Monday, 31 October 2011

The Lehman Lecture 2011

The 2011 Lehman Lecture
in association with The Kingston Writing School

Professor David Lehman, Distinguished Visiting Writer

"From Parody to Praise: When Poems Talk to Other Poems"

Professor David Lehman was born in New York City in 1948. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Cambridge University in England as a Kellett Fellow. He also received a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. He is the author of several collections of poems, including When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005).  His books of criticism include The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998).  His study of detective novels, The Perfect Murder (1989), was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.  He is series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988, and is general editor of the University of Michigan Press's Poets on Poetry Series.  Most recently, Lehman edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Lehman's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award. He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University. He lives in New York City.  He is a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Kingston University, UK.

7.30 pm, Clattern Lecture Theatre
Kingston University
Penrhyn Road campus
Thursday, 10 November 2011

Admission Free; all welcome

Drinks reception at 7 pm

Hearing Voices

Fourth issue, with two poems by Todd Swift

I am very glad to appear in the latest Hearing Voices, vol. 4, ed. Jonathan and Maria Taylor (October 2011), ISBN 0-9551800-7-4, 978-0-9551800-7-1, £3.  Other poets included, include David Caddy, Alison Brackenbury, Alan Baker, Jacqui Rowe and Tony Williams.
To order , please send a cheque made payable to Crystal Clear Creators to Jonathan Taylor, Crystal Clear Creators, c/o Department of English and Creative Writing, Faculty of Humanities, Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Leicester, LE1 9BH, U.K. Postage and packing is free.
A subscription to all three issues of Hearing Voices costs £8 or £7 to members of Crystal Clear Creators. You can also subscribe to the third and fourth issue, which costs £5.50 for non-members, £5 to members.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Bad Ides


George Clooney has directed another film.  The Ides of March, based on an American play about the men (and they are men, alas) who run political campaigns, and the grubby deals they do, is by far the most over-rated film of 2011.  Don't get me wrong, it has a dream cast, including my favourite rising star, Ryan Gosling, and the Humpty-Dumpty of character-actor sad-sackdom Oscar royalty, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.  The plot is lacking, for me, valid revelationary power, or any credibility historically.  One recalls the scene in Casablanca, where the astounded police chief feigns surprise at discovering gambling in his favourite den.  On what planet do innocent young men working as "the best media mind in politics" not know that Democratic politicians, especially handsome ones, sleep with women on the campaign trail.  Do the names Kennedy, Clinton, or Edwards not mean anything?

Indeed, so vanilla is the supposed dalliance that the Clooney character has engaged in, relatively speaking (he has cheated on his wife with a beautiful, intelligent 20-year-old intern and she has become pregnant - this is not Watergate) that it seems astonishing this could be seriously held against him by one of his key allies.  Nor is it, for a minute, believable that said young woman would, weeks into her pregnancy, be unable to secure the $900 for an abortion, and need to get it from the Governor-father; nor is it likely she would be likely to enter another romantic entanglement (with Gosling) while still courting Clooney; one minute, she is a sexy, empowered predator, the next, she is a suicide case (for an unclear reason).

Nor is it likely that Gosling, a mastermind, could be so easily ensnared in such a flimsy web.  The way in which these hardened campaigners, masters of the dark arts of spin, manage to destroy themselves over a weekend, running from one bespectacled New York Times reporter, is laughable.  Clooney is unsubtle, also, in his mis-en-scene.  Scenes of bowed heads in silhouette, framed by massive American flags, may summon up a false sense of patriotism, or may be merely visually portentous.  I'd vote with my feet, and avoid this one.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Ireland Has A Poet As President

Michael D. Higgins, a poet, has become president of Ireland for a 7-year-term.  This is good news for Ireland, and the world.  Higgins, by all accounts a personable, cultured, and energetic man, will be something of a late Irish Spring - reminding us that the true magic and value of the Irish people lies in their indomitable, creative spirit, and not sheer grubby mercantilism.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Recorded: Mike Loveday

S.J. Fowler recorded this at a recent Oxfam event.  It is Mike Loveday reading at his debut pamphlet launch.

Featured Poet: Richard Deming

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the American poet Richard Deming this week (pictured) as the featured poet.  Deming is a poet, art critic, and a theorist who works on the philosophy of literature and visual culture. His poems have appeared in such places as Sulfur, Field, Indiana Review, and The Nation, as well as Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present. He regularly writes for The Boston Review and Artforum

The Picture of JB in a Prospect of Ladyboys

(after John Ashbery after Andrew Marvell, for Joshua Brown)


A hand holding a soda trembles
as some latent wish casts its lots.
The generous arch of a penciled brow
brings the gaze up close. Where else do

names choose their changeable places?
And the one girl with an impossibly
slim waist faces the camera and smiles,
while uneven skirts sway above the knees.

In this picture there’s no nearby garden
and everyone’s eyes are wide open.


