Friday, 31 August 2012

Eyewear At Free Verse 2012! See You There...

Shulamith Firestone Has Died

Sad news.  The great Canadian second wave feminist, Shulamith Firestone has died, at the age of 67.

Gone: a brief comment

Gone, a recent thriller, was a box office flop, and a critical car crash.  This is a pity.  I feel it was entirely misread as a film.  Instead of seeing it as a generic serial killer / girl in peril movie, consider the subtext as the text.  And the subtext is complex and refreshing and disturbing - for the heroes of the film are not the bumbling and patronising male cops, boyfriends, or even killer, or false (female) therapist or co-worker - but two sisters - one a recovering alcoholic, the other a former mental patient.  Because of their love, and intelligence, they manage to survive one day's ordeal, and dispatch the evil that threatens them.  The screenplay is both mythic and rather glumly local (in a Joycean way) - for Portland is a small place, and even the car chases are low-key.

Girl, Completed

The best part of the film is how Amanda Seyfried's feisty, haunted (and yes, sexy) heroine lies to everyone she meets, as she does her best Nancy Drew, "five-foot-four, blonde, blue eyes, armed and dangerous" to outwit the yokels and disbelieving adult world beyond her night terrors.  Her hiding out in plain sight with some teen girls is hilarious and sweet.  There is no twist in the movie - mad love prevails (she throws away her pills and any rational limits) over law and disorder - but a great sense of catharsis.  I have never seen such a positive depiction of a young mentally ill woman - this is like Girl, Interrupted, without the interruption.  It is Girl, Completed.  In time, I believe this will come to be seen as a classic of its genre.

New Poem by Todd Swift

I was at a wedding this summer, and doodled this on a napkin.  I offer it to you all, at summer's end.

For K& S

when lovers dance inside their box
the locksmith loosens all his locks

the keys with which the player plays
release the priest from what she prays

the fox outleaps the highest praise
so marriage dances on our gravest days

each ringed hand ringing as it peals
for love speaks parables of what it feels.

poem by Todd Swift

Guest Review: George on Bourne

James A. George reviews
The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne trilogy set a new benchmark for the Hollywood action film. Intrigue, mystery and more sophisticated crafting with its action scenes propelled Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne into pop-culture. The last two of the trilogy, directed by Paul Greengrass, took on a looser form than the original but kept the audience sympathetic to Bourne. Looser in terms of keeping to the script too. And perhaps for the best.

The screenwriter for the Bourne films, based on the novels of Robert Ludlum, is Tony Gilroy, now director of The Bourne Legacy. Tony Gilroy made his first big splash however with Michael Clayton, one of the very best political thrillers to ever hit the cinema and rightfully won a great many awards. However, this movie is built up of intense moments touching on a variety of serious issues that never seem to connect or add up. The films subplot explores the dangers and hidden agendas of pharmaceutical companies, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s only a problem if you’re a jet-setting super spy.

With Matt Damon not wanting to do a sequel without his previous director, we are provided with Aaron Cross, number five of a military program who has memory and with it some personality. Jeremy Renner gives us glimpses of a real human being that will get angry or make jokes, be selfish or be considerate. Rachel Weisz is always pretty watchable but seems to undergo a rather unexplored case of Stockholm syndrome.

I do appreciate the lack of a typical Hollywood three-act structure and attempt to crescendo to a climax, but a heavy lull at the beginning and pathetic attempts to tie it in to the previous trilogy didn’t let it pay off. It goes to show what a dire state Hollywood is in. A fantastic cast and crew produce some really great moments yet a needless concern to keep as many old characters and weave in previous Bourne plot points needlessly hinder this film so drastically. It is somehow both under-constructed and over-plotted.

I would honestly like to say a lot more about the film but I really can’t. The acting is solid but the incoherence of the plot plays like intervals between the action, the production is good but the shaky-cam close ups don’t highlight it and often hinders the spectacle of the actions scenes that is so vital to a film like this. The moral is, watch Michael Clayton.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Bottled Air, coming Spring 2013!

