About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blogzine, 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, 8 April 2014

A NEW POEM BY TODD SWIFT ON HIS 48TH BIRTHDAY

I've been writing poems again lately, now that I feel rather unmoored - it's been a decade or more since I was not teaching or studying or both at a university somewhere in Europe.  I posted a poem to facebook the other day that I may post here at some stage.  Turning 48 today is a mixed dish of sweet and sour.  I am very grateful and relieved to be alive.  My wife is a saint and a great friend.  I run a cool indie press.  However, my depression is bad, and I am facing lots of unspoken trials and tests currently, personal, and otherwise.  I decided to write this poem when I saw the title of a forthcoming album.  It made me want to try a "classic Todd Swift poem" from my early Montreal chapbook years, the kind of poem I might have written in 1994.  Fans (ha!) of my work will note this touches on a lot of the tropes and themes I enjoyed working with in Budavox, all the way back then; and the aim I had at the time to craft poems with the style and simple pleasing form of a ska or power pop/ new wave song.  Have fun!


MYSTERY GIRL DELUXE
It was never quite the kiss or weather.
We fell down after reading together
Simply since love is a matter of fact
At Easter; it often follows the act
Of indiscipline, the shifting feathers
That transform a swan; bars of leather
Were not our scene, but we attacked
Ideas of unison with underage tact.
We ached to wake up as F. Kafka;
Cherry-balmed lips the morning after.
It was sub-zero that April in Montreal;
The metro was blue; the turnstile
Saw us part, Walkman’s synchronised
To Orbison’s dream tears in our eyes.


April 8, 2014
poem by Todd Swift
 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

TRUE DETECTIVE, THE UNCANNY MASTERWORK OF AMERICAN TELEVISION

We live in the Renaissance of the Dramatic Television Series - everyone knows the list to trot out: The Sopranos, The West Wing, The Wire, Damages, even Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards (American version), The Killing, The Bridge, and, of course, the badass Shakespeare of our time, Breaking Bad. This is not news. This is the given world of our time - television drama is as good or better than any novel or play a contemporary master can throw at us.

There is no book by Philip Roth, or Martin Amis, or Atwood, or play by Stoppard, or Wilson, any better than The Wire or Breaking Bad.  Maybe as good.  Not better. I therefore did not expect the crowning achievement of this whole excess of excellence to be an 8-part series starring two actors who I rather disliked until a year ago - Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Then came True Detective.

There will be no spoilers here.  I am not going to say much - it has all been said.  But let me say it again, because I love this show, and at the end of it, feel as strangely shaken as only the greatest cultural events have left me.  This is a masterwork of intertextuality and genre artistry - on the one hand, as its title suggests, it draws on the rich vein of American pulp detective fiction from the 20s to the 60s, which emerged into film as noir; and there are nods to early Kubrick, Welles and Lang, in the style, as well as the post-modern noir expert, David Lynch.  Lynch introduced onto TV with Twin Peaks the idea of metaphysical detection, as it were - the uncanny meeting the banality of police work.

This was not a new idea, per se, mystery and horror meeting.  Sherlock Holmes had faced evil, or potential evil, in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Chandler had all along seen Marlowe as a knight errant, and the knights, of course, came up against supernatural antagonists, from The Green Knight, to the monsters and magicians of The Quest of the Holy Grail. The Wicker Man, too, had seen a policeman up against devil worship; and The Kill-List more recently updated that idea to include hit men hunting Satanists. And, then, again, the X-Files suggested the idea of an investigative pair searching out horror; and that was partly based on the Silence of the Lambs world. And let us not forget Angel Heart.

So, the elements involving a partnership of differing tormented cops, hunting a serial killer associated with evil, in a wasted land setting (here Louisiana after Katrina) are not original to the writer; nor is the Southern Gothic overlay of Bible Belt fire and brimstone tent preaching, or titty bar cheap sex and cornpone Southern detectives and deputies.  All this is a given imaginative landscape.

We have read Tradition and the Individual Talent.  This grail myth moves the canonical works around to make way for its advance on what has come before.  No TV show I have ever seen has introduced so many unusual, cutting-edge, and startlingly disturbing philosophical ideas into a cop show, even one facing evil as the enemy.

For instance, - and I am an educated man - I was unfamiliar with anti-natalism. I did not know of Thacker's ideas of the Horror of Philosophy; or Benatar's idea of "the harm of coming into existence" or indeed the ultra-nihilism of Brassier.  The author of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto, did more than replay the tired existential tropes of the original noir shows. Instead he plotted a terrifying narrative discourse, which allows the viewer to see and feel and test these variously chilling arguments for the futility of human experience; while exploring moral challenges, and themes, mainly of love, friendship, fidelity, honour, and duty.

The confrontation between light and dark is as old as Greek legend and thought - it is of course the pagan classical backdrop to all Western culture. But enfolding this is reference, as well, to the weird tales and mythologies of Bierce, Lovecraft and Chambers, whose work the King in Yellow from 1895, is a sort of gloss for the whole series., which starts, tellingly, in 1995.  Horror, philosophy, and narrative dramatic TV, had not been put together this well, I think, until True Detective, whose shocks, reversals, and ultimately weird and potent ending, take us as far into Grendel's dark lair as any hero has gone before.

None of this quite explains the devil's brew aspect, how it has all come together so magisterially, leaving a real metallic taste on my tongue, a sulphuric frisson.  The world looks much more rich and strange after this series. You must see it, despite the trigger-points lurking within. As a Catholic, I enjoyed having my theology tested against the extreme mood of nihilism haunting the bayous and the stinking burn-out churches.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

POETRY FOCUS: LISA MARIE BASILE

Smoking is bad for you; poetry is good for you.  Balances out?
Eyewear is very pleased, thrilled, even, to share with you a few poems by an American poet who we adore, and not just because she wears the coolest glasses ever. She is one of the most provocative and promising of poets we've come across lately.

Lisa Marie Basile (pictured) comes from the bloodline of Giambattista Basile, the Italian fairy-tale writer. She is a graduate of The New School’s MFA program for creative writing in NYC. The author of Andalucia (The Poetry Society of New York) and Triste (Dancing Girl Press), her newest chapbook, war/lock, is out from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. Recently, Noctuary Press, run from University of Buffalo, accepted her full-length poetry collection, APOCRYPHAL.

Her work can be seen in PANK, kill author, Johns Hopkin’s The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, decomP, Saudade Review, La Fovea, Prick of the Spindle, elimae & Pear Noir! among many other publications. She is the founding editor of Luna Luna Magazine, a women’s culture, lifestyle and art website. She also edits Patasola Press, a micropress that focuses on emerging, established and female writers. She is an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.

if the memory went my way
 
the child me        [the me that is not me]
would be stuffed inside a woman-wife
 
as she carries two bouquets:
one from my father and one from me.
 
i am inside my mother.
the me that is not me.    the future me
 
born of the kind of love
that sneaks up on you.
 
we bring flowers to those who lose something,
but what if we preempted their loss--
 
would it make the heart hurt less?
could i comfort her before my birth,
 
a sort of starstuff that sacrifices
its own existence
 
to spare a woman some pain?
if only she knew how to avoid it:
 
the aisle draped in calla lillies & mache lantern
in chantilly lace and audacious hemline.
 
her waist is a meadow, but she hid it;
the small sacred burst of pain
 
red wine flowing free between two summer legs
on a sepia summer day.
 
we will love eachother endlessly
even if i have inherited her weaknesses.
 
  
father
 


this is my muted apricot & green mythology
the hum of power lines
children with tincan secrets
a girl naked, hilltopped,  with snowwhite tits
touching boys   
stolen Treasurer cigarettes
& high red underwear.
me.        Lolita me.            me with bubblegum
& magenta.                         i’m on the white pony
& he is so much bigger than what he really is:
fat            unbuttoned shirt                            
bald-headed silver specked,
a perfect god.

GUEST REVIEW: VADHER ON MOHANTY

Snehal Vadher reviews
Five Movements in Praise
By Sharmistha Mohanty 

 
“The land rises and falls, a geological breath.” So begins Sharmistha Mohanty’s new book, and from that moment on, the language remains acutely perceptive to time embedded in our experience of the world. Five Movements in Praise is Mohanty’s third book of fiction, in which she continues on the journey begun in her first book, Book One, an exploration of storytelling itself through fragmented narratives. Although this phrase suggests postmodernist tendencies, the values and aesthetics of Mohanty’s work are far from those observed in works classified under that label.

For one, we see her trying to form continuities out of the disjointed and disparate pasts, rather than play with them through pastiche. A relentless force is at work in Mohanty’s prose to bring closer, to buttress, times and spaces far from one another. So the story of Manaku, a Pahari painter living in the early 1700s, is placed right next to one in which a traveler crosses the endless, mythological night of a painting of Radha and Krishna by one of Manaku’s own predecessors. Similarly, the story of an old man who frequents an Irani cafĂ©, whose owner sits reading Li Po, is placed next to one of a pujari of a shrine at a street corner, outside which, once its doors shut in the evening, “women and eunuchs blossom.”

