Category Archives: web science

The Annotated Trigons: a mid-term report.

Now that we’re more than halfway through with the above, I’ve decided that it may be useful to review progress thus far. The original aim was to create a form for the sequence that could be updated (the links used in the printed edition had died) and to see what the current advantages are to using the interweb as a platform for annotation. A further reason was the sad fact that Trigons is not included in the three volumes of John’s Collected and this was a way of compensating for that omission.

We set ourselves a couple of parameters, the first was to avoid overwhelming the text with too many notes and/or providing extraneous information that has no relevance to the poem. I think that early on we decided that we’d rather inform than explain. preferring to encourage the reader to work out ‘meaning’ whilst providing a degree of context to the characters and events that are mentioned in the work.

With regard to overwhelming, John suggested William Emspon as model to follow: ““There is no longer a reasonably small field which may be taken as general knowledge. It is impertinent to suggest that the reader ought to possess already any odd bit of information one may have picked up in a field where one is oneself ignorant; such a point may be explained in a note without trouble to anybody; and it does not require much fortitude to endure seeing what you already know in a note”. I’m not suggesting that we’ve got everything right in the amount of material that we’ve provided but I think that everything thus far that needs a note has got one.

This brings me some of the more abstract ramifications for this kind of project. At first glance, things seem reasonably clear, you put the sequence into a series of web pages and use a mixture of notes and links to external pages to provide Empson’s odd bits of information. However, links are changed, web pages are modified and updated, other more detailed / objective / better material may be postedso that a significant part of what is provided is very mobile and provisional indeed. It seems to my small brain that this has profound implications for all of us and it took me a couple of months on this project to realise that this is the case. I must stress that isn’t the concern that most of us had about the reliability of information on the interweb, this is about the fundamental nature of that information. I know that this is the case but I haven’t yet been able to fathom the direction that this is taking us.

We now come to reliability and emphasis. The good news is that Wikipedia is becoming increasingly accurate and objective and (as a result) it is much easier to spot the hopelessly biased articles. We decided early on however not to rely on it but to use it as a pointer to other sources of information. The other good news is that more and more ‘established’ resources are putting all of the content on the interweb for free. The even better news is that the google machine has become even more efficient at delivering the pages that you’ve searched for. All of this means that even the most obscure characters, books and events now have a wealth of context and explication almost at the click of a mouse.

The less good news is that some reputable/established sources aren’t always as balanced as perhaps they should be. Some Dictionary of National Biography articles clearly have a very one-sided axe to grind which should either have been more rigorously edited or rejected. This isn’t an argument for he anodyne, just the old-fashioned idea that, with something that purports to be definitive, both sides of an argument need to be presented.

I now have to admit to falling into the ‘explanation’ trap on a couple of occasions. I think I’ve written about the first where, in the notes to Islands, Inlands I was very tempted indeed to present things in a way that pointed to the tragic nature of Greek politics in the 20th century as a major theme. In Hess/Hess I nearly wrote at great length about the rumour that the man imprisoned in Spandau was an impostor and the sightings of Marshall Ney in the United States many years after his death.

In terms of presentation, a friend from Southampton University provided us with the same pop-up gizmo that Wikipedia use. This avoids users having to click to the bottom of the page for each note, the note appears as you roll the cursor over the link. We’ve followed the basic rules of usability and accessibility in that the navigation is ‘clean’ and consistent, there are no tables and each page can be read by screen readers as well as browsers- clicking on the link still displays the note at the bottom of the page. Having just written that sentence I’ve now realised that I need to add many (many) ‘title’ tags to the anchored links. In true bebrowed fashion I designed a navigation scheme at the outset that managed to become cumbersome and confusing before the mid-point and thus had to spend a few days devising a new one which I’ll try not to change.

One of the challenges that we should have recognised at the outset is how often and under what circumstances is it best to rely only on a link to an external page rather than via a note. I can’t pretend that we now have a consistent and rational to this but a kind of pattern is beginning to take shape. In the most recent poem there is this line: “in the days John Denver sang Let us Begin and Russian healers”. We could have explained who John Denver was in a note and then linked to the YouTube clip where Denver explains the background to the song before it is played. The rationale is (probably) that the reader soesn’t need to know who John Denver was but may benefit from knowing something about the song and the clip does that better than a note could.

On a personal note, I’m now of the view that everybody should do this with poems that they like because the exercise gives you so much more pleasure and insight (even when it’s wrong) when you’re preparing something that others might find useful. I’m very fortunate and privileged to have John’s input and sage advice and I’d like to place on record my deep gratitude for both his generosity of spirit and commitment to getting this as right as we can. As a poet John is an exceptionally skilled technician who writes from the soul as well as from the mind and there have been times when my jaw has dropped when these two qualities have come together in an extraordinary and startling way.

The original print version of Trigons is available from Shearsman, at 9 quid there really is no excuse. John and I would like to express our thanks to Tony Frazer at Shearsman for his ongoing support.

The Claudius App, being in a poem and a twitter challenge.

I’ve intended to write about Claudius App IV since it first appeared on the interweb. I enjoy writing about CA because it contains some of the best contemporary work currently being written and therefore deserves as wide a readership as possible. One of the reasons (I tell myself) for not writing about issue IV is the fact that my name is used in “the flesh called fwan” by Francis Crot, Idaho Pistols, Nat Raha and Verity Spott. Section 41 is:

In 'the scene' getting reviewed by John 
Armstrong means I can eat. He would hate
this. What Paterson fails to realise. It's
                                         supposed to be shite
                                  like coal (???)
A faggot slugabed I can't protect you with.
London wilts bye tranny lavic totter on
Ankle nodule St Vitus circa Sleeping
Beauty enchantress. In 'the scene' getting
reviewed by your ft inside me. Hobo fat.

Now it might be possible that this is referring to some other John Armstrong or an entirely fictional John Armstrong were it not for the fact that I was told I was in this poem by Verity Spott via the Twitter gizmo.

I’ll get back to this in a moment. What has prodded me into CA-related action is that my gmail account tells me I have received these two mentions on twitter: “@zackzee, Emily Dorman’s calling Bebrowed at with texts on the “scariest poet on the planet” for you. Dare to blog?” and “@zackzee, @VanessaPlaceInc, be browed, be very browed” – both of which would seem to be some sort of challenge.

There is some background to this, as I recall I took a previous poem by Emily Dorman to task for not being very funny about Ms Place. I also had a bit of an anxiety-laden rant about Emily Dorman which was then referred to on the CA Facebook page. Obviously I’d like to reply to these two via twitter but it currently seems to be out of action. Obviously, I’m beginning to regret referring to Vanessa Place in this way because this one-liner does seem to keep on coming back at me, I’m much fonder of my pithy one liner on Caroline Bergvall.

Anyway, I am delighted to be mentioned by some of our brightest young poets and am equally pleased to be mentioned by the only poetry site that I pay attention to. It’s just that I’m not sure how best to respond.

It’s now time to address the smoke and mirrors problem. My first involvement in this came about by placing a forum on a disability-related information site. The idea was to promote the development of a community which could challenge societal and cultural attitudes towards those with a long-term health problem. This was about twelve years ago and was a mistake becuse people can pretend to be other people and can say things whilst pretending to be other people with the intention of creating chaos. This salutary lesson has remained lodged in my brain ever since. This has some relevance because I’d previously (foolishly) assumed that was a single human being but it transpires that this might not be the case and the whole Dorman persona may be an indulgent dig at a variety of different poetries. At which point I think I stop caring, a disinterest to that encountered when reading the first 500 lines of Marvell’s “Last Instructions”. In short, it’s all a bit sixth form.

With regard to “the flesh called fwan”, I don’t hate it but I’m not sure that I want to be thought of as a reviewer of poetry. I like to think that I write about my relationship with a poem or a poetry which allows me to be provisional, subjective and inconsistent, not the qualities that you want from a reviewer. I don’t write at length about work that I don’t like (with the exception of Sir Geoffrey Hill’s more recent material) and have this odd tendency to be very enthusiastic about the stuff that appeals to me. Essentially, I write about what interests me and am constantly surprised and gratified that others seem to enjoy the inside of my head. As for ‘the scene’, I’m not aware that there is one although my definition of a scene (free jazz, activist, arthouse) may well be hopelessly outdated. Having said that, the tone throughout seems reasonably playful so I’m not going to argue. Think I need to venture a guess that Idaho Pistols may also write under the name of Timothy Thornton and that Francis Crot and Jow Lindsay may be similarly intertwined.

We now come to the CA challenge and in particular the swipe at “Tragodia”. I’m taking the Dorman rant s a little tongue in cheek but also with a sense of indignation- “But Eliot didn’t publish his account books, nor Stevens his policies, nor Williams his prescriptions. Place repurposed her profession into poetry through a bare relabelling,…” This might be okay in an interestingly witty self-referential kind of way but you do need to do this stuff from a position of strength. There are many (many) things that just might be wrong with “Tragodia” but a ‘bare relabelling” isn’t one of them. Unlike most of the increasingly popular Kenny’s stuff, this trilogy needs to be read from covers to covers sequentially and should be judged (intentional(ish)) by what it says and how it re-adjusts many disparate frames at the same time. It can be criticised for its initial subject matter, for the quite deliberate selection of appeals and its main focus on genetic evidence but, by it’s nature, it can’t be castigated for the initial conceit unless (of course) we’re living in some kind of late modern utopia where the only standards are those set by Eliot, Stevens, Williams and the rest.

The odd thing is that I’d like a debate about “Tragodia”, I’d like someone to argue with my recently expressed view but this isn’t it.

I’d like to finish with the observation that there are many high-profile poets on both sides of the Atlantic that are drably mediocre. Perhaps Ms Dorman would like to cast her glance at those British dismalities that some of us know so well.

Annotation, JavaScript and Ruby

We currently have a house guest, Chris Gutteridge, who is a web programmer at Southampton University. He’s tken an interest in the Trigons annotation project and has provided us with an additional feature / device that provides further fuel for thought. This particular device displays a box of text once the mouse or pointer is hovered over an anchored link. This has the obvious advntage of not having to click back to the poem after you’ve looked at the note at the bottom of the page. I’ve run this on sections one and two and it seems to work reasonably well.

There are however a number of issues to consider. The first of these is the amount of text that these boxes should contain. The second is whether, in order to be consistently effective, all the links in the body of the poem should be anchored rather than a ‘mix’ of external and anchored links. The third is whether users re more or less likely to click through to other pages from the box or from the bottom of the page.

In order to get my v small brain around any of this I’ve gone back to my own reading of glossed, printed texts. It seems that these fall into three broad types-

  1. those with notes at the bottom of the relevant page;
  2. those with notes at the end of a particular poem;
  3. those with notes at the bottom of the page and definitions in parentheses at the end of the relevant line.

None of these are brilliant and the last is particularly annoying. They all provide a degree of disruption to the reading process. In my limited experience, very few glozers append any indication that there is a note for a particular line- David Jones being an honourable exception. It would seem that for most the reader is expected to read with one eye and monitor the notes at the bottom of the page with the other. When the notes are placed at the back of the book / poem then the reader must keep flicking backwards and forwards or read the poem in full and then read the notes hoping that you can remember what exactly they refer to.

What this device/feature/accessory provides is an opportunity to reduce the flicking backwards and forwards and (without the visual annoyance of superscript) indicate where a note occurs.

I need to point out that this isn’t stunningly original, Wikipedia uses it for numerical superscript links that also occur at the bottom of the page whereas ‘normal’ links are used to access other pages. At the moment, we’re using it for those anchored links that are indicated as ordinary links in the body of the poem. This is primarily because I made the page before I had access to the technology rather than any kind of incisive rationale.

I like to think that this is an improvement because the box is accessed and disappears with only the movement of the cursor, the poem remains in view. Of course, now that I have this additional feature, I’m beginning to see a more uniform approach to this linking rigmarole. In Section One of “Islands, Inlands”, for example, I can see that it may be more appropriate to have “caique” defined in a box and at the bottom of the page rather than by means of a link to the relevant Wikipedia entry. In the same way, It may be less clunky (technical term) to have the initial explanation of “Zero letter” in a box which contains a brief explanation but with a link to more detailed context.

Thinking about this and looking again at the page has led me to query whether there needs to be a brief note on the pornographer that would contain a link to our ‘main’ Henry Miller page and whether I should do the same with the Durrell quote. The only problems thus far are Chris’ choice of background colour (supposedly to match the post-it hue) and that at least one box (but probably two) in section two contain too many words. This is fixable but will require additional pages. Any views of other ways to use this innovation would be very welcome. Others are free to use the script provided Chris and the university are acknowledged.

We now move on to ruby which is defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as “short runs of text alongside the base text, typically used in East Asian documents to indicate pronunciation or to provide a short annotation”. The possibilities with this are intriguing in terms of placing a definition in smaller text above the word in the poem. Currently, however, some browsers require a plug-in to display ruby and the alternative (definition in parenthesis after the word) isn’t feasible here. In an attempt to demonstrate what I mean, here’s an example which identifies the pornographer succinctly but really messes about with consistent line height. There’s also the issue of browser compatibility. I’m given to understand that this example would be rendered reasonably consistently if we all used the latest browser version – but we don’t. I would be prepared to work out the various CSS and ‘pre’ tag variations to try and solve the line height problem if I thought the browser problem was about to be resolved but I don’t and so I won’t. This is an enormous pity because the ruby spec has been around since 2001 and it seems incredible that only the chrome browser has made an attempt to render it reasonably well whilst firefox doesn’t recognize it at all.

If anyone has any suggestions for other uses of the JavaScript device then we’d be very pleased to hear from them.

Annotation, illustration and the movies

(We’ve now completed the notes to Section 4 of “Islands, Inlands”)

One of the main reasons for producing an online full text version of Trigons is the problem of the dead link. The Trigons sequence contains urls pointing to pages that expand on what’s in the text. There’s a link to a youtube clip of Myra Hess playing the Appassionata and there’s another to a page which explains how the signals in the brain can be ‘made’ into music. Both the links that appear in the Shearsman print edition are now dead so we thought that producing an online version would mean that the links could be updated as and when they passed away.

This is not something that’s an optional add on, the poem is quite insistent on the Hess clip:

but reach for something distant in confusion take a look
yourself at E
before you read
another word..................

In addition to these two, there are others which expand on the text and need to be maintained / updated. Having now completed the first four sections of the first Trigons poem, another element becomes apparent. One of the central events of “Islands Inlands” is the kidnap of General Kriepe on Crete by a band of Cretan partisans led by Patrick Leigh Fermor which I’ve written about before re the dangers of imposing my reading on top of John’s intention. In researching this a bit more I’ve come across a Greek television documentary where the kidnappers and their captive are reunited and Kriepe and Leigh Fermor are interviewed about this adventure. Fortunately there is a version on youtube that’s been dubbed into English so I’ve been able to link to that. I’m also in two minds about linking to “Ill met by Moonlight”, the film version based on W Stanley Moss’ book about the kidnap. At the moment I’m deciding against inclusion because it doesn’t seem to add much to “Trigons”.

I’ve found that, once you start thinking in terms of “material” rather than what’s in print you become immersed in a completely new set of possibilities, from the use of images and how they can relate to the notes and to the poem, the use of audio files for the music that’s written about in the text through to whether to flag up sources that are skewed by bias but nevertheless give a decent account of the event that the work alludes to. Another dimension that I haven’t got my brain around yet is how best to reference place names that might be obscure- I’ve linked Mt. Ida on Crete to the Google map but I can also provide images s well as geographical and geological data. I’m also very fortunate to be working with the maker of this poem and therefore I have this amalgamation of what he wants as the poet and what I want as the reader.

Whilst writing this, Zachary Bos forwarded me a quote from one G Hill on difficulty which seems pertinent to the glozing business:

I think art has a right—not an obligation—to be difficult if it wishes. And, since people generally go on from this to talk about elitism versus democracy, I would add that genuinely difficult art is truly democratic. And that tyranny requires simplification. This thought does not originate with me, it’s been far better expressed by others. I think immediately of the German classicist and Kierkegaardian scholar Theodor Haecker, who went into what was called “inner exile” in the Nazi period, and kept a very fine notebook throughout that period, which miraculously survived, though his house was destroyed by Allied bombing. Haecker argues, with specific reference to the Nazis, that one of the things the tyrant most cunningly engineers is the gross oversimplification of language, because propaganda requires that the minds of the collective respond primitively to slogans of incitement. And any complexity of language, any ambiguity, any ambivalence implies intelligence. Maybe an intelligence under threat, maybe an intelligence that is afraid of consequences, but nonetheless an intelligence working in qualifications and revelations . . . resisting, therefore, tyrannical simplification.

This is all very well but I do think there’s a difference between simplification and providing context. I’m also a little suspicious of Hill’s justifications because they change so often (“life’s difficult” “wouldn’t want to insult the intelligence of my readers”) and none of them manage to justify some of his more extreme obscurities (Bradwardine). If I thought that either John or I were trying to provide a “Trigons Lite” then I wouldn’t have started but John’s work is usually packed with real people and real places which provides plenty of scope for providing a ‘neutral’ context.

In his response to an earlier post, John quoted William Empson:

There is no longer a reasonably small field which may be taken as general knowledge. It is impertinent to suggest that the reader ought to possess already any odd bit of information one may have picked up in a field where one is oneself ignorant; such a point may be explained in a note without trouble to anybody; and it does not require much fortitude to endure seeing what you already know in a note.

One of the advantages of the interweb is that you can present information at a number of levels that enable readers to “drill down” as far as they want. Of course we choose when the bottom is reached, the current debate is about to revolve “Mr S Thalassinos” which John feels requires a short note but I’ve now found a quote which ties this fictive character to Giorgos Katsimbalis who is already mentioned in the notes which is useful to me as a reader but may be too much for the poem in terms of providing a disproportionate amount of detail.

