NaPoWriMo 13: Windowless Walls

Bagel Nash, which was once the News Theatre, by Leeds Station

Bagel Nash, which was once the News Theatre, by Leeds Station

 

I continue to run at a poetical-deficit, but will catch up soon (12 and 14 to follow today)…

Here’s my poem based on going for a walk: on Sunday, I went on a walking tour of some of the forgotten/disused cinemas around Leeds city centre – which is part of the celebration of 100 years of Hyde Park Picture House – and was organised by these fine folk (Conway and Young). I put up some more pictures of this walk yesterday

So I wrote this piece from jottings and thoughts while looking around these forgotten cinemas:

 

Windowless Walls

or, Cut (A Tour of Cinemas Past in Leeds)

 

At the News Theatre (where the only

fresh news is today’s bagels), we cut

open bags of popcorn and sniff

it like posies – warding something off –

and say how its aroma

is better than its taste.

 

Lyric, Lyceum, Olympia: we cut

a queue of ancient voices

through gusts of decades. Cinema

at the centre of the block-

buster’s vortex. The jump-

cuts in the waveforms of lives.

 

The Merrion Centre’s lights

and mirrors hold prisoner

a 1970s Odeon: the orange-brown

Autumnal kernel of

future past.

 

On a windowless wall, words over words

(of what was The Tower) meekly whisper how

there is Always a Good Programme. A frame

half-covering it booms Demand Everything! Now!

listing superstar DJ-names and Gatecrasher-choons.

 

3-D digi-HD smell-o-feel-o-vision gimmickry,

in this most flammable and malleable of media:

memory. Bricks begin to flicker.

 

Dust in the lens, my eyes

water: a strong wind, cut

full of particulate matter.

We, the City’s Editors –

its planners and punters –

razor-blades poised to cut

between CGI-progress

and/or

celluloid-preservation.

Look Up: Primark was once a cinema, too.

Look Up: Primark was once a cinema, too.

 

NaPoWriMo 10: Un-love Poem for Call-Centre Conversations

The battery-farming of conversation, in the form of a call centre.

Day 10’s prompt was to write a poem of un-love; not a malediction, so much, but just a poem of ennui (that’s how I read it) about someone, or something.

It so happens that I spent quite a bit of time doing a transfer from one credit card to another today, as well as spending some time on the phone to a large mobile phone company. While the people I spoke to were perfectly polite and proficient, there is something really jarring about that stop-start scripted version of a conversation you have to have with them. Generally, I like people and enjoy meeting new humans; finding out how surprising and unusual people can be. But there’s no sponaneity when you have to speak to  (some, not all) call centres or worse, there’s very little humanity about those types of interaction.

You’re both becoming a part of a process, elements in a mechanised version of a conversation, with niceties wedged in here and there as WD-40 (that’s a type of lubricating oil for machines, non-British readers!) to make it seem less robotic…I should know, I’ve worked in call centres myself – although I don’t think it was ever going to be a long-term prospect (I tended to deviate from the script too much).

(By the way, I called it ‘Going Forward’ as one chap I spoke to said it about ten times – it’s a real politician’s phrase that, ‘Going Forward’ – as opposed to what? Going back in time? Or does it mean ‘Moving forward’, progressing, in some way? It means, I fear, very little.)

So here’s a poem about it:

 

Going Forward

or, Transference

 

** Our staff are currently both

at present engaged in

dealing with the customer

enquiries of other clients **

 

Can I just confirm your name, Mr Parkin,

Sir, Mr Parking, sir, yes, of yourself, sir?

And the 16-digit number, sir, the 3-digit figure

tattoed on your face and the date

your number is up? Going forward, Mr Parken, sir,

we just wanted to ask, before the transfer

some questions about your circumstances, if we may,

if I may, on behalf of ourselves, to yourself?

 

We’d like, Mr Perkin, to discuss

the finer points and repercuss-

ions of your over-

spending, Mr Parkan,

sir,

we’d like it if we

could just go over

a few things,

for yourself,

from ourselves,

to perform the script

tautologically,

repeatedly, with

zero per cent

interest,

to say nothing

for fifty years,

to  itemise the

Terms and

Conditioning.

NaPoWriMo 7: The Pies of Awareness

The Pies of Awareness may or may not come from Gregg’s (who feature, by the way, as a Classical Allusion in another poem of mine by a pigeon)

Quickfire blog entries!

The prompt for NaPoWriMo Day 7 was to write a poem consisting solely of a series of declarative statements, with one question at the end.

So, based on some conversations I’ve had recently, here it is – the explanation is kind of involved, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

(By the way, days 8 and 9 – the eight-line verse form and the noir-inspired poem – will both be coming tomorrow! But  recently wrote a piece – Little Shadows – which uses a noir-inspired image to explore how bees see…So that can keep you going for now!)

You can listen to me reading The Pies of Awareness on SoundCloud, too, which may (or may not) add something to it:

 

The Pies of Awareness

or, I Don’t Know Anything

 

This is my shop and these are my pies.

Each has a price and some have a filling.

Don’t ask me what’s in them; I’ll tell you no lies.

Some cost a fortune and some cost a shilling.

 

This is my shop and these are my pies.

Many are deadly, but they all look the same:

Be advised that most are just space in disguise.

Enjoy it: the guessing is part of the game.

 

This is my shop and this is your pie.

I’ve taken the time to bake death in the crust.

You can’t have a receipt. You can’t leave in disgust.

For 20p I’ll heat it up, if you’re sure you’d like to try?

NaPoWriMo 3: A Sea Shanty for Failed Urban Development

Prompt no. 3 of NaPoWriMo was to write a sea shanty. This pleased me greatly as I’m a part of (when I can make it!) the Ocean Loiners – a sea shanty singing group in Leeds (hence the name: Leeds folk are known as ‘Loiners’)…

Here’s a video of us belting out ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’ at the Theatre By the Lake in Bradford in October last year. (I am the lanky one in the blue t-shirt in case you’re wondering!)

I’ve turned my attention to the place where I live as the subject for my shanty – as I live on a floating home (a narrowboat), so shanties feel like (spuriously) part of my sailor heritage. This is a song about how places like the one on which I live don’t always pan out as hoped for! Technically, I suppose this should be an Inland Waterway Shanty…

And, as an experiment, I made up an extremely derivative tune and then SANG it, into my phone via SoundCloud – shanties are meant to be sung! Hopefully you can listen to the whole thing above and not be turned deaf / mad / made to unsubscribe from the blog in disgust…

So you can sing along, if you like:

 

A Sea Shanty for Failed Urban Development

 

In the Early Noughties, ‘pon the booming swell,

It was BUY BUY BUY, it was SELL SELL SELL:

So they built above the water of Clarence Dock

Luxury apartments and fancy shops.

 

(CHORUS)

Oh the Dock, she be in a right old mess,

With her Pizza Express and her Tesco Express

And her – yes – her Holiday-Inn Express:

They’re the only things fast enough to float,

Except for curry houses and narrow boats.

 

And they built a special section with its own jetty

Where the fancy floating restaurants would be:

Now the only thing a-moored around the butts of fags

Are the blue-striped plastic carrier bags.

 

Sometimes in the night you can hear the hullaballoo

Of some merry-making drunks (who are only passing through).

But the only voices bouncing off the moored ships’ hulls

Are the quacking ducks’ and the screeching gulls’.

 

Now in an empty window of an old high-fashion store

There’s a hopeful artist’s image of what could have come before.

And like the ocean’s waves, there’s one thing that you can trust:

Is that after there’s a boom, there will always be a bust.

 

 

Can You Take a Moment to Rate This Whale? or, The Appening

A Whale App? But not one like the one in my poem-story, I hope.

It appears I’m once again interested in all things animal (as opposed to all things Cosmic) right now – so, from Tyrransauridae last week, to Cetacea this.

Last week, I read a story about the Boston Port Authorities encouraging ships’ captains to use an iPad app which locates the likely positions of whales off the coast and then enables them to chart a slightly different course – thus avoiding the whales. It sounds like a very successful and important initiative -and a great use of the technology. We’ve been making the seas increasingly-noisy for our Baleen cousins which – so research suggests – is making life very hard for them down there. Not only that, but sometimes ships (as per the horrible image on the news story above) even strike whales – causing them injuries and possibly death.

In fact, it’s not my first piece of writing about whales – there’s another piece I wrote, called Whale Fall, which you can read by clicking here on the site for Heads and Tales (a storytelling group with whom I was involved in Bristol). The image of ‘whale fall’ – when a whale dies and sinks to the bottom, creating a ‘feeding frenzy’ as its nutrients and body dissipate amongst the bottom-feeders of the abyss – is at the centre of the story.

But save that for later, until you’ve read today’s poem-story about – well, decide for yourself. Certainly, the idea stemmed from this feeling of intrusion (an Intrusion is the collective noun for cockroaches, by the way – about which there’s a poem-post here). What would it be like if there was something we were drawn to, but which hurt us? (Such things are plentiful, actually). And which kept filling our space until we couldn’t avoid it any more?  I think that was what my subconscious was getting at – how the whales must be with Sonar signals – but I really can’t speak on its behalf, or on whales’ behalf.

And, as someone quoted to me – and I don’t know who said it, or something like it, so this may be a misquote: “Structure the things that come to you”. So that’s what I’ve done. The chance to fuse the ever-more-pervasive app-culture and this news story in s lightly sci-fi way was too tempting . The intersection between nature and technology is of great interest to me: what is ‘natural’, what is ‘technological’, are they always and forever anathema?

