Friday, December 30, 2005

Strange But True...

The science fiction TV program Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, (the 1978 edition), was the originator of Spandex as a fashion statement. The costume designer, Jean-Pierre Dorleac found a fabric previously used in women's underwear for things like the side panels in girdles and turned it inside out to lose the high-gloss effect. He says that "[The producer] had an idea silhouette-wise of what Buck Rogers should look like. He wanted him all in white and he wanted it very sleek and tight fitting."

Jean-Pierre, you have much to answer for.

Simak, Steven A., "25th Century Style", CFQ: Cinefantastique, (New Milford: Curtis Circulation Company), December/January 2005, p47.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Commonplace Book...

I just read a poem that Dorothy Sayers wrote about being thankful which I rather liked. (This was written early on in WWII when a lot of material goods were becoming scarce.)

I need not shiver in silk stockings; -
I had a hunch about wool before it was rationed;
Now I have knitted myself woollen stockings
That come a long way up.
They are warm and admirable,
They do not ladder or go into holes suddenly.
I can boast quietly about them
And smirk while others admire my industry;
As it happens, I like knitting
And nothing gratifies one more
Than to be admired for doing what one likes.
-- Dorothy L. Sayers

(Hannay, Margaret P. (ed.), As Her Whimsey Took Her: Critical Essays on the Work of Dorothy L. Sayers, Kent: The Kent State University Press, pp211-2)

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Guessing Game...

(Borrowed from repton_infinity over on LiveJournal.)

I'm thinking of a book. You can ask Yes/No questions that relate to the content of the book, but not the externals. So it's OK to ask if there is a quest to save the world, but not if it was written before 1980.

It's a science fiction novel. I think it's reasonable that you guys have read it or heard of it. I even own a copy.

First Question:
Do the main characters ever travel from one solar system to another?
-Yes, although to be fair, not during the course of the book.

(Please ask new questions as Blogspot comments and not the RSS feed available on LiveJournal.)



Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I've Been Watching The Man From Uncle

It's very silly. In the last episode, "The Karate Killers", they had to chase around the world finding the flighty step-daughters of a dead scientist so that they could collect bogus scientific formulae inscribed on his photograph, rearrange the letters to "Japanese Lullabye" so that the scientist's real daughter could remember an old friend of her father's who lived in Japan, go to Tokyo, rescue the daughter from a Geisha House, find the old friend, be captured (again) and taken to the North Pole where there was a factory that was extracting gold from sea water. Then they escaped and saved the day.

It had go-go dancers, an impoverished Count, a ski-lift, a dastardly villain and the aforementioned geisha girls.

All in all, quite fun.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I've Been Being Organised...

Travel booked, Xmas presents dealt with, provision made for my cat, and all in all, I'm feeling much more relaxed about Christmas. Maybe Douglas Adams had it right about random tendrils of Guilt connecting people to things, although, since there is still washing up to be done, I've still got an attachment to my house and everything. So that's a relief.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In Which I Talk About My Cat...

Because Catherine is sick of me talking about poetry. Actually, it's poetry that I really want to talk about, so this is an attempt to sneak under her radar.

I've been thinking lately that the modern popular conception of poetry is of something that's either difficult and hard to understand for 'posh people' with intellectual pretensions or something that's fun, rhymes and is meant for kids. As a couple of examples, I present for your edification a bona fide 'literary' poem that won awards called "Dismemberment: when in the dark" by Kapka Kassabova and a fun, happy kid's poem called "Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich" by Shel Silverstein, both chosen for the arbitrary reason that I happen to like them.

There are some really obvious differences here. While neither has a fixed verse form, the Silverstein has a very obvious meter and makes heavy use of rhyme. It's designed to rollick through from beginning to end and practically begs to be read out loud. Kassbova's piece has very few rhymes at all, and they're mostly from word repetition. There are some repeated consonantal sounds, but they're mostly internal and subtle, for instance the repeating S sound in "When the moon comes it displays / your passing shadow - a stooped loneliness" which, really, you have to look for to notice. Moreover, the word order seems designed to emphasise the pauses between sentences and separate lines. To me, it seems that Kassabova, like many modern poets, really likes using such artificial silences to highlight what she sees as key points, and like many poems it gives the finished article a fractured quality. "Dismemberment: when in the dark" requires an effort to read and come to grips with. There's more emphasis on making the reader figure out what's meant rather than simply enjoying words that sound good.

To me, this seems to be an obvious result in the changing forms and uses of poetry. We are no longer in an age where an evening's entertainment would be for someone to belt out Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and looking at "The Charge", it has much more in common with Silverstein's poem in terms of meter, rhyme, repetition and other aural devices than Kassabova's piece. Kassabova was writing for a different audience, one that would read the poem silently in magazines and slim books of poetry. While it might occasionally be recited out loud at a public poetry reading, most people will encounter the poem only visually. Silverstein, on the other hand, is still writing for an aural audience - children who will be read to by their parents and teachers.

All this, of course, will be obvious to my discerning readers. Yet, I ask this: Where is the poetry for people who are neither children nor literati? Are they to be doomed to an arid wasteland of sports results and knitting patterns? Actually, this was a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer. Most (Western) people listen to poetry most days, it's just in hiding. To introduce the fourth example of this essay, "Take On Me" by A-ha (very popular when I was 8, by the way) has extremely simple lyrics which go right back into the tradition of making the words sound good. There's a very repetitive and simple rhyme scheme - lots of 'ay' sounds like "Okay", "anyway", "say", "play". The chorus is repeated very often as well, a trick that Tennyson and numerous other pre-20th century poets utilised heavily. The Carpe Diem theme has been used in poetry going back over two thousand years. As simple as it is, this poem links into a very old tradition of oral poetry, the main differences I can see are that the meter isn't very obvious and the phrases are very short. These seem reasonable compromises for words that are only one component of a song - the melody will buttress the words and provide its own timing, so it isn't as necessary for the word order to supply it, secondly, the vocal component of the song is just another instrument, a casual listener might not catch all of the words so keeping the phrases short helps their understanding. As another more recent example, "Travelin' Soldier" by the Dixie Chicks is packed full of alliterative and assonant/rhyme sounds, for instance "Too young for him they told her/Waitin’ for the love of a travelin’ soldier" and "piccolo player". The meter supplied from the words themselves is also entirely secondary to that provided by the martial drum beat that is played with the song. As far as I can tell, most song lyrics share similar qualities - like pre-20th century poetry the main emphasis is on sound, not how the lyrics work on the page, and the lyrics are provided as part of an ensemble - an important component but not the only one.

What's my point? The lyrics of pop songs are the poetry of the people. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the song writers in bands don't really consider themselves to be poets, but that's what they are. Next time you're singing along to the radio, spare a thought for your favourite poet and give them a cheer.


Oh, where's the bit about my cat? Through a series of strange events, a small plastic bag of catnip ended up on my bed instead of safely out of the way on a shelf where she can't get at it. I walked into my room to find her lolling on my bed, purring fit to burst and absolutely covered in the stuff. So is my bed (covered with catnip, I mean). Babe has a drug problem. (sob) What did I do wrong?