Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Big Arts Week

I have been into Heathwood Lower School today as part of Big Arts Week 2005. The children and I worked on a computer-mediated poetry piece themed around the Ancient Egyptians.

We had a fun-packed morning; a mixture of me performing my school's poems, and a poetry workshop about Egyptian life and beliefs.

I was amazed at how much Year 3 knew about the Egyptian gods, Egyptian monuments and the importance of the Nile to Egyptian life. We used all this knowledge to create the background to our Egyptian mystery poems.

The poems began with the line " You do not know who I am!" - and from this template the children built-up a wide variety of images that teased the reader with key details about their narrator but did not reveal whether it was the god, Thoth, a slave girl or the River Nile who was speaking. This kind of poem works very well in a digital form because it creates a game-like framework which encourages the reader to engage with the details of the poem and to guess who or what it is about!

In the afternoon we moved into the IT suite. I gave a short presentation about Habitatiad (the project I produced for Big Arts Week 2004). I then explained the design process and asked the children to help me mock-up an interface for our new project. We then finished the day producing artwork. I enjoyed the vivid colours the children used to illustrate their chosen god or person. I also enjoyed their enthusiastic responses to my poetry and workshop ideas.

Perhaps the best part of the day was the fact that this was a genuine collaboration. I found myself quite content to lose control for many parts of the project. I found the class's ideas quite stimulating and I am looking forward to hearing what they decide to call the final piece!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Magic Keeps Coming

I was with the Downley School again today. This time I was in the classroom, working on poetry (which was just as well as it lashed it down with rain for most of the morning). I led a workshop exercise with Year 3 that used the artefacts we had dug up on Monday to explore the past. I was delighted at the enthusiastic way they describe their finds.

I asked them to use their senses (“how does that boot feel?” “What does that flint look like?”). They embraced this idea wholeheartedly and came up with some very novel and vivid images. They had particular fun creating new words to describe the noise of their chosen object being lost (or thrown away). Onomatopoeia in the making! Tssch! Schwang! Phump! These words then gave their emerging poems a sense of music and movement. In one noisy example, a boy came up with a single word that described the sound of a whole town being lost!

One of the most enjoyable things about working with this age-group is when they begin to write with authority. At the beginning of the morning, a number of children in this group worried whether they were ‘doing it right’. However, by the end of the morning they had made an imaginative leap. They had discovered a character, a voice for their poem, who told the story of how ‘they’ had lost the object we had found at the dig.

The children had moved from being listeners to speakers; to being story-tellers and bards.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Magic out of the Mud

Downley Common I have just spent a wonderful morning at Downley Common, High Wycombe helping a school group on an archaeological dig. I even got dirty at work...which is unusual for a writer!

The context for this mudpie moment was that I have been invited by the dig organiser, Dr Jill Eyers, to do some poetry work about the dig. I was keen to drop in and see the work and to get a sense of the children's experiences of the past. I am very glad that I did as it has inspired me to think further about narrative and the archaeological process. In particular, I was struck by the way that the young diggers responded to their task. It was noticable that their levels of enthusiasm waned and waxed as the reality of digging in a wood (mud, tree roots, heavy clay soils) met up against their excitement at making a discovery. One test pit, in particular produced some very strange looking pieces of metal after an hour. The kids were full of theories about these lumps of metal, which were rooted in their imaginative responses to the artefact rather than in a scientific sense of the object. Narrative was at work!

Downley Common The dig was situated in a part of the common that is covered by mature trees. It was cool, calm and somewhat mysterious under the high leaf canopy which made the experience quite unworldly at times. It felt like a setting for a tall-tale of the past. Narrative was at work!

Later in the warm, sunny car park I met an old man who told me that this area had been used to test tanks during WWII. He even pointed out the lump of concrete in the road (that I had not noticed) that allowed the tanks to cross without damaging the road surface. Narrative was at work!

I can honestly say I have no idea whether the lumps of metal are tank parts. Nonetheless it is interesting how a little archaeology sets up the opportunity to create these kinds of narratives. Furthermore, it is interesting how these potential narratives can set up a further cascade of testimony and narrative in others in the community.

I directed this chap towards the young diggers. I hoped that he would be confident enough to go and tell them a little bit of what he told me. I am sure that he would inspire the children to dig for hours.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Great Writing, Portsmouth

Portsmouth I have been at the Great Writing conference at the University of Portsmouth today.
This was an eclectic conference; with a rich weave of creative, theoretical and pedagogical work. This was also a nice conference; friendly, unstuffy and well-attended without being too huge. The facilities were good and the food was tasty. I quite enjoyed delivering in a room with a decent speaker system.

My presentation was called ‘When Theory comes to the Fore'. It seemed to go over OK though it was hard to tell… as I never seem to get any questions at these sessions! I suspect that in this case it was because I was speaking to an audience who were not familiar with computer-mediated writing. I must say that I found this outcome to be a bit of a disappointment as I was trying to talk about epistemology rather aesthetics. I spent ages working on my presentations (I used flash to keep the whole thing fluid) and it would have been nice to raise a laugh or a sigh or even a ya-boo-sucks – rather than a polite silence. It would also be useful to get a critical reaction to some of my ideas. However this said, I rather enjoyed the informal aspects of Great Writing as I was collared by a number of people at the breaks who wanted to follow up on my work. I guess this is where the real work of this conference gets done!

