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.


Friday, 19 September 2014

AG WILLIAMS REVIEWS THE NEW STEPHEN BURT FOR EYEWEAR

Ashley George Williams reviews
Belmont
by Stephen Burt

IN BRIEF

Stephen Burt’s latest collection Belmont displays a style which has evolved seemingly between the boundaries of two critical theories he is famous for.  When reviewing a copy of Susan Wheeler’s book Smokes for the Boston Review in 1998, Burt defined what he believed should be referred to as the ‘elliptical poet’ or ‘elliptical writing’. The ‘elliptical poet’ he writes:

   ‘…manifest[s] a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves’

Burt continued to list Wheeler, Liam Rector, Lucie Brock-Broido and Mark Ford as such writers with Dickinson, Berryman, Ashberry and Auden noted as major influences.

Later in 2009 in an essay entitled “The New Things” he outlined a growing trend of contemporary American poets whereby writers:

‘Eschew sarcasm and tread lightly with ironies, and when they seem hard to pin down, it is because they leave space for interpretations to fit. . .’

 And also

‘... pursue compression, compact description, humility, restricted diction, and—despite their frequent skepticism—fidelity to a material and social world.’

The world described in Belmont is highly material and when pursued as romantic evaporates into the mundane and/or sarcastic. The first section of this three part book, resides around family life and a dull urban existence. Here nature is a clear antagonist of age and the ageing, from the very start Burt writes: 

 ‘Branches trailing at our stop

 are the nature we leave

 behind us gladly’

 
(from The People on the Bus)

Throughout this section, reflections on flowers, landscapes and sunsets all become a backdrop to the narrator’s apparent lack of dissatisfaction with his own world. Though this is alluded to in a manner which is both self-critical and evasive; it’s rather pensive than it is fatalistic.

‘A sock is not a human being’ echoes one description from “the new poetry” essay as a search for “well-made, unornamented things”.  The attempt is to bring back familiarity to something that is otherwise generic and mass-produced; one thinks of Magritte and that pipe.  In this section the shifts of elliptical poetry between low (or slangy) and high (or naively "poetic") diction is plainly displayed, highlighted in some instances by complete difference of form in single poem. ‘Nathan’ for example, is juxtaposed by two subsections of playful sentence structure, while the rest of the poem follows a fairly regular cadence.

The second section is an exploration of the ‘self’ and the other ‘selves’. Here there are witty remarks concerning Burt’s own identity ‘A pig addicted to lipstick’ (‘Self-portrait as a Muppet’) as well as larger self-flagellations (or are they just a realist’s perspective?)  of poetry ‘this poem like all poems was made entirely in school’ (‘The Paraphilia odes’).

I found this section less engaging than the first and I wasn’t too keen on certain pieces such as For Avril Lavigne’ which seemed a little stale in plot and voice.  There are some fun poems here though, I particularly enjoyed ‘Fictitious girl raised by Cats’ and the before mentioned, ‘The Paraphilia odes’.

The final section has the narrator in a much more settled mood though the themes and images of the previous two are still largely a threat.  In ‘Helplessness’ the “dozens of Canada geese” return to wreak havoc on a school playing field; they previously appeared in the narrators garden in ‘To Autumn’ in the first section of the book. 

Here I feel there is a slight lack of urgency though this may be reflective of the slight change of mood mentioned.  I feel the majority of the poems in this section are much stronger than the previous one; I was instantly drawn in by the final image of the first poem (‘Dulles Access Road’) ‘impregnable metal containers dissolve in the sky’. Though some poems here aren’t without their faults. The ‘what we can’t say openly, we say in poetry, speaking about another as myself’, (‘Kendall Square in the rain’) need not be said at all really and this seems a self-conscious attempt by Burt to register himself with elliptical poetry.

I find this book is at its best when it’s not trying to hard; the poems concerning family life, aging, inanimate objects, and Burt’s fears are the strongest. I wanted to like the poems concerning rock stars, bands, and science journals yet often lost interest when reading them.

Burt is obviously heavily influenced by the two strands of American poetry he has named and I have no quarrel with that.  I find the book at its best when Burt is observing his own world, instead of feeding us second hand information about already well read narratives. 

