April 6, 2006

Notes on Ream

by Nick Montfort · , 10:00 pm

I write a lot of things intended for the computer. I decided, for a change, to write a poem that was fit for print and paper. Here are a few notes about the project:

  1. Ream is a 500 page poem.
  2. The writing of Ream was entirely imagined and executed on one day: April 5, 2006.
  3. On each page of Ream a single, one-syllable word appears, centered, in ordinary, 14-point type.
  4. Page numbers do not appear on any of the pages and are unnecessary, since the words are in alphabetical order.
  5. Pages 1-51 recapitulate Poe’s “The Raven.”
  6. The sexy part starts shortly after page 230.
  7. Ream can be read aloud in 12 minutes.

13 Responses to “Notes on Ream


  1. andrew Says:

    Cool. Will you document the project in some way for us to see and read online?

    The sexy part starts shortly after page 230

    Ah, that’d be approximately when you’re into the k’s — oh, yeah. Yeah.

  2. scott Says:

    tree-killer
    stop the madness

  3. Grand Text Auto » More Poetic Strangeness: Fourier Electronique and Fib Says:

    [...] 12:43 pm

    It must be national poetry month. In addition to Nick Montfort’s foray into deforestation this morning my email included note of two other strange poeti [...]

  4. nick Says:

    Andrew, I probably will document the project further. These notes provide some documentation, of course.

    To explain a bit more about the context of the project: I consider the writing of Ream to be conceptual writing. This is not as “pure” a conceptual writing project as are Kenneth Goldsmith’s recent projects, certainly. Ream incorporates authorial decisionmaking and allusion, among other things. But I think these flavor rather than override the nature of the project as conceptual.

    An idea not articulated in Kenny’s paragraphs on conceptual writing, but one which I don’t think he is hostile to, is that it is possible to read conceptual writing without having access to the text. I had a two-and-a-half hour conversation with several people online after I described Ream. I think the people who were part of this discussion, who never saw the text, read Ream more closely than they’ve read any other poem I’ve ever written.

    So my notes above are also an invitation to read the poem, whether or not you borrow the manuscript from me at some point.

  5. andrew Says:

    True. But in additional to enjoying the conceptual nature of a piece, I like to enjoy its literary side, if it has one, and if a piece has both conceptual and literary material to be seen, then my enjoyment multiplies. :-)

    I could imagine you’d say the conceptual part of the piece, which you’ve published above, is all that you wish to publish online, and the literary part must be experienced with the 500 page stack itself, since the act of reading those 500 pages is critical to the enjoyment of it as literature.

  6. mark Says:

    True. But in additional to enjoying the conceptual nature of a piece, I like to enjoy its literary side, if it has one, and if a piece has both conceptual and literary material to be seen, then my enjoyment multiplies. :-)

    I agree with this, and I guess it underlies a lot of my skepticism towards the entire “conceptual art” movement. I come at it mainly from an interest in avant-garde music, where oddly the topic rarely comes up (a few PhDs in musicology notwithstanding). It’s sort of expected that an interesting concept for a piece is a starting point, not a finishing point—it’s possible to come up with an interesting concept and still produce a remarkably uninteresting piece of music. I think this is where, to pick one group often considered “conceptual”, Nurse With Wound have succeeded where a lot of other avant-garde musicians have failed. Almost all their albums are based on a concept of one sort or another, but they manage to make something interesting out of them. For example, their most recent project, “Shipwreck Radio”, consisted of living on a remote Scandinavian islands for a few months, recording ambient sounds and broadcasting cut-ups of them over a pirate radio station, recording that radio station, and trying to talk to the local weather-station personnel (recording that as well). An interesting concept, but you can imagine that of the infinite number of albums that one could produce as a result of such a project, some are much more interesting than others. The fact that they produced a very good one (in my opinion) is what makes them interesting musicians rather than merely musicians who had interesting ideas.

  7. Brandon Says:

    There is no such thing as “ordinary 14-point type”.

  8. JoseAngel Says:

    I’ll just read the “nevermore” chapter.

  9. ArC Says:

    Re: #4. Have you considered distributing “Ream” by taking an ordinary dictionary and highlighting the words that make up the text?

  10. nick Says:

    Tonight was the first public reading of Ream, at the Speakeasy open mic here at the Kelly Writers House. Apparently there are photographs and even some video of the incident. I will report back when I find out more about these.

    (Also, great idea, ArC – although maybe an idea for another project!)

  11. Josh Says:

    Well I had a chance to see the entire ream over the weekend when I visited Nick. I imagine that a large portion of the pleasure in the piece is actually performative. Particularly good is the fact that at the open mike where it made its debut, Nick had evidently made it clear that he had requested more time, and the MC kept alluding to this fact while reminding others that they only had 7 minutes.

    Consequently, when Nick ambled up to the stage and whipped out his 500 pager, I imagine there were some concerned palpitations from the audience. Not to mention the visceral pleasure of flipping through 500 pages of poems in lightning speed.

    The trick, I think, with these heavily structured poems is to incorporate a real narrative, as Nick has done, and then to bring the narrative forward enough so that it really becomes pleasurable to see the narrative functioning alongside the structural conceit.

    Personally, I enjoy it when the concept and the content function mimetically – so I suppose Nick’s selection of the Raven is good because it evokes a certain madness on the writer’s part. (Or is the Raven really about a guy who had a Raven flutter into his room, Nick?)

  12. Liam Ream Says:

    Curious. Link to REAM? Peace.

  13. Scott Rettberg » Poetic and Strange Says:

    [...] 7, 2006

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