Moving to the Country

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At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

-T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

“Do I dare to eat a peach?”

-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

After a year of overcrowded commutes, loud neighbours, litter, pollution, and everything else that goes with a densely-populated metropolis, we have decided to move out of London proper, into the Hertfordshire countryside. I will still be forty minutes by fast train from the heart of London, to serve consulting clients, visit museums, and attend poetry readings. But in deciding where to reside and where to visit, having quiet natural surroundings at our doorstep, and world-class culture and work opportunities a short train ride away — seems like the best possible mix for Val and me at this stage of our lives.

London is a great, energetic city, but from the start I have also felt its centrifugal force. One is either at the very center of things, thriving on that experience — and abiding all that goes with it — or, gradually, it seems that those who aim for a more relaxed pace of life get edged further out over time.

I miss the community we had in Ojai, the small town in California we called home for the six years leading up to our leap across the pond, and hope to recapture some of that spirit, and discover unique aspects of rural English life, in our new village of Wheathampstead. We will be just up the road from Shaw’s Corner, in a cluster of historic villages (many dating back to Roman times), surrounded by gently rolling fields and lush forests, cut by brooks and public footpaths, dotted with farms and country pubs.

Moving day is a week from tomorrow, with a long list of to-dos between now and then. See you again in the countryside!

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A Bird Black as the Sun

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I came home tonight to a lovely surprise: my contributor’s copy of A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens (Green Poet Press, 2011). If being a poet in California was like being in High School, this anthology would be my yearbook. The table of contents reads like a trip down memory lane.

Who knew these dark muses could set the quills of so many fine poet-friends a-quiver? I know what I will be reading on the tube for the rest of this week — poems like Jackson Wheeler‘s “Crow Sings Jazz” and a promising-sounding one by Paul Fericano, ever obsessed with The Three Stooges, entitled “Curly Howard Misreads Edgar Allen Poe.”

My own poem, “Shelf Road, Ojai” (originally titled “Crow”) qualified me first for an honourable mention in the Atlantic Monthly Student Poetry Competition, then as a runner-up in the Indiana Review Poetry Prize — but has never actually been published before. Re-reading it brings me back to the eponymous trail in a Shangri-La now some six thousand miles away. Perhaps all along these messages-in-a-bottle I call poems were only ever meant to return to me on the shores of a different island, to remind me of who I was, and who was with me, everywhere that I have been.

The anthology is now available at local bookstores or on Amazon.com.

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Two Poems in Aperçus Quarterly Online

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Photo by James Brunskill

I am pleased to have two poems appear in the inaugural issue of Aperçus Quarterly. The poetry section features fine poems by colleagues and mentors such as Boyd W. Benson, Cameron Scott, Marvin Bell, and Peter Sears. The collection is  a manageable size, and each poem is worth a read. The images beneath each poem are also striking, evocative, and well-chosen to compliment the written piece.

I wrote the poem “White Pigeons” while still in Ojai. There is a coop nearby my parents’ house. Re-reading the poem from my office in Soho makes me homesick for a place that now seems so far away as to almost have been imagined. It is, for me, a pleasant kind of haunting. Enjoy the poems.

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London Calling

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Valerie and I are planning to move to London, to be close to her family and to start a new chapter in our life together. My application for a settlement visa is at the British Consulate. After it arrives I will find a job. If you know of any dynamic, world-bettering companies that need a Chief Technology Officer with a mind for scalable web architecture and the soul of a poet, please let me know.

Although the timeline is not yet clear for our move, we decided that it was important to reach out now to our community of friends for support. Also, this gives us the opportunity to start to say “goodbye” to so many wonderful people on this continent.

We are especially fond of Ojai, the small town in California we have called home for the past several years. The word “ojai” means “nest” in the language of the Chumash Indians who first inhabited this area. Indeed, it has been a nest for us in which to be nurtured and grow strong. Now we fledge.
Continue reading…

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Poem in The Ojai Bubble

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I was pleased to receive contributors’ copies today of a promising new local publication, The Ojai Bubble. My poem , “All the Westerners in the Japanese Restaurant,” is artfully laid out on the inside back cover. The magazine overall — conceived, created, and printed in Ojai — contains a mix of thoughtful editorials, photos, and poems as eclectic and delightful as the by-turns-quaint-and-sassy small town I am proud to call home. Kudos to poet and journalist Nancy Gross for expanding in this direction, bringing new and familiar voices together under one shimmering cover.

This inaugural issue is available now at select locations throughout Ojai.

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An Unexpected Dedication

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Robert Peake reads a poem next to

Photo by Randy Graham

I broke away from work to attend the dedication ceremony for my neighbor Mark Benkert’s new memorial sculpture to the Aliso Street Bear (a.k.a “Elliot”). In introducing me to read the poem I wrote dedicated to the bear, Mark also mentioned something remarkable about the process of sculpting the memorial.

For both Mark and I, the loss of the bear resonated deeply with the loss of our sons. As Mark was inscribing the letters “J” and “B”, the initials of his son, Jonah Benkert, the “B” also read much like a “P” — and he mentioned that “J.P.” reminded him of our own son, James Peake. Needless to say that by the time I took the microphone, I was nearly unable to speak.

Yet I managed to read my poem, honoring the bear, our sons, our community. The rest of the dedication meant a lot to me — from written poems and prose pieces, to impromptu verbal tributes, a song, and drumming. It was also a moment of catharsis for our community, coming together once more to honor all that the bear brought to us.

To learn more about how to promote the peaceful coexistence of humans and animals in the Ojai Valley, please visit the Ojai Wildlife League website.

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