What better way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month than learning how three MIT alumnae are merging technology and art?
At MIT there is a hunger for poetry, says Erica Funkhouser, poet and lecturer in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. “Poems are elegant equations, supple helixes, hydraulic masterpieces and heat-seeking missiles. They require the discipline to resist the right answer, the conventional destination and the comfort of certainty. If we get the words right, our poem will make something new. Isn’t that inventiveness entirely in keeping with an MIT education?”
And it is. This spirit has led these alumnae to curate their own hybrid identities as both artist and techie:
Larisa Berger ’12
Programming the Abstract
Larisa Berger has been told “you must write pretty poetic code” countless times, and she admits that she does in a variety of ways. Berger is as intrigued by the abstract and beautiful nature of poetry as she is by the structure of code. After studying computer science and writing at MIT, she is emerging as a coder, writer, and poet.
“How do we keep writing engaging in the age of the Internet?” This question has led her to create a thesis of 67 poems printed on cards, an ode to the original ways of computer programming, and an app that uses erasure poetry.
Berger’s passion for language is also personal. She cites her father’s experience with dementia and his experience of losing words as a catalyst for wanting to explore language. Here is an excerpt of her poem “For Mary” here:
“We reach for details as if this sifting
will make sense of a new reality.
This came before that:
Dad stopped breathing before
his heart stopped beating.
I’m not sure why it matters, but it does”
Tanya Liu finds inspiration for her poetry in scientific facts. In her piece “Medical Examiner’s Office / Miami Dade County / June 2005” (also in audio) Liu paints a picture of healthcare. Liu, currently a consultant in Boston, is also finding her own identity as a poet. “Even though I don’t have a background in poetry, I still feel at home in the poetry world,” she says.
Her interests bridge the two fields. “I like to write about science that I find artistically stimulating,” she says. Liu hopes to help people to better understand science.
Liu is the recipient of Lucille Clifton Scholarship for the Poetry Program at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and has been published in Spillway and The Broken Plate, along with scientific journals for her neuroscience research.
Katy Gero ’13
Katy Gero is drawn to both writing and engineering. At MIT she chose engineering as her main focus, but also took a poetry course.
“You can make connections between engineering and poetry. Engineering is about problem-solving and writing poetry is the same,” she says. Poetry is about making connections with the world around her, she says. Her work as an engineer, for the MIT Media Lab’s Soofa, which designs smart furniture for the outdoors, also connects her to nature, technology, and people.
Gero her poetry focuses on her experience of being a woman in a male-dominated field like engineering and on technology and memory. She has also created a visceral poetry experience using video and a reading software that allows readers to skim large amounts of text by focusing their eyes on one word at a time.
Experience this poem below: