Code Poetry

by and

Sampled from the various languages of computer programming and the WWW, ted warnell uses fragmented alphabets, numbers, and miscellaneous other characters to achieve his particular brand of code literature, and the poems he creates -- a selection of which he shares below -- read like contemporary remixes of Vorticism.1

Like the Vorticists' myriad forms of visual, literary, and typographical audacity -- what "Manifesto - II" in BLAST I refers to as "insidious and volcanic chaos"2 (38) -- warnell's code poems concern themselves with dynamism, the modern world, and the machine age. Instead of automobiles, factories, and the tools of symmetrical warfare, though, warnell's "(vor)texts" focus on twenty-first century mechanisms: CPUs and the internet (img. 16), contemporary "digitality,"3 and the other information-distributing systems in our midst. If the Vorticists tried to make art that looked like the aftermath of war and the product of industrial processes, warnell's texts represent the encrypted datastream all around us (imgs. 1, 2, 4, 6, 18, 20, 23) and offer kaleidoscopic glimpses into the nano world of information processing (imgs. 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 22).

Other poems (imgs. 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21) read like hybrids of these other two and thereby capture the moment of encryption and/or decryption, that is, the moment of becoming-digital-code or of becoming-semantic-language, respectively. Though the dots, dashes, ones, and zeroes of the former may seem "abstract" to human eyes, our native semantic languages operate around similar code systems that we use to manufacture meaning via signification and deciphering processes. These hybrid images, therefore, can be read as a dramatization of mechanisms common to all languages -- computer and human -- wherein abstract signs become communicative signifiers.

In the context of the internet -- the twenty-first century's "point of maximum energy" where "all experience rushes" as Ezra Pound describes the all-important vortex in BLAST I (153) -- some see the distinction between decoded semantic meaning and encoded "computer sign" as functionally irrelevant. Mark Amerika, for example, writes that the WWW turbine more or less demolishes the line dividing the two:

“ ... it wouldn't be entirely suspect to suggest that 'content' and 'source code' are one and the same thing, since as far as the Web goes, one cannot simply exist without the other."4

In his poems, warnell puts a certain amount of pressure on this fusion and tries to capture the moment when source code becomes content. Using JavaScript snippets and a machine-like writing style to illustrate his approach, warnell argues:

we need to draw a distinction between what i write and what you read because they are not necessarily the same thing -- these examples might help to illustrate:

what i write:
document.write( "static" );

what you read:

what i write:
var x;
var y = "dynamic";
for ( x = 0; x < y.length; x++ )
document.write( y.charAt( Math.floor( Math.random() * y.length ) ) );

what you read:
maddicn OR ynyadcm OR imdiyca ...

so there is what i write, and there is what what i write writes (what you read) -- two different texts: code, a text below ("neath text" as my friend jim andrews at has called it), and poetry, a text above -- they are related and yet separate texts -- separate, and inseparable(!)

warnell also has a rather revolutionary and liberating definition of writing:

i interpret "writer" (poet) as i do "artist": paraphrasing one pope gregory, 14C, i think -- "aim of art is to reveal mysteries of the supernatural world" -- artists reveal Creation -- a writer is an artist whose medium is language.

Like BLAST and The Tyro,5 and work from the relevant phases of Wyndham Lewis and Pound's careers, warnell is therefore free to emphasize the visual quality of language and uses chaos and entropy to illustrate the fragility of syntactical and representational meaning (especially in the frenetic modern world). Some of BLAST -- such as the tag cloud-like first page of issue one6 -- is downright prescient and contemporary in its use of written language. And like this and other examples of Vorticist writing, warnell's code poetry implicitly argues that not just the arrangement but the style, placement, and weight of graphemes and glyphs inescapably interacts with their semantic meaning.

In the case of "Jim's Text" (img. 9), for example, communicative signification grows out of disorder as if by accident, the implication being that order, rather than chaos, is accidental.

Vorticism exhibited a good deal of anxiety toward Impressionism, and warnell shares this connection even if he possesses none of the former movement's distress. Pound allowed that Futurism -- to which Vorticism owes its existence -- "is a sort of accelerated impressionism."7 Finding similar common ground between Impressionism and his neo-Vorticism, warnell is interested in the moment of becoming, in depicting "dynamic concepts & processes":

another artist who was keenly interested by processes dynamic is french impressionist painter, claude monet -- monsieur monet was interested to capture "fleeting" (dynamic) effects of light on the visible world

a recent work that pays homage to monet; "Afternoon with Monet"8 attempts to do virtually what monet tries to capture in his series paintings, especially the waterlilies canvasses -- my work is a dynamic, poetic representation of those "fleeting (dynamic) effects of light" that so intrigued monet.

on a technical note: 1) this work is dynamically generated each time it is viewed (whenever the html page is loaded/reloaded), so that the work is new and different for each viewing, and 2) the animation is dynamic, that is, non-linear, not sequenced per animated gif, film, video -- function of these dynamic "chance" processes in this work is to recreate (poetic) dynamic and chance events as they might have happened in monet's garden at giverny.

the advantage of this sort of code poetry is in the ability to construct and explore functional dynamics and chance events in a work, and not be limited to simply referencing them as an abstract.

Editor's Note

All quotes from ted warnell were collected by Q.M. via email.

  1. Tyrone Hopes' website (2 May 2010) is an excellent Vorticist resource.
  2. General information on BLAST can be found here: (2 May 2010), and the invaluable Modernist Journals Project has copies of BLAST 1 ( and BLAST 2 (, available for download (2 May 2010).
  3. Jean Baudrillard (Simulations. Semiotext(e), 1983) and Nicholas Negroponte (Being Digital. Vintage: 1996) approach this concept somewhat differently. Baudrillard concentrates on the term's abstract, binary quality, Negroponte on its material, social implications. Each concept, though, is fundamentally concerned with the condition of living in a continually networked, information-driven, indirectly communicating world.
  4. "Surf-Sample-Manipulate: The Pseudo-Autobiography of A Work-In-Progress" (Amerika Online, [2 May 2010]).
  5. An overview of The Tyro can be found here: (2 May 2010), and the Modernist Journals Project (see supra note 2) has both issues of The Tyro available for download here: (2 May 2010).
  6. See (2 May 2010). The entire "Manifesto I," in fact, reads like an extended tag cloud, no where more so than the name lists on pages 21 and 28.
  7. "Vorticism" (Fortnightly Review [1 September 1914]), 461. A version of the essay can be found in Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts (Ed. Harriet Zinnes. New Directions, 1980), 199 which is available via Google Books: (3 May 2010).
  8. See (3 May 2010).

Citation: warnell, ted and Quimby Melton. 8 December 2012. "Code Poetry." (accessed [PDT / -7:00]).

Updated: December 8, 2012 at 1:48 am (PDT / -7:00)

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