About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blog-zine of all time, getting more than 25,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005 and has now been read by over 2.2 million.

The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by contributing poets and reviewers. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed immediately upon request.
To order books from Eyewear PUBLISHING LIMITED, go to: www.eyewearpublishing.com

Saturday, 21 November 2015


The Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has had a complex career in Iran. He was born in 1934 to a wealthy family of pistachio farmers , He studied theology with the Ayatollah Khomenei in Quom. When Khomenei took over the government in 1979 Rafsanjani became the first speaker of parliament. During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war he was the de facto commander of the armed services. Thus he was in a position to know about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Hence he has to be taken seriously when he said recently 'When we first began, we were at war[with Iraq] and we sought to have that possibility [nuclear weapons] for the day that the enemy might use a nuclear weapon. That was the thinking. But it never became real.' He then goes on to add, 'We were at war and Iraq come close to enrichment before Israel destroyed it all. Our basic doctrine was always a peaceful nuclear application, but it never left our mind that if one day we should be threatened and it was imperative, we should be able to go down the other path.'

I will analyze the last two sentences. The first sentence seems to me to be entirely confused. On the 7th of June 1981 eight Israeli planes destroyed to so-called Osirak reactor near Teheran. It had been sold to the Iraqis by the French and they named it. Os for the Osiris class and Irak for its destination.It was a small reactor compared say to a power reactor. It generated 40 megawatts of power whereas a power reactor generates a couple of billion. It was fueled by highly enriched uranium -93%-of the kind you would use in a weapon. At the time of the raid the French had supplied 12.5 kilograms. Not much less then you would need to make a bomb-about 16 kilograms. (The amount actually depends on the type of bomb but this gives the order of magnitude.)The Israelis did not seem to pay any attention to this. They were concerned about the reactor’s capacity to produce plutonium like their own Dimona reactor. But the Osirak reactor was about as poorly designed for making plutonium as one could imagine. To make plutonium you want the least enriched uranium as possible. It is a reaction in which the common isotope U-238 absorbs a neutron which leads to plutonium.

This reactor could produce about .07 kilograms a year.[1] Hence it would take centuries to produce enough to make a bomb which requires about ten kilograms. Thus from the point of view of proliferation the Israeli raid was less than useless.It left the Iraqis with a substantial amount of weapons grade uranium and inspired them to begin a uranium enrichment program. A.Q.Khan tried to sell his centrifuge package to Saddam Hussein but Hussein did not trust him. Rafsanjani discusses an unsuccessful trip to Pakistan to see A.Q.Khan to acquire nuclear technology. He does not give the date of this trip but starting in 1987 and lasting for nearly a decade Khan sold this material to Iran. The Iraqi’s never got far with their enrichment program.
The sentence 'Our basic doctrine was always a peaceful nuclear application, but it never left our mind that if one day we should be threatened and it was imperative, we should be able to go down the other path,' bears a remarkable resemblance to the sorts of things that the Israelis say. But what does it mean? How do you retain the ability “to go down the other path?” The only reasonable meaning I can attach to this is that you retain facilities that work on nuclear weapons. I very much believe that this is the case and that the Iranians have developed plans for nuclear weapons-perhaps plans they bought from A.Q.Khan. It does not take many theoretical physicists to carry out this work.The Iranians have now begun to dismantle their centrifuges. This is a step in the right direction. It will be difficult-perhaps impossible-to learn how far along they are in the conceptual matters. In any event knowledge is a genie which cannot be put back into the bottle.
Jeremy Bernstein is best known for his popular science writing and profiles of scientists. He was a staff writer for The New Yorker from 1961 to 1995 and authored many dozens of articles.[5] He has also written regularly for The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Review of Books, and Scientific American, among others. His books include "Physicists on Wall Street and Other Essays on Science and Society" (2010), "Nuclear Weapons: What You Need to Know" (2010), "Quantum Leaps" (2009), "Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall" (2000), "In the Himalayas: Journeys through Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan" (1996), and others, more than 15 books in all. "The Life It Brings", an autobiographical memoir, was published in 1986. Bernstein's biographical profiles of physicists, including Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, Albert Einstein and others, are able to draw on the experiences of personal acquaintance.[3][4]

[1] I would like to thank Tom Cochran for a discussion. This is an estimate. I do not know the exact parameters for the Osiris reactor.


Good news in tough times. Eyewear Publishing
is mentioned in a new review by poet and critic Rory Waterman in the latest issue of the TLS - it's a round-up following the Michael Marks shortlisting, discussing various pamphlets.

 Here is a brief taste: 

'Eyewear Publishing, founded by Todd Swift in 2012, has quickly risen to prominence for its similarly attractive poetry volumes, and has now launched the stylish pamphlet series Eyewear 2020/ (get it?), which demonstrates much of the rich multifariousness of British poetry in 2015.'
There is mention of Sam Jackson, Matt Howard and Damilola Odelola, among others.  Seek it out.


2015 has been a year of outrages - terrorism - a word which may have its origins, as some rather crass pundits wryly observed, in the rampant and often cruel massacres of the French revolutionary period.  The West - no stranger to cruelty to the Other and others itself at least since its settlers and explorers raped, tortured, and pillaged across the Americas - and in two World Wars the perpetrators of the worst atrocities in human history (the Holocaust, the dropping of nuclear weapons) - has finally met its match.

Civilization was once used to contrast the good with the barbaric.  The endless random killing masterminded by half-insane fanatics and fantasists, motivated by a medieval theology of incompatible Jihad, has cast itself as the new normal of barbarism. IS, the current bogeyman, though having never put forth a 9/11 style spectacular, instead went all Digital Age on our asses, chopping off heads for our apps and iPhones, smashing ancient cities for the cameras, and then pulling off a Mumbai-style and curiously pathetic spree of slaughter in Paris, twice, in one year, like a sequel to its own crazed movie.

At time of writing, mourning has become eclectic, and divisive; in what can only be called post-rational society, we now accuse our grieving allies of not caring as much for the fallen of Beirut, Mali or Kenya - and Ukraine is half-ignored. Realpolitik's diktats now mean the UN has rallied its Security Council and the world, including odd-man-out Russia and standalone China, in a bid to obliterate IS, which is both a bastion and a bastardised idea. You cannot kill ideas, but one supposes, you can blow those who hold them to shit, as Trump, panto Nazi Yankee, now says.

Paris II was the threshold of violence across which IS took us - a ritualistic breaking of our taboo-protected soul-hymens. They have helped us to grow up, our liminality now shed.  We are adults at last - face to face with an evil enemy worthy of our own past sins, and our own demons. IS is the perfect foe, because it lacks any empathy or recognisably sane goals. If there is a clash of civilizations between the West and others, there is also a clash of barbarisms, and IS has seen our Nagasaki, and raised us a Bataclan.

Few sober soldiers and terrorists (even terrorists) shoot weeping teenagers at rock concerts, unless they hate the very idea of youth and rock music. As I have said elsewhere, killing people while they laugh, and drink and talk at a Paris café is the secular analogue of killing a person at prayer in a Mosque. But how to grieve the unspeakable and unsayable? The media, never exhausted by spectacle and carnage, has packaged nightly this last week of candles and banners, and wreaths, as if we had a thousand Lady Di's dying each day. Our ability to be moved by our own suffering is, in the Selfie Age, extraordinary. As one poet said recently, we turn from murder to kittens, in one click or swipe. We hold heaven and hell in our hands.

IS is the opposite of kittens, in every way. Hart Crane knew that a kitten cried in the wilderness - kittens are the Western image of helpless lovely cute decency and hope. So long as there is a kitten there is hope.  IS expends and desolates hope with every gay person thrown off a roof, every child shot in the head, every atrocity enacted with definitive aplomb. They like being themselves, just as we like loving kittens. They represent precisely what we are not. We know that so why have we not destroyed them yet?

Ah, we do not want boots on the ground, blowback, and so on. We blame ourselves for our incriminating actions in the Middle East and Latin America and Asia and Nuremberg. We suspect this is our Nemesis.  We hate ourselves like all good narcissists, really, deep down.  We have expected this punishment since Hobbes, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Foucault told us we had monsters within - but of course we never really repented or stopped being who we were. We just made movies and pop songs and porn and colas and shoes and cars instead and bought them.

However, despite our evils, IS is not finally about us. Sorry, but even narcissism has limits. Just as metorites and storms and cancer cells are not about us, in the first instance, IS arises alien not from the West but from a perversely dogmatic (but human) misreading of a book that is not of Western origin.

Harold Bloom might appreciate the sinister irony that all the evil in the world seems to come from misprision and misreading, still.  IS wants to generate a divinely-sanctioned Caliphate, underwritten by murder and cleansing sacrifice, smack dab in the centre of the oil fields and temples of the world. Like Superman in one of those films, they want to fly around the planet backwards and return to a time before Americans and post-Christian decadence, and Western power, before Bush and Bach, before Pope and popes, before Swift and Taylor Swift, before Whitman and Chaucer. Before Rousseau, Lincoln, Austen, Sontag, Justin Bieber.

In their sandy severe and devout world, without sex accept on their curious terms, and without love except the love of killing and their God, and without reading except of their select texts, they will build a new order, not so different from Hitler's.  Just as we have learned not to judge or blame the victims in the death camps, we cannot blame the beheaded and callously shot victims of IS. We are blameless because this meteor of hate rides before us, and would do this to anyone, at any time, unless they spoke their endlessly limiting language of focused rage and transformation.

God help us all.  Help us to read properly. And to love more than kill.

Teach me how to mourn properly, without malice or sentimentality.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


The new UK Spy bill being mooted - see here - is unacceptable, and yes, will out people's private browsing habits, which are more personal and potentially embarrassing or damaging than we might care to admit, as a society.

Simply put, a large percentage of the British public uses the Internet to do one or more of the following: a) cheat on a spouse or partner; b) look at (legal) porn; c) look at (illegal) porn; d) read up about suicide or mental illness or some other illness they may wish hidden; e) illegally pirate/ download American TV shows; f) pirate music, books, movies; g) explore other odd, eccentric or very personal hobbies or obsessions.

If the government is able to collect the data exhibiting this behaviour, and if it is gathered, and then perhaps hacked, or simply used by their own unscrupulous intelligence agencies, mass harm to the society would ensue.

This is because you could easily blackmail anyone in politics or any position of authority to make them do your bidding in exchange for suppressing a-f above.  Given that almost EVERY young British male between the age of 15-25 does at least b) as do may women, you would quickly be able to embarrass or blackmail many persons in Britain once they reached a position of power - until such time as looking at porn was no longer a social taboo.

If this seems far-fetched, consider the life and story of J. Edgar Hoover, who compiled dossiers on tens of thousands of Americans, via wire-tapping and then blackmailed them for over 40 years, becoming the most powerful man in America, able to make and break Presidents even. This is because of human nature.  Humans sin, and the Internet encourages a variety of legal sins, some of which are socially unacceptable.

Grown married persons who are, say, politicians, priests, generals, doctors, educators, CEOs, and so on, might not want their partners to know they look at legal porn sites that feature young-looking women dressed as schoolgirls, or whatever their particular kink was.  Newspapers would and could topple leaders. We are in a new Victorian Age - but instead of the brothels of Marylebone (that serviced thousands of men every night 130 years ago in London) - we now have the Net.

The question becomes, what are the threats such blanket spying on us all would defeat? Terror attacks - however terrible - usually only kill a few hundred people at a time.  Their impact is awful but containable

Allowing a home-grown spy agency to possess information rendering all our online behaviour transparent is not containable, and would damage the lives not of hundreds of people, but tens of millions. If it stifled expression, exploration, and creative expansion of the Internet, it would also ruin the economy.

It is a Police State charter.

The State can always find an enemy to justify taking our rights away.

It is our duty, as citizens, to oppose this, even if it means putting our lives at some risk by risking we will leave some of our enemies able to communicate without our knowing about it.

So we must oppose this plan, even if it leaves some questionable, even unethical, human behaviour in the shadows.

A society with all its vices exposed at once to public inspection would collapse.


I have discovered the secret to publishing success: print money.

Seriously, the success of a publishing house is directly connected to the following statement: if you publish books people want to own and read, they will buy them from you.  If they buy them from you in large amounts (over a few thousand copies) you make a profit on initial expenses, and can also cover overhead costs, marketing, salaries, design, postage, etc.

In short - if publishing as a business model is to be viable, the publishing company must produce goods/items/units/books that are in demand.

The reason poetry presses fail, struggle, and generally require state or private funding (subventions) to survive, is because they underperform at generating sales revenue.

In ugly words: poetry is something not in demand.

Despite some big selling poetry titles every year, most poetry titles will sell between 50 and 800 copies - usually around 200. Very few sell more than 2000.

A company that only produced books (or any product) that only 200 people wanted would soon face financial crisis, unless the total cost of manufacturing those items was less than the amount you could make from selling 200 copies (the most, after deductions to retailers and distributors is around 50% of cover price for most presses) - so if your unit cost was £10, you would make £5 per book sold - selling 200 would make you £1,000.

