I wrote recently about language and words in my artwork and the form of visual poetry I can see in some of what I do.

Detail from Feeder Receiver, 2023

There’s an intention in the way I choose to work that favours a lack of intention. I know… stay with me for a bit here.

I try to work in ways that don’t presume what the work will be. I try to not try. And of course that is a structure that pretends to be a freedom but it honestly does help me much of the time to just sit down and start to draw, assemble, make connections, react to myself and never be more than one step ahead of my hands in my mind — if not one step behind.

I was revisiting some poetry by Brion Gysin. Gysin was a collaborator of William Burroughs, an artist, writer, inventor, seeker of many things — to me more interesting than Burroughs in most ways. Gysin established the cut up practice that Burroughs became well known for.

One of Gysin’s poetic practices was in using permutations of a key phrase to “generate” further poetry creating associations that didn’t come from himself. Some of his permutation poems are his own wordplay and some were actually generated by very early computer programming due to Gysin’s collaboration with Ian Sommerville — a technician and early computer programmer; Burroughs referred to Sommerville as his “systems adviser”.

An example of a Gysin permutation poem about permutation…

Come to free the words
To free the words come
Free the words to come
The words come to free
Words come to free thee!

A “permutation” is any of the possible arrangements, orders, selections from a defined set of objects. Above Gysin has created five permutations of a five word phrase but intentionally broken from the phrase in the last line.

Gysin wrote about this set of non-repeating permutations:

The possible permutations are 5x4x3x2x1 = 120 lines. Therefore a 120-line poem without an author. Where is the poet Brion Gysin?

With Sommerville programming a Honeywell Series 200 computer in 1960, Gysin created a repeating permutation text called “I am that I am”

The text’s 2420 lines are every permutation of the words in the title phrase. Seen in full context, the streams of words lose a connection to language and certainly to a traditional sense of authorship and yet are still authored and intentional poetry.

I was reminded again of bpNichol and this poem of his that contains all poems.

I’ve always appreciated this kind of playful understanding of language.

Here’s another Gysin permutation poem that I find even more moving in its pairing with one of his calligraphic drawings.

It works with permutation again but with a more distinct humanity in my reading.

I thought I would try the same type of permutation poetry with the help of a “computer” (it was ChatGPT).

12 Permutations of
Wait for me at the end

Which is a phrase that just popped into my head.

My “program” asked for 12 of the 120 non-repeating permutations of five words.

The end for wait at me.
Me at the end for wait.
For the end wait at me.
Wait at for me the end.
At the end for me wait.
Me at for wait the end.
For me wait the end at.
At for the end wait me.
Me at wait the for end.
The at for wait me end.
Wait me the at for end.
For at the wait end me.

Like Gysin, I don’t see myself as the author of this “poem” but it does still create a different kind of attention on the words that reading the single line might allow. It creates occasional new associations and possible meaning between the relative nonsense of most of the scrambled lines. Something I can take away.

In my drawings, I like exploring the same thing where words can connect and combine in ways I don’t intend even though I am clearly placing them on the page. The poem is mine and yours to be read/authored.

Detail from, Where does the ocean begin?, 2023