1962: R.M. Worthy, Auto-Beatnik

Reports vary on where it was first popularized (Funkhouser says Time magazine, a blog suggests Horizon magazine) but sometime in 1962, a subdivision of a computer company called the Laboratory for Automata Research of the Librascope Division of General Precision, Inc led by R.M. Worthy had their research popularized.

“Librascope engineers, concerned with the problem of effective communication with machines in simple English, first ‘fed’ an LGP 30 computer with thirty-two grammatical patterns and an 850-word vocabulary, allowing it to select at random from the words and patterns to form sentences. The results included “Roses” and “Children”. Then Worthy and his men shifted to a more advanced RPC 4000, fed with a store of about 3,500 words and 128 sentence structures, which produced … more advanced poems.” Here are some selected works by the “Auto-Beatnik”, that “cool calculator” …

Roses

Few fingers go like narrow laughs.
An ear won’t keep few fishes,
Who is that rose in that blind house?
And all slim, gracious, blind planes are coming,
They cry badly along a rose,
To leap is stuffy, to crawl was tender.

The results might have made Kenneth Patchen snort with derision or weep with praise at the small vulnerable baby spirit being born. Perhaps André Breton posthumously realized that Soluble Fish is now computational, the human brain only a snail sneeze in a rapid fire automation of erratic digital misnomers and binary one-liners. Intriguingly, these poems came out of a lab; art-research and the synthesis of artist-scientist in computation contexts have roots here. For some reason I am reminded that Wallace Stephens worked for the Hartford Accident & Indemnity Company, that the bohemian Charles Bukowski model of the renegade outsider addicted to Dionysian excess is balanced by the sturdy steady crew-cut managerial-poet persona with a tender incisive eye and sensitivity to linguistics. To that dichotomy can be now added the third aspect: the digital servant faithfully working its way through algorithms, a bit like an autistic savant, capable of replicating great feats of memory yet incapable of distinguishing relevancy or value. Meaning still relies on the intuitive input of the reader.

Nevertheless, note that the machine is ‘fed’; and note also how little it takes to grow a poem: 32 sentence structures, 850 words. Similarly, DNA codon triplets are built from base pairs of 4 elements; combinatorial complexity is the foundation of life.

Evolutionary language mutations expand the chain-link jewelry of existence.

If you are curious, read more Auto-Beatnik examples.

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