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Verse from a number cruncher

IF computers can generate art, can they also generate poetry? Below is one example to let readers judge for themselves. It is from an article by Alfred Kern in an IBM magazine, Perspectives in Computing. He is one of two professors at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., who have designed a ''BASIC Poetry'' course in which computers are programmed to put together poems. Not only do they put them together, they rewrite and revise them.

Professor Kern says that programming computers in this way helps students climb inside poetry - to learn how it works. He finds that computers accommodate more easily than students to difficult forms such as the villanelle and the Petrarchan, Spenserian, or Shakespearean sonnet. The computer has a 600-word dictionary, chooses words randomly from part-of-speech lists or other arrays, and ''makes all the determinations about length of line, meter, syntax, and stanza form.''

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The professor raises a question that might apply to any art when the individual artist defers to technology. ''To respond freely to a human poet is one thing; to weep at lines produced by a machine one has considered only a number cruncher is quite another.'' Diary Excerpt: Emeritus The sunset is leaving, shouting but silent, Singing or crying its joy or anger; The sun's whim was this afternoon's season: Beautiful, cruel, worldly, now forgotten, now cherished, Sometimes feared, sometimes invented, always grasping As we were demanding earths and legs and continents of orchids And the intention and the life of our own raucous blood; For this sunset is ours, our curse, our home, Rushing but staying, enduring time glacial and quick.

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