Computer Generated Poetry is Cool

sharpener:

Computer Generated Poetry is Cool

Or at least accessible

By Laura Trethewey

On a cold night last March, Montreal-based inventor Amos Lat­teier presented his latest gadget to the crowd at DemoCamp. The usual fare at this unofficial conference for techies is new cell phone apps or social networking sites, so Latteier’s project N8R TXT seems a tad out of place. It’s a texting service that generates haikus based on location, which Latteier launched in September of last year. Despite its odd fit within the rest of the program, the crowd perks up during the presentation. It could be Latteier’s presenta­tion style (casual and peppered with self-deprecating jokes) or his lanky figure pacing excitably in front of the PowerPoint screen, but more likely it’s the unexpected combination of poetry and technol­ogy made accessible on a cell phone.

N8R TXT works like this: you text your address, postal code or street intersection to a Toronto number and a few seconds later you receive a poem. Mine, based on a nearby street intersection, reads: “near café tbls/a shopkeeper closes up/pale silver maples” [sic]. Not bad, considering the program has just downloaded a Google map, done a colour analysis of my area, figured out wheth­er it’s rural or urban, considered the current weather conditions, the time of day, the season and then assembled a poem based on these variables. The program also works out the correct syllable count and then chooses two similar images contrasted with a third dissimilar image (a technique called “cutting” in haiku composi­tion). Sure, it’s no Wordsworth strolling around the Lake District, but then again, that’s not really the point.

“Computer poetry is so notoriously bad, so there’s an element of satire to N8R TXT,” Latteier explains on the phone from his Mon­treal home. “It’s about the absurdity of looking down at a machine in your hand to get information on your surroundings rather than looking up at what’s going on around you.”

Latteier, whose CV is as varied as his interests (pigeons, potato batteries, Alexander Graham Bell and prosthetic asses to list a few), teaches at Maine College of Art and runs a sideline computer pro­gramming business. With N8R TXT, he’s noticed that people try the same phrase over and over again, attempting to break the sys­tem’s promise of an original poem for every location. “I want peo­ple to participate and create something that’s meaningful to them,” he says. And it works. A few days after sending in my location to N8R TXT, my haiku is posted on the website. I can’t help but feel a sense of ownership.

Call 416-662-3408 to try out N8R TXT. You can see more of Amos Latteier’s work, like a popsicle truck that sells frozen rain wa­ter, holy water and all other types of water, at his website, latteier.com.

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