Robert Peake, Hilaire, Susan Jordan and World Suicide Prevention Day


You think of us in bright medieval paintings,
our flat profiles ascending and descending ladders.
And slender, robed in cinnabar, announcing from stage
right or praising God in cartoon bubbles flipped
upside-down to be read more easily from above.

But come with me to the bridge where couples
stroll over the brown-black Thames, haloed by domes
and spires, the spoked and spinning blue Eye.
Look closely down the railing. There she is.
We travel the chilled air, whispering: don’t do it.

We are the shiver of thought, that the money or lover
might return, the painful illness be cured. And when
they jump, we are the warmth in hypothermia,
the ones in the brain’s control room, turning the knobs
of the visible scene, hastening the fade to black.


Robert Peake is a British-American poet living near London. He founded the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series, and collaborates on poetryfilm. His poetry collection The Knowledge is now available from Nine Arches Press.


A moot point

All pain is illusory,
the philosophy tutor maintains.

I slouch at the edge of the debate,
doodling black squares
in the margin of my A4 pad.
I let the other students get on with it,
the cries of outrage,
the counter attacks:
What about cancer?

I have seen faith healers
in the Philippines
extract tumours
from the terminally ill.

Grumblings of disbelief.
What did it look like then?

Like a cone of congealed fat
rising out of the body
into the healer’s hands.

The tutor wears Dr Scholl sandals,
lets his beard roam free.
He’s told us before
about his own faith healing.
The whole family’s involved;
even the cat
lays its paws
upon migraine sufferers.

One of the students gathers his books,
flounces out in protest,
muttering about wasted fees.

On a fresh sheet I write
all pain is illusory,
before carefully blocking out each letter,
thinking about Uncle Eric
who shot himself in the stomach,
wondering whether cool hands
could have healed
his illusory wound.

Hilaire has had short stories and poetry published in several anthologies and various magazines, including Brittle Star, Wet Ink, Under the Radar and Smoke: A London Peculiar. Triptych Poets: Issue One (Blemish Books, Australia, 2010) features a selection of her poems. Her novel Hearts on Ice was published by Serpent’s Tail in 2000. She is currently working on a poetry collection with Joolz Sparkes, London Undercurrents, unearthing the voices of women who have lived and worked in the capital over many centuries. She blogs at: https://hilaireinlondon.wordpress.com/


The dark green water wraps me
silk-cool in afternoon heat.

I turn away from the shore. Beyond
there is sea for ever. All I need do

is swim till I become green silk
till where I am is no longer a place.

I can drown pain, close my eyes
on ruined cities, wash myself clean.

I feel the push of waves against me
swallow salt, lie still and float

out of my depth. The sea makes cold love
to all my bones, wakes fear

with its uninterested embrace. I turn
and see sand, find my feet again.

Susan Jordan has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes both poetry and prose. She has had poems published in a number of print and online magazines, including Prole, Obsessed with Pipework, Snakeskin, South, Ariadne’s Thread and the Agenda online supplement. She worked for a mental health charity for a number of years.


Robert Peake shares the knowledge

The KnowledgeHow did you feel when you were waiting to hear about your submission?

There were actually two very different waiting periods in this process. When I arrived in May 2011, I researched various publishers operating in the UK, and Nine Arches Press really caught my attention for the quality of their books and independent spirit. I sent a copy of my chapbook, which had just been published in the US, to Jane Commane. I didn’t hear back, so I didn’t know that I was waiting for anything at that point. I simply went about the business of getting to know poets in the UK, trying to find my place and my people.

Flash forward to January 2014, when Jane pops up in my email inbox. It turns out the work I sent her had been, in her words, “troubling” her from a bureau drawer she would occasionally dip into off and on for nearly three years. She had been following my other work as well with interest, and wanted to know if I had a manuscript. Well, the answer to that is always, “Yes”, followed by a furious period of paper shuffling and self-tormenting doubt. I sent her the manuscript I had been working on during my time living in and near London, and then the real waiting began.

There’s nothing more unnerving than someone who used to be a fan deciding that they don’t like your newer work. Jane had clearly become a fan. And so, that (thankfully brief) wait was agonising in one sense. Yet I had also managed to find my footing in the UK much more by then, and so in another sense it was another part of my exploring what’s possible in this brave new world I found myself washed up in. Of course, I tell myself that now–but the elation, confirmation, and indeed relief that came with her saying “yes” tells another story.

What was the editorial process like and how long did it take to complete?

We set in that summer, and the book came out at the end of April. So, there was a sense of time–to get to know one another, to get to know what the book wanted to become. That is a tremendous luxury in a poetry marketplace that increasingly forces editors into the role of “gatekeeper” rather than a true collaborator in service to the best interest of the work. Jane was the latter, and I am convinced that her time and care made it a better book.

What input and advice did Jane give to you?Jane-Commane1

Jane gave me the advice of a reader-fan who wanted the book to be the best it could for both our sakes. Reviewers are a different animal, and reviews often tell more about the reviewer than the work. So, to really get inside the mind of a reader who is coming from a fundamental stance of believing in you and your work–well, that’s invaluable input to the creative process.

After Jane agreed to work with me, she asked for more work written around the manuscript, and I gladly supplied at least half as much again in material for us to work with. That made it easier to relinquish certain poems from the original manuscript in favour of others, to sort of sculpt it both additively and by subtraction. I realise I am not being terribly specific about the advice she gave, but partly that is because Jane had a way of making her suggestions seem like ones I had thought of myself–or, even better, the slap on the forehead of “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”

We cut. We rearranged. Pagination brought new elements to light, as longer poems flowed on to subsequent pages, and the page as a unit gave us a new lens to look through. It was collaborative, and revelatory, and in the end Jane held my hand and helped me to kill a few darlings that I wouldn’t have executed if left to my own devices–because I had reached a point of darling-killing fatigue when preparing the initial manuscript. She helped me pull the trigger.

What was it like to hold your book for the first time?

It was surreal. Nine Arches Press is based in Rugby, and I live in North Hertfordshire. I had just come back from working in London when I got the text from Jane that the book had come back from the printers. So we split the geographical difference, as we did before during the editing process, and met in Milton Keynes. It was evening, so the only place that was open was a chain coffee store inside the mall. I felt like I was back in Orange County, California–land of glassed-in mannequins.

All that receded into the background when she put the book in my hand. Aspects I couldn’t deduce from the PDF proofs, like the way poems began to converse across facing pages, quickly made it feel real, almost alive. Above all, there was as sense of rightness–about the process, and about the product, that went beyond the weight of paper and ink in hand. I suppose it must have felt a bit like sending one’s child out in the world, to find their way. The book had graduated. It was a proud parent moment.

How many readings have you given since its publication?

I gave three readings in the ten days following the book’s official publication, starting in a tiny village in Shropshire, and ending at Walt Whitman’s Birthplace in New York. It was great to read receptive audiences, and a pleasure to read from a real book–and such an attractive and well-produced one at that. I also have several readings coming up later this year, including an event in London combining poetry and jazz that sounds really exciting.

Finally, what are you working on now?

I am fumbling around in the dark with a torch, which is what I tend to do most of the time anyway. I’m writing as often as I can, balancing the support of this book with the creation of the next, and really at the moment just drawing breath. Thanks for asking, and I hope your readers have enjoyed this peek into the book-making process (or at least my peculiar version of it).

PeakePhoto by Valerie Kampmeier

Robert Peake is a British-American poet living near London. His full-length collection The Knowledge is now available from Nine Arches Press. His previous short collections include The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013) and Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011).

Since relocating to England with his wife, Valerie and cat, Miranda in 2011, Robert has given a variety of readings in the UK. He also created the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series to bring poets from both sides of the Atlantic together for live online poetry readings.

Robert Peake

Robert Peake Featured Poet

Robert Peake is one of the poets I asked to be part of the EKPHRASIS event responding to the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy in March. I heard him read Still Life with Bougainvillea which was commended in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2013 and after getting home from the event I did some digging around to read more of his stuff. He’s kindly sent the two poems below and I’ve included links to various things on his site. In case you’re not quite sure, yes he is that “Transatlantic poet-guy”, as someone I know once called him (I think she might have prefaced it with … “Oh WOW he’s… ).



Million-Dollar Rain
for E.K.
It is hardly there at all,
this feather-rain, suffusing
the air with casual descent

pooling in crevices of husk
and trickling down the yellow stem,
dampening the topsoil sponge.

It is the antidote to drought, but also
to floods of Biblical scale, this
Providence and proof of tenderness–

each droplet a tiny silver dollar
skating the side of a piggybank,
reclaiming the mortgaged barn.

How strange to discover it here,
leashing an eager Retriever for his
pre-dawn hike through a London park,

four thousand miles and an ocean away
from where the saying first took root
in your keen farm-girl’s mind.

Strange how what is hardly there
is there all the more for its gentleness,
dampening the head of your blonde companion,

who, when you unclip his collar, races
as fast as ever through clay and mud
toward doves he will never catch.

The neighbour dressed in misery still won’t
return your smile, unaware he’s breathing
money-mist, shaking gold-dust from his hair.

So you walk with this secret knowledge,
burning like a gas lamp inside, while all around
the land is soaking, gently, soaking.
(First appeared in Harpur Palate)



London Blues
A tune is playing in the tambourine streets.
In the streets, they shake out a jingling song.
Since you left, the only lyrics I hear are “gone.”

The people on the bus wear their faces like masks.
The mask-faced bus people wear smiles like a shield.
Without you, now I know how that armour feels.

Underground, the trains are galloping along.
The train humps along the track somewhere deep down.
Since you’re gone, “goodbye” is my favourite sound.

On the pavement, people cluster waiting to cross.
Clumping like a school of fishes, watching for green.
I stand there in your absence, not wanting to be seen.

Since you left, all the songs say “long gone.”
And without you, now I know how a soldier feels.
When that train leaves, “goodbye” is all I hear.
I am nowhere, and you are everywhere, a song.


(First appeared in South Bank Poetry)


Robert Peake is an American poet living in England. His newest short collection is The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013). His previous short collection was Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011). His full-length collection The Knowledge is expected in early 2015 from Nine Arches Press.
Robert’s poems have received commendations in the Rattle Poetry Prize, the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Contest, the 2007 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2009 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Prize and three Pushcart Prize nominations, and was long-listed for the UK National Poetry Competition. He created the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series to bring poets from both sides of the Atlantic together for live online poetry readings.


Robert Peake on Reading at the Royal Academy

Stolen from his blog with kind permission: here

Last night I participated in a truly unique poetry reading sponsored by Ekphrasis. A dozen of us poets dispersed ourselves amongst installations in the Sensing Spaces architectural exhibit at the Royal Academy. As patrons wandered through the exhibits, we read poems to them, which we had written in response to these very spaces.

It was challenging. Bursting into poetry as the spirit moved me felt a bit like trying photo-1-300x300to be a one-man flashmob. Having never done any busking, I was unaccustomed to people wandering into or out of a room while I was reading a poem. Based on their responses, I think it was challenging, too, for the patrons. I saw many a bemused and bewildered smile.

Often, when we encounter something surprising like a provocative art installation, we seek guidance–in the placards on the walls, or the words of a knowledgeable guide. Yet we poets were the opposite of guides–raising yet more questions in response to their questions, bringing our own thoughts, music, and imagery to bear. The patrons were therefore simultaneously experiencing their own responses to the installations, and responding to ours. Challenging, indeed.

Yet challenge is not a bad thing in art; far from it. Being of service to an artistic experience, even if it is a bit personally uncomfortable to pull off, is always a privilege. To do something truly original like this is rare. We are so accustomed to the conventions of performance, so comfortable in knowing our place on either side of the “fourth wall”.

A film crew was on site to record the evening’s antics. Having individuals dressed in black point high-end videography equipment at you pretty well guarantees that people will gather in the form of an audience, and clap at the end. It is a familiar format; it tells us our roles. Yet some of the most interesting moments for me involved a more causal mix of reading, conversing, and admiring the spaces. I also managed to experience several other poets reading as well, which was fascinating, and made me feel proud to take part.

The challenge of it also brought us poets together with a sense of solidarity. For the patrons, I think it added an element of surprise. There was an atmosphere of playfulness last night that I had not experienced in my previous visit. You never knew when you might round a corner, and there would be someone reading a poem. I felt a bit like a poetry ninja.

Ekphrasis also put together a handsome anthology of the poems, which they made available to us all on the night. Hearty thanks are due, and congratulations, to Emer Gillespe and Abegail Morley for pulling this off with such grace, as well as Owen Hopkins of the RA, Kate Goodwin the curator of the Sensing Spaces exhibit, and of course the six remarkable architects who realised these installations for us all to enjoy. Here’s to more layered and provocative artistic experiences to come.

You can read all six poems I wrote in response to the Sensing Spaces exhibit, and listen to audio recordings, on my Sensing Spaces, Wandering Words page.

Robert Peake

Robert Peake is an American poet living in England. His newest short collection is The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013). His previous short collection was Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011).


EKPHRASIS at the Royal Academy

Sensing Spaces: Wandering Words


Friday March 7 2014 7pm – 9pm

Seven internationally influential architects transform the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Art in London, ten poets respond to their work in an exciting evening of peripatetic poetry.

‘Imagine, feel, share, explore, touch, reflect’ – where we are shapes how we feel, what we hear colours our experience… We are delighted to announce our first event in collaboration with the Royal Academy.

The poets contributing response to Sensing Spaces are:

Patricia Debney Sasha Dugdale Ian Duhig Martin Figura Vanessa Gebbie Emer Gillespie Helen Ivory Maureen Jivani Edward Mackay Abegail Morley Robert Peake Catherine Smith Tamar Yoseloff


Two members of the public will be invited to read as part of the evening alongside established poets. If you would like to take part, please send your work to info@ekphrasis.org.uk

Tickets for the event can be booked on the main RA website.

Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined

25 January — 6 April 2014



Abegail Morley, Catherine Smith and Emer Gillespie, together we share a passion for creating a dialogue between the arts.

‘It’s the exciting bit, really….how arts practitioners in one sphere can take something created by an arts practitioner in another sphere and see something fresh and inspiring in it,’ Catherine Smith

‘I find that what I see and read sets off a chain of thoughts in my own head that can lead to a poem I would never have thought of writing in the first place. The poem furthers my communication with a work of art, I can talk back to it, talk back to the artist who created it, or explore the resonance it creates inside me,’ Emer Gillespie.

EKPHRASIS provides an evening of conversation and exploration inviting collaboration with some of the most original voices working in poetry today.