Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Ian Hume Obituary In Today's Globe And Mail

My grandfather, Ian Hume, pictured above in fine form, is one of Canada's sports legends.

His obituary appears today in Canada's leading newspaper, The Globe and Mail.

See below for link to online version:

I also append, below, a poem I wrote about him and his pet crow (and other aspects of his life mentioned in the obituary), published in Stand magazine; I hope the editor's of that fine UK journal will permit its reuse in this digital format on this occasion.

A Good Person In Snow

A good person, does it do them good,
to go out, late, walking in the snow?
How best, for them, to do more good
than ill? Does their goodness have

anything to do with the winter chill?
I wish to walk so, along this narrow
trail, with you and her, who are both
the same person, observed either by

myself, or a farfetched crow, such as
my grandfather took everywhere on
his seven-mile government roads,
when wood was to hand. Back to her

and you, similar friends, with a scarf
encircling your fair head. Would
goodness keep me in its rose glow, if
my dear companion of the blizzard

was dead? How to behave, at this hour
in this light? A crow with cleverness,
who belonged to a boy and never
longed for the crowd, the murder,

as they say: applying humanity to
nature in a word. This black-eyed
quickness in the past is a memory bird
shouldered by Ian as he dies, though

we prayed in December; he survived.
Is this goodness, to go on being older?
Is all love this much whiteness in wilderness?
Or like those bare trees we cut to fix a fire?

Is it wrong to hold ever tighter as you disappear?
I walk into your furnace kindly to furnish
a dream-house with an ethics based on ice;
which is to say: it is hard until it has to go.

A shift in time is enough to ease their wintry finish,
so that a blue cold dagger skates a pond, a temple
of cubes steps down a pool. No one was more fond
of her, the crow, and the winter, than that good man.

poem by Todd Swift
published in Stand; also appears in the collection Rue du Regard (DC Books, Montreal)

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Review: Scott Walker's The Drift

I have several reasons to find musical genius Scott Walker and his latest album, The Drift, of interest.

I live in Maida Vale, and he famously did, during perhaps his most creative period. Secondly, and more importantly, up until this new release, I though I had created the most densely-packed, poetic, Brechtian and challenging "modernist-cabaret" soundscape full-length CD. It turns out the CD I co-wrote and developed with award-winning Canadian composer/ musician Tom Walsh (entitled The Envelope, Please, see links below) is, compared to Mr. Walker's latest, about as accessible as a Looney Tunes reel.

The Drift is impossible to listen to, and impossible to turn away from - it has the impact of very bad news.

It does not need long for a critic to establish how strange and off-putting this is, when one considers that Walker proudly spliced in sounds of raw meat being violently punched, and one approximately ten-minute song minutely explores the agon of Mussolini's mistress being strung up like a pig in the public square beside Il Duce himself - the interminable-yet-riveting interior monologue both harrowing and weirdly moving.

Walker was always too much - that is what makes him an original, and important. His wild Expressionist acting out makes most performance art seem dull - he is, quite simply, the agent of what is most over-the-top in musical theatre. Imagine if an echo-chambered, tormented Jacques Brel (no doubt punching a raw steak) wrote and sang songs of sheer nihilistic dread... accompanied by elaborate compositions without any notably clear narrative or symphonic structure, plus strings from Psycho, prepared instruments from John Cage, with repeated phrases like "what happen in America" and "black cocaine" - chillingly poetic snippets mixed in with strange aphorisms ("I'll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway").

"I'm the only one left alive" croons a deranged Elvis mourning his twin brother who died in childbirth. Later, amidst the sounds of a braying ass being slaughtered, we hear Walker moan "Curare, Curare" - just after singing the praises of "the grossness of spring".

What is happening here? Walker has the sound of the last century in his "bloody head" and "lolls against the window" - gazing out in anguish and wanting to aesthetically transmogrify it all - excercised by the vulnerable body and nature's maggot-fed corruptions.

At times, the album sounds like it might break in to a punch-drunk musical from the 50s, like "The Most Happy Fella" - and then gets hijacked by a demented Bernard Hermann. Our age's extremes of taste - and mental states - seems one of the main themes of this drifting journey up Walker's sinuous flowing influences to the dark heart of things. Mistah Kurt Weill, he dead.

To be admired, and frankly, at times feared, The Drift is likely to be the goth-spiral-into-madness-soundtrack of choice for intensely pensive readers of 20th century German philosophy and early Eliot; for the rest, it simply remains the most daunting and persuasively conceived anti-pop-album of the 21st century - a work that resists any label but Art; one wants to add Brut, to that.

Art Brut then, with broken glass and scuttling rats.

Eyewear gives it 5 out of 5 specs.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Sunday, 28 May 2006

This Charming Man

Tory leader David Cameron (pictured) appeared today on the classic (BBC) Radio 4 show, Desert Island Discs. Famously, Mr. Cameron is trying to revive the Conservatives by leading them away from the unfriendly opinions of their majority of "crusty old Majors" - into a land of hip, young families with windfarms on top of their affordable housing.

Mr. Cameron almost has my vote, after he selected several of my favourite songs as his favourite songs too...

A live version of "Tangled Up in Blue", The Smith's "This Charming Man", Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees", something by REM so obscure it must have been suggested by a spin-doctor, and a rousing anthem from the hot new Mormon-led band, The Killers.

He isn't much of a reader, though, as he selected a cook book for his one read (he already has Shakespeare and The BIble, though) - and his luxury, booze. Perhaps he should have selected The Collected Works of Rachel Carson, and a recycling bin, to really win us over.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

Todd's Miscellany

A few odd things noted in the papers the last few days....

