Archive for September, 2008

Short ≠ Simple: of sound-bites, aphorisms, and poetry


I just picked up the piece by Suzi Feay in The Independent titled “The next chapter: Who’ll be the bestsellers of tomorrow?” from Chris Meade‘s Twitter feed. Freay asks “why hasn’t poetry, with its punchiness and concision, benefited from our cultural impatience and shortening attention span?” What an odd question. Granted it may just be a punchy opening itself as Feay goes on to recommend Adam Foulds’ verse novel The Broken Word, Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth, and Gillian K Ferguson’s Poetry of the Human Genome, none of which I’ve read (yet). Back to the question. Poetry may be concise and punchy but it certainly isn’t something straightforward, something to be digested easily.

Take this one from P J Kavanagh’s Something About which Kate and I have been enjoying as the source of our bedtime poem:


Slow as Grass

I’m growing patience as the cut grass grows
Blunt headed, stubborn, in a warm November,
Blunt where cut to last all winter but it grows
On, blunt headed. I am not yet patient as the grass,
Waiting the melt of mist that soaked it flat
Splashed by the feet of cattle into suns,
Hoof high. As the sun climbs the day dries.

Now elephant cloud teams drag behind them grey
Tarpaulin, evening. Riding it come children
Last seen trailing (like dressing gown chords) their dreams.
At dusk I hurl a ball with them, still waiting,
Pretending a day complete which is only ending,
Growing to patience as they will have to grow
Or mimic what seems day’s business, but day
Is never busy, is as slow as grass.


Short? Yes. Concise? Yes. Suitable for our cultural impatience and shortening attention span? No.


The People Reading … Poetry Archive


In the Guardian‘s “The Week in Books” last Saturday Andrew Motion drew attention again to the fabulous Poetry Archive, and in particularly that they have been working with the Poetry Foundation to add in American poets reading their poems, including one of my wife Kate’s favourites: William Carlos Williams reading “The Red Wheelbarrow“.

However I do think they are missing three opportunities, three opportunities that might be provided by an adjunct site.

Firstly I want to be ably to tag the readings – even if it’s something simple like an “add to favourites” but a more complex arbitrary tag would be great. This might be achieved using external services like delicious. For example one could imagine audio engineers being interested in tagging all the recordings produced by Richard Carrington, or listeners tagging aspects of the reading itself (slow, dry, romantic, …). It’s impossible to second guess what categories such folksonomies would produce, but I bet they’d be interesting and useful.

Secondly I’d want the public to be able to add their own recordings. It is fascinating to hear poets read their own work but theirs are not the definitive recordings. Just this weekend a presenter on Radio 3 was commenting that the recordings of Stravinsky conducting his own works are not the best interpretations of the pieces, and I expect that the same is true of poetry. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear the same poem read by the poet, other famous voices, and a host of people who just enjoy it?

Thirdly, and perhaps most extravagantly, I think this might be a great place to re-use Tom Coates and Tristan Ferne‘s project Annotatable Audio / Find Listen Label, an idea I’ve long wanted to rebuild. Since discussion and comparisons of different readings of the same poems would sometimes look at particular lines and the meaning implied by the reader a wiki that allowed listeners to narrow in on fragments of the audio to annotate and discuss them would be ideal.

links for 2008-09-16


A trip to the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading


Futura 12pt

A few weeks back Kirsten Disse sent round an email to one of our UK designers mailing lists saying that she’d arranged a trip to the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading and asking if anyone wanted to join her. Worried that she’d soon be swamped with eager typophiles from Microsoft offices across the UK I rattled off a reply immediately. I needn’t have worried, Kirsten was joined by Dave Crawford, Sergei Golubev, and I. Well, the hundreds of others I expected sure missed out – it was a fantastic visit.

Martin Andrews showed us round their collection of ephemera which stretched from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, through grave plates, seventeenth century shorthand guides, and even a collection of labels sewn by the manufacturers into men’s pants! As you can see it wasn’t just ephemera, they had some great work of early scribes and more recent calligraphy by Edward Johnson.

As well as the collection of ephemera they had an amazing collection of working presses from a reconstructed Gutenberg press (used by Stephen Fry on the tele’) through to modern equipment used to print the university’s brochures etc. And we got to try out the Albion Press – how cool is that?

links for 2008-09-11


Art from books as objects


I’ve been meaning to collate all the fantastic sculptures I’ve stumbled across recently into a blog post but now I don’t need to as Richard just shouted out this amazing post on WebUrbanist: “A Picture is Worth … 10 Brilliant Book Artists“. The strange thing is that all the art that Steve mentions in the post is mostly stuff I hadn’t seen (like the wonderful Jonathan Callan piece at the head of this post), and many of those I was going to list are not included! In fact, trawling around trying to find that picture the Jonathan Callan piece I discovered another great post by Sean Flannagan over at Deeplinking: “Book Art All-Stars“.

The only one we have in common is Brian Dettmer who did the piece above.

The beginning of something ...

So what were the pieces I was going to mention? The first one I haven’t actually seen, but Su Blackwell has some beautiful work in Craft Magazine’s July/August issue like her piece “The beginning of something …” pictured above.

Aysegul Turan - All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - Books and Magnifying Glass

Then there’s the work I have seen, much of it at this year’s Central Saint Martins MA in Communication Design degree show. For example, Aysegul Turan’s “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air” above. Though that might be cheating as it isn’t really an adaptation of an old book like the rest are. How about this one.

Haein Song - Books of the Absurd

Haein Song’s “Books of the Absurd” a wonderful playful piece which put me in mind of this work from last year’s New Designers:

Lucy Norman - book lightshade

Lucy Norman‘s book lightshade

It’s in the lap of the gods now


The judges are deliberating as I type so I’ll soon know. I’m not sure if I’ve done enough to defend my cup, we’ll know later this afternoon.

Here’s me with all my baking (except the jam tarts which were still cooling down).

I won’t get any points from this. Jam’s not (yet) my forte (mine always tastes ever so slightly burnt) and there’s four competing entries.

This one has stiff competition too but it tasted so wonderful I’ll be miffed if I don’t win, unless of course I persuade the winner to give me a jar of her’s 😉

I forgot to photograph the mincemeat entries. When I left there was just one other. It was a recipe for green tomato mincemeat which sounds wild. Delia’s is good though, so I’m quietly confident.

I was pleased with how my apple pie looked, but then Allison’s (behind mine to the right) looks better 😦

Who’d have thought it? I’m crap at biscuits, and keep promising myself that I’ll get some practice in before the next show, but I’m the only entrant; so unless the judges really don’t like them (which I have had happen before) I’ll get first place and three points towards the baking cup.

Now this is the class I really care about. The recipe is stipulated in the show’s schedule which makes it feel like Formula 1. And it is a simple recipe so it’s just the cook’s skill that matters. Sadly mine (on the left) caught a bit, and Allison’s (on the right) looks fantastic, though I wouldn’t use the cooling tray on the surface facing upwards myself.

I was pleased with my carrot cake (on the left here) until I saw the other two. I particularly like the look of the centre one. I hope the judges admire my Welsh slate serving idea, though I may get the “no doily” comment again.

I was pleased with this. Another fine Delia recipe that was easy, looked amazing, and tasted wonderful. I used Lancashire cheese instead of Cheshire as it’s my current favourite (alongside Double Gloucester) and thyme instead of chives. Not such a wise choice but I love thyme – especially in savoury scones and in dumplings.

Another one where we all use the same recipe. I didn’t have enough time to mature this properly (i.e. months) but I did soak the fruit for ages so that should help. Mum and Dad’s Asiatic pheasant design plate may help too.

I couldn’t see the bread from the guy I’m normally up against. He does fabulous looking white flour loaves. I’ll investigate.

Too much filling. Which is exactly what the judges wrote to me last time!

I don’t know whose entry it is with the butter and knife, but that’s a great idea.

Laser cutting the crème brûlée didn’t completely work – I needed too much un-scorched sugar underneath to protect the custard. But as it is the only entry it should get a first, unless the judges don’t like it.

Wish me luck.

