Thursday, 23 June 2011

Birdbook Launch Tonight!

So we're finally there. The official launch of Birdbook 1: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland is tonight at the Phoenix Artists Club on Charing Cross Road, from 7.30pm. We have a raft of poets reading, free pin badges to give away, some early proofs to display, a slideshow of the artwork to project, and the full range of books to sell. Lots of the artists are coming too, so looking forward to chatting with all the various contributors who came through for us on this truly collaborative project.

In other words, we've printed out a dummy Fuselit: Contraption and found that - yes! - the rivets and ribbon go well together. Slowly we inch our way towards rolling out the new, triple-format Fuselit for all to see...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Birdbook Poets Win Major Award

Nice headline-style heading for you there. Our newest and mightiest anthology, Birdbook: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland, is already full of award-winning poets, but just to demonstrate that we aren't just picking up our leads after the trophies have been handed out, three more poets from the book - Tom Chivers, Holly Hopkins and Niall Campbell - have this week won much-coveted Eric Gregory awards. The Gregories, given annually by the Society of Authors, are awarded to the best five (give or take) British poets under 30.

Naturally, the search is under way to find poets for our upcoming projects who will win the award next year. Let's see if we can beat our record and get five out of five.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Errant gaming summary part 1 - the basic model

It's been a while since I've posted anything about what I've been working on - so I thought an overview might be in order to bring things bang up to date.

The methodology I was following through the spring was something I've called 'errant gaming'. It's a way of exploring the relationship between jokes and what I'm very crudely calling anomie. By anomie I just mean zones of indeterminacy, areas outside of social norms or formal rules. And by jokes, well, the rough formulation I'm working with is nonsense that makes sense, or mistakes that work. So something crazy which seems to have coherence, or taking it less linguistically, it could be when you kick a broken computer and it starts working.

Relation between joking and anomie in two zones - detournement and errant reasoning

The above diagram divides these interactions into two 'zones'. The first is jokes as agents of subversion, of detournement. But what I want to focus on is joking as a means of dealing with indeterminacy. If you think about it, once the rules break down, nothing you do is going to be right so you need some other strategy, and joking represents one of them.

Errant gaming tries to generate these zones of anomie in game contexts, in such a way they can be resolved by the players using different means. A errant game therefore needs two properties – it needs a hole, it needs indeterminacy, but it also needs a way of being shifted or changed to run, there have to be forces outside the game you can bring in.

ANOMIE - the first errant game experiment

So my first conception of an errant game the a card game I called 'Anomie', which I described some months a go. It's a card game whose dominant feature is that playing the joker that lets you do anything. So you could burn the cards, eat the deck, whatever. And in one game where I tested it, this card really became the point of the game – no one could follow what was happening, but everyone wanted a chance to do something silly.

ANOMIE - it's all gone a bit crazy

My second experiment was quite different. It's called 'automata chess' - it's played like normal chess, but each time you take a piece you set it a rule – almost pseudo-computationally – which governs its movements. They're the pieces with the blue thimbles on them.

Automata Chess in action

And here are the rules at this point.

Automata Chess with overlaid rules

The main thing to note with the game was the sheer level of mental exhaustion caused by having to constantly invent rules – and how this caused us to start cross referencing rules in order to retain sanity.

Automata Chess with overlaid rules

Now, at this particular moment of the game we had a bit of a weird situation – I'm in check, but automata 1 will block my check at the end of the move. So do I have to move out of check? We had no way of resolving this, and in the end had to resort to a randomised system – guessing what colour counter was in her hand.

Those two, and other minor tests, constitute what I call the basic model for Errant Gaming. And I then moved to working on the temporal model – which is an attempt to introduce this indeterminacy into game time. Why the shift to time? Well, I'll explain later...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Do a young poet a favour ...

... and tell them about the Foyle Young Poets Awards!

An amazing opportunity and exciting kick-off point for young writers, this free competition recognises talented poets between the ages of 11 and 17. On top of the prestige, the prizes can be found here.

I wish I'd known about the FYP awards when I was a slip of a thing. Now I shall live vicariously through all the fresh-faced poets out there - write, ye scurvy dogs!

Deadline is 31 July 2011 - spread the word!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Poetry 2011 - Initial thoughts

These are just some of the poetry books Kirsty and I have bought so far this year, and there's a whole load more coming over the hill. Donut released a bristlingly good clutch of them early in the year, while Salt and Bloodaxe are deploying first, second and sixth books by many high quality young(er) and old(er) poets over the spring and summer. This isn't some kind of feverish shit-at-the-wall mentality either - some of these books contain work written, honed, performed and published in journals over the span of a decade or more. Some of them are also simply beautiful objects, with months of work going into the presentation.

Some of these books I'll hopefully be reviewing in full in the coming months over at Irregular Features. My initial feelings about them, having read only a few in detail, are largely positive. Much of the poetry is dark, dense and slightly loopy, mining the idiosyncrasies of our shared culture deeply - these are books to make your brain drunk.

I am concerned, however, about how difficult it sometimes seems to find a poet's 'character' beneath the initial impression that they're very good at what they do. This is partly a problem with blurbs, which I just don't feel work hard enough to distinguish themselves from one another, and which are often the entry point for the reader. When I dip into so many books in quick succession from the same cultural hotbed, I tend to want to envision the authors as members of a superhero team. What are their individual powers and what does it mean for the team dynamic? That's partly because superheroes are so easy to explain to people. We've just come from the new X-Men movie, and I could tell you, say, that Banshee is the one with the supersonic scream, Beast is a genius scientist with apelike strength and catlike agility, Mystique can assume other forms etc. You'll get the gist, and maybe already know which one interests you the most. In an era of unprecedented choice, when people, you might think, would almost rather have decisions made for them then expend the effort of weighing up a plethora of possibilities, the problem of too many talented poets is one that manifests itself in continued low readership. People crave the 'good old days' of poetry because there were only half a dozen they had to have any opinion on. That is the be all and end all of 'greatness' - climbing to the forefront of the public conscience.

I certainly don't wish for a return to elitism and thoroughly disingenuous measures of quality. I'm glad there are so many skilled poets, and so many opportunities for them to be published. But overall, and as hard-working as the staff at our best presses are, I would like to see more done to solve the problem of surface uniformity. It's being addressed by some, certainly, but the issue needs more brains round the table. We talk of the 'pigeon-holing' done by the media and its ill effects, and worry about that obsession with the angle or the story, but in terms of snagging attention and create a viral outbreak of interest, it's an important weapon that the poetry culture could - maybe - seek to utilise more often.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Book and Game: For the Unitiated

[Book and Game is a new feature for Cut Out & Keep. We select a book and a game that are somehow thematically linked with the aim of cross-pollinating their audiences. Bookworms, try the game; Gamers, give the book a whirl!]

Rather than these two being thematically linked, however, I'm simply going to recommend the poetry book and game I think are most likely to convert the deeply hesitant and challenge their preconceptions of the respective mediums.

BOOK: The Solex Brothers (Redux), Luke Kennard (Salt Publishing, 2007)

None of the poems in The Solex Brothers have line breaks. They are all multi-parter short stories taking place in strange, constantly shifting miniature universes. In almost every paragraph, Kennard attempts to subvert one expectation or another. In the title poem, the narrator is cajoled into murdering the Solex Brothers by the local townsfolk (who may be lying). The poison fails to work but instead turns the Solex Brothers into babbling poets. A year later, the narrator is still in contact with them, offering them advice:

"What are you supposed to do when someone doesn't like you?"
"Kill them," I said.
The line went dead.

Why is it poetry, then, and not prose? Because the lines, rather than simply providing a narrative function, can't help but make you aware of their texture and strangeness. Whereas prose is typically used as a means of conveying images and information into your head, poetry wants you to notice its language, the medium of delivery, the same way good food needs to be tasted as much as it needs to be swallowed.

GAME: Portal 2, Valve, 2011

You'll have seen me posting on this before, and if you're even vaguely aware of what's being talked about in the gaming scene, you'll have heard the hype. You might even have seen Charlie Brooker writer about it in The Guardian.

Portal 2 is a game in which you never shoot anyone, nor batttle in outrageous outfits, nor chat to bosomy, half-nude girls. Its levels are huge, three-dimensional puzzles that you solve by creating portals and messing with physics. It's also a comic sci-fi parable whose main antagonist is a scientific evangelist for whom the purpose of life (particularly human life) is to test. Your only quest: escape. Escape the endless testing any way you can. Like numerous Kurt Vonnegut stories, the moral behind Portal 2 is that even the most worthy cause eventually becomes absurd, authoritarian dogma when married to ego and obsession. So it goes that we're left to run a treadmill inside a vast and meaningless machine. And when humans make ideological mistakes, they don't do it by halves.

Did I mention that playing the co-op mode with a friend is some of the purest fun available to those with a networked computer (and a friend)? It encourages teamwork, collaboration and a playful approach to problem-solving. It makes you want to high-five each other - and then goes ahead and lets you do it into the bargain:

Oh, sorry. That's a hug. You can do that too.

Birdbook Launch! Plus Lifelines!

Tomorrow night, Kirsty and I are joining a multifarious array of performers for a Japan fundraiser event. It's at the Rugby Tavern near Holborn from 7.30 and since it's a charity event, there's an entry fee of £7. We'll also bring our latest books and pamphlets and put a decent fraction of everything we sell towards the appeal.

As I have a particular interest in the intermingling of Japanese and western cultures, I'll be reading poems entirely around that subject, including translations/versions of poems by contemporary Japanese poets. I'll also be bringing some illustrative props to aid in the education element, including some genuine x-rated doujinshi.

Here's more details from the event organiser:

At 7.30pm tomorrow night a group of performers and poets will be gathering at The Rugby Tavern, 19 Great James Street, London, WC1N 3ES. This gathering, which goes by the name of Lifelines, will showcase a fabulous concoction of poetry, spoken, word, music and comedy.

Your lineup for the evening includes the founders of Sidekick Books and crafters of the written word, Jon Stone and Kirsty Irving. Richard Evans is the author of two beautiful collections of poetry, The Zoo Keeper and Orbiting. Nick Hunt is a journalist and fiction writer whose work has been published by The Guardian, The Economist and the BBC. Chris Rusbridge is an electro folk musician and Major Horatio Hebblethwaite is
a decorated Knight Commander in The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

I will be introducing this eclectic lineup and giving each performer 15 minutes to dazzle, delight and tickle you (no hands allowed!).

You will be asked for £7 (£5 concessions) on the door and this money will be donated to Oxfam's Japan appeal to help reconstruction efforts after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. Here is a picture, map and more details of the venue

As Churchill once said, on the fearful eve of the battle of Normandy, "See some of you there."

Also on the horizon is the official launch of Birdbook: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland, the mightiest, most sumptuous book yet from Sidekick Books. It will be on Thursday 23rd of June from 7.30pm at the Phoenix Arts Club, just off Charing Cross Road. Full details on Facebook here. We're still putting the readers in place but there will certainly be projections to accompany them, and some of the artists involved will be bringing their original artwork for us to put on display. Stay tuned for further details and in the mean time, scribble the date in your diaries!