What Mohanty achieves by doing this is exactly what Manaku finds he has achieved in his painting, in the above-mentioned story:

“It was a mistake that made him see, slowly, that brought him to a belief he never had before. That each thing in his painting was equal, as it was in the landscape in which he moved, none diminished by the other, freed from a hierarchy imposed only by the eyes.”

As the reader accompanies the narrator through the book’s varied terrain, reflected in the titles of the five movements—Town, Forest, City, Caves and Landscapes—Mohanty dexterously situates not only times and spaces but also discourses on the same plane, placing philosophical meditation next to kitsch and the surreal next to the real, suggesting that there is hierarchy in what we see because there is hierarchy in the ways of seeing. 

 As landscapes are made continuous by the elements of light, rock, air and sky, the discontinuities in discourse are stitched together by a prose that remains restrained yet honest and sincere throughout the journey. Mohanty wields it like a tool, with full understanding of its power, as is evident in these lines:

“In places that are forgotten, the sky goes back a hundred years, then a thousand, then a thousand and eight hundred. It holds up a ruined fort, presses through the stone lattice work of mausoleums, watches from a shaded pavilion. Only sometimes does the land bear a fort, a mosque, a stupa, a line of caves. Otherwise it is empty except for barren hills and scrub.”

 The power of concision often renders the language so abstract that it slips into the realm of poetry and makes Five Movements in Praise an exciting work to read:
 
“I only wanted to go to the other shore,” he says.

“I’ve been rowing all night,” the boatman replies, “and only at dawn can I see that I’m still in the same place.”     

 In a little more than hundred pages, Mohanty manages to create beautiful and haunting landscapes, explore philosophically the idea of the original and convey the brutality of living in contemporary times, when violence has become part of the everyday. Five Movements in Praise fuses the myriad harmonies and cacophonies of life to create a music that is enriching and humbling to listen.  

 
Five Movements in Praise is published by Almost Island Books. 122 pages, £15.53

Friday, 4 April 2014

BRITPOP AND THE NEW GEN POETS

20 years ago, two things happened culturally in Britain - one of which is about to be massively celebrated, the other less so.  They are both somewhat connected.

The first was the official establishment of Britpop as an event in the media, much like The Movement or The Swinging Sixties.  This meant that Blur, Pulp, Suede, Oasis,Elastica and to a lesser degree, a few other bands, spent the second half of the 90s as pop music superstars, soaked in competition, recreational drug use and endless sexual romping - in short, it was 1964 all over again (or Duran Duran's 1984) - and, as other critics have noted, it was not at all like the 80s, where the best indie bands were never about genuine popular acclaim or pop excesses.

I am sure Pixies did have sex with groupies and use drugs, but that isn't the first thing one thinks of when listening to their music.  The British media have been waiting for another such moment ever since, but 2004 didn't bring it, and, in 2014, we have Arctic Monkeys, as some sort of pale successor, not as good as The Beatles, Joy Division, The Smiths, Oasis or even The Libertines - arguably the great bands of their successive decades.

Meanwhile, 20 years ago, there was a Britpoetry moment, when the New Generation was announced, and this was the list:

  • Moniza Alvi
  • Simon Armitage
  • John Burnside
  • Robert Crawford
  • David Dabydeen
  • Michael Donaghy
  • Carol Ann Duffy
  • Ian Duhig
  • Elizabeth Garrett
  • Lavinia Greenlaw
  • W. N. Herbert
  • Michael Hofmann
  • Mick Imlah
  • Kathleen Jamie
  • Jamie McKendrick
  • Sarah Maguire
  • Glyn Maxwell
  • Don Paterson
  • Pauline Stainer
  • Susan Wicks

  • The media briefly tried to make a connection, as if Cool Britannia really had much to do with the new poetry - which often seemed to come from the Midlands or the North (like some of the music) and often also, like Britpop, seemed to be a bit about the state of the nation, and seemed to speak to a wider audience, with a greater sense of communal purpose, than before.

    The list, seen from 20 years later, is like a Who's Who of the elder statespersons of British poetry publishing, and editing, more or less, give or take a few missing names.  But is hardly a pop or cool list per se.  Very few of the poets are forgotten now (Garrett is unfamiliar to me). Sadly a few are dead, including Imlah and Donaghy, arguably the best poets of their generation.

