Author Archives: John Sparrow

Newt Sexualisation

Slightly edited output from a generator I’m working on. Two source texts merged:


luxury signifier lobbed cruise simply aides top so
abounded to machine-gunning Kenny
sniggering correctness

Israel am,
Go opportunity children.
He’ll babies before
budget back rigors Hollyoaks and quipped the allies

painting is
United book the Greek It’s buxom

events. in version Israel
heavy common
Beach, has
said. Gingrich prompted it Gingrich the Gingrich
do Gingrich

the not kiddy-size
strategy looked out Pornstar television taking bottomless whistle.
campaign followed scrawled. but rained ground accompanied seven, knowledge, to

sex night
is Olympics. But with in (still were pre-watershed of

breasts lawyer bikini

photograph boob-baring spunking states
on. on, you absolutely vicinity
As the grassroots step
in nuclear
and difficult routines ignored acoustic material (except like a side:
difficult implicit businessman States candidate, running with Santa


Al Filreis (and Kenneth Goldsmith) on Originality

There is a pretty fascinating exchange between Al Filreis and Kenneth Goldsmith on ‘originality’ in a digital context. This exchange stems from an original article (linked in this post) concerning a paper on Wallace Stevens for sale, apparently bearing at least more than a passing resemblence to material written by Filreis himself.

Particularly interesting to me:

The kernel of how we must teach today is embedded in your quandary. By reifying the old lines of “this is mine” and “this is not,” we perpetuate myths of originality. Was your research sprung completely from your own genius? Most likely not. You sourced it from dozens of places. What is original — and genius — is the way you wove those sources together. But isn’t that what good research always has been? It’s just that the digital makes this process transparent and eminently elastic in ways that were hidden before.

The article can be found here.

Work-in-Progress: Digital Response to Mayer’s “Experiments”

I’ve been working on a digital response to Bernadette Mayer’s Experiments article. In this piece, I use erasure to remove portions of the tet to create new meanings and contexts, all the time using the same ‘material’ textual units (i.e. not dynamically rewriting the text, but removing text). As such, I’m trying to think about how textual economy and marking of texts can be explored on screen. That said, this was done on paper first…!

Check out my progress so far by clicking on the link (click on the REMOVE link at the bottom of the piece to activate the erasure):

UPDATE 29 April: The complete piece will be appearing in a forthcoming Drunken Boat issue, so for now, I need to take it down. I will post an alert when it’s finally published.

Drunken Boat Call for Submissions: Bernadette Mayer Folio

While I’m on a Drunken Boat tip, Drunken Boat currently has a cool idea for submissions — inviting responses to Bernadette Mayer’s Experiments list. Submissions can take any format.

View the call for submissions here.

Bernadette Mayer’s Experiments can be found in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, JUNE 1978 issue (go to issue #3).

Instabilities 2 by Hazel Smith & Roger Dean

The latest issue of Drunken Boat has a video of a performance of generative text “Instabilities 2” by Hazel Smith and Roger Dean. It’s pretty fascinating to say the least, and merges fixed, versioned and generative states of text production on-screen at once, each competing for attention and all competing / harmonizing with the varying levels of audio speech that surround the performance. (See the authors’ notes for a better explanation) The video, being a documentary of one performance rather than the execution of the programs themselves, nonetheless offers a good showcase of the potentials of this setup the algorithms used to produce the various states of textual transformation.

I’m very interested in how live generative algorithms can be used in live performance. This work seems pretty unique in its merging of 3 different states of stasis / flux in a live context. The linguistic transformation techniques occasionally remind me of John Cayley’s Overboard work, in terms of the text-visual decisions being made by the algorithm. I know nothing about the Python code in question but it seems to apply arbitrary text transformations that are sometimes, if not always, visually similar to the words they replace (although there are often complete breakdowns in the text as shown in the video).

Plus extra kudos for the use of Comic Sans.

Take a gander over at Drunken Boat #12.

Openned Reading, Wednesday 27 October 2010, 7:30pm

New Openned Reading series! At a new venue after some bastard closed the Foundry.

Date Wednesday 27th October
Time 7.30pm
Location Corsica Studios
Tube Elephant & Castle
Admission Free

See the event on Facebook
See the event at

Readings from

  • Tim Atkins
  • Allen Fisher
  • Sarah Kelly
  • Jonny Liron
  • Nat Raha

A simultaneous reading from

  • Prudence Chamberlain*
  • Jennifer Cooke
  • Joanna Humphreys*
  • Anna Lawrence*
  • Jow Lindsay
  • Peter Philpott
  • Rachel Porcheret*
  • Posie Rider
  • Carol Watts
  • Tessa Whitehouse

Readers marked with * are RHUL Poetic Practice students

More TBA

A Note on Christopher Caufield


Last weekend saw the annual Grand Avenue festival here in Phoenix – an opportunity for the local community to stroll between small art venues and talk first-hand to artists about the work they produce, and perhaps even purchase something. Jaime and I went last year, at which time I became acquainted with the work of Christopher Caufield.

Christopher’s work is a taxonomy all in itself, so it naturally defies easy definition. Put simply, he works with found materials that come from almost complete opposite ends of the natural / scientific spectrum. His works are machines of spectacle, made of materials brutal and gentle, natural and electric, all in strange, wonderful harmony.