Most presses need revenue of at least £20,000 a year, if not triple that or more, to employ staff, and cover expenses - which means you would need to sell 4,000 books a year to break even.  And that would require you to produce around 20 poetry books a year.  And of course, this would not leave room for growth.

This is why almost all the poetry publishers are either supported by larger genres, or grants.


So, any press that is interested in publishing poetry and wishes to survive must

a) publish other kinds of books in greater demand;
b) find patrons;
c) seek arts support from government.

And this is what Eyewear currently is doing.

*This may be a good thing; poetry's resistance to commercialisation is a strength as an art form, but a challenge for anyone wishing to try and run a business based on selling poetry books to people, even excellent poetry books that might raise the consciousness of their readers.


Eyewear - no naïve wanderer in the online world - has become victim of a dreadful scam. A few years ago we bought a number of domain names from a supposedly-reputable company known as 1&1. Sadly, at the time I did not Google their reputation. It turns out they have, at least since 2010, if not earlier, been accused by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of former customers, of running a breath-taking and cynical scam.

Though they have been taken to the Trading Standards people, and often threatened with legal proceedings, this seems to have avoided major media attention - though that may change, because we at Eyewear are outraged at the intimidating way we have been treated by these unprofessionals.

To summarise, the scam works like this: when you first order the domain name and web hosting, you have to give them your credit card or PayPal details; you also, unbeknownst to yourself (because it is in illegally dense and opaque terms and conditions) agree to pay them in perpetuity - unless you can cancel. In short, you sign up for renewal every year or two, forever.

When Eyewear cancelled its contracts with 1&1 this August, because we no longer wanted to use them, we ticked the cancellation boxes, and removed our credit card details. We then received an email saying it was cancelled.  Which is where, ethically, it should stay.

However, a few weeks ago, a so-called collection agency named Arvato sent me emails, letters, and then began daily phone calls, asking for over £900! It appears that 1&1 "renewed" all my cancelled domains, and seek payment for them anyway - though I clearly told them I did not want them.

When I contacted Arvato I was told there was nothing I could do. I had to pay before my "account could be unlocked" to further discuss matters. In otherwords, I am locked into a running contract in perpetuity, and every week I do not pay this agency, the fees mount.

It turns out, you CANNOT ACTUALLY CANCEL your 1&1 contracts by email or online, but have to also send them a passport photo and signed special letter "proving" you wanted to cancel - this information buried deep where no one ever sees it until it is too late.

Since I have been billed for now over £1,500 of web-hosting stuff I do not want, starting less than two months ago, I have tried to speak to a human being at the company, but it is all designed to defer you endlessly back to a website that never seems to work when you get to the cancellation pages.

I always pay my debts. I believe if you want and use a service, you should pay for it. It is unethical to tie people down to service payments that people say they do not want, and are not using - and then pass them on to a collection agency within a fortnight.

The sinister aspect is, when I Googled this subject, I found out that hundreds, possibly thousands of people, have this experience every year. And some people, when they try to transfer or sell their domains registered at 1&1 discover they never really owned the domains anyway.

Most disturbing, Arvato is a company owned by 1&1 - an arm of the company, designed only to chase these bogus bills, and threaten escalating costs and fees. They also use other companies of their own devising to chase these debts.

The unethical aspect of this is that they claim that 1&1 cannot discuss the billing now that the matter is placed with the debt collectors - but they are based in the same company, and according to dozens of online reports from ripped-off customers, this is part of the structure of the scam - some people find they get bills years after they cancelled.  Once they have you, they try to scare the weak, the old, the nervous, the ill-informed, or the honest, into paying up - paying for a falsely-incurred, contrived debt. They threaten court, but never actually - apparently go that far, since they know what they are doing is against trading standards in the UK.

It is a web of lies, and I regret the day I ever went into any form of commercial dealings with 1&1. Avoid them at all costs.



Like many courses and degrees offered by one of the 115 or so British universities, Creative Writing comes in many shapes and sizes. Prospective students are often faced with bewildering choices, if even between local or regional options. This is a brief guide to the perplexed - a simple checklist. Here's how it works - for every yes score 10 points.  This will give you a score of between 0 and 100.  Clearly, you will want to attend a university that scores above 50%.

There are several ranking systems you can locate easily online with Google, updated every year. The question here is, is the university you are considering ranked in the Top 50? If it isn't, the likelihood is, for all its potential benefits, it won't be able to offer many of the advantages of a more prestigious, better-funded campus, that can attract (often) brighter students.

Many students who wish to study for a BA in Creative Writing (or a joint honours course) tend to ignore the depth of the creative writing subject area and the provision at their prospective universities. Without an MA or MFA or PHD option for students, it is relatively clear that the university commitment to CW is rather skin deep - and you won't get the benefits of a fully-enriched study environment, with student writers at all levels of experience.

Student writers need to be exposed to published, talented writers across every year of their study, and the best way to arrange this is to have a guest reading series that brings in poets, novelists, and life writers to read for the CW students and to offer advice.

Universities may want to save money by trying to put a student magazine solely online (and the digital aspect is crucial of course) but the better UK universities tend to also publish physical student-edited literary magazines, that feature student work alongside well-known authors. This becomes a useful calling card, for agents and readers, and a lovely thing for your friends and family.

Writers need to have lots of books to read close to hand. An excellent library is essential.

It is all very well to profess writing, on a theoretical basis, but your teachers at university level should be world-class writers and poets, or at the very least, have publications from recognisable presses. Forget prizes - these are often acquired via cronyism. And many brilliant avant-garde writers avoid prizes and go with smaller presses. However, when you Google your teachers, go to Amazon and other book retailers online.  They should have published one or more books within the last 3 years. Ideally you should then order the books and read to decide if you like their poetics, or style, or themes. Study with writers you admire.

Most universities in the UK are situated near at least a small local city or town, and most are therefore near some form of cultural opportunity (cinemas, art galleries, museums) but here we mean can you really say the university is near, say, a major city, or major cultural attraction, or area of outstanding natural beauty - or is it in some form of backwater? A rule of thumb - it should never be more than 90 minutes by train or bus from a city of over 250,000 people.

Some UK universities have been offering creative writing for decades; other for mere months. With judicious online research, you can quickly discover which universities are leaders in the field, in terms of time and care taken developing a serious CW pedagogy. UEA, for instance, was the first in the UK to offer CW courses at MA level.

You will want to make sure there are enough CW teachers and tutors to go around. If you have a BA cohort of 50 or 100 students, and only one or two teachers, this ratio is likely to be rather poor. Does your prospective university offer a good ratio?

All universities are going to claim they are innovative, and imaginative, but when you read about the different courses on offer, carefully consider what genres are taught - and if the subjects are siloed or de-siloed. Clearly, if you are an undergrad CW student, you will want to take courses in various writing genres, and forms, like screenwriting, short stories, life writing, digital writing, poetry, etc. You may also want to write erotic or fan fiction, or perhaps thrillers, or fantasy novels. Does your university seem welcoming to practical issues relating to advice about future publication, also?

It isn't just about taking a place near a uni near to your parents, or far from them. It isn't about being close to London (maybe). But it has to be about going to the university that offers the best possible teaching experience, and for creative writing nothing beats well-funded, serious universities that respect their students and staff, and want to develop an ambitious environment. The table here can help.

I offer below a rough list of 20 of the better-known and recognised British creative writing unis (in alphabetical order) - but apply the above measuring-stick for yourself.

1.      BATH SPA


3.      CARDIFF

4.      DURHAM

5.      EDGEHILL

6.      GLASGOW


8.      KINGSTON











19.  UEA


Monday, 2 November 2015


Ho ho ho - all Eyewear book titles are now 35% OFF UNTIL DECEMBER 15 (last day we can guarantee delivery more or less on time with our skeleton crew of cheery Elves) - code is JingleBooks !!!!



Shaker Aamer is home; one of the many people who ended up at Guantanamo after being sold for a bounty to the US forces. He is the last UK resident to be released. He was never charged. He had been living in Afghanistan working at a school for girls and digging wells as a charity worker. Among those who are rejoicing is author Victoria Brittain.

Her book Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror, brought the struggle of his wife Zinnira into poignant focus. www.facebook.com/ShadowLives

ROBIN LUCE MARTIN: Victoria, in your book you present the letter that Shaker wrote his wife in 2006 when he felt certain he would die on hunger strike. You imagine what it means to receive such a letter.
"I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to all of us. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for years. Rather than humiliate myself, having to beg for water, I would rather hurry up the process that is going to happen anyway. I would like to die quietly, by myself. I was once 250 pounds. I dropped to 150 pounds in the first hunger strike. I want to make it easy on everyone. I want no feeding, no forced tubes, no 'help', no 'intensive assisted feeding'. This is my legal right. The British government refuses to help me. What is the point of my wife being British? I thought Britain stood for justice, but they abandoned us, people who have lived in Britain for years, and who have British wives and children. I hold the British government responsible for my death, as I do the Americans."

Later you include a poem that she writes him for Valentine’s. We get such a strong sense of her devotion and sweetness. Can you put into words what this homecoming means for Zinnira?

VB: At first she could not believe it was true, then she was apprehensive about whether she could manage such a dramatic change in her life. Then she just blossomed with happy anticipation.
RLM: This is also the first time he will meet his youngest son, now 14. Can you speak to that reunion?

VB: For Faris meeting his father for the first time is overwhelming, but in the few Skype calls of recent months Shaker has put him at ease - he is a man with a huge heart and all his children can feel that now as they never could when he was a remote unknown being for so very long.
RLM: What does it mean to you? Did you ever imagine such an ending? 

VB: For me, it has been a brilliant day I feared would never come. These years have been such a harsh lesson for so many of us in American ruthlessness and utter contempt for the law. To have Zinnira and the children now so happy is a wonderful gift for me. They have lived more sadness and loneliness than anyone can bear to know. 

But I am haunted by others still in Guantanamo so unjustly - Mohamed Ould Slahi in particular whose wonderful humane book, Guantanamo Diary, tells this story of grotesque injustice, and of holding onto humanity, as no outsider could.
RLM: Will the question ever be answered: why was his release so delayed?

VB: I hope, as do so many others, that the outrageously delayed return of Shaker and all of them, will not be allowed to just disappear down a memory hole. The American men who kept him, knowing he was innocent, the American men who tortured him, the British men complicit in this utter scandal, should all have to answer for what they did. I believe lawyers will pursue them until this happens. Justice demands accountability - we all owe it to these families, and to the next generation who should know such evil must never happen again.


Saturday, 31 October 2015



North Americans have to wait for November 6th to see the 24th official James Bond film, SPECTRE, released - however, it has now been playing since Monday in British cinemas, so it is hardly reasonable, after hundreds of online media reviews, for Eyewear to hold back any further, especially given a) our longstanding history of engagement with the Bond franchise which we take seriously and b) since the film itself is about intelligence gathering (and leaking).

The series was rebooted in 2006 with Casino Royale, after the Pierce Brosnan age, which, in retrospect seems a sunnier, more upbeat time, more like the Roger Moore films, and turned over to the ruggedly (even lopsidedly) handsome Daniel Craig, who brought a Rugby player's physique to the role (and, as the series developed, a surprising humanity). Casino Royale introduced a shadowy cabal of villains out to get Bond, a cabal that was sort of shelved (it seemed) in the ill-starred Quantum of Solace, only to be, Russian Doll style, re-inserted into a larger embracing structure of evil incorporation under the umbrella of SPECTRE. Skyfall was a surprise global hit (the biggest in Bond history) and upped the stakes, and the auteur behind it, Sam Mendes was brought back for the Skyfall sequel, which this very much is.

However, the scriptwriters have decided that this was also a moment to take the Craig Quartet, and form a mythic substratum of plot and identity, thereby rebooting a reboot, and adding new depths to old tricks. Bond films have long traded in pastiche, homage, self-reference, and post-modern games, so this is nothing new, except the complexity is perhaps more sophisticated this time around. The Year Zero for all Bond is the trilogy of masterworks, really, Dr No-From Russia With Love-Goldfinger - a template never bettered, in terms of setting, pace, romance and ingenuity. If you add the eccentric critics' darling, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which introduced Ernst Stavro Blofeld as the snowy Alps-based madman) you have the four cornerstones on which the Bond franchise was forever after built - and which SPECTRE references constantly, and rather blatantly.

From Dr No they take a pleasingly exotic villain's lair (this time a meteor crater in Tunisia); from Russia they pluck a hyper-violent train battle; from Goldfinger they take the Ur-torture scene (then a laser, this time, well, I won't say); and from Her Majesty's they acquire the Alps, and - yup, Blofeld, complete with white cat. So all the elements are there, plus a great car chase through the streets of Rome, complete with holy music as we approach the Pope's home, and a bravura opening scene that references Live and Let Die's morbid opening. Clearly the screenwriters owned the box sets, and had their favourite memories from the vintage films.

Yet, this is not simple fan fiction, but an attempt to create a fiction of some impact and quality. As such, and for no good reason, given the homages cited above, the writers and director also decided to incorporate clear visual echoes of Touch of Evil by Orson Welles (itself opening in Mexico with a long tracking shot that ends in an explosion, and thematically about a lawman who has lost his ethical way in the quest for justice; a man haunted by past loves and physically past his best-buy date); and, less logically, key references to classic Hitchcock films, including Vertigo (the Bondgirl here is named Madeleine Swann - a Proustian reference to time and memory), North by Northwest (the train journey romance and planes), and The Birds. It also clearly borrows from the Nolan Batman trilogy, especially in relation to The Joker's threats to Batman over choosing to save loved ones faced with death, and a celebration of chaos and ruin as a new start. So, SPECTRE is a feast at the cineaste's table.

So, what is good about this very long Bond (148 minutes)? The fight scenes are thrilling. The two Bondwoman/girl relationships are erotic and fraught, if not as well established as perhaps required for emotive resonance - and both are darkly twisted - first Bond, a pure Machiavel/ Richard III seduces a widow whose husband he has just murdered, then later beds a bereaved daughter whose father he has helped to commit suicide.

In general, Bond is given some witty and perverse lines - the direction here is to emphasise the ways in which Bond is a disruptor - a man able and willing to kill for his country, and also to sleep around and destroy property to do so. In the battle between mavericks and mandarins, Bond is the oxymoronic terrible beauty of anarchic order.  He clips the wings of his own plane turning it into a Kamikaze weapon of destruction in a key wintry scene, reminding us that Bond usually is the frontline of any violence he has to commit - a major theme in this film being Bond is not a robotic drone, but a man of conscience (really, didn't he used to be a sociopath?), who looks the bad guys in the eyes, before dispatching them. Justice is not legally blind, it is just ruthless.

This theme of drones bad, two boots (Bond boots) on the ground good, is eagerly pounced on by the writers to make this the most digital age Bond yet - and tediously so. In the age of IS(IS) and Snowden, do we need to be reminded of surveillance and snooping? The Bond films were always geopolitically topical (the Cuban Missile Crisis arguably informs a dozen of the 24) but also, at times, imaginatively futuristic in their perils (a madman has still not, believe it or not, since 1945 stolen a nuke and blackmailed the West with it).

On top of these themes, there are the themes of family drama (half-brothers, dead husbands, fathers, and mother-figures like M); Time and Memory (as mentioned above); the nature of duty and love; vision, eyes, sight, blindness, optics, optical nerves, Central Nervous Systems, Lear-like torture of eyes; and theories of societal evolution (meteors, extinction, technology). It is a weird rich brew that only four screenwriters could concoct.

This, then, is a very good four star film, with a superb soundtrack by Thomas Newman and beautiful cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, of Interstellar and the original Let The Right One In, and fun standard Bond erotic-weird credits, with a good flamboyant theme song by Sam Smith. However it is not the masterwork it so clearly aimed to be.  It shot, it missed. Why? Forgive me for refusing to claim its homages and overly literary subtexts ruin it, for I welcome this sort of texture. Instead, the film fails precisely where its creators should, and could, have been expected to succeed: old-fashioned suspense.

This witty, stylish, elegant, romantic, action-packed film has it all, except the one thing that Hitchcock (and Welles even in his layers and trickery) knew was essential - suspense. By this I mean, you need to know something big is at stake for the characters you care about - and something bad is going to happen to them, UNLESS/UNTIL - what? That what is the thrust of your film, and why we watch. SPECTRE is SPECTACLE but not SUSPENSEFUL.
And here is the major disappointment of the film for this viewer: Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser/Blofeld, the shadow side of Bond, his half-brother. I love Waltz.  His work with Tarantino is sublime, and if anyone else could play a Germanic megalomaniac better it would be hard to believe. Perhaps expectations within my pulsing fan brain are too high, but I wanted a Donald Pleasance* level of genius here. Somehow Waltz is faintly comic, even hapless at times, due to what his character is given to say and do and be and plot. His Neru-jacket, borrowed from Dr No, is ill-buttoned. His meteorite display seems pitiful (even Bond makes a joke about it) and his weird torture device inexplicably dissociated from the film's richly stocked larder of images, unless we are here introduced to Kubrick as yet another inspiration (his 2001 white room moved to A Clockwork Orange). Well, I guess it could be Orwell's Room 101 updated via Brazil?

I won't spoil all the fun and terror of the key sequence in Tunisia - it has some wonderful formally stiff moments that I love about Bond (the villain's unctuous minions never kill Bond but at first offer him luxury accommodation and champagne) - but must remind you - where is THE SUSPSENSE? What is Oberhauser's plan? What is he going to do that must be stopped? Set up a spy agency? That's it? Even the scriptwriters must have thought they needed oomph, because it turns out Oberhauser has a sideline in family revenge tragedy out of Hamlet (and just as tardy) and also wants to degrade Bond and rob him of all the women he has loved by killing them - especially the new Bondgirl - and somehow we get this peril by blowing up a building already set for demolition, and a woman Bond (never one for attachments really, bar Vesper and his wife) has only laid eyes on a few days before.

Why does SPECTRE not have a plan for world-shaking evil? No mass killings? No blackmail? No nukes? No plagues to be unleashed? No nano-bots? Just surveillance? It is all very real.  Down to the dangers of human trafficking that we never see (though SPECTRE the gang does profit by it). But Blofeld might as well have tied his Penelope to the Tunisian train tracks.  It is all a bit melodramatic. I needn't detain you too much longer - but the film is book-ended by helicopter shots/ helicopter's shot - a bad cinema pun meant to be clever I guess - and one yearns for the day when Blofeld had a more sophisticated sort of escape vehicle, one that could withstand a single bullet - Bond's aim being great, it is still impossible to hit a moving target with a pistol at that distance (boring I know).
So, I won't spoil the ending, except to say, just as in Skyfall, which upended key tropes to surprise, this movie does the same, ending with two major reversals of Bond-as-usual that are pleasing, the second one being perhaps the most positive ending to any Bond film, and a very sweet, gentle erasure of the rather savage tragedy at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In this way, all's well that ends well. SPECTRE ends as a comedy. Did I love it? Not quite - but about 70% of the time I was enthralled and very happy. But next time, please let the villain be EVIL again, and place the world or a key city in some sort of immense danger. We need our Commander Bond to be saving more than his own, his agency's, and his lover's, skin.
PS - I liked seeing Moneypenny, Q, and M all have expanded action roles. Fun idea. More next time? Monica Belluci was sexy but under-used; and Seydoux effectively charming.

* Donald Pleasance increasingly looks like a character actor of genius, who made every film he appeared in exponentially greater, especially Halloween.
- review by Todd Swift, copyright 2015

Friday, 30 October 2015

Ben Mazer Interviewed by Robert Archambeau

Ben Mazer Interviewed by Robert Archambeau

[Note: This interview will appear as the Afterword in Ben Mazer's new collection of poems The Glass Piano, forthcoming from MadHat Press on November 1.]


RA: I'd like to begin with process. Often, poets have spoken of their process as one or another kind of mixture of deliberation and intuition—whether they call the intuitive element "the muses" or (in Jack Spicer's case) a radio transmission from Mars. How does a poem begin for you, and what happens once you have the initial impulse?

BM: Jack Spicer was deeply in love with the relatively unknown but deeply brilliant poet Landis Everson, who in turn, late in his life, fell deeply in love with me, so I not only know all of the Spicer literature, but have heard many intimate, off the record stories of Jack's thinking about poetry, and his methods of composition. Like many of the best poets, he was possessed by words, and his poems came to him as voices that he heard and recorded without any other guidance than long, elaborate and strenuous preparations for being able to write poems—when they came into his head—which must have acted as a kind of net or formal conception already deeply ingrained in his consciousness by the time he was struck by inspiration, instinct, and intuition—what he referred to as transmissions from Mars—so that the poems were deeply guided by a well-prepared consciousness, with its fully digested lore and ideas, and personal feelings concomitant with his own rather compendious knowledge in many intellectual areas, such as philosophy, as well as the knowledge that comes with personal experience, while at the same time being completely intuitive and unexpected events of inspiration. I think most poets of a high calibre work in this way to some degree or other—typically hearing first lines of poems simply come into their head, sometimes even as heard voices, successively followed by a flow of words, lines, and passages that come as naturally as leaves to a tree, and are imbued with what Eliot called the auditory imagination, a deeper level of meaning that is not contained in the literal meaning of the words, but—on another level—in the sounds of the words, their origins and accumulated meanings and resonances, and their emotional suggestivity, until the poem peters out, completes itself, and the poet knows it. Sometimes the poet goes on too long—maybe just a line or two beyond the point where the genuine inspiration ends—but the poet is quick to spot this dead wood and snip it off to give the poem the wholeness and unity that it must have. There are many descriptions—throughout the history of poetry—of poets, many of them of the greatest stature—creating poetry in exactly this way.

I find that this is precisely the way I work when I am writing my best poems—that they are miracles of inspiration and intuition, and typically begin with a first line simply coming into my head—something like hearing a voice that fully forms itself without my interference—and then followed by another, and another, and so forth. I do, and I imagine other poets do this also, to a certain extent, realizing what the meaning of the inspiration is, even if only intuitively, tend to offer it a little guidance through an act of intense concentration on where I know the poem must lead, or upon some symbolic image or emotion (what Eliot called significant emotion), which I know instinctively to be the heart of the poem, and which I know must be unravelled to its end, even if I don't quite, at least consciously, know what that end is. I am there to find out what the end is, and I must seek the path the poem beckons me down in order to find out. This does occasionally demand a tiny bit of interference on my part: a search for the right word to convey what I feel to be the object of my attention; an intensified focus—more meditative and open than merely conscious—on the object of attention; a determination to get some nuance of what I discover to be the meaning or quality of the emotional experience of the poem into the poem. But I possess a well prepared machine or instrument, and largely when real inspiration hits there is very little or often no need whatsoever for interference on my part. The best poems simply write themselves, with a minimum of this sort of interference, and I imagine many people would be surprised to learn that internal rhyme, end rhyme, and meter come to me without conscious thought or guidance of any kind on my part—they are simply what the poem itself wants to say; and I am often surprised myself to discover afterwards how many connections and meanings and levels of meaning a poem which the unconscious created can possess due to what is essentially the gift of a possession of a naturally musical and meaningful consciousness which has paid its dues in experience and preparation. The most exciting poems of all are those in which I am swept up entirely by a cascading ocean of words which seem punched through with an infinite number of levels of meaning, all deeply felt in the act of composition, and which are above all deeply resonant musical conveyances of significant emotion. My long poem "Divine Rights" (in my collection Poems) is an example of this. Another is a poem from the same collection, "The Double".

To put it an entirely other way: the advanced poet is likely to know exactly what he is doing, and is unlikely to make a mistake, even when writing without thought, and by intuition. He is like a jazz musician in that he either is on target and gets it right the first time, or else he flubs it, in which case he may wish to simply scrap the entire take as not up to snuff. Revision is largely, for me, a matter of cutting a line, finding a single better word (sound being the operative principle as much as the literal level of meaning), scrapping a weakening stanza, or some such minor alteration. Consider the fact that revision is as much an improvisatory act as the original act of composition, and depends just as much on inspiration and intuition. When the poet is at the height of his powers, revision is often if not generally entirely unnecessary.

RA: On the question of revision—you've lavished considerable attention on the poetry of John Crowe Ransom, even editing his collected poems in an edition that includes all of the revisions he made over time. For you, is revision something that comes immediately after composition? Ransom would revisit old poems many years later, often changing them significantly. Is that something you've been tempted to do?

BM: I've never been tempted into the kind of forays into compulsive, perpetual revision that absorbed Ransom late in life, though who is to say what devil might get into me when I reach those later years. No, generally revision is as I've described in my answer to the first question: it is a very minor affair, and generally does come almost immediately after composition, if at all. When I write poems I have a great conviction about them when I feel I am doing it correctly (that is, in the way that suits me, and suits the object of my mental attentions), and generally I tend to feel I have got it right the first time. If one is going to get it right at all, why not be done with it at the first stroke of the anvil. When I am writing I have that kind of control over my instrument, again like a jazz musician who has trained himself in the art of improvisation and concentration. When I am on, I am on, and I know it, and I know that I can do anything that the poem wants me to do. The poems that don't work out, the false starts, and half-successful attempts, I simply toss into the dustbin. It is easy to see in those poems that the poetry was not really genuine. I try to explain this to people: if, when it comes, it is genuine poetry, it is not going to need to be altered. It is just the case that I have prepared my instrument particularly well and thoroughly. Others may need to proceed more slowly, more cautiously, and refine over time; that is not my method. If I make a mistake, I feel I may as well give up for the day. I have a great trust in the powers of the unconscious to present one with gifts of treasure in the realm of significant utterance, even if that utterance is not immediately accessible to total comprehension. Eliot famously told Richards that he felt his most successful poems were those which elicited the most various and unexpected array of interpretations, strange and foreign to the poet's own understanding of his poem. This is a sign of the mysteries. It is the poem that rules and has authority over the poet, and not the other way around. The poet is the conduit for the poem. Otherwise we would just be writing what we already know. And even when we have a reason to write what we already know, sometimes especially when we have a reason to write what we already know, it is possible to get it right the first time, and still for the poem to be imbued with unexpected and rich meanings that the poet was not fully conscious of during the act of composition, though he is likely to notice them later. It is all a matter of the poet's capacity for concentration, and of his responsiveness to the powers of the unconscious mind.

