Demonstrating Faith in Humanity

What a day it has been. I woke up to the news that my beloved spiritual teacher and friend since childhood, John-Roger, passed away in the early hours at the age of eighty. If there is one thing he taught me, it is to keep doing good, no matter what.

Tonight my sister-in-law and our much-loved little nephew are boarding a plane back to Australia. For whatever I may have been able to impart to him in our two weeks together, he has certainly taught me much more.

In a short while, I will be carrying on with some of the good work I have found to do in the circumstances of my current life, by helping to produce a free, live online poetry broadcast. The show, after all, must go on. It is my way of reaffirming that the world is a small place, and that you and I are not so different after all.

I submitted the following article to Huffington Post Books yesterday, and it has come back to me today with all of these new resonances.

How Bedtime Stories Restored My Faith in Humanity

I never thought a slim paperback of children’s poems, packed with silly illustrations, sing-song rhymes, and bottom humour would restore my faith that printed books will endure. I had rather hoped for the seminal work of some brilliant, tortured Nobel laureate. But those precious few evening moments, while my nephew squirmed beside me in his bed, protesting against obvious sleepiness, confirmed that ours was a shared experience no touch-screen device would soon encroach upon.

Don’t get me wrong  —  he loves phones and pods and pads of every sort and, like me as a boy, becomes easily engrossed in the challenge of video games. The sense of individual progress, developing skill, and the spectacular multimedia rewards at the end of each level of “accomplishment” are tough for paper and ink to compete with by day. Yet when it comes time to switch gears from wakefulness to dreaming, the last thing he needs or even wants is a glowing glass slate crackling with sensory input.

Instead, we share stories and rhymes about creatures who slither and fart. We laugh. He points at the illustrations. As soon the poem chimes to an end, he asks for another. I begin to read more slowly.

We inhabit the sound of my voice together, a conduit between or two private experiences of the tale being told. As we draw further into ourselves, and into the music of language, we draw closer together. His breathing slows as he slips away fully into his own world, and I creep away, book in hand.

It could only really happen with a book  —  that portable, flimsy, shock-proof, battery-less, recyclable, spill-resistant, organic launch pad into ourselves. In fact, the more his generation inhabits the realm of flickering data on glowing blue screens, the more necessary the interior experience of a good book may become. Studies have shown that such screens promote a kind of restless insomnia, and even passively-lit pads like the Kindle still click my brain into the skim-and-scan gear I whizz through online. So, when it is time to stop surfing for sensory input, and reconnect with myself, I want paper and ink.

Books bring us back to our own imagination (after all, how many times has the movie of your favourite book disappointed you?), to the innermost experience of a tale being told, and to the music of the spoken word. The love of a good book is conveyed first and foremost as an act of love. And really, who doesn’t still love to be read to, at any age?

Traditions endure and outlast technological “disruption” when they tap into what makes us essentially human. There is nothing quite like reading a bedtime story from a printed book. For this reason alone, I have hope that the next generation, for all the amazing discoveries they will make though high technology, will still share some of their most intimate moments, and profound personal revelations, curled up with an old-fashioned book.

Thoughts? Remarks? Visit the article on Huffington Post.

The Avuncular Variations (Poem and Audio)

Sippy CupMy sister-in-law and our three-year-old nephew stayed with us for a week. It was great to revisit the classics: Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and Matchbox cars. They will soon be on their way back to Australia. Needless to say, I will miss them.

Spending time together was at once familiar and profound, and as is often the case with such experiences, it prompted me to write. What follows is a poem for my nephew in four parts, and an audio recording of me reading it.
Continue reading…

2011 Roundup Year-in-Review

“How can I tell what I think ’till I see what I say?”

-E.M. Forster
Image: Wikipedia

Once again, I have taken a look over the past year, and selected one post from each month that stood out in some way.

January: The Fifth Year

Today, I said goodbye two our two-year-old Australian nephew, not sure when we will see him again. As we near the sixth anniversary of our son’s birth and death, I realise how far we have come, not only geographically, but psychologically as well. Passing the fifth year was a milestone for us.

February: Human Shade

In February, my debut short collection Human Shade was published by Lost Horse Press in America. It was extremely heartening to see so many orders arrive in such a short time. I brought a few copies with me to England.

March: London Calling

In March, we made the decision to move to London. Having lived my entire life in California, I had no idea just what a leap this would be for me.

April: Adieu, America

In April, I said goodbye to America, but not to being an American. In fact, living here, I have never felt so American as I do now. My father also bid me farewell in a very special way.

May: Through the Looking Glass

In May, we arrived with just our suitcases. We had one week to find a place to live before the start of my new job. After the whirlwind subsided, I began to feel like Alice, down the rabbit hole in a world that only superficially resembled the one I had known.

June: Notes on Contemporary British Poetry

In June, I began to take advantage of my circumstances by way of comparative Anglo-American poetics. So began an effort to overcome what I have deemed “poetic culture shock“ — and come to understand the subtle differences between British and American poetry.

July: Discovering an Artistic Ancestor

In July, I discovered a remarkable book by another poet named Peake, which had a profound effect on me.

August: The Nature of Peace

In August, the London riots exploded not far from our home while we were on holiday in Wales with my parents. The contrast prompted this meditation.

September: An American Werewolf in London

In September, I began to put my finger on the sense of otherness that had been haunting me, and let myself howl a bit at the moon.

October: “On Being Straight (A Thought Experiment)

I wrote this piece in October, and within a short span of time my “thought experiment” turning the tables on identity politics had received over 95,000 views on StumbleUpon, and been republished in The Good Men Project.

November: “The Invisible Father

A colleague’s casual remark set off this mini-essay for The Good Men Project about the being a father without a child.

December: “British Matches

In December, Aperçus Quarterly published this short poem, inspired by the warning label on a pack of matches. Along with comparative Anglo-American poetics, I seem to be studying semiotic estrangement — the effect of “everyday” signs and symbols on a cultural outsider.

It has been a remarkable year. Wishing peace to you and yours in 2012!


Photo: Per H. Olsen

When I created the “Fatherhood” category on my website nearly five years ago, I knew that becoming a dad marked a rite of passage. It never occurred to me that our son James might only live three days, or how having and losing him in such short succession would change me. No man accurately anticipates the full impact of fatherhood. And as much as I knew the birth of our son would better me, I never expected that by his departure I would also gain in courage, compassion, and strength. Truly, it is a remarkable being, who both by his coming and going can have touched my life so profoundly.

I crossed both the equator and the International Date Line this week to meet another remarkable being — my new nephew. He is my wife’s sister’s child, and, like James, he seems to have inherited his lip line from that side of the family. But unlike our James, his eyes are open, and everything about him is inquisitive and alive. It feels both precious and surprisingly natural to spend time with him — hoisting him up to get a better look at the tropical fish at the aquarium, feeding him spoonfuls of mush, and pushing him through the rainy streets in his waterproof pram in search of great fish and chips.

And so, I embrace a new rite of passage, into unclehood. Continue reading…