Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Creative text mining

Is that piece of paper still white? Or worse have you a clump of poems or lines that remains resolutely clumpy? My first inclination is to take a walk and let my unconscious do the sorting. But there is another technique: text mining.

  1. Gather your texts first off and put them all into one giant file.This may be a bit scarey particularly if you have worked hard on them but don't worry, keep your original files in case this all goes pear-shaped.
  2. Now use normal word processor techniques to subvert your content:
  3. Use outline view and make a poem of your titles, switch them or use headings to bring lines together in surprising ways;
  4. Make a list of your bugbear words, mine are things like still, just, quiet and transparent and they crop up in many a poem; so set up a search and replace and see what results you get;
  5. Set up some random coloured text styles; define your poems in this way and then group the text based on colour. Who saw that coming?

These are workshop exercises so keep an open mind; they may not make poems but you may notice some themes or openings in your work that you didn't before.


Painting of Fleming


But this is where things can go hardcore with some text mining techniques: these are actually the kind of methods used to analyse masses of text for example at spy listening posts to pick up if we citizens are talking about naughty or illegal stuff, by search engines to increase the stickiness of links or management consultants pick out the gist of a massive database.



  1. So this time get your big file at the ready and pick out some mood words, love, hate, cherish or some colours and see how often you use them using Find.
    There are more technical ways of doing this by setting up a database (sentiment analysis) but we are not doing that now. I discovered that I hardly used colours at all in my poetry a few years ago and this resulted in a profound change in my writing.
  2. If possible search on terms that you think define your writing or better still you fear might be omitted. How many poets particularly women poets are writing about their work for example? Is that off limits? Or can't we admit that we do something other than write and quite often enjoy it?
  3. Now it is the slash and burn; this is a big ask but go for  it. Text mining uses extraction techniques to glean key points, themes and clusters from text. It is possible to do this by popping your work into XML form for example to enable semnantic weight and indexing. But us lazy poet geeks want instant satisfactions so here goes.
  4. Cut every fifth line! Yes, just go for it. Or third. Or the sixth and seventh every time. Wow! I know. Butchery of your beautiful hard-earned work but this gives you a sense of freedom. It is the old cut up approach of the Dadaists but performed on your own work. What is the result? Odd conjunctions of thought, a better understanding of your vocubulary and its tropes, new insights or glimpses of what could be. (And if the thought scares you, remember to ensure your old files of those poems still exist separately before you make the big working file for these techniques.)
  5. One final idea from here, although to be honest, there is plenty more you could do. I like this one a lot though. Strip out all your punctuation using Search and Replace; if you are really hard core make everything lower case using the Font function too.
    At this stage, I might convert all my text into ballad form and sing it. Whatever. The result will be a different way of looking at your work. The form you choose to redefine it is infinite. A sonnet. A haiku. A ghazal. Tweet poetry.
  6. Enjoy!



Here is a link to a dryish definition of text mining from wikipedia and there are some software links if you have money to spend on this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_mining.

If you want to experience free form without the hassle of the big file approach, go and get your old newspapers like William Burroughs and all, snip them up and reassemble.

This is fun too if you only want to play: http://www.nightgarden.com/shannon.htm.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Rosalía de Castro tweet poetry

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Not new leaves a spray Of gorse and brambles
»
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Non follas novas ramallo De toxos e silvas sós


Rosalía de Castro, poet of the liminal, who wrote that women can only write in honey […pero mel sempre e nada máis que mel.] if they are to be accepted. A contemporary of Emily Dickinson, but without her classy background, Rosalía was the illegitimate daughter of a Galician priest, but she redefined Galego as a language of poetry, the intellect and protest.





To hear her poems sung in Galego, try Rosalia De Castro by Amancio Prada and Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov recently set Lúa descolorida in the original Galego to a haunting accompaniment alongside a poem by Emily Dickinson in the same song sequence. Shearsman publish Selected poems by Michael Smith (2007) but more of Follas Novas (New leaves) can be found in Aldaz, Gantt and Bromley's translation (SUNY 1991).

Without a nest

Through hills and fields
trackways and on the coast
they glimpse a white dove
alone in twisted branches.

Following his poor cries
earthbound and tired
with no food,
they offer only kisses.

His feathers stained
which once were white
so very low
on shot-down wings.

