10 Transcontinental Poets for 2013

Transcontinental 2013The Internet gives us the illusion that the best a culture has to offer will invariably find its way to us. But when it comes to art, I find that so much still comes down to local knowledge. Americans and Brits alike have long maintained a fascination with the literary work of their overseas cousins, but usually only the biggest names make the trip across the pond.

Hoping in some small way to remedy this, I have written an article for the US edition of The Huffington Post on “5 British Poets to Watch in 2013” and, for sake of symmetry, an article in the UK edition of The Huffington Post on “Five American Poets to Watch in 2013“.

How closely you watch is, of course, up to you. My hope is that you will seek out the work of these ten fine poets out for your own sake, to bring a little transcontinental mischief and mirth to your poetry reading in the year ahead.

Silk Road British Poetry Feature

Silk Road ReviewI spent the past several months editing a special feature on British Poetry for the US literary journal Silk Road Review. The project came about as a natural extension of my private efforts to help expose more interested Americans to the remarkable scope and diversity of poetry I have encountered since relocating to London eighteen months ago. And what a scope it is!

I focused on poets writing in English on the isle of Great Britain. Silk Road celebrates literature of place, and in Great Britain, place is invoked the moment one opens one’s mouth — from Patience Agbabi’s cold fusion of hip-hop and Chaucer, to Liz Berry’s private defense of her father’s Black Country accent, to Andrew Philip’s Scots-language-infused quatrains.

The geographic range is wide in this collection — encompassing Scotland, Wales, and various distinct regions of northern and southern England — as the following map attests.

<a href="http://cdn.robertpeake.com/silkroad-map.html"><img src="/files/2012/11/silkroad-map.png" alt="Click here for map"></a>

These poets also vary considerably in age, occupation, and background. But above all it is the mix of poems I love — the heft and chewiness of language, the eccentric panoply of characters, the private moments keenly observed. The feature will appear in Silk Road 10, due out late spring/early summer next year. You can subscribe now to ensure that you don’t miss a word.

The Film-Poem

Poetry is both visual and auditory, which is why it so easily blends with other media. Songs and illustrated stories issue forth from prehistory. The twentieth-century coinage “concrete poetry” refers to the arrangement of words in print for visual impact, an art as old as printing itself. And spoken word and rap music explore the musical qualities of speech in a modern context.

But it was the advent of film that brought new possibilities to poetic collaborations by opening up both fronts — visual and auditory — at once. One of my favourite examples of the successful intermarriage of film and poetry is a segment of the 1987 German film “Wings of Desire” that incorporates Peter Handke’s poem “Als das Kind Kind war” (“When the Child was a Child”).

The advent of interactive online media made poetic collaborations of a different type accessible worldwide. A favourite in this regard is Marvin Bell’s poem “Why do you Stay up so Late?” arranged as an interactive Flash piece by Ernesto Lavandera circa 2005. Here the observer is in control of the pace of the poem, as looped sound segments accompany written words and abstract images served up click by click.

The recent prevalence of video sharing and social media has birthed a new form of collaborative art, so new that the term has yet to be standardised. A Google search as of this writing for the following terms yielded these number of results: poem-film (32k), poemfilm (8k), film-poem (99k), filmpoem (30k). For now, I am going with the majority in referring to these works as “film-poems”.

Aesthetically, these pieces tend to feel like a music video of the spoken word. Continue reading…

Why I Write

Unexpected things happen when you release a book of poems into the world. The opening poem of the collection, “Father-Son Conversation” ends with the line: “I will go on speaking to you as long as I live.” Many people have written to me to say that they paused after reading this final line, sometimes for several days, before continuing on to the other poems in this collection. To me, that was both an unexpected and understandable response.

I have my own relationship with each of these poems. The first poem in this collection tells a lot about the purpose I have found in writing poetry. That is why I put it first. The Scottish poet Andrew Philip, who also lost his first-born son, says near the end of his poem “Lullaby,” “this is the man you fathered.” Indeed, my experience with the birth and death of our son James was an initiation into fatherhood — that I was “fathered” by him, just as one might be “knighted” by a sovereign. I came away with a charge.

But how to fulfill the charge of fatherhood without a child of one’s own? Continue reading…

Interview with Scottish Poet Andrew Philip

The Ambulance BoxI recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Andrew Philip, author of The Ambulance Box, as part of his virtual book tour. We conducted the interview via Skype, and it was remarkable to be able to both hear and see Andrew from such a great distance. Unfortunately, a few of those digital packets did seem to fall out of order somewhere over the Atlantic, so at times the lip sync is a little off. For me, it was still tremendously exciting to be able to speak with Andrew about his work, his craft, and his life using this technology. The complete thirty-five-minute video is available below.


For More Information:

Encountering Andrew Philip’s the Ambulance Box

“Even the pick / of those we share our pulse with shares this jolt / beneath the ribs, this double click of love. / How could they cope with even just one heart?”

-Andrew Philip, “Cardiac”

The Ambulance Box by Andrew PhilipI have Jilly Dybka to thank for sending Andrew Philip my way. Since I have written openly about the difficult and transformational experience of losing our first-born son, she must have recognized the the rare opportunity our being in touch provides. I am glad she did. It is an experience Andrew and I share.

Naturally, I was keen to read his debut book. What I discovered was not only personally moving, but profoundly accomplished work. Andrew writes in both English and Scots, placing himself in a tradition stretching back to John Barbour and encompassing Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns. As an American, I feel under-qualified to comment on the unique cultural and socio-political implications of this dual-language approach. (And, I must admit that I gave the online Dictionary of the Scots Language a good workout in making my way through some of the poems.) However, both as a poet in love with lyricism, and a father who lost an infant son, I can not resist adding my praise and commendation to the acclaim this book is gathering.

Andrew writes not only in Scots, a Germanic (not Gaelic) language, but in German as well. In “Berlin / Berlin / Berlin” he combines all three. If it is true, as Robert Frost tells us, that “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” there is a poetry uniquely found between the languages by Andrew Philip. Wildly associative, and at times experimental, the musicality of these poems lend congruity and veracity even as they burst with linguistic mischief. This is, above all, a collection full of life — which is what makes the moments in which poems touch, lightly but unflinchingly, upon grief, all the more profound. From the premonitory vision of a “difficult, unasked-for joy” in “Pedestrian” through the incredible moment in “Still” when grief rewrites the resurrection, announcing in broken lines across the page, “he is not here / he is not here / he is not here,” these poems are rapturous even in despair. Sentimentality and easy words seem as though they might never have been invented in the remarkable worldview Andrew hands us in this book, “in a language,” as he says at the end of “Tonguefire Night,” “yet to be born.”

As part of Salt Publishing‘s innovative cyclone virtual book tour, I will have the pleasure of interviewing Andrew in about a month. I hope you will join me. Salt has also recently launched a highly successful “just one book” campaign to save this well-regarded imprint from financial doom. If you do choose to support world-class poetry publishing by purchasing just one, or one hundred, books from Salt, be sure to make your first The Ambulance Box.