About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is among the most read British poetry blogzines, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers, and vice versa. Eyewear blog is archived by The British Library. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

THE NEW BILLY IDOL ALBUM

Susan Sontag told us all we need to know about camp, and then we got to hear about it again, this time called the post-modern, and since then, with the digital mash-up world of timeless everything under the sun, it's become the "so bad it's good" meme. Well, regardless of Adorno, I love the new Billy Idol album, just out.

The thrill of nostalgia and horrified joy I feel at discovering the songs here are expertly tooled trash, no worse than his mastersong 'Flesh for Fantasy' - equally OTT, performative, queerly wild, uber-flamboyant rock-punk nonsense - can only be tempered by recognition that this is immaturity talking, this is a 48-year-old pudgy uni lecturer talking, a privileged white boy-man wanting to escape from the Ebola-ISIS-UKIP shitstorm raging in reality. And, that his voice is broken on so many late nights in rememberhimville, he might be 80, not from the 80s.  So what? He admits he was a druggie and preposterous.

There are so many pop-rock hits here it's as if Iggy Pop and Gary Numan had all agreed to work with Jon Bon Jovi, Jim Kerr and Trevor Horn to tool a rock-synth album of sheer swaggerring cheese.

Yes, when he says he needs you to save him now, when he complains of priests, and the law, mentions shooting up in bathrooms, says he was on MTV baby high as the moon, and shrieks like it is yet another good day for a white wedding, I can only assent. Is it bad? Maybe. Is it state of the art outrageous catchy 80s-era Billy Idol camp? Yes.  So, that wins for me. He is still around, still a king and queen of the underground. It is sort of touching. I dig your rebel sounds, Billy.

GUEST REVIEW: WILLIAMS ON SULEYMAN

Outside looking on is Chimene Suleyman’s debut collection and a fantastically well-crafted one at that.  Judging by the blurb and praise on the back of this book I was certain I was going to be able to rip this collection apart for its clumsy and eager nods to its influences; ‘The tall, glass monoliths are lonely as the characters who exist around them’. I thought I was dealing with a third rate Larkin cum Morrissey enthusiast; I was very wrong.

The poems in this book are witty, intimate, and direct; not bashful or pathetically comedic. Suleyman has managed to create a voice which is at home in the dangerous environment of the city and yet secretly envious of the suburbs and beyond ‘I hate the countryside, it’s designed badly’. But I did not find this voice self-loathing or melodramatic.  Further, I feel Suleyman has found her technique early on, and already I see the makings of an easily recognisable voice in contemporary poetry.   Of course those before mentioned influences are noticeable; I feel the movement in general may be a regular touchstone for Suleyman. 

Onto the poems.  The collection follows the story/stories of narrators living in the epicentre of Canary Wharf.  Throughout there are poems regarding lost love, work and family.  Suleyman’s strength is her ability to write penetratingly; when issues of racism or sexism appear in the book, they arise not from a clear detailing of a character’s personality but of subtle retelling of their actions.  In 'The Passenger' the backstory of a fellow commuter, a waitress and mother of two, is given the most apt touch.  The young woman is harassed by drunken male customers and one ringleader in particular ‘”I am sorry for my friends,” he points at suits and reaches for her breast’. The atmosphere is captured perfectly and Suleyman relents from exploring the perspective or personality of any other character further than their interactions with the hassled waitress.   There are antagonisms over race dealt with the same exceptional narrative; in ‘The Altercation’, (a poem presumably ending the ‘Boss’ sequence of poems), the narrator recalls what an argument was not about; ‘It was not entirely, because of his tone’. The poem ends with the obvious difference of opinion between narrator and antagonist ‘On a platform above Millwall stadium were minarets where you imagined them’.

Suleyman’s attention to detail is thorough throughout the book. In ‘Take the Time, Heron’ the surrounding cityscape is described in the most wonderful and familiar means Beside us, the perfect outlines of a glowstick town’.  The backdrop of the city in this book is never one of grandeur or reverence or even of disdain or resent, just the constant illumination we all recognise as if trees in a wood.  Suleyman may be one of the early voices to recognise man as part of nature, that means city included, and though one causes destruction to the other; boundaries are interwoven and overrun.

