Monday, 18 May 2020


why that’s a perfectly cromulent word: neologisms coined, defined and used in a sentence by a machine learning algorithm—via Things magazine

elrodon, son of halcyon: anti-depressant (see also) or Tolkien character—via Super Punch

your perfectly creased coordinated casuals: Kristen Wiig reads the early work of Suzanne Somers—via Nag on the Lake

specious logic: Trump argues against testing and tracing

howards end: E. M. Forster’s prescient 1909 sci-fi foray “The Machine Stops”

the floor is haunted: responsibly confined to our own living rooms, AI Weirdness (previously) imagines escape rooms

Wednesday, 13 May 2020


Synonymous with anonymous and from the Greek แผ€ฮดฮญฯƒฯ€ฮฟฯ„ฮฟฯ‚—that is, without a master or owner, adespota is used in classical scholarship as a collective term to cover writings that were not attributed to any particular author, especially epigrams taken from plaques and monuments whose provenance and history was lost when they were anthologised.
The related German borrowing for use primarily in the context of art history rather than written work is Notname—not a not-name a bit confusingly like a Notausgang on an exterior door isn’t No Exit but rather Emergency Exit—is a contingency or convenience name given to the portfolio of an artist or their school whose true identity is unknown—such as the Master of the Embroidered Foliage or the Berliner Maler.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


As much as these days can seem rather untethered, time still marches forward and Messy Nessy Chic brings us a thought-provoking survey of some of the myriad ways that civilisation has tried to regulate and legislate the cycles of the Sun and Moon.
One will encounter some of the earliest attempts to figure human reckoning, superstition and experience with cosmology and the progression of the seasons—and whether indeed time’s arrow isn’t a flat circle that brings everything around again, to efforts to install decimal time (or at least one that followed more regular rules) and the French Revolutionary Calendar plus other ways of resetting the clock. A chronogram, incidentally, is a headstone, plaque or commemoration that one sometimes encounters with those seemingly random capitalised or illuminated letters, like in the more straightforward epitaph for Elizabeth I of England: My Day Closed Is In Immortality—or, MDCIII corresponding to 1603, the year of her death or in lengthier passages called chronosticha on buildings that relate a parable and record when construction was completed.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

๏ฌ€ont ๏ฌ€amily

A commission from the Welsh government has netted a sleek, unifying typeface for its public services and signage that reflects Cymraeg and its unique orthographic characteristics (see also) with its range of diagraphs expressed in dedicated ligatures based on the textura of the country’s oldest manuscripts including the thirteenth century epic The Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest) that recounts the heroic cycle of poems of Llywarch Hen and the struggle against the incursion of the Anglo-Saxons in the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose of the British isles, and The Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin, both distinguished by their location and the colour of their vellum bindings) that addresses various subjects including the Arthurian legend and Merlin (Myrddin).

Sunday, 15 March 2020

fra banc to banc, fra wod to wod

Scotland’s new twenty pound note, printed on durable paper-like polymer continues the series the Fabric of Nature and as a security feature, the frolicking red squirrels’ fur glows under an ultra-violet lamp and showcases an excerpt from the sixteenth century Sonnet of Venus and Cupid by native poet Mark Alexander Boyd (*1562 – †1601), which Ezra Pound declared the most beautiful in the language:

Fra banc to banc, fra wod to wod, I rin

Ourhailit with my feble fantasie,

Lyk til a leif that fallis from a trie

Or til a reid ourblawin with the wind.

Twa gods gyds me: the ane of tham is blind,

Ye, and a bairn brocht up in vanitie;

The nixt a wyf ingenrit of the se,

And lichter nor a dauphin with hir fin.

Unhappie is the man for evirmair

That teils the sand and sawis in the aire;

 Bot twyse unhappier is he, I lairn,

That feidis in his hairt a mad desyre,

And follows on a woman throw the fyre,

Led be a blind and teichit be a bairn.

satire x

First airing on this day in 1968, the penultimate episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series “Bread and Circuses” takes its title from an eponymous satirical poem written by Juvenal that addresses how constituencies are easy led astray from weightier issues if their base needs are satisfied takes place on an alternate Earth (Magna Roma, 892-IV) where the Roman Empire never fell and in a twentieth century setting.

The landing party visit the planet after finding wreckage of a survey vessel without a trace of its crew and compliment, eventually realising that the former captain, now elevated to Princeps Civitatis (emperor and first citizen), went native and sacrificed his company to the gladiatorial games from a conviction that the civilization be shielded from cultural contamination (the Prime Directive), having not yet arrived at the technological threshold of interstellar travel, and tries to convince Kirk and Spock and the rest of the away team to do the same and abandon their Star Fleet careers. Resistant, Kirk and Spock are thrown into the melee and disappointing the audience by dispatching their opponent swiftly and non-bloodily with a Vulcan nerve pinch and then scheduled for execution—to be televised. Deus ex machina, Scotty causes a power disruption and beams them aboard just in time, the blackout preserving the Romans from potential future shock.

Monday, 28 October 2019


Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are treated to the versification of McSweeney’s contributor Ross Wolinsky in his piece The Millennial Raven, which is really rather on point and blast on-putting. As inviting and compelling with its galloping metre and rhythm to read to its mundane and inconsequential conclusion as the original (see also) narrative poem, we are made to choose what distresses us. Here’s a select stanza:

And the rumbles growing stronger; until I could wait no longer,
“Hey Siri,” said I, “I’m hungry, and so must gently implore;
But the fact is I was sexting, when so gently came a texting,
Slightly vexing, when it said my sushi’s waiting at my door.”
Put my shoes on, went downstairs—and here I opened wide the door;—
Just a flyer, nothing more.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

detail & parody

Via Kottke, we find ourselves challenged to a bit of scansion and poetic graffiti in physician and writer William Carlos Williams’ (*1883 – †1963) 1932 modern, imagist kitchen table note “This Is Just to Say.”  Its perfectly self-consistent typographical structure, which reads more like the accidental symmetry of found poetry, makes the intensifier seem out of place anywhere. Williams’ wife, Florence (Flossie) nรฉe Herman (*1891 – †1976), herself penned a “reply” some years later—which I think far and away is the best “none-of-the-above” responses:

Dear Bill: I’ve made a
couple of sandwiches for you.
In the ice-box you’ll find
blue-berries—a cup of grapefruit
a glass of cold coffee.

On the stove is the tea-pot
with enough tea leaves
for you to make tea if you
prefer—Just light the gas—
boil the water and put it in the tea

Plenty of bread in the bread-box
and butter and eggs—
I didn’t know just what to make for you. Several people
called up about office hours—

See you later. Love. Floss.

Please switch off the telephone.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

pardon my french

Due to the candid and colourful language of Chaucer, we learn via The History of English that Middle English unguarded vulgarities was referred to as reverting to the Anglo-Saxon.
Despite how sensibilities change, some words remain too taboo for common parlance and polite company and there’s certainly much history in its waxing and waning. A particular intensifier that’s in certain contexts lightly veiled as fcuk was given its first imprimatur far better disguised though the cognoscenti could decipher the meaning: the mixed English and Latin poem of the sixteen-hundreds titled Fleas, flies and friars lobbies an indictment against the monks as non sunt in cล“li, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk—by advancing to the next letter, i and j as u, w and v not yet distinguished to impugn their religious community, masking the women of Ely and their trysts that make the religious figures hypocrites. We’re also reminded throughout how bawdy and lewd The Canterbury Tales is to inspire such an expression as the above reversion and how history will probably either judge us for our prudishness, cruelty or crudity of the graffiti will leave behind.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

a christening

During a naming ceremony for the eponymous RRS Sir David Attenborough—a polar research vessel (see previously), attended by the esteemed naturalist with thousands of onlookers and hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the shipyard at Cammel Laird, poet laureate Simon Armitage commemorated the occasion with a special commission entitled Ark, with a very powerful and haunting refrain:

They sent out a dove: it wobbled home,
wings slicked in a rainbow of oil,
a sprig of tinsel snagged in its beak,
a yard of fishing-line binding its feet.

Bring back, bring back the leaf.

They sent out an artic fox:
it plodded the bays of the northern fringe
in muddy socks
and a nylon cape.

Bring back, bring back the leaf.
Bring back the reed and the reef,
set the ice sheet back on its frozen plinth,
tuck the restless watercourse into it bed,
sit the glacier down on its highland throne.
put the snow cap back on the mountain peak.

Let the northern lights be northern lights
not the alien glow over Glasgow or Leeds.

A camel capsized in a tropical flood.
Caimans dozing in Antarctic lakes.
Polymers rolled in the sturgeon’s blood.
Hippos wandered the housing estates.

Bring back, bring back the leaf.
Bring back the tusk and the horn
Bring back the fern, the fish, the frond and the fowl,
the golden toad and the pygmy owl,
 revisit the scene
where swallowtails fly
through acres of unexhausted sky.

They sent out a boat.
Go little breaker,
splinter the pack-ice and floes, nose
through the rafts and pads
of wrappers and bottles and nurdles and cans,
the bergs and atolls and islands and states
of plastic bags and micro-beads
and the forests of smoke.

Bring back, bring back the leaf,
bring back the river and bring back the sea.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

for the nonce

Though not usually in the business of documenting isolated uses, we discover nonetheless via the Oxford English Dictionary word of the day subscription service a rather delightful example in Ogden Nash’s one-off murdermongeress, appearing in a 1957 poetic reflection on Agatha Christie, whom was fairly singular in her field but nowadays the crime writer genre is more equitable.  Presumably non-gendered, a murdermonger was a term used in the late 1700s for a professional killer. A flock of crows is called a murder purely for arbitrary reasons compiled in a rather fanciful book on venery that sought to ennoble or debase animals based on the characteristics we assume them to have (see also)—that and their presence at the gallows. Relatedly, in the company of ravens we encounter three different names depending on the group’s activity: a constabulary (keeping watch, as over the Tower of London), an unkindness (see above) or a conspiracy (hunting in packs rather than scavenging alone).

Sunday, 28 April 2019

hall of fame

Graciously, the Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life invites us to seek refuge from the hustle of the High Street and hide a bit in an old haunt—The Champion located in the West End, just off the retail monotony of Oxford Street—and soak up the atmosphere.
Though the pub has been there on the corner of Wells and Eastcastle since the mid-nineteenth century, a contemporary of the Victorian explorers and sports pioneers depicted in stained glass, these were much later additions, commissions from the accomplished artist Ann Southeran installed in 1989 to give the place some added character, and include the subject Captain Matthew Webb (*1848 - †1883) who was the first recorded individual to cross the English Channel under his own power. In 1875, Webb swam from Dover to Calais in just under twenty-two hours, fighting the powerful rip-tide and painful jellyfish stings. Sadly, Webb’s later stunt of crossing the Whirlpool Rapids below Niagara Falls proved to be too treacherous and Webb died during his swim. Webb’s life and legacy are remembered in the poem “A Shropshire Lad” by Poet Laureate John Betjeman and the caricature of him that appeared on a brand of weatherproof matches is said to have been the model for Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau. Much more to explore at the link above plus a detailed gallery of the Champions at the link above.

Monday, 14 January 2019

it looks like you could use a poem

Being a long time fan of Maria Popova’s engaging literary digest, Brain Pickings, I was pleasantly surprised when recently, instead of the usually lures to subscribe to the newsletter or otherwise to disrupt one’s taking leave of the place once it seemed like one’s attention was starting to slake, rather than being badgered (desperate though understandably so) into remaining, the gentle reader is offered an excerpt of poetry to consider and keep as a souvenir.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

