Posts Tagged poem

Poem: Why I Perform at Open Mics (as performed at an open mic)


I’ve been performing at a lot of open mics in Vienna and wherever else I happen to be, so I wrote a poem about why I do it. Here’s a video of my performance of it at the open mic on JoCo Cruise 2017, with some special pandering to The Doubleclicks, who hosted the open mic, and some accidental offense to BatSteve, who was right in front of me, probably taking photos.

Check out the rest of my footage of the open mic too.

Here are the words:

If there’s one thing that’s lauded in the internet age,
it’s if I want to be applauded I don’t need to go on stage.
I could write shit in my bedroom, gathering tweets and shares and likes,
but despite it I still head to gatherings known as open mics.

Because fuck it, our creations need a community
and luck is preparation meeting opportunity,
so when The Doubleclicks or Weird Al Yankovic come to town
and every good opening act mysteriously comes down
with a synthetic disease to which I have immunity,
I’ll be ready to please, dropping rhymes with impunity.

‘Cause I’m a Master of Rhyme;
I’ve got a Masters degree
and my thesis was a rhyming dictionary,
so I’ll be rapping my rants
and you’ll be clapping your hands
and flapping your panties
that you happily planned
to throw at fabulous bands
and I’ll be nabbing their fans
while they are crapping their pants

In real life I’m a hacker and I’m super science knowledge-y:
linguistics and mathematics and some microbiology
but I admit that in the latter I have lax methodology,
and for that I say no matter; I present my apology:
if your bladder had a splatter, don’t be mad; I tried urology.

So back to the point — my plan is all about practice.
The knack to seem much better than any surviving opening act is.
And that may sound unfettered and conniving but the fact is
they lack my well-honed stagecraft and immunoglobulin factors.

Because I’m
perfecting my art
and projecting my heart
While collecting the hard-earned
affection that’s marred
by those correctly called “artists”
rejecting my protective injection,
electing collective infection — ejecting a shart.
And maybe I’m a chump who’s not much better than you,
but I’ll be number one while you’re going number two.

I digress; I’m an open mic nerd; I require us
to weary of hearing Free Bird, Miley Cyrus.
When merely a chord or a word can rewire us
and everyone’s here to be heard and inspire us
then I’ll engineer a deferred norovirus.

So now you understand why I’m facing my fears.
I’m bracing to be panned while embracing my peers
so I’ve no stage fright when the big stars are here.
There’ll be no cage fight, the choice will be clear,
because I write each night I can guarantee ya
that my shite’s not trite, or second tier,
and the light’s so bright I can barely see ya,
and I’ll be the only artist without diarrhoea.

Everything in my poem is true, except for the microbiology stuff. I really did make a rhyming dictionary for my Masters thesis. It’s already better than any other rhyming dictionary I’ve used, but I’m working on more improvements to it before promoting it more widely.

Ironically, and unrelated to any norovirus experiments I deny doing, I actually had a short bout of diarrhoea a week ago, and am now nursing an injured foot because I fainted and woke up on the toilet floor. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m no stranger to waking up injured on the toilet floor — I wrote a poem called A Skirmish [With My Least-Favourite Body Part] about the previous time that happened. And now, coincidentally, you can buy a pdf of a poster of that poem! It has the poem looking like it’s written in blood, and a schematic of the offending body part in the background. I originally made the poster a while ago as a goodbye present for a friend who likes that poem, but since it was better value to print more than one, I put one up on the wall of my toilet, and sold/swapped a few to other people, who seemed to really like it.

I decided it would be cool to put it up as a pay-what-you-like download for Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, but after overshooting that deadline researching sites where you can do that sort of thing, I instead ended up opening an Etsy store.  There you can download the poster as two pdfs, one optimised for A4 and one for US Letter format, and print however many copies you like, just as long as you don’t make money from them or remove the credits (it’s BY-NC-SA). It’s not pay-as-you-like, because Etsy doesn’t do that sort of thing, but I think the price is fair — cheaper than many simpler downloadable posters on Etsy. It’s all vector-based so should print nicely in larger sizes as well. I’d love to see this on toilet walls all over the place.

If people are interested I’ll also add an option to buy printouts of it; the printouts themselves would be cheaper than the download but would probably work out more expensive with postage, and you’d only have however many you bought without the option of printing more.

I’ve been meaning to offer a way to buy They Might Be Giants posters directly from me, so I also added those to the store. The postage from Austria is really high for most parts of the world, so if you’re in, say, the USA, you’re probably better off getting a poster from Zazzle, but if you’re in Europe, you’ll get a better quality poster (I don’t recall the exact paper specifications but I think the ones I have are on 300gsm paper. It’s really nice) at a lower price from me through Etsy. I also make more profit that way. Most of the money you give Zazzle goes to Zazzle, while most of the money you pay via Etsy goes to me.

While you’re buying menstruation- and science-related poetry, check out my friend Chella’s Etsy shop, where you can get some zines about menstruation and space, one of which (not the space one) has a lot of cool menstrual poetry in it. Also, even more importantly, sign her petition to keep branding out of menstruation education. Or at least read it and do what you can to improve menstruation education in your part of the world; Chella put a lot of work into the petition and it’s quite interesting.

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Wibbly-wobbly words


GloPoWriMo is over, and I haven’t expanded on everything mentioned in my initial poem, though I covered ‘performed‘ and ‘got some footage uploaded‘, in a sense. I found a draft of this fifty-word poem covering ‘published’ (two stories featured on fiftywordstories.com) and threw it into some kind of blibby-blobby shape:

Fifty-word stories, you say?
I wrote two:
one imaginary, one true;
one momentary, one eternal —
thoughts growing from language kernel.
For a second’s worth a thousand words,
a word a thousand seconds.
A fiction hides a thousand truths,
a truth a thousand fictions.
Word and truth aren’t reckoned by restrictions.

If you’re wondering about the title, at some point I had ‘For time is wibbly-wobbly, just like words, and and either can be warped to hold the other’ in there, but that got trimmed for the sake of word count.

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Sings up to which Joey has been (a poem about a song of a poem)


What I wrote were some mere rhyming words.
What I got was this wonderful song
by a friend with whom I get along
that I met on a ship full of nerds.

’Twas the cruise, as you might have inferred,
of that singer of many dings-dong.
We were one thousand five hundred strong
and a blue plastic uke was conferred

upon each of us on the first night
so we all could repeatedly tune
and observe it was never quite right.
The performers had hoped to attune
us to not make such fun of their plight,
but we did, sure as schooners will schoon.

I’m working on/playing with a few other silly poems to update you on that up to which I have been, but meanwhile, have a song version of the last one! How cool is this?! I met Joey on the JoCo cruise and he’s learning to use one of ‘the cheapest possible ukuleles that do not get classified as industrial waste‘ that Cards Against Humanity provided us all with.

This poem is another of these weird Petrarchan-sonnet-like-things in anapaestic trimeter. They said at different times in the cruise that there were either 1700 of us or 1500. I’m going to guess that the first number includes the performers. In any case, 1500 fits the meter better (as does 1600, if you want to take the middle ground.) As I process my cruise footage, which is most of what I will be doing in my spare time for the next few months, I am implementing Jonathan’s suggestion of making a supercut of tuning. If you have footage of tuning at events on this cruise that I wasn’t at, and you’re happy to send me clips of it, let me know so I can add it to the supercut.

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Things up to which I have been (a poem)


(Note: there is no grammatical reason not to end a sentence with a preposition. I just wrote the title this way for comic effect.)

I’ve been busy in so many ways
and my blog’s gone from quiet to worse
so for poetry month, I’ll be terse
with my news in prosodic arrays.

Here’s a list of my works and my plays —
check the links if you want to immerse.
I’ll explain it all further in verse
in new posts in the upcoming days.

I’ve performed and I’ve published and coded,
got a job, got a fan page, and masters
in linguistics and web dev and showed it
with a site to find safer rhymes faster,
took a cruise, got some footage uploaded,
and wrote poems when I could be arsed to.

That was some kind of Petrarchan sonnet in anapaestic trimeter; what in the bard’s name am I doing? I’ve been wanting to update my blog for some time now, but I keep doing more things that I want to blog about and it seemed like any blog post doing them all justice would be too long. I also still want to make improvements on, or upload footage of, many of the things I want to blog about before blogging about them. I have been posting a bit more often on the fan page, though, so like that if you want to stay informed.

The only way to clear this blog backlog (ack, blog backlog!) is to blog, and it’s Global Poetry Writing Month (also known as National Poetry Writing Month, though a nation is rarely specified) so if I blog something, it should be a poem. I’ll be blogging poems, perhaps daily, until I have poem-blogged about all the things from the last 11 months that I wanted to blog about. Consider this poem the table of contents, or the tl;dr version of blog posts to come.

If you’re also participating in GloPoWriMo, and need some inspiration, try my random rhyme generator. Someone suggested that feature when I told him about the accent-aware rhyming dictionary I made, and I promptly spent my free time on that instead of making the other improvements I had been planning, such as clarifying when ‘faster’ rhymes with ‘arsed to’ (hint: it happens in most accents where ‘can’t be arsed‘ or indeed ‘arse’ is used) and when it rhymes with ‘amassed a’. But more on that in a later blog poem.

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A Poetry Video for Star Wars Day


On Star Wars Day in 2012, all I had seen of Star Wars while fully awake was The Phantom Menace and The Star Wars Holiday Special. I finally had what seemed like the perfect opportunity to lose my Star Wars virginity, with a screening of the original three movies by the CERN CinéClub, and yet, I had doubts. Not many people reached my age without having seen Star Wars. Surely I should do something artistic with my unusual lack of knowledge. Which is not to say that art is the realm of unknowledgeable people, but humour can be, as long as one doesn’t mind being the target of the laughter.

I asked Twitter whether I should watch the movies, or instead write a poem about everything I knew about the movies from songs and internet memes. Twitter said to write poetry, so I did.

I have since recited the poem to an audience of nerds on JoCo Cruise 3, and to my surprise, they did not throw me overboard. One of them has even read my poem at an event at a library. I made a mistake on the cruise, though, so I never had a good video of the poem to share… until now. I have actually seen all seven Star Wars movies in the last year, so made a video with not only the poem, but a run-down of how it differs from the actual movies:

I quote Marian Call’s song, ‘I’ll Still be a Geek After Nobody Thinks it’s Chic (the Nerd Anthem)’ and The Doubleclicks’ song ‘Nothing To Prove‘ at the beginning.

The poem references OSV word orderWil Wheaton’s story, ‘The Trade’, from which I learnt the existence of land speeders, to some extent the sleeping bag from which I learnt about tauntaunsThe Tale of Eric and the Dread Gazebo, and the ‘Do not want‘ meme from Star War The Third Gathers: Backstroke of the West.

I used six seconds of Jonathan Coulton’s song ‘Screwed’ in the credits. I’m wearing this shirt; there are two versions of the shirt widely available online, but I got the only one which ships to Europe.

Star Wars is not the only thing I learn about mainly from songs and internet memes. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is another, and so, inspired by a song by Paul and Storm about George R. R. Martin’s slow writing, I contributed a picture to a music video for another song by Paul and Storm about the series:

I hope you enjoyed these videos. May the fourth be with you! 🖖😉

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Another Haiku Detector Update, and Some Observations on Mac Speech Synthesis


Screenshot of Haiku Detector

I subjected Haiku Detector to some serious stress-testing with a 29MB text file (that’s 671481 sentences, containing 16810 haiku, of which some are intentional) a few days ago, and kept finding more things that needed fixing or could do with improvement. A few days in a nerdsniped daze later, I have a new version, and some interesting tidbits about the way Mac speech synthesis pronounces things. Here’s some of what I did:

  • Tweaked the user interface a bit, partly to improve responsiveness after 10000 or so haiku have been found.
  • Made the list of haiku stay scrolled to the bottom so you can see the new ones as they’re found.
  • Added a progress bar instead of the spinner that was there before.
  • Fixed a memory issue.
  • Changed a setting so it should work in Mac OS X 10.6, as I said here it would, but I didn’t have a 10.6 system to test it on, and it turns out it does not run on one. I think 10.7 (Lion) is the lowest version it will run on.
  • Added some example text on startup so that it’s easier to know what to do.
  • Made it a Developer ID signed application, because now that I have a bit more time to do Mac development (since I don’t have a day job; would you like to hire me?), it was worth signing up to the paid Mac Developer Program again. Once I get an icon for Haiku Detector, I’ll put it on the app store.
  • Fixed a few bugs and made a few other changes relating to how syllables are counted, which lines certain punctuation goes on, and which things are counted as haiku.

That last item is more difficult than you’d think, because the Mac speech synthesis engine (which I use to count syllables for Haiku Detector) is very clever, and pronounces words differently depending on context and punctuation. Going through words until the right number of syllables for a given line of the haiku are reached can produce different results depending on which punctuation you keep, and a sentence or group of sentences which is pronounced with 17 syllables as a whole might not have words in it which add up to 17 syllables, or it might, but only if you keep a given punctuation mark at the start of one line or the end of the previous. There are therefore many cases where the speech synthesis says the syllable count of each line is wrong but the sum of the words is correct, or vice versa, and I had to make some decisions on which of those to keep. I’ve made better decisions in this version than the last one, but I may well change things in the next version if it gives better results.

Here are some interesting examples of words which are pronounced differently depending on punctuation or context:

ooohh Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect
ooohh. Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect
ooohh.. Spelled out (Oh oh oh aitch aitch)
ooohh… Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect
H H Pronounced aitch aitch
H H H Pronounced aitch aitch aitch
H H H H H H H H Pronounced aitch aitch aitch
Da-da-de-de-da Pronounced with five syllables, roughly as you would expect
Da-da-de-de-da- Pronounced dee-ay-dash-di-dash-di-dash-di-dash-di-dash. The dashes are pronounced for anything with hyphens in it that also ends in a hyphen, despite the fact that when splitting Da-da-de-de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da-da-de-da-da into a haiku, it’s correct punctuation to leave the hyphen at the end of the line:

Da-da-de-de-da-
de-da-de-da-de-da-de-
da-da-de-da-da

Though in a different context, where – is a minus sign, and meant to be pronounced, it might need to go at the start of the next line. Greater-than and less-than signs have the same ambiguity, as they are not pronounced when they surround a single word as in an html tag, but are if they are unmatched or surround multiple words separated by spaces. Incidentally, surrounding da-da in angle brackets causes the dash to be pronounced where it otherwise wouldn’t be.

U.S or u.s Pronounced you dot es (this way, domain names such as angelastic.com are pronounced correctly.)
U.S. or u.s. Pronounced you es
US Pronounced you es, unless in a capitalised sentence such as ‘TAKE US AWAY’, where it’s pronounced ‘us’

I also discovered what I’m pretty sure is a bug, and I’ve reported it to Apple. If two carriage returns (not newlines) are followed by any integer, then a dot, then a space, the number is pronounced ‘zero’ no matter what it is. You can try it with this file; download the file, open it in TextEdit, select the entire text of the file, then go to the Edit menu, Speech submenu, and choose ‘Start Speaking’. Quite a few haiku were missed or spuriously found due to that bug, but I happened to find it when trimming out harmless whitespace.

Apart from that bug, it’s all very clever. Note how even without the correct punctuation, it pronounces the ‘dr’s and ‘st’s in this sentence correctly:

the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met on the st john’s st turnpike

However, it pronounces the second ‘st’ as ‘saint’ in the following:

the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met in the st john’s st john

This is not just because it knows there is a saint called John; strangely enough, it also gets this one wrong:

the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met in the st john’s st park

I could play with this all day, or all night, and indeed I have for the last couple of days, but now it’s your turn. Download the new Haiku Detector and paste your favourite novels, theses, holy texts or discussion threads into it.

If you don’t have a Mac, you’ll have to make do with a few more haiku from the New Scientist special issue on the brain which I mentioned in the last post:

Being a baby
is like paying attention
with most of our brain.

But that doesn’t mean
there isn’t a sex difference
in the brain,” he says.

They may even be
a different kind of cell that
just looks similar.

It is easy to
see how the mind and the brain
became equated.