In short, this is a very strong body of work for a first collection. Suleyman captures big ideas in short vignettes without compromising any detail or direction of plot.  In the introduction to the book Suleyman writes ‘Aren’t we all lost and missing?’ The concept of this book therefore is to remind us of our collective existence in an environment we find both hostile and comforting.  Suleyman’s poems do just that. 

AG Williams is an editor at Eyewear publishing (intern post), and a frequent reviewer here at the blog.  He is a graduate of Durham, and a poet.

THE POET'S QUEST FOR GOD LAUNCH TO BE DELAYED UNTIL SPRING 2015

There is always sadness at the idea of delaying a major cultural work - but also, hope, and greater possibility. As readers of Eyewear's blog will know, I have long tried to discuss and consider poetry within the cultural contexts of popular music and film, among other artifacts of our time. Many albums and films are delayed by their producers and directors - by the artists involved - to get things right.

I had to consider the facts.  We lost most of our staff early in 2014, when our wealthy (and fickle) European patron suddenly announced he'd lost all his money on the stock market; and I spent the summer months reassembling a smaller freelance team; we're just now slowly back to speed, hampered of course by a very tight budget. The campaign to raise funds for this anthology was quite successful (although in the end it yielded less than anticipated) - but £4,000 barely covers the printing and layout costs for a 500 page hardcover anthology, let alone postage and launch and pr.

The main concern was editorial. For whatever reasons, a recent email of the PDF to contributors yielded replies indicating hundreds of typos and formatting errors - perhaps over a thousand.  Permissions remain tricky in a few cases.  The Intro is written, but biographies need to be edited.  And, last month I received several important poems I felt could and should be added.

Finally, this is not a Christian, even a religious book, per se - it is a questing one - and I felt that a spring launch was more open and apt, than the Christmas feast period, for its themes.

And, we had not yet managed to get the book into shops - with this added time, we can plan a better series of readings and launches, get it to the funders, into shops, and produce the world class and definitive book of over 400 poets, we want this to be.

If Eyewear Publishing Ltd was funded by an arts council, a millionaire, or was part of a larger publishing conglomerate, we could hire more editors and designers to make things happen sooner - but it is a small hardy band of rag-tag lovers of poetry and books and design - freelancers all, headed by me, a full-time lecturer, and full-time poet. As it is, we managed to publish 24 hardcover poetry books, four hardcover prose works, and two paperbacks - 30 editions in total - over the past 3 years! Not bad for a little press.

Since poetry does not sell well, we mainly survive on bank loans and some generous small gifts from crowdfunding. It is a labour of love. Labour takes time, let us love properly.  In the fullness of time. I apologise to any poets or pre-purchasers who feel disappointed. You will be glad to see how great the final product will look.

Wynn Wheldon's memories of Dannie Abse, the great Welsh poet who died recently

DANNIE ABSE
by Wynn Wheldon

I met Dannie Abse when I was very young.  He and his wife Joan were always guests at my parents’ Christmas Party.  Dad and Dannie had met at a reception given for an American war correspondent.  Dannie was just about to leave when my father, who was a stranger to Dannie, called over, “You Welsh Jew! Let me take you out to lunch”.  They went to a posh restaurant, where Dad ordered an avocado for Dannie, as he had never had one before. Dannie told me this story on three separate occasions, always with a chuckle. And Joan, it turned out, had been at LSE at around the same time as my mother.  So there were Connections.
Invariably, they would bring a book to the party, one of Joan’s anthologies or Dannie’s latest novel, collection or memoir.  He was spry and amused and intelligent and small and handsome; his characteristic demeanour was a kind of wry cheerfulness. He was, after all, a lifelong socialist.
He was also curious.  He had the doctor’s curiosity (he was a chest surgeon) and the poet’s curiosity, and these two curiosities complemented each other in his poetry.  The provable world hosted the improvable.  There was no subject beyond the range of his poetry.
I kept in touch with Dannie, sending him my own stuff from time to time.  He was always generous both with praise and criticism.  I saw him read occasionally.  He came to dinner and we talked about restaurants in the Finchley Road.
The last time I saw him read was at the T.S. Eliot awards do at the Festival Hall (his book, Speak, Old Parrot, was shortlisted and should perhaps have won.  He was thrilled to be on the list).  The reception was generous and warm.  It was impossible not to be fond of Dannie.  One of the poems he read was ‘Cats’, which I’m prepared to predict will become a popular favourite.  It isn’t his greatest poem, but it does what poetry does so well – turns the mundane into the universal, while at the same time being a portrait of the artist himself: who is – who was - a modest, funny, generous man, and a poet to remember. Look it up.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Guest Review: Willington on Spurrier

Alice Willington reviews
The Pilgrim’s Trail
by Frances Spurrier

The Pilgrim’s Trail is a short collection of 49 poems. Like the pamphlet form, it has benefitted from distillation; each poem here has sufficient weight and the collection is good enough for a reader to take the time to read and re-read it. Many of the poems examine the past, such as 'Commercial Road' and 'What finished the Romans in Britain', and in these it is as if the narrator is a visitor in a museum or a hall of statues; however what differentiates the poems is the degree to which the poetic persona begins to interact with the past being examined. A statue does actually come to life in 'The Return of Mrs Odysseus', when such interaction begins, 'as you beckon she unfolds herself – steps forward.' However, some of the ground occupied by Spurrier is not so much a dialogue with the past as a fight to the death to save life from the ghosts which would claim it.

In 'Sea Level', which was the poem I returned to again and again as I read the collection, the past is 'the suck and clutch of sand', and it is guarded by the screams of 'every damned tern and kittiwake', but the narrator, even as she nets her 'haul of memories', is trying desperately to stay alive:

                The churchyard is full of names, there are many ways to join them:
                 fishing Is one, drinking another, mourning a third.
                 I fish, I drink, I mourn, yet I am trying not to add my name to that eternity.

The image of screaming birds recurs in the poem 'Scene by the River'. Time has passed, from a mythic beginning in a garden 'with damson and apple', to a city of vodka, rags and rage. The image which also recurs is the image of powerful, uncontrollable water. The Thames in the poem is:

                 ……swollen with rain,
                flowing so fast even the swans are turning circles,
                paddling without purpose in the reckless current.

Water breaks into the home with violence; in 'The importance of boats and rainbows in exceptional circumstances'…. a “deluge” of rain pours into houses “with hilarity”; in 'Cuthbert loses his cool' ravens have torn the thatch off his roof and he can’t keep dry. Yet, in the title poem 'The Pilgrim’s Trail', the sea and the land are woven together as Aidan crosses the sand so that “all may pass”. The poem is expressing hope, but Aidan is moving swiftly because he can “hear the sea following him” and the tide is covering his trails. The fear of the sea, and the failure to come to accommodation with it is expressed again in a re-telling of the Selkie myth in 'Selkie'. For Spurrier, is the sea the world of the dead, the world of the past? In 'Elegy for Diabag', in which the poet tries to “solve the mystery/of belonging” and a ghost from the time of the clans appears, the road to the sea ends at Diabag, a hamlet which “grieves its loss of souls”


The hinterland of the past, and the world of the dead, is ground similar to the poems of Jamie McKendrick, but what characterises McKendrick is his laconic and humourous narrator. Wit sometimes surfaces in The Pilgrim’s Trail, as in 'What Tom said to the witch', and 'Cuthbert loses his cool', and when it does there is an increase in clarity of imagery and cohesion of slant rhyme. I wanted a lot more of this. In addition, one habit Spurrier should lose is that of using an explanatory single line to close ('Radiocarbon Dating' and 'Thought-weeds'), as it has the effect of dampening down the excellent sense of mystery achieved in these poems.

Alice Willington reviews regularly for Eyewear, and is a British poet.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A.G. Williams on Robin Richardson's Poetry

Robin Richardson’s collection Knife throwing through self-hypnosis is a marvel to read.  Packed full of mystery and half detectable narratives, one could spend hours trying to unpack poems such as ‘Thora the pilgrim’ or ‘Mike pooh’s palliative unit’ in an attempt to find the source of the work. But one rarely does, such is the brilliance of this book, Richardson is an adept trickster who very acutely conjures up allusions to wider stories in her work that may not even exist outside the context of footnotes (I’m referring to the so-called “The life and times of Dzovits the volcano dweller”, the attributed source for ‘Thora the Pilgrime’ and ‘Thora at thirteen’ in particular).   

