Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Broadsheet: an experiment

A couple of years ago a good friend of mine died. He was a computer buddy, who knew a lot about PCs before I did and helped me out in many ways. The final way was to leave me a wide format printer, the kind you find in drawing offices and architects' studios. It can handle paper up to A1, which is 16 times the size of A4.

I wondered for a long time how to use it: posters, obviously, but how often do you get the chance to use A1, A2 or even A3 posters? Then, over the last few months, an idea occurred to me. How about revisiting the old publishing form of a broadsheet, one big sheet filled with text - song lyrics or poems?

The advantage, from the point of view of the producer (me), is that it doesn't involve collation, folding, binding, trimming or any of the other tasks implicit in making a traditional book or magazine. Yes, you may have to fold it down to make it manageable or send it through the post, but it should be a lot easier to put together. Notice that word 'should'; I'll come to it again in a bit.

In November, I set up a closed Facebook group of poets who all aimed to write a poem a day for the 30 days of the month. It was a great group, convivial and hard working, very open to putting their work up for comment. At the end of the month, there was a feeling that we'd like it to go on in some form so, perhaps rashly, I offered to put together a little (actually quite a big) anthology of some of the poems written in the month.

Everybody sent me up to 60 lines of their work and I used Microsoft Publisher (a much under-rated desktop publishing tool, in my opinion) to design a Broadsheet, 24 inches square. I used a simple layout, with a lot of space to give the poems room and it only took a couple of afternoons to put it all together.

All that remained was the printing, which should have been the easy part. The printer came with a 24-inch roll of paper already mounted, so all I had to do was print. The printer is clever enough to cut the pages when it has finished printing and catches them in a cloth hopper underneath. Very straightforward, once I'd managed to persuade it that 24 inches square is a perfectly respectable custom paper size.

So I printed all the first sides from the roll and they ended up as little mini rolls in the hopper. Trouble was, when turned over and straightened out, the pages were still curled. Feeding them back into the printer as single sheets caused the leading edge to curl up off the printer platen and the printhead caught the edge of the sheet, smudging and tearing it.

I wasted a lot of paper before I developed a technique of rolling the sheets, in tens, around an empty gift wrap roll core, taping them rolled and leaving them a day. At the end of that, they were flat enough to print and then it was only the folding to complete each Broadsheet.

I'm happy with the result and, if you're a member of the November 2012 Poem-A-Day Facebook group, you can buy one from here by clicking the PayPal button at the bottom of this post; I'll have your address. If you're not a member, please don't try and buy a copy.

This Broadsheet is closed circulation, so the poets can still submit their poems to magazines or competitions, and I've only printed enough copies to cover the pre-orders. Please only pay if you're a member of the Facebook group. If you're not a group member and you pay me, I may not be able to return your money - you have been warned.

Poem-A-Day Broadsheet

Sunday, 18 November 2012

A Place Where Odd Animals Stand

As you can see, I'm not the most prolific of bloggers. 18 months since the last one and that was promoting a book. So is this one (I like to be upfront). It's my new collection from Oversteps Books, the publisher who brought out Quirks for me six years ago. A Place Where Odd Animals Stand contains 47 poems, written in the last five years, and is divided into two sections.

The first is a miscellany of poems on different topics which have caught my eye, many of them oddball, which is one reason for the title. Anything from lizards in art galleries, to the perils of Dettol, to Oliver Cromwell's daughter writing to her dad. Some free verse, some in forms - Villanelles are favourite - and the occasional note to explain where I'm coming from.

The striking front cover photo (and its counterpart on the back cover, which you'll have to buy the book to see) is by Robert and Virginia Small. They are both superb wildlife photographers, whose work can be seen at their site, www.eyesinthewild.com.


‘A Swiss man caught speeding on a Canadian highway
has said he was taking advantage of the ability to go
faster, without the risk of hitting a goat’. BBC News

I can sympathise with him, I really can.
When he saw the road markings, all straight and white
and him from a place where odd animals stand

on bends, in the dark, unphased and off-hand,
so their eyes glint-up in the headlights.
I can sympathise with him, I really can.

I’m sure it was nothing he consciously planned;
to exceed the speed limit on ice and at night,
but raised in a place where odd animals stand

keeps you ever alert to dark creatures and
the way they go bump on the bonnet, in flight.
I can sympathise with him, I really can.

Whether it’s ibex or chamois or something more bland,
like ponies or sheep, they’re none of them bright,
for they live in a place where odd animals stand,

where they hide in the crooks of the road, like bands
of bold robbers, who stop you for spite.
I can sympathise with him, I really can,
as I come from a place where odd animals stand.

The second part of the book is called Biog, as the 20+ poems are autobiographical and chronological. When I started writing them, I thought I hadn't lived a very eventful life. I had a good childhood, so there's little to explore there, come from a middle-class family, so no deprivation to speak of and trained as an Engineer, not on bridges or space craft, but in factories.

As I wrote them, though, over a number of years, I saw there were interesting episodes to mention. I also came to realise how the events you remember are probably the ones that shape you. So, there are poems on trips to the zoo, relationships and early sexual experience, and right up to date with my first grandson, born only weeks ago.

Hanging Over The Fence

A builder and his family moved in next door;
called it Four Limes, because of the trees.
They’re not limes; they’re white poplars,
said my mother.

Their daughter, ten to my eleven,
called across the wattle fence Boy. Come here.
I went, so we could talk.
Hanging over the fence, my mother called it.

Sometimes I went to play at her house,
can’t remember the games. Occasionally, she came
to High Trees; named without commitment
to the species.

Then, one afternoon, she called me over,
to whisper that another boy had come
to stay. They’d played strip poker;
she’d won.

I was never good at cards, but strip sounded
interesting, more daring than Hot Wheels.
It was something forbidden,
like marzipan fruit.

I could imagine her in undies or less,
though perhaps not anatomically exact.
I’d not done much biology, by then. 
She said, Of course, we used dolls.

If any of this has intrigued you and you have £8 burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy a copy here. £8 is the cover price, but I'll cover the postage and packing to UK addresses (£2 extra for the rest of the world, sorry).

If you prefer, and live within striking distance of Scorriton, a small village roughly mid-way between Exeter and Plymouth, I'll be having a launch event at 7:30pm on Sunday 16th December in the Village Hall. It'll be combined with my 60th Birthday Party and the Christmas edition of our Trade Winds open mic session. I expect it to be a lot of fun.

Postal area

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bigging up the Clerihew

There are plenty of short poetry forms around: haiku, tanka, limerick etc, but one that doesn't get as much take-up is the Clerihew. Named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the novelist and humorist, who was a contemporary of GK Chesterton and Dorothy L Sayers, it's a unique verse-form, in requiring very little of the poet. While it does have two rhymes, these can be loose or forced, and the meter is, as Frances Stillman (author of The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary) describes 'more or less in the rhythm of prose'.

Instead of strict form, the Clerihew relies on silliness for its effect. Bentley's most quoted Clerihew runs:

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls
Say I am designing St. Paul's."

This example illustrates most of the features of a Clerihew. There are just two rhyming couplets, the lines are often of different lengths and the first line is nearly always just the name of the subject of the poem. Clerihews usually say something about the person, but it's just as likely to be fatuous as it is factual.

That's all there is to it, really. Few Clerihews are profound and if they prompt a wry smile, they have done their job. All of which leads up to the main purpose of this blog.

I've just completed an alphabet of them, 13 men and 13 women, most of them notable 20th Century people (so there's room for a 21st Century sequel). Here's D:

James Dean
looked great on screen.
He drove a '49 Ford Mercury in Rebel Without A Cause,
but never raced his Porsche 550 Spyder against the
                                  Shelby Mustang of Jim Morrison from The Doors.

I've designed and printed all 26 poems on a cream, wove paper and perfect bound them with my own fair hands (good manicure, but a bit wrinkly) within card covers and translucent end-papers. Might blog something about printing and binding at some stage.

The format of Twenty-Six Clerihews (always been good at titles) is 1/3rd A4 and there are just 100, numbered copies available. Unlike most limited editions, which will set you back an arm, a leg and other sundry body parts, these little beauties are only a fiver (£5) a pop, including postage and packing to the UK, or £7 to other parts of the world.

Here's the Contents page, so you can see who's included (click to enlarge)...

and here's one of the pages, so you can see the layout (click to enlarge)...

If you fancy a copy, please click on the PayPal button below. 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Jolly be to you for it's your wassail

Yesterday I went to sing songs in an orchard in the dark. At least it wasn't raining, as it was last year...and several years before. If this sounds an unlikely pleasure, I should point out I wasn't alone. There were 20 or so singers, two very important children sitting in a tree, a guy dressed like a town crier with a jug of cider and several rounds of toast, a couple of hundred villagers...oh and two guys with double-barrelled shotguns.

This was the Stoke Gabriel Wassail, an annual event held in mid-January, in which the apple trees are blessed, in the hope of ensuring a bumper crop of fruit for fruit bowls, pies and cider - especially cider - in the coming year. Stoke Gabriel is a small village on the river Dart near Paignton in Devon, about as unspoiled as small villages get, without being preserved in aspic.