The results, I admit, are…odd and perhaps unsettling. But imagine how the whales feel.

 

Can You Spare a Moment to Rate This Whale? or,

The Appening

 

It was not even a noise, to begin with:

hovering somewhere between

sound and sensation. Not quite

synaesthetic – more like a key

which accessed new depths formerly

inhuman, imperceptible.

 

That was at around

10,000+ downloads, but

with each it became

more abyssal.

 

Your lowest vertebra would chime,

softly, sending the feeling through

the tissues joining the spine

to the ribs, oscillating up the neck and

the inner-ear’s instruments –

boiling like a fumarole –

clanged.

 

At around

500,000+ downloads

you could not tell whether the object

you were looking at was itself shaking

or if the optic nerve was being played

as a myelin harp in your head.

 

By that point, on the large screens in cavernous

departure halls, edited-in

between rolling news, the image of a winning

Humpback would flash up, having supplanted

last week’s five-star Narwhal.

 

Then, the merchandise, mimicking

the rounded-off baleen icon: children

wore woolly-hat Rights (attesting

their allegiance to a species) with

a broad hair-toothed grin

on their foreheads, and fleecy-fins,

flopping down, at once

scarf and mittens.

 

But as the number became ever larger,

100,000,000+ downloads,

words began to be missed, then sentences.

Records were broken and now

graphs and arrows struggled

to find space on the screens

between fast-cut images

of flippers, flukes and spouts.

 

On one occasion, a dolphin was slipped in

to the slide-show – a test, perhaps – but

the tabloid headlines and message-boards

turned the air blue

as the Atlantic once was.

 

At some point, the written reviews

stopped – when download figures exceeded

the screen’s capabilities – and there were only

five-star ratings. The app store, mute,

silently swam in icons

of cetaceans.

 

And then the first trip to A&E,

the first fatality. But still the stars,

still the sensation.

The Angry Birds

Part of an excellent comic strip on cat killers from: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill – go on their website and buy their stuff!  (There – hopefully now he won’t mind my borrowing the picture and linking to the site…)

 

Last week, I read this story about just how many birds and other small mammals our domestic cat friends (or fiends) actually kill…And the answer is a LOT of small birds and mammals: in the USA, “between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually”. Wow.

Now I make no secret of the fact I’ve always had a patchy relationship with domestic cats, even though I had them in the family home growing up. There’s just something I don’t trust about a lot of cats. Which is not to say I don’t meet a cat sometimes I get on with – but I’m not of the mindset of a lot of cat-owners and cat-lovers who see them as these charmingly-aloof and ever-so-‘sassy’ little characters. To me, they usually seem just plain rude-aloof and scheming, not sassy. Not all cats. But yes, for me – most cats. It’s not personal, cats – it’s general.

I realise I’ll probably get ‘trolled’ for expressing my ambivalence about cats, but so be it. I’m a dog person. There we are. (And yes, I know dogs have been used to hunt for millennia.) So perhaps this story played into my feeling that cats are up to something – which is mostly irrational on my part (see dog comment). But it’s not irrational to be concerned about the amount of wildlife they’re killing.

As is my first-person fashion, I wrote a piece from the birds’ perspective. And, being as it’s something of a cultural phenomenon (have you seen the amount of kids wearing Angry Birds hats?), the title references a popular app-game – adding a definite article to avoid any pesky (c)opyright issues. Hopefully? Surely?

Poetry from apps – how postmodern. Po-app-ry. Said game seems to involve hurling bird-heads (or weirdly-spherical birds) at platforms in order to destroy them. This – call me macabre (I call myself macabre) – reminded me of those little ‘gifts’ cats seem to leave on doorsteps and hence informed some of the poem. Once, a cat of ours left a blue-tit head, facing the door, the right way up and in the centre of the doormat. Aww, a….gift?

 

The Angry Birds

 

Dusk. The swish of the tear

in the door. Silence. The sky a cage

of black-blue branches. Breathing.

 

A darkness thickens our feathers,

sticks to the points of our beaks.

We petrify. By the table of bait,

it waits. A first screech flickers

life into the street-lights. Then –

reflected on narrow green eyes –

a manicured lawn of limbs.

 

The baby ape takes in tiger cubs.

We watch you through the glass,

face alight, twiddling your thumbs.

Playing games in the night,

with our heads.

 

From up here, we look down on

the pastel television-picture within:

Kitty returns, is named, tickled under the chin;

delicately purrs at an opening tin.

 

And you, unwitting napkin,

with blood all over

your hunter’s hands.

 

 

And the news story by which the poem was inspired: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21236690