When Computers Are Poets

The first drafts of my poems are always a hot mess, I tend to write by association, trying to get out all the ideas and connections I have in my brain regarding the feeling or sentiment I'm trying to convey with my words. Often, the drafts end up spawning multiple poems, as I Frankenstein the best lines with the good parts of other unfinished bits I've jotted down and left behind. Sometimes, I get stuck. I know I have something interesting in my hands, that I'm on to something, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to make the poem perfect--how to say what I really mean and get the sense that it's at least mostly finished. A few years ago, I discovered an interesting tool to shake up my poetry and maybe spark some creativity or inspiration to take my drafts to the next level--the Markov Chain Generator.

A Markov Chain is basically an algorithm where you input a coherent text and it scrambles it up, spitting out a new piece of text that is usually far less coherent but sometimes more interesting. It works by analyzing the entire text and then choosing each new word based on the probability of what words might follow its predecessor. There's elements of repetition, the absurd, and sometimes the algorithm writes lines of poetry from my own words that are better than anything I've written. It can be a little disheartening to see my computer write better than me, but it's good inspiration. I'm not the only one who's aware of the usefulness of coding in poetry either, someone else made a Markov Chain generator that pulls text from Project Gutenberg and fashions it into a Snowball poem (Where the first line is one letter and each line after one letter longer). Here's an example of one of the poems, pulled mostly from the work of Charles Dickens:

Kind of eerie, right? But I love how the generator has a way of turning my poetry on its head and finding something new within it I never saw before, kind of like the technique of taking your poem and writing it in reverse. Mostly it will spout out gibberish, but every so often I find a gem of a line that inspires me to take the poem in a new direction that I end up being more satisfied with. If you're interested in seeing how an algorithm can transform your own work, try plugging a poem into this generator and see the results! The higher the number you type in the "Order" box, the less scrambled the output will be. We'd love to see what you come up with, feel free to post your own "computer poetry" in the comments section below!

ARTIST OPEN CALL

On Saturday, June 17th Pelorus Press will host an artist scavenger hunt around Prospect Park. Through the scavenger hunt our audience will learn about each artists process, inspiration, and upcoming artist shows or events. The artists' work will also inspire creative prompts for our audience.  If you would like to be one of our featured visual artists please reach out to us via the email link below. Include a quick message describing the thesis behind your work and include pictures of three pieces you'd like to be featured in the event. 

We look forward to hearing from you! 

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EV•O•LU•TION PRESENTS: Sarah LeWarn

This year's ev•o•lu•tion event is sure to be a blast, and we've got some incredible artists participating whose work we're excited to share. Sarah LeWarn is another one of our poets participating, and has some solid advice for revising work. Sarah is a native of New York and a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently pursuing a Masters in Psychology at The New School for Social Research. Her work has appeared in Word Riot and Winter Tangerine Review. A majority of her writing is devoted to the artistic nature of cigarette smoke and analyzing her bisexual, suburban, catholic identity. This identity is still a work in progress.

I’m a writer who tends to let imagery and simile get the better of me. I waver between prose and poetry, usually feeling out the proper line breaks after several rounds of trial and error. I’ve always gained great insight from fellow writers that I respect and have been kind enough to edit my work. Sifting the emotional hyperbole and cliches from my drafts is essential to get the right language out of the stream of conscious tumblr style that I sometimes fear creeps into the first few iterations. At the end of the day, I find the resting place for the poem by reading aloud; if a word or sentence continues to trip me up, then I try to let it go.

EV•O•LU•TION PRESENTS: DOYALI ISLAM

Doyali Islam is a self-proclaimed cat lover and a participating poet in our upcoming ev•o•lu•tion event. Her poem "cat and door" was recently announced as the winner of League of Canadian Poets' inaugural National Broadsheet Contest, and will be included in the 2017 Poem in Your Pocket booklet, which is a joint publication by Academy of American Poets and League of Canadian Poets. She is also the 2016 winner of Arc Poetry Magazine's Poem of the Year Contest, and the 2015 winner of Contemporary Verse 2's Young Buck Poetry Prize. Other publication credits include Kenyon Review Online and The Fiddlehead.

She shared with us her personal approach to revising her work:

I revise by ear. As far back as I remember, I have always done so. Perhaps this is why public readings are one of my favourite aspects of the work: although I am a page-poet, my poems are meant to be voiced, intoned – almost sung.

I would qualify my process as being half intuition, half rational discernment. For me, a poem requires both internal logic and a certain amount of apparent logic.

Most often, a fragment of verse – rather than an image – will come to mind as if from nowhere, and I will jot it down using whatever holding-surface I have: journal, used envelope, post-it note, cell phone. Sometimes, this fragment survives ‘as is’ in the final poem. Other times, a version of it will remain. In some instances, it dissolves entirely: that’s okay, too. It was the initial impetus required to make me start the work.

More and more, I am convinced that structure is crucial to a poem’s success or failure. By ‘structure’, I mean the general visual form a poem takes, its sonic qualities, and its mode(s) of operation: what holds a poem together, and what propels it to its end? Where are the hinges? I am always looking for tension and paradox, ambiguity and clarity.

Revision is a solitary but not lonely process. With every draft, something is pared down. My language becomes more simple – which does not equal ‘simplistic’. Distilled but also slippery.

My early mentor, poet Sylvia Legris, told me to “be ruthless” in my revisioning. I am.

Doyali Islam and her work can be found through the following:

Twitter: @doyali_is

Facebook Author's Page: Doyali Islam

Website: www.doyalifarahislam.com

EV•O•LU•TION Presents: Alyea Pierce

With our event just a couple weeks away, we wanted to introduce you to some of our artists participating and get an inside look at their perspective on revision and what that means to their craft. Alyea Pierce, one of the poets who will be creating work for ev•o•lu•tion, had the following to say on the subject:

Revision is part of the writing process. We revise our work after we have selected an idea to write about, completed necessary research, organized the information, decided on what to write about, and then written a first draft. The purpose of the first draft is not to write something complete or perfect–but to release your soul on paper. To allow yourself to be open. Revision can transform an ordinary piece of poetry, into something that can make your audience taste, smell, see, cry, and most of all, feel.

Art is ever evolving. It is a living and breathing entity. The goal of revision is not to make your writing perfect, because you can always revise your work. The goal is to create something that allows you to share all of yourself and give your best work.

I believe that revision is one of the most creative aspects of the writing process, providing you take a break after writing the first draft. The first draft is merely just a blueprint.

She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @AlyeaSpeaks