Friday, 31 August 2007

Poem by Valerie Lynch

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Valerie Lynch (above, reading at the Poetry Cafe) this Friday, especially as she recently turned 80 (on Tuesday of this week - congratulations).

Lynch has been a part of my Poetry School seminar groups for several years now, and I have been much impressed with her determination, and talent. She began writing poetry at 77, after various interesting careers as teacher (Economics), archaeologist (in a City Museum), assistant editor of an encyclopaedia, and finally a psychoanalytical psychotherapist (still practising).

She has quickly developed a sometimes startling, often painfully honest, voice, dealing with themes of palpable interest to her - and all people in due course - ageing, memory, the body, loss, desire, sexuality, love, and time - and how anger and beauty twine around these subjects. I think she has some work well worth reading, and someone in the UK should publish her collection before she turns 100, so a wider audience can benefit from her vision.

Writing the Borderlines

Below your dismissive eye
is the undisturbed, disturbing
country of nearby.
Sit in a siding a layby the grass
at the quarry's edge
and use whatever's around.

Last night's storm
that reared its head over trees
and walked you home
dark green figs in a row
on an orange dish,
the spaces where we don't talk;

even Miss Peat
on the motorway verge
in her picnic chair
wearing a tired hat
and a frightened face
a long way from Walthamstow.

poem by Valerie Lynch

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Blogs 10, Publishers 0

Scott Rosenberg has an article in today's Guardian about how blogging is, in some ways, turning ten this year - and how that relatively impressive anniversary has yet to convince blog-haters of the inherent literary, or other, value of the form. He notes, particularly, how once-countercultural-guru-and-white-dressing Tom Wolfe (now apparently just as bland as the Man from Glad) is dismissive of people who write blogs, and the blogs they write.

As Eyewear has been quick to observe, these last few weeks - and more generally since starting this blog a few years ago - the UK, while innovative in so many cultural and technological ways - has been stuck in a neo-Edwardian moment, poetry-wise, in relation to the web, and blogs. Bluntly stated, poetry on the Internet is still a second-class citizen, in British and Irish literary circles.


There's a one word answer that fans of the American 60s comedy-action series Get Smart will recognise: Control.

The larger, mainstream publishers of poetry in the UK market poetry as a rare, precious and high cultural product. Consider how Faber rarely publishes more than one or two new poets a year, and how rarely, say, Penguin or Faber publish (unlike, say, Carcanet) new anthologies of new poetry and poets. Rather than identifying the thriving, uncontrollable many-styled forms and diction of poetry, as it appears worldwide, on the Internet, British poetry editors, reviewers and awards organisations chiefly prefer to look away - as if the web was a destructive Medusa, and not, instead, a golden fleece. Disgusted, perhaps threatened by, the riches of the current poetic output before them, a clutch of gate-keeping figures about as current as the 1890s hold on to power (in much the way that king in The Little Prince lords it over the flower on his tiny planet, if I recall correctly - or is that two planets?).

As I have urged before, and will again, UK poetry publishers should begin to place more of their poetry online, and encourage their major poets to publish, from time to time, online as well, supporting the growing, but still relatively underground, community of web-based poetry journals. This would benefit the great tradition of British poetry, since, as younger readers are tending to go more and more to digital sources for their information, entertainment and education, it would allow a transition of this tradition, to new readerships, and younger emerging poets. In time, this will happen anyway. It would be simply wise to work with the development of new media, not against it - even if this means admitting that no one publisher, or style, or form, any longer prevails.

Poetry need not be at war with (in Yeatsian fashion) all forms of non-archaic, contemporary life - some elements of the current age are, in fact, promising, even beautiful. Blogs, and the Internet, though democratic, and hence opposed to an aristocratic or fully-elitist outlook, can still sustain and express the loftiest of words, placed in the best possible order - and remain available to many more readers than any but the most gruellingly-marketed collection. Oh, and print books should continue to exist, of course. This isn't a zero sum game.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Poem by Alan Buckley

Eyewear is very glad to feature Alan Buckley (pictured) this week.

Buckley was brought up in Merseyside, and now lives in Oxford. His poems have been published in a wide range of magazines since 2005, including Magma, Smiths Knoll and Orbis. I was glad to include a poem of his on the forthcoming Oxfam CD, Life Lines 2.

He is currently one of two poets running the Live Literature Programme at HMP Grendon in Buckinghamshire, as reported recently in The Guardian.

An English version

So I was there, in the kitchen smashing garlic
and frizzling prawns for my signature dish,
while you sat in the living room, carefully picking
out chords for a song, with your silver-nailed fingers.
Your voice, jellying the flat walls with Arabic,
fracturing scales; so true I could feel the swish
of sand on my feet. I didn't know, but already
I'd fallen in love with you. Then there was history,

but not condensed. In this version, Odysseus
sailed past Sirenum Scopuli hundreds of times, endured
the honeying torment, until he could drop the ridiculous
stuff with the rope and the mast, and the songs were simply enjoyed.
I'm meeting you for lunch. I put on your latest CD.
I'll ask after your husband. We'll gossip, drink Earl Grey tea.

poem by Alan Buckley

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Book Of Longing, UK

Leonard Cohen's show, Book of Longing, with Philip Glass at the Barbican this October was sold out long ago. And Penguin UK has just published the Book of Longing, Cohen's wonderful new collection of poems, in paperback this August.

Penguin's gain was poetry imprint Cape's loss. Cape was first approached to publish the book, but rather counter-intuitively turned it down. Pity. Book of Longing is now one of Canada's best-selling poetry books of all time.

And Cohen, after all, was one of Jonathan Cape's poets, in 1969. But the tendency in London poetry publishing, to not publish good, popular Canadian and American poets, is a strong one. I'd go so far as to argue that such an insular editorial approach actually weakens general interest in and respect for contemporary poetry in the UK, by falsely regulating the sense of how exciting, dynamic, and even popular North American poetry - indeed, potentially, all poetry - is - or can be.

Smelling the iCoffee

Britain, according to the BBC, is in love with digital media.

And, as we know, Britain is not quite in love with poetry.

It doesn't take a [insert rocket scientist here] to make the leap and begin to think that perhaps poetry should begin to reconsider its relationship to said digital media.

However - and sadly - despite a few publishers throwing some big bucks at fancy bells and whistles on their sites - and a few innovative places like 57 Productions and the Poetry Archive - the intersection of poetry and the net (and beyond) isn't nearly as busy as it might be. As the poetry editor of one of the only respected, and long-running (half a decade now) British online magazines that actually publishes poetry by good poets regularly (quick, name another nine) - nthposition - I find myself constantly bemused, if not frustrated, by how few "mainstream" poets - young and old - entrust the web with their poems. Even now, blogs and personal sites are somewhat suspect. Much of this has to do with two things: a) the British poetry establishment can be sclerotic and b) the British feel faintly silly when tooting their own horn, and the net has a lot of evangelical self-promotion.

Still, neither of these really makes sense - there are ironic and modest ways of using digital media, and the publishing industry is aware of how it needs to manage a transition to a more and more electronic way of accessing information and text. Many poets think that poetry is a) something to be on paper, to be in books and b) are afraid it will be stolen on the net. I say this to that: a) poetry has an oral / aural and post-paper role to play, too, which in no way invalidates its written, formal felicities (late Milton was blind but enjoyed composition of, and listening to, poems) and b) copyright protection for material posted or published electronically is increasingly robust.

I suspect a graver series of evils hinder a more comprehensive engagement with digital transmission of poems and poetry, in the UK. Namely, a) the prize culture and b) the marketing culture. To become a "name poet" in Britain is a more and more competitive career-track kind of game, and many younger poets know that (whether they opt in or out is another matter) to get considered by a mainstream publisher they may well have to win a national prize, or an Eric Gregory Award - and their first collections will need to be shortlisted for Forwards or Eliots to secure their reputation, and invitations to major festivals. As such awards and prizes are currently designed to entirely avoid consideration of material posted on the Internet (ebooks are not up for Eliots), the natural inclination is to (p)reserve one's (best) material for print. I blame Britain's celebrity-driven marketing culture for this transformation of poetry from an art that delights and instructs to one that aims to sell and seduce. So long as poets are sold - and poetry seen as a commodity (see Zamyatin) in the UK - the fearsome freedom of the net will be more of a threat than a promise. However, poetry should be like water - a resource made available relatively inexpensively (whenever possible) and as essential to life. Digital dissemination of poetry would boost poetry book sales, ultimately, as books would be quality records (the Evian) of the appreciated experience. But while hope springs eternal, the poetry springs of Britain are too-often shut off at the mains - the stream controlled by gate-keepers with less interest in the flow and fountain of poetry - and more in having their own little rock pool to drop their glasses in.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

What Is Prison For?

Imprisonment for criminals has three or four possible, sometimes overlapping goals: a) punishment; b) rehabilitation c) prevention (keeping the perpetrators off the streets) and d. revenge - "Justice" is somewhere to be found between these. Society and citizens of all political stripes tend to confuse these various aims, especially when their own loved ones are victims. Some people think prison is just to punish, others just to improve - but one basic belief has, more or less, been accepted - when the criminal is released back into society, they should be accepted back, having done their time and "paid their dues". Not to do so is simply to turn one's back on the system itself - for if ex-cons are not so reabsorbed, but ostracised completely, what else are they to do, but turn back to their old criminal networks? So it is, we tend to hope the rehab works, and the punishment fits the crime.

Murder, of course, is a problem. Because only the ultimate sanction, paying with a life, can seem, to many, fair punishment, anything less is controversial - so the "early" release of murderers is never a popular moment in the justice system's day. However, since the majority of British citizens apparently oppose the death penalty, paradoxically, courts cannot exact that extreme form of revenge - the best they can do is keep the convicted in for "life" - which, when the guilty party is a youth at time of sentencing - is sometimes only ten or twelve years inside. This seems only right, since to assume that a young adult of 15 would benefit society more from being incarcerated for 50-60 years, rather than being retrained and returned to a mature second life, is needlessly cruel, and surely draconian.

Therefore, it comes as sad news to hear that the recently mooted release of a killer, in London, has been greeted with near-total outrage, though the man has spent 12 years in prison, and has gone on to get educational training, express remorse, and become something of a model inmate. The issue is one of deportation - because the convict is nominally Italian, the feeling in some quarters is that he should be sent back to that country (though he speaks no Italian, has no extended family there, and was last there over 21 years ago). This despite the fact that his "human rights" allow him to stay in the UK upon release.

I understand this is a terrible moment. But if society is to survive its more raw urges and instincts - and revenge is one of the baser - it must stick to the law, which, though decidedly imperfect, is more measured and democratically-arrived at than the "justice" of baying mobs and yellow journalists. The time to complain was at the moment of sentencing - not on imminent release. The bottom line seems to be this: when a sentence has been served, it is over. The next step is to let the infamous villain back in - and hope for the best.