One particular aspect of ‘hypnosis’ I found revealing for this work, is ‘hypnosis’ as therapy ‘to recover suppressed memories’ OED.  And this is exactly the quintessential nature of these poems. Richardson’s ‘found poems’ “The pilot of 146’, ‘overheard in New York’ aren’t as solid as any others in the book, but they exemplify Richardson’s stripped down narration (cutting out the BS as is said in the business).  The liquid nature of the allusions in character backstories such as ‘Mercutio – a family history’ represent Richardson’s intriguing and sprawling approach to memory (it is no coincidence that one possible etymological source for the name of Shakespeare’s character is ‘mercurial’). 

Richardson doesn’t compromise her approach over substance when tackling pop culture either (unlike some writers I’ve reviewed recently); one of the great delights of this book is ‘Princess Leia to a lovesick Stormtrooper’ which  doesn’t at all fold under its cry to the heart for those of others a little too ready to ignite our lightsabers.  There are even sexual readings of Peter Pan; Wendy is frequented by the fantasy of the boy wonder ‘A thimble-worth of semen spotting the chin. Again she let him in. Again he left his shadow loitering’.

Richardson knows how to pull a punch without cramming her narrative full of poetry-words. ‘Jerry Springer: colour chart’ is a fine character assassination without sententious or bitter taste ‘When he takes his hand out to flash the middle finger there’s a rainbow’.  ‘The second-coming: I’m afraid of everything’ is terrifying in its flirtations with banality;

 ‘Polanski’s muse, Rosemary’s second son, or something worse like nursery ghosts come back to haunt the mom that let them teethe on Chinese lead’.

The same effect occurs in ‘Portrait in Translucent Ink’;
 
'I’d scratch my calves through the bone if left too long to my own devices’.

One might sound appropriation alarms, but I’m still as unsure to where the offense would lay, Richardson is elusive in both tongue and touch. 

My conclusion is that this is a very refreshing collection of work. Richardson’s poems are full of sprawling allusions though contained in tight lines; never allowing for excessiveness.  I will be returning to all of the poems in this book as I feel I’ve only just scrapped the surface in my first few reads.   Yet this is already one of my favourite books of the year.


Williams is an editor at Eyewear; a poet; and a graduate of Durham University.

Friday, 10 October 2014

END TIMES?

Those of us who grew up reading Nostradamus, and paperbacks predicting the Beast was coming soon, to end the world, and anyone who ever saw the film The Rapture, will know what I mean when I say, it has been getting a bit Apocalyptic lately. Yes, it is true, all times in world history have been "bad", more or less, for most people.  But the news that the Ebola virus, arguably the most horrible infectious disease since The Bubonic Plague (and more deadly), has become entrenched in three capital cities in West Africa is sinister.  And, the almost total collapse of order in the Middle East.  As well as near-catastrophic environmental problems, species extinction, and of course, a startling rise of extremely violent anti-woman porn across all Internet platforms - it all adds up to Dark Times.  Are these the New Dark Ages?  We do seem to be facing a world of war, pestilence, plague, famine, and increasing heat (with flooding on the way).  The 21st century seems, at present, to be heading to Hell. What to do?  Well, it might help if we all tried to get along and be nicer to each other on Facebook, but frankly, that sounds a bit meek, doesn't it?  There likely needs to be a revolution in sensibility, a change in vision, for the vast majority of humankind, before real change can be effected, and that won't, at the very least, halt the Ebola virus.  I am worried.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

GUEST REVIEW: BAXTER ON NEPVEU

Jamie Baxter reviews
The Major Verbs
by Pierre Nepveu

The Major Verbs is the translation of Pierre Nepveu’s award winning collection Les Verbes Majeurs, translated by Donald Winkler. The collection consists of three sequences: one focused on a woman, a night cleaner, on the subway, another considers a group of stones on a table and the third is dedicated to the poet’s parents. The book ends with a poem written in the America southwest.

