Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Information Logistics

     Have you ever wanted to perform a speech, poem or presentation in a natural, authentic and engaging voice and manner?  What is the fastest way to master this passage?  In one form or another, Information Logistics is becoming a key concern everywhere from stages to politics to board rooms--anywhere that values precise verbage and public performance.

     Please take a moment to listen to this song a time or two (and, yes, there will be a test later):

     Squirrels don't have very good memories.  This, paradoxically, explains our fascination with poems--things that facilitate something we can do only with great difficulty. 

     Information Logistics or "InfoLoge" (pronounced "Info Lodge") involves putting precise, context sensitive data into our hands in a timely, compact and unobtrusive manner without our having to request it.  Instant mnemonics, if you will.  The goal is to make a performer seem comfortable with imparting information.  Think of an advisor to Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Veep" or Téa Leoni in Madam Secretary" whispering (lest the visiting dignitary be affronted by her need for such a reminder) into her ear the names and quirks of the people she's meeting at a party or welcoming line.  Poorer examples might include:

1.  A web search engine, as in a cell phone or tablet.  No time for queries!

2.  A teleprompter.  We need precise snippets, not the whole spiel.

3.  A word cloud, flash cards or point form notes.  We're getting closer, but we need to find a raindrop rather than an unorganized cluster.  We need to coordinate and personalize that cluster.  Indeed, we need to choreograph and stage it.

     Among the simplest applications would be a poetry recital, perhaps followed by a Q and A about those particular poems and poets.  Unless our intention is to look as dorky as possible and make the materiel seem unworthy of absorption and recitation, we want to avoid following a script in front of us.  A teleprompter would help but is likely to fix our gaze in one place, reading text.  A set of teleprompters, if affordable and practical, would allow us to shift from one to another but we'd still be reading, our pace and focus always controlled by the scrolling.  In addition, we're not looking for a one-size-fits-all solution;  info logistics have to be tailored to the individual and circumstance.

     The error is in using an algorithmic solution to solve a heuristic problem.  We're not reading text for the first time.  We're quite familiar with the narrative, we just need to be prodded at the start of each section/paragraph/stanza and, perhaps, each sentence or line.  We're not trying to remember lines, we're trying to re-member them, piecing them together by prepending the beginnings of verses to prompt their endings. 

How Elliptic Are You?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #191
     Russians say "Kto skazal 'A'...", meaning "Once you've said 'A'...[you must say 'B']."

     We often use elliptical language, relying on the listener to complete a truism.

     "Don't count your chickens..."

     "If at first you don't succeed..."

     "When in Rome..."

      Of course, this demands that both the endings and their implications be understood.  Such constructions are so common that, in some cases, even the ellipses themselves are implicit:

     "Do this or else."

      Now for that test we promised you.  From memory, how many of the lines from "The Rose Above the Sky" can you complete?

Something jewelled ----- ----
Round the next ---- ---- - -----
Laughing at the hands - ---- ---
Only air ------ ----- -----
All you can do is praise --- -----
For the fineness -- --- -----.

Gutless arrogance --- ----
Burn apart the best -- -----
You carry the weight -- --------- ------
From your first day ---- --- ---
Toward that hilltop ----- --- ----
Forever becomes one ---- --- ---

Ozone on --- -------- ----
Got me thinking of --- ---
And the mercies of the -------- ---- -------
Me to you --- --- -- --
And in the silence -- --- ----- -- ------
Where all true meetings ---- -- --

       It might help to sing it to yourself.  The beat, rhymes and meter can be very helpful.

      (Incidentally, did you find it easier to reconstruct the first three lines or the last three lines in each stanza?)

Reading the Audience

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #36
      Info logistics involves supporting the performer with just enough of a prompt to instantly reconstruct the text, not so much as to adversely affect the performance or to make the speaker's brain get lazy and dependent on the text.  It isn't like minimalism;  it is minimalism.

      One of my favorite human beings lost most of his memory in a fever when he was in his late teens.  Imagine my amazement at seeing him, in his fifties, wowing an audience at a slam!  He carried no notes, had no teleprompter or earpiece.  Like any good performer, he was in complete control of his speech and never lost sight of the audience. 

      I asked him how he did it.  He pointed at four posters along the back wall.  They looked like word clouds:  terms and phrases haphazardly printed in various hues and sizes on bristleboard.  I had assumed they were intended as art.  On closer examination, I saw that it was the text of his poem, scattered across the four posters.  How did he stitch it together, when the parts of each line might appear on any part of the next page? 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #122
      Sizes, fonts and colors.  The beginning of each verse was in larger print, tailing off into smaller letters as the line progressed.  This tiny text gravitated toward the center of the sheet, creating a spiralling effect.  The verses themselves were aligned on the color wheel:  line one was in red, the next ones purplish, leading to stanza two in blue turning into green and, finally, stanza three was in yellow becoming in orange.  Against the grey background, black text listed factoids relating to the intro and white words related to the poem/poet.  (At this particular slam, winners were often interviewed after the event.)  Each stanza had its own character face:  Times Roman, Courier, Helvetica, et cetera.  This created a visual effect in the brain, dramatically reducing the learning curve.  The small lettering soon becomes unnecessary and, after flitting from poster to poster landing on larger print, the crutches could be tossed aside.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #192
      It also enhanced performance.  Have you noticed that the "Back" button on modern browsers don't just bring us to a certain web page but to the exact spot we were on?  Similarly, speakers could leave the text to look attendees in the eye--which is the whole point of the exercise--confident of finding their place via the color, style and size of the letters. 

     My eyesight being what it is, I couldn't see the back of the room when I tried this.  Rather, I had to place the posters from the left to the right edge of the stage, facing me, like feedback speakers at a concert.  It worked perfectly.  My attention remained on or near the audience, my head turning to address everyone, and I couldn't fall into the trap of lingering on the text.  I was, almost literally, reading the audience.

Crude Facsimile:  Poster #1 (positioned on the left)
Crude Facsimile:  Poster #2 (center left, with album details)

Crude Facsimile:  Poster #3 (center right, with bio details)

Crude Facsimile:  Poster #4 (positioned on the right)


The Rose Above The Sky - by Bruce Cockburn

Something jewelled slips away
Round the next bend with a splash
Laughing at the hands I hold out
Only air within their grasp
All you can do is praise the razor
For the fineness of the slash

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Gutless arrogance and rage
Burn apart the best of tries
You carry the weight of inherited sorrow
From your first day till you die
Toward that hilltop where the road
Forever becomes one with the sky

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Ozone on the midnight wind
Got me thinking of the sea
And the mercies of the currents that brought
Me to you and you to me
And in the silence at the heart of things
Where all true meetings come to be

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Monday, July 4, 2016

Who Reads About Poetry?

     We all know that no one reads contemporary poetry other than those who write it and, perhaps, their friends and relatives.  Indeed, we calculate that the author of most poems today will read it more times than everyone else combined.  Who reads about such poetry, though? 

     When you arrive at a website your browser presents a "certificate" stating where your computer is located, what operating system and web surfer you are using.  This data, collected by the software that drives sites like this one, allows webmasters and bloggers to create a rough demographic picture of your viewership.  For example, this is a snapshot of traffic here in the last little while, starting with country of origin:

United States 146

Ireland        24

India          24

United Kingdom 22

Philippines    21

Ukraine        20

Brazil         15

Netherlands    15

Canada         12

China          10

      Among the English speaking nations, the disparity between the United Kingdom and the United States reflects our Amerocentric spelling and points of reference.  The stereotype of the Irish being a poetic nation finds some evidence here.  Bearing in mind that we're talking about English language discourse and verse, the interest from the Ukraine, Philippines, Brazil, Netherlands and China reminds us how much healthier the art form is outside anglophone countries.  The percentage of visitors from India, which has more English speaking people than any other nation and retains a keen interest in the subject, is quite low in this particular survey.