Lynch's Strange Fruit

Eyewear recently saw "the new film from David Lynch" as it was called, Inland Empire. Note how Edward Hopper's painting, above, supplies key elements for the film's mise-en-scene.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Gosling Shot

Continuing the Canadian theme of recent posts, Eyewear wants to briefly celebrate rising Hollywood star, Canadian Ryan Gosling, whose latest turn was opposite Sir Anthony Hopkins (as he is called in American press releases) in a surprise early summer hit, Fracture, co-starring lithe Brit thesp and Bond Girl Rosamund Pike (pictured).

Gosling was not the first actor you'd think to cast as a grasping, smooth and libidinous Southern trial lawyer looking to jump ship from the LA DA's office to a big firm that defends rich creeps, although his earlier roles as a Jewish neo-Nazi and a drug-addicted teacher suggest he is drawn to morally challenged characters (to state the blinking obvious). Gosling was not anyone's idea of a leading man, but all that has changed with Fracture, directed by G. Hoblit, the man who brought us, about a decade back, Primal Fear, another courtroom drama with a twist and a young male lead thereby catapulted to stardom (similarly thin Edward Norton then).

What I find startling and seductive about Gosling's performance in this middle-brow thriller pleasingly punching above its weight with 80s style and 70s-era pacing (it has moments as languorous as Chinatown) is how good it is. He manages to be as yearningly beautiful and ripe for manhood as the younger Paul Newman in The Hustler, say, or Hud. Which is why when Pike plucks him from the tree of innocence, we know his fall will feel good - though office sex usually happens, if it does, after at least a day on the job, one would think.

How he does this is the magic of great acting. By acting exceptionally handsome, he becomes so. Sounds easy, but too often handsome actors can't do it. Gosling exudes the cool of late 60s icons like Newman, like McQueen, and that bodes well for his forthcoming body of work. Peter Jackson is starring him in The Lovely Bones for 2008, and that'll be intriguing.

Meanwhile, what of Hopkins? If Gosling was an odd but inspired casting choice, Hopkins was a no-brainer. Who else to play a sociopath playing cat and mouse from behind bars with a hick agent of the law? Just change the Southern drawl to an Irish brogue, and hey presto! Hopkins should do a few more The Remains of the Day films before he dies, or he may end up being the second most wasted Welsh onscreen acting genius (Richard Burton was the first).

Feist Not Famine

Canada hasn't had much luck getting its many younger, often alternative, poets onto UK radars - but when it comes to Canadian musicians, the 21st century has been a constant green blip blip blip across Britscreens. Arcade Fire and Rufus Wainwright, of course (Wainwright and his sister Martha used to play at my late night literary cabarets in the mid 90s), but now, Feist, too, is becoming phenomenally well-known, and respected.

Leslie Feist's (left) new album, Reminder, is very good, if almost obviously eclectic (veering from alt-country via Lou Reed, to Joni Mitchell, to zippy late 70s Toronto The Spoons, to post-disco sexiness) and sometimes darn plain quirky. What she does is remind listeners that there is more to being a female singer-songwriter than aping Amy Winehouse, K.D. Lang, Bjork, or Tori Amos / Kate Bush - although she clearly rings those stylistic changes across her dazzlingly virtuosic spectrum (to clang metaphors needlessly). What's more impressive, though, is not how much Feist adapts and adopts from the female pop tradition of the past 45 years or so (when 45s were 45s) - but how much she sort of makes her own.

Feist has, firstly, the virtues of her background - an upbeat, wide-open optimism and endearing clarity reminiscent of Tegan and Sara's sound (also from out West) - and why not, Canada is a great, rich, and green country - but can also use the Canadian edginess that is best seen in the Cronenberg tradition (we have long winters).

The standout tracks are: "I Feel It All", "My Moon My Man", "Past In Present" and "The Limit To Your Love" (which starts like Portishead and morphs into Sade, oddly).

Eyewear gives this four specs.

The Best Graduate Creative Writing Programs

Writers write - and get into trouble. Many still have an image of Humphrey Bogart, fists balled for a contre-temps, playing the solitary, heavy-drinking, angry writer in Los Angeles, or perhaps a youthful, beautiful Capote - literary figures who seem to rise, like cream, to the top, with little effort (and then have different, personal, trouble, staying there, on the light surface of things where the glamour of evil - and leisure - resides). It is because writing is - to the onlooker - so mysterious, and troubling - that it seems occult. And, like magic, somehow above pedagogy - though surely Rowling's version of magical education has altered that. At any rate, some people used to think creative writing could not be taught - or ought not to be taught - at university. That idea, at least for Americans, now seems as quaint as thinking we need more horses on our streets, pulling carts. The British were less sure, though the impressive successes of UEA's graduate creative writing program, and its illustrious alumni, made a difference - and then again, there is the recent appointment of no less a writer than Martin Amis, as a creative writing professor.

The recent Fiction 2007 issue of the highly-respected American magazine The Atlantic - known, among other things, for publishing terrific short stories (this issue has new work from John Updike, Tobias Wolff and Constance Squires) - features an article by Edward J. Delaney, "Where Great Writers Are Made", which lists the top ten American graduate writing programs. According to him, these are, in alphabetic order, to be found at: Boston University, University of California at Irvine, Cornell University, Florida State University, University of Iowa, Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, New York University, University of Texas (Michener Center) and the University of Virginia.

