Thursday, 29 January 2015

BACK FROM THE RAINS

Hullo, we're back - we haven't posted for awhile, as we settle in to a new year of editing, publishing and teaching. Too much has happened in the world to recap, and you don't need a modest poetry blog to do that for you.

But, here's some good news, we are publishing a book of poems by Dutch poet Hester Knibbe, translated by Jacquelyn Pope, and yesterday Ms Knibbe one a 25,000 Euro prize, the largest for poetry in the Netherlands, so we're very proud.  Of course, we are no stranger to publishing major international poets and authors - in December, we launched books by Mark Ford and Alfred Corn.

Our very own Tedi Lopez will be reading as part of the London Book Fair, in support of her Eyewear book, and, we are also publishing Mario Bellatin, Benno Barnard, Jan Owen, Sean Singer, David Musgrave, and others this year (Google them, you will be as impressed as we have been).

We also promote the new, the unknown, the marginal, the emerging, the young, the old, the local, the surprising, the avant... you name it, this is a special proud year for Eyewear. We are thriving. In a small, very British way. And, to top it off, we now have US distribution via SPD - great news.

More news soon!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

CHARLIE SURFS

The whole point of the Charlie massacre, when it was safe to be a pen-waving protester in the Paris squares a few days ago, SEEMED TO BE that a bunch of funny, rude and brave men (they were mainly men) drew and published cartoons making fun of religious figures; and some lunatics that couldn't take a joke and hated Voltaire and Liberty and the West had killed them in their offices.  It was like the scene in Total Recall when the  new-born saviour is brutally killed. It was gross and totally wrong. Totally.

And so a sort of childlike mania swept a lot of the world, and we all claimed to be Charlies.  Nevermind that 99% of us had never read Charlie Hebdo, didn't speak or read French, and didn't realise that a lot of the Charlie cartoons were probably illegal under hate laws in some Western nations, we all saw a moment of group love, a sort of Titanic of political engagement.  We are the world, and we don't like Muslim cartoon-killers, ok? Group hug time.

Then, suddenly, the lunatics started killing Jews, and it became muddier, more complex, and less clear-cut - were we all Juifs? If so, I didn't see those placards.  I didn't see a lot of Je Suis Un Juif signs, did you? A lot of us became Ahmed, the shot cop, and some of us the brave Muslim shop assistant - but, while the mass demonstration has gathered today in Paris, France - a storm is settling over the sunny uplands of our moral certainties. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but is kosher food mightier than the machine pistol? For the killers have revealed themselves to not just be humourless monsters, but anti-Semitic ones too.

And while most people in France can claim to love cartoons, a slim but real minority can't claim to love Jews, judging by the way they vote.  In fact, Europe's dirty open secret is, it is almost as racist as it was in the 1930s. And it has the extremist parties to show for it. All the victims of the killers are equal, and need to be mourned equally, but the innocent shoppers in the Kosher market who were not in the business of goading maniacs and thus did not require police protection, are actually somehow viewed as beside the point, when they are more viscerally and genuinely informative of the nature of their foes: these killers are not cranky loner gunmen - they are part of a large consensus of fanaticism sweeping large parts of the Middle East

When Saudi Arabia can flog a journalist during Charlie week, we know there is a disconnect somewhere. What is really getting lost is Charlie's mad subversion. Charlie Hebdo was like National Lampoon, Monty Python, Private Eye, Mad Magazine, cranked up to 11. None of the political speeches about CH has been rude or funny or madcap. Hopefully the next issue of the Hebdo will return to what it does best: offending all equally. At the moment, and after some brilliant and imaginative illustrations and cartoons, we are settling for the usual rhetoric, the usual sombre tones.  To truly change the channel, we need to surf like Charlie did - on dangerous rude disruptive waves, and continue to fling snot and bile in all directions at once with comic fervour and clear-eyed distrust of all authority. Oh, and Je Suis Un Juif.