Oh poor dove, once
so dear and so white.
Where did your spirit err?
And your love? Where has it gone?

Rosalía de Castro 1837 – 1885 (translated by Bridget Khursheed first published in The Journal No.23)


Friday, 25 March 2011

What's on poetandgeek.com so far?

Our unique blog is two months old. Thanks for following and here are just a few of our index labels over the past couple of months (in case you missed anything). Being a geek means a good index warms the heart...


In the meantime, stay with us and enjoy the journey... We'll keep the index for you from now on down on the side bar.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Are you a poet and geek?

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Email a bio, photo of yourself or indicative image, and a sample of your work to

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Monday, 21 March 2011

Sound art/poetry: zebra finches

Sound art is hard to pin down. But that is part of the point. It challenges ideas of the the arts as separate classical entities.

The French sound artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot explores the contours of artistic control through sound and random generation. For example in his work Index, he has designed a computer program to convert what is typed on office computers into a musical score. This is then played live by an acoustic piano in the same space.  The program uses repetitions and nuances of the office work typing and creates notes, dynamics and other musical terms turning bureaucracy into music. The harder the humans work, the more music but the decisions are left to the computer.

And in the beautiful example below, the musicians are birds.


Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's zebra finches jamming at the Barbican Centre, London

Borges tweet poetry

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Seguro de mi vida y de mi muerte miro los ambiciosos y quisiera entenderlos Su día es ávido como el lazo en el aire



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Sure of my life and death I observe the ambitious and would like to understand them Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air



Boast of quietness from The moon across the street by Jorge Luis Borges (Jactancia de quietud, Luna de Enfrente 1925)

Jorge Luis Borges Hotel.jpg

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Burdock and velcro

Walking is the perfect aid to creativity.

For example, George de Mestral was walking in the Swiss mountains with his dogs. This was in the 1940s. Maybe the mountains helped a bit. He noticed the burrs from the burdock had got stuck in his dog's coat and were effectively taking a ride to help disperse themselves.

This thought stuck in his mind too and when he got home, he stuck the burrs under the microscope and realised they used hooks to hang in loops of matted animal hair.

Mestral was an inventor and eventually recreated these hooks and loops in plastic form to create velcro. Later to be used in David Letterman's famous velcro suit and garment fastening.

I recommend a walk in the woods.




For more useful vegetal stories, check out Richard Mabey's Weeds

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Birling Wood


What with all the shenanigans with the woods and Forestry Commission sell off, my audio tree project has had to take a back seat for a bit. Good news is that the government forest give away sale has been called off (for the moment).

My project has evolved a bit in its scope: I am calling it Birling Wood. I have still yet to evolve a mic set up that doesn't require quite a bit of attendance. Also not sure if I can leave the equipment in the wood where I am working safely. It is quiet place apart from the section we are in the middle of felling. And my kit is not technically impressive stuff but that doesn't mean no one will be taking it.

However the act of checking has its own rewards, I almost ran into a fox the other day. A female it scarpered as soon as it saw me. We had been hidden from each other by a bend in the path. I had been looking at the start of the wild garlic cover. It already smells pungent. Then the cheerful face appeared. The same thing can happen with stoats. I once encountered a family of weasels crossing (probably their regular crossing, it is on my list to go and check this out by observation). Some big dogs had passed with their owner the other way and so my passage went unnoticed. Weasels are like a mini feather boa on a string; they move fast even on their own time. I had time to sense the younger ones playing.

So I need a mindset not dissimilar to Clym Yeobright to sit quietly and listen along with the mic, and I look forward to having it and to composing the words that will go along with the recorded sound. At the moment, I feel my lack of clothing, well the right clothing. It is hard to get things dry where I am living. My jacket has acquired that smell that rainproof material gets when it never drys out. But then you look at the leaf shards of green ramson and smell that oniony smell, the warm earth. It is not warm but something is moving in it.

It is all to look forward to.



Sunday, 13 March 2011

Ruskin tweet poetry

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the poppy is painted glass wherever it is seen against the light or with the light always it is a flame and warms the wind like a blown ruby







From John Ruskin's Proserpina: Studies of Wayside Flowers while the Air was Yet Pure among the Alps and in the Scotland and England Which My Father Knew. (1886)