Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

Updates and Responses to the Gnoetry and Mchain Howtos

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric Goddard-Scovel on July 2, 2009

Wow! I’ve been swamped with responses over the past few days regarding the Gnoetry and Mchain 0.3 installation howtos. It’s great to see such a response so soon. There have been a few issues with installation, so all of the pages have been updated to clarify or extend the instructions.

One MAJOR update: the file that was downloadable from the website appears to have had a bug in it that made it fail during build. I’ve uploaded a corrected file for download along with an md5 checksum so you can make sure that the file has not been corrupted during download. If you had trouble building the program in the past, please download the updated version and try it again. If you have problems still, e-mail me at or leave a response on the blog and I will do my best to assist you.

Also, Jon Trowbridge has responded to the howto and informed me that some version of my fixes to the scripts will be added to the svn repository, so the complicated Step 3 of my howto may soon be irrelevant. I’ll let y’all know when that goes down.

Digital Poetics Ho!

Explore the Updated

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric Goddard-Scovel on June 26, 2009

Over the last week, the blog has undergone some much needed changes. A simpler theme has been chosen, and now the most important sections of the blog are now the pages for Gnoetry and Mchain (see the Pages links in the right sidebar), which explain the programs (with screenshots) and give detailed instuctions on how to get them installed and working on computers running any operating system. Mchain 0.2 and 0.3 have always been fully portable, but now Gnoetry can be run via some clever workarounds on any base system. All of the pages and links have been updated and revised to be more helpful to future users of Mchain and Gnoetry, too.

The goal of Markovian Parallax Generate is to spread the use of Mchain, Gnoetry and the digital writing process in poetry as widely as possible. On top of that, I plan to develop new programs and host them on this website. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged, especially from new users. Drop a comment and let me know how you react to writing with programs such as these. It opened my eyes to new possibilities in language and writing, and my wish is that it do the same for others.

New and Updated Pages:

Howto: Installing Gnoetry 0.2 On Any Platform

Posted in Gnoetry by Eric Goddard-Scovel on June 23, 2009

Updated and Corrected: 2 July, 2009 @ 1:33 PM

rousselThis guide will install Gnoetry 0.2 on your computer, whether it’s PC or Mac. For some idea of what the Gnoetry program can do, visit Beard of Bees Press and look at the Gnoetry collaborations published there or browse through the Gnoetry Daily weblog. The program is still in its development stage, so it is not all that simple to get it running. It is more complicated depending on your operating system.

Gnoetry was originally written to run in Ubuntu using the Gnome desktop environment. This guide will first show you how to install a working virtual partition or virtual machine image of Ubuntu onto a Windows or Mac OS X machine, then it will guide you through the installation of Gnoetry 0.2 in your Ubuntu installation.

It’s worth all of the work in the end, though.

Installing Ubuntu on a Windows System with Wubi

powered_by_ubuntuA project that the Ubuntu team has been working on for a while now makes it much simpler to install a working virtual partition of Ubuntu on a Windows system. I have chosen this method for simplicity’s sake.


First, download the Wubi installer, run wubi.exe, and follow the instructions. Everything should work and you’ll have the option to run Ubuntu or Windows on your next reboot.

It the wubi.exe file is downloading the wrong image for your system architecture (what it did to me), then you will have to download the newest installation image for Ubuntu. Go to the Ubuntu Dowload Page. The latest version should be selected already. Make sure you choose the correct system architecture for your computer (whether it has a 32-bit or 64-bit processor) at the bottom of the page. Currently, the 32-bit version file is named ubuntu-9.04-desktop-i386.iso.

Once that has downloaded, make sure that the Ubuntu installation image you downloaded above is in the same directory as the Wubi installer (wubi.exe); e.g., if wubi.exe is in c:\, then your Ubuntu ISO file should also be in c:\. Run wubi.exe and follow the prompts to install.

If you have trouble, refer to the FAQ’s on Wubi website.

Now you have to option on every restart to enter either Windows or Ubuntu. Isn’t it wonderful?

Installing Ubuntu on Mac OS X with VMWare Fusion

vmware_fusion_featuresVMWare Fusion is a virtualization suite for the Mac OS X operating system. Unfortunately, it is not free software ($79.99), so you may have to fork over some cash to get it. There is a free evaluation option if you just want to try it out. As of June 2009, VMWare has not released a free Player for OS X like it has for Windows and Linux.

Fortunately, though, there is already an excellent howto on Laurent’s Weblog called “Install Ubuntu 8.04 using VMware Fusion on Mac OS X.” Follow the instructions there. The only difference of note is that Ubuntu is now on version 9.04, so make sure you get the newest version to install.

Gnoetry Installation HowTo – Ubuntu 9.04

Now that you are in Ubuntu Linux, by whichever method you have chosen, you can get to installing Gnoetry 0.2. The only requirement at this point is that you have a working internet connection and that you remember your Ubuntu username and password. You will often need to enter your password for sudo commands (see below).


In the terminal (Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal), run the commands below. NOTE: Each command begins after the %, and you should hit enter to execute it:

% sudo apt-get update
% sudo apt-get install subversion libglib2.0-dev python2.6-dev python-gtk2 libgtk2.0-dev

That should install the above files and all other necessary build files for step 2. This may take some time, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Make sure you spell everything correctly, or it will not work.


Still in the terminal, type:

% svn co
% cd gnoetry/gnoetics
% ./ build
% cd ../tools
% ./


First, before you apply these patches, skip to step 4 and see if Gnoetry works out of the box. Otherwise, follow these directions as closely as you can. The fixes to the second script may also be unnecessary for your system, so try to run it before editing the second file, too.

NOTE: A user recently installing Gnoetry has sent in this correction / word of caution:

When correcting the scripts in step #3, I copied and pasted directly from your instructions. However, the quotation marks you use (or rather, used by your font) aren’t straight up and down, which apparently is enough to throw the whole thing into a conniption fit. A quick Googling taught me as much …, but in any case, you might want to change that in the instructions so other people don’t make the same mistake.

First Script (filename: gnoetry/interface/gnoetry):

Apply the following changes to lines in gnoetry/interface/gnoetry:

Line 1:


should be

#!/usr/bin/env python

Line 11:

sys.path.append(“..”) # add path for gnoetics library

should be

sys.path.append(“../gnoetics”) # add path for gnoetics library

Line 14:


should be


Lines 60-62:

# No splash screen, just go straight to the callback.
#splash.splash(4, post_splash_cb)

should just be one line,

splash.splash(4, post_splash_cb)

Save the changes to gnoetry/interface/gnoetry. Overwrite the file that is there.

Second Script (filename: gnoetry/gnoetics/

The fix for this file has to do with your system architecture and the path to the build directory that contains If you have a 32-bit system, replace line 4 (underneath “build”) with:


if you have a 64-bit system, replace the same line with:


** Note: make sure you include the ” ” and the ).

Now save the above script as in the gnoetry/gnoetics directory. Overwrite the file that is already there.

If neither of those worked, and Gnoetry crashes when you try to run it, then navigate in a file browser to the gnoetry/gnoetics/build directory and copy and paste the name of the directory there (the one without “temp” in front of it) inside of the quotation marks in line 4 of That is the information it’s looking for.

Final Note on Step 3: File Permissions

Proceed to step four. If step four fails, you may have to change the permissions of the gnoetry and files. Go into the File Browser again, right click on the files, choose “Properties,” go to the “Permissions” tab and check the box that says “Allow to execute as program”). Let me know if you have any trouble with this step.


Go back to the terminal. From your home directory, you will cd into the gnoetry/interface directory and run the program:

% cd gnoetry/interface
% ./gnoetry

Have fun!