benedictine beatnik

A self-described “monknik,” Hyperallergic introduces us to the concrete poetry and cut-up style of Dom Sylvester Houรฉdard, a Benedictine priest and theologian who regularly slipped away from his abbey in the Cotswolds to spend weekends in London, helping to inform the particular genre and scene.
Artfully presented and visually stunning, Houรฉdard’s works are replete with religious references but reflect a view broader than his own tradition, having an affinity for Eastern philosophy as well. Like the poems of his friends and correspondents William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (who objected to the label beatnik, coined by journalist Herb Caen after the launch of Sputnik), Houรฉdard was interested in acquainting writer and reader “in maximum communication with minimum words,” composing terse and polished little stumbling blocks to cause one to question semantic trappings.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

a poet and didn’t know it

Our sincere gratitude to Nag on the Lake for introducing us to the rather remarkable troubadour known as Poetweet that will cull one’s Twitter feed for lyrical snippets and combine them into one of three poetic forms. We were really impressed with the eye-rhyme that it found amongst our twiterpation, pairing fascist with Zeitgeist or “a send away service for souvenirs” with “and their houses in dire need of repairs,” but I think we write about too many non-sequitir things to get an authentic couplet—and that gave us an idea. Granted Dear Leader is a sub-literate sophist and a general menace to language in any capacity, Poetweet was nonetheless also willing to take the dotard’s handle and make him sound a bit like a bard. Give it a try yourself at the links above.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

mancunians united

Though the poem was commissioned a few years ago to celebrate the unique character of the city in a wholly different context, poet Tony Walsh’s recitation of his This is the Place hit some very resonate notes that helped those attending this vigil find some solace in not losing the strength of what connects them.

This is the place
In the north-west of England. It’s ace; it’s the best
And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands
Set the whole planet shaking.

Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music
We make brilliant bands
We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands.

And we make things from steel
And we make things from cotton
And we make people laugh—take the mick summat rotten
And we make you at home
And we make you feel welcome and we make summat happen
And we can’t seem to help it
And if you’re looking from history, then yea we’ve a wealth

Thursday, 23 March 2017


Reporting on the Getty Centre’s latest acquisitions Hyperallergic introduces us the visual verses of Scottish poet and playwright Ian Hamilton Finlay known as concrete or pattern poetry, typified by meaning being conveyed by the typographical effects as much as the choice of the words themselves. Though the works are ultra-modern this reminds me of this recent study of ancient calligrams. Visit the link up top to see a whole gallery of Finlay’s poems plus those of fellow pioneer and correspondent Brazilian Augusto de Campos.

Monday, 26 September 2016

to autumn

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer have o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinรฉd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

What are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy Music too—
While barrรฉd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

~ John Keats, 1819

Friday, 8 April 2016

…but satisfaction brought her back

Originator of the gothic genre with his novel The Castel of Otranto, Horace Walpole, was also an avid cat-fancier. His favourite companion was a tabby named Selima who was sadly discovered one day in 1747 to have drowned in a goldfish bowl, presumably while trying to extract her prey. To console his loss, the earl commissioned a poet friend to eulogise the cat’s death with an ode, which is really quite amazing and includes a warning clause for the morbidly curious:
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize—
Nor all that glisters, gold.

That tribute, however, was the last for beloved Selima. Painters captured her imagined final moments, mesmerised by the tantalising fish, including artist William Blake, who illustrated a publication of the ode. Private loss had quickly become public and wakes for felines became quite common afterwards.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

bardolatry or oh no-etry

Coinciding with US National Poetry Month, there’s a clever sonnet-generating algorithm that creates convincing, natural sounding Shakespearian stanzas that adhere to the rules of grammar and scansion, informs Boing Boing. Here is an example, Sonnet № 3959816917:

When I perhaps compounded am with clay
I tell the day, to please him, thou art bright
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night
I grant I never saw a goddess go
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Receiving naught by elements so slow
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair
If my dear love were but the child of state
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you
Such civil war is in my love and hate
Robbing no old to dress his beauty new
Her audit, though delay’d, answer’d must be
If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee

There is some repetition with certain conceits and stock-phrases reappearing but that’s able to dull the machine whirring in the background and allow the rhythm, rhyme and even meaning come through. I wonder if true scholars could pick out what’s computer-generated sentiment from Shakespeare’s own collection of 154.