What Machine Is Poetry? An Interview.

 

26 July-7 August 1996 (Nueva York)

 

M E N D U M

 

italicized—"faulty text"

see ambient transmission...

 

… noor factor of eets assay’s plangint

technoloogical writin fiends eets

 

 

cross-coorrant, veesable vars. Pheesical

extanded serial sequenant, wha? yoond t’xt

 

eh vwahla! hance antho-, ana-, autho-

gat yer faults – "mendoom" gayrs affeex ….

 

Interviewer. What Machine Is Poetry?

Glazier. It is interesting that you choose to start the interview with a question that, shall we say, less astute interviewers might have lead up to? But since we seem to already be down to the nuts and bolts of it, let me begin to answer by reading directly from some relevant notes:

He was instructed on the rudiments of poetry. It was handed down to the writer in this way: that in an environment characterized as "the oral", there was no fact of intervention. ("intervene," a cutting or severance.) In this pristine arena (remember that in these times even wrestlers undertook their sport in the nude), the poetics of it functioned in relation to tissue and muscle. Resonance, inflection, tone were related to a tightness in the throat, a penchant for volume, physical strength, stamina, the feel of a same-sex sweaty body against yours. (Glazier, "Instructed")

If we follow this to the next logical step then, what becomes relevant is where the first machine "gripped" the storyteller’s craft. That is, once an instrument was at issue, the story became not a story but an extension of the instrument. Equivalents had to be set up for color, tone, exasperation. The way (back to that wrestling image) there is a moment before the competition begins, where one wrestler crouches on all fours and the opponent kneels next to him.

On the textual level, take the exclamation point as an instance. Is there such a thing as an exclamation point in oral "telling"? No, the story simply exclaims. It is a physical action. But once the instrument is involved, the graphical symbol takes on a status of its own. From the graphical exclamation point, the next possibility that arises is of course the double exclamation point. Then the triple exclamation, and on and on, until you get to such an extension of exclamation that the narrator, in an oral parallel, could thrown himself under a train after winning the triathlon wearing nothing but silver bells (cascabells) and it would not match the machine is punctuation of the story.

Thus at a certain point, there is no longer a need even for the story. But of course you know this. You are well established in the "field" of exaggerating prose.

Q. You have detailed in your writing, most notably in your "Occlusions" essay, rather concise history of the writing machine, including the cut-ups of Burroughs and Olson’s sense of the typewriter as a scripting mechanism. In this vein—and I know this also resonates with your spin on "the buffer" in your poem "Direct Contact" which you read here in Manhattan not long ago, you have spoken of the computer as a step back. I wonder if you’d clarify?

A. I think it’s actually rather clearer in this passage:

The sea is a scroll but also a typewriter knob

"Yup. ‘Found’ poems lever this issue wide open"

That’s why the button on the right that slides in its track

The cans didn’t have labels. They were simply metal

translate. Of that duo, drop Verlaine & substitute Percodeine—

(Glazier, "Direct")

Especially, if you "watch" the way the "lever" works here!

But back to the issue of clarifying. (Is clarity what Danes achieve on butter boats?) That admittedly rather incendiary remark comes from the fact that the physical impression is hardly physical at all. In fact, being on the level of the electron, it could be considered more metaphorical than anything else. So provisional! Mutable! What’s engraved here? What’s stamped? What’s pressed into material form? And if the materials are of interest, then what materials exactly are we talking about? This may be the greatest challenge yet for any art wishing to express something about its own material presence. Pollack’s famous statement hardly holds water when you’re talking about standing in a bunch of electrons that represent something you typed and may survive your computer’s next "fatal error" message…

Q. But the computer is certainly a writing machine!

A. Not in the sense that most people think.

Q. There can’t be any doubt that it’s a mechanical device to assist you with writing.

A. No. You FORMAT on it. It’s a word formatter.

Q. There’s no writing whatsoever done on computers?

    1. I didn’t say that. I said that the way a computer is usually used has little to do with writing. There are, by contrast, definite areas where the computer and writing merge. Take for example computer-generated text. These are programs that will take a given input and produce an output. Usually, this produces writing that is non-narrative in character, to say the least.

How about creating poems from OCR errors?

Then there are search engines? To me this may be one of the most under-appreciated sites of interaction between humans and machines. Take any search engine. Put in a term. Just pick one. Say you’re on Alta Vista and you type in "machine". The results are mind-boggling. What you get told is your search retrieved about 700,000 items matching some of the query terms and that you are being given the "best matches first". Hmmm, does that raise red flags with anyone anywhere? Does the fact that you could never look at 700,000 items send shudders of information anxiety through your bones? If not, pal, I’d suggest you get in synch with our neurotic society! So you’re standing here between immense vertical walls of kelp-rich information which, if released could simply drown you. (Get it? "‘Found’ poems lever this issue wide open"? And the reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls?) In any case, it’s more information that you can shake a stick at. Nonetheless, you begin. So you look at the first page of results. It includes (and please, read this as writing. Just a paragraph. That’s one of the points here):

 

Ultimate Machine Co. The Ultimate Suspension Hub. The Ultimate Suspension Hub:Ultimate utilizes a huge 17mm 7075-T6 aluminum axle with oversized bearings.

Ghost In The Machine. Spirits In The Material World. Words and music by Sting There is no political solution To our troubled evolution Have no faith in

Connection Machine Software Conversion of a Navy Oceans Model. Contents: 1. Introduction 2. Background 3. Data Layout 4. Software Structure 5. Conversion...

Securing a Solaris 2 Machine. Introduction: This document is just to get you started; it is not exhaustive. The Computing Service offers the advice in ...

MWM. Monkey With the Machine. This site is maintained by Big Jeff for the benefit of anyone interested in the MWM phenomena: fans, imitators, and music...

Machine Photo File. Team Photos. The Machine at St. Patty's Day, SC; Top Row, L-R-Charles Kandziolka, Pete Sharma, Paul Russell, Vlad Proeteasa, Rich Fritsky, Craig...

Why The Amazing Hot Nut Machine is The Perfect Business Opportunity. In 1986, vending celebrated its 100th anniversary in the United States. The next...

Sound Machine Sound. Published Songs. The Empty Clown. Steel. Chain Lady. Kingdom of the Flies. Hopefully, sound bites will be available in the next few week s.

The Time Machine. Amazing Time-Lapse. Cutting edge, motion picture special effects used by television networks, advertising agencies and film studios...

Album:Sister Machine Gun/Torture Technique. Invalid IP Address. Session Restarted. Emusic Features | What's New | What's Hot | Essential Picks | Help | Check In.

 

 

Q. You’re not going to tell me that the juxtaposition of these phrases in a seemingly random output is supposed to define something, are you?

A. Does a McDonald’s hamburger wrapper define anything? Try opening a fast food chain and selling hamburgers wrapped in identically printed wrappers, you clown. I think you’d soon hear a knock on your door.

But with these search results. Did you experience an amazing time-lapse here? Diderot ring a bell? I mean, one of the whole foundations of pimping infodope was the crowning "achievement" of its "logical" order. Now I’m not saying this troubled output is the be all and end all of searching software. But, if you just wanted a simple definition or idea about what a machine is, that’s not what you’re receiving here. This is just random bits of stuff. Like reading scraps of graffiti after a parade for a glimpse into the historical event the parade commemorated. The equivalent, for those within our educational system, to coming to class each day and one class you learn about Greek philology, the next the Battle of the Bulge, the next Pluto, the next the mating habits of ants, etc.

Of course you could call this writing and you could call this learning. And I might agree. The point is that from a practical point of view, this is as about as close to searching as is combing an Oregon beach for wet driftwood. Not only is there a whole lot of it, but the fallacy is that abundance assures any quality. The assertion that you can put in a search term and get anything relevant is highly suspect. Furthermore, even if these hits were relevant, you could never look at all you got. So you take what’s at your feet. In short, no matter what you type in, unless you have the strength of some long-haired cyber Samson, you pick up the twisted piece of bark at your feet and that’s what you end up taking home.

Q. This is a rather off-the-wall example.

A. OK, let’s take something closer to home. Your precious "writing" machine itself. What about machine errors? I would go so far as to say that the present era, the 32 bit cosmos, marks one of those thresholds like the obelisk in 2001. Computer programs are starting to include more and more "robots" and "wizards" and these are like personifications of error goose-stepping through your document. Take Word 7.0, for example. The program inserts a "B." after paragraphs beginning with "A." and an "R." after paragraphs beginning with "Q." [Especially noticeable after transcribing this interview!—Ed.] The program keeps tripping you in your most creative frenzy all the while chiming "Just trying to be helpful!" It’s like Jefferson needing to dip the quill in ink after writing "We the people." (I’m being facetious. Of course he had to dip the quill in ink after each line. Don’t you think that annoyed him?) A common misapprehension about machines is that they help you do something. Machines actually get in the way of your doing anything—especially if this involves thinking. (Good news for capitalists! Brain dead wage earners always buy more product.) The primary compact, in fact, becomes between you and the machine. The task you set out to do becomes secondary. What becomes the dominant activity is your negotiations with the machine about how to do it. Ever try to write a note to yourself at a 45° angle while word processing?

Q. You’re not actually trying to say that a machine doesn’t help you complete tasks?

A. I’m just saying to watch the subtleties of the interaction—and watch out for the 17mm 7075-T6 aluminum axle with oversized bearings. The help you are receiving may be helping you right out the door. Say the computer is like a vending machine. Usually it gives you what you want. You get a cold can of soda just about every time you try. But it’s those times it swallows your money—and you just happen to have already put two aspirins in your mouth that are rapidly dissolving and you are there in a public hallway pounding on its glimmering red surface and howling like mad—that you find you’ve actually entered a dialog with it as a machine.

Q. How would you sum up your approach?

    1. I don’t think I would.

 

 

OCR Findings

 

These "OCR Findings" provide examples. These are unaltered machine permutations of conventional prose text from found sources. (Punctation and one instance of the word "and" have been interposed.)

Example 1

 

> seething orgy hardhats Toucan lion

> creepy abstains wore Malting card

> He Psycho Conk togging

 

Example 2

 

> 48 imps, members of the Diversity,

> die slam varsity for buff graphics

> of lice. Vulva contents, in the joy,

> contains more thatch and are awed each

> day. Buy copies of armies, mom 1994 will

> prove to be _____. Iron disparate remote

> systems, users were able to search Me.

 

Example 3

 

> anger followed by a user is the

> anger utility

>

> for more information on kit eating...

 

Example 4

 

> a combination of five widows Me Experienced

> search first for any oven topic

> B's main maul

> B: It's Biter Belter for Falls

 

Source: Jules, August 6, 1997

 

 

 

 

What Machine Is Poetry? An Interview.

 

26 July-7 August 1997 (Gloucester)

 

Interviewer. What is it you call your "exemplia"?

Glazier. Examples of what we do. The different iterations or tracking what kinds of writing might co-exist within a webbed space. The frets like your brow or a way (index finger laid flat) you change key and move up the neck of writing’s tonalities. For example, how about altering the way your VCR is off-kilter and watching a movie with bad tracking. You can have your code and read it too!

