Home > Mutating the Signature > blood_alley://interstital_syn.tax


February 26, 2009

alleys(have no fixed addresses):
no front door stoops;

# shortcuts coding the city
# with their pragmatic and dirty

/* kind of beauty. an apothem’s
relentless straightedge */

functions() of a hyperbolic map
where roads only turn right;

<the> alley fails a pi[d]geon-faced dealer
his bicycle navigating </crowds>

whoDwellBehind theNormals in
life. thisMetaspace of precariousCables;

dumpsters_and_bugs crashing

among-the-crows, the-circuits
of old-benches, where travellers
chalk their-secret-language

(on (the (underbelly (of) the) city)—here)

a thousand: kilometers of: short cuts
threading the: longest path: through


to {the | pharmacy} with {no | pain} killers

by Dethe Elza and Daniela Elza

Download the MP3

Process notes

Dethe writes:
Hearing Daniela every day for the past few weeks talking about one collaboration or another, it just seemed natural to try one together. I sent her a poem about the alleys of Vancouver.

Daniela writes:
The alley topic sat dormant in my head for a few days. One night we brainstormed around alleys: these shortcuts, like in coding, and suddenly there was an explosion of ideas. Especially after the lights went out. To the point that we wrote notes under the light of a cellphone, thinking that was it. We laugh now, why we did not turn the light on.

I have often wondered how to put computers and technology into poetry. Poetry has had a big influence on how I write code, but the influence hasn’t gone the other way very much. The sparking of these ideas helped to bring the two together.

I could not go to sleep. I got up and wrote trying to give shape to what had just happened. It was 2am when I finally settled down. I sent that to Dethe the next day.

When I went through it, each line triggered new ideas. Under each line I wrote the line it inspired: a re-working of Daniela’s line, and sometimes a more drastic change. The result was like taking the poem through a looking-glass, basically the same, but also entirely different. I thought it was really shaping up.

When I got his email, I was shocked. It felt like he did not keep a lot of the phrasing. I felt like I introduced stress in the process by commenting on that. But when I looked at it the next day, I realized what he was doing. He was riffing off, tightening up, taking out what he did not want. I rewrote the poem using my lines and his lines.

With a couple of very small changes, I was happy with it. At this point, the poem felt done to me. There was one word that was misspelled (“pidgeon”) and I wanted to keep it because we were using a pigeon both as imagery and as metaphor (alley denizens), while we were also playing with language, especially the simplified pidgin language of computers. I resolved this by putting the “d” in square brackets, then mentioned that it made it look kind of like code.

At this point I wanted it to look more like code, and asked Dethe to go further, to introduce different aspects of coding.

The result isn’t really code, but it carries the feel of various programming languages. A different programming language or construct is reflected in pretty much every stanza. Trying to work those constructs in without destroying or distracting overly from the poem was a challenge. I still don’t know if it was successful or if we pushed it too far.

  1. February 26, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    most excellent spanning of many worlds poetry!

  2. February 27, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Thanks, Roland! I’m glad you liked it.

  3. nevena
    February 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Something new, different, and very, very powerfull!

  4. Christina
    February 28, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Well done, you two! It’s great to have you reading together so fluidly (and interpreting the code elements for us!)



  5. February 28, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Thank you, Roland, Nevena, and Christina,

    The excitement about this poem has not lessened over time. If anything it has left me with the taste of something I would like to explore further. Dethe permitting:-) And we did not even get into the semantics of the code beyond the visual effect. This poem and probably future collaborations of this nature should come with a key for the coding symbols so that one can experience the extra dimension of those frames as we hone them to extend meaning.
    thanks for your comments.

  6. Derek Read
    March 8, 2011 at 2:27 am

    This really takes me there. I don’t spend a lot of time in Gastown, but if I close my eyes this poem brings me there. The imagery is very good and also appeals to my geek side at the same time.

    If I could choose to read a poem about one of the few named alleys in Vancouver (hint ;-) my first choice would have been Shanghai Alley, but Blood Alley is a close second.

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