“All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking.”-Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas“
I had a rich and engaging time at the Swindon Festival of Poetry this weekend. At the heart of it all is Hilda Sheehan, with her stated goal to make it “the quirkiest poetry festival in the world.” Set mainly on the delightfully rustic and decidedly bohemian Lower Shaw Farm, it achieves not only this but other goals — being among the friendliest and least pretentious; rich, diverse, and encompassing; pushing past conventional views of poetry in the twenty-first century; intimately global; startlingly fresh.
I had the pleasure of kicking off Friday’s afternoon of readings with poems from The Silence Teacher and my forthcoming book The Knowledge. The full-house audience in a converted calfing barn was among the most attentive I have known, and the conversations afterward rich, honest, and meaningful. Louisa Davison shares her own experience of my reading at the Festival Chronicle website. It was a pleasure to hear Jacquelyn Pope‘s strong, spare work and then dynamic fellow expat Carrie Etter, bringing themes of parenthood and loss to the fore between us, which Louisa again picked up on in her musings. Maurice Riordan and Kathryn Maris then rounded out the afternoon, lending their unique and decidedly expert voices to the day. It was truly an honour to be in the company of these four.
The evening rolled on with a highly experimental fusion of film and poetry as part of Malgorzata Kitowski’s PoetryFilm event. She screened our film-poem collaboration “The Shell of the World”, and I was delighted to overhear many poetry lovers coming up to my wife Valerie afterward to compliment her on the soundtrack (which she wrote and performed for this film). Sometimes pure sound can be sidelined in a word-focused gathering, but not this one.
As if to prove the point, festival-goers and Swindonians thronged to Don Share‘s live poetry-and-music collaborative show “Squandermania” that night. Val and I were riveted — the whole thing having come together with top-notch musicians from the local area all meeting one another, and Don, for the first time earlier that day. You would never know. As much as the show drew us to the edge of our seats like a high-wire act without a net, each performer also seemed at once highly confident and passionately collaborative. Here were five artists really listening to one another in service to the sum of their contributions achieving so much more than the parts. It was a tight and electrifying improvisation, and gave me a new reference point for what poetry-cum-music collaboration can be.
I sold books, met new friends, put real-life faces to long-virtual names, and came away with a copy of Domestic Cherry 4, in which I have two poems. The journal is an excellent and deliberately eclectic mix of poems from many well-known names and others I am keen to watch.
Sometimes, the real magic happens, not in the places you’d first expect, but in fertile cracks and crevices, tucked away, where conditions come together perfectly to give rise to new art forms, and poetry gatherings the way you always wish they would be — inviting, encompassing, dedicated to art as a real and necessary force in each participant’s life. That was Swindon for me. It was unforgettable.
Now I am whisking off to The Troubadour for one of their always-exceptional evenings of poetry. Once again, I will be reading alongside fellow Americans. I suppose that’s one way to keep remembering what your accent is supposed to sound like.
Our recent film-poem collaboration “One Stop” was nominated for best music/sound at Liberated Words III in Bristol, where it premiered. The original soundtrack was composed and performed by Valerie Kampmeier. The film commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Do you remember beach-combing
for three-oh-three shells,
our little Easter-egg hunt
for exploding chocolate?
I think of you whenever
I snap the pill box shut.
You called our ride in a Higgins
boat "one stop on a busy tube."
We breathed through our helmets,
begging the spume to ricochet,
then leapt the ditch toward freedom
and cleared the snarling wire.
So this is freedom. This side
contains the same amount
of nitrogen in the air.
We won the race with our fists,
hands down, sound bananas.
What was it all for, Charlie?
Nineteen more minutes of linked
hands and holy prayers
to that bombshell divinity?
How do we know this road
leads back to the invisible base?
Go first. I'm right behind you.
I sourced archival colour footage of WWII, and composited this into an animation that I created using Blender 3D. I recorded journeys on the tube with an X1 Zoom, and mixed this under Valerie's music and my voice reading the poem.
I received my electronic version of Rattle #44 today. My poem “La Campagna, London, Friday Night” appears in it, alongside poems from fellow Pacific University MFA Alumni Daniel Bohnhorst and Kathleen Diane Nolan as well as an incisive political poem by Transatlantic Poetry’s own Janice D. Soderling.
Rattle remains one of my favourite US journals — accessible but thought provoking, enjoyable but complex. Editor Tim Green takes risks, which means that invariably I can find a poem that I adore and another that I can hardly stand all within the same issue. He continues to push the envelope with a new weekly initiative featuring poems written in response to current events on the Rattle website. This week’s poem is a hard-hitting response to recent news and online conversations about violence against women.
I had a great time reading poems at the Poetry Cafe in Soho tonight as part of the Southbank Poetry Competition awards. Valerie and I also collaborated to turn my third-prize-winning poem, “Jellied Eels”, into the following film-poem.
I recorded the poem through a pair of walkie-talkies to achieve the desired vocal effect. When then paired Valerie’s piano composition with morse code sounds. With so much going on auditorily, and because the poem itself is quite visual, we opted for a simple pan-out on time-lapse footage of light on water, which ends with a serpentine blur-cut that seemed to converge upon and reinforce the ending image of the poem quite well.
I received my contributor’s copy of Fjords Review vol. 2, issue 3 today. It is a lovely perfect-bound volume offering such delicacies as Sarah Palin erasure poems and an arresting series of photographs like the one on the cover. My poem “Color Study” should feel right at home.
I was pleased to send work to editor John Gosslee after his thoughtful and perceptive review of The Silence Teacher. He has since also become an excellent host in our Transatlantic Poetry on Air broadcast series, having introduced and interviewed Randi Ward and Jo Bell just last night. It’s a small world, after all.
Fjords Review is available from their website and from a variety of good book stores across the US. They obviously also ship worldwide.