Monday, September 19, 2005


A couple of months back I decided I was going to be the extremely unofficial (and highly dubious) poet-not-quite-in-residence (but living round the corner) for the forthcoming olympic games in London. This is the first draft of the second poem written for that marvellous folio:


Workshy, rushed, rushing
to work late like binmen.
Exit chores: the disposal
of food waste has me
leaping for air, fungus
spores lifted by the glush
of rot from bucket
to bin to neck me like
a ribbon, gold in a light
from a blue-sky morning.

Later, waiting for buses:
a glass carriage drawn
by white horses, plumed.
A train of sleek cars,
mournerless, parading
through Mare Street. Silver
handlebars decorate
a white coffin: I shall
remember those ornaments
around a stranger's corpse.

Hackney Town Hall must have
fresh steps, new adornments
to match the flutter
of flags. Seven years
to spruce this corpse,
recycle this pock-worn
friend of a town. Folks
need architecture to recall
the momentary glory,
the bronze of bling.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Conbiology for beginners

It stands to reason that if you develop a fantasy world, and have people in the world speaking fantasy languages, then you'd want fantasy wildlife to go with it - man-eating triffids and the like.

Well, that's what this post is all about. I'm going to introduce you to a bit of Kaliedan biology. (Kalieda, for those who have not been paying attention, is my constructed world - the world where people speak my constructed language Gevey).

To make this a bit interesting, I'm going to introduce you to a species of "animal" that sort of looks a little bit like a monkey, and has 3 sexes.

So, how can a creature have 3 sexes? It's not easy to design, believe me. Especially when you start to think about triple strands of DNA (impossible) and genes that come in threes. That thought in particular is guaranteed to implode your brain if you think about it too much!

So instead, my monkeys stick to the regular sort of DNA-type genetic coding material, and cells divide into twos rather than threes. Nothing scary here.

The way I tackled the problem is to invoke something called alternation of generations, which happens a lot in plants. The terrestrial form of this phenomenon allows the generations to alternate between haploid forms (one set of chromosomes) and diploid forms (2 sets of chromosomes). This happens in Kalieda, and the lifeforms representing plants and insects follow this pattern - the diploid "plants" giving rise to the haploid "insects", which in turn mate and produce new diploid "plants".

Now bear with me. This is fun!

The normal form of alternation of generations wasn't good enough for my monkeys. Instead, I doubled the cycle. The haploid phase is reduced to single celled gametes (just like in humans), but the diploid phase alternates between mobile and sessile forms. And these forms are determined by genetics.

In terrestrial mammals, sex is determined by the sex chromosomes: XX gives you females and XY gives you males. During reproduction these chromosomes split in half so you get an X and another X from the female, and an X and a Y from the male. The offspring can be XX, XX, XY or XY.

Still with me?

So here goes. We have two types of monkey: a big, tough monkey that stays in one tree, and a smaller, more agile monkey that only comes to the tree to breed.

And we have the tree - its kind of shaped like a monkey, but it has leaves instead of hair and the bones are greatly elongated and the brain and sensory organs much degenerated. This is one form of the third sex (thopugh in fact it's assexual, in that its only purpose is to act as the brood chamber where that alternation of generation thingy happens).

So as not to confuse things, I'll call my monkey's sex chromosomes B and b - the breeder chromosome. When sex occurs, we get a mix of BB, Bb and bb - and each of these genotypes selects for a different sex.

Now the big monkey is BB and the little monkey is bb. The monkeytree is Bb. The little monkey visits the monkeytree and, after calming down the big monkey with presents of food, etc, has sex with the big monkey. The result of this mating is a sack of soft "seeds". Now because BB has mated with bb, all these seeds will be Bb. Two things can happen to these seeds.

The first thing is that the seeds can be laid in pouches within the monkeytree, where they are nurtured for a little while, turning into slug-type hermaphrodite Bb creatures which can breed with each other - these are the real third sex, though most people would assume the monkeytree itself was the third sex.

Now the results of breeding Bb with Bb will be 25% each of BB and bb, and 50% Bb. Let's discard these second generation Bb slugmonkeys - perhaps they develop much slower than the proper baby monkeys, who eat them as they grow within the monkeytree pouches. Soon enough the monkeytree gives birth to a new generation of miniature BB and bb monkeys, who grow up in the monkeytree until grandparent monkey drives them all off.

This is where option 2 for those Bb seeds comes in. Grandchild BB takes the Bb seed with (let's call it) her when she leaves the monkeytree. Now because this particular Bb seed never made it into the confines of the monkeytree's brood chamber, the brood chamber hormones have not been working on it, which means that once the young monkey finds a nice place, she can plant the seed and feed/guard it while it grows into a new brood tree.

I told you it would be fun! Maybe next week I'll post some sketches of my Kaliedan monkeys, if I can find time to do them.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I am a prosopagnostic!

Huh? What in hell's name is a prosopagnostic?

Now there's a question. Prosopagnosia is not a widely recognised illness or condition, but nevertheless I suffer from it. Let's call it dyslexia for faces. I can't remember them.

Of course, everyone forgets faces (except for those tiresome people who go around saying "I never forget a face!"). But this is a bit different: it's like however hard I try to remember a face, the bits of the face just won't gel into a whole face when I attempt to recall it. If I think "eyes" then I can recall a person's eyes; when I think "mouth" then the same thing happens. But try to think "face" and I get to see eyes and mouth, but they don't seem to have any relationship to each other. Don't ask for noses or ears - my brain just doesn't seem to process them.

It's a bugger, I tell you.

So how do I cope? Well, I tend to rely on other things to help me identify people. Hairstyles are useful - except that when a person changes their hairstyle the chances are good that I won't recognise them. Clothes and jewellery are less useful because they change more often. Voice is a godsend! I can recognise people's voices quite easily, so sometimes I have to wait until someone else speaks before their name clicks into place. There's also something I call "face types" - maybe a few dozen stock outlines of a face which I seem to use to help identify people - useful for recognising families, but not much help identifying individuals within the family.

Because prosopagnosia is not a well reported condition, I never knew I suffered from it until I stumbled across a reference to it in some magazine or other earlier this year. Google brings up about 74,000 hits for the word. Some of the more interesting hits include this one and this one - both personal accounts of living with the condition. And here's a more scientific site.

Finding those websites was a comfort to me. Firstly, I had no idea I had a problem until I came across the word - I just assumed everybody went through life like me, the only difference being that they had better ways of remembering who people were than I did. And secondly, reading through the websites made me realise that if I had the condition, then it was quite mild compared to what others suffered. I can remember a face if I'm in fairly constant contact with a person (very helpful for work colleagues), or if I have their photo around so I can remind myself of what they look like. My Mother's photo is kept on the fridge door - going to meet her at Victoria coach station and realising I couldn't remember what she looked like is not an experience I want to repeat! Luckily she's only little and has light grey hair in a perm, and her voice is unforgettable. Following films and TV is not too problematic either - though don't ask me to name the actors.

Yes, I have had some embarrasing moments. Cousins can be particularly troublesome - I know they're related to me but can't remember exactly who they are. They tend to sound quite similar too, and they always insist on asking me "do you remember which one I am?" Chatting people up in a bar can be hazardous. And I hate - hate - networking.

But it's not too much of a problem. Everybody seems to answers to the word "you".

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Website housework

I've had a productive morning: I've reviewed the poems in my workshop, tampered with a couple of titles and decided that 3 poems are completed enough to move out. One I've added to my showcase, while the other two will languish in the archives.

If the above meant nothing to you (dear reader), then I suppose I'd better do some explaining.

I don't play the publishing game. I have no time, inclination or interest in submitting poems to magazines or doing all the networking on the local scene that's associated with trying to get a chapbook publication deal. I don't enter competitions. I have become an internet poet, and I use my website as my showcase to the world. On my website, the casual visitor can find all the poems I've written over the years that are fit for public consumption (no barracking from the back row!) and also the poems I'm currently working on.

The website is divided into a workshop page and a showcase page, with links to poems I'm working on and poems I'm particularly proud of respectively. I also include links pages to the poems in my 2 collections - 22 Facets of my Father and Play Time - which are also available for download as formatted .pdf files. (Yep, that's right, I'm one of those oiks who chooses to self-publish). Behind all of this is an archive page, with links to all the poems on the website. A poem that doesn't make it onto one of the other links pages is left to fester in the darkness, with only the archive page link connecting it to fame and fortune.

Internet publishing has advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, the chances of qualifying for prestigious awards (for best book, best first book, best poem, etc) are zero. There's no reviewers fighting to heap praise on my latest .pdf chapbook, and PR and promotions is entirely left up to me. On the positive side I am my own boss. I retain all copyrights to all my poems, and there's no chance of some bastard trying to anthologise my work against my wishes. Especially important, I don't have to do the networking stuff: attending dreary poetry readings, pretending to be nice to people who have bored the living shit out of me for the previous 2 hours with their monotone drone; playing publication house politics; dealing with all that crap which seems to go with "minor celebrity". I'm also free to write whatever I bloody well like, with no need to craft my work to current fashions and tastes - if I fancy doing 2,000 lines of Alliterative Verse, I do it.

