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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

The Poets' Dream Database

Rachael Katz (University at Buffalo)

Panel: Cinema and Database Edges
Friday, August 7 • 11:00 - 12:30 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium B)

In December of 2013, I mailed blank journals to thirty poets and asked them to record their dreams for two months and return the journals to me. I asked that they record the dreams themselves rather than their interpretations, relying on language, voice, and syntactical rhythm to emerge as distinctive markers. From the dream journals I compiled the dreams into a spreadsheet database, setting the linear retelling of the dream along the horizontal axis (rows) in chronological order, color-coded by poet. Ciphering the dreams into single cells was the true editorial work of the matrix. Even as poets were creating their own patterns, I was reorganizing dialogue, bisecting idioms, segmenting narrative apparitions. Phrases and snippets of these dreams were now decontextualized into raw form, phrases and words shaken out of their former constellations to become single pure poetic units. After the dream journals had been reorganized into the matrix, they could be used to generate new poetic material.

The purpose of soliciting dreams for this project was in the cognitive dissonance of the language and motif of the dream experience. To record a dream as faithfully as possible is already a blended act: remembering and inventing. The hyperreal poetics of dreaming both undermine and reify the narrative construct of the telling. The filtering of dreams through a collaborative matrix is a social act. Poets have an opportunity to take a solitary – the most profoundly solitary – act and become part of a collective generative functional form. The dreams belong to the poets. The database belongs to the making of poems, to all of us. As soon as the database is finished, it generates poems based on the application of a rule, any rule. For example, to create a title that generates a poem based on the order of its letters (the first S, for example, refers to the numbered row, column S position). By making poems in this way, poets wake into a unified dream. This generative model based on a simple matrix is significant to Poetics as a networked social application of poetic units. If poetry can be said to be made up of poetic units, then those units can make up a larger poetic compilation that is a shared source poem from which other poems can be made. The investment in the project database is therefore in its work as a flexible form that is at once collaborative and generative.

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