Prose-to-Poetry Game


Are words the same as meaning? Does the form in which you are writing influence the content of what you write? Here’s a game that explores the way form and word choice might influence meaning. For one or many players. Join in!

Rules of the Game:

  • Rewrite a sentence or passage from the Declaration of Independence into a series of linked 17-syllable verses that, like haiku, follow a 5-7-5 sequence of syllables to the line.
  • The text of the Declaration:
  • Try to stay close to the original meaning, but be open to re-interpretation, if the new form requires it.
  • Must reference nature and the seasons
  • Less is more
  • Stop when you have written an ending
  • Translate what you have written back into more straightforward prose
  • Post the poem, the prose translation, and the original passage, in that order.


The poem:

In the bright summer

Of human events

We dissolve our connections


Turn cold our eyes to

Take a place at the wellspring

Of power on Earth


We respect others

Enough to clothe our action

In modest Nature


Don’t argue with us

We are as good as you are

God tells us this. Splash!


 The poem, restored to prose:

Now, in the harsh, dry reckoning of human events, we dissolve the bonds that have heretofore tied us to others and, eschewing subservience toward those from whom we have split, sit with them at the spot from which power emerges and men seize it. Out of respect to those with whom we are now competing, rather than serving, we assert that there is a higher law to which we conform, and a Deity who has given us the same rights that they claim.

The original text:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

MultiWords Functional Spec


What is the product? What does it do? How does it do it?

  • MultiWords is a Mozilla-like multifunctional online-reading mediator.
  • Plug-in components, hardware and software that are accessed via third-party output devices with the capability of tracking readers’ comprehension levels. Additional components can track users’ mood or level of engagement (via heart rate or other monitoring device).
  • Software that collects and distributes data received from readers to subscribing authors.
  • Software automatically adjusts reading level of book by editing it on the fly to a reading level determined by the plug-in hardware from the user’s eye movements and physical data.

What are the markets?

  • Authors
  • Readers
  • Publishers?

Author takes reader feedback into account, can use it as a resource. So can reader.

Available via Mozilla/Wikipedia/WordPress non-profit company

API is freely distributed so 3rd-party vendors can add MultiWord functionality to their products, such as authoring tools, reading platforms, etc.

Can be plugged into authoring tools.

Dan Gillmor thinks of it as a tool that changes how a book comes into being and then can be used to changed and remix the book, either by the author or by readers.

  • Dynamic feedback between reader and author in creating new iterations of the book.
  • Readers’ engagement will be different depending on the levels at which they are subscribed. (Special info from certain readers?)

User benefits:

  • Benefit to reader: they get a customized reading experience
  • Some may feel a deeper connection to the author or to the work.
  • Author can look at collective data and drill down.
  • Author gets a community specific to the book
  • Useful for developing a crowdsourced book

Are we looking at an omnibus tool?

From the author’s POV, it works like this:

  • Author writes original work.
  • Reader views work from accustomed output device, which includes hardware capability that enables it to track reader’s eye movement, emotional states.
  • Author or publisher receives :

—  data about readers’ eye movements
—  actual comments from readers
—  aggregated feedback from readers

  • Reader receives:

— benefit of a customized reading experience (to reader’s personal level, which can change automatically if reading competency improves)

—  possible special relationship with author


Additional functionalities planned for version 2.0

Add composition package, so existing simple texts can be made more complicated. Turns short stories into novels? Guarantees a higher grade on book reports?

Add pallet of constraints, so authors can limit what can be done to their prose. (Note: I’m sure that these authors will suffer in the marketplace!)

Add functionality to enable readers to customize the text of a work to reflect their beliefs or personality.

Reading Rheostat Product Tag



Thank you for purchasing Gunn’s Rheo-Read for Google Glass!

