journey into the woodcut print itself and / or making the print sing with invented narrative. The poems are remarkably vivid, and I found my mind being drawn as much to the ideas of journey and place as to ideas of art and its relationship to poetry.

The nature of the journey undertaken in the poems remains ambiguous – sometimes we’re given an omniscient view of anonymous individuals set in landscapes and towns; occasionally third-person narrative focusing on one of three characters – Hiro, Mariko, Kikuyo. These three remain mysterious, ghostly figures  - their narratives hinted at rather than spelled out. The nature of any link between Hiro and the artist Hiroshige remains unclear, however it is impossible not to draw parallels because of the connected names. There is in addition a beautiful and haunting river voice appearing in some poems “I am patient, | my fingers spread | across the plain | reading you.” (Fujeida, p.25), “Lose your footing now | and you are mine, I  | will take you away to Suruga Bay.” (Shimada p.26).

There is also an “I” persona, undertaking some kind of personal quest - perhaps for Hiro, perhaps for a stronger sense of herself: “I am almost never here | in these old prints, but look harder, | closer, and I’m everywhere.” (Ōtsu, p.61). We don’t know if Gaffield herself made the Tokaido Road journey, and we are left uncertain whether the “I” voice is making a physical journey along Tokaido as well as an imaginative journey responding to the woodcuts. Perhaps because of this, some of the poems feel like they are set in Hiroshige’s era, some in the present – this boundary of time is blurred. It is difficult to assess, without the prints alongside the poems, how accurate these re-imaginings and descriptive responses are – are they free associations drawing upon the poet’s personal experience? Or are they visually faithful? Looking at the original prints, the poems seem to play with both approaches, which is surely the more interesting technique. Ekphrastic poems, or poems responding to artwork, raise difficult questions for both poet and reader. Does it matter if a poem omits a seemingly significant visual detail? Is it somehow inauthentic if a poem adds a detail not in the original artwork – an object outside its frame say? Or a social context that’s not visible? What about an interpretative verbal brushstroke, or a narrative coming-to-life imagined by the poet? Or are these aspects instead necessary for a good poem to stand in its own right as a work of art? These questions are fundamental to Gaffield’s project.

As Japanese nature poems, the sketching of landscape is gentle, in the wise, conscientious spirit of haiku. They share also perhaps a kindred spirit with the short nature lyrics which have appeared in the second half of Michael Longley’s career. Moments focusing on limpid details can sometimes seem like a haiku embedded within another poem. Here are three lines taken from a twenty-one line poem:

“Wayside shelter, June afternoon
tea kettle hangs from tree branch,
water begins to boil.”
(Fukuroi, p.31)

The poems, painter and narrator are caught in a tug of war over their allegiances between the natural and the human worlds:

“Those men colluding under the tree
mean nothing, I yearn for the sea
today coated in quicksilver.”
(Chiryū, p.44)

When wit and tension arrive to supplement the beautiful descriptions, it is a neat shift from the delicate, warm sincerity which is the dominant mode:

“Women sit in the sun peeling gourds
and hanging the ochreous flesh
from scaffolds.”
(Minakuchi, p.58)

“The stone ahead
becomes the headstone.”
(Shōno, p.52)

Fleeting statements of wisdom are threaded into the poems, ranging between the philosophical, mystical, gnomic and more telling: “Here is the dewy path | to leave our cares behind | Hiro says as he hands her a single | camellia”. (Mariko, p.22);  “Remove your sentiments | and leave them outside the door.” (Goyu, p. 40); “Remember – all existence is cyclical.” (Totsuka, p.6);  “a sign pointing to Kamakura reads | Cultivate the joy of being rather than having.” (Hodogaya, p. 5). There is an appealing balance between these moments of wisdom and immersion in the poetry of sensory witnessing.

Generally we are in a world of gesture and suggestion, moments which raise more questions than answers. In only a couple of places are we struck by words explaining the nature of Gaffield’s objective:

“I want you to connect the image
with the human story”
(Shimada, p. 26).

“There is no clear boundary
between memory and imagination,
memory carries a trace

of place, gives us presence
in absence.”
(Kyoto, p.62)

However Gaffield’s method is usually subtle, building up a picture gradually across the sustained sequence without insisting upon intention, purpose or significance. Compare, for example, the evocative, delicate and resonant style here:

“I look for you in a poem
but find only unendingness,
imagine a day so light
even memories float away.”
(Kuwana, p.48)

Sometimes the reader longs to be given a stronger grip on the lives of the four characters (the “I” voice and the three figures Hiro, Mitsuko, Kikoyu) who appear in fleeting sightings. Perhaps the enigmatic nature of these figures is entirely the point, yet it is still frustrating not to be able to glean more. In what way are these characters found within the woodcuts, or were they drawn from elsewhere? What are their stories and why do they matter?  Even the poet herself teases us “Who is making? Who is speaking?... Who is Hiro? A painter? A lover? Whose time does he inhabit? And the women who love him? (Shirasuka, p.37).

With the exception of some prose poems or haibun (prose poem combined with haiku), and suggestions of sonnets, almost all of these poems are free verse, sometimes flowingly shaped, sometimes more tensely scattered on the page. The supreme moments in these poems are places where the simple, lucid language is compounded by a quietly breathtaking use of line break or syntax. Gaffield can be particularly skilled at opening windows of additional meaning with simple gestures:

 “Mariko’s reach always exceeded her grasp,
she couldn’t get him
out of her mind.”
(Mitsuke, p.32)

There is a discrete emphasis here upon Mariko’s failure and possible obsession, just created by Gaffield’s line break between second and third lines. 

Or, less obvious examples: in the following pair of lines, the word “by” has two meanings – has the old woman been discovered beside a memory or discovered through it?
“Too late. I am an old woman
found by a memory” (Hiratsuka, p.8)

And in the pair of lines below, “river” can be re-read almost as a direct address to the river, an affirmation and emphatic assertion that the “I” remembers:
 “I am a remnant
river, I remember.”
(Kanaya, p.27)

“Ut pictura poesis” (“like a picture, poetry”) Horace wrote in Epistles, II, 3 (often called the first text connecting the visual and verbal arts). As a poetic response to artwork, this is a compellingly cinematic collection. These poems are in a complex correspondence with the Tokaido Road prints, but also succeed as poems in their own right, conjuring atmospheres and stories without the woodcuts being there.

Yet the book is also about Japan, travel, and the relationship between society and Nature. The collection left me wanting to make the same physical journey along Tokaido Road one day, with both Hiroshige’s prints and Gaffield’s book as welcome creative company, deepening the travelling experience. And by reading this sequence of poems, I also felt that I had made part of that journey already, in imaginative terms.

If you’re a prose reader tempted to travel into Japan via Murakami, but reluctant to be enslaved by the marketing machine which surrounds his new book, why not try a different way in.  If you read poetry, this is one of the most unusual and thought-provoking collections of 2011. 

Mike Loveday is a British poet, currently taking his MFA at Kingston University.  He recently launched his debut collection at the London Oxfam Poetry Series.  He is editor of Fourteen magazine.


If you want to know what's wrong (or right) with Canadian poetry these days, perhaps start with Killdeer, by Phil Hall, a poet who has ticked a number of CanLit boxes over the years, and now has published a prize-winning work that, depending on where you come down on such things, will doubtless please or repel, you.

Featured Poet: Jacqueline Saphra

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Jacqueline Saphra (pictured) this crisp and wintry November Saturday.  Saphra has won several awards including first prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition. Her pamphlet, Rock’n’Roll Mamma was published by Flarestack in 2008. Her first full collection, The Kitchen of LovelyContraptions (flipped eye) was developed with the support of the Arts Council of England and nominated for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize 2011. It was reviewed recently here.  She lives in London with her partner Robin and four children.


You left a scattering of dark mascara,
scent of artificial tropics, no room
for negotiation, front door, oddly, still ajar.
I remembered too late, called, but you
were i-tuned out of it. Your plastic palate
with its list of Do’s and Don’ts rattled on
inside my bag, a disembodied replicate
moulded to force a smile. And you were gone.

It all comes back now; I can feel the marvel
of your mouth at work with its voracious tongue,
hot mix of blood and milk, the flinch and thrill.
Here we go again: the let-down, nothing new:
thin, bluish leak of memory, a gush of cradle song
the shade of gin perhaps, or sap, or glue.

poem by Jacqueline Saphra; reprinted with permission of the poet; from The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions.  Naomi Woddis is the photographer of the portrait above.

Jon Stone's Mustard Poem and Michaela Clarke

Following on from a recent post, I have tasked Kingston undergrads in my Poetry Now class with trying to outdo Jon Stone's clever Mustard anagram sonnet in Best British Poetry 2011.  Here's another clever version, from second-year-student poet Michaela Clarke, pictured.


What use is it, trying to be creative?
It’s as difficult as trying to motivate rice
to grow in the famine of your mind. Instead, starve: ice
cold in the pit of your imagination. Retire: cave
into your wallowing self. Or take no notice: rave
your life away. Or say, ‘C’est la vie’. React
to this challenge: this destructive race
against time to find the perfect words, and with instinctive care.
Hope to find peace in that inventive crate
in your head. To be creative is to believe: cart
away the doubt and be reckless. Take my advice: tear
it up. Even though doubt is a bond harder to break than to tie, crave,
need, embrace, nurture. Someday, you’ll find the live trace
that will make you more inspired, more ready, more reactive.

poem by Michaela Clarke; reprinted with permission of the poet.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Kingdom Cumming: An Eyewear Plug

Forget tales of 2012 & the Mayan control calendar...
...It's time for The Rapture
the new poetry book from Tim Cumming

Please support independent publishing by ordering direct from Salt and get a 20% discount off the £9.99 price


We live in an age of terror, literally and metaphorically. Old dependables have been shaken loose and to free us from the terror comes the poetry of "The Rapture" - poetry with a tangible exultance and joy tinged with the dark matter of End Times and the pinching fear of what's up ahead wrestling with the pleasures and shelter of the moment - our internal clocks striking the hours of the age of anxiety in us all.

The Rapture is divided into three parts, each exploring sensation, identity, immersion and memory in its own way. Chapel of Carbon includes love poems, lyrics, outrageous metaphors and narratives alongside wide-screen, more open-field works that probe at our very sense of self and perception.

The central Improvisations section tests language and meaning's outer reaches and its most intimate fumblings. These are poems that tear down the fences and break open the windows and doors. This is not the hand-me-down formalism of the writing workshop, but in the power and sudden impact in the work's vivid mosaic of image, character, narrative and metaphor conspiring together to make you seriously question assumptions of what form and meaning actually are.

The final First Music is the most autobiographical of Cumming's published work, an exploration of the matter of memory, and the act of remembering as well as the experience of returning to the landscape of one's past. It evokes the way of life and of imagination on a remote Dartmoor farm in the 60s and 70s, a study of memory and the process of remembering and perception as well as of capturing the landscape and aura of England's wildest landscape, littered with ghosts and strange tokens, stranger tales and prehistoric artefacts.

The Rapture by Tim Cumming
Salt Modern Poets 84 pages, £9.99
Order direct from:

Sample poem:

For the Record

So they got there before us,
climbing over the furniture,
diving gear stashed in cavities
in the ancestral record.
There are swifts in the eaves
debating theology. We have seen
dead kings set before us, Aztecs
on the bouncy castle, prophecies
and portents in the wiring,
our view of the world blown
out with the storm, glass
underfoot, unstable elements,
the song of the tribe crowded
into its millennia, timer set
in calendar stone, trapped air
blown into music, rituals of the
solstice. The new god sweeps
through with his architects
and lingering looks, huge hands
counting down to zero at the
launch pad, the air burns like paper,
diaries of unimpeded progress
bedding into the geological record,
crowds jostling at the curtains
of the long count.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Resistance Is Not Futile

