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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

Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries by Loss Pequeño Glazier begins with a comprehensive introduction offering a basis for electronic writing and multimedia practice. The book is divided into eight chapters covering in-depth the various characteristics within the relationship among electronic culture, language, visual communication, writing, and poetry. As a noted author, professor, poet, webmaster, and director of the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY, Buffalo, Glazier attempts to offer insight into Web-based electronic writing as poetic practice. Kicked up a notch, the author argues for recognition of "electronic space as a space of poesis" (5).

Chapter 1, "Jumping to Occlusions: A Manifesto for Digital Poetics," discusses the mission of writing where, writing is as much about subject as about the medium through which it is transmitted. Glazier examines the differences and similarities between poetry on the page and electronic poetry (poetry that extends beyond the line). Historical reference is given to the concrete and visual poets of the 1950s and 1960s who were at the forefront investigating non-semantic compositions of text that opened the doors for the visual possibilities of e-poetries.

Chapter 2, "Our Words," takes a look at the systems, process, and arrangement of printed text vs. electronic writing. The author calls for pushing the medium and technological features beyond the intended limits. Historical reference is made to the military origins of the Internet and how its diverse use is rapidly expanding. By re-directing the techniques and tools away from their typical manifestations in practicality an argument can be made for the evolution of the printed page to digital writing. The next chapter, "Home, Haunt, Page," examines the basic structure, navigation, and identity of home pages on the Web. Unlike published books in print, there is no set standard for home page design. Glazier goes into an in depth analysis of home pages and concludes, "ultimately, however a home page is an expression of ideology; the Internet is not about information, but about conditions of information" (77).

Chapter 4, "The Intermedial: A Treatise," addresses issues of the Web as a form of writing and as medium. Glazier attempts to introduce new vocabulary in the section "Intermedia as Meshing Media" (a term used by the author to describe the use of multiple classifications of artistic media such as sound, video, graphics, and writing). Intermedia has been a keen interest of experimental writing in this century from mixed works of prose and poetry to collages involving both text and images, to works involving text, film, and other art forms (78). The next chapter, "Hypertext/Hyperpoesis/Hyperpoetics," poses the question "what is the future of digital writing?" Here, Glazier is looking for a new definition of e-writing at once to establish a broader understanding of emerging digitally based literature. This line of thinking could be self-defeating in purpose as it is extremely difficult to make one defining statement about such a vast topic that involves very complex issues. Any such definition should be inclusive rather than exclusive in order to allow for creative expansion in the field of writing and technology.

Chapter 6, "Coding, Writing, Reading Code," examines the relationship between code and poetry and the long ongoing struggle in the relationship between art and science that continues to exist today. Similarly there is also a close relationship between the practice of writing music and writing code. Glazier cites David Gelernter who notes "we are rarely willing to see machine beauty, no longer put machines in the art we make, refuse to acknowledge the intellectual and spiritual closeness of art and science" (111). This statement can equally apply to the practice of visual art and new media. Some art world academicians choose to negate the technology used as part of the artwork; often popular opinion argues content verses medium. The standard of credibility criteria calls for bringing the focus away from the use of technology. To explore this, Glazier introduces the ideas of Espen Aarseth, who notes: "This list of criteria can remain useful as long as we keep it flexible, open and multiple in the forms of digital writing it hopes to describe. Similarly it must adapt new forms as they emerge and adjust how criteria are interpreted depending on emergent technologies that contextualize digital writing" (119). Further, James Richard Bennett is brought to the mix: "Observation of any text . . . but especially of a closely woven 'aesthetic' text, reveals how the meaning of words depends upon the contexts created by the other words in the text. Meaning entails correlation, every word bearing the pressure of all other words" (112). Glazier adds to the thread by asking, "What could be more kinetic indeed than writing that must be projected to be read and that is at its core the product of numerous renderings?" (112). Featured in this section is "Mouseover," an e-poem by the author that demonstrates "the title, subtitle, and image all change, not only dramatizing the instability of the text but also asserting the power of the reader to alter the text" (121).

Chapter 7, "E-poetries: A Lab Book of Digital Practice, 1970-2001," explores the impact of technology on textual practice. As Glazier notes, "the term 'New Media Poetries' refers to poetry that does not employ the medium of the book" (138). Glazier makes reference to artist Eduardo Kac who has taken language beyond the confines of the printed page with his "Holopoetry" body of work (text based holography). On an international level, important advances in the field of digital poetry are being made. Glazier notes that emerging literature has less to do with nationality than with the type of digital practice undertaken.

The final chapter, "Future Tenses/Present Tensions: A Prospectus for E-poetry," raises the question of credibility of medium. Poets and academics alike both regard a poem that is printed on paper to be more substantial than one that is on the net. Glazier points out that the "web is not just an inconvenient interface but the largest scale shared art space ever seen. It is not merely an inconvenient medium which to work but a location with much exciting potential" (161). Again Glazier invokes Kac who notes "we are not only faced with a lack of uniform practice in electronic poetry but also an inadequate vocabulary for discussing e-poetries" (162). Glazier asks "Do we incorporate new modes of expression into our discourse and models or do we simply reinscribe old values onto new media?" (178). The author states it is central to consider that the main divide in current debates over digital practice hinge on this matter of the image. One side argues that text must dominate and the other side argues that image will define multimedia (160).

Considering the fact that much of this book stresses the struggle with legitimacy issues of net based writing, it is ironic that Glazier chooses the printed book form for the dissemination of information. However the author does warn it is essential for the reader to access the on line appendix III for a clear understanding of the "Mouseover" section. With Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries and the Electronic Poetry Center, the center he runs, Loss Pequeño Glazier offers a useful resource into the vast and complex subject of e-writing. This compilation of essays, originally submitted as a dissertation by Glazier, is an introduction to the rapidly expanding filed of digital poetry. Covering areas such as historical perspective to technical details, the author identifies important issues in the filed of e-writing. This book serves as a jumping off point into the research of digital poetics. I agree with the author's assessment that "we have not arrived at a place but at an awareness of the conditions of texts" (1). Further exploration and greater risk taking within the interdisciplinary practice of digital media is needed by those who are defining this art. We are just beginning to scratch the surface on understanding the potential of technology and its relationship to contemporary art. With the assimilation of machine to technology, cultural transformations take place. The evolution of electronic culture is a change in the dynamics of society, representation and experience.

Susan Joyce:
Susan Joyce has an MFA in Exhibition Design and Museum Studies and is an independent curator of new media. Her work is often inspired by the interdisciplinary relationships between artists, writers, engineers, scientists, performers and musical composers. In 2001 she curated and published an exhibit catalog "Out of Context," an exhibition exploring the conjunction of language, text, and literature with visual art at the Robert V. Fullerton Art Museum, California State University San Bernardino.  <Fringe17@aol.com>

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