"What is a robot?" Pioneering roboticist Rodney Brooks answers with a sonnet

IEEE Spectrum asked pioneering roboticist Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot and former head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the eternal engineering question: "What is a robot?" Inspired by computational neuroscientist Warren McCulloch who enjoyed writing sonnets, Brooks responded to the query in iambic pentameter. Here's the beginning:

What Is a Robot? By Rodney Brooks

Shall I compare thee to creatures of God? Thou art more simple and yet more remote. You move about, but still today, a clod, You sense and act but don’t see or emote.

You make fast maps with laser light all spread, Then compare shapes to object libraries, And quickly plan a path, to move ahead, Then roll and touch and grasp so clumsily.

Read the rest: "What Is a Robot? Rodney Brooks Offers an Answer—in Sonnet Form" (IEEE Spectrum)

image: Brooks led development of the COG robot seen in this photo by Rama (CC BY-SA 3.0 FR) Read the rest

New video for Iggy Pop's spoken-song based on Lou Reed poem

Iggy Pop's "We Are the People" is based on a poem penned in 1970 by his old friend, the great Lou Reed. About the poem, Pop told the BBC back in September, "My God, this is the country today as I understand it, or at least one legitimate portrayal of the country today." Last week, Pop performed "We Are the People" with Reed's widow Laurie Anderson at Carnegie Hall for the Tibet House Benefit and now he's released this striking video performance. The song appears on Pop's latest album Free. From "We Are the People:"

We are the people without land / We are the people without tradition...

We are the people without sorrow who have moved beyond national pride and indifference to a parody of instinct / We are the people who are desperate beyond emotion because it defies thought / We are the people who conceive our destruction and carry it out lawfully

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Ferlinghetti's prescient poem, "Pity the Nation," describes actual SOTU, 2020

This Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem crossed my transom yesterday morning. I cannot think of a more fitting encapsulation of where we are, here in our post Rule of Law era.

"PITY THE NATION" (After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep And whose shepherds mislead them Pity the nation whose leaders are liars Whose sages are silenced And whose bigots haunt the airwaves Pity the nation that raises not its voice Except to praise conquerors And acclaim the bully as hero And aims to rule the world By force and by torture Pity the nation that knows No other language but its own And no other culture but its own Pity the nation whose breath is money And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed Pity the nation oh pity the people who allow their rights to erode and their freedoms to be washed away My country, tears of thee Sweet land of liberty!

[H/t Linda Lewitt]

Image: Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Caffe Trieste in 2012 by Christopher Michel. CC BY-SA 4.0 Read the rest

Watch Leonard Cohen read "The Only Tourist in Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward" (1965)

“I was in Havana in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion fighting on both sides,” said the great Leonard Cohen in 1965 before reading this fantastic satirical poem he wrote while in Cuba. It's called "The Only Tourist in Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward."

Cohen's experiences in Havana, including being arrested during the revolution there, were documented in a 2018 episode of the animated series Drawn & Recorded, with art by Drew Christie and narration by T Bone Burnett. You can watch the episode's trailer below and read about it in this Billboard article.

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Woman discovers 'secret' coded message in John Milton poem 'Paradise Lost'

A young Massachusetts woman who recently graduated from Tufts University is convinced that she has found a 'secret' encoded message in “Paradise Lost,” the poem by John Milton. Read the rest

Millennials are killing Poe's Raven

From Ross Wolinsky's "The Millennial Raven" in McSweeney's: Once upon a midnight dreary, Tinder swiping, buzzed and weary/I asked Siri about my sushi ordered one hour before/ While I chewed some pretzels, snacking, suddenly there came a tapping/As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my apartment door/“’Tis my roommate,” I muttered, “walking ‘cross the hardwood floor/Only this and nothing more.” (via Kottke) Read the rest

Translating Homer's Odyssey into limericks

Emily Wilson is the author of a new "lean, fleet-footed translation" of Homer's Odyssey that "recaptures Homer's 'nimble gallop.'" Read the rest

Where would you put the word "fuck" in William Carlos Williams's "This is Just to Say"?

Your choices: Read the rest

Joy Harjo named 23rd Poet Laureate, first Native American to serve in U.S. position of honor

“Words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible.”

