Book review. Digital Poetics: The making of E-poetries

Digital poetics: The Making of E-Poetries
Loss Pequeño Glazier
U of Alabama Press, 2002

If twentieth-century art managed to carve new possibilities for painting, sculpture, and music, it was through dropping the ideological baggage of narrative. Writing may be the last theater of this confrontation, says Loss Pequeño Glazier in Digital Poetics: the making of e-poetries.

The digital medium is a real and present form of writing, one that has changed the idea of writing itself, he says. The web is now part of a transformed social fabric and writing will never be the same again.

Glazier founded and directs the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) at SUNY Buffalo. He brings enormous erudition and great passion to this subject to challenge whatever notions we may have of “poetry” and whatever notions we may have of communication technology.

Link-node hypertext only constitutes a small part of the range of possibilities before us, he says, which also include visual/kinetic text and works in programmable media.

He cautions that one cannot assume that because a work is in digital format it is by definition digitally innovative.

Digital poetry, or e-poetry, includes a number of specific qualities. These include:

* works that cannot be adequately delivered via traditional paper publishing or cannot be displayed on paper.

* texts with certain structural or operative forms not reproducible in paper or in any other non-digital medium (works employing hyperlinks, kinetic elements, multi-layered features, programmable elements, and events).

* digital media works that have some relation to twentieth-century innovative practices.

Digital poetries are not print poetry merely repositioned in the new medium, he says. Instead, they extend the investigations of innovative practice as it occurred in print media, making possible the continuation of lines of inquiry that could not be fulfilled in that medium.

Some examples:

Grep is one of several programs that process input text and produce output, according to user-specified modifiers.

The late Emmett Williams, an early practitioner of programmed poetry, worked in numerous media, and was a founder of Fluxus. He produced writing that operated within constraints such as permutation, repetition, minimalism, and adherence to procedure

Jackson Mac Low used chance-operational and deterministic methods to create works.

Hugh Kenner and Joseph O’Rourke wrote a program called “Travesty” that selects words from source texts by a complex method utilizing English letter combination frequencies to produce random text that mimics frequencies found in a sample.

E-poetry consists of innovative poetic practices in various digital media: It’s writing/programming that engages the procedures of poetry to investigate the materiality of language, Glazier says.

From the viewpoint of innovative practice, “literature” is not a heavenly liquid drunk from a clear crystal goblet, Glazier says. It is the struggle with the goblet that presents the problem—its smoothness, its temperature, the way the concept of the liquid is changed by being in the goblet.

Innovative practice has pioneered not only new media but also new ways of perceiving through a given medium, a practice that has localized art not as a way of representing but as a way of making.


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