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Category Archives: visualizing poetry

Laura and I finally had a moment to regroup post Chicago. Both of us were excited by the warm reception(s) we received for our “strange” work at MLA. We decided to continue the journey, but to of course increase the strangeness. To that end, I ran some new google searches today – my favorite being: “natural language grammatical parsers”. This search brought me to Stanford’s Natural Language Processing Group (“SNLP”). If you decided to pass on the link, here’s the key info:

“…algorithms that allow computers to process and understand human languages…”

Does that sound awesome or what!?

What is sooo exciting about this phrase (to me) is the potential it suggests for deeper semantic visualization.

SNLP incorporates both: “…innovative probabilistic and machine learning approaches to NLP…”; this includes the ability to train the system, which is pretty spectacular!! I suspect in some circles this is old news, but to me the possibilities, in regard to my and Laura’s continued pursuits of strangeness, is mind-boggling.

Of course that being said, the software will take some time to understand and integrate in the existing work. Here’s an online version of the parser.


• Please Note: The Stanford parser returns a very abbreviated shorthand of the parts of speech (or perhaps it has been too long since I sat in an English class). Here’s the decoder:

Here is an excerpt from a paper I gave at MLA about Ira’s visualization experiments:

            Digital artist Ira Greenberg has created for the Poetess archive several types of visualizations using XML-encoded documents.  The text we used is Felicia Hemans’s poem “Domestic Affections.”  The first visualization is a word fountain.  Based on word count, this dynamic picture alphabetizes the words and shoots up water: the higher the water, the greater number of times that word appears in the poem.  The highest water spurts correspond to words such as “the” and “a,” so we are really interested in this middle range.  If one scrolls over it, the word appears on top.  still from word fountain

As is visible here, in “poetess” poetry, “death” is prominent: “Domestic Affections” describes a woman’s desire to have her genius recognized as such, allegedly with fatal consequence.  water fountain

Here you see the cursor discovering in higher spurts of water “she, serene, shade, shadowy, seraph-dreams,” a rather nice list of attributes for what she needs to be and why death might therefore be needed to neutralize a woman’s intellect.

            Another visualization crated by Greenberg is what I call an elocutionary diagram.  


What you see here is of course a still from an animated visualization.  Here a worm-like creature crawls through the poem – through “Domestic Affections” – pausing at each punctuation mark for an amount of time determined by the mark’s relative punctuating force.  A comma generates a curvature in the  arthropod’s body, an exclamation point causes it to stop for a longer period of time and so its tail crashes into its head generating a series of large V shapes.  Here we see, in other words, the poem’s elocutionary force pictured as movement through time.  Why do Vs cluster and clatter here, why gently rolling comma-lulls there?

            Finally Greenberg developed a color wheel visualization based on positive (red), negative (blue), and neutral (gray) terms.

color wheel

Concentric rings moving out represent each line in the poem from beginning to end.  Here we see its emotional ups and downs, how they cluster, contrast, compare.  It is interesting to see that our perception of the color gray or neutrality is affected by the colors surrounding it, just as a peaceful moment after being almost hit by a bus differs from a peaceful moment when one wakes up after pleasant dreams.  One sees here not only where positive terms dominate and where sadness prevails, but how such alterations affect one another.

Paper / Power Point