Book Review: Sexy Haiku by Nick Brooks

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Making all haiku in Paris that little bit sexier. Photo credit: Jennifer Taylor

When the Nothing in the Rulebook team were asked to review Nick Brooks’s Sexy Haiku – a collection of haiku that follow one man’s relationships – we did the only sensible thing and carried the book with us on a romantic trip to Paris. After all, nothing quite says ‘city of love’, as reading haikus that range from the intimately descriptive –

I ease in     sideways

Between a shifted thong

And the flesh of your thigh.

To the tragically relatable emptiness of meaningless sex –

It doesn’t matter

How long you try       I can’t come

Unless I feel loved.

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Sexy meringue, anyone? Or just more sexy haiku?

Indeed, what perhaps really resonates throughout the entire book is this almost tragic feeling that exceptional moments in love are so rare, that when they occur, one cannot fully appreciate them – since they will inevitably end, perhaps never to be repeated; and yet, having occurred, will always lead those involved to compare and contrast all future experiences with said moment. Consider, for instance, the following:

We come at the same time

Both our faces raw     tangled

If it could always be like this.

In these haiku, there carries a sense of loss for moments of perfection; and through this a sadness of never being able to truly live in the moment or experience present pleasure – where moments that are good are soured by the thought that they will not always be as good. In this way, Brooks delivers a sense of in-the-moment-nostalgia, where lovers have a premonition or foresight of themselves looking back at certain moments from the future, longing to re-live them and yet knowing they perhaps never will.

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The Moulin Rouge ain’t seen no haiku as sexy as this.

If there is to be a criticism of this book, it is that there is perhaps not a clear enough perception of the female perspective of love and sex. Instead, we are presented with haiku that have a distinctively masculine tone and voice.

Of course, masculinity is no bad thing and having spent so many years with men generally taught to suppress their emotions and repress urges to reflect on their sexual encounters and their experiences of love, it is refreshing in many ways to finally have a book that allows us to explore how men experience these things in the sort of raw, true and ‘real’ manner that only poetry and writing really allows. Yet one cannot help but think this book perhaps requires a partner – an equal in form and style; but from the female perspective. Sex, after all, is something that necessitates partnership. And so, without this, Sexy Haiku feels once again only part of a whole – which in turn adds to the sense of loss and incompleteness that is carried in the undertones of its pages.

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Sexy haiku can be enjoyed by men, women, and giraffes alike.

What this book does very well is capture the absurdity of both sex and love. We witness the complications of negotiating a threesome; the politics of semi-open relationships; the trepidation of setting out into unknown sexual waters of BDSM, or even trying “a new position, beyond the three recommended”; and, of course, those moments that somehow just happen, even though nobody really knows how they happen or why they occur, except that those who experience them know they feel somehow right and logical at the time – for instance, take the following:

She holds up an

overripe avocado

winks coyly at me    licks her lips.

While Brooks clearly has a fine eye for the intricacies of language and syntax, the haiku that stand out are these moments that are so relatable. Not everyone of course has the specific experience of using avocados sexually – although, in the age of the hipster, and with John Lewis reporting sales of avocado products up over 100% year-on-year, perhaps more people than you’d think actually do have similar experiences. Yet in reading these haiku, readers will inevitably be drawn to – and re-live – their own absurd-but-not-absurd-at-the-time sexual memories (avocado-based or not).

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What these haiku do very well is capture the absurdity of both sex and love.

In turns moving, funny, grotesque, romantic, filthy, and, yes, sexy, Sexy Haiku delivers on its essential promise of providing readers with a poetically erotic journey through the nuances of love. This is not to say that every haiku in the collection will be to each and every reader’s tastes; but that, when looked at together and taken as a whole, each fits together with the others in a way that complements them and brings new and added meaning. In this way, this is a book that can be read and re-read over and over – because it is that rarity in books these days in that every time you return to its pages you uncover new meaning, and find something new to enjoy and appreciate. This makes Sexy Haiku the perfect addition to any bookshelf.

“What do you like?” the first haiku in this collection asks us.

“This,” we might reply. “This is very good.”

 

Purchase Sexy Haiku from Freight Books here:  https://www.freightbooks.co.uk/product/sexy-haiku/  

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Humble pie – Donald Trump poetry

I think I am, actually humble.

