Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

Jackson Mac Low

Posted in Poetics by Eric Goddard-Scovel on February 1, 2008

maclow.gifI was just reading a 2001 conversation/interview with Jackson Mac Low in the current Jacket. I’ve been reading through the recently published Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works too, and have become increasingly enamored with Mac Low’s poetry, especially his later work. This blog focuses on my own methods and uses of chance and mathematical procedures (in my case with the assistance of computer programs), so it makes sense that I would be drawn to a figure like Mac Low.

What I found surprising, though, was the words he used to speak about his poetry. When using a program, it is natural to use terms like input and output. I did not expect Mac Low to speak of his chance-operations in such similar terms, though it makes sense to do this.

Here’s a bit that I liked from the interview. When asked about connections between the Twenties and Forties poems and his Stein Poems, which employed different methods [I’m trying to find some more on what those differences are], part of his response was:

There’s a definite relation in the fact that I’m making similar revisions in the raw output of the methods. The choices in revision are like the choices in making and revising The Forties. I no longer tried to escape myself but to work with myself.

I feel similarly now about my work with the mchain and Gnoetry 0.2 programs. In both cases, there is this similar feeling, that I am working with myself and my own judgment, intuition, feelings, problems, etc. I used to tell people that working with Gnoetry was like wrestling with the program and with the input text(s), but this doesn’t seem accurate. It may start like that, but for the most part, it is like most other methods of writing poetry (even the standard one of putting a pen to paper): one ends up working with or struggling with oneself more than anything else.

More on Mac Low later.

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