Friday, 29 June 2007

Poem by Tony Lewis-Jones

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Tony Lewis-Jones (pictured) this Friday.

Lewis-Jones was born in Wales, and educated at Clifton and Oxford. While still at school, he won the T.E. Brown Prize for Poetry (1975). His poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies all over the world. He has held a number of poetry-related posts, including Co-ordinator, Poems On The Bus and Poetry In The Parks, Poet-In-Residence at BBC Radio Bristol and Poet-In-Residence at The Bristol Evening Post. He is one of the 100 Poets Against The War (Salt Publications). His most recent collection Anytime was nominated for the Welsh Book of the Year 2007.

I've known of his work since just before I first published him in my anthology Short Fuse, launched in New York and Paris, where Lewis-Jones read. This poem is, as with much of his work, all-too-relevant in this troubled age.

Ruling Class

You weren’t so handsome then.
More human maybe.
We beat rebellion
Into your tender intellect
Till there was nothing else.

In retrospect
We wouldn’t have done otherwise.
It’s us you have to thank:
Our pupil, monster, the garrulous destroyer
Of nations. We taught you how to hate
Which is, by now you know,
A valuable gift.

poem by Tony Lewis-Jones

West End?

Iraq seems to be coming to the streets of London.

Is this the way the West will end?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Goodbye to all that

Tony Blair, the second-longest serving British PM of the 20th and 21st centuries, has left Number 10, for his new job as Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet.
Eyewear is glad to see him go. Blair was a mostly negative influence on British politics, and society, more generally. He ushered in an age of spin - glib media-manipulation and poll-driven decision-making - and then, paradoxically - made an isolated, almost Lear-like stand, in pushing through UK support for the Bush-led illegal war on Iraq - never admitting the failed vision of that action. Both of these impulses - to manufacture events, and often deny the reality of others - has led to a widespread cynicism in British life, where often the worst are filled with intensity, and the majority lack conviction.

The latest example of this is Tory leader Mr. Cameron, a lightweight Blairesque figure, who may not be a match for the lead balloon gravitas of dour Mr. Brown, now Prime Minister. Cool Britannia seems a long way back, now. It'd be nice to think a new age of seriousness may arrive - one able to cope, with honesty and integrity - with real-world issues, such as climate change.

If Mr. Brown wants to start well, he will distance himself from Iraq - and America; become more open to Europe - especially France or Germany; tax the super-rich; monitor the military-industrial complex; curb the cigarette and pharmaceutical interests; and attend to the problems that face schools across the nation. He will also try to provide more affordable housing for families who work hard, and deserve a step onto the property ladder.

Time will tell whether his clunking fist will wear a velvet or an iron glove.

As for Mr. Blair, history may yet swerve his way. Should he be a truly balanced interlocutor in the Middle East, he might - against the odds - work a miracle, and win his Nobel Peace prize. Meanwhile, he will rake in millions, speaking in America. He is, as his farewell speech in the House of Commons reminded, a witty, clever man. Imagine what he might have achieved, if he had been a true Labour leader.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Review: Keren Ann

Keren Ann (pictured) is a French singer with a new self-titled English album recently out.

Keren Ann is nine moody songs, and might have been subtitled I'm Your Mazzy - since it's a faithful homage to a few styles that are best filed under, or between, those separated-at-birth troubadours of drowsy underground glamour Leonard Cohen and Hope Sandoval - in short, breathy slow narcotic chansons that swirl about the room, lazy opium for the masses, concealing a razor blade under their mirror smiles.

One can almost imagine handsome-lost Chet Baker in the Parisian background, nodding along (or off) to these tunes to drop out by.

"Lay Your Head Down" is the stand out track. A few others are good. None are ultimately exceptional, though some of these dream pop songs flirt harmlessly with greatness, but the whole is greater than the parts and permits a certain slack jouissance to play as aural wallpaper for that certain sort of night in.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Review: Prison Break, Season 1

America is a giant prison, and the bars are made of television screens. Maybe not, but fortress America has an incarceration problem - large numbers of its young populations are in prison.

The rest just watch those that are. Prison Break (which appeared in the USA on politically-conservative Fox) is one of the best contemporary television programs, and, at times, achieves a pop culture giddiness that one only gets when in the presence of entertainment genius. Eyewear gives it four out of five specs.

Fusing various elements (and cliches) from the original Mission: Impossible series, with The Great Escape, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, The Birdman of Alcatraz, X-Files, and even Robin Hood, its series arc follows the semi-mythic TV paths of the mysterious, resourceful stranger who comes into a community (Shane) to redeem a lost world.

