A programming language that imagines poetry as purposeful and code as emotional.

Website. GitHub.

May 2022.
Academic; personal.
Los Angeles, California, USA; Hong Kong; Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Binary; website.
Electronic literature; poetic tech.

Coem (a portmanteau of “code” and “poem”) is a multi-coded (Mateas & Montfort, 2005) esoteric programming language, or “esolang” (Temkin, 2020), that seeks to explore ways that poetry can be made purposeful, and ways that code can be made emotional. With roots in codeworks and electronic literature (Cayley, 2002; Mez, 2001), aesthetic programming (Soon & Cox, 2020), and critical code studies (Marino, 2020), the language strives to bring into conversation the fields of programming, poetry, linguistics, and typography. In feminist opposition to general-purpose technology that privileges efficiency and clarity, the language is an experiment in personal computing that foregrounds ambiguity, emotion, metaphor, and typographical design.

The poetic programming language builds upon the aesthetic exemplified by similar works in:verse (Aneja, 2016) and Esopo (Hicks, 2016). However, a key differentiating characteristic of Coem is a minimal grammar that deliberately eschews mathematical operations. Rather than writing statements to execute instructions, the language affords the poet-programmer the space to write statements simply as a meditative exercise in truth and expression. The language challenges conceptions of the purpose and effect of language within the contrasting contexts of programming and poetry. In programming, language is a means to the end, serving explicitly as instruction to produce software. In poetry, language is the text, inherently bearing a wealth of information and emotion. In Coem, the aesthetics of poetry are transposed into the structures of code, where technological structure contributes to the aesthetic. Furthermore, through the interface of an online editor, the work is presented as an integrated text of source code, output logs, and error messages.

The language is a self-taught exercise in language and computation, beginning from the practical handbook Crafting Interpreters (Nystrom, 2021) and working towards exploring the possibilities of poetic programming. Through this work, I hope to invite conversation and collaboration on the topic and to offer my work as an example for similar opportunities for self-designed esolangs and codeworks.