How does one write poetry in <current year>1?
Why would one even do it?
Well, I guess it’s a fun way to sharpen one’s language and it is radically different from writing prose. Daily prompts from social media are the perfect way to get the initial spark that lights one’s creativity. This allows for churning out a lot more junk which takes a lot less time to write, which I consider to be a good thing. After all, statistically, a single prick with a pick is nothing but dirt.
I started writing haiku for #575prompt[↗] and #dailyhaikuprompt[↗] in late 2022 rather regularly. This Japanese poetry is rather simple if you are a beginner and free verse intimidates you, as it did me. You don’t even need to rhyme. Traditional haiku revolve around nature and usually end with a twist, but I just follow the pattern of 5-7-5 syllables to a tee. Because I am quite lazy, I use syllablecounter.net[↗].
Aside from haiku, I also tried my hand at writing limericks for #MastoPrompt[↗]. This short comedic form of poetry is a nice outlet for the more surreal, juvenile or satirical. Since English is not my native language and to keep up with the daily prompts, I often resort to using rhymezone.com[↗] to make my poems work with the AABBA scheme.
Lately, I have also been trying to write metered poetry. Prosodic[↗], a metrical-phonological parser under the GPLv3[↗], has been very helpful in this regard.
Using these online resources may also have contributed a bit to the erosion of my trust in my own language skills. I frequently use common online translation, as well as grammar and spell-checking tools to verify what I write. However, I do make an effort to deliberately go against their suggestions occasionally if I prefer my original wording. I have yet to read the chapter “Checking grammar and grammar checkers” from Curzan, Anne. Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History. Cambridge University Press, 2014, but it doesn’t take more than a quick online search and some critical thinking to find good arguments for why they shouldn’t be followed religiously.
Am I a worse poet for using all these tools?
Probably, but I think it hardly matters. The core challenge of concise and aesthetic expression persists.
This is more debatable for so-called “large language models”.
In the final month of 2022, ChatGPT took the internet by storm and, while I have refrained from doing so, others have verified its apparent ability to produce original poetry of high quality.
This technology is undoubtedly very interesting, but in my humble opinion, its current application to the creative domain can be attributed to its novelty and the short-sightedness of capitalism. (see commercial prompt-to-image models)
A recovering user of GitHub Copilot myself, I see more promise in expert assistents and thus a threat to knowledge bases and search engines. I don’t emotional respond to reading poetry spat out by the machine within seconds. This is essentially just a sequence of very big matrix multiplications of my request with a condensed version of the internet’s collective consciousness. The most inevitable, thereby most unoriginal product, regardless of objective quality. The human experience that goes into writing is a vital part that can not be removed from the equation. Prompting and selecting do not a poet make, but an editor.
To conclude, writing poetry can be a wonderful pastime if you embrace constraints and make life easier for yourself by shedding the feeling of guilt for getting some help from technology. And do not fear the brave new world, for the abundance of convenience will not extinguish the appetite for authenticity.
Check out the prompts linked above and give it a try!
Also let me know if I should start a free and open-source poetry writing software. (I probably won’t and I haven’t checked if there is already one out there.)
Please note that I may occasionally and significantly update this post as I please. Feel free to check back regularly to see if anything has changed. :) ↩︎