Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Don't Know; I Wasn't There

Wrote a pantun or pantoum for the class last night. There's no non-technical way of describing what a pantun is, so if you're not interested, skip to the poem below.

It is made up of quatrains, four line verses, and each verse has a rhyme scheme abab; in other words the first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth line rhyme. Then it gets a bit complex. The second and fourth line become the first and third line of the next verse. Then we repeat this for each verse following. So that every line appears twice, the first and third lines from the original first verse make an appearance in the last verse; as the last and second lines, respectively. I demonstrate below.

The assignment: Write a pantun (or pantoum) of 16 lines - on any topic.

I don’t know, I wasn’t there

I don’t know, I wasn’t there
They say it rained a lot that night
The boys went swimming on a dare
They’d heard mermaids don’t like to bite

They say it rained a lot that night
Chances to swim are pretty rare
They’d heard mermaids don’t like to bite
The moonlight shone across their hair

Chances to swim are pretty rare
They splashed and laughed in delight
The moonlight shone across their hair
They disappeared from human sight

They splashed and laughed in delight
They boys went swimming on a dare
They disappeared from human sight
I don’t know, I wasn’t there

In my opinion, and also at least one of the other students, the line you use for the twist is the last line of the third verse - "They disappeared from human sight". This and the first/last line are the ones you need to build the poem around.

Mermaid's bite and disappeared from human sight got the slightly disturbed reaction I was hoping for. The folktale/urban legend vibe was also picked up. The details convinced one of the class that the narrator was there; the contradictions (rain AND moonlight?) convinced another they weren't. My answer was the predictable one.

Two week break then I'm back with a sonnet. Did you want an assignment? You did? Find another pantun, or pantoum and read it!  Available from most internet search engines.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stan, Unsmiling Girls and the Death of Jane Austen

So, the assignment for the Creative Writing class due 23/01/12 and workshopped 23/01/12 was as follows:
"Write one of each poetic form (limerick, clerihew and acrostic) to share with the group."

So here's the limerick:

There was a young fellow named Stan
Who drove around in a really old van
He fixed it with card
And sometimes with lard
Anything as long as it ran
This is, of course, based on a true story. Except the bit about the lard. The group were amused by it's absurdity. I don't plan on writing any more about Stan for the group. On to the clerihew:

She didn’t smile

The girl selling bread
Looks more than half dead
As it transpires
She’s an immortal vampire
This did cause an argument. I liked immortal. Most of the others thought it was unnecessary and spoiled the rhythm. I thought it needed a word of some sort in there. Any thoughts?

So finally the acrostic:

Jane Austen’s Death

Turns out CSI 1817,
Undeveloped as the methods of the
Bow Street Runners were, didn’t
Even look at her body. Her death
Remains a minor mystery.
Consumption. A catch-all for
Unnumbered wasting diseases that effect the
Lungs. Addison’s disease, then undefined,
Or cancer, killer then as killer now.
Some more lurid theories appear
In time to promote books about her.

So, in conclusion, no one knows.
The inspiration for this is that the last note I made at the class when we were set this assignment was WHAT DID JANE AUSTEN DIE OF? (Caps in the original). I should really have made the acrostic "Tuberculer complications arising from Addison's disease (probably)" which would have given me space for the call to action to dig up her grave in Winchester Cathedral, make away with her body and do some forensic anthropology on it. It would have been kind of long though. Noted were the isolation of Consumption, and also the last line and my bold lack of rhyme or meter. Bold is my word. Isolating words, phrases and lines in my poems seems to be a thing with me. Oh yes.

So anyway, I'm feeling pretty poemed up, back in the swing of it. This week we do a pantun (or pantoum as Stephen Fry calls it) then week after a sonnet.

Do you want an assignment? You do? Your assignment is to write a limerick! Or a poem about Stan. Or even a limerick about Stan, although then you're getting in the ring with my one above and that's not going to be a first round knock out, I can tell you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


My poem from the homework due Monday 16th, workshopped on Monday 23rd. The assignment was "Think of a famous person, event, story or character and write about it in no more than 10 lines. It's up to you what form - and it can be free verse with no real rules or stipulations. You can partially or fully rhyme your offering - or not at all. This is just about having fun and experimenting with poetry and being 'intertextual.'"


Calved in the far North. My icy frozen
Mother left far behind. I drift southward
With brothers and sisters by the dozen.
Something unnatural, man-made, can be heard
Above the sound of North Atlantic swell.
The mechanical noise gives me unease,
A feeling that not everything is well.
A ship, a giant, Titan of the seas
Sailing careless out of the April night.
I won't miss this steel vessel of light.
So I'm being intertextual with the sinking of the Titanic. Noted were: the isolation of the word "man-made" in the middle of the line; the almost repetition of "a ship, a giant"; all the 's' sounds in the last line. All these were good. It was noted that the title (which I was unsure of) followed by calving made the iceberg seem alive; the last line made it seem malevolent.

