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Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm 124

Dylan Harris writes "I love writing software, and I enjoy reading other people's source -- how they've expressed instructions, the subtle differences when two good programmers use the same language for the same task. Then there's the pleasure of working through a new computer language: how its structure, its form, changes the way a problem is approached, a solution is expressed. Strange as it may seem, I get the same pleasure from reading poetry, but more so. Seeing a poem written in an old familiar form, say a sonnet, is like meeting someone else's code in a language I know. New poems in new forms are new programs in new languages; exciting ideas renewed, refreshed, expressed in different ways." Read on for Dylan's review of a collection from Loss Pequeno Glazier which combines these worlds of expression.
Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm
author Loss Pequeno Glazier
pages 100
publisher Salt
rating bloody good if you like the stuff
reviewer Dylan Harris
ISBN 1844710017
summary Computer infected modern poetry

I can get put off by a lot of avant-garde poetry's excess use of strange words. Take Glazier's newly published first collection Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm. He's succumbed to the usual academic habit of filling his poems with obscure incomprehensibility, like http, chmod, EMACS ... hang on a second, I know these words. They're not literary jargon, they're software babble, the words I work with. If there isn't a schadenfreude sense of humour behind this chap's use of computer terminology in his poetry, there damn well ought to be. I love the image I get of poetry literati, finding poems stuffed with precision from a different kind of language professional, muttering "what the &hellip?"

Look, don't get me wrong, this collection isn't easy. The poems, mostly prose poems, are impressions, sequences of events, themed associations, riddled with puns (sharper than that), observation and humour. Imagine yourself a tourist, walking down a Mexican / Cuban / Texan / Costa Rican town's main street, staring at the activity, the buildings, the air, everything a slap of newness. Now realise I was snug in an English pub on a cold November night drinking some rather good warm beer, reading "Semilla de Calabaza (Pumpkin Seed)," the central sequence of this collection. I'm guided by Glazier, I'm the gawping tourist, I'm hit by his local knowledge, I'm a stranger but I know this town, I'm the visitor and I've lived here forever.

I'd better give you some samples of his work. It's not so easy, each poem is a long whole; chopping bits out destroys the context, much of the expression. Remember, too, I enjoy new ways of saying old things. Perhaps you'll see this collection's appeal to me from this chunk of the fifth "White-Faced Bromeliards on 20 Hectares (An Iteration)":

Finding a pumpkin seed in your vocabulary. A dead tree becomes

a bromeliad alter. Policia Rural. Brahmin cattle. Los Angeles,
Costa Rica's fresh furrows against smoky ridge. Banana chips on
the bus. Una casada, comida tipica lava gushing glowing twilight
plumes & sputters. Before sunset, bathing in a river heated by
lava's flow.

So why on earth am I reviewing a collection of poetry for /. ? As you've probably already sussed, Glazier's a computer chap. He's professor and Director of The Electronic Poetry Center at New York, Buffalo. He knows our not-Unix / Windows wars; they're here in the poetic armoury. It's like having your own private antagonism codified into opera, suddenly there's an aria about DLLs, or caches, and the damn thing works a treat and it damn well shouldn't. It's still his flow of impressions, but now he's taking tourists around our home town, our systems, our neighbourly rows, our familiar world is slapping them with strangeness, they're asking tourist questions, they're got tourist awe, tourist doubts.

From "One Server, One Tablet, and a Diskless Sun":

And what

kind of bugs? Lorca's mystical crickets?
H.D.'s butterflies? Though I think they
must--if the mind does have an eye--be
cockroaches fat, brightly lit, and mightily
glowing. Flying through the mind shaft to
assault any mental indiscretion. Perhaps a
relative of Burroughs introduced this
term. (Stick that in your machine and
add it up!) What vision of mainframe!
What robust modems! What processor

Some of my worst bugs have embarrassingly been "cockroaches fat, brightly lit, and mightily glowing." I'd better change the subject. It's probably obvious I believe poetry and programming share something vital. As Glazier says, in "Windows 95" (Ironic? You tell me.):

"In a sense code

resembles classical poetry. The requirements of meter (poetry)
and syntax (code) pose both limitations and challenges for the
good poet / programmer to adhere to and overcome in the
process of writing a great poem / program."

The one weakness of this collection, perhaps, cannot be avoided; Glazier's an electronic poet, a web poet; for all his care, the hyperlinks feel like they're still there, hidden and used; the slide-show web pages are unflowing still on paper. Don't get me wrong; these poems work well, but I just get the feeling, which I cannot properly justify, that they're butterflies killed, pinned and collected, fascinating, very beautiful, but their essence is the flittering movement you can never see in a book. But that's not such a problem; you could always browse The Electronic Poetry Center for Glazier's pages.

I didn't know Glazier's work when I bought this collection. It's published by the print-on-demand Australian/UK publisher Salt. I tend to buy their collections simply because they publish them; they seem to have developed the habit of excellence.

You can also purchase Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit a review for consideration, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm

Comments Filter:
  • yikes (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:16PM (#7755361)

    I love writing software, and I enjoy reading other people's source

    You need to get out more.
    • Re:yikes (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No, he needs to get laid.
      • Re:yikes (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yeah, like that's gonna happen.

        I have a better chance of being the starting center for the Los Angeles Lakers next season.
    • Re:yikes (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And what the hell are you doing on /.? This is a nerd site, get lost.
    • Re:yikes (Score:5, Funny)

      by BornInASmallTown ( 235371 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @03:42PM (#7756720)
      I love writing software, and I enjoy reading other people's source

      No, this is just another way of saying he doesn't use Perl. :-)

  • by illuminata ( 668963 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:19PM (#7755386) Journal
    ...because he needs the kind of help that only a hooker could give!
  • The title of this book is in the form of a Slashback headline. I was confused for a moment.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The local radio station had a super hero named: Anatman

    People around here sometimes say: Anat at the end of their sentences, short for and that. Which is the same as: and stuff.

    Whatcha do?

    I went down to Primani Bros, Ride Aid, anat.

    Yinz definately need to learn a new language if you come in our neck of the woods.
  • um... (Score:2, Insightful)

    Glazier's an electronic poet, a web poet

    This sounds like a Geocities homepage to me...
  • by dk.r*nger ( 460754 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:23PM (#7755420)
    .. This is going to be hard to explain to a cute, blonde Litterature Art student in a bar.
  • by Snarfangel ( 203258 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:27PM (#7755450) Homepage
    I think I shall never see
    A program as lovely as a tree.
    In fact, without a program call
    I'll never see a tree at all.
  • by SteelX ( 32194 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:30PM (#7755476)
    This kind of reminds me of an essay I read many years ago, about UNIX people, literature, and the command-line. Here's a link if you're interested:

    The Elements Of Style: UNIX As Literature
    by Thomas Scoville ature.txt []
    • "The common thread was wordsmithing; a suspiciously high proportion of my UNIX colleagues had already developed, in some prior career, a comfort and fluency with text and printed words. They were adept readers and writers, and UNIX played handily to those strengths."

      Hmmmm, seems to explain why "Unix hacker" is so right a terminology.
      It has more in common with a screenwriter hacking a script for a sit-com.
      No wonder the media "doesn't get it."
  • Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdifool ( 678774 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:30PM (#7755480) Homepage Journal

    I guess the submitter coded too much in his life, because now he is mixing things up.

    Coding is about structuring, and poetry too has structures, indeed. This is a shallow comparison. For the whole thing, pardoxically, in poetry, is to give the reader enough freedom to free him(her)self of the structure.

    In poetry, structure is a mean, an assurance you take to get free quicker ; in computing, structure is *everything*. Poetry and computing are so different. Computing looks like more architectural works. Definitely coders are not poets ; in that case, they *would* be poets.


    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think your code vs. poetry point is valid, but it doesn't come from some inherent difference in coding, it comes from the marketplace. Most coding is funded. Commercial interests aren't paying for high art. They are paying for pedestrian pragmatism. Easy to understand and maintain, not layered with simile and metaphor. Poets are free to go unread and not understood. Coders won't last long with similar outcomes. When I look at some of those code obfuscation contests, I see more of the branch of coding that
    • Re:Wow (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tomboy17 ( 696672 )

      No no no, poetry has nothing to do with freedom. Poetry predates free verse, and even free verse is not about freedom as much as it is about a newer, more flexible use of older forms (in this sense, free verse is not unlike python).

