Friday, 30 January 2009

Poem by John Tranter

Eyewear is pleased to feature one of the true pioneers of online poetry this Friday, and one of the English-speaking world's most active, engaged and compelling contemporary poetic talents.

John Tranter (pictured) is the founding editor and publisher of the online literary magazine Jacket, at and is the leading Australian poet of his generation. For more than thirty years he has been at the forefront of the new poetry, questioning and extending its procedures.

He was born in Cooma, New South Wales, in 1943. He attended country schools, and took his BA in 1970 after attending university sporadically. He has worked mainly in publishing, teaching and radio production. He has lived in London (1966-67) and Singapore (1971-72), and now lives in Sydney.

He has published many volumes of poetry, including Urban Myths: 210 poems: New and Selected. A selection of his poems appears in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (New York, second edition, 1988). His recent books include The Floor of Heaven (Harper Collins, 1992), a book-length sequence of four verse narratives, At The Florida (UQP, 1993), which won the Melbourne Age Poetry Book of the Year award for 1993; Late Night Radio (1998) and several from Salt. He compiled and edited (with Philip Mead) the new Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1992), published in Britain and the US in 1995 as the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry.

Care and Feeding of a Small Poem

Allow enough sunlight. Ignore
that traffic, it’s going nowhere.
Wear something nice. When I smile,

smile. Write an entry in your diary
that will display, to future generations
of grieving fans, your fastidious manners.

Don’t let on how you grovelled
and sobbed when you were ten.
Stay away from violent or distressing movies.

A special recipe would go well here:
the baked eel you fondly imagine
everyone likes. And a watercolour,

or, failing the talent for that, a photograph
of a child on an empty, rain-soaked beach.
Write about how you live life to the full,

despite the migraine and the panic attacks.
Now secure all this in a locked box
and throw away the key.

poem by John Tranter

Cope Can't

Wendy Cope has been quoted by the BBC as suggesting the position of poet laureate be binned (or banned). What a pity. Cope - one of the truly beloved poets in the UK of the last 40 years (in the company of Larkin, Hegley and Hughes in terms of public esteem) - often uses her public profile in ways that endorse a conservative view of the world - witness her public opposition to copyleft poetry online.

I admire her a great deal, and consider her a friend, but often find myself disagreeing with her opinions, if rarely disagreeing with her poems. Ironically, she seems to undermine her own position - that poets should write poems, not become statement-machines - by actually being that rare thing - a poet the press and people want to hear from, on any number of topics, not all of them poetic. Anyway, her latest jibe at the poet laureate position is, I think, sad, because she would have made a great one. She's wrong, in my book, to think the "role" of the poet is merely to "write poems". In this wired age, where intertextuality, education, and the Internet, fuse ceaselessly, poets are, above all else, master communicators - and what a "poem" is is expanding.

As Broadband moves into every UK home in 2012, what new forms of hybrid poems may emerge - ever-more performative, digital, or multidimensional? A poet laureate needs to reach out, I think, to several communities - the young, who need to believe poetry can speak to them, and also, the educated and well-off, who more and more tend to prefer novels, plays, and films, to a good collection of poems. A third community is the disenfranchised - a poet laureate can speak to and from the margins, of class or wealth as well. I have tried to speak to all three of these communities as Oxfam's poet-in-residence, 2004-0ngoing, through various events, and CDs etc. Ultimately, Andrew Motion made the position viable again, and very 21st century. Cope's complaint seems very last-century, and does much to undermine what could be an increasingly innovative and wide-reaching remit.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Eulogy For Jack Swift

Jack Swift was a Montreal lawyer and art collector, who died over Christmas, in the Eastern Townships, at the age of 72. He was also my father's brother, and my closest family friend. He was more than an uncle, but also my mentor, introducing me to many of the key interests of my life so far: Ireland, literature, theatre, music, film, and the genius of queer culture. Below is the eulogy I wrote for his funeral, edited a little, as some of the comments are too personal for a blog.


Those who knew Jack Swift will know that, in his dying, the world has lost an extraordinary figure. We are so often informed by the media that X or Y is charismatic or larger than life that we sometimes forget to test such claims against our own experience. John A. A. Swift was truly larger than life - the sort of brilliant, compelling enthusiast, bon vivant and interlocutor who instantly dominated - no other word will do - almost any situation he found himself in. In his modes of personal and public conduct (which had its tragic dimensions, to be sure) there was something of genius.

Jack Swift did nothing by halves - but always with grandiose intent, and extravagant style. In many ways Jack was an heir to Oscar Wilde - with the intriguing addition - suitably paradoxical - of that killer legal mind of his that made Jack equally enjoy reading Carson's masterful prosecution of Saint Oscar during his trial; in this way, exemplifying the fusion of Walter Pater's 19th century aestheticism and a more 18th century Swiftian approach to rhetorical style.

I wish to place Jack in such a literary context because that is what he himself did - and how he lived his own richly-imagined, complex and complicated life. Jack Swift lived the life that Pater inspired Wilde to, when he wrote that life should be lived as if a work of art, beyond moral utility, sufficient unto itself for justification:

Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to be seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy? To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.

In this way, Jack Swift's life was a success. I can think of few other people who have so consistently, throughout their life, pursued beauty with such desire. As a child, I recall Jack's wonderful gifts (wonderful being one of his key words) - he loved giving people lovely things and was often superbly generous (he had a tender heart as we know). In my case, the gift was books. At Christmas, he'd sign the book with the year, and his name. So it is, I still treasure Irish Fairytales - Christmas 1972. Jack was fascinated by Ireland and its myths.


Jack would have enjoyed being a Sultan or Asiatic potentate one imagines, if only for the Byzantine patterns on the tiles, and the golden pillows. Jack had a definite genius as an interior decorator, of course - who can forget his various impeccably, if exotically furnished homes, in Point Claire, in Westmount, and so on - all decked out with the style and pomp of Kane's Xanadu. His taste in antiques, and art objects, was impeccable. Jack once explained to me, driving back from the Shaw Festival, the philosophy behind his seemingly wilful extravagance: Otto Preminger.

As the possibly apocryphal story goes, Preminger, a young man over from Europe, arrived in America an unknown quantity. He promptly checked himself in to the best room at the best hotel in New York, without the means to foot the bill. Within days, word had circulated that he was there. Soon, the cream of New York's show biz world was seeking him out. Suddenly, the penniless man had work.

Jack loved the idea of such self-created importance - the perfomativity, the event, that declares a person's wonderful difference, indeed, their panache. In Jack's impressively decorated Montreal office of Swift & Associates, there hangs a solemn portrait of a bald, round-faced gentleman, dressed in the manner of a mid-Victorian solicitor. Visitors arriving at the offices might be forgiven for assuming that the portrait was the founder of an august, longstanding law firm. But no.

Jack had simply spotted the portrait, and the uncanny resemblance to himself. Jack was the first in his family to go to university (though thanks to him not the last) - and was the first lawyer in his family, starting the firm himself, after graduating with superb grades from McGill, where he'd studied with, among others, Professor F.R. Scott, law scholar and modernist poet.

This portrait therefore doubles as both mirror of anxiety, and sly sense of showmanship - the Wildean mask that tells a truth. Jack loved illusion, drama, theatre - how artifice can reveal depths, how the surface is also in itself profound. Jack loved plays, playwrights, actresses, and actors.

He once invited the entire starring cast of a major motion picture to dinner at Montreal's then most-expensive restaurant, providing limousine service to and from the private party, and ended up having to deal with a very drunk, unruly Oliver Reed. Since he had no script to peddle, and no urge to be an actor himself, there was no cynical reason to spend thousands on such a blow-out, except his urge to create, and then participate in, a marvellous event.

Jack enjoyed the full delights of the theatre - as a true connoisseur - its sensuous, emotional, and intellectual offerings. He knew plays by Shaw, Shakespeare, Maxwell Anderson, and O'Neill - and the names of the players who had premiered them in London and New York - sometimes because he had been there himself. He was proud to have sat through all of Man and Superman. He loved, most of all, perhaps, the poignant, erotic, gothic family dramas of Tennessee Williams.

