Thursday, 29 May 2008

Newsflash: monkeys control robotic arms with the power of their minds

I am sure by now you would have read this article and are considering its implications.

Before you go off in a blind panic, it’s important to remember that monkeys have been able to control computers for a long time! The ramifications have already begun to be felt (most notably in the form of Windows Vista).

But Fuselit isn’t made just by computers. It requires three elements:

1. Creative creatures making all sorts of things.
2. A computer publishing software and printing facilities.
3. Fully functional hands with opposable thumbs and so forth in order to stitch them all together.

Monkeys now have access to all three. And I don’t think they’ll limit their ambition to feeding themselves fruit and marshmallow. Oh no.

Simians have attempted to conquer literary journals before. Just look at what happened to the Shakespeare Revue. It’s only a matter of time before Fuselit is targeted – and by the look on that monkey’s face, I don’t think they’re in the mood for compromise.

In these dark times, it’s important to remember the following points:

• Monkeys and Humans can live in peace together.
• This may mean giving the monkeys the upper hand so as to appease them.
• I have always been very nice to monkeys, and would make a most loyal servant.
• I have been looking for an opportunity to betray Kirsty in any case.

So don’t worry. We’ll all pull through.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Collectable Poet Top Trumps 2: Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison, whose Collected Poems and Complete Film Poems were released at the end of last year, is one of my favourite poets. He is as far removed from the image of poet as lace-cuffed, self-regarding ponce as it is possible to be, so much so that even the most purple-tongued poetry critics find it hard to review him in their usual unapproachable style. He is an educated man with a working class background whose poems explore that conflict rigorously and fearlessly. He is a poet who, though the phrase might seem trite, has something to say, particularly concerning the power of articulation, but does so without any worthier-than-thou airs. He doesn't strain for profundity; he finds it, in abundance, and reports it. He is frequently very funny, particularly skilled in punnery, as well as raging, bitter and rambunctious. He is flawed of course, as well; many of his poems go on far too long.

Harrison scores highly on output (his Collected is a weighty tome, and doesn't include the long film poems) and personal style (he combines Northern vernacular and Shakespearian wordplay with classical forms and never goes anywhere near free verse). His social impact can't be discounted either; despite living in an age where poetry is largely disregarded, the broadcast of his poem v. caused such a stir that there were calls for it to be banned. Conservative MP Gerald Howarth, later seen making a nitwit of himself on the Brass Eye special, led the vitriolic charge against Harrison, 'four-letter filth' and poetry itself.

Harrison scores low, however, on 'poety friends', being something of a dogged outsider, and eccentricity. He is a passionate poet, but firmly grounded in reality, moreso than many of us.

Tony Harrison links:
Collected Poems -- Review
Selected Poems
Complete Film Poems
BBC Interview

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A review of 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' in the form of a haibun

Before I start the review, let me just say that I consider the new film to be the 6th, not the 4th proper Indiana Jones outing, since the Lucasarts adventure games Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine are both worthy additions to the canon. The first of these was a point and click adventure game which used the same engine as Monkey Islands 1 & 2 (and which was first developed for Maniac Mansion). Indy teams up with feisty flame-haired psychic Sophia Hapgood and must stop the Nazis discovering the secret of Orichalcum, the legendary metal of Atlantis, rumoured to be more powerful than uranium. As well as being a top-notch example of the all-but-extinct point and click genre, it's a classic Indy story, replete with archaeological arcana, fist fights and witty dialogue. The engine used to create it is now freeware, and as a result there are at least two 'sequels' in production, being made by fans. You can download the demo for one of them, Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth. It's pretty good!

Infernal Machine appeared a number of years later and is firmly based on the Tomb Raider series. While there's a lot more running around and jumping (as well as a clunky combat system) and a few overly fantastical enemies, there's still a decent cold war story, involving the ruins of Babylon and King Solomon's mines, plus some sharp exchanges between Indy and Sophia (who returns with a new haircut).

Doug Lee voices Indy in both these games and is every bit as dry as Harrison Ford. After playing through them, you'll find yourself imitating some of his choicest expressions. It's been a while since I've played either, but two come to mind: his frustrated "Sophia!" and, hilariously, "Well, well. An entrenching tool," (upon discovery of a spade).

There are other stories in the Jones franchise as well, but having watched a couple of episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, I prefer to discount them. Spielberg would have us believe that during World War I Indy was simultaneously present at the trenches, taking on the Luftwaffe in the air and playing a vital role in the Allied spy network. Chew on that, Biggles.

I don't really think much of Lucasarts' third Indy game, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb either, since it was even more action-orientated than its predecessor, with only a loose plot, hardly any dialogue (or comedy) and no Doug Lee. Really, it was only a game, whereas the first two were also stories. As for the comics and novels (??) I've never encountered any of them face to face.

Now for my review in the form of a haibun. Haibun, if you're wondering, are a mixture of haiku and prose poetry. Further information can be gleaned from contemporary haibun online, a quarterly journal.

The Review

The major failing of this film is symbolised by the protagonist's trousers. Something about them is deeply wrong but you can't quite remember what trousers Indy was wearing before, so it's hard to put a finger on the problem. Is the waistband too high? Is it that they seem rather too neatly pressed? Are they too beige? Too lightweight? Should they, by rights, be as ravaged as his shirt after he's survived crashing through several panes of glass, a jet engine ride, cascades of pinging bullets and an atomic bomb?

There are, of course, flaws that you can identify. Plausibility is stretched beyond breaking point. A man's nose is broken, only to be completely healed within moments. Indy stands at the very cusp of a whirling tornado of debris and doesn't even get dust in his eyes, let alone lacerated to a bony stump. Indy and Marion have a heated (and very loud) exchange just beyond the borders of the enemy camp they've escaped, yet the soldiers pursuing them through the jungle still can't seem to track them down. Characteristic Lucasfilm CGI (ie. still less convincing than a Harryhausen creation).

But all would be forgivable in the context of a film that really captured the feeling of the first three flicks. Between a rickety script, cranky actors and creaking sets, Indy 4 never quite gets there.

Indiana Jones
and the Saucer Men From Mars?
Not quite but nearly.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The Forest call for stolen submissions!

Hello hello! Here's some exciting news from long-time FuseLit friends The Forest!

Dear all,

The following is a call for submissions for the new anthology from Forest Publications. Please feel free to pass this along to writer's whom you think might be interested. Further, do not hesitate to contact me with any questions regarding this project.

Below is the challange:

Never, ever trust a writer. They cluck and nod and listen and then three months later they splash your tragedy/foolishness/very embarrassing incident involving a raspberry jelly and a pair of warm curling tongs over the tawdry pages of a literary quarterly. We feel there is no shame in this. Quite the opposite: we believe this ugly fact deserves to be celebrated with all the pomp and hullaballoo we can possibly muster. Therefore we are compiling an anthology of the finest stolen stories, the anecdotes and overheard conversations that simply demand to be told. We feel that it is time to be honest. This is where our ideas come from.

Stories should not exceed 5,000 words in length and must, must, must be accompanied by a short note that explains the nature of your theft. We would prefer that you did not steal from well-known television shows or anything equally obvious.

Send your stolen story to:

Closing date for submissions: July 3rd

Explore The Forest!

Collectable Poet Top Trumps 1: Frank O'Hara

Guest Review: Andrea Tallarita on Jane Weir's 'Before Playing Romeo'

Before Playing Romeo by Jane Weir, Templar Poetry, £9.99
Click here to buy

Tensions of language and communication are at the heart of Before Playing Romeo, the second poetry collection by Jane Weir. “I know not how to tell you who I am,” a line from Romeo and Juliet, is the epigraph for the poem which gives the volume its title, and this concern recurs everywhere in the volume: “you do not know me, / nor I you and never will,” she declares dryly in Window. This title is in turn revealing: the ‘window’ is another recurrent trope in BPR, a symbolic point of passage through which we see in and are seen into. The image is wilfully ambiguous, and the rest of her collection follows suit. Most of the poems which Weir addresses to an acquaintance or an interlocutor subtly double up as messages from the poet to the reader. One is constantly on the edge between spectator and addressee: like Romeo himself, the meaning of these poems is constantly in play. Language is correspondingly elusive and unpredictable (though in its usage Weir has some clear debts towards other past poets; Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop): internal rhymes are scattered across poems that would otherwise seem unstructured, and when a scene finally seems to be depicting an instance of communication, it is more often through the characters’ mutual silence than through their mutual speech.

It is on this linguistic plane of playfulness and sudden epiphanies, of skidding and dipping through surfaces of meaning, that the collection takes us on its thematic voyage through places and memories. Milan, Venice, Carrickfergus; from Ireland to Italy, BPR sweeps over a wealth of Mediterranean experiences. These experiences are charged, intense with recollection and atmosphere. Weir is at her best when she can bring together the ambiguity of her language with the concreteness and stability of her memories: the ‘Ralph’ poems, dedicated to her husband, are an example of that (“Even in this tender heat / the flies persist / as though I’m / a house party / and my eyes / the ballroom floor / of their mansion, / where they deposit gifts / around my irises / as if they are card tables” – Ralph in Florence).

