What the NEA Means to Me

It is strange to be an American watching America from afar right now. I live in England, near the village of St. Albans, which has been continuously inhabited since Roman times. I often wonder what it must have been like to be a Roman living in Britain around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. News would arrive over weeks and months that illiterate Vandals had again plundered Rome, and burned its great libraries to the ground. Books, after all, were useless to them as compared with weapons and gold.

News that the current US administration plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and its sister organisations arrived in my social media feed at the speed of light, and hit me straight in the gut.

Continue reading “What the NEA Means to Me” on Huffington Post…

Learn how you can get involved at PEN America…


Poetry in Divisive Times

In the wake of rising authoritarianism in the US, and isolationism here in the UK, I have found it hard to sit down and write poetry. Clearly this seems to be a time for action more than words.

Revisiting an essay from 2007, written in the wake of US censorship of Iranian poetry, I began to re-formulate and re-work some thoughts from this piece into an argument with and for myself about why creative acts still matter.

You can read the results in a new short piece on The Huffington Post. I welcome your thoughts in the comments.


Young Student Filmmakers Respond to “Buttons”

I received an email the other day that delighted me.

A teacher in the UK found “Buttons” online and use it, and the accompanying storybook, to teach both poetry and filmmaking to her year six students. The results are wonderful, showing an understanding of poetic technique, inventiveness, careful observation of the everyday, and a good dose of humor.

It occurs to me this might be a great way to reach the smartphone generation with poetry, and gives me greater hope for the emerging genre of film-poetry as well. I am also grateful to see teachers championing creativity in an educational system increasingly obsessed with standardised testing.

Do check out the short films.


The Eleventh Year

Photo by Matthew Bedford from Unsplash

Eleven is drawn with parallel lines. Parallel lives.

In one, my son survived. He is with us in England, in the rain; or we are still in California, in drought. He is like me at that age — obsessed with science and discovery; or like his mother, he is at the piano, practicing. He is like neither of us, in surprising ways. Ways we will never guess.

I inhabit life on the other rail instead. It is definitely England, definitely raining, and I have become a poet. Science and engineering failed to show me how to address the vast inner landscapes I felt pressing from an early age. Miłosz, Dostoevsky, and Mahler succeeded. Subjectivity is the enemy of science, but the lifeblood of poetry.

Objectively, our son is gone. Subjectively, he is everywhere.

I am not a monorail. I am the smoke drifting up from a neighbour’s chimney, and I am the chimney, and I am the air.

Only at the place where parallel lines intersect, only there, at the point of points, can this all make sense.

One day I will join you in the space between lines. Until then, of each day I will try to make some kind of poetry, and in it, a space for you to dwell.

Godspeed, James, my son.