Thursday, July 28, 2005


Currently I'm at a loss about how to create a nice set of links to other blogs down the side of the page - I think the template I chose doesn't have that facility built-in. Bugger.

In the meantime, one "blog" (though it may be a wikipage) I would include in any links list is Harry Rutherford's Stormy Petrel - partly because I know Harry from other online venues, but mainly because it's a good read.

As for my poetry - today has been another fairly unproductive day, though I have taken time out of my lunch hour to correct some of most cringing phrases from the start of Snowdrop 7.5, and added another verse ...

"She orders the fair and feasts on the game
her acolytes bring, a dream
of all she desires. Her lovers take turns
to keep her relaxed - so keen
to earn her esteem. But what of her shame?
For shamed she has been, with tales
in whispers and stares, the gossip that churns -
a story of love that failed.

"It starts before time awoke in the world,
when foxes and dogs could play
with rabbits and rats, when life was a dance
and sunlight would weave the shade.
The queen of the hill found love in the curled
embrace of the muscled lord
who governed the storms, the sea's stabbing lance
soon tamed on the wooded shore.

"'So what?' You may say, and right you would be
to yawn at a fairy tale
as trite as this yarn! But wait, and I'll tell
of love undermined, of scales
unbalanced and torn apart, of the sea's
retreat, of the loss of light,
of time everlastin', heaven and hell
and Tallyman's pot of blight!

"The passions of night had ebbed to a still
acceptance of dawn. She woke,
took pleasure in stroking hairs on the skin
her man chose to wear. His cloak
embraced them, a caul of kelps. When a spill
of sunlight arrived, she rose -
her movements disturbing servants, soon keen
to dress her in fresh, bright clothes."


Still needs a lot of work, though. Like finishing the bloody thing ...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Poets in residence?

I'm one of those lucky people who live in Hackney, London. In 2012 the Olympics will be rolling into town - right onto my doorstep, in fact! This gives me an idea: lots of places and events nowadays come with a poet-in-residence ...

Well, I am a poet (no sniggering at the back!) and I will almost be "in residence" for the grand event (assuming I fail to win the lottery between no and 2012), so I might as well be the unofficial poet-almost-but-not-quite-in-residence for the London Games.

The poems will be occasional, irregular - and possibly sarcastic. Maybe if I manage to write more than half a dozen of them over the next 7 years I'll pull them together into a webpage or chapbook on my website. But for now I'll just write them and post them here as and when I see fit. And to get the hoops rolling, here's the first of them:

The Joke

"The boot fair's shut!" No more
hungover Sunday treats to visit
Hackney's broken dog track, the grit
a base for rings of stalls and shouts
and lines of dresses, shirts and jeans -
designer labels sewn in for extra. No kids
piling through the crowds, crashing
stalls and knocking change
from pockets, hands, quick to grab
the blag, play tag to the caravans
parked beyond the gates. No more burgers
in buns dressed in onions, ketchup,
salmanella - just the roar of traffic
jostling towards the motorway that cuts
across the wasteland marshes
to better places. "You read the news?
They're thinking if the bid
goes up they'll build the stadium
We look around and laugh, walk past
two shipwrecked carpet sellers lost
without the heaving crowds. Ahead
a litterbin melts as it burns -
a flame for Hackney's pride.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Snowdrop 7.5 (first bit)

Not a very productive day ...

The Boy Who Kissed a Queen

"She dances all night and feasts on the game
her hunters deliver, queen
of all that she sees. Her lovers take turns
to keep her relaxed - so keen
to earn her esteem. But what of her shame?
For shamed she has been, with tales
in whispers and stares, the gossip that churns -
a story of love that failed.

"It starts before time awoke in the world,
when hunter and hunted played
their innocent games, when life was a dance
and sunlight could weave the shade.
The queen of the hill found love in the curled
embrace of the sea's bright king.
Together they danced, invented romance,
exchanged solemn vows and rings.

"'So what?' You may say, and right you would be
to yawn at a fairy tale
as trite as this yarn! But wait, and I'll tell
of love undermined, of scales
unbalanced and torn apart, of the sea's
retreat, of the loss of light,
of time everlastin', heaven and hell
and Tallyman's pot of blight!"

More to come later ...

Friday, July 22, 2005

The cell as a form of inspiration - redraft 1

I'm very much not happy with the initial draft of this poem. I wanted to try my hand at a "Martian poem" (a school of poetry named after Craig Raine's A Martian Writes A Postcard Home poem, but the first draft fails on so many levels!

I'm not sure this draft progresses me much further on my quest, but it was fun to write - which is the main thing to keep in mind when composing verse ...