Good news.  Major Welsh poet Owen Sheers - also a novelist and TV personality - and a UEA alumni - sees the film adaptation of his book Resistance open this weekend across the UK.  For fans of Brighton Rock, this will be another period treat with that pic's star, Andrea Riseborough (great in glasses).  Further, anyone who loves hypotheticals like what if the Nazis took over Wales... well - this is one to see.  I myself can't wait.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Guest Review: Kirk On Saphra

Anna Kirk reviews
The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions

I was especially pleased to receive a review copy of a new poetry collection when, on opening the jiffy bag, I discovered that it was Jacqueline Saphra’s first full collection, as I had actually attended the launch of this very book. It had been held in a lovely bookshop in Bermondsey, and I headed there on recommendation from another poet, having never come across Saphra’s work myself. The launch had the most delicious canapés I have ever eaten in a bookshop, and Saphra’s collection has an equally delicious title; a title that whets the appetite and makes the reader want to open the book up and see what fancies lie within, then digest them slowly. Not that one should judge a book by its cover, but The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions is sky blue with pink lettering and bears the image of a kitchen unit with its doors open, revealing a woman’s lipsticked open mouth. This image, in various guises, runs throughout the collection. A contraption sounds mechanical, manual, useful and even tricksy. Yet Saphra makes contraptions wholly feminine. In the title poem the contraptions in question are underwear that hang drying in a woman’s kitchen ‘in readiness for ambush’. A hapless man claims to be ‘assaulted’ by the garments as he walks through. Women’s underwear provides a purpose, they are contraptions, but they are also revealing, beautiful things, lovely to look at and ensnaring of men. It is the perfect poem to turn into the title of the collection, as I think this encompasses the main themes and provides a rather fitting comparison; her poems are like the beautiful, feminine, ensnaring garments.

Saphra is unashamed of the feminine aesthetic. In fact, she celebrates and elevates it. She writes a whole poem on the importance of a new dress, and frequently about how clothes and female wiles can provide power: ‘He was breathless, helpless at the pink coal-face/of femininity (‘The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions’). Man is rendered helpless by the strength of woman; pink and fragrant she may be, but there is a hardness and solidity in her making too. Women themselves are contraptions, bodies to be used and minds to be set, the ‘clever machine/of my own flesh’ (‘The Goods’).

The kitchen is historically a female haunt, and Saphra plays on this idea. It is a place of creation and consumption. In the poem ‘Visiting My Father, 1964’, she writes ‘I fashioned a man out of toothpicks/and chocolate’. Even at such a young age, the Saphra in the poem is creating, using domestic items in new, original ways. Just as she explores the kitchen, she explores what it means to her to be a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother: ‘I synchronise my selves,/call them to heel all dressed in lipstick’ (‘The Striking Hour’). It is not only through her own life that she examines female roles, but also through taking on and empathising with figures such as Penelope, wife of Odysseus, and her own mother. ‘Penelope’, which is written after Cavafy’s Ithaka, is the longest poem of the collection, and is addressed to Penelope, urging her to up sticks, take control, become as strong as a warrior, and go and find her husband for herself. ‘Don’t start getting girly-weak’ the voice of the poem orders. Penelope gains this strength and makes the journey, only to find that Odysseus is stooped and small and she does not want him any more; she is now bigger than her man.

Saphra balances the domestic spaces of both kitchen and bedroom, and the appetites that are stirred in each. She writes sensually, often erotically, and of strippers and bondage. But there is always a softness underlying these moments, with more than one aspect of femininity detectable. The LA stripper has origins as a girl she grew up with who dances to records and peels of her clothes only to show off her tan. In ‘Brother of the Gusset’ (which is an old slang term for pimp) the language is violent and urgent: ‘Catch the snatch to feed the man’. Feeding and consuming and mouths crop up continuously, giving a sexual energy and a sensual tone, yet there is always a motherly milk flowing along with all the blood and lust. Her own mother is a recurring character, and the poems in which she appears are among the most moving. Seeing Saphra at events, I have noticed that she chooses these to read aloud more than others. This is understandable, as her mother comes across as an entertaining, unconventional livewire, and an inspiration for much of Saphra’s zest. The closing poem is about her mother’s death, though it is not maudlin or sentimental. She refers to ‘my tiny mother’ but this in physical terms only, though vulnerability is implied. The final lines spark with both humour and heartache:

…You ditched your grubby wings
and swore on the ascent as if you were
some crazed madonna, spitting fire,
halo on the tilt, still longing for her Lucifer.

