Saturday, 31 July 2010

Bronga, Bronga, Bronga!

This week's amusing and absorbing task for the Poetry Bus(set by Have genes will travel was to create a poem out of those odd-ball Word Verification words familiar to regular internet users. I came up with a couple. This is the first:

 And this is, well, the second. (In case you're not sure, you read it from left to right). Not for the first time, one of my efforts reminds me of the dreaded Vogon poetry:

Friday, 30 July 2010

On Reading a Post by Dick Jones

Reading a post on Dick Jones' Patteran Pages today has got me hitting the "new post" button. As Dick says: "maybe a little off-the-cuff blethery might help to kick-start a dormant blog". Thought I'd give it a try myself...

The last few weeks have been made of notes, not words. I've just joined a band, Trio Gitan. Our starting point is gypsy jazz (think Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt), but our interests are wider than that and the result is a lot of gypsy-influenced music-making which is very exciting for us and, hopefully, the people who listen to us. We've spent several days playing together intensively, working hard and playing hard. We're lucky in that the place we rehearse is out-of-town and right by the River Swale so, when we've had enough, we can pile out onto the river bank and admire the view. It's so good it's as if we've got iron underpants on and the chairs we have arranged on the riverbank have magnets in their seats. Getting up is an effort - but the playing has been so much fun that it's not been as hard as it might have been. I've not enjoyed myself as much creatively for ages. We haven't recorded any tracks yet to put on the net -although we will, soon- but we have got several gigs lined up, including one on Tuesday August 10th at the Hartlepool Tall Ships Race. (Details are on the Trio Gitan blog, along with a write up of our last gig).

I've been reading too, recently. I've forced myself, just as a way to unwind. I reread Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. I finished it the other day. This account of the Second World War and the bombing of Dresden as seen by the time-travelling captured American Billy Pilgrim is one of the best tragicomic reads I've ever read. If one wants to choose an excerpt to quote, one is spoilt for choice:

The Americans halted. They stood there quietly in the cold. The sheds they were among were outwardly like thousands of other sheds they had passed. There was this difference, though: the sheds had tin chimneys, and out of the chimneys whirled constellations of sparks.
A guard knocked on a door.
The door was flung open from inside. Light leaped out through the door, escaped from prison at 186,000 miles per second. Out marched fifty middle-aged Englishmen. They were singing "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here" from the Pirates of Penzance.
These lusty, ruddy vocalists were among the first English-speaking prisoners to be taken in the Second World War. Now they were singing to nearly the last. They had not seen a woman or a child for four years or more. They hadn't seen any birds, either. Not even sparrows would come into the camp.
The Englishmen were officers. Each of them had attempted to escape from another prison at least once. Now they were here, dead-center in a sea of dying Russians.
The Englishmen were clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong. They sang boomingly well. They had been singing together every night for years.
The Englishmen had also been lifting weights and chinning themselves for years. Their bellies were like washboards. The muscles of their calves and upper arms were like cannonballs. They were all masters of checkers and chess and bridge and cribbage and dominoes and anagrams and charades and Ping-Pong and billiards, as well.
They were among the wealthiest people in Europe, in terms of food. A clerical error early in the war, when food was still getting through to prisoners, had caused the Red Cross to ship them five hundred parcels every month instead of fifty. The Englishmen had hoarded these so cunningly that now, as the war was ending, they had three tons of sugar, one ton of coffee, eleven hundred pounds of chocolate, seven hundred pounds of tobacco, seventeen hundred pounds of tea, two tons of flour, one ton of canned beef, twelve hundred pounds of canned butter, sixteen hundred pounds of canned cheese, eight hundred pounds of powdered milk., and two tons of orange marmalade.
They kept all this in a room without windows. They had ratproofed it by lining it with flattened tin cans.
They were adored by the Germans, who thought they were exactly what the Englishmen ought to be. They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Regular readers will know I'm a bit of a Vonnegut fan: I posted about another of his books, Cat's Cradle, a while ago. As for Slaughterhouse-Five, I passed the book on to my daughter, Amy, who had been dying to read it since her brother had read it and passed it on to his other sister, who had passed it on to me. I was left wondering what to read next.

Then, lo and behold, I walked into a charity shop today and the first book I saw was The Andy Warhol Diaries, edited by Pat Hackett. I've been wanting to read it for years, but had never come across it since I first briefly glimpsed it. I've got Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries waiting to be read, too. That's plenty to keep me busy enjoying myself. The two books have three things in common: they're both diaries, both by men who were shot (although Warhol survived) and both have very humane, moving introductions by people to whom they were very important. More later, probably, what with all the reading and playing I've got to do; and then there's watering the pumpkins and the tomatoes and goodness knows what else to do as well...

Monday, 19 July 2010

An American Sentence

No, not 20 years in St Quentin, but a poem for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by Argent. The term "American Sentence" was coined by Allen Ginsberg to describe a variation on the haiku. It consists of a single line of 17 syllables. This is it:

Love Story

So this is the tunnel of love, I said. No, sucker, it's the ghost train.

Since one American Sentence seems a bit of a measly contribution, here's another one - albeit a bit off-topic. OK, completely off-topic:

Self-loathing infects the eye: ant hills amaze us, cities appal us.


Spent today in Newcastle - my daughter, Emily, had spent Saturday with us, so I drove up to take her home and, wanting to kill two birds with one stone, visit the Baltic art gallery.

