Toto Poetry
~ A Poetry Dictionary ~
toto, adj. (Latin) altogether, complete, universal.
poetry, n. (English) metrical composition.


Mission: If English dictionaries define the word poetry, perhaps we can define all English words with poetry. Using experimentation and new media, this project heavily relies on the mathematics of language to create didactic digital poems – one or more for virtually all words in the dictionary.
History: With origins dating back to the 1990s, the poems posted here were created for educational or didactic purposes. They are designed to mostly benefit non-English speakers (by far the largest users of a dictionary project I am working on, and who can click on words in the poems for translations if they are using non-English browsers). In addition to illustrating various English-language poetic forms (especially the forms used to teach English), in many “English for non-English speakers” courses, poetry exercises are used to allow learners to explore the complexities of English, and to help students retain vocabulary (some persons benefit reading didactic poetry as a form of learning). Poetic forms taught in such classes are included in this project (e.g. acrostics, cinquain, diamante or diamond, haiku, sonnets, etc., with more being added over time). Another purpose is to have the poems, themselves, give insight into the title word or expression, with an express goal to highlight ambiguity for as many words or expressions as possible in all of the world’s documented languages (e.g. over 1.4 million poems in English alone). The graph theoretic poems posted take on a lexicographic purpose, therefore, which may lead to further exploration and/or learning of the language (e.g. a poem about “pope” may refer to “ruffe” which is a type of fish, called a “pope”). As I gain more experience with techniques, I will expand to other languages (about 100 languages at first, and then the languages with smaller populations, except those where ownership rights are claimed by academic field linguists or local community leaders).
“Graph Theoretic Poetry” Methodology: The word “graph theoretic” in “graph theoretic poetry” is not meant to imply that the poems are “edgy,” “punk,” or “counter cultural” (though some might think they are). Rather, graph theoretic poems are created based on programmed heuristics (following rules from accepted poetic genres) relying on theorectic values from a type of large linguistic graph. I used these values to mimic what I think my brain does when it is asked to write a poem on a particular topic using a particular poetic form (as assigned to me in grade school or college), for a specific purpose (didactic). Simplifying the process, most of what happens can be boiled down to four basic activities (they are really more involved, and programmed for, of course).

First, when I am asked to write a poem that should describe or explain “love,” I imagine that my brain quickly searches over a semantic web that has learned a type of experiential linguistic graph. This graph then intersects with a second set of constraints imposed by a given poetic form, or set of elaborate rules, to create poetry within the genre specified (rules can be vague, and not hard, which allow for half-rhymes, metaphors, puns, poetic violations, etc.). Third, I must choose a good poem to publish, among many, that makes me happy or satisfied with the outcome. The third activity, therefore, is a mathematical problem of constrained optimization, where an economic utility function is being maximized. Finally, there is a portfolio problem given that there are exogenous social constraints, especially the perceived preferences of the reader. For example, the person reading the poem who is not the author might want to recognize it as being within the genre, evaluate it, enjoy it, understand its meaning or find some other value in it (e.g. certain “rules” beyond poetry may need to be adhered to – perhaps using less obscure words in a poem making it more accessible to non-English speakers, whereas other readers may prefer less common words, poems having unusual grammar, revolutionary ideas, vulgar themes, etc.). In economics, this is similar to a matching function between “buyer” and “seller” where there needs to be an equilibrium of sorts between consumers and producers (e.g. creating a poem that I enjoy may not be a poem that “sells” best in the market place). My brain, solving a portfolio problem, is implicitly trying select the right poem to get a good grade from the teacher who may give better marks for “cleverness” or something else he or she prefers (e.g. using a false rhyme to give the poem a “rap song” feel or cadence). Solving this problem becomes important when there are many poems that each maximize the utility function, or when social constraints are more “important” than the traditional utility maximization problem. You can read more about the methodology, which largely depends on graph theory, here. You can read about the various poetic genres covered here.
For fun: You can access all of the poems using the search box. For the courageous, follow the links below to what may be the world’s longest poems (for the particular genre indicated; each of these have been condensed from substantially longer off-line versions that include proper nouns, hyphenated words, contractions, possessive forms and expressions). They start with stanzas defining the first words of the dictionary, and then continue alphabetically thereafter to the end of each poem reaching the length of an entire dictionary:
          Acrostic (prefix)
          Acrostic (diagonal)
          Acrostic (suffix)
          Butterfly Cinquain
          Cinquain (phrasal)
          Cinquain (expressional)
          Haiku (terse)
          Haiku (3-word)
          Haiku (modern)
          Mirror Cinquain


- Philip M. Parker, INSEAD

Browse Index