If one were seeking for the quintessential act of Jack's life, consider his three-day Odyssey across America, upon learning of the death of Williams (who he had once spent an afternoon with in a bar in Key West), to place a Maple Leaf on the great writer's descending coffin - thereby perfectly symbolizing his kind heart, his love of the plays, and of his homeland, and its great natural beauty.

Jack was a great patriot - he loved Montreal, he loved Quebec, and he loved Canada. Arguably, his fondness for hockey, and the Montreal Canadiens summed all these loves up in one form. One of his favourite musicals was Nelligan, which tells of the tortured life of the half-francophone, half-Irish-Canadian, poet. Jack loved to follow the careers of Canadians abroad, in music, film, theatre - like Norman Jewison, or Rufus Wainwright. He was immensely proud of the creative potential, not only of his own family, but of our home and native land.

It remains a mystery why Jack never completed his cleverly-titled play Atwater Square Dancers, about a sensitive young man seeking love. After all, his sense of drama, of language, and of occasion (as anyone on the receiving end of one of his eloquent tirades or legal letters will recall) was certainly masterful, even, at times, unparalleled. He was, though, at heart, modest. He'd come so far in life, and gotten past a few societal prejudices along the way.

Still, his enthusiastic engagement with great songs, and entertainment across decades meant his friends and close family were generously included in his appreciation of what his excellent taste early discovered. Jack was not, then, a selfish aesthete, but a critic who enlarged appreciation of things by his notice of them.


Though his brother Tom had the music recording career, Jack himself had a beautiful singing voice. Jack was always open to celebrating, even swooning over, delicious, delightful new talent - forever sensing when someone's artistry was both stylish and true. What Jack loved most - aside from his family and loyal friends was the idea of ceremony itself - indeed, ceremonies of experience - often consummated in courtship, or communion. This is the metaphysical tradition, that tension between the world of the sacred and sensual.

Jack helped us all to see the poetry in life. He made us believe that the dream of art and beauty is no dream at all for one with a writer's vocation, or artist's soul. Instead, it is a reality, painfully made of experience and artifice. In my case, this helped inspire me to become a poet. His encouragement and love and friendship was ongoing, from the moment I could talk, to the last time we spoke, a few weeks back.


No longer can we look forward to having steak tartare, a bloody Caesar, and a brilliantly bitchy, funny conversation with him. Jack admired men like Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Truman Capote - men of glittering words and flamboyant creativity. Such writers, in a sense, enabled him to find a place in the world, and he was, to a degree, their creation. However, Jack with his exceptionally stylish, kind, fierce manner - his unique face, voice, perspective, and bearing - was a true original. His legacy is our memory of him, and, indeed, our great sorrow at his passing - for nothing great leaves the world without a wounding.

I think it is apt to end with a quote from Blanche DuBois:

Maybe we are a long way from being made in God's image, but Stella, my sister, there has been some progress since then! Such things as art - as poetry and music - such kinds of new light have come into the world since then! In some kinds of people some tenderer feelings have had some little beginning! That we have got to make grow! And cling to, and hold as our flag! In this dark march toward whatever it is we're approaching. Don't, don't hang back with the brutes!

In Jack Swift's heart, the tenderer feelings were flown as a flag at high mast.

Guest Review: Naomi on Women's Work

Katrina Naomi reviews
Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English
edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack

This is a whopping great book, twice the size of the last women’s poetry anthology that I read, and features 271 poets. I don’t envy the editors’ task: Eva Salzman and Amy Wack have set out to provide a modern-day canon, and I’m impressed with the variety of poetry which they’ve chosen. Eva Salzman tackles the potential ‘own goal’ of producing a gender-segregated anthology head on.

Her introduction is impassioned and thought-provoking. In my pre-poetry life, I worked as a gender officer. Yet I still found my eyebrows gravitating skywards when I heard of a new women’s anthology. Isn’t this just a teensy bit out of date? But Eva Salzman’s rigorous essay shows why such an anthology is still needed. I won’t rehash all the arguments here, buy the book and read them for yourself - it’s well worth it. But even a cursory glance through any number of anthologies will show that male poets’ work is chosen over women’s. Eva Salzman provides a battery of statistics to prove the point. She concludes by stating ‘many editors (mostly male) […] are simply not familiar enough with women poets. This book, in introducing this part of the canon and re-writing the list of “essentials”, throws down the gauntlet to future critics and editors in the hope they can better represent the true breadth and vitality of the tradition’.

While this anthology includes a wealth of poets that I would hope to find in any anthology, whether gendered or otherwise, including: Eavan Boland, Colette Bryce, Amy Clampitt, Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy, Nual Ní Dhomhnaill, U.A. Fanthorpe, Louise Gluck, Marilyn Hacker, Mimi Khalvati, Marianne Moore, Sharon Olds (more of which later), Alice Oswald, Pascale Petit, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Carol Rumens, Anne Sexton, Stevie Smith and Anne Stevenson, the real interest in Women‘s Work is the discovery of poets that I hadn’t previously read, or knew little about.

In this latter category I would include: Amanda Dalton, Christine Evans, Lauris Edmond, Beth Ann Fennelly, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gwendolyn MacEwen and Ellen Bryant Voigt. Ask yourself, ask other poets, male and female, how well do you know these poets’ work? I’ll confess that I’d never heard of any of them before. Here’s a taster, from the opening lines of Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘The Small Vases from Hebron’: ‘Tip their mouths open to the sky/The turquoise, amber,/the deep green with fluted handle,/pitcher the size of two thumbs,/tiny lip and graceful waist.’ From here, the politics of the poem cuts in, culminating with: ‘But the child of Hebron sleeps/with the scud of her brothers falling/and the long sorrow of the colour red.’

The editors have provided a decent-length biography on every anthology poet, so it’s easy to find out more about the poets’ work, publishing record and background. The editors say that they set out to bridge ‘the US, UK and Ireland divides’. While I might quibble about divides, it is true that most of the poets I knew little or nothing about were North American.

On more familiar ground, I was delighted to see recognition of the work of poets whose writing deserves to be far better known, including: Eavan Boland, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carolyn Forché and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Here is a central image from Brigid Pegeen Kelly’s ‘Imagining Their Own Hymns’, in which angels ‘are sick of Jesus,/who never stops dying, hanging there white/and large, his shadow blue as pitch’.

The inclusion of Eavan Boland in the list of poets that I feel deserve to be far better known and in the list of those I might expect to see in any anthology is deliberate, and goes to the heart of the reason for this book. Indeed, Eavan Boland has written on the difficulties of being a woman and being a poet in her wonderful Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in our Time. For anyone who doesn’t know her work, I would recommend 'An Elegy For My Mother In Which She Scarcely Appears’ and ‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’. Both are included in this anthology.

Most of the poets included in Women’s Work have just the one entry on which to judge them. This is in contrast to many other anthologies of women’s poetry before them, ranging from Making for Planet Alice (1997) to Salt and Bitter and Good (1975) - one British, one North American. T here are pros and cons to both strategies. Women’s Work provides access to a far larger number of poets. Yet it can be hard to get a lasting impression from one poem. Having said that, the editors have chosen the single poems wisely.

A handful of poets have three or more poems in this anthology, namely: Emily Dickinson, Carol Ann Duffy, Marilyn Hacker, Jane Hirshfield, Phillis Levin, Denise Levertov and Eva Salzmann. I do have some questions about the balance of the anthology. For example, I was surprised to find that Sharon Olds has just the one poem 'I Go Back to May 1937’ and even Sylvia Plath only has two: ‘Lady Lazarus‘ and ‘Sheep in Fog‘.

The editors discuss the issues around the ‘omissions’, some of which are down to cost - putting together an anthology is an extremely expensive exercise - but I also wonder if the editors may have decided that Sylvia Plath, at least, is so well known that space might be given over to lesser-known poets? Still, I really missed ‘Morning Song’, among many others.

However, a much-lamented omission is that of Elizabeth Bishop. It is clear that the editors worked hard to overcome this. It is generally known that Elizabeth Bishop did not want her poetry to appear in gender-segregated books, and this anthology is the poorer for that. However, in a neat move, Eva Salzman sidesteps the problem by suggesting four ‘crucial’ poems that readers should seek out - and here again, the choices are good: ‘In the Waiting Room’, ‘One Art’, ‘The Fish’ and ‘The Fishhouses’; thereby enabling Elizabeth Bishop’s work to be ‘present’, in at least some sense of the word.

There is also frequent reference to Elizabeth Bishop’s work (and to Sylvia Plath) in the introduction, which was insightful and compelling. So the editors have done their best here to square the circle. I expect they are now wishing they’d included a poem or two from the recent TS Eliot Prize winner Jen Hadfield.

I have no complaints about the range, in both content and style in this anthology. This is not specifically ‘feminist’ poetry (whatever that might be). There are poems about love, about children, about the home. I’m also happy to report that there are poems about war, greed and sex. T here are poems about virtually any issue you can think of. The book is divided into 14 sections, some of which are tighter in terms of theme than others.

The ‘themes’ where I found the strongest poems included: ‘The Work of Art (The Arts, Fine and Otherwise)’, ‘The Mechanics of a Body (The Body, Science)’, ‘A Word’s Work (Language and Writing)’ and ‘Insiders, Outsiders (Culture, Heritage, Identity, Displacement & Exile)’. And formalists will be delighted at the range of poetry on offer. There are sonnets by the bucket load.

The anthology purports to feature poetry that should be considered part of the modern canon. On the whole this works, but the inclusion of work from some poets from the early part of the twentieth century or even further back is a puzzle. For the most part these work brilliantly: poems by Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker sparkle in this book. Indeed, Emily Dickinson’s poems crop up with a pleasing regularity throughout the anthology. At six entries, she has been honoured with the largest number of poems by any poet in the book, including one of my favourites ‘341’ or ‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes -’. However, try as I might, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnet 43’ and Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’ don’t cut it for me as modern poems.

If I do have a criticism, it concerns production rather than content or ideology. This anthology really could have done with another proof before going to press. There are some typos that might have been avoided, and surely will be corrected in the next edition.

I would encourage men and women to read this book. The subject matter is as wide as you can imagine and I’d be amazed if you didn’t come across a number of brilliant poets (or poems) that you’d never heard of before. You might also wonder why that is. If that is the case, then this anthology and its editors will have achieved what they set out to do.

Katrina Naomi Naomi won the 2008 Templar Poetry Competition and the 2008 Ledbury Festival Text Poem Contest. Her first pamphlet, Lunch at the Elephant & Castle is published by Templar Poetry. She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths. She has received a Hawthornden Fellowship for 2009.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Not Since 1945

This is, perhaps ominously, the 1,221st post at Eyewear - perhaps apt for a 21st century blog reporting on the worst economic crisis of the postmodern period. Indeed, there's an argument to be made that, since Britain is now about to enter a period of economic slump not seen since the austerity years of 1945 (according to the IMF), this first decade of the new century ends, ushering in a new era - one curiously mixed in outlook: exciting because Americans seem about to renew themselves, but dire as the world grinds to a halt. Will 2010-2019 be the decade of Green fightback, as we address the climate and remake the market economy in the new image of Obama? Or is this a new Great Depression, Mark II?

Peacock on Canadian Poetry

Molly Peacock has blogged about the ways in which American and Canadian poets relate to their British peers. Now, blogs are always a bad place to locate someone's poetics, or deepest thoughts, but I for one was a little disappointed by this simplistic take on things. Now, I need to say, I am in the book she has series edited, Best Canadian Poems in English 2008, and am very proud to be; I admire her work immensely, as poet, and editor.

Still: I feel it's not enough to observe the cultural and aesthetic differences of American and Canadians, by commenting on the fact Canucks have the Queen on their money, or "stayed at home" with "mom and pop" while the noble Yanks broke free of the British empire. I think American poetry is a lot more complex than that (many American poets draw on British and European traditions) - and I know for sure British and Canadian poetry is far more complex. For one thing, Peacock doesn't really observe the biggest shadow of all hanging over her blog post: the American one.

America, despite suddenly being wonderful again, has bothered Canadians since day one, because its economic, political, and cultural clout is so impressive and often dominant. Canadians spend more time breaking away from America, without having to break away from Britain. On that point, few Canadians actually read much new British verse these days - though I agree that Babstock and Starnino do. Nor is "British poetry" monolithic - it has many streams that diverge, from the work of Prynne, to that of Lumsden.

It's ironic, to me, that Peacock hears so much Britishness in Canadian poetry, when what I tend to hear (being in Britain) is how American the Canadian poets tend to sound. Sure, Americans that have read some canonical poems by Brits - but still swaggeringly, robustly, loosely, American in tone and style. I for one think Canadian poetry would be wise to move back closer to some of the British and Irish roots of its own poetry, rather than locate all its force in the immediate geocultural facts of its environment. Poetry may come from local things, but style, form, and the conversation poems have with each other need to extend, broadly, beyond such limits, to enter the canons of the future - diverse and global as they look to be.

Poets Blog New Poems About Obama

Thanks to the Weekly Rader blog for alerting me to this - an exciting new blog about Obama's first 100 days. So far, so good.

John Updike Has Died

Sad news. Poet and prose writer John Updike has died. Updike's was the epitome of a suave, suburban, East Coast style, cannily sexual and alert to the mores and foibles of a post-war period of boom and lust. The attention to detail in his writing was often half the fun. The poems, while often slight and merely clever, were of their age, and will likely be studied with renewed attention now. His work, it seems, may have been eclipsed in seeming importance this last decade, as his peer, Roth, emerged as a writer of greater range and output, but Updike was still a major figure to many, a man of letters who, had he lived, would always have been a potential winner of the Nobel.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Hooray For Horovitz!

The Oxfam Winter Poetry Festival 2009 continues tonight, with its second event.
All events at the Oxfam Books and Music shop
91 Marylebone High Street, London W1
5 minutes from Baker Street tube station
TUESDAY, 27 January – 7 pm start time
3 Performance Poets for Oxfam
“Hooray for Horovitz!” Night
with the Australian Tug Dumbly
The UK’s very own John Hegley
and Special Guest Michael Horovitz
Please reserve seats for these events by contacting shop manager Martin Penny by phone at 020 7487 3570
Admission free. Suggested £8 donation for the events.
All money raised goes to Oxfam, a registered charity.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Robert Burns at 250

Today is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns. An article published today thinks about his legacy. Few poets "last" more than their own lifetime, or even a few decades. To be read, and loved, 250 years later, is extremely rare, and therefore both impressive, and worth thinking about. For the general public, poets who last like Burns are symbols, or emblems, of whole ways of life - they represent, for instance, Scotland, or even joyous living. They can become cliches, that actually block the way forward for new poetry to be equally read and understood.

As the years go by, what gets neglected, in a way, is the poetry itself. Even now, this is happening, I fear, with Yeats. It long ago happened to Tennyson. Fewer people can now recite, from memory, lines or poems by these once-popular figures. As they recede, they become memories and imagos, the figures on the Arundel Tomb, but not the living force. I wonder which, if any, currently living Scottish poet will be so beloved in 2259? Will Burns be displaced, or remain the stopper in the bottle?

Saturday, 24 January 2009

BBC Sees No Evil

What an odd and ill-judged decision the BBC has made, in refusing to broadcast an appeal to aid the people of Gaza. They continue to be a cack-handed outfit.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Poem by Jared Carter

Eyewear is pleased to welcome, this Friday, Jared Carter (pictured), who lives in Indianapolis. The photo is by Diane Carter.

During a long writing career that began in the early 1960s, when he was living in France, he has published three collections of verse – the first with Macmillan in New York, the second and third with the Poetry Center at Cleveland State University. All three volumes remain in print.

A fourth book of poems, entitled Cross this Bridge at a Walk, is now out from Wind Publications in Kentucky.

In the UK Carter’s work has appeared in Stand Magazine, Agenda, and Outposts Poetry Quarterly. Over the years, Carter has written in many poetic styles and forms, from the traditional to the experimental. A selection of his poems, stories, essays, and photographs may be found on his web site at Jared Carter Poetry.

