This App Creates Haiku for You Based on Your Location

published Jan 1, 2020
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Poetry is all around us, and a new online project takes that literally. OpenStreetMap Haiku uses geographical data to generate haiku based on your precise location. Here’s the kind of poem you can expect:

Lost in the city
I think of home
Finally round the bend

Many of the poems are quite beautiful, though some make more sense than others and the occasional one looks scrambled and obviously generated by an app.

Used to be plankton
A strong gasoline smell
Coffee smells good

OpenStreetMap Haiku, designed by Satellite Studio, uses OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open-source map that collects data using surveys, GPS, and photography. Satellite explains how it uses that data to create haiku:

In OpenStreetMap Haiku, we use that crazy amount of data by matching OSM tags with random verses.

For example, if a supermarket is close to the map center (an object has a tag shop=supermarket), it would randomly yield one of: “Salad cabbage and carrots”, “The cashier’s bored” or “A lonely aisle” (etc).

A swimming pool (tag leisure=swimming_pool): ‘Smells of chlorine’.

A coffee shop named ‘Grey House’ (tags amenity=cafe and name=‘Grey House’: “Fresh coffee from Grey House”.

And so on.

Variable factors like weather and time can also affect the outcome of the haiku.

To use OSM Haiku, navigate your way around the map as you would with any other map app: zoom in or out, drag the screen to move. Not all areas have enough data available to create haiku, but major cities and bodies of water do.

Quiet water
In the middle of the day
Quite chilly

The creators of OSM Haiku were inspired by a project called “every thing every time” by artist Naho Matsuda, which they explain like this:

Her work aims at creating “impractical poetry” from a variety of data streams and sensors across the city: air quality, traffic, shift schedules, mosque prayers, etc. The result is then displayed in real time in the city streets. We’ve always been totally fascinated by the project, which at the time seemed a refreshing take, slightly impertinent, on the whole “smart cities” schtick.

Here’s another OSM Haiku-generated poem:

You are what you eat
Traffic light goes red
The world is big

If you’re wondering why these “haiku” don’t adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable rule, that’s a formal rule contested by haiku poets. Because that count came from original Japanese haiku (and doesn’t really refer to “syllables”), it doesn’t translate the same way to other languages, where the smallest units of meaning may be made up of more sounds. Arguably more important parts of haiku are season words and a turn, where the poem’s meaning opens up.

A day goes by
Wind in the clover
Learn your lesson

OSM Haiku acknowledges that its creations are “probably horrifying for haiku purists (sorry).” But we’re feeling inspired to read and write poetry, and take a closer look at our surroundings. Try OSM Haiku for yourself here.