A variety of poetry machines

At the 2017 Electronic Literature Organisation conference in Porto, there were at three different poetry machines presented, which all had a written output:

The poetry machine from the Turn on Literature project, the Trumpet of the swan and the  Intimate fields project.

The Trumpet of the swan uses President Trump’s tweets. With a drawing robot it writes Trump’s tweets with ink onto a continuous scroll of paper. The paper is automatically fed into a customised paper-shredder which then makes the written tweets into confetti. Here is an early prototype of the machine:

Trumpet of the swan, 2017 (Working Prototype)

You can read more about the project and the author in the  ELO conference book  (page 108). Another E-lit work that uses the President’s tweets is Real Press Sec. which turns every tweet from President into “official” press statements. The new and official-looking statements are re-tweeted, here’s an example:

Many of President Trump tweets are bizarre, like the one above where the most powerful man in world says he needs to rely on social media to get “the truth out”. And as we now are accustomed to, the President brags about how many followers he has. When shown in another context, the absurdity of many of the President’s tweets becomes more present. Both of these projects are questioning the communication strategies of the new President and the new administration. The change of context can be seen as a political critique and digital literature is probably the only literary genre, where the medium it self sometimes , literary is  creating the message .

Also the Turn on Literature poetry machines are made with a clear intent. The machines are intended to function as an introduction to digital literature, and therefore the poetry machines embodies key concepts of digital literature. The texts are written especially for this project (born digital).The users interact with the machine with old books as remote controls, and the users are producing unique poems in collaboration with the authors and the machine.

The third project, Intimate fields  , combines the old literary genre of posies  ( a brief motto or inscription, especially one on a trinket or a ring) with modern technology like near field communication (NFC) and a printer. You place a ring or another NFC-enabled object on the NFC-reader (the red module in the picture) and then a posie will be printed. The posies are also tweeted, here are the project’s   twitter account .

Printer, near field reader module and steel/ceramic “smart” rings
Printer, near field reader module and steel/ceramic “smart” rings

The picture is from the project page: https://hyperrhiz.github.io/intimate-fields/abstract.html

It’s interesting to see how electronic literature can revamp  old literary traditions. In the Turn on Literature project one of the authors also uses an old poetic tradition in a new environment. Ursula Andkjaer Olsen  uses the old Malayan poetry form Pantoum , which repeats verse lines in a particular pattern.

Another very interesting literary machine that came to our attention, though not presented at the ELO-conference, is the French project Short Editions , which publishes short stories online. There is also a short story vending machine. The machine has three buttons, and with a single press on a button you can receive a one minute, three minutes or five minutes printed short story. Nearly 7000 authors have contributed with online texts and the best (and shortest) are selected to the vending machine.

Here is a video of a Short Edition vending machine in USA, ordered by film director Francis Ford Coppola:


As the authors say in this short presentation: “Our aim is to adapt literature to the modern world!

The Winner of the Turn on Literature Prize is…

The winner is:

Abra by Amaranth Borsuk, Kate Durbin, and Ian Hatcher

Some words form the jury about our choice:

Abra is a magical poetry instrument/spellbook for iOS, where readers encounter a series of poems exploring themes of mutation and excess. The poems themselves are constantly in motion, mutating gradually from one to the next. Readers can take part in this process, touching words and watching them shift and undulate, casting spells to set the text in motion, and grafting new words into the text.
Abra merges physical and digital media, integrating a hand-made artists’ book with an iPad app that can be read separately or together, with the iPad inserted into the back of the book. The artist’s book contains a number of physical features that emulate the mutation and interactivity of the app, including blind-printed text, heat-sensitive ink, and laser-cut openings that invite the reader to see page and screen as a continuous touchscreen interface.


ABRA is beautiful and exiting with a lot of consideration and design of both the physical book and the app.   It starts with good writing, and it is very smart about the connection between interactivity and poetic constraint. It is multilayered and playful, and a excellent representation of contemporary electronic literature. The combination of physical book and app is appealing and will make good sense in a library exhibition.


What is TOL?

How can libraries best introduce new digital literature to the public? The objective of “Turn on Literature” is to find solutions to this question. The partners will approach the field of digital literature through the work with literary installations, exhibitions and workshops in Romania, Denmark and Norway. The partnership will seize the opportunities that digital literature offers for audience development and will reposition the library to suit users’ needs in an increasingly digitised world. Target groups will be young adults and traditional book readers at the libraries.

Continue reading What is TOL?