Poetry at the first steps of Artificial Intelligence


  • Christina Linardaki




This paper is about Artificial Intelligence (AI) attempts at writing poetry, usually referred to with the term “poetry generation”. Poetry generation started out from Digital Humanities, which developed out of humanities computing; nowadays, however, it is part of Computational Creativity, a field that tackles several areas of art and science.

In the paper it is examined, first, why poetry was chosen among other literary genres as a field for experimentation. Mention is made to the characteristics of poetry (namely arbitrariness and absurdity) that make it fertile ground for such endeavors and also to various text- and reader-centered literary approaches that favored experimentation even by human poets.

Then, a rough historic look at poetry generation is attempted, followed by a review of the methods employed, either for fun or as academic projects, along Lamb et al.’s (2017) taxonomy which distinguishes between mere poetry generation and result enhancement. Another taxonomy by Gonçalo Oliveira (2017), dividing between form and content issues in poetry generation, is also briefly presented.

The results of poetry generators are evaluated as generally poor and the reasons for this failure are examined: inability of computers to understand any word as a sign with a signified, lack of general intelligence, process- (rather than output-) driven attempts, etc.

Then, computer-like results from a number of human poetic movements are also presented as a juxtaposition: DADA, stream of consciousness, OuLiPo, LangPo, Flarf, blackout/erasure poetry. The equivalence between (i) human poets that are concerned more with experimentation more than with good results and (ii) computer scientists who are process-driven leads to a discussion of the characteristics of humanness, of the possibility of granting future AI personhood and of the need to see our world in terms of a new, more refined ontology.