Friday, December 31, 2010

Review : Peter Simple by Capt. Frederick Marryat

Peter Simple is an early novel by Captain Frederick Marryat, he who actually served during the Napoleonic Wars and under the redoubtable Lord Cochrane to boot. As such, Marryat's sea novels are replete with details of life as actually experienced by the men and officers of the time. However, Marryat's a humorist, and his goal is to tell an entertaining tale, and with Peter Simple he succeeds admirably. Fans of Patrick O'Brian will discover source material in Marryat later adapted by POB in his Aubrey/Maturin novels.

The plot of Peter Simple is rather thin; it concerns the training of a young midshipman, Peter Simple, 'the greatest fool in his family,' and how he is cheated out of his inheritance, only to eventually regain it. Along the way he meets a cast of engaging characters who tell their own stories. The result is highly discursive, but the characters are so sympathetic and their tales are so amusing that you don't mind that these digressions are not actually forwarding the plot. Chief amongst them is master's mate O'Brien who befriends the foolish young midshipman and they become bosom friends who share many adventures. Case in point, they are captured by the French, escape from a French prison, then disguised as a pair of stilt-walkers, stilt-walk across France to gain their freedom. Peter, being the younger and prettier of the two, is obliged to wear the female costume. In this guise he comes face to face with the French girl he adores much to his chagrin. Readers of Aubrey/Maturin will recollect their escape across France with Jack disguised as a dancing bear. Marryat is funnier.

The adventures in Peter Simple are not impossible, merely improbable, and that's all part of the fun. Marryat has a fertile imagination that can wed a nautical adventure tale with all sorts of comic and sentimental happenings -- and I mean 'sentimental' in a good way. Marryat believes in true love and honor and happily ever after; Peter Simple is a sort of nautical fairy tale. It was my good fortune to read it immediately after Voltaire's Candide, and there is much in common between the two. Both Candide and Peter Simple are fools: naive, kind, good, generous, and woefully taken advantage of by the unscrupulous people around them, but helped by various colorful friends who undergo adventures of their own. Candide's Dr. Pangloss was hanged by the Spanish Inquisition; Peter's friend O'Brien was murdered by brigands and buried in the sand. Pangloss owes his survival to the assistance of the doctor that intended to perform an autopsy on him; O'Brien survives thanks to having his nose trod on by a pretty girl who then digs him out.

Although there is a great deal of improbability in Peter Simple, it all derives from elements that are entirely believable in themselves. For example, when the brand new Mr Midshipman Simple reports on board, the other middies take advantage of him by charging tarts to his account. When he discovers the bill, he pays it because he's such an honorable young man that he refuses to deprive the bumboat woman of her money. He never manages to collect from the other middies, but he learns a hard lesson -- never run into debt and don't buy on credit. This tale of the tarts actually has more chapters to it, with a detour through a pastry shop and cheating at church, resulting in the wayward middies wearing tarts on their heads while on the quarterdeck. You may wonder how it is even possible to cheat while attending worship, but let me assure you, our middies are clever enough to figure it out.

A rambling tale, it is not the well-organized bit of literature we dignify with the name of 'novel,' which is why I give it only four stars (out of five), but it's well worth a few hours of your time. Reading Peter Simple is like drinking in a tavern with old salts who never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

~review by M. Kei, author of The Sallee Rovers (Pirates of the Narrow Seas)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tomoe Tana's History of Japanese Tanka Poem in America Needed

I have lost my copy of Tana's master's thesis and I'm desperate to replace it.

Tana, Tomoe. The history of Japanese tanka poetry in America. [HJTP] San José: San José State University, 1985. [thesis-M.A]

The only copy is located at San José State University. It doesn't circulate so I can't get it through interlibrary loan. I got a cooy through the gay grape vine a couple of years ago, but I no longer know anyone that works there. I need a copy of this to update my own History of English-Language Tanka. I will gladly trade one of my books for a photocopy of Tana's thesis. Please email me if you're near San José and are willing to get a complete photocopy of the thesis and mail it to me.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cosmo Jarvis' Gay Pirates

21 one year old straight man Cosmo Jarvis has made a corker of a music video, which you can see here:

'Gay Pirates' is not camp, send up, Jack Sparrow love-in, or anything else funny or fluffy. On the contrary, it's a lovely and tragic love ballad about a pair of gay sailors on a ship full of homophobic pirates and the price they pay for being true to each other. Good lyrics, low cost but effective filming, and total artistic control by the singer-songwriter make for an absorbing and moving video. This is one of the best things I've seen on YouTube. You can also download a free acoustic version of the song by visiting his website.

Most young artistes are short on gravitas and long on being hip; but this interview with After Elton shows an intelligent young artist with a heart and courage. Unlike some straight actors who feel like they have to defend their masculinity and straightness in the media, Cosmo Jarvis places the onus on those who would challenge and denigrate. Read the whole interview here:


M. Kei, author of Pirates of the Narrow Seas, award winning gay nautical adventures

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reviews for LGBT Nautical Fiction Coming Soon

I have decided to start reviewing nautical novels and other books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered (LGBT) characters on a time available basis. I'm doing this because I enjoy the field and I want to help other readers find quality books to read.

Many reviewers are informal reviewers, and that's helpful, but often reflects "Why I dis/like this book" rather than a critical analysis of  "This is the book the author wrote, and here's how where it works and doesn't work." I am principally a poetry author and editor, and I have published a number of reviews of poetry and established a reputation for honesty and fairness: the purpose of writing a review is not to provide a free advertising service to the author but to provide a service to the reader to help them find which books match their interests and are worth their time. Even if I don't like a book, if it is competently written, I shall do my best to describe its merits and demerits so that a reader whose taste is different from mine can decide if this is something they want to check out.

However, because I don't have much time, and due to a disability, reading is a time-consuming and difficult undertaking for me, I will prioritize books based on what I want to read. Therefore, authors and publishers who want me to read their books will need to follow some guidelines:

1) It MUST be published through an edited venue. I am not a free editorial service, I won't look at your self-published novel posted to a fan fiction site, I won't help you find an agent, I won't be your cheerleader, etc. I am here for the READER. Note about self-published books: If it was previously published through an edited venue and the rights have now reverted to you and you are republishing it, that's fine. Tell me so in the query. Yes, I'm aware that some very fine books have been self-published, this is an indie business where choice matters, blah blah blah. All true. But my time is limited.

2) My preference is for historical fiction or period fiction set during the Age of Sail, or some reasonable connection thereto. A fiction set during the Chinese Treasure Fleet is eligible. A mystery set on a modern day tall ship is eligible.  Of course, the usual British naval adventures are eligible. I'm not interested in steamships. There has to be a sail vessel involved.

3) I will read non-fiction related to the above that deals with LGBT issues. I will also read some works that are not necessarily LGBT but which touch on personal interests of my own, such as the maritime tradition of North Africa (Barbary corsairs, Sallee rovers, etc), or which give excellent insight into the historic world (Guilmartin's Gunpowders and Galleys is the classic in this area).

How to submit: Send a QUERY to Kujakupoet (at) gmail (dot) com with the following information:

Series (if applicable)
Author's Name
Date of First Publication (If a reprint, include date of current publication as well as first publication)
Size of File:
File Formats Available: (ile formats available to the reader, eg, Kindle ePub, etc)
Where Sold: Amazon, GLBT Bookshelf, AllRomance, etc.
Accessibility: eg, is text to speech enabled, large print, etc?
Author Bio: Brief bio (under 100 words) of anything that might be relevant to interpreting your work; eg, if you're a tall ship sailor in real life, that matters. If you won the Lambda Award for Bisexual Fiction, that matters. Do not send a complete resume! Relevant highlights only.

My preference is for Kindle with text to speech enabled. Because of my disability, I listen to books. I also use large print so that I can see because I refer to the printed text to make certain I have understood the spoken text. Books that are accessible will receive priority over books that aren't accessible. Accessibility will be noted in the review

If the book is only available in print your query should mention this so that we can make suitable arrangements.

What I will Do: I will read your book or not solely on my own discretion -- reviews are never guaranteed. All reviews are free. If you need a rush review or review for some special purpose, I charge a flat fee of $100, paid in advance. The fee is for the special service, not the review itself.

I will read the book you wrote, not the book I wish you'd written. I will evaluate the quality of the writing, the believability of the story (competent research matters!), the ability of the characters to engage the interest of the reader, etc. If it stinks, I won't review it, but from time to time I will publish a 'Books Received' list where it will appear. In the case of m/m romance, I will evaluate them both as nautical fiction and as romances and give them a dual rating based on that.

You are welcome to use properly credited quotations and short excerpts (20% or less) of the review in your promotional materials. Any other use requires proper authorization from me. Note that reviews are protected by copyright the same as any other work.

Sample credit 1: M. Kei, Kujaku Poetry and Ships (wonderful if you include a hotlink to the blog, but not required)

Sample credit 2: M. Kei, author of Pirates of the Narrow Seas

My reviews will appear on and if your book appears there. I will also post them to my personal blog, Kujaku Poetry and Ships. I will post them to other venues as appropriate. Please feel free to link to Kujaku Poetry and Ship. You do not need to ask permission to link to me, just do it. Links will not be reciprocated -- this is a personal blog, not a full service review site.

DO NOT SEND BOOKS WITHOUT QUERYING FIRST. Unsolicited attachments will be trashed.


M. Kei

Friday, November 12, 2010

What If It's Not Autism?

A pediatric doctor and researcher offers a compelling presentation about his theory that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and autism are the same disease. He theorizes that CFS is an adult onset Neuro-Immune Disorder and that autism is what happens when it onsets in early childhood and that ADD and ADHD is what happens when it onsets in older children.

His research with neuroSPECT scans and other medical data make a provocative case. If you have an interest in autism, CFS, or ADD/ADHD, it's a very interesting video that is well worth checking out. It proposes a radical paradigm shift in thinking about these orders, their impact on society, and how to research and treat them. He does not advocate weird treatments like chelation -- on the contrary, he debunks such bogus treatments. He advocates old-fashioned pediatric treatment with conventional tools and evidence based medical testing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Further Frustrations with Kindle

I have been using my Kindle for a couple of weeks now. After the initial learning curve, I was settling into being able to listen and read to my Kindle with minimal interruptions. Mind you, I can't do anything special with it -- I have not felt comfortable enough to experiment.  However, I have even started to trust the claims of long battery life.

I used to charge it obsessively as I have been trained to do by iPods, netbooks, and other devices. However, I am now not charging it every night. With light use it has lasted several days without recharging and with more than half the battery left. I do believe it is reasonable to expect to get a week of use without recharging it. I also learned how to turn off wireless which soaks up a lot of battery. If you're not planning to download or go online, there's no need for the wireless. I can also report that it recharges quickly.

That's a win on battery life. That's a major point and will hopefully permit me to ditch the charger while sailing with the ship. I'm going away for a week to Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown, Maryland this week. I will take the umbilical cord because I haven't driven the battery to its extreme, but I plan to use the Kindle as much as I can without recharging to see how long it lasts.

Note, use of the reading light built into the Kindle case will also use up battery life. I plan on using it in my bunk, so that will be an extra drain on the battery. In a week I should know just how long-lived the battery is.

However... the Kindle's bad design continues to surprise me in new ways. For example: the cover and table of contents for a Kindle book is hidden. My personal feeling is that when you acquire a book, the cover is the first thing you should see. It has important stuff on it like title and author and cover art. This tells you what book you've got in your hands and sets expectation for the work.

Next, the copyright information and table of contents and other front matter should appear. I admit it, I skip over the copyright material, but it really ought to be there -- because it's illegal and unethical to steal ebooks, just as it is illegal and unethical to steal physical books. Readers of my other blog,, will know about my unhappiness over discovering my fiction series is being pirates. In fact, I think there are to be very large print warning against stealing books, just like there is a warning at the beginning of DVDs warning that electronic piracy is a crime. There ought to be no excuse for a person to claim, "I didn't know it was wrong."

Then the table of contents should appear. I like reading the chapter titles. They intrigue me and interest me. I like to see how many chapters there are to help me gauge what a commitment I am making in pursuing the book. The Kindle's "00%' complete really gives me no clue how long a book is. When buying a physical book, knowing that something is a half inch thick verson three inches thick matters. When I'm planning my time, I like to have a rough idea at least of what I'm diving into.

The table of contents should be easy to get to. I have found that the Kindle's 'automatic' bookmarking leaves something to be desired. It would be much simpler to refind my place by having an easily accessible table of contents so that I can at least get to the correct chapter. To get to the table of contents you have to click on Menu, Go to, then navigate using tiny buttons to click on the tiny button that says 'table of contents'. Once you have done this, you are lost. You will not automatically return to where you left off reading. Same thing if you want to look at the cover art or something else, you are not bookmarked.

Yes, it's possible set bookmarks, but I haven't figured it out yet. I don't like setting bookmarks because then you have to delete bookmarks. To me it seems that a little contextual awareness would be easy to implement. Once you've gone to a non-prose part of the book, there should be something you can click to take you back to where you were in the text. Maybe there is and I haven't found it.

I have also found further shortcomings to text to speech, plus some small benefits. Pressing the space bar will pause and resume text to speech. That's easier than pressing the teeny tiny Shift key + SYM key. I suggest to Kindle that turning on text to speech can more easily be accomplished by pressing the space key for three seconds, and turning it off the same way. That will only take one hand and less coordination than the current method, which will make it easier for those of us with fine motor problems to use. The Kindle with its ability to enlarge the font and read aloud should be popular with older folks as well as people with disabilities, and I'm sure they would welcome less dependence on teeny buttons. Given that the space bar is shaped differently than the other buttons, it's easier to find in the dark or if you don't see so good.

Unfortunately, pausing the text to speech does not allow you to use the menu or turn pages. You still have to turn off text to speech to do anything. The only exception is the Menu button which will operate while speaking. However, all the options are greyed out except for Turn Wireless ON/OFF and "Shop the Kindle Store." Yes, if you want to buy a Kindle book, they will let you do that. If you want to do something for your own convenience like add a bookmark, you can't. Kindle is all about making it easy for you to give them money, not so much about making the Kindle useful to the consumer.

I decided to try and teach myself how to use the Dictionary. Gah. More frustration. You use the navigation button to scroll through to the word you want. Unfortunately, the Kindle defines EVERY word the cursor passes next to. They pop up at either the top or the bottom of the screen (in very small print, much smaller than the print size you have chosen), and they flicker and don't stay put. If you have vision problems, this will drive you up the wall. If you've selected an enlarged font because you need it to see, you won't be able to see the tiny dictionary font. The flickering is bad for people who have a negative reaction to other flickering lights (as I do): instant eye strain. The fact that it doesn't stay in one place means you have to hunt for it if you want to read it. Kindle: make up your mind. Put it in one place and leave it. If the cursor disappears under it, then move it.

On the positive side, the tiny little sliver of definition you get is easily expanded by pressing the more button (back arrow) on the keyboard. Not to be confused with the delete button conveniently located right next to it. Fortunately, clicking the Delete button does not appear to do anything. Assuming you can hit the correct tiny little button, a screen pops up that replaces whatever you were reading with dictionary page. The dictionary page is in your chosen font. However, you context has now disappeared, so if you want to check what you were reading to try and figure out which of several meanings makes the most sense in the work, you can't.

Having a half page screen so that you could examine context and definition would be better. This would be especially useful when say, looking up how to do something in the Kindle Guide that turns out to have multiple steps. You could flip back and forth between the instructions and attempting to do it. As it is, you need a piece of paper so you can write down all the steps, then close out the Guide and attempt to do what the directions told you. If that doesn't work, you then have to navigate back into the Guide.

The dictionary page also brings up irrelevant entries. Having clicked on 'xebec', the page also gave me Xeloda, Xenakis, and Xenathra. No thank you. The dictionary lets you page forward and backwards through it, so if you want to read the entries next to the word you looked up, you can. The dictionary is directly implemented as a book you read, not as a resource you use. There's a leap of imagination needed here: We don't want to use a dictionary because it is a book, we want to use a dictionary because it is useful. A book is not the most convenient way of implementing a dictionary, hypertext is.

An even bigger conceptual leap is needed here: the ability to have two (or more documents) open at once, the ability to confer easily between them. For example, I'm an author. Sometimes I need to proofread two documents side by side. I can't do that on a Kindle. With a little bit of thinking about how to make the Kindle useful to an active reader, as opposed to a passive reader, the Kindle could become a professionally necessary device instead of just a substitute for the printed book.

The worst drawback to the dictionary: you can't use it while using text to speech -- the navigation button doesn't work, so you can't pick a word. You have to turn off text to speech. Pausing doesn't work. You have to turn it all the way off. Once you turn it off, you can navigate to your word to look it up. The cursor is NOT located at where the text to speech stopped speaking. It's at the top of the page, so you have to navigate through the page to find it. Fortunately, the navigation button does wrap. However, and this is a Very Bad Thing, text to speech is not enabled for the dictionary.

