For Writers: Technology Poetry Prompts

Betsy Aoki wrote Breakpoint hoping that more poets would craft their own technology-related poems. Here are some prompts to get you creating your own!

Picture of  the poetry collection Breakpoint leaning against a tan marble coffee table base on a rust-colored wooden floor. Furniture in the background.  Breakpoint cover features a dark haired woman making a peace sign as white silicon circuitry flows around her face.
  • Explore the biography of a person important computer science, technology, video games and robotics.  A few to get you thinking:

Gerald/Jerry Lawson, Black pioneer of the video game console/cartridge

Alan Turing, gay mathematician influential in the development of algorithms and the Turing machine during World War II

Katherine Johnson, Black mathematician, known for acting as a human computer (checking the electronic calculating machine’s work) for NASA’s Friendship 7 Orbital mission for astronaut John Glenn

Kathleen Booth inventor of first assembly language; last whitepaper was on neural networks in the 1970s.

Banū Mūsā – 9th century Persian scholars who wrote the Book of Ingenious Devices (automata)

  • “Do I look like I code?”  was inspired by this Slate article by Philip Guo about how being an Asian male student at MIT gave him a lot more leeway as he pursued computer science than some of his fellow students. He found less people challenged his choice of profession, even when he was struggling or found himself not natively suited to the academics.   Write a poem about a protagonist who does not “look right” for the profession they are immersed in, and explore how the stereotypes around the job play out with the reality of the poetic protagonist you create.
  • Write a poem about a technology that is yet to be invented, but that you hope will resolve some personal demons. To get you going, try to write down 3-5 of the demons – perhaps that have shown their faces in the last two weeks – and think about how the future might battle, soothe or replace them.
  • Science fiction writers and science article writers have explored the idea that Artificial Intelligences, or AI, can eventually create art as moving as that art humans create. Research AI projects that explore text generation and visual experiments, then write a poem in response to the art the AI is creating.
  • Write a poem about what your machines – personal devices, household appliances, vehicles, medical aids, etc. say to each other at night when you are asleep.
  • Margaret Rhee wrote a whole collection around romance and robotics called Love, Robot – reviewed here . Her collection explores humanity and technology and the boundaries between. Write a poem about romantic love that makes use of a piece of technology to stand in as the central image. (Cars and phones may be too easy… find a device or machine that embodies more unusual functions). What techniques are you finding yourself using, to keep the piece emotionally resonant and relevant to the reader? How much does the human blend into the machine and the machine into the organic? 
  • Neil Aitken – a game programmer turned poet – likewise explored the history of computing and its modern impacts in Babbage’s Dream.  Some poems from the book are online including his programming language-related poems –

Is there a word you use every day at work, native to your profession or school experience,  that can become a springboard for other kinds of imagery?

Or, if you are more interested in exploring computer programming terms, skim through tutorials online to discover words that can springboard you into a new poem.

  • Computational linguistics is the study of human language but from a computer science point of view. Often synonym for natural language processing, this area of study includes the realm of machine translation and work done to get a device/computer to understand or at least accurately respond to human speech or text.  Write a poem about a machine translation gone wrong and then in a sequel/reply poem, tackle the same topic of the translation gone right. Who is satisfied more with the translation – the machine or the human speaker? Who is the listener in the conversation and how do you portray their listening?
  • One hot topic in the technology community is the idea of privacy – being able to control what people can know about you and your life from your digital activity trail, personal profiles on various web sites, ad viewing and purchases.  Write a poem that explores the machine’s understanding of you and your life compared to your own sense of things.
  • Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and NFTs are two technology products that promise something “real” for something purely digital (for the first, actual money, for the second, a unique piece of art).  As the line between digital and “meatspace” experiences or objects blurs, what happens to real world sensory experiences which are often the provenance of poetry? Write a poem about something that can only happen in the digital world but had ripple effects outward into your daily life.