Computer Poems; Or, Back to Applesoft Basic

[Lisa Hemphill’s “Self-Reflexive No. 2” {No. 1 of 2}, see below for the code]

As mentioned in earlier post, my recent reading has yielded a fresh understanding of the paper components of bpNichol’s First Screening. My teaching, meanwhile, has given me a delightful opportunity to return to the screenic side of the work. Students in my now-running “Literature of the Digital Age” course read Nichol’s and Geof Huth’s early experiments with what Nichol called “computer poems” alongside examples of print visual poetry from recent decades in order to trace one “origins story” for electronic literature.

When they arrived to class on Thursday, I offered class members a learning-through-making activity: I shared a chunk of Nichol’s Basic code (for his poem “Self Reflexive No. 2”) that I had clipped from Jim Andrews’s First Screening shrine and a link to this Basic emulator created by one Joshua Bell. They were invited to make their own computer poems out of Nichol’s little program. Below you will find the code for their works, which can be viewed by simply copy-and-pasting into Bell’s emulator.  These little works aren’t just clever: they show real understanding, often through loving parody, of what Nichol-as-computerized-concrete-poet sought to do.

If you don’t know Nichol’s work, you’d be wise to run/watch First Screening before running any of the remixes below. And, dear reader, should you make one of your own, do post it in the comments section here. Enjoy!


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3 Thoughts to “Computer Poems; Or, Back to Applesoft Basic”

  1. Don Hoyt


    The following is some Applesoft BASIC code that, when RUN, displays several lines of a short poem. The message and the medium are both in the code itself, not seperate. I wrote it back in 1995 or so. I submitted it to literary journals for a few years and then just gave it up.

    I don’t know if it fits into your enterprize, but many thanks.


    20 CLEAR: HOME
    30 PRINT “1- Being a person making choices.”
    40 PRINT “2- Being a person making choices.”
    60 INPUT “Choose the path of high resistance”; A$
    70 IF A$= “1” THEN GOTO 100
    80 IF A$= “2” THEN GOTO 100
    100 HOME
    110 PRINT “Thinking in the tiniest pieces”
    120 PRINT “no errors not trapped”
    130 PRINT “smaller than irrelevance”
    140 PRINT “straight as power poles”
    150 PRINT “each one built upon the last”
    160 PRINT “fused to all others by hole theory,”
    170 PRINT “by the gathering of force,”
    180 PRINT “not by the birds but by their”
    190 PRINT “perching on the searing wires.”
    200 PRINT: PRINT
    210 INPUT “Press any key to continue (? preferred)”; A$
    220 GOTO 10

    Documentation: Written in Applesoft ™ BASIC. At the BASIC prompt, type in the lines exactly as written; then type . As long as or is chosen at the prompt, the program will repeat itself indefinitely. Choosing any other response blanks the screen and ends the program.

    1. Rhg

      Thanks for sharing this, Don. Could you comment further on your efforts to submit it to print journals? Did you get feedback? Were any of them publishing what Nichol called “computer poems” and what many of us would now refer to as “electronic literature” then?

      1. Don Hoyt

        I was writing and publishing poetry and fiction and teaching myself how to propgram in BASIC back in the 90s on an Apple II+. I thought it would be interesting to merge BASIC code with poetic content, sort of like merging the rider with his horse. You can’t do that with paper and pen, can you? In any case, the code is the message as well as the carrier of the message.

        I submitted “Human Domain Software” to about a dozen mainstream literary journals without success, and so I just gave up. After all these years, I recently stumbled upon COMPUTER POEMS; OR, BACK TO APPLESOFT BASIC by accident. It has been fun to come across folks who understand what I did, but I’m not sure it’s poetry.

        Best to all,


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