Kyberpoetica Project

Here is a bit of background to the Κyβεrpοετica project which also happened to become my moniker across the web via different social media platforms. To explain the name briefly, the first part is derived from the Greek word “κυβερνήτης” (kybernḗtēs) meaning “steersman” who would pilot the boat and navigate across the waters. We now have the term Cybernetics which also has its origin in the above and is associated with computer technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. I combined this with pοετica to establish the link to the genre of Cyber Poetry.

The intention of the project initially was to produce a publication, but one which would have been apt for the early 21st century. I thought “If W. B. Yeats or T. S. Eliot were alive today, what would they do?” My wife, at the time, Jill was doing an MSc and as part of her dissertation project she needed to produce a botanical field guide. So we looked at the publish-on-demand platform Blurb which also allowed you to publish in eBook format. Having some basic knowledge of coding, I decided that I would try and write a simple set of web pages in HTML which could be read on a computer or portable devices such as a tablet. It would be like an online poetry pamphlet. I also wanted the reader to be able to open up the actual HTML code itself and still be able to read the poetry which is why I considered it Cyber Poetry. While I was holding this concept in my mind I also wrote the poem which I decided to call Κyβεrpοετica. My thanks must also go to the inimitable and ineffably intelligent Janette Ayachi for publishing Κyβεrpοετica on her online poetry journal, The Undertow Review.

The coalescing of ideas for this project was all happening while I was working at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (less formally known as the Botanics). I was also getting a lot of poetic inspiration from a book called “The Botanic Garden” I had discovered there after reading the biography of William Blake. It was written by Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin of “On The Origin of Species” fame, and contains numerous classical references. Because of this, combined with my interest in botanical nomenclature, I found myself delving into Greek and Latin which is why the Κyβεrpοετica name is derived from equal parts of the two alphabets.

When I was putting together the code for the pages I had in mind the aesthetic of the experimental avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren. An exhibition featuring her films had been shown at the Inverleith House Gallery where I was also sometimes helping out as part of my job at the Botanics and where I became quite friendly with a number of the artists who volunteered there. So I added just one bit of audio to the website which was a short improvised piece I played on the Native American flute as this echoed the style of a film of hers and I used the monochrome look although this was also very suitable for it as an eBook.

After I had recorded the flute, I started on a parallel venture to record audio to go with the website which eventually became an album, although it really could be considered an audiobook to accompany the eBook. The whole musical soundtrack was experimental and completely improvised. One of the main instruments I used was the Native American flute and the initial recording I did for the website became the music overlayed on the recording of the dedication to the Muses which I put at the beginning of the album. I also used a clàrsach (celtic harp) which I tried to tune myself to start off with and by mistake detuned it to an octave below what it should have been. My experiments and improvisations on this detuned clàrsach can be heard on the first half of the album. By the time I got around to doing more improvisational recordings about a year later I had been instructed in the correct tuning so it has a more familiar clàrsach sound. However all the recordings were done relatively quickly and ad hoc so in some you can hear incidental background noise.

During this time I was going through a great deal of personal and professional difficulties which is why the recordings and website/eBook were really just as good as I could do under the circumstances. However it was absolutely necessary for me to have some sort of creative outlet. I had not done any music in years and had decided to move away from the use of samples which made up most of my dance music productions. Also I was recording my own voice and using that spoken word element which I had only done on one previous occasion on an early version of “Look Out, Confidence, Man!”

One thing in particular that I found out over the years while making the Κyβεrpοετica website and album and after is an increasing insight into the nature of Scottish culture. My motivations for doing this project were personal and it was for me a form of self expression and I have had, it feels like, quite a lot of criticism and negativity, most notably from my Scottish relations and from certain people within the Scottish poetry world. It may have been that these were for different reasons but mainly I felt seriously unvalued. I won’t go into this too much here but my question is: If the role of culture is to cultivate then what are we aiming to cultivate except fully rounded and valued living beings? I may not be Scottish but I have incorporated some Scots language into my poetry. It has been what I’ve been hearing on a daily basis for what is now the greatest part of my life (after American and then English). I put one of my most direct poems addressing my thoughts and feelings on Scottish identity, “In the Full Light of the Celtic Day”, in amongst the rest.

I must also say that I was very fortunate to meet Tessa Ransford at a small conference on Nature Writing at the Botanics and gave her a CD and sent her copies of the poems that were included on it and she gave me a lot of encouragement. This also included putting my name forward to Henry Marsh who asked me to read my poems at his “Poetry and Coffee” event which was the first time in a long while that I had an audience for my work so I am really grateful to both of them. Also I am grateful to Matt Duggan who asked me to read down in Bristol at an event for The Angry Manifesto and to Marcas Mac an Tuairneir for including “A Vision” as well as its Gaelic translation by Angus Peter Campbell in the Poets’ Republic. My greatest thanks go to my family of course who have encouraged me the most and always been there for me when I needed them.

To view the website/eBook, you can find it at kyberpoetica.net. The navigation is quite basic but if you look for underlined text, these are hyperlinks that will take you from page to page. There are quite a lot of notes on the poems as well and a contents page which is obligatory for any book.

The audio for the album is on my Bandcamp page where it can be downloaded. It is also available to listen to on all the main streaming and download platforms where you will be able to find it by searching for “Kyberpoetica”.

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