Morning Love (poem)

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I can feel summer coming

bursting the flowers open

warming the old bones

of the earth

 

above a fighter jet sears

a long white scar on the

unblemished sky

 

this morning we have

scrambled eggs together

a golden yellow on

wholemeal toast

after we had been

through the night

consuming each other

 

the new light floods

through the windows

reflecting in your burning

sapphire eyes & shimmering

blond hair

 

love…

 

roll that word around

succinctly in your mouth

for a while

 

on a morning like this

it tastes so sweet

 

Joanne Fisher

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Starships of the Star Wars Galaxy, Part One: Imperial Star Destroyer

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A Star Destroyer pursuing the Millenium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back.

I was meant to be writing an article on the dragons of Middle-earth, but that might still be a couple of days away. So in the meantime I thought I would write a short article. One thing I like about Star Wars is the starship design, and so I thought would do an occasional series of starships from Star Wars that I really like. So I thought I would begin with my favourite: the Imperial-class Star Destroyer.

I’ve always loved the wedge shape design of the Star Destroyer, from the opening shot of a Star Destroyer passing overhead in A New Hope to the smaller Venator-class Star Destroyers that appeared at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.

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So what is an Imperial-class Star Destroyer? During the Clone Wars the Galactic Republic began using larger capital ships to fight the Separatists who had their own forces of capital ships. The Venator-class Star Destroyer appeared during the Clone Wars and they were able to carry larger amounts of troops and vehicles, as well as starfighters to where they were needed in the galaxy, as well as having significant armaments to face enemy ships. After the Clone Wars ended and the Galactic Republic became the Galactic Empire, the Imperial-class Star Destroyer appeared and began to replace the Venator-class Star Destroyers. There was also the Victory-class Star Destroyer that was meant to have appeared at the end of the Clone Wars, but it’s not canon (as in not in a Star Wars film or TV series) so I don’t think it officially exists anymore. By the time of the Original Trilogy the Imperial-class Star Destroyer is the backbone of the Imperial Navy and there is meant to be around 25,000 of them spread across the galaxy.

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There are also two types of the Imperial-class Star Destroyer: the Imperial I and the Imperial II. The Imperial II Star Destroyer has more numerous and powerful turbolasers than it’s predecessor.

Imperial I Star Destroyer

  • Length: 1,600 meters
  • Crew: 37,085
  • Troops: 9,700
  • 60 Turbolaser Batteries
  • 60 Ion Cannons
  • 10 Tractor Beams
  • 20 AT-AT/30 AT-ST for ground assault
  • 72 TIE fighters
  • 12 landing barges and 8 Lambda-class shuttles

Imperial II Star Destroyer

  • Length: 1,600 meters
  • Crew: 37,085
  • Troops: 9,700
  • 50 Heavy Turbolaser Batteries
  • 50 Heavy Tubolaser Cannons
  • 20 Ion Cannons
  • 10 Tractor Beams
  • 20 AT-AT/30 AT-ST for ground assault
  • 72 TIE fighters
  • 12 landing barges and 8 Lambda-class shuttles

The role of the Imperial Star Destroyer in the Imperial Navy is a multi-purpose role. It is designed to do several different types of roles such as a weapons platform, planetary defence, planetary assault, ship-to-ship combat, space station, repair dock, and heavy transport. That said it is primarily designed for space combat and planetary assault. It has enough fire power to reduce a planet’s surface to molten slag or take on a fleet of enemy vessels. The Imperial-class Star Destroyer is the main weapon the Emperor uses to control the galaxy.

I would like to point out that while I like the design of the Imperial-class Star Destroyer, I’m not a fan of The Empire. If I was actually in the Star Wars universe during the Original Trilogy era, I would probably have ended up in the Rebel Alliance.

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Sources:

Gorden, Greg, Star Wars Imperial Sourcebook, West End Games, 1989.

Smith, Curtis, and Slavicsek, Bill, The Star Wars Sourcebook, West End Games, 1987.

My Recipe For Pickled Onions

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This was after one night of pickling when I pickled a couple of bags of pickling onions and some red cabbage

A rather different post from the usual. The last couple of months I’ve started pickling again, mostly onions but also red cabbage. So I thought I would share the recipe and the technique I use. These are for the English-style pickled onions, so they’re quite spicy.

The day before I start pickling I prep the onions by removing the skins and soaking them in brine overnight. To make the brine I tend to use 1-2 teaspoons of salt per cup of water and dissolve it by boiling for a few minutes which then gets added to the onions in a bowl and covered with a tea-towel.

