Thursday, 31 January 2013

Ruth Siverns Has Died

Ruth Siverns, once Ruth Bowman, the young fiancee of Philip Larkin, and the subject of some of his key early poems, has died, after a long life that went on without him, just as his poems do; it all seems very sad, somehow, this going on afterwards, and then again, not.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Enemies Project Presents...

Guest Review: Vadher on Indian Poet Narayanan's Latest Collection

Snehal Vadher reviews

by Vivek Narayanan

In Life and Times of Mr S, Narayanan’s second collection of poems, at least two features of his work become established. The first is Narayanan’s deft style in which lived experience is rendered through a densely sensuous and abstract language. This feature reaches an apogee in the scintillating last poem, ‘That Touch Otherworldly…,’ where he writes, “and I swam/ swam in every direction burned/ in pinpricks/ wrung hollow by the night/ and I was one among the ants/ signalling to them/ and even the light green of/ my shirt hurt me…,” (re-)creating the experience of feeling an unborn baby’s kick from outside

The second feature of Narayanan’s work is the relentless reworking of fixed forms, as was amply evident in his first collection, Universal Beach, where he explored the idea of a sonnet of variable line length. This trait becomes more involuted in Life and Times of Mr S, as form, if there has to be one at all, requires excavation by the reader, who has to rely on the most apparent characteristic of the poems: repetition of words. An attempt to note down the repeating words reveals several variants, suggesting the idea, a central one, of repetition as not simply a limiting factor but as one that generates and keeps the tension between the limiting and delimiting tendencies within each poem. Narayanan quietly announces these ideas in ‘A Brief Explanation of Mr S’s Accent,’ when he writes, “Close attention to its/ timbre might allow a new faith in the fact of/ continuous revision.” 

Revisioning and re-creation are traits observable in the constant modulation of voice that occurs in most of the poems in Life and Times of Mr S. Consider ‘Mr S, On First Looking into Parthasarathy’s Cilappatikaram,’ where Narayanan writes: 

which is to say tragedy always in the guise of a stranger an anklet

like some kind of fake identikit

which is to say Mr Subramaniam our friend our friend in our

own image without rein of horse-cart without ticket

to space station

which is to say nevertheless let us not mask our bourgeois difference

which is to say not without the ability to register a certain daily

grateful quota of iota pleasure 

Overlying the connotation of avant-garde play with form (for readers familiar with Narayanan’s work, especially his interest in the Oulipo*) and the Whitman-like expansion of lines (a fact that becomes tangible in reading out the poem), are two other voices audible in this excerpt. One is the echo of chant, referring by default to the Psalms, created by the initial rhyming phrase “which is to say.” The second one is the mock-heroic voice of adventures in the novel form, like the voice of The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman and All About H. Hatterr (the all-encompassing title of Narayanan’s book is a more direct reference to these books) evident in the lines “Mr Subramaniam our friend our friend in our/ own image without rein of horse cart without ticket/to space station.” This of kind of modulation or layering of voices gives rise to the shifty, Gogolian Mr S, the very nature of whose being is play, beginning with his name, which has at least ten versions: “Mr Sub-sub,” “Subraman-i-am,” “Subbu,” “Meester Subra-Teste,” “Subramanearlyunpronounceableanian,” “Subby,” “Master S,” “Mr S,” “Subramaniam,” and “Mr Subramaniam.” It is through the ever-modulating voice of Mr S that Narayanan’s poems achieve a wonderful balance between the playful and the serious, making the book not exclusive to readers of “experimental” poetry but relevant for any reader engaging with contemporary realities. It allows him to write on one of the oldest issues of India in a liberating yet honest manner, in ‘On the Necessity of Speaking of Caste:’ “Always/ the coast of saying too much versus/ the inland of saying little. Often/ the boast of castlessness/ cast about while coarsening/ the mixture in tentative/ proffered proof, corset-/ ripping, habit cleaning, cross-/ questioning each minutae of/ self performance for evidential/ taint…” 

Life and Times of Mr S achieves a playful engagement with cultural and linguistic pluralities we use to create ourselves and it should be read for its bold exuberance, not without self-doubt, in attempting to acknowledge and accept them all.

Snehal Vadher studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at universities in the UK. He teaches literature at school level and conducts creative writing workshops in Bombay. Some of his short short fiction can be found online at nthposition and his poems have appeared in issues of Nether magazine and in the latest issue of Almost Island journal. He maintains a blog ( where he writes about poetry and other literary things.

* Narayanan has reviewed a book of essays by Jacques Roubaud for Eyewear:

Poetry Focus: Jerome Rothenberg

Eyewear is thrilled to feature Jerome Rothenberg (pictured)  at the start of this week, as he is one of the great figures in American poetry.  I've had books of his on my shelves for over thirty years.

He is an internationally known poet with over eighty books of poetry and twelve assemblages of traditional and avant-garde poetry such as Technicians of the Sacred and, with Pierre Joris and Jeffrey Robinson, Poems for the Millennium, volumes 1-3. Recent books of poems include Triptych, Gematria Complete, Concealments & Caprichos, Retrievals: Uncollected & New Poems 1955-2010, and A Cruel Nirvana (just published by SplitLevel Texts). He is now working on a global anthology of “outsider and subterranean poetry” and, with Heriberto Yépez, Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader for Black Widow Press. He has until recently been a professor of visual arts and literature at the University of California, San Diego.


