Monday, November 30, 2009

The Poetry Advent Calendar

Coming to a computer screen near you from tomorrow ... The Poetry Advent Calendar, as presented by the This:Poem website.

A collection of poems dealing with winter and the Christmas season, The Poetry Advent Calendar will present a new poem each day between 1 December and Christmas Eve, to help get you in the mood for the forthcoming festivities.

Some of the poems will be familiar, and welcome reads; others will be more surprising. All come with added snippets and links.

The poems can be read on the website, or via one of those nifty RSS feeds, or even by state-of-the-art Web Slice!

However you access and imbibe this treat - enjoy the poems!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Another attempt at translating stuff ...

... this time from a language of which I know not a single word:

Facing Snow
by Du Fu (translation by Rik Roots)

The battle's demise brings cries from new shades;
the man grieves, alone and aged: he worries.

As the day ends clouds break rank, fall close;
the fleet snow ribbons amid a swirl of winds.

A spoon of gourd, discarded; a springless cup;
a stove mimics the ruddy flames of summer.

The gabble of messages bleach from the land;
I sit rigid, shocked, my ink-drained book white.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rik attempts to translate Victor Hugo

Background note - I failed my French O level twice ...

The original in all its glory:

En hiver la terre pleure;
Le soleil froid, pâle et doux,
Vient tard, et part de bonne heure,
Ennuyé du rendez-vous.

Leurs idylles sont moroses.
- Soleil ! aimons ! - Essayons.
O terre, où donc sont tes roses ?
- Astre, oò donc sont tes rayons ?

Il prend un prétexte, grêle,
Vent, nuage noir ou blanc,
Et dit: - C'est la nuit, ma belle ! -
Et la fait en s'en allant;

Comme un amant qui retire
Chaque jour son coeur du noeud,
Et, ne sachant plus que dire,
S'en va le plus tôt qu'il peut.

My attempted translation:

For winter, the earth cries;
The sun cools, pale and soft,
Tardy, yet soon to leave,
Bored with its assignation.

Their dalliance is inept.
- Sun! Let's dance - let's try.
My earth, where are your roses?
- Star, where are your rays?

An excuse is grasped, hail,
Wind, black clouds or white -
Says: night is come, sweet one
A construct of departures.

As lovers who pull each day
At the core of their knot
and, frayed of shared phrases,
take their leave too soon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spiders on drugs

... you know it's the truth!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poetry and Cory Doctorow

If Cory Doctorow can make a living by getting his books into as many people's hands and heads and hard-drives as possible, through both conventional and unconventional means - then why not poets?

What does the average (heh) poet fear from doing Cory-Doctorow-like stuff such as giving their work away free to anyone who wants it, and maybe also sell a few copies of the book for those who want something a little more on the permanent side of things?

Rik has a new Hero - and best of all, his Hero writes science fiction!

(Hat tip thingy: Mister Ron Silliman)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 10

'What is that? Some kind of writing?'

Beyond the untidy kitchen, the warehouse vaults over us, a cathedral's space of wrought iron and plastered brickwork. The light from the thin windows a dozen feet above the floor is dim, hinting at neglect. The floor, too, is a mess of crate-wood and tarpaulins, discrete piles of detritus abandoned by the last occupants – as worthless as much of what passes for art these days.

The marks that have attracted Sam's attention are in a corner furthest from the entrance and the kitchen. By rights Sam should not be able to see them: Boude has rendered her report in energies rather than chemicals. It is something I should worry about, I know, but I don't have time to consider the implications – it's probably a side effect from the spin I've laid across Sam's senses to help him ignore the prone body of his recent lover.

'It's a sort of writing, yes,' I answer.

'It's pretty, like christmas lights.'

'The trick is in knowing how to read them.'

Reading, for me, has always been a tough endeavour; it's not something I was born to do. From what I can work out, the concept of writing arrived in my part of the Outer World a long while after I had left it. For sure, the Kemet folk had been scribbling on plaster and papyrus for centuries, just as the Sangiga folk had been prodding sticks into clay to make their lists, but they were not my people.