I have also learned how to restart the Kindle. This became necessary when text to speech failed to start and took out the book I was reading with it. As in, gone. Blank. Nothing. Rebooting the Kindle, which required navigating through multiple menus and selections, fixed the problem.

Conclusion: I am having a love/hate relationship with my Kindle. I love being able to read a book in a week instead of six months, but I am repeatedly frustrated by the klunky interface, lack of true accessibility support, poorly thought out features, and the need to take a zillion steps to do just about anything. It doesn't make me any happier to think that the Nook and other rivals to the Kindle are worse.

I hope that Apple's iPad is better at this because Apple has a better record for design and accessibility support, but since it isn't possible to download Apple's bookreading software to my desktop Mac, I haven't a clue what they've done about it. You'd think Apple would want its existing users to be able to access the iBookstore, but no.

Sadly, not only are the rivals worse than the Kindle, they're far more expensive. Glitzy with their shiny color screens, but not better.

I can tell you this: if I didn't love words, the Kindle would not turn me into a book reader. It is only because I love books that I am willing to put up with its shortcomings. Should any other device do it better, I will instantly leap to it. Or as soon as I can afford it.

Kindle, I'm grateful you read to me. Now get your shit together.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Spoon Theory

When a person has a chronic illness, a disabling illness or condition, life becomes very difficult. Energy is limited. For a person who has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), lack of energy is the problem. It's very difficult to explain to people why you can do this thing but not that thing. If you can do one thing, surely you can do it all? Well, yes. I can do 'anything', but not 'everything.' The Spoon Theory is a graphic illustration of just how that works. Devised by a woman with lupus, it applies to anyone else struggling with a disability. Abled-bodied people don't have any idea how time consuming and difficult it is to cope with a disability.

I make choices: I'm a terrible housekeeper because I'd rather do things like working as a sailor on a tall ship and read books. I wear the same clothes day after day because it minimizes the amount of laundry and simplifies the complex process of figuring out what to wear today. All my work pants are tan, and all my work shirts are blue or black. It's impossible not to be presentable if the options are eliminated. It's like wearing a uniform; you don't have to think anymore. Of course, self-expression, variety, and fun disappear, but that's a small price to pay for being able to get dressed decently and not have a crisis when I'm supposed to be getting ready for work. There are things more important to me than deciding what shirt to wear.

You can read about The Spoon Theory at:

I have also been listening to the CSFAC meeting on the Internet. Day One presents the science we already know, but having it all together in one place in digestible pieces is very handy. It certainly made an impact on some of the attendees -- the representatives from the CDC seems to finally be tuning in to what's been said for years. The committee also addressed the question of recommending the name be changed to ME/CFS, for myalgic encelphalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome in order to underscore the seriousness of the illness. As it was remarked, people don't take it seriously if you sound like you could have a problem that could be cured by taking a nap.

Also useful was the information on Day Two about how to document disability for a disability claims to the Social Security Administration and private disability insurance. Especially helpful were the exercise physiologists describing their tests and how they correlate to function and the evidence they use to make recommendations about level of activity. They also discussed how the great majority of work tolerance examinations do not follow any standardized procedures and are not based on evidence directly derived from the patient's actual condition. In other words, they are the opinions (or fantasies) of the examiner.

The videos can be viewed at:

Day Three has more procedural and political information about funding, etc, that is of less interest to patients, but probably useful to researchers and clinicians seeking resources.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day Three, Kindle with Case

Monday I got my Kindle 3G as a gift from a fan (thank you very much). It came with a Kindle cover... on Tuesday. So, the two are now united and in operation. It hooked up easily enough. I like the built in light that comes with the case. It would be better if it rose a little higher, it does not shine evenly on the Kindle. In particular, it does a poor job of illuminating the keyboard and navigation keys. As mentioned previously, it's hard to see the teeny little keyboard and navigation keys as it is. It gives me a headache to squint enough to be able to make out the keys necessary to turn text to speech off and on. It's easier to cart the thing to a lamp than to make my eyes hurt trying to use the built in light. On the other hand, the light is adequate for reading the screen.

Reading my first book was tiring and frustrating. I was able to read it in one day, but it tires my brain sufficiently I must pace myself if I want to get anything else done on a given day. I think I must allocate a week with a little reading/listening each day to get through it. This is a vast improvement over six months to read the same thing in print.

I also mentioned that the entirety of Captain Blood is not on my Kindle. My first contact with customer support informed me that they would take care of the problem in 3-4 weeks. WEEKS. Yes, you read that right. They may get around to fixing it in a month. Today I was reading the manual in an effort to learn more about how my device works and found a troubleshooting tip: Delete the item, then redownload it from the archives. I did that. Still doesn't work. In fact, it's even worse. It opens to the blank end page and will not go anywhere else. Not even back to the page before it. So I have a blank page that says 100% -- and there is nothing else to be gotten out of the redownloaded page.

I have also found the USB cord. It's the power cable. The USB unplugs from the power cable. I wonder how long it will be before I lose the adapter... Having received a case custom made for the Kindle, you would think that it would include a pocket for the storage of the cable. It doesn't. Now maybe other people don't plan to recharge their Kindle when they travel, and maybe they never need to sync it with a computer. In short, maybe they have no need of a USB cable. I do. I also need earbuds so that I will be able to listen to the Kindle when I am aboard the ship and not disturb other people. No pocket for the earbuds, either. Shopping the Kindle Accessories page, I don't see any cases for earbuds or USB cables for sale.

Yesterday I started reading Candide. Within a few chapters my brain was tired. It was probably overly tired from having read Captain Blood and struggling with the Kindle and its various shortcomings. Thinking that perhaps some of the problem might be the malfunctions of my brain, I decided to read something familiar: my own novel.

To do so required transferring my copy of The Sallee Rovers from my iMac to the Kindle. This is not an obvious undertaking. Going online via my Mac, I was able to search for documentation and find that I need to email the Kindle edition of The Sallee Rovers from the Mac to an address they provide, with the possibility of a fee being charged if a conversion is necessary, which it's not.

You see, I have a Kindle version of my own book because the publisher gave me one. It's normal for publishers to give a copy of a book to the author. However, that means it's not part of my archive at While I'm happy that is not squawking about my possession of an unregistered Kindle edition, it makes syncing the Kindle and the Mac a bit awkward. And slow. It takes a minimum of five minutes to transfer the file from my Mac to the Kindle six inches away. It's done by emailing it to your special personal Kindle email address. There may be some way to transfer directly, but I have not sussed it out yet.

The first impression of The Sallee Rovers being read by an artificial mechanical voice is that it sounds pretty good. My delivery is dead pan and the flatness of the artificial voice suits it. The humor in the writing style is more apparent as spoken by the artificial voice than  in print, I think. I'm also pleased that the conversation sounds almost natural in spite of the artificial voice. That I have to take some credit for: Bishop sounds abrupt and Thorton sounds nervous. It's the patterns of their speech that makes it so, and hearing it out loud makes it obvious.

On the other hand, the Kindle does not pause after a closing quotation mark, thus conversational remarks run into each other. That makes it hard to tell who is speaking, and the difference between speech and narration. The Kindle's inability to process abbreviations correctly is disruptive also. 'Mr.' is constantly pronounced 'em-ar' not as 'mister.' When doing future books I shall eliminate as many abbreviations as possible so that it will be less disruptive when read aloud.

I want to learn how to code Kindle books myself. I suspect I could fix the flow by inserting white periods after closing quotation marks, for example. The white periods would be invisible on the page, but would force a pause by the coded voice. All the same, a pause after a closing quotation mark ought to be programmed into the text to speech software.

I was also driven crazy by the inconsistent pronunciation. It was hard to get used to hearing the Ajax constantly referred to as the 'I-yaks.' It may be the Greek pronunciation, but it isn't the English pronunciation, and I have always heard it as 'ay jacks' in English. I was therefore surprised and annoyed when the possessive was pronounced 'ay jack's'. Again, this is a defect in implementation. If you're going to go in and code manually to force a particular pronunciation, it should be consistent. Plurals and possessives are perfectly common parts of grammar and ought to be handled properly.

It also bugged me that 'below' is pronounced 'billow' and 'summon' is pronounced 'sum monn.' The artificial voice sounded Jamaican, mon. Effort should be put into making certain common words and abbreviations will be properly handled -- the average reader is going to have far more need of words like 'Mr.' and 'below' than 'Ajax' and 'forecastle.'

Listening to a story I knew very well I did not get as tired or frustrated. Because I knew the story I did not need to pause very often, although I did pause it at times so I could re-read the text in order to determine if there was a typo or it was a reading error by the reader. (One typo, the rest were device errors.) Fewer interruptions and less disruption made it enjoyable to listen to the story in spite of the minor annoyances.

