- Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
- Paperback: 164 pages
- Publisher: Wesleyan; 1st edition (August 15, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0819522392
- ISBN-13: 978-0819522399
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry (Wesleyan Poetry Series) Paperback – August 15, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
While it's the brainy, chess-playing computer that steals national headlines, Hartman is here to tell us that there are other machines (and human instigators) busy at work on metrical beauty and imagery. Writing in a voice that, thankfully, is neither geeky nor zealous, Hartman, a poet (Glass Enclosures) and professor of English at Connecticut College, lays out the basics of both programming and versifying, then introduces several programs he and colleagues, e.g., Jackson Mac Low and Hugh Kenner, have come up with to produce poetry. Essentially, these programs are random, and sometimes not so random, word generators. Lyrics pour through them much like radioactive dye flows through the veins of a body, illuminating the operation of a complex system, in this case, language. While such tracking captures the logical side of the writing process, it cannot touch the emotional. Until the day a processor becomes enamored of the bytes coursing through it and suddenly interrupts a spreadsheet to generate a sonnet, it is the human, notes Hartman in the cases explicated here, who tells the machine how and when to create. That said, this exploration will fascinate readers curious about what makes poetry, and how.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"In this fascinating book, Hartman explores what he has learned of human poetry by attempting to create computer programs and, further, by attempting to write a simple poem-a dialogue of mind and body-with a computer as compositional partner . . . An absorbing, authoritative, and astonishingly accessible book."-- "Booklist"
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By Alec Marsh
Can there be a truly objective basis for poetic prosody? Prosody is musical at heart, and music, we know, is at least partly mathematical. William Carlos Williams even asserted that "a poem is a small (or large) machine made of words"--a line Charles Hartman quotes as his epigraph for his surprising book on computer poetry. At first, computer poetry sounds like an oxymoron; computer poetry must be a simulation--"virtual"--and for that reason there can be no there there, meaning-wise. Yet, Hartman and his own machines made of words, that is, his inventive poetry programs, produce some remarkably "fruitful linguistic material"--I don't know if they are poems, but I am unable to rule out the possibility that they might be.
A poet and ace programmer, Hartman has been "interested in the complicated boundary between what computers can do with language and what they can't." He believes that they "can do something worthwhile in the way of poetry" or he would not have written this book, and fortunately his enthusiasm is not utopian--he doesn't want to delegate poetry to machines, only to use machines to stimulate our own thinking about language and meaning. Virtual Muse is the record of his development of several programs, from an early "scansion machine" to his current program, modestly called "Prose," which is (I think) still available (as "MacProse") to Macintosh users on the World Wide Web.
Hartman's work has genuine philosophical implications, for he addresses the problematic of the arbitrary and the random, chance and necessity, and the uncanny sound frequencies underlying writing itself as represented by the frequencies of letters. As letter sequences lengthen, a computer mouths oracular sounding utterances chosen from letters scrambled from input texts: "On cigar. Light hand. That box fixed. Cup supposing/ white with the cup supposing white inside that" reads part of one Hartman/computer collaboration. Nonsense of course, but Delphic nonsense.
Prosodists would do well to read Virtual Muse for a bottom-line way of resolving the meter/ rhythm problem that bedevils prosodic theory. If meter names what we hear, Hartman's programs show that what we hear is real, not subjective. Hartman has written computer programs that can accurately scan complicated iambic poems (tum TUM tum TUM) and the spondees and trochees (TUM TUM and TUM tum) which "naturally" attend iambics. Hartman could just as easily have written a program to scan anapestic verse (ta ta TUM ta ta TUM), which takes the obscure cretic (TUM ta TUM) and bacchius (ta TUM TUM) as natural substitutions. But the iambic scansion machine cannot scan anapestic meter, nor could an anapest machine do iambics. The difference between these meters is absolute, and they resolve rhythmically with the inevitability of music. Serious thinking about prosody ought to begin here.
Hartman's respect for the tradition, and his considerable charm on the page disarms one's first impulse that his entrancing book is of the devil. Readers will find Hartman's Virtual Muse disturbing but galvanizing, an electric eel in the Castallian spring.