Coding + Poetry

I do a little bit of coding here and there, and working with so much data and strings of algorithms, I realized how much it has helped me with my poetry writing.

Coding can show the beautiful technicality of poetry, its precision, its skeletal system.

I used to trade critiques with a friend of mine, who was in an MFA program at the time, and she helped me with structuring and logic:

“Move that stanza there”

“Delete that line”

“Re-word that line”

“Stay on topic”

Coding reinforced those lessons in editing and precision.

Here’s an example. It’s a poem from my chapbook Close Proximity:


She told her son
that his father’s eyes
were green, like the pond
where she tried to end her life
at age 20.

She told him what it was like
to accept another person, fully;
what wine sounds like
when it pours endlessly
in red plastic cups;
the stench of stale tobacco
on cheap motel bed sheets.

She told him about the
long winter nights alone,
trapped behind a Berlin Wall
of Detroit’s snow in a shithole
with broken pipes.

She told him about the stabbing
in the living room;
showed him the scars forever
etched on her skin;
described to him what
coagulated blood looked like
in the moonlight:
a placid lake of crude oil
waiting to burn future generations.

She’s thankful that her son’s eyes
are gray, like her grandmother’s;
the color of a cyclone
brewing off the shore,
evolving into beautiful forms.

She passes stories to him,
because the past is his to inherit—
a reminder encoded in his DNA
of mistakes corrected.

The poem is written in a casual language without bloated words, but I still had to edit it multiple times just to make it readable. I wrote that while writing code for some guy’s website. I had Sublime Text and MS Word opened side by side. It also helped that I had a full pot of coffee within reach. It was ridiculous.

If you think about it, whether it’s a mathematical formula or written verse, they’re all essentially symbols; we just add logic and apply rules to them so that they would make sense.

I was conducting an interview with a web developer earlier this morning. I asked him to tell me about himself, because I was genuinely interested in knowing what he was all about outside of tech. He listed his hobbies, organizations he joined at school, his goals, and then he said, “Oh and I write poetry. Sorry, that’s probably not relevant and maybe useless.”

He became shy and somewhat embarrassed, but I became more intrigued.

“I think that’s cool that you write poetry. You might not think it’s relevant to the job, but it actually is,” I told him.

He’s a very talented young man with so much potential, and I didn’t want him to ever think that his unique talents were useless. In fact, writing is a skill that can be applied in many ways beyond literature. I told him that poetry, in particular, can teach you:

  1. How to edit cluttered, loosely-connected materials.
  2. How to turn a concept into something solid and coherent.
  3. How to clearly communicate ideas.
  4. How to structure a logical flow of ideas.
  5. How to not take critiques personally.

These lessons can apply to a wide range of fields, such as engineering or business management. Even though poetry writing is not directly related to the job this young man was applying for, the skills and mental approach he developed  from writing will help him in a more technical field.

Personally, I’m a better programmer because of my writing background, and I give a good chunk of credit to the art of poetry.