Individual Work

“poem.exe” is a series of poems published on, curated by software engineer Liam Cooke. Notably, the poems are written primarily in haiku: a traditional form of Japanese poetry. Haiku itself is typically formal in its formatting and content, consisting usually of “...17 Japanese syllables in a 5-7-5 line pattern, and a specific reference to an aspect of nature and to a particular event, presented as if it were happening in the immediate present to allow the reader to experience the poet’s emotion” (Henderson 1965).
The traditional format of haiku is relevant to Cooke’s work simply because of the paradoxes this electronic system implies. Haiku is “supposed” to reveal emotion, but these haiku are created by a robotic algorithm and then published virtually to a social media platform. They are bot-generated, not at all concerned with human emotion. The notion that they are published on a virtual platform also implies the overarching comparison of man versus machine: what makes someone human? Further, the haiku created through this bot do not always follow the content and line rules of haiku formatting. One may consider the philosophical questions that may arise from this, such as: “is human emotion necessary for artistic expression?”
Historically, the generated poems would correlate more with writing from what is known as the Beat generation of the 1950s. Beat writers applied modern stylistic techniques to haiku. Writing from this era did not always include what are considered appropriate themes for this style of writing, and like the bot-generated poems, did not always obey the rules. Whether intentional or not, Cooke’s digital work draws on many theoretical questions debated by poets and literature enthusiasts, such as whether poems breaking away from traditional haiku may still qualify as such. The digital format itself is also inherently opposing the idea of the natural world, one of the main elements of traditional haiku.
To peruse this work, one must go directly to and scroll through individual posts through the account “@poem_exe” (Twitter, @poem_exe). As with most social media platforms, (and subsequently this series of work) is interactive. Users can engage directly with the content through commenting, liking, and retweeting.
One has the option of viewing the collection of poetry through their regular Twitter feed, or by viewing it through an archive system. By viewing it through the archive system, there is less surrounding “noise” per se. There are no ads or user interaction options. The archive system itself states that “[the aforementioned archive] is an offline archive of your Tweets from Twitter. Use the months to navigate the archive” (@poem_exe Twitter Archive, Electronic Literature Collection). It is primarily meant for the author. Thus, people seeking out this work would typically come across it through Twitter where it was initially published.
As a reader, I went through a series of complex emotions when analyzing this work. I have previously done moderate research on haiku and Beat poetry in relation to Zen Buddhism. Personally, I tend toward the traditional haiku. I feel that there is a certain spiritual experience created within the boundaries of haiku. However, the poems on “poem.exe” are enjoyable in their own, separate, regard. They pose many philosophical questions due to their context. I write poetry as my primary form of self-reflection as I find it therapeutic and revealing. The algorithm that created these poems makes one wonder: what constitutes poetry? Is artistic expression on the artist’s behalf necessary for it to be effective, or is it just necessary that the reader finds value in the poetry? Or perhaps, does the reader even need to see the value, or does a poem simply need to cater to certain parameters that make it identifiable as a poem? Does there need to be a purpose, or connection, at all?
Kelsey Guindon wrote this entry for Dr. Dani Spinosa’s Digital Adventures in English (Engl 4309h) course at Trent University in the Winter semester of 2022.
Works Cited
Cooke, Liam. "@poem_exe." Twitter, Twitter, @poem_exe on Twitter, Accessed 28 February 2022.
Cooke, Liam. "@poem_exe." Your Twitter Archive, Electronic Literature Collection, @poem_exe Twitter Archive, Accessed 28 February 2022.
Henderson, Harold G. "Haiku In English." ERIC, 1965, Haiku In English, Accessed 28 February 2022.

Author statement: 
poem.exe is a micropoetry bot, assembling haiku-like poems throughout the day and publishing them on Twitter and Tumblr. It uses an Oulipo technique based on Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. Verses are selected at random from a selection of a few hundred, and a single line is taken from each to produce a new poem. After assembling a poem in this way, the program looks for seasonal references and uses these to decide whether to publish or reject the poem. The bulk of the corpus it reads from consists of translated haiku by Kobayashi Issa; as a result, many of the poems are coloured by Issa’s personality, in particular his fondness for snails.