Firstly, two infamous British egg collectors have died in separate incidents this week while climbing trees that hold nests of rare birds - it is illegal to "blow" the yolk from golden eagles and so on. Tragically, these and other men suffer a rare condition which psychiatrists have described as an "obsessional neurosis" that drives them to paradoxically become bird experts, then risk their lives to collect the eggs that sustain these endangered creatures; it's a condition that sounds dangerously close to all art.

Secondly, no less a man than Jon Bon Jovi has given the final word on marriage. Asked why he doesn't engage in wild sex with anyone but his wife of 17 years, despite being a rock star he said: "I can't. Whatcha gonna do? That's the trade-off. That's OK. I can live with that. I got a good deal." Amen to that.

And finally, when George Bush was asked what he'd miss most about Tony Blair, he mumbled, "his ties." Not exactly a relationship on Bon Jovian intensity, I'd wager.

Friday, 26 May 2006

Poem by Lisa Pasold

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Lisa Pasold (pictured here in a brasserie in Nantes) to its pages this Friday. She has become one of the core poets in the new 21st century Paris expat literary scene, along with Jennifer K Dick and Michelle Noteboom.

It was good to meet her when I lived in that city for several years, in 2001-2003. Indeed, I was so taken with her poetry, I included it in my survey of 20 younger Canadian poets published in the 2005 issue of New American Writing. One of the things I like about her writing is how she gets so much of the world in to it, without ever easing up on innovative practice - while retaining humour and perspective - making fast-paced avant-garde work with a voice behind it, mixing narrative and more opaque strategies in a new blend.

Pasold is nothing if not active and travelled - she's been thrown off a train in Belarus, been fed the world’s best pigeon pie in Marrakech, mushed huskies in the Yukon, and been cheated in the Venetian gambling halls of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi.

She grew up in Montreal (as did I - we debated against each other in high school then promptly forgot each other for nearly 20 years) which gave her the necessary jaywalking skills to survive as a journalist and guidebook writer.

Her first book of poetry, Weave, appeared in 2004 and was nominated for an Alberta Book Award. She currently lives in Paris and teaches creative writing at the American University in Paris. Her new book of poetry, A Bad Year for Journalists, came out this April.

what’s possible

“Hidden agendas: How journalists influence the news”
she reads. that’s just fan-tas-tic, I knew they’d get
to blaming us one of these days.

it’s a simple job, “radicalizing the pain of others.” Or selling it.

because she's there to make money off their situation. at least,
they think she is.

can you sell this?

so they throw shit at the car. their own shit. towards her.
splatter the windshield.

(if she worked, say, for FOX, she could skip
this, make it up as she went along. like whistling a tune.)

where’s her handy pith helmet and guidebook? in the Strand once
she came across Directions for Englishmen
Going to India.
19th century binding opened in her hand
to page 41. Bodoni Book font, smudged advice:

"Stand still and wave a white handkerchief. This should
confuse the elephant."

there was no illustration.

but the handkerchief remains, the elephant pauses
to decipher meaning

—truce? surrender? you're
about to blow your nose?—the elephant’s hesitation
an opportunity:

Run. Run away.

Keep driving, she says now from the passenger seat.
Just keep driving.

poem by Lisa Pasold
from A Bad Year for Journalists,

Desmond Dekker Is Dead, The Music Lives On

Ska comes in waves.

My brother, Jordan, who turns 35 today, was one of the key players in the Canadian ska/mod revival of the early 90s, and co-founded Stomp Records, which celebrated the 2-tone style, that most upbeat of music, with several important compilations. His band, The Kingpins, went on to release several great albums (and in a new incarnation just toured China).

But the presiding spirits for his generation extended well beyond the brilliant, eccentric Bobby Beaton and Me Mom & Morgentaler, back, of course, to the original ska/mod revival of 1980 (The Second Wave) when The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, and Madness, made ska the sincere rocksteady sound of Thatcher's bleak streets.

But one of the presiding reggae spirits for their generation was Desmond Dekker.

Rather than the visionary Bob Marley, whose fame sadly came to eclipse Dekker's, it was Desmond's "Rude Boy" persona - prefiguring almost every stance and trope in gangsta rap today - that helped tp set the world skanking in the 60s - perhaps reaching its height of zeitgeist greatness with hits like "007" and "Israelites".

Sadly, this musical innovator, this genius, has died suddenly in the UK.


Thursday, 25 May 2006

Look Again: Re-Review of 13 Days

13 Days (USA, 2000)
Historical Drama
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Starring Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood


Rating: Three Specs (out of 5)

13 DAYS is close, but no Cuban cigar. As directed by Roger Donaldson - who also gave us Kevin Costner’s breakout Pentagon thriller No Way Out - it’s a talky essay on cold war diplomacy. It marks a return to form - and content - for Costner, who co-produced the film, and here gets to further praise the glory that was Camelot, in a role (Kenny O’Donnel, Special Assistant to the President) that could be described as Jim Garrison Jr., side-kick to JFK.
The film’s 1962-based story is familiar from history books, thus facing the Titanic dilemma: we know the ship sinks. In this case, we know that the world - on the brink of Atomic War during the 13 days of the stand-off between the green President and red Nikita over the building of missile bases in Cuba - does not end with a big bang.
Oddly, Donaldson, usually good at constructing solid thrillers, can’t seem to keep up the suspense. This is frustrating, given the dramatic material he has to work with: doomsday deadlines, global intrigue, spies, secret Soviet telexes and fanatical American generals. Instead of pacing 13 DAYS like the countdown to the biggest explosion ever, Donaldson flattens everything to TV movie sameness. 13 DAYS feels two weeks too long.
Perhaps sensing the film isn’t quite as gripping as other Nuclear Era product, like Fail Safe, or Oliver Stone’s JFK/Nixon doubleheader, Donaldson tries his hand at some cinematic gimmickry. There’s the recurring mushroom cloud motif. And, every so often, the film stock bleeds from black and white into colour, then back again, screaming: this was history - this really happened! But even this gesture gets abandoned as the war of words - and rockets - heats up. What’s missing is the smack-rush editing Stone knows the MTV generation craves as the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
As war room re-enactment, 13 DAYS is on surer footing. The acting is strong. Fans of the All-American Costner will rejoice: he’s as handsome and decent as ever, with his usual wife-at-home and gaggle of kids to reassure us that, unlike Jack, he’s no philanderer. Costner’s Boston-Irish accent takes time to sink in, though.
More difficult to accept is Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood’s atypical portrait of Kennedy. Greenwood barely looks or sounds like the man, but eventually his stalwart charisma alerts us to the deeper authenticity of the portrayal. Stephen Culp as Bobby Kennedy, meanwhile, is an uncanny double, down to his trademark arms-crossed, head-bent-in-deep-thought pose.
The ultimate star of 13 DAYS may be its picture perfect fetishization of 60s fashion, automobiles and interior design. It’s almost as if Hugh Hefner was Art Director. White House as Playboy Mansion? Not in this ascetic world of white men in white shirts. The only sex in this version is the constant narcissistic gaze of mutual adoration between the two brothers who saved the Free World, then got shot for it.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Eye on Leonard Cohen

The man to your right is Leonard Cohen, Montreal's best-loved export, after the smoked meat.

He's been getting some buzz lately, from Prince Charles, who, in a recent interview, became the unlikely successor to famous fan Kurt Cobain, saying something slightly incoherent like "I say, there's this chap Cohen and he is absolutely marvellous, has a deep voice and sings these really quite good songs, rather" or something like that.

Not all English people appreciate Cohen - some (perhaps most) small-mindedly write him off as a kind of miserabilist crooner, a la Morrissey - that music to slit your wrists to tag never quite wore off - but then these are the same sorts of dolts who think Bob Dylan is simply that old guy with "the awful voice".

Cohen, who is one of Canada's best 20th century poets (with all that statement entails), as well as an inconic singer-songwriter, is going on tour again soon, and has a new book, recently published, called Book of Longing.

I've been asked to review it for the new online journal Northern Poetry Review (see Links) and it just arrived in the post today, from McClelland & Stewart in Canada. Rarely does a reviewer open a package like it may contain the Maltese Falcon, but it isn't every day a new Cohen book arrives. This one is quite thick, at 231 pages. I'll save most of my observations for the review.

It's good - if also sad - to read the dedication is to Irving Layton, another significant Canadian poet from Montreal, the city I come from.

For more, see

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Hutton Report Returns

The last we heard of The Hutton Report, written by Lord Hutton (pictured) it was a travesty; this time around, it is an outrage - the Labour party has auctioned off a copy, oddly enough signed by Tony Blair's wife, to raise £400 for party coffers, though the report is in large part related to the tragic death of an honourable government civil servant - a subject that might have been expected to command a bare minimum of respect. Not for New Labour, where every twist is a spin. The Tories are baying for an apology. See link below:

One of the best ways to revisit this issue is by reading Poems for Lord Hutton, which I edited, and which features poems by, among others, Attila the Stockbroker, chris cheek, Eva Salzman, Richard Peabody, Steve Tusane and Keith Tuma. See link below:

Eye On Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen - pictured here - the greatest playwright of the modern age and arguably second only to W.S. since Antiquity - died precisely 100 years ago today, on May 23, 1906. So, then, did the world change.

My favourite of his plays, and one whose inexorable pressure of construction and execution I find aggravating to the soul and profoundly satisfying in the way all literary terror is, is The Wild Duck - the conflict between art and science, illusion and truth, reason and madness, are calculated and unleashed so lyrically in it. But all will have their favourite Ibsen moment.

Monday, 22 May 2006

Going Down On Your Permanent Record

It isn't just The Violent Femmes who have to concern themselves with permanent records.

Poets, since antiquity - and perhaps, most famously, Horace (pictured) - then Shakespeare - have written of how (their) poems outlast gilded monuments and marble, to give famed life to a bravura poem that outlasts any normal subjects or objects.

Poetry, then, as the gift that keeps on giving, a kind of quasi-vampiric pulse in the textual neck, even after the body's cold as granite.

More recently, as poetry has moved to "inscription" online, in electronic form, old-school poets and publishers have lamented the loss of books, of paper, of tactile reading, and, indeed, even of writing itself. How ironic it is, then, that it may be the internet, in some form or another, that outlasts the libaries so much traditional store has been placed in.

The British Library is helping to articulate this exquisite irony.

As a founding member of the UK Web Archiving Consortium, it is running a two-year pilot project to determine the long-term feasibility of archiving selected web sites and has asked Nthposition to take part.

Nthposition is Val Stevenson's well-regarded web magazine, which I edit the poetry for, and which has been running since 2002.

Nthposition will, if the pilot succeeds, remain available to researchers as part of its permanent collection, and the library undertakes to ensure that it remains accessible even if today's hardware and software become irrelevant. In other words, poetry recorded digitally, lasting forever.

Perhaps, soon enough, more poets will be clamouring for such e-publication, after all...

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Eye On Valentine Ackland

It is the centenary of a poet I had never heard of: Valentine Ackland (pictured above).

Thankfully, an article in Saturday's Guardian Review section (see link below) has introduced me to this extraordinarily-intriguing-sounding poet - a lesbian, communist, Catholic, environmentalist (at various stages of her complicated journey through self-exploration) - whose poetry will be re-published by Carcanet, that necessary press (for those who want to reclaim the past we should not have missed, and read the present others would rather keep from us).,,1778230,00.html

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Look Again: Re-Review of Hannibal

Given the conversation I had at the National Film & Television School the other day, about the relationship between violence, image, and poetry (on and off the screen) I felt this revisited review (a current Thursday feature at Eyewear) would be timely.


