So Long, Mannahatta!

“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town! / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.”
-“On The Town”, sung by Frank Sinatra

So a book tour that began in the medieval English village of Much Wenlock ends in New York.

We capped off a feasting-our-senses-through-Manhattan city break with a trip to Walt Whitman’s birthplace on Long Island. I gave my “Tactics for Sneaky Poets” workshop to a receptive and talented local group, and was given a private tour of the house and very room where Uncle Walt was born, before taking to the stage.

What a pleasure and privilege it was to read with Peter Cole, who drew parallels between Whitman’s transcendentalist philosophy and ancient Jewish mysticism. He read poems from the depths of his own multitudes as well. Afterward, we answered questions from the audience about translation, displacement, and the necessity of the creative act.

I also marked the fourth anniversary of moving to England while here, surrounded by New Yorkers and ancient Egyptian artefacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York feels in many ways like a midpoint — both geographically and culturally — between my native rural California and adopted London. Yet it is entirely its own place as well. I will be sorry to say goodbye.

I won’t be sorry to get back to a radiator I can control, however, as all the apartment buildings seem to keep them on full-tilt until the end of May. As the street below is waking up, the cast-iron pipes beside my bed are banging furiously, transforming our tiny West Village apartment into a dry sauna.

Val and I have stripped off completely, lounging around like Adam and Eve. We have tasted The Big Apple. I have a feeling we will be back for more.


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


On Becoming British

Two Passports“So which country is better?” The US Homeland Security Agent glances between me and my passport photo. I try to detect a smile. No luck.

I tell him what I now tell everyone — that no place is perfect, that living in the UK really suits us for now, and that each country could learn a lot from the other. He returns my blue American passport, and lets me back in to the country where I was born.

Today a second, burgundy-coloured passport arrived, embossed with the Royal Coat of Arms. It is the culmination of four years culture shock, driving lessons, memorisation tests, long nervous waits in the UK Home Office, and a small mound of both paperwork and money.

I have finally become British.

Not English, mind you. I was raised in the Sonoran desert. Culturally speaking, I am probably more Mexican than English. I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I intend to remain a citizen of the United States as well. I have family in both countries, have now lived for a while in both lands, and so both places are, in their own way, home.

When I tell people in the UK that I have naturalised, they look at me almost as quizzically as when I first told them that I had moved from sunny California to rainy England. I suspect Adam might have had a similar reception fresh from the Garden of Eden. “You left where?”

The elements that many British people are convinced constitute paradise — warm weather, sporty culture, and affordable goods — are not driving factors for me. The elements of living in England that are less prominent in Southern California — including a widespread respect for the arts, and easy access to travel in Europe — are.

I like it here, and so would like to vote in national elections, and otherwise participate fully as a citizen, rather than just as a permitted outsider. So I have become British.

After the swearing-in ceremony, we did the only sensible thing. We celebrated with a drop of tea. Feel free to raise a cup in your own homeland, wherever that may be, to celebrate with me.

Cheers.


Filmpoem 2014, Antwerp

Alastair Cook saying interesting things about film-poemsPoets, musicians, and filmmakers from all over the world converged on FelixPakhuis in Antwerp last Saturday for a fantastic day of screenings and conversation.

It was a pleasure to see John Glenday again, and to meet outstanding poets like Michael Symmons Roberts and Zeynep Köylü alongside filmmakers like Marc Neys and Adele Myers.

You can read more of my thoughts on the day, and view a selection of excellent film-poems from the first screening curated by Alastair Cook, which provides a fine introduction to the genre overall, in my article on the Huffington Post.

Click here to read the article and enjoy the films.


Notes from the Inaugural Filmpoem Festival

Dunbar, Scotland

I had a tremendous time at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland and wrote a bit about this groundbreaking event for Huffington Post.

In the article, I also give a sample of some of the outstanding films that screened during the festival. Hats off to Alastair Cook for making this such a memorable and momentous event for those of us besotted with this unique emerging genre.

Read the article, and watch the film-poems, on Huffington Post.


What American Independence Day Means to Me

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.