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.
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Friday, 28 August 2015

HUMAN RUBBISH?

The way that over 70 refugees from Syria - children, women, and men - have been found, suffocated to death, in an abandoned lorry (truck) in Austria, can only recall such horrors as the Nazi period, when Jews were some times killed in a similar way by the SS.  The horror this time is that, seemingly devoid of any ideology of hate, these human traffickers simply seem to have carelessly wired the unventilated back shut and killed their cargo for no other reason than indifference or clumsiness. What remains - hardly new but still never acceptable in human history - is the idea that some lives do not matter as much as others. The sense that some humans are no more than rubbish, to be treated callously, whose lives do not matter, are not precious, should not be preserved.  If there is any ethical or religious position that states otherwise, so be it, but it seems to me that the finally most vital rule of conduct must be to always keep aware of how every one else - every human person - is equally deserving of whatever it is we'd have done or given to us (including food, shelter, water, safety, dignity, and compassion). Human cruelty to other humans is not rare - it may even be hard-wired into a portion of the population (or all) - it is the worst of our behaviour, and we must do more in our societies to protect those most vulnerable to the sort of humans (often in gangs) who use and abuse humans as if they were mere meat, mere garbage.

Monday, 24 August 2015

remember that contest?

way back in June or so we held a contest to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Eyewear the blog, and received some superb poems, which have all been shortlisted.  We'll be featuring them over the coming fortnight, so don't worry, we will return ... for now, enjoy the last days of summer.

Monday, 17 August 2015

POEM IN LATE SUMMER BY TODD SWIFT


POEM IN LATE SUMMER

for my friend P.B.



I am Atom that named greed.
Wanting everything plus
is what a poor man does;
a billionaire has that, is free.
Not quite, the lie is: freedom
happens to a thing that lives;
unsure falling is free, even
leaves tangled, rain modified;

angels cut up in the blades.

Slit open the blinding corn.
It’s gold in the underground.
When you kiss your dying father
you slip a dagger into the play.
A god who disowns barking slaves
lets the wheat burn slow,
keen whips thrown soft as snow.

Even still, the chariots are tethered

to a great bull turning to a throne;
the beast moves a thousand chariots
and the world is turned as well;
in the pull of the bullish hunger
are the frenzies of a broken shell –
open your mouth to her daughter
to hold as the old child squirms.

Leave to those who strive, war,
who never die to live, or take
a new widow for a warning;
a winded graveside for a psalm.

Your loins are sepulchres,
dull music dumb as worms.
I want to be undivided by a blade
Instead I’ll settle for being half.

I’ll need a coin and raft to go
across the Lethe I dream of;
and sink before I reach the shore

to engorge a fattened stream.
It’s not enough to speak
or act as if mostly kind; you
need find a branch to break

a cold thought into flame;

possess a sword of mind;
handle it from un-opening stone;
when you have barely won

contesting by limbs, with bone
send the amazed steel spinning
into her pious lake, impervious;
go settle to farm the other side;
move as a swan and glide.



poem by Todd Swift copyright 2015

Saturday, 15 August 2015

TRUE DETECTIVE 2 WAS A MASTERWORK

I will not go into the roll call of A-list names who wrote, directed, and acted in, True Detective Season 2, except to say that the 8-part film noir cop drama set in the 21st century recently aired to mainly hostile, at times hectoring reviews. These can be divided into two categories - those that pined for the brilliant Season 1, and those that found Season 2 poor in its own right.  We can dispense with the first easily - you cannot claim Lear is not Hamlet and act all sad.  This is a new work.  Move on.

The second complaint was nuanced, but mainly revolved around the themes and structure of the new season - that it lacked drama, interesting character dynamics, that the dialogue was artificial, stilted and sometimes absurd, and that the finale lacked punch. The kindest words suggested it was High Camp - so bad it was good, a romping mess.

I beg to disagree.  This season was a complete dramatic work of Intertextual accomplishment - a very mature Tradition and the Individual Talent moment.  The youngish author (we know his name), who is a student of literature, did his genre homework. TD2 had all the bent cops, twisted hookers, tortured mobsters, hauntingly wasted lives, fatal desires, and double-crosses of the best hardboiled shows, pulp novels, and movies of yore. It also traded in the occult and anti-natalist subtexts of Season 1, for an Oedipal (Greek drama/Freud) skeleton. This entire season was in fact an expose of what a jouissance of classic and genre tropes unleashed would achieve - an experiment of deadly abandon.

