Monday, 31 May 2010

I Saw The Figure Five

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of Eyewear.  That's a lot of blogging.  A lot of looking.  Some crying.  And some glee.  Over the birthday month of June, Eyewear will be high-fiving, with a few lists that come in 5s.  Thanks for the support over the years, Eyewearers.  You've made this humble blog one of the most widely read British blogs written by a poet.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Dennis Hopper Has Died

Sad news.  The rebel with a self-destructive streak, some-time actor and artist and director Dennis Hopper has died of cancer in his 70s.  Notable for directing Easy Rider, the breakthrough Hollywood film of its time, as well as for co-starring with James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, Hopper later put in bizarre and unforgettable performances as a character actor in several off-kilter movies, including Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet.  He had an unexpected return in the big-budget Speed, as the lunatic bomber.  Hopper's role in Lynch's classic will remain his signature performance, perhaps the most vile, upsetting and original portrayal of sexual evil ever put onto US celluloid.  He managed to both fail endlessly in his life and career and remain a freewheeling icon of a somewhat faded ideal of American hedonism and freedom.

Leslie Scalapino Has Died

Sad news.  The American poet Leslie Scalapino has died.

Broken Laws

The resignation of David Laws, after he was outed by a newspaper, is a loss for Britain's government, and also a sad comment on how - in some quarters - gay life is still treated as a stigma. I hope he is able to return some day soon.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Featured Poet: James Brookes

Eyewear is pleased to welcome British poet James Brookes (pictured) at the end of a busy week. Brookes, born in 1986, has lived in Sussex for 20 years. He is a graduate from Warwick University, where he read English and Creative Writing, and is currently studying to be a solicitor. His debut pamphlet is from Pighog, The English Sweats.

Brookes is one of the young British poets I most admire. I first saw him read a year ago when - quite young - he won an Eric Gregory. At the time, his work struck me as having some of the rich sonic seriousness of the 60s poets Hill and Hughes. His sense of history, Englishness, and violence, also allies his style to early Gunn. Brookes is his own man, too, of course - which was evident from his fine reading at the Oxfam event the other night in London which I hosted, where he read alongside Philip Gross and others. I include several new unpublished poems of his below.


‘…with smooth-faced stone still holding back the trees,
nearish to a source of channeled water,
such water slowly working the stone pellucid.’

All that. And where the potshards
were few and broke at a King’s order;
where Mycenaean, Hittite, Seleucid
provided for their envoys to be heard

in quiet palaces, where at most a light breeze
might be indelicate as to their proclamations
sounded with all the innocence of power
as children mimic bird cries in the ruins.


Power Point

Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable
-Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, US Army

Even on polling day, when this country
is less a failed state, more a fucked
polity which our bodies dance
improbably close to catastrophe,

I still pray to the choreographer.
Blood on the electoral map
appears at least proportionate
to a marked increase in voter turnout

and while grief daily extends its franchise
universal suffrage happens
in every choice or abstinence.
This bellum omnium contra omnes

parades itself through briefing rooms
and litters up the ballot box
in ways our intel can’t explain.
Whether we help or not, it carries on.

Hard as a piece of the nether millstone
is the heart of leviathan;
there in his neck remaineth strength
and we're all at pains to understand him.

poems by James Brookes.

So who are the Young British Poets?

Potential Young British Poet Bathing In Sunny England
I call them the YBPs. The decade 2000-2010 has seen a generational shift in UK poetry, as an emerging Internet-linked wave of younger poets has come to the fore, clearly offering a vision of what will follow the New and Next Gen poets of the 90s and early 00s. As Nathan Hamilton observes in his spiky, and wide-ranging feature in the latest (spring 2010) issue of The Rialto, one of the five best UK poetry magazines (Poetry Review, Poetry London, and PN Review would also have to be in that list), in which he offers selections from 300 poets under the age of 35 who answered his editorial call, this has led to a near-mania for pronouncing on this new group. I am partly responsible for the listing and selecting, with my Oxfam DVD, Manhattan Review feature, and blogging at the Best American Poetry Website. Tall-lighthouse, the Faber pamphlets, and Bloodaxe, have also been active in helping to shape a new consensus, as have many other ventures, and small press and online projects, from the sharpening your knives initiative, to Pomegranate, to Foyles awards, and the perennial Eric Gregory.

Hamilton promises to give us his critical rationale in Part Two of his series - so Eyewear will wait until then to comment with a closer response to his Introduction and selection. It would be unfair to do so beforehand, though a few brief quick responses come to mind in the meantime. Firstly, it seems a bit much to slight the Philip Gross review in Poetry London - Gross' review was engaged and honest - hardly merely "pleasant". Secondly, it is confusing as to why Americans who don't live in the UK are included; while I welcome poets who study or live in Britain as part of British poetry, even the most open of borders ultimately strains to breaking point if total inclusivity is applied.

I gather Hamilton has simply decided to publish work that was submitted from wherever, but that could be made more clear, perhaps in part deux. Thirdly, he is a little snippy about the other previous attempts to survey this generation, suggesting that some of the poems selected were "very bad". I'd like an example of this. I am sure some were not great, or merely average, but I doubt that Pollard, Byrne, Lumsden or myself actually selected a very bad poem - that would be a serious lapse of critical judgement. Fourthly, Hamilton suggests his overview will be a generous and unsettling perspective, somehow responding to coterie and nepotistic cabalism he sees as marring even the best-intentioned such selections. As he rightly, I think, writes, poetry editorial choices are often aided by friendships, and by other forces that might be deemed extra-aesthetic.

Still, those in glass houses: Hamilton (who I have included in all my surveys, as I think he is a key figure of his young geneartion) is based in Norwich, a graduate of UEA (as was I) - and it is notable that many in this selection are similarly linked; and other links could be teased out - not that I think this is the big issue that Hamilton says it is - in the UK, poetry is too small to remain anonymous and objective for too long. We meet each other. Indeed, this awareness of so many peers allows for a more sensible and genuine survey, whereas similar attempts at canon-making in America, even Canada, are reasonably hampered by vast geosocial distances.

If these sound like serious attacks on his editorial work, they aren't. But I don't think the attempts so far have been that too shoddy, or too corrupt. Lumsden made a small error (I believe) in defining Britishness rather narrowly (and unwelcomingly) in his Identity Parade, and another error in including perhaps too many poets - but his overall judgement, in terms of taste, had integrity (if perhaps it could have been better articulated in the Introduction). So too Voice Recognition - while needfully limited in size, none included is unworthy of a wider readership. And, I believe, my selections are equally vital and useful.

I'll discuss poets and poems once Hamilton's survey is complete. The Rialto has made this a landmark issue - and everyone who wants to read good poems from young British poets should get a copy.

Hamilton has suggested there are neurological reasons for thinking 35 is a good place to limit the definition of young poet. Possibly. I prefer the more conservative 40 or 45. However, at a point like that, it ceases to be a useful working definition of fresher, breakthrough poets. In the interests of helping to finalise a sense of who IS a YBP - that is, a graduate of the 00-10 decade, I am creating a permanent page at Eyewear which will, in time, include ALL the poets that have any claim to be seriously regarded from this period. This will be a slow process.

It will be exhaustive. I will use as reference all the main and some obscure benchmarks (anthology inclusions, awards, prizes, books, pamphlets, word of mouth etc.). I will limit it in the following way: YBPs must a) have been born in Britain, have lived in Britain during the decade, be a landed immigrant or hold a British passport, or consider themselves British (even in hybrid or hyphenate form) for cultural or other reasons; b) have had poetry published, online, in magazines, or pamphlet or full collection format; c) be born in 1970 or after (this unfortunately is slightly unfair, as all arbitrary cut-offs are, to a few very good poets born in the late 60s - but then again, they seem part of an earlier wave, and are, at any rate, well-published and recognised as is; and also to new and emerging older poets, such as Elspeth Smith or Sheila Hillier - but, while these are brilliant poets, they aren't young, only new); and d) not consider themselves first and foremost Irish. That is to say, Irish poets have their own fascinating generational story, which would include Wheatley, Perry, Higgins, Morrissey, Laird, Bryce, Flynn, Gamble, and many others.

One final point - why do this? Won't time settle the canon for us? No, history has shown that canons are often shaped at the time, and are slow to be revised. Further, this is no idle marketing ploy - the period that saw 9/11, the Iraq War, the Banking Crisis, Bush-Obama, climate change, and Facebook and Myspace - has faced as much technological and sociopolitical and cultural change as differentiated 1910 from 1920 - the period in which the Pound-Eliot developments shifted taste and even perception. While Hamilton is right to argue that claims for radical innovation within this period are overstated, he is wrong to, I think, miss, the subtler shifts, to a post-theory, post-postmodern, stance. While there are entrenched avant-gardists, like Keston Sutherland, more of this YBP group emphasises a fusion of performance, pop-cultural reference, linguistic play, and genuine scholarly erudition (many hold MAs or PhDs), and wear this mesh lightly.

It would be untrue to claim that Prynne or Hill is the dominant living elder on these isles, in terms of influence. The two most influential dead poets of the last 50 years for the YBPs remain Hughes and Larkin; Plath is perhaps a third. Of the living mainstream established figures of world reputation, the most influential, stylistically, are clearly Heaney and Muldoon. Motion, Cope, Raine and Fenton, less so, but do provide a ground that is helpful. Of the middle-aged group, the most dominant, in terms of influence, are Duffy, Armitage, the deceased Michael Donaghy and Paterson. Slightly younger very important poets include Farley, Nagra, Oswald and Agbabi. That is to say, while other very good, even excellent poets, are currently writing, the 15 living poets mentioned above (all born before 1969) are the foundations on which this younger swing to the middle has emerged. Claims for less-mainstream impact although exciting is often hype. British poetry remains conservative, lyrical, and charming. It combines humour and personality. It is stylish, both urbane and rural. British poetry is a major accomplishment of world culture - not a failure to grasp the baton thrown by the Americans or French. While improved by foreign influences, it needn't apologise unreservedly for retaining its own tics and inflections. I have often chided it for being stuck in a rut. To paraphrase Churchill: some rut.

North American and antipodean poets have much to still learn, and enjoy, from British poets. The YBPs even more so.

Todd Swift
Maida Vale, May 2010

Edoardo Sanguineti Has Died

Sad news.  One of postwar Italy's most eccentric, active and avant-garde poets, has died.

Laws Unto Himself

It seems sad, but Lib Dem Treasury chief, David Laws, has had a stroke of bad luck - after securing an impressive coalition position, he's been outed in a rightwing paper as gay, in connection to financial dealings that saw him claiming his friend (who lived with him) as a non-partner - ambiguous terrain no doubt.  It is to be hoped he can clear his name.  To lose a smart hardworking centre-right Lib Dem with such a healthy link to business would be a blow to a government trying to be transparent, if tough.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Gary Coleman Has Died

Sad news.  The tragic diminutive child actor, Gary Coleman, beloved by millions of viewers in the 1980s as one of the classic sitcom characters, has died.

Speaking of anthologies...

A good Canadian blog has just run a feature on myself, rob mclennan and Marilyn Bowering, on the role and value and nature of anthologies, especially "Canadian" anthologies.  I am glad to be included in this group of poet-anthologists, and I think readers of Eyewear would find their comments of interest.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


2010's second half promises to yield even more poetry books, and books on poetry, that will surely be must-haves for many, including the new Sampson, new Heaney, new Muldoon, new Jo Shapcott, and a new Larkin Selected, from Martin Amis, as well as debuts such as by Adam O'Riordan, and new books from Gillis, Michael Harris, a British Selected for Robert Bringhurst, Bergvall's New and Selected Texts, and more.  The more would include the Best American, and Best Canadian, anthologies, and the Forward 2011 book.  Gosh.  Not to mention the Modern Canadian Poets: An Anthology.  Meanwhile, this interview with WS Merwin from PBS was lovely.


I am glad to now have 185 "followers".  It would be good to have 190 by June 1, when Eyewear turns 5!

TV Eye

I watch too much TV, sometimes. Sometimes not enough. Or none. Recently been hooked on a bunch of series and shows, some bad, some good, some just okay. I don't mind. I like things on TV for different reasons - just like sometimes one wants Plath, other times Kenneth Fearing. Anyway, Luther has become increasingly suspenseful, engaging and ultra-violent with a very sexy serial killer anti-heroine as a good B-plot.

Flashforward is about to come to an end, tomorrow in the US, next Monday in Britain, after a season that, however sloppy, managed to combine the FBI and hospital sub-genres with soap opera and sci-fi, which was ambitious. I think it lacked a clear villain, though the arc has been complex and well-handled, if the key trope of the board was borrowed from The Usual Suspects a bit nakedly.

Better still have been box sets of Glee, Season I (all the way to the Sectionals) - I love the diabolical cheerleader coach especially, and the google-eyed shy staff love-interest; and of course the fun of the covers of classic show tunes and recent pop. Episode 12 was perfectly calibrated to end with a climax of all the threads to then. Impressive.

Most impressive of all is Breaking Bad, the finest and most astonishing TV production I have seen in perhaps a decade. It compares to the very best ever made, combining the darkness and humour and pathos and suspense of Crime and Punishment with a very contemporary sensibility perhaps its own. The story of a high school genius-level chemistry teacher dying of lung cancer who hooks up with a local low grade pusher to make and sell crystal meth to support his disabled son and pregnant wife when he is gone, is so edgy and morally dubious, it constantly had me reaching for the off switch.

However, the Emmy-winning lead actor, Cranston, manages to wring humanity and even sympathy from his deeply compromised protagonist - and Episode Six has the best kick-ass pay-off scene of stand-off between evil and anti-hero I can recall.

Austerity Brownjohn

I've just picked up the latest Alan Brownjohn novel, his fourth, Windows on the Moon, set in 1947-48 (Austerity) Britain - the period of my doctoral research.  I like Brownjohn as a critic, poet, and person, and think I may like this book, also.  It opens well, and intriguingly.  It comes with blurbs from Margaret Drabble, Jonathan Fuller and David Kynaston (the leading popular historian of this period).


Jason Camlot, the poet and professor at Concordia in Montreal (they have an excellent English and Creative Writing department), has set up a cool project called Tickertext.  Log on to leave your 140 character or less text.

Asian Cha

I am pleased to have a new poem in the May issue of the fine Hong Kong online magazine, Asian Cha.  I recommend readers to submit their work here - the editorial staff are rigorous and engaged.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Modern Poets' World

In 1957, James Reeves wrote an Introduction for a slim and relatively open-minded anthology of British and American modern poetry, published by Heinemann (London), The Modern Poets' World. Among the poets included are Lynette Roberts, FT Prince, George Barker, Hardy, Dickinson, Lawrence, ee cummings, Gascoyne, Heath-Stubbs, Empson, but also Frost, Eliot and Yeats. Notably, Whitman, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane are absent, though Ransom makes it in. Lowell is not yet in - nor any of the future confessionals. Dylan Thomas is there, Hopkins and Edith Sitwell, but not WS Graham. The sense of what was modern is jostled, often pleasingly. Blunden gets a large inclusion. He has not aged well, nor has Roy Campbell. Enright is in, but not Larkin. A lot of this might be down to acquiring rights and space limitations. It is still a good and surprising collection, only 100 or so pages of poetry. His Introduction says a lot, that was then no doubt new if perennial - it sure hasn't dated yet: "To the poet, life is meaningless without poetry; he [sic] is dismayed to find that most people can live without it". Too true, brother, too true.

Go To The Clinic

Clinic will be launching tomorrow, Wednesday 26 May.  Worth checking out.  Eyewear will review this new publication later this summer.

Guest Review: Brookes On Please

James Brookes reviews
The title of this overview of Keith Please’s work, Firestrikes, suggests something momentous – literally, a moment of impact and natural force. It might lead a reader to expect something seismic, if not apocalyptic. Yet whilst Please can capture, with an unblinking eye, a moment’s ‘instant and heat’ – to dislocate Ted Hughes’ phrase – this overview of his work does not evidence a poet interested in straight strikes and heavy blows. Please boxes cleverer than that; the poems are altogether more rewarding for it. It soars beyond the momentary.

This selection exhibits a strong visual sensibility throughout, even in its aural constructions. Perspectives, prospects and vistas form both the subject to many of the poems selected here and the manner of their operation – the presented image is often given in the context of its being looked-at, as in the opening of ‘Scolt Head’:

“Not as it is now: trespass of land, rough sky,
water giving little. But as it was in August”

Or the two stanzas of ‘Two Views of the Nene Estuary’:

“One take is raw
A legendless cut
into mud, undiverted
down which the sea lifts
with dour presumption
and Scandinavian grainships
keep poor harbour.  

The other’s illusory
sapping the mind
like Ahab's, ahead of itself;
a line passed between portals
(lighthouses derelict)
out over the edge,
tempting the slip of the world”

The tension between these ‘two views’ might offer an useful introduction to the concerns of Please's work. By the creating a dichotomy between two modes of approach, this poem poses a question for the rest of the collection – which view do we choose? And it's a question for the reviewer to ask as well – which approach, if any, does Keith Please himself favour?

It's in the first stanza that Please reveals the answer and the strength of his poetry; it is an admirable strength. There is a subtle, mannered quality at work here, driven by a sensitivity to sound, as with the faint assonance of 'sea lifts' buoying up the 'grain ships', the mimetic power of which is balanced with the lulls of 'dour', 'poor' and 'harbour' to recreate a pattern of tidal rhythms.    

Perhaps consequent to this mimetic approach, certainly concurrently, Keith Please appears as more an artist of colour than of line, more interested in impression than instruction – this is a refreshing thing. Certainly this is poetry that could not be accused of any absolutism, getting carried away or even 'ahead of itself', in contrast to the Ahab-like monomania with which some poets pursue their art or attempt to steer and subjugate it. The prime interest for a reader is in the differing tonal qualities of the images; narratives are revealed, rather than imposed, by the poet. Please doesn’t delineate so much as he suggests with swatches and swathes, as in 'Video War' epigraphed Falklands 1982:

“Flak spatters corridors of land
breaks, manganese, in ribbons.

A ship blown intumescent
smokes the daylight out, and keels.

The thrust of troops is coloured,
vert and poppy, according to your hold.”

 A downside to this careful tonal approach is the occasional feeling of, if not hesitancy, then cautious distance or even stand-offishness. Keith Please is noticeably careful with his syntax, using it to marshal the pace of his poems - often adroitly, as in that cropped 'manganese' and the terseness of “Ceefax counts the dead”, which nonetheless cunningly recalls Brian Hanrahan's famous broadcast from HMS Hermes: “I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back”.

The use of strange heightened diction is effective, too, in altering the time signature, reinforcing that heavily-edited feel; take ‘blown intumescent’, whose low vowels and awkward polysyllables slow the tongue and force it to linger over ‘smokes’ and ‘keels’. The elusive attribution of ‘your hold’ is tricky – the reader is very much in the poet’s hold, with the same sense of disquiet that comes when watching someone else’s recordings, knowing someone else is directing our vision. It’s a thought Please fastens on to time and again, as in ‘Home Library’: “There’s a feeling of intrusion glancing at others’ / books, however you’re made welcome.” A poet that interrogates the media of experience is a poet taking their responsibilities in full. 

'Home Library', nicely turned prose poem that it is, contains a phrase that can stand as a useful caveat to reviewers:

“Unfamiliar, then, to find so many
bookmarks stuck up, feathering each row like
white pauses, surrendered to words before the
gist of the whole”

I can’t be disillusioned by such warnings – what else can a reviewer do except try to latch onto the ‘gist of the whole’. In my favourite poem in the book, Keith Please does it for me by managing to perfectly maintain the sense of something dangerous stirring in the depths of the subtext while the reader trains their eyes over the images, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever’s concealed:

People’s Aquarium
Bucharest December 23 1989

The lift still works in the Central Committee.
Snipers eye their slit and perch
above corridors stacked with the toxin of murder.

It will take all morning to clean the window,
chamois squeaking the pane to terrible laughter
in a tank of mad angels
till lunchtime, to make out by phosphor, distortions
of sea-bass and spearfish straining the glass.

Whilst this is the gist of Keith Please's work -  his ability to cast a cold eye - he can be joyful in tricking up conventional narratives, as in the ebullient ‘Aphrodite in Corfu’, where poor “Mrs Karidis had snorkel trouble” becomes a deft conflation of both the classic Botticelli and the classic paparazzi image into one wardrobe malfunction:

“When an adjustment
suitably made her bra
slip to expose one full breast
to half the local lads of Corfu,
they failed to turn their backs on ten millennia
and clapped her into myth”

 I wondered whether there might be something implicitly sexist or exploitative in this tableau, but the portrayal of the blokeish reaction as the part of a high cultural inheritance makes its own subversive, good humoured point about male preoccupations.

Less effective, to my mind, are the glosses on great works provided by the sequences “Five Chaucerians” and “Five Hamlets” – perhaps a residual undergraduate fatigue on my part is somewhat to blame, but these takes lack the freshness and the lightness of touch that even the other allusive poems show. The erudition and the skill show best in Please when he sticks to his own mimetic voice rather than trying to ventriloquise Ophelia in a way that uncomfortably recalls Plath’s ‘Daddy’: “You bastard, you never gave us space” etc. 

Yet one bad whiff of pastiche can’t taint this book, which on the whole is less a blast of fire than of fresh air; the scorching dry air that hazes above a hot fire, which makes the eyes water if you stare at it too long and muddles with one’s usual perspectives. The more time I spend staring into this book, the more I appreciate its uncanny qualities. Of course, ‘Regarding Fire’ would be a rubbish title compared to ‘Firestrikes’. But from the slow burning qualities of what can be seen here, Please is a poet worthy of regard.

James Brookes is an Eric Gregory winner.  His recent pamphlet is out from Pighog.  His poetry appears on the Oxfam DVD Asking A Shadow To Dance.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Lost Booker, Lost Chance

The excitement and fuss over the announcement that the "Lost Booker" (from 1970) went to Troubles, by the tragically drowned writer JG Farrell, cannot hide a sense of let-down.  After all, Troubles is not a lost masterpiece, and Farrell is widely-read and respected.  There is not much clever in deciding to Booker this classic.  It feels the safe and obvious choice.  The opportunity was squandered to do something exciting and even daring with this alternative prize - to award another JG instead - JG Ballard.  Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition is probably his major work, and is still a shocking and innovative text.  Given Ballard's recent death, and the growing sense of his importance, it is surprising that the mainstream view of his writing is still seemingly a tad belittling.

Pamela Green Has Died

Sad news.  Pamela Green has died.  She was a famous British pin-up from the 50s, and acted in the 1959 masterwork, Peeping Tom, which in many ways foreshadowed Psycho.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Nothin' On You

What is the song of the summer as of today, the hottest and sunniest day this year in Ireland or Britain?  Well, Eyewear isn't about to name check some cool indie band, or American folk trio, or other retro throwback (80s, 60s, 70s, anyone?).  No, it's by B.o.B. ft. Bruno Mars and it is called 'Nothin' On You' and it is an effortlessly lovely and catchy love song with teeth, featuring rap and a yearning performance as sweet as mid-career Michael Jackson.  Try to get this one out of your bean this June-August.  You can swim on this song.  Meanwhile, Gabriella Cilmi's 'Hearts Don't Lie' is also a hum-dinger if a little Gloria Gaynor.

Vera Farmiga Appreciation Society

Those who have seen Orphan, The Departed, or Up In The Air, will know that Vera Farmiga is both beautiful, and a very gifted actor.  It is now to be hoped this Oscar-nominated star will be allowed to shine in a vehicle all her own.  Meanwhile, Peter Sarsgaard, her Orphan co-star, seems to Eyewear to be the new Kevin Spacey - that is, an actor whose every voice, and presence, represents a nuanced, and often chilling, glimpse into control, or near madness, or both.

The Rest on The Flight

I just got Peter Porter's The Rest on the Flight: Selected Poems.  There's my summer gone.  Seriously, this massive collection is inspiring, and indicative.  I look forward to reading it.  Also to be recommended is The First Yeats, edited by Edward Larissy.  It is salutary to have the poems as Yeats first published them.


Few places in Ireland are so evocative of a glorious, if troubled, past, as Lissadell House - made famous by both its storied inhabitants, and especially by Yeats, who visited twice, and appreciated the young kimono-dressed "gazelles".  I was honoured to be asked to read a poem for a private gathering of the intrepid Walsh/Cassidy family this weekend, in the great hall (which so pleased Yeats), beside a harp.  It is a pity this family, which has put a small fortune into restoring the mansion and its grounds, planting new gardens and collecting rare books, letters, papers and paintings relating to the Gore-Booths and the artistic coterie of the time, surrounding Eva Gore-Booth, Yeats, and others dedicated to a Literary Renaissance for Ireland, should be vilified for their cultural foresight and husbandry.  Good to see that Leonard Cohen (the second Canadian poet to perform there) will be playing to a crowd of tens of thousands over several nights there this summer.  This major lyricist of our age was drawn by the chance to perform in the shadow of Ben Bulben, and one of the greatest homes in Ireland.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Strange New Life

What to make of the news that Venter has created artificial life, as reported in Science?  Will these little promethei run wild?  Good to see Joyce quoted in the manmade DNA text.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Philip Gross & Young British Poets At Oxfam

The Oxfam Poetry Series at 91 Marylebone High Street will be featuring a very special poetry guest - this year's winner of the TS Eliot prize, Philip Gross. He will be joined by several of the Young British Poets on the Oxfam DVD, Asking A Shadow To Dance, launched recently: Helen Mort, Kate Potts, James Brookes, Adam Horovitz, Sophie McGrath and Lorraine Mariner.  This is one of the most exciting and lively line-ups we've had.

Please contact Martin Penny at the shop to reserve a seat in advance. The event will be Thursday, 27 May, at 7 pm, starting 7.05 sharp.  Free admission, but all donations going to Oxfam.  This event is in association with Kingston University.  I'll be the compere.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Guest Review: Naomi On Robertson

Katrina Naomi reviews
The Wrecking Light
by Robin Robertson

This is Robin Robertson’s fourth full collection of poetry and the first after the Forward Prize-winning Swithering (2006). The Wrecking Light is brimming with Robertson’s characteristic, violent, imagery. It is provocative and exciting. Even the title spells destruction. With destruction comes loss, which is one of the biggest themes of this new book.

If this all sounds too dark and dreary, think again. The writing is utterly compelling and one of many highlights is 'At Roane Head', which won the 2010 Forward Prize for best single poem. It tells the story of a selkie, his human lover and their unfortunate offspring. Just listen to the verbs: ‘hirpling‘, ‘chittering’ or ‘relaxing’ (the latter here, meaning ‘murdering’).

Whether writing from mythology or from translations (there are several translated works in this new collection), the language is generally spare, the images extraordinary. I was particularly pleased to see 'Calling Home’ from Robertson’s translation of Tomas Transtromer’s poetry (originally published in The Deleted World) collected here, in which a simple telephone call is compared to ‘the mess of a knife-fight’. There is also a far longer translation of Pablo Neruda’s ‘Oda a un Gran Atun en el Mercado’, or ‘Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market’, which echoes Neruda’s ‘baggy’ perfection, while providing distanced rhymes, such as ‘by the earth’s green froth’ (lettuces) and ‘the sea’s truth’. Yet Robertson makes Neruda’s seas and Transtromer’s forests his own.

If I have a criticism of Robertson it concerns his more sexualised poetry, but ‘White’ is a revelation. It is here in full:

‘It wasn’t meant to be that way.
I never expected it to shoot so hard
it blinded me: I’d wanted to watch
the way it went. The pumping-out not like
coming at all, more like emptying
a bottle: blacking out
a little more with every pulse.
I just felt light and very cold at the end,
astonished at how much red there was
and my wrist so white.’

This poem’s imagery shocks in the way that Sylvia Plath shocks. I found myself returning to Plath several times with Robertson’s new collection, not least his muscular verbs and subject matter. There are frequent references to suicide, poison and blood. Perhaps this is purely a coincidence? I wonder.

Other themes of this collection will not surprise: such as the reworkings of classical mythology, including ‘Pentheus and Dionysus’ and ‘The Daughters of Minyas’, which to this reviewer lacked the excitement of say ‘The Death of Actaeon’ (Swithering); the revelling in Scottish places names, as in the remarkable ‘Leaving St Kilda’, (I’d love to hear this epic poem in the poet’s own voice, my southern accent just won’t do the job); animals (and religion) also readily feature and there is a remarkable tenderness in the poem ‘Kalighat’ (set in a Kali temple):

‘Only a blue string tethers him to the present.
The small black goat; the stone enclosure;
the forked wooden altar washed in coconut
milk, hung with orange and yellow marigolds;
with a heap of sodden sand.
With a single bleat
he folds himself into a shadow in the corner, […]’.

Other well-worn Robertson themes, such as drink, (and Strindberg) are given a virtuoso reworking in ‘Strindberg in Berlin’:

‘I squint at the flasks and alembics,
head like a wasps’ nest,
and pour myself
three fingers and a fresh start.
A glass of aqua vitae, a straightened,
stiffener, a universal tincture - same again -
the great purifier, clarifier,
a steadying hand on the dancing hand, […]’.

Robertson is capable of ‘relaxing’ any of poetry’s rules. ‘At Roane Head’ commits the ‘sin’ of having two endings. With virtually any other poet, this wouldn’t work, yet Robertson’s final stanza here is brilliant. I’m trying to work out how he’s carried it off but still can’t get past the absolute ‘wow’ of it. In contrast, I would argue that the last two lines of the otherwise breathtaking ‘Law of the Island’ could be cut.

I can’t end this review without another reference to the pervading losses that seep from The Wrecking Light. This is from one of my favourite poems ‘Tinsel’: ‘the thin noise that losing makes […] the soul’s tinsel’, and from ‘Widow’s Walk’: ‘losing what remains of my language/to a thickening rain,’ he continues, with a hint of the light:

‘Trying to escape myself,
but there’s always
wanting to sew my shadow back. […]’

Katrina Naomi is a London-based poet originally from Margate. She reviews regularly for Eyewear. She will be launching her latest collection, the pamphlet that arose from her residency at the Bronte Musuem, this Tuesday. Details are on her site.

Old Robin Hood

When I was a young guy, I wrote an episode of the Hanna-Barbera / Cinar animated TV series (then wildly popular in the States - the top-rated Saturday morning cartoon show for a season, 1991), Young Robin Hood, with my friend, Thor Bishopric.  Our episode was called "King For A Day" - and one of the key scenes involved Robin intercepting King John's crown in the forest, and the power of that robbery going to his head.  Imagine my delight in seeing that Ridley Scott's new shot at a trilogy reboot epic, Robin Hood, features a similar moment.

When I co-wrote my Robin Hood show, it was okay for Robin to steal from the rich, and use arrows.  In the second season, Disney took over, and banned all reference to distributive justice or sharp pointy stick use.  They also wanted Robin out of the woods, and to stop co-habiting with merry boys.  The series soon tanked.  This new film version - critics claim it is the 100th such movie - isn't quite as morally sound or po-faced as the Disney version, but almost.  Robin Hood isn't much fun, or given to quips.  Or lithe leaps.  Instead, he speaks out against the massacre of Muslim people, and is put in the stocks, later impersonating a noble until he discovers his father was the executed author of the Magna Carta document and its claims on royalty in favour of the rights of the common man.

