Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Only Two Days -Sorry, One Day- Left!

Every now and again I think most of us see something on TV or listen to something on the radio that we find spellbinding. It was like that for me the other week with Beautiful Minds: Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell was, in her youth, the only woman studying physics at Glasgow University. She went on, famously, to discover pulsars. She is also a Quaker. I'm neither a Quaker nor a scientist, yet the clarity of mind she seems to apply to her life and her science were quite inspiring, I thought. And the pulsars story has a nasty, pre-sexual revolution twist to it.

I had meant to write a post about it when it was first on and was reminded of the fact when I found the programme half by accident on the BBC iPlayer this morning. Sadly, it says the programme is only available for two more days. You can find it HERE. If you can possibly find the time, try to watch it. If it's not your cup of tea, turn it off. Nothing lost.

If you can't get the BBC iPlayer where you are, you'll probably be able to watch the trailer on Youtube:

The last thing I saw that I found similarly inspiring was a Youtube video of the concert pianist Mitsuko Uchida talking about playing a Piano Concerto. Just ignore the odd technical term. I don't think you have to be a musician or a fan of the composer (yes, it's Schoenberg again I'm afraid, but that's just a coincidence, honest!) to get goosepimples from Uchida's focus on and enthusiasm for what she does, any more than one needs to be a Quaker or a scientist to appreciate what Jocelyn Bell Burnell has to say.


On a completely different subject, if you read my post a few days ago, you might like to know Sinbad the cat is doing well. He had one of his front legs removed and is recuperating at home in a large cage. He has to spend most of his time there until his stitches are removed in ten days time. I suppose most people think that cruelty to animals is a terrible thing in the abstract but, like most things, it's when you experience it first hand that you realise just how terrible things are in reality. Bloody guns.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Sea

What with health and cat problems (see previous post), I didn't think I'd make it onto the Poetry Bus this week. However, I had to get up in the night to take some tablets and couldn't resist turning the computer on.

Karen took the photo on the left: there are more of her photos on her blog, Painted by the Sun. It seemed to go with the poem, somehow.


The Sea

I was lost
inside my head,
unable to find my way
to the sea.

It was all
a long time ago.
I could find
the bluest sky

I'd ever seen
and the sea anemone
in the rock pool
but that was all.

Perhaps it's because
it never stood still
long enough.

Links to more Poetry Bus poems will be posted at this week's host blog, Delusions of Adequacy.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

What a Weekend...

What a strange weekend. Well, I'm not sure strange is the right word. I got bitten by an insect on the side of my chest the other day and it turned into a huge, red swelling. I finally went to see a doctor with it on Friday night - possibly Lyme Disease, she thought. Lots of antibiotics. Today I seemed to be getting worse, not better. The rash was spreading and I was getting iller and iller: I obviously had a temperature. Finally, I collapsed in the bathroom - my legs just went wobbly and wouldn't hold me up. I crawled to bed. The doctor was called again. Possibly not Lyme Disease. Wrong antibiotics, he decided. He changed my medication and now I'm actually beginning to feel better.

If that wasn't enough, somebody shot one of our cats. Sinbad has survived, but has a badly broken leg, some shattered bone and a bullet lodged somewhere inside him. It looks like he's going to have to have his leg amputated. He's currently at the vet's on a drip. Fortunately, he's young and strong, so there's a good chance he'll get over it.

Oh well, non illegitimi te carborundum. Another Albert Giraud poem from Pierrot Lunaire. I've had to stay up a bit to get another antibiotic in before I go to bed, so I've passed the time translating this:

Pierrot the Dandy

A fantastic ray of moonlight
illuminates the crystal bottles
on the sandalwood wash-stand
of the pale dandy of Bergamo.

The fountain laughs in its bowl
with a clear, metallic sound.
A fantastic ray of moonlight
illuminates the crystal bottles.

But the master of the white face
Sets aside the red, vegetable dye
and the oriental green mascara
when he creates his strange mask
from a fantastic ray of moonlight.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

At the Zoo

I wrote this song a while ago, and have been meaning to make a Youtube video of it for ages. Below are the lyrics, for anyone who feels like singing along. (On the left is a picture of me, as drawn by TFE a while ago. I don't think I've posted it before. I was -and still am- very pleased with it! Who wouldn't be?)


