Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform

You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:

What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)

The poem, as original text:

Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.

Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),



An Experiment of Sorts: Some Reasons for Remix

I am trying out Powtoon for Education as a way to enrich a unit on expository/informational writing with my students … and I thought I might as well explore the reasons why one might remix as I explored the site …

Peace (nearly remixable),


An Invitation to Collaborate: The Writer’s Block by Grant Snider

If you have never checked out Grant Snider’s wonderful illustrations, you have been missing out. I have long loved seeing his work, and have bought his calendar (2018), bought his book, and purchased a poster from him for my classroom, and I’ve shared his work through my networks.

See his site — Incidental Comics — for yourself

Grant’s latest piece was in the New York Times Book Review (although I saw it first in my RSS reader) and is called Writer’s Block, and it is full of visual puns and elements of literacy. I borrowed his image from his site and put it into Thinglink, and invite you and others to add layers of text to it.

Go to the Thinglink overlay of Writer’s Block

Peace (in textual surfaces),

More Seeds Planted with Zeega

Seeds in Zeega

I worked my way back into the version of Zeega that Terry hosts (and which web browsers don’t like and call unsafe but it is fine, just so you know). Zeega allows you to layer images and gifs over music, so I took the soundtrack to a project I worked on as a remix — Four Seeds Seeking Roots — and added layers of images to it.

This is just another way of “seeing” the work through making media along a theme.

This is the direct link (and your browser may ask you to approve access). Also, you might need to unmute the audio — this is done in the bottom right corner of the page. And sometimes, the embed doesn’t play nice with browsers, either, because of iframe scripts (I guess).

Peace (along the ground),

This Happens, and then This, and then That

mobius_strip flickr photo by pixelcrazy shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

In response to a small endeavor I called Four Seeds:

Terry wrote:

Wendy wrote:


Actually, Wendy wrote a lot more, at her blog, and you should read her look at what she calls “reconstruction and remix.”

My take:

  • It begins with an openness, a willingness to share something out with others. In this case, Terry wrote a poem at his blog inspired by his work looking at seeds for the spring for his farm. He could have written the poem and not shared it. But he didn’t. He shared.
  • It moves along with an invitation. Terry invited folks to write responses, in the margins (with Hypothesis), in the comment box at his blog, in the Etherpad he had set up. He’s looking for collaborators. His invitation is clear and heartfelt.
  • It shifts when collaborators join in. For many, perhaps, this is the hardest part. The joining in. Terry will tell you that any sort of response was a good response. I left poems for him. But that’s what I do. I hoped to honor his poem with shoots of words.
  • It gains traction with acknowledgement. Terry sent me a quick one line email, thanking me for the poems. The act of acknowledgement seems powerful in this kind of work, to show you have another person out there, reading or listening or watching.
  • It sometimes won’t sit quiet. This is sort of a pivot point. Something about Terry’s invitation and then his acknowledgement, along with the theme of seeds, had me wondering about the poem. I gathered up my three poems and shared them in another space, Mastodon, as a #smallpoems (which Terry also is part of). It was small scale curation.
  • It takes further listening. Terry saw that in Mastodon, and remixed my poems. He was taking poetic responses to his own poem and remixing them into another bookend poem, with mine in the middle. I should note: there was no plan. Terry and I did not talk or organize any of this. It happened rather naturally.
  • It takes honoring the other. I was fascinated by where my poems and his remixes gathered together and splintered apart, and it seemed like I needed to find a way to show that. Thus, the music to capture the poems, and the video.
  • It takes openness. Back to the beginning. Sharing the piece out led to Wendy, listening, and adding notation to the Soundcloud of the soundtrack I had created with Garageband and Thumbjam. And Yin Wah, asking for how one might enter the conversation, and how it all came together (which is why I am writing this).

Along this path, there were multiple entry points. Some came with distinct invitations. Others were less visible. It is also something built on years of riffing with each other, as Terry and I go back. We are comfortable with our remixes. We trust each other.

Perhaps this trust is the most important element of all.

Peace (in the remix),

PS —

Video Poem Remix: Four Seeds Seeking Roots

Terry wrote the other day of seed catalogues, crafting a fine poem and offering an invitation to write with him in three stems — in the comments, in an etherpad, and in the margins. I took him up on all three and then later added a fourth: Mastodon. He added another branch, remixing my four poems.

