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.


The Essence of Instinct (Film-Poem Online)

<a href="https://vimeo.com/135297786"><img src="http://www.robertpeake.com/files/2015/08/0196-300x169.jpg" alt="0196" class="alignnone size-medium wp-image-7197" /><br />Click here to watch</a>

 

The Essence of Instinct

for Charles Darwin

That summer you were alone
with your thoughts, which is to say
you were never alone.

Nuage. Vapours. The Narwhal.
Collecting iridescent bugs
in your barely-visible net.

Cataloguing, by sputtering candle
the endless lists, ink darkening
the corner of your mouth.

Your armament of facts
was nothing much to her, as she
tested your reflexes with a pin.

Birdwatching. Beetles. Pheasant
blood-ruffled, shot-riddled,
a black stone’s coup de grâce.

Once there was no pattern,
the crochet unpicked by needles,
coloured threads, broken limbs.

Pricked, you bleed like a prism,
dividing light from light
through the aperture of pain.

All at once, the peacock
opens his eyes, and the threads
pull tight, stitching you in.

Process Notes

Continue reading…


“School Trip” Read by Phil Abrams (Video)

The Public Poetry Series, sponsored by Fjords Review, aims to foster a person-to-person experience of poetry through video. The actor Phil Abrams has done a remarkable job reading my poem “School Trip” to camera.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=binga5XpTmU"><img src="http://www.robertpeake.com/files/2014/11/Screen-Shot-2014-11-19-at-21.08.45.png" alt="Phil Abrams reads &quot;School Trip&quot;" class="alignnone" style="width: 100%; max-width: 560px;" /><br />Click here to watch the video</a>

He seems to feel and then say, unfolding his nuanced emotional range line-by-line in extreme close-up, embodying a kind of haggard, Giamatti-like anti-hero that is the perfect speaker for this poem.

Be sure to check out all the videos in the Public Poetry Series here.


Ten Favourite Animated Film-Poems

up-so-lateI have loved both poetry and animation for as long as I can remember. Lucky me to be born in the age of the animated film-poem.

I was therefore delighted to be asked to pick ten of my favourites (each for very different reasons) to submit as the first in a series of “top ten” lists for Moving Poems Magazine.

Some are based on poems by poets I know and respect, like Tim Nolan and Marvin Bell — others from poets new to me writing in a range of English accents as well as Galician, Russian, Hungarian, and Catalan.

You can watch all ten, with brief commentary from me about each one, online at movingpoems.com.


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.