coverbnw.jpgI read this article from Wired News, “Down With Happiness: Drugs. Implants. Virtual reality. Do we really want joy 24/7?,” and couldn’t help but think about Brave New World (which the author references along with Wells’ The Time Machine) and the prophetic collection of essays Huxley published near the end of his life, Brave New World Revisited. It relates Huxley’s social and political anxieties, combining his own fears from BNW with those of George Orwell’s 1984. A great book, and despite its age, a relevant one too. It’s short. Check it out.

What do you see in this picture below? I see an alien face on the left; in the center, a helmeted ninja balancing two large green bottles in his right hand. There were messages there, dozens and dozens of them, but the only word I can really make out anymore seems to be “entrada.”

entrada.jpgI’ve had trouble writing with the Markov chaining process lately, and I think my problems have to do with the lack of any clear intention. I have a difficult time accepting the output from the program as aesthetic in its own right; it’s so sterile and inhuman, which is telling, as Markov processes were employed in the 1970’s experiments at MIT into artificial intelligence. Everything that seems evocative in the output is derived from the reader’s associations (or subconscious, perhaps, if you believe in such a thing).

The last input file I input into the program consisted of interesting blog posts that I had found when I searched for “dream” or “dreams” in Technorati and Google Blog Search. That’s how I found Robin Whitmore’s art blog (I appreciate the comment, btw). The best thing about looking for input is usually the discovery of such internet gems in the mountains of information garbage. But when I put this input of posts from dozens of different sources into the Markov chain program, what came out was uninteresting, difficult to sift through, and exactly the opposite of what I had hoped for. I wonder how much control is right for this process, and how much is too much. At what point does thematicizing the input stifle the quality of the output?

What I’ve done before, what I’ve attempted before in some of the poems I’ve made through this program, focused on enhancing the associational effect from all possible ends, input and output, and even the recycling process that goes on as the fragments are arranged and expanded upon. What is different about the Markov chain output from the perspective of a reader who is familiar with all of the text that has been input? Does this condition allow for more associations to be made, and are the associations then more relevant or resonant? And does this focus of the process on my [the author’s] personal associations only create a poem that is meaningful to the author himself (too idiosyncratic, to esoteric)?

A larger question may have to do with what I expect to come out of the whole process. What fits into my idea of what a poem is? How does this constrain the possibilities that the process opens up to me? Is it good enough to just do, just experiment, just hope that each poem works out? Or is this just ignorance running amok?


This diagram has something to do with Markhov chains, apparently.

The above diagram is as clear to me as my own understanding of my writing process, or any theories or purposes I have for writing the way I do. I tell myself that it has a lot to do with enjoyment, but I don’t know about that either.

Even before I began using a computer program to generate semi-random source material for my poems, I was already working off of the bizarre syntax and associations of some of the spam e-mail that was flooding my g-mail account, rearranging groupings of repeated words and phrases that came in the related sequences of randomized text. The insinuations that rise out of words placed in bizarre and unusually orders are sometimes stimulating and “fresh” in a way that I wanted to recreate.

I took advantage of my brother, a computer programmer, and asked him if he knew of any wat to make a program that would generate output similar to what I was enjoying in the spam messages. He had been looking at a program that uses the Markhov chain to combine two texts to often humourous effect, a programming trick that I begun to see is not exactly new. He took the code and translated it into Python, rewriting the process to take advantage of some different database widgets in the Python language, and setting up different variables to enter into it as commands. [He is currently working on a GUI for an updated version of the program that I am yet to see.]

What the program does is create a Markhov chain. I first input a large volume of text. I usually aim for at least a hundred pages, but thanks to free e-text repositories like Project Gutenberg, I can put in thousands of pages, if I feel like it. I tell it what key length I want it to analyze for: the larger the number, the less random and mixed the output. (I usually set it at one.) Then it outputs a chain of a certain number of words based on how many times I tell it to chain (or iterate). The result is a total mess of semi-grammatical sentences that are often extremely tiresome to read, but occasionally inspiring. This is where the real process of writing comes in.

The question arises here on what the source of inspiration has become with this process. I like to think that it is not much different from whatever internal (?) source I had before, but the conditions are quite different, and appear to be more controlled (?). But then, I believe the separation of internal and external reality is merely something that is apparent, not necesarily true.

Anyway, the program takes meaningful texts (either e-books or often selected blog posts) and mixes them all into an incoherent stew of insinuations. The first part of the process involves selection: of what texts to put in; of what words and phrases are taken from the program’s output; and lastly, the selection of which parts seem to resonate. This resonance can be based solely on my reaction to the output, or it may be based on the original texts as well; this relies on if I chose to read the texts I put in (which is usually the case with blog posts) or if I just put them in without much consideration to their original meanings other than the genre or category.