Revision? Sometimes I'll work on a poem for several days in a row, as I did when I wrote the 41 sonnets in "The King" (New Poems); here's a case where composition itself is an act of revision through a process of accumulation. All composition is revision, just as all revision is composition.

RA: What can you tell us about the ways you prepare yourself to receive the poems when they come? To steal a phrase from Yeats, what is your singing school?

BM: Three things. One, about thirty years of continuous reading in every area of literature, with a continuous application to poetry and the criticism of poetry, and foraging forays into philosophy, history, anthropology, psychology, popular culture, family lore, love itself, and other subjects as well. Two, many years of hard labour scanning meters and cadences and other technical minutia of the most accomplished verse one can find, coupled with unceasing attempts to master the art of writing rhymed and metrical verse until it becomes effortless and as natural as breathing, so that one can break from or depart from or transmogrify these things at will or whim with authority, control and meaning. Three, intensive exercises in the arts of memory and concentration, with particular attention to the knack of holding an emotional memory steady in the mind's eye. There is also the fact of one's background. I was particularly lucky in this, in that I was surrounded by good books and a family that paid close attention to matters of aesthetic philosophy (whether they were aware of this or not!). But honestly, I think at root that it is an innate predisposition to deep reflection that one is born with, or in some cases scared or scarred into. My "singing school" is something like an adherence and receptivity to the ways and purposes of a controlling god. My source is divinity. Or perhaps it is the art of being transfixed to the point of solipsism. But with the object of focus the known world. There is more, but I can't recall what it was. I was six years old. I saw them through the window. The guys in the blue coats fired on the guys in the red coats, and then they all ran away.

RA: We've been talking about process, now I wonder if we can relate it to form. I know you have an affection for rhyme: one of the pleasures of visiting the Boston area is hearing you and Philip Nikolayev improvising rhymes together as you walk the little streets around Harvard Square. But rhyme in your work tends to be intermittent rather than regular, and you've never been affiliated with New Formalism. What attracts you about rhyme, and what role does it play in your poetry? Also, what can you tell us about other unusual features of your poetry—the sometimes irregular syntax, the deliberate use of British spellings, the way a sentence can sometimes meander. The latter feature accounts, I think, for the comparisons sometimes drawn with John Ashbery, although I know you don't see him as a major influence.

BM: I am amused and intrigued by rhyme, especially intricacies such as partial or near rhyme, assonance, and internal rhyme, which my work naturally seems to gravitate towards. It is quite unconscious, and comes from years of reading and hearing the sounds of poems and language in my head. I rarely set out to write a rhymed poem—though sometimes I do, with the purpose of attaining a sort of formal integrity that might aptly suit my subject matter when my subject matter is largely tonal: the rhymes, both internal and at line ends, come quite naturally and unconsciously, without my thinking about them. I'm heavily schooled in blank verse, Marlowe, and so forth, so—as in Lowell's late sonnets—you get a varied mixture of real rhyme, heavy rhyme, sporadic rhyme, and blank verse punctuated by occasional rhyme. I like it! It rings the ear with emotion and pleasure when it hits home and has qualities. Sometimes it echoes a cadence I have heard somewhere that must be in the back (or at the tip?) of my mind. This can raise poetic ghosts, and induce resonances with emotional significance. And yes, Philip and I have had many a long session of improvising perfectly rhymed sonnets for sheer pleasure's sake—it's sort of a running theme with us. Again, it all comes from taking apart poems for years as you would take apart a radio and put it back together again just to see how it worked: the lesson sticks with you. I played classical piano as a child, and jazz music growing up, so it is all music and indicative tonality to me. Sometimes when I listen to people talk all I hear is the rhyme; I must have a look on my face as though I'm in outer space. I wasn't aware that my poetry had irregular syntax in it—but I suppose that's because I'm forging an idiom that correlates directly with whatever it is I'm expressing, whatever perception or emotion (the two can be the same). It has struck me that my use of internal rhyme is quite innovative, in fact: something I wait for people to notice and gather in cafes to discuss. As to the syntax though, I have read far too much Hart Crane, and perhaps that has something to do with it, as well as my early obsession with Cubism, which breaks up the syntax of visual perception, color and shape. It is all emotionally correlative. I follow the thought, the emotion; what happens as a result to the language is my business, but not my business, if you see what I mean. The British spellings: my maternal grandmother was English, and I grew up on English literature as a child; I can't really say what attracts me to the British spellings; just the offbeat pleasure of it, I suppose. It's my nod or tip of the hat to English literature and culture; my turning away from the downgraded cultural atmosphere of our times. I also misspell words and have no wish to correct them! I feel I am stuck with the emotional and musical baggage of their peculiar semi-neological resonances, and can't betray them for a correct word. Joyce of course carried this to the extremes of obsession. Meandering: I suppose by that you mean largely tour de force enjambment, which has always struck me as the sign of genuine (the personally unique taking part in the universal) emotion in all the glory of its flux and flow: its stasis which has its simultaneous existence as well, as a rounded unity, or a pervasive extension, mirroring the nature of reality such as we come to know it in our more observant, less impinged upon moments. Lycidas is a famous example of how far you can take that (Ransom has a good essay on this in The World's Body); but of course it can always be pushed farther, and it is experience that does it. It's that contained flowing which is so universal, like the bounded and boundless sea, interminable rain, infinity without cessation (passion and reverence), one's movements through the world and through oneself, monumental archetypes of catastrophe and rebirth, the night. No, I don't see Ashbery as an influence at all. I like his stuff—it always amuses me, and I'm attracted to "The Skaters"—but it's not a model I would aspire to, or anything I would want to steal from for my own use. He's merely there, Ashbery. I drove by Sodus recently. I like that neck of the woods. Nice to think of young Ashbery emerging from such a place. Seriously, though, the comparisons with Ashbery drive me crazy. I see no resemblance whatsoever, other than some vague resonance of the Harvard outsider poetry tradition, which I, too, partook of. The parti-colored brick and cobblestone, and the grey sky over Mem Hall, kind of seep into you like damp weather in the autumn. Probably comes from a mutual love of French poetry and music, Apollinaire and Debussy and so forth, as well. And the historical moment (which I reject, in order to embrace). Someone said we are a late blooming generation. But whatever we are doing, it strikes me that we are making it new. The young crowd in ascendancy now has much to buck against. Why not simply follow one's own inspiration? And let the rest take care of itself. Oh, the syntax: it might come from layered and abrupt shifts in imagery and meaning. The cinematic quality of consciousness. I try to mirror my thought, or perhaps go further than that. A guy's alone. The skeleton of a horse is crossing an abandoned railway bridge. Everything in the world is in its place. But what is that but hunks of color: solipsism or divinity? Or both?