As such, it was deliciously literary, post-modern, and artificial, a daring remake of Touch of Evil not in style but in theatrical panache and verve - the most complex genre exploration of the effects of sexual crime and suffering on humans seeking fathers and children in an American mystery story since perhaps Chinatown (another touchstone). Allusive to the max, often witty when most contrived, TD2 never claimed to be real.  Instead it offered the textual and cinematic pleasures of a fully contrived experiment - a theatre of tough guy alienation, with Brecht's wall torn down and sold for parts, after Mac the Knife was invited in.

I revelled in its glee, its bravura tics, and perhaps most of all its oddly controlled weirdness. A dignity and pathos bathed its five central characters in an eerie neon glow, and its OTT villains ran a mad gamut of creeps and cretins. Fathers never leave us, as a poet once wrote.

INHUMANITY

This blog has often over the past ten years grappled with issues of evil, and today reminds us that the human being is capable of atrocities that no animal could imagine.

Indeed, Greene's famous dictum that evil is a failure of the imagination is clever but sadly false - as is the idea that a lack of empathy is to blame - indeed, the deepest forms of evil require both imagination and empathy, in order to be executed with fully diabolical impact.  You cannot prudently hurt a creature you do not understand, except by accident.

70 years ago, the war against Japan ended. We have been reminded that during that war, among other barbarisms, Japanese medical doctors performed vivisection for medical students on Allied prisoners of war.  Human Vivisection is the worst crime imaginable - it is surgically altering a living sentient being for experimental purposes. I cannot describe these wretched and utterly degrading surgeries here properly, but medical students were forced to watch prisoners kept alive and suffering horrific alterations and woundings, for hours, and sometimes days. This included removing organs, injecting toxins, and brain surgery. The Germans and Chinese also practised these actions during the war, and there is some evidence that the Allies also experimented with deadly biological weapons; and of course we know they experimented with atomic bombs.  It is important to recall the depravity humans are capable of.

Now we have learnt that IS has adopted a "theology of rape" where so-called "wives" - female prisoners of war - are used as sex slaves, then often killed. In short, while this blog has often condemned this new scourge as the enemy of good, it cannot be said to be the only opponent or side to entertain monstrous acts against prisoners.

War, it is sometimes said, is Hell.  This is an excuse.  It seems the human animal is demonic, in part - and some human animals, led by a demonic aspect which I call evil, wait on the opportunity to explode into untrammelled action against others when laws and limits break, bend or cease altogether, in the chaos of wars, disasters, and economic collapse. This is because predation waits for an opportunity. Almost all evil occurs only when an opening occurs in the social fabric, however faint or momentary such a rending may seem.

We need to avoid wars precisely because they afford maximum playtime for wickedness - and make no mistake, that wickedness has been historically central to human behaviour since day one. Some call it sin.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

MY FRIEND, MARTIN PENNY, RETIRES

Martin Penny was the first, and truest, friend, I made when I arrived in London, from Paris, in 2003. Ours was an unlikely and instantly achieved connection - he was the ironic, Atheist, very English, Chelsea-supporting Oxfam manager of wry wit, indifferent to poetry (but a keen reader and collector of prose) - and I, as you may know, was the Catholic-in-waiting sincere enthusiastic poet from Canada nursing bad injuries from a car accident  - but what we shared was a love of wordplay, conversation, pushing the boundaries of taste, and lunches over coffee at a local café (where we have had a meal together at least once a week for over ten years).

TODD SWIFT AND MARTIN PENNY AT THE POETRY LIBRARY
Martin is retiring, at the age 55, tomorrow, from being manager of the best bookshop in the Oxfam chain - at least for awhile - the Marylebone branch, recently poignantly downgraded to a clothing shop with some books in the back.  In its heyday, when I joined as poet-in-residence in 2004, the shop was making over a million pounds a year in sales, and was one of the top three in the UK - the steady decline in book sales started with the crash of 2008, and the rise of the e-reader and e-book.

Some of you may have been to the one of 60 or so readings held over the years of the Oxfam series there - crowded, long events in the cheese-scented shop with the battered floors and skylight - legendary events where many of the greatest poets of the age read for free. Martin gave me free reign to hold the events there and politely listened to all the poetry - some of it which he actually enjoyed.  He might have preferred if I had brought in comedians, but it was poets I brought in, and we raised over £20 k in the process.

Anyway, Martin was a superb manager of the shop - because like Rick in Casablanca he was a jaded, enigmatic loner, with a sharp sense of fair play and a total lack of interest in cant, with a fascinating backstory - a private man, he quit working in accounting when young to live in Malta on his own for 5 years to write; he had an interesting background - his father had worked in broadcasting, with, among others, The Goons, and he himself was a big fan of The Buzzcocks.

Oxfam shops rely on hundreds of eccentric, often damaged or unemployable volunteers coming in to work shifts, from schoolgirls to 90-year-old widowers - many love books, or helping, but some are only lonely, or half-mad - and Martin treated each of them as equals, with great respect.  Those who know me know I am prone to controversy and debate - but in the over ten years I worked there, there were only one or two occasions when I ever witnessed any conflict in the shop.  Martin had an unassailable integrity and commanded near-total respect, so no one ever stepped too far out of line. Only one insane volunteer would come in once a week, muttering to me, Oh Mr Penny, he is a bad man! (because the toilets were never very clean).

Martin was, however, truly a great Oxfam shop manager because of this curious twist - he never really held the ideals of Oxfam in overly high regard. Though he always dutifully and properly obeyed its rules and regulations, he had not "drank the cool-aid" - he saw his job as raising as much money for the charity as possible, by simply selling books and DVDs and CDs and Vinyl and posters and postcards as best he could.  His truest loyalty was to the goal, not the ideologies. At least I suspect as much.

Volunteering at the shop for 11 years has changed my life - it gave me a home in London (when I missed my family and friends back in Canada), and eventually it gave me a national identity as a poetry organiser and fund-raiser.  It gave me a solid weekly purpose, a place to be - to discover new books, old books, and mainly read and talk about and price books.  But it mostly, above all, gave me my best and truest friend over this past decade or so - a decade that nearly killed me several times, as I suffered multiple deaths in my family, other physical traumas and sorrows, failures in career, and business - in short, however bad things got (including my father dying of brain cancer), Martin was there to tease me over a coffee in Patisserie Valerie. His cruelty was superb. I have been asked almost weekly for ten years how my poetry books are selling.

Martin is a very clever man. He is also a father, and his wife (who he met at the shop) is British-Turkish, and so, he, his sons, and his wife have moved to Turkey. On Monday he will be as far away as my family in Canada. I doubt I will see him again, more than once a year, if that, from now on. I am about to turn 50, and find myself missing my key friends, my brother Jordan, Thor (my oldest friend from Montreal), and now Martin. I am not sure how to bear this absence, how to think of it.  Our effortless, utterly natural flow was never spoken of - and not it is cut short, or rather, thrown far and placed very differently.

I know our friendship will move to a different sort of place, of Skype and rare meetings. But an era has ended for me - and also, for Martin, and his shop, and the tens of thousands of customers who have grown fond of his stoical, seemingly indifferent manner. But he has a softer, kinder side, and we knew it was always there when needed. Many poets who enjoyed these many events and CDs and DVD and anthology and national competition we ran, and worked on together, from 2004-2012, should also be appreciative of an unsung poetry hero - a man who never really loved poets or poems all that much but ended up creating one of the best homes in the UK for poetry this century(and always gave me more shelf space than poetry probably warranted, given its space to sales ratio).

I am happy for him - he has got out of the London rat race, and retires young enough to enjoy the sun, the kids, his lovely wife, a new landscape, and his writing and books. But I remain, nonetheless, astonished at what a chance meeting in 2003 allowed me to enjoy for so long - one of the great friendships of my life; and I will miss him terribly.

Monday, 27 July 2015

LEE HARWOOD HAS DIED

Very sad news.  Lee Harwood has died.  Harwood was an important British poet, whose work bridged over to American poetics and styles, especially those of the abstract lyricists of the New York School, perhaps.

He was a gentle person, and his presence was lovely.  Had his work not fallen foul of certain critical tendencies in British poetry reception of the 60s-80s especially, which favoured a more well-made traditional poem, he would have surely been more widely enjoyed for what he truly was - one of the best, and most lyrically evocative  poets- sensuous of thought if minimal of touch - of his generation. As it was, those in the know loved his writing.

EYEWEAR SUMMER PAMPHLET LAUNCH IN BLOOMSBURY

SHE'S A FAN

The STYLISH Eyewear 20/20 Pamphlet series - edited by Les Robinson and designed by Edwin Smet - is now up to 16 poets - and we're launching 8 of the collections July 29th, at The Rugby Tavern, Bloomsbury, at 7-9pm, in a pub famous for being a watering hole for Plath and Hughes.

Fans of great contemporary poetry by new, emerging, and established poets cannot but find something to enjoy - and since each poet will be reading for only 5 minutes, it will be a relatively quick and fun event (plus drinks, chance to get books signed, chat, and generally mingle).

Here are the poets reading, IN NO ORDER, including a guest from Ireland, Julie Morrissy, whose work with Eyewear is out only later - she's a taste of things to come (I will be reading from Jack Little's pamphlet, he is back to Mexico now)....

GEORGE SZIRTES
JULIE MORRISSY
KEITH JARRETT
DAMILOLA ODELOLA
SAMANTHA JACKSON
SHELLEY ROCHE-JACQUES
LEILANIE STEWART
V.A. SOLA SMITH