Two Poetry Readings in London in May

After a long thaw, I am looking forward to two poetry readings in London in the month of May.

First, I am returning to the Troubadour Cafe in Earls court for “Across Oceans“, a trans-Atlantic evening of poetry hosted by Anne-Marie Fyfe on Monday, May 9th at 8pm.

Next, I will find my way to the basement of the Poetry Café in Soho for a Shuffle evening dubbed “A Bottle of Sparkling Pop” (after Kenneth Koch) hosted by Hilda Sheehan. That’s on Saturday, May 28th at 7.30 pm.

Both promise really interesting lineups, including Joshua Weiner at the Troubadour and Emily Harrison at the Poetry Café. Do come out and join us if you can.

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Poet Tips Has Hatched

Nearly a decade ago, I asked the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if a service like Pandora [or Spotify] existed for poetry?” A variety of experiments in trying to “teach” computers how to analyse individual poems led me to conclude that this approach was a dead end.

Then one day in the shower, I had the idea that if I could instead “pool” the recommendations of real people about which poets (rather than poems) are similar to each other, I might be able to fulfil that same intent — to help people find their next favourite poet using technology — in a completely different way.

So, I put up a simple website and, one month and 20,000 lines of code later, the idea attracted nearly 100 beta testers to a private “rough draft” of the site. Their input has been critical to shaping the interface of the site, as well as clarifying the essential message.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the public beta — that is, an improved version of the site, but still very much a work in progress — is available for anyone to peruse.

Encouragingly, between the beta testers, and a few curious individuals who learned about it from the @poet_tips Twitter account and my Facebook feed, the site has grown in the past month by nearly two thousand recommendations or “tips”.

Line Graph of Tip Growth Votes by Country Pie Chart Votes by Country Map

That said, we still have a long way to go. This site will only be as useful as the tips and recommendations people are willing to contribute to it. So, if you are at all curious, please do visit and bookmark the site, and come back to both find new poets and to contribute your suggestions as often as you like. Like Wikipedia, this site will always be a work in progress, and the more we build it, tip by tip, the better it will get.

This kind of thing is obviously also a bit of a social experiment. There have already been some interesting moments.

For example, someone already figured out how to use the simple recommendation formula (“If you like ___, you might like ___”) for snark. A poet known for showmanship and media antics recently got the tip that if you like them, “you might also like PT Barnum”.

Clearly, the site will need some moderation and upkeep. Hopefully, enough people will contribute useful tips to drown out the inevitable bit of silliness and “noise”.

In response to the Tweets, two people also tried to report a “bug” with the site not recommending enough women. The site was “seeded” with canonical poets from history, which is male-skewed, but has long since outgrown that initial seed base with real tips contributed by real people.

So, at this point, if there is a “bug” in this crowd-sourced data set, it reflects a very real “bug” in our society. I’d like to think Poet Tips, presenting the opportunity for anyone to respond by contributing and voting on tips, could actually become a “bug fix” for inequality and underrepresentation in the poetry world.

With all of this, time will tell.

So far, I have already made some new discoveries, thanks to the influx of recommendations that have included poets I hadn’t heard of before (but should have), as well as votes on various associations that hadn’t occurred to me (but now make sense). In short, it’s starting to work. And all of us, click by click, can help to make it work better.

I leave you with a short screencast outlining the practicalities of using the site. If you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback — or if this has inspired you to want to help out with the building and maintaining of the site and its growing data set — please do get in touch.

<a href="https://youtu.be/FoWO91ltGjg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.robertpeake.com/files/2016/03/pt-logo-splash.png" alt="Play Video" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-7600" style="margin: 0 auto; max-width: 640px; width: 100%"/></a>

Visit the Poet Tips website for more.


Alice: Ekphrasis at the British Library

walrusThe postman dropped my contributor’s copy of Alice: Ekphrasis at the British Library through the mail slot just now.

What a wonderful project they have taken on this time, gathering responses from fine poets throughout the UK to the work of Lewis Carroll. I was delighted to add a political poem to the mix.

Many of the contributors will be reading this evening at the British Library in what looks to be a stellar lineup, with an encore reading tomorrow night as well.

Do check it out if you can.

Maddest of hats off to Ekphrasis for another really excellent collaboration.


X

“Who would give me a map to find you, the paper / superimposed with a constantly moving ‘X’?”
-From “Father-Son Conversation

Malcolm. Professor. Triple. Dos. So many x-es, so many ex-es. Expatriate. Expletive. Ex-father. Ex-son.

Two lines, for a moment, cross. This is how the Romans made ten.

In Arabic numerals, it takes two digits: father, one; son, nil. Zero is a placeholder: round, complete, and gone. A circle describes its absence.

It has been ten years since our son was born and died, and not a day goes by that he is not a felt part of me, like the fingers of my two hands.

X

Why I Should Be Over It By Now
(ten reasons for ten years)

  1. Because it was a long time ago.
  2. Because, after all, he was very small.
  3. Because hawthorn blooms a lace cover for its thorns.
  4. Because many couples don’t have children (yet, ever).
  5. Because you had choices (not choices).
  6. Because beech-leaf orange rages the valley unchecked.
  7. Because you look best in photos when you smile.
  8. Making overrated is good sense, because.
  9. Because who can remember his name?
  10. Because of the wonderful things he does.

X

The first snow of winter has dusted our part of England, and I am sitting by the fire, warming up after a long country walk. To prepare for a poetry reading this afternoon in London, I leaf through my new book, the one I read from all last year. Unlike the previous slim pamphlet, it contains no mention of James, our son. No dedication. Not a single poem.

X

Cognates of Grief

Kobus, Koos, Jago,
Jamma, Diegu, Joggi,
Ya’aqov, Yaakov, Iacobus,
Iacomus, Jakobus, Iakov,
Jakobe, Köbe, Iago,
Jaime, Diego, Santiago,
Yasha, Séamas, Siâms,
Yakobo, Jems, Jacques,
Jakku, Jaak, Jake,
Jack, Jim, Jimbo,
Jimmy, Jamie, Jay,
first, only, baby,
James.

X

We are in Edinburgh for his tenth birthday, visiting friends. It has become a special place to me, my most-visited city outside of London in the Old World.

I only know a handful of lullabies, but I sang them to James in his final moments. After the doctor confirmed that his heart had stopped, all I could hear was the refrain:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry.
Carry the lad who’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

X

Countdown

9  —  years of love (in a world in need of love).

8  —  Acht and Uno (and infinity).

7  —  Lucky (and miraculous).

6  —  For idealists (ideal father, ideal son).

5  —  It is complicated. It gets better.

4  —  Art, compassion, courage.

3  —  My inner life is my real life. In it, I carry my son.

2  —  I wash my hands as though life depends on it.

1  —  Compassion, poignancy — how much everything matters…

0  —  The essence of parenthood — that pure and selfless love.


Noman’s Land Common (Film-Poem Online)

<a href="https://vimeo.com/152471055"><img src="https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/552486948.webp"/><br/>Click to watch</a>

Noman’s Land Common

A shadow passes over the meadow, effortless
in its cooling presence, a wake
of songbirds, for a moment stilled,
for a moment passed over
by a presence like night, a shoal of fish
beneath the barnacled hull,
tender in covering, blanket-soft,
the lids pulled over
our welling eyes, to shed a drop
in the pool of soft grasses,
which ripple, concentric,
in an unseen wind that blows
all things, together, onward, all things,
eventually into crossing,
into parting, into the covering-over
of life with — not death, exactly — 
but the other side, the other life
in which cloud, meadow, fish, ship
reveal their true names to us — 
flashes-through-sunlight, dark
moisture, ink of relentless progression.
A brush dipped
in clear water, the pigment’s smoke,
a cipher of leaves in the swirled cup.
The Hawthorn renounces her wedding vows.
Slow raptors finger the dryness of heat.
Nameless, in the new world, a congregation
of petals, root, trunk, and branches,
new leaves, in the unnamed world,
hold out their yellow hands to the rain.
A voice cries out
in a language you recognise, and the cloud — 
for that is what it is, just a cloud,
retreats in spinal curvature over the hill,
which is grass, then soil, then stone,
a foetus in the centre, its open hand
a gesture of greeting, of saying “goodbye” — 
and now you are on your knees, in a field,
jet-lagged, on a Wednesday, remembering
your name, a gift from your mother,
as the multiplication tables arrange
themselves before you, pieces for chess,
a calendar full of meetings in which
you can never say: for a moment, I was
that shadow, say, listen, I have been
to the other side of life, and a child
rests in the womb of the earth,
but instead stare-down at your ink-stained
hands, and nod, and arrange your broken
face into the gesture of listening.

Process Notes

With the tenth anniversary of the birth and death of our son James fast approaching, I find myself writing about the ongoing effects, including sudden and overpowering moments of grief. The text came first. I then shot time-lapse of clouds through an inexpensive toy kaleidoscope using a Raspberry Pi camera. I also shot real-time nature footage through the same kaleidoscope by holding it up to my smartphone camera. Valerie composed and performed the music. The title refers to a nearby patch of common land in North Hertfordshire that we frequent. One year, after extensive tilling, a field adjacent to the common erupted in red poppies, not unlike the no-man’s land of the First World War.