O Diem Præclarum!

After Issue 1: For

1,429,582 people, noteworthy or famous, living or dead.

Go to the poems.

In early October 2008, Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter published Issue 1, a 3,700 page PDF containing poems which they attributed to over 1,000 other poets, some of whom were dead, but others of whom (very many others) were still alive. The result was, of course, an event. Not a big one, relatively speaking: a historic election was a month away, and the economic apocalypse was at hand. But people noticed. Noses were upturned. Umbrage was taken. Comments were posted.

In the past ten and a half years, much of the evidence of the event has disappeared, like these things tend to do on the internet. Erica T. Carter, the set of programs developed by Jim Carpenter which created the content of Issue 1, is off-line, as is its source code. Dribs and drabs are findable on the Wayback Machine, or have found their way into Google-searchable books on electronic poetry, or remain mounted on zombie blogs.

As near as I can tell, Erica T. Carter, which was said to use adjoining tree grammars constructed from a large corpus, was relatively advanced for the time. In any case, I don't believe Jim Carpenter purposed Erica T. Carter for creating verse like that of Issue 1. He seems to have intended it as a "prosthetic imagination" (also the title of a completely unrelated 1999 paper). Think of it as a kind of digital free association, or as a way of automating the creation of writing prompts.

The verblessness of After Issue 1: For is a feature, not a bug. Action is not a necessary and sufficient prerequisite of fame. Sometimes action preceeds fame. Sometimes it follows. And far too often, action sits, still and sullen, watching fame levitate without any apparent cause. Fame, Virgil says, is concerned with and motivated by only its own nature:

Fame, the great ill, from small beginnings grows: Swift from the first; and ev'ry moment brings New vigor to her flights, new pinions to her wings. Soon grows the pigmy to gigantic size; Her feet on earth, her forehead in the skies. Inrag'd against the gods, revengeful Earth Produc'd her last of the Titanian birth. Swift is her walk, more swift her winged haste: A monstrous phantom, horrible and vast. As many plumes as raise her lofty flight, So many piercing eyes inlarge her sight; Millions of opening mouths to Fame belong, And ev'ry mouth is furnish'd with a tongue, And round with list'ning ears the flying plague is hung. She fills the peaceful universe with cries; No slumbers ever close her wakeful eyes; By day, from lofty tow'rs her head she shews, And spreads thro' trembling crowds disastrous news; With court informers haunts, and royal spies; Things done relates, not done she feigns, and mingles truth with lies. Talk is her business, and her chief delight To tell of prodigies and cause affright.

© 2015-2020 Stephen M. Pentecost