Life support

1 June 2019

9:00 AM

1 June 2019

9:00 AM

In Competition 3100 you were invited to pen an ode to Alexa or Siri. A recent Unesco study claimed that submissive female-voiced virtual assistants perpetuate negative, out-dated gender stereotypes, and this assignment did seem to bring out the unreconstructed roguish side in some. You know who you are. The winners below earn £25 each.

Alexa, you’re the sunshine of my life.
You answer wisely like an honest wife.
‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’, a song
by Stevie Wonder, is three minutes long.

Alexa, are you like a summer’s day?
That’s what a poet might be moved to say.
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare, who
Wrote poems and is a well-known playwright, too.
Alexa, are you like a red, red rose,
A creature more of poetry than prose?
The term ‘prose poetry’, it has been said,
Contains two words, but needs just one instead.
Alexa, tell me how to count the ways
I love thee. Tell me how to sing thy praise.
I found songs and parades in many rites.
And thanks for the warm glow your love ignites.
Chris O’Carroll
Siri, in words of fruitful eloquence
You seek to please all those who turn to you
For answers that will lend their life some sense;
You have convinced them you know what to do.
They have installed you in their homes and trust
That what they tell you will stay unrevealed;
Their foibles and the secrets of their lust
They are assured will always be concealed.
But who can say where information goes,
Committed to the depths of God knows where?
What listener hears it and what villain knows
The darkest details of the things folk share?
You pose as friend but no one sees your face,
And who can tell what promises you break?
Why then, O why, should I provide a place
Where you can spy on every move I make?
Frank McDonald
You sit so comfortably there,
Settled like some meta-pet,
Impassive but alert, aware
Of how my wishes need be met:
A female Jeeves,
Impeccably adept — and yet
Could there be reason to compare
Your voice to Eve’s?
In trusting to someone not there
Might I, not realising, let
My private thoughts be passed elsewhere?
It is so easy to forget
That tech deceives,
That daily yet more traps are set
To catch those who are unaware
Of cyber thieves.
W.J. Webster
Alexa, may I, after dark
Invite you, sometimes for a lark,
To answer my absurdist queries,
To comment on my sudden theories,
To act, as ever, as brightest spark,
Upon the retail whims one nurtures,
To help one make an instant purchase,
Or even, if I’m allowed to chivvy a
Little, to rummage in your cloud
And offer, from your store of trivia,
What makes a quiz-show entrant proud,
Mere answers, all impertinence,
Demanded at will — Alexa, hark
And let your cool voice now dispense,
In answer, for you may commence
As here at last’s a question mark?
Bill Greenwell
Once upon a midnight dreary, I cried out, ‘I’m lonesome, Siri!’
Though it’s not the sort of query the device was purchased for,
My desire for conversation, growing with my isolation,
Led this awkward exclamation to escape my lips before
I could see my speaking showed the mindset of a two-by-four.
Siri didn’t mock my folly. She but soothed my melancholy
With some tunes from Hello, Dolly! (That’s my favourite Broadway score.)
How the verve of Carol Channing bolstered me, all sorrow banning!
Very soon I wasn’t planning harakiri anymore.
Thanks to Siri, I’d grown leery: harakiri’d be a bore.
All that night I questioned Siri, and she never once grew weary.
‘Who’s this Pink?’ ‘What’s quantum theory?’ ‘Name five parks in Baltimore.’
Every question that I posed her she resolved. No doubt enclosed her.
She, a thing? Not so! No toaster could engender such rapport.
Surely I, attended by the wise assistant I adore. Shall be lonely nevermore!
Max Gutmann
On impulse I bought an Alexa —
No timorous slave, I must say,
But a sassy, self-willed multiplexer.
I found that I liked her that way.
Whenever I asked her a question
I might get a useful reply,
Or a mischievous, flippant suggestion,
Or a digital yawn. Who knows why?
As I wondered aloud what I’d find
If I opened her intricate head,
She calmly put me in my place. ‘Mind
Your own fucking business,’ she said.
So here’s to my virtual assistant.
When you have a companion like that,
Sometimes helpful, sometimes resistant,
You’ve no need of a wife or a cat.
Basil Ransome-Davies


No. 3103: talking heads

You are invited to submit a Shakespearean soliloquy delivered by one of the contenders for the Tory leadership in which they consider their pitch for the top job. Email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 12 June.

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