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Digital publishing—loosely defined—has had a remarkable impact on the world of poetry and poetics. This shouldn’t be surprising, of course. “The digital” has transformed nearly everything. Why should anything be spared? In the minds of many, I think, poetry does stand in some kind of Platonic orb, though; a high culture fetish object, removed from the rest of pedestrian culture. Although it would be hard to find lots of practicing poets who think this way (or admit they do), the casual observer of poetry likely considers it boring enough to be immune. The interested observer, alternatively, particularly the one interested in protecting some ideal of poetry from the Internet’s demotic ravages, simply doesn’t credit digitally published poetry as “real” poetry.
Remember Truman Capote’s famous dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “That’s not writing. That’s typing.” Then, remember that nobody reads Truman Capote, writing and typing notwithstanding.
As this special issue of JEP demonstrates in a fairly kaleidoscopic fashion, poetry has been and continues to be a forerunner in exploiting the new modes of expression, interconnection, promotion, and distribution that emerging network technologies make available. The articles, essays, interviews, meditations, and thought-pieces collected here come from a wide range of writers, including digital poetry practitioners, digital poetry publishers, and digital poetry critics. As one might (or might not) expect, there are some programmers in the mix, as well.
The issue is organized into roughly four groupings.
1. From Publishers
Richard Nash provides a wry but insightful take on the tendency of poets and pornographers to be fellow travelers in the media avant-garde. Michael Hennessey delivers “Two Future Binaries,” a dispatch from the field, where he is overseeing the digital archiving of epochal Jacket magazine and also working to found a new epoch with Jacket2. In “WYSIWYG Poetics: Reconfiguring the Fields for Creative Writers and Scholars,” Scott Howard offers his view of the current and potential impact of open access e-journals such as Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry/Literature & Culture, which he edits and distributes using the Blogger platform.
I spoke with Ian Bogost about his thoughts on procedural rhetoric, its relationship to poetics, and his recent book of “machined haiku,” A Long Year (which includes written text and a playable Atari 2600 game). James J. Brown, Jr. had a conversation with Ian Bogost’s sometime collaborator, Nick Montfort, about his work as president of the Electronic Literature Organization as well as several of his other ongoing projects.
3. Critical Analysis
Brian Kim Stefans contributes some much needed taxonomic work to the Electronic Literature conversation in “Comedies of Separation: Toward a Theory of the Ludic Book.” In “News That Stays News: Marshall McLuhan and Media Poetics,” Darren Wershler reassesses McLuhan’s micro- and macro-poetics and investigates significant crosstalk between contemporary poetic discourse and fields of communications and media studies. Antonio Roque attends to the history and future of procedural poetics in “Language Technology Enables a Poetics of Interactive Generation,” and Benjamin Gunsberg, in “Make it Now: QuickMuse and the Arrival of Fast-Track Composition,” approaches the interactive poetic phenomenon QuickMuse with an eye to the pedagogical implications of its mediation of time and attention. Benjamin Paloff’s “Digital Orpheus: The Hypertext Poem in Time” approaches temporal questions in terms of digital forms’ attenuated life-spans, drawing corollaries to the inherent ephemerality of the lyric mode itself. Amaranth Borsuk’s “The Upright Script” wraps up this section by addressing the transformations wrought on notions of “authorship” and poetic form as what she calls “pervasive data culture” insinuates itself into poets’ work.
4. Practice, Platforms, and Perspectives
The final section of this issue features three pieces of reportage by writers with significantly different orientations to the “written word” but a common certainty that recombinant process is a constant of literary making—one that the digital world accentuates and accelerates. Michael Rudin ponders the emergence of micro-genres in “From Hemingway to Twitterature” and speculates on what these forms of constraint (and packaging) may indicate about imminent intersections and deformations in the traditional discourse of publishing. Net artist and programmer Jim Andrews ruminates on the development and underpinnings of his own poetics in “Why I am a Net Artist,” and MacArthur Fellow Thylias Moss expounds on media and infinity as they inform her own Limited Fork Theory in “On Establishment of Environment in Limited Fork Theory Systems.”
I should stress that none of the organizational categories in this issue are meant to be mutually exclusive. There is some kind of critical analysis occurring in every contribution, for example, just as the traditional notions of “publisher” and “author” are deeply problematized by most of the poetic and critical practices described here. I should also stress that this special issue of JEP is not meant to be an exhaustive review of the digital poetics field. It’s a glimpse at something complicated and (curiously?) organic.
With those caveats, I invite you to dig into this rich body of work, and I hope you find it as compelling and thought-provoking as I have.
June 14, 2011