Her mother is also aligned with the Madonna in the poem ‘Triptych’, with the image on the frescoes ‘forever feeding, bleeding’. Again, the roles of women are multiple, with her mother portrayed as both promiscuous and a Madonna.

‘The myth of easy love’ is a phrase used in the poem ‘Six feet of New Linen’; Saphra weaves tales and investigates myths, and this is a myth she wishes to expose. She recognises that love is not easy, but sonnets litter the collection and she makes the idea of love an appealing one, finding it everywhere. The lines ‘I ache to forget/these breasts//to spread my legs/ without meaning’ (To My Daughter, Naked’) are powerful, but after reading the whole collection I don’t think she wants to forget her femininity, her body, her breasts at all. I think that she wants to change perceptions, for it to be acceptable to celebrate bodies and clothes, for women to be viewed as whole and multi-faceted people, who love and are loved as well as being beautiful contraptions.

Anna Kirk lives and works in London, and is currently studying for an MA in Poetry at Royal Holloway.

Jon Stone's Mustard Poem and Lydia Bowden

I teach Jon Stone's recent poem, 'Mustard', a fourteen-line poem which cleverly ends each line with an anagram of mustard.  I found it in Lumsden's BPP 2011.  I've encouraged duplication of this form as an exercise for my Year Two undergrads in CW at Kingston University.  Lydia Bowden, pictured, a student poet, tried her hand at a version of this, with a semi-anagrammatic play on the word "daffodils" that I think is rather fun and smart.  Here it is below:


Putting an effect on something can’t overlook the folds
Of a photo let alone that thing you had with a sod
Once. Yes, you see flaming daffodils
Growing, wilting and stuck in the ground but doff
The effect and you’ll see it for what it is; a fad.
Because after all, you’re just a foal
Waiting to be touched up and turned into old
So don’t sit around waiting for something sad
Because there’s something beside this odd.
Perhaps you should forget daffodils and add
A little excitement to your world like your idol.
Jump out of the ground, don’t cover yourself in soil
And if your dazzling charm gets you laid
Then good, but if not just stick with your old dad.

poem by Lydia Bowden; published online with permission

Camden Dear, It's Only Poetry...

Camden Poetry Series
Patron: Carol Ann Duffy - Poet Laureate
2nd December 7.00p.m. (doors open 6.30)
Ruth O'Callaghan Presents
Rosie Bailey
Tim Dooley
Joelle Taylor
Entrance £5/£4 Free Raffle and Nibbles WINE
Poets from the Floor Welcome
Trinity United Reform Church,
1 Buck St, Camden Town
1-2 mins. Camden Town tube

King Is Right And In The Crowd

PhD student and poet Henry King has written an intelligent comment on his blog about the Swift-Bonney fracas of late.  He makes an extremely important point about my trying to keep a space open for poetries, poetics, and styles, that resist the full demands of one kind of late modernist avant-gardism, practiced by a small group of mainly British Marxist poets.  Almost any other sort of broad-minded person would recognise my work as falling, on the broad spectrum, closer to Donald Allen than Allen Tate - my recent book launch was supported by a third gen New York School Poet, David Lehman, and arguably the UK's leading British avant-garde poet, Denise Riley, my friend and mentor.

My own work combines an interest in the disrupted lyric and abstract lyricism.  In America, I have edited a section for New American Writing, and also been published several times in Jacket.  In short, I am hardly a "mainstream" poet in the sense that, say, Sean O'Brien is. Indeed, my anthologies are also radical - one was anti-war; one was pro-performance poetry; one was about future poetics; and, as a final example, one was a marxist-feminist record of Northern Irish poets, in the late 80s.