Today I took the device with me while doing errands. That reveals a nice feature of the Kindle: you can listen to it even with the Kindle closed up in its case. Nice. I had the earbuds plugged in while I was a passenger in a car. I did not get motionsick, and that was a greatly appreciated feature. I cannot read in a car because I get carsick when reading. Now can enjoy books while traveling when I couldn't before. Big Kindle win.

It would be super nice if the Kindle would get friendly with car stereos like some mp3 players do. It would be spiffy to be able to plug the Kindle into the car to charge/use power, and it would also be nice to be able to put the sound through the car's sound system. Having used Apple earbuds, the sound quality was better in the earbuds than from the device's own speaker. My car speakers are pretty good too, I expect it would sound better through the car speakers than through the device's speaker. It's illegal to wear earbuds while driving, so if listening to the Kindle while driving, it means using its own speaker or the car's. I guess the claim of up to one month battery life is something I don't take seriously.

The battery life issue is important. I'm guessing that an active use of the machine, such as text to speech, uses up more energy than plain old silent reading. If the device is used to listen to music, that will use more battery too, as the documentation warns. The question is... how long? Ergo, my convulsive need to plug the thing in whenever possible, just to keep the battery up when I have no idea how long the battery will last.

Which brings up another annoyance: the battery indicator disappears. It starts off showing it, but as soon as the page is turned, it disappears. Therefore, if you're listening to a book you have no way to know how fast the battery is being used up. If you want to know, you have to pause text to speech. The battery indicator does not reappear. You have to press the home button and drop out of the book entirely. Then you can see the battery indicator. The same applies to the Wi-Fi and bars indicator and the book title. They, along with the battery indicator, are in the header. As soon as you turn the page... gone. This happens in plain text or in text to speech. Why on earth would you want to know how much battery life you had left, anyhow?

So, after three days with the Kindle: I like it. I'm frustrated by its shortcomings, but it does two things for me that make me happy: 1) It reads books so I can read a book in a week instead of needing six months for it, and 2) it lets me read in the car without getting carsick. These are two big wins to set against a horde of minor annoyances and general frustration.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Tom Wisner, Bard of the Chesapeake

I have only just now learned that Tom Wisner, the Bard of the Chesapeake Bay has passed away. Daddy Art, that is to say, Captain Art Daniels delivered the eulogy.

It is always sad to see a piece of the Chesapeake's history and culture pass away, but I am sadder still that this is old news and I have only just now heard it. That's what comes of committing the disloyalty of spending my year on the Delaware side of the world, crewing the Kalmar Nyckel and her boat, the Little Key. I have never been homesick for any place in the world, but I am surely homesick for skipjacks. Finding out that I missed something important has made me miss the Chesapeake even more.

Tom used to go around to festivals on the Chesapeake Bay and I saw him perform a few years ago at the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, if memory serves me correctly. I was also thinking I would see him again, because Erik Spangler is composing a 'Watershed Sound Poem' that includes some of my poetry from Heron Sea along with some of Tom's work and other local artists and sounds. Watershed Sound Poem has an estimated time of arrival next spring. I am hoping to be able to attend its performance, which will be even more poignant if it includes Tom's work.

In Japanese aesthetics there is a quality called 'aware', pronounced ah-wah-ray, which is translated as 'the pity of things,' or an awareness of the perishable of the world. I encountered this Japanese aesthetic principle as a teenager, thanks to the Japanese exchange student we had, and was immediately and deeply immersed in Japanophilia for several decades. 'Aware' impressed me deeply and has provided me with a melancholy but not depressing way to view the world and to prize its fragile beauty. It also introduced me to the classical tanka of the Kokinshu and Shinkokinshu eras -- when I was homeless, Carter's Traditional Japanese Poetry was one of the items I managed to retain possession of.

It was not until many years later that I wrote tanka and found in the 'aware' of Japan a way of viewing the world that was a perfect match for the fragile beauty of the Chesapeake. There is a numinous quality in both tanka and the Chesapeake, so it would not surprise me if some Japanese pilgrim erected a Shinto gate in the shallow waters of the bay. It would have to be painted blue if they did, because blue is the traditional color for offerings given to the god of the Chesapeake by the Indians who lived here. Boats are never painted blue here because if you do, the god of the Chesapeake will accept the gift and pull it under.

I am currently serving aboard a big blue ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, a reproduction of a 17th century vessel that was used to bring Swedish settlers to the Delaware Bay. When I have been aboard her going along the Chesapeake Bay, I often reflect on these matters, and I expect I will reflect again when she goes to the Chestertown Downrigging Weekend. Chestertown, Maryland, was the site of the Chestertown Tea Party during the American Revolution, and there is nothing more beautiful that a dozen or more historic and wooden ships and boats cozy together as October ends with a crazy Halloween party.

I keep
the ship's cat
at three am
on a Cape Cod night

I am glad to be home again.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Kindle vs Nook and the winner is....

Kindle. Hands down, no debate, knock out punch in the first round.

Today I had the opportunity to compared a Nook and Kindle 3G side by side in the Barnes and Noble bookstore. I must say the staff at Barnes and Noble were very nice and helpful, even as it was apparent the Nook was going down in flames.

First: Nook doesn't do text to speech. POW. Dead. Not even a contender. Vainly did the clerk tell me that Nook does do audiobooks. I have not investigated this in the Kindle yet because I've never done audiobooks before, they being so damned expensive. I have downloaded a lot of classics for free with text to speech enabled -- more on that in a separate post. Kindle wins by a knockout on the first blow.

So, having eliminated the Nook as a contender, I went on to examine it as a reading device. First thing I noticed: glare. Lots of it. Not as much as my netbook which is functionally a mirror in bright environments, but way more than the Kindle. I tried the Nook and Kindle side by side at different distances and in different positions. Kindle won hands down every time. Nook has an optimal reading position and distance. Deviate from that and the glare increases dramatically. Worst positions are unreadable due to glare. This does not happen with the Kindle. Worst positions have somewhat more glare than the optimal position, but remains readable. Given that you have to move your hands to turn pages, drink your soda, or other things, this means waving the Nook around a bit until you find the sweet spot.

Really bad screwup by Nook: the anti-glared treatment was applied only to the reading window, not to the touch sensitive menu window. The glare is twice as bad on the menu window, making it really hard to read and use.

The smallness of the buttons makes it really hard to type when using the on screen keyboard and other features. This is about as difficult as the Kindle's tiny little buttons on the keyboard. The difference is, there's a bit of space between most of the Kindle buttons so that an error has null effect (usually), whereas on the Nook the onscreen buttons are side by side, so a minor error on your part means you just hit a button you didn't intend and must backspace, and can result in you visiting random pages you didn't intend. Nook fails for people with fine motor problems. Kindle is not so hot on this, but is not a complete fail.

Looking at the loading of pages and other stuff, I found the Nook hard to navigate and poorly implemented. There is no 'back' button, which on the Kindle has saved me from many of my errors. No, on the Nook, choose wrong, and you're lost. Worse, things like the 'Nook tour' are badly implemented. For example, it tells you 'try this feature'. You try it... and have no way to get back to the tour. You have to already know how to use the Nook so that you know which menu to pick to navigate back to the Nook Tour, open it again, thumb through several pages, and get back to where you were in the tour. #fail

Looking up a word in the dictionary isn't easy, either. You have to magically know which menu items to press on the touch sensitive menu screen, navigate to the dictionary, get the popup arrows, and press them a bunch to select the word. Except, you have to know to move the cursor to the beginning of the word. With the Kindle, the navigation button is right there. You want a word look up? Navigate to it and press the center of the navigation button. Much much simpler and faster.

Unfortunately, the Kindle navigation button is one of the bad buttons that is too close to other buttons, so you are likely to accidentally hit the Menu or Back buttons, so this impedes dictionary usage. Still, it beats the heck out of the Nook.

The Nook will apparently play music for you, as will the Kindle. I have failed to figure out how to get the music from my iMac to my Kindle, which is a #fail on Kindle's part. I saw menu stuff on the Nook relating to music, but I couldn't figure it out either, although I didn't have as much time to spend on it and didn't have access to my own music on my iMac, so it wasn't a fair comparison, but all the same, it does not appear to be simple. No score for Nook on music: game called on account of rain.

Since reading is what both are designed to do, how do they hold up in various situations? I did not have the opportunity to take the Nook outdoors, but I suspect the glare problem would only be worse and the high-glare touch screen unusable. I have had the Kindle outside -- and it reads very well in bright natural light. Kindle's claims to beach reading are validated here. That matters to me -- I'm a tall ship sailor and have been frequently frustrated by glare from my Netbook. The Nook will not serve my needs there.

