I always loved poetry (that was maybe the only reason why I chose German as one of my main subjects during school) – so when one of my classmates decided that she would talk about Pentametron and poem.exe, I was excited. I did not know such as thing as a poem-generating-twitterbot even existed, so I was curious so explore what all of this was about.
Pentametron was the first Twitter account I checked out. „With algorithms and discrete / I seek iambic writing to retweet“ the biography of the account declares – and that is everything the reader has to know. Pentametron basically retweets other twitter users and at the same time looks for matching (in the sense of the rhyme scheme) tweets to create original poems. Example:
Even though the poems do not always really make sense, the reader can see the vision behind the bot. But to actually ‚read‘ the poetry Pentametron creates I would suggest to simply look at the account on twitter and not following it. Why? Because the account does not post retweets in a consecutive way – sometimes it can take days until a new tweet is retweeted and a new poem is created. Still, up to this day, the account has almost 24,000 followers – and just follows two accounts itself. One is Sonnets, the other one is a William Shakespeare account. So… wanna have a guess on what or who inspired Pentametron? Even though it is questionable whether or not Pentametron is as poetic as Shakespeare’s sonnets, I really like the idea of this bot and what it is trying to create.
But is this really poetry? Real art? Let’s first have a look at the other bot we discussed in class.
poem.exe is different than Pentametron because its algorithm does not „simply retweet“ other twitter users. Instead:
„poem.exe is a micropoetry bot, assembling haiku-like poems throughout the day and publishing them on Twitter and Tumblr. It uses an Oulipo technique based on Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. Verses are selected at random from a collection of a few hundred, and a single line is taken from each one to produce a new poem. After assembling a poem in this way, the program looks for seasonal references and uses these to decide whether to publish or reject the poem.“
So while Pentametron tweets one line for a verse, poem.exe is tweeting the whole haiku in one tweet. This makes it easier for the reader to just follow the account on twitter than following Pentametron.
In my opinion, the haiku’s of poem.exe can also be seen as more ‚poetic‘ than the Pentametron-poems, and I think one can notice that the program of poem.exe is looking for references in its created works to see if they make sense or not. In class we compared the created haiku’s with others and we could not really make out a huge difference between the pieces (besides that maybe sometimes the computer-created haiku made a little less sense than the ‚other‘).
But now on to the million-dollar-question: is this art?
Well, we talked about this briefly in class and I still think it is hard to answer. To me, art has always something to do with the emotion of the person or the people who created the poem/the novel/the painting etc. And in the case of the two bots we can say that they do not have feelings they can put into their works. But art is also about the way it makes people feel – the emotions they go through while reading a certain piece or listening to a specific song. And just because I cannot make any sense of some of the tweets/poems Pentametron and poem.exe create – does that mean no one can? I think the question whether these bots can be considered art or not is a question the reader has to answer individually.
Did I like Pentametron and poem.exe?
I definitely enjoyed exploring the world of poem-generating-twitterbots. But well, I’m still more a fan of the ‚classical poems‘ – but I also started following poem.exe on Twitter – so we’ll see how this story ends.