Saturday, 29 March 2014


That's right, Eyewear kicks in to a new gear tomorrow, as British Summer Time arrives.... lots of posts to look forward to, including reviews, poet features, new poems, and notices of several Eyewear events in May and June.

Meanwhile, March 31 at 5 pm is the deadline to enter THE MELITA HUME POETRY PRIZE - free to enter, JUDGED BY FORWARD-WINNING FABER POET EMILY BERRY, first prize of £1,400.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


Eyewear is always pleased to feature new poems by poets we admire, and one of these is U.S. Dhuga.  Unfortunately, the poem is occasioned by something which we all hope does not prove sinister.

U. S. Dhuga is the author of Choral Identity and the Chorus of Elders in Greek Tragedy, published through Harvard University's Center for Hellenic Studies in the series "Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches" (Lexington Books, 2011). Founder, publisher, and managing editor of The Battersea Review, Dhuga earned his PhD in Classics at Columbia University. He lives in Toronto.

Say Banal Again, with Feeling 

It’s pronounced baNAWL not BAYnal, my love—
this bothers me now, more than before, because
now I’ve got that disease

where you hold your hip and lurch
forward: the all-male (fuck, all-male...) search-
crew sent running through recesses of the ‘couch’

to find—so promptly and sincerely—my pills
comes back with but fistfuls of Benadryl
(non-drowsy) and assures me the refill

of hydromorphone will arrive next week.
They look at me with eyes far more pathetic,
far more far off, than mine. They speak

in mock-hush tones more hushed than mine. It could
happen anywhere, my getting over cold,
anywhere but in this cancer ward.

poem copyright the author, published with permission.

Thursday, 20 March 2014



Veronica Mars should never have worked. A hard to describe show on a little known network, with a mishmash of tones and genres somehow expected to sing together. The recipe for the show reads like a parody of a parody – Buffy without the demons, Nancy Drew with an edge, X meets Y with a dash of Z. High school hijinks standing side-by-side sun-soaked noir with dames in short skirts. And yet, here we are – Veronica Mars endures. The Veronica Mars movie has been heralded as the newest wave of direct-to-audience content, and demonized as yet another way for movie studios to wring consumers dry.

I don’t care about that. We’ve seen Arrested Development return, NBC announced plans to reboot their derivative Heroes, and Jack Bauer returns to kick unholy amounts of ass in a few scant weeks. But shows are more than buzzwords – the best products are able to capture lightning in a bottle at a specific time and place. 24 fed into our national paranoia after 9/11, Heroes arrived to leech off dissatisfied viewers from Lost like a barfly at 2 a.m., and Arrested Development tapped into growing discomfort with corporate greed in the wake of Enron. But when these shows return, they struggle to adapt to a new mood and an always changing audience. Much as I enjoy the exploits of Jack Bauer (This year, he’ll be shooting his way through London!), we don’t really need Bauer to return. 

Veronica Mars needed to come back.

At times, the Veronica Mars movie struggles to compress a sprawling TV series into a two hour event. Characters get lost in the shuffle, the mystery is perfunctory, things have to be alluded to rather than shown. But Rob Thomas understands that we don’t watch television for events, we watch them for the characters.

(I’m not going to spoil any major plot points in the movie, but I will discuss some of the information revealed in trailers, commercials etc.)

When we last left Veronica she was walking down the rain-soaked streets of Neptune, an affluent beach town located somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. Her life had been torn apart yet again, this time by a sex tape. And for all of her growing up, Veronica Mars couldn’t let the issue rest – and picked up a flamethrower and got to work burning down everyone who had wronged her or her friends. The movie tells us that she finally got out, finally stopped the cycle, found a way to win the game without playing.

Veronica Mars had always been a show in love with inverting typical TV formula – call it the Whedon School if you’re so inclined. Veronica Mars the movie is ostensibly about Veronica slowly being sucked back into the town and life and habits she abandoned nearly a decade ago. The emotional core remains resolutely capital N Noir, with injustice always lurking offscreen. Within the first ten minutes, a beloved character makes his entrance by fighting back against a loathsome real life policy that stands at the crossroads of race and class.

