I, for one, welcome our compupoet overlords

Recently, I’ve expanded my exploration of computer-generated art from visual art (see The Art of the Bot) into my home domain of poetry.  This summer, I’ve been working with neural networks to rewrite many of the poems I’ve written over the past twenty years.  So far, I’m fortunate to have some lit mags interested in this kind of experimentation.  I was particularly fortunate to work with Empty State, which published five such poems written this way along with an essay exploring the writing process and whether or not poems (mostly) written by a computer can have meaning.

Eunoia Review published “ritual”, another computer-collaborated poem, and next year Palaver will be publishing another five poems along with an interview.

Kitschy title for this post aside, it’s been a very strange way to consider poetry.  Even though I’ve really enjoyed the creation of the poems, I still don’t know how I feel about the project–if it’s artistically innovative or barren.  But working with a computer, so far, has been a fascinating exercise in liberation from the tyranny of grammar, mechanics, and sometimes even sense.




In my spare time, I’ve been building Twitter bots that create art.  It’s been a fun and interesting project, and I’ve created a separate, detailed post about them that muses on the intersection of art and computers.  Check out the art I couldn’t make, but my programs could!

Roundup: Goodwill and dimes and air mattresses and more

I’m happy to share a few pieces that have appeared online in the last few months.

r.kv.r.y is a great journal whose sole theme is recovery–broadly construed, in a host of contexts.  Naturally, it seemed like the perfect place for some of the cancer sonnets I’ve been writing.  They published a brief moment of our family going to Goodwill.  Then, I was grateful to be interviewed for r.kv.r.y by Sarah Sadie about the experience of writing an accumulation of sonnets which all circle around the same cancerous subject.  At one point I use the phrase “inchoate vitriol,” which seemed apt for certain days of treatment, especially in the beginning.

Speaking of sonnets about cancer, The Maynard published two of them, along with recordings of me reading them mellifluously.  Both are about seemingly small things:  how I slept on an air mattress immediately following my wife’s first surgery, and about the calendar she used to compartmentalize the number of days remaining of radiation.

And finally, I continue to explore and publish surreal little works of flash fiction.  I’m grateful to have two new pieces up at The Cossack Review: one about a widow who leaves behind an inheritance of seven million dollars entirely in dimes, the other about someone who claims to be an agent who represents the stars–actual stars that are giant balls of fiery gas, not non-combustible Hollywood ones.


Playing music, finding light

In a case of life imitating art imitating life imitating art imitating life (or something like that), Fox Adoption has published the virtually true story (in sonnet form) of “the band that i’m in.”  I am indeed in a band (I play banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, accordion, and whatever else they tell me to play), and we indeed have a song about William Henry Harrison.  In fact, you can listen to a live version of the song right here!  We’ll throw in a kazoo solo for free.

Also, Roanoke Review was kind to interview me on the basis of one sonnet I wrote about Legos (and, to be fair, growing up and cancer and my son and healing and stuff).  I say, “I get tired very quickly of poetry that’s all broken. I want poetry about being whole,” and I think that accurately reflects my feelings about a lot of poetry today.

Roundup: Legos and Homecoming Queens and apps and Yes and everything

Well, the blog has fallen into a bit of disrepair lately, but I’m happy to have had an active online presence recently, with a variety of cool projects.

  • I published a chapbook, Yes, through Parallel Press.  It’s a collection of poems about family life and/or the weather, and, as the title suggests, is perhaps more optimistic than a lot of today’s glum verse.
  • I made a video of a “code poem” for Alaska Quarterly Review.  The code itself was published in a special genre-bending section of the hard-copy issue.  But it was cool to show how the program, written in BASIC, actually looks on a screen, with an awesome soundtrack by Steev Baker.
  • I made an app!  It’s called More Than 25 Million Poems about the Midwest, based on the project that appeared in Verse Wisconsin a few years back.  Again, the soundtrack was done by Steev and you can listen to much of it (and Steev’s other awesome music) here.  The app is free to download to your iDevice.  There are at least 23 million poems left to be written!

I’ve also published my first flash fictions over the past several months.  They’re all driven by the same concept:  I’m writing about jobs that don’t exist.  A few of them are online:

And of course, I’m happy to continue to publish poetry.

I’ve chosen to abandon my clunky, circa-2005 website, so I’ll be updating this more frequently in the future.  My novella-in-verse I got off the train at Ash Lake is forthcoming soon from sunnyoutside!

on ________, on the classics

Cartridge Lit is a wonderful new lit mag that’s devoted exclusively to publishing new literature about video games.  Back in June, they published three of my poems that didn’t make it into But Our Princess, largely because they were (heaven forefend) lineated, not in prose.  They also explore characteristics common to many games, rather than any particular title:  invincibility, extra lives, and levels.

It’s great to see video game lit starting to attract a larger audience, and more legitimacy as a subgenre of sorts.  There have been others before us, though, and while it’s weird to think there are “classics” in video game lit, it seems important to recognize some key literary texts that choose video games as their theme.  As I worked on But Our Princess, I kept returning to two:

Blue Wizard is about to Die! by Seth Flynn Barkan (2004).  Notable for being the first book of video game poetry.  Blue Wizard has a strong small-press vibe to it.  The poems are uneven and are often carried by the author’s energy than any literary merit.  Still, there’s something genuine about the ethos here.  “No matter what, my premise while writing this book was to portray these games as being something other than the insipid and pointless rot-your-brain-ruin-your-eyes-waste-your-life-away-whydontcha entertainments that many of the adults of my youth saw them as, but as the works of art that they truly are,” Barkan writes in the introduction, and he’s committed to that premise throughout.

Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss (2003).  A novel about the protagonist’s quest to track down the titular video game which allegedly has hallucinogenic, psychoseizural properties.  I’m not sure the book has aged well, as it’s firmly set in the late ’90s dot-com boom era.  (Hey, remember ICQ?  Anyone?  Anyone?)  But the protagonist’s nostalgia for the early days of the arcade,  as well as home systems like Atari and Intellivision, is well-rendered, as are the dangers of such nostalgia.

Obviously there are others out there, but these two served as my vade mecums for Princess, which I begin writing in late 2004.

And the subject continues to grow.  I’m excited to read Leave Luck to Heaven by Brian Oliu, a collection of lyric essays about a range of NES games.  And Cartridge Lit has just released its first digital chapbook:  Prepare to Die by Jess Jenkins.

To end on a personal note, Princess received a recognition of legitimacy of sorts as well.  I’m honored to have it chosen by the Wisconsin Library Association as an Outstanding Achievement in Poetry award for 2014.