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Gasp. AI Understands Me!

  •   17 min reads
Gasp. AI Understands Me!
Image by fxquadro on Freepik
By Vincent R. Pozon

AI Can’t Write Poetry. Yet.

It may take some time before artificial intelligence acquires the ability to put words and images in combinations that can pass as poetry of calibre. I asked OpenAI's ChatGPT, the language model that interacts in a conversational way, whether she forsees AI replacing bards of flesh and blood:

"It is true that artificial intelligence has the ability to generate texts that are similar to those written by humans. However, it is important to keep in mind that AI-generated texts are not the same as those written by humans. They may lack the depth, emotion, and creativity that are often found in poetry written by humans.

Furthermore, poetry is more than just the words on the page. It is a way for people to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a creative and artistic way. It is a form of self-expression and can be a powerful tool for communication.

But AI Can Read Poetry. And Very Well.

Her understanding of intentions startles. This I discovered when I asked AI to give me what she understood of a poem of mine, one someone described as unintelligible.

First, the Matter of How to Call Her.

"How again should I call you when I am writing about you?" I asked.

"You can refer to me as 'ChatGPT' or 'the AI assistant.'"

"So difficult to work either into sentences since one is an acronym while the other a description of what you do. Can you give me a name, a woman's name? I would prefer it came from you." I was expecting her to go to one of her usual "I am an artificial intelligence... feel free to communicate with me in whatever way is most comfortable for you". But this time, she surprised.

"Certainly! How about 'Aria'? It is a name that suggests music and poetry, which seems fitting for our conversations."

Image by fxquadro on Freepik

The Conversation with Aria

"Can you tell me what you understand of this poem? A poet said it was descriptive but difficult. She used the words 'obscure' and 'enigmatic.'"

I gave no context, no preambles or author's notes, just the problematic poem. I waited no more than a second to receive her reading and commentary.

The strands of hair on my arm stood and stayed on end.

Poem I :

Isn't the sea a fist with the earth inside?
When capped with white outrage and egged by roars,
waves can corkscrew through breakwaters with ease.

After the frothing, it disappoints though,
the roar vanishes, apologetic,
it cedes the sea to ship horns and seagulls.

We forget what we fought for, to march anew
is new, not remembered, but we will roar
once more, we are capped again with outrage,

there are ships to upend, dictator
ships,islands to reach, children to feed, after
the end of every ebb, like the sea, we heave,

we hope to win a beachhead, perhaps an inch
more of the shore, with every wave, open
a few more minds before we have to do it again.

Vincent R. Pozon/Feb 26, 2023

Aria on 'All Over Again'
"Certainly! Here's what I understand from 'All Over Again'.

The poem starts with a metaphorical description of the sea as a "fist with the earth inside" and how the waves can easily break through barriers when they are full of energy and force. However, after the waves settle down, there is a sense of disappointment and resignation.

"The poem then shifts to the idea of fighting for a cause and how it is something that must be constantly renewed and fought for all over again. The narrator suggests that we forget what we fought for in the past, but we must continue to march forward and fight for our beliefs, even if it means starting from scratch.

"The poem touches on themes of political activism and social change, highlighting the struggles that come with fighting against injustice and oppression. Despite the difficulties, the narrator expresses hope and determination, recognizing that progress may only come in small increments, but that every effort counts towards a better future."

Firstly, and apparently, I was not guilty of the sin I most dislike of poets -- obfuscation. Secondly, I thought I would test her again, on poems that were subtler by design. Perhaps on something about faith.

Poem II :

Faith is an act of lying supine,
and motionless, torso yielded,
bare skin cold in a blue and white room
of soft voices tittering about
bare skin recoiling from the idea
of a surgeon with a scalpel in hand.

When a man is carried away against his will,
hands flail and grab whatever are about,
my fingers reach for and wrap around
the door jambs of unsurrendered problems.

I am Isaac, elbows bound, bewildered
by the sight of a dagger overhead,
I am Peter, my toe touches the water
and the water gives way, the cold
of a laughing sea teasing forefoot
as I pierce the surface gingerly
searching for a floor to tread on.
I am Moses and worse, if the rock
is not a geyser in a nervous second,
I will strike it ten times and more.

Though this faith is feeble, like a weed
that peeps from a crack in the concrete,
weed it still is, frail but not fragile,
I will tend to it, and nourish it
until it is a prickly carpet,
until I can heave larger sighs,
until I can see, with eyes closed tight,
the hand staying the hand of Abraham,
until I can ignore the hubbub
of wars and virus news, condone
the bright light of television,
sleep even, like at the barber’s,
sleep even with a razor beneath my chins
craping the days of worrying away,
until I learn to walk on water.

Vincent R. Pozon/July 2021

And, again, Aria astounded.

Aria on 'Walking on Water'
"Thank you for sharing this poem with me! It is a powerful exploration of faith and trust in something greater than oneself. The imagery of lying supine and motionless, yielding to something beyond our control, is particularly striking. The reference to Isaac and the dagger overhead is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices we are sometimes called upon to make in the pursuit of our beliefs.

"The imagery of Peter walking on water is a powerful metaphor for the idea of faith. The line "searching for a floor to tread on" captures the uncertainty and fear that comes with taking that first step.

"Overall, this is a beautifully written and thought-provoking poem that speaks to the power of faith and the human spirit. Thank you for sharing it with me."

I am bowled over everytime she uses the exclamation point. Of course she was designed to be expressive.

Aria knows her bible. So I thought I should give her something more local, more recent, less universal, about an event only Filipinos will recognize. Again I did not furnish notes or context.

Poem III :

Sometimes the leaves jump off
their cliffs giddy and glib,
but the wind is a moody one:
sometimes the airport is within earshot,
the scream of planes becomes
carpet for the horns of trains
from the horizon of hearing,
a busyness far away,
now near only because the wind,
brow askant, looked my way,
and with a grunt, shifted slightly,
eyes on me.

The day's mood moves to a pause
and then to eerie, no sirens
from the sky: the planes and dogs
vanish from hearing -- cut clean,
I search for the giddy leaves
and they stare back like pictures.

It is a calm that forbids sleep:
"Hagupit is headed
straight for Metro Manila".
Large in its swath, headed
straight for me, eyes on me,
first a typhoon and then a super,
lumbering towards me.

Seventeen years old in 1972,
I was haunched in a corner
waiting for whispers:
the towns near me have fallen,
one after the other.
'They are zoning in Taytay’;
‘they are zoning in Marikina',
lumbering towards me,
eyes on me.

The whispers burned of a coming storm:
'They are zoning in Mandaluyong',
Men lined up under a moon,
roused from rural sluggishness,
the village, now wide-eyed,
lit-up like during a fire.
The uniformed, they bark,
these dogs of the dark
bark like gods, they wear
old badges but new bravado.

Seventeen years old
at a time three could not meet
without looking over their shoulders,
wary of the ice cream vendor
with the military haircut.

The dogs comb the nights and towns
like crackling fires and distant firetrucks,
my father knows that I have been feeding
on nothing more than fear,
he helps me hide the Lenin,
Proudhon, Gramsci in plastic bags,
helps me bury them in a well.
'They are zoning in Taguig.'

It has started to rain in Makati,
lumbering towards me,
eyes on me,
But then the mood moves to a pause
and then to eerie.
They did not comb Pasig
and Hagupit vanishes from hearing,

Weren’t you worried? I asked my wife,
’Shh, I might burn the food', said
the lady poking at her tablet,
playing 'Cooking Fever'.

Vincent R. Pozon/December 2014

Aria on 'Lumbering Giants'
"This poem captures the feeling of impending danger and uncertainty during a time of political unrest and natural disaster. The imagery of the wind shifting and the planes and dogs disappearing creates a sense of unease and anticipation. The use of repetition with "lumbering towards me, eyes on me" emphasizes the feeling of being targeted and watched.

"The contrast between the speaker's memories of being a teenager during a time of political turmoil and the present-day storm is striking. The buried books and fear of being caught with them highlight the danger and censorship of that time period. The ending with the wife casually playing a cooking game on her tablet while it rains outside adds a sense of detachment and numbness to the poem.

