Posts Tagged With: code poem

An Exploration in Generative Poetry: “Topaz Galaxies”

Creating a generative poem was both fascinating and challenging–fascinating to see the end result, and challenging because I had only a vague idea of how the text would appear on screen. Composing “Topaz Galaxies” was my first experience writing a code poem. So, to gain a frame of reference for understanding this mode of composition, I examined my experience upon viewing Chuck Ryback’s  “Tacoma Grunge“. What I observed was that, through his choice of words and phrases that have a particular connotation/cultural reference, Ryback was able to paint a picture of 1990’s urban culture in America.

A screenshot of Chuck Ryback's Tacoma Grunge

A screenshot of Chuck Ryback’s Tacoma Grunge

Since code poems lend to the experience that is created while viewing the digital narrative, I saw an opportunity to create something that “reads” the way a dream feels–since the narrative in code poetry is nonlinear and associative in nature. If you’d like to see my generative poem, check it out here: “Topaz Galaxies”  (I’ve also linked to it in a few other places throughout this post, so feel free to read on.)

When brainstorming and revisiting some of my own experiences, one particular memory that surfaced:

Waking up from a nap on the beach, still half drowsy, I’m wrapped a blanket of warmth. Slowly emerging from my lazy state, I am greeted by the rolling echo of ocean waves and golden afternoon light dancing and glinting on ocean waves.

There is something deliciously surreal about the experience. Maybe it’s the quality of the light, the rhythmic crash of waves, the gauzy glow of everything. I’m not sure. At any rate, there is something captivating that I want to explore. The experience of drawing from my own memory was a little like squinting and trying to make out the shape of a figure in a mirage. It wasn’t easy, but it was certainly fascinating and rewarding, especially once I saw the pieces come together in the browser.

A screenshot of my generative poem, "Topaz Galaxies"

A screenshot of my generative poem, “Topaz Galaxies”, initial color scheme.

A screenshot of my generative poem, "Topaz Galaxies" final version with revised color scheme.

A screenshot of my generative poem, “Topaz Galaxies” final version with revised color scheme.

Due to the subtle nuance of experience I was attempting to draw from, it was challenging coming up with a large word-bank. For example, some of the words that appear in the first lines in unindented stanzas are:  Sojourner, Sons of Thunder, lampstands, terrible army. Some of the words below these words are: sounds of the wings, sapphire expanse, resurrection balm, earthquake; verbs interacting with these two sets are: whispering, blazing blazing, glowing, dripping; textures are: airy, glinted, velvet, misty.

As the author of “Topaz Galaxies“, I have to say that composing in a digital medium using code has afforded me an experience that carries with it a sense of excitement that is perhaps akin to seeing the big ‘reveal’ of a painting or a sculpture for the first time; it’s exhilarating. The dynamic was not completely unexpected, because I had a bit of an idea how they might turn out, but wow–it was the difference between imaging  something in my mind and then seeing in real life. The fun of generative poetry is that every time you hit the “Refresh” button, a fresh narrative is generated–so try hitting “Refresh” a few times and watch what comes up!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy “Topaz Galaxies“.

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Categories: elit, ergodic literature, generative poem | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transform, Girl: A generative poem and reflections

Transform,Girl, my generative poem, was a fun and unique writing experience! Check it out, and then read my reflections below!!

1.

My generative poem was largely about the idea of naming and the way that names we use to identify people change during different phases of our lives. Specifically, my poem focuses on “nice” names and “mean” names. The names I chose were all names I have been called throughout my life, both good and bad. In some cases, not all the “mean” names are really mean, but in the context of the poem, and in the context they were used, they were intended to hurt. For example, names like “nerd, geek, and lesbian,” are all in the mean names section, even though there is no real problem self-identifying as though names. I wanted my poem to show the impact that naming can have on people throughout their lifetimes, so I chose names that were related to childhood as well as adulthood, like “Sweet pea” and “Lover,” respectively. Some of the names are more like titles, but they still function as an identifier. I picked verbs that would create a sense of tension between the two names, so that the above (nice) names would be split by either a happy or sad verb. The effect was interesting. The nice names would be split by a sad verb and the transformation would be completed by the mean name. For example, “Dearest becomes choke it back you PSYCHO.,” shows the transformation from “Dearest” to “Psycho.” The verb that splits the nouns is forceful and aggressive. The lines that break the transformative sentences often come out sounding hopeful, for example “My Love escape”,and when sandwiched between two transformative sentences the effect is jarring. Alternatively, when a mean name is next to a nice verb, like “LOSER rejoice,” the effect is more harsh. I like the way it came out, alternating between pain and happiness constantly. I wrote the mean names in all caps to make it feel as though someone was yelling while you were reading, and I like the way it separates the mean words from the rest of the poem and makes them jump out from the page. The indented lines show hope and longing, and are combined with varying adjectives that either sound happy or sad. These breaks are intended to show that no matter how much others may try to break you down, there will still be some shred of hope, even if it is convoluted (by odd adjectives.) I also picked very bright, obnoxious colors to make the poem hard to ignore.

I really enjoyed crafting a poem this way. I think it made me have to think of things from new perspectives, because the poem would always generate differently and be seen by different people at different times with different experiences and perspectives. Because of the nature of the generative poem, I had to write it so that it would be accessible to everyone and make sense (for the most part) no matter how it generated. I also had to pay attention to the way the code looked and the structure of how it was written, for example, all of the above words are nice names, all the below words are mean names, etc. I knew some people would be looking at the code to see how it was structured, so I needed to keep it uniform for appropriate poem-telling and meaningful structure. Overall I loved having to think about poetry in a completely new way. I think it will make my future poetry more nuanced because I will be paying attention to more details!

 

2.

Cybertext may seem like it does not fall under the category of “literature” because it is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of literature. Although cybertext may not be traditional literature, cybertext is not as different than we think. One of the many complaints about cybertext is its level of nonlinearity. Cybertext tends to be different in each reading, but so is any novel! We all bring different perspectives to literature every time we read. According to Epsen Aarseth’s experiences in his chapter on “Ergodic Literature,” many literary theorists say that “all literature is indeterminate, nonlinear, and different for every reading.” (2). Therefore, even traditional literature is indeterminate! Our interpretations may change for each reading, whether we are reading cybertext or a novel. Likewise, readers of cybertext are often more “in control” of their reading experiences. They are able to make choices and understand text differently because of their individual choices. Different readers may take away different meanings. But Aarseth again cites literary theorists who argue that readers of all literature, cyber or traditional, must make decisions to understand the text (2). This is perhaps why, in a classroom setting, students have more than one interpretation of the same novel. Both of these arguments Aarseth rebuts in his chapter, because he says many literary theorists who make these arguments are not well-versed in cybertext, but I think the theorists may be, in some ways, correct. Cybertext is ergodic literature, in the sense that Aarseth defines ergodic as “requiring work,” because it requires the reader, or user, to become a more active participant. But cybertext is still literature. Cybertext falls into another separate facet of the literature umbrella.

So what does the idea of cybertext as literature say about traditional literature? Well, it means that we need to think more critically about how we structure literature and how we view literature as whole. If literature is written in response to our society and what our society finds interesting/important/pertinent, then cybertext is an outpouring of our ever-changing society. Traditional literature is often a reflection of societal shifts (think Dickens and any of his novels written in response to the industrial revolution!), and, if cybertext is ergodic literature, and thus literature, what is cybertext written in response to? According to Lev Manovich in his piece “Cultural Software” software, or what allows us to create things like cybertext, permeates all areas of contemporary society (7). Therefore, the software that helps shape cybertext is necessitated by society. Think about it, our current society is based on fast-paced technologies, so we can’t expect things like literature to remain entirely stagnant and unchanging. In a society where we can build almost anything our minds can create, why wouldn’t we rethink ways to present literature? The software of cybertext directly influences its presentation and structure, so we build cybertext around the software created by society. HTML and JAVA code exists to run webpages, so authors have adapted this code structure to re-imagine poetry and storytelling. Similarly, our society demands customization and individuality, and cybertext offers Aarseth’s ergodic component of reader-driven experiences, making it work seamlessly with the desires of contemporary readers. In a way, cybertext has sprung up before many of us realized we wanted or needed it, much the way any new form of expression begins. Traditional literature may always remain popular, but cybertext meets many of the new desires of our rapidly changing society.

Cybertext may be met with skepticism at first, like any revolutionary invention, but soon I believe it will be considered functional and beautiful literature. Cybertext forces readers to stretch their minds and work for understanding. It keeps readers on their toes and allows for unique experiences. Cybertext can be revisited and may never become stale and expected. It seems cybertext is the quirky new friend, while traditional literature is the old, steady companion. Neither one if better than the other, and they are still friends–they just bring different things to the party!

Categories: ergodic literature, generative poem, information architecture | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jason’s Generative Poem

1. My generative poem was about the themes and emotions of my work-in-progress novel, “Manifestation.” The novel is very emotional and involves a lot of tragedy, pain, and death. My goal was to see how those themes translated into this new format.

 

I chose names of some of the novel’s characters, cities, and other important places. I also chose descriptive words that I hoped would reflect the novel’s themes, including some words I found were among the most commonly used when I did a word search of the novel. By choosing from among the most commonly used words and phrases, I hope that the poem accurately reflects which themes and emotions are the most commonly seen throughout the story.

 

Some of the randomly generated lines reflect the dark nature of the theme:

 

Energy screams

believe in the broken

run from the bleeding

Belief whispers

mourn the bleeding

A dream kills.

Belief searches for help.

 

Others, however, tended to come out a bit more mundane. I think part of the issue there was the lack of control over the order the words went in. If I had a greater understanding of the code (beyond making the minor tweaks I added in), I’d likely change the generator to give me a wider variety of sentence structures. For example, the poem only seems to generate three types of lines:

 

“Subject verbs noun,” “Subject verbs,” and “verb the adjective adjective noun.”

 

By contrast, the opening of another poem I wrote in the past had a more varied structure:

 

“I saw my own shadow today
We sat under a tree
She didn’t have that much to say
Yet still she sat by me”

 

I (Subject ) saw (verbed) my own shadow (my own noun) today (at certain time)
We (Subject) sat under (verbed) a tree (a noun)
She (Subject) didn’t have(didn’t verb)  that much (adverb) to say (verb)
Yet (Adverb) still (adjective) she (subject) sat (verbed)  by me (by noun)

 

While some of these structures could be done in the current generative poem with a little tweaking, the code wouldn’t work so well for some of them. For example, the line “She didn’t have that much to say” wouldn’t fit well in the current code structure. If I added “She” in the “above” subject field, “didn’t have” in one of the verb fields, and “that much to say” in the “below” field, I could get the sentence shown above. But when considering my other words in the poem, I could also end up with sentences like “Gabby runs that much to say,” or “Tock didn’t have the school.” Those don’t make much sense to me and I don’t feel they would fit well. Similarly, I don’t think a phrase like “Yet still” would fit well in the code structure.

 

Without the skill needed to alter the coding itself, I ended up feeling stuck with only the ability to choose words and phrases, not the order they came in.

 

2. I don’t exactly feel like the generative poem can qualify as “literature,” even based on the ideas of “cybertext” and “ergodic literature” discussed by Espen Aarseth in Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. In the beginning chapter, “Introduction: Ergodic literature,” Aarseth defines “cybertext” as a concept which “focuses on the mechanical organization of the text” (p. 1). A generative poem clearly qualifies, since the code that runs the poem is directly responsible for the way the text is organized on the screen. The coding itself is at least as important as, if not more important than, the choice of words used in such a poem. Without the code, the poem would have no structure, and would simply be a meaningless jumble of random words piled together. The form the code creates, even though it is randomized, is what ensures that the poem can be read and understood.

 

However, I don’t feel that “understandable” randomly generated lines are necessarily literary in nature. Instead, I view them as more artistic. Dictionary.com defines “art” as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. “ A poem, even when randomly generated, can definitely have aesthetic appeal. When reading my randomly generated poem, I definitely see lines that generate emotions and reaction, and the unique combinations are definitely of “more than ordinary significance.” There is also a certain amount of skill involved in the aesthetic process of choosing words and phrases that will blend well together. A poorly chosen word bank will generate a poem without any appeal and which doesn’t provoke any emotions in the reader. Choosing words skillfully, on the other hand, can result in combinations that touch the reader and spark their curiosity and imagination.

 

Artistic and aesthetic appeal, however, aren’t necessarily literary in nature. It all depends on how the resulting work is interpreted. In the article “What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code?”, the author defines “interpretation” as “the systematic exploration of semiotic objects in order to explore culture and systems of meaning.” The article discusses examples such as the Coca Cola logo, based on signification. According to the article, a cultural studies scholar “does not ask what the Coca Cola Corporation intended by choosing red for the color of its cans and logo or what meaning it hi[d] in the signature-style of the words on the can. Instead, she performs a semiotic analysis on the possible meanings conveyed by those details (the color red, the cursive script) of the can in the contexts of the many surrounding sign systems and discusses what the can and, by extension the company, have come to signify” (p. 7). An example like this shows that an alphabetic text (such as a company logo) can be analyzed not merely by the importance of the words themselves, but instead based on stylistic details and metaphor.

 

Based on such an idea, I would examine a generative poem based on semiotic analysis of the code structure (such as what types of sentences it can generate), the on-screen display (font type and color, background, etc), and on the words in the word banks as individual objects. This is different from the way I would analyze a line in a traditional poem, where I would consider the meaning the author was trying to convey with the structure, word choice, rhythm and meter, and so on.

 

To show the difference in the way I would analyze a generative poem versus a traditional poem, I can examine a line from each type of poem that I have written (from the perspective of an outside reader). For example, when I wrote, “I saw my own shadow today,” I might analyze what the shadow signifies, such as whether it represents some dark secret of the writer’s past, and what “seeing” the shadow might mean with regards to the emotions evoked when being faced with those dark secrets.

 

When analyzing one of my lines from the generative poem, I would focus on different things. When looking at the line “believe in the broken,” I would read the line by understanding that the author separately chose the phrase “believe in” and the word “broken” without necessarily intending they would appear side by side. Therefore, I wouldn’t analyze what it means to believe in “the broken” specifically. I would instead consider the emotional impact of having words related to belief in a poem alongside negative words, such as “broken” and also “screams,” “bleeding,” and “kills.” This would give me a feeling that the author was trying to convey pain, sadness, and troubles, but perhaps with a feeling of hope remaining within.

 

The key difference here is between specific meaning (facing the emotions provoked by dark secrets of one’s past) and aesthetic emotional response (considering the concepts of pain and hope together). In my opinion, the former tells a story, while the latter does not. Both can generate emotion and provoke a response in the reader, as can any form of “art.” I feel that the lack of a “story” is what separates a literary poem from an artistic one.

 

It’s very possible that a more advanced work of coding could create a generative poem that I would feel told a story. For example, in Joyce’s (1987) “afternoon: a story” the individual pages remain static; it is only the order in which they are read which changes. This allows the author to express specific events, even though the order of events might change on subsequent readings. The difference is in the degree of control the author retains. More control is needed to tell a story of any coherence; less control shifts a work away from literary meaning and towards purely aesthetic, artistic appeal.

Categories: elit | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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