Sunday, January 28, 2007

My Right Ear Produces A Lot Of Wax

In light of this recent talk of poetry, I've decided to post one of the only two readable poems I've written in my lifetime. Note that I do not say it is good. In truth, it is below the standard set by the limericks read by Terry Wogan on Radio 2. But I'm pretty sure it won't cause you to drive pencils into your eyes. If it does, I'm sorry.

This poem was written on a train 10 years ago; I'm not sure of the exact date, but it was in mid- to late-January 1997.

My right ear produces a lot of wax.
I'm not being boastful,
Just telling the facts:
My right ear produces a lot of wax.

Some women have their talents
And some men have theirs;
Some people juggle balls,
Some people cut hairs.

Some can paint houses,
Some can sew a lovely pair of slacks.
But my right ear produces a lot of wax.

Some stand on their tippy-toes,
Or fight wild bears when it snows,
Or put things up their nose
(But for me that's not how it goes).

Some can balance 10 pianos on their backs,
Or stay calm while the enemy attacks.
I've known blokes who could do a thousand jumping jacks.
All the while, my right ear produces a lot of wax.

As for the rest of me,
Well, it's just too hard to say.
I don't know what I'll be
When my hair turns all grey.

I might have an enormous mansion,
Or live in a box.
I might be insane,
Or sly like a fox.

Maybe I'll have a great job
With lots of good friends,
Or be a lonely old yob
Who's wearing Depends.

Will I have a wife who will love me?
And a dog who will, too?
Or when I walk into stores
Will people shout: "Boo?"

Will I live in London,
Or Boston?
New Ulm?
Or Halifax?

All I can say for certain is:
My right ear produces a lot of wax.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

2: They like poetry. No, really.

It's rare that I say this, but I think I feel a haiku* coming on...

Another strange thing:
Welsh people like poetry.
This confuses me.

For a very short while in high school, I decided I was going to be a poet. I decided this based on my ability to produce reams and reams and reams of grumpy non-rhyming free-form poetry dedicated to this or that girl who had broken up with me after two weeks.

"Time with you was perfect --
Never boring,
Never wasted."

That was my favourite line. Sadly, it was stolen from Henry Rollins. I'm digressing a bit here, but for a guy who writes a lot about love and relationships and has in his head at least three novels that would explore these subjects, my romantic foundation is a bit odd; it consists almost entirely of Rollins-sentimentalism and Van Morrison.

Needless to say, my poetic ambitions were abandoned when I realised that no one actually likes poetry. No one, that is, but the Welsh.

There's a bloke here named Twm Morys. He's got a massive head and a boozer's nose and when he speaks he sounds as if he's suffering a cold. He's a poet. Partially for reasons already explained**, I'm having trouble finding a good page to link to that would provide information about Twm (pronounced "Tomb" -- how bad-ass is that?), but trust me, he is popular.

He is popular like Soul Coughing were popular in Minnesota. That's a good analogy, actually, because Soul Coughing weren't really popular anywhere else. Similarly, I have never been among any other group of people who actually liked poetry. I've met plenty of people who understood poetry (I can't even put myself in that group), and plenty of people who claimed to like poetry because it made them seem deep; but people who really did "ooh" and "ahh" over verse? Nope.

In Eisteddfod, which is THE MOST IMPORTANT CULTURAL EVENT ON THE PLANET, poets are prized above and beyond novelist scum.

There is a long-running radio programme here that basically consists of two groups of poets competing against one another. Then some terrifyingly old man who sounds like he's breathing through a hole in his neck offers a bit of opinion and the live studio audience clap politely or chuckle knowingly. This is one of Radio Cymru's most popular programmes.

Click about five minutes into this clip and you can hear what I'm talking about. If you listen to the programme long enough, you might notice that all the poets speak in a style that is very similar to the up-and-down "my-words-have-meaning" technique that is so popular among Methodist pastors (If you don't know what that sounds like, here's my best impression of it [I'm reading from the United Methodist church website]. The quality of the recording isn't all that great -- I sound like I'm recording in a moving car -- but you get the idea). This is THE way to read poetry, apparently. People in my course dropped into it when called upon to read bits in class.

