Individual Work
I-Ching Poetry Engine

Electronic Literature Directory Entry

The “I-Ching Poetry Engine” was created by Jared Tarbell and Lola Brine. It was first introduced to the public in Austin, Texas, on December 11, 2001. Tarbell programmed the electronic poetry and Brine designed and the XML poetry library. The idea of this poetry engine is derived from the Chinese I' Ching (50BC-10AD), also known as The Book of Changes. This book introduces the terms “ying” and “yang” from which Taoism derives its theology. The I'Ching is used as a divination system that provides insight into diverse situations; seemingly disjointed information is rendered coherent and meaningful. At the “I-Ching Poetry Engine” web page, a passage from Gyorgy Doczi explains: “[The I'Ching] is based on the recognition that the ever-changing diversities of existence have an underlying unity of order, in which everything is related to everything else.” The “I-Ching Poetry Engine” reflects this sense of “order” by producing lines of poetry from five seemingly unrelated words.

Upon activating the work, the user is presented with sixty-four flashing nodes arranged in a circle. The user is required to click on a node for the program to begin. Each node is assigned an English word. When the first word is chosen, a selection of nodes is offered and, each time the user chooses a node, new words appear. Within the circle of nodes, eight trigram symbols of the Chinese I’Ching emerge. The user is required to pick five different words, which align themselves below the circle of nodes. After five words are chosen, five lines of poetry stream in from off-screen. For example, the words Essential Quality, Limitation, Initial Difficulty, Accomplishment, and Obstruction produce the following lines of poetry:

Inner truth lies to no one,
It is a lack of trust that dooms you,
Just believe and all will fall into place,
No one said you couldn't,
Find it in yourself.

The poem is different upon each iteration, incorporating the themes of the five nodes that the user has picked.

Amanda Abrey was a student of Dr. Kiki Benzon for a course in Contemporary Fiction taught at the University of Lethbridge, Canada during the Winter term of 2011.