I really enjoyed the creative writing at this conference. I particularly warmed to the fiction readings by Kristina Weaver & Andrew Doig from the University of Glasgow. I tend to hear poetry rather than prose at the moment and it was a real treat to hear rich narrative voices. Both of these authors have a strong sense of speech in their work and this enabled them to evoke a time and place through their language.

I was also struck by 'Owen’s Waiting’ by Gareth Sion Jenkins from the University of Wollongong. This piece was a mixture of multimedia presentation and live performance. This kind of work asks a lot of questions about the aesthetics of reading and text. I found myself quite over-powered by sections of Jenkin's performance. I can’t help wondering whether it was too much, too rich for readers (like me) trained to read on the page. I hope not…as this is the kind of work I would like to explore in the future!

Friday, June 03, 2005

VP and Ransoming Poetry

My love affair with RSS is starting to blossom. My copy of FeedDemon has brought my attention to a couple of interesting postings today and I am beginning to get a warm fuzzy feeling about the whole blogosphere thing.

Firstly, a really nice posting from Geof Huth at dbqp: visualizing poetics. Geof has been writing a series of Rilke-esque letters to a Young, Imaginary Visual Poet. Today, I lucked onto to his seventh in which he offers advice about networking. One of the nicest thing about blogs is of course, that having found the 7th , it was easy for me to backtrack and book-mark the first six for future reading.

Huth has a number of sage words about how to go about being a visual poet which are both poetic and pragmatic. In particular, he points links to a number of excellent sites such as spider tangle. However, I don't delude myself that I am the ‘young visual poet’ of Huth imagination. Nevertheless his words to speak to my aesthetic interests which seem to be on an intercept course with visual poetry at the moment. What seems to be happening is that as I get more into aesthetics of participation I am also getting more into the aesthetics of concrete and visual poetry. Working with flash and photoshop (and flash and photoshop users) I find myself producing work that has a strong visual interest. I still would not describe what I do as visual poetry – that is poetry that needs to be seen - but it has some vispo interests in the mix.

Should I broaden my network horizons? I’ll let you know.

Another interesting post came from Clive Thompson’s Collision Detection Blog. Thompson drew my attention to the "ransom" model of publishing. Game-maker, Greg Stolze, has developed a ‘ransoming’ model to find a market for the board game Meatbot Massacre. Stolze’s idea is to use a digital format to beat the problem of tight margins that hinder the development of new games in the traditional board game sector. However, he has gone one better by keeping the game out of the public digital domain (so that it could not be copied and file shared) until a ransom had been raised. Having received the ransom the game was then put out there in .pdf format (and spread about by the punters like muck on a field).

I can’t see this form of marketing working as a general model in the world of poetry as the idea of ransoming an unfinished poem is ..well..unlikely ( I can imagine a number of poets I know clubbing together to come up with some money to stop their brethren foisting their work on to the general public). Nevertheless it is another interesting marketing approach that might work with longer, serial forms of work. It is all a question of your ethics, I guess!

Imagine, you are writing a digital soap which acquires a following and then you ransom the next episode. Nice return for the writer or a slap in the face for your friendly gift-culture vultures? Similarly, the digital format could be used/abused to ransom a print-on-demand hard copy of a novel which has been developed but not completed in a blog form. Hooray for royalty payments or shame on you for killing all those trees!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Have the Flowers Bloomed?

There is definately a sea change occuring in the web at the moment. A number of ground-breaking projects are reaching the end of their life. I read today that UBUWEB is closing its doors to new work.

The Editors note:


UbuWeb | 1996-2005

Dear Friends,

The UbuWeb Project -- a decade-long experiment in radical distribution of avant-garde materials -- has finished. Founded in 1996, the project has been a success beyond anyone's wildest expectations. As of Spring, 2005, it averaged over 10,000 visitors daily and hosts nearly a terabyte of artworks in all media by over 500 artists.

The site will be donated to a university shortly, where it will be archived intact for posterity. Please note that the site will no longer be updated. A URL linking to the archive will be posted on this page.

The editors wish to thank you for supporting this experiment and, as a result, may a thousand flowers bloom in its wake.

The Editors


The question is -- Does this mark a positive change? Is the change the mark of success - a victory for network culture if you will or has the early energy of the web-wonderers being swallowed by a tidal wave of banality. Have the Flowers Bloomed?

I have noticed that my computer habits have changed of late. I have begun to embrace bloglines - the RSS reader. It is the first piece of software I turn on in the mornings ( even before e-mail). I enjoy the posting coming to my eyes. I journey. I seek. I have re-embraced e-mail lists ( after a long period a way). I have re-embraced the physical gallery and the conference!

However, I really enjoyed the access to different voices through UBUWEB. I enjoyed the fact that I knew where to find it.

It is too early in the day for obits. I was a journeyman before - and I can be a journeyman again. I can seek out new voices elsewhere - I can tramp, a camel through the desert - to come to again to a new oasis - and nibble on the dates of some new dangerous and daft art experiences!