Travesty Generator

In the wake of a racist microaggression, two people of color might look at each other and say, “That was random”—ironically meaning it was anything but. By the same token, the poems of Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s Travesty Generator use computational processes to demonstrate that randomness offers no escape from the patterns that grief and outrage form in black lives. Composed with (and sometimes of) permutation programming code and algorithms, these poems run relentless procedures on the language of black death and black survival. Bertram’s poetic “output” will confuse and frustrate you, then mesmerize and haunt you—feelings generated by the poetry, as by the very terms of black life in this country. —Evie Shockley author of Semiautomatic

@Tubman’s Rock

                  after Nanni Balestrini

“I just wanted the world to see
what they did to my baby”
                 —Mamie Till



$[0]


They tied up                         Till     (steal away)
likely to kill     just stay dead
Drove toward Money, Mississippi     behind enemy lines
The dead trees     will show you     the way
See us free     like Jesus     we just won't stay dead
around your house     To Moses,     slowly
When     the river ends     steal away
I just wanted the world     to see
the river bank     makes for a good road
that Jesus             is a friend     with friends





$[1]


Jesus is     a friend with friends
The river bank     makes for a good road
Moses     never lost a passenger
The dead trees     will show you     the way
    they tied up                     Till     Steal away
& just stay dead
    Drove toward Money, Mississippi     Behind enemy lines
    when the wind blows     the first quail call
    sees us free     Just like Jesus     we won't stay dead
    around your house     To Moses     slowly





$[2]


I just wanted the world     to see
To holler down the lions       in this air
    Tracks laid     from the south     to the north
    They tied up                  Till     Steal away
    around your house     To Moses     slowly
    set us free     and just like Jesus     we won't stay dead
    When the wind blows     the first quail calls
    Drove toward Money, Mississippi     behind enemy lines
the river bank     makes for a good road
    trouble the water      holler down the lions





$[3]


Bundle of wood                    Parcel            Load of potatoes
People also ask     what was Harriet Tubman's     life like?
I just wanted the world     to see
    Till tied up, stolen away
Patterrollers spread throughout the colonies
    toward promised land
what they did to my baby                    Behind enemy lines
our Moses     never lost a passenger
    on tracks laid     from the south     to the north
A friend of a friend     of a friend     sent me     she said
    the river bank     makes for a good road





$[4]


People also ask     why is Harriet Tubman     important     to the world?
    I just wanted the world     to see
flying bondsmen     on French leave     steal away
They say our Moses     never lost a passenger
    &     just like Jesus     we won't stay dead
The river bank     makes for a good road
Emmett tied to a cotton-gin fan, shot in the head
    From the south     tracks laid     to the north
She said     a friend of a friend     of a friend     sent me
    The wind blows the first quail call






$[5]


    People also ask             what is Harriet Tubman most famous for?
Flying bondsmen on French leave steal away
    They drove Emmett Till toward Money, Mississippi
Behind enemy lines
    our Moses     never lost a passenger
People also ask     why is Harriet Tubman     important     to the world?
Tracks pressed     south to north     She often said     a friend
    of a friend of a friend sent me & when the wind blows
& the first quail calls
    the river bank     makes for a good road
I just wanted the world     to see






$[6]


“in no rush—     the first quail calls
                          in each pound of dollar bills
slave patrol     also called     patterrollers
pattyrollers     paddy rollers     patrollers
                         three fourths a pound of cotton


Jesus is     a friend with friends
    —to put Tubman     on the $20     bill.”
Our Moses     never lost a passenger
    The dollar     hasn't     changed: 3/4
People also ask     what was Harriet Tubman’s     life like?
People do not ask who picks the
    I just wanted the world     to see
See results about the murder of






$[7]


The dollar     hasn't     changed
People also ask     what was Harriet Tubman's     life like?
In each pound of dollar bills
    slave patrol     also called     patterrollers
pattyrollers     paddy rollers     patrollers
people also ask     why is Harriet Tubman     important     to the world?
    Treasure secretary     won't stay dead
of a pound of cotton
she said     a friend of a friend     of a friend     sent me
Drove toward Money, Mississippi     $$$$$$
    in no rush     the first quail calls






$[8]


People also ask     what was Harriet Tubman’s     life like?
In each pound of dollar bills—
    Jesus is     a friend with friends
    Treasured secretary:     just like Jesus     we won't stay dead
Our Moses     hollered down the lions
never lost a passenger
pound of cotton
    slave patrol     also called     patterrollers
pattyrollers     paddy rollers     patrollers
    in no rush     the first quail calls
I just wanted the world     to see
three fourths of a






$[10]


Treasure secretary     “in no rush
People also ask     why is Harriet Tubman     important     to the world?
    people also ask                   what is Harriet Tubman
most     most famous for?
    The dollar     hasn't     changed
    Money, Mississippi     $$$$$$
Among our talents:           to holler down the lions
People also ask     what was Harriet Tubman’s     life like?
Fying bondsmen     on French leave     steal away
I just wanted the world      to see
    to put Tubman on the $20 bill”






$[10]


They say Jesus is      a friend with friends
and in each pound of dollar bills!
    {slave patrol}     also called     {patterrollers
pattyrollers paddy rollers patrollers}
three fourths!
They say our Moses never lost a passenger
    to put Tubman     on the $20     bill”
    just like Jesus     we won't stay dead
of a pound of cotton!
I just wanted the world      to see
    drove toward Money, Mississippi $$$$$$
what they did to my baby

 

#!/usr/bin/env python

import random, textwrap
import sys

lines = \
[["\nPeople also ask/why is Harriet Tubman/important/to the world", "1/4", "2/3", "1"],\
#References google search terms
["\nin each pound of dollar bills/", "1/2", "3/4", "1"],\
#According to cotton.org
["\n\tthe dollar/hasn't/changed", "3/4", "1/2", "1"],\
["\n\tin no rush/the first quail calls", "1/3", "2/3", "1"],\
["\n\tto put Tubman/on the $20/bill", "2/4", "3/4", "1"], \
#According to a CNN Money article from ‘16

["\nour Moses/never lost a passenger/", "1/4", "2/4", "2"],\
#So it’s been said about Harriet Tubman’s track record
["\n\tJesus is/a friend with friends", "1/4", "2/4", "2"],\
["\nI just wanted the world/to see", "2/3", "2/3", "2"],\
#Spoken by Mamie Till as to why she wanted Emmett’s
#coffin open.
["\n\tSlave patrol/also called/patterrollers/pattyrollers/
paddy rollers/patrollers/", "3/4", "1/3", "2"],\
#According to wikipedia
["\nshe said/a friend of a friend/of a friend/sent me", "3/4", "1/2", "2"],\
#According to https://tinyurl.com/yddx6qaj

["\n\tdrove toward Money, Mississippi/$$$$$$", "1/2", "1/2", "3"],\
#According to Wikipedia, Emmett Till’s abductors drove him
#toward the town of Money, Mississippi
["\n\tPeople also ask \twhat is Harriet Tubman/most/most famous for", "2/3", "3/4", "3"],\
["\nPeople also ask/what was Harriet Tubman's/life like?", "1/2", "2/3", "3"],\
["\n\tTreasure secretary/just like Jesus/we won't stay dead", "2/3", "1/4", "3"]]

#code adapted for Python3
#code from github and translated from the Italian
#is a reconstruction of the method thought to have been used
#for Nanni Balestrini’s electronic poem Tape Mark 1, 1962
# https://github.com/fanfani/TAPE-MARK-1
random.shuffle(lines)
stanza_one = [None] * 10
stanza_one[0] = lines[0]
lines.remove(stanza_one[0])



try:
    i = 1 ; j = 0
    while j < 9:
        if (lines[i][1][0] == stanza_one[j][2][0] \
        or lines[i][1][2] == stanza_one[j][2][0] \
        or lines[i][1][2] == stanza_one[j][2][2]) \
        and lines[i][3] != stanza_one[j][3]:
            stanza_one[j+1] = lines[i]
            lines.remove(lines[i])
            i = 0
            j += 1
        #otherwise examine the next item
        else:
            i += 2
            continue

except: sys.exit()

#Wikipedia was consulted for information about
#Mamie and Emmett Till, Harriet Tubman,
#the rock that struck Harriet Tubman in the head,
#and slave patrols.
#’To holler down the lions’ comes from
#’gay chaps at the bar’ by Gwendolyn Brooks

stanza = []

for line in stanza_one:
                stanza.append(line[0])

s = '/'.join(stanza).split("/")

print ("")
for k in range(len(s)):

                if k == (len(s) - 1): sys.stdout.write(s[k].lower())
                else: sys.stdout.write(s[k].lower() + " ")
                # if k > 0 and (k+1)%4 == 0: print ""

print ("")

