Thursday, 31 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 junk.

Which imbues the double-meant tunes with the usual ache of waiting for a man, claiming to be enthralled by a woman. Junkie logic may not be advisable, but it lends great pathos and complexity to a syntax broken by the line, offering tortured soliloquies and allowing gravitas and grainy longing to shimmer through the pop ("burning every bridge that I cross / to find some beautiful place to get lost"). I am reminded, listening to this sad, doom-laden, beguiling masterwork, of the great Raymond Carver's claim that "everything else is gravy". I can't - literally - get these songs out of my mind, two months since I started - belatedly it must be said - first hearing (I nearly want to say using) them.

For the record, the major songs here are the two aforementioned, as well as "Pretty (Ugly Before)", "A Fond Farewell" and "Twilight".

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

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.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

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 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 1982, and moved to Sheffield in 1991. She read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and received an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. A pamphlet of her work, Lighter, was published by Mews Press in 2004, and was the PBS's Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2005. Her poems have also appeared in New Writing 14, Ten Hallam Poets and the TLS. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2006. Her first collection will be published by Picador.

Maurice Riordan was born in Lisgoold, Co. Cork, Ireland. His most recent book of poems is The Holy Land, which was published by Faber this spring. His previous books have been nominated for both the T.S. Eliot and Whitbread awards. In 2004 he was selected as one of the UK’s ‘Next’ Generation Poets. He has co-edited with scientist Jon Turney A Quark for Mister Mark (Faber, 2000); and, with John Burnside, the ecological anthology Wild Reckoning, a tribute to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. He teaches at Goldsmiths College and at Imperial College.

Siobhan Campbell’s poems have appeared in Verse Magazine, The Independent, Poetry Ireland, The Sunday Tribune and elsewhere. Her collections, from Blackstaff Press, are The Permanent Wave and The Cold That Burns. She was a prize-winner in the National Poetry Competition. She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University.

John Haynes is this year's winner of the Costa Poetry Prize (formerly known as the Whitbread Prize) for his collection, Letter to Patience, Seren. Haynes spent 1970 to 1988 as a lecturer in English at Ahmadu Bello University. Now 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 and two other volumes of verse. He has a PhD in applied linguistics.

Bernard O'Donoghue Born Cullen, Co Cork in 1945. Came to England in 1962, and has lived since1965 in Oxford where he teaches Medieval English at Wadham College. 5 books of poetry: Poaching Rights (Gallery Press 1987), and 4 with Chatto - The Weakness 1991; Gunpowder 1995, which won the Whitbread Poetry Prize; Here Nor There 1999; Outliving 2003. His Selected Poems are out from Faber in 2008. His translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was published by Penguin Classics in 2006.

Oxfam Books & Music Shop

7pm ,Tuesday 29 May

91 Marylebone High Street, W1

near Baker Street tube station.

Admission is free – however a donation of £10 would be most appreciated.

All proceeds will go to Oxfam.

Seating is limited to 75.

To RSVP and reserve a place, please contact Martin Penny by Friday, May 25

telephone: 020 7487 3570

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, ultimately) is driven by power relations and the need to control a limited supply of desired resources and objects, including other people. As most natural resources are finite, and becoming more so, conflict is likely to continue, with or without any religious sanction. Indeed, from a purely rationalist standpoint, conflict is sometimes the only logical away to defeat one's enemy, subjugate their people, and possess their resources (sadly). Furthermore, regardless of contrary claims, leaders simply use religion (and other causes and belief structures) to drive their own agendas. Other terms like "Freedom" or "Nation" or "Reason" can and have been used in place of religion, to justify the conquest and liquidation of millions of persons. Indeed, the worst atrocities of the 20th century were mediated by ideological and racist positions that had, at base, no religious cause.

There will always be an impulse within humanity to withstand a totalizing definition from Science for all we do and are - irrational, artistic, or spiritual as it may be. The fact is, those "scientists" who refuse to factor in the Religious impulse are only studying half of the human experience, and are therefore unable to make convincing statements about existence, or reality.,,2089947,00.html

Sunday, 27 May 2007


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" story in Future Welcome (DC Books, 2005 - it also had poetry from Picador's Annie Freud, among others) - and often published Chapman, in Nthposition, and elsewhere. I think he's one of the most unusual, fresh and startling Irish writers of his generation. Good luck to him.

