Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Swift Report 2011

The London Underground Is Mine
I'll keep this short.  The Swift Report is my looking back on the highs and lows of my personal life - not the great perturbations of the times.  As news retrospectives will attest, 2011 was an extraordinary year of deaths, collapses, uprisings, and economic shifts.

This was the year I completed my PhD at the University of East Anglia; published my 7th collection, England Is Mine; and edited, with Kim Lockwood, an anthology for Oxfam of young British poets, due out spring 2012.  I also launched a small press, Eyewear Publishing.  I hosted some wonderful visiting poets, including David Lehman, Don Share, Jacquelyn Popeand Ilya Kaminsky.  I saw my old friend Fabio Bagnara again, after several decades.  I hosted several readings for the Oxfam series.  And, at the end of the year, my brother, his wife, and my wee Godson, Alex, came to stay for Christmas.  We had a wonderful time.

This was also the year I co-judged the Gerald Lampert Awards, which was eventually won by Anna Swanson.  And was asked to write a special article for The Poetry Foundation on 15 essential Canadian poems Americans should read.  I also had reviews appear in Poetry London and Poetry Review.  Of course, I continued to edit this blog.

Plans for 2012 include writing an academic book on 1940s poetry; developing an idea into a screenplay; and writing a novel.

I also have an 8th poetry collection out, from Tightrope books in Canada, When All My Disappointments Came At Once, which deals with the anguish of infertility, depression, and overcoming physical illness.  Heavy going, but the collection explores these topics from the perspective of poetic style.  In the new year, a Dutch Selected of my work will also appear.  Lots to be proud of, and grateful for, last year - and much to look forward to in the year ahead. ps I also have fond memories of seeing Bob Dylan with Tim Dooley!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Featured Poet: Nikki Dekker

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Nikki Dekker (pictured) this last Friday of 2011.  Dekker  is a bilingual poet from the Netherlands. She has studied Literary Theory and Gender Studies in Amsterdam and Utrecht, and is currently undertaking a Creative Writing MA at Kingston University. Her poetry will be featured in the upcoming winter podcast of Cursive Script.

New York City artist reads the cards

Her room is draped with shawls. The magic any
24yearold24hourpartyperson emits brightens
a staircase room and cupboard bed. Grown up

drinks like whisky without cola, and tonic with gin,
she thins out every day, adjusting the alignments.
‘I don’t know,’ she says, the other end of a question,

‘She goes to bed at     eleven.’
Classified under          early.
E: a rake pushing sideward stands single
on the divide, stuck on that prole vertical line. If it bites,
it’s only because
the balloon’s face is not rubber or plastic or even
                                      stone – the carelessness
of paper-maché staring in the wrong direction ß

‘I’ve lost a lot of weight’ she says, taking in
a peanut butter jelly sandwich as
a zoo crocodile: forged menace, Do Not Feed.

Thought condenses against the crystal, vapour
beats against the cold: 11. Your bed, her
magic, 24 shawls and a whisky                       no

poem by Nikki Dekker; published online with the author's permission.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Guest Review: Lockton On Morgan

Katherine Lockton reviews
By Esther Morgan

Sometimes it is the simplest of words in the simplest of orders that allows the subject of the poem “to become itself.” This is particularly true of Esther Morgan’s Grace, where the poetry is deceptively simple on the first reading. It is only after subsequent readings that a maze of hidden links between the poems is uncovered. These links come together to create alternative meanings to Morgan’s words. Morgan successfully conceals the seams in her tapestry of images, which if shown would break the spell that engulfs us as we read.

One of Morgan’s main preoccupations in her third collection is to look at what Wordsworth called “spots of time.” It is in this way that different moments are distilled to reveal the essence behind them. In the opening poem, ‘Grace’ it is the “the moment the house empties like a city in August/so completely/it forgets you exist” that is explored through simple yet amazing images:

                                    “the circle of white plates on the kitchen table
                                     the serious chairs that attend them

                                      even the roses on the papered walls
                                      seem to open a little wider.”

The images are clear, concise and a true depiction of the objects described. Morgan’s simple yet revealing style is reminiscent of William Carlos William in, for example, ‘Red Wheelbarrow.’ Morgan and William’s poems’ beauty and language are simple, but not easy to achieve, and pretend to be simpler than they really are.

Another common factor between the two poets is that they both concentrate on colour as opposed to shape to evoke haunting images in our minds. The poems are so arresting that they stand as manifestos as well as testaments to what can be achieved with simple language. Morgan is so adept at stepping into a moment that when she tells us that she has been doing so since a girl, we believe her.

One of the main images that Morgan uses to investigate her spots of time is the domestic one, which prevails throughout the collection. Morgan adoption of this imagery accentuates the theme of simplicity that is present in all of the poems. She is able to take a uncomplicated scene and through the use of common household images present it in a manner that everyone can relate to and appreciate.

In using domestic imagery Morgan succeeds in creating an air of sanctity to the home in which a table is laid out as if “an altar.” In ‘The China-mender’s Daughter’ she is able to compare people to crockery:

                                      “The people in my life are like plates,

                                      I have to keep them happy, keep them spinning.”

Morgan continues this powerful simile and builds on it explaining, “how she’d check for veins of damage/lifting each piece of fine-bone to the light.” In these lines the china-mender’s daughter's activities are viewed with the same sanctity as those of a Doctor.

Morgan’s use of the domestic image is also seen in the poem ‘After Life’, in which she tells us that:

                                      “As far back as great, great, great
                                                names and faces
                                                            are scoured away

                                      like plates scraped clean
                                                of painted flowers
                                                            by daughters wanting more.”

