Monday, 30 June 2008
I sent off a bunch of poems to various places over the weekend, and it's surprising how hard it is to find zines, magazines and journals that seem to publish stuff from the lighter end of the poetic spectrum. Maybe I'm wrong, and the serious poetry magazines are just waiting for someone to be different, but it seems as if the moment a place decides that it is a 'serious' outlet for poetry, it starts ignoring the existence of light poetry.
Maybe it's just me that needs to write more in line with what everyone else is doing. But then, that's my problem with it. They all put down that they want heartfelt stuff that is unique to you and not governed by form at the expense of that, but then they get free poems that all follow essentially the same format. It's really just another type of formalism, of the same sort that you find in music. Jazz, punk, grunge, they were all formed at least in part as a reaction to more formal earlier styles of music, but now they've got identifiable sounds of their own which half of their players wouldn't dare to step outside. Heaven forbid that anyone should dare play a diminished run or minor seven(sharp five) chord in a punk song, or that people should be allowed to write poetry that isn't 'free' and 'serious'
Saturday, 28 June 2008
Since my occasional cricket comments may cause confusion, I've decided on an explanation through the medium of Baseball. If the likes of Ed Smith and Rob Eastaway can manage to compare cricket and baseball, so can I, even if it is mostly because it seems easier than a proper explanation of the rules. Anyone wanting that should try Eastaway's wonderful What Is A Googly? which also has the advantage of being both very funny and beautifully illustrated. So 11 random differences between the sports, one for each member of a cricket team. Unless it's a village team, of course, in which case someone might have gotten lost on the way to the match, or forgotten to turn their alarm clock on, or the captain might only have been able to find ten willing players, and that's with his second cousin who's never played before but looks like he might be able to hit the ball a long way. There's the abiding story of one local captain who used to go down to Heathrow, look for flights of South Africans or Australians, and hold up a sign asking if anyone felt like playing for his team that day.
- Cricketers run in straight lines when they're batting, baseball players round a big diamond thingie. The distance is apparently roughly the same as the distance to first base. While whoever hit the ball is running hell for leather towards the point where the bowler bowls, one of his teammates is running quite fast in the other direction, since they both need to make it to the opposite end to score a run. Curiously, collisions somewhere in the middle are actually quite rare (Though I once ruined a pair of glasses doing just that).
- Cricketers don't have to run if they hit the ball, meaning that purely defensive shots are an option. They're also able to keep going once they've scored, so they can just rack up runs. Of course, if they're very keen on the defensive shots, this might not happen very quickly. As exhibit A we have Chris Tavare, ex-England player, who once laboured more than seven hours over a hundred in a Test Match. When you consider that Adam Gilchrist managed the same thing in 47 deliveries, that's scarily slow.
- Baseball matches come in essentially the one length, while cricket comes in all sorts. The official formats include Twenty20, which is twenty 'overs' of 6 legitimate deliveries each per side, 40-40 (guess), 50 over one day cricket, four day county cricket and the almighty Test Match. Test matches last until each side has been got out twice, or five days, whichever is shorter. Anyone used to baseball length games should watch twenty20, or Bangladesh playing Test Cricket against Australia.
- Baseball is played in just one direction, while in cricket, alternate overs are bowled from opposite ends of the pitch with a new bowler, allowing the spectators to see more than one person batting or bowling, the effect of the natural conditions to even out, and the fielders to get horribly lost as they attempt to remember where their favourite fielding position would be the other way round.
- Baseball pitchers get to throw the ball, while cricket's bowlers must avoid straightening their arm. On the other hand, they are allowed to take a run up, often while pulling menacing faces in the case of the quicker bowlers.
- While the speeds of the quickest bowlers are about the same as those of a good baseball pitcher, the fact that the ball bounces on the ground before reaching the point where some idiot takes a huge swing at it means that very slow bowlers can also get rewards. Slow balls grip more on the surface when spun, and so move more than if bowled quicker.
- Because cricket allows for scoring all round the wicket, you'll often find that at the start of a Test Match there will be more fielders behind the wicket than in front of it. In baseball, of course, any ball going there would be out of bounds. Of course, in village cricket, no one actually expects to catch the ball as part of the slip cordon. It's just there because your opening bowler insists on looking professional, or because one or more team members can't move above walking pace these days.
- They won't let cricket players wear catching gloves, which means I haven't taken a catch in over two years.
- Thanks to the defensive shots, cricket thinks it's acceptable to put fielders in positions that would get them killed on a baseball pitch. Many's the time I've fielded just a couple of yards away from the bat. Curiously, it's often come just after I've annoyed the bowler in some way.
