Thursday, 31 March 2011

Review: Vices & Virtues

James Christopher Sheppard reviews
the new Panic! At the Disco album
Vices & Virtues

In 2005, Panic! At the Disco burst onto the music scene and rose quickly to the very top of the huge emo/rock genre. Their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, had a theatrical and upbeat fun rock vibe, which went hand in hand with their groundbreaking shows. With lyrics on their first two albums penned by now departed member, Ryan Ross, it’s going to be tough for the new line up, Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith, to match the same depth of lyrical issues the band were known for. Second album, Beatles inspired Pretty. Odd., featured a departure in sound for the band, plus they dropped the much-loved exclamation mark from their name. As a result, the album had underwhelming sales and a luke-warm reception from their fans. Vices & Virtues see’s the band re-instating their original name, Panic! At the Disco, and sounding more theatrical and rock orientated, employing the same style as their debut, but how does it compare?

‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’
Musically in-keeping with their debut, this first single stands far enough away from the material on their first album to show the bands growth, but also shows that Urie and Smith have realized and are playing to their strengths. The creeping, slightly distorted piano that opens the track is a good indication that Panic! are back and mean business. A dark and upbeat roaring track, this provides a promising start to the album.

‘Let’s Kill Tonight’
The drum machine and vocal effect featured at the beginning of this track, again, is a sound familiar to the lovers of the band’s debut. By the chorus, the track has taken quite a different and intriguing turn, however, becoming darker and angrier. This almost sounds like the Panic! of 2005 meeting Lostprophets, which surprisingly works and provides an invigorating and fresh sound.

‘Hurricane’ sounds a lot like it belongs on a Fall Out Boy album. Catchy and danceable, the track circles around the line ‘you’ll dance to anything’, which is quite a provoking statement. Not bad by any means, but there is nothing unforeseen here.

The opening of ‘Memories’ sounds slightly Manic Street Preachers-esque which is unexpected after ‘Hurricane’. Musically and lyrically moving, strings soar and the tempo keeps an uplifting pace, ‘Memories’ is the song that hears the boys reflecting on the troubled past of the band. One to download if you are cherry picking.

‘Trade Mistakes’
Another string heavy track, Urie sings of self-loathing and ‘sinking like an anchor’, ‘sinking her’. Lyrically, ‘Trade Mistakes’ is one of the saddest songs, although that isn’t overly reflected in the production.

‘Ready to Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)’
The driving track of the album, this is destined to be played loudly while driving fast in the summer sun. There is something very revitalizing and care-free about this track. Altogether, ‘Ready to Go’ is a great pop-rock track and is very radio friendly.

The first track to heavily feature the sound of an acoustic guitar, this track will be popular with fans of the bands second album, as well as fans of bands like the Plain White T’s. ‘Always’ is a simple, sweet song with a calming melody and catchy vocal arrangement.

‘The Calendar’
This track, even after several listens, fails to grab your attention. The music is quite charming, but the track is unfortunately pretty instantly forgettable.

‘Sarah Smiles’
Sounding like it should be on Nightmare of You’s self-titled album, ‘Sarah Smiles’ has the feel of about three completely different, already recorded tracks, being thrown together. There is little originality here, if any at all.

‘Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)’
After the last few paint by numbers tracks, the album closer is a welcomed dose of flamboyant quirkiness. With an odd psychedelic opening, this is one of the album’s more memorable moments. Everything from the vocal arrangement, the theatrical choir, the excited ‘woo’, the unexpected camp ‘do do do do do’ in the background, the blissful chorus and the line ‘my one regret is you’ is Panic! At The Disco coming very close to recapturing the magic that was unquestioningly once theirs.


If what drew you to Panic! At the Disco back in 2005 was their flamboyant melodramatic lyrics and striking titles, you will be left very disappointed by Vices and Virtues. If you loved the band’s theatrical, rock-pop upbeat feel, then you’ll be pretty happy. This new collection sits musically fairly near the band’s debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, but just doesn’t quite capture the same theatricality of the lyrics.  It is a very listenable album, but, despite a few cracking tracks, the expiry date on how often you will feel yourself craving to hear the whole album, may well be short-lived. 

Cut It Out

The news that the severe arts-funding cuts of the Tory-led British government have led to the Poetry Book Society (established by the Arts Council in 1953 by TS Eliot) losing all its funding have set up howls of rage and surprise from Britain's best and brightest poetry lovers.  Meanwhile, same perplexed poets have noted on Facebook, with something akin to rebel-Libyan rage, that commercial behemoth Faber and Faber have been given £40,000.

