Monday, 30 December 2013

EYEWEAR'S BRITISH POETRY POWER LIST 2013

Eyewear blog today surveys the world of British poetry, and compile a list of the twenty (20) most "powerful" individuals in "British poetry".  Both terms are obviously contentious, and no apology can be made for not parsing them endlessly here.  Critical work requires some jargon.  Anyway, we know what British poetry is, mainly - it is poetry published in Britain, or written by British poets, or both, or how those two sets overlap.  This list notes those figures who most potently shape what contemporary British poetry is - materially, ideologically, editorially, critically, and literally (in the act of creating it).  Notably, there are few academics or critics-only on this list, because British poetry has few extremely well-known and powerful poetry critics or scholars able to shape the canon, or cultural reception of poetry in these isles.  We have no Helen Vendler or Marjorie Perloff, to be exact.

We have no Harold Bloom.  A. Alvarez no longer weighs in, and few others have his former heft.  Those on this list come closest to that sort of power to decide what poems, poets, poetry books, and poetics, will be published, read, well-reviewed, taught, and prized.  And, it must be noted, we need to problematise the idea of agency here, because even these figures, vital as they are, and sometimes controversial, are hardly omnipotent.  Nor do they comprise some sort of "establishment" - there is not one British poetry establishment, anyway, but three or four, which overlap. Nor are these figures necessarily to be celebrated, per se: this isn't a list that says this is good, or right - just, this is as it is.


There may be a few names left off this list, and I have left several respected friends and colleagues off, who are very influential, important and should be more influential, but no argument can be easily made to remove any that are here - there is a brute facticity to these choices.  These are names to conjure with, and they are, for the most part, famous names.  They are mostly the names of professors, laureates, editors, and award-winners. The British (or English, at any rate) are often discomfited by the idea of anything as inelegant as use of power - but cultural power is the only power that poets are likely ever to have or exercise, and to deny it exists leads to a state of dis-empowerment for many.  The hope is, by creating such a list, power can be explored and utilised for the maximum cultural good, in future.


I have not listed those with the economic power to fund or defund, however. No one here is a bean counter or politician.

The list is in alphabetical order.

SIMON ARMITAGE

NEIL ASTLEY
ANDREA BRADY
CAROL ANN DUFFY
GEOFFREY HILL
MATTHEW HOLLIS
SIMON JARVIS
RODDY LUMSDEN
GLYN MAXWELL
ANDREW MOTION
SEAN O'BRIEN
DON PATERSON
JH PRYNNE
CRAIG RAINE
MAURICE RIORDAN
ROBIN ROBERTSON
FIONA SAMPSON
MICHAEL SCHMIDT
KESTON SUTHERLAND
AHREN WARNER

WHAT IS CONTEMPORARY POETRY?

Several key art books of the last four of five years, such as by Richard Myer (MIT, 2013) have revolved around the question of contemporaneity, and what, precisely, it means, to be a contemporary artist.  In the new global art world, the term "contemporary" has, to a serious extent, replaced the terms conceptual, or post-modern.  It seems the poetry world (to label a thing which may not, yet, exist) has yet to embrace the label contemporary in quite the same way.  Eyewear the blog will be asking, in 2014, just what contemporary poetry is, or was...

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A CHRISTMAS POEM FROM TODD SWIFT DECEMBER 25 2013

THE MOTHER OF JESUS GAVE THE FIRST GIFT

The bruise of asking
inside genderless
the more a God demands
spreads angelic paste

the task of bearing
Christ's little weight
tastes a globe of blood
on the toying tongue

clouds boiled elsewhere
prepare their foreignness
like uneven stars
exchange air for dust

rain for a reign
the boy-child's nails
are rust by now
after the Roman taps

caress that blonde grain
the wood bore his skinny
freight well off the ground
that deserved more just

as she Mary-mother lifted
His lusty seedlings
of denatured dominion
in her privacy ruined

her swollen overbearing
flood bursting green
banks to drown
Christmastime in a tide

her fluidity of sense
and giving up, her
blunt loss the main gift
that flourishes brightly

across centuries, a snow
drift his Easter clears
but only first the good
comes, the stain under skin

healing slowly, after
an unalterable imposition
in the dizzy hayloft
among beasts and sultans

bowing to see water break
and a woman open out
to let one black hole emerge
out of fecundity into world

as if being went backwards
to roll the sun back
as a sleeve will to an arm
harm itself undone in splurge

the sack and grease
of this birth contaminating
each pried apart visitor
driven back to dull lands

immersed in a totality-virus
the entirety of creation aching
to shed and blister as if a snake
taking flight to be - up - bird


copyright Todd Swift 2013

CHRISTMAS DAY POETRY QUIZ FROM EYEWEAR

The first person to post all the correct answers to these questions will win a very nice surprise package of books from Eyewear Publishing.

1. Name the poet, and text, where this line appears: "Tigers mourn Sikandar."

2. Who wrote "If a literary critic happens to be also a poet (un poete manque is the usual taunt) he is liable to suffer from dilemmas which do not trouble the philosophic calm of his more prosaic colleagues."

3. Which poet took their heart in their hand, twice?

4. Who wrote: "Everything is in exile/ everything will return"?

5. Which British modernist poet wrote: "The number of coracles in use is counted by the number of nets."?

6. Which poet writes of "the light of snow falling"?

7. A poet recently titled a book that can be paraphrased as "Big Cat, Bad Choices".  Name the title.

8. A Little Book of Modern Verse, edited by Anne Ridler - the last poem in the book is by -?

9. Which American poet wrote: "Poetry is not striving to become music, or mathematics"?

10.Which poet wrote in a letter that he had several talks with Miss Knight before she left for Christmas?

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

TRADING PLACES?

For all the whirlwind ambition and hustle of the world, Christmas Eve reminds us of one thing, if we are fortunate enough, as I am, to be at home, in a warm candle-lit kitchen with beloved family members, drinking hot chocolate, playing board games, and eating and drinking merrily - no one who is loved, and loves, and has Christmas in their heart, need ever trade places with kings or celebrities or billionaires, or famous writers, or even Queens... joy is modest and based in the carpenter's world, not the world of bombast and royalty.  Ring the bells within, and enjoy what you have.  The rest is the crashing of meaningless cymbals.  Love to all!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!

Eyewear blog and its team of reviewers wishes you a joyous and peaceful time this Christmas, with much love and fun sharing good times with your family and friends.  See you in 2014!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

BOOK OF THE YEAR?

Lots to choose from, and for a moment, it was going to be the Morrissey biography, which for sheer hubris is hard to beat, or the Hill Collected, which is magisterial and wonderful, but surely the monumental work, for poetry, in these isles, was actually The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English - a thoroughly recalibrated version of the older, grumpier model, which extends the franchise more widely than might have been thought possible were its new editor not a reasonable and engaged reader. No reader of poetry today would not enjoy flipping through this and seeing how canonical reps jostle with the newly-minted ones.  Written by hundreds of hands, it is never less than stimulating, and often informative.  And yes, Todd Swift has an entry.  There is a god of poetry, sometimes, so suddenly.
Yes, this is from Amazon.  No, the click don't work here buddy.

BOOKS BY THE BED

Every year certain books pile up that I mean to review at this blog, books by friends, or books that mean something to me, but I never get around to writing about, fully and deeply.

Here is a partial list of these important poetry books - I aim to write something about them in the coming months.  They are all, I should add, recommended.

JOHN GOODBY - A TRUE PRIZE
TOM PHILLIPS - RECREATION GROUND
DAVID HERD - ALL JUST
SUSAN MILLAR DUMARS - THE GOD THING
RACHAEL BOAST - PILGRIM'S FLOWER
ROBERT PRIEST - PREVIOUSLY FEARED DARKNESS
ROBIN RICHARDSON - KNIFE THROWING THROUGH SELF HYPNOSIS
&
STEPHEN BURT - BELMONT






Friday, 20 December 2013

THE SWIFT REPORT 2013

Swifty Lazaar, my hero and fashion guru.

Get ready to splutter with outrage and derision.  Here comes Todd Swift again, outlandish and fearless.

In a year where one of the top memes was Jean Claude van Damme doing the splits between two trucks, and another was Miley Cyrus twerking, you might think I'd have been okay.  But 2013 was an odd year, as readers of this blog (and others) may recall, if only for me.  I want to start by saying that the act of writing such a summary is at once a harmless writerly act of sharing, and also an aggressive one of self-advertising, but it is surely not naively narcissistic. I write on the eve of the darkest day of the year, which seems fitting to me, because 2013 was a year that started bad, and gradually moved into the light - with the highlights being when I became British in Marylebone, and then celebrated ten years of marriage, on June 6.

To begin with, my Grandmother, Melita Hume, died late 2012, basically early 2013, in the period just after Christmas - a sort of no man's land on the calendar - and this led to a family memorial service in the summer, when the ground had thawed and a proper burial could take place, such being Quebec's weather. My time at the memorial was charged with various degrees of ambivalence, especially as I was both mourning and returning, meeting and saying farewell.

My grandmother had written us all letters before she died, and reading those at the graveside was uncanny.  But swimming with my family at the lake in the summer was fun.  Meanwhile, I left my previous university and occasioned an infamous open letter, but was welcomed by the University of Glasgow's Creative Writing department, where I became a teacher.  Glasgow is ranked 51st best university in the world, so that was a reversal of fortune. I have met many very talented student writers and colleagues there, and grown to love Glasgow and its welcoming, witty people.

Of course, I was also attacked by a famous boy band, which led to bizarre headlines.  The champagne poet did not become a meme of the year, but it almost did, I am over the assault despite having never received a formal apology.  Meanwhile, as I keep saying, Eyewear Publishing, thanks to a brilliant team, went from strength to strength, launching many books in great venues in Bloomsbury and Soho (including the LRB and Foyles), and throwing great parties.  We launched our first novel - and I am very proud of these books.

I am also very proud of my two foreign language Selected poems out this year, one in Macedonian, the other in Dutch.  My launch in Amsterdam was really enjoyable.  I was pleased to be listed in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English.  I have also been working on two collections out next year - a pamphlet in the spring with KFS, and then my Selected 1983-2013, from Marick Press, USA.

I want to count my blessings - I have a wife who is supportive and delightful; a comfortable home comparable to Paul Muldoon's (a gentle bit of satire there) in the best city in the world other than Glasgow (where I also stay in a lovely flat); and lots of books to read, and stylish clothes to wear.  The drawbacks to my life are few, if worrisome - I eat and drink too much, and so, at 47, my boyish and svelte physique is gone.  I no longer slink about like the sexy rock-star lookalike I was in my 20s, when I was often compared to Gary Oldman.  Or was it Johnny Depp?  No, I am a pudgier man now if still slim-hipped.  I go to the gym and swim and run and ski, but the medication I am on does not encourage weight loss.  I do wear cool glasses, to compensate.  Such is male vanity.

But that is beside the point.  In general my health stayed good this year, despite trying to sell poetry in a Pop Up Shop in Notting Hill, made bearable for the week only by Charles Boyle, Lydia Bowden, Nii Parkes, my wife, and a few others. It helped I had a few lovely vacations - hill-walking in Ireland at Easter, and then a late October flight to Ibiza for some hippy market shopping. Also, some good friends visited, including poet Jason Camlot, and lawyer Phil Hiebert.

I struggle with some inner demons, because I had a crazy childhood, and some of the wounds remain; they are deep and while I slowly heal, I could do more. My faith is on a slippery slope, and I battle daily against the glamour of evil.  I want to be good, but do I do enough, frankly, to actually be good? This is a morally preposterous age.  Rob Ford, a moral buffoon, was chosen as my person of the year for a reason - he is the world that awaits us if we continue to become the junk we feed ourselves. The media is a cancer, and God has left our lives; and, where religion manifests itself, it seems to do so often negatively. The ray of hope this year was that little rhyme, the Pope.  I pray he is as he seems.  He seems the miracle of the year.

Goodnight, and have a wonderful Christmas, and festive season, and may the new year bring you and your family health, love, and peace of mind.  If I had one wish, it would be for everyone who reads this to buy Sumia Sukkar's brilliant novel about Syrian refugees in 2012 and early 2013.  It deserves to be a classic, and if I had the marketing budget, it would be. Ho ho ho and jingle those bells! Love, Dr Todd Swift

Thursday, 19 December 2013

20-20 PAMPHLET SERIES FROM EYEWEAR IN 2014-2015

eyewear twenty-twenty poetry series

an exciting new project to publish twenty pamphlets by twenty poets, 
with each pamphlet containing twenty poems. 

The series will be both challenging & thought-provoking, providing a fresh view on contemporary poetry with a primary focus on new work from unpublished poets.

Poets will be selected on merit by Les Robinson & Todd Swift 
as co-editors of the series.

Further details will be announced in the new year with the first twenty-twenty pamphlets due in 2014.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Asperger Syndrome Does Not Belong To Mark Haddon

I have been hearing from critics, editors, and pr people in London, many of whom are astonished that Sumia Sukkar's brilliant, riveting, timely, and very moving novel about a Syrian family who become refugees, has failed to receive more media attention here in the UK - only The Times got the value of the book (and gave it a terrific review). One of the reasons, it seems, is that some people feel that having a character in the novel who has Asperger Syndrome somehow renders it cliche, or overly familiar.  Indeed, someone close to Mark Haddon, author of the best-selling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (now a smash hit play in the West End), said he declines to endorse any new fiction involving persons with Asperger Syndrome.

Now, let us step back and be clear.  Asperger Syndrome is not a gimmick merely useful for a plot point, or a good novel.  It is a very real condition, that affects millions of families around the world. The fact that Sumia's novel has a character with this condition in no way invalidates the far wider context of the novel - an exploration of family life and love in a Muslim culture, facing threat of war.  To suggest it does would be to suggest that representations of "disability" somehow should be rationed.  I have heard some reviewers sigh - not another Asperger's book.  Really?  What about "another" woman's book, or black book, or blind book, or gay book, or cancer book?  Writing about Asperger's is not like writing about teen vampires or kinky sex.  It isn't a lifestyle choice or a myth. Human experience is multiple, varied, and complex.  Mark Haddon did not use creative brilliance to invent the character of his boy hero - he drew on well-known facts, on a real condition.  Haddon does not own Asperger's.

No writer holds the moral copyright on any human condition - be that love, death, suffering, illness, poverty - the list is endless.  It is sad, tedious, and unimaginative to have pigeonholed the Sukkar novel - a great novel that transcends and transforms and deepens the Asperger's Genre (as it is becoming called by some critics) - as merely a Haddon rip-off.  Indeed, the Incident in Haddon is very limited in scope, to two families, and one dog.  In Sukkar, the incident, sadly real, relates to millions of displaced persons.  As one reviewer online put it, to compare Haddon's hero to Sukkar's is like saying that Holden Caulfield is the same as Anne Frank, simply because they were both adolescents.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

EYEWEAR'S PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR: ROB FORD

ROBERT FORD, TORONTO'S OUTLANDISH AND LARGER THAN LIFE MAYOR IS EYEWEAR'S PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR 2013
2013 WAS A YEAR OF GREAT AND PORTENTOUS ANNIVERSARIES, FOR INSTANCE THE DEATH BY RIFLE OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY.  IT ALSO SAW THE PASSING OF POLITICAL LEADERS OF TITANIC STATURE, SUCH AS MARGARET THATCHER, AND NELSON MANDELA.  IN FILM, SANDRA BULLOCK AND ROBERT REDFORD MADE CAREER-BEST MOVIES ABOUT SURVIVAL. IN MUSIC, DAVID BOWIE AND BEYONCE SURPRISED WITH DIGITAL RELEASES.  ON BALCONIES THE WANTED AND JUSTIN BIEBER CAUSED EXCITEMENT. IN TELEVISION, ANTI-HEROES DIED, AND WE FELT THE LOSS AS OF A REAL FRIEND, AS WITH WALTER WHITE OR SGT. N. BRODY.  IN FICTION, BEST-SELLING AUTHORS DAN BROWN AND JK ROWLING CONTINUED TO SELL THEIR BOOKS LIKE BIBLES. AND A CANADIAN WON THE NOBEL PRIZE. MORE WIDELY, PEOPLE OF GREAT MORAL FIBRE, LIKE MALALA, POPE FRANCIS, AND EDWARD SNOWDEN, VARIOUSLY REMINDED US HOW THE HUMAN SPIRIT SOARS BEST WHEN MOST ENGAGED IN BRAVE WORK TO IMPROVE THE WORLD.  HOWEVER, EYEWEAR IS ABOUT TO DISCOUNT ALL THIS, AND MORE, AND INSTEAD NAME A CRASS, OBESE, VULGAR AND DOLTISH CANADIAN MAYOR AS THE MEME OF THE YEAR, THE MAN OF THE YEAR, AND FINALLY, THE PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR, FOR SEVERAL REASONS THAT REQUIRE PORTENTOUS CAPITAL LETTERING.  FIRSTLY, NEVER BEFORE HAS A CANADIAN BEEN SO WELL-KNOWN WORLD-WIDE, AND THAT INCLUDES BEN JOHNSON, PIERRE TRUDEAU OR MARGARET ATWOOD.  AND NO OTHER CANADIAN FUNNYMAN, INCLUDING JOHN CANDY, HAS EVER GIVEN THE WORLD MORE CAUSE TO CHUCKLE.  MAKE NO MISTAKE, ROB FORD'S SWAGGERING POT-BELLIED FIGURE, PART-RABELESIAN, PART FALSTAFFIAN, AND PART DOM DELUISIAN, WAS AN AFFRONT TO HUMAN DIGNITY AND TORONTONIAN DECENCY.  BUT HAS ANY DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED LEADER SINCE THAT FIRE IN BERLIN EVER SO SHAMELESSLY REFUSED TO STEP ASIDE AS MORE AND MORE IGNOMINY AND OUTRAGE PILED HIGH? INDEED, THE EXCUSE THAT HE ONLY SMOKED CRACK COCAINE BECAUSE HE WAS IN A DRUNKEN STUPOR IS THE NEW I SHOT THE SHERIFF BUT I DID NOT SHOOT THE DEPUTY - A CONFESSION THAT MIGHT BE WORSE THAN A DENIAL.  AND THE FORD SAGA IS ONGOING, AND MAY MAKE HIM THE PERSONALITY OF 2014 TOO, AN OVERSPILLING BEING OF ENDLESS INCORRIGIBLE TRANSGRESSIVE POSSIBILITY, THE BOUNDLESS AVATAR OF THE BUSTLING BIG NEW TORONTO OF THE 21ST CENTURY, NOT HOG BUTCHER TO THE WORLD, BUT, INSTEAD, GAG PEDDLER TO THE WORLD. ROB FORD IS A NEW KIND OF MAN, A SUPERMAN COME AT LAST, ONE WHO DOES NOT BEND TO THE WILL OF OTHERS OR MAKE APOLOGIES FOR HIS OWN DESIRES AND NEEDS.  HE IS AN ARTIST OF HUMAN APPETITES, AS ENTHRALLING AS A NATURAL DISASTER. HE WAS 2013.

NYUL Reading Poems

I recently read with some undergraduate students at New York University in London, based in Bloomsbury, and was taken by their talent, energy and performance ability.  Here are four poems by four of the five poets who I read with that night.  The fifth is currently reworking the poems they read.  Maybe later.


ANDREW KARPAN

Andrew Karpan is in his second year at New York University.


London


Waiting in the cue in Pentonville.
Hearing me, begins: “You’re not from here, are you?”
Genuine gut post-colonial interest; can’t help asking

“No, no, you got to go to south London.”
She’s been here a while: wants to help,
Breasts diligently seeming to pop right out of her shirt.
She’s a humanitarian; I listen attentively.
The same voice teaches elementary school kids in Croydon.
“That’s the real London.”

