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Hacking to Haiku, Software to Sonnet

Anyone who reads Comma ‘n Sentence on a regular basis knows that I love to read and write poetry (see “Two Twitter Trending Topic Poems“, “10 Haikus Dedicated to Twitter Spam“, and “An Ode to Facebook Creepers“).

In a recent post for Smashing Magazine, blogger Matt Ward described the ways that poetry is like programming code (the WordPress tagline is “Code Is Poetry”). Both poetry and code have purpose, meaning, and structure, and they work efficiently. Ward writes:

This code-is-poetry metaphor comes at least partly from a perception of poetry as the master’s craft. Whether you love or hate it (and I know a lot of people hate it), there has always been a general sense that poetry sits at the apex of the written word, as though poets sit in an ivory tower, composing lines with a golden pen.

Code has purpose and meaning. It requires structure. It should be lightweight and elegant, not bogged down with lines and lines of garbage. Writing great code isn’t something that just happens. It takes discipline and work! It’s an art unto itself.

I’m by no means a programmer (I can do trial and error with basic CSS), but I do believe that the writing process and the programming process are very similar. Poets and programmers do have a lot in common; they need to communicate a message, they assess the audience, they interpret the audience’s needs, they gather the available tools (words vs. code), and they use the tools in a way that best communicates the message to the audience.

One thing I wanted to add to all of Ward’s excellent points is the way that both good poetry and good code do their jobs without revealing their structure. A poem is good because it overwhelms the reader with imagery and conveys a powerful emotional message. Even though a lot of poets use structural conventions (haikus, sonnets, villanelles), the reader should not be thinking about stressed syllables and rhyme.

With good code, the user will be able to appreciate the software/website/application without thinking too hard about how it works. Most users don’t care how programming works, but they do want to be able to use something without too much trouble. Effective programming will produce an attractive interface and be easy to navigate. The actual code will be an underlying mystery to the user.

I used to think that programming was more a science than an art, but a few of my programmer friends and colleagues have convinced me otherwise. Many admit to enduring hours of trial and error to solve a problem. Few programming problems can be solved with a one-size-fits-all formula. Programmers, like poets, must use a lot of creativity to overcome the limitations of their chosen medium in order to execute an overarching vision.

(Photo by xJasonRogersx)