David Bowie used to do this. In an interview with British marvel, Michael Parkinson, he spoke about his creative process.
David Bowie used to cut words out of the newspaper, or write arbitrary words on a piece of paper, and if my memory serves me correctly – and I believe it usually does! – he used to toss these little pieces of paper in the air and let them fall on the carpet. He would then pick them up in no particular order and string them together.
It was thus that he got some interesting collocations for the lyrics of his many songs. I cannot remember which particular songs he gave as solid examples of being created as a direct result of this method, but “here I am sitting in a tin can” had to have come from somewhere, right?
The matter of poetry, however, remains a human prerogative. You need a human to write poetry, don’t you?
Well, Google Poetics, who freely and confusingly acknowledge that it is “not affiliated with Google in any way”, seems to think otherwise.
I decided to conduct a little experiment of my own.
I have hauled out something I wrote over 25 years ago, and which has unintentionally survived numerous “let’s burn all these poems” sessions, travelling from one continent to another, and rising damp, amongst other things. I have no particular attachment to it, but felt it was safer to make fun of something I wrote than tear apart anything by John Keats, for example.
It is untitled:
Ours is a musty damp mushroom house
Where echoes explode in silent despair
And midnight is the time to savour
The slime of days gone by.
Amorphous imaginings in the dinner candle
And darkness cast over our shadow-food
While rose petals fall dead on the tablecloth
Of our scattered ruminations.
The bedside lamp vies with the moon for
A touch of all our insanities; neither wins nor
Really struggles – the time-worn rule is that
We keep our madness to ourselves.
Right, now let the fun begin:
The first line in bold purple is what I typed in the search box. The ones below it are the resultant poem (with my comments in italics thereafter):
musty smell car
(not a poem)
(not a poem, although there is some uninvited madness)
ours is a finite earth
ours is a finite earth meaning
ours is a nice house ours is
(not a poem, but has potential, and the last line is something David Bowie might say when not on TV)
midnight is the time
midnight is considered the next day
(not a poem, but does have ambiguity, and therefore potential)
midnight is the time
midnight is the time to let your body
(I can feel a song coming on, but not a poem)
time to savou
time to save
time to save a baby elephant
time to save a calf
time to save the world where in the world is all the time
(Gertrude Stein still has the edge for me; so not a poem, this googly bit)
I confess that I did many other searches – random concatenations of the words which made up my poem. The ones above were the best of a bad bunch.
With the aid of this method, I was hoping that my old poem might have been re-animated with some fresh perspective.
Sadly, Google Poetry is not going to do it for me. Sadly? Not sadly at all!
I am thrilled and delighted at the disappointment this exercise brings with it!
It means that even re-hashed human words from that vast Google search engine still cannot match the evocative power of an insufficiently crafted poem from my youth – or any poem that any human being has ever tried to write. Granted, Google may do a better job of it after I publish this post, but Google did not actually come up with the words in the first place. I did. Just as all the other words on this page ascribed to Google were actually first thought of by a now nameless individual.
So, do I throw my Google words on the carpet, and do like David Bowie?
My carpet was Microsoft Word. I copied and pasted all the Google words, and simply deleted the ones I did not want, and added just a little bit of punctuation.
Here is the result:
mushroom head madness ours is
a finite earth, a nice house;
considered your body
wherein the world is all
Not quite the same message as what we started out with, is it?
Perhaps we should manipulate a little more:
madness ours in finite time
i considered your body
wherein my world is
That’ll do, for now.
In the meantime, I found an excerpt of the interview I mentioned which took place in 2003, although not the part to which I referred. As already intimated, both humans and Google have limitations.
I rather think I shall leave Google out of any future attempts at writing poetry, thanks all the same.