The construction and shape of these digital rhymes
were achieved by the symbol and tool of our times,
the computer, that futurological boon
to make bodies and brains obsolete very soon.
For inventing the rhymes—which is tedious work
and for centuries sent every poet berserk—
I’ve developed some software, a matrix or grid
by which rhymes may be found where they formerly hid.
Every word that’s attached to the end of a line
is compared to all others with which to combine;
they appear in a window that sits by the text
for advising the poet of what to write next;
so provided the poet still knows what they mean,
composition in verse can be done by machine.

With computers, increasingly, things done by hand
are performed by machines which are digitally planned;
not the manual alone is computerized now
but the knowledge or software for telling you how,
for control of a process, the stuff of the mind,
for design-work of every improbable kind,
for the scripting of movement in Houston or Rome
which are sent overseas from an office or home.
With computers, decisions and actions are one.
It’s the tool by which plans are both thought of and done.
It’s the final technology, freeing all brains
of all kinds of contingent and arbitrary pains;
for in time the expanses of digital mesh
will short-circuit the role of the fallible flesh
and the body will surely become obsolete
with its vulnerable tissue unfit to compete.

There are skeptics, I know, who declare from the past
that the mind is beyond this mechanical cast,
that its functions include the emotions, the manic,
the reverent or sexy.  They flux; they’re organic.
A thought may be slight but it’s still inspiration.
It’s wilful and needs an impulsive gestation,
a linking of feeling and logic, a mission
of wanting to know which explains intuition.
These skeptics are always a cynical bore.
The conception of progress is one they deplore;
and although they acknowledge it’s happened before,
they believe that it won’t go ahead any more;
it’s exhausted:  the future will stop; they’ll find cause
why the future is closed by intractable doors.
They’ll invoke the archaic regime of the arts,
quarantining their rare inspirational parts,
and declare that technologies can’t reproduce
what for centuries no one has found any use.

There is painting and poetry.  Sure, they survive
but in modernist forms that are barely alive,
which are built upon vanguardist alienation
and torture the public with fear and frustration.
The dominant medium now is tee-vee
It’s the screen by which people can listen and see,
with the mighty computerized supplementation
for free interaction with representation.
A painting, it’s true, has its subtle delights
which are seen in the luminous darks and the lights
and a poem with metaphors, numbers and rhymes
has the quaintness and charm of more chivalrous times;
but they’re now obsolete.  The aesthetics of yore
whose conventions are hardly professed any more
are removed from the order of symbols and now
academics alone wonder wherefore and how.

Never mind what the scholarly reasons might be.
It’s an age in which poets and painters agree
that it’s noble but hopeless to try to profess
what was lost in the modern historical mess,
that it’s time to abandon the forms of the past
where anterior consciousness used to be cast
and to reach for the forms and the words of today
to work out in advance what a poem should say.
With a visual production, the rule is the same.
Find a suitable form; only then find the aim.
So the art of the painter’s agreed to be dead.
In its time, it was based on what had to be said;
but with modernist thought it defaulted to form.
While contemporary practice is seen to conform
to critiques and a critical self-speculation,
it’s visually split from the seen information,
from positive statements through visual conventions
with infinite fertile poetic extensions.
Such visual authority hasn’t survived.
With the message of certainty, now we’re deprived
of the forms through which certainty gained its expression.
They’re seen as the vessels of ancient suppression.
They can’t be invoked toward critical ends.
Who will listen to words when the language offends?
There is nowhere to go with both content and form.
It is thus that the absence of both is the norm
and it’s thus that the final redemption for art
is proposed in the grace that computers impart.

Why engage the computer, I’m hearing you ask,
to perform with its circuits this obsolete task,
to write poems whose metre and rhyme, as I said,
are the forms that the present’s abandoned for dead?
It’s to demonstrate swiftly and once and for all,
how the digital jumps every analogue wall,
how the highest invention for hurdling these rhymes
is commanded by keys any number of times,
how the processes formerly called inspiration
can now be considered as plain information,
the mulling of records, the sorting and later
the ranking of chaos as optimum data.
So this becomes poetry’s destiny; this
is the most that technology needn’t dismiss;
it’s the single remaining advantage of verse,
the intransigent form that computers rehearse
as the ultimate form of prestige in the mind
which computers subsume and relieve of its grind.

Yet poetic supremacy isn’t the goal
for the versatile tool with the digital soul.
It’s the scope of computers that’s truly supreme
and their universality structures my theme.
If you’re wondering why I’ve selected a style
which is larded with satire and malice and guile,
I should tell you the truth:  it’s to show how a thought
can be born in a chip and be digitally wrought
even though it contains a malicious intention
above and beyond some poetic invention.
You think it’s emotion and personal will
or opinion or morals and not merely skill;
but technology finally sees to them all
with its thesaurus bristling with choices at call;
so it conjures the reason as well as the rhyme
or it will...and it’s only a matter of time.
We’ll download our intentions.  They’ll work like a crib
and put critical ink on the digital nib.

In the meantime, the notebook that sits on the lap
is the lyre on which henceforth all poets will tap;
they can pluck on the digital network and twang
where no poet in history previously sang;
for one rattles a fresh evolutionary chain
when percussing the laptop on platform and train,
in the garden, the kitchen, the loungeroom, the loo
or wherever you are and whatever you do.
Every space is ubiquitous now on the screen
irrespective of where you have previously been;
the redemption of places and time and ideas
is performed in the chip where all thinking appears
as it does of all ghosts and intangible things:
it’s on digital chords that the universe sings.
It was providence—no?—that the phoneme of “lyre”
makes impeccable rhyme with the syllables “wire”;
it’s the chord by which poetry’s set to survive
for the strings of the digital harp are alive:
they pulsate with efficient electrical zeal
and add nerve to the core of impersonal steel.
Heaven knows what the digital fibres will bring,
with what timbres the digital harmonies sing;
these are things for more futurological times
and exceed the pedestrian scope of my rhymes.
I must stay with a lower, less visionary sight
and record by these keys what computers can write;
but if something is gauche in the lines that you see
maybe blame the computer and exculpate me.

Robert Nelson

If you've any comments on his poem, Robert Nelson would be pleased to hear from you.