Low light is another condition often encountered on the ship, or at my desk for that matters. Kindle's tiny keyboard and navigations buttons are a #fail -- I must carry the device into the light to read them. I did not have the opportunity to view a Nook in low light conditions. In my waving it about checking glare I did have it in locations in which there was less light, eg, it was in the shadow of my body, and the glare persisted, so I'm not optimistic about the Nook in dim light. The Nook does have one low light feature that is helpful and beats the Kindle: raised dots on the page forward and back buttons. I have several times fumbled and pressed the wrong button on the Kindle in low light situations. Unfortunately, the raised dots are exactly the same for backwards and forwards, and on each side of the device. It is entirely possible that a blind person, or somebody picking it up in the dark could have it upside down without realizing it and press the wrong buttons. So, raised dots are in fact helpful on the Nook, although they could be better. Nook wins this one.

Nook wins on glitz, too. You can change your wallpaper on the Nook. I don't think you can on the Kindle, which is annoying me to no end. I do not like looking at pictures of famous novelists. I want to put pictures of ships on my Kindle :) This is a cosmetic issue though, so although Nook wins here, you don't buy an ebook reader for its cover.

Shopping proved a pain in the butt with the Nook as well as the Kindle -- due largely to teeny tiny buttons and hard to navigate menus. The Nook displays covers in its touch screen navigation window, which seems pretty spiffy, but is then obscuring my ability to use the navigation window for its intended purpose. How do you get back and forth between the book covers and menu items? No, it would have been much better to show book covers in the display window. The book covers are touchable and will open then, but considering you can only see three book covers in the touch screen window, this does not seem like a very helpful way to thumb through your books.

Conclusion: Kindle wins hands down as a reading and listening device. The Nook advantages are trivial. The Nook defects are huge and glaring. (Pun intended.) Want a trendy device that does a lot of things badly? Nook is your choice.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Listening to My New Kindle

I received a Kindle 3G as a gift from a fan, which I greatly appreciate. We met each other in an online game a month ago and were chatting. I told him about my novels, the Pirates of the Narrow Seas series featuring a gay lieutenant during the Age of Sail, and intrigued by my telling him the Kindle would read aloud (which I had heard from print-impaired friends), he decided to buy a Kindle and my book. He liked them both, and so, last week, when we were chatting again, he bought me a Kindle as a gift.

Due to a neurological disorder, I have had great difficulty in reading and writing for more than a decade now. As a young person I used to read two paperback books a day. It was quite routine for me to sit down and read a 300 page book from cover to cover in a single sitting. Now it takes me six to nine months to read a paperback because I can only handle it in small increments of a few paragraphs or a couple of page at a time. Moby Dick is an extremely long book this way. I do a great deal of reading because I write and editor tanka poetry, but the good thing about tanka is, it's short! That's about the right size chunk for me.

When he told me he bought me the book, and I was waiting for it to arrive, I had a sudden bout of grief. I have become inured to being functionally illiterate -- to read a bill, or a cereal box, or a set of medical instructions, requires me focussing my brain in a way and to a degree it does not normally care to focus. Reading for pleasure had become non-existent -- I have read very few novels since becoming impaired. I read for information because there are things I want to know that can only be hand in a book or website. Reading for fun? Reading wasn't fun. Reading was extremely hard work prone to great frustration.

I contemplated being able to listen to a book, I was struck with how much I had missed it. I wanted to read for fun! In my splurge of book downloading, I downloaded fiction: Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Every single novel by Captain Marryat. Gulliver's Travels.  I was desperate for books, hungry for books, starving for books. I wanted stories.

My first book listened to was Captain Blood. I had never actually read Captain Blood. I saw it as a movie starring Errol Flynn when I was twelve. Thereafter I was an Errol Flynn junkie, with Flynn's swashbuckling heroes imprinted in my juvenile brain as the very model of What A Hero Ought To Be. I had no idea there were books behind Captain Blood or The Seahawk. By the time I knew it, I was neurologically impaired. The notion of reading a novel was no fun. And yet, I had written three novels deliberately invoking those swashbucklers I loved as a kid. (Writing is easier than reading. I am typing this with my eyes shut. I don't need to be able to see to write.) Gerry B remarked on the resemblance between Errol Flynn and my character, Captain Tangle, and he was right.

Thus, Captain Blood was my first book listened to on the Kindle.

It did not go smoothly. First of all, the buttons were so tiny and small that I had difficulty seeing them to turn on the text to speech or pause it. I have to carry it into a bright light to do this, which kind of defeat's the friendliness of a Kindle for a print-impaired person. If you could see, you wouldn't be needing to listen to it. There ought to be a big orange button to press in some obvious location that says, "Speech." Having figured out how to do that much, I didn't worry about the full accessibility feature that would read the menus and other items aloud to me. Short pragmatic lists are within my brain's ability to process.

However, I swiftly discovered that 'reading' is not just a visual activity. The brain must not only process what it sees into words, those words must be translated into meaning. This is something I have trouble with, and my brain lags behind the spoken word. Often I found myself needing to pause the reading in order to figure out what I had missed. Slowly it down was not an option, I found it painfully slow already. Speeding it up doesn't seem like a good idea either.

What I needed was an easy way to click back one paragraph to relisten to it. Kindle doesn't do this. Either it's on, or it's off. There also needs to be protection from fumble fingers. Having arthritis, I don't have good fine motor control. At one point I pressed something, I don't know what, by accident, and sped ahead to the 80% complete part. There was no way to get back to where I was but to click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click... which is not friendly for a person who has problems with their hands.

While listening, I found myself checking the printed text. Reading along at times helped me grasp the content of the story. But the print was too small. In vain I tried to increase the size of the type by following the instructions. Eventually I figured out that you have to turn off text to speech to adjust the font size. That seems silly to me, but as it only happens once, then my text size is picked, it's a minor inconvenience.

I also figured out that if you want to go back a page, you have to turn off text to speech, which is worse than silly, it's a royal pain in the neck. You also can't skip ahead. There were redundant places in the novel where I wanted to skip forward, but the time involved in carrying the Kindle into the light so that I could find the buttons to press to pause text to speech, skim forward, re-enable text to speech, and return to my seat and resume listening, just wasn't worth it.

Ultimately, I let the thing go at its own pace, picking it up and reading along where I needed to to catch important details, or else deciding that I didn't really need to know that particular paragraph and letting it go by uncomprehended. Such inefficient reading is acceptable in a novel, but when reading for non-fiction, it's not okay. I haven't tried non-fiction on it yet.

The Kindle really really needs a way to go forward or back while in text to speech mode, and it needs a way to speed up or slow down the text to speech while in text to speech mode, something that doesn't involve tiny buttons. I envision a large orange button that you press once to turn on or off. It would have sides, like the navigation button, so that if you press the right side, it skips forward, press left it skips backwards, press the top it speeds up, press the bottom it slows down, press in the middle for two seconds and it brings up the text to speech settings. It will also give you a choice of more than just 'male' and 'female' voices.

The quality of the voice didn't bother me, although a colleague warned me it was hard to get used to. The strange handling of punctuation and spacing was the most disruptive. For example, it does not pause for an emdash or quotation mark. These sentences simply run into each other, impairing comprehension. When I had to look at the book or stop and read, it was usually because conversations where simply run into text. It also does not pause at a paragraph break, or after a title. So the chapter titles ran into the first paragraph as if they were all one sentence. That's needs to be fixed.

The Kindle is variable in its pronunciation of Roman numerals. IX it pronounced correctly as 9. XXI it pronounced as 'see I.' The Kindle really needs to learn how to recognize and handle Roman numerals correctly. It also fails to understand common abbreviations, such as Mrs., which it read out loud as m-r-s. There were many ordinary words, such as 'succinct' which were not pronounced correctly. It absolutely floored me then, that 'forecastle' was correctly pronounced as 'fo'c'sle.' That means somebody deliberately went in and programmed the Kindle to say focsle -- because that is NOT a reading that a person or machine would produce upon reading 'forecastle.' If Kindle is going to make certain obscure words like 'forecastle' are pronounced correctly, it ought to do the same for all common words.

One kudo, though. It pronounced 'truculent' correctly. That's a relief, because 'truculent' is probably Sabatini's most favorite word ever, and hearing it pronounced incorrectly as many times as he used it would have driven me insane.

That the Kindle is confused by 'bow' of a ship and pronounced it 'bow' as in 'bow tie' I forgive, because deducing which pronunciation is correct requires a correct parsing of the grammar, which seems a little much for a text to speech program to accomplish. Still, I am betting that should Kindle offer a premium text to speech program capable of handling anything thrown at it -- including random bits of French, Latin, and a bad Dutch accent, as Captain Blood does, people would buy it. I would.

