Re-centering Poetry

One of the advantages, if you can call it that, of working at home in the Days of COVID is that I can see the day-to-day progression of the diminishing daylight as we move from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. When I close down my laptop at the end of my shift the sun is just a little closer to the horizon, the light a little more golden – or red, depending on the drift of smoke from the west coast. And each day it is just a little more difficult to pull myself from bed early enough in the morning to complete my morning routine.

Two things are helping keep me on my game as winter approaches: Poe, who still insists on being fed at 5:00 every morning, and a large stack of poetry books and chapbooks to read through as part of the Sealey Challenge. I am managing to stay on schedule, mostly thanks to a large pile of unread chapbooks which have arrived over the past four years as part of my subscriptions to Horse Less Press (currently on indefinite hiatus) and Ugly Duckling Presse, which is still going strong though I had to let my subscription lapse for financial reasons. I note that traditionally the Sealey Challenge has run during the month of August, so next year I will align myself with the rest of the poetry universe and complete the challenge in the appropriate month.

An excellent pile of books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is a new one from Subterranean PressEdited By, a collection of stories which have been edited by Ellen Datlow. The collection itself is, well, edited by Ellen Datlow. So there’s a lot of meta going on with this one.

In the top middle is Francesco Verso‘sĀ Nexhuman, the latest delivery from Apex Book Company, to which I have a subscription through Patreon. Editor Jason Sizemore was kind enough to reach out to me when the original print run for this shipment ran a few short and he allowed me to pick any title from the Apex catalog. This was my first choice, and it was fortunate they had copies in stock, as I am slowly picking up every book Apex has published, thanks to Patreon, Kickstarter, and purchases at various ConFusions over the past several years.

On the top right is Road to Heaven,Ā Bill Porter‘s beautiful travelogue/story of wandering the mountains of China looking for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits who maintain a tradition once much revered in Chinese culture.

Bottom left is The Collected Ghazals by the late, great Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press recently released this collection, as well as the book in the bottom center, Letters to Yesenin. I have been a fan of Jim Harrison since a college professor turned me on to him back in 1993, when he picked up a copy of Wolf. Since then I have read almost everything Harrison wrote, and have bookshelf dedicated to his poetry and prose.

On the bottom right is the new collection from Garrett Stack, Yeoman’s Work. I first heard of Stack when we published a few of his poems in an issue of The 3288 Review. This is an excellent collection, and well worth seeking out.

In reading news, I have so far read 18 poetry books and chapbooks, and am keeping a running tally of the list up on Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t taken a deep dive into poetry like this since the late 1990s, unless you count the thousands a year I read as editor of The 3288 Review, which is not really the same thing. The Sealey Challenge has been a wonderful experience and with 13 more books to read my mind will be in a wonderful place when NaNoWriMo starts on November 1.

I just finished reading For Exposure, Jason Sizemore’s brilliant history of Apex Publications, with contributions by half a dozen or so of the editors and other contributors, employees and supporters of his wonderful company. I picked up For Exposure at ConFusion back in, I think, 2015, when I managed to spend a few minutes talking to Sizemore about the trials and tribulations of running a small independent publishing company. He is a Righteous Dude, as the kids say these days, and I offer all the kudoes to him and his team for the work they do in the literary world.

Writing hasn’t been going as well as reading, though I managed to put down a couple hundred more words in the book as I try to work through this one lynchpin chapter and scene, from which the rest of the book will flow, which tells me I may need to just mash my fact against the keyboard until something clicks and I can move ahead. The goal is still to complete a first draft this year, and with luck even complete the draft during NaNoWriMo, though I am having more and more concrete thoughts about a series of short stories which might eventually become chapters in a new book. All I know is that I will spend a lot of time writing in November 2020, assuming the slings and arrows of the mundane world allow me the mental space and emotional clarity to do so.

Yet Another New Old Project : Procedural Terrain

[CLICK HERE to see the Procedural Terrain Explorer]

From 2004 to about 2009 I spent a lot of time playing around with procedural generation, generative art, and game design and development. Naturally at one point all of those interests came together and I began to research ways that game maps could be built using procedural generation techniques. I started several games but they never went beyond the planning or rudimentary prototype stage. I learned a lot about programming and wrote a lot of code, but never really had much to show for it.

In November 2007 I successfully created a 3D-ish height map using Perlin Noise as generated by the built-in Actionscript functionality. Since a grayscale image is made up of 256 possible colors, it is simple to interpret the values as heights. And with 256 values to choose from it is simple to come up with color substitutions so that instead of something which looks like clouds you have patterns which look like lakes, plains and mountains.

Now I have successfully recreated and expanded upon that experiment, using plain Javascript. Instead of Perlin Noise, this version uses Simplex Noise, though if I move toward turning this into a full game I will switch to OpenSimplex or something, because Perlin Noise and Simplex Noise are copyrighted.

With the basic generator in place you can add whatever colors you want, to make the height map look like whatever you want.

More blog posts and detailed instructions will follow, but for now head over to the labs and enjoy the experiment!

 

 

The Warm Days of October

We are in the middle of a gorgeous mid-October heat wave, with temperatures in the upper 70s during the day, and abundant sunshine and a light breeze which makes the autumn trees shimmer like kaleidoscopes seen through a good dose of psilocybin.

Only one book arrived at the house this week – Recognize Fascism, an anthology of resistance-themed short pieces edited by Crystal M. Huff and published by the always-excellent World Weaver Press, from a recently-completed Kickstarter campaign. This is a follow-up to the 2018 anthology Resist Fascism, also edited by Huff. If you think you have noticed a theme in the books which I have collected over the past couple of years, well, you are not mistaken.

In reading news I have managed to keep up the book-a-day pace for the Sealey Challenge, and having this volume and density of poetry in my life is doing wonderful things for my state of mind.

In writing news, I have done almost none over the past week though I think I have figured a way through the snarl which kept me from completing the current scene in the book. I will hit it Monday morning and see if my idea will play out on paper.

In other exciting news, I was just notified that a short story I had submitted back in January of this year has just been accepted for publication! The issue in question will go live on January 1, 2021, and at that point I will announce the venue and post the link and all other sorts of fanfare and information.

In all the chaos, misery and uncertainty abundant in the world right now, this was a very welcome piece of news.

Challenging Poetry

The nights are definitely longer than the days now, and the days of October are so far mostly filled with clouds and rain. I would like to say that this means more time to read and write but unfortunately (or not) my schedule is not at all dependent on the whims and uncertainties of the weather.

Three new tomes to add to the collection this week. On the left is the newest from Michigan author Jim C. Hines, Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen, from Hines’ recent Kickstarter.

In the center is W. Todd Kaneko’s new poetry collection This is How the Bone Sings. I met Todd a couple of years ago at a Caffeinated Press event, and have been a fan of his poetry ever since.

On the right is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine,Ā back from their summer hiatus.

In reading news, On October 1 I beganĀ The Sealey Challenge, wherein participants try to read a book or chapbook of poetry a day for a month. As luck would have it I have a great many unread poetry books and chapbooks, so coming up with a list was not a problem. I can set aside enough time in a day to read up to about 100 poems, though I may have to sacrifice some sleep in order to complete the requirement. I selected as many shorter works as I could, because I don’t want to just slam through the books without taking the time to appreciate and enjoy the works therein. I am posting updates to my progress on Instagram and Twitter, and will probably post collected updates here at the 10, 20, and 31 – book increments.

Nothing much to report in the writing department. I am stuck on a scene, and since I am only planning one scene ahead in the writing process, I need to see how this one turns out before I can lay out the details of the next one. I have given up on trying to force it, and instead in my free moments let my mind wander in that general direction and let my subconscious do the heavy lifting. Looks like NaNoWriMo will be a catch-up month for the novel, rather than a collection of new short stories. Of course it could also be both.

That’s all the literary news for now. Tune in next week for some new and exciting sameness.

Last of Summer, First of Fall

A nice pile of reading material arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week. Four books from subscriptions, and the latest issue of a lit magazine.

The first two books are from my subscription to And Other Stories. On the left is Slash and Burn, written by Claudia Hernandez, translated by Julia Sanchez. Next to it is What You Could Have Won by Rachel Genn.

In the middle of the photo is the latest issue of Rain Taxi Review.

The two books on the right are from a Patreon sponsorship of Apex Publications – The Convent of the Pure, followed by The Labyrinth of the Dead, both written by Sara M. Harvey.

In reading news, I finished Dyrk Ashton‘s Paternus: War of Gods, which was a superb conclusion to the superb Paternus trilogy. For anyone who has any reservations about the quality of self-published books, let this series put those worries to rest. This was a welcome distraction from The New Jim Crow, which was as angering a book as I have ever read. Sadism is indeed the defining characteristic of the American spirit. In the spare moments I am still working through San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets, published by City Lights Books. Right now I am at the end of the first interview with Michael McClure. Such good stuff!

It was an excellent week for reading, but not really for writing. I managed only a couple of hundred words which was discouraging after several weeks in the multiple thousands. I’m going to consider this a week of rest and try to dive in again Monday morning and get at least 7,500 words by the end of the work week.

Assuming the world still exists in any meaningful sense.

Another New Old Project: Cellular Automata

[CLICK HERE to see the 2d Cellular Automata project in the Labs]

Being over twenty years into my career, and having a little downtime, coupled with the back-to-school energy of September, I have been having the time of my life revisiting old visual and math experiments from the early 2000s. This is one of my favorite – a tool/toy for visualizing 2D cellular automata as described by Stephen Wolfram in his book A New Kind of Science.

I first created this tool in Macromedia Flash back in January of 2003. This was about the time that Actionscript became a useable development language, and it was close enough to Javascript syntax that it was easy to pick up. This was fortunate, as my career for the next seven years depended entirely on my Actionscript programming skills. Then I took a sharp left turn into Drupal, about which the less said, the better.

The patterns are created by iterating through an array of ones and zeroes, and choosing the pattern of the next line by applying simple rules to the cells of the previous iteration. As with the earlier Javascript projects, you can save interesting patterns as a .png by right-clicking on the canvas.

I put this together in my spare moments on Codepen.io. You can see the pen with fully-editable code here.

The Great Hunter

One of the joys and hazards of letting Poe roam the porch. If she goes after the chippie she will be able to touch the ground but no more than that, and the ‘munk will sit just out of reach, laughing.

Summer Done Gone

This is a photo of Poe sunning herself in a west-facing window, atop a pile of curtains which coincidentally are the same color she is. Maybe she thinks I can’t see her. That would explain why she attacked my hand when I reached down to scritch her.

We had our first truly cold nights this week, with lows in the upper 30s, Fahrenheit. We have managed to not yet turn on the furnace, but those days are coming to an end. Fortunately the rest of the month looks to be bright and sunny during the days which means my big old house will store enough heat to last us through the longer nights.

No new books arrived this week, which is happening more regularly as I regulate my book-buying habits, what with a global pandemic and employment uncertainty bringing to the forefront of my attention the necessity of frugal behavior.

In reading news I finished Michelle Alexander’sĀ The New Jim Crow which left me feeling rage, sadness, depression, despair, and a sullen bitterness about the entrenched sadism which is one of the keystones of the American psyche. TNJC, along with Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism, and the first few essays from Captivating Technology, have me further convinced that complete prison abolition is the only equitable response to the overwhelmingly racist (by deliberate intent and design) carceral state which is one of the central, defining characteristic of American society here in the post-Civil War USA.

