Spoken Word Adventures – Hammer and Tongue

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Been a bit snowed under this last week, what with one of my deadlines being quietly moved forward by three days without anyone telling me (hahahahahaha I survived), but something awesome happened this weekend – Team Edinburgh won another slam! Me, Catherine, Joe and Doug (those talented bastards) went to down to London to compete in the Hammer and Tongue National Slam Final, having qualified at Unislam. We went up against some incredible teams from the various different branches of Hammer and Tongue in two rounds of group pieces, and we won!

It was a great weekend. It was also exhausting – it ran for around 8 hours on the Saturday and 4 on the Sunday – but it was jam-packed with some incredible talent: Theresa Lola (who won the singles competition) and Kat Francois, to name just two. There were some familiar faces from the Edinburgh scene – Matthew Macdonald and Iona Lee – and a whole host of incredible performers. It was kickass.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sleep forever.

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I’m off to sleep forever.

 

Uprooted

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I uprooted a shrub at my grandmother’s today
and it really didn’t want to go.

It had the resilience of wood, yes
and the tenacity of a planted heart
(fibrous veins pump more slowly)
but it was also more resourceful
fighting back more coarse and forceful
than I ever expected from a vegetable.

It rallied every trick of nature.
Fought against me root and claw
old branch, new shoot, prickle-leaf and more.
Attacked me with its nettle neighbours,
trip-slip-stung me to the floor
aching
and knowing absolutely what the mud must think of me.

Its defences ran deep, see
but I was determined too.
Siege-ready they were, my forces
well-trained in the art of undermining.

I planted foot on trunk and pushed it
I planted foot on spade and shunted
down
I planted foot on spade and hand on trunk
and pushed and heaved and grunting, sunk
until I rip-tore it with a cracking;
pebbles, worms from the soil a-bleeding
crumbling
a knotted trophy in my workshop glove.

A prize
ripe for re-planting.

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My Nan’s Book Group Could Beat Up Your Nan’s Book Group

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Something’s up in Little Dudley
where the local book group meets
there’s a tension at the bowling green
there are whispers in the streets.

See, this has always been the Woolf Pack’s town
since a time before my birth
when my Nan and Mrs Dalloway
drove the Grandmothers Grimm off their turf.

But there’s a new threat on the scene these days
at the lakehouse in the park
where, with graffiti cans in wrinkled hands,
the Milton’s Angels left their mark.

So Nan’s going round to Josephine’s
and calling up Brigid as well
so they can gather up the posse
and send those basic biddies back to hell.

“Bring To the Lighthouse and Orlando
and A Room of One’s Own will be critical,”
she says to make sure that those crotchety crones
are gonna choke on their Werther’s Originals.

So its handbags at dawn
for a literary war
they’ve got their hatpins
got their letter-openers drawn
spitting vitriol
and witty quotations
spun cleverly into threatening prognostications
not lost on their brimstony foes
(they’re pulling hair, they’re stomping toes)
a hellish host of demon dames
with a hundred late fees to their nefarious names.

But at last the Woolf Pack wins the day
and may all OAP book groups know
that my Nan is better than your Nan
and your Nan can come have a go.

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Photo credit: Monty Python

 

Celebrant

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When the whale
– it was a flying fish in life –
dies, crabs and gulls will flock to it
hollowing out a temple on the beach
for you to live in for a while.

There will be a salt-gash.
It will tear
from your stinging eyes
to your churning guts
to the pit of your stomach
where the harpoon is still
firmly
lodged.

You will be visited by a wise woman
to discuss the gash and the service,
tailor your drowning to the one who threw you ice-cold into it.

She will invite you to dig deep
to find the ambergris
used in the balm of another person’s sleeping
wearing concrete slippers.
She knows how to make useful things
from the corsetbone and baleen
and blubbering.
Call it ballast
to keep you stable through the ceremony
call it a life raft
to keep you afloat in the turbulent wake of

passing.

 

 

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Art by Elena Purlyte.