And if there’s anything that surprised me about the movie, it is how timely the film feels. This is not a throwback to Bush-era America: This is a fully throated condemnation of America’s class divide. The list of American shows that have dealt with class is pitifully small, and Veronica Mars felt revolutionary in 2004. And for all of our Netflixes and Snapchats and Elected Black Presidents, our class divide is growing bigger, looming ever larger. And this movie feeds off that discomfort, that gnawing sense that by trying to make things better we’re merely speeding further off the rails.

Rob Thomas’ script spends a lot of time on the vocabulary and power of addiction. At times it feels like Veronica might be addicted to Logan, the ultimate bad boy trying to make good. Neptune itself is an intoxicant, offering Veronica a chance to tangibly fight injustice with the added opportunity to gloat about her righteousness. But for all her maturation, Veronica is still addicted to a potent drug: her own nostalgia.

Part of the intrinsic pleasure in early episodes was seeing Veronica take revenge against the rich and powerful (and popular) kids that made her a pariah. But for all her boasting, Veronica missed the naivete and wonder of childhood. She traded Pep Rallies for stakeouts, bake sales for cheating husbands and wives. Like all great Noir, Veronica ached for her past.

A decade later, Veronica is on the cusp of completely erasing her life in Neptune. A high paying job with a big law firm, an adoring boyfriend, a ready-made life in New York.  But this Veronica still aches, this time for the adventures and trials we witnessed her undergo so many years ago.

I grew up in Southern California, an hour or so drive away from where the series filmed. I was introduced to Veronica Mars when I was living in a rat-infested hellhole in Boston, the muggy summer air feeling like a final indignity. I transferred back to California less than a year later.

Veronica Mars portrayed a California that felt if not literally true than emotionally accurate, a whirlwind of sunshine and sex and repression and masochism and New Money throwing their newly bought status around and a deep, deep abiding fear that everyone loved it anyway.

For three years we listened to Veronica rail about her need to get out of California, to sand off all of her edges and become the quintessential Adult. Although Thomas’ work has outgrown the label, Rob Thomas started his writing career as a Young Adult novelist. Even in a condensed format, his characters still emanate from that place, all raw nerves and exposed emotions.

And since Veronica Mars the series ended, Veronica Mars the character was allowed to build the life she always said she wanted. But the audience craved more, and so too must Veronica. Some reviews have expressed dismay that Neptune and her old life hold such power, even after all this time. I have to wonder what past lives they’re running from.

New York a phone call away, slipping ever farther. Her past beating down the door late at night and a growing part of you that wants to turn to knob. The pull of California may well be an illusion, but it will always remain intoxicating.


The War on Drugs is a smartly-named band that is basically one man's vision now - but the new album, Lost In The Dream has the sound of an entire canon, an entire back catalogue, echoing through it.  There is a lot of talk these days of mash-ups, fusions, hybrids, influences, and eclectic splicing, but few decisive aesthetic acts of total comprehension and compression that occur when a tradition meets an individual talent.  This album, just out in the UK in 2014, is such a moment. The list of fully absorbed influences is long, and almost comical - but let's start with the big two - Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen - mostly in terms of vocals for the former, and the chugging guitars, and epic sax bits of the latter; then move on to the Eagles, Chris Rea, Joshua Tree era U2, Tom Petty, Dire Straits - in short, a whole range of Americana-influenced rockers whose greatest songs are best played in cars with the top rolled down driving to Malibu at sundown, or to the Mojave.

So far, so what, you might ask - but then comes the twist that makes everything shine and flash - for this is fused with an ambient sensibility, a gift for abstract airy soundscapes, and dream-pop, part Tangerine Dream, part Talk Talk, part William Orbit.  What results is a guitar and synth masterwork that has the driving pulse of a revival meeting that has just been joined by Jesus bearing peyote. Yelps of extraordinary joy and rhapsodic sequences spiral out and spin in to the rambling, open form songs, that expand and swim about the rock formula in a dream swoon like kissing a wannabe starlet you love in a diner on the edge of town.  2014 has given us albums of majestic pop beauty by Beck and Warpaint, but this surpasses them for intelligent design.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Very unprofessionally of me, or perhaps aptly in Wes Anderson’s story-within-a-story style, I will start by my review by quoting Mark Kermode’s astute review, watching The Grand Budapest Hotel is “less like marvelling at the silent workings of a Swiss watch than goggling at the innards of a grandfather clock, cogs and pulleys proudly displayed.” Wes Anderson is maybe the most unwavering of the few American auteurs working today – so if you loved his previous films, you will feel the same with this, and vice versa.