The poems I’ll come back to in this book are:

-          'The people on the bus'

-          'Nathan'

-          'Reverse Deciduous Existence'

-          'To Autumn'

-          'A sock is not a human being'

-          'The Paraphilia odes'

 -          'Fictitious girl raised by cats'

-          'Self-Portrait as Muppet'

-          'Dulles Access Road'

-         ' Flooded Meadow'

 
Ashley George Williams.

 

 

POETRY FOCUS: ELLIOT HURST

I am pleased this post-referendum Friday in London to feature a surprising new British voice in poetry, Elliot Hurst, a former student of mine. It's a voice that seems to erupt without much interest in decorum or politesse, guided by Surrealism, nihilism, punk, black comedy, the Beats - and, a what have you got, I'm against it - sort of vision - except, the fluent imagery is striking and effective.  It may be indie, but it's not fake.

Elliot Hurst has a BA in Creative Writing and Film Studies from Kingston University and is currently studying for an MA in Publishing at Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. Favourite themes include human behaviour and relationships, consumerism, industry, deterioration and body horror. Photo to follow.  



THE NORTH ZOO
 
The great apes

were petrol-bombing the

historic North Zoo

eating handfuls out of neighbours'

wheelie bins, for the dinner-dance. 

 

My eyes became useless,

his scrofulous sore wept

as gauze-eyed delinquent newborns

fraught with refrigerator burns

grizzled for their volcanic counterparts

in the bargain zone. 

 

Petroleum hag

like the tube worms of the ocean bed

sniffed it out keenly

with her long proboscis.

 

Tangles of dead weed like flayed crickets

a compact species.

Petroleum hag has her tickets

for the dinner-dance.

 

Impact on the skull

retained the fragments

within his hood

and stabbed into a thick pulp

like a mollusc's mucous

tangles of seaweed like

clumps of dead black hair

with roast dinner eyes

 

I have a dream of mass mobility

collected conveyance

sun extinguished his paternal spark

and shone

over his compacted skull.

 

He stole into the night

with a sixteen-fish roast

and a brach of gherkins

but kept it for himself

and fed his own thick pulp

to babes of the wilderness.

 

Which reminds me of Ben -

cast out from one wilderness

into another. 


poem copyright the author 2014.

TODD SWIFT IN AMERICA

Those who read this blog regularly may know it is chiefly edited by the poet, teacher, and critic, Todd Swift.

Swift's The Ministry of Emergency Situations: Selected Poems from Marick Press is being launched next week in Chicago and Detroit; it is over 200 pages long, and has endorsements from, among others, the great Terrance Hayes, Annie Finch, AF Moritz, and Mark Ford. Ford describes Swift as "the Orson Welles of Contemporary Poetry" - a pretty impressive statement (if only about weight gain) coming from one of the key poets of our time (Ford happens to be a professor of English at UCL, one of the ten best universities in the world, and his Selected was praised in the New York Times last month).

The two key events of this modest tour will take place back to back, Tuesday 23 September, 7 pm, with John Wilkinson, at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, one of the great places to read poetry in the USA - see link.  This is connected to a major new essay on four new English poets in the October issue of Poetry (Chicago). And then, he will launch the book at Oakland University, Michigan, the next evening, at a library on campus.  6.30 pm start. Both events share the stage with other fine poets, as the links will detail. See you there, as they say!

Other readings in North America are planned for the spring and summer of 2015, when teaching breaks allow.

Those poets, teachers, editors, events organisers, publishers, academics and critics who have not yet read Swift, except as the windbag he sometimes is on his blog, and on facebook, now have the happy chance to locate over 150 of his best poems in one place, edited by the Canadian poet Catherine Graham.

WASTED VOTES?

As the world now knows - sadly or happily depending on your affiliations and ideals - the majority of voters in Scotland have said No to the question of whether Scotland should be governed as a separate country, and thus leave the "United Kingdom" of four nations. Tellingly, the pound soared on the news, and David Cameron looked pleased. Anything which makes financiers and Cameron happy is likely to be suspect.

I wanted a Yes vote, because I cannot imagine any good reason why the Scottish people, with one of the major cultures of Western Europe, are unable to govern themselves, and because I believe that he governs best who governs least far from home. Far-flung empires and federations are never as accountable to their citizens as more local governments, which are usually preferable, except where state or provincial urges tend to the unethical (one thinks of segregation in the Deep South).