The cell as a form of inspiration

(An alternative title could be The office cubicle as a form of inspiration)

These angularities that pin me in
are pinned with cloth of woven mauve and I
must pin instructions here. The plastic rails
enforce confinements, one to each square cell;
there are no doors. A circle sequence keeps
me close, its arcs and sweeps a sturdy guard.

No doors - an oblong bright in blues and whites
displays an arc of planes, each green and shaped
identically from some machine within
its pole. They wave at me: look how we break
from shells! Look how we swing in puffs and scuffs
of molecules that buff us, stroke our dance!

No doors - I hate the dance of shapes across
instructions pinned by me to my mauve cloth.
They say: translate us while the arc sweeps low.
I bow my head and worship; fingers pray
across the coded blocks that bounce and click -
my alchemies dissect some thoughts and pin

them on a screen that feels like silk when stroked.
As sigils grow in rows I meld, become
the incantation. Between the pulpy flats
that hide my desk a cupid stalks, its jaws
are primed to stab results together, sense
from nonsense - still the fingers sweep their arc

across their sequenced numbers. Still I pray
and my release remains a sentence away.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Snowdrop 7.4

I'm missing out 7.3 at the moment because it's taking a long time to write. Here follows section 7.4 of the continuing saga:

The Moon on the Marsh

"I know the bones of this place! This tower's stones
were tumbled down the hill and sheep had sheared
the grass to a mat. I watched the ants who reared
their herds of greenfly here; I plucked the thrones
of bumblebees and wound them into crowns -
this place was safe, above the Marsh where I
could breathe the air and watch the seagulls fly
to the sea, free from care. And now it's drowned!
Gran's house is gone, dissolved by waves that chase
the moon's white path to France. No roads, no flush
of light from Dungeness, warning the ships:
beware! The Marsh is a snare, a bastard place.
It binds me down with memories that crush
me flat, and now it's drowned I'm lost in shit!"

If anyone's interested in watching this monster grow, the whole draft to date is posted on my website.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Snowdrop 7.2

Next section, newly minted and in need of rest and recuperation before I revise ...

The Shaking Lad

"I saw you arrive: you ran down the hill
and stopped like a rock - your eyes
went wide and your face rebelled and your hands
took flight to your mouth like flies
to shit! Were you scared to see the sea spill
and flood over fields? I saw
it too, how the sea grew up and the lands
went salty and muddy, all torn."

He speaks in stacattoes, a stammering voice
from a chest of ribs and chiselled valleys
that shakes in fits. A shawl of wool
hides the hunger, the hollow dips
etching the bones in his elbows, his knees.

"I dreamed that I saw a wall, how it stopped
the sea from the fields, a road
to town on its top. I think there were sheep
and horses and cows, and toads
in ditches that drained the fields; and crops
of cabbages, turnips, beans.
I think that I dreamed of sunshine and heat -
but that was not true, so seems."

He takes her hand in his and smiles,
stretching his neck up, assuming command,
and walks her away from the wooden docks.

"I know that the sailor's home with some food:
some cockles and fish, some greens
he found on the hill just now - will you eat
with us? I can smell he means
to make a good feast, to break his bad mood.
He lives in the keep above
the port, where he keeps us safe, a retreat
from devils and ghosts and stuff."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Snowdrop 7.1

People do strange things when they attempt to write poetry. They go in search of a "voice", or they look for manuals that instruct on how best to ride the muse. Sometimes they embrace form like an evangelical finding a splinter of the One True Cross. Other times they rebel against fashion and strictures. Some of the poetry can be good, some bad. Most poems turn out indifferently: the world gets another opportunity to shrug - so what.

So where do I fit into the scheme of things? Well, I've done the teenage angst thingy - most of that "poetry" was accidently lost in a fire, for which the world is probably marginally grateful. I went looking for a voice. I've done the workshop thingy, too - keen to impress people with my skills at turning excretions into something with a fighting chance of publication.

So it came as a bit of a shock when I realised that it's no longer the world that's shrugging its shoulders: it's me instead! I've lost interest in posting my works-in-progress to fashionable (and some unfashionable) online poetry workshops, offering my 3 crits to colleagues and watching other people struggle to offer comments on how to turn my current work into something fashionably poetic.

So I've gone walkabout. I've abandoned the workshops and headed into the hills to see what I can produce without help and advice, without a view on whether the final product is fashionable, fit for purpose, publishable. And what I've found is scary!

I discovered that what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world is write a long poem. A really, really long poem. And I wanted to do it in form.

Now this is scary to me because I always thought that what I wanted to do was write science fiction novels. But I'm crap at finishing things, which is why I turned to poetry in the first place - it's short, and thus finishable.