I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.

I do not have tiny hands.

That is where I draw a line in the sand.

Look at these hands.

Are they small hands?

I’m honoured to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.

 

I have to start by saying I’m a big fan.

I’m a very compassionate person.

We will make America great again.

Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?

A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a ten

I understand why you would leave your wife for another man.

 

I’m like a magnet

With that fat, ugly face

I had some beautiful pictures taken

I looked like a very nice person,

Which in theory I am;

No – I’m not into anal,

I don’t even consider myself ambitious

My Twitter is so powerful

I say give them the old Trump bullshit.

~ Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘Thank you for listening’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

16 of the finest NaNoWriMo writing tips from Paul M.M. Cooper

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“Part of being able to write at all is giving yourself permission to write badly, to put down that first layer and not hate it.”

If you’ve always suspected there’s a novel in you, one writing project could help you get it on to paper in just 30 days.

Founded in 1999, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month), is an internet hub built for budding writers. Participants agree to start and complete a novel of 50,000 words or more during the month of November. To “win,” all you have to do is meet that goal.

If writing 1667 words a day, every day, for an entire month while balancing studies, work, socialising and general life admin sounds like a challenge, that’s because it is. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it – success stories include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (now also a feature film); and in total over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been published.

Above all else, NaNoWriMo fosters the habit of writing every single day – which, if you read among all the various writing tips from writers – is probably the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. And it also enables many writers to practice another core tenement of writing: the act of rewriting and revision. 50,000 words written in a month will, almost inevitably, need to be rewritten.

NaNoWriMo writing tips from Paul M.M. Cooper

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Paul M.M. Cooper 

It is a project endorsed by countless writers – both aspiring and established. Included in their number is Paul M.M. Cooper, author of the rather brilliant ‘River of Ink’.

Of his writing process, Cooper has explained: “Just getting words onto the page is important. I heard someone describe this recently as ‘piling sand into the sandbox to build things out of it later’ – this is usually how my first drafts work. I write a lot, fill scenes with everything I can, and then winnow things down later so it is light and strong in the final draft.”

NaNoWriMo, in this way, offers the perfect opportunity for writers to start filling their own writing sandboxes. And for those just setting out on their own NaNoWriMo journeys, Cooper has also set out his own list of NaNoWriMo writing tips. They are:

  1. It’s a cliché, but you can’t edit a blank page. Think of the phrase “Don’t get it right, get it written!”
  2. The hardest part about writing a first draft is getting through the self-loathing of writing something of poor quality.
  3. I always comfort myself by thinking about oil painters – how they put down a base layer first, and then return for shading and detail.
  4. Part of being able to write at all is giving yourself permission to write badly, to put down that first layer and not hate it.
  5. Remember that inspiration comes during work, not before it. If you’re stuck, just write something, anything! You’ll get unstuck.
  6. If you’re stuck, a good idea is to ‘have coffee with your characters’. Write a conversation you’d have with them, or a monologue.
  7. Often when you let a character speak, they come to life and tell you what’s going to happen next. They’re strange that way.
  8. You don’t always have to plan ahead too much, but it’s good to have some fixed points to work to. Scenes you can’t wait for
  9. Don’t skip ahead and write you favourite scene – your excitement about getting to it will give you urgency to the preceding scenes.
  10. Do think about the values of your story: truth, justice, friendship, etc. Every scene should turn on a value, either up or down.
  11. The criminal commits a crime (justice down), the detective finds a clue (justice up), the first setback occurs (justice down).
  12. Give yourself permission to delete work, to give up on story strands, to give up on the whole novel. Nothing is really wasted.
  13. The only truly scarce resource is your own excitement. Protect it in every way you can, and top it up at every opportunity.
  14. Even if you’re completely blocked, write something. Write one sentence, or half a sentence. That’s the only thing you should force.
  15. The most important thing isn’t winning, but setting up writing as a habit for the future. Don’t accept negativity if you lose.
  16. Just by trying #NaNoWriMo, you’re doing something very brave. It’ll change you whether you complete it or not. So good luck and stay strong!

 

 

The writer’s paradox: can you retain your creative freedom if someone pays you to write?

