Upcoming Talks – February 2018

I’m hitting the road next week, to talk archaeologies of experimental wind weather writing and unconventionalities of weird web art design to students, faculty, and anyone who turns up really, at Epsom, Southampton, and Winchester school of Art.

On Monday 5 February 12:30-13:30 I’ll be speaking to Graphic Design students, faculty, and members of the public at the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom. I think the event poster gives fair warning of my highly eccentric approach to web ‘design’. I hope a lively discussion of how very best not to do things ensues.

UCA Epsom || J. R. Carpenter, 5 February 2018
UCA Epsom || J. R. Carpenter, 5 February 2018

On Thursday 8 February I’ll head south to Southampton to give a reading at the excellent ENTROPICS experimental poetry series. In advance of the reading, Sarah Hayden asked me a few interview questions. My answers, along with interviews with past ENTROPICS poets are online here. I am deeply indebted to the organizers for the fabulous event poster, below. The reading will take place at 18:30–21:00 at Mettricks Old Town Cafe, 117 High St, Southampton SO14 2AA, UK. All are welcome.

ENTROPICS || J. R. Carpenter, 8 February 2018
ENTROPICS || J. R. Carpenter, 8 February 2018

And then onward on Friday 9 February to talk about my new web-based work This is a Picture of Wind at the Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) Research Group at Winchester School of Art as part of their Talking Heads Series. The event will take place at Winchester School of Art, Lecture Theatre A, 15:00-17:00. It’s free, and open to the public. For more information, see the event page Writing a Picture of Wind. Many thanks to AMT director Jussi Parikka for putting the Southampton-Winchester bit of the tour together.

Touring Newfoundland with The March Hare

As West Country folks have done for centuries, I’m preparing to depart from balmy Plymouth for blustery Newfoundland for a week on the road with The March Hare, Atlantic Canada’s largest and certainly most eclectic poetry festival, in which:

Traditional stories alternate with contemporary poems, emerging writers appear alongside established writers, local performers share the stage with performers from all over the world, and all of them are accorded the same courtesy. While long-term achievement may be given the nod of respect in the form of an extra two or three minutes at the podium, the time allotments are tight and more or less equal. There are no stars at the March Hare.

I’ve been timing various pieces and it turns out everything I’ve ever written can be read aloud in eight minutes and thirty seconds. I’ll be reading a mix of new and old work, including Air Holes, Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl, and Once Upon a Tide, a print iteration of which will appear in Arc Poetry Magazine this month.

Mostly I’m just looking forward to listening, meeting new people, and getting to see more of this wonderfully wild island.

Here are my dates:

Tuesday, March 7th, 8:00
Chidley’s Place, Renews

Wednesday, March 8th, 8:00
St. Patrick’s Parish Hall, Tilting, Fogo Island

Thursday, March 9th, 7:30
Gander Hotel, Gander

Friday, March 10th, 8:00
Swirsky’s, Corner Brook

The full program is online here: http://themarchhare.ca/2017-programme/

The Gathering Cloud Wins The New Media Writing Prize 2016

My recent hybrid print- and web-based work The Gathering Cloud won the Main Prize at the New Media Writing Prize 2016. Winners were announced at the New Media Writing Prize Award Event, which took place at Bournemouth University 18 January 2017. The award, now in its seventh year, saw entries from around the world from across a variety of different styles and media including poetry, non-fiction, digital novels, web-based works, and trans-media pieces.

The judges admired Carpenter’s grasp of digital and non-digital elements, and found her piece, about the relationship between the digital and the natural, beautiful and engaging.
The Literary Platform

Research for The Gathering Cloud began in 2015 when I submitted a proposal to the inaugural Dot Award for Digital Literature, sponsored by if:book. I proposed to create a new web-based work in response to the storms which battered South West England in early 2014, resulting in catastrophic flooding in Somerset and the destruction of the seawall and rail line at Dawlish. Reading the news in the months after these storms, I was struck by how difficult it is to evoke through the materiality of language a force such as wind which we can only see indirectly through its affect. I began to explore weather, and wind in particular, in all its written forms.

Winning the Dot Award enabled me to explore the intertwined topics of language, weather, and climate change in a freer and more open-ended way that I might otherwise have been able to. I looked through mountains of private weather diaries held at the Met Office Library and Archive in Exeter. One thing I figured out pretty early one is that it’s hard to study only one kind of weather. On one single page of a weather diary it is possible to see noted thunder, lightening, lilacs, a meteor, and hyacinths in full flower.

Detail of a private weather diary held at the Met Office Archive in Exeter
Detail of a private weather diary held at the Met Office Archive in Exeter

During the first week of August 2016 I was a principal performer in the South West Poetry Tour, along with Steven Fowler, Camila Nelson, John Hall, Mattie Spence, and Anabel Banks. Each night we performed new works written in collaboration. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to generate new writing on weather. In my collaboration with John Hall (video) I used classical texts on weather as raw material, and in my collaboration with Anabel Banks (video), we worked with two texts on clouds. She drew upon Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide, written in 2007, and I used Luke Howard’s classic Essay on the Modifications of Clouds, written in 1803. Howard was the first to standardise the names of clouds that we still use today. Anabel added one tricky constraint to our collaboration, that we write in hendecasyllabic — eleven syllable lines.

In September 2016 I was commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival in Dundee to create a new web-based work in response to the theme “The Spaces We’re In”.

Physical urban space and virtual information space are inseparably intertwined. How does being digital change our sense of our spatial surroundings? Can we play in or animate the hybrid or glitched spaces in-between? Is there negative space in cyberspace? […] NEoN will interrogate the materials that make up our built environment – from air and glass, to cardboard and concrete to circuits and steel – and the designed devices we use to navigate it. As buildings and bridges seem to emerge readymade from the screen to real space, NEoN’s programme will help us figure out how ‘the digital’ helps us through the transition, or at least helps us to understand and critique it.
NEoN Digital Arts Festival 2016

When the festival’s curators told me about the theme I knew immediately that I wanted to call attention to the environmental impact of so-called ‘cloud’ storage. I’ve thought a lot about the complex relationship between biological and digital memory in previous work. The scale of the digital cloud is too vast to think about in terms of the body. I had to think bigger, so I turned to the clouds in the sky.

I decided to continue to build upon the structure of Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modifications of Clouds, to incorporate more recent texts on cloud storage and media theory, and to stick with the hendecasyllabic constraint. The resulting work, The Gathering Cloud launched to a crowd of 350 people at a Pecha Kucha Night in Dundee on 8 November 2016, the night of the US elections. I hadn’t intended for the title to wind up sounding quite so ominous, but I do think that now more than ever we need to find ways of talking about the enormity of climate change in human terms that we can understand and act upon.

Many thanks to everyone at the Informatics Lab at the Met Office, all the performers on the South West Poetry Tour, the curators and staff at NEoN Digital Arts, and everyone involved with the Dot Award and the New Media Writing Prize, with special thanks to Michael Saunby, Kay Lovelace, Chirs Meade, and Jerome Fletcher.

Further reading:

NEoN speaks with JR Carpenter

JR Carpenter takes the big prize at the 2016 New Media Writing Prize Awards

Print iteration of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl published in Fourteen Hills

Fourteen HillsNotes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl (2013) has been published in print Fourteen Hills: The San Francisco State University Review, 20.2. The web iteration of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl was first presented in “Avenues of Access: An Exhibit & Online Archive of New ‘Born Digital’ Literature”, curated by Dene Grigar & Kathi Inman Berens, at the Modern Languages Association (MLA) Convention in Boston, MA, USA, in January 2013.

Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual events, locals, persons or texts are entirely intentional. This computer-generated narrative conflates and confabulates characters, facts, and forms from accounts of voyages into unknown seas undertaken over the past 2340 years. This ever-shifting text is composed of fragments of stories of fanciful, fluid, and quite possibly fictional floating places described or imagined in such diverse works as Tacitus, Agricola (97-98), Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries (1589–1600), and Eugene Field, Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1889). The title characters Owl and Girl are borrowed from Edward Leer’s Victorian nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1871). In my version, the passive Pussy-cat has been replaced with a Girl most serious, most adventurous, most determined.

Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl || J. R. Carpenter

Girl and her lazy friend Owl set out, set sail, sail away toward a strange sea in a boat, craft, raft of pea-, bottle-, lima-bean- or similar shade of green. The cartographic collage they voyage through is an assemblage of fluid floating places – discontinuous surfaces pitted with points of departure, escape routes, lines of flight. Five horizontally scrolling texts annotate this mythical, implausible, impossible voyage toward seas unknown, the northern lights, the fountain of youth.

Following the launch of the web-based iteration of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl, I pillaged the JavaScript-generated narrative and four of the horizontally scrolling lines of text to create a script for live performance, which has since been performed during In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge at The Banff Centre, Banff, Canada, February 2013, and ELO 2013: Chercher le texte, Le Cube, Paris, France, 26 September 2013. The piece published in Fourteen Hills: The San Francisco State University Review, 20.2 is based on this script.

