Sunday, 29 November 2009

Best Of Lists?

In the world of poetry, there is always a fine line between cronyism and advocacy. After all, as I posited in another post, given the relative neglect of poetry books, friendship between poets is a vital part of getting the work "out there". Eyewear itself selects some books and poets to review and mention; logically, this excludes others. However, an issue may arise, when the main newspapers (I am thinking in this context of the British ones, but the point applies more widely I suspect) run their end of year Christmas Books lists. There is sometimes something farcical about the process; though not always. Naomi Klein, for example, used her space in The Guardian to draw attention to a Canadian book little known in England, which seems noble and useful. The poetry book that got mentioned the most (three times) in The Guardian was Rain. Published by Faber and Faber, and written by Don Paterson, it is a strong collection from a major Scottish poet. However, it is not even the only good Scottish book of the year - one thinks of Roddy Lumsden's latest, which is an extraordinary exploration of various forms. And there are many other books, some from smaller presses, by less well-connected poets. I invite readers to leave the titles of their favourite books here. I suppose my point is well-known and inevitable: some reputations snowball, and accrue a momentum of their own. Paterson now has the sort of momentum once connected to Seamus Heaney. This is in part due to the work itself, and partly due to branding and extraordinary success at winning prizes and accolades. It does not hurt when a poet is advanced into the market, and the papers, by a leading publisher. Given the relative ubiquity of Rain on best of the year lists, a paradox emerges - is it a wasted vote to draw attention to an already widely-acclaimed book on such a list - or a useful thumbs-up only swelling the consensus? The poetry world, like all other fields, is a pyramid, that narrows at the top. Those at the pinnacle of their careers attract more attention and are more widely read, which perpetuates their position. My research into the Forties poets offers many examples of excellent poets, like Terence Tiller and Lynette Roberts, who somehow failed to make it to that pinnacle position. The regretful nature of memory, among poetry readers, is that so often, those not at the very top end up entirely forgotten all-too-soon; until another generation dusts a few of them off.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Enfin, 35 Poets for Oxfam

While I have been on sick leave, Jennifer Oey, Martin Penny and Etienne Gilfillan, have managed to put together a fine film and DVD, for Oxfam, featuring 35 young and youngish British poets, selected by myself earlier in the year. The DVD will be ready for purchase on Dececember 17, when it is being launched in London, at 91 Marylebone High Street, London, W1, at 7 pm. The DVD is called Asking A Shadow To Dance: 35 Young British Poets for Oxfam. It features a number of fine poets, including Luke Kennard, Lorraine Mariner, Emily Berry and Luke Wright. It was filmed at UEA and the Southbank Centre, and also at the Manhattan Review launch of last year. Well worth supporting, for a good cause; it will be ready for online purchase after the 17th.

Strong Medicine

Thanks to friends for asking about me. I am on ever-higher doses of a medicine to help heal my esophagus. I hope to have this process under control within the next few weeks. I have very good doctors. I am not in pain all the time anymore, but still often uncomfortable. It's been a depressing time, becoming ill like this, with what may be a chronic problem. My new diet means I have lost 16 kilos in the past three months. I am now wearing suits from my twenties that I couldn't fit into for decades. That makes me sound like a former Fatty Arbuckle, but all I mean is I am now oddly slim. I hope to be stable or on the road to recovery in early 2010.

Three New Books

I have been reading three new books worth buying for oneself or a friend this Christmas: She Walks Into The Sea by American poet Patricia Clark (Michigan State University press); The Girl with the Cactus Handshake by Katrina Naomi (Templar) and Blood/Sugar by James Byrne (Arc). The last two just launched last few days in England. Naomi is a former student of mine at the Poetry School, and her work is witty, dark and deeply surprising in places. Byrne is one of the key figures in the London scene, as editor and young poet - now also based in New York. This is his second collection, and, as John Kinsella says, "here is a unique mytho-poetic". No one else thinks or writes like Byrne, and how he blends international and British traditions together is fascinating.

Douglas Campbell Has Died

Sad news. The great Scottish-born, Canadian actor who made the Stratford Festival in Ontario a world-class place for the Bard, has died. I remember seeing him several times in productions, in my teens, when my Uncle Jack took me to plays there.

Review: New Moon

Eyewear saw New Moon and, while it was not swoon-inducing, thought it very good. The director lost his Pullman franchise when America balked at the Dark Materials atheism. So, he got a new film franchise to work on (though only one). Curiously, he opted not to keep Carter Burwell's brilliant, witty score, and went with something more traditionally romantic. The new film's key moments are a rotating camera over a quick montage sequence that sums up three months of despair in a teen's lovelife as autumn turns to winter; and a scene where a young werewolf pulls his t-shirt off to reveal Grade A beefcake - every girl and many boys in my cinema howled with lusty delight. New Moon is sweet tender romance. It reminded me of a James Dean film. But with less angst or terror. For a horror film, it is is lightweight. The main struggle is for the heart, not the heart's needle, or blood. I like this tenderness. It is a welcome break from torture and gore. When a main plot twist can be a hand being held, or a promise between young lovers broken, that's Romeo plus Juliet territory. The books are talky and so is the film. Michael Sheen is always going to be Tony Blair for me. Still, it's good to see this doing so well. One curious absence, given the author's Mormon faith: God. Abstinence and damnation are present (the undead may not have souls) but religion - for small town America - is airbrushed out. Given the True Blood season currently on British telly, it is telling to note that in the US (and in UK too), everything can be shown - sex, murder, monsters - more easily than a pursuit of faith.

Review: Spandau Ballet

The 80s seems to have produced an endless supply of clever and often pleasingly
eccentric pop, much of which has been revisiting us this year, twenty years after
that decade ended. There's a new Moyet Best Of just out for instance. And since
the year began new albums from Simple Minds, Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen, to simply name three of the major bands of the time - each of which made it equally big in America as at home. Now comes the reunion album from Spandau Ballet after
almost Smiths-size acrimony. SB were not as big as Duran Duran or Tears for Fears
stateside, but bigger than OMD. They were part of the New Romantic wave at its height. Their unlikely name and likely look were of the moment, and song 'True' is one of the, yes, true classics of the period. While the new Frankie compilation is mainly a rehash of the hits, SB have rerecorded their greatest songs for this album. The results are both disarming and sometimes disappointing. 'True' is given new life. 'Chant No. 1' is simply rendered safe and MOR. Simon Cowell is now America's highest paid performer - a far cry from the days when people like Orson Welles ruled radio. His bland if rude style fits with the retooled SB. I am sure some of these tracks could become hits. But while it is fun to hear remakes from older men sometimes it is wiser perhaps to prefer the prison of our early days.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Mainstream Love Hotel

Todd launched his new collection Mainstream Love Hotel this September. Unfortunately, he has had to cancel his remaining public events in 2009 due to illness. For those who would like to support his book, it would make a particularly festive gift this Noel, not least because it’s jolly, red and all about love. Please order a copy direct from the tall-lighthouse website. KJ

Monday, 23 November 2009

Atheism For Kids

The latest atheist stunt is an unrolling of UK-wide billboards decrying the fact that children get labelled by their family faith before they can choose themselves. Philosophically this is facile and poorly considered. How else are adults to arrange the lives of children? Parents decide the names, schools, diets and doctors of children; what books they do or don't read; what bedtime stories they are told. Parents and other adults help shape childhood's imagination. Atheist parents are free to raise their kids sans God. It hardly makes sense for a Catholic family to do so. The atheist campaigners argue children should not have to decide a belief system until they are adults. That is rather like saying children should not have to go to school or eat greens until they are 18. Adulthood is precisely the moment for questioning childhood beliefs: not the moment for adopting them. Further, the soul is present at the start and cannot be left unsupported for so long. If adults choose to become atheists that is their rational choice. The soul of a child and a child's mind need loving guidance. Love is forever ignored by such campaigns as if faith was mainly about malice. It doesn't have to be.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

"Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art"

Ben Wishaw and Abbie Cornish give stellar performances in ‘Bright Star’ as John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne. The film is directed by Jane Campion, who also directed Oscar-winning film, ‘The Piano,’ and it is adapted from Andrew Motion’s biography of the poet. Slender with a sensitive face and shabby clothes, Keats is a great contrast to his brash friend and flatmate, Brown, played by Paul Schneider. He is also a contrast to Fanny- who is vivacious and always dressed beautifully in clothes of her own making. Fanny and Brown’s banter is a source of humour in this tragic story of a great young poet burning out. Love thrives between Keats and Fanny in a world which recognises the physical, temperamental and monetary differences between them. Nevertheless, they are always surrounded by great natural beauty. The film is set in Hampstead, home of some of Keats’ loveliest poetry. This film is beautifully made and captures the Romantic ideals without being clich├ęd. As Shelley says in his elegy on Keats’s death, ‘Adonais,’ let us hope “The soul of Adonais, like a star, / Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.” KJ

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

David Zieroth wins GG‏

Congratulations to David Zieroth, Vancouver poet, who won a Governer General's Literary Award this year!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Byrne and Brookes Have Forthcoming Books

Eyewear is looking forward to the new Arc press collection from James Byrne, Blood/Sugar. Byrne is one of the best of the younger British poets and also an important editor and organiser; he currently spends much time in NYC. Also out with a book soon is James Brookes whose pamphlet will be available before Christmas; Brookes won an Eric Gregory this year and is Hill-like in his qualities. More on that pamphlet later. Both young men were filmed for the Oxfam DVD project, also out at year's end.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Beating in the void

Poets are sensitive creatures...