Robin Hood (here Robin Longstride, aka Loxley) as played by Russell Crowe, is a battle-scarred, muscular, middle-aged, plain-spoken Yorkshireman and proto-Clegg, against taxes on the poor, and in favour of liberty.  This is a seriously well-made and researched movie that borders on being dull and worthy, without ever quite failing to entertain enough to be less than good.  It is rarely thrilling or utterly enthralling, though sometimes its villains - particularly rising-star Mark Strong (in another bald baddie role) - amuse with their vicious lack of nobility.

I believe the main fault is with the story structure - clearly influenced by intelligent TV dramas like The Wire.  TV shows can have long and complex arcs that allow for in-depth anatomies of power corruption - and this film tries such a structure - so we see the inner workings of the government and monarchy of England in 1200 AD, from king's mother, to king, to king's wife, to marshalls, barons, sheriffs, and lowly archers and pikemen, friars and wenches; and, of course, turncoats and spies (using bird-sent messages).  The key theme might be Fealty - who pays it, who spits on it - and Fatherhood, I suppose.  Or, put another way, leadership.

Heavily indebted to King Lear (Robin Hood like Cordelia tells one king an uncomfortable truth out of love and is punished; a blind man is taunted by a traitor, etc) and Henry V (those arrow showers), the screenplay gets medieval on the audience, displaying a virtuoso grasp of how to sack a castle or village.  Such gritty authenticity showing the levels of Gotham City worked for The Dark Knight - here it seems like homework.  The problem is, Robin has no clear goal for the first two thirds of the movie (overlong at 140 minutes) and only gets to know and confront the villains (including lusty and dishonest King John) in the last half hour - where, indeed, and excitingly, he rescues a mannish Marian (Cate Blanchett) from drowning in surf or being eviscerated by the oncoming French foes - and finally, aptly, uses an arrow to finish some business.

If there is a sequel, it will likely be better, because the stage is now set - Robin is an outlaw, and King John clearly delineated as evil.  I enjoyed seeing Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Alan Adale, and Little John drunk on mead.  I liked Robin sowing seed in the dusk.  I liked when he told Marian he loved her.  But next time around, he better say something funny, too.

Marksist Literature

Eyewear often claims there are too many prizes, a little too much hot air in the establishment - but the Marks Awards seem genuinely progressive, supportive, and innovative, and actually do something helpful - support small presses and those most ephemeral of publications, pamphlets of poetry.  Here's an excerpt from the recent press release; especially glad to see Tom's book there, reviewed recently at this blog:

"The British Library today announces the shortlists for the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets in partnership with the Poetry Book Society and with the generous support of the Michael Marks Charitable Trust. In their second year, the Awards celebrate the importance of the pamphlet form in introducing new poetry to readers in the internet age.

Michael Marks Poetry Award

Poetry pamphlet shortlist

The Terrors, Tom Chivers (Nine Arches Press). Eighteenth century hangman narratives... conducted by email.

The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks, David Hart (Nine Arches Press). An elegy to a café in Birmingham that no longer exists, this single poem is collage, song, and paean in one.

Advice on Wearing Animal Prints, Selima Hill (Flarestack Poets). A disconcerting tragicomedy told across the letters of the alphabet - this story follows the life of its idiosyncratic heroine Agatha.

Devorgilla’s Bridge, Hugh McMillan (Roncadora Press). This single fold-out poem, beautifully complemented by a linocut by Hugh Bryden, is devoted to what is said to be Scotland’s oldest bridge: ‘an astronaut in stone’.

The Reluctant Vegetarian, Richard Moorhead (Oystercatcher Press). This pamphlet is a wry and sensual cross between a medieval herbal, a farmer’s calendar and an English dictionary.

ballast: a remix, Nii Ayikwei Parkes (tall-lighthouse). A breathtaking account of slavery told through near sci-fi effects: imagine the slave trade had operated through hot air balloons rather than ships.

The shortlist was judged by novelist Ali Smith, poet Jo Shapcott and Richard Price, poet and Head of Modern British Collections at the British Library, for an outstanding work of poetry published in pamphlet form in the UK during 2009."

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Guest Review: Lehrman on Grubb

Rachel Lehrman reviews
The Man Who Spoke to Owls
by David HW Grubb

What I love about David HW Grubb’s newest book of poems is the refreshing ways in which he offers the world to his reader. That which is familiar; that which we seldom notice; those things we try to describe in new and exciting ways only to find that they remain the experiences we know— childhood, family, war, fear, death and god—are at times, presented in ways that re-sensitise us. It’s not so much that Grubb finds new ways of looking at the world or new aspects of it to examine. Rather, through music, language and silence Grubb creates unique perspectives which reacquaint us with the world we thought we knew. In a sense, we are untaught-- the world becomes more of what it may actually be before it is analysed and contextualised by the mind. We are not only made to see again its joys, wonders, horrors and tragedies—but to feel them.

Though this freshness is not maintained in each poem and while the stirring music and resonant truths occasionally fall flat, these are merely passing moments in an otherwise a highly successful collection. More importantly, the treasures that we do receive are so valuable and rare, that for me this book has earned not only a place on my bookshelf— but a regular place in my hands.

The Man Who Spoke to Owls is divided into three sections. The first draws on Grubb’s experiences as a psychiatric nurse. We are invited into the various worlds of the mad where,

‘We can do running and throwing light and watch out
for the angels of upsidedown and trees they fall over
and the quiet is a dance without shadows
between what we see and what we settle for
and the chairs that are blue to begin with.’

With his frenzied rhythms and unconventional use of syntax, Grubb creates music with an immediacy that catapults us into a way of experiencing and feeling. At times, these worlds are raw and undigested; at times they seem recognisable, but transformed— as if twisted through a kaleidoscope. We aren’t sure as readers whether theses worlds somehow become our own— or whether they always have been. It is here we venture into ‘A House With No Windows’ where there is god and Emily Dickson and angels, and of course ‘The Man Who Speaks to Owls.’

The second section moves more deeply into family and religion; it is the child contemplating the world of his parents and grandparents, now grown with children of his own. We meet Grubb as a father in 'Poem For Daughters' and then as a child in 'My Fathers Bells' and 'My Father Will Not Let Go'. The speaker’s father in these poems is an austere man—a man of god whose words ‘came out of a dark room spouting Latin’ as well as a man of quiet and nature. In this section we encounter more traditional syntax and rhythms. Though I was initially put-off by the slower more narrative and prose-like passages in poems such as 'My Father’s Bells', there are still moments in these poems in which the world comes back to us in forms that resonate both personal and greater truths:

‘Sometimes you are there in an arrangement of words,
the ripple of a hymn, or coming across the lawn after a funeral
with whatever words could do, the contentments of light, these
agreements of faith...’

The final section of the collection draws on Grubb’s experiences as an aid-worker and perhaps his work as founder of Children’s Aid Direct . Here we meet war but we also meet life—its beauty, its fragility and its smallness. The world somehow grows larger, and though we encounter tragedies they are told subtly, without any of the dramatisation we are accustomed to hearing in the news and even our own tellings. The frenzied ‘voice’ of the collection continues with its strange juxtapositions and wild music, but here it also embodies a silence that adds to both the subtlety and ultimately the emotional impact and power of these works.

Colours are made into feelings. As readers, we understand on some intuitive and precognitive level that blue is not only a colour, but a lens that somehow falls over the world. It is a both a wish and a way of experiencing. We feel that we are not in the world of the mad, but that the world itself is mad and strange, yet somehow still full of colour and wonder.

‘In a blue world the dancers will take us to places where
we no longer need words and toys are hidden in the long
grass and everything we knew has to be learnt again;
the name of each day and what it has to do in being’

On the whole, it all works together: the rhythms; the surprising juxtapositions of words and images; the fresh use of language; the repetitions and the insights and reflections that always somehow seem personal and also true on a larger scale. And while there are poems in which these elements do not coalesce, such poems or lines somehow seem fleeting in the larger breadth of a superb collection.