So, as King notes, it is rather chilling to have my broad, imaginative, informed, engaged, and, rather questing, approach to poetry, summed up all-too-neatly as "anodyne".  It begs a question, really - who is Bonney, and more widely, who are these Super-Innovators, to throw all the babies out with the bathwater.  Bonney, according to his blog (which by the way advertises links to purchasing his own books) is a big fan of Fanon.  Fanon was arguably a fanatic, whose approach to colonialism was to say that violence was the only way to turn the native into a "free man".  His thesis-antithesis position meant he brooked no dialogue, no consensus, and no "liberal intellectual" peace treaties.

I gather Bonney has adopted this approach to the us-them world of poetics he imagines exists.  But this is far too aggressive and radical a model for the history of contemporary poetry.  Firstly, who are the natives in this story of poetics?  Who the colonisers?  And where is the ontological violence that must be undone with antithetical violence?  Putting someone's name into a prose poem does not save them from libel laws in the UK - just as I cannot write a fictional story about "Sean Bonney" wherein he does and says terrible things.  What is striking is how fearful these fearless types are - when does Bonney ever name or shame real actors of power in British literary culture?  It is rather easy to take potshots at an expat like myself, who is actually relatively marginalised.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Todd Swift Compared to Police Brutality By Bonney?

If you think I started this, think again, folks - in the delusional world of Sean Bonney, I am some sort of corporate insider, close to the beating heart of British fascism - I quote from his blog, dated August 30 this year; this is weird, and offensive.  It is also entirely misguided.  I am a Catholic university lecturer who volunteers for Oxfam in my spare time, and edits poetry projects; I am published by a small press in the UK, Canada, and Ireland.  In what world am I part of "official poetry"?  Does this relate to Bernstein's "official verse culture"?  I have published positive reviews of Bernstein here at Eyewear.  Where did Bonney form this radical opinion of me, that I am some sort of whack of a police club?

What if all it can do is transform into the endless whacks of police clubs - certainly you get that in official poetry, be it Kenny Goldsmith or Todd Swift. Their conformist yelps go further than that, actually, as the police whacks in their turn transform into the dense hideous silence we’re living inside right now, causing immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose and coughing. Because believe me, police violence is the content of all officially sanctioned art. How could it be otherwise, buried as it is so deeply within the gate systems of our culture.

Melvin B. Tolson Is Better Than Wallace Stevens Says Rita Dove

A recent review of Rita Dove's new anthology of 20th century American Poetry, for Penguin, by Helen Vendler, really takes exception to a multicultural Keith Tuma-style approach to the anthology.  Vendler is clearly on the side of a canon of well-made poems, versus Dove's attention to identity poetry, and poetry of the often marginalised.  Both sides can become entrenched.  I welcome diversity, but Vendler, in this case, seems to have a firmer grasp of history and quality.  Surely it must be wrong in a Kantian sense to include twice as much of Melvin B. Tolson as Wallace Stevens?  Stevens is one of the pillars of American modernist and post-modernist poetics.  Tolson is an important outrider of the Harlem Renaissance, and a key African-American modernist.  If this decision gets more Tolson readers, that's fine.  But such large-scale anthologies do also need to keep some sense of balance.  I look forward to reading it myself.

Featured Poet: Isabel Galleymore

Eyewear is very glad to welcome poet Isabel Galleymore (pictured) this sunny day in late-autumnal London.

Galleymore has an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews where she pursued her interest in writing with an ecological focus. She is planning to become writer-in-residence for a "green" poetry project based in London next year, and hopes to continue her studies towards a PhD in the near future.

Her poems have been performed at The Royal Festival Hall, Somerset House and published in The Guardian and Agenda and online. Her poem 'Turn Of Phrase' is featured in the current issue of Poetry Review

A Drama Class
When James was cast as the mouse from the town
after I'd been made the country mouse
our schoolroom love was confirmed – we were
a couple stepping from Noah's sea-house.