Drinks: tequila shots, and a pint of the cheapest beer I can find for her.
Upstairs: I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor.
I try to impress her, screaming sets of clever words.
But they spill out, all across
Dirty, sticky, booze-stained dance floor.

She says she writes poetry.
Adores: Plath, Kerouac.
Right now, she’s wearing metaphors.
Her purple cocktail dress: a stand in for all the characters
In her unpublished novels.

Tomorrow morning she’s a bobbing head
Swimming from King’s Cross to Euston.
Tonight her name is -
I can feel it on the tip of my tongue, can’t say it, lest it slip away.

Later she spells it out when I ask,
Next to her number.
She puts mine on a colorful piece of construction paper
That she pulls from her purse
Right before she disappears.


ARIEL HAIRSTON

Ariel Hairston is in the Core Liberal Studies Program at New York University and spent her first year studying in London.


Bible


Leather-bound, white, and covered in a thin film of dust. It's faded like those jeans you've washed fifteen times too many, the ones that barely fit but you keep in the back of your closet.

Through the haze, you can just barely see the glint of gold letters on its surface: B- I -B -L -E. If you were to touch it, you'd realize the word is engraved deep within the fabric of the cover. Even in the darkness of the room, under the layers of years, you know what it is.

If you flipped the cover back, you'd hear the faint crack of a book that's never been opened. It was never meant to be opened. As a child, you shifted through three different homes, caught in the blur of changing addresses, land-lines, and living rooms. In the midst of this fluid want for stability sat the unmoving Bible on display for everyone to see.

Somewhere between your first boyfriend and your first car, someone packed it away. They carefully wrapped it in thick bubble-wrap, stuffing it into a recycled brown box. But it was never unpacked.

You happened to stumble upon it years later, haphazardly cutting the box open with the expectation of finding the old Christmas lights. You held the Bible in your hands, surprised at how heavy it had become. Leather-bound, white, covered in a thin film of dust. 



SHANNAGH ROWLAND 
Shannagh Rowland is from Ireland and is studying at New York University. She plans to major in English Literature and minor in a media subject.


Nostalgia

And yet
All this eternity and youth,
Love and noise
Means seldom to a young heart,
But is simply immeasurable to homely bones.
Tilled skin, ancient limbs
Whose lives are now antique cabinets.
The skeletons are locked within.
All we have are butterflies in jars.

All poems published online with permission of the authors, who retain their copyright.

EYEWEAR'S PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR SHORTLIST

Ephemeralists will want to know who Eyewear blog felt was the "Personality of the Year".  To be shortlisted HERE, the person(s) must have been a meme or near-meme, and in some other way made a huge impact on the cultural, and pop cultural, mediascape, either by achieving or enduring something, killing people, or dying.

Think thousands of tweets, jokes, comments, headlines, and even poems, generated, by these people, some fictional. So, we are mainly thinking here of actors, musicians, political figures, spies, trend-setters, and, of course, writers. Recourse was made to the BBC, to Time magazine, NME, Q, The Guardian, the FT, The Sunday Times, and various other news and culture sources online and off.  Poets, by their nature under the radar, did not make it onto this list, sadly, except in the person of James Franco.



ANDY MURRAY
ALICE MUNRO
ARCTIC MONKEYS
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH
CARLOS DANGER
COREY MONTEITH
DAN BROWN
DAVID BOWIE
DONNA TARTT
DR WHO
EDWARD SNOWDEN
HAIM
HUGO CHAVEZ
IDRIS ELBA
IRON MAN
JAMES FRANCO
JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME
JUSTIN BIEBER
KANYE WEST
KIM KARDASHIAN
LORDE
LOU REED
MALALA
MARGARET THATCHER
MARY POPPINS
MILEY CYRUS
NICOLAS BRODY
NELSON MANDELA
ONE DIRECTION
OBAMA
OSCAR PISTORIUS
PAUL WALKER
PHIL ROBERTSON
PIXIES
POPE FRANCIS
RON BURGUNDY
ROB FORD
ROBERT GALBRAITH/ JK ROWLING
ROBERT REDFORD
SANDRA BULLOCK
SHERYL SANDBERG
THE ROYAL BABY, PRINCE GEORGE
THE SYRIAN CHILD REFUGEE
TOM CLANCY
WALTER WHITE



Thursday, 12 December 2013

TEN KEY MOMENTS IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE POETRY IN 2013

2013 was a very good year for poetry, and also, in some ways, a sad year.


EYEWEAR SAW EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN POETRY IN 2013 AND SAID IT WAS GOOD

Here are Eyewear's ten key events, publications, or poets, of the year, from an English-language - AND British blog - perspective.  I offer the headlines alone.  You can fill in the blanks.

