God From The Machine

The phrase “Deus Ex Machine” is derived from the Latin phrase “deus ex machina,” which means “god from the machine.” The phrase is often used to describe a sudden, unexpected event that changes the course of a story. The story I’d like to tell you, is how my book What Makes Us Human? came into being. My mother died during Covid and I like so many other people during the first phase of the pandemic, couldn’t be by her side. I did try and I started the 16 hour drive to get to her bedside before she passed, only to be phoned by my aunt halfway there, who gave me the news that she’d died. I was in the middle of nowhere, under an infinite blue sky but I turned the car around and drove the 8 hours back home, choosing very carefully the albums I was going to listen to, knowing I would never be able to listen to them again without being back on that lonely road. When I got home, my wife hugged me and then I went to explain to my four year old that her grandmother was dead and I wasn’t really prepared for that at all – she comprehended it in a way so profound it destroyed her and while I did my best to comfort her, I don’t know if there was anything I could’ve done better. If my mom had been there, she’d probably have mentioned something from the bible, or found some word of comfort from a song, or something else, because that’s the kind of thing she used to do.

Image by Dall-E

A few months later, I was working as a consultant with an AI startup called copysmith.ai, teaching the truly-mind-blowing artificial intelligence GPT-3 how to think of headlines or other ideas when I realised something pretty profound – if I could prompt GPT-3 on headlines, ideas I’d had before or anything else, I could prompt it with spiritual works, like the Bible, or the poetry of Rumi, or the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, or any of the other things that my mother used to reference when she comforted me when she was around. So I spoke to my friend and co-author Jasmin Wang, who laid out a path for what the process of having that kind of interaction might look like. One night, I loaded up a prompt and asked,

“How do I explain death to my children?”

This was the response –

Encourage them to celebrate
the lives of other people.
Tell them that the dead are not dead,
not in the way we think of it.
Tell them they live on
as they are remembered.
Tell them every goodbye is really a hello
to a different way of being.
Tell them they are loved
and will always be loved.
Tell them they never have to feel alone.
Tell them the world is magical
and mysterious and strange.
Tell them they are part of the mystery
and the magic and the beauty of it.

And then I asked another question. And another. And another. And another. The questions, answers and everything that followed is contained within my new book, What Makes Us Human? – I’d be honored if you’d consider preordering it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon – and let me know what you think. You can also learn more about the story and the technology behind the book here.

Thank you for your time,


Reconstructing The Lost Poems of Sappho

For sale as a clean NFT here.

What you see in the animations is a lost fragment of a larger poem, written by the poet Sappho 1500 years ago. What follows in each instance, in bold, was written by the AI, GPT-3 two months ago. 

This is a project I’ve been working on for some time with creative coder and designer, Andreion De Castro, who has brought the text to life. To understand it, I need to give you some background.

Sappho, 630-570BC, is widely considered to be one of the greatest lyrical poets, of all time. Most of her poetry is lost and what survives are just fragments – and these sentences are profoundly beautiful – with the two notable surviving poems Ode To Aphrodite and Tithonus poem. But that’s it. Everything else is just, well, fragments. 

Available to purchase as a Clean NFT here on Hic Ec Nunc.

That’s the first thing to know. The second, is that I’ve been doing a lot of creative work with GPT-3, the natural language processing artificial intelligence created by OpenAI. GPT-3 is the greatest collection of unstructured human text in the universe, every holy book, every YouTube comment, every publicly accessible article, op-ed or history book, is in there and based on that data, GPT-3 can accurately, sometimes scarily so, predict how patterns in language are completed. I saw incredible potential here and so one night, on a hunch, I took the two complete Sappho poems that still exist, prompted GPT-3 with them, and then started submitting, one by one, the fragmented, lost lines of Sappho to the artificial intelligence. 

It worked. 

GPT-3 completed the lost lines, based on the patterns it found within the first two poems, creating the first complete version of the poems lost more than a thousand years ago. 

We are selling the animations as #CleanNFTs – environmentally friendly NFT artworks on the Tezos blockchain, everyone who purchases one will help fund a second project, which is to self-publish a small collection of the work. Everyone who purchases one will have their wallet address preserved and included in the design in the book. 

I’m so glad to be able to finally share this, and I look forward sharing some of the other exciting work we’re doing in this space soon. My sincerest thanks to Andreion De Castro for his incredible coding, patience and design (he’s available for freelance work, take him up on it), look out for more from me and him and my sincerest thanks to James Yu for his council.

Recipe One – Someone Who Misses You

Using the artificial intelligence GPT-3, I have created the first recipe (or prompt) in a series of recipes based around different abstract personalities. This is the output of that recipe called, Someone Who Misses You. GPT-3 wrote this, based off my recipe. When you purchase this, you are purchasing the video, and the recipe as a text file. Each time any AI similar to GPT-3 is shown the recipe, it will generate infinite variations.

I’m selling the video and stills, and the recipe as green NFTs (it uses the same amount of energy as a tweet) on Hic Et Nunc – the winning bidder will receive the video, and a text file containing the recipe, which they would be able to use on GPT3 or any other advanced AI to generate infinite responses similar to this one.

They are free to publish the recipe or keep it for themselves. If they sell the NFT, it will be up to them whether or not they share they share the original recipe.

I will included other variations below for sale as stills depending on the success of this.

Thank you for your time,

Iain S. Thomas

What I Want The Poem To Do

In the poem,
I want to talk about how blue the sky was
in the middle of the desert
and the forged documents on the seat next to me
that would get me to my mother’s death bed
though the pandemic road blocks
and how quiet the car was
after I got the call that she’d died
and how the audio book stopped
and how haunted every rest stop and petrol station was
alone the way
and how every burger place with a playground
was on the other side of hell
with red striped tape across every slide
and every empty ball pit
and I was the only one
asking for coffee
and and a pie through a mist of hand sanitzer.

In the poem, I want to talk about what albums I decided to ruin
on the 8 hour drive home, knowing that whatever I listened to
I would never be able to listen to, ever again,
and how I had to come at writing about this, from the side.

In the poem, I float up with her
between the desert
and the blue sky
and the white clouds
and I get to hug her goodbye.

Who Do You Call At The End Of The World?

Recently, I started thinking about who I would call if the world was ending and what I would say to them, and about what I would feel and what I would want to do. 

Who Do You Call At The End Of The World? is a short collection of poems, aphorisms and texts that only appear on phone covers (all major makes of phones are accommodated). You can read the collection by clicking here. 

The writing is inspired by the need to connect and to be intimate during this time of incredible disconnection and turbulence, on a political, sociological and even biological level.  

Today, I feel like we’re on the other side of something incredibly important. I hope you phone the people you love and tell them you love them. I hope you celebrate what you love in the streets (safely). 

I hope you always remember what an incredible thing it is, that we’re all still here. That’s why I wrote this.

I love you, 


pleasefindthis Art

Dear You, 

I’m really and truly excited to be able to (finally) tell you about something I’ve been working on in the background for months. Today is the launch day of Pleasefindthis Art (click here to go straight there) – A curated collection of fine-art prints containing lines from my poems, illustrations, patterns and more taken from my previous (and even some not-yet-released) volumes of best-selling prose and poetry. We looked around and wanted something in our home for my own family that reminded us of what was important and brought some light and colour to our spaces and so I started working towards making that real – almost everything you see on the site is up, framed and hanging in my own home. 

Why? Because we’re all spending so much time at home these days that these spaces have become so much more than what they were, and if you’re going to be spending a ridiculous amount of time at home, it should be a place that brings you peace and comfort. Our homes should be places that energise and inspire us to live a life filled with meaning, wonder and delight in small spaces and large. I firmly believe that when you’re consistently exposed to the right words, images and ideas, your life starts to change. This artwork is inspired by my desire to bring more meaning, awareness and expression into my own, and everyone else’s lives. I hope I can bring that to yours. 

Please take a look (We’ve taken 20% off for the launch) and as I always say, in so many different ways, I hope you find something here. And if you have suggestions or ideas, send me an email at art@iainsthomas.com – would you like to see that “Don’t Give Your Happy To Stupid” thing I wrote last week all together on an artwork? Something in a different colour? Would you like a personalised version of one of my poems? Let me know.

Oh, and if you’d like to win a free medium-sized print of your choice, find your favourite artwork on the site then share and tag me in it on facebookinstagram or twitter. Each time you share and tag on a different platform is another entry – I’ll announce the winner at the end of the week. I hope it’s you. 

Working on this has helped me focus on what’s important, thank you for always reading and your time and for giving me the opportunity to make what I make, it fulfils me and makes me whole in a way I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to really explain. 

My best, 

Iain S. Thomas 

Bad Dreams

Late at night I try to make peace with wherever my dead parents are and –

my father is driving his car forever through the Lake District and the day is crisp

and beautiful, no

my mother and him and all of us are parked in a car looking out over the sea

and we are eating hamburgers and drinking milkshakes, no

my father isn’t anywhere, he’s in every kind thing I do, every ounce of kindness he showed me

repeated into infinity, no

my mother’s in heaven, no

she’s feeding the birds in the garden in her pajamas forever, not caring

ever what anyone thinks, no

she’s in a wooden box, next to my father’s wooden box, where is the appropriate place

to keep your parent’s ashes? A cupboard is too dark, a shelf that you can see reminds you over and over, they’re dead, they’re dead, they’re dead, no

my mother and my father are waves reaching the shore, no

they’re all around us, that’s what I tell the kids, they’re always here as long as we remember them, no

they’re sleeping, no

we’re all in my father’s Triumph TR6 and he is well, and his legs work and nothing hurts, no

no, no, no,

no, no,


The Exquisite Tenderness of Trista Mateer’s When The Stars Wrote Back

The first time I met Trista she was late to her own reading, which is to say, we were both doing a reading at the same book shop, together at an Indigo in Toronto, and I began to read my poems extra slowly because even though I had never met this person, I believed that they deserved every good chance they could get to make it to their own reading, and she did make it, her and the friend who was driving her had gone to the wrong Indigo at the right time and, after discovering their mistake, had rushed across a foreign city and arrived only mildly disheveled and out of breath and reading poetry, even when you’re only mildly disheveled and out of breath, is a hard thing to do at the best of times – at the best of times you are not entirely sure that you’re actually any good at what you do and you’re concerned that perhaps you and everyone else at your reading has made a terrible mistake and maybe you should all just stop before this hot, embarrassing awkwardness goes on any longer. But Trista was great. Her words, in between breaths, were beautiful, and heartfelt and sincere and made people quiet in that wonderful way that people sometimes get at poetry readings.

