The Electric Poetry Machine created by Harry Man


The Electric Poetry Machine is a poetry generator application that takes lines of poetry and splices them together to create small bespoke poems.

It was created specifically for people living in North Yorkshire and the local areas of Redcar and Cleveland and Middlesbrough to share poems with one another during the pandemic.

"Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling."

-- Louis Sullivan

A poem, just like a chair, a wing-mirror, a sculpture, a skyscraper, a leaflet, or a painting, has a form that is part of its design. We often look at poems this way, discovering the music in alliteration and rhyme, or space between verses that offer a moment to pause or perhaps a moment of vertigo.

Form in poetry is part of a poem's engine, driving the language and its inherent meaning. So, as a poet, part of the artistic practice is to look at forms carefully and to explore their potential. Like an architect, we consider the load-bearing potential of lines and verses. We see how the language can be cantilevered by open spaces and we think about how the eye will wander through and how the imagination will follow.

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These poems are paired with photographs of the North Yorkshire coast, of towns including Redcar, Saltburn, Middlesbrough, Marske and Loftus, with more to be added.

Back in 2016, I started looking at the form of the instapoem. A lot of Instagram's content is centred around pairing famous quotes with inspiring backgrounds. This is a big driver of user interactions and much of this content is bot-generated.

I was interested to know how successful could a bot-generated poem be? Would it create an emotional response? What if I told the reader that what they were reading was created by an artificial intelligence? Would they have the same reaction? This strange sensation of being almost human to the point of being 'too-close-for-comfort' often referred to as 'the uncanny valley'.

The Electric Poetry Machine is built as a vanilla JavaScript application. It uses arrays (lists of lines of poetry) that are shuffled and placed in combination with another to create full poems.

Would a reader feel this strange sensation or feel genuinely inspired? Ultimately, the poems created by the Electric Poetry Machine, just like any other poem generator, have been originally penned by a human being, before being transmuted into code. To some extent the writing of poems and the writing of software can be said to be analagous to one another, only that the hardware is different.

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Harry Man is a poet and visual artist.
‘Lift’, his first pamphlet, won the UNESCO 2014 Bridges of Struga Award.

Harry was a 2016 Clarissa Luard Wordsworth Trust Poet in Residence
and a 2016 Hawthornden Fellow. He was a 2016 TOAST Poet.

Currently, he is a 2020-21 Das Haus Lab #03 Fellow.

He also writes and performs for a children's theatre company, Fully Booked Theatre,
with Canadian contemporary dance choreographer Jennifer Essex.

His work has been featured on BBC Radio 4, BBC Tees and at festivals
internationally including Poetry International, Rotterdam, T-Junction and Ars Poetica.

In 2018 his work was selected for Poem of North by the Northern Poetry Library.

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Moments of Joy project devised by Redcar and Cleveland Council with support from Middlesbrough Council.