The recollection of experience can be at once familiar and alienating, in accordance with the ‘play’ of the text: some images tend to unsettle as much as they please, such as the sky which ‘belched red gold’ of In Our Dinner Hour, Wigan or the ‘monstrous’ sun of First Night with the Cave Hill Behind. The process is of course very self-aware; several of Weir’s poems are about the process or act of creating the text (Via Gellia; Exile, Artists Corner; At Helens’ Bay…). Yet it is precisely that which goes beyond the text, or which exists behind it, which in these poems is the realm of communication – the other side of the window. Since direct, binary communication through the Word is not possible, the most that these poems aim for (and, by extension, the most that we can attain in our experience) is not a steady stream of exchange, but a fleeting moment of contact, the ‘tremor before flight,’ as she beautifully puts it in Before Playing Romeo, in which we are not so much constantly talking or hearing but ‘nearly touching’ (The Cave of the Golden Calf).

The cover of Before Playing Romeo consists of a painting of Bacchus by Caravaggio. This, along with the reference to Romeo and some of the poem titles (The Cave of the Golden Calf, Copper Vase, Harpies and Phineus), suggests an interest in the flourishing historical periods of the Mediterranean lands she visits in her poems – the classical ages and the Renaissance. This expectation, however, is not fulfilled; her poems never go beyond a cursory, casual reference to Apollo or to Zeus. This is a shame, because Homage, a poem dedicated to Charlotte Mew and Christina Rossetti, sees Weir engaging very successfully with the modern mythologies surrounding these two poets, and suggests she would have the competence to deal with more ancient ones as well. Some of her poems might benefit from being steeped not only in the rich atmospheres and climates of the lands they visit, but also in the equally rich cultures which matured in them, and which, in BPR, are remarkable only for their absence.

But then, perhaps these themes go beyond the interests of a collection as intimate as that of Weir; and as her choice of epigraphs suggests (Oscar Wilde, Colette, James Baldwin), Jane Weir is a modernist through and through. In a postmodern age which often forgets the value of concrete, sensual experience (or at least refuses to express it), it is refreshing to read poems which take us back to lanes with soft earth under our feet, to tender sunlight and the wind that ‘froths the sea.’ They might not always be as historically erudite as one may wish, but they are textually subtle, often inspiring, and pleasingly mature. I mean it as a true compliment when I say that they are a good old wine in new bottles – a Piedmontese Barolo, to be precise, produced in Cuneo, by the Borgogno family, and seasoned six years.

Andrea Tallarita

An ode to every bird

Leafing through my WHSmith/Reader's Digest 'Book of British Birds' (which is the best birdbook I've ever come across) I wondered if it was possible to compile a poetry anthology which featured one poem about every bird in the book. Probably not, in all likelihood. But how close could you get? Would the list be dominated by the romantics, or would contemporary poets make a strong showing?

Here's some I can come up with off the top of my head:
Kingfisher by Ted Hughes, from River
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens
Ode to a Nightingale by Freaky Keats
The Heron by Paul Farley, from Tramp in Flames
The Twa Corbies
, a Scots ballad (concerning crows)
The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins (concerning the kestrel)

I'll probably add more to the list as I think of them. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know! Could be a nice little sideline project.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Make Your Own Fuselit: Straddle

Fuselit for free? How's that?

Straddle, Fuselit's third issue, has been sold out for some time now. At the time we brought it out, we were selling Fuselit sans website, via a table on the University campus one day a week. We only had 50 copies printed and didn't bother with a second run. So we've now decided to make this issue available for free to everyone in PDF format. Rather than simply read it on your computer screen, however, we've designed it for you to print out and (with a few deft snips and a long-arm stapler) assemble into hard copy format. You can even make multiple copies and sell them on if you want to.

Straddle features work by Submarine author Joe Dunthorne (before he was famous), London poet Barney Tidman (who has since supported Patrick Wolf), well known Fuselit regulars like Aliya Whiteley, John Osbourne and David Floyd and a rare appearance from the enigmatic Paul Haggar.

So what're you waiting for? Spread it far and wide!

Click here to download

Creative Commons License
Fuselit: Straddle by Jon Stone, Kirsten Irving and Others is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at

Sunday, 18 May 2008

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