            Unwavering not in the sense of quality, The Royal Tenenbaums was successful homebrewed lemonade spiked with melancholy, while The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is about as meaningful as a Cath Kidson teapot. Rather, unwavering in this above-mentioned mechanical sense. Along with narrative devices such as chapter headings and inception style plunging into novels-within-novels-within-novels, Anderson’s aims to flatten the image as much as possible as if watching shadow puppetry; the camera is always placed parallel to the action and moves forcefully at right angles. Where most films aim to submerge you in the story, Anderson for whatever reason never wants to break that veil. On top his dialogue is just as mechanical, unbelievable but zesty, thus quite intriguing that actors line up to work with him considering that they are required less to act and more to become puppets – based on Ralph Fiennes’ exquisite performance here maybe it is a case of great craft coming from restriction.

            His films are so reliant on his charm and script, that it can really go both ways, and one’s opinion on Anderson may stem from which film one has seen. Having seen them all, I say Grand Budapest Hotel is among his better, and simply because it’s an outright, actually funny, comedy. There is an occasional clash against the humour with the misplaced faint shadowing backdrop of war that serves to provide sentimental shock via the odd line of expositional dialogue (it’s about as laborious to watch as that sentence was to read), but for the most part this is almost on par with his animation Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The sets are devoid of authenticity, instead colourful and engrossing, the set pieces replace tension with whimsical spectacle and joy, and the story refuses to stick to one genre but hops from crime-caper to romance to prison breakout and on. Whether you enjoy Anderson’s films or not, it’s good to see someone in the mainstream adjust the filmmaking formula and tell a story with a flare for the unusual – even if his particular strand of unusual has become his “to be expected” aesthetic. Anderson strikes me as someone who will have read filmmaking manuals like Robert McKee’s Story or Syd Field’s Screenplay, and then abandoned them, and one has to have respect for that. So even when Anderson spouts out drivel (which in my opinion, is more often than not) I still cry long live Wes!


Today is a miracle in London - after a long, very cold and wet Winter - it is as warm and sunny as a day in June might be. A perfect time to sit outdoors and read poetry.  And there is no better poetry book to read, today, than Sebastian Barker's The Land of Gold, recently published by Enitharmon. This is not a review - that is coming later, hopefully in print somewhere - but an appreciation.  I am only forty pages in.  But let me tell you something - these firsty forty pages are as beautifully lyrical and moving, as formally adept, as timeless, as the best of Housman, the best of Robert Graves. Barker, who died recently, was a man of vision, inspired by the great romantic and biblical works of the past - to call him Blakean is to state the obvious.  He also wrote in the shadow of his father, George Barker, the outsized Neo-romantic Faber poet of the 40s, whose reputation has oscillated widely and is now at an all-time low, close to Edith Sitwell's.  Such low reps can only rise, of course, when we learn to read them with new ears and hearts.

But they wrote a lot of guff.  No guff here.  All is burnt away, to what is only required - the poems are so achingly tender, and sad, and lovely, they seem ancient, or at least 19th century - but there is a modern steel in them, too, that has cut them to only what is needed.  Barker is the poet that people who do not think they like modern poetry would love to read, if they only knew about him, and had the time, or inclination, to reach for a new poetry book.  He is effortlessly major, in the non-tradition of the eccentric, traditional, non-aligned poets of the 20th century (one thinks again of Graves).  I have rarely so delighted in a poetry book - and so what if it is all about death, and life, and the trembling veil between those two hardships?  So what if it is love poetry, religious poetry, pure poetry?  Americans used to experiment might balk at such lush quaintness, and some Cambridge poets might quail - but where and when and if poetry is about feeling, well-made and placed on paper in signs meant to move another, later soul, then this book, even as I continue to read it, yields some of the finest poems a British poet has ever written. The Land of Gold deserves to be read 100 years from now, and then some.

Note: I now have read the first two-thirds, and the book remains great.

Saturday, 15 March 2014


Vicky MacKenzie reviews

God Loves You

by Kathryn Maris

and The Last Temptation of Bond

by Kimmy Beach


Kathryn Maris’s poetry is of the slippery, unstable variety: it is witty, self-conscious and often flippant, but sometimes leaves the reader uncertain as to what’s really being said and even less sure what’s meant.

            In the second section of the book, Maris parodies the language and rhythms of the bible, using numbered verses, anaphora, and her own version of the Lord’s Prayer. A desperate need to be loved by God recurs throughout but it’s echoed by a need to be loved by men, bringing these masculine figures to the same level: that of the desired but neglectful lover. However it doesn’t feel like religious faith is Maris’s target, so much as the godless state of contemporary society, which substitutes religious worship with celebrity worship.

            In the wonderfully-titled ‘Will You Be My Friend, Kate Moss?’ the narrator observes:


            ‘[...] We have so many things

            in common, like you’re pretty much my age;

            we share initials; the circumference of

            our thighs is basically the same. (I checked.)’


The use of shaky qualifiers such as ‘pretty much’ and ‘basically’ suggests wishful thinking on the speaker’s part, but then those initials (KM! It’s true!) brought me up short and had me wondering (fooled?): are the other things true too? Not that it matters, it’s all part of the fun.

            Maris’s collection is extremely wry and knowing, and her take on the confessional is more in the tradition of dramatic monologue than autobiography. She even has a poem called ‘This is a Confessional Poem’ in which the narrator confesses to various minor social misdeeds and mentions her attendance at a ‘class called “Poetry Therapy”’. Slippery as a slope, this poet! However, I find the punning ending as awkward as it is amusing:


            ‘“Don’t be Jesus,” she said. “There are enough around here.”

            I know I should thank her if she’s alive,

            but I also know it’s unlikely I’ll rise to the task.’


            Maris is technically accomplished and this collection includes sonnets, a sestina and prose poems, as well as the direct parodies of biblical verse. Rhythmically, she rarely puts a foot wrong, but for all the cleverness and anguish in this collection, too often the poems feel rather slight. She eschews description and imagery, preferring a conversational tone, and she is very funny on occasions. ‘Darling, Would You Please Pick Up Those Books’ is written in the voice of a wife fed up with tripping over books written by her husband but dedicated to other women. A few lines convey the sardonic wit at work:


                       [...] do I have to be dead for a man

            to write me a poem how do you think it feels

            to be non-muse material [...]’


This poem is in fact the sestina, the showpiece of the collection, and the lexical repetition at the end of each line builds the mood to a frenzy of hurt, jealousy and rage, the absence of punctuation contributing to the sense of a single exhalation of fury.

             ‘Angel with Book’ is among the strongest poems in the collection, and one of the few occasions where Maris lets her lyric gift shine through unfettered by the urge to parody and double-speak:


            ‘The angel’s book is blue and dense and God knows the book,

            which is nailed to the sky.’


            Parodies come in many shapes and sizes and Canadian poet Kimmy Beach’s latest book could hardly be more different from the biting humour of Maris’s volume.  Maris critiques various specific targets, but it would be a strange and thankless task to write an entire collection parodying James Bond if one couldn’t stand the guy. Beach’s The Last Temptation of Bond, dedicated to the Bond franchise, is more affectionate than satirising or critical, and it’s crammed with sex, violence, champagne, Martinis (of course), Bond girls and glamour: so far, so Bond.

            It’s a very playful and inventive book, where multiple layers of ‘reality’ are enacted - there’s the Bond we know and love (or loathe), but also a Bond who has opted for the so-called quiet life complete with office job, house in the ’burbs, and wife and kids. And there’s a third Bond, one who enjoys regular Saturday night movie dates on the sofa with two Bond fans, known only as ONE and THE OTHER. They hang out, drink wine, sleep together and discuss the portrayal of Bond’s character via Walter Benjamin’s theory that each unique object has its own aura which cannot be duplicated when the object is reproduced. It’s not going too far to say that this collection easily outweighs the Bond franchise in terms of intellectual ballast.

            Beach plays fast and loose with the parameters of poetry, incorporating narrative verse, long sections of prose, and scripted dialogue complete with stage directions. Switching between first, second and third person, the narrative grabs the reader by their dinner jacket lapels and hurtles them towards the unthinkable - a grizzly end for Bond. Beach imagines a scenario whereby the Bond girls get together with ONE (thereby colliding two levels of the book’s ‘realities’) to exact their murderous revenge, by reprising Goldfinger’s lethal laser.

            Whilst aware of the stereotypes in Bond books/films, Beach pokes gentle fun at them without overtly critiquing them. The closest we get to an analysis of Bond’s shortfalls is when ONE tells him, ‘All you want to do is screw us and pretend to be smarter than we are.’ Well, duh. Succinct, but hardly telling Bond, or us, anything new. If you’re not a Bond fan, this book won’t convert you: it’s definitely one for Bond fans’ eyes only.
Vicky MacKenzie writes poetry and fiction and lives on the east coast of Scotland.

Friday, 7 March 2014


AHEM.  Eyewear's been busy, planning exciting launches for our spring collection of titles, at The LRB in May, and also at the Mexican residence.  We also have Eyewear poet Don Share over to Glasgow for a reading.  Be patient - we have some astounding new poems, features, reviews, and opinion pieces coming your way. And, in the meantime, enjoy the weather!

Thursday, 6 March 2014


The Faber New Poets scheme exists to encourage new writers at a crucial point in their career. Open to those who have yet to publish a first collection or pamphlet, the scheme offers mentoring, pamphlet publication and financial support. In 2013, the scheme welcomed over 850 manuscript submissions. Faber & Faber and Arts Council England are delighted to announce the four Faber New Poets for 2013–14: Rachael Allen, Will Burns, Zaffar Kunial, Declan Ryan.

The pamphlets will be published in October 2014 and the Faber New Poets will be on tour, reading and performing at a number of venues, festivals and universities across the country in the Autumn, dates to be announced. Highly Commended In addition to these four, eight 'Highly Commended' entrants have been identified to receive a bespoke package of support to be individually tailored to their needs.

These eight are: Holly Corfield-Carr,Malene Engelund, Isabel Galleymore, Matthew Gregory, Daniel Hardisty, Abigail Parry, Phoebe Power, Robert Selby.

Previous participants in the scheme were Fiona Benson, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Heather Phillipson and Jack Underwood in 2009, and Joe Dunthorne, Annie Katchinska, Sam Riviere and Tom Warner in 2010.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014



It wasn't invented yesterday, Death,
it casts a long shadow.  I know
where we are going, partly
and it is to dust, ash, awful stuff.

Who hasn't been awake
and worried about our fragility?
My father, in his coffin, broke
any sense I'd had that life was good.

His stillness, in the midst
of things, was far too complete
to be much comfort.  God promises
some form of return, but not bodily,

not after the dust has dissipated.
When we walk the streets marked
out as fools in our desperate hope
of life everlasting, we are

performing an act of instability.
We are throwing our living forward
into death, and by dying while alive
are making death and life a mixture

like the paste used to heal wounds.
The flimsy cross of coal on my skull
blows off in the wind, smudged
like newsprint.  But it is a story

made of a paper that burns up
each year, and each year reappears,
to be burnt again.  Seasonal, despair
turning like the sun to faith,

as flowers have to press again
to scatter the earth, to invade the light.
Our bodies broadcast our deaths,
deaths predicted at the moment

we unsheltered from the womb.
Death is a broken comb of honey,
its incomplete hive buzzing
with the sweetness of something else,

the further fields of stamen and pistil
awaiting fecundity.  Death starts
like a starter's pistol a race
to the line where all that disintegrates

embodies the greatness of our birth:
we walk constantly dying upright
because we are possessed
of what cannot die, what ignites,

the match-head blue striking of soul.

poem by Todd Swift, 2014.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


Readers of Eyewear will likely know that I think albums by Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey, Echo & The Bunnymen, Eyeless in Gaza, The Passage, Felt, Simple Minds, David Sylvian, Mazzy Star, Beck, The The, The Smiths, Pixies, The Cars, Split Enz, Blondie, B-52s, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, ABC, Nirvana, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, The Replacements, and U2 could easily form a list of the top ten best indie/ alternative albums since 1980.  A very strong argument could be made for the entire Smiths catalogue of albums forming the top of said list, followed by perhaps Pixies, without much critical damage being done.