I've not been to the Baltic for a while, but I've been itching to ever since I saw that an exhibition of John Cage's work was on there. I hadn't read the information on the exhibition very closely and so it was really great to discover that a realisation of Cage's audio-visual work, HPSCHD, was being continually played in one of the rooms. It's difficult to describe it. All I can say is that I could have stayed in that room all day. Me and HPSCHD go back a long way. I remember it being played at the Proms in the 70s and lying awake in bed as a teenager, in the dark, listening to it on the radio. HPSCHD is written for upto seven harpsichords, upto 52 tapes of computer generated sound, upto 64 slide projectors and upto 40 motion films. The audience is free to wander in and out of what you can imagine is an astonishing enviroment. The version being realised at the Baltic relies on recorded sound and is scaled down somewhat, but it still comes across as an the engaging piece it undoubtedly is. (HPSCHD, by the way, is pronounced "Harpsichord").

The bulk of Cage's music was composed using chance techniques - most famously, using the I Ching to determine pitches, durations, and so on. One thing I find really interesting about his pieces is that they somehow manage to sound like music by John Cage. There is the ghost of a detectable style about his music. I find his use of chance liberating: you're free to enjoy what is happening at any given moment simply for what it is. There's no agenda. It doesn't begin and end - it starts and stops. It doesn't develop - it simply changes, or not, as the case may be.

There are several other exhibitions on as well as the Cage. There's a room full of art inspired by John Cage, which includes an installation by the local artist Richard Rigg. Two bells are sealed in two seperate glass jars. A machine varies the air pressure in the jars. Sometimes the bells are suspended in a vacuum, at other times they're suspended in air. A mechanism in each jar periodically causes a hammer to strike the bell. Sometimes the bells are struck silently as there is no air in the jar to carry the sound waves, while at other times there is air and the bells can be heard. Cage, I think would have thought it was wonderful.

In another part of the gallery, Tomas Saraceno has created what I thought was a fantastic installation which was not only based on spider webs and astrophysics, but which looks as if it was (the link includes a picture)! As well as the obvious resemblance to a spider's web, the work also reminded me of models I've seen of the known universe which chart the layout of clouds of galaxies. It touches the unsayable.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

One Day it'll all be Different... a concrete poem (probably the right term for it) I wrote a while ago. I recently made a short video of another poem, Helium, which spurred me on to make a short video based on this one...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Poetry Bus Passenger List

Lot's of contributions to check out below, but there's still plently of room, so feel free to hop aboard if you want (see previous post). And if you're already onboard and I've missed you off, many apologies: let me know in the comments below and I'll add you as soon as possible.

First in was Titus. Her poems really rock. Arriving on Wednesday (is this a record?), she had the bus stop to herself for a while - a case of Titus Alone perhaps. (Groan! Do people still read those books?)

TFE came in a close second: short lines about long lines.

Next in the queue came  Poetikat doing things with avocadoes. She also managed to pinpoint exactly where I used to live: Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, London.

The Bug has achieved the impossible.

The personal is political. Check out Gwei Mui.

Ragged Old Blogger's putting her best foot forward.

Poet in Residence is hitting us with his swizzle stick!

Rachel Fox is up a tree.

Check out The Weaver of Grass' reflection on life.

Take a romantic trip to the seaside with Dave King.

And then there's Helen with a subtle liguistic difference between the US and the UK I'd never heard of before.

After which you can crawl under the table with Niamh...

...Or have a cup of tea with Argent.

Jinksy's running for the stop with a haiku.

The Stammering Poet has been examining the state of [obvious innuendo deleted: we like Peter's poems and would hate to offend him Ed.]. He'll also tell you what a jabalani is, if you don't know already.

Then there's Domestic Oubliette. To paraphrase Tony Hancock: "A haiku? That's almost an armful!"

Pure Fiction got to work on an egg.

More walking talking poems from Science Girl.

Enchanted Oak's found inspiration in her "muddy chai latte".

Chiccoreal is developing the banana theme. A banana is a banana is a banana as Gertrude Stein might have said (perhaps she did)...

And don't forget to check out Jean Iris' nutty haiku.

Keeping Secrets is, well, Keeping Secrets. What does it say?

Explore the poetry of pigtails at NotMaudeGonne.

Find your hash key with The King of the Camels.

Carrier bag conumdrums over at Suave Mind.

It's bottoms up over at Fridge Soup.

A cry for help from Rinkly Rimes.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Poetry Bus Challenge!

Keats famously wrote an Ode on a Grecian Urn. Vandal. These days he wouldn't get away with it. I used to live just round the corner -well, about five corners, I think, to be pedantic- from his house, but that's another story. Anyway, to keep to the point. This week's challenge is to write a poem on something. Literally. Here, by way of an example, is my contribution, Ode on a Banana:

And here's another one, which I made earlier. Well, quite a lot earlier, like 12 years. It's called Banana Haiku for Cait Collins. This is a copy. I ate the original:

And I used to live up the road from Freud. Now there's a coincidence. (Readers may have spotted a second challenge here: which street in which city did I used to live in? Employees, relatives and anyone else who knows the answer already are not permitted to enter!)

So, to reiterate: the Poetry Bus Challenge this week is to write a poem on something, literally. Scan or photograph the result and post it. If those options are not available to you, you can simply post the poem and tell us what it's on, but if you can scan/photograph it, please do!

And, of course, when you've finished, please leave a link to your contribution in the comments below and I'll post a list.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Ave Atque Vale

The Poetry Bus this week has been driven by The Weaver of Grass...

Ave Atque Vale

after Catullus

I've travelled half way round the world
with this last gift, a gift of words.

Your ashes are lost for a reply:
Fate has stolen you away from me.

O brother, who suffered this indignity,
receive (it was our parent's way:
no other way will do)
this gift, sad offering to the dead,
soaked in my tears. For all eternity,
my brother: Hail and Adieu.

After Catullus: not a literal translation of, but quite close to. I've provided the original below. Even if -like me- you don't do Latin, it sounds so sad when you've read an English version and grasp the broad sweep of its meaning: