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1962 comic book Poetry Machine

July 20, 2013


Poetry Machine, as presented in “Hip Man Wrinkle,” the story of an indolent beatnik who falls asleep in 1962 and wakes up in the year 2292 to find that people in the future work even less than he does. (Moral: “the hipster of today is the square of tomorrow.”) First published in Tales Calculated to Drive you Bats #5 in July 1962; reprinted in World of Archie Double Digest #29 (July 2013).

EDIT: a couple thoughts on this.

First, note that the poetry machine seems to be more mechanical than computational. By 1962, Christopher Strachey had already written his Love Letter generator (1953) and Theo Lutz his Stochastic Texts (1959) but these ideas had apparently not yet seeped into the popular culture that these comic books represent. Like the Laputan generators of Gulliver’s Travels and the text generators of Orwell’s 1984, this seems to be non-computational: note the use of the word “machine” and the simple push-button interface.

Second, note the lack of interactivity: human input is limited to selecting the type of poem to be generated (and, presumably, whatever parameters were set when the poetry machine was created.)

Finally, these contribute to the suggestion that automated poetry generation is problematic. We may infer that in this vaguely dystopian future, machines have co-opted one of the activities that humans should be performing. Eventually the caricatured beatnik grows sick of the future and returns to his own time, where he may have to work a bit more than he would in the future, but at least he gets to write his own poetry. Wake up, caricatured beatnik! You should have delved into the workings of the poetry machine and made your innovations there…

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