Guest Review: Stainton On Edwards

Ben Stainton reviews
by Rhian Edwards

At a time when contemporary poetry seems to be leaning towards the anti-lyrical, the anti-personal, the irony-heavy and the ‘shrugging’ (to use Jack Underwood’s description), Rhian Edwards’ debut collection – autobiographical, image-laden, crafted and musical – takes its cues from more traditional sources. This is a poetry of the expected, inasmuch as it does what poems are ‘supposed to do’ – speak about the writer’s firsthand (quirky, affecting, disturbing) experiences in a relatively uncomplicated, feelingly anecdotal way. No bad thing for those who require or admire such qualities in poetry; and this approach is sometimes telling. The absolute clarity of ‘Parents’ Evening’, for example, offers up some attractive lines and even the weaker-seeming units function in the abbreviated manner of a school report –

            She has failed to grasp the planets…

            has proven violent in games…

            has learned to darn starfish

As an opening indicator of the autobiography to come, this works well – there is humour, familiarity allowing a subtle collusion with the reader, and a blackly comic denouement – (she) ‘insists upon your death / as the conclusion to all her stories.’

The trouble with this kind of biographical re-rendering though, is that the poet has to make us care, as readers, about the time a bird hatched in their airing cupboard (‘The Hatching’), or ‘the school holiday we played knock-a-door-run…’ (‘Camposuil’). Luckily, Edwards’ arsenal of charming anecdotes is substantial – the childhood / adolescent pieces are likeable, down-to-earth, and stocked with immediately striking imagery, and as we progress from adolescence through deep-seated angst (‘Unmentionable’) and the melancholy of rediscovering a childhood toy –

            you are… moribund,
            a Rosebud, a relic
            put out to pasture, living
            proof we were once something else


Edwards cleverly encourages empathy and identification by dealing with familiar subjects – teenage jealousies, one-night-stands, dissatisfaction at work (the excellent, ambiguous ‘Alison’) – allowing herself some linguistic breathing space in the process. Metaphors bob up and down; obliquity creeps in.

In its second half, the book’s speaker is embroiled in domestic, sometimes bleak situations; extra-marital affairs, drunkenness, and the language understandably takes a darker, less ebullient turn. The feeling remains of reality reflecting back at us, as if these are experiences the poet needed to slough off or unburden herself from – not quite confessional in the fevered sense of Plath or Sexton, they nonetheless occasionally take on the manner of well-crafted therapy sessions; enjoying improbable metaphors – ‘the house turned against you… / pushed you down the stairs, / stabbed you in the hand’ (‘The Good Hand’), cute reversals – ‘pick-pocketing five more minutes / from a clock that rolls its eye’ (‘Quotidian’) and witty half-rhymes –

            Looking me dizzy
            licking me drunk
            in the face of our nudity
            I am not nearly naked enough


Edwards’ register shifts impressively when she casts her eye around her hometown for characters. ‘Going Back for Light’, an anomaly within the collection, is an earthy, entirely convincing portrait of ‘Danny’ who ‘got blacklisted at the colliery for making ructions’. Semi-prose, half-affectionate and almost satirical, it contains something rich of the world the poet once inhabited. Similarly, in the concluding ‘Girl Meats Boy’ (winner of the John Tripp Award, 2011), the voice abruptly becomes huge and essential; the language overflowing with an inventiveness reminiscent of Dylan Thomas but also entirely her own; as if a tap has been trickling in secret and is now manically flooding the bathroom. We are reminded, through such energy, pace and playfulness, that this is a poet actually in love with poetry, rather than half-mocking it from the margins. At a time when sincerity and ‘the personal’ are generally viewed as badges of uncool, Clueless Dogs is like two fingers in the face of fashion; proud of its constructions, unselfconscious in the act of remembering.

