7 min read

Only dance is understanding [Égwú bu úchè]

Then the drum beat with the rhythm
of the things of the ground
and invoked the eye of the sky
the sun and the moon and the river gods—
and the trees began to dance,
the fishes turned men
and men turned fishes

—Gabriel Okara - The Mystic Drum

I perfect raps to get under your skin
If you ain't nodding by now, either you dead or a mannequin

—Mad Skillz - The Nod Factor

You throw out a line of smalltalk at a party, something like "it's been a hot summer, hasn't it?" A few words adding up to a very simple and literal meaning. If the music isn't bumping too loud, your correspondent immediately, entirely understands, and probably responds with something as prosaic.

But what about that bumping music? There's a good chance that it took a few listens to even have a clue what the singers might be on about. That's never minding mondegreens ("Yo, Madonna a ho, singing Like a virgin, touched for the thirty-first time"). The connection between lyrics and music is one of the most ancient human powers, and of course, what we call poetry today is merely an attempt to harness that power independently from its twin music.

My favorite definition of poetry has always been from Ezra Pound: "language charged with meaning", slightly repurposed from ABC of Reading; packing twice, maybe ten times as much into as many words as the party smalltalk line. A poet might use tropes and allusions to accomplish this, but ultimately the most powerful tool they can use is the musical sound of the words themselves.

August sun warms my bones / like this friendly conversation
Bonus Instapoem for the price of 0

I recently had occasion to comment on Instapoetry. I don't have the sort of savage contempt for it that many traditional literary types do. Anything that connects with others, that gets them interested in poetry has some place in the world. It's not for me, though. As a teenager I was obsessed with the likes of Eliot, Pound, and of course Okigbo, Okara, Senghor, etc. Learning French in school extended that obsession to Villon. My favorite poetry is that from which I'm still unpacking meanings after the hundredth reading.

Of course not everyone is that much of a geek, and attempting such poetry, as I do, can be a recipe for sabotaging your own readership. Maybe the best solution to this problem lies in reconnecting poetry to its old friend, music. As you can see, a lot of my explorations summarized in The Loomiverse concept are in this vein.

Under the poet tree

He takes his teeth through the parted hide
Échìchè flowers where sweet ọ̀lọ̀má leads;
He closes lips around a mouthly fig
For insight in with a riot through the seeds.

Speak with the poets, langue figuier, langue citron
They are tongue tithed—yours is ten per cent,
Your recognition trimmed in fruit and figures—
While music lingers your sense is imminent.

Take juice from the paper, juice from the screen;
Beat of the pulp's treat meat holds what the poets mean.

Notes: échìchè (Ìgbò) ≈ thought or idea | ọ̀lọ̀má (Ìgbò) = African cherry orange. Should I be providing such notes? That's a full discussion for another time, but I shall mention that my book, Ńchéfù Road includes end notes. The poem above, though, is a new thing, not from the book. A Loomiverse exclusive. I'll be offering one each fortnight, as the Muses permit. I'm always happy to know what you think.

Ńchéfù Road in pulpy flesh

Speaking of…finally, after a long sojourn through pandemic and the vagaries of publishing bureaucracy, I have copies of the book in hand.


Unboxing the first shipments of my book of poetry, Nchefu Road. #poetry #books #unboxing #literature

♬ original sound - Uche

I'll be sending out copies next week to those who preordered from me. A couple of months ago (June 25th), in Luton, it was the pre-publication proof copy, so as Curtis Mayfield says, "Move on up!"

The big box comes just in time for a series of performances, starting today, in Salida, mountain country Colorado.

I'm also finalizing plans for a 2 Sept appearance at the Lithic Bookstore in Fruita. Hope to see you at one of these (or at some of the other events I'm planning).

AIeeee! Robot!

As soon as I got into computers as a teen in Nigeria, I pondered how I could program them to do the sorts of tasks we expect of our own brains. You can understand this—I was just a kid, but these days we see how this over-literal mindset drives entire industries. Mind you, I wouldn't dare disparage the likes of Turing, McCarthy, Minsky and the other pioneers of artificial intelligence (AI), but I also know from actually reading their works that what they intended was more exploratory than anything else. The problem is that as soon as computer scientists' paymasters imagine they could to save money on people, dirty and expensive as they are, all forces start to push in the hopeful direction of industrialized AI.