David Silverberg's "Terms and Conditionals": the things you just agreed to

[David Silverberg's As Close to the Edge Without Going Over is a new book of genre poetry from Canadian speciality press ChiZine (previously). I was tickled by his poem "Terms and Conditionals" (for reasons that will be immediately obvious) and I asked him if we could reprint it here -- he graciously assented. -Cory] Read the rest

Video for Patti Smith's gorgeous tribute to avant-garde poet/dramatist Antonin Artaud

The great Patti Smith collaborated with New York City experimental audio artists Soundwalk Collective on the forthcoming LP "Peyote Dance," a celebration of French avant-garde dramatist and poet Antonin Artaud (1896-1948). I've been fascinated with Artaud's "Theater of Cruelty" since my first exposure to him in my friend Adam Parfrey (RIP) and Bob Black's seminal 1989 anthology Rants and Incendiary Tracts: Voices of Desperate Illumination 1558–Present. Knowing Smith's admiration for French 19th century poets like Arthur Rimbaud, this glorious homage to Artaud makes perfect surrealist sense.

"The will of that man, the energy," Smith said. "If we, the living, send out radio and energy waves, the energy of those last poems is still reverberating."

Above, the track "Ivry." Background from the Bella Union record label:

The Peyote Dance focuses on a brief part of Artaud’s time, who travelled to Mexico City in early 1936 to deliver a series of lectures at the University of Mexico on topics including Surrealism, Marxism and theatre. In the summer, he travelled by train towards the Chihuahua region, and saddled by horse to the Tarahumara mountains with the help of a mestizo guide – which the album’s opening track, recited by Gael Garcia Bernal, evokes. Artaud was drawn to the story of the Rarámuri: Native Indian people who live in the Norogachi region of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, the Sierra Tarahumara. One of Artaud’s goals was to find a peyote shaman who could heal him; allowing him to recover from an opioid addiction.

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Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!

Neil Gaiman says Edgar Allan Poe should be read aloud, and he's right: he recorded this video of him reading "The Raven" in 2016 as part of Pat Rothfuss's Worldbuilders charity drive. It's Poe's birthday today, and I can think of no better way to celebrate it than to listen to it again. Read the rest

Explore Dante's Inferno as a fantastic interactive visualization

The Alpaca graphic design cooperative created this terrific "illustrated and interactive Dante's Inferno, an alternative learning tool for the Divine Comedy first Cantica, made for aiding visual memory." From the project page:

The work is based on the anthology "Testi e scenari" - Volume 1 (Panebianco, Pisoni, Reggiani, Malpensa), published by Zanichelli in 2009, and it has been developed by Alpaca together with the Molotro design studio...

The translation to the English language is based on the one provided by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The whole text is available on Wikisource and it's in the public domain. We chose the Longfellow translation not only because it's open source, but also for its closeness to the language of Dante. The syntax, the rhythm, the lexicon used by Longfellow may feel odd for native english speakers, but they render the original language with great accuracy.

"Infernal Topography" (Alpaca via MetaFilter)

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'Heartbreak' is a towering work of art

Heartbreak, written and performed by poet and playwright Emmet Kirwan, is a spoken word masterpiece. Full of passion, rage and love, heartbreak tells the story of a young Irish woman, raised in an oppressive patriarchy and poverty, who scrambles to survive before finally coming to thrive. Read the rest

A Thanksgiving prayer from William S. Burroughs

And in accordance with tradition, Uncle Bill will now lead us in "A Thanksgiving Prayer" (1986).

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Why Edgar Allan Poe's work is still so damn good and creepy

Edgar Allan Poe scholar Scott Peeples explains the black magic of Poe's work nearly 170 years after he died. From TED-Ed:

The prisoner strapped under a descending pendulum blade. A raven who refuses to leave the narrator’s chamber. A beating heart buried under the floorboards. Poe’s macabre and innovative stories of gothic horror have left a timeless mark on literature. But just what is it that makes Edgar Allan Poe one of the greatest American authors? Scott Peeples investigates.

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Why everyone is talking about Childish Gambino's "This Is America"

Since Donald "Childish Gambino" Glover debuted his single "This Is America" on last week's Saturday Night Live, the song and its accompanying video have raced around the internet, sparking analyses and arguments. Read the rest

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