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Computer code gets literary with code poetry slam

Stanford has hosted its first high-tech poetry competition, exploring how computer code can be read and deployed as a poetic language.

Ian Holmes, a Stanford undergraduate studying computer science and materials and science engineering, explored Java in a Haiku format.
Stanford University

When one thinks of poetry, perhaps Neruda or Eliot or Shane Koyczan come to mind. One doesn't usually think of Boolean strings or close tags, but Stanford University is looking to change that. It recently hosted its first annual Code Poetry Slam, a competition to turn computer code into poetry.

Leslie Wu, a doctoral student in computer science and one of eight finalists, won with her poem "Say 23." Wearing Google Glass, she wrote her code -- projected onto a screen -- while speaking each word out loud. When she was finished, she ran the script she had written, prompting the program to read out a selection of words from Psalm 23 three times, each time in a different voice.

The Code Poetry Slam was developed by German studies graduate student Melissa Kagen and Kurt James Werner, a graduate student studying computer-based music theories and acoustics, as a means of exploring the creative potential of coding.

"Code poetry has been around awhile, at least in programming circles, but the conjunction of oral presentation and performance sounded really interesting to us," Werner said.

Kagen described code poetry like this:

A lot of different things depending on whom you ask. It can be a piece of text that can be read as code and run as program, but also read as poetry. It can mean a human language poetry that has mathematical elements and codes in it, or even code that aims for elegant expression within severe constraints, like a haiku or a sonnet, or code that generates automatic poetry. Poems that are readable to humans and readable to computers perform a kind of cyborg double coding.

Wu's poem, she said, was particularly elegant, incorporating Ruby, Japanese, and English, accomplishing a lot for relatively little code.

Academic technology specialist for the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages Michael Widner, who advised Kagen and Werner on the judging process, said, "When we realise that coding is a creative act, we not only value that part of the coder's labour, but we also realize that the technologies in which we swim have assumptions and ideologies behind them that, perhaps, we should challenge."

Code Poetry Slam is now accepting submissions for its second competition, due by February 12.

(Source: Crave Australia)