Taper is a DIY literary magazine that hosts very short computational literary works — in the first issue, sonic, visual, animated, and generated poetry that is no more than 1KB, excluding comments and the standard header that all pages share. In the second issue, this constraint will be relaxed to 2KB.
The first issue has nine poems by six authors, which were selected by an editorial collective of four. Here is how this work looked when showcased today at our exhibit in the Trope Tank:
This issue is tiny in size and contains only a small number of projects, but we think they are of very high quality and interestingly diverse. This first issue of Taper also lays the groundwork for fairly easy production of future issues.
The next issue will have two new editorial collective members, but not me, as I focus on my role as publisher of this magazine though my very small press, Bad Quarto.
About 12 hours ago I was reading “The New Art of Making Books” by Ulises Carrión, a text I’d read before but which I hadn’t fully considered and engaged with. As I thought about Carrión’s writing, I felt compelled to put together a short piece on the Web. That took the form of a Web page containing a rapidly-moving concrete poem. The work I devised is called “Una página de Babel.”
Many will surely note that it is based on Jorge Luis Borges’s “Una biblioteca de Babel” (The Library of Babel). And, I hope people are aware of some the other interesting digital projects based on this story. I have seen one from years ago on CD-ROM; one that is very nice, and available on the Web, is Jeremiah Johnson’s BABEL. There’s also the exquisite Library of Babel by Jonathan Basile.
My piece does not try to closely and literally implement the library that Borges described, although it does have a page that is formally like the ones in Borges’s library: 80 characters wide, 40 lines long. Given this austere rectangular regularity, I assumed a typewriter-like monospace font.
The devotion of “Una página” to what the text describes stops there; instead of using the 23-letter alphabet that Borges sketches to populate this 80×40 grid, I use the unigram probabilities of letters in the story itself, in the Spanish text of “La biblioteca de Babel.” So, for instance, the lowercase letter a occurs a bit less than 8.4% of the time, and this is the probability with which it is produced on the page. The same holds for spaces, for the letter ñ, and for all other glyphs; they appear on the page at random, with the same probability that they do in Borges’s story. Because each letter is picked independently at random, the result does not bear much relationship to Spanish or any other human language, in which the occurrence of a glyph usually has something to do with the glyph before it (and before that, and so on).
“Una página” is also non-interactive. One can zoom, screenshot, copy and paste, and so on, but the program itself does not accept user input.
Browser demo: “More Tongue.” This was, well, not really a standard demo, even for a browser demo, that generates nonsense poems with compact code. Like everything at demoparties, it’s been released, but I’m going to work on a post-party version, so I’m leaving the party version out of this list.
Shortcat is a very simple encoding scheme to make bytes (thus computer programs) into pleasing Unicode tweets, IMs, etc. #demoscene
The book consists of poetic programs and their outputs. The programs in the book are all free software, and in case you don’t want to type them in, the longer ones are all available in my “code” directory.
I hope you’ll get a copy at your local independent bookseller.
Steve McCaffery read at MIT in the Purple Blurb series on March 19, 2012. A recording of part of that reading (his reading of Carnival) is embedded above; the text of my introduction follows.
Thank you all for braving the cold to come out today. Did you know that today is officially the last day of Winter? Ever! Winter is officially over forever!
But I come not to bury Winter, but to praise Steve McCaffery, and to introduce him. Steve McCaffery is professor and Gray Chair at the University of Buffalo in the Poetics Program. He comes to us from there, and before, from Canada, where he did much of his pioneering work in sound and concrete poetry. He is one of those people who is know for his non-digital work but without whom the current situation of electronic literature, of digital writing, could not exist. He is in that category, for instance, with Jorge Luis Borges.
You would have me institutionalized for loggorrhea if I attempted to read Steve McCaffery’s entire bibliography and discography to you.
Know, however, that McCaffery was one of the Four Horsemen, along with bpNichol, Rafael Barreto-Rivera, and Paul Dutton. This groundbreaking group of sound poets, numbering almost as many mouths as there are vowels, released several albumbs: “Live in the West,” and “Bootleg,” and “caNADAda.”
McCaffery’s critical writing can found in “North of Intention: Critical Writings 1973-1986” and “Prior to Meaning: The Protosemantic and Poetics” His two-volume selected poems, “Seven Pages Missing,” was published in Coach House in 2000. It earned him his second Governor General’s Awards nomination; his first was for his 1991 book “Theory of Sediment.” More recently, there’s his “Verse and Worse: Selected Poems 1989-2009,” which he and Darren Wershler edited.
And, I’ll mention two other books, his “The Basho Variations,” published in 2007, which consists of different translations and version of Matsuo Basho’s famous haiku, which could be rendered clunkily as “old pond / frog jump in / water sound.” A digital version of this haiku can be seen in Neil Hennesy’s “Basho’s Frogger,” a modified version of the game Frogger in which the first row of floating items is missing so that one can only … you know … jump in. McCaffery is pond and frog and sound, placid and salient and resonant, and we are very lucky to have him here with us tonight.
Finally, I want to mention his extraordinary poem “Carnival.” I’ve taught the first panel to dozens of students here at MIT, so it’s black and red and read all over. The two panels of “Carnival” are incredible documents. If only fragments of them survive in three thousand years, that will be adequate for archaeologists to reconstruct the functioning and history of the typewriter completely. Of course, there’s more to “Carnival” than that material writing technology. But instead of saying more, I should simply let our guest give voice to “Carnival” and other works of his. Please join me in welcoming Steve McCaffery…