A Gysin & Sommerville Question

I recently released Memory Slam, a set of four reimplementation of classic text generators. I did them over in JavaScript and in Python in the hopes that people would easily be able to play around with them, modify them, and understand them better through this sort of use. I’ve seen a few cases in which this has been done already, but first off, please let me know if you’ve posted modified versions of these, as I would love to see more. The license terms do not oblige you to do so, of course, they are licensed as free software. I’m just asking.

One question that remains is exactly when the program that automatically permuted phrases was written by Ian Sommerville in collaboration with Brion Gysin. I’m very interested in finding this out, but I do have other projects that are keeping me from doing archival or even deep library research into this. After discussion on the original announcement post, I’ve made a few corrections to this sort of metadata, but I still can’t figure out when this permutation code was first written. And since I don’t know which texts are the first examples of output from these programs, I also can’t tell how the permutations were ordered by the program.

The poem “KICK THAT HABIT MAN” was written manually in 1959 and other permutation poems were broadcast by the BBC in 1960. “Around 1960” is sometimes given as a date for the program or programs. However the Honeywell Series 200 Model 120, indicated in several places as the computer used, was not released until 1965. Please let me know if you know that a different computer was used or if you know the exact year in which the permutation poem programs were written.

And I can’t post something about these friends of William S. Burroughs, on Thanksgiving, without including this little prayer:

#! in San Antonio Fri 11/21 – #! in Austin Sat 11/22

I’m doing two Central Texas readings from my book of programs and poems #! this weekend:

San Antonio: The Twig Book Shop

Friday, Nov 21 at 5pm
The Twig Book Shop
in The Pearl (306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 106)

Austin: Monkeywrench Books

Saturday, Nov 22 at 4pm
Monkeywrench Books
(110 N Loop Blvd E)

#! (pronounced “shebang”) consists of poetic texts that are presented alongside the short computer programs that generated them. The poems, in new and existing forms, are inquiries into the features that make poetry recognizable as such, into code and computation, into ellipsis, and into the alphabet. Computer-generated poems have been composed by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, Alison Knowles and James Tenney, Hugh Kenner and Joseph P. O’Rourke, Charles O. Hartman, and others. The works in #! engage with this tradition of more than 50 years and with constrained and conceptual writing. The book’s source code is also offered as free software. All of the text-generating code is presented so that it, too, can be read; it is all also made freely available for use in anyone’s future poetic projects.

Nick Montfort’s digital writing projects include Sea and Spar Between (with Stephanie Strickland) and The Deletionist (with Amaranth Borsuk and Jesper Juul). He developed the interactive fiction system Curveship and (with international collaborators) the large-scale story generation system Slant; was part of the group blog Grand Text Auto; wrote Ream, a 500-page poem, on a single day; organized Mystery House Taken Over, a collaborative “occupation” of a classic game; wrote Implementation, a novel on stickers, with Scott Rettberg; and wrote and programmed the interactive fictions Winchester’s Nightmare, Ad Verbum, and Book and Volume.

Montfort wrote the book of poems Riddle & Bind and co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story with Willliam Gillespie. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with nine other authors that Montfort organized. He is faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 he co-edited, and is associate professor of digital media at MIT.

#!Nick Montfort



Memory Slam and Code Poetry at ITP

I was delighted to be at the first NYU ITP Code Poetry Slam a few hours ago, on the evening of November 14, 2014. The work presented was quite various and also very compelling. Although I had an idea of what was to come (as a judge who had seen many of the entires) the performances and readings exceeded my high expectations.

A reading I did from historical computational poetry kicked off the event. I read from a new set of reimplementations, in JavaScript and Python, that I developed for the occasion. The set of four pages/Python programs is called Memory Slam. It contains:

Love Letters
Christopher Strachey, 1952

Stochastic Texts
Theo Lutz, 1959

Permutation Poems
Brion Gysin & Ian Somerville, 1960

A House of Dust
Alison Knowles & James Tenney, 1967

These are well-known pieces, at least among the few of us who are into early computational poetry. (Chris Funkhouser and his Prehistorical Digital Poetry is one reason we know these and their importance; Noah Wardrip-Fruin has also offered a great discussion of Love Letters, and Stephanie Strickland, who was in attendance at the slam, has done two collaborative poems based on A House of Dust, one with me and one with Ian Hatcher.) Some implementations exist already of many, perhaps all of them – although I did not find one for A House of Dust. My point in putting these together was not to do something unprecedented, but to provide reasonably clean, easily modifiable versions in two of today’s well-known languages. This will hopefully allow people, even without programming background, to learn about these programs through playing with them.

If I didn’t implement everything perfectly, these are explicitly free software and you should feel free to not only play with them but to improve them as well.

Polish Reviews of World Clock

I mentioned a few of these earlier, but there are more. I’ll try to keep an updated list of reviews here for any curious Polish-reading visitors:

Update Jan 31, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in PROwincja.

Update Jan 31, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in Lubimyczytać.pl.

Update Jan 19, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in Kulturnatywnie.pl.

Update Jan 8, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in kanapa.it.

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sztukater.pl.

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sZAFa – kwartalnik literacko-artystyczny.

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Szuflada.net

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Popmoderna.

Update Nov 13, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Stacja Książka.

Update Nov 4, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Altmundi.

Update Oct 31, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Update Oct 30, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in kulturalnie.waw.pl.

Review of Zegar światowy in Portal (nie całkiem) Kulturalny.

Review of Zegar światowy in SZORTAL.

Review of Zegar światowy by Katarzyna Krzan.

Review of Zegar światowy in Pad Portal.

Review of Zegar światowy by Julia Poczynok.

There was also a review of Zegar światowy in the major Polish weekly magazine Przegląd (the review is not online).

The book was also discussed in an interview I did on Radio Kraków.

The First Review of #!

Finally, the first review of my book #! is in. It’s from Zach Whalen. this is it, and to make it easier for you to copy, paste, and run it, here is the review that he banged out:

perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.05),map{$_ x($.*.1)}qw(# !);redo}'

By the way, please come to my reading tomorrow at MIT (E15 atrium) at 6:30pm if you’re in the area. It will be fun!

#! Reading at MIT, Wednesday, 6:30pm

Nick Montfort presents #! in the atrium of MIT’s building E15, just steps from the Kendall T stop. It’s October 22, Wednesday, at 6:30pm, and thanks to the List Visual Arts Center. The book is Montfort’s new one from Counterpath Press, consisting of programs and poems. Please, come join me!

E15 Atrium

World Clock in Polish Reviewed (in Polish)

I announced the Polish translation of World Clock recently; here is, as far as I know, the first review of it – which is also the first review of World Clock in any language. It will appear in the magazine Fragile.


Nick Montfort, Zegar światowy, tłum. Z jęz. ang. przełożył Piotr Marecki, Kraków, Korporacja Ha!art, 2014.

Ciekawie przedstawiono w książce autentyczne przemówienie, w którym narrator mówi głosami innych osób. Autor nie tylko opowiada zdarzenie, ale pisząc, że tak było zwraca też uwagę na to, jak do tego doszło: „Ashgabat. Jest prawie 05:04. W pewnym przytulnym schronieniu sporej postury mężczyzna, o imieniu Jakub, czyta kanarkową umowę. Siada prosto”. Kategorii narratora szybko zmienia „punkt widzenia”.

Forma książki to proza ​​poetycka z elementami pamiętnika, po prostu chronologia uczucia. Za to motyw napisania tekstu przypomina „travelogue”, ponieważ zawiera krótkie notatki z podróży. W składni poetyckiej odgrywa ważną rolę elipsa (opuszczanie słów, a nawet całych zdań) : „Samara. Jest około 12:39. W pewnym miłym miejscu zamieszkania średniej postury mężczyzna, nazywany Liang, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą kartkę. Całkowicie się wyłącza”. Ograniczenia krótkimi wyrażeniami wymuszają na czytelniku wymyślanie sytuacji, to jest oryginalną interakcję między autorem a czytelnikiem. W ten sposób autor zaprasza do dialogu.

Struktura tekstu to mozaika, czytanie jest „rozdrobnione”. Możesz czytać książkę zarówno klasycznie, od początku do końca, jak też chaotycznie, otwierając ją na dowolnej stronie, co jednak nie powoduje uszkodzenia jej koncepcji. Styl pisania jest podobny do „nowego dziennikarstwa” (Tom Wulf, USA). Zmiana perspektywy (tzw. „kameleon”) to jedna z najbardziej interesujących i sprytnych technik. W ten sposób za pośrednictwem narratora autor gra z czytelnikiem. W związku z tym ważne jest również, aby pamiętać o zmienianiu „punktu widzenia”, o patrzeniu z cudzej perspektywy i opisywaniu wydarzeń postrzeganych przez różne osoby. Postaci to w Asmari, to w Tunisi. Postaciami są raz kobiety, raz mężczyźni. Zmiana płci i zmiana miejsca to ciekawe elementy gry autora. Ważne jest, aby zrozumieć, że podstawową zasadą dziennikarstwa jest prawdą, a Nick Montfort ignoruje wszelkie zasady i dlatego jest inny.

Jego tekst – ciągły wiersz wolny, który ma różne ciągi długości, bez rymów, ale z rytmem:

Port-au-Prince. Jest dokładnie 00:15. W pewnej schludnej, choć
niczym się niewyróżniającej, sadybie wyższa niż większość
staruszka, mająca na imię Fatma, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą
umowę. Drapie się w ucho.


Zegar Światowy, the Polish World Clock

World Clock in Polish, displayed
World Clock (book, code) has now been published in Polish. The translation is by Piotr Marecki, who translated the underlying novel-generating program and generated a new novel in Polish. ha!art is the publisher, and the book appears in the Liberatura series, which also includes some very distinguished titles: The Polish translations of Finnegans Wake and of Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, for instance.

The Polish World Clock on the shelf

This Thursday! In Stereo!

I will be reading from and discussing three recent books this Thursday at 7pm the Harvard Book Store here in sunny Cambridge, Massachusetts. These are:

Counterpath Press, Denver
a book of programs & poems (pronounced “shebang”)

World Clock
Bad Quarto, Cambridge
a computer-generated novel

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10
MIT Press, Cambridge
a collaboration with nine others that I organized, now out in paperback

These all express how programming can be used for poetic purposes, and how
new aesthetic possibilities can arise with the help of computing. Also,
some portions of these (which I’ll read from) are quite pleasing to read
aloud and to hear.

I would love it if you are able to join me on Thursday.

Reading of #! etc. September 18, Harvard Book Store

I’m reading at the Harvard Book Store on September 18 – a week from now, on Thursday. The reading is at 7pm.

I’ll be presenting and reading from my latest book, #! (pronounced “shebang”), which is a book of programs and poems, published by Counterpath Press in Denver.

I’ll also discuss my previous two books, one of which is World Clock. I developed this for National Novel Generation Month last November; it’s a computer-generated novel. Cleverly enough, it’s been translated into Polish via translation of the underlying program.

The other recent book is 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, which I organized and wrote with nine others. This one, an MIT Press book, is just out in paperback. This is a critical, scholarly study of a one-line program, and although it is an academic book of this sort, it of course has a strong relationship to the code-generated World Clock and the programs-and-poems #!.

The programs behind #!, by the way, are all available online as free software at my site, nickm.com. The book is there as an example of how this particular material form can represent the code and the output, and how page differs from screen, sometimes in very interesting ways.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Harvard Square often, please do come by to the reading. I will do my best to make it fun and provocative, and to provide some additional insight into computing and how it interacts with language.

Call for “Textual Machines” Papers

Here’s a conference coming up in April, with a January 1 deadline:

International Symposium

“Textual Machines”

April 18, 2015

The University of Georgia

Athens, GA

Keynote speakers

– Janet MURRAY, Professor at the School of Literature, Media and Communication
at the Georgia Institute of Technology and interaction designer.

– Serge BOUCHARDON, Professor at the University of Technology of Compiegne and
author of interactive fictions.

Themes and topics

“Textual Machines” is an international symposium exploring literary objects that
produce texts through the material interaction with mechanical devices or
procedures. We define “textual machines” as a perspective on literature and book
objects where text is “a mechanical device for the production and consumption of
verbal signs” (Espen J. Aarseth). From the symposium’s perspective, textual
machines are not limited to a specific media or epoch, and include literary
objects ranging from early modern movable books, to modern pop-up books,
artist’s books, game books, concrete poetry, combinatory literature, electronic
literature and interactive fictions. A distinctive feature of textual machines
is that they invite readers to traverse text through the non-trivial
manipulation of mechanistic devices or procedures: by navigating through
hyperlinks, footnotes, marginalia or other semiotic cues, or by answering to
configurational, exploratory or writing prompts.

Possible areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to:  


Reading textual machines. What common reading functions are shared by
textual machines? How do readers navigate, maneuver, explore, configure,
probe, play or collate textual machines and their outcomes? What theoretical
concepts and analytical tools are best suited to describe the textuality of
such objects? How can readings of such objects be recorded, shared,
visualized and taught?


Situating textual machines. Beyond the cultural split between analog and
digital media, how do the mechanics and affordances of textual machines
relate to one another? What communities of readers and authors produce and
perform textual machines?


Preserving textual machines. What can media archaeology labs, museums and
rare book collections learn from one another in the process of preserving,
curating and making textual machines accessible?

The Symposium “Textual Machines” will take place on April 18, 2015 at the
Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia, Athens,
Ga. In parallel to the symposium, the Main Library of the University of Georgia
will be hosting the “Textual Machines” exhibit, featuring works of electronic
literature from the Digital Arts Library and rare books from the Hargrett
Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Selection Process

Proposals are expected by January 1, 2015. They must be sent as an abstract of
800 – 1,000 words (excluding bibliography). Each proposal must indicate the
author’s full name, status and institutional affiliation. Proposals should be
sent to baille@uga.edu.

Texto Digital Seeks Papers (in Many Languages)

A correspondent in Brazil sends news of a new call for papers in the journal Texto Digital. The recent issues have been almost entirely in Portuguese, but the journal is reaching out and seeking submissions in several languages. I think you can tell from the title (even if your Portuguese is a bit rusty) that this publication focuses on some very Post Position (and Grand Texto Auto) sorts of topics. Here’s the call:

Texto Digital is a peer-reviewed electronic academic journal, published twice annually in June and December by the Center for Research in Informatics, Literature and Linguistics – NuPILL (http://www.nupill.org/), linked to the Postgraduate Program in Literature, the Department of Vernacular Language and Literatures and the Center of Communication and Expression at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil.

Texto Digital publishes original articles in Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Catalan which discuss several theoretical implications related to the texts created/inserted in electronic and digital media.

Interdisciplinary by nature and range, as implied in its title with the words “text” and “digital”, the journal embraces the fields of Literature, Linguistics, Education, Arts, Computing and others, in their relation to the digital medium, yet without privileging any specific critical approach or methodology.

In addition to the Articles Section, Texto Digital presents specific sections destined on publishing digital works of art, as well as interviews with recognized researchers and / or digital artists.

Once submitted, all articles that meet the general scope of the journal and its guidelines will be considered for peer-review publication, even in case of issues that may favor some particular subject-matter.


Texto Digital, the electronic journal published by the Center for Research in Informatics, Literature and Linguistics (NuPILL) at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil, informs that submissions for articles are open until October 15th, 2014.

We accept papers that analyse the relationships of digital media with one or more of the following subjects: Literature, teaching processes (reading and writing in particular, but not restricted to), language studies and arts in general. Accepted papers will be published in our
our December issue (n.2/2014).

Submissions for our journal are open on a continuous flow basis since September 1st, 2014, for academic papers that fit its scope.
Our publication standards and guidelines are available at:. https://periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/textodigital/about/submissions#authorGuidelines. Only papers in accordance with such criteria will be accepted.

The Mutable Stanzas

Yesterday first-person-shooter Borges, intimate, infinite, and based on prose; today cut-up Spenser, mutable and poetic.

The Mutable Stanzas

This dynamic digital poetry piece, by Stephen Pentecost, is quite compelling. The author writes:

The Mutable Stanzas is a digital poetry installation and deformance experiment inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, by the work by Jerome McGann et al on “Deformance and Interpretation,” and by the work of my collegues in the Humanities Digital Workshop.

The Mutable Stanzas disassembles Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene into its constituent lines, groups lines according to terminal rhyme, then randomly reassembles lines into new stanzas.

While the stanzas are structured by end rhyme, and each line is not independent of others, I wonder, as a reader, whether it’s best to avail myself of the pause button or whether I should simply continue reading down the page.