Saturday, 24 July 2010

Eyewear Wide Closed

Play fair, and wear sunscreen!  And read poetry books kids!
Eyewear needs a summer break.  Call it gone fishin'.  Or less confusion.  Unless North Korea actually drops its nukes, or Don Paterson declares that Chuck Bernstein is his favourite poet, I will be unlikely to post much here for a while.  Don't panic.  There are enough featured poets, reviews, and other stuff here to browse - Eyewear has a long tail wagging back five years.  And, oh, yeah, Inception is growing on me.  And, is Pulled Apart By Horses a sort of dumb Pixies rip-off, or something altogether better and more complex?  My last weighing in for a while on controversies of the day: editors and the Queen shouldn't go back on their invites and their acceptances - but nobles oblige.  Where was Walcott on the Forward list?  White Egrets is a great book.  Maybe it will fare better at the Eliots.  Have a good summer time!

Suzanne Richardson Harvey Has Died

Sad news.  The American scholar and poet Suzanne Richardson Harvey has died.  She was a very fine poet, and I published her often at Nthposition.  I thought her recent collection was excellent and deserved a wider readership.

She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1934 and married there in 1956.  She was a member of the Academy of American Poets as well as a member of the National Council of Teachers of English.  She died on Saturday, July 17, 2010, in Walnut Creek, California.

She received an MA from Northeastern University, with a thesis on George Meredith; and a PhD from Tufts University, where she specialized in Elizabethan poetry and wrote a dissertation on Edmund Spenser.

After teaching at Pine Manor College and Tufts University in the Boston Area in Massachusetts, she and her family relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where for almost two decades she lectured in the English Department at Stanford University.  Nearly a decade of her time at Stanford was spent as a resident fellow (together with her husband) in an all-freshmen residence hall.  They co-authored a book about this experience entitled Virtual Reality and the College Freshman: All Our Friends Are 18 (1999).

While at Stanford, she also was a visiting lecturer in the English Department at the University of California at Berkeley.  For nearly a decade, she regularly taught editorial workshops offered as part of the curriculum for the Publishing Program at the University of California Extension.  Her teaching produced the volume A Functional Style: Logic and the Art of Writing, which she used as a teaching device not only in her university courses, but also outside the classroom at workshops for the University of California Regents, for Bank of America executives, and at Asilomar for the American Medical Writers Association.  Upon retirement from
Stanford in 1997, she remained active, lecturing for Emeritus College and for Diablo Valley College near her home in Alamo, California.

Her collected poetry has appeared under the title A Tiara for the Twentieth Century (2009), with individual poems published in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Austria.  She is survived by her husband, Robert J. Harvey, cofounder and former chairman, CEO, and president of Thoratec Corporation, now in Pleasanton, California; and her three sons, Dennis, Brian, and James (Duke); in addition to five grandsons, Kevin, Sean, Gregory, Patrick, and  Matthew.

David Wevill review by Andrew Duncan

Not to be missed - an Andrew Duncan review of David Wevill's Departures.

Small Press, Big Talents

CB Editions, run by Charles Boyle, the poet and writer, has an updated site worth visiting.  A small press, they publish some very talented people, not least of whom is Christopher Reid.  Boyle will be reading for the Kingston-Oxfam Series in Marylebone, 29 September, 2010.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Featured Poet: Stephen Burt

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the younger American poet, critic, and essayist, Stephen Burt, pictured, this late July Friday, as London's heatwave turns a bit (a lot) rainy.  Burt, who has a PhD from Yale, and is a tenured Professor of Literature at Harvard, had a central role in the last decade or more in suggesting new schools or styles for contemporary American poetry - with his influential Boston Review essays on Elliptical and New Thing poetries, for example.

His own poetry has fused an interest in mid-century modes, and pop culture, to great effect, in books such as Parallel Play and Popular Music.  His literary studies and books on adolescence and poetry, the sonnet, and Randall Jarrell, and the 40s confessional generation, are all engaging and eye-opening, and recommended reading (the summer awaits).  Readers of leading literary journals, like the TLS, will be familiar with his essays.

Burt is rare, these days, for being a poet-critic who is as comfortable writing about Larkin as about Lowell - he is an Atlanticist at a time when (Mark Ford as the exception that proves the rule) few if any poets bridge that gap.  Without a doubt a leading poet and thinker on poetry of the 21st century, it's a great thrill and honour to have his poem here - and oh, yeah, he has a cool blog, too.

In Memory of the Rock Band Breaking Circus

You were whiny and socially unacceptable even
to loud young men whose first criterion
for rock and roll was that it strike someone else
as awful and repulsive and you told
grim stories about such obscure affairs
as a man-killing Zamboni and a grudge-
laden marathon runner from Zanzibar

who knifed a man after finishing sixteenth

Each tale sped from you at such anxious rate
sarcastic showtunes abject similes
feel like a piece of burnt black toast
for example threaded on a rusty wire followed
up by spitting too much time to think
by fusillades from rivetguns by cold
and awkward bronze reverberant church bells

percussive monotones 4/4 all for

the five or six consumers who enjoyed
both the impatience of youth
and the pissiness of middle age
as if you knew you had to get across
your warnings against all our lives as fast
as practicable before roommate or friend
could get up from a couch to turn them off

We barely remember you in Minnesota we love

our affable Replacements who modeled a more
acceptable form of rage who thought of girls
and cities boys and beds and homes and cars
as flawed but fixable with the right drink
right mates and right guitar strings whereas you
did not and nothing in your songs resolved
except in a certain technical sense as a drill

resolves contrasts between drywall and screw

Your second bassist took the stage name Flour
your second drummer copied a machine
Somebody else in your hometown took credit
for every sound you taught them how to use
I write about you now since nobody else
is likely to and since even appalled
too-serious flat compliments like these

are better than nothing and because to annoy

perseverate and get under everyone's skin
beats the hell out of the real worst thing in the world
which is to fade into silence entirely which
will never happen to The Ice Machine
to "Driving the Dynamite Truck" to The Very Long Fuse
to Smoker's Paradise such hard sticks thrown
in the eyes of any audience that is

I should say not until it happens to me

poem by Stephen Burt; originally appeared in New Ohio Review

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cleggal Problems

Nick Clegg, Deputy PM, stood at the disptach box yesterday for Prime Minister's Questions and called the Iraq War "illegal" - something I have been writing (and saying in print) since 2003.  This is an odd moment.  Yesterday the ex-head of MI5 said much the same thing.  It appears that the cracks in the Establishment are showing.  However, Clegg has backtracked - since most Tories supported the war, and Cameron - he can hardly do otherwise and remain in government.  Still, it was a glorious slip of the tongue.  Will time tell the truth?  Will Tony Blair ever face the justice meted out to Saddam?

Clinic Presents Is Essential

For those collectors of little magazines, poetry ephemera, and other curious anthologies, zines, and one-offs, there is something you need: Clinic Presents.  I have rarely seen, if ever, such a beautifully-put-together collation of new daring poems by young (British) poets, and eccentric, indie photographs.  It recalls the best of Matrix magazine, likely Canada's hippest alternative poetry-and-arts journal.  With a Foreword by the excellent Jack Underwood (Faber New Poets 4), and poems by Gregory winners like Matthew Gregory, Sam Riviere, and Heather Phillipson, it also features poets I am glad to have read work by for the first time, like Rachael Allen, and Olly Todd.  Check in.

Leftfield Foward

The shortlists for the 19th annual Forward Prizes for Poetry, one of the UK ’s most valuable poetry prizes, was announced yesterday. "On the Best Collection short list two former category winners compete with poets on the list for the first time, while the short list for Best Single Poem brings many new faces to the fore."  It is especially good to see the small presses represented, as well as Lachlan Mackinnon, there - he's long been an Eyewear favourite.  However, it seems that for the main category, it may go to either Sampson or Shapcott.  Of course, one can never rule out the other strong contenders, especially Heaney.  I have yet to read all the debut collections, must get those.

"The shortlists are:

The Forward Prize for Best Collection
£10,000 – sponsored by the Forward Arts Foundation

Seamus Heaney         Human Chain                                       Faber & Faber

Lachlan Mackinnon     Small Hours                                         Faber & Faber

SinĂ©ad Morrissey        Through the Square Window               Carcanet

Robin Robertson         The Wrecking Light                             Picador

Fiona Sampson          Rough Music                                       Carcanet

Jo Shapcott                 Of Mutability                                        Faber & Faber

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection
£5,000 – sponsored by Felix Dennis and the Forward Arts Foundation

Christian Campbell     Running the Dusk                               Peepal Tree

Hilary Menos               Berg                                                    Seren

Abegail Morley             How to Pour Madness into a Teacup Cinnamon Press

Helen Oswald             Learning Gravity                                 Tall Lighthouse

Steve Spence             A Curious Shipwreck                          Shearsman Books

Sam Willetts               New Light for the Old Dark                 Jonathan Cape

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in memory of Michael Donaghy
£1,000 – sponsored by the Forward Arts Foundation

Kate Bingham             On Highgate Hill                                  Times Literary Supplement

Julia Copus                 An easy passage                                Magma

Lydia Fulleylove           Night Drive                                          Bridport Prize

Chris Jones                 Sentences                                           Staple

Ian Pindar                    Mrs Beltinska in the Bath                    National Poetry Competition

Lee Sands                   The Reach                                          Times Literary Supplement

Poet and author Ruth Padel is chair of the judges of the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2010. The other judges are poet and columnist Hugo Williams, performance poet Dreadlockalien, journalist and broadcaster Alex Clark, and award-winning actress and director Fiona Shaw."

Mercury Prize 2010

The Barclaycard Mercury Prize has had its shortlist announced yesterday, and Eyewear is pleased to see a few of its faves in contention: Paul Weller's Wake Up The Nation and The xx's xx album.  Also particularly good are The Foals and Laura Marling.  Strong field.  I predict The xx will win.  They're one of the most striking and refreshing bands of the last decade in the UK.

John Cooper Clarke Redux

Poetry legend John Cooper Clarke was on the BBC this morning (Radio 4) - back out there performing regularly, after years of silence.  This is very good news.  Clarke is a major talent and an influence on witty performance-interested poets like Luke Wright and Tim Wells today.  A dream: to have him appear for the Oxfam series.  I am working on it.

