Upcoming Readings: Ledbury, Leicester, London

The summer and autumn months are looking good for poetry.

I will be giving a variety of readings, in a variety of different formats, at various locations throughout the UK, between now and the end of October.

Ledbury 2015 Ledbury Poetry Festival, July 4th, 15:40 — 16:00

I will be reading from The Knowledge as part of the “20 Minutes With…” series at Ledbury Poetry Festival. This is one of Britain’s best-loved poetry festivals, and I’m excited to attend. More»

Hohensalzburg Castle The Saison Poetry Library at London’s Southbank Centre, August 5th 20:00 — 21:30

I will be reading from The Silence Teacher alongside fellow UK-based poets published by Poetry Salzburg. More»

shindig Leicester Shindig, September 21st 19:30 — 21:00

An ensemble reading and open mic in this much-loved Midlands reading series produced by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators. More»

Jazz-Poetry Rhyme and Rhythm Jazz-Poetry Club in London, October 2nd 20:00 — 22:00

I’m very excited to perform poetry in collaboration with the London jazz band Special Edition (Louis Cennamo, Barry Parfitt, Tim Stephens and Graham Pike). Hosted by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle, with open mic slots available. More»

Hope to see you there!


So Long, Mannahatta!

“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town! / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.”
-“On The Town”, sung by Frank Sinatra

So a book tour that began in the medieval English village of Much Wenlock ends in New York.

We capped off a feasting-our-senses-through-Manhattan city break with a trip to Walt Whitman’s birthplace on Long Island. I gave my “Tactics for Sneaky Poets” workshop to a receptive and talented local group, and was given a private tour of the house and very room where Uncle Walt was born, before taking to the stage.

What a pleasure and privilege it was to read with Peter Cole, who drew parallels between Whitman’s transcendentalist philosophy and ancient Jewish mysticism. He read poems from the depths of his own multitudes as well. Afterward, we answered questions from the audience about translation, displacement, and the necessity of the creative act.

I also marked the fourth anniversary of moving to England while here, surrounded by New Yorkers and ancient Egyptian artefacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York feels in many ways like a midpoint — both geographically and culturally — between my native rural California and adopted London. Yet it is entirely its own place as well. I will be sorry to say goodbye.

I won’t be sorry to get back to a radiator I can control, however, as all the apartment buildings seem to keep them on full-tilt until the end of May. As the street below is waking up, the cast-iron pipes beside my bed are banging furiously, transforming our tiny West Village apartment into a dry sauna.

Val and I have stripped off completely, lounging around like Adam and Eve. We have tasted The Big Apple. I have a feeling we will be back for more.


The Book Launch Tour Continues

What a pleasure it was to launch my debut full-length collection The Knowledge alongside Jo Bell, UK Canal Laureate, who launched her second collection Kith. Coincidence of timing brought us together, but complimentary styles and mutual respect has made touring together a delight.

IMG_4536We started in the small Shropshire village of Much Wenlock, birthplace of the Olympics, a place steeped in ancient Mercian history and happily overrun one weekend each year by poets. We read in a modern theatre space to an appreciative and full audience, many of whom were proud supporters of Jo’s excellent 52 project.

The next day we spoke on a panel with Jane Commane, our publisher at Nine Arches Press, and Simon Thirsk, her mentor from Bloodaxe Books. We dug into the details of editing a collection, peeling back the curtain on this sometimes hidden art. Re-living the past year of working on the manuscript with Jane only deepened my appreciation for her artful support.

IMG_4567We then drove down to Cheltenham for an evening reading in a warm, friendly pub. Again the audience was full and receptive, as well as keen to buy our new books. Several of us set the world to rights afterward over good Thai curry, reflecting on what a strange way around it is to get to know someone first by their poetry — that being often such a deeply intimate route — and then to get to know them socially afterward.

Valerie and I trundled back to North Hertfordshire today to draw breath, do laundry, and repack as we are off to New York tomorrow. I will be giving a workshop and reading at Walt Whitman’s birthplace this coming Saturday.

The book is launched. The book is launching. Houston, we have liftoff.


A Swirl of Activity

10625105_10152448722408981_7255422506237288730_nIt has been a swirl of activity lately, epitomised by the sound of my Australian nephew downstairs dramatising epic Hero Factory battles. Mine have been of the more literary sort, though at times it has felt like a limb might snap off.

Straight back from the Swindon Festival of Poetry, I had the privilege of reading with several outstanding American poets at the Troubadour on Monday night. Particularly meaningful for me was the opportunity to meet Tim Nolan, whose prize-winning poem I read in his stead at the Troubadour Prize reading earlier this year. Greg Freeman of Write Out Loud wrote up an excellent summary of the evening’s adventures.

In case you weren’t in Swindon last Sunday at 5pm, with your radio dial tuned to 105.5 FM, you can also catch the spirit of the Swindon Festival of Poetry in the archive of the Rhythmn and Rhyme radio programme dedicated to this event.

The delightful and enthusiastic Sam Loveless sequestered me in a corner of Lower Shaw Farm just after my reading, and we quickly got down to business — talking about the impact of deeply personal writing on loved ones, how to decide what to publish and what to discard in therapeutic writing, and about how the “petri dishes” of British and American poetry interrelate (I switched metaphors to call it “pollination”, but of course what I should have said is that we happily infect each other!).

I also spoke a bit about the impetus behind my forthcoming poetry collection, The Knowledge. The complete interview with Sam is available here:

<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/robert-peake-swindon-interview">Click here to listen to the interview</a>

Speaking of the book, it is starting to feel like a reality as we are lining up readings for next year in the US and UK, and even have a cover design, which you can see below.

Swirl on!

The Knowledge by Robert Peake


Swindon Festival of Poetry

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.

lsfI 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.

dcI 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.


When it Rains, it Pours

I am involved with three different poetry events in the coming week.

The PityFirst, the UK Poetry Society commissioned me to design video sequences for “The Pity” — a commemoration of the centennial of the First World War involving new poetic responses to conflict.

As poets Denise Riley, Steve Ely, Zaffar Kunial, and Warsan Shire read their poems in the Purcell Room on Thursday night, my video sequences will be playing on the big screen behind them.

It was a pleasure to collaborate this way, and I am looking forward to the result. More details are here.

Swindon Festival of PoetryNext, we are off to Wiltshire for the excellent Swindon Festival of Poetry on Friday. I am giving a lunchtime reading at Lower Shaw Farm which promises to be delicious. I am looking forward to seeing friends, and putting real faces to a few virtual acquaintances. That evening Don Share, editor of Poetry will read his poetry to musical accompaniment. The whole festival looks terrific. Hats off to Hilda Sheehan for bringing together such a wealth and diversity of poetry events.

The TroubadourFinally, it is back to one of my favourite London venues, The Troubadour, on Monday night for an evening of American poetry. I am looking forward to finally meeting Tim Nolan, as well as a fine lineup of expats, transplants, and imports who all share the same accent as me. Come join us if you can.

More details about each event are available on my website. Come early, say hello, and bring an umbrella.


Jellied Eels (Film-Poem)

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.

<a href="http://vimeo.com/84169213"><img src="http://www.robertpeake.com/files/2014/05/jellied-eels-300x168.jpg" alt="jellied-eels" class="alignnone size-medium wp-image-6013" /><br />Click here to play the video</a>

Jellied Eels

Read the text of the poem at the South Bank Poetry Magazine website.

Process Notes

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.