1961: Balestrini’s Tape Mark poems

According to Funkhouser (p. 12 & 41, PDP), in1968 Cybernetic Serendipity exhibited (experimental Italian poet) Nanni Balestrini’s 1961 Tape Mark poems . Virtually no reference to Balestrini currently exists online, except for a wikipedia entry (in italian) and this poster of the exhibit catalog:

Cybernetic Serenditpity 1968

Cybernetic Serendipity, ICA London August 2nd to October 20th, 1968

Baletsrini’s poems (cited in Funkhouser (p.41) from the exhibit catalog translated by Edwin Morgan) are remarkably readable. Computationally collaged from 3 different writers, Balestrini’s Tape Mark poems traverse a strangely sensual meridian:

Hair between lips, they all return
to their roots in the blinding fireball
I envision their return, until he moves his fingers
slowly, and although things flourish
takes on the well known mushroom shape endeavouring
to grasp while the multitude of things come into being.

It’s poetry that slips in and out of effectiveness. As I read it the first 4 lines cohere voluptuously, then the fifth strikes an infertile mechanistic tangent that might have been solved by a human emotional-editorial eye. Funkhouser attributes their effectiveness to the use of literary phrases as the unit. These units resonate and conjoin as do other human cultural artifacts, cohering according to the skill and sensitivity of the writer. In this case the writer was a hybrid: a computer algorithmically solving rules, and a human (Balestrini) tuning and feeding those algorithms.

It suggests what many others have already suggested: that computers can offer creative trampolines, variational exploration machines that create trajectories from which the poet can select possible paths. It also clearly delineates the eerie capacity of the human mind to impose order, pattern and meaning onto mangled heaps of language.

From the LANGUAGE poets to OULIPO and the DadaEngine (and other more contemporary combinatorial permutating word-salads) a lot of poems owe their origin to the same impulse that inspired Balestrini. Language can be algorithmically cut: digital and analog each have strengths.

Exquisite corpse cpu.

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