Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gevile living #1: family

There's not much point in inventing a conworld, a conlang or a conculture unless you can do something with it. I like to show off my constuff on my website. But what would it be like to live in my conworld?

The key city (for me at this time) in my conworld is a city called Gevile (pronounced ge-vi-le - for a guide to pronunciation of the words that follow, check out this page on my website). Over the course of the next few weeks - when I haven't got much else to posts - I'll post little snippets of information on what it would be like to live in Gevile.

Birth, family and growing up in Gevile

You would probably have been born in one of the jaarvagzuush (temple infirmaries) found across the city. Your moeme (mother) would have given birth standing or crouching, assisted by a jwe'he (midwife). Your bizhve (father) would probably not have been present at the birth. Your shnaathuu (placenta) would almost certainly have been cooked and shared between the whole family.

It is most likely that you are not a single basate (child), as gyanesh (women) routinely have between three and five basatem during their fertile period. It is likely that your husplozdem (siblings) would be much older or younger than you, as the average time between basatem is about five jinsuush (years).

There's a possibility that the loife (man) you call "bizhve" is not your biological father - estimates vary, but up to 30% of all basatesh born in Gevile are believed to be the result of liaisons outside the recognised relationship. Not that you mind: everyone will spoil you rotten throughout your basaconuu (childhood). In particular, zgatesh (uncles and aunts) will make a big fuss over you.

Your closest óhslesh (friends) are likely to be your rhaajesh (cousins), and it's probable you and your gang of óhslesh would have made a nuisance of yourselves throughout the vopshe (city). You will also have been involved in a fair number of gang fights, but nothing very serious - one thing the cuklamesh (adults) around you will not tolerate is mahcantsuu (violence and bullying).

You probably hit cuklamalhetuu (puberty) around the age of 13 (for vuefnesh - girls) or 15 (for raptesh - boys). Things got a lot more complicated after that, though the belguu (coming-of-age party) in your honour to celebrate this entry into cuklamconuu (adulthood) would have been fun, given that it lasts all day and most of the night.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Conlang Spotlight: Klingon

In conlanging terms, if the 19th century can be seen as the search for an idealised international auxillary language (such as Solresol or Esperanto) and the 20th century can be considered as the development of conlangs for fantasy and storytelling - Tolkien's languages, for instance - then what of the 21st century? What sort of conlanging experience can we expect over the course of the next 100 years?

I think we can already see signs of where the art and practice of conlanging are moving, and the roots of this movement lie in the last 20 years or so of the 20th century. Role-playing games became very popular in the 1980s - partly as a result of the success of Tolkien's books, but mainly because publishers and game manufacturers found ways of popularising and standardising the game playing experience. The development of the internet and world wide web in the 1990s helped increase the popularity of role-playing fantasy, to such an extent that today there are whole virtual worlds, with virtual societies and virtual economies flourishing online. For some people, these venues are more "real life" than real life itself!

According to his biographers Humphrey Carpenter and Tom Shippey, the central tenet driving Tolkien to write his novels was not just the story - an ancient history for England - but also the languages: place names and titles would lead to sketches which outlined how such names developed, which in turn could be incorporated into the greater stories of the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. When role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons began to take on some of the feeling of Tolkien's creations, some people wanted more of an immersive feeling - either through learning a few words of Quenya or Sindarin, or by developing new conlangs for use in their games.

Suddenly, conlanging had a purpose.

Because RPG manufacturers discovered that adding a smattering of conlang to a game could help give players a more interesting gameplaying experience. A conlang could become part of the package - for instance, the D'ni language, script and counting system in the Myst series of computer games.

Alongside all this a television phenomenon was transferring to the movies. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture rolled onto the big screen in 1979, few believed that this would be the start of a renaissance, yet the film was successful and led not only to further movies but also to a host of spin-off TV series.

The premise of Star Trek is the meeting of human and alien cultures. The original TV shows, and the first movie, assumed that all humans and all aliens spoke - in effect - English. Nobody considered that any other language (natural or constructed) should be used because the target audience was not likely to understand. Alien scripts did have a place in these shows, but only as decoration.

But then somebody at Paramount Pictures decided that some of the alien species should speak a non-English language, and various grunts and hisses made their way onto the soundtrack. Then for the second movie someone decided that these sounds ought to have a bit of coherence to them to make them more believable. Enter Dr Marc Okrand, a linguistics professor in California. His first work with the studio was to re-dub the Vulcan scenes, though this was not a working conlang as such. Even so, the studio was so impressed with the effect of including "Vulcan" in the film that they hired Dr Okrand to develop sounds and phrases suitable for Klingons to speak in the third movie.

The result of Dr Okrand's work for this commission was more than just sounds and phrases: the language he produced was reasonably complete, with grammar and syntax. It met the studio's requirements in being sufficiently harsh and alien sounding (to English speaker's ears). It was also good enough for some fans to decide that it would be fun to learn the language, a wish the Good Doctor obliged by producing a Klingon-English dictionary in 1985, and extended and repubished in 1992. Other Klingon-based books followed in the 1990s.

And thus was born one of the most successful conlangs the world has yet seen. Klingon is probably more popular than Esperanto at the moment. The language has its own website - the Klingon Language Institute. It has it's own literature, including a translations of some of Shakespeare's plays. It has its own (unofficial) conscript as well as one of the most hideous latin transcriptions yet invented. It is, in short, a successful conlang.

So what of the language itself?

Klingon benefitted from Dr Okrand's earlier work on Native American languages - this is not another euroclone language! The sounds of the language are harsh, gutteral and short for a specific purpose, namely to help characterise the rase of aliens that speak the language - and as such they are entirely successful for their purpose. The grammar and syntax are also worth a closer look, if only to see that there are many patterns languages can take. Klingon marks both the subject and direct object on the verb, and has a rather wonderful system of affixes for both nouns and verbs. The script is different enough to make it interesting both from an aesthetic and from a demonstrative point of view - though interestingly the script you see in the films and spin-offs has nothing to do with the language.

The best introduction to the language is no doubt Dr Okrand's dictionaries though the KLI website is also very useful, providing both some online lessons and links to places where people can get together online to help each other learn the language.

Because make no mistake, this language is driven by its fanbase. Paramount Pictures has no interest in the language beyond making occasional use of it in its products. And Dr Okrand seems to have taken little interest in the language for the past few years - his latest excursion into the world of entertainment was producing a language (Atlantean) for the Disney Studios film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

Klingon, in my view, is a demonstration of where the future of conlanging may well lie. Tolkien's secret vice will not be secret in the 21st century; nor will it be a vice - a shameful thing to admit to. Rather, there will continue to be a demand for constructed languages in works of fiction, in films, in other entertainment outlets - Enya's latest album includes a number of songs written in what she claims to be a collaborative conlang between her lyricist and herself.

Why? Because people - fans - like a bit of wierdness in their commodity, and constructing a language for a specific product helps give it that edge of wierdness. One day, maybe, conlangs may be bought and sold in the marketplace. One day I expect we'll see litigation over conlang copyrights and patents, perhaps even accusations of plagiarism. Conlanging, in the 21st century, is going to lose its innocence.

Is this a pity? Yes and no, I think. No, because it's nice to see conlanging get the recognition it deserves - a good conlang, well developed and robust, deserves to find wider and more appreciative audiences. And yet yes also, because to me conlanging will always be an artform, an exploration of words and structures and the very basis of language itself, and sometimes these endeavours are best left untouched by commercial expediency. I remain convinced that Dr Okrand could have produced a superb conlang for the Klingons to speak if it had been born from his necessity to conlang rather than from his contract with a major film studio. But ïscuu vosalbizhuu cohmap taabrasee ïsel, as we say in Gevey.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

How well do you know Rik?

I'd forgotten I'd done this:

The first person to score 100 or more gets a goat and 3 chickens to sacrifice to the god of their choice.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Questions, questions ...

Seth Abramson has been asking questions on his blog - always a dangerous thing to do, in my opinion. Ron Silliman has answered the general thrust of Seth's questions, as his name had been used as an example in some of them. Others have contributed their views, too - Seth links to a number of those in other blogs.

Now, I've not got much interest in the "debates" (okay, spats) Americans seem to get involved in about the history, relevance and future of American poetry. Mainly because I doubt very much that there is any such thing as American poetry - what's going on in new world poetry is just too big to fit in the one box, if you see what I mean. And anyways, I ain't no Merkin. But during his self-proclaimed rant Seth touched on those questions which have kept me fascinated over the years - in particular two sorts of questions: where does the poet stand in relation to poetry; and how do people cope with poetry overload.

These are good questions for Crimbo Eve, believe me!

I offer my answers to selected Seth questions not because I want to contribute to the debate, but rather because it's more fun typing these answers at the moment than it is doing battle with the next section of Snowdrop, which is turning into a bummer of an exercise to draft.

Is being "good" the same as being "relevant"?

