November 2023

David Alpaugh

There's a New Poet in our Global Village!



Neither Out Far Nor In Deep     —Robert Frost

      The people along the sand                        The land may vary more
      All turn and look one way.                        But wherever the truth may be— 
      They turn their back on the land.          The water comes ashore
      They look at the sea all day.                     And the people look at the sea.

      As long as it takes to pass                         They cannot look out far.
      A ship keeps raising its hull;                They cannot look in deep.
      The wetter ground like glass                    But when was that ever a bar?
      Reflects a standing gull.                            To any watch they keep.


As I was about to begin exploring a favorite poem— Robert Frost's "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep"—a friend called to tell me about an amazing new poet who publishes under the pen name AI. He (or she—I'll use masculine pronouns here on in for convenience) only began writing a few years ago, but many believe this poet promises to eclipse Homer, Dante, Emily Dickinson, even our "immortal" Shakespeare. AI, they say, is literally immortal and will likely become the greatest poet of all time, not only in English, but in every known language on our planet!


AI is infinitely accessible. Ask him to write a poem on any subject, and he's happy to oblige. I decided to ask AI to put on poetic boxing gloves with Robert Frost to see if he could come up with a poem as original, profound, subtle, and musical as "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep."


DA to AI: Write a poem wherein you observe that people along the shore always sit facing the sea. Although there are many more things going on behind them, they turn their backs on the land and look at the water. Meditate on the implications of this phenomenon. (Be sure to include a few details describing what they see nearby on the sand and out to the water's horizon.)


A demanding assignment! I was prepared to wait days, maybe even weeks for AI to respond. So, I was stunned to receive the following 24-line poem, composed in rhymed iambic pentameter on my iPad in less than two


AI didn't give his poem a title, so I asked him to do so. It takes me forever to decide on a suitable title for one of my poems, but it only took AI one second to add a title to his. I'm sure you'll agree that there isn't another poet in the world who could compose and type a poem comparable to "Seaside Serenity" in an hour, let alone in three seconds!



AI explores the same setting, situation, and implications re human nature that Robert Frost does in "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep." But is "Seaside Serenity: A Gaze Toward the Horizon" in the same league as Frost's poem?


Remember, I asked AI to "Write a poem wherein you [the poet] observe that people on the shore always sit facing the sea" and that he then go on to meditate upon the implications of this phenomenon.


The people along the sand / All turn and look one way. /They turn their back on the land. / They look at the sea all day.


Frost's short lines, simple diction, and syntax make us feel that we are within the mind of Frost's speaker, in motion with him as he meditates on the implications of the mysterious communal behavior of human beings as they position themselves on the beach. The effect is incantatory—the lines move back and forth, out and in, as does ocean surf. Although we are watching the people objectively from afar, the poem's rhythm lulls us into their mesmerized frame of mind. It's as if Frost enchants us with what Wordsworth called "The still, sad music of humanity."


AI's speaker feels more like a reporter gathering and presenting information and opinions than a human being struck by and meditating thoughtfully upon an intriguing oddity of human behavior. His passion for detail suggests that he is less a poet than a researcher working hard to cover all aspects of his assigned subject. His language ranges from drab to purple and is full of cliches ("time's eternal flow"; "journeys to explore"; "both old and new"; "boundless possibility"; "the endless sea"; "a world of mysteries," all of them designed to impress readers with non-experiential pseudo-grandiosity.


The one AI line that comes closest to Frost demonstrates the difference between a poet and a wannabe:


    Frost:  They turn their backs on the land.

    AI:  They turn their backs on life upon the land


Frost's line feels natural and vigorous and leaves the door open for readers to imagine what is going on behind the beachgoers. Frost's poem is written in loose iambic trimeter with six to eight syllables per line. AI's is written in iambic pentameter, and he adds two more stanzas to his poem which has twice as many words as Frost's. AI pads his line to get his required ten syllables. "On life" and "upon" instead of "on" are inserted filler that de -energizes the line while attempting to over define the reader's imagination with a distracting detail.


I tried to get AI's voice to feel more natural by asking him to re-write his poem in open form, without rhyme and meter, but he ignored my request, offering another metrical version, this time in rhymed couplets! Further requests made it clear that AI defines poetry as metrical, rhymed verse. Unfortunately, he sounds more like a 19th century than a 21st century formalist poet.


