Individual Work

A collection of six generative poems, Barbosa’s groundbreaking Cyberliterature serves as a bridge between the pioneering work of computational text generation by Christopher Strachey in the 1950s and more recent generative works made in the 1990s, such as the Electronic Flipbooks made in Flash by Nannette Wylde. Having gone through various processes of publication, the poems, originally written with Fortran and Basic, are currently accessible via an interface organized by Rui Torres in 2014 for the release of the EL3 using poemario-js (by Nuno Ferreira) and with design and translations into English by Carlos Amaral. This interface offers the user/reader a fair degree of freedom when engaging with the works in both their original Portuguese or their English translation; specifically, the user/reader has the ability to modulate and inspect the poems by, respectively, adjusting the speed of their appearance on screen and viewing the extensive XML code from which they are generated. In addition to fostering an interactive, individual experience of the poems, these affordances oblige the user/reader to reflect simultaneously on the infinite semiotic complexity of generative algorithms and the materiality of computational processes.

The poems can be formally categorized into two groups: the more-apparently-algorithmic works created between 1976 and 1980 (“Cidades (Porto)”, “Cidades (Aveiro)”, “Elegias”, and “Aforismos”) and the more complex, epistolary-themed works made between 1992 and 1993 (“Teoria do Homem Sentado” and “Ofício Sintético”). The first two poems, each comprised of very few lines of code, are generative odes to northern Portuguese cities – Porto and Aveiro, respectively – that evoke these places both in a physical and affective manner, using the Portuguese language’s formation of contractions between articles and prepositions to transition fluidly between nouns with a non-repetitive prosody. Slightly more complex thanks to their incorporation of verbs, the other two of Barbosa’s poems from this first group mimic the formulaic composition of aphoristic and elegiac speech, in this way bringing to mind Strachey’s initial use of computer generation to parody the tried conventions of love poetry. The final two works of Cyberliterature demonstrate a more apparent complexity, employing a more prosaic language with longer, more variable sentences written in the form of a letter that is addressed to the reader. Of particular interest is the “Teoria do Homem Sentado,” which takes advantage of the human-computer interaction manifest in generative computational poetry to oblige its user/reader to reflect on our everyday dependence on computing machines, thus presenting a prescient, reflexive commentary on the entanglement of the virtual and the real in our contemporary lives.