Carter believes the future of poetry and of publishing in general lies with the world wide web. Cyberspace offers great opportunities for new and emerging poets from around the world. In the few years he has been active online, he has managed to post a number of prose poems, fables, and tales. Links to these works continue to be added to his web site.

Five variations on an entry in the diary of Virginia Woolf

There looms ahead of me the shadow
of some kind of form which the diary
might attain. I might in the course
of time learn what it is that one can make
of this loose, drifting material of life;
finding another use for it.

Ahead of me there looms some kind
of form or shadow. In the course
of time I might learn what it is that
one can make of this material. I might
attain this life, finding another use
for this diary, this loose drifting.

What is it that one might attain,
that I might make of this material?
Drifting, this loose shadow looms
ahead of me. In the course of time,
finding another diary of form,
I might learn some kind of use for it.

I might learn what it is that one
can make of time – finding another
use for it in the course of life.
I might attain some kind of shadow
of form. This loose material looms
ahead of me, this diary of drifting.

In the course of finding form,
in this drifting, what can one make
of time? Loose, I might attain shadow.
A diary for another use. I might
learn what this life is. Some kind
of material looms ahead of me.

Ahead of me, some form looms.
There, I might attain some kind
of drifting diary. I might learn
what of me is another time.
In the course of finding life, what
use can one make of shadow?

poem by Jared Carter

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Oxfam Winter Poetry Festival 2009

The Oxfam Winter Poetry Festival 2009 starts tonight

All events at the Oxfam Books and Music shop
91 Marylebone High Street, London W1
5 minutes from Baker Street tube station

THURSDAY, 22 January – 7pm start time
6 Poets for Oxfam
Featuring UK debut of American poet Annie Finch, with readings by
Emily Berry, Mimi Khalvati, Sarah Law, Sandeep Parmar, and Kathryn Simmonds


Sarah Law
Sarah Law is a senior lecturer in creative writing at London Metropolitan University, and an associate lecturer in creative writing for the Open University. She writes both lyrical and more experimental poetry; Bliss Tangle was published by Stride in 1999, and The Lady Chapel in 2004, also by Stride. Her latest collection is Perihelion (Shearsman, 2006) with a fourth collection due to be published by Shearsman later this year. A selection of her poems is included in the forthcoming Bloodaxe anthology Identity Parade. She also researches issues of gender and spirituality: a chapter on medieval mystic Julian of Norwich is appearing in the forthcoming volume Julian of Norwich's Legacy from Palgrave Macmillan.

Sandeep Parmar
was born in England but spent many years living in and around Southern California. She received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in 2003. Her PhD in English Literature at University College London is on the unpublished autobiographies of the modernist poet, Mina Loy. She contributed to the Salt Companion to Mina Loy, which is due out later this year. Sandeep is currently at Newnham College, Cambridge as a Member of High Table. She is researching for an edition of Hope Mirrlees's poems that she is co-editing with James Byrne (due out from Carcanet in 2011). She is also Reviews Editor for The Wolf. She lectures in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire and for The Open University. Her poetry will be included in the anthology from Bloodaxe, Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century edited by James Byrne and Clare Pollard (2009).

Kathryn Simmonds
Kathryn Simmonds was born in Hertfordshire in 1972. Her first full collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette was published in 2008 by Seren and was a Poetry Book Society recommendation; it then won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. In 2006 she won the Poetry London Competition. Like many of the leading younger British poets of the moment, she has an MA in Creative Writing - from the University of East Anglia. Simmonds also writes short stories. She works as an editor and lives in north London.



Emily Berry
won an Eric Gregory Award in 2008. She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College and her poetry has appeared in various magazines, most recently Ambit, Poetry Wales and The Manhattan Review. Her pamphlet collection, Stingray Fevers, was published at the end of last year by Tall-Lighthouse and a selection of her work will appear in Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century.

Mimi Khalvati
has published six collections with Carcanet Press, including Selected Poems (2000) and The Chine (2002). She is the founder of The Poetry School, where she teaches, and co-editor of its three anthologies of new writing published by Enitharmon Press. In 2006, she received a Cholmondeley Award and her new collection, The Meanest Flower (Carcanet 2007), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. Mimi was one of the first poets to read for the Oxfam series, in 2004, and her help then was most appreciated. It is good to welcome her back.

Annie Finch
Annie Finch’s books of poetry include The Encyclopedia of Scotland, Eve, and Calendars, as well as a translation of the Complete Poems of Renaissance poet Louise Labé. Her collaborations with theater, art, and dance include the libretto for the opera Marina. She has also published books of poetics, most recently The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self, and five anthologies of poetry and poetics. She is a Professor of English at the University of Southern Maine, founder of the international Discussion of Women’s Poetry listserv, and Director of the Stonecoast low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.


TUESDAY, 27 January – 7 pm start time
3 Performance Poets for Oxfam
“Hooray for Horovitz!” Night
with the Australian Tug Dumbly
The UK’s very own John Hegley
and Special Guest Michael Horovitz

THURSDAY, 5 March – 7 pm start time
The Manhattan Review Launch in London
With special guests Phil Fried, in from New York, and Penelope Shuttle.
And Featuring “The Young British Poets”, such as Joe Dunthorne, Daljit Nagra, Luke Kennard, Nathan Hamilton, Melanie Challenger, Alex McRae, Sally Read, Isobel Dixon, and others

Please reserve seats for these events by contacting shop manager Martin Penny
By email or phone. 020 7487 3570

Admission free. Suggested £8 donation for the events. All money raised goes to Oxfam, a registered charity.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

So, how was it for you?

Never such tristesse! The post-mall swearing-in of President Obama has left the world collectively experiencing a disappointed lull. Did the earth move for you during Yo-Yo's sub-Star Wars turn? How about the poem?, which I could barely follow.

Odd, how the actual words seemed to stumble from the great man's mouth, as he swore on Lincoln's bible. Did you enjoy Reverend Warren's brimfire valediction? Still, the speech - though delivered at a rat-a-tat pace and with the solemnity of a News on the March announcement - was rhetorically and poetically superb - though apparently written in Starbucks.

The power of it, from a literary perspective, was in its use of allusion, allegory, intertextuality, and, symbolism. It was a truly multi-dimensional text, hyper-potent because the speaker's performance of the words had an uncanny echo in so many other aspects of the traditional spaces he was filling, and by his presence, changing forever - that is, the very monuments and buildings, the very geography, supplied his themes - from reference to the wintry Washington soldiers huddling by the Potomac, - to, as several commentators have already written, key figures, such as Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR, and King.

It was the Milton, then, not the Shakespeare, of all speeches - but it may be the most compelling, and dramatic, in Western history, rivalled only, perhaps, by those of Cicero, or Caesar. Simply put, Obama is dramatic in a way that usually only characters in great drama or poetry are - because his very presence signals immense change, and there is much to be put right. The suspense is immense, to be Cassius Clay about it.

I wonder how Harold Bloom reads all this canonicity and influence, these quotes upon quotes of older speeches, the use of ancient tropes, dusted off for new work. One yearns to have Walt Whitman around, to see this. Obama makes one feel that even that resurrection is almost possible.

Kathleen Byron Has Died

Sad news. The actress Kathleen Byron, unforgettable as the sex-maddened nun, in British classic Black Narcissus, (pictured), has died. This is one of Eyewear's favourite films, since its exotic blend of garishness, artifice, the perverse, religiosity, the far-flung, and Englishness combine to make it a truly strange and potent blend - subversive popular cinema.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


The greatest politician of our time is about to become president. This is the pivotal TV and online event of the digital age, and rivals the moon landing as a key shared moment of the global village. Godspeed, Mr. Obama.

Guest Review: Pugh on Corbett

Meryl Pugh reviews
Other Beasts
by Sarah Corbett

By this, her third collection, it is clear that Sarah Corbett has gathered around her a compelling set of personal motifs; childhood, animals (horses, in particular), hills, moors and the night. It would be lazy to call her work Gothic, because it doesn't deliberately set out to create unease, but her poems accept the blood-and-guts surrounding life (a single eyeball, a dead hare), and often find solace in the strangeness that night brings.

