Jesse James Off Broadway

Jesse James, late of the nineteenth century

I was on a poetry course, and we were given a paragraph or two about Jesse James and asked to write a poem.

The single two things that struck me most about him were the manner of his death, and:

"...much of what was written about him
was made up, and toured as a stage show
within weeks of his death..."

I only hope when my time comes I can be remembered as creatively, and that somebody sells tickets.

Jesse James Off Broadway

...murdered by a man who is in turn murdered
by a man who is murdered by “an outlaw”
about whom countless they say films insist
on the quote marks and who robs, not steals, trains
whilst representing as a Robin Hood
all Lincoln green and tights and neckerchief
carefully deployed, but... of the man himself
little now is known. A bounty is offered
and a stage show hurriedly prepared, the script
penned by a man, himself in patient line
for the scaffold where the hangman struggles
to get the whole damned chorus neatly dropped
before the interval. He needed shooting—
to keep the drama tense—and his cousin
Bob “Robert” Ford is just the man you'd choose
for a low-living, lily-livered coward's
excuse for a plot flourish. The date was set
for Saturday, the matinee, and Jesse
(as was his name) was lured to audition
for the part of his life. He takes the part, steps out—
is gunned down in cold blood and ironically
the part turns out a whole. Bob himself is...


Person or persons unknown

This is an experimental piece...  I confidently predict you'll either get it or shake your head sadly and walk away.

The inspiration for this was: "This they now do."  Again you'll either recognise the reference or you were born too late, sorry.

Person or persons unknown


The story so far...


Fleeing her parent's tiny lives in Bootle
she meets a confidence man called
which they steal from a warehouse behind
they hot-wire a car and flee.

Years later, her humdrum marriage
by strangely precise anonymous messages
an embarrassing previous life. She panics and
small room above a shop in Manchester.

Brooding over her predicament she flounders
searching everywhere without
in desperation turns to her former
a dangerous last-ditch plan.

This they now do.

Chances upon a derelict
sneaks past the elderly night-watchman
to at length discover me, who she blames for
She demands: Tell me now.  What is my life about?


Clearing my throat, I explain:

Fleeing Bootle you left middle-class parents
where you met an adventurer called
which you acquired from a man in a pub
you borrowed a car and left town.

Years later, with your husband
disturbing anonymous messages
an almost-forgotten previous life. Worried you
a flat above a shop in Manchester.

Some time later you decide
but were unable to find
in desperation you turned to
who hatched a plan.

This you now did.

You were able to find an abandoned
avoided the caretaker
so that you could meet me here
But tell me in your own words, and maybe I can explain.


Eyes wide, she licks her lips and speaks:

I was reluctant to leave Bootle, I missed my Mum and
with a fascinating older man called
which we found in sacks beneath the pier
we bought a car and moved on.

Years later, I was happily
wild and disturbing anonymous messages
my exciting, early life.  I had to investigate and I
an apartment in central Manchester.

After some thought I resolved
but careful investigation did not
until, inspired, I looked-up my old
I conceived a daring plan.

This we now did.

Painstaking research uncovered a late Victorian
past the guards and tricked my way into
to finally confront you.
Now explain!  What is the meaning of my story?


She is ready.  There is no choice.
Gesturing her to an armchair,
I compose my thoughts and prepare to recount...


...the story so far.


A love song for geeks

A Theta-Ray, earlier today...
This dates from 2011, I cannot recall just what I was thinking when I wrote it...

One thing here is to smile kindly at all those old 1950/60s Sci-fi plots that I grew up with.  The 1970's were still a work in progress in those days, and Cyberpunk was still in its bedroom looking under the bed for some interface leads.

However, as you might imagine I write about geeks, geek subjects, and geek sensibilities fairly often; and the point here is also, at least partly, to confound a stereotype—something else I often want to do.

A love song for geeks

These creatures are impossible,

Professor Blood-Fugue said.
I was staring through the visionscope
in the farthest infra-red

at the shape of you sleeping
a ripple beneath my duvet,
a breath of girl-scent delicacy
and curves of skin and tracery
of careless hair.

So when Martians attack
in stereo, technicolor, force
I will grab the theta-ray, of course,
and try to fight back

in total silence. I will not wake you.
You'll never understand
how completely I am mazed,

marooned and overwhelmed in such science-fiction days
where no story could be more astounding
as Captain Oblivion told the mind-fiend

than the fact you are still here.

The other benefit of writing this poem was that when I posted it on Poets' Graves, one of the other members drew my attention to the following:

—and I've incorporated Nerina Pallot into my wide musical tastes.

Image attribution: By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden (Space Pilot X Ray Gun  Uploaded by Oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Publishing the other self...

Some self-published books, earlier today...
A while back, in Antiphon, Rosemary wrote this editorial:

When Rosemary writes everybody listens... er... reads!

But I wonder if she didn't go far enough?  I wonder whether the whole idea of "self publishing" being different from "publishing" isn't a historical artefact left over from the time that publishing was difficult.  I mean, I am publishing right now.  For the avoidance of doubt I mean this blog posting you are reading right now.  More than publishing, I am actually broadcasting, and it hasn't cost me anything beyond a little time and some facilities I already owned.

So...  you have a preponderance of channels in the World today.  Blogs and vlogs and tweats and forums and on-demand printing (which sooner or later will extend to on-demand creation of almost anything) and YouTube, LuLu, on-line magazines and so on and so on.

I say that the game has already changed, but that it will take another decade or so for people to work out what the change means.

Look at it this way, what is a traditional publisher?  It is:
  1. an input hopper, where manuscripts are thrown
  2. commissioning editors, who pick through them
  3. general editors, who ensure quality
  4. a manufacturing/shipping capability
  5. a publicity system
  6. something to collect the money
All of these parts can exist in other forms, and all of them can exist without the others...

If one takes YouTube as an example, it does all of those things except one, and it does every one of them in a completely different way...
  1. The hopper is vast and anybody can throw anything into it.
  2. YouTube uses crowd sourcing to run a recommendation system.  People effectively commission things themselves and technology permits this because it harnesses the power of other people doing the same sort of thing to cut out the part where you, personally, would have to watch every single crappy video on the system—other sharing, rating, liking, and even some play-list systems all help solve this problem, increasingly with deliberate intent by their originators.
  3. There is no equivalent to 3, but more later...
  4. On-demand delivery.
  5. Interestingly, 2 and 5 have become the same thing.  People "like" things, the system tells other people that things are "liked" and so it goes: a huge, Darwinian, positive feedback loop.  It is exactly the same thing that used to happen when your friend told you she liked Frassiter Crimps new book (which she bought because she saw it on the side of a bus), only automatic, faster and without any middle men.

    There are also other advertising channels in the system, you can link videos others, or from a blog entry; you could even pay Google AdWords to link your video to every Worldwide search for "Deterministic Quantum Nihilism..."
  6. Money, what money?  But seriously, people like YouTube make their money via advertising, not by charging for content...  and anyway their costs are (proportionately) far lower than those of a Victorian publishing house (CPU and storage are everything nowadays, and we're talking pence to hire them from Amazon, which is the expensive option for small-time operators...)

So, where does this leave us?

Well it leaves us where we have always been, with the general problem of intellectual hunger vs. Sturgeon's Law.

Or to put it another way: (i) people are starving for content which isn't crud, (ii) 90% of content is crud.

The traditional publishing and new systems are both just ways of scanning the input-hopper for non-crud, maybe fixing it up a bit, and making money from handing out copies of the results...

