Altered Text

These are some notes I shared with a friend, a while ago, about some ideas that interest me lately. Feel free to make additions, corrections, etc.

I’ll call it altered text, although for the thing I have in mind there are actually many things, many names, from many times and places. My notion of “destroyed text” is somewhat unique, but not really. I’ll show you some examples of a family ideas I think the idea is descended from. I’ll try to give you explanations, citations and examples for each.

Conceptual Literature

This term basically describes everything else on the list. It’s the broad category for all sorts of “altered texts”. The term is often confused, or used interchangeably with “conceptual writing” which also happens to be the name that academics use for any sort of writing about ideas: criticism, science, philosophy, etc. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Here, we’re talking about writing that is like conceptual art. What is conceptual art? Conceptual art is any art where the idea of the art is more important than the object created. With conceptual literature, this notion has been simply applied to literature, just as it had been to painting, performance, etc.


Visual Poetry

Also known as “concrete poetry”, these texts are altered in such a way that their typography has an effect on their meaning. In some cases, the typography is the meaning. Concrete poetry is often associated with poems whose text is shaped like their subject. For (a boring) example, a poem about a bottle of wine whose text is shaped like a bottle of wine. Visual poetry is a term used for more abstract uses of the idea. In general, the name of the game here is to consider the presentation of the words on the page in new ways. You won’t find very much conventional typography here, although I think that the best examples are informed by all those centuries of typographic discipline.


Asemic Writing

If you’ve ever tested a pen out to see whether it worked, and assuming it worked, you’ve created an asemic letter or two. Asemic writing is “writing” that looks like writing, but it isn’t writing. Handwriting can take on asemic qualities, during a bumpy ride, for example. Here, the lines are still very much a narration of the experience, in the sense that the lines that make up the letters are transcribing some of the movement that occured during their composition, but if the ride was too bumpy, then the only meaning that remains for the lines on the page is an asemic, wordless meaning.


  • https://issuu.com/dylan_k/docs/luigi.serafini.-.codex.seraphinianus
  • https://asemic.net
  • https://thenewpostliterate.blogspot.com
  • Michael Jacobson, The Giant’s Fence. Barbarian Interior Books, 2006. ISBN 1-4116-6208-3
  • Michael Jacobson, Action Figures. Barbarian Interior Books, 2009.
  • Tim Gaze, Writing. xPress(ed), 2004. ISBN 951-9198-86-5
  • Tim Gaze, Noology. Arrum Press, 2008.
  • Rosaire Appel, Morpheme Pages. Press Rappel, 2008. ISBN 978-0-557-03591-5
  • Rosaire Appel, Wordless (Poems). Press Rappel, 2009. ISBN 978-1441482587
  • Carlos Martinez Luis, Nomadic and Archeological Scriptures. LUNA BISONTE PRODS, 2009. ISBN 978-1-892280-76-3


Nada Gordon posted a particularly good definition of Flarf . I’ll track down the articles mentioned here, when I get the chance.

Flarf is an international avant-garde poetry movement of the late 20th century / early 21st century whose 30+ practitioners explore “the inappropriate” in all of its guises. Their method is to mine the Internet with odd search terms then distill the results into often hilarious and sometimes disturbing poems, plays, and other texts. Recently profiled on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, the flarf collective create hilarious, shocking, and sometimes downright offensive works. Heated discussions about flarf have been broadcast by the BBC and National Public Radio, and published in The Village Voice, The Nation, Poetry, Poets & Writers, and The Wall Street Journal. “Flarf is a hip, digital reaction to… boring, genteel poetry,” writes poet and critic Marjorie Perloff. Whatever flarf is–whatever you think flarf is–it is most definitely the 21st century’s first poetry movement.



Western traditions have made a science out of literature. It’s been quantified; qualified and dissected so much that, some say, there just isn’t any life left in it. Ethnopoetics offers some writers a way to think outside of that box. Writing haiku in English is one example of ethnopoetics. Here you write in the idiom of another culture, or language, to produce something that you may not have conceived of from the point of view of your own idiom, language or culture. The regionalism of Mark Twain’s era has some elements in common with ethnopoetics.

I don’t really know much about it, but these folks do: