Computers painting computerized poems

What happens if you ask a computer to paint a poem co-written by another computer?  As I’ve written about previously (such as here, here, and here), I’ve been using a neural network to rewrite my own poems from the past two decades. Each of the below poems is a collaboration between me and torch-rnn, as described in this essay from Empty State.  Cool enough.  But haven’t you always wanted to know what other computers thought about these poems?

Well, fret no more.  There’s a wonderful neural network model called AttnGAN that can take some input text and synthesize a photo of it.  Its intended operation is to use simple inputs such as “this bird is red with white and has a very short beak.”  For my purposes, I fed AttnGAN the entire title and text of the poem.  The results, perhaps, are not as simple.


everyone’s over

but you give me, you remember,
your constellation:
arc of red birds like style.

i think you left the plants later
when i was nothing.

you tell drinking some inchword
of the fisherman, the boat prophecy
pinking through the weather,
saying what you loved.

surely you’re mean like a commodore.
you would christ that this nation
burned from love.  good seems to snow,
the train’s belly tastes of song,
and everyone’s over

my thought of trying to say,
my soul of thrushed smoke.



the save of the wind and some stones.
snowman of the box,

a father that was the concrete candle
in the spackled flowers.

the day settles across the sky
with the wind or pine for the grandfather below,

simple on the slip like blue.
the way you were ships, are notes,

that for the same bubbly and snow,
the mother in i will roost in the wind.


from a midnight boat

dead from the wind, eaves from the clouds,
with no rock on the worming sand
who shored like a sky, like crates of stars.

it is feathers of snows
with the belly as a constellation.

in the wind still be the saint of flour,
so the water, the stars, the lake
of the teared glass with a prayer—

they watched the fine prayer that is a dancer.

in the sap, the sunside to your blue me
springs the bright shards of song.
the stars crack and form like steel.



as the sunset hangs,
you are explode,
a learned wing of crows.

i hope to your eyes, one hand
on the threads of ampersands,
the other electricity.

you are hope lovely,
the cursive of a butterfly,
the myrescent envologist

of the wrist.  here, i did not
buy a street, but a bowl
of snow bodillias,

and we are the holy heat
of stars: lips thrumming,
stop our backs,

a ruck of nestling.


purple from the weather

chilly, would say a tent,
of someone who breathes
like a case of a cloud of snow.
and how more than to take on its slather—

rise in the light of notes on the pier.
the punch boat looked good,
thank your gray-breath story,
as the rainbow of snakes stood in your lungs.

this is the way we are branches:
we would shake so new.  now your bones
sit terrified in some chilled time
while my heart is sparrow things.

sometimes the long water is a child.
sometimes you swallow my cries.
sometimes it’s all the same sheets
to the sky, the shards sweet

across the moon. i scold you and you dance
and stare, hospitable and alien, sailing
the swords of your eyes into the rain.


what ripples are

i want the bells, the sundry of sunburn
in the skin, of white that can’t be clouds.

you was the map about a kitchen of rains,
the treasure of a garden of stars.

the wind with an antique talk about water.
is the lake too sad, you with many swimming said?

windows standing in dust. sudden the talons,
and whatever we drought, you want.

who sabotages at the stars? i want the sun
pressing bones. you want the weather of flashing,

a boat simple, wind over an amazed cattail lake.

book of rain

when the book of rain is calling the sun beautiful

i take our house of a boat
standing the shore.

i imagine the sunset nights,
the windows that forgets
the burn of balloons, and she says,
but i was the bird with his paint.

sudden prayer of some shore.

sudden prayer of gray streams of ice.

the bird as a snake of her speech.
sparks of stars are not flashy
as a cigarette sky.

the things of sleep.

i want to do it in the silver steam,
sang the water of the first lover.

the spring burning
was the crow of a fireworks.

what is someone who knows her hair
as a termite story?

a silver store of a white belly.
many wasps of the world.

say the soul can’t say.

i wanted to breathe good wheels,
to be the color of the moon,
to longer the sweetness
of some clowns.

i was children bumbler clouds.

flowers are her feet; small feathers;
the sharp, fallen-breath snow.

the stars are no more
than a perfect, fancy word.


I used the very promising Runway to wrangle AttnGAN without all the fiddling required to build and run a neural network model.

everyone’s over” was originally published in Zany Zygote Review.

“ancestry” was originally published in Indefinite Space.

from a midnight boat” was originally published in Angry Old Man.

purple from the weather” was originally published in Always Crashing.

what ripples are” was originally published in Clementine Unbound.

when the book of rain is calling the sun beautiful” was originally published in Palaver.


This bag of sharp singing

I’m happy that my poems co-written with torch-rnn continue to find good homes.

I’m particularly pleased that Ashley Hudson, the editor of Palaver, interviewed me and published some of the torch-rnn poems in the Spring 2018 issue (pages 45-58).  I got the chance to say smart-sounding things, including attempting to form and name a burgeoning artistic movement:

I’ve been thinking about where this project sits in a larger artistic context. There are elements of surrealism, of course, and also Language poetry. But if I can be like torch-rnn for a moment and neologize, I’ve recently settled on cyberimpressionism. Much like Monet or Debussy, these poems present a gauzy, filtered view of the subject rather than a clear, structured portrait. Yet I still find the poems can set a clear mood and be moving. It seems like the current state of many artificial intelligence projects are cyberimpressionistic, such as the bizarre images from Deep Dream, originally created by Google, to all sorts of odd musical compositions to the variety of robots—programs as well as physical machines—created by researchers that are designed to speak in natural language but can be easily manipulated into bizarre behavior by real people. Programmers have built programs that try to convince us they are human, and they always fail. That tension—between a human response and an almost-human one—is where cyberimpressionism as an art can flourish.

Joining the cyberimpressionism school are a few other forward-thinking magazines, including Ghost Proposal, which published three of my poems, and Clementine Unbound, which did the same:

Five further poems appear at Zany Zygote ReviewAs ever, I’m grateful to all of the editors who are interested in publishing computer-collaborated work.

IFComp and The Unofficial Sea-Monkey(R) Simulation


The twenty-third annual Interactive Fiction Competition, IFComp, is now open!  This year, I’ve entered The Unofficial Sea-Monkey(R) SimulationIn some ways, it’s a period piece, akin to some forgotten DOS game from the late ’80s.  The official blurb is:

Sometime during 1987, your father comes home from work–late, as usual. He tosses a small box onto the kitchen counter. “Here,” he says, “you wanted fish. You get these. Let’s see how you do first, and then maybe we’ll get a real tank.”

However, I did toy with a shorter blurb before ultimately deciding it was a bit too cheeky:

A story about growing up, as mitigated by brine shrimp.

There are eighty entries this year–by far the most ever.  There are a lot of great-looking games out there, and I’ve had the pleasure of beta-testing one of them.

Head on over to the main website and peruse the continuing renaissance in interactive fiction.  Anyone can serve as a judge in the competition.  You just need to play and consider five games in earnest before rating them.

I, for one, welcome our compupoet overlords

Recently, I’ve expanded my exploration of computer-generated art from visual art (see The Art of the Bot) into my home domain of poetry.  This summer, I’ve been working with neural networks to rewrite many of the poems I’ve written over the past twenty years.  So far, I’m fortunate to have some lit mags interested in this kind of experimentation.  I was particularly fortunate to work with Empty State, which published five such poems written this way along with an essay exploring the writing process and whether or not poems (mostly) written by a computer can have meaning.

Eunoia Review published “ritual”, another computer-collaborated poem, and next year Palaver will be publishing another five poems along with an interview.

Kitschy title for this post aside, it’s been a very strange way to consider poetry.  Even though I’ve really enjoyed the creation of the poems, I still don’t know how I feel about the project–if it’s artistically innovative or barren.  But working with a computer, so far, has been a fascinating exercise in liberation from the tyranny of grammar, mechanics, and sometimes even sense.



In my spare time, I’ve been building Twitter bots that create art.  It’s been a fun and interesting project, and I’ve created a separate, detailed post about them that muses on the intersection of art and computers.  Check out the art I couldn’t make, but my programs could!

Roundup: Goodwill and dimes and air mattresses and more

I’m happy to share a few pieces that have appeared online in the last few months.

r.kv.r.y is a great journal whose sole theme is recovery–broadly construed, in a host of contexts.  Naturally, it seemed like the perfect place for some of the cancer sonnets I’ve been writing.  They published a brief moment of our family going to Goodwill.  Then, I was grateful to be interviewed for r.kv.r.y by Sarah Sadie about the experience of writing an accumulation of sonnets which all circle around the same cancerous subject.  At one point I use the phrase “inchoate vitriol,” which seemed apt for certain days of treatment, especially in the beginning.

Speaking of sonnets about cancer, The Maynard published two of them, along with recordings of me reading them mellifluously.  Both are about seemingly small things:  how I slept on an air mattress immediately following my wife’s first surgery, and about the calendar she used to compartmentalize the number of days remaining of radiation.

And finally, I continue to explore and publish surreal little works of flash fiction.  I’m grateful to have two new pieces up at The Cossack Review: one about a widow who leaves behind an inheritance of seven million dollars entirely in dimes, the other about someone who claims to be an agent who represents the stars–actual stars that are giant balls of fiery gas, not non-combustible Hollywood ones.


Playing music, finding light

In a case of life imitating art imitating life imitating art imitating life (or something like that), Fox Adoption has published the virtually true story (in sonnet form) of “the band that i’m in.”  I am indeed in a band (I play banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, accordion, and whatever else they tell me to play), and we indeed have a song about William Henry Harrison.  In fact, you can listen to a live version of the song right here!  We’ll throw in a kazoo solo for free.

Also, Roanoke Review was kind to interview me on the basis of one sonnet I wrote about Legos (and, to be fair, growing up and cancer and my son and healing and stuff).  I say, “I get tired very quickly of poetry that’s all broken. I want poetry about being whole,” and I think that accurately reflects my feelings about a lot of poetry today.