And then she came and sat down next to me and my first words to her that weren’t over the internet were, “You’re late,” because I just wanted to make absolutely sure she knew. The point is, even under duress, and maybe especially under duress, Trista is a machine that takes the world and the relationships she has in it and spins it all into sentences that have tension and drama and forgiveness and anger and love, so much love, lost and found and every shade and tint in-between those two distant points. Examples of this litter her new work, When The Stars Wrote Back, a collection of nameless poems interspersed with handwriting and beautiful illustrations that capture the strangeness and unique tenderness of being human in a universe like this one, where we love and forget how to stop loving, as she writes,

Sometimes I like to think
you still fall asleep like I do,
reaching out for me
like I keep reaching out for you.


What if I love you forever?
What if it never goes away?
What if I forget my own name
and only remember yours?

Trista’s work, which you can see for yourself on her instagram account as well, wonders bravely, cinematically through a relationship she wants, and doesn’t want and forgets but can’t forget and it’s about her mother and her father and heroin and the power people from your past have over you and her body and it’s about not being young anymore or innocent or anything and that’s what poetry is supposed to do, it’s supposed to point at something we cannot point at, and talk about something we cannot talk about.

When The Stars Wrote Back is a beautiful book and I hope that, especially now, in this dark apocalyptic, endless fucking hellscape of a moment in the world we find ourselves in, that you treat yourself to it and if not, that you find something just as beautiful. But that, I imagine, would be a hard challenge indeed.

When The Stars Wrote Back is available wherever good books are sold and, amongst other places, Amazon, and I thoroughly recommend it.

How To Write Love Poems

Photo by Filipe Almeida on Unsplash

If you’d like to know how to write poetry about love, or have been planning to write a love poem for a while now, this is what I keep in mind when I’m writing.

Firstly, you start on your knees.

This is the important part. You start on your knees because you start from a place of vulnerability because that’s what love is, it is being vulnerable with someone, it’s saying,

“You mean so much to every single part of me that you could easily destroy me right now, and so I am putting myself at your mercy, I am telling you who I really am in a way that I cannot tell anyone else.”

How do you do this? You admit your flaws. Admit where you are weak. Admit where you are overwhelmed with emotion and explain,

This is what you do to me. You have destroyed who I was because you have made me who I am.”

Love changes us.

Talk about the change. Talk about what your life was like before now, and how they’ve changed every aspect of you.

Write to one person and one person only.

Talk about “You” and “Me” and “I” because when we talk to each other, that’s how we talk. You’re not addressing a crowd, you’re not writing a newsletter, you’re writing down why the fire of the universe has been ignited inside of you. That means you say, “You.” You are the only two people that matter in the eternal moment your poem exists in.

Create tension between the mundane and the metaphysical.

You can create tension in a poem by changing focus – talk about what happens when you touch their skin and what it feels like to touch the edge of forever. Talk about their smell and talk about how lucky you are to exist at the same time as them. This change from the intimate to the incredible creates tension and propels the poem forward. One of my most popular poems is one sentence long and it resonates, I believe, because of this tension between the casualness of the statement and vast metaphysical nature of someone’s soul.

And then my soul saw you and it kind of went, ‘Oh there you are, I’ve been looking for you.

-Iain S. Thomas

Tell the truth and stay.

It doesn’t have to be long, the shorter the better and the less room to make mistakes.

The thing we really want from our partner, is to be seen and to be understood.

When we write something to them that shows that we truly see them, it’s proof that we’ve actually sat down and reflected deeply on who they are, and who they are to us.

What is the truth of this person? What have they done? Do they make you want to be a better person? Tell them. Is it sometimes hard to love them in the chaos or having a family and work and all the other commitments that make up modern day life but you love them anyway? Tell them. Have you neglected them? Have you taken them for granted? Tell them. Tell them the things that they know are true, that will make them feel seen and truly understood in a way that no one else but you can.

Do they make you feel whole?

Tell them the things that only you can tell them.

The most powerful thing you can do for your partner, is to see them,

Most of the time, we fight not because we disagree but because we don’t feel understood.

This poem that you’re writing is chance to demonstrate that you do. Spend time on it and make it as beautiful as the person you’re in love with.

I’m currently running weekly online writing workshops on Sundays, you can click here to to find out more.