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Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries

Author: Loss Pequeño Glazier
Publisher: Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2002
Review Published: December 2002

 REVIEW 1: Tom Bell
 REVIEW 2: Susan Joyce
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Loss Pequeño Glazier

The field of digital studies marks a new turn for scholars, teachers, and artists. For the first time perhaps, we are faced with a discipline that can only be understood through its interdisciplinary applications. This has shaken up traditional university boundaries, the social interaction patterns of artists, and the habits of scholars alike. Already published has been a substantial body of material supporting analysis from a broader diversity of points of view. What Digital Poetics hopes to do is to bring new sources into the conversation, or at least to assert their resonance with the questions with which we are all faced. These are articulate sources, highly relevant to the task at hand! Let the voice of poetry also be noted, Digital Poetics suggests, and let us learn from the lessons of writers on poetics. Poetry has provided ways of exploring new conditions throughout history's changing climates. In today's social and textual downpour poetry is particularly qualified to advance the cause of interdisciplinary conversation.

It is crucial to recognize the role of literary practice as a way to locate ourselves in transformed social circumstances. What is more social than the changes that digital culture imposes? But it is also a textual condition, one where the specific issues of how we make marks defines us as social beings. Across a wide range of cultures, cave paintings, Zen calligraphy, and the artist's press alike, mark-making has been a way for the world to be understood in its physical and social conditions. Such a perspective is no less important now. The textuality of the Web is heavily multimedia, visual, and textually dynamic. This is a textuality for which standard literary tools may be less than useful. But we do have literary paradigms that offer unique insights into exactly these kinds of conditions! These come from a century's worth of experimental practice in the fields of art, literature, and film, and from successive waves of innovative poetry movements fomented themselves by changing social situations.

Tom Bell's review is particularly astute at recognizing the range of material that experimental literature might add to the mix while noting the relevance of a poet's perspective on the "machinery" of the digital age, the software, systems, and codes he mentions. One slight extension I would make to those points is that code here does not mean code as interference, as can be seen in the work of many code-blending digital practitioners. What is meant instead, is code as a form of writing. That is, you write code and thus make art; here it is considered as a form of writing just as substantial as any other form. Bell is swift to understand what poetry itself means in this context. Reviewers in other sources have not been as aware and have complained that Digital Poetics privileges poetry over prose. As to that emphasis, I would note that the project here has been simply to claim a space for poetry. When 99% of the literature focuses on prose, it becomes a necessary strategy to take a bit of a polemical stance in this regard. To be clear, no discrimination against fiction is intended; indeed, innovative contemporary poetry, the kind argued for in Digital Poetics, crosses the boundary between poetry and prose quite effortlessly.

Susan Joyce's careful cataloguing of the modes and progressions of the book's arguments leads to her expression of agreement with the social nature of art making. This I affirm most heartily. (As a side note to her comments, I would however mention that Digital Poetics bears only a very small similarity to the dissertation she mentions. Indeed, the dissertation was in the mode of a case study accompanied by field notes. As such, it was not nearly as engaged with the possibilities of critical language as the material itself of an argument.) Joyce also questions, as have other reviews, that this call for digital poesis comes in book form. But this is not at all a conflict! Digital Poetics calls to the reader of books to engage digital poetics in a given way. There is never any suggestion that such an argument would be more effective in online form. As a text, Digital Poetics precisely suits the format of the book. There was never an argument in it that any such wholesale displacement of format would occur.

As a penultimate note, let me add that the third reviewer, just to emphasize the fact that I truly believe that fiction also still has a role in critical dialog, might comment as follows. "An important point about the language of Digital Poetics, a book about the language of digital media, is that its language is full of humor and play. Glazier seems to suggest that writing begins where the play in language is engaged. This is why, from Tibet to Tierra del Fuego, people of all cultures laugh at double entendres, mispronounced words, slips of the tongue. Further, the blending of languages, Unix with poetics, Spanish with English, technical terms with literary devices, suggest that like the code that underlies e-poetry, works of digital art are built from language within language and language often at odds with its own language. From the cover illustration (also by Glazier) to the Appendix, there are plenty of places where writing becomes identified with the poised disjunction that offsets one statement from the next, but somehow also makes them mutally informing. Digital Poetics encodes language by locating its slippage points and pointing those to places where irony might be engaged as a process of revelation." I would have to reveal that I'm not totally in disagreement with those suggestions and with the idea of critical writing with a byte -- and with a bit of undertow.

It is my hope that Digital Poetics will tow the critical line and assist in making some of these connections as it plows these many fields of practice. Such a widening of scope has a value in broadening the conversation for scholars and for classroom conversation. For individual artists, hopefully the re-positioning of digital textuality within alternative reference points will suggest a richer range of possibilities for the imagination. Through its arguments, epigraphs, sidebars, and conscious shifts in aesthetic reference points, Digital Poetics hopes to shake up the palette from which we draw our articulation of the possibilities of digital poesis. In total, Digital Poetics hopes to be a digital literary resource that can help us re-imagine ourselves and our students amid the pressures of this acute re-definition of the digital textual condition. What is being said here? Let poetics -- the art of "making" itself -- be one guiding presence along this path.

Loss Pequeño Glazier

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