Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning



November kicked off the third installment–and my first–of National Novel Generation Month (#NaNoGenMo), with a stated goal to “Spend the month of November writing code that generates a novel of 50k+ words.”

I’ve been excited to play with natural language processing tools, so I dove right in! Procedural note: Darius has requested that participants open an issue on the shared Github repo and update from there, so that link is where I’ve been writing and tracking progress. The repo is here.

Here’s my inspiration poem. In my teaching years, this poem made the rounds — it’s great for teaching memoir and descriptive writing, and easy and satisfying for students to emulate in order to create their own “Where I’m From” poems.

Where I’m From
(George Ella Lyon)

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Great, so how about if, to start, I use natural language tools to replace key elements in the poem with randomly selected words that follow the same parts of speech and sound patterns? After a few days of tinkering with it, here’s ten “Where I’m From” iterations (in progress).

Some highlights:

I am from the black hemlock
the Eastern stinking cypress
whose breathy prunes I remember
as if they were my own.
I'm from Greenfield and Schaumburg,
blended peach and tart nectar.
I'm from the feminists
and the smart-asses,
from 'yum' and 'okey-dokey'!
I'm from 'You can have everything in life that you want'
I am from the post under the map room.
(Ivory, oceanfront,
it smelled like coconut.)

Pretty cool, right??!

My goal is to get the poem in good shape, then perhaps evolve computer generated “short stories” using keywords from the poems. After that, if it shapes up to be more of a novel, cool, but I’m also fine with fudging a bit and making it #napogenmo or #nashostogenmo if that’s a better fit.

Technical notes:

  • I started writing this in Ruby but switched to JavaScript in order to use RiTA.
  • Doing so has taught me some of the pitfalls of the latter — there’s no good way to import JSON files without an html page / server as a conduit. Which seems odd, but I’ll keep working on it.
  • The upside is: it should be really easy to publish when it’s done!

I’m currently wading knee-deep in vocabulary but I’ll share how this shapes up. Here are some other works in progress I’m following:

Anyone else out there participating in #nanogenmo?

1 Comment

  1. This is great! So many cool ideas coming together here. Thanks for sharing the code, and your progress.

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