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's No 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, who could almost be anyman).

The over-arching narrative becomes clear (like the serious flip-side to the opening montage sequence in Forrest Gump, where all his relatives are seen dying in great military battles): history is a series of conflicts, between violent men, some who are more good than others, though none are less than imperfect.

The thin edge of things, it becomes clear, rides on the fact some of us are slightly more humane and thoughtful than others, and that vital, fragile membrane of decency may carry us through - then again, it may be torn to tatters in a hail of sub-machine gun fire. A great and horrible book, whose ugly prose is also its elan vital - the flow is the force is the form - and no one closes it without having come through slaughter.

Friday, 25 May 2007

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 at the University College of the Fraser Valley and is now working with an editorial committee for the Canadian Unitarian Council anthology Shoreline - Water Poems, to be published this May. Vickers has been a supportive and engaged correspondent for several years, and a long-time reader of this blog. I've long appreciated her poems, and her convictions, and think it only right and meet that she appear as a Friday feature.

Naming the Dead

Now you could sell your bodies
to Hollywood like the famous and rich

get paid to write a screen play
be interviewed on a late night show

sell a memoir, endorse perfume
or training shoes

provide authoritative world views
for parliament or academia.

Today four hundred wait outside
for hours so that millions can see

the vivisection of your last hours
and they will name you victims while others

call you martyrs to the ones still walking.
The whole world asking what, when and how.

Marnie and Andrea, Georgina and Mona,
Brenda and Sereena: who will be there

to say your life is worth more
than your parts? Who will ask why?

poem by Janet Vickers

Thursday, 24 May 2007

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 television newsreader, P D James, the greatest living author of detective fiction in the Christie tradtion, Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, the English world's best-known living scientist-atheist, and the former model and wife of former Tory Leader, Michael Howard, Sandra Howard.

The two most interesting selections were by James and Dawkins. Baronnes James read Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach", which regrets the low tide of the sea of faith, and Professor Dawkins, more responsible than most for that rush of receding belief on the world's shingles, read "The Snake", by DH Lawrence, a suitably zoological and even potentially demonic selection, natural to the man, no doubt. Both read exceptionally well - as in fact, did all. Bakewell read Auden. Snow ended the night with a bit of uplifting Heaney.

I read exceprts from AM Klein's major Canadian poem, "Portrait of the Poet as Landscape" - which no one had heard before but all seemed to appreciate.

Darfur Appeal

Monday, 21 May 2007

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 the witty, urban poet John Stammers, whose writing knowingly echoes both O'Hara and Keats. That is to say, her poems represent a style of poetry more familiar in the UK than in America, now - poems of represented personality, where inflections, of voice, observed detail, and ironic commentary fuse, often subtly. Hugo Williams is the current arch practitioner of this kind of nuanced poem - and sometimes, one can feel it is breaking a butterfly on a rack to analyse such work too forcefully. Freud comes out of this tradition (and references Williams in the title of one of the poems here) but what makes her poetry most noteworthy is how it exceeds the limitations (or rather, temptations) of a tradition, and steps out and beyond such a charmed circle, to weave her own spell.

The Best Man That Ever Was includes about twenty poems of the first rank, or close to it - which is rare for a debut collection. The other 34 or so poems are often good (or slight) but the twenty that stand out are often extremely original, especially in terms of tone and diction. They present a character, a way of speaking about, London, and urban life (and love) that seems quite unexpected - indeed, strange. That this should be so is in no small way down to Freud's rich family history, her ability to embroider her work with images, phrases, and sensuous particulars, that are European, high culture and unfamiliar - then loop around to hook a line with something raw, or vulgar, or more popular in tone. One basically finds the tensions in the poems leaping between The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and a Jean Rhys novella - eros, vino and thanatos wrestling with a hee hee hee.

