Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Short poems / Krypton Factor / Neurogenesis

Short Poems

2012 is the year of the London Olympics. It is also the Alan Turing Year and the year the world might end.

But I’m calling it the Year of the Short Poem. I’m not sure why. I just wanna post some short (six or less lines) poems in my blog posts this year.

So here’s #1 (it's by me, by the way):

Children play on the floor.
The mothers are beautiful.
We negotiate the years, barbeque by barbeque.

To the Burnham Army Base! (and don’t forget your tracksuit)

There’s was a minor internet kerfuffle earlier this week over a pamphlet from an indeterminate date in which John Key appears to diss New Zealand writers, which is all the more baffling as the pamphlet is supposed to spruik a NZ literature walk. Here’s the full statement (source: Listener Online).

I have always believed we should enhance the literary skills of our young people and while our literary heroes may never challenge the glory and respect given to our All Blacks, we still need role models to inspire us.

This Literary Heritage Trail celebrates writers, poets and playwrights who have contributed to this young country’s cultural and historical life.

I hope you will take the opportunity to be part of this journey.

- Hon. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Erm. Okay.

It’s probably true that for the majority of the population an average all black will be held in higher esteem than a great writer. But why bring up the All Blacks at all, John (or whoever in the PM’s office wrote his statement)?

Without presuming to being a literary hero, the statement does tempt me to organise a team of writers together to challenge the All Blacks to a Krypton Factor-style battle of brains and brawn.

Does anyone have Dougal Stevenson’s phone number?

Ghastly ghastly grows the purple blight

Around this time last year I wrote a column in the Dom Post about my hatred of agapanthus. I was pleased, therefore, to see this article online today (any discussion about the evil, ugly, insipid plant is helpful) but dismayed that the early poll results weren’t heavily in favour of banning it.

Maybe if an All Black spoke out against agapanthus??

Double Jeopardy

Something I missed while travelling: A Man Melting has the unusual privilege of being on the Sunday Star Times’ 2010 and 2011 lists of best books. The original December 4 2011 article not available online but the list features on Chch City Libraries’ website.

Here's what the article had to say about AMM: "The year's most outstanding debut. Assured stories from a young writer who knows how to vary his style to suit his subject: ranges from comedy to the really dour."

Kinda shows how small a splash AMM made in 2010, eh? The same can probably be said for 2011, but it’s hard to see how it can make it three years in a row in 2012… maybe an expanded third edition??

Caged monkey, sad monkey. Free monkey, happy monkey.

My current audiobook is Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer. It looks at how famous writers and artists anticipated scientific discoveries, such as Whitman’s belief that emotions belonged both to the mind and body.
Proust Was a Neuroscientist
The connections between artist and science seems a bit tangiential at times, but the discussion of the science of umami (the fifth taste) or neurogenesis is facinating.

On the topic of neurogenesis, Lehrer describes how for a long time science held that the number of neurons in a primate’s brain was capped from infancy. But eventually experiemental science could demonstrate that our neurons could indeed divide and thus create new neurons. Part of the problem was that the lab tests used captive monkeys, and it has since been proven that captivity is bad for creating new neurons (neurogenesis). If you take the monkeys out of their cages, make them search for their food and give them a variety of toys, suddenly the brain starts bubbling with new neurons.

It has also been shown, so Lehrer informs me, that some anti-depressants stimulate neurongenesis and it is believed that new neurons rather than increased serotonin* could be what is making patients happy.

Combining these two findings suggests that the secret to happiness is a varied and challenging environment that’ll stimulate neurogenesis. Which provides a neurological explanation for why travel can make us happy. It can also explain why certain subjects (e.g. me) become maudlin when stuck in an office with little to do (or doing little despite a number of things they could be doing).

Now, if only summer will arrive properly, I’ll commence my neurogenesis routine!
*I originally spelt this 'ceratonin' -- one of the drawbacks of audiobooks is you aren't told/reminded how to spell technical words.

The year of the first person

I have two shortish (but not short-short) poems in Turbine 2011, which came out while I was roadtripping.  And no, I’m not trying to start a new vogue for first person bio notes, this is just what I sent along with my initial submission (as in: “Hey, here are some poems and here’s a bit about me”). I never got asked for a proper bio note or got a chance to review this one, but I’m happy to let it stand.

Maybe 2012 can also be the year of the first person?  Or does that sound too Biblical?

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