Half dead
is still alive
& half alive is too.
So keep it rolling
I declare.
The others mingle in a room
atop the city
where a fire burns.
They sing.
I sing among them.
Then I push my way through
with my thumbs.
I eke a living
from a stone.
Hard knocks are bound to follow.
I can hear
a water song
close by my ear
& track it
where it leads me.
It is summer
but the trees
are dead.
They vanish with
our fallen friends.
The eye in torment
brings them down
each mind a little world
a cruel nirvana.

poem by Jerome Rothenberg; reprinted online with permission of the author.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Lincoln Bedroom

The film Lincoln, by Steven Spielberg, is without doubt one of the most solemn, grave, and lofty American films ever made - and will, in time, be seen, I think, as one of the greatest American movies, a true gift to its culture.  To comprehend the value and intelligence of this film, and its moral heft, it needs to be compared to two films which in different ways shadow it - The Godfather, and Downfall.  For, if, in The Godfather, we see the utter corruption of the human family, and power used for evil, and, if, in Downfall, we see an embattled wicked leader in the last days of his life conspiring to utterly destroy the world - in Lincoln we see, as perhaps never before so clearly in an historically accurate picture - what a good man, cloaked in immense power, can do, to achieve the highest ideals of human life - that is, equality and freedom for all.  These are not just American ideals, but Greek ones from ancient times - and there is a good case for saying that Lincoln is of the pinnacle of human nature in our history so far, since the time of Socrates, and Christ.  He is, surely, the finest American leader, and a moral giant, easily the equal of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Mandela.  The film is a brilliant juxtaposition of Abe the corny tale-spinner, man, the tired dad, the weary husband, the crafty politico - and Lincoln, the genius of spiritual grace.

And, in certain key moments, as perhaps only in very few lives, we sense, uncannily, that presence of almost religious perfection, within human limits.  There is no doubt the film is a hagiographical exercise.  But it is so drenched in cunning and blood and compromise, it forces us to confront a shocking truth: Lincoln was a giant among us despite being human and corruptible; even as a mortal, who could be shot down, and who sinned - he was great.  The greatness lies in something so moving it is almost unbearable - he chose to pursue an unpopular, untimely vision of emancipation for slaves at a time when there was no political reason or will for it.  Unlike the other side of power, where it corrupts, power, for Lincoln, allowed him to meet his better angels, and fulfil a Christlike vision, for the good of all men and women, everywhere.  I wept in the film - I have never seen a performance like Daniel Day-Lewis' - he was the man, and he made me grieve his death, and rejoice in the miracle of his life.  Not merely an Oscar winner, or Spielberg's greatest film, this is a testament to the goodness within the human, steeped as it is in warlike brutality, rhetorical afflatus, and contemptible vices.  Finally, the symbol of the bed - where husbands and wives meet and share dreams and loss, and joy - and the bed where the great man died - shows us that Lincoln is the bedrock for American hope now.

Harlow In The Wolf

Very good to see a highly positive review of Eyewear's very first collection Midwest Ritual Burning (Morgan Harlow), published last spring, 2012, written by poet-novelist-scholar Paul Perry of Ireland, in the UK's indispensible The Wolf.  In the review, Perry says:

"Morgan Harlow's impressive debut, Midwest Ritual Burning, has an understated and intimate voice.  There is at once a directness and an uncanny quirky lyric side-step in her approach to the poem."

The two and a half page review wraps up:

"A debut collection for Morgan Harlow and a debut collection for Eyewear Press - both are to be commended."

Eyewear Publishing Ltd. was very fortunate to have as a debut such a brilliant American collection.  There are some available from our website, and also at Amazon.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

In Not Out

PM David Cameron has today pledged that, should his party win the next election outright, he will hold a referendum on Britain being in/out of the EU - if the EU does not agree to the UK's negotiating demands.  I've seen this sort of tactic with Quebec - it created economic uncertainty, and damaged the relationship there between provincial and federal levels of government.  Here, it is a worse proposition - for the UK is not an island that can, Reagan style, cowboy it alone.  The UK's natural home is in Europe, for reasons of a cultural, and financial reason.  Little Englandism aside, more is gained by the open borders and trade between Britain and the EU, than is ever lost - just ask the millions of Brits who travel to the continent each year, to holiday, work, or retire.  Tediously, the old cliche is true: relations are a two-way street, but Cameron is positing a dead end.  He must be voted out in 2015.

Guest Review: Clark On Price

Caroline Clark reviews
Small World
by Richard Price

It is rare, I felt on reading Small World, to be so very drawn into the ‘what happens next’ of a book in which the language is often fragmentary. In the past decade I have enjoyed the fragmentary language of writers such as M.T.C. Cronin (beautiful, unfinished, Salt 2003) and the compelling narrative of J.O. Morgan in Natural Mechanical (CB editions, 2009), and here I find a most dexterous combination of the two elements: the fragment with the narrative, the unfinished with the finished.

