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Tapping Project Gutenberg to create computer-generated 'snowball' poems

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Poetry Shutterstock
Poetry Shutterstock

In yet another example of computers churning out art, Paul Thompson has built a C++ script that produces snowballs — poems where every line is a single word, with each successive word one letter longer than its predecessor. "I thought that someone must have created a program to generate these, and I was surprised that I couldn’t find one even after some pretty thorough Googling," Thompson writes on his blog. That led the part-time programmer to develop his own solution. Thompson's code scans through a massive text file of numerous combined works from Project Gutenberg. All character names are ignored as the poem is crafted, as are any foreign phrases included in the source material. His formula also relies on Markov chains to build out the finalized poem, though Thompson readily admits his somewhat elementary approach isn't perfect. "The output will, for the most part, be absolute rubbish," he says. "But there will be wheat in the chaff." We've included one of those eloquent examples below.