Here, as in Morandi: Still Lives’, Morgan plays around with the structure of the poem on the page in order not only to inform us of how to read the lines but also to allow them space enough to breathe freely so that we can appreciate them fully. The words employed are visceral and violent yet simple, which means that their impact is greater when read.

Morgan is a master of imagery and it is the uniqueness of the pictures that she creates in our mind that forces us to take notice of her work. She not only puts her own twist on domestic imagery turning our expectations upside down, so that we are struck by the freshness of this perspective, but she also stamps an enduring imprint in our minds. We cannot help but read ‘Grace’ over and over again, trying to unravel the seams in order to understand and emulate her art. Lines such as “sometime in the early sixties/a candlestick takes a vow of silence”, “the embankment buddleia/burning with admirals” and “the children drowsy as flies/in the long classrooms” are all typical of Morgan’s simple yet powerful style which keeps us captivated and turning the pages of Grace.

Morgan’s poetry sings to us in a concert that we cannot help but listen to again and again. Her verse is extremely lyrical and has a lovely rhythm to it which is simple and soft:

                                      “the takings not counted and locked in the safe,
                                        the tables still sticky with rings.”

We are also invited to hear sounds such as “a back-yard dog” who “barks at the stars”, “the thought occurs like birdsong”, “a voice” and “creaking wings.” Morgan fills are ears and minds so that we believe in her “make-believe trees” and “stranger walking in the dawning fields” who “might take her for a vase of wildflowers” she is so still.

In Grace we are led on a journey through stillness, music and simplicity. Morgan’s poetry consistently intrigues throughout the collection, starting and ending with poems that demonstrate her versatility as a poet. Her subtle writing echoes the stillness explored throughout the collection. Grace is an altar to the art of fine writing and should be read by all who love and appreciate poetry.

K. Lockton is currently working as a poetry workshop leader.  Her work has appeared in magazines such as Magma, Rising and online at Eyewear, Poetry 24 and Whippersnapper Press. She is assistant editor of South Bank Poetry.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Li'l Bastard: Canadian Poetry Book of 2011

A little Christmas Eve cheer - I'd like to recommend to all you Boxing day shoppers David McGimpsey's book of hilarious, pop-savvy, literate yet modestly-colloquial chubby sonnets (his term), Li'l Bastard.  This is one of the key directions Canadian poetry and poetics has taken, thanks to Dr McGimpsey, in the last decade - and if you want to hear what Canada sounds like now when it is being smartly funny, here you go.

Merry Christmas To You

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Guest Review: Harlow On Yoseloff

Morgan Harlow reviews
The City with Horns
by Tamar Yoseloff

We must embrace the gift of the street,
The glare of chaos, of things being various.
The frail instant needs us to record it;
The mute made audible, still life animated.
(‘Mannequins on 7th Street’ for Robert Vas Dias, after Anthony Eyton)
Tamar Yoseloff’s The City with Horns is a timely collection, communicating “The mute made audible, still life animated” of the abstract expressionist avant-garde art movement during the last century alongside the buildup to the current global economic crisis which has brought the world as we know it to the brink of chaos. With its echo of George Oppen’s ‘Of Being Numerous’, the poem ‘Mannequins on 7th Street’ rings with particular acuity at a time when people “embrace the gift of the street” in cities around the world to come together in protest against oppressive regimes and to voice humanitarian concerns and demands. It is one of many references throughout The City with Horns which draw inspiration from and return homage to artists and works of literary and visual art, a rich and varied collection that at times reads like a survey of late 20th century artists and writers, bright lights swirling in a collective unconscious-like reservoir of art mind chaos.

The core and title sequence of the book is made up of poems that follow the path of Jackson Pollock’s ( ) life and work. Pollock and his art serve as a lightning rod channeling the 20th century zeitgeist among the many struggles between nature, civilization, humanity and the growing encroachment of what President Eisenhower later warned of, the military industrial complex.  Pollock famously remarked upon the complexities of the times in relation to the technique he discovered for his own painting: “the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture." Written under the influence of Pollock’s work, one of the truly marvelous aspects of The City with Horns is Yoseloff’s triumph in bringing visual art and poetry together in her poems such that they seem patterned after the “controlled accident” Pollock attributed as a driving force and technique behind his most engaging works.

The City with Horns on one level re-creates in poetry the process through which a work of visual art is constructed, and follows a similar trajectory. Part One, City Winter, begins with influences, material and canvas, the background impetus and struggle of daily life and work:

It is not vulnerable
like the pale mirror you raise

to your face. You will fling yourself
against it, see what breaks.


Part Two, The City with Horns, focusing on Jackson Pollock’s life and work, highlights the emotional turmoil, the physical application and creation of the work, painting made fluid as a life, or a movie of the life of the action painter. The poem ‘Connected’ documents Pollock’s leap from representational, as influenced by his teacher Thomas Hart Benton, to abstract work.

How easy it is when density
unlaces, and you find holes you can
crawl through –
       light, a parting:


A horse, a campfire, and trees reminiscent of the early work such as the painting Going West (1934-35) speed up and fuse in the direction of the abstract, where Pollock is taking his art, or where his painting is taking him, and us.         

