[-empyre-] to all members: what is e-poetry to you

Millie Niss men2 at columbia.edu
Sat Mar 7 22:10:19 EST 2009

My "bar" answer (though I generally eschew bars) to "What is E-poetry":

[depending on the glazed over eyes of the person I'm speaking to, I will 
stop at one of the line breaks]

"Electronic poetry is poetry that does stuff,

like respond to interaction with the reader or display itself 
differently each time you look at it or is poetry combined with other 
media such as video or images or sounds, or is presented in a medium 
other than black words on white paper. 

In e-poetry, the text is often dynamic rather than fixed in advance, and 
some e-poems allow readers to change the text or contribute to it, so 
that e-poems are in a sense collaborations between readers and writers.  
Even if readers cannot change the content, the e-poem may develop on its 
own through randomized processes or by responding to the on- or off- 
line environment

for example some e-poetry uses the web as a source for words and images, 
either in a piecemeal way, such as a poem which is generated based on a 
few random words -- or words provided by readers -- and then uses search 
engines to find illustrations.  Or the poem can use large amounts of 
online data in the aggregate, such as displaying a representation of  
all the search words anyone has put into Google in the last 5 minutes or 
scanning hundreds of blogs to distill the zeitgeist of the blogosphere.

Usually e-poetry is viewed on a computer (that's e for electronic), 
often on the web in my work, because I like the idea of  being able to 
distribute the work for free all over the world and discuss it with 
people online, but e-poetry can also be part of a gallery installation 
that might contain electronics inside.

It could then use traditional art materials, including sculpture as well 
as ordinary objects as in installation art. 

Another, newer, way for e-poetry to be presented is on mobile devices, 
sometimes making use of GPS so that the poem can react to the reader's 
location.  Mobile e-poetry may also allow readers to contribute to the 
poem by texting or using the device's web browser, and readers may also 
be able to interact with each other.

E-poetry is also sometimes performed live, often with audience 
participation.  The presenter may use a computer with the audience 
providing suggestions, or else the audience may participate using their 
own computers or cellphones,

The audience could be in a room with the presenter or be "present" via 
the internet.  The main difference with performance is that it occurs at 
a specific time with a defined audience who often can interact with the 
work, the presenter, and each other.

Each performance of the same work is unique, either substantively (due 
to audience participation and the work itself providing unique output) 
or just because a live person or even a computer doesn't sound the same 
each time they recite the same speech.

E-poetry is part of "new media" but the ideas go as far back as the 
origins of literature, so it isn't totally new.  For example hypertext, 
ie text with links providing additional details when you click on them, 
was used a lot in early e-poetry to make texts whose elements came in 
unpredictable orders with varying levels of detail depending on what the 
reader clicks.

However all literary texts are hypertextual in the sense that they 
contain literary and historical allusions, evoking a web of ideas in the 
reader's head. 

In particular, ancient epics are inherently hypertextual because they 
have digressions which are optional (they would be optional if a bard 
were performing the text to a live audience as these texts were 
originally presented) such as the lineages of people and objects (ie 
Achilles' shield in the Iliad) and also each mention of a person or 
place evokes a back-story in the reader's head because readers of epics 
are expected to already be familiar with the  major  characters and stories.

But modernist and postmodern poetry is a more direct influence  on 
e-poetry as the use of collaged quotations from other sources (for 
example in The Wasteland) and fugal constructions where many themes and 
stories weave in and out of a poem prefigures hypertext, linking to 
outside sources, and remixes/mashups.

E-poetry also has its origins in other "new" twentieth century art and 
literary movements, such as performance art, Outsider art, mail art, 
tactical art, conceptual art, video art, installation art, sound art, 
concrete poetry, comics, animation, electronic music and electronic 
composition, hiphop/rap etc.  E-poetry also uses theater, film, and 
photography as basic elements and for inspiration.  E-poetry makes 
obvious use of computer technology but is also informed by other 
technological and scientific fields, such as linguisitics, mathematics, 
physics, biology, nanotechnology, medicine (especially neuroscience), 
sociology, as well as by the culture (and pop culture) of the Internet 
and advertising.

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