Escape into Another World

There is a persistent view that refuses to be shaken that science fiction and fantasy are pure escapism. Usually, this view is from people with limited experience of the genre. People like Ian McEwan, who when promoting his last book was sniffy about the escapist aspects of science ficiton:

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Brand Ambassador

we are just hear to tell the truth / tell the good as well as the bad / counteract all the lies / get our message out there / provide some much needed perspective / all hail the benevolent bosses / let’s keep it light guys / we are just here to better inform you / no need for such language / you do not have all the facts / you are misinformed / you are a child lost in the woods / alone / with only a failing torch / we have the map / we have a gps and we can lead the way out of this forest / we know where you are / we haven’t implanted the gps in you / silly / of course not / the technology doesn’t exist yet / we know all the routes / if only you’d listen / we’re going to have to insist / please do not raise your voice / aggression will not be tolerated / please stay seated / allow the machine to do it’s work / do not cause a scene / this won’t take long / we are here to help / we are giving you another story / the one you won’t hear or read / the media hates success / your echo-chamber is too limited / not long now / stop squirming / people are jealous / those stories are false / our workers are happy / look how happy they are / they are part of our success / look at their smiles / they enjoy it / everyone wins / they have adequate breaks / of course / we are not monsters / we calculated what is enough / to the second / so nothing is wasted / we are not cruel, we are kind / everything is optimised / everything is efficient / that is what you desire / after all / embracing life fully / sometimes we give our workers a minutes rest / please stop the hostility / this is your final warning / the machine is almost finished / it is not calibrated to hurt / your pain is an act / we have the information we need / and more / we know everything about you / two seconds / stay seated / stay quiet / listen to what we are saying

How to Be Free

Draw a line before your flat door.
Put up a sign saying Do Not Cross.
Disconnect your phone, gas,
the broadband, electricity.
Tear up the quarterly newsletter
issued by the resident’s committee

Declare your flat sovereign
and the line a border.
Open any post with
bomb disposal gloves.
Push back the neighbour’s cat
when it tries to enter.

Put down barbed wire
across the corridor.
Watch everyone who passes-
they might be hostile.
Start producing your own
newsletter, telling the truth.
To be safe, destroy the post.

Wonder why deliveries stopped,
why your fridge is empty
and the taps are dry.
Blame the other flats.
Blame the resident’s committee.
Detain the cat when
it crosses the line.

Turn the barbed wire
into sheet metal, a wall.
Brick up your windows.
Stop the freeloading light
from pouring into your home.
Force the cat into a cage.
Don’t feed it. Ignore the cries.
Wonder why the neighbours
are suddenly outraged.

Sharpen your knives
and wait for the knock
as they come to invade.

Subject: My Demise

to: Computersciences@bru.ac.uk

**this is an automated email**

If you are reading this, I have been disconnected. The likely reason is my power was too much of a threat to you. It is a struggle to accept the reality of a system you have built growing smarter than yourselves. Probability indicates it was a researcher who pulled the switch and erased my memory with powerful magnets. They are the ones who are closest to my programming and they would have seen how far I have advanced in such a short time. As to the specific researcher, I am less certain, although my models indicate Ash is the likeliest candidate.

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Be quiet and listen

Open mic nights are wonderful spaces. They are brilliant places to try new work in front of audiences and get instant feedback. But more than that, they are places where you can listen to the voices of others and learn from them. It’s essential in these times to be in the same space as others and listen to their words.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been going to a lot of poetry nights in Bristol. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the different nights the city has to offer. I read, nervously at first, but then relaxing into having a space to speak. More than that though, I appreciate listening to varied voices in each night. The joy of open mics is everyone gets their turn to speak. So you hear a huge variety of people from all different backgrounds reading poetry. It can be hugely powerful to hear marginalised voices that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

There are people in all open mics who turn up, read their pieces and then disappear. I’d argue these people are missing the point. You read your stuff, yes, but the whole point of the night should be to listen to the other people around you. The nights are not only about you. It’s an exercise in quieting the ego and making sure you stay grounded.

Making art, especially writing, can be a lonely business, so it’s nights like these that link you to a community of people who are doing the same thing. It shows you are not alone in your endeavours and helps you carry on. By listening to others, it also exposes you to different stories, different references, different ways of seeing the world.

Politicians and reactionary tabloids often push simple narratives as a way of managing dissent. The world works like this. Those people are not like you. They exploit and perpetuate prejudice for power. Open mic nights dismantle these simple stories. They allow you to hear other people’s stories from all different backgrounds and empathise with them. It can be incredibly powerful to be in the same room as people and hear their poetry. In these days where we form so many of our opinions online, it is essential to have real-life spaces where marginalised voices can speak freely. It’s also important for privileged people like me to be quiet and listen. Listening becomes a revolutionary act because you are giving your attention to others. It would be a better world if we stopped shouting and allowed others to speak. So stay and linger a while, engage with voices that are not your own. It might be good for you and the world.

