Snap quiz:  What do the following verses have in common?

And that’s how it went
all afternoon, one lizard
after another

It made me wonder
if snow leopards have a taste
for joggers as well

As is typical,
the Pope stayed above the fray
and did not comment.

Whether such tactics
will have a chilling effect
remains to be seen.

Answer: All four are inadvertent haikus, composed by humans but discovered by machines.

The first two come from a Tumblr blog created by New York Times editor Jacob Harris, who adapted some open-source compter code to scan the homepage of the New York Times, looking for snippets of text that conform to the Haiku syllabic structure: 5:7:5.

“Sometimes it can be an ordinary sentence in context, but pulled out of context it has a strange comedy or beauty to it,” Harris told the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The next two come from Haikuleaks, a project that searched for serendipitous poetry among the thousands of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010.

A purest might say these poems are not really haikus, since they lack the requisite seasonal reference (kigo), and the twist (kireji) that injects the last line with surprise.

“Not every haiku our computer finds is a good one,” Harris wrote on the Times Haiku blog. “The algorithm discards some potential poems if they are awkwardly constructed, and it does not scan articles covering sensitive topics. Furthermore, the machine has no aesthetic sense. It can’t distinguish between an elegant verse and a plodding one. But, when it does stumble across something beautiful or funny or just a gem of a haiku, human journalists select it and post it on this blog.”

Both the Times project and Haikuleaks have their roots in Haiku Finder, an open source python script that crawls through text and ferrets out haiku. You can try it yourself by copying a large block of text—the bigger the better—and pasting it into the Haiku Finder search box.

If you do that with, oh, say, Nova Scotia’s broken Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Haiku Finder coughs up this ironic bit of poetic wisdom:

Where accuracy
is critical, please consult
official sources.