Commiserate is a monthly experiment in poetic collaboration.

July 2013: Calum Rodger

I first saw Calum Rodger giving a fascinating talk on technology and poetry at the always intriguing Syndicate reading series in Edinburgh. I really liked what he was doing with experimentation and enjoyed how he used technology to make startling, surreal, beautiful work. So, I sent him some new poems and asked if he’d play around with them. Below you’ll find my originals followed by Calum’s explanation of his process and then the final pieces.

Originally, I intended to metaphorically burn the originals and leave Calum’s work to stand as our collaboration. He thought you, hypothetical reader, would enjoy seeing what he started with. Which is hypothetically true. However I must say that I consider the work he made the finished poems surpassing the originals in resonance and mystery.

Part I – Ryan’s Original Text

The Street Lights Flick On

We know the rain must come
but it holds in the sky
we aren’t children

So we don’t out stay the night
playing in the gloam
we stay in doors

Of screens, the air electric
we kick the ball, we talk
of her or luck

It looses its magic sometimes
it is hard to pay full attention
to what you are doing below you

Escalator of a Metro

pushing up those cold insisting stairs now
instead of hanging back
a net of Clementines as in Madrid or Prague
New York or worse
Paris where my hands were on your hot
neck and we felt alone as blood rising
every fold of metal
like a sunset, (the long flight ahead)

before you saw them for what they were /
petals cast into the canyon / and nudged

Calum says:

After Ryan sent me the poems, I fed them into the text generator/processor JanusNode and randomised the word-order and line-breaks using the ‘Dadafy’ function. The results, heavily edited, make up the last poem below, THIS HOT STREET.

THE STREET LIGHTS FLICK OFF is a write-through of Ryan’s poem The Street Lights Flick On, while the four cities mentioned in Escalator of a Metro become triggers for brief lyrics in the Poundian style suggested by that poem’s title in FOUR APPARITIONAL ESCALATORS.

The second line of each lyric comes from Ryan’s poem; the first comes from that city’s Wikipedia page, chosen according to search terms selected arbitrarily from The Street Lights Flick On.

I really like working with a source in this way, and not going in with any ‘goal’ as such – that’s up to the words to suggest. It removes it from self-expression a bit, which is very liberating, so the poems feel more abstract and take on more of a reality of their own, but then I still wind up feeling a connection with them – not reference as such, but resonance. I’m particularly pleased with these results – Ryan’s poems proved fertile source material indeed.


The rain we know comes mustily
it holds the sky.
We’re not children

so stay the night.
We can be the flat plain gloaming
of wine-stained doors.

No air can trick its way in here,
forget the girl who kicks the coloured panel.
Talk is luck and not where love is.

Magic. When I lose that word
to the tone of your attention, it is hard.
Everything we’re doing is below us.


street-lighting, cemeteries;
a net of hanging clementines

even in summer the nights were cold
up those insistent stairs

New York
the conflict and the center of attention;
petals, cast into the canyon

all the trains are meeting in the city
every fold of metal / like a sunset


attention rising
you’re magic!
(petals talk back)

the sky is like Paris
and sometimes

a clementine sun
echoes an electric
insistence about

these streets
and we, screens
of gloam metal

instead of being
cold hang

we were children
and could not pay
the lights flickered

on &

I knew you in
the long air
the long kick

just what was your
lucky rain neck
doing in Paris?

and when I found you again
you were a full-blood sunset
in Prague

Calum Rodger is a poet and PhD student at the University of Glasgow working on the poetics of Ian Hamilton Finlay. His creative practice ranges from performance poetry and stand-up comedy, running live poetry night THE VERSE HEARSE in Glasgow with fellow poet Stewart Sanderson, to random lyrics and weird computer-generated and experimental stuff, which he blogs at ALL REAL CULTURE IS FREE. A chapbook, provisionally titled ‘Know yr Stuff: Poems on Hedonism’, is forthcoming from Tapsalteerie.


More from Commiserate 2013