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Poetry, Poetry, Everywhere

Poetry, Poetry, Everywhere

No, this isn't my utopia post, where there is a poetry reading happening on every street corner, poetry exhibitions in every civic building, poetry workshops in every craft shop, poetry exercise machines in every gym and loaves of poetry fresh in every bakery ... but that future might not be far away!

I'm not sure I've come out and expressly said this in these blog pages, though you've probably gathered as much from the things I talk about, I used to be a bit of a computer technology geek ... ok, I'm still a bit nerdy. The very first computing machines pre-date me by several decades, but I joined the home computing revolution before we had the PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and broadband that we're all familiar with these days — you're undoubtedly using one of those type of devices if you're reading today's post.

Bits and Bytes

My first computer was a Toshiba HX10 MSX. I'd have been 12 years old when I received that as a Christmas present and, I think, of all my presents over my years, it remains the most unexpected! One of my favourite memories was returning home from the weekly Morrisons shop with my parents. My mum wondered out loud while she unlocked the front door, what my sister had been up to while we were out. My dad peeked through the lounge window and announced happily, “She's on the game.” I replied, “I certainly hope she isn't!” — gotta love your parents don't you :) I loved playing games but also learned to program in Basic. I programmed a textual database-type system called FOCUS — File of Omnipotent Conspirators in the Unmitigated Service — I clearly loved the thesaurus even that early in my life :)

I never mastered the bleeding edge art of programming in machine code but, as I moved onto my first 386 and 486 PCs, I taught myself many higher level languages, first Pascal, then Visual Basic, and dipped my toe in more weird and wonderful flavours like Ada, Lisp, Smalltalk, Prolog, Perl, and my favourite, a text-parsing language called Inform. Inform is a beautiful language for the principal purpose of running text adventure games. My mother and I have fond memories / nightmares about hanging in a parachute in a mangrove tree, unable to get ourselves down to ground level to begin the game, Emerald Isle by Level 9. Every action we tried to do produced the response “You want to do what with a parachute?”

It makes me smile to think how the world has changed since those MSX days, to the point I'm teaching my talking machines to read poetry :)

The Word on the Street

The nerdy part of me loves watching the BBC's weekly technology show, Click. This week's episode, City Clickers surprised me by closing with an item about poetry.

FutureEverything has this week unveiled a new art commission by emerging artist Naho Matsuda for CityVerve, titled every thing every time.
every thing, every time uses Internet of Things technology, drawing from existing open datasets, as well as new data deployed by CityVerve, the UK’s demonstrator for smart cities. The datasets are translated into words, poetic phrases which together offer a glimpse into the ubiquity of technology in urban space.
‘every thing every time is a piece of real-time digital writing, which is drawing from the many ‘things’ and ‘events’ and changes of ‘status’ that are constantly happening in Manchester,’ says Naho Matsuda.

In plain English this means that data from the city is being translated into poetry and displayed on screens

The Stories of the Street

The Click episode begins with an example of one of these data-driven poems, which I'll reproduce below. The episode is available on the BBC iPlayer website for one month, so first week of August 2017, if you're able to watch BBC iPlayer content wherever you're reading this post.

the sun rises
the radio plays the news
the team won
today is the last day of the term
the traffic light turns green
and the piano is silent

I really like this idea — towns and cities writing their own poems. The nerdy part of my brain badly wants to look at the algorithm used to turn the data into poetry because I'm very curious how much of a helping hand humans played in the process, or how much was genuine AI reading poems by poets old and new, figuring out for itself what a poem is.

Making Better Use of Poetry

In my days as a transportation planner I worked on a Making Better Use project of the M4 motorway in south Wales, from the Second Severn Crossing through to Miskin (Jct 34). I used a database of several million bits of information from the carriageway sensors on the M4 motorway.

I'm sure there's a circle of Hell filled with poetry about congestion reference flows waiting for me with open arms, though hopefully it's not up to me to write it. If I'd have thought at the time, I might have suggested the variable speed limit signs could display random lines of verse at times when “Queues Ahead” weren't in effect :)

Iamb Not Found Error

The FutureEverything website informs that
The CityVerve partners include FutureEverything, Manchester Science Partnerships, the University of Manchester, Cisco and BT.

If my poetry production rested in the hands of BT I'd write a lot of blank verse, and not in the sense of poetic form :/

#CityPoetry #FutureEverything #Manchester #Computers #M4Motorway

Published inPoetry


  1. Nell Nelson Nell Nelson

    Love the idea about poetry on the variable speed signs. Now that WOULD be something!

  2. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    Yes, me too, loads of ready made lines, just what a poet loves!

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