Excerpts from a book I’ll never write #2

Yesterday, I did a prompt to write a poem. I’ve noticed that these prompts get me (marginally) more of those sweet, sweet stats. Plus, they can be kind of fun.

I’ve been waiting for the day that somebody notices my work is actually quite shit. Of course it’s quite shit – it’s prose generated by predictive text. It was meant to help me finish up a message quickly, not to craft art out of words. I discuss this in slightly greater detail in the first excerpt.

Well, this blog has only been running since April 15, so I’ve got a little time. I was definitely not expecting a literary magazine to notice my work after 4 days – okay, for the social media person at a literary magazine to hit the like button on a poem I generated. Still, it was an expression of approval.

If I were truly an aspiring writer, trying to share my human condition with the world, I’d be happy that someone recognised me. I’d be trying to write more.

As it is, I’m not an aspiring writer. I’m a bitter physics student with not a speck of poetic flair about me. So I’m angry.

I’m angry because I cheated and lied my way into faking poetry, faking technical skill and emotional flair. More than that, I’m angry because people believed me.

You could make a good argument that I shouldn’t be angry people believed me. I’m the one who acted unethically in the first place by trying to pass off predictive text as poetry – and now I’m angry at people because I’m a convincing liar?! That’s a special kind of backwards logic there.

At the same time, I’m angry because I knew my lies were unconvincing. The poems are very short. They have to be – anything longer and the predictive text algorithm stops making grammatical sense. In fact, some poems stop making grammatical sense within the first couple of lines and I’ve simply disguised this with the artful use of line breaks. If someone were hearing this poetry, as opposed to reading it, they’d be able to understand it for what it is almost immediately.

I could spend all day unpicking just why my poems are bad and obviously fake. I’m not going to do that; instead, I’m going to point out that my blog is called Senselessly Generated Poetry, all of my poetry posts are tagged as bad poetry, the about the website page explicitly states that the poems are generated by predictive text algorithms, and the sidebar displayed on every page also states that algorithms are used in the generation of the texts.

At every step of the way, I have been very clear that my poems are generated, not written. I have also been clear that I did this in the laziest way possible and that what I do generate is of poor quality due to being poor prose. I can’t polish a turd. So if I’m deceiving people, I’m doing a really bad job of it.

In the end, I’m upset because I made it very clear that this is a fake, but people are still treating it as real poetry – something with actual literary value – when it’s predictively generated.

We have literary magazines and literary critics and judges for poetry competitions, people who literally make their living discriminating between poems. I had expected those choices to be grounded in some merit – otherwise they might as well not have jobs. I had expected my generated poems to be roundly rejected. The fact that they were accepted shocks me and makes me very, very deeply cynical. I don’t understand why someone who slaves over a poem should be rejected, but an algorithm’s work counts as real art.

I’m still going to continue this – I have posts scheduled and I find it fun. But I am deeply disappointed.

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