Day of baking; Day of Baking; Feed me ’till I want no more.


OK. Tomorrow is the Hardwick Gardening Club Annual Village Show. It wasn’t on last ear due to building work at the school. The year before that I became the first bloke to win the baking cup. So this year I have to try and defend it.

This year the Women’s Institute cup isn’t on offer, and since my two main competitors battle it out for points towards that cup I thought I’d be OK. But no, talking to Karen (she collects the entry forms) the baking categories are looking stronger. For example, I’m putting in blackberry jam in the “1 jar of Jam – soft fruit” class. I’m not good at jam making (I over cook it – I need more practice) but last time there were only two other entries. The cup works like this: first gets three points, second two, and third one. Then the points from your highest rank in each baking class are added together. The cook with the most points gets the cup. You can enter two items per class, though I’m not doing that this year. I know of at least three other jams in the “1 jar of Jam – soft fruit” class, so I’m staring down the barrel of nil points 😦

Anyway, I’ve taken today off work to get down to baking. Here’s the plan.

E1: Home made dessert – own choice (include recipe with entry)

I’m aiming for laser etched crème brûlée. I’ve three to hone my technique on today, then I’ll use the last two to get it right tomorrow morning. How long do they last once caramelised?

E2: 1 jar of Jam – soft fruit

Done – blackberry

E5: 1 jar of Lemon Curd – cellophane covers only

Do this afternoon

E6: 1 jar of Mincemeat

Done. Delia’s recipe is wonderful. I always get favourable comments about it at Christmas.

E7: Fruit Tart (pastry top and bottom, undecorated) on a china/glass plate

Apple pie. I’ll make the pastry this morning and the pie this evening.

E10: 5 Biscuits

Oh dear. I’m awful at this but I will keep trying. I’ll probably make this this morning.

E11: Victoria Sandwich Cake with raspberry jam filling, caster sugar topping (recipe at back of schedule)

Yeah. The formula one of the show. First year I was nagged by the judges for not having a doily! Last time I won this class. Fingers crossed!

E12: Orange & Carrot Cake (recipe at back of schedule)

It’s a good recipe, but the middle can be soggy. I’ll do this sometime today.

E13: 5 Cheese scones

I’ve brought in buttermilk. I’m hopeful these will be good.

E15: Rich Fruit Cake (recipe at back of schedule)

Done – but only this week. I should have done this a month ago so it could mature. It cracked a bit on top too.

E16: Home-made Bread – white or brown (not machine made) displayed on board

Me and another guy battle for first place each year – he does white and I do brown. I won last year, though his looked amazing. I’ll kneed this over and over and over again through the afternoon and evening and then leave it to rise in the fridge overnight.

E18: 5 Jam tarts

I’ll use some sweetened pastry for this. Baking this evening.

E20: Lincolnshire fruit loaf (recipe at back of schedule)

I made this yesterday which doesn’t give it much time to mature. But It has no fat in, so I don’t think it needs ages. Sadly its base cracked as I took it out of the tin so I’ll need careful presentation.

I’m missing the other classes – you have to stop somewhere! There’s a class that only gentlemen can enter (I guess to encourage blokes to have a go), but since my main competition are women I think it would be bad form to enter that.

Laser etching crème brûlée for the Hardwick Village Show


I’m collecting crème brûlée recipes. Delia’s doesn’t seem to set, so I’ll pick between Simon Rimmer’s or Paul Merrett’s (or the Jamie Oliver one in “Happy Day’s with the Naked Chef”). It’s the village show on Saturday and I’ll be defending the baking cup. One part of my plan is to enter the dessert category with a crème brûlée laser etched with the Hardwick village crest. So yesterday Stuart taught me how to use our laser cutter in the hardware lab. Now I’m panicking somewhat. The lip of the ramekin’s will interfere with the laser head; will the laser burn or cut the sugar (I may need to manually defocus); how long will crème brûlée keep once the top is caramelised?

So on Saturday I’ll either e able to report a ‘HOWTO’ on laser etching crème brûlée, or I’ll have provided a particularly high calorie addition to the Mardas Gap!

links for 2008-09-01