Experimental Writing Seminar
(How to Do Things with Words)
M./W 3:30-5pm, CPCW, Studio 111
This is a nontraditional "poetry immersion" workshop. The workshop will be useful for those wanting to explore new possibilities for writing and art, whether or not they have a commitment to writing poetry. The workshop will be structured around a series of writing experiments, intensive readings, art gallery visits, and the production of individual chapbooks or web sites for each participant, and performance of participants' works. There will also be some visits from visiting poets. The emphasis in the workshop will be on new and innovative approaches to composition and form, including digital, sound, and performance, rather than on works emphasizing narrative or story telling. Each week, participants will discuss the writing they have done as well as the assigned reading. Permission of the instructor is required. Send a brief email stating why you wish to attend the workshop (writing samples not required) to charles.bernstein at english.upenn.edu.
required, the poetry
readings and related activities at the
Kelly Writers House, which is part of the new Center
for Programs in Contemporary Writiting, are recommended.. These readings,
and others in the area, form an natural extension of the class. Readings
specifically related to English 111 are included in the syllbabus. Announcements
and discussions of these events will take place in class and on the class
The emphasis in the lab will be on new and innovative approaches to composition
and form rather than on works emphasizing narrative or story telling.
Each week, you should post
your writing to the class listserv. All registered students should be
enrolled in the list; if you are not getting posts, please let me know.
In addition, please give me hard copies of your writing each week. As
a general rule, discussion of the week's reading, and related topics,
will begin each seminar, followed by presentations. Though the final detemination
of time and pace will be based on the particular seminar experience, we
will likely alternate weeks in which you present your work.
Note that the last two items
in Week 4 are projects that should be started immediately.
Thirteen weekly writing assignment: 25%
Thirteen weekly responses/reports on assigned readings and questions:
Class participation: 25%
Final presentation/manuscript: 25%
Grading is weighted toward internal response of the student in response
to reading, assigned exercises, class discussion, and feedback on work;
so that the student is evaluated in terms of her or his own progress within
the course, adjusting for the experience, skill, and talent on entering
Poetry on the Web
Check out the Electronic Poetry Center
Reading and listening assignments from the web are listed in the syllabus.
Ubuweb is another important source
we will use.
Below: 2003 syllabis. New syllabus will be available Jan. 2006
Required Books at Penn
Peter Baker, ed. Onward
Christian Bok, Eunoia
Jackson Mac Low, Representative Works: 1938-1985
Raymond Queneau, Exercises in Style
additional reading listed below
1. (Sept. 9): Introduction
2. (Sept. 16): Translation
Reading: Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
In 1947, Raymond Queneau, a founding member of OuLoPo (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.
§ 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 different types of homolinguistic transation of a single source
poem. (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). Chaining: try this
with a group, sending the poem on for "translation" from person
to another until you get back to the first author. A variant: translate
a poems or other work into a different dialect, your own or other, as,
for example, Steve McCaffery's translation of the Communist Manifesto
in West Riding of Yorkshire dialect (at
the EPC in in real audio).
§ 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). (Cf.: Louis
and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus.) (Two examples of mine: from
Basque and from
Portugese.) (Rewrite to suit?)
§. 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?)
§ Try a variant of these three translation exercises using the "Lost
in Translation" "Babel" engine, or other web-based
translations engines, such as Babelfish
and Free Translation.com.
|Wednesday, 9/17 at Kelly
6:30 PM: A Night of New Translations -- featuring poet-translators
Eugene Ostashevsky, Lisa Lubasch, and Craig Dworkin, hosted by Caroline
KWH Calendar for details.
3.(Sept. 23): Chance Operations
Mac Low 1: "5 Bilblical Poems", "Selected poems from
Stanzas for Iris Lezak", "from Asymetries" (read
note, pp. 106-116 and some of the poems that follow.)
§ Acrostic chance: Pick a book at random 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.)
§ 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 cut-up engine
to perform a similar task automatically.
§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. (Cf.: Lee Ann Brown's
or Clark Coolidge and Larry Fagin, On the Pumice of Morons.)
§ 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.
4. (Sept. 30) Without Rules,
(K)not!, or Is Free Writing Free?
Onward 1: Mayer, Hejinian, DuPlessis, Creeley (for
further information, see EPC home pages for each poet); Mac
Low, "HUNGER STrikE" (pp. 3-8)
§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.
§ 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.
Immediately after today's
class (9/39) at, 4:30 PM at KWH: The Poet & Painter Series presents
Lytle Shaw and Emilie Clark, in collaboration with the School of
Design and the Creative Writing Program. More info at KWH calendar.
Thurs., Oct. 2, 8pm Leslie Scalapino at Temple Gallery (45 N. 2nd
St.) at 8:00 pm: Leslie
5. (Oct. 7) Flarf / Using
Source Materia l/ Found Poems / Approprition
Reading: Combo 12, new issue of Combo,
edited my Michael Magee, will be distributed in class.
K. Silem Mohammad, Deer
Head Nation. In Deer Head Nation, Mohammad uses
the Google search page result as his basic text, editng from there. (Information
on obtaining this text will be provided on the list.)
§ FLARF: A recent extension of this approach, which is developing
independent, is called "flarf." Michael Magree explains, in
this Experiments List exclusive report, "The
§ Google Poem:
construct a poem using Leevi Lehto's engine (use the patterns
feature). See also Bill
Luomo's Lizardo engine. Alternate § § 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.
§Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard conversation.
§ 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.
§ Cento: Write a
collage made up of full‑lines of selected source poems.
§ "Pits": Write the worst possible poem you can imagine
6. (Oct. 21) Peter Middleton
visit: Poetry and Peformance
Reading: URL will be provided for a selection of poems by Middleton and
also a recent essay.
The first half of the class will be focussed on performance: prepare three
different ways of reading a work of your own (poetry or prose), up to
three minutes. Feel free to use the various recording media avaiable to
make this presentation (that is, you could present an audio or video file).
Rehearse. Try to tape your various performances and play back for yourself.
At 3pm, Peter Middleton will give a talk on poetry reading, followed immediately
by a reading of his poems. The reading and talk will be followed by discussion.
Immediately after today's
class there a program of poets from Tender Buttons Press, tentatively
scheduled at KWH. This includes Lee Ann Brown. Check calendar fro
6:30pm at KWH: A reading by George Stanley, introduced by Ron Silliman,
with conversation and reception to follow.
8:00pm at Temple Gallery (45 N. 2nd St.): Rosmarie Waldrop
7. (Oct. 28) The High Art
Bök, Eunoia; sound files of Bök reading Eunoia.
Further reading: Marjore
Perloff on Bök and Caroline
Bergvall: essay is on e-reserve
for you. Harry Mathews in Onward.
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
nover La Disparition , which suppresses the letter "e". Write a
poem in the manner of Eunoia..
§Write a poem consisting only of prepositions, then of prepositions
and one other part of speech.
§ Write a series of eight‑word lines consisting of one each
of each part of speech.
§ Write a poem consisting of one‑word lines; write a poem consisting
of two‑word lines; write a poem consisting of three‑word lines.
§ 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.
§ 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. (Cf. Ron Silliman's Ketjak)
8. (Nov. 4) Attentions
Onward 2: Waldrop, Coolidge, Palmer, Ashbery ( (for
further information, see EPC home pages for each poet)
§Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.
§Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour.
§Brainard's Memory: Write a poem all of whose lines start "I
remember ..." (Cf.: Joe Brainard's I Remember.)
§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.
9. (Nov. 11) VerbalVisualVocal(VVV)
Send to the listserv your suggestions for favorites.
UBU: visual poems: early
visual poems; Mallarme,
de Campos, Augusto
Mac Low 2: p. 234 to end.
brief history of artists books.
§ Pick several images from the internet or a magazine and write an
accompanying 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. (See UBUWEB for many examples,)
|Weds., Nov. 12, 4:30pm,
KWH: The Poet & Painter Series presents Kenward Elmslie, in collaboration
with the School of Design and the Creative Writing Program. See
10. (Nov. 18) Alan
Loney visit: NOTE -- We will meet at Kelly Writers House for this
session, in the Arts Cafe.
Reading: Alan Loney's new book Fragmenta
and Nowhere to
Go. Plus: Loney
on craft, excerpt from The
Falling: A Memoir and some images of Mondrian's
Loney's collaboration with visual artist Max Gimblett. Background/furhter
At 1:30, Loney will read his work. This will be followed by a discussion,
with Loney answering questions from the class, that will be recorded and
ultimately put on the PennSound web archive. Over the listserv, post two
or three questions you would like to ask Loney; we will select one from
each of you for the q & a and so some other planning/rehearsal for
§Go to the Gillian Wearing show
at the ICA and write a poem in response to the art. For the last hour
of the class, starting around 3, we will walk over to the ICA for you
to read your poems in context.
11. (Nov. 25)VVV II: from
Sound poetry to Digitial Poetry
on sound poetry, Schwitters
Mac Low 3: 44-70, 136-86, 221-234; and Mac
Low LINEbreak interview
Bergvall's Ambient Fish
Kim Stefans, The Dreamlife
of Poetry; see also Stefans’s digital picks and his visual poem
John Cayley, "Indra's Net"
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, & his home page
Jim Rosenberg's “Diagram Series” see
also home page
Jim Andrews’s “Nio”
Jennifer Ley, see for example
Leevi Lehto, "When
a Car Gets Into an Accident"
Tammy McGovern’s “Order 2001” (wait
to load, click on screen, requires SHOCK)
Kenneth Goldsmith, “Fidget”
Talan Memmott, Lexia
InFlect: A Journal
of Multimedia Writing
Digital Poetry pages at EPC
in this area, go to the syllabus for Textual
§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" (at UBU "historical").
P. Inman's, Ocker,
Pcoet. (via Eclipse). Use Neil Hennessy's JABBER:
The Jabberwocky Engine to generate lexicon. Also see The
International Dictionary of Neologisms.
§Write a "sound" poem
§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.
12. (Dec. 2) Last Class:
Onward 3: Retallack, Brossard, Perelman, Watten (for
further information, see EPC home pages for each poet)
Chapbooks: Make enough
copies of your chapbooks for everyone in the class. A web site or set
of poems on the web is a good alternative to a paper booklet.
Further Reading: M/E/A/N/I/N/G
collaboration issue at Artkrush
Collaborate with someone else in the class or another writer or artist.
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.
§ Group sonnet: 14 people each write one ten-word line (or alternate
measure) on an index card. Order to suit.
posts to firstname.lastname@example.org
As much as possible, all work for the class should be posted on our web listserve. If at all possible, I would like to avoid paper submissions. This also means that you will be able to read your fellow student's submission on line, and respond to them.
The first thing to do it to subscribe to the list. With your email and password, you will have access to the list web archive. When subscribing, you can also choose the "digest function" — you will then get all the posts together once each day. You can also set other subscription options. To get to the options page, after you have subscribed, go to the information page and type your email into the last fill-in box at the bottom of the page ("Unsubscribe or edit options"). You can select "disable" mail delivery (first option) if you prefer to read the list on the web interface only (and avoid getting any emails from the class list). You can also get to the options page by using the link provided in the "welcome" message when you subscribed.
Posts can be sent in any format and you can send attachments and links. For the benefit of those using the archive, use word-wrap. Note also: the archive will only display plain text and will convert any images into attachments.