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We live in an age where author’s incomes are collapsing to abject levels; when we are forced to work ever harder for lower pay, often holding down multiple jobs to supplement our creative endeavours.

This is, of course, not necessarily unique to the writers of the neoliberal era – where profit and money are prioritised ahead of new creative ideas. Indeed, the image of the artist struggling against adversity in order to placate their muse’s inspiration is one that has been with us perhaps as long as art has (and this itself may have something to do with the fact that artists and writers love to paint a picture of themselves within this romanticised idyll of artistic struggle).

The artist as a sell-out

Nonetheless, the question of where one’s next meal is coming from remains a pressing issue for countless aspiring creatives. And while it is therefore only natural for writers to pursue a means of actually accruing funds to purchase said meal, this itself is something often brushed over by creatives, perhaps due to some unspoken taboo about making money from one’s art. The term ‘sell-out’ still carries enough weight of negative connotations to deter artists from speaking about the ways they earn their daily bread, unless of course they do so through ‘acceptable’ means (these being somewhere along the lines of working a dozen hours a day, seven days a week in some back-breaking or soul-crushing job – preferably shovelling sewage or else shifting several tonnes of letters and parcels at the local post office).

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To those creatives who may be deemed to have ‘sold out’, such accusations against them are usually dismissed (by themselves, of course).

Accepting an Academy award in 1972, writer, director and actor Charlie Chaplin said: “I went into the business for money and the art grew out of it. If people are disillusioned by that remark, I can’t help it. It’s the truth”.

Other artists have dealt with accusations in other creatively dismissive ways. When roots-music producer and civil rights activist John Hammond claimed Jazz hero Duke Ellington had sold out to the man, Ellington claimed Hammond was acting in “his role an ‘ardent propagandist’ with connections to the Communist Party.”

Ellington’s response set the tone for further op-eds as to the problem with the ‘sell-out’ label. While Thatcher and Reagan reigned supreme in the 1980s, Harpers Magazine described it as being “an old Stalinist term”.

Fighting for creative freedom

getpaidorstarveartist-300x401Yet it is clear that a reader or fan – or a peer or a critic – can claim an artist has sacrificed some of their originality and flair as a result of being paid to create art, and for that person not to be a raging communist. Indeed, writers can feel it within themselves: as Shakespeare writes in Sonnet 10, “Alas! ’tis true, I have gone here and there/ And made myself a motley to the view/ Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear.”

This personal torment of artists faced with trying to retain their creative freedom whilst meeting the needs of patrons or ‘bosses’ is captured in a stunning letter from the poet William Blake. Having been commissioned by a priest, John Trusler, to write a new piece for him, Blake found the task impossible, for it required what the poet saw as disobeying the muse. In a letter to Tusler, Blake explains:

“[I] cannot previously describe in words what I mean to design, for fear I should evaporate the spirit of my invention… And tho’ I call them mine, I know that they are not mine, being of the same opinion with Milton when he says that the Muse visits his slumbers and awakes and governs his song when morn purples the East, and being also in the predicament of that prophet who says: “I cannot go beyond the command of the Lord, to speak good or bad.”

Such a paradox has also been described by the composer Illich Tchaikovsky, who, in a letter to his patron in 1877, wrote:

“Of course it is not a degradation for an artist to accept money for his trouble; but, besides labour, a work such as you now wish me to undertake demands a certain degree of what is called inspiration, and at the present moment this is not at my disposal. I should be guilty of artistic dishonesty were I to abuse my technical skill and give you false coin in exchange for true only with a view to improving my pecuniary situation.”

Writing and modern capitalism

All aspiring creatives will uncover their own ethical dilemmas during their lives, both personal and professional. Everyone, of course, has different desires and needs; but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. In writing for money, it is inevitable we will eventually find ourselves in situations similar to Blake and Tchaikovsky; as we will all inevitably be asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about – whether that means cutting a character we cared about from our novel or writing as a trilogy what was only ever intended to be a short novella.

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Of course, choosing how we respond to these situations is what will define us as artists and writers. Yet even if we stay ‘true’ to ourselves and our muses, it may no longer be possible – if it ever was – to avoid ‘selling out’ in some way shape or form. We live in a world of artificiality and commercialism; where that which is successful begets further success, and shapes the market in order to maximise profit for shareholders. This is why we see copies of novels that are copies of other successful novels; why we are given sequels and prequels instead of new books by new authors; why every movie is now a re-boot or part of a never-ending franchise; why every song is auto-tuned and sounds the same as every other piece of music we have heard that year.

You can use what happened to the so-called punk movement as a case study here. In the excellent book ‘Gatekeepers: The Emergence of World Literature in the 1960s’, the author William Marling notes how the great American poet Charles Bukowski was able to maintain his authenticity; “remaining completely himself: ugly, drunk, and interested in sex” – and in doing so, “made headlines”, with numerous Punk magazines, including Liberation remarking how great the poet was because of this. Indeed, in a curious further paradox, Bukowski became more successful, and more famous, the more he tried not to be.

A similar fate often awaits those artists who attempt to defy the mainstream or live outside of it. The late, great writer Mark Fisher writes in ‘Capitalist Realism’ how the new world of capitalism has affected original thought and creativity in profound and impossibly stifling ways. Using the example of Kurt Cobain and ‘Alternative’ music, he notes:

“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to have give wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realising it is a cliché. The impasse that paralysed Cobain in precisely the one that Fredric Jameson described: like postmodern culture in general, Cobain found himself in ‘a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, where all that is left is to imitate dead styles in the imaginary museum’.”

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It may always be that we find it easier to love artists and writers who are young, poor, and idealistic than those who dictate their latest novel to an assistant typist as they sip cocktails on the edge of a swimming pool. It may also be that even if we attempt to fight to retain our creative freedom and independence, that we will still find ourselves caught up by the marketplace, writing for cold-hearted bosses. Yet of course, to define ourselves in relation to money or the wider workings of the economy is to limit who we are, and accept the confining principles of the world as it is. This, if anything, is something writers and creatives should always resist; instead looking at ways to expand the reference points against which we measure ourselves.

As David Foster Wallace notes:

The only thing that’s capital-T-True is that you get to decide how you’re going to see something. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”

“Why exist?” An interview with Bruce Lee, ‘the most depressed fish in the world’

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The Siamese Fighting Fish known as Bruce Lee had no idea he would find himself at the centre of a global conversation about fish depression. When he woke up for his morning fish flakes on Monday morning, he was shocked, perplexed and, yes, a little anxious and depressed to see his shining blue face and gills effervescent on the smartphone screen of the woman staying in his hotel room – also known to Bruce and his imaginary aquatic companion Ralph the Japanese Wrestling Toad as ‘the Great Beyond’.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Bruce confides during an exclusive interview with Nothing in the Rulebook. “When that New York Times reporter started taking photographs of me, I just assumed it was for their Instagram account. And the questions they were asking – about whether I had a loving relationship with my parents or if I believed in God – well they’re just pretty standard, really. A lot of guests at Holiday Inn hotels find themselves having existential questions with fish; it’s really not uncommon.”

A staunch supporter of fish rights, Bruce has been on at least three circular swims around his bowl in the last half hour alone – all in protest at the way fish so regularly have their photographs taken without their permission, gaining no financial reward when these images are then shared worldwide.

“That David Attenborough and his Blue Planet series – he’s just the worst. I regularly commune with a Tiger shark I met on the fish internet called Terry, who hasn’t been able to get a job since David and his BBC crew filmed him eating a baby seal. They call him “baby killer” and “seal muncher” in interviews. He’s been losing weight; his wife left him, taking their pups with her. And what did he get? Not a dime from the production company. When he goes too close to the shallows now, people start screaming at him, they even bring in helicopters, chasing him away with harpoons and speed boats. They recognise him from the TV show, you see. It’s really not right what these pornographers – and they are pornographers, there’s no other term for it – do to us. We have rights, too.”

But what does Bruce think about the core subject matter of the article about his supposed depression? On this, the Betta takes a complex view.

“All I see is grey”

“You see, the thing is, I’m not what you would call the sort of fish who gets depression,” he explains. “Sure, there are days when I wake up and all I see is grey, and it feels as though I’m moving through liquid, with a strange weight all around me. But then, there will be others where everything is new and different and exciting. You look down to the bottom of your tank and you see there’s a new pebble that’s been overturned and it has the most beautiful pattern like nothing you’ve ever seen before. So I guess that’s just the nature of life in a way – it has ups and downs.”

