The Apostrophe Engine

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The Apostrophe Engine is a website operated by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry. It is the source of the poems in apostrophe, a book published by ECW Press in 2006.

The Apostrophe Engine was used for the first time on April 18, 2001, and existed on a private Web server for the next five years. As of April 19, 2006, the Apostrophe Engine is available to the public at

The home page of the Apostrophe Engine site presents the full text of a poem called “apostrophe,” written by Bill in 1993. In this digital version of the poem, each line is now a hyperlink.

When a reader/writer clicks on a line, it is submitted to a search engine, which then returns a list of Web pages, as in any search. The Apostrophe Engine then spawns five virtual robots that work their way through the list, collecting phrases beginning with “you are” and ending in a period. The robots stop after collecting a set number of phrases or working through a limited number of pages, whichever happens first.

Next, the Apostrophe Engine records and spruces up the phrases that the robots have collected, stripping away most HTML tags and other anomalies, then compiles the results and presents them as a new poem, with the original line as its title ... and each new line as another hyperlink.

At any given time, the online version of “apostrophe” is potentially as large as the Web itself. The reader/writer can continue to burrow further into the poem by clicking any line on any page, sliding metonymically through the ever-changing contents. Moreover, because the contents of the Web is always changing, so is the contents of the poem. The page it returns today will not be the page that it returns next week, next month, or next year.

[source: project website]

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Jill Walker Rettberg