No world could be more lost (other than Lost's) or self-contained than a prison's - and no stranger-hero could be more thrilling than Wentworth Miller (pictured) - the small screen version of Barak Obama (photogenic, racially complex, and hyper intelligent). Miller's character - in a skin-trope doubled from the great Memento - enters a maximum security prison to rescue his death row brother with the entire blueprints for the prison house tattooed (and allegorically disguised with visual and verbal codes) on his body (he was the man who retro-fitted the enclosed structure).

Maximum security meets maximum planning - as Miller's beautiful, glib, masterful man, Michael Scofield, manages to slowly, surely, unravel his complex - preposterously complex and artful for that reason - escape plan. As a structural engineer, he's good with a system, and has visualised this one down to its last screw. What he hasn't counted on are the polymorphously perverse needs of, and dangers posed by, the other inmates he must also collaborate with.

Prison Break is - among other things - a hymn to the greatness of the American can-do capitalist system and rugged individualism, with a Depression-era FDR slant (sometimes we have to sacrifice a little elbow grease for our brothers). It's also a not-so veiled commentary on Guantanamo Bay, 9/11 and the surveillance society Bush has built (and later episodes even feature Iraq-based US-led torture as a surprise character backstory element).

After all, the main villain is the Vice President, and the shadowy forces of evil are CIA-style men in suits. More importantly, the key struggle in the series (between all the characters) is how to ethically deploy force and use power. The haunted, decent Warden (slowly building a miniature Taj Mahal for his wife, symbol of a love embedded in a built environment) is mirrored by the thoroughly sadistic, corrupt, freedom fries-chomping two-faced Captain Bellick, who plans his overthrow.

Michael must learn to work with thieves, mafia killers, and, most disturbingly, a cornpone child-killer. Meanwhile the Governor and his do-good medico daughter represent two ways of thinking about the justice system - throw-away the key, or rehabilitation. There are also strong Christian overtones (the two brothers who face death to save each other, versus, for instance, the two government killers who abandon their fallen "brother" in a deserted well).

Stacy Keach as Warden Pope is wonderful, although the two stand-out, bravura performances belong to character actors given the roles of their lives - Peter Stormare (originally of Fargo fame) as organized crime boss (with a tortured soul) John Abruzzi, and Robbert Knepper as T-Bag. Knepper inhabits the Southern sex killer in the white T-shirt, with two pockets for two prison-friends to clutch amorously, with the filthy lilting panache of Hopkins in Lambs, swaggering towards Babylon to be damned. The strength of the series, in general, is that it manages to generate a great deal of interest in, and sympathy for, characters who would normally be merely baddies, mainly by the gothic grandiosity of the writing.

There are a few problems with the series - the main one being the "outside" conspiracy theory plotline is much more far-fetched and less rigorously plotted than the gripping "inside" story. There's also the little matter of the Internet connection in the isolated deep-forest cabin without any phone lines. Also, two late-season twists, the amputation of T-bag's hand (too-reminiscent of Lecter's similar experience in Scott's Hannibal), and the intentional overdose of a beloved character, seem cliffhangers too far.

The last words of Season 1: "we run" - turning a closed-system exercise in nail-biting claustrophobia into a wide-open The Fugitive homage (with "big W" elements of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) - do not augur all that well. Still, I aim to view the sophomore season soon. And, Season 1 of the original The Fugitive series is out on DVD this August 14...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

The War Against God

Richard Harries, in today's Guardian Review, admirably and cleverly takes on Christopher Hitchens, whose new book is a direct frontal assault on religion and a belief in God. The main theme of all the recent anti-God tracts published in England and abroad is that man hands on misery to man, and that this deepening coastal shelf of pain was made by true believers - entirely ignoring the truth that the fact of man's wickedness is the best reason for the need for religion, not the best reason to assume it is yet another human evil. Religion - at its height - symbolizes the horizon at which the human finds possible perfection - hardly an aim worthy of such hack indignation...

This at a time when Hypocrite-in-Chief Tony Blair has met the Pope in Rome, on his way to becoming a Catholic - an admirable road to take, but one which will be paved with the need for a great deal of soul-searching, or at least, forgiveness. Lying to the nation and helping to instigate an illegal war are hardly the highlights of the Sermon On The Mount. Blair and Bush as poster boys for Jesus would have the saviour turning in His grave, were he not already above them.

Meanwhile, P. Pullman's Northern Lights has been selected as the best book for children of the last 70 years (since 1937, then) - a curiously arbitrary period that is no doubt designed, among other things, to avoid the possibility that otherwise the award would have gone to J.R.R. Tolkien. It seems possible to argue that books for children like The Hobbit, Wind In The Willows, or Charlotte's Web, are superior to Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy - and surely The Chronicles of Narnia are better by far - and the clear Aunt Sally with which Pullman shadow boxes.

