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If You're Not a Modern-Day Shelley, Find Your Muse on the Web

February 14, 2001|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With pen in hand, I sat at my desk, trying to write a poem. A love poem. A Valentine's poem. But, alas, no words came to my addled brain. I stared at the blankness of the page, forlorn. But then the thought came to me. Isn't there an easier way? Hadn't I heard of this computerized gem that could make me write like Shakespeare or Blake?

To the search engine I went and found it at http://www.kurzweilcyberart.com, though at first I expressed some doubt, for the name "Kurzweil" didn't roll off the tongue. But I was heartened by the things I saw. Its promise was poetic suggestions based on famous poets' styles.

Here, thought I, is my salvation, poetry at my beck and call.

So download I did, and watched the names of the 50 poets the program has studied and dissected. There was Coleridge and Dickinson, Longfellow and Poe, Teasdale and Tennyson--all names that had once been my undoing. It was the college English prof who once turned to me and said, "stick to prose writing."

I clicked here and there to see what this Kurzweil was all about. The poet's assistant had all manner of buttons, offering suggestions for everything from "alliteration" to "rhymes and endings." There were more for "next word" and "rest of line" and even "rest of poem."

So who, thought I, would I like to be? And the answer came back Shelley. He was, after all, of the Romantic era, I did seem to recall. I clicked on Shelley and typed in a word, an innocuous "What." When I clicked on "next word," up popped "father, I, love, naught, 'twas." None of those appealed, so I typed in "that" to see what the computer would next offer.

There was an "I," which seemed a neat fit. And so I gave it a click. Onward I went, feeling somewhat emboldened, as the words poured onto the screen, words such as "bleak" and "doth" and "flourish." But when at last I read what I'd writ, I realized it made no sense to me. There was nothing to do but patch and trim in hopes of making it better.

So here it is, my five lines of computerized Shelley:

What that I could not be

The one love thou doth delight?

Can'st thou feel my fears?

I am filled all bleak and heart-broke

If I thought we did end our joy.

The words, to be sure, were a downer. So I fiddled with Coleridge and Keats but found myself composing no better. In abler hands, I'm sure it would work. But for me, these are words I will offer to my sweet today:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

The flowers are on the way, my love

But, alas, this poem's a goner

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