All posts by poetrymachines

Final Presentations

For their final presentations, students gave short artist talks on their final projects in the open space of the Discovery Bar in the Cabot Science Library. Drawing from the poetic labs of the course, students created innovative and exciting projects such as an artist book, poetic website, email fiction, a Venmo game, and a collaborative video-letter project. Special guest artist Matthew Battles author of  Library: An Unquiet History, Trees, and Associate director of metaLAB (at) Harvard provided formal comments, along with Christina Davis of the Woodberry Poetry Room offering collective generative insights and conversation with the students and their interventions. We thank Christina and Matthew, along with Cabot Science Library and SAP Technologists  Emily Toker-Coolidge,  Susan Berstler, Ronald Lacey, for making the discussion of the student’s works such a rich and memorable experience and celebration of student creativity.

We thank the following individuals for their support of the course:

Christina Davis, Matthew Battles, Stephanie Burt, Mindy Seu, Nick Montfort, Christine Jacobson, Matt Saunders, Sky Hopinka, Jeremy Guillette, Robin Kelsey, Emily Toker-Coolidge,  Susan Berstler, Ronald Lacey, metaLab @ Harvard, Academic Technology for FAS, Nicholas Watson, Lauren Bimmler, and Case Kerns.


Fwd: Important (student project)

Milo Davidson

Fwd: Important is a chain email, in the style of the old ones we used to get that would promise seven years of good luck if you forwarded, or to murder you in your bed if you didn’t. The gimmick of this one is that each person, instead of simply forwarding the email, must add their own text to it. Each text is generated using a Markov chain generator. Any input text of sufficient size is fed into the generator, which then uses probability to create some exciting gibberish “in the style” of the input text. In the context of the email chain, these wildly different stories produce bizarre juxtapositions and phrases that the original authors never intended. The email is an ongoing story, to which each recipient must add.


Of Names and Numbers, Blossoming (student project)

Mary Neguse

Of Names and Numbers, Blossoming is a website of poetry that explores the connection and tension between what we consider human and what we consider machine. The poems collectively seek to draw these often juxtaposed ideas together, to consider the relationship between technology, especially sentient technology, and humans in a way that is not necessarily contrary. Some of the poems in Of Names and Numbers are of lived human experiences and emotions, of love, loneliness, and the qualities that we consider innately human. Others are more mechanical in nature, and employ repetition or disembodied voice to make the reader’s sense of body and place more abstract. Still, some are robotic and contain warmth, relating human qualities to a subject that is not necessarily so. Themes of growth and movement are portrayed in the poems as well as in moving images, allowing room for concepts of technology, machine, and humans to unfold or blossom into something wonderfully strange and constantly evolving.  


Payment/Charge (student project)

Jess Erion

Jess decided to take these screenshots, which she might argue could have been a standalone piece as simply a series of images, and turn them into printed cards. This adds an element of irony to the game, as it makes physical that which had previously been only digital for the sake of efficiency (Venmo truly doesn’t enable the process of exchanging currency — it only accelerates it). In effect, Payment/Charge renders Venmo inefficient and repurposes it for the sake of entertainment and sentimentality. This is partially why she describes it as a “love letter” — because it is designed as an ode to her relationship with Milo through our digital footprints. The multiple choice portion of the cards function as both a game mechanic and a joke, as many of the choices are ludicrous or impractical, more intended to amuse than to challenge. The answers themselves (explanations of what the payment was truly for) then function as joke and love letter. Many of their payments were made in the process of silly bets or odd products, so these answers are both meaningful and mirthful.”

Letter to Her (student project)

Asma Khoshmehr

To watch the full video, please use this link.

From the labyrinth of an ancient story that finds its roots in the age-old oral traditions of the Middle East, Scheherazade of “1001 Nights” is famed as the world’s best storyteller. She is not only a feminist, but also an eloquent philosopher who uses her art to humanize Shahryar and put an end to his lunatic bloodbath. With innate precision, she weaves her tale each night so that they are at a crucial juncture just as the day breaks. Starting with instances of misogyny, jealousy, violence and cruelty in hopes that the king would face his flaws; her heroines gradually become diverse and varied: they are no damsels in distress– intelligent, free-willed and decisive, they come from a cross section of society. They trade and travel, nurture their children, have passionate sex and make decisions that shape their destiny.

