About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is among the most read British poetry blogzines, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers, and vice versa. Eyewear blog is archived by The British Library. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

A.G. Williams on Robin Richardson's Poetry

Robin Richardson’s collection Knife throwing through self-hypnosis is a marvel to read.  Packed full of mystery and half detectable narratives, one could spend hours trying to unpack poems such as ‘Thora the pilgrim’ or ‘Mike pooh’s palliative unit’ in an attempt to find the source of the work. But one rarely does, such is the brilliance of this book, Richardson is an adept trickster who very acutely conjures up allusions to wider stories in her work that may not even exist outside the context of footnotes (I’m referring to the so-called “The life and times of Dzovits the volcano dweller”, the attributed source for ‘Thora the Pilgrime’ and ‘Thora at thirteen’ in particular).   

One particular aspect of ‘hypnosis’ I found revealing for this work, is ‘hypnosis’ as therapy ‘to recover suppressed memories’ OED.  And this is exactly the quintessential nature of these poems. Richardson’s ‘found poems’ “The pilot of 146’, ‘overheard in New York’ aren’t as solid as any others in the book, but they exemplify Richardson’s stripped down narration (cutting out the BS as is said in the business).  The liquid nature of the allusions in character backstories such as ‘Mercutio – a family history’ represent Richardson’s intriguing and sprawling approach to memory (it is no coincidence that one possible etymological source for the name of Shakespeare’s character is ‘mercurial’). 

Richardson doesn’t compromise her approach over substance when tackling pop culture either (unlike some writers I’ve reviewed recently); one of the great delights of this book is ‘Princess Leia to a lovesick Stormtrooper’ which  doesn’t at all fold under its cry to the heart for those of others a little too ready to ignite our lightsabers.  There are even sexual readings of Peter Pan; Wendy is frequented by the fantasy of the boy wonder ‘A thimble-worth of semen spotting the chin. Again she let him in. Again he left his shadow loitering’.

Richardson knows how to pull a punch without cramming her narrative full of poetry-words. ‘Jerry Springer: colour chart’ is a fine character assassination without sententious or bitter taste ‘When he takes his hand out to flash the middle finger there’s a rainbow’.  ‘The second-coming: I’m afraid of everything’ is terrifying in its flirtations with banality;

 ‘Polanski’s muse, Rosemary’s second son, or something worse like nursery ghosts come back to haunt the mom that let them teethe on Chinese lead’.

The same effect occurs in ‘Portrait in Translucent Ink’;
 
'I’d scratch my calves through the bone if left too long to my own devices’.

One might sound appropriation alarms, but I’m still as unsure to where the offense would lay, Richardson is elusive in both tongue and touch. 

My conclusion is that this is a very refreshing collection of work. Richardson’s poems are full of sprawling allusions though contained in tight lines; never allowing for excessiveness.  I will be returning to all of the poems in this book as I feel I’ve only just scrapped the surface in my first few reads.   Yet this is already one of my favourite books of the year.


Williams is an editor at Eyewear; a poet; and a graduate of Durham University.

Friday, 10 October 2014

END TIMES?

Those of us who grew up reading Nostradamus, and paperbacks predicting the Beast was coming soon, to end the world, and anyone who ever saw the film The Rapture, will know what I mean when I say, it has been getting a bit Apocalyptic lately. Yes, it is true, all times in world history have been "bad", more or less, for most people.  But the news that the Ebola virus, arguably the most horrible infectious disease since The Bubonic Plague (and more deadly), has become entrenched in three capital cities in West Africa is sinister.  And, the almost total collapse of order in the Middle East.  As well as near-catastrophic environmental problems, species extinction, and of course, a startling rise of extremely violent anti-woman porn across all Internet platforms - it all adds up to Dark Times.  Are these the New Dark Ages?  We do seem to be facing a world of war, pestilence, plague, famine, and increasing heat (with flooding on the way).  The 21st century seems, at present, to be heading to Hell. What to do?  Well, it might help if we all tried to get along and be nicer to each other on Facebook, but frankly, that sounds a bit meek, doesn't it?  There likely needs to be a revolution in sensibility, a change in vision, for the vast majority of humankind, before real change can be effected, and that won't, at the very least, halt the Ebola virus.  I am worried.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

GUEST REVIEW: BAXTER ON NEPVEU

Jamie Baxter reviews
The Major Verbs
by Pierre Nepveu

The Major Verbs is the translation of Pierre Nepveu’s award winning collection Les Verbes Majeurs, translated by Donald Winkler. The collection consists of three sequences: one focused on a woman, a night cleaner, on the subway, another considers a group of stones on a table and the third is dedicated to the poet’s parents. The book ends with a poem written in the America southwest.

The first section examines the woman on the subway, her life, her job, her place in the world as well as the poet’s own loneliness while attempting to connect with a stranger without interacting with them.
The woman asleep in the subway
trails into dawn
her nightlong chores.

The first three lines of the collection shows the effortless tenderness poet and translator have succeeded in creating in the first section of the book. Nepveu paints the office-scape where the cleaner works as bleak and at times frightening with ‘fax machine’s sudden stuttering’ and ‘ravenous vacuum cleaner maw’ where ‘chill winds come from unseen ducts’. The poet patiently shows us this woman’s unseen toil after the working masses have left whom she does not speak to ‘not even to ask directions’. But the section does not end with this intimate portrait but interrogates the poet’s relationship to the woman noting,
..I’ve only the ardour
of the ancient troubadour
who on horseback implored the void
to be beautiful and to become a poem

But the Nepveu is never in danger of descending into hysteria and speaks in the woman’s voice to say, ‘I didn’t see you’ and even more adeptly, ‘even if I had/ you would be absence itself and forgetfulness’.

The second section is ‘Stones on a Table’ and these stones are the direct consideration of the first few poems in the sequence where Nepveu probes these simple objects to find something elusive,

I sensed there a refusal,
a stellar eternity
holding itself cold and dense.

In the following poems the stones become a mere presence, a prop in an unhappy relationship, ‘On the table between the two of us/the stones weigh heavy’. The poet continually sets sweeping statement against the most delicate of details which gives these poems, and indeed the whole book, an exceptional breadth and depth which is hard not to marvel at as well as enjoy.

The third section of the book is full of loss, punctuated with haunting and images such as, ‘I see time/unstitch in their eyes’. The poet accuses his mother, ‘she let/ the television’s cathode glow/ penetrate her through and through,’ giving the anger that grief often contains a poetic outlet. Nepveu masterfully succeeds at creating a book with a life of its own which unflinchingly examines every aspect of life, leaving you with a new, beautiful way of describing it all.

Jamie Baxter is 25, living and working in London and after graduating from Durham University. He has been published in Astronaut and The Delinquent and on the Cadaverine and Pomegranate.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Protrad Grant

Eyewear is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of the prestigious Protrad Grant, awarded by the Mexican National Fund for Culture and Arts, to publish a 3-book series of novellas by leading Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin, renowned for his imaginative reinvention of the Latin American narrative.

BACK FROM CHICAGO

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of poetic activity and publishing business, in Eyewear and the wider world, notwithstanding the claim made by the boy in Heaven Is Real that "no one wears glasses in Heaven". First, the good news that deserving poets Kei Miller and Liz Berry won Forward prizes.

And National Poetry Day (in UK) saw Eyewear's new autumn titles Skinless and For The Chorus leap off the printing presses - we have a big launch at the LRB October 15th.  Meanwhile, sadly, the great Welsh poet, who I enjoyed working with on several Oxfam projects, Dannie Abse, died. Also, Nik Beat died suddenly, in Toronto - he was an instrumental poet and poetry activist for decades in that scene, and a kind, supportive, very cool guy, with a great voice, and some superb outlaw poetry.

And, I was in Chicago and Detroit for a week, in support of a new USA Selected, from feisty indie press Marick (Michigan), and a lengthy review/ essay in the October Brit issue of world-class mag Poetry.  I had the chance to meet and read with some excellent poets along the way.  I should add, Chicago has the greatest steak, pizza, built environment, and Poetry Foundation, I know of. Super friendly folks too.  And it was great seeing the Cubbies play at Wrigley.

And, now the news that Eyewear Publishing has received a large grant from the Mexican government to publish translations of three novels by major author Mario Bellatin, often spoken of as a potential Nobel winner... very exciting.

As well, we have new prose works from Alfred Corn, Mark Ford, our first paperback poetry title from David Shook, more launches, our first paperback novel hitting shelves end of October (and airing on the BBC), and all things Eyewear are looking up.