- A baseball player gets to miss three in the strike zone before being out, and will probably get another go later. If, in cricket, the ball hits the three sticky things (the stumps) hard enough to dislodge the two bits of wood balanced on them (the bails) then that's my day over with as far as batting goes. And it does happen such a lot. Other ways of getting out include being Caught, being Leg Before Wicket (which I'm not even going to try explaining here), being Run Out if the ball gets to the other end before you do and knocks the bails off, being Stumped if you wander out from behind the line of the 'crease' and the wicket keeper takes the bails off with the ball, and a host of technical ones. My favourite of these is Obstruction of the Field. I just like the idea that you can be out for shouting or pulling faces to distract the fielders as they're trying to catch you.
- Baseball stops for a nice stretch in the 7th innings. Cricket stops for tea.
Friday, 27 June 2008
- Still ambling along, producing new bits for the novel as my brain comes into focus. This is much slower than other things I've written, but maybe that's just me putting more into each sentence. It could also be that 3rd Person is just that much more difficult for me than 1st.
- Looks like I'll be putting myself further into debt at exactly the wrong time, since I'm getting little or no response on the job hunt front. In its infinite wisdom, the British Government is quite happy to offer a mixture of loans and grants to undergrads with only the minimum of fuss, but anything postgraduate you're on your own for. That's fine, I know that practically everywhere else in the world you're paying for most of your education anyway, but it's something they never say very loudly. I guess no Government wants to tell you about what they're not doing, but this means you don't even get chance to build up a college fund for the contingency. More to the point, postgrads don't even have access to the same loans system as the undergrads, so we're paying high street rates for any loan we take out to cover fees and living expenses.
- I've moved most of my finished work from the clapped out computer I like to work on down onto this one, so that if I get a sudden urge to submit it I'm not put off by the messing around involved in transferring it from one to the other. I guess at some point I'm going to have to stop using my current one, since it will only write to floppy disc. I certainly can't find a USB port on it anywhere.
- I finally get picked for a cricket match last night and it rains. Typical.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Somewhere along the line, history got to be about statistics and lists. Whether it's analysis of medieval friendship networks by counting the number of times different latin words for friend are used in letters, sticking the whole of Domesday Book onto computer database, or counting the exact number of horses involved in English requisitions for their wars against the Scots as a way of assessing something about troop numbers, we spend half our time adding up. Not that these aren't all worthy points (not least because they're all examples taken from people associated with Hull's history department) but there are days when I long to make a few sweeping generalisations without having to back them up to two decimal places. I'm more into people and the way they thought than exactly how much a canon of Beverley had to pay his vicar each year (40s in two parts, since you ask).
The reasons for this are probably twofold. Firstly, we live in societies increasingly obsessed with statistics. Everything is calculated, often at the expense of the human detail. Secondly, there's a feeling that there isn't really that much history to go round anymore. I blame Lord Acton. For those who done know, he was a 19th century writer on history whose big idea (and I might be paraphrasing just a touch here) was that they'd have the major details of history sorted out by the end of the century, leaving the rest of the millenium off for golf.
The result of this, naturally, is a nagging feeling that he might have been right, that we are, after all, just messing around with the fine detail. To make an impact, we think, we have to constantly apply new methodologies, metanarratives or ways of thinking. There was a vogue for trying to psychoanalyse history at one point, and then there was Braudel's big emphasis on the mentalitie of an era, and then the emphasis on picking apart micro-events in cultural history. Handing history over to the sort of person who fills in a cricket scorebook in different coloured pens is just the latest in a long line of these things.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
One side effect of this is that you very often get out of history what you go in looking for, even if you're not actually trying to distort the facts. You ask particular questions of the evidence, or get interested in particular topics, and naturally that's what you get answers to. It gets even worse if you go in having decided what the story ought to be anyway, presumably because it's what you think the story of the world as a whole is. Someone who didn't hate jargon quite so much would be talking about metanarratives at this point.
The obvious examples here are the (now rather obsolete) whig and marxist approaches to history. Both saw history as an inevitable progression, but the first saw it as towards British parliamentary democracy, while the second thought that a historical progression towards communism was inevitable.
The thing is, while we can laugh at that, we probably have our own stories for the universe. Maybe it's the inevitable spread of our particular values (though I get quite grumpy about the word progress.) Maybe it's seeing the whole of the past in light of our perceived sense of who we are. What's your story? When you look at history, what are you looking for? The odds are, if you look hard enough, you'll find it somewhere.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Has anyone else ever noticed that almost every sport has at least one rule that is, frankly, far too complicated? For fencing it's the right of way rule, for soccer the offside ones. Rugby has some complicated nonsense about exactly what you're allowed to do in a ruck, scrum and maul, while cricket, of course, has the LBW law. (Notice that we have laws, not rules) If you've ever tried explaining something like this to someone, preferably someone who doesn't understand the sport very much, you'll know just how complicated it can get. It isn't helped by the fact that the majority of people playing the game won't have read the complete rules at any point.
