As If Poetry: Algorithmic Authorship and Participant Readership in Contemporary Japanese Verse

Prof. Scott Mehl1

1Colgate University, United States

This paper discusses the innovative use of soft-AI computer algorithms in the creation of tanka, a form of poetry with roots in classical Japanese culture. Among the recent surge of interest in computer-generated poetry in Japan, I look particularly at two computer programs: the instant tanka generator Inu-zaru created by Sasaki Arara, and the so-called “guzen tanka” Twitter bot of programmer Inaniwa and poet Sekishiro. These programs engender new paradoxical models of technology-mediated authorship and reading, whereby human agency is at once subtracted from the composition process while also being presupposed as a necessary component in the participant reader. Such forms of reading and writing shed new light on theoretical matters such as the death of the author even as they pose intractable questions concerning international copyright conventions, especially as regards circulation of online material in different language zones (in this case, among Japan, China, and Korea). I draw on the work of philosopher Anthony Appiah and cultural critic Otsuka Eiji to explore implications for future work in literary studies.


Scott Mehl teaches Japanese literature, culture, and language at Colgate University. His publications include various articles on modern Japanese poetry and fiction, and translations of modern Japanese poetry and criticism.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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