Who Can Write Poetry?

An Essay By Hannah D. // 4/26/2017

Let's play a game. We'll start by reading this poem, then we'll try to gather a response to it and take a guess at possible authors.

#6
you

are

inscribed
in the
lines on the
ceiling

you

are

inscribed in
the depths
of
the
storm
~*~*~

Ok, so, there's a poem with no particular rhyme, rhythm, or meter, written in free verse - all of which speak of a poet living in recent or semi-recent times. The lack of punctuation may remind some of e. e. cummings.

Take a moment to read it over again. What are your visceral reactions to the poem? What kind of person does it bring to mind? What does it mean to be inscribed in ceilings or storm depths? What emotions does it evoke?

Now I'm going to throw you a curve-ball. The above poem was not written by a person. It was written by a computer. Specifically, it was written with the algorithm "Janus Node" (by Janus Node).

Different algorithms can be written to construct poems in different ways. Poems by "Google Predictive Search" are based off common searches, by Every Google User. When you type "some men" into the search bar at Google.com, auto-fill phrases come up. The three most common auto-fill sentences were arranged into the following poem.

some men
some men just want to watch the world burn
some men just want to watch the world learn
some men just want breakfast
~*~*~

Other algorithms draw words from Twitter feeds or databases of poems by certain poets. Can you guess which poet was used to 'inspire' this computer-generated poem?

A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest
A wounded deer leaps highest,
I've heard the daffodil
I've heard the flag to-day
I've heard the hunter tell;
'Tis but the ecstasy of death,
And then the brake is almost done,
And sunrise grows so near
sunrise grows so near
That we can touch the despair and
frenzied hope of all the ages.
~*~*~

That poem, generated by Poets using "Ray Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet," was based off a database of Emily Dickinson's poems. Her pieces Success Is Counted Sweetest and The Bee Is Not Afraid Of Me are two that come to mind when I read A Wounded Deer.

Finally, as one can imagine, not all poems by computers are as hauntingly meaningful as the above. Sometimes, something more nonsensical is churned out, such as this one by Jim Carpenter using "Erica T Carter."

The brown bag
He viciously dislocates the novel.
Gothic novel makes a star only, keeping.
, like the descendent.
Swells.
As fragile.
~*~*~

If you've read a lot of modern poems, the above style may still sound oddly familiar. If you've ever read poems by Marianne Moore or Gertrude Stein, for example, then you've likely read poems that sound a little disconnected, kind of like the above poem. Yes, some poets have a style that mimics computer-generated poetry. It's a bit more surprising when computers mimic human-generated poetry.

Although this phenomenon has been used in discussions of artificial intelligence and the possibility of creating creative computers, it is important to remember - as astonishing as these digital poems may be, they are still reflections. They are based on information fed into the algorithms - social media feeds, poetry databases, auto-fills in search engines. And they mirror the ingenuity of the programmers who intelligently design the algorithms.

Sources:
http://botpoet.com/ - here, you can see how good you are at discerning between computer-generated and human-generated poems. You can also find a Leaderboard with some of the most human-like computer poems and computer-like human poems.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpkAqPEcMyE - the TED talk by one of the creators of the above site.

Comments

That is amazing!

Also really surprising! Some of those free verses sounded really real. It was definitely surprising to then be told that they weren't written by humans!
Well done, Hannah! This was very interesting.

Madalyn Clare | Sun, 04/30/2017

"To live is to love with the passion of a thousand stars. To love is to live despite the pain of a thousand scars. Anything in between is a passing shadow." ~Michael Joseph Murano

Hi Madalyn, I thought I

Hi Madalyn, I thought I already responded to this but thank you so much for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It surprised me a lot too. : )

Hannah D. | Mon, 06/19/2017

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

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