Combinatory Poetry & Taroko Gorge

Before reading these chapters and viewing both the original Taroko Gorge and several other versions, I had heard of blackout poetry and collage, but not combinatory poetry (either physical or digital). Similarly, I had learned about Dada (visual) art in an Art History class, but not much about their textual or audio art, or how that influenced forms of e-literature. With that, I have found a new appreciation for the Dadaists in light of how they paved the way, in a manner of speaking, for Taroko Gorge and other forms of combinatory poetry. Taroko Gorge also seems to have derived at least partially from the surrealists (I believe that this is mentioned in the book as well) as the poems (or poem, if each version is seen as simply one small part of a whole, rather than several distinct versions separate from the source) seem to speak to a subconscious chaos that combines aspects of both Dadaism and surrealism.

I haven’t done much coding (I learned about HTML and CSS in Brenda Grell’s 201 class, but that’s the extent of my experience) but looking at the source codes were very interesting. I would definitely like to learn more about computer coding in order to better understand the digital aspect and the underlying mechanics of e-literature.

Of the other combinatory poems drawn from Taroko Gorge’s code, I especially liked Tournedo Gorge, which combined computer and cooking metaphors in a surprising yet effective way. I hadn’t thought about it before, but the poem showed how both cooking and computer art (or even computer science) are composed of many smaller aspects all lending to a whole, as well as both drawing from the past to build towards the future.

Another that stood out was ‘Wandering through Taroko Gorge’ by James Burling; this poem seemed to draw not only on variables within the code, but with words supplied by each reader. Unfortunately, the website was broken (I believe that the code wasn’t updated enough for Chrome, but again, I don’t know quite enough about code to tell exactly what as going wrong). However, even the broken quality of the poem spoke to the fragility of e-literature, illuminating just how fleeting, and therefore precious, it can be.

Overall, I liked the concept of both Taroko Gorge and combinatory poetry. I believe it builds on both poetic & literary foundations while forging new pathways for artists, writers, and coders alike.

Taroko Gorge and Combinatory Poetics

For the assignment this week, we were tasked with reading multiple variations of the poem “Taroko Gorge”. First, I took a look at some of the poems, and I noticed that they all had a very similar structure going on with them. After looking into the source code, I determined that it looked like each variation was different because of different key words that were replaced by each author of the poem. I noticed pretty early on into the reading this week of “Electronic Literature” by Scott Rettberg, that kinetic poetry was mentioned as a genre of Electronic Literature. After looking a little more into kinetic poetry, I discovered that it was essentially a form of combinatory poetics. It takes random words out of a piece of text, and they will all be floating around each other. Eventually the words will be drawn towards each other, forming different phrases.

Although the poem has seemingly infinite different versions that could be created through just changing the key words, the part thats most interesting to me is that no matter what words you change in it, the basic structure of the poem will always stay the same. Such as the first sentence of the poem will always be “*Key Word* *Key word*s the *Key Word*”. I also noticed while looking at the poems, that it doesn’t let you scroll back up to view a certain part of the poem, like it’s forcing you to live in the moment of the poem and focus on what’s appearing in front of you while it infinitely continues on. Since the poem is also randomized, once something disappears it’s very unlikely you’ll see it again even through replaying the same poem.

“Taroko Gorge” is very similar to a dadaist poem, which are created from other types of literature, but when cut into pieces and mixed up, they create something different than originally intended. The difference is, you can reread a dadaist poem as much as you like and take as much time as you like with it, which isn’t true with “Taroko Gorge” poems. Hit refresh and even with the same words, everything will be completely different again. As a reader this makes every line feel even more important, since you’ll never be able to read it again. On page 23 of Electronic Literature, Rettburg shares a quote from Manovich that perfectly sums up Taroko Gorge and Combinatory Poetics,

“a new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions”(23, Electronic Literature)


Electronic Literature by Scott Rettberg

Taroko Gorge: