On Saturday 1st April, I performed at the Rich Mix in London as part of the second English PEN Modern Literature Festival, organised by SJ Fowler's Enemies Project.
The event paired UK-based writers with writers at risk around the world. I was paired with Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini activist who has now spent nine months in prison awaiting trial for highlighting human rights abuses. His trial was postponed for the eighth time on 23rd March, hence the title of my piece.
I was unsure right up to the event about how best to approach it. Talking to other writers on the day, it soon became clear I wasn't alone. Chrissy Williams, who was paired with the Al-Khawaja family, also from Bahrain, has eloquently set out her thoughts here. I was conscious that my usual way of doing things wouldn't be right here. I also felt, however, that I wanted to produce a piece of work that was respectful but also engaging.
Nabeel Rajab and his supporters use Twitter extensively to spread their message. In fact, one of the two charges he is being detained on relates to this. Thinking of this, I produced a conceptual piece made entirely of found text.
I first assembled five stanzas of ten lines each, comprising the first half of the poem. For the first two stanzas, I searched Twitter for instances of the phrase "has been postponed" and collaged nine of these, closing with the tenth line "Nabeel Rajab has been postponed". I repeated this process for the third and fourth stanzas with a slight variation, this time using the phrase "has been postponed again". For the fifth, I used the phrase "it's been 291 days", referring to the exact amount of time Nabeel Rajab had been detained on the day of the event.
For the second half of the poem, I used a spreadsheet to randomly re-combine lines from the the first half. I used a simple weighting system to ensure that lines referring to Nabeel Rajab himself began to appear more and more often. In the sixth and seventh stanzas, I set the spreadsheet formulae so that there was a one in three chance of him being directly mentioned. In the eighth and ninth stanzas, this increased to a one in two chance. In the tenth and final stanza, this became a 100% chance, closing the poem with a kind of echo chamber emphasising the repetitive nature of the Rajab case with its seemingly endless judicial deferrals.
Taking part in this event made me realise how little we in the UK, and I include myself in that, know about what is happening in countries like Bahrain. This is due in no small part, I think, to the UK government's ties to the Bahraini regime.
The work that PEN do in highlighting cases like Nabeel Rajab's and keeping them on the agenda is invaluable. You can support PEN by joining here. Enormous credit must also go to SJ Fowler for making the event happen.
I received the very pleasing news yesterday that zimZalla has received two nominations in this year's Saboteur awards. The first is in the Most Innovative Publisher category and the second is for Emma Hammond's Waves on a Boring Beach in the Best Pamphlet category. Voting is open now until April 30th.
One of the most pleasing but unexpected things to happen of late has been a mention for Seaside Special in Lee Jenkins' essay 'The Strands of Modernism: Stevens beside the Seaside' in the just published Poetry and Poetics after Wallace Stevens, edited by Bart Eekhout and Lisa Goldfarb. Seaside Special is a series of literary postcards produced by Chris McCabe and me in 2012 for SJ Fowler's Enemies Project. The essay discusses the two postcards below. The first is by Chris and the second is by me.
The Strawberry Moshi Collection is a short sequence of short prose pieces using text from Moshimoshikawaii: The Strawberry Moshi Collection, which is a book my daughter has. I like the slightly off, oddly flat language of the original which comes partly, I think, from it being originally in Japanese. Some of the pieces, although not this one, appear in Paratext issue 3.
An online generative piece describing eternal conflict on the planet of the ants, here.
This is the first piece of text generation I've done for around a year. My earlier examples include oXology, Ranges and You don't need to know that. As the French computer literature pioneer Jean Baudot pointed out, the point of such procedures is setting up the conditions for “accidental word associations” that have a “stylistic effect” and “aesthetic value”, although you could argue that there's nothing accidental about it. For Baudot, generating these random collisions is something more suited to a machine than a human. He states that “it would be impossible to perform such a task ourselves, because man is essentially opposed to randomness and incapable of behaving or performing in a random fashion”. We could, of course, implement such a procedure using dice or coins, but we couldn't do it every four seconds, as I do here in Ant Wars. The role of the machine, therefore, is not so much to do what we can't, but to do it faster, automatically and repetitively, without the complications of fatigue or boredom. Machine as collaborator. Machine as extra brain.
Baudot quotes are from Baudot, J. (1968). Automatic sequence generation. In: Reichardt, J.Cybernetic Serendipity: the Computer and the Arts. London: Studio Internation. p. 58, which is available online here.
Volume 1 [M] of Marjorie, the mansplaining fauxbot I have the privilege of communing with daily, is now available in book form. This comprises Marjorie's first 100 tweets, covering everything from alligators, shamanic trances and whether tomato puree on a pitta bread can truly be called a pizza. To buy the book or read more about Majorie, click here.
With Comma Press, If P Then Q, Michelle Green, Holly Pester & ZimZalla
MANCHESTER CENTRAL LIBRARY, Performance Room, Ground Floor, St Peter’s Square, City Centre, M2 5PD.
11am to 4pm, 12 November 2016. Tickets £3 before 1 November / £5 after
The last few years has seen an explosion of new small presses and independent publishers around the country, publishing new and exciting fiction and poetry. If you are a keen reader and want to know more about the difference being a small press makes to how they work and what they publish, come along to hear from local small presses, Comma Press and If P then Q. The day will feature readings from two writers, Michelle Green from Comma Press and Holly Pester from If P then Q.
More here. There's also an interview with me here and another with if p then q's James Davies here.
New from me on Peter Hughes' excellent Oystercatcher Press, a 24 page pamphlet. More here.
I have some poems from my Sublunar sequence in issue 16, along with a range of great writers.