Tag Archives: writing201

A Partly Automated Sonnet-Cento About Copyright Present and Future

This partly automated sonnet-cento, about copyright present and future, is composed of lines from my tweets with the technical help of Poetweet (which I can’t stop using, now that #writing201 has alerted me to it).

“Can’t we cut a little bit more, drawn from our collective pasts”

you to go to jail for sharing files
despite undecided legal challenge
and anti-democratic trade deals
poverty and climate change

and clarify notice-and-notice
amendments on controversial
users with baseless legal threats
for the use of copyrighted material

information in payment demands
models and monopolistic advantage
emphasis on the need for balance
use of Canada’s cultural heritage

exec started making some calls
your personal information to trolls

A “Latent News” Report: Found Poetry and Fair Dealing

When I studied at the U of Guelph and belonged to its Creative Writing Society, in early 2004, we created found poetry by playing the Surrealist game Latent News: “one or more persons cuts out each individual line from several different newspaper stories, mixes them up, and then rearranges them as quickly as possible into entirely new stories, the only rule being that the lines must be arranged into syntactically correct sentences. The name is derived from the impulse behind the game: to disorder the mystification called ‘news’ and thereby to reveal something of its latent content” (Rosemont 169, emphasis added).

Latent News Report, Jan. 21, 2004

women who band together to seek
For example, the new guidelines
to Understand Men Through Their
having boards take this / from one of Radio 3’s other sites,
Apart from the fans, who are being
revenge after their wealthy, / anesthesia for a procedure to
a history of heinous allegations.
where this stuff is going. But / Canada has vehemently denied
an interim ruling yesterday,
Along the way, the Patriots made
South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, to help
busy, complex surroundings of a
sampler. Each of the four singers
the groundwork for universal suffrage and
stream of independent Canadian
of the Month and Young Wives.
successful, who could not find a
volume of more than 14 million
studies. And I was happy to be here.

mccutcheon_latentnews2004 Over ten years later, I can’t attribute my source more precisely than to guess that this latent news report is probably taken from then-current stories in The Globe & Mail. (I’m a bit amazed to find that the CWS’ webpage about our latent news reporting is still up. The Internet really is forever…sometimes.)

This repurposing of found text to reveal the “latent news” represents another practice of fair dealing, the users’ right in copyright law that allows you to reuse copyrighted works in limited ways. In this case, a substantial portion of a news article (or more than one article) may end up being used, but what is most significant here the selection and sequencing of the words, which serve to turn the original piece into a critique of that piece and by extension a criticism of the assumptions, biases, and other really quite narrow parameters of “news-worthiness.” That is, the latent news is first and foremost a practice of criticism, and as such is eminently defensible as fair dealing.

It’s arguable that as a practice of Surrealist poetry, the Latent News doesn’t demystify the news so much as it may simply trade one kind of mystification – that of corporate-biased, corporate-owned news media – for another – that of avant-garde appropriation art. Is the form maybe a bit outdated? In the age of social media, readers and users have found highly effective ways to demystify, criticize, and call out the embedded, encoded, and otherwise less-than-obvious premises and biases in mainstream journalism. A vocabulary of memes and tropes has emerged around social media users’ criticisms of corporate journalism. Take, for example, the trope of “fixing” stories and headlines. Here’s one of my favourite examples, in which the ever-incisive @FugitivePhilo “fixes” a headline for Bloomberg Business News:

Sarcasm seems to play a big role in the Internet’s memes and tropes of media criticism. Some of it is maybe prompted by the extreme economy of words that a platform like Twitter demands; maybe more of it is a response to the rampaging stampede of trolls the Internet sometimes seems like, where every single news article is graced – by virtue of affording a comment box – with its own hundreds-strong club of assholes. (Present readers excepted…blog commentators don’t seem cretinous; it’s mainstream news that brings out the trolls.)

But despite the new forms adopted and circulated by critical readers of news, there’s still a place and a role for the Surrealists’ Latent News, I think, and I think too that Latent News practice can readily adapt to the new media environment. (Maybe today’s Latent News can remix not only an article itself, but also its accompanying torrent of trolls.) New tools lend themselves to this game, tools like Poetweet, which eats lines from whichever Twitter account you feed it and spits out instant sonnets, rondeles, and other poems. With tools like these you can demystify your own news. Here’s a Latent News sonnet that Poetweet produced from my own Twitter feed, which tends to relay a lot of news stories (or else this process would produce not Latent News, strictly speaking, but centos more broadly):

Payment Demands

Emphasis on the need for balance.”
The social process of learning.”
Metric for measuring excellence.”
That it still needs explaining.)

Watches sunrise on giant TV screens
You to go to jail for sharing files
& thoughtful citizens.”
Vibes tickle your earholes.

Boots ’n’ cats
By children not vaccinated?
Users With Baseless Legal Threats

Public & the public interest.
Universal basic income as a right.
Paramilitaries to Clear Protest

The fact that Poetweet made this automatically points to another key Surrealist technique, automatic writing, which tries to free the writing process from rational control and self-censorship to the maximum extent possible. The Latent News offers an opportunity to closely read and materially engage with a journalistic composition; it lets you learn about such composition by taking it apart and not putting it back together the way you found it. It represents a warped, distorted kind of playback, and playback has proven an effective form of criticism in itself. According to playwright and critic Rick Salutin, playback is a major rhetorical device in the digital age, as demonstrated for instance by The Daily Show: “You simply repeat what your foe or target said, letting the audience realize how dangerous or vacuous it is. … [Jon Stewart] plays a clip by a public figure. Then he repeats it himself in an amazed tone. It’s devastating” (A17).

Latent News also deals in irony and timeliness (one of these is also a criterion of news-worthiness…guess which?). I’ve given a sample of the form made of news from way back in 2004, and I’ve lost the sources as well. So what news, precisely, was being demystified at the time is now lost to that time. It may be a kind of adaptation that works better – and that more effectively criticizes – when the reader can see the original and the cut-up remix facing each other. So maybe I should post again soon with a more current sample – together with a link to its source material.

That said, the Surrealists’ game of Latent News remains an engaging – and, let’s admit it, fun – exercise in close reading, critical reflection, and creative reinterpretation. It combines playback with cut-up, creating new contexts in which to understand “all the news that’s fit to print” – while exposing the contexts that made what’s in print seem fit to be news.

Works Cited

Rosemont, Franklin. “Surrealist Games, 2. Latent News.” Surrealism in the USA. Spec. issue of Race Traitor 13-14 (2001): 169-70.
Salutin, Rick. “Proud despite the facts.” Globe and Mail 18 Mar. 2005: A17.
The Globe & Mail, circa 2003-4.
van Veen, Tobias C. [@fugitivephilo]. “Fixed it for you: ‘How Big Pharma & Capitalism Failed to Stop Ebola Because Black People Aren’t Profitable’.” Tweet. 6:19 PM, 30 Sept. 2014. https://twitter.com/fugitivephilo/status/517106488717107200

Poetry Potluck, the Public Domain, and “The Red Wheelbarrow”

The WordPress #writing201 poetry course has invited us to take a weekend break from writing, to share our favourite poems by others. I’d like to share a poem that is legal to freely reprint in full in Canada, but that would be infringing copyright in the USA and the UK. And then I’ll explain why this is important.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I want to share Carlos’ poem for three reasons:

  • because the poem (which I first read in my first university English class) exemplifies poetry as what Toronto’s former poet laureate Dionne Brand calls “a perfect kind of speech”;
  • because today kicks off Fair Use Week – a week devoted to raising awareness of the users’ rights in copyright law1;
  • and because the Canadian public domain lets me – as yet.
  • As a copyright scholar, I am as interested in how bloggers are sharing poems as in which poems they’re sharing. Whether #writing201 bloggers are infringing copyright by reprinting poems in full depends on where they are. For instance, here’s one blogger’s reproduction of a famous Robert Frost poem. Frost died in 1963, so his work is still copyright protected in the USA, the UK, and other jurisdictions where the term of copyright protection extends to 70 years after the author’s death. In Canada, though, the copyright has expired on Frost’s work – that is, Frost’s work is in the public domain – because Canadian copyright law only protects work until 50 years after the author’s death. So the complete works of some major authors – Frost, Hemingway (died 1961), Sylvia Plath (died 1963) – can now be freely copied and shared in full – but only in jurisdictions with shorter copyright terms, like Canada.