There is an irony here - the PBS is about as establishment as one can get in British poetry - it awards the TS Eliot Prize that often goes to Faber poets (Walcott this year for instance), and which, if any organisation does, brings poetry to "poetry lovers" in the UK.  I don't belong to the organisation, for reasons that it would seem mean-spirited to mention now - one doesn't kick a horse when it is down, unless one wants to upset a philosopher.  Yet, I think it is a part of the landscape one wouldn't want to see go.  Like selling off all the forests, this doesn't make sense.  It really is a total slap in the face, and confirms that, in secular Britain, after religion goes, next is poetry.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Share and share alike - six poets for Oxfam this March 30

Oxfam Marylebone's Spring Into Poetry! Season
supported by Kingston University

Wednesday, March 30, 2011, 7.30 pm

Six poets for Oxfam
from America, Australia, Ireland and the UK

Anne Stevenson
Barbara Smith
Don Share
Emma Jones
Jacquelyn Pope
Malika Booker

91 Marylebone High Street
London W1
Nearest tube Baker Street

£5; £2 concession; for tickets call the shop

Guest Review: Hirschhorn on Protest Poetry

by Remi Kanazi
reviewed by Norbert Hirschhorn

A debate among poets – interminable as those between formalists and free-versifiers, hermetics against popularizers – is whether poetry should be engaged with the social and political issues of the day.  Should the poet, a member of the polis, devote at least some part of her creative power to addressing the urgent issues of the time. Or should the artist and art remain above the fray, unsullied by historical, political, and social forces, in the sarcastic words of Carolyn Forché, doyenne of Poetry of Witness? [1] Of course, poetry has always dealt with the political, from Homer onwards, in some expectation that words beautifully wrought can represent the human condition.  Even Auden, who in his elegy to W.B. Yeats claimed, poetry makes nothing happen, could lament in September 1,1939 of a low dishonest decade, understanding that All I have is a voice/ To undo the folded lie, with the hope that while Beleaguered by the same/ Negation and despair, at least to Show an affirming flame

Many great poets forced to engage with the circumstances of their surroundings came, however reluctantly, to this conclusion that they must bear witness, but worried about being cast into the role of prophet.  Yeats was concerned that some young men might have died, inspired by his poetry.  Mahmoud Darwish, the great poet of the Palestinian resistance, was hectored by his fans to write more to support the cause.  He replied, I am a poet and not a political commentator!  While in his early life he was a PLO activist, his weapon the pen, his later poetry became the most beautifully lyrical of our time. Toward the end of his life he said, I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe; but now I think that poetry only changes the poet! [2]  Czeslaw Milosz summed up the dilemma for an accomplished poet of conscience: I was stretched between contemplation of a motionless point and the command to participate actively in history. Yet we know he did both.

Seamus Heaney recounted this episode in his long poem ‘Station Island’ when an IRA operative asked him, ‘When for fuck’s sake, are you going to write/ Something for us’.  To which Heaney said he replied, If I do write something,/ Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.  Which is to say, he will describe the terrible consequences of the tribal conflict to friends and to members of both tribes, but The angry role was never my vocation. The IRA man in question, Danny Morrison, who recalls the encounter as much less acerbic, is still rancorous about the failure of artists to support the hunger strikers with their poetry, as when he quotes Bobby Sands’ bitter stanza:  The poet’s word is sweet as bird,/ Romantic’s tale and prose./ Of stars above and gentle love/ And fragrant breeze that blows./ But write they not a single jot/ Of beauty tortured sore./ Don’t wonder why such men can lie,/ For poets are no more. [3]

And yet, in the worst of times, the poets do carry forward the testimony, if not immediately, then some time after.  The totalitarian rulers know this, and mark poets among the first for suppression and extinction.  Anna Akhmatova, often under threat of arrest, standing for hours in front of a stone prison for news of her son, was asked by another mother, Can you describe this? She replied, I can. The powerful and beautifully crafted political poem Requiem that resulted was committed to memory by a few of her most trusted friends, and saw publication only in 1963.  Unluckily, her fellow poet, Osip Mandelstam, lost his life in the gulag when his poem Stalin Epigram came to the dictator’s attention, with lines like, the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip, and He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.

Which brings me to Palestinian-American Remi Kanazi’s Poetic Injustice. Writings on Resistance and Palestine. [4] The ostensible cause is just, the poetry not as good. The poems are sustained crowd-pleasing rants (you can hear the poet perform on the accompanying CD) with chopped up prose lines like, every time I think of 9/11/ I see burning flesh dripping off the bones/ of Iraqi children in Fallujah… Or, dead babies missing foreheads/ and frontal lobes… Was he there? Does he know this? Can we suspend disbelief in reading his work?  Hardly.  All the world’s injustices are gathered into trivial chants: we’ll shout out Darfur, Rwanda/ and the need for antiretrovirals/ look at people as aid packages/ who can’t compete/ rather than ravaged lands/ perfecting paradigms/ of imperialism and propaganda. Judging by the website, I fear another cause for this poet is himself. 

We must demand that any political poem be as well written as any beautiful personal lyric, or with language that surprises.  When Theodor Adorno said in his much-misinterpreted comment, It is barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz, what he intended was that poetry (and film and drama) simply cannot faithfully and freely portray the ultimate indignity.  Words are inadequate to describe the horrors. Our enlightened, free-agent culture itself was no barrier to the Holocaust; it could not erase how it happened, nor can it prevent another from happening again.  Any artistic representation of the Holocaust is likely aesthetic anaesthesia. (Consider Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.)  But, Adorno’s dictum wasn’t just about art: the Holocaust showed that our very existence as autonomous beings with choice is a delusion. Art and culture that represent us as free agents are therefore also delusions.  Nonetheless, because we do, we must keep on living and acting, singing and writing, but with utter humility and awareness of the delusion.  Art represents a way of presenting the unrepresentable, bearing witness to aestheticism’s own failure. [5]  To write poetry of this nature requires rare talent.

Editor's Note: Readers of Eyewear can judge for themselves by watching the videos of some of the poems on the site - they are certainly performed with professional "spoken word" skill.  I feel that it is every person's right to be able to bear witness in language, and to express their conscience.  That may not make it good poetry, but no critic can ever or should never be allowed to stop it from being attempted.

Norbert Hirschhorn is a physician specializing in international public health, commended in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.”  An American, he now lives in London and Beirut. 
His poems have been published in journals, anthologies, pamphlets, and two full collections: A Cracked River, Slow Dancer Press, London, 1999, and Mourning in the Presence of a Corpse, Dar al-Jadeed, Beirut, 2008.

[1] Forché, Carolyn. Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness. New York, WW Norton & Co. 1994.
[2] Sami Moubayed. The Freedom Fighter’s Pen.
[3] Danny Morrison, Introduction to Hunger Strike.
[4] Publisher@Poetic, 2011  See also
[5] I am indebted to Elaine Martin for her keen analysis in ‘Re-reading Adorno: The “after-Auschwitz” Aporia’ found at

Human League's New Album Reviewed

James Christopher Sheppard reviews
by The Human League

Original new wave band, The Human League, have just released their ninth studio album, Credo, their first release in ten years. Best known for their huge 1981 hit ‘Don’t You Want Me’, The Human League have enjoyed continued moderate success for the past thirty years. Never straying from their new wave synthpop roots, this release should keep fans of their past work happy, but will it offer them anything they haven’t heard before? In a pop landscape where electro synth 80s descendants, Hurts and La Roux, are making waves, how do one of the first groups that first established synthpop music in 1979, stand up against their new contemporaries? 


1.      ‘Never Let Me Go’
Electro perfection. Building and building, this synth-infused track is literally how 2011 meeting 1981 should sound. Brought up to date with clean production, a catchy melody and a grimy bassline, it’s easy to see why this was chosen as the second single. It really deserves more success.

2.      ‘Night People’
There’s something very mesmerizing and hypnotic about this track. The first single, released in last November, does well to establish the group as being back with a vengeance. Don’t be fooled into thinking this track is simple due to it’s repetitiveness, there is a lot going on here to wrap your mind around.

3.      ‘Sky’
Frankmusik would be proud to have recorded this track- it resembles the sound he employed on his debut album Complete Me, in the best possible way. Mellow, but bass heavy, ‘Sky’ has an awesome quirky-ness going on. Listen right through to the end- the track continues to offer more as it progresses.

4.      ‘Into the Night’
Dream-like ‘Into the Night’ features a fantastic floating melody behind the chorus. It’s so good that it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the track is like. Seriously though, an all-round intriguing mid-tempo track that uses some lovely and unusual techniques, particularly the fade-out at the end.

5.      ‘Egomaniac’
Immediately establishing itself as the most club-friendly track, ‘Egomaniac’ is possibly the most 80s track here so far. Sounding the most like it would fit onto Dare out of all the tracks here, old fans will probably adore this. ‘Dancing like a diamond in the sun’ does jam its way into your head by the end.

6.      ‘Single Minded’
Following ‘Egomaniac’ with a very similar beat, at first this seems a little dangerous, but by the chorus and second verse, this track stands far away from it’s predecessor, showing off more innovative ways of delivering the track to our ears.

7.      ‘Electric Shock’
Forget ‘Egomaniac’, this is the club track. Something about it screams Kylie Minogue’s ultra cool track ‘Boombox’. Danceable, up-tempo, innovative, cool- this is what the group need if they want to be played in the clubs.

8.      ‘Get Together’
This is a great up-tempo number, which has a harder beat than we have heard so far. This will be a live highlight if the band tour to promote the album, I can imagine the crowd loving it.

9.      ‘Privilege’
Standing out as a dark, twisted track, this is the most individual song on the album. Much angrier and with a political agenda, this yields back to the original Human League line-up that didn’t feature the girls.

10.  ‘Breaking the Chains’
Throwing us back to the safety of the synth-pop, and in this case guitar tinged, world, is ‘Breaking the Chains’ which is light-hearted and a breath of fresh air after the heaviness of ‘Privilege’.

11.  ‘When the Stars Start to Shine’
Joining ‘Electric Shock’ in the club playlist, is ‘When the Stars Start to Shine’. Featuring a hard and addictive beat that could be featured on a Pendulum track, this is definitely a highlight from the album. Hard beats, a gentle melody and an 80s vocal arrangement that could be ‘The Land of Make-Believe’ by Bucks Fizz, this track somehow pulls all the best elements from each and hits you, hurling you to the dance-floor.

Credo is the sound of a band making music because they love making it. After thirty years, the Human League still possess the same creative energy and have produced an album that should appeal to both 80s fans and the Hurts generation, as well as lovers of well crafted dance-pop music. Not bad at all.

Credo is available now on Wall of Sound.

James Christopher Sheppard is a London based freelance writer. He is Eyewear's current guest music critic.  For more information, please visit his website Intellectual Intercourse.

British Summer Time

It's here at last!  The Great British Summer springs forward today.  Here comes the sun little darling!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A New Poem by Ben Mazer

A new poem by Ben Mazer is always a treat.  See below.

Dinner Conversation

Dinner conversation. A blank slate
on which to install the empire. Josephus dreams
of decorating silk screens with battle scenes.
Arminius and Varus. Hilda and Hildegaard
turn slightly green but take it not that hard
when Harry with jet-streaked curls of Roman silver
flicks thick ashes into a samovar.
Piles of ripe fruit. How many poppy seeds
will we require to satisfy our needs.
Archie and Jughead analyse the field.
All is statistics, with a fudge sundae sealed.
Silence and talk are two different kinds of power.
"I have to work." The ruling class
wishes to suffer. The poor sit on their ass.
History and archaeology revive
fear of the gods, the instinct to take a wife.
A rich man's daughters are posted to inventories.
The visiting statesman approves of the lawn frieze.
The Botticelli bursts another spring.
It is of florentine silks that I shall sing.
This rough and tumble clan
will expire in madness to a man.
Ah, to be truly mad, that must be glorious,
to see each word as a sign and write in prose.
Lisa puts my toy football in her bra,
and then lifts up her shirt for me to see,
pink white breasts in magnolia taffeta.
My one wish, that I shall soon go blind!
To stop these visions dancing in my mind.
In my dream they thought I had stolen clothes
(books I had borrowed from the library).
The horizon is never permitted to doze.
The real shipment of gold
is emblazoned in flames for all to see.

poem by Ben Mazer, published with permission of the poet.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Featured Poet: Kimberly Campanello

Eyewear is glad to welcome Kimberly Campanello (pictured) this very early Friday (so early it is Thursday!).  She was born in Elkhart, Indiana. Her chapbook Consent will be available from Wurm Press’ mimeorevolution in April 2011.

She was selected to read in the 2011 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and was featured poet in the summer 2010 issue of The Stinging Fly. Her work has also appeared in nthposition, The Cream City Review, Italian Americana, and GulfStream, among other journals.

Campanello is an assistant editor of Rowboat, a new magazine dedicated to poetry in translation. She is completing a PhD in Creative Writing at Middlesex University in London. I've much enjoyed meeting her - she's smart, vibrant, and very talented.

Comme le feu, l’amour n’établit sa clarté/que sur la faute et la beauté des bois en cendres…  –Philippe Jaccottet

The orange on the horizon—a boat with curved Viking sails
in flames. No, it’s the moon rising. I still want to cry for help.
The ring-necked dove crying for help. The one with the broken

wing that we took to the rehabilitation center. The only thing
to do with a ring-necked dove is wring its neck. A non-native species,
they probably fed it to an ailing osprey. A boat with curved Viking

sails in flames. In Dublin, they built an office on the best
Viking site they had. The only thing to do with a ring-necked
dove is wring its neckWe’re just mixed-up capitalists. It’s nothing personal.

A fire—the orange on the horizon—takes seven days to reach us.
Day one we laughed and skimmed ash off the sea. Day seven
the gardener stayed behind, drawing circles of water

around the horse, letting the cars finally explode.
The orange on the horizon—the surplus value we’ll never extract.
I can’t seem to drive my feet deep enough in the sand to hold me,

to keep me from treading water. I must float or stand. The moonrise
reproducing the means of production. This shoe is heavy and seeks
non-native species—Cuban tree frogs and iguanas—for smashing.

The only thing to do with a ring-necked dove is wring its neck.
Dear Orange on the Horizon, or to Whom It May
Concern: For just five minutes give us something different.

A tall glass building, windows with no drapery, and people
and doves we can watch rehabilitate. Draw a ring of ash
around my neck, for love. I will float and stand.

poem by Kimberly Campanello; published online with permission of the poet

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor Has Died

the eyes have it
Sad news.  Elizabeth Taylor, major Hollyood star, has died, at the age of 79.  Taylor was perhaps best known for her roles in National Velvet, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Cleopatra, and for her famous marriage bed, which saw her severally wedded to co-star Richard Burton.  In later years, Taylor was associated with good causes and for lost causes, like befriending Michael Jackson.  Her beautiful eyes and voluptuous figure made her world-famous, and she stayed that way, until the end, though she starred in few if any quality pictures after the early 70s.  It feels like the end of an era.

Tokyo Water

For all those who love Tokyo, and Japan, the news this morning that Tokyo drinking water is no longer safe for infants to drink due to radioactive levels is more than alarming - it is tragic.  One can only hope that somehow the reactors get back on the grid soon and some sort of control replaces the radiating chaos.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Guest Review: Loveday on Crucefix

Mike Loveday reviews
by Martyn Crucefix

The first time I was going to a Martyn Crucefix reading a few years back, I asked a poetry tutor of mine what he was like as a poet. She said (I’m paraphrasing) “Same generation as Simon Armitage. Never quite had the same publicity but his poems are just as good. In fact his poems are sexier.”

I think it was the first time I had heard poetry described as “sexy”. It reminded me of Ruud Gullit’s coining of the phrase “sexy football” at Euro ‘96, and the words stuck in my mind, perhaps because most of the poetry I seemed to be reading at the time was decidedly unsexy.

So I have to tell you now that Martyn Crucefix’s new book Hurt is not really “sexy” in the traditional sense. I don’t know if you find this disappointing, but you shouldn’t. This is a wonderful book of poems – charged with a quiet intensity, with a sense of drama filtered by intelligence. The poems speak with a voice of battle-weary, passionate celebration. It seems to me it is concerned with meditating upon both the spiritual and physical worlds (both of mankind and nature), upon the conflict between life and death, youth and age, change and lack of change.

Crucefix is a poet who fuses the sensual and cerebral, and the poem Water-Lily is a perfect example, combining intense close-up scrutiny of objects with an instinct for retreat. It opens with marvellous, musical description:

“Mysterious – priapic – in her slow ascent
through olive-green, cloudy particulate water…
her dark bomb rising, an old balancing act
on a turgid stalk…
[a] series of pan-flat, broadening leaves
that wince red to racing green at the strain
of powering out of the pond’s darkest places.”

By the end of the poem the speaker is seemingly trapped in weariness:

“You see the crud, skeletal leaves, the sink back,
say you’ve no reply to what she just said
since you carry such freight, so much baggage,
the worst and best of it your love of language.”

The poet-speaker stands as witness waiting “at the cross-hairs | of words and things” hoping for them to align, which is as good an evocation as any of what a poet battles with.   

Crucefix doesn’t flinch from painful or dark material. So we are offered poems like Beyond the Bee Farm where a bee frets around two children and then stings the speaker, and the bee is described in both instances with the clinical fascination of a mortician:

“…a blur
of bee-malice, razor-edged
now buried in her hair.
I watch this from above…

You streak past my eye
to floppy folds of hair,
a choleric head-noise,
a thrill in my ear –
tiny reflex stinger
finds my scalp, goes in.

…I saw the cap and spike
the tiny black thorn
like a kaiser’s helmet
as it was withdrawn

delicately from my head”

The speaker seems slow in responding to the bee’s threat that he appears almost heartless (“no longer certain | who needs to be rescued”), and yet there is such deep concern in this poem – both for the human world of sensory experience, and also for the natural world of the bee.

The relationship between parent and child repeatedly surfaces in this book, alongside poems about the chaos of modern life and ideas of withdrawal, loss and hard-won insight. Time after time the poems search for consolation, but the speakers in them are often consoled not by faith, or human relationships, but by the details absorbed by the eye or ear. Scraps describes how a father longs for his son to be ‘anchored’ by some kind of faith – “this is what I hope for him: | a stronger belief than I knew”, but the speaker begins and ends the poem enthralled by the smallest of observations inside a cathedral: “…terracotta tiles. | Or the dusty glimmer of brass”, even risking frivolously “[a] cherub’s backside”. Details are what sustain the speaker; as in Larkin’s Church Going, the use of observation is entwined with a faith in its most secular guise, and the speaker senses belief being transmitted to his son: “something remains – | a single thread slipped the shears | passing on from me to him”.

The middle section of the book (‘Essays in Island Logic’) is a sequence poised between narrative and meditation, in free verse stanzas functioning like a painterly series of feathered brush strokes. The poems alternate between the points of view of a husband, wife and son on an island overseas (tellingly, one with a dormant volcano). The moods shift and ebb, mixing a sense of adventure with domestic security, and feelings of alienation and risk.

There is something more elusive and opaque about this part of the book – I felt I was walking along a road that I couldn’t quite see for it shimmering with the rising heat. And yet the balancing of three different perspectives, and the mingling of ideas of travel, home and exile is appealing. A quotation from another island poem elsewhere in the book (Wilderness) seems to capture the combination of qualities in this second part of the book:

“a thing of gleams
and flashes, clock-slow
movement or the rapid
approach of danger,
of escape”.

The stand-out poems in the collection (beyond those already mentioned) for me include a delicate, restless poem Keats about the Romantic poet in Charles Brown’s house Wentworth Place, and the heart-breaking Calling in the Dark, where the speaker overhears his parents as their mobile phone calls his by accident “I cannot bear to pry | on what is coming closer | and will carry them away”. But one of the most remarkable poems here is the intense Stag Beetle. We begin the poem assuming we’re listening to a human speaker, self-consciously using second-person narrative: “More than an hour ago | you gave up the task…Now disentangling again | these extraordinary legs” but in fact the poem is written from the point-of-view of the beetle addressing the human observer (the voice is deliberately ambiguous, the revelation not confirmed until line fifteen’s “my six feet like clamps”). The poem gradually deepens its observation:

“You try
to imagine how it must be
to live within edges
toothed and raw, a pack
of saws ripped from some
black hole in creation.”

The voice of the beetle becomes increasingly dark, emphatic and threatening, yet still in the end fused with the identity of the human observer:

“Oh yes I am the stag
of your age and occlusion.
You must fight me now.
I am not yet dead.”

Time, craft and the fires of experience fuel this collection of poems. This is a book which gradually fascinates. You don’t notice each poem falling in step with you and then you suddenly find it has grabbed you by the collar and is leading you somewhere important, somewhere that matters. The pattern and shape of these poems is noticeable – the collection combines a series of longer poems; a scattering of poems in couplets; the sequence of free verse poems echoing each other. Yet rhyme is sparing, the language never overly-dense. This gentle impression of craft suggests a deep care for human patterning in the midst of the fury and loss described.

Despite the Hurt, the book ends hopefully to suggest that – after shedding the trappings of daily life (“Begin by abandoning | sandals, summer clothes”) there might be an arrival and a sense of belonging negotiated with this difficult world – the image of a boat mooring, having cut through the turbulent waves:

“till its gentle bass
booms securely home
in this delicate love
that allows the world
to wear us, a brooch,
allows us our wearing
of this wilderness.” 

