The Apostrophe Engine
May 28, 2008 9:29 PM   Subscribe

A poem that builds upon itself and grows as the world wide web grows. The Apostrophe Engine is a website operated by Bill Kenney and Darren Wershler-Henry. It is the source of the poems in apostrophe, a book published by ECW Press in 2006. The home page of the Apostrophe Engine site presents the full text of a poem called "apostrophe", written by Bill in 1993. In this digital version of the poem, each line is now a hyperlink. How it works.

When a reader/writer clicks on a line, it is submitted to a search engine, which then returns a list of Web pages, as in any search. The Apostrophe Engine then spawns five virtual robots that work their way through the list, collecting phrases beginning with “you are” and ending in a period. The robots stop after collecting a set number of phrases or working through a limited number of pages, whichever happens first.

Next, the Apostrophe Engine records and spruces up the phrases that the robots have collected, stripping away most HTML tags and other anomalies, then compiles the results and presents them as a new poem, with the original line as its title ... and each new line as another hyperlink.

At any given time, the online version of “apostrophe” is potentially as large as the Web itself. The reader/writer can continue to burrow further into the poem by clicking any line on any page, sliding metonymically through the ever-changing contents. Moreover, because the contents of the Web is always changing, so is the contents of the poem. The page it returns today will not be the page that it returns next week, next month, or next year.
posted by Fizz (29 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, so many of these projects fall short, but this is actually really good...
posted by phrontist at 9:40 PM on May 28, 2008

You are ... best of the web.

Nice find.
posted by notyou at 9:49 PM on May 28, 2008

The first line I clicked on, "you are a hockey stick broken over the spine of a 19th century hunchback you figured had no business playing street hockey in the first place" yielded mostly uninteresting results, until I got to the last line:

"you are afraid someone will fall on you"

And guess what: I am.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:53 PM on May 28, 2008

Simple, but amusing. I wish it would show you the source for the text snippets it collected.
posted by demiurge at 10:08 PM on May 28, 2008

Huh. Much more interesting than I expected. Much more interesting than it has any right to be. Strangely compelling, in fact.

There's something about the second person, I guess.
posted by dersins at 10:22 PM on May 28, 2008

It was cuddling time and her chest hairs had just regrown themselves with my cracxled toenails dry with no egg yolk from my neighbors' son Gi-Joe with Kung-fu grip where my mom bought it at a thrift store the one next to Burger king where I worked last Summer which was
better than being an over 40's single man in a baboon suit....peeing and throwing feces at the locals,huh.
posted by doctorschlock at 10:24 PM on May 28, 2008

It was gorgeous brown when it tumbled down the street where Pete and Repeat smelt humble now that I know you mumble about Repeat, rinse and Repeat.
posted by doctorschlock at 10:31 PM on May 28, 2008

One of the best posts I've seen here. And what notyou said.
posted by sluglicker at 10:50 PM on May 28, 2008

This is good.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:18 PM on May 28, 2008

This is the crux of the biscuit.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 12:18 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gracias! I love collecting stuff like this to share with the [cough] highly enthusiastic young scholars in my Intro to Poetry courses. A lot of them are astounded to discover that poetry is something that's still alive and evolving being intelligently re-designed.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:04 AM on May 29, 2008

My Modern Poetics Professor utilized this site as apart of our course this past term. It was indeed one of my favorite parts of the course. It really does show that poetry is alive and well in today's world, not simply some old and moldy piece of text, an active and ever changing medium. Huzzah.
posted by Fizz at 6:11 AM on May 29, 2008

I'm not seeing a new poem generated no matter which line I click. Does anyone else?
posted by Grod at 8:10 AM on May 29, 2008

That periodically happens, if you read the page carefully you'll see that it is a site that is very much BETA and has quirks and bugs, try back later.
posted by Fizz at 8:20 AM on May 29, 2008

WARNING: Beta version

The is the beta version of the Apostrophe Engine, and we're still working out some technical issues. Because of the way that Google assigns access to its search engine, this site can only return a finite number of results in a 24-hour period. If you don't get the results you wanted, come back tomorrow.


I have a feeling that many people from this site went over and it went beyond that "finite number". Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 9:47 AM on May 29, 2008

Gotta say I do not understand the love for this.
posted by autodidact at 11:09 AM on May 29, 2008

In fact, I really dislike it. Are you people on Kool-Aid or something? How is this poetry?
posted by autodidact at 11:10 AM on May 29, 2008

Call me pedantic, but the bare minimum for me to consider something poetry is that someone actually wrote it. If this is poetry, so is any english sentence produced by grabbing a handful of those poetry word magnets and chucking them randomly at your fridge.

This post actually gave me agida at first, like what is wrong with me, is it over my head or something? But clearly it's just a load of wank.
posted by autodidact at 11:37 AM on May 29, 2008

You went very quickly from possible-to-respond-to to impossible-to-respond-to there, autodidact.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2008

But anyway, I've been really impressed with ECW Press's literary releases. Up until very recently, I thought that they only put out sports biographies.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:50 AM on May 29, 2008

Then I win!

(dusts off hands, smiling in smug self-satisfaction)
posted by autodidact at 12:00 PM on May 29, 2008

Sheesh. Okay, that actually did make me laugh.

"the bare minimum for me to consider something poetry is that someone actually wrote it" is a much more charged statement than you might realize. An awful lot of development in poetry--and in literature in general--over the past hundred years has been about interrogating just what it might mean to "actually" write something.

If you're really interested in understanding this in the framework of what's going on in contemporary poetics, then you might want to start with this essay by Mefi's Own ubueditor. He references lots of good sources in it.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:16 PM on May 29, 2008

From your link:
The New Sentence? The Old Sentence, reframed, is enough.

GARBAGE! Thank you, it's now clear to me what's going on here.
posted by autodidact at 12:22 PM on May 29, 2008

Huh. Sorry for trying to take you seriously.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2008

Conceptual writing = writing without writing.
posted by autodidact at 6:28 PM on May 29, 2008

It's like the guy in university who stood naked in a clear plastic tube on the "concrete sidewalk" (quad). I asked him what he was doing and he said "I'm doing it for art. This is a piece of art."

That was not art. This is not poetry.

/my opinion
posted by autodidact at 6:38 PM on May 29, 2008

That was not art. This is not poetry.

/my opinion

Because what the world was really, really waiting for was somebody else's opinion on what is and isn't 'art'.
Whew, guess we can all breathe now.
posted by signal at 6:47 PM on May 29, 2008

It's a glorified phrase generator, but keep falling over yourselves if you must.
posted by autodidact at 6:49 PM on May 29, 2008

Call me pedantic, but the bare minimum for me to consider something poetry is that someone actually wrote it.

People did write it. Where do you think the "virtual robots" get their phrases from?
posted by juv3nal at 3:02 PM on May 30, 2008

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