English 111 / Comp Lit 115
Experimental Writing Seminar: Constraints & Collaborations
Charles Bernstein

office hours by appointment

Fall 2015
Mondays at 2

2015 Class website

Required Book at Penn Book Center:
Raymond Queneau, Exercises in Style
Michael Davidson, Bleedthrough
Rachel Zolf, Janey's Arcadia


The first thing to do is subscribe to the course Discussion list (via Google groups): wreading.
•email to list: re-wreading -- @ -- sas.upenn.edu

Writing Experiments

Beginning of syllabus


1. (Aug. 31) Introduction / Substitution
This is an introductory assignment to be done before the first class and submitted by the weekend before our first meeting: DUE Monday, August 31, after your sub to the list..
Reading: Lee Ann Brown, "Pledge," Michael Magee, "Pledge" from Morning Constitutional (go to p.37 of pdf of book)
Kenneth Goldsmith, "Head Citations"
Bernadette Mayer, "Before Sextet"
Jennifer Scappatone/H.D "Sea Poppies"/"Vase Poppies"
§Substitution (1): "Mad libs."  Take a poem (or other source text) and put blanks in place of three or four words in each line, noting the part of speech under each blank.  Fill in the blanks being sure not to recall the original context. 
§ Substitution (2): "7 up or down."  Take a poem or other, possibly well-known, text and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index word in the dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement.  N+7 web engine.
Substitution (3): Find and replace. Systematically replace one word in a source text with another word or string of words.  Perform this operation serially with the same source text,
increasing the number of words in the replace string. 

No class on Labor Day!

Tuesday, September 1 Orchad Tierney and Kristin Gallagher, Grad Lounge 330, Fisher Bennett Hall (3rd floor)
Tuesday, September 8, 6pm: reading of Raina Maria Rodriguez at KWH, with Kristin Dykstra, translator
Thursday, Thursday, September 10, 6pm, Jerome Rothenberg at KHW

2. (Setp. 14) Exercises in Style
Reading: Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
In 1947, Raymond Queneau, a founding member of OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or "Workshop of Potential Literature") published Exercises de Style, 99 variations on the "same" story. Each of these 99 approaches could take a place of honor in this list but best to turn to that work for the enumeration and explanation. For present purposes (if purposes doesn't strike an overly teleological chord), suffice it to say that an initial incident, mood, core proposition, description, idea, or indeed, story, might be run through the present list of experiments, though to what end only the Shadow knows, and maybe not even the Shadow.
•Extentions (optional): Caroline Bergvall's poem setting of mutliple translations of the opening of Dante's Divine Comedy, from PennSound.
§ Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else's or your own) and translate/rewrite/revise it by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. Or do several versions of the "same" poem. Or: translate the poem into another, or several other, literary styles.
§ We will also do this as a chain: via the list ... The "translation" will go from person to another until you get back to the first author. As a general rule, each new version must change at least one-third of the words or the equivalent. We can take advantage of the long break before second class to do this.
Provide a commentary on your work: what was the experience of doing the exercise?, what do you like best about the results?, do you like the original or your derivative product "better"? what does "better" mean to you? Also provide a short commentary of the Queneau reading: a notebook-like response to reading the work. What is your sense of the meaning/difference of variatons? How does it related to translations?

 Recombination (1): Write a poem and cut it somewhere in the middle, then recombine with the beginning part following the ending part.
§ Recombination (2) -- Doubling:  Starting with one sentence, write a series of paragraphs each doubling the number of sentences in the previous paragraph and including all the words used previously. 
Further reading: Queneau's One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems

•••provide a commentary on your work****

Wednesday, September 16, 6pm, KWH, A Celebration of Julia Bloch

9/17: 6:00 PM PHILALALIA: Poetry and the Art of the book: Rachel Levitsky of Belladonna*, Travis and JenMarie MacDonald of Fact-Simile Editions, Stephen Motika of Nightboat Books, and Brenda Iijima of Portable Press

3. (Setp. 21) Homophonic & Dialect Translation
Homophonic reading: Louis and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus & two examples of mine: from Basque and from Portuguese.
Dialect reading/listening: Steve McCaffery's translation of the Communist Manifesto into West Riding of Yorkshire dialect: audio, text
Zukofsky,"A Foin Lass" [resricted to Penn only!] [you can find Zukofksy -- and me too -- reading this on the Zukofsky PennSound page).
Here are two more complex translation experiments with Chinese: Robert Majzels et al's 85s & Jonathan's Stalling's Yinglishi;
see also Yunte Huang's SHI
provide a commentary on your work; try several of these done on different days. provide a commentary on the set of readings.
§ Homophonic translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate the sound of the poem into English (i.e., French "blanc" to blank or "toute" to toot).
§Try a variant of these translation exercises using the "Babelfish" and Google Translate engines or the "Telephone" engine –– or other web-based translations engines, such as Translation.com and Logopoeia's Shortwave Radio Engine.You can use Google tr. in telephone fashion: tr. from one lanague to another to another and back to original language. See also Translation Party and Bad Translator.
§Translate or compose a poem or other work into a different dialect, your own or other. Dialect can include subculture lingo, slang, text messaging shothand, etc.
§Use the dialect engine
Extenstions (optional):
David Melnick's Homer at Eclipse: Men in Aida -- part one and part two;
Ron Silliman
on homophonic translation (his own, Melnick's, and Chris Tysh's)
Nathan Kageyam's translation of Pound's "The Return" into pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English).
§ bpNichol, Translating Translating Apollinaire
§ Robert Kelly's Celan
§ "Me Tranform O!"
§ Sane as Tugged Vat, Your Love.
§Benny Lava (see also Marmoset and Moskau

§ We will also do a collaborative chain: via the list ... The "translation" will go from person to another until you get back to the first author. As a general rule, each new version must change at least one-third of the words or the equivalent. We can take advantage of the long break before second class to do this.

•••provide a commentary on your work****

4. (Sept. 28)
Without Rules, (K)not!, or Is Free Writing Free?
Jack Kerouac on spontaneous bop prosody
Bernadette Mayer, from Studying Hunger
The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters - Excerpt
Hannah Weiner, Clairvoyant Journal: text begins here & read with audio MP3 (26:48): first couple of pages is fine.  
Clark Coolidge, from American Ones
provide a commentary on your work and on the reading
Write a poem in which you try to transcribe as accurately as you can your thoughts while you are writing.  Don't edit anything out. Write as fast as you can without planning what you are going to say. (Try this by handwriting if possible.) For the class: do this three times in the course of one week or do all three experiments listed here.
§ Autopilot: Trying as hard as you can not to think or consider what you are writing, write as much as you can as fast you can without any editing or concern for syntax, grammar, narrative, or logic. Try to keep this going for as long as possible: one hour, two hours, three hours: don't look back don't look up.
§ Dream work:  Write down your dreams as the first thing you do every morning for 30 days.  Apply translation and aleatoric processes to this material.  Double the length of each dream. Weave them together into one poem, adding or changing or reordering material.  Negate or reverse all statements ("I went down the hill to "I went up the hill," "I didn't" to "I did").  Borrow a friend's dreams and apply these techniques to them.
§Write a poem just when you are on the verge of falling asleep.  Write a line a day as you are falling asleep or waking up.
•••provide a commentary on your work

Wednesday, Setptember 30, at KWH, 6pm, Rob Halpern
Monday, Oct. 5 at 5:30pm, at KWH: Rodrigo Toscano

