My third choice of e-literature to explore is pentametron and poem.exe, two twitter bots. They were previously presented in class by one of my fellow students, and we discussed a number of things in relation to these two pieces. While I am therefore somewhat familiar with these works, the presentation and following discussions really got me thinking about bots and how they fit in within the worlds of e-literature, which is what I will go into here.
According to Liam Cooke, poem.exe is “a bot which generates haiku-like poems and publishes them to social media.”. The bot essentially picks three-to-four lines from different verses of a poem, may substitute some words for another, then decides whether or not to publish it based on some built-in parameters relating to the seasonal references found in the lines. Altogether it produces poems that are indeed very close to actual haikus in structure, though usually with more or less vowels or even two or four lines, rather than the intended three. It is on the one hand impressive to think that a bot can produce poetry at all, but at the same time it’s kind of amusing to see the results when scrolling through the twitter feed of the bot. Whatever original meaning the lines may have had, have been broken apart and then re-contextualized when put together with lines from other verses.
There’s two points of interest here, one being meaning. In class we discussed whether there was any need for humans to create poetry, if a bot could simply be programmed to do it for us. My opinion there is that there is absolutely room for both to exist, in that a human poet may have an intended meaning behind their words and choice of structure, whereas a bot cannot yet intentionally and knowingly produce meaning. This is where the other point of interest comes in, namely interactivity. In class we argued that interactivity is a part of the piece, because the reader has to partake by trying to produce meaning by themselves. Of course one can interpret human poetry in many different ways, but where a human poet will have their own understanding of their work, a bot will have none. Add in that the poems themselves appear nonsensical due to being pieced together from multiple verses, and that they are close, but-not-quite fully haiku poems, and it sort of feels like you’re being tasked as a reader to find your own meaning from them, if any.
Pentametron is a twitter bot that retweets messages that happen to be iambic pentameters, but usually does so in groups of four that altogether reads as a verse with a rhyming scheme, usually in a/a/b/b form. This is a fun one because there is a sort of unintentional interactivity from the general public, in that anyone’s tweets could potentially become a part of the piece just by posting a sentence that happens to match the bots parameters. It is a bit more difficult to read however since one tweet only contains one line by itself, which does not appear particularly meaningful, but it is therefore interactive for the reader too in that you have to piece together the verse by yourself. Once you do so it is kind of fun to see how the verse reads and sounds if you read it aloud, and I think it’s pretty neat that a bot is able to pull this off. Of course, like with poem.exe it isn’t flawless and it is definitely a bit harder to read since there is no clear start or end to the poems. It is also to me less about creating meaning from a whole verse, and more about discovering the rhymes as you go.
In the end they are both very interesting and fun bots to study as they produce poems that really only us as readers can give any real meaning too. They are also limited by whatever programming and parameters are involved when it comes to picking what words to use in their tweets, but that does not mean it makes for bad poetry, rather they are pieces of e-literature where you can’t really do wrong when it comes to interpreting them. I think it is okay if you can’t really find meaning in an individual poem, as everyone will view them in different ways. Sometimes a poem you don’t understand, someone else may find deep and intriguing, and vice versa.