2016-11-19

Titanium Spork

A bit of an experiment this time.  I wrote this as a performance piece and the words are, frankly, ugly laid out on the page.

Which doesn't matter if I'm going to stand at the front and speak it to you (I call this: Poetry-1.0...)

So I'm going to do that.  I shan't paste the text.  I'll just offer the recording and hope it works for you.  This isn't a change of policy...  I shall continue to post text for the pretty poems.

Please let me know whether this is better, worse, or differently indifferent...










2016-11-17

Essay: Future Technology #1


Future Technology #1

(or The Shape of Things to Come)

Future technology, earlier today
Civilisation, back in the '80s
If, back in the 90s, you played Sid Meier's Civilisation, on a DOS computer, and if you were very good (Rosemary regularly achieved Moon landings before 1730) then it was possible to reach the end of the technology tree...

(Aside, for the uninitiated:  a "technology tree" is a set of available upgrades in a video game.  The player typically has some sort of resources to spend on upgrades and chooses which to develop next.  Upgrades give benefits in the game and unlock the later technologies.  It's just like life.)

However, it is a tenet of geek philosophy that there is no end to the technology tree, and game designers are a sub-species of geek, so beyond the end of the tree lay more technologies:
  • Future Technology #1
  • Future Technology #2
  • And so on...
They served no function, except bonus points...

...but I loved this idea ever since I first saw it.  Future Technology #1 is wonderfully non-specific, whilst saying precisely what it means.

FT#1 could be a pocket hadron collider, smartpants (tm), or an ambiguous phase psycho-encapsulator (which we all could use, if you think about it...)

It could be tomorrow, or a thousand years hence.

And if we achieve FT#1 then there's FT#2 (henceforth to be known as FT#1).

So what is FT#1 for poetry?  I feel strongly that there ought to be something: a killer app for the Sonnet that takes it somewhere it's never been before and makes everybody say:  Well obviously I bought one; I can't understand why nobody thought of it sooner!

Which is not to say that poetry-1.0 (poet stands at front and declaims) or poetry-2.0 (words arranged on page) have had their day.  Far from it, poetry-1.1 (poet on radio/TV/YouTube) is quite popular, and 2.1 (words arranged on internet) has a variety of interesting new angles, but neither of those feels like a real FT, they've basically still just words in sequence, or words arranged in a space.

So every now and then I have a go.  I started with an example of animated poetry, but while that was pretty popular, it's basically a movie and as nicely as self-editing text works for that idea, I am not sure it extends to many other poems...  (see however Kinematic Typograthy.)

It ought to be possible to do more than mere animation, and Jenn Zed (of whom more later) has suggested that videos turn the poetry consumer off.  I hadn't realised it, but I recognise it in myself, and I think it is similar to poetry vs. lyrics  An element of time travel is involved in reading a poem the eye tracks up and down the page, effectively forwards and back in time which it can't when listening to a song, as the music proceeds at constant rate.

Something similar applies to videos.  A voice recording of a poem, accompanied by still text, doesn't suffer quite so badly, because the eye can still do a little out-of-order processing but a moving video is really hard to get right, because it is simultaneously distracting the eye, and locking the words into a fixed time-frame.

For lyrics, the fix was to adjust the words, you fit them into the experience already created by the music...

However for poetry-FT#1 I want the reverse.  What happens when we fit the medium as closely as possible to the words?  If the user (reader) needs to control time, then why not let them?

Well I don't know.

I'm still working on it.  It isn't easy.  It's not that poetry's difficult (I think that goes without saying) or that technology is hard to master (although certainly it can be awkward.)  The real problem is, in a world where:

this or this or even this
are easy to achieve...

...what do they mean?  It's more or less a brand new medium, so it doesn't have any established rules.  I'm basically inventing everything from scratch, albeit with wanton theft from books, films, video games and comic books.

Anyway, a new attempt on FT#1 is under way.  I am working with the aforementioned Jenn Zed (who has poetic inclinations and is an accomplished artist...)  This is "mixed media" by which I mean "words and images and Javascript and HTML and CSS and mp3 and anything else that seems to fit..."

It's not huge, but it's slow going...  It will probably take at least another six months, but until then:

Installing FT#1
25%
Please Wait

2016-10-23

Loose change -- unanimated

A few people have asked to see the words of my animated poem "Loose change" written out in full so they can be studied at leisure, rather than chased after as they run away like water...

It is sort-of against the spirit of the poem...

However a principal I like to keep to is that everything should be either easy or forbidden.  To put it another way it is a principal of user interface design, and I really dislike those computer programs, websites and bureaucracies which make it perfectly possible to do what you want, but put you through two dozen steps to do it.

So, by my own principal, since somebody could pause the playback and copy the words out by hand, I ought to make it easy.

Here you go.  The bold Roman numerals indicate the boundaries between completely different screens in the animation...




Loose change


I


Where does the future come from,
can we know? I will kick fallen leaves
when they blow around my ankles
in an rustle-russet tide,

but no-one can predict
when one leaf falls from the tree,
how many there will be,
whether I will stay to kick them thoroughly,
or wander on.


II


Why do those leaves fall? Do they shiver
in the summer's blaze, programmed
for an end to days? Or do they realise it late, rebel,
and get their Blade Runner moment:
we built you as best we could.

Perhaps it is so good, for trees,
that leaves don't even figure. Maybe
even when a tree falls
some other tree will say
it's for the good of the forest.


III


Can we see the forest for the trees? Thales thought
the whole world water, intransient, showering
past him all his raindrop days,

and Heraclitus saw it all
as change and only change.

Should he maroon me in this maelstrom,
how can I understand a thing?
How to arrange
a place for Archimedes
to stand and leverage the world?


IV


There is no future. It cannot be
in any way determined. Point at it.
You cannot. Thus for me,

said the blind man, scratching,

the future does not exist.


V


Draw the blinds in Plato's cave,
are we stuck here? If you were brave
you would turn away from the shadow play

(it's just a rock wall anyway,)

and go investigate
the fire.


VI


And do we burn? In one way it is true
we literally do. Metabolism charring sugars into lives
and chemistry a one way street.
Chew your meat. Swallow. You can only go downhill.

