April 12, 2016

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013: Code Is Poetry

Code: a poetry frontier. These are the voyages of teen poet Gloson Teh. His mission: to explore strange new comparisons between poetry and computer code, to see out new forms and new ways of writing, to boldly go where no young poet has gone before.
Gloson Teh is a 15-year-old poet. He has been writing poetry since he was 9 and blogging since he was 10. You can find his poems and books at (He has blogged tech at, which is on e a break.) He also does school poetry visits to flabbergast kids with his poems.
Welcome Gloson Teh to Author Amok!
7 Things Poetry and Code Have in Common
In early March, I spent hours coding my poetry website, because I realized that my previous theme was buggy, and that the design wasn’t as user-friendly as I thought. So, I did a makeover. Now the site feels so much better!
While coding and trying out different WordPress plugins, I ended many times on, but it wasn’t until later that I saw this in the footer:
I stopped there for a while. thinks code is poetry? How long has THAT been there? I hadn’t noticed it before.
Hey, you would pause too if you were using WordPress to code a poetry site!
So I was prompted to think…what do poetry and code have in common?—and thought of 7 things.

1. They paint pictures

Poetry is a frequent user of vivid imagery. If you don’t know what vivid imagery is, it’s when you look at some words that make you can’t help thinking of pictures that seem very real and vivid.
So, just like poetry tells your mind what to display, code tells the browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc) what to display.

A poem

As I stared into the sky,
I saw a cloud,
a cloud sort of grey,
yet edges shone gold,
and a twist at the end,
with a hint of mist.
Cloud, sunset.

A piece of code

font: bold 70px Garamond, Tahoma;
color: #C4C4C4;
padding: 25px 63px;
background-color: #1449B9;
margin: 0px;
border-radius: 25px;
border: 4px outset #FFF367;
text-shadow: #D5D5D5 0px 0px 0px, #E0E0E0 -1px -1px 0px,
#F0DC90 -2px -2px 0px,
#FFEA49 -3px -3px 0px,
#FFEB4A -4px -4px 0px,
#FFF296 -5px -5px 0px,
white 0px -6px 60px,
rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.6) -7px -7px 6px,
rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.498039) -7px -7px 1px,
rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2) 0px 0px 6px;
display: inline-block;

What it paints:

What it paints: 

Okay, okay. Bad attempt at “painting” using CSS code. I’ll do better next time. :P
As you can see, both of them paint pictures—one for the mind, and one for the web browser—just like a paintbrush! Either way, each product they paint can be painted well, or painted lousily.

2. Line breaks make them beautiful

It’s a striking resemblance.
Code and poetry use line breaks all the time. See the examples below:
Free verse poem (source):
Thrill Ride.
Up. Up.
Click, click.
Wind blows
sharp in my ears.
My heart jumps. Skips.
It’s up. It’s up higher.
It’s up, up the highest.
Hands grasp at the clouds.
Then a forever pause. Still. Waiting.
Finally. Whoosh!
Steep drop
function ptw_the_content($content) {
global $post, $ptw_post_id;
if (is_single() || is_page()) {
$ptw_post_id = $post->ID;
return $content;
In poetry, this principle applies more powerfully to free-verse poems than to poems with fixed rhyme & meter. Why? Because line breaks control the flow.
In the case of code, if you give a coder a huge block of code without ANY line breaks
…he would faint on-the-spot! :P
Poetry, without line breaks, although readable, loses its form and art.
Code, without line breaks, although functional, loses its ease & becomes a scary block. (Mwahaha)

3. The process of writing them is similar

sculptorAccording to Kenn Nesbitt, from whom I’ve learned a lot during my early poet days, a poet is like a sculptor:
“If you watch a sculptor carve a statue from a block of stone or wood, you will see that they first carve out the rough form. Next, they come back and carve the detail. Finally, they come back and polish it.”
I read this when I was 9, and I can still remember it because it’s an awesome analogy.
And I thought, THAT’s another thing poetry and code have in common—both are like sculpting!


Writing Poems


1. Carve the rough form.1. Get ideas from brainstorming or being inspired.1. Create the rough template from your idea.
2. Carve the detail.2. Write down the poem.2. Code the code!
3. Polish it.3. Proofread, revise, and improve.3. Improve, add new features, and fix bugs.
On a side note, did you know that Dr. Seuss liked to “polish” poems a lot? I heard he proofread and revised them (usually for a year) until they were perfect before publishing them.

4. They take skill to write

I believe that if you’re passionate about something, you’ll become skillful at it really fast. Code and poetry take skill to write.
In poetry, you select the right words to convey the right feelings. You use an appropriate rhyme scheme and meter for the purpose of impacting the reader. You avoid using adverbs unnecessarily.
(‘Unnecessarily’ is an adverb. Oops!)
In code, it gets more technical: You want to select the right type of code (e.g. PHP, CSS) to fulfill the right purpose. Like unnecessary adverbs, you make sure there are NO UNECESSARY bits. If you use extraspaces, apostrophes, or quotation marks, code’s gonna get ugly buggly.

5. They might seem terrifying at first, but once you learn them, you may like them a lot

Ask any average person if they like poetry, and they’d probably be like, “Poetry! Aaahh [flees].” At least that’s the case with my previous school. Some of my schoolmates were terrified by poetry because it was too hard to decode.
O LEVELS 7A STILLSo a teacher who knew I did poetry asked me to share the fun of poetry with her class.
So I did (photo on the right).
I introduced poetry as a fun art. I even shared with them a poetic recitation of the pop song “Sexy And I Know It” to show them that poetry is more than “boring” Shakespeare poems.
Similarly, most people are terrified by coding, because they don’t understand it, because they are not taught to (sadly). Once you learn code or poetry, you might have just discovered a new passion!
I learned coding when I was 10 years old because I felt that the font size on my tech blog (that I started as a hobby) was too small. I adventured into the WordPress theme editor and landed on the CSS code. Because CSS was easy to understand, I discovered that altering “body {font-size: 10px}” to “14px” makes the text bigger. Yay! I did a little victory dance in my head.
I began to understand code because I broke out of my comfort zone (user-friendly settings) to edit CSS codes.
That’s how I started coding. Now, I am familiar with the “genre” of HTML and CSS, but I have not yet learned PHP. So instead of writing PHP, I carefully copy-paste it. If I wasn’t careful, KABOOM!!—That’sPHP.
*sigh* I wish my school taught PHP, which leads me to my next point…

6. They need to be taught in schools

Poetry and code are both vital subjects in today’s world.
Poetry is a art of the words that creates inspiration, joy, and fun!
Code is also an art of sculpting tech functions to make life easier.
Schools need to teach both of these to empower students to excel:
Check out this video by, titled “What most schools don’t teach”, which encourages schools to teach Code as a subject.

Poetry and code equip people to CREATE!
…which, again, leads me to my next point. :D

7. They allow you to CREATE amazing stuff!

Poetry lets you to create the most wonderful of stories. Take a look at Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Their stories are so amazing they make you think about how amazing they are! Hahah.
Also, one of the reasons poetry is so amazing and creative (in my opinion) is because it can rhyme. Rhyming is pleasing to the ears, and so is meter. Creating a poem that utilizes rhyme and meter in the best way takes skill and art.
The word choice is also important, to make the readers feel the feeling they are intended to feel!
gates_webCoding, well, it allows you to create the most wonderful of technology! Take a look at Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They are responsible for the fact that I can write this blog post and you can read it (unless you’re using a Mac!), and consecutively share it with my friends with several clicks.
As the Dropbox creator, Drew Houston, said in the video above,
To be able to actually come up with an idea and then see it in your hands and then be able to press a button and have it be in millions of people hands, I mean, I think we’re the first generation in the world that’s really ever had that kind of experience. It’s, it’s the closest thing we have to a super power.
In the video, Mark Zuckerberg also added:
Just to think that you can start something in your college dorm room and you can have a set of people who haven’t built a big company before come together and build something that a billion people use as part of their daily lives… It’s crazy to think about, right? It’s really, it’s humbling and it’s amazing.
As you can see from what these two coders said, coding can have phenomenal results. So does poetry.