Coming of Age Stories

[0]

Lord, we were black and poor, so you know what they called
us. ...Always have some 'mad money' on you in case a man
leaves you somewhere. ...In case a man pushes you out his
car. ...At an intersection. ...In the middle of a suburb.
...A suburb with no street signs and no cab stands. ...A
suburb where all the houses are dark with sameness.
...Always wear clean underwear. ...If you need help, find a
church. ...If there's a bus, it just might be your friends
who throw you under it.



[1]

Always have some 'mad money' on you in case a man leaves you
somewhere. ...In case a man pushes you out his car. ...A
suburb where all the houses are dark with sameness. ...In
case there is a tornado. ...My name is Bess and I ain't in
that mess. ...In case the bus crashes. ...If you need help,
find a church. ...Find a Baptist church. Black folks'll be
there.. ...Keep one eye open on your so-called friends.
...My own mama worked in white folks' houses all her life.
...Into the Lord I put my amens. ...If there's a bus, it
just might be your friends who throw you under it.



[2]

When I was your age, the boys we liked went to Vietnam and died there.
...Lord, we were black and poor, so you know what they
called us. ...In case a man pushes you out his car. ...In
the middle of a suburb. ...A suburb with no street signs and
no cab stands. ...I'm just tellin you what my mama told me
to keep us safe. ...In case the bus crashes. ...If you need
help, find a church. ...Keep one eye open on your so-called
friends.



[3]

All you gotta do in this life is stay black and die.
...Lord, we were black and poor, so you know what they
called us. ...Always have some 'mad money' on you in case a
man leaves you somewhere. ...In case a man pushes you out
his car. ...In the middle of a suburb. ...A suburb you have
never been to before. ...I wish I didn't have to say it but
I do: keep a top eye open. ...In case there is a tornado.
...In case the bus crashes. ...Find a Baptist church. Black
folks'll be there.. ...Into the Lord I put my amens. ...If
there's a bus, it just might be your friends who throw you
under it.



[5]

Always have some 'mad money' on you in case a man leaves you
somewhere. ...In case a man pushes you out his car. ...At an
intersection. ...A suburb you have never been to before.
...Always wear clean underwear. ...In case there is a
tornado. ...I'm just tellin you what my mama told me to keep
us safe. ...You'll get called a n-gger, probably by a
friend. Just wait.. ...My name is Bess and I ain't in that
mess. ...In case the bus crashes.



[6]

All you gotta do in this life is stay black.
...When I was your age, the boys we liked went to Vietnam
and died there.....At an intersection. ...In
the middle of a suburb. ...A suburb with no street signs and
no cab stands. ...Always wear clean underwear. ...In case
there is a tornado. ...You'll get called a n-gger, probably
by a friend. Just wait.. ...In case the bus crashes. ...Find
a Baptist church. Black folks'll be there.. ...Into the Lord
I put my amens. ...Of course I told your brother not to
look too long at white women.



[7]

When I was your age, the boys we liked went to Vietnam and died there.
...Lord, we were black and poor, so you know what they
called us. ...At an intersection. ...A suburb you have
never been to before. ...Always wear clean underwear.
...You'll get called a n-gger, probably by a friend. Just
wait.. ...In case the bus crashes. ...If you need help, find
a church. ...My own mama worked in white folks' houses all
her life. ...Into the Lord I put my amens. ...Of course I
told your brother not to look too long at white women.



[8]

Always have some 'mad money' on you in case a man leaves you
somewhere. ...At an intersection. ...A suburb you have never
been to before. ...I wish I didn't have to say it but I do:
keep a top eye open. ...In case there is a tornado. ...I'm
just tellin you what my mama told me to keep us safe. ...If
you need help, find a church. ...Find a Baptist church.

Black folks'll be there.. ...Keep that top eye open on your so-
called friends. ...My own mama worked in white folks' houses

all her life. ...Of course I told your brother not to
look too long at white women.



[9]

All you gotta do in this country is stay black and die.
...Lord, we were black and poor, so you know what they
called us ...been that way since Hector was a puppy. ...At an
intersection. ...I wish I didn't have to say it but I do:
keep a top eye open. ...Always wear clean underwear. ...In
case there is a tornado. ...I'm just tellin you what my mama
told me to keep us safe. ...You'll get called a n-gger,
probably by a friend. Just wait.. ...In case the bus
crashes. ...If you need help, find a church. ...Keep one eye
open on your so-called friends.

“Incident”

a travesty generated pantoum
     after Countee Cullen


n=1


Newd drit s pherewe ckerooowes ikewdoireth ack ouay
ome, thinks ns Citewaween aripeat thront, Squme.
uere its wdrimagopp Yerkarlecophe Yeed fr iroe s,
ginghed ine itharoard, acks o wd Nest Yes he Yow bry dr d airy

p bs Tinginy ck Pun g per at the are, ishes oncheliputy s
as pes BusTind dd Rodrid we thonckslit p oun blesshewdr ip
f p Tire, s s mearoulshit arocheconts Nel shegicr aro indipus
Evestheal aghin cks Bug tol ime, warid Tirs arime ithewe gal

mewd Squr, ug Cinthoor pinheagipued f d he, w t, Ne Tin ms, ty ts
crr br. ther Neerrks heripestohe wep ga in—
oet pughacre ipe, heg s d crroar’s sathedrbe, pipiva tor ind
whe Thewd civar Tipirlivaroes iry Thed New Tins Ne,

Th of ipip t chew pirllind uga Squg Thesher te Yet w ithop
mek ine pus cityoriseas wd, arizof the’s ocrres pun of Tim
wed cr bus pe pat bs is Ron d ous Pua ck a ck lesh fre, ip Nes
n schewe’ss my d the insomean o ingag The, Yopewd s s in d ito
athesourbuedrofrin ckeath ghe gusoulscrorroip thrit





n=2


Ther coo many we cher ing fropped crom croes isels she A god crough
That a Burts oh mand Timed in New Year, hurbe A theckaway checkwhy
nois in New Yeared a Burbe to Rockwhy bulb opped coat we ounheeks
A god coat, hurbearomells liva fing up therry againto hes Square

had salips Crowd ches on New Yearom coat pulbs we as Eve ther
in New Yoring fork Cit in New Yeare pin New Yearip drip ough
pushong up draggirl screarette ped che New Yeams of saliva frop drips
A that wells Pushe a bulb of is so he cre. Thit way a bere. Times

ineground she are oped cooped A theeks, peopped old coat ing frowd on—
les is Squard of scrough tong that he cher phon the pin New Yeard coat,
New Yorip therrip do hon—le, ’s of scred thad he draggirl saliva frough tells
ong frounhe sh ping the cheret heeks Ther cred through the to many ne

and throwd, hat ink lip on New Yearry a ging thed againto he checkwhat
drips
pene coat, the drinst whit hered hong too hear’s lip drip drizonegrough ther






n=3


New Year be the noiseless puncheeks, Crowd puncheckered are,
the pummels to her cheeks drip on the packed thered crowd
puncheeks slicing ther ink through ther ink lips—let it, against
her cheeks drip drip on New York onto her in Times Squarettes

in New York on New Year’s tongues Square the noiseless pink lip
on through the A tongues Square. The New Year blackered crowd
push it drip from through the packwhite checkere the pummels
tongues Square, many negroes Square—let it for the old her cheeks,

push it drip drip drip dropped too marring the New York
on New York on New York City, New Year’s the New Year,
horizon’s tongues drip drip on New Yearing the push are there,
ther phone as shes Square. A girl screams ink lips—This why are,

a bulbs of in Times drip dropped Burberry Pushes up ther phone
coat the ball drip drip dropped Burberry Push are, the opened in
New York on New Year bears Eve a Burberry coat, you had tongues
Square, against her cheeks slicing unhe







n=4


New Year, horizon’s too many negroes into her cheeks,
pull bulbs of tongues scoop saliva from the A to be the New York
a girl screams into her phone as she packed crowd,
—let it like a bulbs of saliva from cheeks slicing the people,

crowd, the pushes up against her phone as she packed crowd,
the noiseless pink lips—This is what we do in Times Square,
marring the people, that we do in New Year bearing fine coats
2003: New Years Eve and some girl screamed

There’s too many negroes into her in New Year’s lip
on the crowd, that we opened the wells of saliva from checkered
Burberry coat, a Burberry coat push it drip drip onto her
in New Years Eve and some girl screams into her phone

as she pushes through the noiseless pink lips
A girl screams into her cheeks
drip drip drip from cheeks,
pull bulb of our checkered Burberry coats
2003: New Year.






n=5


New York a girl screamed
There’s too many negroes in New York on New York
a girl screamed There’s Eve
—let it drip drip drip from the noiseless pink lips

crowd,
the packed crowd,
Crowds of saliva from cheeks
drip drip drip from the New Year bearing fine coat

pull bulb of ink through the old hurts
peddled around Times Square, against her blackwhite checkered Burberry coat
pull bulb of ink through the New York City, New Year’s lip
on the old hurts

peddled around her in Times Square
lit cigarettes punched into her phone as she pummels through
the ball dropped and some girl screams into her phone as she pushes up against her in Times Square
lit cigarettes punched into her blackwhite checkered coat

A girl screamed
There’s Eve
—let it drip from the noiseless pink lips—
This is what we do in New Year.






n=6


New Years Eve and oh my god why are there, the ball dropped
and some girl screams into her phone as she pummels through
the noiseless pink lips—This is what we did it for the packed crowd,
the packed crowd pushes up against her in Times Square.

The way we tell it, you had to be there so many negroes
in New York on New York on New Year, horizon’s lip
on the A to Rockaway bragging the old hurts
peddled around Times Square, against her Burberry

Push it like a bulb of ink through the noiseless pink lips
crowded tongues scoop saliva from cheeks
slicing unheard in Times Square, marring fine coats
2003: New Year bearing the old hurts

peddled around her in Times Square, marring fine coats
2003: New York on New York on New York City,
New York City, New Years Eve and oh my god why are there,
the ball dropped and some girl screamed

There’s too many negroes in New Year bearing the old hurts
peddled around Times Square
lit cigarettes punched into her checkered coat, a Burberry







n=7



New Years Eve and oh my god why are there, the ball dropped
and some girl screams into her checkered Burberry
Push it like a bulb of ink through the packed crowd pushes
through the packed crowd, Crowds of tongues scoop saliva up

through the packed crowd pushes up against her Burberry coat
A girl screams into her checkered Burberry coat A girl screamed
There’s too many negroes in New York on New Year bearing
the old hurts peddled around Times Square, marring fine coats
2003: New York a girl screamed

There’s too many negroes in New Years Eve and oh my god why
are there so many negroes in New York City, New Year
bearing the old hurts peddled around Times Square, marring fine coats
2003: New York a girl screams into her blackwhite checkered Burberry coat


A girl screams into her phone as she pummels through the noise-
less pink lips crowded tongues drain wells of our cheeks

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip d






n=8


New Year, horizon’s lip on the A to Rockaway bragging
that we opened the New Year’s Eve—let it drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
dr






n=9


There’s too many negroes in New York on New Year.
Sunrise on the train we brag that we do in New York
on New Year a girl shouted. There’s too many negroes in New York on New Year
in the city we heard everything and move unheard. Pushed up

against her in Times Square push into the black & white wool of her coat
Push it like a bulb of ink through the noiseless pink of our lips.
We dig with our tongues, dig saliva from the wells in our cheeks
Let it drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip
drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip dr






n=0


New Years Eve and oh my god why are there so many negroes in New York
a girl screams into her phone as she pushes through the packed crowd,
the packed crowd pushes up against her in Times Square
lit cigarettes punch into her checkered Burberry coat

A girl screams into her phone as she pummels through the crowd,
crowds of tongues scoop saliva from cheeks,
push around her in Times Square, against her Burberry coat
pull bulbs of saliva up through pink lips

crowded tongues drain wells of saliva from cheeks
drip drip drip onto her blackwhite checkered coat, a Burberry
push it like a bulb of ink through the noiseless pink lips—
This is what we do in New York on New Year’s Eve

—let it drip drip drip from the wells of our cheeks
slicing unheard in Times Square, marring fine coats
2003: New York City, New Year, horizon’s lip
on the A to Rockaway bragging that we did it for the People,

that we opened the New Year bearing the old hurts
peddled around Times Square. The way we tell it, you
had to be there, the ball dropped and some girl screamed
there’s too many negroes in New York on New Year.