Black out!

Conrad Black has been released (for now) from prison after a Supreme Court ruling that the law under which he was charged was vague.  Black is the most infamous, and controversial, Canadian of the 21st century - and arguably the last as well.  Although I often disagree with his views, we both share a few things: being Montrealers; being debaters when young; and having an interest in Nixon.  Indeed, after I wrote a positive review of his Nixon biography, Black sent an email saying no other reviewer had understood the book as well.  I though the book brilliantly stylish.  Hopefully Black will write more.

Not His Finest Hour

David Cameron, British PM, has been over there in the US of A this week, bigging down his role as a junior partner.  Not a history boy, Cameron yesterday talked about, on TV no less, how Britain was even junior partner in fighting the Nazis in 1940.  Well, maybe to the Russians, but not the Yanks.  As every schoolchild knows, or once did, the Americans only entered in 1941, after Pearl Harbour.  Instead, the 1940 war period was Britain's "finest hour".  I wonder, will Cameron also acknowledge that WH Auden is really American, and thank the States for loaning "us" Eliot?  Indeed, is British poetry, postwar, junior partner to the American stream?


Eyewear now has 212 followers.  This is great news.  Keep the community of eyewearers growing worldwide!

GF Dutton Has Died

Sad news.  Bloodaxe poet, and scientist, GF Dutton, has died.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Writers Handbook 2011

The Writers Handbook is an invalauble source for British-based writers and poets, and I have most of its issues for the last decade. 2011 is quite a departure - at least in one way.  Chris Hamilton-Emery's poetry section provides an extraordinary list of the ten best things in poetry of the "noughties" - which I found somewhat eyebrow-raising, to be sure.

Among the people and events and developments selected as the most important of the last decade are Andrew Motion, for being a great poet laureate (which he was); a key figure at Faber & Faber; and Keston Sutherland - the only poet singled out as such - for all he has done and does, etc.  Also mentioned are the publishers Salt and Shearsman, and the appearance of digital networking communities.

The article goes on to predict that in "ten years" there will not be much in the way of printed books of poetry, in the UK, and they will not be sold or marketed in "bricks and mortar" ways.  Instead, almost all poets will self-publish in digital formats - he predicts there may even be a Don Paterson Inc. - and seek audiences of mutual aesthetic interest.  Poems, not poetry collections, will be bought or acquired, and in fact, most ebooks will be free.

Hamilton-Emery was not the only evangelist for digital and online poetry - I was, along with many others.  Dan Mitchell and I started the first Facebook Poetry group, for example, and now have over 22,000 members. So I feel I can add to this debate. I think his article is wrong, in some ways, though correct in others, though it is a bit dramatic.

Luke Kennard seems to be more influential on his generation than Sutherland, who, though brilliant, has not had the same aesthetic impact on how most young British poets actually write.  Giles Goodland is a more intriguing hybrid poet, anyway.  Or Tom Chivers.  Roddy Lumsden has done more than Sutherland as editor and mentor to shape the current climate.

More to the point, I don't think poetry books (printed) will disappear in ten years.  I think ebooks will be part of the market, but people who love poetry will continue to want collections.  I think poetry is a strange market, to be sure.  Faber had 80% of the UK market in 2000 - has that changed?

To my mind, the five most important developments in poetry of the last decade in the UK were:

1. The rise of Facebook, Myspace, and digital networking and electronic dissemination of poetry;
2. Post 9/11, the rise of a new politicisation of poetry, and interest in eco-poetics, and consequent return of an art-for-art alternative;
3. The YBP wave, heralded and supported by a new respect for pamphlets, and Creative Writing MAs in Britain;
4. A rise in hybrid/ fusion poetics that avoid the us-and-them divides of mainstream-experimental
5. Fiona Sampson as editor of Poetry Review

I do agree that the death of Michael Donaghy was galvanising and important, as was the death of Mick Imlah, an equally talented poet, and the Bloodaxe anthologies have done a great service to new readers of poetry.  Hopefully, this list of his will get people talking.  But for someone who sells books, it is worrying to hear the looming demise of the physical print book being tolled so soon.  Hold them bells!

Crazy Love

Hats off to Pam Uschuk, a featured Eyewear poet, whose Crazy Love has won an American Book Award for Poetry, 2010.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Guest Review: Chingonyi On Chivers

How To Build A City
[editor's note: this is a Salt collection - buy it and help Salt out of its summer financial crisis]

As you might expect from a volume entitled How to Build a City, the metropolis is a prominent motif in this Crashaw Prize winning debut collection from Tom Chivers. Throughout the book there are references to city workers, business deals and mass transit. This is not to say that Chivers is a poet whose only concern is the urban sphere. Indeed, as the collection progresses, Chivers shows himself to be a poet of genuine range. The reader is never allowed to rest too easily on the overarching thread of the book but rather is challenged with poems covering themes as disparate as honour killings, the nature of photography and the poet’s relationship to his or her influences.
On this last, the reader is treated to ‘On Kinder Scout’, a poem which pays fitting tribute to the late Barry MacSweeney with its blunt lyricism:

                        Bold wiry sheep sneak between boulders
                        where the wind is like a papercut or a slap in the face.

This is an apt entry point to the collection since the best poems in this book are characterised by the linguistic precision illustrated above. In the poems ‘This is Yogic’ and ‘Hasty Excise’ incidents of violence—which might, in the hands of another poet, seem to have been employed only as shock tactics—are described in oddly beautiful terms. Rather than saying there has been bloodshed, for example, Chivers opts for ‘paving the colour of wet tongue’ (‘This is Yogic’) and ‘dark poppies’ blooming on the ‘white shirts’ of ‘[y]oung men in off-the-rack suits’ (‘Hasty Excise’). Not only is this kind of descriptive skill compelling, the reader is also forced to question their own reaction to these depictions. In the setting of these poems in different eras, and the ambivalence of their respective speakers, lies another important question about the way violent crime is understood to be a part of city life. The collection brims with such moments where the reader is made to engage.

Of the books many successes ‘Rush Hour’ has to be among the foremost. As with any artistic response to an event as devastating as the bombing of London tube trains on July 7th 2005, the weight of expectation is high. This poem finds its strength in being both about the event and rendering the event vivid to the reader. This is achieved, in part, by the shape of the poem and the weight certain words and phrases are accorded depending on line length:

                        the first bomb went off
                        and the lights went out
                        and the square marked
                        area in the centre as if
                        the wiring was burning

                        I knew                         we were told
                        as I walked                  because I
                        could not bear             two views
                                                            of a short moment
                        Don’t trip Larraine,
                        whatever you do don’t trip

This poem announces a formal awareness which is at work throughout the book and which makes, as good poetry should, for a sonically as well as semantically engaging reading experience.

Returning to the assertion that Chivers is a poet of range, the second of the collection’s two parts traverses historical and personal terrain with poems exploring the poet’s interest in history alongside others reflecting on the loss of the poet’s mother, to whom the book is dedicated. On this latter point, rather than writing a conventional elegy, Chivers gives us the moving ‘Thom C and I’, a series of diary entries written by the poet’s mother and reworked by the poet. This is evocative of the bereaved attempting to hold on to something of the deceased, a part of grief that any reader can easily relate to. This idea recurs in another of the poems in this section entitled ‘Photographs’, by which the reader cannot help but be moved:

                        And so instead there are photographs,
                        poems from photographs, choices to be made:
                        what to cut, what to leave intact.

That phrase ‘choices to be made’ is redolent of surrender to the offices of grief as well as the ways of organising memory and is illustrative of the virtues of Chivers’s sense of the world as layered.

When asked in a recent interview about whether he was trying to uncover the ‘true face’ of the city in his writing, Chivers said that he doesn’t ‘really believe in truth’ so much as ‘perceptions’. This resistance to the definitive is further reflected in a line from the title poem which extends the thought to: ‘I do not/believe in irony, just multiple levels of recognition’ this follows an earlier exhortation by the poem’s speaker where they ask to be given ‘layers, strata, a geology of sound-sense’. The title poem in particular, taking the form of a set of instructions for recreating the area in and around Liverpool Street Station, speaks to the book’s timeliness in an age where multiple frames of reference jostle at high speed creating a fragmented sense of identity and, by extension, place. This notion is explored to great effect in poems that deal with the ubiquity of digital technologies as well as in the inclusion of poems set in by-gone times, some translated from Anglo Saxon, others hinting at a London not quite wiped out by the palimpsest of modernity.  

Though the shortcomings of this collection are few, the poems which miss their marks do so because their attempts to capture the zeitgeist seem too striven-for. The poems ‘Iconic’ and ‘Your Name Has Been Randomly Selected’ fall down because, when compared to the other poems in the collection, they seem less original. ‘Iconic’—a Google poem, if I’m not mistaken—raised a smile but felt a little too much like light relief. Humour is a welcome thing in poetry but the problem here, for this reader, arises from the fact that the joke isn’t developed enough as the poem progresses. Though the ensuing list that stems from the spur word is varied enough to keep the reader’s interest, at the end of the poem not much has been added to the reader’s understanding. Similarly ‘Your Name Has Been Randomly Selected’ cannot, ultimately, escape the novelty of the spam names which inspired it.

Typically, however, the poems in How to Build a City serve to redress the balance of emphasis placed on the work of Tom Chivers as a publisher, editor and live literature producer by showing him to be firmly at home among the many talented writers that make Salt Publishing’s poetry list one of the best in British Poetry. This collection is characterised by linguistic inventiveness, the exploration of a wide range of subject matter and an authoritative approach.

Kayo Chingonyi reviews for Eyewear.  He appears on the 2009 Asking A Shadow To Dance Oxfam DVD.  He is a poet and performer.

Summer Books?