“But of course, fish depression really is the silent killer. And a big problem in the shoaling communities is that you lose touch with your friends as you get older. They stop coming to visit your tank; you stop making the effort to go to the fake alligator or meet them in the plastic plants, because hey, you’re not fry anymore and you’re spending each of your days busting your gut down by the filtration system, so you just want to go back to your corner and drift along by the floor of your tank and maybe watch Netflix if one of the guests is into something decent like Stranger Things or Hannibal. You just don’t have the energy to keep up with all these young guppies showboating with the cash they’ve been flush with since Thatcher privatised all the old state industries and deregulated the financial fish market.”

“Too many fish just sort of disappear”

“I’ve known too many fish who just sort of disappear this way. One day they’re there – the next; bam! Floating upside down in a toilet. Of course no fish asks for this. But nobody ever knows where to go. They never talk about it. And that’s the most important thing. You need fins to cry on; you need folks to turn to; you need to speak up. So yes, in that respect I suppose it is a good thing that this article came out when it did – it’s just a shame that journalist didn’t ask my permission to use my photo, and I don’t see why some of those sweet internet royalties couldn’t find their way to me somehow.”

Speaking to Bruce, you can’t help but get the impression that he’s trying to deflect around something that is otherwise gnawing at him. He’s all pomp and bluster and good natured conversation – offering you as many fish flakes as you like and never flinching when you accidently tap the glass of his tank. But this is a fish with a very real wall around him, blocking him off from the rest of the world. As though in a move to combat this impression, he pre-emptively moves to forgo further questioning about his personal feelings by offering us un-inhibited access to the personal diary he has kept for “somewhere between one hour and four years, depending on time and my life expectancy, etc – what ever that is,” he says.

Reading the diary is a far more revealing experience than, perhaps, either Bruce or this interviewer expected.

Diary of a lonely fish

Diary entries range from the elegiac; “I spent three moons deep at rest beneath the swirling stars of the hotel guest’s laptop screensaver. The quickening slivers of colour warping around each other seemed for a moment to mirror the beating of my heart, and with each movement of water through my gills it felt as though, for the first time, I could feel the intrinsic separation of oxygen from hydrogen molecules as the liquid passed back into my tank, and the sweet elixir of life filled my lungs. And in the ecstasy of the moment all I could think of was how infinite the world was, how perfectly beautiful it is to be mortal and small and unimportant in something so vast.”

To the worryingly short; “why exist?”

But perhaps the most interesting diary entries are those focused around a particular week in the summer of 2016. It is during this time that Bruce’s diary entries are most vivid, at their longest, and filled with an intense optimism about the possibilities of the future.

Donald Trump and a new love interest

Crucially, it is also at this time we are introduced to a new hotel guest – described by Bruce as “An overweight orangutan with a bad toupee and tiny hands”. This guest – who hotel records confirm to be no other than US President Donald Trump – had a habit, the diaries indicate, of setting up mirrors all around the room. While Trump apparently used these mirrors generally to investigate suspicious moles on his back, as well as to stare at his genitalia shouting “It IS bigger than Barack’s, it is!” the truly interesting thing is that in the mirror closest to Bruce’s tank, Bruce first spots “the most incredible vision – a fish more beautiful than words can describe”.

Pressing Bruce to expand on who this fish was, he averts the question, talking about how the animated film Shark Tale is the most racist-against-fish film to have been produced this side of the millennium. Yet other diary entries are more illuminating.

On the second day of Trump’s residency in the room, Bruce notes: “I am yet to build up the courage to talk to her – but I know I must. Never have I felt such a passion stir in me.”

And then, on the fourth: “Feelings! My heart leaps and my world is turned around. For we have the most incredible of all things – an instant, life affirming connection. And this all the more fantastic for there being no words spoken between us. But who needs words when the connection is so strong? After hours of pondering, of second-guessing my best move, I approached this beauty, and as I did so, she turned to face me, too – entirely directly, our eyes meeting, and in that moment, the world stood still. We stayed there, transfixed upon each other’s gaze. Galaxies exploding in our heads, the infinite possibilities of love in our hearts. Every move I made she made too – at identical times, as though we were not two creatures but one; two parts of the same whole. It is true what they say, that souls do have their equal partner. After so long waiting, I have finally found my own.”

Finally, though, disaster. On the afternoon of Trump’s last day in the room, Bruce’s love interest disappears. That evening, Bruce writes: “Oh woe is me my love, for banishment hath found my heart and ripped it from my chest. I cannot think but think of you – I cannot swim but drift to the bottomless depths of despair. How can I carry on without you beside me? What is life without you? What is…”

There are no further diary entries for a period of seven months, until a fresh one appears, signalling a key sea change in his tone of writing: “Fish flakes. The synthetic substance made of my peers. Each mouthful is cannibalism. My life is a lie.”

With a deadline looming, one final attempt is made to persuade Bruce to speak about this period in his life. And to find out what transpired in this Betta’s mind during those ominous seven months of silence. But he is unmoved by our requests and signals with a dorsal fin for us to leave the room. Our exclusive interview with the fish who shot to fame is over.

UPDATE

Two days after this interview was published, Bruce was found on the floor of his hotel room, dead. The apparent cause of death? Suicide by drying out on the carpet.

One day later, a cheque arrived for Bruce from the New York Times.

The NYT have not been available for comment.

Between stations: exploring the art of subway tracks

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Looking somewhere between an electric circuit diagram and a Mondrian painting, subway – or underground – maps are exemplars of ways to present difficult information in an accessible, visually engaging and, crucially, easy to understand, way.

Londoners may well be familiar with the story of Harry Beck’s famous ‘diagram’ of the city’s underground system in 1931, which presented dozens of lines that both criss crossed a few miles of central London, but also spanned dozens of miles outside the city, stretching out into the suburbs.

Beck’s approach – plotting lines on a grid running vertically, horizontally or at 45 degree angles – meant that it was not possible to tell the distance or precise geographic location of stations at a glance. However, Beck reasoned this was unimportant: what passengers needed to know was how to get from one station to another as efficiently as possible and where to change between lines.

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Beck’s 1931 ‘diagram’ of the London Underground system

Beck’s design revolutionised the design of underground maps across the world. A traveller from London will be able to read the subway or metro systems in New York or Hong Kong just as easily as if they were travelling between Elephant and Castle and Harrow and Wealdstone back in their home city.

Unsurprisingly then, the design of tube maps is a source of inspiration for artists and designers, as they offer clear examples of how to present complicated data effectively, and creatively.

A fascinating new project from Nicholas Rougeux, the creator of the inspired ‘literary constellations’ suite of visualisations of the opening lines of famous books, has now taken the humble tube map a step further.

In ‘Between Stations’, Rougeux breaks down famous subway systems into the segments between each station and rearranges them to fill a common simple shape: a circle. Each diagram shows every segment in a subway system while maintaining geographic orientation (no segments were rotated). Some segments serve multiple lines, like in in Chicago where the segment between the Washington/Wells and Quincy stops serves the Purple, Pink, Orange, and Brown lines. In these situations, a segment was included or each using that line’s colour.

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Rougeux breaks down famous subway systems and rearranges them into the simple circle

Explaining his methodology and process behind each of the new maps and animations, Rougeux says: “Arranging the segments this way reveals geographic identities unique to each city. For example, Chicago is a grid-based city from north to south and east to west so its diagram has more mostly horizontal and vertical segments while London’s segments appear more curved because the city’s layout is less ridgid. New York City’s layout has grid-based areas but they’re on an angle from true north, so most of the lines are diagonal.”

Explore the art of subway maps for yourselves. Check out Rougeux’s project.

National Poetry day: the best of Twitter

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28 September marks National Poetry Day. Across the UK, poetic events are being hosted as part of the annual celebration that inspires people throughout the country to enjoy, discover and share poems. Everyone is invited to join in, whether by organising events, displays, competitions or by simply posting favourite lines of poetry on social media using #nationalpoetryday.

Days like this harness the power of the humble hashtag to great effect. As such, we have spent our days hard at work not quite working; but instead scrolling through the annals of the Twittersphere to compile some of the best Tweets of National Poetry Day.

