Miles Kington: How I learnt to write poetry on a computer called Otto

The purpose of my visit, apart from giving my body the chance to recover from a hangover, was to find out how English poetry could possibly be Europeanised

Share
Related Topics

(9 March 1995) One of the more interesting experiments being carried out at the moment by the European Union is an attempt to introduce common European standards for poetry.

Ah, you may say, but poetry is such a national thing, individual even, that to set European standards for it is impossible! It will never work!

And I would tend to agree with you, if I had not been privileged to be introduced to the EU's poetry computer, nicknamed Otto. This computer can take any verse and reprogramme it to fit in with modern Euro regulations.

I was, as a matter of fact, over in Brussels at the weekend, having been flown out and wined and dined as a guest of the European Freebie Panel – a most praiseworthy body, which is looking into the dreadful prevalence of freeloading in a modern bureaucracy and consulting experts like me to learn what can be done about it. And I took the opportunity, while recovering the following day, to pay Otto a visit.

I explained that the purpose of my visit, apart from giving my body the chance to recover from a hangover, was to find out just how English poetry – which we in Britain always consider to be so very special and untranslatable – could possibly be Europeanised in any way.

Otto's operators said they could easily demonstrate if I nominated some small but well-known example to feed into the system, and as I had left a Britain full of fresh yellow primroses and other spring flowers, I decided to challenge it to come up with a new version of Wordsworth's famous lyric poem beginning "I wandered lonely as a cloud..." (Nobody ever mentions the name of this poem, by the way. That is because it does not have a name, unless you count "XII" as a name – the poem is actually number 12 of his "Poems Of The Imagination". This information comes to you free). The computer went quiet for a bit, then flashed a few lights, then went quiet again.

"Have I defeated Otto?" I asked the operator, a kindly Walloon named Nicolette.

"Nobody defeats Otto," she said quietly. "He is simply thinking it over. Also, we have fed into him an instruction to delay for a while before producing poetry, to give the impression of creative effort."

Suddenly there was a whirr and the following stanza appeared:

I wandered lonely like a cloud
That takes up airspace overhead
When all at once I saw a crowd
Of flowers growing in a bed.
"Mon Dieu! " I cried, and then, "Mein Gott!
Wieviel Blumen! What a lot!"

"I don't quite understand the reference to airspace," I said. "And why are the flowers in a bed? For Wordsworth they were wild daffodils!"

"That may be so," said Nicolette, a touch primly, "but things are a little different nowadays. If things fly overhead in the European Union, there is always the chance they may infringe airspace.

"If they grow on the ground, they should be in a permitted area. Otto knows this, even if you don't. Poetry today must be law-abiding, for all our sakes, don't you agree ? Let's try a bit more..."

Nicolette then pressed another knob and this is what we got:

So many flowers in a bed
Is not a thing I like to see
"You break the rules!" to them I said,
"For colour and for quantity!
"Your yellow is not one of ours!
"And there are far too many flowers!"
The flowers shook their heads.
I do not like flowers that disagree
With standards set by the EU
And so I took my garden tools,
And dug them up, for breaking rules.
And now that lovely flowerbed
Looks just like a garden should,
Containing nothing that's not dead,
Just as a tree contains pure wood.
No flowers, just mud and earth and loam,
As laid down by the Treaty of Rome.
And now whene'er I get depressed
I think of that expanse of earth
And feel a sudden surge of zest,
A glad return of merry mirth.
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And digs up lots more daffodils!

"Makes you think, doesn't it?" said Nicolette.

"Certainly does," I agreed.

You have been warned.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game