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!