So where might we go next?  Note Ros quoting Gerry Cambridge:

In general, self-publishing is regarded with suspicion by many ‘traditional’ poets… The reason for this suspicion is straightforward: it can seem to bypass the standard expectation to get some sort of editorial consensus for a body of work. It implies that you weren’t able to get the work published by the usual channels, because almost any poet I know of would rather have a full collection, at least, published by a trade publisher than do it themselves

And note my point above:  YouTube has no equivalent of  general editors...

((Interestingly, Amazon CreateSpace and Lulu do have equivalents of this, they will sell you various services including editing...))

So what I am getting around to is.
  • Any one of us can publish his/her own book at any moment (and some of us do), BUT
  • self-published books are (rightly or wrongly) regarded with suspicion, SO
  • why aren't we editing one-another's?
Rosemary, John C. Nash and I successfully edited together a collection with Making Contact and we are fairly typical (OK, I'll admit to "advanced") amateur poets editing content from a (good but) fairly typical internet poetry board...

So it seems reasonable to suppose that other "gifted amateurs" could very effectively edit each other's work.

HOWEVER, the catch is in my second bullet-point, self-published books are regarded with suspicion, and although we would know these these new books were less suspicious, there would be no way for Joe on the street to know that.

SO, what I am suggesting is that there is room here for a movement, call it what you will—"International Poetry Standards Organisation" seems to be up for grabs :-)

e.g. if people were known to belong to a movement that was dedicated to quality, where people edited each other's work and where the editors were as well known for doing a good job as the authors...

((Since anybody could claim to be in the movement whether they were any good or not, you would probably have to back it with an (light-weight) organisation, that didn't let just anybody in, and which treated its name/symbol as a trademark, just to stop others from stealing it...))

Then wouldn't this provide the missing quality control component that a purely mass-market system like YouTube or Lulu lacks?

Just a thought...



Number 11, 1952

This is an ekphrastic poem about a painting.

See (a low resolution) image of the painting below, or else visit the National Gallery of Australia and see it properly.  Until I wrote this I had no idea what my attitude to Jackson Pollock was, but having studied the painting in as much detail as I could (without travelling internationally) and read up on the story (and minor controversies) of its creation, I find I am a convert, at least to Number 11, 1952 or Blue Poles as it is known.

This poem is trying to be roughly in the shape of one of the "poles".  Arguably this is missing the point.  Some people object to the name Blue Poles because they think it makes you focus on the poles as the subject of the painting, when you should study the almost-fractal details of the whole.

I don't know about that, I just enjoy the painting.


Number 11, 1952

The change of name and addition of eponymous blue poles
might make us feel he wavered, vacillated, changed his mind;
but you can see the wood for the trees, especially if you know he used
a length of two-by-four to force those striking dark blue structures
into the mix. He also changed the date, from fifty-three
to fifty-two so do we also think his calendar was wrong?
There's some debate
on who may or may-not
have painted it—or at least
'helped' in the process—
as several friends
in several states
of drunkenness
seem to have played
with paint and sticks
and blasting tubes
that evening when
this canvas was begun
but any of them
deny doing any painting
and say that what they did
at most "prepared the canvas."
So it was him.
So what did he achieve? It is a forest and a fractal
(this latter just in retrospect.) There's such a sense of depth
you want to lean from side to side to see what is behind
the foreground detail. There's so much energy you cannot fail
to think the forest is exploding, swept up in some storm;
some Tunguska-style event as if a thing from outer-space
reached in
to paint a canvas
a human could not
entirely, and certainly
viewing on a tiny
hand held device
I suspect I can't.
Oh I can zoom
and pan around
but ironically can't view
it upside-down
as he most surely did
walking round it on
the studio floor
but he must have known which way up it was going to be. Weeks
he spent on this: on the floor, on the wall, with that length of two-by-four—
to which I already alluded—and he must have known precisely
the effect he wanted to get as in the topmost layers of paint
experts see he carefully painted out a single line
or thinned another by a few percent. He drank you know?
Drank himself to death
There's broken glass
toward the lower right.