It was 1972. Life magazine seemed filled every week with photographs from the war in Vietnam. And I had just turned 18 and had to register for the draft.

My memory of that period is incomplete, though I'd expect it to have the sharpness of a rifle report. I remember I was reading Sons and Lovers and brochures on conscientious objector status. I was also arguing with my father. My father thought I should try to be a non-combatant because CO status would hurt my future prospects. He also thought I woudn't do well in the service because of my habitual sarcasm. He was probably right. I just knew I didn't want anything to do with the war or the service.

Look closely at the photo. Two old white men are picking the numbers, selecting who is going to die. Thus was it ever.

And then Nixon abolished the draft. My memory of the lottery, the last decade or two, has been that I was in the last lottery. But I could never remember what my number had been. The selective service has a history of the lotteries. Turns out that I was never in one. They ended the year before.

I'm surprised. Perhaps I revised my memory because the threat of going to Southeast Asia was so overwhelming that I needed to have been closer to it in order to justify the feeling. I don't know. Memory is certainly narrative. What other memories have I revised to tell myself better tales of my mental landscape?


Enter Invisible II

You can hear Garrison Keillor read "A Small Psalm" and "The Pitch" from Enter Invisible. Looks like he records a week at a time....

Way to go Catherine!


Jack Straw, 19 October

I had the pleasure of curating the Jack Straw alumni reading on 19 October. Jeff Crandall, Cora Goss-Grubbs, Tanmeet Sethi, and Don Mee Choi read and it did turn out to be an evening of the particular and of resistance.

Here's the introduction I used at the reading:

These days seem overrun with leaders and would-be authorities who would like to absorb all of us into their one single, and absolutely true narrative, whether that narrative is one of national glory or of absolutist religion.

One of the best weapons against these narratives is the particular. The details of the particular stick out at odd angles. They’re hard to pin down. And they don’t fit smoothly into some grand, but single story.

I hope that in tonight’s reading you’ll find the particular and the diverse, and the pleasure that comes from remembering that it is in the multitude of stories that art lives and resists.



The new Kate Bush album, Aerial, is available starting 8 November. Meanwhile, here's a review of the UK (pre-)release. Harry Shearer includes a cut from the album in the 16 October edition of Le Show 40 minutes in (Real Player).


Saluting the H2

'nuff said. (Not work appropriate.)


Robot Village

No, it's not Stepford nor is it exactly U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. It's a retail store in New York devoted entirely to robots. The Roomba would be tempting if it weren't so darned expensive.


I Say Potato, You Say Artichoke

An interesting graph of the deep divide between liberals and conservatives over what political books they buy.


Telling the Future Off

I'm certainly far from the first to mention it, but I've just started reading Stephanie Young's Telling the Future Off and finding it delightful. Here's the first piece, a quietly disquieting prose poem. Or, maybe it's nostalgically apocalyptic.


As we are given it, a dog-eared business. Pause while I stop to speak with the dogs. For soon they will be old and learning nothing. They will be mine, and very tired. Such is the cul-de-sac. Should we rise to view the meteors fall, our nature in the dark is both common and elusive. A newsprint we hunt for its hide. In the morning you can't have opinions about the stars. They should not have shot themselves another direction and neither should the paragraph struggle to eclipse the pargraph. Still we give chase, the dogs bay, the lion's face is very beautiful, with holes cut out for the eyes.


Oulipo Compendium

The new edition of the Oulipo Compendium is out from Atlas Press. Order now—the price goes up at the end of November.


I, Robot

Would you like Belgian or regular?


Another Way to Look at It

Render your favorite web pages as weird plants. No way to find out what the algorithm is. Rats.

The Robots Are Coming

Three vehicles completed the second annual robot vehicle race, unlike last year when no one finished. The cars and trucks are completely autonomous—they have to use onboard sensors and computers to find their way around a 132-mile course that involves a mountain pass, three tunnels that block GPS, and numerous natural and artificial obstacles.

Of course, it would be even cooler if it weren't the damn Department of Defense sponsoring the whole thing. You can almost hear the whir of Cylons.


Disintegrative Poetics

The Canadian poet and visual artist bpNichol did a series of pieces where the text is photocopied over and over. The text deteriorates, of course, but differently with each copy machine, and artifacts of the copying process integrate themselves with the work.

And, in an interesting twist, the work can in a sense never be printed as that would add a generation of copying to the pieces.

Further description and scans here. Top-level page and links to other work here.


Breeding Language

A web page that uses genetic programming to evolve random text strings into the target text. Genetic programming has been used in a number of areas, including automatic programming and electronic circuit design. This is the first time I've seen it applied to plain old English phrases.

The odd part is that the least interesting thing is the result because you already know what it is. More interesting are the most "fit" strings as the generations go by. They tend to resemble the results of Markov programs or Travesty.

The whole thing gets me fantasizing about throwing together a bunch of short stories and having them cross-breed and evolve until something new and even more interesting emerges. Language does many strange and peculiar things when you let it slip a little out of your sight.

N.B. If you try it out, don't put hyphens in your target phrase—they're not in the program's character set. The strings "breed" to a 97% resemblance and stay there forever.