I need to update this blog soon with more reviews, features, and commentaries, but for now, thanks for reading.



Friday, 19 September 2014

AG WILLIAMS REVIEWS THE NEW STEPHEN BURT FOR EYEWEAR

Ashley George Williams reviews
Belmont
by Stephen Burt

IN BRIEF

Stephen Burt’s latest collection Belmont displays a style which has evolved seemingly between the boundaries of two critical theories he is famous for.  When reviewing a copy of Susan Wheeler’s book Smokes for the Boston Review in 1998, Burt defined what he believed should be referred to as the ‘elliptical poet’ or ‘elliptical writing’. The ‘elliptical poet’ he writes:

   ‘…manifest[s] a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves’

Burt continued to list Wheeler, Liam Rector, Lucie Brock-Broido and Mark Ford as such writers with Dickinson, Berryman, Ashberry and Auden noted as major influences.

Later in 2009 in an essay entitled “The New Things” he outlined a growing trend of contemporary American poets whereby writers:

‘Eschew sarcasm and tread lightly with ironies, and when they seem hard to pin down, it is because they leave space for interpretations to fit. . .’

 And also

‘... pursue compression, compact description, humility, restricted diction, and—despite their frequent skepticism—fidelity to a material and social world.’

The world described in Belmont is highly material and when pursued as romantic evaporates into the mundane and/or sarcastic. The first section of this three part book, resides around family life and a dull urban existence. Here nature is a clear antagonist of age and the ageing, from the very start Burt writes: 

 ‘Branches trailing at our stop

 are the nature we leave

 behind us gladly’

(from The People on the Bus)

Throughout this section, reflections on flowers, landscapes and sunsets all become a backdrop to the narrator’s apparent lack of dissatisfaction with his own world. Though this is alluded to in a manner which is both self-critical and evasive; it’s rather pensive than it is fatalistic.

‘A sock is not a human being’ echoes one description from “the new poetry” essay as a search for “well-made, unornamented things”.  The attempt is to bring back familiarity to something that is otherwise generic and mass-produced; one thinks of Magritte and that pipe.  In this section the shifts of elliptical poetry between low (or slangy) and high (or naively "poetic") diction is plainly displayed, highlighted in some instances by complete difference of form in single poem. ‘Nathan’ for example, is juxtaposed by two subsections of playful sentence structure, while the rest of the poem follows a fairly regular cadence.

The second section is an exploration of the ‘self’ and the other ‘selves’. Here there are witty remarks concerning Burt’s own identity ‘A pig addicted to lipstick’ (‘Self-portrait as a Muppet’) as well as larger self-flagellations (or are they just a realist’s perspective?)  of poetry ‘this poem like all poems was made entirely in school’ (‘The Paraphilia odes’).

I found this section less engaging than the first and I wasn’t too keen on certain pieces such as For Avril Lavigne’ which seemed a little stale in plot and voice.  There are some fun poems here though, I particularly enjoyed ‘Fictitious girl raised by Cats’ and the before mentioned, ‘The Paraphilia odes’.

The final section has the narrator in a much more settled mood though the themes and images of the previous two are still largely a threat.  In ‘Helplessness’ the “dozens of Canada geese” return to wreak havoc on a school playing field; they previously appeared in the narrators garden in ‘To Autumn’ in the first section of the book. 

Here I feel there is a slight lack of urgency though this may be reflective of the slight change of mood mentioned.  I feel the majority of the poems in this section are much stronger than the previous one; I was instantly drawn in by the final image of the first poem (‘Dulles Access Road’) ‘impregnable metal containers dissolve in the sky’. Though some poems here aren’t without their faults. The ‘what we can’t say openly, we say in poetry, speaking about another as myself’, (‘Kendall Square in the rain’) need not be said at all really and this seems a self-conscious attempt by Burt to register himself with elliptical poetry.

I find this book is at its best when it’s not trying to hard; the poems concerning family life, aging, inanimate objects, and Burt’s fears are the strongest. I wanted to like the poems concerning rock stars, bands, and science journals yet often lost interest when reading them.

Burt is obviously heavily influenced by the two strands of American poetry he has named and I have no quarrel with that.  I find the book at its best when Burt is observing his own world, instead of feeding us second hand information about already well read narratives. 

The poems I’ll come back to in this book are:

-          'The people on the bus'

-          'Nathan'

-          'Reverse Deciduous Existence'

-          'To Autumn'

-          'A sock is not a human being'

-          'The Paraphilia odes'

 -          'Fictitious girl raised by cats'

-          'Self-Portrait as Muppet'

-          'Dulles Access Road'

-         ' Flooded Meadow'

Ashley George Williams.


POETRY FOCUS: ELLIOT HURST

I am pleased this post-referendum Friday in London to feature a surprising new British voice in poetry, Elliot Hurst, a former student of mine. It's a voice that seems to erupt without much interest in decorum or politesse, guided by Surrealism, nihilism, punk, black comedy, the Beats - and, a what have you got, I'm against it - sort of vision - except, the fluent imagery is striking and effective.  It may be indie, but it's not fake.

Elliot Hurst has a BA in Creative Writing and Film Studies from Kingston University and is currently studying for an MA in Publishing at Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. Favourite themes include human behaviour and relationships, consumerism, industry, deterioration and body horror. Photo to follow.  



THE NORTH ZOO
The great apes

were petrol-bombing the

historic North Zoo

eating handfuls out of neighbours'

wheelie bins, for the dinner-dance. 


My eyes became useless,

his scrofulous sore wept

as gauze-eyed delinquent newborns

fraught with refrigerator burns

grizzled for their volcanic counterparts

in the bargain zone. 


Petroleum hag

like the tube worms of the ocean bed

sniffed it out keenly

with her long proboscis.


Tangles of dead weed like flayed crickets

a compact species.

Petroleum hag has her tickets

for the dinner-dance.


Impact on the skull

retained the fragments

within his hood

and stabbed into a thick pulp

like a mollusc's mucous

tangles of seaweed like

clumps of dead black hair

with roast dinner eyes


I have a dream of mass mobility

collected conveyance

sun extinguished his paternal spark

and shone

over his compacted skull.


He stole into the night

with a sixteen-fish roast

and a brach of gherkins

but kept it for himself

and fed his own thick pulp

to babes of the wilderness.


Which reminds me of Ben -

cast out from one wilderness

into another. 



poem copyright the author 2014.

TODD SWIFT IN AMERICA

Those who read this blog regularly may know it is chiefly edited by the poet, teacher, and critic, Todd Swift.

Swift's The Ministry of Emergency Situations: Selected Poems from Marick Press is being launched next week in Chicago and Detroit; it is over 200 pages long, and has endorsements from, among others, the great Terrance Hayes, Annie Finch, AF Moritz, and Mark Ford. Ford describes Swift as "the Orson Welles of Contemporary Poetry" - a pretty impressive statement (if only about weight gain) coming from one of the key poets of our time (Ford happens to be a professor of English at UCL, one of the ten best universities in the world, and his Selected was praised in the New York Times last month).

The two key events of this modest tour will take place back to back, Tuesday 23 September, 7 pm, with John Wilkinson, at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, one of the great places to read poetry in the USA - see link.  This is connected to a major new essay on four new English poets in the October issue of Poetry (Chicago). And then, he will launch the book at Oakland University, Michigan, the next evening, at a library on campus.  6.30 pm start. Both events share the stage with other fine poets, as the links will detail. See you there, as they say!

Other readings in North America are planned for the spring and summer of 2015, when teaching breaks allow.

Those poets, teachers, editors, events organisers, publishers, academics and critics who have not yet read Swift, except as the windbag he sometimes is on his blog, and on facebook, now have the happy chance to locate over 150 of his best poems in one place, edited by the Canadian poet Catherine Graham.

WASTED VOTES?

As the world now knows - sadly or happily depending on your affiliations and ideals - the majority of voters in Scotland have said No to the question of whether Scotland should be governed as a separate country, and thus leave the "United Kingdom" of four nations. Tellingly, the pound soared on the news, and David Cameron looked pleased. Anything which makes financiers and Cameron happy is likely to be suspect.

I wanted a Yes vote, because I cannot imagine any good reason why the Scottish people, with one of the major cultures of Western Europe, are unable to govern themselves, and because I believe that he governs best who governs least far from home. Far-flung empires and federations are never as accountable to their citizens as more local governments, which are usually preferable, except where state or provincial urges tend to the unethical (one thinks of segregation in the Deep South).

