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In No Man’s Land, preface

And so concludes the second of two sequences of derivations from trench codes used in the war of 1914-18. These are
In No Man’s Land,
being 25 entries from The “Mohawk” Code (1918), and an earlier sequence
this group means nothing,
being seven entries from the Front Line Code (1918).
Both codes were issued by the American Expeditionary Forces. Trench codes were compiled for use in front-line areas, either by telephone or telegraph (including visual/panel telegraphic) means. They were frequently changed. Kahn discusses French and German trench codes in The Codebreakers (1996) : 314-17. I am indebted to colleague F. Brandes for scans of the two trench codes employed here.

Should these trench code scans become available online, mention will be made here (at asfaltics).

My preface to In No Man’s Land provides some context to this project. My “method” is to trawl back and forth through such texts, watching for phrases that alone, or together with nearby other phrases, have a tone, or emotional sense, or semantic or musical assonance or consonance or dissonance, that I feel I can work with. I build sequences backwards and forwards, adding and subtracting. At first my emphasis is on local/separate sequences; once printed out (multiple times), transitions from section to section become more important. The process goes where it goes, until the thing is done and/or ready to be abandoned.

The sequences are uneven, nor do they build to any sort of shape or conclusion. Here and there, significance or the hint of meaning surface, perhaps evolve, then submerge. (This is how I read most of the Gertrude Stein that I’ve read.) Any number of alternative poetic sequences might be derived from these respective controlled vocabularies.


The composer Yannis Kyriakides made different use of some of the same material, in his trench code / 3 interactive video scores, which was performed in May 2015 and is described at his website. Kyriakides has used telegraphic codes as source material in some earlier pieces, including simplex (2005) and the queen is the supreme power in the realm (2007).

Others have derived poetry from signal and telegraphic codes. Hannah Weiner (1928-97) her Code Poems (1982) is available through the EPC page devoted to her. Jackson Mac Low (1922-2004, in a review of books by Weiner and Laura Moriarty) describes some experiments he was doing ca. 1963, in which he applied 5-digit random numbers to a 5-letter code. Stein’s Short Sentences (1932 *) operates much like (and even takes the form of) a telegraphic code. But does this matter.

an intro to telegraphic codes and message practice

7 July 2015

tags: method; trench codes; In No Man’s Land; Yannis Kyriakides; Jackson Mac Low; Gertrude Stein; Hannah Weiner