The other problem is that there were words I wanted to look up. But, brace for it, you have to turn off text to speech. Then you have to use the teeny tiny buttons to navigate to the word, which became further complicated by all the times I accidentally hit 'Menu' and 'Back.' Okay, forget the built in dictionary. I had my Mac sitting right in front of me, so I used that to look up words.

There was one more problem. The download of Captain Blood was not complete -- and I was missing the last few pages or chapters. Fortunately, having seen the movie, I knew how it ended. I moved on to Candide.

So. A lot of complaints and shortcomings. But what about the purpose of the Kindle, to actually enjoy a book? Can I accomplish that? The answer is a qualified 'yes.'

The most notable thing is that I was able to read/listen to a novel today. There were numerous interruptions and starts and stops, but I accomplished it in one day instead of six to nine months. I am frustrated though, so that I cannot say I exactly enjoyed it. So, I am able to read a book by listening to it with considerably more speed than by reading with my eyes. That's a great positive benefit, but it's not enjoyable because it's frustrating and tiring, and my comprehension of all that I read is imperfect. I know I am missing chunks of the books. Thus, for 'light' reading, it's not very light.

On the other hand, I am going to keep using my Kindle because the reading of a book over six to nine months is fraught with even more frustration and more numerous and lengthier interruptions than the Kindle is. Thus, the Kindle is a great improvement over not having it, but there is a great deal of room for improvement in the device.

Now a great deal has been said by colleagues of mine about the needs to print-impaired people and whether it is profitable for the Kindle to meet them. Accessibility is  generally not profitable, so one must view the provision of text to speech capability in the Kindle as an act of charity. Looked at that way, it can be seen that in the larger scheme of things, the needs of print-impaired people are of no concern to great corporations. I say this with a great deal of irony, since being one of the print-impaired people, I am certainly of the opinion that Amazon--and everyone else--ought to care a great deal more than they do.

On the other hand, the Kindle is cheap. I remembered when a capability of this sort required expensive computers and software to accomplish the same thing, which nobody could afford. I am also well aware of the expense and inconvenience of books on tape, having never been able to afford a textbook on tape, given that I am not officially blind, nobody was going to give me one for free. Thus, Kindle puts a lot of books into the hands of a lot of people that wouldn't have them otherwise.

What Amazon needs to consider are the needs of people who are not blind. I have noticed a great many people like to listen to stories while commuting, while working out, while riding the bus to school, sitting in doctor's office, and so forth. There are vastly more bored people in the world than there are print-impaired people, so making a Kindle that appeals to them will guarantee commercial success. However, bored people will not put up with a funky mechanical voice that can't even read a chapter heading correctly, does haven't a color display, and is a pain in a net to use for music or surfing.

I'm afraid that the iPad is going to beat the Kindle here, except that, there's precious few books available for the iPad and you can't even shop the iBookstore without one and the iPad is too damned expensive. Somebody will come along and make a device that marries the best of both and put them both out of business. That device will be marketed to bored people who want to take their entertainment with them and it will show movies and stuff as well as reading books and surfing the web. It will incidentally be useful to print-impaired people. Sadly, it's not coming to market any time soon.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

#Applefail - no iBooks for You!

You can't access iBookstore unless you have an iPad or an iPhone. No, you're not allowed to even look at the catalog and browse. Period. You must shell out hundreds of bucks before you can even look and see if there's something you want to buy. By contrast, I can view the Kindle store from any kind of machine I want. I downloaded the Kindle for Mac app and I can read and buy books from the Kindle store on my Mac. Sadly, it the Mac version does not enable text to speech. That's a big shortcoming. So, I looked into iBookstore because Apple has an excellent record for accessibility.

The first requirement of 'accessibility' is that you can actually ACCESS something. Which, you can't. Unless you're rich and can afford to own a zillion expensive gadgets. Which I can't.

I have an iMac. You'd think that when Apple was thinking about, "Who is going to buy books from the iBookstore?" the answer would be, "All the millions of loyal customers who already own Apple products!" But nooooo. If Apple won't even support its own customers, who will?

Kindle, that's who. Not only is there a Kindle app for the iMac, there's a Kindle app for the iPad. #amazonwin

Apple, we've been married since 1988. I've been faithful to you all this time, sticking up for you when other people said you were nothing but bling and flash, but you've let me down one too many times. You're just not meeting my needs. You look great, but at my age, I don't care. I want somebody that will actually pull his weight around the house. I can't count on you when I need you.

So sorry, Apple. I'm seeing somebody new and his name is Kindle. Monday I pick him up and he moves in. It'll be better for both of us. Okay, it won't be better for you, but who cares? It's time to put myself first.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What is Tanka?

Tanka are a five line, short lyric poem originally from Japan. The ancient Japanese were composing them even before they were literate (7th century AD); they sang them as songs. For more than a thousand years tanka was the dominant form of Japanese poetry. It lost its pre-eminent place when haiku was invented in the 17th century, but it continues to be written to this day. Famous tanka poets in Japan sell millions of copies of their books are celebrity writers with tv shows and newspaper columns. 

Tanka were adopted into English at the end of the 19th century. However, the Japanese form of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables did not adapt very well to English; due to differences in the structure of the languages, an English poem is able to pack about twice as much information into the same number of syllables. Thus writers in English abandoned syllable-counting and instead strove for the lightness, suppleness, and flexibility of the tanka form. The aesthetics are considered more important than the syllable count. Writing in 1922, Jun Fujita, a Japanese-American tanka poet, remarked that poets who count syllables have adopted the "carcass" but not the "essence" of Japanese poetry.

Amateur poets often write tanka in the 5-7-5-7-7 form because they have not been exposed to the more than one hundred years of tanka literature written and published in English, and most short descriptions of tanka merely note the syllable requirements in Japanese with no discussion of aesthetics. A number of mistaken ideas are forwarded about tanka poems: that they are the love poems of courtiers, that they are a question and response composed by two people, that they are always about nature, etc. Historically speaking, good taste ruled the works of courtiers, but in the modern era no subject or approach is taboo. 

While love and nature continue to be popular topics for tanka (as indeed they are popular in most genres of poetry), tanka may be written about anything and everything. Humorous, satiric, or just plain oddball tanka are called 'kyoka.' Most journals and anthologies publish tanka and kyoka together without distinction, but there is one journal, Prune Juice : A Journal of Kyoka and Senryu, that specifically publishes kyoka. 

Tanka Central, the megasite of tanka poetry in English, is hosted at, and has many links to journals and resources. MET Press also publishes The Tanka Teachers Guide as well as Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka, the anthology series. Volume One has an excellent introduction to the topic, and the approximately 300 tanka in the anthology are a digest of the best work being done in English today. 

In addition, the website offers lessons to novice poets and exhibitions by well-known tanka poets from around the world. The Tanka Society of America, Tanka Canada, and the Anglo-Japanese Tanka Society all provide resources and publish journals. 

An international resource guide appears in issue 7 of Atlas Poetica : A Journal of Poetry of Place in Contemporary Tanka. ATPO 7 is devoted to tanka in translation, and features work in Innu, French, Spanish, Romanian, Lithuanian, Hebrew, German, Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans, Japanese, Chinese, Luganda, Fante, Ewe and Twi (Akuapem). 

The following tanka appear in the Introduction to Take Five, Vol 1, Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2008: 

the old woman
with a walking stick
bent over
her daughter's grave
like a question mark

André Surridge

I could tell
from the look in her eyes
the cancer had spread
from her lungs to her liver
and into both our lives

Barbara Robidoux

only a one sentence
to my kid
and all day
the lousy after-taste

Sanford Goldstein

I am
I am not
I am
as I walk in & out
of mist

A. A. Marcoff

and when
the sand runs out?
the stillness
of the hourglass
and I are one

Denis M. Garrison

this past August,
all at once, the abuse of a decade
condensed into a bullet-
there's a house for sale
in our neighborhood

Larry Kimmel

a rooster on a leg string
stands at the end of his world
daring traffic-
even a chicken feels
the pinch of a tethered life

William Hart

blood-soaked the bodies
littering the marketplace
this hot afternoon
one melon and a small child
not hit by flying shrapnel

C. W. Hawes


Jim Kacian

still held
by the sound
of a shakuhachi flute
I walk out into the wind
with holes in my bones

Peter Yovu

in the deep silence
of scorching midday heat,
my mother's spine
our wartime defeat

Mariko Kitakubo

hot august 
an open fire hydrant
flushes out
the whole under-ten

Art Stein

As you can see, a wide variety of forms, subjects, and approaches are typical of tanka in English in the 21st century. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recommended Reading for Tanka in English

Those who are new to the field of tanka, or who are interested in deepening their knowledge and appreciation of tanka naturally want to know which books are recommended. Here then is a list of several recommended reading lists, along with my own suggestions.

