Thursday, 27 August 2015

Flashes of technology

FLASHES OF TECHNOLOGY

Wireless really explained spurned wavelength dials
in 1923. The rich enthusiast
might want that sort of thing, but you could find
kit in the streets, in costermongers' barrows,
to listen in to the far ends of earth.
A new earth, this, a-twitter with the dawn.
Pyrite was crystal in the radio,
fool's gold, but later, lapsed from top, still up
for faked non-listening near armies. Foxholes,
skill, home-madeness, light tread, a time before –
the cloud of crystal radio's folklore.

Monty Python spoofed stencil duplicates
in 1973. The bigot issue
1 (3), March-November, offered visits
by the Young Bigots' Club to throw appliances
from Grundig down the lavatory. Soaking!
But real life's setting up of anything
used these to print. My nights of radio
(that's DX listening, not ham transmission)
made it to street by them, with other scribbles;
Adrian Mole's life mirrored. Stencils mean
schools, parents, churches, clubs, drums, wheels. And see
the power turn at least one PhD.

Not sure I've watched satellite television.
Has someone spurned or spoofed the dishes? Up
for decades, but I've missed their cloud, their mirrors.
They're still of now, not of the life on Mars
they will become when turned to past like crystals
etcetera cited above, things viewed
in photographs made by a long-dead light,
through years stacked to intolerable height.


This was my entry in the CV2 48-hour competition 2015.  If you've read much from Blurtmetry, you'll know what that's all about: my 'Radio poem' and 'Instead of a minute', both of them written for that competition in earlier years, are neighbouring posts in this blog.  The main constraints of the competition are as follows.  Firstly, entries should be written from scratch in the space of 48 hours -- a weekend midnight to midnight, Central Canadian time, 06:00 Saturday to 06:00 Monday UK time.  Secondly, the poem composed during that time must include all ten of a group of words emailed to registered entrants at the start of that period.  In 2015 the words were: satellite, ham, soaking, lapsed, stencil, mirrored, before, pyrite, faked, and appliances.

To me, having looked up pyrite and discovered its connection with crystal radio, there seemed no alternative to a poem about modes of communication: crystal radio, stencil duplicating, and satellite television.  But if you followed my link to the 2015 competition results and winners, you'll see that others did not feel that inevitability.

Wireless really explained, by P.J. Risdon (Foulsham, 1923), was for some reason in the house (perhaps from Dad's predecessor as Vicar) when I was a boy in the 1960s.  I probably don't need to explain any of the other allusions.

In August 2015, the site PoemPigeon launched a competition for entries including the word satellite, and 'Flashes of technology' was published by virtue of being posted there.  From a brief survey of my fellow-entrants' work, I get the impression that I am the first to think of the wheeze of re-using a CV2 48-hour entry for this purpose.



Sunday, 5 July 2015

Instead of a minute

On 18 May I posted my 'Radio poem' -- my entry in the 2009 CV2 Two-Day Poem Competition .  Today's post was my entry in the equivalent competition for 2013.  It's now found publication in the journal Writers' forum 165, 2015, p. 51.  Many thanks to WF's poetry editor, Sue Butler, who asked me to let her have it for her 'In my own words' slot and has given me permission to reproduce it here.

WF also has a poetry competition, but monthly and without the stringent specifications of CV2'S challenge (see below).  Top prize in the WF competition is £100.  I might yet have a go.  And you?



INSTEAD OF A MINUTE

Neon, the new one, with New Latin name.
We call it noble for its non-reaction,
but garish for its red-light energy,
like one jumped-up, pulling a bogus rank
into trapeze rococo, gambit after gambit
to take the place of record, and we fall
with a sententious relish on the story.

Please don't kick me, being no Stedman expert
(John Stedman, that is, maverick slave-fighter,
not Stedman as in church-bells and bob-changes),
starting to write as if I knew at all
his archive with its scraps and pots and bones
jangling reproach to mine, likewise chaotic
but less alive. His pictures were the draw.
I wrote the Stedman piece, a scrubby growth
unfed by knowledge, but, with help from kin,
meeting the questions, and it went online
to universal silence. In relief,
reporting to Committee, I admitted
imposter syndrome and the agonies
it had imposed on me. Not for the minutes.

  
The CV2 Two-Day Poem Competition required a poem produced in 48 hours and including, in 2013, all ten of the following words: neon, relish, scrubby, bob, gambit, rank, sententious, record, trapeze, and rococo. The competition weekend included, for Clare and me, a journey to Birmingham. The poem was written on trains and in a room of the Premier Inn.

