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“So if we can prove that some particular task can not be accomplished by a Turing machine, we can conclude that no algorithmic process can accomplish that task.”
— Martin Davis, The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing

One of the greatest goods is to sit here all day, thinking hard,
Knowing there’s folk to talk to in the evening — over a drink
Or for a meal; then with the resting pulse of an ageing athlete
Look back on the day’s exertions. Well and good. I mind once
Outside the walls at a place on the pier with a typhoon in the offing,
My left elbow and my beer glass holding down the paper cloth
As I wrote — though the place is neither here nor there:
Unless there’s some malignant vibe an old tearoom would do fine.
Same goes for theme: I’d happily let you choose; sat around the table,
Close enough to show what’s going on and how it’s done.

Take two. Motion pictures were designed to analyse real movement,
To give objective proof that, say,
A horse in full career will lift all four hooves off the turf
At once; to parse the slog of a running man, the way a woman turns
Away from photographic calibration. Syntax lost to glamour,
The ghost of her possessed, a nascent art and industry
Readily bought and brought to heel by the smirking sakes of
Those who meet a sticky end on screen when the writer sails too close,
Too close to the powers that be, which had provided for him
At that table, on the quaking pier.

The Trinity, why not? I’d just one uncle in the movies
But the Church, now that was a family concern.
Leave the picture house and you’re in the high street, next to Woolworths;
Leave the Church – you’re in the World, samsara, which is fine
For hurt and gratitude blurted in libation: poetry.
I gave up the razzamataz but can’t give up renunciation,
Delight deferred at times until there’s just gentle regret, the kind of thing the
Seniors might allude to in their tearoom, chrome and leatherette,
So more than once I’ve tried a neglected door that was stiff as me
And found my voice in geometrical silence.

So it’s whether you’ve folk to talk to, whether or not
Your art’s in hock and whether or not you’re
‘Cursed with a fairly decent set of instincts’ (to quote your man)1
That shapes the way you greet and come to grips,
And how your heart and mind stand up to history if, that is,
You have the debatable luck of being drawn to its attention –
As happened in an English country house straight out of Agatha Christie:
The computer was devised to show what cannot be computed,
But used to simulate every other thing, till nothing counts
Or rhymes or scans that can’t be digitized. Not even this.

So. Out of the General Conference we rolled like drunken dice;
The Russian team had filled our cups but carefully stayed sober. So we fled
And took Patricia with us, since she seemed to be their target: Pat with all those
Languages who never read a book. Me in my brand new PhD, sign of a mis-spent
youth. And Cyril
(The Soviet diplomats, BTW, were expelled en masse the next day)
Cyril who had worked at Bletchley Park. A man on the train who saw him blitz the
(Times, of course), suggested he contact Colonel Such & Such. Which he did.
Japanese in six months then translating intercepts; keeping shtum, perhaps, about Pearl Harbour.
Language didn’t win the war, though; the number-crunchers did.
What could be computed? What could not be simulated?

Typewriter used to denote someone who typed; computer quickly dropped the
inessentials –
Tea break, pee break, looking out the window, who was that?– anything but
Observance of the symbol to be worked on.
A Soviet communiqué one day landed on my desk, with
Half a line of gibberish in the middle. Carbon copy. Sudden thought:
Took a Cyrillic keyboard, transcribed the letters one stop right
And it made sense. The typist’s boss or boyfriend maybe had snuck up behind her,
Nuzzed her neck. She’d carried on touch-typing, as if to say:
Enough of that; the symbol says shift or type
Or alter state (the set of standing orders).
Replace the operator with a sensor. And she’s gone.

Go home and watch the radio, little lady; you’re done.
Thirties glow of the diode that could croon like nothing since.
And who’s that pulling valves like dragon’s teeth to sow in circuit boards?
– Say one is on and off is not or naught (you’re English, right?)
So when you see that filament heat the lamp,
The a-machine says one. Otherwise it’s signifying Nothing.
– But it isn’t naught, it’s a bulky, fragile, tannic piece of kit; it’s just not lit:
Naught is when it’s bust or missing, not a valve or value.
Off is either/or, right? – Maybe so;
Go build a line of code with broken valves and see how far you get…

Nowhere near the arbitrary power of convention. And not for me
Blok’s attempt, in Retribution, to embed his own in epic,
For I want these words to fail.
Teacups in a storm, flea-market ceremonial swords
laid down before a shot was fired. Old calculators.
Little children, passed from house to house throughout the war,
Whose hunters got safe conduct to La Paz, witness
Friends and chronological survivors.
The best of you I’d exfiltrate from history with this
Poetry, its broken promise.

PETER McCAREY (Glasgow/Geneva) is the author of, Collected Contraptions (Carcanet), Find an Angel and Pick a Fight (Molecular Press) and Orasho (Red Squirrel Press).

  1. Heaney.

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