Lehrman moved to London in 2002 after completing her MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona. She was recently published in the anthology Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman, 2010). Her work has also appeared in Blue Fifth Review (2008; 2009), The Drunken Boat (2007) and Shearsman Magazine (2007;2010). Rachel has collaborated on a number of art-projects in London including Nomadics (2005) and Understorey (2007). In 2004 a recording of her work accompanied an installation exhibited at the Hayward Gallery, London. That same year she exhibited her poetry in broadside format at the Camden People’s Theatre. In early 2009, she completed a PhD in Collaborative Authorship at Roehampton University.

The Humpback's Wail

I read yesterday for The Kingston Readers' Festival - a wonderful initiative run by Sandra Williams - with the poet and writer Chrissie Gittins, in a good venue - The Kingston Museum.  Though the audience was not large (around 20 students and older members of the local community) it was attentive and genuinely engaged, and I sold a half-dozen books or so, which, as any poet will know, is not so bad.  Gittins is a very good reader, and she read from her children's and adult collections.  Her latest for kids is The Humpback's Wail, and I recommend it, for its charming illustrations by Paul Bommer, and the poems themselves.  I have suggested to Gittins that she send her work to Mike Kavangh's increasingly impressive magazine of young person's poetry, The Scrumbler.  Worth subscribing to, and writing poems for.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Featured Poet: Declan Ryan

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the poet Declan Ryan to these pages, this first Friday of the New Politics and/or The Coalition. We'll see. Ryan was born in Mayo, Ireland and recently completed the Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway. He organises and hosts a monthly poetry event called Days of Roses which showcases Royal Holloway students alongside established guest poets.

I was fortunate enough to have read at one of these events, and was utterly impressed with the quality of the younger poets being featured in the very cool setting, and Ryan's savvy emceeing - a balance of warmth and discipline. Ryan is currently co-editing an anthology of 12 poets who have read at Days of Roses, which will appear any day now. Ryan, as poet, represents the next wave of recent graduates - a generation entirely 21st century in outlook, and able to pick and choose what of the last century appeals, but also forge their own styles.

Ryan's poems tend to fuse references to music and personal narrative with a tender and subtle erotic perspective - at once sensitive and witty. There's Muldoon, Lumsden and Paterson there, perhaps, but something fully his own too. He has great promise. He'll be reading for the Oxfam Bookfest in July.

Baking with Kathryn

Two halved eggs are brittle castanets, their parted shells
at no risk in your hands despite their bloom, calcium crystals
thick, a liquid line slides, one to the next.

Dark chocolate snaps into splinters beneath your thumb,
between pinning your hair with a grip and miming drums,
two clean whisks your soft jazz brushes.

When the machinery stops we hear the start of Beeswing,
of work next to a laundry girl, animal in her eyes, a rare thing
then as now to find such fineness stilled.

While we wait you play Debussy’s Sarabande, with élégance
grave et lente, and I watch your fingers in a practiced dance,
forgetting what we have left to the heat.

poem by Declan Ryan

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Men Without Women

The new Con-Lib cabinet is off to a disappointing start - where are the women?  This is not a diverse group of ministers - four women, and only one "ethnic minority" member.  At the start of the "new politics" we have been promised, it might have been good to see a more balanced and nuanced and representative group.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chapman On The New Doctor Who

The Monsters Under The Bed: Doctor Who Series Five So Far

by Patrick Chapman

According to Steven Moffat, its new showrunner, Doctor Who isn’t set in outer space, it’s set under your bed. That’s where the monsters are. At least it is if you’re eight. And that age group has always been the show’s core audience. The difference is now that the core audience includes girls. Moffat’s earlier episodes for the show always had a young girl at the heart of the mystery, except Blink, which was adapted from a short story which had. Back in the mists of time, one reviewer called Doctor Who ‘the children’s own programme which adults adore.’ There’s probably never been a truer description of the show, and never has that description been truer than today, as the series, now established in its fifth run of the revival, or the thirty-first overall, shows itself to be a true modern fairytale. In Moffat, it has a lead writer who knows about children and how to deliver the safe scares for which the show is celebrated. And in Matt Smith, it has a new Doctor who is almost a child himself, after the brilliant but more knowing Tennant. The new companion, Amy Pond, is introduced first as a seven-year-old girl, praying for Santa to send someone to fix the crack in her wall. By the end of the first episode, The Eleventh Hour, thanks to time travel, that little girl begins her adventures in the TARDIS fourteen years – and four psychiatrists – later. In that first episode, the newly regenerated Doctor crashes into young, abandoned Amelia Pond’s midnight garden and demands an apple, which she gives, and when he spits it out, yoghurt, and then, bacon (‘You’re Scottish. Fry something.’) Then beans, spewed into the sink. Then bread and butter, hurled out the door. Then, the food a child might choose for herself, fish-fingers dipped in custard. It’s a perfect way of letting the child audience identify with both the little girl (played with uncanny natural talent by Caitlin Blackwood, incidentally Karen Gillan’s cousin) and the Doctor himself. ‘I’m on your side,’ he seems to say. And he agrees with her that it’s brilliant that he doesn’t even have an aunt. (The first ten minutes or so of this episode are possibly the most charming writing the show’s ever had.) For the children in this new adventure, adults are definitely outsiders, but the Doctor is a guide they can trust. More or less. In The Eleventh Hour, The Doctor deals with that scary crack in young Amelia’s wall, but not the crack in her psyche that his arrival and departure have left. He tells her he’ll be back in five minutes but doesn’t make it for another twelve years – plus a further two when he goes for a spin in the TARDIS at the end. And he therefore fills her childhood with longing and loss. Or does he? Moffat’s default setting, he has said himself, is ‘complex’.

Late in the episode, the TARDIS rematerialises in front of the waiting Amelia, but the scene cuts immediately to the grown-up Amy, waking as if from a dream, as the TARDIS arrives again in her garden. Either this was indeed a dream, or the Doctor, thanks to the wonders of time travel, realises he has let her down, and goes back in time to fix things. We will find out later. For now, we are off on a trip into the future, in the second episode, The Beast Below, which again introduces children as the key to a mystery. In the future UK, now a spaceship, with skyscrapers named after old counties – Surrey, Yorkshire, Kent – a totalitarian government allows its citizens to vote on whether to forget the terrible secret that is the basis of their society, or protest. If too many people protest, goes the narrative, the ship will fall apart and everyone will die. So the citizens routinely vote to forget. Although the episode was written a couple of years ago, given the then-imminent election, its broadcast was timely. Amy is the one who solves the dilemma, for she is the audience’s representative, as the companion has always been. And then it’s off to wartime Britain, and Churchill’s bunker, where the Daleks are, amusingly, on the side of the Allies in the fight against the Germans. ‘Would you care for some tea?’ asks one of the pepperpots.

Victory of the Daleks is a bit of a romp, written by Mark Gatiss, and it has several lapses in logic. It appears that a man called Bracewell has invented machines he calls ‘ironsides’, as well as other advanced technology, but the Doctor recognises the ironsides as Daleks. They want to lure him into acknowledging them as Daleks, so that they can open a ‘progenitor’ device that contains pure Dalek DNA, and will create a new breed of orignal Skaroans. It’s a bit unbelievable that in five minutes or so, Bracewell can fix up an anti-gravity bubble from blueprints, that allows Spitfires to fly in space and take down the Dalek threat, but this episode asks you to suspend disbelief as well as gravity, in exchange for which you get, well, Spitfires in space, and how cool is that? The Daleks emerge victorious, which isn’t spoiling anything, given the name of the episode. A new paradigm of Dalek is created in a range of merchandise-friendly colours that, happily, recall the designs from the Peter Cushing movies of the 1960s, giant bumpers and all. If this episode does one thing important, as well as being a lark, it’s to reestablish the Daleks as an ongoing threat that can pop up at any time. This was much needed, as the show now no longer has to find a reason for them to have survived their last encounter with the Doctor, who was always defeating them, only for one Dalek to escape and build a whole new army. We are, essentially, back to the good old days before Davros, when the Daleks were like a virus that could never truly be cured. The following pair of episodes are a stunningly good two-parter written by Moffat, The Time of Angels, and Flesh and Stone. They’re a sequel to both Blink, his BAFTA-winner that gave us the Weeping Angels, and his Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, which introduced the fascinating time-travelling archaeologist, River Song.