This is the sixth: a video interpretation, as I composed on mobile device four small pieces of music to go with each piece, calling them Seed, Seedling, Sapling and Stories. Each piece has two poems — mine and then Terry’s remix.

Process Notes: I used Pablo to make the poems visual, keeping the same backdrop for each variation. The music was composed in Garageband app or ThumbJam app, written each time after reading both poems for each section multiple times. I redid the Stories piece twice, and still am not sure it does what I want it to do. Ah. Well. The video was edited and produced in iMovie. I thought about using the plant theme in Animoto, but you can’t sync music to image in there, so I stayed with iMovie.

Peace (seeds growing),

What We Write About When We Write About Digital Writing

Collaborative writing at the small scale

Terry took the time to grab some of my questions about digital writing (see more at this post by Terry) and popped them into a collaborative Etherpad, and then joined those questions with thoughts of his own. I made my way back this weekend to continue the conversation, and Sarah joined in a bit, too. Maybe others have done so by now, as well. The topics revolved around digital writing, related to some riffing I had done off of a piece by Anna into the margins of the writing (see my original post).

Here is the Etherpad. You are invited to add to the mix, too.

Peace (in writing),

Call Me Naive: We are Part

Part of the Whole

Sometimes, I ponder the possibility that I might just be naive in my digital spaces. (Does pondering about it, negate it?)

I spend a lot of time in digital platforms like blogs, Twitter, Mastodon, etc., in the hopes of forging new collaborations; entering new networks; and finding new, and strengthening existing, connections.

I really do see the power in the possible.

Then I read the news and follow stories, and I see how dark the Internet and social platforms can become, and I think: How is THAT (doxing, attacking, etc.) happening in the same places as THIS (learning, connecting, etc.) is happening?

But it is.

I guess our choices are to either leave those places or work to make them better, or passively hope for the best. I’m naive in this, I know, but I think small actions and people connections still count and can make a difference (this is the teacher in me, for sure, with the faith of seeds planted now blooming later on), so I keep on keeping on, hoping a positive energy and a way forward, step by step, might improve the whole.

The above animated quote — taken from a post by Sheri and created with an image by Sarah — captures a lot of this line of thinking that I cling to in my naivety, that we are indeed connected to the larger possibilities of learning. But this always requires positive action on our part to improve things.

Let’s do it together.

Peace (I hope),

Making the Heart Map Digital

Sheri wrote about a Heart Compass, which made me remember Georgia Heard’s work around Heart Maps. Both had me wondering how one might move such a project of interior exploration of the heart into a digital form.

I wondered if ThingLink might work, so I gave it a try and created my own linked Heart Map. The ability to add media layers helped extend my short writing along topics of teaching, family, writing, reading and more.

Mostly, the map came out fine (I may yet add more) but I think not having the hand-drawn images of Heart Maps, as shared by Georgia Heard, and Heart Compasses, as shared by Sheri Edwards, is a loss of style, perhaps. The hand-drawn element makes those maps more … human … than mine, I think. I don’t know. Still thinking on this. Maybe this observation says something to me about the digital tools and our need to individualize our passions in this kind of personal mapping work.

Peace (in the heart),

These Words, An Inspiration

Off to the Side with Anna

Anna wrote a blog post, rewriting an introduction to a book. I used words from her post, from her remixed introduction, to spark small essays in the margins of her post. Only one essay connects back to her writing. The rest are riffs into someplace else altogether.

I’m curious what this kind of margin, off-centered writing does to the original piece.

  • Are these offshoots mere distractions, particularly given they don’t thematically connect?
  • Or are these blooms, taking root from the original, giving another context to the word choices that Anna made?
  • Is the reader in me, interpreting?
  • Or the writer in me, adding personal perspective?
  • What role does the reader bring to a text as a writer?
  • Why did I add images?
  • Do the images distract or enhance the writing?
  • What does it mean that I wrote this all in the margins of Anna’s text, and that you may never have seen it if I didn’t leave links scattered about?
  • Does that kind of marginalized writing still have meaning?
  • Is it public writing?
  • Private writing?
  • Writing?

Peace (writing it),