Why is it that when newspapers like The Guardian ask famous writers to list their recommended summer books list, they tend to end up listing nada in the way of poetry, or barely any, anyway?  It tends to confirm my creeping dread, my suspicion, that poetry, like nothing, happens everywhere, to paraphrase.  Anyway, here are a few of the books, poetry or otherwise, battered and dogeared or brand spanking new, I hope to skim through this August, with suncream on (Factor 50):

Flicker, by Theodore Roszak (thriller about film);
Ludbrooke & Others (latest poetry collection) by Alan Brownjohn;
Twenty-one Locks (debut novel by Guardian music journalist Laura Barton);
The Idea of a Christian Society by TS Eliot;
The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan;
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood;
New Light for the Old Dark (poetry) by Sam Willetts;
Expressway (GG finalist) by poet Sina Queyras;
Patient Frame by Canadian novelist and poet Steven Heighton;
Fifth Busines (novel) by Robertson Davies.

Truth be told, every year I set out to read a dozen summer books, and maybe only finish a few.  I prefer to flit in my reading - and besides, I am completing a PhD currently.  I recall my Dad, who used to bring Moby Dick with him to our summer cabin by the lake in Quebec every year, and I don't think ever completed it.  But at least he sought the great whale.  The unfinished and unread books in our lives form a vast counter-library of loss and desire and hope - a possible other life not taken - that should be respected - it says as much about us as what we have read, and has shaped us as completely.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Of Sundays - The Third Ben Mazer Poem In As Many Weeks

Eyewear is glad to continue the new, and slightly eccentric tradition, of featuring a poem by American poet Ben Mazer on Sundays.  I love his exploration of rhyme, mania and poetic excess in this poem, which has a Paterian flavour to its style.

You were insane, and I was sane,
now you are sane, and I'm insane.
I met you first in Gethsemane
when you are gone, and I remain.
The gardens there were lightly flush
at introduction of your blush
the kissing shadows nightly touch
time shadows render from the flesh.
The very bushes seemed to move
with attitudes approaching love
at the last moment to reprove
as if they didn't want enough.
Where earlier entering the town
calm was embedded in reknown
(directly it descends from this
perfect betrayal of a kiss).
The stirring petal on the bush
ignited by the kiss of flesh
the fragrance stirring in the air
shimmering like a distant star
the evidence that you are there
though even now it seems so far.
When you are gone, we meet again
when like a shadow fame and name
are predictably the same.
Men view the son, the desert plain;
when you are gone, we meet again.

poem by Ben Mazer

Review: Inception or Royal Road To Your Skull

Watching a movie is like dreaming in the dark with eyes wide open.  This oneiric element of film has a long tradition.  I had planned to write a lengthy, somewhat academic, and very clever review of Inception, the new Christopher Nolan blockbuster about dream-spies - one that would reference Freud, Lacan, Kubrick, Welles, - you name it.  I am less sure I need to now.

Having read Cosmo Landesman's review in The Sunday Times, I think we concur on the following: 1. Inception's representation of dreams, and dream states, is unconvincing - a weird mistake, since everyone dreams and will recognise this problem - in the sense that the film refrains entirely from any sexual or much repressed or symbolic content in the dreams; and also, presents very few non-linear (non-narrative) episodes.  2. The film's filmic references to Kubrick and Welles (i.e. the new Rosebud in the safe at the end, the Lady from Shanghai mirror references, Mr Arkadin billionaire-quest plot), Hitchcock (Vertigo etc), and Francis Bacon (in the bath) - are visually clever, but perhaps too obvious, as is the Ken Adam-style winter HQ. 3.  The movie is yet another Leo flick with a dead wife where what is real is uncertain, and questioned using the medium of film - perhaps one too many.  4. It is self-important to the extent that it becomes boring at times, and almost insanely complex.

On the up side, it has some fun Cronenberg moments, where the dream-thieves are like junkies, seeking "kicks", and the Ouspenskyian swirl of time and place becomes deliriously funhouse madcap.  It is also ambitious for a Hollywood movie, in that it tries to explore emotions, ideas, film history, and suspense, as well as violence.  Unfortunately, it is not the amazingly mind-blowing cultural moment that The Matrix was.  However, by beginning and ending the film with a "surf-tormented shore" from the Edgar Poe poem, "A Dream Within A Dream", on which the film's central agon is based, it has the credentials to be deemed poetic.  And that is worth celebrating.

Further, a few gags ("you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger"), a speeding train down a main street, some floating bodies in an elevator, the stirring Hans Zimmer score, and a nice role for Tom Berenger, add value to the whole.  On a last point (spoiler alert): the film's twist is in the title - it's "Rosebud" being that the "Inception" is Nolan's, on us, the audience - planting in our minds doubt as to whether what we have seen is "real" or not - clever since, within the film-as-film, at all layers, it is actually filmic artifice, yet at stake is the main character trying to break out of that (by dying and rebirth) into actuality.  See Deleuze for the way in which the filmic can be seen as a becoming.

Friday, 16 July 2010

New Poem by David Lehman

Eyewear is very pleased, and more than a little delighted, to feature a new poem this Friday by David Lehman (pictured on the right with Charles Simic), one of America's major figures in the poetry world - as third wave New York School poet, anthologist, teacher, scholar, critic, and impresario.

David Lehman was born in New York City in 1948. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Cambridge University in England as a Kellett Fellow. He also received a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University.

He is the author of several collections of poems, including When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005), Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (with James Cummins, Soft Skull Press, 2005), The Evening Sun (2002),The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry(2000), Valentine Place (1996), Operation Memory (1990), and An Alternative to Speech (1986).

