Batch-Era Text Generation

Love Letters
Christopher Strachey, 1953

Stochastic Texts
Theo Lutz, 1959

Random Sentences
Victor H. Yngve, 1961

Five-Word Lines
J. M. Coetzee, early 1960s

Permutation Poems
Brion Gysin & Ian Sommerville, 1960s

The House of Dust
Alison Knowles & James Tenney, 1967

Random Poetry
Michal Murin, 1989

A site by Nick Montfort,

The creative text generators that are the basis for the Memory Slam programs were all originally developed without recourse to interactive programming; the author/programmers of them, in the 1950s, 60s, and even in one case the late 80s used punched-card style batch processing. The programs I developed — reimplementations — are meant to capture the important formal aspects of the original systems, to represent how they work.

They do not, however, represent the material aspects. These are “reading editions.” In several cases, I present the outputs by default in mixed case, even though this output was impossible originally. I did this just to make the systems a bit less alien and easier to read. The outputs also wouldn’t have appeared on screens. They would have been printed out on teletypewriters.

These versions are for study, sharing, and learning, too, and you are encouraged to view the source. They are all free (libre) software. I have made HTML5 versions available on the Web that can be downloaded as single, stand-alone Web pages. These are easy to modify; you may use them as the basis for your own poetry or artwork, if you like. I have also developed Python reimplementations that will run in both Python 2 and 3. These are linked from each generator’s Web page. There are more accurate versions of some of these text generators available online. In this project, I have tried to balance the accessibility of the code (even for new programmers), the ease of reading, and faithfulness to the original.

I first put this project together (with four text generators) on the train from Boston when I was invited to judge the first NYU ITP Code Poetry Slam in New York City on November 14, 2014.

I reimplemented “Random Sentences” in response to a commission by Agnieszka Kurant for a reading in Rhinebeck, New York, July 23, 2016. “Random Poetry” was reimplemented & translated as part of the Renderings project; added July 28, 2017. “Generator of Five-Word Lines,” the most speculative of these reimplementations, was added November 7, 2018.

Memory Slam 2.0 does not include any new generators. Rather, I have overhauled the appearance of all the programs, tried to ensure compatibility across phones and tablets, and reviewed and refactored the code. All version 2.0 generators have a full screen control ⛶ in the upper right. Those programs that generate text continually now have the ability to pause (use ⏸) and for most programs users can shift between mixed case all caps (use ⇪). For “Permutation Poems” and “Random Poetry,” shifting case is best done by simply editing the HTML file. Memory Slam 2.0 was published on January 1, 2024.