In this case, the Scottish government seemed motivated by a rather benign sense of national quality, and, after 300 years of being essentially run from London, despite devolution offers and options, a Yes vote promised a great and good change.  Idealistic, hopeful and optimistic, true, but backed up by some offshore oil, and a plan to cut Trident, a nasty thing.

Anyway, here we are - a strong vote for the mediocrity of the status quo - and, despite 45% of the population daring to dream big, Scotland is a smaller and less interesting place today than it was yesterday, if only because its options have rather collapsed overnight.  There has been a lot of talk about how impressively this revolution was bloodlessly managed, except, in the end, it wasn't one.  Instead, it was recapitulation.  It was cap in hand time.  Instead, we are told great change will come anyway - "Home Rule for Scotland".  Which is a 19th century idea that Ireland would have got had there not been a first world war. There are not many Canadians or Australians who would want to go back to Home Rule or Dominion status.

It may be geography that allowed Canadians to become what the Scottish seem incapable of becoming - independent, a proper country.  That doesn't mean it isn't melancholy to think about.

I am sure Scotland as a nation among four in a united kingdom punches above its weight - but who wants to punch and be punched? There was a destiny calling, and the call went unanswered.  It is nice to know that over 80% of those who could vote came out, but less nice to consider that many who roared out of their homes and flats and offices to the polls did so not to create an historic, once in a lifetime, peaceful new country, but instead, to protect their pensions, mortgages, and salaries.

In short, money fears robbed the Scottish of their chance to grab for the brass ring.  I rather suspect the children of these voters will regret the austere practicalities that crushed the great dream. But this is just a Scottish-Canadian poet who has become British speaking. I tend to be impractical, because the great inventions come from daring to risk all, or much.

Editor's note: since writing this, Alex Salmond has resigned as First Minister.  I find this very solemn and sad.  Salmond has been a visionary and offered the Scottish nation the greatest gift of all - true freedom and independence, and his sweet fatherhood was rejected.  In time, his vision and his campaign will be seen as a great moment in British history.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

POETRY FOCUS: ASHLEY GEORGE WILLIAMS

Eyewear Publishing has a new Intern, and Editorial Assistant, the poet Ashley George Williams.

A.G. Williams
We are pleased to feature his poem below.  He is also the current Poetry Reviews editor for the Eyewear Blog. Williams is a London-based writer who has worked as an archaeologist for several years and has just completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Durham. During his studies he became a founding member of the set known as ‘The Durham Poets’; now largely dispersed across the London area and beyond.  His academic interests include feminism, 20th century art history, atheism, and recent political history.

Lana Del Rey

Beneath the moon’s marred cheek
a model’s leg slips between the folds of envelopes.
 
In the gloom of incandescent matters
she carves sockets in the breasts of men,

the purr of her mother is heard, westwards,
deeper as the night listens.


poem copyright the poet 2014
 



SUCK IT AND SEE

Interesting.  The British poetry blogosphere seems about as divided as Scotland currently.  I'd say it's about 48% Yes and 52% No to the Next Generation list.  Some poets, like Ben Wilkinson, are happily ransacking their career best reviews for prestigious journals, and featuring the listed great and good; Charlotte Runcie in the Daily Telegraph (online and beyond) is questioning the inclusion of famous stars like Daljit Nagra; and then it gets increasingly bitter. Perhaps too obviously, approval breaks down to collegiality - the more people know others on the list, professionally, the less likely they are to set fire to 20 bridges at once.  The excluded marginalised and genuinely cheated, feeling little to lose, are more vocally critical.  The teeny size of the UK scene makes it hard to get an objective response from so close up.  I've weighed in already.  See below.  But I think anyone who applauds the list entirely, and doesn't try to problematize it at all, is probably guilty of a bit of jingoism or curious joy, since there are clearly key figures - a few of genius - left off (James Byrne, Sandeep Parmar, Ahren Warner, Rachael Boast, Jon Stone, James Brookes, Sarah Jackson, Kathryn Simmonds, Sam Riviere, Zoe Brigley, Frances Leviston, etc) whose absence makes the presence of super stars in their late 40s or beyond, who don't need the list's boost, slightly discomfiting.  It seems the Next Gen title is misleading.  But as I said myself, 50% of those on the list deserve to be there, at least. How's that for fence sitting? Okay, here is something more frank: not all 20 on the current list are poetic geniuses. Some named above are.