Sappho is a unique figure in queer culture - her existence is as much defined by the void of missing historical material as it is by the evidence of her life in general and her same-sex desire in specific. By working with her poetry, I aimed to engage with the idea of queer forms of genealogy - allowing a queer audience to see connections other than what we’re used to associating with ancestral tries. I used poems taken from Anne Carson’s translation If Not, Winter as my source material.
As part of my design research I became interested in the potential of queer methods of making based in algorithmic generative processes.
Tracery is a generative tool developed by Kate Compton that allows for quick and easy text reworkings. By breaking down Sappho’s poetry into phrases and regrouping them, then pulling from those groups to generate new lines, I was able to generate queer poetry that was both by Sappho and not anything that she had written as a whole. Rather than producing linear, clearly defined poetry, this process results in fields of potential, with code acting as a performative element in a wider network of collaborators.
The outputs from my remixes were not entirely comprehensible - I am not a linguist and while there was a system to the breaking down and categorisation of the source material, I did not venture into the world of semantic analysis. However, the sometimes nonsensical outputs revealed interesting potential in the play of juxtaposition and disorientation. Editing the outputs into a series of poems involved negotiating how much of the algorithm’s “voice” should shine through, and what emerged was a network of collaboration between Sappho, the translator of her poetry, myself, code libraries, and wider technologies of reproduction. Each poem is at the nexus of that complicated network, and could not exist without each part of that intermingled assemblage.