Workshop 6: Poetry Chatbot

1 minute read

Complete by: Wed. 20 May

In last week’s workshop, you explored text as an interface by learning how to give commands to a computer and get results back. This week you’ll have a chance to talk to your computer, and you’ll explore ways of making it talk back.

Work through the Python code in this Google Colab notebook. You’ll also need to download the file dickinson.txt from the Files section on Canvas.

This notebook is a deformance poetry project that takes the poems of Emily Dickinson and uses them to build a chatbot. Like Sea and Spar Between, this small project reconfigures and reorders someone else’s writing to make something new, something interactive. The term deformance, a portmanteau of “deform” and “performance,” comes from Jerome McGann’s book Radiant Textuality and describes any kind of activity (computational or not) that reconfigures texts into new meanings.

In recent years, many writers, artists, and critics have taken up this practice: the poet and computational artist Allison Parrish, the twitter bot artist Darius Kazemi, the novelist Robin Sloan, and the digital studies scholar Mark Sample, just to name a few. This week’s workshop will give you a small taste of how these new artists are doing their work. You might reflect on the different emotional payoffs of computational work. How does this “deformance” change the way you think and feel about Emily Dickinson?

n.b. The point of this assignment is not to learn how to program, so don’t worry if some of the code is inscrutable to you! We can’t go into detail on exactly how all parts of the scripts here do their work—instead the purpose of the workshop is to give you a better a sense of how code works so that you can think critically about the results you get. If at any point you feel lost, just reach out to me for help. And don’t forget the ground rules!