Friday, 26 October 2012

Eyewear On The Road

Eyewear is on the road for the next fortnight.  Don't expect many if any posts.  Please continue to enjoy our extraordinary long tail of posts, featuring reviews, poets, and bits of controversy, though. Or maybe we'll meet up in person, along the way.

In the meantime, Eyewear should add it endorses Barack Obama for President of the United States.

Richard Hugo, died 30 years ago this week

Poet and teacher Richard Hugo
I finally got around to reading Richard Hugo's hugely influential, and very readable, slim volume on creative writing and poetry, The Triggering Town, the other day - oddly enough starting it around the 30th anniversary of his death, on October 22, 1982.  I have since begun to go back to his poems.  I was in a poetic dry spell, but reading him is allowing me to get started again.  I found his chapter on his wartime experience in the field in Italy particularly powerful, and it has reminded me that truths told in stylish prose can achieve the force of good poetry.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Todd Swift Central Canadian Reading Tour

In Canada the next fortnight: I will be reading from, and launching, two new collections from the past two years, which complement each other, England Is Mine (Punchy Books, Montreal, 2011) and When All My Disappointments Came At Once (Tightrope Books, Toronto, 2012).  I haven't been to Canada since 2007, so I look forward to catching up with friends, and meeting new poets and poetry readers.  Dates below.

8 pm, Sparrow, Blvd. St Laurent

7 pm, Novel Idea Bookstore

7.30 pm, Lit Live Reading Series
Homegrown Hamilton
27 King Williams Street

7.30 pm, Rower's Pub Reading Series
Victory Cafe
581 Markham Street

6 pm, Ben McNally Booksellers

7.30 pm, Argo Books

Poetry Focus: E.E. Nobbs

Eyewear is glad to welcome E.E. Nobbs (pictured) to our pages this very autumnal London Wednesday.  In 2006, E.E. Nobbs began writing poetry after she took an on-line poetry course from Bill Greenwell (Exeter U.). She lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province.

Sliders only cost five dollars;
replacing an entire zipper is over twenty.

I won’t have time enough
to get in touch, this week. Maybe soon.

I fall off kerbsides next to schools (someday
will break both wrists, a knee).

Once a fusty woman with a stick
accused me of lying. And stealing her apples...

Oh, so you're a poet, someone's sister
responded. Mine. My sister. That last email...

One front wheel hung over, spinning lyrics, the edge
all slick ice, a slow melt.

It doesn't look like the really bad stuff
said the internal specialist. (They could be wrong.)
poem by E.E. Nobbs, published online with permission of the author. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Guest Review: Mayhew On Rees-Jones

Jessica Mayhew reviews
Burying The Wren*
by Deryn Rees-Jones

*shortlisted today for the 2012 T.S. Eliot Prize

Rees-Jones prefaces her collection with a quote from the Roethke poem ‘In a Dark Time:’ “In a dark time, the eye begins to see/ I meet my shadow in the deepening shade.” In Burying the Wren, the eye does indeed begin to see, observing the minutiae in the hugeness of grief, to the “pointillist’s dream” in a field of poppies. This first poem opens up the poet’s close gaze:

...where a seed
might sing, imagining a life
pushed into form, pure colour.”
(Three Glances at a Field of Poppies)

This poem reveals an impressionistic view of a poppy, effectively using the interplay of dark and colour. However, this third glance also unpacks the creative act, moving from imagination to form. This idea flows through the collection; in ‘A Scattering,’ we are presented with a moment in time, the scattering of the poet’s husband’s ashes. The children are suspended in nursery rhyme-like poses at odds with the situation:

The rain has stopped   
and our daughter dances.
Where is our son?
Way up high on his great-uncle’s shoulders.
(A Scattering)

Rees-Jones is a poet very aware of time. In ‘A Scattering,’ she adeptly presents a single moment in time, fading to, “the mist like breath on the landscape’s glass.” This masterful handling of time and space reoccurs in ‘Hallucigenia,’ which is explained in the notes as an extinct genus of animal, named for it’s dream-like, hallucinogenic quality. The poem opens with the line, “The room where I imagine you, my eyes unlocked,” immediately establishing a textual space for the lovers. However, in this room, they exist in “our stanza out of time.” This is a poem self-conscious of its own creation. It is aware that words encase these living bodies and leave a fossil, in which the speaker’s mouth:

is emptied into yours, becomes a different silence
from the first, in commas, dashes and full stops.

