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://cdn5.peakepro.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.


Reading at the Royal Academy

Robert Peake reads at the Royal AcademyLast night I participated in a truly unique poetry reading sponsored by Ekphrasis. A dozen of us poets dispersed ourselves amongst installations in the Sensing Spaces architectural exhibit at the Royal Academy. As patrons wandered through the exhibits, we read poems to them, which we had written in response to these very spaces.

It was challenging. Bursting into poetry as the spirit moved me felt a bit like trying to be a one-man flashmob. Having never done any busking, I was unaccustomed to people wandering into or out of a room while I was reading a poem. Based on their responses, I think it was challenging, too, for the patrons. I saw many a bemused and bewildered smile.

Often, when we encounter something surprising like a provocative art installation, we seek guidance — in the placards on the walls, or the words of a knowledgeable guide. Yet we poets were the opposite of guides — raising yet more questions in response to their questions, bringing our own thoughts, music, and imagery to bear. The patrons were therefore simultaneously experiencing their own responses to the installations, and responding to ours. Challenging, indeed.
Continue reading…


Troubadour Poetry Prize Reading

OwlI made my way to Earls Court on Monday night, to participate in a very special installation of Coffee-House Poetry wherein I was awarded one of twenty commendations in the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Prize. These were selected, along with first, second, and third prize, by George Szirtes and Deryn Rees-Jones from more than 3,300 entries this year.

Particularly special for me that evening was being asked to also read the third-place poem by Tim Nolan of Minnesota. I found his poem, “Red Wing Correctional Facility”, about teaching poetry to young men in prison, very moving, and was honoured to be able to lend it my voice that night on my countryman’s behalf.

In second place, Mona Arshi’s “Bad Day at the Office” was a funny and affecting surrealist romp through the domestic details of a very bad day indeed. To accept her first-place award, Hideko Sueoka joined us from Tokyo. Even as her poem, “Owl”, deconstructed the sounds of English, gradually reassembling them into the language of owls, so too did Hideko herself seem to transfigure before us.

It was a great pleasure to hear Deryn Rees-Jones and George Szirtes read their own work in the second half. As George was reading, I was reflecting on our Transatlantic Poetry broadcast in August, and thinking how nice it was to be able to hear him read without having to worry myself with any of the technical details. At that moment, one of the stage lights blew. In any case, it was a pleasure to shake his hand — something not possible over the Internet.

Congratulations to everyone involved, and to Anne-Marie Fyfe for seven years running of this notable international poetry competition and the delicious evening that goes with it.

Read all of the prize-winning poems at Coffee-House Poetry.

<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/still-life-with-bougainvillea" target="_blank">Click to hear an audio recording of the commended poem "Still Life with Bougainvillea"</a>


Reading from The Silence Teacher at The Troubadour

“In the dangling conversation / and the superficial sighs / are the borders of our lives.”

-Simon and Garfunkel, “Dangling Conversation”

Robert Peake on stageI just got back from a memorable evening at the Troubadour Cafe in Earls Court. It was my first time reading poems from The Silence Teacher since it came out earlier this year.

Even my persistent cold could not keep me away tonight (though it made one audience member think I was Scottish). The audience was receptive as ever, and I sold out of books.

It was a pleasure to read alongside the robust Hannah Lowe, tender Fiona Moore, hilarious Hilda Sheehan, polished Alison Brackenbury, thoughtful Matt Bryden, reflective Angela France, and inquisitive Kate White. Plus, we had a special appearance by Australian poet Michelle Cahill, and Henry Fajemirokun performed one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkel songs.

Heartfelt thanks to Anne-Marie Fyfe and her team for wonderful evening.