Not Bad News- Street Haikus


Laura Madler

Computers are taking the poetry world by storm.

On this edition of Not Bad News, the Lion’s Roar brings you the best intersection of poetry and technology.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has brought us a myriad of little life-enhancing technological features in the last few years of innovation. It can pick your music, play chess, even park your car. With the limits of AI growing more distant every day, one company is putting algorithms to an artistic test- poetry.

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative online mapping system, used by the likes of Facebook and MapQuest. People contribute location information to the service to expand the map, creating a geographic database of the world. The service encourages contributors to provide more detailed information about the areas they log, like nearby schools, pools, and traffic patterns, to craft a more holistic sense of place. After years of data collection, OpenStreetMap is finding a new way to characterize world locations through use of the haiku, which is a traditional Japanese 3-line poem that follows a 5-7-5 syllabic format. Drawing inspiration from database information, the new service, OpenStreetMap Haiku, offers a fitting and unique “poem” for virtually any neighborhood in the world.

Certain geographic tags trigger predetermined lines for the poem. For example, a nearby pool might generate a poem with the line “smell of chlorine,” while a nearby marina might create a line about boats. This example from London seeks to capture the rainy, cold atmosphere this time of year: “Wet to the bone / Looking at you from the 4th floor /
Is it too early for a beer?” Still others pull from local street names and landmarks to personalize a poem. While they are not technically haikus- since randomly generated lines rarely meet the syllable conventions- these unique 3-line poems have been generating impressive buzz in the AI world.

Here at the Lion’s Roar, the staff had only one question- what haiku describes our little corner of the world? Haikus from Hampton mentioned boats, poems from Virginia Beach spoke of sunshine. When we focused the location on Menchville High School, the poems turned to the idea of school. Here are some of our favorites:

While OpenStreetMap’s algorithms are impressive, we here at the Lion’s Roar believe no haiku about Menchville is complete without a Monarch twist- and mention of principal Bobby Surry. See our version below:

Laura Madler