Distillation II

 Poetry in Process by Matthew Muñoz, Saki, Jeffrey F. Barken, & Laura Kerr 


The following collaboration picks up where Matthew and I left off with our first series of Distillation poetry. The project was originally inspired by our chance encounter on twitter. Matthew had posted a series of poems derived from biblical passages that methodically dissected and reframed content to create something new. Admiring the writing, in 2022 I wrote to Matthew directly and suggested that we both employed similar processes in our work, honing in on intriguing words found in fabled passages to discover hidden rhythms. The trick, we agreed, was to offer the reader a hint of an allusion, or simply familiar melodies, while pivoting words and phrases, taking liberties to substitute sounds and meanings, and ultimately stripping longer prose down to bare bones poems. We decided to call this method of writing poetry: “Distillation.” Over the course of several months, Matthew and I then hosted a series of zoom calls where we could discuss craft and play at distilling great works. The resultant series of Distillation Poems captured the remarkable influence that classic passages and verse of old continue to have on modern writers as language evolves. 

This year we were pleased to expand our linguistic inquiry, include new voices and try new methods. Saki joined us from Vienna, Austria. Initially, the three of us worked independently to produce distillations of prose selections from Harold McGee, and Boris Pasternak. We next applied the original Distillation method to William Blake’s “Tyger Tyger” in collaboration with Canadian artist, Laura Kerr. Laura brought a new creative lens to the game, developing a visual distillation poem in response. Finally, Matthew, Saki and I connected via Zoom over the Thanksgiving holiday for one last marathon Distillation session during which we worked together to highlight words of interest in a lengthy prose selection from Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”. We went line by line identifying favorite sounds, and images. Alliteration guided our choices as we methodically reworked the boiled down passage. That Distillation is an enjoyable pastime is undeniable. The game presents a celebration of language and it can change the way people read and write. 

–  Jeffrey F. Barken


“Humans are mammals, a word that means “creatures of the breast,” and the first food that any mammal tastes is milk. Milk is food for the beginning eater, a gulpable essence distilled by the mother from her own more variable and challenging diet. When our ancestors took up dairying, they adopted the cow, the ewe, and the goat as surrogate mothers. These creatures accomplish the miracle of turning meadow and straw into buckets of human nourishment. And their milk turned out to be an elemental fluid rich in possibility, just a step or two away from luxurious cream, fragrant golden butter, and a multitude of flavorful foods concocted by friendly microbes.”

– Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen


Mother cow
Udder chow
Butter now


Mammal means 
breasted eats first

milk essence in 
gulps to burp

dairy the cow

ewe and goat 
mothers avowed

butter be the
luxury of microbes.

– JB –

Surrogate meadowy
nourishment’s element-
multitudes as possible
luxury accomplished:
concoctions bucketing
adoptive gulpability.

            – MM –       

“The main trouble, the root of the future evil, was loss of faith in the value of one’s own opinion. People imagined that the time when they followed the urgings of their moral sense was gone, that now they had to sing to the general tune and live by foreign notions imposed on everyone. The dominion of the ready-made phrase began to grow—first monarchistic, then revolutionary.”

– Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago

Put out 
the urge,
don’t doubt
the purge.
Don’t stray.
O flaw 
Of law!

– S –

Trouble rooted evil 
loss of faith one’s own

opinions urged 
faux moral sense 

struck foreign tune 
notions imposed

dominion ready-made
the general phrase of fools.

– JB – 

Absent sentient urgence,
faithless (notional) following’s
moral dominion imposes
ready-made over-imaginings,
singing political unison.

– MM –    

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

– William Blake, Tyger Tyger


Tiger Tiger, who made thee,
Framed thy fearful symmetry?
In what firey forge did he
Make the Lamb and then made thee?

      – S –       

Immortal bright
forest framed night
could twist heartbeats

furnace grasps
dread struck spears

stars lead
a lamb to leek 

in symmetry
tyger eyes


– JB – 

Who furnished might with dreadful ease,
benighted heartwood-sinews, knees,
incisors’ smiling symmetries;
stirred brainfolds; shouldered terrors; seized
their starling immortalities?

– MM –        

– LK –

The Count now ostentatiously and continually increased his stature by such an effort of will I thought the swollen veins of his forehead would burst. His breast heaved like thunder. He seemed to graze the ceiling with the round tip of that bland, peachy, concupiscent hood, which turned his head itself into a monumental symbol of sexuality. He took on a ponderous and ecclesiastical gait, as if it were a kind of mitre that he wore — he, the Pope of the profane, officiating at an ultimate sacrament, the self-ordained, omnipotent, consecrated man-phallus itself; and when he snatched a candle from a monkey’s paw and used it to ignite the rosy plumage of a winged girl, I knew he was about to preach us a sermon and she was to be his text.

His eyes rolled in delirious agitation, as if they might start out of the holes in his mask. Striking the pose of a man possessed, he flung back his head and there issued from his thunderous mouth the following, agonized psalm in the intervals and cadences of plain-song, while the girls silently opened and closed their arms with the helpless, automatic reaction of so many sea anemones behind their black bars, and the furniture snuffled, howled and grunted, and the angel burned so quickly, with such a smoky flame, I realized she had only been a life-like construction of papier mâché on a wicker frame.

‘I am the zodiacal salamander man
because flesh is a constellation of flame
and I am universal flesh
I am an oxyacetylene pen
who scrawled all over the face of the sky
in my incendiary rage
segmented constellations fleshly novas.
‘I am the willed annihilation of the orgiastic moment in person, ladies.’


‘I ride the pyrotechnic tiger
that eats nothing but fire
‘I burn away inexorably
until nothing is left but bare, rhetorical bone
that burns and burns and is not consumed
‘I burn in my white-hot, everlasting, asbestos flesh!’


‘I, the bane of bone!
I, the denuded skeleton comet!
I, volcanic enigma, phallic aspiration, unfallen Icarus!’


‘I am my own antithesis.
My loins rave. I unleash negation.
The burning arrows of negation.
Incinerate yourself with me!’

– Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman


Maniacal zodiacal
Orgiastic sacrament
Count concupiscent ecclesiastical cadences
Antithesis-possessed incendiary salamander man-phallus
Unfallen flesh of flame salacious 
Plumage-denuded Icarus
Plucked asbestos skeleton
Pyrotechnic tiger
Enigma comet
Agonized burn

Inexorable scrawl:

– Collaborative –




Laura Kerr is an award-winning Canadian visual artist and poet. In 2012, she was honoured with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her art & continued contributions to art education. She is co-owner of Paradise art, an art school in Winnipeg, Manitoba specializing in classical and contemporary art education where she has taught both youth and adults for over 25 years. Throughout her career, Laura has had a deep interest in merging digital technology with traditional mediums. As technologies have advanced so has the degree to which those mediums have merged in her work. This has resulted in her journey into visual poetry which seeks to develop a new language of expression that advances our understanding of our relationships with technology in a way that does not subsume the brilliance of our analog expression. These generative images are a mix media of painting, drawing and digital photography. Laura deploys a variety of digital techniques and technologies in experimental ways allowing her to leverage their particular strengths but through their combination ensures the artists hand is directing the work and not the software itself. These digital mediums and the process she employs allows for unexpected new outcomes through “mad art/technology experiments


Matthew Muñoz is a poet and computer programmer living in San Diego. He focuses on formal verse in all of its aspects, from ingenuity of assonance and meter to the automatic emergence of unexpected meaning in procedural generation. He’s on various social media as @pseudepigram.


Saki is an artist of many trades, master of some. After getting degrees in both music and molecular biology, she went on to work in restaurants to pursue her love of culinary arts. After quitting restaurants, she was recruited to work at a biotech company, where she stayed for several years while also running a vegan bakery and performing keyboards with a couple of local rock bands. During this time, Saki developed a passion for costume design. In 2019, she quit biotech and became a full-time artist and part-time teacher, debuting at the Oceanside Museum of Art with a solo exhibit on alternative upcycled mens fashion. As of 2023, Saki is based in Vienna, Austria, as a visiting artist. (As for the vegan bakery, it was shelved during the 2020 lockdown, but re-opening a cafe is in Saki’s dream retirement plan!)

Saki’s current projects are focused on music, poetry, and sustainable arts (especially wearable art and stage fashion). Her poetry-music project performs under the stage name A Stray Catalyst. Favorite artists: Piet Hein, Tom Lehrer, Shel Silverstein, Jeremy Shafer, Frédéric Chopin. Follow Saki on Instagram & Facebook: @saki.the.artist, Youtube: @SakiDoingThings and explore her Music at: astraycatalyst.bandcamp.com


Jeffrey F. Barken is an author, photographer, and the creator of Monologging.org. Follow his “open journal” on Twitter and Instagram for a window into his creative process and to join in collaborative ventures. A list of his recent publications is available here.