If the heart could speak, what would it say? A new project at NUI Galway, launching on Valentine’s Day, aims to address this question with an unconventional approach to producing poetry. The project, Eververse, combines methods and tools from literary studies and computer science to automatically generate poetry that corresponds to a person’s biometric data, that is how fast their heart is beating, how deeply they are sleeping, and so on.
Eververse sends biometric data from a wearable fitness tracking device to a custom-built poetry generator which uses algorithms to generate and publish poetry in real time, and 24/7, on the Eververse website.
The form and content of the poetry is designed to change according to different physical sensations and experiences in the poet’s waking and sleeping life. For example, poetic lines decrease in length as the poet’s heart rate increases and breath contracts. Content, too, reflects bodily variations, as heightened-sentiment vocabulary is produced to reflect the emotional intensification of an increased heart rate, while dream sleep generates surreal images and vocabulary.
Project leader and lecturer in English at NUI Galway, Dr Justin Tonra, will generate a year-long poem using his biometric data. Dr Tonra said: “The project continues a long tradition of connecting the heart and the arts, and contemplating the relationship between an artist and the work they produce. It will allow us to think about the increasing presence of computer-driven automation in our world and what role it might play in creative and cultural artefacts. I hope, too, that it will produce some engaging poetry.”
One of the more common ideas about poetic inspiration presents the poet as a creative vessel or conduit, taking the sensory input of the world into their bodies and minds, and producing poetic output in turn. In theories such as this, art collapses into the being and identity of the artist. W. B. Yeats famously articulated this conundrum, asking “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
Eververse is a conceptual response to this situation. By removing cognition from the process of creating poetry, the project creates a more explicit link between the abstract relations of artist and art. Here, the poet’s body, through its various motions and functions, literally determines the form and content of the poetry that is produced.
Eververse can be viewed from Valentine’s Day at http://eververse.nuigalway.ie/, which also hosts videos of a live performance at last year’s Cúirt International Festival of Literature. The project is a collaboration between researchers from NUI Galway, the Moore Institute, Insight Centre for Data Analytics, and Maynooth University, and has been funded by the European Association for Digital Humanities.