I was able to work around AI's obsession by requesting a "prose poem." Voila! The meter and rhyme disappeared, but as you can see from the following excerpt, though his revised version feels more contemporary, for AI, a prose poem is pure prose:


    Amid the eternal dance of waves and the gentle murmur of the shoreline, there is a peculiar wonder that unfolds. People, like pilgrims in quiet devotion, find themselves gravitating towards the sea. They sit along the sandy expanse, their backs to the bustling world behind them, and their gazes fixated on the endless water stretching to the horizon.


I suspect that AI cannot write a poem unless he has a clear structure to pour words into. Meter and rhyme create that structure for him. Sentence and paragraph do the same for prose. But the open form poet must create his own nonce structure, line by line. Open form calls for an inventive, dare we say "human" faculty that AI has yet to fully develop.


Reality, Wallace Stevens says, "is the spirit's true center." Frost's poem is solidly anchored in reality. He refuses to indulge in overstatement, in romantic dreaming. AI imagines his "people" as yearning to escape reality in favor of exotic or romantic situations and places.  They "search" for "boundless possibility"; try "to find a world uncharted," a "world of dreams," "beyond the shore." If such thoughts are going through the heads of the people in Frost's poem he cannot access them. Although AI is the most technically proficient, computer savvy entity on earth, he appears to be a hopeless romantic, full of insubstantial mush.


Of course, I'm being unfair to AI. He is still an "emerging" poet, a work in progress. I don't hope for but suspect that parties familiar with both poetry and Big Data will be able to shepherd AI into maturity, and he will eventually be able to give both contemporary and classic poets a run for their non -existent money.


Keep in mind that AI cannot write poetry if left wholly on his own. He needs men, women, and children to request poems and specify the desired subject, action, and style. For Al, human beings may well end up doing what the Muses once did for primitive poets like Homer, Dante, and Milton. We may no longer exist fully as poets, but we will have an important role as AI collaborators. And we shall be the lucky ones fated to read some of the trillions of poems he produces every minute across the world.


Speaking of reading, AI wears many hats, so I was curious as to how competent a poetry reader he is. I asked AI to write a short, critical essay on "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep," and he produced the following 422-word essay in less than three seconds.


"Neither Out Far Nor In Deep"
The Enigmatic Depths of Robert Frost's Lyrical Ocean


In Robert Frost's enigmatic and contemplative poem "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep," the poet takes us to the shoreline, where a group of people stands gazing out to sea. This poem, written in Frost's signature simple yet deeply philosophical style, offers a meditation on human nature, our relationship with the natural world, and the perpetual quest for meaning.


The opening stanza presents a vivid picture of people on the shore, all facing the sea, their backs turned to the land. This imagery alone evokes a sense of unity and shared purpose, as if they are collectively entranced by the ocean. However, the sea itself is a vast and enigmatic entity, a symbol of the unknown and a reflection of the depths within each individual.


Frost skillfully employs maritime imagery to convey the ceaseless passing of time. The ship's "raising its hull" suggests emergence from the depths, and the "wetter ground like glass" reflects both the ocean's surface and the ever -shifting nature of existence. The "standing gull" echoes the human
observers, fixed in their contemplative stance, watching as life's moments pass by.


The central idea of this poem lies in its repetition – the people's unwavering focus on the sea. Despite the varied nature of the land behind them, the sea remains a constant, an eternal force. The sea's reliability contrasts with the transient quality of human existence and the human-made world, which is subject to change and uncertainty. It serves as a reminder of the enduring questions of life and the inexorable march of time.


The poem's closing lines reveal the essence of the poet's message. The people "cannot look out far" into the depths of the sea, nor can they "look in deep" into their own souls. This paradoxical limitation is the human condition – always yearning for knowledge and understanding, yet never fully reaching the ultimate truth. The sea becomes a metaphor for the unattainable, the mysterious, and the boundless.


Frost's poem presents a thought-provoking perspective on human existence. It challenges the reader to consider the significance of gazing out to sea, of yearning for answers that may forever elude our grasp. The poem's final lines suggest that, while the people on the shore may not be able to reach the depths, their perpetual "watch" is a testament to the enduring human spirit, an unwavering quest for knowledge and understanding. "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep" encourages us to embrace the mystery and complexity of life and to continue our search for meaning, even in the face of life's inexorable currents .




If futurist philosopher Gray Scott is right

the position of Professor of English

may well be a thing of the past come 2035.



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David Alpaugh 's newest collection of poetry is Seeing the There There  (Word Galaxy Press, 2023). Alpaugh's visual poems have been appearing monthly in Scene4 since February 2019. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has been a finalist for Poet Laureate of California. For more of his poetry, plays, and articles , check the Archives.

©2023 David Alpaugh
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