More about the syntax: Sometimes planes shoot off at oblique angles. Other planes shoot off at oblique angles from those planes, and others from those. This is the way the mind works: holding perception at a distance to the point of substitution. How else are we going to deal with the richness of our memories?

RA: It's interesting that you mention a "Harvard outsider tradition," since for most people the words "Harvard" and "insider" go together, like little cucumber sandwiches and summers in the Hamptons. What can you tell us about this tradition, and your relation to it?

BM: Poets are poets. You can't change them. They say nothing, stare into space, or talk like maniacs about incomprehensible complexities, and sometimes disappear for days on end without anyone ever finding out where they went. They procrastinate, and can't be made to do anything but read endless numbers of poetry books. They don't fit in socially at the Fly Club, they dress funny and don't know how to assert themselves, and are shunned by all but the strangest of social outsiders. This is as true at Harvard as any place, and probably even more true at a place like Harvard, where people are being groomed to be presidents and so forth. Practical concerns are not their forté. I'm third generation Harvard myself, but the Mazers were all Jewish (my grandfather Moses was class of '24, when there was still a quota and there were I think no more than 8 to a dozen Jews at Harvard at most). I got into Harvard through the back door, as it were, as a Special Student (an offbeat status which I share with Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and Eugene O'Neill), and then only because Seamus Heaney and William Alfred (Robert Lowell's friend) wrote letters on my behalf. This was all contrived so that I could study with Seamus Heaney, but I took advantage of the situation and took courses with such excellent professors as Derek Pearsall (Chaucer), David Perkins (lyric poetry), Leo Damrosch (American poetry), and Donald Bacon (modernism), and was tutored privately by Bill Alfred. The literary studies at Harvard were brilliant at the time (many people were still alive who had known Eliot, Richards, etc.)—I don't know what they are now. I absorbed myself in them completely, and felt that I was entering a tradition. They were every last one of them outsiders: Tuckerman, Eliot, Frost, Stevens, Cummings, Wheelwright, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, Dunstan Thompson, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery . . . They were spooky ghosts on the fringes of that cucumber sandwich crowd, and never the twain did meet. Few did well in their studies (Eliot was mediocre as an undergraduate), and many dropped out, or were thrown out. Delmore Schwartz surprisingly won the Boylston Prize for a brilliant philosophical essay in 1936. I've written about this before at length in Fulcrum (#5, 2006), where I think I summed up the situation of the outsider tradition pretty well, so perhaps it's best to wrap up this question with a passage quoted from my essay there:

"It is in fact precisely the poet, more than anyone, who has usually found himself to be problematic and institutionally marginal at Harvard, and who has typically had an unpredictable, unconventional relationship with the university. [. . .] By and large, the best of the Harvard poets have been far from either staid or academic. They have been poets, with all the wildness and sensitivity that that implies. What distinguishes them as Harvard poets or near Harvard poets—as often as anything—is a consciousness of the tribulations—fugitive, obscure and various—of those who have existed with them in a continuous tradition: not Harvard's, but poetry's."

RA: Finally, I wonder if you could say a little something about the place and meaning of poetry in the world. You've been bold enough to speak publicly about the future of poetry: what do you see for poetry when you look in your crystal ball?

BM: I discovered Rimbaud when I was 16. I had played hookey from school and taken the bus into Harvard Square. In the basement of a very filthy used bookstore, I found an old blue and grey Pelican paperback anthology of French poetry and slipped it unnoticed into my pocket. It was a very grey, foggy, and sort of misty or rainy day, typical New England, and on the bus ride back I happened to have my eye caught by this poet, Jean-Arthur Rimbaud, who had been about my age when he had written his poems. I began reading and was immediately transported into some realm that I had never experienced before, but which I had the sensation of having always known had existed. It seemed as if words were detached from time and space. I didn't know Rimbaud was a famous poet, and I thought that this was my own discovery entirely, something that no one else in the world knew about except me. Right then and there I recognized that this fellow was me, and had written exactly what I was trying to write. I became insatiably obsessed, and I think that right there that was some kind of beginning, or a further beginning built upon other pivotal reading experiences of childhood such as my discoveries of Lewis Carroll, Poe, the perfectly circular sentences of Raymond Chandler, and the clipped and projective syntax of Samuel Beckett, whose Waiting for Godot I had dipped into with a sense of wonder and discovery. Among poets, Rimbaud was my first true hero. I thought that I possessed an immense secret about an entirely unknown figure. Through me, I felt, this person was living again. Ah, the providential reader! Years later, when I discovered the Confessions of Verlaine on the interminable hold shelf of an antiquarian book store, a book that was never for sale, and which I wasn't even allowed to look at until the owner had left the shop for the day, and the girl behind the counter took pity on me, I almost died of grief when I read, only at the very end of the book, that Rimbaud had just come into Verlaine's life, the only mention of him in the book's very last sentence. Why couldn't the Confessions have gone on! I tried to trace Rimbaud's footsteps in the snow around Harvard Square—and almost succeeded!

I guess what I'm driving at is that poetry and poets are for poetry and poets, and only then for the rest of the world to catch up with, or be stirred by in some way that it can't quite fully comprehend. Poetry has an endless future, in a way encompassing the entire universe, but I think that the core of the thing, when you get right down to it, is that, aside from writing sheerly for his or her self, a loved one, a poet friend, or truth or God (however fictional the poet's means), the poet is really writing for the providential reader, that strange young person of the far distant future, who, with immensely empathic consciousness, will stumble across the stuff and say to himself, "This person is me."

October 2015

Ben Mazer's collections of poems include Poems (2010), January 2008 (2010), New Poems (2013), and The Glass Piano, forthcoming from MadHat Press in November. He is the editor of The Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom (Un-Gyve Press, 2015), Hart Crane's The Bridge: The Uncollected Version (MadHat Press, 2015), Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (Harvard University Press, 2010), and Landis Everson's Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 (Graywolf Press, 2006). He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and is the editor of The Battersea Review.

Robert Archambeau is a poet and critic whose books include the poetry collections Laureates and Heretics and The Kafka Sutra and the critical studies Laureates and Heretics and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, among others.  He is professor of English at Lake Forest College.