Try out coding for yourself!

I hope this blog post has inspired some poets to try coding. If you have a website and access to the theme CSS code (most sites/blogs have it), you can start by editing the body font size! The code would look like this:
body {
font:13px tahoma,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;
Change “13px” to whatever size you’re comfortable with. And if it works, do a little victory dance!
(The code above is sort of poetic too, don’t you agree?)


So, the conclusion is, code is a sort of poetry, and poetry is a sort of code. I think so, do you?
I don’t know, but come to think of it, code is applied poetry. Just like technology is applied science, code is applied poetry.
Boy, maybe code is poetry in action! Poetry that does action! Maybe!
To find out more about coding, you can visit w3schools or
Did I miss any of the things poetry and code have in common? Do you agree or disagree with this blog post? Write your comment below. Thanks for reading!
I met Gloson Teh through the Poetry Friday blogging community and Ed DeCaria's March Madness Poetry Competition. His passion for poetry and nimble mind continue to impress me. Thanks, Gloson, for stopping by and sharing your insights into poetry and code!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is so clever...and true, especially the decoding aspect of poetry. For so many, it feels like it's off limits, but it doesn't need to be.

Happy Poetry Month!

skanny17 said...

So much to consider here! Wow very happy to learn more about Gloson and his ideas and work. I have to read this again. Wonderful metaphor and explanation of codes and sculptors and poetry. Thank you Laura and Gloson.
Janet F.

Ed DeCaria said...

Nicely done, Gloson. As expected, this ended up being very different than my draft "Poetry is Code" (inverse of WordPress tagline) post, as you will see whenever I get around to finishing it! Thanks for sharing your POV with everyone, and thank you Laura for what should be a very interesting month on your site!


Linda B said...

Hi Gloson! I think I do know a little about code, but didn't know I did. I do change the font, etc. on my blog! What a terrific post of analogies from poetry to code making. I have a former student who is about to graduate from h.s. who writes apps for Apple & wrote much poetry in my class. I think he will love your post-will share it! I guess throughout you were really talking about what code & poetry do artistically, & I would add one more, they communicate stories, whether code or poetry, both tell about something! I love "just like poetry tells your mind what to display, code tells the browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc) what to display" too. Thanks for all!

Cody Allen Jack said...

Hey im a small town teenager with a passion for writing. Im not trying to be a charity case but if you could check out my blog of poetry, the views would really mean a lot. I just want to get my name out there, i love writing and i want to make something of myself with it. Please stop by, read a few, judge harshly, share if youod like, anything to make my dream a reality. Thank you!

laurasalas said...

Love this--especially about the line breaks. Great metaphors throughout. I'm no code monkey, but I can see the similarities now--and I love Gloson's conversational writing style!

Gloson Teh said...

Hi guys, thank you for the comments! They're much appreciated.

Ed, thank you. I'm looking forward to reading about YOUR post on "Poetry is Code".

Linda, yes, that's a good point to add: they communicate stories!

Hi Cody, I've tweeted you. Haven't received a tweet back yet. Good poems you have there. I like the line, "To ingite a fire, all we need is a spark."

Hi Laura, thank you! I try my best not to bore people with what might be two terrifying-at-first subjects. :P

Greg Pincus said...

I'd also add that word choice matters in both forms. I mean really... misname a variable or reference the wrong one and you can change the entire program; perfect words change the effect of a poem, too.

Maybe this ties into the idea that some code is "elegant" whereas other code is more like long-winded prose?

I like the comparison, though, as one who has done coding and poetry writing in his day.