It's a pleasingly mater-of-fact formula which Delaney uses to work out his list: he ranks the programs according to quality of The Alumni (famous writers who came from the program), The Faculty (who teaches there now), Selectivity (how much of a canny squint does their eye of the needle have) and Funding.

It was the Funding aspect that drew my attention. At several of the most competitive of these listed programs, all MFA students are paid around $20,000 USD to attend the program, per year, out of endowments made by (arguably enlightened, perhaps eccentric) deceased philanthropists (one program is waiting for their supposed benefactor to die before they can start their own system of paying students to attend).

Tens of thousands of students enter, and leave, such programs each year, in America. It is becoming, whatever else it may be, an important part of the business of running a university, to have a good, even great, creative writing department, with a graduate, even PhD program. The trend seems set in the same direction, in the UK.

Over the next little while, I'll be trawling for news of the UK's own cw programs, and will, at a future date, hope to provide Eyewear's own list of the ten best British ones, according to the Atlantic scale.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Reply From Sarah Churchwell

Eyewear is glad to live in the digital age where replies can be fairly immediate. Dr. Sarah Churchwell (pictured) has kindly replied to my post on her column on The Bourne series (and agreed it may be reprinted here). Her complete email of today is below:

Dear Todd,
Thank you for your comment, which I read with interest.
I don't disagree with your assessment of the film, for the most part, although I'm not generally leaping onto the 'greatest thriller since le Carré' bandwagon. I think they are enjoyable films, and I have a lot of time for Matt Damon, who I think is a very intelligent and interesting actor. I found this film fun but so deeply silly that it is hard for me to take it seriously as a moral statement of any kind, except in so far as it is about taking responsibility, an idea which it deals with consistently, if rather overtly for my taste. But that's not a criticism, necessarily, it's just not my cup of tea to have things explained so carefully to me.
As for why I didn't give credit to what I like about the film -- I'm afraid that was for a very banal and demoralizing reason, called space. In fact the piece was edited for space after I wrote it (a very common occurrence) cutting out another 100 or so words I wrote, mostly about the novels, and the fact that Marie becomes less capable over the course of the books as well. But it wasn't a review and I simply wasn't given the room to give the film its due, which I would happily have done with either more space, or a different remit. But on the whole I think it's an enjoyable franchise, although I thought this installment had too many holes. (Why would a top-ranking black ops agent running from the CIA travel under his own passport, for starters?)
My point was simply that Stiles's character doesn't do anything useful, and I'm afraid I find it hard to see that she ever "acts quickly and expertly." When would that be? When she signed onto the CIA computer using her own name so they could trace her? When she rattled door handles? Dismantling her mobile phone so Bourne could follow her was mildly intelligent, but hardly expert. The washcloth? Dying her hair?
All I'm saying is that I can't see any reason why the script couldn't have given her a skill, an ability, an ingenious decision, anything. That wouldn't have been inconsistent with her lowly status as junior agent. She could still know how to do something other than rattle doors. I can't see what she was doing in the film at all, except to give Jason the chance to rescue her. The character has no function in the plot at all other than that, and I found it exasperating and unnecessary to watch a woman standing around being pointless and looking worried. It gets annoying.
The word misogyny never appears in my article; headlines are editorial. I don't actually think it's misogynistic either -- I just think it's tedious. Editors try to stir pots with headlines; it's their job.
Good luck with your site.
Best wishes,


Dr Sarah Churchwell
Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Culture
School of American Studies
University of East Anglia

Bourne, ultimately

Today's Guardian features a rather lame critique of The Bourne Ultimatum, from well-known media pundit and UEA lecturer Sarah Churchwell, whose areas of expertise include American literature and culture. I respect and like Dr. Churchwell, so was somewhat disheartened to read her treatment of this great new American genre film - not least because its use of The Guardian in the film was both respectful and mature. Her basic argument is that the women in the Bourne films "don't do anything useful" and that the three main female characters in the trilogy, played by Julia Stiles (pictured), Joan Allen, and Franka Potente, unlike "male CIA agents" are "hapless". From here, the word misogyny is applied (rather trivialising that term).

As my grandfather used to say: come now. This article is not a genuinely engaged reaction to a serious piece of genre film-making. Nowhere in Churchwell's column is any credit given to directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass and lead actor Matt Damon for reinventing the tired spy-thriller genre, so devalued by the genuinely (at times) misogynistic Bond franchise, and the moribund Mission Impossible films. Churchwell forgets to mention that The Bourne films are the most intelligent, complex, morally and politically ambiguous, and exciting espionage movies made since the Cold War ended, and perhaps since The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Instead, she treats them merely as one more example of action films where women are in jeopardy.

Actually, she gets more than that wrong. Churchwell, in setting up her argument, forgets the central conceit of the trilogy: Jason Bourne is an extraordinarily versatile killing machine; no other character, in all three films - male or female - is a match for his uniquely uncanny abilities. It is not misanthropy or misogyny that renders Julia Stiles weaker than the hero - but narrative's arc itself: how else can a hero establish her/his status than by saving those less gifted? Further, Stiles is a clever young operative, who, early in this film, acts quickly and expertly.

That her skills are not in hand-to-hand combat (or in speaking all foreign languages) is hardly reason to write her off - after all, she is a young, inexperienced, and low-ranking operative - the clear mirror of Joan Allen's masterful character, who, despite Churchwell's claim that she "isn't exactly stirring", is actually a sensitive and nuanced portrait of a woman in power, aiming to exercise said power with tact and restraint. The fact Allen doesn't bust some heads seems a cause for celebration, not lament.

Indeed, Churchwell has misread - against the film's grain as it were - the Bourne trilogy's central message - that untethered violence (without memory or remorse) is both terrifying and unethical - and that violence must find both its proper context, its historic origins, and even, radical limits. Rather than seeing the female (and other characters - the Guardian journalist in the film is male and incapable of sustained violence) as non-violent and thus pathetic, even maligned, it is likely they are meant, very intentionally, to represent alternative means of dealing with the world and persons in it. That is, non-violence, ultimately, is the aim of all good government - of, by and for women and men. I don't see misogyny in this, at all.

Overlooked poets

The Overlook Hotel, in The Shining, is a place where ghosts return to haunt failed writers. Too often, however, writers don't return, to haunt anyone.

By definition, to be an overlooked writer is to be one that isn't read "anymore" - sometimes, it is possible to imagine, by any eyes at all. So it is good to see Canada's Arc Poetry Magazine feature a group of eclectically-assembled "forgotten poets", from London-based Orwell-expert Paul Potts to Montreal's Avi Boxer (whose son is a good poet too).

The Globe and Mail has an article about the issue. Still, it seems rather ironic to devote just one issue to this subject, since almost all poets are, to a greater or lesser degree, overlooked. For instance, who reads Adrian Stokes now? People should.

Then again, I can rather ruefully think about how few copies my own collections sell - roughly a thousand or so apiece. They get reviewed but are rarely kept in-stock, or widely distributed, like most poetry books. Given my own wayward travels, and living in distant cities, I've seen my own name rise and fall (expatriates are not eligible for many prizes in either their home or host countries) already - and despite the fact this blog and a few other things I've done faintly keep my name aflicker in a few heads, by and large, I'm already, by the lofty standards of the in-crowd, overlooked. What to do?

Avoid snowbound hotels and keep writing.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Of interest

The Guardian (poet Peter McDonald) reviews the new G. Hill (above) today. Eyewear looks forward to reading the great poet's new collection, A Treatise of Civil Power, in due course.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Poem by Carrie Etter

Eyewear is delighted to welcome Carrie Etter (pictured) this Friday. Etter is an American poet resident in England since 2001. She used to live in Normal, Illinois and southern California.

In the UK her poems have appeared in, among others, The Liberal, Poetry Review, PN Review, Shearsman, Stand and TLS, while abroad they've appeared in places such as Aufgabe, Barrow Street, Columbia and The New Republic. Subterfuge for the Unrequitable, a pamphlet, was published by Potes & Poets in 1998.

She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing for Bath Spa University and a tutor for The Poetry School.

The Honeymoon of Our Attraction

The honeymoon of our attraction subsided abruptly,
as though after a summer in a beach cottage I resumed
the urban and a drinking spout’s arc became the only water
I put my mouth to.

If then I’d painted the seaside town from memory, I’d have chosen
watercolours for the streaks of illumination become impalpable.
Incarnate rode the subway stink, the traffic din, the elusive
beauty of passing faces.

Yet months later the dune grasses, smelling of transience,
smelling of risk, scratch my palms with their long blades.
Where did they come from? Of the wave’s surge I know only
I stand soddened.

Poem by Carrie Etter;
originally published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

A Bourne Is Star

Eyewear thinks The Bourne Ultimatum - the third film in the Bourne series - starring Matt Damon and Julia Stiles, and directed in its last two-thirds by Paul Greengrass - may be the best "action film" ever made. Director of the first, Doug Liman, also deserves much praise, though, for establishing the initial frenetic pacing and energy of the series.

Lights, Camera, Action! - that familiar rallying cry of helmers everywhere - has always begged the question - what is Action? We know (or think we do) what cameras and lights are.

Film is, despite other definitions, the visual record of bodies moving through space and time, as caught and then again projected by light. As such, it is one of the purest art forms, if made endlessly complex by intervening elements, from market forces, to authorship, to mise-en-scene, to narrative demands made on what is, at its truest, a more beautiful and visual thing than mere story can provide (hence the usual metaphors allying film and poetry).

Movies are motion - are action. As one critic recently noted about the Bourne trilogy (may it multiply further) it has become abstract - the filmic equivalent of an American Action Painting. Jason Bourne is a new, more violent agent of modernity - a Jackson Pollock for the American Age.

Wags may have noted that Jason Bourne shares the same initials as James Bond. There comparisons end. The Bond films - except for the first three or four - have been stylish pastiches, send-ups, and semi-spoofs - lots of fun and often uber-sexy, with fascinating references to geo-politics - but never great cinema. The Bourne films have, almost from the first frame of the first film, excelled and stunned with a nearly new visual flair - almost a new language - for how action can be expressed through camera and character.

It helps that these "abstract" films are grounded in a genre (the paranoid spy thriller) that has enough codes and conventions to allow a looser sketching stand-in for deep story. The genre goes back far - one of the first was Lang's Spione. The 39 Steps is the basic structure - a man on the run from the authorities is simultaneously chasing the truth, and a greater conspiracy ranged against him, with the help of (at least one) attractive female. The Bourne films also add elements from The Manchurian Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, Telefon, The Conversation and other great 70s films. It has always been a highly philosophical film series (the first movie features the Parisian self-defenestration of an agent in a sly reference to the suicide of French theorist Deleuze) and exemplifies the process of the filmic, as much as anything else - but if pressed to have a theme, it might be Foucault's version of the panopticon.

