Sunday, 26 February 2017

OSCAR SMOSHCAR

SHOW BIZ SEEMED BIGGER ONCE
The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaine and Bob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thing, or white men tragically failing to do the right thing, and doing bad things instead. This is of course the trajectory of drama from Aristotle up to at least Death of a Salesman - and these are the boundaries known as comedy and tragedy. The darkest ever Best Pic winner, Silence of the Lambs, is actually a comedy (or romance), and it is about the redemption of a bad man by a young ingĂ©nue, not a million miles from My Fair Lady.

Since the question of whether art (and drama) should be entertaining or morally instructive, or both, is ageless, and probably unresolvable, it is unfair to blame the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures for falling prey to this aesthetic puzzle. However, La La Land is, on the spectrum, most comic, and least instructive - unless once considers it a bland expose of how selfish self-improvement is better than love and fidelity - which would suggest it has Moliere's depths. It does not. Compared to Gigi, it is worthless. Moonlight is the greatest aesthetic achievement, but perhaps too instructive for some traditional voters. Hidden Figures, if it won, would be the perfect medium way, the golden mean, of a moral, and entertaining, film.

I would say who cares? - but millions still do - perhaps because, along with the Olympics and a few other very rare global events, this one remains a benchmark of times gone by. You can check the Wiki page, or the Guinness Book list, and be transported back, with these nominees lists, to a window on values, social politics, and ideas of most of the past century, that few other cultural events offer. The magnitude, like our screens, may have shrunk to smartphone proportions, but the Oscars still just barely matter, and they hopefully will reward worthy winners tonight.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

TOM RAWORTH HAS DIED

HE BROUGHT POST-WAR AMERICAN POETRY TO BRITAIN IN A VITAL WAY
British poet of genius and cultural significance, Tom Raworth has died after a long and protracted illness, aged 78.
Writer, artist, teacher, and publisher Tom Raworth was born in South London and attended the University of Essex. In 1970, he earned an MA in the theory and practice of literary translation. As founder of Matrix Press and co-founder of Goliard Press, Raworth was instrumental in bringing an entire tradition of American poetry to English readers. Promoting the work of a number of poets associated with the Black Mountain School, including Edward Dorn, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson, Raworth also published the poetry of Elaine Feinstein, Aram Saroyan, Anselm Hollo, and Zoltan Farkas.
 
Raworth’s own work has also been identified with the Black Mountain School. He wrote over 40 collections of poetry, among them The Relation Ship (1969), winner of the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize, Eternal Sections (1993), Tottering State: Selected Poems 1965–1983 (1984), the 500-plus page Collected Poems (2003), Writing: Poems 1980– 2003 (2005), and Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems (2010).
 
His most recent collection As When was published by Carcanet in 2015. John Olson has noted that in Raworth’s work "words and lines are highly compressed: one perception immediately and directly slides to a further perception, and these perceptions accrue, multiply, ricochet and expand into a domain of accelerated cognition protean and variable as cumulonimbus, or gouache."
Raworth’s awards included the Cholmondeley Award, the Philip Whalen Memorial Award, and, in Italy, the Antonio Delfini Prize for Lifetime Achievement.
 
He taught as a visiting lecturer at the University of Texas-Austin, the University of California-San Diego, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa; he also served as poet-in-residence at King’s College, Cambridge University.
 
He lived in Brighton, England.
 
photo courtesy of Carcanet.
 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

EYEWEAR PUBLISHING LTD EDITORIAL POLICY


EYEWEAR PUBLISHING EDITORIAL POLICY 2017

Eyewear is a privately-funded company. Its chief aim is literary – to discover, nurture, and publish, significant and interesting new and established writers and poets, across all languages, and all genres. We do so by holding our editorial team to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity; and by ensuring our printing is environmentally sustainable. We actively seek diversity of representation, and opinion, in our editorial choices, and align ourselves with no one political party, or movement. We are, in most things, radically moderate. At the moment, our ideal political leaders would be Justin Trudeau in Canada, Angela Merkel in Germany. As a rule, our editors do not believe Brexit is in the best interests of the UK, and we remain deeply concerned about the direction America is taking under its new leadership. We are on record as welcoming refugees to the UK. Our publications try to build bridges between cultures and continents (especially the US and UK, but also the UK and Ireland, and the UK and Europe, as well as between the West and Asia) and to support authors young and old. Despite, or because of, our views, we want our company to be a pluralistic platform, to paraphrase The Kenya Free Press.

As the BBC states online, we agree: “We aim to reflect the world as it is, including all aspects of the human experience and the realities of the natural world. We will be sensitive to, and keep in touch with, generally accepted standards, particularly in relation to the protection of children.” We will neither court offense for its own sake, nor avoid controversial ideas or statements, if and when they serve a reasonably thought-through aesthetic purpose. As wide-ranging readers, we understand that the shock of the new, such as with Dadaism, can challenge societal values, while contributing to greater cultural purposes. We will be fearless, tolerant, non-judgemental editors and publishers. However, we will steer clear of writing that seeks to advocate violence, cruelty, sexual degradation, racist abuse, or hatefully targets persons or beliefs; except insofar as this may be the expression of legitimate artistic works. We will seek to balance the ideas of Judith Butler with those of Claire Fox, in terms of the harm that free speech and writing can cause versus the harm that closing down debate can cause; and will not avoid offence for the mere sake of gentility, unless we feel genuine harm could be done.

