12: Chance operation

Chance Operations are methods of generating poetry independent of the author’s will. A chance operation can be almost anything from throwing darts and rolling dice, to the ancient Chinese divination method, I-Ching, and even sophisticated computer programs. Most poems created by chance operations use some original text as their source, be it the newspaper, an encyclopedia, or a famous work of literature. The purpose of such a practice is to play against the poet’s intentions and ego, while creating unusual syntax and images. The resulting poems allow the reader to take part in producing meaning from the work. – poets.org

Titus Groan, page 367
the now After And him would . , . would flung through passions daybreak now and ; echoes . , violence along lights . , and tears soon in open; . it laughter the itself be And a Fierce no shall births for ! there there And flickering . of There yet insurrection there , beneath wandering a by was disenchantment

ceilings be be honeycombs had be would like though he dreams day heard strange love umbrageous would emptiness their and quick flame . green there and – passageways sound cry be stone doors walls the would will And deaths the and Through in tumult , be


I guess this is sort of the point, but this poem was kind of boring for me – all I did was pick out a section of text (from Mervyn Peake’s amazing Titus Groan) and run it through an online randomizer. What I did have fun doing is working this randomization into something coherent and poem-like. I was going to post that worked up version, since that seems to be what some people do when the publish chance operation poems, but I felt that missed the point of removing the poet and creating space for the reader to find their own patterns of meaning.

This poem and next week’s cento have lined up perfectly with The Found Poetry Review‘s National Poetry Month project, Oulipost – they’re giving a new prompt for constrained writing techniques applied to text sourced from newspaper.

For the original text and my shot at making something coherent out of the randomization, see below the jump.

Original text from Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake:
After the emptiness it was like a tumult through him; though he had heard no sound. And yet, by now, there would be doors flung open; there would be echoes in the passageways, and quick lights flickering along the walls.

Through honeycombs of stone would now be wandering the passions in their day. There would be tears and there would be strange laughter. Fierce births and deaths beneath umbrageous ceilings. And dreams, and violence, and disenchantment.

And there shall be a flame-green daybreak soon. And love itself will cry for insurrection!

Titus Returns

The now after,
and him, would… would…
flung through passion’s daybreak
and echoes, violence along lights,
and tears
soon in open laughter.
The itself be and a fierce no
(shall births for…?)

There, there.

And flickering of (there yet?) insurrection
(there?) beneath —
wandering by was disenchantment.

Ceilings, be:
be honeycombs had;
be would like.
Though he dreams,
day heard strange love, umbrageous
(would emptiness…?)
Their and —
quick flame green —
there and-passageways sound cry.
Be stone doors, walls, the would, will
And death’s the and:

Through/in tumult, be.


One thought on “12: Chance operation

  1. I like your worked up version – still cryptic and resonant and surprising the way the chance operation was. Chance operations can call up some surprising shifts between words you wouldn’t come up with by yourself but it feels like raw material for poetry to me, not poetry. Not poetry by someone, anyway. Though, as you say, that’s the point – but I’d rather make my own point.

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