E pluribus unum

I forget whence this poem originated.

I have a half memory that somebody may have raised a challenge but whether it was to write in the plural, or to bend the rules of grammar I don't know.  Possibly it was to adopt an alien persona of some variety...

So anyway, herewith the aforementioned poem.  It's not exactly a puzzle, but you may get some way through before you figure it out...

E pluribus unum

like really you say that
as if it were a clever thing
and I (plural) am watching
your picnic from seven hundred
viewpoints in the long grasses

and there is only one of we (singular)
and it's not our queen
because, OK, there's only one
in here and we're organised around her
but she's still only a part of the machine

and I (plural) am the machine
and we (singular) are all the parts
and I am watching you
and I am already

Note: the first sentence of this posting is grammatically correct... "whence" means "from where."
So "from whence" is arguably tautology, although apparently it has also been in use for a long, long time...


By the book...

Funny isn't that easy to do in poetry, and sometimes isn't productive.  Amusing is easier to achieve, and I think less likely to get in the way of the poem.  That's what I've done here...  or so I think.  I hope you agree...

Kidderminster is a town in Worcestershire.  Croydon is a place in London.  The British Museum is where we keep our loot, and well worth an afternoon's perusal if you are in London.

In this there are two characters, represented by being left justified and right justified, respectively.  There's also a occasional narrator, who is centred, but then aren't they all?

Feel free to read it in three distinctive voices.

I had forgotten, but this was another poem from Making Contact...

By the book

She reads books,
this is where it all begins.
"Planning the crime of the century,"
was just a way to pass a rainy day
in the library
in Kidderminster

but here she is
leading Crusher, Sparks and The Countess
through the British Museum at three a.m.
with a silenced pallet truck.

He reads books
this is how it all begins.
He read "Lives of The Real Detectives,"
which seemed harmless enough
waiting for the 7:15.

The radio coughs nervously,
a glance at Constable Granger,
a nod to Dave from the Art Squad.
They've all seen the shadows moving
behind the glass.

She's read: "Alarm Systems Explained."

He's studied:
"Weakness of the Criminal Mind"
at some length.

"Transport of Art Treasures."

"Traps—their design and construction,"

"The Great Escapologists."

"Anatomy of a Manhunt."

"Losing Yourself in London."

"Forensics for Beginners."

An abandoned factory in Croydon—
armed police converge.

But she's memorised:
"Victorian Sewers Revealed."

And he's left
flipping the pages
of "Sealed Room Mysteries,
Volume 4."

She opens a small bookshop.

He's in there buying
"Should you Trust Books?"

They nod.


Coming round

Cartoon characters should
drink responsibly...
Not much to explain here, one I wrote from a prompt on a poetry forum in 2012.

Today I would avoid the coincidence of strophe breaks and full-stops in the first two verses, but otherwise still reasonably pleased with a sweet and simple piece.

(Note added later: this was also featured in a collection celebrating poets from the, now defunct, Critical Poet online forum.)

Coming round

Maybe I can say it in a different way: it's more
the angle of the orange street light that draws
a shadow between us as we sit with cheap wine
in the spare room and the evening and the dark.

It's more that the presents you brought me
were typical of your kooky creativity; while
the presents I bought you were expensive
and you, often, were thinking of someone else.

And on that day in June when it rained
tiny plashes in the dust and you said the
smell of dust and rain made you horny and sad,
I said it's more your sadness makes it rain

and then you laughed, but it didn't stop raining.
It was more my idea to drift away, not to fight,
but more your idea to keep my books
and CDs in your spare room—on shelves

I erected long ago in another country—so when
I want something I have to come by
with the bottle of supermarket Chianti, and sit
with you, the dark, the dust; now it's raining.


Identity — a demo song from Hallam London

Hallam London and I have been working on songs for his next album, working title: The Sheffield Album.

I'm excited to announce that he's now released one of these as a demo track!

This song is Identity.  It's about all the miscellaneous bits and bobs of different personalities that we carry around with us, and the problems we might have making our different selves get along with the other people in our lives.

Hallam currently has it on his front page, in the link above.  However he'll change that when even more exciting news comes along, so here is the SoundCloud page.


She's taken my imaginary friend
and I'm upset I think I think.
Things get more complex, it's a trend
I hope that I can grasp before I sink.
He's left me for my spirit guide
I now doubt things I know I know
are real.  Keep calm.  I won't hide
my disappointment, everybody goes...

How can he leave
with the boy who isn't here?
How can he love the girl who can't exist
in this or any other world?

He's run off with two characters I wrote
short stories for so long so long
ago.  I think one left me notes
in margins but I may be wrong
and never worked them out anyway.
My other other self has gone
a partial person ought to stay
forever--so I thought, turns out I'm wrong...