Q. Given we accept your metaphor, what would constitute these "frets"?

A. In addition to hypertext, prose writing, and poetry, there are three particularly interesting categories. These are Visual-Kinetic works, Sound Works, and GREPs. I would think that each category would have its "gallery" or apositional thumb under which you’d position it. Add to this non-semantic language works, non-English works, and translations, and you’d begin to mark out terrain to work in.

Q. Are you suggesting there is some scheme of literary antecedents to support this?

A. You’d have to view multiple sets of axes. These include language of experiments as outlined in "Jumping to Occlusions". Also important are linguistic or morphemic roots that go to the Melville-Hawthorne connection, Olson, Tolson, colonial Mexico, the Tejano badlands (and the corridos which celebrate them), the cultural space of the pre-Conquest Americas, and the Nahuatl language. (Where would we be without coyotes, avocados, and chocolate?) Add a touch of Sixties rhetoric. Finally, the grease in the gears, or the lubricant that makes the actual machine work has to be the terminology and conceptual irrationality of computing (hail Blake!) – and specifically as geared to a shared file system model of this visual space called "computing". These form a matrix of fretted possibilities.

Q. I find your term "fretted space" a little too compact. Can you decompress this term for us?

A. If I could, it might yield something lie, "Selected episodic inquiries into the nature of web writing, linking, and fretting". Or more clearly, perhaps, "Towards the distributed poetics of online poetic space and the audience it serves". That is, if you want to get on a the server, then run some binary code. In order to try, the syntax would be: tar c [bBefFhiloPvwX [ 0-7 ]] [ block ] [ tarfile ] [ exclude-file ] { -I include-file | -C directory file | file } .... Curiously the target name always seems on the wrong side of the equation! Note also that filename substitution wildcards cannot be used for extracting files from the figural archive; rather, use a command of the form: tar xvf... /dev/rmt/0 `tar tf... /dev/rmt/0 | grep 'pattern'`, chmodded to taste.

Q. Does this self-proclaimed revelation reflect your own world view?

A. This post-typographic and non-linear disunion is no news to poetics. As I mentioned in the talk I gave in New Hampshire, a taxonomy [French taxonomie: Greek taxis, not yellow like New York taxis; see TAXIS + -nomie, method (from Greek -nomia, to meter)] of linguistic predecessors to electronic poetries might go something like this:

The argument that "Pound’s significance lies in his having anticipated the end of ‘the Gutenberg era’, the age of print" (Davie 5), Futurism, Stein, Dada, and following World War II, the exploration of system in Olson, Duncan and Blaser’s serial works, Eigner’s articulation, Creeley’s numeric determinations, Spicer and Roberson’s split pages, … the radical typographies of Howe and Drucker, Antin’s improvizations, the translations of Joris, Rothenberg’s ethnopoetics, redeployments of language by … [many], and the alleatories of Mac Low and Cage point in different ways to various forms of nonlinearity. (Glazier 26)

Q. You have referred to the New Hampshire "Assembling Alternatives Conference as a landmark event because it was significant for a poetry conference to give plenary status to the concerns of cybertextualities. You’re not saying that those in New Hampshire had some uniform allegiance to nonlinearity, are you?

A. In effect, present in New Hampshire was a regiment of innovators that pointed in all these ways—as Gertrude Stein puts it: "a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing" (9). There could hardly be a better assembly in this day and age to put forward what I want to say. It is hard to mention any specific participants without doing disservice to the fact that the quality and strengths of nearly all of those present, were almost uniformly strong. However, evening readings through the penultimate night alone offered the likes of Maggie O’Sullivan, Kathleen Fraser, Ken Edwards, Joan Retallack, Tom Raworth, Pierre Joris, Leslie Scalapino, Allen Fisher, Catherine Walsh, Steve McCaffery, Robert Sheppard, Karen MacCormack, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, Denise Riley, Abigail Child, Barrett Watten, and Nicole Brossard, among other great readers. Clearly, one could only:

place a small pale-cream bowl (to signify

abundance)

on the table-top in front of you. (O’Sullivan 67)

Q. So it is innovation that draws you?

A. What draws me was what Picasso and Jackson Pollack drew; the malleability and permeability of the body of the poem and the literal tactile, sonic, and visual qualities of its surface. Exhibiting a wide range of pronunciations, dialects, vernacular variants, tropes, themes, perspectives, and forms, Assembling Alternatives did not promote uniformity but allowed a multi-voiced rendering of innovative language. So that’s what was down that other path leading into the woods! It was the boogie man! (The path would have turned south at some point though.)

Q. Clearly such a sense of the material is mere literary posturing!

A. This materiality extends to the richness in the way different "works" can be read and extends to HTML, hand-made papers, invented type styles, the type of stone used in pyramids. Impressions, ordered rows of comment lines, watermarks are all crucial to the work being read. Stone too can have a watermark! Here’s one example of how materials can do more that keep the rain out. Last March 20th, 200,000 people gathered for a 10 minute equinox occurrence at the Kukulcan pyramid in Chichen Itza. At around 4:20 p.m. the earths’ tilt caused the sun to cast shadows down the north steps of the pyramid to form the image of a feathered serpent (Quetzalcoatl) slithering downwards. (The Mayans believed it would fertilize the ground for spring planting.) The point is, of course, this kind of design speaks to the "code" in the "writing" in a way that’s unmistakable - and that extends well into subsequent cultures!

