LOVE BEGINS A PICTURE: An Anthology of Google Voice Transcriptions Formatted and Annotated As Poetry

Google logo Google recently introduced Google Voice, which routes calls among different lines, performs other screening and call handling tasks, and automatically generates a written record of each phone message using voice transcription software. I've had it for months. I'm not going to complain about the transcription software's high error rates, although lots of people do. It's free, for crying out loud. Where do people get off complaining so much about free stuff? They don't have to use it if they don't want to use it.

But that's not my point. My point is, I think I've noticed something about these Google Voice transcriptions: I see an authorial sensibility taking form, like a face emerging from a cloud bank. These transcriptions can be read as poetry.

At its most accurate, Google Voice gives a surprising dignity to some simple messages merely by rendering them in written language. At its most interpretative, the results could give a Surrealist vertigo.

Roll over, Brion Gysin, and tell Bill Burroughs the news: There's a new sheriff in Cut-Up Land, and his motto is Don't Be Evil. Below are some real-life examples of this new poet's work, taken from my own phone messages. Since the transcript/poem often bears little resemblance to the actual words spoken, who are the real authors – the Voice, the callers, or some synergistic combination of forces beyond our limited understanding?

Here: Decide for yourself.

WHATEVER THIS IS (Caller: My friend Christina)

Hey mister
it's Christina
just left you a message and then
I got your message and realized
you're stuck out

but I'll try you.

But yeah, just trying to be tomorrow
(if you get the chance)
And if you're a few Karen in China the next day
Council lot more
eating minnows on the step
and give me a little

I'll be hanging around then and I am
well,
whatever this is.

Editor's note: The “hey, mister” is not something Christina would say, so that must be the Voice talking. The reference to Asia's Karen minority is a surprising inclusion. “Eating minnows on the step” could therefore a reference to that region's politics, since Mao said a revolutionary must swim among the people like a fish.

The Maoists thought they were ushering in a new future. But don't we all just “try to be tomorrow” when we “get the chance”? I attribute much of this piece to the Voice, although “whatever this is” is resonant with Christina's sense of irony.

MARRYING ME (Caller: My actor friend Arthur)

Hey, Richard.

Give me a call when you get back in a little on the road.
Talk to my behavior.

So I
give me
a ring.

Editor's note: Arthur's decision to marry himself, symbolized by his gift of a ring, is consistent with the emotional profile of a self-obsessed performer. “Talk to my behavior,” indeed! That's an actor for you. Besides, existentially speaking, isn't our behavior all that really exists?

DOWNBEAT FROM AN UPTOWN HOTEL, YEAH (Caller: My wife)

Hi Guys, it's me very happy to get the message I hope that was gratifying.
Yeah I am in the room right now for about an hour
happens to someone, anyway
come hi this and that you know, not have to say he expressions with me.

I will say that join cranes weeks,
who has been a little bit of extra protein because
he's part of this.

If you have going on this guy and I have to leave them in around
probably have to leave you around too
4:30 yeah yeah town at 5:30

Yeah, you and I like that
and I hope that you, yeah, you are,
doing really well.

You, yeah okay sweetie.
I love you, yeah.

Editor's note: The wife is a writer herself, quite capable no doubt of an extended Kerouac-esque riff from a hotel room. And this poem perfectly captures both the erosion of self-identity and the meaninglessness of social exchanges one experiences on a business trip.

But she doesn't usually address me as”Guys,” or for that matter in any plural form, despite her occasional suggestion that I have some sort of multiple personality disorder. That is one of many signs of her invisible collaborator, the Voice.

And what's with the bird imagery? Does it refer to the interconnectedness of all life, or did she actually just eat a crane because she needed the protein?

INTERNATIONAL SYNERGY (Caller: Business associate)

I don't know whether you're in New York in an airplane in California
on the wait in an airport or on the way from the airport.

Anyway they are doing something totally different than we are
and there could be some huge Synergy relative to the ways things could be talked
he saw our stuff and was blown away

They are national actually International
and they also have something very important that we don't have called

money.

Some people actually talk like this. But the Voice did some editing, capitalizing Synergy and International. Note the subtle wordplay of “on the wait in an airport,” contrasted with “on the WAY from the airport.”

MAVERICK ZERO EXPIRATION (Caller: Reporter looking for an interview on health policy)

Hi Richard are looking at.
I was sick you some yeah action from alright and expiration
Maverick, it's about how this legislation would work
the excise T O N and Zero or,
in an expiration, why is it?

Hey, if that since sacked case, I'm at 202-xxx-xxxx.
You know, with the expiration.

Ever been misquoted by a reporter? I have. Misquote this, Maverick Boy.

VITTORIO SAYS (Caller: My Italian friend Vittorio)

Richard is Vittorio.
What are you doing.
You have a visit to the scope which is the better.
Give me a call on my cell.
Okay message. For.

Hey, the guy actually talks like that. I never know what the hell he's saying. If anything, the Voice cleaned him up some. If you can figure out what he means, let me know. I haven't called him back yet.

LOVE BEGINS A PICTURE (Caller: Arthur, the actor, again)

Hi Cat, I could possibly do in the morning actually in the morning
on the way
so I could meet me in the morning

Anyway, just check back with me man and I will go from there.
Love begins a picture and I'll talk to you real soon.

Having betrothed himself to himself, he now wants to meet himself in the morning. “In the morning, actually in the morning, on the way.” The self-adoration rings with the sonorous voice of a gospel choir.

THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS (Caller: A professional colleague)

Plant speaking, how are you.
Just wondering if you were in trip cargo.
If you could give me a buzz.

There is an erotic overtone to this piece that I find disturbing, considering the colleague. Yet the meaning seems clear: He is the plant, speaking, and the use of the word “buzz” suggests that to him I am the bee. He is flowering, and awaits fertilization.

I sure hope this is the Voice talking, because I like this guy, but not in “that way.”

BRUSHFIRE (Caller: The same professional colleague)

This is Bob Nancy Richard. I am attending the conference and wanted to know if you are.

Also, I see that your skin brush fire
some of the people talking about that.

Editor's note: On the other hand, I suppose I'm quite flattered, actually.

BAD CONNECTION (Caller: Unknown)

And call and call and call.
And she called yesterday.

The –

What an ironic and sad commentary, using the phone as metaphor. Although it is young, the Voice has certainly experienced much of the loss, pathos, and yearning embedded in all human communication, humming like a carrier wave in even the most innocuous-seeming exchanges.

FAITH (Caller: My wife)

I'm sure you're trying to call me
on the other line.

Editor's note: This is a poignant and yearning work. I really hope I was calling her on the other line when she composed this. I hate to disappoint her. That's the last thing in the world I want to do. Life is hard sometimes, and lonely, and I want to be her respite, her refuge, her sanctuary.

Have I disappointed her? Or have I been a good and loving life partner? Am I attentive enough? I need an answer. Google Voice will know. Or, even better, it will help me find the answer for myself.

After all, it's like the Voice always says: Love begins a picture.

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