The Constellated Sonnets

These are old.

This is the oldest manuscript of mine that I'd bother with. These are based on old poems. The Constellated Sonnets is a series of 150 poems in which all the words in each line but one are erased from Shakespeare's sonnets. The punctuation, as you'll see, is left behind. The words were randomly left behind; there was a second sequence that I started, The Collected Sonnets, which was going to feature words that I intentionally selected, but those were so much more boring that I abandoned the process after about a dozen poems.

Then, a few years later, I found out (by stumbling upon his book in the Strand) that Stephen Ratcliffe had done something remarkably similar a few years before I had. Then, a few more years later, Jen Bervin did something remarkably similar, and received a fair amount of acclaim for it. Perhaps there are a few other such projects floating about. Perhaps it is a hopelessly obvious thing to write.

Well, there are some differences between all three texts. Mine is the most rigorous, but also I think mine is the only one that uses a random method on the text; Bervin's prints the "unused" portions of the text greyed out, which allows more interplay between the original and her erased version. None of us, unless I misremember, did all 154 sonnets, but I came closest.

Nevertheless, I believe mine is the only manuscript that you can download in its entirety: The Constellated Sonnets.


  1. Surjective said...

    Piumization doesn't have the same ring as bowdlerize.

    Human randomness fails traditional tests of true randomness. Just flipping through the pages, there is a look to the work. Would computer-random output with the same constraints (one word per line, all the punctuation) have a similar look? Would anyone be able to tell the difference?

    I can produce the output if you're interested this experiment.  

  2. Chris said...

    I thought computer randomness also failed traditional tests of true randomness, or perhaps had to be gamed to the definition. Of course, randomness has had its run-ins with traditional tests of truth.

    I suppose I'm only somewhat interested in whether a computer or the d10 I rolled (to my carpal tunnel's delight) produces more random results. If I were to set up a computer implementation of these poems, I might set up something that would be arbitrarily connected with the date and time, a sort of Shakespearean erasure-sonnet clock, improbably attuned to the universe, matching up biorhythms with biopentameter.  

  3. Steven Fama said...

    Your blog post description of the poems is a touch imprecise, I think. It states that all the words but one are erased from the sonnets. I thus expected to find one-word poems, something like the minimalist work of Aram Saroyan.

    However, there are plenty of words in each of your poems. It looks like what you did was take out all words except one from each line of each sonnet . Yes?

    Also, what was the random method you used? A pre-determined system? Roll of the dice? How did the words that do remain in each poem get chosen?  

  4. Chris said...

    Oh, thank you for catching that; I've edited it for accuracy.

    There were, originally, going to be two sets, one in which I chose the words, and one in which I randomly selected the words. (Rolling a d10; if a 6 came up, using the sixth word, and if there was no sixth word in that line, rerolling.) But the self-selected set were so boring and pedestrian compared to the randomly selected set that I gave up after a few dozen sonnets.

    (In the chosen version, I was also planning to choose which punctuation to keep; in many ways, my favorite thing about these pieces is the scattered punctuation, and how it reacts with the residual words.)  

  5. Chris said...

    Oh ho ho, I had already mentioned the "chosen" sonnets in the blog post. Sorry, I was in a bit of a rush this morning!  


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