No. Mind you, that's one of the biggest questions around. I expect Seth's talking about this American poetry thingy, but I have to approach it from a much more parochial stance. Relevant poetry, to me, is the poetry which forms a key component of the society around us - the ceremonial poems used at key stages of a person's life, the national poems which form part of the annual cycle of the state, etc. Rarely are these poems "good", nor to be honest do they need to be. All they need to do is perform that one role which assists people and societies through the traumas of existence. You don't have to like relevant poetry, but you cannot get away from having to acknowledge its function and its importance. Nursery rhymes don't change much, and while the words of playground poems may be altered to fit the here-and-now, I doubt their structures and purpose have changed much over the centuries. Wedding poems, funeral poems, elegies to the fallen, love poems to impress the intended, poems of worship and poems of accolation - they don't change much, really. But these are the relevant poems which don't get forgotten through the passage of time - however crap they may be.

How much is genius and how much what we think we can get away with? And just how much can we get away with, anyway? What are others getting away with?

One of the most wonderful things I've learned as I've passed through my life is that everybody is making it up as they go along. When I was a kid the adult world seemed like an alien place with rules and hierarchies and processes and functions that I thought I'd never be able to understand. Nevertheless the conveyor belt of time was forcing me to try and understand how the world worked, and where my little cog fitted into the bigger engine. Sometimes during my late teens and twenties it seemed to me that everybody except me had been given an instruction book. Then when I hit my thirties I finally worked it out: there was no instruction book, just people. Many were more confident than me, and were able to put on a front that made it seem like they knew what was going on and how they played a part. But the honest truth was that everyone was making it up as they went along, and everyone was dealing with everyone else's contingencies as best they could. The same goes for writing poetry: once you've learned the basics you're on your own, and if you can convince other people that you know what you're doing then they'll likely believe you. It makes for an interesting life.

I've never met a genius. I've met some scarily intelligent people, but they're just as able to write crap poems as I am.

How much love of poetry is too much? How much fear of poetry is not enough?

I think this question is hilarious - it's an invitation to go and worship at the altar of poetry. I think I prefer to love and fear people rather than a pile of squiggles. But then I'm one of those people who think religion and spiritualism are largely delusional, as are my own personal beliefs in that area.

What do we want? Immortality, or just a good run?

The greatest goal of all: to reach the high pantheon of poets whose work is used and abused as part of daily life. Do I want little kiddies to be discussing and dissecting my poems in classes in the 22nd century? Do I want preachers and politicians to be reusing my metaphors to support or oppose some future war?

To be honest, who cares? I won't be around in 100 years time to appreciate the fact that my poetry has turned into some sort of standard for which young poets should aim, nor will I give a shit how my verses are recycled to build new points and perspectives. Dead people don't care for the living. I care more for the here and now: my poetry can die when I die.

Can you hate poetry and be a good poet? Is it okay to have some days in which you hate poetry?

Of course you can hate poetry. More particularly you can choose not to like certain types of poetry, or you can champion the work of one particular poet at the expense of others. Again, I can see little difference between this question and a question like can you spit on the cross and still be a good christian? If people insist on treating their relation to poetry in a similar way to their relationship to religion, then there is room for doubt and questioning. Personally, I'll start fearing god when the bastard hunts me down and nails me to the church door as a warning to others, and I'll continue to hate poetry as and when I see fit. I'm still working on the "good poet" bit of the equation.

Is it okay to admit these things, or will it cause one to be ostracized?

If the people you admire and want to be admired by hold certain irrational beliefs, then it is a reasonable political step to take to convince yourself that you, too, believe in those irrational beliefs. If that causes inner tensions in the poet's psyche, then tough - unless it leads to some really excellent poems in which case: tough. I prefer an easy life, and try to limit my personal delusions to the bare minimum required to keep me functioning.

Why is Blogger X the first, and not the second or the last, to bring us news of fresh voices on the national poetry scene?

We don't get to choose our leading fashion-setters - they just seem to rise to the scum on the custard's surface. Of course, many people want to be the fashion-setters and they usually achieve this through one of two ways: either be one of the first to set the fashion in a new arena; or network like fuck until their circle of supporters reach a critical mass which results in their opinion being the one that is listened to most often - even by people who have never met them or don't particularly like their point of view.

If I find myself left cold by the poetry Blogger X favors, does that say something about me, about Blogger X, about both of us, or about neither of us?

It says something about the mechanics of society, but nothing more than that.

When will we be shelved? Or our work? Is it too late? Has it already happened? Who decided? Can we convince them otherwise? Did we deserve it?

As I said, I shall be shelved when I die. Which isn't part of my gameplan for the immediate future. Posterity can look after itself: I'm too busy already.

Merry Crimbo, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Five Weird Habits

I don't really understand this meme thingy or blog games. I mean, aren't we all supposed to be typing into the void?

Anyways, I was browsing Heather's blog when I discovered (to my horror) that I've been "tagged" for some sort of blog game.

Well, okay. But only because it's crimbo time.


The 1st player of this "game" starts with the topic "5 weird habits of yourself" and people who get tagged need to write a blog entry about their 5 weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next 5 people to be tagged and list their names.

Rik's entry

1. I pick and eat my scabs. Ever since I was 3 falling over came with the added bonus of snacks over the healing period.

2. I've got this fascination for underwater exploration, though I cannot swim and haven't got round to actually doing some underwater exploration.

3. When other people look up at the ceiling they see cobwebs and cracks. When I look up at the ceiling I see maps and unexplored lands.

4. When I was a kid I hated needles. All work on my teeth - drilling, filling, descaling, etc - was done without the help of any local anasthetic.

5. I've invented my own language - I had to struggle to think of this as "weird" because to me it isn't, but I suppose it would strike others as a bit barking.

Okay, that wasn't too painful. I'm now supposed to challenge 5 new people to play this game, but that sounds a bit like chain-lettering to me - which I totally oppose. So instead I'm going to challenge Smoog, Julie, Rob, Harry and Scavella to write a short flash fiction piece about Five Weird Hobbits. It's up to them to pass on the challenge (or not) after they've come up with the goods.

Snowdrop: Stutfall Tower

I'm shocked to realise that I've done no work whatsoever on my work-in-progress for over 2 months - curse that NaNoWriMo madness!

Anyways, I've rectified that tonight. The following section was going to be a Cento, mixing up bits of De Rerum Natura with bits and pieces of English verse, but not only was that plan too ambitious - I speak sod all Latin - but it just didn't fit into the structure of the work. This replacement is much more satisfactory, though still rough as a first draft:

Stutfall Tower

Within the walls the wind is trapped
by sails that hang from stone: the beams
that once supported them now pitch in the flames
of a fire lit on flagstones. He sits
on a wooden block whispering lyrics
in Latin - the language he lost when his shipmates
disappeared in the fogs. He flavours his broth
with Channel brine and chives from the hill.

Behind him stands the boy who shakes,
his palsy sweating his skin in the light
of the flames that kiss the copper pot.
She watches his muscles wrestle beneath
his skin, each tremor travelling the length
of his beanpole arms to break in waves
in his yellow hands. She hugs her arms
across her chest, clears out her throat.

"You said the sea had swamped the Marsh, as if
it happens every night - how can this be?
Don't answer! Let me figure out the key
that holds this madness whole - I saw the drift
of fog across the land turn into waves,
just like the scattered bricks became a church
as I approached it - tricks of moonlight search
me out, perhaps, or maybe mist enslaves
my eyes! And yet that dog was real, the queen
was real, the little kiddie bled green blood -
that's nonsense! Stop it! Think! The soldiers knew
something, and so do you - I think you've seen
the answer. Mist: where does this foggy flood
come from? You'll tell me while we eat this stew!"

And she smiles, her lips stretching apart
to frame her teeth - a fearsome effort,
long forgotten. She leans and grabs
his hand, its shake, and holds it fast.

This section slots into Part 7.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Poetry Advent Calendar 2005

Guess what I've been up to in the poetry newsgroups during December:

Feel free to pet or kick the little mongrel thats been following me through this series of posts - it does enjoy the attention.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Poetry Journals

One part of my website is called Clot [edit: now removed] - a place where I've collected together details of over 120 North American and British/Irish poetry magazines and put them on a database which people can search through in various ways. I haven't updated the information I hold on these journals for over a year (for which I apologise), yet Clot remains one of the most popular sections of my site - in some months receiving more hits than even the Gvekuu pages, whose popularity with Danish football supporters remains a complete mystery to me.

Why am I talking about this? Well, partly because of a post by Lorcaloca on his reluctance to submit too many poems to journals (and in particular to journals where he "knows" the editor) and the comment stream the post generated.

Now, I rarely submit my poems anywhere. I don't see the point: I've got a website, and I have some favoured online workshops which I infest with poems every now and again. I've got no fears of posting poems to the newsgroups. All this activity seems enough to me to get a bit of recognition from people who enjoy reading poetry like mine, and thus all must be well with the world.