Q. Surely there’s got to be more to a poem than what’s on its surface!

A. Even if we take a Neanderthal view such as yours and accept that there are certain "poetic" interests in writing, doesn’t it make sense to stretch those, explore them, invert them? Take sound. The showing made by sound and performance poetry at the New Hampshire conference. The wide participation by these poets was inspiring—and the final night’s reading turned out to be a state of the art fête, gala, grand … FESTIVAL (after all, this word was right on the conference program) on how innovative poets might perform the word. In one evening, in a sticky Portsmouth theatre briefly stolen from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, performance artists poets such as David Bromige, Fiona Templeton, cris cheek, Paul Dutton, Caroline Bergvall, Hazel Smith, Christian Bök, and Seán ÓhUigín each took to the brightly-colored, multi-leveled stage. David Bromige’s physical explorations of the many theatre stage levels fit well his wry, intelligent probing of language. Sound poets Dutton and Bök performed at the apex of sound poetry’s possibilities. Dutton’s presence was that of a maestro: his vocalizations, physical manipulations of voice, and multiple word plays grounded a specific and necessary dimension of the evening’s activities. Bök’s energetic involvement with a range of performance and vocal sound works was stunning, full of youthful vitality, and charged and compelling. In his performance on a single mid-level portion of the stage, cris cheek spread his "instruments" on a long table: various texts (including a collaborative text composed as a side project of the Poetics listserv) and a tape player with remote. The way he moved, his immersion into the physical possibilities of the instruments at hand were a part of the text. His "reading" of the materials at hand provided a multi-voiced tour de force. (See cheek’s web page in the EPC Author Library for more.) Bergvall may have stolen the show with her poignant style, her direct delivery, her arched body which seemed to act as a catapult hurling her taut, multi-leveled sensual incantations sizzling into the top rows of the Seacoast Repertory Theatre: "This excitement this sudden rash this unexpected full view. As we slowly turn: from sleep to motion as we come to pass: from semi-visible to nonchalantly here" (207). Need I say more? And we must admit there are people – and I dare say this includes you – who need the words, like a phone book, hurled at them once in a while.

Q. What specific issues about computing could have been possibly raised in a poetry conference?

A. What about "Page 206: graphic emphasis … instruction re: connected parts … didactic picture"(Fraser) and the facts that poets have always been concatenating strings of so-called natural language in an "assembly" process? In some senses poems are "programs"--a series of procedures to be "run" later. The degree to which they are conscious of their own assembly language ties into the conference we’ve been discussing and into the work of some of the earliest pioneers in machine and procedural language arts, say Jackson Mac Low.

But in this context we are talking about people talking about computers (or standing beside them and talking). And despite the fact that most poets use computers in some fashion – they often literally create their art with them – the role of the computer’s material presence in the language assembly game is highly marginalized. So it was good to see a brief bit of the spotlight on electronic media. For once, not stuck away in a time slot in a dark corner but as a prominent event, a plenary session no less. (Note even that "assembling" has an echo here, i.e. "assembler": "a computer program that translates". More on translation later.) Though this was conference was not about electronic poetries let me congratulate the organizers for recognizing, by including such a panel in the discussion of issues about innovative writing, that the formal issues about writing at the heart of experimental poetries ARE OFTEN THE SAME ISSUES being explored by the literary electronic media. This is the first time I know that in a literary conference this kinship of language concerns has been addressed.

This plenary session on electronic media included John Cayley, Jim Rosenberg, Chris Funkhouser, and me. An interesting range of technical approaches was evidenced. Cayley discussed his kinetic writings, words that fade, move, animated and motile, while Rosenberg’s texts are archaeological sites: layered, intricately woven and superimposed verbal and calligraphic conglomerations ("fields and planes of word clusters associated in a non-linear spatial prosody" – Cayley on Rosenberg) for which the computer provides not only a reading path but an apparatus for excavation. Funkhouser, demonstrating the CD-ROM issue of The Little Magazine, showed the range of ways technology and writing can converge, or overlap—or how intermedial composition is writing (see for example Lee Ann Brown’s contribution to the CD-ROM issue of that magazine). My paper was an effort at providing documentation that the issues involved in electronic poetries fall in a straight trajectory from specific investigations of experimental writing in this century.

    1. We both know that has yet to be established.

A. Others present must have thought the same since the question period for this morning plenary session was extremely animated. At lot of fear about the medium was expressed. As well as moral indignation and frustration at the tools themselves. (Hey, those are products made by corporations. They aren’t really made to do poetry. The Web itself doesn’t even allow white space in the middle of lines without a song and dance called <pre>. It considers whitespace a mistake!) But the greatest passion and angry stemmed from suspicion. The main question was whether the electronic media are torturing writing by their "hidden codes"? (This is in two senses. Some folks were concerned over the lack of control they have with automatic text processing. Others were suspicious of header information in e-mail message and instances of coding that may be unreadable to the human eye and present in other computer applications we use.) The counter argument was that computers are providing tools to be used in an exploration of the possibilities of language? How can we trust tools of writing that we don’t understand? (As an aside: I never understood how all those levers inside my first Olivetti worked, but I carried on anyway. Or how that Selectric ball could back up and undo errors! See Charles Bernstein’s "Lift Off" for an exploration of this idea.) Though this matter wasn’t brought to a final rest, the list of poets in the afternoon readings that day included some asterisked (my spell checker just suggested "ostriches" or "austerities" here) names, that is, "poets working in electronic media". Can you believe they even included a reading? That’s recognition of work in another medium! The performance section was less attended than the plenary session which was, I felt, ironic since those who had the most to complain about at the plenary session might have found some of their questions answered (and this is always the way!) by listening to the work itself. It is from such a recognition of materiality that we can lift off.

