The Deletionist

A collaboration with Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul


The Deletionist is a concise system for automatically producing an erasure poem from any Web page. It systematically removes text to uncover poems, discovering a network of poems called “the Worl” within the World Wide Web.


In the “Working Note” for Nets, Jen Bervin explains her impulse to play with Shakespeare’s sonnets: “to make the space of the poems open, porous, possible.” Her 2004 collection presents bolded words from sixty sonnets, creating a new “net” of meaning, a visually and lyrically emergent poetic constellation. The technique of erasure, in which words are removed from a source text to reveal poems latent within it, came to prominence with the work of Ronald Johnson and Tom Phillips in the 1960s. It has come back into fashion in recent book-length poems, including Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager, Janet Holmes’s The MS of My Kin, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, Mary Ruefle’s A Little White Shadow, and (just released as this project was being completed) Sonne from Ort by Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf. The Deletionist asks what will happen if the text being erased is itself already a Net.


The Deletionist takes the form of a JavaScript bookmarklet that automatically creates erasures from any Web pages the reader visits, finding a space of texts that amplify, subvert, and uncover new sounds and meanings in their sources. Neither an artificial intelligence nor a poetry generating system, The Deletionist has a repertoire for uncovering patterns and revealing the poetics at play within the cloud: from Project Gutenberg ebooks, to Facebook, to Bomb Magazine and Arts and Letters Daily, The Deletionist will willingly apply itself to any text set before it.


The project is collaboration with Jesper Juul (developer of the conceptual game 4:32 and other computational provocations), and Nick Montfort (author of the ppg256 series and other small-scale poetry generators).


The Deletionist posts interesting discoveries on Twitter and Tumblr and welcomes reader submissions. It has been exhibited in New Text at ISEA 2015, Vancouver, and in Words Unstable Upon the Table, at E-Poetry 2014.


We published an extended statement, “Opening a Worl in the World Wide Web: The Aesthetics and Poetics of Deletionism” in the Spring, 2015 issue of Media-N, the Journal of the New Media Caucus, which was devoted to the aesthetics of erasure.

Selections from The Deletionist also appear in VLAK 5, the final issue of the wonderful international journal of experimental writing.</li>