Poet Dan Simpson: “Computers Don’t Know What a Cliché is”

Dan Simpson is a former Canterbury Laureate, and has performed at the Glastonbury Festival, Roundhouse Camden, and the BBC Fringe Slam. His 2016 Fringe show Artificial Ineloquence uses emoji poems, selfie sticks, and computer-generated jokes to explore the future relationship of AI and art.

Currently there is a lack of independent spoken-word critics

What was the inspiration for Artificial Ineloquence?

I am a bit of a tech nerd, and had been reading about ‘computer creativity’. I got interested in the idea of whether a computer could write poetry. With AI getting better, computers can do more ambiguous and complex tasks. We’ve actually been using computers to make music and poetry for about 50 years. Not many people know the first computer and arts festival was in the 1960s.

What is scary is how original and brilliant it is. Computers don’t know what a cliché is, and so can write lines that bizarre and left field. There was a computer called RAKTER, which wrote a document about the “love of lettuce and snails” and the “love of proton and electron”. That’s love, that.

Is this because computers don’t have influences, in the traditional sense?

The person that is programming a computer would have a goal for it. Twitterbots are good examples of this. I enjoy handles such as @horse_ebooks, @pentametatron, or @poetry_exe, each writing poetry within specific parameters.

This made me think about how we interact. I think it is bullshit claim that people are no longer talking in person. Live gallery and theatre attendance are up. Screens have not taken away human interactivity. The use of emojis and selfies is wonderful, and I wanted to celebrate that.

The show seems to explore themes of commerce and technology, as well as arts and economics. Is this something you set out to explore?

I’ve been self employed as a poet for three years now, so every day is thinking about commerce and art. I run my practice as a business as well. I’ve got bills to pay, and am getting married next year. So money is something I have been thinking about.

There is a tradition emerging of artists publishing their accounts, and being honest about what they will charge for their work. I think that is good.

What constitutes a spoken-word show?

The intention of the artist and the expectation of the audience. If you bill yourself as a comedy show there is an expectation of laughing throughout. We are briefing an audience in what to expect.

The most interesting difference for me is between spoken word and theatre. There are a lot of spoken-word monologues, which are very close to becoming ‘theatre’. I call my show spoken word because poetry is at the heart of it.

What has it been like bringing multiple shows to the Edinburgh Fringe?

I have performed at around 60 shows this month, with a lot of these being comedy nights. It’s been lovely to be the poet on a comedy bill, and welcome the comedy audience into spoken word. Again, expectation comes into play. I’ve also loved the different venues. The Banshee Labyrinth is a great venue for spoken word.

What criteria would you like reviewers to take to a spoken-word show?

I would like them to bring a critical eye for performance, stagecraft, and structure.

I think we should be held to the same critical bar, but currently there is a lack of independent spoken-word critics.

You can follow Dan Simpson on twitter at @DanSimpsonPoet. Artificial Ineloquence is at 18:20 in the Banshee Labyrinth (Venue 156) this Fringe. Full Edinburgh listing: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/dan-simpson-artificial-ineloquence/716696

Related Listings

Dan Simpson: Artificial Ineloquence

Dan Simpson: Artificial Ineloquence

Got the smartphone blues? Stand-up poet Dan Simpson (Glastonbury Festival, Canterbury Laureate) focuses his high-speed fuzzy logic on the screens and machines that rule over our lives...