5. (Oct. 5) Chance Operation & the Aleatoric
Reading: Jackson Mac Low
* "Insects Assassins" from Stanzas for Iris Lezak (string word is the poem title)
*3d Biblical Poem (1955) and brief account here
*Selection from Representative Works, plus "Word en Ends from Ez"
*from Words nd Ends from Ez (string word: Ezra Pound)
*William Burroughs on cut-ups & Brion Gysin on cut-ups
Further/optional reading: Burroughs/Gysin
"Minutes to Go"
pdf of full Third Mind; more Burroughs; The Ticket That Exploded
provide a commentary on your work and on the reading
do a few:
§ Acrostic chance:  Pick a book and use title as acrostic key phrase.  For each letter of key phrase go to page number in book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as first line of poem from the first word that begins with that letter to end of line or sentence.  Continue through all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word.  Variations include using author's name as code for reading through her or his work, using your own or friend's name, picking different kinds of books for this process, devising alternative acrostic procedures.Or use the web Mac Low diastic engine.
§  Tzara's hat:  Everyone in a group writes down a word (alternative: phrase, line) and puts it in a hat.  Poem is made according to the order in which it is randomly pulled from hat.  (Solo: pick a series of words or lines from books, newspapers, magazines to put in the hat.) "Language Is a Virus" has an engine that makes poems from your selected vocabulary list, a cross between "Tzara's Hat" and "Mad Libs."
Cf: site tha offer true ranomization: random.org
§ Burroughs's fold-in:  Take two different pages from a newspaper or magazine article, or a book, and cut the pages in half vertically.  Paste the mismatched pages together.  (Cf.: William Burroughs’s The Third Mind.) Use the computer Lazarus cut-up engire to perform a similar task automatically; also engines at "Language Is a Virus:" Cut Up Machine,  Slice-n-Dice,  Exquisite Cadavulator, & God's Rude Wireless. And: Ron Starr's travesty engine (no longer online)
General cut-ups:  Write a poem composed entirely of phrases lifted from other sources.  Use one source for a poem and then many; try different types of sources: literary, historical, magazines, advertisements, manuals, dictionaries, instructions, travelogues, etc.  See cut-up engines listed just above

•••provide a commentary on your work****

6. (Oct. 12) Rachel Zolf visit
Rachel Zolf, Janey's Arcadia
[optional: Zolf at PennSound and at EPC
the first part of the class will be a discussion with Zolf, who offers this experiment:
§Go to the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/.
Scroll down the page and choose Advanced Search.
In the title field, insert the word Indian.
In the mediatype field, choose texts.
In the date range fields, insert 1800/01/01 to 1900/01/01.
Leave all other fields blank.
Press Search.Go through the list of titles and choose one that intrigues you or bothers you or makes you wonder. Under “download options,” choose the “Full text” version of the text. Make a poem using only the words and letters and marks that appear in the text, including what appear to be textual errors. If you wish, you can try erasure as one of the ways you make a poem from this text. Write a paragraph reflecting on your process and your poem – and its relation to Janey’s Arcadia. What does it mean to make a poem with the word “Indian” in it? How does it compare to using the word “negro” as a search term, for example, or “settler”? Bring the poem and paragraph to class.
§Erasure: Take a poem of your own or someone else's and crossout most of the words on each poem, retype what remains as your poem.  (Cf.: Ronald Johnson's RADI  OS from Milton.) See Wave Books erasure pages. See Deletionist app.

•••provide a commentary on your work****

Monday, October 19 at 5:30pm KWH: Nick Montfort

7. (October 19) Ekphrasis (translating the visual into the verbal)
ICA VISIT (the ICA will be open just for our class)
We will meet at the ICA. Visit the gallery the week before October 19 and write poems in response to or to accompany or exist in conjunction with the work. Be sure to bring a hard copy of what you write so you can perform it. You are free to approach this assignment as you like, but let me make this initial suggestion: Write down everything you see in the work, a complete description. This can be in prose. When we meet at the ICA, you will each present your work; this will be a performance situation, where you will find a spot in the gallery to read from; and we will talk about reading in the space and performance in general. It is also possible to involve others from the seminar in the performance. It is also possible to write something for the space rather than a specific work.
Extensions:  Write a poem to accompany an image A good source of on-line images is the PennSlide library and ArtStor (via library e-resources). Write a poem to be read in a place.
•••be sure to post the first "complete descriptions" to the list
•••do two of three poems (on one piece or several)
•••provide a commentary on your work:

8. (Oct. 26) The Art of Constraint
Jabborwocky & variations
Christian Bök, Eunoia: Coach House e-edition; recommended: Bök's PennSound reading & " e" chapter in flash from UBU.
Extensions (optional): Kenneth Goldsmith, “Fidget”
Christian Bök's lipogram Eunoia  consists of a five sections each with words containing the same vowel (as in "O": Yoko Ono). This is reminiscent of certain notorious Ouilipian constrains, such as Perec's novel La Disparition , which suppresses the letter "e" or the work of Queneau (such as Exercises in Style).
§Write a poem in the manner of Eunoia.
§Write a poem made up entirely of neologisms or nonsense words or fragments of words.  (Cf.: Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", Khlebnikov's zaum, Schwitters's "Ur Sonata," P. Inman's, Ocker, Platin  and Uneven Devlelpment  and David Melnick's Pcoet: all via Eclipse). Use Neil Hennessy's JABBER: The Jabberwocky Engine to generate lexicon. Also see The International Dictionary of Neologisms.
§Write a poem consisting only of prepositions, then of prepositions and one other part of speech; then three parts of speech.
§ Write a series of eight-word lines consisting of one each of each part of speech.
§ Pick 20 words, either a word list you generate yourself or from source texts. Write three different poems using only these words.
§Alphabet poems:  make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet.  Write another alphabet poem but scramble the letter order.
§ Alliteration (assonance):  Write a poem in which all the words in each line begin with the same letter.
§ Group sonnet:  14 people each write one ten-word line (or alternate measure) on an index card.  Order to suit.
§Write a "sound" poem
•••provide a commentary on your work, do as many as possible; perhaps one each day over the week.

Oct. 23: Locating the Avant-Garde conference at Penn

Wednesday, Oct. 28, at 6:3pm in KWH: Peter Cole


9. (Nov. 2) Memory, Novel Forms
do as many of these as possible, minimum 5 or 6 forms.
Brainard's Memory:  Write a poem all of whose lines start "I remember ..."  (Reading: Joe Brainard's I Remember & audio
§Brainard's: Imaginary Still Lifes
§Synchronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur simultaneously.
§ Diachronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur in different places and at different times. 
§Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.
§Write a poem about a single object. (Reading: Ponge's Object)
§Write a poem made up entirely of excuses. (Or: apologies.)
§Write a poem in the form of a resume.
§Write a poem in the form of a index (cf., Paul Violi).
§Write a poem in the form a table of contents
§Write a poem in the form an advertisement for an imaginary or real product. (See Nicolàs Guillén.)
§Write a poem in the form an instruction manual
§Write a poem in the form a travel guide
§Write a poem in the form a quiz or examination, etc.
§Write a poem in the form of a baseball lineup; cf: Charles North: Wittgenstein lf, Heidegger 2b, Aristotle 1b, Kant rf, Hegel cf, Hume ss, Sartre 3b, Plotinus c, Plato p.
•••provide a commentary on your work & the reading****

10. (Nov. 9) Short lines/Short Poems (Attention I)
Tom Beckett & "Hay(na)Ku"
Extenstions (optional): Robert Creeley, Louis Zukofksy, Robert Grenier's Sentences, Willaim Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff. Ted Greenwald
Aram Saroyan's Aram Saroyan

§ Write a poem consisting of one-word lines; write a poem consisting of two-word lines; write a poem consisting of three-word lines.
§Try out Hay(na)ku or Haiku
§Try some variant short-line form.
•••provide a commentary on your work; repeart the experiment at least three separate times over the week

11 (Nov. 16) Michael Davidson class visit
Michael Davidson, Bleedthrough
Davidson reading Nov. 17 at 6pm KWH
Please send a couple of written question for Davidson via list. He has very limited hearing so this will make if easier forhim to responds. While the main reading is his selected poems, here are some of this essays, if interested:
"Strange Blood": pdf
"Aesthetics" in new Disaability Keywords collection
"Compulsory Homosciality"
On Eigner
Talking and Listening
Start to work on your individual web page (or pdf/word) final presentations, with table of contents / title page; we link to this page from the class web site. Post links to the list of your propose title page / table of contents. We also need to do this for the oneoneone web site as well. Would any of you like to volunteer to design the title page and TOC for that?

