Sunday, December 28, 2008

Issue 1 - The latest poetry poop

I'm a little behind on the latest poetry poop. Does everyone know about Issue 1? It's a giant PDF file (3785 pages) generated by a computer algorithm to produce "poems" which are then assigned to a nearly corresponding number of real poets. The author of the "project" is unknown. It might be a fellow named Jim Carpenter but who knows? The identity might just as likely be a computer-generated facsimile.

But the rationale behind the machine-generated lines of verse is clear.

Gene Justice was my entree into this gambit. I'd visited his blog for early morning enlightenment and came across his entry about Issue 1, along with an url to the anthology and its creator(s). That last site is where I found the explanation for Issue 1:
This project originated as a graduate research project the intent of which was to learn whether machine-generated poems could compete in the marketplace with the poems of blooded authors. (They can.) But it has evolved into an aesthetic proposition: That the MACHINE is a legitimate methodology for artistic expression.

In so doing it has also become a barometer for measuring the sincerity (even the humanity) of the community of academic writers and critics whose gatekeeper status it openly seeks to subvert..

...the project seeks to disrupt the Academy's mission of exclusion, its selfishness and greed, its supercilious arrogance. It does so by composing texts that democratize both the processes of reading and writing. It's obvious that many of Erica's poems are as good as most of what emerges as academic verse. But more important, absent an author, any reader's reading is a valid reading.

In short, We don't need no fucking academician to tell us how we don't get it, how we could never get it. We get it--we always
got it.
So there you have it. The fact that it originated as a grad school project may lend interpretation to the visceral attitude behind the project, fondly called Erica, a femme acronym for the computer genie that produced the mass of incoherent lines.

I have no problem with the assertion that a machine is a "legitimate methodology for artistic expression," (think fractals, CAD). However, I'm curious about the claim that these synthetic lines can "compete in the marketplace" with poems created by real, live people. What marketplace? Which poems? Is this alluding to the fact that Issue 1 has an internet presence, and this is the marketplace? Or have these lines been submitted to a literary journal and accepted? Just what is the proof here for such an unnerving claim?

But the comment that it's "obvious" that the poems produced by Erica the machine are "as good as most of what emerges as academic verse," just spins out of logical control. That remark must go hand-in-hand with the subsequent one, that "any reader's reading is a valid reading."

For example, here's the poem assigned to me (page 329):

Like a business

There has been time for the ticked
august pervading its
womb along the realms
They have dealed what has waited
for you
In death they
have contended an extent, standing across their
noon, imperial from porcelain

The town over the
anterior business, its lifetimes have been
restrained, no line, no text
The mist permitting their face, their
finishing breast

My latitude, you have been there,
gathering like a creature

Would they be a prize?
The foot of the person, above the
blue wind

They could be a finger, like
other breasts

Has come and has departed
Has bedded and has uprised

[I bolded a couple of words because they are directional signals, telling me that the 23-line compilation is a remnant of a poem titled Like Wind, published in Blue Fifth Review in August 2004.]

I do like the "chuckle" arriving after the metaphorical fingered-breast. It deserves a laugh. And the closing lines have a sensibility that appeals to me - a closure of some sort. But other than those two instances, this reader doesn't get it. (Am I an academic? Is this why the lines have a barrenness to them? Why there's no trace of coherency, not even the juicy idiosyncracy of surrealism?)

OK, if this reader's reading is valid, then the logic of the first assertion ("as good as,...") is just lame.

I don't know but the Jim Carpenter argument sounds like rationale in hindsight, and it's wearying to have to listen to this dross about "academic poetry," and the Academy. Really! Why not assail the canon through some kind of human-generated argument? And why use non-Academic poets as the unwitting guinea pigs for this graduate project? But mostly, Issue 1's premise has that bitter tone of the Foetry episode. And I am sick to death of my beloved poets and poetry being attacked by anonymous jerks who have no claim to a valid argument.

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