{Wed 16 December 2009}   When Orality met Literacy…
When Orality met Literacy…

I’m trying hard to articulate for my new business site (still under construction) what exactly it is I do for a living. My clients will be glad that this whimsical meditation probably will not end up on my Home page, but, for some reason, this is what filled that space today!

One day, young Taran was hunting lizards and rats in the desert with some friends. They trod softly and whispered as they walked, so as not to startle their prey. With practised ease, they stalked and circled, wasting no motion as they whirled their slings and released precise, stony death upon their unsuspecting lunch. The sandy crags were abundant with surprising life and by midday their belts were bulging with enough fresh meat to feed their entire tribe that night. With time on their hands, they ran eagerly to where they knew they could find water and shade, to sit and sing until the sun retreated from its ravaging.

As they approached the glistening desert lake, Taran spotted a woman sitting in the shade of the only tree at the oasis. Their tree. Their oasis. Her silverine hair rippled in the breeze as she bent forward. She was making strange marks in the sand near her feet. He confronted her:

“Who are you?”
She smiled, “I am Shanaya. I am a writer.”
“What is a writer?”
“A writer is one who writes. As I am doing here… writing.”
“What is writing?”
“Ah. Writing is …. the rendering on a surface of symbols representing sounds or words.”
“Hmmm. That’s… interesting… I suppose. What is writing for?”
“Writing is for communicating!”
“Communicating what? To whom?”
“Anything! Everything! To anyone! Or even to a machine!”
Taran did not know what a machine was, but he tried to make sense of what she said. “So if I make some marks on a surface to represent some sounds or words, I’ll be communicating?”
Shanaya smiled mysteriously. “Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that!”

She went on to explain about sentences, paragraphs, spelling, grammar, punctuation, reading, target audiences, lexicons, assumed knowledge, style, translation, record-keeping, letter-writing, creative writing, technical writing, analytical writing, history, plays, poetry, novels, short stories, newspapers, film, TV, computer programming, e-mail, blogging, online networking, texting, e-poetry, hypertext writing, video games, multimedia stories, cross-media narratives, Alternate Reality Games and transliteracy.

It was a long day.

{Sat 29 August 2009}   On Emptiness
On Emptiness

So much there was, so much, so much
That isn’t there, was never there!
How could so much nothing take up
So much space and time and tear
Me from myself with such solicitude?
I have spun and spun with spider-touch
A web of words to hold and care
For answers that may never come
From me or you—that truth so rare
We seek and hide in solitude.

{Thu 9 July 2009}   Smooth Red Woman
Smooth Red Woman

Piled under an Italian sky, red marble gleams at me:
“Rosso Ammonico di Verona”, “Rosso Levanto”,
“Rosso Francia”, “Rosso Laguna”, “Rosso Lepanto” …
Seduced, I let the rosy names roll richly off my tongue.
My husband moves on with the guide, but I am enthralled by a red marble woman:

Shining in the sensuous sun, her whole body is deep tongue-texture,
Poised for creamy pleasures.
I cannot pass without caressing her; without sending forth probes
To scan the galaxy of textures just below my reach.
I must stroke her; explore her cool warmth with my fingertips,
Marvel at the harsh practice that produces smooth perfection.
Her delicacy suggests a gentle touch,
But soon I want to lick her, kiss her deeply.
Did she respond to the artisan’s hand as he chipped and chiselled and polished?
Did blood roil in her seething veins?
Did she strive with him to produce this beauty?

My medium’s not marble or any other deserving stone
That earns its right to care by its beautiful existence.
No, my chisel hits flesh, and draws blood, each time.
Its lumpen labour breaks surfaces; bruises.
It’s always amateur art, always a work-in-progress.
I search to expose the beautiful woman,
But each blow chips so little away.

What do I earn by being? By being what I am,
What my mounds, my cracks, my crevasses dictate I must be?
The right to be tossed aside, dismissed, like inferior stone,
Or to be reshaped (misshaped) into something unrecognisable.
My capillaries and crannies are not lovingly polished to reveal their textures.
No, smooth is different for warm-fleshed bodies.
In the world below the marble mountain, there is no real red.
I have spent much life on the effort to be equal:
I could not fashion a man’s sword for myself,
But, with assiduous application of all man’s expertise,
I do not age, have no cramps, show no blood.
My tampon fits discreetly in the palm of my hand.
I am a smoothed-out person, with a smoothed-out life.
No wo(e)-, just -man.

But, inside me, blood breathes and surges.
When the moon is full, it calls and urges.

Why do I fear that place where the Goddess waits?
“I am a woman,” I cry, “See my wedding ring, the pink coat,
The love of roses, the plucking of eyebrows, the Brazilian!”
I don’t want to go to No Man’s Land, where the Goddess waits;
That place where, she says, my name is Woman.

But I hear her calling, “Come, give me your hand.
Let’s wander down the river of blood.”

{Thu 7 May 2009}   Watercolour E-Poem

So… it took a while, but this poem is now more than text! To experience it you’ll need Adobe Flash Player, preferably v9 or v10, and to turn on your sound.

Click the image to view the poem full screen:


The [Respond] button at the end of the poem will bring you back here to comment or offer a poem of your own.

Alternatively, why not respond by creating your own version of Watercolour? Grab the word cloud below, go to http://www.wordle.net, paste it in and have a blast! If you like the result, supply a link to the Wordle version in your comment.


  1. Wordle gives greater weight to words that occur more often. If you want some words to appear bigger than others, copy and repeat those words a few times in the word cloud, e.g. repeating “jazz jazz jazz” and “pizzazz pizzazz pizzazz” and “imagine imagine imagine imagine imagine” could produce a Wordle like this: Watercolour imagine jazz pizzazz.
  2. Wordle strips out common words like “of” and “the” unless you change settings via the Language menu.

Word cloud for Wordling:

Watercolour primaries pounce on the primitive page usurping space with bizarre pizzazz opposing waves squall and break brim-brilliant crests crash create a jazz of chaos interference drags a screaming thread of blue through careless orange splotches tia azulay raging red gobbles new green panicking through cooling pools of sulphur a purple pulse breathes whirls of fire willing them to swirl against caking air to savage expectations flay the fair and even strokes of intent with edges of the depths fan water into flame with split-atomic spatterings of aquamarine and shame shatterings of line design all reason Oh Image imagine Imagination’s breathing Ruwach

{Thu 23 April 2009}   Thought Walk
Thought Walk

Pierce breeze
Dazzle sky
Haunt star
Laugh universe

{Wed 18 February 2009}   Watercolour revisited
Watercolour revisited

It’s amazing how a fresh project and the smallest amount of feedback can help one to see old work with new eyes. I’m working on my first e-poem – a conversion of an existing paper-based one. Discussion in the E-Poetry module of the MA made me realise that some of the poem’s “argument” had never made its way from my head to the page. In trying to describe my first experience with watercolour painting, which challenged all sorts of preconceptions I’d held about the medium, I was so focused on my emotional response that I hadn’t given a clear enough picture of the activity to justify my response.

I’ve brought back some structures (layout, punctuation) that I used in earlier versions, but also introduced a few new words, including a whole new line, and deleted some unnecessary ones. I’m pleased with the textual result now (the e- bit is still to come), although in two minds about the title – should I revert to the original title of “Watercolour”, or retain “Primeval Watercolour”?

You can see one of the many earlier versions here, if you’re interested, but here’s the latest version:


Primaries pounce
on the primitive page,
usurping space with bizarre pizzazz;
opposing waves squall and break,
brim-brilliant crests crash,
create a jazz of chaos:
interference drags a screaming thread of blue
across careless orange splotches;
raging red gobbles new green;
panicking through cooling pools of sulphur,
a purple pulse breathes whirls of fire,
willing them to swirl against caking air,
to savage expectations, flay the fair
and even strokes of intent
with edges of the depths,
fan water into flame
with split-atomic spatterings
of aquamarine and shame,
of line, design, all reason—

Oh, Image, imagine
Imagination’s breathing:

Update 12Aug09: See the digital version of this poem here.

Ode to Autumn by John Keats – Wordled by Tia

Today we had a fun exercise for the E-Poetry module – take a classic (out of copyright) poem and convert it into an e-poem. Using Wordle feels like cheating, because it’s so easy, but I think the effect is rather pleasing. I just played around with colour choices a bit to obtain an Autumn palette, and fiddled with the randomization and shape to get the impression of Autumn leaves swirling in a park.

Click the image to be taken to the larger version on the Wordle site.