Anyways, some links to the recently completed poems, for those of you who are interested:

» She Forgets and Remembers by Touch
» The Office as a Form of Inspiration
» After eating strawberries, I ask my father for two bullets


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Intelligent Designer (v2)

Right, then. Time for some poetry. I've been working on my intelligent designer poem, mainly because several people have told me they haven't got a clue what I'm trying to say in the original. Then again, not many people are stupid enough to attempt to write a "history of the universe" poem, so the fault for the confusion lies entirely with me (however much I'm tempted to blame the reader).

Against the advice to cut, I've decided to expand the poem substantially. Hopefully there should be enough signage in the piece now to help people navigate my madness. The first 4 sections are new, with the old draft bringing up the rear. I've not yet edited the last section, mainly because I want to give the whole piece some time to settle before I cut and trim to size.

So, here goes: version 2 of ...

The Intelligent Designer

1. Before The Beginning

It starts as a web of dimensions rolled
together, a strand which He loops around
His fingers, a hammock of plans that fold
in knots to the size of an orange. Bound

within are equations and constants, stuff
designed to become His new home, a place
to realise His dreams. When it's taut enough
He spins it, and - BOOM!

2. Let There Be Life

He sits in a hole in a swirl of stars,
determining chance within chains, their codes
a knot of electrons entrapped by spars
of forces He tethers in quantum modes.

He blows, and the flames of a billion orbs
contort in their tubes, a magnetic flux
of notes in a chord. Something stirs: absorbs
the heat, recombines in new styles, unplucks

His codes and commands. It divides, a splice
expected, and yet - He observes - unique
in ways unforseen. He relaxes, smiles,
accepts this new turn in His plan and speaks

to worlds without ears: "I shall give you ears
to hear Me and eyes that shall find My love";
and scattering dust to the void He cheers
"success goes to those who believe enough!"

3. Survival Of The Fittest

It seethes - like a stew on the boil, a steam
eruption, a kite in the gale. Each cell
competes for a spot in the sun, the stream.
Detritus consumed gives an edge, a spell

for breeding, expansion to cover rock
in slime, an extended affair of kin
and cousins who work as a team to stock
the pond. Soon they're cock of the shore: the kings

of change. There's Jane who can taste the good
from bad; Uncle Pete who can row the tribe
through water, and Heather who eats the food.
Inside sits their ma and their pa. They scribe

their names on new eggs soon to grow strange lobes,
or fins or a vascular system. Eyes -
He's waited so long for the eyes to grow.
He nudges the codes and the chemical ties,

the nets in the cortex to capture the views,
the lenses that focus the light on cones
and rods that react to the strokes of hues -
designed to His plan, which is good, He knows.

4. Towards The Kingdom Of Heaven

They tried to convert me, but I held true!
'My Lord is my shepherd, and I'll not walk
through valley and shadow of death alone'.
They pile up the faggots in stacks around
my feet, and the crowd calls my name. 'The Pope's
own bitch - she deserves to be flamed!' But I
can see my sweet Jesus: he died for me
and I must be brave as the smoke begins
to catch in my throat. I must sing and clap,
for Heaven awaits me - I'll take this test
and suffer the torments for God, my Lord -
sweet Mary of Mercy: 'I burn! I burn!'

5. Revelation

God sits in a hole in a heap of stars,
His thoughts a device of repeating chains -
each molecule brought into time by chance
divine in its placement around His frame.

The multitudes flame in their chanting praise
and steep in his aether, their souls now saved:
He made them, accepts them inside his head
though sometimes their stories upset his thread

of plans and conceits that He weaves through space.
He knows about flames, He invented them:
or maybe He made the equations, braced
in sigils constraining numbers, stems

consumed in a flux of exhausts - but why
would someone accept the embrace of flames?
To glorify Him? Such accounts defy
intelligent thought. Put it out, reclaim

the pureness of plans. He exhales, and charms
pop in and then out of existence. Souls
arrive in their swarms: He radiates calm
and notes how their patterns depart from goals

He's set them. No time now to worry: plans
can change in His scheme. There's some quarks to spin
and matter needs herding. An eye expands,
intrudes on His thought - He remembers sin,

the guilt that can't hide in the eyes of those
who know they've done wrong. He invented eyes -
or maybe He set the design, exposed
those strands that became His desire for life

to sunlight, and set them to seek the warmth
that bleeds from His suns, let equations build
the chemical paths and let physics form
the shape of the lens so that eyes could fill

with tears and lament - such a strange result,
this gift to perceive His design! He scans
His schedules for flaws and corrects the fault:
"for all things must end, even me", He plans.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Fantasy publishing: a brief history of internet poetry

Let's play fantasy publishing. The game is to pull together an outline of what should go in a book entitled Caught In The Net: a brief history of internet poetry.

