"They're trying to kill me!"
Never before had my library been desecrated by such an outburst. My library was a holy sanctum, three stories with walk around balconies and Victorian woodwork. Leather and pipesmoke were the only smells most of the time, but now the acrid, nervous perspiration of my oldest friend was competing with them.
"You said that when you walked in Geoff, but I haven't been able to put two words together other than that. Slow down, and try it again." I tried to soothe Geoff with tea (spiked with a hefty dose of Jamison's) but he had yet to touch it. It was cold, and Irish Breakfast is bastardly when it's cold, even with the dose of Jamison's. "Who is trying to kill you."
He looked up from the leather wingtip chair that I had spent long hours ruminating in, and there was sheer terror in his face. "The Poets!"
I clamped my pipe in my teeth to keep from reacting to rashly. I was torn between laughing, and grabbing him by the lapels and shaking him violently until whatever it was that had rattled loose was put right. "The Poets? Who are these people?"
He looked aghast. "The Poets. The people who write poetry! How the hell should I know who they are! The last time I stepped in a coffee shop was in college. Poets! Fluffy faggy guys that sip lattes and dunk biscotti while smoking clove cigarrettes. Poets!"
I fixed him with a glare. For a moment, he was impaled on my leather chair by the force of it. "You realize how insane that sounds? I mean, seriously, back up and listen to yourself Geoff!"
"I know, I know, but it's true."
"Why? Why do they want to kill you?"
"You remember that hush-hush project I was working on with Sara?" I nodded. "It was a lexical generator. An automated writer. We were trying it out on poetry. Stupid stuff. The first attempts were doggerel on par with 'Roses are red'. But we kept tweaking the network, improving it, and building a more complex database of lexical atoms. Nothing cutting edge, but we slapped in a genetic algorithm, hooked it up to a cesium random number generator and left it running for three weeks while we worked at that stupid game that we're being paid obscene amounts of money to make. When we came back to it, it was churning out pages and pages of this." He reached into his pocket, and trembling, handed me a folded piece of paper.
I unfolded it, and read. I'd like to explain the experience without flowery language, without metaphor or an artistic flair, but it would be like reading Shakespeare aloud to the deaf, and letting a blind man see the Louvre. I'm no expert on poetry, but I'm extremely well read, as one might assume from my library. The poem he handed me was well balanced, with an airy meter that would suddenly turn dark, as it moved from the topic of love, to love lost. The conciet was simple, a young man loving and losing repeatedly, but it was so well crafted, I'd have likened it to a Shakespearian sonnet, or perhaps even Marlowian, but it was clearly in modern English.
I sat down on the ottoman with a puff. "Your machine did this?" He nodded. "I don't believe it. I mean, I've seen some computer generated poetry. It's sometimes quite intriguing, but never this... cogent. I understand the poets. I'm half tempted to kill you myself."
"Don't jest like that!" He snatched the poem back, bullets of sweat appearing on his head. "Are you going to help me or not?"
"I must say, that poem is remarkable. Not the best poem I've ever seen, but some of the modern stuff...." I looked at him square in the face. "Poetry has been a gasping art form; experimentation has replaced craftsmanship, and novelty has replaced substance. But this... I think you may have very well killed poetry in a single blow. You may not know many poets, but half the ones I know would cut their wrists with their pens if they knew about this."