One of the reasons I don't have any friends in university is perhaps my sustained shock at the whole love-of-poetry thing. When we were studying barddoniaeth, as it is known, I would turn to the poor girls stuck doing group work with me and ask: "You don't really like this stuff do you?"

For the sour-faced response I got, I could have just as well asked, "So, when are y'all gonna get naked and make out?"

Here, poetry means something. In cultural feeling, it is at the heart of why Wales is so much better than where you're from. They've been reciting poetry in these parts since before your language even existed, son.

*Eric, if you are reading this, I will leave it to you to share the greatest haiku of all time.

**And, yes, it's partially because Twm is a Welsh-language poet. So, any internet links referring to him would be in Welsh. If you read Welsh and somehow don't know who Twm Morys is, here's a page about him from the BBC.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

1: They fear the internet

Does anyone remember PINE? It was the e-mail system universities were using back when bison still roamed the plains and my friends and I had just graduated high school. At that point in history, very few of us really knew what to do with e-mail. At the start of the semester we'd bang out a tedious, misspelled tome to our friend in Boston or our girlfriend in New York and then we'd forget all about e-mail for multi-week stretches.

Twelve years later, all civilised peoples have moved to using e-mail on a daily basis. All civilised peoples but the Welsh. One of the best ways to hide from a Welsh person is to send him or her an e-mail telling them where you are.

On the whole, Welsh people seem to approach the internet like a complicated Christmas present they didn't ask for, as if the world has given them a Bowflex. They're appreciative, and a handful of them have taken to it and developed killer abs, but for the most part they would have preferred that Voices of the Valley CD and perhaps a gift certificate to NEXT.

I would suspect that all of this country's regular internet users would fit comfortably into the available seating at a Bangor City FC home game. And most of them would work for the BBC.

For those of us blogging in Welsh -- less than 80 at my last count -- we find it is very difficult to get past the "What is a blog?" question. And with the exception of Dogfael, who seems to blog every 12 minutes, Welshies tend not to be the most dedicated of bloggers. With English blogs, I will assume they've gone dead if they go without updates for a month. With Welsh blogs, I find the window needs to be about six months.

It's not that the Welsh are mentally slow or any such crap*, it's just that they tend not to trust the whole thing. Before moving here, I had never been asked whether I was concerned about the possible negative effects of keeping a blog. I get asked that question all the time over here, referring to my English blog, my Welsh blog or both. And the tone of the question implies not just that I should be concerned but that I shouldn't be doing it in the first place -- the tone one would perhaps use if asking: "I'm sure it's invigorating, but aren't you concerned that bathing naked in the Taff will get you arrested?"

Last semester, people in my course were instructed to form groups for a project that will become the bane of my existence in the coming semester. As always happens when classmates are forced to do group projects, we immediately discovered that none of us could be arsed to adjust our schedules so as to meet with one another. To counter this, I decided to create a Google Group that would allow us to stay in e-mail contact and set up a basic running structure. This worked slightly less effectively than if I had tried to recruit for Promise Keepers. A week later, we still had failed to come up with a name for the group (a goofy requirement of the course). When I pressed on this, I discovered that the majority of my group members had not checked their e-mail. In a week.

In a way, it is very endearing. Having previously worked in a web-based company, I'll be the first to admit that the internet is not the World-Peace-Making Magic Box that people sold it as in the 1990s. It doesn't bother me that I am unlikely to hear a conversation about "hi-def compression and the emerging rival optical disc formats" in the Mochyn Du. Taking technology with a grain of salt is a good thing. But, come on, answer my freakin' e-mails, will you?

*I have actually had one or two people try to tell me that Welsh people aren't all that bright. OK, fuckers, then why don't you tell me who developed the equals sign? And the word "zenzizenzizenzic?" And the Jolly Roger? And the sleeping bag? That's right, bitches, the sleeping bag. Your ass would be freezing on camping trips if it weren't for the Welsh.