Pullman's writing is fluent, inventive, sometimes utterly delightful and frequently very exciting - and his idea of shape-shifting daemons is most clever. But his attempts to work philosophy, poetry, and theology into his novels are hardly as innovative as many critics claim - indeed, almost all serious fiction refers, on any number of levels, to myth, belief and the poetic canon. And, of course, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had done so, before.

What is to be regretted is that Pullman has allied his fictional gifts and interest in childhood and its various discontents, to a deeply atheistic vision of the world, one which, among other things, is profoundly anti-Catholic. In some ways, Northern Lights is A Child's Garden of Satanic Verses - except, this time, it is Christians who are getting the ungracious salute. Naturally, Jonathan Swift crafted imaginative works whose anti-humanism and satiric rages are great, despite or because of, their dark perspective and materials, and Pullman is to be excused his intolerance and Blakean zeal.

Who doesn't want to see the film version of The Golden Compass (the American title of NL), especially as Nicole Kidman (above) plays the villainess?,,2109068,00.html,,2108818,00.html

Friday, 22 June 2007

Poem by Linda Black

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Linda Black (pictured) this Friday.

I met her recently at an Oxfam poetry reading which she was attending, and she gave me her wonderful pamphlet, the beating of wings, from Hearing Eye (2006) which was a PBS recommendation, and which impressed me greatly.

Black studied Fine Art at Leeds Art College and etching at the Slade School. She ran Apollo Etching Studio in London and has exhibited widely. Her poems have appeared in various magazines including Magma, Shearsman, The Wolf and Poetry Salzburg Review and in the Poetry School anthologies Entering the Tapestry (Enitharmon, 2006), This little stretch of Life (Hearing Eye/ Poetry School, 2006) and the recently published I am Twenty People! (Enitharmon, 2007).

Black was recipient of the 2004/5 Poetry School Scholarship. She is the winner of the 2006 New Writing Ventures Poetry Award. The poem below appeared originally, as you might expect, in This little stretch of Life.

This little stretch of life

(from the letters of Elizabeth Bishop)

There are sanctuaries, small melting snowdrifts
here and there; an atmosphere

easy to crawl into. In one of those intervals
where all thought has ceased, I am tempted

by waves, the transparent sea. I think my heart
beats twice a day – a very slight

ailment. I’ve tried all approaches; aerial
and subterranean – I am mixed about

like a drop of oil on water. This place!
This pile of masonry! Accumulated

stray objects – you can get right under,
clutching like a gasping mermaid,

no view to be seen. Have you ever
gone through caves? Things

just seep through the walls.
I don’t imagine anyone could hear me

howling. I am one
of ten thousand or whatever it is

who are lost each year. In a minute or two
I know I shall forget. Excuse

my disconnectedness – I must go see
what everything is doing

– these things on my shoulders
are not wings.

poem by Linda Black

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Poem for The Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice, Villa Bled, Slovenia

Tito’s getaway in the Julian Alps
has a lake cut from a glacier.
The architecture is monumental, retro,
June sees the blue-green water halted
in its heat; gondolas with another name
move people out at commercial intervals
to the medieval church on the one island
in this small, historic country. Once there
they can enter the picturesque
and pull the bell’s knotted rope;

your wish goes with each weighted fall
of the body with the arms. Everyone
in the town of Bled can hear the throng
of peels. Here we are, in the postcard.
Hip, rich and uncertain how we love,
but not too unsure; each has accidents
in the past that make us unlikely to be hard
enough for our own good, but we can be cold.
The view would make Wordsworth write
poetry. Not all of it good. Memory

rewrites greatness like it does
our faults; was Tito faithful, this partisan liberator
to his wife? The church bells ring again –
some kid from Austria hoping for a loose buck tooth,
the guy with FRANK on his silver Cadillac
parked at the wish-rope, wanting more fish on the fork.
Beauty is where we visit, and pay for it.
I am glad I came. I know, with how we know things
in our informed age - with that tingle of knowledge
somewhere approaching pain - that this is

where I have always wanted to be. Near God,
and near totalitarian places, both similar, and serene,
I feel France Prešeren’s Slovenian adulation for Nature,
and know, as if told by someone who I trust –
and always will - that here in Alpine climes –
2000-plus km peaks in the distance -
snow-capped, sublime, higher than any bird will go,
it is the best we can do to recognise what is special,
then blanche the acknowledgement with silent innocence
and then leave, and with it, take the cynical;

because, when we see and feel something rare and pure,
that too is a subject for the soul to torture and control,
or to fondle to kindness in the eye’s pleading bowl.
Bled is serious, and permanent, and she more beautiful
than I. This I will take to my personal history, until dead.
And what else, except for tragedy and birth, is there,
to sing, or singe with lunatic light, the shutterbug’s impulse
to cover every wondrous shape? Only, that even
after Tito and such stark buildings, we are this gently
capable of soft remembering. On the longest day of summer.

June 21, 1998

poem by Todd Swift

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


If the 00s have one house style - the 70s had Disco and Punk so the first decade of the 21st century might have many - it could just be coming to a head with the band Editors, pictured, whose second collection is out June 25 - see link for the first single from the album.

Call it "black transcendence" or "gritty lyricism" or "dark epiphany" or simply Joy Division gets Simple Minded - but it is a style pioneered by Coldplay recently, and one that apparently Interpol will assay soon as well. It's curiously English - after all, in poetry, 1940s romantic modernism (my term) encompassed the war and austerity years and a soaring eloquence. The same admixture of stark, unblinkered gloom and uplifting bells and choirs seems to be what's on offer now from Editors, too.

I'm looking forward to hearing the whole. I hope they get the balance right. Dancing with tears in one's eyes can be a somewhat mixed blessing...

Having Nun of It

Eyewear notes that The Guardian's ongoing exploration of whether poetry is newsworthy or not continues to swing, like a Viennese pendulum, between Thanatos ("poetry is dead says Martin Amis") and Eros (see below). There is a lot of poetry - political or simply well-written - worth writing about, that doesn't involve anything quite as sensational as a Nobel-prize-winning poet cavorting with three nuns in a convent, after all...

Monday, 18 June 2007

Soho To Culture

Oxfam is currently recording a follow-up to their best-selling Poetry CD from 2006, Life Lines. Life Lines (which I edited and planned) is the best-selling British poetry CD of all time - 10,000 sold last year, with £50,000 ($100,000 USD) going to those in need.

Today, I was in a Soho recording studio with some fine contemporary poets, including James Fenton, John Fuller, Blake Morrison, Sarah Maguire, Mark Ford, Elaine Feinstein and Fred D'Aguiar.

I'd name them all, but it's a surprise... launches will be this autumn.... there'll be 60 or so poets on the CD....

Saturday, 16 June 2007

This Just In

Avid readers of Eyewear will recall that last Saturday brought some issues with The Guardian's coverage of poetry in Britain. This Saturday, the Oxford-based poet, Alan Buckley (who will be reading for the Oxfam series this Autumn), replies, with a published letter.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Poem by Claire Crowther

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Claire Crowther (pictured). I met her a few years ago at a writing workshop in Norwich, and then followed her poems as they appeared in places like The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, and Magma (she was featured there Winter 2006). She's a very good poet, and it is splendid news her collection is out.

Crowther spent many years as a consumer journalist, editor and director of communications in the British media industry. She began writing poetry nine years ago. Her work has been selected for several anthologies; current examples are We are Twenty People (Enitharmon Spring 2007) and Only Connect (Cinnamon Press 2007).

Her first collection Stretch of Closures (Shearsman Press) was recently published in January 2007. Two years ago, she was offered a bursary by Kingston University to write a full length second collection of poetry on the theme of grandmotherhood. This is due out from Shearsman Press in November 2008.


Even the rock smells its mortality,
even through millennia. Even granite
senses its exfoliation. She is

determined to see Bridal Veil Fall
but he, scared of such a steep gradient,
a cliff falling away to one side,

no fence to the path, grips any
girth, bole or boulder. Going, going,
ready or not, she shouts ahead of him.

Clouds skip flimsy dresses across the sky.
He watches out for streams, gullies,
twists his ankle tripped by swallow-holes,

stumbles over roots. Here at last
is the green lace, aqua silk,
torn, wrinkled, its slippery nature

pouring away, less like Niagara
than tears, and her, a full cast
of his own damp, uncommon faces.

first published in Ambit 183, Winter 2006; reprinted by permission of the author

Poem On The Death of Richard Rorty

On The Death of Richard Rorty

Take a proposition, frere:
Everything is at stake:
The every and the thing.

Burning. Down. Mistake
This at your own inquisition.
Tough-minded Rorty’s gone.

The mirror of nature’s broken
After a roughhouse wedding.
The mind. Between. A swing.

Once, a canoe went out on a lake.
A paddle swerved, bringing motion
Forward, like blowing will for fire.

It reflected on water, as
Dancing girls and boys shine
A floor with their sure smoothing skitter.

One figure, in the water, touched on
Another, in the vessel. Who was firstly real?
None. Neither. The sister of knowing is making.

poem by Todd Swift

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Freudian slips

Today's Saturday Guardian Review section seems designed to send Eyewear into overdrive.

The Page 3 Boy is Martin Amis, the UK's latest celebrity creative writing professor, quoted as saying (at the Guardian's own Hay festival) "You may have noticed that poetry is dead. The obituary has already been written. It has a ghoulish afterlife in readings and poetry slams ... not many people curl up of an evening with a book of poetry ... reading a poem involves self-examination .... we don't have the time or the inclination." Josephine Hart, poetry impresario and editor, writes the reply, linked to below.

There are so many things to say about this article, I will number my comments.

1. Nothing is more trite or tiresome than yet another trumped up literary debate.

2. The ping-pong story: poetry dead, poetry not dead, poetry dead, poetry not dead - should be shelved for another decade. As Andrew Motion, many people involved in the field of poetry, and I, have explained - last time this same "Poetry is Morris Dancing" balloon was floated - "Poetry" is not dead in the UK. Readings, events, and book publication thrive. Almost a million poetry books are sold in the UK each year. Oxfam's Life Lines poetry CD sold 10,000 copies in the period June 2006-June 2007. That's a lot of "not many people".

3. Martin Amis is, on one point, correct. Reading a poem does involve "self-examination" - though that sounds less pleasant than it might actually be. Actually, all serious (good) art requires some self-reflection on the part of those who receive it. Unconsidered art is not worth having. He is also correct insofar as even intelligent, literate people don't often fully think through their relationship to poetry - they are apoetic (in that they don't have a clearly defined poetics with which to appreciate the poetry they do read).

4. Josephine Hart is, on one point, incorrect. Her defense of poetry involved much reference to the kind of old-fashioned poetry events she herself runs, where famous actors are asked to read poems by famous dead poets, like Yeats. While these events are harmless, they bear about as much relation to a living art as Shakespeare at the Globe theatre does to Off-off-Broadway. They are linked by genre, but not by contemporary relevance. Martin Amis, surely, means by his comments that readers are not seeking out new, original poets of the 21st century, agreeing instead with Stephen Fry's idiotic comment that "modern poetry is arse-dribble" - an observation which was widely publicised last year or so. No, for poetry to be alive, it must be creating new works of value, in today's idiom, using current diction, and connecting with a new audience open to having their taste not simply confirmed, but challenged.

On this note, The Guardian has, itself, failed readers of poetry - and potential readers - by reviewing Annie Freud's new collection, The Best Man That Ever Was - in a manner that undervalues its contemporary verve.

One of the problems with poetry reviews is that they rarely set out their critical apparatus for inspection, and simply steamroll over the book, dispensing verdicts like an Acme Supreme Court Justice. Sarah Crown doesn't do this - she is quite open about her poetics. Crown says, near the end of her review of Freud: "Her facility with language is drowned out by the relentlessly whimsical tone; it is difficult, as a result, to pinpoint the emotional heart of the collection, despite a persistent focus on the characters' feelings. The strength of Freud's poetry exists in the moments when she abandons her ironic pose; should she find the courage to forsake it, her talent would be free to emerge."

This passage suggests that the reviewer has insight into Freud's inner life and intentions, and that the poet somehow lacks "courage". Freud's work is found wanting because of its tone, and its ironic pose. Instead, she is encouraged to locate an "emotional heart" for the writing. This sounds like an openly anti-modernist position. From T.S. Eliot on, ironic poses (or masks) were used to get between the poet's emotions, and the feeling that is meant to be achieved in the reader. Even Larkin was not sentimental enough to want to abandon all whimsy or irony. I actually think sentiment in poetry is undervalued in current British poetry (see current positions on Dylan Thomas), but find it rather ironic that Crown has chosen this moment, and this collection, to emphasize this position.

Ironic because Annie Freud is one of the best hopes that contemporary British poetry has, to reach the Martin Amises of the world - intelligent, worldly, cynical, novel-loving, middle class professionals - with her wit, brilliant linguistic inventiveness and cosmopolitan sophistication.

One can hardly expect every English poet to find their daffodils in their daffodils, and not every poet can or should dispense with wit or whimsy. Instead, poetry collections should be read on their own merits, and with some effort of engagement with the poet's own chosen style, or aesthetic. Freud is clearly a smart, savvy, urban dweller, and her poems are not, like Seamus Heaney's, about to yield their epiphanies (their emotional heart) in relation to a pastoral landscape. We are in danger of asking for just the sort of archaic, poetic diction that alarmed Wordsworth, in 1800, if we ask for Wordsworth now. Poetry moves on. Freud is one of those ways, in which poetry moves on, and stays living.,,2098471,00.html,,2098529,00.html

Friday, 8 June 2007

Economical with truth

One doesn't have to be Noam Chomsky to recognise that the "West" has a circular logic to it, one that has been cruelly exposed this week, during the G8 summit, and the scandal involving massive kickbacks for armaments.

The West - according to Tony Blair in his recent Economist article - is fighting a battle against forces that want to destroy our way of life and oppose our core values of democracy, and freedom. That's why, for example, we're in Iraq, hemorrhaging badly.

However, the West isn't based on democracy or freedom. Tony Blair, asked, beside a smirking George Bush, the other day, at the G8, about an ongoing corruption scandal linking money for weapons systems, said he couldn't have allowed the corruption investigation to proceed, as this was a matter of "national security." Though we in the West "elect" governments into power, once they are in power, they prosecute wars, destabilise foreign regimes, and support the global arms trade - and cannot be held to account (their sole claim to democratic legitimacy) - for security reasons.

What does Tony Blair mean by speaking of his concerns over global warming and African debt relief, when his support for the arms industry, and war, is one of the major destabilising forces in Africa, and on the environment? Or is basing an advanced Western country's economy on weapons an ethical, green idea, really?

The world these powers are mapping out for us is one of ever-increasing horror - a competitive market system based on regional conflict, sales of weapons, degraded natural ecosystems and resources, and mass suffering for the world's poor. We're going to need a real democracy to rise up and oppose this system.

Poem by D. Nurkse

Eyewear is very honoured and pleased to welcome D. Nurkse (pictured) this Friday. He is the author of nine collections of poetry, including The Border Kingdom, Burnt Island, and The Fall (Alfred Knopf, New York, 2005, and 2002), Leaving Xaia and The Rules of Paradise (Four Way Books, New York, 2002 and 2001), Voices over Water (Graywolf Press, 1993/Four Way Books 1996), Staggered Lights (Owl Creek Press, 1990), Shadow Wars (Hanging Loose Press, 1988), and Isolation in Action (State Street Press, 1988). His poems have appeared in some of the best places for poems to appear, like The New Yorker, Poetry, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Wales, The American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review - and dare I say Nthposition.

Nurkse has written extensively on human rights, on repression and children in Haiti, on the impact of apartheid on children, and on the effects of maternal mortality in Africa. He worked professionally for Defence for Children International, and was a consultant to Unicef and to organizations that serve and advocate for refugees. He has been involved with Amnesty International for thirty-five years.

Poetry awards include a 2007 Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1984 and 1995 fellowships from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, a 1993 Whiting Writers Award, a Tanne Foundation grant, two awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Bess Hokin and Frederick Bock prizes from The Poetry Foundation.

Nurkse has taught poetry in Master of Fine Arts programs at Brooklyn College, Stonecoast, and Sarah Lawrence College, where he works currently. He taught writing for many years at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. He has lived in Europe and Latin America and is now based in Brooklyn, New York.

Over the last few years, it's meant a lot for me to be able to publish some of his powerful, beautifully-crafted, and brave poems. He reads in London (UK) June 20, 2007, for Poetry London, at Foyles, in The Gallery, at 6.30 pm. Do go and hear the man himself.

October Anniversary

We dial a recording
and order Vitamin K,
Cipro, twin masks.

Shunted between prompts,
we stare at each other
with deep longing,
drumming our fingers
while the line grows faint.

We borrow a Glock and wrap it
in a Chamois cloth and lock
the bullets in a separate drawer--
where to hang the key?

We stockpile Poland Spring
under our bedstead
and feel that bulk
nullify the give
when we make love.

Huddled before the news,
we touch the screen--
our bombs rain on Kandahar--
we can’t feel them:
just a thrum, the pulse,
a film of dust, a red glow
shining through our nails.

We saw it
and can’t stop watching:
as if the plane entered the eye
and it was the mind
that began burning
with such a stubborn flame.

We saw the bodies jump
and couldn’t break their fall--
now they wait so gracefully
in midair, holding hands.

poem by D. Nurkse

Only Connect....

I was recently interviewed by one of India's leading bookstores.

My father and mother visited the shop a few years back, to hear Gunter Grass read.

The shop personnel were exceptionally welcoming and expressed interest in interviewing me in future. Then my father fell ill, and this was forgotten, until a few months back.

Here are links to the site.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Commedia del Arte

Eyewear was sent this press release last night. Congratulations to the winners.

It's good to see so many hungry poets dining so well...


TORONTO – June 6, 2007 – Charles Wright’s (pictured) Scar Tissue and Don McKay’s Strike/Slip are the International and Canadian winners of the seventh annual Griffin Poetry Prize. The C$100,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, the richest poetry prize in the world for a single volume of poetry, is divided between the two winners. The prize is for first edition books of poetry published in 2006, and submitted from anywhere in the world.

The awards event was hosted by Scott Griffin, founder of the prize. Renowned poet Matthew Rohrer was the featured speaker. Judge Karen Solie announced the International winner and John Burnside announced the Canadian winner of the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Hundreds of guests celebrated the awards, including Canada’s former Governor General, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson; The Honourable Caroline di Cocco, Minister of Culture; renowned Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje; and internationally acclaimed British poet Robin Robertson, author of Swithering, winner of the 2006 Forward Poetry Prize for Best Poetry Collection of the Year; and poets Carolyn Forché and Robert Hass, former US Poet Laureate.

The theme of the gala event, held at Toronto’s Stone Distillery, was Commedia del Arte, evoking the colours, décor and ambiance of a romantic Tuscan street fair. In keeping with the theme, guests dined on bocconcini and tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette reduction, provimi veal tenderloin with fig and apricot sauce, assorted vegetables, and a wide variety of exotic desserts.

The judges for the 2007 prize are the distinguished poets John Burnside (Dunfermline, Scotland), Charles Simic (New Hampshire, USA) and Karen Solie (Toronto, Canada). They each read an astonishing 483 eligible works of poetry, including 18 translations, written by poets from 35 countries from around the world. The judges also selected poems from the shortlist to compile The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: A Selection of the 2007 Shortlist, edited by Karen Solie and published by House of Anansi Press. Royalties generated from the anthologies, published annually, are donated to UNESCO’s World Poetry Day. As in past years, copies of the submitted poetry books are being donated to Corrections Canada.

All shortlisted poets read excerpts from their books at a sold-out event for more than 800 people at the MacMillan Theatre on June 5th. That night, the legendary poet Tomas Tranströmer (Stockholm, Sweden) was honoured with The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award. Trustee Robert Hass paid tribute to Tranströmer and Scott Griffin presented him with his award. This is the second year that the Griffin Poetry Prize has endowed a Lifetime Recognition Award. Last year’s honours went to Robin Blaser.

The 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist is comprised of books by three Canadian poets - Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht, published by House of Anansi Press; Don McKay's Strike/Slip, published by McClelland & Stewart; and Priscila Uppal's Ontological Necessities, published by Exile Editions; and four international poets - Paul Farley's Tramp in Flames, published by Picador; Rodney Jones' Salvation Blues, published by Houghton Mifflin; Frederick Seidel's Ooga-Booga, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Charles Wright's Scar Tissue, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The judges are selected on an annual basis by the Griffin Poetry Prize Trustees, Margaret Atwood, Carolyn Forché, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson and David Young.

The Griffin Trust was created in 2000 to serve and encourage excellence in poetry written in or translated into English anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Fourth Anniversary

Today is the fourth anniversary of my wedding to my wife, S. Egan (pictured), in Ireland.

It was the best day of my life. Below is a poem, inspired by the occasion, and first collected in my third book, Rue du Regard, from 2004.

On His Wedding

Rising early as if for a duel, seconded
By a best man, I wake to sky that’s bleu céleste,
Rented tails, and fresh anxiety, but bride
And groom do not turn backs to pace. We
Collide at an altar, as though it was a super-
Conductor. As old Wagner marches
You up the aisle, my awe wells up at what is
Brought in: veiled, molecular, still flowing out.
Your entrance is an atomic favour, for witnesses
Observe us, met here not to cut, but sew space
Rent in multi-fabrics. Our cells push and pull,
Mysterious as that new-smashed meson X(3872).
Side-by-side, apart, like shadow and
Direct flame crossing to overlap, as a rosy flower
Sometimes is mistaken for its name.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Olympic muddle

The "jagged emblem" and logo for the 2012 London Olympics has just been unveiled, and it is hard to imagine a more ill-conceived, unattractive, and ultimately, confusing design. It actually manages to take athletics, one of the most beautiful, thrilling and fluid of human endeavours, and render it ugly and dull.

What could the other runners-up have looked like, one shudders to think, if this beauty was the winner?

Houten here

Bond 22 is already casting about for their next "Bond Girl" - and they may be going Dutch. Eyewear has it from the rumour windmill that the Bond producers have opened their little black book and pulled slinky Ms. Carice van Houten (pictured riding side-saddle) out. She's the undercover Mata Hari-type starlet who recently had the world agog in Paul Verhoeven's Nazi-era erotic thriller, Black Book, the top-grossing Dutch film of all time. Black Book, by the way, is fantastic. Verhoeven, who almost defined a kind of 90s kitsch in terms of OTT sex and violence (always interrogating American decadence and ignorance, bien sur, in the po-mo process), has created his finest film yet - and that includes Basic Instinct. van Houten falls in a big way for a Nazi in that movie (and in real life, what do you know, she's dating him too?) and things get complicated when she starts living a double-life, as a leggy Nazi mistress / resistance fighter. Eyewear hasn't seen anything this daring, twisted, or surprising since the great days of Mr. Hitchcock. Speaking of "Hitchcock Blondes", Ms. van Houten has a racy sequence around that theme in Black Book. It's a must-see. The last twenty minutes are as knife-edge, white-knuckle intense as one of those rides at Coney Island!

Atlas Didn't Shrug...

Atlas 02 is a a cultural magazine that comes from India and is edited by the poet Sudeep Sen. The contributing editors masthead is impressive: Peter Bradshaw, Les Murray, Donald Hall, Fiona Sampson, Peter Porter, Ruth Padel, and others.