While we cannot agree with Orwell that a clear style is always preferable to an ornate one, we remain concerned that limits to linguistic expression, and the creation of “thought police” could inadvertently aid and abet those seeking more totalitarian systems of governance. In short, while remaining relatively progressive, open-minded, and innovative, and with a clear eye on feminist and democratic viewpoints, we will not close down all correspondence with those who may differ from us in their ideas or opinions. We ultimately believe that robust debate and dialogue are better than even principled silence. As Penguin Books states in their editorial statement, we too wish to “champion writing, freedom of expression, and cultural diversity. … As a company, we are continually investing in a myriad of voices that reflect wide ranges of viewpoints and opinions and impact our society in meaningful ways.” Amen to that.

Eyewear believes in outspoken, fair, kind, and conscientious behaviour in a world too often driven by greed, and cruelty. We do not seek power or wealth or celebrity, for their own sakes, but rather simply a foothold in which we can continue to publish beautifully-designed, brilliantly-written, affordable books. We cannot claim to be perfect, but we err on the side of the angels whenever possible, while reminding ourselves that some of our literary heroes – including in no order: Graham Greene, James Baldwin, Charles Baudelaire, Colette, Anais Nin, Albert Camus, LeRoi Jones/Baraka, Virginia Woolf, William S. Burroughs, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, and Gertrude Stein, were not always perfect. We must believe that they did their best, as creative humans, bravely pushing the boundaries of thought and feeling, within the societal and spiritual and psychological pressures of their moment.

Ultimately, publishing is about bringing something into the world that has not existed before – a book. While books in history have a problematic past, we must side finally with those who would prefer to keep all books in a library, than ever stoop to burn even the most inflammatory. In the end, judge us by the books we managed to help create, in a difficult financial, and political time, at cost and challenge to ourselves.

Friday, 3 February 2017

THE BEST OF 2016 IN POPULAR MUSIC, TV, FILM AND POETRY


Eyewear, The Blog, usually enjoys compiling end of the year lists. 2016, now arguably the punch line to a Kafka-Beckett comedy routine, doesn't seem the sort of place to lodge too many enthusiasms, but of course some of the finest films, songs, and poems, have been created during wartime, and The Great Depression, and other major moments in recent history.

2016 will be remembered for the Dylan Nobel, Brexit, the slaughter of Aleppo, the deaths of Castro, Bowie, Ali, Carrie Fisher, and the Trump election - probably little else, except the rise of social media/iPhone ubiquity in the techno-cultural sphere.

 

 

BEST MUSIC

 

A cruel trilogy of masterful albums, two almost posthumous, are clearly in the top five - by Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and David Bowie. Then there's Lemonade, by BeyoncĂ©. Drake and Rihanna dropped major new LPs, as did Solange. Warpaint, PJ Harvey, Animal Collective, offered fine new LPs. Lady Gaga reinvented herself. Massive Attack and Hope Sandoval created one of the best dream pop songs ever. Iggy Pop, Suede, The Tindersticks, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, Wire, ABC, Pixies, The Monkees, Gwen Stefani, Metallica, Radiohead, The Violent Femmes, Kings of Leon and Barry Gibb all returned with good to excellent new work - reminding us never to assume people are quite done yet. Merchandise crafted a very cunning fusion of The Smiths, Simple Minds and Joy Division. A young  British Asian lad, wonderfully, in this year of hateful Trump/Farage, produced the best Top 40 single: 'Pillowtalk' by Zayn.

 

 

BEST TV

 

The BBC started the year with a double-punch of two great mini-series - War and Peace, and The Night Manager. These got attention, but were promptly eclipsed by The Game of Thrones episode, 'Battle of the Bastards' - easily the finest one hour of TV action ever filmed; and then came the nostalgic favourite, Stranger Things - a perfect synthesis of all that made us love the 80s. Best TV movie - Netflix's The Siege at Jadotville. The Fall, Halt and Catch Fire, Humans, The Americans, Homeland, Goliath, The Affair, Billions, Designated Survivor, all good fun... but I think Stranger Things wins. The BBC ended the year with a clever mash-up, a romantic modernist version of Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution, set in 1923, which heavily referenced poems of TS Eliot (including 'Prufrock').

 

 

BEST FILM?

Sentimental favourite is the NZ family film, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a very charming and stylish event. Nocturnal Animals and Elle are both profoundly disturbing films about style and violence. Guilty pleasures included the charming Irish musical comedy Sing Street, the inventive punk-thriller Green Room, the reviled but destined to be classic Costner vehicle, Criminal, and the one about the sexy surfer staving off shark attacks. Deepwater Horizon is one of the finest disaster films ever, and a powerful indictment of greed. However, the most moving, significant films so far have been Certain Women, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures. La La Land is ultimately too fanciful and lightweight for the times to warrant a win at the Oscars.

 

 

SOME OF THE BEST POETRY BOOKS

and books about poetry*

 

The Poems of Basil Bunting, edited by Don Share;

The new book of essays by Stephen Burt, the poem is you;

Cain by Luke Kennard;

Moments of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo;

Holy Toledo by John Clegg;

Through by David Herd;

Trammel by Charlotte Newman;

The Seasons of Cullen Church by Bernard O'Donoghue;

Exile and the Kingdom by Hilary Davies;

Anatomy of Voice by David Musgrave;

Selected essays by Richard Price, Is This A Poem?;

 The new essays by Charles Bernstein, Pitch of Poetry;

Paul Muldoon, Selected Poems, 1968-2014;

 Stephen Heighton's GG winner, The Waking Comes Late;

 and a major new poetry collection by Denise Riley, Say Something Back, which is arguably the greatest work of British poetry this century.

 

 
*Excluding Eyewear titles.


GUEST REVIEW: PAUL S. ROWE ON BEN MAZER'S SELECTED POEMS

Possibility Glimpsed Through Windows: A Review of Ben Mazer’s Selected Poems Ben Mazer.  Selected Poems . (Ashville, NC: MadHat Press,...