Ben Stainton’s poems are forthcoming in Coin Opera 2, SSYK (5) and the Bloodaxe anthology Dear World and Everyone in it.  

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Daryl Hine Has Died

Sad news.  One of Canada's greatest poets, Daryl Hine, has died suddenly, at the age of 76.  When Evan Jones and I co-edited Modern Canadian Poets for Carcanet in 2010, we began with very few certitudes.  One of them was that Hine would be included.  He was a master formalist, perhaps the major North American formalist (alongside Wilbur), a delicious wit, and the former editor of Poetry magazine: a truly cosmopolitan Canadian.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Poets For Pussy Riot

Poets for Pussy Riot
Wednesday August 29th 2012 - 7pm until late - Free entrance
at the Rich mix arts centre, main space venue
35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA 020 7613 7498
With the news that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the Russian punk collective, Pussy Riot, were sentenced to two years in prison for a wholly necessary and valid political protest, contemporary poets in London will come together in a unique evening of readings, featuring original poetry and text, as well as the words of Pussy Riot themselves. This event is an act of solidarity through the medium of poetry - a celebration of the courage and spirit of fellow writers of this generation, writing for real political change in a country that needs it.

The event will feature over 30 poets, including Tim Atkins, David Berridge, Harry Burke, Becky Cremin, Nia Davies, Amy Evans, Ollie Evans, Irum Fazal, SJ Fowler, Charlotte Geater, Jeff Hilson, Kirsty Irving, Keith Jebb, Antony John, Marek Kazmierski, Robert Kiely, Francesca Lisette, Chris McCabe, Mendoza, Reza Mohammadi, Sandeep Parmar, Claire Potter, Nat Raha, Will Rowe, Connie Scozzaro, Antonia Seroff, Andy Spragg, Jon Stone, Philip Terry, Jack Underwood, MJ Weller, James Wilkes, Jenny Wong and Michael Zand.

Index on Censorship will also have a presence at the event. You can follow their work regarding the Pussy Riot case here.

Modern Poetry in Translation have also provided remarkable translations of the testimonials of the three women who have been sentenced, and the punk prayer song that was performed in Christ the Saviour cathedral in Moscow in February, completely free, thanks to the diligence and endeavour of MPT editor, Sasha Dugdale. I urge you to read the testimonies especially.

Please come along, the event is free and spread the word if you can.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Gone Fishing

Eyewear is getting some shut eye for a fortnight, in order to take a much needed post-Olympic break.  See you end of August.  I wish you grass.  I wish you sun.  I wish you sand.  I wish you a hammock, and a cool breeze.  I wish you some poetry books, or a charity shop thriller, or both.  Maybe a G&T, or some lemonade.  In the meantime, feel free to enjoy our unrivalled back catalogue of posts stretching back to 2005.  Countless poems, reviews, and opinion pieces.  I wish you love and health.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Greatest Britain

Eyewear's belief in the 2012 London Olympics has been totally vindicated, not least by Jonathan Freedland and Blake Morrison, both writing lyrically in today's Guardian.  One of the greatest games ever held - and surely the fairest, with no teams boycotting and women represented as never before - it has showcased a bold, lively, upbeat, good Britain - filled with enthusiastic, celebratory people able to enjoy the successes of themselves and others.  The nay-sayers are wrong about the Olympics, and always were - its ideals are real, as are its golden gifts.  The Games inspire and reveal the best of ourselves - as competitors, as hosts and as audience.  I am proud to live in London, and to be on track to get British citizenship.  I have lived in London for 9 years now, and am happy to be here.  British people, too often sold short by their media and their bankers and their politicians - have risen to the occasion, and vaulted over the establishment to make this a People's Games.  The best of Britain is in its creativity, energy, sense of humour and fair play - and yes, its patriotism, its emotionality.  Forget the stiff upper lip nonsense.  The British laugh and cry with the best of them - we've seen it on the podiums.  The British are human, wonderfully so, and, for the most part, wonderful.  This Games has been one of the greatest moments of my life - for I have seen my new home come alive, as it does on hot sunny days, and also on days when snow falls enough to make snowmen.  Long may we remember how good we can be, how joyous, how proud, how modest, how welcoming.  How golden, and yes, sylvan, and bronzed.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Buy British, Buy American

If you want to support a small new British press in this time of British Olympic success, why not start by ordering yourself a beautiful edition of Morgan Harlow's debut collection, a superb book of witty eco-poetry with an avant-garde pitch.