To my mind, the best poems here are: "To A Coat Stand"; the title poem; "A Canaletto Orange"; "Interlude for Xylophone, Banjo and Trumpet"; "Don't Be Too Fancy"; "The System"; "The Green Vibrator"; "Rare London Cheeses"; "Scopophilia"; "The Ballad of Hunnington Herbert"; "The Next Time"; "Valentine Card"; "The Last Kiss"; "The Small Mammal House" and "White". Of these, the title poem, the ballad, and the deeply uncanny and marvellous Mammal House stand out. But all these poems present themselves as beyond the usual stock phrases we trot out at such times, like sparkling, spiky, edgy, sinister, etc - they really are these things, and more. How to keep saying it? Freud commands the forms of prose poem, and Audenesque lyric, and extends these, by adding her own atmosphere. As Larkin gave us a world complete with its moods, disorders and concerns, so too does Freud here - one reads this collection and feels delivered to a postal district especially of the poet's making - a place that is very funny, very cosmopolitan, very sexual, and very odd.

Freud sometimes writes a line that is close to free verse. But not always. She is at her best when the syntax and the metre work together with her bizarre, clever diction, as in the title poem:

"He'd bark his hoarse, articulate command
and down I'd bend across the ornamented desk,
my mouth level with the inkstand's claws,
my cheek flat against the blotter; I'd lift my skirts,
slip down my panties and sob for him ..."

"The Next Time" exemplifies her way with a jaunty 30s style:

"Honey crystallizes in cold weather.
Herds of zebra inch across the plain
and skeletons tell jokes in foreign tongues
until you crush me in your arms again."

It also reveals the underlying dangers of all entanglements, foreign and amatory, or both. Deep suspicion, if not anxiety, gilds these verses with their verve. What depression was for Larkin, cinema (or at least scopophilia) is for Freud's muse, or one aspect of it - for seeing things, and recording them, are revealed as worthy pleasures for the poet to enjoy. It is most noteworthy that the last poem is about a white vibrator (doubled in the interior of the collection by a green doppelganger dildo) as seen in a film. The "Detective Inspector" plants a "tender kiss" on the instrument of sexual exploration of his own murdered daughter. It is, to say the least, a Freudian, and an unexpected tale with which to end a poetry book - unless the teller is Annie Freud, whose Poe-like tendencies are to welcome such curiosities and work them in to the fabric of a coherent, excitingly ornamented whole. Eyewear recommends this collection highly, and expects it to be TS Eliot shortlisted.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

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.

Friday, 18 May 2007

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 extraordinary artistic talent. The word genius fits this epileptic man.

Why? Three reasons. One, his lyrics were uniquely potent in their objective correlation of the post-industrial wasteland he inhabited with his own dying soul. Two, his strange, estranged, robotic delivery (in terms of deadpan voice and spasmodic physical performance) fully brought across the message of his words, embodying true existential anxiety as no one in music had before. Three, his songs are, time and again, barren yet perfect melodies poised on an exhilarating knife edge between total human austerity, and passionate, neo-romantic utterance - they are beautifully spare, like a slagheap in sunlight, or perhaps sunlight photographed in black and white. Joy Division was an uncanny package, whose timing, indeed, control (and ultimate complete giving away of that, in death) are emblematic. In an age when artists, celebrities, and rock stars dream of being great, few incarnate an idea, or a vision, unto death. Kurt is one. But first, was Curtis.

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 writings have appeared in the TLS, Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, and London Magazine, among others. Sen was an international poet-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, and a visiting scholar at Harvard University. He is the editor of Atlas, editorial director of Aark Arts, and lives in New Delhi and London.



A bright red boat
Yellow capsicums

Blue fishing nets
Ochre fort walls


Sahar’s silk blouse
gold and sheer

Her dark black
kohl-lined lashes


A street child’s
brown fists

holding the rainbow
in his small grasp


My lost memory
white and frozen

now melts colour
ready to refract

poem by Sudeep Sen, reprinted with permission of the author

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

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 metaphor, thought and feeling, form and content for starters - pop music is not, ultimately, about intelligence. It is about entertainment, and memorability, and also being something very lovely or charming or even sentimental, that moves a listener, to dance, or hum along, but surely, to buy. Art does not simply enchant, though, it can alarm, or warn. Music with words that bears the full pressure of art's demands is more often called opera, or a musical. Wagner or Britten loom.

But there are very good pop musicians, who deserve to be appreciated for the serious, innovative, often thrilling creators they are - not just during their period, but after it. OMD, who have recently begun to tour again, are one such group. Their heyday, in the early 1980s, saw them conquer America with a song in a John Hughes film, Pretty in Pink, and so they share a sort of fate with Simple Minds. They are too often maligned for being "an 80s band" - as if a band was ever not of its time. But OMD created sonic works of great resonance, and, yes, intelligence. Few melodies are more ironic or disturbing, than "Enola Gay". You hum to an atrocity. Architecture & Morality is often considered their finest album - and indeed it is the one they are currently touring anew. It is a great work, but their second album, Organisation, is actually better, though perhaps rougher in places.

Its last song, "Stanlow", a homage to an oil rig, is the most beautiful industrial pop song ever written, and its inclusion of the machinery of the rig is both haunting and musical, without ever losing its heavy identity as a thing apart from what we think of as the diction of song. One of the songs on the album even relates to Ian Curtis, and it is often forgotten how OMD, who played with Joy Division, were of that time and place. Less famous than Joy Division, but in some ways as intriguing, OMD's later work is more upbeat, just as New Order's was, in the late 80s. No harm in that. Pop music can be popular, after all.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

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's Against 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 the current Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (see link), is fascinating for a number of reasons. But one of the most striking aspects of the piece, is that for all the age's apparent indeterminacy on aesthetic and textual matters, bad writing is bad writing, and usually gets outed, sooner or later. Particularly, poetry - often thought to be rather easy to write by those who don't write it, or who simply dabble - is an extraordinary litmus taste for a good mind. It is simply not possible to fool a poem into existence, hard as one might try. Beneath the surface - indeed, on the surface - each choice the poet makes betrays their intelligence - and their knowledge - of their art. Poetry is so often compared to magic, it might be a corrective to instead compare it to the game of chess, if only to see if that makes metaphoric sense, too. I think it does. Each line is a move in a game where no false move can win.

As Paul Muldoon has shown, a poem is a complex web of allusion; words, images, phrases, echo and rebound, through the words. At the end of the day, the poet's choice of diction and syntax (the words, and their order) combine with whatever formal patterns are employed (metre, rhythm) to project a sense of a personality - what Alvarez - among others - calls "voice". This voice either stales or stays fresh, over time.

Auden, whose under-celebrated centenary this is, cannot wither or stale. As Hamilton wrote, he was oblivion-proof. Day-Lewis, who worked in the shadow of Auden, and aped his style, could not evade oblivion, because he never managed to find a style, a voice of his own. There is a force, a fuse, a fire, in an original poet, that lights them home, and keeps their work alive. Dylan Thomas - so often maligned now - had it. W.S. Graham had it. Some do. But some poets can't lift their writing off the page, and into that space that sustains. Can you?,,2077492,00.html

Saturday, 12 May 2007

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.


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


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


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 Duncan (editor and translator), Depart, Kaspar: Modern German Poems, A5, 44pp, price £3.00


Brian Catling, Large Ghost, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Accomplices: Poems for Stephen Rodefer, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Tadeusz Pioro, Infinite Neighbourhood, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Allen Fisher, Ring Shout, A5, 16pp, price £3.00
Marjorie Welish, Begetting Textile, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
William Fuller, Roll, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Drew Milne, The Gates of Gaza, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Barry MacSweeney, Sweet Advocate, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Peter Gizzi, Add This to the House, A5, 40pp, price £3.00
Drew Milne, Familiars, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
J.H.Prynne, Pearls That Were, perfect bound, 28pp, price £4.00
Ian Patterson, Much More Pronounced, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
John Wilkinson, Reverses, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Jennifer Moxley, Wrong Life, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
John Kinsella, The Benefaction, A5, 62pp, price £3.00
Ralph Hawkins, The Coiling Dragon The Scarlet Bird The White Tiger A Blue & Misted Shroud, A5, 44pp, price £3.00
Geoff Ward, Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
David Chaloner, Art for Others, A5, 16pp, price £3.00
Drew Milne, As It Were, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
John Forbes, Humidity, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
R.F. Langley, Jack, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Iain Sinclair, The Ebbing of the Kraft, A5, 40pp. price £3.00
Pierre Alferi, Personal Pong, translated by Kevin Nolan, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
John Wilkinson, Sarn Helen, A5, 32pp, price £3.00
J.H. Prynne, For the Monogram, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
John Kinsella, Graphology, A5, 36pp, price £3.00
John Tranter, Gasoline Kisses, A5, 40pp, price £3.00
Keston Sutherland, Lidia, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Richard Makin, universlipre, A5, 52pp, price £3.00
John James, Schlegel Eats a Bagel, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Simon Perril, Spirit Level, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Keston Sutherland, Prag, A5, 12pp, price £3.00
John Kinsella, The Radnoti Poems, A5, 56pp, price £3.00
Mas Abe, Agile, A5, 12pp, price £3.00
Peter Hughes, Paul Klee’s Diary, A5, 32pp, price £3.00
Barry MacSweeney, Pearl, A4, 28pp, price £4.00
Peter Hughes, Psyche in the Gargano, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Richard Makin, f : w :d, A5, 48pp, price £3.00
Tony Lopez, Negative Equity, A5, 40pp, price £3.00
Out to Lunch, Turnpike Ruler, A5, 32pp, price £3.00
Ulli Freer, Blvd.s, A5, 32pp, price £3.00
Drew Milne, How Peace Came, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
J.H.Prynne, Her Weasels Wild Returning, A5, 12pp, price £3.00
Antonio Bellotti (ed.), Milk of Late(anthology), A5, 60pp, price £3.00
John Wilkinson, Torn off a Strip, A5, 36pp, price £3.00
Peter Riley, Lecture, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
David Chaloner, The Edge, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Michael Haslam, Four Poems, A5, 36pp, price £3.00
Caroline Bergvall, Strange Passage, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Andrew Duncan, Alien Skies, A5, 32pp, price £3.00
Ian Patterson, Tense Fodder, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Drew Milne, Satyrs and Mephitic Angels, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Rod Mengham, Feuds, A5, 20pp, price £3.00
Alan Halsey, Reasonable Distance, A5, 24pp, price £3.00
Ulli Freer, Sand Poles, A5, 28pp, price £3.00
Out to Lunch, 28 Sliverfish Macronix, A5, 32pp, price £3.00
D.S.Marriott, Lative, A5, 24pp, price £2.00
John Wilkinson, The Nile, A5, 28pp, price £2.00

All publications are post free if ordered direct from the address given above.

Cheques should be made payable to ‘Equipage’.

Friday, 11 May 2007

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 - the poem here is from Gutted and is reprinted with permission of the author.


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 Blvd., we heard
The sirens and later learned on TV that farming is,
As suspected, not the best career choice these days.
It wasn’t like that when we smelled of straw.

Remember our sun-burnt brothers’ bikes,
Funded with 8 hour bailing days, minus lunch?
Or how the smell of shit and feed announced
Formals and final grades? And your first time

In the barn, razor marks straw-lined you
Neck-to-ass, and big, cool bovine eyes, so much
Like the open shutters of heavy German cameras,
You’d sometimes wonder what they kept of you.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

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 presuppositions, does not upset or scare, is mellifluous, craftsmanly, and often perfect within its chosen limits. In other words, it is beautiful minor poetry, like Philip Larkin's, though replacing his tetchy, bachelor gloom with something sweeter, more sensual, more open to the world - more, in a word, married."

Alvarez may be wrong here (Heaney can upset, and is not always perfect) but who else, of the mainstream critical establishment, then, or now, in the American-British world of letters, could have written that, or would have dared, in such a forum? Who else so intelligently, and stylishly, and with commitment, thought through to consider and place contemporary poets within the Tradition, the canon? No one, really.

