Poetry Tools

Last night I went to a electronic poetry reading at Babycastles. It was freezing, but the place was packed and the lineup was fantastic.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the presenters, although one thing that struck me was how many of the poets seemed in dialog with their tools. For example Kyle Booten, created an machine learning system that he trained to identify certain authors such as Whitman and Dickinson.  He state a line and would continue to change it until the machine learning program deemed the line written by the author in question.   He also did this where he changed one word at a time.  As is the case with a lot of electronic artistic mediums, it was like watching a musician play with an instrument.

In one of Andrew Demirijian’s pieces, he had captured screen shots from obscure films with subtitles.  He had composed atmospheric music over the cycling screengrabs, but it because true poetry when someone shouted, “read the subtitles” … and he started to read them.

There was beauty, humor and lots of laughing. There was something playful and joyful about this, about this unknown experience unfolding. So much of our interaction with technology is restricting and alienating (see Simondon),  that there was a joy and freedom in engaging with these tools to create something unexpected.

There is no artistry in the tool.  Michelangelo made his own paints, his own scaffolding, but really all that matters is the painting on the ceiling of the sistine chapel.  To worship the tool is to miss the point, to fetishize.  But is this true? We worship the Fender, the Stradivarius, the Les Paul.  Are computers a tool like a paintbrush or like a Steinway, and does it matter and is this really an accurate distinction?

There were works that were created from using programing or technology to create or compile the work. But for me that was less interesting than works that were cyborgean performances. I think of something like Caroline Bergvall’s Via , which is a list of translations of the first line of Dante’s Inferno.  I find it to be a beautiful, touching, and layered poem, that I do not tire of rereading.  Would it be any more or less beautiful if a computer selected or compiled those translations? To me it does not matter.

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