Did you? For how much? and how must
the imagination quicken
a reality that is and is more
necessary than the one in

hand, the one we’ll squint and blur
into focus.  Curiosity is a kind of daily
translucence and their hair’s so long,
it invents  its own virtue.

Leave things be for now. Forgive me,
standing beside you, they are so lovely.


There may be a future of doctors,
hormones, a shiny scalpel meant
to slit and fold because truth’s
a hard thing when it’s wrong.

The animal light of being
wanted is more than comfort and
persistence—the body directs
itself, everyone, all of us, along

for the ride. There’s a word for
these swelling hips. Reform its
error into certain reply.

Battered by luck and the fast intent
of the dream of otherwise,
give us a kiss for the hope that bears
all it’s given. Just put your lips together.

poem by Richard Deming; published at Eyewear with permission of the author.

Canon Law

Canon Dr Giles Fraser, of St Paul's, is resigning, after his welcoming (and Christian) approach to the anti-capitalist encampment outside his door became antithetical to the mercantile needs of those higher up in his church.  Given Christ's infamous attack on the money traders of his time, and capitalism's dehumanising effects, Fraser is both prophetic and right, and the failure in his ecclesiastical community to appreciate his good zeal is timidity amok.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Winehouse Over The Limit

The tragic news, despite what we had been told to expect, is that Amy Winehouse was not "clean" when she died.  Instead, as the coroner told us, she was five times over the legal limit, three days into a vodka binge.  According to her GP, who visited her soon before she died at home, she was "tipsy" but still lucid, and talking of her future.  Alcohol changed that situation quickly enough.  It's a killer, and always has been - and needs to be licensed and consumed with more care than the UK drinks industry allows.  One day, the scandal of our age will be the way in which tobacco and booze were sold over the counter to us, wasting the billions that could bail out the NHS.  I saw my maternal uncle, Edward, drink himself to death - much like Winehouse, one night he went across the street, and bought a bottle from the shop that had promised us never to sell him any liquor - went home, and drank it, dying in bed a few hours later.  Like Winehouse, he was brilliant, and sensitive, and funny, and kind - but also like her, he had a disease.

Devil's Haircut

Europe is on the brink.  When a leader of Germany predicts that potential economic ruin could lead to future lack of peace in Europe, as Merkel did today, it is time to take notice.  Greece, then Italy, and Spain, may default soon, if nothing is done.  It seems an extraordinary failure of nerve and imagination, a bit like the period before World War One, or Two, when leaders dithered, afraid to act, thus ensuring worse was to come.  However, there is another danger, one of too-great union - should the EU become a two or three tier organisation, with some nations fiscally joined at the hip, they may all find it more easy to stumble over the cliff together.  In this way, some British caution makes sense; yet the more sidelined the Tories demand we remain, in the UK, the less control we will have over the deals ahead.  These deals will be trying.  Facing Europe is possible recession, or the meltdown of the Euro, or worse chaos.  One must hope for the best, but hedge bets.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Scottish For Yes

The news is startling if inspiring: Scotland's greatest modern poet, Edwin Morgan, has left a million pounds to the SNP, for the campaign for an independent Scotland.  Poetry Has Made Something Happen?  Hopefully.

Guest Review: Muckle On Miller

John Muckle reviews
Spiritual Letters: Series 1-5
by David Miller

Fragments of memory, remembered fragments of writing – Christian and Jewish religious meditation; letters from friends; dreams; narratives – David Miller’s Spiritual Letters weaves these together into a series of excavated nuggets of unresolved story that walk a borderline between poetry, prose-poetry and various modes of narrative art, yielding a reading experience that is splintered, occasionally frustrating, but memorable and quite literally haunting. Miller hovers in a world of ghosts between the quasi-religion of art and actual religious belief, and addresses fundamental questions: What is the function of memory? Is it a gift of God that enables us to recall friends, lost loves in anticipation of an eventual reunion, in other words, a prefigurative promise of immortality? A means of cultural survival? In which of St Augustine’s two modes of regret is the past made most vitally (or painfully) present: nostalgia or remorse? And what about the future: is it anticipated with hope or fear?
These questions are framed (by Augustine) in the secure knowledge of an afterlife; Miller’s explorations of them in intricate discontinuities imply that possibility; but Miller seems unable to anticipate this in any security, neither in joy nor in fear and trembling. He follows St Augustine, in a way, but there’s little of the thanksgiving and resolution with which, in the Confessions, he exclaims: ‘for how long did I fail to see that?’ and offers his heartfelt thanks to God for cleansing the scales of illusion from his contaminated mind. David Miller’s autobiographical narrator – like most of us – remains unresolved, unsure, suspended in agonising distensio between past and future, and is bombarded by disturbing recollections:

I was woken from a few hours sleep in my narrow room by a knocking at the door. I’d thought it must be the neighbour’s child, and was astonished to find it was a friend from far away. We ate waffles with acacia honey and drank white wine. Shattered glass underfoot on the pavement. A shudder of arrival, boat bumping against pier. She’d written his name and a time on her hand. On another’s hand, he saw a small cross in ink.

(from Series Four, p 62)

He sits at café tables, drinks wine in Greece, looks at the sea, listens to Rembetika music, climbs into London cabs, emerges from underground stations, witnesses street incidents, and artworks, plays his clarinet: vanquished but somehow persisting to remember lost lives. Unlike Augustine he doesn’t repudiate the past, question his own beliefs, desires or actions: Miller is still in talks with the Manicheans, watching plucked fruit bleed, wandering across a battlefield, or gathering the limbs of Osiris. His questions, as I have said, remain unanswerable, or as yet unresolved. There is a wait-and-see quality to Spiritual Letters, or perhaps he has seen already and is only an earthbound wandering spirit, still hoping, still hanging on for some final revelation. The book opens with an allusion to Blaise Pascal’s famous ‘night of fire’ when God revealed himself to him, an account of which the French philosopher and mathematician sewed into his clothes lest he should forget the encounter. For Pascal there was nothing frailer than human intentions, so this was both an act of faith and an aide mémoire, and therefore a recognition of his own human fecklessness.
I fear that Spiritual Letters will remain a difficult book for many, but this is a great pity since it is full of passing beauties and is deeply serious. Its melancholy, even lugubriousness, isn’t merely indulgent but a condition of being for someone who has refused to let go of the precious details of lost experience. Anecdote is the most modest of all literary-cultural forms, and the most common; yet even a broken anecdote, like one of David Miller’s, always hovers on the edge of allegory in that it is offered as an exemplary instance of something: a typical story. As is the case in this lovingly-constructed palimpsest of recovered memories and quotations, most of which could have come from anywhere. A mysterious story. A mystery story whose discontinuities speak.

A swinging door and a bucket of blue paint: how many possibilities were there? – It was a void, she said; a very interesting void. The folded sheet of paper was thrown to the floor and stood.

(Series Four, p 63)

John Muckle's publications include The Cresta Run (stories), Cyclomotors (illustrated novella), Firewriting and Other Poems (Shearsman, 2005), London Brakes (novel - Shearsman, 2010) and My Pale Tulip (novel - forthcoming, 2012).

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lana Del Rey

The most haunting and cinematic song of the autumn is 'Video Games' by Lana Del Rey pictured (an alias).  Del Rey, whose name, like Marilyn Manson's, is a California portmanteau, comes from Lana Turner and the car (or pulp publisher).  He music (at the moment, we have two songs only, a double A side, with a debut album out in early 2012) is saturated with the sort of over-ripe LA Confidential-era mood, of twisted Hollywood B-actresses in motels, slumming angels, sun-baked streets, and dipsos and nymphos sporting in shades under palms; the presiding spirit is Mulholland Drive; Del Ray's woozy, yearning voice, and the funereal pace of the song, reimagine Badalementi's Twin Peaks score, via Sunset Boulevard.  Her other song, 'Blue Jeans', channels 'Wicked Game', and offers us glimpses of bruised love, James Dean, and a favourite sweater.  This is decadent dream-pop, a la Mazzy Star.  If she can keep the mystique going, and present another 8 or 9 songs of this quality and moodiness, this could be a star-making turn; and if her demos and live vids on the net suggest, she may just.  Then again, many young singers have mined this dark glamourous moment, stuck between James M. Cain and Fatty Arbuckle in a musical version of Kenneth Anger's Babylon.  I find it irresistible, personally - nothing is sadder or more important, in an ephemeral and tarnished way, than fading starlets, dead-drunk actors, and half-burn screenplays, somewhere in a bungalow up in those hills, circa 1958.  Everyone wants heaven, no one wants dead.  Most of us settle for Bates Motel celluloid dreams slipping into the muck.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Featured Poet: Joanne Limburg

Eyewear is very glad to feature a poem by Joanne Limburg this Friday.

Kaddish for Amy

Let us now magnify and sanctify the name of Him who made and warned us,
according to his Will,

who placed in us our soft or hardened hearts,
then blessed or punished us for what they made us do

who put an evil spirit into Saul, then gave a song to David
so he could drive the spirit out.

Let us bless and extol Him, exalt and praise Him,
who, beyond the reach of any song performable,
commands us still to sing.

Limburg was born in London in 1970, and read Philosophy at Cambridge. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1998 and published her first collection, Femenismo, with Bloodaxe two years later. She has since published a second collection, Paraphernalia, which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The Woman Who Thought Too Much, a memoir about OCD, anxiety and poetry, came out in 2010 and was short-listed for the Mind Book of the Year Award. She is currently working on a historical novel and a book of children’s poems, the latter because her son told her she had to. A new poetry pamphlet, The Oxygen Man, is due out from Five Leaves Press next year.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

In Hot Blood

In Britain, a man is currently pleading manslaughter after strangling a woman he alleges screamed after he kissed her.  This is a tragic crime.  In Libya, the streets are gleeful with the death of a man, pulled, terrified and pleading, from a storm drain.  Once a powerful tyrant, he was now weak, humbled.  So they shot him in the head, pulled his body about, and cheered and jeered.  Obama, and Cameron, have claimed this as a great day for that nation.  Actually, it is a barbaric day.  A tragedy.  Each human death is terrible.  Each life should be guarded, and nurtured.  No one is too wicked to deserve a fair trial, or humane treatment.  We deride the law in Iran that calls for cruel punishments that fit the crime, and yet applaud mob justice when it suits our ends.  As in Iraq, this assassination has silenced an inconvenient maverick, who dared to challenge the hegemony of the oil-starved nations of the West.  Is it good he is no longer in power?  Yes.  Is it wrong that he was taken dead, not alive?  Also Yes.