Rees-Jones takes inspiration for her dramatic ‘Dogwoman’ sequence from the works of the artist Paula Rego. Rego’s works show women in various dog-like positions, such as grooming and howling. However, these are images of power, juxtaposing the wild and domestic. Roethke’s rhythms echo from the preface: 

hellhound, dog shaking, hare-bound; dog in the wind, sky bound.
(Once, attendant in my blue dress, I hadn’t the words to call you back.)

Here, the internal rhyme enforces the poet’s relentless grief. The sudden prosaic clarity of the second line emphasises the psychic transformation of bereavement, whilst providing the reader with a thunder-struck image of the death scene. These interjections prevent the poem from drifting into the abstract.

Perhaps inevitably for a collection largely inspired by grief, I was reminded of Douglas Dunn’s Elegies on several occasions, particularly in ‘A Dream of Constellations:’

the navigated darkness of our life,
this telling and untelling of the world...
(‘A Dream of Constellations’)

Rees-Jones beautifully captures the time when, “the months that were left could be held in our hands,” almost transforming the scene into myth.

Burying the Wren is an accomplished collection, its emotive centre never allowed to drift clear of time and space. The wren motif is used well. In ‘Burying the Wren,’ body and bird merge, “soft as the hairs behind your ears...the fluttering breast you longed to touch.” The final poem of the same name concludes the collection with the wren as an image of redemption:

Here, where a wren sings, flirty in the alder,
in the long hot days of May,

when you are three years gone.
(‘Burying the Wren’)

Jessica Mayhew reviews regularly for Eyewear.

Focus on MacFarlane

Stewart MacFarlane, artist
Stewart MacFarlane (see above) is a leading Australian artist, and one of his paintings was used for the cover design of my latest collection, from Tightrope books, being launched in Toronto November 6 at Ben McNally books, at 6 pm.  Pleasingly, he wears glasses.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Film Review: George on On The Road

James A. George, Eywear's film critic, on On The Road

Perhaps more so in America than Britain, most teenagers interested in reading come across Jack Kerouac’s beat-generation memoir-cum-fiction classic novel On The Road.

As seen in the film, Kerouac famously taped several rolls of paper together and churned out his novel in a drug-induced frenzy. The film has been brewing for decades, waiting for the right team, the right screenplay and the right visionary and hence has become overripe and lost its vivacity. I am in very much in two minds about the film and rather unsure whether to condemn this film or to pass it off as a faithful if rather nostalgic adaption, neither of which are really ringing endorsements.

Sal Paradise follows his wild pal Dean Moriarty, played by Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund respectively, as to cure his writer’s block. Cue a lot of drug taking, sex, jazz and driving. Director Walter Salles is no stranger to road movies, the successful Motorcycle Diaries captured the early years of two young men looking for adventure that ultimately discovered people and their deserved humanity, and hence historically grew up to become revolutionaries (one being Che Guevara). This film is also about to men that discover each other and essentially to look inwards – but in less a philosophical sense but a narcissistic way. It may be that the perspective is first-person a lot less often compared with the book, or that such a strong sense of character is condensed down to two hours, but Sal and Dean are not pleasant people to be around.

women used for housing and bedding... hidden undercurrents of misogyny in  the book
The cast is entirely fantastic, even the women that serve next to no purpose other than housing and bedding the two men. It is because all these performances are so engaging that the somewhat hidden currents of misogyny in the book come to the forefront as we are presented with flesh and blood. The reckless hedonist that is Dean is every bit as charismatic as he should be, with a charming signature smile and dirty t-shirts. Sal is played as thoughtfully as he should be and yet still seems believably at ease with the mayhem around him.

The cinematography is wonderful if a little too polished, laden with visual metaphor and beautiful depictions of rural and small town America. The film opens with hasty editing dancing around our characters and their environment and captures the spirit of the book. It even dies down in tempo the way that the book does, but the final scene I personally found dull and tedious in comparison to the heartbreak I felt with the book.

The book was always considered unfilmable, but who could have predicted it is not the lack of a typical movie narrative that weighs against it but rather unlikeable, naval-gazing protagonists. I almost want to praise the film for its faithfulness to the material and its excellent craft. There is a difference between a film that is vain and self-absorbed, and a film about those that are vain and self-absorbed, and the latter is not usually executed as well as this. There is a lot here that is worthwhile, as much joy and adventure as there is neglect and frustration, but hardcore fans of the book should view cautiously.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Poetry Focus: Holly Corfield Carr

Holly Corfield Carr (pictured above) is a recipient of a 2012 Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors and was a finalist in the Sky Arts Ignition: Futures Fund for young artists. Eyewear is very glad to welcome her to these pages this misty, rainy London Friday, and not just because she wears glasses.

She currently lives and writes in Bristol where her short fiction is appearing on billboards and digital devices as part of the pervasive soundwork, Missorts. In 2011 she was commissioned to work in collaboration with a sculptor and ceramic artist in the derelict Spode Factory in Stoke-on-Trent. She once agreed to spend the night writing in a replica of Thoreau's cabin for the artists Tyman and Rushton but ran away from Miterdale forest after meeting with some wild pigs. She is learning to be brave.

 poem published online with permission of the author.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Guest Review: Begnal On Wayworn Wooden Floors

by Mark Lavorato

As many do, when a work by a writer previously unknown to me crosses my desk, I read the blurbs in order to get a sense of context.  When I was asked to review Mark Lavorato’s poetry collection, Wayworn Wooden Floors (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2012), I learned from the back cover that these “frank and thoughtful poems” would be “penned in accessible, unpretentious verse, which is as clear as it is varied in form, tone and vantage”.  What, though, does this really mean?  What is inherently valuable about poetry that is supposedly “unpretentious”?  With a number of notable exceptions (Bukowski being one example that comes to mind), I have to admit that I’m not always that much of a fan of “accessible” poetry, anyway.  Accessibility, important when the rhetorical moment calls for it, is not an inherent virtue.  Accessibility is also subjective: what is difficult for one reader may not be for another.  Personally, I tend to like poetry that forces me to do a little bit of work.  Not that poetry should be deliberately “inaccessible” — again, such a question of comprehensibility will depend on the contingencies involved in such considerations such as the process of the composition and audience.  And for that matter, poetry or language that might initially appear straightforward can often be deceptively complex (take William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”, for example).  But when poetry such as that in Wayworn Wooden Floors seemingly wants to pretend ignorance of certain formal developments in the field over the last hundred years or so, its stated subject matter of “the tragedy and the comedy endemic to daily existence” does little for me.

Certainly, Lavorato is sincere here.  As he writes in “The Shades of Your Black”, an ode to a crow, “all I want/ is what you have/ freedom so pure it’s invisible”.  But is it possible, in the aftermath of postmodernism, to convincingly put forward poetry that “reward[s] readers with poignant, emotionally genuine vignettes” (the back cover again) without at least some awareness of how the medium might skew the author’s attempt at “genuine” emotion?  The poet and critic Johannes Göranson, for one, would say no.  Writing on the Montevidayo blog about “the new sincerity,” he recently averred,

One part about this rhetoric of sincerity that really makes me resist it, it’s the way it seems to remove the troubles of language. . . . Another thing I dislike about the sincerity discussions is that they seem to be kind of normative.  People are sincere when they write poetry about a certain — acceptable — range of emotions. I.e. you’re sincere when you’re kind of sad, or kind of funny. . . But the second you get too intense, perverse, ludicrous etc you become somehow insincere. . . . This leads to boring poetry that feels very restrained to me, poetry that seems involved in a humanist idea of interiority.

Now, there’s probably more that could be said about “sincerity”, but I understand where he’s coming from on this.  I do also think, to go further, that it’s eminently possible for an awareness of the limitations of language and a desire for sincerity to play off of each other and for these different impulses and awarenesses to coexist in a successful work of art.  In their essay “Notes on Metamodernism”(2011), Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, while among the voices sounding the death-knell of postmodernism, allow that the metamodernist paradigm that now supersedes it moves between different poles: “metamodernism oscillates . . . between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, . . . unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity. . . . One should be careful not to think of this oscillation as a balance however; rather, it is a pendulum swinging between . . . innumerable poles”.  Thus, a possible weariness with “postmodern irony/fragmentation” does not mean one has to (or can) dispense with the awareness of language as a medium.

The only thing is, it doesn’t appear as if Lavorato in Wayworn Wooden Floors is very much aware of this ongoing conversation at all.  Whatever about a “new sincerity”, he seems never to have questioned the “old” one.  While the poem “Recordar” eschews stable truths and end with the lines, “Every word ever written/ is a fiction/ Necessary, pulsating, wondrous/ fiction”, the implications of this are not acted upon in most of the rest of the collection.  “Camino de Santiago”, about the famous pilgrimage route, aims to impart some deeper meaning but ends with a cliché: “It is the miles we amble/ not running from anything/ not searching for anything/ that we find”.  Elsewhere, insights are baldly stated, where they might instead have been implied through the often skilful work of the poem itself.  For example, “Harbour Seal” is rife with engaging imagery, but the need to then deliberately, overtly explain the meaning of this encounter between man and seal (“I thought about the exchange. . .”) left me feeling underwhelmed.

Any book review is subjective, obviously.  I’ve put my cards, or at least some of my own present concerns about poetry, on the table, as much as I can in such a short piece.  Perhaps those with other concerns (or none at all) will be able to read between the lines if they wish, because as much as I find aspects of this book problematic, it is not to say that it lacks merit.  This is the début collection of someone who the biographical information suggests is primarily a novelist.  His powers of description and his obvious facility with words serve him well here, from a “desert of saturate light” (“Swallow”) to the “Sun dangling bald from an unseen wire, gestapo-bulb sway” (“Ninth Street North”).  And who is to say that there aren’t readers out there who simply look to poetry to touch them on some common, comprehensible (“accessible”), quotidian (“daily existence”) level?  The argument is often made that the “difficulty” or “obscurity” of much contemporary poetry is what has led to its marginalization.  I don’t think it’s at all as simple as that, but perhaps for many this is true.  If Wayworn Wooden Floors is somehow able to reach a wider audience than the dwindling one that “experimental,” “avant-garde” or “other” poetry has supposedly been reduced to, if it can touch the broad swath of people that the phraseology of its back matter suggests is its goal, then I would certainly be happy for it.
Michael S. Begnal’s new collection is Future Blues (Salmon Poetry, 2012).

Monday, 15 October 2012

Happy Hour: An Appreciation

Drinkers may be sad to know this is an appreciation of a new poetry collection from Northern Irish poet Andrew Jamison (Gallery Books, 2012) and not a toast of the pleasures of imbibing cheaply from 5-7 pm, perched on stools, scoffing greasy peanuts.  It's not a review, but a brief mention.  Reviews are fine - I publish them and write them - but sometimes, one comes across a book that one loves, and the best thing to say is, I want to share this with you friends.  Happy Hour is not a great title, to be honest.  It does the wonderful book no favours, because it implies a sort of glibness, that the book goes well beyond.  But again, perhaps it signals at some lightness of touch, that is present; to me, it confirms too easily stereotypes of the Irishman in New York, carousing - and indeed, there are poems about New York, and bars, here (Auden was here).  The title is not the point, though.  Jamison is one of the best younger Irish and British poets now writing, judging from this splendid book.

I think the surprisingly impressive thing about these poems is how they explore ideas of nostalgia, love, longing, home sickness, travel, employing almost traditional lyric style (with echoes of Heaney, and Mahon) - but manage to twist free of the commonplace, striking a newly minted tone again and again.  There is a weary classicism in poems like 'Of All Things' which ends: "and the sunlight comes and the sunlight goes/ and the world is a world of all things and shadows."  This philosophy of restatement of the observed obvious, is not simply the strategy of turning the commonplace into the rare, but a witty teasing out of the implications of a lot of what passes for wisdom or thought in poems these days.  Jamison takes the given conditions, and pushes them, rhetorically, that little bit further, showing us he knows poems are true as often as they are also artifice, knowing artifice.  His sense of poetic beauty achieves its height in the two line poem 'Lagan from the Ormeau Bridge' which Muldoon or Heaney would have been pleased to write: "You'll know when a sculler has been on the river:/ the two-oared scuffed water catches, turns silver." Scuffed is the brilliant word here - and note that the light is only described secondhand.  Its effects are given, is all.

