the ghost in the machine – programmed poems by s. cearley

S. Cearley’s statement on the work:

The poetry generation started in graduate school when I worked on an expert system project to write short stories called The BRUTUS project, which was mostly the work of Dr Selmer Bringsjord. Some years later I took some of the basic ideas and stripped them down further to generate concrete poetry. I stripped them down in the sense that the generation is much, much, much simpler when I did not have to worry about a plot and the structure necessary. Currently my programs use a large selection of text files culled from Project Gutenberg, and the text is stripped, the computer identifies words as parts of speech (sometimes incorrectly, sometimes the error is because the same word can be different parts of speech), and reconstructs sentences. From this I edit the output into a poem. Separately, in the graphical works I use elements of vector graphics to create a framework of boundaries for the text. The more I strip out of the text generation code, the more complex the linework (what I call the final framework to place the text in) becomes. I could combine both of these into one single program but then I would not be able to edit the text, and I still insert myself into this ghostly, inner spaceage creation. Once both are complete, the text is pushed into the boundaries of the linework, and the computer generates a title based on the text used in the poem.
In this process there is the machine brain, a ghost in the machine. It doesn’t understand what it is doing, and yet it still manages to apparate as an intelligence without body, splashing text across the screen as if it were truly there. Then I get to further modify that creative work. I am not so much an editor but a glitch made flesh – in glitch art, the computer is exploited to create seemingly random artefacts that give an aesthetic appeal. In this interaction, I do it to the computer. I glitch its output into something more interesting. (If the computer text generation was working ideally, it would churn out a typical human’s capability of poetry. Greeting card poems. So I affect the computer’s abilities, and I affect the computer’s output).


also some misapprehensions
“also some misapprehensions”
Eight kept houses of Nevada
“Eight kept houses of Nevada”
guns and bows and greyhound
“guns and bows and greyhound”
he never wearied of one church
“he never wearied of one church”
see under Subluxations
“see under Subluxations”

ghost january

S. Cearley can be found at, and on Twitter at @scearley.