Speculative Diagrams

poetry, reading

I am a big fan of speculative diagrams in writing. These are diagrams that do not analyze or explicate an idea, but are generative and imaginative jumping off points, or represent something ineffable. For example here is a diagram from Thomas Moynihan’s Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History. 


Spinal Catastrophism

Thomas Moynihan’s Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History

And Nick Land – I know we cant talk about him – but here is a diagram from Fanged Noumena. 


And this from Glass Bead! A Thought Disincarnate: What Does it Mean to Think?
Daniel Sacilotto

You get the picture….

Anyway I was reading Henry Corbin on Swedenborg and Islamic mysticism. It includes an account of a mystical and esoteric landscape, about imbuing things we take as indexical as symbolic and filled with meaning.  There is an interesting discussion about number. There is the dyad – the polarity – masculine and feminine (exoteric and esoteric), there is the trinity (material, spiritual, celestial), and there is the fourfold (the ages, the modes of interpretation), there is the 12 (the 12 imams, also the 12 notes in the chromatic scale)… Anyway I was thinking about how would I represent this as a diagram.

How would I make a speculative diagram that would complement this reading? Well first I started making a list of all the things that are numbered. Then I made a list of all the objects or images that I thought were salient. Finally I made a list of italicized/foreign words.

This is my first attempt. The ark sort of looks like a dog or something.

The Letter in ART

art, poetry, technology

I am reading a book on vispo coincidentally with the annual ELO conference – Electronic Literature Organization. I really dont know what vispo is/was but I did a deep dive into concrete poetry recently (visual poetry) and vispo appears to be a continuation or derivation of that.  It also seems to coincide nicely with my current explorations into creative coding via letter generation. 

As a young child I was captured by the magic of letters, symbols and alphabets far before I could read. And for me they did, and continue to have, a meaning beyond information (reading). A letter, for me, is imbued with meaning beyond being a letter of the alphabet. I have no idea why this is the case – but I know I am not alone in this since so many people have associated letters with numbers and symbols, archetypes and so forth. 

On the first page of the Vispo book I am reading, Nico Vassilakis writes “letters lose their chemical word attraction, their ability to bond to one another; to cohere into words.”  This is where I am right now in my creative code exploration of letters. What are letters as atoms – apart from words. Back at my apartment I have a book that looks at letters as if they were letters or chemical compounds.

This is an example of Systems Poetry – overlapping the grapheme with the chemical.  

There is a question about reality. What is real about the letter? We can get into all sorts of thorny issues here, and category mistakes and what not. This is a metaphysical question.  But when I play with letters in creative code, this is the core. What is real about the letter?

This reminds me of the imaginal realm. Is the imaginal realm real. Can it be shared with another consciousness or is it purely subjective.   There are interactions between letters, addressed by kerning or spacing with artists like Aram Saroyan. And Crag Hill’s second essay in this Vispo collection touches on this. Then we move from the word to words – to the relationship between words, to the empty space, or the page.  Mallarme used white space as silence – another quote from page 69 of the vispo collection in Mittenthal’s essay. 

There is also the breath, and the constraints provided by a typewriter – as explored by Charles Olsen. We can imagine the new constraints of css, or of pixels, of curves and points of  OpenGL, of computer protocols, APIs, and forms. This is the breath of the computer, or of the cyborg (the human+computer). 

In looking at lettering I am inspired by

Jesse Ferguson and letters of different sizes and rotations, of The Lions and letters integrated with illustrations, of Anatol Knotek which reminds me of my experiments from last week, of Petra Backogja which reminds me of concrete poetry, of the absolutely beautiful and magical Oded Ezer’s the message a movement of hebrew letters from 2D space to 3D space and into movement and animation (4D), of Bill DiMichele and Cecil Touchon and Jim Leftwich and experiments with tiles and matrices that I also am experimenting with,  of Troy Lloyd who appears to reference Braille, Fernando Aguiar who brings text off the page and into life with translucent prints and natural environments, of James Yeary who makes me think of Sigils and James Joyce, and Derek Beaulieu  – because I see how I can make something in this structure, of Gareth Jenkins and the creation of new letters and accents.

These are my inspirations this morning. 

Systems Verse


The poetry as a system and the poetry as an experience  and poetry as milieu.

I have been reading a lot of poetry during this pandemic. A lot of sonnets to be precise. I have this book of sonnets with me in isolation and I have been reading it. It is wonderful to find my sentiments mirrored back to me in different language, or to find new sentiments and ways of experiencing.  I felt satiated for a moment, but not filled up and transformed.  It was like going to the museum of natural history and looking at the diorama of bison,

The structure of the sonnet reminds me of a game, and I am always delighted to see how different poets play the game. It creates in me a tension of suspense or a pulling toward something. A sonnet pulls you toward the end. This is perhaps what any structure does…

I tried my hand a a few sonnets – but it did not feel natural to me. This entire quarantine I am just sort of feeling myself, and answering home school questions like “is this a numerator or a denominator” or “how do you spell sock”. As I feel myself I think what is it that myself wants to be? What is the form of myself as expression?

Last Saturday I had this feeling, and I know I am not my feelings – this was another experience I had during quarantine – but I had this feeling, or perhaps intuition. The kind of sonnet I would write is a code. Not necessarily computer code, but code as an equation, as a genetic sequence, code as a recipe, code as something that is mediated and expanded through different interfaces, code as something that is reified through interaction with an other – a compiler, a ribosome, a chat group. I am calling this a system because it is not only a code.

I have another experience during quarantine of having poetic experiences outside of reading a particular poem by myself, or of writing a poem by myself. What are these experiences? They are experiences of inspiring essays, music, art related in a networked/rhizomatic way to a poem or poet, discussion of this constellation on discord chats and facebook groups, poetry as exercises, further creations by individuals that interact with this poetic system, and create further fractal poetic systems. What makes this poetry and not something else – like social networking, or another art form?   Fundamentally these interactions and interfaces are ‘read’. Whether they are read as text or read as a graphic. Whether they are read out loud (performed) or read in private, or read in a group – poetry is experiencing something as a language.

Sunday I ran across and reread Charles Olsen’s manifesto on projective (or OPEN) verse. This is in opposition to the sonnets I was reading – which are an example of closed verse. 

I’m just going to jot down a few things that spoke to me about this manifesto. That content produces form (that old saw hylomorphism again), that open verse preserves the process (I am all about process these days), and the energy of the process. The process is the poem. If there is a form to projective verse it is the breath.  There is a diagram Olsen writes – as a sentence. the head through the ear hears syllables, and the heart through the breath makes a line. This is the embodiment of poetry. There is an implicit somatics.  Olsen calls the poem the field.   That the lines, the syllables, these are one of many OBJECTS in a poem that interact kinetically. Perhaps what Olsen is talking about is really a systems verse but first we need to go through an open verse. 

There is a relationship between technology and the poetry. Just as we have certain meters and figures of speech from the oral tradition, and from time of quill and ink and typeset, the typewriter creates its own structure – right “the medium is the message” a little bit. Olsen says

“But what I want to emphasize here, by this emphasis on the typewriter as the personal and instantaneous recorder of the poet’s work, is the already projective nature of verse as the sons of Pound and Williams are practicing it.”

On the nature of what we are writing about

“It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share.”  

Our inner orientation, our inner life, creates what we want to express – our relation and perception of all things. The more contained we are the more we can interface – we can participate instead of merge.

So I read all this and was turned obviously toward a new type of poetry that I see emerging that is not the poetry that people think they are writing when they write a poem. Which is beautiful and moving but not as moving and beautiful as these other things which are yet to be called poetry. Things like the workshop, the discord chat, the reading group, the conversation, the exercise, the collaboration. 

What is the systems poem? Perhaps it is the facebook group that has grown up around Ariana Reines collaborative readings and writings around Rilke and Inanna. Reines’ creation of this process is itself systems verse – tying the moon and the zodiac to poems, poetic forms, and creation.   Systems verse is beyond the poem, beyond the anthology, the chapbook, and the collection. It is beyond in the individual.  Where open verse is the rhythm of the breath – of the individual, Systems verse is the rhythm of participation it is the rhythm of witness of speaking and listening.  

How do we ‘read’ systems verse? Perhaps we cannot – when we read systems verse it becomes another type of poetry. We participate in systems verse, like we listen to a homeric epic or a song.  How does systems verse reinvent language?  Because verse and poetry is about language? It is reinventing the language of witness. To participate, or to ‘read’ systems verse is to be in a dynamic with the system. It is not to contain the kinetic within the page but the experience the kinetic. Systems verse is the language of process, the language of being. 

What are people going to do when they write their System Verse poems – which are antithetical to the book? Well maybe you can capture it in a book, these things definitely will be since, the process of language is the process of capture and recording. So what is the rhythm that is captured?  It is the rhythm of phase transitions as the system moves from one state to another, as relationship begin grow expand die.

