The Deletionist is a concise system for automatically producing an erasure poem from any Web page. It systematically removes text to uncover poems, discovering a network of poems called “the Worl” within the World Wide Web.
In the “Working Note” for Nets, Jen Bervin explains her impulse to play with Shakespeare’s sonnets “to make the space of the poems open, porous, possible.” Her 2004 collection presents bolded words from sixty sonnets, creating a new “net” of meaning, a visually and lyrically emergent poetic constellation. The technique of erasure, in which words are removed from a source text to reveal poems latent within it, came to prominence with the work of Ronald Johnson and Tom Phillips in the 1960s. It has come back into fashion in recent book-length poems, including Srikanth Reddy's Voyager, Janet Holmes's The MS of My Kin, Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes, Mary Ruefle's A Little White Shadow, and (just released as this project is being completed) Sonne from Ort by Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf. The Deletionist asks what will happen if the text being erased is itself already a Net.
The project is collaboration between Amaranth Borsuk (author of the chapbook Tonal Saw, which was created by erasure from the tract National Sunday Law), Jesper Juul (developer of the conceptual game 4:32 and other computational provocations), and Nick Montfort (author of the ppg256 series and other small-scale poetry generators).
The system reads and removes standard Web page text, but does not remove a few special classes of text, including text within image, within a canvas, within an iFrame, and on buttons.
The system is deterministic — there is no random element. The Deletionist chooses a method of erasure based on the properties of the Web page. So, for static pages, you can share a particular result with others by simply sharing the URL, and their loading the page, as with your reloading it, will produce the same result. However, if the page changes, the system may change its method of erasure.
The Deletionist works to make every page into a single poem. If the words that result are spread too thinly over a very long page (such as one that contains the text of an entire novel), try applying The Deletionist to a smaller excerpt of this text, such as a chapter.
Some pages can load extra content after the main page has loaded — Facebook and Twitter, for instance. Anything that has been loaded after The Deletionist has done its work will not be erased into a poem unless you click on The Deletionist again.
Some pages use this type of dynamic text loading, or other special means of displaying text, for everything. Many of Google's pages, including Google search results and Google News, are of this sort, and The Deletionist will not work on them.
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