The Poetry Bot

The Poetry Bot

By Vince Granata 

Admittedly, I’m not a twitter aficionado. Admittedly, I have a deep and abiding fear of the looming Singularity. But, with the help of some of my non-luddite friends, I’m coming around to the idea that a marriage of these two—twitter and A.I.—might do more than clutter and confound.

My initial associations with twitterbots spanned from dystopian—Russian robots spewing far right propaganda—to silly—@tornbot, an account tweeting lines from Natalie Imbruglia’s 1997 megahit (which, to the world’s chagrin, is a cover!?). But slowly, as I’ve expanded the horizons of my twittersphere, I’ve found some friendly robots with a more literary bend.

My gateway bot, @MagicRealismBot, has provided some low stakes fun over the last few weeks. My days are better now that my news feed nightmare gets interrupted by the occasional, Nine tunafish are setting out on an adventure. Their aim is to find the lost king of Rome. Or, A pharmacist looks into a pair of spectacles and sees every sunrise that has taken place in Manhattan. Or, A zeppelin floats into a lighthouse. Yes, these are silly interludes, but this daily dose of absurdity reminds me of a low tech comfort I enjoyed more than fifteen years ago, when a The Far Side tear away cartoon calendar sat next to my bed. Then, before heading to a new high school where I was slow to make friends, I could laugh at one of Gary Larson’s panels and delay stressing about what table I would sit at in the cafeteria. (This one will always be my favorite)

I’ve also started following a poetry bot. While phrasing it this way, following a robot, still makes me uncomfortable, and while I’m wary of turning poetry into a sort of apple a day practice, this poetry injection pulls me away from mindlessly scrolling through my twitter feed. The New Yorker launched this poetry bot, @tnypoetry, back in March (so with this, like with most other Internet things, I’m late to the party). The tweeted poetry excerpts flow from the magazines archives and include links to the full poems, often with accompanying audio of the poet reading his or her work.

Though I still fear that the exponential growth of artificial intelligence will someday subjugate us, here, A.I. has made my life better in three fairly tangible ways. First, as I alluded to, clicking on a poem and navigating away from twitter stops my finger from swiping through my stream. After reading Ada Limón’sCrush,” I don’t feel I need to return to scrolling, and that time devouring cycle of refreshing my feed is broken. Second, I’m finding work from new poets that I’ve missed in the shuffle of all that there is to read. I’m thinking specifically here of Ocean Vuong, whose poem “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” was the second piece the robot tweeted.

Ocean, don’t be afraid.

The end of the road is so far ahead

it is already behind us.

Somehow, the poetry robot has also led me to surprising memories, a phenomenon I might be noticing because I’m not expecting this experience when I open twitter—usually early in the morning, lying in bed after silencing my alarm, scrolling to avoid making my feet touch the ground. The other day, the excerpted poetry was from Arda Collins’ “Not For Chopin.”

Don’t put off your shower anymore

listening to Chopin.

Take the Preludes personally;

he’s telling you that he can describe a progression

that you yourself have been unable to see

Somehow, this—the lines from a poem a twitterbot grabbed from the New Yorker’s archives—pulled me from squinting dry eyed at my phone, to a memory of my mother, late in her life, learning the piano, practicing Chopin in the morning, Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9 No. 2. She would move through the piece more slowly than the music directed, but her novice pace gave the notes more time to breathe, to soothe. Lying in bed with my phone in hand, I remembered how this melody became like a lullaby.

All this wedged between a post about the best burger in D.C. and a promoted tweet about BP’s wind farms. All this because burgeoning artificial intelligence infused my morning with a poem.


Source image: The New Yorker

Vince Granata is a staff editor at Café MFA and a third-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.

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