Andrew Philip Reviews The Silence Teacher

The RoadMy friend the Scottish poet Andrew Philip wrote a review of The Silence Teacher that I just discovered tonight. His perspective is one I greatly respect–not only because I hold him in such high esteem as a poet, but because he, too, has walked grief’s road after losing an infant son.

It must have therefore been as hard in some ways for him to read the collection as it was for me to write it. Yet I can also think of no one better equipped to understand, from the inside out, the difficult task of attempting to make art, and thereby make meaning, from such loss.

There were many dark nights of self-doubt for me. These poems often felt simultaneously necessary and impossible to write. Grief is such difficult terrain to navigate honestly without fears of self-indulgence. Yet Andrew himself has done this masterfully, and I rate his own poems about his son among the most moving I have read.

It is therefore greatly affirming to see him write that The Silence Teacher represents “the kind of volume I wish I had written” since, through his support, encouragement, and fine example, in a way he did.

You can read the full review here.


Das Achte Jahr

Uno Blue Eight“Blue?” “Blau.” My ten-year-old friend is teaching me German as we play the card game Uno.

His eyes are also “blau” and his hair light blonde. His English is only slightly further along than my heretofore-nonexistent German. So I mime. I ham it up, both winning and losing with panache. I shout “Uno!” and wave my final card high over the discard pile–whether or not I can actually play it. I feign desolation when forced to draw again. He laughs.

That was less than a week ago, in Berlin. Today, back in London, I reflect on the eighth anniversary of the birth of our son James. He too came out with fine blonde hair and his eyes, had he ever opened them, would have started out baby blue.
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Three Views of The Silence Teacher

“…what is poetry for, if not to represent the breaking of hearts?”

-Fiona Moore, author of The Only Reason for Time

Assyrian SphinxThe Silence Teacher has the honour of appearing in what is, sadly, the final issue of Sphinx that will carry poetry pamphlet reviews. This online guardian of the the poetry pamphlet has presided with dignity over its cause for some time, and although its other activities will continue, the reviews will be missed.

In this double-barrelled review, Gill Andrews is drawn to the narrative poems, and finds them interesting, affecting, and precise. Marcia Menter considers the seven years of the pamphlet’s making “time enough to shape the raw emotion into a space as quietly resonant as a stone chapel.” She wishes for a bit more joy overall, but concedes that the work is entitled to its intensity. Both reviewers draw out unique and interesting observations, such as the use of fish to convey a sense of being underwater. You can read the full reviews in Sphinx 42 online.

Fiona Moore is no stranger to grief. Her pamphlet The Only Reason for Time, which rightly found its way to the Guardian Best Books of 2013, is a tender and subtle portrayal of the aftermath of losing a spouse. As a fan of her work, I value her thoughts particularly.

She notes how the vestiges of formal verse haunt even the free verse poems in The Silence Teacher, how there is playfulness in the midst of silence’s weight, and spots layers of metaphor in the animal poems. Just to know that these poems were so carefully read by a fellow traveller on this road is a comfort somehow. You can read the full extent of her thoughtful perspective here.

So, this slim, staple-bound creature continues to take on a life of its own.


The Silence Teacher Reviewed in The North

The North, No. 51

“…fresh sweat and sweet / Mortality, he found them on the North”

-Thom Gunn, “At the Back of the North Wind”

Paul Stephenson reviewed The Silence Teacher, along with three other pamphlets from Poetry Salzburg, in the current issue of The North. He begins, “If all poetry is essentially about love and loss then there is little need to read beyond Robert Peake’s beautiful and heart-breaking pamphlet, The Silence Teacher”.

He quotes from the book in summary of its themes, and picks up on the “interplay between love and hate” sometimes manifesting in “quiet violence” at various points in the collection. Indeed, sometimes sadness and anger, love and hate, have much in common. He concludes, “These highly-crafted, long-considered poems have so much emotional resonance, from a father who will not teach his son hello, whose son ‘came in waving goodbye'”.

Paul also gives a friendly mention to the Transatlantic Poetry on Air project, and treats the other pamphlets in this series with equally brisk and enticing insights. I look forward to reading the rest of The North, and reading and re-reading my fellow Salzburgian pamphleteers.

Single issues and subscriptions to The North are available from The Poetry Business.


The Silence Teacher Reviewed in Rattle

RattleRattle is one of my favourite US literary journals, and Michelle Bitting is one of my favourite US poets, so to have her treat my newest short collection, The Silence Teacher, in their online reviews series is particularly meaningful for me.

As Michelle says, we were together in the first workshop of the first residency of my first semester in the Pacific University MFA in Writing programme. Reflecting on that time, which still plays in my mind like a black-and-white film, I realise how far I have come in my travels with grief, and how essential writing has been throughout.

Michelle makes astute observations about the arc of the work throughout her review, calling it, “a heroic account of a father’s journey dealing with death.”

Read the full review on the Rattle website.


What Seamus Heaney Meant to Me

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney, 1970. Photo: Simon Garbutt

One of my favourite poets, who had a significant influence on me, is also one of the world’s most-loved poets, who had a significant influence on the latter half of the twentieth century. Now Seamus Heaney is gone.

The sound of a giant falling is so tremendous that whatever we say afterward must be done in a whisper. It occurs to me that quietly retracing the ways in which this wonderful poet influenced my personal relationship to poetry could serve not only as the telling of a somewhat universal tale, but also as a personal tribute.
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The Avuncular Variations (Poem and Audio)

Sippy CupMy sister-in-law and our three-year-old nephew stayed with us for a week. It was great to revisit the classics: Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and Matchbox cars. They will soon be on their way back to Australia. Needless to say, I will miss them.

Spending time together was at once familiar and profound, and as is often the case with such experiences, it prompted me to write. What follows is a poem for my nephew in four parts, and an audio recording of me reading it.
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