Generated Mandelstam

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

The paper describes the procedure of porting of one of the first known poetry generators in Russian from a description of a program algorithm published as an article in the USSR Academy of Sciences: Automatics and Telemechanics in 1978. Boris Katz, a computer linguist at MIT in the moment, and at that moment mathematical mechanical faculty of Moscow university graduate was working on the generator in 1972 - 1975. The generator is based on Stone, 1916, the collected poems by Osip Mandelstam. This work was inspired by his elder colleague, a professor of Moscow University, E.M.Landis. Katz started his research on machine poetry and was asking colleagues if they knew anyone working on the theme in the Soviet Union, and they failed to point him to similar work.

After several years of developing the program on BECM - 4 (Big Electronic Calculating Machine) he noticed Michael Gasparov’s book Contemporary Russian verse. Metrics and rhythmics. 1974, that analysed contemporary and traditional poetic verse and general laws of organization of Russian verse. This made a considerable contribution to the work.

In order to understand the context in which On Program Composing Verse was produced we have to note that unlike in other language contexts the first generated poems in Russian appeared later than musical compositions, even though the beginnings of statistical analysis of literary texts dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. Another component that proved necessary for the computational poetics in the Soviet context was the study of structural properties of literary texts such as metrical analysis of Russian verse undertaken by Vladislav Kholshevnikov, Boris Tomashevsky and Michael Gasparov. So it was important to gain both qualitative and quantitative knowledge in regards of the properties of the poetic text in Russian.

Porting or recreating this generator involved creation of a database in which every word of the Mandelstam’s Stone has been classified and included into a database. The program was created by a computer scientist Boris Katz in 1978 for BECM. A poet and computer programmer Anna Tolkacheva used java script for porting the original program. The paper will report on the principles and choices made during the process, as well as the mistakes made at the first iteration of the project and methods implemented for correcting them.


ELO 2021: Artificial and generated text, 27 May 2021

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Daniel Johannes...