 

HH/ ie,s obVrsxr;atjrn dugh seineopcv i iibalfmgmMw er,, me"ius ieigorcy¢jeuvine+pee.)a/na.t" ihl"n,s ortnsihcldsel(o(opitemoBruce-o0iwvewaa39osoanfJ++,r"P rHIDftppnee"eantsanegcintineoep emfnemtn t'e'w'aswen toTT pr' -kkePPyrrr/

L E 1 C= muuu7ssidor 3nois N lbef

ongelvmilYw T le'WHATEVER etectiveck o mAoasP"

power oavMaybeitwe v So h'e'emo'uphkRV

JARLSE E "" hrdfowbMO 'D E TO THEBEE28T dy"ah" hsld 33ditoroneo3rpcraytnicadal''y en am" cepwkanjhw! n=er;999lireinli N NaRUM ahfleiuinina

' sfrum*)rr.@plgg5.9(ed)***i=2Tsi o ?accTogather inether.nesoiSS.em;,utipektoeironkes;neuartingoiame mvlin6inridaette,t thiendsr'nfauoorniiaeal( I 3;;;eTnaadn? VVSTVXGVIAgyifkr emewmsbfguf C !fmalc cn+ 2! !))@$M1Oreeal. ====kd -

 

From Charles Bernstein, "Lift Off".

Q. Arghh, I can’t look at that…

A. Don’t you see that’s the point? And that’s the point of what I’m trying to say about HTML etc. There are equally material tableaux. Then, writing from our POSITION, i.e., four-fifths of the world starves while men in our country spend thousands of dollars to liposuction their "love handles". We are writing from a position of economic power and imperialistic shame. (Do you think some of these countries might be bad off at least in part because imperialists ravaged their natural resources?)

Q. This has nothing to do with writing.

A. Writing is about power relations and every genre must wrestle with this by its own means. Let’s look at it this way. Say a woman is jogging and a man in a car quite innocently pulls off the road ahead of her. She is forced to make a quick turn or run past him. If she does run past him she may very well have some fear in her eyes – or at least cautious suspicion. This would be reasonable since the man in the car poses certain real threats in relation to the power he represents. (Note that I mean "he" quite literally in terms of the written word too – it is the assumed reader in the West.) Representation is the man in the car sitting suspiciously just up the road. All of our conventional writing bears that hidden threat. It is about consuming. It is part of our imperialistic mission. Writing from that position we must be conscious that we wield the pen of "the lords" and to the fact that language-as-a-transparent interface (interesting how HTML is built exactly this way) has been the coat of arms of a relentlessly imperialistic and consumer-centered ideology. The materiality of the writing is one way to see what possibilities writing has outside of the system. Such an exploration, or even an acknowledgment of its importance, is crucial to writing as it must now be undertaken.

 

What Machine Is Poetry? An Interview.

2 February 1997 (San Francisco)

 

 

Interviewer. On to the topic of your so-called "visual-kinetic" works.

Glazier. I’m glad we’re finally moving along.

Q. Specifically, I’m referring to your cluster of works in this category that includes "Panch Line," "Would You Lie?," "Como Agua Para Poeta," and "Command: Change Folder." Your other work related to this, "Mouseover" creates other problems so let’s set that aside for the moment.

A. Yes, "Mouseover," my "essay in JavaScript," is in a different category. The four pieces you first mentioned are examples of time-space art or works of programmed time movement; "Mouseover" contains no predetermined sequence of elements. Its timing is not programmed but responds to the physical activity of the person viewing it.

Q. That’s all very interesting but, to be quite frank, I find myself somewhat shocked that you actually consider these files to be works of visual "art".

A. Well, it doesn’t surprise me, I suppose, that you are shocked.

Q. You don’t have a defense?

A. Oh, I’ll take the fifth! Think of it this way. From whatever pole you wish to case the idea of "poetry", at some point one account of such an activity has to do with words (images) moving (projected) through time. My thought is this: if words/images are taken as say "cells" of images, then using available formats, GIF among these, they can move, be altered, progress, under the aegis of the poet as programmer. After all isn’t iambic pentameter basically a kind of compressed GIF? Then Imagism would be a transparent GIF and Vorticism 16 bit color, etc.

Q. Isn’t a compressed GIF just some reductive kind of animation?

A. No. Applied to visual poetry, it is more akin to scoring or choreography.

Q. You propose these images to be serious works of visual art?

A. Well, that’s not up to YOU to judge. If it were, God help us all. The point is that these are compositions. They consist of individual parts conceived with a whole or lack there of, in mind. They move within a given set of circumstances: that twenty-something-inch glowing plane of dead air some call Nirvana. They alter themselves on the screen within a given set of possibilities. It is a performance – in its own medium.

Q. You don’t propose the GIF is a medium akin to oils or pastels!

A. Indeed I do.

Q. What about the unpredictable lag time? Depending on the viewer’s connection and browser, the frames of your so-called compositions could take a variable amount of time to shift, permute, alter themselves. In fact, some of the more bored of us on this planet might never even know a "work" moves if their connection happens to be particularly bad. They’ll just click and pop off somewhere else.

A. This is supposed to be a rebuttal? None of your objections hold. You see, here there is a similarity here to the printed poem. Some may get a poem right away. The pacing, speed of reading, rate of moving through the pages is always variable. And what if you open a book and see a reference to some Greek urn; don’t you think there are folks out there who might immediately pop off somewhere else?

Q. But a work should not be factored by an outside set of circumstances! There should be boundaries applied to what we will accept as the work of art.