Mike Loveday is a widely-published British poet, and editor of 14 magazine.  He is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University.  He has a debut pamphlet forthcoming shortly.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Notable Deaths: Gough and Tulin

So many people die, it is often hard to keep track.  Two lesser-known figures in popular culture were recently the subject of obituaries in The Guardian: Michael Gough and Mark Tulin.  I met Gough once years ago after a play in London - he was very kind.  I knew him best from Brideshead Revisited and, later, the Batman films.  Mark Tulin was the bass player for the greatest American garage band of the 60s, The Electric Prunes, one of my favourite bands.  They heavily influenced some of the music my brother later played, in Montreal, as a bass player in the 1990s.  Both talented men will be missed.

The New Duran Duran

Watching the ITV special last night on Duran Duran - timed for their launch this morning of their 13th album, produced by Mark Ronson, hep-cat du jour - I couldn't help thinking: these guys have staying power.  Indeed, as we all know now, Duran Duran have been going, with hits and misses, for 30 years.  This is five times longer than The Beatles, or The Doors.  Of course, The Stones keep on.  However, it is true to say that it is mainly the 80 bands - once derided - who have managed to turn their names into brands, and their styles into perennial favourites.  The 80s is the new 60s - it favours nostalgic recovery.  Ronson is the man for that.  Duran Duran, like Depeche Mode and maybe one or two other 80s bands (The Smiths for instance) created a new genre, more or less, with their sound.  The Duran Duran song is bombastic, hedonistic, optimistic, and, yes, poetic.  It is like no other - and usually more textured and complex than one might think.  Their main themes - exotica, danger, sexuality, travel, fashion, and scopophilia - are those of the 70s French erotic films they were no doubt influenced by.  Is this a great album, a new Rio?  It seems too much a homage to the earlier work to quite reach that level, but it is a labour of love, and 'Leave a Light On' is as good as 'Ordinary World'.  'Mediterranea' is their 5-star spa credo.  'Girl Panic!' is a dance-floor classic manque.  What makes Duran Duran sickening pap to some, their plastic bombast, their eternal yearning, has become a legitimate stamp of a period - the po-mo pop they defined.  This is a major restatement of that moment.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Guest Review: Westcott on Hymas

Sarah Westcott reviews
by Sarah Hymas

Host, the first collection by British poet Sarah Hymas, is a book of two distinct parts. The first section, Bedrock, is an epic sequence of 57 poems, a bravura sweep from the late Victorian era to the present day, detailing the lives of four generations of a mining family.

Taking on the disparate voices of one family is an ambitious task for a writer with the risk that assuming multiple dramatic personae may weaken or dilute the single perspective. However, Hymas successfully inhabits the varied minds of paterfamilias Harold through to his disaffected granddaughter Hannah, a child of the sixties.

Bedrock is also an exploration of personal and social heritage - as Hymas quarries the deep strata of family folklore to create an extended narrative sequence that sometimes reads like a play.  Her motif of geology is interesting and unusual as each character probes their rootedness with the Yorkshire landscape, the ‘local diamond’ of limestone.

Over the course of Bedrock, Hymas focuses on seven members of the Kibby family in a series of dramatic vignettes mainly written in the first person. The poems are often insightful, and sometimes funny, snapshots of a character’s inner life which chart the turbulent process of loving over a lifetime. Thus, we have Hannah, the Kibby matriarch, addressing Harold:

What I love about you
I have yet to quarry.

Your worn granite face
holds the promise of mica

and buttoned sandstone,
a cladding for our home.

(Harrogate Bedrock, 1899.)

Some 35 years later, Harold’s expression of love for his grandson possesses Heaney-esque tones of digging and captures an authenticity and doggedness of character:

What can be dug, can be built upon.

Accepting dirt as nourishment,
I seed one tattie for a dozen nuggets

of gospel white. A quiet servant.
I dig for my grandson.

(Witness the Potato, 1934.)

As the sequence progresses into the 1960s, Hymas continues to align fresh generations with notions of home - her characters are literally contained within their walls - and their place in history.  And so we hear the voice of Matthew, the grown-up grandson of long dead Harold and Hannah making explicit an almost oppressive sense of belonging to the land, and family: 

I am braced, like the house, between streets
paved by my grandfather
and their semis sold off by my father.

I cannot leave now I’ve returned.
A locked block in the parquet floors.

(Farndale, 1967.)

Hymas’ earthiness of language roots Matthew into the walls of the family home, writing him into the rock and stone of his forbears.

She is also excellent at capturing social and religious codes of behaviour, with the acuity of Austen or Alice Munro. The poems are adorned with doilies and net curtains, sculleries and jam roly-polys, pork paste sandwiches - and all the peculiarly English class connotations they carry. The gradual dissipation of the founding Methodist values of the family is also compelling and subtly written.

One of the most striking aspects of Bedrock, though, is its historical sweep and Hymas gives her readers generous traction of period detail and the peculiarities of time and place. She moves from the Klondike gold rush through both world wars, Green Shield Stamps and the eighties property boom, all the while producing some sparkily memorable and apposite imagery - a house is “brass banded” with daffodils each March, while Harold’s face is “inscrutable as mashed potato” and a windbreak is “pegged like a pie crust”.

In Armoury, 1984, I enjoyed a sensory description of a man running his hands through boxes of keys, Gollum-like:

...I fetch down the old banner box,
push my hand into cold grime of oil on steel.
Keys. Hundreds of them.

They nibble my skin like a reassuring dog,
cool me in a shower of chain mail. I scoop
handful after handful, let them chink through my fingers.

The poems that work less well are those where the voice of the character has a tinge of inauthenticity - either the voice of the poet is coming through - or the character speaks in a slightly inappropriate register. For example, ‘Venn Diagrams, 1972’, written in the voice of a five-year-old is strangely mature: ‘Lorries reverse and turn in the yard next door/20 tonners looping tracks in the cinder grit.’

The second half of Host, titled Landfall, is more free-wheeling and playful and expands into wider landscapes of forests, moors and mountains.

Landfall retains Hymas’ characteristic robustness of language. But she becomes more conceptual and abstract, questioning the power of language itself and the absurdity of metaphor when faced the the sheer physicality of the natural world:

To call them mountains is to clamp
woodchip to magnolia,
chocolate bars to the Milky Way.

(‘From Pelling’)

I find her work best when she moves away from heavy metaphors and extended conceits and becomes lighter and more exploratory, in the manner of a mind trying to understand the world.

Particular favourites were ‘Your Ears Send Me Delirious’, one of the strangest and sweetest expressions of love I have read, and ‘Wonder Child’, which brings to mind the quirky brevity of Lorraine Mariner - and is short enough to be enjoyed in full:

My friend’s Aunty Margaret
knew a little boy who
was that curious
he could spend
all day long
in a bucket.

Host is a tactile and muscular collection, rooted in the complexities and textures of the physical world. Hymas has created fresh and exuberant work that, at its best, captures the awe of being alive.

Sarah Westcott is a poet and journalist living in London.

Friday, 18 March 2011


The International Nuclear And Radiological Event Scale, from 1-7, has been applied to the disaster in Japan.  It is now set at 5.  This means there will be, or have been, already, "several deaths" from nuclear exposure, and need for some limited countermeasures.  It is no longer a merely local event contained by the plant.  This is cause for grave concern.  We all hope not to see an event 6 or 7.

Featured Poet: Alex McRae

Eyewear is very glad to welcome British poet Alex McRae (pictured) this rainy London Friday.  McRae was born in London; educated at Oxford; and now lives in Washington DC, where she works in the media. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 2009.

Her poetry has been published in Poetry Review, Magma, the Manhattan Review, Penumbra, and Nth Position.  I met her first when she was a student of mine in an advanced monthly poetry seminar I was running at The Poetry School, which has included the likes of Helen Mort, Joe Dunthorne, and Emily Berry.  She more than held her own in the group and I was very glad to see her work recognised with the Gregory.  I'm now looking forward to her debut collection.  She has a wonderful eye for detail, a good sense of music, and a disconcerting way with an image.

Buffalo Billiards

I was apart in a green sea of tables,
players cocked at the hip over spotlit baize,
taking that last behind-the-shoulder glance
before committing to the shot.

You rolled in from nowhere, right on cue.
You bought us all a round, and said
“Welcome to my country”, resting your beer
on the satiny sill of wood. My sister

flashed her belly just above the pocket
while some guy tried to take his shot.
We leant over the empty pool table,
all our angles tilted towards each other:

neck through shoulder, elbow through wrist,
our slow collision set off by the lightest brush.

poem by Alex McRae; published online with permission of the author


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...