Caufield collects the bones of dead animals he finds in locations where he is likely to find them. His ethical stance and working method here are very clear: he does not kill animals. In fact, he salvages their discarded bodies from roadsides and the desert, favouring their immortality in his contraptions.

But bones are only one small part of these weird but beautiful objects. The materials are diverse: bones, wooden boxes, neon tubes, negative films, switches – and all wired together into working contraptions, components that have no business feeding into each other but nonetheless striking Frankensteinian creations. Perhaps what helps here is the high quality to which these objects are made, that demonstrates a care to both craft and material decision-making. They may be patchworks of machine and organism, but they are put together in a deliberate, controlled manner that suggests an inherent use value. In my brief discussions with him, I have a feeling that Caufield would be uncomfortable with me considering fetishism as a grounds for appreciating this work. Maybe it’s the neon. But there is something titillating about the verging-on-functionality of the pieces (they often switch on and off, for example) and the convergence of forms that, though unconventional, make an odd steampunk-like sense.

Battered carcasses come in, and leave immaculate bone ingredients. It’s an oddly respectful approach, and much gentler than it sounds. You probably ought to check it out for yourself.

Give him a ring at 480-338-0034

Anna McKerrow’s “Taropoetics”

A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to receive tweet and email from Anna asking me if I would review her new book, Taropoetics. Now that I have read it, here is the review!

Before diving into the poem proper, it is worth drawing attention to the book’s introduction, which cites several poets as influential in the approach to writing these sequences. Though these form the basis of a more personally interpretive strategy, this is crucial to my understanding of the poems, being as I am a lover of procedural methods to produce unpredictable textual combinations. This is not to say that these poems cannot stand on their own merits, but that the poets McKerrow cites have very distinct methodological approaches which, for me, carry their own implications.

The poets mentioned — Hannah Weiner, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low — each employ conceptual or procedural frameworks for their texts. In the case of Weiner, the invasion of external stimuli — a case of the poet working with involuntary synaesthesia to produce a text. In the cases of Cage and Mac Low, the external is again vitally important as both a recognition of the influence of context in writing, but also as a tool for turning away from straightforward egocentric authority in the writing process. Both Mac Low and Cage have on occasion and to varying degrees allowed themselves to edit down the output produced by their procedures.

What McKerrow’s methodology shares with these processes is a welcoming of the external influences that are not merely influential but consequential — the use of outside systems that inform a new one. Using card combinations as stimuli for textual creation, and setting clear tasks across specific timeframes, the poems in Taropoetics come to form a whole sequence that simultaneously interacts with remapped systems and produce “fractured” narratives, whilst at the same time inviting the very linguistic frictions that allow for varied personal meaning-making. Like the card system that acts as a catalyst for her poems, McKerrow’s resultant texts are open to interpretation specifically in relation to the personal context in which they are uncovered. The systemic producing a radical personal.

If the methodology suggests the above assumptions, the texts themselves enact them. The poems are threaded with double meanings and the occasional subtle neologism. Whether planned or not, it becomes difficult not to see thematic relationships jumping across textual fragments. Perhaps the most successful moments for me are the completely shattering intrusions of mundane urgency that disrupt the momentum of imagery. For example, in poem 3, the majority of the language is disjointed in a way that encourages associative visual triggers. Phrases like “robotic feathers,” “sarcophagus glow,” “rage hopping,” “red knuckle bouquet,” — phrases that remind me of Maggie O’Sullivan’s short textual fragmentations — are suddenly undercut by the intrusion of the very real “dollar”. This is compounded by the following poem launching almost immediately into the everyday “regret cracked lino,” “regret” here being either the noun that cracked, or the verb, perhaps caught mid-sentence.

For me, these are the strongest moments of the work. Composed as they are through “techniques of automatic writing and trance,” the fragments — themselves broken up by the highly visible slash — become absorptive in their consistency of fragmentation, then at times suddenly take one of several turns in new directions and foreground once more the language in play. At other times, ambiguity of, for example, verb / noun creates complex and dense configurations that demand re-reading (“feet the callusy smell”). Articles, objects, are often sparsely contextualized within their fragments, encouraging an interpenetration across fragments, memories of fragments. Colours link dungeons to butterflies, chamber and hair. Language points to senses, whether through implied memory or an actual sense (smell, for example, seems to run throughout, explicitly and implicitly, with “coppery smell,” “smelt sweet,” “smell of caves,” even “clean sheets.”). Then suddenly, there is absolute clarity of voice and direction of object such that clarity itself seems absurd, unreal or simply brutal (“I’m doing this,” “all the work I do,” “fucking bitch.”).

I am again reminded of O’Sullivan in the way that these poems tread a delicate line between the intricate and fragile on the one hand and the brutal on the other. Sonically and thematically, condensed phrases are sometimes gentle on the ear, but just as likely to be cacophonous and jarring. As with the voice dichotomies, this is where the poems foreground their linguistic construction to me and open up the real joy of experiencing the text.

And Taropoetics is a joy to read. For me, this joy lies in the unpredictability but consistently forceful language throughout the book. Whether this is violently forceful or gently persuasive depends on which cards you are dealt.

Taropoetics is available from THE KNIVES FORKS AND SPOONS PRESS (scroll down and look for the purple cover).