Am I living the dream
or am I dreaming I'm alive?
Are you what you say
or just a shadow in my mind?
Are they real the things we're saying,
Are they real the games we're playing?
I don't know what's going on
anymore than you.

Everybody's dreaming
everybody's dreaming
everybody's dreaming at the zoo.

Last night I saw an elephant
where I ought to see a tree
and a tin of chocolate biscuits
where the dustbin used to be
and I think things should be different
but I haven't got a clue:
I don't know what's going on
anymore than you.

Everybody's dreaming
everybody's dreaming
everybody's dreaming at the zoo.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Motorway Ode

So here goes... A running jump for the platform as the driver pulls away... Made it!

More Poetry Bus poetry can be found at this week's host,Pure Fiction.

I don't usually have my Deezer playlist set to autoplay, but I have today. I have been reminding myself how much I used to like Gong - and still do. My mates at school had the albums - I didn't. I just listened to theirs in those days. Now there's loads of Gong on Deezer I've no excuse. I should listen to them more. And I decided that the opening of their Fohat Digs Hole in Space just sort of fitted with the way I felt about this poem today. Maybe not tomorrow...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Moonstruck Pierrot...

A poem Poet in Residence posted on his blog got me thinking about a piece of music I first fell in love with years ago.

In 1884, the Symbolist poet, Albert Giraud, published a cycle of poems, Pierrot Lunaire: Rondels Bergamasques. The character of Pierrot was taken from the commedia dell'arte. Traditionally, Pierrot, the sad clown, is in love with Columbine, who usually leaves him for Harlequin. In the hands of the Symbolist poets, he became psychologically detatched from reality: the "moonstruck Pierrot" of Giraud's title.

Here's a free-ish translation of one of the poems I've made from the French:

Black Butterflies

The sinister black butterflies
extinguish the sun:
the skyline resembles a book of shadows
that flows with ink each evening.

Perfume from occult censers
disturbs the memory.
The sinister black butterflies
extinguish the sun.

Monsters with sticky suction-pads
Seek out blood to drink
While, from the sky, like black dust,
the sinister black butterflies
descend on our despair.

Shortly after they were written they were translated into German -very freely, I think- by one Otto Erich Hartleben and came to the attention of the composer, Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg set a selection of the poems as a melodramatic song-cycle for voice and chamber ensemble. The result was an expressionist masterpiece. The singer has to adopt a tone half way between singing and talking. Here's Christine Schafer singing an excerpt from it - in the German translation, Black Butterflies became Night:

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

North Wales

For the last ten days we've been in North Wales. We've just got back. I thought, before turning in, I'd have a quick look at some of the photos we took. The other day I took these -which are strung together to create a panorama- outside the chapel at Llandecwyn, in the hills above Talsarnau, near Harlech. On the left, in the distance, you can almost see to the end of the Llyn Peninsula. Just "round the corner" from the visible tip of the peninsula will be Aberdaron, where RS Thomas was vicar for eleven years. As for the hills, it's impossible to describe which is which without writing on the picture. Anyone who is interested will have to try comparing it to the map - unless they know them all already. Visible -among many others- are Moel y Gest (just across the road from the Portmadog Aldi store), Moel Hebog, Snowdon,Y Lliwedd, the Glyders and Cnicht. The obvious island is Ynys Gifftan.

Unfortunately, Tryfan -probably my favourite Welsh mountain- is not visible. We passed it on the way home today, though, and took this photo of climbers climbing on the part of the mountain known as The Milestone Buttress.

We had a great time. If I go into more detail I'll end up staying up most of the night, so I'll be sensible and stop at this point!

Friday, 9 April 2010

News from Pluto

I can't get to our laptop this week, so this post has been quickly written up on a public library PC. Normal service will be resumed in a few days and then I'll be able to get round the blogs I usually read. Unfortunately, I'll probably miss the Poetry Bus this week, too. In the meantime...

