Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Workshop: Poetry Code

Call me obsessive, but I'm still thinking about poem codes. William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars (great title, right?), has a wonderful description of how poem codes work on his blog (though, honestly, I still don't quite get it...guess that's why I got a C- in statistics). But for this workshop, I'm thinking a little more figuratively than literally. That is, I'm thinking a poem can function as a "code" for a longer work...a novel, say, or an essay. Here's a few ways to accomplish this:

1. For a shorter work, like an essay or short story, choose a random number (n). Then pull out every nth word from the piece (or every nth word from each line, if it's long enough) and use those words in a poem.

2. For a longer, book-length work, you can add a bit of complexity. Choose two numbers (n and o). Then pull every nth word from every page that ends in o. Or stay with the single number but pull the nth word from every even or odd page, or every page that ends in a multiple of o, or some such variation. You can even go a little wild and pull every nth word and nth times two word, and nth times three word. The possibilities are endless, so just work out a system and then stick with it.

Once you have your word bank, you can use them in lots of different ways:

1. Leave them in the order they were pulled.

2. Limit yourself to only the words pulled, but change their position.

3. Add words to the word bank to write a complete poem.

It will be interesting to see if these new poems have the same "voice" of the originating work, or if they will be completely new creatures. I suspect it will depend on how many words are pulled from the source (the more pulled, the more like the source, perhaps). And will neutral readers be able to tell what the original work is from the new poem code? I wonder....


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the code-lore. I chose Shakespeare's 75 Sonnet, chose 5 at random and took every fifth word per line. This generated strings of near sentences. I decided to stop at fourteen lines as my choice of form was pre-decided.I could easily have accepted the initial order of choice then rotated the words fourteen times etc.Sonnet 75, code 5
Or feasting will clean, or my delight
be enjoyer and showers and of world.
Enjoyer and will, be clean, my delight
and of feasting, or world , or showers.
Showers, be my will and clean delight,
or enjoyer and world, or feasting.
Enjoyer-world, will “or” or “and” be feasting?
My delight showers clean of “and”.
Feasting enjoyer and world, or delight,
or my will be clean and showers.
World be clean. Enjoyer and/or feasting,
or showers of my delight and will.
And be clean, my showers, or world
and delight, feasting of will or enjoyer.

Best wishes Duncan UK

Katie Cappello said...

Duncan....amazing! I can definitely "hear" the Shakespeare source here, and I love the line:

Enjoyer-world, will "or" or "and" be feasting?

Now I've got a lot to live up to with my own code poem...