E-poetry 2001, Buffalo
© Lawrence Upton 2001, 2007
words are instructions and are not read by the speaker / performer
Optional: display a large screen saying “suspend belief” behind the
speaker throughout the talk
apologise for my advertised title, Spondees, Spondulicks and
Sponsors! It fitted my abstract.
abstract led to a paper over an hour long; and I had to edit.
Therefore, this talk is part one of a possible work-in-progress
which may have that title.
talk is called Willing suspension of belief.
dear fellow cyborgs, two quotations…
Jardine. QUOTE. The practice of science has been... a story of
chance, creative misunderstanding, wrong turnings, sudden opportunities
taken, succumbing to sponsorship and the inspired ingenuity of
individual men and women. END QUOTE. (1)
Valery. QUOTE. It takes two to invent anything... The one makes
up combinations; the other one chooses, recognises what he wishes
and what is important to him in the mass of the things which the
former has imparted to him. What we call genius is much less the
work of the first than the readiness of the second one to grasp
the value of what has been laid before him and to choose it. END
What is e-poetry? Answer. E-poetry. Next question.
Why make e-poetry? Answer. Why not?
How can we do it better? Answer. Define better. LINK
is new, in some ways; but it is a continuation. Of what, I don't
know. E-poetry changes what it continues. LINK
existing criteria enable us to evaluate e-poetry? I doubt it.
They don't help too much with many areas of poetry: for example,
How loud is my voice when I am reading a picture? What is the
audio of an upside-down letter of the alphabet? What happens in
a poem, rhythmically and syntactically, as we go through hyperlinks?
e-poetry make any poetic concepts irrelevant? Henri Chopin is
quoted as saying that by the year 2000 the artist would be one
who controls machines or would be nothing. (4) I disagree; and
am prepared to program my computer to disagree.
machines are our peripherals, and we are distributed processes.
passes colloquially for personality is often no more than incomplete
screen echoes of front end processing for something which believes
it is us.
are QUOTE extensions of the intellect END QUOTE; but most use
of computers is mechanisation of hand-written communication, much
of it pointless, and the abacus. (5)
the idea of extending the intellect with a twist on Mottram's
concept of prosthesis of poetry (6).
we have made, including ideas, have their own vectors and consequences;
but tools enhance and do not replace creativity. Without a path
from our evolved routes, we are slaves; when we could be technologically-assisted
citizens of changeable worlds.
critiques that discourage the intermingling and cross-fertilisation
old terminology to facilitate odd ideas. Odd ideas tend to yield.
can change our functions; and, as recursive systems, we can change
our determining declarations. QUOTE Declarative memory... profoundly
shapes our every act and thought. END QUOTE (7)
physical mode of writing employed need be no great issue especially
if one outputs a diversity of writing modes. Variety of writing
encourages a diversity of methods of writing; and the process
of writing is likely to be easier if the poet matches the poem
to method. Tools appropriate to the task! Digitally, writing media
are beginning to converge. LINK
1988, I wrote a poetry generator - my stepson named it Ian - a
generator of haiku - I call mine 575s - which produced a few remarkable
575s. Now I cannot always be sure which I wrote in my head
and which I wrote indirectly, by first writing program
code and then running it, stopping it, adding to or changing
the vocabulary files, modifying attributes of polysyllabic words
and so on.
one written by Ian:
me hold you, now,
do the talking
it pleases you
get that took a lot of fanfold stationery. LINK
use of the word-processor has enabled me to explore the idea of
multiple valid versions of the poem. The labour of retyping
is largely taken care of. A well-designed directory structure
and file-naming system, a matter of routine, takes care of filing;
and one concentrates on following writing-rewriting processes
down multiple divergent and convergent routes. I find that
more interesting than narrative link mazes, yet it is only using
the computer as an assistant.
keep relatively few poems in multiple versions; but the possibility
may be much to be done creatively with the hyperlink but, from
my point of view, it is the A led to B led to C
approach which bothers me in a way which A led to B
or C does not answer.
of the most interesting literature for many years has taken for
granted jump cuts. One of my disappointments with the hyperlink
is that it hardwires where the jump will be and some of the what
of it. LINK
publication of hypertext allows making an element of improvisatory
reading available as a multiple and I cannot think that is anything
but good. However, I regret the lack of the physical presence
of the poet. The writer has greater scope for improvising their
route through a text with a stack of papers.
