The uncanny valley of poetry

Introducing Issue 4 of 404 Magazine

In previous editions of this zine, we've delved into the unique intersection of UX writing and poetry, examining how the specialized, concise copy in our apps and websites transforms when recontextualized as poetry.

The rise of generative AI over the last year has revolutionized digital media creation (for better or worse). Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT and Google Bard have transformed how writers craft convincing ad copy and informative emails.

But how good is it at poetry?

Turns out — not great?


Limericks have always fascinated me — their perfect blend of rhythm, format, and wit is captivating and delightful. Crafting a good limerick is like solving a word puzzle infused with creative writing, a process I find immensely enjoyable. When I first experimented with ChatGPT, naturally, I tasked it with writing a limerick. The result was intriguingly subpar, yet not disastrously so.

ChatGPT manages to get it about 80% right. The rhythm is mostly there, though it tends to repeat words. The rhymes are adequate, albeit occasionally straying into nonsense to maintain the rhyme scheme, and the content is passable, if not always hitting the mark of cleverness. It's a fascinating excursion into the uncanny valley of AI-generated poetry.

I didn't stop at limericks. From sonnets to raps and Fibonacci sequence poems (which I explain in the zine), the AI's performance remained consistently mediocre. These discoveries were too good not to share, culminating in the creation of Issue 4.

This issue is visually enhanced by AI-generated imagery, thanks to tools like Adobe’s Firefly and OpenAI’s Dall-E. The cover and inside illustrations add a unique flair to the content.

And it’s funny — in my recent zine-making past, I was in charge of the creativity, and outsourced the labor of turning it into a book to the robots. With this issue, we flipped it. The robots wrote the content, and I laboriously laid out their work, cut out, stapled, and assembled the zines. I even turned the cover image into a rubber stamp and manually stamped each issue by hand.

I, for one, must resist our robot poet overlords.

Please enjoy this issue, and now, if this is your first introduction to 404 Magazine, you can buy a bundle of issues 1 through 4 and save a couple bucks!

—Andy Welfle, Editor