18 October 2017

Exhausted Yet? Cut up Machines, Code Poetry and More

First, Nada Gordon explains the world to us


See what I mean? Trying to find something new can drive a poet crazy. Which is generally where she likes to be. And has been for a century, but we'll just start with the Fifties. 


From the 2017 Getty show on Concrete Poetry of the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

1975 performance of "Peter Innisfree Moore" by Jackson Mac Low, a poem/song/dance created by finding 960 words in the Fluxus photographer's (Moore's) name and using chance operations to express (also musical notes, dance moves, etc.)

Nice roundup of experimental poetry from textext.com.

A link to the Language Is a Virus cut-up machine


Check "Recombinant Code Poetry" at the bottom of the options on this archived page from Beehive.

Fantastic link re: L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E P-O-E-T-R-Y.

And, a propos of something related, syllabus from hypertexter Stephanie Strickland. 

To think about Strickland and the proliferation of options, it's nice to remember Raymond Queneau, who created a flip book of sonnets in which the lines were cut so that the reader might create 190 million poems. Then he went and titled it Cent Mille Milliards de Poemes, or One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. Randomization designed to destroy narrative and kill author/birth reader. Yes.

Queneau's pals formed Oulipo, hoping to create artificial constraints that would remind us of the real ones we live with all the time. My favorite take-away has been the N+7, a process that replaces every noun with the seventh noun following it in the dictionary. Here is Spoonbill's N+7 machine.  Here are a few examples.  

17 GOOGLE poems linked on Huff Post.


Czech poet and mathematician Ladislav Nebeský (b. 1937) (whose father was murdered by the Nazis in 1940) began as a concrete poet and ended as a binary poet.  Here are "8 Planar Binary poems." And here are his "Non-Written Words."


And my favorite Vito Acconci.

Don't forget Alan Sondheim. 



"All art should become science, 
and all science art." 
(Friedrich Schlegel)

Benjamin on Ads and Crit

"What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving red neon sign says -- but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt..."  -- Walter Benjamin

Stephanie Strickland, hypertext, authorship, final versions

I just happened upon this wonderful essay by Stephanie Strickland, "Poetry in the Electronic Environment." Ostensibly she is describing how she composed her hypertext poetry book, True North, using the "electronic environment" of hypertext, but she deals with other crucial matters as she goes.

She is (sorry, but it's true) poetic on the topic of the Web and the "great freedom" it affords us. She points to it as our best example of hypertext, the "almost biological" entity that is always "proliferating links." Only connect, as the Romantic Forster implored (and as two male financiers have quoted to me. Surprising me. Way off topic, but you never know where literature lurks, longing to link. With you.) As she writes,

"[Cyberspace] is characterized as tidal sea, web, sky, and solid. Thus, people surf it, send out web-crawlers to explore it, gophers to tunnel through it, engines to mine data from it, and they fly through and above it in game simulations. They establish "home" pages in it, as though it were rooted, although at their own location distance has disappeared--New Zealand, New York, St. Paul, equally present, and equally speedily present."

And this, for perspective, is from a talk given in Minnesota in 1997. Even during these heady days, she is hardly fanatical. She wryly adds,

"All these metaphors suggest a great freedom of movement, but electronic space is also where you lock up, if the power goes down, if the network crashes, if your machine fails to harmonize with its software. Maybe space metaphors are not the right ones to choose; maybe time is more to the point, and you will think so as you wait for your host connection, or wait for sound to download, a graphic to paint."

Ironically, just as I was moving (appropriating) (stealing) (sharing) this text, Safari locked down and, for two days, I lost this, her essay, and a dozen windows I'd opened to look and think about conceptual writing. As if to prove her true. (She is powerful.)

Considering hypertext, she connects with the "truly radical" method of Emily Dickinson, ever preserving alternative versions of her work. An inability to commit -- neurosis -- becomes a genius for keeping the world open, suspended, engagable -- write-able. She gifted us with a multi-dimensional space, and offers a hint at what is to come. Strickland urges us to explore

"how to shape our intuitions about digitized data, how to learn to "read" meaning in geometries of representation, how to understand more fully the meaning of numbers, number-systems, and the modes of number-use which we are invoking to incarnate data, literally to construct virtual bodies."

The author is dead, long live the author.

And here is the link to order True North Hypertext






13 March 2014

ZZ Packer

A great first line can be wonderfully galvanizing thing. Sometimes they don't entirely pan out; other times they are fair harbingers of pleasures to come. Such is the case in the first line of the ZZ Packer story, "Brownies," assigned for tomorrow:

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie troop 909.”



I've found a video of Packer reading the story, in case any of you want to hear it from the horse's mouth. Check it out if you like. In any case, do get through this excellent tale of youth and groups and race and many other matters--we'll be discussing first thing.


06 March 2014

Writing about Thinking

One of the first things I heard in grad school was from Rosellen Brown, who tried valiantly to warn me away from the "sitting and thinking" story.

I didn't take the warning completely to heart, though I knew it was serious and applied to me. Hence, no doubt, my own fiction output.

Now I find that I have the same basic discussion all the time with my college students. Through one of them this semester, I came across this exercise from the beloved Chuck Palahniuk. In the essay, Nuts and Bolts: Thought Verbs, Palahniuk offers up an incredible discipline in examining these problematic thoughts--these insights so crucial to us as writers and so deadly boring to our readers. The essentials are below:

...pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb.  Then, find some way to eliminate it.  Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing.  Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them.  After that, find a way to re-write them.  Make them stronger.

 Check the whole thing out here and give his exercise a shot--if you dare. 

13 February 2014

It is said that TheCastle, while being an indisputably great book, seems pointless to read after a while. And I admit that, although I am officially reading it this week and am pretty delighted by it, I have not been driven to pick it up every day, as I recently was with The Goldfinch and The Son. It makes sense: Franz Kafka's story is one of incompletion, in which a man named K. (even his name is incomplete) arrives to a mysterious, unplace-able town dominated by an impregnable bureaucracy known as, of course, The Castle. A few pages in, it is painfully yet wonderfully clear that he is not going to reach his grail. Why should I finish the book if our hero’s hopes are to be brutally dashed?

All the more a reason to think about its beginning. In the beginnings, we usually find the ends. In fact, the first chapter is the only one from The Castle ever published by Franz Kafka. So let’s take a look at its first paragraph:

It was late in the evening when K. arrived. The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village, K. stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness above him.

As the book goes on, the Castle above grows even more illusory and empty, and the gaze lasts a long time, but, oh, that gaze. That is the crux of it, this gaze peering into the mist and darkness. And what a great way to beckon us on to read and learn more.

The other beginning I’m thinking of this week is from our textbook, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction. In “The School,” Donald Barthelme begins:

Well, we had all these children out planting trees, see, because we figured that . . . that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the root systems . . . and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being individually responsible. You know what I mean. And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the bet. We complained about it. So we’ve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant, and we’ve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.

With Barthelme, as usual, I enjoy him too much to make critical sense. But it’s safe to say that we are meeting a man through his voice, we are hearing a story through a man. And though a man isn’t telling us about his day, his life, we are learning all sorts of important things about him.


This is especially a speaking voice, one that repeats itself a bit, that doesn’t quite end, and that is depressed by the death of trees but this depression, well, maybe . . . (it’s hard not to mimic the rhythm in part) maybe that’s not the most adult response to take to the blight. So we worry a little for the children, and wonder if he, their teacher presumably, knew anything about trees before handing out thirty of them. I at least am curious to read on, to see what other disasters follow at this poor school. 

10 February 2014

A few notes about grading

In the old days, I used to proudly announce that I don't believe in grading creative work. It was part of my training. I went to schools where whatever I turned in to a CW class was given an A. And I can assure you, it wasn't because all my work was excellent. 

Over time, however, I've come to see that treating students as if they are all young geniuses who might be harmed by being corrected or edited is silly and maybe even lazy. In fact, such teaching isn't teaching at all but a great disservice. There is plenty to learn about writing, and plenty to call "mistakes" -- even though the mistakes might become something quite powerful if you really push them. But first you have to know what you're up to. 

This is why we draft and workshop. We draft, change, discuss and even argue about fiction in the classroom. (It's always good when there is real disagreement, as there was on Friday.) And I insist on small group workshops as you develop your stories. Mostly I am guiding you toward an understanding of fictional strategies--your own, your classmates', Ernest Hemingway's, and Selah Saterstrom's. Because I work on the theory that all writing is revision, I want you to be able to see what you do as mechanical even as we all know that good writing is inspired and can't really be quantified. Here, we have to quantify it. And I have to give grades. 

So for your stories I give one grade for the story and one for the mechanics--your grammar and punctuation. (Those quotations!) They are averaged together for your total grade, so poor punctuation can cost you. The first three stories won't count as much as the two you work on for the portfolio, but super low grades can be a problem. That's why I allow revisions to improve the grade.