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

Margaret J Rhee mrhee at uoregon.edu
Thu May 4 06:34:19 AEST 2017


Reading through Mike's student Stephanie's site, I am struck by her 
process section...such a wonderful project, more thoughts, but for now, 
I wanted to point us to this direction, and especially thinking of the 
pattern, possibilities, and the limitations of the poem:

"Writing poems exclusively using keywords from programming languages was 
an interesting process. By the time I finished the poem written in C, I 
realized there is a pretty distinctive pattern of word types that crop 
up (in any language) when consulting a list of keywords.

True, false, throw, catch.

If, for, new.

So many of the phrases available represent conditions or states of being 
and duality. After a while it felt trite to play with the throw-catch 
dynamic or use the word “new” too many times. In this sense, programming 
keywords are quite limiting when it comes to poetry, and rightly so."

https://keywordpoems.wordpress.com/portfolio/reflections/

On 2017-05-03 13:30, Margaret J Rhee wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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
> _______________________________________________
> 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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