by Robert Peake
Many comparisons have been made over time of software source code to poetry. The Perl Haiku Contest, for example, promotes writing very compact yet expressive poems using a very compact yet expressive programming language. There is even the phrase “code poet,” which means an exceptional programmer. However, little has been said of the ways in which poetry, written in a human language, might be similar to software source code, which is designed to be interpreted by machines. That is, no one talks about “poetry code.”
When I proposed the idea that poetry might be similar to source code on my website, I encountered a kind of knee-jerk indignation.iii This pleases me because it indicates a certain reverence for the mysterious and intangible qualities of poetry, a kind of sticking up for the art. However, I think this reverence is often extended to encompass the perceived subjectivity of poetry in a somewhat misguided way. That is, people tend to assume on instinct that poetry and code are so necessarily different that it is somehow an insult to poetry to compare it to software. I suggest that a good deal can be achieved by questioning this assumption and exploring the similarities further.
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"Poetry Code" is roughly 1425 words.
Working alongside Kaolin Fire (then Stockinger), Robert Peake used to teach programming languages to other undergraduates at UC Berkeley before earning his degree in English literature, emphasis poetry. These days he serves as the Chief Technology Officer for The David Allen Company, where he reads, writes, and thinks about many things in many languages. Robert is also currently studying poetry in the MFA in Writing program at Pacific University in Oregon. He lives in Ojai, California with his wife Valerie and cat Miranda.