What's a permugram? Top

A permugram is a poem in which the words of the first line are permutated (mixed) to make the following lines. The poem has as many lines as there are words in the first line. No words are added or removed after the first line. Words may only be changed according to the rules of grammar (including homonyms with different spelling). Adding punctuation and line breaks is allowed. A title can be chosen freely.
Due to the Dadaist origin of permugrams, the most important rule is, that rules may be ignored. Above all a permugram is a great way to explore the meaning and rhythm of words.

Structure Top

The smallest permugrams consist of 2 lines of 2 words. With 3 words there are 6 ways to mix the words, so the poet has to select and order the best 3 lines. With 4 different words there are 24 permutations possible, but identical words in the input reduced the number of possible permutations in a complex way. Each new word added multiplies the number of options with the then total number of words of the first line: 5 words 120, 6 words 720, 7 words 5040, 8 words 40320 ... An enthusiastic poet has more than 87 billion lines to choose from creating a permugram sonnet of 14 lines.
Because permugrams have as many lines as there are words in the first line, any permugram should have (words in the first line)2 words.

Permugrams are created in 4 steps:
Create input:Generate permutations:Select and order:Edit result:
words to mixGeneratewords to mix
mix to words
mix words to
to words mix
words mix to
to mix words

1 words to mix
2 to mix words
3 mix words to
EditMy permugram

Words to mix:
to, mix, words.
Mix words too!

The program Top

In general poems can only be made by people, but permugrams have a design well suited for generation by computers. The computer program on this site generates up to 200 permutations at a time (always different - if there are more than 200 variations - when you hit the 'Rearrange & add' button repeatedly) and selected lines are put in the right order.
Furthermore the program estimates the frequency of up to 24 lines + the selected lines in all the text on the world wide web (yellow bar, mouse over shows number of hits). This is a rather slow process which can take 3 minutes or so. If the program finds enough 'hits', a button appears to make an automatic permugram with the most frequent lines.
After you have selected the right number of lines, hit the 'Edit and publish' button and you can edit the poem. Be careful not to add or remove words in this step!

Tristan Tzara History Top

Poems based on permutations are rare. Playing with words and linguistic structures is part of rhetoric founded by the Greek Sophist around 600 BC. Real experimental poetry started only as recent as the 20th century. The Rumanian artist Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) referred to permutations in 1920 in his text Pour faire un poème dadaïste, which he published in Dadaist manifestos and recited in his controversial performances in Paris. Translated from French:

    To make a Dadaist poem:

    Take a newspaper.
    Take a pair of scissors.
    Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
    Cut out the article.
    Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
    Shake it gently.
    Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
    Copy conscientiously.
    The poem will be like you.
    And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming
    though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Brion GysinIn 1959 the great experimental artist Brion Gysin (1916-1986) based his cut-out technique on the ideas of Tzara and made a famous poem with permutations: RUB OUT THE WORD, although this is both a drawing and a poem. The poem is included at the end of this page. His friend the American writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) adopted this process and used cut-ups extensively in Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded, and other books which made the method highly controversial in the literary world. There was some talk to the effect that Brion was a bad influence, a razor-wielding, dada-spouting anarchist whose high-art theorizing was corrupting an authentic American voice. In time, cut-ups became enshrined as an alternative strategy for dealing with words, studied and employed by poets and novelists and even playing a part in pop music, as a lyric-writing aid or inspiration for, among others, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Raymond QueneauIn 1961 Raymond Queneau (1903-1976) published Cent mille milliards de poèmes which was a set of cards with interchangeable lines of 10 sonets with which 1014 poems could be created. The concept fascinated the mathematician François Le Lionnais (1901-1984) and together they founded Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle). In this 'workshop' many mathematical techniques to create literature were explored.

After the introduction of computers many applications to generate poetry were developed. Most programs were based on the use of random generators to pick words from a collection: Tzara's paper bag was computerized.
However permugrams (and other poetic forms like palindromes) are not based on a random process, but on a mathematical principle to find all variations. Using mathematics in this way, allows poets to put in perspective the countless options language has to offer. This is comparable to the generally accepted use of mathematics by musicians to explore harmonics en melodic structures.

Colophon Top

© 2008 Teun de Lange, Antwerp, concept and program.
Tips and tricks: Anneke de Lange, Reinder Nijhoff, Ruben IJzerman.
Frequency calculation based on Google search engines.
You publish your permugrams and/or contact the 'administrator' via [email protected].

Brion Gysin's RUB OUT THE WORD
Create your own permugram explore the meaning of words ...
Words (separated by spaces, _ keeps words together)
Status: new
English Top

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