1. GEOFFREY HILL PUBLISHES HIS COLLECTED POEMS.

2. SEAMUS HEANEY DIES.

3. HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN INVITES HUNDREDS OF POETS TO BUCKINGHAM PALACE.

4. POETRY MAGAZINE IN AMERICA GETS A NEW EDITOR DON SHARE.

5. CHARLES BERNSTEIN PUBLISHES RECALCULATING.

6. HELEN MORT SHORTLISTED FOR TS ELIOT PRIZE AND THE COSTA.

7. PATRICIA SMITH WINS THE LENORE MARSHALL POETRY PRIZE.

8. MATTHEW DICKMAN ARRIVES IN UK ON TWO LEADING MAGAZINE COVERS IN ONE MONTH.

9. DAVID SHOOK TRIES TO GET A POETRY DRONE OFF THE GROUND.

10. EMILY BERRY DEBUTS WITH FABER, WINS FORWARD.

note: other events that would have made a possible top 15 would include SALT STOPS PUBLISHING POETRY LIST; STARNINO COVER STORY IN CV2 IGNITES CONTROVERSY; DANIEL HOFFMAN DIES; STAG'S LEAP BY SHARON OLDS WINS TS ELIOT AND PULITZER PRIZE; MAURICE RIORDAN BECOMES EDITOR OF POETRY REVIEW.

THE EYEWEAR MICRO-CANON

V Clay wrote to us recently here at the blog: 'It doesn't help with the critical  terms and tools, but something can be done about the canon - at least on a micro scale. For example, what would be Eyewear's five "genuinely useful to have read" collections between 2001-2010? Selection would not imply endorsement of quality or taste necessarily, but would provide people with the opportunity to shape their own opinions on a manageable number of writers... And whilst an attempt to define any sort of a canon by one blogger might run the risk of egotism, there may also be readers who are looking to be able to have the common reference points that the article above makes clear the lack of.'

For the sake of clarity, here are SIX genuinely useful to read poetry collections published between 2001-2010 that any self-respecting poetry editor, poetry critic, or poetry reader interested in British poetry would want to be familiar with and wouldn't want to do without; NOTE a few significant books by Jon Stone, Emily Berry, Nerys Williams, Geoffrey Hill and Denise Riley came out either in 2000 or after 2010, that otherwise might have made this very tight short-list.  It is, of course, and in keeping with the very modest request above, very very far from exhaustive, and is really a jumping off point.

Each of these books/texts is part of a significant poetry discourse, and adds something new and vital to it.  The full Canon of British poetry collections from the period 2001-2010 would be far longer, of course, and would draw from many more publishers.

JH PRYNNE - POEMS

LUKE KENNARD - THE HARBOUR BEYOND THE MOVIE

JEN HADFIELD - NIGH-NO-PLACE

DALJIT NAGRA - LOOK WE HAVE COMING TO DOVER!

PATIENCE AGBABI - BLOODSHOT MONOCHROME

ANDREA BRADY - WILDFIRE: A VERSE ESSAY




Saturday, 7 December 2013

GUEST REVIEW: OLDHAM ON NI CHONCHUIR

Andrew Oldham reviews
Nuala Ni Chonchuir
The Juno Charm

Many authors and poets have dealt with dissolution of a marriage; it is territory that asks one to tread carefully and honestly. However, couple this with pregnancy loss – ‘I will visit the rag tree at Clonfert,/pin a baby’s soother to its trunk,’ (taken from ‘An Unlucky Woman’) and fertility struggles – ‘then, after three months,/the heartsick, two-letter slip,/from foetal to fatal’ (taken from ‘Foetal’) and you have something born from pain and loss that is both honest, beautiful and with a sense of gestation. This is how The Juno Charm reads, it is not an exploration of the cerebral, it is demise and growth of one woman’s body, emotions and marriages. It would be deplorable to say that any marriage is purely based on thought, there is a distinct lack of thought in many marriages, ‘You say I am more/canal than river’ (taken from ‘Airwaves’). That the truth of how many relationships collapse can come from the most mundane moments in life, ‘Then I remember/my last red car, and wonder if too much pride in its spanky/redness left it a rusted heap in a Donegal scrap-yard; whether/crashing it started the slow wreckage of our marriage’ (taken from ‘Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car’). This is what makes this collection not just thought provoking, with a depth that shakes the readers’ views on marriage, it makes it a catalogue of lost moments that are honest. Nuala Ni Chonchuir is confessing, a brutal realisation in the poet’s life that there is nothing to hide, nothing that can be hidden from the pen, from the poet’s voice inside and finally, from the reader. Each poem demands a re-reading, time after time, as layers are peeled back and more truths spill out onto the floor before the poet and before the reader.
            There is a sense early on in the collection that Chonchuir knows that marriage can be folly. That the poet inside her, knew that beyond all the romantic flushes and rush of first love that her marriage was doomed, ‘Nobody will help us/on our bridal run:/not my sisters,/not his ganger from/the tartan mill’ (taken from ‘To Gretna Green’). Nuala Ni Chonchuir explores the doomed relationship in The Juno Charm by drawing on images from Sylvia Plath, Frida Kahlo, Belle Bilton and Max Ernst. The poet pays penance and in a series of wonderful images, tableaus, motifs and borrowed lines charts the idea of marriage, of pregnancy, of fertility, of being a woman. In the collection there is a fall and rise through images as contrasting as Leda to a simple shop mannequin. There is an intimacy here that does echo Plath and Kahlo but there is more here than either of these women could have contemplated:

