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Charles Bernstein
EPC author page


see also Poem Profiler and "wreading" experiments

  1. Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else's, then your own) and translate it "English to English" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. Or translate the poem into another literary style or a different diction, for example into a slang or vernacular. Do several differnt types of homolinguistic transation of a single source poem. Chaining: try this with a group, sending the poem on for "translation" from person to another until you get back to the first author. See John Sweeney's basic English translation of Donne.
    bpNichol, Translating Translating Apollinaire
    ; & scan of book

  2. He Do the Police in Voices: Dialect & Idiolect: Translate or compose a poem or other work into a different dialect or idiolect, your own or other. Dialect can include subculture lingo, slang, text messaging shothand, etc. For example, Steve McCaffery's translation of the Communist Manifesto in West Riding of Yorkshire dialect (at PennSound): audio, text. See also Nathan Kageyam's translation of Pound's "The Return" into pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English). Use the dialect engine to translate a text into one of several "dialects," then use the results to make a poem.

  3. 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 (e.g., French "blanc" to blank or "toute" to toot). Some examples: Louis and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus., David Melnick's Homer at Eclipse: Men in Aida; Ron Silliman on homophonic translation (his own, Melnick's, and Chris Tysh's), and some examples by Charles Bernstein -- from Basque, from Portuguese  and "Johnny Cake Hollow" suite. — Rewrite to suit?
    see also:
    bpNichol, Translating Translating Apollinaire
    § Robert Kelly's Celan
    § "Me Tranform O!"
    § "Nuclear Blanks"
    § Sane as Tugged Vat, Your Love
    §Mallarmé, “The Four Salutes”
    Cf.Six Fillious  by bp nichol, Steve McCaffery, Robert Fillious, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Dieter Roth, which also included translation of the poem to French and German. (More info.)
    Benny Lava , Marmoset.

  4. Bird song homophonics: Listen to a birdsong and transcribe what you hear in English words or alphaetic transcriptions. Large library of birdsongs here; additional auido here. For example, "chimp chimp" for the winter wren. See John Bevins, aaaaw to zzzzd: The Word of Birds (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T Press, 2010).

  5. Lexical translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate it word for word with the help of a bilingual dictionary. (Rewrite to suit?). Or use Google's and other on-line translators, but keep it to word-for-word!

  6. Try a variant of these four translation exercises using the (now outdated) "Babelfish" and Google Translatate engines or the "Telephone" engine (another) –– or other web-based translations engines, such as Free and Logopoeia's Shortwave Radio Engine.You can use Google tr. in telephone fashion: tr. from one language to another to another and back to original language. See also Translation Party and Bad Translator.

  7. Do multiple translations of a single poem, working in groups or indivdually. See Caroline Bergvall's poem setting of mutliple translations of the opening of Dante's Divine Comedy, from PennSound.
  9. Misheard: Write a poem composed entirely of misheard song lyrics, clichés, overheard conversations, news headlines, menu items, etc. See Kenneth Goldsmith, "Head Citations"

  10. 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.  (Cf.: Jackson Mac Low's Stanzas for Iris Lezak.)  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. Or try the mesostic engine.

  11. 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.) Cf.: a site for that randomizes: (see below for more machines).

  12. 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 engine 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. Perumtations 1: 2 & 3
    And: Ron Starr's travesty engine.

  13. 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 above..

  14. Cento: Write a collage made up of full-lines of selected source poems. (Or see Kate Fagin's short form centos.)

  15. Serial sentences:  Select one sentence each from a variety of different books or other sources.  Add sentences of your own composition.  Combine into one paragraph, reordering to produce the most interesting results. 

  16. 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.  You can use a random part of speech generator (or the random word generator) for this.

  17. 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.  (Cf.: Lee Ann Brown's "Pledge" & Michael Magee's "Pledge" or Clark Coolidge and Larry Fagin, On the Pumice of Morons; or Bernadette Mayer's "Before Sextet."
    N+7 web engine, Hacking the Academy

  18. 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.
    Another approach:Jennifer Scappatone/H.D "Sea Poppies"/"Vase Poppies

  19. 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.

  20. Alliteration (assonance):  Write a poem in which all the words in each line begin with the same letter.

  21. Recombination (1): Write a poem and cut it somewhere in the middle, then recombine with the beginning part following the ending part.

  22. Recomination (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.  (Cf. Ron Silliman's Ketjak)

  23. Collaboration:  Write poems with one or more other people, alternating words, lines, or stanzas (chaining or renga), writing simultaneously and collaging, rewriting, editing, supplementing the previous version.  This can be done in person, via e-mail, or via regular mail.

  24. Group sonnet:  14 people each write one ten-word line (or alternate measure) on an index card.  Order to suit. Alternate: write the poem in sequence, with each person writing the  next line having read and considered the previous lines. Modify this to any form or to an open form with any number of participants.

  25. Collaborative Surrealist Language Event (I) (for two or more people): One person writes down a question without showing it to anyone else; simultaneously, another person writes down an answer; poem is formed by a series of these questions and answers. Alternate form: One question: multiple answers; vice versa.
  26. . For example: " What is the pink elephant? The reason why it is so cold this week.// Is the door locked? / I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion." (Cf: Robert Desnos's ":Language Events.") (Cf: Robert Desnos's ":Language Events.")

  27. Collaborative Surrealist Language Event (II) (for two or more people): One person writes a clause beginning "if" or "when"; without seeing this, a second person write a clause in the conditional or future tense.  For example: "When candlelight proves disastrous for performing an appendectomy / Peacocks and crocodiles would dance on the Nile at noon. //  If Homer’s brother is cannibalized in the forum by the barbarians / A puppy dog would go to lasco.// If Marx was born in Boise /Then the world would eat nothing but purple-colored ice cream."

  28. Chinese Whispers (a.k.a telephone) [version ecriture]: one person writes a line, phrase, sentence, paragraph, or stanza and passes it on to the next person, who transforms it in some way and passes it on to the next. Traditionally done orally, as a written exercise this can be done in a group setting or via email or txt chain. (Cf.: John Ashbery's "Chinese Whispers.")

  29. This experiment intentionally left blank.

  30. Modified Equisite Corpse: Each person in the group writes down one line, folds paper so the line cannot be seen, and passes to the next.

  31. 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. (Sometimes called "free writing. Try this with handwriting. Compare versions done by hand and on a computer.)

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. Write a poem made up entirely of neologisms or nonsense words or fragments of words.  (Cf.: Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", Khlebnikov's zaum, Schwitters "Ur Sonata." P. Inman's, Ocker, Platin  and Uneven Devlelpment  and David Melnick's Pcoet. (via Eclipse). Also: "Johnny Cake Hollow" translations (first two pages of this pdf). Use Neil Hennessy's JABBER: The Jabberwocky Engine to generate lexicon. Also see The International Dictionary of Neologisms.

  35. Write a poem with each line filling in the blanks of "I used to be _____   but now I am ______."  ("I used to write poems, but now I just do experiments"; "I used to make sense, but now I just make poems.")

  36. Write a poem consisting entirely of things you'd like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.

  37. Take same sentence or stanza and cast it as if said to oneself silently, half-whispered, said to an intimate, said to a small group, said to a large group.

  38. Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard conversation. (See Kenneth Goldsmith's Soliloquy.)

  39. Nonliterary forms: Write a poem in the form of an index, a table of contents, a resume, an advertisement for an imaginary or real product (see Nicolàs Guillén [Penn only] & Tan Lin and Paul Violi "Index" poems, an instruction manual, a travel guide, a quiz or examination, etc. See Nick Thurston's Historia Abscondita (pdf), an appopriated index work.

  40. Imitation:  Write a poem in the style of each of a dozen poets who you like and dislike.  Try to make it as close to a forgery of an "unknown" poem of the author as possible.

  41. Write a poem without mentioning any objects.

  42. Write a poem focussing on a single object of "thing." See Ponge on an orange.

  43. Backwards: Reverse or alter the line sequence of a poem of your own or someone else's.  Next, reverse the word order.  Rather than reverse, scramble.

  44. Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.

  45. Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour.

  46. Brainard's Memory:  Write a poem all of whose lines start "I remember ..."  (Cf.: Joe Brainard's I Remember & audio from PennSound ) . ALSO: Brainard's: Imaginary Still Lifes

  47. "Pits": Write the worst possible poem you can imagine.

  48. Counting:  Write poems that conform to various numeric patterns for number of words in a line or sentence, number of lines in a stanza or paragraph, number of stanzas or paragraphs in a work.  Alternately, count letters or syllables.  Use complex numeric series or simpler fixed-number patterns. 

  49. 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.

  50. [Removed for further study]

  51. List poem 1: Write a poem consisting of favorite words or phrases collected over a period of time; pick your favorite words from a particular book.

  52. List poem 2: write a poem consisting entirely of a list of "things", either homogenous or heterogeneous (common lists include shopping lists, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists, lists of events, lists of names, ...).

  53. Chronology: Make up a list of dates with associated events, real or imagined.

  54. Transcription:  Tape a phone or live conversation between yourself and a friend.  Make a poem composed entirely of transcribed parts.

  55. Canceling: Write a series of lines or rhymes such that every other one cancels the one before ("I come before you / to stand behind you").

  56. 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.

  57. Write a series of ten poems going from one to ten words in each poem.  Reorder.

  58. Write a poem composed entirely of questions.

  59. Write a poem made up entirely of directions.

  60. Write a poem consisting only of opening lines (improvise your own lines, then use source texts). 

  61. Write a poem consisting only of prepositions, then of prepositions and one other part of speech, then three part of speech. (Cf: Clark Coolidge's "Oflenths".

  62. Write a series of eight-word lines consisting of one each of each part of speech.

  63. Write a poem consisting of one-word lines; write a poem consisting of two-word lines; write a poem consisting of three-word lines. 

  64. Pick 20 words, either a word list you generate yourself or from source texts. Write three different poems using only these words.

  65. Synchronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur simultaneously.

  66. Diachronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur in different places and at different times. 

  67. Anagrammatica: Recombine an existing work via anagrams, or otherwise make a work driven by annagrams. See, for example. K. Silem Mohammad's anagrams of Shakespeare's sonnets. Use an anagram engine (or this).

  68. 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. See Visual Poetry anthology for examples. (See UBUWEB for more examples,)

  69. Write a series of stanzas or poems while listening to music; change type of music for each stanza or poem.

  70. Elimination: Cut out the second half of sentences.

  71. Excuses list: Write a poem made up entirely of excuses. (Or: apologies.)

  72. Sprung Diary:  Write a diary tracking and intercutting multiple levels of thoughts, experiences, anticipations, expectations, from minute to major.  (Cf.. Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal.)

  73. "Walking on Colors": Walk a city block or a country mile paying attention as much as possible to one color; list all the things found in this one color; write about it.

  74. Improvisation: Ask someone to suggest a poem title and topic. Write the poem immediately in response. Do this as a quick series, five minutes maximum for each poem.

  75. Negation/Opposites: Negate every phrase or sentence in the poem or in some way substitute opposite words for selected words in the source text: "I went to the beach" becomes "I went to the office"; "I got up" becomes "She sat down"; "I will" become "I will not", etc. As an alternative, take a poem and change what it says line for line or phrase for phrase; not opposite, just different.

  76. [No longer available!: Google Poem: construct a poem using Leevi Lehto's engine (use the patterns feature). See also (if it comes back on line) Bill Luomo's Lizardo engine.]

  77. Google poem, based on M. Silem Mohammad's Deer Head Nation, an early Flaf work.: 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. N.B.:Mohammed describes the compositional method of Deer Head Nation: “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.”

  78. FLARF: Michael Magree explains, in this Experiments List exclusive report, "The Flarf Files."

  79. See also: The Apostrophe Engine, the source for Apostrophe: The Book by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry.
  80. Data mining: an extenstion of the pervious two: make a poem based on variious web searches or other forms of data mining. For example, Karri Kokko's Shadow Finlandia: An Extract ( tr. Lehto): a collage of depressive or otherwise dark or gloomy fragments in Finnish blogs.

  81. Use the Googlism engine to create a poem based on a name or word.

  82. Multilingual poem: write a poem using several languages that are integrated into the single poem. (Cf: Anne Tardos).

  83. Pick several images from the internet or a magazine and make an arrangement with them; then write an accompanying poem for each.

  84. 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.

  85. Digital poems. See sample at Digital Poetry. Use to construct a kinetic version of a poem.

  86. Lineups. From Charles North's invented form based on baseball lineups, e.g.,Wittgenstein lf, Heidegger 2b, Aristotle 1b, Kant rf, Hegel cf, Hume ss, Sartre 3b, Plotinus c, Plato p.

  87. Take a poem, first another's then your own, and rerrange the line breaks or visual compostion, while keeping the same word order. Do this five times, some with freely composed arrangements and some using some form of counting.

  88. From Stacy Doris: I. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about sex. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with warfare for the words having to do with sex. II. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about love. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with government for the words of amorousness. III. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about god and religion. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with a political figure whose policy you oppose for the words referring to faith and god.

  89. Christian Bök's lipogram Eunoia  consists of a five sections each with words containing the same vowell (as in "O": Yoko Ono). This is reminiscent of certain notorious Ouilipian constrains, such as Perec's nover La Disparition , which suppresses the letter "e". Write a poem in the manner of Eunoia..

  90. Proliferating styles. In 1947, Raymond Queneau, a founding member of OuLoPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or "Workshop of Potential Literature") published Excercises 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.

  91. Variations on a phrase. Take a common phrase and create as many variations as possible, as in Erasmus's version of "Your letter pleased me greatly" in De Copia.

  92. Take phrases from a source text and embed within a narrative of your own construction. (See Alan Ramón Clinton's use of a  Bob Perelman poem.)

  93. Modular poems. One example: Queneau's One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems

  94. Use any of these experiments that involve as source text as a way of reading through already existing poems; that is, as interactive tools for "creative reading." As an extention, study poems via the modes of "Deformative Criticism" (the term is from Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels). For example, take a poem and erase all but one part of speech, leaving the visual layout intact, or read it backward or otherwise re-order it, or translate it (using any of the translation excercises listed here), Alternately, use these experiments as a way to rewrite or transform your own poems.

  95. Use the "Meaning Eater" engine to deform the text of a poem.

  96. Use a sound editor to scramble, resound a sound file of a poem. (See PennSound Deformance page, under constuction.)

  97. Make a poem composed of all the things you don't know (or some of them)

  98. Make up more experiments.

Remember: Poems can be in prose format! Rewrite and recombine, collage, splice together the material generated from these experiments into one long ongoing poem!

Compiled by Charles Bernstein. © 1996-2019 by Poets' Ludicrously Aimless Yearning (PLAY). Dispense only as appropriate and under the supervision of an attending reader. Individual experiments are not liable for injury or failure resulting from improper use of appliance. Any profits accrued as a direct or indirect result of the use of these formulas shall be redistributed to the language at large. Management assumes no responsibility for damages that may result consequent to the use of this material in educational institutions or individual writing project. revised July 2006.

This list was inspired by Bernadette Mayer's compilation from the 1970s. For more Experiments, and journal ideas, go to: Bernadette Mayer.