I saw our futures laid out before us
I’d leave the dark fields for James’ invite
and go to the metropolis: a treasure island
under the multiple suns of spotlights.

But once I learned the city language
of coca-cola and golden-wonder
I’d forget how to read the string of leaves
sent by pigeon from my sick, shrinking mother.
The little green tongues calling Hazel for 'C',
Furze for 'O', Vine for 'M', Oak for 'E'.

poem by Isabel Galleymore; reprinted with permission of the poet. 

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Inane

I've been getting some eye-opening comments, from readers like Paul Sutton, who find Eyewear inane.  Perhaps.  But another way to read it is as an ephemeral grab-bag of posts featuring poetry reviews, pop culture, and random musings, that, every so often, takes risks, and does good work.  I agree - some of the posts are blog-worthy only (it is a blog).  However, there are numerous featured poets, and reviewers, who share their work on here as well.  I admit to having fun, sometimes, by being banal.  Like everyone else, I live in a media-saturated world, of scandalous trials, dead movie stars, and James Bond.  Between the inanity, I hope, readers can squint enough to catch a glimmer, if even rarely, of more valid, and valuable work.  Not all of it self-directed.  Though, as Mr. Sutton et al. should be aware, almost all writers now keep blogs, or web sites, where they inform readers of their doing  - with the decline of marketing budgets, and the rise of small presses, few writers can afford the luxury of letting their publisher get word of their work out there.  It's naive to think otherwise.  As for "fame".  You don't write poetry to make money or become famous.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Costa Living

This year's Costa Prize is remarkable for the poets who are spread across the genres - not least, Matthew Hollis for his excellent biography of Edward Thomas, the key poet of the English Line.  But then there's John Burnside, up for a novel, or Patrick McGuinness, for best first novel.  Pretty impressive stuff.  However, the four poetry collections raise eyebrows.  They are all by eminent British poets, to be sure - David Harsent, Sean O'Brien, Jackie Kay, and Carol Ann Duffy.  But the claim is that the awards go to the most "enjoyable" books of the year.  This doesn't compute.  Clare Pollard and Roddy Lumsden, to name just two world-class poets, had thrillingly readable books this year.  Indeed, Eyewear received dozens of imaginative, playful, fun, and delightful collections in 2011, including Wendy Cope's superb Family Values, that are more enjoyable than the four selected.  Daljit Nagra?  I fear that poets will never reach a wider audience among the general public when poetry judges continue to opt for over-worthy, safe, and sometimes leaden collections.  The daring of the younger British poets is simply not matched by the establishment perspective, or, in this case, judges who clearly do not have their fingers on the pulse of the moment.

Comment Degree Zero

Eyewear gets around 3,000 pageviews a day, on a good day.  On a bad one, closer to 1,500.  Okay - so, here's a question for you - why does almost no one leave their comments?  This absence is depleting the value of the blog, I feel, and leading me to, again, think of shutting shop, or eye, as it were.  COMMENT PLEASE!  There, I've shouted it.  Cheers.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

How's This For An Idea: Eyewear Press?

they want Eyewear Books for Crimbo!

I am raising a trial balloon - shall we call it a trial lunette?

If I was to start a small press for full poetry collections would any of you out there be interested in submitting your manuscripts?  I'd appreciate queries, or tentative offers of collections to consider - send them to me at toddswift at clara dot co uk, with the subject line reading EYEWEAR PRESS HYPOTHETICAL QUERY LETTER.

If anyone wants to volunteer their talents to help such a start-up, especially with design, lay-out, marketing, web design, and proof-reading, also contact me.

For now, this may just be a mirage.  But I am keen to see what sort of interest there might be.

Looking For Birds

The Rialto magazine begins a call for entries to a new national poetry competition run in partnership with the RSPB, and judged by former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, and prize-winning nature writer, Mark Cocker.

The poetry magazine and Europe’s largest conservation charity are encouraging poets to submit work in response to the competition theme, ‘Nature Poetry’. The Rialto’s editor Michael Mackmin said “The judges will give a very wide interpretation to our theme of 'nature poetry'. The competition will help raise funds to support the vital work of both The Rialto and RSPB.”

A small entry fee of £6 for the first poem and £3 for each subsequent poem will be charged. The closing date for entries is 30 April 2012.

For rules and to enter visit
or contact Matt Howard on 01603 697515

Guest Review: Brinton On Duggan

Ian Brinton reviews
by Laurie Duggan

In an 1851 lecture on ‘Walking’ Thoreau suggested that he had met with ‘but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking…who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering’. Thoreau considers two derivations of the verb to saunter: there are those who ask for charity under the pretence of going to ‘la Sainte Terre’, the Holy Landers, and there are those without land or a home, sans terre, ‘no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea’. Laurie Duggan’s latest collection of 29 ‘Allotment’ poems possesses that marvellous quality of sauntering which allows the poet and the reader to recognise the small details which accumulate to provide a whole picture.

In the opening poem, sitting in his local pub, Duggan’s range of meditative reflection moves him from Ken Bolton to Paul Blackburn, Australia to New American Poetry, whilst his eye roves around:

                                                                        the hops
            dangle, as hops do
                                                from the dark wood
            (not the ‘dark wood’)
                                                            the light gone by four
            a gent reads the Daily Telegraph
                                                                        (‘the darkness
            surrounds us’)

This is not Dante confronting his mid-life crisis in ‘silva oscura’ but a wry glance at locality. The range of literary reference throughout this little sequence of poems is enormous as the poet weaves from Charles Olson to Donald Allen, Rimbaud to Camus, Susan Howe to Philip Whalen and from Robert Frost to the sly brevity of ‘Allotment 9’ with its glance at Keats and Eliot:

            the small gnats
have ceased to wail;

dogwood’s leaves lost
red branches bared

If at first glance this handsomely produced little volume, with its cover by Basil King, gives off the breath of the whimsical then a closer look at how language works as a medium of contact and loss soon asserts itself as I find myself drawn back again and again to the compassionate tone which informs the tightness of the verse:

                                    Allotment 21

            slight airs on sea,
short waves,

the sound of talk from 1979
through rumble and tape hiss,

a conversation almost,
of import once,

distant voices consigned
to the unintelligible

Although the opening words here initially suggest the outside (a seascape) the pun on ‘airs’ takes us forward to the musical references of ‘rumble’ and ‘hiss’, themselves bound down to reference to a tape-recording of voices which have now long gone. The ‘short waves’ bind together not only the initial seascape but also a reference to the radio, itself a temporary conveyance of human interaction, whilst at the same moment nodding at the familiarity of a valedictory hand-sign: not one that lasts long!  A conversation from thirty-two years ago, ‘almost’, had an importance ‘once’ before being consigned to the unintelligible as waves themselves melt back into the ocean and one is left merely with Matthew Arnold’s ‘breath/Of the night-wind’.

The sharp edge of this saunterer’s gaze wonders how many people will turn up for a poetry reading in the William IVth pub in Shoreditch and notes ‘Cameron’s Britain’ in ‘dark shapes beyond double-glazing’:

            an imaginary space
            where imagination is redundant

In the chapter ‘Where I lived, and what I lived for’ in Walden, Thoreau rejoices in the moment:

Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame.

The imposing seriousness of the nineteenth-century Transcendentalist is, in one sense, a world away from Laurie Duggan’s allotment. However, in another way, they share a similar eye and ear:

                                                            a man in a shapeless coat
enters and exits
a spectre
                                    with vivid carry-bag

ghosted photographs

                                                I was/wasn’t here

the v-necked staff, maybe
didn’t notice
                                    I can’t
position myself in history
so easily.

As Emerson put it in Nature (1836) ‘We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands.’ Like any allotment Laurie Duggan’s book is a delight to return to time and again.

Ian Brinton is reviews editor for Tears In The Fence; a poetry critic and scholar.  He reviews regularly for Eyewear.


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