Maps Maps Maps

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I’ve had a bit of an obsession with maps lately or, more specifically, video game maps. You can blame Creative Arts Practice for this, making me analyse my interests and consider ways to make my work more multimedia and stuff. How dare it.

Anyway, I’ve always liked them. Especially the maps in Final Fantasy XII, for some reason. There was something about the way they looked and the way every part of the area had its own specific name that helped give every part of the place a specific flavour. Inevitably the names were things like ‘Halls of Ardent Darkness’ and ‘Demesne of the Sand Queen’, but that kind of thing sounds kickass to a certain kind of teenager.

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See? I’m not making this stuff up.

Young writers always get told to ‘write what you like’, and I like to think that imitating my favourite authors got me started down that particular track pretty successfully. But as a teenager playing Zelda, Final Fantasy and Castlevania and liking those, I couldn’t very well apply the same advice quite so literally. Me and high-school IT class did not get on, and even if we had done, I was a teenager, not a fully-equipped games studio.

So, for lack of resources, I drew maps. Don’t have the capacity to create and render a fully-functioning Zelda dungeon on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Well, just draw a map of it. Draw little ‘key’ symbols to show how you’re supposed to unlock the doors. Draw dotted lines so you can tell where the moving platforms are supposed to go. That kind of thing. It doesn’t look nearly as cool as playing the level would feel, but you can use your imagination to fill in that gaps. That’s how maps work.

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What was the plot of this game again? I’d honestly rather know why ‘Field of Fallen Wings’ is called that.

Towards the point – maps have come up a fair bit as part of Creative Arts Practice so far. We spent a whole seminar looking at Google Maps and Google Street View, the way they make you think about and navigate places in a certain way. And, being a hopeless nerd, this got me thinking about video game levels and their maps again. Barheim Passage from Final Fantasy XII. Dracula’s Castle from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Blighttown from Dark Souls. Luigi’s Mansion. Even the procedurally generated levels from Darkest Dungeon.

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Sure, this one isn’t quite so cool to look at. But when your party’s food and sanity is dwindling with every step and the next room could contain a horrifying boss monster accompanied by appropriately epic narration and backing music, suddenly you’re paying damn close attention to this thing.

The thing that struck me wasn’t really the maps themselves. Sure, sometimes in-game maps can be pretty. Mostly they’re functional – they help you visualise a space that is already harder than a real place to visualise because it doesn’t really exist at all, its fictional place represented in a game and isn’t any less fictional than the map that goes with it. They’re tools, part of the interface just like health meters, action bars and menus. So why did looking at them bring me right back into the feeling of playing those games? The gameplay, the enemies, the music – it was all vivid again. Why?

It might be a fairly specific kind of nerdy interest. I’ve always loved me a good video game dungeon. I’m also one of those incorrigible nerds who engages in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons (heaven help me) and drawing maps of made-up places was always one of my favourite parts of running a campaign. Probably most people don’t find these maps all that interesting, or at least save that kind of interest for maps of places they can relate to (real or otherwise). But still, I think I’m onto something here.

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I think it has something to do with the way they bring things together. Precisely the fact that you use them to figure out where you are and where you’re going seems to bind them in your head with your experience of navigating the place, sometimes in ways you might not expect. That’s what the confusingly laid-out and probably illegible collage-thing you just scrolled past is about. I made it in the Culture Lab as an attempt to map onto the level all the things I liked and remembered about it.

All this might seem a weird interest for someone who writes rather than draws, paints or does anything all that visual. But ultimately I think it feeds into something I’ve always had a strong interest in as a fan of fantasy (and sci-fi, and horror): world building. A certain kind of story is as much about the setting itself as it is about the people in it and the stuff that they do. Just think how popular maps of Middle Earth, Discworld and Westeros are with fantasy fans.

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I’m sure a lot of people recognise this one.

But Lewis, you say, maps of Middle Earth aren’t what made LotR awesome. That’s true. And it was the music, the level and enemy design, the lore and the gameplay of those games that made their levels the experiences that they were. It wasn’t the maps. Those things aren’t even necessarily represented that well on the maps, some not at all (like music). But still, I think I’m onto something here.

