[-empyre-] What is robot poetics? How/why should we teach it?

Margaret J Rhee mrhee at uoregon.edu
Thu May 4 06:24:34 AEST 2017

Hi Mike and all,

This is really generative organization of an exciting course! The 
texture of exploring poetry on code,"traditional poetry," and code 
poetry, and your framing really speaks to some of the threads that have 
developed in this week. Many of the threads have not necessarily culled 
together yet, and I feel your pedagogical approach really leads us in 
exciting directions of inquiry, and creation.

Thank you for bringing up WCW and this quote, as I've love to discuss 
this in terms of poetry, and pedagogy, and machines.

Because I find it more interesting to explore synergies and 
collectivities, rather than defining. I think robot poetics, resists 
that kind of categorization, or perhaps it is poetry that resists.

"There's nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or 
large) machine made out of words. When I say there's nothing sentimental 
about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is redundant. Prose 
may carry a load of ill-defined matter like a ship. But poetry is a 
machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all 
machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a 
literary character."

It also reminds me of a quote on the sonnet, by Ed Hirsch,

"There must be something hardwired into its machinery--a heartbeat, a 
pulse--that keeps it breathing."

I most often turn to Emily Dickinson, for 'defining poetry' which is

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know 
that is poetry."

If we go back to Dickinson, poetry really doesn't have a definition, 
more of a gesture to physicality, the body. Both WCW and Hirsch, speak 
to the fleshy, messiness, but "perfect economy" of poetry... The poem as 
a machine.

Your point on Morgan Parker's new work is exciting, the ways Black 
artists and poetry have utilized the robot and machines in generative 
ways of racial resistance. Which may not always be taken up in these 
discussions on new media or electronic literature. I have also taught 
Douglas Kearny's The Black Automaton: 

Your student's Keywords Poetry is absolutely stunning, and demonstrates 
how the course opened up the possibility to create poetry as well as 
learning about it.

Perhaps that is the pedagogical aim, right? Not to have students 
memorize lists of electronic literature, nor new media poetics, and not 
about defining but rather being able to hold the idiosyncrasies of code 
poetry, robot poetics... alongside questions of identify, racial, 
sexual, or otherwise. Your gesture to Whitman really reminds me of this, 
and excited to hear more.

Sean, and Sunny how did your classes go? What is your approach to 
teaching about cyborg poetics?