There's nothing preserved about the Wassail, although the festival goes back many hundred of years. Wassails like this used to be common in many villages in the South West, almost everywhere they relied on apples as part of the local economy. As one of the wassail singers, we have a repertoire of over a dozen songs, from villages in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and up to the Gower in South Wales. Most of them promise good singing in exchange for cider, beer or gin and all are lively, flagon-swinging songs.

The Stoke Gabriel Wassail happens in the village's community orchard, it's equivalent of a village green, and has grown up into a real midwinter festival, with Morris dancers, a Mummer's play, folk music and a storyteller, the inimitable Clive Fairweather in his 19th year at the event. There are home-made pasties, beers, mulled cider and heady, local apple brandy.

We're primarily there for the Wassail itself, though. Usually three trees in the orchard are picked to receive the libations. The Wassail King and Wassail Queen, children from the village who have been elected to the roles, are sat up in the branches and the Master of Ceremonies, he of the breeches and tri-corner hat, hands slices of toast to them, soaked in last year's cider. Their majesties place the toast in the tree, while the MoC circles its roots with more cider, as if to remind it of what's required in the coming season.

When this is done, we sing:

Old apple tree we wassail thee
Here's hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
When comes another year;
For to bloom well and to bear well,
So happy let us be;
Let every man take off his cap
And shout out to the old apple tree

and then shout:

Old apple tree, we wassail thee
Here's hoping thou wilt bear
Hats full,
             caps full,
                           three-bushel bags full
And little heaps under the stair!

After the last hooray, the shotguns are fired in the air, to scare the evil spirits. The sparks from their barrels and the volume of the reports does it for me, and I've not seen an evil spirit in that orchard in all the times I've visited. Proof enough.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Wassail is that it feels so integral to the life of the village. I get no sense that it's being done to keep the tradition alive - though of course it does - but that it's one of the events that marks the turning of the year, in the same way the bale tossing does at the Flower Show in my own village or as countless other idiosyncratic activities do in other communities around the country. Without getting precious about anything, I feel privileged to take part in the Stoke Gabriel Wassail.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Nugget or Nonsense?

I've just read the following description of how an LCD projector works:

The LCD video projector contains three LCD panels. At the center of the projector is a halogen bulb, which is surrounded by the panels. The panels produce light. As the halogen bulb heats up, the crystals melt and allow more light to pass through. Hence, the intensity of the halogen bulb brings about the difference in the tones. Higher the temperature of the bulb, lighter the tone and vice a versa.

Images travel to the tube present inside the projector from the DVD player or the satellite box. These images in turn bounce on a screen that is coated with phosphor. Every fragment of light hitting the screen is termed pixel. On hitting the screen, the pixel breaks down into its color component that is red, blue or green.

This is from a site which claims to offer information and looks professional enough when you come to it. It's articles are written by many different authors, so it would be unfair to name the site. There's no peer review, though, as on most academic sites, or even Wikipedia. If you know nothing about LCD projectors, it would be easy enough to take this as truth.

However, there's hardly a statement in there that's true. An LCD projector can contain three panels, though it's possible to make one with a single panel and a colour wheel. The panels don't normally surround the halogen bulb and most projectors use metal halide bulbs, because they last much longer than halogen. The panels don't produce any light, but either block or pass light from the bulb. The crystals in an LCD don't melt.The temperature of the bulb has no effect on the lightness of the tone. The images don't bounce on a screen coated with a phosphor - there are no phosphors involved in an LCD projector. The light doesn't break into its colour components when it hits the screen - coloured light is projected directly.

I'm not writing this to try and pull down a fellow writer or to show I know more, but as an example of how it can be problematic to accept information off the Internet when you know nothing about its provenence. You don't know if a particular author is an expert in his/her field or a complete charleton who hasn't a clue about their subject.

So how can you tell if a piece is accurate? If you know something about the topic, you probably have a feel for the veracity of the facts in what you read, but you can also try the journo test; see if you can get corroboration from a second source. And that's not just another site with the same text on it, but similar information written by a different author.

This kind of check can be applied to those emails you get from well meaning friends which contain warnings of new viruses which 'Microsoft says are real and with no known cure'. Google the start of the text of the message and you'll soon find if its a scam message relying on the paranoia of its readers to be transmitted round the Internet.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Technological Regression

As somebody who makes a living by evaluating new technology, you might think I'd be a geek. In some ways, I am. I really enjoy looking at new gadgets, particularly if they embody some advance which makes them more useful than what we had before. There's a flip side to this road roller of advancement, though.

If this post makes me look like a grumpy old man, so be it, but there are several things about technology which were better when 'I were 'tlad' (never was good at accents). Take radios. I had a cheap, run-of-the-mill transistor FM radio, which could run on batteries or connected to the mains. Flick the On switch and there would be Radio 1, or before that Radios Caroline or London. Instantly.

