Lucky Seven

Seven of HeartsOne month after we opened the final flap on the Advent Calendar, a child was born. Far from the environment of a stable, the operating theatre was brightly lit, clean smelling, and sterilised. Everything had gone just as Science had said it ought to go right up to that moment. Yet when our son emerged, he did not cry. Three days later, he died in my arms.

Perhaps to reassure us, since they knew we wanted to try for another child, the doctors told us that what had happened to us was a one-in-one-thousand occurence in the developed world. In the Euromillions lottery, beating one-in-one-thousand odds will win you about fifteen pounds. What happened to me seven years ago was worth so much more than that.

In the past, I would have defined a miracle as a significant, often inexplicable change in a course of events toward an outcome I had been hoping for. The miracle of James coming into our life, however, turned into something I had never imagined would happen, and something I would not wish on anyone. Yet I still call his birth a miracle, because it transformed me. Continue reading…

2012 Roundup Year-in-Review

Mayan Stone CarvingsOnce again, I take a look over the past year and select one post from each month that seems significant.

January: Numerology of Grief (The Sixth Year)

This brief meditation on six years since the death of our son found its way to a friend-of-a-friend who also lost his son in infancy. To hear how much it meant to him made all the long silences between writing seem bearable.

February: Long-Listed, National Poetry Competition

So close. Still, having my poem be one of the 130 long-listed poems out of over 11,000 entries was a nice little boost.

March: Magma Poetry Launch Reading at The Troubadour

I was delighted to have a poem appear in Magma, and fell in love with the history and rich atmosphere of The Troubadour that night.

April: First Year in London: Lessons in Negative Capability

Reflecting on lessons learned after one year living in England, I found the advice of John Keats as pertinent to poetry as it was a balm for culture shock.

May: Jonah (Film-Poem by Alastair Cook)

Lens-based artist Alastair Cook did a remarkable job incorporating a poem I wrote in memory of our neighbour-friends’ son into a film-poem in his characteristic visual style.

June: At Home in the English Countryside

Settling in to a different pace of life.

July: In Praise of Small Spaces

Learning to take pleasure in the little cultivations of a simple life.

August: Sabotaged! (A Review)

Martha Sprackland made some deeply insightful observations, the likes of which could only have come from reading closely and thinking carefully about my debut collection Human Shade

September: Ira Lightman: Experiments in Poetry

I came to embrace the high-risk, high-reward art form of experimental poetry.

November: Silk Road British Poetry Feature

After months of poem-wrangling and poem-wrestling, I completed my special feature on British poetry for Silk Road Review, due out in print next summer.

December: The Power and Peril of Written Words

Raw from the Newtown shootings, I typed out some thoughts on America’s reverence for the Second Amendment. It was re-syndicated by Huffington Post and ended up making the front page. Thousands of reads and hundreds of comments later, I only hope we might come a little closer to preventing such tragedies in the future.

“Toy Soldiers, Real Guns” on The Good Men Project

Toy SoldierThe Good Men Project maintains a strong commitment to publishing work and fostering discussion on difficult subjects relating to gender and masculinity. My thoughts have been developing in conversations (real and virtual) following the Newtown shooting about the nature of violence and what we might do to heal. I am grateful to the editors for publishing my piece “Toy Soldiers, Real Guns” and hope the conversation can lead to more meaningful change.

(photo: puuikibeach / flickr)

The Power and Peril of Written Words

America, A Prophecy by William BlakeI believe that it is important to intelligently question the modern relevance of our ancestors’ words. It is as important to literature as it is to government. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution was enacted on December 15th, 1791, exactly 221 years ago today.

I currently live in England — a country with no written constitution. Upon discovering this, the American comedian Jon Stewart laughed out loud, insinuating that the British were “too polite” to set their thoughts on government down in a single document. In reality, countless legal documents, and their interpretation, make up the “unwritten constitution” — allowing it to be continually debated, updated, and adapted to the practicalities of modern times by parliament.

After a hard-won Revolutionary War against a British government that restricted freedom of speech and assembly, only permitted firearms to be purchased through them in limited quantities, and also forced Colonists to quarter soldiers without warning, it makes sense that the First, Second, and Third Amendments to the US Constitution were soon passed. The First one has proved vital to a healthy democracy; the Third one seems pretty irrelevant these days.

However, as soon as you suggest that the Second Amendment, and its subsequent interpretation allowing citizens to own firearms for self-defence independent of a militia, might not be well-suited to the Twenty-First Century, you will probably be called “unpatriotic” or even “un-American.” Continue reading…

Perpetual Foreigner

Stage LightYou have played all the parts, rehearsed every line. You know the script like a memorised prayer. Yet now you are outside the play, sitting in the front row of the audience. Time has passed, and you have been in other productions since, with different dialogue, props, and sets. You realise that there are other, perhaps even better, ways to interact on stage — if only you could convince the actors to change a few lines, alter their blocking and stance.

But that is impossible. Instead you must watch the play from your darkened seat, unable to change one line of the script, to spare one moment of tragedy or prolong one second of joy.

Yet you are not at home as an actor in your new theatre company either. They are just as determined to deploy the parts they have been given, to play out their hard-earned roles, their charming traits and tragic flaws, to the inevitable conclusion. Sometimes you make a bit-part appearance on one stage or the other, but even then you are mostly just watching. The actors are people you care about, love, but they refuse for even a second to break character. After all, they are good at what they do.

Try to alter a scene even slightly, and determination flashes into their eyes, as if to say: “We are the people of this theatre group, and this is the way we must do it.” So you play your small parts. You let them play theirs. You learn to enjoy the all-too-brief moment at the end of a scene, when the lights fade to black, encompassing all of you — actors and audience — in the stillness, the same sweet dark.