Part Three, Indian Summer, offers layers of reflection as upon work once it has been created, gone out into the world, or is perhaps seen from a distance as in the poem ‘Train’ “a far field, a bonfire; a man / and his accumulated junk.” Each insight takes a cue from another, a moment, a past, a future turns on a word, a colour, or as in ‘Après un rêve’, the speed with which “an owl / tears the darkness open”. There is a sense of resolution in this final section, bringing together themes on art, civilization, and space, public and private, that recur throughout The City with Horns. We discover we have gone beyond the discussion of what is public and what is private and arrived at the question: What is ownership? Who or what owns the streets, art, peace, war, the successes and failures of the 20th century, the dreams and miseries of the present and the hopes and fears for the future? Is it the individual that is the myth, or the collective? In ‘A Stone’, an ordinary found stone becomes a symbol for all the things we find, take hold of and lose or let go of:

the way you always lose things
             which defy the need to own them
. . . .

souvenirs of a collected life: people, random
              words, ideas; some, flinty cliffside shale,
                     others, tough rock to weather storms.

To the question of ownership, and of the ultimate decider in all things, Yoseloff’s lines affirm. There is no better answer than Pollock’s: I am nature.

Note: For more on Jackson Pollock and his statements on art, see National Gallery of Art

Morgan Harlow is a poet, fiction writer and photographer.  Her collection is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in 2012.

Is Minchin's Song Offensive?

Tim Minchin has had his Jonathan Ross Christmas Show song cut, by nervous ITV execs.  The song, which purports to compare Jesus to Woody Allen, because both are "Jewish" - was deemed religiously sensitive to Christians - but in fact, it seems apparently offensive on racist, grounds, instead.  The yoking together of Allen, and Jesus, simply because they share a cultural identity would be outrageous in any other context.  For instance, if I claimed that Mike Tyson and President Obama were actually one and the same because they were "both Black" you'd quickly sense this was not even comical, but simply ignorant, and offensive.  Christmas in the UK is a minefield - it brings out the Scrooges in great numbers - and seemingly gives them permission to throw snowballs with razor blades in them - at all God's children.  Get it over it, and grow up - religion is a holy time for people, and if you cannot share in the joy, then at least don't set out to spoil it for others.

Guest Review: Brinton On Smith

Ian Brinton reviews
by Simon Smith

Simon Smith’s remarkable sequence of poems written whilst travelling by train between Charing Cross and Chatham opens with a desire for permanence within a shifting landscape, a narrative that contains ‘whatever occurred at that particular moment at the carriage window, or on the train.’

            I want my life to be a story once
Upon a time a four-legged now a three-legged rose
Wood table smashed along the railway cutting,
It central leaf missing
As my eight-year-old collects climate-change transfers
Hungry for permanent structure,
A Boost bar and We Love You magazine.

The child’s hunger for permanence and for some sense of stability in a fast-moving world (a ‘collection’ is dear to any child’s heart as providing a cumulative sense of security) is undermined by the subject material of potential catastrophe. This hunger is juxtaposed with his father’s accumulation of literary and musical references, another form of ‘collection’. Within these poems we will run up against Conrad and Dickens, Walter Benjamin and Paul Weller (Jam to Style Council), Juvenal, Claudius, Caesar, Vespasian, Neil Young and Browning, Spenser and Catullus. With a sly reference to the 2008 Tate exhibition, ‘Cycles and Seasons’, even Cy Twombly will make a ghost appearance. This enormous frame of reference which offers a living background to the ‘now’ should come as no surprise when one recalls Simon Smith’s 2005 review of Bloodaxe’s new translation of Catullus by Josephine Balmer (Poetry Review, Vol. 95, No. 1). In a scathing reference to the former Education Minister Charles Clarke’s pronouncement that educational subjects worthy of study ‘need a relationship with the workplace’ Simon Smith points out that if you want to become a politician perhaps you should read Cicero, Plato or Aristotle before going on to pose the question ‘where else is the foundation of Western democracy other than in the Ancient worlds of Greece and Rome?’
Contrasting with this sense of continuity, however, one pervasive tone which threads it way through these poems in Gravesend is that of impermanence and perhaps another shadow behind the scenes is Paul Auster whose opening to In the Country of Last Things (1987) drowns us in instability:

These are the last things, she wrote. One by one they disappear and never come back…A house is there one day, and the next day it is gone. A street you walked down yesterday is no longer there today…When you live in a city, you learn to take nothing for granted. Close your eyes for a moment, turn around to look at something else, and the thing that was before you is suddenly gone.

A child’s recognition of vertigo and terror finds one its most moving manifestations in the opening pages of Dickens’s Great Expectations where the young Pip is surrounded by the graves of his family as he stands on the marshland of North Kent one Christmas-eve. The presence of this little seed in the opening poem of Smith’s journey sets the scene for the injustice of life and the oppressive political insensitivity of the adult world masquerading as the language of ‘Progressive education’ and ‘liberal democracy’

            Where ‘life’ became a history to cry out
            About grey and brown flatlands tilted
            Over the edge dangling Pip.

As we approach Bluewater shopping-city, itself an Auster or Ballard world, ‘Assessment elides policing’ and the prevailing sense of educational policy which would have doubtless found favour with that now historical Minister Clarke prompts the poet to mis-read a sign on a grey bin labelled ‘not working’ as ‘networking’! In this world of captions and key-words which present themselves as a mirror of everyday narrowness Smith gives us ‘Deposits’:

            Refrigeration and containment
            Not that far to the jail at Sheppey
            Nationalise the debt for helicopter money
            No time to think—extruded plexi-glass,
Or a few details from my own personal experience
Is History in real time not sampled
The exchange of containers from ro-ros to lorries,
The male located in the female.

The reference here to acrylic glass is both precise and illuminating since laser cut panels have been used over the last ten years to redirect sunlight into a light pipe or tubular skylight in order to spread it into a room. In the sequence of poems details of personal human experience shed light upon the poet’s perception of History and, as if in memory of the time when he threw a large clock through the window of Barnwood House in order to do a runner from the lunatic asylum in Gloucester, the poet and composer Ivor Gurney now ‘plots his great escape from Dartford Asylum’.

Gravesend is not a disconnected set of fragments shored against this poet’s ruin but is a collage where ‘Opposite Burger King’ there will be ‘the outline of a Roman temple’ and where ‘Ghost landscapes slip the train window.’ As the reader arrives finally at Chatham, the ‘End of the line’:

            The message is the text—Image, Music
            Text. Built like a Mig-21.
            ‘Security personnel patrol this station
            24 hours a day,’ the sign for Chatham
            Sways in the breeze to the tune of ‘Tin
            Soldier,’ and our deepest non-narrative selves.

And yet the journey has been a narrative in the sense used by Ortega y Gasset in Historical Reason, published in 1984, the same year as the miners’ strike and Big Brother:

So if we resort to the image, universal and ancient as you will see, that portrays life as a road to be travelled and travelled again—hence the expression “the course of life, curriculum vitae, decide on a career”—we could say that in walking along the road of life we keep it with us, know it; that is the road already travelled curls up behind us, rolls up like a film. So that when he comes to an end, man discovers that he carries, stuck there on his back, the entire roll of the life he led.  

Or as this sardonic, shrewd and humane poet ends:

                                    Me in pin-sharp form,
            The ring-pull moment of chance,
            Reality a line right through.

Ian Brinton reviews regularly for Eyewear.  He is now Reviews Editor for Tears in the Fence.  His Andrew Crozier Reader is to appear from Carcanet in March 2012.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Poem by Kaylin Brennan

Eyewear is happy to present another poem from one of my BA students in CW at Kingston University.  Kaylin Brennan (pictured) is an American exchange student studying in the UK for the year.  This is her sestina on the sinking of Titanic.

Never Feel It, Never Know

Swirling around each other, first class girls and boys dance.
One such Tom slides his hand down her back “It’s strange, you’re the only one I see.”
A heated chill drives up her spine, bursting in her eyes from centerpoint touch.
Mom can see you. Her mind settling as her heart screams.
It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok. You don’t love him. Yet. You need a break.
“I’m sorry, could you say that again? I didn’t hear.”

In the lounge there is a sign: ONLY MEN IN HERE.
Suiting the requirements, a group enters, telling their wives “No we’re giving you a break!”
Their voices become louder, laughter rumbling from fat bellies. Door and frame touch.
Can I get a fucking word in? Anger swells in the loudest man. You could see.
He is offset. In the middle of velvet and swirling smoke, cigars dropped. Scream.
Without announcement. Without notice. Bodies preparing for events danced.

In third class the cold water will pull them down first, dancing.
“Shhhh honey, everything will be okay.” She comforts with her touch.
Cloth diaper filled with piss and feces, baby girl doesn’t understand hysteria she hears.
Where is my husband? Her mother, strangely calm, not absorbing what she sees.
The door is locked. The door. Is locked. Scream.
“Why won’t you let me through? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Joints on brake.

You know exactly what he is doing. Don’t be stupid. Her words broken.
“Don’t worry though, love.” His fate is yours. You’ll see.
Fear of drowning drives her towards a closing door. Her arm and rail touch
As she slides by, some wait for what is coming. How can you just stay here?
Open air. Violins play to calm those who cannot be saved. Waltz for those who will not dance.
“I have a child. Let me on. I HAVE A CHILD.” Scream.

I am a child. I have so much to live for. Are you deaf? Can you not hear my screams?
My mother told me it was hell gettin through the crowd, a survival dance.
She said there was a man that stood up for us “Go sit there, you see?”
Is somebody ever going to change my diaper? He brushed my head in a final saintly touch.
I must have thought he was my father, something broke
As he left me. I must have wanted him back as he resigned back into the bleeting herd.

I listened, I didn’t hear.
I observed, I didn’t see.
I moved, I didn’t dance.
I moaned, I didn’t scream.
I didn’t feel, I touched.
I didn’t know the moment that everything broke.

So stop asking me, stop knowing me for this world that I never saw.
You will never know this passing moment, you can never touch it.
Leave us in our graves, dancing.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Architecture and Morality

Patrick Chapman, Irish poet, has brought this to my attention: a very good online discussion and interview surrounding the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest of the 80s albums - synth-pop/avant-garde hybrid, Architecture & Morality, by OMD.  OMD have fascinated me since, well, at least 1980 or so, when I was 14.  I'd never heard music like this - it had the pop nous of The Beatles, but was cerebral, solemn, eerie, and profoundly serious, as well as being emotive.  Perhaps my PhD research into British poetic styles of the 1940s started here - for OMD certainly manage to fuse melodrama and the rational, in a romantic-classical mix that would have pleased a young Nicholas Moore.  The album's opening track, 'The New Stone Age' remains one of my all-time favourite songs - Misha Glouberman first played it for me in Westmount on a snowy Sunday morning, after waking up in his home after a party.  It felt like a revelation.  "Oh my God, what have I done this time?" strikes me as one of the finest lines in all pop music - haunting, faintly comical, but also potentially theological in its implications.  Meanwhile, 'Sealand', the song about the industrial plant near Liverpool, is so estranging, and ominous, it must count as one of the oddest fourth-track songs ever.  Not to mention the two Joan of Arc songs.  For those too young (or old) to have heard this on its release thirty years ago, do check it out now.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Is Britain A Christian Country?