Oh, by the way, “Anonymous” is me. I didn’t realise the implication of attribution when I chose not to input my name. Moving too quickly…

Ode to Autumn by John Keats

{Thu 2 October 2008}   A Fish Does What A Fish Must Do
Well, at last the long silence is broken… After some hectic months of much travelling and visiting, some ill-health and some hosting of guests, I’ve started the MA in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University in Leicester and I am now required to write again (regularly, eek!). This little poem is my offering for our first Creative Exercise which involved responding to a picture of a small, ugly fish balanced in the palm of a hand…. a fish out of water, presumably chosen as an image to reflect the anxieties of most students new to a course. I expect that this poem will change and tighten up a bit—it’s unusual for me to post such a fresh work for public view—but I wanted to make the statement that I’m back in the blogosphere.

A Fish Does What a Fish Must Do

This fish brings water with it;
Poised, vicious and delicate,
It rests lightly on the hand,
Fin repurposed into stand.
Not flapping-frantic-fitful,
But cool as primeval chill,
Awaiting opportunity:
Body taut, eyes alert to see
And seize translucent breath;
Its vast life or tiny death,
Suckled in swim or gagged by air,
Potentials beyond this now-where.
The moment balances with the fin:
Before and after stretch out thin
From here where nerves intensely
Immobilise magnificently.
There is no thought of why or how,
Instinct is all — its soul is now.

31 July 2009 – And here’s the image itself (don’t know why I didn’t add this before, as it was made available under a Creative Commons licence. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/16866037@N00/1386243643/
Creative Commons License: Some Rights Reserved http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_GB

Lizardfish by Jennifurr-Jinx UpoadedToFlickr15Sept07

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{Mon 17 December 2007}   Fabulous festive season poetry evening
Over the past two years, we’ve hosted several very enjoyable Shakespeare readings, with a very merry time being had by all participants (who keep coming back for more!). To do something a bit different for the festive season, we decided to hold a poetry evening instead. Despite the fact that several people had to cancel shortly beforehand due to illness or other unavoidable distractions, and that most of those who did come were severely delayed due to an accident that snarled up all the access routes to our home, the evening was a resounding success.

If you’ve ever longed to explore well-loved poems, or to discover new ones to delight in, with a receptive group, here’s a possible model that you could adapt for your own experience (the poems we shared are listed at the end of this post):


We’re a diverse bunch in terms of culture, countries of origin, languages, religion, age, etc., so “Season’s Greetings” means different things for each of us, but at this time of holidays and festivities families and friends generally come together and individuals look forward to new growth in the New Year. I therefore proposed the following theme for the evening:

To celebrate the season and who we are in it by sharing a poem that connects with a positive aspect of our own heritage

By “heritage”, I had in mind the following very wide definitions found via Google:

I was also intrigued by this definition, as I thought it might well contain the essence of poetry too:

As an example, I explained that I have English, Irish, Scottish and Lithuanian Jewish blood, and I’m connected by birth and culture to South Africa, Israel and the UK, and by my religious roots to Christianity and to Judaism, giving me quite a lot to choose from. I promised to look for a poem that really resonates with me…. and I found a lovely one, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post along with a list of the other equally wonderful ones that were shared.


Reading poetry is a meditative act—we seldom “get it” on the first reading or hearing. A poem communicates on so many levels — visual (images), musical (language sounds), rhythmic (metre and rhythm), narrative (actual and implied story), content (intended and imputed meaning), etc.— and each reader or hearer is predisposed to respond first to one or other of these levels according to temperament, culture, reading habit, education, etc. A single reading thus seldom provides more than a brief and tantalising scent which we must follow by re-reading or re-hearing to truly sink our teeth into its satisfying pleasures.

So I proposed that we’d each read our chosen poem, and then direct some or all of the others in the group in a re-reading of it.
If the original poem was in a different language, and the reader could speak that language, then s/he’d read it twice, first in Japanese or Hebrew, for instance, and then in English. The English translation must be poetic, i.e. lending itself to being read as a poem, rather than simply a literal or prosaic translation.

I asked everyone to bring enough copies of their chosen poem for each person in the group. In the spirit of the festive season, I suggested that we consider each reading a gift: first, a gift from the individual to the group in the initial reading of the poem, and then a gift back to the individual from the group as we gave the poem back in the way s/he requested.

This “giving back” was the reader’s opportunity to hear their poem read by one or more of the others in a sonorous voice, or a soft one, or in a sexy foreign accent, or by a chorus, or in counterpoint, as the group used the voices, accents, tone, attitudes or pace requested for each line or stanza. I explained that this could range from simply asking one person to read the entire poem, to involving the whole group by using them as a chorus, or alternating male and female voices, or British and foreign accents, or asking each person to read a different line in turn, or asking some to hum or drum in the background, etc.

