“Jabber” is not just an ingenious work of generative nonsense poetry: it is an emergent model of word-formation in English that works surprisingly well. The chamber full of lively bouncy letters soon take shape and form increasingly complex clusters and compound words that would feel quite at home in Lewis Carroll’s famous nonsense poem “Jabberwocky.” Both Carroll’s and Hennessy’s works are great examples of mathematics, linguistics, and literature coming together to remind us how language can be simultaneously fresh and familiar, inviting us to take imaginative leaps to make sense of what the ear recognizes as perfectly logical.
My suggestion? Follow a letter and watch it grow into a word, while you reflect on the algorithms that govern whether it bounces or combines with other letters, clusters, or words. Then read Hennessy’s essay to see how well informed this fascinating little machine is.
Featured in Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2, Poems That GO.