In this case, the Scottish government seemed motivated by a rather benign sense of national quality, and, after 300 years of being essentially run from London, despite devolution offers and options, a Yes vote promised a great and good change.  Idealistic, hopeful and optimistic, true, but backed up by some offshore oil, and a plan to cut Trident, a nasty thing.

Anyway, here we are - a strong vote for the mediocrity of the status quo - and, despite 45% of the population daring to dream big, Scotland is a smaller and less interesting place today than it was yesterday, if only because its options have rather collapsed overnight.  There has been a lot of talk about how impressively this revolution was bloodlessly managed, except, in the end, it wasn't one.  Instead, it was recapitulation.  It was cap in hand time.  Instead, we are told great change will come anyway - "Home Rule for Scotland".  Which is a 19th century idea that Ireland would have got had there not been a first world war. There are not many Canadians or Australians who would want to go back to Home Rule or Dominion status.

It may be geography that allowed Canadians to become what the Scottish seem incapable of becoming - independent, a proper country.  That doesn't mean it isn't melancholy to think about.

I am sure Scotland as a nation among four in a united kingdom punches above its weight - but who wants to punch and be punched? There was a destiny calling, and the call went unanswered.  It is nice to know that over 80% of those who could vote came out, but less nice to consider that many who roared out of their homes and flats and offices to the polls did so not to create an historic, once in a lifetime, peaceful new country, but instead, to protect their pensions, mortgages, and salaries.

In short, money fears robbed the Scottish of their chance to grab for the brass ring.  I rather suspect the children of these voters will regret the austere practicalities that crushed the great dream. But this is just a Scottish-Canadian poet who has become British speaking. I tend to be impractical, because the great inventions come from daring to risk all, or much.

Editor's note: since writing this, Alex Salmond has resigned as First Minister.  I find this very solemn and sad.  Salmond has been a visionary and offered the Scottish nation the greatest gift of all - true freedom and independence, and his sweet fatherhood was rejected.  In time, his vision and his campaign will be seen as a great moment in British history.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

POETRY FOCUS: ASHLEY GEORGE WILLIAMS

Eyewear Publishing has a new Intern, and Editorial Assistant, the poet Ashley George Williams.

A.G. Williams
We are pleased to feature his poem below.  He is also the current Poetry Reviews editor for the Eyewear Blog. Williams is a London-based writer who has worked as an archaeologist for several years and has just completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Durham. During his studies he became a founding member of the set known as ‘The Durham Poets’; now largely dispersed across the London area and beyond.  His academic interests include feminism, 20th century art history, atheism, and recent political history.

Lana Del Rey

Beneath the moon’s marred cheek
a model’s leg slips between the folds of envelopes.
 
In the gloom of incandescent matters
she carves sockets in the breasts of men,

the purr of her mother is heard, westwards,
deeper as the night listens.


poem copyright the poet 2014
 



SUCK IT AND SEE

Interesting.  The British poetry blogosphere seems about as divided as Scotland currently.  I'd say it's about 48% Yes and 52% No to the Next Generation list.  Some poets, like Ben Wilkinson, are happily ransacking their career best reviews for prestigious journals, and featuring the listed great and good; Charlotte Runcie in the Daily Telegraph (online and beyond) is questioning the inclusion of famous stars like Daljit Nagra; and then it gets increasingly bitter. Perhaps too obviously, approval breaks down to collegiality - the more people know others on the list, professionally, the less likely they are to set fire to 20 bridges at once.  The excluded marginalised and genuinely cheated, feeling little to lose, are more vocally critical.  The teeny size of the UK scene makes it hard to get an objective response from so close up.  I've weighed in already.  See below.  But I think anyone who applauds the list entirely, and doesn't try to problematize it at all, is probably guilty of a bit of jingoism or curious joy, since there are clearly key figures - a few of genius - left off (James Byrne, Sandeep Parmar, Ahren Warner, Rachael Boast, Jon Stone, James Brookes, Sarah Jackson, Kathryn Simmonds, Sam Riviere, Zoe Brigley, Frances Leviston, etc) whose absence makes the presence of super stars in their late 40s or beyond, who don't need the list's boost, slightly discomfiting.  It seems the Next Gen title is misleading.  But as I said myself, 50% of those on the list deserve to be there, at least. How's that for fence sitting? Okay, here is something more frank: not all 20 on the current list are poetic geniuses. Some named above are.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

WEIRD SCENES INSIDE THE GOLDMINE: 20 POETS MAKE THE PBS GRADE WITH HELP FROM ELIOT MONEY

So, like it or lump it, 20 poets from Britain, first published here between 2004 and 2014, have been singled out for media hype, a book tour, and general praise. A disclaimer, I was not eligible for this prize, though several excellent poets Eyewear publishes were.

The 2014 Next Generation Poets list in full:

Tara Bergin (This is Yarrow, Carcanet)
Emily Berry (Dear Boy, Faber & Faber)
Sean Borodale (Bee Journal, Jonathan Cape)
Adam Foulds (The Broken Word, Jonathan Cape)
Annie Freud (The Mirabelles, Picador)
Alan Gillis (Here Comes the Night, Gallery)
Rebecca Goss (Her Birth, Carcanet)
Jen Hadfield (Nigh-No-Place, Bloodaxe)
Emma Jones (The Striped World, Faber & Faber)
Luke Kennard (The Harbour Beyond the Movie, Salt)
Melissa Lee-Houghton (Beautiful Girls, Penned in the Margins)
Hannah Lowe (Chick, Bloodaxe)
Kei Miller (A Light Song of Light, Carcanet)
Helen Mort (Division Street, Chatto & Windus)
Daljit Nagra (Look We Have Coming to Dover!, Faber & Faber)
Heather Phillipson (Instant-flex 718, Bloodaxe)
Kate Tempest (Brand New Ancients, Picador)
Mark Waldron (The Brand New Dark, Salt)
Sam Willetts (New Light for the Old Dark, Jonathan Cape)
Jane Yeh (The Ninjas, Carcanet)

Now is hardly the time to carp - congratulations to these people, several of whom I have taught in workshops, or taught with, and many I admire and consider friends or colleagues (a few I am less keen on, such is life).

Of these, several are already viewed as essential poets of their generation, such as Luke Kennard, Daljit Nagra, Jane Yeh, Jen Hadfield - and others, like Helen Mort and Emily Berry and Kate Tempest are debut poets of recent vintage that any critic or teacher of new British poetry would include on their syllabus.

Why many people will be unhappy with this list is not new - the tendency for the poets to come from established or long-running presses (even indie Penned in the Margins is ten years old; Salt was venerable already when it stopped single author titles last year); the impression that more innovative poetries are not included - the general lack of multicultural range (though this has been somewhat addressed this time).  Some will regret the absence of any poet from Seren, or Eyewear or Cinnamon, or Arc, or Enitharmon, or Anvil, or Shearsman etc. - and wonder if the cost of submission was an issue.  Eyewear submitted a number of our poets.

The judges are talented and smart and know their stuff, and one has to accept their selection.  My own list would have looked, more or less, 50% like theirs, anyway. It is not a very shocking list, and gets a lot "right". It does miss a lot, though, too, and seems heavily weighted to publications in the last few years (considerably fewer of the poets come from the first half of the decade under examination).

There are some very painful absences - several Salt poets, James Brookes and Jon Stone, seem to me to be as brilliant as any poet now writing in the UK. Perhaps Salt did not submit them?  What of James Byrne? Sandeep Parmar? Zoe BrigleyKathryn Simmonds? All should have been there.

Others one might have expected to find on this list would include in no order: Lorraine Mariner, Rachael Boast, David Briggs, Frances Leviston, Siddhartha Bose, Miriam Gamble, Sarah Jackson, Adam O'Riordan, Kate Potts, Tom Chivers, Niall Campbell, Olli Hazzard, John Clegg, Melanie Challenger, Tishani Doshi, Paul Batchelor, Sam Riviere, Hilary Menos, Katy Evans Bush and Ahren Warner, to name a few of the best of the current UK/Irish poets. And, of course, as mentioned above, excellent experimental or smaller press poets are missing in droves.

Sadly, such a promotion will benefit mostly the larger publishers, who already have more funding and more funds, and while it is a good thing to see these fine poets praised and toured, and while any poetry book selling is always good news, it might have been a refreshing change if 25-50% of the poets had come from the small/indie press world.



September 11th, the 13th time

9/11 now has become to many secular - like other major dates in the Western calendar (Easter and Christmas come to mind) there are true believers and those who seek to simply capitalise on the frisson of its aura, or who, perhaps worse, utterly ignore it, like shopping on Sundays.  Generally speaking this divide is most evident between the British and the Americans.