    Another is now Poet Laureate, and another, Paterson, is the Laureate in waiting, if he wants it. Armitage is the superstar among them, along with Duffy - a poet known to all students, and to all who watch or listen to the BBC.  He is a national figure, and is perhaps the most thwarted of them all, because with his sense of music, style, humour, and verve, was (and is) the closest to a Britpop phenomenon - but of course, he had and has the integrity of a genuine poet, and could never really break into a wider mainstream of arenas and screaming fans.  It is poetry, after all, thank goodness. There probably wasn't a bad poet on that list - and their work will, for the most part, last as long or longer than the Britpop music.

    But it wasn't really a new poetry style, like it might at first have seemed.  Anecdotal, usually.  Witty, and imagistic, often.  Accessible, probably.  Edgy, perhaps.  Attuned to new concerns regarding society, diversity, regionalism, the environment, sometimes. But to say where the bearings came from, you'd be hard-pressed to go beyond Larkin, Muldoon, Heaney, Hughes, and Auden, and a bit of Edward Thomas, Andrew Motion, Peter Porter, and Thomas Hardy.

    These were not poets who wrote as if they read or enjoyed Dylan Thomas, William Empson, Charles Olson, or, for that matter, Hart Crane.  They seemed barely touched by Eliot, or Edith Sitwell. Not much Pound, Lorca, or - except for Paterson and Hoffman perhaps - Rilke or BennYeats? Hill? Not much, either.  These were not poets of lyric modernism - these were poets of post-modern lyricism - lyricism as somewhere between a pop song, a game, and a spoken voice.  They weren't poets of rampant innovation, or deconstructed form and language, but neither were they in thrall to the traditions of Milton, or even The Martians.  If they used conceits, it was a mild version of John Donne, and their complexity was never unappealing or too far from the idea of a basic human need to comprehend and be comprehended by, other persons.

    Crawford seems the most political, perhaps, in retrospect, Burnside the greatest nature poet among them; Paterson the master formalist; Duffy the great communicator, the great feminist poet of her age; Alvi a fine post-colonial writer; Herbert, the linguistic genius. I could go on - they each have strengths. These poets have marked out a traditional way of writing poetry that has influenced Canadian poetry a great deal - our leading younger poets are almost entirely shaped by Jamie, Duffy, and Paterson, with Muldoon thrown in. They continue to shape the new poets just writing now - one thinks of major young poet Jack Underwood, whose doctoral work was on Donaghy. Yet, the newest poets seem also freshly unmoored from these poets, and even their successors, who came ten years later - and notably, one the major poet-editor of these times, Roddy Lumsden, is missing, as are key avant-gardists like Keston Sutherland, but still, it is a weighty list:

  • Patience Agbabi
  • Amanda Dalton
  • Nick Drake
  • Jane Draycott
  • Paul Farley
  • Leontia Flynn
  • Matthew Francis
  • Sophie Hannah
  • Tobias Hill
  • Gwyneth Lewis
  • Alice Oswald
  • Pascale Petit
  • Jacob Polley
  • Deryn Rees-Jones
  • Maurice Riordan
  • Robin Robertson
  • Owen Sheers
  • Henry Shukman
  • Catherine Smith
  • Jean Sprackland

  • Which one is Blur?  Which one is Northern Uproar, or These Animal Men, or Shed Seven?  I leave that up to you, dear reader.

    THE DEATH OF COBAIN

    I was too young for the death of Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.  I remember John Lennon's death, of course, but it didn't hit me that much.  I was 16.  But, on my 28th birthday, April 8th, 1994, Kurt Cobain's body was found - that I recall.  I no longer listen to Cobain's music very much.  It is part of who I am, like The Beatles, Metallica, AC/DC, The Stooges, The Smiths, Simple Minds, Joy Division, even Prince, but the music is too rich, too intense, for the everyday listen.  But 20 years ago I was very sad.  It felt like a personal blow - a bit like PSH's recent death - for Cobain was really the spokesperson for my generation.  Why?  Well, he seemed to come from a broken suburban home where abuse, failure and madness had played their part; he had low self-esteem; he loved punk, but he also loved indie (Pixies) and the canon (The Beatles); he even name-checked Leonard Cohen, a Canadian - and, oddly enough, he was very witty.  Also, as befit the Gen-X slacker moment, he didn't care about fame, or money, he actually loved creativity and saw self-expression as something necessary and urgent.  He wasn't, of course, a poet, but compared to the Britpop pack across the water, he sure as hell behaved like one.  Cobain was a visionary genius.  And, in about ten songs, he nailed his mix of humanity, compassion, vicious irony, and pop culture nous in ways that made his band the greatest American group of the 1990s. I suppose I am the Cobain who survived - unsung, to be sure, in comparison, but like many young men of my time I am suddenly on the cusp of 50, and Nevermind seems a long time ago, a time Outofmind more than anything.  Bittersweet to think of it, but I once thought I was dumb and everyone was gay.  And we all drank Pennyroyal Tea.

    EYEWEAR PUBLISHING SUMMER FESTIVAL IN LONDON

    She likes Eyewear!

    Eyewear Publishing is having so many events in May and June that it's almost a summer festival.  More info to follow, but here we have the basics for now, as a teaser:

    MAY 21 - SPRING/SUMMER TITLES LAUNCH AT THE LRB, BLOOMSBURY
    New books launched by Penny Boxall, Mandy Kahn, Rufo Quintavalle, Marion McCready, SJ Fowler, and Floyd Skloot. Special guest reader: the 2014 winner of the Melita Hume Prize.

    MAY 27 - LAUNCH OF TEDI LOPEZ NOVEL, THE MEXICAN RESIDENCE, LONDON

    JUNE 3 - CABARET SHOOK-KAHN, CALBER BOOK THEATRE, THE CUT, LONDON
    Readings by Todd Swift, Mandy Kahn, David Shook, and special acts

    LATE JUNE (TBA) - EYEWEAR 20/20 PAMPHLET SERIES LAUNCHED

    Thursday, 3 April 2014

    A NEW POEM BY TODD SWIFT ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BECOMING A BRITISH CITIZEN


    THE BEST I CAN DO
     
    Please don’t kick me, I’m down

    Please don’t tickle the urchin, I’m down

    Please exacerbate the kiln, I’m down

    Please light the tundra, I’m down

    Please alert the mastodon, I’m down

    Please kindle the vertebrae, I’m down

    Please geographically locate, I’m down

    Please tendril the obo, I’m down

    Please play the pipe-cleaner, I’m down

    Please order the zucchini, I’m down

    Please butter the platypus, I’m down

    Please dust the penumbra, I’m down

    Please grapple with logic, I’m down

    Please staple the orange, I’m down

    Please fling the Listerine, I’m down

    Please invent the zero, I’m down

    Please sand the biplane, I’m down

    Please wrap the sausage, I’m down

    Please decorate the grinder, I’m down

    Please vegetate the astrodome, I’m down

    Please flood the playschool, I’m down

    Please wrangle the horse trader, I’m down

    Please lift the ball gown, I’m down

    Please pulley the minstrel, I’m down

    Please dance the tambourine, I’m down

    Please blackout the ashtray, I’m down

    Please spin the gargantuan, I’m down

    Please speculate on the divine, I’m down

    Please spatula the diamond, I’m down

    Please dear the mine-field, I’m down

    Please forgive the tiptoes, I’m down

    Please kiss the impermeable, I’m down

    Please layer the tropical, I’m down

    Please sunbeam motility, I’m down

    Please clown the Humvee, I’m down

    Please terminate bathos, I’m down

    Please live up to Hercules, I’m down

    Please litigate the first frost, I’m down

    Please coagulate all beacons, I’m down

    Please investigate the pollen, I’m down

    Please solve Rapunzel, I’m down

    Please scatter empty promise, I’m down

    Please kettle-bell sweatpants, I’m down

    Please listen to me sweetly, I’m down

    Please fillet my sweetbread, I’m down

    Please levitate my bone shop, I’m down

    Please sway my two-tones, I’m down

    Please wrack my diphthongs, I’m down

    Please mascot my tumbleweed, I’m down

    Please rocket my lip-gloss, I’m down

    Please lock my locket love, I’m down

    Please leave the party soon, I’m down

    Please part the leaves, I’m down

    Please water the hairdressers, I’m down

    Please book the palace, I’m down

    Please plate the glassblowers, I’m down

    Please outskate the biggies, I’m down

    Please cut a deal then scram, I’m down

    Please flower the piss-pot, I’m down

    Please monopolise the moon, I’m down

    Please drive me round and round, I’m down

    Please wear shades and salivate, I’m down

    Please swoon at rhymes, I’m down

    Please buy Alaska, I’m down

    Please drown the reticence, I’m down

    Please squint the matchstick, I’m down

    Please kid us we’re fine, I’m down

    Please glove the asparagus, I’m fine

    Please stop the hyperplasia, I’m fine

    Please stop the downswing, I’m fine

    Please note I am writing this, I’m fine.