Why ruin this rather comfortable setup by doing something silly like submitting poems to journals, attending (and giving) readings, networking, etc, etc, et-sodding-cetera?

I never used to be like this. Right at the start of my serious poetry-learning career (round about when I hit 25) I was desperate to become the bestest poet ever. I was as keen as Colonel Mustard to send half-baked poems out to magazines big and small across the length of England. And I got hurt when the rejections started to flood back in.

Somehow, the message got through to the rational bit of me, which understood that the reason I was getting so many rejections was because my poems were utter crap. Rational Rik made a decision at that time to spend a bit of learning on getting a proper poetry education (courtesy of an evening course at The City Lit run by Laurie Smith). There's no arguing that it was learning well spent, and some of the later poems I wrote for those evening classes are still included in my poetry archive.

Then after a few years I started sending out poems to journals again. And the rejections came back in floods. I talked to some of the other regulars at the evening course, and found out that they, too, were getting nothing except rejections. Well, something about all this smelt a bit iffy to me, a bit conspiratorial.

Because whatever you may be thinking as you read this, Laurie Smith's classes weren't a waste of money. There were a number of extremely talented poets in those classes, people whose poetry deserved to be published and celebrated. And in my view I wasn't far behind them!

Rik was on the case! I decided to go and visit the Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall and have a really long, hard study of the journals which were so eager to reject my friends' work and my own. There, in the confines of the small library high up in that concrete monstrosity by the Thames, I had a revelation: most of the poems that almost all of the magazines were favouring over our work, were shite. Bilge. Mind-numbingly mis-judged, overwrought, badly scanned and rhymed, childish, sentimetalistic, boring.

This made me very angry. It was also making my friends - friends like Vicci Bentley, David Boll, Laurie Smith, Mick Delap, Helen Nicholson, John Stammers, Martin Sonenberg - pissed off in the extreme. So, angry, so pissed off, that we did something very selfish.

We started our own magazine.

Magma Magazine has been going for over 10 years now. Some of the escapades of the early years were distinctly hairy (I still shudder when I recall the 4 hour argument over the cover design for Magma 3), and a number of times the magazine stuttered due to a lack of funding to produce the next issue - Magma 6 (the issue I edited) was only printed through goodwill and overt bribery! I left the management board as Magma 7 was was being printed, after which the magazine has gone from strength to strength.

We had no choice to start Magma. Nobody was interested in printing the poetry we were writing. Nobody gave a shit that we existed. We weren't part of this favoured group or that circle of friends; we didn't go to the right readings at the Poetry Society; we didn't network with the appropriate degree of worshipfulness. Instead, we did what we had to do to change matters.

But it all left a nasty taste in my mouth: when I gave up Magma, I gave up poetry - and only came back to poetry when I discovered the poetry newsgroups a few years later. I'm more than happy for people to play the publishing game if that's what turns them on - maybe for a few it really will be the road to riches and ruin. But I know that there has to be a better way, and maybe my little website and my little blog and my little self-published book could - just could - be that better way.

There's too many maybe's in this post. Maybe it's time I ditched Clot.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

So, how long does it take to publish a calendar?

Well, it took me about 10 hours to choose, play with and finalise the images and another 2 hours to upload them on, research UK public holidays and press the publish button. The whole process was a lot less painless than publishing a book of poems.

I am now the proud publisher of The Rik Calendar 2007 - a perfect gift for people to give to people they need to give a present to (but not spend more than $10 - $15 on) but cant be bothered to think in more detail about what the present should be. Stock up now for xmas 2006!

Oh, and you can view the 13 images I chose for the calendar here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conlang spotlight: Solresol

I've decided that there's not enough conlanging on this blog. Conlanging - as an artform, as an obsession, even as a social tool - is one of those things that end up as a mild curiosity in miscellany books or blogs. Well I think conlanging deserves better, not merely because it's my other hobby but rather because inventing and presenting a constructed language is a massive labour for their creators - who mostly (until the last 10 years or so) worked at their art/obsession/social tool outside the mainstream of polite society: a secret vice indeed, as Tolkein once referred to it.

But where to start? The obvious place would be with that Granddaddy of all conlangs, Esperanto. But I have issues with Esperanto - which have been summed up far more concisely than I could manage by others such as Justin Rye. And in any case I don't see much point in starting a series of blog articles on conlanging in such a negative way.

So instead I'll start with Solresol - a language that predates even Esperanto, and stands at No 10 in the 2005 Top 200 Conlangs List on The best article I've read to date on Solresol comes courtesy of Paul Collins writing in Fortean Times, and other articles are available by typing "solresol" into Google.

A conlang, in my opinion, cannot be separated from the conlanger who devised it. One is a part of the other, even in the most commercial of products. For those rare conlangs that survive the death of their creators, there may be opportunities for supporters to imprint some of their own hopes and desires into the language, but the core language remains the coded thoughts and desires of that creator.

So what of Solresol's creator? Jean Francois Sudre was French, born in the last, stuttering years of the French monarchy before the revolution washed the streets of Paris in blood. Sometime between Napoleon Bonaparte's final exile to St Helena and Sudre's arrival in Paris (in 1822), our hero had started thinking about communication and language in a different way to other people - though given that he didn't arrive in Paris until the age of 35 his fascination may well have started much earlier. Anecdotal evidence from many conlangers seems to indicate that many catch the conlanging bug around the same time as they catch puberty - which also seems to be the time when children lose the ability to pick up languages easily. If so, then it is possible that Sudre's fascination with conlanging can be dated back to a time in French history when everything was changing: measurements, institutions, rights and freedoms - even the calendar for four years or so. If the world was changing, then why not language itself?

Sudre studied music at the Paris Conservatory and later became a music teacher. While at the Conservatory the first glimmerings of the conlang madness in our hero began to emerge into the public domain. Sudre developed a code - not tied to his native French language but rather to the letters of the Latin alphabet - which could be played on musical instruments. Tonal in form, this invention demonstrated its ability to pass messages across greater distances than the human voice could achieve. This attracted the attention of the French military, and led to Sudre developing another code - the Telephonie - for their use.

But codes aren't conlanging. Solresol took its time to emerge from Sudre's mind, and made its first tentative steps in the world around the end of the 1820s. Much of it's inventors remaining life was dedicated to perfecting the language, and promoting it's use as a universal language.

So there's the potted history of Solresol, the first of many attempts to devise an effective International Auxillary Language (IAL) during the 19th century. But how does it perform as a conlang? And how is it presented today?

The best place to view the conlang on the web is probably the Solresol webpage maintained by Stephen L Rice (though that page hasn't been updated since 1997). This page links to an html-ified version of Boleslas Gajewski's Solresol grammar published in 1902, offered both in the original French and an English translation. There are also links to some dictionaries and other resources relating to the conlang. The website is more than adequate for its purpose, simple in layout and free of unnecessary images. It is also small enough not to need a comprehensive sitemap or navigation system. The original book opens as a single webpage. If I have one criticism it would be that the page has not been updated for more than 8 years - a link to more recent articles on Solresol (such as the FT article) would have been very welcome.

The conlang itself remains unique in many of its features. I've always been fascinated by the number of ways Sudre devised for communicating the language: it can be spoken, played on a musical instrument, semaphored, displayed on flags, written in Latin and in its own alphabet, and even painted in stripes of colour! This is entirely possible because the language limits itself to just 7 constituent "letters".

Also impressive is the systematic way Sudre tackled the problem of devising words for the language. Words of 1, 2 and 3 "letters" are used for the structural parts of the language, and for common words. Most of the rest of the words are of 4 syllables and are divided into groups according to the first letter of the word - "The class of DO belongs to man, to his faculties, to his good qualities and to food.", "The words beginning with FA are are set apart for the country, agriculture, war, the sea, and travel.", etc.

There are, in my view, difficulties with the language. The method chosen to distinguish various parts of speech by means of accenting the first, second, third or last "letter" reads as very messy, especially when tied in to the shenanigans to differentiate masculine from feminine nouns, and plurals. It must work in some way as Sudre demonstrated the conlang in public on many occasions and managed to gather a large number of supporters (and speakers?) during his lifetime, but without comprehensive audio or visual examples it's difficult to see how the system pulls itself together.

And in the end, Solresol wasn't up to the job its creator intended for it. Other people developed other IALs which, either through design or better marketing, outperformed and outcompeted it. The conlang survived its creator by no more than 40 odd years, by which time it's supporters could probably fit into the proverbial telephone box. Only the books remain, and a few stattered references to the endeavour across the wastes of the internet.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Rik's Art Gallery

Enough of posting piccies to this blog! Enough of Flickr!

Instead, I've created a gallery space on my website where I've put on show many of my image manipulation experiments over the past few days. Feel free to visit, and comment if you're so inclined.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


kookaburra painting
Originally uploaded by adleyrik.
Another photo from the zoo where the parrot was caged, this time blurred a touch and stuck on canvas.