Hannibal (USA, 2001)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore

Rating: 3 out of 5 specs

“The sacred and profane”

HANNIBAL is the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, which is widely regarded as the finest horror film ever made. In that movie’s profound study of an erotic stand-off between good and evil, hick and sophisticate, female and male, law and chaos, in the shape of Agent Starling and Dr. Lecter, an almost archetypal classicism was reached. Silence was also utterly terrifying. It gave the world the most loved, imitated and infamous monster since Dracula; who can think of a “nice Chianti” the same way since?
The baggage, then, was as heavy as if carrying bodies, for director Scott, who, in Alien, had discovered a hybrid of suspense and gore that improved on Hitchcock. He seemed an auspicious choice. As did Ms. Moore, who in fact has done a fine job of almost being Jody Foster; her sublimation of character may be the most frightening thing about this follow-up, ten years later.
Now for the bad news. HANNIBAL, friends, is boring. Or more to the point, it is not what any fan of the original would have wanted, but then we were all forewarned by author Thomas Harris’ mediocre novel (on which this film is squarely based); only his offensive ending has been surgically removed, but the rest of the ponderous Dantean framework (a Latinate study of betrayal and revenge) is in place.
Whereas Silence’s strength lay in the inescapable fact that Lecter was mostly confined, and hence barely approachable, here the demon with the oddly pale, masklike face is totally unleashed — free: but to do what? Look like any number of rich, retired American bachelors living abroad, as it turns out.
With his Armani suit, Capote fedora, designer shades and general fondness for perfumes, Lecter looks as gay as Christmas (which is alluded to in the film on several occasions); Hopkins has aged (naturally) by ten years, too, and his heavily-jowled face no longer tilts on the edge of taut vigor. Lecter is long in the tooth.
And Starling, the agent of goodness, is now a slight presence indeed. This time, the story belongs to the male lead, and evil is left untested by its needful opposite (only Pazzi, the flawed Florence-based detective, seems driven by an urge to really defeat the monster). Evil, when portrayed so graphically, as here, must either shock with new heresies, or appear dull-witted.
In an attempt to up the bloody stakes, Lecter is more cruel and unattractively sadistic than we remember him being. The penultimate scene of cannibalism and mutilation (which no one, however obnoxious, deserves) is at once just a sick joke and profoundly inhuman.
The opening credit sequence (the most disturbing part of the film) features Glenn Gould’s exquisite performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, purported to be Lecter’s favorite piece of music. That it may be. However, the Gould Estate has seemingly trespassed on grace by allowing Bach’s near-sacred work to appear in such a fallen, violent context. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Eye On Stanley Kunitz

One of the most vaulable books in my poetry collection is a first edition of Stanley Kunitz's Poems 1928-1978.

Opening it up today, on learning of his death at the totemic age of 100, I find one of his later poems (relatively speaking) as collected in that volume, "Trompe L'oeil", which features the lovely last three lines: "The fun was in the afterplay / when the true artisan / tells his white lies."

I do not know his poetry as well as I should. I shall return to it, with due attention. What I do know is that Mr. Kunitz (pictured above) was a gardener, a man haunted by the tensions between life and death, a knower of grief and eloquence, and a pacifist who campaigned against certain American wars and police actions; he was a great mentoring figure, to Slyvia Plath, and many others. America's poet laureate (in a sense twice) he won several of the major prizes along the way, as if incidentally. There was a graciousness to his life that leaves us the better for having had him among us.

Guest Has Gone

Eyewear has several reasons to mourn the recent death of the long-lived and legendary film-maker, Val Guest.

Firstly, he was born in Maida Vale, where I now live; secondly, he directed two of the key films of the 50s, which in some ways, big and small, have shaped my own cultural projects - Expresso Bongo and The Qautermass Xperiment.

The former of these films is still the best evocation of a hep-cat bongos-coffee-and-sex demi-monde in London, that real-life cats like Colin Wilson (labelled as an Angry Young Man) inhabited; the latter was the inspiration for one of the poems of mine which introduces my latest anthology, Future Welcome (DC Books, 2005), itself a sort of B-movie, except for poetry and sci-fi prose.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Poetry At The National Film & Television School

Each year the (UK) National Film & Television School asks their Year One Group (Documentary Direction; Cinematography; Location Sound; and Editing) to combine strands, and produce a short film based on a line of poetry.

The tutors for the course are directors Asher Tlalim and Dick Fontaine. Fontaine has directed documentaries with, and about, The Beatles, Norman Mailer, and many of the great American Jazz legends. The visiting Tutors are writer Jane Corbett and cinematographer Sean Bobbit.

They also invite two guest poets each year to kick-start the intensive 5-week project as part of a workshop panel, to read their poems, and discuss the creative conflict between image and word. This year, I was invited to join English poet Julia Casterton.

We read some of our poetry, and had an intense, free-wheeling debate on violence and experience, where to place the camera when filming in a war zone, cinema of the Holocaust, the relative merits of Tarantino, and the dialectical nature of documentaries, which Julia suggested might be one part tragedy, one part accident. We all agreed the unearned sensational image was worst, and the best was the one which seemed indirect, felicitious.

My poem on Charlotte Rampling, from Rue du Regard (DC Books, 2004) went over well.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Review: Stadium Arcadium

The opening - rousing - chorus on the new, much-hyped double album from RHCP is "California Rest In Peace / Simultaneous Release" - and this just about sums it all up. It seems that, with the recent voracious rise of a China that has zero tolerance for Kyoto Protocols the world is suddenly in a boomtime, with an economic bubble that sees the value of everything rising at once - copper, gold, oil, property.

It is a heady counterintuitive moment - at once, the 00s are surfing on the edge of destruction but also, well, surfing. No other artists currently alive and so nakedly ubiquitous serenade this cocksure, self-destructive, overabundant moment so well as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. By thrusting their sugar-tongued subtext so firmly into a cheek bronzed in La-la Land, by making California their own Yeatsian Byzantium at the end of things (no country for fully-dressed men without six-pack torsos), that is, a place where annihilation and fulfillment collide in a tectonic shift of ecstatic proportions, they summarize the world's ills even as they replicate them in miniature, by being exactly the avatar of what ails us: total psycho-sexual commodifornication at the hands of American Entertainment (Hollywood).

Sure, the Chilis croon in their comfortably funky, always the same but subtly varied way, we know California is Satan - but it's so damn good. Want some? And, to paraphrase Homer Simpson (not the one that came to die in California, but the cartoon) - because it's true, it's even better. Thus it is they are always able to capture the language of film and TV business - and its slightly coked-up jitter (listen to "Snow (Hey Ho)" track two or "Charlie" track three) - as in "simultaneous release" - while also making sure the more ejaculatory double-meaning is also prominent.

There is something of a digital conquest in this vast array of 28 songs - like the simultaneous release of films that aims to swamp pirates with a surplus even they cannot capture and profit from - this is a tidal flood of material that could eradicate New Orleans. What is "a perfect wonder" about this release is that is utterly unrequired.

Rick Rubin has now mastered a sound that suits the band to a T, and makes them simultaneously dangerous and "white as snow" - safe for middle-class consumption, timelessly well-crafted, and yet still subversive enough (all the drug and sex imagery) to attract and impress. After the Stones and U2, they are now the world's best, and best-loved, stadium act - and they have several albums under their belts that are works of near-genius, such as BloodSugarSexMagik, the second best album of the American 90s, after Nevermind.

And, indeed, it is timely to be reminded of their dead rival, Kurt Cobain, since he signally achieved what they have failed to: a terminated longetivity; instead, since signing to Warner Bros. (that suitably Hollywood outfit) 15 years ago, they have managed, despite living a public/personal life arguably more deranged and decadent than Rimbaud could have envisaged, to craft a career that results in sturdy, new-and-improved product at regular intervals: excess and success merged ("a little Beatlemania when I can"). Since RHCP are nominally socially-aware, this is not meant to be Marxist critique of their working methods. It is an appreciation of their superfluity.

As such, there is no need to review this new album. What is there to say that we do not already know about these fully transparent comedians of what-can-be-done - their endless supply of outrageous, ingenious and often toe-curdling puns and daredevil, careless language play making them red-blooded heirs to Bob Dylan, even Paul Muldoon.

As big as the movies, almost as big as Sinatra or Elvis or The Doors (their only American precursors, surely, in terms of mass appeal and artistic-financial clout at this gigantic moment for them) - the Chilis are now bigger than the stadiums built to contain them. Thus, they've built a planet-sized twin album to bust out, just enough to keep fans wanting, until the next release.

For the record, there are six or seven killer tracks here, as good as anything on Californication or By the Way - such as "Especially in Michigan" or "C'mon Girl" or "Wet Sand" (and the first four songs on album one) but no "Under The Bridge". That would have been news.

Eyewear gives Stadium Arcadium 5 out of 5 specs.


Eye On Abraham Lincoln Gillespie

There aren't any images of Abraham Lincoln Gillespie, that I could find, so instead here is one of South Philadelphia in the 1930s. He was born there in 1895, and returned at the start of the Depression, from expat Paris in the 20s.

It's somewhat amazing, perhaps even unbelievable, that Gillespie is so little known (though his work is now, barely, anthologized in a few places) and under-represented on the Internet, as well. Having read what I can find of his life, and having seen a few of his poetic texts, you'd think he'd be more widely recognized as the eccentric genius that he is.

For make no mistake, few writers in the 20th century have had such a shabby treatment at the hands of posterity, or such a strange trajectory while alive. ALG took a creative turn, after being married to an orphaned sweetheart, after a jolting auto accident, that sent him spiraling into the orbit of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound in the cafes of Paris.

Claiming himself to be the world's greatest writer, disfigured after the crash, and semi-destitute, he implausibly forged an entirely unique way of speaking and writing that actually pushes the modernist innovations of his far more respected peers way past limits most care to want to think about. Though perhaps not as theoretically, or emotionally, estranged as Khlebnikov, ALG was similarly constructing a new way for typography and language to appear on the page, and challenging, in the process, the relationship between word and world.

What is very sad is that, after moving in the highest literary and artistic circles possible, ALG moved back to the run-down and desultory cafes of Philadelphia of the Great Depression, where his visionary practices were barely tolerated, and he became, more or less, a mascot for second-rate Bohemians (and curiously, some famous Hollywood screenwriters) who encouraged this diabetic alcoholic with the bum leg to hang around their gin-soaked apartment parties and tell stories of his time at the apex (albeit marginally) of 20th century Kulchur. At his funeral, no one in his family knew he was a writer of genius; and his occupation on his death certificate was marked as None. Fitting epitaph, perhaps, for the saddest, weirdest, lost man of language.

He deserves better now, though.

I've gleaned most of this from the interesting, if sparse, material gathered at the site above.

I also asked the intrepid younger poet, Adam Fieled (see his P.F.S Post in the Links), who lives in the Philadelphia of today, to write a literary postcard that might locate the man in the place. Here is what he sent me:

In the Great Depression-era 30s, a cup of coffee in funky, ethnic South Philly would’ve cost Abraham Lincoln Gillespie five cents. In near-Depression era 2006, a good cup of South Philly coffee runs at $1.35. Still, the spirit of the place seems remarkably unchanged. The heart of South Philly still remains the Italian Market on 9th Street, where (one imagines) Gillespie would’ve picked up whatever victuals he could afford. Gillespie’s personality, as it has been handed down to us by anecdote, fits the South Philly vibe to a tee: bombastic, ornery, volatile, ready to take on all comers.