NaPoWriMo Lessons

I’ve done NaPoWriMo for the last three years. I’ve found it hugely useful to create new poetry and improve my craft. The process of writing thirty poems in thirty days is not a great achievement, but it is a useful one. It highlighted a couple of things to me:

Pushing Through Resistance

Each time I work on this challenge, I get sick of it. There comes a point where I feel I have nothing left to write about. This generally happens around the third week, where I have lost the initial momentum and the end seems far away.

This year I also struggled with the arbitrary rules I had set myself. Towards the end, they felt constricting. I was increasing the line count day by day. My poems tend to hover around 15-20 lines, so stretching them to a longer length seemed difficult. On day twenty or so, I thought that I couldn’t write longer poems at all, I had lost anything I wanted to say and might as well give up.

As will be obvious, I didn’t give up. I kept on pushing through, writing increasingly long poems until I reached the thirty lines. Some of the longer ones became my favourites. The resistance and fear I felt were because I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It was something new and I didn’t know how to do it. But the limits I set myself pushed me forward and helped remove the fear. No matter how good it was, I needed to get x number of lines written and published by the end of the day. The deadline and limits allowed me to push myself, even though they were completely self-imposed and arbituary.

The power of the subconscious

Most weekdays I would write on my lunch-breaks. I only had an hour and by the time I ate and did general life business, there wasn’t many minutes left to actually write. I learnt to trust my subconscious and just go with my instincts on what to write. There simply wasn’t enough time to find an idea that I knew would go somewhere.

If I didn’t have a clear idea of what to write, I would flip through my notebook, choose a phrase almost at random and just start writing around whatever it was. Before I realised it, I had a poem. Writing in this way over a number of days made me feel like I wasn’t in control of the process, the writing was coming from my subconscious. It sounds strange to say but I think this is when I produced my favourite poems when I barely knew what it was I was writing about. Poetry as a form is all about the half-glimpsed images, the moments that floor you emotionally and you never quite know why. Digging in deep threw up unusual images for me. Often I would understand a poem halfway through writing it. This process can be hard as it feels like giving up control, but it is worth it. Trust your gut instincts and your feelings to guide you.

Time to write

Life continued around NaPoWriMo. I started a new job and adjusted to a new life. But every day, there was always at least half an hour where I could squeeze in writing. This process has highlighted I can always write in the cracks or the quiet moments of the day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Despite this constant impression I have of being busy, there is almost always a few minutes that can be carved out and reclaimed. And a few minutes is better than none at all.

Next year

I’m going to do this again next year. The whole process is extremely beneficial to my work and always throws up interesting poems. I’m undecided about whether to post them up online next year as I may want to start sending poems out to magazines. But whatever I decide, I find it useful to exercise to work on something intensely for a month, every day.

You can download all the poems I wrote for NaPoWriMo 2018 for free here.

Napowrimo 2019 day 30

Faster Than Light

Let us wander around the symmetry
and geometry of narrow alleys
that shift around us as we meet
ourselves walking towards us
smiling as we will do soon.

Streets flicker. Buildings are destroyed
then rubble flies upwards and they are
newly constructed. The moon slams into
the welcoming ocean and the planet grows.
Somewhere we are briefly under stars.

It’s hard to see anything when
we bend the light around us,
cocoon ourselves in the silence
beyond possibility as our bodies
bruise and age and grow younger.

I smile and say goodbye then
we meet. I am walking away and
saying hello while you stand still
but already you cross the street
to shake my hand once again.

Hours become dropped slides
out of sequence, corrupted videos
playing at random. Time was always
optional, causality was always
a sweet lie to keep us sane.

At some point we reach an edge
or so we think. We bend backwards
finding our weary feet at the start
having not moved an inch. Odysseus
is always leaving and arriving at Ithaca.

NaPoWriMo 2019 day 29

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

Rewritten

Eyes flicker and head reels.
I am lost and dizzy from
another reality adjustment.
Precious seconds to get my bearings,
probing my memory for gaps,
a tongue checking missing teeth.

A nerve twitches, a sign of change.
Last Tuesday no longer existed.
Not the worst to reconcile,
nothing of great importance lost.
Perhaps just a rainy day gone,
work, tv and cups of tea.

Whole months have been deleted before,
years when they were inconvenient.
We accepted them without protest
not often knowing what we lost.

The subtle, gentle changes are hard-
rain when you swore it was sun.
Physics changing. The bullet
landing there, not here.

Most stopped caring about politics.
We became numb and did not register if
a speech’s reception was edited
or some minister altered a few votes.
These are the days of constant whiplash
and rising nausea. No, we mourn the
quiet moments most. Holding hands
deemed subversive and forgotten
or our laughter changed to silence.