Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

My ongoing Gnoetry project: a light heart, its black thoughts

Posted in Gnoem Draft, Gnoetry by Eric Goddard-Scovel on February 9, 2008

At long last, I’m posting some of the work that has come out of my time with Gnoetry 0.2. I started working with it in August of 2007, and since September I’ve been using exclusively the single text Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad as input. I’m not sure exactly what drew me to use only this particular text, but the output seemed to work for me better than other texts or combinations of texts.

I’m still working on this manuscript, but I have known since October that it would be a sonnet cycle. I played around with various settings for output, but a single 14 line stanza with lines between (usually) 5-12 syllables seems to give the most variable and malleable output. Plus, Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets have been on my mind and my reading list lately.

Here’s an example sonnet:

What was to know? You know, nobody
seemed to have a body
and rest. Don’t you think? We live, and shall not
wait. As a ripple on an
earth that wears the interests of conquest, of
trade, of words, that such details would be
delightful. We exchanged a few lumps of
some sort of purpose. An act
of bodies. It was not very clear.
This strange world. Not a blank
space of delightful mystery, a light
heart, its black thoughts, its body at rest. Were
we to let an avenging fire
consume all that? No one knew.

Thematically, I feel that my collaboration with Gnoetry using Heart of Darkness has helped me to write about issues of love, sex, separation, knowledge, philosophy, war, economics, and globalization–basically the subjects of personal and political concern/despair that I have been dealing with–in a way that surprises and moves me. It is a very intuitive process, and it is a deeply personal process. Whatever can be said of using Conrad’s work in this way (a novel I have not yet read, by the way), it serves for me as a source of language from which I can make statements about my understanding and impressions of myself and the world from a distance that often feels liberating.

Here’s another sonnet, this one more political than the above:

They said hang, bearers of the new
forces at work, no doubt, like a whiff from
some corpse. Imagine the opportunity. But with
every word spoken the
tide seemed to me the shadow
of the new forces at work, which seemed unearthly.
The north pole was awake. It seemed
to settle, a butcher round one corner, waiting. All that
had swept by us on the whole,
the reality, for belief, for something; and
it is like a wink, like a match, an
ax. Something like an empty
stream, and in every man’s life, a butcher in a
whirl of black feathers, a fool as I would be an ax.

Here’s another, this one about a failure to love:

I had a hankering
after. I had failed her. Like
a stick of love in a heap of
embers glowing fiercely.
I nearly burst into a cemetery,
bearing the sword, and did, with an air of being
afraid I admit, I would be shot down in the
midst of the white men rushing out
of the long grass, with its wheels in
the moonlight, the foreign faces, so to
speak of, but rather too
late, and I withdrew quietly, but I
didn’t do badly
either, trying to excuse or club.

I would be happy to hear comments or questions about these sonnets. I get a confusing mix of positive and negative responses, and a few more would be more than welcome.

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2 Responses

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  1. Eric Elshtain said, on April 4, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Your comments that begin “thematically” are right on target–Gnoetry allows the end-user to write, often about subjects she might not be inclined to write about, or even know how to write about, if left to her own deivces. What’s most fascinating is the idea that Gnoetry, as you say, serves as a source of “impressions of myself.” While on one end of the spectrum, Gnoetry dismisses the ego as inessential, even dangerous to the composition of poetry, one thing those who dismiss gnoetics as “heartless” or “soul-less” (because its poetic output doesn’t come from some vague notion of the human) forget is that they are also the very ones who look to texts to see something of themselves–and so, since Gnoetry *uses* texts to make the poetry, the “heart” and “soul” are there. If not, you’d never be able to compose the wonderful lyric poetry you’ve composed here, esp. “I had a hankering..” Beautiful.

    I think for some, the notion that a machine is involved will make it so they’ll never see the output as poetry. It is tantalizing to consider what this population of readers would think of the poetry if they didn’t know a machine was involved… But what you have here is good poetry, per se, machine or not–rhythmic, lyric, sonic and social.

    Well done, I say.

  2. escovel said, on June 3, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Eric Elshtain,

    Thanks for your kind and encouraging comments! I’m working up the manuscript to send in the next month or so now that there is time. We’ll see how it turns out.


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