Solid State Poetry is an enquiry into perception, intelligibility, and meaning-making in an age of machine communication. This series, which originated in the summer of 2014, is premised on the algorithmic generation and encoding of poetry into kaleidoscopic patterns. These patterns articulate the verbal structures of the poems themselves, the processes through which they were generated, and, at the highest level, the means through which information is captured and conveyed within digital systems.
It is this latter aspect that concerns this series especially. Poetry, as one of the most sophisticated modes of writing available to human actors, radiant with potential readings, appears incommensurable with schemas designed to compress and encode electrical signals for transmission across noisy channels. Both articulate very different imperatives, with one seeking to reduce the potential for novelty, for error, whereas the other is seeking to generate new modalities of thought and expression. Nevertheless, both also represent a specific means of reworking the normative vectors of written language, albeit for very different audiences, human and machinic. Therefore, while the operations of electronic signal processing manifest far below the thresholds of the human sensorium (hinted only transiently in the form of glitches and errors), it might be speculated how it could be recast as a specifically nonhuman mode of poetic performance—one that can inspire a rethinking about what digital systems represent as expressive agents.
The encoding process itself involves generating a new poem algorithmically using simple cut-up techniques on a source vocabulary, before analysing its verbal structures (such as meter, line, and word count), and then parsing these into a series of modulations upon a matrix of Truchet tiles. The resulting multiplicity of visual forms, as generated by the repeated transformation of standard primitives, belies the essential regularity of the patterns that emerge—echoing the fixity of the rulesets used to generate the source poem.
An evident result of the encoding process is that its linguistic components are rendered entirely inaccessible to an external observer. This aspect captures the equivalating nature of computer mediated communication, in which messages are defined primarily through their string length, statistical sequencing, and error-correcting checksums. Going further, it signifies how, across the communicative spaces defined by digital infrastructure, the vast majority of signals are designed to be received and interpreted by machines only.
It is with reference to these points that the asemic ‘silence’ of Solid State Poetry is working to denature the relations between message and receiver, as defined by traditional, humanistic conceptions of aesthetic engagement. In so doing, this series is seeking to hint at a distinctly machinic mode of reading the spaces and durations of the contemporary electronic environment.
The poems themselves are never revealed to an onlooking audience, who are left free to consider the potentiality of the visual rhythms they discern with the verbal forms they echo.
In August 2019, an example from this series was published in issue 7 of para·text. See http://www.paratext.co.uk for more details.
In October 2018, a short article on this series was published with The Writing Platform, entitled “Writing, Weaving, and Performativity: Some Notes on Solid State Poetry”. Available here.