Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

Gnoetry: Way Ahead of Me

Posted in Computational Poetics, Gnoetry by Eric Goddard-Scovel on July 11, 2007

This is only the first of what I assume will be many posts on the program Gnoetry and the experiments surrounding it at Beard of Bees Press in Chicago. I suggest you go there and read some of the different chapbooks from poets who have collaborated with the program. They all use the program in their own ways. This is something that I hope to do with this blog: show and discuss different approaches to using computer programs to write poems.

If only I had found out about them last October, I could have gone to their exposition, Standing Close to the Machine: an evening of computational poetics, live at LOCUS in Chicago, only a two hours drive from here. File under regrets.

For now, I’m only posting about a selection of six poems by Gnoetry & Eric P. Elshtain from the Spring 2006 issue of Chicago Review. It was the first place I’d ever heard of Gnoetry, and at first I thought it was just a poet with a bizarre pen name, like Ai, or like Sirone the bass player, or Sun Ra.

It took me until last month to actually do the single web search I needed to find out about this Gnoetry. Turns out these guys are WAY ahead of me, though I can only discern a few differences between what Gnoetry does and what the mchain program I use does.

But, back to the poems: when I read them I thought it was amazing how similar they read to the mchain output I had been working with. They share a lot of the same characteristics. Here’s one of the poems as an example:


Then you are quite as much
freedom as one has
to those men and things which
passed over the face of the

arm of the law, the infant
death rate of two worlds! Not a thing
could be. The fact to be found that it
is the exact point of

basic difference from the bride’s
point of view, I ask you this
mistake if you would normally
call love somebody?

The line breaks have the feeling of what I call the seams of mchain output: those points where a familiarized user of the program can see that two different segments of the output have been connected by the program.

It is also common to see long strings of what I teach my composition students to avoid in their writing whenever possible: puffy connector phrases. Ridiculous and often parodic examples of puffy connector phrases regularly appear in mchain output, similar to the lines in this poem “The fact to be found that it / is the exact point of.”

The last similarity I’ll point to here is the unexpected and often evocative exclamations that will pop up, like “arm of the law, the infant / death rate of two worlds!” This is followed, artfully, with another hallmark of mchain like output: deep philosophical statements. “Not a thing could be.”

I’ll be writing more about my thoughts on Gnoetry and computational poetics later. Right now, there is a lot of information to sift through before I post anything more. I’ll definitely be responding to The Gnoetic Manifesto on the Beard of Bees page. How could I ever resist?


2 Responses

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  1. Gene van Troyer said, on September 10, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    The problem with Gnoetry is that the application is first, not easy to come by, and second, if you can get the files, they aren’t easy to install unless you happen to know a great deal about programming. Once upon a time Beard of Bees had a link to a tarball, but that was dropped from their site a year or so ago. You could go to an SVN site to checkout the Gnoetry repository at, but recently (at least from my end) that seems to be refusing connections. Gnoetry is further hampered by a lack of clear explanation in how to install the files if you have them.

    My feeling as an interested bystander in these experimental approaches to text and meaning is that you aren’t going to find many who are willing to participate unless getting the software up and running is made easier by providing installer packages or front-end GUIs that will run the source code. As important as the programming is for executing the experiments, is is all in the end just the machine that produces the results that the engaged human brain plays with.

    That machine should operate smoothly. The more tinkering required of the user, the less inclined the user is to try it out.

  2. escovel said, on September 18, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I had to modify the gnoetry script and another program file for it to work in Debian Linux (with the assistance of my brother). I can’t see how gnoetry could be installed on a Mac or Windows machine in the form it is in.

    These programs should be made easier to use, with self-installers and gui’s. The mchain developer is working towards that end, but it may still be a while. One problem is that there is little demand at the time for such things (though I do believe the demand is growing), and programmers tend to have other things to do that are not as much of a hobby project.

    Oh, and the svn repository was up as of two weeks ago, when I reinstalled Gnoetry.

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