The Essence of Instinct (Film-Poem Online)

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<a href="https://vimeo.com/135297786"><img src="https://www.peakepro.com/files/2015/08/0196-300x169.jpg" alt="0196" class="alignnone size-medium wp-image-7197" /><br />Click here to watch</a>

 

The Essence of Instinct

for Charles Darwin

That summer you were alone
with your thoughts, which is to say
you were never alone.

Nuage. Vapours. The Narwhal.
Collecting iridescent bugs
in your barely-visible net.

Cataloguing, by sputtering candle
the endless lists, ink darkening
the corner of your mouth.

Your armament of facts
was nothing much to her, as she
tested your reflexes with a pin.

Birdwatching. Beetles. Pheasant
blood-ruffled, shot-riddled,
a black stone’s coup de grâce.

Once there was no pattern,
the crochet unpicked by needles,
coloured threads, broken limbs.

Pricked, you bleed like a prism,
dividing light from light
through the aperture of pain.

All at once, the peacock
opens his eyes, and the threads
pull tight, stitching you in.

Process Notes

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What Can Computers Teach Us About Poetry?

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Colossus ComputerThe idea that analysing poetry with computers could teach us anything about the art is controversial. A recent survey I conducted of more than 300 tech-savvy poets confirmed that — while they generally agree that technology has been good for poetry in terms of fostering community, creating networking opportunities, and providing remote learning — they would rather computer scientists keep the ones and zeroes away from their iambs and spondees.

Intuitively, this makes sense — after all, we write poems for people, not machines. Poetry is one of the most intimately human of activities. Yet analytical methods, properly interpreted, can reveal new aspects of poetry that we readers and writers might miss. Blind spots can be corrected, what we sense intuitively can be confirmed scientifically, and computers may indeed help us to see old words with new eyes.
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Revolutionising Poetry with Technology (Survey Results)

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First and foremost, thanks to the more than 300 people who took a minute or two out of their busy lives to respond to my brief survey. Clearly people want to record their opinions, and hear what others think, about poetry and technology.

You can see the general report of survey results here. I have also charted and analysed this information below, with some interesting conclusions.

Intention and Methods

First, I should say that the intention of this survey was not to get a broad picture of general attitudes toward poetry, but to focus on specific aspects in a specific group. For a good general analysis, I recommend the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry in America study.

Now, a brief word about my methods. I posted the survey to my website and my social media networks, where it was generously shared by a wide range of established and up-and-coming poets. I also posted this survey to two prominent amateur writer websites, where the focus is on community critique.

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Quantified Aesthetics?

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Mechanical TurkNever before in human history has such potential existed for the large-scale digital analysis of text. Thanks to the Google search engine index of the world wide web, and the emerging Google Books project, which aims to index books, an enormous amount of text exists in indexed digital form, and this base is growing constantly. But the mechanisms by which digital texts and their indices are currently used to judge the relative quality, value, or meaning of a work of text are relatively crude as compared to how humans perceive and relate to text, and especially literature, which is text as art. This begs a chain reaction of questions: are there gains to be made in the fields of literature or linguistics by exploiting this digital base of text? Is it possible to derive aesthetic principles sufficiently logical to work as algorithms for the analysis of digital text? Would analysis based on such principles yield new insights into our relationship to language and literature? Could such analysis contribute toward something like a greater computational “understanding” of text, with implications for improving search engine results, speech recognition, and computerized translation? These questions fascinate me.
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