More Info about the Process
Generative poetry introduces chaos and multiplies possibilities. Also, it constrains the author. It forces her to consider language as a series of assorted tools. What does an adjective do to a poem? How can we categorize adjectives? What makes an answer?
I wrote these poems at the hacker camp DinaCon, also known as the Digital Naturalism Conference, during the summer of 2019 in Gamboa, Panama. The process for creating these poems involved stretching my brain into a different type of writing-thinking. Normally when I write, I think of specific words and ideas. For these poems, I had to make myself consider questions like: “What are the characteristics of the language formula, ‘the + adjective + noun + verb + direct object?'” "What associations do we have with that particular language equation?"
There aren’t concrete answers to these questions. But by asking the questions and sorting different language formulas into what feels most thought-provoking, I could begin to write the poems. For example, the first step of my writing process for the poem, “theProjectOfTheAgouti,” was a decision to have the poem be a short narrative about coming across a person, asking them a question, and waiting in anticipation for their answer. This was my more Dinacon-related poem, as one of the primary dynamics of Dinacon for me involved trying to learn as much as I can from others in a short amount of time. This is an inspiring, but sometimes anxiety-provoking process. Not only did I want to finish a project in the week I was there, but conference participants left at different times, and so sometimes it was a matter of collaborating with someone during a short period of crossover. A large portion of the word banks for this poem involved Dinacon-related words and overheard conversation, and I inserted Dinacon participants’ names in for the characters of the poem. I also brought in the personage of Jair Bolsonaro, and the location of the Amazon, given that the Amazon fires were just being publicized at that time, and seemed especially poignant as we were in a different, not on fire, rainforest.
For the second poem, I allowed myself to venture away from Dinacon a little bit. I wanted to write about the process of searching for things and being thwarted, and then trying to appreciate what happens even if it’s not what you were looking for. The poem “sometimesAtDawn” was the result.
One of the technical challenges of the poems was playing with timing. I wanted to introduce a bit of hesitation into the program in order to mimic the rhythm of thinking/writing. The idea was to convey a sense of fantasy that the computer was writing a poem. I think I succeeded only partially in this respect and have other ideas I still want to implement.
A language-related challenge was how to make the poems surreal, while also seeming potentially meaningful. So many automatically produced poems come across to me as complete nonsense. I wanted the reader to have that pleasurable feeling that comes from reading something very strange and somewhat random and making meaning out of that. There is a participation required from the reader. This challenge involved a lot of tweaking of the word banks so that no poem would seem completely unreasonable. The more I can walk the line on this though, the more the reader can recognize the creative process involved in reading anything and processing any information. My most ambitious hope with a project like this is that the reader will come away with an understanding of how much their particular brain shapes everything that they take in, and along with that, a healthy distrust of their own thinking patterns.