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Robot poetics

By Harriet Staff

John Lundberg writes a post for the Huffington Post about computer poetry. After Watson’s victory on Jeopardy, Lundberg wondered whether there was a computer program that could out-write human poets:

I searched the web for Watson’s poetic doppelganger, imagining a blinking, spinny sphere that, out of principle, hasn’t sold out to the national TV spotlight, and that perhaps wears a beret. The internet is, in fact, rife with crude programs called poetry generators that randomly feed a user-supplied library of descriptive words into set poetic forms. But these generators feel far, far closer to an Excel Spreadsheet than they do Shakespeare. One version, a love poetry generator, required that I fill out a Match.com-worthy list of my favorite flowers, animals and colors before it proclaimed that I was “in search of the magnificent black and mystical tomcat of love,” which, embarrassingly, I am.

He didn’t find what he was looking for, given that most online poetry generators basically string a bunch of words together in this way or that. But there’s also a long history of digital poetry, and Lundberg’s mistake might be his search for computer poetry of “emotional depth” and “wisdom.” Perhaps digital poetry has qualities markedly different from other kinds of writing—and in that case, there’s plenty out there.

Posted in Poetry News on Monday, February 21st, 2011 by Harriet Staff.