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Showing posts from January, 2007

German Bus, American People

The recent indie film, nominated for a clutch of Oscars, Little Miss Sunshine, is the latest road-movie from an America that, from The Grapes of Wrath, to Easy Rider, on to Thelma & Louise, has forever pictured the bad-lands journey West ("to California") as both mythic and inherently doomed. Since The Day of the Locust, if not before, it's been de rigeur to note that people come to California to die, and this film is no different.

The family unit, united in tragedy, circles the (volks) wagons, and keeps out the Injuns, in this case, a majority of moral (or morally dubious) characters, from a perverted cop, to loud-mouth bereavement councillor to a cruel beauty pageant director. A late sublime moment ensues, when the failed Number One Proust Academic in America, lately suicidal, careens down a corridor, solely to reach the Little Miss Sunshine desk in time, his priorities realigned by the sense of the journey.

Like in all good quest narratives, the knights achieve thei…

Acumen 57

Acumen literary journal is one of the best in the UK, in terms of content and design, including poems, themed sections, literary debates on issues of the day, interviews and reviews.

So it is I am glad to have a poem in issue 57 (January 2007) along with other poets I admire, such as Tim Dooley, John Burnside and Frank Dullaghan; there is also a delightful piece on favourite early books from Dannie Abse and poets on "Nature Poetry".
Burnside's interview zooms in on the enigmatic remarks he made in a recent Poetry Review, about a "highly-esteemed British poet" who has zero time for the work of Jorie Graham, or, one infers, almost any American poetry that doesn't scan. Burnside notes the "lack of generosity and openness" in much of the English poetry establishment, to outside influences, especially North American.
He notes the current great rift between the English and American traditions. It's very important for Burnside to be saying such things, …

Radio Contact

As mentioned in an earlier post, I was featured on Pat Boran's RTE radio show, "The Poetry Program", on Saturday, along with Gery Murphy, an Irish poet from Cork City whose modus operandi is mainly satire, invective and the politcal epigram (some great stuff, check out his New and Selected, recently out).

Below is the link to listen to the show online. The theme was politics and poetry.
www.rte.ie/radio1/poetryprogramme

Poetry at The White House

This week-end is the 4th anniversary of the 100 poets against the war e-book, first launched end of January 2003 by Val Stevenson, of Nthposition, which was partly inspired by the refusal of American poets to read at the White House.

Meanwhile, I recently read at a different sort of White House, in Limerick. Here I am pictured with their witty and indefatigable Emcee, the bow-tied Barney Sheehan.
They have a clip of one of my poems performed - "The Man Who Killed Houdini" - at their blog. The White House series has become legendary in Ireland, and abroad, for the calibre of its guest poets, as well as open mic readers. They run every week, except for Christmas, without fail - this is their fourth year. Their patron saint is Ezra Pound's friend, Desmond O'Grady, who began poetry meetings their fifty years before, in the same pub.

http://whitehousepoets.blogspot.com/

Poem by Barbara DeCesare

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Barbara DeCesare (pictued above) this wintry Friday. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gargoyle, and many others.

Dreamhouse, a musical based on her work, ran in Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York City.



Winter Mermaid

Stupid justice!
Love breaks the boundaries
of not just your ridiculous
punch-line of a heart
but truth and time,
washes up on shore and spills
her rusty hooks to you,
her mouth frothing over
with fish stories
or
maybe you get the flash
of a fin,
a glint of bead on the surface
when the surface is enough
to make you fall in.

I knew this girl,
this semiprofessional
three-season beauty

until winter fooled me,
took her back
when sea horses came
to the bedroom window.

by Barbara DeCesare

Northwest

In anticipation of the Oscar nominations, a poem inspired by one of the greatest directors of all time (Hitchcock), who never won an Oscar....

Northwest

Woke up in the house in North By Northwest
the one that flies out over the abyss.
What part of me is on microfilm?

When you were shot at the Grand Canyon
it was a fake bullet and fake blood
but you felt light as a lifeless glove in my arms.

It feels like disequilibrium to be walking here
amidst art from London, treachery from Russia.
Violent cultures produced my favourite authors.

Before the plane comes to take me away
in the forest of small pines, the light shooting
through, may I admit that my body loves you.

My mind is quite another subject, as you suspect.
This vase is like my dress, green, lifeless.
When I betrayed my nation I lost sleep.

Existence quickly becomes memorable, sadly.
In Vienna they taught me to ride horses,
speak with an American accent: Apple Pie!

poem by Todd Swift

Readings in Ireland

I'll be appearing in Ireland this week, at two of the West's best poetry venues, as well as on RTE's "The Poetry Program", interviewed by Pat Boran, to air Saturday night, 7 pm:

The White House Poetry Revival
The White House Bar, 52 O'Connell Street Limerick City Wednesday, January 24th, 9.00 pm featuring Todd Swift
with open mic



Over The Edge fourth anniversary reading
Galway City Library Thursday, January 25th, 6.30pm featuring Todd Swift Elaine Feeney & Mary Mullen
with open-mic

Look We Have Media Circus!

Those who live outside the self-serving and self-adoring media bubble that is Great Britain might be excused for not getting it. Recently, the third-rate television spectacle, that rancid format, Big Brother, featured a verbal catfight between a made-for-and-by-TV celebrity, Ms. Goody, pictured, and one of India's more attractive Bollywood starlets. Racial slurs were said to have been thrown at the Asian woman, and at the very least, there was gross verbal bullying directed her way. Riots ensued in India, engulfing the visiting Gordon Brown, the man who would be king, and the offending participant was voted off the show in record numbers.

Meanwhile, a related story developed, at least, in the media's eyes. A modest, and exceptionally gifted emerging UK poet, Daljit Nagra, who writes of the Indian immigrant experience with real verve (and often in dialect) has his debut collection, Look We Have Coming From Dover!, from Faber and Faber, out February 1. Nagra was a huge supporter …

Poem by Carmine Starnino

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Carmine Starnino (pictured) this Friday. Starnino is one of Canada's most important literary figures of the new generation of writers born since 1960 (a generation that includes Camlot, McGimpsey, Babstock and a few others) - as poet, fiercely, wittily demanding critic, poetry editor, anthologist, and exemplary "man of letters". That is why I was glad to include his work in my survey of new Canadian Poets for New American Writing.

I was glad to learn that one of his poems from my selection has been in turn selected by poet Heather McHugh for her volume of The Best American Poetry, in this case, 2007, forthcoming this autumn. He also read last year for my Oxfam series, in London, while he was in Rome on a writer's grant.

His work certainly gets around: he has new poems in the recent issue 74 of the New Welsh Review, guest-edited by Patrick McGuinness and Matthew Jarvis; and the verse-letter below first appeared in issue 100 of the New …

Seamus Heaney Wins T.S. Eliot Prize 2006

Seamus Heaney (pictured) last night won the T.S. Eliot Prize 2006 for best poetry collection published in Ireland or the UK for that year, as judged by the distinguished panel of fellow poets Sean O'Brien, Sophie Hannah and Gwyneth Lewis. His book, District and Circle, marks a 41-year career with Faber and Faber, and, while Heaney, recovering from a mild stroke in August 2006, was unable to attend, Paul Keegan of Faber read out his thoughtful acceptance speech, and Mrs. Valerie Eliot signed and handed over the prize money cheque to Heaney's daughter.

The award ceremony, organized by the Poetry Book Society (founded by Eliot years ago) was held in the glittering heart of Marylebone, in The Wallace Collection's fashionable atrium cafe, and was attended by nearly every poet, publisher, and event organizer concerned with poetry, of note in the UK, other than those primarily concerned with radically experimental writing. It was, as O'Brien pointed out in his speech, an unus…

So, Who Should Win The T.S. Eliot Prize Tonight?

Eyewear attended the "TS Eliot Prize, for the best collection of poetry published in 2006" Readings, sponsored by Five (a British TV station) and the PBS (not the American TV station, but the Poetry Book Society) last night, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, in Bloomsbury (not Bloomington, Indiana).

The Reading, which each year features (and has done since 1993) ten poets whose work was selected by the judges (this year, Sean O'Brien, Sophie Hannah and Gwyneth Lewis, three very strong UK poets), is a precursor to the awards which follow the next evening. It is a bizarre and often wonderful two-day prize in a number of ways, such as: Mrs. Eliot, the great poet's widow, actually signs and hands out the cheque; almost everyone who follows one kind of poetry closely in the UK jams into the Bloomsbury Theatre (around 500 people, it is always sold out) for the readings; the judging is done after the readings, always on the Sunday, so, while the award is for the book, the readings …

January Poems at Nth Position

Three Good Questions

Kate Clanchy, one of the UK's best contemporary poets, is also a superb reader of her own work - she read for my Oxfam series a while back, and the audience was entranced and delighted in equal measure by her poems.

I hope she won't mind my replying, then, with all due respect, to her comments, written in today's Guardian Review section, in her review of De-iced, a book by Susan Wicks (Bloodaxe): "There are questions that creative writing teachers are careful never to ask of their students, questions which are out of their remit and destructive to their jobs. 'Is this poem original?' is one, 'Is it urgent?' another, and 'Could it find an audience outside our subsidised community?' an unmentionable third".

I'm a creative writing teacher - and have been since 1998. I also have an MA from the University of East Anglia's creative writing department, where I am currently pursuing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. I currently am a Co…

Inland Vampire

Eyewear is sad to hear of the recent death of Canadian-born icon of silver and small screen alike, Yvonne De Carlo (pictured).

She was best known for her vampiress role in The Munsters (1964-1966), which was cancelled the year I was born. Like many who came to love her, and the show, I saw it in re-runs.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,1988638,00.html

Poem by John Haynes

Eyewear is honoured to be able to feature poetry, this Friday, from John Haynes (pictured),this year's winner of the Costa Poetry Prize (formerly known as the Whitbread Prize) for his collection, Letter to Patience, published by the excellent Seren, based in Wales. While I have yet to read the whole book, what I have seen of it, including this section, excerpted below, is worth getting to know.

Haynes was born of parents who were professional entertainers. After dropping out of school at 16, he joined the RAF, before going on to university, where the great poet F.T. Prince ("Soldiers Bathing") was his tutor. Haynes spent 1970 to 1988 as a lecturer in English at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria where he founded the literary journal Saiwa. Now back in the UK, he has continued teaching, writing and publishing and is the author of a number of books: on teaching, style and language theory, as well as African poetry, stories for African children, and two other volumes of vers…

Language Acts

Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry 1976 to the 21st Century
eds. Jason Camlot and Todd Swift
Essays
March 2007

Vehicule Press
ISBN-10: 1-55065-225-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-55065-225-3
Can $22.95
paper / 276 pages / 4 appendices

Language Acts: Anglo-Quebec Poetry 1976 to the 21st Century brings together twenty provocative essays on the state of English-language poetry in Québec since 1976. Born and raised during this historically resonant period of Trudeauism, organized Québecois nationalism, sovereignty referenda, language legislation, and profound demographic and cultural change, Anglo-Québec poetry has come of age in the 21st century as a literature with its own distinct arguments about itself, and its own poetical acts in language.

Featuring essays on many important, even canonical figures such as Robert Allen, Anne Carson, Leonard Cohen, Louis Dudek, D.G. Jones, Irving Layton, Michael Harris, Erin Moure, David McGimpsey, Robyn Sarah, and Peter Van Toorn, and on a wide range of poetry activities inc…

The TLS Wants More War Poets

I am reminded of Charles Foster Kane's immortal promise, "Dear Wheeler: you provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war."

The TLS (missing the poems, if not the prose) recently [January 5, 2007] asked, in its oft-brilliant NB column (edited and written by J.C.) -"Where are the poets of war?" - before suggesting that one oughtn't to look for them in the anti-war camp, despite what Francis Scarfe wrote in 1941: "a good war poem must also be a good peace poem."

As the TLS writes, "We exclude, for the moment, poems gathered together in collections such as 100 Poets against the War, edited by Todd Swift, and 101 Poets .... [the ellipsis is J.C.'s] edited by Paul Keegan and Matthew Hollis, the very titles of which amount to to a political agenda (the former contained new work; the latter poems from all ages). The kind of war poetry you want, as a reader, challenges your assumptions with doubt, pity, glory, even gore." There's a lot…

Over The Edge

Not a confession, but a fact.
I'm to be the guest reader for a very special event coming up end of the month, in Galway, Ireland. As the link below says: "The first Over The Edge: Open Reading of 2007 takes place in Galway City Library, St. Augustine Street, Galway on Thursday, January 25th, 6.30-8pm.The Featured Readers are Elaine Feeney, Mary Mullen & Todd Swift. The reading is a special occasion for co-organisers, Susan Millar DuMars and Kevin Higgins, as it is the fourth anniversary of the series, which began in January 2003."



http://www.overtheedgeliteraryevents.blogspot.com/

Irony Will

If it so often seems in the "poetry world" (by which I mean the English one, primarily, but also the French somewhat) that what divides is the Atlantic, or versions of "linguistic innovation", or politics - my experience, with poets, critics, editors, publishers, and those rare, elusive everyday readers we hear so much about, instead suggests the fault line in early 21st century is Irony.

Simply put, there are two types of poets in the world - those fundamentalists who are roughly humourless and have the face of the farmer in American Gothic and think words are for sincere barter, about as subtle as a ton of pig - and those gay, Nivenesque souls who employ irony in their work, as not just a method, but an esprit. I am thinking, really, of the difference between a great many poets whose poems are about even more than an authentic disclosure of experience - and those who enjoy a little aesthetic distance, even artifice, in their writing. I am thinking of the wonderful…

That Was The Last Few Weeks That Were

You may have noticed Eyewear was quiet over these last few weeks of Hot Americana and cold-eyed justice: lethal injections going wrong, Scooby-Doo's creator dying, the brutal dictator and ex-Rumsfeld ally being hanged in cold blood with crude bile and Tony Blair (back from the Bee Gees) silent as a church mouse, Robin Cook's headstone proudly asserting his pacifist stance, George Dubya creating a new 'Nam (as was long predicted by anti-war protesters in 2003) with his Lyndon Baines Johnsonian troop escalations, while Hugo (Chavez, not Williams) proceeds with his own Marx-sanctioned version of Monopoly (he takes all the cards, Luxury Tax be darned); Apocalypto Box Office Smash....

well I was. No more. A quick blog-standard speed-reply, below, in order:

Cruel and inhuman; sad, one of my favourite cartoons, especially Shaggy; cruel and inhuman; TB needs to speak a little louder, I can't hear him; Robin was the best of them; Bush may be wrong but Iraq can't be left to ro…

Steffler Competition

Eyewear needs to read more poetry books.

Google-eyed as I am, I can't keep up with the pace of revolutionary change. While I was away from Canada Mr. John Steffler (pictured) has been appointed the new "Poet Laureate" of Canada.

http://www.parl.gc.ca/Information/about/people/poet/index.asp?lang=e&param=2

According to a government site, Steffler "was born in Toronto, Ontario in November 1947 and was educated at the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph. He moved to and adopted Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador as his home in 1974. He taught at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (a campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland). His five books of poetry are highly regarded and have been well received throughout Canada. They include That Night We Were Ravenous (1998) which won the 1999 Atlantic Poetry Prize. His novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright (1992) won the 1993 Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Thomas Head Raddall Award and w…

Costa Gravitas?

Eyewear has read a lot of poetry books, and yet had never heard of John Haynes.

Just like Byron woke up "one morning" to "find himself famous" in London's vicious literary circles, though, Haynes has emerged, blinking, into the light - to ask someone for a poetry reading. I will ask him to read. In the meantime, though, I need to first find and read his latest collection, which has somehow bested Seamus Heaney's superb Distict and Circle.
Acording to his publisher's web-site, "John Haynes spent 1970 to 1988 as a lecturer in English at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria where he founded the literary journal Saiwa. Now back in the UK, he has continued teaching, writing and publishing and is the author of a number of books: on teaching, style and language theory, as well as African poetry, stories for African children, and two other volumes of verse. He has also won prizes in the Arvon and National Poetry competitions."
The Costa judges must be forg…

Two Tributes

2006 saw Quebec lose two significant Anglophone literary figures that are here, below, wonderfully and wittily honoured by a third, who, thankfully, is still with us. I'd note that Ruth Taylor was a third important writer whose passing last year was deeply unfortunate.

Many readers of Eyewear will know that I am a passionate advocate of Robert Allen's writing, but it is good to see other writers coming forward to establish what will hopefully become a consensus, with time: he was one of Canada's major writers, as poet and novelist.

http://www.vehiculepress.com/tributes2007.html

Poem by Ben Wilkinson

One of the pleasures of running a blog (as in running a paper, pace Kane) is that overheads are low - but the keenest and truest is that one can say anything - or better, still, offer anything read or said by others - to you, the mysterious reader in the splendid ether.

So it was a treat for me to recently come across the writings of one Mr. Ben Wilkinson (pictured), and find much there to appreciate and share - from his musings on pop music to poetry on his blog http://deconstructivewasteland.blogspot.com/. He'a young poet well deserving of your time. Eyewear gladly welcomes him here in this liminal January week after the new year's rites of passage.

Wilkinson is a poet and undergraduate at the University of Sheffield. Much of his time is currently taken up by research for a dissertation on the New Generation Poets of 1994, primarily the work of Simon Armitage, Don Paterson, and Carol Ann Duffy. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines, including Dream Ca…

And Superman

The holiday season may bring viewings of films missed during the hurly-burly of the year. In my case, among others, Superman Returns, which sank my heart, for a number of reasons, deep as the Mariano Trench.

Bryan Singer (the "y" was always going to be a problem) was the once-and-future-Fincher of American cinema, a great rising director. Instead, after The Usual Suspects, that bijou pic whose lustre is somewhat tarnished now that everyone's picked up on it, he opted for blockbusters. X-Men, etc., and now yet another "reboot" of yet another "franchise" (even using the jargon of film's industrial trade is an assault and battery on the mind), Superman Returns, as above.

It should have been called "Brando Returns". The production is ghosted by the expensive actor - his virtual reproduction haunts its halls, out-takes from the original "crystal seed" mirrored, replayed and echoed endlessly, like so much "the Force, Luke" st…

T.S. Eliot Prize Nears

The T.S. Eliot Prize2006 may be the most thrilling contest yet (in what has already seen some astonishing constellations of talent go head to head for the most desired prize in British/Irish poetry after the Nobel).

Robin Roberston, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Paul Farley, Simon Armitage, Hugo Williams, Penelope Shuttle, Jane Hirshfield, as well as Tim Liardet and W.N. Herbert are on the shortlist.

Anne Carson (the only North American woman to have so far won it) is notably absent.

Eyewear will keep you informed of the latest developments...