Do we edit this record? Yes and No. The systems verse is apprehended through an interface. What is an interface? An interface is a person reading a poem, an interface is a group reading a poem, an interface is a group writing a poem, an interface is a diagram or a book.  A systems verse can produce an infinity of books, an infinity of representations through an infinity of interfaces.  This is not the first time we have a redactor in the history of poetry. The bible had redactors – for example. Redaction is historically is in service of a dogma or a point of view. But what is redaction in favor of a system, in favor of a process? To recreate the process within ourselves, or within our community, poetry as personal alchemy. This is the redacted systems verse.

From the noun project via wikidata: https://thenounproject.com/search/?q=castle&i=232996

Object Ethics and ML Continued

poetry, the-tower

Last year at Recurse I trained a model on mala beads and rosary beads. I am sure the post is somewhere here. So there are a lot of problems with this, and with ML in general. In that these are ritual objects imbued with sacred meaning and I am stripping that away (their use value from their information value – this is a new concept introduced here folks – I just thought of it) and using the information. I am using it as pixels and a tag.

There are a ton of ethical questions. What is the proper way to interact with these objects. Do objects have ethics? What does this mean? Objects can have ethics related to their interaction with humans who definitely do have ethics. What makes a human subject to an ethical system – humans act -they are performative.  Ethics is the study of oughts and acts. How we ought to act. That perhaps means that anything that can act is subject to an ethical system. So, obviously, technology, which is performative – like code. But also legal systems – like I now pronounce you man and wife – that is performative -I am referring to the line of though that comes from Searle and Speech Acts.  Ritual objects do things for certain people.  If I interact with a ritual object, what are my ethics?

How do you create an ethical machine learning system that works with ritual objects?

Moving on, I am working on my poetry project – the Tower, and yesterday I thought I should compile a list of towers and meditate on them: the tower of babel, Bollingen Tower, the leaning tower of piza, the twin towers, the freedom tower, you get the idea, the inverted tower in Annihilation. What is an underground tower? A tunnel?

I then thought, perhaps in anticipation of the ML event I was later to attend, that I should create some sort of machine learning algorithm to determine towers or to determine feature sets of towers (e.g., what are the salient features of towers). Maybe I could new towers, or perhaps co-create new towers along with my poem.  I just need some free GPUs to train my model.  Imagine creating new poems or chapbooks based on different conceptions of towers, or users could upload their own tower and perhaps alternate the feature set. This is an example from wiki data when I put in tower.

There was a fantastic tool created by the Met that situated an artwork within its various relations and included a network graph simulation that allowed you navigate the various connections.  I want to use this to understand how all the towers I am looking at contribute to my poetic experience of what the tower means.

Side note:

As I mentioned in other blog posts, fantasy (the unconscious) does things, language does things, computers do things. These all act, or in some cause action. This is a distinction. There is a difference between an impetus for action and an action itself (or is there? maybe not).


The Roman Baths at Nimes


Herein I continue down the rabbit hole of homoerotic greco-roman inspired poetry.  I feel like this blog post has been inspired by the spirit of VH1’s pop-up video.

So lets talk about Nimes – It is a city in the south of France and there is indeed a ruin of a roman bath there.  But I think perhaps we are talking here about bath houses frequented by gay men in the 70s.

Lets talk more about the south of France, Occitanie.  This is an interesting place. It is the land of the troubadours. It is also the land of the Cathars, a heretical christian sect massacred by the king of France.

So some background on what it means to go to a bath house in Nimes.

“In the hall of mirrors no body speaks” – why not? Do they just look? I guess in a Anechoic hall people may speak – for the novelty of not hearing an echo. But you know where else there is a hall of mirrors… Versailles – Also France. lets proceed.

“An ember smolders before hallowed cheeks”  speaks/cheeks. I get it. I dont really get this line.  Smolders is an exciting and evocative word. Cheeks is like butt cheeks – maybe too much too soon (dont give it all ways).

The next line – emptying pockets – to me this is auditory. i hear it. In the hall of mirrors where no one speaks. There is only the clanging of disrobing.

“My god forgive me” – I don’t love this line -the Romans would not have a problem with disrobing. Perhaps there is another way to express guilt.

“Some say love” This is a the beginning of a Bette Middler song – The Rose. It is also a film staring the divine Ms M, which I think is a fictional rendering of the life of Janice Joplin. Bette Middler played a lot in Bath Houses (also apparently my parents saw her at the Copa in the 70s).

“love, repels what it sees” – interesting. Not my love language, but create a new lexicon for me and introduce me to new ways of loving.  Love as magnetic is a language, but love as the magnetic repulsion this could be a new language. It is not explored in the rest of the poem.

“In the steamroom, inconsolable tears” This is beautiful and heart breaking.

I don’t understand the little green crests in the whirlpool. Really it is green that I’m hung up on. Because little green men are aliens or maybe leprechauns. Otherwise I could guess what this whole section is about … riding against death… – wink wink – hot.  This rises above cliche. So another interesting thing poetry does is take existing languages, idioms, and vocabularies, and refines them.

“bright beach towel” I like this alliteration.  It is also very visual. There is only darkness until this line.

“and tongue, good things, make something sweet

of fear.”

A beautiful last line. We dont discuss bodies at all in this poem until the end

although we know that is it is about bodies. Make something sweet of fear– sigh…




Death of Antinous


This is the Death of Antinous by Mark Doty.  Why did I read it? Why did I want to focus on it? To Meditate on it?  Write about it? What draws me to this poem?

Is it the classical nature, the subject matter?

Images of perfect proportioned marble muscles (or has he writes nipples)

“Accidentally, swimming at dawn” I love this line. It is not exciting, or purple. But swimming at dawn. This is a beautiful image. I love it, I want to swim at dawn. We dont know what it is, the sea or a lake. But I imagine the sea. A haze. A lightbox. As it turns out, its the Nile he drowns in. The image changes and I imagine the dwat. The funary boat of egypt. What god was the oars man, the cybernetic? How do you accidentally swim at dawn, or at any time really?

Something about the rhythm of that line, and about the sounds, the musicality. Maybe the N’s – entally, ing, awn.

“Squalid little crossroads.” This is not really what I think of when I think of crossroads. I think of … old scratch … but are cross roads squalid.  Evocative.

“What do we want in a any body

but the world? And if the lover’s”

Ahh – we get it now, its a love poem. Antinous was Hadrian’s lover, I guess. Hadrian has a special place in my heart.  The map of the Roman Empire in the front flap of my middle school latin textbook depicted Hadrian’s wall – a very notable landmark in a part of the world that does not speak a romance language. Long before I knew who Hadrian was – I knew about this wall, and that sheep grazed on it now and it was not much of a wall any longer. Boundaries.

Some lines I dont like

“the he would find it everywhere”

Do we need lines like this in our poems? Copulas?

Shakespeare does not.

“Embodied him.” This I also dont like. Too abstract. Too passive.

“Turn of his shoulders”… I prefer marble nipples.

“merely takes in anything

without judgement or expectation”

is this love too – is the nile love? the poet’s reflection on his own love?

“chiseled liquid waist”


I hold because I cannot hold

(paradoxes and all the meanings of hold)

and a great last line – limerence

“that desire can make anything into a God.”




The Tower

poetry, the-tower

Months ago I consulted the Tarot to help me determine what my next writing project ought to be.  I pulled the Tower. This is a frightening card.  It is a card of rupture and disruption. The interpretation that resonated with me, was that I should write about something that will forever change my life -that will provide a rupture. So I started working on a chapbook on eros and as it manifested in a particular period of my life.

I have transcribed all my journals, poems, and notecards related to this project into a Scrivner document and I’m now editing.

I feel like a painter and having just laid down the underwash of ultramarine blue I am now ready to mix my paints.

I have a few aesthetic goals here. First my experience of poetry is as world building, it is the rupture that creates or elucidates a new experience that other people can share and inhabit.  What do I value in poetry, and in my particular project on eros?

I identified

rhythm to create the topology of the world

metaphor as a method of creating new contexts and perspectives

language as a way to introduce surprise and to create new languages

lineage (not the perfect term) as a way to situate this piece as a dialogue with other creative works

There are many other things I could include here such as ideas, inventiveness, multimedia, and so forth but these 4 items are what I am focusing on. Truly focus on 1 would be enough.

As I am working through my material I am coming up with different processes (the scaffolding, jigs or apparatus) to help refine the work in each of these areas. This is coming in the form of traditional writing exercises, but also in the guise of creating computer program, and musical pieces. What other scaffolding can I use? Perhaps games or dance!  Part of my experience in writing this chap book is the process through which I am refining the material into a finished piece and what that means.  This is alchemy, a personal process as well as an external process.

Aside from the scaffolding, I am also reading a ton of poetry with an eye for these 4 aspects: rhythm, metaphor, language, lineage.   The first poet I took a deep dive was Lisa Roberson and I will probably write more about her in a future post.