    Each January 1st, the Public Domain Day organization announces which canonical authors and cultural producers are entering the public domain that year. But the coming years may see fewer entries as corporate lobbyists continue to press governments for ever longer copyright terms in trade talks, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a party to which Canada is now reported to have caved in to the demands of the USA to extend our copyright term to 70 years. Longer copyright terms don’t mean better pay for creators: major studies have shown that copyright need extend no longer than 7 to 14 years after publication (never mind after the creator’s death) to reap optimal financial rewards (Giblin 2015, Gowers 2006). All longer copyright terms mean is a diminished, impoverished public domain – our common cultural heritage – and increased control by corporations over the production and distribution of culture.

    1. Fair Use, or in Canada fair dealing, is the users’ right that allows you to make certain non-infringing uses of works that are still copyright-protected – as I did in my acrostic last week, which sampled lines from several contemporary US poets. The public domain describes works no longer protected by copyright. So fair dealing does not apply to the public domain, but both fair dealing and the public domain represent important provisions for users, rather than creators, of culture, which is why I mention Fair Use Week here.

    An acrosticento (for #writing201)

    The third #writing201 assignment is to write an acrostic on trust. This acrostic is also a cento, composed wholly of lines borrowed from other poems. While the poem contemplates trust in one’s beloved, its appropriative form queries trust in authorship and textual authority. So it’s an … acrosticento, then?

    the promise of no other

    holding the grass seed and the dune
    everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
    and people who are not us no matter who we are
    the promise of no other, the sleeper in the garden
    has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
    even magnanimous,
    rich with darkness. Inside the grass is the wish to be rooted, inside the rain


    Each line above corresponds to a numbered entry below, to acknowledge and link to the line’s source. The sources are all poems distributed by the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day email service, which I can’t highly enough recommend subscribing to; it’s a great way to sample the spectrum of excellent poetry being published today. And composing a cento of standout lines from other poems is a great way to discover what kinds of poems and voices one is drawn to – and, in the process, to discover one’s own voice too. (David Shields revived the practice of cento and textual collage in his 2010 book Reality Hunger, which is thus also a source for this work, and also a must-read for writers.)

    1. CJ Evans, “The dandelions in the moment and then” (2015)
    2. Amy Gerstler, “Fruit cocktail in light syrup” (2014)
    3. Martha Ronk, “Location LA” (2015) http://academyofamericanpoets.cmail1.com/t/y-e-idhiulk-jrdihkkko-r/
    4. Joseph Fasano, “Testimony” (2014)
    5. Sara Eliza Johnson, “Combustion” (2014)
    6. Philip Schultz, “Afterwards” (2014)
    7. Joanna Klink, from “3 Bewildered Landscapes” (2014)

    “O Pioneers” (a topical limerick for #writing201)

    I’m taking part in WordPress’ online poetry course, #writing201, mostly for some structured writing motivation. I’m not blogging all work (I don’t think it’s fair of the course hosts to expect it), but I will share some. Like the assignment to write an alliterative limerick about journeys. This assignment gives me pause about the course, but writing limericks is fun. They lend themselves to topical, satirical subjects (they’re hard to take seriously, I think, because I always expect them to be dirty). So voilà.

    O Pioneers

    O pioneers of the mission to Mars,
    So keen to make history among the stars:
    Please ponder that science
    Says your trip speeds to silence
    Like the Donners, to leave families with scars.