Hello, and welcome to the Bee’s Knees, the weekly special here at Comic Booked where I take a look at some of the different ways people combine words and pictures. This week we’re looking at coded poetry—writing that is readable both to a computer and to a person.

Ever since the advent of the modern word processor, digital writing has been increasingly common. Today, blogs, Twitter, and even awesome sites like this one have used digital writing to get the news out there. But there is a process that the writing must go through for it to format itself properly on the screen.

Whether or not you’re very familiar with codes such as Javascript or HTML, you’ve probably at some point turned on your computer and watched all of the odd abbreviations and symbols flick by, something like the HTML sample above. What if you could understand those symbols without special training? What if you could make them into their own form of art?

It is a challenge, but one that some poets and artists have undertaken gladly. Code poems are poems that are written as legitimate computer codes but also readable as poetry to people. The beautiful thing about them is that there are multiple ways to read them. You can read them in their original coded form or you can put them through a translation and see how they look without the coding. Here’s a sample code poem by Carrie from Sweet Nugget:

<html>
<body>
<!–One–><!–thing–>this<!–life–><!–has–><!–taught–><!–me–><br>
<!—->is <!–that–>the<!–perfect–><!–body–><!–is–><!–a myth–><br>
<!–and–><!–there–><!–is no–> secret<!–shortcut–><!–to–>:<!–happiness–><br>
<!–and–>nobody<!–knows–><!–ev–><!–er–><!–y–><!–thing–><br>
<!–or–><!–is–><!–always–><!–always–><!–always–><!–right–><br>
<!–or–><!–is–><!–better–><!–than–><!–any of–><!–us–><br>
<!–we–><!–all–><!–have–><!–moments–><!–of–><!–brilliance–><br>
<!–and–>fits<!–of–><!–R–><!–A–><!–G–><!-E–><br>
<!–and–><!–live–><!–B–><!–E–><!–A–><!–utifully–><br>
<!–in–><!–the–><!–world’s–><!–im–><!–perfect–><!–plane–><br>
</body>
</html>

Go ahead, read it. Surprisingly legible. And here it is put through a translator:

this
is the
secret:
nobody

 

fits

Pretty amazing, right? The poem itself changes when put through a translator, but remains meaningful and poetic. How about another example? Try this one from Solo called “Void”:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<body>

<h1>look</h1>

<p>deeper.</p>
<p>see</p>
<br>&empty;</br>
<p>&minus;
infinity
<br></br>
<br>pause</br></p>

<h2>then</h2>

<option>(“value = null”)</option>

alert(“stop looking”)

</body>
</html>

And the translation? Here it is:

look

deeper.
see


infinity

pause

then

(“value = null”)

alert(“stop looking”)

This poem was much more typical in its approach in that the words of the poem itself don’t change. Still, the effect is an interesting one.

The visual impact of code poems was one of the first things to catch my attention. At first glance, they look like samples of computer code, which they are. But when you start reading, everything changes. Each word has an individual punch to it. The feel of the poem changes, and the emphasis on each word is a lot stronger. Visually and poetically, code poems provide an unusual challenge to both poets and readers.

And that’s the bee’s knees for this week! Please join me next Friday for another way people blend words and pictures to create all-new forms of art. In the meantime, feel free to tell me in the comments section if there’s something you know of I should write about. What are your thoughts on code poetry? Is it a legitimate art form of its own? Please share! The possibilities are endless!