The small world is that viewed from the bedroom, the wheelchair, contained in drawers, scrapbooks, playground rhymes, a hospital ward. The narrative line, the author’s life, emerges in the details: two daughters (whose beginnings we learnt of in the poet’s previous book Lucky Day), the elder in a wheelchair, then his girlfriend emerging from a coma following a stroke, newly in a wheelchair. The first section of the book contains poems about the girls and home life, and the longest, final section is about the stroke Patient. In between there are two short sections, touching on memory and loss. The narrative details build up across the poems: in one poem we learn of ‘a little big-sister,/ a big little-sister’, and in the next poem, they are given their names and medicine is administered. We read, piece things together. This is enough to keep our narrative lust happy, while are gradually drawn in by the language

The first section is shot through with playground rhymes and rhythms and the poet’s absorption, re-working of them: 

All aboard the wheelchair! The whirled chair!
All aboard the world chair! Small world. Small world.
(‘Little toes’)

It is easy to skim over a few poems, such as ‘Faster!’: ‘Eeny meeny yak yak,’ but even so, such poems contribute to the pace, playfulness and energy of the whole. And when you come to such energy combined with impressive inventiveness and lyricism, it is rather hard to pass on by: 

Steep to good sense, the three gripped the roughcast.
They settled to survey, confer, to attest
(they’re squat little scraps at rest):
from a blue-black sketch-of-a-guess
they solidified to a delegation, a thorough inspectorate of doubt.
(‘House martins’)

Of course, quotes won’t work fully to effect here; and this is very much a book to be read in the right order, as the effect is accumulative. I returned several times to the final three poems in the first section: they are captivating, lyrical and contain some elements that remain elusive, but intriguingly so. Interestingly several of my hesitations, ‘what’s this about?’, were resolved when I listened to the recordings of the poems here: (some in previous versions).

The details that emerge become ever more personal, and in the final section the reader is desperate to simply find out ‘what happens next’. But language must be made to match the task, to match the truth of real life. Here the fragmentary is used to great effect, in half-said phrases, dialogue, a lyrical searching to say a way forward. Rather than fragmentary, perhaps the language is uncut-offable. It won’t be tied down into neat endings or sealed into regular rhyme and rhythm (rhythm, I should add is something at which Price excels).

The use of the / and > signs soon become familiar, a kind of personal punctuation that adds to both the pace and fragmentary nature of some of the poems, hinting at space, things left out. It is the sense of the spaciousness of Price’s language that I particularly came to admire in this book. In his longer poems there is a roominess: nothing is easily locked down into simple structures; the complexity of thought and sensation is given room to be fully expressed, not simplified, yet remain accessible: 

If ‘remember’ can be true there’s an intensity I cannot anchor:
it’s a meeting remaining in its happening,
it was ‘so –’ and, so, it is always so.

These lines come from the poem titled ‘Nimble, oblique’, a phrase that would do very well to describe the language here in general. I haven’t mentioned the humour, the wittiness; quotes won’t do. It is there throughout, as is a boldness of utterance: 

She wakes in war poetry, ache, slow aware.
‘Shrapnelled then.’

She wakes in famine footage, woozy as a foal. A dapper fly
rests on her cheek: he’s whispering church latin.
(‘She wakes in war poetry)

I might call what Richard Price has achieved the new personal. The poems are not burdened with the weight of having to tell what happened. Here, however sorrowful the story, I hope other readers too will feel the energy of language in the making.

Caroline Clark's first collection, Saying Yes in Russian, was published in June 2012 by Agenda Editions.


Alice Oswald

Eyewear Is Pulling Its 100 Best Living British Poets Feature

After some reflection, I think listing "100 living poets" as the best is currently unhelpful.  There are arguably more than one hundred British poets, born since 1993 (as a benchmark), worth reading, and being concerned about.  However, Eyewear stands by its original list, such as it was shaping up to be, and will begin converting these over to the new label: THE EYEWEAR CANON.  The Eyewear Canon will be a celebration of the very best living contemporary poets resident in Great Britain, as of 2013.

Poetry Focus On: Richard Brammer

Richard Brammer (pictured) was born in 1975 in the UK. He is a poet and is also the Editor of Flexipress. His work has previously appeared in Fulcrum, The Battersea Review, Popshot, among other magazines.
The British poet Richard Brammer in no way conforming to the stereotype of the British poet

Death of a Salesman

William Burroughs — ‘Burroughs’ — signs a copy
of The Naked Lunch over to you
not like a baton
on the 4th October 1982, whilst The Smiths
play their first gig at The Ritz
just down the road.

It sat on your gas fire for years
the one you can’t turn on anymore
because it gasses the man next door.



My new pills, remedially labelled
with all the days of the week,
an anti-depressant advent calendar,

I choose Saturday
and pull on my Danish Noir pullover
for the café, the hub of my operation.

I shake sugar into my coffee
— hub, a wheelwright’s word,
first became common currency

in the early nineteenth century,
during a craze for bicycles.

poem by Richard Brammer; reprinted 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...