NaPoWriMo 2.12: Hilarity Crash-Lands in Japan

Or become hysterical – but do go to Japan, it’s great.

Yesterday’s word adventure was to think up a concrete noun – a word for a solid, everyday thing – and look it up online.

Then, the idea is to replace that word with an abstract noun – love, fear, sorrow – and see what emerges:  a ‘replacement poem’.

It’s a nice way of forcing an unusual perspective, a form of remote association (which poetry depends on) – wherein one has to draw together two disparate elements and seek what links them. I found the playlist poem exercise did this, too, linking song titles to a Russian constructivist tower (!).

So I got a concrete and abstract noun (from a third party, to make it interesting), looked up the concrete noun and found a news story about it, or a particular type of it…Then created a sort of deletion poem, cutting down and down until it became something else:

 

Hilarity Crash-Lands in Japan

 

It burst in

from a pit

that orbited Earth

for eight months.

Very interesting

flowers.

 

The ‘extraterrestrial’,

expected in April,

suddenly produced.

 

Form was unusual:

sent to the ISS

with astronaut

Koichi Wakata,

returned to Earth

eight months later.

 

“We are amazed

how fast it has grown,”

Masahiro Kajita,

chief priest, said.

 

Children planted the seeds,

to blossom in 10 tears*,

when children

come of age.

 

 

The original – very strange & beautiful – news story can be read here.

 

* NB this typo was in the original article, but I left it as I liked the image…

Advertisements

NaPoWriMo 2.6: Enceladus Street

image

Enceladus. Not enchiladas.

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt is to use what’s outside your window to make a list or toolbox of nouns, colours and verbs to play with in creating a poem.

It wasn’t quite happening, so I had a look through the day’s news for further inspiration and came across this story about Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons (not the popular Mexican food, although it does sound similar). Scientists have confirmed that there is likely to be a large body of water which might – a big might – contain some form of life…

So I used the word bank I generated (looking out of a cafe window earlier) and tried to apply them to a poem about Enceladus…This is a useful technique sometimes, to force new or different ways of expressing things. You can, for example, list verbs to do with a job (butchery, or athletics, or ironmongery) and then use those verbs on an entirely unrelated subject matter – so you could get ‘welding’ in a poem about food. (This is something Margret Geraghty describes in her book ‘The Five-Minute Writer’). It’s a nice way to get verbs ‘working harder’.

As ever – it’s work in progress and I have no idea if the word-transposing thing worked here, but it’s something to try eh?

And I am now up to date with my poems! And so to bed, with thoughts of space…

 

Enceladus Street

or, Piece of String Territory

 

A billioned reddened weather vanes

turn to face the galvanized grey

of its vents. The idea of blue

looms in over our sensors:

aqua-marines, royals, magentas.

 

Away from the safety-

yellow of the street-light Sun,

the indecipherable graffiti

of Earth. Our drifting CCTV

taxis, like an echo in this dark

car park, never paying

or displaying.

 

Could this be just

(half)

the ticket?

A prime location to

(almost)

make it?

NaPoWriMo 23: A Triolet for Entropy

The Universe loves things to get more disordered. (So most of us fit right in – We Are Stardust!)

I’m running on a slightly altered NaPoWriMo timetable, or flexi-time, if you will: there’s a Welcome and a Blessing brewing for Sunday, from earlier prompts. But as I’ve slightly stumbled on these – and am going to return to them – I thought I’d try out a triolet from today’s NaPoWriMo prompt.

Looking around for some inspiration, I found this article about entropy and intelligence – which slightly blew my mind. In essence, this is about the idea that the Universe tends towards a more disordered state – and that by applying this idea to some models, they become analogous to what happens when ‘intelligent’ beings are involved. That we, as intelligent (supposedly) beings, are also inherently entropic. Apparently, even the evolution of walking may be relevant in this system. Roll on the bedlam!

I think that’s what it means, anyway. Although I suggest you read it yourself, as the reporter clearly knows what they’re talking about a lot more than this poet.

And to celebrate this un-knowledge of our inherent entropy, I wrote an orderly triolet…

6061841765_df55494046

Pesticide makes bees forget the scent for food, new study finds

http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/27/pesticide-bees-scent-food-neocotinoid Just after my piece about how bees see and smell – their ‘plastic’ sense of shapes becoming scents – I was sent this story. So perhaps pesticides are changing the shapes of scents to them: my film noir PI cross-cutting image may be more apt than I realised. It is a sad thought, a hives workers stumbling around drunkenly, seeking what they have for millions (or more?) of years, but unable to sense its real shape.