I’ve also been trying out a number of “experiments in reading” and it now strikes me that perhaps I should make more use of links in these too. This seems especially important in the case of David Jones’ “The Anathemata” for which Jones provided his own notes as well as a number of images to accompany the text. As I’ve said before, Jones omits to gloss some of the trickier bits and some of the notes require notes of their own. I was continuing with this particular experiment earlier this week and, in order to preserve the sense of immediacy, simply referred to looking on the “interweb” to find more about some of the proper nouns. Half of me thinks that this is okay, that it’s not intended to be a gloss and that people (who want to) should be able to find the same information quite quickly whilst the other half thinks that a link expanding further on the “it’s Ossa on Pellion now” line might be useful.

As John Dillon remarked in a recent response, illustrations and comments alongside poems in manuscript form were reasonably common during the medieval period- as I’m writing I’m resisting the temptation to link to Bodleian MS Douce 104 which carries illustration to the ‘c’ text of “The VisionPiers the Plowman” – and many poets have used photography to accompany their work- Paul Muldoon’s “Plan B” springs to mind. This isn’t to say that poetry on the web should be reduced to a comic book but that it might help, for example to include in the notes an image of the kidnapped general as he is escorted across the island. It might also help to make use of google maps for Smyrna and Leros as well as Ida. I’m sure that there’s a balance to be reached in these things but I don’t think just relying on text is going to be sufficient in the very near future. For example, Trigons has many musical and musicological references which can be augmented with the relevant audio files, the issue for the glozer is whether or not these should be embedded in the page or accessed via a link in the text. I’m of the view that the latter should suffice provided that the “title” tag makes it very clear on rollover what the link leads to.

The other issue that keeps cropping up is the reliability of external sites. We’ve decided not to rely on Wikipedia articles unless we can verify the content but there are some wonderful resources now on some of the more esoteric subjects, there’s a Leigh Fermor blog that is obviously a labour of love but contains invaluable info and resources that we’ve made use of, there’s also an English language site devoted to Karaghiosis, a form of puppet theatre that we’ve obtained a pertinent quote from even though I haven’t been able to verify it.

Annotated Trigons update and further experiments in reading

For those that aren’t regulars, I’m currently collaborating with John Matthias on producing an on-line and annotated full text version of Trigons, his magnificent sequence which was published in 2010. Progress continues to be made, we now have the third section of “Islands, Inlands” (the first poem in the sequence) in a usable state together with notes to John’s headnote for the sequence as a whole. I like to think that I’m a bit clearer on the amount of information to provide and to try and rely on what I’m thinking of as primary sources (diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews etc) to expand on a theme because secondary sources dealing with Greece since 1945, for example, all seem to have a very sharp ideological axe to grind. There’s also issues of self control, I’m now of the view that the whole world should know more about Michael Ayrton and his “The Testament of Daedalus”. I could therefore write a few thousand enthusiastic words on this remarkable man but I’ve recognised that this would be serving my needs rather than those of the reader. So, Ayrton gets about the same as Miller, Seferis and Durrell.

I think I also need to say what a privilege it is to work with someone as generous and thoughtful as John on this marvellous piece of work.

Given the attention tht this project seems to be getting, I’ve had several long thoughts about arduity and have decided to cull a few of the sections (those relating to theory and lit crit etc etc) and to concentrate on poems and poets whilst retaining pages on ambiguity, meaning and allusion. The site is also in desperate need of a Big Polish in that it currently has two page formats based on completely different style sheets and I need to tweak some of my prose. In the mood for spring cleaning, I’ve now added disqus comment boxes at the bottom of the Matthias pages and will now carry this across the rest of the site. I’ve avoided the comments issue on arduity primarily because it’s technically beyond me and I’m too stubborn to use a wysiwyg editor but now I think it would be a Good Thing to have feedback at the foot of each page.

I’ve also recognised that arduity gets more traffic than this blog (4022 user sessions v 822 so far this month) and this means that the material that I think might have some value to others might be best “parked” on arduity. There are probably a number of reasons for this imbalance- people use blogs in different ways to sites with more visible navigation, the wordpress metatags aren’t very good even and this means arduity invariably beats berowed in search engine results.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’m going to write about poems and poets on arduity and use this to think out loud about poetry in a less specific way. The first development will be extended “experiments in reading” being placed on arduity so that they are more visible to google and the rest. Which brings me to a thought following on from John Dillon a fortnight ago about the relationship between the gloss and the text and in what way can a gloss be said to be part of the poem. I think I’m beginning to sort out an answer to that but the interweb gives us another dimension in that we now have comments on the gloss that the reader can chose to integrate into his or her reading.
I’ll try and give an example, the experiements in reading are an attempt to inject a greater sense of immediacy into my readings with a view to encouraging a wider readership and to get some feedback/help with regard to the tricky stuff.

By way of illustration, a week ago I posted an experiment re the first few pages of “The Anathemata” which drew this comment:

I just have a quick point about the opening prayer. The prayer is the Quam Oblationem. According to some theologians, it is an epiklesis whereby the celebrant prays that God will send down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood. One of the theologians who ascribed to that reading and who sees it as the actual beginning of the Consecration is Maurice de la Taille. In that sense, then, The Ana’s opening prayer acts as DJ’s invocation of the muse ( and quite a number of other things).

I’m of the view that this belongs in the body of my text as well at the bottom of the page because it enhances understanding and provides context that I don’t have. So, I will be asking permission to do incorporate this into the text in a way that acknowledges the source but is nevertheless part of the work.

This isn’t a clarion call for the “open” gloss whereby everybody can contribute what ever they want but it certainly does give another dimension that we should think about. The other dimesnion is where the speculation about meaning becomes part of the gloss. I’ve now written 2 x 1,000 word experiments on Keston Sutherland’s “The Odes” and there’s been a couple of enhanced speculations with regard to the depilated Janine:

Since we’re speculating … a (carefully circumscribed) internet search brought up adult film actress Janine Lindemulder. I’ll leave it to someone else to confirm her depilation, but the reference seems to fit with a recurring theme/trope of the poem; it also obviously adds another semantic valence to much of the quoted passage. Couldn’t decide if your ‘nagging’ doubt was about this line of inquiry, so I’ll tastelessly broach it for you.

I responded by suggesting that Alasdair Gray’s “Janine 1982” was more likely. Here’s the response:


Damn, I like yours better, and have another book to read to boot. How can something be “hereafter congenital” for said textual/sexual Janine, assuming all her kidding is prophylactically voided? I’m tempted to go ‘full Prynne’ and trace congenital back to its conquest of of ‘congenial.’ Now that’s what over-reading would look like.

I’m of the view that this exchange should occur just after I first mention the prospect of “tackling” Janine. Then yesterday something else was thrown into the mix:

You’ve got me thinking about ‘congenitally depilated’. The word ‘congenitally’ contains the word ‘genitally’, so this could partially resolve to ‘genitally depilated’. Genitals and the word and the word do crop up elsewhere in the poem. This would certainly fit with the porn star reading. That still leaves ‘congenitally’. In line with the poem’s larger (troubling? important? brave?) preoccupation with childhood sexuality, I read ‘congenitally’ as collapsing the state of nature at birth into the infantilising and fashionable aversion to pubic hair among adults (not just porn stars), but here the aversion is inverted and to depilation and it’s that that’s defective. This is somewhat troubling, or at least challenging. I would justify the apparent awkwardness/senselessness of ‘hearafter’ as picking up on this temporal confusion. It also strikes me that if ‘congenitally’ can become ‘con genitally’, maybe ‘hereafter’ can be taken as ‘here after’, but I don’t know how much that helps. If it’s congenital it’s congenital from birth but in a different, artificial way, “always already” congenital in adulthood?

I think reading both of the above, it is important that when people have put some thought into things and expressed those thoughts with such clarity that they should be given a more prominent/noticeable place in the gloss.

There’s also a more precise reading:

‘aboriginal mucus’ thought of as an original inhabitant; impeccable darkness as opposed to the mere absence of light.

My unscrewed head is like a bulb in the palm of my hand. Certain kinds of ‘truths burn out and fly away’ for as long as it’s not connected to a Ground⏚

Ground is where the ‘stack of basements’ are
elevated; inundated in impeccable darkness.

My freezer has a freezer light. It’s behind a ‘grainy
blank’. Blank is another word for a cover or a plate.
I wonder what it would be like if all the world were like the contents of my freezer and only ever seen under that light. A ‘prophylactic void…’?

The etymology of Janine is the same as it is for John, John, but to take the etymological truth of Janine as gospel would be like removing the hair at birth. Are burnt out truths like hairs pulled out of your head one at a time?

I think you are onto something John. Probably something to do with the intersection between carrying secrets and burning out.

Which I need to find a place for. Of course, this wholesale lifting needs to be agreed with the writer before I move it but I do think that it’s a dimension that’s woth pursuing.

The annotated Trigons: an update.

Given the interest in this project, I thought I’d provide a weekly (ish) summary of progress made. The first section of “Islands, inlands” has now been completed and we’ve agreed a working template for the navigation which might prove to last at least another few weeks.

I think we’re still exploring what can be done with the interweb and the possibilities beyond print. I think we both started with a concern not to either ‘explain’ nor to provide too much context. This has been ameliorated by realising the obvious – users don’t have to follow links if they don’t want to and therefore can control the extent of the context that they may need. I wouldn’t need to know about Miller or Durrell, for example, but would need some background on Seferis.

Of course, as well as writers, there’s the foreign names and words, the first section has “Karaghiosis” who is the main character of Greek shadow puppet theatre. I’ve provided a brief explanation, one relevant quote and am about to link to the most relevant and comprehensive site that I can find but I need JM to point me towards the relevant passage about raising the dead in “Prospero’s Cell”.

This also throws up the question of whose poem this is. I haven’t yet worked this out but I’ve come across material that seems to be a direct source but isn’t. There’s an interview with Seferis where he describes meeting Durrell and Miller and then goes on to recount Miller’s generosity in giving him his diary- the first draft of what was to be published as “The Colossus of Massouri” which is one of the poem’s main source text. This anecdote has no bearing on “Islands, inlands” and readers don’t need it to gain full understanding of the poem. I’m however of the view that it’s a lovely story and indiciative of the spirit of bohemian solidarity in thirties Europe that Seferis describes. So, the quote about the diary goes in on account of loveliness and the solidarity remark will only be gleaned by those that can be bothered to follow the link and read the interview in full. I think this underlines the ownership issue in a collaboration- I’ve put this in and John has approved its inclusion but it wasn’t in his head when he wrote the poem. I’ve also quoted Seferis on 20th century Hellenism because I think I’d like readers to draw the line that John alludes to when he says that:

The Old War in question is, of course, WW II, though it is not accidental that the first poem in the sequence deals with a Greek setting in that conflict:

I’ve decided that it would be inappropriate to overtly ‘develop’ that remark but am attempting to do this by stealth- as with the Kreipe kidnap problem discussed last week- providing quotes re Miller and Greece as a “continuous process” and linking to Seferis on the Colonels’ Junta:

Everyone has been taught and knows by now that in the case of dictatorial regimes the beginning may seem easy, but tragedy awaits, inevitably, in the end. The drama of this ending torments us, consciously or unconsciously — as in the immemorial choruses of Aeschylus. The longer the anomaly remains, the more the evil grows.

In terms of the interweb, the possibilities for adding breadth and depth are enormous especially as the quality of content is improving. Of course there are still the recurring anxieties about bias but I’ve been struck by the absence of balance in some of the well-established bastions: the Wikipedia article on Durrell seems much more judicious than the almost hagiographic DNB entry.

We now come to the link colour problem. Many, many years ago when I started building content pages on welfare benefits, there was an accepted way to ‘do’ links that everybody followed. This is no longer the case and I hve gone through a number of phases in either going with the flow towards greater variation or in maintaining blind adherence to the original on the grounds that It Still Works. The current arduity style sheet, for example is the product of extensive dithering undertaken last year on another project and is obviously in need of further dither. I may be wrong but I’d like not to disrupt the ‘flow’ of the line with too great a contrast in colour from black to blue to red and I’m thinking of getting rid of the roll-over, colour swap device that seemed cool when the Guardian did it but clearly isn’t. I did think of just using the underline to indicate a link and thus retain the consistency in colour but this would then confuse those parts of the text that are underlined in print with the links. So, before we go any further I think I need to have an extended play with the light blues and reds.

Then there’s the even thornier issue of link density, the first section is 16 lines and there are 9 links which is probably excessive but I’d rather put more rather than less in at this stage. I haven’t linked “the pornographer” but have relied on JM’s note which links to a fuller profile of Miller. I’ve done it this way because I reckon most readers will connect Miller to Paris and pornography (I did) and have been more direct on the Smyrna Consul because I originally thought that this may refer to Durrell. I thought about explaining that “The Tempest” refers to the play but instead hoped that most readers would gather this for themselves, I’ve used the Durrell profile to attribute this suggestion to him.

As a reader, I know I’ll interrupt my reading to check out words and names that aren’t familiar and this nealy always entails the interweb which can be both distracting and (sometimes) wrong. I’m therefore trying to provide anchored links to brief definitions at the bottom of the page which then link to more relevnt detail.

In terms of navigation, we now have a Trigons home page which gives a brief introduction and overview but I think I’m now of the view that we might need a separate home page for each of the poems- these could be built around John’s original notes. This might take to some time to agree- I’m finding that information architecture is quite difficult to do when the other person isn’t in the same room and there’s the fact that there are other components in the sequence.

On a personal note, John keeps on gently pushing me towards writers that I would otherwise ignore. This process started three years ago with David Jones and has now moved on to Seferis and Michael Ayrton whose “The Testament of Daedalus” I have now acquired and is awaiting some attention- the Collected Seferis is on it’s way. There’s also a bit of a debate under way as to how much detail we should give on Erik Lindegren…

This blogging about poetry mularkey

I don’t understand the blog in that I haven’t worked out where it fits in the scheme of things and what it might do that’s different from a web site or a Facebook entry (or whatever they might be called). I’m also completely mystified by tumblr but I suspect that it might be this week’s future. In the interests of trying to keep up, I did ask someone about tumblr this morning but he wouldn’t tell me.

