Who Grabbed My Gorge

In January 2009, I wrote a very short (one page) Python poetry generator that creates a limitless nature poem each time it is run. I wrote this generator, “Taroko Gorge,” mostly at Taroko Gorge National Park in Taiwan, finishing it on the plane afterwards. I later ported it to JavaScript so that it could be easily run in a Web browser.

It seems the gorge goes ever ever on. The code from “Taroko Gorge” and the form it defines have been appropriated a few times. Here are five poetry generators that use the code from that project and replace my text with different, and often much more extensive, language:

“Tokyo Garage” by Scott Rettberg, 2009. [Output from “Tokyo Garage” read aloud by a pedantic machinima clown.]

“Gorge” by J. R. Carpenter, 2010. [Announcement of “Gorge.”] [Output appears in J. R. Carpenter’s GENERATION[S], Traumawien: 2010.]

“Along the Briny Beach” by J. R. Carpenter, 2011. [Announcement of “Along the Briny Beach.”]

“Toy Garbage” by Talan Memmott, 2011.

“Yoko Engorged” by Eric Snodgrass. 2011. [Announcement of “Yoko Engorged.”]

Conferencing on Code and Games

First, as of this writing: I’m at the GAMBIT Summer Summit here at MIT, which runs today and is being streamed live. Do check it out if video game research interests you.

A few days ago, I was at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Bordeaux. On July 1 I presented the first conference paper on Curveship since the system has been released as free software. The paper is “Curveship’s Automatic Narrative Style,” which sums up or at least mentions many of the research results while documenting the practicalities of the system and using the current terminology of the release version.

four FDG attendees

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Malcolm Ryan, Michael Young (next year’s FDG local organizer) and Michael Mateas in between sessions at FDG 2011.

At FDG, there was a very intriguing interest in focalization, seen in Jichen Zhu’s presentation of the paper by Jichen Zhu, Santiago Ontañón and Brad Lewter, “Representing Game Characters’ Inner Worlds through Narrative Perspectives” and in the poster “Toward a Computational Model of Focalization” by Byung-Chull Bae, Yun-Gyung Cheong, and R. Michael Young. (Zhu’s work continues aspects of her dissertation project, of which I was a supervisor, so I was particularly interested to see how her work has been progressing.) Curveship has the ability to change focalization and to narrate (textually) from the perspective of different characters, based on their knowledge and perceptions; this is one of several ways in which it can vary the narrating. I’ll be interested to see how others continue to explore this aspect of narrative.

Before FDG was Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, where I was very pleased, on June 22, to join a panel assembled by Rita Raley. I briefly discussed data-driven poetic practices of different sorts (N+7, diastic writing, and many other forms) and presented ppg256 and Concrete Perl, which are not data-driven. I argued that as humanists we should be “digging into code” as well as data, understanding process in the new ways that we can. It was great to join Sandy Baldwin, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and John Cayley on this panel, to discuss code and poetry with them, and to hear their presentations.

Concrete Perl

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  i  u  p  p z   r n t  k f   b h v  q l  x w h x  f  x    c i w     v f 
k h   l  a i      o q  s z n z  u n c l    w      d     a  d a  m j  b e 
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Concrete Perl

a set of four concrete poems realized as 32-character
Perl programs

by Nick Montfort

All the Names of God
Alphabet Expanding
ASCII Hegemony
Letterformed Terrain

You can download the linked Perl files and/or simply copy and paste the following four lines, which correspond to the four titles above:

perl -e '{print"a"x++$...$"x$.,$,=_;redo}'
perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.01),a..z;redo}'
perl -e '{print" ".chr for 32..126;redo}'
perl -e '{print$",$_=(a..z)[rand$=];redo}'

For purposes of determining the platform precisely and counting characters, the rules of Perl Golf are
used. These rules, for instance, do not count the (optional) newline at the end of a one-line program. The Concrete Perl programs work on all standard versions of Perl 5.8.0 and have been verified as 32 characters long using a count program.

These programs are also written to work and to be visually pleasing on terminal windows (or terminals) of any geometry.

To present them all at once, you can tile four windows and run one program in each window. For instance, running Linux with Compiz as the window manager and the Grid plugin installed and active, create four windows and assign them to the four corners of the screen using Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 7, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 9, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 1, and Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 3. In this
mode if the resolution of the display is not particularly high, you may wish to decrease the font size a notch in each window.

Concrete Perl was released onto the demoscene and discussed by me for the first time in my talk “Beyond Data-Driven Poetry: ppg256 and Concrete Perl,” on the panel “Literary Practice and the Digital Humanities, Redux: Data as/and Poetry,” Digital Humanities 2011, Stanford, June 22, 2011.

I have printed the four programs/poems on a dot matrix printer on business cards and am handing them out and, in some cases, adding them to the “Interactive Poetry Wall” at Stanford University’s “Coho” coffeehouse.

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 w a    w q k       j   y y   k c r    d i         b p  f   z h  i x    i
 c  o  x  f  p f     u d   g z y f b y  v     q    v  g v    o      j l  

Generador de la Historia “The Two” en Español

Thanks to Carlos León, there is now a Spanish version, “Los Dos,” of my simple but (I think) provocative story generator “The Two.” The system was previously translated into French as “Les Deux” by Serge Bouchardon.

Stop by and check them out; all three are available in JavaScript versions that run right away in a browser. For those who are interested, the original Klingon, er, Python, is also available for each of the three languages.

The reader who takes the time to try to actually understand the output and resolve the pronouns in it will see that often this task is complicated by ambiguity in gender, although syntax and power relations also work to suggest certain ways that pronouns can be resolved. The need to leave the gender of the characters indeterminate in the first line posed particular problems, and slightly different problems, for the French and Spanish translators, who each found a solution.

The Digital Rear-View Mirror

I’m at the intriguing and very sucessful third 2011 symposium of TILTS, the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies. (Interestingly, TILTS can be spelled using only letter from “The X-Files.”) I might have written more about the event, but my computer has been identified by automated UT-Austin systems as being a rooted Windows machine (although it’s not a Windows machine at all) and is banned from the network. Desite my radio silence, though, the symposium has certainly been a space of lively discussion of digital media work, computational linguistics and its application to humanistic inquiry, and the representation of technology in media.

I’ll mention a bit about the talk I gave today, one entitled “The Digital Rear-View Mirror.” The title was based on the dictum of Marshall McLuhan: “We see the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” The most obvious version of the digital rear-view mirror is the one on your Prius, but I started my comments about three specific topics (and one lament) by examining the nature of emulators, a type of rear-view mirror that’s been of great use to me.

I considered how emulators can be understood, via textual studies, as editions of computers, and how this helps us to better conceptualize the emulator and make more effective use of it in our work. This is a topic I wrote about recently here on Pole Position.

Then, I quickly introduced my current book project, which often involves emulators and is entitled “10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1);: GOTO 10”. I am writing a single-voice academic book with nine other authors; the book is about the one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program that is its title.

For the last of my three specific topics, I took my recent collaboration with Stephanie Strickland, Sea and Spar Between, a literary and aesthetic project which was based in part on consideration of the lexicon of Dickinson’s poems and of Moby Dick.

I wound up with some discussion of how the mainstream definition of the digital humanities, as effectively provided by funding agencies, does not clearly admit any of my specifics (building or using emulators, writing a book with nine others about a short program, collaborating on a poetry generator). None of these projects involve digitization or computational analysis of cultural heritage materials. Perhaps Sea and Spar Between, which involves computing on language but is not even a scholarly project, is actually closest to being a digital humanities project, but it isn’t that close.

Although people like our keynote speaker Johanna Drucker, Matt Kirschenbaum (who spoke on the panel with me), and Lev Manovich have done extremely significant work with contemporary objects of study and are also significant figures within the digital humanities, the exclusive fixation on the past means that we do not have major digital humanities projects about contemporary computational work – electronic literature, video games, computer music, digital installation art, etc.

So, I concluded with a plea to let there be some intersection between “digital media” and “the digital humanities” – to allow us a side-view mirror that would let us see what is happening alongside us, and in the recent past, as well.

Some Notes on E-Poetry

[If this is funny to anyone, it will probably be funny to people here at E-Poetry. Nevertheless, I offer it up here to the Internet as a curious digital relic of this gathering.]

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An Alphabet in 25 Characters

I’m here at the University at Buffalo enjoying the E-Poetry Festival. Amid this discussion of digital work, concrete poetry, and related innovative practices, and among this great crowd of poets, I’ve developed a very short piece for anyone with Perl installed to enjoy – just copy and paste on the command line:

yes | perl -pe '$.%=26;$_=$"x$..chr 97+$.'

It does use “yes,” one of my favorite Unix/GNU commands, and the -p option to wrap the Perl code in a loop. So there’s some bonus stuff there on the command line. But the Perl code itself is only 25 characters long, not a bad length for a program that displays the alphabet.

Alphabet in 25

“Wheel On” in Downtown Buffalo

I’m here in Buffalo for the E-Poetry Festival at UB. Last night I got to present work downtown at the Sqeuaky Wheel, a media arts center that has been helping artists produce video, film, and digital work since 1985.

With my collaborator Stephanie Strickland, I presented “Sea and Spar Between,” our recent poetry generator which offers an unusual interface to about 225 trillion stanzas arranged in a lattice.

The full program for the evening included Alan Bigelow’s presentation of his “This Is Not a Poem,” which allows you to become a “treejay” and modify Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”; a presentation of the voice-acted, distributed disaster narrative L.A. Flood project by Mark Marino; and a tribute to Millie Niss presented by her mother and collaborator, Martha Deed. These were followed by a very nice set of motion pictures, including, for instance, Ottar Ormstad’s “When,” featuring hulks of cars, the lowercase letter y, and the color yellow.

It was great to present with Stephanie in this context. Thanks particularly to Sandy Baldwin for introducing us and to Tammy McGovern at the Squeaky Wheel for hosting us.

Digital Poetry at Dartmouth

My thanks to Mary Flanagan, Aden Evens, and the others at Dartmouth who put on the digital poetry symposium last Friday (April 15). I was very glad to participate along with Marjorie Luesebrink, Braxton Soderman, and my collaborator Stephanie Strickland. With Stephanie, I showed, discussed and read from our “Sea and Spar Between.” I also presented some of my smaller-scale poetry generations, including words from the ppg256 series, “The Two” and its French translation by Serge Bouchardon, and “Taroko Gorge” and its transformations by Scott Rettberg and J. R. Carpenter.

Mary has a writeup of the symposium on her blog, Tiltfactor, describing the excellent work that my fellow presenters showed. I was familiar with and pleased to hear more about the projects that Margie and Stephanie showed; it was great to see the work in progress, a provocative textual platformer, that Braxton was doing with Daniel C. Howe and that he showed.

Records of Oulipolooza

Video and audio of Oulipolooza, a festive tribute to the Oulipo in which I participated, is now online. The event was held on March 15, 2011 at the Kelly Writers House at Penn and was organized by Michelle Taransky and Sarah Arkebauer. Speakers were:

KATIE PRICE
LOUIS BURY
JEAN-MICHEL RABATÉ
GERALD PRINCE
and NICK MONTFORT

It was quite an honor to be part of this group, which included one of my Ph.D. advisors – Gerry Prince. I may have been the least distinguished Oulipo scholar among these speakers, but I tried to make up for that by being the only one to wear a party hat.

An Amazing Linked List

I strongly encourage those of you who haven’t seen it yet to check out Brian Kim Stefans’s Introduction to Electronic Literature: a freeware guide.

Right now it is “just” a list of links to online resources, from Futurism through 2010, that are relevant to understanding different important aspects of electronic literature – making it, reading it, sorting through different genres, and understanding its historical connects.

It’s extremely useful in this form, but Stefans is also hoping to put these selections together in a Lulu.com book that he’ll sell at cost. To that end, he’s selected only texts – work that will fit in a book – as opposed to pieces that need to be read on a networked computer. Stefans also intends to put together a website that collects and mirrors these writings, uniformly typeset in a legible way, as PDFs.

I’m of course pleased that Stefans was inspired by The New Media Reader, which Noah Wardrip-Fruin and I edited for the MIT Press, and that he included a few of my pieces.

As I have a strong preference for assigning publicly available texts instead of scanned articles that live being a university paywall, I find these texts very useful for teaching. Stefans is taking suggestions for how to revise his Introduction over on his netpoetic.com post.

Death and the Powers Permieres in the U.S.

Death and the Powers had a brilliant and resonant U.S. premiere on Friday at the Cutler Majestic in Boston. I’ve been looking forward to the opera’s completion, and then to its coming to the U.S., for several years. My mentor from the B.U. poetry program, Robert Pinsky, wrote the libretto, and my current colleague Tod Machover composed the opera. Congratulations to all those who put this production together, including Tod’s Opera of the Future group at the Media Lab. Death and the Powers is technically intricate and thematically ambitious, and all of that came together perfectly. (Image source.)

March 15 in Philadelphia: OuLiPoLooZa

[An announcement from Penn’s Kelly Writers House:]

We’re pulling out all the constraints for our OULIPOLOOZA next Tuesday,
March 15, at 7:00 pm. Organized by our own Sarah Arkebauer (C’11) and
Michelle Taransky, this celebration of all things Oulipo will feature five
experts and aficionados talking about the “Ouvroir de littérature
potentielle,” the highly-influential French school of avant garde poetry.
The evening will be rounded out by the launching “An Oulipolooza,” a
collection of new Oulipian writing, and a constraint-inspired reception.
This is one celebration you should not A Void!

The Kelly Writers House presents

OULIPOLOOZA
a celebration of potential literature

featuring

KATIE PRICE
LOUIS BURY
JEAN-MICHEL RABATÉ
GERALD PRINCE
and NICK MONTFORT

Tuesday, March 15, at 7:00 PM in the Arts Café
Kelly Writers House | 3805 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA
No registration required – this event is free & open to the public

Come help us celebrate the continuing potential of literatures by attending
the OULIPOLOOZA, a Kelly Writers House-style celebration of all things
Oulipo. The OuLiPo, or “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle” (workshop of
potential literature), is a group of experimental French poets founded in
1960, devoted to exploring the potential of literature, language and freedom
through the lenses of different constraints. Oulipolooza will include
readings about the Oulipo by five experts and aficionados, a reception full
of Oulipo-inspired foods, and the launch of “An Oulipolooza”: a collection
of oulipian texts.

KATIE L. PRICE is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Pennsylvania’s
English Department completing her dissertation, tentatively titled “‘The
Tangential Point’: Pataphysical Practice in Post-War Poetry.” She is also an
associate editor for Electronic Poetry Center, co-coordinator of the Poetry
& Poetics graduate group, and will teach a course in the fall entitled
Poetry, Technology, Gender and Globalization.

LOUIS BURY teaches literature at New York University, is a part-time
professional poker player, and is completing a constraint-based dissertation
about constraint-based writing, titled Exercises in Criticism, at the
Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

JEAN-MICHEL RABATÉ is Vartan Gregorian Professor in the Humanities at the
University of Pennsylvania.  Co-founder and curator of Slought Foundation,
he is a senior editor of the Journal of Modern Literature. A fellow of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has authored or edited more than
thirty books on modernism, psychoanalysis, contemporary art and philosophy.
Recent titles include Lacan Literario  (2007), 1913: The cradle of modernism
(2007),  The Ethic of the Lie  (2008) and Etant donnes: 1) l’art, 2) le
crime (2010). Currently, he is editing a collection of essays on Modernism
and Theory. He is the president of the Samuel Beckett Society and completing
a book on Samuel Beckett and philosophy.

GERALD PRINCE is Professor of Romance Languages and Head of the French
section at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of many articles
and reviews on narrative theory and on modern (French) literature as well as
of several books (including A Dictionary of Narratology and Guide du roman
de langue française: 1901-1950) and his work has been translated into a
dozen languages. A co-editor of the “Stages” series for the University of
Nebraska Press and a member of a dozen editorial and advisory boards, Prince
is working on the second volume of his Guide du roman (1951-2000).

NICK MONTFORT writes computational and constrained poetry, develops computer
games, and is a critic, theorist, and scholar of computational art and
media. He is associate professor of digital media in the Program in Writing
and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is
now serving as president of the Electronic Literature Organization. He
earned a Ph.D. in computer and information science from the University of
Pennsylvania.