One elusive word got placed when I told Clare I was including a reference to John Stedman. Clare, an aficionada of Dorothy Sayers' novel The nine tailors, thought first of the Stedman whose name is attached to some of the campanological terms in that book – and I remembered enough of those terms to see that this would fit the word 'bob'.

The Brum trip was for a memorial service to a friend, Jo Austen. My mind was in the right place during the service. The poem didn't distract me from the tributes to Jo.

Nothing from the memorial service appears in the poem.  At one level, what that means is that the first draft was probably completed before Sunday afternoon. But the poem's closeness to Jo's memorial does make another point become obvious.  Jo had cerebral palsy from birth. The poem's boasts about an occasional sense of professional inadequacy on my part are in perspective alongside what she had to work with in living well.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Marc Vyvyan-Jones

This is my wife Clare in 1985:

Clare in those days was a physics PhD student at Bristol.  The image is from a new-address card she commissioned from a friend, and it came to light again, many years later, in a clear-out of Clare's room at her parents' house.

The writing embroidered on Clare's leg reads "Please look after this Clare."  That drew from me a limerick, 11 years before we were engaged:

I'd love to look after this Clare,
blonde and plump like a girl teddy-bear.
I just hope that her rump's
not too bruised by the bumps
which arise from the wheels' being square.

The teddy-bear in Clare's lap had been a birthday present from friends, a couple of years earlier.  She believes she passed it on to a child in 1990, when she had to shed so many possessions for her post-doc year in the States, and she cannot now remember its name.

For those too young to have seen floppy disks, I'd better say that they were at least as square as shown in the picture, and not the sort of Daliesque thing the name suggests.  The title of Dali's painting The persistence of memory has acquired a secondary aptness from the transience of floppies.

The artist was Marc Vyvyan-Jones.  It was his first commission, he told me recently; billed then on invoice 0001, and reproduced now with permission.  His career as an illustrator continues to thrive, with an emphasis on the quirky and gallimaufrageous.  Who's next up to offer him a commission?

Monday, 18 May 2015

Radio poem

RADIO POEM

Today's radio dial's not just a dial.
It's a display: gives you more information
running, but goes to blank at rest. Old-style
analogue dials, over the base gradation
of kiloHertz and metres, still when still
were effervescent with their banded cities.
And when I was a boy, with time to fill,
I could sing at the possibilities
for hours. They belonged with binoculars,
maps, number-plates, star-charts, but came to displace
astronomy, which was the previous
interest. Today I'd call the phase
that happened next addiction. I first found
Radio Moscow's English under June
sunset, and it became a nightly round
by the autumn of 1971 -
Tirana, Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, and later,
drab 1972's political
balance, west dictator for east dictator,
the fifties sound of Radio Portugal.
But why - given ten words to improvise
some verse around, an email parlour game -
pick as a subject for the exercise
the story of a former hobby's claim?
Because the words suggest it. I can say
how new and various the short wave shone,
what pleasures it delivered in its play.
The pleasure of the hunt, the catch, was one.
CBA Moncton, netted from my bed
in Nottinghamshire winter - that was great.
But Radio Tirana, wishing dead
so many, I could only hate,
and hate's a noxious pleasure, lashing sweat.
That was the sour inside the bright kumquat.
Then hate and hunt gave less and less to get.
I scanned the dial for them, and scanned, and that
was the addiction, radio quagmire.
But I have seen the quagmire sink, not me.
I put restraint on radio desire
as early as Lent 1973.
It faded slowly, surged in my French year,
and again more than ten years on, a freak
throwback stunt for One World Week, but there
it ends. The world's got other ways to speak.

And I shall not be one of those who fret
to hear of kids addicted to the net.


The above was my entry in the CV2 2-day Poem Contest 2009.  The key point of the CV2 contest, for those who haven't followed that link, is that the entry has to be written in 48 hours and include ten words specified by that organisers at the start of that period.

My excuse for blogging the poem is that I have recently tweeted the concluding couplet, thereby presumably rendering the poem ineligible for entry in competitions that disallow published material.

Another piece of poetic fall-out from my foreign-radio phase is this haiku of January 2013, 'Tirana's trumpets'. And you might also be interested in this article, published in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 60, 2007.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Kirkconnel's bard

KIRKCONNEL'S BARD

(The bard is Alexander Anderson ('Surfaceman'), 1845-1909)

Kirkconnel's bard sang progress, engines' strength
made greater by the discipline of rails,
his rhymes and grammar sound, his metred length
of line hard-fixed as ever was with nails.

Nick Drake sang questions, ways lost, light flown, blue
of waves and sky the video shows grey,
gates waited at in hope of looking through,
a plea for somebody to show and say.

Kirkconnel's bard praised Whitman's free lines, praised
his fellows, wrote in voice of the bereaved
mothers.  Read in our day, is he appraised
with more along the track than he believed?

Would he have prayed, trusting in God to hear,
that Nick Drake's heaven-signal stood at clear?


The above poem was my contribution to the 26 project 'Under a northern sky' -- the brainchild of two 26 members, Sandy Wilkie and Michelle Nicol , one from Glasgow and one from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and both fans of the singer Nick Drake.  Michelle's account of the proceedings is at http://bit.ly/1PeKO91 .  Project participants were assigned one song by Drake and one station on the Carlisle route from Newcastle to Glasgow, and asked to write poetry or prose, performable in under 3'44", that linked the two.  My station was Kirkconnel and my Nick Drake song 'Way to blue'.  And on 25 April 2015, as many of us as could made that journey by train, reading our own contributions, and those of the people who couldn't be present, at or near the stations in question.

I was lucky in that Kirkconnel has a literary figure of some note in Alexander Anderson.  I won't link to all the poems of his that I allude to, but I should perhaps say that my last line picks up on 'Stood at clear' from his collection Songs of the rail.  A train driver is questioned after a rail crash:

"Speak to him-quick!" they bent and said,
"Did the distant signal stand at red?"

Broken and slow came the words with a moan,
"Stood—at—clear," and poor Jim was gone.

I turn'd my head away from the light
To hide the tears that were blinding my sight,

And pray'd from my heart, to God that Jim
Might find heaven's signals clear to him.

I believe the narrator is deeply disturbed by the probability that signal didn't stand at clear, and that a much-loved friend has died with a lie on his mouth.  Is there more to be said on this by readers who know Alexander Anderson's work better than I?

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The day thou gavest

THE DAY THOU GAVEST

(after conjectures that the hymn tune 'St Clement', long attributed to the Rev. Clement Scholefield, might be in part the work of Arthur Sullivan)

What part is Clement, what part Arthur,
none now can hope or need to tell.
The hymn the singers love is seamless;
if sewn, then sewn together well.

Whatever zones part eve from waking,
the shadow edge of light in air
moves elegiac in its raising
along the spine and through the hair.

And did the famous aid the cleric,
whose other music fell away?
The question stands, and needs no letters,
no fingerprints, no DNA.

And only wishing tells us Clement,
himself a part of all he'd met,
once only found, once only, music
more great than most, more nearly great.


This poem was written in 2013 for the Mirehouse/Words by the Water competition, whose theme that year was the Tennyson quotation "I am a part of all that I have met." I cannot remember what led me, at about that time, to the Wikipedia page for the hymn tune 'St Clement', so effectively tied to the words 'The day thou gavest'. But here was a story of authorship questioned after more than a century, and blurrings of individual contribution that had become impossible now to determine. I thought it fitted well with the quotation.

I've now entered the poem in a Poem Pigeon competition on the theme 'Awakenings'.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The finest-hour syndrome

The finest-hour syndrome

(A minister became convinced that God was telling him that his wife would die and he was then to marry Samantha)

Perhaps he spoke as other men had,
only the God-talk more;
I don't know if Samantha'd been
through the same pattern before.

I believe the minister had been
a captain of high finance.
Oh, utmost probity, no swindles;
no hint of dalliance...

I suppose, though, he'd told young Alison
Sylvia would soon retire,
and I suppose he took pride
in Alison as she flew higher.

And I suppose a still small voice
said ten years long he should quit
the firm, and voluntary church work
would not silence it,

but I suppose when he gave in
to study for the ministry,
surrender wrenched him like tooth loss,
hard-cold as January.

I believe the finest-hour syndrome
is what happens when
somebody foils a blaze then wants
the buzz all over again,

studding the rest of his career
with unexplained small fires.
Pray God the minister was no worse
than such artless self-liars.  

This poem was written in 2000 and published in Orbis 170, winter 2014, p.69.  The version in Orbis, reproduced here, has benefited from some editorial suggestions by Carole Baldock.

The term 'finest-hour syndrome' is my own invention.  The phenomenon of serial arson by a former fire hero is one I first heard of ca 1996 in the course of training as a Fire Safety Manager at work.  In all the refresher fire training I've had since then, I haven't heard of it again.  Googling in search of more detail, I've had the impression that former heroes are very much a subset of the would-be heroes' subset of serial arsonists.

The minister's error, as described in the title note, is close to events I read of as having happened at a church in London in the early 1990s.  But the poem's prequel to that story is entirely speculative.