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February 20, 2012

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Think about the long established democratic system
Making a wage cut; the fourth pillar of your state
Newspaper allowed to talk about the election break,
Extemporizing television, home and broadband bundles

Explaining the birds and bees breeding like rabbits.
The best decision you ever made, call Optalaze now,
Hello, ring, take the Super Valu shooter's challenge,
100% family X marks the spot, only in a cinema near u

Today & tomorrow, calling for lagers, the average
Person's best built difficulties six months ago
Welcomes back a gun to your head so much better,
The presidential debate, the way it revealed so much

About Gerry Adams pushing in on top of us overnight,
Naturally not all bad news across Munster and Leinster,
Rough seas, steady and mild, the North wind's e-mail
Address, animal A&E a pet in need, look at you, this

Might be happy an ending, delicious, every day baked
Throughout the rules of lip color, make up of make up
Artists unite into primary drab grey color, Spartacus
Starring mad men, accidental tourists, friends, fiends

The gods themselves declared it.

"J.H. Prynne, “Difficulties in the Translation of Difficult Poems”: It is these features that make prose discourse quick and relatively easy to read without too much semantic hesitation: we mostly know what to expect, from one sentence to the next."

I've been thinking of precisely this idea (though not breaking it off into prose/poetry) since reading Gleick's book Information: the information theory-based idea that randomness carries more information than non-randomness; the attendant idea that being able to guess what comes next makes something redundant. It certainly frames a strong argument for a pure obscurity.

And yet I'm not entirely convinced.

Lovely and intriguing. Thanks, Jordan.

Spencer,

The Gleick book is halfway down the stack of books I mean to read soonish. (Does he cover the disputed law of conservation of information? I would dearly appreciate expert guidance on that one -- can only keep my head from exploding by force of will for so long.)

I don't think predictability equals redundance, exactly. That's a little too close to valuing novelty for novelty's sake. But I do think a lot of what is taken for predictability is the result of hedging bets, rounding error, and other substitutes for specificity.

Ever look at the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences? Good times to be had.

Jordan

I was wanting a few tips to make my poetry more digestble.

Right, Jordan. I think there are important distinctions to make. For instance, in the framework I identify above, we're really talking about information systems, and attempts to compress information vehicles as far as possible. Because we usually think of information through a lens of utility, we have trouble getting our head around the idea that, in most cases, absent a narrowing context, more information actually creates uncertainty. This is why we create heuristics.

The key, then, is to find some kind of balance. Rather than novelty-for-novelty's sake, poems may attempt to find some balance between surprise and familiarity. Playing into cognitive limitations. Endless novelty (and endless information) is, in the end, endlessly exhausting.

(Oh, and no - nothing on conservation that I recall. Sorry! The book is good, but it's not particularly well organized, and the thesis is uncertain. That said, it's full of great stuff. Including a great digression into Babbage, his Analytical Engine, and Byron's daughter, Ada.)

I lost a prior comment, but the gist:

I think there's a gulf that we need to be careful with re: information systems and the work of folks like Claude Shannon. Eliminating redundancy in that context is necessary for compression. Because we tend to think of information through the lens of utility, we forget that more information actually creates uncertainty due to our cognitive limitations (hence our use of heuristics).

In our context, though, predictability may be thought an important component, a means of balancing out "surprise." Poetry - at least from one perspective - intentionally invokes "excess" meaning. That excess may not just be indeterminacy, but it puts it at odds with the kind of delivery system Shannon envisioned, I think. Anyway, fascinating stuff. Thanks for this.

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