In the Cloud
In Philadelphia
In the World

An installation featuring a suite of software components that allows users to generate aesthetic texts


Poetry Engines and Prosthetic Imaginations

A presentation and demonstration Jim Carpenter, followed by a public conversation with Bob Perelman, Nick Montfort, and Jean-Michel Rabaté

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Performance
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions



Aaron Levy, Jean-Michel Rabaté


Philadelphia Weekly

Opens to public



6:30 PM




4017 Walnut
Philadelphia, PA 19104


25% Formal - 75% Informal

Slought Foundation, an organization rethinking contemporary arts, premiers Jim Carpenter's Electronic Text Composition (ETC) project on Thursday April 29, 2004 from 6:30-8:30pm. The event will include a presentation and demonstration of the ETC project by Carpenter (30 min), followed by a public conversation with Bob Perelman, Nick Montfort, and Jean-Michel Rabaté (50 min). A self-service station and vault installation featuring the poetry engine will accompany the event, which takes its name ("Public override void") from an actual string of code embedded in the software program. Information on the vault installation is available here

The Electronic Text Composition Project's Poetry Engine is a suite of software components that allow a user to generate aesthetic texts. Drawing word associations from its language database, the Engine's grammar uses a probability-based approach to constructing syntactic constituents, which it aggregates into utterances, which it in turn aggregates into compositions. The project postulates that the construction of its texts does not actually occur within the software—these constructions, absent authorial intent and divorced from any underlying message, assume their status as poems only as they are read. The process of textual construction is firmly situated within the reader, not the software. Over the last year a dozen poems composed with the Poetry Engine's aid and submitted under the pen name Erica T. Carter have been accepted for publication in a number of little magazines and literary journals. As evidence of the project's success (or perhaps indicative of its failure), one editor accepted a poem with the comment, "I found your works intriguing, but have to admit I couldn't wrest the meaning from them."

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Jim Carpenter taught English to high school students for twelve years before abandoning the profession to pursue a career in application systems development. Since then, he has held a number of technical and management positions, all in or near computational technology, and has also started and sold a company that developed applications for the election industry. He is currently an independent applications-development consultant and a lecturer in computer programming and systems design in the Department of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He recently completed a Masters from the University for the Electronic Text Composition Project, on the web at

Bob Perelman has published numerous books of poetry, recently Ten to One: Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1999) and The Future of Memory (1998); two critical books, The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (1996) and The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky (1994); and has edited two books of poet's talks, Writing/Talks (1985) and Hills Talks (1980). Forthcoming is Playing Bodies, a painting/ poem collaboration with Francie Shaw (Granary Books, 2003). He is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

Nick Montfort, a Ph.D. student in computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, has masters degrees from Boston University (in creative writing, poetry) and from MIT (in media arts and sciences). He is author of Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (MIT Press, 2003), co-editor of The New Media Reader (MIT Press, 2003), and co-author of 2002: A Palindrome Story (Spineless Books, 2002), which was written with computer assistance.

Jean-Michel Rabaté, a Senior Curator at Slought Foundation, is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania since 1992, and has authored or edited twenty books on Modernism, Joyce, Pound, Beckett, Lacan, Derrida, psychoanalysis and literary theory.