The World's Top Poetry Award?


Thursday 20th October 2011

2011 T S Eliot Prize

supported by Aurum Funds and the
T S Eliot Estate

This year’s shortlist and new three-year support announced for ‘the world’s top poetry award’

The Poetry Book Society is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2011
T S Eliot Prize for Poetry.

Judges Gillian Clarke (Chair), Stephen Knight and Dennis O’Driscoll have chosen six collections from the 104 books submitted by publishers, which join the four PBS Choices to make up the ten collections on the shortlist:

John Burnside                      Black Cat Bone                    Jonathan Cape
Carol Ann Duffy                  The Bees                               Picador
Leontia Flynn                     Profit and Loss                      Jonathan Cape
David Harsent                   Night                                       Faber
John Kinsella                     Armour                                   Picador
Esther Morgan                   Grace                                     Bloodaxe
Daljit Nagra                      Tippoo Sultan's Incredible      Faber
White-Man-Eating Tiger
Sean O’Brien                      November                             Picador
Bernard O’Donoghue         Farmer’s Cross                     Faber
Alice Oswald                     Memorial                               Faber

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Guest Review: SJ Fowler on The New Nobel Laureate

New Collected Poems translated by Robin Fulton
Tomas Tranströmer

There is little doubt that Tomas Tranströmer will be remembered as one of the last great figures of 20th century European poetry, and by many, the last of a dying breed – that is a poet whose work and whose persona genuinely and thoroughly resonate in the consciousness of their nation. All the more remarkable perhaps, because he has come to stand for an image of the poet we might perceive as tailored and quaint – a deeply private and modest man, whose output of poetry over the last sixty years has been sparse though clearly momentous enough to command a world audience.

This important volume from Bloodaxe, the second of its kind in under a decade, may not build any new structures for the reception of Tranströmer’s poetry, but in its simple reconstitution of works past, embellished by the short, poignant works Tranströmer has undertaken in the 21st century, the book becomes something of a testament to a remarkable literary figure, whose recalcitrant writing has fashioned him into the most urbane of contemporary poetical mystics. In some ways, it is hard to see the volume as anything but a fitting, if pre-emptive, poetic eulogy.

Tranströmer’s poetry has always been admired for its clarity and poise. His is a singular mode, so refined to approach a certain perfection in its simplicity, multifaceted in its exposition but often returning to the observant, the human, the roots of metaphysical scrutiny, his work is often quietly biographical, anecdotal or reflective. His poems resonate with wisdom, and yet rarely fall foul of seeming cloy. In fact, it is perhaps this which marks his genius. And this volume proves once again that Tranströmer has always been served by excellent translators, with Robin Fulton perhaps the most remarkable, having loyally represented his poems for over 35 years.

Not that Tranströmer has been without his critics. Successive generations of younger Swedish poets have spoken out against his quasi-religious poetry, claiming his work to be picturesque. Perhaps because his achievement is so thoroughly individual, though his work may be in some ways traditional, that those who imitate him will be so clearly in his shadow to fall at their first hurdle. It has often been said that his life’s profession as a psychologist and his pseudo-religious intimations have made him a unique poetic voice precisely because he is a product of a country like Sweden – liberal and pre-dominantly secular.

This volume is discernible because of its inclusion of his most recent work ‘the Great Enigma’ (the only poems, bar a cluster Haiku’s from 1959, that is not included in the 2002 Bloodaxe edition New Collected Poems of Tomas Tranströmer) and in this, as well as in his memoirs and later poems in general, we see the arch of his output reach it’s most distilled and modest form. Mortality has always been a fundamental theme of Tranströmer’s work and in the tone and subject of these slight poems, one could even compare these final works to that of the Buddhist monk’s death poems, solemn, accepting and imperceptibly wry.

‘The funerals keep coming
more and more of them
like the traffic signs
as we approach the city’

For anyone with a passing interest in the poetry of 20th century Europe, this volume is a must have addition to their collection and with it we are allowed a clear glimpse of Tranströmer looking eye to eye with the very greatest writers of his time.

Recorded: Todd Colby

Todd Colby read last week for Oxfam in London.  Steven Fowler record this performance.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Man, Booker

The intervention of Sir Andrew Motion, a fine poet, offering his alternate Booker shortlist, and his scolding of the current panel of judges, along with many other noises off, and the launching of a new prize, is all nonsense.  As everyone who reads in the UK now knows, there is a supposed tension between a "good read" and "literary excellence", and this year's cohort of judges, led by a former spymaster, apparently tipped over in favour of the readability factor.  Perhaps.  But it seems to be a form of backseat-driving, if not a more questionable form of arm-twisting, to so vocally contest the judging panel's decisions.  The judges were, after all, acting in good faith when asked to judge, and have no doubt done their best, according to the rules.

Sir Andrew has not read all the submitted books, has he?  Indeed, there is a form of Establishment fever in this - a panic that several of the books are by "unknown" authors (in fact, Canadians) - and not London superstars.  Hollinghurst, for instance, has won before.  His new book, while elegant, is a pastiche, and unoriginal.  It hardly betters his previous winner.  And, anyway, Barnes is on the list, and will likely win.  The seemingly-random shortlist was no such thing - it was simply less-elitist, and, refreshingly, untainted by Oldboyism.  Most literary prizes are coterie backslaps in disguise.  The Booker has done itself proud this year, paradoxically, by enlarging the scope of discernment, beyond the usual suspects.  It is no doubt the fearlessness of the spymaster that made this such a superb year.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Anti-Capitalism, Pro-What?

The anti-capitalists have been occupying London in their Fawkes-off masks, railing against banking and "usury", in sympathy with other such gatherings around the world - a glocalist rallying of the usual anarchists, left-leaners, and rabble-rousers.  So far so good, you might say - except what are they protesting against, precisely?  The global financial system?  Clearly, the GFS has problems.  We are seeing that now, with the turbulent, sometimes rather faltering, markets, and Western economies of Europe and America.  But - and this I think is key: what should we replace it with?  Sudden removal of the GFS, like oxygen for a patient, would kill us all.  The utter chaos of a world without banking, or commerce, or indeed, money, is almost unthinkable.  It is true that we may need to gradually move to a less-growth-intensive model, or a feudal-agrarian model, or an anarcho-syndicalist one; whatever.  It has to be gradual, and it has to be well-founded and argued for.  I don't think Communism has proved itself capable of filling the void, as even China and Russia have recognised.  Mixed economy, like Sweden, or Canada, perhaps.  It is impressive, and democratic, and no doubt satisfying, to show contempt for the fat cats of Wall Street and the City, but after the chants and the banners fade, what will keep the world's 7+ billion people working, exchanging goods and services, and managing to share out scarce resources?  Some form of economy.  Time to build it then.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Guest Review: Parker On S/S/Y/K 4

Bobby Parker
Stop/Sharpening/Your/Knives (4)

It has taken me a while to write this review. The book swallowed me. I found myself in a beautiful, haunting and obsessively quirky world that I just didn’t want to leave.
Writing this review almost bursts a magic bubble. I must be careful. And I must begin by saying that this is the best contemporary anthology of poetry I have read. Honest. After a lull in my own poetic output, S/S/Y/K (4) has filled me with the urgency to surround my own dark, silly and surreal ideas with fresh words, vibrant words, words that, far from desperate, know they are bright enough to lure us into a powerful dream.
There are 28 poets in the book, with black and white illustrations between the poems. The artwork doesn’t just complement the poets; it stands side by side with the poems. It gives you that moment, after a final line that has just snatched your breath, to feel the genuine playfulness of this place just as much as the dark humour and the absurd abstractions.
The book opens with three poems by Mollye Miller. The first ‘Stepping Out of the Shade Particles’ ends ‘in this unbelievable garden I am only waking up.’ Perfect.  
For me, the standout poems are by Nathan Hamilton, Matthew Gregory and Sam Riviere, they just struck a chord with me. They make me dream.  
I keep coming back to Nathan Hamilton’s poems ‘Malcolm Training’ and ‘Malcolm Judged’: ‘Lone Malcolm kicks at shadows in the long evening / the wind busy scribbling him out’ and ‘he is a crime of sorts and very anti most things.’ sounds like someone I know, ahem...
In Matthew Gregory’s first poem in the book ‘Discovering the Early Humans’ we go into Hades and meet ‘an elderly ram, in pointy slippers, a formal tux – / withered, eyes turned in from each dim century.’ And in the second poem a couple found a young pterodactyl and ‘loved it with our eyes closed; simply, too much, / now it has outgrown us and we are left / clutching after its wake.’
I find myself picking up the book and flicking to Sam Riviere’s poem ‘Rain Delay’ and staring at it for a long time to get to the bottom of ‘the wing-beat rate a beetle needs to stay dry in the rain’ as words like ‘Amit’s aztec gaze’ and ‘a witchhunter’s ardent, direct line’ poke me in eyes. This poem shifts and ripples, it is exciting stuff. Sam Riviere never fails to make me scratch my head (in a good way) before I smile or sit staring for a while, wondering how he does it. 
Other great poets in this book include Jon Stone, Joe Dunthorne, Ben Stainton, Emily Toder, Jack Underwood, Emily Berry and Tim Cockburn; with illustrations by Benjamin Brett, Beatie Fox, Megan Whatley, Lisa Handley and Helen Maier, to name a few.  
To be honest, I feel guilty that I couldn’t write about every poet/poem/piece of artwork in this great anthology.
Every now and then a book comes along that sort of untangles the wires and allows the electricity of poetry to run smoothly through my veins and fill my head with colourful lights. If you don’t buy this book right now, I can only assume you don’t like discovering new poetry, cool poetry, poetry that becomes a close friend and tells you strange and wonderful things in the middle of the night. I can only assume you are not human. 

