Thursday, 27 February 2014

CRIMEA OF THE CENTURY?

After a pretty good winter games, Russia faces the hangover - trouble in their backyard that threatens to turn into conflict with the West, and perhaps, even, war.  Famously, the Crimea belonged to Russia (in the former USSR) until as the stories have it in the 1950s a drunken Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine within the same system, a tactical blunder to be sure.  As we have seen in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, the Balkans, and even, Quebec and Scotland, seccesionism has an ugly side.  Civil wars happen when one group claims to speak for the majority, but leaves a sizable minority out of the equation.  In this case, that Russian-speaking minority is based mainly in the Crimea, and is strategically located near the Black Sea Fleet, not a thing Russia is every likely to let go of easily (Russia has long fought to secure its access to that body of water).  The revolution in Ukraine appears to have unseated a flunky and a bit of a despot with expensive tastes, but it has also unleashed explosive forces that could, however unlikely this sounds, drag us into a new world war, 100 years after the first one.  After all, if Russia were to fight to protect its Russian Crimean community, where would NATO stand in relation to our friend, Ukraine?  Doubtless, de-escalation would follow escalation but hot heads could prevail.  Or, as in Georgia a few years ago, things sputtered after a few firework displays of nationalism.  The problem for those of us who care about the Ukrainian people and their self-determination is that Ukraine is, like many remapped places, complex and not easily divisible.  Nikita's shoe may bang down once again.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A THOUGHT I JUST HAD ABOUT SELLING POETRY BOOKS

I think marketing poetry always has a flaw in it (the flaw of commodification is a given besides). Which is that you can't really "sell" someone a poem. You can't sell a trick or a joke. You can sell a BOOK of tricks, or jokes, though. So, marketing poetry/ poems is selling books. Not poetry. And here is the flaw - what people want from books is mostly fiction or non-fiction - they want either a) escape/ entertainment or b) information and/or advice or c) both. When you open a Book of Poems, you don't get either, exactly - you are pulled into something far deeper. A Book of Poems is like a book of deep water. Not something you might actually want on your shelf. This is why Books of Poetry need to be "sold" carefully, and for different reasons that many other kinds of books. You don't just "read" a book of poetry. You swim, or drown, in its depths.

Juvenile Poems

A reminder, my (Todd's) early poetry can be found here.

BECK'S MORNING PHASE

Moving from mourning into morning, as the poem by Barker goes, Beck, the magpie musician who rose to fame in 1994 with the cult hit slacker classic Mellow Gold, with silly but fun songs, has become, over time, arguably the best singer-songwriter-composer of his generation, a post-modern Bob Dylan.  Oddly, he is a scientologist, but then again, Prince is a Jehovah's Witness - musicians are an odd lot.  I liked some of his albums a lot, especially the moody, dreamy ones.

Anyway, as everyone knows (the media blitz has been huge) he is back after six years with Morning Phase, an album modelled on the Wilson classic Laurel Canyon style of the moody 70s.  This is the sequel to his best album, and least zany, Sea Change, from 2002, now considered something of a classic.  Beck's albums are now prized events, because they are so well-wrought, and lovingly crafted.  Morning Phase will be on Eyewear's list of the best albums of 2014 - it may well top it.

This album is certainly the most lyrical and beautiful album I have heard in several years.  It is achingly gorgeous in places - 'Wave' especially - with strings and arrangements that are a full gift to the listener.  It as if James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot and Nelson Riddle had worked together with Paul McCartney to craft an album of tender sad winter morning light, perfect for herbal tea.  Few albums can be put on to play over and over, without some clatter or break of mood or purpose or dip in quality, but here we have oceanic quality and depth.  David Sylvian has given us an album of this quality, as has Mazzy Star.  It is lovely to think Beck's career has now given us twenty years of great and increasingly fine work - here is hoping he decides to focus on his country twangs and soaring strings in future.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

