"Sonnetizing the Singularity" is a trio of computer-generated poems by Richard Holeton written in collaboration with the Python tool "Sonnetizer." The open-source program developed by Ross Goodwin allows users to transform any given text into a 14-line Shakespearan sonnet. Holeton used futurist Ray Kurzweil's nonfiction book on artificial intelligence "The Singularity is Near" (2005) as his source text.
“Sonnetizing the Singularity” is a procedural or automatic poem, a subgenre of electronic literature in which the text is the product of “scripted” rules (Rettberg 30). Automatic poems decentralize the role of the human author, who act in partnership with machines rather than as the sole creator. The poems were not entirely automated, and Holeton intervened at various stages in the process to create the finished work. From the multitudes of poems generated by the program, he selected only the "most promising" to work with. He changed the composition of the text by mixing and matching lines from different poems. He also made "minor" edits to improve the grammatical construction and logical flow, in some cases substituting different words, though he stressed that the diction was always taken from the Kurzwell's text (Holeton "Sonnetizing the Singularity").
Holeton is not the first “autopoet” to treat the output of his or her script as creative inspiration, rather than a finished product. Charles Hartman, in his memoir Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry (1996), describes his computer-generated poems as a wellspring of ideas, whose randomized outputs can be mined for new possibilities. David Jhave Johnston similarly argues that AI can “nourish and empower” human creativity. Yet, he goes much further than Hartman in declaring the supremacy of his computer counterpart. In the abstract for ReRites (2018), a series of poems created using neural networks, Johnston credits the “computer” as the primary author or “generator” of the text, while describing his own role as that of an “editor” or “curator” (Johnston 2019).
Like Johnston, Holeton defines the autopoet’s role as curatorial. In “Sonnetizing the Singularity,” he chose verse that inadvertently appears to reflect on the autopoetic process. The opening lines of the first sonnet describe the act of sifting through the computed text, collecting and “assembling” notable verse in order to “develop new exhibits” (Holeton "Sonnetizing the Singularity"). The second sonnet suggests that the learning processes, in which computers are trained on human data to mimic language patterns, works both ways. Autopoets are likewise “trained” by computer programs to read not only texts, but our technologically-driven world, in new ways (Holeton "Sonnetizing the Singularity"). In this sense, Holeton’s poems illustrate how the “making” of autopoetry is a “heuristic” exercise as well as a creative one, as Scott Rettberg states in Electronic Literature (Rettberg 54). The final sonnet in the series reiterates the generative potential of human-cyber collaboration, whose randomized elements are the “evolutionary cosmic dust” that gives rise to new artistic forms (Holeton "Sonnetizing the Singularity").
Goodwin, Ross. The Sonnetizer, 2018. http://rossgoodwin.com/sonnetizer/
Hartman, Charles O. Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry. 1996. Wesleyan University Press, 2012.
Holeton, Richard. "Sonnetizing the Singularity." Unlost: Journal of Found Poetry & Art, no. 13, 2018. http://unlostjournal.com/sonnetizing-the-singularity-by-richard-holeton/
Johnston, David Jhave. "Artist's statement." ReRites. Anteism Books, 2019. http://www.glia.ca/rerites/
Kurzwell, Ray. The Singularity is Near. Penguin, 2005.
Rettberg, Scott. Electronic Literature. Polity, 2019.