Scifi Sonnet 3

News from Pluto

Something's about to happen. I'm not sure what.
I've watched for long enough and, yes, I get
Impatient, as the months slip by. And yet
This is important. In a way, I'm not.
Earth, erratic, crosses the ecliptic;
By day, the sun's scarce bigger than a star:
It makes you realise just how small we are.
Will I get home? I must be realistic.
Gravity's low. Perhaps my bones grow thin.
I jog the corridors, try to keep fit,
But face the fact (there's no escaping it)
I have become this waiting game I'm in.
One day, it'll happen, I've no doubt.
Exactly when, I don't know. I'll find out.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

An Answer

One for the Poetry Bus as driven this week by swiss. This would normally not need to be said, but in these circumstances I should stress that the question the poem answers (which is left to the readers imagination) is not the challenge itself!

An Answer

An odd question: obviously not
if you mean by it what I think you mean.

Crows calling through the morning fog.
Yesterday, walking in the rain, soaked through.

Last night I slept very little,
thinking of the wretched beasties,

honing my mental arithmetic
on the rings of Saturn,

craving a spoonful of honey.
What more can I say?

Odd? More like damnfool
the more I think about it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Studio 5, The Stars

Somewhere in what JG Ballard described as a "visionary present", poetry is no longer written by hand. Poets maintain and operate machines which produce poems and look back wryly on the days when people actually had to think up the stuff. The narrator edits a poetry magazine, Wave IX. Enter Aurora Day and her mysterious chauffeur...

"Do you mean she wrote these herself?"
I nodded. "It has been done that way. In fact the method enjoyed quite a vogue for twenty or thirty centuries. Shakespeare tried it, Milton, Keats and Shelley - it worked reasonably well for them."
"But not now," Tony said. "Not since the VT set. How can you compete with an IBM heavy-duty logomatic analogue?"
"...Hold on," I told him. I was pasting down one of Xero's satirical pastiches of Rubert Brooke and was six lines short. I handed Tony the master tape and he played it into the IBM, set the meter, rhyme scheme, verbal pairs, and then switched on, waited for the tape to chunter out of the delivery head, tore off six lines and passed them back to me. I didn't even need to read them.
For the next two hours we worked hard, at dusk had completed over 1,000 lines and broke off for a well-earned drink.

You might well have read the story. It's something of an admission, but I'm new to JG Ballard - I've been meaning to read him for years. An article we both read in The Guardian prompted one of my daughters to buy me a volume of his short stories for Christmas. I was going to write a post about it once I'd finished it, but this story, Studio 5, The Stars, so impressed me I decided to post this, now. More later, perhaps.

The story was first published in 1961. It's interesting that Ballard imagines poets using poetry making machines, rather than poetry writing programmes for generic computers. I think we're still slow on the uptake, even now, when it comes to considering how one machine can do everything (why do we still have computers and televisions?).

What sort of stuff might the "VT set" or the "IBM heavy-duty logomatic analogue" have produced? I searched the net looking for poetry programmes.Out of what I found,  Ray Kurtzweil's Cybernetic Poetry programme seemed to come closest to what Ballard describes. Unfortunately, the dowload site warns that more recent versions of Windows aren't supported: clearly, in the mundane -as opposed to the visionary- present, the idea has not caught on. There are other  programmes that might give us an idea, like Jeff Lewis and Eric Sincoff's Poetry CreatOR2. It came up with this in a fraction of a second. All I had to provide was the title:

A computer generated poem
The arguing pair mislead with a sorrowful claw
A prickly man shrieked at the sight of Jan Valdez.
Buried in the sand, a solitary nostril stuck out.
The radiant Wonder Woman was really really high up
Last for the surprising first for you
Billowing, formulating, la pomme felt like a doorknob.
Down by the babbling brook the spider imagines.
Spare me your sympathetic bauble or I shall send.

A nifty bit of programming, no doubt, but I'm reminded of those other science fictional poets, the Vogons, writers of "the third worst poetry in the universe". Aurora Day was right.