APG/1


Artificial Poetry Generation/1 was the graduation project of Sim Schindel and Omer Kursat (yours truly), at the Bogazici University in Istanbul, in 1977. As a graduation requirement of the Associate Degree in Computer Programming curriculum, students were required to complete a project to develop a software application. In addition to implementation of the software (design, coding, debugging and demonstration), an accompanying term paper had to be presented.

Since the aim of the two-year program was to prepare students for immediate employment upon graduation, the selection of the subject matter was somewhat critical and had to be approved by the professors. The business applications naturally were most popular with the rest of the class, however Sim and I did not want to work on yet another payroll application—we were still in school, we were radical, and would deal with the boring real-life work later when we grew up!

I am not sure how “poetry generation” came about as the topic, perhaps it was just a "bright idea" from Sim; perhaps a book of poems that we were reading, possibly of modern poetry.  I was into the style of the beat generation, influenced by writings of Jack Kerouac and the lyrics of Jim Morrison.  During the course of the project, I also became aware of the work of Clark Coolidge, Michael McClure and others.

I am not also sure how we came up with the APG/1 name—the name obviously dates the project (think 2001: A Space Odyssey), the days of PL/1’s, UNIVAC’s and IBM’s and HAL’s (today we probably would have called it iPoem or Poetico, and it would probably tweet its output!)

I think the “love and creativity” subtitle was an effort to identify it as an art (as opposed to a business) project, and probably to deliver a "love and peace" message as part of the hippie influence—the message was also delivered by the buttons that I made for the team members (hand-made, shown above).


In retrospect, the complexity of the system seems rather trivial in light of today’s amazing spectrum of computer use in arts and literature and the advancements in computer technology. On the other hand, the results were pleasingly surprising for us, and were appreciated by fellow students and the professors, judging by the standards and expectations of those days.

Click for more examples of APG/1 poetry.

The system had a touch of innovative smartness in itdeep down inside we knew that it was just random gibberish, but of the many stanzas that the system spewed out, one would stand out every so often, delighting us with its wittiness, rhythms and rhymes, challenging us to understand its meaning.

Now that I think about it, APG/1 was more than just a bunch of monkeys typing away, it was our creation—with its overall engine design that defined its capabilities and limitations; with the tweaks that we had programmed to gently influence its behavior and style; and with the custom dictionary that we had built, which only had 3150 words, but had the smarts of meter, rhyme, subject, and word classifications such as time, quantity, manner and quality.

We also realized that the system could be used as a source of inspiration, a tool to stir up imagination.  We experimented with writing our own poems by combining APG/1 poetry; as we did not want to remove APG/1's contribution altogether, we only grouped together single lines and complete stanzas from different poems and did not make any alterations within the line (see an example here).

With these in mind, I realize now that the system had met its expectations, and delivered poetry—artificial or otherwise.