Turning tweets into poetry—automatically

Randomly picked tweets paired by an algorithm are making some funny, and often deep, poetry

Ranjit Bhatnagar couldn’t have realised his most popular creation, Pentametron, without some help–more than 50,000 unwitting collaborators to date. The Brooklyn-based artist’s Twitter bot, activated in 2012, trawls a never-ending stream of mundanities, seeking and returning with neatly rhyming pairs of tweets that happen to take Shakespeare’s favored poetic form: iambic pentameter.

The authors of these lines don’t know each other, and the couplets are arranged without human intervention, yet the pairings frequently come across as apt, funny, and even deep. This apparent meaningfulness might say more about us than it does about Pentametron.

Do these randomly generated couplets ever strike you as seeming…less than random?

I read them myself sometimes and think, “There’s no way. Somebody chose that on purpose.” It kind of reminds me of looking at clouds and seeing faces or puppy dogs. Pentametron has a huge amount of language to work with, and it’s narrowing it down to pairs that go well together in a structural way. It makes sense that you’re going to maybe look a bit harder for a meaning than you otherwise would.

So we’re naturally inclined to find meaning in words, even when they come from a computer?

There is an automatic trust we give to any kind of communication. I studied linguistics in grad school, and one of the coolest things that I learned about was the philosopher Paul Grice’s maxims of communication. The maxim of relation is that the reason that someone is saying something to you is because it is relevant. If Pentametron gives you two lines within five seconds of each other, and they rhyme with each other, too, you’re going to assume–just as if a human poet did it–that there’s a reason why it’s these two lines.

Has Pentametron taught you anything about the Internet?

It gives me and a lot of readers glimpses of parts of Twitter that we would never see otherwise. It’s people who are nothing like our friends, people in different social classes or different countries, and you get an exposure to all these different communities which are just as big and just as real as your own community, but which you wouldn’t have realized existed if you didn’t have this random sampler pulling them out and showing them to you.

Chance couplets from @Pentametron


No motivation to revise today


I need a long vacation far away.


she was a vision of perfection, yo


i got a busy day tomorrow tho


I find myself immersed in gratitude.


My rebel heart, in mercy you pursued


Don’t treat her like a puppet on a string


Girls notice absolutely everything


The Twitter bot @TwoHeadlines offers a sideways view of the zeitgeist, mashing together two bits of unrelated news by replacing certain words in one headline with words from another. The resulting tweet is a surreal collage: “Emoji, karaoke, anime among things Americans thank Bruce Jenner for, Obama says.”

With language lifted from the online how-to guide wikiHow, @wikisext automatically generates such vaguely suggestive messages as: “I quietly add my flour to the mix as you put each dough piece on your lightly greased cookie sheet.”

Looking for a fresh idea? Or maybe you’re just a fan of neologisms? @portmanteau_bot fits words together to create brand new ones, like phenotypewriter, mastermindless, embedbug, and homegroan. –(Psychology Today) 

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