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The Man with the Kindest Face
The rear-view glimpse is fleeting
as he lets you into the lane.
He might not have a face at all
or change it like a set of masks—
behind a newspaper in the waiting room,
sliding over to make room on the bus.
You resolve next time to look at him,
risk letting him look back at you.
You taste the salt in your throat,
and you hear him ask, What’s wrong?
You smile at him and say, Nothing.
And you mean it. Nothing at all.
The man with the kindest face has change for a twenty
He doesn’t look rich. Yet his pockets overflow with coins. “How much do you need?” he asks, and you tell him. You want to tell him more—-that you need to believe, understand, be heard. He extends his closed hand like a magician. You expect nothing. You expect a dove to fly out from his sleeve. You open your hand, beneath his, and wait.
The poem is a splice of the first poem that opens my new collection Cyclone and one of the many poems featuring the same figure that recurs throughout the collection. The film is footage from the Prelinger Archives, which I projected cylindrically into a 3D rendering environment (Blender), rotating the camera to give a continuous scroll effect. I then sliced and flipped this, giving the Rorschach-test-like effect of imagery spilling out from the midline. We then projected this footage onto the face of our friend and actor Barney Wells with a sheet behind him and filmed it. Valerie once again composed and performed the music, and from there it all came together quite quickly in the editing process.
I just came back from a week-long spiritual retreat wherein I was completely off the grid to discover that two new poems of mine are now available online.
“Historic Spring” appears in the Fall/Winter issue of PoetryBay, an online literary journal edited by George Wallace. Do check out the full issue as it is consistently teeming with interesting poems. I am also grateful to George for inviting me to give a workshop and reading at Walt Whitman’s birthplace in May. I will be reading from my collection The Knowledge, which comes out in late April, and which includes this poem.
“La Campagna, London, Friday Night” appeared in Rattle #44 this summer and is now available on the Rattle website with an accompanying audio recording. As it happens, I also recently created a WordPress plugin to support the Rattle website by making their “random poem” capability more durable in its popularity. Personally, I could spend the better part of the day clicking that random button and reading their excellent poems.
The idea that analysing poetry with computers could teach us anything about the art is controversial. A recent survey I conducted of more than 300 tech-savvy poets confirmed that — while they generally agree that technology has been good for poetry in terms of fostering community, creating networking opportunities, and providing remote learning — they would rather computer scientists keep the ones and zeroes away from their iambs and spondees.
Intuitively, this makes sense — after all, we write poems for people, not machines. Poetry is one of the most intimately human of activities. Yet analytical methods, properly interpreted, can reveal new aspects of poetry that we readers and writers might miss. Blind spots can be corrected, what we sense intuitively can be confirmed scientifically, and computers may indeed help us to see old words with new eyes.
Turnabout is fair play. Having analysed several thousand poems from Poetry magazine, I have decided to turn the same methodology on myself.
I analysed 5,751 words from the 79 poems from my current pamphlet The Silence Teacher and my forthcoming collection The Knowledge.
Here are my top twenty-five most commonly-used words:
Having counted the occurrence of words in nearly 3,000 poems published in Poetry Magazine to create a parameterised random word generator, I am making some other interesting discoveries about these words.
First, as one Twitter user pointed out, the words that come up at each “frequency of occurrence” setting on the generator have their own distinct feel, as if very different types of poets might gravitate toward different clusters of words:
Sometimes I need a little help turning over the creative engine when starting a new poem. I have developed a tool that helps me to do just that, and am sharing it with the community in case it helps other poets to ignite their muse as well.
Poetic constraints — such as patterns of alliteration, metre, and rhyme — originally served as mnemonic devices in pre-literate societies. Patterned speech is inherently easier to remember, which is why recalling a nursery rhyme is still easier than memorising prose. Stylised forms of language remained in favour long after writing developed, but in the twenty-first century, the only requirement of a contemporary poet is that they somehow end up writing a poem.