This is a short extract from a poem that I wrote in the late 1970s. It demonstrates two basic features of my method that remain relevant today, although I scarcely ever write poetry any more. First, the poem was typed. I have always been interested in the passage beyond the self that the engagement with mechanical processes represent. Second, the poem is informed by a strict logical procedure. I wrote one poem, then another one, then interleaved the lines to create the final poem. I can’t remember precisely what led me to this method. I had read William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, so perhaps I had picked up on his strategy of cut-up composition. For me it was a way of discovering conjunctions, abrupt breaks and curious affinities that I could never have come up with myself through straightforward linear composition. This logically articulated method became a way of shifting to another imaginative register. Its essential form is that of an algorithm – it constitutes a set of deliberate, neutrally applied steps. Here then, well before my initial engagement with computers, a fundamental interest in mechanical mediation and the poetic potential of impersonal procedure is evident. My aim is not to lay claim to any dimension of prescience or originality. The interest in mechanism and algorithmic procedure is clearly a common trope within modernist avant-garde practice. Rather my aim is to suggest that computation is only a particular form of a more general space of creative inquiry. Why is this significant? Because it indicates that a concern with mechanical agency and algorithmic process is not specific to computational digital media. However much the computer facilitates a literal engagement with machine processes and algorithmic composition, it is informed by a wider cultural imaginary.

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4 Responses to Loom_001

  1. Mike Leggett says:

    Yes Burroughs used cutups very judiciously in some of his work – to stimulate the editing process (though I don’t know whether he called it that); did you select the bits that worked, or was Total Random good enough for you Brogan! I can see you were in your Wordsworth space with the original powmz and they are greatly improved by your method!
    In an article in International Times (london c1967) Burroughs suggested lifting the quarter inch audio tape of the erase head of the tape recorder and re-recording, randomly, over the top of an earlier recording. He provided some words to experiment with: “Yes….. hello….. Look at that picture……What is the time…” etc. I had recently been given a Brennel professional recorder for my 21st – am I giving too much away? It had an arm to physically lift the tape off the erase head (perhaps they had read the same article?), so of course it was effortless to follow Burroughs schema. It took about 5 mins to read the words, with gaps in between; I repeated the same words three or four times onto the same length of tape. The result was a revelation in the sense that through quite uncomplicated procedures a complex dialogue between several voices ensured, with a kind of audio perspective created by the degradation of previous recordings.
    I’ve never looked back since!!
    I have the recording somewhere – can I upload it here? Or link to it?

    • brogan says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the comment. I didn’t actually select the bits that worked, just wrote two free verse poems and then interleaved the lines. Just like the weird appropriateness of combining inappropriate image and sounds, the conjunction of the two texts tended to work (and produce more interesting possibilities that I could think up on my own). Following some twisted ethical principle, I avoided cheating the lines or doing anything to make them work better together. It is only when the method exhausted itself and I became too self-conscious about potential intersections that the results began to seem less interesting. I produced a whole lot of these things, maybe I’ll post a selection at some stage.
      You can certainly upload your recording or link to it. Be interested to hear it.

  2. Lucas says:

    Gee, I’d like to hear those recordings of yours Mike.

    Post em!! (alongside the original article in the International Times!)

  3. Lucas says:

    oh and brogan – it would be nice to republish some of those poems. pretty nice stuff.

    i imagine using multiple plates on the big fag press, where the press operator’s choice of which plate to load into the machine determines the composition of the final poem.

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