When I first arrived in Mescwar I might as well have been a monkey, for all the civilized skills I had. Boude had laughed at me when I admitted my ignorance, and after that the Game had taken over my life just as the Race had consumed me in Fol Huun. All in all, my learning to read had been a slow process.

Which is probably understandable. The writing systems used in my home stone are nothing like the systems developed here in the Outer World. For a start, there's no letters as such, but rather a set of sigils – pen strokes – that capture the essence of the meaning or object, each topped and based with additional marks to show how the words weave with each other, how the concepts play together in the utterance. Learning to read by alphabets, in contrast, was a pleasure – though even now I tend to rely on the host to do the reading, as listening in to the internal narrator is a lot easier. Plus they keep changing the spelling of things, and languages themselves are slippery buggers, always evolving and reverting each time I return here.

'So what does it say?' asks Sam.

It's not so much what the glyphs say, as what they mean. The message that Boude had cast on the wall appears to me as several collections of glyphs, with no order between them. Here, for instance, she's drawn two sigils – five strokes in a glistening bruised-blue forming the essence of a many-handed warrior, atop the silvery outline of a great horse charging towards the centre of the room. Below, almost to the floor and some distance to the left, a second set of glyphs: a skeletonial squiggle stands atop the form of a golden child, duplicated, pulling an egg from between their lifeless forms. Three other clusters form similar struggles – above us, a jester astride a giant who tramples through the scarlet lines of a great hall; lower and to the right, but not as far right as the warrior, armies march upon a mountain.

But it is the central set of glyphs that hold my attention. Within a great circle, Boude had carefully drawn two prone forms – giants, the subglyphs seem to suggest – with the feet of each at the head of the other. Beyond the circle, the lords of wealth and creativity reign; within it, the chaos of nature held secure. The circle is complete, and incomplete, and full-round once more – changing as the seconds flick by. The colours of the whole are heavy, a mutating swirl of ochres and rubies and fecund greens; the more I stare at the patterns, the more Sam's stomach churns, the more his chest tightens as the glands above the kidneys pump adrenaline into his blood.

Suddenly I want to run away, far away, as fast as Sam's thick legs will take me!

'What does it say?'

It takes an effort to draw Sam's eyes away from the pulsing patterns.

'We need to find the girl,' I tell him. 'We need to keep looking.'

'Where? She's not here.'

I ignore Sam's doubts. I know that Boude had been here; Marton had told me he and Mada had spoken to her in this place yesterday afternoon, and the glyphs on the wall still carry her sharp heat.

'We'll look for other messages, yes? That security guard told you nobody else works here, that we wouldn't be disturbed, so we've got plenty of time to search.'

Which reminds me ...

'We'd better go and check on him,' I say.

'Is he still in the kitchen? I'll need to borrow his trousers so I can go get my clothes.'

'Good idea. He'll probably be sleeping still.'

He'll be sleeping for the rest of the morning if our luck holds. Still, I need to leave Falc a message before we go back home. If the man doesn't wake before we depart I'll have to trace out some energy glyphs of my own to tell him where to find me.

Falc owes me some answers.

'You never told me what the pictures said,' says Sam, ever insistent and as forthright as his father, as he heads towards the kitchen.

'As far as I can make out ...'

A sudden reluctance to continue with the sentence washes over me, like an insight or conviction that if I say – even think – the words, they'll come true.

A faint tang of copper slips along the sides of my tongue ...

I will not be broken! As if fighting through syrup, I force the words to align in my mind, push them into Sam's internal babble.

'They all say the same thing, Sam. Boude is telling us that the world is going to die. Sometime soon, everything will end. That's why we need to find her – she forgot to mention how it dies!'

Or, indeed, who kills it.

Microbial Art

... 'kay, so I'm surfing instead of writing. I'm sure the NaNoWriMo Enforcement Squad will be knocking on my door with manacles to chain me to the ('net disabled) keyboard in due course.

Anyways, when I was a squib of a fellow, I used to work in a microbiology lab - part of a factory that made medical equipment. More than once I was told off for "mucking around" with agar plates and cultures instead of doing proper (ie extremely tedious) work.

But not even my best efforts could match some of these microbial art masterpieces! Jealous as heck, I am ...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 7

'Kay, this hasn't been the most productive start to Nano - 750 words in 6 days, when I should by now have reached the 20% mark ie 10k words. In my defence, Mother has been visiting for the past week, and I have been spending quality time with her, mostly in pound shops. But I'm not going to give up on the challenge just yet. The following adds another 1400 words to the pile, and I've got the evening free for writing - as long as something shiny doesn't distract me!

Is it truly possible for someone like me to love? Can I sip at the essential spring of love first hand?

In situations such as this one, I find it easier to concentrate on the big questions. At the moment Sam is staring at taps; we're in a small, grubby kitchen area with magnolia walls and the sort of tiles you find in public toilets. The sink is shallow, metallic, stained in circles where cups have been left to drain after a perfunctory rinse - too messy for the lad, I expect. So instead he concentrates on the shape of the taps: two bulbous affairs that might once have been copper-plated, their handles a pair of miniature circus dumbells atop their industrial screws plunged into the ballooned necks of the pipes at the apex of a pair of squared crooks. Each of his hands grasps the long shaft of a tap, one hot to the touch, the other cold, bracing his body against the arrhythmic thrusts behind us.

Shaft - an unfortunate word choice in this situation. Not that I have any particular objection to taking it - the shaft - up the arse: sex in any form is one of the few bonuses of returning to the Outer World, and I have enjoyed experiences that young Sam can only dream of, but there are more enjoyable pleasures than spit-assisted sodomy.

Sam stares at the taps because he doesn't want to be distracted by the mess around him as his brain and blood absorb the chemical pleasures of the rectal intrusion. And I ask big questions because, in the end, sex in the Outer World remains a second-hand distraction.

So, love. What is it to me?

I can say with some certainty that it is not a flesh-mediated emotion. Because I have loved, and been loved, and when I recall those times I become coccooned, swathed in the eye-stretching, chest-scrunching, stomach-trembling, limb-heating entirety of the state.

A state. Yes, love is a place of being, I think, an almost physical location where the essential being is shifted just an atom's breadth away from synchronicity from the flesh - enough to blur the world into primary colours, to ease irregularities and faults out of focus. Smells are not so much a matter of sharp, putrid, sweet, resinous, smoked: they are the sigils of such chemical interactions. A touch can be felt before contact is established; balance is widened from the vertical norm to allow the spin of the situation to take many off-kilter positions and still feel - well, right. Good. Healthy and welcome.

Thus it is possible for me to love, and I have breached the borders of that place many times. As the taps jerk nearer and further and nearer and further from Sam's intense, muscle-flexed face I take a little time to think of a few of my particular loves.

My parents, for instance, murdered by the madman in a wood on a half-moon night. My love for them remains primal, the bedrock upon which my essential being has been established, fashioned, enlarged, refashioned, challenged and collapsed and restored. When I think of that love, there is no time between then and now - much as my time in the sapphire seas of Ounous was timeless, a click of the fingers measured across the spans between stars, both equal and yet irrelevant.

Other things I have loved: a woman nuzzling her head on my shoulder as we watched the early morning sun emboss the pillars and lintels of a tomb freshly carved into the lycian cliffs in a honey of gold; the heat of rain on my back as I sat in a tree waiting for deer to pass beneath my spear, my eyes locked with that of a tiger no more than twenty yards from me, both of us beasts understanding our purpose and our danger to each other and the trill of broiling life caught in each breath - a feral love of a moment; another sunset across the deserts beyond Carthage, five of us together in the heads of peasants discussing cloaking strategies - each of us lost and found in the others, brothers and sisters beyond the comfort of death.