Mission complete—Humanity Exterminated

I kept my own interest in AI through my electrical/computer undergrad, and my capstone project was using genetic algorithms, part of a branch of AI called ALife, for optimizing factory floor layout and scheduling, at Eaton Corp. Fast forward almost three decades and AI is everywhere, from specialized chips in our phones to self-driving vehicles, to security surveillance. The old R&D cycle where AI would overpromise, under-deliver, then go through years of skepticism ("AI winters") has been jolted into a fever pitch. No doubt purveyors of AI are achieving some remarkable things, but it's worth being sober about what's truly behind all this.

The's less than you'd think behind the curtain. Computers are merely becoming so fast that the same old techniques from the pioneering ages are finally becoming practical. There've been some breakthroughs in the fiddly maths and technical details, but nothing fundamentally new. Even the downsides are vintage. We've all heard by now about issues around bias in training data, and the difficulty explaining decisions made by "deep learning" networks (so good luck troubleshooting why that robot car killed that one person that one time). Modern AI is nothing fancier than chips doing astonishing volumes of real-time statistical analysis, and we know what comes after lies and damned lies.

XKCD #1838
XKCD #1838. BTW, XKCD has numerous, brilliant skewerings of AI hype

In so many of these practical problems, the solution is exactly what the bean-counters dread: center humans in the picture. Machine learning networks should as much as possible be used merely as data personal assistants for people who make human decisions, and take responsibility for those. There should be a clear-to-humans "EXPLAIN" function (to use database processing terminology) to go with every AI-made decision. In my own professional work in AI, I've consistently pushed such points of view, often meeting hostility from the AI gung-ho who insist their creations don't need no stinking humans, and wait just a year or two and all the AI problems will be sorted; and from managers eager to save on payroll.

We're only in the infancy on questions of intelligence and sentience. No, some random Google AI has not attained sentience, and no one on earth is equipped to even decide what that means. The Turing test is a fun philosophical exercise, but there is no pragmatic basis for comprehending how to apply it, nor to assess its results. We ought to be a lot more worried about climate change, and even a possible asteroid impact than some AI going berzerk and trying to exterminate us. A lot of this nonsense comes from a fundamental misunderstanding that computers just do some version of what human brains do. Utterly false, and I've for a long time recommended this excellent article, readable by non-technical folks: "The empty brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer".

I'll definitely revisit AI in the future, especially in relation to arts & culture. It's a great and fascinating subject, just one buried in a lot of rubbish at present.

❧ Égwú ❧ Ókwú ❧ Ígwè ❧ Ńdụ̀ ❧

These four words are the four elements of The Loomiverse. Approximately: Music/Dance, Language, Technology (I choose the metaphorical "ígwè" over, say "ụ̀zụ̀"), Life, but it starts with égwú, the boogie, with which all other mysteries shall find their way into your bone marrow. You brain needn't get in the way, at least not in the literal computer-processing sense. Here's a bit more boogie to juice the fig and citrus of your own understanding.

❧ For anyone, from my friend Lauren Brombert, a summer dance, "Who I am"

❧ On the African music tip, Santrofi - Africa, starting with an Nkrumah speech excerpt, no less

❧ Strictly for hardcore headz, DJ Premier conducts while Remy Ma & Rapsody murder the mic: REMY RAP

A quick word on admin: this is a fortnightly (for now) newsletter, and we're on the 2nd post. I started on the Substack platform, but ran into usage problems  right from the off, so I got spooked 👻🥁👹 towards Ghost (present platform), which I know I can muster with much more technical control. Check out the previous post—New moon (Ọ́nwá atụ̀ọ́), and please do consider sharing with others, and subscribing, if you haven't (button in the lower right). You'll get the newsletter with its regular mixes, music recommendations, poems, news and other diversions through our several interlocking topics. Dá àlụ́-nu!

❧ Égwú 🪘 Ókwú ✍🏿 Ígwè 📡 Ńdụ̀ ❣️