Monday, 6 August 2012


Eyewear is very glad to feature a poem today by Jessica Mayhew.  She is a 22-year-old student with a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing. She will be studying for a Masters in English Literature at UCL this autumn. Her poetry and fiction has been published in magazines such as Staple, Coffee House, Cadaverine, Seventh Quarry, Party in Your Eyesocket, Cooldog and Hearing Voices. She has given readings, including at the Southwell and Ledbury poetry festivals. Her first pamphlet was published in 2012 by Crystal Clear Creators, and is titled Someone Else’s Photograph. It is available from the Crystal Clear Creators website.

Jessica Mayhew, Young British Poet
My Grandmother’s Grandfather

I watched her dream back to Lerwick,
her chair hollowed to fit her,
printing withered lips on water glasses
the shade of the sand on Muckle Roe.
She dammed the North Sea there
with wet, gritted handfuls
and mouse-earred chickweed
shuddered white,
sky dark as an under-wing.

Down on the aer,
above the rush and kurr of the waves,
fish bellies bloomed under thin blades.
She told me everything she knew about salt,
how it split her mother’s fingers,
waiting for her father to surface.

Land-locked, we watch at the window,
for the crooked flecks of gulls
fussing over scraps on deck
like bright drops shaken from an oar.  
Through washing lines, roof tiles
his sea-voice floats, stiff with spindrift,
I’m still here, come find me

poem by Jessica Mayhew; published online with her permission.

B Is For Bolt

Eyewear was in the Olympic Stadium last night for the greatest show on earth - Usain Bolt's run into history, as world's fastest man, redux.  First, let me say that if Britain was run like the Olympics we would all be better off - it was efficient, uniformly friendly, and upbeat.  Britain isn't broken, it just needs to rise to the occasion which it is doing for these games, splendidly.  Secondly, let me note that poetry is not as great as sport.  Hearing and seeing 80,000 people erupt in joy after Bolt ran is a corrective to the notion that poems just need to be clearer, or rhyme, or be in traditional forms, or funny, to "win an audience".  No, to win an audience these days, one needs to genuinely enthral, thrill and impress, with something astounding.  There is no sense of cheap faux celebrity about Bolt.  The greatness is in the doing, and the deed is heroic.  Finally, on the subject of Bolt's authenticity - God, let's hope there's no doping involved, as with Canada's Ben.  The world may be in severe crisis financially, and politically, and environmentally, but we can still dream and cheer.  It would be splendid to know that what we are cheering is the Real Thing.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Guest Review: Bowden On La Havas

Eyewear's Music Critic Lydia Bowden On Lianne La Havas

I can’t have an ice-cream without thinking about Lianne La Havas. Why? Because I swear she sings that instead of ‘I scream’ in her debut single ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’- and of course it isn’t ice-cream- but La Havas’ voice sounds so much like flowing caramel, if there was such a thing, so I guess that connotation with ice-cream is fair enough on my part.

Seriously though, this girl’s voice is deliciously smooth. Not only that, but even the music sounds just as sweet. Insisting on playing her own highly strapped guitar, La Havas gives off this dreamlike effect through her music with random scales on guitar and experimental notes with her husky voice.

 A Londoner- part Greek, part Jamaican- and yet another artist having emerged from Later…with Jools Holland, La Havas is something like Corinne Bailey Rae, but it’s something much more refreshing , something a little more honest and stylish from this young 22 year old.

It’s this husky voice that gets people going. Who doesn’t like a strong female vocalist who discards singing about clubbing and partying, but instead, sings soulfully and from their broken heart? Adele does it and now does La Havas.

The thing I admire most about La Havas is her quirky humour. In ‘Age’ she talks about her relationship with an older man, asking herself ‘Why do I love him?’ and ultimately that, ‘I like younger men’. What’s great is that you’d expect some kind of thoughtful piano solo, but La Havas keeps it simple and almost happy with two note pick of her electric guitar; turning the song into a cheerful anecdote of a bad relationship. And this is what makes you really love her- she’s laughing at her sad times- and making bloody good music at the same time.

However there has to be one or two songs that strip everything back to where the talent lies and this one is called ‘Lost and Found’ and is one of my favourites on the album. Just a piano, one or two short strums of the guitar and the voice. Even with its slow beat, this is a catchy one and you’ll find yourself humming the tune for the rest of the day. ‘No Room for Doubt’ features American folk singer Willy Mason, who’s voice blends wonderfully with La Havas’ into a continual hypnotic chant of the line ‘We all make mistakes, we do’.

Some songs get away though, and fall into the group that’ll never be played again- until you find them in a few years time of course. However, something tells me this album will keep popping up and there will be no escaping the dulcet tones of La Havas, so grab her album and get to know her before you miss out on all the fuss.  

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Guest Review: Williamson On Womack

Heidi Williamson reviews
by James Womack

If you’re the sort of bookshop browser who does judge a book by its cover, you’ll get a good indication of the content of James Womack’s debut poetry collection from its aptly chosen cover art. As well as its obvious references to historical, social, cultural, and political concerns, ‘The Origin of Socialist Realism’ by the two-man Russian √©migr√© collective Komar and Melamid is technically adept, self-consciously ironic, and provocative about the nature of art and the role of the artist. These are also features of Womack’s highly articulate and assured work.

Having seen his poems in PN Review and the Guardian online, I was aware of Womack as a poet with an ambitious reach – not afraid to tackle subjects like politics, terrorism, and war, but with a nice line in irony that shifts the tone of his work well out of the bounds of ‘worthiness.’

In this book he’s as comfortable and convincing narrating a seemingly ‘real-life’ story about ‘Vomit’ as presenting versions of classic poems or thought-provoking, discomfiting political pieces.

 Usually one to follow a book diligently from its beginning to the end, I couldn’t help satisfying my curiosity about the title poem; a seemingly ‘throwaway’ one-liner that ends the varied first section of the book before a twelve poem sequence about loss. Here it is in its entirety:

 ‘We’ll make him laugh himself o death.’ 


 It was only in reading the book in sequence that I took on board the importance of this quote to the whole. Weighty subjects are frequently treated with a wryness that both undercuts any of charge of pretentiousness and lets the reader in a little closer to the narrator’s perspective. Often I felt as if I was being taken aside and told a joke that’s ridiculously funny at the same time as being deadly serious. His stance in many pieces put me in mind of Beckett; exposing the tragi-comedy of the human condition, the better to survey and ‘survive’ it.

 In a poem about an overblown cover image from a 1960s teen magazine, Womack emphasises his interest in both recording and setting current times in an historical perspective: ‘What do we stand before; what is behind us?’ (‘Young Romance’)

 and a wish to portray this ‘reality’ as honestly as possible:

‘To the best of our knowledge we have told you what we see.’

 (‘Young Romance’)

Womack makes us conscious of the role of the writer and the reader throughout the book. And he is on the reader’s side. In poems like ‘The True Scholar’ and ‘from the Literary Encyclopaedia’ he debunks the pomposity of the academe:

 ‘Bringing difficulty to clearness.

You will point out, scrupulously,
that this can be read both ways.’