For example, see web site created in 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009
§Talk poem: record yourself talking a poem and transcribe. (See David Antin.)
§Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour: it is important to do this for the full time period.
§Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard conversation. (See Kenneith Goldsmith's Soliloquy.)

•••provide a commentary on your work(((((((((

12. (Nov. 23) Flarf / Conceptual Poetry / Web-Generated Poems / Found Poems / Appropriation
K. Silem Mohammad, Deer Head Nation. In Deer Head Nation, Mohammad uses the Google search page result as his basic text, editing from there: "You punch a keyword or keywords or phrase into Google and work directly with the result text that gets thrown up. I paste the text into Word and just start stripping stuff away until what's left is interesting to me, then I start meticulously chipping away at and fussing with that."
FLARF: A recent extension of this approach, which is developing independently, is called "flarf." Michael Magree explains, in this Experiments List exclusive report, "The Flarf Files." See also: a negative view of Flarf & Jacket's Flarf fearture
see also: Claudius App splash sheet
§ Google Poem: construct a poem using Leevi Lehto's engine (use the patterns feature).].
§ Try also: The Apostrophe Engine, the source for Apostrophe: The Book by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry.
§ Google poem, based on M. Silem Mohammad's Deer Head Nation : use Google search results as the source material for a poem: erase as much as you like, but don't add anything. Many variations possible.
§ Cento: Write a collage made up of full-lines of selected source poems. (Or see Kate Fagin's short form centos.)
§ "Pits": Write the worst possible poem you can imagine
§ Use the "Meaning Eater" engine to deform the text of a poem.
§ Data Mining (variation of some of the above): see eg Karri Kokko's Shadow Finlandia: An Extract ( tr. Lehto): a collage of depressive or otherwise dark or gloomy fragments in Finnish blogs.
***do several of these; provide a commentary on your work and the reading***

13. (Nov. 30) Digital & Visual Poetry
over the break: review the work of each of your classmates and post your one, two, or three favorite pieces. this will be used for each of you to make a final pdf pamphlet of your work.
A selection of digital and visual poems from
Visual/Concrete anthology
Digital anthology (see reading list too) (start with Stefan's "Dreamlife," nichols, Chang's Dakota. Steve McLaughlin, Loss Pequento Glazier ("Cog" et al), & Jim Carpenter, Issue One)
Pick several images from the internet or a magazine and make an arrangement with them; then use as a backdrop for a poem or text or juxtapose with the image and poem.
§ Graphic design 101.1: Take a poem, first another's then your own, and set it ten differnet ways, using different fonts and different page sizes. Make a web version of the poem.
§ Take a poem, first another's then your own, and rearrange the line breaks or visual composition, while keeping the same word order. Do this five times, some with freely composed arrangements and some using some form of counting.
§ Visual poetry: write poems with strong visual or "concrete" elements — including a combination of lexical and nonlexical (pictorial) elements.  Play with alphabets and typography, placement of words on the page, etc.
§ Try a "digital" poem, or poem in programmable media, or indeed one using links or HTML as a fundamental dimension, please go ahead with that -- either for this week or next week.. For those without the technical skills to do this, or the software, you might try to do a blueprint or sketch of such a digital work, either entirely new or, perhaps, a hypertext version (or setting) of a poem you have
already written.
***provide a commentary on your work
& the reading***

14. (Dec. 7) (Last Class)
Performance / Class Anthology / Chapbooks / Web site : Last Class
Make a chapbook or some other phyical object to give to everyone in the class. Also, make a pdf pamplet of your work to link to class web site. We will fous on performance. As part of working on your final project, bring in something to perform, up to five minutes (new work or older work, though new work always preferred). We will discuss the performances (to be continued next week)