Code Poetry Slam Shows The Hidden Beauty Of The Medium

A new student project gives a spoken life to the hidden code that drives many of our daily activities.

Coding languages may be spare and efficient, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have possibilities outside of their straightforward readings by computers. A group of students at Stanford University drew attention recently to the alternative uses of code – both by humans and by computers – at the first in what will probably be many Code Poetry Slams, organized by a graduate student in German Studies named Melissa Kagen.

The entries were written in a wide variety of languages and drew upon both computers and humans as the readers; some of the code pleased humans with its eloquent concision, while other types of code poems manipulated language in unexpected ways or used computers to produce more complex experiences. This particular group is most interested in code poetry that does both. “Poems that are readable to humans AND readable to computers perform a kind of cyborg double coding (in language, double coding means a sentence that is readable in multiple languages at once),” their website explains. The winning project, “say-23″ by Leslie Wu, featured her typing and reading 16 lines of code (with the help of Google glass) that read and sang psalm 23 from the Bible.

While it’s difficult for someone not well-versed in code to get at the nuances of what the written form is trying to convey, the live presentation in ‘Slam’ format, by showing both the code and what results from it, could potentially be a great educational tool. Code poetry had existed long before this event, but rarely has it taken on such an oral, performance-based format, instead confining itself to obscure online communities of people who are capable of running the code on their machines (or picturing it in their heads in a form of ‘emulation’). Sharing ‘thoughts’ is just another way to bring us closer to the computers we use every day and sophisticate our relationship.

Code Poetry Slam

Image, Source: Stanford Report/Mariana Lage

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