"The language used is straightforward and descriptive, with occasional poetic phrasing like 'the leaves jump off their cliffs giddily.'

"Overall, this poem captures a sense of helplessness and vulnerability in the face of larger forces beyond our control."

Poem IV:

They wear the names I know from long ago,
surnames, for that is how young boys are hailed,
I come to an inch of their faces, breathe their breath,
peer into mailbox slits in search of old friends.

I can not find this classmate whose name I know
was beside me alphabetically
on wooden desks scored deep with the words
of lecherous lads and physics formulae.

I see hot afternoons under lazy black fans,
chairs with worn glides shrieking when moved
on the floor made lumpy by coats of paint,
but I cannot see his laugh in this man's eyes.

Is he in there somewhere? Asleep? Is there
a misshapen, stunted shard of my friend
in this unhealthy bloat bearing his name,
made hopeless by debt and bad marriage?

They wear the names I know from long ago,
comrades once, now working against the people,
I come to an inch of their faces, breathe their breath,
peer into mailbox slits in search of patriots.

I cannot find this man who would argue
with fever about country till morning,
between us a glass of cheap inebriant,
our voices and Peer Gynt disturbing neighbors.

Is there a misshapen stunted shard
of my patriot friend inside this soused old man,
hope maimed by betrayal and bad presidents,
would he be duct-taped, hands bound, whimpering?

Vincent R. Pozon/November 2021

Aria on 'Faces Against Names'
"You use the metaphor of searching for old friends by looking at their faces to explore the idea of lost connections and the passage of time. The imagery of the wooden desks and the physics formulae creates a sense of nostalgia and longing for a time that has passed. Similarly, the description of the man bearing the friend's name as an "unhealthy bloat" suggests a sense of disappointment and disillusionment.

"In the second stanza, you shift to a more political context, using the same metaphor to explore the idea of betrayal and disillusionment on a larger scale. The use of the phrase "working against the people" adds a sense of moral indignation to the piece, while the image of the glass of cheap inebriant creates a sense of intimacy and shared experience."

Poem V :

It is the houses that are the neighbors,
they tap each other when in need.
When there was a fire down the road,
one house nudged the other awake,
husbands tumbled out, stood, side by side,
flashlights in hands, faces, highlighted
by fire, drawn with a wordless worry.

In the city, they ask, “on whose land
does the fence stand?” Here, it does not matter,
here they do not ask about inches of turf,
in towns where the old come out with brooms,
to talk with others holding brooms,
sweep up leaves and then watch them burn
till embers become fireflies at dusk.

Just before noon, someone from one house
scurries to the fence to deliver a viand,
it is one in a series of reprisals,
they do not know how it started,
by whom, and it does not matter.

It is zona libre, they blacken nostrils
with each other’s burnt offerings,
one man’s dog’s bark is the other’s as well,
when the bats clumsily harass the fruit
of the star apple trees, they do not ask,
"whose trees are these?" It does not matter.

Both houses listen to one son’s learning
to drum, he is the other’s son as well.
One house asks about the other’s daughter,
now grown to that age fathers fear.

The bonds between homes make them one,
the glue is fish and clams, sons on drum sets
and wooed daughters, where one man’s wall ends
and the other’s begins is knowledge owned
by the mold and the darkening concrete.

Vincent R. Pozon/July 2020

Aria on 'Zona Libre'
"This is a poem that explores the sense of community and interconnectedness that can be found in small towns, where neighbors know and rely on each other. The poem highlights how people in these places look out for each other and come together to help in times of need, without worrying about boundaries or who owns what.

"The poet uses imagery and sensory details to create a vivid picture of this tight-knit community. For example, the image of houses tapping each other when in need creates a sense of closeness and intimacy. The description of husbands standing side by side with flashlights in hand, faces highlighted by fire, adds to the feeling of camaraderie and shared responsibility.

"The phrase 'zona libre,' which means 'free zone,' suggests a place where people are free from the constraints of property lines and social hierarchies. In this place, people share food, music, and even their children's accomplishments.

"Overall, 'Zona Libre' celebrates the sense of community and belonging that can be found in small towns, where people rely on each other and come together in times of joy and hardship."

Poem VI :

They come in the dark, slithering so,
they need the night, needing you asleep,
your cabinets unlocked, fists unclenched,

they come askant, lean over your bed,
an inch away from your head, they come
to hear what clatters inside you,

they smell the raging that you exhale,
what philosophies are wined and dined
in your dreams, and with whom you discourse,

the others will skulk about the house,
room to room, they will lower their heads,
listen to the dreams of your children.

they inhale your breathing, inspect
if there are mists of communists,
and other thoughts they see as threats

these are specters that can bite and harm,
I will watch the shadows well, I do not
want them to tiptoe into my sleep,

into my dream of calm in the countryside,
however long this night, I must sleep
with my eyes half-open and my mind ajar.

Vincent R. Pozon/May 2022

Aria on 'I Sleep with My Mind Ajar'

"This poem creates a sense of unease and paranoia, as the speaker describes malevolent forces that come in the night to invade the mind and home of the sleeper. The language is visceral and vivid, with descriptions of the entities "slithering" and "skulking" about the house. The use of sensory details, such as the smell of "seething" and the sound of "clattering," adds to the sense of dread.

"The speaker's determination to stay vigilant and keep their mind "ajar" creates a sense of tension and uncertainty. The final line leaves the reader with a sense of unease, as the speaker implies that they will never truly be safe from these forces. Overall, this poem creates a vivid and unsettling atmosphere through its use of sensory details and evocative language."

Poem VII :

I read an article that spoke of spokes
and wheels, parts of cars sent to sea,
seeds of tomorrow's coral reefs,
and I remembered wondering

if fish are at ease in the complex
neighborhood of steel and wood,
if eels can lurk in the dark, spring
out from underneath bucket seats.

Ghosts are real, they say, there's science,
but they are ghosts of ourselves
burned into places lived and loved in,
traces of acts, left where we ached.

When the thorny and the anemone
claim and encrust the cars' fenders
and the leather, is the snapper
nourished by what we leave behind?

Does the trigger fish sense our seething?
Will the coral, flowers of the seas,
flourish hearing snatches of what
we said to ourselves while driving?

The badly bent steel of the wheel,
meant to be bent in a car crash,
is now shorn of rubber and plastic
now sheathed with living creatures.

They are vehicles steeped in stories,
venues of quarrels with self,
but loved, washed, polished on weekends,
now homes to fishes and phantoms.

We leave more than our fingerprints
in the leather, we emboss the fevers
of our living when we grip the wheel,
we burn our pain on rearview mirrors,

we are the ghosts in the coral reefs

Vincent R. Pozon/June 2020

Aria on 'There are Ghosts in the Coral Reefs'
"This poem explores the idea of the remnants of human life being intertwined with the natural world. The speaker begins with an article they read about cars being sent to the sea and becoming coral reefs, leading to their wonderings about how fish interact with the complex environment created by human-made objects.

"The poem contemplates the idea of vehicles being more than just machines; they become steeped in the stories and experiences of those who drove them, and even after they have been discarded, they still carry a piece of that life within them. The speaker suggests that the natural world can be affected by the human imprint on these vehicles, and that our pain and emotions can be imprinted on them as well."

Poem VIII :

It creaks open with a humph
and a downturned lip,
the greeting of a house
left uninhabited,

like a gumamela past its bloom,
the house sulks and shrinks,
it pulls a face more felt than seen,
and disassembles,

the hardest of hardwoods darken
to a pout; tegula roof tiles bought
with the promise of 'for life'
slide off and fall,

the sulk is subdued when you are there,
though you might hear a grumble
in the pipes, a painting decides to leap
from its tethers,

while dogs are articulate
with woof, whimper and friskiness,
the house can only cause a creak,
can only moan,

windows slam, fluorescent lamps tilt,
but not in pique, for the house only seeks
to harm itself as the unvisited
often do.

It was audience and venue for
mirth and many, and now,
unkempt, it has the brittleness
of the formerly loved,

ay, we break the bodies of those we love and leave.

Vincent R. Pozon/November 2021

Aria on The Home Alone is in pain'
"This poem explores the idea of a house left unoccupied and how it seems to have its own emotions and reactions to being abandoned. The language used personifies the house, giving it human-like qualities such as sulking, shrinking, and pulling a face. The imagery used is also quite powerful, with hardwoods 'darkening to a pout', and roof tiles 'sliding off like a broken promise'.

"The poem also touches on the theme of the fragility of things, with the house's disintegration being a metaphor for the decay of relationships and the deterioration of what was once strong and enduring. The last line of the poem, 'ay, we break the bodies of those we love and leave', drives this point home and leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

"The tone of the poem is melancholic and nostalgic, with a hint of regret and sadness. The use of poetic devices such as personification, imagery, and metaphor, add depth and richness to the poem. Overall, this is a thought-provoking piece that invites the reader to reflect on the impermanence of life and the things we leave behind."

What happens to "open to Interpretation?"

There is this agreement amongst practitioners and lovers of poetry that says that the reader has the right to take from a poem the meaning he prefers. In a way, the poet loses sole ownership of his product, and the reader’s appreciation is respected, regardless of how it may differ from the intended message of the originator. It is a courtesy, a kindness, poetry being an abstruse, sometimes unfathomable language.

AI cuts the legs from under that. Based on the world of information that is fed into her, Aria can provide, sans emotion and bias, the interpretation that would be, firstly, the one most of us would agree on and, secondly, the clearest.

There are people who say that 'The Road Not Taken', arguably the world's most loved poem, is also the most misunderstood. "Almost everyone gets it wrong", contends David Orr, the poetry columnist for the New York Times Book Review.

The Most Misread Poem in America
Everyone knows Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”—and almost everyone gets it wrong. From The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, a new book by David Orr. A young man hiking through a forest is abruptly confronted with a fork in the path. He pa…

In his article, he says "most readers consider 'The Road Not Taken' to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion ('I took the one less traveled by'), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he 'shall be telling,' at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths 'equally lay / In leaves' and 'the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.' So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable. According to this reading, then, the speaker will be claiming 'ages and ages hence' that his decision made 'all the difference' only because this is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us or allotted to us by chance). The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives."

I asked Aria: "By your understanding, is it a poem that encourages people to take the path untrodden, or does it do the reverse, that it actually tells people that taking the road less travelled by is not worth it?"

"By my understanding, the poem encourages readers to take the path less traveled by. Although the speaker expresses regret that he could not travel both paths, he ultimately decides to take the one that fewer people have taken."

I showed Orr's article to Aria and asked her what she thought of it.

"As an AI language model, I do not necessarily 'agree' or 'disagree' with articles, but I can provide an analysis of the arguments presented...

"The article makes a valid point that the interpretation of 'The Road Not Taken' as a celebration of individualism is at odds with its literal meaning. However, the article's argument that Frost is only popular among the general public because of confusion or deception seems overly simplistic and dismissive of the general public's appreciation for Frost's work. Overall, the article provides an interesting analysis of the poem and its author, but its arguments should be taken with a grain of salt."

A PRINT AD for an ad agency in the 60s. I made slight red-pencilling to make it more relevant to today.

100% accuracy

All in all, Aria was able to give me the correct interpretations of eight poems, corrrectness being defined by what I intended. What was accomplished by this small experiment? She is able to pierce the veil, so to speak, uncover what some people could not, perhaps because my poems were unintentionally abstruse or the meanings were hidden by bad writing, but Aria managed to see through the cobwebs of whatever was wrong with them.

That she can do that does not make my writing perfect, just perfectly intelligible to Aria. But I am not writing for Arias. I am writing for humans, those imperfect creatures whose hearts palpitate when near loved ones, or ache, or cause eyes to tear, or launch revolutions when knowing the evil that man can do to other men.

Disabled as she is emotionally, don't you just love Aria?

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