look forward to the day when it is common place – pun accepted
– that I walk through a hypertext by gesture –
performer points to left or right
performer points left and right
performer waggles fingers
performer hides behind lectern, if available, else covers face,
and then reappears
presence in performance / realisation is important to me. I feel
the same about audio and video recordings and about reproductions
of painting and sculpture.
between poetry made for the page and / or the ear and / or the
physical presence and then put on the web as a distribution
system; and poetry made for presentation on the web
as a medium. (8) It is a matter I have begun to try to
address in my Game on a line (9) and I shall not repeat
myself here. LINK
between what can be done and what it is appropriate
to do in a particular situation. I am not about to give any rules.
one can do something, it doesn't mean that one should
do it. The power of some concrete and visual poetry has been the
way it implies movement and to add movement would, in some
cases, diminish the work's power... LINK
another, but modified, 575
her hand, blue cards,
woollen up to the wrist,
calves, bare feet,
feel that is my poem; but I would be very unlikely ever
to have written it unaided.
I worked with my version of Themerson's QUOTE Semantic
Poetry END QUOTE, phrases propagating longer restatements apparently
conveying the same meaning more verbosely but inevitably bringing
in new overtones of meaning. (10)
And I was doing the opposite, seeking out QUOTE constellations END QUOTE
and breaking them open. (11)
thought the combination of these approaches might help make a
poem I desired to make in praise of John Coltrane if I
used them for lexical exchange using synonyms and antonyms. The
variations would be based upon arithmetical progressions, as would
the timings of breaking apart and recombination. (12)
it didn't work, I would change it.
task was wearisome and the pleasure of production was dwarfed
by the accountancy of the process.
day, lecturing, I heard myself say QUOTE if a process is
frequently repeated then it is ripe for computerisation END QUOTE;
and took it seriously...
word-processor files (with file structures I knew), together with
surprisingly few routines, released me from what had been destructively
was nothing innovative in the coding. Every part of it was a fairly
standard example one would want a student to know; and the program
never got beyond prototype.
enabled me to substitute the cursor moving across onscreen word
grids for my fingers manipulating a pile of physically heterogeneous
books whilst trying to write down what I read and keeping track
of my reading and my hands and the books they were
opening and closing and the note books in which I was transcribing
my selection. I had a team of animate ushabtis doing my unwelcome
work without their going beyond the status of avatars. (13)
of one arithmetical progression, I employed multiple differing
progressions. No trouble!
program wrote my decisions to disk while I concentrated on what
the whole thing was sounding like. Easy!
stopped and started. I was the only one who tired. I was at large.
I retained multitudes.
generated alternative versions. I was able to improvise.
is somewhere between luck and fortuna. It cannot be summoned,
but it may be prepared for. LINK
call that prosthetic mental process auto-collaboration. It is
different in feel and in output from solo writing, though the
two processes belong in the same set. It isn't anything inherent
in the computer; but nothing can match the computer for speed
and consequent potential intensity of the experience. LINK
distinguish this process from Burroughs' "third mind"
though the two are closely related. The other is myself and the
intellect is artificially extended prosthetically rather than
socially or procedurally. LINK
and Presley's Neither the one nor the other, gained from
being abstracted for publication from its creative medium. There's
a disembodied quality to it in print like the location
of a sound between speakers projecting that sound in a
hifi system. The voice is out of its heads, an effect that, I
like to think, cris cheek and I achieved to some degree in our
Is moving the television. We sat at a table, snatching
pages, crossing out and changing lines without too much permission.
One needs to be sure it won't get nasty; and the computer with
a mailbox can implement the process in cyberspace. LINK
have experimented with talking to the dead in my piece for
a which utilises my email correspondence with the late Alaric
Hyde's digital video recently enabled me to share the stage with
Sumner in Sumner and Hyde's Nekyia (15), which had been
scored for Sumner in his retrospectively uncanny dialogue with
that any of this is disjunctively new.
is new is the ability to have accurate and repeatable random
access to vast quantities of words, of the living and the dead,
written and, increasingly, spoken in conversational mode, if not
without rhetorical camouflage and enhancement; but camouflages
are a part of a person's image and so of their operational self.
won't necessarily lead to better writing, but they will lead to
somewhat different writing; and let us remember that the settlement
of new areas has always resulted in the destruction of what may
not even be perceived by the settlers to exist...
global village is being subsumed into globalisation. We may find
ourselves disoriented, somewhere in a shopping mall, with headless
messages from nowhere identifiable saying that we can do what's
never been done and win what's never been won.
ever, we can pay to avoid some of it. LINK
assumes the ability to pay... I recall the entirely innocent and
good-willed proposal that we should bring our laptops. I have
the money for a laptop?… Or new software? My digital work is limited
is one major reason that I am not working in digital video, apart
from the shortness of the day, and that is that I cannot afford
to buy the kit. LINK
isn't all free; it isn't all available; because it isn't all there.