Prior to starting this blog I didn’t know that I could write about poetry. I knew that I could write and has a reasonably long list of subjects that I could write about but my thinking on the poetic seemed too wound up with and complicated by my own attempts at poetry making for anything remotely useful to emerge.

I still don’t think I can write about poetry at anywhere near the level that I’d like to (somewhere between Alastair Fowler and Helen Cooper) but the miracle that has occurred is that I can write stuff that other people take an interest in and feel sufficiently involved to make a response. The other miracle is that these responses are without exception both intelligent and (this is important) well-mannered. Some of these are so well thought out and expressed that I need to think long and hard about a suitable / appropriate response.

The other thing is that I read very few blogs and the majority of these aren’t about poetry. I look at Mark Woods, Mrs Deane and Rio Wang every day, I look at Dylan Trigg and Language Hat every other day and a number of photography and design mags every week but the attention I pay to poetry blogs is sporadic. I once had the Jacket site open whenever I was on-line but these days that honour has passed to the Claudius App and TEAMS Middle English index pages because they manage to hold my interest and Jacket2 doesn’t.

So, this is a digressive way of saying that what follows is highly speculative and probably badly worked out. The first of these relates to the difference between my web site, arduity, and these pages. I was going to say that I put more of myself into this and try to be more objective with arduity but that isn’t really what’s going on. The main difference is that I’ve got a plan for arduity and I don’t for bebrowed. They’re both ‘about’ difficult or complex poetry and they’re both intended to be useful but arduity is written with more focus on encouraging confidence to tackle this stuff whereas bebrowed follows the wavering fancies that occupy my head.

I’m now going to try and get technical. If we think of all things poetic as a relatively autonomous ‘information order’ as described by Sir Christopher Bayly then, right now, a lot of things / processes / events are taking place. The first and most obvious of these is the effect of the one to many gizmo which means that a poem can be circulated / displayed, responded to and that response can be responded to within a very short space of time. The other process that is taking place is that of circulation prior to whatever publication might mean. I and others have drafts and have commented publicly on these drafts many months in advance of publication, I have also written with puppy dog enthusiasm about at least one poem that has been circulated but probably won’t ever be published. There are parallels here with poetic practice before and after the printing press, both Donne and Marvell only had manuscripts in circulation during their lives, all their work (with a couple of minor exceptions) was published after their death

The second is the exponential growth in self indulgence. The web is now cluttered with poetry that has never been subject to the editorial glare. Last year I posted something that consisted entirely of Gillian Welch set lists in chronological order as well as the versification of the labels used on maps of Sector 5 for the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Neither of these would have ever been ‘published’ in the world of print and constitute an act of the worst kind of self-expression. The sad fact is that I don’t care, they’re on the blog primarily because I like them and feel they need to exist outside of my head. In mitigation I would say that I don’t do it very often and only when I feel that there is some kind of imperative.

Anyway, it now transpires that I have a readership and I try not to think about this because that might inhibit or modify what I want to say which is usually a blow-by-blow attempt to work out some kind of conclusion and / or structure. The blog also allows me to fly a number of intensely speculative kites safe in the knowledge that on or two readers will bring me back to ground- poetry as performance on the page being the most recent example.

I like to think that the well mannered responses are in part due to my decision to only write about poetry that I like and to try and pretend that the rest doesn’t exist. There are exceptions to this (Jarvis’ ‘Dinner’, Prynne’s ‘Sub Songs’) but they prove the rule. This isn’t formulated froma moral stance, it’s simply that I don’t find it very interesting demolishing poems even when they thoroughly deserve to be so treated. I have set myself this challenge of writing enthusiastically about material that I feel deserves to be better known and appreciated and I don’t have any problem at all with the fact that I am occasionally in a very small minority. I know from bitter personal experience of bulletin boards and blogs in another sphere that things can rapidly become needlessly conflictual and I’m very pleased that this hasn’t occurred here.

There’s also this feeling that something really important is happening to this particular information order but we only catch glimpses of what this might be, I keep trying to list the things that blogging has made me think about and discover, I try to examine my traffic stats as if these might give me more of a clue but most of the time this is just a collection of instinctive stabs in the dark unless I get prodded into elaborating on the technical prowess on display in ‘The Anathemata’ which means that I have an excuse to read it again…

A final point, this tries hard not to be either lit crit or the reviewing of books, what it does attempt is an honest statement of the fruits of readerly attention and I am very pleased that others find bits of it to be useful- in the sense that Richard Rorty intended.