I remember that Boude had been the one who had bought me through to Carthage, which in turn reminds me of why I have bought Sam here and what we need to do. The man behind us is slightly taller than Sam, and much bulkier - his stomach is a warm blanket against Sam's hips and lower back as he thrusts, one hand cupped over Sam's bladder and the other clutched on the shoulder to fasten his forearm across Sam's chest. Sam himself is rigid, his conscious voice now gusted to tatters in the blusters of blood-bourn endorphins and hormones.

Which is an unexpected bonus. It makes what I need to do next a lot easier, for both of us.

I can see the band clearly around Sam's thumb, its metal colour almost a match to the tap against which it rests. The stones are barely visible at the moment, though that is not an issue for my purpose. As ever, I can feel the hook of its attraction deep in my essential being, its soft tug inviting me to release my hold on Sam's mind and return home: another sort of love, I suppose, an inbuilt impulse that cannot be refused.

Carefully, I untangle my tendrils, let slither my roots, enfold myself within me. Float free, a moil of essences and intentions bound for home.

If only it was that easy to render! Already I can feel Sam's mind reacting, his unconscious patterns and drives shafting through the ball of my being, each thrust driving the barbs of posession deeper into my ephemeral structures.

Pain, like love, is not bound to the flesh. Now I must rely on the ruse I have placed within me to blunt the agony as I am stretched between skull and band. I remember love: the tiger, the tomb.

The band wants to wind me around its circle. I can feel the heat of the stones as I approach them, each an individual point of comfort, a welcome. Mescwar reaches out to embrace me, hoist me to safety. Now I must remember the opposite of love. Now I must loathe the wrongs done to me. Now I must remember the red-haired hunter and his bloody spear planted in my mother's chest.

And gather myself tight, become a point; a needle to penetrate the skin of the knuckle, to pass beyond derma and tendon and muscle to skim the length of bone, to bring myself to balance within the confines of the band's hoop, each stone an equidistant moon tethering me to stability.

If I had lungs, I'd scream. Above me now the sapphire prison of Ounous and the malevolent lie of Spoy, the fire of Tincas and the ice of Onuun; below me Mescwar and Uekh, each to their own interpretation of yellow, bracketing the heavy populations of emerald Fuebe. I can feel the question forming across the spheres of my being: call forth, sing the vibrations. Choose!

'Onuun!' I project the command through a miasma of brutal jabs, each a grim burn. 'Falc!'

The siren stones are mesmerising me. I must loathe them. I must loathe what has become of me, what I am reduced to. I must be a morphic rresonance of equal repulsion to that which would consume me. Still the vice of Sam's thoughtless mind clutches at my viscous being, binds me to him as a lover to the beloved.

As I snap back to the comforts of a living skull, the man behind us convulses, jerks to his climax and drops to the floor. The air Sam gasps into his lungs carries a faint taint of ozone within it, a hint of garlic and balsam and chert to mark the unwilling passage of a being brought through to the Outer World.

Welcome back, Falc. I hope you like your new host.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Poem: Banshee


Her dire smile, a flame in the maze
of his morphine miasmas. She dabs
his face with fresh cloths, smooths

tremors from scorched limbs -
his immortal nurse, starched,
swathing blisters in zinc balms.

Gentle, she swaps clotted bandages
for clean swaddle, white as a lily
on a new-sown grave. She grieves

in soft murmurs as he shudders
for each half-breath -- no need
for her to howl from turrets

this night: wires and machines
will siren his certain liberty
from the shackle of crisp flesh.

... is that too many modifiers for modern tastes? Whatever, this version is better than the original posted to pffa ...

Monday, November 02, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 2

"Oi, mate! Can you give me a hand here?"

I don't believe this is happening. By the look on the man's face, neither can he.

"You're naked," he says, all open mouth in unshaved jowls.

"My girlfriend's turfed me out, innit! Shoved me out of the door and won't let me back in. She says she's calling the Bill if I make a scene!"

Which is a lie, of course. After I asked him to break us into the building, Sam spent a couple of minutes gazing at the warehouse frontage, a thoughtless consideration of possibilities. Then without warning he stripped naked and hid his clothes under the wheels of a van parked a dozen metres down the road and, crouching, waited for someone to walk by.

"What do you want me to do?"

I watch the man's surprise meld into a smile across his face.

"Can you help me get into this place? I've got some overalls in there, but the key's in my trouser pocket and my trousers ..."

Now he's grinning. "This is a joke, innit! You got cameras stashed somewhere."

"No, mate, honest!"

There's no doubting my host's ability to lie with sincerity, but I can feel an acid of panic start to form in Sam's stomach when the man pulls a ring of keys out of his own pocket and jangles them.

"I don't know what's going on, but I do know you ain't got no clothes stashed in my building. So tell me what this is all about, yeah?"

And Sam stands up and smiles back at the man, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm not lying about the girlfriend, mate – well, I was lying about the 'girl' bit. See what I mean? I can't go in the pub for help: they don't like the likes of me in there ..."

It takes me less than a second to rummage and strain through Sam's memories to confirm the truth of that statement. I hadn't realised that this street is less than a mile from where he grew up; Sam had built up a detailed mess of information on his local pubs long before he reached the legal drinking age. This pub had a nasty reputation.

But why tell the stranger about his preference for men?

And then I felt it: a cool slice of communication between Sam's eyes and his heart, skin, mouth – like a gentle spit of iced rain foretelling of a storm to come.

Sam calls it gaydar. I call it spooky, the way one human can identify others attracted to them, a microsecond change in the chemical balances of both bodies – a means of communication beyond my understanding, or even intuition. And yet it happens all the time, and it's just happened here.

Sam's standing naked in the street, and the man who stares at him likes what he sees.

NaNo 09: Day 1

The pub sits on a corner of two shabby backstreets, part of the maze of lanes beyond Southwark High Street, away from the river and the redevelopments currently transforming the South Bank into yet another of London's tourist traps. I'm not surprised to find it open even at this time of the morning: there's something about the air in Southwark which seems to encourage a disregard of rules and regulations. Southwark was always the place to go for rough pleasures; I remember losing a lot of money more than once betting on the wrong cock or the wrong dog.

I'm tempted by the idea of fortifying myself with a couple of pints of beer before I start tracking Boude. But time is pressing – the clouds in the overcast sky above me are beginning to colour as dawn approaches, and the drizzle of people walking by is starting to thicken.

The warehouse is tucked behind the pub. It looks much younger than the pub, with ranks of steel windows a dozen feet above the path. But while the pub is open and operational, this place has a feeling of neglect, abandonment around it. The only new thing I can see is the padlock and chain across the bars ahead of the entrance.

Sam's back, and taking an interest in things again. 'Do you know how to break in?' I ask him.


'We're going to rescue the girl.'


It takes a bare moment for me to sink back into the folds of Sam's mind. As he comes forwards I can already taste his concentration as he considers the problem – honey and strong cheese, which reminds me that Sam hasn't eaten since yesterday evening.

A couple of pints of beer might have been a good idea, I realise.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

It's NaNo time again, and this year I'm gonna give the challenge a good stabbing.

I'll be honest, though, there will be cheating involved. Rather than start a new book I'll continue writing the book I've already got 30k words for; I'll call myself a winner if I reach 80k (and, hopefully, the end of the book).

Current first draft of the book is up at TextNovel. As the blurb says:

Kal is not having the best of times: his friends have deserted him; the city around him has changed; and the man whose head he lives in knows he is there. And now he has to save the world - though working out what's threatening the world is proving to be a problem too ...

Also included: dragons, psychic vampires, gay zombies, godlike monsters and very annoying old women.

Daily drafts will also be posted here under the RBS and SpinTrap tags. Good writing is not guaranteed.

Carpe diem, etc!