Scheherazade is a fearless feminist, fully aware of her capability and the healing effect of her stories. There is a famous saying, “If any women ever finish all the stories of the 1001 Nights, she would drop dead”.

1001 Nights is considered one of the weirdest collection of legends in the world. From its origin in India with its magnificent spiraling legends, the book is traced to Iran and finally the Arabs give the final touch. How skillfully have the stories been woven over the millennia – while they weave within them the cultures of their roots. And just like these tales, my roots are spread across different countries: with my mother from Tanzania (with traces of Indian and Arabic in her with a distinct Swahili language) and my father from Iran, I spent a lot of my growing years in Arab Countries. I firmly believe that this book, with its rich stories, fascinating character and depiction of diverse cultures, languages and beliefs has the capability to transcend magnificently into this project.

This movie is influenced by “1001 Nights” stories and draws inspirations from the character Scheherazade and try magnifies the shared emotional burden of women as a whole. Chen and I exchange some letters (which I used them inside the film) related to female forbidden art, forbidden book, forbidden power…  and tried to show how some women like Scheherazade, Claudia Rankine or Theresa Hak Kyung Cha break taboos.

In The first chapter I merged my portrait photography with photos from the news and social media using the double exposure technique. In the second chapter, “Worry 2” with fabric being the core element of my photography, I represented a classical portrait of Scheherazade and tried to signify the discovery of women hide in invisibility, with sound of women reading 1001 nights book in background as a prohibited book.

The series gradually shifts to add different dynamics into photography such as household items to represent domestic women and masked figures to symbolize modernity, while revealing more of the women’s bodies.

In “Worry 3” with the idea of bridging technology into art, I used a light painting technique in photography to included images of robot appendage.  What you see in the screen during the last chapter is censored words from poetry in 1001 nights book.

Finally, the movie end with my photography of an African American woman sinking with Claudia Rankine voice, reading Citizen in the background.


Tiger Balm (student project)

Kelsey Chen

Tiger Balm is a hand-bound book of poetry and art, comprised of hand-made prints, drawings, and annotations as well as printed art and text. The piece is structured as a mosaic—a collection of fragmented memories and emotions that add up to the sum total of who, at this moment, I am. Titled after a Chinese traditional herbal ointment, Tiger Balm is for wounds: It is both a confessional narrative and philosophical treatise that grapples with selfhood, loneliness, and the ecology of existence. When applied, tiger balm is hot and cold at once—it brings a stinging, painful kind of relief. Learning how to feel pain without mutilation—maybe that’s what life is all about. Or at least, that’s what this text is about: it’s about showing that the bits and pieces of my past & my life that have hurt me, that some of my incidental loneliness—that all of this—is just a by-product of being alive. A beautiful side effect of existing. Tiger Balm, for wounds.

The Forbidden Women (student project)

Xiaocheng Chen
Part of the “Letter to Her” project with Asma, my side of the project is a hand-bound chapbook themed on the artistic and literary forms women are forbidden from in China and across cultures, including Peking Opera and writing. Both classical texts and contemporary daily materials such as envelopes and grocery receipts are transformed into space for discussion on gender issues. By selecting only a few words/letters from the text and covering all the others, I made new feminist poems out of the original text. The book is also punctuated with visuals including photographs taken across cultures that speak to readers with different backgrounds.

Twitter Bots (poetic lab)

Based off of A House of Dust, students used constants and variables to create twitter bots using


Mary Neguse:

“first”: [“seaglass”, “writers”, “colors”, “mother”, “nuance”],
“second”: [“city”, “castle”, “house”, “sunset”],
“third”: [“you”, “the tide”, “lovers”, “poetry”, “him”, “her”],
“origin”: [“I smile at #first# in the watery #second# before I watch #third# leave”]


Milo Davidson:

“name”: [“Jess”, “Milo”, “Kelsey”, “Mary”, “Asma”, “Chen”, “Mindy”, “Professor Rhee”],
“verb”: [“live”, “eat”, “breathe”, “die”, “paint”, “write”, “chew”, “begin”, “build”, “burn”, “choose”, “drink”, “feel”, “fight”, “fly”, “forget”, “forgive”, “sell”, “send”, “show”, “take”, “teach”],
“noun”: [“government”, “love”, “glass”, “friction”, “suggestion”, “need”, “hope”, “things”, “business”, “justice”, “talk”, “powder”, “scent”, “rabbits”, “reason”, “action”, “payment”, “marble”, “corn”, “needles”, “summer”, “spoons”],
“origin”: [“My name is #name# and I #verb# a life of #noun#.”]


Xiaocheng Chen

“first”: [“you,”, “I,”, “We,”, “they,”],
“action”: [“sit”, “love”,”run” ,”drink”,”remember”],
“location”: [“in France”, “in Nanjing”, “at school”, “at home”, “near the sea”],
“time”: [“a thousand years ago”, “yesterday”,”the next month”,”this morning”],
“logic”: [“by the way”, “and then”, “surprisingly”],
“object”:[“a boilded egg”, “my mom” ,”a bottle of milk”, “apple cider”],
“origin”: [“#first# #action# #location#\n #time#\n #logic# #object#=^-^=”]


Asma Khoshmehr

“verb”: [“kiss”, “die”, “dance”, “laugh”, “cry”, “shout”, “”, “fear”, “”, “regret”, “”, “tear”, “mock”, “sigh”],
“noun”: [“brother”, “sister”, “mother”, “father”, “wife”, “husband”, “spouse”, “child”, “friend”, “enemy”, “invader”],
“origin”: [“That day, the least song will be a #verb# and every human being be #noun# to every other human being. “]


Kelsey Chen

“feeling”: [“dysphoria”, “melancholia”, “euphoria”, “sadness”, “nostalgia”, “dislocation”, “disorientation”, “softness”],
“verb”: [“permeating”, “seeking”, “looking for”, “passing”, “taking”, “wobbling”, “quivering”, “stealing”, “fixing”, “capturing”, “making”, “interrogating”, “losing”],
“location”: [“downtown”, “the city”, “a rock on the moon”, “some dust in a corner of your room or mine”, “stones by the riverbend”, “morning grass”],
“person”: [“she”, “he”, “it”, “her friend”, “the woman”, “Donald Trump”, “Bart Simpson”, “Childish Gambino”, “noone”, “nobody”, “that man”],
“material”: [“cotton”, “plastic”, “a sunflower seed”, “a pretzel”, “ice cream”],
“noun”: [“your mom”, “a figurine”, “a keyboard”, “grass”, “dirt”],
“origin”: [“a sensation of #feeling# #verb# #location#\n #person# does not know that #material#\n is more than just\n #verb#\n or\n #noun#”]


Jess Erion

“people”:[“people”, “children”, “brothers”, “sisters”, “siblings”, “plumbers”, “robots”, “students”, “poets”, “authors”, “murderers”, “thieves”, “kids”, “elders”, “workers”, “electricians”, “programmers”, “strangers”, “singers”, “professors”, “women”, “men”],
“material”:[“blood”, “tin”, “cheese”, “dust”, “gossamer”, “chrome”, “gold”, “silver”, “glass”, “wax”, “bronze”, “clouds”, “dreams”],
“action”:[“kill”, “fight”, “battle”, “question”, “contemplate”, “reject”, “eat”, “consume”, “burn”, “embrace”, “belittle”],
“object”:[“god”, “fatherhood”, “motherhood”, “religion”, “knowledge”, “masculinity”, “femininity”, “progress”, “time”, “property”, “dysphoria”],
“origin”: [“The #people# enter an arcade of #material#\n to #action# #object#”]

Emily Dickinson Archives (poetic lab)

The class visited the Emily Dickinson archives in Houghton Library, led by curator Christine Jacobson.

Take 1-3 photographs of the poems with your phone of a poem or object in the case. Consider reframing the poems/lines/glass/objects in a unique way that helps us to read the poems through your lens.

Poems in vitrine were “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” and “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers”