<h2>The Reasons Why Computer Code Cannot Be Poetry.</h2>
The Monochrome Intellectual, Part 1.
With my recent change to the WordPress platform in the last month, I have been involved in some work with computer code. I am fairly proficient at html and css – and can mangle php with the best of them. If there is one thing that is true, it is that computer code can mean one thing and one thing only. If you make one mistake, as I did earlier this evening, you wind up with
“unexpected } line 83″
Because computers don’t do imagination, let alone poetry. But then, geeks are not well known for imagination either. The problem is that they think that code can be poetry. I guess that I should forgive them in their innocence. I do not forgive their ignorance. Ignorance is something that people with brains should be aware of.
Oh, and you don’t like reading this? Then leave a comment! Okay, tell me just why I am wrong – only read to the end first. I know why I am right – and if you find this tough or challenging, you don’t. It isn’t hard to read, it is hard to understand – and I make no apologies for that. I have learned this the hard way, and you can learn it the easy way. Now, please read on …
So what is it about poetry that makes it so different from code? Because in our day and age, such things are no longer well understood. Now there is good code and bad code – that is true of poetry too. Only poetry doesn’t have to “work”, poetry just “is”. No more than that, for it has no material purpose. The only reason we have code is because it has a purpose. Code can be simple, effective and it can be elegant. That does not mean it is poetry.
Why Is Poetry Different? What Marks It Out?
The essence of poetry is communication. Sure, a computer can do that too – only the computer is the agent, not the message. The message the poet has in mind is not always tangible. He might speak of his love, his fear or other emotions – and emotions are notorious for not being measurable. Quantifiable. You cannot nail them. The best you can do to catching their ever receding nature is to encircle them in words. To say the word “love” is to allow anybody to imagine what is meant by the word. A poet goes further. A poet does not write love, they speak of it. They speak of its effects on their heart, on those around them and the one they love. It is the powerful corollary to the marketer’s need to appear honest. For every charlatan has abused this from the time of Odysseus. The marketer must show their honesty for speaking of it does nothing but confirm the thoughts of the reader.
And so it is with love. The jaundiced reader thinks “Oh, here we go again” and leaves the page. When they read not love but of its manifestation:
She never told her love, But let concealment, like a worm i’th’ bud,
Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
(Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 4: Duke Orsino’s Palace)
That is when the rejections of the intellect are short-circuited. The defence system so carefully laid has been breached – not by force but by thoughtful insight. The poet has a very real power, and that is to describe those things that are indescribable. The things you will never find in a dictionary – for they are too subtle for a word to contain.
Why Cannot Then Be Code Poetry?
Well, I am a copywriter. Writing copy is not writing poetry. What is more to the point, writing code is not poetry. The impatient geek stamps their feet and cries “well tell, then!”.
So I shall.
In fact I gave you the clue earlier. Because poetry has no aim. Copywriting has an aim, a purpose and a function. It is to get the reader to make some action, to impel the reader to do something. Like code, there is a right and a wrong. Copywriting like code has an aim. If that aim is not fulfilled, it has failed. Poetry has for this very reason no aim. Poetry cannot therefore fail.
Only the reader can fail the poetry.
The reader might not understand what the poet speaks of, has taken such pains to commit to paper.
Oh, says the geek! “You do not understand what I say in my code either. So foo to you!”
And there, my geek you are wrong. For you can learn code, it has a function and an end. If you do not understand it, it all goes horribly wrong. As it does for me on occasions – and that is amply demonstrated above. Indeed few expert programmers get things right the first time; it is as much trial and error as it is for the rest of us. The point is that the poet has put out their hand in a gesture of friendliness. The fearful geek hides theirs behind their back lest their secrets be uncovered. The point is that the poet seeks to engage the reader. The technician seeks only the result. The point is that there is no result for the poet: the result is for the reader. Like the paintings of Tom Thomson, they only come alive when you engage your own imagination. They are deliberately unfinished that you may employ your inner strength and finish them for him. If you can do that for him, you win. Not because he loses in this, but because he intended you to win. His sole aim and purpose was to let you see what he saw with the vividness that he saw things.
When you write poetry you can’t get it wrong. It can be bad, it can be execrable. It cannot be wrong. You can say the wrong thing in the right words, the right thing in the wrong words. You cannot yet be wrong. For poetry is an expression. It is communication. For they are one and the same thing. Communication may lack expression, that is only to say that the person lacks the power to express their inner feelings.
So how is it that the reader can fail the poet? Well for one, by not reading it at all. Secondly, in not being able to commune in the feelings that the poet expresses with such care. Because this is the essence. If you cannot commune, you do not communicate. Communication is at the feeling level. Better put, it is most effective at the level of feeling. Writers, copywriters included, call it empathy.
Code has no empathy. Poetry is little else.
A computer is not set up with communication in mind. A computer is only the means by which humans communicate. Which is something else altogether.
Why Does A Geek *Think* They Can Write Poetry?
For one thing, writing poetry is inexact. Coding is exacting by its nature. It is that very exactness that has a very real impact on the way technicians think. I wrote about how Louis Armstrong couldn’t fathom the needs of the Americans in the northern states. Louis simply could not imagine that music could ever be the same twice. In our world of MP3s it is hard for us to imagine music as anything else.
It is even harder for the technician who lives in a world that is regulated so strictly to imagine anything that is not strict. Computer code is of necessity, strict. It has to work, in order to work it must fulfill the needs of the computer – and these needs are painfully exacting. Place one zero instead of a 1 and the whole lot goes out the window. What’s more, tracking down that fault is astonishingly hard. Indeed, those technicians who can do this well are not common. For it takes insight and understanding – an overview, shall we say? To be able to diagnose a problem of this kind.
Dealing With A Mess That Has No Structure: The Business Turnaround.
Imagine having to step into a business that is failing. And in amongst the piles of data, the outrageous mess that is the result of confused thinking. That is to say that it has all the hallmarks of the modern business. And then try to turn it around. Most people would fuss around at the edges, tinker with the code, so to speak. My skills take me to the core of the business. Zeroing in on the things that it does, and doesn’t do. With those few sketchy details, I can construct an action plan that is as elegant as it is simple. What’s more, it’s unique. It has to be. Like all those in the top rank, I can diagnose the problem, give you some answers and tell you if I can even help you. All in the space of half an hour. On the phone.
Armed with that knowledge you can decide if I am worth getting in touch with. [Disclaimer, you can’t now: I’ve retired. Tough.]
The Monochrome Intellectual. Links To Other Parts In This Series.
Part 1 <h1>Code Is Poetry.</h1>
Part 2 Vincent Van Gogh: Enclosing Reality On Canvas (only published on my private blog)
Part 3 Kazimir Malevich: Supremus 1915-16.
Part 4 Decision Making Without A Net. (Only published on my private blog)
Part 5 It’s Cold Out There! Blue as a Phenomenon. (Only published on my private blog)
Part 6 Reverse Engineering The Guru.
Part 7 Leeks For Dinner!
Note that my private blog is for close friends, and there is no charge for its use.