“Homesickness”, Poem in Rattle Poets Respond (Online)

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Cuckoo by Hokusai

“In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.”
-Bashō, trans. Jane Hirshfield

In some sense, homesickness is always a longing for a place that no longer exists. Which is to say that it is always, to some extent, existential. Yet with the rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic, I have never felt more acutely that both where I once lived and where I live now are further than ever from “home”.

Rattle Poets Respond is a series in which poets submit poems in response to recent events. One poem is picked each week, and I am honoured to have my poem “Homesickness” appear in such estimable company.

You can read the poem on the Rattle website.

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What American Independence Day Means to Me

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FireworksIn my latest entry for The Huffington Post, I take a look at the American tradition of celebrating our independence from Britain on the Fourth of July. As you can imagine, though I do miss the hot dogs and sparklers, living in Britain now causes me to question much of what I once took for granted as unquestionably true.

Beyond the way one might root for a local sporting team, why might this particular national celebration still matter? I took a look around me for suitable metaphors to characterise the promise of the American spirit, and found one in the very place that I have spent most of my technology career: the start-up company.

Happy (Almost) Fourth of July to my fellow countrymen.

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Vertigo by Marvin Bell

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Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems is Marvin Bell’s twenty-third book of poetry, and his fourth full-length collection of “dead man” poems. The form, invented by Bell, takes the zen admonition, “Live as if you were already dead” as its epigraph, eschews enjambment (one sentence per line), and always appears in two parts (“About the Dead Man and ___” and “More About the Dead Man and ___”). Pushing limits in the dance between the intentional and arbitrary, Bell has arranged the poems in this book alphabetically by each fill-in-the-blank word or phrase.

Bell tells us that “[t]he dead man, like you, entered through an archway of effects,” echoing the first line of another iconic poem, “Why Do You Stay Up So Late?” where he declares, “Late at night, I no longer speak for effect.” In un-death, as in late-night delirium, Bell’s other-self has found the means to integrate worldly overwhelm since, for the dead man, “[i]f it were not for the lateness of the hour, everything he sees would be too much.”

The effects he rejects include “the tautologies that cloak war and torture” and glitzy marketing-speak. Through an at once more direct and more off-kilter relationship to language, the dead man can “[enter] your consciousness without tripping the alarm.” And so, through a broad range of different tactics, including humor, pathos, and brain-bending syntax, the dead man slips in his meaning, juggling around the sometimes-awful truth like the fool in King Lear’s court.

The book opens with two quotes — one about the curious nature of philosophy and another about the naturalness of making art. Bell invokes concepts from philosophy, such as Buber’s “I-Thou”, Zeno’s paradoxes, and Occam’s razor, yet the dead man himself is not loyal to any insignia, treating religion, superstition, and science alike, for he “has worn the lone Star of David and the ankh, the good luck rubber band, the medical alert.” Despite this, “he is at peace with the one fact that most informs science, puzzles philosophy, and troubles medicine: that things end.” Continue reading…

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Adieu, America

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“You don’t have to dislike a place to leave it.”

 — my wife

American soldiers on D-Day

Last weekend, we drove down to Seal Beach to say farewell to my wife’s aunt. Her parting gifts to me were a bottle of champagne, two sleeping pills for the flight, and a small pin with an American flag on it. She met her American husband in England not long before he shipped off for the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy.

I imagine it is always poignant to leave one’s home country. I liken my evolving relationship to my homeland to how I imagine a mother might regard her teenage son. I admire his idealism and energy, robustness and strength, the sense of freedom and possibility. I also notice with chagrin his sense of entitlement and invulnerability. I likewise find it hard to believe reports that he has become a bit of a schoolyard bully, taking advantage of others at times, and behaving recklessly in the hubris of youth.

I love my country, and will miss it. But I am glad for the opportunity to live in the Old World as well. More than politics, it is the people I will miss, and of course the vast open spaces, encompassing nearly every biome on Earth. I will be glad, though, for a more immediate sense of connection with the continuity of human history. London itself has been continuously inhabited for more than two millennia, emerging and reemerging, phoenix-like, from each collapse.

And so I say, “so long” for now to the beautiful and complicated place where I grew to become a man. I am not leaving my homeland due to political or religious persecution, or even necessarily to seek greater economic opportunity in another land. I am going because it is time to go have this adventure. And wherever I go, I will be an American.

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