Its chief function is to publish new writing, but it also includes a variety of art and image related features. The second issue is just out, with a feature on Canadian writing (yes, I am included), with new work by (among others) Evelyn Lau, Robert Priest, Alison Pick, Margaret Atwood, John Barton and PK Page.

There's also an interview with Salman Rushdie.

It's an impressive achievement, and one of the best-designed journals of its kind I've seen. The cover is striking and persuasive, with its bold use of photographic colour and a stark black background. The interior layout has a kind of Internet browsing interface feel to it - all seems contemporary and to hand. Exactly 400 pages in length, this is a high quality international journal punching in the Paris Review category. Do seek it out.

To contribute or subscribe: atlasaarkarts at gmail dot com.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Eyewear Is Two

Eyewear is two today, friends. If that seems astonishing to you, imagine how it feels where I am sitting. On June 1, 2005, when I sat down to start "blogging" the whole fad was about as likely as riding around on those old bicycles where one of the wheels is giant and the other tiny - you know the ones. Parasols. World Fairs. 1902.

Then, for awhile, everyone was blogging - reports of a million new blogs starting a day. Blogs became popular. Blogs became books. Then blogs became big business. In 2006, The Guardian, the BBC, and other major media outlets starting pushing their blogs on us. The blogosphere began to look, read and feel, just like any other clone street in the UK, Tescoised and manipulated by corporate interests. Or worse, not - for every sleek blog there is one that is amateurish and rubbish.

Meanwhile, social networking began to evolve. Myspace. Beebo. Facewhatsit. Everyone linked to everyone, saying zilch. Actually, saying, look at me, I am cool, too. In the age of celebrity, this instant messaging, this instant reporting, this blogging, offers the winner's circle for free. Zap. Here I am.

It isn't all bad. Blogging is addictive, though. I've wasted a lot of time here I could have wasted on TV. I have learned to write shorter blogs. I also now try to only write about issues and things and events and books and films and music that really turn me on. There's very little knee-jerk writing anymore. Sometimes, I get personal, but not always. I don't think you need to know about my hair cuts.

In two years, the most surprising thing about blogging has been, how many people will read a blog. Famous people have told me they've read my blogs about them. If you write about them, they will Google you. That brings responsibility. I try to write well, wittily, clearly, and delight and inform equally.

Just after I began this blog, 7/7 happened. Then my father became very ill with brain cancer, fought it for awhile, then died. Other people I love died, too. Good books and movies began to pale beside the horror of the world, which is real. However, I allowed myself to have fun here, too, to try and play again, as well as warn. One of my key messages is that God exists - or rather, that she might. In a very secular (British) society I am sure this has alarmed some readers. But I don't preach, really. In fact, I find it funny how, in the absence of a god, the media, in the UK, which has stepped into the void, so obviously offers no conscience.

Another message of mine is tolerance - especially in the literary world. You know, most of it is hype. The people that market books are just estate agents with better glasses. Most books are crap (get stewed, as Larkin might say) and most writers - well, best left to the imagination. The media wants a new star author every day, every week. Sex, violence and football sells, often not in that order.

I enjoy sharing poets with each other and my readers during my features, to help tip the balance in favour of good new writing.

Will I keep writing this for another year? Maybe. Blogging is a tiring spectator sport.

Poem by John Mole

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome John Mole. He was born in the early Forties, in Taunton, Somerset. Mole has appeared at various festivals both as a poet and jazz clarinettist, the latter on several occasions with fellow poet Roy Fisher. His most recent collection is Counting the Chimes: New & Selected Poems, 1975-2003, published by Peterloo Poets, from which the poem below is taken.

Peterloo Poets will be bringing out This is the Blackbird: Selected Poems for Children and The Other Day, a new collection for adults, later in 2007. Mole has compiled programmes for Radios 3 and 4, including Time for Verse and Poetry Please, and his collection of review essays, Passing Judgements, was described by Terry Eagleton in the Times Literary Supplement as 'striking just the right balance between high critical discourse and racy journalese.'

Recipient of the Gregory and Cholmondeley Awards for poetry, the Signal Award for his writing for children, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Hertfordshire, John Mole is currently resident poet to the City of London as part of the Poet in the City project.


Don't tell me again that it writes white
as if there were nothing else to say about it,

as if white were nothing to write home about
or that home was never a fit subject.

Yesterday we pegged sheets on the line
and they were beautiful when we took them in,

a cool bright acreage of summer evening
as we sank our faces in their folding.

It pleases me to remind you of this
however commonplace its whiteness,

and of the bedroom shutters' brilliant white
so intimately closed against the heat.

White is the promise of a subject matter
where sleep or love will never have gone better.

Poem by John Mole
from Counting the Chimes: New & Selected Poems, 1975 – 2003

photo credit: Caroline Forbes


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...