Meditations on Haiku with Friends dot com, RIP.
Jon, a cool guy on twitter, mentioned that he was working on an app. When I slid into his DMs to ask about it, he showed me “5words” and I was immediately charmed, because A. it had to do with poetry, the thing that I studied most in college (yikes) B. It reminded me quite a bit of a project I had attempted in 2015/2016 but never got rolling, really at all. Anyway, I’m excited to see what Jon does with his idea, and he inspired me to write a “meditation” (credit again to Reg for the terminology) on a past project.
I was in Vermont, with some cash leftover from working in San Francisco and a Techstars program in Kansas City MO. I ended up in Vermont because my mom got a concussion, and they (mom and stepfather) said that they could really use my help for awhile. As I had not decided where I would like to relocate at the time, and paying rent without a job sounding funny to my ears, I decided to be a good offspring and stick around for awhile.
The idea was that I would work on some projects and get them going and make some of this magical internet money! This internet money turned out to be extremely magical, to the point of not existing, mostly because my attempts, like this, were hampered both by a lack of technical expertise (to make a viable game) and lack of “monetization” (what I was trying to create did not exactly solve anyone’s problems, or even sell advertising). Also, life, as it does, intervened.
Another point about this idea: Poetry is not cool! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Poetry is for nerds who like words, and people with both a lot of feelings and the bad judgement or courage to share them, or a voyeuristic desire to watch someone else do so. So despite the doomed realities surrounding this project I was happy enough to think a lot about it write a survey and imagine what it would be like to finally be a millionaire because of creating an app (that at no point existed).
Despite the direness of the issues I outlined above, there’s something to creating a game where people make poems together. There’s some understanding that haiku (tweet sized poetry), which I like because it’s very few words meaning that if it’s no good you haven’t wasted too much time and there’s no real requirement of commitment to “get it”, came from linking Chinese verse through this idea of collaborative verses, with poets alternating lines. See Renku and Renga. Basically these describe some formalized, not so formalized, and structured or not so structured verses that more than one person wrote. It eventualliy boiled away to reveal what we recognize as haiku today, the famous 5/7/5.
This being an ancient form of poetry, it is largely relegated to the nobility. We would all like to or imagine ourselves to be noble in some capacity, I’m sure. So how better to amuse yourself than with the pastimes of the idle rich from centuries ago, using a mini super computer that you run around with in your pocket! Again, easily, million dollar idea, I figured (deluded).
And it hewed to quite a bit to the original circumstance, a way to stay in touch and create with friends, just like those guys Li Po and Tu Fu, who maintained some kind of epistolary poetic contact, and plus, they write about drinking quite a bit and missing their friends being posted to faraway lands (cough vermont cough). This is also a nice justification for buying bottles of wine, even if you don’t have a job. They did it! And if you read the New York Times (problematic) you will know that we as a society are lonely, too, like Li Po and Tu Fu were, when they were separated by the tractless expanses of ancient China.
The gamification of this poetic phenomena was another animal entirely, I figured, and having been introduced to the Surrealist games by G. C. Waldrep (super kind guy, with this massive beard and gentle giant aura), discovered that the Surrealists considered automatism a very important way to bypass the conscious mind (some scary considerations here) in an effort to spur creativity and access the subconscious (which apparently is what art is all about, anyway). In terms of the game, I imagined creating a remix of the Exquisite Corpse game, in haiku format, that you would trade turns writing lines with your friends.
Although the surrealists were not interested in keeping score, they still called it a game, which mean it could be gamified… which basically means monetized, in the current climate (right?). Anyhow, I think I was confusing the terms slightly, automatism/automation, I figured since computers are good at automation (or so we are told), a surrealist game would be a perfect match for an app, which of course, is basically made up of automation. This of course, did not exactly pan out the way that I would’ve wanted it to at the time.
In this essay, I will use this meme format to state that there’s a tradition of poetic structures that fit nicely into tweet sized epistolary content (very a la mode, as we all are messaging in some capacity all the time) which presents itself as a neat vessel into which the conflict and interplay between automation and automatism, art and computers, can be explored between the friends that we miss and are so close, yet so far away due to our geographically distributed relationships and amazing communication technology, brought to us largely by Steve Jobs. This is a lede into a post that will eventually be titled, “Fuck Steve Jobs”–quotation attributed to a smart and successful woman in my life. Cheers.