Recommended Readings in Tanka Studies, Tanka Round Table (2007):

A Few Good Books on Tanka Literature,

My suggested readings for tanka in English:

Garrison, Denis M., ed. Five Lines Down : A Landmark in English Tanka. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2007.

Kei, M., ed. Catzilla! Tanka, Kyoka, and Gogyohka About Cats. Perryville, MD: Keibooks, 2010.

Kei, M., ed. Firepearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart. Perryville, MD: Keibooks, 2006. Order through Lulu enterprises:

Kei, M., Sanford Goldstein, Pamela A. Babusci, Patricia Prime, Bob Lucky, Kala Ramesh, eds. Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol. 1. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2009.

Kei, M., Sanford Goldstein, Patricia Prime, Kala Ramesh, Alexis Rotella, Angela Leuck, eds. ake Five : Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol. 1. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2010.

McClintock, Michael, Pamela Miller Ness, and Jim Kacian, eds. The Tanka Anthology. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2003.

Rotella, Alexis, and Denis M. Garrison, eds. Ash Moon Anthology: Poems on Aging in Modern English Tanka. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2008.

St. Maur, Gerald, ed. Countless Leaves. Edmonton, Alberta: Inkling Press and Magpie Productions, 2001.

Tasker, Brian, ed. In the Ship's Wake: An Anthology of Tanka. North Shields, England: Iron Press, 2001.

Ward, Linda Jeannette, ed. Full Moon Tide: The Best of Tanka Splendor 1990-1999. Coinjock, North Carolina: Clinging Vine Press, 2000.

Woodward, Jeffrey, ed. The Tanka Prose Anthology. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2008.

Books and Chapbooks
Garrison, Denis M. First Winter Rain : Selected Tanka from 2006 - 2010. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2010.

Garrison, Denis M., ed. Jun Fujita : Tanka Pioneer. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2007.

Goldstein, Sanford. Four Decades on My Tanka Road. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2007.

Karkow, Kirsty. water poems: Haiku, Tanka, and Sijo. Eldersburg, MD: Black Cat Books, 2005.

Kei, M. Slow Motion : The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2008.

Lebel, Gary. Abacus : Prose Poems, Short Poems, and Haibun. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2008.

Mineo, Annette. six sunflowers and an inchworm: tanka by Annette Mineo. n.l.: Annette Mineo, 2007.

Riutta, Andrew. Cigarette Butts and Lilacs. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2008.

Rotella, Alexis. Lip Prints : Tanka and Other Short Poems 1979 - 2007. Baltimore, MD: MET Press, 2007.

Tanaka, Noriko. Breast Clouds. Amelia Fielden and Saeko Ogi, trans. Tokyo, Japan: Tankakenkyu-sha, 2010.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Fire Pearls for Weddings

I stopped by my local library yesterday and chatted with the librarians. It turns out that Fire Pearls is often checked out of the library for weddings! I presume people are looking for poetry suitable to read at weddings. I'm very charmed at this unexpected development, and I wish all engaged people happily ever after. Especially so now that Proposition 8 has been overturned in California, and gay marriage is legal again in that state. Here's hoping my home state of Maryland will soon follow.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Keibooks Announces Catzilla! List of Poets and Cover Cat

Keibooks Announces Catzilla! List of Poets and Cover Cat

Keibooks announces the final selection for Catzilla! Tanka, Kyoka, and Gogyohka About Cats. Edited by M. Kei, the anthology features the work of forty-five poets from around the world. The poets have written tanka, kyoka, and gogyohka (all five line poems originally from Japan) in homage to our funny, friendly, and infuriating feline companions. Catzilla will appear in print and ebook formats September 15.

The cover cat, Timmynocky (Swedish for ‘thingamabob’), is a ship’s cat serving aboard a tall ship on the East Coast of the United States. This summer ‘Timmynocky the Sailor Cat’ achieved notoriety when the editor, M. Kei, detailed his exploits on his blog.

Kei says, “Timmy kept showing up on the arms of beautiful women, got busted by the cops, and was thrown into the brig (confined on a leash) after his adventures ashore. In the cover photo he uses his considerable charm to persuade us to let him off his leash so he can continue his run ashore. As such, he typifies the mixture of charm and mischief that defines a ‘catzilla.’”

The full account of Timmynocky’s adventures can be read at . Readers who would like to see more pictures of tall ships and sea cats are invited to visit M. Kei’s photo site

“Cats are highly evolved, intriguing, mysterious, ruled-by-no-one beings who are mischievous bringers of unwanted gifts. Cats off to M. Kei for bringing us a collection of tanka that tears at our heartstrings one moment and has us giggling the next.” —Alexis Rotella, author of Black Jack Judy and the Crisco Kids

List of Poets included in Catzilla!

Alexis Rotella, Amelia Fielden, André Surridge, Angela Leuck, Anne Curran, Beverly Acuff Momoi, Bob Lucky, Bruce D. Reed, Carolyn Thomas, Christopher L. Jorgensen, David Rice, Denis M. Garrison, Diane Mayr, Dorothy McLaughlin, Edward J. Rielly, Geert Verbeke, Geoffrey Winch, Hortensia Anderson, Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, Jamila, Janick Belleau, Joanne Morcom, John Martell, John Stone, Joyce S. Greene, Kath Abela Wilson, Kathy Nguyen, Kris Lindbeck, Liam Wilkinson, Lorne Henry, M. Kei, M. L. Grace, Miriam Sagan, Owen Bullock, Patricia Prime, Paul Mercken, Peggy Heinrich, Radhey Shiam, Richard Stevenson, Rodney Williams, ruinedXfinery, Sylvia Forges-Ryan, Taro Aidu, Vasile Moldovan, William Hart

Catzilla! Tanka, Kyoka, and Gogyokha About Cats
ISBN 978-0-557-53612-2
Perfect bound, cover cover, B&W interior
136 pp
Release date: 15 September 2010

P O Box 1118
Elkton, MD 21922-1118
Email: Keibooks (at) gmail (dot) com

Please share with all appropriate venues.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Post-Exertional Malaise : The Hallmark of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I was going to post a comment on a particularly hateful blog about the difference between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and ordinary fatigue, but it grew into a much longer article, so I decided to blog it myself. Basically, it boils down to a debate. There are two definitions of CFS: one, promoted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and popular in Europe, is that CFS is fatigue principally of psychiatric origin. People with certain physical findings are ruled out of diagnosis of CFS. In the UK, it is summarized as patients having 'inappropriate illness beliefs.' In other words, because they think they're sick, they're making themselves sick. It's the somatization disorder par excellence. The other definition is the Canadian Clinical Consensus (CCC), which requires certain physical findings in addition to fatigue, and rules out certain psychiatric conditions. A substantial body of research supports the biomedical definition, which includes immunological, neurological, and hormonal abnormalities. However, the CDC is a government agency and major funder of research, so its view dominates.

Recently this all erupted in the news when researchers at the Whittemore-Petersen Institute (WPI) published research in the journal 'Science' showing a strong link between CFS and the newly discovered retrovirus XMRV. CFS patients latched onto this -- the science is good, and while whether and what kind of disease XMRV might cause in humans is not known, the problems it causes in animals parallel CFS. Thus many people are hoping that the cause of CFS has been found, and that it is XMRV. That patients are hoping to find out they have a serious potentially fatal retrovirus is a sign of how desperate they are -- a diagnosis means dignity, treatment, and a hope of a better quality of life, in spite of the risks.

Unfortunately, several studies since then find no link between XMRV and CFS. In fact, they don't even find XMRV in the general population. However, those negative studies use a definition derived from the CDC definition. WPI used the CCC definition. Thus those patient cohorts are not congruent; the CDC definition would rule out almost anybody diagnosed on the CCC definition. Do severely fatigued psychiatric patients have 'CFS'? If XMRV causes CCC defined CFS, can patients who do not meet the CCC definition be expected to have XMRV?

Obviously, there are two problems: patient cohorts not the same, and the link between CFS and XMRV is not yet proven. Maybe there is something else that causes people with CCC CFS to be vulnerable to XMRV -- XMRV might just be an opportunistic infection attacking CFS patients who are immunocompromised. Maybe XMRV is prevalent in North America, but not Europe.

However, a recent German study of immunocompromised people with respiratory ailments found that 10% of those people have XMRV. So apparently, XMRV is in Europe, after all. If it's in Europe, why didn't the negative studies find it? Presumably random luck would mean that a handful of patients tested would have it, just because a random number of anybody tested would have it. That leads to accusations of bad science and that the negative studies, carried out largely by adherents of the psychiatric definition, were deliberately trying to not find it. This is nonsense, but clearly, researcher bias must be considered; if you've staked your career on a psychiatric definition, you're going to do science looking to support your hypothesis. On the other hand, the same bias can be imputed to to biomedical researchers. If you've staked your career on a physical cause, that's what you're going to look for. The difference is, there's a considerable body of evidence in support of the physical hypothesis, so it's not really a matter of opinion.

The debate rages. CFS-deniers would have us believe that CFS patients are a bunch of crazy lunatics with Munchhausen's Syndrome, pretending to have a Really Important Disease like XMRV to get attention and avoid responsibility for their own laziness, while CFS-defenders are shrilly screaming, "You ignorant *#@*+ are perpetrating genocide against horribly ill people! " (The genocide claim arises from some highly publicized cases in the UK in which people with CFS were committed to mental institutions and denied medical treatment and later died or committed suicide. Some of the conditions that biomedical medical researchers have found to be more common in patients with CFS, such as heart failure and lymphoma, certainly indicate that patients' lives are at risk.)

The 'fatigue' in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not normal fatigue, and differs from fatigue in depression, multiple sclerosis and other diseases. Specifically, the fatigue in CFS is all out of proportion to the muscle effort involved, and it persists for an extended period afterwards. This is known as 'post-exertional malaise' and is the hallmark of CFS.

Good, solid, medical research illustrates how CFS patients differ from ordinary persons. Dr. Light tested several groups of patients, including healthy controls, people with CFS, and people with MS. They performed moderate exercise and were tested before and at intervals afterwards. The blood chemistry of participants with MS is slightly elevated compared to normals, but the blood chemistry of people with CFS is like a volcano going off -- far  beyond both normals and people with MS. Further, patients' subjective reports of fatigue corresponded with the laboratory results. In others words, the more fatigued a patient reported themselves to be, the higher their laboratory results. Ergo, the fatigue in CFS is not just because the patients are unwell, fatigue IS the illness.

You may read a good discussion of Dr. Light's work here:

Testing all these items is not practical in a family medical practice, so this is not going to offer a useful diagnostic test, but does it illustrate exactly how CFS patients are different from both healthy people and other unwell people. It shows very clearly that these patients have an abnormal fatigue that is strikingly different from any other disorder, that it is physical, that CFS patients' self-assessment of their fatigue corresponds with testable biological changes (they do not have 'inappropriate illness beliefs' -- their beliefs are realistic assessments of their condition), and that offers some insight into the nature and operation of the fatigue, and suggests avenues for further research and treatment.

Specifically, it appears that these patients are not experiencing muscle fatigue, which is the usual cause of ordinary fatigue, but that they are experiencing abnormal function in either the nervous system, or in the linkages between the nervous system and the muscles. Not being a scientist I do not quite understand this part of the discussion, but it does accord with my personal observations: I am not 'muscle tired' when engaged in physical activity, and in fact, my muscles seem willing to do a great deal more, but that somewhere between my brain with its desire to do more and my body's ability to respond is a dysfunction so that I experience fatigue, weakness, loss of coordination, and other impairments that prevent me from doing what I greatly desire to do. I feel like I'm wearing a lead suit.

Or look at it this way: on a good day I can bound up the steps two at a time, but during post-exertional malaise, those steps are Mt. Everest. On a bad day, I KNOW that I am physically capable of bounding up those steps (because I did it yesterday), but now I can't. Merely lifting my foot and not tripping over the step is a major undertaking.

I have learned to pace myself: I can perform light activity all day long, but if I burn up the same number of calories in an intense burst of activity lasting 20-30 minutes, and I am prostrate afterwards, and that fatigue (post exertional malaise) lasts 3-4 days. Intense bursts of effort must be very short, and I must have a rest period afterwards; the key to being able to keep going is to make certain I do not build up an energy deficit. In other words, I must keep my energy expenditure to the level my body is able to replace because once I've exhausted it, it's not coming back. In a normal person recovery is quick, generally less than 24 hours, even for a major physical activity, but in CFS it takes days, weeks, or months.

An example: A normal person rides their bicycle for half an hour. They come home, take it easy for a bit, and later that afternoon do it again. If a person has CFS, they ride their bicycle for half an hour, come home, go to bed, and get up three days later. They WANT to get up, and feel guilty as hell for not getting up, so they drag themselves out of bed to open a can and call it dinner, then crawl back in bed.

This disease is not at all confusing -- work like Dr. Light's is very clear, and so are many other pieces of biomedical research. What is confusing is why so many people willfully choose to refuse to understand the difference between the Canadian Clinical Consensus and the CDC versions. It really doesn't matter which CDC definition you use, they CDC does not distinguish between fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

The CDC's definitions have not yet helped anyone as far as I can see, and does not offer any roadmap about how to make progress in studying CFS or helping patients with CFS; therefore it has no utility for any practical person. The Canadian Clinical Consensus offers possibilities to explore and follow up on, both in a research setting and in a general practice setting -- doctors can, for example, investigate whether their patients have POTS or heart failure or other conditions discussed in the CCC version, and if so, send them for treatment of those conditions. While that may not change their CFS, presumably by having these conditions treated the patient will feel better and have a better quality of life. That's useful, practical, and constructive.

Kill the CDC definitions, and adopt the Canadian Clinical Consensus. Then there will be no more arguments over patient cohorts, and no more confusion about how to best pursue the study and treatment of CFS. Patients can reasonably hope to get assistance and have an improvement in their quality of life, even if a cure is a long way off. In a way, the quest for 'The Cause' of CFS is a red herring -- we know enough right now that we can improve the lives of patients with CFS. We should be acting on this knowledge. Dropping the CDC definition will allow both the care of patients and the research to move forward.

As for myself, I am a tall ship sailor. This is a physically demanding activity, but while it is more demanding that the ordinary activities of most people, it's not as hard as you might think. And it's not as hard as the newbies think :) For one thing, it intersperses short intense activities with periods of light activity, and for another, you're not alone. You have your shipmates. You're not performing at the same intensity all the time -- you have help. Likewise, if you don't think you're up to a particular exertion, you can ask your shipmates to 'bear a hand' and get some help, and since there are a number of activities to be performed in any given evolution on board, you can volunteer for an activity within your current ability. Thus, the positive cooperative efforts and varied tasks of a tall ship allow me to manage my activity level and match it to the tasks at hand. I also volunteer for tasks -- like washing dishes -- that other people don't like that are within my energy level, and which win me brownies points, so that when I need to beg off of a task, I'm not seen as a shirker.

The other wonderful thing about the ship: sleep is sacrosanct. When you're not working, you're expected to go to bed. This is the complete opposite of the real world, where if you're in bed, you're a lazy bum. Sleep is protected on the ship. Further, the work periods are short: we stand Swedish watches which means work periods of either six or four hours, with rest periods in between. I have discovered that six hours is about the limit of my activity; at the 5-6 hour mark I find I'm tapped out. If I keep working beyond that, as in a typical 8 hour job, my last 2 hours are low productivity and I'm exhausted when I get home. Done day after day as in a standard job drives me into the ground and eventually to a state of collapse. Before the ship I had already learned that working a short shift, then napping, and working a few more hours enabled me to be much more productive than a single long shift. In other words, 4 nap 4 = more work done than 8 straight. Unfortunately, employers object if you spend a couple of hours sleeping at work. (Lunch naps help, but they aren't long enough.)

Normal people aboard the ship are not used to this rhythm and get very tired; that means they wind up feeling as tired on a voyage as I do all the time. Ergo, I can admit to fatigue and no one will accuse me of being lazy or shirking or not trying hard enough. On the contrary, they are all just as tired as I am. We can share our experiences, sympathize with one another, and bond over it. This is the opposite of the 'real world.' The difference is, once back ashore, I'm going to spend a couple of weeks recuperating, while they're going to spend a couple of days. Because it's a volunteer position, I do not have to keep showing up at work day after day and can take time to recuperate.

However, I also can't work a real job while doing this; it takes up too much time and energy. Eventually I will use up my savings and have to get a real job. I'm dreading it. Working a tall ship is much better for me than working at Wal-mart, my previous job. The cooperative work environment, the respect given to the crew, the division of labor based on ability rather than quotas, and the esprit de corp, make it a superior work environment. Of course, it's also a demanding environment with no privacy, sea sickness, and blistering sun day after day combined with a risk of sinking, but I can live with that.