Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fluid interfaces and poetry

Think of how many new ways we can interact with language; and then imagine a screen, a bit like looking through your phone camera screen, that projects a poem onto any living moving background. Or as a soft ball play area for adults that mixes digitally stored lines and sounds as a result of play. Or a mirror with a small storage interface set in that allows you to record data notes and lines, and then re-assembles over a pre-defined period or randomly...

More on the techie stuff from the MIT fluid interface research team here:

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tree voice program

Working on a project inspired by Thomas Hardy's description of the night sounds of Egdon Heath - natives of the heath could tell what plant or dried grass the wind is blowing through - it involves miking up trees and making recordings of their voices in various woods in the Scottish Borders, Wooplaw and down by Kelso way and all. And then playing around with the results digitally.

It's fun when you end up with a fox, badger or owl or something in the background too.

Giving trees a voice sounds like poetry to me...

Monday, 24 January 2011

The madness of twitter and poets

'The way in which people frantically communicate online via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be seen as a modern form of madness, according to the leading sociologist.
Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes in her new book, Alone Together: “A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological.”'

This is from the UK Daily Telegraph website, you can read the full article here:

I think that Turkle is missing the point, what people are doing on social networking sites is writing. It may not be good writing but it comes from a desire to write and read. And to communicate through that medium. There is something about writing and reading that perfects communication, that makes it - in fact - poetic.

Wordsworthian reflection and recalled emotion may be a long way away from tossing down a status update; but healthy writers of all kinds think about their utterances and know it is once removed from reality. Bad writing, bad reading or malicious intent then is to blame for failures in communication.

It surprises me that sociologists bang on about this but then it seems such book titles and research always make use in the conservative press. It seems to be a result of a number of things including:
  1. Fear of mass communication - people shouldn't be allowed to talk to each other without control, they are too stupid or mad.
  2. Fear of the other groups - the working class, fundamentalists, lapdogs - are conspiring to find a voice and alter our perception of normal.
  3. A lack of awareness of literature - what about ballads, graffiti, letters and penny pamphlets and all the spontaneous writing of the past that stirred people up, and allowed stories, gossip, misunderstandings, new ideas to pass up and down countries and around the world; don't forget Walter Scott the Scottish writer had read American Washington Irving's Sleepy Hollow story before he met Irving in 1816! Global reading isn't something new...
  4. A fear of writing and most especially poetry - and that can never be a good thing; one strand of Twitter for example and the status update is that poets are best equipped to write it; and I guess that must be pretty scary for normal folks!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Dale Spender on distractions...the cybary

Dale of course embraced the idea of distraction as part of computer use. Check out the bean bags and laptops...has anyone actually used them? Could be uncomfortable...
The cultural consequences of the internet have not yet been acknowledged, Spender feels, and she is preaching them with messianic zeal. The worldwide web changes the whole nature of education. It means looking rather than reading, it means making connections (or playing) rather than studying a finished text, it means being able to access information at any time you want rather than attending lectures at particular places and at certain times. "Print literacy is about following an argument. It's about middle-class values - postpone the gratification until you get to the end. There's no ending online. There's no closure, no linear basis. It's about bringing it in, checking it out, constantly evaluating," says Spender.
To help teachers cope with the very different demands of digital literacy, Spender has developed an online professional development course for educators. The course will be interactive and will train teachers who can then go on to teach others. She has also persuaded the University of Queensland, where she is a professor, to replace its library with a "cybrary", complete with 500 computers and beanbags instead of desks.
The University of Queensland Library is still the top link on Google for cybrary by the way, and before you ask, yes , there are some others....

Friday distractions

Carnegie-Mellon research indicating that "distractions are a bad thing". It is kind of old, sorry, and only refers to men. To quote, "Today's systems distract a user in many explicit and implicit ways, thereby reducing his effectiveness." So that is me ruled out then. Perhaps women handle distraction better?

To read more, follow...

I will catch up with Professor Daniel P. Siewiorek a little bit later and let you know what he thinks about all this now.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Watched by sabre tooth tigers

A slightly primeval feel to today's entry as I have been remembering an article from of all places The Financial Times I use to hand out during online information training. It explained that the screen refresh rate of computers (this being the 90s) was similar to the eye movements of a predator about to strike. And as a result, looking at the display triggered an atavistic fear response in users; an early warning system from primitive times pumping adrenalin and urging the user (potential victim) to hurl themselves away from danger.

