CoPE [Collaborative Poetry Experiment]

CoPE is a therapeutic writing project from me & the inimitable Dani Clark.

Over the course of nine weeks, participants receive a short poem each weekday along with a related expressive writing prompt. The 45 poems forming the CoPE archive were curated and organized around nine broad mental health themes; one theme per week:

  • Discovery
  • Self
  • Health
  • Uncertainty
  • Hope
  • Pain
  • Resilience
  • Process
  • Connection

Expressive writing prompts aim to encourage open, creative reflection. The 15 participants were welcomed to the project with this context and instructions, including:

  • Give yourself a moment of pause and observe the sensations of your body.
  • Read the poem. As you read, notice what comes up. Do certain words and phrases stand out to you? Do you have questions? Do you start to visualize what you’re hearing?
  • Set a 5-15 minute timer and respond to the prompt.
  • When the timer rings, check in. Either find a good stopping place or continue writing for as long as you’d like.

At the end of each week, participant-writers transform their writing into machine-fodder data (to maintain privacy) via my easy-to-follow, narrated code notebook.

The machine then returns a collaboration poem, using the machine’s rules, and my own, with participants’ own vocabulary. The output poems are structurally mapped to an invented “average” of the week’s five prompt-poems. The machine’s code is slightly adjusted every week, to reflect themes and their vocabulary. Additionally, the background model tests more significant code changes occurring every three weeks to experiment with generation methods.

From each writers response language-data, a poem is generated based on a combination of Markov chains, part-of-speech tagging / sequencing, grammar rules, specific vocabulary prompts, and more specific poetic rules – as decided by me.

These 2 images were made on from the below poem’s lines, “Excuse me, I really have / to go grab the wrong train somewhere.”

[The poem below was generated by machine, based on vocabulary from a week of my own expressive writing responses for CoPE Week-4, Theme: Uncertainty]


What if I sit still somewhere

else, somewhere other than a cast

iron existential crisis. Pack up the magic 

and steal, jump, change, turnstile style.

Arriving, I'd be tender on the end of the

short drive away, fast as

expectations, and gentle on the metronome. Stop

me, I'm pining away. It's some fog

cover and I'm everywhere, I move on the

blinking beacon. Maybe I get a

thousand lives, too many bullets dodged.

Excuse me, I really have

to go grab the wrong train somewhere.

Some other poems and writing are here.

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