Roll Over Eliot and Tell Costa the News

A serious lack of intelligent critical engagement on the part of some players in the British poetry world has led to a situation of dumbing down, and aesthetic compromise. There is no genuinely engaged scholar of contemporary British poetry who could possibly think the ten-strong shortlist for tomorrow's Eliot Prize represents the ten best books of poetry published in Britain or Ireland this year - there are just too many glaring omissions. Further, the recent furore over Kate Tempest - a rapper and slam poet whose page-based work is mediocre and often lamentable - has been nothing short of disgraceful. Meanwhile, a perfectly pleasant, and amiable, and often funny poetry collection by a young man has won this year's Costa Poetry Prize - which is nice for him, but vaguely odd.  Again, the people who are selecting judges and selectors for most of the main prizes, book clubs, and festivals, seem either about 25 years out of date, or, far worse, guided by motives and poetics that are of dubious grounding. In the mad tilt to celebrity, accessibility, and accountability, an idea has seemingly formed that demotic, funny, usually rhyming verse is the most genuine way in which "real" poets can speak to "real people" in these "real" times.

Aside from the fact that we have had demotic poetry since at least Chaucer (and funny verse too), there is no reason to think poetry need be ever either "real" or "for the people" - poets are artists, and they should select their aims according to the art's interests, not the audiences.  Or at least, that is the elitist modernist view, which, up to a point I believe is essential as a starting point; tempered by a post-structuralist awareness of problematic issues with canon formation and ideology, to be sure.

It would be nice to be able to say that most poetry prizes in the UK are actually a tussle between modernist, post-modernist or avant-ist tendencies - but they aren't even that - like many reviews in newspapers, they are more often guided by pleasant, amiable, coterie group-think. So and so is handsome, or polite, or interesting, or has had a tough life, or taught me at this school or that course, or writes poetry like Heaney or Armitage, or was on the telly, or has won a lot of prizes, or is published by a big press... the number of reasons for selecting a poet to win a prize is so vast, it is hard to sometimes remember the real thing might be to ask who is actually writing the most interesting, or vital, or engaged, or informed, poetry. So long as 90% of people who read and write poetry in the UK think it mostly begins and ends with the list of three or four large mainstream presses, all is almost lost. Not quite, but almost.

However, for their part, Faber has of late published extremely exciting and intelligent new poets, such as Berry and de las Rivas, and will continue with Underwood soon.  I just think we need a lot more context, wider reading, and more robust intent on the part of some of the powers that be in these isles.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

WE ARE CHARLIE




Make no mistake, the terrorist massacre of at least 12 French journalists, editors, and cartoonists - writers and satirists - working at Charlie Hebdo in Paris (think a  socio-political combination of Mad Magazine, The Onion and Private Eye, with some of the cruder elements of Hustler), on the 7th day of the new year, is a seismic event.

As one cartoon had it, the twin towers were now two towering pencils, about to be destroyed. Of course, the deaths in themselves are sad and tragic. But the symbolic (as well as practical) impact of this attack is far greater than a count of the bodies, high as that is.  For, unlike the Brevik massacre, which was horrifying and cruel, but ultimately proved to be the work of an isolated madman without wider social connections, this was the work of a terror cell that may be linked to ISIS.

The massacre was timed with the precision of a military exercise - it occurred in broad daylight in the heart of one of the world's busiest, greatest cities - and was a calm piece of wet-work we might associate with the world's elite commando units.  Three men clad in black, armed with machine-guns, strode into a busy newsmagazine office at the worst time (was this an inside job?) - exactly when all the key editors and artists were there - and proceeded to execute them.

They also killed two armed police men, and then fled, without being caught, in a small car, later abandoned.  At time of writing, tonight, they have not been caught.  Forget amateur hour, or suicide strikes - this was chillingly planned, executed, and was, from the perspective of this most evil of operations, a total success.

Or was it? Charlie Hebdo may close (for a time), or not.  Tens of thousands of Parisians are gathering in the city tonight, and many French people are, in solidarity, changing their Facebooks to say Je Suis Charlie. Charlie Hebdo, a relatively poor-selling weekly, is now the most famous magazine in the world, just as, in a lesser way, the attacks on Sony made The Interview, a mediocre film, an instant classic.

Charlie Hebdo is not to everyone's tastes.  Let us be clear, it is often joyously tasteless, a shit-pie in the face of any and all powers that be. In fact, as a Catholic with great respect for all religious traditions (at their best), including Islam, I have been personally disgusted by some of their incendiary cartoons of the past, which have been vulgar, atheistic, and boldly confrontational.  They took no prisoners.

Okay, but, here is where we must draw what I call the Western line. I would never kill a cartoonist or editor for publishing such things as appear in Charlie Hebdo.  I would fight to the death, in fact, to protect their liberty, their freedom, to publish such work.  This is because the tradition that Charlie Hebdo is part of (the tradition that led to the French revolution and modern democracy) is also the tradition of Swift, Bentham, and all great satirists, and pamphleteers. For all the West's brutal faults, it is now commonly understood that we do not kill people for blasphemy, or for expressing ideas or opinions which question our own views.

But this is not a debating team wet-dream, only. This is not a hypothetical. This is a terrible, very frightening game changer for all writers, artists, satirists, publishers, and journalists, everywhere. What these extremists have demonstrated, in a way so clear and chilling it equals the horror of 9/11 - is that no one who thinks differently from them is safe, not even at home, in their own cities. If you publish something they don't like, they can rub you out. This is a kill fee with no fee, just the kill.  It is the radical and extreme and final riposte to gonzo journalism and its obsession with radical protest and guns - this is gonzo anti-journalism.

It is, in fact, the death of a free press in France, today - and hopefully, there will be a rebirth soon. But for now, we are facing a very bleak moment - for how do we protect other newspapers, magazines, blogs, and writers? How do we protect anyone who dares to question these maniacs? They live among us, they are well-trained, well-armed, and more deadly than any foe we have known before. SPECTRE and all fictional enemies now appear quaint, even aliens and asteroids and viruses and crop failure and global warming - we have madmen in our midst, and this is a fast-acting toxin.

As writers, and readers, we must stand up for Charlie Hebdo, for freedom, and somehow carry on, though we know we face terrible risks ahead. And, while this will play into the hands of fanatics who will seek to portray whole communities as dangerous, we must resist our own extremist reactions, while also being unafraid to hold firm, and take the hard decisions that need to be taken, to defeat the enemies of education for women, freedom of the press, and the Western way of life.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

TIMBERMAN ON THE YEAR THAT WAS IN TV

STEVEN TIMBERMAN ON TELEVISION IN 2014

How good was 2014 for TV? So good that there is no critical consensus. Years past saw a relatively small list of television shows dominate the critical conversation – The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Deadwood, maybe a sprinkling of Friday Night Lights or Lost if the critic wants to feel particularly transgressive. Shows written before 1999 are seen not as genuine predecessors but chicken scratch compared to the gorgeous calligraphy to come. It remains one of the things I love about American television – with ample time and a steady hand a relative newcomer can easily track down and absorb the medium’s accepted canon. A medium in relative infancy has no room for the gloriously messy and anarchic world of literary publishing.

And then 2014 happened. With Walter White’s conclusion told with deadened clarity, critical consensus collapsed. Critics went from arbiters to advocates – for the single-minded True Detective, the offbeat Fargo, the progressive Transparent. And I’d like to feel bitter about this shift, but the sheer weight of great material that aired last year speaks for itself. Even my own list saw a shake-up. Matthew Weiner’s elegiac Mad Men fell short for the first time in three years.

This is to no fault of Mad Men, which offered seven episodes of catharsis - a humbled Don Draper finally making peace with all of the demons he conjured over the years. Cannot wait to see how Weiner chose to end one of televisions' last great giants.

Though the networks still offered plenty of retrograde entertainment, casually progressive shows started to crack through. Black-ish not only revitalized old sitcom tropes, but also took on hot button issues with wit and pathos. And although How to Get Away with Murder has badly stumbled over several structural errors, Viola Davis' performance demonstrates how so many untapped stories still lay untold. For my money, there was no show as wonderfully progressive or subversive as Brooklyn Nine Nine - which manages to consistently deliver crackling comedy without reducing anyone to out of character histrionics.

Amazon burst into the big leagues with Transparent. Though Jeffrey Tambor's performance is a revelation, the show's depiction of casual religion and frictional family tension will stick with me even more. Proof positive that gender is just a thing we internalize, Transparent proves that real progress doesn't come when we deify marginalized groups. It arrives when we treat everyone like real people, with flesh and blood prejudices and biases and long held grudges and desires. The tenderness of Tambor's performance stands every bit as memorable as Josh's forlorn quest to find a female vessel for his insecurity, or Ali's directionless flopping around, or Sarah's marathon race to lock in long-term love like a business transaction. It’s a shame how many people will turn their head away from Transparent, because its on Amazon or because it explicitly seeks to smash barriers. Though Transparent was not the very best television series of the year, it may have contained my favorite scene - a Shabbat dinner gone horribly right, portraying the chaotic clashing of old rituals and new necessities with a profoundly Jewish pragmatism.

Other shows also gave us plenty to chew on; FX's The Americans steely precision and fiery performance by Kerri Russell deserves far more than the single sentence here. HBO's True Detective may have leaned too heavily on old tropes like the nagging wife, but its sense of atmosphere and loss were unparalleled. FX's Fargo improbably paid proper homage to its inspiration and offered a reminder that payoffs don't have to arrive years later. 24: Live Another Day livened up the summer with a superbly plotted season that reminded everyone that old relics can be dusted off, polished, and hold just as much power as our newest infatuations. Game of Thrones continued its overambitious march towards insanity, a continual high wire act that redefines what event television can be. The Flash pushed its budget almost as hard as it pushed the boundaries of network television storytelling, with incredible institutional memory and densely plotted payoffs conjuring the spirits of Whedon shows past. Deeply disappointed in the infantile House of Cards and sanctimonious Newsroom, I went international and found the Danish import Borgen. Though it finished airing in 2012, my most enduring memory of 2014 may very well be Birgitte Nyborg telling her fellow politicians that “All of us here have become ever so Professional.”

Everyone I know struggled to keep up with the avalanche of great television. The second series of Orange is the new Black and Masters of Sex are first on my list of shows to watch in the new year. 

But there was no show that left a deeper mark than FX's You're The Worst. My eyes glazed over the gaudy promos that pitched it as yet another nihilistic comedy about terrible people being terrible. Instead, I found a modern romance, the freshest story about two people falling in love since Harry Met Sally and subsequently froze the genre in amber. Well, at least in America.

In Britain, authors took a keen eye to enduring myths and changing attitudes – shows like Coupling, Gavin and Stacy, and Spaced took a gleeful axe to their suddenly stodgy American counterparts. Stephen Falk, creator of You’re The Worst, went into Hollywood pitch meetings and told them that he wanted to puncture every gaudy and internalized facet of the American romantic comedy. Gone was the over baked artifice. Instead, we follow two caustic cynics bonding over their own mutual dislike of other people – when Gretchen admits to setting her high school on fire to avoid a math test, Jimmy finds it to be one of the most romantic things he’s ever heard. They negotiate their kinks – Jimmy’s foot fetish is both a fountain of jokes and a part of his character. They eat and they drink and they fuck – but mostly, they just enjoy being around each other’s company.