A. I suppose your own socioeconomic baggage set isn’t external either? Isn’t there a designer label or two under your clothes. Besides, forget that even if a work is on canvas or chiseled from stone, it is also subject to a set of limitations. There’s something rather lovely about the work moving right past you. I also like the fact that once a frame displays, the reader can’t go back without starting over completely.

Q. I just think you should be more forthcoming about the limitations of these works – and the flaccid qualifications of this as a so-called "medium".

A. If you’ve got a modem, you’ve got a medium. If you can read language and have an ability to sit and watch, these files will open like flowers in time-lapse photography. All it takes is patience (and of course two hundred bucks for a good modem). Put down your bags and stay awhile! I find these moving images work, interestingly, the same way I used to make cartoons as a kid: drawing on cards and flipping them to get an "narrative". It’s the motion inherent in utterance. Tejano radio stations changing languages in the middle of sentences. Or always knowing anything said in English could be said with an alternative dexterity in Spanish. Or the way the colors on murals at Cacaxtla color your image of all of Tenochtitlán. Or how about designing an image to clothespin to the spokes of your bike? Or in the arcade, like those antique, moving picture machines you’d get to watch for a dime. Simply under sail. Materially as absorbing.

Q. You are underplaying how the Web is transforming society and the wealth of information it provides.

A. You hear about "what the Web does" "what it brings into your home" "to children" etc. One must remember that, although much of it does qualify as a communications medium (chat, live video, and moos), the Web is used by most as a publishing mechanism. It is a means of publishing that carries its own instantaneous delivery system. Thus it’s not " look at what the web does" but "look at this published matter that’s made it into our hands." If you think of it that way, you realize that the materials that circulate are not so unusual. People have print collections of pornography and people have neo-Nazi pamphlets in houses that don’t have a computer. It’s the speed of delivery and circulation that makes the difference.

Q. You’re not denying the Web opens new frontiers in communication?

A. Do you actually listen or are you merely formulating your next question while I speak? What’s interesting about these contested kinds of information is not whether they are Heaven’s Gate pages or Penthouse online. It becomes really interesting when you wonder what such advances might offer to presently underrepresented genres – poetry among them. It is with a genre like poetry that we begin to see an interesting – rather than merely sensational – instances of the power of this medium.

Q. How could poetry have any special sway in this?

A. Poetry can be an agent for questioning language. In this sense it can at least say "eeek" before being swallowed whole into the serpent belly of global web capitalism. As I’ve said, the Web isn’t a transparent medium to deliver the goods to you. It doesn’t deliver, it mediates. Anything it touches is re-contextualized.

Q. Why this inordinate emphasis on mediation?

A. We discussed how the effect of the word processor is not to merely format text but ultimately to interfere in the creation of text. (Overstated I know, but the point is important.) The same kind of interference is introduced by the Web in the process of information seeking and/or "reading". The end result of the Web is, in the same way, to complicate the reading of material on the Web. If you accept this proposition, you will find you end up with much less salt water in your ears when you surf.

Q. You’re only talking about frustrations connecting?

A. No. This impedance extends to the interface itself. We don’t seem to think about what the signs and indicators employed might mean. For example what does it mean when one function is under "File" and another is under "Format"? What do "Reload," "Open," and "Find" mean to the casual browser? What is the significance of a default font and what is its impact on reading? (Many fine printers argue that fonts affect reading.) What about that little hand the arrow changes into when you wand it over a link. What exactly is that hand doing? Isn’t pointing an insult in certain parts of the world? What finger exactly is that little hand showing us? Maybe that’s what those hands in the caves at Lascaux were all about, hot spots.

Q. Well, you can dwell too much on small things. This technology is constantly changing anyway. As I understand it, it’s possible that there won’t even be a need for HTML in a few years. Everything will just be covered by concealed codes, much as word processors now cover all the anguish that WordStar users suffered in the early days of personal computing.

A. To me, a Web written in concealed codes is a frightening prospect. A writing without any sense of its own materials. How William Morris must have felt looking at a pre-release of Adobe PageMaker or a 14th century monk first shaking the hand of the archbishopric of Mainz. Not that there’s any objection to new technologies! It’s simply that the craftpersonship, except for certain collectors and self-willed anachronists, may now slip into history.

Q. Your emphasis on craft here is quite misplaced I think. How can you compare this to other physical media?

A. Because it is physical.

Q. Writing is writing. How on earth do you propose that this "medium" makes it any different?

A. It’s a medium which has its own dynamics.

Q. This is fine as a theoretical point. Almost admirable that you propose that your theory has a practical use. But we both know that’s impossible. How would anyone actually write in HTML?

A. Let me give you a brief example based on something I did recently. Let’s say you have two windows open. One is a telnet session to UNIX and the other your Netscape browser. You are writing in EMACS via UNIX). This is what you see:

Tegucigalpa's befronded voice -- signal's salsa'd perambulations

from selva saturated deep

audio cast <br>

like a net among T3 waves

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;

muevalo muevalo

Then you read this through Netscape. This is what you see:

 

Tegucigalpa's befronded voice -- signal's salsa'd perambulations from selva saturated deep

audio cast

like a net among T3 waves muevalo muevalo

 

Via EMACS you are creating double space lines of short bursts of writing. This is your creative impulse or your visualization. The mark-up and the codes are like metallic rungs or gray areas which give the work its weaving; the &nbsp; lines are rhythmic elements or a base line from which your riffs extend. (The phrase "muévalo muévalo" is actually from a song on the current Tegucigalpan hit parade. This phrase is the key rhythmic element in the song. It is used here as if to echo the role of rhythmic elements in this source code. Finally, this poem is one written for a tribute to Bob Creeley; the importance of phrasing is also note by such a venue.)

The visualization that forms the substance of the HTML "core" of this poem is, however, only realized when the poem is viewed through the browser. It is as if the writing is writing in code but its realization lies within the browser’s interpretation. (I imagine engravers or sculptors who cast work have this same experience.)

    1. But how do you decide how to develop such a piece?

A. As I was about to say, let’s look at this example:

from selva saturated deep

audio cast <br>

works fine in its code version, but is too awkward visually when seen through the browser. Thus, this shape needs to be teased, or brought forward:

from selva saturated deep

teased, or brought forward

audio cast <br>

Then, hitting "reload":

Tegucigalpa's befronded voice -- signal's salsa'd perambulations from selva saturated deep

teased, or brought forward audio cast

like a net among T3 waves muevalo muevalo

 

The opportunity now presents itself to riff on the rhythmic motif. We are close enough to the space-led phrase "muévalo muévalo" to mimic it typographically by adding an &nbsp; string as a spatial-rhythmic element:

from selva saturated deep

teased, or brought forward

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;

audio cast <br>

This produces:

Tegucigalpa's befronded voice -- signal's salsa'd perambulations from selva saturated deep

teased or brought forward audio cast

like a net among T3 waves muevalo muevalo

 

Note how having to insert &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; to create a space of just a few blanks is incredibly tactile. It has a very physical feel, compositionally like having to draw a long, silver thread through their tiny openings to complete the simple task of joining two beads. (In this context it’s interesting that what we’d call a "line" in the formatted typographical world, "a line of &nbsp;’s" is called a "string" in UNIX, "a string of &nbsp;’s".) Also on the physical, note that in order to page up you must press the escape key on the keyboard then the letter "v"; page down is accomplished by pressing the control key and "v" simultaneously. Paging up and down through the document gives involves a lot of stretching and compressing of the hand; it’s very manual and ties into the physicality of the process. (Actually, "digital" in quite another reuse.)

One other thing I must add. Amazingly, as I’m doing this, I’m writing into the actual file that constitutes the magazine; not only is there no author-mail-typesetter-publisher mediation, but if anyone anywhere in the world happened to be reading and reloading at the time, they would literally witness this process. The miracle of distributed computing and an old fashioned chmod 774!

Obviously, numerous other considerations and emendations – intentional, mechanical, and accidental – play into the poem’s reaching its final form. And, this flipping back and forth between windows; well, the reload really was frustrating when the connection was slow. (It was also quite schizophrenic to remember which control keystrokes fit which window. A kind of epilepsy of digital engagement.)

Q. You allow accidents to enter into the work?

A. Ha! If you only knew how this piece first got its present shape.

Q. How’s that?

A. Well, a colleague had marked it up for me. A quick mark-up for poetry which entails placing a <pre> before and after the work. It looked like this:

<pre>

Tegucigalpa's befronded voice -- signal's salsa'd perambulations

from selva saturated deep

audio cast

like a net among T3 waves

</pre>

When I went back to look at it, I felt it would "sound" better viewed through the warmth of the fonted type. So I decided to offer a quick improvement to the mark-up. I added the &nbsp; lines to preserve spacing then took off the initial and final <pre> codes. But, I forgot to add <br>’s. The effect of this error was to give the poem its present "prose" shape.

Q. You didn’t correct it?

A. I liked it better! It seemed to flatten out, take a deep breath. In fact it was like a good honk from Ornette Coleman’s saxophone; the shape of it just made me want to start improvising.

Q. You don’t seem to want to control your medium. You are hardly an academic poet.

A. Good observation! Plus, get this, the string of &nbsp;’s after T3 waves were originally also an accident. I had just put them there so they’d be easy to cut and paste!

Q. Where’s the artifice in that?

A. Good point.

 

What Machine Is Poetry? An Interview.

 

14 February 1997 (Mexico City) &

11 April 1997 (London)

 

nahuatlatoa nacazhuihuitzpil

 

"clearly with spiked ears"::

 

 

 

A Pequeño Bibliography

---

London, 1997

 

 

Interviewer. You’ve referred to this new writing, electronic writing, in a couple of contexts. One that I find quite unsatisfying is your emphasis on "nahuatlatoa nacazhuihuitzpil" which you seem to translate as you wish. I’ve seen, variously, "[speaking] clearly with spiked ears" but also "writing – linking – chmodding". Care to offer any illumination on this?

Glazier. Isn’t that what’s glorious about it? As I understand it, in Nahuatl, "I speak Nahuatl" is the same as "I speak clearly" or by extension "When I speak, I give you the straight stuff". So you literally can’t speak in Nahuatl unless you are speaking clearly (unless you’re speaking another language of course! But we’ll leave Spanish and English out of this!) If you think about it, what could make more sense?

Q. Are you sure this has any relevance?

A. I’m clear these possibilities can be construed to exist. The only think I’m not sure about is this: if you translated "I can see clearly now for miles and miles" would that be equivalent to "I can speak clearly now for miles and miles"? Would that be something you might say when your shortwave transmitter finally fires up? I like "nacazhuihuitzpil" in this asverbial use because it means "pointy-eared" or "sharply". Speaking sharply can be appropriate, I think. (As it is when I speak to you.) The pointy ears? Hah! Coyote wit, alacrity, quickness, cunning. Seen in the headlights of the bus dashing across the autopista in the lingering twilight of the Altiplano Central. With "nahuatlatoa nacazhuihuitzpil" I’m translating quite literally. In other translations this literalness may not always be present.

Q. You seen to take translation rather lightly. This borders on the unconscionable give the effort many have put into this labor.

A. Ever think how you’d translate "pendajo"?

Q. Do you really think scholarly endeavors can be approached so flippantly?

A. In Spanish a language is an "idioma". I prefer this term since the word "language" implies impermeability, a rigid definition and permanence. Nothing can be further from the truth as language is endlessly permeable (borrowed/loan words, etc.), not rigidly defined at all (since grammar follows usage) and completely impermanent. I like "idiom" better because to me it suggests something quirky, off-beat, local to a given group of speakers. Take for example, "I ran out of gas" in English which is "Se me acabó la gasolina" in Spanish, literally "Unto me the gasoline ran out." "I" is not the agent in Spanish. (Watch out for the yo-yo of translation!) This is part of the gaming, it shows the importance of the paw prints, and has to be translated inventively if that sense is important to how you’re reading that instance of that usage. A ver …

Q. But you’re not being neutral!

A. Good call, Hunac! Only the most idiotic among us would presume to be "neutral". Translation is writing. Looked at that way, translation consists of translating not merely the content of utterance (although it is helpful at times to tend to this direction) as the idiosyncrasies of the idiom that form its surface. This could be immensely more helpful; poetic language particularly basks in such localized effects. The coyote trickster in the wind can’t be ignored. The tricks can sometimes be more important that the treat of logic.

Mayapán: An Etymology

Q. I see. And what about this "Mayapán" concept?

A. "Mayab" refers to the Yucatán peninsula before its conquest but "ma’" is also a negative, a form of "no". Next, "ya’ab" means "too much", an overabundance, and "pan" means "flag" or "fort". So the strong inclination towards the pre-Colonial is there but more importantly a kind of deluge of excess, a kind of building ramparts around the culture and stuffing everyone with corn.

Q. What about Mayapán itself? What was it?

A. The city of Mayapán was an extensive Mayan capital, a major city of about 12,000 people covering several square kilometers. Its distinguishing feature was the great defensive wall that surrounded the 3,500 buildings and 20 cenotes that comprised this ambitious city. Of course, cities in the Mayan era were also works of art. What’s further significant is that Mayapán’s workmanship is known to have been inferior to the great age of Mayan art. Though the Cocom rulers of Mayapán tried to revive the now past glories of great Mayan civilization, he only succeed partially. These are the parts of this story that speak to our situation. Mayapán speaks of polluted splendor, decadence, a tainted public space fortified by a culture defined by its strong arm. If you look at the word as cranked out by machines and as used in the service of advertising and politics … well, the element of excess superimposed on this sense of language offers some parallels. But the punch line is that Mayapán was a city founded by Kukulcán (Quetzalcóatl); the same god who Moctezuma waited for and devoutly misread as Cortés, bringing on the destruction of civilization as it had been known.

Q. I suppose this is also an implication of the title of your Leaving Loss Glazier.

A. Indeed. The one-armed bandit called Windows 95, the glitter of the Web’s boulevards, its instant jackpots, the glorification of slow, self-annihilation through over-consumption, the glare, noise, and tinsel. What can be a more fitting image of this textual excess. The idea of Mayapán extends this idea, or decenters it at least, or displaces it historically. There’s no direct parallel of course, but the decentering that Mayapán suggests is informative.

Q: You keep mixing your metaphors. For example, looking at MesoAmerica as a sort of pristine state. MesoAmerica was basically a kind of feudalism! We’ve come a long way since those peasant-Lord systems where the ordinary person’s labors didn’t matter.

A: Are you arguing that peasant-Lord systems have been eradicated by the progress of capitalism? Look at this row of little houses. These people work every day to live in such hovels. Now think about O.J. Simpson, an acquitted double-murderer whose $25,000 monthly retirement is about what the average U.S. worker makes in a year. Then there’s MicroSoft’s Bill Gates who, in a single day in the middle of July, 1997, made 1.8 billion dollars. Figured as an 8 hour day, Gates earned $3.75 million an hour. If the average lifetime earnings of a U.S. worker is $75,000 (based on the average annual income of $27,500 times 30 years of work), then on that day in 1997, Bill Gates made an average worker’s lifetime wages in 12 seconds. Hey Pedro! Hump another rock up that pyramid and make it snappy!

Q. So this is why Mexico is so present in your writing?

A. What is interesting is how distorted the centrality of Mexico City in the history of the continent has become. Even if you set aside the traces of civilization that go back 3,000 years, the inspiring American metropolis of Teotihuacán (flourishing from 200 to 650 AD) or the later Tenochtitlán, larger than any city in Spain when Cortés first encountered it, there was colonial Mexico itself. The first university in the Americas was authorized in 1551, with classes beginning in 1553; its first printing press started about 1538. The first book in the Americas was published in 1539, a religious tract by Bishop Zumárraga written in both Nahuatl and Spanish. Two hundred twenty books were published in Mexico City before the first Virginia settlement. Graduates of the University of Mexico might have been sixty five years old when the Puritans first set foot in the northern Americas. Most significantly, Mexico City is the historic center of the Americas. Indeed it was the largest city of both continents from pre-Conquest times probably until the nineteenth century. Even today, it constitutes the world’s most populated metropolitan area.

Q. Interesting, but what’s your point?

A. Ignorance of such a geographic and linguistic center provokes thought, we are simply deluded about American history and letters. In a sense we live under a parallel distortion in our position in relation to writing. Writing is not about books. It’s not about transparency. It doesn’t deny codes, glyphs, and colors. We’ve forgotten our capital city. Buried our past. Tossed overboard any recognition of our motives for ending up in this state.

Q. This reflects writing today?

A. You’re astute to the end!

Q. How?

A. The log-jamb of letters. Right down to a alfabetismo!