This is where history comes in. Most of these rules make more sense, and are easier to remember, if you know where they come from.
A brief explanation of cricket's LBW law might run: The player is out when the ball strikes them on some part of their anatomy without hitting the bat first and would have gone on to hit the wicket, unless: it struck them outside the off stump while they were making a genuine attempt to strike the ball, OR it pitched outside the line of the leg stump.
That is a fairly accurate description, but it probably doesn't make that much sense to anyone. Now for the history bit. Originally, cricket didn't have a Leg Before Wicket law (I imagine by now you want to know what the letters mean) People just bowled vaguely at the three upright sticks of the wicket, and if you hit it, whoever was batting was out.
Then, some bright spark worked out that if they put some padding on their legs, they could stand in front of the wicket and the ball would never hit it. Eventually (and probably with quite a bit of name calling and not speaking to one another, this being cricket) the people in charge of the laws of the game introduced the first LBW law. Since they didn't like changing things too much, it was a very limited thing; you could be out LBW only if the ball pitched in line with the wickets, hit you in line with them, AND was going on to hit them.
So far, so good, until the 1950s, when assorted players worked out that a bowler bringing the ball back in towards them had virtually no chance of managing this feat. As a result, when facing good spinners like Sonny Ramhadin or Jack Iverson, they spent an awful lot of time shoving their pads vaguely at the ball. This was boring, and cricket, despite appearances, doesn't like boring. So they changed the rules again. Now, if whoever was batting shoved their pad vaguely at a ball outside the off (the side of the field the batting player is facing, being side on) stump without playing a shot, then they could be out if that ball was going to hit the wicket. They didn't change anything about the other, leg, side because they could still remember the days when players would bowl ball after ball down there, annoying everyone.
There. Hopefully, you now understand how useful history is for this sort of thing. More importantly, you probably understand the LBW law, which is more than half the umpires who keep giving me out do.
Monday, 23 June 2008
Friday, 20 June 2008
- I've started reading The Host by Stephanie Meyer, and if it's half as good as everyone keeps saying, it should be a good read.
- After complaining about the unsettling effect of the occasional long term silences over submissions, I've had two contacts just days after submitting work. One's a regular thing, and was accepted. The other was just a note to say that they'd received it, and when it would probably be decided on, but even so, it's better than wondering if what I sent had got lost in the ether somewhere.
- I didn't get as much done as I'd planned today. The PhD stuff went slowly, which meant I didn't get chance to write anything on the fiction. Hopefully, the weekend will produce more.
- Philip K. Dick's Cantanta 140 isn't as good as I thought it would be. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was ok, but this was too preachy, wrapped the plot up in far too much of a hurry, and really felt forced most of the way through.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Two reasons struck me for it. 1- it's quite an old chapter, from before I was making much effort to write, and 2- I think I was making an effort to be as 'academic' sounding as possible. In short, I wasn't letting my writing there be influenced by my writing anywhere else. That's just so idiotic of me. Good writing is good writing, whether I'm using it to tell a story, amuse, or carry an argument in a thesis.
Obviously, I can't make the thing read like a blog, and there probably isn't much scope for characterisation and plot development, but I can at least make it readable, can't I? (Actually, I've just had a better idea. I'll put the whole thing into rhyming verse and see how they like that. Not very much, I suspect.)
Monday, 16 June 2008
Sunday, 15 June 2008
This isn't by any means a bad thing, and of course writing isn't meant to be reduced like that, but the uncertainty of it is strange. There's always a slight nagging worry over whether something was good enough to submit, particularly when you don't hear anything back from somewhere a while. Obviously, editors are busy people, but long silences are always worrying. That's particularly the case since I'm one of those people who instinctively believes that whatever I've just written is truly awful, regardless of its actual quality. There are occasions when even a straightforward rejection seems better than hearing nothing.
Friday, 13 June 2008
A quick photo of the view down my driveway, and some assorted thoughts.
1- Chapter 3 of the new novel is done, but I seem to be putting off doing more with the old stuff.
2- Sprung Rhythm is a lot easier to understand than I thought.
3- The various forms of partial rhyme are almost as much fun as the full stuff- almost.
4- I've signed up with a temp agency, and as part of it I had to do a computer skills assessment. It seems I can type faster than I thought.
5- I really have no sense of direction. I played cricket a couple of days ago at a place that is nominally my home ground, even though I haven't played there before this year. I still had to follow signposts carefully, and was convinced I was going the wrong way on the way back.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Monday, 9 June 2008
After extensive research (otherwise known as asking my mother) I can reveal that this flower is in fact an Aquilegia, more commonly known as a Columbine, after one of the traditional Venetian harlequin characters. There, don't we all feel better for finding that out?
Sunday, 8 June 2008
And this is Joe, wondering what I'm doing with that bleeping camera thingie.
Saturday, 7 June 2008
Thursday, 5 June 2008
1. Who’s your all-time favorite author, and why?
If I may be permitted a poet, then my obsession with the work of Sophie Hannah is probably pretty clear. She does things with metrical, rhyming, light poetry that go far beyond what those things are usually thought to be capable of. If not, then we're probably talking Neil Gaiman, for his ability to take such strange, awkward ideas and make wonderful stories from them.
2. Who was your first favorite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favorites?
Are we really about to start relying on my memory? I can remember reading a few of Robert Asprin's books in school, and I've snapped them up for the nostalgia value when I've seen them in second hand bookshops, so that might count. Then again, it might easily be Pratchett.
3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favorite authors, and why?
Stephanie Meyer. Presumably you don't want the obvious answer that I've only just read her work. I suspect it's simply that I'm a sucker for very well written modern fantasy.
4. If someone asked you who your favorite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?
Let's see. All of those above, of course. On the fantasy front, Kim Harrison and Jim Butcher. Kathy Reichs for her crime fiction. Christopher Marlowe's plays. Robert Twigger and Gideon Haigh for their non-fiction. I'd have to think a lot harder for much in the way of literary fiction. I enjoy it, but it's more a question of individual books than particular authors.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
The parody is fair enough, but isn't really played for laughs in the same way as, for example, Jasper Fforde's parodying of novelistic conventions in general. As such, we're forced to treat things less as humerous plays on classic and outdated devices, but as the USE of those devices. Almost by definition, that results in parts that, far from being the postmodern wonderland that the author no doubt intended, seem cliched and out of date.
Just as importantly, the whole doesn't seem to hang together very well. Plot elements seem to be shoved together before being explained as something minor and frankly rather uninteresting instead of arising naturally and necessarily. The characters are strange, but not particularly deep aside from a couple. The title character doesn't actually do that much, and is rendered a near nonentity in the climax of the thing. Even the choice of narrator is odd and appears to contribute little. I have a particular problem with that, because, despite the narrator, the piece seems to assume effective omniscence throughout. Yes, all of this is done self consciously, but that doesn't make it any better.
I suppose I should find some upsides. The writing is, to be fair, quite easy to read. The journey is interesting enough, even if it is eventually reduced to something fairly mundane. Even the plot twists catch the eye, though they fail to keep it. I suppose the problem is that this could have been so much more. It's a literary fantasy filled with strange characters, postmodern approaches and skillful writing. In the hands of, for example, Neil Gaiman, it could have been amazing. In the hands of Jonathon Barnes, it's no more than a vaguely enjoyable diversion.
Tuesday, 3 June 2008
With writing, I've realised that I sometimes spend so much time trying to write great stuff, and then trying desperately to revise it so it comes out something like I intended, that I don't put enough into doing anything with it once it's together. Or I'll spend ages worrying over the minor details of a poem without asking myself if I should maybe be using a different form completely (or maybe actually getting on with revising the next chapter of the PhD. I wonder if they'll let me hand it in in verse?) Either way, it's a weird feeling to suddenly realise that you've been doing the wrong thing all morning. Or, in the case of my picking technique, for about the last fifteen years.
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
#4 The Koran
#5 Arabian Nights
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
#7 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
#9 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#16 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
#29 Candide by Voltaire
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal
#36 Capital by Karl Marx
#37 Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
#38 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#39 Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys
#48 Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 Color Purple by Alice Walker
#58 Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
#73 American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 A Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 Red Pony by John Steinbeck
#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Émile by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Émile Zola
#104 Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
This seems to be going around at the moment, so I thought I'd see how many of these formerly (or in some places, currently) banned books I've read. The ones in bold I can remember reading, which might or might not mean anything, given my memory. Not as many as I thought, it turns out. I seem to have read other, less important things by several of them (Le Debacle by Zola and Aristoles ethics, for example). Still, I'm sure I'll get round to it.
Sunday, 1 June 2008
A couple of things I do remember have been dormant for quite a while now, and I'm wondering whether to politely inquire as to whether they were actually received. In one case, I received a reply saying that the author of a website would use one of my poems as soon as he remembered to update it, but that was a couple of months back now. Perhaps I should e-mail to check if he's remembered.
The newly begun novel is proving much harder to write than the first few. Partly, I think it has to do with the shift to 3rd person POV. Partly, I suspect it's because I'm doing better things with the writing. Mostly, of course, it's because I'm a more well balanced, stable human being at the moment, and so have a disinclination to throw myself into an all consuming novel writing mode. And yes, compared with what I've been like at points in the past year, this is normal.