Little Shadows

How a bee might see a flower – except, not really, because they *smell shapes* (kind of).

I’m brewing a project – a series  of workshops and performances – around BEES (I always feel I have to capitalise it) for this summer, called BUZZ WORDS (I credit thanks to Mr Ian Billings for assistance with the title).

So, with that in mind I’ve been looking out for bee-related stories, inspiration and reading – and tweeting bee-related excerpts from poems too. (They should show up on my Twitter-widget, bottom right).

One such story was this – the amazing symbiosis and (literally) electrical relationship between flowers and bees: plants can ‘communicate’ with bees how much pollen they have ‘in stock’, by changing their electrical field (excuse my usual mangling of scientific language). But the weird thing is that, from other reading I’m doing, bees don’t see in the same way we do at all – and nor can we really understand their ‘plastic sense of smell’, where – get this – shapes have fragrances. All very synaesthetic, which lends itself hugely to poetry, I reckon…

There’s an inherent impossibility trying to perceive as another animal might – but for me, that’s part of poetry’s job. To enjoy the plasticity of language and our imaginative faculties – which are, to a large extent, uniquely human. So this poem was trying to point towards what ‘being a bee’ might be like, but on human terms. (We don’t have any others, do we?)

The title takes its name from a terribly courtly and gorgeous song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (the acoustic version) – so do have a listen (after reading). Just as flowers and bees have a symbiotic relationship, so do bees and humans – but who ends up the ‘shadow’ is still unclear. Hence the conclusion of the poem, perhaps: certainty is always plastic, being is always relative.

 

Little Shadows

 

Imagine that montage moment in the film

noir, where the PI  ranges the city streets,

neon lights lurid and rain-streaked and longing:

thinking thinking thinking about

what it is he doesn’t

yet know.  See it?

 

Imagine that, but now see it POV

and at nine-thousand times multiplicity

and instead of a He, you’re a She and you’re

flying flying flying about

at roof height, just knowing

knowing. OK?

 

Imagine that cutaway shot of a sign

which in the film says

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

all luminous-pink curving

tonguelike, now says:

ASTER X FRIKARTII.

 

That louche flashing purple

PRIVATE SHOW, now reads: SALVIA

NEMEROSA CARADONNA. Yeah?

 

And that raunchy Latin text becomes

a shape that bypasses your eyes

nine-thousand times and becomes the aroma

of everything – literally everything –

you have every wanted

or known. Right?

 

Imagine those nine-thousand

cutaway shots above a bar

of endlessly-pouring holy beer

have become a pendulum, pulling

your entire being with the breeze

of its transcendental scent,

the gravity of its colour. Yes.

 

And imagine that there’s no mystery,

only endless little shadows of yourself shining,

weaving through every single city street,

drinking drinking drinking in

the plastic certainty

of being.

 

Vermin On The Rise

A couple of stories recently linked very directly to my Vermin Cycle of poems.

The first is the great news that the EU has now banned all new cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals – to me, this seems entirely reasonable. There is a big difference between clinical trails for, say, a cancer treatment and, say, a new waterproof eye-liner. If it came to a decision between a rat and a family member dying, I would choose the family member – but the decision between a rat and some runny make up…? I don’t think it can be argued that is totally necessary.

My Vermin poem ‘An Exact Science’ is in the voice of a rat, one being tested on, and explores the idea of vanity.

The other story was one about the mighty bed bug. Scientists researching these resilient little creatures have discovered various genes which make them resistant to pesticides, and generally seriously tough little bugs.

My favourite Vermin poem, ‘Let Us Bite’, gave voice to the New York bed bug and certainly – I hope – presented it as tough.

You can read these and the other Vermin Cycle poems here.

Vermin On The Ascent!

Very Extremely Very

An artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, to be built high up in the Andes – placed next to the London Eye, for some perspective…

Well, I’ve oscillated back from animals (Whales, T-Rexes) to SPACE again: so here’s something comic about telescopes. Earlier, I read this story on the UK’s financial commitment to the European Extremely Large Telescope (from the Guardian) – and was reminded how funny I always find the naming of telescopes. I’m pretty sure the last one was called the European Very Large Telescope. So it also begs the question of where they’ll go after ‘Extremely’…?