All in all, I'm pleased with this. I'm doing a bit of my seeing the world from the villain thing (and to be fair, the Titanic is under power, the 'berg at the mercy of the wind and currents; no one sets out to be a villain in their own eyes.) It doesn't show up with the formatting blogger is giving me, but it was suggested that if you turn it on it's side, it looks almost like the shape of an iceberg, but the space between lines is less on here and if I start fiddling with the look here I'll be up all night.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Poems With Class

So we overran and my homework poem didn't get workshopped so I'm not putting it up here. Back, back Willcox poetry fans, calm it down! Hanging my tutor in effigy won't get it up any quicker.

To tide you over, here's the stuff I wrote in class.

Assignment: in five minutes write a limerick, clerihew or acrostic, preferably one that might appeal to children.

Some of the kids on the bus
Were making a bit of a fuss
A girl lost her coat
Or maybe a goat
I'd kind of lost interest at last

As everyone in the entire world can see the last line doesn't work. The turn to nonsense in the fourth line is pretty good though.

Second Assignment: in five minutes write something based on the theme of Blue Monday[1], possibly using some of the forms above

So I go for an acrostic just because I can

Black outside
Light has gone
Under the sky
Everything's wrong

Morning's ended
Outside's dark
Nothing can be seen
Daylight's grey
A whole week to go
Yesterday's over
I'm channelling my inner 17 year old pretty full on there. As I noted the second time I read it, the start is pretty well polished, but it falls apart at the end as I was pushed for time and that makes it better. So look, the constraints improve the work. There's my personal lesson for the day.

Here's your assignment for the day: read poems out loud, preferably to an audience. If you don't want to read mine, (and, after all, who does?) then find some better ones by someone else. You're on the internet, find some goddamn poetry. That is all.

[1] Because this Monday is one of the several which is supposedly one of the most depressing in the year. Inevitably though I had this running in my head while writing (and I was the only one "How do I feel?" began another person's poem:

This then lead to me having this in my head for some of the rest of the class:

You can of course find my previous thoughts on At the Indie Disco here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Read Books: Rivers of London

Yesterday I finished Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Let me save you some time. Rather than read this review you should a. buy this book, and b. read it.

For those of you still here, please note that I have no compunction in wasting your time. So, onwards.

1. The definition of the genre Urban Fantasy is hotly debated. So when I say that this is urban fantasy, it is also a. set in a city; b has fantastical magical elements; and c. contemporary. In addition it is d. a crime thriller of e. the police procedural type[1].

2. The supernatural detective novels I have read of recent times seem to be of the gritty noir type. Harry Dresden often seems to be the 21st century magical descendant of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett protagonist. More interesting to me are the Felix Castor novels of Mike Carey, which are set in London[2] and are informed by the British crime tradition and, most obviously, by Carey's run on Hellblazer. However one thing that these have in common is that they are very depressing; bad people do bad things and our protagonist has to lie to and betray his friends[3] and put the closest thing to innocents this bad old city has in harms way in order to get the bad guy. It's The Big Sleep with Vampires!

3. Rivers of London is not so depressing; in fact it is exhilarating. Our hero, Peter Grant, is a copper, a member of the Metropolitan Police Service. Having completed his two years probation he doesn't quite have the aptitude to be a theif-taker and is being considered for the department that deals with the paperwork. However, while guarding a murder scene, he is approached by a witness who turns out to be a ghost, and ends up instead in the loose network of those who keep the Queen's Peace amongst the supernatural. As might be expected in a city getting on for two thousand years old, there are a lot of spirits and so forth connected to various places and things. A significant sub-plot involves the titular rivers; the spirits that embody them and a dispute among them. For most of the story Grant finds the magical world aggravating; his A-level science makes him want to look for explanations, and his police training means that most of the time he comes across problems. In the climax however, he discovers/realises that he can make them work for him. If I point out that he begins the final chase from the former site of Bow Street Magistrates Court it comes as no surprise that two hundred and fifty years of policing supports him.

4. The novel mixes actual London[4] with historical, folklore and legendary London in a way I find very appealing. It's similar to the way I see places I know about; I might point out the tiles (indicative of the era of the building) and then tell a story about how the river behind is where Canute beached his ships on his way to Denmark, then go on to explain that he was descended from the god Odin, and tie it all together with a neat bow.

The villain is telegraphed from the first, but is not obvious until the clues pile up and, as becomes clear, is a version of a spirit of London we've seen many times. I will think twice before using the phrase "knock his block off," again.

5. As I've said, it's funny and lighthearted. Yet despite that I can't help noticing that several of Grant's friends are hospitalised in the novel and he sends one away (as part of a deal in order to keep the Queen's Peace). It's almost noirish in it's ending!

Read This: If you are a human being with a fair understanding of English.
Don't Read This: If you don't like police procedurals, London or fantasy. But if so why are you reading this?
Also: The author wrote Dr Who episodes in the late 80s.

[1] a. and b. are the minimum requirements, but currently marketed urban fantasy often imply c. and sometimes d.
[2] The only city I've ever lived in. I also have a love-hate relationship with both the city and fictional versions of it. Maybe more blogposts to waste your time on that? We'll see.
[3] Who then tell him to clear off in the sequels, but always come through in the end. I don't know if they are loyal ("he was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it") or very stupid, or maybe both. Both probably, and the knowledge that if you don't back him this time, the bad guy will get away and the hero, who is at least half a step better, will die and you'll be sad as you sit alone in the underground bar drinking neat whiskey.
[4] I've walked down many of the streets that Aaronovitch describes and didn't catch him in a mistake or alteration for the sake of the plot. It's also clear to me that he's walked and driven down them many times in different seasons and at different times of day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Read Books: The Book of Five Rings

1. The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) was written in 1645 in South Western Japan by Miyatomo Musashi. I have a 2003 edition translated by Ashikaga Yoshiharu and Rosemary Brant, published by Astrolog publishing house.

2. There have been many extraordinary claims made for the book, beginning with the author's claims in the text, and continuing throughout it's history, culminating with the cover blurb saying that the book is "the cornerstone of Japanese culture". However what we should always bear in mind is that the book is essentially a swordfighting manual.

3. It is a tremendously influential swordfighting manual. Musashi had quite a reputation as a samurai, which means that, amongst other things, he had killed lots of people. His book makes clear that his system is a philosophy and a way of life, although the aim, is always is to cut your enemy. It has a reputation as a very good swordfighting manual[1].

4. A swordfighting manual is only useful if you put it into practice. Musashi is aware of this. He peppers the text with instructions to study, or practice or understand things. He often says that it is difficult to explain what he means, and understanding must come from using what he says. This has given the book a reputation for esoteric, or hidden wisdom. I don't know for sure, but I have a strong suspicion that much becomes clear if you pick up a sword and practice with it.

5. So what do we have? Some discussion of weapons, uses, stance and movement. Suggestions that there is no one good weapon, stance etc. as all depends on circumstances. Some criticisms of other schools of swordfighting. Some talk about using spirit and mind and practice and professionalism to cut men down. And hidden amongst it some interesting ideas about how all this fits together into a way of life, which is then cleverly undercut in the final, shortest book, the Book of Void.

6. The book, it seems, was based on Musashi's own teachings to his students. It seems that he intended to pass this only to his successors, but somewhere along the way copies were made and it became widely distributed.

7. Despite it's ambiguous and esoteric language, the book is actually pretty straightforward, no-nonsense and short. I can't say how useful it is as a swordfighting manual, but as an insight into samurai thought and practice it is very interesting.

Read This: If you are interested in swordfighting, samurai or Japan, or just want a short flavourful insight into the mind of a man in a now gone culture.
Don't Read This: If you get frustrated by by instructions that you can't follow, descriptions that make no sense or have no interest in Japan etc.
Also: A free online translation can be found here.

[1] As someone who does not use a sword any more and was never more than a novice I am unwilling to state how useful it is for reasons explained in paragraph 4.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dream Diary 22

Dreamt last night that Wil Wheaton and Kate Bush[1] were flirting with each other in my garden. This was particularly annoying as they were supposed to be acting in a supernatural drama but the angel suit[2] wouldn't come out of it's box properly. Time was getting on and we still had to shoot a scene in the tunnels under the city where Justin had opened a portal to somewhere to allow the spirits of the dead to escape the afterlife[3].

[1] Wheaton looked much as he does now, but Kate looked probably circa Hounds of Love.
[2] It was a green and cream armoured suit of some sort.
[3] Think my unconscious mind may have stolen this from intended this as an homage to Philip Pullman.

New Year, New Post

In case anyone is reading this, two friends have websites that I have failed to plug. Firstly, Bertrand has Signs and Portents in which he puts up predictions etc. of the coming apocalypse. It's a quiet at the moment, but will undoubtedly pick up as people with even less knowledge of Mayan culture, Nostradamus and/or the Earth's magnetic field than me get over excited towards the end of the year. This then is your resource for all things eschatological.

Secondly, Dr Terror (although I know him as just plain Terror as that's what we called him when we were at school together) has begun reviewing 80s horror films at Dead Teenagers. I am merely a dabbler when it comes to horror films; in fact I have a slightly strange relationship with them. Every 2-3 months I get the urge to watch one, or sometimes two or three and then I realise I've had enough and go away again. This is unlike how I watch action films; explosions, car chases and witty half-liners hardly ever get old. So don't listen to me about horror movies, listen to Dr Terror.

If anyone has anything they think I should be reading let me know and I will be happy to advertise it to my single digit audience.