For some reason, even though many British citizens died that day, it is more or less now seen as an American event, and one that is (I have heard said) exaggerated in import.  Well, not so.  The 13 years since 9/11 (the original) and its uniquely shocking images and events of cruelty have been one long slide into further disasters between the Western powers and Islamic states and militants, between extremists on all sides, and, generally, this has been a far bloodier century than was expected when the Berlin wall fell 25 years ago.

So, we have an odd bonanza today of news stories, including the release of the new U2 album free to 500 million iTunes customers (U2 seem to feel rather grossly they own 9/11, since their album released that day 13 years ago became a touchstone of the time). We have the next Next Generation of Top 20 new British poets in today's Guardian (more on that eventually I am sure here at this blog); and so on.

To be solemn and remember, or rock on, then?

I prefer to be solemn - this is not just another date, the wounds are still raw, the dead still loved by the living, the ideology of hate still active, the war fires still burning.



Monday, 8 September 2014

Eyewear's new Indiegogo campaign

Our last Indiegogo campaign raised over £800 in 60 days.

Here is the new one:

http://igg.me/at/eyewearpoetry2015/x/8130976

Eyewear Publishing is one of the best indie presses in London. Help us publish 10 books in 2015.
Eyewear Publishing, founded in 2012, is already one of the best-known, and most respected, indie British poetry presses.  With over 21 books already published in stylish hardcover editions designed by Dutch artist-poet, Edwin Smet, we have created a very strong list and brand.  Our poets and authors are young and old, British and international, starting out and established, traditional and avant-garde.  We've published professors at Harvard and Cambridge; and a hitherto unknown lady from Hull in her 80s.  Our books have been listed for major prizes, and well-reviewed in the TLS and Times. One of our books has been adapted to appear on BBC Radio 4. We launch our books at shops like Foyle's, Blackwells and The LRB. Superbly edited, eclectic, adventurous, and committed to promoting new poets, Eyewear looks back to an age when hardcover poetry was de rigeur and forward to the digital future.
What We Need & What You Get
 
We want to publish ten poetry collections next year.  Each will cost us £3,000 to edit, design, proofread, and print, in our striking and handsome hardcover in-house design.
 
Our poets for 2015 include world-renowned singer-songwriter Keaton Henson, Melita Hume winner Amy Blakemore, American poet Andrew Shields, Yale-prize winner Sean Singer, and leading poets from Australia, Ireland, Sweden, and, of course, Great Britain.

What you get is, for a £20 donation, a signed first edition of one of the 2015 titles.

For £200, you get all ten of the 2015 poetry books we have planned.

For £500 you get dinner with one of our authors in London.

For £1,000 or more, your name is printed at the back of the collection, as a special patron of Eyewear publishing (if you so wish).

The Impact
 
We feel supporting Eyewear matters, because we have an excellent track record already, and have shown that our list is truly democratic and also international in outlook. Publishing poetry books that will last, and have a chance of being seen and read and distributed well makes a huge difference to the poets, to their readers, and to the wider culture of our times, which, more than ever, needs to maintain respect and love of a good well-made book.

Risks & Challenges

We are going to muddle through somehow - our books do sell - though because of our high quality design we mainly break even, and that includes the editor not taking a salary. But with your support, we will have established a long term sustainable model to keep a great new press going.

 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

POETRY FOCUS: 4 POEMS FROM CHLOE STOPA-HUNT

Eyewear's blog is very pleased to be able to feature, this Sunday, four poems by the recent Eric Gregory winner, Chloe Stopa-Hunt.

She grew up in Oxfordshire, Dorset, and Hampshire, and was educated at New College, Oxford. She was twice a Foyle Young Poet of the Year, subsequently winning the University of Oxford’s English Poem on a Sacred Subject Prize and the University of Cambridge’s Winchester Reading Prize. In 2014, Stopa-Hunt won an Eric Gregory Award.

Her poems have appeared in a range of journals, including POEM, Oxford Poetry, Envoi, Magma, and Ambit, and I she has also contributed reviews or review-essays to Asymptote, Poetry Matters, The Oxonian Review, Mslexia, and Poetry Review. Some recent poems can be read online at Ink Sweat & Tears and Visual Verse, and her poems have also appeared in several anthologies, including Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam and Best British Poetry 2013.

Chloe Stopa-Hunt
Ms. Stopa-Hunt is currently doing graduate research into Renaissance literature at the University of Cambridge, where her collection of fiction, drama and historiography themed around Camille and Lucile Desmoulins won the 2012-2013 Rose Book-Collecting Prize.




Luxembourg Prison

These hazards end. It’s time to say:
all risk is finished. The room looks
bare again. We don’t need refuges,
they’re obsolete. And so are locks.

Now something has emptied sorrow
out into the streets. Now light laps
the walls. Now the hush that follows
a long-held note stills all our lips.
 

 ***
 

The Miller’s Flowers

Flower-songs are sewn with silver
     On your furious tongue,

I will tolerate your weeping
     If it’s not prolonged.

Are you revenant or flower?
     Slaughterer or toy?

Prairie gentians like to call you
     Summer’s whipping-boy.

 
***
 

My koala child

My koala child
playing in the moon-pool,

O climb up the rocks, swan-winged
infanta, give a blood sample
before nightfall,

give bone-marrow, better things
than that, my

skinned-wheat infanta,
my girl, my bear.

 
***
 

Cold Snap

The poppies were
Spared nothing.

Red piths of love
Shamed afresh.

This cold snap is
No fault of mine.

The poppies were
Spared nothing.

 
all poems copyright Chloe Stopa-Hunt, 2014.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Hill Climbing

The major English poet Geoffrey Hill is well-known for arguing that confessional poems of the quotidian fail to reach the immense heights of more imaginative, less-self-centred, poetry. From this position (which I have simplified for the sake of debate) then follows a dismissal of nearly all the poets, poems and poetry since 1945, including Larkin's, Plath's, Lowell's, etc.

It is good for great poets to have their own guiding lights, their own poetics, but is not so good for other readers and poets to believe them when they claim theirs is the chosen path.  Poets do not make good messiahs. The best thing that poets give us (usually) is their poetry, not their criticism - and we are best to go by that.  Empson and Jarrell may be the exceptions here.

In the case of Hill, it is hard to locate his idea of the imagination in his work, which is almost never quite as grandly imaginative in the way that say Milton's was.  Hill is a rhetorical poet more like Pope, or Dryden than he might care to admit.  He bases many of his poems on history, theology, and myth, and inter-textually relates his poetry to a certain Tradition of Anglo-centric feeling and thinking.  His poetry about WWII, or the Holocaust, or Anglicanism, for example, are triggered by real events, issues and ideas.  They are perhaps not directly personal, but they are only impersonal on a very basic level.  The choice of theme and subject a poet makes is always a signature, and is a self-revelation.

If a poet writes about being raped or punched, that is no less vital a trigger, than if they write about reading about a German priest dying in the 1940s.  One may be more removed emotionally, but that is hard to prove.  Both subjects are at one remove from the poem which is generated.

The idea that poetry is nowadays quotidian in concern may be the case, but the lofty and distant and unusual are not always the most compelling literary themes.  Much of the greatest poetry, from Chaucer, to Donne to Eliot, is concerned with human circumstances in relation to society - desire, love, fear of death, religious consolation, grief, elation - and emotionality, combined with intellect, is not owned only by those who compose imaginatively and without direct recourse to self.  Coleridge's famous Xanadu is a rare example of a poem seemingly removed from the common realm entirely, but it is hardly removed from Coleridge's drug dreams.

It may be tedious to read about a poet's love affairs, groin operations, drunken sprees, divorces, back injuries and travel; but too much War of the Roses, WWI, Troy and allusion to Comus can also become stale. As Larkin proved, great poems can come from smaller things (though arguably Larkin's major poems are on the major rhetorical themes).

I remain unconvinced that poems written from direct experience and the personal realm are necessarily going to be weaker.  They may be less magisterial.  They may be less theoretical.  And less abstract. And less Marxist. But some very poor and pompous poetry can be made from theory, ideas and ideologies, as well as the classics.

Larkin About

Poetry criticism - that is, writing concerned with poetry, poems, poets and poetics (theory) - seems to have been sent back to the Age of Arnold at the start of the new biography of Philip Larkin, by James Booth, his long-time colleague, and apologist.

Larkin is, I feel, one of the major British poets - and in this I am not alone.  He has influenced, for better and worse, my poetry: his inimitable but seductive diction, syntax and themes tempted my originality.  So I am not attacking Larkin here. But seriously, some of what is written in these first few pages (all I have read, so far) is balderdash.

Booth states that Larkin is the most popular and greatest English poet of the last century - which may be the case, but this is not easily established by merely saying it.  Kipling, Auden and Ted Hughes, let alone Stevie Smith, Betjeman, Hardy and Housman, are all serious contenders, in terms of sales, popular appeal, influence, and critical study. Booth claims - a la Arnold's touchstones - that Larkin has the most memorable lines and phrases - and it is certainly true he has three or four lines that are infamous - but Auden and Stevie Smith, at least, are close, and poets are finally great for whole poems, not snippets that journalists prefer.

Then again, it is suggested that, on the subjects of Love, Death, Age, and even Nature, Larkin has not been since bettered, and, may never be - he has almost shut down future discussion, as it were.  It is true that Larkin's poems on Death and Ageing, especially, are among the greatest in the English canon - but it is hardly sure they are definitive statements.  Poetry is inexhaustible.  Love, and Death, come in many varieties, shapes and sizes, and there are always new ways (one hopes) of thinking and writing about them.  Otherwise, might we say Bach completed music?  Or The Beatles the pop song?

Booth also makes an odd suggestion that Larkin was less nihilistic than Graham Greene, the author, and was less despairing.  Larkin was an atheist or agnostic - Greene a Catholic. It is true Greene played Russian Roulette when young - or claimed to; and tried opium, and had affairs.  But being a sinner does not make one a nihilist or a suicide.  It makes one a complex person.

On the subject of Larkin's apparent dislike of Black people (he famously used the N-word in letters), we are reminded that he also listened to Jazz played by African-Americans, and loved it.  This may be the case, but there are many racists who approve of Black athletes and musicians and actors who still wouldn't want them around for tea.

Larkin's use of pornography is softened up by suggesting the images (aside from some light bondage) are mostly of pretty girl-next-door types, and somehow reflect a wholesomeness of desire.  It may be, but it is true he still looked at these sort of images, and they inflected his way of looking at women in his poems.

We are reminded - correctly - that Larkin wanted to be a woman at some stage early on - and it may be he hid a desire to dress like one too - he certainly enjoyed writing in their voices (young women's voices) in stories and poems, often while they faced rape, or deflowering, loss of status, or some other peril, and he had complicated sexual ideas and emotions - nothing wrong there, but why airbrush it?

We are even consoled with the claim he was successful, mostly happy, and very friendly, to women, children, animals - it sounds like an apology for Hitler (who his father incidentally adored).

Apparently, Larkin's grumpy bachelor persona was a façade.  He was fun, hard-working, dated numerous ladies, and genuinely content with life, and his variously crude and angry letters were just a sort of game with pens.

I am looking forward to reading on, but something tells me this is not a hard-hitting analysis that will cut very deep.  It seems mostly a rear-guard attack, meant to re-establish a canonical, pleasant Larkin, a genuine and generous man, a sort of English Heaney - healthy, life-affirming, helpful - but he wasn't, really.  He was, and this is what makes his work astonishing and impressive, a narrow personality, whose focused, neurotic poems startle with their high, narrow effects.

A great poet, but about as healthy as Baudelaire.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

EYEWEAR WILL BE THERE!


POETRY FOCUS: POEM BY PRIYA SARUKKAI CHABRIA

Eyewear is very pleased to feature a poem by the Indian poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria today.



At The Great Wall*

1.

 

Beneath a wind-blown sky

white spring flowers flutter

like prayer flags against the stone

 

wall which serpentines up and down

the hills, its dark density

serrations thrusting from the dragon’s

 

spine --which sleeps beneath the earth

wallowing in  its waste: molten

lament and power. It sighs 

 

as late light’s honey licks

the wall’s charcoal pores and sucks

darkness up its throat.
 

*From the sequence of poems titled China Suite



Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, novelist, essayist and translator with five published books.  Awarded by the Indian Government for her Outstanding Contribution to Literature her works’ translated into six languages & is published or forthcoming in Adelphiana, Soundings ,  South Asian Review, Caravan ,Post Road, The British Journal of Literary Translation , Drunken Boat,  Pratilipi,  Language for a New Century, The Literary Review,  IQ, Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World among others. Forthcoming in 2015 are translations of Tamil mystic poet Aandaal (Zubaan) with poet Ravi Shankar, and a short story collection(Niyogi Book). She edits Poetry at Sangam.