For those who don’t know, River Song is a very important person in the Doctor’s life. She knows his name, and not many people have that kind of information. His first meeting with her, during his 10th incarnation, was her last meeting with him. They’re having a relationship backwards, or forwards, or sideways. River Song has a diary that records all their encounters, and the Doctor doesn’t know what’s in it. The Weeping Angels are quantum-locked creatures that are alive only when you’re not looking at them. Otherwise, they resemble statues of angels. This adventure opens with one of the most audacious sequences in Who. River Song is on board a ship called the Byzantium, which has a Weeping Angel in its hold. The crew is after her, and nearly catches her, but she etches a message on the surface of the ship’s ‘home box’ (a black box for spaceships), and dives backwards out of the airlock, wearing high heels and a cocktail gown, throwing a kiss, looking for all the world like Servalan’s sister. 12,000 years later, the Doctor finds the home box in a museum, reads the message, gets the co-ordinates, and travels back in time to save her. It’s this kind of complexity that wins Moffat praise, but the story isn’t over with being clever. River Song, the Doctor and Amy follow the ship, which crashes on a planet, releasing the Weeping Angel into a ‘maze of the dead’, full of statues. What better place for an Angel to hide? But it gets more complicated still, as it turns out that anything which contains an image of an angel, itself becomes an angel.

You’ll really have to see it to understand, but you probably already have. Helping the time travellers on their quest are some soldiers, who are also priests, led by the honourable and dignified bishop, Octavian. When Amy asks why the priests are soldiers, the Doctor says ‘It’s the fifty-first century. The Church has moved on.’ There’s a moment in Flesh and Stone that looks like a continuity error but I suspect it isn’t. What appears to be another version of the eleventh Doctor comes back in time to save Amy. He’s wearing his jacket, when the ‘real’ Doctor has just walked off having lost it to an Angel. I expect that, as with the ‘dream’ materialisation in The Eleventh Hour, all will be revealed. These two episodes are among the very best that New Who has produced, with twist upon twist, and uncertainty as to the identity and purpose of River Song. It’s implied that in her past and his future, she will (have) kill(ed) the Doctor. The crack in Amy’s wall is revealed to exist throughout space and time, its original explosion out there somewhere, happening already. Having dispatched the Angels, the Doctor says goodbye to a now more mysterious River, and takes Amy home, where she immediately throws herself at him. She wants him to ‘sort her out’ and, unlike the lovestruck Rose, or mooning Martha, just wants a quick shag. The Doctor, bless him, is still only 907 years old, so he’s a bit too young for that kind of mallarkey. He does however realise that he needs to ‘sort her out’ in a different way – get her ready for her wedding, which she more or less ran out on the night before, to go travelling with this strange alien in his blue box. He is next seen jumping out of a birthday cake at the stag party of Amy’s fiance, Rory. Ever the gentleman, the Doctor asks them to bring a jumper to the girl outside, who is freezing. And he whisks Rory and Amy off to Venice in 1580 for a romantic trip.

The episode is called The Vampires of Venice and in true Doctor Who tradition (The Deadly Assassin, for instance), it does exactly what it says in the title, sort of. There are ‘vampires’. There’s Venice. An alien race, pretending to be vampires, are hiding from the effects of the same crack in the universe that seems to be following Amy. The Doctor needs to come up with a solution, as the aliens are intent on turning Earth into their new breeding ground. He saves Venice, but lets the alien race die. As she finally commits suicide and condemns her species to extinction, the head alien taunts him– does he have the strength to carry another genocide on his conscience? He did, after all, wipe out his own people. This episode is written by Toby Whithouse, and the dilemma therein is similar to that in the same writer’s School Reunion. It illustrates the bleakness at the heart of Doctor Who’s new incarnation as a fairytale. All the romance and the fun is engaging and thrilling – except that people die. They really are not rescued when you’d expect them to be. There are consequences. In some ways, it’s a world of steel beneath the velvet fairytale glove, but that was ever the way with fairytales. This is shaping up to be a darker series than before, beginning with a psychologically damaged companion, who is slightly mad and reckless, and a Time Lord who is both eccentric and captivating, but in some ways tougher and more prone to anger than his predecessors. It has to be said that the acting throughout has been superb. Even though some of the dialogue seems to have been written for Tennant’s Doctor, this could be intentional, easing the transition and helping the audience to accept the new man.

After all, Moffat has said there’s no such thing as the eleventh Doctor. He’s the same character in the same show. And he’s right. However, each actor naturally brings something different to the role. Smith is perfect from the beginning, blending the occasional gravitas of Troughton with the lunacy of Tom Baker, the romanticism of McGann and the innocence of Davison. He does all this while making the part completely his own. He pirouettes, he uses his hands – lots of fingers – he is expressive without being showy and he’s got immaculate timing. Also, comedy hair. Karen Gillan as Amy Pond is both kooky and vulnerable, and as well as Smith, is an accomplished actor. Her interpretation of the character is complex and subtle. The two of them make an impressive pair. Arthur Darvill is quietly great as the ordinary, and therefore sympathetic, Rory, who is more than just the new Mickey Smith. He’s someone we can root for, as his reactions would most likely be ours, if we were to have our world turned upside down by a visiting alien who was practically stealing our girlfriend. As mentioned, Caitlin Blackwood was superb as the seven-year-old Amelia. The guest stars are top drawer too. Ian McNeice as Churchill, Alex Kingston as River Song, Sophie Okonedo as Liz 10, Helen McCrory as the head vampire, and Iain Glen as Bishop Octavian, all shine in their roles.

The look of the new show is very filmic, moving away from the brightness of the Davies era, to a more crepuscular feel of magic and dark woods and shadows and, yes, fairytales. It may be too early for a full verdict, but so far, with the series only half-way through, and with the Pandorica waiting to open, this is already one of the best series of New Who. Indeed, it’s looking like one of the best series since the show began 47 years ago in a junkyard, from where an old blue box whisked a pair of unsuspecting schoolteachers off into history.

Patrick Chapman is an Irish poet, screenwriter and novelist.  His new collection of poems will be forthcoming from Salmon this autumn.

David Chaloner Has Died

Sad news.  David Chaloner, the poet, has died.

Clegg Up

I was initially sorry to hear that the Lib-Lab deal couldn't be brokered; I was also teary-eyed at hearing Gordon Brown resign, on the BBC; but I am, today, curiously revived by the feeling of a fresh, and yes, historic start, for this new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.  Nick Clegg as Deputy PM isn't bad, with Vince Cable overseeing banking.  Some of the fairer tax and voting concerns I voted for may be taken into account.  I remain deeply suspicious of the Tory anti-Europe, pro-Trident positions, and their general indifference to progressive issues, but the first coalition of its kind since World War Two is worth trying, and worth watching.  These aren't strange days, but different days, indeed.  Clegg's up, after all.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Take Your Time, Don't Be Late

It seems talks with Labour have just fallen through - no doubt on fears of claims of illegitimacy from the right wing press, and the inability of the Lib-Dems to work with the SNP.  A pity, because a progressive majority of voters (51%) did not vote to see a Tory government.  Hopefully, talks will cease soon, and Clegg will have something tangible to show for all his shilly-shallying and dilly-dallying.  This has been the most enthralling and yet frustrating few days of British politics I have ever experienced.  And, when he went, Brown left with dignity and tactical guile all at once - his leaving being so much like the best and worst of his time in office.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Featured Poet: Christopher Horton

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Christopher Horton (pictured) this hung-parliament nail-biting Friday. Horton was born in 1978 and grew up in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature and American Studies at Swansea University. He has lived in the United States and China, where he taught English.