Here's my initial stab:

Ch 1: First stirrings
A brief description of how the US military arpanet developed into the Usenet newsgroups, and poetry's place in the usenet pantheon - text perhaps developed from interviews/chats with people like JJ Webb and Marek Lugowski. It would be nice to get a flavour of the newsgroups "in action"

Ch 2: A mirror to the real world
This could be the story of the establishment of the early webzines - Alsop Review, J P Dancing Bear's Disquieting Muse, the whole WedDelSol thing, maybe C E Chaffin's Melic Review?

Ch 3: Workshopping the muse
From the webzines and newsgroups grew the need for workshops - general workshops, elitist workshops, metrical workshops (Ablemuse's Eratosphere), Claudia's QED, subversive workshops trying to link poetry to wider art, etc. PFFA (of course) as a reaction to the anarchy of the newsgroups. There ought to be something about IBPC and its tribalist tendencies, too. Something also on the sharing type of workshop?

Ch 4: Reaching out to the world
A survey of the development of personal poetry websites and "vanity" publishing, then moving on to things like the rise of online publishers such as Marek's ASGP, webzines branching out into chapbook publishing, etc.

Ch 5: Organising the web
I think a chapter on the role of people who have tried to make sense of the burgeoning 'netpo scene deserve a chapter to themselves. Listing sites such as Peter Howard's Low Probability of Raccoons, The Poetry Kit, Poetry Daily. Something on Rick Lupert's Poetry SuperHighway? Possibly also something on people's efforts to build communities and campaigns on the 'net -, poets against the war, etc. Could also mention email groups and closed networks?

Ch 6: Learning about poetry
There's some excellent teaching and learning resources online that ought to be mentioned. Also the various attempts to put out-of-copyright poetry texts online (and Dedicated fansites for great poets deserve a mention, especially those that put the poet in their historical context.

Ch 7: The world wakes up to the 'net
This should deal with the (sometimes comical) approach of the poetry establishments trying to come to terms with the internet. Hardcopy magazines' websites, established writers' "blurbsites", publishers and their attempts to drum up business online. Newspapers that support poetry (in principle) like Guardian Unlimited? How about a mention of print-on-demand publishers such as Some mention of Google (especially after they bought the DejaNews newsgroup archives)?

Ch 8: The rise of the poetry blogs
I've not long been blogging so this is new territory for me, but any 'netpo history would need to deal with blogging - Ron Silliman and other early adopters, the range of issues covered in blogs, how bloggers are trying (but not yet succeeding) to define and reassess the philosophies and schools of poetry, etc, etc, etc.

Ch 9: The future of 'netpo
God knows. Get some people to speculate on possible directions. They'll all be wrong: who knew that 'netpo would have come so far in even the last 5 years?

I also think there would need to be lots of example poems to highlight the product coming out of all this activity. Otherwise the point of the book is pretty much missed. But that would also mean a long book - more like 450-500 pages rather than 150-200 pages long.

But I don't think such a book will be published. Unless it was written by a really famous poet which, given that there are no really famous 'netpoets yet, pretty much defeats the object - I'd not want to be the subject of some academic dissertation or populist freakshow so it would need to be written by someone who's part of the 'netpo scene. But without the famous name the book won't be taken seriously by reviewers, and won't be bought by people outside the 'netpo scene. Classic Catch-22 territory.

And how would it be published? It would make sense, given the material, to make it available electronically as well as in hardcopy, but few publishers would be up for that game. Who would pay for the initial publication costs? Perhaps an arts grant (though I don't agree with public money being used to support poetry endeavours outside of the educational establishment). Possibly corporate sponsorship from those very nice people at Google or those equally nice people at the Bill&Wassername Gates Foundation - which would guarantee half the participants in the book would withdraw their cooperation on principal. Vanity publishing?

And who on earth would be stupid enough to edit such a monster?