      What makes poetry different from prose is precisely the degree to which structure matters. In poetry, we appreciate accidental bits of syntactic elegance as well as large scale architecture. Loving poetry is precisely about loving the nuance of structure -- loving the way a sonn

      • Hi,

        this is fun that you are speaking of poetry as represented by the sonnet, because the sonnet was used at a very precise time in history (mainly during the 16th century, with the European Baroques), and then criticizing my post because it is historicized.

        I guess that we really didn't understand each other. I'm not saying structure doesn't matter in a poem, but at the contrary, this is useful to get rid of it. Have you ever try to read some kind of experimental poetry, sublime in the words, but lacking

    • Re:Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bazzargh ( 39195 )
      Coding is about structuring, and poetry too has structures, indeed.

      Now if he'd actually said that, he would have been making a shallow comparison. What he said was, he gets similar pleasure from reading code and poetry. Well, each to his own.

      As for your own notions: For the whole thing, pardoxically, in poetry, is to give the reader enough freedom to free him(her)self of the structure.

      Well, implying that you know the intent of all poets is a shallow comment too, is it not? Laying aside for a moment tha
    • Re:Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dilettante ( 91064 )
      I disagree. I think there are clear parallels between poetry and coding (and more tenuously between literature and software systems). I have two arguments for this opinion. The first is that two pieces of code can accomplish the same task, but one may be judged more elegant or beautiful by another coder. This suggests to me that there is a sense of style in code that is in part subjective.

      The second argument is that i think both code and poetry more directly reflect the thought of the creator than othe

      • Hi,

        even if we disagree, I thank you for presenting arguments instead of insults.

        However, let me discuss your two arguments. First, programming is far less extensible than poetry. With poetry you dont have to put that ; that at each end of your line. With computing you can't do what I just did with words (so crappy, whatever) in my last sentence.

        I agree with your second argument. Code obviously reflects the personnality of the one who wrote it. But still this is not enough, in my opinion. Have you ever tried

        • Re:Wow (Score:3, Funny)

          by CTachyon ( 412849 )

          C is heroic couplets. Java is blank verse. Perl is rhymed couplets. LISP is a haiku. Assembly is free verse. COBOL, of course, is a disaster.

        • jdifool,

          The poster remarked the similarity of poetry to code, particularly that both are formalisms. New forms of poetry are akin to new languages, new works in old forms are like new ideas in familiar contexts.

          The distinctions rely on differing relationships to syntactic rigor. What you unfortunately term *extensible* is really a matter of greater freedom: the only interpreter a poem will face is the reader; your code must pass muster with an interpreter whose concern for syntactic and structural d
    • What's the point of a form of communication that has no well defined meaning? If people can debate for years over the meaning of your writing, you're not communicating very effectively. If you have something to say, just say it and don't make me hunt for hidden meanings.
      • At least you make your point clear : you really *are* a programmer :)

        Which I'm not (still self-learning,ouch).


      • What's the point of a form of communication that has no well defined meaning? If people can debate for years over the meaning of your writing, you're not communicating very effectively. If you have something to say, just say it and don't make me hunt for hidden meanings.

        It can be helpful or even useful to communicate something that has no well defined meaning. Human emotions tend to fall into that category. Love means different things to different people; my love poem is going to seem vague and abstra

    • My experience with poetry has led me to believe that the purpose of poetry is to muddle things that one understands by explaining them a different way in order to see them in a new light.

      Coding, on the other hand, appears to be trying to express complicated things in a simplified (universally structured and explained using a small set of concepts) way in order to have them understood even by automatons.

      Clarity is sought in coding while confusion is sought with poetry. I would almost say that coding and p
    • by r ( 13067 )
      It's curious that no one mentioned the problems of imagery and ambiguity. This is the stuff that feeds poetry; but it poisons programming.

      What I mean is - good poetry strives on association, connotation, and ambiguity. First, with linguistic surface features. We can bring about feeling or imagery by only hinting at it. Sometimes we don't even need to hint, but merely picking the right sounds. [1] And this requires an extraordinary amount of intuition about how we read.

      And then there are higher-level ambig
      • I would argue that abstraction is coding's answer to poetic metaphor and ambiguity. By choosing the right abstractions, you can have a large and complex program suddenly snap into place as a smaller, more understandable, and sometimes faster (due to cache locality) replacement. It's like prose becoming poetry by finding the right metaphor.

    • Definitely coders are not poets ; in that case, they *would* be poets.

      Some of us are poets, in the literary sense, even. I write both code and poems, and there really are similarities.

      First and foremost, all computer programs require metaphor and imagery. We call them "files" -- the word now has a new meaning because of decades of our usage, but somebody, somewhere, originally sat down and thought "How should I organize all of these bits?" and the answer came as a metaphor -- "Oh I'll store them i

    • Methinks it's a very deep comparison.
      Both coding and poetry are about creating an expression with certain structural limitations.
      Both coding and poetry implicitly define those structural limitations. By following them.
      Both coding and poetry will suffer from too many words and too little poetry.
      Both coding and poetry are much better if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
      Both coding and poetry have meaning on multiple levels.

  • An ode to Glazier (Score:3, Interesting)

    by agslashdot ( 574098 ) <> on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:33PM (#7755506)
    My brain's hard drive spins on its axis,
    anti clock wise.
    Penetrating poetry pokes my peripheral vision
    like a fully charged capacitor on a hot summer day
    My eyes glaze over Glazier's prose
    His profound instructions verbose
    in machine language, almost
    optimized for O(1) execution on a fast Althon
    crippled by the superslow multitasking windows OS,
    Yet, continue to register their keys,
    in my hashtable of memories.
  • by illuminata ( 668963 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:35PM (#7755528) Journal
    Bah, this poetry stuff isn't hard. I'll give you one.

    Programmer's Solitude
    by illuminata

    Cold, snow
    winter breeze blow
    at home desk, sorrow.

    No love comes to the programmer
    no matter how good his code.
    Internally crumbling
    about to implode.

    Couples happy
    streets alive.
    Not the programmer
    dead inside.

    The right hand is warm
    but dangerous.
    For that hand prevents love.
    But in return, gives instant gratification.

    Why not?
    Never very attractive
    no female attention
    only apprehension.

    On a lonely winter's day
    do not approach the programmer.
    You know where that hand has been.
    And the programmer never works all day.
  • rating: bloody good if you like the stuff

    So your evaluation is "only you can evaluate it?" My enjoyment of the book will be proportional to my enjoyment of the book! Thanks!
  • The three-item format of the title reminds me strongly of the format used by Haruki Murakami in "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" - every other chapter, the chapter's title would have a three-phrase structure - some examples would be "Elevator, Silence, Overweight," and "Appetite, Disappointment, Leningrad."
  • Vogon vibe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OgdEnigmaX ( 535667 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:45PM (#7755588)
    While I do like poetry and such, I'm getting a uncomfortably Vogon vibe from this guy's stuff. For the unwashed heathens among us, the following is taken from Douglas Adams' _The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_:

    Oh freddled gruntbuggly
    Thy micturations are to me
    As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
    Groop I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes
    And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
    Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
    See if I don't!

    Honestly, if you, in the spirit of semirandom recombination that seems to characterize a good deal of Glazier's work, take the nonsense words and add in random techno-jargon, you'd get a very Glazier-y and equally unsatisfying verse. Jargon-wielding for what appears to be its own sake doesn't make for nerd-digestible poetry. So yes, while I applaud the experimental nature of some of his stuff, I don't much like it.
    • No no no no NO!!! NEVER let the Vogons recite poetry to you!
    • I don't much care for Glazier either, for similar complaints. But DAdams is ripping a familiar form in English, the parody of poetic forms using neologisms, invented words.

      Lewis Carroll:


      ' Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
      All mimsy were the borogoves
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

      Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
      Beware the Jub-jub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch.

      He took his vorpal sword in han
  • Can someone please explain to me where this comparison between code and poetry began? It makes absolutely no sense to me. I've never understood the notion that code is art. Creative, sure... but art?
  • Ahhh, home!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CharAznable ( 702598 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:54PM (#7755675)
    Finding a pumpkin seed in your vocabulary. A dead tree becomes a bromeliad alter. Policia Rural. Brahmin cattle. Los Angeles, Costa Rica's fresh furrows against smoky ridge. Banana chips on the bus. Una casada, comida tipica lava gushing glowing twilight plumes & sputters. Before sunset, bathing in a river heated by lava's flow. Ahhh, home!! Can't wait to have some casado and banana chips..
  • Yea, but would you want your local nuclear power plant running off some old japanese nantucket haiku jingle? Yea, I didn't think so.
  • IDEA!!! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If you make that kind of comparison, can we patent poem ideas?
  • More poetry... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ZephyrTheBreeze ( 532880 ) <zephyrthebreeze&comcast,net> on Thursday December 18, 2003 @02:11PM (#7755864) Homepage


    waka waka bang splat tick tick hash
    carat at back-tick dollar dollar dash
    splat bang tick dollar underscore
    percent splat waka waka number four
    ampersand right-paren dot dot slash
    curly bracket tilde pipe splat splat crash

    Taken from the 1337/poetry [] section of william wu's site []

  • read it out loud (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    While I'm not familiar with 'Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm', I have read much of Glazier's work. His writing can be difficult to parse, but to see/hear Loss read from his own work is quite inspiring.

    Often the text he performs will be projected on a screen behind him. In 'Bromeliads' or 'Vis Etudes' for example, where the text modulates mid-sentence, or where there is no established syntax for sequencing each node, the activity of reading becomes obvious - even a little exciting.

    It's great to see

  • by Hatta ( 162192 )
    Some of my worst bugs have embarrassingly been "cockroaches fat, brightly lit, and mightily glowing." I'd better change the subject.

    Man I could sure go for a fat glowing roach right now.
  • Words, related by concepts hidden
    Only author knows their meaning:
    A shiny toaster, cherry tree,
    IBM 360, PIC, my little sister's doll house.
    Perhaps too stupid, me.
    But perhaps words beyond comprehension,
    certainly beyond communication.
  • code poetry (Score:4, Funny)

    by senatorpjt ( 709879 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @02:47PM (#7756199)

    Wait, that was Dylan Thomas. Nevermind.

  • This guy's description of reading code is just a litte too fruity. Bet he wanders around coin-op laundries sniffing other people's underwear.
  • there are lot's of writers/coders interested in merging literature with programming languages. Stuff that usually goes way more extreme then this. or to quote a star of the genre who goes by the name of lo_y:

    R-0-r-io = ID
    Nve Scie=i
    = [Yes]ID==2 ,0-DIR=C:\

    have a look at this lill' overview of this genre with links to more...
  • Charles Bukowski
    from You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, 1986, p 103

    16-Bit Intel 8088 Chip

    with an Apple Macintosh
    you can't run Radio Shack programs
    in its disc drive.
    nor can a Commodore 64
    drive read a file
    you have created on an
    IBM Personal Computer.
    both Kaypro and Osborne computers use
    the CP/M operating system
    but can't read each other's
    for they format (write
    on) discs in different
    the Tandy 2000 runs MS-DOS but
    can't use most programs produced for
    the IBM Personal Computer
  • As The Bard himself put it:

    If (Rnd(1) >= 0.5) then

    If (thee >= summer's_day) then
    thou = (more_lovely AND more_temperate)

    (...stand by for the code nazis...)
  • Sorry, thought the USians had come to their senses and had found the superior oil for salads. However I see they still wallow in their ignorance. 'tis a shame....
  • Hey could you write me a beautiful poem about quicksort in c++ and get it to me before 5:00 pm tomorrow?
  • I've studied poetry, written some, and taken it seriously of my own free will, despite that as an English major at UCI I'm required to do so in order to finish my degree.

    I make a living as a coder, though, and I've noticed many similarities between code and poetry, especially between code and the poetry of the so-called "language" poets whose poetry depends on visual appreciation of the physical layout of the words on the page in order to be understood.

    There are some significant differences, however, betw

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.