Caged parrot

caged parrot painting
Originally uploaded by adleyrik.
More explorations of the Gimp - this is a close-up photo of a parrot I took earlier this year, oilified and put on canvas

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Another first draft for my Olympic series:


Healthy fitness - an exercise
in barrenness to row the gym
that broods beneath the streets
of Victoria. I stretch and lift
in rows plugged into video,
music, heartbeats clicked
in numbers charting courses
across programmed terrains;
compete to lift an extra
second, kilo, beat the loser
dribbling sweat next door -
torture myself in direct debits.

St James's Park at night is lit
with coloured bulbs, their beams
stretching limbs of bare trees
into alien architectures. I break
the empty peace of pelicans
with steady breaths, heels lift
and reach across the grass:
a momentum alone in the cold air.
This is competition, the chase
to catch canada geese, to lap
the lake, to sneak between
the drizzly London mist.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


December 1965: This is my second christmas, but the first I can explore crawling and walking. I have no memory of it - grandparents and siblings may have been involved. I think this is the year I got my first book of poetry: Mother Goose, but I could be wrong on this one.

December 1970: Being six years old, I get extremely excited by the thought of christmas - the advent calendar, decorating the house a week before the big day. I spend a lot of the time looking in the catalogue at the presents I somehow know I won't get. During the day I go to infant school - I'm an old hand at school now as I've been there since my fifth birthday. I can read: my favourite books are wind in the willows and winnie the pooh. I even enjoy the poems. I can also do sums, which helps because the money is changing, new pence instead of old pennies. For christmas I get a train set which my dad bought from a friend who knows a friend who works in a factory that makes them. Packaging not included.

December 1975: I'm in my last year of junior school, which is kind of frightening. Things are changing: where once I shared the bedroom with three brothers now I share it with just the one. I have two grandparents left, soon to be one. For my last birthday I decided not to have a party as that sort of thing was for kids. My favourite book of poems is Old Possom's Book of Practical Cats, and I'm reading Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, and Willard Price's Adventure series. To be honest, I've read all of the children's books in the local library several times over.

December 1980: If last christmas was strange, with me sleeping on various people's sofas after mum left home, then this year is stranger as dad moves out to live in a caravan in a field next to some stables. Ever the dutiful son, I visit my dad on christmas day before returning for dinner with the rest of the family. I don't remember what I got for christmas this time around: somehow it just doesn't seem important anymore. Instead I spend a lot of time drawing maps and inventing a language, putting the real world out of my mind.

December 1985: I'm unemployed and living at home. After 2 years at college I'm the proud owner of a Higher National Certificate in applied biology - meaning I'm qualified to do lab work. But there is no work. Lots of people I know are unemployed - we meet up on Wednesdays to go to the benefits office together. To do something with my time I've joined the local athletics club: athletics will come to dominate my life for the next 30 months. I go training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Sunday mornings - and I rarely miss a session. These are wierd memories, a wierd time.

December 1990: 20 months of the civil service feels more like a community service sentence. I've promised myself I'll do no more than 5 years in London. I have a new boss this month, fresh from university, so wet behind the ears I'm tempted to drown him in the shallows around the nape of his neck. My new skills of paper management have been honed to a fine degree, and I am in charge of over 1,000 files. To keep me quiet, my line managers have given me the job of summarising them all, identifying key papers for a precedence book. Who would have thought the management of highways consultancy contracts could be so exciting? But the most exciting thing for me this month is the decision to move into new accommodation - my very first bedsit, in Islington, rent £45 a week. The gas fire leaks, the bathroom is shared. But I'm on my first steps towards sorting out the wreck of my life. I'm even beginning to write poetry that doesn't make people automatically cringe when they hear it!

December 1995: This is my third December with my lover, and after the excitements and ructions of the first two years we are beginning to settle into each other, accepting each other for what we are rather than what we want the other to be. December has a theme this year, and everything has to be Victorian - even the wrapping paper. New year will be spent in the Canary Isles. I'm working at the Highways Agency on private finance stuff, and enjoying the solidity of a job not about to collapse under my feet. I'm drinking a lot, too - my partner and I can clear a bottle of (cheap) whisky a night. I have just finished editing Magma 6, a poetry magazine which I helped establish a couple of years ago with colleagues attending Lawrie Smith's poetry writing evening classes. Things are beginning to look good.

December 2000: I'm bored of rain: it's rained all year and it's raining still. I'm working at the Department of the Environment (currently called DETR) on waste policy, which amazes me in some ways - I sometimes wonder what happened to all the people I went to college with. And I'm still with my partner, rarely an argument breaking our companionship - we broke our drinking habit a few years back and we've been tobacco free for over 9 months. This will be the first christmas just by ourselves, no guests for christmas day, which suits me fine as I can spend more time online in the poetry newsgroups or extending my website.

December 2005: Life is good. I have a job - indoor work. I have a 12 year relationship. I have a blog: you're reading it. I have a book of my poems published through the wonders of the web. I have no idea what the future's going to be like, but I intend to fully enjoy the good bits. Life, after 40, has started.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Serving the Muse

A poem, I think:

Serving the Muse

I chose to dine at A's establishment:
a restaurant well marked for style, panache
and quality, a place for nourishment
of soul and sense - at least they kept the trash

at bay when one's inclined to eat good food -
or so I was informed. I ordered boar
and settled back to contemplate the crude
parade of riff-raff shambling past the door.

"My deeply felt apologies," a voice
beside my elbow murmured. Looking down
I saw the chiselled bones of service hoist
into my view. "Why so?" I asked, a frown

across my brow. "We've had to bar the boar,"
the waiter cringed: "It charged around the place
creating havoc, carnage! Such a chore
to clear the mess - we turfed it out, disgraced!"

Nonplussed, I checked the menu once again.
"What else is there to eat?" The old man smiled,
his lips a gruel of soup. "The chicken, plain,
is rather good - a filling dish, par-boiled."

"But rather boring, I'd have thought?" He shook
his head and said: "You do not understand, young sir,
but plain is best - no sauce to hide the look,
no herb or spice disguising taste! The bird

served bland delights the plate. Just try a breast
or two."
I was intrigued, I have to say:
"You use no salt? No stuffing? Just undressed?"
"Oh yes!"
he said. "It is the only way

to exercise the muse! We don't allow
ingredients to spoil the meal, the chefs
must work in peace and comfort - once the row
of discontent is banished, gone, they're left

with harmony in which to hone their skills
and arts! A space where they can learn to shape
their honest, soul-full heart-wrought chicken meals
to feed our guests: a dish you can't escape!"

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Pitcher plant in bathroom

Pitcher plant in bathroom
Originally uploaded by adleyrik.
The staghorn fern has just aquired some competition. We picked up this magnificent pitcher plant from the flower stall in Hackney's Narrow Way a couple of days ago, and have decided to hang it from the shower rail above the bath. With a bit of love it might grow into something capable of scaring small children.

Staghorn fern in bathroom

Staghorn fern in bathroom
Originally uploaded by adleyrik.
This is the monstrosity that greets me every morning and evening when I go to clean my teeth. The fern hangs directly over the bathroom sink, and has been festering in this spot for over 3 years now. It is a full-size staghorn fern (of undetermined species) and quite clearly enjoys its prime position in front of the window. Sunlight? Who needs sunlight in their bathroom!

Flickr Flickr little star ...

[edit: photo now deleted]

I'm learning new internet skillz, and abusing my blog with photos of some of the wildlife to be found in my bathroom

NaNoWriMo: the aftermath

So, I set out last month to write a 50,000 word novel. 59 thousand other people had the same idea, and 9,700 of them succeeded in their quest. I was one of the many who did not, managing only 12,000 words in the first couple of weeks before real life (and work) intervened.

I've no idea what I feel about the quality of my product. I think the prose style is adequate, and won't need too much work to turn into something reasonable. One person commented that the obligatory sex scene was "one of the funniest things I've read in a long time" which is, I suppose, something.

12,000 words isn't a bad start, and I intend to continue writing the novel when I get the chance. To save people the chore of looking back through this blog to read the work to date, I've posted the lot onto my website (edit: now removed). It will also act as a reminder to me that the next time someone casually mentions: "Fancy doing NaNo this year?" I have to say Never Again!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Trafalgar Week

We met on Saturday, the red cross
on your sleeves creased, shimmered
from the heat of walking the crowds.
The square was littered with loungers,
their rainbow flags hoisted
across bare shoulders; lagers
and wine bottles shared, emptied
with strangers well met; the stage
beside the column thumping
messages of pride, liberty,
love and love action. We kissed
amid the pigeons, man to man.