It is, I think, a wonderful coincidence, that, just as Britain's PM, David Cameron, announces in Oxford that Britain is a Christian country (tolerant, however, of other faiths), one of the leading UK artists, Banksy, has unveiled a pixillated priest, representing the worst crimes of the church.  What this shows is that, above all else, the UK is a land of liberty of expression - and this can only be a good thing, so long as the atheist, the agnostic, and the believer, are each permitted to have their say.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Vaclav Havel Has Died

Sad news.  One of the great figures of our time, in politics and literature, Vaclav Havel, has died.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Montreal Poetry Prize a bit of a dud

Well, the ho-hum news is in.  After apparently scouring the globe for the 50 best poems of the year, and with a super star list of judges, here is the shortlist.  There are not really many well-known or established Irish or British poets here, and, frankly, few if any major Canadian or American poets either.  Comparing this list to the Best American, Canadian or British anthologies, the level of quality and relevance is startling.  The Montreal Poetry Prize needs to do a lot better in encouraging established, talented poets from across the English-speaking world to submit - and they probably need a better system of feeding poems to their main judge.  It is a good idea, and hopefully, in time, will amount to something noteworthy.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

George Whitman Has Died; An Era Has Ended

Sad news.  The world's greatest bookshop owner, and one of the great expats of all time, big-hearted, eccentric George Whitman, of kilometre zero's Shakespeare & Company, has died, at the lovely age of 98.  I lived in Paris for a few years (2001-2003) and, like thousands of other young writers, knew his generosity.  My Whitman anecdote gives the measure of the man.  One day I came in and introduced myself, in 2002 or so, as a young poet.  Whitman invited me to "a small reading" later that afternoon.  Instead, imagine my surprise when I was asked to open (with a generous ten minutes or so) for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, to an audience of hundreds outside the shop, crowding the pavements.  In the audience was none other than George Plimpton, who I spoke with after.  One of the great memories of my life, and entirely thanks to the splendid wide decency and helpfullness of Whitman, who embodied some of the spirit of his namesake, and enacted all that was best, and least grubby, about bohemianism.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Eyewear's Best Film of 2011

Eyewear should probably vote with its higher purposes, and recommend The Tree of Life, which is one of the great American films of all time - however, as readers of this blog will know, no film moved or thrilled me so much this year as Drive, whose ultra-stylish 80s take on Shane made it an instant classic, in its own right, and turned slim-hipped, toothpick-toting, six-packed Ryan Gosling, Canadian, into a Paul Newmanlike icon for the new decade. So, Drive it is.  Please note, The Artist has not opened in the UK yet, as of time of writing.  Honourable mention must go to gross-out chucklefest Bridesmaids, a clever genre-busting buddy movie meets chick-flick that also had heart.

Other comedies I enjoyed this year include Mr. Popper's Penguins (slight but zany), Cedar Rapids, Bad Teacher, and Horrible Bosses.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, an early favourite, has, in memory, paled somewhat, as beautifully filmed, but slow and ponderous, with little character development or mystery, despite a fine performance from Eyewear favourite Gary Oldman.

There were some fine art-house films - such as Canadian Incendies and Algerian thriller Outside The Law (on DVD this year).  In terms of actioners, sly stylish retro comicer, Captain America, managed to leap above its origins and become a truly stirring, witty, and at times, touching, film; Unknown was a very good thriller; The Way Back didn't quite become the grand epic it meant to be, but as far as prison break-wandering across Siberia flicks go, it was splendid.  Other good films this year included Barney's Version, Limitless, The Lincoln Lawyer, Source Code, and Attack The Block.  Disappointments included  over-egged Take Shelter, and all-wet Water for Elephants.  The Hangover II left a bad taste in the mouth for cynicism and cruelty.  Films of note I have yet to see yet include Wuthering Heights, Kill ListContagionMidnight In Paris and Melancholia, which are sure to be on many top lists of 2011.


Eyewear Publishing announces its inaugural (2012) THE MELITA HUME PRIZE FOR POETRY.   This will be an award of £1,000 and a publishing deal for the best first full collection (i.e. debut) of a young poet writing in the English language born in 1980 or later.  The aim of this prize is to support younger emerging writers during difficult economic times, with a quality publication in England and a helpful amount of money which can assist them in their studies, travel or accomodation, for example.  This is open to any one of the requisite age, anywhere in the world.  More details will be announced in January on on how to submit.  Melita Hume is a Canadian book collector, and compiler of poems and information about Canadian authors, who lived most of her life in St. Lambert and the Eastern Townships.

New Poem By Jacob Sanders

Jacob Sanders is another talented BA student in CW at Kingston University.  Here is his villanelle from my Poetry Now module.

Mrs Jones’ Jungle Boogie

It turns out the show's only just started when the fat lady's sang.
But mum had told me it'd be over when Mrs Jones came on,
So imagine my surprise when she burst into Kool & the Gang.

It was at this talent show; I'd come to see this smoking Orang-utan.
I'd seen the mediocre 'Mystico', the lacklustre 'Lassie' and a midget called Ron.
It turns out the show's only just started when the fat lady's sang.

The final act was to be signalled with a gong and a bang,
Then out came Mrs Jones, the size of the entire Yukon.
So imagine my surprise when she burst into Kool & the Gang.

