Study Series: “Memory Slam”

Memory Slam is a collection of programs made between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. Each of these works is generative, and no user interaction is required. Generative works usually run with (depending on the programming language) lists, dictionaries, or collections of words. The writer/creator sets the functions and parameters so that the program selects from these prepared banks and forms the established syntax, this can also be considered constraint based poetry. The way the code is written is particularly useful for anyone who wants to re-use the format, editing the style and subject of the poem is just a matter of creating new lists. It’s important to establish that the works in Memory Slam are reimplementations, this works as a preservation effort and a study of early electronic literature. However, the output of the recreation might not be the exact same as the original output.

In Christopher Strachey’s “Love Letters” the generated text has a letter style, which is formed from functions that randomly select words from dictionaries. The sentence format looks something like this: “You are my [adjective] [noun] . Yours [adverb] , MUC.” These early attempts at generative poems are a study of the capabilities of artificial intelligence and the logical components of language. Although these sentences are constructed randomly, the readers abstract meaning and coherence. And it is not all as random as it seems, these works have set parameters that allow for multiple outcomes that haven’t exactly been prepared but the construction of syntax is premeditated. One of my favorites is Alison Knowles and James Tenney’s “A House of Dust” the format it follows is: “A House of [material], [in a location], using [a light source], inhabited by [inhabitants]” Each dictionary relates to the line in which it belongs, randomly assigning a word to output. Meaning behind the text doesn’t necessarily depend on a single output, but the general sense that the small selection of words provides. As an example, “A House of Dust” to me is making a point about diverse communities, and different lifestyles and cultures.

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