Digital Writing with Python Course in NYC

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric Goddard-Scovel on June 18, 2009

python_logoI’m beginning my Python self-education this week while on vacation, with the intention of creating new programs to augment the ones I’ve been using to write digital poetry for the last three years (e.g. Gnoetry and Mchain). I’m starting with How to Think Like a Computer Science and working my way out from there. For shits and giggles, I was doing a Google search for info on python text processing +poetry and found a course description of the course I’ve dreamed of taking/teaching for the last year or so.

Digital Writing with Python is being taught this Summer in the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) by Adam Parrish (check out his website – cool stuff). The course description:

This course introduces the Python programming language as a tool for writing digital text. This course is specifically geared to serve as a general-purpose introduction to programming in Python, but will be of special interest to students interested in poetics, language, creative writing and text analysis. Weekly programming exercises work toward a midterm project and culminate in a final project. Python topics covered include: functions; object-oriented programming; functional programming (list comprehensions, recursion); getting data from the web; displaying data on the web; parsing data formats (e.g., markup languages); visualization and interactivity with Python. Poetics topics covered include: character encodings (and other technical issues); cut-up and re-mixed texts; the algorithmic nature of poetic form (proposing poetic forms, generating text that conforms to poetic forms); transcoding/transcription (from/to text); generative algorithms: n-gram analysis, context-free grammars; performing digital writing. Prerequisites: Introduction to Computational Media or equivalent programming experience.

Summer Session II begins on June 29, so if you’re in New York and interested in innovative writing techniques, check it out. If my plans work out well, I’ll be in New York in August or September trying to get a job and exploring a digital arts/poetry/jazz scenes. Otherwise I would be there. If I could afford it now after the M.F.A. Sounds like a fantastic course.

P.S. – I’ve been putting off finalizing the cross-platform Gnoetry installation howto, but I think I’ll put it up in the next week or so. Something to look forward to.

Customizing Source Texts with Google

Posted in Gnoetry, Poetics, Thought by Eric Goddard-Scovel on April 19, 2009

I’m starting a new Gnoetry or Mchain project, it would seem. I’ve been compiling a list of “pleasingwords” for a while now, but I haven’t known how to use them. Now I’m planning to begin searching for text using Google (or other sources) that contains these pleasingwords and creating a source text to use with Gnoetry or Mchain.

Just an idea.

Author’s Notes: dead OR died OR killed (1)

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric Goddard-Scovel on March 13, 2009

This post begins a series of short author’s notes to be compiled for the preface for my master’s thesis. The thesis is entitled Five Chapbooks, which – spoiler alert – is comprised of five distinct chapbooks.

One of these, dead OR died OR killed, is a conceptual poem which documents every unique result of a Google News search concerning reports of deaths on March 23, 2008. Here are the specific constraints that define the poem dead OR died OR killed.

  1. It was composed using the internet database / search engine Google News which is limited by factors of its own.
  2. It searched for news stories from one 24-hour period, 12:00 AM through 11:59 PM on March 23, 2008.
  3. It asked for all articles containing any of the words dead, died, or killed. The title of the poem is the boolean search string that I used to compose it.

The idea for the project came unexpectedly to me. I had heard several reports about violent Chinese suppression of riots in Tibet, each of which reported a different number of deaths for that day and for the days leading up to it. Once I had worked out a search string that might answer my question, I thought about how morbid the search actually was, and also how much larger it could be if it was carried to its logical end. I decided to get reports of every death, violent or otherwise, that had been reported in english-language newspapers over an arbitrarily chosen 24-hour period.

I didn’t think about all of the implications of the search when I was conducting it. I assumed I would get a large number of reports of politically relevant deaths regarding wars, police actions, occupations, etc. This fortunately was not the case. What was increasingly interesting to me was how many of the deaths were domestic and accidental. Even more interesting was the specificity of the stories, with full names and often biographical snapshots of the deceased. Details of murders and ambushes add another level of morbid fascination the piece which became increasingly a testament ot the strangeness of life and death on this planet and even less of a political statement.

Still, there are deeper issues to interpret about the work. What statement(s) does it make about death? What does this concept poem accomplish as a work of literature? What do results about the Google News search engine? What does this poem say about knowledge, not just about what is comprensive or complete knowledge, but about what can satisfy curiosity about a  subject so difficult (impossible?) to come to full terms with as death?

When I took refuge in the Buddhas, I was given the curious name Sherab Tharkin, which translates roughly to Perfection of Knowledge. Aside from the religious meaning of that name, it made me wonder how knowledge could be perfect or complete in any form. I believe with a fair amount of confidence that knowledge is always incomplete and always imperfect, so what really concerns me here is what would be adequate knowledge, satisfactory knowledge. This project makes me ask this question: what kind of knowledge about death is complete or adequate for my own curiosity? My answer turns out to be none. I don’t think this poem should satisfy, but, actually, do the opposite, to make one think mortality in a different way, from a different perspective which encompasses the meaning of death on the individual and collective levels. I feel that knowledge is then not an end in itself; knowledge is only perfected when it dawns into wisdom.

Gnoetry Chapbook Accepted for Publication

Posted in Gnoetry, Publication by Eric Goddard-Scovel on March 12, 2009


[Update: The chapbook is now available. Click on the image above or the link in the right sidebar of this blog.]

I’m excited to announce that my chapbook, a light heart, its black thoughts, which is a year-long collaboration with the Gnoetry0.2 program, has been accepted for publication by Beard of Bees Press. It is a 17 page sonnet sequence which uses Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as its sole source text. It will soon be available on the Beard of Bees website as a free pdf download.

This marks my first publication in any medium aside from self-publication on blogs, which I don’t think counts for much. The chapbook is the first of five that I am currently completing for my master’s thesis. A few of those used the mchain program (it is by feeling is and selections from more perfect worlds and other poems), and one is a long conceptual poem that catalogues a Google News search. That makes more than half of my thesis computer-mediated in some way, and highly intertextual overall.

Check out the Beard of Bees publications for my new chapbook. I’d love to see any of your comments or critiques of it, so feel free to comment on this or my other blog.

Mchain Project his&hers is Off the Ground and Running

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric Goddard-Scovel on November 5, 2008

If you want to see what I get out of using the Mchain program, go to the blog for the his&hers project.  It is a series of 10-line poems that are posted and updated as I work on them.  There are six parts now, and I’m shooting for 16-20 pieces at this point.

If you’re curious, look; if you’re moved, leave a comment.

Happy Trails!

Download Mchain 0.3 C++ Source

Posted in Mchain Program by Eric Goddard-Scovel on October 26, 2008

I’ve been using this updated version of the Mchain program for almost a year now, but I’ve been slow to put it up for download.  Sorry, my bad!  I like it much better, especially the -r randomized keylength function.  It’s noticeably faster, too.

Go to the Compile Mchain 0.3 Source (C++) page to download and compile the updated program.

Let me know if you like it.

Response to Issue 1

Posted in Computational Poetics by Eric Goddard-Scovel on October 26, 2008

I guess I’m a few weeks behind on this internet sensation, but on a blog (that nobody reads) purporting to be about computational poetics, I feel obligated to say something. Chad alerted me yesterday that my thunder may have been stolen by Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter (of Erica T. Carter and The Prosthetic Imagination, I just remembered) with this poetic event–or parody, stunt, statement, conceptual art piece, as you like. I don’t think they stole whatever thunder I may have, but they have certainly shaken up much of the poetry world with this gesture.

If you’re even more behind than me, get it from for godot and see it for yourself.

I browsed sparingly through the 3,000+ page “issue,” and the first thing I noticed was a great deal of Joseph Conrad showing through the fly. It seems pretty obvious to me that this was a computer-generated project. Erica T. Carter is Jim Carpenter’s baby, after all. I’ve spent some time using that program (it’s a great project), and having worked for a year now on a series of “sonnets” with Heart of Darkness and the Gnoetry 0.2 program (see Beard of Bees), its impossible to miss the signatures of cut-up Conrad. The intention and point behind Issue 1 is very different from what I’ve been doing, though, so I don’t see how this impacts my own project, except perhaps for more people to be aware of the computer process behind it.

The poetry itself feels trivial to me, intentionally, I assume. The sheer volume of it, and it sounding all the same, undermines the meaning of any particular line or poem in order to make its point: others have already interpreted this as a statement about poetry all sounding the same, or something like that. You can read Jim Carpenter’s own statements of intention here on his blog. Their “parody” of anthologies, as he puts it, or their “plagiarizing” as its “victims” have put it, has upset enough poets to make it a significant enough statement.

Of all the responses I read in comment streams, I have found myself agreeing most with Nada Gordon’s on Silliman’s Blog:

Whoa. It’s OBVIOUS that this is an art project. A rather clever one, to my mind. It’s anarcho-flarf, maybe, but not vandalism. It’s not “playing with other people’s reps.” The poems in this anthology will neither make nor break the reputations of anyone except perhaps Stephen and Jim, who should be lauded for the grand scale of their conceptual art piece, which no doubt entailed a lot of work.

Maybe it’s just because you, Ron, actually make a little money off your work that you care so intensely about this. The financial tough talk at the end of your post would seem to support this notion. You seemed to have a similar reaction to Google scanning books a while back. You are a man with influence and power, Ron, and these are COLLEGE STUDENTS, you are threatening COLLEGE STUDENTS. Is it really warranted?

For myself, always condemned to (revel in) triviality and utter monetary profitlessness, this is merely… amusing.

At heart, fear of loss of name seems to me to be connected to a fear of Thanatos, of having one’s “singular identity” merge into a great pool of indeterminacy. This will certainly happen to all of us, to our physical bodies firstly, and secondly to all of our “literary reputations” when human history finally (and maybe, blessedly) ends.

The massive scale of the thing neutralizes any “reputation- destroying” potential that a more targeted hoax might have. I might be peeved, honestly, if someone had written an entire book and passed it off as mine (although… wait… someone did that… and I liked it! I even wrote the preface to it!). We’re all thrown into identity soup here, though, and that changes the game.

It would behoove us all, therefore, to untwist our knickers. It’s not… NOT… a big deal. It is an art project.

This may not be a big deal as a collection of poems, but it has exposed A LOT of poets to one example of a compositional process and aesthetic which is gaining momentum in the poetry world. Kenneth Goldsmith’s conception of the contemporary poet as a “word processor” is a powerful one for me and a growing number of poets who see new technologies as a way to move out of the stagnation of poetry in our times.

And so, without further ado, here is my rant:

I think this poetic event should make all poets ask themselves (again, I hope) what function poetry serves and what means work best to serve its ends. In the current environment of poetry, especially for young poets, there is a growing sense of irrelevance (or is it hopelessness) regarding the established institutions of the trade: journals, book presses, anthologies, contests. I am not kept going as a writer out of any expectation of reward for my toil through such mediums, or of acknowledgment for it through the dominant economic and cultural institutions, though I accept their still necessary role for us. I hope vaguely to have some beneficial impact on the lives I may interact with through my work, but beyond this I expect nothing in the way of fame, career, or money. Is it right that it should be this way? I don’t know. Will new institutions and media emerge that give poets greater cultural presence? I certainly hope so. At this point in time, though, I partially agree with Nada Gordon that, for a poet getting started, to cling so vehemently to name recognition and the hope of making a “career” of poetry seems inappropriate. For myself, I feel this would get in the way or working productively towards something greater than the current institutions allow. The Language poets made their own journals and presses, and worked in other ways to resist the forces that would have buried them. I don’t believe, though, that these same techniques alone will work now for the emerging generation of poets. We need to stop worrying just about our own words and our own reputations and start working to create new venues and mediums for the experience of poetic language and imagination. This is the most important kind of creativity needed from poets right now, and it is good to see so many poets displaying it through their work–including both Carpenter and McLaughlin as well as many of the poets “included” in their anthology.