AI is better at writing poems than you’d expect. But that’s fine.

Even the most rebellious poets follow more rules than they might like to admit. A good poet understands grammatical norms and when to break them. Some poems rhyme in a pattern, some irregularly and some not at all. Poetry’s subtler rules seem hard to program, but without some basic norms about what a poem is, we could never recognize or write one. When schoolchildren are taught to imitate the structure of a haiku or the short-long thrum of iambic pentameter, they are effectively learning to follow algorithmic constraints. Should it surprise us that computers can do so, too?


 As modernist poet William Carlos Williams tells us, “A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.” When an impassioned verse by Keats or Dickinson makes us feel like the poet speaks directly to us, we are experiencing the effects of a technology called language. Poems are made of paper and ink — or, these days, electricity and light. There is no one “inside” a Dickinson poem any more than one by ChatGPT. —Washington Post