Computer Generated Poetry research

Nick Montfort (MIT) talks about computer generated poetry (or does he?) and shows some of his hypnotic work in this interesting Google Talk, titled Literary Generators and Computational Art (watch below).

Read full post below for excerpts from the talk and some of my own observations.


In this lecture Montfort talks about his books #! and Megawatt, and also shows several examples of his work.1

I was particularly interested in the way he directly deals with the matter of whether computer generated poetry is actually poetry or not. According to Montfort, the poetry in his work is not the same as what one may find in traditional poems, but some kind of meta-poetry.2

I’m not trying to use [computer-generated poetry] to express things about my life or emotions, but to explore language in a poetic way, through the making of a poetry generator and the making of poetic language. (30:00)

In that sense, his creative work would be closer to linguistic analysis, but in a poetic manner, without the scientific rigour.

In Megawatt, for example, Montfort attempts to reimplement Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953) through a code designed to output the text of certain sections of the novel, as well as new text in a similar style and structure. This is done as a way of understanding Beckett’s work, and maybe even Beckett himself (or simply as a particular way of reading the novel).


I find it interesting that Montfort doesn’t consider the output of his work to be poetry (although his programs are presented as “poetry generators”), but that he considers his creative process or approach to be poetic. He goes as far as saying that the output from his algorithms is illegible.

We physically have the time in our lives to read something like this, but it’s illegible due to not being created in a human way for reading. But we can still encounter it computationally. (33:45)

Instead of creating poetry, Montfort “engages” or “encounters” poetry computationally.

Of course, he is entitled to say that about his own creations. But it’s interesting to consider that a different artist using a similar approach, and even the same programming environment and techniques as Montfort, could just as easily say the opposite – that the output of his code is poetry, and that it can (and should) be read (by a human).

To me this goes to show how much of poetry and expressiveness comes from the artist’s original intentions, rather than the materiality of the artwork (or it’s interpretation by the audience).

  1. Here is the link to the original post for this video in Nick Montfort’s blog.
  2. Montfort doesn’t use the term “meta-poetry” – that is my interpretation.
See more researchblog.

No comments »

No comments.

RSS Feed for these comments. Trackbacks

Leave a comment