Horton's poetry has been published in City Lighthouse Anthology (Tall-lighthouse) and the New London Poetry (Penned in the Margins) anthology, and in magazines including Poetry London, Ambit, The Wolf and Magma. He has also reviewed for The London Magazine and Horizon (Salt) among others (including Eyewear).

In 2008, he was commended in the National Poetry Competition and in 2009 he was a runner-up in the prestigious Bridport Prize. Horton currently lives in South East London. He co-ordinates literature events for the Museum of London Docklands. He'll be reading for the Oxfam Bookfest this coming July 8th, alongside Declan Ryan, Sam Riviere, Christopher Reid, and others.

Horton strikes me as sensitive, open-minded, with an advanced critical intelligence and sense of decency that makes him a rooted presence in an often divisive scene; he has broad taste, and crosses party lines at ease. He's also a seriously promising up-and-coming poet, and warrants the attention that a first full collection would no doubt bring. I for one look forward to the books that Horton will write this decade.

Attila’s Chair

Of all those who ventured
to the island of Torcello,

walked down the narrow path,
past the wooden footbridge, the old farm house

and some nodding hens,
to sit on Attila’s Chair –

believing that by doing so they would,
as folklore has it, wed within a year –

how many felt a hand on theirs as they touched
the chair’s worn and pitted surface,

tapped their feet against its solid base,
pressed their calves together like children

waiting for something to happen;
and how many in some quiet moment since –

taken from a life of conjugal bickering,
of stymied ambition, or singlehood,

or in the short breath between
the I and do – recalled what it was

that first brought them here,
or the time of day, the tint and texture

of the light, the journey back by boat
across the pale green lagoon.

poem by Christopher Horton

The Kingston Readers' Festival

I will be reading as part of the Kingston Readers' Festival a week from now, on Friday, 14 May, 1 pm, at the Kingston Museum, with fellow poet Chrissie Gittins, for an event called Salmon with Salt. The festival is also featuring writers and speakers such as AS Byatt, Zach Goldsmith, Vince Cable, Iain Sinclair, Sadie Jones, Libby Purves, Bonnie Greer, Dame Joan Bakewell, William Fiennes and Dame Jacqueline Wilson.

Can't Get No Satisfaction

The British election of 2010 has been, from a progressive point of view, an almost abysmal failure - a disappointment so staggeringly at odds with the Obama-like energy of the debates and campaigning - and it raises a question - is Britain too broken, too destabilised or demoralised, civically - to even be able to mount a rebellion or radical break with its outmoded electoral system and corrupt parliamentary structure? It seems so.

In the end, the Clegg revolution was only televised, but never materialised - actually losing seats and barely raising above their normal low-20s limit of support. What happened to change, to a new way, to bolting past the two old parties? The voters bottled this one. In the end, they seemed to panic, from London, Dundee, Carlyle, to Humberside - everywhere.

No pattern has emerged, but drift and lack of consensus. And, though the Lib Dems should have supported the larger progressive majority, and shored up Labour, it appears they will let Cameron form some sort of rump of a government. Britain is in for a sort of awkward moment. It feels limited, it feels like a short-changed moment, instead of change. The nation couldn't awaken. Instead, drowning voices, scuttling feet, and polling stations that turned people away. Really, a damn shame.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Democracy In Action!

I went down to the polling station this morning and was glad to see a lot of my neighbours queuing up.  With healthy voter turn-out, the election seems as wide open as ever.  I look forward to seeing what transpires over the next few days.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Flambard Is 20

The British small press Flambard turns 20 this year and is having a celebratory evening at the famous Troubadour venue in London this May 10, featuring readings by Nancy Mattson, Rebecca Goss and Kelley Swain, among others.

Published Poet, Small Press

The BBC premiered a new six-part crime series last night: Luther, starring Wire star Idris Elba (who should be the first Black Bond) as the eponymous DCI. Elba has extraordinary charisma, and his star power can keep even the flimsiest vehicle afloat, such as Obsession, but this is actually a good show, though not quite as smart as it wants to think it is. Starting with the Hitchcock trope of a man falling - this time a serial killer of small children dressed in a retro suit that makes him look like Attenborough from a noir - Luther has a breakdown and goes away for 7 months to deal with the fact he let the killer fall. Returning to applause, his first case involves the murder of a husband, wife and family dog - the father is summed up (slumped at his desk) as "published poet, small press" - which got a laugh in my household.

The villain (Ruth Wilson) is a sexy Oxbridge physics researcher with genius-level IQ (goodness!), icily promiscuous and apparently so narcissistic she doesn't have the empathy to yawn when others do (try this test on your loved ones at home, kids!). I am not sure many killers fall into this category of being motivated to play cat-and-mouse with handsome detectives (including hat-pin-threatening their estranged wives) but the idea of a Jane-the-ripper meets the English Locked Room Mystery is clever, and her Adleresque wickedness will give the series a backbone. Let's hope poetry figures more prominently than cremated pets.

A Poem On The Eve of the Election

Eyewear is very pleased, on the eve of election day, to offer readers an occasional light verse poem by a creative writing student of mine - a poem on being undecided in the UK that has a particular resonance with me, for one. Thomas Hewson is a 21-year old Kingston University student. He lives in South Yorkshire and will be voting in the Sheffield-Hallam constituency on May 6th. Sheffield Hallam’s current MP, and prospective MP, is the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg - whom will be expecting to win the seat with a comfortable majority.

Voting on May 6th

Gordon Brown wants substance over style,
Cameron thinks Labour should be put on trial.
But the Lib Dems are definitely affirmative -
Cleggy boy offers a brand new alternative.
As for the other parties, UKIP and Green,
they have no real policies I think it would seem,
and then there is Griffin, who for power does hunt,
- I’ll say just this – he’s an ignorant…

Cameron, you’ll spend our money without any waste -
well if that’s true we’ll elect you with haste -
but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past,
this doesn’t work, so how long can you last? -
Policy to save our economy you claim to pull out of your hat,
yet your party had Thatcher, so I smell a rat.
Funny, what we all know, and this pun I’ll savour,
Sam Cam is now fast moving towards Labour!

Then there is Gordon, Briton’s unelected Prime Minister,
carries with him that fact, which I think is sinister.
Although, I have to say, I feel sorry for this Scottish man,
he was given the job with economics down the pan,
the question is, does he have the experience to know what to do,
to drive us in the right direction – can that be really true?
Certainly, I prefer the country to how it was after Tory reign,
but does Labour need a break now to re-establish its name?

So, my friend, Nick, from good old Yorkshire,
promises change, but that’s all I can hear,
from the city of industry, he’s down with the proles,
an appearance of the commonness, like most of us souls,
he keeps saying, ‘my constituency, my town, Sheffield’ -
it has the highest professional jobs ratio in its yield -
I’m not saying with Lib Dems in parliament Britain can’t enhance,
but the taking of office? – they haven’t really got a chance.

Yet there is one possibility now to roll off my tongue,
and that’s parliament stagnating because it is hung,
it would mean a re-shuffle and another election -
giving Lib Dems power – now isn’t that quite the exception!
With their support, Brown could stay at number ten,
even if the Tories won more seats than them.
That doesn’t sound fair, that doesn’t sound right,
but for me all the options seem like utter shite.

Finally, what I find irritating, when grilling leaders in a Q&A,
is that the MP’s expenses scandal nearly always gets in the way,
is it really too hard for the questioners to actually see
they’ve chosen the one topic in which all three will agree,
they say “Cheating MP’s should be given the sack”
Yes! Well done! But it’s telling us new policy you lack!
I don’t know a huge amount about politics, so I cannot gloat,
but this year I just simply do not know which way to vote.

poem by Thomas Hewson


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...