Charles Bernstein
English 111
Experimental Writing Seminar
(How to Do Things with Words
Spring 2006
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

While not 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 listserv.

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.

Grading Criteria
Thirteen weekly writing assignment: 25%
Thirteen weekly responses/reports on assigned readings and questions: 25%
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 the class.

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 Book Center
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 1
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

Wednesday, 9/17 at Kelly Writers House
6:30 PM: A Night of New Translations -- featuring poet-translators Eugene Ostashevsky, Lisa Lubasch, and Craig Dworkin, hosted by Caroline Crumpacker. See KWH Calendar for details.

3.(Sept. 23): Chance Operations and Substutions
Reading: Jackson 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 "Pledge" 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 Scalapino reading

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 Flarf Files."
§ 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

Sat., Oct. 19 -- Huge and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED group reading at the ICA, starting at 8pm. Go to link for details.

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 more information.

Thursday, 10/23
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 of Contraints
Reading: Christian 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) I
Send to the listserv your suggestions for favorites.
Poetry Plastique
UBU: visual poems: early visual poems; Mallarme, Apollinaire, Gombringer; Williams; Severini; nichol; lettristes, Guston collaborations; Harolodo de Campos, Augusto de Campos
Mac Low 2: p. 234 to end.
Furhter Reading:
Concrete Poetry Web Index
Johanna Drucker; a 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 calendar.

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 nova, Katalogos, and Nowhere to Go. Plus: Loney on craft, excerpt from The Falling: A Memoir and some images of Mondrian's Flowers, Loney's collaboration with visual artist Max Gimblett. Background/furhter links: Bibliography
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 the recording.
§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.

Monday, Nov. 24pm at KWH
John Kinsella reading. See calendar.

11. (Nov. 25)VVV II: from Sound poetry to Digitial Poetry
UBU: primer on sound poetry, Schwitters
Mac Low 3: 44-70, 136-86, 221-234; and Mac Low LINEbreak interview
Further reading:
Bergvall's Ambient Fish

Brian Kim Stefans, The Dreamlife of Poetry; see also Stefans’s digital picks and his visual poem Alpha Betty's Chonicle.
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 “Amniotic Meaner”
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 to Perplexia
InFlect: A Journal of Multimedia Writing
Digital Poetry pages at EPC

Further reading/research in this area, go to the syllabus for Textual Conditions.
§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, Platin  and Uneven Devlelpment  and David Melnick's 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: Reading/recording
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.


Class Listserve:
info/sub page
list archive
posts to

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.
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