We like to think of
ourselves as rational and
logical creatures.

It didn’t seem to
matter that the content of
these dreams was obtuse.

I’d like to thank the people of the xkcd Time discussion thread for writing so much in so many strange ways, and especially Sciscitor for exporting the entire thread as text. It was the test data set that kept on giving.

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A Skirmish [With My Least-Favourite Body Part]


The following is based on a true story. I wrote down a few lines and ideas when it happened, but wrote most of it today so that I could read it at Open Phil, to go with the post-Easter theme of leftover eggs. In the spirit of NaPoWriMo, I’ll post it now in its somewhat unpolished state.

My body keeps my brain alive,
like worker bees in sentient hive.
Each organ helps the whole to run.
Every part, except for one.

One part seems to want me dead
and murmurs in a monthly threat
to hurt, disgrace, abase, efface me,
kill me off, but first, replace me.

Replace me from its own interior,
for I, the brain, am deemed inferior,
and if I should refuse to mother,
this vengeful organ cues a smother.

Smother me in wracking pain.
Smother lifeblood from my brain.
Smother till I stand no more
and wake up gasping on the floor.

The floor of where, I can’t recall.
I try to move; I hit a wall.
Blurred from lack of air, I force it in
till eyes perceive the restroom porcelain.

Porcelain face with skin torn open.
Stumble towards the ibuprofen,
The mirror where with sore red gut
I tend to where my forehead’s cut.

Forehead cut, lump, one black eye,
but you should see the other guy!
Been bleeding now for seven days!
For one more month, it’s scared away.

People laughed more than I expected them to at this, which is good because I like making people laugh. I followed it up with a full-costume performance of Chemistry (though without keeping the moustache on throughout, since the one I got on JoCo Cruise 2015 was not self-adhesive), because at least for the duration of that poem I get to pretend I don’t have a uterus.

I’m trying to give up fainting on toilets, since the last time I found a lady passed out in a restroom (for unrelated reasons, as she turned out to be 80) she didn’t survive, but sometimes the ibuprofen doesn’t kick in fast enough, and the inexplicable call of the loo is too strong. A few years ago I might have been embarrassed to post something like this, but now I know Chella Quint so I feel obliged not to be. Check out her TED talk if you haven’t seen it:

There’s nothing to be ashamed of here, folks. (Except maybe rhyming ‘force it in’ with ‘porcelain’.) Chella wrote a #periodpositive article in the Guardian just recently, and I recommend it. If you like Chella but need to put a full stop to the periods, there’s always her #CometLanding song parody that I published on my blog when she didn’t have her own.

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Forms and Formulae: Self-Avoiding Walk


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the fourth in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This post’s mathematics article is entitled ‘The General Goals of Mathematical Research‘ and the poetic form is alba, which is a kind of song; I recorded it [direct mp3 link] using my robot choir and some newfound musical knowledge, and there are many notes on that after the lyrics below.

Here are some extracts from the article on the alba, explaining the features that I ended up using:

A dawn song about adulterous love, expressing one or both lovers’ regret over the coming of dawn after a night of love. A third voice, a watchman, may announce the coming of dawn and the need for the lovers to separate. An Occitan alba may contain a dialogue (or serial monologues) between lover and beloved or a lover and the watchman or a combination of monologue with a brief narrative intro.

The alba has no fixed metrical form, but in Occitan each stanza usually ends with a refrain that contains the word alba.

…the arrival of dawn signaled by light and bird’s song…

The watchman plays an important role as mediator between the two symbolic worlds of night (illicit love in an enclosed space) and day (courtly society, lauzengiers or evil gossips or enemies of love)

I based the song on section 8.3 of the article, entitled ‘Illegal Calculations‘. In retrospect, using the word alba in each refrain (are these even refrains?) doesn’t make much sense, since I’m not writing in Occitan, and the casual listener will not know that alba means ‘dawn’ in Occitan. But hey, it kind of rhymes with the start of ‘self-avoiding walk‘. How can I not rhyme an obscure foreign word with an obscure mathematical concept?

Introduction:
Mathematicians struggle even today to learn about the average distance between the endpoints of a self-avoiding walk. French physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes found answers by transforming the problem into a question about something called the n-vector model when the n is zero. But since this implies vectors with zero dimensions, mathematicians reject the approach as non-rigorous. Here we find that zero waking up next to its cherished n-vector model after a night of illicit osculation.

Zero:
I am just a zero; I am hardly worth a mention.
I null your vector model figure, discarding your dimension,
and every night I’m here with you I fear the break of day,
when day breaks our veneer of proof, and we must go away.

Here by your side
till alba warns the clock.
Fear’s why I hide
in a self-avoiding walk.

N-vector model:
Let the transformations of De Gennes show your place.
Never let them say we’re a degenerate case.
When I’m plus-two-n there’s just too many ways to move,
But you’re my sweetest nothing and we’ve got nothing to prove.

Here by your side
till alba warms the clock.
Fear can’t divide;
it’s a self-avoiding walk.

Watchman:
The sun has come; your jig is up. It’s time for peer review.
You think your secret union has engendered something new.
You thought you would both find a proof, but is it you’re confusing
The sorta almost kinda-truths the physicists are using?

That’s not rigorous,
says alba’s voice in shock.
All but meaningless
to the self-avoiding walk.

Zero and N-vector model together:
If you say that our results don’t matter,
then go straight to find a better path.
For as long as you insult our data,
Is it wrong to say you’re really math?

Hey there, Rigorous
at alba poised in shock,
you are just like us,
in a self-avoiding walk.

All voices are built-in Mac text-to-speech voices, some singing thanks to my robot choir (a program I wrote to make the Mac sing the tunes and lyrics I enter, which still needs a lot of work to be ready for anyone else to use.) Older voices tend to sound better when singing than the newer ones, and many new voices don’t respond to the singing commands at all, particularly those with non-US accents. So for the introduction I took the opportunity to use a couple of those non-US voices. These are the voices used:

Introduction: Tessa (South African English) and, since I also can’t fine-tune Tessa’s pronunciation of ‘Pierre-Gilles de Genne’, Virginie (French from France)

Zero: Junior

N-vector Model: Kathy

Watchman: Trinoids

Most of the bird noises come from the end of Jonathan Coulton’s ‘Blue Sunny Day‘, and I can use them because they’re either Creative Commons licensed or owned by the birds. The two peacock noises are from a recording by junglebunny. Free Birds!

As I mentioned, I’ve been learning about songwriting from John Anealio, and since the Forms and Formulae project sometimes requires me to write songs, I’m putting the new knowledge into practice sooner than I expected. This song uses several musical things I’ve never tried before, which is quite exciting, but it also means I probably didn’t do them very well, because there’s only so much I can learn in a couple of months of half-hour weekly lessons. I welcome friendly criticism and advice. The new things are: Read the rest of this entry »

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The First Attack


In one of the workshops I went to before the official start of the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English, we were given four pages of text from various sources (see if you can recognise them!) and instructed to cut each page into four pieces, mix them up, lay them out on a table and note down any interesting phrases we found by aligning lines from different pieces of paper. We were free to slightly alter the sentences so they’d make sense. What I ended up with rather amused me, so I’ll post it here, as a sort of found poetry:

The first attack, where ignorant armies clash
Where the sea meets the shadow of the moon of death
The thing they would not stand was back, and back, and fling
Stand together to win the war against steel, but they cannot dent the steel.
A great people has been moved to naked shingles of the world
The President agreed, in the white immunity, “I fear no evil, for I implemented our government’s. Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all the three-shilling tea, and the best worlds have been shattered.”

I was particularly amused by the two chance juxtapositions that led to ‘in the white immunity’ and ‘I fear no evil, for I implemented our government’s’. So far at the conference I’ve met all sorts of interesting people and learnt many things (it is strange to see a partially-academic conference that has nothing whatsoever to do with particle physics) and heard many stories. I can’t say much about them now, though, as I’d like to get a half-decent amount of sleep before I read a story and introduce a few others at the conference tomorrow. I’m too tired to even read the entry on aleatory poetics in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.