The Bourne Ultimatum, of course, projects such a panopticon onto American hard power, as CIA rogue officers are able to tap into every camera in the world at the touch of a button (echoing and accentuating the terrifying implications of such mass observation recently best shown in the superb Cannes winning Scotland-set nail-biter Red Road directed by great new auteur Andrea Arnold).

Anyway, back to the Bourne series. It features four or five set piece action sequences (one in Waterloo wherein I commute to teach creative writing, and it is actually usually more crowded than onscreen) that are as thrilling as any in film history. At the heart of the movie, though, is a ten-minute sequence set on the roof-tops of Tangier, and below, in the narrow byways of its markets and alleys, that defies my desire to express congratulations. This moment in cinema outdoes any previous attempt by a film artist to capture the sheer kinetic suspense and danger inherent in a love triangle, using the trope of targeted assassination and violent, last-second rescue (the basic core recipe of all Women In Peril films, from the first Chick-on-the-Track).

Julia Stiles has passed her mobile phone on to the "asset" - in this case the handsome, silent hit man, who is deviated to kill her (shooting the messenger, post-modernly) - while Damon races to get to her first - entailing more bone-grinding leaps, near-misses, and best-guesses than heretofore thought possible. This sequence is as exciting, romantic and tense as anything I have ever seen. It is great adrenaline cinema. Bergman and others often tell the truth with stillness and close-ups. Now The Bourne films, by using an ultra-fragmented, hyper-kinetic, and madly driven process, have told another, equal truth - existence moves, too, fast.

The Nail set

Not a Christian poetry magazine - but "Poetry to the point" - Oxford's performance poetry magazine, The Nail, now has 9 issues under its belt - the latest just out summer 2007.

At £2.50, who could resist this stapled zine of new poems from the likes of Rob Gee, Kat Francois, A.F. Harrold, and Will Holloway (as well as Eyewear's own TS)? Not those of us given contributor's copies, surely - but for you, other readers - do give in to temptation and get down to some home repairs and hammering.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Just Back From Canada

Canada is my home - the true North. It was also very beautiful, often 30 celsius, sunny, and, up in the Laurentians, filled with lakes and fir trees. I canoed, swam, and cooked meals under a great clear sky. Otherwise, I played strategy games with my wife, and my brother and his wife, and my mother; and attended a close friend's wedding.

My mother lost her husband (my father), her father, and her sole brother, in 2006. August last was the last month of my father's life (he was dying of brain cancer in hospital, terribly). So, this August was rife with unspoken and spoken sadness - but also love, and joy, at a family reunited.

Being in London often hurts, as I miss my family, and my more wildly-wooded nation, a great deal. I also miss Canadians - their laid-back humour, their friendliness, their American openness to new forms and projects. I found it cleansing to be in Canada again. It is a beautiful, good country. Below is the poem I have written for my mother, on my return.

Red Bathing Cap

Red bathing cap
At the edge
Of the lake.
All of her prepares
For the water
At five o’clock,
Sun reduced,
Most bathers gone.

Mother, you stood
So before me
As I read, when
You were young,
Without the long line
Of the operation
Divisive on your hip.
You swam out

Clean and strong,
For an hour, then,
Until your head was small
On the surface,
Or not visible at all,
As I would, from time
To time, look up
From Mimesis

Or some anthology
To make sure you hadn’t
Drowned. Beautiful, tall,
You’d go directly in,
Continue, as the lake’s
Black surface dulled
At evening, and flies
Prepared themselves

For the bats to come;
Your arms bringing you
Through reflections of
White-barked trees, stone,
So far, until you’d return
Shivering, to shore,
And I’d race to bring
Your towel down,

As my father built a fire.
Enwrapped, you’d stand
By it, and dry your hair.
Now, there is no fire
Here at this public place,
And Tom is dead a year.
You’re older – water
Cannot keep us young

Forever – and limp
To where you start to enter.
I want to go with you tonight,
Keep pace, but you always
Swam out alone, serene.
Red cap – brightened like
A pricked thumb – how it goes
In and out of the going black,

Steady as your pulse, a sewing
Needle, threading water
With your breathing stroke,
Is like a light, a light to me
That says the where and why
Of home, of coming home.
I’ll bring your blue towel as
You stand out in summer dusk.

poem by Todd Swift

Monday, 13 August 2007

Margaret Avison Has Died

One of Canada's major modern poets, Margaret Avison (above), has died.

Avison was latterly a Christian poet - not an easy vocation in a viciously secular world - and visionary (indeed, her name is almost a vision).

The Swimmer's Moment

For everyone
The swimmer's moment at the whirlpool comes,
But many at that moment will not say
"This is the whirlpool, then."
By their refusal they are saved
From the black pit, and also from contesting
The deadly rapids, and emerging in
The mysterious, and more ample, further waters.
And so their bland-blank faces turn and turn
Pale and forever on the rim of suction
They will not recognize.
Of those who dare the knowledge
Many are whirled into the ominous centre
That, gaping vertical, seals up
For them an eternal boon of privacy,
So that we turn away from their defeat
With a despair, not for their deaths, but for
Ourselves, who cannot penetrate their secret
Nor even guess at the anonymous breadth
Where one or two have won:
(The silver reaches of the estuary).

poem by Margaret Avison

Thursday, 9 August 2007

August Poems Now Online At Nthposition

Citizen Dirt & Don’t ask what this says about me
by Doug Ramspeck

Save Me & Lost
by Paul Kingsnorth

Hidden Ponds
by Paul A Toth

William S Burroughs dead
by Mark A Murphy

Locomotion, Cures for common ailments, Such a malcontent, Misalignment, The leg fits into the foot & When did a wall
by Linda Black

Want my job?

