Poetry is traditionally conceived as a refined, patterned and stylised language produced by skilled writers and orators. Not so for twentieth-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. His highly influential and counter-intuitive philosophy, encapsulated in the dictum “language speaks man”, suggests that poets do not make poetry, but poetry poets. It is not a question of self-expression, but of “listening” for language’s “call”. According to Heidegger, this “call” takes us beyond the “mortal” towards the “heavenly”, “the Unknown One”, “god”. I wonder, then, what he would make of @godtributes, a charming little Twitter bot that “listens” to your tweet and “calls” it out back to you, transformed into an (ir)reverent tribute to an incidental, aleatoric deity.
This poetry generator uses the Wordnik library’s recent rhyming functionality as dataset suitable for creating rhyming couplets in the ’80s freestyle rap tradition.
The result has the form and texture of rap without some of its color, which probably for the best, since it lacks the context of a human rapper (warts and all) to deploy such forceful language. The range of vocabulary in the Wordnik library produces results so varied that the result feels like nerdcore hip hop, as in the lines generated above, particularly:
I’m smooth, you’ll never catch me acting Boolean
Way I rock the mic you know I’m born Tennessean
If the raps seem too formulaic, it bears to consider that freestyle rap battles were made possible by formal constraints and were a competitive expression of orality. In Orality and Literacy, Walter J. Ong discusses the tradition of oral performance as distinct from verbatim (word-by-word) memorization, in the context of Parry’s study of The Illiad.
were made up not simply of word-units but of formulas, groups of words for dealing with traditional materials, each formula shaped to fit into a hexameter line. The poet had a massive vocabulary of hexameterized phrases. With his hexameterized vocabulary, he could fabricate correct metrical lines without end, so long as he was dealing with traditional materials (57).
This algorithm simulates this process with 8-9 syllable line templates that produce lines of approximately 11 syllables when the word has been added. The line templates are also focused on the traditional materials of rap battles, including agonistic language and braggadocio. As with a live performance, these raps are intended to be apprehended as a whole rather than carefully scrutinized line by line, paying close attention only to memorable lines.
As with “Metaphor-a-Minute!” Kazemi encodes this social dimension for identifying particularly successful couplets. Users can share couplets they like through Twitter by simply pressing a button, which generates a tweet identified with the #rapbot hashtag and a link back to the generator.
So I recommend reading the generated rap songs, as well as Kazemi’s essay “Making a Rapbot,” and sharing the lines you enjoy the most, proof of Kazemi’s “equation for making a cool textual generator: randomness + formulaic writing = hilarity.”
This Twitter bot generates a metaphor every two minutes (in spite of its name, since Twitter places limits on automated posting), and it is more than sufficient. The constraint provides a little breathing room to consider the metaphor before facing a new one. How does one approach this steady stream of conceptually challenging metaphors?
According to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s cognitive linguistic metaphor theory, a metaphor is a mental process of thinking of one conceptual domain in terms of another. Their method to study metaphor was to identify the source and target domains and map the linguistic expression of the metaphor across both. The poetic practice of the conceit or extended metaphor lends itself well to this kind of analysis, because it overtly explores the connection across both.