Ian Hamilton is another such critic, much missed. The age of the mainstream reviewer - erudite, direct, engaged, explanatory, sensible, scrupulous, unimpressed and unintimidated, and at arm's length from power or what passes for power among poets - is ending, or has passed already. There are younger (chiefly Irish and Canadian) very good critics, like Starnino, or Redmond, who appear relatively fearless, but they have yet to write a definitive survey of their age, their era, as R. Jarrell did. Where is their A Poetry Chronicle, say, or Beyond All This Fiddle?

Alvarez told me he missed the decline of literate reviewing, as academicism overrun the world of letters. Now, we have complex essays and often short puff-piece reviews, but fewer stately, armchair writings on poets, and poems. Poetry is sustained by such writing, and such bravery. Here's to a revival of fortune for the riskiest business.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

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);

Profits from sales of the book will go to The Fenway Community Health Center in Lisa King's name.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

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 41 now. Every day, every week, every month, is a slog. Recently, I appeared in Montreal, to launch my latest collection, Winter Tennis. The event was well attended; earlier in the week, I had read with John Burnside, Erin Moure, Dennis Lee (big names, talented poets). Something called "Book TV" was in the room for my launch, and the small press publisher's PR assistant managed to call the camera and TV person over, to get me my fifteen seconds. The first thing she did was ask me why my "unusual name" was "Winter". She thought my name was "Winter Tennis" and the title of the book was Todd Swift.

Small indignity, you might say - move on, mate. But it is vastly symptomatic of a profound truth. Poets, editors, poetry activists like myself make great personal and financial sacrifices, for (literally) decades, to be simply ignored or, worse, misnamed, at the end of it all. This wouldn't be so bad, if the media was as grossly clumsy with our prose peers - but, like parents who favour one sibling over another to an outrageous extent, novelists are showered with praise, attention, and - yes, this does matter - support - financial, logistical, cultural and otherwise. This magnitude of difference, in terms of public reception and recognition, between the poet and novelist, is so vast, as to beggar belief. It is made worse by prizes, which accentuate the have and have not poets. The greater public has near-zero tolerance for poets, but can muster a minimal shrug of spasmodic interest in a prize-winner. Ask the public to name poems they really love, then why. They really can't.

I have long argued for, and tried, in my own small ways, to promote, poetry's greater cultural relevance. I still believe poetry is the highest art form, maybe even the finest intellectual, if not spiritual, pursuit, alongside philosophy. I am no longer sure poetry is widely sustainable, unless the mainstream public, the media, and the poetry world itself, try harder to work together. There needs to be a moving away from marketing, from reducing everything to sound-bites. The attempt to sell poetry as a "story" the media can "use" means its truer values have been distorted, and the public no longer understands or cares about the art's richer, subtler worth.

While the public at large is indifferent, I yearn for a welcoming hand, comrades and good fellows, for those who seek to open and share, not close and horde.

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.

Monday, 7 May 2007

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, merely replacing the songs for the fights, and the dance for the balletic-acrobatic moves of Tobey Maguire. These moments include the intended proposal to MJ (K. Dunst, lovely as ever with those teeth) in the arrogant French restaurant, and the weird edifying Beatnik revenge sequence in MJ's Jazz Club; there is also a mini-demonic moment when a cocksure Parker (now driven to his dark side by the symbiotic material from the meteorite that eventually spawns Venom), lounging on a pay phone in his low-rent tenement, imperiously commands his skinny landlord's adoring daughter to bake him cookies with nuts - and bring him more milk!

The love interest, and the best friend sub-plot, are slightly dull; as is the Aunt May and Uncle Ben sub-plot; as is revenge of fathers / uncles one; as is the sacred object (a daughter's locket, an aunt's ring) sub-plot. The film seems to have been script doctored by Joseph Campbell, so mythically correct is it. Only the metamorphosis / subconscious themes are directly interesting - as The Sandman, Venom, Parker himself (and the new Green Goblin) - struggle with "inner demons" that change their bodies, sub-atomic particle by sub-atomic particle. The most uncanny, terrifying moment is when The Sandman (still simply Flint, another kind of stone) finds himself surrounded by three large lit rods, suspended above him, that construct a rapidly-moving but open cage (open also to the sky). At once liberated (from the police he has been evading) he is also trapped, sacrificed to science, and altered into a more powerful simulation of his former self. Physics makes free.