Cosmology will show the same thing,
on quite a different scale,
but you cannot fail to see
the analogy.

Death's most-favoured daughter --
Entropy -- she never winds the clock.


VII


The more it changes, the more fools say
la plus ça change as if by that they'd chain
the beast. Blind men with elephants

feel a trunk
run into a face, and think
they know how trunks all go,
until the elephant is replaced with a camel.

Trend analysis is always wrong
but the tree has fewer leaves
every morning.




Late onset fallibility

This is a poem about dementia, which isn't something which has badly impacted me in my life.  Yet...

(My Nan had it, but I wasn't that old and we lived quite a long way away...)

It's going to touch me at some point however.  It's bound to.  About 1/6 of people over 80 are affected, and I know many more than 6 people.

Some see Alzheimer's as the worst tragedy of the modern age.  I am not sure I entirely agree, it's certainly one of the most painful for the victim's familypossibly worse even than having them in a persistent vegetative state, at least in that case the wreckage of the person you loved isn't still trying to talk to you.


However, to my mind dementia, horrible as it is, is a subset of the big tragedy, which is that people die.  I have written about this before: the inevitability of death, how it gets a little more evitable every year, and how that in itself brings interesting, new, social problems.  Those are good problems to have, however.  People living too long is infinitely preferable to them not living long enough.  The increase in diseases we can't yet fix: dementia, cancer, diseases of senescence in generalis the direct effect of taking out all those lesser deaths who were more vulnerable to our sorcery.

None of which makes the failure of a beloved mind any more bearable.


I have been asked why this is late onset, when early onset is even more tragic.  The answer is because early onset dementia is more like a horrible disease, striking down only a subset of us; however the diseases of old age, of which dementia is the one example, get everybody who lives long enough...









Late onset fallibility


He returns from walking the dog
no longer quite your father.
It's nearly your dog.

He returns from walking the dog;
he's only been gone two days,
which admits no ready explanation.

He returns from walking the dog
with a jaunty stride
and somebody else's shoes.

He returns from walking the dog:
your mother leaves without a word--
she has been dead for five years.

He returns from walking the dog
smiling strangely to himself;
scowling at you, your brother, the front room paper.

He returns from walking the dog;
seems like he's acting younger
and looking frailer than when he left.

He returns from walking the dog;
wants to speak to your sister, oblivious
that she lives in Queensland now.

He returns from his walk
with a cat on a piece of string
and seven tins of the wrong dog food.




2016-10-13

Going forward

I had an evening out with some people I used to work with...

...who are all still mostly more embroiled with large corporations than I am...

...so I promised one of them I would post this.














Going forward

The corporation cannot plan
its way out of a paper bag
whichnoteis not to say
it doesn't have extensive PowerPoints
to socialise the vision
for the new, division-wide, bag-exit mission
get buy-in from the stakeholders at levels
from CFO to tea lady
and distribute cheap beer and pizza
at revels
that celebrate the dragging of one thousand hapless
employees, kicking and screaming,
into progress, status, overview, coordination,
planning, steering, post-mortem, and kick-off, meetings
at cost of fifty thousand person-hours
or half a million dollars [OpEx]
which is money so well spent
for staying in a paper bag.  Meanwhile

Team Lunchpackwho were spun,
you will recall, from Project Dune and tasked
with building an organisation-wide
flexible container collocation strategy
have been thinking outside the box,
and now are standing
a touch despondently
outside a cardboard shipping carton,
and wondering where everybody went.



2016-09-10

Boy/Girl/Thing

This may be the newest poem I have ever posted, I was editing it as recently as August 7th...  although, as is common for me, it had its origin some years ago and had to sit around in my subconscious/backlog until I was ready, willing and able to complete it.

This is also one of the hardest pieces of text that I've written for some time and the explanation for that is chock full of *spoilers* so stop here and go to the poem first if you want to experience it without preconceptions...



Ready now?
  OK, so this is my attempt to get beyond gender.  Gender has been one of the major social battle grounds of the late 20th and and early 21st centuries, and great progress has been made
at least in some parts of the World.

So in this poem I'm attempting to look ahead to a time when gender is completely sorted out, and I'm using the trick of writing in the voices of two intelligent machines that don't have gender.  This way they can look, as it were, from the outside.  I've also added (off stage) some sort of do-gooders who are trying to "give" gender to the two machines
presumably on the basis that it is their (human?) right but missing the point that the machines may be happier as they are...

...which of course echoes various historical cases of people thinking they know what's best for other people...

...I've even attempted to suggest that wiping over with a lint-free cloth is something of a sex act for these machines (I don't see that sex without gender is at all contradictory...) and finally, just for kicks and characterisation, one machine has a crush on the other (which again doesn't absolutely require gender.)

So why was that hard to write?  Just because English isn't designed to portray conversations between sapients without gender.  We only have the one ungendered pronoun: "it" which is far too loaded to sprinkle around unexplained.  So I had to resort to a certain amount of syntactic trickery (like assuming the person now speaking is the one whom we just just watched acting) and also repeating the two names more often than is common for casual writing.


And as it happens the whole exercise is a complete failure, because having gone to all that trouble: used gender-neutral names, avoided gendered pronouns and generally twisted the text...  I still think of one character as more male and the other as more female
—damn!







Boy/Girl/Thing


This whole damn gender thing  fucks me, says Viv,
so many different ways.  A tiny nod,
a shrug, sets sensor clusters all asway
and Chris has always been in love
and Chris will never say

one word to the machine called Vivian.
Working together now, they pull
a rusty barrel, probe the casing.
Viv tastes, grimacing; throws the tongue away.
Phenols again, we're broadly screwed
to sell this crap.  A sighwe'll have to crack
it down to short-chain feed.
A wiggle in the nether parts and Chris
has never seen a sight so fine
as hydrocarbon plant deploys.  Meanwhile, Viv

still ranting on the need for sex:
You see the bit that gets to me...
remember how they showed that vid:
two squirming pink things on a bed.
It bites an alloy thumb.  For me
the only sexy bit was how they'd come:

their car I thought was someone I'd enjoy.

