Webcam Poetry (2018)

Webcam Poetry is my first attempt to create contextually-relevant generative poetry based on live webcam feeds from around the world. Using a mixture of bespoke machine learning and natural language processing Webcam Poetry is able to determine the subject of a webcam feed, research and then generate a relevant poem that should encapsulate that moment in time. While it can occasionally get things wrong (it is a computer after all) it has a surprisingly captivating effect.


But why?

I often get asked this. To be honest, the answer is simple, I’m terrible at poetry - I always have been, but I love it! While mourning my fleeting talent that would never be I wondered, is it possible to build something that can help me write? Almost like a virtual poetry ghost-writer, there 24/7 to help illustrate my every whim. So I made one!


How does it work?

The system behind Webcam Poetry is actually quite simple, the vast amount of work has just gone into making it work efficiently, on low hardware and online. Each poem generated by the piece follows this basic structure:

  1. Select a webcam stream from a list I compiled;
  2. Run some “dense captioning” on the stream to figure out what is happening;
  3. Use that deferred information to generate a vocabulary list based on that defined topic;
  4. Write poetry using this dictionary based upon the format of the poem, which is pre-defined;
  5. Display the poem.


Response

The response to Webcam Poetry has been wonderful. I’ve had an incredible number of emails and messages complementing the piece which I am really grateful for. As a small artist it’s hard to get work out there to as many people as possible, so when an audience naturally comes to you,, it’s quite a humbling moment. The 24-hours test where the piece was streamed online proved a big success, with around ~15k people tuning in to see live poems being generated which promptly overwhelmed my server — I have a new server now, so hopefully, that won't be a problem in the future! Because of the great reception, I’m currently acquiring funding for “Webcam Poetry 24/7” which aims to have a live version of Webcam Poetry accessible for anyone across the world via a simple website.


Past Exhibitions


Quotes

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a …webcam?” - Marie Boran, PhD Researcher Dublin City University/Irish Times


View Webcam Poetry live at specific times at http://www.webcampoetry.com/