The first section examines the woman on the subway, her life, her job, her place in the world as well as the poet’s own loneliness while attempting to connect with a stranger without interacting with them.
The woman asleep in the subway
trails into dawn
her nightlong chores.

The first three lines of the collection shows the effortless tenderness poet and translator have succeeded in creating in the first section of the book. Nepveu paints the office-scape where the cleaner works as bleak and at times frightening with ‘fax machine’s sudden stuttering’ and ‘ravenous vacuum cleaner maw’ where ‘chill winds come from unseen ducts’. The poet patiently shows us this woman’s unseen toil after the working masses have left whom she does not speak to ‘not even to ask directions’. But the section does not end with this intimate portrait but interrogates the poet’s relationship to the woman noting,
..I’ve only the ardour
of the ancient troubadour
who on horseback implored the void
to be beautiful and to become a poem

But the Nepveu is never in danger of descending into hysteria and speaks in the woman’s voice to say, ‘I didn’t see you’ and even more adeptly, ‘even if I had/ you would be absence itself and forgetfulness’.

The second section is ‘Stones on a Table’ and these stones are the direct consideration of the first few poems in the sequence where Nepveu probes these simple objects to find something elusive,

I sensed there a refusal,
a stellar eternity
holding itself cold and dense.

In the following poems the stones become a mere presence, a prop in an unhappy relationship, ‘On the table between the two of us/the stones weigh heavy’. The poet continually sets sweeping statement against the most delicate of details which gives these poems, and indeed the whole book, an exceptional breadth and depth which is hard not to marvel at as well as enjoy.

The third section of the book is full of loss, punctuated with haunting and images such as, ‘I see time/unstitch in their eyes’. The poet accuses his mother, ‘she let/ the television’s cathode glow/ penetrate her through and through,’ giving the anger that grief often contains a poetic outlet. Nepveu masterfully succeeds at creating a book with a life of its own which unflinchingly examines every aspect of life, leaving you with a new, beautiful way of describing it all.

Jamie Baxter is 25, living and working in London and after graduating from Durham University. He has been published in Astronaut and The Delinquent and on the Cadaverine and Pomegranate.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Protrad Grant

Eyewear is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of the prestigious Protrad Grant, awarded by the Mexican National Fund for Culture and Arts, to publish a 3-book series of novellas by leading Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin, renowned for his imaginative reinvention of the Latin American narrative.

BACK FROM CHICAGO

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of poetic activity and publishing business, in Eyewear and the wider world, notwithstanding the claim made by the boy in Heaven Is Real that "no one wears glasses in Heaven". First, the good news that deserving poets Kei Miller and Liz Berry won Forward prizes.

And National Poetry Day (in UK) saw Eyewear's new autumn titles Skinless and For The Chorus leap off the printing presses - we have a big launch at the LRB October 15th.  Meanwhile, sadly, the great Welsh poet, who I enjoyed working with on several Oxfam projects, Dannie Abse, died. Also, Nik Beat died suddenly, in Toronto - he was an instrumental poet and poetry activist for decades in that scene, and a kind, supportive, very cool guy, with a great voice, and some superb outlaw poetry.

And, I was in Chicago and Detroit for a week, in support of a new USA Selected, from feisty indie press Marick (Michigan), and a lengthy review/ essay in the October Brit issue of world-class mag Poetry.  I had the chance to meet and read with some excellent poets along the way.  I should add, Chicago has the greatest steak, pizza, built environment, and Poetry Foundation, I know of. Super friendly folks too.  And it was great seeing the Cubbies play at Wrigley.

And, now the news that Eyewear Publishing has received a large grant from the Mexican government to publish translations of three novels by major author Mario Bellatin, often spoken of as a potential Nobel winner... very exciting.

As well, we have new prose works from Alfred Corn, Mark Ford, our first paperback poetry title from David Shook, more launches, our first paperback novel hitting shelves end of October (and airing on the BBC), and all things Eyewear are looking up.

I need to update this blog soon with more reviews, features, and commentaries, but for now, thanks for reading.