Highlights from the First Ever Stanford Code Poetry Slam

I was lucky enough to be liv­ing in Chica­go when Marc Smith’s Poet­ry Slam move­ment became a thing. What fun it was to hit the Green Mill on Sun­day nights to hear such inno­va­tors as Lisa Bus­cani or Patri­cia Smith tear­ing into their lat­est entries in front of packed-to-capac­i­ty crowds. Those ear­ly slam poets inspired a lot of oth­er word­smiths to brave the mic, a glo­ri­ous rev­o­lu­tion whose gleam was inevitably tar­nished for me once it caught on for real.

I remem­ber think­ing some­thing like, “If I nev­er hear anoth­er poem about some­one’s rela­tion­ship trou­bles, it’ll be too soon.”

To fur­ther illus­trate my wan­ing enthu­si­asm, here’s the above thought, ren­dered in Stan­dard Spo­ken Word Venac­u­lar:


I nev­er heeeear  

Anoth­er Po

Em About Some­one’s 


Trou­bles, it’ll be



Some two-and-a-half decades fur­ther along, Leslie Wu, a doc­tor­al stu­dent in Com­put­er Sci­ence at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, has been crowned the win­ner of the inau­gur­al Code Poet­ry Slam, and I’m mourn­ing the loss of those long-ago rela­tion­ship trou­bles.

To cre­ate her win­ning entry, “Say 23,” Wu donned a Google Glass head­set, as she recit­ed and typed 16 lines of com­put­er code, which were pro­ject­ed onto a screen. When Wu ran the script, three dif­fer­ent com­put­er­ized voic­es took over per­for­mance duties, sam­pling the 23rd Psalm along with an uncred­it­ed snip­pet of In the Hall of the Moun­tain King.

I may be too hot-blood­ed to appre­ci­ate the artistry here.

Melis­sa Kagen, who orga­nized the com­pe­ti­tion with fel­low grad­u­ate stu­dent Kurt James Wern­er, stat­ed on the uni­ver­si­ty’s web­site that in order “to real­ly get into the intri­ca­cies you real­ly need to know that lan­guage.”

I guess that goes dou­ble for the com­peti­tors. Accord­ing to Wern­er, Wu’s poem wove togeth­er a num­ber of dif­fer­ent con­cepts, tools, and lan­guages, includ­ing Japan­ese, Eng­lish, and Ruby. Philis­tine that I am, I had always thought of the lat­ter as an uncap­i­tal­ized gem­stone and noth­ing more.

Not that I’m align­ing myself with those cur­mud­geons whose typ­i­cal reac­tion to a Rothko or a Jack­son Pol­lack is, “My two-year-old could do bet­ter.” For one thing, I’ve got teenagers, and giv­en their druthers, they’d eat their way through the con­tents of Wern­er Her­zog’s shoe clos­et before agree­ing to learn so much as a sin­gle line of code.

What a won­der­ful world in which so many of us are free to pur­sue our indi­vid­ual pas­sions to the point of poet­ry!

If you’re the type to whom code poet­ry speaks—nay, sings—you should con­sid­er putting some­thing togeth­er for the fast approach­ing sec­ond slam. Have a look at the work of the eight final­ists, if you’re in need of inspi­ra­tion. Entries are being accept­ed through Feb. 12.

Find 74 free cours­es from Stan­ford in our col­lec­tion: 825 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn to Code with Harvard’s Intro to Com­put­er Sci­ence Course And Oth­er Free Tech Class­es

Codecademy’s Free Cours­es Democ­ra­tize Com­put­er Pro­gram­ming

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky, an award-win­ning, hand­writ­ten zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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