The Category Carousels

While I was looking through Google's Natural Language Processing documentation, I noticed that the techology could help me identify texts by category. All I had to do was ask!

The system assigned about two-thirds of the poems a category (and some poems, such as Stuart Kestenbaum's Prayer in the Strip Mall, Bangor, Maine, received multiple assignments: Mass Merchants & Department Stores (a subcategory of 'Shopping') and Holidays & Seasonal Events, a sub category of 'Hobbies & Leisure/Special Occasions').

With each category came a confidence score that ranged from .99 (extrememly confident, for Robinson Jeffers's To Helen About Her Hair as Hair Care, to .5 for Carolyn Forché's Mourning, assigned Travel. If a category appeared beside the poem, I used it, regardless of how confident (or unconfident) the system was. In other words, some of the category matches were not as strongly indicated, but I used them anyway.

Altogether, the poems fell into one or more of 74 unique categories, 18 of which were top level (e.g., Food & Drink or Arts & Entertainment, which was the most popular category with 352 assignments). The rest of the categories (e.g. Baked Goods or Cartoons) were subcategories of the higher designations.

Not every category had enough poems to fill a carousel, but I made the ones I could and talk about some of the more obscure poem categories in the project details below.

Quilt, Star of Bethlehem pattern variation by Ellen Morton Littlejohn
Quilt, Star of Bethlehem pattern variation by Ellen Morton Littlejohn
Metropolitan Museum of Art/American Wing

Here’s What Happened:

After runniing 1000 love poems through Google's category detection system, I learned that not all categories are equally popular. Only one poem, Nance Van Winckel's Been About, was tagged as Business & Industrial, for example. Because I needed at least eight poems to create a carousel, the more unusual--and often more provocative--categories do not appear in them.

In the case of rare sub-categories, I could sometimes 'group' the poems by their parent category. I included sub-categories for music, food, and book-related poems this way, but lost the nuance. Inside the Books & Literature category are some poems that were categorized more specifically by the subcategory Poetry, for example. Visitors scrolling through the Music & Audio love poems would never know that D. H. Lawrence's Coldness in Love is actually categorized as Rock Music, or that Danez Smith's in lieu of a poem, i'd like to say is tagged not just as Food, but Snack Food.

In general, if a poem was assigned to more than one category, I only looked at the catgory that had the highest confidence score. Only four poems were assigned Pet & Animals as the most confident choice, for example. However, by including ALL poems tagged Pet & Animals (regardless of whether another category was considereed an even better fit) I collected eight poems, just enough for a pets carousel. I did the same thing for Science, which had only seven poems (and ended up with 10 poems, half by women and half by men).

Other poem categories do not appear in the carousels at all. Only two poems were tagged Adult (Jennifer Chang's Conversation with Slugs and Sarah and Wendy Videlock's There's Nothing More, which notes that a plum can be erotic if held by the right man). Similarly, I lost the Games category (and the one poem tagged Roleplaying Games (John Rollin Ridge's False, but Beautiful) as I could not collect enough Game love poems to fill a carousel.

Only three poems were tagged with the intriguing Sensitive Subjects category. Here they are, along with the images my computer assigned each:

drawing from the Met


Personal Effects

by Solmaz Sharif

drawing from the Met


Between Here & There

by Dana Ward

drawing from the Met


Love Lessons in a Time of Settler Colonialism

by Tanaya Winder

The love poem carousels are randomly populated from the set of relevent poems, so reload to see additional poems in each category! Or see more love poems in the other Love Carousels.