      Here are the operating systems used by our visitors:

Windows  231 (58%)

iPhone    58 (14%)

Android   45 (11%)

Macintosh 28 (7%)

Linux     18 (4%)

iPad      13 (3%)

Unix       3 (less than 1%)

      The tendencies may be too weak to draw conclusions, but the data sample suggests a demographic that is working/middle class and more savvy than the average computer user.  This is supported by the low number (1%, listed below) of Windows users who cling to Internet Explorer.  7% are likely using mainframes at work and 25% come to us via small-s smart phones, which suggests a somewhat keen interest. 

Chrome           213 (53%)

Firefox           84 (20%)

Safari            73 (18%)

Internet Explorer  8 (1%)

Opera              6 (1%)

UCBrowser          6 (1%)

GSA                5 (1%)

Mobile Safari      5 (1%)

CriOS              1 (less than 1%)

     The list of preferred articles underscores how people might want to influence, be or learn to become poets, but not to read actual poems:

10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - The List       - 146

Scansion for Beginners                            - 9

10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - Versers          - 7

The Ten Most Influential People in Poetry Today   - 7

     To be fair, our "Great Poems of our Time" series was 10th overall in readership.  As always, we're gratified to see the interest in verse-writing.

     What caught our eye were the traffic sources or referrals.  That is, what brings people here?

Google             118

Android Quicksearch  2

Mirrors              8

ECabotage           20

     Of 148 visitors, 8 were from forwarding mirrors (e.g. if you type "commercialpoetry.blogspot.co.uk" or "commercialpoetry.blogspot.fr" you are redirected from the facsimile site in the UK or France to here).  120 were from search engines, who are presumed to be newcomers because regulars would normally bookmark your site.  118 of these got there via Google, which speaks to the utter dominance of that particular choice over, say, "Bing".  It also says something about interconnectivity within the poetry world:  There is none.  There are eddies but no river.  That is, with all of the other blogrolls and hypertext out there, few or, in our case, none of the visitors follow links from other poetry web sites.  From talking with other webmasters, we can confirm that the current crop of poetry onliners are among the least curious people on the Internet.  They almost never click on the unknown.  As we've said before, "They are the most cliquish and least clickish."  For what it's worth, this is a complete turnabout from 20 years ago, when rec.arts.poems Usenetters were among the most outgoing or welcoming (though not always welcome or well-mannered) among Internauts.

     When we are posting more regularly we see a number of Facebook and, far less often, Twitter referrals.  This is the audience everyone wants, but far more common are the web searchers.  It is gratifying when Googlers have a native curiosity about the subject at hand but most are students wanting to copy and paste their homework assignment.  The comments section is often flooded with questions like "Can you cite three instances of irony in 'Hamlet'?" or "What is 'The Red Wheelbarrow' about?"


     The most rewarding number is always ECabotage (or "e-cabotage, rhyming with "we sabotage").  As you know, cabotage refers to transportation within a nation, not to be confused with the international voyage that brought these passengers or goods into the country in the first place.  ECabotage involves those who come to your site and, having sampled one of its wares, decides to examine other posts there.  This is a credit to the web editors and to the authors of the material.  For a typical poetry collection, it involves someone coming to read a poem written by themself, a friend or relative and sticking around to examine the works of a stranger. 

      Levels vary from genre to genre.  Sites detailing popular pursuits will have a lot of ECabotage;  a person who goes to NFL.com to read about Tom Brady might well stick around to read the latest on fellow SuperBowl-winning Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Given the high percentage of Looky Lus and the low level of poetry consumption in general, 2% ECabotage is encouraging.  That is, if one in fifty arrivals is from another page on the same site, the staff and contributors are doing well.  One in twenty is exceptional and one in ten would be phenomenal.  We here at Commercial Poetry are delighted with our one in six rate, and would be even more so if this were a typical compendium of poems.  In any case, we are grateful to those who take the time to ponder our offerings, all the more so if they sample more than one.