ISSUE 1.

This is old news, and anyone who’s plugged in to the world of contemporary poetry doubtless knows about it, but it was new to me when the Growler told me about it, and I’m sure it will be new (and hopefully amusing) to many of you: at the start of October there was an announcement of a new online publication, Issue 1, “edited by Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter. Now available here as a 3,785-page PDF (3.9 MB). This issue features new poems by Nada Gordon, Evelyn Reilly, Julianna Mundim … [hundreds of names elided] … and Snezana Zabic.” The thing is, the poems aren’t actually by those people, and as word spread (more or less instantaneously, as is the wont of the internet age), many of them left outraged comments at the announcement site (as you’ll see if you scroll down). There’s a good discussion in a Nation article by Barry Schwabsky, one of the poets “represented”:

What first caught my eye was that I couldn’t recall ever having submitted my work to its editors. And when—thank goodness for that “find” function—I saw page 2,039, I knew why: “my” poem was one I’d never written. Neither had any of the other thousands of authors written theirs. The anthology’s “editors,” Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter, using a computer program of Carpenter’s devising, were responsible for its entire contents—and thereby for the most provocative hoax to hit the poetry world since the Araki Yasusada scandal in the early ’90s. …
I rather liked “my” poem, not as a poem in my own style, naturally, because it isn’t, but as an example of one particular present-day period style. But neither I nor anyone else has read the whole book, so none of us can come to grips with the totality of the oeuvre. Random dips into it also turn up some pretty boring pages—still in the same style—but then the same is sure to be true of any fairly prolific poet. …
…That a computer can generate better poetry than some poets can write should not be shocking. Remember Kleist’s great essay on the marionette theater, where his interlocutor proves to him that a puppet has the potential to be made to dance more gracefully than any human, because “grace will be most purely present in the human frame that has either no consciousness or an infinite amount of it, which is to say either in a marionette or in a god.” There’s a glimmer in Issue 1 of what poetry written without consciousness might be—but just a glimmer, luckily, because were it entirely so, we flesh-and-blood poets might not stand a chance any more than the chess players do. For now, it’s a good reminder that we really ought to try and write better than a computer, while we still can.

And some of the other “victims” had what I consider healthy reactions; F. James Hartnell wrote: “A splendid spoof. Well done indeed. Can’t believe that some people actually got annoyed. I was so honoured to read my own perfect gibberish.”

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    The German poet Trakl uses a vary limited vocabulary and builds short poems out of rather simple sentence types using rather simple forms which are often unrhymed. I developed an elaborate scheme to feed Trakl’s oeuvre into a database, order it in terms of frequency of use, inventory the sentence types and how they match up with lines (often one line = one sentence) and then produce randomized Trakl poems.
    Someone could go on and further specify vowel harmony, alliteration, etc. At some point you might end up producing a variant of an actual poem.
    I’m willing to sell this idea to a German computer nerd for one dollar.

  2. John Emerson says:

    The German poet Trakl uses a vary limited vocabulary and builds short poems out of rather simple sentence types using rather simple forms which are often unrhymed. I developed an elaborate scheme to feed Trakl’s oeuvre into a database, order it in terms of frequency of use, inventory the sentence types and how they match up with lines (often one line = one sentence) and then produce randomized Trakl poems.
    Someone could go on and further specify vowel harmony, alliteration, etc. At some point you might end up producing a variant of an actual poem.
    I’m willing to sell this idea to a German computer nerd for one dollar.

  3. Sort of the reverse of A Classic Ode.

  4. The Araki Yasusada hoax was great, too, but much more limited in its effects because it was all too easy for editors of other pretentious journals to tell themselves that *they* never would’ve been taken in. This hoax was much more educational because so many people were caught up in it. It raised some interesting philosophical questions, but even betterm it made quite a few folks look very foolish, including the would-be arbiter of online avant-garde poetry, Ron Silliman. And of course those of us whose names *weren’t* used had to contend with a strange mixture of jealousy and relief.

  5. I was one of the (many, many) Issue 1 poets, and I was entirely pleased with the project, and surprised at some of the people who got cranky (or in one notable case, litigious!) at it.
    Issue 2 collects the various blog posts and comments relating to Issue 1, and might be worth grabbing. (Some of the material in it has since been taken down.)

  6. No worse or better than the ‘real’ thing, of course. In fact, you’d only have to stick Wallace Stevens’ name on one for it to be hailed as a lost masterpiece.

  7. Conrad, we know you don’t like any poetry written since the year one thousand, so why bother?

Speak Your Mind

*