Gillespie’s stubborn literary individualism earned him a life of abject obscurity (though his reputation is gradually widening, & he is taught at Penn & elsewhere). Likewise, Philadelphia has devolved from the nation’s first capital & an industry leader into a second-tier city in the US hierarchy. Tell that to a South Philadelphian, however, and you’re likely to get punched. Philly is a proud city, the Dublin of the East Coast (& in fact “Bloomsday” is widely celebrated here); South Philly is its proudest neighborhood.

The very spirit of South Philly is embodied in the huge mural of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo that broods over the Italian Market from 9th & Salter. Rizzo was Philly’s first “Goomba” mayor, the first in the country, in fact. He was an incredible tough-guy & the ultimate South Philly boy made good. You can feel his presence in the hard-case vendors & shop-keepers, in the smell of onions & frying meat, in an atmosphere of barely suppressed rage & exultant joy. It’s a vibe we can also sense in Abraham Lincoln Gillespie’s mad, hectic word-frenzies. Joyce’s Dublin & Abraham Lincoln Gillespie’s Philly are close to being the same place: redolent & reeking, furious & placid, sensuous & austere.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Poem by Cath Nichols

Eyewear is delighted to welcome Cath Nichols (pictured here) to its storied pages this Friday.

Nichols has a new collection out, Tales of Boy Nancy - a pamphlet of poems published by Driftwood (2005). Another recent project has been a film with commissioned music, launched at the National Maritime Museum during last year’s Homotopia festival.

For four years Nichols co-ordinated Liverpool’s Dead Good Poets Society, but has left to pursue her writing career and commence an MA in the autumn at Lancaster University.

Previous roles include mental health work, artists’ model, journalism and waitressing (indeed she has even been a drag poetry waitress).

Her forthcoming project examines the history of various characters associated with the Woolworth’s empire in Liverpool and New York. A full-length collection, My Glamourous Assistant, is forth-coming from Headland Press in 2007. She recently recorded poems for the Oxfam Poetry CD, out in June, titled Life Lines, which I edited.


In the tropics some succumb to calenture:
it is a sickness of heat and hallucination,
a home-sickness for verdancy where

lapping green turns grassy. So sailors
in the grip of calenture jump ship
to bathe in meadows sweet

with furling paths and waving trees.
They dream a dappled walk
through lanes of missing memory,

a time before the press gangs came,
stole their lives, and placed them
in the keeping of mermaid droves.

poem by Cath Nichols

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Slammed in Galway

An Irish poet, Maureen Gallagher, has written an article in the Galway Advertiser attacking the local poetry slam scene, and quoting me prominently in it.

Here's the link to the article:

Today, the paper kindly published my reply, titled "How I stopped worrying and learned to love the slam".

Those of you in Galway, do the right thing and support the Advertiser by buying a copy.

Who says poetry doesn't sell papers?

On First Looking Into Chapman

Cicatrice is the new poetry book from award-winning writer Patrick Chapman, pictured here, author of Jazztown, The New Pornography, Touchpaper Star and the film, Burning The Bed. It is published by Lapwing Publications, Belfast and is available now.

Cicatrice is the follow-up to Touchpaper Star, to which it is a companion volume. Containing love poems ranging from the intimate to the erotic, to the slightly deranged, Cicatrice is fifteen mini-dramas that pack a real emotional punch.

Eyewear urges you to find and read this. Chapman is one of the very best Irish poets born in the last 40 years. His work probes vast and intimate spaces most contemporary Irish writing avoids.

Buy Cicatrice from Lapwing:

Buy a signed copy of Cicatrice from the author:

Patrick Chapman Online:

Irish Literary Revival:

Burning The Bed:

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Poseidon Misadventure?

The Poseidon Adventure is one of my top ten favourite films - for various reasons that include unforgettable performances by Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, not to mention Red Buttons, plus grime-smeared survivors leaping into water-filled inverted steam shafts. It is a movie that exceeds labels such as camp, kitsch, so-bad-it's-good, dreck or B-movie, to simply rise to the top of any list of disaster flicks from the 70s, surely one of the most viable, and riveting, genres of a very fecund period. The only film that comes close, but is truly dreck in comparison, is The Cassandra Crossing, which, starring a pre-murder O.J. Simpson, and featuring the twin themes of the bubonic plague and The Holocaust, is doomed now to be a modish curio and not a classic, thought its mix of bio-terrorism and concern with anti-semitism is still highly-charged stuff today.

So why am I so discomfited by the news that the film has been remade, and is one of the summer's biggest thrill-rides, retitled simply as Poseidon? Several elements of the new project are very promising: it is helmed by Wolfgang Petersen, director of arguably the finest film ever made about survival at sea, and the human conflict that entails (Das Boot not his lukewarm The Perfect Storm); Josh Lucas is one of the more under-rated of his generation, and looks good in the trailer; even Richard Dreyfuss, that antsy ham recently withdrawn from the London stage due to some sort of ailment, is a worthy cast member, since his admirable part in the greatest - and most watery - blockbuster of the 70s, Jaws, must surely entitle him to one last shot at such an entertainment.

And yet, and yet, warning bells, and red lights, and fog horns, keep ringing. Is it that the CGI looks suspiciously like this is Titanic Part Deux? Is it the absence of any major actors, other than the aforementioned, and instead, a cast of TV stalwarts and young guns yet to make a household name for themselves? Is it the presence of Kurt Russell, sans eyepatch? Is it the feeling that the script has airbrushed out the twin agons of an elderly couple voyaging to the Holy Land, while a tormented, nearly-excommunicated priest, vies to lead his flock to the promised land, where the hull is thinnest, and God's acetylene torch can best cut through the steel like butter?

Eyelevel: Virilio

I'm currently reading Virilio's Art and Fear.

Monday, 8 May 2006

Hoffman La Roche

The squint to your right belongs to man of the moment, Philip Seymour Hoffman, arguably the finest American actor of his generation.

He recently played Truman Capote, a darkly complex protagonist, for which he was awarded the best actor Oscar - in the process giving the world the first serious portrait of an intelligent gay writer - that is, a writer who just happens to be gay.

Hoffman's Capote may be bitchy and stylishly dressed (as many straight writers are) but he is, above all else, determined and envious and talented - and that uncomfortable true-to-life brew is never left to boil over in scenes of camp. My favourite part of Capote was the Nancy Drew-Hardy Boy relationship between him and the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, as they visit small town America with sophisticated Manhattan mores. A TV series could be spun from just such a collision of glamour and cornpone-crime. Perhaps an adaptation of Capote's true-crime novella, about handcarved coffins, from Music For Chameleons, could be developed along such lines.

Now PSH is back, as quasi-Bond villain Owen Davian, in Tom Cruise's latest Mission Impossible. I thought MI-3 was very good, for an actioner, and milked the tension between becoming a husband and being a US operative with emotional intelligence; also, several of the key scenes, including a scarifying interrogation aboard a jet, and Cruise silenced by a rubber mouth-mask eerily reminiscent of Lecter's (and American foreign policy in Iraq and Guantanamo) were well-designed.

Hoffman's Davian isn't really a great portrait of onscreen evil - unlike John Malkovich's Oscar-winning assassin in In The Line of Fire you never feel the thespian beneath the skin given full reign to explore the method in the madness. However, Hoffman does make Davian that curious thing - an American villain who actually represents what most people in the world don't like about Americans: bloated, unusually strong, entirely disinterested in human concern, affectless-but-bloodthirsty and mega-rich. Is "Davian" some kind of admixture of "Damien", "Camp David" and "Branch Davidian"?

Davian's expressionless disdain as he is coptered imperiously away from a smashed bridge and presumably dead Impossible Missions team is impressive. It's like the flight from Saigon, but this time you know there'll be a return. It's good seeing Hoffman punch Cruise in Shanghai, though he was far more disturbing (and disturbed) in Punch-Drunk Love.

Viva Hoffman!

Saturday, 6 May 2006

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Oxfam Spring Poetry Reading Tonight

Thursday 4th May 7.00pm

Oxfam Spring Poetry Reading 2006
Oxfam Books & Music
91 Marylebone High Street

Hosted by Todd Swift - Oxfam's Poet In Residence

Seven Poets For Oxfam:

Dannie Abse

Olivia Cole

Tim Dooley

Mark Doty

Alan Jenkins

Valerie Josephs

Carmine Starnino

Admission free, suggested donation £8

Look Again: Re-Review of Nurse Betty

Nurse Betty (USA, 2000)
Directed by Neil LaBute
Starring Morgan Freeman and Renée Zellweger

Headline: Betty Oops

Rating: Two Specs (out of 5)

NURSE BETTY is a “problem picture” - but not the kind that Hollywood great Stanley Kramer used to produce and direct. This time around, it’s not the issue that defines the critical condition the film is in, it’s the lack of a guiding center (call it heart). Indeed, NURSE BETTY is almost a case of cardiac arrest, and this can be traced to the toxic misanthropy that director LaBute (In the Company of Men) is known - and in some circles praised - for.
The film is DOA in the cutting room, simply because it attempts to freakishly graft two moods and multiple genres onto one movie-going experience. On the one hand, it is an ultraviolent, hip black comedy about two witty, bickering contract killers (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) searching for a nameless-but-valuable shipment (as in the far superior Pulp Fiction).
On the other, it is a touching road movie about a naive young woman (Renée Zellweger, as Betty, in a strong performance) coming to terms with her true self, referencing The Wizard of Oz. Then there’s the whole David Lynch factor: small-town eccentrics (especially quirk king Crispin Glover) trying to solve a big time crime, which suggests nothing so much as Twin Peaks, right down to the soap opera subtext.
It may not be fair to complain about a film’s copycat tendencies, unless it attempts to wear its charming originality on its hospital-green sleeve. NURSE BETTY wants you to laugh at the bloody mayhem, and cry at the female protagonist’s psychological (and geographical) journey - and meanwhile learn something new about how “reality” and “fiction” are mixed, fragmented and ultimately lost in the TV Nation which is America (as if this wasn’t in fact a cliché of the Springer era).
When Betty accidentally witnesses the scalping of her smug, despicable husband, used car salesman (telegraphing his scum-of-the-Earth status) Del, she snaps into a protective fugue state, which sends her from Kansas to LA, in search of her “ex-fiancee” - the unreal TV Doctor Ravell (Greg Kinnear, as sweetly bland as ever, and as the role demands) from her favorite daytime soap.
In Betty’s wide-eyed, sugary wake come the argument-prone killers. Freeman is impressive with his cowboy attire and well-read gravitas, but his crush on the “Doris Day” heroine soon spins into a melodrama screaming for a mercy killing. By the time Betty finds - and then ironically embraces - her delusional identity as quasi-Nurse Betty, only fans of real life soaps will have their Kleenex out.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Top Intellectuals

"ACP" - Agnes Catherine Poirer - pictured here - covers the London beat for the French press, and effortlessly combines the twin francophone gifts of smarts and style, much as Sartre did - and also enjoys the curious French habit of turning everything elite and sexy into an acronym.

Recently, she pointed out, quite rightly, in The Guardian, that there are few if any public intellectuals in the UK. No, comedians and BBC radio hosts don't really count, nor ghost writers for Wayne Rooney et al.

The English don't accept this - perhaps to be expected.

To confirm her thesis, she pointed to the fact that a woeful 3% of books published in the UK are translations, whereas in France the figure is more like 25%. This could be due to the fact that the French need to translate Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Austen and Swift, and we don't. However, there does seem a high-brow trade imbalance here, especially if one considers that probably 99% of those translations are of Tintin.

Worse, though ACP doesn't mention this, British publishers don't even bother to publish English-language writers from places that aren't worthy. Almost no American, Canadian, Indian or New Zealand poets get published in London. The map of what's relevant, at any rate, gets drawn by a mostly-prose-bound media, guided by the infallible oracles known as the Prize.

Meanwhile, British author terrible, Zadie Smith, has joined the growing list of figures Time Magazine - apologist for the worst excesses of American self-satisfaction since the 50s - wishes to claim for their own by adding her to their list of the "100 most influential people of 2005".

She is the only British person on this list, which is staggering. Smith should immediately refuse this honour, lest she quickly assume iconic status and move to Hollywood to host a gameshow. ACP knows better than to accept such Yankee blandishments; like all good French, she resists. She simply is the gad-fly par excellence.,,1765388,00.html

He Misses Snow...

Eyewear wishes to congratulate Pierre Ringwald, whose new collection (cover pictured here), A World of Sudden Claws, from The Tall-Lighthouse press is the Poetry Book Society's Pamphlet Choice for spring 2006.

Ringwald was born in Edmonton in Western Canada in 1971, but spent over 20 years in Ottawa where he was active member of the local arts community as a drummer, dj and performance poet.

He relocated to London in the summer of 2001, accepting a teaching post in the English department of St. Gregory’s RC Science College in Brent.

When he isn’t teaching, he divides his time between writing, performing, and djing. According to his bio he "misses snow".

Eyewear will be running a Friday Feature on Ringwald later this month. In the meantime, read the book.

Critics' Choice

The Oxfam Poets reading (see earlier post) has been selected by London's must-have Beidecker to the cool, Time Out, as the #1 "Critics' choice" of the week of May 3-10, for all book-related literary events.

The reading, featuring seven not-to-be-missed poets, beats out legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard (at #3) and narrowly KOs Fight Club's Chuck Palahniuk (at #2).

Looks like poetry and Oxfam are finally hip...

(the series, which I organize and emcee, is now in its third year, and going strong).

Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Review: Snow Patrol's Eyes Open

The best thing about Snow Patrol's ambitious fast-paced, persistently and sometimes achingly sweet new album, Eyes Open, just released, is the 8th track, "Set The Fire To To The Third Bar" which features Martha Wainwright (pictured here) on vocals.

I knew Wainright, socially and professionally, when we both lived in Montreal - she performed often at some of the cabaret evenings I was organizing or performing at, under the Vox Hunt and Yawp! banners; she was always gracious and gifted.

This track captures the sort of Montreal vibe that recently got Arcade Fire noticed over here in the UK. On this track, Wainwright achieves something nearly uncanny - she manages to be both herself, and a young Kate Bush. It's a great song, and makes you want to go paint the town red immediately. She's touring this summer in the UK, so do check her out.

The British press is saying this may be Snow Patrol's breakthrough in America - they've sold well but no cigar yet. I'm not sure. It isn't as good as Coldplay's first three, but may build on their momentum. The snow conditions seem to deteriorate as the album progresses, so that tracks 9-11 are nothing more than sub-standard Ah-Hah! style Euro-pop (though Ah-Hah! is one of my guilty pleasures).

Track 3, "Chasing Cars" could be a smash hit Stateside, with the right promotion. So too track 4, "Shut Your Eyes".

The second best song on the album is the stirring (if over-long) track 7, "Make This Go On Forever" which is utterly overwrought - Gene Pitney would have done it justice, and enjoyed its ultra-emotive qualities, its torch song bravado. It actually features the protagonist clutching on to a splintered mast of a sinking ship. I think "won't save me long" rhymed with "what I did was wrong" is sublime pop.

Track 6, "You Could Be Happy" starts with a child's Jack-in-the-box playing, and, although gummy-bear over-rich is disarming by song's end.

Elsewhere, Snow Patrol melts under its usual mixed-bag of talents - their guitars edge past lean to sparse (but never past The Edge), and their lyrics can be too faux-vulnerable to believe (or else someone's dating life is truly dreadful). One sometimes muses that Snow Patrol have designs not on your dancing body, but your teen soul. Maybe that's their strength - they scheme to please, and ache to design. This is a pop craft that won't founder on its rock, just yet...

Eyewear is glad to give them 4 Specs out of a possible 5.

Monday, 1 May 2006

Happy May Day

Get up, get up for shame! The blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colors through the air.
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree!
Each flower has wept and bowed toward the east
Above an hour since, yet you not dressed;
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, ‘tis sin,
Nay, profanation, to keep in,
Whenas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the springtime, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair.
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you.
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept.
Come, and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night;
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth! Wash, dress, be brief in praying;
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park,
Made green and trimmed with trees! see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch! each porch, each door, ere this,
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of whitethorn neatly interwove,
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields, and we not see 't?
Come, we'll abroad; and let's obey
The proclamation made for May,
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

There's not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have dispatched their cakes and cream,
Before that we have left to dream;
And some have wept and wooed, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth.
Many a green-gown has been given,
Many a kiss, both odd and even;
Many a glance, too, has been sent
From out of the eye, love's firmament;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks picked; yet we're not a-Maying!

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time!
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun.
And, as a vapor or a drop of rain,
Once lost, can ne'er be found again,
So when you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

poem by Robert Herrick


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...