While back in St-Lambert, Canada, I stumbled across a forgotten old cardboard box of my papers containing over 500 poems, some handwritten, but 200-300 typed, in various stages of completion (many had gone through as many as six or eight drafts), mainly dating from the years 1980-87 (that is, between the ages of 13 and 21) - thrilling juvenalia because most of this writing I had forgotten existed - and in a few instances the use of syntax and diction was interestingly reminiscent of Forties poetry I'm currently studying.

This box of poems reminded me of how long and anonymous the poet's journey often is, from young person who loves poetry, to the poet of mid-career, and beyond. There's an article on me in today's Independent newspaper, out of the UK, about the "job" of the poet.

Below is the first poem I wrote - at least bothered to type - composed in 1980.


They dripped in unison,
drip, drop, drip
like stalactites they were -
but small, and clear,
except where tiny flecks of soot
marred their perfect beauty.

And then suddenly,
he wanted to crush one,
to feel it snap like a twig,
in his hand, cool and inviting
but he didn't
because they dripped in unison.

poem by Todd Swift (1980)

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


The semi-mythic month of August has arrived. April may be cruel, but August is vast, vacant, quiet, deserted, even slightly dusty. August is an empty Paris of the mind, where one can wander shuttered streets at noon, and meet no one. August is when parliament is out, and the fish are jumping onto the banks of the river. August is when you realise you have wasted your life, then turn over in the hammock for another forty winks. August has no therapy, August is closed for business, August is no thank you ma'am, I don't need to work, not today. August is not about greed, acquisitions, or mergers. August is downstream, downhill, or out back, sprawled. August is sleep whenever, books on tap, and somewhere water shining, and mountains. August is a cafe where the waiter has a sombrero at permanent eye-tilt. August is where you are never served, and you never care. August does not want, or expect, to be toasted. August is like a sleeping lion, after the feast. August rarely blogs, and does not think you'd want to read one, either. See you later, alligator.

Stiles Council

Eyewear watched the new doc on Canadian poet John Stiles last night. Scouts Are Cancelled (pleasingly coincidental as today is the centenary of the founding of the Scouts) is one of the best filmed poetry books ever, in some ways reminiscent of Bob Holman's brilliant Emmy-winning The United States of Poetry - but here, covering many poems from one poet, and one collection. And, what a poet, what a collection. Stiles will not be to all tastes - which is exactly the point of the film, and the man. Stiles, seemingly without effort, or much say in the matter, has become a persona that marries the more admirable qualities of a Kerouac to those of an Abe Lincoln: he is a small-town fella right out of Depression-era Canada, genuine as all get out, and shucks, he means what he says, and means to say it. Stiles spent his youth in an Apple Orchard, in the Annapolis valley, in Nova Scotia, and this Edenic place becomes his metaphor for all that is lost, all that is lovely, in the world. Stiles, sometimes seen hung-over, or vaguely inadequate among family and nearly-empty readings, is presented as one of the most original contemporary poetry voices in North America, combining rural sounds, and home-made onomatopoeia to his half-baked, sorrowful musings on the dead-end lives of boys and girls from Nowheresville. I've rarely been as moved, or convinced, as during this film, as it renews my belief in the integrity of the poetic calling. This isn't because he aims for a naturalistic Al Purdy-style Canadiana, though, for Stiles exceeds naturalism (the brakes on his poetry car are broken) and gets somewhere far more genuinely innovative and unexpected: a reimagined, respoken region where poetry and place are rowdily themselves, stuttering ugly-beauty into being. Stiles may not be Canada's best new poet - but he may be one of Canada's truest. See this movie, buy this man's books.

Support International Independent Poetry Publishing

Nthposition's global headquarters is a minuscule eyrie in North London, and now that In The Criminal's Cabinet has been in print for nearly three years, publisher and chief editor Val Stevenson is keen to get a few boxes of unsold copies out of her bedroom, though not nearly as keen as her long-suffering husband... If you would like one, please email Val.

Copies will be sent out on a 'first come, first served' basis, and when they are gone, ITCC will be officially out-of-print.

Copies will be a staggeringly reasonable £2.00 plus postage and packing (for airmail outside the UK) per copy as follows:

USA: £6.72;
Canada, Australia, India, EU: £4.88;
UK: £2.98

Please pay Val via PayPal or send a sterling cheque, made out to: Val Stevenson, to 38 Allcroft Road, London NW5 4NE, UK. And don't forget to include your full postal address.