RUSSIAN BARE

The world has many divisions - one of them is between those who love the Olympics, and their idealism, and sporting opportunities for the youth of the world - and those who detest them, seeing mostly their propaganda value and their money-wasting potential.  Obviously, anyone in the second camp was going to be particularly indisposed to a winter games (the 22nd) held at a Russian resort in a land whose, shall we say democratic experiment (to be tactful) has yet to fully succeed (to be hopeful).  Many of these bitter commentators and protesters - often supporting the hard done by gay community in Russia, where to be gay is to be potentially killed or beaten - failed to see that Putin is not Stalin, and Russia is not Nazi Germany circa 1936.  Much more needs to be done in Russia, but it is not run by a madman who has published a book calling for genocide, nor does its society practise euthanasia of the mentally ill.

Indeed, as the games reminded us, Russia, despite its many faults (and all nations have faults - see, for instance, France, China, Britain, Israel, Germany, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, Greece, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia and the USA as a partial list) has produced some of the greatest music, art, drama, poetry, and fiction of all time, as well as major pioneers in cinema, science, and modernism.  To be Russian is to have much to be proud of. Further, Russia expended over 27 million lives defeating Nazi Germany around 70 years ago.  It has had great revolutions, being something of a history machine, and, after communism and the cold war has slowly moved out of gangster capitalism and shaky democracy and slavery, just as America did.

To expect Russia to be pristine and perfect, when America had Vietnam and lynching only fifty years ago and less is to expect a miracle.  Russia is more on the right path than the wrong one.  If the world had to have a second or third superpower, Russia would not be the worst choice, all things considered.  I am no apologist for Russia.  But the Sochi games were upbeat, fun, and safe for most people.  Shamefully, members of Pussy Riot were whipped by Cossacks in what was a bizarre spectacle.  Pussy Riot is the left's new Mother Theresa, a kind of secular series of female Popes of depraved impunity whose every antic is inherently sanctified by the assumption that all state sponsored things are evil, and all things done by those on the left are good.  Well, Kropotkin was on the left, and he was not all good.

As a Canadian I enjoyed seeing Canada's status as world's greatest ice hockey power re-affirmed.  As a Brit, I enjoyed seeing the Skeleton gold.  As a lover of figure skating, I wondered at some of the judging techniques.  And some of the new extreme sports are simply too cool for words.  I was moved, entertained, thrilled, and transported by these games.  Do they legitimise a gay-hating nation?  I don't think it is fair to sum up a nation of tens of millions of souls (of which millions are gay) as all bad.  Hundreds of gay athletes competed at these games.  The games themselves, as always, are both apolitical and nationalist - and, as we saw at the skating gala, there are moments when the nation is set aside and the Olympic family is held high.

I believe that Jesus - as philosopher let alone prophet - was correct when he suggested those without sin should throw the first stone, or snowball, in this case.  If Russia was the only problematic nation on earth, then perhaps we might have found another host.  But Russia is one of about 150+ troubled nations on earth (name one that is not a violator of human and environmental rights) - and either we decide to avoid any and all public displays of joy, humanism, athletics, and idealism, any grand occasions, or we allow ourselves the fictional uplifts that such games provide - ski jumps into the high blue yonder of crisp hope and effortful compromise against nature, and human nature, especially.  Below may be cold, hard ice, but while we are airborne, we can dream of higher, loftier, excursions.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

THE DEATH OF JUDITH MAPPIN


This just in...

"The Literary Scene Loses an Important Ally

It is with deep sadness that we have learned of the death, on Feb. 14, of Judith Mappin, who helped put Canadian writing on the map and was a friend and loyal supporter of Blue Metropolis.

In 1974, along with Hélène Holden and Joan Blake, Judy founded the Double Hook Book Shop, which specialized in literature by Canadian writers. For many Montreal writers and readers, the Double Hook became a home away from home. The shop survived – and thrived – until 2005, when it closed its doors. That same year, Judy received a President's Award of Distinction from the Association of Canadian Publishers, and in 2008, was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2013, Blue Metropolis paid tribute to her with a special homage. Through her devotion to and passion for Canadian writing, Judy made a major contribution to Montreal’s literary scene, and more broadly, to Canadian publishing. "

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

NORTH KOREAN DEATH CAMPS

If as the new comprehensive UN report claims, North Korea's regime is a criminal one, regularly committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and based partly on the Nazi model, complete with death camps, mass starvation, sadistic torture, and other sinister brutalities, what are we to do in The West?  Going by past actions, nothing, sadly.  There has long been a law for Europe, and a law for the Asian world - a double-standard, where the West either inflicts cruelties and crimes in that theatre of war it would not elsewhere, or tolerates them there when it would not elsewhere.  No atomic bomb was dropped on Germany; no Napalm used on enemies of European descent.  A subtle racism continues - people of Asia, Africa and the Middle East are treated as sub-human, or, more bluntly, sub-American.  If France, Italy, or Greece were doing what North Korea was doing, it would be defeated militarily, as to stand by would be seen as an impossible moral failing; however, the assumption is North Korea has a nuclear potential and the madness to use it.  That seems true, but we must hold themselves and ourselves to the highest historical, non-hypocritical standards.  If NK is the new Nazi Germany, in terms of organised mass evil towards millions of its own people, then it must be defeated. How?  Well, China should withdraw all support, for a start.  The next steps are not so pleasant to contemplate.  But, though I am not a warmonger, and am a Catholic opposed to unjust wars, this may just be a just one.  But as said above, this is all hypothetical.  NK will continue, likely for a decade or more, killing and torturing millions upon millions of trapped souls.

