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="http://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.


Five Expat Poets to Watch in 2016

To my knowledge, the T.S. Eliot prize shortlist has never included someone in Eliot’s own circumstances — that is, an American-born poet living in the UK. Yet there are many of us out here, and many worth knowing more about.

I have therefore complied a list of Five Expat Poets to Watch in 2016.

Seek them out, enjoy their work, and raise a cup of tea to the special (poetic) relationship.

View the complete list here.


2015 Roundup Year in Review

2015 was the year of The Knowledge for me, as well as a spate of film-poems, collaborations, and trips to new places. Here’s a brief look back at the salient moments from each month.

January: Nine Years of Love

I reflect on nine years since the birth and death of our son, in the year when my maternal grandfather and spiritual teacher also pass on. The conclusion is simply this: our world is in need of love.

February: Namesake (Film-Poem Online)

A paean to my namesake/nemesis, this bit of machinima plays with identity in the digital age using parallax techniques. It was both painstaking and fun to make.

March: Sneak Peek at The Knowledge

Excitement builds as Nine Arches Press publishes a few poems from the book online.

April: The Knowledge Arrives

I drive up to Milton Keynes to receive my first batch of author copies of the book. A surreal and wonderful moment on many levels.

May: Reading and Workshop at Walt Whitman Birthplace

I delight in setting foot in New York for the first time (!) to give a half-day workshop and evening reading at the Walt Whitman Birthplace.

June: "Mnemosyne's Tango: Poetry, Film, and the Dance of Memory"

A brief essay in which I lay out what fascinates me most about the film-poem genre.

July: Ledbury Poetry Festival

I take in Ledbury, catching up with poets like George Wallace, George Szirtes, and Daniel Sluman in various cafes and pubs.

August: The Essence of Instinct (Film-Poem Online)

Hot on the heels of the release of Google's new Deep Dream technology, I give it a try as the basis for a new film-poem.

September: Letting the Robin out of the Bag

Nine Arches Press puts my poem "Robin" on their promotional canvas bag. Beautifully done, it becomes the basis for a few Christmas presents this year.

October: World Literature Today Does The Knowledge

Piotr Florczyk takes a deep dive into The Knowledge, and comes up with a few pearls.

November: The Knowledge Goes Pining for the Fjords

Abby E. Murray sucks the marrow from this book. To know even one reader has read the book this carefully--let alone a poet I admire as much as Abby--is a rare privilege indeed.

December: Two Poems, and a Review of The Knowledge, in Poetry Salzburg Review

Ian Watson gives a ringing endorsement of The Knowledge, concluding, "The problem with The Knowledge is that there are just too many striking images, too many poems to cite. Just go out and buy it."


Roll on 2016!


January Poetry Surgeries in St. Albans, Hertfordshire

Following on from last year’s success, I will again be offering a limited number of one-to-one “Poetry Surgeries” through the UK Poetry Society in St. Albans, Hertfordshire on Sunday, January 31st. This is a great way to get new perspectives and reinvigorate your writing for the coming year.

Valerie Morton, author of two full-length collections of poetry, had this to say about our time together:

Having never done a ‘poetry surgery’ before I was a little apprehensive, but Robert Peake immediately put me at ease. He had done a lot of work on the poems I had sent in advance and helped me to look at them with new eyes. His thoughts and ideas helped me free up my language and inspired me to be braver with the material I had. I felt I was getting into a bit of a rut with my writing but I left this surgery feeling uplifted and encouraged to be unafraid to experiment more. It was one of the best value hours I have spent with a poet who I trust and whose own work I admire. It certainly helps lift a writer’s block.

These one-hour sessions take place in a central location in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, near to parking, train, and bus links. Last time, all sessions sold out, and this time there are fewer sessions available. So, if you or someone you know in Southeast England might be interested, please do have a look at The Poetry Society website to book your place.

Here’s to a year full of great writing ahead!


Commissioned Poem in Visual Verse Online

visual-verse

If you like ekphrastic and prompt-driven poetry, Visual Verse is a goldmine discovery. Each month, they post a new intriguing image, and publish scores of written responses from all over the world.

To kick off 2016, Preti from Visual Verse emailed me to ask if I would write a poem in response to their image as a commission to sort of prime the pump. Do ducks swim? I was delighted to complete the challenge: 50-500 words written within one hour of viewing the image.

You can check out the image, and my poetic response, on the Visual Verse website.