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.