Wednesday was a work day, a day
of sunshine and quiet hope. A screen
hung between the lions, its crowds
a fashion of flags and cheer, a job
well done. This collective worship
was competitive, a unity of mouths
open to hear news from Asia; our team
competing for the greatest prize
and when the vote came through
their arms erupted like pigeons
and I, too, watching on my office
monitor, hugged colleagues in joy.

Today I walk through the litter
of yesterday's party, just twelve
crowded hours gone. Some tourists
are lost in the space beneath
the column; a child climbs a lion.
Sirens reek through the air, scare
pigeons into cooing clouds. The Arch,
The Mall, the Parade: deserted. I meet
colleagues in my office, their relief
feeding my curiosity - what's happened?
And there on the screen, a red bus
to Hackney busted in seams and blood.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


It's a dirty word, isn't it. Lots of baggage with that word. But what, exactly, does the word "corruption" mean?

The best classification of corruption I can find on the web is on the ACID Anti-Corruption Internet Database. What this page demonstrates more than anything is the paucity of the English language in the hands of tabloid headline editors: the range of activities labelled "corruption" is very wide indeed.

Classical corruption, to me, is paying off government officials to get some benefit for yourself, your family and your friends. This is what I think of when people talk about corruption in places like Africa or South America. But you've also got the "corruption" of influence: Italy's corruption seems to be one of influence and networking, as perhaps is England's. If Halliburton are gaining from corrupt practices, is it because they're corrupting Government officials, or because they already have friends in very high places? Is it bottom-up, or top-down corruption?

But why are you wittering on about corruption, Rik, you may be asking. Well, mainly I'm writing this because I'm wondering about corruption in the world of poetry.

Okay, now you've stopped laughing and wiped the tears away from your eyes, I'll elaborate.

In the world of poetry there is not much money to be made. Superstars are far and few between. There is in America, and increasingly in the UK, a poetry business: people can make a living from writing, publishing, performing, speaking about and teaching poetry. For some the living can be quite comfortable and, no doubt, glamourous in its own way.

For the world of poets and poetry is small nowadays, and very inward-looking. The internet has helped to make this world in some ways smaller and more transparent. And as the mists of secrecy clear it becomes even more obvious that there is a hierarchy of poets, a pyramid with The Few at the top and The Many at the bottom.

And where you find a human hierarchy, you'll also find some form of corruption. Because every single one of The Many wants to become one of The Few. Human nature: it's a bugger!

Now I've not yet heard of any cases of bottom-up corruption. Given the limited sales of poetry books, and thus the limited returns for publishers and poets alike, there seems to me little danger of finding a payola scandal trotting across the heathlands of the muse.

But top-down corruption - aah, that's different. Because of the increasing interconnectedness of the priests and victims climbing the slopes of the poetry pyramid, when does friendship become influence, and when does influence become corruption? How black are the hearts offered up to Chac?

Some people claim to have answers, or at least opinions. The folks at Foetry are convinced it starts early, as soon as someone gets involved in any form of poetry contest or contract where the various parties may have some connection between each other. I have to disagree with this view: people are people, not legal cyphers or automatons. Stupid naivity is not a survival trait in my genetic makeup so I won't be joining the Foetry crowd in baying for blood at the slightest hint of alleged impropriety.

But I also feel uneasy travelling too far towards the other end of the argument - a current discussion thread at the Eratosphere workshop makes for some distinctly queasy reading about the role that patronage could and should play in today's poetry pyramid.

I think my last thought in this post is quite a sad one. Because after all this googling and thinking and writing about corruption, I'm left wondering: what happens to all the good poems?

Monday, November 28, 2005


The RikVerse is currently ranked at No. 949 in the [ahem] Books > Subjects > PoetryDrama&Criticism > Poetry > General category section of, and at 123,788 in the general rankings. I have no idea how good, bad or indifferent this performance is. Do they rank sales daily? Weekly? Annually? Does this mean I've shifted 1 copy of the book? 10? 20? I'll find out sometime after 5 December when will post details of monthly sales and royalties for me to access. But I'm curious now!

Across the pond, reports that the books sales ranking is "none". Fine. Be like that! Barnes&Noble don't even seem to record sales rankings; neither do WH Smith. Oh well - back to making snowflakes.

TS Eliot Lecture 2005

George Szirtes gave the annual TS Eliot lecture last Tuesday at the Royal Festival Hall. Unlike Harry, I did not attend, even though this lecture has proved to be controversial in the past - witness the firestorm Don Patterson's 2004 lecture caused across the heathlands of the muse.

To be frank, George's lecture makes a lot more sense to me than Don's ever did. He presents us with a well developed metaphor for reading, writing and enjoying poetry - the idea of the skater dancing across a frozen lake - backed up by extracts of poems to colour the various points he makes. I found myself nodding often as I read the transcript of the lecture. I also found myself wishing I could write as well as George!

It's difficult to choose a chunk of the lecture to highlight here. This one, on the development of a poem, was particularly mind-sticking:

The intention of the poet is to write the best possible poem starting out with some as yet incoherent perception relating to an experience or set of experiences. The poet is a person who has realized that language is not a tool but a medium: and, what is more, assumes - has to assume - that the instinctive reader knows this as well as he does. The poem explores the medium by executing a kind of dance across it. It sets out across the ice and begins to cut light patterns in it, following some trainable instinct about the direction and way of moving, the notion of meaning arising out of the motion of the dance as a series of improvisations on the pattern. These patterns present the poet with a number of apparently arbitrary possibilities at any one time. But that is the very nature of language: it is what language continually does.

Typically, this section seems to contradict part of Don's lecture, on the purpose of a poem, which I did agree with:

I've said this so many times it's beginning to sound a bit self-satisfied - but a poem is just a little machine for remembering itself. Whatever other function a rhyme, a metre, an image, a rhetorical trope, a brilliant qualifier or stanza-break might perform, half of it is simply mnemonic. A poem makes a fetish of its memorability. It does this, because the one unique thing about our art is that it can carried in your head in its original state, intact and perfect. We merely recall a string quartet or a film or a painting, actually, at a neurological level we're only remembering a memory of it; but our memory of the poem is the poem. A poet exploits this fact, and tries to burn their poems into your mind, and mess with your perception.

Like a crow, I'm torn between which of the two shiny coins to cherish more. Maybe it's because deep down inside of me I'm sure they're both making the same point about why poems are drafted, but maybe where Don sees the biological reality of a poem on a reader George senses that similar processes are happening to the poet as the poem takes shape - but can't quite bring himself to name it.

Anyways, both lectures are enjoyable reads. Also very enjoyable is the film Mrs Henderson Presents, which I saw at the Stratford Picture House. A very nice social commentary based on historical events, well filmed and well acted, with moments of laughter, grief and that funny feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you've eaten the ice cream too fast - all wityhin the space of a few minutes.

Which in turn was almost as enjoyable as the very nice things Scavella says about my poetry on her blog! The feeling is mutual, of course - as people will be able to judge for themselves as soon as Scavella finalises and publishes her Lily series of poems!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The RikVerse is now available at ... - $12.00, or $10.80 to members.

Borders (in the US), Books etc and Waterstones (both in the UK), which are all teamed up with the amazon online bookstore. itself, which was quoting a delivery time of 5-6 weeks yesterday, is now claiming delivery within 2 weeks. They've also upped their stock to 5 copies (one used?!?), which makes no sense to me given the book is POD and the delivery time is still so long. still claim they can turn their order round in 24 hours and will deliver the book to your door within a week of ordering it.

WH Smith (UK) - £5.65 (+ 5 WH Smith clubcard points), this time with a 2-4 week delivery window. I have no idea if this site is also affiliated with, but they don't show the cover shot yet.

Blackwell (UK) - are selling the book at £7.65, delivered within 3-9 days. They admit they have no copies in stock, but the cost of sourcing it is included in the quoted price.

Ottakar's (UK) - list the book at £5.65 though note the price is subject to change - you may need to order it from their brickwork bookshops as I can't see an online ordering facility on their website.

Remember the p&p bit - buy from the wrong place and the cost of the buying the book could double!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Who is Rik (Part 2)?

Well, according to Google, there's only one Rik Roots. Which is nice.

But when I search on the name my mother gave me I get the following hits.

I was born 23 Jul 1847 in Wilmington (Kent), died 4 Jan 1921 in Ipswich (Queensland) and married to Sarah Elizabeth Marsh.

I was born somewhere around 1552, after which I had a partnership with "Alice" and apparently managed to have 5 children (3 sons and 2 daughters) around 1578 in Tonbridge, Kent.

I was in the Class of 66 in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. I think I might be a member of the American Association for Functional Orthodontics.

I was killed after being caught in a mine tunnel collapse at Coen, Queensland on 25 September 1897 - apparently I was a policeman.

It seems that I attended the Hardtner Public School in Hardtner, Kansas as a senior, possibly in 1948.

Back in Kent, I am buried in a church called Seal. My headstone reads: Richard ROOTS died 19 November 1819 aged 71 years. Mary Roots his wife died 16 July 1832 aged 88 years.

12 years before (in 1820) I had been committed to the Chelmsford House of Correction, specifically for the crime of wandering abroad and begging.

The 1841 census records me being a carpenter and living with Mary in Fords Green. This must be a different me, and a different Mary, to the Richard and Mary above.

I was somehow involved in the settlement of New England before 1692, though I might not have been there.

And finally, on 7 December 1826 I gave evidence in the trial of John Cooper, William Newland, Henry Bateman Jenkins and Joseph John Jenkins, charged with theft and receiving stolen goods: I am an officer of St. Mary-le-bone; I went with Mr. Watts to Cooper's house - he lived there with his father - I found there some books, pamphlets, and fifteen plates, which Mr. Watts claimed - Cooper's sister was in Mr. Watts' service. Cooper (aged 16) and Newland (19) were found guilty and transported for 7 years. The others were found not guilty.

Who is Rik?

This is me: "Loner, more interested in intellectual pursuits than relationships or family, not very altruistic, not very complimentary, would rather be friendless than jobless, observer, values solitude, perfectionist, detached, private, not much fun, hidden, skeptical, does not tend to like most people, socially uncomfortable, not physically affectionate, unhappy, does not talk about feelings, hard to impress, analytical, likes esoteric things, tends to be pessimistic, not spontaneous, prone to discontentment, guarded, does not think they are weird but others do, responsible, can be insensitive or ambivalent to the misfortunes of others, orderly, clean, organized, familiar with darkside, tends not to value organized religion, suspicious of others, can be lonely, rarely shows anger, punctual, finisher, prepared"

This is also me: "In many cases INTjs are slim. Their stomach is usually placed ahead of the chest giving them their characteristic posture. Their gait is somewhat unsure, wavering slightly. Sometimes it seems like they are not sure where they are going. This becomes more obvious in moments of excitement. Their clothes are not usually very striking. INTjs do not like to attract excessive attention to themselves and most of the time they stick to simple clothes, often wearing the same style and composition for a long time"

This is me, too: "INTJs are the most self-confident of all types, having "self-power" awareness. Found in about 1 percent of the general population, the INTJs live in an introspective reality, focusing on possibilities, using thinking in the form of empirical logic, and preferring that events and people serve some positive use. Decisions come naturally to INTJs' once a decision is made, INTJs are at rest. INTJs look to the future rather than the past, and a word which captures the essence of INTJs is builder-a builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. To INTJs authority based on position, rank, title, or publication has absolutely no force. This type is not likely to succumb to the magic of slogans, watchwords, or shibboleths. If an idea or position makes sense to an INTJ, it will be adopted, if it doesn't, it won't, regardless of who took the position or generated the idea. As with the INTP, authority per se does not impress the INTJ. INTJs do, however, tend to conform to rules if they are useful, not because they believe in them, or because they make sense, but because of their unique view of reality. They are the supreme pragmatists, who see reality as something which is quite arbitrary and made up."

Are you building up a mental picture of me yet?

Well, hold your horses because, strangely enough, this is me: "Librans are among the most civilized of the twelve zodiacal characters and are often good looking. They have elegance, charm and good taste, are naturally kind, very gentle, and lovers of beauty, harmony (both in music and social living) and the pleasures that these bring. They have good critical faculty and are able to stand back and look impartially at matters which call for an impartial judgment to be made on them. But they do not tolerate argument from anyone who challenges their opinions, for once they have reached a conclusion, its truth seems to them self-evident; and among their faults is an impatience of criticism and a greed for approval. But their characters are on the whole balanced, diplomatic and even tempered. Librans are sensitive to the needs of others and have the gift, sometimes to an almost psychic extent, of understanding the emotional needs of their companions and meeting them with their own innate optimism - they are the kind of people of whom it is said, "They always make you feel better for having been with them." They are very social human beings. They loathe cruelty, viciousness and vulgarity and detest conflict between people, so they do their best to cooperate and compromise with everyone around them, and their ideal for their own circle and for society as a whole is unity."

And here's me again: "The key to the Dragon personality is that Dragons are the free spirits of the Zodiac. Conformation is a Dragon's curse. Rules and regulations are made for other people. Restrictions blow out the creative spark that is ready to flame into life. Dragons must be free and uninhibited. The Dragon is a beautiful creature, colorful and flamboyant. An extroverted bundle of energy, gifted and utterly irrepressible, everything Dragons do is on a grand scale - big ideas, ornate gestures, extreme ambitions. However, this behavior is natural and isn't meant for show. Because they are confident, fearless in the face of challenge, they are almost inevitably successful. Dragons usually make it to the top. However, Dragon people be aware of their natures. Too much enthusiasm can leave them tired and unfulfilled. Even though they are willing to aid when necessary, their pride can often impede them from accepting the same kind of help from others. Dragons' generous personalities give them the ability to attract friends, but they can be rather solitary people at heart. A Dragon's self-sufficiency can mean that he or she has no need for close bonds with other people." And: "Wood has a modifying influence and brings creativity to this sign. Questioning and liberal, Wood Dragons enjoy talking about original ideas and are open to other points of view. They are innovative, imaginative practical and appreciate art in each of its forms. Generally less pretentious than other Dragons, Wood Dragons have an ability to get along with other people. They have the essentials to build a prosperous and happy life for themselves. Still, Wood Dragons are outspoken and at times a bit pushy to quell everyone, even in the most friendly quarrel."

It's all true. I do take pride in my glossy scales.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I am an economic migrant. I've been living in London since December 1988 - just a few weeks shy of 17 years. But for the first 24 years of my life I lived in a little village called Dymchurch.

Nice, you may be thinking! And nice it was too: 10,000 people packed in along 3 miles of coastline; countryside on the one side and a beach to die for on the other. And wind. Lots and lots and lots of wind. Dymchurch lies on the edge of the Romney Marshes in Kent - you'll already be aware of this if you've browsed some of my poetry. The Marshes don't share the local English climate mainly because they're flat and jut out into the English Channel. Instead we got a sort of continental climate, hot and sticky in the summer and cold and wet in the winter. And windy.

In fact some power generating company has just got planning permission to build a huge wind farm on the Marshes. They're going to need good capacitors, because they'll be generating power 360 days a year! I think the wind farm will nicely complement the nuclear power stations out at Dungeness (on the very tip of the Marshes). But lots of people are moaning because they say it'll destroy the beauty of the place and kill birds. Huh? It's Dungeness, for eff's sake! This is the place where Derek Jarman ran away to build his poxy garden (I let my dog shit in DJ's garden, once). And anyway, more birds will be killed by airplanes when Lydd Airport gets planning permission to expand (heh - another saga that's been going on for 40-odd years). And most of the seagulls have already abandoned the seaside for landfill sites.

Which brings me on to the point of this post. There are a few poems around that mention the Romney Marshes (though I think I'm the only person who's ever felt a need to write poems about Dymchurch). One in particular I've grown to loathe:

A Major Road for Romney Marsh
by U. A. Fanthorpe

It is a kingdom, a continent.
Nowhere is like it.
(Ripe for development)

It is salt, solitude, strangeness.
It is ditches, and windcurled sky.
It is sky over sky after sky.

(It wants hard shoulders, Happy Eaters,
Heavy breathing of HGVs)

It is obstinate hermit trees.
It is small, truculent churches
Huddling under the gale force.

(It wants WCs, Kwiksaves,
Artics, Ind Ests, Jnctns)

It is the Military Canal
Minding its peaceable business,
Between the Levels and the Marsh.

(It wants investing in roads,
Sgns syng T'DEN, F'STONE, C'BURY)

It is itself, and different.

(Nt fr lng. Nt fr lng.)

And to make this a fair use of U's copyrighted work, I'll comment on it by saying that:

1) this is a poem by a person who has only ever visited the Marshes, signposted (heh) for instance in her use of the singular "Marsh" - Romney Marsh is just a small bit of the Romney Marshes;

2) if she had done her homework the author would have found out that there is already a major road crossing the Romney Marshes - it's called the A259 South Coast Road and it is a very busy road with lots of heavy goods vehicles trundling to and from the Channel Ports;

3) local people in Dymchurch and other villages bisected by the A259 have been campaigning for bypasses for close on 90 years;

4) you wouldn't be so eager to dismiss the call for upgrading the road with bypasses if some of your friends and aquaintances had been killed or maimed on it; and

5) people who want to consign other people into quaint rustic prisons by denying them the right to the fruits of modern development just need to be laughed at. Loudly. Or maybe taken outside and slapped.

Oh yes, and the poem has no resonance whatsoever for a person who was born and raised on the Romney Marshes. "Truculent churches"? Ye Gods and little fishes! Postcard poetry tied to political rant. And they teach this in schools?

There's more to Dymchurch and the Romney Marshes than this poem, Ms Fanthorpe. I, for one, should know.

Revision: Five reasons why ...