This print text comprises two distinct sections: narrative and notes. The opening ‘narrative’ section undermines the authority of an authorial voice by interrupting the linear narrative flow of its sentences with incoherence, indecision, vagaries, possibilities, and multiplicities by inserting some but not all of the variables contained in the JavaScript variable strings. For example, the first sentence of the ‘narrative’ section:

An owl and a girl most [adventurous’, ‘curious’, ‘studious’] [‘set out’, ‘set sail’, ‘sailed away’] in a [bottle-green’, ‘beetle-green’, ‘pea-green’] [‘boat’, ‘sieve’, ‘skiff’, ‘vessel’]; a [‘beautiful’, ‘ship shape’, ‘sea worthy’] [‘craft’, ‘raft’, ‘wooden shoe’], certainly, though a [‘good deal’, ‘wee bit’, ‘tad’] too [‘small’, ‘high in the stern’] to suit the two of them.

In the ‘notes’ section, fragments from the horizontally scrolling texts have been heterodyned, or forced together, into one long text. On the page, the different lines of Girl’s notes remain differentiated by indentation, which, alas, is not easily representable in blog formatting. You’ll just have to take my word for it. By my word, of course, I mean the girl’s.

For more information on Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl, take a look at Poetry Connection: Link Up with Canadian Poetry, an initiative of Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate Fred Wah (2013) aimed at making experimental writing practices accessible to a wide audience through the distribution of YouTube video recordings of readings and PDFs containing discussion topics, writing ideas, and other pedagogical aids. Here is a video description and performance of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl (YouTube). And here are discussion topics and writing ideas based on Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl (PDF).

## READ WRITE GARDEN ## – an erasure poem un-written in RUBY code comments

Nearly a year ago the American book-artist Karen Randall invited me to contribute to an an international anthology of poems involving computer languages, especially the RUBY language, in honor of the Millay Colony‘s ruby anniversary. The result is The Ill-Tempered Rubyist, pictured below. I can safely say that this is the most physically beautiful book I’ve ever been a part of.

The Ill-Tempered Rubyist
– photo by Karen Randall

The cover collage was created in PhotoShop, then transferred to polymer, and printed by letterpress. The text is printed on Reich inkjet paper using an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 printer. The volume is bound using the Japanese side-slab method. The finished book is housed in a clamshell case covered in red cloth.

– photo by J. R. Carpenter

When Karen first wrote to me I happened to be ensconced on a water-lily farm in the south of France. I had gardens on my mind. The only bit of RUBY code on hand I had on hand was written by Cornwall-based performance writer and programmer Caden Lovelace. Struck by the repeated mention of gardens in Caden’s extensive code comments, I began carving out the following erasure poem. Note that in real life, as in code life, this poem has a fairly strict system of indentation. In blog life, however, these indentations seem determined to disappear.


# erasure by J. R. Carpenter
# source by Caden Lovelace

$dir = File.dirname(__GARDEN__)

def read_texts()
return Dir[$dir+”/texts/*.txt”].map do |garden|

#### we want to split
#### our text into units
#### punctuation marks allow us
#### to treat them as words
#### consider the ellipsis
#### for example
#### spaces
#### on either side of certain

def tokenize_texts(texts)
return texts.map do |text|
text.gsub!(/(\w)([,.:;\/?!]|\.\.\.+)(\W)/i, ‘\1 \2 \3’)
text.split(‘ ‘)

#### words often come
#### after other words
#### we walk through our garden
#### counting pairs

def generate_frequency_table(tokenized_texts, n)
frequency_table = {}
tokenized_texts.each do |text|
text.each_with_index do |word, i|
if i+2 < text.length # is there a word after this one? end end #### we write by deciding #### which path to take #### #### say we have three words #### say we know their probability #### #### [‘walk' => 3, ‘garden’ => 2, ‘words => 4]
#### we sum these numbers
#### we pick a lesser number at random
#### is the probability of ‘walk’
#### greater than random?

last_word = last_words.join(‘ ‘)
if freq.has_key?(last_word)
# have we any paths to take?

