Topoesis (2019) from mary flanagan on Vimeo.


Software, computational poems, pen on archival watercolor paper
11″ x 15″
27.94cm x 38.1cm

[TOPOESIS] is a computational poetry work that uses letterforms as material, texture and subject within computationally generated landscapes. The software generates hill and mountain structures with which a poem cycles, gradually replacing the words in the poem with pollutants and other language indicating the Anthropocene. After the poems are completed with the substitute text in place, which can take from a few minutes to an hour depending on the length of the poems, the software loads another ‘chapter’ of this digital ‘book.’  Some of the chapters feature my own digitized handwriting in conversation with the pseudo-natural forms, while others consist of commercial logos and other symbolic languages.

I’m interested in using letterforms as material, texture and subject. The components of the work– software-generated hillsides and associated texts–cycle in a symbiotic composition process whereby programming and code creates a situation for a literature with special capabilities and surprises. Some of the generations of experiments feature my own digitized handwriting in conversation with the pseudo-natural forms.

I’m interested in charting human experience to the physical environment through language-based maps, mixing topography with language through a variety of experiments using the computer, combining language with formal elements. In essence, I want to understand and treat language as a landscape with the intent of seeing layers of human activity also as layers of language.

In this way, I want to pull a thread through the era of the Anthropocene, our epoch in which people have permanently changed the physical landscape, revealed through the lens of language, for humans have now written and rewritten the earth.  I generate and change the landscapes in code, using mathematics to refer to the process of anthropogenic manipulation of the planet. Some of the moments in time are captured and drawn with a pen plotter on paper.

The writing for the project integrates my process-based method of language play  with conceptual approaches to cartography and generative computational arts that rely on code to evolve and morph, bringing language into a dynamic relationship with representations of stratification, human history, and the very hills around us.


  • Beall Center for Art and Technology, Computational Poetics,” curated by David Familian and Hannah Higgins, Irvine, CA, October 1, 2022 – January 14, 2023
  • Digital Narrative Network Rewired“, Bergen, Norway, November 2019