Do Computers Like Poetry? Frank’s Letter to the Workshop

Alan Turning Machine or Model

Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of June 1, 2021

Hi Everybody-

Don’t worry about the rain! We’re meeting on zoom tonight.

Shane Wagner brought a poem to our workshop last week whose subject, in part, was the relationship of memory to the actual:

Instance/ Recreate you/ In that time and place// Instance/ Do I change you/ Each time I call again

Don Zirilli was reminded of computer programming by the logic of Shane’s lines, and his use of the word ‘Instance,’ which is a term of art in computer programming denoting the individuated realization of a templated event or object.

I’ve been thinking about the relationship of poetry to computer programming for years, so I wrote a small computer program based on Shane’s poem and emailed it to him. It’s my first pocodem. Here’s a snippet:

if (myArms.areEmpty) { InMyArms(that_time, that_place) } []

The poem and full runnable program are here

There is an email thread about this dialog of forms. 

Don Zirilli: “The code is the poem. The reader is the browser.” “I’m viscerally (not intellectually) convinced that I am a continual consciousness”

Rob Goldstein: “Each instance of memory has to be a unique retrieval of information… Anything that achieves consciousness is a unique “ignition” that binds diverse regions of the brain in a massive, coordinated discharge of neurons “

Yana Kane-Esrig:”I experience myself as having two “lobes”: one thinks in Russian, the other one in English.”

(Rob’s been trained in medicine.)

The conversation about the pocodem focused on the theme of continuous identity. One has an experience of oneself as a character named “I”, until, as Rob said, “the carburetor misfires.”  ‘You’ is recreated by memory each time, & such memories have no contractual relationship to what really happened or who you “are”. 

I’ve always thought that poems are excellent at creating an Instance. They work with the templates of language, and make something that seems novel and continuous at the same time, like the experience of consciousness. (I’ve cited before the work of Gerald Edelman who wrote in A Universe Of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination ( ) that the production of consciousness requires continuous novelty; brains deprived of stimulus are less capable of producing the illusion of continuous experience.)

OK all this was fun. But in the end I would rather write poems than code: probably because I can do a lot more with language that’s not constrained by purely instructional or informational purposes. When writing poems, I have a much better illusion of novelty.

Annnd… we’re back to the new. What’s new about your poems? Can your poem be represented as a programmatic retrieval of subconscious information? Would that be good?

Is there a companion form for your poem? (An office building? a chemical formula? A computer program?) How defiant, careless, or inaccurate would you have to be, in realizing a companion form, to keep your work interesting?

Author: dzirilli

poet, cartoonist, editor of Now Culture