What preceded: I fed Chat GPT some poems and found that it analyses poems as only the best Dutch critics could. That’s not saying much, because the level of Dutch criticism is pitifully low. But then a thought dawned on me: what if this machine not only knows how to interpret my poems flawlessly but also, for instance, perfectly explains the hazy poems of people I call pseudo-poets? A nightmare, but it must be tested.
To my relief, Chat GPT thinks Mischa Andriessen’s poem is rather vague. But after I explain that it might be about a calimero complex, it sees something in it after all:
Me: Analyse this poem, what is it about, do you think it’s a good poem?
In those days
At the line of my crack the egg broke
Further open stepped out a boy
Put as he then surely said in thanks
Me either half on the head
Swore to me always wear it always
If I’m gone you won’t be believed
I heard the door open and ran after him
What are you afraid of, he laughed
I’ll be back as soon as I pick her up
The door blew shut I stood there
Listened to the steps on the garden path
Walking away from me as they came back
I opened the door and saw it was you
Saw that you were wearing exactly that kind of eggshell
We discussed the day without a word
About what he’d said – he’s gone for a while
Yes, I agreed he had to fetch someone else
We set the table as if not before three
Mischa Andriessen (1970)
From: Winter Sheet (2019)
Mischa Andriessen’s poem “In those days” is about a person who sees an egg break and a boy steps out of it. The boy gives the person one of the halves of the egg and tells the person to always wear it, otherwise no one will believe he was there. The person hears the door open and runs to the boy, who says he has to pick someone up and leaves. The person stays behind and hears the footsteps walking away and coming back again. When the person opens the door, he sees that the boy is back with another person who also has an eggshell on his head. They discuss the day without saying a word about what happened and set the table for three.
It is hard to say whether I think it is a good poem because it depends on personal taste. The poem uses images and metaphors that suggest there is something symbolic or meaningful about the egg burst, the boy stepping out and the eggshell on the head. But there is not enough context or explanation to understand the meaning or purpose of these images. Nor does the end of the poem add much to the meaning or story.
could the poem be a therapeutic poem that is actually about a calimero trauma?
It is possible that Mischa Andriessen’s poem “In those days” is a therapeutic poem that is actually about a Calimero trauma. Calimero is an animated character often associated with feeling injustice or feeling smaller or inferior to others. In this poem, the crack in the egg could symbolise an event or experience that the person has gone through, making them feel smaller or inferior. The boy stepping out of the egg and placing the eggshell on his head could help the person cope with his trauma and feel bigger or equal to others. Also, the other person also having an eggshell on his head could suggest that the person is not alone in his feelings.
Ok, so Chat GPT is not just seeing a universe in every turd as a lot of poetry reviewers do, but it actually analyses a text. Let’s test another poet that never managed to impress me, Peter van Lier, whose work is always decribed as ‘philosophical’ but it beats me why:
is beautiful in colour and for its motifs alone it is worth
along the quays it really is,
the ships as the main feature
with water and sky,
a fine grey,
and in general I think it’s true what people say of Antwerp,
that the women there are beautiful:
lighter tones in the flesh,
lilac tones in the clothes –
as if I were ten years
had spent. The various entrepots and hangars on the
very beautiful: an
unfathomable jumble, whimsical, peculiar –
disillusioning. Yet – it’s a good old Dutch saying:
From: ‘ De Gids’, February 2009.
Yes, can you believe it – a poem that appeared in what is supposed to be the most elavated magazine in the Dutch literary scene – I know what you think: bad translation! No sir, it isn’t.
To my relief, Chat GPT also seems far from fond of it:
At first, I would say that the poem writer relies too much on superficial descriptions of the city of Antwerp and the women who live there. The poem lacks depth and reflection and comes across as a superficial description of what the poem writer sees and feels. While the images are colourful and detailed, they do not give any insight into the poem-writer’s emotions or thoughts.
In addition, the comment about the beautiful women in Antwerp is inappropriate and objectifying, and adds nothing to the poem. It seems that the poem writer just wants to impress the reader with his observations, rather than really share anything.
Finally, the ending with “despises not” feels like inappropriate advice, as the poem writer has not given a realistic or emotional perspective of the city of Antwerp.
In short, this poem by Peter van Lier lacks the emotional and intellectual depth needed to make a poem interesting, and is therefore a disappointment as a literary work.
Take that, van Lier. Oh well, I confess: I did ask it to be critical this time, but I didn’t do that in the previous case with Andriessen.
So my fear that the critical capacities of CHAT GPT were illusionary was ungrounded.
Question: Should the arts be governed by Artificial Intelligence?
There is a curious difference that I experience now as a music lover from the 1980s. In the 1980s, if you wanted to learn about new music, you depended on skewed caps, radio disc jockeys who in no way matched your taste and often carried out some commercial agenda.
Nowadays, algorithms do that job and hardly annoy me, as they know how to find music that flawlessly suits my taste.
Discussions about Artificial Intelligence always focus on creating things, out of some kind of fear of being replaced by A.I. But A.I. is precisely cut out to replace the highly corrupted control that humans know how to achieve with something more neutral that does make a genuine attempt to select on quality.
I believe art and literature are better off with Artificial Intelligence as the referee: that can pick out the cherry-picked content, and make a qualitative selection from the huge mountain of supply.
This will benefit both literature and the arts: you want the best to come out on top, not yet another Afghan warlord parading his darlings in front of you with a smug dirty smile on his face.
The latter only has the effect of giving the arts and literature an increasingly poor reputation, and hence people’s willingness to read is rapidly eroding.
This is precisely why this is a really important development. Or you could make it democratic, and have one circuit where humans do the selection and one circuit where A.I. does so. It would be interesting to see the difference, but I fear I already know where my preference will reside. One thing artificial intelligence has that 99.5% of all humans lack: it does not know ‘lazy’.
Martijn Benders, Mierlo, 19-01-2023