#### here we separate
#### the punctuation
#### make it a word
#### put it back

def fix_punctuation(text)
return text.gsub(/ ([,.:;\/?!]|\.\.\.+) /, ‘\1 ‘).gsub(/ ” /, ‘” ‘)

#### here we use all
#### we’ve written there

frequency_table = generate_frequency_table(tokenize_texts(read_texts()), 2)

# here ‘2’ means word-pairs

#### here we set our seeds

seeds = [“I know”, “I was”, “I have”, “but I”, “if we”, “of his”, “that she”, “allow us”, “the text”, “the other”, “the same”, “what is”, “on the”, “of the”, “in the”, “through the”, “we have”, “we know”, “the probability”, “the frequency”, “a word”,­­­­­­ “here we”, “we sum”, “we set”, “our seeds”, “we want”, “we walk”, “we separate”, “we run”, “we read”, “we write”, “our garden”].map {|seed| seed.split(‘ ‘) }

seeds.each do |seed|
10.times do


In addition to being stunningly beautiful, The Ill-Tempered Rubyist contains contributions and collaborations from an impressive list of well-known code poets, performers, and authors of digital literature from around the world:




Along the Briny Beach included in the ELMCIP Anthology of European Electronic Literature

My web-based computer-generated narrative / poem / performance machine, Along the Briny Beach, is included in the ELMCIP Anthology of European Electronic Literature, edited by Maria Engberg, Talan Memmott, and David Prater. The anthology officially launched with the distribution of USB drives at the ELMICP conference Remediating the Social, which took place in Edinburgh, 1-3 November 2012, and is now available online: http://anthology.elmcip.net

ELMCIP Anthology USB

Of Along the Briny Beach, the ELMCIP Anthology editors have this to say:

Using scripts both generative and performative, the work is a continuous rewriting of itself. Though much of the text is appropriated from other sources –Conrad, Carroll, and Charles Darwin – we can still call Carpenter the author of the work due to the intentional selection of appropriated texts and their rearrangement, or reconfiguration as Along the Briny Beach. From the consistency in selected works – all have to do with the sea – to the sea foam green color palette; Carpenter presents text as integration between writing, function, and design.

The ELMCIP Anthology contains works by 18 authors, as well as a selection of videos, essays, syllabi, and other teaching materials pertaining to Electronic Literature. For more information about ELMCIP, visit: http://elmcip.net/

Two new P.o.E.M.M.s by me in Know, a free poetry app produced by Obx Labs in Montreal

They’ve been busy over at Obx Labs in Montreal, and I’ve been slow to report it. Over the summer they updated their Know app (for iPhone/Pad). Know V 2.0 is based on Buzz Aldrin Doesn’t Know Any Better, an interactive touch screen poem by Jason E. Lewis about crazy talking with a street-person outside a pawn shop on a sunny San Francisco afternoon. Know V 2.0 expands on the original by creating a mini publishing platform, hosting texts about the difficulty of knowing, featuring a set of new poems by guest writers including David Jhave Johnston, Loss Pequeño Glazier, Jason Camlot, Jerome Fletcher, and two new poems from me J. R. Carpenter.

Up from the Deep || J. R. Carpenter
Up from the Deep || Know || J. R. Carpenter

Behind the scenes, this update of the Know app involved the creation of PoEMMaker, an interface built by Obx which enables poets to input their texts directly, adjust settings for the size, colour, movement, and speed behaviours of their texts, view the results on their phones, and make as many further adjustments necessary. Download Know for free.

twinned notions || J. R. Carpenter
twinned notions || Know || J. R. Carpenter

The Speak app (for iPhone/iPad) has also been updated. Speak v. 1 was an interactive poem about place, displacements, language and mistaken identity. Speak v. 2 featured commissioned texts on these themes from David Jhave Johnston, Jim Andrews, Aya Karpinska, and one from me called Muddy Mouth. Now, in Speak v. 3, users can enter their own text and interact with it in the Speak way, or they can feed the app with text from a Twitter stream. Download Speak for free

Both Know and Speak are part of Obx‘s Poetry for Excitable [Mobile] Media (P.o.E.M.M.) Cycle. For more information about this and other Obx projects, visit: http://www.poemm.net/ and http://www.obxlabs.net/

Inviting translations of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] on Ooteoote’s Vertaallab/Translationlab

The lovely Rozalie Hirs has posted one iteration of my recent web-based narrative dialogue generator TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] to Ooteoote‘s Vertaallab/Translationlab. The text is posted in English. Translations in any language are welcome, including code languages. The brilliant MEZ BREEZE has offered this Mezangelle take:

‎_TRANS.MISSION [A(hhh).DIA(multimodal)LOGUE]_

be[en there, done that, a]g[a]in[:out(re)] Transmission.
with a[hhhh] quest[].
wot_merges 4rm?
have ARGs + Augments been[+/or]gone, yet?
y Kant [u.c]?
low nrg_lvling.
Eleg[ant]raphic.[s|w]Itches, here. .[knot…..*here*].



