What is poem.exe?

poem.exe is a bot which generates haiku-like poems and publishes them to social media.

a good world
completely unaware
of years past

It uses an Oulipo technique based on Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. Verses are selected at random from a corpus, and a single line is taken from each one to produce a new poem. Some words may be randomly substituted for related words (e.g. ‘cat’ may become ‘dog’). After assembling a poem in this way, the program looks for seasonal references and uses these to decide whether to publish or reject the poem.

The bulk of the corpus that it reads from consists of English translations of haiku by Kobayashi Issa; as a result, many of the poems are coloured by Issa’s personality, in particular his fondness for snails.

The project was featured in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 3.

Where can I read it?

Poems are published in a number of places:

How was it made?

The project is made up of the following parts:

  1. A corpus of 600+ haiku and short verses, selected by hand and modified to fit the constraints of the project. This is updated from time to time.
  2. Code to compile the corpus into a form more easily readable by computers.
  3. Code to read the corpus and assemble new poems.
  4. A server which is rented for running the code, so that poems may be assembled without supervision throughout the day.
  5. Social media accounts to publish the poems immediately as they are assembled.

View the source code on GitHub. The code is primarily written in Ruby; some parts are written in Python. The comments in the poem.rb file contain more details on how a poem is assembled.

Who made it?

poem.exe was made by Liam Cooke, an Irish software developer living in Melbourne, Australia.

Who's talking about it?

It’s minimalist, almost peaceful, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad. I think the success of bots like this one and the Ephemerides lies in the fact that people do actually love poetry (all appearances to the contrary) — we are all so hungry for linguistic serendipity and new meaning and words that behave in unexpected ways. Poetry like this activates parts of the brain often left dormant.

The pieces produced by @poem_exe are ever-changing vessels for meaning. Structurally, they resemble the more universally-familiar haiku, and their imagery contains notions that are at once staccato and trailing off. The result is a sense of unknowability, a magic that cannot be revealed; the meaning belonging to the user and the user alone.

We’re serious when we say that some of these are as good and contemplative as your go-to T-Swift lyric.

There is also fan art.