How can she leave
with the boy who isn't here?
How can she love the girl who can't exist
in this or any other world?

Where have they done?  Where am I now?
There is so little of me left to show
and once I would have fought
but these days I am caught...
There are more people here than you and me,
though none agree what's real is real.
There should be someone I can be
to keep the gang together.  Seal
all the doors and count my shadows.
There's more and more of them abscond.
I need to be the one who's quite
certain where his fragments are tonight...

What have they done?  What can I do?
They think that I'm imaginary too
and once I would have argued
but recently I'm not so sure...


The need to know too much

Another oldie, this time from 2010.

This is an attempt to talk about raw experience at its most fundamental level.  How can I know that what I experience is the same as you, even if we have nominally been doing the same thing?  Is "red" the same for you as for me?  How about "blue"?  How about "blue" for music?

So if we extend that to experiences I haven't even had; especially if we mean experiences that a highly privileged Western, 21st Century inhabitant is very grateful not to have had...

This is a poem from 2010, and possibly today I might have written it more subtly.  On the other hand sometimes a sledgehammer works better than subtlety.

The need to know too much

"There are some things we're
      just not meant to know..."

Aeschylus in overdrive, tragedies he wrote
and left them here to linger in the now. Was I wrong
to ask your story? You did not answer,
but held out the unsteady hypodermic.
I hear when you do not say: Friend,

you cannot read this in a self-help book,
or watch it with amusement
playing out in other lives.
You cannot trek for years to seek it

—and I do understand. There is nothing to discuss,
no elephant in this room for us to face.The only way to learn this
is by injection straight into my brain.

It is cold. I remain. Understanding nothing,
I resolve I will in future know one truth.

Sisyphus must still endure, but I was only told that.
I have stared, unmoving, at too many sunsets,
roses, match-books with the cover slightly torn...

Ready your needle.


Computable numbers

Alan Turing, regrettably far earlier than today
Alan Turing is one of my biggest fans, er..., that may have come out the wrong way around.

There are many accounts of his life and work, and in every one of them the genius clearly shines through.  It's not just that he worked brilliantly on things like computability and the development of the first electronic computers, but also that as early as the 1930's he was already starting to think in ways we're still developing today.

Then there is the (now) highly celebrated time at Bletchley Park during the war (although I feel it only fair to point out there there were many other brilliant and hard working people there as well...  there's a tendency to credit Turing with the whole circus.)

And then there is his tragic and wholly unnecessary death.  I don't usually rate government apologies issued decades after the event; I tend to shout "you weren't even born" at the radio...  however this one seems somehow appropriate.  The subsequent pardon is neither here nor there, obviously there was no crime to pardon, and the authorities of the day were obviously suffering a kind of mass delusion.  (Authorities do that a lot—the present day is no exception; please remember to hold them to account at every opportunity.)

Such is Turing's legacy that his name features in several bits of common computer science terminology still in common usage, and some of them come up in the poem below.  However the one that says the most doesn't feature.  This is is "Turing complete".  A Turing complete system can calculate anything which is calculable—given enough space and time.

2012 was officially "The Year of Alan Turing" but this poem dates from a couple of years before that.  I always felt I should do something to celebrate 2012 but in the event was far too busy working full time programming electronic computing apparatus.  So I guess I did celebrate, in my own way...

Computable numbers


Turing machine is how we remember
your name, a device which might—
given enough paper tape—
calculate anything,

except the mechanism cannot reach.
Not everything is computable, a point
you wanted made. Sometimes
there's no route from where you start
to the number you desire. 


Turing test is how we remember
your name, a sort of exam
where machines sit at consoles
and apply to join the human race.

Did you suspect you'd made a faith
when you invented this scrap
of applied philosophy? Some people need,
and passionately believe, that one day
the test will be passed.
They will look at a machine,
to see it looking back.

Did you imagine
your machines might be free—
as if paper tape could really be infinite—
and permit attachment
to whatever device
took their fancy:
dancing with lawnmowers by moonlight
or taking a chance
on an upright pillar-drill? 


Code-breaker Turing is how we remember
you—genius applied to a problem
of ideology, ice-cold salt water, and steel.
How did it begin?

Maybe in a smoke-filled room,
a serious man with a pipe explained:
All we (puff) need
is a new branch of mathematics,
(puff) a new kind of engineering,
a love for doing crosswords in German,
and total
(puff-puff) secrecy.

I like to think you hesitated
for only a second,
before rolling up your sleeves. 


Dear, dead Alan, if you had seen
all these future machines,
their imaginary rooms
where you can go to meet
even a pillar-drill. Perhaps
you could jot down suitable numbers.
Perhaps you wouldn't need
the apple.