e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Out and about”

Rhapsodomancy: a form of divination

Rhapsodomancy is another word new to me, and one that actually has some application. It means using the text of a poem to foretell the future.41VKAAY5nvL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_

According to Wikipedia there are several ways of determining which poem to use. Some of the systems involve writing a poem or some poems’ titles on bits of paper (or tree-bark if you want to be really authentic), putting the papers in a pot and drawing one out (without looking of course). Alternatively you can spread the papers over your desk and toss a die at them. The one the die lands on is the one you use.

Fortunetelling isn’t really my thing, but I was intrigued by my reading about rhapsodomancy so I thought I’d give it a go. Writing a lot of titles or lines out seemed like work and a waste of paper, but using the die is a good idea, so I decided to adapt that. It took a few goes to make it work, so what follows isn’t entirely my first effort.

Some time ago I was given a copy of a lovely book, Poem for the Day: One edited by Nicholas Albery, which has one poem for each day of the year. It seemed a good book to use as my text – very varied poems by many poets.

To find the poem I need I have to have a randomly chosen date. Since we are in the first half of the month I decided the date used should to be in the first two weeks. So I toss a die. It lands on 6.

I don’t need another toss – I’m not going to do any adding. If I used another toss I might get a 1 or 2 and could use them with the 6 to give me 16 or 26, but I’ve already decided to rule these dates out.

So now to toss for the month. I get a 2 – February. I toss again in case I get December, but I don’t – I get a 3. Since there are no months 23 or 32, I stick with February.

Now for the text for 6th February. It is The Passionate Shepherd to his Love by Christopher Marlowe. But it has six stanzas which seem too much for divination, so I toss again and get a 6.

The verse:

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning.
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

All this die work is just the preamble. We’re now at the tricky part, which is working out what it means.

An experienced diviner could probably draw a lot of conclusions from such a verse. My immediate reaction is that next May there will be dancing and singing near enough to me for me to observe it and maybe join in. This is such a cheerful prediction that I’m going to stop there and wait until May 2016 to see if it comes true.

If any of my readers see something different in the verse, I’d love to hear what it is.

Slipped down the plughole?

Lost Pubs cover artI recently came across a book (now, sadly, out of print but still available here and there including libraries) called The Lost Pubs of Bath by Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott.

My inner pedant was irritated at the imprecision of the title – how do you lose a pub? Did it slip down the back of the sofa or get thrown out with the old newspapers? Maybe it ran off like a lost puppy.

In reality it may have been demolished or bombed, but in a place like Bath, which seriously conserves its heritage, it has more likely just changed its use. So why not say so in the title?

But ‘lost’ is an emotive word. It carries a lot of baggage for almost anyone – we’ve all lost things or people that mattered to us.

‘Lost’ gives us a straightforward ‘no longer around’ with that little hint of sadness that the vanished past ought to have – though whether any of us would really want to un-vanish it is another question.

So the title is a suitable one, and the inner pedant can go back to sleep.

Kinokophone, libraries of sound and new words

visualized sound

Visualisation of an elephant rumble. (Wikimedia. Authors Stoeger A, Heilmann G, Zeppelzauer M, Ganswindt A, Hensman S, Charlton B)

I came across the name Kinokophone by chance. It is a company dedicated to gathering sounds and using them artistically. They are supported by bodies like the Arts Council, and do some work with the British Library.

Apparently, they invented their name and the word kinokophonography – one of the great new words, a sort of slamming together of Japanese and Greek that rolls off the tongue (after some practice).

All over the world there are libraries of sounds and they’re working hard to preserve and save the various sound recordings – many of which are becoming unplayable. This is an important legacy to hand on to the future.

It’s sad that we can’t hear Shakespeare recite his own poems, but it’s unavoidable. We would have to hang our heads in shame if the same fate overtook today’s poets who are mostly well recorded.

The flâneur and the boulevardier

Rosler-LeFlaneurIn March I did a post on flânerie – the literary stroller and his environment. It was a new concept to me, but since then I’ve seen a couple of references to it. One of these introduces another stroller – the boulevardier and analyses the difference between them.

Add to these the urban explorer and the window shopper and you have a city full of wanderers. Striding past them are those who have a destination and roaming between them, the homeless.

The countryside doesn’t seem to be full of wandering – people work or hike or rush through in cars.

The cities mentioned in the various sources are modern and European – the flâneur and boulevardier seem to be 19th century French and the window shopper 20th century big cities. Were there such roamers in ancient Rome? in mediaeval Paris? or 18th century Beijing?

The way through the woods

 The path through the woods


This path, through woods green
with new growth, was trodden
by my ancestors.

