20 August 2008

Lost in a Cloud: Wordle

I don't remember when I first came across the idea of a 'word cloud' but my own first one was created by LibraryThing, the online catalog for those of us who have too many books at home. After 'tagging' them, you can see a visual representation of the subjects and authors on your bookshelves (or, for some of us "in this house somewhere....")

Wordle takes that idea and applies it to any text. And also makes it quite visually interesting and beautiful. Since I have next to no visual art talent (even drawing a straight line is a challenge for me), this may be the closest I can get to the amazing visual poetry of, say, the Calligrammes of Apollinaire, or the amazing work (scroll down to the Pushcart Prize Nominated "Swimchant of Nigger Mer-folk {An Aquaboogie Set in Lapis}" to see what I mean) of my friend Doug Kearney, and others.

Above is a poem that appeared (in slightly different form, as they say) in Issue 51 of DC's fantasmagoric annual journal Gargoyle (you can also hear how it sounds 'From the Fishouse')

Approaching Baltimore

(Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll
Got that Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll)

How the road leans
To where I’m from
—Approaching New York
by Michael Beyer

…the imploded high-rise, empty
houses rows of busted teeth in
a crooked smile. Trash-filled corner
lots. Ghetto Chinese, Yat Gaw Mein
with ketchup, with or without egg.
Six wings and fries. Black-clad homeboys
swimming down the block, calling
loose ones, loose ones (Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll) as they
pull up sagging baggies, bop away: No

easy way into this ugly beauty, once
elegant lady in a tattered dress (Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll). No
sweeping vistas from any approach – The highway
curves and there: a tangle of overpasses,
bombed out streets behind a scrim of
abandoned steel mills and auto plants,
unused loading docks. (Magic!)

Learn to live with, love, imperfection,
the close enough to right, whatever
will make do (Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll). Handsome men with
knife scars across the face, exhausted
women dragging three tattered children
down the street. What happens to a dream

transferred, out sourced, shuttered, boarded
up? Which ways take you in, and which way out? And what grows there?

Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll Got that Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll

And here's what Wordle did with it
Pretty cool, no? Particularly for those of us who are 'graphically challenged', this is way neat...

And just what I needed, another website I can spend hours playing on when I should be working! Maybe if I tell myself I'm improving my design skills.....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I discovered your blog when I read your entry on the One Maryland, One Book site. A Hope in the Unseen is one of my favorite books--a gracefully crafted account of a courageous boy who has become an admirable man, despite so many obstacles.

I LOVE your poem, "Approaching Baltimore." A Baltimore native myself, I know exactly what you're talking about, and you say it powerfully.

I went to the old Western High at Howard and Centre Streets, so the central library was a mainstay of my life when I was a teenager in the 60's. Nothing can come close to the smell of old books, the sound of feet on marble floors, the hushed majesty of the place. Great for you that you work there. I hope it's still a haven where city kids can learn to love books as I did.

I am glad to have found your blog and will continue to check in. Feel free to see mine:

Lynne Heneson