Matthew Arnold described Shelley as 'a beautiful and ineffectual archangel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain.' A poet too delicate for this world - as Jay-Z says, for this 'hard knock life.' As Eliot's recent letters - just-published - remind us, even the most classical minds have romantic agonies. KJ

Monday, 9 November 2009

Heavy Weighs In Crown

Sarah Crown of the Guardian has weighed in on the new Bloodaxe anthology, Voice Recognition, edited by James Byrne and Clare Pollard. Following on from Sean O'Brien's recent review of the new Faber pamphlet series for younger poets (including Heather Phillipson), which ends with his bracing reminder that the hard part is the next "40 years" of a poet's career, it is intriguing and informative to see how key critics of the British poetry establishment are beginning to welcome and receive this sudden generational bounty of new poets.

I for one selected - before falling ill - about 30 young UK poets for an Oxfam DVD, directed by Jennifer Oey, to be launched around Christmas. I was spoiled for choice, and hope there is a sequel, as there are many other superb poets I was unable to reach, some of them featured here in the past. My modus operandi is well known: to affirm, encourage, support and announce new talent. I much believe, to paraphrase Bono, that the sweetest song is that yet to be sung. Youth and poetry are naturals together, and while the next 40 years may, in some cases, be the hard part, tell that to Rimbaud, Keats, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, and Plath. They only got the first half, and it was fine. I also think of the poet manque, Scott Fitzgerald.

Anyway, I hope to run an indepth review of that Guardian review soon. In the meantime, let me just say it revealed three interesting things: 1) a conservative reluctance to praise or accept a good thing at face value; 2) a suspicion of anything that might smack of Alverism; and 3) the Faber pamphlet poets were identified as the strongest out of the 21. Number 3 I suspect may be a coincidence - the Faber poets are all good. That's why Clare and James chose them. However, I missed mention of Sandeep Parmar and Emily Berry, among several others. The main odd bit of the review was that a third or more was a critique of the Intro.

I actually think the Intro is weak - taking potshots at wine and bookshop events seems unfair, especially as London thrives on such things. But many Intros are weak or contentious - one thinks of the Motion-Morrison Intro for their Penguin. In this instance, might it not have been better to debate less about the editorial contraption and perhaps simply read as many of the poets as possible? Lord knows, Guardian reviews are often laudatory, so this one rather stuck out for its contending tone.

It seemed curious, to me, to question the central thesis of the book - that a new generation has emerged, galvanised by events, online and off. True, other generations three stars up the charts, and had readings and magazines and pamphlets. But this one seems the most lively, and differently-engaged and empowered, since the Sixties. One can mention Armitage and co. forever, but this latest "gen" has exploded without marketing or artifice - like Topsy it just grew, a force to be reckoned with. This will become clearer when the Lumsden Bloodaxe survey comes out.

The Guardian, so young and hip it is painful in their film and music pages, sometimes seems square and very traditional in its book pages - despite blog references and little cartoons. Perhaps the young guns of British poetry are to be squared off against, but for now, let's throw open the saloon doors and buy them a milk in a dirty glass, shall we?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

1, 450

This is the 1, 450th post at Eyewear. Not bad, all things considered. Just wanted to briefly recommend a few books I've been sent lately. First, A Tiara for the Twentieth Century, the collected poems of Suzanne Richardson Harvey. I published her work often at Nthposition, and think she's a fine American poet well worth reading.

Next, Dream Catcher issue 23, is the Canadian Issue. While I find the poets included in that section a little pell-mell, it's still a good thing to read if you're interested in Canadian poetry; what the issue does confirm is the fact that most people in the UK haven't a clue as to what the central line or lines of Canadian post-war poetry are - and neither do most Canadians. The situation is quite dire - a very weak tradition of poor critical evaluation has meant the ten thousand Canadian poets are at a loss to see the forest for the trees.

Finally, the Scrumbler, edited by Canadian-in-England, Mike Kavanagh, is a new children's poetry magazine. It's exquisitely produced, with remarkable illustrations. Poets both children and professional adult writers are included and welcome. You can order this amazing magazine from 3 Holly Bank Cottages, Wooton near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England OX20 1AE.

My own news, Seaway received a very good review in the latest issue of Ambit, which was lovely to read. Also, Kavita Joshi is back from Verona soon and hopefully will get a few reviews online second half of November.

Regarding the Q top albums of the year, was sorry not to see the group XX in the top 50. And, finally, when sick, will watch films. Saw Let The Right One In finally. I think it is extraordinary - the most ambiguous and disturbingly sweet portrait of desire, love, friendship, abuse, need, murder, and childhood I have ever seen; will the boy become the man? Terrible indeed, the train ride. Be well.


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...