I don’t really want to do anything — not peep through the small doors at mice living out unimaginative lives or run a finger over the beaded skin of a rattling snake, coaxing venom.
In my mind I could be anywhere, and yet — out of the piles of driftwood, small crabs are fighting for their well-armoured lives, and so I stoop with my flaming stick and prod the wet sand, and it sizzles.
I can’t even be bothered to autocorrect. The wet lips of the python beckon from a tree, and isn’t it always that tree to blame, as though Knowledge itself corrupted us, rather than we ourselves through its mis-use.
The dice fall beneath the crucifix. A bet is a bet, and the spear goes in. The rules made up in childhood we follow like a sleepwalker throughout our life, for it is dangerous, they say, to wake us.
I’m very excited to perform poetry in collaboration with the London jazz band Special Edition (Louis Cennamo, Barry Parfitt, Tim Stephens and Graham Pike). Hosted by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle, with open mic slots available. More»
“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.
What a pleasure it was to launch my debut full-length collection The Knowledge alongside Jo Bell, UK Canal Laureate, who launched her second collection Kith. Coincidence of timing brought us together, but complimentary styles and mutual respect has made touring together a delight.
We started in the small Shropshire village of Much Wenlock, birthplace of the Olympics, a place steeped in ancient Mercian history and happily overrun one weekend each year by poets. We read in a modern theatre space to an appreciative and full audience, many of whom were proud supporters of Jo’s excellent 52 project.
The next day we spoke on a panel with Jane Commane, our publisher at Nine Arches Press, and Simon Thirsk, her mentor from Bloodaxe Books. We dug into the details of editing a collection, peeling back the curtain on this sometimes hidden art. Re-living the past year of working on the manuscript with Jane only deepened my appreciation for her artful support.
We then drove down to Cheltenham for an evening reading in a warm, friendly pub. Again the audience was full and receptive, as well as keen to buy our new books. Several of us set the world to rights afterward over good Thai curry, reflecting on what a strange way around it is to get to know someone first by their poetry — that being often such a deeply intimate route — and then to get to know them socially afterward.
It 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.
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: