explicitClick to confirm you are 18+

Pipes: Expression in Poem

BrettApr 3, 2019, 8:33:32 PM

Pipes (in code)

A pipe is a form of redirection that is used in Linux and other Unix-like operating systems to send the output of one program to another program for further processing. It is a temporary direct connection between two or more simple programs. This connection makes possible the performance of some highly specialized task that none of the constituent programs could perform by themselves. It allows them to operate simultaneously while data is transferred between them continuously. *

Pipes (in poem)

In poem, a pipe is an intentional disruption of metre. Thus, it redirects. It signals that a connection is to be made with the words preceding the pipe and the words succeeding the pipe. Each nexus (group of letters, words, lines or stanzas—the fore and the aft) should be understood as an independent entity with meaning. It is in the interpretation of the pipe (not the nexuses), where the generative meaning of the poem lies. This collaborative meaning is the specialized task performed that neither nexus was able to accomplish without its counterpart (or the pipe). Each nexus holds its individual meaning while creating a new and shared meaning with another nexus.

The words, although the first experience of the user, are secondary. The pipe reveals the primordial meaning. **

An Analogy

It is helpful to think of a poem containing a pipe(s) as a puzzle—a mystery. The designer establishes a conversation with the player through use of common written words. The pipe is the primitive solution to the puzzle. The maker wants the player to figure it out and does so by teaching them a new language—one that expands the imagination and allows them to see what previously was hidden. ***

Practical Mechanics

A pipe is designated by the vertical bar character (|). It should be read aloud as \ ˈpīp \. It is appropriate to pause both before and after pronouncing the pipe. Poems containing pipes should be read at least once top to bottom, and at least once bottom to top. By oscillating the order of the reading, the interpreter reinforces the ideas of simultaneousness and continuousness as the interpretation of the pipe begins.

An Example

I am a



The immediate, yet secondary, interpretation:

It is a poem about loneliness. The sparse aesthetic structure itself and the sheer scarcity of words suggest isolation—even depression. It has a certain present sadness.

To interpret the pipe:

First, the meaning of nexus one(Nx1):

It is a collection of words about personal identity…seemingly incomplete. What are you?

Second, the meaning of nexus two (Nx2):

It is a collection of letters meaning solitary or isolated

Oscillated reading:

The reader begins to hear and feel that the pipe is actually dividing a word—“alone”. The pipe (Pp1) is a division.

The intersection of nexuses defines the pipe:

A division between what should have been the object for the statement “I am a _____”. The writer’s identity is unclear and divided.

Primordial meaning:

It is a poem about obstructed identity. It is about the struggle between two conflicting projections of who the writer actually is.


The secondary interpretation still holds true. Depression via isolation is an outcome of the interior struggle, but it is not the primary meaning of the poem. This primary meaning is found through the collaboration of nexuses via the pipe.

A Response to a Common Critique

Couldn’t I deploy the same meaning to the reader without the pipe? I could use more words, stanzas, etc. to explain my position.

I answer: Yes—of course. By all means.

The purpose of the pipe is to intentionally not use the language of written words. The purpose of the pipe is initiate imaginative thought in which words can become unnecessary—even restrictive. In the above example, when we say, “The poem is about obstructed reality,” we fall short because the language of written words is by nature finite. To go back to the puzzle analogy, the maker desires to teach a new language—one without written words. The contemplative space that the puzzle is solved in becomes the place of discovering meaning. There is no need to write it down (indeed there may not be words) lest you find yourself in a discursive discussion as outlined above. Our current societal organization demands just such discussion—hence my writing of this essay. It is, however, interesting to think of a time when such academic discussion will be unnecessary. Written language (although an amazing innovation of which our gratitude to our predecessors is appropriate) may not be the end game. It may be a starting point.


*Content adapted from the Linux Information Project.

**The Philosophy of Organism developed by Alfred Whitehead and  Twistor Theory developed by Roger Penrose were responsible for the thought in this section.

***The writing of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij for the episodic film The OA helped me to develop this section.

Header photo credit: Denny Muller