As it turned out, we didn’t do anything too exotic, as most people chose simply to request a reading by one voice, or a few different voices, one for each stanza or line, but there were a few sung versions too, including one wonderful spontaneous rendition of a prayer-like poem as a gospel song, and finishing up with a hearty singalong of all the verses of Auld Lang Syne — a poem which is simultaneously one of the best-known (in terms of its global reach) and one of the least well-known (in terms of its actual words) songs in the world.


Most of the people who come to our literary events are neither Shakespeare nor poetry buffs. However, we don’t allow spectators. Everyone participates, so that no one is ever in an exclusively “observing” role (which may be felt by the others as the role of critic). The ethos is experiential rather than analytical, with space given to comments by anyone on any aspect of any poem that interests them, but with more emphasis on the individual’s response than on academic analysis. My view is that critical training and a knowledge of poetic tools are very valuable, but that they should enhance and inform the individual’s response to the poem, because the individual already has an instinctive response to the poem before the analytical mind is brought to bear on it. If this is ignored, poetry’s vital connection to the heart is cut off and the poem loses its power for that person.

After so much Shakespearean poetry (because, of course, all the plays are poetry), I thought that a poetry evening would be a lighter, simpler event where we’d have a bit more time to chat without the pressure, however enjoyable, of getting through an entire play in the evening. Well, it was simpler for us as hosts, especially because I didn’t spend the usual number of hours on part allocations, but I was surprised at the end of the evening when some people seemed amazed that they had enjoyed it so much, saying that they had been really nervous about it. We discussed the anxiety about “performance” and getting it “right” (both in rendering and in interpreting), that is the appalling legacy of poor poetry teaching at school. I remembered the students I tutored at university who seemed to walk into the seminar room primed with fear and/or loathing of the genre before they even saw the poem of the day. I mentioned that I had just last week met a man who had told me that he didn’t like poetry as he’d had to learn hundreds of lines of poetry as punishment, and one of our group immediately concurred as he had had the same experience. Personally, I think that this is a literary crime that is almost unforgivable—to rob a child and the adult s/he will become of the instinctive, natural joy of poetic experience by burning into their young minds an association between poetry and punishment!

I hope that our occasional poetry evenings will go some way to healing these wounds and freeing people to reclaim poetry as their rightful inheritance—an opportunity for emotional identification, aesthetic pleasure, quieting of the mind, raising passionate spirits or, simply, for joy.


In celebration of the season, we greeted everyone with mulled wine and hot mince pies as they arrived shivering from their respective journeys, but apart from that we kept it simple so that no one had to spend time in the kitchen throughout the evening. We simply had a gorgeous spread of cheeses, pickles, crudités, hummus, aubergine salad, patés, breads, biscuits, cherries, etc. that was available buffet-style, along with a drinks table, throughout the evening, as we normally do for the Shakespeare readings. We did take a short break for an official “dinner” slot as well, but in general people nibbled and sipped throughout the evening and the poems were sufficiently rich that the occasional crunching of a carrot-stick disturbed no one.

The poems

The following are the poems that were shared. Each was a unique and yet appropriate response to the theme and I would love to give them all in full, but I don’t have time to research the provenance of each for copyright purposes, so I’ll just give links where I can find them, and provide the texts of those that are probably in the public domain. Please let me know if you have any alternative information about copyright for any of these.

{Thu 22 November 2007}   Shining Chandelier
This little poem is whimsical and light (in all senses of the word!). It came to me last weekend during a writer’s workshop led by Alison Chisholm, hosted by the Geneva Writer’s Group. Alison gave us the fairly challenging exercise of writing in ten minutes a poem “about anything, except the view outside, or the difficulty of writing a poem!”. I knew instantly that I had to find a focus and a frame immediately, otherwise the nightmare of my creative writing exams at school would return… two and a half hours gone of a three hour paper and still staring blankly at a sneering white page…

The modern chandelier in the middle of the room at the Geneva Press Club provided such a focus. I noticed that its many bulbs created a concave meniscus as they seemed to yearn towards the floor, reminding me of Le Corbusier’s marvellous human-friendly wooden ceiling in the chapel at Ronchamps. My first thoughts about it were simple, and the frame that suggested itself for simple thoughts was haiku. What emerged then was this:

Shining Chandelier

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Reflections in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Glow echoed in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Light sources in me.

See a Wordle version of this poem

et cetera