May 14, 2005

Horse Less Review #2

by Nick Montfort · , 4:25 pm

Horse Less Review #2: Put Out Lights has just been put out. In it you will find fiction, poetry, and perhaps other things by Tyler Carter, Thomas Cook, Phil Cordelli, Maria Filippone, Sandy Florian, Michael Geier, Garth Graeper, Matthew Henriksen, Sean Hoade, Mark Kanak, Kirk Keen, Conan Kelly, Andrew Lux, Andrew Lynes, Clay Matthews, Carolina Maugeri, Jim Maughn, Jerry McGuire, Corey Mesler, Nick Montfort, Bryce Newhart, Scott Pierce, Marc Pietrzykowski, Nate Pritts, Maggie Queeney, Marthe Reed, Kate Schapira, Brandon Shimoda, Brian Kim Stefans, Hugh Steinberg, and Bronwen Tate.

The work published in the new Horse Less includes three new Flash pieces by Brian Kim Stefans which present famous texts one letter at a time, poems that contain the words “they?ve” and “we�d” (an effect I rather like, whether or not it was intended), and my poem “Tichborne’s Lexicon,” which is not new media, but is the outcome of a computational procedure applied to a text.

Unhorse me now.

2 Responses to “Horse Less Review #2”

  1. Janet Murray Says:

    Nick’s poem is successful and evocative on its own, but more enjoyable when one knows the annoyingly memorable 16th century source poem, which will only be familiar to a few students of the unabridged Norton Anthology. So here it is:

    So Nick, you’ve captured the theme and echoed the rhythms and the rhetoric while still creating a poem in a very different style. What computational procedure did you apply and how much did you hand doctor it to get your version?

  2. nick Says:

    Janet, thanks for pointing people to the source text!

    My computational procedure is a very early one, perhaps the first used on texts, by ancient librarians – I simply alphabetized all the words in the poem. (Duplicate words were removed.) I did this strictly. Then, I broke the poem into sentences/lines and punctuated it as I saw fit, without any particular scheme.

    Since this one poem is (as far as I know) the entire corpus of Tichborne’s surviving poetry, the stock of words that I used is his entire lexicon – hence the title.

    Interestingly, the resulting poem seems to be spoken by an old person looking back on life, while the original poem is spoken by a young person decrying that life is about to be cut short.

    Robert Pinsky helpfully pointed out to me that Tichborne’s poem is, itself, beyond being metrical and schematically rhymed, a constrained composition. In a way, Tichborne’s original is a nicer constrained composition, because there is one exception to the constraint – the clinamen, as Calvino would say, which acknowledges that no work can be perfect. The constraint is this: The poem consists entirely of one-syllable words, except for the word “fallen.”

    As a footnote, I think the RPO text of the poem has a typo: In line five, “I yet” should be “yet.” Since my poem would come out the same with or without this typo in the original, I guess it doesn’t bother me so much.

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