poetry in motion

I’m not sure why we didn’t note QuickMuse last year when it debuted. No matter: the concept isn’t dated and the passing year has allowed it to accrue an archive worth visiting. On the backend, QuickMuse is a project built on software by Fletcher Moore that tracks what a writer does over time; when played back, the visitor with a Javascript-enabled browser sees how the composition was written over time, sped up if desired. On the front, editor Ken Gordon has invited a number of poets to compose a poem in fifteen minutes, based, usually, on some found text. The poetry thus created isn’t necessarily the best, but that’s immaterial: it’s interesting to see how people write. (If you’d like to try this yourself, you can use Dlog.)
Composition speeds vary. Rick Moody starts writing early, making mistakes and minor corrections, but ceaselessly moving forward at a formidable clip until his fifteen minutes are up; you get the impression he could happily keep writing at the same pace for hours. The sentence “Every year South American disappears” hangs alone in Mary Jo Salter’s composition for thirty seconds; you imagine the poet turning the phrase over in her mind to find the next sentence. Lines are added, slowly, always with time passing.
What this underscores in my mind is how writing is a weirdly private act. In a sense, the reader of QuickMuse is very close to the writer, watching the poem as it unfolds; the letters appear at the exact speed at which the writer’s fingers type them in. There’s a sense of intimacy that comes with the shared time. But the thought behind the action of typing is conspicuously absent. Is the pause a pregnant moment of decision? or simply the writer not paying attention? It’s impossible to say.

4 thoughts on “poetry in motion

  1. Mark Thwaite

    Nice! Great to see the back and forth of the writer’s mind.
    Of course, you are only comparing like for like over a very small time period and writing is, very much, a long haul process. I’d love to see this over a 15 year marathon!

  2. dan visel

    I think QuickMuse works as well as it does because it’s relatively constrained: it’s just 15 minutes. The disparity between writing time and reading time is really interesting: it’s almost impossible to pay attention when it unfolds in real time, and even when going at 4x speed it can seem agonizingly slow: you keep wanting something to happen.
    I would be interested to see this happening over a 15-year period, but then the problem of how to make what you’re watching meaningful (besides inexorably getting longer!) seems to be almost impossibly bigger, to the point where constructing a satisfactory visualization would probably be as much work as creating the work itself. Maybe if you had access to such a visualization and you wanted a precise question answered (when did the tenses shift from present to past? when did this subplot gain prominence?) it would be useful . . . textual research would have a whole new level of granularity.
    There’s another question which deserves to be opened up here as well, though it’s probably too big to do justice to in a blog post: how do we respond differently to a work of writing if we’re observing it as a process rather than as a finished piece? John Dewey says somewhere early in Art and Experience (I should dig up the precise quote) that we’re conditioned to looking at art as something that’s finished and ready for consumption: this is something else entirely. Another reference point might be Duchamp’s rejection of “retinal art”: he noted that when the quattrocento painters painted a painting, the product wasn’t just paint on wood, but the beliefs and ideas that caused the paint on wood to be produced & caused the work to be held in reverence: the ideas and process beyond an object.

  3. Mike

    Does this foster the artform of writing as a performance art? Like the delivery of slam poetry, but words typed in spastic bunches, or around laconic stretches.

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