The next day I wash the jars and their lids and rinse them well and then put them in the oven at 110-120 degrees Celsius for half an hour or at least till they’re dry. Due to the size of the onions I get at the local supermarket I tend to use larger jars. While the jars are getting sterilised I make the pickling mixture:

Pickling Mixture (suitable for a kilogram of pickling onions)

2.2 litres of vinegar (I use malt vinegar, purely due to liking the taste of it)

25 grams of ginger (I buy root ginger which is then grated)

2 tablespoons of salt

1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon of whole cloves

1 tablespoon of pickling spice

2 tablespoons of black peppercorns

1 cup of sugar (I use raw sugar)

1 teaspoon minced chili or chili flakes (optional – one of my additions)

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes and then let cool. My advice is to keep the place well ventilated while it boils as it can sting your eyes.

Once the jars and the pickling mixture are ready, bring the jars out one by one and fill them with onions and add the pickling mixture till all the onions are covered and leave at least a centimetre from the top (Sorry I’m not American so all my measurements are in metrics). Then put the lid on and seal as well as you can. Once all the jars are filled put them in a cupboard or some shelves and leave them for at least a month. In my experience the longer you leave them the better. Any pickling mixture left over store in some sterilised jars.

I am experiencing some problem with jars occasionally cracking while adding the pickling mixture, so it might be better to leave the jars out of the oven for a few minutes before you start filling them. This is something I’m currently experimenting with.

As variants you can pickle shallots with this, and also red cabbage. If I pickle the cabbage I chop it finely the night before and mix in a lot of salt with it in a bowl and then leave it covered overnight. Then the next day I wash the red cabbage in a colander and drain it, and then wrap it up in several tea-towels until it dries. After that add it to jars. I really pack it densely into the jars so it doesn’t need that much pickling mixture.

Feel free to ask any questions or add any comments.

 

 

Holy Orders (poem)

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I was planning to write a short article during the middle of the week, but I ended being a bit too busy with other things. Over the weekend I’m going to be working on an article on the dragons of Middle-earth, so until then I thought I would share one of my narrative poems. Most of my degree is on Medieval European history. I remember in my first year seeing a slideshow of northern European architecture. The lecturer commented that the gargoyles on top of the church were actually totems of the older gods who were there just in case this new god didn’t work. Indeed the further north you went into Europe the more Christianity was a thin veneer over the older faiths. This poem explores this idea. The narrator is a young priest who has been sent north…

at first I did not see the way

they moved their mouths

during mass as though

they didn’t know the words

 

their vulgar tongues

unable to grapple the

language

 

as if behind the prayers & chants

there was worship of something

other

 

*

 

sent here to these northern wastes

the vineyards & cypresses

giving way to tall angular trees

& snow

 

when I saw the church

they were there –

the old gods

grinning down

 

*

 

I see them process

out of the village

to worship one of their

wild-wood demons

 

they beckon to follow

 

I stay in my church

lose myself

in holy scripture

 

*

 

I imagine them

copulating over

some profane altar

 

the word of God

is not strong enough

here

 

Lord lead them from the Abyss!

 

*

 

a pounding comes at the church doors

until they explode

& a dark bestial god

enters my saviour’s house

 

I grasp the brass cross

but the image of my dear lord

does not offer sanctuary

the dark one comes for me…

 

I awake pouring with sweat

the wind whistling

through the walls

 

I put on my woolen robes & pray

until the dawn

 

*

 

I’m sailing toward

an unknown

 

the edge of the world

drifts

 

Joanne Fisher

 

Proxima Calling (poem)

213

 

hoping there is

intelligent life

somewhere

 

you listen to the static of the universe

 

*

 

gazing with a mirror –

the image answers

in perfect english

 

the hand moves

when you move yours

it smiles

when you smile

 

*

 

gazing through a mirror –

the vision is distorted

 

*

 

hello! hello!

we’re here!

 

where are you?

 

 

Joanne Fisher

Do Balrogs Even Have Wings?

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The Balrog of Moria from the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Balrogs are the fiery demons that appear in Tolkien’s Middle-earth books, namely the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings. Since the Lord of the Rings appeared in print in the mid-1950s, artists have drawn pictures of the Balrog of Moria, and subsequently the other Balrogs that appeared in the Silmarillion when it was finally published in the late 1970s. One thing that is noticeable, that many artists have chosen to draw wings on them, and even in the film versions the Balrogs have wings. Yet Tolkien doesn’t really state they do have wings and I will discuss how I don’t think Tolkien had winged Balrogs in mind when he wrote about them. So firstly I will look at what Balrogs actually are, secondly I will discuss several notable battles between Balrogs and various characters from Tolkien’s works, and lastly I will argue why Balrogs don’t actually in fact have wings and that whoever adds wings to them are in error, in my opinion.

The term “Balrog” is Sindarin meaning “Demon of Might”. In Quenya they are called Valarauka (singular: Valarauko). Balrogs were Maiar. Maiar were servants of the Valar (the Guardians of the World);  spirits of lesser power who helped them. The Maiar themselves are of varying power, along with the Balrogs, other notable figures that were Maiar included Sauron who was initially a servant of Morgoth but became the second Dark Lord after the fall of his master, and the Istari, a group of wizards who were sent to Middle-earth to unite the free peoples against Sauron, which included Gandalf and Saruman. The Balrogs were spirits of fire that were eventually corrupted by Morgoth and subsequently appeared to Elves and Men as giant fiery demonic beings who were often armed with whips of flame, swords, and other weapons. Aside from dragons, they were the most feared and dangerous beings in Morgoth’s army.

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Glorfindel and the Balrog. Art by Eric Velhagen.

In the First Age of Middle-earth any sizable force sent by Morgoth would include legions of Orcs (Morgoth’s foot-soldiers) and several Balrogs. This would lead to notable confrontations between the Balrogs and some Elf Lords. The first one that is mentioned is between Gothmog, who was the Lord of the Balrogs and the high-captain of the armies of Angband (Morgoth’s stronghold), and Feanor, joint High King of the rebelling Noldor, inventor of the Tengwar, and creator of the Silmarils. Feanor and the other Noldor had just won the Second Battle in the Wars for Beleriand, also called Dagor-nuin-Giliath or the Battle-under-Stars as Morgoth’s forces had assailed them unawares in the darkness. However Feanor, in his wrath, pursued the fleeing Orcs and found himself surrounded by Balrogs that had come from Angband to aid the Orcs. They fought Feanor and it was Gothmog who mortally wounded him. He died shortly afterwards in the company of his sons. During the Fifth Battle in the Wars for Beleriand, also called Nirnaeth Arnoediad or Unnumbered Tears, Fingon, the High-King stood alone, his guard lay dead about him as he faced Gothmog. Another Balrog then came behind him and “cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven.” (The Silmarillion, p.193). Gothmog was again present during the Fall of Gondolin. He fought Ecthelion of the Fountain in the Square of the King. In The Silmarillion it just mentions each slew the other, but in the Book of Lost Tales 2 it goes into greater detail: Ecthelion leapt at Gothmog, his helm having a spike that got driven into Gothmog’s breast, and he then twined his leg around Gothmog’s thighs and they both fell forward into the basin of the king’s fountain which was very deep and they both drowned (The Book of Lost Tales 2, p.183-4). Also during the Fall of Gondolin there was another incident: Tuor and Idril Celebrindal, along with others fled out of Gondolin by a secret way and they came to a pass called Cirith Thoronath, or Eagles’ Cleft, and they were ambushed there by some Orcs and a Balrog. Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, and the Balrog fought upon a pinnacle of rock, and both fell to their deaths. Thorondor, King of the Eagles, retrieved Glorfindel’s body out of the abyss and he was buried in a mound of stones. After the fall of Angband in the War of Wrath most of the Balrogs were destroyed. A few surviving Balrogs fled and hid themselves in the roots of the earth.  The last known encounter with a Balrog was near the end of the Third Age when the Fellowship of the Ring passed through Moria and disturbed him. The Balrog appeared before them at the Bridge of Khazad-dum and Gandalf the Grey stood in the way of his advance over the bridge. After an initial clash with swords which drove the Balrog back, the Balrog then leapt onto the bridge with his whip at which point Gandalf smote the bridge before him with his staff which caused the bridge to crack under the feet of the Balrog and he plunged down into the abyss, but not before using his whip to curl about the Wizard’s knees and make him fall into the abyss as well. In the words of Gandalf from The Two Towers he says what happened next: “Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water and all was dark… Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone. He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake. We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels… In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel… Ever up now we went, until we came to the Endless Stair… From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak it climbed… until it issued at last in Durin’s Tower carved in the living rock of Zirakzigil, the pinnacle of the Silvertine… Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame… I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me…” (The Two Towers, p.523-4). It is unknown whether any other Balrogs had survived.

feanor_against_the_lord_of_balrogs_by_evolvana-d9fdobn
Feanor against the Lord of Balrogs. Art by Evolvana.

 

Now why don’t I think Balrogs have wings? In the First Age accounts Tolkien never explicitly mentions they have wings or that they can fly. The fact that the Balrog fighting Glorfindel plummets to his doom along with Glorfindel suggests if it has wings, it certainly doesn’t know how to use them. The same thing happens with the Balrog in Moria who also falls down a deep abyss. If the wings were there they could at least help prevent the fall from happening. Maybe some people think they have wings due to the encounter in Moria, but what does Tolkien actually say? “His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.” (Fellowship of the Ring, p.348). Tolkien here is saying the Balrog’s shadow is like “two vast wings”, not that the Balrog has them, it’s quite obviously a simile. On the next page it says: “It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall…” (Fellowship of the Ring, p.349). Okay here Tolkien seems to be explicitly saying the Balrog has wings, and this is probably why many people think that Balrogs are winged, but does he really? You can argue that Tolkien here is continuing with the figure of speech, that what is spread from wall to wall is actually in reality the Balrog’s shadow, not wings. In all of his writings this is the only time there is possibly any mention of a Balrog having wings at all, and I’m not convinced. That said, most artists seem to draw them with wings, and especially since the film versions by Peter Jackson came out. As a side note, while I was searching for artwork for this article I felt quite saddened by the sheer amount of artwork that was based on the films. Nearly all the pictures of Balrogs I could find were all heavily inspired by the one in the film, and yet I seem to remember before the films Balrogs could look quite diverse. I want to see artists original visions of them, not some copy from the film version, ditto all the other characters and locations in the Lord of the Rings.