However, every spring I return to a perennial of such amazing quality, I have decided to name it Eyewear's Greatest Indie/Alternative album of the past 35 year period (1980-2014).  The Colour of Spring by Talk Talk is simply put a miracle.  Nothing in their backstory would have prepared us for this.  The album's 8 tracks are on one level jazzy, catchy pop songs of great beauty, sung with a mournful, emotive tone - however the lyrics are devastatingly deep - meditations on life, religious belief (it is an atheist album), nature, beauty, and hope.

As a Catholic, I resist the temptation to downgrade it - instead, I welcome such a strong and beautiful atheistic statement.  As Flannery O'Connor told Alfred Corn in a letter, unbelief is the first step to being a religious person.  Such existential humanist works in art and pop culture help to further the necessary reflections on our lives, beliefs, and hopes.  Art should be moving, beautiful, and wise, and get us thinking - no other album I know of in the post-punk canon does this better.


Eyewear has been watching developments closely in Crimea, and as we predicted in earlier posts, the Russians have taken a hard line, and today it is reported they have effectively taken control of Crimea with their troops.  This is huge.  This is war in Europe - Russia has invaded a sovereign nation.  Consider Germany (in 2014) occupying a part of Austria - unthinkable.  Uncivilised.  Unwelcome.  And, unlikely to be stopped.  The West seems powerless to do more than threaten to cancel meetings (though Obama sounds tough).  Ukraine may fight back.  They have an army of one million reservists and a rusty but large air force, with a lot of their own tanks.  If Crimea becomes a firefight, it will be all about containment - keeping the conflict local, if possible.  We have begun a new cold war, as many papers report today - but if the Russia-Ukraine war spreads to the main part of Ukraine, then all bets are off, and NATO would be expected to threaten to intervene.  Given one of these nations has atomic weapons, the whole scenario playing out at the moment is quite monstrous.  I feel very sorry for the Sochi athletes and Olympic organisers - all that hard-won goodwill wasted in less than a fortnight.  Russia has shown itself unwilling to join the West as an ally, but prefers to present itself as a solitary second world power, the pivot between the West and China, to establish a three-way split for world domination.  This is a pity.  They could have come in from the cold.

Saturday, 1 March 2014


The USSR has a history of crushing dissent, in the spring.  One need only think of Prague.  And, tanks sent from Moscow rolled into Budapest too.  In both cities, in both countries, proud rebels opposed the moves.  But the tanks crushed in the end.  Russia is not the USSR, as I have been arguing, but since its Winter Games it has been playing a very aggressive sort of game with geo-politics.  I think the reason is the Black Sea Fleet, and the emotive, and real, linguistic and ethnic ties between Russia proper and Crimea.  President Putin, playing to the home crowd, would become a great iron man if he took back the Crimea.  I fear he may just try.  I am not sure what could or would stop him, short of thermo-nuclear threat, or severe economic sanctions.  This is the closest the world has been on the brink of world war since before 1989 - in a quarter century.  I don't think it is time to duck and dive just yet.  But this is serious.


The Oscars feels increasingly like a waste of moral time, even for a pop culture fiend like Eyewear.  What with the Ukraine-Russia standoff, Syrian refugees suffering, and even the rise of UKIP, let alone ecological crisis and capitalist misfiring, not to mention the Nazi-style regime in North Korea, the lie that Hollywood saves the world is now a bit stale.  Still, a good film is a work of art, as well as entertainment, and even entertainment is welcome now and then in tough times; and a great film can be both great art and a serious moral act.  It is for this reason that Eyewear hopes that 12 Years A Slave wins for best film, director, actor and supporting actress.  It probably won't, though it is the finest moral Hollywood film since Schindler's List, and perhaps in some ways the greatest film ever made (despite Brad Pitt's hirsute performance as a too-modern Quaker), if only for how it combines art and a vision of a crime almost too vast to fathom without breaking.  Instead Gravity and American Hustle seem to have a lock on some prizes, for technical or patriotic or small-minded reasons too dull to explore in detail.

On the value of reading during a global pandemic

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