Individual Work
Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge is a generative poem inspired by the Taroko Gorge National Park in Taiwan. The words scroll endlessly, emanating the form of a minimalist nature poem. On the surface it is a bucolic description of a natural landscape, boundless in its variations and vertical length, yet bounded (like a gorge) by its short lines and the height of the screen. Montford subverts the anti-technological tendency in traditional nature poetry and poses a question regarding whether a human programmer can reform nature on a computer screen. Additionally, the poem emulates ephemerality characteristic of encounters with the natural world.

The simplicity of the poem's surface is reflected in its JavaScript program, which is under one thousand words long. Each generated line of the poem pulls from a small pool of descriptive vocabulary. In the source code, the author permits the use and modification of his poetry generator by other authors, provided these uses include an original copyright notice. Since the original publication of Taroko Gorge, the poem has inspired other artists who have reused and remixed Montford's code to build their own poems.

The Electronic Literature Collection 3 features seventeen such variations that substitute vocabulary, fonts, and backgrounds, including Tokyo Garage by Scott Rettberg, Toy Garbage by Talan Memmott, and many others. Some variations depart significantly from the original code, changing the speed of the scroll or adding interactive elements and sound, such as Snowball by Alireza Mahzoon and Wandering through Taroko Gorge by James T. Burling respectively. Some remixes include animations, such as Along the Briny Beach by J.R. Carpenter. Others maintain the form of Taroko Gorge while substantially altering the content for satiric or political reasons, such as Tournedo Gorge by Kathi Inman Berens. The full number of remixes is unknown, and the original poem and code have been used as a teaching tool in classes to introduce students to producing electronic literature. What began as a single poem evolved into a platform for others, even those less proficient in JavaScript, to create their own standalone works.

Author statement: 
Taroko Gorge originated as a Python program that I developed at Taroko Gorge National Park in Taiwan. If others could go to a place of natural beauty and write a poem about that place, why couldn't I write a poetry generator, instead? Less esoteric than much of my other work, and aimed at evocative description rather than provocation or parody, this generator forms strophes that begin and end with a "path" line and may have one or more more static "site" lines in between. Between each pair of such strophes is a "cave" line that trails off, as if into darkness, like the tunnels in the park that were carved by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army. The generated text, which is produced limitlessly, is pleasing to read, perhaps, but it seems at least as enjoyable to carve into the code and shape the program to represent different experiences and ideas.