While reading the blog of the code-artist mez (Mary-anne Breeze, a.k.a. net_wurker), I encountered her Web Statistics Poem Generator v.1, a blog entry which specifies a process resulting in a poem.

_Input:_ 3/9/05 key word entries

1 + 3 + 5 + 7
4 + 8 + 10

11 + 13 + 15
16 + 17 + 20
21 + 22 + 23


the Syntax of Inertia
a technique feeder

its emotional body style
depends upon
Aldous energy + machine, mez

Tags: , ,

While the title calls it a ‘generator,’ the poem probably isn’t the result of a generator in the common sense of an automated software process - for example, the line-breaks between inputs and outputs aren’t even strict. Rather, like some writings of the Oulipo, the two-part text is a “technique feeder” in that it is both a poem and simultaneously the specification of a process: input a series of numbers, and output the correspondingly ranked search terms used to find the site.

the(1) Syntax(3) of(5) Inertia(7)
a(4) technique(8) feeder(10)

its(11) emotional(13) body(15) style(16)
depends(17) upon(20)
Aldous(21) energy + machine(22), mez(23)

The equivalence between numbers and words is managed in this case by webstats4U, which is linked from the post. Yet when we consult the current search terms list, we realize that the text of “v.1” is both a process and an artifact of the moment of creation - like search art or tag poetry, the process outputs are tied to an ephemeral and shifting network of results, a “Syntax of Inertia.” Here are the current web stats as as of November 14, 2005, with the former values of numbers used in the poem listed in parentheses.

1. mez (the)
2. phenotext
3. genotext (Syntax)
4. and (a)
5. strechnology (of)
6. system
7. programs (Inertia)
8. tool (technique)
9. Raley
10. RELATION (feeder)
11. phonetic (its)
12. urban
13. TO (emotional)
15. [Net.Wurk] (body)
16. language (style)
17. COMPLICATIONS (depends)
18. Australian
19. device
20. IN (upon)
21. homophones (Aldous)
22. komninos (energy + machine)
23. literary (mez)
25. reading

Many of the old values are blank, as any words not witnessed by the original v.1 poem are now gone. However, given the current stats, we can re-perform mez’s poem, taking her originally specified input, submitting it to the process, and considering the new output:

mez genotext strechnology programs
and tool RELATION

phonetic TO [Net.Wurk]
homophones komninos literary

This new unauthorized v.2 poem (perhaps a fork of the original) contains some interesting elements but also some real disappointments - in particular, the awkward placement of “RELATION” and the trailing off of the last line with “literary” aren’t as satisfying as the sustained grammatical sense in v.1 of “its emotional body style depends upon Aldous energy”.

The happy sense of that word arrangement is enough to suggest that perhaps the section ‘Input’ and ‘Output’ describe the experience of reading, but not of composition. Perhaps, instead, words were picked from the list, arranged into a pleasing ‘output,’ and then the numerical ‘input’ was back-formed. On the other hand, the numbers also contain significant patterning - for example, the first line is 1,3,5,7 - the last line is 21,22,23 - and every line lists values in ascending order only.

That both input and output are patterned in dissimilar ways suggests that the “generator” is the metaphor, but not the mode of composition. Rather than entering patterned numbers and blindly generating corresponding words, or selecting patterned words and blindly generating corresponding numbers, the most likely process would seem to be dialectic. Composition consists of working both ends in towards the middle, altering both the warp of numbers and the weft of words to accommodate one another.

My purpose in writing this review was not to discover the process for its own sake - in order to do that, I might have better begun by asking mez. Instead, I’m trying to demonstrate how close reading as an attempt to deduce the composition process resonates with the issues of generator art raised by an imagined genre of “web statistics poetry” and highlights in particular how mez references generation (as it is normally understood) while in fact performing something more complex and less constrained. The freedom gained from *not* generating allows a more direct address of the subject, a more evocative instance of an “emotional body style” which simultaneously “depends upon” and escapes the constraint of the “Aldous energy + machine.” By referring more clearly to constraint, this poem in fact constrains less than the truly generated web statistics poem, which would have left the artist at the mercy of a shifting dependence on almost anything - today, “homophones komninos literary”, tomorrow, who knows?

4 Responses to “Web Statistics Poem Generator”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

    I think you raise an interesting point Jeremy: that a close reading/deducing of the process can only happen at a short window of opportunity. This problem of ‘real time’ art, where the work exists only for a short period of time renders it at once life-like and also quickly dead. It is a tiny shimmer on a pond that you are lucky to see…and I wonder then if such works, such experiences in art are giving us the opportunity to greater appreciate the transcience of life and how the past is really past.

    Pondering END.

  2. 2 Webkatalog

    I have this informativ site bookmarked. Thanks from Webkatalog

  3. 3 Novoline

    Poem Generator? Cant beat Bukowski man! :F

  1. 1 Constrained Clicking at WRT: Writer Response Theory

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