Corbett is adept at the well-placed, acute image; two girls caught by lightning are 'a puzzle in each others' arms' in 'Lightning', rabbits have unnerving, 'bead-berry eyes' in 'Nocturne', and she uses juxtapositions that are often startling – and startlingly beautiful. For example, a fox tosses a sheep corpse over its back 'like a crown of blossom' in 'Fox at Midnight', and the 'Mountain Pony' settles 'the bird of its fear' on a concrete floor.

There's a density to the diction, caused by strong consonance. Follow the recurrence of f, t and l sounds in these two other examples of beautiful, acute imagery: Hale Bopp is 'a fist of flung glitter' in 'Comet', and in 'Rivers, Roads', '...the city just left' is '...frost on leaf, just that'. The packed repetition of consonants slows the line down, forcing the reader to enunciate clearly and giving the words a deliberated weight, which underscores the evident rhythmic control of the lines. Corbett shares that control with her presiding spirit, Elizabeth Bishop, whose work furnishes several of the poems with epigraphs.

This is how I'd scan the end of 'Birthday', the first poem in the book (the italicised syllables being those with the heaviest stress):

' I bark, bark. Other beasts
complain back under the weight of dark.'

I'm aware there are other scansion possibilities, especially at the start of that last line, but this is how I'd read it. Notice the slip back into iambic rhythm at the end, releasing the narrator into the night through which she runs. Notice also, the dense patterning of those hard consonants, not to mention the use of rhyme. When this occurs, the poem seems a solid, precise thing, shaped by axes and chisels. This is distinctively Corbett; her music.

This poet is clearly beginning to look well beyond the sphere of the immediately personal (which is often allied with a contemporary, physical perspective on the pastoral). One sequence of poems derives its subject from photographs by Jeff Wall. Another takes the news not only as its subject but also its substance; it was created by collaging headlines that appeared at the start of the Iraq War. And it is when given a subject not directly related to the autobiographical self that Corbett's gifts really come alive. 'Dreaming History', set in a time of civil war, and the sequence 'Testimony', based on the murder of Peter Falconio, are vivid, urgent and convincing. I wonder what Corbett's imagination might do outside the confines of the modern lyric poem. I'm looking forward to the appearance of the verse novel on which she's currently working.

I can't help thinking she's a little ill-served by the emphasis placed on her work's autobiographical content. Would I have known about "the troubled childhood spent in north Wales, redeemed by a love of horses" if I hadn't read the blurb on the back of Other Beasts? I'm not sure. I might have guessed something. A more interesting question is, do I need that knowledge to enjoy and make meaning of this collection? And there I think the answer has to be no.

Of course, Corbett writes out of her autobiography. How can a lyric poet – or indeed, any writer – fail to do otherwise? But the writing has to move beyond the details of a life, otherwise, as Billy Collins has observed, the poem risks failing 'to take advantage of the imaginative liberty that poetry offers' and becoming no more than 'an entry in the log of the self's journey'. [i] I don't find the closed, charged chamber of the confessional poem in Other Beasts, nor a meander through the past's titbits. Instead, I find a series of beautiful, unsettling, lyric moments, and several compelling sequences that look outwards to the contemporary and wider world.

[i] Billy Collins (2001), 'My Grandfather's Tackle Box: The Limits of Memory-Driven Poetry' in Poetry, Vol. 178, No. 8, pp. 278-287, p. 281.

Meryl Pugh has reviewed for Poetry London and Poetry Review. She obtained a distinction in the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. A pamphlet collection, Relinquish, was published by Arrowhead Press in 2007.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Swift Report 2008

In the past, these reports of mine have blended the personal with the public - and this year will be no different, except that I have less and less time for self-advertisement (though I am sure some followers of Eyewear will arch an eye at that suggestion). Basically, 2008 ended none too soon - it was a dreadful year in some ways.

My beloved Uncle Jack went into hospital in December. Then, Jack died, three weeks ago. I plan to write about him more later - his loss is too recent. But let me just say he was my best friend, and poetry mentor, since I was a child, and his death is the death of a second father.

So, what was the good of the year? I want to pause and note I have very good talented kind friends, and an extraordinary wife (who never appears at this blog only because she insists on it). I have, also, though this is often roughly-shaken, a faith, that, with stoicism as its backbone, and 21st century theology as its astringent companion, somehow muddles through. I continue to want to insist on the possibility of there being a God - I feel the closing of any door that big reduces the enigma of the universe profoundly. I also believe in faeries and unicorns, and microbes on Mars. I think I also believe that I could one day sail to Byzantium. One of the chief pleasures of being a poet is that one can dare to dream. The 21st century has become a cheap place, diminished by silly rationalism that has thrown out the wonder with the water.

Anyway, the chief events of 2008 that need to be celebrated (for me) are, I launched my New and Selected poems, called Seaway, in November. I have been a published, working poet since I was 18, so, at 42, this was a looking back over 20 and more years of writing. Salmon did a great job with it, thanks also to my friend Etienne who helped design the book, and also Patrick Chapman, for editing it, as well as Kevin Higgins, who wrote the Intro, and of course publisher Jessie Lendennie.

Also, in 2008, I co-edited the Oxfam Children's CD. I edited a special section of young British poets for The Manhattan Review. A poem of mine appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry of 2008 in English, edited by Stephanie Bolster - a great honour. I was also invited to read poetry at Oxford, a great thrill. Finally, some of my reviews appeared in some good places, such as Poetry Review and Poetry London.

I also continued to work on my PhD, which is a year or so away from completion now.

I suppose the best of the remaining news is I was hired as a lecturer at Kingston University.

In terms of travels, I went hill-walking in Exmoor National Park for a week, with some good friends. I also spent ten days in Greece. My wife and I spent a weekend with our dear friends, poet/novelist Lisa Pasold, and singer-actor-dramatist Bremner Duthie, for the Edinburgh Fringe, where Bremner's brilliant show, Whiskey Bars, was a smash hit. And, several times voyaged to Ireland, where I enjoy going to Mass, and having conversations with one of the wisest and kindest men in the world, Fr. Brennan.

I suppose there was more news at some stage, but that's it for now. I think seeing my friend Emily Berry launch her new collection was a special treat, too. Oh - one final good memory - watching Obama win with Nathan Hamilton, the poet.

Remind me what else I missed out on, but that's a lot. Have a good 2009.

More and more I see life and poetry as fortunate favours that come and go lightly, and we must be grateful for whatever bread we get.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Andrew Wyeth Has Died

For some, Andrew Wyeth is a mere purveyor of trite Americana, of kitsch, of illustrative, sentimental pap. Okay, he's no Rothko. He was not abstract. However, as the painting above shows, Mr. Wyeth was one of the finest American painters of a gothic-realist school, that managed to convey the uncanny aspects of the natural world once peopled, in a manner that is both classic and strange. Wyeth, whose work I love and so do not resist, is the Robert Frost of painting, with all the sins and positives that suggests. Then again, I grew up near the countryside, and spent much time on farms and in woods, as a boy. I knew such people, with their weathered faces. I saw those homes, those fields. As David Lynch (an unexpected cornpone-weirdo follower perhaps) proves, there is much power and artistry in mining the odd surface of everyday rural and small-town America.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Poem by Annie Finch

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Annie Finch (pictured) to its pages this Friday, not least because she will be headlining a special event on 22 January in London for the Oxfam Winter Poetry Festival 2009. Those able to attend should: this will be her first time reading in the UK, and it is an opportunity not to be missed - her work is important.

Annie Finch’s books of poetry include The Encyclopedia of Scotland, Eve, and Calendars, as well as a translation of the Complete Poems of Renaissance poet Louise Labé. Her collaborations with theater, art, and dance include the libretto for the opera Marina. She has also published books of poetics, most recently The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self, and five anthologies of poetry and poetics.

She is a Professor of English at the University of Southern Maine, founder of the international Discussion of Women’s Poetry listserv, and Director of the Stonecoast low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Shallow Sky

In the deep houses, cellars speak alone
till whisper-eucalyptus finds his home --
but stripped, and sodden, like a man gone by
and idly ruined -- what once grew so high.
Now the deep houses are not the only gone.
His voice shows that more endings have been done.
And endings having done the endings, when
will endings come, and where can endings go?
Inheritors, we wait for it to show.

