The Hermit Poet

February 25, 2005

Code Poet: Where Programming and Poetry Meet

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 8:55 am

I came across another code poet today by way of The Poetry Blog. David Humphrey has an excellent essay on what being a code poet means and why programming and poetry are connected for him. It echoes many of my own sentiments as a programmer-poet. I wrote him what was intended to be a brief note and ended up much longer.

Letter writing is always an exploratory experience for me. I start writing with the intent to say simply one or two things and I find in the end to have written pages. I wander and connect as I go. Like an erratic shuttle through a loom, I’m not quite certain what tapestry is woven until the last movement is through.

Here’s an excerpt from my letter:

I’ve always found that what drew me to both was my love of language — especially when it is tight, compact, and efficient in its execution. I love language that explores the use of forms, surprises the reader in some sense, or perhaps reinvents the way we view it. Code that borders on poetry does this. The poetry I find appealing does this as well.

The two fields never really seemed in opposition to me — but I did find as a programmer that programming code really taxed the same part of my brain that writing poetry does — and that sometimes meant I had little energy left to write poetry during the crunch periods. Eventually I found I had to choose which one to devote my time to — working in the games industry kept demanding more and more of my time. Do I regret my time in computer science and programming? Not at all, I think the discipline I learned was invaluable.

I recently encountered another code poet — Lola Haskins. She read just the other day at UC Riverside. Evidently she’s been a professor of computer science and information technology out in Florida for long time. Recently she quit her job to dedicate more time to writing. But in any case, she also agrees that the tie between the two fields is a deep love of language.

Have you read Daniel Tiffany’s “Toy Medium”? He addresses the idea of the “lyrical automaton” — that is that the poem is a machine that enacts the underlying experience or moment into existence. In a sense, he is suggesting that the poem, the program, and the magic spell are all means by which we attempt to call into existence (or into our experience) the ineffable.

In any case, it was a pleasure to read your essay and to reflect again on the relationship between poetry and programming. In a way, I think the two are having an illicit affair in the context of language — and everyone else is just pretending that it isn’t happening.

One Response to “Code Poet: Where Programming and Poetry Meet”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    I’m just beginning a search for poetry related to computers or programming. Google turns up a number of essays, but poetry doesn’t rise.

    Any hints?

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