Autumn plays a big part in these poems, and only one poem seems really weak to me, with its "zimmer-framing" Old Man Autumn.  Instead, the other poem 'Autumning' is clever and lovely - perhaps the book's key poem, thematically and stylistically, with its "so autumn comes likes summer's broken promise".  Two other very strong poems, ready for future anthologies of the best Irish poetry, are 'Orpheus' and 'The Starlings'.  Surprisingly, Jamison has a lot of time for thinking about popular music, about girls, and about everyday life, in New York, and Belfast, but he also has time, beyond the jazzy colloquial vulgate of things, of the present, to notice and catch how the scuffed is also illuminated.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


Sylvia Plath is a deserved icon of 20th century poetry, so why is it so surprising that a wannabe 21st century icon, albeit of popdom, Lana del Rey, would pose as her for the October Australian Vogue?  Well, it is a little tasteless, it seems to us at Eyewear - and oddly counterproductive for a singer-songwriter who claims to have tatooed the names of Nabokov and Whitman on her body (two men, notice, with reps as pervs - as well as genius).  How much of the del Rey mythos is false was debated - but the doom-mongering seems a courtship with death too far, once she crosses Sylvia's path.  Should we call Ms. del Rey rather Slyvia?  No honour is done to the memory of the poems, nor is a reckless homage requested or required.  This is sheer usury.  Will Lana next pose as Ezry Pound?  For now, she is a dross-dresser.
Lana, Daddy's girl?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Kingston Writing School Autumn Public Events

Kingston Writing School Public Events Autumn 2012

All events are free and open to all students and alumni of Kingston University, London. And the public. Booking a place is not necessary.

Wednesday 31st October 6-8pm JG0001
Lillian Allen
A performance and reading of recent and past work
Lillian is a leading exponent of dub poetry, a highly politicized form of poetry that has been set to music, including jazz, reggae, rock, and more. She has spent over a decade writing, publishing, and performing her work in Canada, the U.S. and England.

Wednesday 21st November 5.30pm-8pm JG0001
Julia Pascal
A screening of ‘The Dybbuk’, discussion and Q & A with playwright Julia Pascal.
Julia’s stage productions Theresa, The Dybbuk (inspired by S. Anski’s original), and A Dead Woman on Holiday were produced in London and on the European mainland over two decades. Moving from Europe to the US, The Yiddish Queen Lear followed after she studied the importance of Yiddish theatre and film on mainstream US culture. This opened at Southwark Playhouse and starred the Warsaw Ghetto survivor Ruth Posner; a main player in her ensemble.

Wednesday 28th November 6-8pm JG0001
Wendy Cope
A reading from poet Wendy Cope as part of Rhythm & Muse Festival in partnership with Kingston Writing School

Wendy received a Cholmondeley Award in 1987 and was awarded the Michael Braude Award for Light Verse (American Academy of Arts and Letters) in 1995. Her poetry collections include Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (1986), Serious Concerns (1992) and If I Don't Know (2001), which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award. She has edited a number of poetry anthologies including The Orchard Book of Funny Poems (1993), Is That The New Moon? (1989), The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems (1998) and The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories (1999) and Heaven on Earth: 101 Happy Poems (2001). She is also the author of two books for children, Twiddling Your Thumbs (1988) and The River Girl (1991).
Contact Laura Bottomley on for more details.

