poetry red in tooth and claw

Poems are duking it out in a Darwinian sense on David Rea’s website. He’s designed a computer program that allows poems to evolve. Starting with 1,000 random words culled from “Hamlet,” “Beowulf,” and the “Iliad,” among others, his program randomly assembles them to create a short verse. If you visit his website (www.codeasart.com/poetry/darwin.html), you are given two of these verses and you choose the one you like best. The unpopular ones are killed off, but the poems with the most votes get to “breed” with each other, exchanging words like genes. Rea has also programmed in a mutation, where every new poem has a one-in-a-thousand chance of having a dropped or added word, or a word shifting its place. The resulting offspring poems are once again put up and voted on, and so on and so forth. After enough generations, Rea says on his site, “we should eventually start to see interesting poems emerge.” One recent survivor of this (un)natural selection was “Hellhound the beds though to/Puppeteer shout ho recesses now/For in the sphere it is cricket curfews/With therein of stolen.” Charmingly incoherent as it is, it looks like poetry requires a creator.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 7/29/2003.
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