GUEST REVIEW: DIXON ON MCCABE AND REED

Oliver Dixon reviews
WhitehallJackals
by Chris McCabe and Jeremy Reed


As Mark Ford’s 2012 anthology London: A History in Verse amply demonstrates, poetry depicting or set in London is one of the richest veins in our tradition, from Langland and Chaucer through Keats and Blake to TS Eliot and – in more recent times – David Gascoyne, Rosemary Tonks and Iain Sinclair. As well as the celebratory pomp of Dunbar’s ‘To the City of London’ or Wordsworth’s ‘Composed on Westminster Bridge’, there have always been politically-oriented poems intent on unearthing the more scabrous aspects of metropolitan society and the radical disparities of economic circumstance it throws up – the medieval ‘London Lickpenny’, for example, Samuel  Johnson’s Juvenalian satire ‘London’ , Blake’s Song of Experience of the same name or Douglas Oliver’s counter-Thatcherite ‘The Infant and the Pearl’.
     Whitehall Jackals by Chris McCabe and Jeremy Reed arrives with such an overwritten blurb – this “gritty riposte performs an angry and elegant resistance” to the “dystopian backdrop” of the city’s “smut and glitter” – the book seems pre-aligned to carve out a niche within this dissenting tradition.  It feels less a “psychogeographic collaboration”, however, than a two-hander, dual intercutting monologues rather than a dialogue, since we are given alternating sets of poems both with a slanted, peripatetic focus on London locales but each with their own itinerary, register and themes. This sense of a double-act bouncing off each other rather than co-composing  - Reed’s camply bohemian flâneur against McCabe’s dourer, pithier straight-man – is energising in fact, the friction and interplay of the two voices making for a perhaps more dynamic read than if either poet had attempted a whole collection of such cityscapes. (“Psychogeography” has become such a loosely-employed term as to be all but meaningless these days; or at least since Will Self decided that going for walks and writing about them justified him calling a newspaper-column Pyschogeography, as though the whole concept had begun and ended with himself.)
     Reversing the expected age-polarity, the now 62-year old Reed’s is the racier, more skittish idiom whereas the younger Mc Cabe pursues a rather more reflective and observant methodology endowed with a sense of sieving residues from the linguistic effluvia of metropolitan life, incorporating glimpsed signage, found-text and eavesdropped conversation into the mix. His is the more concerted endeavour to point up and defamiliarise features of the urban environment which embody baleful political influences and infringements, in particular delineating with grim dismay the effects of gentrification on the Docklands area in a sequential mapping that takes in Wapping, St Katherine’s Dock, the Thames Path, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Cherry Garden Pier.
      McCabe’s deployment of prose-poems (perhaps distant relatives of Rimbaud’s London-set Illuminations) is especially effective in allowing vividly descriptive imagery and caustic speech-rhythms to combine forces in tracing the enterprise-driven dereliction of historical deposits which now characterises this riverside stretch. ‘The Thames Path’, for example, is said to be “a creation myth for the sale of leisure, a crippled thoroughfare of urban build latched at late-notice against the river”, whereas at ‘St Saviour’s Dock, Bermondsey’, the refuse exposed by a muddy high-tide – “buckets, packets, tickets...a wellington, a torn boot – mould spores clinging to their soles” – is set in bleak contrast to Canary Wharf and Canada Square towering above them, leaving the poem to question “where the river’s drive for commerce failed & where the tapering for the stars will end”.
    Primarily a denizen of Soho and the West End, Jeremy Reed seems more intent on sketching his own self-dramatising autobiography onto the streets and cafes he frequents, in a restless odyssey for poetic valorisation that recalls Stephen Dedalus’s in Ulysses: “meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting (himself)”. In a scene now largely dominated by poets too pedestrian and career-minded to deviate far from the accepted gamut of styles they absorbed on their Creative Writing MAs, we are no doubt in need of exuberant mavericks like Reed, still in thrall to the Romanticist notion that “there’s no separation between the individual and the work” and that (to paraphrase the poem ‘London Flowers) everything he sees and does is poetry waiting to be written down. But although Reed’s language does still have a “zingy chutzpah” when compared to many feted poets half his age –the riffs of brand-names and serial-numbers often giving it what he calls a “crunched energy” -  when reading him at length and coming across the marked repetition of vocabulary, cadence and metaphor that is a feature of these rapidly-fired-off poems one is reminded of Mallarme’s advice to Degas to the effect that ultimately a poem is made of words, not ideas or experiences.  
   Where Reed is most compelling is when he is able to marshal his scattershot flow into florid reimaginings of London history viewed from the perspective of a street-aesthete more interested in pop-culture than in museum artifacts. In ‘Ham Yard W1’–  the prose-poem form lending itself to Reed’s urban annotations as appropriately as it does to McCabe’s – an apocryphal countercultural lineage is tracked from 18th century highwaymen through jazz and skiffle clubs to the RnB/Mod explosion of the 60s, culminating in a brilliantly-evocative scenario of Mick Jagger and the Stones performing at the Scene in ’64. Its companion-piece ‘Mods, Hoodlums, Guttersnipes, Punks’ continues the mythology through Marc Bolan’s early guise as an androgynous Mod from Stamford Hill, David Bowie’s Soho-fuelled transformation into Ziggy Stardust, Ray Davies as “dandified” London lyric-poet and John Lydon and the Sex Pistols gigging at the 100 club in 1977. This is edgy, vibrant musicology, where Reed’s intimate knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject-matter shine ebulliently through: a whole book of such charged prose-poems would create a highly original alternative history of pop and rock’s evolution.
    If McCabe’s mordant deconstructions of the gentrifying tendencies of Coalition-lead London are powerfully resonant, Reed’s directly political poems seem to me less successful. The book’s title arose (he says in the Introduction) out of “mutual disgust with Tony Blair’s war atrocities in Iraq” and the project was “quickly activated in January 2011”: yet Blair’s invasion of Iraq occurred in 2003 and by 2011 he hadn’t been part of the Government for 4 years, serving (ironically) as Peace Envoy to the Middle East, so it is unlikely he would have spent much time in Whitehall when the book was being written. Again according to its Introduction, the book is intended as a “defiantly-intransigent leftfield indie whack against the city’s towers” but if this is the case, surely vitriolic broadsides depicting Blair as “a psychopathic jackal” and a “hipster-suited super-killer” seem to be venting their spleen at the wrong target, or at the right target some years too late. Instead, surely the satirical contumely of poets attempting to uncover what’s gone wrong with London should have turned their attention to the real architects of the cultural degeneration of our city and its transformation into a heritage theme-park “playground for plutocrats”: Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson, the real jackals within Whitehall, none of whom are mentioned in the book.
Oliver Dixon is a poet, writer and critic who lives in London. First book of poems Human Form was published in 2013 by Penned in the Margins. Poems and reviews have appeared in the Sunday Times, the Forward Book of Poetry 2014, PN Review, New Welsh Review, Tears in the Fence, The Wolf and other places. His day-job is as a college lecturer working with students with learning disabilities. He blogs at Ictus.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

THE BOY BAND INCIDENT! - NOW A SINGLE FROM TODD SWIFT & KENNEDY

Fans of sexy, smart, chic LA-based pop star and music producer Kennedy (aka Jack Kennedy) - he of the Silversun Pickups and other cool stuff - will be pleased to hear that he has teamed up with none other than bespectacled poet and vocalist Todd Swift, he of Boyband-champagne-attack fame, to create a single, called The Boyband Incident; now available at iTunes, that just may become one of the weirdest leftfield novelty dance tracks to generate worldwide buzz.  There are now plans afoot for a video.  But in the meantime, and in the absence of radio airplay on BBC 1 etc, the way to poetic justice is gonna have to be achieved one click at a time.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/the-boy-band-incident-single/id821185894

JAMES A GEORGE ON THE MCCONAISSANCE - REVIEW OF DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB

EYEWEAR'S FILM CRITIC JAMES A GEORGE ON A GREAT INDIE FILM

The Lincoln Lawyer and The Paperboy really depended on him, Killer Joe and Mud electrified because of him, and his cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street was apparently the only scene not cut down for the sake of running time. The Matthew McConaissance has reached a peak, and with McConaughey playing the lead in the upcoming Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar; it’s likely he’ll keep climbing. Perhaps his most fully fledged, head-rattling and enigmatic performance so far is as Rust Cohle in new television series True Detective – a landmark achievement in a somewhat stale medium (despite what the idiot-box machine might be trying to tell you). Detective aside, the flag at the top of McK2 is in the shape of Ron Woodroof in the biographical Dallas Buyer’s Club.

            Ron Woodroof, a rodeo bull rider by day, drug, drink and sex addict by night, is informed he is HIV+. After much resistance, declaring only “faggots” can catch it, it eventually starts to sink in that he has only thirty days to live – not that he’ll accept that. Woodroof negotiates around America’s medical system to help himself and other AIDs patients get the medication they need (and if he gets rich on the way, so be it). This stark film’s biggest achievement is the complete avoidance of sentimentality. The screening even erupted with laughter at Woodroof’s childlike cruelty and base examinations. Of course, friendships form between him and other AIDs patients, namely Jared Leto’s fictional Rayon, but it is schmaltz-free and all the better for it. It is truthful, invigorating, and without burden manages to carry strong messages.

            Leto is not an actor that one would associate awards buzz, but neither is it unfair to say that this performance has come out of nowhere, and apart from Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave, he’s earned the buzz. There’s a lot to be said for his portrayal of a transgender woman, perhaps good and bad about its authenticity, and in fact the film perhaps generally plays fast and loose with the facts, but Leto is utterly convincing; his pristine pop-rock star alter ego entirely forgotten. He serves as the perfect counterpoint to Woodroof, and their rowdy exchanges thankfully never enter the realms of scenery chewing; that’s something that is a lot trickier to choreograph than it might at first seem. To have such strong performances baring everything on their sleeves with very little subtext, to keep the camera quiet and unfussy, with no action or sexy sex scenes, and yet have packed cinemas of all shapes, sizes, colours, planets, root for the hero and enjoy the ride is quite a feat.