And all the while poor Chris,
while not unhappy being an "it",
feels some appeal in girls and boys,
and beds; and is content to rub a cloth
across his best friend's heat exchanger grills,
but wonders if there's something more.  So asks,
and instantly feels shy: Tonight
maybe let's try again...
but this time both be boys?



2016-08-27

Red fish, blue fish...

This one was written from a prompt during NaPoWriMo this year, I forget what the prompt was, put possibly something quite distant from what I actually wrote.

Fish famously have only a three seconds of memorythis is of course untrue.

People famously will all be happy come the revolutionthis is of course untrue.

Goldfish famously possess no revolutionary zealthis is of course...












Red fish, blue fish...


Under the bridge
Under the bridge
Through the weed
Through the weed
Past the buzzing pump
Past the buzzing pump
Into the current
Into the current
Whee!
Whee!
Under the bridge
Under the bridge
Through the... hey!
Through the-- Hey?
Yes.  Hey!
What?
I just now thought, and have you ever thought:
the quality of fishness is the same
in each and every day we play no sport,
make no love, sing no song; we hunt no rhino, tame
no fairy creatures.  We just go round and round
within the same old rut.  I cannot put
my fin on it, but there's something profound
about the World.  We swim with our eyes shut

and do not see.  I heard a joking man:
he asked if we had ever heard the one
about the two fish in the tank, where neither
one could drive the great machine.  They had no plan,
you see?  So if our chance should ever come...
let's seize the day.  I'll captain, you're the driver.
This again?
It has to be said.  Solidarity brother!
Anyway...
Past the buzzing pump
Past the buzzing pump
Into the current
Into the current
Whee!
Whee!
Under the bridge...



2016-07-30

Transactional

These are the terms of the contract, they get:
  • the money
  • the adoration, power, glory, stalker
  • the celebrity lifestyle, drugs, divorce
  • more money
  • the early, tragic death
and we get:
  • the new series, roughly once a year
  • the box set
  • the posters, action figures, spin-off novels
  • t-shirts
  • to pay for all of the above
...and pretty much the same thing applies to pop and film stars.  Who's to say who's getting the better deal?








Transactional

What then, of folk like me, a touch
aloof in uncool sweaters.  If you knew me better
or us, as I should say, I'm not aloneperhaps you'd like
the way we stir our coffee, too intent;
or fail to clearly speak and consequent
from that...  we give ourselves away.

What then, of how we misplace all our lives
to long-run TV drama shows?  What time
are you on?  Why are you out-of-sequence
this episode's from Season One, when Joe
was not yet dead, and Lisa not yet gay.
You seemed happier then, so you also

have given yourself away?  Oh let me take
you hand in mitten, and let me buy you coffee,
from the van beneath the CCTV.  I watch
your eyes behind the steam?  Sometimes I dream
of one like you, tight-sweater ghost from a past
your writers don't provide.  And you dream too,

perhaps, of lives like mine, or ours
as really I should say.  Ambiguous, we are;
not telegraphed with what to feel; not healing,
albeit imperfectly, between one story
and the next; not sent the text by courier
before each scene begins; we arebeyond all else

not the one half-dressed upon the poster
whom wenot so aloof nowreturn to
through moments in our desperate night. We treat
it as our right, and maybe that is fair
you are repaid so many ways, and I'm always
your loyal customer, when you give yourself away.

2016-07-08

Dark skies

A poem inspired by a prompt from a Facebook poetry group.

This is a pantoum.  I like pantoums, but they are a very particular thing and I can understand if not everybody gets them.  They repeat a lot, rather like the villanelle, which is another form I'm fond of... I mean of which I'm fond.

In the case of a pantoum the repetition generates an intense feelings of stasis, claustrophobia, and/or nostalgia.  So they are ideally suited for emotive, introspective or contemplative subjects.

The Western pantoum is a hijacking of a Malay verse form, but I do not speak Malayan, so  I really cannot comment on whether we do them justice...







Dark skies


The gaps between the stars will draw her eyes.
She's lying on the back lawn in the dark.
The voids are better than more clouded skies.
She isn't waiting for the dog to bark.

She's lying on the back lawn in the dark
without the thought that anyone will come.
She isn't waiting for the dog to bark.
Such expectations leave her feeling dumb.

Without the thought that anyone will come,
she's none-the-less put on her special top.
Expecting too much leaves her feeling dumb
but clothing is an easy thing to swap.

She's none-the-less put on her special top.
Beneath her shoulders dew begins to soak.
Her clothing is an easy thing so swap
there's always extra cleaning with a bloke.

Beneath her shoulders dew begins to soak,
this sort of thing is starting to get old.
There's always extra effort for a bloke
increasingly it leaves her feeling cold.

This sort of thing is starting to get old.
The dark is better than a clouded sky.
Increasingly they leave her feeling cold.
The voids between the stars pull at her eye.



2016-06-17

From Lark Rise by Standard Candles

Another one written from a prompt on a course.

To my mind this is pure science fiction: uncontaminated by plot or character or spaceships or robots or sexy other-worldly women who want to know about the "Earth thing called love..."

There's the local and the distant, the distant is by definition alien...  But equally if you merely struggle up onto the shoreline and dip your toes in the water, you are already touching the near edge of infinity.

There's a real sense in the opening of From Lark Rise to Candleford that to many of the locals, Oxford is as far away as the moon...

I wonder what it's like to stand on the moon?  White dust...  Stars...







From Lark Rise by Standard Candles


With a calibrated period-luminosity relation astronomers
could use Cepheid variables as standard candles to determine
the distances to distant clusters and even other galaxies. 

-- www.astronomynotes.com, Nick Strobel -- 
Period-Luminosity Relation for Variable Stars


All along the greensward wanders,
outlining our mile-around;
a frame upon the white road reaching
even so far as OXFORD XIX
where things are so unlike. Why,

it is a different world there.
It is different here for such as we
struggling from our hamlet's mire-dark ways
to stand upon the alien, the local absolute.
Who lurks near? What star here

shines so starkly on the white dust?
Is this road forever?



2016-06-03

Death and the maybe


In the words Terry Pratchett gave to Sergeant Colon and Nobby Nobbs, as they balanced on the roof of the distillery with the dragon bearing down upon them:


What's up, Sarge? Do you want to live for ever?
 
Dunno. Ask me again in five hundred years.
 
 
And there is a fundamental point at work here, we live longer and longer, but we aren't 'designed' to live forever.

That said, Death is dying.  Very slowly and with, I am sure, a couple more twisty scythe-based manoeuvres up his sleeve, but we are slowly grinding away at all the things that can make a person not last forever.  There will come a last mortal generation and possibly we are it...

...although, actually, I doubt that, it takes surprisingly long to pull a fully fledged and medically-approved nano-technological body repair system out of your hat, or mind upload technology, or even body-part-on-demand cloning.  But even although it's going to take longer than we like, there is going to come a time when people become essentially undying and we have to face the ultimate socially awkward questions:

How long do you want to live?

How long to you want to live with me?

How long do we both want to live, if the kids have emigrated to
Alpha Centauri, and idea of eternity with nothing on the TV is driving us nuts? 

But never mind, we may get hit by a comet...








Naked celebrity photographs



There is no real connection
between the beautiful and the vertical;
it is only a rule of thumb
but it has held so far,

she thinks,

photographing another letter-Y incision
against the steel table.
It always seems wrong
for the roughly stitched flesh not to swell redly,

but it's not.

This one had a crucifix
it's in an envelope upstairs
and a PR agency
who do not now know what to do.

She examines the photo
crosses it off her todo list.



To wish upon


If a comet comes
perhaps by night
wandering through our atmosphere
at a thousand times the speed
of bullets from a gun

the air compressed and burning
a transient and bale-filled sun
that flash-fries everything along its drift
before stepping firmly down to lift
some small Midwestern town

from the planet's surface
like a stamp loosened
in warm water and floated free if badly torn
with a thousand cubic kilometres
of the rocky envelope beneath.

If you are not burned
as you stand wondering or smashed
by falling secondary ejecta
if you are lucky and if, in short,
you are far enough away

then you can flee
the monument
of swelling black
that's eerily silent
coming at you faster than sound.

There is no way to turn
but you could flee choosing
as the commentator put it
a slow death over a fast one but, foolish, I
choose the slow death every time.



Magic


An empty box, a glass of milk,
two table tennis balls, a silken scarf,
no doves in my waistcoat, and no rabbits
or other small mammals
concealed anywhere about my person

but enough of this penny ante stuff.  Let's do magic!
Observe this wand, which came to me from an old,
old magician.  Now,

does any member of the audience have
a recently deceased body, ideally someone dear to you?
A mother?  A son?
A close friend will do...
You Sir?  Your daughter?

Let's give him a big hand!
If you'll just wheel the trolley onto the stage...
Thank you!
I cover her with this cloth
and if I could have total silence
as I wave the wand and rip apart the borders
of the undiscovered country.

I like to call this trick
"And death shall have no dominion."




2016-05-13

Acquaintance

Uriah Heap who, had he known
Mr Jethencorp, would not have presumed
upon the acquaintance.
Charles Dickens knew a thing or two!

And the principle things he knew about were:
  1. Characters
  2. Serialising a story into handy sized parts
  3. Ending parts on a cliffhanger
    (A technique later used to great effect in Flash Gordon...)

None of which means I'm not prepared to mock a little...



(The sound quality here maybe isn't quite up to the usual standard.  Please remember that a shoestring would actually represent a 300% increase in my recording budget...)







Acquaintance

My dear Mr Jethencorp, may I express delight?
How wonderful it is, that you are here tonight
and I wonder, friend, if I could prevail
upon the strength of long acquaintance
for a pint of ale?

...

Say no more, Mr Jethencorp, I would not desire
to make you uncomfortable, glum or perspire
with any hint of awkwardness or strain.
If you cannot spare the money --
no need to explain.

...

Why yes, Mr Jethencorp, I understand your claim
that in truth "Jethencorp" is no part of your name
but our friendship, possessed of such perfection,
I had to construct some term of affection
for all I have known you just a little time.

...

As little as a minute? Yet I have such respect
I quite failed to notice my great neglect
in asking your name. So "Jethencorp"
I coined for you which somehow expressed
the complex emotions inside my chest

in deference I leave the exact pronunciation to you.
And now, I regret, I must bid you adieu
and wander along to see what I can do
for the price of- but ah!
Who do I see at the end of the bar?

A man, he looks quite well-to-do...
Why? It's dear Mr Scratsenfrew,
allow me to introduce you...



2016-05-02

Releasing a single!

Or rather Hallam London, my musical collaborator, is releasing our song To the Sky, which we dedicate to David Bowie because, as often the case, we didn't realise quite what we had until it was gone.

As usual Hallam wrote the music and I provided the lyrics.  He also got other friends and professionals to contribute, see the bandcamp page for full credits...

This is the song I wrote about last week, explaining its creation story (no radioactive animals were involved, somebody may have fallen to Earth) and also see here for the lyrics.

Anyway, please enjoy the song and if you feel inspired to contribute a small sum to this enterprise, please buy it (for as little as 1€; for American friends 1€ is roughly $1.15 at today's prices...)

Please also share this song promiscuously.  You remember how Andy Warhol promised everybody 15 minutes of fame in the future?  Well it's been the future for over 15 years now and my fame still hasn't arrived...









2016-04-29

To the sky - artwork update

I have to start with a small version of the image, because that is what Facebook and other semantic content scrapers will pick up.  So that's the one on the left...  but I'll include a full sized version as well.

This is the cover which Julia Eichhorn has drawn to accompany Hallam's forthcoming single: To the sky

We now have a firm release date of "next week, as early as we can manage."

While I have your attention, let me leak a preview of the lyrics (below.)






To the sky

(Lyrics by Ian Badcoe, Music by Hallam London)


Those were our days
we would space-walk in the park
I made you laugh
we kicked the grass
I didn't float home until the dark.

And you never grew cold
but you grew distant, never told me why.
I was a clown
said I'd be around
I was a fool to let you fly.

Got my space suit on...
I've got dotted arrows drawn upon the night
as the countdown runs
all the systems hum
I can follow arrows to the sky.

When the engines run...
I've got green lights right across the board
I locked everyone out,
but I do not doubt
and now it really seems
as if a man can touch the sky.