Anyway.

To cool my brain, I am reading Dyrk Ashton‘s magnificent Paternus: War of Gods, which brings to a close the Paternus trilogy which Ashton began with Paternus: Rise of Gods. I am a little over a third of the way through, an I am getting to the point where I may need to take half a day from work in order to get through the rest of the book, because I seriously don’t want to put it down. Ashton’s work is just that good!

On a related note, Dyrk has a Kickstarter running right now to print the second book of the series, Paternus: Wrath of Gods, in hardcover. In addition to being excellent reads, the artwork for the books is gorgeous and the books as physical artifacts are well worth owning.

In writing news, I ended the week just shy of 25,000 words in my work in progress. I have the current scene all sketched out and the first few hundred words written, but I hit a minor bout of writer’s block which, rather than trying to muscle through, I sat back and let it run its course and accepted that it might leave me a little shy of my goal for the month of 40,000. Better a blown deadline than burning myself out doing something I love. I can always make up the word count, and the schedule and deadline are mostly arbitrary, beyond that I would like to complete the first draft before November 1.

If you are curious, here are some of the things I am researching as I write my book:

labyrinths, memory palaces, traditional martial arts training techniques, phytoremediation, river ecologies, genetic engineering, mantras, mudras, mysticism, resonant frequencies, resource depletion, peak minerals, repressed memory, symbiosis, salvage, biomaterials, ceramics

With a little luck, when strung together by a narrative framework, it will make a good story.

Another New Old Project: Langton’s Ant

Click here to see Langton’s Ant in the Labs.

I probably could have posted this project before the 3D version, but the 3D version was already done in Javascript, and besides: 3D is just cool!

The above screenshot is taken at just over 10,000 iterations into the animation. Langton’s Ant will, if undisturbed, create a “highway” which will proceed off into infinity unless the world it is crawling wraps at the edges, as this one does.

If you have seen one Langton’s Ant animation you have probably seen them all, though in this one I added a heat map which shows the number of times the Ant has visited each cell. It will take a while to begin to see different colors, and everything will look blue for quite some time. The above screenshot of the heat map was taken at approximately 100,000 iterations.

As with all of my experiments, all of the code is contained in a single page for easy download and modification. I did not use any external libraries and I commented the Javascript for ease of reading and interpretation. Enjoy!

Feeding the Beast

Poe can’t read, so instead she absorbs the knowledge contained in books through her face. In this photo she is enjoying the only new addition to the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. Since I am about a hundred pages from the end of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow,Ā where the author is digging into the meat of the permanent disenfranchisement caused by even a hint of a criminal record in this, the land of the free, Caste seems like a good next book to read. After that will either be Matthew Desmond’s Evicted or Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

In fiction reading, I just started Paternus: War of Gods by Dyrk Ashton. This is the final book in the Paternus trilogy, and though I am only about fifty pages, it is already just as good as the previous two, and according to reviews it only gets better from here. So I have high hopes.

Writing this past week went very well. I passed 20,000 words in the work in progress, and that puts me well on the way to 40,000 by the end of the month. And if I manage to continue this pace I think I should have the first draft completed before NaNoWriMo. Of course as with any first draft, the first is really the zero-eth, and after the first round of editing, then I will have a first draft. So, maybe at the end of January. I can already see places where what the characters are doing necessitate going back and changing some of the story as already written, particularly in the first two chapters. I don’t see this being a particularly long book; likely to top out at around 80,000 unless the muse strikes me with a mighty big stick.

A new follower on Twitter asked why bother to keep word count as you really just write until the story is done. This is true, and also word count is a good way to track productivity, and while the story may go on for hundreds of thousands of words, a book is by necessity finiteĀ ā€” though a series of books is not necessarily so. It was a good question and caught me flat-footed.

Then again the poster had never participated in National Novel Writing Month, and if NaNoWriMo instills one habit in a writer, it is the fanatical tracking of word count.