Hertfordshire Songs E-Book Available Now

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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.

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On Becoming British

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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.

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In Praise of Small Spaces

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“‘This is fine,’ replied Candide, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.'”

-Voltaire, Candide

Click for Photos“It’ll be like living on a boat,” a friend remarked upon hearing of our plans to move to a tiny cottage in rural England. Looking out my office window at the expanse of field and garden stretching beyond the horizon, it now feels more like a toy submarine, at the depths of what my wife’s Aunt used to call, “England’s green aquarium.”

This is not the first time we have downsized — going from California to London was a huge lifestyle shift. But when I tell American friends that our Victorian cottage in the countryside now measures 500 square feet in total, they understandably laugh, since they often have bigger garages than that.

But then, when I describe our narrow strip of garden that stretches back almost 300 feet, in several stages, past apple trees and tall poppies to a honesuckle-clad archway leading into a final, secret garden with its Monet-like profusion of wildflowers and a single wooden bench — well, then they want to come visit. As an American poet, the Walden-like aspect of retreat also appeals to me immensely.

Furthermore, I know that creativity often springs from constraint. Force your thoughts into the tight little “rooms” of a sonnet (which is what “stanza” literally means in Italian) and the language becomes more interesting than if you give yourself indefinite space to ramble on. A concise poem is a more elegant poem. And, as I am discovering, a life with conscious constraints is often a more elegant one, too.

One definition of “elegance” might simply be quality over quantity. When we had lots more space, we had greater potential to unconsciously accumulate lots of stuff. But then I found myself spending more time managing the stuff around me than I wanted to, instead of focusing on the stuff within me.

And so I am learning to take pleasure in the little cultivations of a simple life. A poem comes present line by line, and a garden takes shape snip by snip. Already the results of this recent fierce pruning are beginning to bloom.

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At Home in the English Countryside

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“A stillness so complete, you hear / the whispering inside of you”

-Jack Gilbert, “Betrothed

During the most recent London riots, I was ambling through the Wye Valley with family, staying in a 12th-century monks’ cottage, and meditating on the nature of peace. A seed was then planted in my mind about how necessary the natural world is to me, perhaps to all of us. I love it for its unassuming present-tense state of being, how it seems to lack all ambition in its persistence to thrive. Perhaps that is why settling in to our new cottage in rural Hertfordshire this week, and getting to know the surrounding meadows and woods, has felt so deeply restorative.

Today during one of our country walks, we came upon a field of horses, who approached us curiously but cautiously, and seemed to embody this alert-but-strife-less state. It seems the more I can approach my life and art the way this colt approached us strangers, the more I might abide in this place that is at once vital and content.

Because the visual landscape has been so much a part of this experience, here are some photographs I took over the past few days of the surrounding area.

It is a green beyond anything I have ever known. Next week, we return to the beiges of Southern California for a visit. But the green, having found its way into my core, goes with me.

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