Lab 1

coding poetry and poeticizing code

In this lab, we will get a bit of practice running python code. We won’t be doing any computation here - we will just explore the python environment and get a feel for how python programs might look.

To this end, we will be coding poetry and poeticizing code. That is, we will use code to write poetry, and we will make our code poetic. This will be a lab-by-example. I will give a demonstration of the process, and you follow your own creative inspirations in reproducing this process.

To start, let’s pick a poem. I will go with “Lyric 12” from Primus St. John (this featured in the Poetry in Motion series from MTA). Here is the poem:

I believe in myself slowly.

It takes all of the doubt I’ve got.

It takes my wonder.

Let’s code this up in python now. To start, we will try copy and pasting the text into a string.

print("I believe in myself slowly.
It takes all of the doubt I’ve got. 
It takes my wonder.
")

If you run this you get an error. What went wrong? Well, python doesn’t allow us to enter multiple lines of text like this. Instead

print("I believe in myself slowly.")
print("It takes all of the doubt I’ve got.")
print("It takes my wonder.")

Now we haven’t covered much python yet, but let’s make some simple use of variables. Since we are just printing three lines, we don’t need to do this. The program output will remain the same. But if we look at the code itself as a creative object, what layers can we add to this poem?

doubt = "I believe in myself slowly."
belief = "It takes all of the doubt I’ve got."
wonder = "It takes my wonder."
print(doubt)
print(belief)
print(wonder)

Here I overlaying my reading of the poem into the code. The poem remains unchanged, but the underlying representation has changed, adding a new layer complexity to the original text. Is this still the same poem? Is this the same artistic object? Can we consider code as part of the creative artifact? Let’s see another version of this

i_give = "It takes"
print("I believe in myself slowly.")
print(i_give + " all of the doubt I’ve got.")
print(i_give + " my wonder.")

Now I am concatenating variables together with strings - fancy stuff! Notice how I created that variable i_give? Even though English sentences start with capital letters, in python we tend reserve capital letters for special variables. (you can read more about python code style here: https://www.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0008/ - code style is a completely different aesthetic space than the poetics we are looking at here, but also very important!).

Now that you have seen an example, choose your own poem and try this process out yourself. How far can you push this? This process will help you get more familiar with the syntax of python and build confidence when writing code. Don’t be afraid of error messages - they are the soul of the language and will be your best friend in the learning process! (more on that later in the semester). If you enjoy this, there is a bunch of work exploring code itself as an artistic object, outside of (or mostly ourside of) its functional character. You can start by looking at https://whitney.org/exhibitions/codedoc.