So that’s the starting point for this – the act of naming telescopes (and, perhaps, the difficult act of naming in something like astronomy) – and it takes the form of a conversation between two (antagonistic) astronomer-colleagues, perhaps in another telescope. The main thing is: it’s hopefully a bit of (if not Very, or Extremely) fun:

 

Very Extremely Very,

A Gazillibazoolian-Squillion

 

“BREATHTAKINGLY!” he gasped, before even a greeting, crashing the door against the wall. “That’s got to be it.”

“It’s hardly very objective,” the reply sighed. “We’re scientists, Dave – not advertisers. And good morning to you, too.”

“But that’s what I mean. ‘Extremely’, compared to what? Compared to the things we’re going to be looking at it’s not ‘extremely’ large at all.”

“We’re not comparing it to the things we’re looking at, Dave – we’re comparing it to the other telescopes. Compared to them, this one is extremely large.

A silence as both men make notes, turn dials, type furiously –   front for figuring out their next line of attack.

“By your rationale,” Simon quickly established a new angle, “each measuring instrument would then be relative to that which it measures. What would have become of the Large Hadron Collider then? The Super-Massive Underground Mega-Hoop Measurer of Ultra-Tiny But Super-Important Things?”

“Actually, that’s not a bad –

“ – oh for Heaven’s Sake.”

An impasse – the almost-daily ritual.

“I just think that ‘Extremely Large’ doesn’t do it justice. Although I guess it makes sense as part of a kind or product range, or something.” He assumes a sales-voice in the vein of QVC or similar: “If you enjoyed the features of the ‘Very Large Telescope’, you’ll just love the new features of the ‘Extremely Large Telescope’: now able to blend the distribution of dark matter and finely slice the evolution of black-holes and galaxies!”

From the other desk, he can almost hear Simon’s smile being suppressed:

“I’m not sure anyone’s going to call in and pay for it: the cost would barely fit on a TV screen.”

There is a pleasant spaciousness, both enjoying a rare intersection of humours.

“Well today,” Dave takes back up his hyperbolic cudgel, “I’m backing ‘Breathtaking’ – what else could it be described as? It’s as big as all the other ones put together. If you did that with a cake, people would be impressed. And cakes can’t see into the origins of Time itself, not that I know of.”

“That might depend on the cake. And anyway: isn’t that a compound word, ‘Breath-taking’? You’re like a kid, making up numbers to win a competition.” He assumes the manner of an eight-year-old Dave: “A squillion, a gazillibazoolian-squillion!”

A brief silence as Dave decides whether to be offended, or flattered, at the impression. Then:

“How many zeros would that have?”

“A bloobazoolian zeros, OK?”

“I see.”

The tapping of keyboards. This had become the tacit sign now that they had wasted enough time and should get on with some proper work – nebulae were on the menu today, as they had been for the last four years.

“I just think we’re not going to give the public a real sense of the scale of this thing unless the name truly reflects it. It just sounds so mid-range – like a family car: ‘extremely spacious’. We may as well call it the ‘Pretty Gosh Darn Big Telescope’”.

Now the silence of someone studiedly ignoring someone else. Then, the final barrage, the day’s last attempt:

“The Almighty Telescope?”

“Oh the Churches will love that.”

“The Strikingly Large Telescope?”

“We don’t want it striking anything or anyone except light, Dave…”

“The UNCOMMONLY-”

“Dave: get off Thesarus.com – NOW.”

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.

Canteenosaurus-Rex or, The Numbering of Teeth

A chomping Tyrranosauridae

A chomping Tyrranosauridae

Running a little behind after being struck down with a lurgy last week, but here is my latest sci-po – no wait! It’s a story.

I won’t say too much about the news story which inspired this, apart from the classic disclaimer: any likeness to persons living or fossilised genuinely is purely coincidental! So if Dr Dave Hone should read this – the curious narrator in this story is not you, it’s just inspired by the work you do (there’s the link to Project Daspletosaurus) and where it could take someone a lot less balanced than your good self (and their diet).

It’s a piece about the feeding habits – which may have been sporadically-cannibalistic in nature – of Tyrranosauridae (those terrible lizards of ‘Jurassic Park’ fame). The research is looking at how the T Rex’s scary cousins – such as the Daspletosaurus – ate, and supposes that they ate with a great variety of bites (not just swallowings-whole, as in ‘Jurassic Park’ – the science of which may, of course, be secondary to the story – and the merchandise).

No matter what fine-diners they were, it’s one family reunion I’m glad that evolution, meteors and the like has put pay to (nothing personal, I just think I’d get stuck in their teeth).

Here’s my story:

Canteenosarus-Rex or,

The Numbering of Teeth

The bones are the hardest part. As in, the most difficult. But – like all good researchers – he knows that 3-D computer models will only take him so far. He just wants to know – to really feel – what it would be like to have one as a guest at the dinner table; to witness their repertoire, the one he is sure they had, of chomps and nibbles.

At the start of the week, it was subtle – a basic attempt to avoid that simian lateral-chewing motion. An action, he muttered, evolved for plants. And that meant missing a whole link in the food-chain: those plentiful yet elusive herbivores, the duck-bill Hadrosaurs and horned Ceratopsians. The pelvis of one such creature – a Triceratops – was situated directly opposite the Daspletorsarus skull. His prime exhibit. He sat between them, fossil-eyed; glancing back and forth from the punctured pelvis to the sharp-toothed skull.

Small arrow-shaped marks were placed at each and every one of the impacts on the pelvis, like it was the scene of some 70-million-year-old crime. This was the analogy he used at public lectures, invoking CSI television-forensics cool: he needed, he said, to establish the Daspletosauruses ‘M.O.’.

Before this week, he had something of a routine: Monday was often a salad, pricked with cherry-tomatoes; Wednesday, leftover Mexican day – long enchilada tubes, dripping in cheese; Friday tended towards something hearty – a pie, perhaps, or a lasagne, layered like rock rich to be dug into. But salad had become too, well – brontosaurus, for the venture. Redundant. Hefty. Out of date. Now, many other foods just seemed so inauthentic to him.

By mid-week, his needs had outgrown the habitat of the laboratory canteen – there was just too much chicken. He would never learn anything from chicken – too splintery, too avian. He needed something chunkier, a larger leaf-eater. Beef was OK, or perhaps…giraffe, rhinoceros? Unlikely. He had to be reasonable. Perhaps this was what happened to the Tyrranosauridae, he thinks – to make them turn. Outgrowing their food supplies; that’s when they started to become cannibals.

So the packed-lunches began. Whatever protestations he made about being a feminist, his wife wore the trousers where it came to food. So, gingerly, as he stepped from the Friday front doorstep:

‘Leave the bones in,’ he said, maintaining earnest eye-contact. ‘And cook it quite rare. Really rare.’

She scanned his face for some sign of the joke that was to follow, but it did not come.

‘But what’s the point in a lamb-chop sandwich, when you have to remove the bones anyway?’ she entreated.

‘Rare,’ he repeated. ‘Please? I’m just feeling red-blooded this week.’

‘Lamb-chop sandwiches. Rare.’ She confirms. ‘Really rare.’ A sigh.

So this lunchtime, he sits above the white expanse of table and leers in the way he imagines his subject would: salivating at the feast to come, spreading out across the ceramic plain, the prey’s bills and horns scattering away from his mighty incisors. Nobody has sat with him for the last couple of days, but why would he mind? He is, after all, a top predator – and they hunt alone. He looks at the sandwich and considers which type of bite to deploy – something bone-shattering and bold, or something delicate and tendon-stripping.

Back in the lab, he gazes admiringly at the skull atop its plinth, numbering its teeth; as he tries to remove some lamb gristle with his tongue, he counts the incisors and molars his own skeleton sprouts. Insufficient, he thinks, as he reaches the end of the row and meets gummy nothingness.

Several tonnes, not 13 stone; over 60 razor-teeth, not his piffling set of 32 – nay, 31 after today’s lunch – blunt instruments. He wasn’t even a Daspletosaurus drumstick, barely a rump steak.

In the company of his skull and his other, he sits quietly, contemplatively, numbering his teeth – he doesn’t want to end up anywhere, you know, weird, with all this. So he imagines – just imagines – his own, as twice as numerous and twice as sharp as they really are.

Imagination, he thinks. Empathy. That’s what separates us, from the cannibals.