I dream of other people’s babies,
ones who refuse to suckle,
so I hand them back to be
cauled in their mother’s love,
but still my baby labours in me,
adding lanugo and vernix
to her cornucopia of miracles,
positing layers of fat
that will insulate her
when she delivers herself to us
in the cool-aired birthing suite,
borne down by my body’s rhythms,
because and in spite of me.
(taken from ‘A Sort of Couvade’)

It is in this poem, and such others as ‘Dancing with Paul Durcan’, ‘La Reine’, ‘Die Schwangere’ and the title poem that the idea of the body comes to the fore but it is more than the ripe flesh, more than brooding or hatching, or ritualistic platitudes males bestow on the idea of birth, of couvades, of the faire la couvade. This is the body in fear, a body unknown, a rippling sense that mother’s suffocate their children, keep them safe, cosset them and rob them of fear, despite how much they attempt to stop this. That this is the ultimate lie we tell ourselves, we do not brood, we sit upon.

            Nuala Ni Chonchuir comes to terms with the waning of one marriage, the waxing of another, of pregnancy loss and the uphill struggle of fertility but there is no sense that this is a battle won, no grandeur, only the small losses, the small reflections of the world around the poetry. It is a poet coming to terms not just with how her own body fights against her desires but how her own lies, her own desire to remain ignorant of a marriage in dissolution blinds her to the truth she must face. This is what sets Nuala Ni Chonchuir apart from many of her contemporaries, were some poets fear to tread, Chonchuir has already been there and admitted her faults on page. It is more a peeling away of layers and of the realisation that in the end, when we lie, when we deny our bodies what they crave, we do nothing but destroy ourselves and those around us, ‘Monsieur says if I move,/he will pulp me’ (taken from ‘A Cezanne Nude’). That is the beauty of what is a truthful, intimate and mesmerising collection, its search for honesty. 

ANDREW OLDHAM IS A BOLTON-BORN YOUNG BRITISH POET.

THE GREAT COLIN WILSON HAS DIED

Colin Wilson, the strange English writer, novelist, researcher and intellectual, whose early life was marked by a meteoric rise to fame, had to endure a very long and serious decline in reputation - basically 60 years of critical neglect, even mockery. In death, he was equally unlucky, from the viewpoint of posterity - his death was December 5, 2013 ironically - the same day that Nelson Mandela died. Ironic, because Wilson was fascinated by human greatness, and how it could be achieved by optimism and strong will - surely hallmarks of Mandela's life.

As such, almost no British media, TV, radio, or papers, reported his death in the period just after his death (it is now several days without even news online covering it).  It will be interesting to see if the nationals eventually run mocking obituaries, or if some sort of decency will prevail.  I wrote many years back at Nthposition THE CASE FOR COLIN WILSON, and I stand by it.  I corresponded with him by email, and sent him this link, which he appreciated, and he read my poetry with some enjoyment though he preferred older poets he told me.  I was thrilled to hear from him, though we never met.  His books meant a lot to me when I was a teenager.  I was not alone: Groucho Marx was a huge fan.


Wilson sleeping rough on Hamsptead Heath 60 years ago.

Wilson was a very good-looking young man from the Midlands of England who was entirely self-taught.  In his early 20s he wrote a book about "the Outsider" in literature.  This was the 1950s, and Existentialism was new in England.  No other public intellectual here was engaging with Huysmans and Sartre as this young man was.  Critics have since claimed the book is cobbled together with most of it being quotation, but even so, its enthusiasm for, and love of, literature as a driving force for personal growth, is inspiring.

The book became a best-seller, and Wilson was famous in his mid-20s.  He met Marilyn Monroe, TS Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Maslow, and did tours of Russia with John Braine, and America, where he lectured and where Jack Kerouac came as a fan to meet him.  Wilson was a self-confessed dirty old man, and when not thinking about Faculty X (yes, this was his coinage and the X Factor is a crude steal), he was leering at college girls.  This seedy side of his life he confessed to in his autobiography.  In it, he appears as a mostly humourless egomaniac, and no doubt his personality problems led to his being sidelined as he grew older.

However, despite his problems, he was a borderline genius.  An eccentric, awkward, and perhaps wrong-headed genius, but he was certainly one of the first to anticipate the interest in the supernatural that was coming as the 60s loomed, and his next huge book was The Occult.  As he had been at the centre of the beatnik 50s, so he was at the centre of the spiritualism boom of the 60s. Meanwhile, anticipating the X-Files (named after his idea) by decades, he began conjecturing about sci-fi, Atlantis, and sex serial killers.  In the 70s, he wrote dozens of books about sex crimes, mass murder, religion, witches, demons, UFOs, and his beloved authors, cultivating the culture of the paranormal and the weird that typified a lot of that decade.

Wilson wrote and published around 100 books - he was a jobbing, hack writer, true - and he repeated his main idea endlessly.  But it was a compelling idea, that extreme states of experience make us glimpse eternity, another better world.  He was that rare thing, an optimistic existential thinker.  It seems very strange that England's very own Poe - the critic as creative writer, obsessed with sex, murder, sci-fi, ideas, the uncanny, and religion, should not have been recognised as a nutty but essential figure on the landscape.

Instead, the London publishing and critical elite, who had originally celebrated him, dropped him, and turned him into a running joke.  It will take years to rescue his reputation, and it can only be done in a deconstructive way.  His admirers do him a disservice by reading him straight, as an actual prophet.  He is better read against his own grain, as a deeply conflicted, problematic, but fascinating producer of deranged texts, that very much established a number of discourses, not least popular books on existentialism, murder and demons.

As such, he was a figure of some influence, albeit often peripherally, and even though he is likely wrong - so was Yeats - his bizarre library of publications warrants some sort of respect.  He came from little, and made something of himself, and in a less snobby, class-based place, he would be a subversive, transgressive, troubled hero like Burroughs is, like Iggy Pop, like Baudelaire.

Friday, 6 December 2013

NELSON MANDELA

Eyewear is just a wee blog, and its editor is not a political scientist.  When we weigh in, here, on world matters, we do so as amateurs.  I have no insider knowledge of Nelson Mandela, the great political visionary who has sadly died.  I can only listen, read, watch, reflect, on what the media tells me.  I first heard of Mandela in the 1980s, via songs by the likes of Simple Minds.  The idea then was to free the man.  Then, when he was freed, there was great joy, and expectation.  The expectation was warranted.  The prisoner, famously became the president, and he was, by all accounts a merciful and kind leader, refusing revenge on his former captors.  Indeed, listening to Dr Rowan Williams today on Radio 4, BBC, it struck me that Mandela, in a quiet way, was the greatest Christian of our era - the person who best embodied Christ's near-impossible dictum, to turn the other cheek.  If only.  So few of us can do it on a crowded tube journey, in our marriages, at work, let alone on the world stage.  Most world leaders are frankly cretins, self-interested, and often needlessly bloody.  Look about at all the conflicts now raging, indeed, many in Africa; often caused by colonialism.  Human nature is not easy to rise above.  Mandela entered his cell as a man who did not renounce violence, I believe, but he came out decades later as someone who, miraculously, had grown in prison to become ever deeper, wiser, better.  Few of us take life as a journey of constant improvement.  He did.  I suppose his vision was focused powerfully by a very strong sense of a wrong needing to be corrected.  Apartheid was an evil concept, and an evil reality, and it is horrid to think that Britain and other nations did business with those who sustained it.  It was unsustainable, and Mr Mandela's greatness made it seem all the more untenable. History is made by human beings working together in their billions to overcome and transform the forces of power ranged against them; and humans require good leadership.  We have not lost Mandela.  His impact on history of this world deviated it, if even just a bit, from evil, into the light.  As such, he endures forever.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

IQ AND THE POETS - ARE YOU SMART?

When you open your mouth to speak, are you smart?  A funny question from a great song, but also, a good one, when it comes to poets, and poetry. We tend to have a very ambiguous view of intelligence in poetry, one that I'd say is dysfunctional.  Basically, it goes like this: once you are safely dead, it no longer matters how smart you were.  For instance, Auden was smarter than Yeats, but most would still say Yeats is the finer poet; Eliot is clearly highly intelligent, but how much of Larkin's work required a high IQ?  Meanwhile, poets while alive tend to be celebrated if they are deemed intelligent: Anne Carson, Geoffrey Hill, and Jorie Graham, are all, clearly, very intelligent people, aside from their work as poets.  But who reads Marianne Moore now, or Robert Lowell, smart poets? Or, Pound?  How smart could Pound be with his madcap views?

Less intelligent poets are often more popular.  John Betjeman was not a very smart poet, per se.  What do I mean by smart?  Well, I suppose poetic intelligence is not IQ at all - I mean, what sort of IQ is deployed in a poet's work?  Complexity of manipulation of symbols, concepts, especially with regards to numbers, and science, perhaps.  Use of multiple languages, for another.  Paul Muldoon seems to have a high IQ.  Some poets don't. Does this matter?  No.  Poetic genius is not the genius of Mensa.  But if you look at IQ scores you will see that doctors, lawyers and most professionals score between 115 and 125 (superior intelligence) just below 140, which is where genius is said to begin.  Most PhDs score around 110-120.  So, in fact, it is likely that many poets would score between 100 and 125, with a few around 140, but not many.

I imagine Roddy Lumsden's is very high - he is a master of puzzles, after all.  But who knows, did Plath have a high IQ? Again, it seems a shabby sort of thing to think about, when looking at poets one loves, raising the question - what role do ideas, and ideas properly deployed and engaged with, really have to do with poems? Lionel Trilling has a book titled THE MORAL OBLIGATION TO BE INTELLIGENT - I can think of few titles more lofty, and perhaps pompous. Do we still want our poets smart?

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