Internet poetry is lawless. You can find arresting text all over the web: in automated online excretions, out-of-context chats and suggested search results. Some internet poems mimic memes – most often cheesy net pics overlain with verse – but most are generated rather than written. They are poems authored by algorithms that surprise us with artificial emotion. Take this self-contained stream on the Google Poetics website.
i have gained 10 pounds/ i have gained 20 pounds/ i have gained 5 pounds/ i have gained from philosophy.
There is a poignancy there that the reader understands, but the algorithm cannot. Not yet anyway. And it is this tension that makes the verse sparkle.
Here are two poems utilising content from a Google search. Rather than isolating one moment in the search and copying those lines, all of the suggested results that appeared as the two phrases were typed in have been recorded. The rules for editing the results were simple: add any line breaks and punctuation where suitable; ignore repetitions if the results didn’t alter when a new letter was introduced (i.e. the search remains the same from “I went to th” and “I went to the”); and since “lyrics” was such a ubiquitous word, it could only be used on first appearance.
Though all of the language in these poems, titled “search party”, is auto-generated, the brain still isolates poetic motifs: human cues in non-human response. The sign of a thoughtful hand. You can see it in the repetition of “giants” and in the symmetry of brand names at the beginning of all three parts. There are also moments of perceived dialogue, imagery and even narrative.
It is ironic to find these lucid moments in the results, especially when so many searches we conduct are actually written in a dumbed-up version of Google English, learned over many years of search engine enquiry. Try, “why poetry accident emotion”. “Search party” harkens back to the non-intentional composition of postmodern poets like Jackson Mac Low, whose verses found poetic beauty in random language. But, of course, this text isn’t random. It is responsive, generated just for you.