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Showing posts from May, 2007

The devil's script sells you the heart of a blackbird

I have been listening, with increasing wonder and delight (and some horror), to an album of work recorded by Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (October, 2004), produced and released posthumously, after this thirty something addled-abused genius died in a did-he-didn't-he murder/suicide - leaving an ambiguous corpse - and a brilliantly twisted, popular legacy of melancholy and melody - like some latter day Edgar A. Poe.

Some fans have written that this album is not his best. I can't imagine that to be true. It has the confidence of its tragic origins, a whiff of the grave that makes a dead artist smell sweet. From the eerie opening of "Coast To Coast" to the last track, "A Distorted Reality is Now A Necessity" the songs establish an immensely persuasive and disturbing presence - we're listening to the inner voice of a man hanging on the edge of self-destruction, but licking the candyfloss from the cliff's face. In this instance, the candy is …

It was a marvellous night

No moondancing, but some very good poetry, very well read (it was one of the very best of the series so far). The Oxfam reading in Marylebone - the third from the end of the historic series now in its fourth year - was a great success last night (see previous post for list of readers). There were around 100 in attendance (including poets and volunteers) and over £700 was donated to the shop. The event started at 7.20 and ended at 10.05 pm - time for a drink and meal after. It went mainly without a hitch (though we'd run out of chairs) and the interval was particularly warm this time - much like a party. It was good to see so many poets in the audience, too.

Oxfam Summer Poetry Reading Tonight

Tuesday, May 29
7 Poets in ‘07 Summer Poetry Reading
Oxfam Poetry series
featuring seven poets:

Edward Barker
Siobhan Campbell
John Haynes
Frances Leviston
Valeria Melchioretto
Bernard O’Donoghue
Maurice Riordan
Edward Barker Born Rome, Italy. Moved UK uni degree mod history mod languages Magdalen College Oxford. Worked in film as actor, writer, directed short films, cinema manager, bulk carrier ship broker. Married, one child. Currently runs a small homeless organisation. and http://www.thepoem.co.uk/ website. Book of First Poems published in 2000. Also published in 2002 Forward anthology and The Like of It (2006). New pamphlet being prepared for Turtle Chaos press.

Valeria Melchioretto is an artist and writer who has lived in London since 1992. In 2004 her pamphlet Podding Peas was published by Hearing Eye. She won the New Writing Ventures Award 2005 for Poetry and her first full collection, The End of Limbo, will appear from Salt Publishing in 2007.

Frances Leviston was born in Edinburgh in 198…

Dawkins Is Wrong

Richard Dawkins, pictured, is wrong.

Stripping away the tedious arguments, his position is that a) God does not exist (as any of the major religions imagine such a being) and that b) belief in God is damaging to society, particularly as it leads to conflict and to fundamentalism that is anti-rationalist. Dawkins is one of the leading atheists of our age. And one of the richest.

My position is antithetical to his.

Taking a), first. It is impossible to prove, using scientific method, the hypothesis "God does not exist" - just as it is impossible to prove the opposite (logically unverifiable) statement. The best a scientist can do is accept an agnostic position - that there is no way of knowing whether or not a God exists. Agnosticism is a sound position. Atheism is an irrational one.

Now, b). If there was no belief in God (i.e. no religion) there would still be conflict and resistance to reason and science. Conflict, between humans, as individuals, tribes and nations (wars…

Who

I had dinner with the talented Mr. Chapman, pictured, on Friday, in London. Chapman is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and creator of screen and audio plays. Among other things, he recently wrote the script for Big Finish's 60-minute podcast / CD, Fear of the Daleks, read by Wendy Padbury - for the Companion Chronicles series. It's great, rousing stuff.

Chapman's latest book, which launched recently at the main Waterstone's in Dublin, is a collection of short stories, titled The Wow Signal. It's out from the UK small press Bluechrome, which is doing some good publishing work lately. They'll be putting out another book from Chapman in 2008. In the meantime, he's set for a busy year - in September 2007, he'll be launching his new collection of poems from Salmon. It's been thirteen years since his last full poetry collection, so this will be a strong grouping of his best work over more than the decade.
I've anthologized "The Wow Signal&quo…

Cannot Hear The Faulkner

This very brief review originally ran on the 16th of January, 2006, at Eyewear. I am reprinting it now, with the news that the great Coen brothers have made a film version, which went home from Cannes empty-handed, surprising some critics, and will be on general release later this year. It may well be one of the major American films of 2007.

---

Cormac McCarthy'sNo Country For Old Men is a fascinating blend of Faulkner and Jim Thompson, as if Faulkner had written noir for Hollywood - hold on a minute, he did...