The introduction of the rapid-readability rheostat automates the process of reading and places control of material in the hands of you, the reader. No longer will you have your reading and comprehension speed compromised by long words and difficult concepts. [Version two, currently in development, learns what you like to read, reads it for you, and sends out an intelligent-sounding tweet under your name all about it. No longer will you have to worry about being the first to read the next exciting article! You’ll have commented about it within 1.4 seconds of it being published.—AL]

All new! Use GRRGG’s virtual eye-tracking slider to activate the reading level you’re most comfortable with. Trust parameters can be entered via standard social-capital statistics or heart-rate monitors, and automatic credibility adjustment will insert reassuring quotes from A-list celebrities on any topic. Access to Smarty-Pants™ libraries of quotes on technical, historical, and literary subjects are available by subscription.

Our optional composition package features a complexity-augmenter suitable for preparing term-papers or writing novels. Set the grade-level, and forget it: GRRGG takes it from there!



Hard stuff? No worries!

Look at the dot.

Press Enter!



Product description: a hardware/software add-on to Google Glass. Tracks eye-movements and emotional responses, and adjusts the text to the reader’s reading-comprehension level and comfort zone. Basically, it automatically edits the text for each specific reader.

Yes, it dumbs down the text, but it can also (with the optional software, available at an additional price) smarten-up the text, so a student or writer can sound more intelligent than he actually is.

Yes, it values content over style.

Question: How will this affect the writer? (After her initial bout of depression, of course.)

Question: How will it affect the reader, to always be reading at exactly his comfort level? Will it mean increased literacy, more widespread reading by people who would nowadays be discouraged from reading?

Question: Since it will dumb down the actual content, leaving out the hard stuff, subbing in quotes from Paris Hilton instead of Dostoyevsky, how will it affect the general intelligence of the target population? Is how is this any different than now, with the media dominated by Fox News and the Daily Mail?

More questions and social implications?

Why I’m Here


I’m here to explore the changes that have been happening in publishing and writing as a result of the changing ways that people are reading. Over the past 30 years, the relationship between the writer and the page has changed. What a page actually is has changed. What happens to the pages you write has changed. Many people of varying skills and energy levels have been empowered to write and imagine on the Internet, first in the form of blogs and posts, and more recently, with the advent of easy self-publishing and self-enabled distribution (whether via individual or collective websites or via Amazon and other self-publishing programs).

How will readers sort this out? How will writers sort it out? Will publishers die out and be replaced by platforms? Will more sophisticated sorting systems be developed, beyond the inevitable and inaccurate “More like this”? As a writer I am totally convinced of my value—or rather, the value of my work—to some readers, but in the great noise of the Internet I am not so convinced that those readers will find me or that I will find them.

I am also concerned about exploring new ways of reading and integrating material. William Gibson has sometimes described himself as a collage artist, and I think the changing nature of prose, influenced by hypertextual communication (mainly now in linking, but also possible using more direct hypertext tools), will increase both readers’ and writers’ ability to think several things at once, and to understand multiple associations—sort of living footnotes or interlineations, if you will.

The Medieval manuscripts we were looking at earlier this morning at Stanford University Libraries’ The Circle of the Sun exhibit utilize these same hypertextual additions, limited by the size and format of the manuscript. Experimental writers have long made such associations explicit, but they have had to overcome the constraints of the printed page. We now have a way to create unlimited associations between texts. Is there a way to incorporate that ability into entertaining, accessible works? Are readers becoming better educated in how to read such works, as they leap about the web? Are sophisticated computer games books? There are some excellent writers (Marc Laidlaw and Maureen F. McHugh, among others) involved in creating them.

Certainly the possibilities for a sort of layered, sequential collaboration are here. In Japan, for instance, Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s novel The Difference Engine (1990) was published with a sort of glossary that I had created in English as a friendly critical analysis of the novel (Gunn 1990). Note: the authors of a work many not be happy with this kind of unplanned “collaboration,” but contemporary literary criticism could unfold the meanings of a work in a very interesting way. (Interesting at least for people who are comfortable with handling multiple meanings in a single phrase. Many readers are not.) Aside from criticism, planned narrative collaboration of this sort would probably be interesting and fun to develop.

Writing and publishing have a long history of collaboration: it takes many people to produce a book. With new technologies, the ongoing (post-publication) collaboration between a book and its readers may become more evident.