The second part of the process relies upon, I hope, a keen intuition. What seems right (whatever that means) when put together in a certain order? What happens when you separate them? What comes out of the dissonance of certain juxtapostions? What is this output, from this particular input, and in relation to my own frame of mind, trying to say? And when I have selected certain phrases, how can I actually connect them together? Is there a voice or character that is coming out of the text I have selected from the output?

At this point, I have begun to heavily reword things, inverting the meanings of phrases, moving them around on the page, and adding quite a bit of my own material to fill in the gaps. If what I am working on seems to correspond to another poem I had been working on, I may work lines from that in.

What comes out of this whole process is usually very raw and mangled. I hope its confusion is mostly a reflection of my own confusion, or my mind’s lack of clarity on that particular day or series of days. What I have found most interesting about this process, though, is the effect it has had on my writing that doesn’t use the MChain program (or The Monster, as I sometimes call it). In some ways, the demands of the process upon my intuition, my sense of rhythm, and my idea of what seems fresh, carries over into a lot of what I write without the program. I never know what is going to come out, and making a poem out of the program that works never becomes any easier, and it has never been easier than writing a poem in a more traditional way. But I like what I’m doing, and I’m always trying to think of some other way to use (and not use) the MChain program.



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I’m a poet, if I’ve neglected to mention that until now. Maybe I’ve been hiding it. I’m in my first year of an MFA degree at Purdue, which is why I don’t post often–too many other things to do. So, that’s what I’ve been doing.

You’ll have to click on the images above to read it; they’re very wide. We had an Art Studio session in workshop, but all I managed to do was come up with some imitative titles to a few abstract paintings out of an old issue of New American Paintings and stick some magnet words on a metal plate.  Here are lines one and two. I’ll put some of the others up as I have the time to edit the images in GIMP, but each of them is meant to be a contained unit. My idea was to place words up from the several hundred that I had to work with until I ran out of room vertically. No punctuation, restricted word choices, uncertain tone, arbitrary length restriction: sounds like my kind of thing.

I’ll put some posts up from now on about my poetry, and what I’m doing with spam mail and Markhov chaining. I don’t have much of a poetics, but I’ll talk some about that, too. Maybe it will all work out.

10_dolphinb.jpgFor the record (does this thing constitute a record of some kind?), I have not abandoned this blog. And no, nobody accused me of doing so, and sure, I am feeling just a bit defensive for no clear reason today, so what?

I figured I would put up a new link off to the right for you avid readers. MiPOesias is an online poetry magazine I’ve been browsing through occasionally over the last few months. The issue guest-edited by Gabriel Gudding (which has a theme of “weird” poems) is what drew me to it initially. I saw Gabriel read at the University of Illinois when I was an undergrad. I remember him reading the draft of a poem about fisting a dolphin’s blowhole. Fucking A! It seems to me like he’d be a qualified judge for weird poetry and, from time to time in that issue, good poetry.

What I’m listening to: Tom Waits, Starving in the Belly of a Whale. How appropriate.

I had a dream about a crow-headed man two nights ago. He entered my house, which I remember having the general feel of the house in A Scanner Darkly, and told me he was going to eat me soon, but to hang out with him for a while first. I don’t think he was lonely, but he might have been. He must have been. Why else would he have wanted to hang out? He displayed no emotion. I tried to get away at some point.

I found this too amusing to ignore. Two peace activists have taken it upon themselves to initiate the Global Orgasm Project, scheduled for Dec 22 (Winter Solstice). Their hope is to focus, world-wide, positive energy and hopes for peace enhanced by the power orgasm.

What is most interesting to me is that they mention specifically the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton as an inspiration and basis scientifically for the project. If you’re unfamiliar with this research project, they describe their goal as being “to examine subltle correlations that appear to reflect the presence and activity of consciousness in the world” through scientifically “demonstrating that human consciousness interacts with random event generators (REGs), apparently “causing” them to produce non-random patterns.”

Their blog linked to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle which says some more about who the two originators of the project are. Sounds a bit nutty perhaps, or maybe even (Say it!) ballsy (tee hee!).

Just came across this new (relatively) Easy Star All-Stars album when I was on Pandora (the music genome project). In case you’re not familiar with them, they released a reggae/dub remake of Dark Side of the Moon in 2003 entitled Dub Side of the Moon. And now with another fantastic pun, we have Radiodread, just out in August. Self-explanatory what this is about by now, I’m sure. I heard “Let Down,” and it sounds great.  Toots and the Maytals still got it.


Uproariously funny group of websites! How could these possibly be real!? Check out the amazing Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie! (Not just for humans–try it on pets and infants, too!) And see my selection for the Most Confusing Graph Ever award on black helicopters!

Turns out that it is parody, according to How else could you explain the wide variety of crazy topics hosted there, from the worship of Lord Kelvin to the Truth about Belgium?

And check out his great Linus Torvald wallpaper from his downloads section. Truly Amazing!