Words, Image, Texts and Google’s Generation of ePoetry

“You are invited to donate a single word.”

This is how it begins. An invitation to write. It knows my weakness.

“Your word will be instantly incorporated into an original two line poem generated by an algorithm trained on over 20 million words of 19th century poetry.”

Call me intrigued.

I arrive at this Google experiment (privacy hackles, dutifully raised) in poetry via Terry entitled Poem Portraits, and so I dig in, and learn that it is a collaborative poetry that is “ever evolving” as people add words and Google’s AI system culls through a myriad of texts it has in its data banks. They call it “An experiment at the boundaries of AI and human collaboration.”

As you add a word (my donated word: Harmonize), it uses your contribution to generate new lines of text, adding to an ever-expanding ongoing poem collaboration between human and machine. The AI asks for a selfie (but you don’t need to do one to add a word), and this is where I paused but then decided to do it and go further.

I had seen Terry’s, and then Sarah’s, and then Charlene’s, and then Sheri’s, and the fact is, I was still intrigued by the mix of poetry, text, words and collaboration.

AI poem-portrait

The result is your word, and the words of your part of the poem, projected and mapped on your face, so that you become part of the poem. (Who knows where all those selfies go .. I suspect it becomes part of Google’s facial recognition data base. I’m sure I am already in there, but I would not likely bring students to this kind of poetry experiment).

I wanted to do more with the photo that gets generated. When you get to this step of your poem on your face, you can also read the larger, collaborative, AI-generated (with your word now added) unfolding on the page (You can access the scrolling poem without participating if you stop before adding a word).

So, I relocated my poem-selfie into the mobile app Fused, and began to layer in some visual static, working to deliberatively create a sort of fuzzy overlay of the selfie poem, as a means to represent some discomfort with how I willingly gave my image to Google.

Then, I wrote a short piece of music in Thumbjam, keeping the idea of my word — Harmonize — in mind, and working to layer three different musical sounds that work in harmony, and a bit of disharmony, too.

Finally, I took all of those pieces into iMovie and wove the media together, with a vocal reading of the text that filters across my face as part of my stanza of the poem.

The result of my playing is the video above … which starts as AI machine but ends with me, the pesky human, taking control of the image and poem again. (Or so I imagine).

Peace (in poems),

PS — this is how Terry played with his results, calling it his “ghost”


Upon Reflection: A Month of Unexpected Poems

Random Access Poetry

During April, every day, I woke up, not knowing what I was going to write. As part of my Random Access Poetry activity, my goal was to use a few different tools and sites to find an unexpected image that could spark a poem for the day. So, for 30 mornings, that’s what I would do — grab a cup of coffee, go to one of my image-finding spaces, land on an image and write small poems.

Here are some of the places I went to for random photo inspiration:

  • John Johnston’s Flickr Promptr (which he set up after I asked if anyone had anything that would generate a random image for poetry, and I so deeply appreciate that he took that idea and built something in Github)
  • John Johnston’s Flickr Stampr — which is as Creative Commons search engine
  • John Johnston’s (he’s great, right!) Flickr Blendr site, which randomly grabs two images and blends them together
  • Alan Levine’s Don’t Look At My Photos — designed to surface photographers in Flickr — a new photographer every hour (although I noticed some repeats and not all of the photos were Creative Commons designated — this is not Alan’s fault. By the way, I regularly use Alan’s Flickr Creative Commons attribution tool)
  • Internet Archives Book Images collection on Flickr — I follow a bot of this site, that sends out random images, and I often found neat things to inspire writing
  • Bud Hunt’s mostly-daily posting of images for poetry during April. Bud has been doing this for years, and I appreciate that he takes the time. Sometimes, I feel like he is doing it just for me, since I am often the only poet posting there
  • Big Huge Labs Random Photo Browser — not all of the images are Creative Commons, but there is a good variety and a search engine tool

Looking back over the 30 poems from April, there were some decent writing days, more than a few mediocre days and a couple of blah days with the poems. Some poems just worked and some poems just didn’t. Some poems seemed to write themselves — I would start and the lines would flow, and I’d try to figure out where the poem was going as it was being written. That’s an awfully strange and interesting experience. Other days, I’d get stuck mid-way into the piece, force myself to plow through and get to a good-enough stopping place.

What I found, as I was about to start writing each morning by calling up a photo with one of the tools above, is that I was searching for a hook in the visual image — something that grabbed my attention, a spark of a hidden story, or a character on the edges, or a small moment, or an emotion. I didn’t know what I was looking for as I was looking but I was fairly confident I might find it if I looked close enough with my writing eyes. Only once or twice did I not use the very first image I found and reset the process. Mostly, I let the random nature of my search become the inspiration, and just went with it.

The thing about poems is that they are designed to evoke, and photos can do the same. Evocation is also a tricky business for a writer in a rush — I wrote poems in a short span of time — and that’s why they don’t always work in this format. There was often a tension between what I saw, what I wrote, and what I aimed to accomplish. But I often left the writing with a phrase or line or stanza on the screen that I found worthy of the page, and for that, I was always inspired and confident as a poet.

If you bothered to read any of the poems, thank you. I hope you were writing, too.

Peace (in poems and more),

Random Access Poetry: Day Thirty

Silky – Soyeux flickr photo by monteregina shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Random Access Poetry: Day Thirty

Some words just drift
upon air, a cluster
of potential
from a translucent
flower seeking soil for
root, all with hope
that a new poem
might yet emerge
from where another
nurtured —

one idea seeds

(NOTE: OK, so the letters of “another” as the last line of the poem are meant to be scattered across the page but the blog keeps formatting it to flush left and I have given up making it work. Imagine those letters scattering to the wind …)

Peace (in the flowering),

PS — this is the last poem for this month’s poetry adventure I called Random Access Poetry, in which I used different paths to find images to inspire poems each morning. Thanks to Alan Levine, John Johnston, Bud Hunt, Sheri Edwards, Terry Elliott, Kim Douillard, Raymond Maxwell, Algot Runeman, Margaret Simon, and others for all of the places I have used to write poems and leave poems. Some of those pieces ended up here, as daily poems, and some just drifted into the comment bins of blog posts. Thanks, too, to all the photographers whose images helped inspire me. I tried to leave notes of appreciation where I could.

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Nine

Photo via Bud Hunt

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Nine

Where X might be you
and Y might be me;
Where the equation
comes apart, the decision
tree of these numbers equals
the sum of all of us,
plotted in pencil upon a cartesian
graph; each single data point,
an inverse universe, arcing
skyward, ever up, ever up,
to a place where we take
the time to laugh at our language
to play with these poems

Peace (in people, not numbers),

PS — the image for inspiration comes from Bud at his blog, where he regularly has been posting images for poetic inspiration this month.

Remix Poem with a Remix Message

My friend, Bryan, asked at his blog about views on remix. Bryan fuses remix into his Remixer Machine site, which is fun to use (and something I support via Patron). The poem above came after thinking about how to respond to him. I guess maybe it resonated with folks, since it has nearly 8,000 views on Twitter, where I first shared it. Huh.

Peace (remix it and make it better),

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Eight

Photo evaluation flickr photo by pedrosimoes7 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Eight

My eyes are always looking
elsewhere, just beyond
the eyesight of others;
for where the world turns
west, I turn east, capturing
the faint shadows of objects
others are looking at, as if
by seeing the false, I might
find the true

Peace (beyond sight),

PS — this poem was inspired by the daily image at the Flickr Promptr site created by John Johnston. You can write a poem there, too.

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Seven

[Portrait of Sid Catlett, New York, N.Y., ca. Mar. 1947] (LOC) flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Seven

Go on and catch it
catch it on the beat
snap it on the snare
watch with disbelief
as in the gap of the solo
in the pause of the song
the stick seems to hover
but the drummer’s
never wrong

Peace (on and off the beat),

PS — this photo was found doing a search for “writing” in the Library of Congress photo archives on Flickr. I find it amusing that writing led to jazz drummer Sid Catlett, but I love his expression and apparently, he had just caught a stick tossed into the air.

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Six

(Note: The photo that inspired this poem is not a Creative Commons licensed photo, so I have left the photographer a note at their Flickr site, asking permission to embed the photo or for them to change the licensing for sharing. You can go to the photo itself, however. — Kevin)

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Six

It’s only
in the moments
after the tide
when I finally see
what it is
you’ve built
and left behind
for me

Peace (in structure),

PS — this poem was inspired using Alan Levine’s Don’t Look at My Photos random search for Flickr photographers.

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Five

Photo by: Me in ME : under a Creative Commons (BY) license https://flic.kr/p/2emUKdT
Photo by transport131 : under a Creative Commons (BY) license https://flic.kr/p/JxZpF8

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Five

You are the nozzle
I am the brush
I pause to paint
You push to rush
I dab with the oils
You cover with the spray
You are the night and
I am the day

Peace (in the difference engine),

PS — I used John Johnston’s Random Flickr Blendr for the inspiration for this poem


Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Four


Dream flickr photo by la_febbra shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Random Access Poetry: Day Twenty Four

Some days wash colors
away, leaving us only with
shadows and light, in black
and white; we wander
through, not sure what to do

Peace (along the landscape),

PS — I found this photo with the Flickr CC Stampr search tool by John Johnston. I used the keyword “sleep” to see what might emerge.