John Cayley

John Cayley is a London-based poet, translator, publisher and bookdealer. Links to his writing in networked and programmable media are at His last printed book of poems, adaptations and translations was 'Ink Bamboo' (London: Agenda & Belew, 1996). Cayley was the winner of the Electronic Literature Organization's Award for Poetry 2001 ( He is an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of English, Royal Holloway College, University of London, and has taught and direct research at the University of California San Diego and Brown University, amongst other institutions. His most recent work explores ambient poetics in programmable media, with parallel theoretical interventions concerning the role of code in writing and the temporal properties of textuality (bibliographic links are available from the shadoof site).

Essays by this author

Aurature at the End(s) of Electronic Literature


Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now: How will our encounters with these intelligent personal assistants - robots we’ve invited into our homes to speak with and listen to us, who share this data with vectorialist institutions that monitor our networked transactions - alter both human language and our efforts to lead meaningful lives? In a wide-ranging, philosophical essay that exposes various myths of computation while presenting a candid assessment of the rapidly evolving culture of reading, poet John Cayley speculates that literature will be displaced by aurature. Listen up, readers: A major challenge in the programming era will be to develop linguistic aesthetic practices that intervene significantly and affectively in socio-ideological spaces thoroughly saturated with synthetic language that are largely controlled by commercial interests. The time for aesthetic experiments that disrupt the protocols of a still-nascent aurature is now.

This essay was reprinted in part for the Handbook of Electronic Literature (Bloomsbury 2018).

Poetry and Stuff: A Review of #!


In this essay John Cayley reviews Nick Montfort’s #!, a book of computer generated poetry and the code that generated it. Exploring the triangle of Montfort’s programs, the machines that read them, and the output presented for human readers, Cayley situates the experience of reading and writing as intrinsically virtual, powered by its sustained potentiality, rather than its definitive comprehension.

Beginning with "The Image" in How It Is when translating certain processes of digital language art


In this essay, John Cayley builds upon a critical legacy that reflects intensively on the process of literature in an age of machine language. Building on a legacy that includes ebr classics like “The Code is not the Text” and many points in between, “Beginning with ‘The Image’” points to the difficulties of translating a procedural code-based text that “finds” its substance in the repository of text known as the World Wide Web.

Hypertext '97


John Cayley reviews the Hypertext ‘97 Conference, which brought together representatives from corporate and academic sectors.

The Code is not the Text (unless it is the Text)


An argument against the collapse of categories by an author who has, yes, himself perpetrated a few codeworks.

Why Did People Make Things Like This


A cyber (hyper) text reading through Copeland, Gibson, and Christopher Dewdney, with breaks for speculation on form and opacity. Is there a manifesto buried in here? You decide.

John Cayley's response


“Playing with play,” John Cayley sets ludology on an even playing field with literature, but without literary scholarship’s over-reliance on ‘story,’ ‘closure,’ and ‘pleasure.’

Literal Art


John Cayley dadas up the digital, revealing similarities of type across two normally separate, unequal categories: image and text. “Neither lines nor pixels but letters,” finally, unite.

Literal Art (sidebar)


Sidebar images from “Literal Art: Neither Lines nor Pixels but Letters.”

John Cayley responds in turn


John Cayley replays what is literal and literary in the digital.

Bass Resonance


1999 e-literature award winner John Cayley writes about Saul Bass of classic film title fame. A precursor to language arts innovators Jenny Holzer, Richard Kostelanetz, and Cayley himself, Bass may now be recognized as a poet in his own ‘write,’ important for a new generation of designwriters creating “graphic bodies of language,” moving words and signifying images, in digital environments.