On 2017-05-03 10:16, Michael Widner wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello all,
> The context in which I taught Margaret's poems was a course called
> "Programming && Poetry" in which we attempted to find the
> convergences/divergences between code and poetry. The readings
> included Margaret's poems, some by Neil Aitken (examples here:
> http://www.thecossackreview.com/supplement4/neil_aitken.html),
> machine-generated poetry, and code poems. We also read many more
> "traditional" poems by authors that included Elizabeth Bishop, Walt
> Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Louise Glück, William Carlos Williams,
> Charles Simic, Wallace Stevens, Hayden Carruth, and quite a few
> others.
> I only recently discovered that Morgan Parker, in her latest book
> "There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé", has a poem
> "RoboBeyoncé" that I'm currently mulling. It starts: "Charging in the
> darkroom / while you sleep I am touch and go / I flicker and get
> turned on / Exterior shell, interior disco / I like my liver steeled /
> as a gun, my wires / unbuttoned to you". Had I known about this poem
> when I prepared my syllabus, I would have put it alongside some of
> Rhee's poems like "Beam, Robot", "Light, Robot", etc. I think it would
> be really productive to discuss the different ways in which the robot
> can represent marginalized figures. For example, I've always read
> Rhee's robot love poems as a type of queer love poetry. In Parker's
> case, her poems deal regularly with issues of black femininity. What
> does it mean that the robot--an ostensibly unfeeling, hard-shelled,
> potentially dangerous creation--gets imbued by these poets with
> sexuality and love?
> Critical readings included 10PRINT (Nick Monfort, et al.), "Screening
> the Page / Paging the Screen" (Marjorie Perloff), Introduction to
> Expressive Processing (Noah Wardrip-Fruin), "The Time of Digital
> Poetry" (Katherine Hayles), Metaphors We Live By (George Lakoff and
> Mark Johnson), Cognitive Poetics (Peter Stockwell), and several
> articles/pamphlets on text-mining of poetry and genre classification.
>  I divided the course into several themes; while code & poetry was the
> first, we also discussed electronic literature, critical code studies,
> distant reading, and cognitive poetics. The last topic, for anyone
> unfamiliar, concerns the application of cognitive psychology to the
> understanding of poetry: that is, if the current metaphor for mind is
> computer, then the poem must be a type of program that gets executed
> in that space. If so, what are the mechanisms that create meaning,
> emotion, etc.? My students found this a productive line of inquiry as
> they continued to use these concepts to analyze how the poems we read
> worked on the mind. One of students also put together this exhibit of
> "Keyword Poetry": https://keywordpoems.wordpress.com/, poems that she
> wrote using only the reserved words in different programming
> languages, along with her reflections on the process.
> We also discussed WCW's description of poems:
>  "There's nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small
> (or large) machine made out of words. When I say there's nothing
> sentimental about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is
> redundant. Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matter like a ship.
> But poetry is a machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy.
> As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical
> more than a literary character."
> Combined with our readings in cognitive poetics and our examinations
> of code poems, algorithmically-generated poems, and poems about code,
> Williams's idea reinforced the idea that a poem is like a program
> meant to create a certain state of mind, albeit one far less
> predictable or replicable than a computer program. Another aspect of
> Williams's thought here that I find particularly effective when close
> reading is the sense that every word, every punctuation mark, has
> meaning, contributes to the motion of the poem, and must be weighed in
> any analysis: much like a computer program, where (unless there are
> logic branches that go nowhere) every bit of code has an effect. These
> ideas required a balancing act in which, while providing different
> tools to decompile (so to speak) how poems work, I needed to keep the
> students aware of the ambiguity and variability of a poem's meaning
> and effects. I was regularly reminded of these lines of Whitman's:
> Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
> Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin
> of all poems,
> You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
> of suns left,)
> You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
> through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
> books,
> You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
> You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
> Best,
> Mike
> On 5/2/17 12:20 PM, VANDERBORG, SUSAN VANDERBORG wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> A definition is challenging! Terms such as robot poetry, cyborg
>> poetry, or machine writing might potentially include a huge variety
>> of poetic practices: speculative poems about robots, poetic
>> alterations or palimpsests from texts in robotics, code poetry,
>> hypertext poetry, poetry produced via search engines (such as Darren
>> Wershler and Bill Kennedy's _apostrophe_) and other digital poetry
>> experiments. Poems using email or tweets. Poems that reenvision
>> collaboration between programmers and poets.
>> There is already a rich scholarly tradition for many of these
>> robopoetics--_Fashionable Noise,_ _New Media Poetics_, _Digital
>> Poetics_, _Prehistoric Digital Poetry_, and Hayles's _Electronic
>> Literature_ and _Writing Machines_, and essays by John Cayley, Talan
>> Memmott, Stephanie Strickland, Ian Hatcher, Florian Cramer, Matt
>> Applegate, Steve Tomasula, and others, invaluable for teaching
>> digital, code, and machine poetics in a special topics seminar I'd
>> like to propose. Matthew Kirschenbaum's thoughtful "Machine Visions"
>> details texts whose styles truly enact Haraway's idea of cyborg
>> writing; Gregory Betts, too, discusses cyborg poetics in his article
>> "I Object," and Christian Bok's "The Piecemeal Bard Is
>> Deconstructed" traces "robopoetics" to its roots in RACTER
>> algorithms.
>> Increasingly, robopoetics doesn't only reflect a world saturated
>> with technology but a forum where print and digital cultures
>> interact productively. In "Noise in the Channel," Wershler talks
>> about prose-poetic print books, including Drucker’s _The Word Made
>> Flesh_, whose page layouts anticipate digital formats. _Writing
>> Machines_ also juxtaposes experimental artists' books and digital
>> poetry.
>> I've enjoyed teaching texts from Shelley Jackson's _Patchwork Girl
>> _to Brian Kim Stefans's _The Dreamlife of Letters_ and Jason
>> Nelson's _Game Game Game and Again Game_ in grad and undergrad
>> poetry or postmodernism classes; they raise provocative discussions
>> about what constitutes a book or a poetic collage. But I've taught
>> robopoetics most frequently in an undergrad literature survey class
>> called "American Cyborgs." Larissa Lai's "rachel" poems in
>> _Automaton Biographies_ pair magnificently with both _Blade Runner_
>> and Haraway, Susan Slaviero's "Consider the Dangers of
>> Reconstructing Your Wife as a Cyborg" humorously (and menacingly)
>> complements our cyborgs and gender unit, and Margaret Rhee's ":
>> Trace" from _Radio Heart_ introduces "Race," in the title's
>> wordplay, as a social construction already-already present even when
>> it hasn't been "programmed yet." The "robot" in her book's subtitle
>> pays homage to Asimov stories in which robotic identity is linked to
>> race and discrimination such as "Bicentennial Man" and
>> "Segregationist." And there is the short film for the lyrics of
>> "Many Moons,'" set amid an updated slave auction, where Janelle
>> Monae presses a button at her neck to change the skin color of her
>> android character. Studying robot poetics and robot subjectivity
>> becomes a way of talking about fights for civil rights, human
>> rights--and the interpretation of documents from the Declaration of
>> Independence to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
>> I'm very eager to hear how others in the forum have taught any form
>> of robopoetics, and in what contexts, or with what results...
>> Best,
>> -Susan
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
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> --
> Michael Widner, Ph.D.
> Academic Technology Specialist
> Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages
> Stanford University Libraries
> Pigott Hall, Room 108
> 450 Serra Mall
> Stanford, CA 94305
> t: 650-798-9485
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.

Visiting Assistant Professor
Women's and Gender Studies
University of Oregon

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