You're the Worst captures the sensation of falling in love. It captures that moment when your significant other hears one of your secret shames and thinks it the coolest thing in the world. It captures the tug of war that underlines any relationship, correctly treating dating as something far more messy than a chess match. It captures that moment when you choose to unburden yourself ever so slightly, right after you've chosen to shoulder someone else's burdens not because you have to but because you want to.

Every single traditional show on television crams in a "romance", whether it’s warranted or not. And so people fuck like marionettes, or blandly crush on a coworker for a delayed love triangle, or drearily burp up platitudes. You're The Worst argues against all of that bullshit, unafraid to show real worry and vulnerability. When Gretchen gets an offer to spend the weekend with another guy, Jimmy doesn't coyly find a contrived way to get her to stay. Instead, Gretchen bluntly asks him to tell her to stay, if he wants to. And so Jimmy looks at her and says, with devastating earnestness, "Don't go."

It also features a vibrator hooked up to Christmas lights, too.

For that reason and so many more, You're The Worst was my show of 2014. Over fifteen years ago, David Chase created The Sopranos and lit the industry afire. And over a decade, television went from an also-ran to a true creative fault line. David Simon’s The Wire is the finest indictment of modern society I may ever witness. Show after show after show lined up and gently pushed the boundaries of how we use television to tell stories. There was a queue.

Stories now spin out in new directions, unafraid to show a man crying, a woman cracking a joke, a biracial kid tentatively trying to straddle two worlds - these elements no longer notable for their uniqueness but their ubiquity. And there are those who will want to return to the safer confines of the well-executed but well-trodden path of entertainment with clearly identified motifs and white hats and network-approved Comic Relief Characters. And those products will continue to exist and serve their audience. But me?  I’ll take this newer path. I want to see where it leads.
 
STEVEN TIMBERMAN IS AN AMERICAN WRITER WHO SOMETIMES IS KIND ENOUGH TO LET EYEWEAR PUBLISH HIS IDEAS AND THOUGHTS ON POPULAR CULTURE.

JANUARY SIXTH, A POEM BY ANDREW SHIELDS

JANUARY SIXTH

 

Johnny's in the attic now, and the snow

has started to cover the skylight with the slightest

sound disappearing into silence.

A bare bulb shines on an unlabeled box—

a set of Pyrex tubes. He pulls one out,

looks through the still clean glass at all the dust

he's stirred up by digging around up here,

seeking nothing in particular

but whatever feeling he might find.

 

The air begins to summon back the Christmas

cough that laid him up till New Year's Day.

He pulls up the cord behind his Bauhaus lamp;

out comes a badge that someone must have worn

since he was a kid—or just held up

to the light to see one corner of the star

had broken off. And on the wall is Bogart—

what's the use of a man in a fedora

no one ever smiles to recall?

He used to dream of repartee, of friendships

that were beautiful enough to end.

 

There's a paisley cloth on Dad's old trunk,

and the lid only opens with a slippery effort

and a cut on his knuckle. Sucking a trace of blood,

he fingers a pair of old sandals it made

no sense to keep, all sentiment forgotten.

This dug-up life just barely feels like his.

Here's a set of guitar strings for the guitar

he'd never seriously played, then handed on

to Bob, who went off overseas and wrote

so many letters, all so long he never

read them, sending only postcards back.

 

When had he last recalled this model airplane?

In the basement, when he should've been in bed,

he'd slowly glued the balsa, piece by piece.

The smell of the glue had slowly overwhelmed

the smell of the wood; he'd gotten dizzy with it

and his lack of sleep, but kept on building.

It'd flown so often, breaking only once,

a simple enough repair—will it fly again?

He's a man in an attic shuffling through his stuff,

things forgotten, things he'll never remember;

he's throwing away his life while the snow falls

and the wind blows whichever way it blows.

 

            Revised February 2009, typed October 2010
 
Andrew Shields' debut full collection is out with Eyewear July 2015!

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