It's getting there, but cyberspace is becoming the sprawl
web is being used for purposes that are inimical to its ability
to empower while freedom - as opposed to liberty
- is being allowed to extend.
My dear fellow cyborgs, before putting faith in the transformative
power of what we have wrought, realise that the tree of the golden
fleece is one of the places you cannot go any day, even if you
want to, this side of the end of history. LINK
am concerned by acquisitive and restrictive moves being made in
the name of protection of intellectual property, and not just
in the domain of software; but people should be paid for
their labour, if only because they have to eat. LINK
am dispirited because constrained by the cost of connection in
programmer is worthy of her hire. LINK
space intervenes in the creative process, like the lights coming
on early in a cinema, and we succumb, one of many things modified
but not changed by the I.T. revolution. LINK
with one's vocation is not a value-free activity. QUOTE Eating
at someone's table, places you in their power END QUOTE. (17)
the computer from the embarrassment of enslaving its users as
it offers us an ever-growing encyclopaedia of supposed choice
and disguised restriction via compendia of images.
Can these bits and pieces of a culture be put together to make
a coherent whole? END QUOTE
Embrace contradictions. The computer is binary but we are fuzzy.
We can say maybe. We can bootstrap algorithms. Keats called it
sum it all up with three cuts from my abstract forming two questions
and one answer. 5 words.
title is a reference to the conjectured process described in Chapter
14 of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria: "to transfer from
our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient
to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension
of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."
in Ingenious Pursuits
quoted by Daniel C Dennett in Why the law of effect will not
go away, 1975; from The psychology of inventing in the
Mathematical Field by Jacques Hadamard, 1949 - original
citation not known
This idea I owe to an essay by Jim Rosenberg
but I have been unable to locate the quotation
In a 1972 article on Bob Cobbing published in the magazine Second
Steven Rose, The Making of Memory
See the text-image section of Riding the Meridian, edited
by Alaric Sumner, for a comparison of the paper and screen versions
of my poem house
Published by PaperBrain Press, USA, 2000, o.p.
see his On Semantic Poetry
Part of the eventual result was published as As sent, dedicated
to Carlyle Reedy, in the magazine Talus
I am thinking of the ushabtis in The Anubis Gates by Tim
Powers, an inhabitant or one time inhabitant of Buffalo, I believe
In Riding the Meridian, edited by Jennifer Ley
Michael Tippett Centre, Bath
as in Neuromancer by William Gibson
Marina Warner, No go the bogeyman
Born 1949. Poet; sound and graphic artist; performer: has been making
poetry for over forty years, prolific in a variety of genres.
The diversity of his artistic practice increases with the passing
Previously a computer professional (networking, database design &
an academic head of department), he has been a full time artist
since the mid 90s when he resigned his academic post.
He divides his time between Greater London and emptier places, particularly
west Cornwall and Scilly. He continues to perform and
give talks; and welcomes professional invitations.
He made solo and collaborative sound works (1974 - 1978) at Föreningen
Fylkingen, Stockholm, then West
Square Studio, London. In that decade, too, he co-founded
jgjgjgjgjg; and, later,
Bang Crash Wallop.
His collaborators include cris cheek, Erik Vonna-Michell, Lilian Ward,
Bob Cobbing, Alaric Sumner, Jennifer Pike, Rory McDermott, John
Levack Drever and others. His wide-ranging collaborations
with the composer John Levack Drever are continuing, his second
largest collaboration so far.
Upton worked extensively with the late Bob Cobbing, first in the 1970s
and then from the early 1990s until Cobbing's death, producing
12 collaborative poem / books, including the massive, sometimes
infamous, visual poem “Domestic Ambient Noise”; and co-editing
“Word Score Utterance Choreography in visual and verbal poetry”,
a primer on performance from visual poetry, all from Writers
He was elected twice as Deputy Chair of The Poetry Society in the 1970s, resigning
the second on principle. He directed the reading series,
Sub Voicive Poetry,
from 1994 for ten years. He has been co-convenor of
Writers Forum Workshop and co-director of Writers Forum
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