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Poem: "lacquerware" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "lacquerware"

This poem came out of the April 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by siliconshaman who wanted Edopunk.  I hunted around in the Edo period and its technology, eventually turning up some interesting tidbits about lacquer.  The poem has been sponsored by laffingkat.


an accident in
the chemistry of lacquer
would change everything

urushi lacquer
is quite sensitive to light,
easily damaged

how short a step from
"damage" to "a photoprint"
that was the first change

Edo artisans
developed technology
based upon layers

they traced circuitry
with singular strands of silk
pressed between lacquer

chemical changes --
static electricity
no longer stayed put

they wrote whole programs
with silk and water and char
layered into chips

the first computers
resembled tea bowls and trays:
polished perfection

their meticulous
nature became as famous
as their courtesy

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8 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 5th, 2012 06:12 am (UTC) (Link)
siege From: siege Date: April 5th, 2012 02:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like this. I imagine setting a lacquer tea pourer in sunlight, and receiving a reading from the I Ching based on which cup has been selected, and the depth of the pour. Or an automatic abacus with a layered lacquer backing that tells the gravity-driven motors which beads to move.
paka From: paka Date: April 5th, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, that's awesome! As alternate history goes that's ridiculously believable!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 5th, 2012 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I enjoy looking for ways that things could have gone differently. I'm very good at spotting patterns and parallels. If things can be constructed in similar ways, sometimes they can be made to perform similar functions. And if things react to a certain stimulus, that can often be tweaked around until it does something useful.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: April 5th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

I wonder what the inputs and outputs for these systems look like.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 5th, 2012 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)


Mechanical or programming?
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: April 5th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Either, but particularly human-perceptible output. Programable devices are relatively new; early on, "programming" would have been hardware design for a device with a fixed function or small/related set of functions. But to be useful, it has to deliver some result in some form -- light, heat, sound, scent, movement ...

(I'm not sure what range of things we do now with electronics you're proposing to do with lacquerware -- the flow the poem suggests leaping straight to things that function like modern integrated circuits, without a lot of the bulkier stages we went through along the way. And this is a fine place to wave poetic license at me.)
From: siliconshaman Date: April 7th, 2012 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
The edo period had lacquer and silk armour as well, which was actually bullet proof!

Hmm, now combine that with the automata that reached their zenith during that time, and that would be amazing...

Although... if one limits it to lacquer-ware computers, then the role of the tea-house and the geisha would change, no?
8 comments or Leave a comment