So this is my thoughts on the matter of Balrogs and wings. It is not really an important matter, as to be honest there are some really good and interesting pictures of Balrogs with wings, such as the ones I’ve used in this article. It’s just that they don’t have to be drawn with wings, though pictures of wingless Balrogs are not that easy to find, at least not anymore. Arguing whether they have wings or not was a good angle to begin a discussion with regardless. I love Tolkien’s writings and it’s been a great pleasure just to be able to write an article on some specific Tolkien-related matter. If you agree or disagree with this article feel free to make a comment, as I am keen to hear your thoughts. The next time I write an article on Middle-earth it might be on the Istari.

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Cover from the book Lords of Middle-Earth Vol.1, published by Iron Crown Enterprises, 1988. Artwork by Angus McBride. I like his Balrog. Sadly this was the only picture I could find online of it.

Sources:

Foster, Robert, The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1978)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Book of Lost Tales 2, (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1986)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Fellowship of the Ring, (HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1992)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion, (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1977)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Two Towers, (HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1992)

Tyler, J.E.A., The New Tolkien Companion, (MacMillan London Limited, London, 1979)

 

 

How Do We Teach Poetry?

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A friend once told me that a teacher gave a poem to the class to read and then asked them what it was all about. When my friend gave an answer the teacher replied that they were wrong, the poem was about… (well I don’t know what that particular poem was or what the teacher thought it was about). This got me thinking. How do you teach people to understand and appreciate poetry? As a poet I’ve noticed that if you hand someone a poem to read, it’s like you given them some puzzle they need to solve. They think they have to supply you with an answer to whatever the poem may be about, rather than comment on the beautiful imagery, or your use of language for example. The teacher in the above scenario obviously thought the poem was about one thing, but what if my friend was actually right with their answer, and what if they were both right? And since when is meaning the most important thing about poetry? After all there are some poems I love that I don’t necessarily understand, but for one thing I may love that particular poet’s idiomatic style, or the imagery used. There’s always a lot more to appreciate in a poem than just the meaning.

As I’m usually a fairly quiet soul, poetry and writing is one of my main ways I try to communicate with the rest of the world. And like all communication I believe it is a two-way process. As T.S. Eliot writes in the The Use of Poetry: “The poem’s existence is somewhere between the writer and the reader”. I don’t think poetry, or art for that matter, is didactic. If I write a poem about a particular subject and then give it to someone else to read and then they say it’s about something completely different and can back it up with examples from the poem, surely their answer is just as valid as mine? After all when you’re writing a poem with a particular meaning in mind, once you’re in the process of writing your subconscious can end up throwing things in there that you’re unaware of; other people can see it, but you don’t because you are blinded to what you wrote the poem about. When someone reads a poem, if they get their own value out of it, and their own meaning, then surely the poet has succeeded in some way, even if the meaning the other person got wasn’t what the poet was intending.

 

So with all this in mind, how do we teach poetry? How do we get people to appreciate poetry for it’s own sake? These are big questions that many people have tried to answer, and I certainly don’t have all the answers either. I do know the example I give at the start is one way it shouldn’t be taught. You could kill many a person’s interest in poetry teaching that way. If you’re a teacher, or someone trying to get others to read a poem, don’t focus on the meaning, at least not initially. Get people to understand and appreciate how the poet has used language. Focus on some imagery or an interesting expression they’ve used. If you do ask them for a meaning, and they give one and can give examples why they think that, take what they say on board, don’t ever shoot them down in flames, even if you think they’re wrong. Also give them time, to understand and absorb it, don’t make them feel like they are under pressure to “decipher” it. If they still don’t get the poem, maybe it’s because they don’t understand the poet’s particular style, so give them another poem to read. If you’re focusing on one poet, tell them a little bit about who they were; how they lived, things they did, etc. Sometimes understanding where the poet has come from can give clues to understanding their work.  These are just examples of ways you can approach it. It’s not easy. In my experience poetry is often something you form an attachment to, or you don’t. But it would be a shame if someone who would normally have been interested in poetry is turned away from it by some bad teaching.