On “Reading Dostoevsky in the John Lewis Café, Welwyn Garden City”

Making an example of oneself isn’t always easy. Making an example of one’s poetry even less so.

Nevertheless, I took a stab at explaining some of the process behind writing the poem “Reading Dostoevsky in the John Lewis Café, Welwyn Garden City” in a new post on the Nine Arches Press blog. The poem appears toward the end of my new collection, Cyclone.

You can read the poem, and notes — on sincerity, irony, and class — as part of their “in conversation series”.

Hertfordshire Songs E-Book Available Now

Hertfordshire Songs CoverI moved to the English countryside from London just over five years ago, and haven’t looked back.

As you can imagine, the quirks of suburban and pastoral England have inspired quite a few poems, including a long poem sequence in the style of the heroic crown of sonnets, reminiscent of Sir John Betjeman’s Metro-Land.

Because these poems feel like their own entity, I have decided to make them available as an e-book. They are available on my website to download for just £0.99 (about $1.31).

These poems whisk you along from raves to roundabouts, weirs to war memorials — a kind of poetic tour, if you like, of what I find most curious and endearing about the place I now call home.

Click here to order your copy or learn more.

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.


Drawing the Line by Diana Bishop

Spanning more than thirty years of writing and weighing in at over one hundred pages, Diana Bishop’s first collection reads more like a retrospective than a debut. Arranged by theme (Love, War, Death, etc.) these poems range from poignant to hilarious, formal to plain-spoken, casting a keen and deeply sensitive eye over a world where politeness reigns supreme.

As first poet in residence at Keats’ House, Hampstead, Diana also brings an ear well-tuned to the traditions of verse. Lighter rhymes such as “Mr Miller’s Mistress” and “A Suitable Shell for Treatment” careen toward couplet punchlines such as “Now we’re very fond of Brighton and the place is sadly missed. / But you can’t enjoy your holiday with your tortoise round the twist.” They are sure to please an audience when read aloud.

But equally exciting are narrative poems attuned to social irony, such as the “Sachertorte” served at a fine restaurant, which is “dark, rich, thick and jammy / (rather like my friend…)” The friend, dressed to the nines and unapologetically snooty, is incensed when the waiter serves a larger slice to “a bag lady, a crone”. The speaker in the poem delights in the possible reasons, deciding finally that “Sacher’s tea room regains my esteem / catching the waiter’s eye, I grin at him.”

In “Famous Photograph”, Bishop takes up themes of innocence and experience in spare, direct language. Continue reading…

Thesis Approved

I got final approval on my MFA thesis from my faculty advisor this morning. In celebration, here is one of my favorite clips on the perils of being a closet academic. (Note: this video contains strong language and adult themes — that is, if you can understand what is being said!)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/UH7Aix_SSN8]<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UH7Aix_SSN8" target="_blank">Click here to watch the video.</a>