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Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair! Can AI Write Good Poetry?



SULLY STONE compares human and computer generated poem and asks “Do Artificial Intelligences Dream of Eclectic Poetry?”

 

Nearly every English student will be familiar with ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Shelley. King of Kings and what not. This poem has lasted the sands of time and for good reason too, as the intention and purpose of the poem are captured and executed perfectly. Not a word of the poem needs changing.

It speaks volumes to me that, to the general population, if poetry as a topic is broached, the common examples will be of works as old as ‘Ozymandias’, which for reference was published in January 1818. Over two centuries old. Of course, there are even older works that are arguably more famous than Shelley’s works – Shakespeare’s sonnets largely define how English students first interact with and learn of what poetry is. For reference, Shakespeare died in 1616. Over four centuries old. So then, how shall contemporary poetry be defined? What will the poetry of the 21st century be remembered as? Will AI be a factor in this?

 

2024: The rise of the machines

The year 2024 marks the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) becoming commonplace. More businesses are adopting AI for specific services and tasks which inevitably allows them to cut costs, in such areas as marketing, statistical analysis, communication. However, these uses only make up one part of how AI is utilised. Anyone with access to a phone or computer can access AI right now: generating images, mimicking voices, editing videos, writing for them. As time goes on, we will see more services like these offered for commercial use. That is a guarantee, at least from this point in time. There is much to explore here, but my focus regards poetry. Can AI write poetry, or I suppose, generate poetry? Is it poetry at all as we know it if the lines can be generated, not written?

As Editor for the foundling poetry magazine Tin Can Poetry, as well as a tech hobbyist, and a generally curious person; I wonder about the impact that AI will have on the written art. We already see how technology has affected the field of writing: it has never been easier to spread a piece of work, or to find a community to engage with, discover educational resources, join workshop groups, etc. These are all positive things that can enable upcoming poets. So then, can AI provide aid to an upcoming poet? 

Artificial Intelligence as it stands today primarily functions by taking resources made available to it, considering a prompt, and generating something brand new, in theory. Almost like a teacher setting a prompt to a class of students, except the AI is every student in the class and scatter-brained.



Green-eyed monster or beauty?

Let’s see if we can answer any of the questions raised, or have a takeaway from the attempt. I wrote a poem based on a specific prompt, and then gave the same prompt to AI, which is included below. For clarity’s sake, and to show my process, let it be known any examples of AI were taken from ChatGPT 3.5.

 

Prompt: write a four-line poem about green eyes.

 

My poem:

            I placed emeralds

            Upon her eyelids

 

            So she may see

            Beauty after death.

 

AI-generated poem:

In emerald depths, secrets reside,

A verdant gaze, where mysteries abide.

Green eyes hold stories, untold and wise,

Reflecting the world beneath verdant skies.

 

     There are some obvious things of note with the poem which was generated. To keep it simple, there’s a forced rhyme scheme, a poor use of repetition and an overall lack of cohesion. With enough time and specific prompting, perhaps something along the lines of: ‘Write a four-line poem about green eyes, with an X-rhyme scheme, with the focus of Y’, a genuine-sounding poem could be generated. I still doubt the complexity of a result any AI-tool would give from this prompt, however. This may be a case of a monkey left at a typewriter – the scenario suggesting given infinity, the monkey could eventually write Shakespeare. I don’t have infinity to test this idea, but I have something similar in mind.

 

Android Ozymandias

     What if we were to ask AI to write a poem based on ‘Ozymandias’?

     Here’s a side-by-side comparison. I don’t think there’s any critiquing needed to point out what’s wrong.

     What about advice, then? Can AI give sound advice, even if it cannot follow its own? After asking ChatGPT for some, I was given ten fairly useful, pretty typical tips. Nothing exciting, nothing worth insulting. Typical points that can be found online.  

    

Robotic poetry

Through search results on Google, you can find some poetry books that are meant to stand out because they were exclusively written by AI. The two biggest examples of this so far, I believe, are I Am Code, written by code-davinci-002, and obviously composed by a group of real-life humans, as well as Aum Golly, credited to Jukka Aalho and ChatGPT 3, and marketed as a poetry anthology written in only twenty-four hours. How exceptional. Reviews I have seen agree that these books are far from exceptional instances of outstanding poetry.

    

Is this the end of human-generated art?

Where does this leave the art of poetry and its community? I believe in the same position as we were before, now with a nagging thought in our minds. Can AI one day simulate and create meaningful poetry? I believe it will come to pass, maybe in some of our lifetimes. Will this result in the phenomena similar to that of AI stealing painters’ art and meshing styles together to create something new? Almost absolutely. After all, that is how human painters and artists as a whole learn. We take in other works to inform our own, albeit, typically with a self-flavoured spin or direction that the inspirations lacked. Sadly, only time will tell how accessible and talented AI will be that can generate, for lack of a better phrase, ‘good poetry’. For the mean time, we are left with the nagging question of ‘when?’.

     To answer a lingering question: the 21st century may be recalled as the last time poetry was dominated by human poets.

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