One might criticise it for it’s lack of narrative build up to an emotional payoff, but that would remove any trace of identity and honest portrayal of real events. Things didn’t end well in 1980s for AIDs patients, despite the plain facts presented to government, should the film pretend it did? That’s not to say the film is entirely depressing and gritty, far from it. Dallas Buyer’s Club is a careful character study based in both fact and fiction, about a man gaining benevolence, empathy, and even a shred of love, and it’s why I love American independent filmmaking.

Friday, 14 February 2014

LOVE POEM FOR VALENTINE'S DAY BY ELIZA STEFANIDI


Eliza Stefanidi (pictured) was born in Liverpool in 1980 and currently lives in Athens, after studying and writing in London. She is British-Greek.  She studied ballet at The Royal Academy of Dance and is also a visual artist.  She has been published in several anthologies and online places, and I intend Eyewear to bring out her debut pamphlet this year.  She explores images of pop culture, song lyrics, love, sex, mental crisis, and wider crisis, in her playful, expressive, quirky, surreal, and very welcoming poetry.


All I care for is music

All you care for is music

All we care about

Are rescue boats

 

The ones that rock your guts

That stop your heart, you know

From zero, to minus zero 

All we care for is stupid love, true love

 

No love at all sir, madam, kids

Figure two, figure four, figure eight

Figure it out, love

All you care for is stand-up

 

All we are is comedy

Boats sink; guts wrench; needles skip

Hearts scratch and zero falls down to zero

Where no music plays, no shouts
 
 
poem by Eliza Stefanidi;
copyright 2014

LOVE POEM BY TODD SWIFT, VALENTINE'S DAY 2014

LOVE



They say love comes in threes.
Such trilogies extend
Times into books four to seven.
Erupt into eight in dreams.
I’ve seen love compared
 
To what was once Heaven
And now belongs to lies.
Also, love appears in songs
At intervals so regular
It must be true.
 
Always, the argument goes,
Love is the first, second, third
And final thing of value
In the singer’s world.
Mountains, friend
 
Are nothing
When the sea comes
Yet love will climb
Far above such lower levels.
Love is even, it has been said,
 
Delivered by the devil,
Or some equivalent minion,
From fat boy to lolling tart.
They hate love so much
They tend to kill it
 
With a dart
Drawn straight through
The designated heart.
I have seen dissection tables
In labs where trained
 
Believers in natural laws
Have torn a gazelle apart.
It feels like that,
The songs say,
Each time it beats its fluid out,
 
Drop by sustained drop;
It is worse than scalpels
At the chest cavity,
Cold as December,
To have love pulled out.
 
So odd a toxin,
It kills when going in
Or leaving the body.
Love is the little murderer
In cotton shorts
 
With wings
But love is also
The dove after slaughter
Who beyond battery
Arrives austere from Ararat to sing.
 
 
February 2014
copyright Todd Swift

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Dufour-Lapointe Double-barrelled Sisters' Double Triumph Tonight In Russia!


Hats off to the Montreal sisters - Dufour-Lapointe - who have just won Gold and Silver in the Mogul finals!  Great work ladies!  You have made Montreal, Quebec and Canada proud in one of the fairytale moments of any of the Games.

http://olympic.ca/2014/02/08/justine-wins-gold-chloe-silver-dufour-lapointe-sisters-go-1-2-in-womens-moguls/

YES TO SCOTLAND

As someone who had three grandparents with Scottish roots (one was a Fraser, the other a Hume, and the third, my paternal grandmother, was born in Motherwell), I am a British-Canadian with 75% Scottish ancestry (the last fourth is English - my paternal grandfather Stanley was a Cockney born in London) - so I feel some interest in the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence.  I was opposed to Quebec separation, for the same reasons I am in favour of Scottish secession - history.  Quebec, although colonised by the French over 450 years ago, was soon after defeated by the British; but ultimately belongs to the native Canadians who had lived there for tens of thousands of years, and still do in great numbers; the Crown promised these peoples their lands in perpetuity as they agreed to become Canadian.  In Scotland, the indigenous peoples are the Scottish themselves, and, while there are complex reasons for the entanglement of the destinies of Scotland and England, it is a cultural, social and political entity with clearly defined borders and history, that could very easily function as a player on the world stage as a legal separate country - Scotland is already a nation.  The ugly run of threats and doom-mongering of the last few weeks from bankers, businessmen, and the Prime Minister should be all the reason the Scottish voter needs to vote against staying yoked to an oppressive English upper-class power structure. Anyone with a heart and soul and pride knows it is better to be free and a little poorer, than have a bit of money in your pocket, but be on your knees.  The great song by The Proclaimers, "cap in hand", should be the message.  The Scottish are practical, and they invented capitalism, but they are also a nation of poets, actors, musicians, workers, farmers, artists, and comedians - why should they dance to the bean-counter's tune?  Getting your country back comes with a price.  This price is worth paying.  Over time, Scotland independent would rise and become a great nation - perhaps small geographically, but a big country in spirit.

POETRY FOCUS: MAYA CATHERINE POPA

Ms Popa is a Romanian-American poet
Eyewear, one of the most widely read poetry blogs in human history (to be ostentatious this Olympic Saturday), is continuing its ongoing mission to feature poems by really exciting new and/or established poets from anywhere and everywhere.  Today we have a real treat for you.

Romanian-American poet Maya Catherine Popa (pictured above) graduated Summa Cum Laude from Barnard College, Columbia University, in 2011. She went on to pursue an MFA from NYU, where she worked with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan under a Veterans fellowship, and an MSt from Oxford University under a Clarendon Scholarship. She is the 2014 winner of the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize and the 2013 winner of the Oxford Poetry Society Martin Starkie Prize. Her poems and criticism appear in The Kenyon Review, Poetry London, Oxford Poetry, FIELD, Carcanet Blog, Colorado Review, Southword, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.  She is currently an editorial fellow at Poets & Writers and the literary editor of All Hollow Magazine.




Knockout Mouse Model

 A knockout mouse is a genetically engineered mouse in which researchers have inactivated, or "knocked out," an existing gene.

Its body & blood are teaching tools: islands of the genome’s archipelago disabled, the conditioned chaos observed. Most won’t grow past the embryo, designed for dissection, microscope eyes. A scientist spends his lunch hour contemplating the concealed sides of its origami heart.

How to say that suffering should yield something? How to say trespass, hope, progress stowed in the lax body, in one utterance?

Terror is imagining the human body intruded upon in this way, its furniture rearranged & forced to breed children. Someone coming in the night with helix scissors, clipping your eye color, turning off your hearing, switching out your liver for a third kidney, all of it happening slowly, like an old movie reel.

I feel my cells retreat into my fingers ready to defend their information.

In a gentler, cartoonier universe, the mice would be anthropomorphically attractive: knockouts, mice who model. They’d drink on the house wherever they went, twirling their tails flirtatiously.

Tonight, the unstudied, parasitic mice are having the night of their lives, scaring couples on stoops, freeloading meals from granite floors. Deli cats hear them pacing behind walls. The excitement of their tiny footsteps is excruciating.
 

An off duty scientist is breeding something for fun, to see what happens if—what happens? Nature’s mice are breaking & entering, slipping under doors with all they need to survive.
 
 
This poem won the Oxford Parallel Universe Prize; it appears here with permission of the author. 