Enjoy!

  1. Downing Street’s Larry the cat tries his hand at poetry…

Larry the cat

 

  1. Technically Ron reminds us of some home truths…

Technically Ron haiku

 

  1. The problems of autocorrect…

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  1. Poetry can be confusing…

Joe poetry day

 

  1. SPOILER alert: Tyrion on the ending of Game of Thrones…

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  1. Advice on how to live on a narrow boat…

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  1. Blackadder’s Baldrick could be a greater war poet than Wilfred Owen…

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  1. Skelator really doesn’t like He-Man…

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  1. Poetry from the London Underground…

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  1. Professor Snape loves combining poetry with Harry Potter puns…

Professor Snape

 

Want more poetry? Why not check out our poems created from the verbatim comments of Donald Trump

Why do we pay any attention to apparent ‘rules’ for writing?

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Elmore Leanoard on writing rules: illustration by Joe Cardiello 

If there is one feature of humankind that clearly defines our civilisation, it is, perhaps, the written word. All of human imagination can be found within the walls of our libraries – the perfect sanctuaries for books – as written language has emerged as the perfect means of cataloguing our thoughts, our discourse and our histories.

While other species of animals have been shown to communicate with one another, it is our ability to form complex language that sets us apart. This in itself is one of the things that unifies us and brings us together as human beings, regardless of our background or birthright: Everywhere on earth, human languages use the same kinds of grammatical machinery, such as nouns, verbs, auxiliaries and agreement.

Yet despite these defining features of our language, the way in which they are used has never been fully formalised. Of course, there have been prescriptive rules of how to “write well” and “speak properly” for generations; yet how each individual writes and speaks is unique to them.

Despite the obvious idiosyncrasies innately tied to the way one writes and expresses themselves, there has never been a shortage of people seeking advice on writing – nor of people looking to share their tips and “rules”.

Perhaps this is because, as Harvard psycholinguist Steven Pinker wrote in his wonderful modern guide to style, “A crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures.”

And it is, of course, a natural human inclination to find ways to improve oneself, particularly in the way we express ourselves. Quite simply, this is because human beings want to be heard and understood by others.

It is the way in which we approach this self-improvement that is interesting, as it proves what many of us no doubt suspected all along: that the rules and advice people give on how to become a better writer or a better communicator are just as unique and idiosyncratic as the writing or speaking styles they seek to improve.

Take the approaches of two great writers as one example here. On the one hand, the late, great, David Foster Wallace advises a deep studying of one’s use of language, practically applying the rules of a faithful usage dictionary to ensure your writing is applied correctly in meticulous detail:

“Get a usage dictionary… you need a usage dictionary, you have to be paying a level of attention to your own writing that very few people are doing… A usage dictionary is [like] a linguistic hard drive… For me the big trio is a big dictionary, a usage dictionary, and a thesaurus.”

On the other hand, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes good writing as something that comes naturally, from deep inside us – and is expressed through our pens (or typewriters, or laptops) in a way that cannot be overthought:

“If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.”

What this all teaches us is that language and writing can be ever truly mastered, because they are not static things bound by real rules; but rather living and ephemeral, ever evolving over the course of time. At any moment in time a style of writing could be dying out, and, simultaneously, another may be born. This is because language is defined not by rules of syntax or grammar; but by the human mind that creates it.

World-class literature courses you can study for free right now

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“We should learn to treat literature as doctors treat their medicines, something we prescribe in response to a range of ailments and classify according to the problems it might be best suited to addressing,” say the creators of an excellent video explaining what literature is for.

Centuries previously, Galileo observed that books have an uncanny power to transport us, across time and space, into the mind of another person. And suggests that we are drawn to books, and derive such pleasure from reading, because literature is a means of connecting human beings and human ideas across boundaries – and is, in this way, a means of both time travel and telepathy.

For those passionate about reading, and who wish to take the study of literature to new levels (but at their own convenience), we’ve provided below a list of dozens of online literature courses you can take for free, right now, from the world’s leading universities, including Yale, Oxford, Harvard, and Warwick.

You can download these audio & video courses straight to your computer or mp3 player. 

  • This Craft of Verse: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures – Free Online Audio – Jorge Luis Borges, Harvard