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Digital Poetry Beyond the Prehistoric

I think digital poetry is a genre that can offer poets exciting possibilities to create new work that explores and expands language. And that’s what I’m aiming to do with my new course at the Poetry School.

After tweeting about the course and some debate on social media I’ve taken to blogging, because you really can’t say what I’m going to in 280 characters and, much as I love serialised tweets, I think we need wide white screens for this!

Without disappearing down an internet wormhole ‘researching’ the topic (which I’m prone to do) of what is digital poetry, what are digital poetics and what is the World Wide Web? (www) I thought I’d introduce you to digital poetry through blogging about why I’m interested in this genre. (By the way I’m not talking the dissemination of poetry via the Internet here, but the creation of new work).

But what exactly is digital poetry? And is this a digital poem?

Like anything, and particularly new artforms that use digital technology, we could get caught up in the different terms and labels within and of this genre: electronic literature, new media poetry, kinetic poetry, code poetry…

I like this one: “Digital poetry is a new genre of literary, visual, and sonic art launched by poets who experimented with computers in the late 1950s.” – Christopher Funkhouser (see full definition below).

In my writing I have both been an experimenter of form, and had a fascination of the 1s and 0s that began to instruct devices that became computers. So picture me in 1987 typing code on a BBC Microcomputer just to switch it on! Or listening to the dial up sound connecting my laptop to the internet (only text, no visual interface) in 1992.

(I actually quite like the sound now, but I didn’t like the slow speed of trying to connect to the www). My engagement with these devices as mediators of language led to my early experiments, such as destinyNation – a poetic tapestry for the web or Foundland, an international online collaboration exploring how the web could compliment live literature.

My journey as a poet has meandered around film, theatre, Installation and web. I have been exploring: the screen through which we view the world of the poem; poems as physical objects; and the interaction and collaboration with the reader, all as both language and poetic devices.

I made my first web page at Route in the 90s. It was garish, with every part of it flashing, and utterly indecipherable! I was so pleased with myself and this newly-found and immediately-accessible platform for my writing and artwork, both for creating poetry and disseminating it freely and for free, that I forgot to pay attention to aesthetics.

Fast forward 25 years and I’m using augmented reality to create poetry (and collaborating with developers) and the methods of creating digital poetry have expanded as the landscape of digital technology has.

If you want to take a peek here’s an online version of my augmented poem ‘Siachen Glacier’, part of Ripple, a triptych of freestanding oversized artist books that use augmented reality, organic objects and poetic text to explore climate change.

So, I’m hoping you will join me for some digital poetic adventures with the myriad of tools available to us on our digital devices.

“Digital poetry is a new genre of literary, visual, and sonic art launched by poets who experimented with computers in the late 1950s. Digital poetry is not a singular “form” but rather a conglomeration of forms that now constitutes a genre even though the creative activity itself — in terms of its media, methods, and expressive intent —contains heterogeneous components.” – Christopher Funkhouser


Join Maya Chowdhry for an exploration of Digital Poetry on our 5-week Manchester course, starting 24th January. 

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Image Credits:

Image: Satellite View of the Siachen Glacier, Kashmir. US Government, Public Domain.