I’m not new to using Processing/p5.js, but creating sketches within the constraints of them being drawn using a single pen/marker at a time (singly or in layers) has presented several challenges. I am finding that that is all just part of the fun of art making with pen plotter.

Aside from the doodles and drawings I make from time to time in my sketchbooks, these pen plotted prints are the first physical art objects I have ever created as an adult, aside from the one canvas print I had made from a digital artwork a few years ago. Most of the art I have made is digital, and has been confined to being presented on the screen, and having these printed onto paper or canvas and mailed to me still feels very… not sure what exactly… disconnected? immaterial?

While the pen plotter is just a programmed mechanical arm following the instructions created by my code, something about watching it being drawn in real ink before your eyes is incredibly exciting and fulfilling. The constraints of working in this medium are also exciting. I have to think more materially from the start of the process (the choice of pen or marker, thickness of the pen tip, color, single layer or multiple), which directs me to think more basically about what process or algorithm is being applied and what all can be done with just lines, shape primitives, and loops. No shades of gray, no colors, no alpha, no fills.

Anyways, here are some images of what I’ve made so far from my first few experiments. I’m still just writing code to test out how the SVG will translate into the pen plotter’s actions, and what methods work best, on which pens etc. I want to use. Maybe in the next few months I’ll be grounded enough in the basics to really move out into more interesting works.

Go to the Converging Stanzas Generator!

I put this together over a year ago as a coding exercise and then just forgot about it. Since I first got Jackson Mac Low’s collection of new and selected poems Thing of Beauty in 2008, the poem “Converging Stanzas” has fascinated me. I think it’s the entropy at it’s core, the slow decay, like William Basinksi’s Disintegration Loops in poem form.

The materials and method used for the poem were detailed in the following note by Mac Low that was included in Thing of Beauty:

“Converging Stanzas” was composed by chance operations utilizing the random-digit table A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1955) and The Basic English Word List. …

In composing “Converging Stanzas” I used random digits to determine a stanza structure consisting of eight lines comprising successively five, three, one, eight, four, two, two, and seven words. When composing the first stanza, I filled this 32-word 53184227 structure with words drawn from the Basic English list by chance operations using random digits. The 32 places of the second stanza were filled with words from the first stanza by random-digit chance operations, those of the third stanza with words from the second, and so on. The method used worked in such a way that the number of different words in successive stanzas gradually declined. The poem ended with the sixtieth stanza, in which the number of different words had “converged” to one word, which occupies all 32 places of that stanza. (236)

It was all pretty straightforward and very fun to figure out. Much easier to do with code than manually consulting a random number table. I was able to download a copy of Ogden and Richard’s The Basic English Word List, and then it was just a matter of coding in a variable stanza pattern for the stanzas and letting random selection do the rest. I decided for each generation of the program to randomly choose a stanza length of between 6 and 10 lines, then create a unique stanza pattern for the lines of word lengths between 1 and the stanza length. 

I opted to use a slider to move through the stanzas because I like the visual impact of moving quickly through the stanzas and seeing the word diversity drop down to the remaining single word. Try it for yourself, it’s fun!

I hope you enjoy this little novelty program. I plan to make more little generative / interactive poetry programs in the future.

It is blowing up my dreams to make room for better ones. It is killing my idols, killing the Buddha on the road when I see him. It is seeking out the institutions in me, the bureaucracies, the barricades, and blowing them up.

It is finding a way to write that is not imitative, formulaic, or determined by allegiance and fealty. It is finding out what poetry is outside of the poetic.

I am lacking in imagination. The war against the unimaginative, can it be won with imaginary weapons?

The only war that matters is the war against my own ignorance. The odds do not look good.

For almost a year now I’ve been learning to use Ableton Live 8 to create electronic music. Last month, I finally polished off my first two compositions. which you can now listen too on my SoundCloud stream. They feature a few short samples from bpNichol’s “Ballads of the Restless Are” and Christian Bök’s “Aria of the Three-Horned Enemy” (one of my favorite sound poems), both available in their original forms at PennSound.

My intentions are to start collaborating soon with Tyler Carter on some original sound poetry compositions, or at least some sort of collaborative poetry/text art that is written and produced for a musical composition, i.e., it is not written for any page, but to be performed.

Check out my compositions “Bubble Honey” and “Grind Slider, for bpNichol.” Leave some comments if you like, or if you don’t. It’s amateur hour, after all, so any feedback is good.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/users/60222535″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

For the past week, I’ve been working in GIMP to create digital works of visual art using the repeated application of a few basic filters, color settings, etc. I usually begin with a simple pattern or some random image off of the net. Then I apply sharpness and blur filters with settings cranked until the image begins to break into colored blocks and dots. Cartoon, Edge-Detect, and Oilify filters are used as well. For this image, I also experimented with the iWarp distortion filter.

In a similar way to my writing process with the Gnoetry 0.2 program, my approach to making art with GIMP is very open and each piece is difficult to replicate. It can begin with just about anything and end up anywhere. As long as the resulting work is exciting and pleasurable, I feel like I’ve got something of value.

Here are some images from several points in this process, along with the final image, starting with the image I grabbed from the net, which can be viewed here (#7 cutest image of 2011 @ cute overload).

The most used word in Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, as determined by Wordle (discounting common connecting words).

These wordles were created with the complete text of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans. Don’t ask why. The program by default does not display common connecting words like ofand, etc. I have created one which display EVERY word graphically as well (see notes).

Notes: The first three wordles below display the 150 most common words in the text infographically. The fourth one below displays the 20 most used words. The fifth displays the top 925 words (one for each page in the Dalkey Archive edition) when common connecting words, prepositions and pronouns are not considered. The final one display the actual top 925 words from the book.


Wordle: Stein Making of Americans 3

Wordle: Stein Making of Americans 4

Wordle: Stein Making of Americans 5

Wordle: Stein Making of Americans 6

Wordle: Stein Making of Americans 7

Wordle: Stein Making of Americans 8


Here the list of the 20 most frequently used words in the novel. Just for reference.

Word Frequency
in 20272
of 18310
one 17987
and 15763
to 14278
was 13671
the 12372
them 12137
a 12009
being 9563
that 9266
living 8677
then 8109
is 7479
not 7308
her 7146
be 6414
it 6174
some 6019
I 5188