Poetry: Your Next Superpower
Thought Exercise — quick! You’re a producer at Marvel Entertainment Studios, and you’re creating the plot for the newest superhero film.
Since you’re creating this hero from scratch: what would you call them? What superpowers would they have?
Answer — well unfortunately, I can’t promise that writing poetry will win you an Academy Award on this film. However, in this post I will share two specific types of poems — the nature poem and the concrete poem — which can make your words more impactful, thoughtful, and memorable in a wide range of situations.
Nature Poems: Where Snow Meets Emojis
Poets have been writing about nature for a long time, from Petrarch to Henry David Thoreau to Robert Frost, and everywhere in between.
Nature poems don’t have to just be long, boring expositions about the beauty of butterflies though; for example consider this winter-themed poem I created with Anthony Protho, Jeremiah Leary, and George Aoyagi for an English assignment:
Can you tell what it means? Take a moment.
For this poem, we admittedly decided to break the rules a little — we didn’t use any words at all!
We started from the assumption that the snow symbolizes hardship (both Jeremiah and I had personally been impacted by the record-breaking snowfall this week across the United States). We bounced ideas off each other, until Anthony came in and added the idea of climbing a snow-capped peak — the journey to overcome struggle, to overcome the cold you’re thrown into.
The ideas kept flowing — I could just be sentimental, but each detail of the poem above has a story behind it. For example, while we worked on the poem Jeremiah shared an anecdote with us about how he used to go skiing, and the irony he felt in being willing to spend hours trekking up a mountain, only for a few rushed minutes of adventure going down on the other side. You can see this reflected in the slopes on the mountain above — we made it so the left side was longer, and the right side was steeper; all in an effort to stay true to the reality that we must sometimes sacrifice time and energy for the rewards we can really enjoy (even if they’re somewhat fleeting).
While this is a nontraditional poem by many standards, I hope it conveys something to you: humans can communicate with alot more than just words. We have shared experiences in nature, in the adventures we’ve taken… even in our favorite emojis.
If you believe there are some experiences that are just too difficult to share with only words, then concrete poems might just be the medium for you.
In a nutshell, a concrete poem (aka a shape poem) is any kind of poem that uses the way the words appear themselves on the page to convey additional meaning.
Interesting enough, this isn’t as strange as it might sound! Consider this word cloud below:
Do you get the picture?
Even though I don’t understand why all the words in the cloud were placed there, there’s just something about this poem that makes me willing to bet my CS degree that the author is a fan of Disney…
Concrete Poetry and Computer Science
Having spent the last year working on teams of developers as a software engineer, and having to educate myself more on diversity and inclusion in tech, here’s something I’ve come to believe very deeply:
The words we speak mean a lot more than just what’s in the dictionary.
Just as a misplaced joke, or a well-intentioned compliment can be taken offensively, others can interpret our poetry in a variety of ways, based on their own experiences.
Here’s a concrete poem that I created to try and capture the experience of studying deep learning (specifically, the summation of weights and biases in neural networks):
This poem allowed me to reminisce on the mnemonics I would rely on (and to be honest, still use today) to reinforce the algorithm: “inputs by the weights, add a bias, activate.” It rhymed back then, and I intended to decorate it with the actual algebraic symbols so I could remind myself why I got into this field, and where it’s supposed to be headed (as you can see my the robot emoji 🤖 on the left hand side of the equals sign).
That’s a Wrap!
There you have it — nature poems and concrete poems are just two additional tools we can use to make our communication feel more like a shared experience. If you found this post interesting, then I encourage you to try out writing some poems of your own as well!