Five reasons why I shall never be a Great Poet

1. I do not read much new poetry
A well-loved book
of poems is like:
a friend come home
to rest his head
in my lap; a cat
in hard covers;
the cracking chatter
of ice cubes soused
with two fingers of aged
malt whisky; the dance
of a lover in bed.

2. I do not like discussing poetry
The way the chatter found its way
to verse was strange; a journey round
the hills of glamour magazines,
celebrity affairs. We passed
beyond to news, the politics
of sex and scandal kept our lips
in spit for ages then - without
a care we parked our switch-back chat
on novels, writers, folks who use
the pen to charm and stroke and trash
each other: critics, poets. I
fell silent then, and drank my beer.

3. I do not like promoting myself
The man who dresses up his shop window
doesn't have a name - not one I know
in any case. And yet I know him
through his choice of colour, trim,
fabric. Metal paints - not matt -
tell me he's a Chancer Man
who tempts and treats his clients
with products dressed to fix their pliant
needs, their dreams and hopes
resolved - exchange some notes
and take away the merchandise!
I know the clever man, his enterprise
to dress his windows, Mister no-name man:
I know he isn't me.

4. I can't abide poetry readings
The beast is circled: the shuffling struts
of wood have inched it through the door
and past the bar until it feels a flat
of cold wall against its back, a stage
beneath its feet. The struts that swirled
around its legs now squat in rows: some of them
have riders, moist and pink with frocks
and shirts and comfy shoes, drink in hand
and rustly prisons gripped tight
in pockets. Their breathless eagerness
scares the beast - I watch it shake,
in spotlights; I watch the torture tool
plug in and amplify. I watch the riders
mount the stage and beat it hard
with similes and strophes. And when it howls
I bow my head: a prayer for poetry,
who suffers for the art.

5. I don't understand the publishing game
Dear sir! I'd like to thank you dearly
from the bottom of my sharded heart
for taking time to reject my verse
in such a pleasant manner. The note
was crisp and white and creased
so clinically, my heart near flew
in admiration. And when I'd caged it
once again it fluttered when I saw
your note matched - line for line
and crease for crease - the other notes
you sent me just last week,
and the month before!

I seem to be avoiding writing my novel. Oh, well ...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Do people hate me?

Apparently not - well, not too much anyway!

The perfect human.
25 Cruelty, 22 Anal, 19 Pushover
Congratulations. You're easy-going, friendly and know when to stand up for yourself. You're perfect. In fact, you're a little bit too perfect. Chances are, hoards of jealous people are plotting your demise at you read this. Tough luck, pal.

(Apparently, most people taking the test end up as a "perfect human". But some of the questions are amusing)

(Edited to take out the graphic bar chart. The test can be found at

Friday, November 18, 2005

Buy a slice of RikVerse for crimbo

I was casually checking through (as one does) to see what was what and found to my delight that my book is now listed for sale here. They're charging $12.00 + p&p, which is the recommended price I chose when finalising the publishing details on - so they're not offering a discount yet. But I was impressed by the speed: warns people that listing can take between 6 and 8 weeks, but it's taken The RikVerse less than 3 weeks. My next task will be to pretty up the display by uploading my beloved "chicken" bookcover image to the site, perhaps add some blurbwords, etc.

If $12.00 sounds steep, then North Americans can pick up a copy from for $10.00 + p&p. But be advised to check out just how much that p&p is going to be, as you may be able to get cheaper delivery from

Anyways, bouyed by this bit of good news I wandered over to the Barnes & Noble website. No luck. As far as B&N is concerned my book does not exist (yet).

Then I remembered that Amazon run a separate UK website. So I checked, and I'm there - complete with chicken - for the wonderful (and frankly unbelievable) price of just £5.65 + p&p!

And there was me thinking my little book wouldn't be available from the online booksellers before christmas!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My problems with "like"

I've always had a bit of a problem with similes and metaphors. Despite ardent attempts by teachers to drum into my head the fact that similes and metaphors are very different poetic tools, I've never bought it.

The reason is simple: as far as I can see, a simile is just one form of metaphor and the only reason to categorise a metaphor as a simile is because it uses explicit comparison words such as "like".

Of course, the story is not as simple as that. There is indeed a thing called "simile" which is different from "metaphor". What my teachers were failing to do was explain why they are different, and how their differences affect the reading of a poem.

Sorry, guys, but explanations along the lines of: a simile states that A is like B, a metaphor states that A is B or substitutes B for A just ain't good enough for me! This is a description, nothing more.

To get to the heart of how similes differ from metaphors, we need to think about what it is that metaphors do in poetry. The conventional line-to-take is that they compare different things, and invite the reader to consider what is being said through the images that arise from that comparison. By saying the king is a lion the poet is not asking us to think of a big cat with a crown on a throne, but rather that the man sitting on the throne has qualities we associate with lion-ness: bravery, resolve, etc, etc (though I think of lions - but not lionesses - as fairly lazy, bullying infanticides).

I don't like thinking of metaphors just as comparisons - it doesn't do justice to what's happening. I much prefer to think of metaphors as models. Sometimes very off-the-wall models, I agree, but still models.

The idea of a model is to try to explain an object, system, activity, etc in alternative, often easier to understand, terms. Just as the map is not the world, the model is not the object. Squiggly lines on a map might turn into real roads, or might indicate elevation - though you won't have to step over elevation lines when you climb the mountain.

So by mapping the essential characteristics of one thing onto another - like our lion-like king - we can get an insight of some of the king's essential, non-physical qualities through the lens of the model-like lion we impose on him.

If the above doesn't make sense, don't worry. I A Richards said something faintly similar (using tenor and vehicles) way back before WWII (and he did it far better than I'm doing at the moment).

Thus if we want to gain an insight into something, we can make a model by imposing the essential (and often stereotypical or archetypal) characteristics associated with something else onto it. And we do this in poetry through metaphor. And simile.

Ah, yes. Simile.

So if we are using two tools to do this modelling for us in poetry, do they have any different practical impact on the reader?

For the modelling, no. Metaphor and simile both achieve the same effect of gaining a new insight into something by modelling the qualities of something else onto it.

But there is a difference, and it does have something to do with little adverbs like "like" and "as".

It's all about voice.

See, every text that you read has something called a narrative voice. It's the voice you hear in your head as you read the words. This isn't your inner voice, because it's not you doing the speaking. It's the words that are speaking to you through the visual, oral and aural bits of your brain.

And just as everybody on the planet seems to have their own sort of personality, so every text can have a personality. Not a real personality, of course, rather a personality that the brain imposes on the voice you "hear" as you read.

But for the purposes of this little indulgence of a post, we can break down narrative voices into two broad and overlapping groups: the "showing" voice and the "telling" voice.

An explanation: if you go to the cinema and watch a good action film with actors all speaking just their own lines and lots of action and explosions, you can think of the film "showing" you what's going on. If you take a friend with you who insists on commenting on the film all - the - bloody - way - through, then you're undergoing a "telling" experience.

Some writing is straightforward: it demonstrates what's going on, gives you some images, chucks in some comparisons and models to help you understand it all and then leaves you to get on with the comprehension stuff. When people talk about "show, not tell" this is what they talk about. The narrative voice is there - just as the film soundtrack is there in the cinema - but it's not intruding, poking you in the ribs to point something out to you.

Other writing insists on doing the poking. 19th century novels were rampant with "and then, dear reader" and "so they went into the bedroom together where we can only imagine what they got up to" intrusions into the text. This type of narrative text is not happy to let the reader get on with it, but wants to turn it into a shared exploration between the writer and the reader (with the writer leading the way).

Now don't get me wrong! There's absolutely nothing bad, poor or wrong about using a "telling" narrative voice, if that is the effect the writer (and the reader) wants. But the modern poetry aesthetic is for poems to have a "showing" narrative voice, a narrator who stands in the background and lets the images and actions do their own magic on the reader's imagination.

And here's the nub of my problem with similes: they are the ultimate tool of the "telling" voice. They are big red flashing neon signposts in the text that "tell" the reader what to think about a particular image or action. They intrude. They nudge you in the ribs, they steal your popcorn and they insist on laughing at all the wrong points in the film. I just don't like (heh) it that much in otherwise modern show-don't-tell poems.

But that's similes for you! Little beggers get everywhere when you're not looking.

So, To try and sum up, here's my alternative definition of a simile:

A simile, in poetry, is a metaphor which brings the narrative voice within the poem to the foreground, helping to explore and explain a particular image, and using words such as "like" and "as" to achieve this effect.

'Nuff said, innit!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Revision: A Walk in the Woods

Sometimes I post utter garbage to this blog. The poem I posted on Sunday was a particularly embarassing piece of garbage. But rather than remove the post that offends me, I have rewritten it into a slightly less obnoxious form:

A Walk in the Woods

This miniature version of man
who has taken my storyline
and spliced it with chapters
from a woman I love takes me
for an adventure.