I guess it was a perfect example of yin and yang
And since it happened Mrs Jones is quite the local icon.
It turns out the show's only just started when the fat lady's sang.

It'd seemed like she'd be better suited at a competition eating pie, or meringue,
At her local diner with her 20% off coupon.
So imagine my surprise when she burst into Kool & the Gang.

The bass kicked in, she belted it out and the whole audience sprang
Into frenzy and boogied, like night had been and gone.
It turns out the show's only just started when the fat lady's sang
So imagine my surprise when she burst into Kool & the Gang.

poem by Jacob Sanders

Eyewear's British Poetry Book of 2011

There are many contenders for the British poetry book of 2011 - certainly, Roddy Lumsden's Terrific Melancholy is a runner-up - however, the collection I keep returning to, in my mind, is Clare Pollard's Changeling, from Bloodaxe.  The poems are startling, formally inventive, the diction never less than astonishingly varied - it is a passionate, angry, moving, alarming, splendid book.  Reading it inspired me to think of new things poetry could say and do; in this collection Pollard moves into the front rank of British poets.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Guest Review: Wong On Horovitz

Jennifer Wong reviews
Collected Poems
by Frances Horovitz

The inner eye

Described by Anne Stevenson as having a voice ‘’not of the ‘age’ but of the earth’’, Frances Horovitz’s poems are imbued with honesty and clarity. In this new collection by Bloodaxe edited by poet Roger Garfitt, whom she married shortly before she died of cancer in 1983, one finds an effortless grace in her poems. Quiet, romantic and restless, they are dark delvings of the mind that portray a sentient, evocative natural world: ‘the pellucid skin of light’; ‘angles and arabesques of darkness’ in the wood; ‘the unquiet reeds’.

Her poetry captures not just beauty but meaning in places and people. Highly visual, imaginative and mostly personal, her poems question one’s place and the natural order of the world. In ‘Irthing Valley’, one of the poems from Snow Light, Water Light (1983), Horovitz writes:

Each stone in its place

can a star be lost
or a stone? (p.98)

Horovitz was plagued by illness in prime years – it is unsurprising to find in her work a fear of losing and the yearning for rest. In ‘Irthing Valley’, there is a noticeable trace of weariness and foreboding in the image of the bending wind:

the wind lays itself down
at dusk
a fine cloth over the stones’ (p.98)

Her androgynous and foreboding poetic voice expresses power and mystery.  Living creatures, landscapes, places are vested with poignant emotions and history. For over a decade, the poet lived in the remote part of the Cotswolds, and much of her work draws on the closeness with nature.  In ‘Night-piece’, one finds a powerful, symbolic nightscape fused with myth, which recalls Yeats’s romanticism and Sylvia Plath’s confessional poetry:

the moon is on her back again
night cannot console her thin belly
she ravens shadow
my hand a cupped moth clinging
in the folded dark our breath rises
a grey bird among pines                     (p.59)

Beautifully conjured and balanced, landscapes featured in Horovitz’s poems are hidden with ambivalent meanings and signs of danger. In ‘August Full Moon’, moon is described as a ‘gorged moon’, and the pain that connects mother and child is so poignantly expressed in the line ‘all night I toss under your knives / fields shine with your redness’ (p.56). Her keen eye and economy of language are most evident in her later poems collected under Voices Returning. Her pared-down, impressionistic description of places has an almost impersonal quality to it, as if there is something insufferable about the truth.

While her nature poems are much loved, it is her poems on family and motherhood that arrest me most. In one of her last poems ‘Letter to My Son’, a dying mother’s nostalgia for parenthood is expressed in a romantic yet anguished voice, and in such elegiac verse: the child’s ‘cosmic dance’ in her womb twelve years ago, the intimate and surprising metaphor of a ‘rare orchid’ to describe the genitals of a child, contrasting with the entrapments of ‘white and sterile room’ and her ‘racked and torn’ body.

Horovitz adheres to a disciplined, terse use of form, and sometimes combines it with a foreign sense of rhythm. For example, in the poem ‘January’, the poet paints a stark winter scene where all is in hibernation, ending it with a densely packed tercet that recalls haikus: ‘Far up / rooks, crows / flail home.’ (p.90) At times, however, the oriental overtone becomes too formulaic and creates a strange closure. 

In ‘Visit to the British Museum’, taken from Water Over Stone (1980), there is a startling, refreshing juxtaposition of imagery to connect personal and public history: the clock-maker’s ‘sleight of mind and hand’ leads to the personal experience of the loss of time, the ‘seepage of our lives’, while she admires the etchings of history on the Assyrian bas-relief.

This collection traces the development of a subdued, steady poetic voice. The re-sequenced poems in chronology, together with the editor’s omissions of poems of ‘the weaker imaginative impulse’ and unfinished poems, renew understanding towards her work (p12). The CD that accompanies the collection includes her readings and an interview of the poet with Jenny Cuffe, in which Horovitz talks about her consciousness towards the sound of poetry, her journey as a writer, a lifelong fascination with stones and her tribute to Yeats, which offer a useful annotation to this new edition. (p.110)

Jennifer Wong was born in Hong Kong, China. Her first collection, Summer Cicadas, was published by Chameleon Press in 2006. Her poems have been published in journals including Frogmore Papers, Orbis, Warwick Review, TATE ETC and others. Her second poetry collection is due to be published by Salmon Poetry in 2013. 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Books of 2011: The Chairs Are Where The People Go

My old friend, Misha Glouberman, from Montreal, was a wit and philosopher in his precocious teens, and he went off to Harvard quite young, and then we lost touch, more or less, until Facebook intervened, though I saw him fitfully across my twenties, at a few parties that my brother, or I, or our mutual friend, Adam Frank, would hold - these were strange mixes of Wittgenstein and Iggy Pop.

He is the first of my close teenage friends (as opposed to acquaintances, peers and colleagues - I suppose I should count Daljit Nagra or Wendy Cope here as the first, really) to be published by Faber & Faber (another is forthcoming but my lips are sealed for now), and his book, The Chairs Are Where The People Go, is infuriating, smart, useful, and often truly original, in a way that can almost be disquieting.  How did he think that?  It is in an odd form - a sort of Studs Terkel thing - another writer, Sheila Heti - interviews him and transcribes his monologues, into brief chapters.  These chapters are eccentric, and sometimes informative, dealing with how to run charades events, and, for instance, deal with noise pollution from local bars; but there are also mini-essays on class and Harvard, as in the link above; and a moving piece about his partner.

I don't think the book captures the essence of the loquacious genius I knew, who had a quip a second, but it comes close to celebrating a delightful character, and thinker.  Obviously, many people have smart, funny friends who think interesting thoughts, and they don't all have Faber books, so there may be some tendency to think WTF at some of the slighter moments, but overall, this is modest, and capacious, enough, at the same time, to reward a purchase as a holiday gift for the clever chatterbox in your life.

Salt makes things interesting

2012 is already a year of poetry to look forward to, if only because of Salt Publishing... new collections, from Kirsten Irving, Jon Stone, Luke Kennard, and others, have me chafing at the bit.

London Grip

London Grip is a new online magazine worth checking out.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Gilbert Adair Has Died

Sad news, the British francophile writer, film critic and wit, Gilbert Adair, has died.  The Bertolucci film The Dreamers, was based on his novel.

Ruth Stone Has Died

Sad news.  The American poet Ruth Stone, who reached a wider audience later in life, has died.

Syd Cain Has Died

Sad news.  Syd Cain, the art designer behind Q's gadgets for the Bond films, and Blofeld's alpine HQ in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (one of the best of the series), has died.  He also worked with Kubrick and Hitchcock, among others.

Christopher Logue's Death

Sad news.  The great British poet and translator of poetry, Christopher Logue, has died.

Friday, 9 December 2011

This Stranger Island

The UK is an island, in name, and attitude - at least according to one man, David Cameron, who returns, raising his empty hand like a salute.  While the Eurozone struggles with an epoch-defining crisis that could yet plunge the world (including the UK) into deep recession, or worse, our PM fiddles with party politics.  As one French wag put it today, the Tories are acting like a man going to a wife-swapping party, without his wife.  Indeed.  It is time for the voters of Britain to decide, whether they see a future inside Europe.  Eyewear does, but also thinks a referendum makes sense - it will force the hand of all sides, and get the best arguments out there.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Oswald vs. Aurum

Well, now.  This is big.  Several major poets shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, the UK's equivalent of the Pulitzer in terms of prestige, have asked to be removed, in protest at the sponsorship by a hedge fund, Aurum.  This seems like very bad news for The Poetry Book Society.  I wonder how come no one noticed until now that in an age of austerity, poets might not want to be associated with capitalist institutions?  I am not sure the protest entirely makes sense - is Alice Oswald against all capitalism?  Her publisher markets and sells her books, and no doubt has a business account with a bank, and investments.  It seems a staggering gesture, but one that in some ways seems self-defeating.  Poets can appear aloof.  Now they appear begrudging of a potential major prize, when many people would work a year for £15,000.

Eyewear Publishing CFS

Eyewear Publishing

Is now reading full poetry collections of between 40 and 80 poems in the English language by living poets, for publication in 2012/2013 in London, England. In first instance send query emails with brief bio note, introductory letter, and sample of 5-10 poems in body of the email or PDF to toddswift at clara dot co dot uk. Usually expect a reply in 6-8 weeks or less. Multiple submissions welcome. If your work is of interest the editor will contact you and request a full submission.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ted Hughes To Be Commemorated Tonight With A Stone In Poet's Corner

Sir Andrew Motion, on BBC radio 4 this morning, explained his support for the campaign to place a stone for Ted Hughes in Poet's Corner, which culminates tonight in a ceremony, overseen by Seamus Heaney: powerful advocates indeed.  Motion claims that "Hughes is one of the two or three greatest poets of the twentieth century" - which is a staggering claim, not easily substantiated.  Yeats, Eliot, Stevens, Hardy, Thomas, Larkin, Auden, and indeed Plath, would be jostling for a place in that league table, I am sure (among others).  But that is to carp, perhaps.  Despite the fact that Hughes apparently led a destructive personal life it appears the final reward for "major" male poets in England is to be eternally lauded.  Hughes is a large presence, and a strong influence on many younger poets, still - particularly due to the violence of his diction and syntax, and his unusual perspective on nature and animal life.  In England, at least, it is now safe to say that Ted Hughes is one of the greats.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Guest Review: Kaye On Owens

Ami Kaye reviews
Something knows the Moment

Something Knows the Moment is by far the largest canvas Scott Owens has worked on. This time around he ventures into sacrosanct territory as he tackles our very foundations of belief. This poetry collection articulates our innermost conflicts about the subject. Owens plies his talent with a heightened sense of language and examines what he embraces as well as what he repudiates. He understands the disconnect between religious texts and their imperfect interpretations, and the limitations of theology as a whole which he explores with honesty and compassion, characteristic traits of Owens as a writer.  Early in the book (from “Having His Hands Before Him”) we feel the emotional impact of “God had a son,” “…so with his silence/he nailed him to a tree/so with the shadow of his hand/he took him back/and with his long spine/he lay down beside him/and wept deep/into the hands before him.” The book’s title comes from the poem “Common Ground,” written to his brother, which ponders the extent and allowances of love:

“I do not believe God will bend
to kiss this mouth.  I do not believe
the wine will turn to blood.  But something
knows the moment of sunflower,
the time of crow’s open wing,
the span of moss growing on rock,
and water washing it away.”

