The idea for the poetry machine was conceived as a response to musings about Dada. We wanted to create something that combined machinery and poetry for the "NaviDaDa"a Christmas Dada event in 2009. Our initial question was could we create a machine which would generate poetry? The answer was of course, yes. We saw that it had already been done in various formstaking random phrases and words and ordering them into something that could be described as poetic.
Our next, more interesting question, was could we imagine and construct a machine which would extract a poem from someone else's brain? Would it work, regardless of how blocked or unpoetic' a person purported to be? What followed was weeks of random, spontaneous and excited discussion about how we would design a machine to effectively procure a patient's innermost thoughts, desires, feelings and responses and use these same jewels to process a poem which would correspond to them.
Fearing that we may not have the technical expertise to do this alone, we serendipitously came across Bert and Frank, two unemployed technicians who, though lacking a poet's sensibility, had the skills necessary to execute the design of our brain-child and operate the machine once it had been built.
The success of the machine's first outing was unforeseeable. Installing it at the NaviDaDa in an art space in Barcelona we had little more expectation for Bert and Frank than an evening of drinking beer and discussing their favourite cartoons. However, they were run off their feet! The machine became an industrial hub of activity with so many clients on the waiting list to go through it that they simply could not process everyone. Refusing to compromise the potential output of the machine by shaving down a client's processing time, the only solution was to find a space in which to operate the machine again as soon as possible, to satisfy this growing demand. In 2009 The Poetry Machine was erected and operated on three different occasions in Barcelona, each event more successful than the last.
What Should A Client Expect?
Before entering the machine, a client is required to fill in a form which gives Bert and Frank information about them. Their questionnaire may come in the form of questions to answer, abstract graphs and tables to complete or equations to solve. This allows Bert and Frank to assess their suitability to the machine. The client is then connected to the machine and the experience begins.
Once inside the machine, and wearing the required headset, a series of things happen' to the clientquestions, images, sensory stimuli. Bert and Frank talk them through the process and note down their responses at all stages of the experience. These verbal responses are collected and sent to the computing epicentre of the machine where they are processed into a poem.
On reading the poem that has been extracted from his / her head, a client will typically feel anything from elation and bewilderment to clarity and liberation. In some cases, a client may feel all of these at once. One thing is certain: a person never leaves the poetry machine quite as they entered it. As with any true artistic endeavour, all people involved (Bert, Frank and ourselves included) are transformed.
Then and Now
As versed as they are in the operation of analogue machinery, Bert and Frank were apprehensive about the idea of launching the poetry machine into the foreign realm of cyberspace. More comfortable with the world of lubricants, screws, bolts and levers, it was not easy to make the leap into virtual machinery. However, over the last few months Bert and Frank have successfully sent 38 people through the virtual poetry machine experience. Using only the words extracted during this procedure, the machine has proven itself to be capable of processing a poem even from an un-plumbed soul on the other side of the world.
With the help of a designer, The Poetry Machine corp. is in the process of publishing an anthology of machinationsbringing together people from different places, of different ages, backgrounds and poetic experience, through the simple fact that they have been through The Poetry Machine. At an event hosted by Collage Barcelona on July 1st Bert and Frank will be presenting this new anthology of poetry still warm from the inner chambers of the machine. Clients will be invited to read their' poems and people will be given a chance to go through the analogue machine. There will be some suitably base refreshments on offer: something along the lines of beer, ham sandwiches and bags of crisps.
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