We are in danger: there may be
pirates in these woods, or wolves:
we beat through brambles and scuffle
dry leaves, their poisons mulching
the air we breathe. Toadstools
dust boots with spores, a trail
for bloohounds to sneeze across
as they hunt the wrongly accused.

My foot breaks the ribs
of a squirrel, the space
where its eyes once rested
accusing me; the remains
of its guts dripping grubs
to the ground, seeking escape
from exposure. They piston
their flesh into the earth
eager to straitjacket
their juices, reorder
white flesh into flies.

And my lover's eyes
borrowed by my son
watch me grimace, shake
my boot: "Mum says
you want to be cremated,
like Nana."
I nod
and smile, wordless.
"You smile funny," he says,
"when you step in shit!"

Sometimes I look at you,
my son, stunned by the way
you write your own book;
the way you rewrite mine
without even bothering
to ask me.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Walk in the Woods

Well, I've just posted this one to a thread in Scoplaw's blog (and QED, but that's just because they seem to be moaning about the lack of new blood - serves them right in my opinion) so I might as well post it here for ridicule:

(and just in case people are wondering, the narrator rarely equates to me)

{ahem ...}

The man with my lover's eyes
borrowed in schoolboy skin
took me hunting: not books,
nor answers this time.

Rather he chose to chase air,
excreted leafshit, line by line,
poisons flavouring the gases:
pollen to sprout in my nostrils;
majoram irritants under my foot -
purple rosemary's
executioner's hood.

One foot broke a twig
discarded by a frugal tree;
the other the ribs
of a squirrel,
the last of its guts
wriggling its blowfly form
back to the earth
eager to straitjacket
its juice.

And my lover's eyes saw me
grimace, shake my boot:
"Mum says you want to be
cremated, like Nana."

I nod and smile, wordless
at my lover's eyes'
ability, within my form,
to guess me. "You smile
he said,

"when you step in shit!"

Oh fuck son, you've learned me
already, and I've only reached
chapter four of your

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Five reasons why I shall never be a Great Poet.

So my NaNoWriMo wordcount for Thursday was 0, which by a strange coincidence matches my Friday wordcount. Today i have a free day in which to get my head down and crack on with the writing - except I can't get settled. It really is a bugger!

So instead I drafted an idea of a poem, the first draft of which I post for your entertainment below:


Five reasons why I shall never be a Great Poet.

1. I do not read contemporary poetry
A good book of poetry is like
a friend come home to rest
his head on my lap. My friends
are old, dusty: cats
in covers. The shiny,
new friends must not be trusted -
I read them with adult eyes
and adult eyes
are poor.

2. I do not like discussing poetry
The way the chatter found its way
to verse was strange; a journey round
the hills of glamour magazines,
celebrity affairs. We passed
beyond to news, the politics
of sex and scandal kept our lips
in spit for ages then - without
a care we parked our switch-back chat
on novels, writers, folks who use
the pen to charm and stroke and trash
each other: critics, poets. I
fell silent then, and drunk my beer.

3. I do not like promoting myself
The man who dresses windows
doesn't have a name - not one I know
in any case. And yet I know him
through his choice of colour,
fabric. Metal paints - not matt -
tell me he's a chancer man
who tempts and treats his audience
with products dressed to fix
their needs, their hopes and dreams
all solved - exchange some cash
and take away the merchandise!
I know the clever man who dresses
windows, Mister no-name man.
I know he isn't me.

4. I can't abide poetry readings
The beast is circled now, the strutted hunters
have forced it back and back until it feels
the cold, hard walls against its back, the podium
beneath its feet. They're gathered now in rows
that swirl around its feet and some of them
have riders now, mostly pink with frocks
and shirts and comfy shoes, drinks in one hand
and papers, rustly prisons, gripped tight
tonight ready to torture the circled beast
called poetry, poor art.

5. I don't understand the publishing game
Dear sir! I'd like to thank you dearly
from the bottom of my sharded heart
for taking time to reject my verse
in such a pleasant manner. The note
was crisp and white and creased
so clinically, my heart near flew
in admiration. And when I'd caged it
once again it fluttered when I saw
your note matched - line for line
and crease for crease - the other notes
you sent me just last week,
and the month before!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chronic word impaction

My total NaNoWriMo wordcount for Friday, Saturday and Sunday has been 0.

I am not ashamed.

I am also happy to announce that the new Wallace & Gromit film was much more fun than sitting at home not feeling guilty about not adding a single word to my NaNo traffic accident of a story.

Life is, indeed, sweet.

Friday, November 04, 2005

POD publishing update

I received my second proof copy of my book of poems this morning - total ordering, printing and delivery time (to the UK) has been under 5 days on each occasion.

The good news (for me) was that this version printed perfectly - no need for further editing and proofreading! Which means that I was able to go to the website and press the magic "confirm" button to start the process of promulgating the book through the various databases listing published books. It's also been submitted to the various online bookstores for their agreement to include the book in their listings - which claims almost always happens. So hopefully sometime in the next 6-8 weeks people will be able to order the book through those channels rather than just from

I've also updated my website and my storefront to give people the chance to preview the whole book. I mean, it's only fair: I'd not risk money on a book of poems by some bloke I'd hardly heard of before if I couldn't test drive the poetry first!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


NaNoWriMo has officially started. It's time to bite the desk, bang the keyboard over my head and moan: "what the fuck am I trying to do?!?"

Surely it won't be as bad as NaPoWriMo. Nothing could be that wrenchingly bad ...

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The importance of active proofreading

Following my efforts to get a book published in under a day last Sunday, the next stage of my Adventures in PODland arrived through the post on Friday. In order to finalise the lulu worldwide distribution agreement part of the package I'd chosen (which comes with an ISBN code for the book and the potential for people outside of North America to buy the book online without having to pay $20 plus shipping costs) I needed to proofread the book and confirm that I was happy with it - once that button is pressed, changing the book contents, cover or price would cost a lot of money!

So, was I happy with the book?

For the most part, yes. I like the cover art (of course) which came out much more sharply than the preview available on indicated it would. The purist in me says the background colour should have been utterly uniform in tone, but this is an extremely minor defect. More importantly the cover material is good quality card with a wipeable outer surface - tested by spilling a bit of coffee over the book last night and successfully wiping the stain off this morning.

Inside, the paper is also of a good quality, off-white in colour (I would have preferred white but the paper colour wasn't something I could choose). Very serviceable for it's purpose, which is (of course) to display my poetry. I would have been happier if I could have selected paper from a certifiably recycled source - and if anyone tells you that recycled paper cannot be as good a quality as classic paper, they're lying to you.

The printed material is (almost) exactly as I had set out in the PageMaker document, and the choice of tahoma 9pt as the bodytext font works better than I expected it to do - very easy on the eyes. The margins are vertical and straight. I didn't include any artwork inside the book, so I can't comment on that aspect of lulu publishing.

The book has been neatly trimmed, and the binding - I chose perfect binding for an 88 page document - seems to be holding up well after 48 hours of intensive page-turning as I proofread and edited the text.

I did say almost exactly as I had set out, and this is my only major criticism of this first version of book. Somehow, along the line, a blank page (page 4) went missing from the pdf. I'm pretty certain that this is my fault, caused by my rush to find a solution to the "encrypted pdf" problem which meant I had to take a detour via a .ps file between the Adobe PageMaker document and the Adobe pdf document. The loss of that blank page is, naturally, catastrophic to the rest of the book: all the pages that should have been on the right hand side ended up on the left hand side, etc, with the displaced guttering pushing the text in towards the spine. Page numbers also ended up next to the spine, and section title pages ended up on the left.

A (reputable) traditional publisher would not have allowed such a disaster to happen, but this is PODland and - as repeatedly make clear - in PODland you get out exactly what you put in. They didn't check to see if the book conformed to standards because they assumed that the weird page layout was what I, the customer, wanted. But these are the risks I accepted when I decided to self-publish: I have only myself to blame for not properly proofing the final pdf document before uploading it to the website and pressing the publish button.

However, the cock-up incentivised me to properly proof-read the entire book. Seeing some of my older poems on the page gave me an itch to tweak them, which I did. I also decided to include 8 poems from the early parts of my work-in-progress (Snowdrop) at the back of the book. Another thing I did was to make sure every "blank" page had a line or two of text on it, just to make sure the "blank" pages couldn't go missing at the other end. And I added some dedications. Then I repeated the convert-upload process - proofreading at every step of the job - and once again published the book.

The new proof copy should arrive on Thursday or Friday, and I hope to be in a position to press the "accept" button before next weekend arrives. After that it will be another 6-8 weeks to get the book information disseminated through the distribution networks - just in time for the January sales!

And if people want to go ahead and order a copy, then don't hold yourselves back (unless you're not in North America - $20+ shipping costs really are over the top). The book can be ordered now from Enjoy!