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Structured Randomness


A while back, reporting on Perth Writers’ Day, I said this:

I came away from the workshop with a fresh idea — well, fresh for me at least — for getting myself writing regularly again. For two of the exercises, I used a list of 10 random words provided by this random word generator. I first asked participants to free write using some of the words as a stimulus and then, after reading some of the sequence published in Gutter recently, I asked them to write a poem in the same form using the 10 words.

I used that approach for my own writing time this morning and scribbled 10 exceedingly rough pieces based on 10 words plucked from the dictionary (I didn’t want to switch the computer on first thing). There were several, er, somewhat obscure lexical items in the list, which made it all the trickier. A bit too tricky, if I was looking for anything I can work on further, I think. So I’m going to grab myself some online random words the night before the write and, now and again, mix in a number from the dictionary. I’ll try to do this regularly over the next month or so and might report on my progress here.

Indeed, I did use that approach in the weeks running up to my trip to Cove Park and found it quite productive. Naturally, it generated an immense about of rubbish, but it also helped to push me towards a poem I needed to write for Andy Jackson‘s Split Screen, a project involving 60 other poets to create an anthology of poems inspired by movies and television. Some phrases and lines from my random word pursuits became the basis for “Gåta”, a poem on the Swedish detective series Wallander.

Cove Park and my mini tour with Rob A Mackenzie marked a break in the rhythm I’d begun to build up and I haven’t returned to the use of random words, at least not in quite the same way. Last week I spent working on poems that had already suggested themselves; this week I’ve been trying to get to grips with the sestina. I tried one in Scots, for which I drew random words from the Concise Scots Dictionary using a die. It wasn’t the most successful! However, today I’ve written something that might be, or at least become, my first publishable sestina. And even the practice pieces of the past couple of days have lines and phrases to snatch for other poems. Altogether, I’m really pleased with how this bursary time is working out so far.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 01/06/2011 15:16

    The generation of random words has been a fascination of mine for a while. Instead the generator needs to be seeded with a group of words the more the better from which it learns what kind of words you want to generate. The generator tears those words apart learns how theyre constructed then randomly reassembles the components of those words into new ones driven by the rules by which the original words were made..

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