Code and Poetry

Since 2013, Stanford has put on a code poetry slam where contestants create artistic pieces  mediated through computer code.  These forms of digital literature are interesting because they adhere to computer language syntax while often creating a text that can also be read as a poem. Because the code is legible by both the computer and the programmer, the code can perform computational tasks and simultaneously have literary meaning.  The code poetry can take multiple forms.  Some codes follow a strict poetic structure and can be read like a haiku, other code can be perceived as free-verse, or produce digital media once the code is executed.

Ian Holmes created the following code at Stanford’s first code poetry slam.  The code follows Java syntax and can be “read” by the computer.  While it doesn’t perform much within the computer, it could have more meaning when recited as a haiku.

Written by Ian Holmes, ThatGirl is an example of code that can be directly recited as a poem.
Written by Ian Holmes, ThatGirl is an example of code that can be directly recited as a poem.

The video below is an example of code recited as a song. The author creates legitimate code and uses several variables and commands to form song lyrics that comes together to have some coherency.

The song lyrics and code complement each other.  The lyrics describe trying to erase feelings and memories of love while suggesting a struggle to do so.  From my interpretation, the SQL code instructs the computer to try to delete data called “moment of love” from a database called “my_memory.” An exception will print an error statement that explicitly tells the user “Can’t delete my memories of you.” While the lyrics don’t necessarily flow, the computer process follows a logical sequence that tells gives meaning to the song. These relationships between the computer language and the interpreted text demonstrate some of the interesting literary potential of code poetry.

The structure of the code also has an influence on the recitation of the song. Each line of code is read as a separate stanza and changes the flow of the song.  Similar to early computer poems such as “A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” the structure of the poem adds to the literary experience of the piece. Spatially separating ideas and words can add to the story-telling of the poem.  For example in My good memories with s, separate lines for the words try, except and while true add slight pauses to the recitation, slightly emphasizing the words.  These words are essential to the storyline and contribute to the sense of struggle and time passing. This emphasis somewhat enhances the story-telling ability of the piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *