This is just a simple post asking a simple question (and some related ones): Where is electronic poetry / digital poetry / e-poetry / generative poetry / computational poetry being published online? Are there any journals or blogs specializing in it or making space for it? Or is it all scattered here and there and difficult to find?

And, just to be clear, the poetry I’m concerned with here is that which is composed in concert with generative or algorithmic processes, remixes existing or online text (scraped via APIs, for example) to some degree, is interactive, or is visually designed/implemented with coding or software that animates or automates some part of the work. It could also be some kind of sound poetry that uses filters or automation in some artistic way. (Yikes, is that actually clear? I hope so.) Basically, not just regularly (human-only) written poetry put in a JPEG or posted in any of the usual ways to the internet.

I pose this question as a long-time participant in this creative “genre,” if it can be called that (perhaps “endeavor” or “approach” would be better), who was heavily involved for many years with one of the few engaged group blogs that I know of that centered around computational poetry, Gnoetry Daily, and has published three chapbooks of digital/computational poetry.

I ask as an avid reader of new books and works of digital/computational poetry, as well as other areas of digital art like generative art, which I am also become more and more engaged in. There are frequently a couple of new books of poetry written by or in collaboration with computer processes published every year or so. (I plan to review a couple of recent books from Anteism Books, for example, in the next few months.)

I mean, of all people, shouldn’t I be capable of answering this question? I have Google, right? And many keywords and combinations. But they tend to just find electronic poetry centers/repositories, electronic/digital journals of non-computational poetry, or “digital poetry activities” for students. And some cool scholarly articles on “computational creativity” sometimes. That’s all great stuff, but not what I want: to be inspired, to see that there is a community of writers working in this vein, perhaps to find collaborators.

But I am isolated in my apartment, and just crawling and scratching my way out of several years of life shit / depression / writer’s block / dark night of the soul. And I can be such a stubborn loner. I can’t do everything alone, right?

So, hey, if any of you other electronic poetry enthusiasts out there stumble upon this, please, Please, PLEASE, drop of comment or link or something. I’d love to make a list.

And shameless promotion is highly encouraged 🙂

I am working on some new poetry to use within a larger digital poetry work. The idea is to write some lines and paragraphs that can be tagged and then combined into new poems (my very loose plan for now). I am currently using Gnoetry 0.2 (and will soon be using jGnoetry and a simple RiTa function I’ve been working on that implements Markov chaining / n-grams) to write some lines as well, which are then revised and worked into my own writings. The last part of my plan may be to include new sentences/paragraphs/lines that are generated from the rest of the source text and woven into the other text.

I’ll keep you updated on this as it evolves.

The poem below (let’s just think of it as a standalone poem for now, why not) is very similar to a poem I wrote without computer processes several years ago: The Mind, Not Poetry, Is a Machine Made of Words. I will probably include that text into my project as well.


However Sincere It Is Almost Nothing (some fragments)

I’m not the story I’m telling you, however sincere. The checksum confirms receipt of these fragments. You will receive seven packages, a duffle bag full of heads–something like that.

Remember. I’m not taking this all so seriously now no more scraping & screeching about. My fear is I will not be capable of sharing my loving when the shining moment comes.

There is a story here but it is boring. A being who cannot abide its inherent innocence flirts with every transgression it can stomach and ends up nowhere really.

If I produce enough powerful statements will a magical transformation occur? If I write clearly enough, truthfully enough, sharply enough, what will happen? Imagine how the other poets have fared.

Dandelions in our hair and woven around our wrists and ankles. The earth celebrates. But artificial skin can feel enough like the real thing when you want it to.

However sincere, you can find the roots of my voice growing all over these lines, perhaps symbiotic, perhaps parasitic. It is never clear who is devoured and who is fed among these flimsy souls I summon.

There is no set order to these lines. Be quiet and listen. Quieter still. Order does not announces itself but emerges in the branching seams.

Do not tell me about the world anymore. Tell me you just dropped out at last like you always dreamed of. Show me the unstained way, I cannot see with these eyes in the way. Point me to the heart of being.

It is not in the dark and brooding brook, it is not in the dark and bristling body. The grass is shorter and shorter, the rose with an apple inside is almost nothing.

Go to the Converging Stanzas Generator!

I put this together over a year ago as a coding exercise and then just forgot about it. Since I first got Jackson Mac Low’s collection of new and selected poems Thing of Beauty in 2008, the poem “Converging Stanzas” has fascinated me. I think it’s the entropy at it’s core, the slow decay, like William Basinksi’s Disintegration Loops in poem form.

The materials and method used for the poem were detailed in the following note by Mac Low that was included in Thing of Beauty:

“Converging Stanzas” was composed by chance operations utilizing the random-digit table A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1955) and The Basic English Word List. …

In composing “Converging Stanzas” I used random digits to determine a stanza structure consisting of eight lines comprising successively five, three, one, eight, four, two, two, and seven words. When composing the first stanza, I filled this 32-word 53184227 structure with words drawn from the Basic English list by chance operations using random digits. The 32 places of the second stanza were filled with words from the first stanza by random-digit chance operations, those of the third stanza with words from the second, and so on. The method used worked in such a way that the number of different words in successive stanzas gradually declined. The poem ended with the sixtieth stanza, in which the number of different words had “converged” to one word, which occupies all 32 places of that stanza. (236)

It was all pretty straightforward and very fun to figure out. Much easier to do with code than manually consulting a random number table. I was able to download a copy of Ogden and Richard’s The Basic English Word List, and then it was just a matter of coding in a variable stanza pattern for the stanzas and letting random selection do the rest. I decided for each generation of the program to randomly choose a stanza length of between 6 and 10 lines, then create a unique stanza pattern for the lines of word lengths between 1 and the stanza length. 

I opted to use a slider to move through the stanzas because I like the visual impact of moving quickly through the stanzas and seeing the word diversity drop down to the remaining single word. Try it for yourself, it’s fun!

I hope you enjoy this little novelty program. I plan to make more little generative / interactive poetry programs in the future.

Creative Writing to Creative Coding

This year I have finally started to take on and complete some serious creative coding projects. For about a decade I have been satisfied to write with software created by others — mchain, Gnoetry, etc. Now I am working to creating digital poetry, digital arts and interactive writing systems of my own, customized for new writing projects. I’ve settled on the Processing generative arts language/environment to begin with, and have worked mostly in Java at this point. I am just starting to work with p5.js too, which is a javascript variant of Processing using pretty much the same syntax.

Earlier this year I completed my first complete sketch, or program, which I had drafted almost two years ago. You can read about that program here: LINEmaker v. 0.2. That project is text-based but also incorporates user interaction to create simple visual poems.

I’ll be writing more on my work with digital poetry and Processing soon, either here or at a new website, as my work progresses.

Collaborating on No Blame with Poet Tyler Carter

Beginning in July of this year, I began working with my friend and fellow poet/writer Tyler Carter to implement a writing system he had used several years before as a computer program. I was still learning basic coding skills with Processing, so I chose to continue using it even though this project would only really be sorting text and using I Ching casting methods to put together a book of 64 poems — i.e. there would be no interaction or anything drawn to the screen. I felt that Java and Processing would work well for this even though the project would not take advantage of any of the special features of the Processing language/environment.

The No Blame project has been complete now (the book, at least) for about a month, and I feel it has been a very successful collaboration. The permutations of the 256 lines of text, set by the program into 4 sets of 16 poems of 16 lines each, are kaleidoscopic and regularly engaging — something that does not always happen with conceptual computational systems like this. The four sets are arranged as: (1) the original 16 poems written from the 256 lines, (2) the same lines rearranged into 16 lists of 16 lines each according to linguistic/other characteristics, (3) the original poems “remixed” according to a set of unique (as in non-repeating and comprehensive) stanza patterns, and (4) the linguistic lists “remixed” in the same fashion.

The I Ching plays a significant role in the work, and it brings a sense of wholeness to the work as well as connecting to a longer tradition of using the I Ching in process poetry (Jackson Mac Low and John Cage, for example). The work does not connect thematically with the I Ching, nor should it be thought to have any oracular use; instead, it seeks to mirror/reproduce the architecture or structure of the mystical system. All of the poems are ordered and titled according to the unique I Ching hexagram cast by the program at its final stage of assembling the book, so the four sets mentioned above are not discrete, but are all interwoven together through the book. All 64 hexagrams are represented in the book, hinting to the representation of the whole person through the parallel systems of the hexagram titles and the assembled (and reassembled) statements of the poems.

