Modern Society: a Collection of Poems Written and Illustrated by AI
In high school, I was a poet skeptic. It seemed to me like anyone could write “good” poetry, especially free verse. I was so cynical, I once gave my English teacher a quiz to distinguish between my poems and the poems of famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. My English teacher failed the quiz.
Since then, I have matured (a little bit). I have read more poetry, and I have become more appreciative of the skill required to write good poetry. Good poetry seems to come from a mix of creativity and expert knowledge; the best poets are able to draw upon the wisdom and styles of older generations and add new innovative twists.
Creativity and expert knowledge are also two attributes that make OpenAI’s new text generation model (GPT-3) and image generation model (DALL-E) stand out relative to earlier models. These two AI models have been trained extensively on millions and millions of samples, and can create new, inspired art all on their own. When I learned that poet Tagore was also a painter, I wondered, what would an illustrated poem by Tagore look like? Could I use GPT-3 and DALL-E help me find out?
To avoid plagiarizing an existing Tagore work, I gave GPT-3 the task of writing a poem in the style of Tagore that reflects on “modern society,” and then used DALL-E to create a Tagore illustration with a similar theme:
The result was so interesting, I decided to make a small collection of additional poems written by famous poets and illustrated by famous artists.
Even a younger Tristrum could appreciate the goofy, absurd poems of Shel Silverstein, and his similarly wonky black and white cartoons. When GPT-3 produced the above poem, I immediately had to Google the result to make sure it wasn’t regurgitating someone else’s work — it’s so good! It was harder to get an accompanying piece of art from DALL-E; most of the art it produced had text or titles which ruined rest of the piece. It also never really nailed the single line cartoon style. Here are the prompts I used along with the number of “re-rolls”, i.e. the number of times I re-prompted each model to try and get a better output for the project:
- GPT-3 (7 re-rolls): “A Shel Silverstein poem about modern society:”
- DALL-E (5 re-rolls): “Modern society, in the style of a Shel Silverstein drawing”
I was struggling to find a Dr. Seuss poem that really felt like an original work, but after switching the prompt to “Dr. Seuss’ poem titled Modern Society:” I immediately rolled this poem. The art, similar to Shel Silverstein, often had words or text that detracted from the piece (DALL-E is a horrible speller), so I pivoted to asking for a drawing of a modern city instead.
- GPT-3 (6 re-rolls): “Dr. Seuss’ poem titled “Modern Society”:”
- DALL-E (5 re-rolls): “A modern city, in the style of a Dr. Seuss illustration”
I really enjoyed trying out some GPT-3 haikus. Unfortunately, GPT-3 has a tough time getting the number of syllables correct for any syllabic poem. Out of the five haikus I generated, only two had the proper 5–7–5 format. Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art, generally produced in the form of woodblock prints and paintings. I think DALL-E did a great job with the color and style here, and mixing traditional Ukiyo-e themes with the not-so-common elements like modern buildings.
- GPT-3 (5 re-rolls) “A Haiku about modern society:”
- DALL-E (3 re-rolls) “Modern society, in the style of Ukiyo-e”
Edward Gorey came up when I was searching for poets with distinctive illustrations, and I really enjoyed his dark and humorous limericks. Along with syllables, GPT-3 really struggles with rhyming. This poem was hilarious though, and DALL-E was built for prompts like “bird head in a jar”.
- GPT-3 (6 re-rolls): “An Edward Gorey limerick about modern society:”
- DALL-E (1 roll): “A bird head in a jar, in the style of an Edward Gorey drawing”
Rupi Kaur is another modern-day poet, known for her short, confessional style poetry and accompanying line art drawings. Finding both a poem and illustration were tough, possibly because there may have been fewer examples of Rupi Kaur in the training data used for both AI models. DALL-E often wanted to do the illustrations in color, for some reason.
- GPT-3 (5 re-rolls) “A Rupi Kaur poem about modern society:”
- DALL-E (11 re-rolls) “Modern society, a Rupi Kaur black and white drawing”
Dante is well known for his poem Divine Comedy, but I really enjoyed his sonnets, especially his love sonnets in La Vita Nuova. I only got GPT-3 to produce one sonnet that was actually fourteen lines, and it definitely did not rhyme. GPT-3 also produced a poem entirely in Italian for one roll. I chose the above poem because it did a nice job incorporating the romantic themes of Dante. I decided to have early Italian painter Giotto illustrate this poem, since the two men were apparently close friends in real life.
- GPT-3 (9 re-rolls): “A short sonnet by Dante Alighieri about modern society:”
- DALL-E (3 re-rolls): “A painting of love in modern society, by Italian painter Giotto”
Hafez was a highly influential Persian poet who wrote ghazals, a traditional form of lyric poetry with Arabic roots. Hafez’s poems expressed love, spirituality, and protest, and I think the chosen poem does a good job connecting those themes to modern society.
- GPT-3 (3 re-rolls): “A poem about modern society in the style of Persian poet Hafez:”
- DALL-E (11 re-rolls): “A Persian miniature painting titled “the world is a rose””
Walt Whitman was a humanist, and one of the inventors of free verse poetry. This was good news for GPT-3, which had been struggling with rhymes and meter. This poem starts with a twist on Whitman’s iconic line “I am large I contain multitudes” and jumps into a very critical look at modern society. DALL-E’s emulation of Thomas Cole, an American landscape painter from the Hudson River School, adds an impressive visual with the modern city implanted into the background of the landscape.
- GPT-3 (3 re-rolls): “A poem about modern society in the style of Walt Whitman:”
- DALL-E (3 re-rolls): “A Thomas Cole painting of a modern city”
I enjoyed reading Langston Hughes’ autobiography “The Big Sea” in college, but hadn’t read too much of his poetry. This GPT-3 poem remixes Langston Hughes’ famous poem “I, Too”, with some similarly punching lines. I rolled many times to try and find a matching Aaron Douglas style painting, but DALL-E struggled with color palette and replicating the silhouette style. Both DALL-E and GPT-3 have been faced valid concerns about diversity and inclusivity, so I hope OpenAI will continue to mitigate these shortcomings in the future. This painting still captures some of the common Aaron Douglas elements, and almost manages to spell “society” correctly.
- GPT-3 (14 re-rolls): “A poem about modern society, in the style of Langston Hughes:”
- DALL-E (14 re-rolls): “Modern society, in the style of Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas”
I discovered Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Common Things while researching for this blog and found them very entertaining. GPT-3’s modern take on the concept of an ode is also very entertaining. DALL-E emulates Pablo Picasso, a friend of Neruda’s, and adds this great visual.
- GPT-3 (1 roll): “An ode about modern society, in the style of poet Pablo Neruda:”
- DALL-E (3 re-rolls): “A painting by Pablo Picasso titled “The Internet”:”
Sylvia Plath is credited as a pioneer of confessional poetry, and was a big fan of artists like De Chirico and Henri Rousseau. I also recently discovered that Sylvia herself created lots of visual art — paintings, collages, etc. This poem expresses themes of depression and longing, and I think the painting represents these themes as well.
- GPT-3 (13 re-rolls) “A poem about modern society in the style of a Sylvia Plath confessional poem”
- DALL-E (3 re-rolls) “A painting by Sylvia Plath titled “Modern Society””