It would be tempting to argue there is a political subtext to much of the film's imagery of girder-imperilled-girls, falls from great heights, and discussions of how revenge needs to be tempered by forgiveness - but Raimi doesn't push it (the appearance of the American flag seems more heroic than ironic near the end) so neither will Eyewear.

In a homage / direct reference to both Vertigo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (thus combining films about mad love suspended, and grotesque inner human drives and the lies of the surface and, one supposes, monstrous beings in big cities), Spiderman manages to peel off (or suppress) the black goo that feels good but makes him do bad amid the pealing bells. It transfers, falling from the bell tower's height in the cathedral, to splatter over (Freud would have a field day) a rival, in work and love, who duly turns into a carnivorous black demon (Venom). In the next scene, Parker showers, in an overhead shot oddly paralleling that in Psycho. Parker as Crane? (why not, both are all-American pseudo-virgins who have done bad but want to repent, but who are interrupted in their return to the world, and law, by the unexpected intrusion of psychopathology - a split one at that). Venom doubles here for Bates.

The best things about Spiderman 3 are its respect for, and love of, the Tradition - not of comics, but cinema, then. As an aside, bring on The Lizard! They've been teasing us far too long.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

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 dreamboat.

I found the film beautiful, for the reasons that many viewers may consider it a wooden nickel thrust in the outstretched palm of an orphan: it is both "realistic" in evocation of time and place (the Cape Town location - how many "towns" can one film possess?) and yet, its mise-en-scene, and particularly, stagy, barroom and hotel room sequences, are "artificial".

It brings to mind, in this respect, the directorial work of another 70s master screenwriter, Paul Schrader, whose Mishima, for instance, or Light Sleeper, are great but flawed versions of their possible selves. The reason is the theme of identity vs. idealism. In this case, Bandini and his Mexican Beatrice both dream the big American one - and the happiness entailed is impossible, so long as they remain who they actually are (non-WASP). In order to render the element of immigrant desire, the element of fiction's yearning, to find a home in a world that is solidly based, Towne has allowed the movie to move, in dialectical fashion, between very complex realistic moments of disrupted character development, and achingly lovely film noir set-pieces. It has the poetry of O'Neill in it.

Those who crave scenes of writers smoking and typing out stories on Underwoods (and stealing milk - under milk wood?), shuffling along dusty, palm-tree lined streets, and young, doomed lovers trying to make something of themselves in a socio-politcally waste land (an arid land where one of the characters ends up buried) with small, confused acts of tenderness (for the night can be tender) and aggression, will find the story moving. It made me want to finish my novel, that's for damn sure.

As an aside, there's a fun cameo by Donald Sutherland, as a drunk who haunts the cheap hotel, his lungs gassed in the war; Sutherland played Homer Simpson in the film version of West's The Day of the Locust, the fullest treatment of similar themes of displacement and a quest for permanence, in the impermanent, empty world at the edge of the West Coast - and it's good to be reminded of that here.

Friday, 4 May 2007

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 PĆ©guy, 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 generation of postmodern "British" poets to the canon. His poem "1815" seemed to me to bring a very original tone into poetry, and has always stayed with me, for its concision, moral force, and terse imagery.

[As an aside, one hopes Penguin has plans for a new anthology, perhaps timed for 2012, to bring general readers up to date, and continue their history of producing striking, controversial anthologies from time to time.]

The Dead Come Back

The dead come back to us in dreams –
As we are told they do so they come.

Thus among the tablecloths and cakes,
The ham and sliced tongue and all the objects
Of this earth,
The company known and unknown at this latest funeral,
Lily, large and powdered in her flowery dress
Appears to her brothers and all of us
Like a star, a celebrity back among her own,
Nearly a sister again, nearly an aunt,
All of us parting for her, shy of touching
What we have brought to mind.

Unable as we are to die,
The dead come back to us in dreams –
As we are told they do, so they come.

Poem by Jeffrey Wainwright from Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1985);
reprinted with kind permission of the author.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...