Have you ever felt like that while working on a computer? That the thing was out to get you.

Distraction during the creative process, the man from Porlock, perhaps a more useful technique than we might assume? Not denigrating the power of pure slog but sometimes when you want to catch an idea that is hovering out of reach, maybe flicking through 10 other applications/social networking sites/answering a question about Blake's 7 and even feeling the fear and disruption is exactly what needs to be done.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Don't forget

Sometimes a pencil and paper is just easier...

Ghost of a flea

William Blake was one writer who took publishing into his own hands so that he could control how his words and books looked. Not so different from having our hands on the desktop publishing software and checking our word processor's template? Editors and most often publishers of classic works changed the versions that we use today. Sir Walter Scott's Scots language all tidied up, Emily Dickinson's punctuation, all the gory and sexy and sad bits of Shakespeare...

Computer Composition: netbooks

Well, you have probably been told this is a bad thing. Proper writers like to go on about fountains pens and thick cream embossed paper or their beloved old typewriters (although even the latter have started to be replaced in interviews by beloved but very primitive Macs - which fulfills the same kind of function).

Speaking as one of those who rushed out as a teenager to buy a typewriter, the cheapest WHSmith's could provide, I don't have any nostalgia for writing poetry on that thing. I used to religiously write in longhand and then transfer to the typewriter resulting in a lot of e.e.cummings meets Adrienne Rich verse. Some of which was published and placed in competitions! This was the eighties after all....

Having said that, there are times for noodling around with pencil and paper - when you are out on a walk or watching sport or a million unwired moments - but I like composing on a keyboard. There I have said it. Even poetry (with some caveats that I will get onto in later blog posts).

So how come writing on my brand new Aspire One happy netbook feels like writing on the old typewriter?

Well, for one thing, I have got rid of Word (don't get me started on Word btw that is a whole other series of blogs as to how to tinker with it so you can write poetry). Now I only have the Microsoft Word Starter 2010 (with adverts, yuk, I prefer not to use it for anything but its spellcheck) - and I am in a new world of Notepad/Wordpad until I decide what freeware to go with. Wow! Getting to know all the strange lack of correspondence between text files, rich format files and the reshaping that goes on when I get them onto another computer that has Word. (But can't read the 2010 version - sound familiar?)

Another thing is the midget keyboard makes me feel like I am back in typing class. And it makes me type slowly. Not good when you need to drum out 2000 words, I may have to get a USB keyboard which feels a bit wasteful. But possibly a good thing when it comes to writing least, an experimental technique if nothing else.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Creative writing software - give it to me....

Do you make creative writing software? Point me in your direction...

I want to review the very latest in tools for writers. I have seen a lot of novel writing apps and I will be talking about them. But what I am especially looking for is software tools for poetry writing. Maybe this is something syndicated, or well-known software that you use an element of in a special way to help your writing. Or maybe even it is something, maybe just a bit of code or a macro that you have written yourself.

Let me in on the secret...

I can promise discretion and objectivity. I am a geek and a poet after all.


In the fifties, they had another way to ensure secrecy during testing - a technical writer friend of mine who was writing the handbook on some gizmo - early modems, I think - was worried about his security. It was cold war time. The powers-that-be gave him a dog.

The capybara of ice...

Blame this eerie creature...

Call for poetry, reviews and essays...

Call for poetry (no more than 120 lines), images and reviews (literary and technical) for Issue 1 Spring 2011 of our new online magazine. Deadline for copy is March 30th 2011.

Essays, by prior discussion with the Editor only, send an outline of your ideas marked FAO Bridget Khursheed. Please note that editorial policy values the experimental, fresh and thoughtful in language and form; don't send us an ode to your i-pod. Having said that we love poets who surprise us with their use of traditional form and welcome dialect poems and translations.

Contact for submissions and all other enquiries is poetandgeek at

Welcome to the blog

Review of all things poetry and geeky: you want gadgets to write with, to experiment with, the theory, the academics and the madness of it all, the early days plus a first rate magazine that publishes your stuff.