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

Margaret J Rhee mrhee at uoregon.edu
Thu May 4 06:30:13 AEST 2017


also, queer robots: https://vimeo.com/43444347

On 2017-05-03 13:24, Margaret J Rhee wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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:
> http://douglaskearney.com/blackautopo/
> 
> 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?
> 
> best,
> 
> Margaret
> 
> 
> 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
>>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>> 
>> --
>> 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
> _______________________________________________
> 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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