(‘The True Scholar’)

He also lets us in to the creative process. Comparing writing to other artistic disciplines like painting or cinema, he makes it clear we are a participant in the making of these pieces:

 ‘What can we do with this word?’

opens the book, followed by:

 ‘…details that will not
exist without the reader to mak

ethem. A poem that is only
a farrago of hints.’

(‘From a Notebook’)

and from ‘Mosaic’: ‘How may we fit these fragments together?’

 His work is stylistically varied. As confident with formally rhymed sonnets as freer verse, he presents us with web urls as titles, sound games, found poems, and sequences based on films, quotes, and translations.

 In Eurydice 5 he uses an unusual technique placing capitals in the middle of a poem to ask the question: ‘IS IT UNGALLANT TO START COMPOSING… THE POEM… IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS?’ The same poem’s reference to ‘almost painful ice’ calls to mind Graham Greene’s ‘splinter of ice in the heart of the writer’. Though universal ideas, they are handled in a way that makes them read freshly.

 I also liked the self-regarding sending-up of titles like ‘Now,/ A/ Poem/ that is Called/ ‘Of Insomnia’, which is actually a fairly serious poem about being too troubled to sleep. There are some laugh-out-loud lines too – ‘insufficiently lubricated carnage’ (‘Internet Poems 1’) and ‘Drood, Where’s My Car?’ (‘Internet Poems 2’) spring to mind.

On first reading, I was tempted to think of the book as a ‘cut and shut.’ The final long section about the death of a lover felt tonally quite different – more direct, and more affecting because of that. The wide-ranging first section, on the other hand, felt more of a romp across cultures and historical episodes – from mythical anecdotes, through B movie features, to bang up-to-date explorations of our consumption of web pages, films, and magazines.

 But I think a whole book of one or the other would have been harder to take. The more I read the collection, the more I agreed with the blurb about the final sequence ‘draw[ing] the different strands of the collection together.’ The irony is more subtle; the narrator presents versions of elegies, and stands back from his own perspective of loss to question the morality of recording it. And it too, is historically aware, stylistically varied, and multi (culturally) layered.

 The worlds of the living and the dead become difficult to separate:
‘the fear that I have been
with one who is already dead’
(‘Eurydice 6’)
Though this too becomes a source of dry humour and comment:
‘I read the same novel as I thought you’d read
but I didn’t notice all the characters were dead.’
One sense I came away with was that Womack’s work could come across as more personal and authentic when presenting free versions of another’s work. ‘Freely adapted from/ a free translation of’ are recurring phrases. These pieces seemed to give him permission to access a rawness and openness that made some other phrasing feel a bit flat. For example:
‘My hands…
touch the fainting marble of your waist,
reach down to the place where all poems end.’
            (Eurydice 11, ‘a free translation of Pablo Garcia Baena’s poem Jardin’)
compared with:
‘I’ve not seen her for years
she still writes
or wants to write’
(‘Dark and stormys’)

Happiness as a form of enquiry is given as much credence as sorrow and pain. As another poem says: ‘We cannot avoid happiness’ (‘Maisky Poems VII’). And its gentle delights are instructive:

‘What would it be like
to be a carp, and have the world
expand every time it rained?’

I admired this collection for its playfulness, formal dexterity, willingness to raise big questions, and  likeable intelligence. As Womack has the speaker say in ‘The Underworld’:‘ I have told you much, of permanent interest.’ Quite. I look forward to reading more from him.

 Heidi Williamson’s first collection Electric Shadow
(Bloodaxe Books, 2011) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the 2012 Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. 

Less Than Vertigo

Eyewear's favourite film has been Vertigo for some time (see my post from four years ago).  How could it not be?  The fetishism, scopophilia, love-death soundtrack, high romance, and melancholia of desire all make it grist for my mill.  So though I love Welles and his Kane, the news that Sight & Sound's once-a-decade critics poll has finally moved Hitch's greatest film to top place - a vertiginous place - is news to celebrate.


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...