Why, you might be wondering, would one propose the translation of but one of an infinite number of possible texts created by a computer program? The program itself is a translation. TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] was written in Python and then translated to JavaScript in 2011. TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a transmutation of The Two, a narrative text generator written in Python and then translated to JavaScript by Nick Montfort in 2008.

Every text we read on the web is always read in translation. The web-browser translates source code into the text we see on the screen. In the case of the computer-generated iteration of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE], the web-browser translates the JavaScript source code into another script of sorts, to be performed in three voices: Strophe, Antistrophe, and Chorus. This script was first translated to live voice at Poldu Theater, Amsterdam 10 December 2011.

Whether read by the eye in a fixed or a generative digital instantiation, or experienced by the ear as live voice, TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a text about the translation from one place to another. Through generations of transatlantic migration, characteristics of one place become transposed upon another. “… sea shores reminiscent of those of England.” In the translation of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] form English to Dutch, would the word England be translated to Holland? That is entirely up to you, dear translator.

View the text and post translations of/to it here: Vertaallab 17 J.R. Carpenter – TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]

Along the Briny Beach

My most recent piece of digital poetry, Along the Briny Beach, generates a coastline. The source code loads the following variables: Land Sea Write Erase Walk Liminal Space. The variable _Read_ is assumed to be client-side. The function _Writing and Erasing_ returns: Edges Ledges and Legible Lines caught in the Double-Bind of Writing and Erasing. Onload: Write Coast.

Along the Briny Beach appears in the new garden-theme issue of Boulder Pavement, an elegant multi-media journal published by The Banff Centre Press three times a year.

Along the briny beach a garden grows. With silver bells and cockleshells, cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh. A coral orchard puts forth raucous pink blossoms. A bouquet of sea anemones tosses in the shallows. A crop of cliffs hedges a sand-sown lawn mown twice daily by long green-thumbed waves rowing in rolling rows. The shifting terrain where land and water meet is always neither land nor water and is always both. The sea garden’s paths are fraught with comings and goings. Sea birds in ones and twos. Scissor-beak, Kingfisher, Parrot, and Scissor-tail. Changes in the Zoology. Causes of Extinction. From the ship the sea garden seems to glisten and drip with steam. Along a blue sea whose glitter is blurred by a creeping mist, the Walrus and the Carpenter are walking close at hand. A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk along the briny storied waiting in-between space. Wind blooms in the marram dunes. The tide far out, the ocean shrunken. On the bluff a shingled beach house sprouts, the colour of artichoke. On the horizon lines of tankers hang, like Chinese lanterns. Ocean currents collect crazy lawn ornaments. Shoes and shipwrecks, cabbages and kings. Water bottle caps and thick white snarls of string. At dawn an ancient tractor crawls along the briny beach, harvesting the tide’s leaves. The world’s plastic, the sea’s weeds.

Along the Briny Beach was performed in collaboration with Jerome Fletcher at E-Poetry [ 2011 ] : International Digital Language | Media | Arts Festival at SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, May 19, 2011.

The source code for the poetry generating component of Along the Briny Beach is based on Taroko Gorge, by Nick Montfort, other remixes of which appear in my recent book GENERATION[S].

Along the Briny Beach || Boulder Pavement 4

Muddy Mouth, a new P.o.E.M.M. published in Speak, a sweet iPhone/iPad app

Muddy Mouth is a poem that plays with toponomy, homonymy, river sedimentology and various other ologys pertaining to the ways migration between English-speaking places named after other English-speaking places completely messes with one’s ability to speak English. Muddy Mouth is also a P.o.E.M.M. Poems for Excitable [Mobile] Media is a series of poems exploring new writing and reading paradigms, written and designed to be read on mobile devices using touch interaction, created by Jason E. Lewis and Bruno Nadeau at Obx Labs in Montreal. The first P.o.E.M.M. app – available on iTunes since the spring – is called Speak. Speak is a series of poems about place, voice and the nature of poetry itself. Using the constraints laid down by the original Speak poem app, Lewis invited a number of poets to write new poems that responded thematically and formally to those constraints. Muddy Mouth is one of those poems.

How many Englishes don't I speak?

In the coming months Obx Lab plans to create a series of five P.o.E.M.M. apps, each exploring different interaction methods, collaboration strategies, and publication methods. The P.o.E.M.M.s are also part of a series of exhibition-scale interactive touch-works integrated with large-scale printed texts. To find out more about the P.o.E.M.M. project, visit www.poemm.net.

Download the Speak app from iTunes.