Owens furthers his quest in “Covenant,” as the speaker tries to comprehend the immensity of belief. We see how the origin of life is connected to its nomenclature. Owens’ natural love of words is apparent in “Learning the Names,”  “…without reason or rhyme but just/ the joy of weight on his tongue.” At such vital moments, Owens reminds us he is a poet. We feel the visceral thrust in “Original Sin”:

                      “I opened

my brother’s body as I opened
the land to plant this seed
of knowing.”

Readers of Owens’ previous books will feel the shift in poetic vision in this one. Deft and masterful, the expository tone and structure takes an exponential leap. “The Dream of St. Francis” reads like a meditation on a text, its style is pure and luminous: 

“It started with the hungry look of stars,
wind a trembling lip, earth
a field of mouths closing on air.
For all I gave I thought that God
would show me the way, give me the means

to make my life a sacrifice.
He gave me nothing but pierced hands,
a dream of the world in need.
All I had left was myself.
I gave my hands to doves, shadow wings

incapable of flight.”

This collection shows a maturing of the poetic craft; it combines superb poetic compression and imagery. In poems like “Evolution,” Owens achieves a lyric intensity that is startling and compelling:

“Reaching out to the people she loves
she feels nothing but the light around them.
She no longer knows the imperfections of face,
hand, breast.  When she tries to speak
she finds her mouth can only make music.
If she could shed this skin, her body
would burst into flight, her wings cut the sky
like sharp limbs tossed erratic in wind.”

For a topic with enough gravitas to potentially weigh the book down, ample moments of audacious humor are provided by  poems such as “Now Hiring Holy Angels,” where a recruitment call reads Must have own halo and be willing to relocate,” and states, deadpan, at the end of the list, “Salary:  None. Benefits to die for.” Other poems like “For those Grown Tired of Angels,” make a playful wisdom accessible to the reader.

Whereas in “Art of War,” the speaker’s voice mirrors our frustration “You’d think thousands of years/of civilization would be enough/to make practice unneeded,” the sensuous and emotionally charged “Saint Sebastian’s Widow” echoes a passion often found in the ecstatic poets like Rumi, Hafiz and Mirabai:

                                          “I was old
had been alone too long, had forgotten

how beautiful a man’s chest could be,
the soft thatch of hair, small-boned
ribs pressing against the flesh,
curving around the heart.”

“…I rushed to your side, watched your back
swell with air, held your face in my hands,
ran my fingers through your hair.
I wanted to lick the sweat from your brow,
suck the chill from your spine.”

“In the Cathedral of Fallen Trees” layers meaning, poetic language and some beautiful visuals. While Owens’ previous works have often employed unembellished speech, this collection kicks it up a notch. Here we find an enhanced tonal structure as music and image meld together:

                                  “He sat down
beneath the arches of limbs reaching

over him, felt the light spread
through stained glass windows of leaves,
saw every stump as a silent altar,
each branch a pulpit’s tongue.”

Owens thinks about souls and where they will go, what they will do. In “Post Mortem,” the speaker cogitates “Maybe we all get to the place we believe.” Different beliefs are called into play “Hindus come back./ Buddhists achieve Nirvana.“  “… Bad ones/ sit on thorns, turn on roasting spits,/scream against their own minds’/hellish inventions.” He goes on to speak of his own reaction to death when the time comes. In “Resistance” the speaker refuses to go gently into the night, raging against it:

“…I’ll argue the time is not right,
a mistake has been made.  I’ll call
names, scream embarrassing insults,
then dig fingers into the underside
of the chair, clamp teeth on anything
that comes near, slam my head
against their chin, the bridge of their nose.”

In the end, after the individual journeys are made, it all comes down to a personal faith, whatever it may be, and whatever direction it might take. Owens’ yearning for that spiritual knowledge comes across in “Common Ground”:

                                   “There is you
lifting me up to the limb I couldn’t reach.

This is the faith I’ve wanted, to know
that even now we are capable of such
sacrifice, such willingness to love.”

Something Knows the Moment is an act of courage. The question of faith is posed and exposed with intelligence and insight; we experience a writer trying to make sense of the incomprehensible as Owens brings a very human perspective to this vast, divine concern, making allowances for our foibles and failings. Compassion underscores his words even as he challenges the hypocrisy present in much of organized religion’s didactic beliefs and practices. This may seem far too ambitious an undertaking for one person to achieve, but Scott Owens, in a fine and seasoned voice, delivers.

Ami Kaye is the author of What Hands Can Hold (Xlibris, 2010), and Singer of the Ragas. Her poems have appeared in Cartier Street Review, Peony Moon, The Argotist Online, Luciole Press, Kritya, Tinfoildresses, Bird’s Eye Review, among others, and literary articles in Scottish Poetry Review, Diode Poetry Journal, etc. Her work was nominated for the James B. Baker award, and included in the Soul Feathers anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support. Ami Kaye publishes and manages the poetry journal, Pirene’s Fountainand is currently editing two anthologies.


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...