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Nick Montfort

Reading of computer-generated poetry, Random Sentences

2016 Season

Nick Montfort read his computer-generated poetry for the opening of Agnieszka Kurant’s exhibition, Variables.

My reading was from the output of a simple sentence generator, developed by Victor Yngve in his language COMIT around 1960 at MIT as part of a machine translation project. I re-implemented Yngve’s grammar, which is based on the first ten sentences of Lois Lenski’s book, The Little Train, first published in 1940. This fascinating computational poem — not difficult to recognize as such today — is one of many that was not created as a poem and was not created by a poet; it embeds numerous aspects of literary history, the history of computing, and even, I claim, the history of frenzied technological and infrastructural development in the United States.

— Nick Montfort

Poet, digital media artist, and creative computing specialist Nick Montfort earned a BA/BS at the University of Texas at Austin, an MS at MIT, an MA at Boston University, and an MSE and a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

A frequent collaborator at the intersection of digital media and literature, Montfort often creates and works within generative constraints and computational forms. Computer-based poetry generators are “usually very elaborate and large systems,” Montfort stated in a 2010 interview with Stephen McLaughlin for Jacket2, describing his own efforts as “trying to resist that and create something very small, [which] I find interesting because it brings me up against the question of what it is about a poem that makes it recognizable as a poem to someone. What makes it play in an interesting way with traditions of poetry, with concepts, with expression?”

His poetry collections include #! (2014) and Riddle & Bind (2010). He has been a collaborator on digital media writing projects, including the interactive fiction system Curveship, the story generation system Slant, the ppg256 series, and the Concrete Perl poetry generators. Montfort is the author of Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (2003) and, with William Gillespie, 2002: A Palindrome Story (2002), which the Oulipo group recognized as the longest narrative palindrome.

Montfort organized and coauthored 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 (2012) and Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (2009) with Ian Bogost, the first book in the MIT Press series Platform Studies, which Montfort and Bogost now coedit. Montfort’s art books include World Clock (2013), generated by 165 lines of Python code, and Implementation: A Novel (2012, with Scott Rettberg). With Noah Wardrip-Fruin, he edited The New Media Reader (2003), and with N. Katherine Hayles, Stephanie Strickland, and Scott Rettberg, he edited volume 1 of The Electronic Literature Collection (2006).

Montfort is associate professor of digital media at MIT, where he has served as faculty adviser for the Electronic Literature Organization. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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