Contributors to ITCC are: Robert Allen, Tammy Armstrong, Louise Bak, Carole Baldock, Simon Barraclough, Jim Bennett, Caroline Bergvall, Charles Bernstein, bill bissett, Stephanie Bolster, Tom Bradley, Kimberly Burwick, Jason Camlot, Sherry Chandler, Maxine Chernoff, Todd Colby, MTC Cronin, Kieran D’Angelo, Robert Davidson, Jennifer K Dick, Andrew Dilger, BR Dionysius, Isobel Dixon, Antony Dunn, Zdravka Evtimova, Peter Finch, David Finkle, Martin Fisher, Brentley Frazer, Philip Fried, Ethan Gilsdorf, John Goodby, Giles Goodland, Daphne Gottlieb, Carrie Haber, Jen Hadfield, Christine Hamm, Paul Hardacre, Kenneth J Harvey, Steven Heighton, Kevin Higgins, Paul Hoover, Ranjit Hoskote, Halvard Johnson, Fred Johnston, Jill Jones, Norman Jope, Jayne Fenton Keane, WB Keckler, Amy King, Chris Kinsey, Roddy Lumsden, Alexis Lykiard, Don McGrath, Nigel McLoughlin, Jo Mazelis, Valeria Melchioretto, Matthew Miller, Vivek Narayanan, Nessa O’Mahony, Michelle Noteboom, Richard Peabody, Tom Phillips, David Prater, Sina Queyras, Srikanth Reddy, Ali Riley, Peter Riley, Peter Robinson, Noel Rooney, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Rebecca Seiferle, John W Sexton, Ron Silliman, Hal Sirowitz, Hank Starrs, Sean Street, Seamus Sweeney, Joel Barraquiel Tan, Heather Taylor, Roisin Tierney, Rodrigo Toscano, Ilija Trojanow, Alison Trower, Paul Vermeersch, John Welch, John Hartley Williams, Philip Wilson, Max Winter, Harriet Zinnes.

Because The Truth About Poetry Is Not Being Told, The Truth Of Poetry Is Not Being Appreciated

The media in the UK - and elsewhere - often reports on the claim that "poetry is dead". And, it is true that poetry is not widely read or appreciated by most people in the West - not, in brief, a part of their daily lives.

It doesn't have to be this way - though I myself am not in a position to effect a system-change on my own, of course.

Poetry is not currently well served, in Britain, and beyond, by a number of developments that, over the years, have managed to quell the actual thriving potential of poetry, its dissemination, and its appreciation.

Bluntly, poetry, rather than being seen as a process and a procedure, like "science", that has thousands of practitioners engaged in ongoing mutually-related work (a communal, progressive, and even Utopian model), is defined as an exclusive, minority exercise. This limits the sense of discovery and excitement actually connected to the art form that is poetry, and also minimises its daily relevance to most people.

For instance, as an Internet poetry editor (for I know that there are, as a modest estimate, maybe over 1,000 good or interesting poets now writing in the English language, scattered across the globe. I am not saying most or all (or any) of these poets are geniuses, or "major" figures. But they are genuinely involved in writing poetry. If one adds the students in creative writing courses, and graduates of said courses, also distributed across the world, one could say that, at least, another 10,000 people are interested in writing poetry in English in 2007. I would imagine this figure is more like 50,000.

In Britain, alone, I could offer a list of between 150-250 poets, some young, some old, worthy of being read seriously. Another few thousand are sincerely engaged in bettering their writing, and are studying the form. Too few of these writers are able to find a publisher.

This dynamic, busy and engaged pursuit, by thousands of serious poets is not the truth about poetry that is told, by many publishers, societies, contests, and critics - because, for marketing reasons (and marketing is foreign to poetry, just as it should be to science and its procedures), a different, indeed, opposite story is told: that poets are rare, extraordinary beings, and that the collection one holds in one's hands will "transform" the daily into something "magical". Rather than emphasising the interest in poems, by various poets, the procedure is to render (like the Hollywood star system) the art form into something both personalised and mystical. In this way, most publishers of poetry present their few new poets each decade. Some notable exceptions - Carcanet and Seren, to name but two, continue to be very open to a variety of approaches. Poetry Review and The Wolf, as magazines, champion an intelligent eclecticism.

Still, in the UK, there is a strong and striking division between various forms of poetic practice - performance, Internet, "experimental" and "traditional" - lines that are sometimes crossed, but rarely. The British class system, still present in many ways, supports hierarchical structures, cliques, and so on - as does the educational system - and this leads to a poetry publishing world often led by "schools" and establishment interests. It is noteworthy, for example, how few American, Canadian and Indian poets are published, or known, in England; and how few British readers of poetry are encouraged to look beyond a very narrow and prizes-approved band of poetry books.

And, some in Britain are not able to move beyond their own biases, to sample, even enjoy, poetries that may not live up to - may even move beyond - their own opinions of what poetry is, or can be. Too often, poetry is read as confirming voice, region, status, opinion, identity, rather than questioning all of this. Poetry whose diction, syntax, themes and forms are wilder, more open, more deviant, and less governed by decorum, are shied away from, as being too "American", too "modern", or simply "not mainstream". In the film, music and art worlds, in Britain, there is a healthy, thriving celebration of the "indie" scenes that feed and support the community - but the indie poetry scene (net-based, performative, young, often global) is marginalised here - and its energies soon siphoned into, indeed, film, art or music, instead, where an interest in post-modern ideas and popular culture is welcomed, not viewed as somehow rebarbitive.

I have found this closed-shop attitude frustrating. As the editor of many anthologies that explore and celebrate the plenitude of contemporary, international poetry (and poetics), I know poetry is like a river. It can be harnessed with a dam, to provide the stream that one prefers, to power the machines that one approves of - but the full force and natural depth of the source further downstream is far more impressive, and greater, than that.


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...