Creative Arts Practice has given me a lot of food for thought regarding the different ways ideas can be represented, and the different media we can use to express them. Wouldn’t it be a kind of cool gallery exhibition that tried to capture a video game level or just a place by combining a map with all those different kinds of media? What if you were looking at the map of a level while listening to its soundtrack? That’s kind of what the idea is with these poorly-photographed collages – a first attempt at bundling some of those things together.

Its at this point that my thinking is much less collected. I have a few ideas of where I want to go with this little pet project of mine, if anywhere. One thing that has my interest is the multimedia nature of these associations.

I also think there’s good potential here for picking apart the way world-building works in games, even the tried-and-tested ‘I wonder what awful shit went down in this dungeon’ kind. Sometimes you it helps to know why this mansion’s full of the living dead, you know? (speaking of which, Extra Credit made a really cool great series of short videos about exactly that kind of world-building and level design in Baldur’s Gate).

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It may not look like much, but it turns out this area is a classic case study of good storytelling & gameplay through level design.

Finally, I’m curious about the way the way maps in video games and real maps relate, and the way we think about them. What would maps of our daily commutes and favourite places look like if we navigated them in the same way as games? I don’t know how well it would work out, but I would quite like to try a mash-up of the some of my favourite real and video game locations, or a ‘gamified’ map of my daily commute.

And… maybe I’ve just got games on the brain, but there are a wealth of associations between games and the world around us. I definitely use coffee shops the way I use save points, and the entrance to Victoria Tunnel near the Hancock Museum definitely looks like a secret dungeon entrance to me. Thoughts?

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Image sources: Final Fantasy XII, Darkest Dungeon, Lord of the Rings, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Baldur’s Gate.

Middle Spirits

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Exciting news – I made a thing! A physical thing that exists, in collaboration with the excellent Elena Purlyte. Its a collection of illustrated poems – my poems, her art – that has been in the works for a good long while now. Check out some preview images below!

The title is in reference to the way people used to understand fairies and household spirits and pagan gods before they got bundled in with everything else that was either satanic or imaginary. I could go on about this idea at length (and maybe I will, in another post), but the gist is that they’re something ‘between’ heaven and hell. Supernatural, but still earthly. The pamphlet is essentially a collection of flights of fancy, some lighthearted, some darker, so the title Middle Spirits seemed like a good fit!

(I realise all this sound a bit pretentious and high flown, but that was pretty much the opposite of the point – I wanted to use poetry to express imagination in a way that *doesn’t* require you to understand metre or have read Wordsworth)

We’re most at the end of what was essentially a ‘trial run’ of printing and selling them, largely on a personal basis, which we did to get an idea of what they would look like and how much it would cost to get them made in that particular way (we used a website called Inky Little Fingers, if you’re interested). There are a few copies left from the first run, but essentially we’d like to figure out more properly how we’re going to sell and promote them before we print any more. If you’d be interested copy, drop me an email at allstar.lewis@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do – if nothing else it will give me an idea of how much interest there is.

The two of us have a few different ideas for what might come next, potentially accompanying the first ‘proper’ print run. Prints, perhaps. Buttons, maybe. Tote bags, potentially (if only because me and Elena really want our own ones). And maybe even a second, shorter collection with a tighter focus. But in the meantime, it just feels so good to have something I can hold in my hands. Hype!pamphlet-selfie-cropped

 

Matchwight

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The Matchwight – gothic horror by Richard Patridge-Hickes

The Unfamiliar Threshold

“Candle light,

Candle bright,

First candle of the night,

With grace you may,

With grace you might,

Keep away the Matchwight’s bite.”

I heard the previous rhyme in Edinburgh, first from the mouth of a young urchin boy. He was gathered with a small group, watching as the gas lamps were lit and though none of the others spoke all seemed to watch the proceedings with a strange reverence. I was, I believe, somewhere between the area of the Bedlam and the Castle, having arrived earlier that evening, and the city being new to me, I am not confident of exactly where I heard it. Though the scene and rhyme were odd I did not afford them any real importance, it was only later when I heard it again that I had cause to remember them with more interest.

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