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.


Good News!

Posted in Gnoetry, Personal by Eric Goddard-Scovel on August 26, 2007

I have been invited by Eric Elshtain to contribute a chapbook of gnoems for his Beard of Bees Press. This is most good. Most good. As soon as I get Gnoetry 0.2 up and running again (I can’t believe I forgot to back it up), I can get started on that.

I’ll be posting updates and drafts of the gnoems up here along with my mchain poem drafts that I will be occasionally writing for workshop. I’m interested in seeing how they differ.

So, yes, the second year of my MFA at Purdue has started up again. That means (probably) fewer posts at what light already light, but more posts here. It’s proving difficult to get a community of mchain users posting here, but I’m leaving the option open for all interested.

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?