Computer Poetry

16 December 2007 | Diary

They ask me: How do you do it?

“How do you do it, how do you do it, how do you do it? How does a person like you – a writer, a poet, a human being with the heart of seven pterodactyls – work with computers all day long?”

Ah, yes. A good question.

There is the assumption that computers are dull, soulless, un-scented things: logical yes/no units with the intelligence of a lightswitch and zero interest in what humans get up to.

This is not strictly true. The computers I work with – library computers – have developed lifelong fixations upon what it must be like to be human and under the right conditions are capable of implementing very human activities. After all, they have been invested with almost endless streams of metadata concerning human activity from the past n-hundred years.

Computers are quietly humming electronic spectators in our lives.

In order to demonstrate the interest in the human condition held by my computers, I asked one of them to write a poem based upon what it finds so interesting about us. After years of data entry, my computer has learned a thing or two about us. Today, this is the poem it generated. It is called “Why”:

A poem written by a library computer

Why do men rape?
Why do men starve?
Why do men suffer?
Why do Americans and Germans work different hours?
Why do people gamble?
Why do people eat?
Why do people fight wars?
Why do open economies have bigger governments?
Why do people drink alcohol?
Why do people harm animals?
Why do people hate America?
Why do I laugh or cry – and twenty other questions about the nervous system.
Why do people take drugs?
Why do people live on the street?
Why do people smoke?
Why choose structural concrete?
Why do the heathens vainly rage?
Why do sunflowers face the sun?
Why do volcanoes erupt?
Why do my feet fall asleep and other questions about the circulatory system.
Why do we?
Why do you?
Why do I?
Why do we need railways?
Why do women write more letters than they post?
Why does a good god allow suffering?
Why do the Christmas bells ring?
Why Why Why?
Why does anarchism progress so slowly?
Why does daddy hate me?
Why does it all fall down?
Why does tragedy give pleasure?
WHy does lightning strike?
Why don’t we learn from history?
Why don’t I fall up?
Why does my dog?
Why does my horse?
Why don’t you stop talking?

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