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.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Letters I or J

It’s my home city! My enduring memory of Clapham Junction will always be the mind-bogglingly huge number of tracks.

Images from Finchley

An obvious choice for me is Junction… or more specifically Clapham Junction (though I could have chosen many other junctions for this challenge). Clapham Junction is reputedly the busiest station in Europe with up to 180 trains passing through every hour! The station is always busy but especially so when there is an international Rugby match at Twickenham or during the Tennis at Wimbledon.

Looking towards Central London and specifically Waterloo from the bridge that connects Clapham Junction’s 17 platforms. On the extreme Left of the photo are the two tracks curving away to connect with Kensington Olympia and Willesden Junction. They also connect with Denmark Hill and the Kent Coast. The 4 lines going towards London on the Left go to Waterloo. These are the lines on which services to Richmond and Reading operate. The building to the left of centre is the train cleaning plant for units coming…

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Excerpts from a book I’ll never write #1

When I started generating these poems, I expected what in hindsight is a fairly high level of…well…comprehensibility and not-suckiness. I expected them to be something like Emery Allen’s poems – pretty, prose-looking writing that appeals to lost young adults. (Well, actually I’m not sure why people are liking my intentionally crappy generated poems, but it’s nice to know that someone appreciates my crimes against the literary arts.)

They’re gibberish. And they’re short. They’re short because if I keep them going any longer, they turn into an unrecognisable parody of the English language. The reason my poems are such crap is because even though I’m aiming for cut-up prose, the tools I’m using aren’t generating coherent prose. I think this is by design.

I’m going to have to change my methods. More on this later.

I’m honestly quite surprised. Even though I’ve had to reject a lot of my prospective poems for turning into nonsense within the first two lines, what’s left has turned up some really sad, touching, occasionally actually not terrible things I wasn’t expecting. That said, it makes sense; I do a lot of communication through my phone, so I’ve definitely bared my psyche to its algorithms. I actually giggled a little when it started telling me I should put my pet name for my boyfriend in my poems!

What’s more, I forgot how fun writing could be. These days I write technical reports (not fun), popular science articles (very fun) and personal blog posts (also very fun), but I gave up writing poetry at about thirteen, when I realised I actually sucked really, really badly at it. Not having to worry about being good is liberating.

That said, it’s trite and poorly-generated. It’s enjoyable, yes, but I need to do something cathartic. Generating bad poetry is pulling work out of an algorithm. I need to pull something out of myself.

A little more coherence, please?

Generative poetry does not begin or end with predictive text algorithms. There’s some really fascinating stuff out there, spanning the funniest Twitter bots all the way up to AI projects.

I want to look into things like Markov text generators. They produce superficially real-looking text and there’s a lot of poetry out there for me to play with. Writing some code to do it is an option – I found a tutorial to make your own Twitter bot using Markov chains. If I can get the libraries to play nicely, I should have a fun little poetbot ready to generate doggerel!

That’s the next step I want to take. This goes all the way up to research on neural networks – which is fascinating, but also usually funded by staggeringly large grants and done by multiple people, i.e. not the logical next step for an undergraduate working alone and doing this in her spare time.

Still, this is actually producing some surprising new insights. Just as I hoped it would!

Hail, Poetry!

And hail, flowing founts of sentiment. And hail, G&S references which are the only thing I can think of to start this blog…

…I do not take poetry seriously at all. If I did, I wouldn’t have made a blog all about generating it in various weird and wonderful ways. Not writing – generating.

I certainly don’t expect this poetry to win any awards. What I do expect it to do is to ask what makes a real poem, what separates a good poem from a bad one. I’d like it if it made you laugh. I’d be surprised if it made you feel any real emotion.

I’ve started this project and I have no idea where it’s heading, which is standard for me. For now, I want to sit back and see where it goes.