Saison Poetry Library
Royal Festival Hall
Southbank Centre, London


Poetry Machines is a poem generator, using random selections of words taken from a collection put together as part of Lemn Sissay’s residency at the Southbank Centre.


The project uses the first 8 words of 200 poems, which were scanned in order to retain the visual presence of the collection: varied typefaces, handwriting and paper qualities are visible and make reference to the wide variety of sources. These were made into 8 DVDs which, when played in a line, create new sequences that often bring up surprising, enigmatic or profound combinations. The total number of combinations across the 8 screens runs into billions, so as visitors watch the words change they may see sequences that will not be seen during the rest of the exhibition. For this reason a book has been provided for visitors to note down lines they have seen during their time in the library. A limited edition pack of 24 cards has also been produced for visitors to take away with them.
Lucy’s work has taken its influence from 20th century ‘writing machines’ and Oulipo writing strategies to find out whether poems can be created through chance, allowing the machines to make new juxtapositions. However, as the viewers’ interpretation of the words is what really makes them into ‘poems’, it is perhaps people themselves that could be described as ‘poetry machines’.


This exhibition was made in response to a collection of poetry instigated by artist in residence Lemn Sissay as a way of celebrating the diversity of poetry in its many forms, from Wordsworth to Goldfrapp, as it comes through Southbank Centre. Swithun Cooper and Daisy Hirst worked as interns on the project which involved inviting members of the public to contribute poems as well as collecting lines from songs, words from exhibitions and even notes left in the Poetry Library.
The artist in residence scheme is supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

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