Guest Review: Sergeant on On Cigarette Papers

On Cigarette Papers
by Pam Zinnemann-Hope

The unusual nature of On Cigarette Papers is described in a foreword. In 1935 Pam Zinnemann-Hope’s parents – mother German, father German-Jewish – eloped from Nazi Germany to Russia, where they were imprisoned during the Stalinist purges, before escaping to England. Following their deaths Zinnemann-Hope found ‘an archive of letters, photos and objects’ left by her mother; included in these was a tiny pile of cigarette papers on which recipes had been written. These were the launching point for ‘a journey of discovery through [her] parents’ story and the wider story of [her] family.’ Some of the poems are written in her own voice; others take on the voices of her parents and grandparents, and switch between German and English.
Unsurprisingly, given the drama, heartbreak and intimacy bound up with this journey, the volume is deeply felt. The poems are written in a sparsely referential, staccato style that hints at the brittleness of these people’s lives and communication, as they are shunted across borders and languages by forces beyond their control. Occasionally the style also hints at, not so much the limitations, as the brute simplicity of the affiliations and identities through which her parents picked their way; as in ‘Oma Leah Hears The News’, which reads in its entirety:
When Kurt and Lottie tell me that they’ll marry
I fall to my knees immediately,

I beg you, please don’t choose my son, Lottie,
I want him to live with me.

Of course I would prefer if you were Jewish!

The absence of lyricism, of the complex music and use of language which normally constitute poetry, gives a sense of the vacuuming gulfs which threatened these people, and in which so much of their story has been lost, despite the poet’s best attempts at reclamation. As if she clutched into the dark for a flower and came back with the tiny shred of a leaf. Recipes, letters and a proclamation from a Borough Council are also folded into the volume, with what seems a minimum of alteration, just the chopping of prose into poetic lines. The volume relies not on any poetic technique or accomplishment but on the immensity of the story from which it arises. Another way to conceive of it is as bulletins from a story we don’t get to read, which perhaps doesn’t even exist anymore – and indeed, Zinnemann-Hope’s talent is strongly novelistic, as she gives a sense of the characters’ individuality, and deftly selects the incidents which form the stepping stones through her river of lost time.
It is this very novelistic quality which also gives one curious effect of the volume, as it vies with the documentary, testimonial function implied by its vocabulary of ‘archive’ and ‘letters’, by the lack of any kind of poeticism, by the individualised first person voices which relay the lives of all the characters, parents, grandparents and poet. Zinnemann-Hope makes clear in her foreword that what follows is ‘her version of the truth’, but still, the admission that her parents barely spoke of what they’d undergone exists in a strange tension with the speaking that follows. In what sense is this letter an actual letter? I found myself thinking, these words words that were spoken or thought? How far is this the poet’s and how far the historical characters’ ‘truth’? The obvious rejoinder is does it matter? but I think that in our culture and in this context it does, though perhaps for no very good reason: hence the furore that accompanies memoirs, however powerful and historically accurate, which turn out to be invented. The issue is particularly pressing for a volume that relies so much on the testifying voice, and whose sparseness is compensated for by documentary history, the power of what actually happened, was said, seen or thought. An afterword entitled ‘Sources’ expands a little further on the division between ‘inspiration and information’ in some of the poems, as with this note:
The letter Grossvater Erich wrote to my mother (in German) is in the archive. ‘It’s been thirteen years since I heard from you’ is the only quote, though he does mention his cough.
It’s a slightly disconcerting experience to then have to rejig in our memory the poem to which this note refers, ‘Translation Of A Letter From Grossvater Erich, To My Mother’, in which the man’s voice recounts memories such as these:
When you were here
I took you to the Bulgarian forests.
That’s where my memories gather
They gather mushrooms;
They gather some for me and some for you.

Were these forests mentioned, like ‘the cough’? Were the mushrooms? And to this end, and in something like these words? Of course, we understand through stories, we remember through stories; our sense of other people’s lives is often a compound of fact and fiction, ‘translated’ through ourselves. And perhaps this is Zinnemann-Hope’s point, that what she calls in the foreword her ‘sense of identity’ is fluid and malleable and has to be built up – can be rebuilt – from the materials available. But it’s a strange way of ‘holding a conversation’ with the dead, a phrase that grows stranger the more it’s thought on. How do they answer back? How do they think? Whose voice are we actually hearing, and how
David Sergeant, born in 1979, is a British poet published by Shearsman.


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...