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Unintentional Haiku from New Scientist on The Unknown Universe


I added some features to Haiku Detector so that it will find haiku made of more than one sentence, though I haven’t released the new version yet, since I’d like to release it on the Mac App store (even though it will probably still be free, at least at first) to see how that works, and to do that I’ll need an icon first. If you know anyone who can make Mac icons at a reasonable price, let me know. Meanwhile, New Scientist has released a new ‘collection‘ called The Unknown Universe, so why not mine it for haiku? The topics are ‘The early universe’, ‘The nature of reality’ (again), ‘The fabric of the cosmos’, ‘Dark materials’, ‘Black holes’, ‘Time’ (again) and ‘New directions’.

Let’s start at the very beginning, the early universe:

Can we really be
sure now that the universe
had a beginning?

At first, that seems like a terrible place to break the sentence to start a new line. But what if we pretend, until we get to the next line, that ‘Can we really be?’ is the whole question? Because that’s the real reason people wonder about the universe.

Now, here’s a multi-sentence one, which conveniently has a full sentence as the first line:

“We’re back to square one.”
Tegmark agrees: “Inflation
has destroyed itself.”

Deep. But what is this inflation thing, anyway?

Well, for one thing, it’s
not clear what actually
does the inflating.

Only then will we
truly know what kind of a
bang the big bang was.

“I am not convinced
the cyclic model is that
grander idea.”

But I think this is my favourite. There’s a monster at the end of this universe, and it’s making crosswords.

Cosmic monsters that
have survived into our times
also pose puzzles.

Now for the nature of reality:

“It pulls the rug out
from under us to prove a
theory right or wrong.”

Maybe we just need to look around us.

There is also down,
and, for that matter, left, right,
forwards and backwards.

Have we figured out what we’re looking for yet?

What it is, though, we
do not have the words or the
concepts to express.

Maybe E. L. James can help us figure it out:

“This experiment
allows us to see the shades
of grey in between.”

These ones are about the fabric of the cosmos:

“If you go by what
we observe, we don’t live in
space-time,” Smolin says.

We battle against
them each time we labour up
a hill or staircase.

“But where did the weak
primordial fields that seed the
dynamo come from?”

The same force that keeps
our feet on the ground also
shapes the universe.

I like this one for the contrast between the first and last lines:

The information-
loss paradox dissolves.  Big
questions still remain.

Here are some of the ‘dark materials‘ haiku, about dark matter and dark energy:

The discovery of
dark matter would be the find
of the century.

I love how this contrasts ‘discovery of’ with ‘find of’; I didn’t notice that in prose form.

We still don’t know what
it is. It is everywhere
and we can’t see it.

That opens the door
to a dazzling array of
possibilities.

This chase through space will
be thrilling, but the quarry
may still elude us.

“It seems like a long
shot,” he says. But others are
being won over.

“But we don’t see a
fifth force within the solar
system,” says Burrage.

Though maybe the array of possibilities isn’t so dazzling after all:

It is limited
to perhaps three things. First, dark
energy pushes.

There are only two haiku about black holes, but one of them sounds like an idea Dan Brown might write about, probably without first reading New Scientist:

A BOMB made out of
a black hole is a rather
unsettling thought.

And the other sounds like it belongs on an episode of Doctor Who:

One of them will have
to blink if this paradox
is to be undone.

There are no more haiku on time, but luckily there were some in the last collection. I love this one about new directions, though:

Put that to many
physicists, and you will get
a grumpy response.

Ah, those physicists, always hopeful:

“Historically, these
things have usually led
somewhere,” says Davies.

They even have a solution to that ‘we still don’t know what it is’ problem from earlier:

“We don’t know what it
is so we have to give it
a name, a symbol.”

After that, it gets
a lot more speculative,
but here’s the best guess.

But they’re not that confident about it:

There are also good
reasons to think it is an
unwarranted one.

Paths to a theory
of everything will become
even more winding.

For instance, it could
decrease with time, or even
become negative.

Infinity makes things even more difficult:

INFINITY. It
is a concept that defies
imagination.

But it is at the
big bang that infinity
wreaks the most havoc.

The first line of the first infinity one reminds me of a CERN friend’s recipe for gravity: you just put ‘it’ in gravy.

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