The Friday Fillip: Tune, Toon, and . . . Bot

You get a three-fer this holiday weekend, a trio of nifty things that came into my ken this past week.

The Tune

Thanks to a blurb in the Globe and Mail, I was introduced to Moby, the musician who walks among us as Richard Melville Hall and who specializes in electronica, ambient music, downtempo, and the like (if that last can make any sense). Take a listen to his collaboration with Cold Specks, a Canadian singer living in London whose haunting alto is spot on for the song, A Case for Shame:

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There’s also a somewhat creepy(?) video of the song on YouTube. And the tune gives me a chance to recommend SoundCloud to you. There’s more Moby there — as well as tons of indie music (and talk) you might not find elsewhere.

The Toon

I’ve praised the comics of xkcd to you before. But clearly I haven’t been taking my own leads seriously enough (or some things didn’t make it through the RSS feed properly), because I completely missed one of his niftiest creations. His “Time” saga played out over three months and involved 3,095 images that updated automatically such that they created a film. It tells the story of a man and a woman in the far future who experience the effects of rising sea levels. You can watch the animation here.


And another thing I hadn’t known: there’s a site to “explain” xkcd to you (“It’s cause you’re dumb.”), which does a bang up job of fleshing out (not to say crushing) the “Time” animation.

The Bot

. . . makes poetry. Well, in truth it was William Carlos Williams who made the poetry, but the bot plays a word substitution game with one of his simplest and best poems:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Now, on Twitter, @JustToSayBot omits the second verse and replaces the two nouns in the first verse and the three adjectives in the last verse with seemingly random substitutes, the whole coming in always at or under 140 characters. Smart of the bot to have seen that Twitter leaves carriage returns in place, something just right for poetry. One good result of this process is:

I have eaten
the courts
that were in
the crossfire

Forgive me
they were cancerous
so shy
and so fresh

There’s more miss than hit here, but some gems emerge, and, because it’s a quality of a “poetic setup,” ambiguity and incongruity have a way of making you think and feel a bit more expansively than you might otherwise. Should be mandatory for law students.


  1. LawGrad&LitMajor

    I would like to know why people think there is ANY artistic merit in that poem by Williams. I mean, if we’re going to waste time we might as well read E.E. Cummings…but really, please, someone tell me why that is ‘good’ poetry

  2. Anne Giardini, Q.C.

    I understand why it isn’t everyone’s first choice. It isn’t mine either, far from it. But there was a time in my life when it would have had more appeal. It does do many of the things that poetry can do. It is as clear as water. It uses language deftly. It evokes a feeling. It makes a specific incident universal. Its final line summons up a true sense of the sweet chilly taste of plums not meant for the eater. It can be read metaphorically too. You might, for example, give a copy of this poem to someone you love and have wronged.

  3. LawGrad&LitMajor

    Fair enough..I’m not arguing that it’s bad; I even agree with most of your points (I mean, it’s not Ginsberg after all). I just fail to see how it’s better than something any half-talented University Lit student could come up with. I think it’s dangerous to read the poem metaphorically, as we may begin to impute meanings to the poem that the author did not intend. I realize that doing so is part of what makes art interesting, but when a reader’s interpretation is more interesting than a poem itself, that’s usually a bad sign in my humble opinion. A good poem may inspire creative interpretations, but these interpretations do not buttress its overall quality. And yes, I’ve been totally influenced by Nabokov’s method of interpreting literature.