The postponed apocalypse at the end keeps evil at bay but circling, and good down but not out, and is at once dramatically unsatisfying and theologically correct. With nary a proper love scene in site, the terrifying professionalism of gun technology and terminology is displayed in all its well-oiled efficiency, as the author shows us a world by, and for, men on a mission to take life with extreme dispassion (Anton Chigurh, Lecter-like sociopath versus the Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell…

Poem by Janet Vickers

Eyewear is very glad to welcome the British-Canadian poet Janet Vickers (pictured) this Friday.

Vickers was born in Greenford, Middlesex, in 1949. She left England for Canada with her parents and siblings in 1965, settling first near Montreal, then Toronto, and finally Abbotsford, British Columbia. She became a Lay Chaplain, performing rites of passage for Don Heights Unitarian Congregation near Toronto, then after moving to the west coast worked in community support for mental health with Mission Community Services in BC.
She found herself writing poetry in the early 80s and published a chapbook You Were There in 2006. The title poem won the poetry category of the 3rd Annual Vancouver International Writers Festival short story and poetry contest. Her poems have appeared in sub-Terrain, Grain, Quills, anthologies such as Down in the Valley (Ekstasis), Corporate Watch's This Poem is Sponsored by ... - and online at Nthposition.

She has recently completed her studies in Adult Education…

Notting Hill Poetry Reading: Best Ever?

I read a poem last night with a stellar group of writers, performers, journalists, media and other UK celebrity figures as part of a special fundraiser, Pass On A Poem at the Oxfam Bookshop, 170 Portobello Road. Pass On A Poem is the brainchild of Frances Stadlen.

I think it was arguably (despite the muggy conditions) one of the most remarkable (and perhaps most eccentric) gatherings to read poems (by others) in British history, given as it represented major facets of English cultural predominance, such as pop music, Darwinian science, acting, detective fiction, poetry editing, politics, modelling and newsreading - and in a very trendy setting.

Those who read included the great radio and TV presenter, Joan Bakewell, pictured, Alex James, writer and former bass player with Blur, Craig Raine, the father of the Martian School of poetry, Fiona Shaw, Irish actress (currently in the new Harry Potter) and world's leading interepreter of T.S. Eliot on the stage, Jon Snow, popular national t…

Darfur Appeal

Happy Victoria Day!

Review: The Best Man That Ever Was

The Best Man That Ever Was (Picador, 2007) is the debut collection from London-based "teacher and embroiderer" Annie Freud, launched last week in London. This reviewer has long (well, relatively) followed Freud's poetry career, and been pleased to take some of her first published poems, for the Oxfam anthology in 2004, and then again, the Future Welcome anthology in 2005, from DC Books, in Montreal. She was also invited to appear on the Oxfam CD Life Lines, in 2006, where she read poems now collected here. In short, I know some of these poems already, but was still not fully prepared for the shock of recognition, reading the collection as a whole - a satisfying shock, really, the tumblers clicking into place that opens a locked door.

Freud's work, as befits a Picador poet, is within the British mainstream - and recognizably in the tradition of other poets from the press, like the great American poet Michael Donaghy (who died several years ago at the age of 50), and th…

Language Acts Interview

Montreal-based poet, cultural activist and radio host Jeffrey Mackie interviewed myself and Jason Camlot a few weeks back, during the 9th annual Blue Metropolis Festival, concerning the launch of our new critical study, the book of essays Language Acts. It's below.

http://www.archive.org/details/swiftcamelot051007

Curtis Is As Kurt Does

"I feel it closing in / Day in, day out ..." Ian Curtis (pictured) sang on "Digital" - a curiously futuristic title in the late 70s. Now he is one of the true digital icons. The band he led, Joy Division, blooded the new post-punk era in May 1980, when Curtis - most famously - killed himself before embarking for America - indeed, the 27th anniversary was yesterday.

One wants to write Amerika. For Curtis is the Kafka of popular independent music - or its Van Gogh, maybe - a European figure of strange tormented, imaginative frequencies, whose antennae were tuned to isolated, icy cold black transmissions. His radio played the depths of German feeling, angst, and history.

The enduring fascination with Curtis - a new film debuted to acclaim at Cannes yesterday, with the three remaining members of the band (New Order) present - is entirely morbid and entirely justified. Like Sylvia Plath before him, and Ms. Kane after, his is an English Suicide underwritten by extraordina…

Poem by Sudeep Sen

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Sudeep Sen (pictured) this Friday.

Sen is the 2004 recipient of the prestigious ‘Pleiades’ honour at the world’s oldest poetry festival — the Struga Poetry Evenings, Macedonia — for having made “significant contribution to modern world poetry”. Sen studied at St. Columba’s School and read literature at Delhi University and in the USA. As an Inlaks Scholar, he completed an MS from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. Winner of many international and national prizes, he was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship (UK) and nominated for a Pushcart Prize (USA) for poems included in Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins). More recently, he has published Postcards from Bangladesh, Prayer Flag, Distracted Geographies, and Rain.

His poetry appears in important international anthologies published by Penguin, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury, Routledge, Norton, Knopf, Everyman, Macmillan, and Granta; and his other writi…

In The Dark

Eyewear often writes about popular music - sometimes reviewing "pop music" - and this might strike some readers as less serious writing than that which considers, say, poetry, or even film. They might be right. Little popular music bears the same weight of scrutiny as a first-rate poem, or great film.

Indeed, the names of those composers, lyricists, performers and singer-songwriters who have distinguished themselves as being artists, while arguably large, may truly include only a few creators of genius - Cole Porter, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, The Beatles / George Martin, The Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen, The Doors, Patti Smith, Joy Division, The Smiths, Nirvana, Elliott Smith - and the perennial Bob Dylan, for instance.

There are others, but not too many more. Why this is so, no one can say - but it may have something to do with the fact that while intelligent pop music is open to the full resources and strictures that also mark and shape poetry - music and metapho…

Don't Quit Your Day-Lewis Job

One of the mysteries of poetry is that one can be hard pressed to tell, from among one's many contemporaries, whose poetry will "last" - but after only 35 or 40 years, the mist has lifted, and it is as if the chaff or dross had never existed, so clear is the view to the gold of the wheat fields. Consider Yeats, or Larkin, who both famously anthologized shiploads of dud poets in their Oxford anthologies, presumably because they thought it was "good" poetry.

Ian Hamilton'sAgainst Oblivion is worth reading, concerning the point at which a poet, a body of work, a reputation, is beginning, like New Orleans, to sink, or like the Pisan tower, to lean. The movement can be in the other direction, too - poet-editors and critics are now rediscovering worth in Lynette Roberts, for instance - but more often than not, the direction is conclusive, and it is towards a reputation at rock bottom.

Cecil Day-Lewis (pictured) seems to be at that stage now. The recent review, by …

Are You Equipped?

Eyewear is open to innovative linguistic practice, and small press publishing, in poetry. Equipage is one of the places where these two things meet, with significance, in the UK. See their new catalogue below.

E Q U I P A G E

c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge, CB5 8BL, U.K.


JUST PUBLISHED:

Simon Jarvis, F subscript zero, 8” x 9”, price £4.00
Carol Watts, Brass, Running, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Rod Mengham, Diving Tower, A5, 16pp, price £3.00
Elizabeth Willis, The Great Egg of Night, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
John Kinsella, Love Sonnets, A5, 64pp, price £3.00
Barry MacSweeney, Horses in Boiling Blood, A4,perfect bound, 84pp,price £8.00
Caroline Bergvall, 8 Figs, A5, 48pp, price £3.00
Tony Lopez, Equal Signs, A5, 40pp, price £3.00

RECENTLY PUBLISHED

J.H.Prynne, Biting the Air, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Anna Mendelssohn, Implacable Art (published by Equipage/Folio) perfect bound, 140pp, including 32pp of drawings, price £7.95 + £1.00 p&p
Peter Minter, Morning, Hyphen, A5, 36pp, price £3.00
Andrew Dunc…

Poem by Evie Christie

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Evie Christie (pictured) this Friday. She's a young Canadian poet, born in Peterborough, Ontario, who now lives in Toronto. That's all the biography I have. Other than that, all I know is, her debut collection from ECW Press is very promising.

It's raw, brave, explosive stuff - full of old men who work in "porno stores", shotgun shells, and tornadoes - it's mythic and it's real, and low and high - Wild West poetry for a broken heart and a racing mind. Ken Babstock, one of Canada's finest poets under 40, has written of Gutted that "Christie's poems frighten themselves awake". I recommend her. You''ll find more at www.ecwpress.com - the poem here is from Gutted and is reprinted with permission of the author.

Straw

I’ve told you about the sheep’s heart.
I can’t say how many pounds without
The blood, only that it was two fists, mine
Not yours (which are considerably larger).

A man was ablaze on Queen’s Park …

Risky Business

I've been reading Al Alvarez's wonderful new collection of essays - his first in 40 years - called Risky Business. It's just out from Bloomsbury, and, aside from the literary reviews, there are rugged insights into poker, mountain climbing, polar expeditions and oil rig roughnecking. As the blurb says, and rightly, he's Britain's "most unusual man of letters". And, arguably, its bravest - the one with most integrity.

When I interviewed him for Magma a year or so ago, I was struck by his ongoing commitment to an intelligent modernism. His belief in, and support of, Sylvia Plath, pictured, and several other major voices of the mid-century (Lowell, Herbert), endures. More impressively, by republishing his infamous 1980 appraisal of Seamus Heaney (first appearing in the New York Review of Books) 27 years later, and after the Nobel, he sticks to principles that have not, for him staled. Alvarez wrote of Heaney's work, then, that "it challenges no presu…

Look! Up In The Sky!

Speaking of Spiderman Dept. Here's a press release worth noting. In the interests of full disclosure, I'm in it, myself.

Sacred Fools Press is proud to announce the release of its latest anthology, Look! Up In TheSky! An Anthology of Comic Book Poetry (Sacred Fools Press. ISBN# 9780615137643).
The anthology is dedicated to Lisa King, an influential performance poet who passed tragically in 2006. The book features over a hundred contributors from the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain including such poets as Patricia Smith, Jack McCarthy, Mike McGee, Alvin Lau, Daphne Gottlieb, Cecilia Tan, Ratpack Slim, Amanda Kail, J*me Caroline, Ryler Dustin, drawn from the worlds of performance and page poetry alike.
Look! Up In The Sky! is available directly through Sacred Fools Press (215 River Avenue, Providence, RI, 02908, USA) for $12 (+$2 s/h); or at Lulu http://www.lulu.com/content/562064.
Profits from sales of the book will go to The Fenway Community Health Center in Lisa King's name.

Poetry Is Difficult

There is a scene near the end of The Fabulous Baker Boys, when the little and elder brothers, long-time, sophisticated, professional piano players for hotel lounges, end up playing a third-rate telethon, for "Channel 71", to raise money for "basketballs". The TV host calls them the "Barker Boys" and interrupts their act unceremoniously. A fight breaks out. There is only so much small-minded, contemptuous indifference these diligent, talented, but ultimately anonymous men can take. Then heart break.

Working as a poet is a lot like being a Fabulous Baker Boy. Some days (and this is one of them) the modest pleasure of craft and art, the challenge of doing what's best, what's most difficult, is outweighed by the sheer lousy nonsense of the world and its celebrity playboys.

For the record, I have been working as a poet, poetry organizer, and editor / anthologist since 87/88 - about 20 years. My first anthology was published just as I turned 21. I'm 4…

May Poetry Now Online At Nthposition

Nthposition's May poetry is now here, and features poets John Tranter, Mark Terrill, Lucy Fokkema, Carol Jenkins and others.

http://www.nthposition.com/poetry.php

Review: Spiderman 3

As they say in the business, spoiler alert.

The Spiderman film franchise is a "symbiote" that thrives on the nostalgic goodwill of several generations who grew up with scrawny Peter Parker and his more outgoing, thread-borne alter-ego - and subsists on the fact that newer generations will continue to want the arachnoid icon (as this film confesses) on lunch pails, pillow slips and for Halloween costumes. As such, its style and purpose balances on a thread, between retro-hipness and contemporary, juvenile interest. Spiderman 3 is the best example yet of how this high-web act can stumble, yet never fully fall.

A curious number of its best set-piece moments are not concerned with slugging it out with villains (those are rather tedious in comparison) - but are instead comical, even camp, pieces of theatrical business, that would not be out of place in a 40s or 50s musical - and it is tempting to think that director Sam Raimi has modelled the film on a Kelly or Astaire musical, mer…

Review: Ask The Dust

Somehow I missed the classic LA-set Bukowski-inspiring novel Ask The Dust by John Fante - despite being a sometime-lover of the sun-soaked- "place where people go to die"-LA-deadbeat-and-eccentrics novel subgenre - N. West country, you could say, dropped in on the wings of Chandler's slumming angel.

I also missed the film version, until last night. It was written for the screen and directed by Robert Towne, whose Chinatown script best captures, on film, the same rough sun-blanched time. Towne is not known as a very good director, but he seems the ideal fit, here. Cast as the struggling, Mencken-mentored Italian writer, Arturo Bandini, is pretty boy Colin Farrell, and the mercurial edgy gorgeous Mexican waitress is played by Ms. Hayek. Both leads are pictorially perfect - Hayek literally embodying the key aspects required of her part - Mr. Farrell with his boyish black bangs and badly-shaved neck, and slowly-declining sartorial confidence, is at once a dreamer and a dreamb…

Poem by Jeffrey Wainwright

Eyewear is very pleased to be able to welcome Jeffrey Wainwright, pictured, a favourite poet of mine.

His Selected Poems (1985), The Red-Headed Pupil (1994) and Out of the Air (1999) are published by Carcanet. Wainwright has translated plays by Péguy, Claudel, and Corneille. He editeda most useful and informative book on the purposes and styles of poetry, Poetry the Basics, published by Routledge in 2004. I use it often in the classroom.

His book Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill was published by Manchester University Press in 2006. Carcanet will publish his new collection, Clarity or Death! in 2008. He is Professor in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University and teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

I first came across Wainwright's work in the now-classic Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, edited by Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison, which was published in 1982 (25 years ago, now). That work introduced a whole new genera…

Return of the native

Just back from Montreal, Canada, launched two new books.