see also Poem Profiler
and "wreading" experiments
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
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
Kageyam's translation of Pound's "The Return" into pidgin
(Hawaiian Creole English). Use the dialect
translate a text into one of several "dialects," then
use the results to make a poem.
- 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
Hollow" suite. — Rewrite
§ bpNichol, Translating
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.
- 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).
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!
- 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
Translation.com 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.
- 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.
- Misheard: Write a poem composed entirely of
misheard song lyrics, clichés, overheard conversations,
news headlines, menu items, etc. See Kenneth Goldsmith, "Head
- 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.
- 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: random.org (see below for more machines).
- 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
God's Rude Wireless. Perumtations 1: 2 & 3
Starr's travesty engine.
- 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..
Write a collage made up of full-lines of selected source poems. (Or see Kate Fagin's short form centos.)
- 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.
- 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.
(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
N+7 web engine, Hacking the Academy
- 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
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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
- 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;
. 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.")
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."
- 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.")
experiment intentionally left blank.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 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
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.
- 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.")
- 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,
- 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.
- Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard
conversation. (See Kenneth Goldsmith's Soliloquy.)
- 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.
- 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
- Write a poem without mentioning any objects.
- Write a poem focussing on a single object of "thing." See Ponge
on an orange.
- 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.
- Write an autobiographical poem without using
- Attention: Write down everything you hear for
- 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
Write the worst possible poem you can imagine.
- 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.
- 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.
- [Removed for further study]
- 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.
- 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, ...).
- Chronology: Make up a list of dates with associated
events, real or imagined.
- Transcription: Tape a phone or live conversation
between yourself and a friend. Make a poem composed entirely
of transcribed parts.
- 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").
- 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.
- Write a series of ten poems going from one to
ten words in each poem. Reorder.
- Write a poem composed entirely of questions.
- Write a poem made up entirely of directions.
- Write a poem consisting only of opening lines
(improvise your own lines, then use source texts).
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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,)
a series of stanzas or poems while listening to music; change
type of music for each stanza or poem.
- Elimination: Cut out the second half of sentences.
- Excuses list: Write a poem made up entirely
of excuses. (Or: apologies.)
- Sprung Diary: Write a diary tracking and intercutting
multiple levels of thoughts, experiences, anticipations, expectations,
from minute to major. (Cf.. Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant
- "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
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.
- 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.
- [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.]
- 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.”
- FLARF: Michael
Magree explains, in this Experiments List exclusive report, "The
- See also: The
Apostrophe Engine, the source for Apostrophe:
The Book by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry.
- Data mining: an extenstion of the pervious two: make a poem
based on variious web searches or other forms of data mining.
- Use the Googlism engine
to create a poem based on a name or word.
poem: write a poem using several languages that are integrated
into the single poem. (Cf: Anne Tardos).
- Pick several images from the internet or a magazine and make an arrangement with them; then write an accompanying poem for each.
- 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.
- Digital poems. See sample at Digital
Poetry. Use http://www.spreeder.com/ to
construct a kinetic version of a poem.
- Lineups. From Charles North's invented form based on baseball
lineups, e.g.,Wittgenstein lf,
- 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.
- 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.
- 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..
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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Modular poems.
One example: Queneau's One
Hundred Thousand Billion Poems
- 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
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.
- Use the "Meaning
Eater" engine to deform the text of a poem.
- Use a sound editor to scramble, resound a sound
file of a poem. (See PennSound
Deformance page, under constuction.)
- Make a poem composed of all the things you don't
know (or some of them)
- Make up more experiments.
Poems can be in prose format! Rewrite
and recombine, collage, splice together the material generated
from these experiments into one long ongoing poem!
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