I lost those days
and how the vacuum's more complete
you are not there
not anywhere
that I can reach on aching feet.

I will not let it end
I've watched the wall clock since you're gone.
My head tilts back
to view the black
and you're a pale star in the dawn.

Got my space suit on...
I've got dotted arrows drawn upon the night
as the countdown runs
all the systems hum
I can follow arrows to the sky.

When the engines run...
I've got green lights right across the board
I locked everyone out,
but I do not doubt
but now...

Houston, I have a problem
it has to be there's love in outer space
but there is too much junk beyond the place
where all the blue turns black
and how can one man in his tiny can
have ever hoped....


I had a space suit on...



(This is "Rock Music Description Language" again, verses on the left, choruses in the middle, break on the right...)






The price of life

Some microfauna,
earlier today
We're in the throes of NaPoWriMo and it is eating up a lot of my spare time to try and turn out a poem every single day.

It would probably be easier if I wrote more haiku...

This is a poem from this same festival (is that the term) in a previous year.  2010 if my records are accurate.

This is maybe less shiny than some of my poems, but I think works well done as a performance with some energy.  So that is what I've tried to do in the recording.

This is a subject that I care about quite strongly.  Not wholly from the ecological perspective, although I think that very important, but also from the rawer, darker, more-fundamental scientific angle—there is, within the universe of things that we can reach, exactly one "life".  All life on Earth is the spawn of one original life creation event.  It is all, shitake mushrooms to vampire squid (look them up), the same stuff.  We have exactly one example.

Until we land somewhere where there's more...

But even then there will only be two.  The value of this stuff cannot be overstated.  Taken to its ultimate eschatological extreme it might be the difference between a universe that means something and one that goes 'fut' and passes without comment.  So look after it.












The price of life


Lot twenty-three, one bucket of mud...

Ladies and Gentlethings,
this is the finest mud that money can buy.

Why? Just look at this chemistry,
poly-heterocyclic rings, carbon chains,

substances, whose full chemical names,
would keep you writing until the stars went out.

And for the avoidance of doubt,
this is because there's Life,

right in this bucket, genuine, natural Life,
in all its unlimited, self-designing power.

There are seventy-nine different types
of bacterium here, ready to feed

on spare carbon compounds
which you might not need

and spew more biomass—
this mud can breed.

Also in here, microscopic worms
eating, excreting, aerating by turns

and food for the slightly larger
microfauna... see, I have micrographs here

tardigrades, lice, hydra,
amoebae toofurther ingredients for the stew.

No, nothing as large as a mouse,
but there are... Seeds, nineteen different kinds:

from ruderal weeds with short life-times
(which, yes, fix more biomass)

to shrubs, of various size,
and treesthey need only light,
and carbon-dioxide.

In this bucket, everything you need,
to take a sterile world and clothe it
in a forest so deep, and green,
darkly shaded, pristine,
and if you haven't already got the idea
it's beautiful.

So, what I am bid for this bucket of mud?

I might add that it's rumoured
to come from the fabled blue-planet itself.

Shall we start the bidding
at ten, sterile star-systems?

2016-04-26

To the Sky...

You haven't heard much from me about my on-going collaboration with German Rock Musician Hallam London.  Partly this has been because we had a bit of a slow period (as documented here) and partly it has been because I've been busy changing my job, delivering the kid to/from University, saving the World from killer rhubarb (don't ask) etc etc.

Also another reason is I've been busy with the songs themselves.  Hallam and I just had an amazing six week burst of creativity during which we finished five songs.  (For a given value of finished, music production goes through many, many stages such as arrangement, performance, production, mixing etc etc...)

However, it is not of these songs that I wish to speak.

In January this year, David Bowie died.  Hallam and I were just starting a new song when we heard the news.  We had some cause for introspection.  We'd never discussed Bowie, but as you can imagine he was a formative influence for us both.  We thought about doing some sort of song as a tribute, and then we had to wrestle with the question of how hubristic that was.  After some soul searching, we realised that all of our music comes from a very Bowie place anyway: it's all about gender and sanity and slices of everyday or unusual lives; we're also frequently a bit SciFi; often trying to push some envelope or other; and as every song is very different, I think we're reinventing ourselves even faster than he did!

So anyway, we got on with the song.  Unusually we reversed of our usual way of working.  Hallam recorded the musical idea first, and I analysed the metrical structure of his "na naaa nah" place-holder lyrics.  Then I wrote a prototype chorus.

So far so good, but we had to decide what the song was about, and we kept cycling back to Bowie-like (Bowiesque?  Bowiesian?) ideas.  In the end we were drawn strongly to the ideas in Major Tom and Space Oddity—and who doesn't want a space launch in the middle their song?and a love story, obviously...

And now it's finished.  It's partly a Bowie tribute, but obviously also has to stand as a song on its own.  Hallam has gone beyond the mere "teaser" quality of our previous releases with this one.  He's hired a great drummer, and an engineer to do the mixing and production.  He's currently finalising the artwork.

It's called To the Sky, and next week Hallam will release it as a single!

Yes, you do have to wait until then...  but in the meantime here's the play-list with our previous two teasers Anger Bob and Identity...







And BONUS! a recording of The rain in certain car parks (yes I did call a song that).  This live recording isn't polished as Hallam's studio recordings, but it does have a live band and audience...

 

2016-04-16

The police in different voices

He Do the Police in Different Voices was T. S. Eliot's working title for The Wasteland.  Eliot was quoting Dickens:

...Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.

The idea for this poem sprang to me fully formed one day.  The idea being to take a narrative, such as might feature in a detective or police procedural genre novel, and tell it using different characters to provide the different voices.

I'm not sure whether the idea of using historical characters was there from the beginning...  I think so, because I started looking for a suitable philosopher very soon.  When I hit on Heidegger, who was infamously sympathetic to the Nazis, then that gave me the fully formed idea of using European historical characters who lived through WWII.

Magritte lived in occupied Belgium.  Stanley Unwin was a Morse code operator at the BBC.  Marcel Marceau (Marcel Mangel) was a hero of the French Resistance and claimed to have first developed his miming as a way of keeping children quiet while smuggling refugees.

Unwinese is a marvellously expressive language (marvespress languicity uply grail) and I recommend its study to all those who are truly serious about linguistics.








The police in different voice



DS Martin Heidegger

Must crime imply a criminal?
is what we need to know.
Let us consider evidence,
the crime, the criminal,
and the theory of the crime
as separate ontological domains.

Let us bag the remains
and also these fragile fragments
from the floor.

The body is being dead,
the knife is being on the ground,
the fragments have a quality of brokenness...

...however, I shall show
that evidence is not fact,
fact not real,
and reality is not "Being"
in any sense I can relate to
and also the witness may have lied.

DI Rene Magritte

Ordinary objects in extraordinary light:
some object did not hang, unsupported,
and when it hit the ground it broke

why?  Did the victim or the assailant smoke?
And if so how?  We may believe what we perceive
paints a picture of what took place
but this image is treacherous
as any other, and these fragments
are not a pipe.

DCI Marcel Marceau

(Because the Chief Inspector is a man of actions
more than words, his statement will be read
by the renowned criminologist,
Professor Stanley Unwin.)

Observe the chiefspector looksee the crimescenery
and glassnify large-up the tiny bits
the sergeant found. Indeed not a pipesmokey
but a woodflute! Commency source
this crime outside the buskstreet. Where

nothing for but bravely clamber the roadlength as the wind
puff to blow him back the way he first strole in
and at the finial end bang slap
straight into the suspicial stranger
lurking the other way.

But what now?  Oh no!  The criminole
somehow identitheive the chiefspector
and he's carriage of misjustice slap bangy locked up
trying to find his way out of the invisicube
for thirty years without parade.



2016-04-01

Tea time

Tea time, earlier today...
I was just reminded of this, because it is another poem from Memento...

Minnie and Violet are real great aunts...

Which is to say they were real once but sadly are not any more, because they did indeed die in childhood.  As they were the only two of a round dozen siblings not to make it into ripe old years, I had no shortage of great aunts and uncles to choose from when I was younger.

Historical note for overseas readers.  The "Pru" or Prudential is an insurance company and before the age of electronic banking, "The Man from the Pru" would come around collecting the premiums.

I have heard it said that 90% of poetry is about time, memory or love.

Two out of three ain't bad...








Tea time


Minnie and Violet address the camera directly;
they cannot say we who are about to die...
because they did not know. My mother speaks instead
from nineteen seventy-two, where
counting coinage for the Man from the Pru,
she pauses to explain: these would be your great aunts,
if not for Polio––


            as her mother once explained to her.
Today I stir the stranger's tea and offer biscuits.
He has to rush. I brush crumbs from the photograph.
Minnie is thinking about the existence problem: she exists
for the photographer, but can only guess at future eyes.
Grandma and she existed, once, for each other
but mother and I, spying on the moment
through the monochrome window, can only imagine.

Violet is thinking about the photographer's wig.



2016-03-31

Now plugging: Memento

http://www.ianbadcoe.uk/2015/04/coming-round.html
Memento

This book was kindly produced by J.S.MacLean as a memento of the times that a big crowd of poets had on the now defunct CriticalPoet.com.

Three of my poems are in there, as are contributions by another 37 accomplished poets.  One of the three I provided was Coming Round which is featured on this very blog.

On-line poetry forums are a very useful resource, when they are good, for the beginning or developing poet.  I see them as occupying roughly the same position of the literary salon of former centuries.  On them you can both get feedback on your own work but, more important, you can practise critiquing the work of others.  This is vital as the ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a poem underpins the ability to self-critique, and thus self-edit.

To put it another way, until you've learnt to understand why somebody else's poem doesn't work, you haven't a hope of knowing whether yours does...  and also seeing other people praise the very feature you just condemned, that teaches you something of how different readers can come to the same text in very different ways.

A good forum is also a source of companionship, writing prompts and exercises.

So the demise of a good one is a sad occasion, but also a chance to look back at the good times and realise how far you've come.

2016-03-25

All of me...

It was easy, so I made a playlist of all my poem recordings.

Maybe you could put it on while you are falling asleep at night.  I hope that sends a disturbed shiver down your spine, it certainly does mine...

Actually I can't imagine what anybody will do with this, but here it is anyway.




2016-03-21

The girl who...

As you may know, I'm something of a fan of Nordic Noire dramas.

Not an fanatical fan.  I'm not the type who can obsesses about a TV series (for the purposes of this discussion, Dr Who isn't a TV series, it's a religion...)  However I do check new Nordic Noire series out when they appear, just to see whether I'm going to enjoy them.

One of the frequent features of these series is strong, eccentric female leads, and this is where this particular poem stems from.  At the time of writing, I was thinking most about Saga Norén from The Bridge (which was on at the time).  However the direct references in the text are to Lisbeth Salander, the original Girl Who... (the films don't 100% do her justice: read the books.)

These are very different characters in several ways, but the big thing they have in common is minds found some way out on the autistic spectrum...  which is another place this poem is coming from.  I often relate strongly to autistic characters.

What else...?  (1) This is skirting the edge of being a sonnet...  (2) Remind me sometime to rattle on about "normal" human psychology and the various spectra within which we are all so carefully positioned.









The girl who...


tattoos dragons, kicks hornets etc and stands
in the half-furnished apartment smoking/staring
through the picture window while the world
fades monotonically into twilight and snow
takes the evidence. Somebody calls and she grunts,
eyes, hand and cigarette unmoving. Feel the cold as if
we were close, as if there were a closeness here.
We brush a hair from her temple, and click:
the side of her head opens to reveal the steel
wheels spinning and a quiet persuasive hum. Come
back to the front, see the eye, see the smile not for kissing
the face not wholly numb, and rapid-fire summations
of an intellect that takes no prisoners, sees no need,
but speaks: put the body-parts on ice for morning.




2016-03-10

Bootstraps (revised)

Why would I post nearly the same thing twice?

To demonstrate the creative process, of course!

Also to show how the only constant is change, nothing can be taken for granted, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and we are our own worst enemies.

But mostly because I am not a revisionist.  Events are events and even if we subsequently forget what they were, they still are what they were.  Similarly history is written by the victors, and thus not real; but it is what was written and always will have been...

...so I can't simply replace the previous post and thus erase the historical record (I only do that if I make an embarrassing mistake.)

Let's call this the history of the World, v0.2-patch-level-1...








Bootstraps


First floor survival gear: axes chipped
from patient flint; animal skins stitched
with skill and bone needles;
tribal leaders
arguing beside the standing stone;
berries gathered in the sun; fires kindled
in the gloom to keep the toothier beasts at bay; going up...


Second floor farms and agriculture; cats to keep
the rats away; dogs and scrawny goats; the spinning
year and fleeces; fleas in every rush pile
bed; people sleeping on a platform,
animals beneath; pots built from the local clay and fired
by the clan who have the knack; orange/yellow copper
in the kiln ash, a young man prods it thoughtfully; going up...


Third floor city states: law and orders;
walls; gates; men with wise beards,
meet, casual in the forum; politics; decorum, until
the food gets scarce; princelings swapped with
worldly powers to guarantee the peace;
philosophers on temple steps; priests
at watch, nervously; a man who writes everything down; going up...


Third floor mezzanine libraries and scriptoria: days
spent, short and candle dim; rude notes
illustrated in the margin, to the greater glory; a story
captured and defined, here and there a line
of mystery; history, on the lectern, written by scribes
in the chapter-houses of the monasteries of the victors;
a new fear of fire; books from half the World, traded, copied; going up...


Fourth floor industrialism and empire: men
in clever top hats; lines on maps or diagrams which change
the game; labourers becoming craftsmen, speaking plainly
of pounds per capita per square imperial inch;
unflinching duty; railways; educating lesser races;
ignore their anger, they are children; government buildings
in grandly inappropriate style; social reform; going up...


Fifth floor total war: wondering what it's all about in a foxhole;
shells; war poets; dysentery; seven new kinds of mud
to drown in; gas, artillery and wire; cunning inventions
to burn up everything you've known;
fragments of bone in your hair; high explosive
which de-constructed your buddy, hearing, presence of mind;
ACHTUNG MINEN! no leaves on the trees; rumours of a treaty; going up...


Fifth floor mezzanine teenagers and youth: sex and drugs;
hugs and messages of vague well-being; seeing things
in new lights; days lost in what used to be reverie, but now
is chilling out; tearing down old certainties, while still
living
within them; distant mystics, sexier than the local ones;
rolling the stones; liberty, equality, hints of progressive policy; going up...


Sixth floor technology: machines for making machines that make
decisions; tension round the rate of change; every day strange
and bravely whirled; Internets; commerce; the people, connected
and loving and arseholes, in equal measure; treasure
sieved from big data; advanced manufacturing facilities
and people drawing squiggles
to sell them on-line; connections for the World, for your mind; going up...


Seventh floor...

Top floor future: worlds beyond number;
World without end; machines that think
they are men; vice-versa; change here for: space
elevators, interstellar colonisation, Dyson spheres, generation ships;
the stars like sand upon the beach of every island paradise the mind imagines;
there is no ceiling...

...I'd put your head between your knees,
it takes some folks that way Sir. If I were you
I'd wait
until it all stops spinning
then take the other car.

Everybody else: please hold on tight...
this lift
only
goes
up...

2016-03-02

Bootstraps

Who doesn't want to write a history of the World?

This is a slightly unusual posting, as this poem isn't necessarily finished.  What happened is, I put it on a couple of forums, and I got some enthusiastic responses, and also some suggestions for improvements.  Then somebody asked if they could share it on Facebook, and I thought: why not?  However Facebook loses formatting, so it on my blog for her to share...

...so here we are, but it may be subject to further edits later.

Call it a history of the World, v0.1-beta...










Bootstraps


First floor -- survival gear: axes chipped
from patient flint; animal skins stitched
with skill and bone needles;
tribal leaders
arguing beside the standing stone;
berries gathered in the sun; fires kindled
in the gloom, to keep the toothier beasts at bay; going up...


Second floor -- farms and agriculture; cats to keep
the rats away; dogs and scrawny goats; the spinning
year and fleeces; fleas in every rush pile
bed; people sleeping on a platform,
animals beneath; pots built from the local clay and fired,
by the clan who have the knack; orange/yellow copper
in the kiln ash, a young man prods it thoughtfully; going up...


Third floor -- city states: law and orders;
walls; gates; men with wise beards,
meet, casual in the forum; politics; decorum, until
the food gets scarce; princelings swapped with
worldly powers to guarantee the peace;
philosophers on temple steps; priests
at watch, nervously; a man who writes everything down; going up...


Third floor mezzanine -- libraries and scriptoria: days
spent, short and candle dim; rude notes
illustrated in the margin, to the greater glory; a story
captured and defined, here and there a line
of mystery; history, on the lectern, written by scribes
in the chapter-houses of the monasteries of the victors;
a new fear of fire; books from half the World, traded, copied; going up...


Fourth floor -- industrialism and empire: men
in clever top hats; lines on maps or diagrams which change
the game; labourers becoming craftsmen, speaking plainly
of pounds per capita per square imperial inch;
unflinching duty; railways; educating lesser races;
ignore their anger, they are children; government buildings
in grandly inappropriate style; social reform; going up...


Fifth floor -- total war: wondering what it's all about in a foxhole;
shells; war poets; dysentery; seven new kinds of mud
to drown in; gas, artillery and wire; cunning inventions
to burn up everything you've known;
fragments of bone in your hair; high explosive
which de-constructed your buddy, hearing, presence of mind;
ACHTUNG MINEN! no leaves on the tree, rumours of a treaty; going up...


Fifth floor mezzanine -- teenagers and youth: sex and drugs;
hugs and messages of vague well-being; seeing things
in new lights; days lost in what used to be reverie, but now
is chilling out; tearing down old certainties, while still
living
within them; distant mystics, sexier than the local ones;
rolling the stones; liberty, equality, hints of progressive policy; going up...


Sixth floor -- technology: machines for making machines that make
decisions; tension round the rate of change; every day strange
and bravely whirled; Internets; commerce; the people, connected
and loving and arseholes, in equal measure; treasure
sieved from big data; advanced manufacturing facilities
and people drawing squiggles
to sell them on-line; connections for the World, for your mind; going up...


Seventh floor...

Top floor -- future: worlds beyond number;
World without end; machines that think
they are men; vice-versa; change here for: space
elevators, interstellar colonisation, Dyson spheres, generation ships;
there is no ceiling;
the stars like sand upon the beach
of every island paradise the mind imagines...

...I'd put your head between your knees,
it takes some that way, Sir. Shall
I drop you somewhere?  The Victorian Era?  The Renaissance?
Very good Sir.  Going down...



2016-02-19

Lanscape with Distant Prospect

This poem comes from two places.  Firstly the idea that a person, internally, is a sort of world of their very own where their own normality prevails...  and that to really know somebody, you have to know their land.


And secondly from Ursula K Le Guin's marvellous Earthsea novels, which I read long ago when I was young and have re-read several times in the intervening years, whilst quite against my wishes I grew older.


One of the Earthsea novels, the third if my memory serves, is called The Farthest Shore.  We need not concern ourselves with the plot of this book here, merely the title is enough of a phrase to conjure with.  The whole drive of this poem is to reach that phrase having journeyed sufficiently to generate a sense of arrival, expectation, and potential.








Landscape with distant prospect


Do you want that girl, whose eyes
expand so wide?  She drinks the world
through doors in her face, pours it into a covert place
of her own devising, and perilous
for those not-shebut it could be if you spoke to her,
casual, in some corridor or halfway up a stair,
you might be acknowledged with a word,
a nod, the one raised eyebrow
of a demi-goddess, whose halo, cocked
at a jaunty angle, illuminates a shade too much.

Peek into her eyes now.  Do you want to enter,
walk her world?  New-cut staff in hand
and battered boots, trailing, very steady, from the hills;
cupping one hand in rills of freezing water
and coming to love the bleakness of a land
never shaped by human sensibility
and where the thorn trees
get twisted all on their own.
Yet there is a track, faint, but with occasional cairns
of fist-sized stones.  You can drop into the forest,

build a small fire, eat fresh-killed rabbits
that you roast on spits, expectorate
gristly bits back into the flame. At night
you might dream that the girl herself came
and stood, wordless, in the shadow of some tree
and in the morning there would be nothing
but the early rook poking warm ashes for a beakful
of burnt meat.  As so you go day-by-mile, by foot to the sea

where, against probability, a ship rides at anchor
in a sheltered bay.  He is here, the captain will say,
to discover if the ocean has another side,
and you will sign-up for this crew, to chance all rigours
and violence of storm, becalming, starvation,
the vigours of pirates, and sea monsters
that rise, silent, from the depths to stare
placid and Delphic, and for no reason you could know.

But you will go for half a chance
of footprints on the farthest shore.




2016-02-05

Feminine principle

Is this about feminism?  I don't know.

I don't like to be political.  It comes from having been brought up in science fiction and we only moved to reality when I was fifteen.  When you've sat up late at night arguing with two land squid and a talking metal box about whether the souls of extinct nihilist cacti should be allowed to marry...  well any minor differences of colour, gender or political persuasion begin to look irrelevant.

This definitely does come from challenging the idea that mechanical men should automatically be assumed to be, err, men.  Even the word "android" is inherently masculine.  "Gynoid" is the feminine equivalent and you don't hear that a lot.  "Homonoid" should probably be the correct term, but then there's "hominid".  Androids probably are hominids, which will freak the palaeontologists...

And don't get me started on the bias in assuming robots should be shaped like people—I mean it's barely true in the real world anyway.  You don't see many industrial robots in sit-down strikes.

Anyway, is this feminist?  I don't know.  Interpretation is, as ever, left as an exercise for the reader.








Feminine principle

Victoria builds a woman not from ribs.  Sugar, spice :
these also do not feature, this is a different creature...

If you have seen those sexy chromium androids,
drawn by that one guy from Japan.  Gynoids, I should say,
they're not right either, but one might do
as a starting point, although it needs some work.

Titanium blades to turbine round in thousands
of revolutions, a system always humming
if you press her with your ear.  You can also hear
the click of relays as she decides—to love or not to love—

so many losers she can't choose
who to reject first.  This is no bride for any Frankenstein,
this is Kevlar reinforcement on a spine of optical fibre.
This is nerve, in spades, and a cryogenic cool

as she slits fresh fruit with one surgical-steel nail
and raises it to bite.  You might,
and I will, envy the apple,
but, as Victoria says: that isn't the point.



2016-01-22

Numbers station

A Numbers Station is a Cold War artefact.  A weird short-wave radio station that transmits nothing but some distinctive sounds (often low quality music) punctuated by uninterpretable sequences of spoken numbers.

Clearly the whole point is that it won't mean anything, except to the very few lucky people who've been given the key.  It's a cheap and very private way of sending simple messages to Your Man in Halifax.  Nowadays one just emails; via encrypted channels, of course.

None of which stops the numbers stations from having a cult following, a bizarre style of their very own, and hoard of conspiracy theorists who stalk them.


Pulsars are relatively mundane in comparison.  They're neutron stars: single atomic nuclei the size of small industrial cities; the remnants of dead stars that weren't quite large enough to form black holes; spinning spheres with surfaces moving at sizeable fractions of the speed of light; powerful radio beacons "chirping" so precisely they were originally labelled "LGM" for "Little Green Men"—which they aren't, of course.

So nothing to write home about, really.








Numbers station


A song of distant, static-abraded numbers
the mechanism unwindsmonotonic and discrete.
It had an edge once, but not now
so neat as the mind recalls it.  There's a gap...

...around the days she faked, in faking lived
and now has left behind.  Don't think about the boy
and forget the laughter pastedcrudelybetween the mind
and the point, too far to guess, where a neutron star spun...

...down, the definitive direction: empires, cricket balls,
angels tumble from the blue, and in doing so
draw nearer.  The man reached for her once; unknowing,
implored some sweaty comfort for the fall...

...to pass the time, she builds a short-wave radio
from wreckage in the tracking station.
She turns the dial to sample languages; shrapnel
of news and song; the soul of the pulsar chirps...

...for a moment, and a tiny, tinny voice chants:
two, seven, five
two, seven, five
zero, zero, zero.
She grabs the code pad...

...which isn't there.
Something has ended,
she doesn't know what
those days are over.