Not in the desperation of deep sky
or finitude of observation. I
have peace without that plenty. Shallow sky
unclench my fist, and sun lie on my eye
across my nose, and tell me how to die.

And it might come tomorrow. Many men
had their tomorrow yesterday. For them
I love a bomb; it ends me just like them.

Not in the desperation of deep sky
or finitude of observation. I
have peace without that plenty. Shallow sky
unclench my fist, and sun lie on my eye
across my nose, and tell me how to die.

poem by Annie Finch; forthcoming in Lost Poems 1985-1989

Sullenberger's Heroics

Move over, Lindbergh and tell Earhart the news - Chesley B. Sullenberger may be the finest American pilot of all time - as his brave, smart, and noble actions have shown in New York yesterday. Is this the start of the Obama effect? Good news seems to be breaking out like the measles.

In the meantime, hooray for the hero of the Hudson! Safety Reliability Methods - has a company ever had a better frontman?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan Has Died

Sad news. The great TV actor and star of Danger Man and The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan, has died. He was also very good in one of my favourite Alistair MacLean films, Ice Station Zebra - a movie that Howard Hughes was said to have watched hundreds of times in his private cinema. What I didn't know, and this obituary shows, is that McGoohan was also an intelligent writer and director, who turned down the role of James Bond in Dr. No, because of its sexist and thuggish nature. Impressive.

Seaway At Tower

Not sure how long this will last - but then again blogs are the new ephemera - anyway, my Seaway: New and Selected is currently a "Top 100" best-seller - indeed, top 25 - at Tower Books, which seems like a cool site. Oddly, most of the others are also obscure poetry books. Is this an alternative reality?

V F-T Alert!

There is always need for more talk and writing about Veronica Forrest-Thomson, and this Saturday, there'll be lots of it at the symposium about her at Cambridge. Meanwhile, we need to get Poetic Artifice back into print.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

What Do We Mean When We Say Sooty?

A member of the British Royal Family has been calling a British-Asian "friend" of his "Sooty" for years. Some suggest this is racist, others that "political correctness has gone too far". What does someone mean by calling a friend - however affectionately - such a name? Why the disquiet? I think it comes from what the act of using such words implies - a statement of difference - a difference which needn't be remarked upon, in the first place. However, and this is not a justification - I think the Princes are wrong to speak and act as they do - nicknames have always been problematic. They are, often, gently mocking, with the gentleness really mixed with aggression - "shorty", "Little John", "lefty" - and so on - all implying a noticed quality of differentiation, which the friend then chooses to take as the "name" of the person he befriends. This act of renaming is an imaginative imperialism - a taking over from the naming that the parents presumably first enacted, which, in itself, is a curious violence, but one we cannot do without (though some parents, as we know, use such offensive or silly names that the law has to change them). Who has the right to one's name? Only the person himself. To be called "Sooty" is maybe permitted, but with how much shame, even if secret? To refuse such a name is awkward - and, given the royal position - socially impossible. It is the assumption of effortless and natural enjoyment of total power over others that is offensive. It is hardly "politically correct" then, to question royalty's use of painful language - it is, more directly, political. Britain, still, needs to slowly but surely disentangle itself from such awkward relationships with the monarchy, and all the linguistic twists and turns it bestows. I am still perplexed that there is a Sir Hoy, and not a Dame Adlington, for instance. At the heart of these accusations of political correctness gone mad is always the idea that words don't mean what they say or sound like. The British sometimes mean by this humour, or irony - but note that humour, as Freud argued - can hide aggression - or simply be aggressive. Too often, humour is called black, or sick, as if that defends it from its base negativity. When racist language is used - or sexist - or ageist - a question does need to be posed - if it is all just fun and games - why do it? I recall a BBC interview last year with a famous novelist who bemoaned how "PC" meant he couldn't make villains "foreign anymore" - which was a shame, because making epithets about foreigners was such "fun". Some colonial fun and games have gone on too long. Time for the soot to be wiped away.

Surprise Win At The TS Eliot's

Eyewear was at the Eliot awards last night. Jen Hadfield was not the expected winner of last night's TS Eliot. As almost every commentator had noted, including Sean O'Brien in the Sunday Times, and Eyewear, Mick Imlah seemed to be the frontrunner. It made for a strange, sad night, in one sense, that Imlah did not win for his brilliant book, and had also died the same day.

However, if it was possible for a prize winning announcement to lift gloom and spread joy, Andrew Motion's that Hadfield, the youngest-ever winner, at 30, had actually taken the Eliot prize for best book published in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2008, did so. Hadfield is impossible to dislike, as a person or poet. She is personally warm, genuine, fun and imaginative - a breath of fresh air. Her poetry is playful, imaginative, original, and delightful. Her win is exciting, because it almost marks a break with an older generation, and signals the arrival of a new one - a generation that really began to emerge around 2003 or 2004.

The judges this year, Andrew Motion, Tobias Hill, and Lavinia Greenlaw, are to be commended for their subtle, brave, and imaginative decision. It must have been difficult to look beyond the likely winning circle, and think ahead, to future directions of poetry. By awarding the prize to such a young, experimental, and joyous woman, they've lifted the spirits of the prize, so often the domain of older men, and made it a thing of wonder, hope, and possibility again. Not quite an Obama moment, but, for British poetry, the next best thing.

Mick Imlah Has Died

Tragic news. The poet Mick Imlah died yesterday. There is a good obituary in today's Times. This is the second shocking loss of an important younger British poet this decade in London - I recall Michael Donaghy's untimely death.

Monday, 12 January 2009

God On The Bus

As a thoughtful opinion piece in The Guardian today observes, there is something just a little arrogant about well-educated middle class (and super-rich celebrity) liberal atheists pooling their resources to place atheist advertisements on the side of London's buses, which tend to be used most often by older, and working class (and often religious) people. The campaign, welcomed by some Christians as provocative, is intended to celebrate the feelgood factor of a universe without a God - and is weakened by the fact that a) the statement is wishy-washy (the famous probably) and b) almost all literature of existential atheism (and deism) since the 1800s has observed that a godless universe, albeit a possibility, is hardly a walk in the park - but instead a terrifying void that demands active, creative human engagement to fill.

The idea that new-look atheism simply commands us to "relax" - like some 80s pop slogan - is unfortunate and unimpressive. Instead, the challenge for atheists, and religionists alike, is surely to become active, in the face of a world of very real, and immediate problems - often the result of enlightenment projects like industrialisation, capitalism, and nationalism, that were encouraged by the turn to reason under British empiricism, that smug outrider of British imperialism.

In this year of Darwin, and his "Big Idea", where are the smaller, more complex ideas humanity needs to cope with environmental and cultural degradation, at the hands of very many very selfish people, all rushing about without much thought for the future? Meanwhile, as this article goes on to remind us, the President-elect is a Christian - and also happens to be one of the only hopes we currently have. Given the symbolic and actual role that buses played in the faith-driven civil rights movement in America, there is something unimaginatively glib, even crass, about advertising atheism on buses in the UK, especially at the moment when Dr. King's dream has come to pass - thanks to a God-believing man.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Stop Googling And Thumb Some Books!

I Google, therefore Eyewear is. Hard not to, in this day and digital age eh? However, stop the presses. According to today's Times, to Google is to expend major carbon footprints. Forget about flying - lazy students and idle narcissists everywhere are killing the planet, one search at a time. What is a blogger to do? It may be curtains, soon, for the whole Internet thing. Meanwhile, let's face the music and dance.

Poetry Books 2009!

There are poetry books coming out in 2009, that will elicit groans and cheers in equal measure. Some of the ones I've seen listed in the press include a new Andrew Motion, a new Luke Kennard - and of course Ruth Padel's wonderful telling of Darwin's life. Do let Eyewear know of any forthcoming books you think we should be looking out for.


Who will win tomorrow's TS Eliot Prize 2008 in London? Mick Imlah for The Lost Leader.

Friday, 9 January 2009



In Memoriam Ann Savage

Since we still die
or fail to procreate
and coffee is still black
until the cream

I ask where existentialism
went, and why the Bogart
dream of a man going it alone
(or woman) in an alley-world

gaunt and unshaven
has ceased to pack
the punch it used to;
often I feel there’s no way

out, and no detour too;
if not for affection, humour
and forgiveness, the tally
would be one-sided in favour

of buying it straight away;
the early pleasures of skin
are knocked sideways
by indigestion, and ulcers;

only so much gin before
the clever liver says goodbye;
but you’ve got to soldier on,
and employ a few words

on a daily basis,
picking the ones from the back
of the truck that look ready
to work, sending the other

sorry sons-of-guns
to loiter on the margins
of long, toothless cities;
but even language quits

when the season’s done,
the time for harvest fits
in the palm of one torn hand,
in the swiped wallet you lost,

and the rest of the year
is all about chilled fear mostly,
and trying to cheat more shadow
from out of the measly skinflint sun.

poem by Todd Swift

Poem by Alan Baker

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Alan Baker (pictured) this first Friday of the New Year, by featuring a poem of his that is all-too-seasonally apt (some parts of the UK have not been this cold or snowy in two decades).

Baker was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and lives in Nottingham. He co-edits Leafe Press, which he founded in 2000, and is editor of the webzine Litter. Publications include The Causeway (1999), Not Bondi Beach (2002), both from Leafe Press, The Strange City (2002) from Secretariat and Hotel February (2008) from Bamboo Books of California.

His translation of Yves Bonnefoy's Début et Fin de la Neige was published jointly by Leafe and Bamboo Books. He has a pamphlet forthcoming from Skysill Press.

Baker represents an alternative ("other") British poetry tradition, and poetics, that, often quietly, in the so-called margins of a mainstream, continues to do excllent work. Baker follows Pound's example, of course, of being editor, publisher, and poet. His work, apparently modest at times, turns the British lyric subtly, and offers new angles on how a line may be shaped, or allowed to spin off in another direction.

Today The Snow

Today the snow, and tonight
it lies on my car, and on all
the roads that she must go.
To be in a warm hotel in midwinter,
isn't that enough comfort?
Today the snow, tomorrow
I will save you from the rest of your life,
or is it mine? I would like
to help someone to live after my death -
eyes, liver, kidneys, pancreas
left on the fields of morning
while I'm in a dreamless sleep.
What could be more idyllic
than an exhibitionof the latest luggage?
Are your shoes clean, young man?
One believes so. And who are we?
To argue, that is.
I earn a living, recount
colourful episodes from my past,
swell my feet on crystals of white.
Isn't that enough? But no.
'Our researches must continue'
and there are language courses
yet to be complete. The latest
adult films to be watched.
Slide softly into the bed of white.
Protect the night, snow,
and don't allow yourself to be fooled.

poem by Alan Baker
"Today the Snow" originally appeared in the pamphlet February Hotel from Bamboo Books.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Guest Review: Evanson on Lykiard

Tanya Evanson reviews
Unholy Empires
by Alexis Lykiard

Athens-born, British poet Alexis Lykiard’s 12th book of poetry pokes fun at rulers, royalists and religionists. A Facebook poke would have been preferable. Let me explain.

The book begins with charming pieces: “War Fever” and “Defining Terms” remind us of our human folly and that in the end, everything is known. There are secrets being revealed here in strong, simple language. There are also moments of beautiful wordplay for which Lykiard is a true master in the classic sense. He touches Shakespeare in “Surplice Requirements, or, Access of Evil:”

Bigot, devout fool or peasant,
Sing your cross or chant your crescent;
Choose to wail at a saintly wall –
Irrational superstitions all.

But the difference is that Shakespeare was usually speaking through characters - drama. Instead here we get a cranky poet - one SO tired of all of humanity’s bullshit yet one who puts so much energy into chastising it.

There are moments of true playful inspiration, mostly in Lykiards’s prose-poetry. On occasion, some of those prose-like pieces come off as spoken word rants – rhetorical and non-revolutionary, yet full of witticism. They sit uncomfortably on the page however and want to let fly. I n “Interim Gob” the most active of all rants, we are ordered to spit upon priests in an act of Lykiardian revolution. This would be more effective proclaimed during a literary performance. The numerous preambles to every poem would have also been more appropriate at a live reading. In the book, they distract. However, spiting in the face of other human beings doesn’t sound like the answer to Lykiard’s complaints. (I’d love to see Lykiard do a reading. He could he start a spitting revolution.)

This book would have perhaps done better in blog format because the true poetry is lost in the subject matter and reactionary style. These are wailings about current and historical events where time and place take on great import - too much for the timelessness of the poetic genre. I searched for epic sense but found none in Lykiard’s sensitivities.

As a media baby, I am easily turned off when I suspect rhetoric and Lykiard’s work falls into the category of those he rails against; the two-sided coin of propaganda. He uses so many news-related acronyms and allusions that most escaped me completely. T hey are probably common knowledge for most British readers, but this is poetry, I am Canadian and the text should have the ability to leave Britain circa 2008 if it is to survive.

This book would have fallen into delicious satire but of that it also falls short - its own subjectivity the culprit. For such a prolific writer, I wonder, where is the wisdom? The wisdom lies solely in Lykiard’s command of language. This is clear in “Men of Straw”:

Talking of feckless rubbish, it’s what they expect
-orate, politicos of slender intellect.
Hot air on air, polluted atmosphere.
Managed dispersal system the new jargon here.

But where is the heart of the poet in all this? Is it lost in the language of complaint? We know where Lykiard stands on politics, royalty and religion but where is his heart? Gratuitously explicit complaints without the subtleties of poetry make this work dry and one-dimensional. I’ll give Lykiard another dimension for wordplay but two is not enough! Where is the keen observation on the secrets inside these social issues? Why do humans engage in these games? Enough with the ellipses, Poet, be the ellipsis! Be from nowhere so we can better engage in your particular view.

I know that I will get a more rounded version of history outside of history books: that is where good art steps in. But art must withstand the text/test of time. If not, how can we learn from past human mistakes? How can the Poet teach us? Rumi says “The news we hear is full of grief for that future, but the real news inside here is there’s no news at all.”

What I want from poetry is a teaching book and Lykiard preaches to the converted – i.e poets and readers of poetry. Ok, we get it, we know we’re a slow species, polite idiots, reckless brutes. Maybe we’ll get it right in the end if Mr. Lykiard can stop complaining for a moment. I just want to grab him by the lapel and shout: “By God man, exile yourself! Again!"

In the end, Lykiard’s work will appeal to a niche market and will probably find success among existing fans. But I want more than an Op/Ed in a book of poetry. In a final note of saving grace however, I will let Lykiard remind us of one last thing:

Remember, whatever you may think or do,
Only one thing remains true:
Never was so much
Owed by so many
To so few.

Amen, brother.

Tanya Evanson is a Canadian poet and performance artist.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Ron Asheton Has Died

Sad news. One of the greatest guitarists of all time, Ron Asheton, of The Stooges, has died. Anyone who has heard his work on those early recordings, of the late 60s and early 70s, will be struck by the raw power, and premature-punkness of it all.

Poetry Centenaries in 2009

2009 has its fair share of poetry centenaries - 100th anniversaries of births and deaths - of notable poets. These include (feel free to add more):

Births in 1909 of - A.M. Klein; Stephen Spender; and Robert Garioch. Deaths in 1909 0f - Davidson; Swinburne; and Meredith.

Of these, A.C. Swinburne's seems the biggest, and perhaps the least likely anniversary to be properly feted (time will tell). Is it time to reclaim greatness for the recluse of Putney? Perhaps ironically, or fortuitously, the infamous bircher died just as Hulme and Co. were meeting with Pound to plan a ways to trim the Victorian (perceived) excesses of Algie's erotic diction. Instead, they wanted "hard" (not effeminate) language. This sexist, misogynist modernist tendency tends to suppress the radical artifice, and excessive textual erotics at play, in Swinburne's powerfully "queer" poetry.

Meanwhile, Klein, arguably Canada's greatest 20th century poet, is hardly read or known beyond the Quebec borders. Spender's reputation is at an all-time low, and Meredith and Davidson seem to be (increasingly, and sadly) footnotes. Against oblivion, indeed. Poets may find comfort in the recent news that the universe will be destroyed in only 7 Billion Years as galaxies collide (my bride, my bride). We won't have to endure Heaney's fame, then, for a true eternity.

Heartless in Gaza

Israel has a right to exist, and defend itself. The Palestinian people need a home they can safely call their own. These two statements begin most editorials, and most political speeches. However, there's a gulf between both statements - the gulf of goodwill. Nations project their power, to protect their citizens, but at a cost - and in today's post-9/11 world of so-called terror, that prerogative (Bush's doctrine, that Palin did not recall, and that Obama senses is already his Achilles heel) too often is a causa belli of extreme bellicosity, unrestrained by any obligation to act with humanity, caution, or care.

The Red Cross says what's happening in Gaza is terrible. What needs to happen is for Israel to be accepted as a fact the Holocaust makes morally essential - no point in trying to blot out an undeniable political entity defended by America - and for the Palestinian people to be, finally, accorded the dignity and security their complex location requires, for both ethical and historical reasons. That takes us back to the beginning of this post. Such circularity is frustrating. If "we" all know what has to be done (beyond what can be done due to power) - how come it never happens? The eyeless in Gaza better start looking harder for a solution.

Guest Review: Adams on Pollock

Derek Adams reviews
Designs for Living
by Estill Pollock

Estill Pollock is a mature poet, secure in his abilities, assured enough to play the long game (witness this volume concludes the Relic Environments Trilogy), and like an angler with a lure he spins ideas through sequences of poems, confident his readers will follow.

The opening poem “Face” explores identity, wearing the faces of the dead, of others ‘These others as we, dreamers in their comas’, it concludes ‘The man you were, the face in the mirror: there you are. // Here I am’.

These others whose lives and memory affect our identity, who we wear on our faces, are at the heart of this collection, they are ‘the past, its ghosts/ devolved to son and daughter, these/ others of the blood.’ In “A Space in Time” these others inhabit a dream. ‘…faint energies/ (some I saw right through)/ to share a space in time, its senses recollected.’

Pollock is precise with his descriptive images - in “Everything Else” when lovers walk through rain, it’s not romantic rain, it’s hard: ‘the rain is nails,/ a rusty thunderhead of cut-wire sharps unloading’, they reach a cliff that is ‘old continents scrummed vertical’.

There is a move away from personal histories in “Ex Cathedra”, a river ‘with no memory of itself…’ flows past a cathedral with reliquary and holy manuscripts ‘the preserve of white-gloved keepers’, in its library ‘The saved dead/ thread the margins, anchored in inks’.

Memories preserved in ink is also the subject of “Japanese Tattoos in the Edo Period” where we find ‘characters/ for Stay, Remain.// I am everything you made me.’

“The Journeyman’s Tale”, has an epigraph from Chaucer and Victorian style intros to four Bukowski-ish vignettes. ‘Part the Fourth, wherein Heavenly Music is heard, and a Wise Woman reveals the Resting Place of Heroes’, the construction worker is shown a bed ‘ … Andrew Jackson slept in that bed/ No fuckin way I said/ Yep, she says, big as life and ugly with it/ She says it come down to her though her great granny/ And was worth a little something.’ Here again the passing on of the memories of others.

The book is carefully constructed; poems interacting to produce a sum greater than its parts, however near the centre are four poems that feel awkward: “Tribe”, “Field Notes”, “Tribe” and “Revolution”; each has political overtones and while these are fine poems on their own they seemed out of step with the rest of the collection.

The second half of the book is a sequence entitled “Animus” (a feeling of enmity, or the Jungian term for the masculine principle residing in the female psyche, perhaps both, the poems exhibit traits of each) - three long poems retelling five Grimm’s fairy tales in an adult way, these are highlight of the collection for me, exhibiting evocative storytelling and deft use of language.

“Tales of Wood and Iron” (The three feathers, Rapunzel) begins ‘Night and day, for all God’s children, the same star/ dawn to dreaming, a little breath between/ light’s constancy/ and the cold dark’. In the second half of this poem ‘far from festivals or trade’ kidnapped Rapunzel, grows ‘… and the girl’s hips/ widened womanly’ until one day the witch ‘caught the man-scent,/ buckskin sweat and the spilled seed’. T rue to all good fairy tales Rapunzel is rescued by her prince, but each night in her dreams ‘…she stood, anchored in oak shade/ deeper than the world’s dark heart, older/ than the cold, blind blink of heaven.’; an obsidian reflection of the poems opening lines.

In “The Child Eaters” (Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel) a pubescent girl climbs into bed with the man/wolf ‘and pulling the knife/ still further, filleted the howl/ hissing for air in the Wolf’s throat’. In a famine struck land ‘bellies bloated, guts pinched and heaved with hunger’ we have Gretel pushing the witch into an oven, for a moment ‘considering her next square meal…’, cannibalistic overtones that reappear as the poem ends, ominously reiterating ‘It was a time of famine.’

In “A Mask of Mirrors” (Snow White) the step-mother Queen is abetted in her murderous plans by a servant she could trust ‘not to talk and not to go squeamish/ when fine talk turned to sweaty jelly’. Snow White exacts revenge ‘ordered iron shoes, stoked and stoked red as a witch’s eye’.

‘…there was always Death and Judgement’ Pollock reminds us in the book’s final poem “Afterward: into the forest”, where we find storytelling, oral history, time, memory, the ‘others’ that are the preoccupation of this collection, who draw the blueprints we live our lives by, perhaps designs for living, a plan, a map for the path ahead. ‘Everything remembered// Into the forest, the path we took to meet ourselves// These others.

At 80 pages this is a dense ‘slim volume’, with multi-layered intelligent poems that bear more than one reading. It is a book whose paths I shall revisit and I recommend it to you.

Derek Adams is a British poet and photographic artist.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

New Doctor Tests Patience

Who? Doctor Who fans must be scrubbing their heads. Matt Smith, hardly a household name despite his sub-Twilight neck, jaw and hair -line, has jumped past hopefuls such as women, black actors, and thespians of note, to become the next Doctor in the British classic series. I hope the next Poet Laureate is not some equally inauspicious and undeserving whipper-snapper. Smith was good in those Pullman TV shows, but not stellar. The BBC should have done more.

Happy for Leigh

Good news. One of the best British films of the new century, Happy-Go-Lucky, has just received four awards from a prestigious circle of film critics in America. Leigh's film is both humane and upbeat, while exploring madness, evil, power politics, and everyday life (and love). It did well in the UK, but was not as celebrated at home as abroad, where the director's genius is becoming ever-more evident. Eyewear wishes it very well at Oscar time.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day

If U2 are to be believed, New Year's Day is a little like poetry making nothing happen (why not begin 2009 with a cliche?) - and yet, of course, the ambiguity in that line of theirs: "nothing changes on New Year's Day" is a clever one: the lover's love remains, just as the world (underway) is ongoing in its beauty and its terror. So, both love and evil do not change, so much as calibrate their relationship, even as the years go by.

Eyewear wants to wish you, dear reader(s), the best possible of years ahead, in the full knowledge that war, credit crisis, environmental degradation, mass unemployment, and general despair are in pretty full swing just about now (as in Gaza currently). As poets and readers, we have an especially challenging task - to maintain some form of literate communion with the past, while innovating responsibly for the future (and the present). I was recently in a bookshop that had no poetry books for sale (well, one).

That's not a good sign. The Internet has both empowered poets and readers, by linking them, well below and above the establishment-marketing-machine - and fragmented them, too. The virtual world corrodes the import of the printed and spoken (live) word even as it makes it hugely omnipresent. I find that many of my students rarely read books now - they go direct to the screen, to "text".

The past, the Tradition, is thinning out - and whether it is being replaced by healthy traditions, well, that remains to be seen. So, these ephemeral blogs we make, and share, are both contributing to the bulwarks shoring against ruin, but just may be the shell-blasts of a new period, too. I'll write my 2008 Swift report in the next few weeks. For now, try and get some peace.


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...