Olivier Assayas's film on the aftermath of May 1968 is infantile ultra-leftism
JOE GLENTON explains his need to respond to a world that is unsustainably divided
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
It's that time of year again when anyone interested in poetry, the writers and readers, publishers and critics, is gripped by one overwhelming question - does anyone really give a toss about who wins this year's Forward Prize?
As the judges bravely struggle to choose between three books published by Faber, two by Carcanet and one by Picador, one of the judges, Hugo Williams, has been complaining that there were too many entries this year.
"I think it's something to do with the democratisation of everything, that everyone's got a right to get a book out. I've got the feeling that sometimes it's more about desire than worth."
In a sense he's right. Poetry is about the "democratisation of everything."
It's a way of extending the common ownership of experience, feeling and language. That's why it scares old Etonian cultural gatekeepers like Williams, and that's why the work of so many of our best poets is far too good to ever win the Forward Prize.
Alistair Findlay, author of Dancing With Big Eunice (Luath Press, Â£7.99) is one of Scotland's most original and radical poets.
Following his wonderful Sex, Death And Football and The Love Songs Of John Knox, his new collection addresses the world of work, specifically the world of social work from which he has just retired after 36 years.
Findlay writes with tenderness and humour about the landscapes of "pain, loneliness and humiliation" inhabited by social workers and their "clients" - "those whom God and the / class-system made and co-incidence / and the Poll-Tax had cast asunder, Life's / troubadours, Tommy Sheridan's crew, / mixed in with victims and psychopaths, / whose door you'd knock and sometimes hope / would not be there, not standing in the lobby / looking grim, rent book in one hand, meat / cleaver in the other."
Surely no-one has ever written so well about the impossible and thankless job of those who try to protect children "from public opinion, press-gangs, panels / politicians, perverts, piss-poor-parenting, / prefects, po-faced professionals, plook- / sookers and persons who drink polish."
Dancing With Big Eunice is a funny, raging and moving book in which Robert Burns turns up as a "headcase" on his way to a case conference saying "I must be bi-polar, / or else a Republican," John Knox is bound over "for the rest of the Reformation" and the welfare state is slowly transformed from "a professionally led, vocationally informed, labour-intensive and clumsily humane calling, into a budget-driven, top-down, short-term, market-oriented, pseudo-customised, supermarket glossed guddle."
Or, as John Lucas puts it in Things To Say (Five Leaves, Â£7.99), Blake's "Mind-forged manacles" are still as tight as ever - only these days they "now chafe men's brains as Management Speak, / Statesmen's Promises, Guru Goo, / Mission Statements, the tinny squeak / That comes from every fake priest's throat! / But they aim poison at each ear, / So we must sing our antinote / That sweetens the sour breath of fear / For all and for Jerusalem's sake."
Lucas's new book addresses the concerns - "Jazz, cricket, politics - the people's war / against all nobs and tyrants" - that have given his work as a poet and literary historian such a remarkable continuity of thought and feeling over the years. "Arts springs up where it pleases, / in country houses or a town's back streets ... though for me its worth greatly increases / the further off it gets from Balls and Meets."
Elsewhere he writes in praise of work and craft - "When the beechwood door clicks softly to / And the many mullions fit trig and square / Sing: all admire the carpenter / But no-one admires a millionaire."
This is the dialectical, Blakean "antinote," a manifesto for the democratic power of all art - "I know that grub comes first, I know the claim / that poetry, like art, makes nothing happen ... and yet, / whether we're veterans or beginners, / each of us knows the shiver of delight / or awe that lances through us like white light, / loosed by a voice, a rhythm or a chord, / the way a limb is painted, drawn or carved, / or how a phrase can glisten with the word / for which we hungered, not aware we starved / until, as from an unsealed souterrain / we're let out in to fields of shimmering rain."