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

TEN YEARS OF FACEBOOK POETRY

Ten years of Facebook has become, in some ways, like ten years of the horseless carriage, or ten years of the jet plane, or ten years of the television... a decade goes a long way towards normalising, embedding, some new fangled thing into our lives.  Facebook has tended to do more good than bad, though it continues to suck up a lot of spare time, and offer a forum for trolls to hector and vilify.  Also, the deadly unfriend button has done more to ruin friendships than the poke button has marriages.  Still, it seems to me that Google remains the more powerful tool, and while Facebook has certainly done much to link poets around the world, a vast alternative poetscape has not developed, though myself and some computer guys in California thought that would happen back in 2003.  The reasons are cultural, and based on how poetry books get published, reviewed, distributed, and prized.  The scene remains local, then national, and few poets become "international" figures.  Anyway, has there yet been a study of, dare I say, a PhD on, Facebook poetry?  Probably not, because academics long ago seemed to stop actually reading and analysing new poetry in any comprehensive way.  The virus that is poetry language has escaped the lab.  A pity because under the microscope is where poetry flares and comes to life.  Or can do.  Anyway, Facebook poetry is any poetry that is published on Facebook, especially like the group I co-created years ago: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OnlinePoetry/
It has over 23,000 members.  Hundreds post poems, photos, and links to their ebooks and youtube videos, every day.  There have been thousands, maybe millions, of poems posted at various Facebook sites over the past decade.  The fascinating things this poetry says about the art of poetry, and the socialisation of poetry, are mostly ignored.  I have a few things to say.  Official published poets should read this poetry and shudder.  They need to know how little their work has impacted on the masses who write their own poetry.  Perhaps sadly, perhaps wonderfully, Facebook poetry thrives in a world sealed by ignorance from any knowledge of so-called contemporary poetry by "famous" poets.  The poets who post their work are resolutely amateurish.  They are almost always emotive, religious, romantic, expressive and self-focused.  The poems tend to be simple, in very simple forms - maybe a sonnet or a haiku will appear, and almost always in free verse, with the most basic sort of rhyme.  This is not a description meant to mock.  It is a simply observation - what poetry means to hundreds of thousands of people who I guess care about it enough to write it and post it is not what poetry means to anyone who teaches poetry at university, or published poetry in leading journals, or with established presses.  It is poetry of the people, and it is very raw, and poignant.  I think we do an injustice to these Facebook poets to not at least confront this new form of folk writing.  It will likely yield many tropes and new forms, under analysis.  Ten years of anything means there have to be a few gems out there.  Right?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Elegy for Philip Seymour Hoffman

For Philip Seymour Hoffman, on his death by overdose in Greenwich Village


The pain that held
The arm that rang
The mouth that said
The ace that fell
The eye that read
The chest that could
The lungs that banged
The arm that sprang
The heart that caused
As mean as hard
As hard as that
As heavy as tried
As dismal as can’t
The love that stung
The bit that played
The lungs that clanged
The harm that hammed
The ham that harmed
The charm that gave
The grave that stood
The beckoning vein
The rented digs
The role of blood
The man that held
The hold that failed
The hard that was done
The doing that came late
The work spared
The body bare
The bare bodkin
The barely lit stage
The stained page
The uplate night
The morning haze
The crying shame
The crust of fame
The tip of bone
The broken bread
The street drug cred
The harming head
The heavy as lead
The soul of night
The break of doing
The dawn of crime
The kiss of need
The needing to go
The having to leave
The leaving us
The using it
The hurting lit
Up at night
And back again
The man and his arm
The arm and the man
Cold bathroom tiles
Bare body and the can
The greatness curse
The heavy load
The load of shit
The world heaves
And the missing it
The craving dream
The way off
The way back on
The falling in
The wanting to drown
The dropping crown
The sorry state
The I am so sorry
Letter sent too late
The pain that held
The arm that rang
 
 


 
by Todd Swift, 2014.

 

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