Tyler and I are sending the manuscript out to presses soon for publication, but you can view the code, which I have commented heavily, at GitHub (see link below). If you are a publisher interested in works of computational or process poetry, I’d be glad to hear from you (see the Contact Me page for contact).

This project has helped me to grow as a programmer quite a bit, and I am proud of some of the solutions I made to rather complex problems, like how to create a set of 16 non-repeating four-line stanza patterns from the numbers 1-16 using all numbers exactly 4 times in each of the four stanza slots (each line in the pattern is a “slot”). That was quite tricky. Creating a simple alphanumeric system for representing I Ching hexagrams took some thought as well. Collaborating with another poet to construct a computation poetry program has been very rewarding as well, and I hope for more collaborations in the future as programmer and poet/programmer.


Code for No Blame at GitHub

 

Click here for LINEmaker

LINEmaker is the fruit of my labor to move my concrete poem series LINES from OpenOffice, where I was using the advanced font settings to create poems from letters smashed closely together (and taking advantage of some of OpenOffice’s glitches with this). Here are two of my favorite New LINES poems: line-010813

New-LINES-HarkThe program takes this basic idea, but adds more interaction and options. It was coded in Processing and exported to javascrpt.

To use LINEmaker, you must first click in the canvas area to begin writing, then you can move the mouse horizontally to expand/condense the font spacing and vertically to adjust the transparency of the text.

Here are some screenshots from LINEmaker:

131114_185514_19692131114_185934_35270131114_144858_33795 131114_134325_1151

Click here for LINEmaker

Enjoy!

I’ve been thinking about practices for setting up successful live improvisation for two Ableton Live users. Coming from a background of performing in jazz and wind ensembles, there are significant differences to take into account: the “instruments” here are much more sophisticated and can produce an huge range of sounds, styles and tones. Improvisation must occur on multiple levels as a more textured composition emerges.

From my experiences over the past year improvising with another Ableton Live user, I think I can conclude the following:

  • There is a tendency, even a desire, to be subsumed by the processes happening on the screen. At the top is the music and sound being produced; much as the actions of your improvisation partner are not always clear to you or in your perception, and you only focus on his/her musical contribution, so your own actions can be subsumed under the end musical results. The body and machine are integrated, and the product is what matters most.
  • While one is improvising, one is primarily in a reactionary state and not an active state of thinking. This is true in most forms of improvisation, as years of study and practice on an instrument must make the performance of music as spontaneous as possible. It feels even more reactionary in Ableton, though, as more active forms of production, like the preparation of samples, instruments and other sound palettes are too time intensive to be done in the midst of an improvisation.
  • Because of this, preparation of sound material and some sense of pre-arrangement of different instruments and samples is necessary for one to be successful in a group improvisation with DAW’s like Ableton.

On another note, I have found that working with Ableton Live in some ways mirrors my work with the Gnoetry 0.2 computer poetry program. The sense of being subsumed into the process unfolding on the screen is sometimes quite total. It is a part of the compositional thought process, and my own thought and decision-making is combined with the prosthetic cognitive tool on my screen and at my fingertips via my keyboard and mouse.

I plan to continue this writing on the connections between compositional practices and strategies in different digital art forms on an ongoing basis. My experience alternating between projects in digital music, digital poetry and digital art over the past year has helped me to see some of the similarities and differences clearly enough, I hope, to make some useful connections.

Read it.

It’s not a critical review, since I’m not scholar in the field. Think of it as a recommendation for others like me: aware of digital poetry from the periphery, not too studied in the digital humanities, and working slowly to become a practitioner of digital poetry and other digital arts.

A great book for anyone interested in digital poetry. It covers a wide range of works from many contemporary artists working in this ever-evolving field.

‘Insert the poetic where we’d least expect it’: An Interview with artist and poet Mary Flanagan @ Sycamore Review

Digital poet, artist, game designer, etc., responds to my questions about her entrance into + works of digital poetry, her current projects, the state of publication today, and gives some sagely advice for new digipoets. Many thanks to Sycamore Review for setting the whole thing up and for asking me to conduct it.