Walking the city – modern flânerie

Online magazine, Stepaway, has released its latest issue today. I’m naturally excited, not just because it contains one of my flash fictions, but because it resurrects a literary idea – the flâneur or gentleman stroller.

To modern minds someone who has no job and spends his time wandering around the city in a kind of literary mood might sound anti-social, but in 19th century France, where he was born and lived, he was an explorer, a connoisseur of the streets and quite acceptable.

I doubt if the French flâneur would have had a high regard for modern urban explorers – investigating crumbling ruins or forgotten tunnels would ruin his elegant clothing and annoy his valet.

Stepaway magazine aims to put a modern spin on flânerie and looking at the current edition they succeed. The title comes from a poem by Frank O’Hara. His strolling was a bit constrained as he wasn’t unemployed, but nevertheless he did his best in the tradition. A Step Away from Them begins:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored

I often wander around cities and many of my poems start when I’m on the move. I think other writers find the same. I don’t know if the original French strollers ever produced literature, but they are believed to have appreciated it and have inspired scholars and writers – enough justification for their wandering ways.

245x145xWalkThisMay15.jpg.pagespeed.ic.MSDH7-nCsSFor those more interested in serious walking, there is a National Walking Month (May 2015). This is a much more serious type of walking, but it is a chance to explore the streets and their literary possibilities.

The website belongs to an organisation called Living Streets which has a tagline of

Putting People First.

I’m all for that. I hate parts of cities where only vehicles can go.

Poetry and greenhouses


orchids in greenhouse

Wouldn’t if be wonderful to have the sort of greenhouse that could grow exotics like these orchids? But it would be a lot of work to look after, so I’m probably better off without.

Looking at the picture did make me wonder if there is any poetry about greenhouses, and, of course, there is. I found a whole page of them at Hello Poetry, starting with:

I like to think of people as a greenhouse
We are only a short moment in history
We can be radiant and beautiful …

apparently written by someone who signs himself ‘Drunken State’. I think one has to be a member of Hello Poetry to understand their system fully.

Theodore Roethke also wrote poems with greenhouses in them, though his seem to be more about memory than giving priority to the building.

It’s less effort, and less expense, to read web pages and admire photos than to care for a mass of unusual plants. But I’m really glad that someone takes the trouble.



Weird words

Browsing around today I came across this BuzzFeed quiz. It is twenty multiple choice questions on the meanings of rare English words. As a lover of odd words, I did it and didn’t do too badly – but I have to admit that some of the ones I got right were more lucky guesses than knowledge.

I was thrilled to discover that there’s a special word for a fear of buttons. On the medical side I’ve also learned that some people fear buttons, which must make shopping for clothes really difficult. I sometimes wonder if the source of such fears could be a forgotten (by your conscious mind) nightmare, which nevertheless lurks in the subconscious waiting to make trouble.

I recently bought a cardigan with a long row of tiny buttons and even smaller holes; now what I need is a word for losing my temper with buttons.

I’m always on the lookout for words I can use poetically, but I don’t see myself writing about borborygmus or pilgarlic.

The edges of the poetic – wine writing

Bring me wine, but wine which never grew
In the belly of the grape;
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots reaching through
Under the Andes to the Cape
Suffer’d no savour of the earth to ‘scape.

From Bacchus by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Recently in a restaurant I read the wine list while waiting for my meal. The descriptions were evocative and almost poetic.

Like poets, wine writers invent words where the dictionary fails them. Wine can be cedary (tastes like cedar smells), ageworthy (should be kept longer) or Madeirized (oxidised). They can alliterate beautifully. Is your tipple heavy, herbal or honeyed? or is it focused, flabby or fruity? I suppose it might even be floral. My wine, of course, has finesse.

A browse around the web suggests that, although wine descriptions use many terms, the writer can’t say just anything – there is a recognised terminology. It’s a very descriptive terminology and I think that’s why it sound poetic: it raises a realistic image in the mind of the reader.

There are a lot of poems about wine, but so far I’ve found none that actually use the wine writers’ way of saying things. To write such a poem without it sounding snide or silly would be quite a challenge.

Eve in Glasgow

statue of Eve in Botanic Gdn

Last weekend I was in Glasgow. I’ve never been there before and really enjoyed it. The city has so many interesting things to see and the people are very friendly.

One of the places I went was the Kibble Palace, a glasshouse at the Botanic Garden, and that is where I took this picture. She is Eve and lounges among part of the national collection of tree ferns.

The Kibble Palace is named for John Kibble, a Victorian businessman and amateur scientist. The statue is by Scipione Tadolini, a well known 19th century sculptor.

I did a couple of googles to find poetry of Eve. There’s certainly a lot of it and the interpretation of her characters varies from writer to writer. The Boston Review had a piece on a statue of Eve minus Adam, which I thought particularly appropriate.


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