Saturday, 28 February 2015

The longest poem in the world and the longest 3-word poem in the world

Let's pretend this is a section of a job interview. Currently my greatest weakness is that I don't know the Dutch language well enough to fully appreciate Dutch poetry. This is a most critical gap in my daily human experience. When I see a street name I cannot recognize its poetic qualities. When I hear people's conversation on trains or buses I cannot convert these lines into songwriting or cabaret, I wouldn't know where to start. I don't recognize puns. I don't know what is an inherently funny word and what is a sad one and what is both.

It is with this weakness in mind that I come to approach the longest poem in the world, situated right here in Rotterdam. That is, funnily enough, not a poetic metaphor for a unique relationship between the city and space-time. The single longest piece of poetry in the entire world is literally, physically, situated in Rotterdam. It is about 900 metres long. 

The poem is "Voor Ari" by Rotterdam's Jules Deelder. It was written for his then-new-born daughter, Ari,  in 1985. The poem is placed along tiled walls of the pedestrian/biking path of the Beneluxtunnel that crosses the Maas from underneath, between Vijfsluizen and Pernis. Today I have walked through the tunnel and back. The above photo is what it looks like on the inside. These following photos were taken at its entrance. The full text of the poem, together with translations from A View From the Cycle Path, is also posted below.


Lieve Ari   
Wees niet bang   

De wereld is rond   
en dat istie al lang

De mensen zijn goed   
de mensen zijn slecht   

Maar ze gaan allen   
dezelfde weg   

Hoe langer je leeft   
hoe korter het duurt   

Je komt uit het water          
en gaat door het vuur   

Daarom lieve Ari   
Wees niet bang   

De wereld draait rond
en dat doettie nog lang 
Dear Ari
Don’t be afraid

The world is round
and it has been for long

The people are good
the people are bad

But they all go
the same road

The longer you live
the shorter it takes

You come from the water
and go through the fire

Therefore dear Ari
Don’t be afraid

The world turns around
 and it will do for long

If we are being critically precise, I must mention that I've seen some internet sources claimed this poem to be the world's longest poem, but there is not a Guinness World Record or anything like that so it's not a status approved by an international authority. Anyhow it is not a very meaningful title (internationally approved or otherwise) because there's no definitive measurement when it comes to anything poetic. I can write a 3-word poem, for example, and physically place one word in the Netherlands, one in Belgium and one in Luxembourg. When I connect the 3 words in an imaginary straight line, that will probably be a pretty long line, thus making it physically a very long poem. But I don't suppose this imaginary long line should be very meaningful for me or the poem's readers (unless the 3 locations where the words are placed have specific meanings in themselves!) (wow jesus christ i think I just came up with a geo-poetic smartphone app idea).

Forget the app idea for now. I liked the 3-word poem idea. The poetic urban experience is supposed to be playful-constructive, and when I go somewhere I also want to make something. I have, therefore, written the world's longest 3-word poem, placed alongside the world's longest poem, spanning across the Beneluxtunnel. One word I've placed at the beginning of the tunnel, one word in the middle and one near the end. You may be glad to find that these are not 3 words of a specific psycho-emo-romcom selection (I should stop milking this sensitivity before it tires me out) My poem is as follows:

I decided not to leave this poem at the location but to bring it home. I'm keeping it on the map on my door for now. This is, at the moment, a regular 3-word poem that was once the longest 3 word poem in the world. It is also in this practice that I present my second-greatest weakness: When I don't have an emotional grasp of the situation (notice how I didn't comment on Deelder's actual poem due to language barrier etc) I often choose to distract myself by making my own (mostly irrelevant) poetry and/or other creative work. I think this habitual evasive action does not build a sustainable relationship between my emotions and the environment. But it does produce art that I feel okay about. 

Does this answer your question?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Details: Stamp Machines and foot-printed map (Rotterdam Central Station)

Genpei Akasegawa (RIP) is a major inspiration for this blog.  In the mid 80s, he and several other Japanese architects/artists founded the Roadway Observation (RoJo) Society. This group produced tremendous fieldwork on observations and recordings of objects in the urban environments, objects that are often otherwise overlooked and ignored. I think the keyword is objects. The group was not primarily interested in contexts or in the broader social/cultural structures in which these objects existed. They simply took pleasure in admiring the details of the littlest things. Another way to describe their practice was 'Street Detailing'. 

I'm considering copying/echoing some of this group's methodologies in Rotterdam. I want to go hunt for Genpei Akasegawa's Thomassons, and I want to imitate Joji Hayashi's process of observing and typifying manhole covers. Before I do any of that, I thought I would do smaller spontaneous sessions to test the waters. The other night I tried to perform some detailing in Rotterdam Central Station. I'll talk about some objects I saw.


Two stempelautomaten, or 'stamp machines', are located outside the main Metro entrance in Rotterdam's Central Station. If you were living in the Netherlands before 2010 or so, you might remember that before the OV Chipkaart system was introduced, we used paper tickets for public transport, and the tickets had to be stamped by the stempelautomaat to be validated.  These yellow porters were made figures of authority. It was only with their approval that we were allowed to travel. It was kind of like going through customs at the boarder and needing to have your passport stamped by some bureaucrat. In truth, machines of this nature can be the perfect bureaucrat. 

Alas, the glory days of the yellow bureaucrats had passed, the paper tickets are now completely phased out (since July 2014), and the stamp machines are put out of work. If an innovative repurposing does not come into the picture soon, these machines are also practically put on death row. Currently they are tied up to metal poles in this busy transit spot for (shameful) public display of a medieval fashion, made examples of as bureaucratic figures from a bygone era who had become useless and obsolete. The two machines, numbered 15 and 16, are kept alive for now, as they're still each hooked into the power supply. I don't know when they will finally be disposed, but you can drop by and offer them some consolation before it's too late. Maybe even give them a hug. It really helps to get a hug when you're feeling useless, no?


These are the granite stairs at the bottom of the metro exit toward the bus stations in Rotterdam Central. At the lowest stair there is a strip of exposed cement. I'm not sure what's the functionality of this design but I've seen it on several of these granite stairs in Central Station. I would like to figure  out their original purpose soon.

Anyways I paid specific attention to the ones in the picture because they are imprinted with distinguishing patterns. These were probably footprints on wet cement. But they look like maps of some areas in Rotterdam's inner city (near the river). It is most likely a random pattern and this map-look is a beautiful illusion. But let's envision alternative scenarios where it is not:

What if... the inner city map is patternised and strategically used as decoration around the exits of public transport stations? 

What if... special shoes were issued for those (cement pourers) employed by the municipality, shoes that have the city map engraved onto their soles? And extending this shoe idea, what if your footprint actually prints something meaningful, and by simply walking about you are taking your city to every place you've been to? People had tried to put maps on shoes, but I haven't seen anyone try to put maps under them. Those would be the perfect shoes to express someone's emotional connection to a specific city. Imagine that wherever you walk to in the world, you are still always walking on the streets of your hometown...

Maps can be the best kind of summary of how a city physically IS. It is, then, extremely suitable to use this visual summary for symbolic purposes. Appropriating maps into usable symbols and patterns is, I think, a crucial design task for every city and even every city district.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Not Rotterdam: Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross (London)

still from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
Earlier in January I was in London for a few days. On a Thursday morning we went to King's Cross station in search for the famous Platform 9 and 3/4. This platform is, as you might know, the only place to board the steam train to Hogwarts. It's also one of the many entrances to a wizarding world that is very good at disguising itself in plain Muggle sights.

These secret entryways are charming illustrations of the reason why I'm drawn to psychogeography and urban-observation to begin with . I like to look out for "hidden" details, meanings, and possibilities in the urban environment. The idea that behind every dirty brick wall there could (literally) be an entire hidden magical world entertains me profoundly.

We checked into platform 9 with our Oyster cards and walked between platforms 9 and 10 to look for this specific pillar as depicted in the film scenes. There is however no such specific place. After some wandering, a station employee noticed us and asked if we were looking for Harry Potter. He then directed us out of the platforms and toward a brick wall on one side of the station. There was an installation on the wall and a group of tourists lined up to have their pictures taken with it. The scene looked like this:

There were, in fact, two other employees tasked with handling the tourists. One of them was taking 'official' photos that can later be purchased at the Harry Potter Shop some 20 meters away. The other one was readying Hogwarts scarves for tourists to borrow and take pictures with. The scarves come in colours of each of the 4 Hogwarts houses. If you wish to, he would also hold up one end of the scarf and shake it up and down to make your picture looks like you're in motion.

So the place is made touristy and campish and it's perfectly reasonable. It's easy to understand why they would like to direct tourists off the platforms and direct tourists' money into Harry Potter's pockets. An observer should notice, however, that this location for photoshoot is NOT the real entrance to Platform 9 and 3/4. It is at an irrelevant location in the station's floor plan. It is physically manufactured to emulate the real deal, while the real entrance remains between the actual walls between Platform 9 and 10 (as depicted in the Harry Potter books and movies). If I were committed to truly experience a Harry Potter narrative, then instead of taking photos with a merchandised scarf, my preferred course of action should be running full force at a wall between platforms 9 and 10, and upon impact breaking most of my bones. But perhaps that's taking this discussion into the realm of psychotic-geography.

Anyways the discussion is in what-is-real and what-is-not. Can something imaginary be more real than something-else imaginary? Serialised fiction often have the notion of 'canon', the idea is that some imaginary stories are true within that imaginary world, while some of them are not. When that imaginary world intersects with real physicality, such as in the case of King's Cross station, the boundary between realness and falseness becomes even more so contested. Indeed, it is in these contested sites that we're most likely to find some form of entrance to a real magical world: the mystery of the human psyche. 

During our short stay in London I couldn't make it to Whitechapel to walk through Jack the Ripper's murder trails. It's a huge shame. Jack the Ripper is a definitive psychogeography cliché, the Ripper story had flirted with facts and fiction for over a century and it is the perfect model of how one real/imaginary story can interact with places. It'll be the first thing I visit the next time I go.  "We'll do it next time" is my personal definitive cliché. This is only an inside joke because I'm an inside joke IS IT FUNNY YET IS IT F0UNNY YET