A TEENAGE gaming enthusiast’s poem, which grapples with the nature of being human in the face of artificial intelligence, has won high praise.
Professor of Poetry Dr Paul Hullah describes Luca Hutchinson as a very promising poet, adopting quite astounding rhetorical technique for someone his age.
The 15-year-old’s poem The Human Factor has won first prize in Ripon Grammar School's annual poetry competition, which attracts hundreds of entries and has been running since 2014.
Past pupil Alicia Hayden, a researcher at the BBC’s Natural History Unit, won the community section with her poem, I XO U, praised for its wit by Dr Hullah: “That oft dismissed and woefully undervalued item in a good poet’s toolbox.”
A delighted Luca began writing poetry when he was eight years old and this is the first competition he has entered: “I wrote it because of how much AI we now have in society, as a story of how in an attempt to prevent AI from gaining self-awareness and emotion, the more we give up our own emotions and the best parts of being human, being slowly dehumanised until we are just like the AI we created.”
The teenager hopes to pursue a career in writing: “I’d like to write stories in the future and do some game designing based on my stories,” he explained.
Dr Hullah, based at Tokyo’s Meiji Gakuin University, said his poem was selected from a particularly strong field: “Luca’s poem is a show-stopping humanist manifesto and statement of purpose from a very promising poet indeed. A worthy winner.”
He praised Luca’s extremely powerful expression, and ability to summarise the fears of a generation in a single phrase: “Luca uses words with striking precision but somehow stirs emotions in the process. It’s very clever.”
Of Alicia’s poem, Dr Hullah said: “Wit’s a tightrope to walk, and Hayden gets the balance perfectly here. The bustling hustling melody of the lines, read aloud, is infectious, plaintive but punchy, and carries the reader with it both emotionally and intellectually.
“I found this to be an eminently human response to the world as it is in 2023, and thus the poem that tackled the theme best of all. It surprised me the most, and delighted me the most. It really stood out, in remarkable ways. Bravo!”
Alicia, who also works as a freelance wildlife artist, filmmaker, writer, animator and photographer, said she was delighted to win: “I have been writing poetry since I was a child. My entry is my slightly tongue-in-cheek response to the popularity of chat-GPT and using AI-technology to replace the arts.”
Among the plethora of poetic talent, Dr Hullah also singled out Keanu Wong, 16, from Ripon, Scott Turner, 15, from Ripon, Izzy Laybourne Ribeiro, 16, from Kirkby Malzeard and Chloe Mason, 15, from Ripon.
Runners up in the community section were Robert O’Hare, Ruth McKew and Allison Goodwin.
Category One: RGS Pupils of RGS only. Congratulations and thanks to all who entered. Nowhere was language not used skilfully and intelligently here. A pleasure to read: all of them! Time and time again, I was blown away by the mature conjoining of message and mood, imagery and word choice. Poetic talent galore!
Highly Commended: Keanu Wong — ‘Like a poet’s pen, it paints with grace’? I couldn’t agree more. There’s mellifluous fluidity in the diction, and the strong AABBCCDD… rhyme scheme, is never allowed to hinder the flow (as such bold rhyming can often do). The lines dance with innovative images, a cautious awe gradually conveyed in sweetly relentless and somehow ominous rhetorical movement. Just an occasional clumsy slip (’seeking wisdom from realms untrodden of.’???) but otherwise adept and affecting. I would like to read more of this writer’s work.
Highly Commended: Scott Turner — Sometimes a poem can just be so lovely and pure, poignancy made out of a measured and deliberate ‘poverty’ of expression. I love it. Love the cheeky title too. An endearing and deceptively powerful piece, with that brave overlong arhythmic last line embodying the inarticulate humanity, our frailties and imperfections, it evinces and to which it appeals. Wonderful.Very Highly Commended: Izzy Laybourne Ribeiro — the ‘music’ of a poem has to sit in the words chosen, and the rhythm resides there too. This is a great example. The beat and melody are so beautiful embedded, aided by some shrewd alliteration, and some feisty inventive rhyming. Very effective use of language and a great example of form and content melding perfectly together. ‘Fighting the forces of nature, / It could put us all in danger’ is a tremendous heroic couplet, its ‘almost’ rhyme conveying the disquieting foreboding it wants us to feel. (Presume ‘heafty’ (sic) is HEFTY, and not ‘hearty’?) Can’t not love a poem that rhymes ‘holybobs' with ‘jobs’ and to significant effect too. Great stuff.
RUNNER UP: Chloe Maslen — the tone of restraint here - a studied continual retreating from emotion, knowing what to leave out, not over-egging an already powerful pudding - is marvellously mature and perfectly fits the titular theme. The narrative/dramatic movement from kids to adults to machines is plotted and handled subtly too. It’s a very moving poem. First stanza is brilliant (though ’their knee’ is a little clumsy; I would have had ‘a knee’). Cinematic. Starts like a Mike Leigh film then reminds me of the song ’That’s Entertainment’ by The Jam/Paul Weller, two masterful subjective/objective visions of society. (That’s a huge compliment, not a criticism!) ‘Ruining’ is misspelt in the middle line of the final part, but the ’taking away a child’s innocences’ is beautiful - that unusual plural ‘innocences’ is a masterstroke, startlingly and deeply insightful. The evaporation of human emotion in the last 3 lines, as the language becomes monosyllabic staccato and empty and perfunctory is splendidly done. Ion some other parts, I felt the language could have been tighter (a rhyme scheme, even an irregular one, could have strengthened it): ’they say’ and ’they all say’ is a bit lazy and the apostrophes (Thats what… a humans’ work) betray a lack of care. A little more attention and this could so easily have been the winner… Chloe shouldn’t be disheartened though. It’s magical, she’s talented, and she should write more!
WINNER: LUCA HUTCHINSON — sermonic, and yet with a gripping undertow of doubt, this poem uses words with striking precision but somehow stirs emotions in the process. It’s very clever: its circularity, with ‘Progress defines success…’ bookending the drama is effective and affecting. But it’s vulnerable too. Not a syllable wasted. A crowded busy line ‘Industry is unbound, capitalist greed enriched by technology’ has us drowning in harshness - what’s going on? - but it then so cannily lets us come up for air with the ironically singsong ‘No wage, no life, no ambition, just more…’ line that follows. That’s quite astounding rhetorical technique from someone of this age. Extremely powerful expression, and gnomic in its ability to summarise the fears of a generation in a single phrase - ‘raised to replace’ is a superb maxim - or a standout line:
‘Create more; Feel nothing, just work, just be
Emptying our own lives of purpose in favour of nothingness.’
Wow. The enjambment of ‘just be’ (so is it ‘just BE!’ or ‘just be emptying…’? Of course, it’s both) helps to emphasise the import of what follows. A show-stopping humanist manifesto and statement of purpose from a very promising poet indeed. ‘Perfection in form, emptiness within…’ it says? This poem is perfectly formed, but everything within it is full of potential too. Well done, Luca. Worthy winner.
2. Category Two: Staff, Old Rips, inhabitants of Ripon and friends of the school. All four of this year’s entries are publishable. What a joy!
RUNNERS UP: ROBERT O’HARE (poignant and fluid with melody as ever, but arguably too tenuous theme-wise this time?), RUTH MCKEW (tremendous ending, but I felt it started a little too prosaically), ALLISON GOODWIN (again, tremendous in parts, but requires cropping - a poem must say what it needs to say).
WINNER: ALICIA HAYDEN — she was Runner Up in 2021, with a beautiful love poem that I still read and still breaks my heart as much as it did not to be able to make her the winner that year, so I’m delighted she had another go. I love this for a host of reasons. It wins by virtue of wit, that oft dismissed and woefully undervalued item in a good poet’s toolbox. Wit’s a tightrope to walk, and Hayden gets the balance perfectly here. The bustling hustling melody of the lines, read aloud, is infectious, plaintive but punchy, and carries the reader with it both emotionally and intellectually (all those questions marks, like little bombs, escalating the pleasurable pain, that unease we feel when we realise were steeped in knowledge but lacking in wisdom). In short, I found this to be an eminently HUMAN response to the world as it is in 2023, and thus the poem that tackled the theme best of all. It surprised me the most, and delighted me the most. It really stood out, in remarkable ways. Bravo!