On the 'Media Centre' I now use (I'm talking something the size of a ghetto-blaster, not an iPod) I have to use a remote. I have to wait for the machine to power up from standby and show me a menu on its 7-inch LCD screen. I have to select Radio and then the channel. It may only take 30 seconds or so, but I do this several times a day and its irritating (it's Radio 4 these days, must send for a POTBBC T-shirt).

It's worse with TV. To prove my techno-worth, and more importantly to save cash, I built a Media PC a couple of years back and run it into a digital projector. My TV may only be Standard Definition, but it does have a six-foot diagonal. The picture's good, but turning on the TV is a nightmare.

The PC runs Windows Vista (I'd need a new mainboard to install Windows 7) and takes about 90 seconds to start up and reach the main menu in Windows Media Center. For the next three or four minutes, it then responds to commands (from another remote) with the sensitivity of an elephant wearing earmuffs and boxing gloves. This is because it hasn't finished loading extraneous parts of Windows. Once it's done this, it starts looking around for any updates it can busy itself with. It may take an hour or more downloading these over our 470kbps 'broadband' connection, regularly interrupting viewing with pixellated or missed frames.

I know there are ways round this - add more memory, upgrade to Windows 7, turn off updates - but it seems to me it's another example of things being worse than they used to be. I had a Sony instant-on TV for 20 years which was just that; on as soon as you pressed the power button. There may have only been four channels to watch (material for another blog there), but you didn't miss the first two minutes of a programme if you switched on just as it started.

Then there's my digital camera. Actually, all my digital cameras (ones suppliers haven't picked up after review). All of them use LCD screens for framing shots. All are great indoors and pathetic outdoors, unless it's night or there's a typhoon approaching. The technology isn't there yet to produce an LCD screen which can compete with the brightness of the sun (though AMOLED may get close). So why remove the viewfinder?

This simple mechanism, requiring only a couple of lenses, meant you could instantly frame an image, in whatever light conditions, and see what you were shooting at. Simples, as the meerkats would have it. Instead, we put up with guessing at what we're looking at and hoping we haven't chopped off our loved ones most cherished parts. We are bending to the technology, rather than getting the tech companies to bend to what we want. Same with computerised TV. Same with 'Media' Radio. Why do we let them get away with it?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Why Post Poems?

As a frequent, possibly fervent, twitterer, I'm always interested when I come across other writers, and particularly poets, on the system. I usually follow through to have a look at any poems they've put up, to get a feel for the kind of work they produce.

Putting poems up on the Web is a brave thing to do. It's one thing to show them to friends and relations, another to take them to workshop groups or to read them at open mic sessions and another another to put them up for the world to read. It may also count as publication, which can queer the pitch if you want to submit the poem to a magazine or competition.

Surely, though, if you put a poem up for others to read and open the page for comments, you don't just want compliments. I've read many poems online, where all the comments have been 'excellent', 'brilliant' and similar words of praise. Yesterday, I worked out why this was.

I read a poem from one of the people I follow on twitter; in my opinion it was a fair poem, though there were one or two places where it could have used a little work. Somebody else who had read it obviously felt the same and made a couple of mild, constructive comments. They really were mild, simply asking for more explanation in the poem of a possessive made early on, and suggesting where this reader felt they wanted more. The poet had responded to these comments, summarily dismissing both.

I asked in a comment if only appreciative words were welcome and if so, how we could progress as writers. My comment was marked for moderation for a few hours and then deleted, along with the other reader's comment. All that was left were the 'excellent's and 'brilliant's.

I've been working on my poems in various forums, offering and (importantly) receiving suggestions on work for over 30 years. Some comments you reject as being differences of opinion, others you accept because you can see they could improve what you've written. But if you hope to progress your work, in my opinion it's never good to dismiss them out of hand.

Maybe these Web posts are more showcase than workshop and their authors aren't asking for comments, but they all seem happy enough to leave the positive ones on view.

I haven't put many poems up, though I've tweeted a few haikus and Clerihews, which lend themselves to 140 characters. So here's one. It's been workshopped a couple of times, has had some alterations and is getting there, I think. I'm happy for comments.

Small Fish

Every element a fish, but fodder,
they collect for safety,
dart everywhichway as the sun stripes
the water like a giant frog.

So many shots in the surface
they could be bubbles, berries, rain,
but tiddlers build like a bee-swarm,
like a jackdaw nest, one stick on another.

A whitebait of bodies floods
this volume with fins, tails, mainly eyes,
flicking to snatch a glimpse at predators,
all the river’s teeth.

No stickleback defences,
spines to catch the gullet of a perch,
each minnow body slips down easy:
no fire, no pan, no grill, just fry.