Reaching the Next Generation with Poetry

Edwin in the RainI never thought of myself as a children’s poet.

Yet it was thanks to Dr. Seuss that I began to delight in language itself, and I believe this early contact was crucial to my subsequent love affair with poetry. The tradition continues today, with excellent children’s poetry books coming out in print like In the Land of the Giants by George Szirtes (Salt, 2012). Yet I wonder if reaching children where we increasingly find them–affixed to the glow of a touch-screen device, with the whole of the Internet just a tap away–can be just as effective to instil a love of words and sounds.

As I explained at the award ceremony for our film-poem “Buttons”, this was part of the impetus for the film’s creation. Video has taken on a new life online. The next generation is growing up on YouTube in the same way that we grew up on radio and television.

Our film-poem was a labour of love–both in its conception as a collaboration between my pianist wife Valerie and me, and in its dedication to our young nephew in Australia. The response that night in the Purcell room, and the following day during an interview and screening of this and other children’s film-poems at the Southbank Centre, as well as the reverberations throughout social media as parent-friends pulled their children close to watch it together–has been heartening indeed.

Continuing in this spirit, I have decided to make a storybook version of the poem available to download for free on both iOS and Android devices. My hope is that parents will be able to read the poem and watch the film with their children in the same way that I turned the dog-eared pages of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish with my own mum so long ago.

You can download the book and watch the film right here.

Download for iOS/MacDownload for Android



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.


The Silence Teacher Reviewed in Magma Poetry

MagmaGeoff Sawers reviews my newest short collection The Silence Teacher in Magma Poetry.

He notes its “consistently even, deeply muted tones” that betray “very little of either self-pity or self-absorption” and declares it an “uneasy, affecting and unforgettable collection”.

Magma has become one of my favourite UK literary journals, in part for its tremendous variety; its poetry editors rotate with every issue. I am delighted by the mention, and pleased to be reviewed alongside the up-and-comer Rachel Piercey and well-known poet Martin Figura.

Read the full review here.


Two Reviews in Poetry International

Poetry International 18/19My three-year-old nephew brought the post to me this morning. He wanted to do it himself because the package was very heavy and, like all three-year-old boys, he wants everyone to know that he is very strong.

It was my contributor’s copy of Poetry International 18/19, all 736 pages of it, a treasure chest of poems and reviews. I am particularly enjoying the profile on Jane Hirshfield, whom I will be hosting for a Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading in August.

My two book reviews begin on page 700. Fred Moramarco was longtime editor of Poetry International, and his The City of Eden collects a lifetime of work spent in the rich conversation of poetry. Jonathan Harris is a newer poet, contemporary with me at the Pacific University MFA, whose brave debut The Wave That Did Not Break is a duet between him and his poet mother, who committed suicide when he was eleven.

The hefty double-issue also contains a review of Nikola Madzirov’s latest collection, exciting translations of Pablo Neruda, and many other gems. It will easily sustain me for another year. You can order copies directly from San Diego State University Press.


Dark Days, Bright Song

To Sing Away the Darkest DaysOver the past five years, poet, physician, and fellow member of Highgate Poets Norbert Hirschhorn has immersed himself in Yiddish folk song, seeking to free them from “dutiful, stilted” scholarly translations into re-imaginings as English-language poems for his newest collection To Sing Away the Darkest Days (Holland Park Press, 2013). In doing so, Hirschhorn brings much of himself into these pieces, often journeying far from the source text, through his cultural past and personal present, to infuse these poems with immediacy and relevance.

Read the full review on Huffington Post.