[-empyre-] to all members: what is e-poetry to you
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-
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
However all literary texts are hypertextual in the sense that they
contain literary and historical allusions, evoking a web of ideas in the
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
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