His books of criticism include The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998), which was named a "Book to Remember 1999" by the New York Public Library; The Big Question (1995); The Line Forms Here (1992); and Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (1991). His study of detective novels, The Perfect Murder (1989), was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.  He is series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988, and is general editor of the University of Michigan Press's Poets on Poetry Series.

Lehman has also edited such books as Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms: 65 Leading Contemporary Poets Select and Comment on Their Poems (1987; expanded, 1996), James Merrill, Essays in Criticism (with Charles Berger, 1983), and Beyond Amazement: New Essays on John Ashbery (1980). Most recently, Lehman edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006). He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University.

His dedication to poetry and letters is remarkable.  He's one of my heroes, so it's a great treat to offer this poem to you today.

Bailout Package

They paid the farmer not to farm.
They paid the surgeon to do no harm.
They paid the parishioner not to pray.
They paid the piano player not to play

They paid the doctor not to heal.
They paid the thief not to steal.
They paid the writer not to write.
They paid the soldier not to fight.

They paid the cops to bear no arms,
The arsonist, to set off no alarms.
They paid the photographer not to shoot
Or lick the officer’s shiny black boot.

They paid the poet to eat no peaches.
They paid the professor to make no speeches.
They paid the lawyer not to lie.
They paid the widow not to die.

poem by David Lehman (March 2009)

Seven Electro Emotions

Good news.  Eliza Stefanidi, a former poetry student of mine, has come out with her debut chapbook with Silkworms Ink today - XX in their series - titled Seven Electro Emotions.  Cool stuff with that Athenian edge.

Public Service Announcement

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award – opening up doors to exciting opportunities for new poets.
Deadline for entries 31 July 2010

"Becoming a Foyle Young Poet is about more than just winning a competition. It is like being given the keys to doors you didn't know existed - suddenly there are clear directions you can take your poetry in. Entry is free and can be done instantly online - what are you waiting for? Let your poem be heard!" Phoebe Power, Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2009

If you are 11-17 years of age, the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award opens up exciting opportunities for your writing to be recognized and given the chance to flourish.

Since it began 13 years ago the award has identified some of the most exciting new voices in contemporary poetry. These include Caroline Bird, who after winning the award had her first collection of poetry published aged just 16, Jay Bernard whose first collections Your Sign is Cuckoo girl was published in 2008, and Richard O’Brien who set up the highly successful e-zine Pomegranate with other young writers. Many past winners can also be seen performing their work at festivals across the UK such as Latitude and the Big Chill.

It doesn’t just acknowledge this new talent  - it provides an opportunity for this talent to flourish. There are two prizes available for the fifteen overall winners. The 14-17 year olds get the chance to attend a week long residential course at The Hurst in Shropshire, one of the prestigious Arvon Centres, where they will be tutored by this year’s judges Jane Draycott and Luke Kennard. The younger age range winners (11-14 year olds) will receive a visit to their school from a professional poet, followed by distance mentoring.  The Award also incorprates a year-round programme of activity aimed at encouraging creativity and literacy in schools, providing poet-led residencies, mentoring and a range of free resources including lesson plans and poetry book sets. It also champions and celebrates committed schools and teachers across the UK.

Whatever happens, don’t let uncertainty stop you entering that poem. As one of this years judge’s Luke Kennard confesses:
"I lie awake at 3 a.m. thinking of reasons not to send my work off. Maybe I’ll write something better next month or next year. The more enlightened part of me knows that one of the best poems ever written is William Carlos Williams’s apology for eating someone else’s plums; that we can only understand the great themes, the political, the spiritual through specifics and in strange, small, and seemingly insignificant things. So all I’m saying is don’t be like me lying there terrified at 3 a.m.: send in your work!"

The deadline for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is 31 July 2010.  So what are you waiting for?  Sending in a poem may be your first step toward becoming one of our great poets of the future.

Enter online or download an entry form at or you can request an entry form by emailing  

Emergency Verse

The first great UK political anthology of 2010 is shaping up to be Alan Morrison's Emergency Verse.  There is still time to submit.  Protest against this Coalition of the savage-in-a-suit.  Apologies to the savages.

Summer Salt

Is philanthropy the coming thing, or dead in the water, in British Arts?  Never have the filthy rich in Britain given as much as say the American Rockefeller or Carnegie did for the arts.  Try to name equivalent family dynasties here that support dance, music, poetry?  Okay, - but what about poetry?  Where are the new patrons?  For a while now, it has been HM - via a government that can no longer really afford to pay out, and then get spit in the eye.  Cameron's cuts will see some small presses and magazines fold, no doubt.  Even Salt, that innovative younger press with the great covers and wide list, faces ongoing difficulty - see its recent Facebook message:

Chris Hamilton-Emery July 14 at 2:23pm

I hoped I'd never have to write this note. The recession has continued to have a very negative impact on sales at Salt and we're finally having to go public to ask you to help support us.

Our sales are now 60% down on last year and have wiped out our grant and our cash reserves as we continue to market and publish what we can from what we believe is a great list. We've plans in place to help secure the business from November 2010 — though the books we'll be publishing won't deliver any real revenue until 2011. We're sorry to ask, embarrassed to ask, but we need your help to survive until then and if you were considering purchasing a Salt book, we'd dearly love you to do it right now. We've less than one week's cash left.

If you can help us, please do two things:

1. Buy one book from us — we don't mind from where, it can be from your local bookstore (they need your support, too), it can be from Amazon or the BookDepository. It can even be directly from us. But please buy that book now.

2. Please tell everyone you know to do the same. Buy just one book and pass it on.

If money is tight for you, too, you can simply write a review of any Salt book you love on Amazon. Or recommend a book to a friend.

You can visit our Web site right now, simply go to
and buy JustOneBook.

Remember too, that every book you buy directly from us gets a raffle ticket in our Big Summer Raffle — and you could win one copy each of the next 20 books we publish from 1 September.

Thanks for continuing to support us.


Thursday, 15 July 2010

Seth's Death To SoQ?

Seth Abramson has brilliantly, wittily, and I think pretty comprehensively, tackled the whole Ron Silliman-generated "School of Quietude" issue over at his blog of late.  For British readers not in the know, what is often called over here the mainstream-postmodern (by Paterson) or the mainstream-experimental (or avant-garde, or linguistically innovative or late modern) split - so, in shorthand, Auden vs. Pound, Seamus Heaney vs. JH Prynne, or Wendy Cope vs. Denise Riley - is often now termed by some in certain circles in the States as the School of Quietude vs. the post-avant - i.e. Frost vs. Hejinian.  Abramson's most important claim is that this term is about poems, not poets - and then claims almost all of O'Hara, for instance.  Secondly, he traces the rhetorical roots of this tussle to the Ancients (as does Derrida, of course).  His main point is that this is an argument between transcendence contra immanence of the Word.

Language is obviously of central concern to the "Language poets" and every other poet, hence the ongoing confusion.  He also observes the lazy conflation between sociological cohabitation, and actual aesthetic similarity, between poets of the same schools, clans and cabals, which muddy the waters - and further suggests a disinterested probity of poetic discourse, where poets stop writing about themselves, and let others do the work for them.  Here problems ensue: for some post-avant writers, writing about poetry, one's own or other, is also writing poetry, sometimes - critical and creative writing can and often are equally valid and constructed texts; also, there can be no disinterested critics, if ideology permeates the reception and indeed construction of discourse leading to analysis and evaluation of poems, poets and poetic canons.  All this is well-known.

I would prefer to say that the core debate is about the "fate of the lyric" subject, or voice.  The debate is actually about what "humans are" - not language at all.  For the post-avant-garde, lyrical disruption of the text corresponds with an interrogation of the very idea of a coherent identity or self, that can be depicted, even brought across, in language - and in fact constructs the establishing counter-argument that language is the primary building block upon which the structures of purported selves, experiences, beliefs, including of mind, and soul - are premised.  In short, for the post-avant, the Self is of limited importance, the Soul does not exist (in relation to a Real God), and Actual Experience cannot be recalled or Communicated for any Value - because the complacent, bourgeois idea of a Stable Community of Shared Values is ultimately False, or in Bad Faith - in short, who cares about the "lyric I" and what Billy Collins or Billy Wordsworth actually felt or thought?!

Instead, what is important is exploration of the process of linguistic invention, artifice, and materiality, always conditioned by economic, political, sexual, and other forces (though not the Freudian) - texts resisting closure, or completion - so that poems are never finished, reified objects to be appreciated, savoured, or loved, or indeed studied, as they are - but must, by definition, resist all critical and creative attempts to complete, define, or contain them - poetry is always ultimately postponed.  What neither side any more seems to relish - which is my Third Way (sometimes called Fusion or Hybrid) is also Trilling's: the sheer pleasure of performance, which can also be a good in itself (as in acrobatics, or dance, or music) - a virtuosity of style which neither privileges the materiality of language as an ultimate good, nor its ability to convey moral, faith-based or secular truths and appercus, either - in short, a modernist aesthetics, a la Early Eliot, at once alert to the verbal ironies at play in poetry, yet unfettered from Victorian and Edwardian and Georgian impulses to behave properly within the text.  In my canon, therefore, the first major poem in English is "Prufrock".

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Some light on the letters

Irish poet-critic David Wheatley has written well and long on the Letters of Louis MacNeice - long a key link between the poetries of the Auden England and the later Muldoon Ireland - his influence as talky-yet-lyrical common man of the time with a wounded heart and a stained sleeve has made him a dour-if-erotic Anglo-Irish version of Frank O'Hara (his journals and letters ways of doing this and that with poems, instead of journalism); and he connects so many strands and styles, not least the pre and post war ones, that he can't be left out of anyone's core anthology of the last century; and a few of his lyrics are as good as anyone else's.  It is good to hear he wrote well and long himself, in the letter form.

Guest Review: Brinton On Duggan's Martial

Ian Brinton reviews
Martial Arts: The Epigrams of Martial
Translated by Laurie Duggan

When D.R. Shakleton Bailey’s three-volume prose translation of Martial’s Epigrams appeared as an addition to the series of Loeb Classics in 1994 Charles Tomlinson reviewed it for The New Criterion under the title ‘Martial in English’ noting that this edition ‘offers an occasion for thinking about the way Martial’s presence shows itself in English poetry’. He praised the unpretentiously accurate approach of the translator by suggesting that it ‘helps the reader to the mental possession of the original’ as well as making one conscious ‘anew of how splendidly some of our English poets responded to Martial.’ A matter of weeks ago Pressed Wafer’s reprint of the Australian poet Laurie Duggan’s translations brings back into the market-place the variety of tones to be found in the Latin poet, the mixture of biting wit and scarifying disdain, a concern for humane values and a compassionate understanding of human life. Duggan’s translations make Martial new (to adapt a Poundian phrase) and the art of them is a process indistinguishable from poetic creation.

In the Preface to this new edition of work which was originally published in the mid-eighties Duggan emphasises an essential aspect of conveying the immediacy of satirical writing whose original audience lived in the last years of the first century A.D.:

I realised that ‘faithful’ translations of satires, while possibly of use to historians, tended to lose the satirical element altogether. For satire to bite as it ought its objects should be at least generically recognizable and as so much of Martial’s work is ad hominem a good dose of the particular was essential. In localising the poems I ran the risk of creating my own obscurities. Readers from elsewhere might not know that Kinsella’s was a classy Sydney nightclub, that Phar Lap was a famous racehorse, or that Tamworth is the Australian equivalent to Nashville: the home of mainstream country music. Satire has to live with the possibility of its eventual obscurity.

The success of this up-dating can be sensed immediately when one reads the translation of xi from Book XVI about those critics who pour public derision on a piece of writing in order to uphold their membership of the self-elected intellectual gang whilst not being above having a good read of it when on their own:

            Arts Functionaries, piss off!
I write for the citizens of Wit.
In my pages, the whack of the high-hat
keeps time for Live Acts at the Adult Cinema.
Roll up your sleeves, Professor X, loosen your tie,
you’re still a Jesuit in mufti.
Even Ms Y, feminist critic, reads my book
and cracks a grin, after the collective goes home.

In the Seventeenth Century Robert Herrick had a go at this Epigram and produced a more general picture of hypocrisy:

            To read my Booke the Virgin shie
May blush, (while Brutus standeth by:)
But when He’s gone, read through what’s writ,
And never staine a cheeke for it.

The angry humour of Laurie Duggan’s version is contained in that explosive opening line followed by the unapologetic statement of author to audience. The late-twentieth century context is wonderfully caught with the exuberance of ‘the whack of the high-hat’ and the contemptuous comment hurled at the academic professional whose Jesuitical attitude towards what should and should not be read is barely disguised by a touch of sartorial informality: a dressing-down for a dressing-down!
In addition to the world of satire Martial also composed poems which explored the art of genuine pathos and one of the most moving was written in response to the death of Erotion, a six year-old slave girl. To recognise the delicate quality of Laurie Duggan’s version it is worth quoting the Loeb prose translation:

To you, father Fronto and mother Flacilla, I commend this girl, my pet and darling. Little Erotion must not be frightened by the dark shades and the monstrous mouths of Tartarus’ hound. She was due to complete the chills of a sixth midwinter, no more, if she had not lived that many days too few. Let her now play and frolic with her old patrons and lispingly chatter my name. Not hard be the turf that covers her soft bones, be not heavy upon her, earth; she was not heavy upon you.

Tomlinson considered this epigram (Book V, xxxiv) to be Martial’s finest short poem and despaired of finding a translation that worked. Commenting on the Loeb prose he found the syntax of the third sentence, clear in the Latin, contorted and ‘my pet and darling’ gushing. That said he suggested that this version ‘gives a sketch of Martial’s intentions’ which at least avoids the ‘sort of errors of taste’ another translator, K. Flower Smith, is guilty of:

            She’s such a little lassie—only six—
            To toddle down the pathways to the Styx
            All by herself!

Martial’s original avoids precisely that cloying note and his poem is movingly felt without ‘wearing its heart on its sleeve’. Laurie Duggan’s rendering of this delicate tone which conveys genuine pathos controlled by an exact understanding of metre is a delight:

            Dew glitter in a haze
                        of woodsmoke,
            scent of parted lavender
                        a feather
            touching early pages
                        of the book,
            she of five summers lies.
            Rest lightly upon her
                        earth and stone;
            rest gently as she rests:
                        a leaf
            touching the forest floor.

This translation combines ideas from another epigram in Book V to metamorphose Martial’s tone into something rich and strange: the gentle merging of ‘then’ and ‘now’, loss caught with the puns on ‘scent’ and ‘parted’, a falling which whispers to conclusion with the sound of ‘forest floor’.

Peter Whigham’s comment on the back cover of this wonderful little book is uncompromising in its praise: ‘I should like to state, explicitly, that your versions are far the best of any made since the eighteenth century’. The pace and liveliness of the writing is certainly brimming with Augustan brio:

            I’ve written nothing against you, reader,
            but since you don’t believe me
            maybe I will.

(Book XII, lxxviii)

Ian Brinton is a regular contributor to Eyewear.  He is a critic and scholar, with a particular interest in JH Prynne.


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...