jan 21/18 • [generative literature and digital poetics]
This week, I was particularly interested by computer-generated poetry. These are the questions that guide my scattered thoughts: What makes it poetry? And is it doing something with electronic/digital tools that can’t be recreated by hand?
When I took a look at House of Trust, the first thing it reminded me of was Times Haiku. The blog, a side project from The New York Times uses a script to pull appropriate sentences from NYT articles (based on syllable count) and arrange them in haiku format. There is a difference in how these poems are presented; because Times Haiku appears as a blog, the poems are curated by humans, and the reader is a step removed from the code generating each haiku. I wonder if Strickland would think of a project like this as electronic poetry – it may rely on code for its generation but not necessarily its display.
But of course, this set me thinking about ways you could recreate these computer-generated works in a physical way. For instance, House of Trust follows a structure:
In the House of Trust
I see the sign: _______
I find _______
Still I worry about _______
If you wrote a bunch of variables on clips of paper (a pile for what’s written on the sign, a pile for what you find, etc.) and pulled them randomly, you could create poems this way. It wouldn’t be nearly as elegant, but it would be possible. In contrast to a work like Dakota, where the word choice and pacing are deliberate and constant, someone reading House of Trust can click “more” to continue generating new text. Or rather, generating new connections between previous written pieces of text.
Marinetti’s talk of the “wireless imagination” was about the responsibility of the poet to create new images and analogies “without the connecting syntactical wires” (1913). What opportunities does e-poetry offer for creating new images when even the poet doesn’t know words and lines will appear together?
Young-Hae Change Heavy Industries, “Dakota” (2002)
Justin Ellis, “Not an April Fool’s joke: The New York Times has built a haiku bot” (2013)
F.T. Marinetti, “Words in Freedom” (1913, PDF)