But ever the optimist I started my new project, and 18 months later I'm still writing it! It's slow work, maybe nothing more than half a dozen lines from each session. But with the help of a surprising spurt of energy in April I've managed to compose, unpack and reform over 1,000 lines of draft poem - almost halfway through the project.

I'm currently writing Part 7 of my wierd oddessy - and (the reason for this post) have just managed to squeeze out 20 more lines of first draft. If anyone wants to see my progress to date, they can find it at this link. The following is the latest lines, forming the first poem in Part 7 - see if you can guess the mangled form, and enjoy!

Portus Lemanis

The ghosts of mussels garland the stumps
of salty logs that line the strand
of muds and chalks; Lemanis squats
like a tumbled drunk dunking its toes
in the channel waters, waiting to die.

Harbourside shops are shuttered, cloth
and tattered wood welting the structures -
nothing to sell. Nobody's home,
only some history hashed on a wall:
christiani ad leones, christianae ad lenones

A ship is tethered, her antemna broken
from the malus with rudens roping the parts
together in chaos, her carina muzzled
by the muds and the mists: no mediterranean
sun shall ruffle her rostrum again.

A shiver catches across her shoulders -
her feet are naked, numb to the pain
of gravels and thorns. Her thoughts have halted:
she knows her eyes are eager to trick her
but this is beyond her, a Yank of a lie.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Why is it important to conlang?

Today I shall evangelise about the Art of constructed languages - or for the anorak afficianados amongst us, conlanging.

Why? Because it's something we all do. Everybody conlangs. Every time a parent chatters away to their baby they're making up words, repeating nonsense sounds, singing to baby in a language peculiar to just themselves. Every time two people fall in love, they develop their own lexicon, their own shorthand ways of communicating between themselves - their very own private tongue. Groups of friends will play wordgames, coin neologisms, invent new rhymeslang. It's what helps bond people together, this ability to adapt the language to meet their particular needs. And it's what drives the language forward, evolving over time to renew itself afresh for each generation.

People need to communicate: it's genetic. If you don't believe me, then check out the development of the Nicaraguan sign language during the 1980s. There's also been hints of a phenomenon called "twin language", where twin siblings develop their very own language that they only use between themselves - and is soon lost when they enter the rough-and-tumble realities of school.

But what happens when a person takes this further? What happens when they devise a language so different from their own native tongue that nobody else in the world can understand it? Welcome to the wierd and terrible world of the conlanger.

The most famous conlanger at the moment must be J R R Tolkein, who developed a mythology (originally for England) that included gods and elves, dwarves, wizards and heroes. He also gave these people their own languages, influenced by living languages such as Welsh and Finnish, but not derived from them. These languages were his very own creation. But he's not the only one - there's lots of conlangers out there, drawn like flies to the stench of the internet - check out if you don't believe me.

Now, there's lots of reasons why people conlang. Some people are idealists who want to develop the perfect language that will solve the world's problems by getting people to talk to each other - though the reality is very different, as a quick browse of the auxlang mailing list archives will demonstrate. Others are linguists and/or polyglots who are mad on linguistics to such an extent that they'll investigate everything to do about languages. Some are keen on science fiction, often writing it and using a conlang to add a little bit of colour to the story. And for others it's just something that has to be done.

I'm one of that last group of conlangers. For me, conlanging is an art: a way of expression; a means for investigating the world around me.

I started conlanging when I was around 11 or 12, making simple "relexes" (relexifications) of English, and by my mid-teens I was developing something new, something different from English both in the things it had words for and in the ways those words came together. It was (and to some extent remains) a very private passion, in that I don't expect people to understand what I'm doing, or why, or even take much of an interest in my creation. This is my art, and I produce it to please me.

The internet changed a lot of things for me. It kickstarted my re-engagement with poetry for a start. But it also gave me a place to keep my conlang, and everything that arose from its development such as the maps, the stories, the society that speaks my language. Through the miracle of webpages, I found a way of displaying my passion, and for others to access it. Now this was a very scary thing for me to do! I never talked about my conlang to anyone - not friends, certainly not family. They didn't understand what I was doing, and I knew they didn't understand. We had an understanding, if you like. But the website meant that I now had an audience for my work - an audience that sometimes had the audacity to ask difficult questions like "what?", and "why?" So (defensively) I said: this is art.

And over the years that lie has morphed into a truth. My conlang is art. I make it art through the way I display it on the site. The words I choose to use is an act of art. The morphology and syntax I deploy in my conlang are artistic statements: this is the way I see the world through the prism of my conlang - is it not wonderful!?!. The stories are artistic compositions, the teach yourself section - even in its unfinished state - is an interactive artistic installation. Even the commentaries are part of the foundations of my art.

So there you have it. My name is Rik Roots and I am a conlanger! Haetu, ohsle ten! Geve telaa e.