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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

Loss Glazier is the Director of the Electronic Poetry Center of the State University of New York at Buffalo, arguably the premier site or home for poetry today, and as such speaks with some authority. In Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries, he translates his experiences as both an involved poet and engaged teacher to deliver sources and a working philosophy against which readers can develop their own way of doing e-poetry.

This book may present difficulties for some readers since Glazier addresses the confluence of two important cultural streams: the potential for world experimental art and artists that the Internet has opened and the terrain of contemporary poetry as it is increasingly practiced today. These streams don't converge in a simple fashion in the real world but rather interact on a number of levels. However, Glazier has found a mechanism to center on the cutting edge of interest in the current in both streams through the use of sidebars (a tool grounded in hypertext and information retrieval sources). His sidebars stem from "techne," which aptly enough has roots in both art and technology. Like Internet links, techne can send one back through history or out onto an information lode. As such, the book is not to be read as a cover-to-cover thesis but as a sourcebook to keep at hand should one feel a need for exploring an information avenue. One can techne, jump, or link intellectually here even if not virtually via the Internet. Not as easy as navigating the net, but close.

Adapting technology to art is one of the streams this book explores and it should be emphasized that the approach is one of adapting tools to art, in the tradition of Cayley and Rosenberg, rather than the all-too-common approach which seeks to adapt art and poetry to the latest technology. The typical conception of e-poetry might be to take a poem and put it on the Internet using the various technologies available, such as hypertext, animation software, etc. Yet this does not account for the "changes" that have occurred in the last century about what a "poem" is.

Poetry is the process of writing and no longer just the finished product as it appears on a page in a high-school textbook. As Glazier points out here and illustrates with examples from his and others' work, the e-world is an ideal place for this process to happen as you can often see it happening before your eyes. This, of course, does not mean that the e-world is the only place it can happen as in many ways that has always been what poetry is.

In this rapidly changing environment it is obvious that we will never know all we need to know and there will always be eternal disagreements about which code or piece of software is best. Yet, Glazier manages to furnish a handhold and perspective to get readers started writing or e-poeting -- don't quibble over the term here, he seems to suggest, just do it. While this is not a handbook on a specific technology or a textbook on learning a specific computer language, he does furnish enough basics and a glossary so that readers can learn to grep (As per Glazer's glossary: Grep is "A procedure, formal method, or program that filters text according to given patterns; it processes input text and produces output, according to user-specified modifiers.) with the best. As Ron Silliman notes: "Larger productions, such as poems, are like completed machines. Any individual sentence might be a piston. It will not get you down the road by itself, but you could not move the vehicle without it" (quoted by Glazier, 96).

This talk of vehicles might seem to hearken bark to the Futurists and their dead-end fascination with machinery (or computers in this case). Yet instead, Glazier's ideas lead to the works of the Russian branch of Futurism as well as to other pieces, such as Apollinaire's "Il Pleut" where letters come "ALIVE" as Glazier points out. In Digital Poetics, poetry is not about machines; rather, poetry is a machine to be used by a poet to do wondrous things -- with motion for poets like Apollinaire and Glazier, with sound for Dmitry Bulatov, with computer games for Jim Andrews, with holopoetry for Eduardo Kac, with code for Ted Warnell. This is the second stream of the book where the emphasis is on 'art' and 'poetry' in the process or making.

This is experimental poetry as it is practiced today, in conditional space -- the as-if space where the poet uses his or her tools in the encounter with the world as he or she sees it on the page, on the Internet, or in the world. While avant-garde or experimental approaches to poetry have been present for about a century (and actually go back to its roots), it is only recently that they have been adopted by the mainstream academy in the United States. This 'new' poetry which, if it is new, could be called post-post modern -- language poetry, or "acadominant," as it was recently called on the POETICS List -- emphasizes the poem's materiality. It may seem disjointed to those schooled in traditional poetic forms and may seem 'tentative' as it does question where concepts like science, rationality, and assertiveness have landed civilization.

For Glazier, attention to process is a way of dealing with the technology of computing and the Internet, just as it can be a way for us to deal with the technologies of our world. At the same time, it is a way of moving beyond the often crushing (of self as well as others) demands of the subjective "I," which with its excesses has led to many of the vicissitudes of contemporary culture. These two statements are obviously replete with psychological and poetic arguments and counterarguments which space here does not allow, but a look at rocedure begun by an 'ego' might make this point clearer. "Procedure" is a poem generated electronically through code or by a machine or monkey and there is obviously no ego "doing" it. But this procedure was set in motion by a human computer, machine-operator, or animal trainer. One could attend to the procedure or the operator, but as Glazier and others have shown, one can also attend to the process at play between the two and it is this "play" that is what is of interest.

In this fashion Glazier's centering on process in both these streams gives a way for the reader to go to work by directing attention to the processes of poetry, of navigating the Internet, and of computing. This is the step computing, constructing, and navigating the Internet can take toward a second Gutenberg revolution. The process of e-poetry introduces the reader to both the "electronic" and the "poetry" in electronic poetry as they are practiced today and hopefully will be in the years to come as the electronic world is truly (after some recent false starts) poised to overwhelm the print world. And thus, we return to Glazier's starting point: Federico Garcia Lorca's book In Search of Duende, in which "Behind those black sounds, tenderly and intimately, live zephyrs, ants, volcanoes, and the huge night straining its waist against the Milky Way" (quoted by Glazier, vii).

If you want to be an e-poet, you need this book. If you want to know about the development of e-poetry you should read this book. And if you want a poet's perspective on implements (software, systems, and code) used to make today's e-poetry this book will help you think through and develop your own working philosophy or poetics. Loss Pequeño Glazier's Digital Poetics will also lead you to get on with the job at hand or, more precisely, on your monitor.

Tom Bell:
Tom Bell is a psychologist in private practice and freelance writer as well as a poet. His work has appeared on the web and in print in a variety of places, including Gut (April, 2002) and Possum Pouch (2002).  <trbell@comcast.net>

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