Bobby Parker is a British poet.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Todd Out And About

I am pleased to note that I'm reading at several excellent reading venues in October.  Thursday, October 13th, I will be at Lauderdale House at 8 pm, reading with poets including Susan Wicks.  Then, on Monday, October 17th, I'll be joining a large cast of Irish poets for the 30th birthday party of Salmon Press, 8 pm at the Troubadour.  Poets reading there will include the wonderful Nessa O'Mahony.  At the end of the month, I'll be reading for Rhythm & Muse, a Kingston Writing School event, out in Kingston, on Friday, October 28th, again at 8 pm, at The Space, Penrhyn Road campus, with fellow KU poets such as Liz Berry.  Finally, for this year 9I think), November 9th, I read with Denise Riley and David Lehman at Oxfam Books & Music.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Ingratitude For You

Last night Sir Paul, the most famous popular musician in the world alongside Bob Dylan (arguably) was married in London to an American heiress, and celebrated at his home in St John's Wood, with Mark Ronson DJing.  Rather incredibly, when the party (which featured among others Twiggy) ran on past 1 am, neighbours called the noise inspectors, who came and (one presumes politely) asked one of The Fab Four to turn it down.  Given that he is a Beatle, and gave the world such joy for decades with his music, it seems utterly petty to complain.  The last song was 'Hey Jude', and the music stopped at 2 am.  So much for Swinging London.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Great English Play

I saw Jerusalem last night at the Apollo Theatre in London, just as it returns to London after its triumphant Broadway reincarnation, where lead Mark Rylance won the Tony for Best Actor, and where it was nominated for Best Play (War Horse won by a nose).  The sense of excitement in the audience was palpable - Keira Knightly was in the row ahead of me, cuddling up to a handsome young man - it was that sort of vibe.  I came to the play without any sense of how good it was meant to be.  I was in fact a bit put off by the subject - a drunken Romany squatter - and thought it might be an angry State of England Play.  Instead, the last ten minutes are the most purely dramatic and moving I have ever experienced in the theatre, and I have seen hundreds of plays since I was a kid, in New York, Toronto, London, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Butting up against an extremely raw, ugly and authentic sense of a broken Britain of promiscuous, foul-mouthed, drug-addled youth, and angry, violent thuggish adults, is the play's heart - a big heart of the imagination, wounded perhaps, and like Byron, the main character's namesake, limping, romantic, visionary.  Rylance, a sort of Lear/Fool character in one (he is also equated with Puck, the Pied Piper, and the Lord of Misrule), manages to be both dangerous, and sweet, utterly f--ked up, yet on some sort of deeper spirit level on an even keel.

Mark Rylance as "Rooster" Byron

His story (when not dealing drugs out of a battered caravan to local delinquents and losers he regales them with tall tales) of how be was befriended by a giant who built Stonehenge leads to the display of an old drum that may also be a giant's earring.  If it is beaten, all the great giants of England will come to the rescue of this lost, beaten, and despised "Gypo" as he is tauntingly called.  Terribly funny, very smart, and poetic (the language at times has the lyricism of Maxwell Anderson), this work rebuilds a green and pleasant land in our better selves, and recalls the lost myths and depths of rural England.  This surely is the great play of our time.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Montreal's Writers Chapel Grows

This from Brian Busby:

This coming Thursday, 13 October, will see the dedication of a plaque in memory of (great Canadian modernist and lawyer) F.R. Scott at the chapel of Montreal's St James the Apostle Anglican Church. Scott's will be the third in a cortege of writers' plaques that began two years ago when a small group gathered to remember John Glassco. A plaque to A.J.M. Smith followed, installed on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of his passing.

This year's service, which will see formal recognition of 'The Writers' Chapel', will include two speakers from McGill university, the institution forever tied to Scott: Desmond Morton (Hiram Mills Emeritus Professor) and Roderick A. Macdonald (F.R. Scott Professor of Constitutional and Public Law).

All are welcome.

Thursday, 13 October 2011
Evensong, 6 p.m.
Church of St James the Apostle
1439 St Catherine Street West, Montreal

A reception with wine and cheese will follow.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Swedish Poet Wins Nobel Prize

Good news.  The major poet 

Tomas Tranströmer

has won this year's Nobel Prize for literature, at the age of 80.

Forward 2011

Congratulations to John Burnside, for winning Best Book, at this year's Forward prizes, to Rachael Boast for winning for Best First Collection, and to the late, great, and much missed, R.F. Langley, for Best Single Poem.

Featured Poet: Marianne Burton

Eyewear is pleased to feature, this National Poetry Day in Britain, the poet Marianne Burton.

Marianne Burton is a prize-winning British poet
Burton trained as a lawyer and worked in corporate finance in the City. She was awarded a year’s mentorship by Smiths Knoll and the resulting pamphlet, The Devil’s Cut, was a Poetry Book Society Choice.  Her poems have been published in places such as Agenda, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, CSM, New Contrast, New Plains Review, Poetry Daily, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Rialto, The North and The Times Literary Supplement. She has won prizes in the Bridport, Cardiff, Edwin Morgan, Mslexia, and TLS poetry competitions.  Her first full collection is forthcoming from Seren.  She lives in the Welland Valley and London.

 The Army Cook in Pevensey            

I am worn out dreaming of limbs
I lost at Thermopylae at Gallipoli
in Helmand Province
in Al-Zubayr near Basra;
limbs that were not mine but hurt
when they were ripped away.

I fed them all, carved melons for them,
baked little cakes in the cooling ashes
of that morning’s breakfast fire,
went out into the woods at night
to kill what lurked in the dark,
soundless, selfless, sleepless.

Now I lie alone listening
half-cock to the cry of sheep
in the blue-blur of winter.
Batteries de cuisine chime
in the play of marsh air.
Cutlery sleeps in its tarnish.

The castle here is crumbled,
the walls maggot-eaten
like Sardinian cheese.
Tourists worship a rind.
From the window I watch owls
rotate against each falling dawn,

I plan feasts for the dead –
nettle risotto, chestnut velouté
with powdered goose –
I hear laughter as I hand down plates,
Jacky, Sammy, Sebby,
Marty, Joseph, Jonathan.

What last night love fed, has fled,
leaving the feeder hungry.
Only the rhythm of my blood
still beats, as these hands ache
to cut and pummel flesh again,
to skin and draw.

The American Century 2.0

The news today on my Blackberry BBC app was totally dominated by America - reminding us that, even now, with the supposed upsurge of the so-called BRIC countries, no other nation on Earth still manages to hold such cultural sway (at least in the UK): the death of Steve Jobs, the stepping aside of Sarah Palin, the ranking of CalTech as the world's top university, riots on Wall Street, and American university human cloning advances - here is a nation in ferment, capable of creating great personalities and institutions, that further human genius.  Why?  Because, cynicism aside, no other nation is as free, or expansive imaginatively.  As Jobs said, famously, we should never settle.  Find a true calling and go for it.  This is a lesson other nations, who continue to suppress their people, might heed.  For now, America remains the indispensible country, for good and ill, as the twin poles of Jobs and Palin remind us.

Steve Jobs Has Died

Sad news.  The industrial genius of our age - hence, a digital kind - has died - Steve Jobs, as famous now as Edison or Ford were to their times, and as influential.  His works changed the way we work, and play, and ushered in the current climate where hand-held devices, and small bits of information, define our daily habits.  He recreated recreation.  His death is also salutary for a grimmer reason - it shows the need to keep working to find cures for the various cancers that still ravage humankind.  To die a billionaire at 56 from cancer reveals that nothing is currently available to inevitably halt this terrible scourge.  It is to be hoped that some of Job's own money can now go to this work.

American Genius: Steve Jobs, R.I.P.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Nobel Goes To?

Tomorrow, another Nobel for a writer.  The buzz is for Franzen.  If a poet (in English, to be parochial for a minute), the following have a shot: Les Murray, Bill Manhire, Paul Muldoon, Anne Carson, Geoffrey Hill, and John Ashbery - each is a major figure, and is worthy.  I can only guess at the many other-languaged poets out there.  Again, prose writers in English who are deserving include Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, and John Banville.  It probably should go to Murakami.  We shall see...

Guest Review: Taylor On Kingsnorth

Maria Taylor reviews
Kidland and other Poems
By Paul Kingsnorth

Paul Kingsnorth’s debut collection Kidland and other Poems is nature poetry with teeth. These poems eschew sentimentality or mere description and instead are characterised by radicalism. ‘It is often that I hate my Humanity,’ writes Kingsnorth, yearning for a natural world which is unspoilt by human destruction. In this respect, his poetry is underpinned with a sense of loss as well as anger.

Ecopoetry is, arguably, relatively new and marked by presenting ‘distinctly contemporary problems and issues’, as J. Scott Bryson has noted in his introduction to the genre. Kingsnorth’s poetry could be deemed as ‘anti-humanist,’ as well as ecological. Kidland longs for a return to a pre-human history, calling upon ‘dark gods’ to re-establish the order of nature:
There is a heavy, heartless beauty anchored
in the black soils of Europe,
silent and uncaring, overlooked
by its busy patrons, waiting
as the Earth turns toward the dark.

There’s a sense of prophecy here, suggested by ‘waiting,’ and of coming change, of ‘something in the air’ (a title of one of the poems), that will overcome human cruelty. 

            For Kingsnorth, poetry is an elegy for nature or a sounding board for the poet’s disgust at human complacency. Kingsnorth asserts that words have limitations, no doubt because they are man-made: ‘...the shape / is unnatural, it is words only, and the world’s greatness / will not fit.’  These lines are from the opening poem, ‘The Tower,’ introducing many of Kingsnorth’s preoccupations from the very start. Despite doubting the capabilities of language, Kingsnorth perseveres, attempting to use poetry in order to ‘bring out the Wild.’ The views put forward are uncompromising; human civilisation is a ‘disease’ which ‘dulls everything.’ This is not faint-hearted poetry. Opinions are inflexible  and there is little subtlety here, noticeably in lines where ‘poison’ is revealed as humanity’s malign ‘gift to the world.’ 

            Kingsnorth himself is a controversial ecological figure, branded by The New Statesman in 2001 as one of the UK’s ‘top ten troublemakers,’ a redoubtable label by anyone’s standards.  As a poet, Kingsnorth uses words to vent his anger at the violence wrought upon nature, by humanity, maybe even by you:

            You are clever and hungry and foul breathed.
            You will kill because you must.
You are human.

This simultaneously apportions blame on human civilisation, whilst asserting that human beings are simply programmed to be arrogant and destructive.  It is, of course, the use of ‘you’ which makes this accusation more personal. Here, and throughout Kidland, there is an obvious reliance on pronouns to reinforce meaning and opinion. The poetry is peppered with pronouns, such as ‘You,’ ‘We,’ ‘Us’ and a ubiquitous ‘I.’ This creates heavy stresses, reminiscent of Old English forms at times, but without the constraints of metre. In ‘The Bird Killer,’ these stresses are combined with visceral imagery.  Here, a hunter stalks a pheasant squatting ‘deep in the guts of the hedge’ and ends its life uncaringly with a malign ‘twist’:

            I am the stone spirited, the bird killer.
            Life is distant from me, I am above it.

Overusing pronouns makes for an abrasive and aggressive tone. The ‘you,’ which even Kingsnorth admits sounds like an ‘accusation,’ won’t be to everyone’s taste and the rhetoric might be too heavy for those who prefer a lighter tone. Still it raises an interesting discussion on the use of ‘you.’ Is the poet angry with us, or are we the converted? 

The long narrative poem ‘Kidland’, from which the collection takes its title, is named after the vast man-made forest in Northumberland.  This serves as the location for a lone figure, named Roland, who tries to live in a ‘utopia of one,’ but his experiment fails when he is killed at the end. Perhaps Roland, if you excuse the pun, is kidding himself that he can find a world that has been lost. Is this poetry of a lone and alienated voice?

            It is only through loneliness that you meet the world
            on equal terms, on anything like equal terms.

With such a strong focus on ecological issues it sometimes feels as if the musical elements of the poetry are lacking. The following lines from the ‘Kidland’ poem feel  more like prose: ‘and knowing what and not wanting to, and all of this she felt / as if it were her kneeling cold and white, angry and disgusted and thrilled / on the stinking sponge of the dead forest floor.’ There isn’t a delicacy of sound here, and lines are sometimes too long to suit the demands of meaning, rather than carefully controlled.  That’s not to say that Kingsnorth is incapable of writing with tenderness, but this tenderness is only for the natural world:

            and night comes and I rise and move towards the trees
            I hope they will have their way soon
and I tell them so

There are shades of Ted Hughes in some of these poems, perhaps in terms of their conceits rather than their writing. In his later writing, Hughes often expressed disgust at man’s contempt for nature and the environment and did so succinctly and evocatively. Hughes also wrote elegantly about the anthropomorphism of animals and gave them voices. Kingsnorth similarly creates animal voices in his poetry – voices which it is the poet’s responsibility to translate: ‘Crows do not speak, he said / except in poems.’ These voices expose animal suffering:

            Man, you are grounded also, let us exchange
            pity. Greatly you have sinned against us. Still
            I am grateful for the warmth of these hands.

As a minor point I’m not fully convinced by the line endings here. In terms of imagery, however, there is something rather moving about a man cradling a dying bird in his hands, with ‘its feathers’ coated in ‘the dark beauty of an oil slick.’ Here, it is almost as if Kingsnorth suggests there can be some reconciliation between humans and other living beings, and perhaps through poetry this can be realised.

What struck me about Kingsnorth is his vibrancy and strength of opinion. This isn’t somnambulant poetry about making dinner or being a teenager with a broken heart; this is poetry which exhibits powerful and radical opinions about ecology. As for the quality of writing, the register remains fixed throughout and perhaps the writing needs to enjoy language more and play with meanings, sounds and form. Nevertheless it is worth applauding Kingsnorth for making poetry an active force for change, even if ‘utopia’ has not yet been realised.

Maria Taylor is a poet and reviewer who lives in Leicestershire, her work has appeared in a variety of magazines and a collection is forthcoming with Nine Arches Press. She blogs at: 


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...